The Reading Hour.

It’s that time of year again and, in the spirit of tonight’s Reading Hour, I thought I’d tell you what I’ve been reading since last years’ event.

Rookie Yearbooks 1 & 2 by Tavi Gevinson.

I fell in love with Tavi Gevinson at last years’ Melbourne Writers Festival and had to snap up Rookie Yearbook One at the event’s bookstore. The second yearbook I got after visiting the U.S. late last year. They both compile the best of the Rookie website for those who don’t always have the chance to check it out. My favourites were anything by Sady Doyle and Lena Dunham’s interview with Mindy Kaling.

Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger.

My former housemate bought this at a secondhand bookstore in Geelong when we went there for an exhibition and surprised me with it for my birthday. I ended up using some of the intel I gleaned from the book for an article on the dark side of Hollywood that I’m shopping around, and it informed me when I went to the Museum of Death in Los Angeles, to which Kenneth Anger is a benefactor.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

I read this around the time the second movie came out and I think I enjoyed the big screen version much more than the print one. I liked how the film streamlined much of the at times unnecessary plot additions.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

Gillian Flynn has fast established herself as one of my favourite writers, and this is not only my favourite book of hers, but also one of my favourites in general. Couldn’t recommend it highly enough. A gritty page-turner that kicks Gone Girl’s ass.

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany.

I was unimpressed by last years’ Stella prize winner.

Inferno by Dan Brown.

I made the mistake of taking this hefty tome on my trip to the U.S., thinking I would get most of it read on the plane but I was still lugging it around for weeks after I returned home. I think because I read it pretty sporadically throughout the trip I didn’t get as into the story as I have with other Brown books. I did like the notions of overpopulation and the need to eradicate part of the population for the greater good of the human race, though.

Well Read Women by Samantha Hahn.

This is more of a picture book than anything with read substance, but I was gifted it in the States for my birthday after having mentioned it months and months before!

Floundering by Romy Ash.

I really enjoyed this debut novel from Ash, which was shortlisted for many a prize upon its release. If you like evocative Australiana in an alternative style, I urge you to pick up Floundering.

The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne.

A sort-of pictorial autobiography of my favourite author that I picked up from New York’s famous Strand bookstore.

Reel Religion: A Century of the Bible on Film by the Museum of Biblical Art.

I couldn’t tell whether this guide to the exhibition of the same name at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art was propaganda or, as it asserts in its title, a history of the Bible on film. Either way, if you ever have some spare time in Central Parker West, check out the free museum.

How Did You Get This Number? by Sloan Crosley.

Crosley seems to have lost her allure since I last read her work in book form, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, a few years ago.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.

What a horror show this was! I primarily read it so I could watch the Lifetime movie of the same name starring Heather Graham and Kiernan Shipka, but I had been wanting to satisfy my curiosity for it for quite a while.

The Family Law by Benjamin Law.

Laugh-out-loud funny as Law always is.

The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle by Mary Lillian Ellison with Larry Platt.

Another one I got in New York at Westsider Rare Books and, as an autobiography of perhaps the most famous—and certainly the longest active—female wrestler, I had to snap it up.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.

This marks the third and final Flynn book I’ve read, and while the colleague I borrowed it from found it boring, I loved it almost as much as Sharp Objects. It features another eleventh-hour plot twist that Flynn has become famous for. Can’t wait to see what her next release will be.

John Belushi is Dead/Hollywood Ending by Kathy Charles.

I’d been wanting to read Hollywood Ending for quite a few years, but little did I know that the book was also published under the title of John Belushi is Dead, so there I was with two copies of the same book and no place to go. It turned out to be a spectacular waste of money as I was sorely disappointed by this narrative.

Tragic Hollywood: Beautiful, Glamorous, Dead by Jackie Ganiy.

This book nicely elaborated on much of what I learned on my visit to the Museum of Death and a Tragical History tour of L.A. but, as a self-published effort, it was riddle with spelling and grammar mistakes and continuity errors.

Audition by Barbara Walters.

While I think Barbara Walters gets kookier and more conservative with age, she was once a pioneer for women in broadcast journalism, and her autobiography was fascinating if, expectedly, long.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

Another one I’d been putting off, but it lived up to the hype. I’m excited to see how the story of the last woman executed in Iceland will play out on the big screen as it has been optioned for film.

2Pac VS. Biggie: An Illustrated History of Rap’s Greatest Battle by Jeff Weiss & Evan McGarvey.

