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Book review: Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies, by Hadley Freeman

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 5:28pm

Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies

by Hadley Freeman

Fourth Estate

Hadley Freeman's book seems designed to bolster younger women: to reveal where life's pitfalls and pratfalls may lie, to point out how sexism holds them back and to reassure that every one of us makes mistakes and that's all right.

Freeman is a successful columnist, and this shows in Be Awesome, which is less of a story than a series of articles, some written in parody style - such as a women's magazine celebrity interview - and others in list form.

Most of the lists are at the end of the book and contain suggestions for books to read and films to watch (and avoid). There's also a selection of admirable women.

Freeman's target audience is busy women, and a book designed as a dip-in can be an asset. Sometimes, though, Be Awesome's scattershot approach can make you feel as though you're reading a notebook rather than a book-book. She is a charming companion, a warm writer with clever attitudes who understands that comedy is often the best way to make a serious point. Occasionally, however, I wanted more depth, less sparkle.

Freeman doesn't want to go too close to home either: she refuses to reveal too many details about her life. In a chapter on eating disorders, where she talks briefly about her own difficulties with anorexia, she writes: "I don't believe personal experience imbues one with expertise … I try to avoid talking about it altogether, mainly because I hope that I have something more to offer than my history."

This is a political point as well as a personal one: women are often encouraged to write about their own lives, especially their love lives, as though they can't have an opinion on anything unless they've been through it themselves.

Be Awesome is a delight to read, but if I were her agent, I would tell Freeman to write a novel. After all, the easiest way to rid yourself of any inhibitions over revealing your personal life is to disguise it as somebody else's.

Guardian News & Media