Archive for the ‘Things I'm Reading Thursday’ Category

Things I’m Reading Thursday #33

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Remembering What Is Found There

(This post should perhaps be called, ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL READING FOR ALL POETS, GO AND BUY THIS BOOK NOW.)

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As you probably know, I am a huge fan of the great Adrienne Rich, and was truly saddened to hear of her death a few weeks ago. Last Wednesday would have been her 83rd birthday.

I’ve been writing about Rich’s ideas — specifically, her ideas about the lack of a literary tradition for female writers — in my PhD thesis, and so when I was given book vouchers for my recent birthday I decided to spend them, partly, on a Rich-penned collection of essays I’ve been wanting to read for ages:

What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics.

Thanks to my other reading of books by and about Rich, I already knew that she has the uncanny ability to take something you’ve never really thought about — because you thought you understood it — and to make you see it in such a new and different light that you feel your head might turn inside out. That happened so many times for me, with this book. Rich’s writing on the process of creating poetry is also among the best and truest I’ve ever seen from anyone — only Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead can beat this book for sheer, “yes! That’s exactly what it’s like!” value. Rich is great at taking what you or I might see as guilty little writer’s habits — procrastination, self-doubt, unwillingness to start on a project if we’ve got other things on our minds — and legitimising them, saying “this thing is a necessary part of the writing process and we must embrace it.” From start to finish I was edified — this book made me so happy. It all felt so utterly relevant me, as a poet, as a teacher, as a politicised person. I found myself repeatedly folding over pages to return to later, grabbing my neon-pink highlighter to block-mark huge passages that just made so much sense.

Instead of gushing further, I’ll share just a few of those block-marked passages with you now, and you can see what you think…

On the invisibility of poetry
“Poetry itself, in our national life, is under house arrest, is officially “disappeared.” Like our past, our collective memory, it remains an unfathomed, a devalued, resource. The establishment of a national ‘Poet Laureateship’ notwithstanding, poetry has been set apart from the practical arts, from civic meaning. It is irrelevant to mass ‘entertainment’ and the accumulation of wealth — thus, out of sight, out of mind.” (p. 20)

On why poetry being invisible is a good thing
“And perhaps this is the hope: that poetry can keep its mechanical needs simple, its head clear of the fumes of how ’success’ is concocted in the capitals of promotion, marketing, consumerism, and in particular of the competition — taught in schools, abetted at home — that pushes the ’star’ at the expense of the culture as a whole, that makes people want stardom rather than participation, association, exchange and improvisation with others. Perhaps this is the hope: that poetry, by its nature, will never become leashed to profit, marketing, consumerism.” (p. 40)

On free time as a necessary ingredient in the making of great poetry
“Most of the poets I know, hearing of a sum of money, translate it not into possessions, but into time — that precious immaterial necessity of our lives. It’s true that a poem can be attempted in brief interstitial moments, pulled out of the pocket and worked on while waiting for a bus or riding a train or while children nap or while waiting for a new batch of clerical work or blood samples to come in. But only certain kinds of poems are amenable to these conditions. Sometimes the very knowledge of coming interruption dampens the flicker. [...] Most, if not all, of the names we know in North American poetry are the names of people who have had some access to freedom in time.” (p. 43)

On why the idea of poetry as ‘academic’ is a lie
“It’s a lie that poetry is only read by or ’speaks’ to people in the universities or elite intellectual circles; in many such places, poetry barely speaks at all. Poems are written and absorbed, silently and aloud, in prisons, prairie kitchens, urban basement workshops, branch libraries, battered women’s shelters, homeless shelters, offices, a public hospital for disabled people, an HIV support group. A poet can be born in a house with empty bookshelves. Sooner or later, s/he will need books. But books are not genes.” (p. 206-7)

On good poetry as a rejection of hatred and competitiveness
“To celebrate, to drive off evil, to nourish memory, to conjure the desired visitation. The revolutionary artist, the relayer of possibility, draws on such powers, in opposition to a technocratic society’s hatred of multiformity, hatred of the natural world, hatred of the body, hatred of women and darkness, hatred of disobedience. The revolutionary poet loves people, rivers, other creatures, stones, trees, inseparably from art, is not ashamed of these loves, and for them conjures a language that is public, intimate, inviting, terrifying, and beloved.” (p. 249-50)

Go buy this book.

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Things I’m Reading Thursday #32 / Things I Love Thursday #58

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Vegan Noms (1)

Disclaimer: I am not this Claire Askew. That Claire Askew has been a vegan and vegan activist for many years, from what I can see. I am by no means trying to hijack her bandwagon, and I do intend to buy her book. You guys should, too.

The thing I’ve been loving a whole load this week is also something you can read. I LOVE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz
This lady is the thing I am loving, and I am loving her a whole, whole lot. As most of you probably know, I recently — and rather inexplicably — became vegan, and wrote a post about it right here. Some lovely folk came to comment on said post (and on my Facebook and Twitter), to give me words of encouragement, hints and tips. All of this was much appreciated, but a special shout-out must go to Regina Green. Not only did she give me a ton of feel-good encouragement, she also pointed me in the direction of Isa Chandra Moskowitz. AND I AM SO, SO GLAD that she did.

Ms Moskowitz — who you can learn about in this kick-ass interview from the New York Times — is a tattooed punk chef who believes in culinary activism and cupcakes for all. She’s written several extremely popular vegan cookbooks including one that’s all about pies, another that’s all about cookies, and for those of you for whom those are dirty words, there’s also a low fat book. When I hit the website, The Post Punk Kitchen, I really was spoilt for choice.

However, I eventually decided on Vegan Brunch. One of my all-time favourite things in life is breakfast, and one of the things I’ve missed most about becoming vegan is breakfast pastry. I thought I’d never eat a croissant ever again, until I came across the Gopal Deli in Barcelona and discovered that actually, vegan pastries are in fact possible. But although Edinburgh has plenty of places that’ll whip you up a lovely vegan lunch or dinner, the only place I know of that’ll make you a vegan breakfast or brunch is David Bann’s. (And they only do it at weekends. And yaknow, eating there twice every week is probably not good for my wallet.) Therefore, I was very happy to find a cookbook that would enable me to provide my own vegan breakfast goodies without too much fuss.

