Review: Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson

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020 - Written on the Body

Rating – 5*

After saying not so long ago that I was going to forgo Winterson for a little while, I caved. This more than made up for the issues I had with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. It was beautiful. It’s a work of art. It absolutely blew me away.

This book is, essentially, a book about worshipping a lovers body. It’s sensual, it’s captivating, and it’s intricate. It’s the first time with one of Winterson’s books that I’ve felt a full connection with the narrator – and I think this might be the book that I fall in love with her.

The main character remains not only nameless, but genderless. At the beginning I felt so sure that they were female, then in the middle I questioned it (and promptly changed my mind again), but by the end I was absolutely certain that they were female. It remains unsaid, it remains unnecessary to the story, and it also makes you as a reader question why you need to know in the first place – what does it matter? They have had female and male lovers, but focuses primarily on the love they had for one woman – Louise – and the fall out of their relationship.

The first section of the book focuses on the narrators love life, past lovers, sexual experiences, pitfalls of romance, and love. We see them in a stagnating relationship with a woman, which is comfortable but not passionate. Then they meet Louise, and things change. But Louise is married, and we get an insight in to her marriage and all the faults with it. Then something happens, which changes how our narrator looks at their relationship – and they follow their head not their heart, leaving Louise behind.

I want to say more, but I also want others to experience the beauty of this book first hand. I was blown away by it. I always felt that Jeanette Winterson was going to be just not in my grasp and then I go and read this. For me, it’s a slightly sexed up, more modern version of Orlando and I think that having read Orlando recently really helped with my enjoyment of this. There were a lot of similar themes across the two, so maybe if you like Orlando as much as me, you’ll love this too.

Oh, and the ending isn’t all sad, I promise.

Review: Wild Embers – Nikita Gill

012 - Wild Embers

012 - Wild Embers

Rating – 5*

What can I say about this collection other than, quite simply, wow. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a poetry collection as much as I did this. I picked it up knowing nothing about it. I judged it entirely on it’s cover and I genuinely cannot put in to words just how incredible it is. I was hooked from the first poem, and by the 4th I was well and truly in love with it.

I hate reviewing poetry in that I struggle to find words to convey just how I connected with it, there isn’t a plot or characters to talk about, it’s a lot more abstract. This collection had several running themes – feminism, self love, trauma. For me it would be the ultimate medicine to ease any emotional ailment.

Not only are there beautiful ‘traditional’ poems, there is also a section of prose poetry which retells well known fairy tales, and gives stories of ancient goddesses from their perspectives – empowering these women, giving them voices and turning them on their heads.

I loved it. All of it. For me there wasn’t one bad page over the 160 this book is made up of. I went at it with post it notes and a pen, annotating nearly every poem in here. I don’t often feel a need to do that, but with this collection I found myself having thoughts on every page, and making connections that usually go above my head! I could read this book 10 times over in the next week and I would still be finding new things and not be bored of it.

This is truly one of the most beautiful poetry collections I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and I have already purchased an ebook of her previous collection (as I can’t seem to find it in print, sadly). If you’re not 100% sold on poetry, then this is for you, and what’s better you can have a preview of her work as she posts on Instagram regularly (her account is here if you’re interested, I urge you to check her out!)

I have a feeling this is going to be a book I am reading for a number of years to come, that the pages are going to become battered and bashed, that I’m going to give it to others as a gift. Needless to say I already know it’s going to be one of my favourite books – if not my favourite book – of 2018, and it’s only the second week of February.

Please. Read this collection, it’s wonderful.

Review: Silly Novels by Lady Novelists – George Eliot

011 - Silly Novels by Lady Novelists

011 - Silly Novels by Lady Novelists

Rating – 3*

I have wanted to read this little essay collection by George Eliot for a very long time, and I thought that now was as good of a time as any. It’s a punchy little book in the Penguin Great Ideas series and contains half a dozen essays alongside the titular one.

Silly Novels is a 35 page essay in which Eliot criticises less able female authors of the period in which she is writing. She writes on how many writers perpetuated negative stereotypes of women which only enhanced the subjugation of women in history. She essentially summarises most novels of the time in one sweeping statement which covers pretty much all romantic novels written by women: a beautiful main character who falls in love with a member of nobility under exceptional circumstances. She argues that all these ‘silly novels’ give a bad name to the female novelist in general, which in turn makes it impossible for the actually talented authors to get recognition for their work. Hence why Eliot herself wrote under a male pseudonym, as did all three of the Bronte sisters.

