feminist non-fiction

All posts tagged feminist non-fiction

Is Monogamy Dead? – Rosie Wilby

Published November 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘My favourite way to learn is when a funny, clever, honest person is teaching me – that’s why I love Rosie Wilby!’ – Sara Pascoe

‘Bittersweet, original, honest and so funny.’ – Viv Groskop

In early 2013, comedian Rosie Wilby found herself at a crossroads with everything she’d ever believed about romantic relationships. When people asked, ‘who’s the love of your life?’ there was no simple answer. Did they mean her former flatmate who she’d experienced the most ecstatic, heady, yet ultimately doomed, fling with? Or did they mean the deep, lasting companionate partnerships that gave her a sense of belonging and family? Surely, most human beings need both.

Mixing humour, heartache and science, Is Monogamy Dead? details Rosie’s very personal quest to find out why Western society is clinging to a concept that doesn’t work that well for some of us and is laden with ambiguous assumptions.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the author, Rosie Wilby for allowing me to read a copy of Is Monogamy Dead?, a beautifully honest part-memoir and part humorous philosophical musings on the nature of friendships, love, monogamy and relationships in the modern world. I’m delighted to provide an honest review and really enjoyed Rosie’s candid thoughts on all these topics and much more. It made me look at social media and dating apps in a whole different light, provided a whole new vocabulary to get to grips with (breadcrumbing anyone?!) and really made me think about what I look for in a relationship versus what my partner might want. It turns out he wants the same as me (phew!) but Rosie definitely made me question what might be going on in someone else’s head and opened up that window of communication where we could talk more honestly about our relationship and where we saw it going.

Rosie is an award-winning comedian, musician, writer and broadcaster based in London and much of the book was quite nostalgic for me as I used to live in London and continue to work there on a daily basis. From describing her current relationship with Jen which troubles her at times because she is so unsure about where it is going, Rosie takes us back to her very first relationship, the first time she fell in love, the girl that changed her outlook briefly for the worse regarding relationships and where she finds herself now. Interspersed with this are her thoughts on monogamy and what that means to people in a relationship, how much potentially easier an “open relationship,” could be where both parties get exactly what they want and still have someone to come home and cuddle on a night, and how technology and expectations have upped the ante in the way we meet and date people.

Of course, I have gay and bisexual friends but I feel like I have got much more of a personal insight into the world of lesbian relationships from Rosie Wilby than I ever would have done from my friends. Well, some things you just don’t ask, right? I loved how sincerely she talked about her past relationships. her current situation and her potential future and my heart broke a little when she and Jen decided to “consciously uncouple,” even though it was obviously the best thing for both parties concerned! I was also fascinated when she described those intimate, very intense female friendships that you form on occasion that are so strong that when they fall apart spectacularly it is almost like a break-up. I’ve certainly had a few of those in my past and I remember how devastating the feeling was.

With Is Monogamy Dead?, Rosie takes us into her confidence, tickles our funny-bone with the things she says and certainly had me rooting for her, hoping that she would find her own happy ending, whatever that might look like to her. If you like your non-fiction with a bit of an edge and a whole lot of heart this is definitely the book for you.

Rosie is appearing at Write Ideas Festival in Whitechapel, London on Sunday 19th November from 13:00-14:00 to talk more about Is Monogamy Dead? Tickets are free but you must register if you’re interested!

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rosie-wilby-is-monogamy-dead-tickets-37755301122

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Five Star TBR Pile Predictions

Published August 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from http://lithub.com/in-praise-of-the-book-tower/

Hello everyone and welcome to something a bit different on my blog today. One of my favourite book-tubers, Mercedes from Mercy’s Bookish Musings recently posted a brilliant video where she went through her TBR and tried to predict which five books would be five star reads for her. She then did a wrap up video after she had read the books to see how many she had got right. I thought this was a fantastic idea and immediately wanted to do the same as a blog post rather than a video. Honestly, none of you need to see me stammering away in front of a camera – it’s not a pretty sight. I’ll leave it to the experts! Without further ado, I’ve picked five books from my TBR that I think will be five star reads for me and I’ll give you a little bit of background information about how I got the book and why I think I might give it five stars.

1.) Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me came across my radar when it was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction earlier this year. I was lucky enough to attend an event where I got to hear the short-listed authors read from their books and answer some questions. I had already heard brilliant things about this book from reviewers whose opinions I really respect and trust but hearing the author speak on the night had me determined that this book was going to be great. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Mostly because people with very similar reading tastes to my own have praised it to the heavens and I’m anticipating I’m going to feel exactly the same way.