The book arrived last week and, as you can imagine, last weekend was a massive brunch-fest as a result. On Saturday morning, Lovely Boyfriend — even though he’d been off work sick for two days, bless him — got out of bed to make me Isa’s Perfect Pancakes, a vegan take on the traditional American fluffy pancake. While he was whipping up batter and manning the frying pan, I put together some of the cookbook’s Chocolate Drizzle to go on top. Both recipes were extremely simple, required a few cheap and easy-to-get ingredients, and were ready pretty quickly. The fact that I made enough Chocolate Drizzle for about ten people was the only real issue. Tip: if there’s just two of you, halve the ingredients suggested! The result of our labours is in the photo at the top of this post. It was one lush brunch, I can tell you. (Neither of the recipes are online, but Isa does have another pancake recipe, for super-fluffy cakes that look amazing, right here.)

Vegan Noms (9)

Next, I tried the recipe for Cinnamon Rolls. I am obsessed with anything cinnamon-filled, cinnamon-topped or cinnamon-scented, and I was beyond delighted to discover that the aforementioned Gopal also did a great line in huge swirly cinnamon buns. I never thought I’d be able to make such things myself, but of course, Isa proved me wrong. These were time-consuming, but easy to do — I am a very basics-only kind of cook, so if I can do it, anyone can — and a lot of the time was down-time, waiting for the dough to rise. The rather dark (sorry) photo above shows the rolls fresh out of the oven, before they were iced. Lovely Boyfriend and I tried one at this point and were worried it was too breadlike and not sweet enough. However, the next morning I iced them (and not heavily, either), and it made all the difference — suddenly they were sweet, sticky and perfect. You literally can’t tell the difference between these and their all-butter non-vegan cousins. The recipe for these isn’t online either, but it’s worth buying the book just for these babies! Excellent with a good cup of tea.

Vegan Noms (6)

Finally, on Sunday morning the loveliest Lovely Boyfriend decided to tackle Isa’s standard scrambled tofu, with with a Lovely Boyfriend twist. As well as Isa’s cumin and thyme spice mix — which sounds a bit curry-esque but actually works beautifully for breakfast — he also added some broken-up mushrooms, finely chopped onion and torn spinach. The end result was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in my life, vegan or otherwise. The recipe calls for extra-firm silken tofu — we could only find the firm stuff, so as a result the pieces broke down quite small while cooking. However, the chunky mushrooms kept the consistency from being too bitty. On top of a wholemeal bagel it was utterly lush, I tell you. There are plenty of other uses for tofu in the Post Punk Kitchen, too.

So yes — I’m in love with this cookbook, and with its author. You can guarantee that I’ll be buying more of her books in the near future, and I cannot wait til next weekend when I can try out more brunches (look out, waistline…).

If anyone loves me or ONS enough to help keep me stocked with Things I’m Reading Thursday fodder, you can check out my Amazon Wishlist!

Honourable mentions:
Sunshine. It’s still disturbingly cold outside, but at least it looks pretty // Starry Rhymes — you can finally buy it in the Read This Press etsy store! As I was listing it, I was re-reading some of my favourite poems, and oh my goodness, it’s good // Thrifting with my mad and lovely sister. Morningside has all the best finds! If you’re a fellow thrifter, check out my vintage store, Edinburgh Vintage, for some pretty bargains // feeling busy and productive, but not stressed. This is a rare feeling — long may it last! // Lazing under my duvet and plotting for the future. So much stuff, so little time! // Netflix. We just got it. Goodbye, what spare time I formerly had… // The West Wing. We’ve been trawling through every episode ever in order and we’re nearing the end of Season Six. Only one more to go! I never want it to end!

What are you loving this week?

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If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Call for submissions: an all-female anthology on “Truth” in honour of Adrienne Rich

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur, Adrienne Rich 1980
(Adrienne Rich — right — with Meridel Leseur and Audre Lorde in 1980)

On 27th March 2012, modern poetry lost one of its true giants. Adrienne Rich — poet, essayist, feminist, activist, thinker — passed away at the age of 82 following a period of illness. Rich was one of America’s most decorated and celebrated poets, the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, the Wallace Stevens Award and a Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award, among many others. She was also one of the fiercest and bravest voices poetry has ever seen. Described as “a poet of towering rage,” she wrote for women’s rights, for gay rights and for human rights and confronted sometimes vicious challenges from the literary and political establishment. Her poetry is angry, graceful and timeless, and her writings on women artists and female literary tradition vital. I have no doubt that her work will continue to chime with writers — female or otherwise — for as long as it is read.

One of my all-time favourite essays of Rich’s is the pseudo-manifesto — which Rich referred to only as a series of “notes” — Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying (1975). In this piece, Rich observes just some of the many lies women have been told over the course of history; she notes that many lies have been so socialised into women that we become willing vessels for them ourselves. She points out the unnerving result of accepting and socialising these lies.

To lie habitually, as a way of life, is to lose contact with the unconscious. It is like taking sleeping pills, which confer sleep but blot out dreaming. The unconscious wants truth. [...] This is why the effort to speak honestly is so important. Lies are usually attempts to make everything simpler — for the liar — than it really is, or ought to be.

Rich believes that only women can possibly take hold of the key to this problem of socialised lies. They must pass through what Virginia Woolf called the “dark core”, and speak the truth — the ugly, difficult, freeing, empowering truth.

When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.

That is what Read This Press is asking you to do. We want to create an anthology of writing by women — women of all ages, nationalities, and walks of life — on the theme of truth. Tell us a truth you’ve never told anyone. Describe what it feels like to tell a lie. Write anything you want on this theme, and send it to us. There are no rules beyond these:

1. You must be female-identified. (We recommend that anyone who finds the concept of an all-female creative space in any way upsetting move quickly away from this blog.)
2. Your piece must be in some way recogniseable as poetry or short fiction. (We don’t want to impose word-limits, but bear in mind, this’ll be a chapbook publication, so if you send us something very long we may ask if you’d be willing to excerpt it or work on cutting it down.)
3. Please write on the theme. (The theme is Truth. Interpret that however you like.)

The final chapbook will be entitled Creatrix: Women Writers on Truth (for Adrienne Rich). It will be published as a limited edition chapbook by Read This Press, and edited by Claire Askew. Contributors will each receive one free copy of the chapbook.

To submit, please:

1) Email up to five pieces to claire [at] onenightstanzas [dot] com
2) Do this before midnight GMT on 1st May 2012
3) Include a few sentences of biographical information about yourself
4) Point out if any of the poems you’re submitting have been submitted or published elswhere

Please note that there may be a public launch for this book, or some other kind of promotional reading (or there may not — we’ll see), and we might ask you to read. Just a heads-up.

