Doing It – Hannah Witton

“I want this book to educate you, I want this book to feel like your friend gossiping with you. I want this book to make you feel normal, comfortable, empowered and in control of your body.”

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Blurb: “Figuring out how to build and maintain healthy relationships – with your family, friends, romantically and with yourself – is a crucial part of being a teen. It’s not easy though, particularly in a digital age where information and advice are so forthcoming it can be hard to know who or what to believe or trust. Porn is everywhere, sexting is the norm and messages about body image are highly mixed. Hannah combats this by tackling subjects ranging from masturbation and puberty to slut shaming and consent in an accessible, relatable and extremely honest way.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

When I first saw the announcement for this book I have to admit I was disheartened. There’s an endless stream of “YouTuber books” dominating the shelves and most of them feel unwarranted when they’re autobiographies from people who are the same age as me. It felt like Hannah was the newest addition to this money train but when she started to explain what her book was going to be about, it couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.

I have been subscribed to Hannah Witton on YouTube for a very long time and one thing I’ve always loved about her content is that she’s honest. Whether it’s her “drunk advice” or – more recently – the “hormone diaries” videos, Hannah is not afraid to bare all (pardon the pun) when talking about situations that are still seen as a taboo in our society. Even though I’m a twenty-three year old woman, I still find myself learning things about sex (mainly from Hannah) that I had never learnt in a classroom. This book is, as Hannah states in the introduction, something the reader should “dip in and out of for advice” rather than read cover to cover, but for the sake of this review, I read every single page.

Doing It covers everything from…well… “doing it” to the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, the time she lost her virginity, birth control, puberty and periods, porn and masturbation, the importance of consent and why it’s okay to wait; anything you can think of regarding sex and relationships is most likely in this book. But another thing I really admired about this book is that Hannah leaves it to certain experiences she hasn’t had to other contributors for whom they are a reality. For example, Riley Dennis has written a chapter about what it’s like dating when you’re trans, Amelia Morris has written about being asexual, Riki Poynter talks about what it’s like to have a sexual relationship when you’re deaf.

I was really educated on what is and isn’t true when it comes to the human body and sex (again even at my age) when Hannah would present a myth and then proceed to explain if it was true or not. For example: the hymen breaking during your first time having sex.

Books like this are bittersweet because Doing It is a book I really could have used when I was a teenager. Even though I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty. But it’s such a great thing that books like this and This book Is Gay by Juno Dawson exist to help any struggles that teenagers are going through where they may want to avoid talking to a family member.

“Just remember that whatever your gender, or sexuality, you are wonderful and deserve as much as the next person.”

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The Good Immigrant – (Edited by) Nikesh Shukla

“There is no one way to be black. Our worst performance is entertaining the idea that there is.”

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Blurb: “How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?”

It’s impossible to deny that there is a lot of tension in the world right now. From a long list of police shootings, protests, racist rhetoric, the aftermath of Brexit and a new – rather questionable – America President, there has never been a more important time to start listening.

The Good Immigrant is a collection of twenty-one essays from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals tackling the idea of what it means to be a ‘good immigrant’ while bringing to light aspects of their own lives from: reasons they moved to the UK, the history of their culture or religion, tokenism, and the uncomfortable situations they’ve had to deal with. As Nikesh Shukla – the editor of this book – states in the introduction: “The biggest burden facing people of colour in this country is that society deems us bad immigrants – job-stealers, benefit-scroungers, girlfriend-thieves, refugees – until we cross over in their consciousness, through popular culture, winning races, baking good cakes, being conscientious doctors, to become good immigrants. And we are so tired of that burden.”

The very important thing this book highlights is that everyone has a completely different story to tell and that to even consider lumping people into certain groups (which unfortunately happens too often) is doing those individuals a disservice. The Good Immigrant contributors range from people whose parents immigrated to the UK but they were born here, to stories detailing why someone decided to move here to the even more fascinating story from one contributor about why they chose to move to the UK and then decided to leave again.

Each story offers a brutally honest and eye-opening insight into what it means to be judged solely on your skin colour, what you chose to wear and even, in some cases, your name.

“Airports and Auditions” is an essay written by actor Riz Ahmed who discusses the frequency with which he is pulled aside at airports to be checked by security and that, because it happens so often, he’s almost started treating them as if they were auditions.

“Is Nish Kumar A Confused Muslin?” by Nish Kumar details his career as a comedian and how one turn of phrase resulted in him becoming an “angry Muslim” meme online. He discusses who these assumptions were made on the well-known fact that he is Indian when in fact the religion he practises is Hinduism.

