February Wrap-Up

I like that it’s the end of February. March means spring. Or at least, something spring-like.

I am choosing to focus on this rather than wondering where the last two months went.

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This month I reviewed:

Mosquitoland – David Arnold

Feelings: This book would be really great if big chunks of it didn’t happen.

Vivian Versus America – Katie Coyle

Feelings: The events of this book are chillingly plausible. We work best when we try not to hate and despite each other.

How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are – Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Anne Berest

Feelings: SO MUCH LOVE.

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Feelings: The hype is totally justified.

One – Sarah Crossan

Feelings: Break my heart WHY DON’T YOU?!

I also wrote about:

Book Boyfriends For Valentine’s Day

Top 10 TV Women

5 Pick-Me-Up Books For Down Days

I also read:

Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein

The Princess Diaries #6 – Meg Cabot (reread)

Victoria and the Rogue – Meg Cabot (reread)

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell (reread)

I have gotten much more into borrowing from the library in the last couple of months. It’s mainly out of necessity because I am so broke I can’t even talk about it. I gave up with my local library a few years ago because I had read everything worth reading. Since I’ve been away at university though, they’ve totally redone the place and now it’s awesome.

Thank you, local library.

 

 

 

 

Podcast of the Month: Call Your Girlfriend

Call Your Girlfriend is a podcast on which Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman – both awesome ladies – discuss pop culture through a feminist lense.

Obviously I would love this.

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Should you have any burning desire to know the history of a certain rapper’s melt down on Twitter the other week… this is the place for you.

If you’re less interested in Kanye and more engaged with news about menstruation, they cover that too. In detail. Moon cup horror stories and all.

If all that weren’t enough, they also provide us with regular shine theory updates. Shine theory, for anyone who doesn’t know by now, is the idea (by which I actually mean obvious truth) that powerful women make the best friends. This is because powerful women lift each other up.

It’s kind of revolutionary when you consider we’ve been socialised to tear each other down our whole lives.

Call Your Girlfriend is a celebration of being a smart lady and having smart lady friends.

As well as the usual shows, they recently started Phone-a-Friend episodes, in which either Aminatou or Ann – you guessed it – call one of their highly accomplished, hilarious and generally friend-jealousy-inducing girlfriends. So far guests have included Tavi Gevinson, Shani Hilton and Stephanie Beatriz, just to mention a few of my favourites. If you don’t know who any of them are, I implore you to Google. They are all wonderful people.

Call Your Girlfriend is the perfect plug for the feminist podcast shaped hole in your life.

Even if that’s something you don’t think you have… you totally do. I would venture to say that the majority of people have a feminist podcast shaped hole in their lives.

One

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins. After spending their whole lives tucked away at home, their parents’ financial issues mean that they are going to have to start attending school. Private school, but all the same: it’s the outside world.

The outside world isn’t kind to the different.

Most of it, anyway.

Yasmeen, who has HIV and her best friend Jon treat Grace and Tippi like they’re actual people rather than a walking tragedy. They invite them to join their adventures without hesitation. They are the first friends Grace and Tippi have ever had, except for their sister, Dragon.

But something is looming. A decision that could tragically alter everything. A choice after which nothing will ever be the same.

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Fair Warning: this is the sort of book you need to set aside a few hours for, because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop until you get to the end. The entire novel is written in non-rhyming verse, which makes it a really quick read, and it’s so atmospheric that putting it down to simply boil the kettle is disorientating.

One, by Sarah Crossan, aside from being the most beautiful piece of fiction I have read in a long time, is basically a mission statement for why we need more diverse books. Because, to be totally honest, outside of adverts for exploitative-looking documentaries, the experience of being a conjoined twin is one I’ve never even thought about.

And I’m the but what about disabilities? person.

The whole thing is told from the perspective of Grace. I really like that Crossan chose to only have one of the twins narrate. I think it conveyed really effectively the experience of the conjoined life Grace and Tippi shared. Together but separate. We got to see how much they loved each other, but also their differences, and the resentments that sprung from them. There’s this one scene where Tippi accepts a cigarette from Yasmeen, and Grace is totally mad at her for it. But it’s not all about resentment. Grace and Tippi’s lives feature a good deal of loving compromise. Grace loves to bake and Tippi doesn’t, but they bake all the time anyways.

This book totally challenged my perceptions. One of the first questions Grace and Tippi are continually asked is why they didn’t get separated. No matter the extreme dangers involved and that both girls would have to use wheelchairs for the rest of their lives (shared legs), if they survived at all. As far as we, the rest of singleton society is concerned, a conjoined twin must long to be separate.

