Tag Archives: rebecca solnit

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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Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Jeanette Winterson – Manchester Literature Festival

Manchester Literature Festival’s event: Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Jeanette Winterson was joyous. I loved every minute of it and had a memorable, happy evening.

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Jeanette Winterson and Rebecca Solnit

Firstly I love being out in Manchester. I get a lovely feeling of nostalgia for my university days and this was especially strong because I parked next to my old halls, and the event was on the Manchester University Campus (obviously not in the Physics building – but near enough!).

I was an hour early and needed to get some food, and I was alone, so I decided to pretend I was a confident person who can happily eat in a bar alone. I nearly wimped out and went to Costa (where being alone is more acceptable, in my mind), but stepped up and went to a lovely bar where I know they sell nice food. Ordered a pint and a Caesar salad, sat alone and read my book while happily enjoying my food and drink.

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A bit of Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie while I get fed and watered before the event.

When I arrived at the lecture theatre, as I was on my own I thought I might get a single seat near the front (it was already quite full). There was a spot right on the front row (most of the front was reserved and, sadly, stayed almost empty for the whole thing). So I had a prime spot. Excellent.

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I love Rebecca Solnit. She didn’t disappoint, and was just as eloquent in her conversation as she is in her written text. I admire her greatly. She writes things I wish I had could have thought of myself. Her arguments on feminism make me want to memorise them so I can be better at talking about it with people. She says things I wish I had the guts to say, but find I sometimes stay quiet because I can’t find the right words, or more likely haven’t got the energy to enter a battle against day to day misogynistic shit. She is unapologetic about it. She inspires me to be more political. I’ve only read two of her books (both this year) but they stand out as being amongst my favourite. Mostly I feel empowered by her words, and I don’t say that lightly and for dramatic effect – I feel like she speaks the words I wish were already in my head.

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We firstly got a reading from her new book, The Mother of All Questions. I have a copy already and was gutted that there would be no signing afterwards. I didn’t have any bad feeling about this, of course, Solnit wasn’t feeling 100% and I was just glad the whole thing wasn’t cancelled.

Then Jeanette Winterson led a wide ranging conversation that included a lot about feminism and politics. We had Solnit’s take on the current Weinstein news, and of course Donald Trump had to be addressed. I was glad I had taken the time to read Winterson’s memoir of growing up in working class Accrington, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (link to my review here).

If my memory is reliable enough (and it isn’t always) this was the first literature event I’ve attended. It seems unbelievable to write that, but I think it’s true. I am so glad I was taking notice when Manchester Literature Festival announced their events – there were so many others I would have loved to attend – but this one stood out as a must be there for me. I read Men Explain Things to Me earlier in the year (review here), and Hope in the Dark over Summer (review here). I have two more of her books waiting to be read A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and The Mother of all Questions. I’m thankful that she is a prolific writer because I won’t run out of things to read by her anytime soon.

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Exciting reads by Rebecca Solnit waiting to be read.

On the way home my playlist provided me with happy singalong songs including Holiday by Queen Madonna herself,  and Ca Plane Pour Moi  the Presidents of United States of America version, if you’ll forgive me, a band I don’t generally like, but I dare you to not sing along!

I think in the future I might start challenging potential new friends with the words ‘Do you greatly admire Rebecca Solnit?’ and if they don’t or haven’t heard of her. I don’t know, forget it!

I remember seeing this on twitter earlier in the year, by Caroline Criado-Perez and I completely agree!

 

I will be on the look out for more events to go to next year. Thanks Manchester Literature Festival for putting on the great event!

Book Review: Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit

The back of the book blurb says:

At a time when political, environmental and social gloom can seem overpowering, this remarkable work offers a lucid, affirmative and well-argued case for hope.

I’m already sold. Politics – mental. Check! Environmental predictions – dire. Check! Social issues – overwhelming. Triple check! I need this book right now. And I absolutely loved it. I’ve struggled to get this review written because I have felt like I’m not capable of conveying how brilliant it is. It’s made me feel hopeful about the future and like I can make a difference to the world. That’s some achievement for a book that’s only 142 pages long.

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That brew is perfect. Anyone who might make me a cup of tea in the future, please take note. 

