For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net Championing Books by Women Fri, 27 May 2016 08:33:13 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 For Books' Sake: Championing Writing by Women since 2010. Your regular monthly dose of brilliant books, fierce feminism, music and more. Presented by Zoe Grisedale-Sherry. For Books' Sake For Books' Sake jane@forbookssake.net jane@forbookssake.net (For Books' Sake) Books, Feminism, Music and More For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Podcast_Logo.jpg http://forbookssake.net The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua http://forbookssake.net/2016/05/25/thrilling-adventures-lovelace-babbage-sydney-padua/ Wed, 25 May 2016 07:00:46 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31327 The entertaining story of the eccentric scientific duo who pioneered the ‘first computer’.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
A highly entertaining graphic novel celebrating the inventors of the 'first computer'

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The entertaining story of the eccentric scientific duo who pioneered the ‘first computer’.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage started as a webcomic, taking a lighthearted look at compelling Victorian-era scientific collaborators Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

Writer and artist Sydney Padua ended up falling in love with her subjects and creating a hefty tome based on their antics, real and imagined.

Ada Lovelace, daughter of infamous romantic poet Lord Byron, became a collaborator and friend to renowned mathematician Charles Babbage when she was a teenager. He was a bitter older man who retained his passion for maths despite multiple setbacks.

Lovelace was a mathematician in an era when it was frowned upon for ladies to do such work. Not only that, but she was an incredibly accomplished ‘enchantress’ of mathematics (in Babbage’s words). She was also a pioneer of the idea of software.

Lovelace is now often referred to as ‘the world’s first computer programmer’ and Babbage the inventor of the machines which predate today’s computers.

The author’s enthusiasm for the duo is infectious, creating a desire for them to live longer and achieve more. This is satisfied by the section of the book set in ‘the Pocket Universe’, a steampunk dream which in fact comprises the majority of the book.

The author’s enthusiasm for the duo is infectious

Padua’s animation background shines through in the artwork. The black and white drawings are fun and lively, displaying the movements and mannerisms of the eccentric characters. There are also diagrams explaining some of the mechanisms invented by Babbage.

The author’s breadth of research is incredibly impressive, to the point where even the imaginary parts of the story provide opportunities for education. Unfortunately the many footnotes, endnotes and appendices can disrupt the flow of reading at times.

However, the amusing heroes and nerdy jokes ensure the story doesn’t drift off into dry history book territory. The footnotes also provide an opportunity for the author’s likeable personality to shine through, in the form of her palpable enthusiasm and comedic self-deprecation.

Historical illustrations combine with Padua’s own, alongside some amusing asides from Victorian newspapers, creating a visually interesting compendium. Flicking through the book at random can also be entertaining, given that the storyline isn’t too plot-driven and there are some great images to be found (a reason in favour of the hardcover rather than the Kindle edition).

An impeccably researched and lively tale full of worthy and entertaining characters.

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Extract: The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery http://forbookssake.net/2016/05/18/extract-life-elves-muriel-barbery/ Wed, 18 May 2016 07:00:07 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31432 One autumn night, a small village in Burgundy is astonished by an unseasonable snowfall. On that same evening, a baby is found in the woods: the dark-eyed Maria, who has an uncanny ability to communicate with the natural world...

From the bestselling author of the international 'publishing phenomenon,' The Elegance of the Hedgehog, comes a new novel, The Life of Elves, translated by Alison Anderson. And we're excited to share the opening extract with you so you can see what all the fuss is about.

Extract: The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery
The new book by the bestselling author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog...

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One autumn night, a small village in Burgundy is astonished by an unseasonable snowfall. On that same evening, a baby is found in the woods: the dark-eyed Maria, who has an uncanny ability to communicate with the natural world...

From the bestselling author of the international 'publishing phenomenon,' The Elegance of the Hedgehog, comes a new novel, The Life of Elves, translated by Alison Anderson. And we're excited to share the opening extract with you so you can see what all the fuss is about.

Extract: The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery

The little girl spent most of her hours of leisure among the branches. When her family were looking for her, they would go to the trees, the tall beech to start with, the one that stood to the north above the outhouse, for that was where she liked to daydream while observing the activity on the farm; then it was the old lime tree in the priest’s garden beyond the low wall of cool stone; and finally—most often in winter— among the oaks in the combe to the west of the adjacent field, a hollow planted with three of the most majestic specimens in all the region.

The little girl would nestle in the trees, all the hours she could steal from the village life of booklearning, meals, and mass, and not infrequently she would invite a few friends to come along, and they would marvel at the airy spaces she had arranged there, and together they would spend glorious days in laughter and chat.

