What I Read in 2021: Book Review

Here are the books I read in 2021 in neither an order of favourites or chronology.

‘Sensuous Knowledge’ by Minna Salami👻
Salami examines various cultural issues outside of what she describes as ‘Europatriarchal knowledge’ and approaches these issues from an Africa-centric feminist perspective. These essays are simultaneously challenging and engaging. What I enjoyed most about this is that even discussing difficult concepts, Salami does not cloak herself in unnecessary academic jargon. She is critical while remaining accessible. This book changed my worldview as well as my personal attitude. Salami is phenomenal 9/10

‘Village of Stone’ by Xiaolu Guo👻
Translated from Chinese, this novel beautifully follows the life of Coral, flipping between the poverty of Beijing while reflecting on her traumatic childhood in the Village of Stone. Coral’s present is dominated by questions of social class, and the oppressive nature of urban living. Throughout, Coral is haunted by memories of the village she grew up in, of nature and human violence she expeirences there 7/10

‘life of the party’ by Olivia Gatwood
Link to my review on this collection for Clitically Acclaimed https://www.instagram.com/p/COQmMl2BI0a/
A snippet: ‘Olivia Gatwood is a poet who is unapologetically and brilliantly outspoken. This collection serves as an elegy for the women and girls society chooses to forget. Each piece honours their stories instead of sensationalising them. All this while simultaneously examining how true crime perpetuates the misogynistic attitudes which too often lead to gendered violence.’

‘VOX’ by Christina Dalcher
Link to my review on this collection for Clitically Acclaimed
A snippet: ‘Like Handmaids Tale, Vox is a dystopian novel which interrogates ideas about Gender through a re-imagined America, in which women are limited to 100 words a day. Dalcher examines how patriarchal structures could and do silence women both in public and private spaces as a political issue.’

‘A Thousand Ships’ by Natalie Haynes
Haynes powerfully weaves a novel built on the stories of the women effected by the Trojan War, who have been forgotten or twisted by the original myths. Women like Clytemnestra become not only murderers, but mothers. Through Calliope (the muse of epic poetry), Haynes writes ‘A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?’ 8/10

‘Pandora’s Jar’ by Natalie Haynes
From the same author comes this collection in which Haynes reexamines some of the misconceptions attributed to women in Greek myth, and ‘redresses this imbalance’. Haynes takes time to retell the stories of characters who have been painted as evil monsters by the great ancient poets. Haynes, like a 10th muse, sings of the women the myths chose to overlook. This work felt just as strong as her fiction, and displays how well researched Haynes is 9/10

‘Mary Reilly’ by Valerie Martin
Reworked from ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Martin imagines the life of Mary Reilly, the housemaid of Dr Jekyll. Despite being unnamed in the Victorian classic, Mary is given a story of her own as a witness to the disturbing events in the household of her employer. Perfect for any fans of feminist historical revisionism 6.5/10

‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang👻
The word I would overwhelmingly associate with this novel is ‘discomfort’. Translated from Korean, ‘The Vegetarian’ is a narrative of the metamorphosis of protagonist Yeong-hye. Throughout, Kang uses beautifully poetic language alongside scenes of violence and taboo. This is unsettling but worth a read 7/10

‘Venus & Aphrodite’ by Bethany Hughes🍎
Now we get to my favourite book this year! Historian Bettany Hughes explores the story of the Greco-Roman goddess Venus/Aphrodite; from her origins, the various cultures that influenced her, and the different forms she has taken throughout the centuries. This book looks at the goddess through an amalgamation of forms; art, history, philosophy, archaeology, literature. Hughes paints her as more complex than simply the ‘goddess of love, sex or desire’ 10/10

‘Women in the Picture’ by Catherine McCormack🍎
In ‘Ways of Seeing’, John Berger writes about art “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”. He is describing what Laura Mulvey called ‘the Male Gaze’. McCormack not only looks at how women have been looked at in Art, but how women artists have presented ‘new ways of seeing the art of the past and the familiar images of today’ to free art from this male gaze. 8/10

‘Funny Weather’ by Olivia Laing
The first lockdown I read ‘The Lonely City’ by Laing, an accessible and insightful text about how a variety of artists in New York used their art to discuss loneliness, sexuality, and the hardships they faced living in the big city. That book helped me see art through a different lens and sparked an interest in art outside of the formal education given to me. ‘Funny Weather’ came out later that year; a collection of essays and articles about how art can provide new ways of seeing and living. ‘The Lonely City’ will always be my favourite, yet this book is utterly brilliant 6.5/10

‘Bluestockings: Women of Reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism’ by Elizabeth Eger🍎
This text is the most academic work on this list by far. Eger studies the women forgotten in the history of Enlightenment and Romanticism. ‘Bluestockings’ is a well-researched portrait of the women pictured in Richard Samuels’s painting, The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain’ – Studies in English Literature. Eger emphasizes how women in the ‘Age of Reason’ played a significant role the culture of the time who helped to shape it, not just to live in it 6/10

‘Sula’ by Toni Morrison👻
This novel stole my entire heart as Morrison follows the rise and fall of the friendship of Sula and Nel, two young black girls whose lives are strained as they grow up in a poor rural community. As with all her fiction, her characters are rich and complex. Morrison explores the beauty of finding someone who truly understands your soul, until the point that they don’t. The writing is poetic, containing the kind of mysticism that draws me back to Morrison every time 9/10

‘Women and the Gallows’ by Naomi Clifford 🍎
Clifford provides short, simple biographies for the various women who went to the gallows between the years 1797-1837. She looks at their lives before their crimes and gives insight into their motives, as well as who they were as women living in an oppressive Victorian society. The writing is witty yet insightful 7/10

‘Misfits’ by Michaela Coel
Coel is one of the greatest writers I have known in my lifetime. ‘Chewing Gun’ makes me genuinely laugh out loud, a wonderfully funny show about a young woman exploring her sexuality. ‘I May Destroy You’ is the story I didn’t realise I needed until I watched it. Coel gave voice to survivors of sexual violence, giving them the recognition we’ve always deserved. ‘Misfits’ is just as phenomenal. I read this book in just one afternoon, and could read it over and over again. Coel emphasises her importance on honesty, difference, empathy, and creativity which is inspiring and needed. 10/10

‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter
Just as I expected, Carter recrafts famous fairy tales with wit in this collection of short stories. Published in 1979, Carter’s tales are as dark as folk tales originated as. Though these stories feel timeless, I love the way she uses a traditional format to explore ideas of sexuality and gender during the women’s liberation movement of the 70s. 8/10

🍎borrowed from my local library
👻bought from @ghostpapamargate


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