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Feminist Reads

Autumn reads – book recommendations from PBG

Author:
sophia5

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

There’s nothing better than finding a shady spot and sitting in it for hours, safe from boiling to death. If it’s your thing, you can also lie out in the sun with your book – just don’t forget the sun-cream!

If you’re stuck on what to read, you’re probably surrounded by suggestions – your local bookshop probably has a ‘beach reads’ table – but they may not be up your street. If you’re tired of the same Sex In The City wannabe books, PBG has a few recommendations for you…

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

sophia1

You’ve probably heard about (and maybe seen) the movie Love, Simon, by now. I promise, the book is better – Simon’s friends aren’t quite the same assholes to him as they are in the film. Well, now there’s a sequel to the book and it focuses on Simon’s best friend Leah. Who, as anyone who read the first book probably picked up on, has a Thing for another friend. Who happens to be a girl. Oh, a book about a bisexual girl? Who happens to be fat (again, this is the book – not the film)? And a rocking drummer in a cool all-girl band? Check, check, and check. If that doesn’t make you want to read a book, nothing will. It’s heart-warming and tender – a little less cheesy than Simon, but just as wonderful. It’s the happy ending queer girl love story we deserve.

Big Bones by Laura Dockrill

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Bluebell, AKA BB, AKA Big Bones, is a sixteen-year-old girl who is perfectly happy with herself. She’s fat, and loves food, and has no problem with either of those things. But, of course, some people do. Big Bones is about appreciating food, loving oneself, navigating change, the value of family relationships, and so much more. It’s a truly delightful book and easily devoured in a day.

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

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Even more gripping than We Were Liars. Shocking, I know. But it is. Genuine Fraud centres on the life (or rather, lives) of Imogen, a smart woman who uses her intellect to constantly reinvent herself. She is many things, depending on what she needs to be at each moment. It’s a character study, at heart, but it’s also a psychological thriller – with plot twists and suspense aplenty. It can be gory at times though, so be mindful if that’s something you’re uncomfortable with!

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

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First up, the hype for Sandhya Menon’s novels are well deserved. If you haven’t already read When Dimple Met Rishi, you NEED to go and do that first. It really is as brilliant as everyone says it is. It’s heart-warming and hilarious in all the right places, and Menon’s writing is beautiful. Twinkle is much the same in that respect. It is laugh-out-loud funny and has a rom-com feel that would make it perfect for the big screen. It will resonate with young creatives, and with anyone who’s ever been confused about a crush. Which is the majority of us, I think.

The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

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The lovely Louise O’Neill is a PBG favourite, that’s for sure. Her most recent novel, The Surface Breaks, is a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, and it’s everything you would have wanted it to be. It’s written in the sharp, cutting prose that O’Neill is known for, and the darkness that is typical of her writing runs through every page. It stays true to the horror and tragedy of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, but is also the most unique retelling of the story written at this moment in time. It looks at beauty standards, sexuality, fat shaming, sexual harassment, and more. Once again, Louise O’Neill has done something special, built something bold, and broken the surface.

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!).

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.

PBG’s Top Queer/Feminist books 2017

Author:
1 we are never meeting in real life the militant baker samantha irby jes baker

By Anna Hill

Do you like feminist and queer books? I’ve read some really incredible stuff this year – some are just new to me in 2017 and some were published in 2017!

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samanth Irby

I read this at the very beginning of the summer and it was so enjoyable, incredibly funny and heart warming. It had me crying and laughing regularly. I also loved the honesty with which Samantha Irby talked about her life as a marginalised person – the book is a collection of personal essays basically talking informally about Irby’s life as a queer poor fat black woman and about life (lessons) in general. Some of it was so relatable! Some of it was a little heartbreaking and tender in this very self-depreciating voice.

Irby is so so funny and I would 100% recommend this to everyone but especially people who enjoy reading memoirs by women. There is some cissexism, especially in the first chapter and ableist slurs used throughout as well as some depictions of abuse, vomiting and drug/alcohol use.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

This is such an incredible book!! It’s a mix of memoir and queer theory and it focuses a lot on pregnancy and motherhood. Nelson’s style is really poetic and the work she does in making space for motherhood to realise its queer potential is really beautiful, and I personally found it pretty accessible.