The titular essay had me laughing, because what she outlines as the issue with many female novelists is still largely something I can relate to, especially when reading books from the same period in which she wrote.

However, while I loved the first essay – the first essay was marvellous – the remaining 4 or 5 didn’t quite hit the mark for me. They were a lot more specific reviews and essays which were more period specific and, from my perspective, not as easy related to. I found them quite hard to enjoy when I hadn’t read any of the source material which inspired them. As a result, I did find myself skimming a lot of the other essays as they just weren’t keeping my interest.

The tile essay though is a perfect look at 19th Century feminism, and a really good step up from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women which was published around 50 years prior at the turn of the century. There is an essay in which Mary Wollstonecraft is referenced, which is quite a nice step between the two!

I’d say this is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in essay collections, early feminism, or George Eliot in general. I’d also say that if you’ve read A Room of Ones Own or A Vindication of the Rights of Women this is definitely a good essay collection to pick up as it bridges the gap between the two. Woolf cites Eliot as one of her favourite novelists, and one of the only ‘grown up’ writers – and reading this I really get where she is coming from.

Review: How Not to be a Boy – Robert Webb

002 - How Not to be a Boy

002 - How Not to be a Boy

Rating – 4*

I’ve wanted to read this book since it was released. I saw Robert Webb interviewed, talking about it, and I knew that it was going to be an amazing read but when I then saw several people on goodreads give it 4 or 5 stars, I knew it was something special. This memoir is by no means a rose tinted look at the world, or Robert as a person, but it’s honest, poignant, sad and funny all at once – and I loved it.

Robert is the youngest of 4 children, his eldest brother passing away just 10 months before he was born. As such, he grew up a little pampered by his mother and a lot of this book is about his relationship with her – but also the troublesome relationship with his father, who abused alcohol and was abusive to his mother. The crux of this book is his development from boyhood to manhood, and the realisation as an adult (and a father) that societies pressures and programming wasn’t only wrong but harmful.

The book is split in to two sections – “Boys” and “Men” – the former section ending with the death of his mother when he was 17. The overarching themes are what boys are ‘taught’ to be by society, and what men are ‘supposed’ to be in the eyes of society. He touches on his relationships with his family, friends and teachers and how each of them shaped him in to who he is today.

It is sad, but at times it’s laugh out loud funny too. One of my favourite chapters was one in which he was talking about a play he was in which Stephen Fry came to see with his partner, and the late, great Carrie Fisher. The antics which ensued after said play had me giggling for a little while.

‘I want the same thing for boys, men, girls, women and anyone who grew up feeling that none of these worlds held any meaning for them. I want them all to have the freedom to express their individual and contradictory selves with confidence and humility.’ 

This book should be read by a lot of people – young boys and men especially. The overwhelming majority of suicide globally is young men, because they’re taught to suppress their feelings and they shouldn’t – something I think is expertly conveyed in this book with his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. This book would start discussion and I think that is the most important thing of all.

Once again, I listened to the audio version of this (narrated by Robert) which has a little extra bit at the end of him reading his ‘wanky’ teenage poetry without editing it, or himself, so there was lots of laughter from both him and me while listening. I’d recommend this book to anyone in any format, because I think it’s important and everyone should read it.

Review: Kissing the Witch – Emma Donoghue

057 - Kissing the Witch

Rating – 4*

What can I say about this collection other than I absolutely loved it? Some background first, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Emma Donoghue in that I either really love, or really dislike, her books. Room was amazing, so was one of her historical novels, then came along Frog Music which is one of the few books I have DNF’d over the years. This was definitely a hit, in spite of my trepidation going in to it.

Essentially this is a collection of fairy tale retellings – people like Kirsty Logan have cited it as a source of inspiration for their work. High praise like that really puts a book on a pedestal, but on reading it I fully understand why it is so highly regarded. All of the stories in this book, or rather snippets in to the characters lives, twist the well known version of the story in to feminist, slightly queer retellings which still (somehow) keep the character of the original. How Donoghue worked all of the fairy tales in to the same world, and had them seamlessly flow in to each other was genius and it made the collection flow absolutely perfectly.

