Queer, A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele | 1 Minute Reviews

Here’s the thing: I’m queer in a number of ways. I’ve known I was attracted to multiple genders for a long time, but good old childhood shaming and being called “Lizzie the Lesbo” was enough for me to squash that side of me until I reached adulthood and eventually felt safe enough to think about it. I’ve known I was not a girl and not a boy either for my whole life, existing in the in-between and struggling with intermittent social and physical dysphoria. It was only in my late twenties that I started to find the words for this, having finally met other genderqueer, trans and nonbinary people.

Part of my own coming out was through learning about queer politics, and in turn theory. But I’m going to be really honest with you here — I did not understand a lot of it. When I say understand, I don’t mean politically align with. I mean the language was so often complex, so very different from the English I speak or have heard throughout my life, that I would be thrown off entirely.

There’s been discussions around this on Twitter, quite rightly pointing out that academic language can be alienating for people, particularly working class people who haven’t studied humanities. The amount of times I’ve had to google words like “hegemony” and “praxis” in order to understand a sentence are innumerable.

The same thing has happened to me with feminist theory. I have tried quite a few times to read works by Nancy Fraser, or sections of Judith Butler’s writing, or even try and access philosophy through a beginner’s course, and I never managed to get very far. Until today.

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A few weeks ago, myself and Alice were walking through Soho, talking about the DIVA book conference she’d recently been to and how revelatory it was that an event devoted to queer female literature was not protested any more. We got onto the topic of Section 8, the problems of a discourse centring around “always knowing” about your own queer identity, and a few other connected topics. She mentioned Queer, A Graphic History to me, and I decided there in the rain in Soho that we would march to the bookshop and I’d buy it.

I’m really pleased to say that having read Queer, A Graphic History I actually think I have a handle on theory! Barker takes the reader through the evolution of queer theory and the main contributors, right up to the present day and the futures directions of study that are developing. Thanks to Scheele’s wonderful illustrations, concepts are broken down simply, faces given to mysterious names and summarised quotes attributed to those faces.

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As I suspected, I knew a lot of these fundamentals of queer theory — intersectionality, gender perfomativity, the black feminists who correctly challenged much of the original white thinkers — but I didn’t have the faces, the names, the language behind the concepts. Never again will I shrink when I hear someone attribute a concept to Lacan or Foucault, because I now have a loose understanding of their positions and a Scheele portrait to put their name to.

Barker has also provided a resources section at the back with accessible further reading on sexuality and gender, and queer theory, which is incredibly useful as so often I pick up a book and fall into the inaccessible language pit.

Queer, A Graphic History is an informative, affirming, hopeful and essential read for anyone who wants to know more about queer theory, politics and activism. However, irrespective of your own identity, Queer is also a great introduction to examining binaries and biases in our daily lives and media. This is a thoughtful and powerful book to spend an afternoon reading and a lifetime acting upon.

Interested? Get it here: Hive (UK) / Book Depository (Int)

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Dr MEG-JOHN BARKER is a writer, therapist, and activist-academic specialising in sex, gender and relationships. Meg-John is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and a UKCP accredited psychotherapist, and has over a decade of experience researching and publishing on these topics including the popular book Rewriting the Rules. @megjohnbarker

JULIA SCHEELE is an illustrator, graphic facilitator and comic book artist. She runs One Beat Zines, a feminist zine collective and distributor. @juliascheele

Trans by Juliet Jacques | 1 Minute Reviews

If you’re looking for a great primer on what life is like as a trans woman, you can’t do wrong by choosing Trans by Juliet Jacques. However, as you’ll see, the book is more than its title’s subject matter.

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Trans is the culmination of Jacques’ series written for the Guardian, about her transition from living as a man to living her truth as a woman. Beginning with the aftermath of her sexual reassignment surgery, and swiftly jumping back to her teenage years, Jacques writes with a brutal honesty about the issues facing trans women intermixed with her own experience of understanding her gender, and who she is.

Jacques also touches on the difficulties of being openly trans – both in the media and in private, facing off against people on all ends of the political spectrum who deny her existence and restrict her safety.

Alongside this, Trans is also a great story of growing up in the UK and trying to carve out a piece of the world for yourself under austerity. She writes openly about the difficulties of working within the NHS and of being a writer, an artist, in such a difficult economic climate. Her fears and triumphs will resonate with many young people today.

Interested? Get it here.

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The Great Soul of Siberia by Sooyong Park | 1 Minute Reviews

As a child, I used to watch a lot of nature documentaries, particularly one called The Realm of the Russian Bear, which also featured beautiful Siberian tigers. I was obsessed with their grace and beauty, and their power.

The Great Soul of Siberia filled me with the glee I felt as a child, seeing those striped elegant creatures glide through the snow.

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Sooyung Park has been studying and following tigers in the Ussuri region of Russia for over 20 years. Not only is this book an ode to the great cats he built his life around, but it is a biography of the region, its people and their culture.

His prose is gentle, respectful, elegant, and had me in tears a number of times, wishing with him that these beautiful animals can survive a seemingly impending extinction. There are some real heart-in-the-mouth moments when you realise how flimsy Park’s hides are, especially when the tigers start to notice.