One evening as she sat on a lower branch of the middle oak, while the combe was filling with shadow, aware that they would soon be coming to take her back to the warmth, she decided for a change to cut across the meadow and pay a visit to the neighbour’s sheep.

She set out as the mist was rising. She knew every clump of grass in an area extending from 16 the foothills of her father’s farm all the way to Marcelot’s; she could have closed her eyes and known exactly where she was, as if guided by the stars, from the swelling of the field, the rushes in the stream, the stones on the pathways and the gentle incline of the slope; but instead, for a particular reason, she now opened her eyes wide.

Someone was walking through the mist only slightly ahead of her, and this presence tugged strangely at her heart, as if the organ were coiling in upon itself and bringing curious images to her: in the bronze glow of undergrowth she saw a white horse, and a path paved with black stones gleaming under foliage.

Who was that child, on the day of this remarkable event? The six adults who lived on the farm—father, mother, two great-aunts and two grown-up cousins—adored her. There was an enchantment about her that was far from that found in children whose first hours have been mild, that sort of grace born of a careful mixture of ignorance and happiness; no, it was, instead, as if when she moved she carried with her an iridescent halo, which minds forged in pastures and woods would compare to the vibrations of the tallest trees.

Only the eldest auntie, by virtue of an abiding penchant for anything that could not be explained, thought to herself that there was something magical about the little girl; but one thing was certain: for such a young child she bore herself in a most unusual way, incorporating some of the invisibility and trembling of the air, as a dragon!y would, or palms swaying in the wind.

Otherwise, she was very dark and very lively, rather thin, but with a great deal of elegance; two eyes of sparkling obsidian; olive, almost swarthy skin; high Slavic-looking cheekbones flushed with a round rosiness; finally, well-defined lips, the colour of fresh blood. She was splendid. And what character! Always running through the fields or flinging herself onto the grass, where she would stay and stare at the too vast sky; or crossing the stream barefoot, even in winter, to feel the sweet chill or biting cold, and then with the solemnity of a bishop she would relate to all assembled the highlights and humdrum moments of her days spent out of doors.

To all of this one must add the faint sadness of a soul whose intelligence surpassed her perception and who—from the handful of clues that, although weak, were to be found everywhere, even in those protected places, however poor, in which she had grown up—already had an intimation of the world’s tragedies.

Thus, at five o’clock it was that glowing, secretive young sprig of a girl who sensed the nearby presence in the mist of an invisible creature, and she knew more surely than the existence of God proclaimed by the priest that this creature was both friendly and supernatural. Thus she was not afraid. Instead, she set off in the direction she had determined shortly before, towards the sheep.

Something took her by the hand. Something like a large fist wrapped in a soft warm weave, creating a gentle grip in which her own hand felt lost. But no man could have possessed a palm that, as she felt through the silky skein, had hollows and ridges that might belong to the hoof of a giant wild boar.

Just then they made a turn to their left, almost at a right angle, and she understood that they were heading towards the little woods, skirting round the sheep and Marcelot’s farm. There was a fallow field, overgrown with sleek serried blades of grass, rising gently to meet the hill through a winding passage, until it reached a lovely copse of poplar trees rich with strawberries and a carpet of periwinkles where not so long ago every family had been permitted to gather wood, and would commence with the sawing by first snowfall; alas, that era is now gone, but it will not be spoken of today, be it due to sorrow or forgetfulness, or because at this hour the little girl is running to meet her destiny, holding tight to the boar’s hoof.

And this on the mildest autumn evening anyone had seen for many a year. People had delayed putting their apples and pears to ripen on the wooden racks in the cellar, and all day long the air was streaked with insects inebriated with the nest orchard vintage. There was a languidness in the air, an indolent sigh, a quiet certainty that things would never end, and while people went about their work as usual, without pause and without complaint, they took secret delight in this endless autumn as it told them not to forget to love.

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The Life of Elves, written by Muriel Barbery and translated by Alison Anderson, was published earlier this month by Gallic Books.The highly anticipated new novel from the acclaimed author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog has been described as ‘an enigmatic and beguiling fairy tale,’ (New York Times) and ‘a rallying call to the return of an affinity of mind and body with nature,’ (Le Figaro), along with being compared to the work of Rowling, Milton and Tolkein.

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#2: Sonnets, Rock Life and English Homework with Tansy Hoskins and Gemma June Howell http://forbookssake.net/2016/04/27/2-sonnets-rock-life-and-english-homework-with-tansy-hoskins-and-gemma-june-howell/ Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:31:07 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31296 From poems about cider and sucking cock to the best sonnets by women, we've got it all in this episode. Grace and Lauren share the new releases, events and opportunities to get published they're most excited about, while Tansy Hoskins interviews Gemma June Howell about her poetry exploring the lives of working-class Welsh women...

