Thursday, November 5, 2015

University: Reading, Writing and Everything In Between

As you probably know, I started university again this September and my life has pretty much been a train of non-stop hectic-ness since I started. It's safe to say I completely underestimated how much work was going to be involved. Big style. 

Here's the other thing though, I adore it. Never have I been so consistently stressed out of my head and in my element at the same time. And honestly, I wish for nothing more than my love of lesson plans to stay with me through my career. Lesson planning is the best thing ever. Seriously. 

Before I go off on a tangent on how amazing it is planning schemes of work for an imaginary bottom set year seven class on poetry, I thought I'd share what I've been reading over the past few weeks at university and what's to come in my Literature modules. And, as always, to share what I really want to be reading over the next few weeks. 

Classics, Classics, Classics. 

Literature is great. It really is. However, it's also forced, complex and can take a really long time to unpick. And, which more important, I loath Charles Dickens. Anyway, here are the texts I'm reading this semester. 


Top tip: All you Tom Hiddleston fans out there, go read Henry IV Part 1 and then check out the adaptation. He is a fantastic Prince Hal. 

As well as trying to read every book required on my course, I'm also trying to sneak in these before Christmas break. 

As a whole, please excuse my babbling! I promise to get back to writing something which is slightly more substantial in the coming weeks. 

Happy Reading! 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

High School Reading Lists

By the time is actually hits the blog, I'll be a fully enrolled trainee high school teacher. However, as I've been spending the past few weeks preparing for what's to come, I've been reflecting on my own high school experience and how many books read through the curriculum made me want to read.

Firstly, as a disclaimer, I should say I was lucky to have wonderful English teachers throughout High School and further study. Without my GCSE English teacher, I'm not too sure where I would be right now. Thankfully, the department was full of fantastic teachers who always recommended books outside of the curriculum. And, as always, I can only comment on the high school experience in England.

When I look back at the books set through the KS3 years (11,12 and 13 year olds), not one book stands out to me. Looking back, I cannot think of a single female character that inspired me at all. I remember reading one book that had a secondary female character that was sent way for getting pregnant as a teen and the baby was kept contained in the basement and was called "Abomination." I know that if I reread it I would probably find great things about it, but it gives me chills on what I remember of it from reflection.

GCSE English wasn't much better. Between the horrific depiction of disability in Of Mice and Men and how overused Romeo and Juliet has become, I was engaged but frustrated with the texts that were set. I remember my teacher giving me copies of Maya Aneglou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and envying those who got to be taught this as part of the syllabus. Poetry was the only saving grace and the only fond memory of texts I truly loved. Poets such as Sophie Hannah and Carol Ann Duffy were brought alive with wit and wisdom and led me stumbling down the rabbit hole into a world of literature I adore.

Children's Literacy is hugely important and I can't help but think that the curriculum often barricades them from being able to enjoy literature or even find material that they will like. As book bloggers, we are constantly being made aware of new titles and new authors exploring issues that either our children can relate to or can appreciate due to being able to connect with a voice which doesn't alienate them from the text. And maybe schools should start introducing texts that have more relevance to children's lives, books that seem popular within peer groups and books that might just spark an interest for children to engage with literature - capital L or not - outside of the classroom. Schools are doing great by using books such as A Curious Incident of a Dog in The Night Time or The Fault in our Stars, but it's time to expand. 
My younger brother is dyslexic, has often been in low ability groups and moans proudly that he hates reading and doesn't see the point reading when you can watch the film. I've spent many years trying to convince him other wise, but when it comes to material on the curriculum, I cannot argue. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Top Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If We Taught Feminist Literature 101

A few weeks ago on Top Ten Tuesday, the topic was  picking out the top ten books we would use if we were teaching X. And, of course, X for us is Feminist Literature - what else would it be? So, with us turning up a little late to the party, here are our some books we think you should check out your education in Feminist Literature 101 by Feminists Talk Books. 

I love adult fiction. Completely and utterly adore it. And every now and again, you find a gem that your heart clings to forever. Khaled Hosseini is that gem. I love anything that he's ever written, but A Thousand Splendid Suns really struck a chord with me. Set in Kabul, it highlights the strength in women, love and the importance of female friendship, regardless of circumstance.
Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.

