Thursday, July 24, 2014

Audiobook review: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

How to be a Woman

Written and read by: Caitlin Moran

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven't been burned as witches since 1727, life isn't exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?

Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women's lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it's about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.


“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I'm supposed to be today.”

Caitlin Moran is a very funny woman. I am basically reduced to shrieks of laughter and tears every other sentence. She's also seems very down to earth and approachable. I am not good at approaching people, even the people I know, but I feel like I could at least squeak a hello her way and she'd probably give me a big smile and compliment my dress and then I'd cry and scurry away before I made a fool of myself. But perhaps what I love most about her, is how passionate she is about women. Even though a lot of her columns aren't exactly platforms to discuss feminism, she's always managed to weave it in. Or maybe it's just that because she obviously feels so strongly about the issue of female empowerment that it comes through in subliminal waves.

So I was so happy when I discovered that How to be a Woman is, as the title might slightly suggest, about women. And it's about all kinds of womanly issues, from lighter fare about handbags to tales of terrible boyfriends and confrontations with co-workers and strangers and siblings. It's about periods and hairstyles and weddings and babies. It touches on every contradiction women are forced to deal with, every sexist, unfair way of life that doesn't seem likely to change in the near future. It discusses stilettos and glass ceilings and falling in love with celebrities.

It is, overwhelmingly, a book about feminism. HOORAY!

I'm sure there are men (and maybe women) that roll their eyes and mumble under their breath about the feminazis and make pithy comments about it being "that time of the month" when they hear me exclaim excitedly about a book being about feminism but to me it feels really important that we have fun, interesting and relevant books about feminism right now. It seems like every other week another celebrity is coming out to say "never fear fans! I'm no feminist!". No, they're humanists; they actually love men a lot; they don't think it's helpful. It's infuriating and it's a subject that Caitlin beautifully, bluntly covers in her book.
“We need to reclaim the word 'feminism'. We need the word 'feminism' back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist - and only 42% of British women - I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of 'liberation for women' is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? 'Vogue' by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”
When women are dying and being humiliated for wanting to be sexually responsible,shamed for being raped and are bullied out of having abortions, feminism is that much more important. It shouldn't be a dirty word. It shouldn't be something people wonder if we really need. It is confounding to me that anyone would hear the definition of feminism and think "hmmm, no, not for me".
“What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.”
I'm sure the staunchly anti-feminist types aren't likely to pick up this book but they really should, because Caitlin is incredibly fair and reasonable in her perspectives on society. Perhaps my favourite example is her chapter on porn. Caitlin makes a very important distinction between porn, or the act of watching two people have sex, and the porn industry. There is, as Caitlin believes, a world of difference between the two. There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying sex and even wanting to watch two people who are attracted to each other bump uglies. It's why romance novels always sell like gangbusters. There is plenty wrong with an industry that objectifies women and presents an unrealistic expectation of sex, relationships and female bodies though. These sorts of distinctions sometimes get lost in the general anger of internet feminism, and perhaps to some people it isn't an important distinction to make, but I think a lot of the feminist blow-back from men is just reactionary responses to issues like this being raised. They feel threatened and attack and before they know it they're yelling about feminists being lesbians or old cat ladies or social outcasts (as though there'd be anything wrong with being those women, I basically fall into two of those three categories) and then huff off to their shitty jobs that pay better than their female co-workers.

What made it a truly wonderful experience, though, was listening to Caitlin read the audiobook herself. I'm a big fan of comedy autobiographies read by the author (I can't even imagine having read Bossypants, it was made for Tina Fey to read out loud) and this is pretty much the same category. Whether it was Caitlin's impersonation of her over-enthusiastic 14 year old self reading diary entries, or her raucous laughter over a memory of her sister or the rising volume as she got angry about the glass ceiling or the ever present expectation that a woman needs to have babies to be complete, it was just the absolute perfect way to experience the book. It was like having an invisible Caitlin Moran following me around all day, commenting on life and love and careers while I drove to work, or caught a bus from uni, or waited in line at the post office. I'd find myself laughing along with her, or nodding along to her argument, or tutting in commiseration about the asshole musician boyfriend she once had. The only downside is that I didn't take any notes on my favourite quotes and parts, which means I can't just quote bomb you all for the final part of the review. But trust me, it's hella quotable.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to build a girl Part 2: "I am roughly 7% less virgin now!"

