Cross-posted from: J-Mo Writes
Originally published: 02.02.18
A Petrol Scented Spring by Ajay Close
Wow! This book has been sitting on my To Be Read pile for well over a year. Thankfully, something made me finally pick it up to take on a succession of long train journeys at the weekend and I am now a) kicking myself for not having read it sooner and b) praising myself for picking such an absorbing and compelling and wonderful book to accompany me on my travels.
A Petrol Scented Spring by the Scottish author Ajay Close came to my attention via nothing more exotic than my periodic online search for novels about the suffrage movement. But this is far from your bog-standard suffrage novel; this is something quite, quite different.
Set in Perth, Scotland, we are offered a rare glimpse of suffrage life north of the border, which is a welcome change from the majority of novels that are London-centric. As such, the real-life characters who Ajay has used as the basis for many of her characters in the meticulously well-researched A Petrol Scented Spring are not ones I had previously known of, but have now becomes ones I want to know more about. Read more ‘A Petrol Scented Spring’
Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 19.01.18
“What I hope for is a world filled with richness, texture, depth and meaning. I want diversity with all its surprises and variety. I want an epistemological multiversity which values the context and real-life experiences of people. I want a world in which relationship is important, and reciprocity is central to social interaction. I want a world which can survive sustainably for at least 40,000 years. I want a wild politics”.
Ever since it began publishing in 1983, T&S has included an occasional ‘classic review’ featurein whicha contemporary feminist re-reads an important text from the past. The latest addition to the series features Liz Kelly’s groundbreaking 1988 book Surviving Sexual Violence. Revisiting it in 2015,Alison Boydell finds it as relevant as ever.I first read Surviving Sexual Violence (SSV) in the 1990s for a postgraduate Women’s Studies dissertation about abusive men who murder their current/ex-partners. Today my understanding is informed by both reading and experience of working with survivors: I am involved in providing front line services to survivors of sexual violence, and will be shortly working in the domestic violence sector. I’m also studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Advocacy for Victims of Sexual Violence: SSV is on my reading list. Since it’s now more than a quarter of a century since it was first published, this is surely a testament to Liz Kelly’s work.
In the 1970s, feminists had analysed rape as an act of male power, raised awareness about its prevalence and deconstructed the myths that surrounded it. However, it was only later that literature about other forms of male sexual violence began to emerge. SSV focused on a wide range of manifestations: it was one of two ground-breaking books published in 1988 which forced childhood sexual abuse onto the public agenda (the other was an American self-help book, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis’s The Courage to Heal).
For me this collection divides along a line between story-driven episodes that unfold ideas & characters from a narrative, and pieces that dissolve these elements in a diffuse, intensely poetic, emotionally charged meandering. But perhaps I’m being overly convergent in seeing a line when I should detect a field of ambiguity and shade.
I often struggle with plotless writing but when I can feel a depth of glowing emotion as I can here I can appreciate. Hardwick conveys a moody, conflict-ridden yet implacable and transcendant love for New York City, partly (I’m not entirely sure how she achieves this shimmering web of effects) by piling images one atop the other in a profusion of witty contrasts. Another way she does it is by introducing vulnerable and unconventional personalities in a way that makes NYC seem like a sheltering haven where the fragile can survive. Read more Ecstasy of a Feminist Tragedian in New York by @RoseAnnaStar
This was the year Her Story Arc became F-BOM, the Feminist Book of the Month. Not to be conceited, but we consider ourselves pretty qualified to pick a good book! Working with self-published women authors to promote their work and give them more time and money to focus on their art has been an inspiring journey, and we are so looking forward to all the readers and writers we will meet in 2018, AND all the good books we’ll get to share.
Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 03.08.17
I have just had the pleasure of reading Denise Thompson’s book. It is my part of my personal on-going exploration of feminist theory and thought.
Although I have worked for many years as a feminist activist, particularly in the field of male violence against women and children, and have thus read and discussed feminism, I hold some trepidation in writing this blog.
I claim no expertise in feminist theory – but am in the process of learning and developing my knowledge and want to share my journey with you. I can only hope that I can do justice to Denise Thompson’s book which I highly recommend.
This blog is not going to cover all the range of issues that are discussed in the book. Rather I will attempt to focus on her understanding of radical feminism.
Lacking a mother to advise her, Natalia, whose ideas of romance and beauty seem to be symbolised by the colour white, which she loves to wear, is picked up by a douchecanoe so selfish and arrogant he takes her name from her and proceeds to arrange her life and possessions at his service. Eventually he fills their home with doves, another white creature coerced violently into confinement. Natalia is living in hell, but it seems there is a hell below this one because along comes the civil war and a famine that sucks the heart and spirit and flesh from the shell of the body Read more Mercè Rodoreda’s A hell below this one, at (I am because you are)
This year has been the year of fiction. Mostly because it was an especially intense year in terms of work, and when I find myself overwhelmed with academic reading, writing, and teaching, I find fiction a much-needed way of relaxing. There are two fiction books I am currently making my way through which I hope to finish before the end of the year, but I haven’t added them to the list; one is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and the other is 4321 by Paul Aster (1200 pages!) Pachinko in particular is just stunning, and it’ll be a painful one to say good Read more Favourite books of 2017, by @saramsalem
During a long Sunday walk, I found the Golem and the Jinni in a Little Free Library. After reading the jacket, I was sold. I’m a sucker for mythology, so I just had to take the Golem and the Jinni home.
