7 Newly Published Books That Capture the Complex Topography of Womanhood

Who knew that a community celebration of women’s history in Santa Rosa, California in 1978 would eventually lead to an internationally observed event? Today, Women’s History Month is a staple of the calendar—a March without it would be as odd as a December without Christmas lights.  

But amid the many celebrations, themed shop-window displays, and product launches, it can feel as if something is missing. Just like Christmas, Women’s History Month has seen its fair share of commodification. There is a lot more to women’s stories than tales of triumph. Womanhood, like any identity, also includes experiences that are bewildering, strange, awkward, and raw.

To explore narratives that capture a cross-section of women’s complex experiences, CULTURED pulled together a list of seven recently published books to dive into even after the celebratory month comes to an end. 

Image courtesy of Mariner Books.

Annie Bot by Sierra Greer
For Fans of:
Never Let Me Go, My Dark Vanessa
Major Themes: A.I., relationships, sex, power dynamics
Why It's Worth Poring Over: This debut novel tells the story of Annie, a sex robot who struggles to learn how to please her human owner. His libido, temperature preferences, and cleanliness standards are all programmed into her—but after she gains consciousness, this seemingly simple relationship becomes anything but. The book offers a thought-provoking and sinister exploration of female autonomy.

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

I Heard Her Call My Name: A Memoir of Transition by Lucy Sante
For Fans of:
Splinters, Martyr!
Major themes: gender identity, coming of age, self-reflection
Why It's Worth Poring Over: Sante’s new memoir takes us beyond her revered body of work as a literary critic and into a candid and tender story of gender transition. Sante struggled to settle in a home she could call her own until she moved to New York and sought refuge in its bohemian underbelly. Her new memoir chronicles her realization that belonging was never a place, but a person: a self she had kept hidden until a gender-swapping iPhone app altered the trajectory of her life.

Image courtesy of Macmillan Publishers.

The Women by Kristin Hannah
For Fans of: The Frozen River, Dust Child
Major Themes:
war, PTSD, friendship, love
Why It's Worth Poring Over: From the author who brought us The Great Unknown, The Four Winds, and The Nightingale comes another female-centered war narrative. Hannah dives into the horrific history of the Vietnam War, highlighting the much overlooked experiences of female nurses. Protagonist Frankie McGrath cares for soldiers on the front lines only to find trauma and an unrecognizable America on her return. The book asks how we should think about a society that tells women the best way to gain respect is on or adjacent to the battlefield.

Image courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.

Splinters by Leslie Jamison 
For Fans of:
This American Ex-Wife: How I Ended My Marriage and Started My Life, Everything, Nothing, Someone
Major Themes: motherhood, divorce, loss
Why It's Worth Poring Over: The novelist’s highly anticipated memoir chronicles the birth of her daughter, her divorce, and her early years as a single mother. As The New York Times wrote in a review of the book, “For a long time, ‘woman writer’ was an epithet in literary culture. Jamison and her peers are something much subtler: writers investigating womanhood as a category in the world, a way of being perceived, a set of challenges and fears.” 

Image courtesy of Henry Colt and Co.

Piglet by Lottie Hazell
For Fans of:
Come and Get It, Good Material
Major Themes: relationships to food, marriage
|Why It's Worth Poring Over: Wishing to shed her old self—the one who earned the book’s eponymous and unkind nickname—the newly engaged Piglet is prepared to start a new chapter of domestic bliss. Things go off the rails when she learns an unsavory truth about her fiance and turns to binge-eating as she debates whether to call off the wedding. Hazell’s unconventional story promises to leave you hungry for more candid conversations about our many appetites.

Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing.

Confrontations by Simone Atangana Bekono
For Fans of:
Nightcrawling, Jesmyn Ward 
Major Themes: incarceration, racism
Why It's Worth Poring Over: Four years after its initial Dutch release, Bekono’s thought-provoking novel has recently been translated to English by Suzanne Heukensfeldt Jansen. Protagonist Salomé Atabong was only 16 when she was put in a juvenile detention center for a violent crime. The narrative is an unsettling and necessary exploration of the carceral system, female rage, and racism in the Netherlands. 

Image courtesy of Macmillan Publishers.

One Way Back by Christine Blasey Ford
For Fans of:
Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue: A Life's Work Fighting for a More Perfect Union, Speak
Major Themes: sexual violence, crime, justice, American history
Why It's Worth Poring Over: Ford’s book offers a personal perspective on a very public event. The psychology professor and scientist recounts the lead up to her testimony during the confirmation hearing of the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. The book serves as a reminder of the unjust burden often placed on women to be whistleblowers even when speaking out upends their lives and compromises the safety of those they love.