Not To Be Overlooked
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of a wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. The column covers nonfiction with reviews by Alicja (Jew(ish)) and Emily (Beyond The Gender Binary).
Jew(ish) by Matt Greene
Published by Little A, December 2020
Covering topics ranging from politics, family and love, Matt Greene’s Jew(ish) is full of the past and present viewed through the eyes of someone who doesn’t necessarily know where he fits in his culture, religion and society. Deeply personal and powerful, the book stays in your mind long after you’ve put the book down.
The book explores, and doesn’t necessarily fully answer, the question of what means to be Jew(ish) in the 21st century. A trial (and error) of reconnecting past and present, of somehow fitting the tradition in modernity, is always present in the book.
Though full of personal anecdotes and the author’s exploration of his identity as a British Jew, Jew(ish) also recalls the heart-breaking history of the Holocaust and wider issues connected to the perception of those events. It asks the question of how the memory and trauma of the past will be affected when first-hand witnesses and survivors are no longer with us. The chapter describing the author’s visit to Poland in the memory of the Holocaust and his family’s history is equally heart-breaking as it is educational for those who don’t know the history that well. Having visited Auschwitz previously, I can testify to the stillness, the suspension of history, trauma and memory in this place. It’s not an easy topic to read (or write) about.
While heavy and dealing with not always easy topics, Matt Greene’s book remains honest and, at moments, almost heart-warming, always highlighting the personal nature of the narrative – what we are witnessing is a personal experience and a journey of figuring out one’s place in his culture. With politics and cultural changes in Britain coming into play, Jew(ish) is a timely piece worth reading. It is certainly an interesting book covering a range of important topics and underlying some hard truths. At the same time, it remains deeply personal: the author’s subjective perspective remains at the heart of all the essays.
Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon
Published by Penguin Workshop, June 2020
Beyond the Gender Binary is small but mighty, packing a punch for its size. Vaid-Menon joins the Pocket Change Collective, a Penguin Random House initiative comprising of pocket-sized books with big ideas, coming from some of today’s leading activists.
This book tackles gender theory in a very accessible way and is aimed at helping us all to be better allies to non-binary and gender non-conforming communities. Vaid-Menon dismantles the Westernised notion that there are only two genders and explores how this binary is so ingrained in society, forced on us before we are even born. They illuminate how the gender binary is destructive for everyone, from the clothes we wear to the way that we have been taught to behave, enforcing the idea that men must be rational whilst women are emotional, men must be strong whilst women must be weak. Furthermore, those who exist beyond the gender binary are not controlled by it, in turn ‘threatening’ those who are insecure about their own gender identity. Power is defined as “the ability to make a particular perspective seem universal” and is manifested by attempting to control and condemn those who deviate from it, especially non-binary and gender non-conforming people. Toxic masculinity is a perfect example of this! Recounting their own experiences, Vaid-Menon’s writing is so eloquent; almost every part of the book is quotable and, once again, (spot the similarity in my last review), my highlighted copy is almost entirely neon again!
In the second part of Beyond the Gender Binary, Vaid-Menon dissects the four most common arguments against the existence of non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals; dismissal, inconvenience, biology and slippery slope. The fact that these individuals are still having to even prove their existence shows how much work needs to be done! The passage where Vaid-Menon explores some people’s refusal to use inclusive terms and pronouns, whilst happily using terms such as ‘selfie’, shows how such refusal is actually targeted prejudice, and this cutting insight is brilliant.
Ultimately, Beyond the Gender Binary is a book about kindness, acceptance, inclusion and empathy, covering topics such as gender, queerness and issues of race. I would implore everyone to read this important piece of literature and learn more about how we can embrace the “ongoing transformation as a necessary part of what it means to be alive”.