I read most of Hope In The Dark during the week when we had actual white supremacist Nazis marching in Charlottesville. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. I still can’t see, hear, or read that without doing a huge internal WTF? They are fracking a few miles away from my house. People in positions of power are denying climate change. We are exiting the EU. And the Conservatives are in power a-frigging-gain. It’s ALL TOO MUCH. and that’s not even the half of it.

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Rebecca Solnit. Picture from https://umpsychogeography.wordpress.com/the-writer-as-walker/rebecca-solnit/

Hope In The Dark is a collection of 21 short essays. It was was written in 2004 in the wake of the second election of President Bush. Rebecca Solnit is American and so American politics are important to the book, but it covers global issues. The copy I read is a 2016 update and has a new foreward, a new afterward, and two new essays concerning 2009 and 2014. It falls cliffhangingly short of a Donald Trump presidency!

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The dark in the title of the book is the future. The dark is the unknown. It’s not that its dark and terrible, it’s just unknown. As she points out in the book, in the 1980s we couldn’t have predicted the internet in 20 years time, for example. We never know the future and so we can’t predict how our efforts will affect it. We should do things we believe are right, we should have hope that they can affect the future positively because they might, and probably will. In Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit gives us examples of when small acts of activism, that may have felt hopeless to the people involved at the time, have gone on to influence great changes in the world. Hope In The Dark is a call to arms to be more politically active and more engaged. It’s clear about how even small acts can have great effects.

Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what we may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they all matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.

 

The right and left of politics both come in for criticism. The right for getting their followers to focus on the wrong problem. i.e. countryside dwellers being most afraid of terrorism and crime even though statistically they are least likely to be affected. The left get it in the neck for focusing singularly on the biggest issues and therefore becoming so full of despair there is inaction. This criticism of the left was really useful to me. I’m good at seeing what the right do wrong already 🙂

Forgive me for not giving the full context of this next quote, but I love the phrasing:

the despairing were deeply attached to their despair, so much so I came to refer to my project as stealing the teddy bear of despair from the loving arms of the left.

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Reading some of Hope In The Dark at Bluedot Festival 

The stories covered are global and I read a lot of Hope learning about world issues from the last 20 years that I either didn’t know anything about, or only had vague knowledge of. I’m deliberately not going into too much detail here, because I want you to go and read it for yourself! I could never do it justice here.

… hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch , feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.

I’ve concentrated so far on the political aspects of Hope In The Dark, but the environmental parts rang true for me as well. I’m concerned about climate change and our global response to it, and it’s heartening to read about some environmental successes around the world. There is a fracking site a few miles from my house and this is a massive concern. Reading about some successful American campaigns against fracking was really encouraging.

It’s always too soon to go home.

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Yes, a fish finger butty. Food of the Gods. 

I badly want to read an update written even more recently with Rebecca Solnit’s take on the Trump presidency. In fact, maybe that exists out there somewhere… *checks internet and wins*. I’m going to see her talk at Manchester Literature Festival in October and I can not wait. Her new book on feminism has just been released – The Mother Of All Questions: Further Feminisms, a follow up to Men Explain Things To Me (my review here. Guess what I LOVED THAT TOO).

Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.

Thank God Rebecca Solnit is a prolific writer because I just want to read everything she’s written. I saw this on Caroline Criado-Perez‘s twitter and I totally agree!

 

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This is the sort of book that I wished I had an extra secret higher level of recommendation to give it. I LOVED it. It’s exactly what you need if you feel despair with current politics, current environmental issues, or social issues (i.e. everyone, surely?!?) Please read it!!!!

We are not who we were not very long ago.

 

Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit

This is a brilliant collection of seven essays on feminism. It sets out succinctly and in a clear, straightforward way, all the shit that we need feminism for. They describe the ways in which women are not equal. Each essay covers something different. We have the title essay – now widely known as mansplaining, but more about that term in a minute. We have violence against women, class war and terrible economic history,  marriage equality, the efforts to make women invisible in society, intellectual freedom, and finally how ideas about feminism can’t be put back in a box and ignored: they are out there and won’t go away! It’s all the things I wish I could memorise and repeat when I meet someone who scoffs and states we don’t need feminism.

