The rallying cry often heard in conversations about consent is the simple truth: consent isn't just sexy—it's mandatory.
And it's a topic that we're finally discussing with young people, with the hope of creating a happier and healthier sexual landscape. Just how to talk about consent, and how to centre survivors' voices in those conversations though, isn't always easy to navigate. Enter Sarah Ratchford's Fired up About Consent (Between the Lines Books) a practical, accessible primer to discuss how consent can—and must—be part of every single sexual encounter, and how enthusiastic consent becomes a joyful part of a great sex life.
Myth-busting, sex-positive, and grounded in clear details about sex and the harmful messaging of the past, the book also weaves in gender identity, masturbation, sex work, and much more. Intersectional, inclusive, and empowering, it's an invaluable tool for one of the most important conversations we can have with young people.
We are thrilled to welcome Sarah to Open Book today in celebration of the publication of Fired Up About Consent. We spoke with them via our WAR: Writers as Readers interview series, where we ask the writers of essential new books to share about the reads that informed their life, both as a writer and a person.
Sarah tells us about the fun of discovering early "one-handed" reads, the book that teaches them the gentle and important lesson that "we’re all enough as we are", and the two books they would give their 17-year old self (to balance one another out).
The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Sarah Ratchford
A book that made me cry:
I mean, most books make me cry. Any truly apt description of loneliness will make me bawl, or of being misunderstood. If you’re really in the mood to wallow, but also to laugh, I would suggest Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Adult Onset. It was published in 2014, but gripped me as an urgent read for anyone into interrogating the very real pressures of parenthood and/or madness.
The first adult book I read:
I started reading a lot of Charles Dickens as a kid, because it felt like that’s what I should be reading as a child who was always made fun of for being a bookworm. Nicholas Nickelby was a favourite, but the content was pretty pure and it didn’t feel especially adult to me. I read The Second Sex, or tried, when I was 11 or 12. Before that, though, if I’m being honest, the first adult books I read were true adult books—one-handed reads I found tucked into corners and couch cushions at my babysitters’ houses. I’d get them to trust me and think I was good, then steal a few minutes alone whenever I could to devour these “bodice-rippers.”
A book that made me laugh out loud:
Samantha Irby makes me howl. I haven’t read her latest yet, but we are never meeting in real life. was very, very good. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made me laugh a lot too.
The book I have re-read many times:
Perhaps this is corny, I’m unsure, but I have that severe lapsed-Catholic guilt, and so I don’t have the gumption to lie here. The book I have re-read many times is Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh. Whenever my life falls apart or I unravel, this book helps me to realize, yet again, that we’re all enough as we are. That was a hard lesson for me to learn, and I need reminding. My copy of Women in Clothes, a collection of over 600 works edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton, is also extremely dogeared. This book says to me, somehow, that if you have a problem with yourself, you can always resolve it. But also: maybe there aren’t so many problems to be found there, after all, and your own brand of different, the one you currently inhabit, might be fine if only you’ll want it.
A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. It sat on my shelf for years, I tried several times, and just couldn’t get into it. I have a strong suspicion the failing is mine, not Rushdie’s. Nonetheless, I gave my copy to someone who could, hopefully, better appreciate it. I also really wanted to love The Hobbit (?) for some reason for many years, but again, couldn’t get past the first page.
The book I would give my 17-year old self, if I could:
Honestly, I respond well to tough love, so I would give myself a copy of Hesse’s Steppenwolf with a note in the front leaf advising myself to stop thinking I was so singular. But, I would balance it out with a copy of Patti Smith’s Just Kids or Year of the Monkey so that young me could also see that day-to-day life is a story, too.
The best book I read in the past six months:
One of the best books I’ve read in the past six months is a new one, knot body by Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch. It’s a collection of letters and essays about love, pain, sex, gender, and the various facets of life we inherit from our ancestors. It’s powerful, tender and funny, and also really intimate. It feels like a long letter from a friend. Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes is incredible, too. If you’ve got questions about addiction, or love reading about it, or even just need a story you can’t put down, it’s a must read.
Sarah Ratchford is a feminist journalist with a focus on social justice. They cover sexual health and consent, reproductive justice, trans health, and feminist activism. Their essays, features and news stories have appeared in The Walrus, The Toronto Star, Chatelaine, Flare, Elle, Refinery29, and Cosmopolitan. They’ve hosted and produced a number of VICE documentaries on sex work law, trans health, and abortion access. Fired Up about Consent is their first book.