Reading this book make me think a lot about the paradigms I experience life through. It made me think about what it even means to be an individual, and how tied up my self-worth is with that. Individuality remains a prize so many of us are competing for.

Not Grace and Tippi. Grace and Tippi don’t want to be separate. They are more than best friends… they are each other’s worlds. They couldn’t imagine life any other way. They wouldn’t want to.

‘Plato claimed that

We were all joined to someone else once,’ I say.

‘We were humans with four arms

and four legs,

and a head of two faces,

but we were so powerful

we threatened to topple the Gods.

So they split us from our soul mates

               down the middle,

and doomed us to live

forever

without our counterparts.’

If the point of reading is to experience new worlds, then I don’t see how any bookworm could bear not to pick up One at the nearest opportunity. It’s a beautiful story of love and identity that’ll crack your heart in two.

One is the sort of story that you just can’t shake, even weeks after you finish reading it.

5 Pick-Me-Up Books for Down Days

I think that at this point people are pretty sick of the recently graduated broadcasting to everyone they know how much their lives suck.

As such, I’m not going to get into it. Suffice to say that the past couple months have been heavy on the job rejection front (I have received 2 in the time I have been writing this blog post!).

This Buzzfeed article pretty much covers it.

But, the truth is, people who spend all their time feeling sorry for themselves are annoying. In the interest of not being one of those people (and Monday being, as always, the start of a New Game), today I present a list of pick-me-up books. You know. Those books that inject a much needed bit of encouragement, or just humour, into your life right when you need it.

The time has come for me to ignore my TBR and turn instead to some old favourites.

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Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

This book will probably fit into every single list I ever write. The simple fact is that I always feel like it was written for me.

Cath is the anxious type. The thrown-in-at-the-deep-end feeling of the first year of university isn’t helping any. Her anxious parts are in overdrive. For the first few weeks she can’t even make herself go into the cafeteria.

(I loved this detail because for my first week of university, I lived off of cheese biscuits and a giant jar of Nutella. I too, had a lot of trouble leaving my room. It seems silly now).

But, despite her resistance, she makes friends. She meets a guy. She copes without even realising that she’s doing it.

What I like so much about this book is the speed at which Cath’s life opens. Coping, for Cath, is something that happens slowly. It’s in every action, rather than a rushed montage-like chapter after which she has her entire universe sussed. For Cath, Okay is a process. There is something incredibly comforting in that which brings me back to this book whenever I get down.

I Was Told There’d be Cake – Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley’s writing bridges the distance between laugh-out-loud and melancholy in a way that is very appealing when dealing with a serial crappy day scenario. While many of her essays tell stories that are outlandish, they remain authentic and relatable.

She writes a lot about the distancing of friendships that starts to happen when you get older and move in different directions. She writes about getting rid of the toy pony collection she built up in gifts from various ex-boyfriends. She also talks about the annoying questions people ask when you say you’re vegetarian, which I appreciated (asking someone but what do you eat? makes you a dick 100% of the time, btw).

Maybe my favourite essay in the book is about the time she threw a dinner party for three friends and one of their asshole boyfriends, and found, when they had left, that one of them had taken a shit on her bathroom floor.

Sloane’s voice is a comforting presence on a bad day.

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

The last chapter of this book never fails to make me cry. But it’s sort of for good reasons. If you have a copy and you haven’t read it in forever, please go read the last chapter now. Trust me.

Nobody ‘Bod’ Owens grew up in a graveyard. He had to hide there in order to be safe from the dangers of the world.

Until he didn’t.

‘There was a passport in his bag, money in his pocket. There was a smile dancing on his lips, although it was a wary smile, for the world is a bigger place than a little graveyard on a hill; and there would be dangers in it and mysteries, new friends to make, old friends to rediscover, mistakes to be made and many paths to be walked before he would, finally, return to the graveyard or ride with the Lady on the broad back of her great grey stallion.

But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.’

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

I really love fish-out-of-water stories (Legally Blonde is one of my favourite movies). Within that, I love when characters succeed simply by being their awesome selves, and gradually getting recognition for that from their peers, rather than by wreaking some epic revenge.  This is not to say that I don’t believe in Matilda-ing the hell out of a situation when necessary. Sometimes you have to make your scary, force-feeding head teacher think that her house is haunted and drive her out of town.

Other times, you’ve just got to be your awesome self, like Elle Woods and Arnold Spirit, and wait for everybody else to catch up.

Arnold has the kind of life where the prospect of hope is in the opposite direction of home. He lives on the Spokane Indian reservation. There is a lot of poverty. His parents are alcoholics.

Nobody ever really leaves the reservation. So when Arnold decides to get out and attend the all-white high school in town miles away… people are kind of mad. People at the all-white high school are kind of mad, too.

