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Five books to read this summer written by women

Author:
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

By Anna Hill

I’ve been enjoying even more than usual the summer time and its space for me to read, able to pick up and gorge myself on the books I want to read, rather than those picked out for me by out of touch, boring men. Here are a few that you might enjoy, covering a range of topics including violence, women’s lives, retellings, power, love and magic.

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire won the women’s prize for fiction this year – but that isn’t why you should read it. This is an incredibly brilliant and emotive novel; it’s a retelling of Antigone by Sophocles (although you don’t need to have read that to enjoy it), but this time including the war on terror, experiences of British Muslims and ‘radicalisation’. Its got wonderful multiple points of view from deeply complicated and wild characters with clear and poetic writing – lines that stop your heart a little so you have to go back and reread them. If you’re like me, once you’ve read this not only will it stay with you many books and weeks later, you’ll also want to read Shamsie’s entire back catalogue.

I Was Born For This – Alice Oseman

I Was Born For This follows the dual perspectives of Angel Rahimi and Jimmy Kaga-Ricci. One is a fangirl of the incredibly famous British boy band The Ark, the other; the frontman of the group. The novel spans a week (perfect for quick summer reading) and is fun and serious in equal measure – depicting anxiety, friendship and both critiques and celebrations of fandoms. The representation isn’t own voices but Angel is Muslim and Jimmy is a mixed race gay trans guy. I’ve loved Alice Oseman’s work ever since I stayed up all night reading her first Young Adult novel Solitaire, and her second novel, Radio Silence, was one of my favourite books the year I read it, it was so realistic and heartfelt. Oseman demonstrates her ability to astutely and non-patronisingly write about teenagers and internet culture in general but especially in I Was Born For This, with a gaze that is both generous and critical, tender and kind. If you’re a fan of anything then you absolutely must read this, especially if you’re part of a fandom for a boy band!

Circe – Madeline Miller

Sometimes you want a book that feels like a thunder storm, full of power and waiting; a delicious kind of electricity, a delicious kind of unexpected, waves of sound and feeling. That’s what Circe was like for me – depicting the story of a normally sidelined character; Circe the witch, this novel finally gives her the space and character depth and development she deserves. If you loved Song of Achilles, Miller’s other myth retelling, you will definitely love this too. She has a sensitivity to atmosphere and detail that is wonderful and enthralling to experience! Just a note there is a r*pe scene in this book.

 To the river – Olivia Laing

This is a non fiction account of Olivia Laing’s journey tracing the river Ouse one June. Post break-up she decided to go on a journey and learn and share the landscape, personal memories and the history of the river. Much like a river this book fluctuated in pace and interest (for me personally), but overall was poetic, educational and enjoyable! Really lovely to read near water, especially a river; its very good at capturing the sunlight of a British summer, the itch to explore a familiar place and the heat of June.

Girls, Visions and Everything – Sarah Schulman

This is the perfect book to read in a heatwave, suffused with sweat and desire. Girls, Visions and Everything is a brief glimpse into the life of Lila, a dyke living in New York City, exploring art and relationships. It’s unapologetically queer, sexy and meaningful. The book is written really beautifully in a simple and clear style with a relatability that is exciting to feel considering it was first published over 30 years ago! After reading this I wanted to forever be part of Lila’s life, learning and watching her grow and connect and love all the more. The book does contain harassment and discussion of sexual violence, so look after yourself.

I hope you enjoy this mixture of different summer reading recommendations and are enjoying the summer yourselves (even if it does just feel too hot!).

My school shut down our anti-gun protest. This is what I learnt

Author:
Photo taken by 2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Rachel Harris at the NYC March for Our Lives

By Rachel Harris

April 19th was a day of highs and lows. During the day, school was abuzz. Everyone was talking about the next day’s school walkout (planned in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida) – whether they were going to do it, what they thought the punishments might be, if they were going to be in our local newspaper… My phone was on fire with texts from the organisers’ group chat. We planned to meet that day after school. We sat in the conference room, excitedly discussing who was bringing what, and writing the post for the Facebook event. I went home, giddy and anxious. My leg bounced under my kitchen table while I worked on my homework, my trademark nervous habit. I worried that no one would show up, or that everyone would get in trouble and blame me, or that it would rain really hard. My foot bounced faster. My phone dinged, bringing me out of my reverie.

