All the books in February (feat. #feministlitfeb)

And here we are in March. February has been a month of reading I didn't quite expect, and now I'm a little overwhelmed with it all. My TBR for FeministLitFebruary was ambitious, and I'm a bit surprised and impressed by myself to see how much I managed to read. I wish I'd written more reviews, but oh well. I'm still figuring it out.

Anyway, here's the roundup:

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen || 3/5
I read this for a creative project I was hoping to start, but it turned out I didn't have time for it this month.
This is my third Jane Austen book, and I just don't get them. With all their insight and many funny moments, my overarching annoyance at how obsessed with money and boring most of the characters are is just too much to enjoy them. And still, I miss them when I finished?? Sense & Sensibility is full of highly unlikeable characters, its ending is awful, and Elinor is one of the most frustrating protagonists I've ever come across. Can I stop reading these now please.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward || 4.5/5 || FeministLitFeb Challenge - An #ownvoices story
I read the book while a storm was raging through my own mind, so that might have to do with the way I experienced it, but goddamn. It's special.
Salvage the Bones follows the story of a family – three brothers, one sister, and their dad – in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, 12 days before the storm Katrina hits. Esch, the narrator and only girl in the family, has just discovered she is pregnant.
I tried to write a full review for this title, but my words can't do it justice. It's a beautifully written, immersive read about motherhood and strength and destrucion that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Brave by Rose McGowan || abandoned
I tried, and gave up on page 40. This is not a book that should be judged by its literary merit, of course not. But dear god it would have benefited a lot from some editing. The book is written in a 'stream of consciousness' kind of way, which I imagine makes for an intriguing audiobook, but is exhausting in writing. It lacks structure and is full of anger and a kind of 'I immediately saw through the bullshit' superiority that made it hard for me to want to keep reading. Rose McGowan has been through a lot and she has every right to be angry, but I've decided not to follow this particular story.

Six Stories & an essay by Andrea Levy || 4/5 || Instagram review || FeministLitFeb Challenge - A book written by a black woman
'I am not in the habit of making friends with strangers. I am a Londoner. Not even little grey-haired old ladies can shame a response from me. I'm a Londoner – aloof sweats from my pores.'
This short read explores the concept of identity throughout three generations, all inspired by Andrea Levy's own experiences or those of her family: the young man from the West Indies fighting for the British during the War; the Jamaican woman on her way to England full of expectation for a better life; and the immigrant's daughter, English through and through to the point where she needs to be made aware she is black. The essay that precedes the stories tells Levy's own story of growing up in a Highbury council flat, so unaware of her ancestry as the descendant of slaves that she considered herself white, and had to re-learn what it means to be a product of the shared history between Britain and the Caribbean.
Like a complex gemstone that looks different from every angle, this book provides a variety of short but impactful stories that should best be read in one sitting to appreciate this book as a whole.
(Also, can I just say – this Tinderpress edition is lush. The thick stock it's printed on, the clear foil on the cover, the handwritten titles? Oh my god.)

Hunger by Roxane Gay || 5/5 || full review here || FeministLitFeb Challenge - Feminist Wildcard
THIS BOOK THOUGH. It's amazing. Read it.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas || 3/5 || FeministLitFeb Challenge - Feminist Fiction
This book is being sold by comparing it to The Power and The Handmaid's Tale, and I think that kind of marketing does it a disservice. Unlike the distinctly sci-fi/dystopian books by Naomi Alderman and Margaret Atwood, Red Clocks feels a lot more immediate and relatable: its America is one that looks well possible by 2020. Its horror is more subtle and takes a step back to make space for its characters, who are each impacted in a different way by the new legislation (abortion is illegal under any circumstances, and adoption is only possible for married couples). It's an immensely readable book that I looked forward to picking up each time, invested in all four main characters and their struggle for personal freedom.
But I think it tries too hard. Someone on Goodreads called it 'literary frills', and that's what they are – the narrator does not refer to the women by name, but title (the wife, the daughter, the biographer, the mender), which feels superfluous since they clearly have names; there are very disjointed bits of writing linked to a polar explorer Ro is writing about, which are either by the explorer herself or by Ro, and it's never quite clear what they are for; and especially in Gin's chapters there are bits of literary dissociation when the writing seems to slip in some kind of fever dream that made me wonder what I'm reading each time. I don't think any of these features are necessary, as the women's stories are engaging enough in themselves, and they distract more than they add. This would have been a gorgeous, important book without those frills.

Inferior by Angela Saini || 4/5 || FeministLitFeb Challenge - Feminist Non-Fiction
Can we take a second to admire this cover — thank you.
This seemed like the perfect book to read for this challenge: an exploration of the way science has been used to prove that women are the weaker sex, and what we know now. It looks at intellectual ability, physical differences and aging (or, 'What are old women good for'), looking at studies very different from the ones we always read about in the news. For someone who doesn't read as much non-fiction as she should, I found this book very well structured and very readable, and I have come away with even more respect for the female of our species: we are mighty, and I didn't even know half of it.

This was my first ever reading challenge, and I really enjoyed this. Maybe I'll do another one in the future.

But for March: easy reads.

Review | HUNGER by Roxane Gay

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Today I noticed how every time I see a small child with a crisp packet in their hands, I have to keep myself from judging the parents. There's nothing like the smell of crisps to transport me back to my own youth: the greasy combination of oils and strong chemical tastes; the fizzy drinks that came along with them; that deep, desperate feeling of being sluggish and fat and gross.

