Welcome to Desert Island Books, a weekly series where I speak to authors, writers and journalists about the eight books they’d take with them to a desert island and why.
This week, my guest is Monika Radojevic, a half-Brazilian, half-Montenegrin poet and writer. In 2019, she became an inaugural winner of Stormzy’s Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, leading to her debut collection, teeth in the back of my neck, being published in 2021 with Penguin Random House. She is also working on her first short story collection. Monika works for the Women’s Equality Party, the UK’s only feminist political party. In her spare time she performs, writes, edits poetry and creative writing and runs Feminist Invoicing, a poetry project about power dynamics and what we’re owed from systems of oppression.
Monika also run a creative writing project called Feminist Invoicing which is a project asking people to consider what they are owed and what they have lost to the patriarchy or other systems of oppression. The project is open to all and invites people to use a classic invoicing template to prompt a creative reaction – and the responses have been incredible and cathartic. Some respond with poetry, others with art, others with audio or music, and some with fiction. Some of the ‘invoices’ include a woman who invoiced the patriarchy for a single bouquet of flowers, exhausted of attending vigils for dead women. Another invoiced ‘shame and all its weapons’ for every dish of food she denied herself in order to conform to narrow beauty standards. A young man invoiced a father for every moment of toxic masculinity he passed on to his son. To find out more and support the project, find them here.
If you’d like to buy Monika’s debut, teeth in the back of my neck, please consider doing so from Bookshop.org – an online bookselling platform specifically designed for the benefit of independent bookshops. You can follow Monika on Instagram, here.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
I love Machado so much, you don’t understand. My agent immediately told me to read Machado’s work when I outlined to her my ideas for my own short story collection (currently in progress!), and after reading it I understood why. Machado is in a league of her own. Her work is phenomenal, lyrical and leaves you open-mouthed, and this collection of short stories dives right into women’s subjugation in fantascially creative ways – from a mysterious pandemic that swallow people up (!) to women whose ghosts live inside fashionable dresses. Just read it. Keep it under your pillow.
Vagina by Naomi Wolf
This book changed my life and put so much of my sexuality into perspective at a time when I was floundering. There are parts of this book I don’t necessarily agree with, and Wolf is a controversial author who is rightly challenged sometimes. However, this Vagina is an extraordinary mapping out of the brain-vagina connection, including the physical and pyscho-somatic impacts of sexual trauma on the vagina, the impact of pornography and the ways our bodies slowly store up micro-traumas in a violent patriarchal society. This is a must-read to advocate for better sex for yourself – maybe not super useful on a island but once you’re off…
Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga
My previous editor recommended this book to me when I started researching missing and murdered indigenous women in North America for my degree, and I think everyone needs to read it. It tells the true-life story of seven young people in Thunder Bay, Ontario whose preventable deaths aren’t taken seriously, and uncovers a much deeper story of the most costly consequences of colonialism and – in my opinion – the attempted genocide of First Nations and Native American people. It’s a side of British history we’re all shamefully ignorant of, and this book puts that into perspective.
The Coincidence Authority by J.W Ironmonger
X is clearly a genius, because the way this book interweaves characters, stories and seemingly insignificant moments is just brilliant. Coincidence Authority combines a scientist whose job is to prove coincidences simply don’t exist with a woman, three-times orphaned (yes, I said three!) who predicts the exact day she will die based on the extraordinary things that have happened to her. The journey this takes you on is beautifully unpredictable.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Poet extraordinaire, Lorde’s work forms the basis of so much writing on queerness, Black womanhood, revolution and poetry that; her writing isn’t to be missed. This is a collection of essays about motherhood, unpicking the structures of power and about art and poetry as a form of liberation. I re-read her work every so often to remind myself about the roots of radical, intersectional feminism, and really, to remind myself that my own writing practice and analysis stems from icons like Lorde. Carry a copy with you everywhere you go.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I absolutely adore this feminist retelling of Circe and devoured the audiobook (14 hours!) in two sittings. Aside from being an excellent book, the story is literally about a powerful woman banished to a deserted island for eternity – so, pretty relatable in this scenario then. Millar depicts Circle’s loneliness, yearning and empowerment whilst staying accurate to the actual Greek myth, and strikes a balance between the feminist interpretation and Circe’s origins.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
I remember the first time I read God of Small Things and how overwhelmed I was by the power of Roy’s storytelling. From her metaphors to her poetic language, this book influenced my own writing style and taught me to be more experimental, proving that sometimes throwing well established writing rules out of the window produces something fresh and raw. This is a heavy read and a comment on colonialism, caste and women’s subjugation – which also makes it so worth diving into.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
I’m definitely cheating by naming an entire series, but apart from being wildly entertaining to read, each Unfortunate Events book is packed with moments of daring ingenuity, miraculous escapes, and resilience despite grief. That’s a pretty helpful combination for when you’re stuck on an island needing some morale, or trying to build a boat out of banana leaves. Think of this as a survival guide of sorts.