Madison, one of the organisers, had texted the rest of us. Our assistant principal had called her in to talk. My foot stopped bouncing and my stomach twisted into a knot. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, reminding myself of why I organised the walkout in the first place: the shooting in Parkland had happened over a month ago, and no change had been made. We wanted to keep the momentum from the walkout a month earlier. The assistant principal could suspend us all if he wanted to; I didn’t care. This was something that I needed to do.

I got into my car and drove to school, where a few of the other organisers were waiting by the door. We walked upstairs, a united front. The five of us entered the assistant principal’s office in silence. The next two hours were painful to endure. We offered every possible solution, but were met with nothing but resistance. He threatened to call the police on us if we left the building, and to suspend anyone he saw doing a sit-in in the commons. My foot bounced incessantly and I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying. We all agreed that we couldn’t put people in a position where they had to choose between their morals and their futures. We had been pushed into a corner, and we had no choice but to cancel. To make matters worse, we couldn’t even cancel the walkout on our terms. Our assistant principal essentially wrote the Facebook post for us, unsatisfied with what we came up with ourselves.

We left his office worn out, our heads hung low. The rest of the night proceeded in a blur. I cried and cried, incredibly frustrated that something I believed to be so important, and that I had put that much work into, could be torn away so easily. We come to school every day to learn, not just about algebra and biology, but about ourselves, and about how we can actively contribute to our democratic society.

The entire movement following the Parkland shooting was centered around lifting the voices of students, and within mere instants, that power had been stripped away. As a sixteen year old, it is incredibly easy to feel powerless – I can’t vote, and I am under the control of my parents and the administration of my school pretty much all the time. This lack of power is exacerbated by the fact that adults often write teenagers off as unintelligent and unqualified. The way my assistant principal spoke to us was the perfect example: he told us that while he was sure we believed what we were doing was just, he (as an adult) believed we were being naive.

This ageism isn’t specific to just my school or my assistant principal – it’s something I experience every day. People love to hear that I’m involved in political activism, but then they talk both down to and over me when I try to voice my opinion. They question the validity of my research, and often leverage their age against me in arguments. With the walkout, we had decided to bypass the system in the hopes that our passion would prevail. However, when we were shut down so quickly and easily, it became incredibly clear that when you exist in an unfair system, it is sometimes impossible to overcome it. Often I have no choice but to work within the bounds of such systems because of my age and my gender.

Thinking back on this experience, it’s easy to let myself get upset. The situation was handled so poorly, and that isn’t any easier to grapple with now than it was a month ago. However, I have realised that even though we didn’t get to follow through with the originally intended walkout, what occurred instead was just as important – we started a conversation.

My peers talked amongst themselves about what meaningful activism looks like and about what common sense gun control means to them. My mom met with my assistant principal and presented him with some tough questions, like whether or not he was using his power in a productive way; this started a conversation among the parents and administration about how adults treat teens.

Perhaps most importantly, I started a conversation with myself. How do I define success? How can I reconcile the passion of my peers with my school’s hesitancy to support student-led initiatives? What am I going to do next time? While the plan for the walkout may never have come to fruition, it taught me something important – you can’t win every time, and when you don’t, it’s imperative you use the loss to grow and adapt, instead of letting it define you.

This article was originally published on Jewish Women, Amplified, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, and was written as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock book review

Author:
mermaid mrs hancock

By Anna Hill

Content Note: sex work, sexual violence (in the novel, not in this review), racism

(just a note that I’m white and not a sex worker)

I first came across The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock when I watched a video with the author, Imogen Hermes Gowar, giving a tour and talking about sex work and Georgian London with booktuber ReadingBukowski [content warning for sexual violence and sex work in the video]. I was immediately really interested in checking out the novel on top of the personal buzzword in the name for me – mermaids! When the novel was longlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction I decided to listen to the audio book, because it is one of the longest books on the list!