Anytime I get asked about feminist literature, Margaret Atwood comes to mind. If you don't know who she is, stop reading this, google her, and then come back. Awesome, right? My high school English teacher was the first to ever tell me to read The Handmaid's Tale and since then I've read it around four times. THT tends to be the book people compare Fem Lit to, and honestly, it's the book I push on everybody.
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful evocation of twenty-first century America gives full rein to Margaret Atwood's devastating irony, wit and astute perception.

With a focus on YA, anything Jennifer Echols, basically. She writes this complicated, complex and sometimes messy girls but they always have agency. My favorites by her are Going Too Far, Such a Rush and Biggest Flirts. I hope authors take notice of Echols' heroines and give us more of them.
High school senior Leah Jones loves nothing more than flying. While she's in the air, it's easy to forget life with her absentee mother at the low-rent end of a South Carolina beach town. So when her flight instructor, Mr Hall, hires her to fly for his banner advertising business, she sees it as her ticket out of the trailer park. Then Mr Hall dies suddenly leaving his teenage sons, golden boy Alec and adrenaline junkie Grayson, in charge of running the business. The two brothers have always made their hostility towards her clear so she's sure that her dreams of being a pilot are over… Then it Grayson makes it clear that he wants her to stay working for him, and Leah doesn't understand why. She's crushed on him for years, but always known he's out of her league… isn't he? As the summer rolls on and they spend more time together the spark between them grows, but with Alec's feelings starting to change too, suddenly things become a whole lot more complicated. Now Leah finds herself drawn into a battle between brothers - and the consequences could be deadly…

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler: this one has great female sexual agency, positive female friendship and a healthy romance. I hope to see more books like this one that explore diversity and female friendship and agency so well.

From the bestselling author of "Twenty Boy Summer," a talented singer loses her ability to speak after a tragic accident, leading her to a postcard-perfect seaside town to find romance. The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d'Abreau was destined for stardom--until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago "can't" sing. She can't even speak. Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend's invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse's home in the Caribbean isn't: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry--except for one. Christian Kane is a notorious playboy--insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He's also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn't treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life. When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove's high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn't the only thing making waves, though--swept up in Christian's seductive tide and entranced by the Cove's charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn't what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who's best known for breaking them...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: The Vagenda by Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

The Vagenda by Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Publisher: Random House
Release date: 2014
Genre: Feminist Writing
Source: Bought
HAVE YOU EVER...Obsessed over your body's 'problem areas'? Killed an hour on the Sidebar of Shame? Wondered whether to try '50 Sex Tips to Please Your Man'? Felt worse after doing any of the above? Holly and Rhiannon grew up reading glossy mags and, like most women, thought of them as just a bit of fun. But over time they started to feel uneasy - not just about magazines, but about music videos, page 3, and women being labelled frigid, princesses or tramps. So, following the amazing success of their Vagenda blog, they wrote this book. Welcome to your indispensable guide to the madness of women's media.

I have a love-hate relationship with the media. To me, it's that friend that drives you utterly insane and who's always there, invited or not. But then somedays, they'll do something wonderful and will remind you why you love them so much. But mostly, I really hate the media. So when I first heard of the release of The Vagenda, I knew I needed a copy. 

I never bought into the world of Fashion or Women's magazines. I like looking at the images of models photoshopped within an inch of their life, holding or wearing this season's 'must have' items, but that's about it. At fourteen, I wasn't interested in '105 ways to keep your man entertained' or '10 ways to get the perfect work hair.' At the slightly older age of 19, I care even less. But after years of white women baring it all with headlines such as "Did she really say that!?," it left a bitter taste in my mouth. The idea that women are constantly attacked in the media - regardless of the platform too - enraged me, and still does. The Vagenda is the book I wish somebody had given fourteen year old me. 

The Vagenda is a great book to read if you're just starting to read feminist writing. The book is full of informality - as if it's a conversation between friends who are bored of sexism.  Because of the tone, the book doesn't feel serious and doesn't come across as 'heavy'; a blessing and a curse in the same breath. In the same way I love how it comes across, the writing can also make me flinch from how Blasé it can sound over issues which are serious, 
frightening and should not be used to get a cheap laugh. 