Radio-Studio
Welsh women in the valleys and the best sonnets by women...

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From poems about cider and sucking cock to the best sonnets by women, we've got it all in this episode. Grace and Lauren share the new releases, events and opportunities to get published they're most excited about, while Tansy Hoskins interviews Gemma June Howell about her poetry exploring the lives of working-class Welsh women...

Radio-Studio

In this episode…

Sonnets

On 23 April it was Shakespeare’s 400th birthday and in celebration of this fact we asked you what your favourite sonnets written by women were. Thanks for all the great suggestions via For Books’ Sake’s social media accounts! Grace reads out the top 3 choices in the first part of the podcast:

· Sonnet I by Charlotte Smith from @jenny_mcauley on Twitter

· In this Strange Labyrinth by Lady Mary Wroth from Becca Emily Inglis on Instagram

· Apologies to My Hair: A Black Woman’s Sonnet by Allison Joseph

Tansy Hoskins and Gemma June Howell

Gemma June Howell is a Welsh poet, an author of experimental fiction, and a playwright. Tansy Hoskins interviews Gemma June about what drove her to write poetry from the perspective of women living in the Welsh Valleys. During the interview, Gemma June also performs some of her fantastic poems from her debut collection, Rock Life.

Read more about Gemma June Howell’s work on her website and follow Tansy Hoskins on Twitter @TansyHoskins.

Did You Forget Your English Homework?

What books do you think should be on the national curriculum? Lauren reveals what her top choice is and why.

News
We’ve introduced a news section! Listen to all the things Grace and Lauren are looking forward to in May and June…

Upcoming Events
Respectable: Lynsey Hanley with Dawn Foster
Bradford Literature Festival 20 – 29 May 2016
The Sonnet Exchange 29 May 2016
Bad Vibrations + Polyester Zine: PRINCE RAMA 31 May 2016
Submission Deadlines

Get in touch with us with details about the events you’re involved with, submission deadlines you think we need to know about or books you want to hear us promote.
(Music credit: https://www.freesound.org/people/leswagcupcakes/sounds/248144/)

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In Praise Of: Kelly Link http://forbookssake.net/2016/04/08/in-praise-of-kelly-link/ Fri, 08 Apr 2016 07:00:27 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31170 Here at For Books’ Sake Towers, we’re over the moon to be celebrating all things Kelly Link this week. She’s one of our favourite authors, and we’re not alone - many wonderful folk such as Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters and Neil Gaiman are big Kelly fans too..

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Find out why we love the author of Get in Trouble, Pretty Monsters and more...

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Here at For Books’ Sake Towers, we’re over the moon to be celebrating all things Kelly Link this week. She’s one of our favourite authors, and we’re not alone - many wonderful folk such as Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters and Neil Gaiman are big Kelly fans too..

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Kelly Link has released several acclaimed short story collections; Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters.

This week sees the release of the brand new paperback edition of her latest short story collection, Get in Trouble, and it doesn’t disappoint.

With each story, Kelly Link takes us deep into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed universe. Strange, dark and wry, Get in Trouble stretches the boundaries of what fiction can do.

We are introduced to magical worlds profoundly steeped with the ordinary. Worlds that include imaginary boyfriends, hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers and iguanas.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Kelly Link has won three Nebulas, a Hugo and a World Fantasy Award. However, it’s not only the fantastical that ensures Kelly’s writing is a cut above the ordinary, but her brilliantly constructed sentences, her breathtaking eye for detail and sharp, meticulous characterisation.

Here are stories that explore what it feels like to be in love, to want to be in love, to be alone, to want to be alone, to be disappointed in people and to try again.

Kelly Link is the co-founder, along with her husband Gavin J. Grant, of the independent publishing company, Small Beer Press, which publishes fiction, zines and chapbooks and has been at the forefront of what some critics have named the ‘New Fabulism’ fiction that weaves the everyday with the fantastical.

Small Beer Press has won and been shortlisted for a whole host of awards and their books have published all over the world. They are also open for submissions.

To celebrate the release of Get in Trouble, Kelly’s UK publishers Canongate is offering For Books’ Sake readers based in the UK a chance to win a copy of both Get in Trouble and Pretty Monsters.

To enter, email us with the subject line ‘I love Kelly Link,’ by midnight on Friday 15th April 2016, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more ways to enter. Good luck!

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Afrikult. on Mariama Ba http://forbookssake.net/2016/04/06/afrikult-on-mariama-ba/ Wed, 06 Apr 2016 08:00:08 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31116 Senegalese feminist and author Mariama Ba published just two novels, So Long a Letter and Scarlet Song, before her death in 1981. Here, Afrikult look at why she's had such lasting a influence on African literature...