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is a historical fiction novel set in the 1780s about a merchant called Jonah Hancock and a courtesan named Angelica Neal and how their lives intermix when the body of a mermaid is swapped for one of Mr Hancock’s ships.

Brimming with detail and interesting descriptions, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is also as far as I can tell a nuanced exploration of sex work. Rather than the many other representations of sex work (which are generally very negative), Gowar has created a novel that depicts the positives and negatives of the profession.

Angelica Neal talks of her love of her job – how “it appeals to her character in a great host of ways: she likes to live closely with other women and share her secrets with them; she likes to sing and drink and dance; she likes to be cosseted; she likes to be looked at […] she likes to be pursued, but she does not feel she is ever captured, for it is only by her own decision that they lay hands on her”.

Whilst I was expecting more focus on the mermaid, that’s not my only criticism of the novel, I also had some issues with the way the plot moved, the first volume was, overall, too thick and too heavy with description and then the second volume felt untethered to any surprising turns – I guessed all of the major plot points throughout, and the third picked up the pace in a way that was so at odds with the rest of the novel it really didn’t work, jarring us further out of the story. As such if I wasn’t listening to the audiobook I wouldn’t have finished the novel.

Although the writing and the complicated character development and exploration was thorough and in some parts beautiful, I find myself frustrated and somewhat confused with the representation of specific characters – namely the two black characters in the novel, Simeon and Polly Campbell. Other reviews have noted the lack of time these characters and their subplot get, as well as their lesser amount of development.

I would also say that the language that Gowar, a white author, used in describing these characters was uncomfortable; and although in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Gowar is clearly critiquing a sexist and tokenising approach to women and their bodies – paralleling them with the figure of the mermaid – she ends up treating Polly Campbell like a mermaid herself. Described as “a woman entirely out of the common water”, she slips in and out of the story only when needed, trapped in her own subplot that only extends as far as the second volume, quickly dropped when she isn’t deemed interesting anymore.

Sections of the novel showcase a nebulous sea-voice, meant to be a mermaid, and these are the parts of the novel that worked the best for me. They were lyrical and softer, more interesting and dynamic than the rest of the work which was so clearly researched that it made the authorship shine through. Unlike the mermaid’s perspective sections, the rest of the novel suffers rather than enlivens because of the research – the intensity of the detail and the facts shatter the fiction of the book – the specific language and contexts are almost too specific tripping the reader up, forcing us to think about the act of researching the book rather than simply allowing us to enjoy the world ourselves.

I went into this book really wanting to like it, from the beautiful cover to the potential for mermaids; but it ultimately disappointed me, with too many characters, too obvious plot points, it’s spurious representation of a side character and its hyper-detailed set up. Even the beautiful language couldn’t save it.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Artists to Check Out

Author:
glades

By Stephanie Wang

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a designation to celebrate the culture, traditions, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. As a child of immigrants from China, my Asian American identity has been a core part of my identity, allowing me to experience both the cultures of China and the United States. In celebration of this month and recognizing that there’s not a ton of representation of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in music (and frankly, in the media in general), I’m highlighting some of my favorite Asian American and Pacific Islanders artists that definitely deserve a listen.

glades

1) GLADES –

A trio from Sydney, Australia, GLADES create dreamy, electro-pop. Meeting in high school, the three formed GLADES in 2015. They first gained attention after Troye Sivan tweeted out a video of their cover of his song “Fools”. In 2016, GLADES released their first EP, “This is What I Like.” Coming off tours with LANY and Clean Bandit and a new catchy single called “Do Right,” GLADES is definitely on the rise up. Currently, they’re selling out venues for their May headline tour around Australia.

