A Month in Books: November

I hope you’re enjoying the festive period! Apologies for the slight radio silence, I’ve been on holiday (more on that) and then busy wrapping everything up for Christmas. Double apologies for the lack of photos in this post, curse of the early dark evenings.

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman (2014, Harper Business)
I’ve been keen to read The Confidence Code for quite a while, as confidence/self-belief is definitely the skill or personality trait that I probably struggle with the most in a professional setting. The premise of the book is how women can access the ‘code’ that men apparently access with ease within the working environment. Kay and Shipman explore the role of confidence in success through really interesting interviews with women (and men) in a variety of fields, and also include some things around genetic predictors of confidence that I had not encountered before. Whilst a lot of what Kay and Shipman’s conclusions and examples aren’t exactly brand new information; there is something comforting in seeing it written down, and also feeling not alone in tackling confidence issues in the workplace. My only real issue with The Confidence Code is that it suffers from the ‘Lean In’ problem; in that many of the problems are placed at the feet of women themselves for not being brave enough, rather than the wider system being prejudiced against them.

Not Working by Lisa Owens (2016, Picador)
Not Working is the story of Claire Flannery, a twenty-something who walks out of her job in order to find herself; but she just succeeds in losing herself further. I would say that this book is similar to Bridget Jones, but with considerably more angst. There are some very good and funny observations about living in London, and having had my own work crisis and friends who’ve experienced similar there were moments that I really recognised. I also loved Owens’ portrayal of Claire’s boyfriend Luke, who is incredibly supportive of her, despite her becoming increasing convinced that he’s being unfaithful. This does lead to a pretty major problem with the book, in that Claire becomes increasing unlikeable and self-destructive as it progresses, and it’s difficult to stay on her side. The novel is clearly dabbling with serious issues such as mental health and abuse, but Owens doesn’t really develop these properly, and they seem like bolt-ons to the plot as opposed to really important moments in Claire’s life.

Mad by Chloe Esposito (2017, Dutton Books)
Mad is, quite simply, a completely bonkers book. It follows Alvie, a deeply unlikeable protaganist who spends 90% of her time drunk or having sex and avoiding any kind of responsibility. Her much more together twin Beth is married to a gorgeous, wealthy, Italian man and is apparently living the dream in rural Italy. When Alvie gets sacked for watching porn at work, and thrown out of her home for not paying rent, she decides to finally visit her sister, his husband and their baby in their idyllic home in Italy. However, the holiday descends into murder, crime and lots (and lots) of sex. Mad won’t win any awards for writing, and Alvie is hardly a character that you root for but it was an endlessly page-turning experience (though I wouldn’t say any of the twists are surprising) and I’m actually pretty keen to pick up the second book in the trilogy to see what on earth Alvie gets up to next.

Autumn by Ali Smith (2016, Penguin)
Reading How to be Both helped me break my phobia of Ali Smith, and I’m glad, as Autumn is a beautiful book. The start of a quartet based in the contemporary UK, it’s set in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum and follows two individuals. There’s Emma, a university staff member currently returned to her childhood home staying with her Mum, and Daniel who is approaching 100, and who lived next door when she was growing up. Some of the writing in this is just beautiful, and often humorous, especially a passage featuring the unique comedy of the post office. The unconventional relationship between Emma and Daniel is also really well-explored,l his influence on her development and exploration of cultural ideas is great. However, this does feel like a book that is ‘smart’, and whilst I am here for authors not treating their readers like idiots, there were definitely passages where I felt completely lost and I did wonder a little who Smith was writing for. I will definitely be picking up Winter when that comes out in paperback though.

Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015, Spiegel & Grau)
I have been so excited to read Between the World & Me since I finally purchased a copy earlier this year. And boy, did it not disappoint in the slightest. This non-fiction piece is written as a letter to Coates’ son, explaining his experience and feelings on living in America as an African-American man. It’s a brilliantly written work which, rightly, often made me feel uncomfortable but mostly angry at the appalling events that Coates has lived through, and that black Americans continue to live through. Really recommended, and I’m very much looking forward to reading We Were Eight Years in Power when I can get my hands on a copy.

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (2008, Faber & Faber)
Whilst Days Without End was not a favourite read, I did really like Sebastian Barry’s writing and so was keen to read more of his writing. The Secret Scripture jumped out as it was being made into a film starring my boyfriend  Aidan Turner. The film has been and gone in cinemas, but I’ve finally got around to reading this. It’s the story of Roseanne McNulty, who as an elderly woman has been in a mental hospital for many years, and whose doctor is finally unpicking the reason for her admission. Its a story that looks at class and the place of women in society.  I feel like the story of women being deemed crazy for acting outside of the norm is one that is well known, but Barry does a great job of telling Roseanne’s story. It feels very based in the rural towns of Ireland, and the characters who populate the area as well as the scenery itself does feel very real. At the same time, did feel a bit more distant than I would have liked from the story; although this may well have been an intentional move by Barry. I did also feel that the story was tied up a little too neatly, which felt a little unnecessary.

Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett (2016, Harper Wave)
I was loaned Feminist Fight Club from a colleague after both she and another friend read it and both loved it. The aim of Bennett’s book is to equip women with the skills to tackle misogyny in the workplace, and instruction on how to lift other women up as opposed to dragging them down. It’s written in a pretty informal manner, which makes it very readable and approachable, but occasionally this can get in the way of the importance of the content. On the other hand, Bennett does show an awareness of the issues faced by women of colour (unlike a lot of feminist business books), and I liked how solution-focused the book is, with a scale of actions depending on how confident you feel in taking action.

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