A big story about A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara – Book Review

Hanya Yanagihara’s epic novel is a magnificent, yet flawed and improbable masterpiece.

I read many reviews before committing to this book, and it seemed to divide reviewers. Its average rating is an impressive 4.26 star average on Goodreads, yet amongst the praise and adoration for this book, there is also much dislike and rejection. I sit, rather unhelpfully but realistically, on the fence though leaning perhaps into the eager arms of the believers, drawn to the celebration of this novel, rather than the cynical castigation.

So here’s the deal. The A Little Life follows a group of four male graduates (JB, Malcolm, Willem and Jude) who are best friends as they find a place for themselves in New York City following University. I say follows, but two of the characters, Malcolm and JB, quickly recede into the background becoming only useful tools and plot devices for the author. This is a shame. Malcolm in particular is an undeveloped character with so much brewing under the surface. It’s strange that Yangihara introduces us to all four of the boys equally, we read sections of the book from the point of view of each one of the boys and then that formula suddenly stops. I’m not sure why, other than to focus in on Jude, the centre of the story and Willem, the highly improbable, unrealistic Willem.

We soon discover that Jude’s past holds many dark tales of child abuse, first learning that he cuts himself to ‘cleanse himself’ of these memories and then, slowly, Yanaghara drip feeds us the terrible history. The drip feeding mirrors Jude’s own mental processes; there will be a happy event and it will then be tarred by flashbacks to Jude’s past terrors, much the same way that Jude’s mind can never escape the past, despite his present day successes.

The book is long, and it ought to be. The prose is well written and I like it, although I know there has been plenty of criticism. The sheer expanse of the book is part of its extraordinariness. Perhaps because I read this over a busy month and it took me a while to finish, but by the time I came to the end of the book, I could barely remember what the characters had been like when I had started. The novel covers approximately four to five decades of events, more if you include the flashbacks to Jude’s early life, and it is so detailed and so incredibly full. It is also astonishingly terrifyingly.

The detail of abuse that is contained isn’t for the faint hearted and there are many moments of anguish. It is absorbing and often I found that I felt quite separate to my own life, a sombre, morose mood would descend on me. I used to have to shake myself after reading certain sections, remind myself that this is fiction, it’s not my life. It is an extremely powerful book and its depiction of abuse, and particularly the devastating impact it can and will have on the victim’s adult life and ability to trust and develop relationships is honest and necessary.

And yet. And yet, it wouldn’t be fair not to document its pitfalls, its tendency toward the frustrating.

One of the things that really gets to me is how unrealistically successful everyone in the novel is! All four friends develop incredible careers; JB is featured at MOMA at a very early stage of his art career, Jude become a top litigator, Willem a world famous actor (yet bizarrely seeming to only do random indie films with titles that wouldn’t, not in our world anyway, bring commercial success), and Malcolm is a world famous architect. I’m sorry, but this never happens. Only in super privileged circles, where if you go to an elite private school and all your friends have parents with important contacts would all your  friends become so ridiculously successful, otherwise it just doesn’t happen. It would have been an interesting angle to have at least one bitter, unsuccessful friend. There is also the envious amount of globetrotting they all do. Meeting up with acquaintances in Europe, going off on long jaunts to Asia. Jude has certain injuries which cause him to find daily life in New York a struggle, yet trekking around Bhutan is casually mentioned in one brief paragraph.

We then have the impossible kindness of Jude’s friends. His doctor, Willem, his law professor, his neighbour, they all seem to devote their lives to trying to make Jude’s better, to look out for him. But these are all professional people with lives of their own; it is unrealistic. Although this book is a beautiful testament to the wonderful power of friendship, it is a dream, a fantasy. Friends let each other down. Especially when the person to whom they devote so much of their energies  is as impenetrable as Jude is. Jude is remarkably clever and talented at many things;  cooking, piano, maths. This draws people and admiration but his inability to be intimate, to share things about himself, his constant pulling away would in reality shut off a lot of people yet the characters here keep pushing.

We feel sorry for Jude, our hearts ache for what he has experienced, but Yanagihara doesn’t allow Jude to give anything back and humans are not infallible, we do often give up, we become exasperated and in some instances, with Jude’s refusal to appreciate the goodness of his  adult life or at least give some energy into helping himself leads to the reader feeling frustrated, and then, ashamed of that frustration.

