Archive for June, 2011

Halfway house…

I’ve been doing all sorts of busy things lately, but frustratingly, nothing I can blog about. I made a rather wonderful birthday cake and forgot to take photos. I’ve finished a big crochet project but haven’t forced myself to deal with all the ends. I’m halfway through a knitting project – and have been for about a week because I’ve not knitted a stitch since I hit the halfway point. We’re doing all sorts of things in the garden but it’s still all very much ‘in progress’.

Once I get over the hump, I’ll have lots to share, but for the moment it’s a case of keeping my head down and just plodding on.

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Oh, look. I’m goin’ all feminist on yo’ asses again.

But this was too good not to share. Beyonce’s new song is about how ‘Girls Run the World’. This woman takes issue with her premise. I love her.

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100 Greatest Non-Fiction books

as chosen by the Guardian, can be found here.

It’s an interesting list. Ususally, on lists of fiction books, I’ve read at least half, more usually at least two thirds, of the list. In this case, nothing like it.

Here’s what I’ve read:

The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes (1980)
The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich (1950)
Ways of Seeing by John Berger (1972)

(i.e. all of the ‘art’ selection – and almost entirely due to my history of art studies at university)

From the biography section:

Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari (1550)
The Diaries of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys (1825)

None of the culture or environment section. And more alarmingly for a history graduate, none of the history section, apart from bits of the Hobsbawm. (But then, I was a medievalist, not a classical historian, nor a modern one, so not much of my period is covered. I do, however, now intend to read The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson.) Nothing in journalism, literature or mathematics, either.

In the memoir section, only The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947). I haven’t read the recommended music book, nor any of the philosophy.

I pick up a bit in politics:

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)

I’ve also read bits of The Rights of Man and The Communist Manifesto.

From science, I’ve read Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.

From society

The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pisan (1405)
Letters Concerning the English Nation by Voltaire (1734)
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)

And from travel: Venice by Jan Morris (1960)

So, in total, 15% of the books on the list (plus some selections from a few others).

Are there any books on the list you would recommend?
Are there any you would have added?

I would make a case for Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem in the mathematics section. I also think Cellini’s autobiography is worthy of a place (although it might be generous to describe it as ‘non fiction’).

In history, I’d nominate Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, and Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. In biography, I’d go for Claire Tomalin’s book on Pepys, The Unequalled Self. In journalism, I’d pick Hugo Young’s Supping with the Devils.

There are bound to be others that spring to mind – but that will do for now. What do you think?

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Weekword: Balance

Elena chose this week’s word, and it is a good one for me at the moment. I’ve been feeling a bit out of kilter lately, as I’ve mentioned before. I’ve taken a bit of a step back from the internet – less time on forums, not much blogging – because there’s been so much stuff in my head that I haven’t really been able to take much in. We moved to Wales from central London 4 years ago, and since then, we’ve carved ourselves a little niche. House, garden, children, setting up new businesses, making friends. Everything ticking along.

And then, all at once, things started changing. We dug the garden up. We started reorganising the house. Our work was hit by the recession. I had a bit of a physical low period. And these changes seemed to trigger a phase of feeling off-balance. Mr S&S has been away working in the US for the last week and a half. We’ve never spent more than a week apart in our entire relationship, so it’s been strange not to have him here.

But now we’ve been apart a while, I’m entering a new phase of missing him. I’m not focusing on his absence, but planning for his presence. Thinking about the things I’m missing about him (and the things I can’t do without him!) and what we’ll do when he’s back. Having him gone has shown me the shape of the gap he leaves. And having the break in the routine, and some time alone, has made me re-evaluate the changes going on in our lives. So I think I’m slowly returning to equilibrium and finding my balanced centre.

I can’t find a suitable picture, so I’m sharing with you a photo I took during a walk a few weeks ago. The bluebells are almost all gone now, but they will come again.

Pop over to Elena’s blog to see who else is playing.

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This blows my mind. And the last sentence makes me cry.

I’m awed by the power of human curiosity – and our ingenuity. It’s simultaneously humbling and uplifting.

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I know, I don’t really use this blog for matters political, but in the recent discussions on rape and the ‘Slut Walks’ there is something that’s been said, over and over, and it’s getting on my nerves.

