Take Note: The Coco de Mer ‘back to school’ reading list

With Summer escapades wrapping up and that sense of ‘back to school’ being in the air, we felt compelled to share a few of our most empowering reads of late, to inspire in the months ahead…


1 - We should all be feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Quite simply, this is essential reading.

“I would like to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently...’”

What does “feminism” mean today? Adichie posed that question almost ten years ago, and her position is every bit as on point today as it was then, and this book remains every bit as moving as it was when it was first released. Adapted from her Ted X talk in 2013 (which has been viewed over 8m times, further testament to how powerful her words and presence) ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ is an incredibly personal, engaging and unforgettably eloquent body of work, posing her unique take on modern feminism, and how it could be. 

One of the most impressive things about this book is how Chimamande addresses uncomfortable truths in society - from the infuriating institutional behaviours and establishments, the undercurrent of sexual politics, that keep women marginalised around the world. Her own experiences give such a beautifully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is detrimental to us all. Her words resonate so much, posing what it feels like to be a woman and why every single person really should be a feminist.

One of The New Yorker’s 20 most important fiction writers under 40, and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World (2012), this is a woman who will inspire us indefinitely. 

2 - The Moment of Lift - Melinda Gates

When Barack Obama, Malala Yousafzai and Brené Brown are the reviews attributed to your book, it automatically sets a precedent for something special. Spoiler: they were completely right.

The rallying call is clear: Lifting women lifts humanity. A deserved New York Times bestseller, she states in the introduction, 'That is why I had to write this book - to share the stories of people who have given focus and urgency to my life. I want all of us to see ways we can lift women up where we live.'

Melinda French Gates is a philanthropist, businesswoman, and global advocate for women and girls (Need we mention the magnitude of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation? Inspiring doesn’t quite cut it). We know her marital ties and the technological impact of the Gates’. Alongside her phenomenally underrated contribution to this, for over twenty years Melinda Gates has been steadfast in her mission to create long-lasting and genuine help for people with the most urgent needs on a global scale. Throughout all of this, and it seems increasingly so over recent years, she has been clear: ‘if you want to lift a society up, you need to stop keeping women down’.

Unsurprising for a Gates, Melinda backs up her case with undeniable data, and addresses the most urgent of societal issues - child marriage, contraceptive control, gender inequity - to name a few. But it’s not just a business case - the detail into her own experience and the reality of her marriage is incredibly moving.

Expect an impeccably smart and elegant read, along with a healthy dose of rousing inspiration. 

3 - The Sadeian Woman: An exercise in cultural history - Angela Carter

If you have dipped a toe in the works of the Marquis de Sade, you will have an inkling for the gripping drama to follow. For those yet to have their jaws hit the floor in the way few can achieve, allow us to explain a morsel of his debauched inspiration…

 “Sexuality is power.” The Marquis de Sade. 

One of his tamer quotes we can agree on.

To give those a better feel for this man’s literary reputation, a review of his book Justine;  “Justine is the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination.” Napoleon Bonaparte. 

So, Justine, the virtuous damsel of de Sade’s tales, is a victim and survivor of the most horrendous experiences, controlled by male power and ‘rewarded’ with rape and humiliation. Joyous. To add to her delights, her antithesis Juliette made things even more harrowing, to put it mildly. The world the Marquis created made sex something of breathtaking unpredictability - and horror, let’s not kid ourselves - with any sense of affection or tenderness being something akin to the Jaws instrumental. 

So, it is with the utmost awe, respect and appreciation that Angela Carter stepped in. One of the most progressive feminist writers to date, Carter transforms these Sadeian women in her inimitable way, into modern day cultural references that resonate with devastating precision and the smartest pen. Carter delves into the raw, intimate and jarring aspects of sexuality and reveals a stunning vision of love, evoking such a call to arms for the emancipation of female sexuality.

There are few to match the power and craft of Angela Carter - other than perhaps Margaret Atwood and Carol Ann Duffy who feel suitably iconic - hand in hand making the literary world a delightfully challenged universe, paving the way for feminist delights in the most intelligent and engaging ways. 

Brace yourself to be gripped and riled in equal measure.

4 - Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism - Natasha Walker

This is such a smart and thought provoking book. Jarring at times, but such an important conversation to be stirred by. How restricted is our current version of femininity? What damage are women doing to our own empowerment? 

The backbone of feminism appears to have been glossed over with highlight edited, highly sexualised and increasingly narrow figures, in every sense. Are we enabling the misogyny others have tirelessly campaigned?

Is our sexual power all we really have as women? Is sexism really a social issue? Is there a biological handicap for the female gender? Walker doesn’t shy away from such bold questions and really makes you think twice about the culture we are all nurturing. 

Smart, personal and incredibly evocative. This one will leave you mulling over all sorts.

5 - Feminists don't wear pink and other lies - Scarlett Curtis

Curated by journalist and activist Scarlett Curtis, this is something like having a girls night in with your new best friends discussing the meaning of ‘Feminism’. 

