Review

Everywoman, Jess Phillips

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I bought this book at Hay Festival after listening to a podcast interview with Jess Phillips by Emma Gannon.  Jess Phillips is an English MP in the Birmingham Yardley area for the Labour Party.  Before becoming an MP, Jess worked for charities and organisations offering support for victims of domestic and sexual violence.  Her book, Everywoman, is about her experiences with Women’s Aid and inside the House of Commons, and her life as a feminist who has campaigned for women’s rights nearly all her life.

This book allows Jess to speak the truth about growing up as a woman, motherhood, careers, the internet and the fight for equality.  She offers insight into the political party she belongs to and is totally honest about her experiences there, even when the truth does not necessarily support her party and its leader.  I think this is a fascinating read no matter which English political party (if any) that you side with.  It certainly opened my eyes to some of the tactics politicians on all sides use to please a certain group of people (e.g. women) without alienating the other  – something politicians clearly fear according to this book.

As a feminist and a woman I felt like I was part of something great when reading Everywoman.  It made me incredibly proud to know that there are women (and men) in Parliament who are fighting for gender equality on the inside.  I also enjoyed Jess’ down-to-earth writing style and the way she is able to simply and clearly state and explain her opinions without being at all patronising.  It allowed me to strengthen some of the opinions I have myself and clarify the ones I feel confused by.  One example of this was my personal internal debate about how we as a society can increase equality and fair representation without falling into the trap of positive discrimination, something that is actually against the Equality Act.  Jess managed to explain the importance of giving women and other minorities a chance whilst staying inside the law.  This managed to clear up my own thoughts on it and allow me to form a proper opinion.

If I had to describe this book in two words it would be honest and empowering.  I’m just so glad books like this exist and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in women’s rights, feminism and politics.

Review

Never Say Die, Anthony Horowitz

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It had been years since I had read the Alex Rider series.  I remember it changing the way I looked at stories before I was a teenager, and helping my reading taste mature very quickly.  It was a whole series of exciting action-packed books that were not afraid of shocking their young readers.

The Alex Rider series focuses on a fourteen/fifteen year old school boy in London who gets recruited by MI5 shortly after the death of his uncle, his only remaining family after his parents died, an MI5 agent himself.  Think James Bond for children really.  To help Alex on his missions, the inventor Smithers gives him many different Bond-esque gadgets that come in handy whenever Alex gets himself into trouble.

Despite being written six years after the last book, Never Say Die is set only six weeks after.  It starts with Alex living in America with the family who adopted Alex after his guardian Jack died by the hands of the leader of an evil organisation, before Alex can stop him and the whole organisation.  In this book, Alex is so convinced Jack is still alive that he travels across the world to find out, and in true Alex Rider style gets himself stuck in the middle of another evil plot that he must stop.

I really enjoyed reading this book because of how familiar it was to me despite it being years since I read the last one.  Although the style and content was a little juvenile for me now I’m an adult, I still found it a gripping read.  I found some of the plot twists a little easy to predict but I will admit that some still surprised and shocked me.

Overall, I think this book is a very fun and interesting read for adults and children.  The series as a whole will always remain significant to me because of how much I enjoyed them when I was younger, and how much they influenced me to step out of children’s fiction and attempt to read more books in the teen fiction sections of bookshops and libraries.

Book Stack · Discussion

Hay Festival

Over the weekend I went to the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in Wales.  I last went two years ago and really enjoyed myself.  It helped me realise that I should study English at university, and two years on I have just finished my first year of studying English.  It was therefore time to return to Hay.  Whilst there, I managed to buy 10 books (oops) from the festival bookshop, the onsite Oxfam charity bookshop and a bookshop in the town of Hay itself.

Hay on Wye is famous for its bookshops and there are loads! We reserved one day for exploring the town and that definitely wasn’t enough.  I hope to return another time between now and the next festival simply to explore each bookshop in good time.

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The first book I bought was Making Sense by David Crystal, his new book all about English grammar and how it has come to be what it is.  I bought this during his book signing after the lecture he did about grammar.  As someone who enjoys language and linguistics, I found this talk fascinating.  David Crystal is a leading linguist in the UK and a real inspiration for me.  This was the third time I had heard him talk, and the third time I had attended a book signing of his.

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Also at the festival bookshop, I bought Everywoman by Jess Phillips, a politician in Birmingham who has written a book about the importance of feminism and women’s rights; Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz; and Creation by Adam Rutherford, about the origin (and future) of life.  After buying the Horowitz book, I joined the queue for the book signing.  I waited just over an hour but it was worth it.  Anthony Horowitz is a great author and very generous with his time.  Although the majority of the queue was made up of children reading the Alex Rider series for the first time, a few were older and had read it years ago like me.  It was amazing to see people of so many different ages all queueing for so long (even in the rain) to meet the same author.