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untitled by Ana Teresa Fernandez

 

Each essay has a cover page with an image by Ana Teresa Fernandez on. I really liked these. Occasionally they are referred to in the essay themselves, but not in most cases. Throughout each essay you get key sentences written out again in bold and large lettering. I think to break up the text. They are a bit annoying. The only negative thing I have to say about the whole book. There are some great phrases in these essays:

part of the same archipelago of arrogance.

I’ll leave you to imagine what this was in reference to.

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Disney store mug featuring Black Widow

The first and title essay is funny, and depressing and so familiar.

It’s about the thin end of a scary wedge. This essay is describing the phenomena now widely known as mansplaining, though Rebecca Solnit doesn’t like that phrase as she explains in an addition to the original essay featured in this collection.

The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was to take these conversations as the narrow end of the wedge that opens up space for men and closes it off for women, space to speak, to be heard, to have rights, to be respected, to be a full and free human being.

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The second essay, The Longest War, is about rape and violence against women. It’s stark and depressing and motivating. I needed a bit of a break after the second essay before I could read the third. It was just too much to take in all at once. This isn’t a criticism, it’s powerful reading.

The third, is framed around Dominique Strauss Khan and the hotel maid scandal. It touches on class war, the damaging policies of the IMF and the rich fucking over the poor.

Chapter four is marriage equality. It explores how gay marriage is an affront to people who want to preserve traditional gender roles (i.e. men being the source of power in the marriage) because a marriage between two men or two women is inherently equal.

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untitled by Ana Teresa Fernandez

Chapter 5, Grandmother Spider, is about the erasure of women. In biblical genealogy, lineage is from father to son. Women are ignored. The entire side of someone’s family on their mothers side is erased. Women’s names are erased on marriage. You used to become Mrs husbands name. I’ve had post arrived addressed to me in this way and it’s infuriating! Veils are a way of disappearing a women. So is confining her to a home and not enabling women to take part in public life. It starts out looking at the bible and ends with examples in the modern world. I really enjoyed this essay, especially because I’m already so familiar with the history of women in science and how often women have been overlooked.

When I was young, women were raped on the campus of a great university and the authorities responded by telling all the women students not to go out alone after dark or not to be out at all. Get in the house. (For women, confinement is always waiting to envelope you.) Some pranksters put up a poster announcing another remedy, that all men be excluded from campus after dark. It was an equally logical solution, but men were shocked at being asked to disappear, to lose their freedom to move and participate, all because of the violence of one man.

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Next we have a chapter starting with a Virginia Woolf quote:

The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think

Virginia Woolf, 1915.

It wasn’t really clear what this is about at first. It talks of Sontag and if art is hopeful or dark or something. It’s a bit more abstract that the others and so I struggled with it. It references another of her books Hope In The Dark and is about having hope. How your actions might have unintended, amazing consequences. you can’t know if your actions will have the effect you want, but you should try just in case it does, or in case it has unintended consequences. There are examples to illustrate all this. It gives a great case for wandering about and walking being great for creativity and introspection.

This essay is still great, but it’s also a bit advert for Rebecca Solnit’s other books (which I know I will end up ordering and reading – in fact, Hope in the Dark arrived yesterday!), which I now want to read (Hope in the Dark was already high up on my wishlist because of Josie Long singing it’s praises on Bookshambles). I also now must read some Virginia Woolf and her essay on wandering the streets of London! I love how reading one thing makes me want to read others. Though I really don’t need any more books… says every reader, ever.

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Grace Kelly: rock star

Essay 7: Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force is about the progress feminism has made. About how once an idea has been released it can’t be put back in its box.

Homophobia, like misogyny, is still terrible; just not as terrible as it was in, say, 1970. Finding ways to appreciate advances without embracing complacency is a delicate task. It involves being hopeful and motivated and keeping eyes on the prize ahead. Saying that everything is fine or that it will never get any better are ways of going nowhere or of making it impossible to go anywhere. Either approach implies that there is no road out or that, if there is, you don’t need to or can’t go down it. You can. We have.

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I’m going to need to reread these essays several times, just so the next person who says we don’t need feminism to me, can get a well thought out, intelligent earful about exactly why we definitely do. I struggling to put quotes in this review because I highlighted almost every other sentence. Rebecca Solnit is my new hero.