The essays are real and raw, funny and poignant, and the idea of framing them in five stages of feminism - Epiphany, Anger, Joy, Action and Education - adds to the rallying sentiment of the book. Incredible pieces have been created by the likes of a somewhat incomparable Nimko Ali OBE, Founder of The Five Foundation, a charity incredibly dear to us, and a woman who is a catalyst for real, tangible change in the fight against FGM. Essays by Jameela Jamil, Dr Alaa Murabit, Chimwemwe Chiweza, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Zoe Sugg, Lydia Wilson and Nimco are particular favourites to name a few, but each and every one is so moving and such a joyous collective. 

This is one to gift to anyone you know in need of a lift, a smile and a nudge forwards.

6 - Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good  - Adrienne Maree Brown

A matter incredibly close to our hearts - how can social justice be the most pleasurable human experience? 

Adrienne Maree Brown poses the case for “pleasure activism,” a political blend of positivity and healing that quashes the notion that changing the world is just another form of work. How can things be reframed to make it impossible for anyone to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life? 

Drawing on a number of fascinating subjects and the most incredible contributors, the basis for this type of activism is something we can get behind entirely. The power of eroticism, an enticing type of incitement, the power of sex work, the palpable energy around climate change, just a few subjects we devoured. Making politics feel good would have such a huge impact on the demographics within and the effectiveness as a whole, and this book makes such a brilliant case for it. Not to mention the impact of creative, positive thinking around everyday happenings. 

This book is a sensation we implore you to consider. Thank us / Brown later.

7A Good time to be a girl - Helena Morrissey

If you have read Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’, you might well have considered the subject of this a number of times. Since Sandberg’s shifting call to the workplace, things have shifted beyond belief, and yet we are still battling an outdated patriarchal system. So Morrisey, a previous City CEO, mother of nine, and founder of the 30% Club campaigning for gender-balanced UK company boards, has created something of a manifesto for a genuinely inclusive modern society that works for all and helps us all flourish. 

Gender equity is something dear to us at Coco de Mer. We know the benefit of a diverse, inclusive workplace that enables women to thrive at all stages, and Morrissey’s proposal had us nodding along at every page.

This is invaluable for every person wanting to progress in their careers and bring everyone along with them. 

8 - Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life - Emily Nagoski

This is gripping - delving into female desire and exploring how and why sexuality actually works, considering groundbreaking research on how brain science, biology and social factors each play a role in female arousal and orgasms.

Have you ever wondered why it has taken over a decade to develop the female equivalent of Viagra? We’ll give you a wild guess, but will leave Emily to explain things eloquently. But, as a result of this research, scientists have uncovered more about how women’s sexuality works than we ever thought possible, and this book goes into the most fascinating revelations. The most important factor? How you feel as a woman is so much more important for our sexual wellbeing than anything else. Knowing yourself, knowing how you respond to these factors, is a surefire way to enable better sex and more profound pleasure than ever imagined.

This book encourages a sense of confidence, curiosity, and a celebration of our unique self pleasure that is, unsurprisingly, something we fully support. 

9 - Responsible Fashion Business in Practice: Sustainable Concepts and Cases Across the Fashion Industry by Sennait Ghebreab and Sally Heale

This book is of the most incredible importance.

For anyone with a sniff of curiosity about the world of sustainability and the importance of purpose in business, look no further. The #Responsible9Framework is a holistic, insightful and timely exploration of sustainable practices across the fashion industry, brilliantly illustrated throughout the book. Whether you are in fashion or not, there are a number of invaluable takeaways.

Our CEO and Owner Lucy Litwack was asked to contribute to the ‘Perceived Value’ chapter of this brilliant book (Chapter 4, just to get you there quicker) looking at the importance of social value to Coco de Mer, our alignment with the fight against FGM and our partnerships with inspiring organisations including The Five Foundation and Desert Flower Foundation . Respect, honesty, openness – they are all marks of empowerment, and should be a given for everyone, regardless of who or where they are in the world. 

This is an exciting and inspiring book that will no doubt have a wonderful impact on future generations. 


10: What a Time to be Alone: The Slumflower's Guide to Why You Are Already Enough by Chidera Eggerue

Ending on a message we are steadfast about; you are more than enough and everything you need is within - anything else should add, not negate the space you hold. 

The Slumflower is so inspiring and encourages a truly holistic understanding of self and a celebration of solitude, with a fierce stance around the toxicity of damaging relationships. With profound proverbs from Chidera’s mother, and peppered with her own beautiful illustrations, empowerment and self-love are in abundance throughout, as they should be.

This is a wondrous book with a message we implore every woman to heed - establish your self-worth, let go of other people’s agendas and actions, take the time you need to be your best self and enjoy every moment of your time in this ever-changing world.

We’ve said it before and we will say it again; romance yourself. Everyone else can wait.

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