Sorry I'm a little late to the readalong party. I headed home for the weekend for a friend's hens night and what a shock, I was in no position to sit in front of a computer on Sunday. Or Monday.

Some quick housekeeping. Thanks again to the wonderful Emily for hosting, Harper Collins for providing the books and Caitlin Moran for writing it. Also, congrats to Alley on getting hitched over the weekend! You looked beautiful! And now that the apologies and housekeeping is out of the way...

How is everyone? And most importantly, how is everyone enjoying the book?

When we left Johanna last week she had very dramatically decided she had to die. Instead of physically depriving herself of life, she is going to give birth to a new Johanna, a Johanna who is so little like the Johanna of the Scooby Doo incident (who cries on a sanitary napkin to demonstrate the "sheer volumes of sorrow" she feels) that she isn't even called Johanna any more.
"A self-made man" - not of woman born but alchemized, through sheer force of will, by the man himself. This is what I want to be. I want to be a self-made woman. I want to conjure myself out of every sparkling, fast moving thing I can see. I want to be the creator of myself. I'm going to begat myself"
 And with a new identity comes a new name, Dolly Wilde, named after Oscar Wilde's lesbian/alcoholic/dead scandalous niece. Which I actually really like the sound of, although that might have just been because the other options were Laurel Canyon, Kitten Lithium and Belle Jar.

And with the new name comes a new image. Dolly wears heavy eyeliner and lipstick, dresses head to toe in black and holds her hair on top of her head with biros. She tries to join the tiny goth population in town but fails the interview process. Unfairly if you ask me because quirks about being"goth-curious" and trying to confuse people with jazz are winning strategies in my book.

It's okay Johanna/Dolly. You're too good to hang out at man on 'is 'oss

And with a new name and image comes a new identity. Johanna does what perhaps all teen girls do at one point or another, they plaster their wall with pictures of things they love and things they want to be. Sometimes these pictures have the double incentive of hiding the hole that appeared during the secret party you hosted at 16, but mostly they're there because just saying you love something never seems enough. Johanna is a little different in that she doesn't really know any of the people she's sticking on her wall, but she knows that lead away from Johanna and towards Dolly and a career in music. This is perhaps especially evident as she moons over a picture of Lenin.
"I don't know exactly what he went on to do, but I do know that he looks hot here, all brown eyes, natty scarf, and floppy hair. No one this handsome could be that bad, surely"
But of course the transition doesn't happen immediately. She gets shade thrown at her by her mum who is a real asshole, calling her a big black cow and snarking about sausage rolls. She isn't automatically accepted by the goths or the record shop folk. And her brothers just don't seem to grasp how momentous this whole thing is. But she strives forward, with her trade-mark enthusiasm and sass...even if it usually is mostly internalised sass and enthusiasm.

Case in point one - After feeling like she doesn't belong in the record shop she exclaims (in her mind) that she doesn't care:
 "I have regular, fulfilling sex with a hairbrush, and am the bastard son of a bastard son of Bredan Behan. They will all rue the day. Eventually."
 Case in point two - when he mother tells her she's changed while bleaching her moustache she beautifully replies:
"Yes. I've decided the Indie Hitler look wasn't going to work for me, after all."
Now kids, I'm not advocating you sass your parents. But if you do, aim high at Johanna's level of sass. It beats the hell out of "you don't even know me!" and slammed doors.

