Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

So this was the book on my TBR that I knew basically nothing about, I was under the impression that it was a love story with a bit of immigration involved, but it’s not really about the relationship at all.  It’s there, and it’s important, but they aren’t even in communication for most of it.

What it is about is the specific experience of race that happens to black immigrants arriving in America, and to a lesser extent Britain. I particularly love the way she renders Britain and America as opposed to Nigeria. The novel is most alive when it is in Nigeria, it is obvious how much Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie loves the country, and while she has positive things to say about America (less so Britain, although that is perhaps more to do with the plot which unfolds in Britain than her actual opinion on London), it falls flat next to Nigeria. As Ifemelu moves away from Nigeria and builds her life in the USA, I found myself longing for the sections set in Nigeria, mimicking the character’s homesickness.

There is an overarching plot, but Adichie gives it space so that she can really explore her characters and themes, which I adored. She’s telling a story, but she’s taking her time about it. I’m not normally one for long books, but this flew by. I was loving this so much that when I got to my parents’ house to stay for the weekend and found that I had left the book at home, I had to borrow my mum’s kindle, which she had it downloaded on, and read the last fifty pages. It’s a confident, emotionally intelligent book and I cannot wait to read more.

I hope I have come away from reading this book a little wiser, with a little more understanding of race. If you haven’t, read it.


Who you gonna call?

I saw Ghostbusters this weekend, and I won’t lie, I was worried. I wanted to like it so badly, I needed it to be good because if it wasn’t, all the MRA douchebags on the internet who were mouthing off about how it was going to be awful would think they’d been right the whole time.

It isn’t, by the way. It isn’t as good as the original, but it’s funny and enjoyable. The script is kind of weak but the cast is very very funny, particularly Kate McKinnon, who I love love loved. The moment when she licks the gun was perfect. Leslie Jones, too, is a lot of fun in this. It’s sad that in the thirty years since the original we apparently haven’t got to the point where the black actor can also play a scientist; it’s sadder that she got so much heinous abuse online.

As a side note, Bill Murray properly phoned in his cameo. I mean for fuck’s sake. I’m entirely convinced that he wasn’t even in the room with them when they filmed that scene, which is a pretty easy way to make a scene fall flat. I genuinely don’t understand why they didn’t cut it from the film, it felt like it was sort of forced in and did nothing for the plot. The other cameos were fun little asides, this just sort of halted the film for a bit.

My point is that I want to get to the point where I don’t feel like I have to like an action comedy starring four women simply because it stars four women. I want that to not be a big deal, so we can just talk about them for their merits as films, not for their merits as socio-political statements.

Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti

I’ve read Jessica Valenti’s column on the Guardian US for a couple of years, and I find her to be one of my favourite writers on feminism in that format. I don’t really know how I feel about this book. She’s a genuinely brilliant writer, and this is an honest, often funny, memoir which contains a lot that I painfully identify with as a woman who, you know, goes outside sometimes.

I think the thing that threw me is that I was expecting more of the Sex Object and less of the Memoir. I was expecting a book about the experience of being objectified as a woman, and while the book contains a lot of that, it’s more about her life, in which sexual objectification and harassment has often played a part. It’s hard to know how I would feel about this book if I’d known that; I suspect I would be raving about it. It’s not that this is in any way a bad book, it’s a fantastic book, but I can’t honestly say that I loved it because I didn’t. But that’s my fault for not doing my research.

It is a deeply uncomfortable reading experience, and that is probably its biggest strength, because existing as a woman is a frequently uncomfortable experience. Jessica Valenti absolutely tackles that head on, which is brilliant and brave. I listened to the audiobook, despite my recent declaration that audiobooks aren’t for me, and I think that rendered it all the more uncomfortable, listening to the person that these horrible things actually happened to talk about them.

Ultimately, this is one of those books that I like more after I’ve read them. The reading process is unpleasant because the writing is so good, because the unpleasant events are rendered so vividly, but after the fact you appreciate that someone was so honest and put so much into getting across something awful.

On reading slumps

Reading slumps are always a sad experience. I personally always slump for the first couple of months of the year, it can take me until March or April to really get going with my reading.

I’m having a slump at the moment. It’s frustrating, because one of the things I was looking forward to about finishing my degree was having the time to read for pleasure. I’ve always managed to fit a reasonable amount of reading around my studying, and I studied a lot of literature so even when I was working like mad, I was spending a lot of time reading some incredible books.

I still read most days, I work in publishing so I read during my work day a fair amount. But I work in children’s publishing, and there’s not much of a feeling of achievement in finishing a book which has 9+ on the jacket. I also commute, and I read on my commute most days.

I think for me, the feeling that I’m slumping comes from not having finished a book for a while. My reading, as it turns out, is very goal orientated. I love reading for it’s own sake, but I like having read a book too. Maybe more. On the one hand I think I like that for a shallow reason – I like to have read things, like oh of course I’ve read Anna Karenina, I like people knowing that I’ve read things. But on the other hand, I like having finished books because that’s the point where I can reflect on them, see what I learnt from them, talk about them. I don’t tend to read big books for this reason (also because they’re annoying to carry around).

This has been a very self-indulgent post, but it’s what I’m thinking about in terms of books at the moment. I guess I feel like I’m not a very good reader right now, and I worry that my reading is too numbers orientated. I’m hoping other people feel this way.

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe

I took advantage of the Answer Me This! Audible offer last month, and when I was browsing the website, this was the first thing that caught my eye. I like Sara Pascoe, and I like feminism, so this was a no-brainer.

The book is about evolution, and how that affects the way the female body works now, and how it affects our behaviour. It’s fascinating. And that’s coming from someone who straight up doesn’t understand science. I have a BA for a reason. Like I do not get science, at all. None of it. I’m sure it’s very interesting if you understand it, but I don’t and I’m not interested.

But Sara Pascoe manages to make sense of it to me, to get me to understand evolution in a far more in depth way than my general, rudimentary understanding of the concept, which is mostly based on that film about Charles Darwin that Paul Bettany was in. She’s funny and clever and uses her own anxieties to humorous effect, but also to make insightful, interesting points about being a woman, being a person. (I suspect that if you were a science person, you would not think this book is at all science-y, but I’m an idiot so don’t judge me.)

It’s a very unique book, in that it’s part anthropology (I think that’s what you’d call it), part memoir, part political commentary, part comedy, and those things are all blended together and feed into each other, making each other better. You have to admire Sara Pascoe’s skill in doing all of those at the same time.

A note on the audiobook – Sara Pascoe narrates it herself, and I really liked her narration. She comes across really likeable and the tone she takes in explaining the science is just like a friend who actually understands this shit explaining it to you. All the same, I don’t think I’ll be renewing my audible subscription, I already listen to more podcasts than I can keep on top of so I don’t need to add to it.