Tag Archives: Books

My Top Politics and Feminism Reads for 2017

Having looked at all the non-fiction I’ve read this year, I’ve decided to split them up into science, politics and feminism, and biography and memoir, otherwise I would have a really long blog post summing it all up! I can’t quite believe I’ve managed to read 22 non-fiction books this year! and there’s still a few weeks left… what if I read another incredible book before January?

These are my favourite non-fiction politics and feminism reads for the year, out of the ones I have read this year, not that they were necessarily published this year. I can’t believe I thought I didn’t like books about politics before this year… how very wrong I was! Click on the images to go to my longer reviews.

Politics

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Hope In The Dark – Rebecca Solnit

I came to this after hearing it mentioned on the Bookshambles podcast many, many times by Josie Long (this is also why I now have the first Elena Ferrante book on my shelves waiting to be read!). I loved reading this this book with every fibre of my being.

It’s under 150 pages and is a collection of essays on the role of hope in politics, environmental issues, and social problems. The dark is the unknowable future. It’s about how small acts of activism can have huge consequences. It’s about how hope is what’s needed to be an activist. There are examples of all of these things in Hope in the Dark.

Hope in the Dark was written in the aftermath of the re-election of Bush as President of the USA in 2004. I read a version updated to 2016 with a few extra essays about the intervening years. It inspired me to become more politically active – even in small ways – because that can make a difference. While it’s easy to feel like the world is falling apart around us – politically, socially, and environmentally – rather than stepping back and feeling despair and hopelessness (because that shit will get nothing done), we all need to feel hope and take steps to change the future to help change these things. I feel like I can do that after reading Hope in the Dark.

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What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton

17 hours of Hillary Rodham Clinton reading her book to me (audiobook!) and I feel sadness at what american voters did last year, I feel like I understand the issues much better than I did before reading this. I know much more about her Clinton’s whole career and the chapters on feminism are excellent. I cried several times during this audiobook, I was so moved by how she talks about the loss of the election and compares it to personal grief, but I left this book feeling hopeful, and empowered.

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The Good Immigrant – ed. by Nikesh Shukla

I wasn’t sure where to put The Good Immigrant in my crude categorisation of all non-fiction books, but I decided on politics because immigration is political. Brexit is political and has negatively impacted of the lives of BAME people in the UK. So here it is, in the politics category.

The Good Immigrant is 21 essays by BAME writers living in the UK. The stories deal with many themes, often about how feeling ‘other’ is rubbish, and stories about racism, but there’s also plenty celebrating positive aspects of being an immigrant in the UK. I enjoyed every single essay and it has also given me more writers to follow and find their other work. I would class The Good Immigrant as essential reading for anyone living in the UK. I’ve bought it for several people already! My longer review also inspired some good post-Brexit swearing *bonus*.

Feminism

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Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit

Another collection of essays, another by the amazing Rebecca Solnit, from 2014. This time she is dealing with feminism, and she does it so well. I read Men Explain Things To Me and wished I could have all these perfect arguments at the tip of my tongue whenever I talk about feminism.

The title essay is the one that brought about the phrase mansplaining (though Solnit dislikes the term) and highlights this phenomena many of us have experienced.  The rest of the essays deal with other aspects of just why feminism is still needed and necessary. There is also beautiful artwork between the essays by Ana Teresa Fernandez.

She has a new collection of feminism essays out: The Mother of All Questions : Further Feminisms. I have a copy of this but haven’t started it because I already don’t want it to be over!

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Nasty Women – 404Ink

I love this collection of essays (theme!!! I didn’t even know how much I like essay collections before this year!). This time the essays are about being a woman in the 21st century. It was inspired by the Trump election, and of course his nasty woman jibe to Hillary Clinton.

The essays cover a huge range of themes: being fat and taking a flight, gendered violence in punk rock, being Puerto Rican and living under a Trump presidency, contraception, pregnancy, class, racism, loving Courtney Love, being a black woman in Scotland, and many more.

It also introduced me to the music of The Petrol Girls, and I am very grateful for this because they are brilliant!

