Posted in Non-Fiction

It’s Not About The Burqa – Edited by Mariam Khan

“We are not asking for permission any more. We are taking up space. We’ve listened to a lot of people talking about who Muslim women are without actually hearing Muslim women. So now, we are speaking. And now, it’s your turn to listen.”

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Blurb: “In 2016, Mariam Khan read that David Cameron had linked the radicalization of Muslim men to the ‘traditional submissiveness’ of Muslim women. Mariam felt pretty sure she didn’t know a single Muslim woman who would describe herself that way. Why was she hearing about Muslim women from people who were neither Muslim, nor female? Years later the state of the national discourse has deteriorated even further, and Muslim women’s voices are still pushed to the fringes – the figures leading the discussion are white and male. Taking one of the most politicized and misused words associated with Muslim women and Islamophobia, It’s Not About the Burqa is poised to change all that.”

Disclaimer: Mariam Khan is a dear friend but this does not mean that I will not review this book honestly.

Trigger Warnings: emotional abuse, talks of anxiety and depression, islamaphobia.

In our current political climate, and the age of social media, it is impossible to escape the many “divisive” conversations circling in endless news cycles and talk shows. For some of us, people like me, we are able to to turn off the TV, delete our apps and take a break until we feel comfortable enough to recharge and return to them. But Muslim women do not have that privilege. A lot seems to be said about this group of women, and very rarely are they given the platform to speak for themselves.  Activist Mariam Khan decided that it was time for Muslim women to get a say and presents the book It’s Not About The Burqa which is a collection of essays from seventeen Muslim women (herself included) covering many topics for being a Queer Muslim woman, to marriage and divorce, to defying exceptions.

It is not my place to talk on behalf of these women or about their experiences in detail as I cannot relate to these as a white woman. Instead, just like my review of The Good Immigrant, I will share some of the essays that taught me a lot:

“Immodesty Is The Best Policy” by Coco Khan focuses on the modesty expectations for Muslim women. She shares stories about her strict aunt, and her cousin who had to give up dancing because it was seen as “parading herself in front of men.”

“On Representation Of Muslims” by Nafida Bahkar tackles the media representation and how its fine in context of cute Christmas ads and other commercialised aspects, but once those minorities use their voices to get change, they are cast aside. She shines a light on how representation in the media is not as important as dealing with everyday islamaphobia.

“Feminism Needs To Die” by Mariam Khan focuses on the idea of White Feminism (feminism geared more towards issues such as gender pay which has become the overall “known feminism) and how it hurts minorities: that in order for things to change feminism needs to become a more intersectional place for all women.

“Eight Notifications” by Salma Haidrani handles social media when being a journalist and how she had an eight notification rule which caused her much anxiety. If she posted a new article and received eight notifications on Twitter, she knew that it was probably people sending her vitriol.

These are just a handful of the stories that can be found in this collection; many of which will resonate more with other readers than they did with me. But as Mariam Khan says in the introduction: “It’s Not About The Burqa brings together Muslim women’s voices. It does not represent the experiences of every Muslim woman or claim to cover every single issue faced by Muslim women. It’s not possible to create that book. But this book is a start, a movement: we Muslim women are reclaiming our identity.” 

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Posted in Non-Fiction

Becoming – Michelle Obama

“So far in my life I have been a lawyer, a vice president at a hospital, and the director of a non-profit that helps young people build meaningful careers. I’ve been a working class black student at a fancy mostly white college. I’ve been the only woman (the only African-American) in all sorts of rooms. I’ve been a bride, a stressed out mother, a daughter torn up by grief, and until recently I was First Lady of the United States of America.”

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Blurb: “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.”

Unless you’ve been living under rock which has been buried several feet underground, you’ve probably heard of Michelle Obama. For eight years she was First Lady of The United States of America, but as a non-American I only saw bits and pieces of what she used her position to create. So it’s pretty helpful that she decided to write a book all about her life! I always have to listen to non-fiction on Audiobook because I really struggle to read these kind of books otherwise; it also really helps hearing the individual tell their own story and Michelle Obama is really soothing to listen to.

Becoming is split into three sections: “Becoming Me” which lays down her roots and detail the significant moments from her growing years such as her piano teacher and the application advisor at Princeton who told her she didn’t stand a chance of getting in. She talks about the moment when she started to be treated differently due to the colour of her skin along with seemingly small events that she didn’t realise the weight of until she looked back on them with an adult perspective. The next section, “Becoming Us” details how Michelle met Barack Obama, their blossoming relationship, marriage and the family they began to make. The final section details the massive shift in the life of her family when Barack Obama became President of the United States of America. Overall, the book provides the stark reminder that Michelle Obama is just human; a woman trying to raise her child with the best values possible while having to cope with being on the world’s stage during two presidential terms.

