What to read while you wait for Obama’s favorite book

While Barack Obama was president, he started an annual tradition of sharing his favorite books and music from the previous year, and he’s graciously kept with this tradition for 2017. At the top of his list this year? A new “dystopian” novel with some radical feminist themes called “The Power” by Naomi Alderman. The book was hovering around my to-read list for awhile, and the endorsement from this fella bumped it up several spots.

The reason I used the word dystopian in quotes above is because, when asked if the novel fit that category, Alderman’s response was, “Only if you’re a man.” Its premise asks the question: What happens if, globally, men were suddenly the ones constantly worrying about being overpowered, overlooked, and violently dominated?

The answers found in the book may be surprising, depending on the reader and their experiences. Women all over the world discover an electric power living within their bodies that has the power to shock, harm, or even kill another person. Upon this discovery, women start fighting back against their oppressors (victims of sex trafficking against their traffickers, children against abusive parents, etc.)

Given the recent revival of the #MeToo movement and the fact that rampant sexism/sexual harassment has come to light, Alderman’s book feels particularly timely. The book’s fast pace and attention to juicy detail compelled me to keep reading and filled me with an almost sadistic glee.

Along with being on Obama’s list, “The Power” won the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction and was blurbed by Her Royal Dystopian Highness Margaret Atwood. Its hype is undeniable, and the holds list might be high for some time. Although we do have a couple of copies at the Lawrence Public Library that you may find on the new sci-fi shelf, here are some books with a similar feel to tide you over:

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife” by Meg Elison — After a devastating fever wipes out 99 percent of the world’s female population and causes maternal mortality rates to skyrocket, a courageous nurse makes it her life’s mission to pass as a man and distribute contraceptives to any woman she finds (most of whom are in captivity). She’s like a queer, super-feminist Johnny Appleseed of birth control.

Daughters of the North” by Sarah Hall — In the not-too-distant future, England experiences a total economic collapse and its population is forcibly relocated to urban areas. A young woman known in the book only as “Sister” (what’s up with all these unnamed protagonists?) escapes a controlling husband and is welcomed by an isolated group of women training to be rebel fighters.

Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor — In Sudan, post-nuclear holocaust, a girl born out of a rape possesses mysterious powers and goes on a quest to save her people from annihilation. Okorafor’s writing is always deep, dark, and impactful, and though I have not read “Who Fears Death” (yet), I would expect nothing less from this Hugo- and Nebula-award winning author.

— Kate Gramlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.