Archive for the ‘Non Fiction’ Category

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I confess I’m addicted to stationery. . .

In Book Reviews,Business / Self Help,CannonballReadX 2018,Non Fiction,websites on March 11, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

StationeryI’ll start this post with a confession, I am guilty. 100% guilty. Guilty of being an absolute stationery addict – I geek out over a new colour highlighter, a unused pristine notebook, when I discovered washi tape I thought my life was complete. . . but just don’t get me started on fountain pens, because I’ll never stop.

I’m not sure where my fascination with stationery started, school lists perhaps? But now I guess I’m one of those who like to think that a new notebook might just be the start of that great unwritten novel. Perhaps an unhealthy interest in stationery no longer need be embarrassing . . . .

When a friend @childhoodgames loaned me James Ward’s Adventures in Stationery I was enthralled. I have dived in and out of this book over the longest time – I really should have returned it months ago, its one I’m not sure if I could read cover to cover but being able to dip in and out, devouring a chapter at a time was utterly refreshing.

I have subscribed to Ward’s blog ( https://iamjamesward.com/ ) and must admit would love to attend his annual Boring conference ( https://boringconference.com/ ) He promotes his collection of boring ( book / blog / podcast / events / conference ) as a”a celebration of the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked” – sounds so banal, but its got me well and truly hooked.

Ward’s writing is elegant, he writes in an understated way with just a dash of very dry humor thrown in for good measure – the books tone is just light enough to be entertaining. Its funny, charming and far more interesting that I was expecting and I was expecting a lot.

Each chapter tells the history of one type of stationery; the pencil, the pen, erasers, filing products, journals. . . and tells it in great detail. Who knew the minutiae of the development of iconic brands ( too name just a fraction; Parker, Moleskine, UHU, Tipp Ex, Stabilo, Sellotape ) could be so utterly fascinating. Throughout Ward provides a collection of interesting facts that will cause you to stop and think, to perhaps reassess your perceptions, well maybe not that deeply – but they will provide a good hearty chuckle.

The only thing I would suggest might trouble some readers is the overtly British sections, there are few but they could be totally un-relatable which might put a reader off, for me it was the icing on the cake – having spent a portion of my childhood at school in the UK I found the mention of the Berol handwriting pen ( https://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/berol-handwriting-pens-blue-ink-pack-of-2/21069819 ) brought back so many fond memories I spent a good hour trawling through the WHSmith website.

Wards conclusion is an interesting piece about the need for stationery in a technological age and the crossover that exists between pen & paper and the digital world – he argues that we still need the personal touch of a handwritten letter, a jotted post-it note and even a paper clipped file. So, If you’re a stationery addict, or if you live with a stationery addict then this book is for you – get amongst it.

As an aside, in his introduction Ward mentions Present and Correct; https://www.presentandcorrect.com/ “the most wonderful stationery shop in London” I am absolutley obsessed with their asthetic, their product and their customer service. If you have ever wanted to purchase the quirkiest most unusual, most perfect stationery gift then look no further.

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sound bitten

In Book Reviews,Business / Self Help,Non Fiction,websites on March 4, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , ,

inkEarlier this year I responded to a shared Jordan Peterson You Tube video with the sentiment, “Oh, for fucks sake” ( I may have included a gif . . . ) This dragged me kicking and screaming into a debate about postmodernism, gender, feminism and consent. Yip, pretty heavy stuff. I was both fascinated and terrified by this obtuse character I had never heard of – He was being painted as one of the most influential public intellectuals in the English-speaking world. A once obscure psychologist and universtity professor he is beloved by the alt-right and has given voice to the conservative silent majority.

His opinions cover every facet of modern culture and he has managed to package his wide ranging theories into bite sized sound bites – enough to grab a wide audiences attention. He has 886,000 you tube subscribers and 43,148,271 views across 275 uploads.

Now, the real reason Im writing this, he’s written a book. ( https://www.whitcoulls.co.nz/new-releases/new-release-non-fiction/12-rules-for-life-an-antidote-to-chaos-6331349 ) I really want to say I’ve read it and I can offer an only slightly biased review and move on. But I can’t bring myself to buy the goddam book. I’ve read a lot of reviews; both the salt of the earth goodreads rants & the more academic journalistic pieces, both positive and negative but no-one can convince me a) I’m gonna love or b) I’m gonna hate it. I’m not really mad that Peterson is writing books, I’m mad that such a book is getting so much attention and here I am contributing to that. . . .

