Reading through depression and anxiety

I have been very ill with depression and anxiety for the past 17 months. And on the bandwagon which is changing medication, unbearable side effects (gaining 2 stone when I have fibromyalgia which causes severe pain in my ankles and knees was quite unhelpful), and the limit of 6 group classes of CBT (with men), not to mention two incidents of triggered PTSD, has made me somewhat on the wrong side of struggling to work. In November, I decided to change tactics and stopped starring at my computer with fear (and writer’s block). Instead, I went for reading pretty much everything I possibly could whilst not worrying about work (getting PIP was a huge help here). I’m much better and on medication with less horrendous side effects (except dry mouth – my current resemblance to a cactus is also not the most helpful thing).

I’m not very good at the whole asking for help or for even mentioning how I am – my acting skills are far more in the area of pretending to be a manic pixy dream girl (or at least they are in my head) than being honest about my mental health. This article that I came across on FB is what I would say if I could.

So rather than break with tradition of hiding, I’ve made a list of the books that I’ve loved over the past 4 months (the rest are listed here):

 

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Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid – male entitlement in literature and laundry

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid by Rufi Thorpe is beautiful, heart-breaking and enraging on how mothering impacts women’s abilities to become a published author recognising the selfish and narcissistic behaviour of male writers is rewarded whilst women are held to impossible standards. Yet, buried within this incredible piece of writing are the following two paragraphs:

“I have never worried that the mundane world would muddy my celestial paws; I’ve always been perfectly able to lick my stamps myself. In fact, I have been far, far too able. The older I get, the more I recognize the leveraging power of ineptitude. My husband can’t cook well; I do the cooking. My husband accidentally shrinks a few sweaters; I do the laundry. My husband can’t lactate; the baby comes to New York. In his inability to do things, he is excused from labor. In my rush to excel, to shine, to be a good wife and mother, I have done nothing but ensure my labor will be lengthy and unpaid.” …

There are other ways too in which I am invisible. I often feel that the work I do around the house is the work of an invisible person. How else could my husband consistently leave his underwear tucked behind the bathroom door? His wet towel on the bed? Surely, he does not imagine me, swearing, swooping to pick up his damp, crumpled briefs with a child on one hip as I listen to a podcast and ponder going gluten free. He is not making a statement with his actions, saying, “Here, wife, pick up after me.” Instead, I think that on some level he believes that he lives in an enchanted castle where the broom comes to life and sweeps, and the teapot pours itself.

Women are expected to do all the unpaid caring work. That Thorpe recognises this but gives her husband a pass on being lazy, thoughtless and inconsiderate is just too distressing.

It would be nice if we all lived in a house where a cooked from scratch, nutritious meal was served three times a day. But this isn’t the Victorian era and servants aren’t a mandatory statement of social acceptability. You don’t need to be a great cook to make dinner for a family – pasta and soup aren’t hard to do (and I say this as someone with dyspraxia where following instructions and accurate measuring aren’t actual skills, as my children can attest).

Men do not believe they live in ‘enchanted castles’. They believe that other people (read wife or mother) are going to do the shit work. Men who consistently leave dirty underwear lying around are making a point about who actually matters in the relationship.  It takes 30 seconds to put your pants in the laundry basket. It takes 30 seconds to turn the washing machine on and 15 minutes (max) to put away clean laundry. Working long hours is not an excuse for being unable to pick up your own dirty underwear – unless you think childcare and housework are not real work.  A man who can operate a smart phone can read the instructions on the label of clothes and the manual for a washing machine.

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid isn’t heart-breaking simply because it evidences the extreme inequality between women and men, but because Thorpe sees this as inevitable in her own relationship. Thorpe thanks her mother for sacrificing so much, including never writing her own book, in order for Thorpe to succeed. That her husband is unwilling to put his own dirty underwear in the laundry basket to help support Thorpe is male entitlement writ large.

Hilary Boyd’s Thursdays in the Park

This is one of those books that I really wanted to enjoy. It is the story of a woman’s reawakening after an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant man. Unfortunately, the entire book is the minimisation of male violence both in the marriage of the main character, Jeanie, and that of her daughter. Like Paula McLean, who wrote The Paris Wife,  Hilary Boyd seems to have little understanding of the level of coercion and control that is common. Boyd also gives both husbands an ‘excuse’ for their abusive behaviour: one is the victim of child sexual violence and the other suffers from extreme jealousy. Obviously, neither man is responsible for their own behaviour to the point that Jeanie labels herself a bitch for wanting out of her unhappy marriage.

I would really like to read a “romance” novel, since Jeanie had to find a new man rather than be happy by herself, that actually understood the dynamics of domestic violence. Just one.

