Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book reviews: I Don't Know How She Does it and How to Be a Woman

Although I have dark circles under my eyes and I could definitely do with more sleep, I have been very good lately about keeping up with my reading. I'm in a kind of vicious cycle with the library, which I steadfastly continue to supoprt, and the cycle is that I am tempted by and check out far too many books at one time, and then have a race against the clock to get them back in on time to avoid paying overdue fines (the whole point of using the library being that it is free). Actually it's my own personal Amazzon at the moment - someone recommends a book and I check out via the Lambeth library catalog whether they have it to loan, and usually the answer is yes. I click reserve, and voila - yet another book to read!

I've just finished - and enjoyed - two books related to a subject very close to my heart, that of being a woman, a modern one: I Don't Know How She Does It by Alison Pearson, and How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran. You may have heard of I Don't know How She Does It because it got made into a movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker, and so in many ways (namely, already, that SJP plays the lead in this book) the tale of a career woman trying to juggle work and a family was actually very far removed from my own reality. Kate Reddy is a high-flying fund manager, with a pretty extreme-sounding schedule that requires her to be to and fro to New York a fair amount. Her job is one of those high-powered, highly-stressful ones (while I can get stressed out by my own job, it could hardly be described as "high" anything). And it certainly doesn't require me to go to the US on like 2 days' notice. At any rate, despite the obvious differences between this Kate Reddy and myself, her tales of navigating the boardroom and the school gates are entertaining, and at times very amusing and very sad. There were times when I was thinking, "Why would she think any of this work-life imbalance is worth it?" and then I'd immediately remind myself that there are extremely motivated women out there who don't enjoy having to - or can't even - just turn off all their ambition and drive after they've had children. Definitely a very readable book and will appeal to anyone who has had to make choices in their lives related to child-rearing and the wondering whether the "doing your best" is good enough. There is a scene where she is trying to sprinkle sugar over store-bought mince pies for her daughter's Christmas party, in order to make them look home-made, and I had to laugh at that. (I also stored that one in my memory bank for use in the future, if I ever let go of my obsessive compulsive baking creativity).

How to Be a Woman is very different, it being the memoirs of the writer Caitlin Moran, who grew up very poor in the middle of England, one of 8 siblings. The book is broken into chapters, starting from when she's 13 and gets her period ("I Start Bleeding!" is the name of chapter 1), and charting her way to age 35, when she notices herself beginning to age in various ways. My favorite parts were the ones on her take on fashion (she mentions that women these days buy ill-fitting underwear that give them between 2 and 8 buttocks), and she also gives a very balanced view on the subject of having children (one chapter is titled, "Why You Should Have Children" and the next is titled, "Why You Shouldn't Have Children"). Definitely also sad in parts but very worth a read.

Each of them made me proud to be the woman I am and the mother I am, but equally, they both made me want to be the writer that is inside me. Somehow I need to get her out a bit more into the mainstream...!


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