Interestingly, and on a separate note, there is a dearth of female characters in this book. Ana, Jude’s first care worker who actually helps him, is introduced to us only in the past tense of a flashback and we learn only that she helped him finally escape his childhood. Julia, his adopted mother, is merely a paper character, serving the purpose of Harold’s wife. All the other characters with whom Jude has meaningful contact are male. Jude’s abusers are male and Jude’s saviours are male. I’m not sure why Jude forms barely any relationships with women, perhaps because for the first 16 years of his life he was only ever in the company of men, perhaps he has no understanding of them. It seems odd to me and I don’t understand it; women are, it seems, the only ones who haven’t hurt him. Wouldn’t it have been logical to Jude’s untrusting heart to befriend them, trust them over men? This one is something I never could work out.

So perhaps it is unsurprising that I struggle to decide how I really feel about this book. A Little Life received much attention and acclaim. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It won the Book Industry Award for Fiction. It is so unusual, so new and just magnificent. Yet it is really, really flawed, a story set in an alternate universe almost and I feel it would be naive of me not to point this out. But, it seems, it’s not enough for me to dislike it.

Focus on Bookshops: Kok Antiquariaat, Amsterdam

I love my local Waterstones. It’s the biggest bookshop in the North of England with three huge floors of books and a delightfully quiet cafe on the third floor. However, I still prefer browsing in second-hand bookshops. The smell is always gorgeous, (if you like musty, old paper smells) and you can’t go in there with an idea of what you’re going to buy, because you’re not going to find it. You have to just rummage around and see what you discover, and bear in mind that if it’s an Oxfam bookshop you’ll have to wade past hundreds of awful 50 Shades copies until you get to the good stuff. Can I put rummaging for used books down as a hobby?! My best haul was probably impulsively buying 10 books in the Oxfam in Chester and then enlisting my very patient other half to help me haul them back to the car.

Anyway, I digress. I thought I would do a post, albeit three months late, about a wonderful little place I discovered in Amsterdam, called Kok. (I’ll just wait here for you to stop giggling.) It occurred to me to write this post as I’m in Paris later this month and was noting down the address for Shakespeare & Co, which I am so excited for!

Kok is located pretty centrally, on Oude Hoogstraat 14-18, not too far from Dam Square and has been selling second hand and specialist books since 1946! We were drawn in because the other half and I were looking for a nice souvenir for ourselves and the apartment, preferably one that wasn’t an ashtray emblazoned with lady parts and marijuana leaves. The shop was displaying some old maps, some of which were of Amsterdam’s canals in years gone by. We went in and I couldn’t believe my luck! Shelves and rows of wonderful, dusty books. Lots of them were in Dutch, of course, but they had quite a few English classics. It was perfectly quiet and we took some time to wander the rows. It had that ideal quality of a used bookshop where some of the books clearly hadn’t been moved for a long time. There was a further floor where they kept rarer books and specialist topics, but our flight was that afternoon so we didn’t have enough time to browse for too long.

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I’d definitely recommend anyone visiting Amsterdam to check it out. We didn’t buy any books in the end, just this lovely print of an old map of  Amsterdam, which we still need to find a frame for, but if we had had more time that day I would have picked up a classic to take home as a memento.

Why I couldn’t get On the Road with Jack Kerouac – Book Review

On the Road had been on my to-be-read list for many years. Just the title itself is attractive, conjuring up images of my own experiences of the road, watching the world from behind a window. From childhood, every summer, my family and I drove from the UK, across Europe to our homeland in the Balkans. This yearly pilgrimage inspired a love of the road in me. From the unnerving flat lands of Belgium, past the gloriously dark forests of Germany at night, and the heavenly, looming peaks of Austria, I knew the road could bring untold mystery and opportunity. Ever since, I’m always happiest when going somewhere, starting a journey. So I think I projected my own experiences and desires onto what I thought that this book should be like, what it should be about.

When it arrived in my post box, I delved straight in.  And then I pretty much hit a brick wall.

