Stories as Activism: Two of my Favorite 2016 Reads


How is it possible to chose my favorite reads of the year? I can’t! So I’m not even going to try. Of course this fall I loved reading the five novels written by Crystal, Amy, Jenni, and Tiffany as well as 2016 Deb Ball writer Abby (my only regret is tearing through them all too quickly!), and one novel in particular this year reduced me to cathartic sobs – A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I totally agree with Crystal that Dark Matter by Blake Crouch was excellent and the perfect escape when I needed it. Plus this year I learned a little trick: if I inquire with my editor about one of Beacon Press’s other titles, she’ll often send me a free copy!! I’ve since read some awesome Beacon books. SCORE!

But I want to be sure to tell you about two books I’ve read this year in particular, both memoirs about sexual assault. I truly believe that telling our stories is one of the greatest modes of activism. Telling our stories reduces stigma typically put upon victims and empowers survivors. So of course I thrilled about these two memoirs, written by authors I greatly admire.


Speaking of Beacon Press books, On Being Raped was published in April of this year. Raymond Douglas recounts his experience of being sexually assaulted by a priest when he was 18-years-old and the devastating aftermath of the trauma.

Harper’s wrote: “‘On Being Raped‘ is eloquent about the nonexistent resources available to male rape victims, a situation that mirrors what female victims faced half a century ago.” Douglas’s memoir is critical because it works to end the shame faced by male survivors, and it is a valuable resource for those of us to aim to understand the trauma from a man’s experience.

One of my favorite quotes: “When I was raped, I learned things about myself and the world I live in that it would have been far better never to know. And for most of my adult life, the knowledge has been killing me.”


Zoe Zolbrod’s The Telling takes on a very different tone than On Being Raped, and the result is true literary art which has resonated with many (rape survivor or no). Zolbrod’s beautifully crafted memoir focuses much less on the childhood sexual abuse than the story of her formative years in the aftermath of the molestation.

I love this review from Bitch: “In a narrative driven by ferocious diction, Zolbrod examines what it means to be a girl, a mother, a protector, a survivor, and a product of one’s family. She investigates how one owns her story by sharing it, even when doing so indicts the people she loves.”

“Ferocious diction?” Hell yeah!

One of my favorite quotes: “In any game of moral relativity it’s the children who demand our greatest sympathies. They’re always entirely guiltless, absolutely vulnerable – at what age is this no longer true?”


As you plan your 2017 lists, definitely find the those comedies which will take the edge off, and the fiction which will whisk you away, but don’t forget to mix in the narrative nonfiction which helps elucidate larger social issues. Want more rec’s? Hit me up!

Author: Lynn K Hall

Lynn Hall is a memoirist, activist in the movement to end sexual violence, ultra-runner, and crazy cat lady. Her memoir, CAGED EYES: AN AIR FORCE CADET’S STORY OF RAPE AND RESILIENCE, was published by Beacon Press in February 2017. Her writing has previously appeared in the New York Times, The LA Times, Hippocampus Magazine, The Sexual Assault Report, The Manifest-Station, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and elsewhere. In the summers, Lynn copes with publication anxiety by spending too many days in the Colorado mountains, and in the winters, with pans of brownies. She lives in Boulder with her partner and their 23 cats. Just kidding…she only has five.