A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

The book-buying ban I have chosen to follow for the start of 2019 has been a blessing in disguise because it is making me pick up books that I really should have read sooner.

The is one of those discovered gems ‘The History of Britain in 21 Women’ is a book I bought last year but which then sat on my ‘to-be-read’ pile, not seeing the light of day. I am now wondering why I did not pick it up sooner. As a History teacher for the day job, I am always keen to keep learning and improve my knowledge. This book educated me and provided me with excellent nuggets of information to share with my classes. It could even be said that it enthused me even more for a subject that I already love.

I am not sure how Jenni Murray managed to whittle down her list to only 21, as Britain is a country with such a rich history and culture. However, what is clear is that she genuinely believes in every single choice that she has made. There are some that may appear obvious choices to some of us, but there are some that may surprise us in equal measure.

I was pleased to see the recognition of Jane Austen and her work, and those who fought to ensure that women had a political voice. However, for me, the moment that struck a chord (especially as I teach the History of Medicine) was the inclusion of Mary Seacole. Her significance has been an issue that we regularly debate in the classroom, so it was joy to find her on this exclusive list.

This book is an entertainingly written joy to bring history to life. I hope everyone is inspired to pick up this book and find out about the wonderful women of Britain. It is certainly making me think about who I would add to the list.

Any ideas about who your women of British history would be?

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

If you visit my blog regularly you will know that I have read a few of Matt Haig’s children’s fiction books and I adore the the novel ‘How to Stop Time’. However, despite this, I had never read ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and now I really wish I had read it before.

I was aware of Matt Haig’s struggles with mental health and have always admired what an advocate he is for talking about mental health. Yet I was still so struck by the complete honesty in this book. I knew that this book chronicled the struggles Haig had faced when he had to bring himself back from the brink – an incredibly brave move in itself – but I did not expect that he would be so willing to be so ‘warts and all’ about the decision. This book taught me so much about mental health and even caused me to evaluate my life and how I live day by day.

However you see your life, this book is an inspiration. You will come away considering all the reasons there really are to stay alive and greet a new day, as well as giving you the chance to understand and evaluate the interactions you have with so many people every single day.

I have come away with a desire to learn more about mental health (you are provided with some further reading ideas), to really take care of my own mental health, to support other people and always be willing to listen as much as I talk and vice versa.

And…I am going to ensure I appreciate all those reasons I have to stay alive.

How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb

This has been on the trusty ‘to be read’ pile since the January sales, so thought I had better pick it up and give it a go (little did I know I made that decision the same week it came out in paperback). I am pleased I finally did pick this book up; it is really quite a good read.

This is not a simple memoir or autobiography by Robert Webb but really quite an examination of what truly makes us who we are – well what made Robert Webb who he is. There is a wonderful honesty throughout this book about his life and those that surrounded him. However, there is a great deal of affection in the writing too. I found it a very emotional read from start to finish, but it does not lack the humour you would expect from a book by Robert Webb. You follow the story of Webb as he struggles to really find his place in the world (although he has some dreams) – what should and shouldn’t he do as a boy from Lincolnshire? What is his place, really? How much do we allow others and society to define us?

Overall, this book is incredibly thought provoking as Webb does tackle the complex issue of gender in society and, however much we think we may be fighting against those roles that time has defined for men and women, do we actually, blindly, still fall into them? It has really made me reflect on how I view being female, especially as I sometimes consider myself not to follow all the stereotypes (although I actually probably do).

If you fancy more than a memoir and something that challenges ‘normal’ then this is the book for you. (Also, there are some amazing quotes used at the start of every chapter – including one from RuPaul!)