Category Archives: book challenge 2018

Fat Gay Vegan – Eat, Drink and Live like you Give a Sh!t – Sean O’Callaghan

Fat Gay Vegan is a book that is aimed at helping you make the transition to becoming vegan, or to help with a new vegan’s early days. I am not a vegan, and I’m not looking to become one right now, but I am interested in it enough to want to read this!

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Where the book really shines is where the idea of being vegan is extended to include being kind to humans and animals in all aspects of your life. Here making sure you live a generally inclusive, kind, helpful existence is explored. An analysis of where the vegan community itself is sexist, ableist, homophobic, etc is really fascinating. I wish more people had the same awareness of all these issues as Sean O’Callaghan shows he does in Fat Gay Vegan.

Become an expert letter and email writing champion in order to tell vegan food companies that oppressive language and images have no place in advertising to our community. Use social media to make them aware of the fact that you do not appreciate or accept the use of sexism, body shaming, toxic masculinity and white exceptionalism as tools to sell veganism as a concept or vegan products to the world. It perpetuates harmful forces that make people feel bad about who they are while cementing long entrenched power imbalances that favour very few.

These ideas are explored within the vegan community, and also beyond it.

As you can probably tell from the title, O’Callaghan is himself the fat gay vegan. His personal history is covered in Fat Gay Vegan – growing up as a gay man in Australia, and the associated difficulties he faced. Becoming a teacher, and blogging under the name fat gay vegan, which ultimately led to this book.  As well as all this, obviously the book also covers different aspects of veganism. I think it is neatly summed up in the quote from the conclusion of:

No matter how much we do, we can always do more and we can always do better.

There are recipes at the end of each chapter, but this is definitely not a cook book!

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The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

A super stunning, young adult book inspired by the Black Lives Matter campaign. The Hate U Give is the story of Starr Carter. She saw her best friend, Natasha, murdered by gang gun violence at 10. Now at 16 she is involved in a police stop and search that ends with her unarmed friend, Khalil, being murdered by a police officer.

‘Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.’

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Starr lives in a poor neighbourhood. After her friend is killed at ten years old, Starr’s parents send her out of the neighbourhood to go to an expensive, posh school, Williamson. Of course this school is mostly rich, white kids. Don’t worry, the Fresh Princeness of this is fully acknowledged.

Funny how it works with white kids though. It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black.

The Hate U Give deals with Starr’s double life. She feels like she must be careful at her school to not appear too ghetto or aggressive. In her home neighbourhood she feels ‘other’ because of her school. As she is the only witness to Khalil’s murder, she feels the pressure of her community on her to get justice, while she is also dealing with her own grief and trauma.

For at least seven hours I don’t have to talk about One-Fifteen. I don’t have to think about Khalil. I just have to be normal Starr at normal Williamson and have a normal day. That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang – if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.

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Clearly, The Hate U Give deals with an extremely emotional subject. I was in tears by page 30 and that has never happened with any novel I’ve read before! It is also very funny in places, particularly the interactions between characters. It has great humour mixed in with difficult, emotional subjects.

As well as Starr, we get to know her siblings, parents and extended family. She has home friends and school friends, and a boyfriend from school. Complicated relationships and histories between different characters are explored.

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The book is focussed on the aftermath of Khalil’s murder and Starr’s move towards activism. It’s a brilliant book and I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone to read. The link to real life events is made clear and I can’t believe anyone could read The Hate U Give and fail to be emotionally moved, and angry, that these events happen, and happen as frequently as they do.

Ms. Ofrah once said this is how I fight, with my voice.

So I fight.

Serious Concerns – Wendy Cope

The first few months of this year I took a weekly creative writing class. I loved it and it’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. The general outcome seems to be that I am drawn to writing about kick ass feminst sci fi or hard core feminist horror.  Watch out literary world (jk).

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One week a nice old man gave me Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope to borrow. It was after poetry week when I said I hadn’t really read any poetry, but I was interested in getting into it more.

The poems are funny. Quite dark. Often about relationships, but generally about life.

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I love the few poems that are written in response to her being asked to write a poem for a specific event or programme. e.g. there’s one requested by, but not taken up by, bbc radio. In it she’s really scathing about writing to a specific brief. And another she was asked to write about xmas, which is really funny, but not taken up, and you know exactly why when you read it!

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This collection works brilliantly as an introduction to reading poetry for a complete novice. The language or structure isn’t complicated. They are warm and funny and brilliant. So thank you to the nice man at creative writing class for lending me this book!

The Circle – Dave Eggers

The Circle is about big corporations and data. Written in 2013, I think it would have been more shocking to read back then. Honestly too much of the events in the book seem like real life now.  It’s still a good read and a big fricken warning about how careless we (mostly) all are with our data and privacy.

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time left in book: 8hrs 10 mins. Yes it’s a big one!

This was a book club read and it was generally enjoyed, though a few people said they enjoyed the film more. I haven’t seen it yet, but will report back when I do. It’s such a rare statement to make about a book and a film, I will have to watch it!

So what is The Circle actually about? Recent graduate Mae Holland gets a very sought after job at a tech company. She loves the company, with all their social perks and on-site amenities. There are social clubs and you are expected to interact with your colleagues on social media as part of your job. How delightful! Clearly it very soon takes a very dark turn. You can predict the rest.

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I will finish this book and I have all the things I need to help. 

Her immediate supervisor was a man named Kevin, who served as the ostensible technology officer at the utility, but who, in a strange twist, happened to know nothing about technology.

We’ve all been there, right?

Also, The Circle gave me this quote:

some terrible sex-porn-witchcraft controversy?

and I’m giving you no context at all for it, but it doesn’t sound so terrible?