Each tale is the story of a female character before they became the trope in the original fairy tale – their story before they were witches, stepmothers, crones or spinsters; their stories of being girls, sisters and daughters. Each story flows in to the next by the protagonist simply asking who they were, and we go through generations of women, and ending with the origin of the kiss-seeking witch.

Frankly, this collection is genius – and having read a lot of works which have been influenced by it, I can now see the influence it has had on some of my favourite authors (particularly Kirsty Logan’s A Portable Shelter). It is definitely up there with my favourite short story collections, and one I will be reading again in the future for certain.

I listened to this as an audiobook and can’t recommend it highly enough – it was narrated beautifully and while it was the same narrator for each story, every character had their own voice, it wasn’t flat or monotone like a lot of short story collections, or multiple personality audiobooks suffer with!

Is It Ever Too Early for Feminism? || Blogmas Day 7

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We are 7 days in to this month and on the posting of this I have succeeded in one full week of blogmas! Today is another discussion type post and it is on picking books for children and what a minefield it can be. Also I’ve included a few kids books for children in your life (and also yourself if you want something fun to read!). This one is going to be lengthy, but I think it’s an important topic and I want to hear your opinions on it!

Recently, I had the experience of buying books for a friends daughter and it was a lot tougher than I was expecting. I had no idea that in this day and age, where we live in a (supposedly) equal society that children’s fiction is still so overrun with the age old idea of boys being heroes and girls sitting at home with no ambition waiting for a prince/hero/male to come and rescue them.

I’m not a parent, I have no intention of becoming a parent, and while I only have a small part to play in the childhood of my friends children, I absolutely do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes. I always tell her how smart she is, when we play she can be whoever or whatever she wants to be. I’m not her parent, but I adore her and I don’t want her to grow up with a skewed idea of what women are in society. I see this kid once a month and she is growing in to an amazing little girl – she’s a little firecracker, and bright as a button, and I will always encourage her to be that – but sometimes I worry that society, even in this modern day, will squash her down and shoehorn her in to a box of what she is expected to be by antiquated standards.

I was adamant I wanted to buy my friends daughter books for her 4th birthday as she loves reading. Now she’s starting to sound out words and read herself, I wanted to get her some picture books aimed at the 4-5 age group and it’s a minefield – so many of them are just not something that would build her confidence as a person. Books with female main characters often focus so much on things like beauty and innocence that is it any wonder that, subliminally, children get warped ideas about what they look like from such a young age?

The view of females in children’s books is something that is so dated and antiquated that I found myself getting frustrated – not only did I not want to impart that oh-so-gentle misogyny on to my friends 4 year old, I didn’t want it to then become okay for my friends 1 year old son when he inevitably read the same books in a couple of years. I wanted him to have positive representations of females too. If there is one thing I’m certain of it’s that the books you read when you’re first starting out stick with you – the stories, the underlying messages they have a profound impact.

So, on my mission to find Good Representation of Women In Children’s Fiction I found these two gems (below) and when I read them I could have cried. I was elated, because not only are they kickass girls, there’s representation of race, gender, and they’re not just ‘girls books’ – I know my friends son will get just as much out of them as her daughter. I certainly enjoyed them when I proof read them and I’d highly recommend them for any child in your life because they’re fantastic!

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I recently read an article which said something along the lines of 50-something % of children’s books have male protagonists, only 20-something % have female protagonists. The reason being a girl will read a ‘boys’ book, whereas a boy is unlikely to read a ‘girly’ book – there shouldn’t be genders in literature at any age in my opinion, but kids books are reinforcing stereotypes of men having all the action and girls having quiet, homey stories. Even books with animals as protagonists have primarily males at the core of them. Boys need feminism as much as girls do – male characters who cook, clean, are sole parents, are scared or cry – from my memory those things rarely happen in children’s books and that needs to change.

On to the topic of the day which is “is it ever too early to introduce a child to feminism?” – my answer is no. It doesn’t have to be shoved down a child’s throat, it can be subtle, but just simple things like books with female protagonists who don’t sit around and wait for a prince can have a huge impact on a child – male or female – and the same for male characters who aren’t always the hero.