Mariama_Bâ
A profile of Mariama Ba, the award-winning Senegalese author of So Long a Letter and Scarlet Song...

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Senegalese feminist and author Mariama Ba published just two novels, So Long a Letter and Scarlet Song, before her death in 1981. Here, Afrikult look at why she's had such lasting a influence on African literature...

Mariama_Bâ

Mariama Ba, a woman modest and rich in character,  was born in 1929 to a well-to-do family of civil servants. She came into international prominence upon winning the first Norma Prize Award for African Writing with the publication of her first novel Une Si Longue Lettre (So Long a Letter).

Growing up in a colonial world where education for the African child was nothing short of a luxury, Mariama Ba was fortunate to have found in her father a strong ally and advocate of female education.

She studied in one of the most prestigious colonial institutions in Dakar, Ecole Normale de Rufisque whilst undertaking koranic studies under one of Dakar’s leading Islamic clerics.

Ba’s first novel, So Long a Letter, stands as a significant landmark within African literature, to which subsequent and emerging generations of African women writers have and still pay homage.

In So Long a Letter, we are faced with the dialectical tensions within women resistance towards oppression. The novel examines the damaging impact of patriarchy through the allegory of polygamy.

Written in the epistolary tradition, we read from the letters exchanged between Ramatoulaye (central character) and her friend Assiastou- as the former reminisces about her radical student years to her present predicament – the differing responses towards challenging sexism.

Modou, Ramatoulaye’s husband, has abandoned her and their twelve children for a second wife. Nevertheless, she still remains legally married to him.

Even when Modou dies of a heart attack five years after walking out of his family, she abides the rigours of mourning for four months and ten days, as expected of a widow in accordance with Senegalese customs.

Assiatou, on the other hand, transgresses against all cultural and social expectation by separating from her husband Mawdo when he decides to take a second wife, and is rewarded with self-independence and happiness.

Ramatoulaye’s dissatisfaction and penitent tone – as opposed to Assiatou’s fruitfully liberating and radical stance – symbolise the oppressive reality of conformity on the one hand and the reward of resistance on the other.

Mariama Ba also understood that the oppression of women neither stemmed from a lack of self- empowerment nor a cultural phenomenon favourable to men.

In her second novel Scarlet Song (1981), Ousmane, a Senegalese boy from a noble family, and Mireille, the daughter of the French Ambassador, consummate their libertine vision of liberté, equalité and fraternité in a marital union that exposes the shortcomings of hollow ideological platitudes.

The love which once passionately beat in the womb of revolution slowly withers with time, as Ousmane hardens in judgement of his wife’s undesirable otherness, whilst Mireille grows rabidly intolerant of the cultural differences between her western upbringing and Senegalese social customs and traditions.

In a foul still birth of enlightenment, Ousmane awakens to reclaim his ‘soul’, divesting himself emotionally from the perversion of western ideals (symbolised in the form of Mereille) and reunite himself with his Africanity through his second marriage to Ouleymatou, a childhood friend who unlike Mireille earns the approval of his mother and father.

At this point, with both her family and that of her in laws against her, Soukeyna, Ousmane’s sister remains Mireille’s only form of support.

Certainly, Soukeyna expresses great solidarity and compassion towards Mireille as she goes against her family and chastises her brother for his ill treatment of his wife.

Coming to the end of the novel, Mireille finally falls prey to despair, attempting to kill her husband and successfully killing herself and their baby. Ousmane, however, survives with stab wounds, sounding a scarlet song of deep remorse.

Once again, Maraima Ba beautifully reveals the damaging schism, pain and suffering inflicted on humanity, by relating her understanding of the conflict and tension between race, gender and culture – herein explored through the institution of marriage- to the very nature of patriarchy.

The interracial drama offers a good illustration to the brutal effects of countercultural prejudice, double oppression and cultural alienation.

Working within a progressive womanist mode, she unravels the inherent conflicts associated to feminist self-expressions through exposing dialectical tensions that cut across race, gender and culture.

Maraima Ba views womanhood in a larger context of the damaging effect of patriarchy on the struggle for equality and fraternity amongst men and women in the consolidation of a common humanity – a oneness of being.

Ba at best seeks a Universalist form of humanity, undimmed or blighted by exclusive privilege to race, culture or gender wherein men and women of different races assume their position as allies in a common struggle for a better world.

Similar to Alice Walker, Ba considers feminism as part of a womanist struggle for liberation, wherein men constitute an integral part as partners and allies, fathers and uncles, husbands and brothers.

Mariama Ba died on the 17 August 1981 at the age of 51, from a prolonged illness. But her words live on!

