The April Shelf

To listen to…

James Rhodes on Bryony Gordon’s Mad World

Concert pianist James Rhodes has been involved in a mass media storm over the last few years, following the complex publication of his debut book, the memoir Instrumental. The book traces the extensive sexual abuse Rhodes experienced as a child at the hands of his PE teacher, and the long-term consequences on his mental health as a result.

His memoir, as well as his newest release Fire On All Sides are both harrowing and incredibly honest. His interview with Byrony Gordon is no different. She has such a warm interviewing style that her guests always open up, but Rhodes’ no-holes-barred approach to discussing his life mean that this interview is even more profoundly confronting than most. It’s a podcast you’ll be reeling from for days afterwards.

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Books to read…

Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover’s debut novel is a Bildungsroman like no other. She was born in a family of seven children on a junkyard in Idaho to survivalist parents. Receiving no education, she was brought up working on the junkyard injuring herself extensively in the process, but receiving no medical treatment. Her father believed the government was infiltrated by the Illuminati and wanted nothing to do with any political or conventional social structures.

Tara’s story is truly shocking, as she then teaches herself enough to get to college, eventually ending up at Cambridge University. The power of education is the force behind this memoir, but the complex issue of family loyalty is what lies at the root of it all.

I saw Tara Westover speak at Bath Guildhall recently with Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, and it was fascinating to hear her speak beyond the book. She freely admits that, despite being outcast by her family, she still sees the world through their eyes. It truly is one of the most unusual and gripping narratives I’ve read in a long time, and one I think everyone should read.

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Articles to read…

When it comes to marriage and babies, should I resist – or follow the crowd? (The Pool)

‘I can’t really get past how my life and career will be by them (kids) in a way that a man’s just won’t’. A fascinating, insightful piece by Marisa Bate, unpicking the complex and loaded question of whether to have children or not. I completely empathise and share simultaneous concerns about the gender inequalities brought to the fore through women’s ability to carry a child. If I don’t buy into the inequality in other aspects of my life, it seems jarring to surrender to the most unequal system in society. And yet, babies are just so damn cute and I obviously want a brood of tiny Freyas.

We are pushed to have a clear standpoint on the matter, as though it were an election. There is no grey area, whereas in reality our opinions are often fluid and in my case change daily on this question. It is something so instinctive, both physically and socially, to the extent that not many other aspects of society are.

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A few others to shelve…

The New Anatomy of a Magazine Cover (Business of Fashion)

As someone who works in print journalism, this article really captured my imagination. We are constantly bombarded with the message “print is dead”, when in reality the post-newsstand era still places a huge emphasis on the print magazine. The magazine cover has always been, and remains more than ever, symbolic of the brand as a whole, and the process of “getting a cover” is still just as significant for celebrities. Having a digital presence also enables magazines to open up their magazines to reveal more of what’s inside, meaning that the figures inside who aren’t given the cover are given more focus.

Cover stars are changing and becoming much more diverse – Mixed-race British activist and model Adwoa Aboah was given the first cover of the new British Vogue under editor Edward Enninful, Meryl Streep was on the cover of Vogue aged 68, and Laverne Cox became the the first transgender woman to grace the cover of Cosmopolitan. Covers are still just as important a vehicle for social change as they ever were, and finally editors are utilising them in this way.

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Logan Paul is not “very sorry” – he’s dangerous (The Pool)

I knew nothing about this scandal beyond the headlines, and this article was a real shock – it reminds us of the influence these YouTube stars yield, particularly with children, and how that ultimately makes them culpable for their actions.

Children are not given the full story and then are left with questions for their ill-prepared parents to field, far earlier than they should. Suicide should be an issue dealt with sensitively, not introduced to children through a viral video of an idiotic 22-year-old.

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Brave by Rose McGowan

A completely all-consuming, hard-hitting read. McGowan’s memoir explores her life growing up in a cult and then her subsequent life in another cult: that of Hollywood. She explores the toxicity of the institutions at large, inevitably including her assault by Weinstein and the subsequent unfolding of the scandal.

Some reviews of her book have said her extremely aggressive approach for all matters addressed in the narrative diminish the effect of the moments of real misogyny and abuse. I’m not sure I agree with that – she is within her rights to express what has happened to her with whatever degree of anger she feels. That said, I do think I sometimes found her narrative quite inward-facing, and her claims to be throwing light onto Hollywood may have been more effective if she had opened up the lens.

Her self-promotion at the end of the book left a rather sour taste in my mouth, and although there was a space for her empowerment, it didn’t feel right to be using her narrative to be selling albums and her photography work. Perhaps that is a misogynistic belief for me to hold though, and I’d be very interested to hear what others think.

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How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time, after hearing about the extensive book tour he did last year in conjunction with the Being a Man festival at the Southbank Centre. Because of this, I expected his book to be more of an examination on the forces of masculinity and the patriarchy. In reality, it is just his biography, and I may not have picked it up knowing that, so I did feel a little shortchanged. Clever marketing, though.

I appreciate the way he framed the novel and drawing attention to masculinity in some small way, but I do wish that he’d finished with a closing statement about the impact of forced masculine stereotypes on his life. In reality, I felt that the masculinity aspect seemed to be used as a promotional tool for the book.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy reading How Not To Be a Boy, and there’s no doubt he is a very skilled writer.

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Have a read, and pop on the playlist of a few tunes I’ve been enjoying in the last few weeks. Be warned – it’s eclectic. Listen here.

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