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.

TV: Dominick Dunne Makes a (Re)Venge-ful Return to the Small Screen.

When Mason Treadwell, the man who sold out to the Graysons and published a book full of lies about alleged terrorist David Clarke fifteen years ago, resurfaced last night on Revenge, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities with fellow society (hell, Treadwell’s book is called Society Connection) writer, Dominick Dunne.

Just a few weeks ago, Serena van der Woodsen was channelling him over on Gossip Girl, and now it seems the late, (arguably, but definitely in my mind) great Dunne is making an appearance on a show that bears similarities with the real life sideshow that was Dunne’s existence.

Dunne became famous when his daughter was murdered by her boyfriend, who got off scot free, which inspired him to write about the injustices of crime amongst the rich and famous, which parlayed itself into a top-rating TV show. Granted, Dunne was never involved in the takedown of a terrorist, but perhaps his most high profile case was covering that of O.J. Simpson.

Dunne was adept at loss: he was an alcoholic shunned from Hollywood during his first career as a producer, several of his children died in infancy, in addition to daughter Dominique’s death, his wife left him and despite his successes amongst some celebrities, he was outcast by others.

How will Mason Treadwell cope with losing everything?

Related: Gossip Girl—Is Serena Our Generation’s Dominick Dunne?

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

The Mansions of Limbo by Dominick Dunne Review.

Images via Sockshare, Deadline.

TV: Gossip Girl—Is Serena Our Generation’s Dominick Dunne?

That’s according to Nate, anyway, who talks up Serena’s expose on Ivy Dickens’ stealing her family’s money for The Spectator to a potential investor for the newspaper. “Serena’s writing from the inside. She’s our generation’s Dominick Dunne.”

Like Packed to the Rafters’ Julie penning a chapter for a romance novel competition and suddenly she’s a writer, Serena exploits her social butterfly standing to write a gossip column and she’s hailed as the society writer du jour. Is that my bitter blogger coming through…?

Related: Gossip Girl Thinks Bloggers Aren’t Good Enough.

The Problem with Serena van der Woodsen.

The Beautiful & the Damned: Serena Settles for Second Best.

Pretty But Dumb: Serena’s Tertiary Education Predicament.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

The Mansions of Limbo by Dominick Dunne Review.

Image via SerenavanderWoodsen.com.

Book Review: My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates.

 

My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike had me at hello its first two sentences:

“Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto ‘survivors.’

“Me, I’m the ‘surviving’ child of an infamous American family…”

My favourite book being a fictional account of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne, I’m a sucker for true crime and conspiracy theories.

My Sister, My Love is the fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsey murder of Christmas 1996, a story that has captivated me since it hit the newsstands some fifteen years ago.

It is written by the awesome Joyce Carol Oates, whom I’ve never read in novel form before, but whose articles I have come across online. Since its publication in 2008, I’ve longed to read it, and serendipitously came across it in a secondhand bookstore earlier this year. It has taken me since then to read it!

But coming in at 562 pages, it’s not exactly light reading, both in size and subject matter.

The book focuses on the life of Skyler Rampike, brother to child ice-skating prodigy, Bliss Rampike (nee Edna Louise Rampike), and he and his parents’ struggle to come to terms with her murder.

The book is somewhat longwinded, but thoroughly enjoyable. Some parts before and after the murder could have been spared, but it’s all part of Oates’ effort to build the story and the characters within it.

The story is written from Skyler’s perspective, but switches rapidly from first- to second- to third-person narration, which can be jarring at first but ultimately lends itself to the insight we get into the twisted and troubled mind of Skyler.

Oates also borrows from other high-profile pop cultureisms, like the Simpson murder (Skyler’s boarding school for troubled/famous children girlfriend is most definitely supposed to be Simpson’s daughter), Wicked (“Popular! In America, what else matters?” [p. 152]), and The Catcher in the Rye, with Skyler calling faux snow “phony-looking” (p. 319). In fact, I think Oates’ key inspiration was probably J.D. Salinger’s most famous fictional outing.

It’s hard to separate the fictional Rampike family Oates has so expertly crafted from the real Ramsey family, which has fallen to pieces since JonBenet’s murder. As in real life, mother Betsey died, and father Bix remarried. But what do we know of Burke Ramsey, whom Skyler was based on? Nothing much.

And that’s where Oates saw an opening: to tell one of America’s most fascinating unsolved murders from the perspective of the person who, by a lot of peoples’ accounts, is the prime suspect.

Related: Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Book Now, Bendigo.

Stacked.

It’s All About Popular… Lar, Lar, Lar, Lar.

The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Fictional Friends.

Last week, Alissa Warren on MamaMia listed her top five fictional friends. You know, people you’d be friends with… “if they were real.”