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In the month of July 2014, three friends came together to consummate their love for African literature. This auspicious encounter led to the birth of Afrikult. an online forum for people to connect, explore and expand knowledge on African literature and culture combined. Afrikult. aims to make African literature less exotic, less highbrow and more accessible. All materials on the site are cleverly presented in a simple language and in a bite-size format for easy readability. Check us atwww.afrikult.com or follow us on facebook.com/afrikult, Twitter and Instagram @afrikult.

 

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The Podcast is Back! Feat. Jess Glaisher and SKMY http://forbookssake.net/2016/04/04/the-podcast-is-back-feat-jess-glaisher-and-skmy/ Mon, 04 Apr 2016 08:00:29 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31148 In the newest episode of the For Books’ Sake podcast, hosts Grace and Lauren interview author Jess Glaisher and female film collective Sorta Kinda Maybe Yeah.

The Podcast is Back! Feat. Jess Glaisher and SKMY
Queer YA, women in film and more...

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In the newest episode of the For Books’ Sake podcast, hosts Grace and Lauren interview author Jess Glaisher and female film collective Sorta Kinda Maybe Yeah.

The Podcast is Back! Feat. Jess Glaisher and SKMY

In this episode, Grace and Lauren talk to…

Jess Glaisher
http://imaginationadded.blogspot.co.uk/
c.1min 30 secs – c. 17 mins
Grace chats to Jess Glaisher (@JGlaisher) about her recent experience of getting published. Jess’ short story Destiny is available in For Books’ Sake’s latest anthology, [RE]Sisters. Grace and Jess discuss abuse in teen relationships and its underrepresentation in YA fiction, and a lack of queer voices in the genre. Jess also tells Grace about her writing practice and how important she feels it is to be part of a female writing collective.

Find out more about…
Write like a Grrrl: http://forbookssake.net/write-like-a-grrrl/
That’s What She Said: http://forbookssake.net/events/event/thats-said/
NaNoWriMo http://nanowrimo.org/

Sorta Kinda Maybe Yeah

http://www.sortakindamaybeyeah.com/
c. 17 mins – c. 43 mins
Sorta Kinda Maybe Yeah (@SKMYcollective) are a female film collective from London. Grace and Lauren sat down with Aya Arden-Clarke, Laura Kirwan-Ashman and Charlotte Lowdell to hear about their work ahead of the launch of SKMY’s first web series at the end of April (full details about their launch event in the link below).

Follow SKMY on…

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SKMYcollective
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sortakindamaybeyeah
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sortakindamaybeyeah/
Web series launch: Thurs 28 April @ 7.30pm, Hackney Attic https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Hackney_Picturehouse/film/sorta-kinda-maybe-yeah

If you have ideas for future interviews that you would like to hear from the FBS podcast, or you want to send us details about any upcoming events that might be of interest to FBS listeners, drop us an email (podcast@forbookssake.net) or get in touch via Twitter.

(Music credit: https://www.freesound.org/people/leswagcupcakes/sounds/248144/)

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Becoming Unbecoming by Una http://forbookssake.net/2016/03/29/becoming-unbecoming-by-una/ Tue, 29 Mar 2016 08:00:24 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30974 A debut graphic novel looks at the far-reaching effects of misogyny, emerging as a stunning call to arms

Becoming Unbecoming by Una
A powerful graphic memoir addressing misogyny and gender violence

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A debut graphic novel looks at the far-reaching effects of misogyny, emerging as a stunning call to arms

Becoming Unbecoming by Una

Una was a teenager in the 1970s; a golden age for misogyny in pop culture, and a time when the Yorkshire Ripper was on a sustained killing spree in Una’s home county.

Published by Myriad Editions, who have put out multiple impressive and important graphic novels over the last few years, including several memoirs.

In this debut graphic novel, Una portrays her own experiences as a survivor of abuse (questioning the term ‘survivor’ as well as many other ingrained notions) dealing with slut-shaming bullies and hearing repeated news reports of women brutally murdered not far from home.

The line drawings are neat and appropriately reminiscent of 1970s How To books and girls’ annuals, combined with dreamy watercolours illustrating the author’s psyche as she revisits difficult memories.

The format of Becoming Unbecoming varies from traditional comics panels to illustrated collage, informative visual essays and powerful full-page images. Far from a disjointed approach, each part of the story is told in an effective, purpose-fit way, tied to together by the overall themes.

For a book formed out of a difficult, raw honesty, it is honed into beautiful pages which are surprisingly readable despite the darkness of the situation. It is straightforward, analytical and educational in its exploration of ingrained misogyny.

The author’s own experiences are featured alongside factual details from the Yorkshire Ripper case, which reveal a frustrating lack of insight from the police. Notes reveal that they actually interviewed the killer several times, and he matched several photofits given by surviving victims.