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Here are all the non-fiction books I read this year (click to go to my review):

What were you favourite politics and feminism reads this year?

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Book Review: Under My Thumb: The Songs That Hate Women and the Women That Love Them – ed. by Rhian E Jones and Eli Davies

As a music lover with my fair share of songs that hate women that I love, I knew I needed to read this book. It is a lot of different essays covering a huge range of genres.

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I liked this book, and enjoyed reading all the essays. Though, as is to be expected when a book covers a very narrow topic, it does get a bit repetitive.  There’s hardly any resolution to the stories because of course, these are about problematic songs that the authors love. There’s not realllllly much to say beyond: I love this song, it is problematic, here is my justification for still enjoying it. Having said that, I still really liked reading it!

… how was I supposed to use my feminist ideals to fight the art which had already penetrated my core?

I’ve written before about my own problem music collection and how I listen to a lot of male artists and bands (here’s my post about it) and I also targeted the female artists and bands to watch, at a punk festival I went to in the summer (read about my Rebellion festival adventures here). I must admit, that post is my all time most viewed post ever by a very long way – it got shared amongst some punk fan groups on Facebook that I’m thankful I couldn’t see the comments on (I had a few reported back to me and they were not. very. pleasant.). This was my first little brush with getting negative comments for writing about feminism, and it just makes me admire the women who very publicly talk about these things even more – like the authors of this book!

It also reminded me of one of my favourite Onion articles: Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show. 😀

There are a lot of different essays in Under My Thumb – at least 25. I had an ebook version so it’s not so easy to just look at the contents and count. Some of my favourites are: From Enslavement to Obliteration: Extreme Metal’s Problem With Women by Jasmine Hazel Shadrack, I’ve Got Your Letter, You’ve Got My Song: On Pinkerton -by Marissa Chen, and Breaking Binary Codes: On Being a Female Fan Who Prefers Music Produced by Men by Larissa Wodtke. This last one starts with the line:

As a heterosexual female who often doesn’t identify with femaleness…

I get that and how this can make it easier to dismiss misogyny in music. I enjoyed this exploration of becoming more and more bothered by it and realising why it really does matter.

My own personal relationship with songs that hate women can roughly be summed up by:

  • Elvis Presley – but it was the 1950s so I justify it that way.
  • a lot of punk bands – I don’t listen to the main offending songs.
  • Slaves – a band I love, but increasingly I’m turned off by the number of songs that are really quite horrible about women. I’ve listened out for some positive lyrics about women and I’m not getting very far. It’s increasingly disappointing.

I feel better when I love bands that seem to either hate everyone equally, or write positively about women! Luckily there’s far more of these.

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p.s. I received a copy of this book free from netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks netgalley!

Ten Books I’m Thankful For

I’ve seen a few bloggers take part in this – it is part of The Broke and The Bookish’s top ten tuesdays. The theme is due to it being thanksgiving in the states. There’s a lot more non-fiction in this list than I was expecting before I starting trying to write it.

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Matilda – Roald Dahl. I loved this book when I was a child (along with most other Roald Dahl books). Matilda taught me that reading books is ace and there can be power in thinking and using your brain. I was also a massive library fan so I loved Matilda’s use of the library!

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In Search Of Schrodingers Cat – John Gribbin. This one made me certain I wanted to pursue physics for my degree. Along with A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking, and many other popular physics books – I couldn’t read enough of them when I was a teenager.  I don’t read so many now, but still love them when I do (I can’t even remember the last one I read, but I have 5 or 6 on my shelves waiting to be picked up!)

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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this novel is the first time I read a book and just wept through the last few pages. It blew my mind to realise a book could emotionally move me like this. I was about 19 when I read it! I’d always been a big reader, but just hadn’t read the right stuff apparently.

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The Demon-Haunted World – Carl Sagan. Here Sagan sets out why more people learning about the scientific method would be better for humanity. People would be better equipped to protect themselves from pseudoscience and fraudsters. I love it and would still recommend everyone buys a copy for a teenager they know, or just anyone who hasn’t read it!

