The book Brexiteers should be reading…

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2017 and still there are marches for refugees to be accepted

The B-word. The British Exit. We all dread it now, eyes flicker over headlines over delays and arguments caused by it, before reluctantly scanning the article- our livelihoods will depend on the outcome of it, on a global spectrum.

The racism and xenophobia that the fateful referendum has unpeeled in British society is horrifying. In the preceding days after the vote, there were over one hundred recorded incidents of hate crime, all unashamedly open. Brexit had revealed in many Britons an underlying fear and hatred for immigrants, refugees and people who don’t fit into the British stereotype. It gave them an excuse to be ‘patriotic’, if their idea of patriotism was to threaten people unlike them. Many talk about the supposedly apparent ‘taking of resources’ and demanding to send them ‘back where they came from’, unsatisfied at the answer that they did indeed live in Stoke. To have any skin colour apart from white, to have any heritage apart from fully British to the dawn of time, suddenly made people targets. I understand that firstly a large number of people voted to remain and moreover some people who did vote Brexit did so because of other reasons, but I can’t help but notice how society has transformed in the days since.

Perhaps it was cognitive biases of the prediction market, leading people to believe that we were to remain until the last moment, or maybe it was just people waiting for a confirmation of their beliefs amongst others in society, but the surge in hate crime ever since Brexit has revealed one thing: there needs to be more information given to those who have unreasonable prejudices against those in society who are in the minority. Hence The Good Immigrant, whose blurb is simply; “What’s it like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you unless you win an olympic gold medal or a national baking competition?” It is a powerful selection of essays from 21 authors who are black, asian or minority ethnic in Britain today. From an actress who was told that she’d only be cast as a terrorist’s wife to the westernised evolution of the word ‘namaste’, it brings into perspective the lives of those who often are most targeted today. And actually, even if you do win the famous Great British Bake Off, as Nadiya Hussain says, she still “expect(s) to be shoved or pushed or verbally abused, because it happens, it’s happened for years.” Despite the blurb, it turns even if the famous aren’t even exempt.

It was edited and complied by Nikes Shukla, who has commented ‘I’m really sick of talking about diversity because I feel like we were beyond that conversation decades ago and we’re still having it and it doesn’t move on. People throw knee-jerk reaction panel events and money at diversity so we can all sit and talk about it rather than actually doing anything that has any long-term benefits.” I think that this book has long term benefits, though: it was the winner of the Books Are My Bag readers’ choice award 2016 and has sold nearly 10k copies in paperback. It challenges the idea that many from the BAME community say they feel about the imperative they have to prove they deserve a place in the UK, that they are worth it: an example of this is BAME actors. Representation is an issue, as Darren Chetty in his essay pointed out: “According to the 2011 Census, inner east London boroughs have populations that are somewhere between 45-71 per cent BAME. So, how many of the top 50 most impactful characters in this programme (EastEnders), set in the East End of London and aiming for realism, were BAME? None.” It’s a shocking but representative fact of the media today; it’s why questions like Could Iris Elba really be the next James Bond are circling, because it seems like he wouldn’t get the role on merit alone. No, people have to have a reason for being on the stage, because ‘being quite good’ just doesn’t cut it for some people.

Well, those type of people should read this book, or simply those who are interested in an enlightening, humorous and illustrative read.

I can thoroughly recommend The Good Immigrant.

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Review: A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington

23rd of April 2017. A massive day for some, it’s when this year’s London Marathon will be taking place, and amongst the tens of thousands, Chrissie Wellington will be competing. She may be one anonymous figure to you, but her fastest marathon time is 2:44:35, which is impressive enough. Especially as that was run immediately after a 3.8km swim and 180.2km bike. You may not have heard of her, but you should have, considering that Wellington is a 4x Ironman world champion and is regarded as one of the best female triathletes in history.

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Reading her autobiography, A Life Without Limits, was inspiring because it shows how determination can almost force results into existence. Wellington won her first world title only 9 months after leaving her day job, and a highly prestigious one at that, as a civil servant in Whitehall. She became a professional athlete at the age of 30, and this is incredible not only because it defies the idea that you have to be committed to a single discipline from a young age, but because in reality Wellington had no real background in sport either. This is one of the many reasons that I’ve come to respect Wellington; she had the security of an established, well paying job, yet she took a risk. She became an athlete and entered a brutal, competitive world in which she was chronically unfamiliar. But she prospered.

If you’re looking for any reason to read this book, it’s this: it explains the history of an athlete like no other, and not just an athlete, but a genuinely compassionate and interesting person. Wellington’s career includes Nepal working on aid, as well as triathlon, making it fascinating to read if you’re looking for an insight on their rural culture, or even as a civil servant.