I loved reading about the fire that Michelle has in her belly. Everything she does is to fiercely protect her family and her own reputation. She likes to stand on her own feet, not being tied down by her links to other people. She works hard to create new programmes for children and trying to improve health because she can’t bear to sit still doing nothing for eight possible years. She talks candidly about experiencing miscarriage and career sacrifices she makes for her children.

As a non-American, it was really fascinating to learn more about how a presidential run works, voting, campaigning and what happens when a new president enters the White House and what the role of a First Lady actually entails. The most surprising thing to learn from Michelle’s story is actually how much she hates politics. She’s incredibly open about her reservations when Barack started to become interested in politics and how she felt self-conscious when he eventually got into office. Sorry to those really hoping she will, but Michelle shuts down any possibility of herself running for presidency – she really does hate politics.

Listening to the audiobook, there’s something so soothing about Michelle’s voice and the way she talks so eloquently and always has food for thought is incredible. I feel like I’ve walked away from this book with a new outlook on life.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig

“I had already written about my mental health in Reasons To Stay Alive. But the question now was not: why should I stay alive? The question this time was a broader one: how can we live in a mad world without ourselves going mad?”

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Trigger warning: talks of suicide

My first exposure to Matt Haig was when one of his tweets about anxiety appeared on My Twitter timeline. I followed him and have done ever since but it’s only recently that I started to delve into his books.

Notes On A Nervous Planet is the second of haig’s books that I have picked up but it is the first non-fiction of his. In this book, Matt Haig talks candidly about his panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and suicide attempt. While the he bounces around other topics, these in particular can be quite difficult to read so if you feel you may be triggered, take this book at your own pace.

He focuses a lot on how the modern day world seems to demand more from us and that, as a result, our lives have become cluttered and It’s far too easy to have more things to worry about; especially as the development of technology allows us to stay plugged in to the wider world.

I found it very comforting to read about his struggles with anxiety as it reinforced the knowledge that I am not alone in my own anxiety disorder. He offers lots of tips on how to control negative thoughts and worries in a “nervous planet” and offers metaphors of what he feels like to have this illness which just resonated so well and have given me a way to explain to others exactly what it feels like to have my mind.

He also touches on the pressure of men in society from body image to emotional connection to suicide statistics. It was important to see this highlight as to not be “men too” but… well men too.

Notes On A Nervous Planet has provided lots of food for thought and techniques to try for focusing on what I can control and not getting stressed out over the things I can’t.

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Posted in lgbt, Non-Fiction, review

The Bi-Ble – Edited by Lauren Nickodemus & Ellen Desmond

“We have always been there – lost in either side of history, almost always hidden away as straight or gay – but we were there and we are here now, even if you don’t see us.”

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Blurb: “Bisexuals inhabit a liminal space between cultures, often misunderstood or dismissed by the straight and LGBTQ+ communities alike. We are the sexual identity most likely to be closeted, most at risk of mental illness, domestic abuse, and even heart disease — but also the least visible. Now, a selection of intersectional bi voices has come together to share stories, helping our voices be heard and our identities seen. It’s time to stand up and spread the word.”

Trigger Warnings: sexual assault, rape, self-harm and suicide.

The Bi-ble does exactly what it says on the tin: it is a collection of essays from various people who have/still do identify as bisexual and their stories. I entered a giveaway for this book and was incredibly excited when I won. Upon reading every single word it had to offer, I feel elated; I have never felt so validated in my life.

While I seem very happy and open about my sexuality now, it has been a long road to get to this point. I’ve gathered my own fair share of stories from: being accused of being exclusionary for only being attracted to men and women, to being asked if I’m now straight because my long-term partner is the opposite sex, asked for threesomes, being told I’m more likely to cheat. Frankly, if you think of the stereotypes associated with bisexuality, I’ve been subject to most of them. And with the LGBT+ community often spewing some of the hatred, it took a long time for me to even go to a pride event for fear that I would be kicked out for not belonging there.

The contributors in this book share their own stories from knowingly using the bisexual label as a stepping stone to coming out as gay, to how sexual assault is not viewed the same when the aggressor and victim are both women, to trans bisexuals. It is a truly amazing collection of people and yet the editors involved are humble enough to state that this book is not reflective of everyone’s experiences.

As I mentioned at the start, it’s been a long journey to the confident bisexual woman I am now, but this collection reminded me that I am not alone, and that everything I have felt and currently do feel are completely valid. That it is okay to feel like this and that it is not me at fault but the greater society. While horrible to see so many negative experiences (as well as a lot of positive ones) I felt like a weight had been lifted to know that I haven’t gone through it alone.

Another amazing thing about The Bi-ble is that it’s crowdfunded. Meaning that people believed in its worth enough to make it a reality and that is its own form of magic.

