May books

Last month came and went quicker than I could’ve imagined considering how monotonous our days have gotten, but boy has there been a lot going on outside. With Scotland going into phase one of getting out of lockdown we’ve seen a very slight easing of restrictions, but it appears that far too many people have got the wrong idea and so are now acting as if it’s all over. It’s worrying to see and making a second spike seem inevitable at this point. Not to mention the Dominic Cummings fiasco in England where he broke lockdown rules to drive for half an hour to “test his eyesight” and for some reason he still thinks this was a completely reasonable thing to do (the audacity that tories have, honestly) here’s an excellent video on it for your amusement. And while this has been going on we’ve seen the public and media attention (finally) being drawn to a number of recent Black murders, and I say murders because that’s exactly what they are, both through police brutality and through the racist attacks where Black people have been spat on, contracted Coronavirus and later died because of it. While it’s amazing to see so much support and care online, I can’t help but feel a bit cynical seeing companies, brands and just individual people (often posting as if it’s a tick box type thing) who could do so much within themselves and around them to combat racism in many of its other forms, only speaking out now, against murder (quite literally the very worst showing of racism) which of course we should be horrified by but as well as this, there has been so much work needing done from the ground up that many of us can personally have a greater impact on- especially when it comes to tackling institutional racism. Change needs to come from all of us if we are going to dismantle the system that we (white people) created, contributed to and have benefited from whether unknowingly or not, and we don’t get a reward for fixing what should never have happened. I include myself in that, as I know I’m constantly learning and re-learning and finding where I’ve made mistakes because there’s always room for improvement. And that’s the rather handy thing about anti-racist work, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about showing up all day everyday, as Ijeoma Oluo says

“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

Obviously there’s so much to be done from signing petitions, writing to MPs, donating and taking part in protests where possible, changing the UK curriculum, calling out any form of racism, holding brands accountable, standing up for better representation, starting conversations, and first and foremost, educating ourselves. Here is a handy google doc filled with all sorts of resources for getting started. I have lots of recommendations when it comes to books- both fiction and non-fiction- some directly on the subject of anti-racism and others on the Black experience. Also podcasts, online educators and activists but also just amazing Black writers, artists, and influencers that I love that I know many will be missing out on in our white centric bubble. With that in mind, I will of course be continuing to improve the number of different perspectives in my general recommendations, but I’ve also been working on some more specific posts that I’ll be posting in the future. A lot of which will be more for once we’ve done the work and are ready to go into these educational spaces with the right mindset, as well as ones that have nothing to do with education and are just for the sheer talent. But for now, on with what I read in May.

The first book I read this month was Naked by one of my all time favourite writers, David Sedaris. I started with his newer stuff which is kinda fun since I have the entire back catalogue to make my way through now. I wouldn’t say I loved Naked to quite the same level that I did Me Talk Pretty One Day or Calypso, but they’re right up there for me so don’t let that make you think the book wasn’t great. It was filled with Sedaris’ usual blunt and shocking observations that never fail to make me snort. From hitch hiking the country with his wheel chair bound roommate to working in an apple factory and befriending a man who called himself Curly and being introduced to his extensive dildo collection as well as playing sports (naked) at a nudist colony, David Sedaris certainly isn’t lacking in experiences. I always find his books really easy to get into, the writing is easily recognisable and comforting even though the many weird and wonderful stories within are often anything but. Many are completely crazy and others deeply sad and yet somehow Sedaris seems to manage to never take himself too seriously, keeping a light heart throughout even when speaking on some very uncomfortable truths. It’s a wonderful rare insight into someone’s mind when on a search for their own identity, something normally kept deep inside. So the title is very apt as Sedaris strips back and gets very vulnerable with us. We could probably all do with a bit of that openness and vulnerability.

Next up was a goddamn masterpiece of a book, Holly Bourne’s Pretending. Now let me tell you, I wanted to underline and highlight something on just about every second page, it was such a devastatingly truthful look at being a woman with trauma trying to date men (emphasis on trying). With such a dark, but yet common, subject matter Bourne still manages to write a really easy to read, funny and uplifting book, but nonetheless doesn’t sugar coat the situation at all. The main character, April, does frontline work with a young person’s charity (as has Holly Bourne herself) which involves answering questions related to sex and relationships, often veering into the very difficult and horrible to read stories of sexual assault, many times without the victim even understanding what has happened. And while dealing with that and her own trauma, April is fed up of never getting past 5 dates with a man, so decides to take on a new persona “Gretel” the woman of every man’s dreams and the book follows the drama that ensues. There are such perfectly accurate observations and downright hilarious comments throughout, but here’s one rather more anger inducing quote (of which there were many) that I wish I could make everyone read:

“The fear is always there. The threat always there. Because, really, unless you are a fucking championship kick-boxer or something, if you are ever alone with a man, all he has to do is decide to do it and he’ll be able to. They can hold both of your squirming arms down with only one of their own. They can pin you to your back with just the weight of them. You close the door and make it alone with just you and a man and they can always do that. You get into a cab with them and they can always do that. You get walked home by them and they can always do that. Not all men do, but almost all men can.”

Stick that last line to my forehead. 