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Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman – Richard Feynman. This collection of stories about Feynman’s life is full of fun and physics. Feynman is a curious man and his zest for life comes across in every story. It challenged the stereotype of the quiet geek physicist for me.

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The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck. Another story that I will never forget – especially the incredible final scene. I was so moved by that, and equally shocked. This novel is a moving portrait of human suffering.

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The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins. I’ve always been an atheist as an adult, but The God Delusion really cemented a lot of my ideas. I don’t always agree with Dawkins – especially not in recent years with some of the bobbins he comes out with, especially on twitter. but I adored reading The God Delusion.

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Riders – Jilly Cooper. This book is in here because I’ve found that knowledge of Rupert Campbell-Black and co. is a helpful female bonding experience. This saucy tale is also a great read. I’ve read the whole series. and would quite like to know other authors who write a good story with some rude bits. *rubs thighs* 😀

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Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine (review and review!). I picked this up because I wanted to understand more about how I could help the girls I teach have more confidence with their physics and maths ability. As well as helping me with this, it also told me so much about myself. Particularly the description of girls who like maths and science, and how often they reject traditional female stereotype characteristics. It’s much more complex than I can suggest in one sentence, but essentially I read loads of it mouth agape reading about myself. My daughter was also a toddler when I read Delusions of Gender, and there is a whole section on gender and children. Living with my pink princess walking stereotype it really helped me. I am not a pink princess type of person (huge understatement) and I really have struggled to have a daughter who is girly to the extreme. I loved every minute of reading Delusions.

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I could easily link reading Delusions of Gender with a sort of feminist reawakening I’ve had in the last few years. I could also have put How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran – accessible, funny feminism, or Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me (review). All brilliant books that I wish I could remember word for word to recite to people.

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Hope In The Dark – Rebecca Solnit (review). I’ve chosen this Solnit book because I feel like this one has educated me about activism. It’s a beautiful book that sets out hope as being essential. It details how small acts of activism have inspired huge political, environmental, and social changes.

It was nice looking back at books that have really meant a lot to me over the years. Let’s hear yours!

 

Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley

Sarah Dunbar is amongst the first black students to attend Jefferson High School, a previously all white high school, in segregated Virginia in 1959. Lies We Tell Ourselves takes us with these students on their hellish first few terms at Jefferson High. Sarah is a lesbian, and she falls badly for Linda Hairston, the white daughter of the most vocal opponent to school integration.

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In Lies We Tell Ourselves, these two girls on the opposite side of the civil rights battle, are drawn together by an attraction both of them wishes they didn’t feel.

This young adult book has a stunningly beautiful cover, the front has Sarah’s silhouette, the back has the silhouette of Linda on, and if you open up the book, they are looking at each other. As a book for young adults, it deals in a fairly light way with the awful nature of Sarah’s experience at Jefferson High. It is still upsetting, and she and the other black students are subjected to daily violence and abuse, but it stops short of the visceral type of description you get in adult books like The Underground Railroad.  This doesn’t stop it from being a really great, eye opening look at what these students must have been through and, in fact, the dedication, to the Norfolk 17, is a reminder that many real life children were on the front line in this hard fought battle.

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I liked the fact that Sarah and Linda are lesbians. I hardly read any books with LGBTQ+ characters, it’s lovely to find one where they are, and it’s not even the main part of the story. It’s important, and helps to change Linda’s mind about her stance on integration, and it’s clear that even though characters in the book disagree on integration, they all agree that being gay is WRONG. It’s important for Linda’s character to feel like she is different for some reason, and she questions just why feeling this way is wrong, and of course it isn’t and it’s just that she has been told it is wrong. This echoes what she has been told about integration, and of course she begins to question her life long held beliefs.

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Sarah, and her little sister Ruth, are amongst ten black students attending Jefferson High School. They are the brightest students from their old high school and have all volunteered to take on this task, though clearly wanting to please their parents takes a role in their decisions. They are put into remedial classes and they suffer terrible abuse every day. The whole school was closed for a term while the local authorities tried to stop the integration.