In short, On The Road is the story of Sal Paradise, a struggling writer in New York (*sigh – they’re always struggling, and they’re always in bloody New York*) who yearns for the open road, the endless highway and finally takes the leap thanks to his generous (and in my mind, long suffering) grandma. Throughout the book Sal takes a number of journeys back and forth across America and finally, years later, taking a journey with his best friend (and prime idiot) Dean Moriarty through Mexico. This sounds like it could be great, right?

It’s not. First of all, it was difficult to get into. A few pages in and I’d started thinking about what was for dinner that day or, even worse, my to-do list at the office. The writing seemed disjointed, clunky. I appreciate that Kerouac’s writing style is intentionally like this, and is a post WW2 response to the conservative America of the war years . Maybe it’s just a matter of personal preference but,  for me, the story just didn’t flow.

Next, I really took issue with the content. I had anticipated adventures, a rich plot, the stuff that bourbon and 1950s jazz are made of (and that’s what the blurb on my Penguin copy promises!)  But it was all a bit of an anti-climax. The first trip across America is pure boredom. Sal left New York City for this? Miserable hitch hikes with little food and no fun?  When he eventually hits San Francisco, Sal mulches around a bit with his idiotic friends. There are a few similar cross American trips like this in the book, back and forth, and I forget how many times Sal does it because they all blend into one. Sure, he and his friends go out, get wasted a lot, but they’re just drunk idiots. It’s not enlightening or paving a new lifestyle. They’re just grown men and women who never actually grew up. Yeah, I hate Sal’s friends.

The characters are all awful. I really didn’t like anyone.  I mean, there’s plenty of books I’ve read where the characters are despicable but interesting and likeable. Here, they’re all just annoying, self obsessed idiots who are totally hapless at life. They’re all terrible friends and worse parents. Each of them is infected with this horrendous attitude of being completely selfish, being capable of abandoning their child and wife to drive across the country to pick up an equally selfish friend to just drive about a bit more with no purpose whatsoever. And I’m really not criticising people who choose not to take root or settle down. I think it’s inspiring and brave to travel the world, live on the road, and in the right circumstances, take your children along for the ride. But these hapless idiots aren’t enviable world travellers, they’re just wasters.

Perhaps I’m missing the point? And there will be staunch defenders of the book. I don’t profess to know very much about Beat culture so maybe I would appreciate On the Road more if I learnt about it. But I wanted to be inspired here, wanted to taste that freedom, almost feel the wind in my hair as I went along for the ride. I think the problem is me. I think I wanted this to be travel writing, when really, it is a lifestyle guide for those wanting to break free from society’s constraints.  So maybe it is my fault, but I really wanted to learn about America, feel the  atmosphere of 1950s night life in NYC, jazz bars in New Orleans and the roars of the pacific by San Francisco. Instead, On the Road left me with my feet firmly on the ground and my imagination still very much in Northern England.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Book Review

Every few summers or so, I accidentally discover a book that takes over my life. This was one of those summers.

Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind dictated what I did with the first week of my annual pilgrimage to the Balkans. I suppose I’ve been back to the homeland so often now that, having explored everything I could as a child, I’m not actually missing much by basking on my balcony in the horrendous heat, ignoring everything around me. It’s a good job too, because that’s exactly what I did. I stole snippets of time between breakfast and family visits, I read at 3am when back from nights out with my friends, and  I even rejected a visit to an outdoor spa in order to have the house and the balconies to myself. (In my defence, I visited that very outdoor spa 9 years ago. That was the summer I discovered Dostoevsky. It was a super windy day, and a few pages of Crime and Punishment were ripped from my grasp and were sent gliding around the pool, attaching themselves to bodies sticky with sun cream. I was distraught.)

I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day.

So this was a book club pick and one I didn’t expect too much from. This month’s theme was historical novels (I immediately thought I’d be stuck reading some horrific bodice ripper set in the boring old Tudor era). Luckily, the vote was won by this, a novel set in post civil war Spain, savaged by Franco’s rule and focusing on a boy who discovers a mysterious book in a forgotten library! Ideal summer reading! Still, I did think it might be a cheap thriller with a juicy plot but pretty rubbish writing.

How glad I was to be wrong!

This was exquisite. Zafon is a genius. The writing is delicious, the portrait of Barcelona, the shelves and shelves of books, the darkened alleys. It is over the top in parts, it is dark and twisted, it is so far away from normal life. It is stunning.  It is peopled by incredible characters – everyone in this story loves books! Actually, they love books to an unhealthy, life endangering extent.

Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it   and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.

So here’s the plot. Our hero, Daniel, is a young boy, whose father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he is allowed to pick any book and take it home. Daniel picks The Shadow of the Wind, a novel by Julian Carax. As Daniel devours the book, he decides to look for more novels by Carax, only to find that Carax, and any trace of his other works, has long since disappeared. Daniel then uncovers a dangerous man, Lain Coubert, who also happens to be a character in Carax’s novel,  lurking in Barcelona’s shadows. Coubert stalks Daniel with the sole intention  finding all of Carax’s novels in order to burn them to ashes.

We then follow Daniel’s journey over his formative adolescent years;  we laugh with him as he befriends the wonderful Fermin Romero De Torres, we follow him as he falls in love with dangerous women, and we watch him get further entwined in the Carax mystery, at great personal cost. This is not a fast paced thriller, this is a slow, luxurious unravelling of a mystery through rich, indulgent language.

Most of us have the good or bad fortune of seeing our lives fall apart so slowly we barely notice.

There are so many stories within this novel. That of Daniel and his coming of age, the heart breaking tale of Julian and Penelope, Spain’s own Romeo and Juliet, and the darkness that lies behind Coubert’s fires.

If you are looking for a historical novel, or to learn more about the Spanish Civil War, this isn’t for you. I can’t really say that we learn much about it (other than it was a pretty rubbish time for Spain) or that it plays any larger role than allowing for the existence of the novel’s most unsavoury character, the despicable Inspector Fumero. But the novel is still Zafon’s love letter to Barcelona, and a romantic one at that.

But the greater love letter here is to books themselves. This is pure indulgence for book lovers, a novel peopled by characters who protect books, sell them, write them, burn them and devote their lives to them. I couldn’t have loved it more. I was imprisoned by it.

                There are worse prisons than words.

Vesna Goldsworthy’s Gorsky, a Gatsby for the modern age

When I purchased Gorsky, I didn’t know that it was essentially a retelling of The Great Gatsby set in modern day London, but it didn’t take me long to work it out. From the off, we have Nick, a poor Serbian bookseller who ends up befriending a mysterious Russian billionaire who moves to London’s upper class Kensington and Chelsea in order to build a mansion and win back the love of his life, the beautiful Natalia. In order to do so, he puts on lavish parties and employs Nick to put together the greatest private library in Europe. The Gatsby parallels are not subtle and sometimes, a tad too obvious.

However, despite the heavy borrowing from Fitzgerald’s classic, which Goldsworthy herself readily acknowledges, there is much to be praised in this entertaining debut.

On a personal level, I can relate a lot to our narrator and author. Goldsworthy is from Serbia and , much like me, our narrator, Nikola Kimovic fled his native homeland during the Balkan civil wars. Although our countries were on opposite sides of the war, there is much I recognise in Kimovic’s behaviour and reactions. Although England has been his home now for a while, he works well as a narrator as his character is always one step away from the centre of action. Although he blends in, has a job and makes friends, the reader gets the impression that he is sometimes merely  observing the action and changes taking place around him, taking note. It is clear that Nick is attracted and drawn into London’s world of riches and hedonism, so different to the sparse, urban communism he knew at home.  I also completely understand why he is drawn into the world of the Russians. As Goldsworthy writes in her Acknowledgments, the Balkan culture has always been intertwined and drawn to the Russian authors. I have felt this too and I loved playing Russian Author Bingo as Goldsworthy namedropped the greats throughout the novel. Although my heritage might lend more to its roots from the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, I have always loved the great Russian writers and the names that sound so familiar to me. I suppose that is the beauty that you get with a multicultural country, and a nice reminder that there is more that we have in common than that which divides us.

Moving on, let me tell you about the plot. This echoes the journey taken by Gatsby and has  a similarly tragic ending. This time it is played out against 2010s London, with the unreal and almost sickening riches the city offers illustrated by Gorsky’s incredible house, the lavish parties and the unstable characters that Nick meets along the way. My favourite scenes, though, are those in Fynch’s bookshop where Nick works and where he first meets Gorsky and receives his task; to fill Gorksy’s new library with the greatest works ever written, with first editions and something to seduce anyone, whatever their tastse. Only a true book lover could have written these passages and I purposely read these sections slower, to savour them all the more.

