Loved for her hilarious, punchy pieces on The Washington Post and Buzzfeed, writer Hannah Jewell covers gender and politics in a whole new way. Her book, 100 Nasty Women of History, employs her natural humour and verve to tell the stories of badass, inspiring ladies throughout the ages who are long overdue some appreciation. SL sat down with Hannah to find out what stories inspire her…
What are you reading right now?
Do audiobooks count? I’m listening to Phillip Pullman’s Book of Dust as read by Michael Sheen. I don’t do a lot of audiobooks generally but I listened to all of His Dark Materials read by Pullman himself years ago and I liked the way he said “DUST”. Michael Sheen hasn’t said “dust” much yet in this series so far, so the jury’s still out.
When and where do you read?
I recently moved to Washington DC and no longer have a terrible 45-minute London commute, which was when I used to read to block out the sweaty, infected horrors of the tube. Now I have a brisk 19-minute stroll to work, so reading is mostly relegated to bedtime and Saturday mornings.
Where do you buy your books?
If I already know what I want, I’ll usually get it on Amazon, but if I want to find something new I’ll head to a book shop and spend forever there and spend too much money.
Print or Kindle?
Both! I’m not a print snob and TO BE HONEST I don’t trust when people are anti-Kindle extremists. Do you care about the aesthetics of books more than what’s inside them? Kindles are great for reading at night, on planes, and when you’re travelling – and I love being able to get the next book in a series instantly. Print books, however, smell better.
Where do you get your reading recommendations?
From my nerdy boyfriend.
Is there a book from childhood that has stayed with you?
Jennie by Paul Gallico is a favourite in my family. It was first published in 1950, and basically a boy turns into a cat and goes on cat adventures with his cat friend Jennie, and it’s all very moving although I can’t quite remember why. I should reread it.
Top non-fiction book?
A Woman in Berlin, a memoir published anonymously in the 50s about a woman’s experience in 1945 Berlin at the end of the war. The author has since been revealed to be the German journalist Marta Hillers. It’s phenomenal and terrifying and an incredible way to learn the history of that moment in time.
What book would you give as a gift?
Why, I think the most perfect gift for any man, woman or surly teen would be a great new book called 100 Nasty Women of History, have you heard of it? It’s shaped just like a Christmas present and looks like it would be satisfying to wrap.
Any guilty pleasures?
I re-read a couple Harry Potter books every Christmas, but I don’t feel guilty about it so maybe it doesn’t count. I skip this question. You should never feel guilty about reading a book. Unless it’s Women Who Work.
What’s been your favourite read of 2017?
I read all the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan Novels early this year and they’re just so perfect. It’s my favourite book to recommend to people because they get so absorbed in the series and stop sleeping and it kind of ruins their lives, in a good way.
What was the last book that made you cry?
I cried at so many of the biographies I read while researching my book, especially the women who resisted the Nazis in WWII. The biography Irena’s Children by Tilar J Mazzeo tells the story of how a young Polish woman, Irena Sendler, saved thousands of children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the war. It’s totally heartbreaking as well as inspiring.
What book makes you laugh out loud?
I laughed so much through Lindy West’s 2016 memoir Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. She’s been one of my original favourite humour writers on the internet since I read an article she did on Jezebel in 2013: ‘You Can’t Tell the Attorney General She Has an Epic Butt, But Here’s What You CAN Do’. It’s an article which many men could still benefit from reading – as well as her hilarious memoir.
Your favourite literary character?
Possibly Jane Austen’s Emma, because she’s a bit of an asshole but ultimately redeemable, which I hope for myself.
What one book should everyone read?
Everyone should read Orientalism by Edward Said to make themselves a little less racist.
Warsan Shire. One time I gave her a ride to the airport after a conference I was helping to organise. I doubt she remembers it, alas. I also love the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, and, of course, all the poets in my book.
Tell us about your new book.
My book is an international tour across space and time to discover some of the cool women of history you should know about but probably haven’t heard of because of the man keeping you down. There’s someone for everyone in there, and while I want readers to laugh, I also want to inspire them to destroy the patriarchy in whatever way they can. Because we could all use a bit of that right now.
Where did the idea come from?
A few years ago, my dad gave me a pack of playing cards with historical women on them for Christmas. It was a very dad-who’s-run-out-of-ideas-and-is-trying-to-get-the-stocking-stuffer-numbers-even type of gift, but in any case, I was working from home over Christmas for BuzzFeed UK and needed #content ideas, so I wrote about historical women in a post called ‘Historical Women Who Gave No Fucks’. It was very popular. Whenever I’ve written about women in history and combined it with swear words, the internet has absolutely loved it. So give the people what they want, I say. I actually had the idea for the book before Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman”, but as soon as he did, I thought, oh yes, that sums it up well.
Who’s your top Nasty Woman of History?
I say someone different each time! I love all my pushy grandmothers equally. But this time I’ll say Wallada bint al-Mustakfi, who was a poet in 11th-century Cordoba, Spain. She the daughter of Caliph Muhammad III, who died and left her a fortune. She started a literary salon where people of all religions and backgrounds would come to have poetry competitions. She also had a few steamy romances, but to find out more about them you’ll have to buy the book.