Tag Archives: non-fiction

Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently

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The fiercest new voice of feminism – Emer O’Toole is the perfect mix of Caitlin Moran, Germaine Greer and Lena Dunham.

Emer O’Toole once caused a media sensation by growing her body hair and singing ‘Get Your Pits Out For The Lads’ on national TV. You might think she’s crazy – but she has lessons for us all. Protesting against the ‘makey-uppy-bulls**t’ of gender conditioning, Emer takes us on a hilarious, honest and probing journey through her life – from cross-dressing and head shaving, to pube growing and full-body waxing – exploring the performance of femininity to which we are confined.

Funny, provocative and underpinned with rigorous academic intelligence, this book shows us why and how we should all begin gently to break out of gender stereotypes. Read this book, open up your mind and, hopefully, free your body. GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS is a must-read wake-up call for all young women (and men)

After reading this book, one question came to mind; do we still live in such a sexist world that the arguments in this book are ‘controversial’ or even ‘new’? I did enjoy O’Toole’s way of relating the issues to her own world, but there was nothing in this book that I haven’t read, heard about or even thought of before. However, it is still a good book for those who are embarking on the scary world of feminism for the first time.

Each topic is a simple one that many women experience on a constant basis; from body hair to the roles around the house. Even if you don’t relate to every single experience, there would probably be one that feels close to home for you. I mean, I don’t have sex so I cannot relate to the concept of male not considering the female’s pleasure during intimacy, I am sure it is an issue that many others can face. There is a reason each chapter is in the book, and I hope it will make at least one person reconsider aspects of their life.

My favourite part of the book is when O’Toole examines a discussion that took place when she was in her teenage years and made an argument that sexism wasn’t an issue anymore. Just be including this scene, she explores how sexual equality is a complicated issue and thoughts can change as we mature. I believe in the good of people. Most people aren’t strongly sexist and think men are far superior to women. We just live in a society where it’s easy to slip into the roles that are expected from us.

There is still a comedic sense to the book. In one section, O’Toole actually uses a direct blog post from a few years and it includes a vernacular that I can only laugh at. This break from the seriousness of the discussion is essential to remind us that we are still talking about a pretty good society compared to others. We’re not talking about a lot of horrific exceptionally sexist situations, but that doesn’t mean the residue of patriarchy has disappeared.

One idea that I found fascinating is that O’Toole is more critical on female authors than she is of male authors. It is the one point where I had to stop and think. Do I do that? Am I like her and think that men are so much smarter than me that I can’t possibly compete with them intellectually but I have a chance with women? I like to think not, but it is something I will need to consider in the future.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it didn’t really change the way I viewed life, so I’ll give it 8/10.

Thugs

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“Without defending or justifying their actions, I simply say that because these thugs pushed the societies over which they ruled –and ruled absolutely – to one extreme, we push our societies to the other extreme. Balance and counterbalance. Thugs deny freedoms; we valiantly protect freedoms. Thugs place little value on human life; we cherish human life. Thugs act to protect their own narrow self-interest; we fight for the interest of others.”

This quote is in the conclusion of Micah D. Halpern’s Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World Through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder, but it is also the most powerful section and it is something we need to remember in today’s political climate. Halpern explains leaders and dictators from Hamurabi to Kim-Jong-Il and the impact they had on their people. It’s a simple introductory book and while most of the writing is solid, there are a few awkward sections.

If you have studied dictators throughout history, this is not the book for you. A few chapters are only three pages long as they give a brief introduction of the individuals. Most of it is just an explanation of where they are born, how they became a leader of their country and what the result of their leadership was. There are a few instances when we are also introduced to their personality, such as with Idi Amin, but that is not the point of this book.

There is a Wikipedia feel to the book, but it is neatly organised and highly convenient. It has chapters on ancient, modern Middle Eastern (which I really need) and Asian history. There are instances where you can read multiple chapters in one go, because the flow actually works. I might have placed Middle Eastern history later on, but that’s about it. The connections between dictators feels natural so I know who they are talking about if they reference someone else. You can read it all the way through, or if you’re picky, just use the index.That would work as well.

The writing is not flashy or clunky in most areas, so it is easy to become invested in the book. Even though the introduction and conclusion does discuss thugs, it isn’t really used enough for it to feel natural. Instead, each time ‘thug’ is used, it takes away the professional tone that has already been established. There are, I think, two other oddly worded sentences. I swear, there is one section where the phrase ‘pooh pooh’ is used. It is not enough to completely destroy the book, but it does lower the standard slightly.

Definitely read this book if you want to grasp a basic understanding of tyranny that has impacted societies today. Just make sure you keep in mind that it is only an introductory guide and it is slightly outdated. According to Thugs, Mummar Gadaffi is the present prime minister of Libya.

6.7/10.

