Characters and stories that challenge stereotypes and boundaries are at the heart of his growing collection of books on the theme of “Dismantling the Patriarchy”.
“Dismantling patriarchy isn’t just about reforming what it means to be a woman or defining ‘masculinity’, it’s about allowing complexity of character,” Symons said. “You don’t have to be one thing. I think when that happens, when you don’t limit people to something, it’s a step in dismantling patriarchy.
Symons’ collection includes over 80 titles that represent various genres, ethnicities and identities. Everyone has their own story and their own worldview to share.
You will find classics, like that of Sylvia Plath The bell jar, Virginia Woolf’s A room of your own and Anne Frank Anne Frank’s diary, alongside contemporary favorites like Angie Thomas The hate you give, John Green’s Paper cities and Madeline Miller’s Circe. There are comics, like the ones from Marvel The unbeatable squirrel girl and DC Comics’ Batgirl year one, alongside novels and collections of feminist essays, such as that of Roxanne Gay Bad feminist. The collection also includes biographies of such figures as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Malala Yousafzai, as well as the memoir of sexual assault survivor Laurie Halse Anderson.
One area she particularly focuses on in her collection is young adult literature, a genre that is growing rapidly and showcasing new voices and experiences. “The books I read when I was young shaped me and shaped my way of seeing the world,” Symons said. “I think it’s fantastic and so important that the YA books we read now become so diverse and explore difficult themes that weren’t addressed at all five years ago.
Whether fiction, non-fiction or poetry, the books in his collection all highlight different perspectives and experiences than Symons. “Books are a great way to break out of your own little bubble and experience someone else’s reality as much as anyone can,” she said.
These diverse characters and perspectives also give her the opportunity to spark conversations and share new experiences with friends and family.
“From people I’ve known for a long time, I learn things about them that I’ve never known when we read or discuss a book together,” Symons said. She could discuss how author Sarah Rees Brennan swaps stereotypical gender roles to illustrate how problematic they are in the novel. In other countries with a friend, or listening to her mother tell stories from her childhood and Symons’ childhood after reading Michelle Obama’s book To become together. Either way, it brings them together.
With his friends and family, Symons can discuss what they have learned from these stories and how they can use it to improve themselves and the world. “I think we’re all coming out of these conversations for the better,” she said. “We are more open to the fact that we don’t know everything and that we still have a lot to learn.”
Being able to recommend books to family and friends is another great way for Symons to use their collection to connect with others. “I love to give books to my friends and family and say, ‘Hey, we had this conversation the other day, and this book is really about it. You should check this out, ”she said.
Likewise, she likes to browse a friend’s shelves or ask them to recommend a title. “Sometimes they suggest something and say, ‘I don’t know if I like [the book,] but I think it would be a great addition to your collection, ”Symons said. “So it’s not just about what I’ll appreciate, but what will have an impact and what will make me see something from a new perspective.”
Reading and curating her ever-evolving collection helped broaden and change her perspectives in all facets of her life, including her classes. As part of the University’s 4 + 1 Masters program in Art History for Museum Professionals, she has read numerous art history textbooks for graduate seminars.
With her interest in raising diverse and inclusive voices beyond the “very colonial, imperialist, white, upright, masculine” background of art history, she said, Symons can better challenge your own prejudices, recognize the changes in the art world today, and prepare for the changes in representation to come.
“I really believe in the power of books and the ability to learn from the stories that others write,” Symons said. “Reading has made me a more open and understanding person… If you let them, books give us all a chance to engage in new topics of conversation with ourselves.”
Symons’ book collection has turned into a personal journey that she will continue for years to come. With each book, she discovers new stories and perspectives to flesh out her own worldview and new opportunities to share those experiences with others.
Seth Trotter Book Collection Competition
Eileen Symons is one of three winners of the 2020 Seth Trotter Book Collection Contest from the Friends of the University of Delaware Library. The other winners are Edward Benner and Lucia O’Neill. The Friends created the competition to encourage reading and research, the creation of personal libraries and the appreciation of printed or illustrated works for fun and scholarship among undergraduate and graduate students at UD. Students can learn more about the 2021 Seth Trotter Book Collection Competition, including how to submit their entries, here.