My aim this year is to read more non-fiction – I started off the year with two great reads from Icon Books, which were both related to topics I study in school (being a sociology and media student). It’s been a while between reading these and writing about my thoughts, so enjoy these mini reviews!
Man Up by Jack Urwin
Published 2nd June 2016 by Icon Books.
Goodreads Synopsis: Jack Urwin’s father died just before he turned 10. Being male, he never really learned to talk about this with any kind of sincerity. His grief stayed with him through his teens, slowly becoming depression.
Now 24 and a journalist whose recent Vice article A Stiff Upper Lip is Killing British Men – described as ‘fabulous’ by Irvine Welsh – became a viral sensation, Urwin explores what it means to be a man now.
He traces crises of masculinity from our grandfathers’ inability to deal with the horrors of war, to the mob mentality of football terraces or Fight Club, and the disturbing rise of mental health problems among men today.
My Review: Do you ever read something, and even before you’ve finished, you want to yell about it from the rooftops and push it into everyone’s hands? Well, that’s how I was with Man Up. This title is absolutely fantastic.
The social construct of masculinity is something that’s interested me a lot, as someone who is dedicated to discussing issues about gender and equality. It’s very hard to talk about, especially when there’s so much misinformation about the topic, and how it intersects with feminism (heads up: feminism is about gender equality. It requires focus on all genders). This is where Urwin’s book comes in; books like this are rare.
Urwin himself has felt the impact of masculinity; his father suffered in silence with an illness, and the writer himself struggled to cope with this because boys aren’t encouraged to be open about their feelings. Following the writer’s viral VICE article, this book explores gender in great depth, from historical events that have constructed how we view masculinity today, to the issue of male mental health and the alarming rates of men committing suicide. Books like this, topics like this, are more important ever, and I know Man Up will help to open up a conversation about it.
Urwin’s writing is what makes this book so memorable. He writes so clearly about such a complex issue, with a hint of wit sometimes and the right emotions in all the right places. This book is so accessible; it can be read and understood by people without much prior knowledge of the topic of gender, and that’s why I’m so grateful for it. I’ll be recommending this endlessly, in the hopes it encourages readers of all genders to become more engaged in the conversation.
Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele
Published 8th September 2016 by Icon Books.
Goodreads Synopsis: From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these views have been disputed and challenged.
Along the way we look at key landmarks which shift our perspective of what’s ‘normal’ – Alfred Kinsey’s view of sexuality as a spectrum, Judith Butler’s view of gendered behaviour as a performance, the play Wicked, or moments in Casino Royale when we’re invited to view James Bond with the kind of desiring gaze usually directed at female bodies in mainstream media.
My Review: I absolutely adored this! I own a few Graphic Guides on my A Level subjects, and haven’t actually gotten around to them yet – but Queer went to the top of my to-read pile as soon as I knew about it. I’m currently studying sociology, and I’m really interested in learning about sociological theories – queer theory is totally overlooked in my school’s course, which is saddening. I was really excited to use this as some wider reading, and it was such a brilliant read!
It’s so easy to devour this in one sitting, but I think I need to re-read it to fully digest all of the information that’s packed into it. The graphic element of it kept me engaged and interested with every chapter; the illustrations are fantastic, often witty, always useful in providing visuals for theories. Queer explores many key theorists and concepts across history, in great detail, despite sections being quite brief. I didn’t actually realise how fact-heavy this would be, and I’ll admit I didn’t take in as much as I thought I would – but that’s why I’m really looking forward to reading this again. It’s also a fantastic resource for, well, all things queer. I’m excited to use it as a reference in the future, as I’m hoping to write an extended project on queer theory next year.
I received both books from the publisher. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.