In the late 1960s and early 70s, American psychologist Martin Seligman and his colleagues subjected dogs to inescapable electric shocks. Later, when the same animals were placed in a situation where the shocks were avoidable, they didn’t attempt to get away. If you can stomach the cruelty, the concept of learned helplessness derived from this research is a useful way of thinking about depression and – although I don’t recall ever seeing it referenced this way – the experience of a baby left to cry. Right now, British politics makes me feel like a dog given uncontrollable electric shocks and I can’t help thinking it’s a fascist plot to demoralise the Left.
Two novels, set primarily in the continent of Africa, in which women are separated from a child and must resort to looking on from a distance. In the first, set in Egypt, Bodour can’t admit that a famous singer is her illegitimate child. But at least they’re in the same city. And both alive. Which is not the case in the second novel, set in Jamaica, the USA and Liberia, where the deceased mother’s voice is carried on the wind. So she does get to guide her son and his two companions, all of whom have supernatural gifts. Intrigued? Read on!
Two novels about eighteen-year-old women who abandon the advantages of their previous identities to make common cause with oppressed peoples, at great risk to themselves. In the first, set in 2000, Aden travels from a secular society in California to study Islam, and to join the jihad. In the second, set in 1944, Luce leaves her bourgeois family in Italy to experience first-hand the Nazi labour camps. Are these rebellious adolescents idealists or deluded, or a little of both?
My real-world promotion of World Toilet Day yesterday was somewhat eclipsed by a surprise conversation about #MeToo. Surprise because, having personally experienced only “mild” forms of unwanted sexual attention, I hadn’t jumped on this particular bandwagon, the conversation left me feeling I should have. After all, one doesn’t have to have experienced direct gender discrimination to be a feminist. One shouldn’t have to have experienced the trauma of rape to oppose the culture of misogyny that so often enables it.
How quickly time moves on in politics if I can go, in under three weeks, from hoping that someone will speak out for diversity and social justice to relief we’ve someone who doesn’t come across like an embarrassing uncle (or, in my case, nephew) to negotiate us out of the EU. When the country appears on the brink of Trumpification, I’m grateful for crumbs of sanity wherever they arise. So thank you, Theresa May, for enabling the speedy departure of the chump who gambled his own and his country’s future on a game of dice with his backbenchers, although I feel for the Campbell children having to move house with so little time to pack their toys. As for Andrea Leasdom’s own goal against childless women (of which I’ll have more to say at a later date), all she’s done is demonstrate she’s in politics, not for our collective futures, but for the sake of the genes that will live on in her offspring after her death.
As I’ve mentioned before, I was surprised when a literary agent who turned down my debut novel did so because the sample I’d sent her was written in the first person present tense. But if you read for a living, being familiar with your preferences and prejudices can save a lot of time. After all, we can’t all appreciate the same thing. Reading for reviews is helping me clarify my own likes and dislikes although, despite the title of this post, a sense of accountability to publishers who’ve provided me a free copy and a belief in the value of diversity will see me rarely abandoning a book. (I think I ditched three out of well over 100 books I read last year.) But since “11 reasons I don’t want to read your book” has a nasty ring to it, for the purposes of this post I’m extending the definition of “abandon” to encompass books I’m not even tempted to start. Practical or blinkered, considered or arbitrary, undoubtedly contradictory, in reverse order of annoyingness, these are my 11 reasons I won’t give a novel my time.
finding truth through fiction
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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