A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

A short classic of feminist literature. A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay, based on lectures Woolf gave on Women and Fiction to two ladies colleges, at Cambridge University, in October 1928.

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Woolf uses a fictional narrator to explore her ideas about women and fiction. The main idea being that historically women haven’t been given the physical or mental space to be able to write. Access to education has been severely limited

She gets us to think about Shakespeare’s hypothetical, equally talented sister, Judith.

This may be true or it may be false—who can say?—but what is true in it, so it seemed to me, reviewing the story of Shakespeare’s sister as I had made it, is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty.

It’s also funny in places. There are some snarky comments that I very much appreciated:

I had been drawing a face, a figure. It was the face and the figure of Professor von X engaged in writing his monumental work entitled The Mental, Moral, and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex. He was not in my picture a man attractive to women.

Woolf talks about how women who appear in literature, written by men, are so completely different to women in real life, and how they were allowed to live:

A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced
a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.

She ends by reminding young women that education and more professions are now available to them and they must make the most of it. She encourages them to have a few children, rather than 10 or more, and to go and write!

I would say it’s really worthwhile to go and read A Room of One’s Own, if you haven’t already 🙂

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Everyday Sexism – Laura Bates

It has taken me a long time to get around to reading this. Published in 2014, I remember the rise of the #everydaysexism on twitter and the reaction to it. Mostly I seem to remember it was men I knew who were shocked at the pervasive sexism and harassment most women have accepted as just normal life, because it happens all the god damn time. Women I knew just sighed or shrugged at the knowledge – so commonplace are a lot of the examples, but they also felt empowered by the size of the movement, the solidarity, and the knowledge that you weren’t alone.

Every single woman I spoke to had a story. But not from five years ago, or ten. From last week, or yesterday, or ‘on my way here today’. And they weren’t just random one-off events, but reams and reams of tiny pinpricks – just like my own experiences – so niggling and normalized that to protest each one felt facetious. Yet put them together and the picture created by this mosaic of miniatures was strikingly clear. This inequality, this pattern of casual intrusion whereby women could be leered at, touched, harassed and abused without a second thought, was sexism: implicit, explicit, common-or-garden and deep-rooted sexism, pretty much everywhere you’d care to look. And if sexism means treating people differently or discriminating against them purely because of their sex, then women were experiencing it on a near-daily basis.

Everyday Sexism is the book summarising the #everydaysexism tweets and the submissions to the accompanying website.

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It’s an overview of all the sexist things that happen generally in life. And yes, it covers sexism that happens against men too – though is careful to point out that this is a minuscule problem compared to the pervasive problems that affect women. This isn’t to say it isn’t serious, it just isn’t a problem with the same scale, and the same life affecting consequences.

Everyday Sexism covers the whole wedge of sexism, from seemingly (dismissed by many) innocuous everyday events, to rape and the killing of women. It’s a wedge, and while one end of it is much more serious, criminal, and life shattering, the other end of it is part of the same problem (this reminded me of Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me). One feeds into the other and supports a patriarchal society where sexism is not just tolerated, but expected, and none of us should be putting up with it.

To include stories of assault and rape within a project documenting everyday experiences of gender imbalance is simply to extend its boundaries to the most extreme manifestations of that prejudice. To see how great the damage can be when the minor, ‘unimportant’ issues are allowed to pass without comment. To prove how the steady drip-drip-drip of sexism and sexualization and objectification is connected to the assumption of ownership and control over women’s bodies, and how the background noise of harassment and disrespect connects to the assertion of power that is violence and rape.

Each chapter starts out with some statistics outlining the subject of the chapter. There are other statistics mentioned throughout the text too, where they are relevant. From the section on crime:

Then I looked at the crime statistics and found that on average more than 2 women are killed every week by a current or former partner, that there is a call to the police every minute about domestic violence, and that a woman is raped every 6 minutes – adding up to more than 85,000 rapes and 400,000 sexual assaults per year. That 1 in 5 women is the victim of a sexual offence and 1 in 4 will experience domestic violence.

If that doesn’t shock you, then what is wrong with you?

And each chapter is littered with examples from tweets or entries submitted to the everyday sexism website. There are a few interviews with other people for a few topics. For example, Reni Eddo-Lodge (writer of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race) is interviewed to talks about  intersection of sexist abuse and racism.

The book ends on a positive chapter about people fighting back against sexism. It highlights global examples and ends in an uplifting way.

Women everywhere have had enough. We’ve reached our tipping point and we’re not afraid to say it. We’re not afraid to be dismissed, or belittled, or laughed at any more, because there are too many of us. There’s no silencing someone who has tens of thousands of others standing right behind them. We can’t be silenced when we’re all saying the same thing.

Laura Bates is a goddess and I recommend reading this book to everybody. But if you could get every one who says sexism doesn’t exist anymore, then that would be marvellous.

 

Books Bought and Read May 2018

Books Bought

Conclave by Robert Harris for book club next month.

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THAT IS IT! OMG

Books Read

Click on the book title to got o a link to my review.