In some ways, I wished I had read this before I read books such as Laura Bates' Everyday Sexism because I think I would have praised it higher than what I actually do. There was a review in The Independent that concluded that "The whole thing reads like a media studies dissertation rather than a book" which I agree with. Although there are parts which are hilarious and insightful, the majority of the books reads like frustration. Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett have created both a website and a book with the same platform: a way to moan. After reading books such as Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole, I'd rather read books with writers who are inspiring and living their life how they want to while making a difference. 

The Vagenda has been one of my most anticipated reads since it came out, but it mostly left me disappointed and wishing I had read it five years earlier, hence why this review reads like a huge oxymoron. I do believe that The Vagenda has a place in contemporary feminist writing, but for an audience fresh-faced and pissed with the media they're surrounded by. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Feminists Watch TV: Role Models 101: Leslie Knope

Hello everybody! Sorry for my absence over the past few weeks, life has been hectic. However, because I've just got back from being abroad, I haven't had time to write a new post for this week. Instead, I've decided to cross post from my personal blog. I hope you enjoy it and I promise I'll be back on track with some feminist inspired posts soon. 


This post should really be called "I really, really, really, really love Leslie Knope because she is amazing and beautiful and talented and inspiring and just basically a fantastic person and I want to be her." Maybe with more punctuation. But, in attempt to pretend that I'm not actually an insane fangirl, I've decided to share some of my favourite Leslie Knope moments in order to highlight why she is a super great awesome person. Ok? Cool, I'll chill. 

In all seriousness, Parks and Recreation is a fantastic show about a local government department with an amazing cast. P&R is also a wonderful feminist show in so many levels, but I'll come to that another day. The reason why I took to Leslie so much is because she is an amazing role model you don't get to see a lot in comedy - I admit I may have been watching the wrong shows all this time. Knope is passionate without any shame, she is a fantastic friend, devoted to her work, caring, but, most of all, she stands up for what she believes in with every ounce she can give. Leslie makes mistakes, she gets things awfully wrong, she can be brash and stubborn, but she knows how to forgive, to make amends and apologise. But most of all, she is a completely true character and utterly inspirational. To me, that's a role model.  

1. Did I hear you say feminism? No, I saw it. 

I love that Leslie is a supporter of equal rights and feminism without having to actually call herself a feminist. I adore how the show mocks cultural backlash against feminism - yes, I'm talking about the Men's Rights Group in S6. And I love how Leslie surrounds herself with positive men who are in support of her, rather than against her. 

2. Female Friendships

Female friendships are an amazing thing and should be celebrated always. If you brought the Bechdel Test into this, Leslie Knope would blow it to pieces. Having strong female leads who have successful relationships with other people is very important. And having women in support of other women is also an amazing thing. The world already pits women against each other too much as it is, so it's nice to see a TV celebrate female friendship for once.

3. Leslie being Leslie. 

Leslie is great because she is proud of herself and I love it. Sometimes with female comics you tend to see a trend of demeaning themselves to get the male audience on side and honestly, I hate that so much. Be proud of what you do if you believe in what you're doing and if you're having a positive impact on people's lives.

4. Relatable Leslie

More than any other lead on TV, I can relate to Leslie Knope. Every now and then in an episode, she does something which is so humane and real to everyday life that I kind of forget that she is not a real person. Which makes it kind of great that Amy Poehler is almost just as fantastic. 

So basically, I love Leslie Knope and I think she is a phenomenal role model for everybody out there. One day, I hope to have the same passion and drive she has, with all the fierceness and support behind it. 

As always, let me know if you watch Parks and Rec and what your favourite quotes or moments are. And, go ahead and be the Leslie Knope of whatever you do. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Summer Reading: Feminist Writing I Cannot Wait For

As I've probably said a million times now, I love Feminist Non-Fiction. And throughout this year I've read some amazing pieces of work, *ahem* Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole. But like every other book blogger, book-tuber and book lover, I have a serious book buying problem which means that books tend to sit on my shelves looking pretty for a long time before I get to them. The kinda like a jail sentence you'd rather. So, with having some time on my hands this August before the semester starts, I've decided to show you some of the books I'm going to attempt to read and review this summer. 