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This is a book about triathlon, true. Yet it’s also about so much more; about aspects of her career that not only prevent monotony from the reader’s point of view, but also show that the physical attributes of someone can be just the beginning of someone’s personality, not their defining feature. In a book I’ve reviewed previously, Swim Bike Run by the Brownlees, featured there was basically just a skimmed version of their childhood, training sessions and races. A Life Without Limits, on the other hand, is much more varied.

If you want something that is inspirational, a book that will motivate you to achieve more (Wellington set an ironman world record time with shingles, after all) than you need to look no further.

Have you tried a triathlon before? What’s your favourite sport, besides reading marathons obviously 🙂 ? What’s the best sports (auto)biography you’ve read? Do comment below and let me know your thoughts!

TBR Tuesday- My Top 5

The average reader has at least 65 books on their TBR. I am no exception. It seems that every time I even look into a bookshop window (it just proves how good Waterstones is at promotion!), it gets much, much longer. Stops at the library are dangerous. Books on display, all waiting to taken, except when you do crumple into the temptation, they merely end up sitting in your shelf accusingly because you have no time to read them, given that you have at least 10 other library books you need to read first. The result? Awkward chats with the librarians, asking for ‘just one more extension’ on the book, when really you know it’s not going to be read in two weeks, is it? Or, you bring it back at the end of the time sheepishly, and when asked “How did you find it?” you dip your head in embarrassment and say “Oh, well, it was on that shelf over there and I just saw it as I walked in” and scuttle away before you can feel their quizzical gaze on you. You once (when asked) pretended that the plot was original indeed, however it was, all things considered, an anticlimax. Why did I think it was an anticlimax- is that what you’ve just asked? Well, although you thought a knowing shrug and nod of the head was a sufficient answer to that one, they clearly did not.

So, here is what’s recently joined the party of my TBR, which is turning more and more into a rowdy Glastonbury mosh pit than anything else, with books battling it , roughly pushing each other out the way for the coveted number one spot.

I will start with Number 5 (just to add to the suspense) :

5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred has limited options in her society, The Republic of Gilead. The dominating one: have children. If she doesn’t, then she’ll be punished and live an exiled life in a wasteland, destined to die of radiation sickness. Yet can fear of the law repress Offred’s dangerous desire, desire which does not conform to the rules?

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I’ll admit it. I’ve never read any of Atwood’s books, and it’s high time that I start. In a time of such political upheaval, this didn’t seem like such a poor choice to help me reflect upon events, either.

4. Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre

Quite Ugly One Morning is a humorous murder mystery set in Scotland, with a sassy journalist, Jack Parlabane, for a protagonist. He unwillingly finds a corpse and then willingly shoulders his way into the centre of this investigation. Filled with (apparently) remarkable dialogue and wonderful characters.

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It will be funny. It will (hopefully) have people making haggis to perfection. It will be a change from the ‘serious’ literary novels. Or so I hope- but I’ll have to read it first to find out.

3.  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

An amalgamation of science-fiction and fantasy short stories, often finding inspiration in the most mundane of subjects.
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You know me. Any excuse to read short stories… especially since this collection has had overwhelmingly positive feedback. So why restrain myself? (I think somewhere the title ‘The Paper Menagerie’ also resonated with me, because it is too similar to The Glass Menagerie, a play I found amazing, and therefore some biased link was made!)

2. American Street by Ibi Zobo

Fabiola travels from Port-au-Prince to Detroit, in search of that old Golden Dream, and her American cousins. But once her mother is detained in U.S immigration, Fabiola not only has to navigate the high school politics alone, but how to deal with America’s attitude  towards her arrival, too.
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It seems like a relevant novel to read right now, with the immigrant crisis at its peak. But also, after recently reading A.A.Gill’s essay on Port-au-Prince, I’m interested to explore a part of that city from another perspective, even if it is a fictional one. American Street seems like it will be a proper young adult novel, one that I can truly enjoy, and be a wonderful example for the genre.

1.Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.

Frank and April Wheeler have everything, everything that a couple in the 1950s could want. A new house, two small children, talent. Of course, April never hoped that she’d be a housewife, and Frank never hoped that his job would be so monotonous, but they know that these are sacrifices for the great reward. The reward of a happier relationship and that lifestyle always just beyond reach. But is it? Yates describes the Wheelers’ once noble intentions slowly falling apart, and as they do so, the pair disappoint not only each other, but the people they should have been.
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I’m not sure if “the blurb sounds really awesome” is a good answer, but that’s basically my thinking. I think when I read this there were an acute, yet tender, examination of relationships, done a poignant and unashamed way, which will be refreshing (and sometimes painful?) to read. Also, it is set in the 1950s, and since I have recently been doing so much reading on the World Wars, it will be useful to read a story set in America’s post-war era.
Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts on them? Is your TBR completely random, and changes constantly, or are you quite quick at ploughing through it? Do comment below!