Joelle Dobrow is a former producer-director of non-fiction television, and a member of the Original Six, a group of women directors who researched and built a pioneering case alleging gender discrimination in Hollywood starting in 1979. She is now an arts-management consultant in Los Angeles.
Joelle Dobrow. (Photo: Alyson Aliano)
Mustang: In Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Erguven’s first feature-length film, five adolescent sisters are imprisoned in their own home and forced into arranged marriages after a villager sees them playing an innocent game with a group of local boys.
Why: “The reason I liked it is because I didn’t like it: Mustang makes you very grateful you’re an American citizen. The amount of freedom we have, the amount of justice we have as American women, stands in stark contrast to the situation in Turkey.”
Lightspeed: A digital magazine that publishes original science fiction and fantasy short stories, Lightspeed issues new tales with contemporary resonance every month; in addition to alien species, previous topics include health care and spirituality.
Why: “Every story touches on contemporary life, projected in the future — it’s a way to look at ourselves now in a safe, fictional context, one that always compels the reader to ask questions.”
Createquity: Founded in 2007, Createquity is a virtual think tank and arts blog dedicated to solutions-oriented stories that bridge arts and culture topics with politics, urban planning, economics, or education.
Why: “In addition to studying arts ecosystems, Createquity looks at how art is often used as a tool for social change. Recently it’s been examining how the theory of equitable altruism may threaten future donations to the arts. Equitable altruism uses a rigorous value system that recommends donating to causes that save lives in sub-Saharan Africa over, say, donating to local arts organizations. You have to go to this website.”
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War: “Sizzle history” author Karen Abbott tells the gripping true stories of Belle Boyd, Emma Edmonds, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, and Elizabeth Van Lew, four Civil War-era women from disparate backgrounds who spied for armies on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.
Why: “Each of these women risked everything: their homes, families, reputations, even lives, for what they believed was their country’s righteous cause. Some passages are so well written they read like a thriller; it’s a very satisfying read.”
The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan: Investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg’s 2015 book introduces Western readers to bacha posh, the Afghani practice in which families that have been unable to conceive a boy dress girls in masculine attire and offer them a simulated, short taste of male freedom before they reach adulthood.
Why: “It is a disturbing but informative and haunting book. It answers the often-asked American question, ‘Why don’t those women just stand up for themselves?’ Because there is no up for them.”
Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World: Linda Hirshman’s dual biography of O’Connor and Ginsburg follows the two women from childhood to the Supreme Court, where they spent 12 years adjudicating together as justices, each taking a distinct approach to women’s rights.
Why: “Ginsburg is considered the architect of modern womenhood in federal law. Unfortunately, the Roberts Supreme Court has dismantled much of her hard work. Now, with a SCOTUS changeover, the book is more timely than ever.”
Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few:Robert B. Reich, a political economist and former Secretary of Labor, writes a searing indictment of systemic inequality in America — in which he mounts evidence against the American myth that the “free market” is operating of its own accord.
Why: “What makes this book interesting to me is how Reich shows how some Tea Party talking points dovetail with progressive politics. He proves himself to be quite the showman in the audiobook too: Whenever he quotes the speeches or writings of dead politicians and experts, he uses a different accent.”
A version of this story first appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Pacific Standard.
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War: Steve Sheinkin re-visits American history for young-adult readers in this suspenseful re-telling of former United States military analyst Daniel Ellsberg’s 1971 decision to leak the Pentagon Papers to 17 separate newspapers.
Why: “The book simplifies the scandal for a new generation, which isn’t so far removed from the story. The book ends by raising contemporary questions about Edward Snowden: When a government breaks its own laws and lies to its citizens, should a citizen leak the truth to the press? Should the U.S. government have the power to spy on foreign governments, world leaders, and its own citizens with impunity?”
The Ancillary Trilogy: Ann Leckie’s Hugo Award-winning socio-political science fiction series subverts conventional stereotypes about muscular, dystopian science fiction by employing exclusively female pronouns to tell an epic story about artificial intelligence.
Why: “You jump to immediate stereotypical conclusions when you know the gender of the characters in a book. What Leckie’s book forces the reader to do is to question what is the stereotype of a male or female character. It’s a hell of a lesson.”
The Red Rising Trilogy: In Pierce Brown’s sprawling socio-political space opera, a group of rebels sets out to destroy a government that oppresses its citizens by classifying them according to a rigid, color-coded caste system.
Why: “We’re living with revolution every day in Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The Red Rising Trilogy shows that there’s no easy, simple path for a rebel: Even if she has a clear resolution for provoking social change, there’s so much backstabbing and self-interest that gets involved along the way, it’s hard to hold onto the mission of helping people.”