The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin

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The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

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Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller

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This Must Be the Place – Maggie O’Farrell

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Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge

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After You – Jojo Moyes 

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20 Books of Summer Challenge 2018

I’m going to take part in the 20 books of summer challenge again this year. The aim is to try and read 20 books in June, July and August. It’s slightly more than I normally read, but I do have a summer holiday to fill with exciting books. The challenge was created by Cathy at 746 Books. You can find other people taking part in the challenge at that link too.

I also enjoy this challenge for the slightly ridiculous reason that I enjoy seeing just how badly I can predict what I will read. I like planning out what to read, and than really find I can’t stick to it. Maybe this year will be different! Here is a link to the results of last years challenge. I did alright considering I had a rough Summer personally, and read 19 books.

This year for 20 Books of Summer I will Read:

  1. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi. Just started it and it’s for book club.
  2. Still Me – Jojo Moyes. Another one for book club. See my review of After You to see how highly anticipated this is.
  3. Conclave – Robert Harris. Book club again. I’m only in two book clubs, I swear.
  4. Sarah – J.T. Leroy. A friend recommended this so I will read it soon, so I can judge him.
  5. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley – Charlotte Gordon. A friend lent me this ages ago, and I have loved what I’ve read so far. I just think it’s size has intimidated me. It’s quite a beast.
  6. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman. I’ve got a copy. I just haven’t got round to it yet, but it sounds ace and I really want to get to it!
  7. How Do You Like Me Now? – Holly Bourne. As above!
  8. The Pisces – Melissa Broder. This book sounds amazing. “The Pisces is about a heartbroken PhD student who over one summer falls in dangerous, ecstatic love with a merman” Erm… yes!
  9. How Not to be a Boy – Robert Webb. Have heard lots of good things about this one, and I couldn’t go three months without reading something about gender.
  10.  Things a Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls. I’ve read half already and I need to finish it!

 

I’m quite confident I’ll get through those, now the second half of the list is purely speculative fiction:

11. The Iliad – Homer. hahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahaha. Yes, this summer I will read The Iliad.

12. Story – Robert McKee. Fairly confident I will read this because I was lent this by a friend who I’m seeing in a couple of weeks, so I need to read it and give it back!

13. How To Stop Time – Matt Haig. Again, I have a copy waiting to be read.

14. 2666 – Roberto Bolano. Yes, this is the summer I will read this gigantic book.

15. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou. A classic I feel I should have read already.

16. The Dark Dark – Samantha Hunt. Short stories that sound a-fricken-mazing.

17. Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life – Helen Czerski. I’ve not been reading enough science books and so I need to add at least one to this list. I love the premise of this one.

18. The Dark Road to Mercy – Wiley Cash. Recommended by my favourite book recommending friend! So it’s bound to be good.

19. My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante. I feel so out of touch having not read this yet!

20. The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit. Got to get some Solnit on this list. I’m savouring her books, but I’m also in danger of just never reading them!

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here are 15 of the books – 5 are on my kindle

I’m going to enjoy seeing how accurate this ends up!

**update** Since writing this blog post, I decided I actually am going to read the Iliad this summer. I only need to read six pages a day and that is very achievable. So welcome to my SUMMER CHALLENGE SIDE PROJECT: read the Iliad at last.

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6 pages a day will do it. 

 

After You – Jojo Moyes

I know I have a tendency to think a very popular book might be terrible. It’s a character trait I try to challenge fairly frequently. I read Me Before You last year, the book that comes before After You, and I actually really quite enjoyed it. I read After You, with some trepidation, because the third in the series, Still Me, is the chosen book for book club next month.

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Reader, I did not enjoy this book very much. It is perfectly inoffensive and and not without merit. It is an easy read and there are some moments that had me make an audible laugh noise – this is not something that books make me do often, and I wish more would. It also make me well up in places – another good thing that I sometimes want books to do, sometimes I want them to make me weep. This did not make me cry but it certainly pulled at enough emotions in several places.

The problem I really had was that

**** spoiler alert if you somehow have no idea what happens in Me Before You ***

Will is dead. But this book is still all about his influence on Louisa. It’s about how she copes after he’s gone. How she’s trying to live the life she promised him she would. This whole book is her acceptance and moving on from his death. But clearly, he is dead, so she just thinks about him a lot. Has little chats with him in her head. She considers what he would have said or done at different moments. I don’t know, it just didn’t really work for me.

Then there’s the addition of a troubled teenager. I won’t give any of the plot away here.

It all just felt a bit like, right that book was sooooooper popular, we need another one that’s the same. Oh but Will is dead… well, let’s just refer to him a lot, as though he’s still around. Great!

I’m so looking forward to reading the third one this month.

I actually have quite high hopes for Still Me, because I think it’s far enough removed from the first, that we won’t have to hear about Will every few pages, and hopefully Louisa will have got her shit together a bit more and will start having some fun adventures.

 

 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge

Oh my frickin’ god, go and buy this book immediately and read it. It’s a brilliant book about race relations in Britain today.

Despite abolition, an Act of Parliament was not going to change the perception overnight of enslaved African people from quasi-animal to human. Less than two hundred years later, that damage is still to be undone.

