10 New Books to Change the Way We Look at Our Bodies

by Sara-Kate Astrove
Apr 21, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. ET
Covers of books about bodies
Image: Barnes & Noble/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

In the current #MeToo, Trump-era zeitgeist, women are feeling more comfortable and empowered than ever to come forward with stories of rape, sexual identity and gender discrimination. To attest to this, spring 2018 has been a banner season for books on the subject of bodies. 

I was inspired to do a roundup of new and noteworthy body literature after seeing playwright and activist Eve Ensler’s stunning one-woman show, In the Body of the World, based on her 2016 memoir of the same name. I’ve been a fan of Ensler and her work since college, when I directed a performance of The Vagina Monologues, her Tony Award-winning play, which gave female anatomy a stage and a microphone. Ensler’s latest theatrical masterpiece is a revelatory exploration of cancer, recovery and transformation — and the connection between our bodies and the Earth.

Here are 10 of this season’s most highly anticipated new releases, from provocative anthologies to daring personal memoirs to lyrical poetry collections.

1 /11: 'My Body, My Words: a collection of bodies'

1/11 :'My Body, My Words: a collection of bodies'

My Body, My Words is a groundbreaking essay collection edited by poet Loren Kleinman and author of the memoir Fat Girl, Skinny Amye Barrese Archer. It features poignant narratives of sexual assault, eating disorders, miscarriage and nude modeling from a diverse group of men and women, including New York Times best-selling authors Beverly Donofrio and Susan Shapiro. My Body, My Words explores the origins of body image ideals, the dangers of the medical profession’s insensitivities and learning to navigate the connection between inner and outer selves. 

My Body, My Words: a collection of bodies, $17 at Barnes & Noble

2 /11: 'This Is How I Save My Life: From California to India, a True Story Of Finding Everything When You Are Willing To Try Anything'

2/11 :'This Is How I Save My Life: From California to India, a True Story Of Finding Everything When You Are Willing To Try Anything'

This Is How I Save My Life, energy therapist and “accidental guru” Amy B. Scher’s book, is a captivating and inspiring memoir of self-healing. After the best U.S. physicians labeled her chronic late-stage Lyme disease incurable, Scher packed her bags for India to try a risky experimental treatment. In This Is How I Save My Life, she takes readers along for the ride — to the brink of losing her mind, body and spirit and back — in a life-changing adventure. 

This Is How I Save My Life: From California to India, a True Story Of Finding Everything When You Are Willing To Try Anything, $22.87 at Barnes & Noble

3 /11: 'Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence'

3/11 :'Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence'

Written on the Body is a brave, vulnerable collection of letters written by transgender individuals to their body parts edited by trans writer Lexie Bean. The project began when Bean was hospitalized in a neurology ward in Hungary. A survivor of sexual abuse, Bean wrote three letters to their body parts: “one to my leg hair, one to the space between my hips and another to the baby teeth that now live in my mother's night stand.” 

Bean’s goal with this anthology was to carve out space, specifically for fellow trans and nonbinary survivors, who have all been told at some point, “Why don’t you write about something else?” Written on the Body is a powerful testament to the importance of these voices and the necessity of revealing stories for greater understanding and compassion. 

Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, $16.76 at Barnes & Noble

4 /11: 'Synonyms for (OTHER) Bodies'

4/11 :'Synonyms for (OTHER) Bodies'

Synonyms for (OTHER) Bodies is Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Daryl Sznyter’s impressive debut on subjects ranging from Catholic school to domestic violence to skipping work for adult ballet class. The poems are angry yet beautiful, skewering a society that fetishizes females. In “The World Needs Angry Women,” Sznyter writes, “If you love us, you will let us step on your face / with boots, not heels—stop thinking / about penetration.” 

Right now, the political climate calls for emotional healing through fearless vocalization. We cannot erase the past, but we can certainly celebrate who we become through our perseverance. Sznyter’s work is a celebration of the power of shared human experience. On their own, each of her poems could probably be mistaken for notes from a therapy session. Readers will redefine the way they see themselves after finishing this book. 