Didn’t tell me what I didn’t already know about Tupac Shakur, but I’d never really been a Biggie fan, so this book did shed some light on one of rap’s biggest stars.

An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne.

I picked this up along with Dunne’s autobiography at The Strand, and it was quite enjoyable.

Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin.

I always enjoy Maupin’s stuff, and this marks the likely second-last installment of his Tales of the City saga, in which he revisits his beloved characters from 1970s and ’80s San Francisco in the modern day.

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates.

You never know what you’re going to get when it comes to Joyce Carol Oates, which can be thrilling and disconcerting. I’d have to go with the latter in this instance.

Changed for Good by Stacy Wolf.

Two of my favourite things: feminism and Broadway musicals. For anyone who’s got an interest in either of these things, this is a fascinating look at both, with a particular focus on Wicked, which I went to see for the seventh time on the weekend!

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss.

Perhaps the Aussie book of the year, Tara Moss can be seen everywhere promoting her latest book—part memoir, part exploration of female tropes and stereotypes—and talking about everything from the Bechdel test to her rape and miscarriage. She writes in accessible terms and makes strong points.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

This book, a present from my housemate, has been languishing on my to-read pile for three years, so I thought it was high time I see what all the fuss was about. I’d watched the series so I was familiar with the premise and its aftermath, but I was quite taken aback by the misogyny and racism of pretty much all of the characters. Whether that was impeccable storytelling by Tsiolkas or the author’s biases I’m not sure; I guess I’ll have to read more of his work to find out. Next of his on my list: Barracuda.

The First Stone by Helen Garner.

Speaking of ingrained misogyny, Garner attempts to unpack the alleged sexual assault of two female students by a male authority figure at Melbourne University in the 1990s. What she actually ends up with is an out-of-touch, victim-blaming, second-wave VS. third-wave piece of misogyny. I would direct all readers away from this and towards Anna Krien’s Night Games: a much more balanced take on similar events.

Animal People by Charlotte Wood.

I’d been wanting to read this since I saw Charlotte Wood as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of years ago, and I devoured it in the space of the day. (I was without electricity so there wasn’t much else to do!) Pretty easy reading with a nice juxtaposition between human idiosyncrasies and animal mannerisms.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

I’ve already read this book, but I’m rereading it currently as research for a piece about the upcoming film adaptation. This is the third Flynn book I’ve read in the past year.

What are you reading for the Reading Hour?

Related: The Reading Hour 2013.

The Reading Hour 2012.

Tavi’s World at Melbourne Writers Festival.

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple: My Guide to New York City.

Cherchez la Femme Fatale, Take 2.

Stella: A Prize of One’s Own at The Wheeler Centre.

The Slap & Men Who Cheat.

Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” in the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

Night Games by Anna Krien Review.

You Animals.

Elsewhere: [Rookie] Sady Doyle.

[Show & Tell] Tara Moss On Ner Latest Novel The Fictional Woman & the Bechdel Test.

[SMH] Under the Skin.

Event: A Very Manhattan Halloween.

halloween miley cyrus robin thicke

halloween marilyn monroe

orange is the new black costume

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We found Wally (or Waldo, as they are wont to call him over here).

ursula the little mermaid costume

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Pets on parade.

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greenwich village halloween parade 2013

Feminists in arms. (Norma Jean did work in the factories during World War II, after all, just like Rosie!)

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greenwich village halloween parade 2013 1

regina george halloween costume

On Wednesdays we wear pink.

greenwich village halloween parade 2

tonto halloween costume

greenwich village halloween parade 2013

jellyfish halloween costume

the birds halloween costume

Unfortunately you can’t see The Birds, but this is Tippi Hedren.

In New York City’s Greenwich Village Halloween Parade I was surprised to be the only Marilyn Monroe in attendance that I could see. There were some arguably culturally insensitive costumes (a Tonto and a plethora of “sexy” Native Americans), a Banksy, some political statements (anti-fracking, anti-spying) and a kick-ass version of Orange is the New Black, complete with whiteface, marching in one of New York City’s most revered institutions.

Revelers dressed as jellyfish with umbrellas ruled the night and came prepared for the rain that was forecast and appeared on schedule as the parade began around 7pm. 60,000 people were expected to show up to walk and, seeing as last years festivities were interrupted by superstorm Sandy, 2013’s Halloween was a long awaited one. New Yorkers have a knack for rising above adversity and Thursday night was no exception.

