Top 2017 reads so far

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Hello! It’s me, the worst blogger in the world!! Hope you’re doing well! Readingwise, 2017 has been a good year for me, and I thought I’d pop in and share some of my favourite books of the year so far. Which I guess is nearly over anyway (and thank goodness for that – I’m ready for Christmas and I’m ready for new things in 2018).

Anyway, here are my top picks, in no particular order. I’ll try not to be too spoilery.

 

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the art of life by Samantha Ellis

As a big fan of biographies (especially those of the historic female kind), I adored this one about Anne, the forgotten Brontë sister. Samantha Ellis does a wonderful job of piecing together the story of her life and framing it around her relationships with others. This is a much-needed update and revision of previous work on the elusive Anne (which is often dismissive and sometimes harsh), and it strikes a nice balance between being academic and actually enjoyable. It’s definitely got me keen to delve into Anne’s novels as well, which I hadn’t really considered before as I didn’t know much about them.

 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

In Alderman’s universe, teenage girls are suddenly gifted with the power to hurt and even kill anyone who touches them. Almost overnight, human society undergoes a complete reversal as women are suddenly the ones with the power. It’s a fascinating story that had me cheering on the downtrodden female characters finally freed from oppression – until about halfway through, when things start to turn sour and we (re)learn that, inevitably, power corrupts whoever is wielding it. The book could probably be shorter – it gets a little slow in the middle – but it’s definitely worth trudging through to get to the killer ending. There’s a really interesting summary and interview with the author here too.

 

Girls will be Girls by Emer O’Toole

This is gender studies 101! If you’re finding yourself a bit confused by the different perspectives on gender and femininity you’re suddenly seeing online, this is the perfect book to get back to basics. Emer O’Toole does a really good job of breaking it down in an accessible way, and I love how she provides practical (and sometimes, dare I say it – fun) suggestions on exploring the way we perform gender. I think it’s critical we bring topics such as this one “down” from high-level academic theory and make them accessible without oversimplifying them, and this is something Emer O’Toole does very successfully. Read this one to learn, re-evaluate AND be entertained.

 

The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin

Another historic biography – of sorts. This is the fascinating story of Nelly Ternan, Charles Dickens’ mistress and sort-of-homewrecker. It’s one of the most interesting biographies I’ve read, because absolutely nothing written by Nelly herself has actually survived until the present day  (read: everything written by Nelly herself was destroyed before the present day). Claire Tomalin manages to trace the outline of her life through sources from others, and yet she herself remains a mysterious silhouette. She lived a life that was so shaped by circumstance, in which her own choices were so drastically limited, that it’s really very difficult to get a view of who she really was. I ripped through this one in a couple of days – it’s a fascinating study of history’s erasure of women, and it provides a very different perspective on Dickens himself as well.

 


So these are my top four. I’d love to hear what you loved reading in 2017! Leave a comment and let’s talk books!

The quiet rebellion of reading women

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While organising (and gloating over) the piles of to-read books by my bed the other day, I noticed something interesting: every single one of them was written by a woman.

It wasn’t by any design. While I’ve always been preoccupied with reading about the lives of women, I never actively set out to reject male authors. And yet all 13 of those stories waiting by my bed (I know, I know) were told by women – and all but one had a female protagonist. A closer look at my entire bookshelf confirmed the trend: I could count the male authors on one hand.

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This got me thinking about why I’ve always had a fascination with the female experience and the lives of women through history. Maybe it’s because, really, there’s still not enough of that sort of thing around. Maybe it’s because I could never understand myself through Shakespeare, Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald and J. D. Salinger – the headliners of my high school lit reading list. Maybe it’s because, frequently, men still insist on telling our stories for us – in art and in life. While literature has done a lot better than some other forms of media (looking at you, Hollywood), there’s still a long way to go.

I am proud that I read so many women. I may not have power or influence and I can’t put right the misogyny in the world, but I can make this small choice. I can read the stories of women – migrants, misfits, poets, artists, women of colour, Muslim women, LBQT+ women, rebels, game-changers, survivors. I can make a conscious effort to listen to the voices that the world tries to silence or ignore. Maybe it’s not much, but it’s my personal act of quiet rebellion.

 

(PS – I hope to post some reading lists for intersectional feminism/women in various genres at some point so look out for that.)

(PPS – feel free to add me on Goodreads! I love being nosy about what everyone else is reading…)

Top 6 of 2016: books

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Last year I got back into reading in a big way, and I’m so glad I did. By making an effort to spend less time scrolling aimlessly through various social media feeds I managed to make it through (and enjoy!) 23 excellent books that wandered all the way across the literary landscape from modern fiction, crime and YA to history, social critique and travel.

In the order in which I read them, here are my top 6 of 2016:

  1. How to be a Heroine – Samantha Ellis
    This book is basically just like sitting down with your bestie and a cup of tea and having a good old chat about all the female-centric stories you loved growing up. I have a few issues with some of Ellis’s ideas (why are you putting all your heroines on such a high pedestal? Do you critique male heroes in the same way? Why do we need the ‘perfect’ heroine anyway – doesn’t perfection incorporate being flawed?) but in general I very much enjoyed the nostalgia trip.
  2. The Women’s History of the World – Rosalind Miles
    THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT. As someone who is actively trying to learn about all topics surrounding feminism and femaleness, I found this book super useful in terms of putting modern feminism in context and looking at the bigger historical picture. It really clarified a lot for me.
  3. How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
    A 90s grunge coming-of-age sort of deal. The heroine is an absolute gem who takes total control over her destiny and ensures that all her achievements (and mistakes) are absolutely her own.
  4. Unless – Carol Shields
    Don’t you love it when you spontaneously buy a book by an unfamiliar author at a garage sale purely to support a good cause and it turns out to be one of your ALL TIME FAVES? I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this so much. It’s just a really engaging, lovely read.
  5. The Hate Race – Maxine Beneba Clarke
    Again, a really important book. We’re good at pushing racism under the rug here in Australia and I think this is a pretty good reminder of the impact it can have on individuals. Not just the blatant shit but also the seemingly insignificant ignorant remarks that people don’t even realise they’re making.
  6. Not Just Jane – Shelley DeWees
    This was a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of the lives and work of some of the (many) under-appreciated women writers in Britain’s history. These were some badass, incredible ladies. I recommend it if you like fiction from the 18th/19th centuries and are looking to broaden your literary horizons.

What were your top picks from 2016? Let me know in the comments – despite having around 10 books on my ‘currently reading’ shelf I’m somehow always searching for something to read.