The Power

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When I first started reading ‘The Power’, this year’s Baileys Prize Winner, I wasn’t convinced. The premise was amazing but the writing style didn’t grab me. I felt like it only skimmed the surfaces of each character in order to focus on the plot. But the more I read, the more I felt like that didn’t really matter. The plot was good enough.
What this book does wonderfully is expose just how ridiculously cruel gender bias is. This book is being sold as dystopia, but as far as I’m concerned (powers aside) it’s a fairly accurate depiction of modern life; the only difference is the pronouns have been swapped round. Instead of it being women who fear rape it is men. Instead of women being too afraid to walk the streets at night it is the men who finally realise that ‘the night was filled with monsters’. To a male audience I’m sure this will be a shocking revelation, but for women the night has always been populated with fiends.
It’s new to Tunde that ‘dread stalks him on quiet streets’ but not to us. To us this is simply reality. Written from the perspective of a man though and suddenly it sounds barbaric, reminiscent of books set in wars where the enemy lurks at every corner.
What is impressive about this book is how distinctly Alderman turns the tide. ‘The Power’ not only shines a spotlight on just how gender imbalance affects women’s lives, but unlike most post-feminist fiction, it also subverts the power structures of our society. It holds up a mirror and reflects the unfair and often unsafe world women live in.

It would be tempting to write a book that shows how a matriarchy would be much less violent than a patriarchy but instead Alderman has women raping men, killing them in cold blood, murdering each other in contest for power and not even showing mercy when it is children in the firing line. This book shows how it is literally just ‘power’ that got men where they are today. Pure, physical strength. They are no better than us, no worse. They just have power. And if there’s anything we can learn from this page-turner, it’s that power corrupts.

A Book A Week

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I’ve blogged before on my love of books. The stories they sell to us, the escapes they offer, the worth they hold. The art of choosing just one (or I’ll admit, sometimes two or three) from rows upon rows of them in bookshops. The shared act of discussing them, swapping them, lending and borrowing. Collecting them.

Simone de Beauvoir famously said, “When I was a child, when I was an adolescent, books saved me from despair: that convinced me that culture was the highest of values” a quote I can relate to a lot.

This year I challenged myself to read a book a week. I didn’t think I’d make it; these days my reading has acquired the pace of a snail.  But now we’re in June, halfway through, and I’m perfectly on target, currently reading book 26. Some of my favourite feminist reads so far have been ‘Girl Up’ by Laura Bates, Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’,  and Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’. Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to review a couple of my favourites.

You can view my reading challenge here: https://www.goodreads.com/feministfabulist

Recommendations for the next 26 books are highly welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Books

 

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.

Neil Gaiman

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When I was younger I wanted to be Matilda. Maybe I even thought I was Matilda. She was plucky, mischievous and had an insatiable love for books that rivalled my own.

Like my favourite child heroine, I devoured stories. No amount of pocket money would have been enough to keep me stocked in reading material. I read a book a day, sometimes more. Often I had four, five or even six books on the go at the same time. A different setting for every mood. I ended up reading each Harry Potter twelve times over, delving into Great Expectations at nine years old and braving my mother’s Danielle Steels at the tender age of eleven. My nose was hidden in the spines of so many books; I walked into walls, drifted in and out of conversations and spent hours reading by torchlight after lights out.

 

Some children had comfort blankets and favourite teddy bears. I had dog-eared novels. I never went anywhere without one tucked inside my bag or clutched tightly in my greedy-for-words fists. I read A Little Princess outside matron’s office while I waited for my mum to pick me up from school, Pride and Prejudice on a Petrol Station wall while I waited for my friends and Crime and Punishment on the bus to college. Thanks to books I’ve been to places that don’t even exist, walked the streets in ages already gone and put myself inside the shoes of innumerable weird and wonderful people.

 

Then, after finishing university, my reading slowed to a stop. I was all read out. My brain needed a break so I returned to my childhood favourites. They were a palate cleanser of sorts for my mind, which had been buzzing with so many difficult words for so long.

