I set myself a reading challenge this year that involves reading not only as many women authors as I can, but at least 46 books. Why 46? Because that’s how old I’m turning and as a woman, age matters – it is one of the many lens through which I am viewed. So it seemed fitting to read a book for every year that I have been alive. To be honest, I was also quietly proud of that number, because that’s a lot of books (and years)… or so I thought until a friend told me how many books she had read just this week – a number which would triple my reading count for the year. To be fair, she does work in a library and reading is more or less part of her job, but still, I felt downright lazy with my measly 46… particularly given I am only on book five and it is already March. Fortunately another friend eased the pain by admitting she would need to read Golden Books to get anywhere near that quota I had set myself… then again she was the Commander of a warship, so you know… fully occupied.
The first book I read was ‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper. My neighbour had left it at my door with a small note challenging me to guess who the murderer was before the big reveal. Don’t worry – no spoilers here. My neighbour’s choices have thus far been pretty good and this was already on my reading list, because it was on the Prime Minister’s Christmas reading list. I was interested to get inside the head of my country’s leader via the books he was reading. I’m not sure that it actually told me anything about him in the end, but I was pleased to see that he was reading something written by a woman and a novel with a strong Australian narrative.
The second book on my list was perhaps one of the most important books I will ever read but also dreadfully difficult. Not because it wasn’t well written or lacked a compelling storyline, but precisely because it was and did – and in as much it pulled me forcibly into the horrible world that was the Nazi’s concentration camp for women – Ravensbruck. With every page my heart was breaking, my blood boiling and my inner-self willing those women to live, just live. At least 92,000 of the more than 132,000 women who were incarcerated there, though, didn’t. They perished under the most evil and inhumane of circumstances and their stories – told so beautifully by Sarah Helm – should be mandatory reading. Ravensbruck lays bare the crimes not just perpetrated against the Jews, but against women.
When I turned the last page of ‘If This Is A Woman’, I have to own to a sense of absolute desolation. In ironic timing, Trump had just been elected and I, like so many – particularly women – felt adrift, unanchored from my beliefs that times were changing, that we as a people were evolving. I was also angry at every person who had voted for him, every person who hadn’t bothered to vote and then at the world more broadly that had allowed such a man to advance so far that now he was able to sign away people’s lives and liberties with the flick of a pen and a complete disregard for anyone but himself. History was on repeat.
I sit here on International Women’s Day 2017 still filled with fury over that turn of events, but also with an emerging realisation that some good did come out of Trump’s election. He has reminded me that I can’t take things for granted. My liberties, the progress we have made as women, all hinge on my refusal to become complacent in my privilege.
I have grave concerns that in a few months our astonishment that Trump is sitting in the Oval Office will have faded. That like so many of the atrocities that are continuously occurring around the world, this too will become secondary to whatever is trending at that time. Ravensbruck is a powerful reminder that we must continue to fight men like this, all that they stand for, and remember that we do not live our lives in isolation, but are powerfully and deeply connected to each other. Your fight is my fight and I hope you feel the same.
As a passing note, Trump has said that he doesn’t have time to read – he’s confident that his own judgement and commonsense will prevail. There was never a better example of why we should all read more.