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feminism wrapped in a glittery pink bow? #nothanks

In Book Reviews,Business / Self Help,CannonballReadX 2018,Feminism,Non Fiction,websites on January 20, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged:

CBR10.1At a time when gender politics are making headlines in every major newspaper every day Feminist Fight Club should be a must read, but I’m not so sure it is.

Bennett’s fight is against the patriarchal construct not against individuals but what that then does is reduce her ability to discuss topics that are really at the heart of workplace sexism; sexual harassment and pay disparity. Neither topic gets but the  briefest of mentions.

Bennett states that the Feminist Fight Club is about creating a more egalitarian environment for everyone and that is that stead she has created a set of tactics to fight workplace sexism – sometimes they are just good old fashioned common sense and sometimes they are more complex. One upside to the way she writes is that the book is a collection of vignettes that have no real connecting narrative thread so you can read the chapters in no particular order.

Feminist Fight Club is infuriating, at times its laugh out loud funny and full of what I call mantra gems – those things you’re supposed to say to yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning. . . but Bennett is writing for the buzzfeed generation, her turn of phrase and creativity with the English language is at times overtly stereotypical, she has created a millennial feminist slang that really doesn’t need to exist. The Feminist Fight Club is trying to be Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for those just starting out.

You might find its tactics useful and relevant but they might not be – at a pinch, what it can do is open your eyes to the implicit, insidious and downright ugly behaviour we, as women, have ignored for too long.

Bennett’s content is aimed squarely at her target audience, the 20-30 something female that may not have been enticed by Lean In. It attempts to counter the Business Books are boring adage by engaging through quizzes, humour, illustrations and lists – but by packaging her ideas in the literary equivalent of a pink princess dress she pretty much lost me.

Reading Feminist Fight Club should have been a joy but it wasn’t but Bennett has made me rethink my interactions and check myself, and I guess for that I’m thankful – but tied up in a pretty pink glittery bow. No thanks. 

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A chronicle of 10 short lives

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Non Fiction on November 12, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

youngeAnother Day in the Death of America is an indictment of the lack of gun control in the United States, Its not a book about gun control but a book about what happens in a country where there is none. I chose this book to read on the plane during a couple of long haul flights across the globe, I chose the right book.

Saturday November 23rd, 2013 – An everyday Saturday on which ten children were killed by gunfire – the youngest was 9, the oldest was 19. Gary Younge, award winning political journalist and editor-at-large for the Guardian, picked this day at random, he then searched for their families and told their stories.

Through ten moving chapters – one for each child – Younge explores the way these children lived and lost their short lives. He finds out who they were, who they wanted to be, the environments they inhabited, and what this might tell us about society at large.

Not all of the children were innocents and as Younge allows their stories to be told he details the conditions which turn the powerless, disenfranchised and excluded into victims of gun violence. What emerges is a scathing portrait of childhood and youth in contemporary America. Younge’s mission is to make the statistics surrounding gun violence human – and he succeeds wholeheartedly.

I found this book so moving, I paused after the first chapter and then began to slowly and surely devour the rest of the narrative. Younge’s writing is second to none – this work stands out due to the strength of his analysis, He humanises the murder victims whose deaths went largely unoticed.

Younge himself states that none of the victims made the national news because it was just another day in the death of America.

POSTSCRIPT: After shopping at Shakespeare & Co I learnt Gary Younge was speaking there the week after I was in Paris – The postcast of this interview is available here https://shakespeareandcompany.com/event/797/gary-younge-on-another-day-in-the-death-of-america and I simply cannot recommended listening to this enough, its an hour you will thoroughly enjoy.

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Selfish, Shallow and Self-absorbed; Me? OK. If you say so.

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction,Short Stories on October 22, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

img_3145.jpgWandering through Waterstones flagship store in Piccadilly I was in heaven, jaw dropping, mind boggling heaven. Six floors of books, 200,000 unique titles. I knew I had to own one, just one, but which one? After picking up and putting down title after title I came across a spine that stood out to me; Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed. What? As I plucked the book off the shelf, I read its subtitle; sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids. That was it, that was the book. Done. Dusted.

At 43 I know I will never have children, but then again I’ve known that since I was 16 or 17. I will never have children. I have no inclination to change my mind. If I have a ‘biological clock,’ it is well and truly broken. What else could explain the crawling horror I feel at the prospect of pregnancy? Nope, no babies for me.

Giving voice to that choice, Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed is a collection of essays by sixteen writers on their decision not to have children. From women & men, straight, gay – the essays touch on a wide variety of reasons why becoming a parent may not be for everyone. From careers, to families, childhoods and illness, each writer describes the journey to their decision.

