Sexual harassment.

Yes, I’m getting on the bandwagon. I’m allowed. Everyone else is.

What gets me, right, is these men who say “as the father of daughters…”. The people who say “there are parents out there who have the right to expect that their daughters can work in a safe environment”. All those people who say ” what if it was your daughter… sister…wife…mother…”

Because it seems like women are only to be respected if they belong to some man or other. Or men can only be expected to respect women if they happen to respect the women they “own”. It’s not language that suggests that women should be respected because they are human beings, because they deserve respect in their own right. It’s language that suggests that they only get respect because men permit it.

As the owner of a dog, I understand that you shouldn’t leave them alone for weeks at a time.

As the owner of a horse, I understand that you should drive slowly when you go past them on the road.

As the owner of a woman, I understand that you shouldn’t grab them by the pussy.

That’s what I’m hearing.

What I’d like to hear is:

As a human being, I understand that you shouldn’t seek to degrade or abuse other human beings. Simple as that.

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The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch

This took me back to my student days in the 80s, buying second hand Viragos and Women’s Press books at the bookstalls on the South Bank. It feels very much in that tradition of feminist sci-fi, and I haven’t read anything like it for a long time.

The main characters are Christine Pizan and Joan of Dirt, and the action divides between Earth and CIEL, so you can see we are in symbolic territory here. These are figures who trail the  herstory movement, and feminist iconography in their wake.  It’s almost a religious parable, if your religion encompasses a direct connection with the planet as a living thing, pan-sexuality, and the use of the body as a form of artistic self-expression, and it’s all set in the aftermath of the war that literally ends all wars – and just about everything else.

Big themes. The battle between a dehumanising retreat into technology and the great, visceral natural world, between female strength and de-sexed decadence.

Great images. The descriptions of the new bodies the inhabitants of CIEL have developed – more like living i-phones than real people – and the high-tech prison they have made for themselves, are particularly fascinating.

So there’s all this, and a good story, too. In fact, you could probably just read it as a good story, if you weren’t the kind of person who hung around second-hand bookstalls snapping up second-hand feminist literature in your student days.


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Genuine Fraud – e lockhart

Oh, this is a good read. I loved it.

It’s a story told backwards, which is a tricky thing to pull off, but e manages it. It mimics real life, as well, in the way that you start off with an opinion about somebody, and then learn a little more, and a little more, and gradually develop an understanding, and with that your opinion changes. It’s a book about identity and the structure itself plays with that. The fraud is perpetrated on you, and gradually uncovered by you. I don’t really want to say any more, because the pleasure is partly in the gradual uncovering of the truth. It’s a great read. Gripping, and intriguing, and clever.  

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The Woman Behind the Waterfall – book review

Well, I don’t know if you should call this a novel at all. You might call it a poem. Or a piece of music. It ripples and flows, it turns on itself. It’s beautiful.


I have a tendency to read for plot, and this hardly has a conventional plot at all. There is a story, and it’s an age old story of love and loss, but it’s the way that it’s told that is so engaging. There are themes and motifs that recur – the river, the rope, the bird, the dancing child – as if the writer is creating a new mythology, making new images out of the same set of picture tiles.  There’s a sense of place and of culture that is subtle but powerful. Basically, you’ll either love it or just not get it. You should try it, though, because if you do get it, you’ll be discovering something really special. 

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The Year of the Knife

The Year of the Knife is by G D Penman – who I assumed was going to be a woman, but actually is a bloke with a very impressive beard. It’s a joyful romp – one to pick up in the middle of the night when you’re worried about something, or to read in a waiting room – enough action to engage, but a sense of being in safe hands.

Sully is the protagonist. She’s great. A tough woman doing a man’s job in a man’s world. Its alternative reality time – a version of our world, where magic is real, organised, and built in to the system; the British Empire is alive and well and keeping its boot on the throat of all those pesky foreigners; Europe is cut off because of severe Demon infestation, and sexism is alive and well. Even more alive and well than in our reality. Sully works for the IBI (Imperial, not Federal…) and she has magic in her very bones.

Now, I like a bit of supernatural policing (Rivers of London! John Connolly!!) and I like an alternate reality, but I wasn’t sure if this was going to work. It did coax me in, though, and once there I stuck with it for the ride. Like I said, it’s a romp, there’s some real humour in there, and it has a few jabs at prejudice and racism (always satisfying). There were some moments of violence that I might have found disturbing if we hadn’t been galloping on to the next scene. And I will never look a macaws in quite the same way again.

I’m wondering if he’s left room to make this the start of a series? The ending felt like it had the potential to be the beginning of something new.

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Kintsugi – the Japanese art of mending with beauty

I have been considering
kintsugi, and how
we heal ourselves,
we who are no longer whole,
and if we can
be beautiful
and flawed
and flawed
and beautiful.

I have considered
my scars, not golden,
not joyful,
not thoughtful, but
silver pale, glistening,
secret lines,
hidden from view,
and wondering
if I can be beautiful
even though
I can never be
mended, not entirely.

I am broken,
broken again,
mended. I am
burnt, cut,
I am not
who I was,
and yet I am
still here,
and flawed
and flawed
and beautiful.

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Staring at the sun – Irvin D Yalom: books that have helped 1

I read this about 3 years ago, so the details are hazy, but the things I took from it are:

  • Death is scary.
  • We die alone.
  • Live your life better in the knowledge that you will die.
  • Connections bring comfort.

Putting it like that looks awfully bleak. It doesn’t look like a terribly insightful or innovative set of points. It’s not a trio of insights that’s going to set the world on fire.

Let me explain a little more.

Irvin Yalom is  Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford. I just googled him and he looks like Mr Spock would look if he became a psychoanalyst. I don’t know if he’s still practicing, but he was in 2008 when this book was published.

The American tradition of psychiatry is, I think, much more influenced by and active in psychotherapy/analysis than the British one, which tends to leave all that to psychotherapists. That means that he has spent a lot of time listening to a lot of people talking about their lives in incredible depth and with incredible intimacy. What he shares with us in this book is the wisdom that has come from that experience.

The thing about obvious truths is that you can know them in your head a long time before you know them with your body. I’ve always known that death is scary. I coped with that fear the way everybody else does: I turned away from it, I ignored it, I did other stuff, I accepted the delusion that I was immortal.

If I’m being absolutely honest here, that’s still what I do, 99% of the time. Maybe 99.99% of the time. But in the days leading up to my oncology appointments, when I go back into the regime of scans and the waiting, I reconnect with the anxiety I felt when I had my initial diagnosis, and there is something helpful for me in knowing that that fear is normal, that everybody feels it (if they allow themselves to).

You die alone. But there is comfort in other people and in the connection with them. Suddenly I’m thinking of 9/11, and the messages people in the towers left for their loved ones, and the people who jumped off the towers hand in hand. I hope there was comfort for them in that human contact. And all of those messages were of love. Nobody rang their worst enemy and reminded them that they hated them. Nobody rang their partner and mentioned the fact that they hadn’t put out the bins again, or that they couldn’t stand their snoring. They left messages of love. Of connectivity.

We die alone, but we live in a great web of connection. That is what makes us human. Even in the greatest darkness we reach out to comfort and be comforted.

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