Tag Archives: reading

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: 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.

 

Books Bought and Read October 2017

I’ve just gone crazy this month. Prepare yourselves!

Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet – Dallas Campbell. I actually bought this book a few months ago on preorder, but I didn’t get my hands on it until October 5th! It’s so beautiful.

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Kindle sale:

  • Spectacles – Sue Perkins
  • Lessons I’ve Learned – Davina McCall
  • Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – Lena Dunham
  • The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
  • Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Story – Richard Bach, Russell Munson.

To be honest, I could have bought easily double this. There was loads of books in the current sale that I would quite like to read. I tried to only buy a few, and so did quite well. The first three are all autobiographies of interesting women. I have noticed that I read biographies of men predominantly, and want to address this imbalance! The last three are all on my ‘really want’ list, so I got them!

Then it was Book Shop Day so I visited my local YMCA charity shop and came home with:

  • Is it Just Me? – Miranda Hart
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Paul Torday
  • A Most Wanted Man – John le Carre
  • The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

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Then something triggered a Rebecca Solnit spree and I ended up with :

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

The Mother of All Questions: Further Feminisms.

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Pachinko – Min Jin Lee. Another kindle book at a nice price.

Next I needed the November and December book club books:

  • Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley
  • The Trouble With Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon. (Note to self: this is not The Men Who Stare at Goats, which I thought it was for a few days after it was chosen.)

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and finally, I decided I needed more poetry in my life after reading The Jeanette Winterson book, so I bought Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.

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Books Read:

click for links to my reviews.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson

History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund

Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood

Autumn – Ali Smith

Bedtime Stories

Folk of the Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton

A German Picture Book.

Bit of a repetitive month at bed times this month!

 

 

Books Bought and Read – September 2017

Overall a slow month for reading. New term at school though, and littlest starting school, so it was always going to be a struggle to fit it in. Still bought a bazillion books though…

Books Bought

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride. Finally got a copy of this. It’s been hovering near the top of my ‘must be read’ list for a few years, and now I actually have a copy I will get around to it probably sooner! I finally bought it after hearing it be praised on the Bookshambles podcast – source of lots of my book purchases!

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The Sun is also a Star – Nicola Yoon. Kindle bargain and I’ve heard good things about it.

Oxfam books visit. Can’t leave without a handful of them! This was my birthday visit too. I got:

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Steven Chbosky
  • The Earthsea Quartet – Ursula Le Guin
  • Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
  • Einstein Dreams – Alan Lightman

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Now for a trio of physics books, because I needed to buy a prize for a poster competition I ran at work.

  • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli
  • Storm in a Teacup – Helen Czerski 
  • Forces of Nature – Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen. 

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Ended up giving Storm in a Teacup away because it’s the one I most want to read myself. Of course, I now need to buy it gain so I can read it…

The Secret Pilgrim – John Le Carre. kindle deal and bought due to my extremely long term plan to read all of his books. I know own 5 times more than I have ever read. It’s going great!

Books Read

Click for links to reviews.

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens – Eddie Izzard.

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead.

See I said it was a slow one!

Bedtime Stories

Tried to get my oldest child (age 7) to have something newer and more exciting to read at bedtime, but he insists on us read the Faraway Tree books again! He just loves them. Saucepan Man and all that.

The Enchanted Wood – Enid Blyton

Folk of The Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton

Also with the small one:

A German picture book that we have to look at all the pictures in. OMG.

Book challenge 2017 update

Wow! This is not going well! I am learning that I can’t plan my reading very in advance. Too much amazing new shiny stuff catches my eye. Still, I’m reading lots, and I won’t feel bad for reading what I feel like 😀

The idea behind this reading challenge is detailed here. I read one book off the list over the last three months! Holidays On Ice – David Sedaris. I still want to read more of them – and have copies of quite a few waiting on my bookshelves.

Wonder if I can beat my record over the next three months and maybe read two more? 😀

Here’s the updated list.

  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
  •  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander
  • Brick Lane by Monica Ali  
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood  
  • Emma by Jane Austen  
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen 
  • Oracle Night by Paul Auster  
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (review)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov  
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin (review)
  • The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Fat Land : How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser
  • Cousin Bette by Honore De Balzac
  • Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia De Burgos by Julia De Burgos
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant  
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky  
  • An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  • The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco  
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald  
  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding  
  • Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
  • My Life in Orange by Tim Guest
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon 
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  • Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Rescuing Patty Hearst by Virginia Holman
  • A Quiet Storm by Rachel Howzell Hall
  • The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (review)
  • Songbook by Nick Hornby
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo  
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • How the Light Gets In by M. J. Hyland
  • The Lottery: And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
  • Nervous System by Jan Lars Jensen  
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (review)
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (review)
  • On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd 
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • Extravagance by Gary Krist
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson 
  • The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht
  • The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy
  • Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
  • A Month Of Sundays by Julie Mars
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel 
  • Property by Valerie Martin
  • The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
  • The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus         
  • Quattrocento by James McKean
  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller  
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (review)
  • Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger  
  • How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
  • 1984 by George Orwell 
  • When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (review)
  • Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
  • My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath  
  • Complete Tales & Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
  • The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (review)
  • Sybil by Flora Schreiber
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  • Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (review)
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (review)
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (review)
  • Unless by Carol Shields
  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (review)
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy  
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  • The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Just a Couple of Days by Tony Vigorito
  • Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut (review)
  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  • Night by Elie Wiesel (review)
  • The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde  
  • The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse
  • Old School by Tobias Wolff
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Book Review: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