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg | Paperback | Goodreads | Buy Here

Lean In--Sheryl Sandberg's provocative, inspiring book about women and power--grew out of an electrifying TED talk Sandberg gave in 2010, in which she expressed her concern that progress for women in achieving major leadership positions had stalled. The talk became a phenomenon and has since been viewed nearly two million times. In Lean In, she fuses humorous personal anecdotes, singular lessons on confidence and leadership, and practical advice for women based on research, data, her own experiences, and the experiences of other women of all ages. Sandberg has an uncanny gift for cutting through layers of ambiguity that surround working women, and in Lean In she grapples, piercingly, with the great questions of modern life. Her message to women is overwhelmingly positive. She is a trailblazing model for the ideas she so passionately espouses, and she's on the pulse of a topic that has never been more relevant.

Girl Trouble by Carol Dyhouse| Paperback | Goodreads | Buy Here

Girls behave badly. If they're not obscenity-shouting, pint-swigging laddettes they're narcissistic, living dolls floating around in a cloud of self-obsession, far too busy twerking to care. And this is news. In this witty and wonderful book, eminent historian Carol Dyhouse shows that for over a century now, where there's a horrific headline, a scandal or a wave of moral outrage you can bet a girl's to blame. Whether it be stories of 'brazen flappers' staying out, and up, all night in the 1920s, inappropriate places for Mars bars in the 60s or Courtney Love's mere existence in the 90s, bad girls have been a mass-media staple for more than a century. And yet, despite the continued obsession with their perceived faults and blatant disobedience, girls are infinitely better off today than they were a century ago. This is the story of the challenges and opportunities faced by young women growing up in the swirl of twentieth century and the pop-hysteria that continues to accompany their progress.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay | Paperback | Goodreads | Buy Here

'Pink is my favourite colour. I used to say my favourite colour was black to be cool, but it is pink - all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I'm not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.' In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of colour (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture. Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny and sincere look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

The Vagenda by Baxter & Cosslett | Paperback | Goodreads | Buy Here

As students, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter spent a lot of time laughing at magazine pieces entitled things like '50 Sex Tips to Please Your Man' (particularly the ones that encouraged bringing baked goods into the bedroom). They laughed at the ridiculous 'circles of shame' detailing minor weight fluctuations of female celebs, or the shocking presence of armpit hair. And at the articles telling you how to remove cellulite from your arse using coffee granules. But when they stopped laughing, they started to feel a bit uneasy. Was this relentless hum about vajazzles and fat removal just daft - at worst a bit patronising - or was something more disturbing going on? Was it time to say no? They thought so. So they launched The Vagenda blog in 2012, and now they have written this laugh-out-loud book. It is a brilliantly bolshy rallying call to girls and women of all ages. Caitlin Moran asked 'How to be a Woman': The Vagenda asks real women everywhere to demand a media that reflects who we actually are.

Hot Feminist by Polly Veron | Paperback | Goodreads | Buy Here

Hot (adj.) : (Of a person) Attractive 'a hot chick' Fem-i-n-ist (n.) : A person who supports feminism, the movement that advocates equal rights for women Polly Vernon, Grazia columnist, Times feature writer (hair-flicker, Brazilian-waxer, jeans obsessive, outrageous flirt) presents a brave new perspective on feminism. Drawing on her dedicated, life-long pursuit of hotness - having dismissed many of the rules on 'good' feminism at some point in the early 90s - she'll teach you everything you ever wanted to know about being a feminist when you care about how you look. When part of your brain is constantly monologuing on fashion. When you check out your own reflection in every reflective surface. When your depilation practices are pretty much out of control. When you just really want to be fancied. Hot Feminist is based on a principle of non-judgment (because there's enough already), honesty about how often we mess this up, and empowerment through looks. Part memoir, part road map, it's a rolling, raucous rejection of all those things we're convinced we shouldn't think / wear/ feel/ say/ buy/ want - and a celebration of all the things we can. It is modern feminism, with style, without judgment. 

