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Which Books Should You Be Reading This Week? Nov 19/20

Which Books Should You Be Reading This Week? Nov 19/20

New in store this week at The Book Room are four new curations by brilliant authors. Regular readers of this newsletter will know that my little pop-up bookshop is wholly made up of recommendations from either myself as a writer, or other writers I know and love, and this week I have curations by three brilliant women and one brilliant man.

Will Maclean has put together a curation of his four favourite books on the uncanny, and they’re all absolutely perfect in their spookiness and I’ll tell you more about them soon. But also new in is Marianne Levy and her recommended reads on the subject of motherhood, Emma Forrest has curated a collection on obsession in all different shapes and Donna McLean, an absolutely warrior of a woman herself, has put together a list of other warrior women famous for using the power of their voices to change the world.

And speaking of warrior women, over the weekend I read a review of Geena Davis’ new book, Dying of Politeness.

Not everyone knows that Geena Davis has been chipping away at the patriarchal structures that command Hollywood for two decades. In 2004 she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and has been quietly, quite literally behind the scenes, pushing for equality within the film industry. We, or rather our children, have a lot to thank her for in terms of representation, though we wouldn’t know it.

When she has achieved so much, it is hard to believe that Geena attributes the confidence that she has accumulated to the ballsy women she has played.

‘It wasn’t until I played Thelma,’ she writes in her memoir, ‘that I realised I may have wanted to become an actor so fervently because I could use acting to fill out the persona of someone confident in their abilities – someone I desperately wanted to be like in real life.’

And so she emulated these fictional characters.

Though my characters were bold before I was, that boldness rubbed off on me.’

She calls this her ‘journey to badassery’, and how grateful we are that she arrived at her destination, though at the age of 66, she is conscious that she still has work to do.

The representation of women and girls in the industry, on screen and behind the camera, is a drum she beats unapologetically throughout and the book is peppered with anecdotes that paint a depressingly familiar picture of the way female actors were treated,’ writes Stephanie Merritt reviewing in The Guardian. Let’s hope her use of the past tense is correctly applied, I have my doubts.

There is also a rather uncomfortable description in the book of Davis’ time working with Bill Murray who had (very deliberate usage of past tense) always been a favourite of mine until I heard these stories about him.

I am not really a fan of celebrity memoirs, preferring real people and real stories (every time I have been asked to ghost someone famous I have found them rather dull), but Geena Davis is a woman on a mission with a story to an extraordinary life to tell. I think this book is worth a punt. I think My Journey to Badassery would have been a better title though – Dying of Politeness makes it sound like someone with a problem ‘down there’ too shy to mention to their doctor.

• Dying of Politeness by Geena Davis (William Collins) £20

Perhaps many had dismissed this former stand-up comedian and actor who was once the voice of Paddington Bear, but if they did they might be chewing on those words now and this book, a collection of his speeches, proves that he certainly has what it takes to lead a country in times of crisis while communicating on a worldwide stage.

‘Yet as the curators of this book point out,’ writes Freeman, ‘his most effective address lasted just 32 seconds. It was day two of the invasion, and with Russian troops seeking to kill Zelensky outright, word spread that he had fled. On a walkabout through Kyiv that night, he recorded a selfie video on his iPhone, keeping it brief to stop Russian drones tracking him down. “We are all here,” he said. “Our soldiers are here. Civil society is here. We defend our independence. And this is how it will always be from now on.”

We have spent these last nine months gripped by this man’s speeches, some delivered, like the one above on instagram. This may not be the most relaxing book to snuggle up with, but I can bet it will be profound. As Freeman writes: ‘…since the war began, he has become the world’s most in-demand speaker, speaking everywhere from the Commons to Congress and the Knesset to the Bundestag. Even so, he still makes a virtue of not sounding like a professional politician…he comes across as “an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances” – just like the Ukrainian citizens forced to take up arms to defend themselves.’

In the face of such seemingly impossible struggles, I wonder how many of us would be able to find the words?

• A Message From Ukraine by Volodymyr Zelenksky (Cornerstone) £9.99

I spotted a review of Sarah Moss’ The Fell in a round up of new paperbacks in The Guardian at the weekend and this digest would not be complete without me flagging it up to you too. Sarah Moss is one of my absolute favourite writers, and The Fell was her pandemic novel and, I know… I know… you’re sick to death of covid times and do not want to spend any more of your leisure time in the stench of it, but Sarah Moss is a writer worth breaking that ban for particularly because the themes of claustrophobia and isolation are ones that we can all identify with.

Her novel is set in the Peak District over one night and centres around Kate who should be isolating having had contact with a covid-infected person but climbing the walls at home she sets off instead to climb a fell, falls over and can’t get up again as night begins to falls.

‘Moss is nodding at novelistic convention by building suspense – what will happen to Kate? – but Kate’s interior monologues work against the form, suggesting that the outcome is not the point,’ writes Lauren Elkin reviewing. ‘If anything, her walkabout appears to be an allegory for the pandemic itself: we’ve set out on this path, but we have no idea where we are on the mountain.’

Sarah Moss perfectly encapsulates this sense within this slim but perfectly formed book. I urge you to buy it, and in fact all that Sarah Moss has written – preferably, of course, from me!

• The Fell by Sarah Moss (Picador) £8.99

I think I may have felt the same. I know Michelle Obama’s first book Becoming was a knock-out success, but do these women have so much to tell us ordinary folk about life just because they can get a book deal? It seems, according to Sylvester, they do.

Sylvester says she expected ‘pseudoscientific psychobabble overlaid with political platitudes and capitalising on the pandemic. And maybe a little bit of smug.’

But she admits she was wrong. What she actually found was a woman speaking honestly about her vulnerabilities and self-doubt.

The former first lady is too open about her vulnerability to be irritating for long. She admits that four words have followed her since she was a young girl on the south side of Chicago – “Am I good enough?” Even though she’s one of the most famous women on the planet, the answer to the question is still: “I don’t know.”

How many of us can relate to that?

Her only criticism is that there are sentences in the book ‘too American for the British reader’… ‘each of us carries a bit of inner brightness, something entirely unique and individual, a flame that’s worth protecting.’ Hmmm… although, Michelle Obama has always been a hit with our teenage schoolgirls and while that might grate for the mums maybe it speaks to the kids?

But here is something for the mums, Michelle discussing honestly her feelings of ‘not-enoughness’ she felt as a working mother: ‘The images of maternal perfection we encounter in advertisements and across social media are often no less confusing or fake than what we see on the enhanced and photoshopped female bodies… we are conditioned to buy into it, questing after not just the perfect body, but also perfect children.’

• The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama (Viking) £25

And on that note, it is closing time at the shop and I must go see my own child. Remember you can order any of these books (or indeed any others!) from me, and I have a fancy new email address where you can contact me to do so:

Until next week!


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