You can also email claire [at] onenightstanzas [dot] com with any questions. Please do pass on this submissions call to anyone you think might be interested in submitting — and feel free to spread the word on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else you fancy.

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One Night Stanzas loves mail. Say hello via claire@onenightstanzas.com. NB: I am physically unable to reply to non-urgent stuff unless I have a free afternoon and a cup of tea in my hand. Please be patient!

(Photo credit)

Things I’m Reading Thursday #31: The Whole Woman

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

germaine greer. the whole woman.
(Photo credit)

Funnily enough, the Flickr caption for the picture I decided to use for this post was, “so smart in some places, so stupid in others. a great, challenging book full of rage.” Had I been asked to summarize this in as few words, my response would have been pretty similar.

Confession of a bad feminist: though I practically inhale pop feminism books, and can get through four or five a month if the going’s good… I had never read any Germaine Greer until now. I bought a collection of her essays while on holiday over the summer, shipped it back from Canada (I bought about ten times my baggage weight in books and thus gave Canada Post a lot of very lucrative business), and then promptly forgot about it. I was, of course, aware of The Female Eunuch, as it’s cited — not always kindly — in just about every pop feminist book there is. In fact, annoyingly, no one seems able to say the dreaded f word without automatically getting Germaine on speed-dial. I think I’ve yet to see a TV panel debate or review of a new feminist book where she is not invoked, or at least mentioned. I’ve heard, seen and read a lot of the very silly things she’s said in the past (accusing JRR Tolkien of being a fascist sympathiser was, oddly enough, my least favourite piece of Germaine-snark, rather than any women’s issues comment), and I’ve heard, seen and read a lot of very uncharitable things said about her by other people — often people in the women’s movement who know what they’re on about. Needless to say, I did not have desperately high hopes for this book. I was expecting a hike in my blood pressure levels, at the very least.

So actually, I was pleasantly surprised. The Whole Woman is shockingly pleasant to read — well written, well structured, far far less academic and stuffy than say, Susan Faludi’s Backlash which, essential reading or not, sent me to sleep and got put back on the shelf after two chapters. And Germaine says a lot of very sensible stuff about a lot of things. Many times — at first in a kind of horrified way, then less so — I found myself nodding at her ‘this is the grim reality of what it’s like, sometimes, being a woman’ -type statements. The book is extremely well researched. For me, the most enlightening, shocking and educational sections were those on the state of women’s health, and the treatment of women by pharmaceutical companies and health providers; the sections that provided statistics and case-studies on “real” rape conviction rates, domestic violence, the ratio of caesarean sections to natural births, etc. Germaine isn’t messing around here. She knows her stuff and it shows. Since The Female Eunuch, which I hear is so polemical it practically spits on you as you read, she’s obviously learned well the old adage that the plural of anecdote is not data. This is a lesson a lot of pop feminist writers would do well to cotton on to.

However, Germaine does not always cite well. Although most things are meticulously backed up with facts and figures, there are a few points where she’s happy to let stereotype reign. Her mentions of the sexual activities and proclivities of gay men, which are only touched on, are horribly stereotyped (yep, you guessed it: all gay guys are horribly promiscuous and prefer public bathroom stalls to any other venue when it comes to romantic activity. SIGH.). When read alongside her well-articulated, skilfully-justified thoughts on heterosexual female sexuality (and, to some degree, lesbianism, although she spends less time on this), her reliance on tired stereotypes is really gobsmacking. A few times I found myself writing “cite?!” in the margins… on one or two occasions, my marginalia was less polite.

And there are other, major problems with this book. I disagree with big chunks of it, although weirdly, not whole chapters. The funny thing about Germaine is, she’ll start a train of thought and for about three quarters of the way, you’re totally with her: you’re nodding, you’re excited to see where this theory is going. And then all of a sudden she takes things into territory so alien that you’re running for cover. How did you ever agree with this woman?! you find yourself wondering by the time the paragraph is finished. It’s a bewildering experience. Just a few examples: she makes some very interesting points about FTM transsexuals and their treatment by cisgendered men, but she then goes on to be pretty damn hateful about MTF transsexuals, or ‘men in sheep’s clothing’, as she seems to see them, and their rapist-like desire to penetrate the few women-only spaces we have (yes really. What the hell, Germaine?!). Or her very sensible chat about women controlling their own reproductive systems from cradle to grave without any kind of help or suggestion from men: oh, except all women who use chemical contraception or have legal abortions or indeed campaign for legal abortions are all misguided schmucks (I’ve read the contraception bit several times and still fail to see how she can legitimately join the dots on that one). There are parts of the chapters on these issues where Germaine is just off in cloud cuckoo land, having a rant about something that no progressive in their right mind would be swayed by… but then, elsewhere in the same chapter, she’ll be saying something I’d never have thought of, something that actually opened my eyes to a brand new idea about the women’s movement (and let me tell you, with so many pop feminism books recycling and repackaging the same old soundbites, that is a big, big deal).

I think mainly, there are just times when Germaine forgets to check her privilege. She seems to think that the only privilege that exists (among white people at least), is male. Therefore, she fails to take into account that some women are just not capable of doing as she does and thinking as she thinks, simply as a result of their background or biology. She has never had to really think twice about her own gender identity, so she feels totally cool telling those whose gender identity renders them an outcast from the gender binary how they ought to behave. This is not OK, but Germaine seems to forget sometimes that being cisgender is also a privilege, even if you’re female; that being white is also a privilege, even if you’re female; so is being able, English-speaking, middle class, college educated, etc. I’m actually a big fan of this book, and a far bigger fan of Germaine than I was before. I even like some of her (less horrendous) runaway, borderline-offensive rants — it shows that just like the rest of us, she is capable of speaking, and writing, without thinking. This isn’t the goody-goody academic feminism I’ve read elsewhere. This is one woman having a good, long, reasonably well-informed, occasionally-privileged kvetch. I can relate to that.

What are you reading this week?

Things I’m Reading Thursday #30

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Portnoy’s Complaint

Those of you who follow my feminangst blog, GirlPoems, will know that earlier this year I got a bit hot under the collar about the whole Philip-Roth-winning-the-International-Booker thing. Not particularly because Roth won it — rather, because of the treatment of Carmen Callil by a lot of asshole (male) journos after the final decision caused her to walk off the judging panel.