 

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

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The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is such an eye catching title. As soon as I heard it a few years ago, it placed itself firmly on my ‘To read’ list. I finally got around to reading Oliver Sack’s famous book this year and I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. What I expected to be a mesmerising series of neurological illnesses and explanations turned into basic reflections of the author that were void of either information or sense of importance. There were a few sections, however, that were surprisingly poignant. Many of us believe that just because someone is different, they have a deficit and this one trait consumes their entire being. Slowly and peacefully, he encourages to question this notion, which is the one thing that saves this book.

Overall, the book is rather dry. We read about people with autistic savants, major memory issues (such as Korsakov), proprioception problems and agnosia. It’s funny but the main issue I have with the book is that the way these concepts were presented. They were either too dull or too brief for me, but I ended up not really understanding them. The only thing I remember is that when in doubt, it’s an issue with the temporal lobe. As I struggled with understanding these concepts, it made me question whether the target audience were professions (in which case the information was too brief and superficial) or the average Joe like me (in which case there was not enough). Even though the focus was on how it affected the people, losing a strong understanding of what they are going through lessens the impact.

There is a sense of realism with the patients, but there was also something a little off. The relationship between them and Oliver Sacks was a bit stinted. Even in instances where they communicated such as with the twins, I felt like he was trying too much for the sake of his reputation instead of being genuine. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this, but something just felt a little clinical throughout the story (which is off for a clinical tales, right?). Perhaps it was the dialogue that was included which didn’t seem natural. It felt like they were saying what Sacks wanted them to say instead of what they really said. Most of the styles of speech were similar to one another, which shouldn’t happen as the individuals were so different.

The way the individuals are presented, however, is nice. Sacks emphasises the point that just because their brain may not function the same way as you or me, it doesn’t mean that they are defected. He even explicitly defends this belief, which is important for many of us to hear every once in a while. This becomes a focus in a chapter discussing how people start hearing music and it can even be a good thing. Honestly, the section about an Irish woman was the most touching part and if anything, I recommend you read that essay. This theme does occur in many other essays, but the one with the music highlights it perfectly.

Even though I don’t love this book or even like it that much, I really do appreciate it. It brings a sense of humanity to what many people may consider problems. I might not have a better understanding of some of the disabilities than when I started, but I’m sure others will get more out of the book depending on their current knowledge. However, some sections are a bit dry, so focus on reading essays instead of the book. Even if you just read two or three parts of the book, it can lead to a better understanding of the individuals who have a neurological issue. 6.8/10

Question: What is the best the best book you have read that explains certain disabilities?

Another Celebration of Women

Women are incredible. You can have a ‘Top 1,000’ influential women’ and not be anywhere close to including all of them. Pier9′s <i>Women who Changed the World: Fifty Inspirational Women Who Shaped HIstory </i>is one of the myriad of books encourages awareness of brilliant women. Even though I was questioning a few of the inclusions in this book, it was still a solid foundation for readers. If you have limited knowledge on people like Rosa Parks and Marie Curie, this is a great book for you.

The range of women is reasonable. This comes in the form of women of colour such as Mary Seacole and Benazir Bhutto, but also in their occupations. Politicians, fashion designers, entertainers, activists, scientists and athletes are included with equal respect so I’m sure you will find a few that you find interesting.

The layout was formulaic, which can be boring for many people, but I enjoyed it. It made each reading feel like a ritual and if I didn’t care about the individual, I knew which parts to skip. Even if you didn’t want the three page explanation, a simple glance at the introduction page will give you a solid understanding of the woman.

As each woman is given three pages (timeline included), you won’t get as much information as you would of you read a biography. However, a lot of their life is introduced. Sometimes the negative aspects are included, which is very important as it makes the book feel like more than just a shrine to the women.

As there are so many great women in history, the way the book was presented was informative but predictable. However, they were smart by admitting the issue at the introduction where they stated ‘we hope the choices made by our researches will prompt thought and discussion’. So, who do you think is constantly snubbed from influential women lists

Score: 7.3/10

Everything You Know is a Lie

There’s only one thing better than learning something new – learning something that you thought you knew is absolute bollocks. The hit TV show QI has been blowing the minds of their viewers for over a decade, so naturally a gimmicky book had to be created. Thus The Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson was born. Unfortunately, it’s better as a standalone piece than a book connected to a TV show.

The amount of “mind-blowing facts” depends on your knowledge. There were a few facts I already knew (some from watching the TV show), and others I never even heard of so the big reveal of the truth meant little to me. I still recommend you read the book because you’re probably going to learn at least one thing.

I have read a few arguments stating that some QI facts are wrong, and they probably are, so I would have liked a reference list at the end of the book. It does mention the ‘elves’ who do the research, but that isn’t the same as acknowledging where they got the information from.

