Thursday, August 10, 2006


Sage gave me a nice excuse to talk about books, rather than anything mroe depressing, so I thought I'd take it.

1. One book that changed your life?

I'm really going to have to do two books - Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford and Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter. I read them both in the middle of 1997, and I became politically active shortly after. I'd always gone on protests, and was thinking quite a lot about politics in the first half of that year (I had my feminist click a few months earlier) but I didn't actually gone to meetings or done any organising work.

It should be relatively obvious why Jessica Mitford's life story would lead a 19 year old girl to think that political activism was the greatest thing ever (although she never did any actual organising till she got to America), the role of Metamagical Themas is a little more mysterious. It's a collection of Scientific American columns by Douglas Hoftsadter, which covered a strange array of topics - from Rubick's Cube to nuclear war. I loved it, still do, it's exactly the sort of applied philosophy that I find interesting and stimulating without being wanky (which was what always turned me off university philosophy). The last four or five columns he argues, very persuasively, that not freeloading, and trying to create change, is the only rational choice. Now I find those sections some of the least satisfying of the book, because he focuses on individuals acting seperately - whereas I think collective action is the only way we have strength. But then they were the push I need to overcome my shyness and realise I had something to offer.

2. One book you have read more than once?

See I think I'd find it easier to name a book I'd read only once, than books I'd read more than once. I re-read almost anything I own and at the strangest times I decide that what I really need to do right that second is re-read every Swallows and Amazons book.

But I'm going to go with Tamora Pierce's In the Hand of the Goddess as the book I re-read most obsessively as a teenager, and which resonated and reassured me in ways I still don't understand. It's strange in theory I don't think the idea of a single feminist warrior but two of the stories that have been most important to me have been stories of solitary women warriors.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

I always have problems with desert island lists - I overthink them. Like when I come up with lists of desert island songs I start with Dar Williams 'As Cool As I Am', but almost all the other songs I like are love songs or songs of struggle - I do kind of wonder if I'd want songs about those particular subjects when there's no chance I'd ever see anyone else ever again.

But I think right now I'd take Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford - because it's 700 pages long and I haven't read it yet. Plus I think letters would be quite good for a desert island - I imagine I'd have quite a short attention span if I was that alone.

4. One book that made you laugh?

"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine month."

"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything."

"But the plans were on display ..."

"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

"That's the display department."

"With a torch."

"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard."
I'm still sad Douglas Adams died at such a young age.

5. One book that made you cry?

How can I just choose one book that made me cry? I ususally feel a little bit disappointed if fiction I read doesn't make me cry. But I'm going to go with Back Home because I love Michelle Magorian, and World War II books have always been a staple of random crying (not just the books it's a rare day when I can listen to Everywhere without crying).

6. One book you wish had been written?

I love autobiographies and memoirs - I love finding out how people live, and the sense and meaning they give to their lives. I also believe that every person's life story has something of value to those who prepare to look, and I think autobiographies and memoirs uphold that idea. I can think of dozens of people who I wish had written autobiographies - but I'm going to go with Fannie Lou Hamer - I'd like to hear her story about not putting up with no two seats.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Just one? I think you can make an argument for any and all religious texts and any self-help book, plus The Mayor of Casterbridge because I had to read that in seventh form and I couldn't have cared less about the fall of old men if I'd tried for a week. But I'm going to go with a pretty random choice: The Best Little Girl in the World - because no matter how well-meaning the author books about anorexia promote disordered eating in female readers.

8. One book you are currently reading?

My sister went to America (the land of cheap books), and I got her to bring back Katha Pollitt's Virginity or Death, Susan Brownmiller's In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution and Barbara Kingsolver's Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983.

I've just finished Virginity or Death and begun In Our Time (I'm saving Hold that Line till last, because that's the one I'm most excited about). I haven't read enough to tell you much about it (and I've never actually read Against Our Will - the problem with ground breaking books is that they never seem particularly original once everyone's accepted the ideas), but I'm really looking forward to reading it.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisations. I started reading it in the first chapters, the one about Iran I dreamt that Iranian soldeirs were invading my house and that I had to run away from them (which I did - I have a tendancy to sleep walk or more accurately sleep run). After that I stopped reading it and that night dreamt that Midwives were trying to blow up my house (I'm sure my subconcious was telling me not to fuck with it and I could remove all material but it was going to make sure I resolved my issues by running around in my sleep). I feel I should get back to it, particularly now.

10. Now tag five people.

I'm not sure what the etiquette of this sort of thing is, but it'd be cool if Span, Sofiya Idiot/Savant and Maria wanted to do it.


  1. Very flattered to be chosen. I'll try to tackle it tonight before I leave for the weekend.

  2. Anonymous10:24 am

    If you haven't already, do not ever watch the film of Back Home. They totally destroyed it, turned it from a feminist coming of age story and analysis of the changing and contrasting social roles and structures with fantastic characterisation, to an unoriginal and completely pathetic romance in which Rusty was only a minor character.

    Yeah, I'm angry about that.

  3. I think that's a good point about "Best Little Girl." I remember reading it in about grade 6 or 7, then obsessing about it for a while - taking my measurements every day. Luckily, it all got very boring to me soon enough.