However, the force were not looking for an ‘ordinary man’ and so they ignored the women’s testaments. His spree went on for years before he was caught.

straightforward, analytical and educational in its exploration of ingrained misogyny

Newspaper clippings from the time also reveal that both the police and some members of the public had little problem with the idea of a murderer killing prostitutes. Many failed to take the crimes seriously until a 16-year-old girl uninvolved in sex work became a victim.

One of the overriding themes here is of the unfairness displayed by society; women everywhere are abused and then actively blamed for having been a victim of a traumatic experience.

The dichotomy between truth and lies is thrown into sharp relief, showing how frequently women are victims of this societal problem with little chance to have their say.

Despite the frustration and injustice inherent in its subject matter, the book manages to end on a call to arms, giving hope that with increased social responsibility, fewer and fewer girls will have to grow up with these same experiences.

A graphic memoir combined with an unflinching essay on gender violence, Becoming Unbecoming is an astonishing debut which shows Una’s talent for subverting the comics medium to powerful effect.

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For Books’ Sake Talks to: Rachel B. Glaser http://forbookssake.net/2016/03/01/books-sake-talks-rachel-b-glaser/ Tue, 01 Mar 2016 09:00:06 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30924 Paulina & Fran is a bold debut novel about two friends who meet at a New England art school but go their separate ways after graduation. Here we chat with Rachel B. Glaser about female friendship, art, and the difficulty of the post-university years.

For Books' Sake Talks to: Rachel B. Glaser
Paulina & Fran is a bold debut novel about two…

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Paulina & Fran is a bold debut novel about two friends who meet at a New England art school but go their separate ways after graduation. Here we chat with Rachel B. Glaser about female friendship, art, and the difficulty of the post-university years.

For Books' Sake Talks to: Rachel B. Glaser

“It’s hard to be your age. There’s maybe too much freedom. Or too much pressure…” one of Fran’s professors says. How do you contrast the simultaneous sense of entitlement and lack of confidence bound up in the university years?

I think when one is approaching the end of something, they feel a sense of accomplishment, but after completing it, they are in a new, vulnerable, unknown place. They have arrived at the last part of their plan. The waters crash upon the rocks! I think art students feel the contrast very deeply. They have studied something that, in some ways, is very irrelevant to the bigger goings on in the world. Of course I don’t see it that way, and you don’t, and the world is made up of millions of sub-worlds, but I imagine a law student or doctor might exit his schooling with a bit more certainty.

In When Harry Met Sally, Harry famously declares, “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” Given the love triangle the two central characters get involved in, would you extend that statement to female friendships, too?

I find that the initial thrill of a new friend is pretty similar whether they are a man or woman—someone has piqued my interest, and I want to talk & talk to them. I personally disagree with Harry’s statement and have a lot of great male friendships. I think an aspect of most friendships involves not directly acknowledging any sexual curiosity. Friends leave it undisturbed, to be hinted at occasionally, in jokes or with love. I guess society is loud, even when we think we aren’t listening, because even though I find the sexual tension in my male friendships pretty low on the Richter scale, I find the tension in my women friendships (with women who are bisexual or lesbian) at an even quieter frequency.

Paulina is mostly bravado, and yet we also get glimpses of a more tender side of her – like the security blanket she still carries around. Is she really as tough as she tries to appear, and why does she feel she has to keep up the façade?

I think Paulina is conscious of what vibes she is putting out to the world. Inwardly, she acknowledges weakness, but outwardly she has no interest in sharing that. She’s a factory of emotions. She feels sadness and anger, but is sometimes able to churn it into ambition or power. She is tough because she adapts. She keeps up the façade because she believes we are all part façade, so picks her outer shell with style.

In one scene, Fran straightens her hair and Paulina doesn’t even recognize her. What is the significance of curly hair in your novel?

Hair plays different roles in different moments. It attracts, repulses, reveals. In the novel, curly hair is extravagant and troublesome. It changes during a party. It exposes vanity, it ruins confidence, it drags along behind, like the past, it dries with age, it distracts from life.

I guess society is loud, even when we think we aren’t listening, because even though I find the sexual tension in my male friendships pretty low on the Richter scale, I find the tension in my women friendships (with women who are bisexual or lesbian) at an even quieter frequency. The Norway trip is such an interesting element of the book – both what actually happens and how it is turned into the stuff of legend afterwards. What did you want to convey about memory and self-construction?

I’m interested in how the mind fixates on what was good in the past and wants it for the future. It’s hard to think about a person you haven’t met yet, so often we long for people we’ve known, and if we haven’t seen these people in months or years, the people can become towering mythical beings. I remember missing my first boyfriend after we broke up, and I would imagine him Godzilla-sized, walking along the horizon, behind the buildings. Whenever I think of any of my past romances, they seem so eventful! But it’s because it’s hard to remember boredom and repetitive days, and the odd moments that weren’t clearly great or terrible. So much of experience is hard to recall, and so many memories have a beautiful Instagram filter on them.