Will a month ever go by that I’ve not read something by Nora Ephron? Probably not. Last month I finally got round to reading Heartburn, her semi autobiographical novel that is truly such a treat. I mean just look at that cover and you can tell it’s something to be treasured. No writer can calm me and bring me back to centre quite like Ephron can, every piece of her writing, even the more tear jerking essays, is simultaneously comforting and thought provoking. The story starts with Nora (or rather the character, Rachel) finding out her husband and father of her children, the second of which is yet to be born as she’s 7 months pregnant at the time, has been cheating on her (what absolute idiot cheats on Nora Ephron I know, not to mention what asshole cheats on their 7 month pregnant wife?). It then goes over the rather hilarious and often awful events that led up to it and those that followed. There’s a lot of waiting where you just want to drag her right out of that situation because everyone deserves so much better than that, but Nora’s one phenomenal woman so you know she’ll get there eventually. It was just a bloody lovely little read, now the question is, what piece of her work shall I buy next?

It’s been a while since I’ve read any young adult books but I added Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder to my list over a year ago because it sounded like a proper good mystery. And it was everything I could’ve hoped for. The plot centres around the wickedly smart Pippa Fitz-Amobi who decides to take on a closed missing person case from her hometown for her school project. She has her doubts about the widely believed events that transpired to result in the death of a classmate and is determined to fill in the gaps and find the truth. She befriends the brother of the apparent murderer and together they make a wonderful detective duo that are not to be messed with. It’s the perfect mystery, littered with clues and multiple leads, an ongoing threat and plenty of twists. I just adored getting stuck into a good plot with interesting multi dimensional characters, so I was pleased as hell to see its being made into a series with three more books to come. The second of which, called Good Girl, Bad Blood is out right now and has just arrived in the post so I’m raring to get stuck into it ASAP.

I’ve been meaning to read Becoming by Michelle Obama for ages now and while in lockdown I’ve been trying to get through the older parts of my to read list so I got it on audible. It was so wonderful to listen to in her own voice and since I listened to some every day for quite a few weeks, I now feel a bit lost without her and really miss having that couple of hours of listening to look forward to every night. It was, as literally everyone says, incredible, and managed to make me feel so joyful at times and brought me to tears at others. The book follows her story from birth through growing up on the South side of Chicago, moving to a better school, going off to college, becoming a lawyer, and then after meeting Barack, realising she’d never once thought about what she really wanted to do with her life. This led to her leaving her well paid job and steady path ahead to go into community work instead, and her honest writing shows the difficulties many modern women face while trying to live up to the idea of having it all. The book goes into all the contradictory parts of being a working mum with passions and a love of her work but also a love of family and home. And all this mixed in with having a husband that ends up President of the United States and therefore uproots the whole family into a new place and a completely new way of life, unimaginable to all but a select few, makes for one hell of a read. The strength and kindness of both Michelle Obama and her husband shone through and gave a wonderful insight into the life of such an endearing family making their mark on the world. It was a stark reminder of what we’ve lost given the current creature in the White House. The book in itself felt monumental never mind all that they’ve done in their lives so far. I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

The last book I read this month was A Woman of War by Mandy Robotham. It had been on my shelf a while and I didn’t know all that much about it other than the obvious from the title and cover, but turns out although it’s historical fiction and covers most of the historical facts of the Second World War, it provides a kind of “what if?” story. An alternative universe (although based on rumours) where Hitler and Eva Braun had a child. The story is told from the perspective of a German midwife, who refused to support the Reich and therefore was sent away to one of the camps before one day being taken away to care for Eva Braun who is being kept hidden because there is a bit of a divide from those up top on whether this baby is a good thing for the regime or not. She has to take care of Eva for the remainder of her pregnancy and most obviously the birth, for fear of what could happen to her family if she doesn’t, but faces conflicting feelings throughout as she tackles moments of contentment while working for the people she so hates. The book is easily readable and keeps you trapped in the story with really great writing and provides an interesting look at what could’ve happened as well as a look at the devastating sacrifices of war. It is a bit of a conflicting one for the reader too though as the writer seems to edge the reader towards finding sympathy for Eva Braun, which is a difficult one, and not really something I ever imagined thinking about but a story about the path to motherhood under such circumstances was bound to give rise to loads of new contradicting thoughts to grapple with. It was a good read and has managed to leave me still very unsure how I feel about it.

I know this had been a pretty long post, filled with far too many of my thoughts (although that is part of my site name so it’s to be expected), but I’d just like to add that even though it is super important that we’re all stepping up and showing our support, I hope that we’re all still taking a moment to examine the harmful ways in which we may have acted in the past, and the thought processes we need to unlearn- both of which are caused by our underlying prejudices. It is important in practising anti-racism that we identity the racism within us rather than denying it. This is necessary work as you’re either anti-racist or racist, there is no middle ground or “neutrality” when it comes to people’s lives. And I think looking inward and learning from different perspectives can be helped along greatly by a good book, so hopefully everyone is making use of the masses of resources already out there rather than expecting Black people (many of those I’ve seen being asked have quite literally wrote a whole damn book on the subject) to educate them, and as I’ve said, I’ll have lots more recommendations to come. I am so ready to get stuck into my to read pile this month that’s stacked high with wonderful looking books, which I can only imagine contain even better stories. 

I hope everyone has a great reading month, stays safe and that we focus on bigging up the people who have been doing this important work from the very beginning before there was wide public and brand support. Especially given that it’s now Pride month it’s important not to forget what Black Trans women did for the movement, particularly before it could be a celebration and when riots were still a necessity.

Now and always, BLACK LIVES MATTER.

—T

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