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Books and Reading Reviews

Fat Men, Fat Gods: The Beauty Myth (1990), by Naomi Wolf

Beauty MythIf you’re a woman in 2016, chances are you’ve probably, at some stage in your life, seen a picture of another woman – whether it be in an advertisement, in a film, or just on the street – and thought, ‘Geez. She’s so much prettier than me’. You’ve probably done something painful or inconvenient or expensive to your body at least once – whether you’ve plucked, scrubbed, scraped, steamed, smeared, or even laid down on a table and let someone put a scalpel to your skin. And if you haven’t, then chances are you’re either: a) living outside human society as a cultureless hermit, in which case you probably won’t be reading this anyway, or b) you’re one of the rare people who are actually happy with their bodies, in which case I applaud you and beg you to kindly TELL ME HOW THE HELL YOU DO IT thank you please and kind regards.

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Books and Reading Reviews

Mansplain No More: Men Explain Things To Me (2014), by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to MeApparently there’s this thing called ‘mansplaining’. It used to be Internet Speak; then it was Word Used By Journalists Desperate to Remain Relevant to Internet Speakers; and finally, in 2014, it was elevated to Word, thanks to its inclusion in the Macquarie Dictionary. And before there was ‘mansplaining’, there was ‘Men Explain Things To Me’.

Of course, I’ve heard the term a few times while browsing the Interwebs. But never having heard of Solnit’s essay, I thought that ‘mansplaining’ was a cute term for when men try and explain their supposedly incomprehensible actions to women. I thought it was the sort of thing that belonged to the world of sitcoms and similar: “No, babe, you don’t understand. Men watch sports because they don’t like knitting /cooking /shopping / insert condescending female stereotype here”.

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Books and Reading Reviews

Am I a Bad Feminist? Bad Feminist (2014), by Roxane Gay

Bad FeministAm I a bad feminist? That’s probably the question a lot of people asked themselves when they saw the title of Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist (2014). The insidious nature of contemporary sexism – veiled in ancient gendered representations, in advertising and the media, and in the rise of ‘irony’ as a catch-all phrase for dealing with accusations of misogyny – certainly makes it difficult to tell at all times whether sexism is actually happening, whether we’re unconsciously (or even consciously) accepting stereotypes of gender as they are handed to us.

The title of Roxane Gay’s collection of essays instantly intrigued me, because it seemed to be addressing this issue face-on. It seemed to be considering what it means to identify as a feminist in a world where a song about rape (‘Blurred Lines’) can be a chart-topper, and where young women can write on the internet about being perfectly willing to let a man beat them simply because he is a celebrity (which Gay addresses marvellously in an essay entitled ‘Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them’). Existing in this kind of world as a self-identified feminist is tricky enough, but it doesn’t help when we are daily exposed to such content and, even worse, sometimes find ourselves humming the chorus of ‘Smack Ma Bitch Up’ (in case you can’t tell, my taste in music is almost pathetically out of date) without even realising.

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Books and Reading Reviews

Why I Re-Read the Twilight Series

TwilightIt’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the world was first introduced to angsty love triangles, whiny heroines, and vampires that sparkle in the sunlight. It’s hard to believe that Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight is into the double-digits. It seems like only yesterday that nobody had ever heard of the amusingly named town of Forks, Washington, and the mention of a shirtless Robert Pattinson didn’t fill us all with dread and horror.

So why did I decide to re-read the Twilight series? Couldn’t I have found a more constructive use for my time, like making paper aeroplanes, or teaching myself to draw cartoon iguanas, or learning how to make my own hummus? (Seriously, am I the only person who just cannot seem to get it together on the homemade hummus front?)

The ten-year anniversary of Twilight caught me by surprise. After all, I remember when it came out. I remember reading it. There’s nothing like a little anniversary to make you wonder where the decades go. Still, nostalgia wasn’t the reason I revisited Meyer’s hit book. I wanted to know why people talked about (and still talk about, but less loudly and with a lot less violent gesticulating) these books. More than that, I wanted to know why I – oh boy, here comes the shameful confession – why I loved the book when I first read it, if only for a little while.

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Books and Reading Reviews

‘A Life of One’s Own’: Lolly Willowes (1926), by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly WillowesDo you want to read about an old, respectable English spinster who moves to the country and sells her soul to the Devil to become a witch in the heady days of the 1920s?