One of the best aspects of this book is the transitions. It doesn’t separate topics into sections, nor does it jump from one fact to another. Instead, it uses a component of one answer as a the topic subject of the next question. This makes it flow really well, but the rare incident where they don’t do it is obviously disjointed.

Another disjointed part of the book is when they include quotes from the TV show. Some may have been funny, but overall they didn’t work for me. Some didn’t work because they seemed irrelevant, while others didn’t work because it’s not the same as hearing it from the guests. It’s also an issue because I don’t know to whom it is targeted. Fans of the show would already know the joke and I really can’t see it appealing to those who aren’t fans (mainly because they didn’t even include the surnames of the guests). It didn’t destroy the book, but nor did it contribute anything.

Overall, it’s a really pleasant book. Your outlook on reality will be tested and you have to think for yourself. I’m giving it 7.2/10.

Discussion: What is the strangest fact you know?

Shall I compare thee to other books I read?

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Love has to be one of the most influential emotion; especially when it comes to poetry. Classic Love Poems edited by Max Morris is just one of the many books dedicated to this topic. By embracing poets from Richard Monckton Milnes to William Wordsworth, he created a really cute book with pretty illustrations.

The poetry was either hit or miss with me. Some of them left me smiling, and the others left me turning the page with no idea of what I just read. My favourites have to be the ones dedicated to a certain individual (at least, I assume they are) such as Robert Burn’s I Love My Jean. However, the overall tone was too lovey dovey for my liking. There should have been more intense and even depressing love poems so we can have a larger variety and would even help with the order.

Morris used the classic alphabetical order of the authors and while I have no issue with this, there are a few other structural issues. The main one is that he included passages from books or plays, such as one from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Knowing that there is a whole story surrounding the poem prevents me from enjoying what has been presented to me. I just need to know the context. Another minor issue is that Morris didn’t title some of the poems properly. For example, every poem by Shakespeare was simply called Sonnet. This confused me because he numbered Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Why were some poems titled properly while others weren’t?

There’s not much to say about the illustrations except that they were pretty. I would have appreciated a little more depth or variety, but then it wouldn’t have gone with the idealistic tone of the book. Overall, it was a fine job.

This is a great book if you’re looking for romantic (and sometimes corny) poems. Unfortunately, that’s not for me so I’m going to have 5.6/10.

Discussion:

Let’s do something different. Create your own love poem and submit it in the comment section.

Your Skirt’s Too Short

Illustration by Kartazina Babis

Hopefully you know that sexism still exists in western societies. If not, or you want to learn more about the topic, Emily Maguire’s Your Skirt’s Too Short is a great inclusive book to assist you in your journey. Maguire uses standard creative non-fiction techniques to explain issues such as work, porn, appearances, how sexism affects men and many more.

When it comes to these kind of books, half the enjoyment comes out of it challenging your views of the world. Unfortunately it didn’t, but that didn’t mean I learned something interesting. I still cannot believe that a Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute exists and that some people found the models in Total Girl sexual. Actually, here’s a warning; you might hate society a little bit more once you finish the book.

One of the best parts of the book is that it is inclusive. She includes LGBTQA+ individuals and a Muslim woman while making arguments. It’s still not perfect as she includes the word ‘cripple’ when making a joke and doesn’t really mention how feminism history is different to different races. The worst example, however, is one that I might be looking too deep into. In one chapter, she uses the subheading ‘First they came for the homosexuals’ and ‘Then they came for me’, which appears to be a reference to the Martin Niemöller quote. I may understand why she did it, but comparing our treatment towards the homosexuals today to the treatment of Jewish (or even homosexual) population in WWII Germany makes me uncomfortable. Apart from these small issues, knowing that she has at least attempted to include different kind of people makes her a lot better than other ‘White Feminists’.

Her voice does come through, which is great. She talks about her own experiences and mentions multiple times that everyone makes mistakes and should be accountable to them – even herself. She has a great way of putting herself into the text, but makes sure it isn’t all about her. However, it does become slightly monotonous towards the end. Maybe if she was slightly more passionate in certain areas, her otherwise pensive tone would be stronger and it would make the read more enjoyable.

The book is targeted towards High School students, and this makes me uncomfortable in certain areas. I have to imagine myself as an awkward teenager and some sections of the book would disturb me (mainly the discussion of the vulva). Then again, it depends on the teenager. For example, if a teen is really into porn, they should read the chapter ‘Pornstars and the Women Who Love them’. Male teenagers should also read ‘Boy Trouble’ to prevent from from becoming Meninists. If you are a teenager, it’s up to you as to whether or not you’re ready to deal with some graphic details.

Despite the minor issues, it’s still a decent read and is one of the best explanations of feminism I have read. I’m giving it 8.7/10.

Question: What is the most sexists encounter you have experienced?

Bonjour et Bienvenue

What a good….

