REVIEW: What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, Holly Bourne

29740718HOW TO START A FEMINIST REVOLUTION:

1. Call out anything that is unfair on one gender

2. Don’t call out the same thing twice (so you can sleep and breathe)

3. Always try to keep it funny

4. Don’t let anything slide. Even when you start to break…

Lottie’s determined to change the world with her #Vagilante vlog. Shame the trolls have other 

ideas…

***

I would never have called myself a feminist. I’ve been in the very privileged position to have never really been affected by any major forms of gender discrimination. Foolishly I took that as a sign that things had moved on in the twenty-first century. I’m ashamed to admit I spent quite a lot of my time believing that feminism was a big fuss about something comparatively little. Thankfully this book changed that. 

Instead of focusing on the big feminist headlines that we have sadly become immune to seeing in the news, Holly Bourne chooses to highlight the smaller scale, but no less prevalent, sexist issues that most women encounter on a daily basis, often without realising it. This includes an alarming range of things from getting wolf-whistled at walking down the street, to objectifying perfume adverts, to expensive female-branded products. Protagonist Lottie’s campaign to call out any act of sexism no matter how big or small, leaves her physically and emotionally exhausted and with so many things that need calling out, it’s easy to see why. The campaign has mixed successes but what the book can’t account for is the success the campaign has in spreading an awareness that reaches well beyond the narrative. Even I, who until now barely gave feminism a second thought, now regularly find myself calling out incidences of injustice against the sexes and by the looks of it I’m definitely not the only one.

But perhaps the best feature of the book is that Lottie never once claims to be perfect. In fact, there are times when she’s downright annoying and she knows it (I relate big time). She also admits that she’s not the perfect feminist thanks to a little thing called cognitive dissonance — when you act in a way that is contradictory to your beliefs and values. A classic example in feminism, and one that Lottie also deals with, is shaving. We only shave because society dictates that women should be always smoothy smooth; even other women will judge each other for not doing it, and I’m sorry to have to include myself in that category. I personally haven’t thrown my razor away just yet but Holly Bourne’s portrayal of cognitive dissonance has made me think twice about how I view those who have decided to go au natural.

Holly also succeeds in taking the pressure off of feminist activists. I’ve watched a few interviews with her now and the message she always seems to come back to is that girls can’t be perfect examples of feminism all the time, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist. This really resonated with me as someone who always feels the pressure to do everything perfectly. I really did feel empowered by this book and now I’m keen to follow my own feminist agenda safe in the knowledge that it’s okay to mess up.

And on top of all that What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is simply a great YA read. It has all you expect from a YA novel, including enviable friendship groups, hot romances and tense questions about the future. Holly maintains the perfect balance of real and funny throughout. I can’t wait to read the previous two books of the Spinster trilogy and am looking forward to the novella coming out later this year.

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Oh, and a quick note from the publishing geek in me: Usborne’s #IAmAFeminist campaign was such an impressive feat of marketing. They were definitely the envy of all marketing teams at YALC. It just goes to show the importance of relevant topics in publishing, even in YA publishing. And feminism is so relevant.

My first post

Well it’s not really my first post as I was too lazy to create a whole new blog so am using my old year abroad one, but that is neither here nor there.

Welcome nonetheless!

So what is this blog? At the moment I’m still not too sure, it is definitely a work-in-progress but that’s okay because I am certain that not many people, if anyone, will be reading it any time soon. That gives me time to develop it, make it pretty and work out exactly what it is I want to write about and who I want to write to.

For the moment this will be a space where I reflect on my (so far very limited) experience in the publishing world and to comment on all things current in the publishing sphere. I’d like to do a separate post on just exactly how I figured out publishing was for me and what I’ve done about it since, but basically it’s a really exciting industry and one that’s rather tricky to get into. I wanted to use this blog as a way of sharing the highs and the lows of a twenty-something year old trying to break into the world of books.

I’ll also, at the risk of being a slight cliché although I personally think you can’t get enough of the following, be writing book reviews. This is a selfish endeavour. There are some books that you simply cannot just finish and then brush aside before moving on to the next literary fling. No. Some demand a period of mourning, in which one grieves the end of a multi-emotional journey, while reflecting on just what a journey it has been. Only once there has been a respectful amount of processing time can that book be returned to its rightful place (on the bookshelf in alphabetical order, of course). My hope is that writing book reviews will help me to articulate these floods of emotions in something vaguely more intellectual than tears – of happiness or joy, or both.

