It has been yonks since I put up some book reviews and the irony/impropriety of reviewing a children’s book, a parenting guide, a wine guide and a book of poetry based on depression is not lost on me. If this grouping of books offends you, please stop reading now. Interestingly, I did not plan to read these books around the same time but for me, they are beautifully linked. I am a parent to two girls under five, I have depression and I really like a glass of wine. There, all linked and packaged up with a nice bow.
A LION IS A LION by POLLY DUNBAR
Is a lion still a lion if…he wears a hat? And carries an umbrella, too?
And is a lion still a lion if he says, “Oh yes, lunch would be lovely, thank you.”
And he asks you for…a BITE?
Firstly, I would like to say how much my daughters and I loved Polly Dunbar’s illustrations. My 4 year old told me ‘they were easy to understand.’ I think by this she means that the pages weren’t so busy that her 4 year old brain suffered with sensory overload. I often find books for children are so full of bright colours, big words, all singing and all dancing that children are so distracted that they lose the thread of the story. Not so with the book. The pictures are simple and beautifully drawn. My children and I particularly likes the ‘danger moments.’ This is when the lion decides he would quite like to eat the children in the story. Cleverly, Dunbar uses the colour red as a page background which prompted a lot of discussion with my 4 year old about red meaning danger. She is apparently steering clear of red food for a while. The message behind this book is also really empowering to children, particularly before bedtime. If something scares you/tries to eat you….chuck it out of your house and tell it ‘No! No! No! NO!’ This is a lovely book, really enjoyed by my 2 and 4 year old.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book.
I initially requested this ARC because I want to read more poetry. I am sorry to admit that I am a bit of a novice when it comes to reading poetry and my vision of it is fuelled by memories of plodding through A Level poetry which I often found tedious. So far, in my tasting menu of poetry, I am really enjoying modern poetry and I thought the subject matter of Benhaim’s new book of poems would definitely be something I could relate to.
Benhaim, is not a poet I am familiar with so before embarking on her collection I sat down with a cuppa and got onto Google. I was hoping to find a Wikipedia post giving me some background. This was unfortunately not to be. Instead, I became immersed into the world of Slam Poetry. To Slam Poetry virgins like myself, Slam is a competition which originated in 1984 in Chicago. It was intended as a way to move poetry away from stuffy libraries and bring it out to audiences. Poets take to the microphone and compete against other poets. Slam poetry is Benhaim’s background. It is worth watching her perform her poem ‘Explaining my depression to my mother, a conversation.’ This video has been viewed 6 million times on Youtube.
Having watched everything of Benhaim’s I could find, I embarked on her book. I loved these poems. So many of them spoke to me and even though the main subject matter is depression, a had a wry smile on my face as so much of what she said made sense to me:
In some stories,
the protagonist has to kill the bad thing to
release its light.
in my story,
I am the protagonist & the bad thing,
I have to learn how to bend the light out of myself.
I can do that magic.
So many beautiful thoughts and ways of expressing them. I think my favourite poems were ‘How to fold a memory’ – her words created such wonderful and fragile imagery. ‘Another plain truth,”poem for the moment after you left,”so my friend tells me she identifies as a mermaid,”feed a fever, starve a cold,’ ‘what I told the doctor, the second time,’
These poems, short stories really came alive to me after having watched how she performs. I completely have her voice in my head and it really helped my to get used to her conversational style.
A really wonderful book of poetry and I will definitely recommend it to others.
Oh Helen McGinn where have you been all my life??? Thank god I have found you now. I feel as I am now in my late 30s (argh) it is time for me to get into the club. The club I talk is the Club of Wise Ones What Know About Wine. I had friends who joined this club in their early 20s and I thought it was all a bit pretentious. I just wanted to get pissed on whatever was cheapest in sainos. If something was on offer, I would buy it….as long as it was in the £6 and under price bracket. In the year before we jumped on the baby train my husband and I went on our last big holiday. We went to America and spent a lot of time in Napa. We hired bikes and I have slightly soft focused memories of us cycling around various vineyards, trying to pretend we weren’t pissed and that we knew vaguely what we were on about. We didn’t, and it made me realise I wanted to be part of this club who did know.
I live in South West London which is an area often referred to as Nappy Valley. Everywhere you look, there are pregnant people, Range-Rover priced buggies, sleep consultants, breast-feeding consultants, mothers who are wearing jumpers with slogans describing how they are just blagging motherhood (they aren’t. Their idea of blagging motherhood is to feed their kids chicken nuggets one night a week instead of organic bolognese). Controversially, i have found since living here, I am slightly allergic to this group of women ( by all means, it is not the women round here) who quaff prosecco whilst holding baby Zara (who is dressed in Bonpoint) wanking on about how knackered they are. As a result, i tend to veer away from blogs and books with the title ‘The knackered/yummy/ confused/baffled/hysterical mummy.’ Helen McGinn has without a doubt proved me wrong and made me realise that my prejudice is ridiculous.
This book is so readable without being too easy. It is definitely a book which I shall keep and often refer back to. This does not read like an idiots guide to wine, but its simplicity in content makes you feel that you are getting to grips with how wine works without being bamboozled by the complicated stuff. For a wine beginner, this is definitely the book for you. Its humour, lack or pretension and brilliantly structured chapters make it a really fun read. The chapter about book clubs and wine has inspired me to start my own wine tasting/book reading club. Thanks Helen. Top work.
My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC of this book.
In my review above I have already given my opinions on the trend that is self-deprecting parents writing books and blogs on how they bare winging parenthood. This phenomenon has really taken off in the last few years and I feel we are inundated with similar parenting manuals. Having said that, I requested this ARC because I hadn’t read anything from the father’s point of view.
Sam Avery is a funny guy. He should be…he is a stand up comedian. He also has twin sons which will provide him with enough funny material for the next 15 years. His first chapter, entitled Diary of a Two-Year-Old made my openly guffaw on the train. I made my husband read it whilst we were trying to stay awake over a glass of wine last saturday. We did that knowing laugh, that parents do when we discover that we all go through the same thing. Also, his chapter on soft-play was brilliant.
My only issue with this book, is that for me, I think I would have enjoyed it more had I read it a little more sporadically. Avery is hilarious but if you read it in one sitting you get slightly bored of the humour. Pretty much every paragraph has a simile or analogy which eventually become totally frustrating. I felt I was drowning in Avery’s need to make me laugh every 5 seconds and as a result, as the book continued, to became less funny.
Having said that, it was really refreshing to read a man’s take on parenthood and it would be a great book to give to any soon to be dad’s.
Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas people.