Highlights in the Charts: Issue 1
Florence Given’s Women Don’t Owe You Pretty
Written by Emily Simms
Published less than a month ago, Florence Given’s debut novel is a force to be reckoned with.
With chapters titles that range from “Refusing to Find Comfort in Other Women’s Flaws” to “Check your Privilege,” it promotes a message to all women that growth may be uncomfortable, but it is also liberating. Given does not place herself on a higher plane either, discussing how criticising people for things you’ve recently stopped doing yourself doesn’t make you any better than then.
This book is anti-shaming and pro-amplifying the truth: if you don’t fight for all women, you fight for no women. Given makes clear that her understanding of privilege and feminism is owed to women such as Chidera Eggerue (What a Time to be Alone) and Rachel Cargle (write and activist).
The aesthetics of the book, cased in animal print and swirls of cheerful colours, are designed for Instagram. Her quotable slogans cry out to be underlined. At the heart of the book, Given’s writing is empowering. It forces you to re-evaluate every aspect of your life, from how you see yourself to how you view others. This is not just a book for young women encountering feminism for the first time, but for all of us to gain a clearer perspective outside of the patriarchy.
Back in Time:
Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise
Written by Verity Stuart
First published in 1978, Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise is a resonant portrait of a legendary poet. The collection was met with mixed responses upon publication but has since become one of the hallmarks of American poetry. It is easy to see why. It speaks of desire, adversity and ageing, of daring to dream new dreams, of the waking city and the sky waiting to be named as your own.
The collection begins with one of Angelou’s many bold declarations: “Hate often is confused. It’s / Limits are in zones beyond itself.” As the collection continues, Angelou shares her fears of ageing, but frames this personal vulnerability in the wider context of her legacy: “I keep on dying, / Because I love to live.”
That legacy has undoubtedly lived on, as Virago’s stunning republication of And Still I Rise is a popular presence in both bestseller charts and bookshop displays. It is a testament to Angelou’s poetic prowess and the contemporary relevance of her words against racism. Her most famous poems, “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman”, have been notoriously quoted during Black Lives Matter demonstrations and her words have become culturally ingrained mantras of resilience against prejudice.
A pioneering force for change, Maya Angelou’s immensely influential collection, And Still I Rise, remains as transformative and urgent today as it was in 1978.
Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie
Written by Robyn Hewson
The debut of Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie is an arresting and entertaining exploration of female friendships, modern sexuality and mental health. It has been highly praised by critics, nominated for several awards and shortlisted for The Nibbles.
Queenie, a Jamaican-British woman working in London, and her boyfriend of three years have decided to go ‘on a break’. What follows is a series of dating disasters, which Queenie navigates with the help of her loyal friends: ‘The Corgis.’
The very first words in Queenie are text messages, which is characteristic of Carty-Williams’ modern and relatable style of writing. Throughout, Queenie’s group chats are portrayed as a space of female friendship and empowerment, as Carty-Williams explores the topics of sexual health, British blackness and therapy. The opening scene is both incredibly funny and intensely moving, as Queenie finds out she has, unknowingly, miscarried. The interrelation of Queenie’s sexual and mental health feels relevant and necessary.
Carty-Williams expertly blends the personal and political. Discussing gentrification, racism and police brutality, whilst exploring their impact on Queenie’s life, the novel feels acutely relevant to 2020. Queenie exposes the prejudices and micro-aggressions faced by black women daily: at work, on dating apps, even at the swimming pool.
Queenie is an extraordinary debut novel that is equal parts hilarious and eye-opening.