‘Of course women should be able to wear what they want,’ the line goes, ‘but if a woman dresses provocatively, then she can’t complain if she gets attention.’

Um, no. But ‘attention’ equals being looked at, maybe a compliment, or someone buying you a drink or asking you out. Rape is not ‘attention’. Rape is rape. Implying that a man is unable to see something or someone he wants and suppress his desires in the face of reluctance is damn insulting to men. Men aren’t animals. They’re not all helpless victims of their lack of self control and it’s facile, not to say extremely rude, to suggest they are.

And then the second point, the one that never fails to make me seethe, is the ‘unlocked door’ analogy. No, of course a woman in a short skirt isn’t to blame if she’s assaulted (Oh, thanks!) any more than someone who leaves their door unlocked when they go out is to blame if they’re burgled, but they have to accept that they didn’t do all they could to prevent the crime.

To which I say ‘bunkum’. And indeed ‘phooey’. It’s a pervasive analogy and it’s totally ridiculous. Women aren’t inanimate objects like empty houses. A woman in a short skirt isn’t just a body in a short skirt. She has a voice, and that voice can say no. The idea behind this analogy is that anything the woman says or does (saying no, crying, trying to escape, fighting back) cannot be expected to alter the impression given by her clothes. Really? I’m astonished anyone is happy to argue this line.

Really, the unlocked door analogy only makes sense if it goes like this:

If I’m in my house and the door is unlocked, a burglar might think that this is an opportunity worth taking. He* comes in. I see him and ask him what the hell he thinks he’s doing and tell him to get out. He doesn’t. He overpowers me (physically or with a threat of violence) and burgles my house.

He doesn’t only have to see the unlocked door in order to burgle me. He has to ignore my telling him to leave, and he has to physically assault or threaten me.

So, let’s have no more of the ‘unlocked door’ analogy, please. It’s ridiculous.

Also, it’s a red herring. What you wear has little or nothing to do with your likelihood of being raped. Being raped isn’t about being sexually desirable, it’s about being subjugated. Rape is not about sex, it’s about power. Witness the recent allegations about systematic rape of women in Libya, among many other examples of rape as a war crime. This fixation on the stranger rape of a woman in a minidress is a sideshow. Most women who are raped are wearing jeans, or pyjamas, and are raped by someone they know. Seeking to pin rape on clothes is an exercise in victim blaming, pure and simple.

Right. That’s off my chest. I’ll be back with some flowers or knitting or something soon, no doubt.

*Or she, I suppose.

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Weekword: Sacred

I didn’t know what to say about this word, chosen by John. I thought and thought but couldn’t come up with anything that wasn’t really obvious or completely trite, or both.

Recently, my parents asked me to take all my stuff out of their attic. Which was not unreasonable, given that I left home fifteen years ago. This afternoon I’ve been going through it, deciding what to keep, what to throw away, what to give to charity. I’ve been though enormous stacks of A-Level notes, papers from committees I left when I was nineteen, trinkets and cuttings and old clothes and books. And several box files of letters and photos and cards. Piles of letters from people I’ve known for years, and more poignantly, letters from I’ve lost touch with. I found a photo of me and a university boyfriend, in which we look impossibly young, and a pile of letters from my first boyfriend – including the one in which he dumped me. (In his defence, he was only 18 and we lived 200 miles apart). I look at those letters from people who, at the time, I loved dearly and thought I’d be friends with forever, but either by drifting or deliberate severing, we’re no longer in touch. It’s the way of the world, of course. Many of the cards from long-ago friends just make me feel a little nostalgic, but others – well, others have made me sad that I was so careless with my friendships when I was young. Maybe this is trite and obvious after all, but friendship is sacred.

Please go and see John for the other participants. I’m off to hit Google.

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Here’s a list of the books I’ve read over the past couple of months. Reviews are on the Bookshelf page.

As ever, comments, suggestions, whatever, welcome!

One Day by David Nicholls
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
The Dressmaker by Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
To Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn
Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830 by Rictor Norton
Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas
Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas
The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt
Deep Country by Neil Ansell
Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas
Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations by John Diamond
Decline and Fall by Chris Mullin

Some great books here. I think from the list I’d single out Decline and Fall, Deep Country and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as my recommendations, but there are a few others that I enjoyed almost as much.

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