2.) The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker

Mercy from Mercy’s Bookish Musings is responsible for my interest in this little beauty. She raved about it in a recent video and after hearing her review, I knew I had to have it. I mean, check out this opening:

“Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.”

Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Again, a great review from a person with similar reading tastes to my own, the dark content and that opening is just too intriguing to resist.

3.) The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

This book has been languishing on my TBR for a ridiculous amount of time and it’s about time it gets read! I’m a big fan of Michel Faber, especially after his beautiful novel, The Crimson Petal And The White and I’ve been looking forward to reading this for the longest time. I feel like it’s going to be a bit like The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, both of which I loved. I understand Michel Faber is either taking a break from writing or has said that he’s not going to write any more novels at all and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been putting off reading this book – I just don’t want to admit to myself that I’m never going to read anything new by him again! Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Mostly due to the premise which immediately pulled me in and I have to say, that gorgeous cover. Okay I know, never judge a book by its cover! (But I do!).

4.) The Bear And The Nightingale – Katherine Arden

I’ve been coveting this book ever since I first saw it in a bookshop – I mean, just look at that cover! There’s a few buzz words that will guarantee I’ll buy a book and some of them are “fairy tale,” “Russian,” “with a dark edge,” and this book has all these things, I’m certain it’s going to be gorgeous. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? It looks to have everything I would want from a novel and yep…..that cover again!

5.) Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts And Daring To Act Differently – Emer O’Toole

I love a bit of non-fiction, especially when it’s a topic that fascinates me, in this case gender stereotypes and feminist issues. There have been some brilliant reviews of this book and I can’t wait to get to it. I think it’s going to be interesting, eye-opening and I’m hoping to learn a lot too. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Probably because of the subject matter which I’m always hungry for and the fact that I’ve heard nothing but good things.

So that’s five books from my TBR which I think (and hope!) are going to be five star reads for me in the future. I’ll get on with reading them in the next few months and then I’ll be back with a wrap up post where I’ll let you know if I was right in my predictions or not. I will also be reviewing each book separately as always but I’ll do that after my wrap up post so as to not give anything away ahead of time. 

Make sure to check out Mercy’s video on her channel to see which books she has predicted will be five star reads for her. If anyone else wants to do this, I would absolutely love to see your choices, please leave a link to your post (or just tell me your choices) in the comments section below!

 

Animal: The Autobiography Of A Female Body – Sara Pascoe

Published August 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Take a funny and illuminating tour of the female body with award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe.

Women have so much going on, what with boobs and jealousy and menstruating and broodiness and sex and infidelity and pubes and wombs and jobs and memories and emotions and the past and the future and themselves and each other.

Here’s a book that deals with all of it.

Sara Pascoe has joked about feminity and sexuality on stage and screen but now she has a book to talk about it all for a bit longer. Animal combines autobiography and evolutionary history to create a funny, fascinating insight into the forces that mould and affect modern women.

Animal is entertaining and informative, personal and universal – silly about lots of things and serious about some. It’s a laugh-out-loud investigation to help us understand and forgive our animal urges and insecurities.

What did I think?:

I am so happy that I finally got round to reading this book. I had it on my Amazon wishlist for so long, eventually bought it then it stared at me from my bookshelves for months before I gave in to its demanding “read me!” pleas and cracked it open. Now I had an inkling before I started that I was going to love this wonderfully funny piece of non-fiction but I couldn’t have anticipated just how much that would be. Sara Pascoe, a British comedian hits the nail on the head every single time when she talks about the female body, sexuality and gender inequality and I found myself nodding along on multiple occasions completely enamoured with every tidbit of information she shared with me, some of it incredibly personal things relating to her own experiences.

The tagline for this book is “Autobiography Of A Female Body,” and that’s the perfect way to describe it if you’re wondering what this book is about. After an entertaining, short and snappy little introduction about Sara and her reasons for writing the book it is divided into a few different sections – love, the female body and the very important issue of consent. Each section has a wealth of useful and often hilarious information, some of which Sara has researched for the purpose of the book and knowledge that she has amassed from her own life experiences. Filled with Sara’s trademark wit and down to earth approach it’s an honest, uplifting and at times, incredibly poignant look into what life as a woman is really like.