When you read about a topic, often you notice other references to the same topic cropping up in other areas of you life. While reading this book, I am also listening to the audio book of What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton (not at the exact same time of course!). In What Happened, Hillary describes how she was sent undercover to schools, in 1964, to investigate their refusal to desegregate. She had to pose as the wife of a businessman moving to the area and quizzed school about their policies. Her evidence was used to then prosecute the schools. I can not wait to write my review of this book!

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a great young adult book. You get chapters from the viewpoints of both girls, and each chapter is titled by a lie the girl is telling herself in that chapter, for example: I hate her, or I’m not strong enough to do this. I loved that, and I really enjoyed this book!

Popsugar reading challenge 2018

The POPSUGAR reading challenge is a really popular list of prompts to follow as a yearly challenge with your reading. The 2018 list contains 40 prompts and then there is an advanced list with 10 additional prompts. I’ve been nudged into making this list by reading a planned list on the Dear Reader blog.

I’m notoriously bad at planning what I’m going to read, so I’ll be happy to deviate fully from this list! and I’ll just swap in books that fit each prompt as I read them. I’m going to use my huge backlog of books I own, but haven’t read to populate the list now. I should note I have the additional challenge that all my books are still packed away! So I can’t just browse my shelves to see what I already have. I predict I’ll change at least 75% of these plans!

Any one else going to try the challenge?

Here are my planned books:

A book made into a movie you’ve already seen: The Girl With All the Gifts – M. R. Carey

True crime: Gomorrah – Roberto Saviano

The next book in a series you started: The Looking Glass War – John le Carre

A book involving a heist: Artemis – Andy Weir

Nordic noir: Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg

A novel based on a real person: The Hours – Michael Cunningham

A book set in a country that fascinates you: Pachinko – Min Jin Lee

A book with a time of day in the title: The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

A book about a villain or antihero: Lolita – Vladimir Nabakov

A book about death or grief: Staring at the Sun – Irvin D. Yalom

A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym: The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist: The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

A book that is also a stage play or musical: The Color Purple – Alice Walker

A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you: Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

A book about feminism: Feminist Fight Club – Jessica Bennett

A book about mental health: Still Alice – Lisa Genova

A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift: Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven

A book by two authors: Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

A book about or involving a sport: Seabiscuit – Laura Hillenbrand

A book by a local author: Fell – Jenn Ashworth

A book with your favourite colour in the title: Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A book with alliteration in the title: Wonder Woman: Warbringer – Leigh Bardugo

A book about time travel: The Time Machine – H. G. Wells

A book with a weather element in the title: Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

A book set at sea: Moby-Dick – Herman Melville

A book with an animal in the title: Bee Season – Myla Goldberg

A book set on a different planet: Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

A book with song lyrics in the title: Lonely Boy (Tales From a Sex Pistol) – Steve Jones

A book about or set on Halloween: The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury

A book with characters who are twins: The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

A book mentioned in another book: Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Matilda)

A book from a celebrity book club: The Girls – Lisa Jewell (Richard and Judy book club)

A childhood classic you’ve never read: Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

A book that’s published in 2018: How Do You Like Me Now? – Holly Bourne

A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner: Wild – Cheryl Strayed

A book set in the decade you were born: The Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem

A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to: Swing Time – Zadie Smith

A book with an ugly cover: The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit

A book that involves a bookstore or library: The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Your favourite prompt from the 2015, 2016, or 2017 POPSUGAR Reading Challenges:  4 3 2 1 – Paul Auster (an audiobook)

and the advanced list:

A best seller from the year you graduated high school: The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

A cyberpunk book: Neuromancer – William Gibson

A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place: I’m watching you members of the public! to be filled in as I spot something

A book tied to your ancestry: After t’Blackpool Lights – A poetry anthology written by my Grandma’s writing group.

