Thursday, 23 March 2017

Mini Reviews: The Bees, Dear Ijeawele & Shrill

I rated The Bees 3 stars and my two latest non-fiction reads, Dear Ijeawele and Shrill got 5 stars each.

The Bees, Laline Paull
352⎟Fourth Estate⎟1st January 2015
Audiobook read by: Orlagh Cassidy

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen.

But Flora is not like other bees. Despite her ugliness she has talents that are not typical of her kin. While mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is removed from sanitation duty and is allowed to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous.

But enemies are everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. And when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all her instinct to serve is overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce love that will lead to the unthinkable…

I’ve been curious about The Bees for a really long time, but it’s sat untouched on my shelf for years. I was on the way back from London one evening and downloaded the audiobook on a whim.

I honestly still can’t decide whether I actually liked it or not. The world building of the hive,the characterisation of Flora and the other bees, the ideas and the themes are all brilliant and it should have been something that blew me away, but there was something there that didn’t allow me to fully connect with the story. I still can’t put my finger on what it was. Maybe that I listened to the audiobook? I’m not sure.

But regardless of my own reaction to the story, I can see why it’s revered, I can see why it was shortlisted for the Bailey’s - it’s clever, inventive and loudly feminist. I’ll definitely picking up Paull’s second novel, just out of curiosity.

Dear Ijewele, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
80⎟Fourth Estate⎟8th March 2017

I have some suggestions for how to raise Chizalum. But remember that you might do all the things I suggest, and she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing. What matters is that you try.

In We Should All be Feminists, her eloquently argued and much admired essay of 2014, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie proposed that if we want a fairer world we need to raise our sons and daughters differently. Here, in this remarkable new book, Adichie replies by letter to a friend’s request for help on how to bring up her newborn baby girl as a feminist. With its fifteen pieces of practical advice it goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century.

I didn’t even know this existed until it flooded social media on International Women’s Day. I had to pick it up.

I grabbed the Kindle edition and devoured it in half an hour on the evening of International Women’s Day. I’ve read two other books by Adichie - We Should All Be Feminists and The Thing Around Your Neck - and I never fail to be impressed by the depth, the warmth, the intelligence of her writing. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t touched her novels yet - I know I’ll be blown away by them and I need to make sure I’m in the space to appreciate them fully.

This letter to Adichie’s friend on how to raise a feminist is funny and empowering and I couldn’t have picked a better read for that day. I was so immediately in love that I ordered myself the hardback after only reaching the end of the Introduction in the Kindle edition. Though not all of the topics that Adichie covers in Dear Ijeawele are relevant to me - motherhood, negative influence of the father’s friends etc - the ideas relate to everything. It doesn’t who are you or what your situation, Adichie’s feminism crosses boundaries. It;s clear, concise and obvious.    

Just like We Should All Be Feminists, Dear Ijeawele should be read by everybody. Essential reading.

Shrill, Lindy West
272⎟Quercus⎟9th March 2017
Audiobook read by: Lindy West

Guardian columnist Lindy West wasn't always loud. It's difficult to believe she was once a nerdy, overweight teen who wanted nothing more than to be invisible. Fortunately for women everywhere, along the road she found her voice - and how she found it! That cripplingly shy girl who refused to make a sound, somehow grew up to be one of the loudest, shrillest, most fearless feminazis on the internet, making a living standing up for what's right instead of what's cool.

In Shrill, Lindy recounts how she went from being the butt of people's jokes, to telling her own brand of jokes - ones that carry with them with a serious message and aren't at someone else's expense. She reveals the obstacles and stereotyping she's had to overcome to make herself heard, in a society that doesn't think women (especially fat women and feminists) are or can be funny.

She also tackles some of the most burning issues of popular culture today, taking a frank and provocative look at racism, oppression, fat-shaming, twitter-trolling and even rape culture, unpicking the bullshit and calling out unpalatable truths with conviction, intelligence and a large dose of her trademark black humour.

I’ve wanted to read Shrill ever since I first heard about it. A funny, feminist memoir - what more could you want?

Lindy West’s first book is now one of my favourite books of the year so far - I loved it. Lindy talks about her career in writing about feminism, politics and women online; being fat; love; loss; and everything else in between. The hate this women has received purely for being herself and doing her job is disgusting, but the way she’s pulled herself above it is inspirational. I’ve come away from Shrill not just with respect for Lindy West, but affection too.

I really connected with lots of the things that she wrote about and I found that she articulated things I’ve felt but never found the words for myself, especially around body image and fat shaming. I came out of this book with hope that I could learn to appreciate and accept my body just as Lindy did.

Shrill made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me cheer and it made me rage. I loved it, and I especially recommend the audiobooks - Lindy’s narration is wonderful.


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