Listen To: Do Right, Drive, Skylines

run river north

2) Run River North –

Previously known as Monsters Calling Home, Run River North is an indie rock band from Los Angeles, California. You may recognize them from a Jimmy Kimmel performance they landed after their self-produced music video for “Fight To Keep” featured their Hondas and gained the attention of the carmaker itself. Vocalist Alex Hwang, in an interview with Sound of Boston, speaking on being an Asian American band in the music industry, “On one hand, since there aren’t many (if any) widely popular all Asian American bands, we’re able stand out amongst a predominantly bearded white majority. This feeling is always affirmed whenever we’re done with a show and a handful of people will make it a point to come up to one of us to tell us that they did not expect our sound coming from our group. But the flip side is that we could be easily labeled as a gimmick or just seen as the ‘Asian’ version of that white folk, alt-rock, indie band that people love.” They’ve released two albums, Run River North (2014) and Drinking from a Salt Pond (2016). In addition, Run River North just released a new single earlier this year, “Funhouse,” and will be on tour early May around the mid-west.

Listen to: 29, Run or Hide, Superstition

mitski

3) Mitski –

A Japanese American indie singer-songwriter, Mitski Miyawaki graduated from SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music, releasing two albums while she was in school (Lush in 2012 and Retired From Sad, New Career in Business). Since graduating, she’s released two critically-acclaimed albums, Bury Me At Makeout Creek (2014) and Puberty 2 (2016). Her music reflects her cross-cultural identity as “half Japanese, half American, but not fully either,” and many of her songs explore themes of not belonging and vulnerability. Currently, you can find Mitski opening for Lorde on her Melodrama Tour.

Listen to: Your Best American Girl, First Love / Late Spring, I Bet On Losing Dogs

zhu

4) ZHU –

Born an only child, per the Chinese national mandate, Steven Zhu, known as ZHU professionally, immigrated to San Francisco with his parents when he was five. At first, ZHU released his electronic music anonymously, determined to let his music speak for itself. It paid off as ZHU would later land a deal with Columbia records and win a Grammy Award nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2015 for his song “Faded,” all without showing his face. Since then, he’s released his first album, GENERATIONWHY in 2016, which featured a collaboration with Skrillex and included a short film he wrote. More recently, he released the single “My Life,” a collaboration with Tame Impala. About his music, Zhu has said, “This project is all about art, and we try to make it all about the songs and the response. Being able to have everyone focus back on music is the first step. But the second is to have influence and have people care.”

Listen to: Hometown Girl, Generationwhy, Faded

hayley kiyoko

5) Hayley Kiyoko –

Hayley Kiyoko is having a great year – earlier this year, she released her first album, Expectations, she’s gained mainstream media attention and a cult following, and she’s going on a headlining tour before touring with Panic! At the Disco and A R I Z O N A later this summer. You may recognize her from the Disney movie “Lemonade Mouth” (where she played Stella) or as Velma from the Scooby-Doo movies. Kiyoko is an openly gay, half-Japanese pop artist who sings about her experiences loving girls and directs her own music videos.. She spoke about the importance of LGBT representation in music in a Billboard interview, saying, “I think [queer artists are] what’s giving people encouragement to really be more comfortable with themselves.”

Listen to: What I Need (ft. Kehlani), Cliff’s Edge, Gravel to Tempo

Other recommendations: TRACE (Listen to: Honey, Low, and Away), SALES (Listen to: Chinese New Year, Ivy, and Jamz) , No Vacation (Listen to: Yam Yam, Dream Girl, and August), The Naked and Famous (Listen to: Punching in a Dream, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Hearts Like Ours), EDEN (Listen to: Float, Nocturne, Rock + Roll), Superorganism (Listen to: Everybody Wants To Be Famous, Something For You M.I.N.D, The Prawn Song), Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (Listen to: Nobody Dies, Holy Roller, and Meticulous Bird), Son Lux (Listen to: Lost It To Trying, Dream State, Easy), Japanese Breakfast (Listen to: Boyish, Road Head, Diving Woman), San Fermin (Listen to: Emily, Jackrabbit, Asleep on the Train)

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