‘Girl Up’ by Laura Bates: Review

1491131746351It was a toss-up between this, and ‘Everyday Sexism’. This won. And although this is Bates’s second book, I’m glad I’ve had this as my first experience of her work. I mean, it opens with a recommendation from Emma Watson. What more do you need to be sold on this?

If you follow me on IG then you may remember an instastories of this book, and that I felt it should be read in high schools across the nation- it was that good. ‘Girl Up’ is a book aimed at girls, of an age quite a bit younger than me (to be honest though, it filled in parts of my sex education that STILL  had gaps in) -but I don’t think it would harm many boys to read it either. I think that its a really good idea to set reading for our teens when sex education begins. Just two books a year. Maybe only for one year, to get them started on looking into stuff they need to know. One book aimed at boys, one aimed at girls. And here’s the thing: both sexes read both books. Because the more we feel the opposite sex “get us” the easier it is to talk about sex, eradicate sexism, and basically make life a hell of a lot easier. Sexism is a focal point of this book, and sexism affects both sexes- historically, more so women (heads up: there’s a handy little snippet on why its called “feminism” if feminism is all about equality).

This is the thing: in Britain we have a pretty horrific attitude to sex. Sex education is on the same level as talking about haemorrhoids and bowel movements. Which is completely and utterly wrong. The less educated people are the less fun, and the more dangerous/disguising/confusing/embarrassing, sex seems. The more sex is something to be ashamed of, the more likely people are to turn to porn as education. This is in no way a good idea. Mainly because porn does create ideas of “how sex should be”- ideas which are dangerous, disgusting, confusing and embarrassing. Nearly all porn videos make sex into something that degrades instead of empowering women. In a real relationship all parties having sex should feel respected and should be enjoying it. Continue reading “‘Girl Up’ by Laura Bates: Review”

‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ by Susie Orbach- A Review

I’m not quite sure where to begin with this book. It has been sat on my shelf for a good 6+ months. I bought it at the same time I bought The Beauty Myth, but didn’t manage to get past the first few chapters until the end of last month. The book addresses compulsive eating, examining the causes that Orbach argues originate in our society. The book suggests that obesity caused by compulsive eating has roots in the socialization of women, before moving on to a self-help section about how to tackle these issues. I had very mixed feelings about this book, and felt parts of it were outdated (it was written in 1978…), and some of the arguments flawed- which I’ll talk about later in the review. Yep, I definitely have very mixed feelings on this one…

To begin with: what does Orbach argue?

Orbach argues that women within our society are expected to automatically take on the role of care-giver within a home, even if they have a career outside of it, when they become a mother. Part of the role of care-giver is providing food, and seeing the rest of the family is fed. This can place strain on the relationship of the mother with the children, in particular with daughters, due to a mixture of feeling they must meet this role of caregiver, but also resenting it. On one hand, the mother wishes the daughter to be like her; she wants to bring her up with morals, see she has opportunities etc.  On another level, the mother knows that the daughter will in all likelihood become a care-giver like herself, and so must be prepared for a life of not placing emphasis on her own needs, but on the needs of others. This ambivalent relationship can often be embodied in food.  In learning to be a giver and not a taker, Orbach suggests, women also learn to supress anger and resentment- it isn’t “giving” or “caring” or “feminine” behaviour according to society. This resentment then can often be expressed in eating compulsively, to in effect ignore the feeling of anger/resentment, and cram it down with food. Thus, a young female learns quickly that food is a substitute for emotions: you can use it to show that you care, and you can use it to cram emotions further down inside of you. Continue reading “‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ by Susie Orbach- A Review”

STRONG, by Zanna Van Dijk

wp-1483535583061.jpgIf you follow me over on Instagram (link to the right), then you probably saw that I got very excited about finally getting my hands on this book. Well, I was right to get excited. I don’t often go in for health and fitness books by YouTubers and IG personalities- even the ones by PTs can be a little…well, crap. One book I bought by an IG star kept the recommended diet plan incredibly low in carbs- except the one carb rich post workout meal. Needless to say, it didn’t work for me. Though I tortured myself trying to keep up with it and give it a fair go, it simply wasn’t worth it. I turn into a right arsehole without steady low GI carb consumption. Now, bear that in mind when I discuss this book; if I compare that to this, we’ll see that Zanna (thank god) does things very differently…

