- 22 Apr 20
Feed your mind, kids.
I've never really liked school. I've had professors and teachers (shouts to my 7th grade English teacher and my two favourite University professors – you know who you are), who have made the experience of learning interesting, enjoyable, and even beautiful, but school as an institution has never held me for very long.
I am constantly, in isolation, fighting the urge to watch mind-numbing television. I actively resist thinking critically about the world sometimes, and I feel guilty for it, but it's very easy to do. This, of course, (not to use a buzz word) is a direct result of my privilege. That I can opt out of questioning the structure of society so easily, turn on the television to see people who look – relatively speaking – like me, and engage at merely the surface level of emotion and intellect is because I have white skin, am cisgendered, and nobody assumes my bisexuality upon looking at me. Even my ability to obtain a full-time, paid position in the field of journalism without a university degree in the subject is emblematic of my power as a young white woman.
These books have, in the last few years, given me the opportunity to spark anew my once-majestic hunger for information, for opinions different to my own. They have made me cry, cry with laughter, crawl-out-of-my-skin-and-sink-into-the-earth uncomfortable, and forced me to both reckon with and reconcile my ability to discuss (or not discuss) issues of class, race, gender, and sexuality.
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Every person I've ever met seems to have recommended me this book. And, due to my own fully-admitted laziness, I only came to it recently. Again, engaging when I want to with conversations about race is something that has been afforded by my whiteness. Eddo-Lodge, conversely, as a person of colour and therefore "Other", has been forced to engage in these kinds of conversations for her whole life, often at the behest of other people. In 2014, she wrote a viral blog post in which she told the Internet that she would only engage in conversations about race with white people on her own terms, when she wanted. In other words, something that I have taken for granted since birth has been something that she had to make a conscious decision to stop doing.
That blog post spawned this book, which is part history, part personal reflection, and wholly brilliant. It's uncomfortable, blunt in its delivery, and should be required reading for the whole world.
The End of Eddy – Edouard Louis
This book was recommended to me by Paris Lees and Emma Watson. (As an aside: the linked interview with the two of them should also be given 30 minutes of your undivided attention. It is both brain and soul food). Edouard Louis is a gay man who grew up in rural France and was relentlessly bullied. This autobiographical novel is a graphic portrayal of the dangers and shortcomings of hate and toxic masculinity, and of what it's like to go through Queer adolescence in an isolated village.
Republic of Shame: Stories from Ireland's Institutions for 'Fallen Women' – Caelainn Hogan
I was lucky enough to meet Caelainn Hogan before I'd read her book. If I had read Republic of Shame first, I doubt she would have escaped a conversation with me unscathed by my burning questions and ardent praise. It's shocking, beautifully researched and at times an unbearable history of Ireland's relationship to female reproductive rights, the Catholic church, and magdalene laundries. Interviews range from first-person accounts of mother-and-baby homes to conversations with modern women still struggling to reckon with the country's biggest shame. It might be difficult to read, but it's absolutely necessary.
Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
My friend Emma once described Bad Feminist as like "being taught feminism by your cool aunt". It's true. Roxane Gay is a well of wisdom in all things feminism. Even if she's occasionally bad at said feminism. Bad Feminist is more than just accessible: it explores feminism through criticism of popular culture, and the art of the personal essay, a medium in which Roxane Gay is indubitably accomplished. It is also forgiving of the "bad feminist" in us all. Nobody's perfect. Roxane Gay certainly isn't, and it is the way she explores where feminism (her own and other's) is lacking that makes this book a necessary read. For more excellent quarantine content, follow Gay on both Instagram and Twitter, where she often gives book recommendations of her own, and continues to enthral me with her exceptional cooking/baking skills (and sometimes woes).
Swing Time – Zadie Smith
This is another book that came to me long after its publication date, through a trans-atlantic "book club" my friend and I began while I was in Toronto and she was living in Berlin. I'm nothing if not perpetually late to the party. Smith's novel, while the only true work of fiction on this list, is no less deserving of its place here. It's a stunning musing on class and race relations in Britain. Beautifully written and genuinely eye-opening.