Considering International Women’s Day: words of the wise woman


In honor of International Women’s day, I thought I’d share with you some annotated readings generously described by my good friend and beautifully bookish woman and librarian, Valerie. Included are the initial note from Valerie to my daughter on her first rite of passage, and descriptions of the books given to her. They might be good suggestions for your daughter, or even for yourself on this or any day! Written by both women and men, it is an inspiring collection indeed. Enjoy!


I am so honored to be a part of your Rite of Passage ceremony!

I really had to think long and hard about what I could present to you that would be meaningful and timeless.

I’m not an artist, nor a poet, nor a musician.  After searching my heart and mind I felt the one thing I had to offer was my love of literature.  Not only are my bachelors and masters degrees in English literature but I have worked in public libraries for 17 years, and for the last six years with the California State Library.  I am a book woman!

I know I owe my identity in large part to books (especially fiction) and I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorites that capture some of the significance of what you are experiencing tonight…

Lots of love,


A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf is the mother of all 20th and 21st century writers in my mind.  She was brilliant and keenly aware of the way her prospects were limited because she was female. In this book she answers the patriarchs who have asked her, “If it’s true that women have the ability to write, why are there so few books written by women?”  In 1929, of course, there were very few published women authors.  Woolf patiently tries to answer this flawed logic, essentially saying that for women to flourish in the arts, society must support women in the arts: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I read this when I was your age and then again as an adult (just a few months ago) and in both cases I was deeply moved by its rich portrayal of the transition from childhood to womanhood. Francie Nolan envisions herself as a writer at a very young age and just holds onto that dream until she can make it a reality.  Poverty, her alcoholic father and his premature death, her mother’s overt preference for her brother, and even her first love and heartbreak, do not incapacitate her, instead they provide her with raw material for her writing…

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  by Maya Angelou

Of the 100 most frequently banned books between 1990 and 2000, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ranked number 3!  That should be motivation enough to read this book 😉 , but you will also be blown away by Maya Angelou’s brutal honesty as she relates her harrowing childhood.  Like Francie, Marguerite (Maya) copes with her pain by writing, using even the worst moments as raw material for her art. And in the course of the writing, she begins to heal.  Why a book that is as beautiful and candid as this has been repeatedly banned is one of life’s great ironies…

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

If you can imagine the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table told from the perspective of women, then you can imagine this book.  It is enchanted, enchanting and empowering.  Have fun!

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

Perhaps nowhere else in the world does a culture so graphically express its misogyny as China .The Woman Warrior relates how mid-wives used to keep a box of clean ashes near the birth mother to smother the baby in case it was a girl.  But this story also depicts swordswomen and women doctors – women of power and authority.  The challenge for our young Chinese-American protagonist – and for all young women really – is to reconcile all of the contradictory images of the feminine that barrage us, and to establish our own singular identity.

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Well here’s a picture book because I think books for children are often so eloquent and yet a lot fun.  I thought of you when I selected this and how you are a budding writer.  The Dot’s message is to trust your voice.  We’re all occasionally plagued with self-doubt – but don’t let that ever stop you from writing.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

If I had to select one book that has sustained me more than any other; a book that has been a fixture on my nightstand for as long as I can remember: this is the book.  Don’t read The Prophet from cover to cover but go to the table of contents and select the topic where you would like guidance.  These include love, friendship, good and evil, self-knowledge and many more. I find that you can read these chapters over and over and each time find new meaning.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

I know you’ve already read this, maybe more than once!  Did you know that Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the true story of a Native American girl who was accidentally abandoned on an island off the coast of Santa Barbara in the early 19th century?  She fended for herself on the island for 18 years before she was discovered and taken back to the mainland.  The story of Karana provides a simple metaphor for life: you can have every advantage – family, friends, brains, beauty, talent – but at the end of the day you must rely on yourself to get over life’s hurdles.  It is how you apply the gifts that you have been given that reflects who you are.

Happy reading!




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