Reading dystopian fertility fiction

Having discussed my (lack of) hobbies, I thought I could get away with a non-academic post and would like to share details of the prolific reading habit I mentioned. When I graduated from my PhD six years ago, I vowed that I would read more. I love reading and missed reading complex fiction during my doctorate. I have stuck to this resolution, despite doing lots of other things in this time (I didn’t realise how much until I wrote this list). Since 2010, I have had a second child, done another degree (Master of Higher Education), bought a house, had surgery four times, had three jobs, and reached Senior Lecturer in a continuing (tenured) position. Throughout this, I have stuck to my goal and now read a couple of books a week. Reading is one of the great joys of my life (below are some of my favourites so far this year).

Welcome To Orphancorp Wave The Neighbour Vigil On the Edge of Gone Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Ongoingness: The End of a Diary Challenger Deep Elizabeth Is Missing Bad Behaviour The Last of Us The Call

So what changed in my reading life, other than no longer being a PhD candidate?

  • I track my reading in Goodreads – I am able to remember what I have read, create ‘to read’ and ‘favourites’ of the year lists, and share recommendations with friends
  • I set myself reading goals – for example, I read the Stella Prize (writing by Australian women) shortlist each year, and I decided to read more non-fiction in this year
  • I read blogs and listen to podcasts about books – current favourites include Australian Women Writers and What Should I Read Next?
  • I read in multiple formats – books, Kindle, Serial Reader (an app that breaks classics into short daily readings)
  • I read differently at different times and have several books on the go at once – a page-turner to read in the evening, Kindle samples when I can’t decide what I feel like,  a work of non-fiction, a classic, a challenging work of fiction
  • I always have a book close by and read in small pockets of available time

Inspired by my recent immersive reading at a retreat, I now want to apply some of these strategies to my academic reading. I will expand on this in future posts, and  keep you posted on how they work for academic reading. If you have tips, let me know how you find time for academic reading.

For now, I want to share one of my favourite genres that I call dystopian fertility fiction (which, to be honest, is also the genre that best describes to my obstetric history). In these books, women’s bodies and fertility (conception, pregnancy, birth, mothering) are controlled and the results are not pleasant. Examples you may have read include Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (or perhaps you have seen the films Children of Men or Mad Max: Fury Road). Here is a wonderful passage in which Huxley describes motherhood:

“Psychically, [the family home] was a rabbit hole, a midden, hot with the frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion. What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group! Maniacally, the mother brooded over her children … like a cat over its kittens; but a cat that could talk, a cat that could say, “My baby, my baby,” over and over again. “My baby, and oh, oh, at my breast, the little hands, the hunger, and that unspeakable agonizing pleasure! Till at last my baby sleeps, my baby sleeps with a bubble of white milk at the corner of his mouth. My little baby sleeps …”

“Yes,” said Mustapha Mond, nodding his head, “you may well shudder.”

If you like that sort of thing, with a feminist slant, then I have some recommendations. There are increasing numbers of young adult books that I would put in this genre, many of which I have enjoyed, but the ones below are definitely not young adult reads. These books are not for everyone—they seem to score 5 star and 1 star ratings on Goodreads—and they are not easy reading, but they make you think:

  • Ninni Holmqvist’s (2009) The Unitoriginally published in Swedish, this speculative novel imagines a society in which older women and men without children are detained in an outwardly pleasant facility where they ‘contribute’ to society through compulsory organ donation
  • Louise Katz’s (2015) The Orchid Nursery – with some of the most disturbing descriptions of the female body that I have ever read, this Australian novel tells a frightening story of a society in which women are completely subjugated. It is written in a discomforting semi-familiar language of religion and misogyny
  • Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter’s (2014) The Female Factory – an Australian short story collection that moves from dystopian futures to alternative histories on the business of procreation. I read this in January and it has remained one of my favourites of the year
  • Joanna Kavenna’s (2010) The Birth of Love – another book that spans the historical and futuristic. In one of the three intertwined stories set  in 2135, Prisoner 730004 is on trial for concealing a pregnancy

The Unit  The Orchid Nursery

What do you enjoy reading? Do you have any recommendations?

Thank you to my colleague Rebecca Ritchie who recently sent me this TED video on how to recognise a dystopia or ‘not good’ place. Spoiler alert – if you are in a place that thinks people can be moulded into an ideal shape (there will be a future post on that) then you might live (or work) in one:

9 thoughts on “Reading dystopian fertility fiction

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