Accidentally, or perhaps subconsciously, the theme for this month appears to be *Saoirse Ronan voice* women. Feminism will fuel me through this pandemic.
First I read The Future We Choose by a phenomenal woman, Christiana Figueres, and her co-host of the Outrage and Optimism podcast, Tom Rivett-Carnac. Most climate change books I’ve read have been information and prediction based and massively depressing and although of course these are important books, sometimes, we just need a lil hope. And that’s what The Future We Choose is all about, in which they outline the two possible futures the planet faces; one being very bad, and the other, although not perfect, will mean that humanity are happier, healthier and more a part of nature than we’ve been in a long time. They then tell us, step by step, what we can do to get there. And in an overwhelming, non-stop digital content age that gives people too many options, often resulting in them doing nothing, this is a much needed approach. Reading it certainly made me want to have a more, as they put it, “stubborn optimist” approach, and I think that’s what we’ll all need to try and harness in order to keep fighting for the planet, and stay sane through it.
Then I read Celeste Ng’s second book, Little Fires Everywhere, now a tv show produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon that came out last month. I read her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, last year and loved it and her second hooked me just as fast. Both have completely different plots but in both she takes complicated societal and cultural issues involving race and class, and through family life somehow manages to show all the perspectives and nuances involved in such matters that in today’s world we are all too quick to try and paint as black and white. Many of the character tropes will be all too recognisable and remind you of someone you’ve encountered (and probably make you cringe like hell) but seeing inside someone’s thought patterns might help people think twice in their judgments. It’s not a book where you can easily pick sides. Another book that does this really well is Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid which is equally entertaining and fun while covering such important and sensitive topics throughout.
Next up, How to Fail by Elizabeth Day, which is the second of three books in this pile that started as podcasts. I often sneered at this book a little, due to the fact I felt I certainly didn’t need any help with failing, and it feels like you’ve got to be at a point of succeeding, in order to look back on failures in such a way that you can feel a bit less shit about them. I absolutely love the podcast and Elizabeth’s interview style so I thought even though it didn’t seem like the book for me at this point in my life, I’d give it a go anyway. And boy does Elizabeth go in deep, but somehow in a light and extremely refreshing way that made me look at many things in a new light. I found myself being able to apply her thoughts to parts of my own failings and her stark honesty helps make it a rather comforting read, which I think everyone needs, no matter their success or age.
Then came Grown Ups by the most wonderful woman, Marian Keyes. I’d say it’s my favourite of the month, but I’m stuck between it and Once Upon a River, I suggest you read them both anyway. Big crazy family (so big it even includes a family tree), count down to a disastrous day, extremely interesting and thought provoking characters who your opinion changes of throughout, so damn fun and gripping that even when you’re not reading you’ll feel the excitement of getting stuck back in with all their lives. Marian Keyes somehow manages to make her books as page turning as a thriller but without the murder. Also her episode on the How to Fail podcast, go listen to it now, and every other podcast she’s been on. I’m possibly in love with Marian Keyes. Also, this edition has a striped sprayed edge to match the striped top the woman is wearing on the front cover, it’s very pleasing.
Fifth book of the month was a book that’s been out quite a while and also came from a podcast (I’m very late to the party), it’s The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White. You can tell I loved this book and got a lot from it by the number of corners I folded down on important points I wanted to come back to. It’s basically super accessible intersectional feminist theory, so if you can’t bare reading The Feminine Mystique (of which there is a wonderfully funny “I’m a feminist but…” reference to which is reason alone to read The Guilty Feminist) or all 978 pages of The Second Sex, get this right now, or if you’re a feminist theory nut already, get this anyway as there never stops being more to learn. It’s both easy to read and so so important, especially for the women that don’t feel feminist enough. Which if you don’t feel part of the movement or are busy worrying about your less feminist things, this only hinders us getting on with fighting the patriarchy. To make any guilty feeling feminists feel better, I’m a feminist but… I hated the way I looked so much I once bought a £67 vitamin c serum that ended up making my skin flare up thus never using it again. So like a triple threat I’m contributing to the patriarchy, capitalism and (through my wastefulness) climate change. However I must add it didn’t totally go to waste as through all the months I pretended I was using it so my mum couldn’t go mental about me wasting £67, turns out she was using it instead.
After getting super angry and wanting to fight the patriarchy one on one, I’d really recommend reading my last book of the month, Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. This genre of fiction might be my favourite, like Jessie Burton and Stacey Hall’s novels, it’s set in the past, often centred around complex and realistic women, and it’s got a touch of magic but not quite, as if it’s up to you to decide if you want it to be, and of course there’s a whole lot of mystery. From the start I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and I came to love the characters and not want to leave the book. It’s enchanting without actually being magical, and boy does it keep you guessing. I’ve seen a few reviews on Goodreads which mention how the book deals with race, as of course authors want to accurately depict the cultural and social realities of the time period while also, ya know, not being a racist twat. For the most part I think the author does this well, however it became quite clear and a bit of a recurring theme, that one of the characters, Mr Armstrong, who is black, was only seen as okay and worthy of respect because he talked in a upper class eloquent way and wore good clothes. It was then implied that people like him because they see him as not really being black. This is what caused an issue for some, however I think that what the author aimed to do is highlight how both ignorant and downright horrible the thoughts that people had around this time were, allowing them to be challenged. Other reviews I’ve seen make no mention of it, while some think she deals with it wonderfully and others badly. So seems everyone took it differently, so that’s for you to decide if you choose to read it. But I think everyone can always learn and strive to do better when depicting the realities of the past.
Already I want to be deep in another good story, one that makes your day better with the anticipation of reading it. Thankfully my tbr pile for the next month looks full of escapism.
I hope you find the right books to get you through.