Goldsworthy also tells a good tale of London now and her observations of the sickening amount of money being brought in by billionaires, money the source of which we can’t quite pin down, is wise.

How can the human capacity for happiness continue to take in such luxuries?

I’ve never been quite comfortable with excess displays of cash and wealth, perhaps due to my background, and it never struck me as an English thing to do either, to be too obvious with your wealth. The female characters here have little else to do than to be beautiful servants to money, marrying rich men that they don’t truly love, as in Natalia’s case, and pursuing wealth at any chance, like her best friend, and Nick’s lover, Gery.  Natalia it seems has little choice but to flow with the wind, and when Gorsky comes back into her life after many years, she puts up little fight. We catch glimmers of her potential; she is an art history graduate who wants to put together an exhibit about a Russian artist, but she never actually achieves her ambition, despite the great amounts of cash and opportunity at her disposal. I always feel slightly deflated when a novel has next to no strong female role models but I can see why it is done here, and so it is not  a complete turn off.

All in all, lovers of Gatsby should definitely give Gorsky a go, if for nothing but to check off the Gatsby parallels. I enjoyed this novel, for its literary references and for its perfect portrait of trying to find a life and a role as a foreigner in a city of mega wealth.

Exploring obsession with David Grann and The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z is a non-fiction account of author David Grann’s research of, and consequent obsession with, the story of Colonel Percy Fawcett and his mysterious search for an ancient lost city in the depths of the treacherous Amazon.

I rarely read non-fiction but this found its way onto my reading list thanks to my bi-monthly book club. I’m pleased it did. Grann mastered the ability to switch his narrative from Fawcett’s story to his own, and back again between chapters, keeping me interested and never annoyed. Most books that switch between narratives too often can get tiresome to read and break the thread of the story but The Lost City of Z didn’t suffer that problem.

The story itself was intriguing. I know a writer has captured my imagination when I hop onto Wikipedia the moment I finish a book in order to read further into the topic. I’d never heard of Fawcett and, ignorantly, didn’t realise that there was still enough earth left to explore in the 1920s!

The Lost City of Z focuses on Fawcett and his character. Grann studies Fawcett’s first tastes of exploration when he was stationed in Ceylon and follows his life from then on. Fawcett starts exploring and mapping South America and quickly develops a reputation for being the most resilient explorer in the world, with no patience for slow walkers or injured members of the exploration party. Through Grann’s research into letters and interviews we discover some unsavoury snippets of Fawcett’s personality. We see how this approach leads him to his fateful final expedition, where he takes his son and his best friend in the hopes of discovering the city of Z and along with it, fame fortune and the eternal glory of his name in the history books. They never returned.

For would be explorers, this story alone is interesting enough but what really pulled me in was the fact that an estimated 100 people lost their lives looking for Fawcett after he and his party went missing. Why, why did they do this? Why risk everything? Then it occurred to me that we live in a different age now, there is little real exploring to do on earth, and the world is so small. But if someone offered me a trip to space, would I turn that down, what with all its risks and unknowns? Of course not, and neither would I hold back a family member if that’s what they chose to do. That’s why Fawcet’s wife, Nina, didn’t ever dream of stopping her husband and son from embarking on the perilous journey but rather spurred them on and raised their profiles with the media. Human curiosity is a natural thing, and is to be celebrated.

Speaking of Nina, there’s a story I would like to hear more about. Nina sacrificed everything for Fawcett’s adventures. She went from a comfortable life with a wealthy family to almost living in poverty whilst Fawcett spent years away at a time exploring. She raised their children alone and never floundered in encouraging his explorations. She expressed wishes to accompany him but this never happened. I can’t help but feel sad for Nina, after years spent supporting her husband and never getting a chance at exploring herself, she spent her life after the disappearance of her husband and son still eagerly believing that they would be found.

