Category Archives: non-fiction books

Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is funny as fuck. There. That’s it. Read this book if you want to laugh.

 

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In Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman stage show, Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of “Hollywood in-breeding,” come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen.

Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It’s an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty — Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

And really, she is very funny. Some bits of this book were funny enough that I had to photograph them and send them to a friend.

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Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting – Robert McKee

A book about screenwriting? Bit weird, eh? Well, I did a creative writing course earlier this year, and around the same time visited a friend. Said friend lent me this book with the words ‘this book is the best one ever on writing!’ or something like that. I was due to visit the same friend again recently, so thought I’d better actually read the book!

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I might not have bothered, given that I have no intention of writing a screenplay (and it’s reeeeaaalllllllly long).  But, my friend has good form for lending me great stuff. So I read it, and I’m really glad I did.

Having never studied writing of any sort, I hadn’t ever really given much thought to the structure of stories. Now I’m analysing the shit out of everything I watch and read, in a good way! (i.e. not properly at all, but going ‘oooh I slightly understand this a little bit now’) I learnt so much from this book that I didn’t know before.

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it’s also quite funny

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know a bit more about writing, even if you aren’t planning on writing a screenplay! It also has a big list of films mentioned in it, at the back of the book. Oh good, a list of 100s of films to watch. I do love a good list… so project ‘watch all the films from this book’ begins.

I still don’t want to write a screenplay, but I sure have a much bigger appreciation for the art of it, and I’m really glad I read Story.

Little Black Book – Otegha Uwagba

A super short guide to how to successfully carve out a career in the creative industries. It is full of very useful advice, especially relevant to freelancers, and people who work in an area where people will often want to try and get you to work for free.

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It definitely took me longer than 32 minutes to read this. What is that time calculator on?

When I got this book, I didn’t really think about how focussed it would be on creative jobs. I realise this is probably very idiotic of me, because every description of it mentions it being an ‘essential handbook for creative working women’.

Also, it is probably more useful for younger people. I am not young, and I am not in a creative job. So this book isn’t really for me, but I enjoyed the easy style of the writing, and it is full of confidence building advice.

This book is really great for any young woman, aiming for a creative career. I still got quite a bit out of it, but yeh…. comfy, old woman, never going to change jobs ever because mine is ace. Not written for me, clearly! I would buy it for any young women I know though.

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 🙂

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.

 

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.

The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry

This slim book is Perry’s take on modern masculinity, where it’s harming everyone, and ideas for moving it forward in a way that would be better for both men and women. It’s brilliant. This is a book where I couldn’t stop myself from highlighting roughly every other sentence. Go and read this book!

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Because I highlighted almost all of these 151 pages, I’m finding it really difficult to review. It was all really interesting and worth reading. What a helpful review! This is actually going to be my worst review ever. If you don’t want to bother reading the rest of it, it basically says: Amazing amazing amazing read it read it read it.

From the introduction:

I hope that in picking up this book you have already acknowledged that masculinity needs to be questioned, that gender inequality is a huge issue for all of us and that the world would be a better place without it.

I was already a Grayson Perry fan before reading The Descent of Man.

One of the central issues here, and the reason this book is called The Descent of Man, is that as women rise to their just level of power, then so shall some men fall.

Some themes covered include: Default Man and all that is bad with him, identity, prejudice, being a transvestite, clothes declaring tribal status, the male body, gender fluidity, anger, mental health, male suicide, attitudes to women, checking privilege, positive discrimination as way to force change towards a gender-equal society,

Also, it’s really funny. Ties are ‘colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks.’

I found it hard to chose a favourite other funny bit, because there are so many:

Several times I have asked audiences to put up their hand if they have sexual fantasies where the central theme is gender equality. No one ever raises their hand. (Who would? Nick Clegg maybe?) … No one gets aroused by thinking about holding hands in matching fleeces while shopping for sofas or sharing childcare, do they?

There are amazing, funny cartoons littered throughout the book too. It’s worth reading it just to see these. If you are reading on a black and grey only kindle, make sure you open it up in kindle cloud reader on a computer to see the cartoons in full colour.

I love this quote:

A lot of men are sold the narrative of male domination, but lead lives of frustration and servitude. No wonder they get angry.

and this one:

The ‘ideal’ future might just be increasing tolerance and celebration of a spectrum of masculinities born out of increasing awareness of what feels good for the individual and for society.

Well that would be just great wouldn’t it?