The book is hefty, and divided into ‘Move’ ‘Nourish’ and ‘Thrive’ (signalling this was off to a good start already). For simplicity I’ll be looking at each section, but as for things that apply to STRONG as a whole (yes I WILL be capitalising that all the way through, because it deserves it), the photography is beautiful and cleanly laid out. When used for the exercise section you can see exactly what you’re meant to be doing. It’s also incredibly easy to read. Any fans of Zanna’s YT channel (I’ll leave all links to her social media at the bottom of the page), you can pretty much hear her voice as you read it. The phrase “quite frankly” was when I realised this was happening, as it comes before her beloved rants about lack of balance on YT. I have to say, “the badger’s nadgers” has become a favourite after reading this. The tone is always light hearted and encouraging, not pushy or intimidating. The whole book also has a massive emphasis on sustainability in the long term. It doesn’t advocate cutting back all of your food, and upping all of your exercise at once (it doesn’t advocate scrimping on food, full stop). More importantly, it doesn’t advocate cutting back on life, or making fitness your entire life. Coming from a place where this has been an issue for me, I cant put into words how refreshing that was. I feel like this removes a lot of the risks you run with buying health and fitness books; Zanna is giving good, solid advice here. She isn’t telling you to go on a thinly veiled crash diet as I felt the aforementioned book did.

Now, down to the sections…

MOVE

  • As I read STRONG I underlined, starred, and also “!!” where something I had been doing for months was actually wrong. For example: doing my cardio before my weights in a combined session. I swapped them around, hey presto- suddenly I am able to lift more, simply because I am not knackered. I am by no means a beginner, but no one had ever taken the time to explain this to me. If you are a beginner, this is an excellent starting point, but even as a more advanced fitness fan, it is 100% worth a read.
  • Here we learn the importance of the mind-muscle connection; this has helped me no end.
  • All the words surrounding sets (e.g. straight, drop, giant…) are explained, as are other weight lifting terms. As a clearly female weight lifting fan, again, this is something no one has ever explained to me, thinking I “didn’t need the technical details”. And I didn’t know to look for them, because I didn’t know they frigging existed. Now, I do.
  • All the muscle groups (major ones) are pointed out in a diagram, and are easy to identify. Useful for beginners in particular.
  • There is a huge section of exercises and several workouts, then a section on putting together your own workouts. Zanna does encourage the reader to go an learn further moves through research, but this book already gives any reader the tools they need for quite some time, rather than trying to pull us into buying another book to top up our selection of workouts. This actually means I am way more inclined to buy another of her books, should one be written (hint hint Zanna).
  • The book also explains how to step it up in various ways and how to measure progress other than the scale, something particularly useful if you’re looking to build muscle.

Continue reading “STRONG, by Zanna Van Dijk”

The Moonstone by Wilke Collins: Review

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About a month ago now, for part of my third year pre-prep, I read The Moonstone, by Wilke Collins. This is the original detective story…containing not as many clichés as you would think. In fact, it’s very well written. It may shock you, and this isn’t really a spoiler, but unlike most detective novels it is not a death being investigated, but a theft. This at first didn’t seem such a thrilling reading prospect, but I actually became very heavily absorbed in this book- it came everywhere with me until I’d finished it.
The narrative follows a cursed Indian diamond, part of a shrine to a Hindu moon god, stolen when members of the British army lay siege to said Indian shrine. John Herncastle kills the three Brahmins (priests sworn to protect the diamond) and claims it as his own, returning to England with it.
The story the novel tells takes place several years after the above, when upon his death John Herncastle leaves his diamond to the daughter (Rachel Vernier) of his estranged sister (Julia Vernier), whom pretty much disowned him. Turns out that the diamond is rumoured to be cursed, throwing suspicion as to why he would want to leave it to his niece- especially as it was on the proviso that her mother is still alive. Has he left it to her as proof that he forgave Julia for disowning him, thus simultaneously guilt-tripping her and making amends? Or, is it because he hopes that the curse of the diamond will serve as his revenge on his sister and niece?

Continue reading “The Moonstone by Wilke Collins: Review”

‘This Book Will Save Your Life’: Review (no, it isn’t self-help)

After reading a selection of classic books so far this summer (a lot of detective and dystopian fiction), I decided I wanted to read something a little more light hearted a few weeks ago. I have to admit: the doughnuts on the front cover were what first attracted me to it in Waterstones.

