Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that should absolutely be put at the top of your TBR pile. Recommended books will vary across genre and age category and include shiny new books, older books you may have missed, and some classics I suggest finally getting around to.
Before I do that, I have a question: What do S.A. Cosby, Khaled Hosseini, Sarah Bakewell, and Yahdon Israel have in common? They’ve been guests on Book Riot’s newest podcast, First Edition where BookRiot.com co-founder Jeff O’Neal explores the wide bookish world. Subscribe to hear them and stay to hear Book Riot’s editors pick the “it” book of the month.
Today’s pick is an absolutely wild ride that I could not tear myself away from.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
I want to put the content warnings up front: violence, sexual assault and battery, abuse, child abuse, more violence, murder, infant death, and most importantly, the premise of this is that there is a pandemic that kills a lot of people, if not most people. Some of it is a little too on-the-nose, which is extra fascinating because this was first published in 2014.
In the prologue, we have an instructor who goes by the title Mother Ina, and there are six teenage boys referred to as scribes. Each year, a group of scribes is chosen to copy The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, which is actually a cycle of 19 journals. The bulk of this book is told via these journal entries and prose. The writer (the unnamed midwife) is a Physician’s Assistant at the University of California at San Francisco in the labor and delivery department. There is a fever caused by some kind of virus that is taking people out, mostly cisgender women and children. Live births come to a stop, including many stillborns, and the people who were giving birth usually didn’t make it either. The hospitals are overrun and people are dying in hallways. Like I said, this book is so on the nose that I clenched my jaw the entire time I was reading it.
Our protagonist succumbs to a fever while she is at the hospital. She wakes up maybe days or even weeks later to find everyone around her dead. Grabbing what medical supplies she can, like antibiotics, some birth control, and syringes, she heads to her apartment and quickly learns that it is not only unsafe but especially unsafe for women. She ends up disguising herself as a man and realizes she needs to get out of the city. There are just bands of men roaming around, almost hunting. At one point, she meets up with a group that has women in collars and chains and not in the kinky consensual way. She bargains for some time alone with the women, as if she is just a guy going to have sex with them, and she then tells the women she is also a woman and she gives them some birth control. So then she goes about like some man-murdering birth control vigilante and it is amazing, taking the lives of some men who are hunting women to keep them as sex slaves.
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That’s it for now, book-lovers!
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