While the parade is certainly an event that adults relish the opportunity to participate in, being a non-alcohol and -drug-fuelled event there were plenty of children and pets dressed up and ready to march up 6th Avenue, between Spring and 16th Streets, where the parade ended. A few blocks away (thought that didn’t stop my party from getting lost in transit!) was the official parade after party at Webster Hall, transformed into Webster Hell for the festivities. Thousand-dollar prizes were given to the best dressed, which included a white Little Wayne, Regina George, several Rosie the Riveters (the best one I saw came replete with the posters’ yellow background festooned to her in cardboard, which we didn’t manage to catch on camera) and many a Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus. A virgin was sacrificed on an occult alter at midnight, which we unfortunately missed on one of the many floors of partying. Tickets to the after party don’t come cheap, though, starting at $40 and increasing as the event draws closer (I paid $75 for my ticket, while those who opted to buy on the door were looking at $100 a pop!). Webster Hall undoubtedly pulled in an exorbitant amount of cash in ticket and bar sales, but the actual parade relied on $50,000 of KickStarter donations to get up and running again this year, as they were uninsured for the effects of Sandy.

Halloween is certainly gaining traction in Australia, increasingly among adults as much as trick-or-treating children, but America goes all out. Part of the reason I’m in New York City at this time of year is specifically to attend the 40th anniversary of the parade and the after party, assembling my costume months in advance and carting it halfway across the world, while the friend I’m staying in the city with and I traipsed through the Upper East and West Side’s thrift stores in search of the finishing touches for her costume (a silent film star).

Halloween here is not for the faint-hearted; many residents and businesses adorn their facades in all manner of holiday paraphernalia, soccer mums ferry their kids to and from school in costume, and over $7 billion is spent on costumes, candy and general Halloween merriment. No matter how you feel about it, All Hallows Eve is an exercise in Americana that doesn’t look to be going anywhere any time soon, especially not in the heart of New York City.

Elsewhere: [DNAinfo.com New York] Village Halloween Parade Needs $50K to Recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Images via April Bonnick.

Event: Anne Summers in Conversation with Julia Gillard.

julia gillard melbourne conversation anne summers

Of course Sydney had to go and rain on Melbourne’s parade with all the newsworthy items from Julia Gillard’s first public interview since she was ousted as Prime Minister on 27th June this year coming out of her conversation with Anne Summers at the Opera House last Monday night.

But, from some of the reports I read (I didn’t watch the live broadcast on ABC News 24 as I wanted to be surprised for Tuesday night in Melbourne), the Sydney event was more of a girly advice session than a discussion of her time in the top job and what her future entails.

Luckily, Melbourne took the latter route, with #JuliaTalks(ing) about her sexist treatment (which spawned Anne Summers’ The Misogyny Factor) by the media, her colleagues in parliament and the general public. While the exasperated woman sitting next to me kept groaning every time sexism was brought up (seriously, considering the tone of her time in the top job, why would you go to a Julia Gillard talk with one of Australia’s most prominent feminists and not expect to hear about this?), I was pleased with the topics discussed.

Gillard talked about how she was working towards a “Labor government focussed on women and girls” but that’s now shot to shit along with the in-power government’s view of women. When asked how she feels about Tony Abbott assigning himself the portfolio of the Status of Women, Gillard reiterated her Sydney sentiments in that he should rely heavily on Tanya Plibersek and that she hopes “he finds it the most character building task of his prime ministership”.

On her famous misogyny speech—one year old today—Gillard certainly didn’t foresee it “going off on social media” but, to be fair, she certainly “didn’t foresee the level of misogyny” that marred her prime ministership, either. While on one hand, Gillard relayed an anecdote of her time as a lawyer with Slater & Gordon (“You may have heard about my time with the firm,” she joked) and the bitter clients she encountered to illustrate that she isn’t going to have that outlook on what transpired—“You can have a crap rest of your life or you can move on”, she was surprised at the “benign” reaction to her sexist treatment by the media. If the “Ditch the Witch” and “Bob Brown’s Bitch” signs and slurs had been geared towards a black politician, the media and the general public would rightly be uproarious, she said. She was also disappointed that no politicians from parties other than her own reached out to her to offer their support during the height of her misogynist treatment. (Who could really say what the “height” was? It lasted all throughout her run.)