This is not a self-help book, as my friends and family initially thought when they saw me reading it. Having flown through this novel, I will definitely be purchasing some more of A.M. Homes’ work. In the story we follow Richard Novak, uber-isolated control freak, as he is forced to leave his personal bubble, and interact with the world outside. The only people he sees at the opening of this novel are his trainer, housekeeper, and nutritionist. Everything is planned out, in order, and perfect in a sterile sort of way. Until something completely unplanned happens: he ends up in hospital with an attack of severe and mysterious pain, that seems to have no traceable cause. This is actually where the novel opens, and knowing little about Richard or his life, the reader is pushed straight into this unpredictable plot line.

Not many books can actually make me laugh out loud in the middle of a coffee shop- this one did. Richard is pushed into several adventures, and it’s touching to see him form new- and fix old- relationships, most notably with his estranged son Ben. And if you’re wondering about the doughnuts: the first thing Richard does on leaving the hospital is go to a doughnut shop he has passed but never been in before. Here he meets Anhil for the first time. As the novel progresses he also meets and befriends a movie star, a desperate housewife, some technicians trying to fix the sink hole rapidly threatening to swallow his LA home, a collection of family members, some strangers in a silent retreat, a writer, and a horse. I’m trying not to say too much about how this novel plays out, because the situations Richard finds himself in, and that gradually force him to let go, are so brilliantly thought up that it would be a shame to ruin them. Each passing situation lead me to like our protagonist a little more, and I want you to have that same experience when you pick this up for the first time.

The one thing I wasn’t so sure about with this novel was the structure. Instead of being sectioned neatly into chapters, it’s divided into episodes, each taking up as little as a short paragraph, or as much as a few pages. The lack of a neatly divided structure has a lot to do with the theme of the book: that life can’t be neatly divided and contained, but is rather a series of episodes where things fall to pieces and then fall together again. All the same, it took me a while to get used to stopping after a paragraph, rather than a chapter. Ultimately, it did add to the book; I became more absorbed in what was happening, than trying to figure out how much more I had left to read before I felt I could stop for the night.

All in all, if you want a funny, touching, contemporary read this is one for you. I’m not usually a fan of contemporary novels, but this has won me over, and definitely has my stamp of approval.

 

‘Brave New World’ Book Review

While I was on work experience I had some time to get through this book, which- after reading 1984– I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. Though written by a different author, I like to think of Brave New World as the ideal complementary read to 1984. Whereas Orwell’s 1984 is all about a society controlled through fear of Room 101, and having just enough to get by on- in Brave New World, mankind have everything they could wish for…

Society in this novel is complex. Mothers and fathers don’t exist: they’re dirty words. People are sterile. Babies are grown in test tubes, and what is added to these tubes determines your stature, intelligence, and place on the hierarchy. Alphas are at the top of the hierarchy, Epsilons are at the bottom; Alphas are intelligent and attractive, Epsilons are simply a source of labour, and are unattractive. Every level of this society is kept in place by having access to pleasure of all forms. The society that the characters live in is drugged up on soma- which they take whenever anything displeases or distresses them. Oh, and there’s little danger of disliking your place on the hierarchy; you’re conditioned from birth to love it. There’s also a complete reversal of tropes from classical books: sex is fine. Monogamy is not. Which is where the character we initially follow comes in:

Bernard Marx wants an exclusive relationship with Lenina Crowne, the shallow but desirable woman everyone wants. Bernard doesn’t like the fact that there is never any chance of being alone. And so he is taking Lenina on a trip with him. To the one place left in the world where savages still exist: the Reservation.

I don’t want to spoil the storyline too much, because even I didn’t see some of the twists and turns coming, but it’s here that they meet John: a man who looks like an alpha in a hoard of “savages”. John has had access to books banned from civilisation: primarily the Bible, and the collected works of Shakespeare. As such his language is pretty comic at time- I have never laughed so much at the use of the word ‘strumpet’. One comic moment is when Lenina attempts to seduce John (who she and Bernard bring back to civilization), not realising that John’s attitudes to male-female relationships is very, uh, Shakespearean. You will find some incredibly funny moments in this novel, but it isn’t all fun and games- just to warn you now.