Robert McCrum (one of the journos in question) advocates that Roth is one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen… or at least, that he should win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which is essentially the same thing. Callil counters that essentially, if you’ve read one Roth novel, you’ve read ‘em all. Roth has his pet issues — Americanness, Jewishness, and the collision between the two; family, especially Jewish family, and of course, heterosexual sex and plenty of it — and he returns to these themes again and again and again in his many, many, many novels. Seriously, this guy is prolific. 27 novels, three short story collections and a dabbling of non-fiction to his name, all published in the last 53 years… that’s an average of 1.6 books a year, for goodness’ sakes. If there was a Nobel Prize for Dogged Literary Persistence, then yes, hands down, it was made for Roth and no one else.

But when the International Booker news broke, I found I could only side with Callil from a feminist, this-is-blatant-sexism-and-the-nastiest-kind-at-that point of view… because I’d never read a Philip Roth book. I’d heard plenty of folk, and not just ladies, say that his books tended in the direction of the coarse and misogynist (”no, no,” cry his fanboys, “he’s not a misogynist! He just writes about them! It just so happens that his protagonists in every single book are misogynists!”), but I couldn’t just take their word for it. I decided: if this guy is big enough and special enough to win all these awards; if he’s a big enough deal for a top hack like Robert McCrum to get all cave-dweller on people’s asses about, well then, I had better read one of his books and see for myself what the deal was.

I’d heard that Portnoy’s Complaint was the biggest, the best, and the most Roth-ish of them all… so when I found it in an Oxfam for three quid, it seemed like fate.

Warning: here be spoilers.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the book. It’s formally very clever — delivered as the rambling monologue of protagonist Alex Portnoy to his therapist, the narrative is free to get up close and personal with the kind of psychological turmoil that is never normally spoken of. As Roth has noted himself, the therapist-patient set-up allowed him to write freely and filthily about topics like incest-fantasies and masturbation, providing a handy get-out-of-criticism-free card. After all, how could you believe in a character who held back information from his therapist for fear of being offensive?

And Alex Portnoy is offensive — self-serving, self-pitying and arrogant throughout, he wishes violent death upon his parents, waxes lyrical on the stupidity of Christians and all other non-Jews (whilst at the same time trumpeting, “I happen to believe in the rights of man, rights such as are extended in the Soviet Union to all people, regardless of race, religion or color”), and repeatedly uses and abuses women (seriously, avoid this book at all costs if you’re offended by the word “woman” being used interchangably with the words “cunt” or “twat”). He is totally blind to his own despicable behaviour and the repurcussions it causes, as he moves through the world despising and blaming everyone else in it for his supposedly-all-encompassing, actually-rather-trivial personal problems. A teenage boy who worried that he’d given himself cancer from masturbating too much or panicked that he’d go blind when he accidentally ejaculated into his own eye, Portnoy grows up into a man who endlessly curses himself for being sexually attracted to a girl who doesn’t read books and cannot spell; a man who attempts to rape a woman he meets in Israel because she is Jewish, looks like his mother and tells him once and for all that he’s a pathetic, self-aggrandising moron. In short, this book is the garbled autobiography of an absolute and utter wanker (and I mean that both literally and figuratively: I have never before read a book whose pages are so lovingly devoted to the act of masturbation).

However, Roth is kidding. I now realise that a lot of the THESE BOOKS ARE MISOGYNIST FILTH! brigade are a bit too quick to jump on the Roth’s-fiction-is-obviously-autobiographical bandwagon. It’s utterly, utterly clear from the obvious holes, double-backs and endless revisions Alex makes as he progresses through his own narrative that we’re supposed to think that he’s a dishonest, self-pitying, woman-hating shit. And it’s the fact that we’re laughing at him, not with him, that makes the book so riotously funny.
Come at it from the angle of yes, it’s obvious that this guy is a hateful little so-and-so, rather than someone we ought to be rooting for. Then, it’s possible to giggle at Alex’s total horror when, halfway through the book, he pauses in his jumbled recollections to announce to the therapist that he’s got it: he’s found the root of all his problems with women! The root, it turns out, is the fact that his mother — his own mother! I mean, ew! — touched his penis while potty-training him. From then on, Alex is convinced. He ditches his first serious girlfriend because she says that, in the event of their entirely hypothetical engagement, she would refuse to convert to Judaism on account of the fact that Alex himself is an atheist. He ditches his second serious girlfriend because she refuses to give him head and then, when she finally does after months of bullying on his part, she’s a bit rubbish at it. And he leaves his all-time fantasy woman threatening to commit suicide mid-holiday in Europe because after their menage-a-trois with a prostitute, she felt a bit seedy and used. Of course, all these romantic disasters are nothing to do with him — they’re because of his hideous Oedipal potty-training! It all makes sense!

So yep, it’s a funny book. It’s a fun read, too — written in a messy stream-of-conciousness that appears random and arbitrary, it reflects the jangled nature of human thought and memory while at the same time reading smoothly and effortlessly, a stylistic sleight-of-hand that does give me a glimpse into the reasoning behind the OMG! I Heart Philip Roth 4EvAR! brigade. Most fun of all was reading it on the bus: my favourite moment was the realisation that I was sitting next to an elderly Scottish wifey, blithely making my way down a page that had the words WHACKING OFF written in large block capitals in a big empty space near the bottom. Apparently, the book caused outrage when it was published in 1969. I can tell you, it still has the power to move a Scottish wifey from her seat nearly half a century later.

However — and this is where I’ll make myself super unpopular — I don’t think Roth deserves to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Sure, I should probably read some more of his gazillion books before I say for sure, and that’s why I’m being a bit tentative. BUT: this is widely spoken of as His Very Best Book, and if this is the best he can do then no, he aint no Nobel Laureate. I have only read one Don DeLillo book, too (so far), and that was Cosmopolis, which a lot of the DeLillo fanclub don’t really rate that much. And yet, Cosmopolis had me thinking,”wow, OK… I can totally see why people are rabid about this guy. I can totally see why people say he should win the Nobel.” Perhaps most importantly, I came away from my first ever DeLillo experience thinking, “I have got to read more of this guy’s books!” With Roth, I’m thinking, “that was better than I expected,” and also “hey, some people have got him really wrong.” But I’m also thinking, “I kind of don’t really get where the rabid fanboys are coming from,” and also, “I can see why women really hate his stuff”, and also, “yeah, not so fussed about reading any more of Roth’s work any time soon.”
All of which leads me to conclude: give the Nobel (and the International Booker, for that matter) to some of the far more deserving North American writers (DeLillo, Atwood, McCarthy) first… then maybe we’ll talk.