Honestly, this is a beautiful piece of nature writing that encompasses Russian politics and the art of film making.

Interested? Get it here.

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Thank you kindly to Harper Collins & William Collins for sharing this copy with me.

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot | 1 Minute Reviews

I am truly overwhelmed by The Outrun. I read it in hardback last year, and I still think of it. I pick the stunning book off my shelf and flick through, submerging myself in Liptrot’s prose and observations.

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Part rediscovery-of-self memoir, part salute to nature and her Orcadian upbringing, completely engrossing.

The Outrun follows Amy through London and alcoholism, chasing wild highs and life’s edges, to her return to the islands of the North, to discover new ways of life for herself. Here she re-discovers the thrills and love of nature, both on her family’s land (including the outrun which the book is named for) and the other islands around her.

Liptrot writes with raw words, often beautiful and harsh in turns.  Honestly this book is wonderful, blunt and honest, delicate and hopeful.

Last year, The Outrun scooped up the Wainwright Prize for non fiction and was shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize. It’s recognition is completely founded. If you haven’t read this book yet, make it a priority. It is unforgettable.

Interested? Get it here.

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Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham | 1 Minute Reviews

I wrote the bones of this review back in 2016 when I was sent a pre-publication copy by the lovely people at Ebury Press. This was, importantly, also before I received my diagnosis of autism.

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Chris Packham’s memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a brutal, beautiful book that subverts the memoir genre through inclusion of third person accounts of events involving him. The timeline flicks around, with the Summer of 1975, the Summer of his kestrel, playing a centralised role. Alongside that are his end-of-chapter discussions with his therapist in September 2003, shortly after considering suicide, where he discusses his issues with people – and why he loves animals more than other humans – and his own struggles to navigate a world not built for him.

It’s utterly stunning and I am in awe.

While many nature memoirs tiptoe into the brutalism of nature, Packham strides forward into it – nibbling tadpoles, trying to rescue a drowning fox, stripping meat from bones. It is harsh, just as nature is.

While reading I saw so much of my childhood in his own; a lonely-alone child who dives headfirst into the natural world, where he understands animals while being baffled by humans? Yep, pretty close to the bone here. Mid-reading, I discovered that Packham is autistic, receiving his diagnosis as an adult 2005 which he is only opening up about now, in part due to the release of Fingers in the Sparkle Jar.

So much of what happened to him mirrors my own life, making this a book very close to my heart. I feel that the other lonely nature loving autistic children will find much to love here, especially if, like me, they grew up watching Chris on The Really Wild Show.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thanks to Ebury Books for sending me a review copy.

Want to read more books about autistic people? Check out my recommendations on The Essential Autie Book List.

Do What You Want edited by Ruby Tandoh & Leah Pritchard | 1 Minute Reviews

I’m absolutely in love with the array of essay books that are being released now; The Good Immigrant, Nasty Women, and Know Your Place, which is still being crowdfunded, are three that spring to mind.

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What started out as a project to raise some money for charities such as Mind and Beat has become a brilliant zine, a handbook for this generation to navigate mental health problems.

I’ve long admired Ruby Tandoh’s writing, both her long pieces and her threads of tweets, and so I was immediately drawn to this collection. Tandoh and Pritchard have brought together such a great collection of writers and artists, and so this zine absolutely hums with honesty, talent and vulnerability.

If you want an idea of the calibre of writing available in this zine, the team have made two essays available online: Into the Depths by Martha Rose Saunders, about autism, desire and passing; and On the Realities of Life as a Black Woman with Borderline Personality Disorder by Christine Pungong, one of the most affecting essays in the collection.

Also featured are recipes, checklist guides to loving yourself and practical advice about seeking help for your mental health problems.

The zine has been re-released for a second printing in August this year; you can preorder it here. If you want to get your hands on a physical copy earlier however, hit up their stockists listed on the website to see if they have some left. Ebook editions are also available.

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Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 1 Minute Reviews

Dear Ijeawele started life as a series of letters to a friend of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, after she was asked for advice on how to raise their new baby girl as a feminist.

When a couple of years ago a friend of mine from childhood, who’d grown into a brilliant, strong, kind woman, asked me to tell her how to raise her baby girl a feminist, my first thought was that I did not know.

It felt like too huge a task.

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Adichie writes with wit and gentleness but with a commanding voice that draws attention, as with her fiction novels. While this book is only small, it covers a wide range of topics including instilling a love of reading, toy choice, conversations about sexuality, competition and changing oneself in order to promote your child’s feminist learnings.

This small book packs a punch, and is an essential for any feminist starter kit, along with Adichie’s previous feminist essay We Should All Be Feminists (and there is certainly a relevant overlap in content between the two). These two books are great primers for any person interested in finding out more about feminism and why we need it, leading readers into more adventurous in depth works by writers such as Audre Lorde, Angela C Davies and bell hooks.

I think it would also make a great present to any new mothers, as was its original use.

Interested? Get it here.

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Thank you kindly to the team at 4th Estate and Harper Collins for sharing this important book with me.