Category Archives: Books

My Top 100 Books

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I was asked recently to list my top 100 books to date, and it was such a difficult thing to do that I decided to write it down and publish the finished article. I must ask that you forgive any philistinliness… philistinility… ignorance – I have not read everything, of course, but I still have my favourites and they are thus (and in no particular order, because that’s just too bloody difficult): Continue reading

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Pies & Prejudice (In Search of the North) ~ Stuart Maconie

The writing of Pies and Prejudice came to fruition when Stuart Maconie, a northerner of the Wigan persuasion, realised that since living in London he had become distinctly… southern. Once shocked to be asked by a southerner if he would go round to her house in his dressing gown and slippers to watch telly and eat cheese off his knee before retiring to bed (what other possible definition could there be for the word supper?), he found himself becoming a connoisseur of sundried tomatoes and cappuccino makers. Perturbed by this turn of events, the former “Woollyback” grabbed his notebook and headed north to rediscover his roots.

Cities from Chester to Scarborough come to life with a nostalgic thrill in this book. As Maconie visits each metropolis, he paints a picture so vivid it’s as if he’s taken you with him and shown you things you might not necessarily have looked at; as well as taking you to places you know and love, and loving them with you. And he does so with such self-deprecating humour that it’s hard not to laugh out loud at times. This is an easy read, a comically uplifting tale of one man’s trip to his homeland and beyond. From the physicality of each place to the history, through informed descriptions of political and emotional conflicts, I found myself nodding in sage agreement and shaking my head in wonder at discovering something new.

The three main effects that this book induced were sheepishness, homesickness and pride. Wigan, of course, was one of the first places Maconie visits on his northern tour and I have to hang my head in shame – to think that all these years I’ve been taking an entirely “southern” view of the place. My only knowledge of Wigan before reading the book had been The Road to Wigan Pier, which, it would seem, is most people’s skewed view of the place. To me it has always seemed grimy, grotty and deprived, hovering around as it does, almost as an afterthought, on blue motorway signs on the edges of my Manc world in a deeply uninviting fashion. Although I have not yet visited Wigan, having only just discovered my error in judgement, I do v.much feel that I now should. In just a few pages, Maconie has managed to convince me that a place I was born 25 miles from, and never had any urge to drop into, has all the sparkle and pizzazz of any of our other beloved northern cities. This is a book for Northerners to learn more about their neighbours and for ignorant southerners who believe that the world is small, flat and shaped like London.

One of the things I’ve come to realise about this book, on reading the copious reviews available all over the web, is that it makes people want to shout about their roots; my last blog post started out its life as this book review before I realised that it was, quite simply, all about me. Reading this book seems to make people recognise that being from the north is ok (nay, preferable) and once that lid is off, the only possible thing to do is shout about it.

And now I’ll sign off, because I’m on my dinner (which is in the middle of the day!)

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The Women’s Room ~ Marilyn French

If The Golden Notebook slapped me in the face, Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room positively knocked me for six. If there was ever a fictionalised version of The Female Eunuch, this is it.

And it was the Female Eunuch that reminded me of the book’s existence. Once recommended as A Book at Bedtime on Radio 4, it was soon forgotten due to the unsociable hours I keep. I had no concept of the missed opportunity at the time, but then I had no concept of the issues broached in the book either; nor of the connection and, for want of a better word, oneness that I would find in its storyline. From a gentle beginning, I was suddenly plunged into a world from which I drew many parallels with my own, and as I turned the last page with tears in my eyes, all the hairs stood up on the backs of my arms. It’s not often you can say that about a novel, but I related to it so deeply.

Mira Ward is going back to college; a middle aged, divorced mother of two young boys. Considered a wild child in her teens, Mira narrowly escapes being raped by a group of men after having the audacity to be an unaccompanied female in a bar. In the years subsequent to this, she finally (still a virgin) marries the only man who can see past her bad reputation as a nymphomaniac and begins a family, as is expected of her and, indeed, of all women. Having dedicated 25 years of her life to a loveless marriage, the seemingly static pieces of Mira’s world are thrown up into the air when her husband leaves her for a younger woman, taking her two children with him. In an era when a husband provided financial security and acceptance into society, Mira flees from suburbia to Cambridge College where she meets a number of remarkable women who change her life and perceptions forever.

I found the first part of the book slightly harder to connect with because of the time in which it was written; it focuses on the aspect of traditional marriage and, whilst some elements are undoubtedly still relevant, some of the more archaic traditions have decayed from modern society somewhat. However, this doesn’t detract from the book’s relevance as a whole. After all, the fabled nuclear family is still v.much the life-goal for most people and this starting-point creates the foundations for the female struggle that Mira finds herself embarking on. As a character, Mira represents the incredulous masses; yet through her own experiences and those of the other female characters, with a lot of wisdom and advice, she is finally able to understand the social imbalance and strike out as a whole person in her own right.

I often think it cheesy when the title of the book is found in the text of the literature, and the title of this book is found within the first paragraph. It is, however, utterly forgivable since the title epitomises the v.point that the book is trying to make. The Women’s Room. Formerly The Ladies’ Room. The female toilets in a college in the late ‘60s (a time when feminism was beginning to murmur and bubble under the surface once more) has been rechristened by an anonymous graffiti artist. And if men have the Men’s Toilets, why on earth shouldn’t women have the Women’s Toilets? To call it The Ladies’ Room suggests that little ladies do far more delicate things in there than men… like powdering their noses. It’s a pedantic point to make, but it is v.much the tip of the feminist iceberg that Marilyn French explores with this narrative. Ranging from the presumptuous invasion of a stranger touching a woman at a social gathering, to the intricacies and complications surrounding a rape case; from marriage in the ‘50s and 60s to open relationships, The Women’s Room indefatigably and unflinchingly presents question after question on the subject of equality, the frustrations of bureaucracy and the seemingly endless instances of oppression and obligation faced by women on a daily basis. No matter how small the obstacle, how meagre the offence, French shows that every little helps in the ongoing battle for women’s position in society.

Thought-provoking rather than gripping; a book that certainly takes itself seriously, and well it might for the importance of a struggle that has raged for decades, The Women’s Room takes a bold and vital step towards equality and its inevitabloe rejections and conflicts. That I drew so many parallels to my own life, as a privileged child of the ‘80s, only reminded me that it is a trap to believe that society has reached sexual equilibrium. But whether you are ready to fight for or settle with this western society, this is a book that undeniably poses questions that are not often considered, and its answers, equally as provocative, stem from all sides of the spectrum.

A must read for feminists and femphobes alike!

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:-

Books:

Revolutionary Road ~ Richard Yates

The Bell ~ Iris Murdoch

 

Films:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe

Stepford Wives

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