What are you reading this week?

(Photo via Bloomsbury Auctions)

Things I’m Reading Thursday #29: Company Magazine, October issue

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Darya Ganj Kabadi Book Bazar
This article is cross-posted at Girl Poems.

I am going to be writing a formal essay on women’s magazines in the not-too-distant future, so I decided to buy some — three, in fact — as research. I haven’t read any women’s magazines for about three years, since I started properly reading and thinking about feminism and taking on board the seriousness of the problem that is western women’s magazine publishing. I’ll admit, I was pretty damn shocked as I leafed through the October issue of Company magazine (owned by magazine giant NatMags). Although I’d actively stopped reading women’s magazines because I knew how harmful the messages they transmit can be, I hadn’t ever read one with a really critical eye.

As I went through the magazine, cover to cover, I stuck post-its on all the “problematic” content and made notes on each. Without even going into the content of any of the features/articles, let me just share some statistics with you, about this one issue of just one (very popular) women’s magazine.

The magazine has 188 pages, including the cover and back cover.
66 pages are advertising*. That’s 35%.

22 pages are advertising perfume and cosmetics.
12 pages are advertising hair products.
11 pages are advertising clothing and/or shoes.
5 pages are advertising female personal hygiene products.
11 pages are advertising miscellaneous other stuff**.

On 9 of the ads, I wrote “male gaze” on my post-its.
On 13 of the ads, I wrote “woman sexualised”.
On 1 of the ads, I wrote “women dehumanized (decapitated)”.
On 1 of the ads, I wrote “woman humiliated”.
On 1 of the ads, I wrote “woman likened to an animal.”
(That’s 15 of the 66 adverts — or 22% — that sexualise or demean women in some way.)

On two pages of the magazine I wrote “cultural appropriation.”

In the entire 188 pages of the magazine, there were 242 images of women***.
17 of these women were women of colour.
7 of these women of colour appeared in advertising.
Outside of the advertising, 5 of the images of women of colour appeared to be examples of tokenism.
Only 2 women of colour — athelete Jessica Ennis, and Jessica Abide, a finalist on Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model — appear in main features****.

This is just the on-the-surface stuff. I also noted dozens of examples of more subtle problematic and negative messages throughout the magazine. Most obvious were totally unnecessary items and expenses being presented as “essential” or “must haves”. A close second were examples of the magazine presenting an image of or article about a highly successful woman — usually a celebrity — and coupling this with a section entitled “get her look”, or the like; the suggestion being that women should try to look, rather than be, like these role models. In a series of interviews with various celebrities talking about their predictions for the 2012 Olympics, men were asked about their heroes (”Brit icon?” asked of Nick Grimshaw), achievements (”Your gold medal moment?” asked of Ashley Banjo) and opinions on current affairs (”Britain in one word?” asked of Dappy). Women were asked about fashion (”trainers vs heels, who wins the race?” asked of Myleene Klass) and bitchiness (”commiserations to the losers?” asked of Kara Tointon). Women were set up to compete against one another throughout — an example? How about: “he was, in no uncertain terms, MINE NOW. [...] Boo bitches, no more posting on his wall, no more wondering if he is still on your scene, no more NOTHING, OK??” Then there were just your common-or-garden “everyone’s wearing…” (read: be like everyone else) messages, and the constant sexualisation of female activities (like “it’s all about doggy style” in reference to wearing white clothing with black spots — seriously). As well as being a total whitewash, the magazine also only features images of very thin, very young women, and it’s heteronormative as hell (I considered writing “h/n” on a post-it for every example, but I would have run out of post-its before I got twenty pages).

It’s utterly depressing, and this is just one issue of one magazine. If I suddenly stop posting here, you can just assume it’s because I have hoisted myself by my own petard in response to my research for this essay.

Now ladies, for pete’s sake, go and read a good book.

*When I say ‘advertising’, I mean independently-produced adverts. However, on pretty much every single page, products are named and plugged.

**2 pages of men’s aftershave, 2 pages of food, one ad for headache pills, one for fabric softener, one for a slimming aid, and four pages of classifieds — mostly related to beauty products or cosmetic surgery.

***some women appeared more than once. I only counted each woman, rather than each individual appearance.

****Abide appears on only one page, modelling clothing.

(Photo by Madpai)

Things I’m Reading Thursday #28: the trouble with “Outliers”

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Malcolm Gladwell at UofT

Is this really my first TiRT since May? I really need to get my head back in the blogging game, guys. I also apologise for the fact that ONS seems to be slowly seizing up — some of you have brought to my attention the fact that the site is taking an age to load. I am unsure exactly why this is, but have some theories. The 750,000+ spam comments (yes, really) sitting in my moderation queue probably aren’t helping. I’m onto it. Apologies.

Anyway, I just finished reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve had so many breathless, near-orgasmic statements foisted on me about this man’s books that I’m genuinely shocked that I never got around to reading him before. I remember my mad flatmate reading The Tipping Point when it came out and practically going into apoplexy about it over breakfast one morning. Five years on and a couple of weeks ago she gave me a book token, and the words “dude, have you still not read any Malcolm Gladwell?”

So, I trotted off to Word Power Books and, as commanded, bought Outliers, the Malcolm Gladwell book whose blurb had most piqued my interest when I nosed through his various titles. And yes, it is a damn fine book. I got through it so fast and so hungrily that it was more like inhaling a book than reading it. He’s a great, great writer — probably (I feel unqualified to really comment, having only read one of his books) deserving of all the praise heaped at his feet — “global phenomenon” (The Observer), “the best kind of writer” (The Times), “the world’s most influential thinker” (GQ), and so on. And the book itself is full of fascinating stuff — I was shocked, enlightened and inspired. Usually, nothing puts me off more than a soc-sci book with a ton of tables inset to illustrate points. This book is the exception to that rule — the tables and diagrams were almost always the book’s biggest “no way?!” moments.

