This is a selection of books from my personal reading list over the past few years, along with some old favorites. Though it’s admittedly unique to me and my experiences, I believe there’s something on here for everyone, wherever you are in your journey of self-discovery and allyship.
To understand the many feminisms, you have to look through an intersectional lens. We can’t talk about gender without talking about race, and we can’t talk about race without talking about class… and if that weren’t complicated enough, we can’t talk about any of those things without crashing into more -isms: ableism, hetrosexism, ageism, sizeism, so many -isms!
In our quest to be good allies, we must also take time to better understand ourselves. What biases and pre-judgments are you bringing to the table? In my experience, it’s a lot more than I thought, and the deeper I get on this journey, the more I uncover. It’s uncomfortable work, facing yourself, realizing you’re not quite the ally you thought you were. The good news is that once you begin to understand, you’ll be at least a slightly better ally tomorrow.
I tried to include a variety of options – funny, emotionally difficult, wide-ranging experiences, a few industry focused, and even some behavioral psychology to garner a better understanding of ourselves and others.
- The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity while Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work – Laura A. Liswood
- This is a must-read. I talk about it on our podcast all the time. The basic premise of the book is that In Chinese culture children are taught, “The loudest duck gets shot“ while many Americans are taught, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” This book explores how this and several other cultural dichotomies, none being “right”, manifest in the workplace in adulthood.
- Four Days to Change: 12 Radical Habits to Overcome Bias and Thrive in a Diverse World – Michael Welp
- This isn’t the most well-written or polished book. I’d wager there are many that are better, I just haven’t read them yet. But if you want to build allyship, you need to start understanding where everyone at the table is coming from. This short and clunky book will help you start to understand the white male perspective (yes, you do have to understand it). I found the Four Paradoxes particularly insightful in framing the complexity of these issues.
- Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More – Janet Mock
- Janet Mock unflinchingly shares her life growing up as a poor, multiracial, trans woman in America. Understanding how to support our LGBTQ+ colleagues begins with learning about their experiences. “Inspirational” might be the most common word used to describe Janet.
- Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman – Lindy West
- This book holds the esteemed honor of being the only book that made me cry-laugh so hard I could no longer see the page to read. Lindy West, a self-proclaimed “fat feminist”, shares her journey in the world as she became the inadvertent voice for those impacted by fat-phobia and sizeism. This book inspired a new Hulu series by the same name.
- For extra credit, read Roxane Gay’s Hunger, Jes Baker’s Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls, and follow Lizzo and Tess Holliday on Instagram.
- You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain – Phoebe Robinson
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis – J. D. Vance
- You can’t talk about feminism without race and you can’t talk about race without class. While I grew up in a trailer in Nevada and Vance in Appalachia, I feel like he writes about growing up in poverty in the United States in a way that both feels genuine to me as well as shedding light on the experience for those who grew up in more fortunate circumstances.
- Between the World and Me – Ta-nehisi Coates
- This profound and beautiful book will change you forever. In a series of letters to his son, sharing the experiences of his life combined with history, Coates powerfully outlines what it means to be black in America today. This a must-read.
- Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit
- The name kind of says it all. Seven short, often funny, essays on feminism, inter-gender communication and, you guessed it – mansplaining.
- Bad Feminist: Essays – Roxane Gay
- I bow before Roxane Gay. Her Twitter feed gives me life in these ridiculous times we find ourselves living in. As the cover says, “Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better, coming from one of our most interesting and important cultural critics.”
- We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngoz Adichie
- This a great little gift book. Buy several and keep them around as presents for your besties. Or if you’re not into girl power gifting, you can also just enjoy her Ted Talk here.
- Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change – Ellen Pao
- Hopefully this one requires no explanation. We bow in gratitude to Ellen.
- Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate – Zoe Quinn
- It’s one thing to follow the headlines for a few weeks, it’s quite another to understand the depth and breadth of what happens to oppressed groups online. As technologists, we further need to ask ourselves what responsibility we share to find the moral center of the tools we build and use.
- Tales from the Boom-Boom Room: Women vs. Wall Street – Susan Antilla
- If you don’t understand history, you’re doomed to repeat it. This book spans the sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the financial service industry from the 80s to the early 2000s. The upside is you’ll see how far things have progress, the downside is you’ll see how far things haven’t come.
- Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age – Leslie Berlin
- Though not specific to any of the -isms, knowing the history of tech is important. I particularly like this book because it’s about the journeys of lesser-known pioneers who aren’t Jobs, Gates or Zuck but had a huge impact on the industry (and it’s not all men.)
- So You Want to Talk About Race – Ijeoma Olou
- This is truly a how-to book for all races. It’s an uncomfortable topic, rife with opportunities to step in it, so to avoid saying the wrong thing, we say nothing – and nothing changes. Olou covers intersectionality, affirmative action and the East Asian “model minority.” If you read one book on this topic, this should be it.
- Women, Race & Class – Angela Davis
- The version of feminist history you learned in school left out a lot. Though women of color have played vital roles in every wave of feminism and fight for civil rights, they are often reduced to a sentence or two or left out of history entirely. If you consider yourself a feminist, especially if you’re not crystal clear on what white women keep getting wrong, this book should be on your shelf.
- Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely
- This is a my most recommended life book. If someone wants a book on how to be a better manager or on how to package and price their product or the best “business book” or [insert life lesson here] — this the book. Dan Ariely is my hero. If you get hooked, I recommend The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves next.
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
- As technologists, we all have at least a baseline understanding that interaction design strongly influences usability. How we architect choice can dramatically change the outcome of what is chosen. Think of this book as life design and how the choices we present (or are presented to us) are impacted by the way the are presented.
- Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
- I won’t lie, this is a long book written in a primarily academic tone. I will also make you a promise – after you read it, how you see yourself and others in the world will never be the same. If you really want to start understanding yourself and others – from big things like racism to the smallest and most mundane – start here.
- Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success – Adam Grant
- To understand others, you also need to understand yourself. Though this book is a little trendy, it will help you start to pay attention to yours and other people’s motivations. Hint: Everyone sees themselves as a giver.
Keeping it intersectional:
I’ve read essays from hundreds of authors through my studies, though most are only available through academic textbooks or websites. If you want to dive in, I recommend Readings for Diversity and Social Justice and Women’s Lives: Multicultural Perspectives, as both textbooks have a broad selection of essays you can rent for around $20. Another great anthology is This Bridge Called My Back: Writings From Women of Color.
You may be able to Google a copyright infringed copy of some of these essays, but I strongly encourage you to support the hard work of these women:
- From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii – Haunani-Kay Trask
- Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza – Gloria Anzaldúa
- Who Is Your Mother? The Red Roots of White Feminism – Paula Allen Gunn
- The Social Construction of Gender – Judith Lorber
- Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? – Lila Abu-Lughod (short video)
- Decolonizing Culture: Beyond Orientalist and Anti-Orientalist Feminisms – Nadine Naber
- The All-American Queer Pakistani Girl – Surina A. Khan
- Feminist Theory, the Body, and the Disabled Figure – Rosemarie Garland-Thomson
It’s hard to pare down a list to just 20 books. I feel remiss in not including anything by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, or Patricia Hill Collins. I know there are so, so many that aren’t represented here. Let us know about your favorites by tweeting us at @girlgeekx #ggxspringreading. (You might see your recommendation here in the future!)
We’re giving one lucky winner a Spring Reading Prize Pack! We’ll send you 10 of our favorite books for Girl Geeks & allies from the list above. Enter to win via the widget below, and then refer friends or complete any of the various activities to earn bonus entries! (You can come back daily to claim a free bonus entry.)
Good luck and happy reading!Girl Geek X “Spring Reading” Book List Giveaway
About the Author
Gretchen DeKnikker is COO at Girl Geek X. From founding employee to founder, she’s been launching and scaling enterprise software companies since way back in the last century. Most recently, she scaled SaaStr to the world’s largest global community of 100K+ B2B founders, execs and investors, and previously co-founded SocialPandas, backed by True Ventures. Gretchen attended DotCom University double majoring in Boom and Bust and holds an MBA from UC Berkeley. In her spare time, she’s a diversity and inclusion advocate who loves bacon, bourbon and hip hop.