That’s all from me for now – I’ll keep the first few posts short and sweet so as to not immediately scare off what few furtive readers I may have. Look out for my first couple of book reviews coming soon.

Xx

Ein schöne Tag

Today the sun came out and it was glorious, still freezing cold, but glorious. All it takes is a bit of sunshine and a few, not dead as they currently are, daffodils on my windowsill to really lift the spirits.

Started the day, well the midday, with an Irish breakfast (the only difference between an Irish breakfast and an English breakfast being that the former is served in an Irish pub). You think a fry-up is good at home? Try eating one in a world where the only sausages you can buy are cold and cured, where attempts at baked beans are bland, and bacon just isn’t bacon. Bliss. And they gave us free tap water! That doesn’t happen in Germany. We were in an Irish haven, concealed from the rest of the wurst-loving, sparkling water-drinking Deutscher.

We quickly left our retreat, however, when we realised Milka Welt was just around the corner with it’s wealth of branded stationary, postcards and Lederhosen, amongst overwhelming amounts of chocolate of course. Once the cows and the purple all got too much we decided to make the most of the sunshine and go on a spontaneous trip to the zoo. Best decision ever.

There is something about a zoo that makes me feel 5 again. All of a sudden I want to run around squealing with delight at all the animals, even the boring ponies; I want to play on the climbing frames, pet the goats, have a picnic and pretend to be a lion. Thankfully I kept myself under control, although a few odd noises may have slipped out while watching the adorable baby polar bear. Sadly my inner child can’t quite suppress the adult concern for those animals freezing when they should be living in permanent heat, and those boiling when they should be living in sub-zero temperatures. But such thoughts were quickly suppressed at the suggestion of ice cream and I continued to let my childish self marvel at all the beautiful creatures. My winner will always be the meerkat. Especially a sunbathing meerkat.

So here I am, curled up in bed writing, feeling very much inspired by today’s trip to finally watch the Lion King for the first time. The past couple of weeks have been quite drab and unexciting but a little sunshine kicked started a wonderful day. Here’s to hoping it stays!

Lonely and Happy

I embraced my return to Munich just under two weeks ago with about as much happiness and enthusiasm as a German sales assistant uses to serve customers. None. Despite, against all expectations, really enjoying last term, all I could think about was my loneliness and boredom; wallowing in the misery that is those two together, despairing at my still pretty poor German, thinking why on earth did I not just stick to studying English and subsequently blaming every German teacher I ever had for sparking any remote interest in the language. I don’t know about you but January blues always hits me quite bad. I spend weeks and weeks counting down to Christmas and then to watch it all be taken down in one day, with nothing remotely exciting to anticipate in its place, leaves me often feeling quite empty. But for the past six years I’ve had exams and coursework to keep me occupied and sufficiently stressed; to give me purpose. Having got all necessary work out of the way before the holidays, I had no distraction this year and subsequently used my return to Munich and the ampleness of free time it brought to downward spiral into a cocoon of purposelessness and self-pity, while chain-watching Gossip Girl.

With a slight verbal kick up the backside from mummy, and the return of a couple of friends to Munich, I managed to shake it off (Ms Swift forever being my life’s anthem) and start to remember why I actually enjoyed myself last year. While the highlights such as travelling and other one-off events definitely do contribute to the experience, it’s the littler, more random things that really make it for me. For example, cocktails two nights in a row because the opportunity was there and why not? Doing a free walking tour of Munich so that I finally have something vaguely intelligent to say about the place when people feign interest (did you know it all started because of a bridge?). Playing Taboo and Scrabble in German, against three Germans, and being happy that I didn’t loose by too many points. Happy to loose! And I will  leave you with one story that totally sums up why it’s actually good to be back.

Friday morning I was in charge of taking the three year old I live with to Kindergarten. Shouldn’t be a problem having already picked her up a few times in the past and the Kindergarten gives her breakfast. Just got to get her up, dressed and out. The night before the parents quickly brief me on the protocol and check I know where it is. I nod enthusiastically, of course I know where it is, I’ve been before, no need for clarification; as they shut the door and go to bed I quickly suppress the voice in my head telling me it’s not sure I do know where to go. I mean, my sense of direction can’t really be as bad as I think it is. Morning comes, I wake the girl up, shove a hot chocolate at her to stop her crying, get her dressed and put her in the buggy, a couple of tantrums aside, so far so good. I walk confidently up the road, waiting for the familiarity of it to hit me and show me where to go. That never happens. I walk, I turn back and try a different turning, I walk some more, still nothing. I can’t find the Kindergarten. By this point we’ve missed breakfast so I have no choice but to hang my head in shame and go back home while trying to explain to the three year old in frustrated broken German why exactly we can’t get there.