As the title suggests, the accusations flung at those who decide to be childless range from selfishness and shallowness to self-absorption—when in fact, perhaps the opposite is true.

I would highly recommend this book not just to people who have decided not to have kids, but even more so to all those who do have kids. I think it’s important for those who are parents to realize that their lifestyle is not the only valid choice, nor are all those who make the choice not to have kids selfish, shallow, or self-absorbed! It is simply one of many life choices.

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Men explain things to me. . .

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction,Short Stories on October 22, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , ,

IMG_3141I dislike starting the review of a work I enjoyed with a negative but I would like to offer an alternative way in which to read this book, Solnits collection of essays does not need to be read together or even at once, take it slow, read one essay at time, devour the writing and then take time to think on it.

Having said that, Men explain things to me and other essays is a collection of feminist writings which really didn’t go where I thought it would. Reading the collection as a whole I was expecting a common thread, a connection – something that bound them together, perhaps an overarching theme. There really is only one; feminism and its just not strong enough, its an obtuse connection and its not sharp enough, it’s too disjointed and disconnected to work as a whole.

In the recent past Solnit’s writings on the environment, gender, human rights and violence against women, all of which goes back decades, seems suddenly and remarkably prescient. Solnit’s titular essay ‘Men explain things to me’ tells the story of a 2003 party at which Solnit experienced a man attempt to explain her latest book to her without realizing she was its author. The term mansplaining has been in use within popular lexicon since 2009 and Solnit is credited with its creation, although her essay never actually uses the term. It is a word that was needed because so many women recognized an experience they had never been able to vocalize before, they just needed someone, Solnit, to define it.

The internet being what it is, the essay was strip-mined for that one idea and very little attention was paid to where Solnit takes it next, she turns a personal account into the discussion of the same phenomenon on a global scale. Women who speak out and then find their testimony being downgraded or dismissed (the female FBI agent whose warnings about al-Qaeda were ignored; the women who need a male witness to corroborate their rape; the writers and politicians whose anger is read as “shrill” and “hysterical’), this may indeed be the most important conversation we need to have.

Don’t get me wrong, this opening essay is outstanding, and there are others which make this title well worth reading but perhaps just one essay, one subject at a time. Solnits writing meanders along, she makes stunning statements that stick with you but then goes on to contradict herself and somewhat condescend her audience. Her writing can be a little tedious If the subject matter has not grabbed your interest, but overall the essays are well written and well thought out.

Solnit is unflinchingly honest even when, especially when, it threatens the patricharcial narrative. Her writing is accessible, confrontational and deals with a wide variety of difficult subjects. The final essay “Pandora’s box and the volunteer police force” is the second essay that really stands out to me, its subject is hope. Solnit writes about the history of feminism, not that it is at a point where a full and frank history can be recorded but to show how much change has been facilitated in the effort to change something very old, something very ingrained, something that might indeed take a very long time to change.

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“Because, when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.”

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction on May 14, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged:

CBR15Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer whose voice should be heard by all, yes all, and heard loud and clear.

Her latest work is entitled “Dear Ijeawele; or a feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions”. It grew out of a letter written to a friend who had asked for advice on raising her daughter, Chizalum, to be a feminist. This work feels more personal than her previous writing, it feels more urgent and unfortunately more necessary.

When I read Adichie I feel empowered, I feel strong, I feel purposeful but above all I feel hopeful. I read Dear Ijeawele with pencil in hand, underlining ideas, nodding to myself, scribbling notes in the margins, It provided me with a grounded concept of a utopia, but a utopia that can and will actually one day exist. That’s how much hope I feel.

This work is one that is so compelling, it is a call to arms. Its suggestions are invaluable, direct and perceptive. They are important for raising a daughter, or for that matter a son, but they are also important for all of us as human beings. Adichie gets right to the heart of sexual politics in the 21st Century, she writes with an aura of authority, you can’t help but take on board what she has to say – not just about raising children but about being a good adult.

I thought I might highlight one of the suggestions to provide a glimpse of what Adichie is espousing; The third suggestion is to teach Chizalum “that the idea of gender roles is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl. ‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.” She goes on to discuss the differences in expectations of the sexes; cooking and domestic work, the absurdity of gender neutrality in children’s clothing and toys, individuality and self reliance.

There are a couple of sentences that leapt off the page at me and are already making an impact on my life, less that 24 hours after I finished reading them. I’m going to finish with one in particular – “Because, when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.” Let that sit with you. Let it ruminate around in your head as it has done in mine and then get up and have a conversation about it.