I honestly can’t believe it took me so long to pick up this book and I’m so glad it lived up to every single one of my (very high) expectations. I have seen Sara live before and really enjoyed it but felt I got to explore her personality at a much deeper and more intimate level with Animal. It was side-splittingly funny, sure – that’s to be expected from a comedian surely? However, I wasn’t prepared for how emotional it would also make me feel, particularly in the final section when Sara explores consent, rape and the (hugely flawed in my opinion) British justice system for rape victims. I finished the book filled with a strange sense of pride for being a woman and a tentative hope for the future where women will be on a more equal footing with men.

Please don’t shy away from this book thinking it might not be for you if you are a man as well, this book does not discriminate on gender (unlike the world we live in today!) and I think it’s a hugely important read for both men and women. I laughed my head off, felt instantly more empowered and learned a few things too. For example, did you realise that modern technology is leading to the death of the glow bug population? Apparently, the male glow bugs keep trying to mate with the street lights thinking it’s a female glow bug and are obviously unsuccessful! Thank you Sara Pascoe for that fantastic little nugget of information that I can pull out at random moments! Personally, I think this is such a vitally important book that needs to be read by as many people as possible and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It has recently been announced by Faber that Sara will be writing a follow up book about masculinity and considering the brilliance that was Animal, I’ll be first in the queue!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Fifty Shades Of Feminism – Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach (Editors)

Published October 7, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The antidote to the idea that being a woman is all about submitting to desire. There are many more shades than that and here are fifty women to explore them.

Fifty years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, have women really exchanged purity and maternity to become desiring machines inspired only by variations of sex, shopping and masochism – all coloured a brilliant neuro-pink?

In this volume, fifty women young and old – writers, politicians, actors, scientists, mothers – reflect on the shades that inspired them and what being woman means to them today.

Contributors include: Tahmima Anam, Joan Bakewell, Bidisha, Lydia Cacho, Nina Power, Shami Chakrabarti, Lennie Goodings, Linda Grant, Natalie Haynes, Siri Hustvedt, Jude Kelly, Kathy Lette, Kate Mosse, Bee Rowlatt, Elif Shafak, Ahdaf Soueif, Shirley Thompson, Natasha Walter, Jeanette Winterson – alongside the three editors.

What did I think?:

I attended a meeting recently in London for The Fawcett Society which campaigns for equal rights for women in the UK on issues such as pay, pensions, poverty, justice and politics. The meeting featured talks by popular authors Kate Mosse and Lisa Appignanesi, both of whom were truly inspirational and we had an opportunity to buy their books afterwards over drinks and nibbles, obviously an opportunity I jumped at! Fifty Shades of Feminism appealed to me immediately as it features short essays from fifty women all from different cultures, religions and professions on what feminism means to them personally.

Generally speaking, the book was fantastic although certain essays spoke more to me than others, but they were all interesting and it was fascinating to read all their points of view. It was only after I finished the book that I realised that feminism and equality for women is still such a real issue today obviously enough for some developing countries where religion and culture may be an issue, but certainly still today in Western society. Equality is STILL a huge problem in certain industries, some of which may be a surprise like in the literary world, but others like law and politics perhaps less so and where women are sorely under-represented.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a bit of a myth or stereotype about feminism in that we are all butch, angry man-haters. Yes, there will always be extremes of the scale but this book proves the stereotype completely wrong. There’s something for everyone in this book and it ranges in emotion from melancholy and serious to very humorous. Jeanette Winterson writes a very funny piece on the porn industry for example which had me chuckling and shaking my head in disbelief at the same time. Jane Czyzselska, the editor of Diva magazine wrote a wonderful piece about the stigma she receives for being a heterosexual-looking lesbian which proves that prejudice is rife even within the gay community. I was a bit shocked by this particular article and perhaps a bit naïve as I did not think that this sector (who are often subject to gross mistreatment themselves) would be so discriminatory.

Other favourites included Sandi Toksvig’s essay which explored the reasons why women continue to wear high heels that cause them pain and rip their feet to shreds and the final entry written by Alice Stride who won a competition to write a short piece for the book. She wrote a short rant about how she convinced her younger sister not to shave off all of her pubic hair just to make it more appealing to men. It was hilarious, poignant and very, very honest and I challenge anyone to read it on public transport while maintaining a straight face. I failed miserably of course!