Perhaps the most important part of the reinvention though is the music. It might have started out as something to latch onto, anything to latch on to, but music is already having a pretty profound effect on Johanna/Dolly ( I really need to decide what to call her). The first time she listens to John Peel she is so terrified of the speed metal that she hide the radio under a pile of clothes after being convinced it's summoning demons outside her window. As the girlfriend of someone who listens to metal on the regular, I can say with some authority that that is still my reaction. *shudders*

But once she experiments with every band and style she can hire from the library she starts to really experience the music. All of Moran's quotes about music are so freakin' on point. I mean, they completely describe these moments in my adolescence when I heard a band and just experienced these crazy wooooshes of emotion and catharsis and jolts of understanding. 90s grunge/alternative/indie rock is my genre of music, so reading about Johanna's reaction to Hole and My Bloody Valentine, The Manic Street Preachers, Riot Grrrl... That is my past, present and future. I understand Johanna as she describes some of the music as being like a train driving straight through you and doing "mad, fast, cold circuits around your veins". I went through that same moment of clarity when I realised that girls could be as bad-ass in bands as boys.
"hearing women singing about themselves - rather than men singing about women - makes everything seem wonderfully clear, and possible"
   I know exactly how it feels to put yourself together through the music you listen to.

It wasn't a particularly turbulent section, other than a few fights and awkward interactions here and there, so I think we can probably expect some things to go wrong for Johanna soon. I'm guessing her mum isn't going to let go of her leaving school quite so easily, and the stuff with her dad's band is guaranteed to get murky. And maybe, since she's officially off to gigs and interviewing bands, Johanna is going to barrel straight into having sex with someone, get what she's always dreamed of and's actually not what she actually wanted after all.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Movie Trailer: Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

This movie looks like it maybe borders into Eat, Pray, Love 'travelling is inspirational, look at me smile at the tiny child and dance like no one is watching' territory, but I have a crazy amount of love for Simon Pegg (and a lot of the cast, hot damn) so I am willing to forgive a little bit sentimentality for a film with him as the lead.

It's based on a book by a French psychologist, Fran├žois Lelord, and I am actually really interested to read it now. Wikipedia says that the book is:
"on psychology written for ordinary readers; it tells the story of Hector, a psychiatrist, who travels around the world in search of what it is that makes people happy. The book is written in a simple, humorous style, and gives psychological advice and thought-provoking impulses without even touching dry theory"
I love psychology and specifically created an honours project that let me tie it in to film analysis, but it can be dry as hell. So huzzah for Lelord writing for the layman!

Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell


Written by: Rainbow Rowell

Published: 2014

Synopsis: Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

“He kissed her like he was drawing a perfectly straight line. He kissed her in India ink.”

Every time I finish a Rainbow Rowell novel I try to rank them, from favourite to most favourite. Do I love the 90s rom-com quality of Attachments best? The Harry Potter slash fic in Fangirl? The beauty of Eleanor and Park finding themselves in each other? But each time I try and come to a conclusion I realise how impossible a feat it is. I love all of them and all the parts that make them so similar and so different.

When I finished Landline I had the same internal discussion. Ultimately I came to same decision, but just for a moment I thought "yes, I think perhaps this is my favourite". Like the others it made my heart both ache and well with happiness. Like the earlier three novels, the characters are wonderfully flawed and live off the page. But unlike the other novels, this one isn't about new love. It's about a love that's gone through the whirlwind phase and is in danger of evaporating. It's the potential future for all of the characters from the previous three books, and that is why I thought, for a hot minute, that this might be my favourite Rainbow Rowell novel.

Because of this I felt like this novel was more depressing, more bound in sadness. But that's really standard for a Rowell novel. No one in her novels has had an easy life, they're insular, outside the ebb and flow of regular society. And then they find that thing, that person, that makes all of that loneliness vanish. But everything in this novel is flipped on its head. The characters still start the novel feeling separate from the rest of the world, but they aren't lacking love and they aren't lacking a clear direction. They have careers and a family and they've been together for nearly 20 years. So after three novels of falling in love with characters who fall madly in love just as Georgie and Neal did, Landline makes you question everything you've previously read. If Georgie and Neal didn't have enough love to keep things together, does that mean Eleanor and Park are doomed? That Beth and Lincoln will tread the same path to unhappiness?

