FEMINISM//Dear Ijeawele, or a feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele: Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (May):  It’s no secret that I’m a huge Adichie fan and I was very pleased when Benn took my hints and bought this for me for my birthday. It’s a slim book, but it offers many things.

Asked by a friend for advice about how to raise her newborn daughter as a feminist, Adichie wrote her a long, detailed letter that became this book. It’s a funny, honest little book which shines with a love for girls and women and the desire that they soar in a world that can seem harsh and dangerous. I found myself nodding along as I devoured the whole thing in an afternoon- there is so much good sense in it.

Although there’s humour and grace, it contains some deep messages. Some we’ll be familiar with- let girls choose what they like at the toy shop, regardless of whether it’s marketed at boys or girls; teach them to value themselves and be careful of the language we use when talking about genders. Adichie also touches on race and what it is to be a Nigerian woman in the modern world.

This is a book that has good advice for all of us, not just mothers (and not just mothers of girls.) We could start changing the world by reading more books like this.

ESSAYS//The Good Immigrant- ed. Nikesh Shukla

The Good Immigrant (Mar): I’ve wanted to read this for ages and was very pleased when it finally arrived at the library. I love essays and I have been trying to expand my world-view in light of the recent political landscape. One of the ways I became acutely aware of how things were shifting was through the conversations I was having with my students. I am incredibly privileged to work with kids from a huge variety of backgrounds (in my school we have a noticeboard that shows all the languages spoken by the students- there are about 35 in total.) I listened to their fears and how they saw themselves being treated, first after Brexit (I teach in a town which voted to leave) and later, post-Trump.
This book really should be in every secondary school library. The stories contained within it are important and reflective of a society that we may not recognise initially- many of us do not have to go through life worrying about the way our hair or our skin colour or religion affects the way the world sees us. Sex, death, culture, femininity and masculinity, fashion,the importance of representation across all areas of life, as well as the importance of the language we use is all covered here and I devoured every page.
I loved Bim Adewunmi’s exploration of pop culture , ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Tokenism’ and Nish Kumar’s exploration of his feelings after he became a meme in ‘Is Nish Kumar a Confused Muslim?’ Another standout piece for me was ‘Cutting Through (On Black Barbershops and Masculinity)’, where poet Inua Ellams travels around Africa exploring what it means to be a man in different countries. Kieran Yates’ piece ‘On Going Home’ explores the culture shock- not only from country to country, but also city to city when she visits family in India.
Riz Ahmed’s piece about airport security and performance, ‘Airports and Auditions’, has rightly received a lot of attention for its humour and blistering anger and it is one of the best pieces in the book. I also enjoyed Selena Godden’s essay ‘Shade’, which explores being ‘other’ in a society that doesn’t quite know how to deal with those who might be seen as ‘outsiders’.
The essay that spoke to me the most, though, was Darren Chetty’s ‘You Can’t Say That! Stories Have To Be About White People.’ As a teacher, Chetty found that pupils wrote stories from the perspective of white characters, regardless of ethnicity. As I read this, I realised that this was often true of my own students. As a result, I have gone away and thought about how I can encourage my students to see themselves in the world and in their work. And then I hope they can change the world for the better.
Everyone should read this book. Everyone.

FICTION// Purple Hibiscus- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus (Sept):  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer I’ve wanted to read for a while; I have seen her give really powerful interviews and I recently read her brilliant short story The Arrangements, in which she sees the world of Donald Trump through the eyes of his wife, Melania (it is worth making the time to read it if you haven’t). On a more shallow level, I’ve been coveting the reissues of her novels in beautiful covers. However, I recently saw an offer where I could buy Purple Hibiscus, Half a Yellow Sun and Americanah for £8- I would have been daft to not take up the offer.

Purple Hibiscus tells the story of Kambili, a fifteen year old girl living in a household dominated by a violent and devout, yet charismatic, father. In a time of political unrest, Kambili and her brother Jaja are sent to live with their aunt, whose way of life is freer and less structured than the regime set for them in their own home. Kambili discovers friendship- and her own sexuality- as her life begins to change irreversibly around her, the guilt of betraying a parent always in the back of her mind.

I absolutely adored this novel, even though the subject matter was incredibly hard at times; to me, this read like a masterclass of how to structure a narrative. I’m very much looking forward to reading the other novels.