This is a book I will definitely be keeping and it’s the sort of book that you can just dip in and out of at your own leisure. It was only after I had finished it that I realised that equality for women is still a contentious issue and we need to carry on fighting for the female sex not only here, but round the world so that we are no longer seen as “the second” and inferior sex. My only slight niggle is that I would have loved to see a few opinions from men for comparison and because I realise there are some wonderful male feminists out there who support the cause. Apart from that, it’s a brilliant read that I would recommend to anyone interested in the topic and for all young girls everywhere as a must read.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA – Brenda Maddox

Published November 21, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Our dark lady is leaving us next week; on the 7th of March, 1953 Maurice Wilkins of King’s College, London, wrote to Francis Crick at the Cavendish laboratories in Cambridge to say that as soon as his obstructive female colleague was gone from King’s, he, Crick, and James Watson, a young American working with Crick, could go full speed ahead with solving the structure of the DNA molecule that lies in every gene. Not long after, the pair announced to the world that they had discovered the secret of life. But could Crick and Watson have done it without the dark lady? In two years at King’s, Rosalind Franklin had made major contributions to the understanding of DNA. She established its existence in two forms and she worked out the position of the phosphorous atoms in its backbone. Most crucially, using X-ray techniques that may have contributed significantly to her later death from cancer at the tragically young age of 37, she had taken beautiful photographs of the patterns of DNA.

What did I think?:

Rosalind Franklin is unfortunately probably best known for not achieving the recognition she should have got in life for unravelling the secrets of DNA. Instead, two scientists called Francis Crick and James Watson boldly used parts of her work to find out the secrets for themselves and published their findings which led to them winning the Nobel Prize. Personally, I was aware of the dis-service that had been done to Franklin but did not realise until reading this book exactly how much her work had contributed to the unveiling of “the molecule of life.” The book tends not to focus too much on the early part of Rosalind’s life as it is when she becomes a scientist, the true nature of this independent, determined and highly intelligent woman is realised. However, a couple of things sprang to my attention from her early life. Firstly, a letter written by one of her relations describes the young Rosalind as:

“alarmingly clever – she spends all her time doing arithmetic for pleasure & invariably gets her sums right.”

Although the word “alarmingly” is probably meant as an endearment it resonates from a time when females were not expected to be clever as managing their household and pleasing their husbands was probably the best they could amount to. It is no wonder that Rosalind has become somewhat of a feminist icon. After all, being Jewish, female and a scientist in times which were not friendly to all three is a tremendous achievement. Being a bit radical also ran in her family as her Uncle Hugh, a pro-suffragist, attempted to attack Winston Churchill with a dog whip due to his opposition to women’s suffrage. Rosalind knew herself from the age of twelve that she wanted to become a scientist and certainly fit the criteria according to Einstein:

“a scientist makes science the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”

Rosalind Franklin (picture from mysciencebox.org)

She first began to make a difference during the war where she was employed by the British Coal Utilisation Research Association studying the porous nature of coal and the density of helium. Her work there led to coals being classified, predicting their potential for fuel and for the production of essential devices i.e. gas masks. In 1946, she extended her CV and broadened her skills by studying X-ray diffraction with the French scientist Jacques Mering, a technique that would prove crucial and valuable in her later work with DNA. It was during her next post with Kings College that she finally made her mark, discovering that there were two forms of DNA and that they were helical in structure. Indeed, her X ray photographs of the molecule were pronounced by J.D. Bernal to be amongst the most beautiful X ray photographs of any substance ever taken.

Enter Watson and Crick, who were currently working on producing a model of the structure of DNA but were having a few technical problems with discovering exactly where each bit went. Papers and photographs belonging to Franklin were given to Crick on the sly causing them to pronounce that they had discovered “the secret of life.” Shockingly, they then went on to publish their paper in the journal Nature in the spring of 1953 with only a short footnote regarding the “general knowledge” of Franklin’s contribution. Franklin’s paper did follow but due to the order of publishing, it seemed only support for Watson and Crick’s amazing discovery, rather than revealing who exactly had done all the legwork. Unpublished drafts of her papers revealed that it was she alone who had discovered the overall form of the molecule with the location of the phosphate groups on the outside. Rosalind went on to carry out brilliant work on the tobacco mosaic and polio virus but tragically succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1958 at just 37 years of age.

