Hidden Figures

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Read 07/04/2017-10/04/2017

Rating: 4 stars

What I wanted was for them to have the grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved, the kind of American history that belongs to the Wright Brothers and the astronauts, to Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. Not told as a separate history, but as a part of the story we all know. Not at the margins, but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black, or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic.

So says Margot Lee Shetterly in the prologue to her history of the black female mathematicians working at NASA from the 1940s onwards. Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia. Her father was an engineer at Langley, working for NASA. She grew up among the women who worked alongside her father as human computers. Until a chance remark made by her father on a visit Shetterly made with her husband in 2010, she had no idea about the pioneering work these black women carried out, or about just how many black women worked at NASA. And so began her research into the subject. Continue reading

We Should All Be Feminists

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Read 26/02/2017

Rating: 4 stars

This is an essay in book form, a modified version of a TED talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2012. It’s less than 50 pages long, but it packs a punch.

The event at which Adichie was speaking in 2012 aimed to challenge and inspire Africans and friends of Africa to think differently. In Nigerian culture, Adichie’s culture, being a strong independent woman is frowned upon. In her talk, Adichie identifies the different ways in which women are kept down in Nigerian society. I recognised some of those ways in my own culture, despite the fact that women were supposedly emancipated a century ago in Britain. Continue reading

Howards End is on the Landing

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Read 28/01/2017-30/01/2017

Rating: 3 stars

My husband bought me this memoir about reading for Christmas. I haven’t yet read any of Susan Hill’s novels, so I had no expectations. At the start of the book, Hill is looking for a book on her many bookshelves. As she tracks it down, she discovers that she has possibly 200 books that she hasn’t read. She also rediscovers books that she’d like to re-read. She decides to spend a year not buying new books and repossessing the books she already owns. Continue reading

Gumption

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Read 20/01/2017-24/01/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Watch out, because this is a long one. Gumption has fed my brain and I’ve had lots of thoughts as a result. I’ll start with this one: O, Nick Offerman, how I love your drollness.

There are so many great things in this book. I didn’t agree with all of Offerman’s opinions, but I agreed with and enjoyed the majority. He talks sense but he doesn’t preach. He entertains but he doesn’t diminish the seriousness of what he’s saying.

Offerman appears in one of my favourite TV shows of recent years, Parks and Recreation. He plays Ron Swanson, a small c conservative man with a deep love for the outdoors, manual labour and meat. He’s everything I shouldn’t love, but he’s a joy.

Offerman shares many of Ron’s characteristics, except he is more free in the expression of his sense of humour and far less conservative. In this book, Offerman takes a look at the lives of significant figures in American culture and explains why they mean what they do to him. It covers politics, art, slow living, responsibility to the planet, to animals and to other human beings, and provides insights into Offerman’s own philosophy of life. It’s both interesting and funny. Continue reading

Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life

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Read 27/03/2016-01/04/2016

Rating: 3 stars

There’s another reading challenge over on The Reader’s Room. I didn’t understand it, linked as it is to the March Madness college basketball tournament. I picked books based on what I wanted to clear off my TBR, without a thought of popularity or pairing them with teams that might make the final. But at least I will clear some of my book pile!

One of the books I chose was Howard Sounes’s biography of Charles Bukowski.
Continue reading

Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West

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Read 13/12/2015-17/12/2015

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Scavenger Hunt Challenge

Lesley Downer has brought Sada Kawakami to life through the pages of this book. This is a readable, flowing account of her life. Known as Yakko during her geisha career and Sadayakko during her acting career, Sada had been largely forgotten after her death. When she was remembered, it was in disparaging terms.

But Sadayakko was a ground breaking woman. Continue reading