Stop What You’re Doing and Read This! – Various Authors

It was an interesting book, and while some of the essays were so-so, some of the essays were really inspirational and made me reconsider what reading is all about. There are contributions from authors (Zadie Smith, Mark Haddon, Jeanette Winterson, Michael Rosen and Blake Morrison), publishers (Carmen Callil, who set up Virago), non-fiction writers (Nicholas Carr and Tim Parks), psychologists (Dr Maryanne Wolf and Mirit Barzillai), and charity founder Dr Jane Davis MBE, Director of The Reader Organisation.

However, I can’t help but feel that it’s preaching to the converted; I wonder if anyone who doesn’t like reading would ever pick it up. I’ve done a full review on it at our book blog, here, including more about my favourite essays in it.


Female Chauvinist Pigs – Ariel Levy

I loved this book. I first heard about it from Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency videos, and it seemed to be well-known in feminist circles, so I thought I’d try it.

Most of it was inspiring. Every time she smacked down some self-righteous commenter on women, it was so satisfying. Sometimes it’s easy to think “Well, maybe I am just a prude to be offended by Playboy and Anne Summers and fake plastic sexiness being shoved in my face all the time”, but reading this made me resolute in my convictions and reassured me that it isn’t just me. In fact, it even offers compelling evidence about why nobody wants to argue against raunch culture: it’s because to question it at all is to be a prude, to be ugly, with no sense of humour and no sense of fun. It is the reason it’s so hard to argue against lads’ mag style BANTER – as I’ve just been reading in Gender and the Media, “discourses of laddism and sexism together with feminism and equality are purposely reconciled to rebut critique” (215). Irony means never having to say you’re sorry.

I found the middle a bit confusing, as Levy introduces a lot of different factions of the gay subculture in America that I didn’t know about, and I’ve found the same views echoed in other reviews. I’m not sure whether this was because Levy was not so knowledgeable about this subject, or because it is so unknown to me that I had to learn a lot as I was reading through, but the ending was really hard-hitting and inspiring. I lent this book to a friend who loved it as well and we spent a whole afternoon talking about it and all the issues it brought up. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone.

The Happy Prince and Other Tales – Oscar Wilde

I found this book in a charity shop in Edinburgh (children’s books are always a good find in a charity shop because they tend to be even cheaper than the adult books), and as I started reading it I realised that I’d read a couple of the stories before. When I was younger I had a large hardback book full of illustrated extracts of children’s stories. One of them was an amazing illustrated version of The Happy Prince and The Remarkable Rocket. The stories are of course full of Wildean wit. Some of them are pretty brutal, such as the last paragraph in the ending of The Star Child. In some of them, such as The Selfish Giant, he seems to use the language of the King James Bible. Many of the stories are satirical, with a humour that children would understand – for example, the water rat in The Devoted Friend who thinks he’s a literary critic and storms off when he is informed that the story has a moral. I think that adults and children alike would love these stories.

Between Women – Luise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach

A friend lent me Between Women: Love, Envy and Competition in Women’s Friendships in exchange for Female Chauvinist Pigs, and I have to say I finished Pigs a lot quicker than this book. However, bearing in mind that it was published in 1987, a lot of it was still relevant today. Susie Orbach is, of course, the author of Fat is a Feminist issue, which I have still yet to read. I couldn’t relate to the issues about struggling to cope with a family and balance it with having a life, or indeed relate to even wanting a family and many womens’ anxieties about getting too old to have children, but I could relate to the chapter on female friendships seeming to threaten or compete with a relationship, and the exploration of female friendship in general.

Just because I liked it, here’s a bit I found interesting and wanted to keep:

“But what has really changed if one accepts that vision? Is it that we are now allowed the honour of being more like men? Do we want that too?