I found this book to be an absolutely fascinating read even if I did get carried away a bit at times with the injustice done to Rosalind Franklin and the tragic end to her life. She wasn’t particularly careful when using radiation and tended to just “get on with it,” neglecting to wear appropriate protective coverings or adhere to our now stringent safety requirements when dealing with such a hazardous substance. Could this have contributed to the development of her cancer? She was also a very interesting person, perhaps a bit prickly at first and difficult to get to know but she was immensely passionate about many things besides her beloved science – for example, travelling and climbing and was a fiercely loyal friend. For me, it was wonderful to read an interesting account of a woman that made such a difference even if it was sadly not recognised in her own lifetime.

Would I recommend it?

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Delusions Of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference – Cordelia Fine

Published October 3, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A vehement dismantling of the latest pseudo-scientific claims about the differences between the sexes.

Sex-based discrimination is supposedly a relic of the distant past. Yet popular books, magazines, and even scientific articles increasingly defend continuing inequalities between the sexes by calling on immutable biological differences between the male and the female brain. Why are there so few women in science and engineering, so few men in the laundry room? Well, they say, it’s our brains. Drawing on the latest research in developmental psychology, neuroscience, and education, Delusions of Gender rebuts these claims, showing how old myths, dressed up in new scientific finery, help perpetuate the status quo. This book reveals the brain’s remarkable plasticity, shows the substantial influence of culture on identity, and, ultimately, exposes just how much of what we consider “hardwired” is actually malleable, empowering us to break free of the supposed predestination of our sex chromosomes.

What did I think?:

In my other, non-blogging life, I work as a scientist and every so often you’ll see a review popping up on my blog about a non-fiction book I’ve read that has more than likely been science-y. I’m also a firm believer in gender equality and women’s rights so Delusions of Gender seemed like the perfect mix of science and feminism which encouraged me to pick it up. I found it to be a fascinating read which I learned a lot from and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the differences between our two genders. The book is divided into short chapters with intriguing titles such as “Why You Should Cover Your Head with a Paper Bag if You Have A Secret You Don’t Want Your Wife to Find Out,” “Sex and Premature Speculation,” and “Gender Detectives.” With titles like these you may want to read this book already but let me assure you that the author backs up the humour in her writing with clear facts, possible theories and very strong evidence that lends a note of seriousness into why exactly we still have gender inequality in a modern, 21st century society.

You’d think we’d have come a long way in achieving more rights for women since say, the nineteenth century yet consider this point that the author makes in the introduction. An English clergyman called Thomas Gisborne wrote a manual called “An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex,” and noted that things such as legislation, political economy and the conduct of government should be assigned to men as they have “the powers of close and comprehensive reasoning, and of intensive and continued application.” Whereas, females enjoy “powers adapted to unbend the brow of the learned, to refresh the over-laboured faculties of the wise, and to diffuse the enlivening and endearing smile of cheerfulness.” Ladies, I hope you are extremely insulted right now. But then Fine encourages us to move forward 200 years and look at The Essential Difference written by Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge University psychologist who states “the female brain is pre-dominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” Hmm… sounds pretty much the same thing as what Gisborne was trying to say in the nineteenth century?

Throughout the book, Cordelia Fine investigates how different males and females really are. Are we all so hard-wired into our gender that there is no wiggle room in terms of qualities we should possess? Is it really a man’s world? Is it absolutely pointless for a woman to even consider a top level management job as it requires stereotypically more aggressive characteristics that for a woman is considered unattractive? I did enjoy the way that the author discredits work carried out by Baron-Cohen, and theories from the author of A Female Brain, Louann Brizendine that seem to want to put males and females in their own little boxes. For example, the assumption that a woman can use more areas of the brain than a man i.e. multi-tasking, was an experiment based on only 14 brains and the conclusions weren’t even statistically significant? In this way, a lot of experiments dealing with differences between the sexes have used just a few subjects, or made scientific “guesses,” depending on what their own stereotypical views were.

This is a brilliant and fascinating book, injected with a little bit of wit and sarcasm which I always appreciate in a non-fiction book and which I think is needed when dealing with this subject which can sometimes be a little bit touchy. I don’t think Baron-Cohen or Brizendine will be amongst her fans if they ever read it but I really enjoyed the way she picked apart neurosexism and shone a light upon the shadier areas of gender research. Oh, and you don’t need to be a scientist to read or enjoy this, it’s very accessible without being patronising.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0