However, as well as greatly enjoying the book, and coming out of it feeling like I’d learned heaps, I also felt deeply troubled by it. In chapter after chapter, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Gladwell’s examples of “lucky” (as opposed to “gifted”) or “disadvantaged” people and scenarios, and my own experiences both as a student and a teacher in the UK education system. Gladwell points out perceptively and highly persuasively the ways in which seemingly minor idiosyncracies of a country’s bureaucratic policy or national psyche can make huge differences to the ways in which different people within that country behave and progress. And although he drew largely on examples from Canada, North America and Asia in his exploration of these concepts, I feel like Outliers might have a lot to tell us about the way we talk to, think about and educate our kids here in Scotland.

I daresay you’re raising a skeptical eyebrow right now, but hopefully you’re still with me.

Gladwell talks about Canadian all-star hockey players (I’ll try and chop the entire chapter he devotes to a phenomenon called relative age advantage down as much as possible). Basically, if you want to be a famous hockey player in Canada, you have to start as a kid and work your way up through various club leagues, and your eligibility for these is based on your age. All the recognised clubs set their age eligibility cut-off date at January 1st. Gladwell argues, examining various jaw-droppingly convincing studies as he goes, that this gives a huge advantage to players born at the start of the year. After all, he says, if you’re born in early January, you have the advantage of eleven months’ emotional and physical growth over your team mate who was born in December. And when you’re a six-year-old, that means a hell of a lot. The stronger and more mature kids get picked for extra coaching, and progress through the ranks and leagues. The effect is cumulative, and the result is that the vast majority of star adult hockey players in Canada were born between early January and late March.

It’s not a great leap, then, to the Scottish education system, whose age eligibility cut-off is the end of February, as opposed to the beginning of August or September in England. I began my primary school education in England. I was born on March 10th, and was among the younger kids in my class group. My sister Helen, who was born in late January, was two years below me and smack-bang in the middle of her class group. We both performed at a level best described as “OK” academically, but I did not get on at all well socially. Helen was a fabulous mover-and-shaker, loved by all. I was — and to an extent, still am — chronically terrible at forming platonic relationships.
When I was eight, my family moved to Scotland. Because of the change in eligibility cut-off date, I went from being one of the youngest in my class group to the very oldest. My sister went from being right in the middle of her year, age-wise, to being the very youngest. The cut-off date also meant that we ended up only one academic year apart from one another — we went from Year 3 and Year 1 respectively to Primary 4 and Primary 3.
And something weird happened: I shot to the top of my class. Suddenly, I was outperforming everyone else in my year group. Helen, meanwhile, began to suffer academically. Concerns were raised by some teachers about her “bad” spelling and daydreamy manner in classes. Within one academic year we went from being pretty similar in our academic performances to being at opposite ends of the scale.

People have offered various explanations for this. I’m a classic first child, Helen is a classic second child, for example. I’m more like my maternal family, the Robinsons — self-confident and unapologetic (so, successful but not very likeable) — while Helen is more like our paternal family, the Askews — quieter and more introspective. It’s even been suggested that it’s down to me being a Piscean and Helen being a Capricorn-Aquarius cusp child. However, reading Outliers has made me think: wait a second. Is this actually all about totally arbitrary school year eligibility start dates?

If it is, the implications are serious. It’s not just a case of “hey, that’s weird, isn’t it?” Follow Helen and I through the rest of our compulsory education: after my rocky first few years I stormed through school. At Standard Grade I got seven Grade 1s and one Grade 2 (Maths, which I hated with a passion). At Higher I got five As and as a result, unconditional offers to study English Literature at five of my six chosen universities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool. (The one who turned me down was York, but that may have had something to do with the fact that the course I applied for, English and Writing for Media, took only 20 students per academic year). Helen got a mixed bag of 1, 2 and 3 results in her Standard Grades, and at Higher her results were ABCCC. She originally applied to study Drama after school, but after getting called for some auditions, decided she couldn’t hack the snotty theatrical types. She ended up getting into Carlisle Institute of the Arts (now part of the University of Cumbria) to do a Foundation Degree in Fine Art via clearing.

Follow us even further, to the present day. I have a MA, a MSc that I won a scholarship to study, and I am about to graduate with a PhD at the age of 26. I work as a lecturer for the largest Further Education college in Edinburgh, as well as tutoring at my alma mater. I’m also a published writer.
Helen has completed a BTEC in Art and Design, a year out working in a kilt store and a hard-won BA in Graphic Design. She currently works part time in Paperchase.

Why am I writing this? Do I hate my sister and want to humiliate her, and have a good brag about my own abilities? Absolutely not. I’m one of those sickening people who thinks of their sibling as their best friend — she is the person who means the most to me in the whole world. Nope, I’m writing this because, as a result of reading Outliers, I’ve begun to think that maybe I am not as “academically gifted” as all my school reports would have had my parents and I believe, and that maybe Helen is not the “supermassive failure” she is sometimes wont to apologise for (don’t worry, I always tell her to shut the hell up).

The whole point of Gladwell’s book is to point out that actually, there is no such thing as “gifted”. There is only lucky versus unlucky. He talks at length about the cumulative nature of advantages — that once a person gains an advantage over their peers, they are thrown into the path of further advantages, while those same advantages slip further and further our of reach for the folk who didn’t get that first, minor boost. Helen and I are a great example of that. I genuinely believe that I am no more “smart” or “intelligent” or “gifted” than she is. She knows a hell of a lot about stuff that I’m clueless about. She can hold her own in a fierce intellectual debate much better than I can (I have a tendency to get cross). She is still far and away better at forming platonic relationships and handling social situations than I am. If anything, she is far more confident — she’s also a realist, where I’m a dreamer and a procrastinator. Her vocabulary is every bit as varied as mine. Helen and I had an identical start in life, outside of education, and I’ve often wondered why our paths have been so very different. Now I’m left wondering if getting bumped to the top of my year age-wise gave me the academic boost I needed to get good grades in high school, which in turn opened up better opportunities for me in the worlds of employment and post-compulsory education. Helen, meanwhile, seemingly took a step backward with the change in cut-off date — suddenly her supposedly “bad” spelling was being compared to the performance of kids almost twelve months her senior. At the age of just six years old, Helen was being given messages of “you’re not good enough” by her teachers. I’m no child psychologist, but what kind of snowball effect could that potentially set in motion?