Let me know in the comments who you’d be fictional friends with but, until then, here are my top picks:

Elphaba Thropp, Wicked.

It’s no secret Elphaba is my favourite fictional female: someone you can look up to, who rises above hatred and discrimination, and who will stand up for her beliefs no matter what. Plus, she’s a witch! Galinda wouldn’t be too bad either…

Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

She’s fun, she’s quirky, she’s got a cute little dog and an awesome wardrobe. And underneath it all, she’s not as ditzy as she seems. Awesome friend material.

Cher Horowitz, Clueless.

Again, someone who seems carefree and Clueless on the outside, but whose heart is in the right place. Maybe she’ll let you come over and program your wardrobe into her computer. Just think of the outfit-planning time you’ll save.

Gus Bailey.

The fictional version of the late Vanity Fair columnist and man about town Dominick Dunne, Gus Bailey, would always give you the inside scoop, and probably feature you in his gossip columns! Anonymously, of course. You’ve got to keep up appearances.

Blair Waldorf/Dan Humphrey, Gossip Girl.

I’m not sure which one I’d like better as, personality-wise, they’re pretty much the same person. They exchange emails and phone calls whilst ploughing through their identical Netflix queues. They enjoy art, foreign films, being “in” with the “in crowd” and bygone eras. You could borrow Blair’s clothes, but Dan’s nice to look at… I can’t choose!

Kat Stratford, 10 Things I Hate About You.

She’s everything I’m not. She’ll shun the prom (but actually ends up going!) due to its patriarchal confines. She’s musical. She loves the riot grrl scene. She ploughs through feminist literature whilst listening to Spiderbait. And she don’t give a rats what anyone thinks of her. Total. Feminist. Icon.

Heather Mooney, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion.

Anyone who openly tells people they don’t like to “fuck off” is someone I want to get to know! Plus she’s hilarious despite her best efforts to come across as cold and callous.

Scout Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sure, she’s a little young to be best buds with, but maybe I could be her babysitter?!

Related: Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

Women in Fiction: Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

It’s All About Popular… Lar, Lar, Lar, Lar.

Strong Female Characters in the Land of Oz.

Pop Culture Power Women.

So Misunderstood.

Pop Culture Role Models.

In Defence of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Images via Freewebs, IG Style, Abhishek Tiwari, USA Today, TV.com, Inspired Ground, Flickr, The Hero Construction Company.

Event: Cherchez la Femme Fatale, Take 2.

Geelong may seem like a world away for city slickers. At first, I was going to let its distance prevent me from attending the city’s latest exhibition, Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal, at the National Wool Museum. But if you take some friends and a good book (though not both at the same time. Take it from me; you’ll be stuck on the same page for the duration of the trip!), the hour’s train commute is worth it.

The exhibition juxtaposes “glamorous depictions of female felons in literature” with “the grim reality experienced by real women criminals”, such as Janet Wright, who was prosecuted for performing an abortion on a teenager who, after becoming ill, reported her, in 1928. Or “Sydney’s most beautiful prostitute”, Dulcie Markham, who probably got her fake name from Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder!, and whose real identity was never revealed. Or Louisa Collins, who poisoned—“poison was considered a particularly feminine murder weapon”—her husband in order to marry a boarder in their home just two months later, in 1887. She was sentenced to hang on 8th January, 1889, but the execution was botched by the hangman, “who was unable to open the trapdoor”. The execution was eventually carried out.

These were just some of the individuals profiled in the exhibition, which dealt with the supposed “empowered, cunning, unemotional woman who commits crime and uses her sexual allure to persuade men to sin on her behalf”—the quintessential “femme fatale”—and today’s understanding “that a wide range of factors may influence criminality including difficult childhood environments, mental illness and drug addiction.”

But back in the day, it was believed that “women lack moral fortitude and are easily tempted”, which allegedly stemmed from Sigmund Freud’s “penis envy” theory.

In 1893, Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso wrote La Donna Delinquente (The Criminal Woman), in which he contended that masculine features, such as a “mannish jawline”, noticed in his photographical portraits of female criminals, were the “stigmata of degeneration”. Factors such as the menstrual cycle and the fables of Eve in the Garden of Eden, Medusa, and the Biblical Delilah, of Samson fame, were also taken into account when women “sinned”.

As was written in relation to the Salem witch trials in the early 1690s, “the fear of wicked women, whether real or imagined, can have horrific consequences.”

In Australia, though, in recent years “the number of female offenders incarcerated… has risen dramatically”. In the early days of female incarceration in Australia, psychological punishments such as head shaving were preferred to physical punishment. But at the State Reformatory for Women in Long Bay, Sydney, which opened in 1909, “the women were encouraged to reconnect with their ‘femininity’ and to adopt more refined, ‘ladylike’ behaviour.”