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I then went to the onsite Oxfam shop and bought a book on British short stories, Middlemarch by George Eliot and Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway.  The charity campaign said that buying three books could buy school equipment for a child in Africa.  I love nothing more than helping someone else whilst buying more books for my collection!

Lastly, I went to a lovely second hand bookshop in the town.  It had three floors and lots of little side rooms and corridors.  That’s where I bought Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (to complete my collection of Austen novels), Work Suspended by Evelyn Waugh and A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick.

My time in Hay on Wye was once again amazing.  I adore the town and I love attending an event with so many people who are all passionate about reading and books.  I hope to go again next year too.

Review

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

Even if you haven’t read Treasure Island (which I hadn’t until now), or watched one of the countless adaptations, chances are you know a lot about it.  Treasure Island has formed the majority of our schema (mental images and associations) related to pirates.  It is the story of Jim Hawkins who embarks on a journey to a foreign island to find treasure, after discovering a map amongst the possessions of an old sailor who dies at his parents’ inn.

The story has everything you would possibly imagine when you think of pirates: mutiny, a talking parrot, a high rum consumption and lots of gold (and ‘pieces of eight’).  The characters are more complex than your typical protagonist/antagonist style.  Long John Silver, the captain of the mutineers, flicks between trustworthy and untrustworthy more than I thought considering I knew him as the ‘villain’ of the story.  Stevenson has managed to give even the most ruthless of pirates in his book a real humanity as his true fears and lack of confidence is shown to Jim at one point in the story.  I remember watching the Muppets film of Treasure Island when I was younger and finding Silver quite scary in it.  I found the original Silver to be much less scary and more human.

The story is told predominantly by Jim, however there is a section in the middle of the book that is told by the doctor who acts as a guardian to Jim, as he is in fact quite young when they go off on the journey.  As the book progresses, Jim appears to grow up.  It has a slight feeling of a coming of age story as Jim begins the journey as a fascinated, naïve child and returns as a man.  I feel this is reflected through the actions Jim makes, but also the narration itself.

Overall, I’m glad I finally got round to reading this classic text, and only wish I had done it sooner!

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The reason I read this book was because a few weeks ago I stumbled upon Penguin’s biannual magazine The Happy Reader (pictured above).  This season’s edition was about Treasure Island so whilst I waited for my magazine to arrive, I quickly read Treasure Island on my Kindle.  The magazine was divided into two halves.  The first was an extended interview with actor and entrepreneur Lily Cole and the second half was made up of short articles all related to Robert Louis Stevenson, his famous book and piracy.

I had never read a magazine dedicated to books so I absolutely enjoyed it.  I really liked the process of reading a particular book in preparation for the magazine because although the articles could have been read without full knowledge of the book, it helped.  This winter’s edition is based on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel We, which I’ll definitely have to check out later this year.

 

Review

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford

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At the start of 2017, one of my reading resolutions was to read more diverse books.  That involved more non-fiction books about topics I had not read about before.  A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived is a book about human genetics and what genealogy can tell us about who we were historically and who we are today.  Although this is very much a biology book (as Rutherford points out in a book related analogy about gene classification), this is the point where history and science meet.

In the first half of the book, Rutherford discusses how genealogy can help historians and anthropologists in their research to understand pre-historical and historical humans.  From Neanderthals to Richard III the study of genetics has helped us understand who we used to be.  As I’ve always been interested in history (I would like to thank Horrible Histories for that), I found this section fascinating.  I had heard the facts and theories about pre-history human species (e.g. how modern Europeans contain on average 2% Neanderthal DNA) but I didn’t understand how modern day researchers had come to these conclusions until I read this book.

The second half of the book was a lot more scientific and focused on biological and medical research with genealogy.  Rutherford explains how the study of genetics originated in racism but eventually, and ironically, disproved many Victorian and early twentieth century theories about race.  There is also a lot of examples of how our current knowledge (or belief of knowledge) has influenced medicine and the legal system.  From the birth of genealogy to the sequencing of the human genome, via the discovery of the double helix of DNA, Adam Rutherford has explained it in the most simple yet engaging way possible.

Although I have read a number of non-fiction books about science, I have usually steered clear of biology as it was the science I enjoyed the least at school, but as I wished to read more diverse books (and I like history) I decided to give it a go.  I am glad I did.  The older I get the more I realise the classifications of science done in education is unrealistic as different types of science, and even academia as a whole, merge and work together.  This book is where history meets biology but also where multiple studies and theories over the centuries have come together to give us an idea of what makes us human; what makes us one species despite our superficial differences across the world.