To cut the end of the story short, I tried several ways to find an address, getting very worked up and stressed, but, with no luck, I ended up taking a deep breath, loading kid into buggy and once again following my nose. And I got there. Late. Very late. But there nonetheless. I was in stitches telling the mother what happened. She now knows the phrase “to completely blank” in English. Thus is my battle with year abroad. I have struggles. I battle loneliness, fight boredom, I get frustrated at my so far from perfect German and sometimes, nay often, I just want to go home; but I keep fighting, finding ways to keep busy. And when I look back on it, I realise it was fun, if not hysterical. I may have been lonely on the way at times, but who says you can’t be a lonely and happy?

Reflection on Term I Part II: The Highlights

As promised, my refusal to get weighed down with all the regrets with a list of five highlights of my first term.

1) My wonderful, wonderful Host Family

As the first people I met in Munich these people have to be number one on my list. They have not only given me a place to stay in a desert of affordable accommodation, but they have completely welcomed me into their family life; starting on my first day where I was invited to the husband’s surprise birthday party along with 30 other members of their friends and family. I. Was. Terrified. But I persevered going along on walks, joining in with games night, even meeting and staying with their extended family. It may not all sound very exciting but they have given me a home away from home, not just just a room in a house and in a big city where I know no one, I am grateful.

And that’s without mentioning the great effect that living with them has had on my German. Especially the little daughter. She’s the best tutor ever. For anyone wanting language practice I would seriously recommend babysitting a three-year-old. My pronunciation has improved from reading to her, I get to practice German without being self-conscious of making mistakes, and she just doesn’t seem to care that you sound funny. It was, however, a mildly depressing moment when I realised I have been learning German longer than she has and she’s still better than me.

2) School

While I’m still not convinced teaching is quite my thing, working in school has been fun, challenging, but fun. I am still terrible with the students names, yet I am getting to know them quite well; and I love walking through the school and hearing choruses of “Hello Mrs Morrison” (in a strong German accent), it makes me feel accepted and I genuinely look forward to going into school. There’s a first.

3) Venice

So I travel now. I’m a traveller. One who admittedly still very carefully chooses her hostels and has yet to embrace The Backpack. But nonetheless, I had a lovely few days in Venice with fellow Assistants across Bavaria. Visiting palaces, exploring islands, eating pasta, and even attending opera. Oh yes, and the walking tour. Love a good walking tour. I even popped to Verona for a day, fulfilling my English Lit Student duty and seeing Juliet’s balcony; for something that’s supposed to be romantic, the chewing gum people stick on the surrounding walls is repulsive. We didn’t stay long. But overall, a successful trip.

Venice
Venice

4) Berlin

Still travelling. It’s almost as if I’ve caught the bug. Berlin did not disappoint as I had initially feared, what with all the hype around it. What I really love about the city is that it is not a museum to itself. Yes you can walk around and see the remnants of its destruction and subsequent division, but it has rebuilt itself and, with excellent museums in place to remember what is important, it’s happy to move one. Perhaps what illustrated this for me were the notice posts scattered around the place that were bulging with leaflets and posters; no one took the old ones down, but just stuck the new ones on top. Like the posters, Berlin has not tried to remove its past, but has simply built on top of it; it is the foundation of a thriving city that is the capital of one of the most successful and influential countries in the world today.

Berlin, in front of the Brandenburg Gate
Berlin, in front of the Brandenburg Gate

5) Christmas Markets

Christmas here started for me at the end of November with the opening of the Christmas markets. I have been to a LOT of Christmas markets, even travelling out to Ulm and Salzburg. Both beautiful small cities. I ate food, drank Gluehwein, at one point thinking I had drunk too much because all the stalls kept repeating the same stuff. Two slightly more unique markets that I particularly enjoyed were the Medieval and Tollwood. The former was a cute little thing, tucked into a hidden crevice of the city, selling things like medieval dress, alcohol and even wax and seals (who needs those?!). Tollwood was considerably bigger, held on the same grounds as Oktoberfest; the tents were brightly lit in rainbow colours and each one contained different things, from food to drink to handmade items. Charming. These definitely got me through the last remaining weeks until Christmas.

