Reading Round Up: Graphic novels about girls oh my

Graphic novels were a thing that happened to me when I started my masters degree, moving closer to one of my top nerd pals who started slipping me copies of Walking Dead and Preacher. I knew I’d like them, given the opportunity to engage and a little guidance from where to start – same for tabletop board games.

Entering the world of comic books can be admittedly tricky for anyone – what do you mean there are a number of reboots – but when you are facing the hyped up gore or sexualisation of women or plain dodgy writing, it gets a little tricker. At first I kept wondering how on earth I was going to remember to buy those singles every week (hint just buy the volumes, if you have patience to wait).

I’ve been lucky enough to read some excellent books written by women about women in the last few months, so let me share them with you.

msmarvel3featuredimageFirst up is Ms. Marvel, penned by G. Willow Wilson, which I came to with admittedly not much more knowledge of Marvel than beyond the movies. Kamala Khan is a muslim Pakistani-American teenage girl, growing up in New Jersey, trying to balance her newfound powers with the expectations of her parents. The stories are great fun and actually laugh out loud funny – I especially love the first story in volume 2 which involves her and X-Men’s Wolverine wandering around a sewer. She is refreshing in that she has dilemmas about life that can be related to, but still kicks but really hard. So far there are two volumes out (all those little single issues collected into two decent sized books) which you can devour, snorting at the references to Harry Potter. Volume one is £7.89 on Wordery.

rat-queensStaying with “girls who kick butt”, Rat Queens is your fantasy RPG Dungeons and Dragons roaming party of bandits but who are all funny, intelligent women. None of them are rats, like I had thought. But it’s still good! It’s also written by a man (so probably should have been excluded given my premise of girls by girls by idgaf). I have so far read the first volume which has some amazing artwork and a great storyline. As a casual D&D player and lover of all-things-rpg in video games, I often long for stories that explore different kind of women banding together. Not only are the four main characters different personality wise, but there is a diversity of body shape and skin tones which is refreshing. All the characters have sexual agency, which is also refreshing! I have genuinely fallen in love with Hannah, Dee, Violet and Betty. The first volume is a cheapie cheap £5.73 on Wordery! The 2nd volume is about twice the price, but you expect this with graphic novels – they lure you in with low prices and misandrist jokes and well here you are, in a fort of books.

PERSEPOLIS465FMoving away from the series format to self contained novels, I’ve been lucky to read some beautiful ones. No bookshelf is complete without Marjane Sartrapi’s Persepolis, an autobiography of her childhood growing up in Iran. If you don’t read the book, at least watch the movie, but really really you should read the book. My knowledge of the history of Iran has certainly expanded, and it is a history you should explore. Marjane’s childhood stubbornness reminds me of being a small girl, very set in my mind of what was right and wrong.

How could you not love Windy though
How could you not love Windy though

A lesser known treasure (to me at least) has been This One Summer, a sort-of growing up story between two girls, Rose and Windy, who is possibly one of my favourite people ever. Windy will call you out when you say something that parrots the patriarchy or is judgey. The story is gently paced but melancholy and hopeful, and makes me long for swimming in lakes. It is written by Jillian Tamaki and drawn by Mariko Tamaki, who have written a number of other books that I have my eye on.

If you like creepy as heck books then you should consider picking up Through the Woods by Emily Carroll which has some of the most terrifying images and stories I’ve ever read. To a lesser extent I also recommend the short-but-not-at-all-sweet Gosh Comics published Dreadful Wind and Rain by Isabel Greenberg, which is a short, haunting tale about two sisters told through seriously beautiful imagery and is only £6 from Gosh!.

Other honourable mentions that aren’t books I’ve read recently but will probably appeal to you if the above does: Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley is an homage to turning 30 and not knowing if you’ve done the right things to get there; In Real Life uses World of Warcraft style online MMOs to reach across topics such as poverty, culture clashes, and adolescence and is written by the wonderful Cory Doctorow; anything by the wonderful Jamie McKelvie and Kieren Gillen (Young AvengersWicked and the Divine and Phonogram); the Saga series by Bryan K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

If you are in London, I recommend popping to the delightful Gosh! Comics in Soho to pick these up. The staff are always wonderfully helpful and attentive, and the huge array of excellent books on display in the central table represent some of the best books in store – I’ve found that picking up one of these at random has often ended well. They also have a really good sized selection of zines and small press comic books for you to enjoy, which also make excellent gifts.

What have you read recently? Share your faves in the comments!!

80 for 80, No.1: Rosie and the Priest – Giovanni Boccaccio

When the men were off somewhere, he would come visiting their wives more solicitously than any priest they’d ever had before…

dirty stories are a-brewing
dirty stories are a-brewing

Penguin’s Little Black Classics collections starts off with a collection of four short stories, or “bawdy tales” as the black cover blurb suggests. The stories are taken from Boccaccio’s The Decameron, translated by Peter Hainsworth.

These four tales are the first piece of writing by Boccaccio I’ve ever read. Our new pal Gio was an important fourteenth century Renaissance humanist Italian, whose poetry served as inspiration for a number of Chaucer’s work. So, a pretty good place to start!

As for the stories themselves, I genuinely enjoyed the first three. I read these tucked up in bed, drinking a cup of Pukka’s equivalent of Sleepy Time tea, winding down for the evening and looking forward to a bit of literary mischief.