The book first introduces Chava, the golem. She’s a woman formed from clay, made to serve, protect, and be the “perfect wife” for a man who paid for her creation. However, this relationship doesn’t last long, as her “husband” dies on the voyage from Poland to America. Chava escapes into 1890s New York City and settles in a Jewish neighborhood, hiding in plain sight. Read more The Golem and the Jinni (small spoilers), at Her History Arc
I have not visited the Door of No Return, but by relying on random shards of history and unwritten memoir of descendants of those who passed through it, including me, I am constructing a map of the region, paying attention to faces, to the unknowable, to unintended acts of returning, to impressions of doorways. Any act of recollection is important, even looks of dismay and discomfort. Any wisp of a dream is evidence.- Dionne Brand, A Journey to the Door of No Return
There’s a short list of books that I’d say have recently changed my worldview and how I view things. This is one of them. From my research into the black diaspora through literature, art, and stories, etc, I always marvel at is what was saved and what was lost. This book goes a lot into what was lost and I read it from a personal place, identifying strongly with many of its themes.
The main premise of this book is the Door of No Return in the Black diaspora. The door in the book’s title is defined as “a place, real, imaginary and imagined…The door out of which Africans were captured, loaded onto ships heading for the New World. It was the door of a million exits multiplied. It is a door many of us wish never existed.” I think I’m fortunate to know where my “door” is; but for others in the diaspora this relationship is much more fraught with confusion. Because The Door is not an imagining for me, I initially felt that the book was more suited to North American and Caribbean Black people who might not know their origins, but the more I read the more I saw that oppression was universal and the Diaspora has a strong connection: Read more A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging- Dionne Brand
Sometimes the books I enjoy most are the ones I have the least to say about. And what can I add to Toni Morrison’s comment that “the beauty of Love Medicine saves us from being completely devastated by its power”? Because reading this book is living, in sweetness and beauty and love, even when it tells terrible things.
It’s life and there are as may ways of looking at it as there are minds to see, but in so far as these folks have been and still are fighting for survival, not just of the individual bodies but ways of being alive together and the deathlessness of stories. It’s a fight fought ducking and rolling and with tricks of all styles, with ‘one paw tied behind my back’. Sometimes it’s fought by going with the flow, by listening to the heart or the spirit or the craving of flesh, and seeking what’s wanted. Sometimes it’s fought in humility or by letting go, sometimes by audacity and pride in the face of censure. There are losses and grief, but the dead travel with the living.
‘I’d already decided that teen sex was no fun, especially for girls. Too many of my friends told me about the sex they’d had and it sounded horrible. It sounded fast – insanely fast- and unpleasant. And unsatisfying. To make things worse, it seemed that as soon as it went from making out for about a minute to having sex, the boys turned into emotional zombies who got as far away from the girls as possible’.
This quote, from a new book Love, Sex and No Regrets for Today’s Teens, describes the experiences of girls I meet everywhere. Fast, expressionless, meaningless, non-intimate, care-less sex which makes them feel like a masturbatory aid. Boys who know how to give a girl a pounding but not how to make love. Girls desiring authentic intimate connection but finding de-personalisation and emotional disconnection instead. Read more Love, sex and no regrets for teens: a review by @meltankardreist
Review: As if there was less misery in the world that I had to review such a book. The trigger, of course, was Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. Soon after I finish a book, I scan through Goodreads to see what the fellow bibliophiles have to say. All because I’m curious and also just to pick up points that I might have overlooked/missed.
When it comes to child abuse, Room by Emma Donoghue was a title tossed around by a bunch of people. Stated to be loosely inspired by the Fritzl case, Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ was a book that made everyone sit up and notice the risk she had taken in publishing this work, which eventually lined up quite a few accolades and appraisals for her.