“We think not. Men, too, have suffered as a result of this competitive, alienated form of social relations. Men have been severely emotionally constrained and disabled by the mandates by which they have had to live. Far from needing women to be more like men, we need men to be more like women. That is, not only do women need to have more freedom to develop their creative potential outside of the domestic sphere, but men need to develop themselves within the domestic sphere. […] More and more women and men seem aware that following the traditional path for men is not the road to personal satisfaction. Stress, high blood pressure, heart attacks at an early age, drinking problems, alienation from one’s children and partner need not be reproduced. Striving for autonomy, for psychological well-being and separateness, while maintaining a balance of connectedness in our relationships with partners, friends, and children seems more appropriately to promise to met the needs of women, men, and children.” (201-202)

Job Hunting 3.0 – Richard Maun

So it’s a shameful amount of time since I updated about reading anything. I think it’s because there are so many books I want to read that I’ve been starting lots of them and ending up halfway through 5 books, without having finished any of them.

The story behind this one is that my dad got fed up of me moaning about jobs every single time I phoned home, and I woke up to a parcel from Amazon with this in, and another book called How to Get a Job You’ll Love. So I plodded through it, and it was alright. It does have the usual annoyingly friendly tone of voice and unfunny jokes that I’ve come to expect from jobs books.

Sad as it is to admit, I couldn’t help but analyse it from a feminist/Marxist point of view as I read. It’s probably a remnant of my English degree. But I think in all cases apart from one, the interviewer was a “he”, and more often than not the person going for the job was a “he” as well, which made me feel kind of excluded. It’s possible to be balanced; I liked how Stephen Poole wrote in his book Trigger Happy, because he kept switching around “she or he” and “he or she” rather than just sticking with one gender and using it to represent every reader. Perhaps there’s a gap in the marketplace for jobhunting books aimed at women? You learn so much in school that you think is going to be important, but when it gets to actually finding a job, you have to dig around and find the secrets yourself (such as having to ask for a pay rise – I know this is apparently something that women often don’t do, but until I read a news article about it I didn’t know that you even could ask for one without getting fired).

It also annoyed me that he kept writing about doing three month internships for free. How have we got to the point where this is unremarkable? A paid apprenticeship, fine, because you’re being paid to do the job and are learning the skills you’ll need for life. But offering your services for free for three months? I just feel that’s unrealistic. Searching for jobs gets a lot more complicated when you have a partner, and you both want to live together, so that narrows the possibilities of where you can work. And I don’t want to live off benefits for three months while some fat-cat company gets the benefit of all my work. I just want to do a job. Just hire me and you can teach me how

We’ve been doing a placement module at uni, and while mine is great (working in a radical bookshop!), some of the publishing companies that students have gone to completely exploit the interns they take on, and often the company is mostly run by interns. I think work experience used to mean something, because it wasn’t compulsory. If you’d done work experience then that was a way of making you stand out from the crowd. Now, though, it’s compulsory, so what exactly is the point of it? I suppose it shows your commitment to the job, but it won’t make you stand out anymore. Even for a job in a bar or a shop, you have to have six months’ experience, and, when I mentioned to a friendly recruitment agency employee that I didn’t think I could even do those jobs because I didn’t have any experience, he asked me “Have you never lied on your CV?” This is what the current emphasis on work experience boils down to. If you can work a till or pull a pint, you could probably do the job, but companies don’t want to use their precious money and time to train you, they just want the benefit of someone else’s training.

Also, after seeing my dad come home every night exhausted after an hour and a half’s drive in to work and back every day, I’ve decided that I really would not want to do any job that took me more than an hour to commute to. But Mr Maun disagrees. He tells the story of a man who refused to go any further away than an hour’s drive. He persuaded him to look for work ninety minutes away, and he ended up with a job within a month. But it’s not that easy. That’s three hours out of your day commuting. You’re not going to be good at your job if you’re tired and you resent the travel time. Mr Maun also suggests that you consider relocating. But what about the lease on your house, and what if you live with a partner?

So this book does have some useful information on getting a job and interview technique, but it did also depress me about the state of things and how much I might have to sacrifice to actually get anything. It didn’t mention much about housing, my main worry. For example, I want to move to Oxford next year, because I really don’t want to still live at home. But I know it can take months to find a job, therefore I shouldn’t get a house before I have a job. Luckily, my home in England is quite close to Oxford, and luckily (I suppose) none of the jobs I’ve applied for whilst in Scotland have asked me for an interview, but either you have to have the money for train fares and bus fares to get to the job, or you have to get a house when you don’t have a job to pay for it yet. I really don’t know how people manage if they want to move further away.

Anyway, enough of my moaning. Back to reading.