Ricciardo da Chinzica loses his wife is about a judge who doesn’t bang his wife enough, Rosie and the Priest features a character called WILLY WELCOME and the first one Andreuccio da Perugia’s Neopolitan Adventures is about Andreuccio being incredibly unlucky.

Some mild spoilers ahead. The last one Patient Griselda is this weird story where a husband tests his wife’s patience by subjecting her to loads of cruelty which she just takes like “OKAYYY”, ending with him after about TWENTY YEARS going “a-hey I was joking all along, surprise here’s your child we took from you, now they’re an adult!”. My partner Tim, who actually read this book before me, got to the end of this story and went “well that was bullshit”. I think he summed our feelings up very succinctly. I think it’s more because we both instantly thought “bin all men, especially this one” rather than thought it wasn’t a good piece of writing.

So, I think 75% enjoyable is a pretty strong start for the first book. It’s made me want to read more Boccaccio, despite poor old Griselda’s glum fate.

Running Tally

I’m going to keep track of diversity in authors and literature throughout this. There may be a graph. Sorry.

Authors: Male

Type of literature: Short stories

80 for 80: a reading adventure in Little Black Classics

Sometimes, when you are stuck in a really good novel, you just want to dip into something else quickly. My usual go-to is a graphic novel as I tend to whizz through them relatively quickly. But I wanted to mix this up a little bit.

And that’s when I noticed Penguin had launched their 80 Little Black Classics in celebration of 80 years of Penguin. Upsettingly pleasing to the eye, each book is a taster of work from authors less known or rarer works by classic favourites. Each book has around 60 pages, and comes in at a very affordable 80p. All the books have no introduction, no background information, just the words alone. The books themselves are heavily weighted towards the 19th century and less than a quarter of them are written by women – I’m going to keep a running tally on the diversity as we go.

So I’m going to try and read every single one, and write about it here. Let me know which ones you’ve read and loved. Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 15.28.13

Reading Round Up: January & February Part 1

I feel a little silly starting this in March seeing as I’ve read some stonkingly good stuff in the last few months so I’ll include some highlights over the next few weeks.

Audre Lorde – Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

I have to admit that when I moved to London, my reading horizons expanded broadly – partly due to the friends I was making, partly due to it being that time in my life where I realised I knew nothing about a lot. So I decided to read some more PoC (people of colour) feminist writing. Last June when I was in the ~mist of depression~ I could barely do anything except read Maya Angelou’s entire back catalogue and during that time I realised that I wasn’t reading enough theory or enough by WoC (women of colour). Then I got invited to a gift swap themed around Audre Lorde’s birthday and basically I then had no excuse.

The essays in this book are varied – ranging from her trip to Russia in the 1970s to critical responses to other parts of the feminist movement. I love Lorde’s voice and couldn’t get enough of reading her every word. I thoroughly believe she is an essential voice to listen to. I still can’t decide what my favourite bit is, so will take it for a second read at some point this year. If you have a favourite Audre Lorde quote, tell me in the comments.

You can buy Audre Lorde’s books on Wordery (where I bought my copy and they were really nice about it being bent).

No trigger warnings as far as I remember but she certainly references rape and domestic violence as acts against women. If you disagree, please let me know in the comments so I can amend.

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

I can recall other people casually mentioning they had read this as their GCSE work and had heard rumours that it was a good book, but it had always sat on my list of “I’ll buy it one day” next to Oranges are not the Only Fruit. What a mistake to make and boy do I wish I had read this as a teenage girl. Luckily enough, the lovely people at Prudence and the Crow, a surprise vintage book gift-box service, sent me it as my first book, remarking that they had held onto it awaiting someone who wanted to read feminist speculative fiction. Guess what I requested guys?

The unknown named author, renamed Offred, gives an insight into this future dystopia where, in the aftermath of mysterious toxic fallout, reproductively capable women are raised up, and other, sinisterly titled “unwomen” are discarded to the colonies. It’s a unashamedly grim book, I’m not going to lie to you. Atwood builds the world of the Republic of Gilead around you – a terrifying world that you realise could easily only be a few steps away from what we have now. That, for me, is the scariest bit of it. How possible it could all be.

As for Prudence and the Crow, I really like their idea of hand picking a book for you based on your likes and dislikes, and being able to interact with them on Twitter to tell them your thoughts on the book. They always manage to find really lovely old covers and even make you a little sleeve to keep your vintage book safe when you are trotting around. I’m currently reusing my first one for my Penguin 80 for 80 books. Also check out their instagram!

You can buy Margaret Atwood books from most retailers; how about this excellent hard back edition from Waterstones. Trigger warning for sexual violence/coercion/rape.

George Eliot – Silas Marner

Another book that was a GCSE staple that passed me by. I absolutely whipped through Silas Marner, and considered ordering the rest of George Eliot’s, or rather Mary Ann Evans’, back catalogue. Not only was it my first experience with Eliot, but it was the first time I’ve read an account of a sympathetic character with seizures in fiction. I didn’t know about this facet of the book when I picked it up, but Silas’ silent staring moments where time slips by is so close to my own experiences. Luckily, no one has done me any wrongs during these episodes, more than I can say for Silas. It’s a really great story of bad (also rich) people getting their comeuppance and good people being rewarded by karma eventually – who doesn’t love that?

My copy is from the Penguin English Library series, which includes 100 of the best English novels, all reasonably priced with a jazzy, waxy-textured cover (honestly it feels better than it sounds). I recall nothing that requires a trigger warning.