Entrance to one of the many Christmas Markets
Entrance to one of the many Christmas Markets

That’s term one, am now waiting to see what’s up in term two.

Reflection on Term I Part I: Year Abroad Pressure

The run up to leaving for your year abroad is full of copious amounts of talks, research, paperwork and advice. Perhaps the most emotionally exhausting preparation session we had was the annual ‘Year Abroad Conference’ run by the university. It begun with expectations being raised high as previous year abroaders reflected on their past year, so keen to promote the experience it was only natural that everything said had a rose tinge to it. Excitement grew nonetheless but this quickly plummeted as a year abroad mentor lectured us, in an admittedly rather comedic way, about culture shock, placing alarming emphasis on how much we would cry and feel homesick. Several other talks about finance and language learning ensued and we desperately tried to cram it all into our brains. Yet of all the things that really struck me it was the claim that due to limited language skills we wouldn’t be funny abroad. This was devastating for someone who relies very much on her sense of humour in social interaction!

What posed as a helpful resource in preparation for this all important year rather left everyone, or at least me, feeling emotionally drained, physically confused and inherently more panicked than I had ever been before. It was undoubtedly necessary and provided invaluable guidance on practical matters, but mentally it created a lot of expectations.

The superfluous lengths you go to ensure the transition, not just to a new country but also to a new culture, is as smooth as possible means that you pile crushing amounts of pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly; pressure to obey all those Year Abroad Rules you read in blogs, to come back with no regrets, to actually have the best year of your life. Throughout this term that pressure has clung to the back of my mind, frequently voicing itself – a bit like that mucus monster on the Benylin advert where he can’t shake it off- and it can be quite exhausting.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I have not done everything right. I should have spoken German with everyone from the beginning, as I now have to jokingly tell my ‘hostmum’ off every time she speaks English to me, or just pointedly ignore her until she speaks German. Maybe I should have travelled a bit more and learnt vocab a bit more regularly. I confess that I have broken the Golden Rule of the Year Abroad of not saying no to an opportunity on several occasions; not on the grounds of potential danger as it should have been, but simply because the opportunity just didn’t appeal to me.

Yet despite all these embarrassingly common mistakes that I was so warned against – and I do intend on rectifying them – I refuse to let them blind me from what has really been a pretty darn good term. There is a reason people make these mistakes over and over again. We can take in all the rules available but sometimes we just have to experience things for ourselves to discover what works for us. Every year abroad experience is unique so we should be prepared to do it our own way; advice is undisputedly good, but it should always be followed as a guideline not a rulebook. If we get too caught up in all the rules then we might end up missing actually living our year abroad. Besides, it’s not all bad. I AM funny in Germany! Either that or they are laughing at me and not at my jokes.

So watch out for the next post where I refuse to have regrets and will thus reflect on the highlights of my first few months in this physically and culturally beautiful country.

y.

Early onset culture shock high

First week in Munich and that culture shock high has definitely sunk in. That period of time when you get absorbed into new surroundings and everything’s so exciting. This is definitely aided by the masses of lederhosen and dirndls that fill the underground at the moment. I’m almost immune to it now; I don’t even smile when I see them. But I still love it! I also love German public transport. Talk about German efficiency at its best. Right now, I walk aimlessly around the city feeling a strong sense of ultimate freedom and complete content, not caring at all about where I am. Besides, I can just jump on the nearest trambustrain within five minutes.

That’s what I’m especially enjoying at the moment: no worries. With limited language and little experience of life in Germany I am forced to constantly ‘just go with it’. I don’t always know what I’m doing, where I’m going or even what I want to say but so far, with the help of a lot of gesticulation, I’ve managed to get by. I’ve registered my address, set up a bank account, bought a SIM card and survived my first few days in school; having done all that I feel like I can now conquer the world.

I’m waiting for the low to come, after all, we all know I can only stay worry-free for so long, it’s only a matter of time before I start worrying about not having any worries; but hopefully I won’t hit that rock bottom everyone talks about. I’m aiming for a steady decline towards something more ‘normal’ than getting excited every time I see a ‘Baeckerei’. I have a suspicion the 630 starts and tedious apartment search will be the trigger.

But until then,

Ich ❤ Muenchen!