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The cover is utter genius, but consequently difficult to photograph.

Eddo-Lodge originally wrote a blog post, in 2014, with the same name as the book, and it was this that sparked the process of writing the book. Eddo-Lodge says that since writing the original post, she has seemingly done nothing but talk to people about race.  She doesn’t want the tears or guilt of white people, of course not. But that’s basically why she decided she no longer wanted to talk to white people about race, and I don’t blame her either.

…white privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism.

The idea of white privilege forces white people who aren’t actively racist to confront their own complicity in its continuing existence.

The idea that so many people have that they are colour-blind, when it comes to race, is discussed, and I hear this one so often…

I think we placate ourselves with the fallacy of meritocracy by insisting that we just don’t see race. This makes us feel progressive. But this claim to not see race is tantamount to compulsory assimilation. My blackness has been politicised against my will, but I don’t want it wilfully ignored in an effort to instil some sort of precarious, false harmony.

Colour-blindness is a childish, stunted analysis of racism.

Colour-blindness does not accept the legitimacy of structural racism or a history of white racial dominance.

In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.

Yes, my review is going to end up very quote heavy!

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The first thing that has to be mentioned about Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, is its phenomenal cover. It is brilliant and also quite difficult to photograph.

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One of the points made is that black history is not taught very well. I don’t think I was taught any black history at all at school. I was shocked to see a town local to where I grew up making an appearance. I had no idea about its involvement in the slave trade, and I should have known.

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PLF making an appearance

Facts like:

…the election of Britain’s first black Members of Parliament in 1987 – Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng and Bernie Grant.

are surprising for being not just in my lifetime, but in a time I can clearly remember. Similarly, the Stephen Lawrence murder is examined and that all takes place in the 1990s to the 2010s. This is yesterday, not the distant, dim past.

We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power.

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books make the park bearable 

There is a chapter on feminism and why intersectionality is so important. White feminism is discussed and it is explained why this isn’t an insult to individual white people (as the term is often taken) but is a way of exploring the structural issues around white supremacy and its role in feminism. Eddo-Lodge explains it all so much better than I can, so go and read her explanation in the book!

Far from shutting down debate, incorporating the challenges of racism is absolutely essential for a feminist movement that doesn’t leave anyone behind. I’m not sure our most popular versions of feminism are currently up to that task.

There is so much in the book I haven’t  gone into in this review too. There’s a lot on class that is really interesting too.

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As you can imagine, a lot of people have reacted very strongly to the book title, without reading the contents, of course. It is provocative, but the message is not. It’s a sensible, clear, important discussion of race relations in Britain today and I think everyone can benefit from reading it. As a white person, there’s part of the book where Eddo-Lodge explains what white people can do to help (because clearly she is asked this often!).

White support looks like financial or administrative assistance to the groups doing vital work. Or intervening when you are needed in bystander situations. Support looks like white advocacy for anti-racist causes in all-white spaces. White people, you need to talk to other white people about race. Yes, you may be written off as a radical, but you have much less to lose.

and if it needs a reminder:

If all racism was as easy to spot, grasp and denounce as white extremism is, the task of the anti-racist would be simple.

This Must Be the Place – Maggie O’Farrell

Another book club read. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t completely blown away by it. I think it was just because one of the main characters just irritated me!

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From the back of the book:

A reclusive former film star living in the wilds of Ireland, Claudette Wells thinks nothing of firing a gun if strangers get too close to her house. Why is she so fiercely protective of her privacy, and what made her disappear at the height of her cinematic fame?

Her husband Daniel, reeling from a discovery about a woman he last saw twenty years ago, is about to make an exit of his own. It is a journey that will send him off-course, far from home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

This Must Be the Place crosses continents and time zones, creating a portrait of an extraordinary marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart.

I really liked the structure of This Must Be the Place. Each chapter is narrated by a different character. Some main characters get a few chapters, but many minor characters get their own chapters too, and it often gave an interesting perspective on the story.

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book club snacks!

A couple of my favourite chapters were stories that really didn’t have anything to do with the main plot! I loved Ari, Claudette’s oldest child from a former relationship, when he is sent to his school councillor and he just displays maximum intelligent teenage arrogance. He totally owns the councillor in a way I shouldn’t have enjoyed quite as much as I did, being a teacher!

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Ultimately, even with the interesting way it’s narrated by many characters, I couldn’t forgive Daniel for just being a bit pathetic, and Claudette for her wildly over-the-top and unforgiving character. Out of our book club discussion, we think we just don’t quite get the detail of these character’s motivation for some important decisions, just because we are seeing it through other peoples observations, so we didn’t get inside the characters heads enough.

I also found it unbelievable that Claudette could disappear as effectively as she did. Perhaps in the 90s it would have been ok, but getting into the modern day, with the internet, I have no doubt she would be easily found. She still travels on commercial air flights, and her great deception seems to be that she bought her house in her brother’s name. It’s really not that sneaky.

Finally, it’s just over 500 pages long, which is a bit much when you don’t absolutely love a book!