The Circle is a good read. It’s nearly 500 pages though, so I might just recommend you watch the film.

Motherhood – Helen Simpson

This Vintage Mini is five short stories, by Helen Simpson, on the theme of motherhood. The stories are beautiful and poetic, and really felt like they exposed some of the realities – both good and bad – of motherhood.

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Lentils and Lilies is told from the perspective of a teenager. Her take on her own mother and the mother she encounters while she is skipping through her sunshine filled, idealistically viewed life is so damning. It brilliantly captures all that horrifies teenagers about adulthood, and being a mother, and me too if I’m honest!

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TIRED LION-TAMERS. I’m dying.

In Cafe Society, two mums try to grab a coffee and a chat with a three and a half year old in tow. They barely have chance to exchange more than a few superficial words. Then they eventually give up and leave. The nightmare of sleeplessness, having given up jobs because the emotional and practical labour of running the household and the family, while also working in professional jobs full time, was too much.

The truly sad thing is we get these insights as things they are thinking to themselves because they don’t get chance, or feel like they are letting themselves down if they vocalise them, to the other woman. They aren’t close friends and so they are extra guarded with each other.

I’m so grateful that I had a group of other mums with babies the same age as mine who I met once a week. Looking back they were a lifeline and I love them for helping me through those fucking awful early days. I don’t make friends easily, so the fact that it was a regular meet up, every week, almost without fail, was essential. I always felt like I could be honest about whatever I was thinking or going through with my babes, and I felt honesty back. I’m definitely honest with other people now with respect to the difficulties of having small children. I don’t think it does anyone any favours to sanitise the experience. It’s ok to hate parts of it and to struggle. It’s bloody hard, and boring. So I’m on a bit of a one woman mission to break this particular taboo, especially with new parents who have just got that glazed, slightly demented, look about them.

So anyway, yes the experience of trying to continue to do normal things while having a demanding, whirlwind, toddler with you. Urgh.

Next is Hay Yeah Right Get A Life: Dorrie. A mum to three young kids, thinks about the lack of time she has for herself. She considers how time for herself is time taken away from the children and how this means she gets loaded with guilt.

I can’t see how the family would work if I let myself start wanting things again, thought Dorrie; give me an inch and I’d run a mile, that’s what I’m afraid of.

Her marriage is unhappy. Her husband is angry with her for losing herself, yet never takes the children on his own to allow her some breathing space. He’s angry that she doesn’t earn money and sees the the time coming where she can work for his business when the youngest starts a few hours at nursery. He doesn’t appreciate what she does and also doesn’t help. It’s so grim. And this one ends on a positive note. Sheeesh. Mega grim.

Heavy Weather is about a lady with a 3 month old and a 2 year old. To cut a longish story short, she’s fucking knackered.

The trouble with prolonged sleep deprivation was that it produced the same coarsening side effects of alcoholism. She was rotten with self-pity, swarming with irritability and despair.

Finally, we have Early One Morning. This one is genuinely quite sweet. Whilst also being about the waves of divorce that hit at different ages of the children! It’s set during a school run with a group of kids around 9/10.

They should make stories like these required reading before people decide to have children. So much reality. Waaaaahhhhh. It’s a brilliant little book and some of the stories will definitely stay with me.

Women and Power: A Manifesto – Mary Beard

A short book about women, the history of misogyny, and how women now are prevented from speaking in public forums by the very structure and roots of our society. It’s a lovely, short, easy, powerful read.

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Based on two talks Beard gave in 2014 and 2017, this classicist links modern phenomena with their roots in the ancient world. We see how ancient imagery is used to try and silence women (Hillary Clinton as Medusa anyone?). She explores how our entire construct of power eliminated women’s voices right from the beginning. She explores how we can trace misogyny back to these ancient times and therefore once we understand where it originates, we can see how we can change things and deal with it.

You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.

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Links between Telemachus and Penelope, Miss Triggs, Lavinia, and of course Medusa with online abuse and other grim modern examples of misogyny, especially in the sphere of silencing women speaking publicly, are littered through Women and Power. 

Every time I even think about the title of this book I get Harpy by Petrol Girls in my head. Click the link to be able to listen to it in its full feminist hardcore glory, or if your ears are too sensitive for that, here’s the main part I get stuck on loop in my head! but actually, do listen to it – it’s marvellous.

Petrol Girls – Harpy

Women with power must be shouted down
Women with power burned or drowned
Women should take it and not make a sound

Keep being loud and taking up space women! And read this book. It packs a punch in its 115 pages.

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All the Beautiful Girls – Elizabeth J. Church

I ended up quite enjoying this book about a girl with a horrendous childhood making her way in the world of 1960s Las Vegas show girls. Although I nearly ditched it when I had to read so much about the horrendous childhood. Just not the sort of thing I like reading at all.

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I realise for the story to do its thing, we needed to have Lily come from a place of horror. Her parents and sister die in a car crash when she is eight years old. She is sent to live with her stern aunt, and paedophile, rapist uncle. He abuses her until she starts her period at twelve years old. It’s so horrible. I was just at the point of giving it one more page, and if there was any more rape descriptions I was giving up. Thank you menstruation!

Lily is a dancer, but of course what she ends up doing is being a showgirl. She’s beautiful, you see! Now here’s where I really quite enjoyed the book. Glamour, booze, gifts, growing up.

I also haven’t yet mentioned one of my favourite aspects of the book, Lily’s friendship with the man who crashed into her family’s car, killing them: the Aviator. It’s a weird, sweet, strange relationship.

If you can stomach the section where her horrible childhood is set up, then want a lovely growing up girls adventure in 1960s showgirl Las Vegas, then this might just be for you!