French is a beautiful language and the literature is no different… even if it includes a giant killing village people with his piss. You can earn about this story and more with French Literature: A Beginner’s Guide by Carol Clark. Here we get a quick and satisfying look at the history of French literature and the role it played as a part of the different eras, both politically and socially.

Clark starts with a surprisingly reassuring idea – books are meant to be enjoyed first and studied second. This simple idea is often forgotten by scholars so embracing it created a somewhat comforting feeling. Clark referenced this again in the final chapter to create a cheesy and uplifting sentiment.

She continues to discuss how literature first became popular within the French culture and discusses it century by century. While it makes sense, it felt quite disproportionate when you get to the 20th Century – the Age of Transgression. Before then, each chapter was slightly referenced what was going on in the world of literature as well as in society, but the focus would then be on the writers and the work notable during that era. This made the pace quite slow and relaxing. The 20th Century, the Age of Transgression, included multiple sub types of writing so it all felt a little crammed. Maybe if Clark split the chapter into two, the pace would feel more similar to those before it and it will feel more in place.

As it is a beginners guide to French Literature, Clark has made the book easy to read. There are plenty of subsections with bolded words or phrases, making it easy to find anything you’re looking for. It doesn’t use overly complex terms or phrases unless Clark also explains them. For hose that know little about French history, such as myself, it gives a basic description of the complexity of the 18th and 19th century.

Of course, the focus was on the literature. Clark ranged from Chrétien de Troyes to Marie Darrieussecq, treating them all as equal to the importance of French literature. She incorporated different parts of literature and not just novels, which was great because some people seem to think only novels count as literature. Poems, plays, memoirs and chansons de geste (story poems) were all seen as integral to the creation of literature.

While most of the version I read was written in English, Clark also included sections written in French, mainly with the extracts. I loved this because it allows us to practice whatever French we know. However, there were other statements written in French that seemed superfluous. It felt like it was only done so Clark could further prove she knew French.

If you are interested in French Literature, I definitely recommend this book. It’s quick, concise and include a few humorous statements that makes it feel like an easy read. I’m giving it 8.7/10.

Discussion Point: Whom is your favourite French author?

The 60-Second Philosopher: Expand your Mind on a Minute or so a Day!

Philosophy can range from dull to mind blowing. You might have thought about it quite a lot without realising it, but don’t know where to start actually paying attention to it. Andrew Pessin’s The 60-Second Philosopher is a decent book that will help you enter the world of philosophy. However, you have to be willing to possibly waste a minute per day.

The book comprises of sixty ideas that are presented either through a story or a proposal. I read all of them, but I can only recall a dozen or so without a prompt. This might be my lack of attention span, but it might also be because some were dull or were too similar to the ones I remembered. There were some, however, that made me put the book down and think for a few seconds before continuing. I just would have liked it if there were one or two more ideas at that level.

Pessin incorporated God more than I would have liked. As an atheist, I couldn’t get into these problems. It was particularly annoying as there was an advertisement for a God based philosophical book on the back. All the God related ideas should be there so I could have avoided. However, if you do believe in God, you might enjoy these passages.

I wasn’t fond of the structure as it often felt like there was none. Apart from the first and final idea, the ideas were a little over the place. He wrote about one idea, then a few others, and then finally went back to the first idea. It probably symbolises how life isn’t always in a sequence and that we have to remember things from before, but I still didn’t like it. Maybe if he didn’t include a section under each idea that suggested similar problems, I would have been ok with it. While he may have done it for the reader’s convenience, it reads as if he wasn’t sure if the structure was ok, so tried to fix it at the last second. If the sequence was right, he wouldn’t have to recommend certain pages. We’re smart enough to figure out how the problems interlink, even if we are just beginners.

Pessin remembered whom his target audience was just because of the language used. It was often casual as he included anecdotes, jokes, and Simpson references. This makes it easier to understand complex ideas, but it can come off as patronising. He also has a habit of trying to be more relatable by using the phrase ‘the philosopher in me’. Even it’s good as it’s linked to how everyone is a philosopher, I didn’t like it. Pessin was writing a book on philosophy… his inner philosopher should have a part in what he thought. The reader in me found this unnecessary.

I’m giving the book 6.3/10. It made me think a lot and while I didn’t agree with some of his choices, I can see why he did it.

Discussion Point:

This is a three part question as this problem presented by Pessin kept me up all night. I have reworded it though.

  1. There are five children playing on a train track and are oblivious of an upcoming train. They will die unless you pull a lever that changes the track. However, there is one kid on the second track. If you pull the lever, he will die. Would you pull the lever?
  2. What about when five children are terminally ill unless they receive organ transplants soon? The only option you have is to kill a healthy person and harvest their organs. Would you kill this person to save the five terminally ill children?
  3. These situations are basically the same, but why do so many of us perceive them as different?