Tag Archives: review

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 🙂

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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.

 

The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

Oh it’s an gay, action-packed, easy-to-read Iliad adventure! Told from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles companion, we follow them from childhood to the end of the siege of Troy. You probably won’t like this book if you are a huge ancient Greek literature fan, but if you have only been thinking about reading the Iliad, and haven’t got further than half the introduction, then you will probably love it. Also, if you do really know the Iliad, stop reading now because my review is sure to be deeply offensive to serious Greek literature discussion, in many ways.

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Patroclus is sent to live in the court of Peleus, after he accidentally kills a boy. Peleus’ son is the half-God Achilles. He’s a bit like a super hero David Beckham type. Everyone is in love with him because he is beautiful, and he has a charmed life and is also the greatest warrior who currently lives.  Patroclus is a bit pathetic in comparison. He falls in love with Achilles, and is astounded to discover the feeling is mutual.

Of Achilles, Patroclus observes:

He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not sort of genius to cut always to the heart?

Just putting it put there that me and Achilles might just have something in common.

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The only real problem they constantly have is Achilles’ mum, Goddess sea nymph Thetis. She does not like Patroclus at all. She is there threatening him and interfering every step of the way. I really liked Thetis, she’s terrifying:

She was taller than I was, taller than any woman I had ever seen. Her black hair was loose down her back and her skin shone luminous and impossibly pale, as if it drank light from the moon. She was so close I could smell her, sea water laced with dark brown honey. I did not breathe. I did not dare. ‘You are Patroclus.’ I flinched at the sound of her voice, hoarse and rasping. I had expected chimes, not the grinding of rocks in the surf. ‘Yes, Lady.’ Distaste ran over her face. Her eyes were not like a human’s; they were black to their centre, and flecked with gold. I could not bring myself to meet them. ‘He will be a god,’ she said. I did not know what to say, so I said nothing. She leaned forward and I half-thought she might touch me. But of course she did not. ‘Do you understand?’ I could feel her breath on my cheek, not warm at all, but chilled like the depths of the sea. Do you understand? He had told me too that she hated to be kept waiting. ‘Yes.’ She leaned closer still, looming over me. Her mouth was a gash of red, like the torn-open stomach of a sacrifice, bloody and oracular. Behind it her teeth shone sharp and white as bone. ‘Good.’ Carelessly, as if to herself, she added, ‘You will be dead soon enough.’ She turned and dived into the sea, leaving no ripples behind her.

Waaaaaaahhhhhh!

 

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ahhhh sunshine

I may have mentioned that I haven’t read the Iliad, so I can’t make any comparison between the two. I’m quite sure the original doesn’t have the YA/Mills and Boon romance that The Song of Achilles has. I really liked this romance/action thriller cross over style that it has. It’s also really easy to read, and I didn’t want to put it down. I can’t give a book higher praise. Finally, it may also help me answer more quiz questions correctly, and this is the ultimate in extra brilliance of a book. Yey!

I have another of Millers’ books, Circe, lined up ready to be read and I’m sure it won’t take me long to get round to it. Another day to myself sat in the sun, and I’m sure I’ll pick it up.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I fight.

Serious Concerns – Wendy Cope

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

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

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

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

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

The Circle – Dave Eggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve all been there, right?

Also, The Circle gave me this quote:

some terrible sex-porn-witchcraft controversy?

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

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