Her work comes down to a discussion about caring, how we care, who cares for us – that’s something we all need to consider within our lives. Never to undermine or erase carers or care work but also to see the radical potential mothering has. I really think all feminists should read this and also all queer theorists – most of whom love to misogynistically disregard mothers as heteronormative and disregard people with wombs as irrelevant to true queer futures!! Which they aren’t!!

Sea-witch Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Never Angel North

Sea-Witch Volume 1: May She Lay us Waste is an experimental trans-memoir graphic novel about love, community, girl-ness and pain. It speaks to the experience of Sara and the time she spent living inside a witch god named Sea-Witch. It’s also about family and Sea-Witch’s community of sisters and the 78 Men Who Cause Pain (78MWCP) via making laws and being cops and fighting against so called monsters like Sea-Witch. The story is told through scribbles and sigils, words, quotes, drawings and photographs.

Sea-Witch Volume 2: Girldirt Angelfog is just as weird, interesting and beautiful as the first one! Both are so expansive and monstrous, creative and painful, confusing and challenging. The second volume continues Sara’s journey but linear narratives aren’t particularly important to Never Angel North, who is such a fearless breathless author.

These books are for all the freaks who love mythology and all the sapphic witches and lovers of the sea. Its for all the people invested in caring for one another and in creating and sharing hope even in the face of holding pain.

I was lucky enough to read the second volume via pdf because I support Never on patreon, I would just say its difficult to content warn for this series because it so tumultuous and open but there is definite discussion about trauma and pain laced throughout both volumes. I’m so excited for the third volume to come out in 2018!!!

Small Beauty by Jia Qing Wilson-Yang

Small Beauty is a short but poignant and affecting novel about grief, processing and ghosts. The book tells the soft and introspective story of Mei, a mixed race trans girl, whilst she is mourning and evolving, unearthing the lives and deaths of some of her relatives. Its also about this deep love and community, about support and identity, rage and, yes, sorrow too. The writing is subtle and quiet and lyrical – I marked so many of its pages because I found it so beautiful.

The novel is an own voices story and it consistently refuses to cater to cisgender people, Mei isn’t forced into narratives that eroticise or fetishise or simplify what being trans is like and Mei and all the other characters, including a transphobic dyke, are treated with forgiveness and represented with nuance. It’s a book for folks who are growing but not grown and for those who are new to adulthood. Content warnings for grief and death as well as a depiction of a transmisogynistic physical assault on pages 66-67.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

This year I became invested and interested in care and mothering in a way I never was before and as such I couldn’t resist listening (via audiobook) to this novel about a woman named Yejide and her husband, Akin, trying to get pregnant and have a family together.

This was on the shortlist for the baileys women prize for fiction and that’s how I became aware of it, and I’m glad I did! It’s a very readable book chronicling tragedies and peaks in Yejide’s attempts to create a family and its complex representations of the behaviours and wishes of people are interesting and emotional. The prose is animated and so is the dialogue – it’s a very enthralling if sorrowful read. 

Power And Magic : The Queer Witch Comic Anthology edited by Joamette Gil

I loved this comic anthology so much!! All the comics are centered around queer witches, were made by women, demigirls and bigender writers and illustrators of colour. The 15 different comics all vary in tone and size. Some are adorable and sweet and others are sad but powerful or healing and kind, they cover themes of love, community, family and recovery.

My favourites were Your Heart Is An Apple by Nivedita Sekar which was a fairytale inspired love story including an ex-mermaid who was now a cane user and a girl with an apple for a heart. I cried at its utter loveliness. I also really enjoyed As The Roots Undo by Joamette Gil, especially the line “They called her witch. I called her moon.” And lastly the tender and gorgeous Songbird for a vulture by Naomi Franquiz. There are content warnings for each story on the contents page.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with beautiful, educational and healing reading!! If you want to diversify your reading in the new year you could continue looking for suggestions via this list of books to be published in 2018 by women of colour!

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