If you’re bisexual yourself, or just looking to learn more from others’ lives, this is a great place to start.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

When They Call You A Terrorist – Patrisse Khan-Cullors

“We are not terrorists. I am not a terrorist. I am Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac. I am a survivor. I am stardust.”

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Blurb: “A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America—and the co-founding of a movement that demands justice for all in the land of the free.”

Note: I am fully aware of my position of privilege and that there are some aspects it’s not my place to discuss. If you know of any own voices reviews, please let me know and I will add them here.

I discovered this book after Patrisse Khan-Cullors was a special guest on the bookish podcast Mostly Lit and I found her incredibly compelling to listen to. When she read a snippet, I knew I needed to hear her story in full and, of course, I decided to go with the audiobook as I feel this is the best way for me to consume non-fiction.

When They Call You A Terrorist is split into two parts: the first focuses on Patrisse’s life growing up, while the second documents what led to her becoming a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. I expected it to be centred on the latter but as I continued to listen, I became so invested in Patrisse’s life. She talks about growing up in her neighbourhood, her family and how she started to notice particular things as she got older such as how the white girls at her school face no reprimands for smoking weed whereas she ends up in handcuffs. She openly addressees how frequently people she knows are stopped by the police because they happened to match the description of someone who robbed a store, and if the same sort of thing happens to white people. For example: “how many skinny white blonde men have been pulled aside simply because they matched a description?”

Her brother, Monti, forms a lot of the narrative which I found incredibly difficult to read. Frankly, the treatment he’s received is absolutely disgusting and just highlights how much of a stigma there is around mental illness.

As someone who has seen the movement of Black Lives Matter from the media side and conversations online, it was really interesting to see the “behind the scenes” of how the movement started and grew to something more than could possibly be imagined. What I took away from this book, besides the important discussions on diversity, is the reminder that Patrisse Khan-Cullors is just a person. When you think of big movements fighting for change and hear the name of/see the person leading at the front, it’s easy to forget that they are a real person with feelings and life experiences just like everyone else. She talks candidly about struggling with her sexuality, loss, and growing up.

The phrase “it’s a difficult read but it’s so important” is thrown around a lot in refers to books dealing with current events. But if you’re looking for just one to read, I highly recommend you listen to Patrisse’s story.

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized

Audiobook Of The Month | When They Call You A Terrorist

If you’re wondering “but wait, Charlotte, you’ve already posted your audiobook of the month!” Then you are absolutely right. It turns out that I should stop pushing myself to try other genres out when I know I don’t like them. So I refunded The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet and set about finding a new book to replace it. I listen to a weekly book podcast called Mostly Lit and the guest on one of their episodes was Patrisse Khan-Cullors who is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. She talked in great detail about a lot of things in the episode and mentioned her book, When They Call You A Terrorist and read a passage from it.

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I’ve come to learn that the best way to consume non-fiction is by listening to the audiobook because the reader is able to hear the story, and when it comes to listening to something as personal as someone’s life, it can make all of the difference.

As you can tell from the title, When They Call You A Terrorist documents the lives of Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele and the movement in which the individuals would go on to be labelled “terrorists.”

I am 11% into the audiobook, down to the fact I’ve exchanged my credit so late in the month. But it is only short so it’s likely I’ll get it finished before my credit renews.

The most terrifying thing about this book so far is that Patrisse reels off names and places so easily: names like Trayvon Martin and Ferguson. But each of those names and places she refers to further illustrate the points she makes of systematic racism, is not just a name/place or a statistic. Every single one of them refers to a person who lost their life, and a community that was left reeling, and yet those left behind are made to feel like they are the ones in the wrong.

It’s hard-hitting, emotional, but I feel one of the most important books I will read this year.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Feel Good 101 – Emma Blackery

“If you’re able to take away just one thing for this book that gives you the confidence to make a decision that benefits your life, then I’m glad to have written it.”

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Blurb: “In Feel Good 101, YouTube’s most outspoken star Emma Blackery is finally putting pen to paper to (over)share all her hard-learned life lessons. From standing up to bullies and bad bosses to embracing body confidence and making peace with her brain, Emma speaks with her trademark honesty about the issues she’s faced – including her struggles with anxiety and depression. This is the book Emma wishes she’d had growing up . . . and she’s written it for you”

I have always been skeptical of books written by YouTubers; especially when many of them are life stories written by people the same age as me. When Emma made a video expressing her distaste for a number of YouTubers signing book deals, it was a relief to see a big content creator breaking what had almost become a norm. Which made it an even bigger shock when she took a U-Turn a few months later and announced that she was writing a book.