Another high profile person she was disappointed in who criticised her unfairly and irrelevantly was Germaine Greer, who made those inappropriate comments about the way she dresses and the size of her ass. I, along with so many others, I’m sure, wish she would just admit that she said the wrong thing instead of repeatedly defending her comments.

But Gillard could take a page out of that playbook when it comes to her views on marriage equality. If Gillard truly believes that there are “different ways of acknowledging love and personal commitment than marriage”, hence why she doesn’t advocate same-sex unions, then that’s fine (except not really). But I have a sneaking suspicion that she really does believe in equality, both in marriage and otherwise. (Though her asylum seeker policies left much to be desired, and she did express sorrow for the current discourse on refugees.) I just wish she would come out and say it.

Much of Gillard’s prime ministership was steeped in disdain, but audience member Evie, 11, asked if she had “any fun being Prime Minister?” Gillard replied that she gets a kick out of the fact that her treatment whilst leading the country means that 11-year-olds know the word “misogyny”. In all seriousness, though, Gillard does hope that “more inspiration than anxiety is passed on to [the next] generation.”

Related: The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers Review.

In Conversation with Germaine Greer.

Event: Destroying the Joint? at Melbourne Writers Festival.

The opening paragraph of disability activist and writer Stella Young’s chapter in the recently released tome Destroying the Joint begins thusly:

“Destroy the joint? Shit, I’d be happy just to be allowed in the joint.”

And on Sunday, when the Melbourne Writers Festival event Destroying the Joint? was held in Deakin Edge at Federation Square, Young might have been able to get in the joint, but she was certainly not able to get on the stage.

While inexcusable on the part of Fed Square and MWF, Young’s imposition did serve to remind us of a very important point: as a disabled woman, she cops a double-whammy of discrimination.

The event started only a few minutes late as organisers scrambled to move the stage to an accessible level, and Young explained that sadly, she’s come to expect things like this. Whereas when she was younger she might have consented to being lifted onto the stage and having a little cry about it, as a disability activist she will not allow ignorance to infantilise her anymore.

I definitely take my able-bodiedness for granted, but I can sort of relate in the sense that as a woman, I’ve come to expect to be harassed when I leave the house. This isn’t an everyday occurrence, to be sure, but it happens far too regularly for my liking. I’m sure many women can empathise.

This is why I will be attending SlutWalk this weekend; to have an opportunity to strut the streets in solidarity with likeminded people who won’t put up with street harassment, victim-blaming, slut-shaming and just plain bigotry and discrimination. Young will also be there as a speaker.

But back to last Sunday’s event, in which a show of hands indicated the amount of people who’ve protested or engaged in activism in some form in the past six months. Young and her fellow panellists, Destroying the Joint editor Jane Caro and author of The Activists’ Handbook Aidan Ricketts, stated the importance of physical protesting, like marching for refugees or marriage equality or attending SlutWalk, as opposed to slacktivism, which movements such as Kony 2012 and Destroy the Joint itself. Young even joked that she fantasises about chaining her wheelchair to a W-class (well, pretty much all except C- and D-class) tram in protest of their inaccessibility.

There has been much maligning of Destroy the Joint, with vocal opponents of it, such as Gretel Killeen and Helen Razer, deriding its angry tone. While I think getting outraged about things you’re passionate about can be useful, Caro asserts that spewing outrage doesn’t work. Young tended more towards my way of thinking, in that outrage as the primary emotion can be moulded into more constructive outlets and avenues: like SlutWalk and Destroy the Joint.

Caro also noted that it’s important to set small goals and always be moving the goalposts. Small aims are easier to reach, engender positivity and allow you to always be setting new victories to achieve.

Related: Hating Kony is Cool.

Women Say Something: Should We Destroy the Joint?

Event: Tavi’s World at Melbourne Writers Festival.

tavi gevinson melbourne writers festival

The coup of the 2013 Melbourne Writers Festival, which kicked off late last week, is undoubtedly 17-year-old blogging wunderkind Tavi Gevinson.

Her keynote address on Friday night at the Athenaeum Theatre sold out in a matter of hours, and we were stuck up the very top, practically in the rafters, which is what we get for arriving nigh on 6pm. Anyone who’s been on the internet in the past five years can see why Tavi is so popular; she’s an anomaly who attended fashion weeks before she was in her teens and now runs one of the best online magazines out there for not only young girls, but people in general, called Rookie. If I can’t be Tavi or have her as a friend, I’d like to know how, as Carrie Bickmore mused on The Project, to make a child like her. She’s got her shit exponentially more together than most adults I know.

Having said that, though, I’ve never been a die-hard Tavi fan. It wasn’t until she launched Rookie and started writing about feminism that I really caught what she was kicking. Her TEDx talk sealed the deal for me.

So apart from what I read on Twitter and in the odd interview, there was much that was new to me in Tavi’s talk. For example, I didn’t realise what a stone cold geek she is. If anyone else revealed they colour-coded Beyonce and Taylor Swift lyrics and made maps of the locations mentioned in Lana Del Rey songs I would have thought them tightly-wound nerds. (This coming from someone who spent hours cataloguing pictures from WWE.com by wrestler, colour-codes her bookshelf, and still stuck pictures of celebrities all over my school books well into university, mind you.) But Tavi has an endearing authenticity (which was a theme that ran through her talk) about being a “professional fangirl”. Her mantra, which I’m now going to adopt, is “let others like stuff the way you like stuff unto you.”

When many kids her age are more concerned with partying and their iPhones, it’s amazing that someone who’s still in high school and runs a business that sees her jetsetting across the world (and road tripping across the country) has time to compile in-depth journals about “Strange Magic” (the synchronicity of a location reminding you of a song reminding you of a memory reminding you of a movie reminding you of another song…) in between utilising her “pop culture tools” (the books, movies, tv shows and music that take her to her happy place; another Tavism I’m stealing).

I am so in awe of Tavi, honestly. It takes so much courage to reveal her fangirl idiosyncrasies to worldwide audiences whilst going through the awkwardness that is adolescence. Again, how do I make one of her…?

Elsewhere: [The Project] Tavi Gevinson.

[Rookie] Rookie Road Trip.

Image via MWF.

Event: The Reading Hour 2013.

It’s that time of year again—National Reading Hour—and last year for the event I chronicled the books I’d read and what I thought of them and thought I’d do something similar this year.

Without further ado, here’s an incomplete list (I threw out my day planner from last year in which I’d pencilled in time for reading certain publications so some of this is from memory) of the books I’ve read since then.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling.

The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog & of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andre O’Hagan.

Marilyn: The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner.

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

After the Fall by Arthur Miller.

Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later by Francine Pascal.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander.

The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Undisputed by Chris Jericho.

Night Games by Anna Krien.

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan.

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers.

Under the Dome by Stephen King.

Feminism & Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler.

What books have you been reading in the past year?

Related: The Reading Hour.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn Review.

Marilyn: The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner Review.

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf Review.

Night Games by Anna Krien Review.

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers Review.

Event: Kin Collaborative’s Gaga & Assange at MUD Festival.

kin collaborative gaga assange

Lady Gaga and Julian Assange are two of the most recognisable names and faces in the world, so it was inevitable that someone would conceive a musical about the two.

And that someone is William Hannagan, the writer and co-director of Kin Collaborative’s MUD Festival entry, Gaga & Assange, a what-if reimagining of their meeting at Assange’s current home at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last year. Hannagan describes Gaga & Assange as “a hypothetical romp with songs of epic pure pop proportions,” and it certainly was.

I thought Gaga & Assange was going to be a lot darker from the “leaked” trailer and premise of sex tapes and STIs, but I was pleasantly surprised by the campiness and outright hilarity of the show. Laura Raiti is the second coming of Gaga, not only physically embodying Mother Monster but tapping into her speech patterns, inflections and mannerisms (I would have liked to see some more paws up, though). And Chris Runciman is a convincing Assange, making an odd and unlikable (from my point of view) man a plausible love interest for Gaga.

The audience could see the themes of hypocrisy, fame and pretension both in the script and the music, composed by Jeremy Russo, which was brilliantly original and would not be out of place on an actual Lady Gaga album. Essentially, Gaga & Assange dealt with the fame and artifice of both figures; Assange may be perceived as the more “serious” of the two, but they both espouse messages of transparency whilst hiding behind embassies and prosthetics, claim to be “freaks” (“I was thrown in the trash!” as a child, Gaga cries) and are slaves to their respective brands.

I will admit the show gets a bit tedious towards the end, going a smidgen too long in my opinion, but on the whole it’s a riotous musical that hits Gaga and Assange’s public personas on the head whilst wondering what goes on under the surface.

Related: [TheatrePress] A Very Gaga Variety Fundraising Night.

Image via Kin Collaborative.