Synonyms for (OTHER) Bodies, $15.95 at Barnes & Noble

5 /11: 'For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors'

5/11 :'For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors'

For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors, Laura Esther Wolfson’s award-winning literary debut, is a dazzling portrait of love and illness. Wolfson reflects on the challenges of failed relationships, jobs and her battle with a degenerative lung disease. In “Proust at Rush Hour,” when Wolfson’s lungs begin to collapse, requiring her to leave her career as a globetrotting interpreter, she consoles herself through reading Proust.

For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors chronicles giving away her diaphragm and tubes of spermicidal jelly to a woman in the Soviet Union who needed these items more than she did. Transporting readers with her on her journeys through Paris, the Republic of Georgia, upstate New York, the Upper West Side and to the United Nations, Wolfson’s story of failures is relatable and illuminating, lingering in the mind after the final page.

For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors, $19.95 at Barnes & Noble

6 /11: 'Heart Berries'

6/11 :'Heart Berries'

Heart Berries is Terese Marie Mailhot’s brilliant New York Times best-selling memoir on abuse, addiction and family history. After an impoverished, dysfunctional upbringing on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest, Mailhot committed herself to a mental hospital, where she was dually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II. In mesmerizing and poetic prose, she describes the return of repressed traumatic memories with rare honesty and ache. 

Heart Berries, $15.87 at Barnes & Noble

7 /11: 'Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture'

7/11 :'Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture'

In Not That Bad, best-selling author of Hunger Roxane Gay showcases a series of searing and deeply revealing first-person pieces on existing in a world where women are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for telling the truth. 

The timely anthology covers topics from child molestation to the prevalence of rape among female refugees. Contributors include actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union. Worth the price of admission alone is Sharisse Tracey’s devastating essay on surviving rape by her father, which would make a compelling and significant memoir.

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, $15.39 at Barnes & Noble

8 /11: 'Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain'

8/11 :'Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain'

Ask Me About My Uterus, Abby Norman’s memoir on surviving endometriosis, shines a light on women’s health issues. When Norman’s dancer's body unintentionally shed 40 pounds and gray hairs started growing from her temples, she was hospitalized. The excruciating pain forced her to drop out of college. Doctors believed it was a urinary tract infection and sent her home with antibiotics.

It wasn’t until she took a job in a hospital and educated herself, reading in the medical library, that she found her correct diagnosis. She was finally taken seriously by doctors when her boyfriend accompanied her to an appointment and confirmed that her condition had compromised her sexual performance. Using her own trials as a window into a broader crisis, Norman exposes the ways women’s bodies are the battleground for medical debates and how we have to fight for our own health and sanity.

Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain, $18.06 at  Barnes & Noble

9 /11: 'Red Mother'

9/11 :'Red Mother'

If you’re in the mood for some wackier fare, Red Mother by poet Laurel Radzieski depicts an all-consuming love affair — between a parasite and its host. Told from the parasite’s perspective, Radzieski’s quirky yet sinister poems take the reader through the organism’s life cycle, teetering between science and imagination. Red Mother is a dark tale of longing, achieving the perfect balance of horror and romance.

Red Mother, $15.95 at  Barnes & Noble

10 /11: Feast: True Love in and Out of the Kitchen

10/11 :Feast: True Love in and Out of the Kitchen

Feast by Hannah Howard is not only a deliciously thrilling peek behind the scenes of New York’s most elite restaurants. It’s also an addictive, uninhibited memoir of a woman at war — with herself, her body and food. As a freshman at Columbia, Howard landed a host job at Picholine, a five-star Manhattan restaurant. Yet beneath her enthusiasm, she was secretly living on yogurt and coffee, infatuated with her jutting hip bone and clavicle. 

Howard’s readiness to probe the darker corners of her shame and self-destruction is courageous. Feast will alarm readers unacquainted with eating disorders and resonate with those of us who’ve had a long and sordid past with body dysmorphia

Feast: True Love in and Out of the Kitchen, $20.88 at Barnes & Noble

11 /11: Pin It!

Pin graphic with book covers
Image: Barnes & Noble/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

11/11 :Pin It!

Put a pin in it and add these to your reading list, stat!