Reading around the Web: International Women’s Day

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day, a celebration of women and their achievements the world over, and the chance, for anyone willing to take it, both to remember the great strides that have historically been taken against gender inequality and the suppression of female voices, and to think about where there’s still room for improvement, and how that might be achieved.

International Women’s Day, then, is a celebration of voices that have previously gone unheard or ignored, and of the creativity, strength and determination of women. But what about the well-established inequalities that hold many women back?

This is a topic that has given rise to lots of controversy. The #MeTIWDoo and Time’s Up campaigns have clearly emphasised the need for change and action in regards to the treatment of women, and of crimes committed against women, and award ceremonies are being consistently – and vocally – criticised for a bias against women, who are continually under-represented in a number of categories.

In addition to this, recently-published figures on gender-based wage gaps have highlighted ongoing issues in that area, and while the number of women in senior positions in the UK has increased,  multiple industries are still male-dominated.

While in many cases women do have a voice and are encouraged to speak out, it’s not the case that everyone always listens – or takes them seriously. In those same award ceremonies, there is a long-standing bias against people of colour, and while women in some societies have, for example, the right to vote, this isn’t the case across the board.

Celebrating Women’s Writing: Fiction (Waterstones blog) considers some of the most memorable fictional women as part of their campaign to mark 100 years of the first women’s right to vote in Britain.

Penguin are celebrating International Women’s Day with their #LikeAWoman campaign, for which they have established a pop-up bookshop. They identify a number of key inspirational books written by women, and consider the diversity of women’s writing on their blog, in Five transgender trailblazers for International Women’s Day.

In The League of Australian Women Fantasy Writers: A Short History (Unbound Worlds), Kim Wilkins looks into the exciting world of Australian fantasy writers, the history of the genre in Australia, and the influences that might have contributed to its popularity over and above other genres.

In There’s a True Story Behind Black Panther’s Strong Women. Here’s Why That Matters (TIME), Arica L. Coleman talks about Marvel’s Black Panther, and its inspirational female characters. Coleman draws attention to historical parallels and the long-established and damaging stereotypes that Black Panther actively denies and dismisses, and considers the importance of representation – especially when it is so high profile. This is exacerbated by the fact that media products of this kind are still frustratingly rare.

In 4 New Dystopian Novels with Feminist Focuses (Unbound Worlds), Matt Staggs highlights a number of recently-published dystopian novels written by women, with a nod to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The gender inequality foregrounded in these books is pointed and important, as the world in which we live is not so different, and our distance from their bleak perspectives not nearly large enough.


Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading. In last week’s installment, I highlight newly-published pieces on the topic of education.

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Reading around the Web: Education

This week’s theme is education.

Last week, I highlighted a few recently-published pieces on communication, a frequently controversial topic that remains subject to ongoing and often-divisive debate. This week’s theme is equally high profile, and generates a similar amount of lasting discussion.

In the UK, the quality of the education available to existing and future students of all ages is a constant concern. Schools are regularly inspected to ensure that they meet a range of requirements and that action has been taken in areas meriting improvement, and not a year goes by without adjustments being considered and implemented to the methods that teachers use to deliver lessons, and the structure and number of examinations that students will face at any given time.

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More recently, discussions have focused on how well education prepares students for the workplace, and when and where they might be given the opportunity to learn the skills likely to improve their chances of landing the job that they want. Of increasing importance is the future result of a good or lacking education, and how the first is to be adequately differentiated from the latter.

Further muddying the waters is inconsistent criteria: in some cases, extra-curricular activities are deemed indispensable, and in others, top grades are the first and last items on the agenda.

Recent proposals have resurrected age-old concerns that education now focuses too firmly on tests, and that students are being encouraged to learn not to gain skills and knowledge, but solely to populate their CVs with good grades. From this perspective, lessons are, increasingly, engineered only to meet the demands of the syllabus, and reliable understanding of a subject in entirety is unnecessary once the requirements for each exam have been met.

Clearly, this is an important topic of discussion. A good education can be vital for future career plans and prospects, and how that education is received is no less significant. High quality teaching means very little if it isn’t delivered successfully, and if a student can’t, for whatever reason, engage with it.

Here are a few recent contributions to the topic.

On 20th February 2018, Penguin Random House released Educated (in hardback!), a memoir by Tara Westover. Born into a survivalist family that distrusted the government, Westover was home-schooled for years, and thought that the children in mainstream education were brainwashed. More or less on her own, she achieved the grades for university, and went on to achieve a PhD at Cambridge. Westover talks in her memoir about finding a balance that allowed her to reconcile her family’s beliefs with her later experiences and the wider world, and while she recognises that without her determination to succeed, her upbringing could easily have been an insurmountable barrier to her academic achievements, she also shows that it was, in its way, vital – for she was always told that she could achieve anything that she put her mind to, and shown the value of self-reliance. In addition, Westover casts some doubt on mainstream education, and emphasises instead the importance of hard work, belief and an open mind.

In Meet the UK’s contender for the million-dollar Global Teacher Prize (TES), Henry Hepburn interviews Andria Zafirakou, a finalist for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize. The Prize, now in its fourth year, was founded to recognise exceptional teachers that have made a significant contribution to their profession.

In Schools scrap PE time because of exam pressure (The Telegraph), Olivia Rudgard discusses the impact of removing students from classes such as PE to focus on their other subjects, and the claims being made that this is detrimental to the physical and mental health of those students.