In spite of this, this is still undeniably a Rainbow Rowell novel. They may be having problems, but things aren't hopeless. Or at least, Georgie is willing to try and make what seems hopeless right again. And in a way, there's a typical Rainbow book within the atypical Rainbow book. After a separation (Neal takes the kids to visit his mum in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie stays in LA to work on a life-changing career opportunity) Georgie tries to get in contact with Neal, to fix their fractured marriage. But what she actually finds is a link to the past. Her mother's home line links not to the Omaha of 2014 but Omaha 17 years earlier, when Neal had returned home after breaking up with her the first time. In this part of the novel, with older Georgie talking to younger Neal, we get our more traditional Rainbow novel. We hear about how they fell in love, the madness and inescapability of it. We see them navigate each other cautiously, we see them bounce off each other and rub each other the wrong way. You end up with that silly smile that you always get when you read a Rainbow novel. You sigh over her innate ability to write about moments that seem like they should be impossible to write. You fall in love with the love she draws on the page.
“Neal didn't take Georgie's breath away. Maybe the opposite. But that was okay--that was really good, actually, to be near someone who filled your lungs with air.”
Then there's the other part of the novel. Where everything you've read is thrown into question. Yes their young love is beautiful and sigh-inducing. But is it realistic? Is it sustainable?                                                        
         “You don't know when you're twenty-three. 
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn't know at twenty-three.”
I loved Rainbow before, but I think I love her even more now. It's as though Landline has added a new dimension to her writing which not only transformed this book into something magnificent, but retrospectively added a whole new side to her previous books too. More than anything though, it makes me unbelievably excited to see where she goes next.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ninja Book Swap: Summer (ahem, winter) edition

I took part in another instalment of the Ninja book swap this year, and as usual it was really, really brilliant. I was spoiled with not one but two packages. I always love putting together the packages for people, choosing the books off their list (ones that either I know and love, or am desperate to read myself) and then finding the perfect little gifts to accompany the books. Notepads and pens and chocolates and tea. And, I'm not going to lie, I also quite like coming home to a package of books and gifts on my doorstep too!

Package number 1 came from Bernadette of The Bumbling Bookworm (@BumbleBookworm) who is also from Australia. She bought me shiny new copies of Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers and Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch. PLUS she got me a fancy cat notebook (How do you like meow?) and some dinosaur rubbers. I feel quite spoiled indeed.

Package 2 came all the way from merry ol' England from Louise of Yellow Highway Lines (@Thisandyou). She sent me Michel Faber's Under the Skin, some crayons (I can't even explain how excited I am to have frickin' crayons in my house again!), an owl notebook, MORE dinosaur rubbers (and a little rhino guy) and a bunch of fantastic postcards. They are the greatest.

I did a bit of a clean up of my wishlist before I submitted it for the bookswap, but I was hoping above all hopes that I would get The Leftovers and Under the Skin in my packages. So obviously Louise and Bernadette are mind-readers, beautiful, wonderful, amazing mind-readers. The Leftovers, TV edition, has just started, so I'm going to read the book before I watch the show. And Under the Skin, the movie starring Scarlett Johansson, is supposed to be supurb, so here's hoping it's merely following the lead of the book that gave it life.

So a huge thank you to Louise and Bernadette for being so generous with their packages, and a cheery hug and thank you to Hanna and Bex for being the brilliant organisers of the event. They'll be back for a Halloween swap, so if you want to take part head over to their twitter so you don't miss out!

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to build a girl: Post the First

Thanks again to our gentle leader, Emily, for hosting this readalong. If you are State-side don't forget to pre-order this book from her at Odyssey Bookstore.

