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BOOK Club: The Top Literary Releases of February

2 March 2018 | Freya Parr

2018 is really shaping up to be a year of terrific new releases across all mediums - cinema, music and, of course, books. Narrowing down this list was a feat in itself. With International Women’s Day around the corner in March, and the anniversary of women’s suffrage just gone, feminist literature is crowding our shelves and I for one am incredibly pleased about this. As a happy accident, I have only included books by female authors this month. Grab a fat glass of rouge, pop on your comfiest leisurewear and kick back with a stack of these and you’ll be sure to learn a lot and have a good ol’ laugh/cry along the way.

Jo Swinson, Equal Power: And How You Can Make It Happen

Finally, a book of practical advice on how to end the stubborn persistence of gender inequality in society. Jo Swinson is the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, and is a former Government Minster for Women and Equalities. She was first elected aged 25, holding her seat for a decade until 2015, before she regained it in 2017. During her time out of politics, she wrote this book.

Equal Power is a manifesto for change, with real examples of how to tackle inequality in society. Her writing is clear and nuanced, succeeding in not being repetitive and going round in circles like many of these types of books. She has an intelligent, storytelling style of writing in which she is able to combine dense social commentary with her own story of entering government.

She directly addresses her critics, and her no-nonsense approach is refreshing in what is becoming a populated market in publishing. She celebrates and marks the anniversary of women’s suffrage, but as she says, “benchmarking against history can lead us into a false comfort about progress”. This statement is indicative of the book as a whole - nothing is taken as given, and everything is analysed with specific responses. The phrase “still so much further to go” is said as a response to the celebrations and instead of falling into this trap, she deals with the actualities of what we can do to move things forward. An enlightening, informative read.

Image Credit: Jo Swinson via Twitter

Emily Hill, Bad Romance

Once you get past the frankly awful hot pink and leopard-print cover of this book and delve inside you’re in for a real treat. Emily Hill is a former dating columnist for the Sunday Times Style, and has written for the Guardian, Spectator and Evening Standard. Her debut novel is published by Unbound, an incredible publishing house created by writers and crowdfunded by readers. Readers pledge money towards a book in advance, meaning that authors are free to write the books they want, because the pledges prove the demand for exactly the book the author wanted to write. It uses the old system of patrons pledging for books to be published - supply and demand in the most literal sense! Ingenious.

Emily Hill’s collection of short stories focus on the modern woman’s lived experience, putting the spotlight on the stories of women who are often overlooked in novels. One of the first stories follows a pregnant woman at the wedding of her ex, who spends the day drinking and smoking, before announcing to the crowd that she is pregnant with the groom’s child. She then leaves, and cuts off the fake prosthetic belly she has been wearing. The stories are all darkly comic - an exploration of our inner demons. It’s refreshing to see women like this written about, and it’s a really amusing and thought-provoking read.

Image Credit: Emily Hill via Twitter

Diane Atkinson, Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes

This is an enormous doorstop of a book, making it the perfect lifelong companion. Released in celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage, it recounts the extensive movement through the individual lives of the 200 suffragettes and tracing their fascinating stories. It gives light to the lesser-known suffragettes, which is both fascinating and important, as the movement was only successful because of the relentless efforts of women across the country. It is an extensively researched text - it is an encyclopaedic piece of work, but written in an approachable way that makes it very easy to dip in and out of. One to keep on the shelves and revisit.

Image Credit: Diane Atkinson via Twitter

Laura Bates, Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism

This is the latest release from Laura Bates, the inimitable founder of the international Everyday Sexism project, in her crusade against the systemic inequality in society. In a set of essays originally published in the Guardian, Bates exposes the truth behind the ingrained and overlooked elements of sexism in our quotidian lives, questioning the incidents brushed aside as “banter”. She opens with a clear statement: “This book is not a labour of love. In many ways, it would be more accurately described as a labour of frustration, or of anger.” This mantra reflects her huge portfolio of work in this field - it is a cathartic realisation and questioning of everything women have accepted for far too long.

In this set of essays Bates breaks down these small acts and analyses their larger impact, questioning the language we use along the way. A fantastically informing read - we learn how these sexist acts are interlinked. Misoygny starts with the low-level sexism disguised as “isolated incidents” and travels upwards. We do indeed need to stop the sexism that exists at the root of society if we want any hope of making real, more widespread change.

Image Credit: The Evening Standard

Paperback Releases

Juno Dawson, The Gender Games: The Problem with Men and Women from Someone Who Has Been Both

This is a book everyone should read. Transgender author Juno Dawson explores the dichotomy of male and female within our culture, and looks into the binaries we have established from birth in the most accessible way. It’s a no-bullshit guide to navigating gender, and explains its complexities in the most approachable terms. She breaks down the nuanced language associated with gender, so we aren’t intimidated or alienated - it truly is a book for everyone. Everyone has their own lived experience of gender, literally everyone. It is a universal concept.

Image Credit: The Guardian

Cat Marnell, How To Murder Your Life

The memoir and debut novel by Cat Marnell dominated the New York Times bestseller list, and there is little wonder why. Aged 26 she was associate beauty editor at Lucky, one of the major fashion magazines in the US, owned by Condé Nast. Her career dreams were realised and yet her personal life was falling apart - she was addicted to prescription medicine and suffered from severe mental health problems. She was a bulimic, insomniac and burgeoning alcoholic. The trifecta.

Her story breaks apart the concept of “having it all”, and what happens when success isn’t enough. It’s a tough read, but a truly fascinating account of the duality of life in the fast lane.

Image Credit: Amazon

Claire Dederer, Love & Troubles: Memoirs of a Former Wild Girl

The ageing process is a peculiar one. We change, certainly, but elements of us are constant, and yet we are forced to take on new responsibilities and shift our focus. This dichotomy between our past and present selves is the concern of Claire Dederer’s memoir. She is a middle-aged woman with children looking back on her wild youth with nostalgia, craving her former life. The conflict between “settling down” into a sensible career with husband/house/children/all the necessary accoutrements, combined with the guilt one feels when looking back at their past self.

Are we trapped in the life of what we think we should do or is it ok to sometimes indulge our nostalgia for a reckless, irresponsible former life? Dederer analyses these contrary parts of ourselves, and questions whether they are reconcilable. This is relatable read for anyone going through either of these stages of life - I can imagine most generations feeling an affiliation with this struggle.

Image Credit: The Times

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