About a year ago I dated a feminist who had a thing where, with the exception of music, she’d prefer to consume media that was produced by women.
This inspired me, as part of my 2016 New Year Resolutions, to read a book written by a woman.
When I tell people this, they laugh – as if I’m implying that it’s so hard to read a book written by a woman. Actually – this book is the only book I’ve read this year.
It took several attempts to find a book that I could get into. Before I started I Am Malala, I also tried:
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
This is a fantasy novel. I got about one quarter through this book. It was well written, but I gave up when it started giving the ins and outs of how magic works. I felt it was too much work for make believe, but maybe I should have stuck with it.
- The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.
I don’t think I made it through the first chapter of this Man Booker prize winning novel. Every person I mentioned this to who had attempted the book had the same experience.
- Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton
I got a couple of chapters through this non-fiction account. It’s quite a dry and logistical account of things – ‘and then I appointed so and so’. It’s not an autobiography, it starts from when she was appointed Secretary of State, and it assumes that you already know a lot about the context of her life and career.
Eventually I picked up I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, which I was able to finish.
Malala Yousafzai is woman from the Swat region of Pakistan, who in 2012, when she was 15, was shot by members of the Taliban for her involvement in activism advocating education for girls. She survived the shooting and made international headlines.
I was impressed with the content of this book. It’s comprehensive. She talks about the history of military coups in Pakistan, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the change of politics since 9/11, and rise of the Taliban in Pakistan.
I learned a lot reading this book. For example:
- That the Taliban had a very active presence in Pakistan (not just Afghanistan).
- The history of military coups in Pakistan.
- The changing nature of politics in the region. For example the conservative, anti-woman politics were something that only arose due to the growing influence of the Taliban.
What’s apparent from the book, and she gives a great deal of attention to – is the role her father played in her becoming the person she is now, and her being targeted by the Taliban. Her father, Ziauddan Yousafzai is an (incredibly brave) outspoken activist for girls’ education and ran a school in the region.
I was impressed with the content of the book, but the writing itself, was a bit overwritten and boring.
A good book for me, makes itself easy to be read. I found with this book, it was quite an effort to read it. Maybe I have a bad reading atttitude, but then I said the same thing when I was reading The Ethical Slut, and found it wasn’t a the case when I read a book that I particularly enjoyed (Everything I ever needed to know about economics, I learned from online dating).
The single thing I would say would make the book better, would be to make it a lot shorter. Shorten all the sentences, and eliminate the cruft. I think the book could about 50-75% of it’s current length.
I suspect that there’s a bit of optics being played here. I imagine the publishers or other advisers felt that a shorter book wouldn’t be taken as seriously, and wouldn’t play into the ‘child genius’ portrayal of Malala. I don’t think Malala isn’t a child genius – she’s clearly very smart – but I don’t think she needs to write an long book to prove it.
Throughout the book Malala consistently asserts her Muslim faith and the book ends with a profession to her faith.
Islam is of course is a central theme in the book. The Taliban are using Islam to justify their world view (where girls shouldn’t be educated, and women should often not be heard from), while Malala holds the view that this world view is not the correct interpretation of Islam.
She doesn’t address atheism, which is disappointing, but perhaps something for a future book. As I’ve said before, I think we should be more critical of religious belief, and so while I like Malala’s politics, I would like to see her address the question of ‘What about athiesm? Is Islamic belief irrational and counter to the science you advocate?’.
Overall – a book packed with good content. I look forward to further books by Malala Yousafzai.