But despite all this – the traumatic home life, school days filled with racist discrimination and a whole lot of tragedy and grief, Arnold survives. And thrives. He’s an impressive guy.

I recommend this to anyone who’s starting to think they might need to leave their tribe.

Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

Because memoirs by ladies heal all (insubstantial) wounds.

Of Mindy Kaling’s two memoirs, this one is the best, in my opinion. While the first one is totally enjoyable, I can’t help but feel like she puts more of herself into this second offering. In the introduction she states that she’s done with wanting to be liked, and is instead now much more interested in being known. That is an attitude I can get behind.

This book is about work and being a woman and dating. It’s about 4am worries and the secret to success (spoiler alert: it’s hard work, apparently).

It’s also really really funny and 100% guaranteed to lift the sort of self-involved, churlish sadness that has been the subject of this blog post.

 

Do you have any books that you automatically reread when times get crappy? Let me know. I can always use more mood-boosting reads.

Top 10 TV Women

I watch a lot of TV. We all know this about me.

If a show doesn’t have at least one (though of course ideally, many) awesome female protagonists, however, I’m just not interested.

So, for anyone looking for something new to watch, or suffering from a lack of amazing women in their TV staples (a common problem), I present you with a list of a few of my favourite ladies. A fantasy bachlorette party, if you will.

Jessica Jones

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She lives to kick rapist butt and show Marvel everything they’ve been doing wrong. I really can’t stress enough how much you should watch this show. Especially if superheroes ‘aren’t your thing’.

Buffy

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Balancing being a teenage girl with being The Slayer is hard.

Leslie Knope – Parks and Rec. 

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She’s a feminist with a to do list.

Olivia Pope – Scandal

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Scandal is my new love. It’s pretty much entirely because of Olivia. Olivia Pope solves problems. She always knows what to do, how to think on her feet. When she wants to make people listen to her, that’s exactly what they do.

My only issue with Olivia is her choice of men. I hate Fitz. I have tried not to but every time he makes this face I want to tear my own eyeballs out.

Fitz-Scandal

Olivia Dunham – Fringe

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She’s the only secret agent I can imagine building a pillow fort with. After we had dealt with all the alternate universe monsters, obviously.

Peggy Carter

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Killing it with her 1950s fashion choices? Yep. Fighting misogyny? Yep. Generally an awesome lady?  Absolutely.

Gina Linetti – Brooklyn Nine Nine

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Someone once told me that I have exactly the right amount apathy (which, lol. But anyway…). That’s because they hadn’t met this woman. She does apathy like no one else. It comes from knowing in your heart and nobody in your life is as great as you.

She’s totally right by the way.

Cookie – Empire

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You want this lady on your side.

(We haven’t had season 2 in the UK yet. No spoilers, please.)

Helena – Orphan Black

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Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know, I have kind of a soft spot for a crazy murderer (fictionally speaking). Helena is the most loyal, sweetest crazy murderer of the lot.

Caroline Forbes – The Vampire Diaries

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Despite some unfortunate storyline choices*, Caroline remains the heart of TVD as far as I am concerned. The whole place would fall apart without her. Caroline is a woman who knows what she wants, and will not hesitate in yelling until you give it to her.

*I really can’t stress enough how much I hate Caroline’s pregnancy. I get that Candice had a baby, but Jake and Amy aren’t having a baby on Brooklyn Nine Nine just because Melissa Fumero is pregnant. Caroline could have carried around a weirdly gigantic bag, or stood behind strategically placed objects the whole season! We wouldn’t have minded!

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon Spier is being blackmailed. The black mailer is Martin Addison and he wants a date with Simon’s friend Abby. That Abby would never be interested is the least of Simon’s problems.

Because Simon’s secret isn’t the only one at stake.

Simon’s gay. Through looking at his emails, Martin hasn’t only uncovered this fact, but also Simon’s online potential-boyfriend, Blue. Since Blue won’t even let Simon know his identity, he’s guessing he won’t react well to having his private life scattered around the school gossip mill, either.

It could be an epic fuckstorm of a disaster. 

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Once again, I find myself asking why did I wait so long? As pretty much everyone on the entire blogosphere has said, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is awesomeness at its highest degree.

I fell in love with Simon straight away. He’s funny, insecure, self-involved and a total sceptic of all things relating to the high school experience. He’s confident and well-liked, but he feels like he’s always hiding.

Yeah. I fell hard for this guy.

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‘I take a sip of my beer, and it’s – I mean, it’s just astonishingly disgusting. I don’t think I was expecting it to taste like ice-cream, but holy fucking hell. People lie and get fake IDs and sneak into bars, and for this? Honestly I think I’d rather make out with Bieber. The dog. Or Justin.

