Book Club: June 2020

One of my many lockdown resolutions – amongst to learn Italian, hold a 30 second headstand and run 3 times every single week (none of which I have achieved, by the way) – was to read more. Between the ages of 8 and 16, I was an avid bookworm. I absolutely loved it. I’d consume books like they were M&Ms, finding myself in different worlds; losing myself in epic love stories, murder mysteries, the minds of interesting, complex characters. I fell out of love with it at the same time I think a lot of young adults do – when A-levels and university come around and bite you on the arse with compulsory course literature, research papers and other painful things with ‘et al.’ in their reference. My brain was already full of facts-upon-facts, which were to be remembered in specific ways and, even more importantly, regurgitated in specific ways. It felt like there was no room for stories. 

I thought I’d get back into it once I’d graduated and started working. That I’d get back from a day at the office, collapse into my couch and sink my teeth into a good bit of Nora Ephron or Diana Evans. But alas, my evenings were instead filled with the symphonies of a rotating microwave meal and the instant gratification of social media. And so, since all pre-corona routines – both good and bad – seem to have gone out the window, it seemed like the appropriate time to give myself a kick up the arse and get back into something I know I desperately love. And here she is: my little book club series is born. This month I’m reviewing Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love and Deborah Francis-White’s The Guilty Feminist. Enjoy!

Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton

Everything I Know About Love is really, really special. The book is a coming-of-age memoir, detailing the adventures, mishaps, highs and lows of Dolly Alderton’s 30 years of life. Dolly maintains an impressive honesty throughout the whole book as she hilariously brings to life the struggles of early adulthood in all its disastrous glory. The book loosely follows a chronological collection of stories, woven out of pre-pubescent naivety around the male species, university party hangovers, the absurdities of baby showers and self-discovery in New York city. Everything I Know About Love is alive with wit and satire, all whilst featuring a series of recipes to get you by in your laziest and most hungover moments.

Dolly begins at the ceremonious right of passage every millennial must endure – the era of MSN dating. The chase and tease of signing in and out and in again in a bid to catch the attention of the school Casanova. We follow her through university, where she enjoys a student life that’s rife with binge-drinking disasters and good old fashioned debauchery. Getting dumped (and dumping) and dated on rotation. We see her grow into adulthood, her first job and her writing career. Throughout, Dolly grapples with changes in friendship dynamics, as well as societal expectations and the ridiculous rituals that punctuate the milestones of baby showers and hen dos, in the most hilariously honest way possible. She cleverly shares her personal story whilst detailing and challenging the narrative usually given to societal versions of heteronormative love. If you’re edging closer to your 30s with no ring, partner or baby on the way, this book will reassure you that you’re not alone. And if you’re wifed up and planning whether you want to use balloons or cake frosting at your second gender reveal party, at least you’ll have a good laugh at yourself.

We follow Dolly as she loses her way and struggles with self-sabotage, insecurity and sadness in a really confusing and emotional point in her life. Her openness is admirably brave and inspiring. As easily as your heart is broken, it is mended again; it’s a real journey. What I absolutely ~ love ~ is that Dolly is still (and to my knowledge, to this day) happily single. I love that romance and candle-lit dinners didn’t save her from her darkest days, but it was her glorious friendships and finding that she, alone, was enough. You almost see her spirit mending as you turn the pages.

I adore how female friendship is presented throughout the book, particularly how Dolly presents her girl gang. They are her unit, her support system, her home. You grow close to certain characters and feel a sense of privilege to have had even a glimpse into the bonds she has, particularly with her best friend Farley. As you follow Dolly’s journey from girl to woman and see how she’s grown with her friends, you understand why she loves these people so much.

As someone who loves to write, Dolly’s style of writing is everything I wish for my own – creative and intelligent. I found myself frequently stopping between paragraphs and admiring her phrasing and choice of words. The kind of writing you find true pleasure in reading.

Despite being completely anecdotal, the book feels very personal and at the end, you’ll want nothing more than to wrap your arms around your best friends for a big ol squeeze and snog. More than anything, I found myself in a little piece of Dolly. 

The Guilty Feminist – Deborah Francis-White

I can’t for the life of me remember if this book was recommended to me or if I’d just seen it plastered all over Instagram. But whatever it was was, I’m glad I picked it up.

Before I jump into the review, I want to begin by defining what exactly a guilty feminist is. A guilty feminist is a feminist who’s actions and values can, on occasion, spend time apart. A guilty feminist lives in a web of trivial hypocrisies, like wanting to abolish the toxicities of diet culture – which acts nothing more than a patriarchal tool of control over women’s bodies – all whilst punishing yourself through another spin class in a desperate bid to find the social currency promised in an ‘acceptably’ sized pair of jeans. The Guilty Feminist book is, in my opinion, one of the best starting points in literature on modern-day feminism. It approaches serious topics in a thought-provoking, light-hearted* (as light-hearted as possible when discussing patriarchal oppression) and hilarious way. Deborah is analytical of the insidious hierarchies around gender, race, class and disability embedded within a 21st century society and, importantly, includes the voices (via paid interview) of POC, gay, trans and disabled women.

What I find most refreshing about this book is how accessible it is. Deborah includes extremely basic and easy-to-understand analogies to not only explain issues, but to encourage you to challenge and deconstruct (in hindsight, outrageous) preconceived beliefs and understandings about the world. She unapologetically takes on social commentary and champions the work and successes of feminist activists such as Becca Bunce and Leyla Hussein, who are simply inspiring.

Whilst I absolutely loved the ideas, arguments and messages in The Guilty Feminist, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the style of writing. The book generally read well, but I sometimes found some of the phrasing a little clumsy and had to go back and re-read some sentences. However, she absolutely nailed the tone and managed to maintain her light-heartedness throughout.

I found the end most satisfying, as Deborah indulges us in some of her favourite hypocrisies and paradoxes as a guilty feminist herself, including rap music which denigratingly refers to women as ‘bitches and hoes’, BDSM fantasies and the classic romcoms we all know and love. She even suggests that there’s hidden feminism in all our guilty secrets (and gives pretty convincing points for this too!). I was left with a strong sense of ally-ship to my fellow women and was encouraged to re-examine how intersectional my own feminist agenda has been up until now.

And in true Deborah Francis-White style, I’m a feminist but walk around half blind because glasses don’t look so ‘good’ on me. And there’s no chance I’m even attempting contact lenses until my vision has declined to at least 30%.

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