 

These days I’m picking up the pace again, but it’s nowhere near what it once was. Where I would once have read sixty, seventy books a year, these days I’m lucky if I make it to twenty five. This is partly because some of the books I read now are much longer and more intense than they used to be, but also, it comes part and parcel with the fact that adulthood and full time employment places much higher demand on your time than childhood ever did.

 

But even though I’m not reading half as much, books still hold a huge importance in my life. If I’m stressed out I’ll reorganise my bookshelves alphabetically, or by genre or even by the colours of their spines. Now I’m earning I also buy books at an alarming rate. Nothing makes me happier than an afternoon perusing second hand bookshops, unearthing hidden treasures, even if I know they’ll just be joining my ever-increasing to-get-round-to-reading-one-day list. I don’t just buy books to read any more, I buy them as a collector. I curate my shelves carefully.

 

And embedded most deeply with my love of books is the fact that it’s no longer just the story inside the book that’s important, but also the story of the book. Books bought from charity shops with birthday notes scrawled on the inside page, or letters buried within their yellowed pages. Books borrowed from friends with post-it notes and marginalia. The books passed down to me from my maternal Granddad still smell of his pipe smoke seven years on. The bits of paper pushed inside the pages and asterisks spidered next to his favourite quotes are more important to me than any of the printed text inside. 

Chick Lit #2

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Following on from last week, here are a few more of my favourite brain-friendly wonderful-women laden books. Add them to your reading lists or gift them to the feminists in your lives and above all enjoy them!  

  1. Wild Nights – Kim Addonizio

Kim just knows what it is to be a woman. She’s living it and her poetry is full of that rawness. It’s gritty, it’s clever, thought-provoking and more importantly, it’s incredibly beautiful, linguistically. Her words make me burst at the seams with their stunningness, their rebelliousness and how much of my own female experience I recognise in them. I’m so in love with the line, ‘‘watching this slut of a river smear kisses all over/ east Manhattan, letting ferries slide under her dress’ from ‘Invisible Signals’. Addonizio is an absolute winner. Some of my other personal favourites from this collection are ‘Scrapbook’, ‘Muse’ and the overwhelmingly wonderful ‘What do women want?’.

  1. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Everyone knows the toughest women wield crossbows, Merida, Hanna, Susan Pevensie and, above all, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss spends her time in both the YA books and films kicking ass. In a complete turnaround, it is her who is the resilient, skilled hunter and fighter, whereas Peeta, her romantic interest, is the more emotional, artistic peace-oriented character. But it’s not just her skills with a bow and arrow that make Katniss strong, but also certain elements of her femininity; first and foremost the sisterhood and maternal protection she provides for both Prim and Rue. The Hunger Games is also great in that it doesn’t fall into the trap of creating just one perfect female character. Instead it boasts a whole array of women, whose power and strength manifest in different ways.

  1. The Roaring Girl – Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton

I wouldn’t normally recommend Jacobean plays plucked off reading lists from my university days, but this one is an absolute hidden gem. The main character, Moll Cutpurse is a cross dressing, sword-wielding, canting, pickpocket who refuses to fit inside the box Jacobean England has carved out from her. Moll is apparently based on real life roaring girl Mary Frith who would definitely be on my dream dinner guest list. In one of my favourite lines Moll admits that she likes to lie ‘o’both sides o’th’bed myself’ and then fabulously adds ‘a wife you know ought to be obedient, but I fear me I am too headstrong to obey.’.

  1. Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith

Oh, Ali Smith. She is one of those rare gems whose writing is clever, acclaimed and at the same time an absolute page-turner. I drink Smith’s books like they’re a large glass of red. All at once, with pure pleasure. Smith’s take on the traditional ‘girl meets boy’ narrative is thoroughly modern with mass corporations, lesbian love and a spate of important feminist messages that get spray painted around town.