“Yellow” by Vera Chok discusses what it means to be a Chinese individual from Malaysia and what assumptions are made about her based on her “yellow” skin colour along with the ever-changings words such as “East Asian” replacing “Oriental.”

“Guide To Being Black” by Varaidzo dictates what it means to grow up being mixed race and the struggles of fitting in.

“Namaste” by editor Nikesh Shukla focuses on how the UK has adopted aspects from other cultures and integrated them without checking what they mean. For example, Chai Tea is just “tea tea.”

The examples listed above are just a few of the essays that really stood out to me and each one highlights the differences each individual has faced – and sadly continues to.

This book was created by Unbound Publishing which is entirely funded by its readers. Simply put, this book now exists because people cared enough to make it so. And every single one of those people are listed in the back of the book are like little glimmers of hope showing that if we band together we can make things happen, we can let those from backgrounds different to our own have a platform to use our voices. And I firmly believe that with this book (and the recent announcement of a BAME YA Anthology from Stripes Publishing) more BAME writers will finally get to be heard.

If you read one book this year, make it this one.

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

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Blurb: “A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.”

Over the years I’ve seen many examples of public shaming, even within the book community, and recently I’ve become really fascinated with the concept of it.  Jon Ronson decided to explore this idea of being publically shamed by meeting up with various people who have been involved in shamings, whether in the online world or the real one and tells the stories of what happen to that person, how they dealt with it and what happened as a result.

I loved this book for a great many reasons: the main one being how un-biased Jon Ronson remains throughout his investigation. Of course, like any other human beings he has his own opinions but he doesn’t allow those to cloud his ability to lay out the facts. In the situations where two people were involved (for example, the shamer and the one being shamed), he talks to each individual about why they took certain paths and how they feel looking back. In a way, this book gives an understanding of people’s motivations and shows how the little people have now gained immense power. Where once someone saw someone being interviewed on TV and could only sit there in anger at what the person was saying, now that individual can make their views heard online and use that platform to send abuse to said interviewee.

The variety of stories Jon was able to share showcased the idea that shame really can take place anywhere and he even goes on to explore why it is we actually feel shame and if it is possible to go through life not having the ability to not feel shame at all.

The conclusion I drew from my experience reading this book is that there are no winners or losers; only victims.

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Girls Will Be Girls – Emer O’Toole

“As feminists, we shouldn’t judge other women’s choices. But we should very certainly try to understand women’s choices.”

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Blurb: “Being a woman is, largely, about performance – how we dress and modify our bodies, what we say, the roles we play, and how we conform to expectations. Gender stereotypes are still deeply embedded in our society, but Emer O’Toole is on a mission to rewrite the old script and bend the rules of gender – and she shows how and why we should all be joining in.”

This year I started getting into feminism literature. I was a feminist before I really knew there was a word to assign to it. The main thing I’ve noticed on this adventure so far is that nothing is talked about theoretically: there is no “this is what sexism means now let’s move on” every point about inequality is backed up by the author’s own experiences. Girls Will Be Girls is no difference.

In this book, Emer tackles the idea of gender conformity being a performance. Women are expected to dress and act a certain way, take on certain roles in order to please the “audience.” She lays on the table how restrictive growing up as a woman in Ireland was and unfortunately, still remains to be this day as abortion is currently illegal. She goes into detail about a time when she was thirteen and she wore a particular outfit that everyone complimented her for, a year later and wearing the same outfit suddenly she was sexualised, having suggestions made to her that maybe she shouldn’t wear a mini skirt.

A large part of the book is taken up by her stories about the “performance.” She recalls tales of times she spent exploring her gender and sexuality in public and not conforming to what’s expected of her. Whether it be the clothes she wore, what bathroom she used or not shaving her armpits. It was staggering to see how different she was treated when in stereotypically male attire compared to “traditional” female attire and entering the more androgynous side altogether.

As with a lot of feminist literature this is a western woman telling her stories and experiences of sexism. This is obviously very important as we need people like Emer to use their platforms to express how far we still have to go as a society. However, it’s exclusionary only focusing on feminist issues in Ireland and the UK.

Another thing that actually offended me was when Emer goes into detail about sexuality and what it means to her, including relationships and flings in the past. She decided to drop the bombshell line “I don’t believe in bisexual.” As a bisexual woman who found so much solace in a term after years of confusion I was really hurt for Emer to essentially discredit a sexuality that is already prone to judgment and dismissal. She went on to talk about how she never saw herself as straight/lesbian/bisexual etc but she didn’t explain her reasons for attacking the idea of being bisexual. Something which given the quote I’ve used at the start of this post, contradicts the point she made here. It let me down a lot.