My friends children are lucky – they have incredible parents who encourage them to be whoever and whatever they want to be, even at the ages of 4 and 1. They’re going to grow up to be wonderful human beings because their parents treat them equally and will teach both of them to respect themselves and other people, regardless of gender. I’m not trying to condition my friends daughter in to a “militant” feminist, she is only 4 after all, but I want her to see that she can be the superhero in her own story if she wants to be.

Review: You Sad Feminist – Megan Beech

050 - You Sad Feminist

Rating – 5*

Last year, when I read When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard I thought I had found my perfect poetry collection, the one I’d keep coming back to again and again, that was until I read this. Megan Beech surpassed herself in this second collection, and I don’t even know how to put in to words what I am feeling after reading You Sad Feminist because it was amazing, and I feel amazing after reading it.

In You Sad Feminist there is not only hard hitting feminist poetry (what isn’t to like in that sales pitch?) but also it explores her personal experience, and feelings, about mental illness. That was a theme in her previous collection, but it was more pronounced in this second helping of her work. This last year I’ve really struggled with my mental health, and I am so proud of myself for where I’ve got to in just a year, and in this collection I found myself identifying even more with what she was saying. This is the sort of poetry I wish I could write, because every word of this collection was incredible and resonated with me. It put in to words my feelings about myself, my mental health, and even the world in general in the most eloquent way and I found myself reading, and rereading poems in this book throughout a day. I probably read it in it’s entirety about 3 times over the course of a Sunday, and I’ve dipped in and out of it since just revisiting favourite lines.

In my review of her previous collection, I touched on the fact she was a performance poet and how that doesn’t always translate well to the written word – once again she nails it. Since reading this I’ve looked on youtube, found a few clips of her performing poems form this collection and while the words are a lot more hard hitting when read aloud, the meaning isn’t lost when just reading to yourself.

One of the bits that hit me most was in the last poem The Workshop. This wasn’t only because I’m the biggest Wizard of Oz fan, but also because it put in to a few short lines the last year of my life:-

This greyness, this staleness will not last.
You do not have to suffer.
Like Dorothy in Oz, your life that was can wash from greyscale to technicolour.
From this, your spirits can lift and your body can recover.
There is another road, a life of yellow brick gold in which you can find health and heart and home.

I sincerely urge people to look this woman up because she’s incredible. There are plenty of clips of her performing on YouTube – and I hope one day to be lucky enough to see her perform in person. In the mean time, please read or watch her work.

Naturally, this is a 5/5 read and one I have left copious amounts of post-it notes in so I can revisit as and when I wish to.

Review: Lumberjanes – Vol. 1 to 6 – Noelle Stevenson et al.

Lumberjanes 1-6

Rating – 3* to 5*

Lumberjanes was my first foray in to a graphic novel – Volume 1 was available free through the Amazon Prime lending library and, having heard amazing things about this series, I decided it was very much a good place to start with the graphic novel genre. I wasn’t wrong because I am officially a convert to the form.

I was debating for a while about how best to review these – whether I should do individual reviews or just a bulk review – and as I recently finished the final volume currently in publication I decided to just do an overarching review of the whole series as it stands.

To summarise, the books follow a group of 5 friends (Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley) who are at a summer camp – Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types – I mean I think that tells you everything you need to know about the tone of the series! It’s fun, it’s funny, the girls get in to some Scooby Doo worthy situations with monsters and mermaids, and it’s about their friendship. It just filled me with joy reading it because all the girls are so, so different and each have their shining moments, and it is just a wonderful, wonderful series to read and one I think would appeal to so many different age groups – I love it and I’m nearly 24, but I’m pretty certain some of my friends younger sisters of 8 and 9 would love it just as much!

The first few in the series, I adored the artwork, however the primary artist changed and while I still loved the content I was quite sad to see the original art go because for me that was part of the charm of the characters. I got used to it but after going on a binge it was a bit of a shock to the system to see the characters all looking different! Thankfully the girls all kept their personalities so I eventually adjusted.