  1.  I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

This weeks list has been full of a lot of strong, fictional ladies, but Malala is important in the fact that she a real life superwoman. Aged just fifteen years old Malala was shot at point blank range by the Taliban, simply because she was an advocate for women’s education in her . Despite almost dying, to this date Malala still fights for women’s education, she made a speech at the UN aged just 16 and remains the youngest winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. I Am Malala details her history, her fight for women and girls to be educated in her home country, Pakistan, and her almost miraculous recovery. Malala is still only nineteen years old, yet she has achieved more than most, and never given up. Her words should inspire us all.

     

      

Chick Lit #1

Sometimes I feel like I haven’t read enough feminist classics to be a proper feminist. I’ve dipped in and out of The Second Sex, and had a go at The Female Eunuch. They’re interesting enough and thought-provoking, but they’re not exactly light reading. I fall in love with a book much quicker if it’s kind to me. If I can read it in one sitting, or read it with my heart racing wanting to find out more, devastated when I finally have to put it down. I love a book with characters I can relate to and language that’s a dream.

I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite books, which also happen to be full of wonderful women. Books that make me feel like a good feminist, without having a side-order of brain-ache. There’ll hopefully be a mix of poetry, prose, old and new; a bit of something for every last one of you literary ladies, gentlemen and those who identify as non-binary, too. Snuggling up with a brew, a blanket and one of these books is the perfect way to spend a Wintery evening.

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         1.  We should All be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

After watching Adichie’s wonderful TEDTalk of the same name, I was eager to read this essay. I was over the moon to receive it as a Christmas present last year and devoured it in one sitting. The second I had finished, I turned straight back to the first page and read it again; this time more slowly, making notes as I went along. In the essay Adichie defines feminism and sums up why the movement is still as relevant and necessary as ever in the same engaging, and accessible voice she uses in her fiction. ‘The problem with gender’ she says, ‘is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognising how we are.’ Wonderful women like Adichie are everything that is right with this world.

2. Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur

  Milk and Honey is not simply poetry. Described on her website as a ‘recipe book for healing’, it’s exactly that. I took so much away from it and go back to it for advice and wisdom all the time. It just feels so honest and so relevant. Reading Kaur’s wise words on abuse, relationships and recovery you can tell she is just a young women like any other, trying to make her way in the world. I’ve only had my copy for a couple of months and it’s already dog-eared with post-it notes sticking out of all my favourite pages. It’s a collection to live your life by.

3. Good Bones – Margaret Atwood

Atwood is one of my absolute favourite writers and this collection of short stories and essays showcases just how much she can do with a pen. In ‘Gertrude Talks Back’ Hamlet’s mother is given a witty and humorous voice, and adds a sinister twist to the play we all know. In ‘Let Us Now Praise Stupid Women’ she thanks all the stereotypes of women that litter the history of literature and in her fantastic essay ‘The Female Body’ she tackles very real issues in her typically surreal and satirical fashion. This is one of those books that I insist on lending out to people constantly because it’s just so brilliant. 

 

4. Everyday Sexism – Laura Bates

This book is a hard one to swallow. Like Bates’ hugely popular website of the same name, this book details the cold, harsh realities of being a woman in a world that still has a long way to go. I cried my way through parts of it, particularly the chapter ‘Young Women Learning’. Condensed, it is quite overwhelming just how many experiences of Everyday Sexism are packed into this book, so it’s important that you remember whilst reading, that amongst all of this rubbish we have to deal with there is ten times as much good stuff going on in the world. But… this book is a very important one to read. Divided up into chapters such as ‘Women in Politics’ and ‘Motherhood’ Bates details how gender inequality affects us all and reminds us just how much work we have to do.  

5. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

This book tugs on your heartstrings like nothing before. I’ve read it twice, several years apart, and both times I’ve actually sobbed. Not just a couple of stray tears, but actually heaving sobs. The novel focuses on Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women from different generations who find themselves living under the same roof. Spanning from the Soviet-Afghan war right through to Taliban rule A Thousand Splendid Suns touches upon so many themes. Along the way we encounter illegitimate children, forced marriages, domestic violence, motherhood, female friendship and above all the pure strength of women. 

 

Next week I’ll be writing about five more of my favourite books. If you have any recommendations, comment below!