And on the off chance Caitlin Moran got lost and somehow stumbled into this blogpost, HI! And I am so sorry for the terrible puns and gifs that I will probably be using to discuss your book. SO SORRY.


This book kicks off with a fingerbang* doesn't it!

Yes I went there. No I'm not sorry. Okay, maybe a little sorry.

But in all seriousness, it does deal with a hell of a lot in these first 4 chapters. We meet Johanna, who is from a huge family and dreams of a different life, a better life, where she isn't as lonely as she is now. She takes care of her siblings because her dad is, in the nicest possible way, hopeless and her mum is dealing with post-partum depression. Poor Johanna is that kind of teenager that I read about and makes me all kinds of squirmy and awkward because I absolutely recognise my own teen awkwardness in her, even if mine was on a slightly different trajectory to hers.

I think the book, so far anyway, is doing a really good job of setting Johanna up as both unique and completely typical in her awkwardness/introspection. Yes she's maybe on the more extreme end, but I imagine almost everyone (if not actually everyone) taking part in this readalong could relate to a lot of the secrets she confided.

Things like:
Because my biggest secret of all - the one I would rather die than tell, the one I wouldn't even put in my diary - is that I really, truly, in my heart, want to be beautiful.  want to be beautiful so much - because it will keep me safe, and keep me lucky, and it's too exhausting not to be.
As well as a lot of the embarrassment she suffered.  Even when something good happened (winning the poetry competition) it was tempered by something horrifying. That interview after she read her poem on TV? God I think I used to have nightmares about the exact same thing. My heart broke for her when her dad told her she was "a Morrigan. Not a prat".

I can't say my upbringing mirrored Johanna in any real sense outside of relating to the general embarrassment of being a teen girl, except when the nurse comes by and mistakes her as the mother of the twins. I have an intimate relationship with that particular embarrassment. When I was 11 my dad left me to sit in a cafe with my baby brother outside a supermarket so he could run in and grab some milk and bread. A lovely old lady started talking to me and asking questions about my brother, which I answer politely until she makes a comment about how "brave I was to have a baby when I was still so young myself". I freaked out, stammering about him being my brother and ONLY BEING ELEVEN YEARS OLD. I was horrified and any time I was left with my brother alone over the next few years in a shopping centre I'd very loudly exclaim "let's go find mum and dad, Liam" or "Liam your BIG SISTER loves you so much". It really wasn't anything to be ashamed of, but as an 11 year old girl who not only hadn't kissed a boy OR gotten her period yet, it was this absolutely horrendous thing. So I felt for Johanna, in that moment I was Johanna and my cheeks flushed red all over again

So all in all, I think the stage is well and truly set for Johanna to become Dolly. I'm also reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed at the moment, and she has a comment about all the women she's 'been', a goth girl, an earth girl, an adventurer etc. And it's so true. Maybe not every girl goes between such distinct sub-cultures, but our teen years are a time of constant reinvention. We play around with make-up and music and fashion styles, trying to find what fits best. Though often, I imagine, it's about trying to hide who we actually are and instead try and fit the mould that is your typical teenage girl.

This has all been a little serious so to wrap it up I'm going to share some of my favourite funny lines. And hot damn were there a few of them!

~"If I can't go on a date with a boy - I am fourteen; I have never gone on a date with a boy - then at least I can go on a date with me. A bed-date, i.e. a wank"

~"Corpses are terrifying. I've seen dead men that would freeze your innards so badly, you'd shit snow"

~"My father has a very personal and visceral loathing of Margaret Thatcher. Growing up, my understanding is that, at some point in the past, she bested my father in a fight that he only just escaped from - and that next time they meet it will be a fight to the death. A bit like Gandalf and the Balrog"

~"Man in tasseled shoes who looks like Prince Charles, but made out of ham - no"

I shall see you all in the comments section and your own blogs!

*Is this even slang outside of Australia? If not, well, you have been spared my incredibly lame joke.


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