Realm of the Goddess by Sabina Khan

I first heard of the Realm of the Goddess in a blog with author Sabina Khan on Women Writers, Women Books. As the mother of two daughters, it was this that got my interest:

Disappointed at this obvious lack of diversity to choose from, I decided that I would write one myself. I feel strongly about the need to expose our youth to the magical and colorful traditions that make up our world. I also want my daughters to read about characters like themselves, so that they are not always reading about “others”. Or feeling that they are always the “others”.

My children and others of their generation may or may not want to read about the immigrant experience. But they certainly want to see themselves reflected in the fiction of their time. They want to see characters like themselves battling evil, falling in love and fighting with their parents. They want to know that others like them are dealing with conflicts as diverse as arranged marriage, education, religion and all of the issues that plague young people, regardless of their ethnicity.

As a lover of the genre of fantasy in young adult fiction, I wanted to read a book that was outside the vampire/werewolf/witch theme. I was going to put the book on my Amazon wishlist (600 books long and growing), but it was free on kindle so I downloaded it. And, then couldn’t put it down. It is very difficult to build lego for your kid whilst trying to read a book at the same time and not to  be recommended.

Realm of the Goddess does follow the pattern of vampire/ werewolf / witch books but with Hindu mythology. That alone makes it stand out from the crowd, but it is the richness of detail of Hindu mythology that makes this book so fabulous. The inclusion of the mythology is not forced or that dreadful Wikipedia-style history which made A.S Byatt’s The Children’s Book so unbearable. As a history nerd, I do love historical youth fiction and ones which are correct are hard to find. Granted I knew only the basics of Hindu mythology, but reading this made me want to read more (all recommendations of books written by women gratefully received!).

The main character Callie was fabulously written with depth and intelligence. She also ate actual food with gusto – all kinds of food from the traditional dishes of her family to cheeseburgers and pizza. Her hair was never perfect standing straight up on end when she awoke to the frizz of humidity. Callie reminded me of the character of Claire Danvers in the Morganville Vampire books: intelligent, strong, loyal, and kind. The female characters in young adult fiction are frequently unbearable with their desperation to be with a man. Callie does have a love interest (and they do kiss) but the discussions of the relationship focus on what Callie believes is best for her. Realm of the Goddess joins the Morganville Vampires in being as close to feminist-friendly as can be written. This is why it will never get the publicity of Twilight, which reinforced the norms of our patriarchal culture. Callie not only challenges these norms, but also talks about the reality of male violence and rape. In fact, rape and other forms of male violence are integral to the plot and are clearly labelled as the sole impediment to women’s liberation and power.

This is the hallmark of a great book for me, strong female characters who are real. I want to read more by Khan as well as more books written about Hindu mythology.  I want to see Khan publish a fact book on Hindu mythology like Rick Riordan did for Greek mythology with his Percy Jackson books.

I’m also restraining myself from emailing daily to ask when she’s going to publish the second book.

Five Wounds by @KatharineEdgar

I have had the absolute pleasure of reading various drafts of this book over the past two years. I started the first draft one evening and spent the following day half-asleep. The worst thing you can do when you have fibromyalgia is stay up late reading a book, but I simply couldn’t put it down as it melds all my favourite parts of literature: a brilliant, capable and feministy teenage heroine and historical accuracy.

5 Wounds is the comingof-age story of 15 year old Nan – a fiercely independent and headstrong young girl whose life changes drastically during a period of revolution and rebellion. Nan was sent sent to live in convent school following an unfortunate incident as a young child. This afforded her a level of freedom and education that many young girls of her class would never have experienced.

However, this is 1536 and the schism between Rome and Henry VIII has changed everything. Nan’s dreams of remaining in the convent and becoming a great Abbess are destroyed after Henry’s troops close the convent. Instead, Nan was bartered as a commodity and betrothed, rather unwillingly, to the much older and frequently married Lord Middleham. Nan’s father gains more land from this betrothal and Lord Middle ham a wife younger than his children. Nan’s Catholic faith, nurtured during her years living in a convent leads to her involvement in the Northern rebellion against Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is forced to choose between her faith and her personal safety. Does she chose treason or eternal damnation?

The true strengths of Edgar’s writing are the character of Nan and the accuracy of the historical context of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is alternately naive and brave, and her flawed choices reflect her optimism, faith and failure to understand the full consequences of rebellion. She is equally a child and an adult – limited by the constraints of her gender but freed by her desire to change the world.

Edgar’s love of history and the breadth of her research only adds to brilliance of the story. 5 Wounds precipitated one of my favourite historical discussion The Great Whether-Or-Not Noble Women Learned to Ride Normally Debate. I voted yes on the theory that noble daughters were valuable commodities and no sensible father would allow an expensive piece of property to remain incapable of escape from the numerous wars/ tantrums and general violence that defines European history.

I loved 5 Wounds. It was fast-paced, exciting and utterly brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough!

You can buy 5 Wounds from Amazon now.