Malcolm Gladwell points out that if there were two cut-off dates for kid hockey players, one in January and one in June, Canada would have twice the number of all-star adult hockey players; that, or the birth months of those who made it to the big leagues would be much more diverse. “Hey, how weird,” we say, and close the book and think about other things. It’s just hockey, after all (OK sorry, I know that’s blasphemy to a Canadian). But what about our education system? The principle is the same, and if my experiences are anything to go by, the result is the same too. Therefore, the way our education system is organised is instrinsically unfair. Yes, in Scotland parents have the opportunity to defer younger kids from starting school for a year if they feel they’re not ready, and yes, there’s always the opportunity for your child to repeat or “stay back” a year if their young age is seen to be a problem. But how often is age identified as the cause of a child’s difficulties? How often do parents and teachers alike just assume that the kid in question is “just a classic second child”, or “just more like their dad”, or “just a typical Aquarius” (gah!), or hey, “maybe they’re just Not That Bright”? Furthermore, what parent wouldn’t hesitate before keeping their kid back a year? What might that do to the socialisation of a child — after all, some of the fiercest friendships you ever see are between individuals under the age of ten?

I shudder to think about how many kids are potentially losing out on academic (and other) opportunities because of something as arbitrary as their birth date. Particularly when I think that my sister might be carrying the legacy of this bureaucratic quirk in the system around with her for her entire adult life. That is damn scary.

(Photo by hyfen)

Things I’m Reading Thursday #27

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Peacock Blue Envelopes

I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible collector and a terrible hoarder. My sister, who is also my flatmate, once told me that my bedroom “looks like a junk shop.” I’m ashamed to say that she’s right. I have particular weaknesses for typewriters (duh), vinyl records and er, jewellery… but by far the worst is my weakness for books.
Lovely Boyfriend is also a bookworm, but he has far more restraint. He finds it hilarious that I literally cannot enter a bookstore without finding something that I want to buy. For me, there is no such thing as browsing or window shopping. I always, always buy. It’s bad.

Fortunately though, I am picky. I won’t just buy any old rubbish, and I’ll spend hours in the poetry section thumbing through volumes until I find one that really appeals – then I have to have it. If I don’t find anything in the poetry section, I’ll move onto Gender/Women’s Studies, then Literary Criticism, and then Prose.

My most recent purchase didn’t take me long to find, though – it practically leapt off the shelf of Oxfam books’ poetry section and demanded to be bought. It was and is John Stammers’ brilliant second collection, Stolen Love Behaviour, and it was a purchase I’m really pleased to have made.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t really aware of Stammers’ work until this point. I am friends with him on Facebook and have been for a while (!) but that was as far as my knowledge of him went (I know, I know, I am a web generation fashion victim, I’m sorry). However, it was enough for something to chime with me in the bookstore and that in turn was enough to make me pick up the book and have a nosey.

I have now read it cover to cover, and loved it – Stammers walks the line between being accessible and being ‘difficult’ with true panache. His poems are searingly original – literally, unlike anything I’ve ever read – and his language is vivid, varied and unashamed. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a poet use the word ‘cunt’ so effectively, for example. I have just been blown away by the incredible imagery and the truly imaginative turns of phrase in so many of these poems. Rather than waffling, I’ll post some of my favourite lines below, and let you make up your own minds.

This is by no means the kind of poetry you come across every day, but it’s all the more worth reading for that. Check it out here.

“The first drops of rain detonate on the flagstones.
I beg your pardon, go outside to see the roses.
Look, don’t they remind you of something?”

— from Rosegarden

“Sometimes I see the open window:
in the variegated light that can occur in a room,
in cloud shapes observable after rain,
or when I talk with you of what you will come to do.”

– from Younger

“snowbound in the elbow of the big Columbia River;
heading west by night so as to stay unnoticed;
the ringing of the wires, the country songs of the truck drivers.”

— from Three Chüeh-Chü: Recalling Former Travels

“The intricate needlework on your boots
twinkles like pinpricks in black card
and the liquefaction
of your demin bolero
as it sidles to a bluegrass waltz
hits me over the heart like a high-calibre round.”

– from Prarie Rose

“A voided gin bottle, its final smear in your tumbler,
informs your blowsy mouth with its juniper come-ons.”

– from Why

What are you reading this week?

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Things I’m Reading Thursday #26

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Books

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Things I’m Reading Thursday post, primarily because — cue the sad violins — I’ve had very little time to read anything other than thesis stuff, and no one round these parts wants to hear about academic papers with titles like “Who Killed Feminism?” (I shouldn’t think).

However, for the last two weeks I’ve been on holiday for Easter, and had chance to catch up on some much-needed reading. One of the best books I’m currently nosing through is True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, by David Mamet.

I only recently discovered Mamet’s prose. Although I’m interested in theatrical writing, dramaturgy and whatnot, I never thought my vague interest would lead me in the direction of formal criticism on the subject. However — in keeping with the theme that seems to have developed in my reading — I got interested after Lovely Boyfriend recommended Mamet’s Writing in Restaurants on our very first date (expect a Writing in Restaurants post here sometime soon, incidentally)! Naturally, wanting to impress my gorgeous love-interest, I devoured the book and absolutely loved it. So when I spotted “True and False” in a great bookstore while on holiday in Amsterdam, I decided — even though I have very little interest in acting — to give it a go.

And I’m really glad I did. Mamet writes in such a brilliant way — concise, brutal, to the point, but also really enjoyable prose. And although the book is supposedly “for the actor”, the vast majority of it can be easily extended to apply to any creative person — writers in particular, as Mamet frequently draws from his personal experiences as a playwright to illustrate his points.

There was so much great advice in here, advice that really struck a chord with me and made me think “I have to share this with the writers I know!” So, courtesy of “True and False”, check out some words of Mamet wisdom, and see what you think!

On choosing writing as your “career” rather than your “hobby”:

“You will encounter in your travels folks of your own age who chose the institutional path, who became the arts administrators rather than the actors, the casting agents rather than the writers. These folks chose to serve an institutional authority in exchange for a paycheck, and these folks are going to be with you for the rest of your life, and you actors and writers and people who come up off the street, who live without certainty day to day and year to year are going to have to bear with being called children by these institutional types… [but] it is not childish to live with uncertainty, to devote oneself to a craft rather than a career, to an idea rather than an institution. It’s courageous and requires a courage of the order that the institutionally co-opted are ill equipped to perceive.”

On seeking fame and approval, and being competitive:

“We’d all like to be well thought of, to do noble things, to do great things, and to be respected. But is it worthy of respect to act in a manner we ourselves feel is trivial, exploitative, demeaning or sordid? How can that command the respect of others; and would we value the approval of someone who is taken in my behaviour which we know to be shoddy, grasping and mercantile?
And yet our truly noble desire to do good work, to contribute to the community, can become warped into an empty quest for something which we call success — that quest where many of you andmany of your peers will squander your youth. [...] The Stoics would say ‘act first to desire your own good opinion’.”