Meanwhile Fran ends up painting houses and writing test questions. How can women pursue their art if it doesn’t pay the rent?

Work a little every day! If you are writing a book and can only work for an hour a day, think about your book while you’re in bed, waiting for sleep. I find that’s a good time to solve narrative problems. If you are an oil painter and can’t afford a studio, go acrylic for a while. If you can’t be in a class or share a studio with a friend, then form a workshop, or email chain. Getting your friends involved can help inspire you, and creating weekly or monthly deadlines get things done.

Your book might be grouped with other satirical novels about female friendship by Emily Gould, Alexandra Kleeman and Emma Jane Unsworth. Is this a particular movement or subgenre? If so, what would you call it?

Those novels are all on my to-read list! The Kleeman is in my suitcase, and the Unsworth is being sent to my house. So, I’m not prepared to name this movement just yet, but I’m glad women are writing such interesting characters, and bending realities, and creating new kinds of sentences.

Which other writers (especially women writers) most inspire you?

My favourites are Joy Williams, Jane Bowles, Ottessa Moshfegh, Miranda July, Paula Fox, and Lore Segal.

Can you give FBS readers a quick preview of your next project?

I’ve been hard at work adapting Paulina & Fran for the big screen, and have also been writing two other screenplays, Pope Jessica (a comedy), and Dead Woman (a drama).


 

Rachel B. Blaser is the author of the short story collection “Pee On Water” and a poetry collection called “MOODS”. She received a BFA in Painting from RISD, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Umass-Amherst. She tweets @candle_face

Paulina & Fran (Granta) is Glaser’s debut novel. It is available to buy now.

 

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Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees: When gay characters attract death threats http://forbookssake.net/2016/02/22/30853/ Mon, 22 Feb 2016 12:12:46 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30853 After Chinelo Okparanta published her short story collection Happiness, Like Water in 2013, she could have been celebrating. Instead, she was getting death threats.

Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees: When gay characters attract death threats
After Chinelo Okparanta published her short story collection Happiness, Like…

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After Chinelo Okparanta published her short story collection Happiness, Like Water in 2013, she could have been celebrating. Instead, she was getting death threats.

Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees: When gay characters attract death threats

 

The stories were not ‘big p’ political, but her characters Gloria and Nnenna offended a handful of readers: they were Nigerian characters, and they were gay.  

She recalls: “I received threats saying, ‘If you do that – and these are the names of the characters – if you do that Gloria and Nenna thing in Nigeria then we will kill you’. It might have been a joke but it wasn’t funny.

“They wrote it to me on Facebook, and several people felt it necessary to forward it to me and check I’d seen it. It might have been to make me careful or whatever but it was just a very sad thing, I thought, that someone should write that in the first place, and that I would be getting threats on Facebook.”

Now her novel Under the Udala Trees threatens to bring the same unwanted attention all over again. Set in the Biafran war, the story follows a girl who falls in love with a girl.

Jude Dibia is also familiar with the homophobic threat in Nigeria. His novel Walking with Shadows (2005) was said to be the first Nigerian novel with a gay male protagonist.

Dibia argues that the representation of gay Nigerian characters, or gay characters written by authors with Nigerian heritage goes a long way in dismissing the concept and idea that being LGBT and African is an ‘alien’ notion.

He explains: “It allows many young and older Nigerians to see themselves represented in fiction or otherwise and empowers them, making them feel not only counted but also that there are others like them. Their experience is not singular.

Dibia argues that LGBT Nigerians will play a big role in changing how they are perceived in society.

But, he adds: “The key is in educating more people on LGBT issues and, with knowledge comes understanding and eventually overturning harmful laws that persecute LGBT persons in the society.”

Robert Sharp, comms manager at English PEN, warns that threats against authors are felt by the whole literary community: “It is always shocking when an author is threatened because of a character they have created. The threat against Chinelo Okparanta for creating gay Nigerian characters is not only an attack on the LGBTQ community, but on the creative imagination as well.”

He encouraged readers, translators and publishers outside Nigeria to support human rights by publishing, translating, reading the work of Nigerian authors who are writing about this issue: “That is a practical and targeted form of international intervention that avoids being patrimonious, and instead enriches literary culture everywhere.

“Throughout history, literature has always played a crucial part in campaigns for equality, and will do so again in the struggle for LGBTQ rights in Nigeria. Novels and short stories offer us the opportunity to empathise, reminding us of our shared humanity.”