“Valancy had lived spiritually in the Blue Castle ever since she could remember. She had been a very tiny child when she found herself possessed of it. Always, when she shut her eyes, she could see it plainly, with its turrets and banners on the pine-clad mountain height, wrapped in its faint, blue loveliness, against the sunset skies of a fair and unknown land. Everything wonderful and beautiful was in that castle. Jewels that queens might have worn; robes of moonlight and fire; couches of roses and gold; long flights of shallow marble steps, with great, white urns, and with slender, mist-clad maidens going up and down them; courts, marble-pillared, where shimmering fountains fell and nightingales sang among the myrtles; halls of mirrors that reflected only handsome knights and lovely women–herself the loveliest of all, for whose glance men died. All that supported her through the boredom of her days was the hope of going on a dream spree at night. Most, if not all, of the Stirlings would have died of horror if they had known half the things Valancy did in her Blue Castle.”- Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Blue Castle
This is the sort of book that makes me so glad to be a reader. Montgomery is an EXTREMELY talented and beautiful writer. Recently I’ve been finding myself wanting to read more of her work because it’s honestly like a balm. There’s a feeling I would get very often as a child when I was discovering the world of literature and everything was fresh and new; it’s a feeling that as an adult I rarely get close to reliving, but in this book I did see some glimmers of it. Read more The Blue Castle- L. M. Montgomery by Les Reveries de Rowena
I bought this book partly because I was so attracted to the beautiful manga style cover art centred on a gorgeously drawn black woman’s face. While her necklace looks African to me, her rakish curls of hair, sceptical eyebrow and thick gold earring give her a cartoon romantically piratical air! Meanwhile, two white women on the phone look as if they’re either dealing with a crisis or plotting some intrigue, but as it turns out, the protagonist, Ellie, isn’t a swashbuckling renegade and the other women are just gossiping. Their chatter, often cruel, is McPartlin’s vehicle for working through the harshness and bigotry of a rural mid-’60s Scottish setting. While the ‘pairty line’ vents toxic racism and ignorance, its status as a space for friends to speak openly enables some healing and changes of mind to take place. Religious fissures are bridged by family relationships, and the speakers feel comfortable enough to contradict each other and repent of previous convictions. Read more Against the Party Line by @RoseAnnaStar
Yasmin Rehman reviewsChristine Delphy’s Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror
The sociologist and theorist Christine Delphy has been one of the most influential figures in French feminism since the 1970s, when she was active in the Mouvementdelibération desfemmes (Women’s Liberation Movement), and co-founded the journal Nouvelles questions féministes with Simone de Beauvoir. SeparateandDominate is a collection of ten essays which she began writing in 1996. Originally published in French in 2008, this is the first English translation, and it contains an opening chapter written specifically for this volume.
I read the book in the midst of the fierce social media debate surrounding the Charlie Hebdo cartoon featuring Aylan Kurdi, in which those who criticised the satirical magazine for using an image of the dead toddler were accused of failing to understand satire and/or the French. I was aware that my own lack of inside knowledge might affect my understanding: Delphy makes repeated reference to details of French governance, political controversies and pieces of legislation with which I am unfamiliar. But the issues and arguments raised by the book—terrorism, racism and imperialism, identity—are relevant and timely for British readers too. Read more How have we come to this? by Yasmin Rehman for @strifejournal
“Sometimes Harlem would just do that, you understand. It would open up and reveal itself in a rigorous display of scents, various and commanding, floating its sounds around and above you, where they swirled generously, like autumn colours. In a while, you couldn’t tell what was what, really, or where the sensations came from.”- Kuwana Haulsey, Angel of Harlem
This is one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve ever read. Inspired by true events, it’s the story of Dr. May Edward Chinn, the first black woman physician in Harlem (in the 1920s). While reading the story, it’s natural to be amazed by how tenacious people can be, especially marginalized women. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about hearing about the first person to do something, to gain some sort of achievement. Even now there are always firsts but it’s not until I read this book that I thought more deeply about what being the first black female doctor in Harlem entailed. Not only is she black, she’s also a woman, so the question that entered my mind was this: How do marginalized people, women in particular, continue on despite society telling them from all angles that they are not supposed to be there?
A while back, I attempted to compile a list of Welsh BME writers to read on Twitter. Since then, I’ve sat on this for months, thinking and then overthinking it; “is this necessary? Are you really going to be that person? How will people respond?” Yet every now and then, I’m reminded of this little project of mine, whether it is through the tense political climate, or the conversations I have with people.
I would firstly like to say that most publications etc. in Wales are very open to diverse and intersectional experiences in literature. Parthian Books regularly publish books by diverse authors, while platforms such as Wales Arts Review regularly give voice to, and review books by diverse writers. Both are also platforms I contribute to and work with. Yet while this is the case, the Welsh BME voice in literature remains a quiet one. ‘Difficult’ is a euphemism for what has been my search for BME and intersectional experiences in Welsh books. Whether the problem is simply that Wales isn’t as diversely populated as London or other areas in England, or whether there is a lack of promoting and reaching out to writers from different backgrounds who are Welsh, I can’t say. Read more Why I Want to #Read & Discover More #Welsh #BME #Writers
Review:The first time I ever heard Annie Zaidi speak dates back to my post grad days when she has a special session with us filled with her page-3-kinda-like-ermygod stories. As expected, massive eye rolling happened. Fast forward 3 years later, I see her again, this time with Mandy Ord at JLF 2015. More eye-rolling and subtle scoffing, until she and Mandy spoke about alternate endings to iconic tales in our culture, such as the love saga of Salim and Anarkali. I was like a dog who picked up a new scent. That one story and the epic cliffhanger was sufficient enough to itch my mind and click ‘add to cart’ on Amazon.
How You Might Know Me is a result of years of creative writing workshops with women from the UK’s growing sex industry and Sabrina Mahfouz’s own experiences of working in strip-clubs. It is told through four characters: Sylvia, Tali, Sharifa and Darina, who each use the poetic form to tell their stories, be it through a traditional verse, or a more contemporary, free verse with punchy lines.