I wasn't fat, but I grew up in an environment where being fat, feeling fat and the desire not to be fat have always been topics, and I suppose like most females on this planet I feel some level of societal pressure not to be ‘fat'.

It makes me feel strange and guilty using this word to refer to myself, having just read Roxane Gay's Hunger. I'm very aware that I have never been fat, or even overweight. While my personal feelings about my body may be one thing, I have never experienced life in a society that sees me as fat. There are so, so many experiences that I haven't had, that I can barely imagine anyone else ever having (like strangers removing items from a food cart that they disapprove of – my mind is still reeling from that one). Hunger is an important (and rare) record of those experiences, and the emotions that go along with it.

But there's a lot more in there to unpack – there is sexual assault, race, and the ever returning topic of (self-)worth, and the struggle to feel deserving: of love; of respect; of care, from oneself and others.

In a beautiful interview with Jenny Zhang for the Rookie Podcast, Roxane Gay has talked about those struggles, and the persistent feeling that haunted her since her teens: ‘This is all there is? How disappointing.' There's a beautiful, comforting moment during that interview where both of these wonderful, talented people talk about that loneliness, the feeling that life just might not be for them, something that can persist over years and years no matter how much work we put into dealing with life. Others feel like this too. Awesome people feel like this too.

Apart from the many other things it does, Hunger chronicles, with incredible honesty, one person's journey with those feelings. Sometimes the chapters are hard-hitting (there are a few about relationships that are particularly hard to read); sometimes they are hesitatingly gentle (like the one about cooking a Blue Apron meal and the attempt to nourish her body well). Overall, it is a journey – a very long, hard journey with some ups and many downs.

I don’t want to be relieved when a relationship ends. I have things to offer. I am nice and funny and I bake really well. I no longer want to believe I deserve nothing better than mediocrity or downright shoddy treatment. I am trying to believe this with every fiber of my being.

I cannot properly review this book without being more open than I want to be or am able to be. Which in a way is a shame – as she writes, sharing our histories (of violence) is important: 'It informs how I move through the world. It informs how I love and allow myself to be loved. It informs everything.' And by sharing our history in our own words, we gain control over them.
But I am not that brave, and that's just how it is.

But I can tell you, who is reading this, to read this book, and be inspired – to be better and kinder to your fellow humans; to be better to yourself; to tell your own story. We need more books like this, especially in times of the #MeToo movement when finally, someone is listening. We need more people to come forward and remind us that life is messy, and painful, and that everyone is fighting some kind of battle. And only if we know what these battles are, and all the many shapes they can take, and that they can be a massive part of us without defining us – then we can move through the world with open minds and be compassionate, and kind, and considerate to each other. That's the world I want to live in.


Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Corsair
Publication date: June 2017
Rating: 5/5

My #feministlitfeb TBR

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Can you believe it’s February already? I can and can’t, but that’s just time passing, I guess.

I’ve been enjoying this blogging thing so far, but I would like to do more reviews. What a great coincidence then that a couple of weeks ago I stumbled across the #feministlitfeb challenge. This month-long readathon, hosted by ItsJaneLindsey on Youtube, aims to get people reading more feminist and diverse literature. Since a few books that fit the theme have been on my TBR for a while, I decided to join.

There are five challenges, and I have books for all of them, so here is my #feministlitfeb TBR:

#1 Read a piece of feminist fiction

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
I’ve seen Red Clocks on Instagram quite a bit recently, and on a few TBRs for this challenge in particular. It's marketed as feminist dystopian fiction somewhere between The Power and The Handmaid's Tale, so I know I'm up for some light reading. It's not out in the UK yet, but if you know people...

#2 Read a piece of feminist non-fiction

Brave by Rose McGowan
To be honest, I know very little about Rose McGowan, but from what I've seen, I'm interested in how she experiences the world. (I'm also very annoyed by the bad reviews this book is getting based simply on the fact that people don't know her, without having read the book.)

Also in this category, if I can get round to them, are Inferior by Angela Saini and Hunger by Roxane Gay. I know Hunger is not the most feminist book by Roxane Gay, but it's the one that I found in the shop for little money, and I've only heard good things about it.

#3 Read an #ownvoices story about an experience that is not your own (in terms of race, sexual orientation, (dis)ability etc.)

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li & Six Stories and One Essay by Andrea Levy
I had to go shopping for this challenge, because I had no #ownvoices books left on my unread shelf. So with not much money left I went to our local bookshop and dug through the shelves, where i realised what a great selection of diverse literature they have. (And the books are so cheap. I got each of these for £3 each) I haven’t read anything by either author before, but I’ve heard good things and I can’t wait to dig into these.

#4 Read a book written by a black woman/non-male identifying person

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
I haven’t read anything by Jesmyn Ward yet and Sing, Unburied, Sing is not currently in my price range. Electric Literature recently published a list of books with 'wonderfully nuanced black female characters', and Salvage the Bones was one of them, so here we are.

#5 Feminist Freebie

Diversify by June Sarpong
Technically, any of the books in the other categories goes as a feminist freebie, but I really hope to get to this one. In Diversify, June Sarpong looks at the cost of social division and makes a moral, economic and social case for more diversity in our society. It feels like a must read to me, and it's time.

I probably won't be able to review all of these, but I'll do my best! Wish me luck.