Top ten favourite books

I love writing so therefore I love books. If this equation makes no sense to you, you make no sense to me.

I love hearing about people’s favourite books. They tell you something about them, also they are a great recommendation source. Often, picking up a book is scary because it could be rubbish, or insanely placid. When they come with a reference, you feel slightly more assured.

I’ve been considering what counts as my favourite books. They’ll hopefully change as I devour more titles. Reading has improved my writing, and I always want my writing to get better, stronger, clearer. Additonally, its less punishing than writing, as often it feels like pulling teeth. Reading is relaxation, entertainment and the best way to spend time when the wifi has died.

I’ve racked my brain to decide, until the next book comes along that knocks it off, my ten favourite books. Some of these titles, I read this year, only once, and some I’ve read again and again since primary school.

So here goes…

  1. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

I love glamour and I love funny, and this book marries the two concepts together perfectly. Bianca Del Rio recommended it me, via an interview with the BFI about her favourite movie; the adaptation of this book, starring the ever excellent Rosalind Russell. It manages to be both light and airy, with zaps of poignant social commentary.

  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Attwood

This book was my first foray into the wonderful world of Margaret Attwood, and reading for pleasure post my degree studies. To give a synopsis would be giving major spoilers, however it’s a long, multifaceted period piece, sweeping over nearly the entire of the 20th century, and is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

David Sedaris might be one of the biggest inspirations, when it comes to both my real life and in my writing. How he manages to be so cruel, so comedic but so caring towards his fellow man is an fine-tuned art form. This book makes me cry with laughter, and things that do that ought to be held dear.

  • The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

This book makes you experience a rainbow of emotions; sadness, anger, happiness and so many others. It is most definitely a celebration of female relationships and a depiction of race in America post slavery, pre 1960s.

  • The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Harry Potter fans credit JK Rowling’s series as making them into a reader; Meg Cabot’s royal series made me into one. Great personal pain stems from Michael Moscovitz for many reasons; for both not being real and not being in love with me.

  • Slouching Towards Bethelehem by Joan Didion

This book is reason why, and what seems countless other people, long to be a journalist. This collection of essays is a seminal text for a reason. Highlights include the titular essay and the matter of fact On Self Respect, and if I was to get a seemingly lame tattoo of anything it would be a quote from that.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Another childhood find that still lingers as one my all time favourites. I loved, and still do, the story of Anna and her family fleeing the rise of Nazis in Germany, based on Kerr’s own experience

  • The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

This book makes me grateful that I’m a product of my time; I’m a highly educated woman, with no material need to be legally tied to a man. On the flip side, it also reminds me of how much work, and conscious effort one must place not be a Joan Castleman.

  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

I gobbled this book at work in one day. It’s such a heartbreaking, heartwarming and honest depiction of living in the chaos of being a child of an alcoholic, reflecting the good, the bad and the enduring hope one needs.

  1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This book paints such a vivid portrait of London, which is something Zadie is justifiably astounded for. It’s hilarious, satirical and intelligent. The writer is in me is jealous it was her debut, while it seems so seasoned.

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Lise Meitner – women and their roles

“Behind every great man is a woman hovering in the shadows” is a frequently uttered statement. This is not a phrase used to describe Lise Meitner. The sun shone directly on her. Otto Hahn’s winning the Nobel prize for their work on nuclear fission shoved her under an umbrella. Lise Meitner’s rich life follows the long tradition of women being thrown to the wayside, their contributions to great works discounted.

This story made me think of Meg Woltizer’s 2003 book The Wife. A fictionalised version of the Nobel Prize for Literature is won by Joe Castleman, a man who would be nothing without his wife Joan, a woman once, decades ago, captured by his apparent genius as a well to do WASP princess studying at Smith College in the 1950s, with his Brooklyn accented James Joyce quoting ways. A budding writer herself, she was warned of the irrelevant, unread fate she was to expect. More about their marriage is unwrapped as the story progresses, and secrets revealed shake the certification of his creativity. Their story appears, on the surface, a product of their time,

but the book haunted me because of how untrue that notion is. Growing up, and still now, I have witnessed bright, articulate and cruelly underdeveloped women forgo their full potential for men. Maintaining the domestic sphere is still a responsibility for women. Despite the trails left blazing, Joan’s full contribution is blanked by the establishment, just like Lise’s. Of course, their situations are different so are the reasons why, but each figure faces a institutional, entrenched kind of gendered ignorance.

Although, embarrassingly enough, as a promising young woman myself, finding her way, I get the appeal of Joan’s presented role: the idea of finding a man, who’ll pluck you out of the crowd, cite you as his muse, devote his entire acceptance speech to you. Realising this, fumes of self-disgust choke me. To be this kind of woman, to be a care giver, a support system or a playmaker, is not a failing. Often, they are a necessity. Personally, I have reaped benefit, comfort from these figures. For the sake of ease and circumstance, my mother took on traditional feminine roles, thus enabling my father to peak professionally. Perhaps, due to knowing nothing else, I cannot attest to an alternative, but my mother’s delay in intellectual development seems to have benefitted mine.

While this soliloquy may seem like an almighty digression, as Lise Meitner’s story is not that of an aspiring suburbanite, as a case study, there exist parallels. Both hold varying truths about the systemic erasure of women, a failure to be fully visible, a complex human in all her glory. However, the variety of blockages are vast and complicated. These are highly private, personal choices, and require nuanced cultural overhaul. Dialogues have been taking place for centuries concerning this. But liberation from the pale, male and stale order of business is not going to be simple, to pretend otherwise is another injustice. This fight is not new; shields waving in battle. Each generation contributing their own plan of attack.

In Lise’s situation, the frustration is heightened because gender seems to be her only real, quantifiable barrier. Yes, one could attribute the lack of recognition to sociopolitical factors. Aggression against Jews was reaching its violent peak across Europe. Austrian anti-Semitism forced her to flee to Sweden, a place she adopted as her new home. But, in the end, as other forgotten female figures in history, there was a man blocking her view.