Introducing the Emily Books Book Club -The Toast

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I’ve subscribed to Emily Books since the beginning, mostly just because Emily and Ruth have dynamite, dynamite taste, and it’s like having a personal shopper for reasonably-obscure, fabulous reading. So we asked Emily if she would tell us a bit about how Emily Books came to be, and wheedled a discount code out of her (details below.) This month’s pick is King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, a book of essays about prostitution, rape, femininity, and French-inflected black humor. Emily and I will discuss it together in a post at the end of the month. We’re hoping you’ll join in, but I’m the only one who’s duty-bound to read it. – Ed.

Almost two years ago, Ruth Curry and I opened Emily Books with No More Nice Girls, a essay collection by rock critic and radical utopian feminist Ellen Willis, as our first monthly pick. The book was out of print, so we got the non-exclusive rights to republish it as an ebook — the first of many times we’d do this. Making out of print or hard to find books by women available as ebooks was one of the reasons we opened our store; we figured that if we wanted to read these books, other people would too. Luckily for us, and for the authors we chose, this has turned out to be true: we now have subscribers and customers all over the world. The incredible thing to me now is that, in October of 2011, we thought we might run out of books. There had to be a limit, we figured, to the number of brilliant, necessary books by women that had been forgotten or remained unsung or were only known by a small cult following. We figured we would be able to stay in business for a year, maybe, and then we’d have to figure out something else.

But what ended up happening, as one book led to another and recommendations poured in from friends, customers, subscribers, and authors, was a revelation. We were both English majors who’d worked in book publishing, book nerds from our earliest years — we’d thought we were well and widely read.  We would share our favorites, we figured, and stop there. But what happened instead as we read in search of new picks to share was an alternate literary history of the last half-century: a history in which the women and gay men with unconventional, scary, strange, funny, bold and transgressive ways of looking at the world had spoken and had been heard.

There have been a lot of conversations lately online about the obvious and pervasive sexism in all our  culture industries, including book publishing. We tally up numbers of women’s books reviewed and decry the lack of female reviewers; we point out the sexist ways women’s books are marketed and sold — all those headless women, all those “[man]’s mother, sister, daughter” titles. It’s important and good to name the problem, but it’s more important not to stop there. The root of the issue is as simple as this fact: women, research shows, buy and read books by both women and men, while men predominantly read books by men.  The solution? We think it’s to read books by women, especially women outside the literary establishment. Talk about them. Share them with your friends.  Representation is important. It’s not a solution on its own, but together with more direct action to end inequality, representation can and will change our world.

Readers of The Toast can take 20% off purchases from Emily Books — subscriptions or individual books — by entering the code THETOAST at checkout until August 8th.

Emily Gould is the author of Friendship and the cofounder of Emily Books.

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