Anyway, it really makes you worry about all the hype surrounding sex.’ 

There are so many passages in the book like this that just plastered a happy grin all over my face. There was a similar level of real-ness to all the characters in the book. He has Abbey, his confident cheerleader friend, and Nick, the cute gamer guy with the guitar. Even Martin, the supposed villain of the piece, is impossible to truly hate. His awkward and hilarious antics in no way make up for the shitty things he does, but I could summon up far more pity for him than I could genuine resentment. My favourite characters (other than Simon, obvs.) were his best friend Leah and his younger sister Nora. They are both in the painfully self-conscious phase I think most of us bookish types probably went through at some point.

The central theme of the novel is concerned with finding identity. While Simon knows himself and understands his sexuality, he struggles to share it with the people who love him. He feels trapped by the image of him that his family and friends hold, and is exhausted by the reactions he encounters whenever he deviates from their expectations.

‘… I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.’

What I also liked about Simon is that he is a total hypocrite in this regard. Even as he laments the way that his family box him in, he accuses his younger sister Nora of not acting ‘like herself’. Throughout the book Simon comes to realise that people can’t be boxed in. The boxes are imaginary.

‘… people really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.’

And I must say before I sign off, the Spiers are my favourite family since the Chathams of Saint Anything. Becky Albertalli has no time for disappearing parents. Simon’s parents are present and excited. The family watch Bachelorette together. Afterwards they Skype about it with Alice, Simon’s sister who’s away at university.

(my mum and I did a similar thing with Broadchurch).

The only word I can use to describe this book is authentic. There was such depth of heart to every character. Becky Albertalli has created a cast of characters you’ll want to read over and over while gently prodding us to re-evaluate the paradigms we experience life through.

‘It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement. I guess this is sort of our version of the Homosexual Agenda?’

Book Boyfriends for Valentine’s Day

Because boys in books are just better.

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Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot

Lady Victoria Arbuthnot is not amused. She’s been shipped from India to England to live with her less-than-ideal relatives, the Gardiners and their zoo of children. If that weren’t bad enough, she’s also being forced to keep her engagement to the charming Lord Malfrey a secret.

It’s all very tedious. As if the family circumstances weren’t enough, Victoria can’t seem to shake the infuriating Captain Carstairs, whose primary hobbies consist of vexing Victoria and spreading rumours about her new fiancé.

For Lady Victoria Arbuthnot, it’s a long road to happily-ever-after.

Captain Carstairs: The, he’s-mean-to-you-because-he-likes-you type. As much as I loved this book it sent me barking up a lot of the wrong trees throughout high school. Totally worth it.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Since Cath started university and her identical twin, Wren ditched her, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After spending her teens immersed in the world of her Simon Snow fanfiction, Cath honestly doesn’t know how to operate in the real world.

One thing she absolutely does not feel ready for is falling in love. With anything. So the sudden appearance of new friends, new passions and potentially a new boy in her life have her beyond freaked out.

Will Cath figure out how to open her heart before it’s too late?

Levi: Your best friend who you can’t help but fall in love with.

First and Then by Emma Mills

Devon has been crushing on her best friend Cas since forever. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Devon doesn’t even mind any more. She’s pretty much given up on it ever happening.

The butterflies in her stomach haven’t, however.

The drama begins when Devon’s weird cousin Foster comes to live with her family. Foster immediately bonds with Ezra, captain of the football team and prized jackass.

A prized jackass who also happens to be super-hot.

Devon’s life is about to get complicated…

Ezra: The broody one with the tragic history.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

From the outside it seems like Annabel has everything.

On the inside, she’s crumbling. The girl she thought was her best friend is trying to destroy her. Her family is coming apart at the seams. Her sister is trying to starve herself to death. All Annabel wants is to disappear.

Then she meets Owen. Owen is obsessed with weird music and his radio show, Anger Management. He doesn’t take any bullshit.

He sees the cracks in Annabel’s façade. And he doesn’t leave

Owen: The guy who’s working through some stuff. The one who’s life you can’t help but fall into.

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver planned to be best friends forever. Then Oliver’s parents split up and his father kidnapped him.

Ten years later, he’s back and Emmy has no idea what to do. He’s her best friend and a stranger and the defining disaster of her life to date. Oliver barely remembers her… until he does.

As they grow closer, Emmy has to ask herself, is it possible for them to get back to the people they were supposed to be?

Oliver: The cute guy who got kidnapped by his dad. You know the one. The guy who disappeared for ten years then made you feel like he was never gone.