Of course you do. It’s a fantastic idea. Forget great parties at Gatsby’s, I want to see an old English lady drop her drop-waisted dress and do Satanic dances on top of a hill. I want to see her chat with the Devil over tea and biscuits. I want it to be kind of like The Master and Margarita only less confusing.

And who knew that in between the two World Wars such a book was actually written? I couldn’t believe that this book existed, but I knew the minute I read about it in Samantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine that I had to find it. Quite how Lolly Willowes came into existence I have no idea. But I’m glad it did.

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Books and Reading Reviews

I Didn’t Write This Sitting in the Kitchen Sink: I Capture The Castle (1949), by Dodie Smith

I Capture the CastleN.B. This review contains spoilers, so please capture a copy of Dodie Smith’s book before you begin. In return I promise to try and stop making weak jokes with the word ‘capture’ in them. 

I’d love to say that I wrote this review sitting in the kitchen sink. It might begin to express the complicated feelings I have for Dodie Smith’s beloved I Capture The Castle. It might even be a suitable homage to this lovely, quirky book. Sadly, as I’ve discovered, kitchen sinks are not comfortable places to sit, especially when you’re trying to balance a laptop on one knee and a cup of tea on the other.

Which is a shame, because the opening line of I Capture The Castle – “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” – is a real winner.

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Books and Reading Readalongs Readathons and Other Reading Events

Images of Austen: ‘Reading’ the New Jane Austen Waxwork

ImagesAusten2N.B. I wrote this post last year, when the Jane Austen waxwork had just been announced. It’s hard to say whether the waxwork had as much of an impact as I thought it would when I wrote this post, or whether it was just another media gimmick to distract us from all the real stuff actually happening in the world. Either way, it led to a great deal of musing on my part, the larger portion of which I share with you below.

Last year, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath announced an astonishing breakthrough: finally, after years of dull, disappointing images of the famous author gracing book covers and coffee mugs around the world, they had at last discovered what Jane Austen actually looked like. Hurrah! Cried Austenites everywhere. Finally, a release from the tyranny of the one authoritative portrait of the author! Finally, an image of the writer we can show our children! Finally, an image of a woman we would actually want to be friends with! And how was this miracle achieved? Well, by the patient efforts of a forensic scientist, who spent the better part of three years on a quest to discover the ‘real’ Jane Austen.

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Books and Reading Reviews

We Should All Be Feminists (2014), by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

weshouldallbefeministsNot that I really needed convincing, but a book entitled We Should All Be Feminists seemed like a pretty perfect place to begin my goal to read more feminist literature in 2015. And given that International Women’s Day was two weeks ago, I thought I’d go ahead and write a little about this essay. At only forty-eight pages, there’s really no excuse not to read this short piece, which considers some of the reasons why feminism is still required in today’s world.

The text is an adapted version of a speech that Adichie gave a while back; perhaps for that reason it feels formal but still personal. Adichie’s style is readable and intelligent, and at no point did I find myself disagreeing with anything that she said in this essay.

Adichie begins by considering the fact that the word ‘feminist’ carries a lot of baggage, and that people are reluctant to identify with it because it has so many negative connotations.

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Books and Reading

Rest in Peace, Terry Pratchett

pratchett

Rest in peace, Sir Terry Pratchett. Much like a sunflower, you brought smiles to the faces of millions.

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Books and Reading

Romance, Heroes, and a Re-Reading of Jane Eyre

janeeyrePlease note: there are spoilers in the following paragraphs! If you haven’t read Jane Eyre yet – hang on, why haven’t you read Jane Eyre yet?

Towards the end of last year a strange feeling came over me. With two weeks before my final university assignments were due, in the madness of that final rush to the finish line, in the midst of research, re-writes, and late-night drafting sessions – I felt the strangest desire to re-read Jane Eyre.

At the time, I thought it was odd. Given the amount of reading I had to do for class, it seemed bizarre to me that I would want to add yet another book to my immense reading pile; although, granted, Jane Eyre was somewhat lighter and more enjoyable than my class-related reading, namely Freud For Kiddies (published by the Department for the Elucidation of Freudian Theories of Psychosexual Development, at the University of YouveGottaBeKiddingMe Press, MA, 2011) and The Complete and Absolutely In No Way Abridged, Explicated, or Rationalised Works of Jacques Lacan (University of KillMeNow Press, forthcoming).*