Putting that aside (while difficult to do) she does an important thing of talking about a time when she was incredibly sexist and even played on it to get laughs from people she worked with or other non-feminist folks. She addressed this to show that not everybody is perfect and there’s a time when we were younger where we bashed other girls or called them “sluts” for how many people they dated etc.

This book leaves a lot of food for thought.

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How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

“Would Jane Austen’s Characters have spent pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look, and who fancies them, if this wasn’t the main thing they were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of men?”

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“It’s a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.”
How To Be A Woman is a book that I have been eyeing up on various bookshelves for many years. I’ve physically picked it up a few times, declaring I would buy it, only to put it down again. The title alone exudes female empowerment and when Emma Watson announced the book as the April read for her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf it simply felt like the universe was telling me, at twenty-two years old, it is time to learn how to be a woman.

I didn’t know anything about Caitlin Moran except that her books tackle political issues and feminism. After research, I now know that Caitlin was a music journalist for Melody Music at the age of sixteen, hosted a Channel 4 music show and works for The Times. Also, she’s a novelist.

In this book, Caitlin puts across the fact that while the “traditional feminist issues” are important to talk about, the typical little things women go through day to day is just as important. At first I was taken aback by the comment as there are horrible things happening to woman around the world but as I continued reading, I started to understand the point she was making. The firsts, the things that see a girl turning into a woman are terrifying when they happen: first bra, first period, first time experiencing sexism and so on. This book is marketed as “part memoir, part rant” and it definitely lives up to that.

Throughout the book I tried relating my experiences to the things she was saying and I reached the sudden realisation that there are an alarming number of expectations and levels of judgement placed on girls becoming women and some of those continue in womanhood. For example, I was the first out of my friendship group to get her period, so I was plied with questions and the go-to person when my friends got theirs too. But when they found out I used sanitary towels and had no intention of using tampons, it was like I’d just told them I’d killed a man. Even now, there’s still judgement when people learn this about me. Another example is that I grew up being frequently asked if I had a boyfriend yet / when was I going to get a boyfriend. Secretly I was discovering my sexuality and seriously crushing on girls; later I would learn that I’m bisexual. Even when I skipped off to university, every time I came home or spoke to my dad on the phone he would ask if I had a boyfriend yet. When I would tell him I didn’t and pointed out that the reason I had gone to university was because I wanted to continue learning and become a better writer. He would then tell me most people find their “life-long partners” at University and suddenly I had a ticking relationship timer in front of me.

One big issue I had with this book is in the “I Am A Feminist” chapter, Caitlin helps the reader understand if they are a feminist by saying “do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both then you’re a feminist.” While this book is very female orientated, I know a lot of male feminists and it just felt like an “us and them” divide was being created. Also it’s not inter-sectional feminism which is a big problem. This is white,middle-class feminism which caused me to leave the reading experience feeling quite disheartened.

This book gave me a lot of food for thought and Caitlin is harsh and honest in the way she attacks these topics and there’s some humour added in for an extra flair. She uses interesting but oddly fitting imagery such as referring to a woman’s reproductive system as a “hamster cage with tunnels going everywhere.”

What more could you possibly need in a book?

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Dream A Little Christmas Dream – Giovanna Fletcher

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Blurb: “Sarah’s doing great. Okay, her dreams might still be totally bananas but real life is definitely back on track. She’s got a fantastic job, amazing friends and plans to spend all Christmas wrapped up with Brett, her handsome boyfriend. But after another night of increasingly bizarre dreams, Sarah wakes to find her housemate suddenly announcing she’s moving out. And later that day Brett begins to act strangely. He’s clearly hiding something – but what? Soon Sarah can’t help but wonder if she’s living in a festive nightmare. Will any of her dreams come true for Christmas?”

Giovanna Fletcher’s second novel Dream A Little Dream came out in June this year, published by Penguin. Dream A Little Christmas Dream is a very short spin off featuring the characters from the full length novel I’ve just mentioned. This is not the first time Giovanna has done something like this: just last year she released a Christmas spin off to her debut novel.

What I love about these little novellas is that it’s a neat way of revisiting the characters I once became so attached to. While Dream A Little Dream wrapped up nicely in the end, I still found myself with a few questions about what happened after the end of the book. Then Giovanna announced the spin off. This novella keeps in some of the best bits from the original novel: the dreams. And even though some of them were a little on the disturbing side, I found myself belly-laughing all the same.