A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title: In Watermelon Sugar – Richard Brautigan

An allegory: Lord of the Flies – William Golding

A book by an author with the same first or last name as you: My Story – Marilyn Monroe

A microhistory: Longitude – Dava Sobel

A book about a problem facing society today: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

A book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

Book Review: Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire, a story about a British Muslim family and their involvement with radicalisation. Isma is the older sister, and has acted in a parental role to her younger siblings since their mother died when she was a teenager. The younger siblings are Aneeka and her twin brother, Parvaiz. He has gone abroad to join the media wing of ISIS. Parvaiz is persuaded this is the right thing to do after meeting some men who knew, and fought with, his father – he was a jihadist and died on his way to Guantanamo.

He didn’t know how to break out of these currents of history, how to shake free of the demons he had attached to his own heels.

Isma is studying in America for her doctorate, and she meets the son of the British Home Secretary, Eamonn, while she is there and she has a brits abroad based friendship with him. He, intrigued by her family story (she talks about her father, but not her younger brother) meets up with Aneeka when he’s back in London. Beautiful, captivating Aneeka sees this as an opportunity to get her twin home without him being punished…

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I’ve read a bit about Home Fire since it got on the Man Booker Prize longlist this year. I also heard an interview with Kamila Shamsie about it on Open Book on Radio 4. Home Fire is a retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone. I, clearly enough to anyone who knows me or has read my blog before, have no idea about the story of Sophocles! So I have bought the Penguin Little Black Classic of it to read later on.

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My poorly kindle and my favourite bag.

I found this story of a British Muslim family captivating. Their father’s association with ISIS and the effect it has on them is interesting. Other aspects of being a British Muslim are also explored, as you’d expect from a story like this. Eamonn has his father’s success to deal with too. I’m sure I will have more to say about Home Fire after I have read Antigone!

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Beer and Home Fire.

P.S. I received a free copy of Home Fire from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks NetGalley.

Book Review: Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller

I really enjoyed Swimming Lessons.  It’s about Ingrid, a 20 year old English student who becomes the wife of her University tutor, Gil, after he decides she would make good wife and mother material. I listened to the audio book version.

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We get the story firstly via Flora, one of Ingrid and Gil’s daughters. She is called to Gil’s home, by her sister Nan, because he has had a fall at the seaside and is in hospital. Gil at this point is portrayed as elderly and not well at all. Though given the timeline of the story he must only be in his mid 60s to 70 maybe. We find out that Ingrid disappeared when Flora was 11. We don’t know if she ran away, drowned when swimming (as her clothes on the beach suggest), or if she ended her own life.

We get Ingrid’s story from letters she wrote to Gil, before her disappearance, that she hid in the books they have taking over their home – there are thousands of books piled all over the house. Here she describes how they met, and their early years together. She describes life at that time and we get how she feels before she disappears. She hides these letters in the books that are taking over the house. I loved that each letter she wrote was hidden in a book with a title that was relevant to that part of the story. Will anyone ever find the letters?

Essentially Gil is a life wrecking womaniser. He is 40 when he seduces Ingrid and he treats her terribly from day 1. It was interesting to get all these different versions of Gil, from exciting, unpredictable University tutor, to frail, broken old man. I had a picture of him in my mind as looking like Bill Nighy and I couldn’t shake it off. I’m not sure if that helped or not!

The relationships between the characters is wonderfully complicated. They all seem like real, complicated, often despicable, human beings. There isn’t any one who shines as being the ‘good’ character. Ingrid is certainly very hard done by, but isn’t beyond making choices that from the reader’s perpective seem terrible. No spoilers here though!

The mystery of what happens/ed to Ingrid makes you want to sail through this story. I loved how the pieces gradually come together and you build up the story until you start getting an idea of Ingrid’s state of mind towards the end of the book.

The full circle of life is explored in Swimming Lessons. We have birth, death, love affairs, friendships, siblings, parents and offspring, it’s all in here. It explores the idea of knowing the truth of a situation versus staying in the dark and having hope.  Morality and faithfulness, and the sacrifices often expected from women during marriage and having children are other themes. The central mystery of what happened to Ingrid stays constant throughout the story too. A page-turning look at complicated family relationships.