One criticism I might level at the book is that the author never seems to face up to his own obsessions. Grann pursues researching Fawcett’s story extensively, to the point where he leaves behind his wife and newborn in order to look for  Fawcett and Z himself. Grann does not train or prepare himself for this undertaking, he can’t even pick out his own equipment in a shop. Although its apt that in his research and writing Grann himself becomes one of the obsessed, (and it is a very tidy way for the story to work out), it does seem irresponsible. Although Grann gets a local guide, and, due to extensive deforestation, is able to drive down much of the path that Fawcett would have had to trek through, his blind pursuance of the story seems  a little mad. Grann’s linking of Fawcett’s story to his own, and the way the switching of the narratives feels like Grann is chasing Fawcett through the pages of the book, is a sure sign that Grann too had become a little obsessed, he never actually owns up to it, never just says, wow, what I thinking!

All in all though, this is an absorbing read and I learnt a lot about the history of the Amazon. I’d highly recommend this if you’re looking for some non-fiction to read but still want a story out of it.

Girl Up by Laura Bates

As a feminist, I’ve never felt the need to read feminist theory. I didn’t think that I needed persuading to be a feminist. Now I realise reading this sort of writing isn’t just about being persuaded, it’s about awareness and arming yourself with facts.  Girl Up has taught me things that I needed to know right now, and certainly needed to know when I was a teenager.

I never read Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates’ first book, but I took great interest in The Everyday Sexism Project , both online (http://everydaysexism.com/) and on twitter (@Everydaysexism). I listened to Laura’s Tedx talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhjsRjC6B8U). Laura is a great role model and really inspirational. I only realised that she was coming out with another book, Girl Up, when I saw a talk and book signing advertised at my local Waterstones.

I really enjoyed watching Laura speak. She’s not presidential or authoritative in tone the way a teacher might be; she’s just natural. You could see that she was a little nervous as she took to the stage, but that was charming. It is her relatability that makes her such a great ambassador for the Everyday Sexism project. Laura isn’t preachy at all, all she does is, without being patronising, guide the listener or reader to remember that life, and feminism, is really all about choice. As long as the choice is something that you want and are comfortable with, then it’s ok. That sounds simple, and I always thought that I knew it too, but Girl Up really enlightened me to the times where actually, a choice maybe wasn’t mine but was foisted on me by media or society’s idea of the ideal woman.

The other great thing about Laura is the passionate way in which she speaks and writes. There was a point in the talk, and many points in the book, where Laura reels off a long list of statistics to illustrate why gender inequality is still very much present in the UK. Statistics, long lists of them, are often dull. Not in this case. Laura speaks with such passion, and writes with such frank honesty, that you can feel the tension building as you read the reel of stats…

“The way that ‘he’ is the automatic default for a person. That fact that insults, from cunt to motherfucker to bastard to pussy, are all, at their root, derogatory towards women. The fact that only seven FTSE 100 companies have female bosses. That women only write one fifth of front page newspaper articles. That they’re 50 per cent of chemistry undergraduates but only 6 per cent of professors. That 400,000 women are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year, and 85,000 raped.”

…until you just want throw the book down, run to the nearest rooftop and scream at the top of your voice at the unfairness of it all. This is exactly the reaction that feminist writing should elicit. We all need this wake up call.

Girl Up is probably aimed at the younger market, and the writing often directly addresses teenagers. Please don’t let that put you off. I learnt so much. Laura covers off a variety of topics, from social media and body image, to consent and sexual health, and how to own the word feminism.

I really hope teenage girls can get their hands on this book. I think it would be a great manual to dip in and out of and remind anyone suffering from sexism, or perhaps feeling attacked for speaking out about it, that they are not alone. That’s exactly what listening to Laura speak at my local Waterstones (coincidentally one of my ‘happy’ places) did; it made me realise that I’m not alone.

My worry is that teenagers won’t be able to access this book. The book is fierce and direct and I can see that high schools in the UK might ban it from their libraries. For one, they may consider that some of the topics are too mature for teens or that the dancing vagina cartoons are inappropriate. (Yes, dancing vaginas! The idea behind it is that there is penis graffiti everywhere; on walls, school desks, public toilets! So let’s raise awareness of what a vagina looks like and balance this out a bit!) But this is a book to give to your children, whatever their gender identity.  These are ideas and thoughts to be discussed, explored and broadcasted. There is actually nothing particularly revolutionary in this book, this isn’t a new type of theory. It’s feminism for beginners and it’s a great place to start.