So, like the blurb suggests, Sarah’s life is going pretty well. She’s bagged the man of her dreams (literally) and things are going swimmingly at her new job. However,when Lexie announces that she’s having a baby, and Carly is moving out, it’s hard for Sarah not to feel like her relationship has come to a bit of a stand-still. When she hints this to Brett and he doesn’t seem to get the message, Sarah is left feeling unloved.

Giovanna has a talent for writing light,enjoyable reads that don’t skip out on some of the not-so-good parts of life.  This novella has left me feeling festive: ready to pull on a thick wooly jumper, grab a mug of hot chocolate and sit down to watch Love Actually.

Also, I finally have an answer as to what happened with the TV show “Grannies Go Gap” – Thanks Giovanna!

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Very Good Lives – J.K.Rowling

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Blurb: “When J.K.Rowling was invited to deliver the commencement address at Harvard University, she chose to speak to the graduating class about two topics very close to her heart: the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination. Having the courage to fail, she said, is as vital to a good life as any conventional measure of success; imagining ourselves into the place of another – particularly someone less fortunate than ourselves – is a uniquely human quality to be nurtured at all costs.”

This book has fallen into my hands at such an important time in my life: I have just left University and in July I will have my graduation ceremony. Naturally, I’m searching for all the advice  I can get to handle myself in “the real world” after sixteen years in the education system. So, getting advice from the great J.K.Rowling? Sign me straight up!

Very Good Lives is a book version of Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech given at Harvard University, and sales of the book go to Lumos, an international charity founded by J.K.Rowling.  One of the things I love the most about this book is just how pretty it looks: the pages are decorated with beautiful artwork which made is such a pleasurable read. Most of all, it was really inspiring.

One fear I have – which I’m sure a lot of you reading this share too – is failure. This is a topic that Rowling talks about a lot, referring to her own experiences, but also talks about how it is impossible to avoid failure because of how life pans out. One thing she said really stood out to me:

“Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

It changed my outlook on failure. Rather than trying to avoid failure and give up living, I should embrace and learn from failure when I do face it.

Basically, it’s a wonderful little book showing that we are important, we should live for ourselves, not for others. And most importantly, we should use our incredible imaginations to create.

I recommend this to everyone going through an important milestone in their lives.

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All I Know Now – Carrie Fletcher Book Signing

Yesterday I went on an adventure to Birmingham for the signing of Carrie Hope Fletcher’s book “All I Know Now” (click here for my review). I had never been to Birmingham before so I was excited at the prospect of getting to explore a new city. Naturally, I fell into several book stores. Some things never change. I also got to share this experience with my wonderful boyfriend.

The queue to get into the Waterstone’s was so long that it literally stretched around the outside of the building… and it was raining… and I didn’t bring an umbrella…
I love book signings simply for that fact that you are surrounded by people, clutching the same book as you, and they love it just as much as you do. It’s an indescribable feeling – I later discovered that 200 people had attended the signing. There were drinks and cupcakes on arrival along with rows and rows of chairs facing a stage on which Carrie would soon make her appearance.

Carrie walked out to cheers with a massive smile on her face, rocking a beautiful dress and her famous blond curls. The man giving the interview asked important questions such as if Carrie had intended for the All I Know Now blog to become a book, to which she replied that that was the dream but it becoming a reality was a “happy accident.” Author Giovanna Fletcher was given a mention when the interviewer asked if the sister-in-law had helped her with the writing process, and naturally, Carrie only had nice things to say. It was lovely seeing a closed up, clearly nervous Carrie become more relaxed, eliciting jokes which had the audience in fits of laughter. She then read a chapter from her book – “The Disgusting Business of Falling in Love.” As I listened, I was reminded of just how incredible human beings actually are.

She even treated the audience to some music. Donning her acoustic guitar, she belted out a cover of Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together and her original song Boys In Books Are Better.

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Then questions were opened up to the audience: aspiring theatre performers asked for audition advice, Once Upon A Time fans asked her about the show and her “ships”, which character she’d love to play on the West End now that her dream of playing older Eponine has been fulfilled (Her answers were Elphaba in Wicked and Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family). But the question that had Carrie flailing in her chair the most was “if you could bring one fictional character to life, who would it be and why?” – She never did give an answer.

So on to the actual signing!
My boyfriend and I joined the queue and while we waited, cupcakes were handed out (life doesn’t get much better than that!) Forty minutes later, we were at the front. Greeted with a smile, we handed our books over and had an opportunity to talk to her. I told her that I benefited most from her chapter about accepting yourself as I am a true criminal of the “you have to say that you’re my friend/boyfriend” statement whenever I’m complimented. I also told her that one of the things that kind of led to my boyfriend and I getting together was the fact that we both watch her videos. This made Carrie really excited and she called us “the hopeful couple.”

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