IMRAN AHMAD – Unimagined

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Bought 18 Aug 2007 – Bookends (I think)

A memoir of growing up Pakistani Muslim in London in the 1970s and 80s, this had echoes of both Andrew Collins' "Where Did It All Go Right" etc and Adrian Mole (there's a quote from Sue Townsend on the front). Like the former, and unlike the latter, it's non-fiction, so the hand that shaped it had to work with real events, and sometimes these seemed a little random and unfocussed. However, it was both entertaining, and a useful description of the mullings of a young man getting accustomed to his own religion (so much is taken for granted that he only learns he doesn't eat pork for religious reasons when round at a white classmate's house) and the conflict between Islam and Christianity.

Written in a deadpan style, this seems sometimes to undermine slightly the importance of these latter sentiments and musings – it was only on reflection after finishing it that I realised what a useful insight into the mind of a moderate Muslim this was. There is an emphasis on respect, of oneself and others, and moderation, an explanation of where some of the more hardline Islamist ideas come from, and a reassurance maybe for those who haven't had access to this kind of viewpoint in their immediate circle.

[read this a few years ago but was getting spam comments every day so deleted and reposted to see if that sorts out the problem]

JILLY COOPER – Jump

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07 May 2011

I was excited to find her new one in Sainsburys, but, alas, by the time I got to the end, I could only think "thank goodness".  It was quite sloppy, unfortunately – she thanks a copy-editor and proof-reader in the acknowledgements and it's nice to see those differentiated, but not all of their amendments can have been made, as I spotted some real howlers – and I don't mean the atrocious puns which she always includes: those are fine, and expected! Told rather than showed … I know that she is considered lowbrow by many but I've always enjoyed her good writing and plots before this one. Oh – and the Asian characters were a bit embarassing in this day and age, too …

RORY McGRATH – Bearded Tit (October read)

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04 May 2011 – charity shop

An autobiography of sorts, but based around birdwatching so a long section in Cambridge when he starts off the hobby, then skips through the years. Great and engaging when he talks about the bird, Latin names, etc., but a bit silly in places too. But not as silly as I thought it'd be, and a rather good read.

CAITLIN MORAN – How to be a woman (October read)

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06 Jul 2011

I'm not entirely sure what I thought about this book.  A funny, observant but possibly slightly over-exaggerated memoir of poverty in Wolverhampton, rock writing in London and marriage; the parts on childbirth and abortion were excellently, very powerfully and affectingly done. The feminist bits a) made assumptions about most women (planning weddings from the age of 5, always shopping, knowing what to buy) and b) preached about what to do in order to be a Good Feminist without acknowledging that – surely – many of her readers already would be.

It was very rude in places – I slightly blushed to read it on the bus – but I could see the background in Woman Words Mary Daly type stuff, in wishging to reclaim and celebrate certain words, Simone de Beauvoir made it de rigueur to talk about our Biology as Destiny – and, after all, I partly chose Germaine Greer's "Female Eunuch" as my Sixth Form prize for being Library Prefect because I had already read it and knew it was quite saucy about certain things, but I just wonder how people without a grounding in previous feminist writings will take this (which sounds pretentious, I know) and the research done on Twitter did make me giggle – surely some people just made that stuff up!

I'm glad someone's out there engaging with feminism, and it was a brave book (but amidst all the personal details I don't think we ever lost our virginity, even though we went through pretty well everything else with the author), but I would have liked that acknowledgement of Moran's near-contemporaries (like me!) and I do wonder if it's actually converted anyone to the Cause yet.  But some great read-out-loud moments, too.

So, I still don't know what I thought about it, but I'm glad I read it.

RHODA JANZEN – Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (Oct read)

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Acquired via BookCrossing 10 Apr 2011 – KGC Sunday meetup

Less girly and flippant than I'd expected: a memoir of coming back to the Mennonite community after a break-up and health issues, in her 40s. So some dating stuff, but a lot more affectionate portrayal of family past and present, and some useful information on the community in the back. Not sure if this is her "one book we've all got in us", as she's normally an academic, and it was obviously cathartic to write; it was interesting but there wasn't much shape or closure and I think she could do more with this material in future.