I could very easily read these over and over again, if only because I love Mal and Molly so much – my little gay heart could hardly handle it! This series completely NAILS representation, honestly, people come in all shapes and sizes, have different family dynamics, there’s exploration of sexuality and gender – but none of it is so in your face, or overtly ‘token’ – it feels natural and a lot more lifelike than many books aimed at an older audience.

This was a fantastic, fantastic, introduction to graphic novels and I can’t wait for the next two volumes to be released! One is due out in December and I’ma gonna get me that on preorder!

I leave you with a picture of Mal & Molly from (I think) the second volume, just to show you how darn adorable they are.


Review: Testosterone Rex – Cordelia Fine

031 - Testosterone Rex

Rating – 3*

After the horror show that was the representation of women in my previous read, I decided to clear my mind and read a book on gender theory/feminism. I needed to cleanse my soul with something just like this. I actually bought this book because 1) the title made me laugh and 2) the cover is gorgeous. I did briefly read the blurb and picked it up because it sounded right up my alley.

I’ve never read any of Fine’s work before, though after reading this I have since purchased Delusions of Gender, which I am already looking forward to reading as I feel it would give this book a little more meaning.

Testosterone Rex is a relatively short book which aims to debunk the gender myth, or more particularly the “boys will be boys” stance and the universal blame of testosterone for all male behaviours. It’s a good book, for the most part, and it conveys some really important information. For me though, and this is just an opinion, it could have been put across in a much more approachable manner. What could have been pretty straight forward, with real world examples was often over complicated for someone who doesn’t have a background in social sciences or gender studies. Often I found myself scanning through the information in front of me and not fully understanding what was going on until the end of a section.

There were some really, really good bits in this book which I really enjoyed, other bits not so much. The book itself is split in to three main sections – past, present, and future. I found the first 70 or so pages on the past really engaging; honestly those set the book up as a 5* read for me. I also really enjoyed the future section, albeit it was only one chapter but I found the look in on gendering of childrens toys interesting and actually something I’d have liked elaborated on further. For me, what let this book down, was the middle – the present – and it was just that it was so dense.

This is by far the most academic book I’ve read on feminism, and I’m glad it wasn’t my first as it would have put me off the genre of ‘feminist non fiction’ (if there is such a genre!) for life – it would have scared me away because it’s very in depth, and often I couldn’t make out the wood from the trees. The best way to describe this would be a dissertation on gender studies, but without a clear conclusion, rather an overarching sentiment throughout for you to draw your own conclusion.

It’s most certainly not a book for people new to feminist non-fiction, but I would say it’s a good book to pick up if you’re new to – or even wanting to try picking up for the first time – more academic non-fiction and essay collections, because it is most definitely an academic text opposed to a ‘popular non-fiction’ book.

As I said, I’m looking forward to reading Delusions of Gender because if Goodreads is to be believed, that book is a LOT more popular than this!

Review: When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard – Megan Beech

46 - When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard

Rating – 4*

I have said it before, and will undoubtedly repeat myself many times, I am by no means an expert on poetry. What I do know however is that I absolutely adored this poetry collection and would very, very highly recommend this.

Megan Beech is a performance poet; sometimes performance poetry just does not translate well when written down and read, this collection however translates to the written word beautifully. I found getting in to the rhythm of these really quite easy, it sometimes took a bit of slowing down to find that rhythm but it wasn’t in any way impossible. This easy rhythm made Beech’s voice come across clearly for me, although I am very aware that other people have struggled in finding this.

The poems themselves really resonated with me. Her point of view is one I really identified with and I found so much of myself and my own opinion in her words. What she was just saying sung to my soul, however cheesy that sounds. Her words are fearless, and it was both beautifully poetic and yet raw, exposed and quite brash. On the whole, I’d say it was amazing – and very, very passionate. One of my favourites in the collection was possibly Dadverts; actually it’s one of the more quiet pieces, it’s slower, but it really stood out for me.

I was torn as to whether I could give this 4 or 5 stars. It’s definitely the best poetry collection I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and one I will be revisiting. I loved Kate Tempest’s work, but if I’m honest this was better (or at least resonated more with me individually). I’m going to be keeping my eyes peeled for more by Megan Beech because this woman is amazing. Really, give this a go because it’s wonderful.