The characters irritated me immensely. John annoyed me, Lenina annoyed me, Bernard especially annoyed me- the society they lived in annoyed me. This is definitely Huxley’s intention- his characters are not intended to likable. John is melodramatic and naïve, Lenina is shallow, and Bernard is inconsistent.  Amoung Huxley’s characters there were two I felt would be worth knowing. One was  Helmholtz Watson, a man who appears to share common values with Bernard- but who sticks with these values. The second is the man I suppose would be considered the “villain”: Mustapha Mond. He is completely unlike the key villain figure of 1984, O’Brien, and I can’t wait for you to meet him in this book.

Ultimately, this novel is a study of nature vs nurture, and whether society itself is more of an evil as an unthinking mass than one arch villain can ever be. The earlier chapters can be hard work to get through; a lot of information is thrown at the reader at once, and the structure can be slightly confusing (you’ll see what I mean)- but the story does move past that, and all of the information is necessary for the novel to then flow. I can definitely recommend it to you.

Really into dystopian? Here are a few more classic dystopian/utopian novels for you to check out…

  • 1984, George Orwell
  • The Time Machine, H.G Wells
  • Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

‘1984’: A Review

One of my best friends (and most trusted book recommenders) suggested I pick this one up nearly a year ago. And I did. Incidentally, my copy was actually published in 1984, and is currently falling to pieces on my book shelf. With uni work out of the way, I finally got around to reading it. And it is one hell of a book.

I’ve read Orwell before: Animal Farm to be exact. Though I could clearly see how ingenious Orwell had been with symbolism, and it did leave shivers running down my spine- I can’t say I exactly enjoyed it. In fact, at the time of reading it I kind of hated it. I don’t particularly like reading books about animals on farms- even if it is more political than Charlotte’s Web. 1984 is a whole other kettle of fish: not many books make me yell at the characters as I’m reading.

The plot is, yes, brilliant. It works in the same kind of way that Golding’s Lord of the Flies does: it exposes humans for what they are. And what really caught my attention about this book was the characters.

Winston is a character I felt deeply sorry for, from beginning to end. Julia…I wasn’t amazingly keen on Julia. I couldn’t quite pin-point why. Perhaps because on some level, she wasn’t looking to rebel on a larger scale. Child characters in the book, though not prominent, were some of the ones I found the most terrifying. Parson’s children (Parson’s is one of Winston’s colleagues in the Ministry) were terrifying little shits. They were the kinds of children that I like the least. A world where children spy through key holes to turn their own parents in is even scarier than a world where proper coffee and chocolate isn’t even readily available (which, in Oceania – the book’s setting- it isn’t). It didn’t help that a children’s nursery rhyme, and flashbacks to Winston’s younger years were interspersed throughout.

Okay, this is where the SPOILERS come in.

I felt like Winston should have been suspicious of O’Brien from the start. I just did. My instinctive mistrust and dislike of some people stretches to book characters. It would have been too simple for O’Brien to be on Winston’s side. In fact, I think that part of Winston’s gullible, slightly naïve nature was what made him someone to feel sorry for. The beauty he sees in the paperweight, that child-like fascination, was endearing and also upsetting later on. I would be interested to hear what anyone who has read 1984 thinks about O’Brien being suspicious down in the comments. Also, did anyone feel that the book was a critique of those who don’t rise up and attempt to change things, though they have the power? As well as indicating what can happen to those who do attempt to rebel? The proles frustrated me, but I didn’t feel that I was invited to critique them as openly as other characters, perhaps as the proles live in an almost separate world within Big Brother’s society.

The most terrifying scenes in the book: let’s talk Room 101. The room that contains your worst fear. Which, for Winston, is rats. And it is the threat of rats eating him alive that finally tips him in to doing what he has held onto throughout his torture: he betrays Julia, telling O’Brien to release the rats on her. The scenes in this room were chilling. When O’Brien places Winston in front of the mirror, emancipated from starvation and beatings, and rips out one of his teeth- it made me cringe. These smaller scenes indicate a kind of cold-bloodedness that is incredibly scary.

The final chapters. I felt as though, from a craft point of view, the book couldn’t have reasonably ended any other way. It was more effective that simply killing Winston off, to instead leave us with a walking, talking, but emotionally dead character. A character who no longer has freedom of thought. I also hated the ending. I hated it for the characters, because they deserved more. In a strange way, death would arguably have been a better end for Winston and Julia.

All in all, this is a brilliant book. I was glued to it for a week alongside revision. If you want to read one of the original dystopian novels, then get your hands on 1984.