Comment below and let me know if you've read any of these, what you think, or any recommendations! 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Publisher: Random House
Release date: January 1st 2014
Genre: memoir
Source: Bought

From the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO's Girls comes a hilarious, wise, and fiercely candid collection of personal essays that establishes Lena Dunham as one of the most original young talents writing today. In Not that Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one's way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and, most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told. Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not that Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. "I'm already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you," Dunham writes. "But if I can take what I've learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile."
I feel wholly unequipped to write this review because I think this is the first non-fiction book I've read that isn't for school, and it's definitely the first I'm reviewing. So I don't have much to compare it to or much of a basis for what creative non-fiction should be. I've also never seen Girls or anything else Lena Dunham has written/directed/starred in, and I didn't really know anything about her before picking up this book. But none of this means that I don't have strong opinions on Not That Kind of Girl.

There were many things that made feminist-me happy about this book, especially in the first section chronicling Lena's romantic and sexual relationships. Her discussion of sex is very honest, and she admits things about sex that I resonated with and had never really known anyone to publicly admit to before. The discussion of sex alone makes this a feminist work, in my opinion. The most meaningful part, for me, was Lena talking about her experiences with sexual assault. I can see how some feminists might take issues with how she talks about rape so casually, as something that happened to her but doesn't shape the rest of the story in a significant way. But I really loved this honest approach  - Lena's story is one that I relate to both because what happened to her is similar to what happened to me, and because our reactions to undergoing sexual assault are very similar, how she doesn't recognize it as rape at first and still has issues with calling herself a victim of sexual assault, but how you can still clearly tell that it affected her deeply. This honest portrayal was very powerful to read about for me.

I also loved the portrayal of mental illness. It's not the central theme, but it is illustrated again and again how Lena struggles with OCD and anxiety. It's a very honest portrayal of mental illness, showing up all-encompassing it is because the reader sees it affect so many parts of Lena's life from childhood on, and it is noticeable in many scenes that aren't about mental illness at all. I think this is a very important portrayal of mental illness, specifically OCD, which is joked about so often in our society. At the same time, even though we can see how much Lena struggles, it's also an empowering story because we know that she has managed to be very successful despite her setbacks. I was very impressed with the depiction of mental illness all around.

I do wish Lena was a little bit more aware of her privilege. It's hinted at a couple of times how some people call her out on her privilege, telling her she doesn't understand the struggles of being poor or a person of color. But this is never addressed or discussed in enough depth to really make a difference, and Lena doesn't always seem to be aware of how many of her stories just scream privilege. There's also some feminist issues relating to Lena's relationship with her sister Grace - she outs her sister as a lesbian even though she told her not to tell her parents, and, as children, Lena displays some inappropriate behavior towards baby Grace. I didn't really mind the fact that this happens because it seems honest and in-line with Lena's flaws and mental issues. What I did mind, though, is that she never addresses these things in hind-sight, admitting that they were wrong; she writes about them as something that just kind of... happened. While Lena is very self-aware in most of the book, I wish she had displayed some more self-awareness and self-criticism regarding her privilege and her treatment of Grace. But despite this, this is a very feminist memoir with some important messages.

Asides from the feministness, though, I have mixed feelings about the actual quality of this book. I loved the writing: Lena's voice is funny, witty, and always entertaining. But the actual story is very... meh. I know I can't expect this to be a story arch as well-rounded as the fiction I'm used to, but I still think creative non-fiction/memoirs need to have some kind of point. And, for a good part of it, Not That Kind of Girl just doesn't seem to be going anywhere. I didn't see the reasoning behind organizing the sections the way they are because it didn't make for a cohesive story at all. Yes, some of the random stories are very funny. But others... I just didn't know why they would be worth reading. The best way I can explain it is that Lena Dunham talks about things that aren't usually talked about - sometimes that's good, like her frank depictions of sexuality - but some things aren't talked about because they simply aren't interesting, like when she gives us pages listing everything she eats in a week and pages of random emails she's sent. I just didn't get why. I get that memoirs are inherently self-indulgent, but assuming that people would want to read about every single item you've eaten just seemed a little much.

I'm not sure if I can recommend Not That Kind of Girl. The beginning, which focuses on romantic and sexual relationships, is what I enjoyed the most and where the feminist message is strongest. While Lena has a great voice, a lot of the story later on is just kind of rambly and not going anywhere. I wouldn't recommend Not That Kind of Girl for the story, and while the feminist and mental-health messages are powerful, you can probably find texts with a comparable message without the long-winded story. But maybe this book is more enjoyable for people who actually know Lena Dunham's regular productions.