On performing well:

“Such remarks as ‘I am a fraud, I am no good, I was terrible tonight’ are the opposite of effective self improvement. They are obeisance to an outside or internalised authority — they are a plea to that authority for pity for your helpless state. You are not helpless. You are entitled to learn and to improve and to vary… [but] generally, the ‘I’m garbage’ and ‘I was brilliant’ performances were the same.
[...] The purpose of the performance is solely to communicate to the audience. If we bear this in mind, we will be less likely to go around berating ourselves.”

On editors, agents and other cultural gatekeepers:

“How will you act when you, whether occasionally or frequently, come up against the gatekeepers? Why not do the best you can, see them as, if you will, an inevitable and preexisting condition, like ants at a picnic, and shrug and enjoy yourself in spite of them. Do not internalise the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.”

On keeping on writing:

“Perhaps no one in a situation demanding courage (that is, in a situation that has frightened him) can believe it — when the ramp comes down on the landing craft on D-Day, when the baby is ready to be born, when the time comes to address the court, or plead with the spouse for a second chance, or ask the bank for an extension — when the time comes, in short, to act, it becomes apparent to these people, as it should to you, that no one cares what you believe, and if you’ve got a goal to accomplish then you’d best set about it. To deny nothing, invent nothing — accept everything, and get on with it.”

What are you reading right now?

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Things I’m Reading Thursday #25: to read in 2011

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Reminder / Scatter-brained [43/365]
Not stuff I am reading right now (because honestly, you just don’t want to know…), but stuff on my to-read list for 2011…

Fiction

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Suzanna Clarke
I really should have read this book before. It ticks all my usual boxes — I love magic realism, I love literary pastiche and I love anything that Neil Gaiman loves. However, this one kind of passed me by when it first appeared — I remember seeing it in the window of every Waterstones in the land, but I didn’t really pay attention. Happily, The Lovely Boyfriend not only informed me of its fabulousness, but was good enough to buy me a beautiful edition of it (black-edged pages, oh my goodness) for Christmas. I’m just trying to ignore the many times I’ve heard it referred to as “Harry Potter for grownups”.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
I’ve been excited to read this book since before it was published. No, I haven’t read the His Dark Materials books and yes, I know they’re freaking amazing and my life has been a waste thus far for not reading them. They too have been on the to-read list since forever, but… I just can’t get that wound up about them, to be honest. This book, on the other hand, is a totally different story. I waited very impatiently for it to come out in paperback (not that I don’t like hardbacks, you just can’t crease the spines as easily, and everyone knows I like a book to look lived in), and now I’m having to wait very impatiently to have the time to read it. If the bun-fight in this book’s Amazon reviews is anything to go by, it’s going to be very interesting indeed…

Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
If you’ve been here any length of time you’ll know that I am a massive Atwood fangirl, and have been for a long time (how big a fangirl I hear you ask? The other night I found myself defending the idea of, in the dim and distant future, potentially naming my first son Atwood. That big). I wrote my Higher English personal study paper on Lady Oracle, and my Advanced Higher English dissertation on The Blind Assassin. I am now writing a PhD thesis, the cornerstone of which is Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead lectures. I really, really love me some Margaret Atwood. And I am a very lucky lady, because for Christmas this year I was gifted beautiful hardback editions of both these books — one of which was also signed and from a limited run of 1000 copies. Whether I can actually bring myself to pick these books up and sully their gorgeousness by reading them remains to be seen, but I have been wanting to read both for a very long time.

Poetry

Hard Ground by Michael O’ Brien and Tom Waits
Cue more fangirling: there are not words for how much I love Tom Waits. When I heard he was bringing out a poetry collection, I immediately assumed it must be a lie — for years Waits has shunned the title “poet”, describing it as “a dangerous word” and refusing to acknowledge that tracks like the fantastic 9th and Hennepin are in fact, more spoken word than song. However, here it is — a book that contains poems written by Tom Waits. It’s not available until March, but naturally, my copy is already pre-ordered, and I am counting down the days. I’m very interested to see if the man is as much of a genius on paper as he is elsewhere…

Here Comes The Night by Alan Gillis
I had a really, really good Christmas on the books front, as you’ve probably already gathered. Also in my Christmas stocking this year was Alan Gillis’ latest collection, which looks even weirder and more wonderful than the last two. I’m possibly a tad biased here, because Alan is my PhD supervisor, but he’s also a fabulous poet and moreover, a fabulous bloke. His poems are genuinely unique — I have never come across anything quite like them. They’re also brilliant — so often reading Alan’s work I find myself thinking “I wish I’d thought of that first.” I’m a particular fan of his second collection, Hawks and Doves, which was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize a couple of years back, so I’m very excited to read this follow-up.

Non-fiction

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women by Susan Faludi
Of late, I have become very, very interested in feminism. Writing a PhD about contemporary female writers will do that to you, it seems — I never wanted to write about feminist theory, but it kind of became necessary, and then after a while it became really, really interesting, and then before I knew it, it had kind of changed the entire direction of my thesis. I’m now an avid reader of numerous feminist blogs — which I generally prefer to books on the subject, as they’re more immediate and less absolute — including Shakesville (which you’ve doubtless seen me praise to the skies here before), Feminisnt and Tiger Beatdown (NB: all potentially NSFW), and it’s become a topic that I regularly trip out in order to bore people at house parties. Backlash is one of those books that’s still talked about and referred to constantly, in spite of its age — it really is a definitive text on the subject, it seems. I’ve managed to acquire a very beautiful shocking pink paperback edition and its violent pink and black cover yells at me every time I look at my bookshelf. Time to read it already, methinks.

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter
A newer book, this, but one that’s already being touted as definitive and very important. Less a specifically feminist book and more a general social commentary (it seems), Walter is interested specifically in the way traditional female gender roles have been re-packaged in order to make women look empowered — the new ways in which women are pressured and pigeonholed and the repurcussions of this process on girls and young women. Having recently discovered and been blown away by Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly III: Advertising’s Image of Women lectures, I am very keen to read more on the subject. I know this book is hot property right now, so if anyone else has read it I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts!

What are you hoping to read in 2011?

(Photo by cathdrwg)

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