Feel Good 101 started off as a series on Emma’s channel offering advice on various topics affecting young people, so it seemed only natural for that it to expand into a full book. Emma covers everything you can think of from school, music, mental health, dealing with failure, being bullied and the bully, and of course how she started her channel. It’s very similar to Carrie Hope Fletcher’s book All I Know Now in the sense that rather than attempting to be a self-help book (as Emma frequently makes it clear throughout, this book alone will not solve your problems), each segment is backed up by real life experiences. Emma doesn’t claim to have all of the answers and it’s that flawed, human element that makes this book a pleasure to read.

At first I was unsure whether to pick this up; for the reasons stated earlier. But when I heard there was an audiobook, I decided to use my audible credit. If you’re yet to buy Feel Good 101, I highly recommend the audiobook because it was like listening to one long video and held my attention a lot more than I think reading the book would have because you’re hearing Emma read her story. Oh, and there’s the additional bonus of an interview with YA author Holly Bourne if you opt for the audiobook.

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Posted in feminism, lgbt, Non-Fiction, review

The Gender Games – Juno Dawson

“Transitioning is not going to mystically solve all the worries in my life. I will still be skint. I will still get lonely sometimes. I will still be driven and overambitious. I’ll still be jealous and competitive. But I will be a woman. I will be Juno. I will be righted. I will be me.”

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Blurb: “Gender isn’t just screwing over trans people, it’s messing with everyone. From little girls who think they can’t be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment. From exclusionist feminists to ‘alt-right’ young men. From men who can’t cry to the women who think they shouldn’t. As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society’s expectations of gender – and what we can do about it.

Juno Dawson – primarily known for her Young Adult books – announced her transition in 2015 and was met with tremendous support from her readers, the book community and her publisher (who have since gone to lengths to reprint her books under her new name). Following this announcement – though I feel that isn’t the right word to use – Juno went on to talk publicly about her transition in a monthly Glamour Column. I’ve asked her in the past if she was likely to write a book either featuring a trans character or about her own experience of transitioning. She said yes.

I will admit I expected The Gender Games to be all about her experience of transitioning; and doing so in the public eye. Which it is in part, though it focuses on the bigger problem of gender throughout.

Gender is personified, built up to be the creature in the dark ruining everyone’s fun. She talks about growing into a gay man and how she believes that was the label that fit until society developed and “transgender” became more commonly known. She acknowledges the privilege she still had as a gay man when it came to her publishing career; once she compared it to her female counterparts and how they are many spaces for young LGBT people online with this likes of Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley racking up millions of views and subscribers along with the ever-growing success of Ru Paul’s Drag Race yet none of them are recognised in the so-called “mainstream media.” She goes into details of how men can benefit from feminism if it wasn’t seen as such a dirty word and things such as “you throw like a girl” aren’t helping anyone. She brings in contributors such as Sex & Relationships Youtuber Hannah Witton and drag queen Alaska to illustrate how universal some experiences are.

For me, I learnt a lot about the importance of not taking things at face value. I follow Juno avidly on all her social media and have experienced a sort of pride watching her publically grow but it seemed to lean towards the positive. In The Gender Games the reader really gets to see what goes on behind those glamour columns and Instagram stories. The reader gets to see the hardships, the abuse, the state of our NHS when it comes to dealing with gender, and just how isolating it can be.

She talks about how the LGBT community itself is not perfect and highlights the important stigma around bisexuals – something I have sadly experienced myself -and how a change needs to happen within for those on the outside to take anyone seriously.

Another important factor is that Juno acknowledges she is not perfect. She is aware of her privilege and quick to declare that she knows not everyone had the same resources available to them. She mentions that she messes up too and it’s important to apologise and work on being better. Which is something that I’m sure all of us can do.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

“It’s possible that in ten years, every word in here will send me into fits of humiliated paralysis. But the crazy wants out. Let’s do this.”

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Blurb: “Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.”

Like probably many others, I discovered Anna Kendrick through Twilight and Pitch Perfect. I’m not really that person who is a fan of a celebrity to the extent where I’m willing to read a book about their lives, but there’s something so down-to-earth about the way that Anna Kendrick presents herself during interviews that I am willing to watch literally anything she’s involved in.

In Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna discusses fashion, sex , relationships and her path into acting (which started as a child in theatre – something I didn’t actually know). She talks about what actually goes on behind the scenes at those flashy award ceremonies and how, even though you may star in really successful films, you might not actually earn that much.

One aspect I really like was that the photos from key points in Anna’s life were sprinkled throughout the chapters rather than being lumped together in the middle of the book. It felt like the photos being with the corresponding stories Anna shared really added something special and helped me get more immersed in the memories she was sharing.

Overall it’s an honest, insightful read with a sprinkling of Anna’s witty humour that might just have you laughing out loud.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review, young adult

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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