Oops, it’s been a while, after my flood of posts around the New Year, hasn’t it. Problem is, I’ve been reading one Big Book (Iris Murdoch’s letters, very good, almost done now) and got in a frenzy about getting my book for Margery Sharp Day in on time this year (after a slight fail last year) so read that early on then am saving the review for the 25th. But here I am with a really good book about women and exercise. And I’ve only developed one new NetGalley review copy so far …
Anna Kessel – “Eat, Sweat, Play”
(2 July 2017)
I remember the joy of buying this along with those Iris Murdoch letters and Sylvia Patterson’s “I’m Not With the Band” when I had a book token to spend in Foyles. I’m also pleased I’m only 6 months behind on the TBR dates at the moment.
This is a book about sport and women’s lives, inspiring and frustrating by turns, written with authenticity (to a high degree – see my comments further down) and trying to show the authenticity of women’s sporting lives, whether as participants at all levels, fans or commentators. We meet people from new mums sparring in an old-school boxing gym to Jessica Ennis, from fans who decide they don’t have to know everything about the rules of football to the first woman to commentate on TV (men’s) football.
The book opens looking at teaching of PE and societal attitudes to women and sport, highlighting the fact that women are encouraged to exercise to look good (although being “allowed” to sweat these days) but not to look “unfeminine” or “undignified” or feel competitive or proud of themselves while engaging in sport (it does make the point that men are increasingly facing the issue of exercise and appearance now, but don’t have the same criticism of their looks when competing). Although this is changing, Kessel then looks at women’s sport and exercise as related to menstruation, pregnancy, motherhood and menopause, bringing out some horrific detail about how women’s bodies have been treated in research as an extension of men’s, with almost no research on the effect of periods (or birth control) on women’s performance, likelihood of injury, etc.
On the topic of horrific detail, there is a grim description of a miscarriage which the easily triggered might wish to skip – it is signposted but only very soon before the detail starts. Fair play to the author for breaking the boundaries by including this, although I couldn’t decide whether this fed into the “women are personal, men are impersonal” narrative and whether this will make it more easily dismissed by those who should be taking notice of the very important points raised in the book. I do hope not, as it’s a brave thing to talk about stuff that is just not talked about in public.
We move on to fandom and sports journalism, and here, as throughout the book, Kessel uses her own experiences but broadens them out through networks of women (and men) she speaks to. She’s great on the camaraderie of sport, using her contrasting experiences of running with supportive women and competitive, pushing men (I have to say here that I’ve not had that kind of divided experience myself; I know a lot of kind and supportive male runners, luckily, as well as my fab group of mainly female Sedate Ladies). The groundbreaking images of This Girl Can campaign are highlighted, although she does point out that this campaign is not aimed at the older women and there should be something for them (us?), too.
Inspiring reading, with a good mix of research (nicely referenced) and anecdote: lots to think about here.
On a slight whim, and because in light of Brexit, the Trump presidency and various stuff going on locally I have been thinking about how to do good and community, I responded to a NetGalley email and bagged myself a copy of The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith, which apparently “explores how we can begin to build a culture of meaning into our families, our workplaces and our communities”. It was published yesterday so would be next on the list were I not supposed to be reading another NetGalley book published on the same day.
I’m actually reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” which I was unsure of, being as I am not usually keen on books about Africa (they so often seem to concentrate on bloody conflict: if you know of books on the continent which don’t, or non-conflict, non blasted Magic Realism South American books, do let me know!) but love her writing. So far, I can’t put it down!