I have been looking forward to reading this book for a while. I’ve heard GREAT things about it. I was delighted to find out it’s the next book for a book club I’ve recently joined. As I started the book, I realised that I’ve read one of her books before… for another book club… and *whispers* I didn’t really like it. And that’s stating it very mildly.  Oh no I thought, no… don’t be the same. Don’t be the same. Don’t be the same. And happily, it isn’t.

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I enjoyed The Essex Serpent. It’s about friendship, love, surgery, odd characters, social housing, religion, superstition, small towns, cities, being female, domestic abuse, sea creatures, illness, and fossils, and everything in between. Mostly it’s a book that I struggled to place in time and this is part of its point. The main character is Cora Seabourne, a well off, recently widowed woman. She moves from London and get caught up in a sleepy Blackwater Estuary village and its panic over recent sightings of a monster in the sea, the so called Essex serpent. Cora’s link to the town is the local vicar, William Ransome. There’s a wide range of other characters, including Cora’s socially conscious companion Martha, Her husband’s surgeon, Luke Garrett. There’s Luke’s rich friend. There’s Cora, Will and Luke’s friends. There’s some strange children. There’s a poor Londoner and the man who is trying to kill him. I could go on… but the story successfully links them all and draws you in.

I started off finding it a bit strange that the main female characters are supposedly younger than me, but act like much older women. If Cora met her husband 17, I think somewhere she mentions having been with him for 15 years, and she has an 11 year old son, so she’s 32!?!? She acts like she’s 60. I couldn’t reconcile the characters behaviour with the age they supposedly are. She acts like a Victorian grandma. She acts… Victorian. Oh… is she Victorian?  I honestly got to 53% of the way through before I realised the book is set over 100 year ago! This is a triumph as far as I’m concerned. The characters could so easily just be eccentric modern people. Strange ones with no phones, who like the outdoors. There are department stores, cabs, trains, modern hospitals and surgery. The people like science, and geology, and engineering. It is all consistent with Victorian England, but not the one that comes to mind when I think about Victorian times. In the picture I have in my mind it is ‘a long way in the past’ and ‘very different to today’, but actually it isn’t that much different, with the obvious absence of most modern technology. Chuck away your iPhone and you could practically be back there!

I had a bit of an issue with some character names. The surgeon is described as short and has the nickname the Imp. So now he’s Tyrion Lannister in my mind, and Cora is from Downton Abby. I don’t think these are too far from the character descriptions, but it was a bit distracting.

The plot is rich, and the characters are convincing and well rounded – they all seem like actual people in my mind. I am not going to try and describe the plot beyond what I’ve already written. It has quite a large scope in themes, though the story is geographically small. I think you might get even more out of The Essex Serpent if you are familiar with it’s very real setting. I felt this when I read The Loney, as this is set near to where I live. I am familiar with London, but the Blackwater estuary, and Colchester, I am not familiar with.

Overall, the story is good and the characters great, though they really could do with having at bit more fun every now and then. The surprising fact that it is set in Victorian times while seeming modern, and the link this gives you with those usually far off seeming times, is brilliant.

 

20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge #20booksofsummer

I’m not very good with planning my reading ahead of when I actually pick up a book and get started with it, so it’s with some trepidation that I’m putting together a list for the 20 books of summer challenge (I found out about it over at 746books).

I already know I’ll read at least 4 books for book club – I know what 3 of them will be at the moment, so need to leave a spare place… but I haven’t… I also have a few books I’m already part way into that I will definitely finish over the next few months. I will add a couple of classics, and a few trashier ones. I have to add some books from my year long challenge that isn’t quite working out as I expected – need all the help I can get with this, so making sure a few are from that challenge on this list will help! I’m also adding a few books I *really* want to read soon.

I’m lucky that I will have a 6 week holiday to help me out with this challenge! *high fives fellow teachers*

  1. The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
  2. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
  3. Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor
  4. the Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  5. Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit
  6. Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit
  7. Nobody Told Me – Holly McNish
  8. Dear Fatty – Dawn French
  9. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
  10. The Power – Naomi Alderman
  11. The Lottery (and other stories) – Shirley Jackson
  12. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  13. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
  14. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
  15. A Quiet Storm – Rachel Howzell Hall
  16. How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
  17. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  18. The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  19. Wonder – RJ Palacio
  20. The Color Purple – Alice Walker

I’m going to reserve the right to make some swaps if I need to!

Anyone else want to join in? 😀