My 18-month-old son was teething over the past week or so and although I won’t bore those of the non-parental persuasion with the details, suffice to say that this Mamma hasn’t been getting much sleep. That being the case, World Book Day and International Women’s Day were on my radar, but didn’t get quite the attention they deserved.
Let’s catch up!
World Book Day
As you may have guessed, I love books. I always have. Books of all genres, shapes and sizes. I like some of the heavy stuff, but I don’t turn my nose up at a good holiday read, either. Any writer who is able to transport me into their story, regardless of where I am or the kind of day I have had, is worthy of applause. In a world where the literacy rates, even in the developed world, aren’t what they should be (100%, in case there was doubt) then I think it is foolish to get finicky about the type of reading that people choose to do in their free time. Any reading is good reading.
That said, I do have some favourites…
Classic children’s story
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or indeed its prequel The Silmarillion and sequels The Lord of the Rings were utterly and completely absorbing to me as a child. I know that fantasy books containing weird short people with hairy feet aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but, for me, Tolkien unlocked the door to a world of imagination.
Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty is another classic. Ostensibly following the lifespan of the horse, it is a moving portrayal of socio-economic hardship and human nature, beautifully depicted.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a long-time favourite of mine. For quite a short book, it packs a solid punch, covering social conditions and developing romance without the twee-ness of Austen (sorry, Austen lovers).
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a wonderfully dark love story. I mean, the man has an insane wife locked in his attic. He’s older. He’s brooding. He’s Mr Rochester. Need I say more?
Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is a brilliant adventure. Actually, I enjoyed The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask, by the same author, but at a push this one comes out on top. It has a bit of everything: suspense, jealousy, intrigue, revenge, deceit, love… The metamorphosis of Edmond Dantes into the Count of Monte Cristo is a timeless story.
Favourite all-round story
This is very difficult, not least given some of the contenders above. It comes down to the book which really swept me away aged eleven, listening to Michael Jackson on my Walkman while I read it (yes, back in the days of the cassette tape). That story is The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye. Set in the last days of the Raj, it is an epic tale of love and adventure, but also of the fundamental nature of identity. Her descriptive passages are breathtaking; whenever I read it, I feel that I am truly stepping into India, that I can see it and feel it and smell it. The passages are incredibly authentic, too, given the fact that Kaye spoke many of the varied Indian dialects and could therefore infuse her work with an accuracy which might otherwise have eluded her. Completely absorbing, but a commitment to read at nearly 1000 pages.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is an eye-opening tale of murder, told from the perspective of the perpetrator. It is a fantastic portrayal of the psychology and forces which might compel a person to kill, set against a backdrop of impoverished Russia. I am a big fan of Russian literature, in general, but this is one of my favourites.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, tells the story of Winston Smith, a civil servant tasked with perpetuating the propaganda of the regime by falsifying records and literature so that it appears that the government is always right. He begins a revolt, which ultimately leads to his arrest, torture and conversion. I won’t spoil this dystopian classic for those who haven’t yet read it, but there is a scene involving rats which will stay with me for a long, long time…
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The main themes are racial injustice, loss of innocence and courage and compassion in the face of both of those struggles. The film, with Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch, is also one of my favourite movies, although make sure you have tissues to hand.
Great bath-time reads, accompanied by a glass of wine and some chocolate
Alright, so the following might be what they call ‘chick-lit’, but you know what? It’s GREAT chick-lit!
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. Oh, come on, you know you love it! What’s not to love in reading about the ups and downs of a hapless British thirty-something with a crush on Mr Darcy?
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. Lovely bittersweet romance telling the tale of Noah and Allie, who fell passionately in love one summer but, owing to her parents’ disapproval, separated for 14 years. They meet again, on the cusp of her marrying another man, but realise that despite their differences they are meant to be together. The narrator pauses in telling the story to explain that he is reading to his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease and that he is also chronically ill. It becomes clear that they are Noah and Allie, but he has changed the names in the story to protect her. Heart-wrenching stuff!
Any crime fiction (I mean that, I’ll read most crime novels out of curiosity alone) and anything by Nora Roberts. I am unrepentant about this: Nora is bloody brilliant at what she does and what a businesswoman, she is, too. I’ve had many enjoyable hours reading books like The Reef and Public Secrets, so go forth and discover this New York Times bestselling author, if you haven’t already.
International Women’s Day (IWD)
I appreciate the need for an annual day to celebrate women and push for those causes which affect women the most, whether domestically or abroad, but part of me is always a little sad that we need such a reminder. It is a reminder that there is still so much work to do, even in a developed country such as the United Kingdom. It saddens me that there are women who have suffered terrible injustice, abuse and ridicule on a wide-ranging scale, whether it be sexism at work, inadequate maternity services, unequal pay, domestic violence or otherwise. I mourn the fact that there are young girls who feel their best aspiration in life is to become part of a reality TV show, rather than taking their rightful place in careers better suited to their individual skills or intelligence. I’m not saying that everybody needs, or wants, to be bankers and doctors and lawyers, but if they do, the opportunities should be there on an equal basis.
IWD reminds me that, due to an accident of birth, I was born into a family which was loving and supportive, with a strong female role model who would definitely not have tolerated casual sexism either at work or at home. I learned from that and am equally intolerant of the peculiar blend of indulgent condescension that some men harbour towards women. Not all men, I hasten to add, but there is a definite undercurrent in our society which fosters an assumption in some men that they are the superior sex.
Sad, I know. Delusional? Definitely.
The way I see it, gender differences are a good thing and we shouldn’t need to ascribe to some ready-made idea of what is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. If my son wants to be a male ballerina, I won’t so much as blink an eyelid, except to ask him what colour leotard I need to buy him. Likewise, there’s no need for a woman to adopt masculine attributes in order to be accepted and successful in the workplace, or at least there shouldn’t be a need for it. Femininity is strength. It should not be a war between the sexes, just an acceptance that we are on an equal playing field where the attributes of both genders are appreciated in equal measure.
Above all else, we are more than our gender. We are individual, every one of us.
I could write and write about this topic, but that’s enough for now. You get the general gist.
Now, I’m off to think about murder and mayhem…
‘Til next time