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Check Out These Books

1. Bare Reality by Laura Dodsworth (photography and short stories)
Despite our admiration for them, very few of the images, sculptures, words and songs about breasts are actually written by those who have them. Very few. Fewer still by their owners (if that works as a phrase!) So I have to start here. A collection of 100 stories, told by 100 very different women: from the effect of Hitler’s invasion of Poland on one woman’s milk stream, to butterfly tattoos, Buddhist nuns, mastectomy and a teenager’s embarrassment at having naturist parents. Each story is combined with a photo that is equally intriguing and important. And all driven by the passion of one photographer, Laura Dodsworth.


2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (novel)
Last week, my daughter and I stared at the purple crocuses coming through the soil. I forced her to look closely and told her about the The Color Purple. Walker’s character Celie has one of the saddest breast stories I know, but one which is still so common: alienation from her own breasts; abuse of her own flesh; a physical and mental lack of ownership over her own skin. It’s more moving than any other book I have read featuring this subject.


3. Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman (novel)
A recent winner of the Carnegie medal, this novel tells the story of a single fighter in the US. A female soldier – one of the many women in history who tightly bound their breasts in search of acceptance into men’s spaces. The story of Cookie is set against the lesser-known history of freed slaves joining the US army and its attacks on the native population.


4. Femen by Femen (non-fiction)
“Ukraine is not a brothel” was the first cry of Femen, a feminist protest group founded there. Among a range of aims, their manifesto declares that “our weapons are bare breasts”, and the group have used them pretty successfully to garner public attention. It’s a fascinating read.


5. The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts Are Bad for Business by Gabrielle Palmer (non-fiction)
I did an MSc in development with economics. This book was not on the syllabus. I think it should have been;. Perhaps because it is an issue related to mothers and small cute bundles of newborn skin, perhaps because the argument is often falsely whittled into a guilt-led blaming of those who do and those who don’t, we often forget the economics and political agendas pushing billions in profit from an industry reliant on making breastfeeding problematic or unwanted.


6. The Clean Collection by Sabrina Mahfouz (theatre and poetry)
This book includes three plays: Dry Ice, One Hour Only and Clean. I first saw Dry Ice at the Bush Theatre, London, written and acted superbly by Mahfouz, a one-woman show weaving together an array of different characters. Relating the tale of stripper Nina, the play takes the audience into her personal and working life – with all its heartache, absurdity and humour. It is a very balanced and poetic insight into the world of stripping, surgery and teenage Page Three ambitions, from a very relatable character based on the author’s years spent talking with those working at London strip clubs.


7. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence (novel)
Yes, Connie is a pretty obvious character whose body is focused on way more than her mind. Yes, Mellors the gardener is an obvious choice with speeches that remind me of Dick Van Dyke’s chimney-sweep English. But Jesus, in this era of airbrushing, silent and statue-still photographed bodies, these breasts are in motion, having fun: purely postive attributes swinging”softly, like bells”, stroked under nighties, wrapped “in honeysuckle” and held up to that “heavy rain”.


8. The Outsider by Albert Camus (novel)
A book beginning with a mother’s death and a son’s cinema trip spent mainly fixated on the breasts of his “love interest” Marie. I hated this book when I had to study it. Not sure why, possibly just because I had to study it. Since breastfeeding, seeing how our society (myself included) still manages to be so awkward about the ability to feed a suckling child and at times add a lot to a sex life, I have reread Camus. The replacement of Maman with Marie, the ongoing descriptions of Marie’s breasts and the oedipal worry that still plagues us today in our infantile fascination with breasts is, it seems, best tackled by French philosophers.


9. Breasts by Maxine Chernoff (poem)
Suitably positioned after Camus, the poem opens with the words: “If I were French, I’d write about breasts, structuralist treatments of breasts, deconstructionist breasts …” Chernoff goes on to recount, in absurdly delicious lists, the breasts she has witnessed in the worlds of film, song, and theatre with the brilliant closing image of Humphrey Bogart staring at Lauren Bacall’s breasts “as if they might start speaking”.


10. Sex in History by Reay Tannahill (non-fiction)
This is a scholarly yet accessible study of sex: cave to current day. Its range is jaw-dropping, from androgyny to Taoist sex manuals, ancient Egyptian contraception (crocodile dung, apparently) to Turkish eunuchs and courtly love. Although it is not solely focused on breasts, it contains several fascinating insights into when and why, and how and where, these body parts have gained and lost popularity and preference.