The abortion section, which I briefly mentioned above in relation to Janet Wright, was quite affecting but, as my friend Eddie pointed out, perhaps seemed out of place in the exhibition. Sure, abortion was (and still is in some parts of the country) illegal for a long time, but it kind of felt like a certain agenda was being pushed via its inclusion. Still, it is “one of the few crimes that always involves a woman”.

My favourite part of the exhibition, by far, was the genre of “femme fatale” paperbacks and films, which lured me to it in the first place. There was a highlight reel of some of the silver screen’s greatest female villains, such as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, next to this Italian proverb: “woman is rarely wicked, but when she is, she is worse than a man.” Another quote, from Raymond Chandler in Farewell My Lovely, which really resonated with me and my love for femme fatales, and which I posted last week: “I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.”

But as much as the femme fatale is lauded, in her heyday the American Production Code stated that “ ‘the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime’. Censorship led to many implausible endings and a high level of mortality among femmes fatales.”

The exhibition finished up with crime memorabilia, which has reached fever pitch in recent years, with action figures, calendars, trading cards and true crime publications. (I, myself, have a penchant for true crime. Dominick Dunne, anyone?) This is a far cry from the assertion that “most people find it repellant that an individual can become a celebrity simply for being very good at being bad.” Reminds me of a certain Rihanna song

Overall, while each individual aspect of the exhibition was fascinating in its own right, Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal as a whole was a bit clunky and disjointed. I would still recommend seeing it, if “evil” women are your thing. But get in quick! It finishes next Monday.

Related: Cherchez la Femme (Fatale).

Raymond Chandler on the Femme Fatale.

The “Evil” Woman.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Minus Two & a Half Men.

Rihanna’s “S&M”: Is It Really So Much Worse Than Her Other Stuff?

Image via Art Geelong.

Event: Armistead Maupin in Conversation with Noni Hazlehurst.

“It Gets Better”. “We R Who We R”. Proposition 8. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell*.

It’s hard to believe it’s 2011 and we are still having these arguments about sexual orientation and whether it’s a choice.

Armistead Maupin, writer of the Tales of the City series, spoke about these things last night at the Athenaeum Theatre on Collins Street to promote his latest installment, Mary Ann in Autumn, which brought a man in the same row as me to tears.

For those of you not familiar with Maupin (and so many people seem to be unfamiliar with the works of my favourite authors. Dominick Dunne, anyone?), here’s a quick refresher, much of which Maupin went into detail on the night:

Tales of the City was spawned from a newspaper column he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle in the late 1970s, when homosexuality was still illegal and regarded as a mental illness; but not to worry, Maupin was in the closet at that point.

The Tales deal with a bunch of much-loved characters who are dealing with life, love and sex interspersed with murder mysteries, AIDS and adoptions in 1970s San Fran. Some are gay, some are straight, one is transgendered, which was quite a feat for that time, especially for something that was to be published in a newspaper.

Maupin laughed about his far-right, homophobic editor at the Chronicle, who insisted his characters be categorized into columns: heterosexual and homosexual. Aren’t we glad we don’t do that anymore (insert sarcasm here)?

Hazlehurst marvelled at the fact that we still have so many “dumb people” in this day and age, and mentioned Sarah Palin by name, which drew a cheer from the audience. Maupin revealed that he was a Republican back in the day, and that Republican ideals often go hand in hand with being closeted: “If I was right winged and gay, my father might love me,” was his rationale at that time.

On that, Maupin spoke of his coming out to his best girlfriend, Jan, who told him, “big fucking deal,” a quote which Tales of the City fans will recognise throughout the books. Maupin said that was a turning point in his life and love of San Francisco, as he realised that people in that city “really didn’t care”. (Jan also called Maupin “Babycakes”, which is a term of endearment between the two main characters, Mary Ann Singleton and Michael Tolliver, and the title of the fourth book in the series.)

Hazlehurst took issue with Maupin being called a “gay writer”, because really, he “writes about human beings” with both good and bad qualities. “Whole people”, if you will. Maupin said he inserts parts of his own personality into his characters: Michael Tolliver is who he wants to be, and Mary Ann encompasses his “less acceptable” qualities.

He signed off with an anecdote from his sister’s mother-in-law which, much to his sister’s chagrin, made it into Maybe the Moon: One of the characters visits the gynaecologist with a bag over her head, to—ahem—lessen her embarrassment. When Maupin did a reading of the book in his hometown, his sister came along to the event… with her mother-in-law, who remarked, “See? Other people do it too!” Oh, the ignorance! Or as Maupin likes to call it, radio station K-FUCKED. You know, the voice in your head constantly tearing you down, only to build you back up again.

Related: Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Images via Big Fib, Tesco, Gabrielle Luthy.

*Updated 04/03/11.