She recalls: “I received threats saying, ‘If you do that - and these are the names of the characters - if you do that Gloria and Nenna thing in Nigeria then we will kill you’. It might have been a joke but it wasn’t funny.The path ahead for Nigerian writers is not yet clear, but it is obvious silencing writers is unacceptable not only to them but to publishers, translators, readers, and anyone else in the literary community. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy runs utterly at odds with storytelling as we know it.

Luckily for Okparanta, three or four years on from the death threat, she says African readers already seem to be more open about LGBT identity: “Things have changed a little. In the past when people would come to me privately, secretly and say, ‘oh, thank you so much’. They would say ‘thank you for writing that story, it really spoke to me’ but they would never do it publicly.

“Now some people will even tweet about it or send me messages in writing, like to my website. People are getting bolder now. Even when you yourself might be in danger from doing that, you feel it’s important.

“That’s a huge step because it’s been a thing that everybody’s hush-hush about. No one wants to get judged as a bad human being or sinner because Nigeria is so religious.”

After all, she says, she didn’t even set out to write an ‘LGBT’ story in Under the Udala Trees – that’s just how it happened: “I wanted to write a story where a girl falls in love. Yes, she falls in love with another girl. But it’s just a love story.”


 

Chinelo Okparanta, a Nigerian-American, has published short stories in publications including GrantaThe New YorkerTin HouseThe Kenyon Review.

Happiness, Like Water was an Editors’ Choice for The New York Times Book Review on September 20, 2013. It was also listed as one of The Guardians Best African Fiction of 2013, and in December 2014 was announced as being on the shortlist for the Etisalat Prize for Literature.

Okparanta’s debut novel, Under the Udala Trees, is “a work of extraordinary beauty that will enrich your heart,” published by Granta in 2015. The paperback edition was published earlier this month.

Ellie Broughton is the Lead Features Writer for For Books’ Sake. 

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Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki http://forbookssake.net/2016/02/08/super-mutant-magic-academy-jillian-tamaki/ Mon, 08 Feb 2016 09:00:36 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30537 A collection of hilarious and beautifully-drawn comics following mutant teens though a year of high school

Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
These mutant teenagers welcome you to their academy...

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A collection of hilarious and beautifully-drawn comics following mutant teens though a year of high school

Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

Super Mutant Magic Academy author, Canadian cartoonist Jillian Tamaki co-created celebrated graphic novels This One Summer and Skim with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, for which Jillian did the artwork. She also writes her own books, as in this latest solo offering (in tandem with seminal indie publishers Drawn and Quarterly).

Super Mutant Magic Academy follows a group of students over the course of a year as they deal with the complications of teenage angst in tandem with their status as varingly powerful mutants.

Having started as a web series, most of the stories are told in one-page vignettes which initially seem unconnected. However, these combine to paint a picture of the academy and its students, some of whom emerge as main characters and feature in some longer chapters later in the book.

There is plenty of humour to be found in the teenagers’ everyday concerns. The dialogue often satirises the drama inherent in their musings as they make sense of society.

Highlights include mutant teenagers earnestly discussing the problems of the internet: “Now we’re all addicts looking for junk, our junk being attention and approval.”

Ostensibly for a YA audience, Super Mutant Magic Academy can definitely be enjoyed by older adults too.

Multiple panels poke fun at modern life, such as the moment when a girl takes a picture of some stylish students and starts interviewing them about their sartorial influences (Jean Shrimpton and the film Heathers) only to be told off and pointed towards a sign reading ‘NO BLOGGING.’

Given a premise firmly rooted in fantasy, the characters are surprisingly believable

The book’s concept might be light-hearted but there is a depth of feeling covered in the vignettes. The subject matter is also varied. Themes range from common teenage issues such as unrequited love and social hierarchies to immortality, alien life and the mysteries of the universe.

Given a premise firmly rooted in fantasy, the characters are surprisingly believable and there is warmth in their interactions. As it says on the back cover ‘The kids of Super Mutant Magic Academy want to be your friend.’

There’s Frances, a guerilla feminist artist, Cheddar, the jock with hidden depths, the hilarious and self-deprecating Marsha and the cute, cat-eared Wendy, a young advocate for women’s rights.

They join an extended cast of characters including Everlasting Man, an immortal teen who defies the timeline of the book as his story is told at various points in the Earth’s existence.

The artwork is mostly reminiscent of Tamaki’s clean lines seen in This One Summer, only here depicted in black and white (with the exception of a few details, such as dashes of red to show the full effect of Frances’ pigs’ blood protest). Some pages feature a different, sketchier style, giving the overall feel of a classic compilation of newspaper comics.

A warm, intelligent and beautifully-illustrated book which is a lot of fun to read.

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