In Tuition fees should be based on career prospects, says Education Secretary (Independent), Ellie Cullen discusses Damian Hind’s view that university tuition fees should be subject to variation, based on what he calls the “value” of the course – to be determined by factors including the future benefit of the course to the student. The launch of a government review into university funding has cast a spotlight on tuition fees, which are often criticised for being prohibitively high.

Web-based teaching can improve science understanding for struggling pupils (ScienceDaily) depicts the results of a three-year study by the Taylor & Francis Group, which shows that web-based learning tools can be beneficial to to developing and improving an understanding of science, particularly so for students that struggle with the subject. This is an important finding that has ramifications generally for how science and, potentially, other subjects, might most successfully be taught.


Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading. In last week’s installment, I highlight newly-published pieces on the topic of communication.

Reading around the Web: Communication

This week’s theme is communication.

Over time, the methods that we use to communicate with one another have become both more numerous and more diverse, catering to a whole range of disparate needs and preferences. With a multitude of options at our fingertips for getting to grips with alternate methods of communication, and for learning new languages, we are able to successfully communicate more easily and widely than before, and an increasing number of people who previously had only limited options can now expect to be understood.

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On the other hand, while the increasing ability to communicate easily and widely with one another has opened up the possibility of global conversation and interaction, it has, in tandem, increased the number of opportunities for and scope of harassment and bullying. Increased access and ease of communication, particularly online, has meant that users can face hatred and abuse from all sides.

On the back of this, it shouldn’t be surprising that communication is a controversial topic, and that the debate surrounding it is ongoing and often heated. Here are a few recent additions.

In Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes (The New York Times), Andrew Higgins discusses the controversy surrounding the proposed creation of a new alphabet in Kazakhstan, and the inherent difficulty of reflecting unique verbal sounds in text in a way that is both comprehensible and acceptable.

In Not a Riot Grrrl Band: Musician Michelle Cruz Gonzales Sounds off on Punk Feminism (Los Angeles Review of Books), Kitty Lindsay interviews Michelle Cruz about Spitboy, the punk band formed by Cruz in 1990, and her brand of unapologetic feminism. A different take on this week’s theme, I have included this article because Cruz intended her music to communicate her stated feminist position.

In The Secret Sign Language of the Ottoman Court (accessed from JSTOR), Amelia Sloth explains why deaf servants were so popular at court in the Ottoman Empire and elaborates on the method of non-verbal communication used at that time.

In Why I created my 2018 ‘a year of sign language’ calendar, Amanda Sanford presents her sign language calendar, and lists a number of fantastic resources for anyone interested in learning more about what it is like to be deaf, as well as identifying key pointers – as well as places to start – to keep in mind when learning sign language.


Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading, compiled with the aim of drawing your attention to something a little different, a little inspiring, and very interesting.

Reading around the Web: Prizes and prestige

Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading, compiled with the aim of drawing your attention to something a little different, a little inspiring, and very interesting.

To submit an item for consideration for next week’s list, leave a link in the Comments below.


This week’s theme is prizes and prestige. I have been reading about books that have won awards, poring over lists of highly-anticipated publications with 2018 release dates, and comparing recommendations from a variety of well-regarded sources. These are my chosen highlights.

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6 books we’re excited to read in February (Abbe Wright, Read it Forward), in which books including Zadie Smith’s Feel Free and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s thought-provoking novel, call me zebra come highly recommended.

Jhalak book prize for writers of colour announces 2018 longlist (Media Diversified), in which the 2018 longlist for the Jhalak Prize is announced, a cross-section of incredible work from British POC. This year, the judging panel is comprised entirely of women.

Books to get excited about in 2018 (from independent publishers) (Bex, Ninja Book Box), in which a varied array of texts due for publication this year, all from indie publishers, are given some well-deserved attention.

The Costa Book Awards (Waterstones), in which can be found details on the Costa Book of the Year 2017 and the other titles that were shortlisted for the award.



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Reading around the Web: Writing

Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading, compiled with the aim of drawing your attention to something a little different, a little inspiring, and very interesting.

To submit an item for consideration for next week’s list, leave a link in the Comments below.


This week’s theme is writing. Whether you’re thinking about it, doing it (or, indeed, thinking about doing it), the articles below may just help you get onto the right track.

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Recommended this week:

About Words Without Borders. Words Without Borders do an incredible job removing the barriers that prevent people all over the world from understanding and enjoying books.

If you want to write a book, John McPhee’s advice is indispensable (Roy Peter Clark, Poynter) covers John McPhee’s life and writing process. This is one in a series of essays on writing to be published in 2018.

New Sentences: From ‘Bone,’ by Yrsa Daley-Ward (Sam Anderson, The New York Times Magazine), a close reading of a particular line in Yrsa Daley-Ward’s poem, “kid”.

‘Persist. Read, write, and improve.’ Jesmyn Ward shares the best writing advice she’s ever received (Elizabeth Flock, PBS), which contains an interview with Jesmyn Ward on her favourite reading material, how she decides what to write about, and the writing advice that had the greatest impact on her.

10 of the Best Books of January 2018 (Frannie Jackson, Paste Magazine). My personal favourite, a list of highly-anticipated books with January release dates. Stock up your TBR shelf here!

 

Reading around the Web: Concepts and preconceptions

Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading, written with the aim of drawing your attention to something a little different, a little inspiring, and very interesting.

To submit an item for consideration for next week’s list, leave a link in the Comments below.


Recommended this week: