In celebration of the National Year of Reading, today marks the National Reading Hour. While the exact time frame for the event is sketchy, and anyone who knows me knows I’ll be spending much more than one hour reading today (or on any day, for that matter), the aim of the event is to instill the importance of reading in children. From my point of view, reading is important at all ages and it’s never too late to start. The only downside is there’s less time to read all the fantastic books out there.
So, The Early Bird has decided to get in on the action by going over all the books I’ve read this year and whether I found them good, bad or otherwise and if you should read them, too.
I haven’t read this many books since my uni days, I don’t think, when I was traveling up to six hours a day from country Victoria to Deakin in Burwood. Needless to say, there were a lot of public transport hours that needed filling, and reading was the perfect way to do that. Aside from primary school, of course, when nightly “readers” were a must and I got through several, if not up to a dozen, books a week, uni really got me back in touch with my love for reading; a love without which I wouldn’t be who I am today.
So, without further ado…
My Booky Wook 2 by Russell Brand.
If I if I didn’t have to give this book back to a friend before she moved interstate at the start of the year, I think it would still be sitting in my stack of to-be-read books (like some other borrowed tomes). While it didn’t change my world, and I much preferred Brand’s first memoir, I’m glad to have read it and moved on. Much like Katy Perry. Burn!
The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns 40 edited by Yona Zeldis McDonough.
While Barbie is now 53 and there is now thirteen more years of fodder for a compilation of feminist musings on the doll, I really enjoyed this book and ponder it often. Aforementioned interstate friend, Laura, currently has it in her possession. I believe it is out of print now, so I was quite lucky to have happened upon it at my local secondhand bookstore. Pick it up if you get the chance.
I was so looking forward to reading this conservative collection on why porn is bad, and it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t agree with anything in the book, but it was an eye opening look at just how anti-sex (not to mention anti-choice, anti-feminism, anti-vaccination) some people can be. What scares me is that Tankard Reist and Bray’s ideologies could be rubbing off on the susceptible with the release of this book.
Feminist crusader Cannold looks at what could have been the life of Jesus’ sister, Rachael. What’s more, the book focuses on her relationship with the ultimate betrayer, Judas. It wasn’t mind blowing, but if you’re looking for something to read and want to support local, female writers, this is one for you.
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy.
To be honest, I had lots of things on my mind when I read this so it’s almost like I never read it at all. I found it really hard to get into and to focus on the words on the page. Maybe I’ll watch the movie in an effort to more fully understand the storyline. Shameful, I know.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.
If you haven’t read this book yet, you need to get on it, like, yesterday! So well written, so emotional, so involving and with a massive twist at the end. And please, if you’re thinking about watching the movie (which I haven’t seen yet, so don’t take my word for it: it might even be better than the book), read the book first. Looking back, this is probably the best book I’ve read this year and, dare I say it, ever.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Not the worst teen trilogy out there (I’m looking at you, Twilight Saga), but not the greatest, either. I found the book easy to read and also well written which, again, is more than I can say for Stephenie Meyer.
Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, Bernard Comment & Stanley Buchthal.
This part-coffee table book, part-Marilyn musings tome had been sitting in my pile of to-be-reads for almost a year and a half before I decided to actually read about one of my favourite icons. I enjoyed a rare insight into the mind of the sex symbol herself, but honestly, I think there are probably better books about her out there.
Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling by Bret Hart.
This is the book I spent the most amount of time reading; or rather, it took me the most amount of time to read. It is a hefty memoir, but it’s not exactly written in a challenging tone, either. I quite enjoyed it, all in all, and while you probably need a background knowledge of professional wrestling to get into the book, it was kind of sad reading about all the tragedies in Hart’s life.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.
I love me some historical fiction and Remarkable Creatures didn’t disappoint. Easy to get into with a bit of fluff, but it has nothing on Girl with the Pearl Earring.
11.22.63 by Stephen King.
This was my first encounter with King, and I quite liked it. He obviously has the suspense/mystery/horror (though you won’t catch me dead with one of his books—nor the movie adaptations—in this genre. I hate horror!) formula down pat. While the title and cover lines were a bit misleading (JFK doesn’t come into it until right near the end, and even then it’s anticlimactic), I really liked it and found out some historical tidbits I didn’t know previously.
The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis.
Easton Ellis is one of those writers who is good in theory, not so good in practice. I still plan on reading all of his efforts, no matter how gory and gratuitously sexy and druggy they are (this one had a central theme of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in ’80s L.A.… with a side-serving of vampirism!), but sometimes I think he’s a bit over hyped. As was The Informers.
Fables: The Deluxe Editions Volumes 1 & 2 by Bill Willingham.
These are the comics Once Upon a Time is allegedly inspired by, and let me tell you, these are much better than the show. I’m not usually a fan of the comic book format, but I really enjoyed these two. Bring on the next two installments!
Drowned by Therese Bowman.
When I read Drowned, I actually had no idea what the storyline was. I remembered reading an enticing review in The Age a month or two before I convinced a friend to buy it in order for me to borrow it, but other than that, I was clueless. After reading it, it seemed there was no storyline; it was more high-concept literary fiction to my mind. But it was very evocative. Short and sweet.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
I just finished this one on a trip away and I loved it. Similarly to The Black Dahlia, it took me awhile to get into it, concentration-wise, but once I did I found it very enjoyable. The storyline is unique and interesting, and the character development and style were some of the best I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote.
So does reading one short story in the collection count as actually reading the whole of Music for Chameleons?! I bought this book from a secondhand store with the sole intention of reading the Marilyn Monroe chapter and that’s all. Kind of a waste, I suppose, but I like to support small, local businesses!
50 Shades of Grey by EL James.
I have oh-so-ashamedly left this one til last as it is by far the worst, but it’s also the one I’m currently reading. I always said I would never be caught dead reading this mediocre tripe, but after hearing John Flaus and Jess Anastasi (a coincidence her surname is practically the same as the first name of 50 Shades’ protagonist?) discuss the book at the Bendigo Writers Festival, I finally succumbed. The way I look at it, I’m approaching it with a critical eye for the purposes of research. It’s better to have an informed opinion, right? More to come.
What are you going to be reading for the National Reading Hour?
I must have been living under a feminist rock for the past couple of months, because when I saw some sentences that jumped out at me in this blog post about Hugo Schwyzer’s abusive past and resignation from The Good Men Project (I wondered why I was never seeing new posts from him on there), I was shocked.
I’ve recently been embroiled in a staunch disagreement with one of my friends over the Chris Brown, Michael Fassbender et al. debacle, in which I’ve attempted to personally boycott all things related to wifebeaters and horrible people in general, and she’s attempted to justify her support of projects they’re involved in because of all the other people it affects (a film crew of hundreds of people, for example).
But what happens when someone I openly admire (Scwhyzer) is revealed to have attempted a murder-suicide on his girlfriend in the past?
I’d have to call myself somewhat of a hypocrite, then. I still think Schwyzer produces some of the most apt feminist and gender-based musings out there. I also think that that incident was 13 years ago and, as far as we know, Schywzer got help and hasn’t relapsed. He’s taken his mistake, learned from it, and used it to add to the feminist and gender discourse. Which is more than I can say for Brown at this point. To play devil’s advocate (because I’m still adamant that Brown is a wifebeater through and through and will definitely strike a woman again), he’s still young and perhaps hasn’t woken up to the full scope of his actions and how they have hurt both Rihanna and himself.
This whole kafuffle has brought forth these questions, as asked by Raphael Magarik in The Atlantic:
Can men be feminist leaders?
Yes, they can. I’m not someone who thinks men can’t be feminists because they don’t have a vagina. Where does that leave trans women, then? How about the many gay men who have faced prejudice and champion the feminist movement? I’ve always thought Schwyzer has valid points to make (admittedly he’s really the only male feminist I read), and I think male voices can aid in the reconciliation of equality between men and women.
What role—if any—should men’s personal experiences play in feminist discussions?
I have a couple of male friends who, when presented with talk of feminism, will undermine and devalue what I’m trying to say with the straight white male reverse-racism bullshit. But, I think, as long as men are willing to listen to what feminists have to say without diminishing it with their white male privilege, personal experiences can aid in the discourse. For example, men who’ve grown up with strong women in their lives, men who’ve been abused, men who’ve abused and are aware of why they did it and are immensely sorry.
And how should feminists treat repentant former abusers?
I know a repentant former abuser who I’ve all but removed from my life, so I’m probably too biased about the situation to be completely inclusive of them. However, I think those who’ve experienced abuse are the ones who have to be having the conversation with former abusers and be okay with them jumping on the feminist bandwagon. If they are truly sorry, have a demonstrated history of non-abuse since they last abused, and can use that history to add value to female-male relations, then I think it might be okay. But the trust is still eroded…
How [do] men feel, what [do] they think about gender, [and] what [do] they need to change?
This is what Schwyzer is concerned with in his writings: how feminism relates to men. I hate the idea of feminism as this exclusive club (an idea which has been doing the rounds since noted second-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Naomi Wolf stepped on the scene, and was recently reignited with the whole Melinda Tankard Reist business) that you can only gain entry to if you’re the “right” kind of woman. To me, feminism is about equality and inclusion of voices other than the “right” kind of woman.
How do you feel about men in feminism and Schwyzer’s abusive past potentially delegitimising his feminist voice?
Related: My Thoughts on Chris Brown.
Did Madonna call Britney fat? [The Vine]
Clementine Ford’s take on the Australia Day protest hullabaloo. [ABC Unleashed]
And here, what really went down outside the Lobby restaurant. [RedStache]
All the single ladies: are you sick of continuously being asked why you’re single? Bailey Elliot is, too:
“Why is it socially acceptable to comment on someone’s single status, but definitely not OK to comment on someone’s relationship? There have been many times when someone has said something offensive to me, and I will look at their relationship and wish that I could fire something judgmental back. Some of the people who have said the worst things to me are the ones in the most dysfunctional relationships: married to a raging alcoholic who abuses pets while drunk, a patronising and controlling man, or a man who refuses to communicate in any real way. Are we so enamoured with the idea of marriage that we believe that any marriage, no matter how dysfunctional, is better than singledom?” [Jezebel]
Why is it that everywhere you turn (family restaurants, the gym, the bowling alley), there’s a Pussycat Doll spreading her legs, asks Mia Freedman. [MamaMia]
For the U.S.’s Black History Month, let’s remember that Rosa Parks did much more than just refuse to give up her seat on the bus. [Ms. Magazine]
What the?! The banning of naked A-cup adult breasts lest they promote pedophilia?! Granted, this story is two years old, but interesting nonetheless. [Crikey]
How to be a celebrity in this era of “16th minute”, “I am me”, reality fame. [New York Magazine]
The apparent conservative agenda of the Susan G. Komen foundation which has come to light in their refusal to funnel through donations to Planned Parenthood. [Jezebel]
It’s all happening in the world of MamaMia: no more SkyNews show, but an e-publishing sector instead! And deputy editor Bec Sparrow had a baby! [MamaMia]
Erica Bartle’s thoughts on the whole Melinda Tankard Reist debacle. I’m still ruminating over her post, and I might be back with a response of my own. [Girl with a Satchel]
Image via Pop Sugar.
As I’ve written here before, I don’t really see a problem with porn. So long as it’s consumed in a healthy way, viewed in perspective and is made in an ethical way (no child pornography, for example, which Big Porn Inc. focuses heavily on), I don’t see a problem with it.
However, the contributors and editors of Big Porn Inc., a tome that’s made a splash since its release, thinks all porn is bad, okay? They don’t take into account things like upbringing, socio-economic background and other factors, such as peer groups, in the affect porn can have on consumers. When those aspects are relatively good, I don’t think porn is a problem.
But it’s not just consensual, enthusiastic porn the book focuses on. Take the chapters on sex with animals, child porn and degradation. “Slavefarm” (p. xx) and “the ‘crack’ of an infant’s pelvis while you are penetrating them” (p. 199) are some of the most extreme and abhorrent examples in the book (I’ll pause while you throw up over that last one, especially), but are by no means the norm. Bestiality, rape and pedophilia are mental illnesses and are about control; they’re not just something you decide to do after stumbling upon the wrong porn link.
Not only does Big Porn Inc. focus on the extreme, it’s also quite sexist. The majority of articles see women as needing to be protected from porn and the men who view it. Militant anti-porn feminist Catharine MacKinnon writes that “women have long known” the evils of pornography (p. 12), while “Caroline” writes pathetically about how discovering her husband used porn was the ultimate betrayal (p. xxix).
I also found Big Porn Inc. to be anti-choice and anti-feminism. Renate Klein, in “Big Porn + Big Pharma: Where the Pornography Industry Meets the Ideology of Medicalisation” (p. 86–104), asserts that female bodies are being “cut, modified, drugged and penetrated—all in the name of ‘choice’ and ‘it is my right’.” The footnote to this sentence admonishes sexual reassignment procedures as a bi-product of the pornography industry.
This is not to mention its anti-vaccination sentiments.
Pseudoscience reigns supreme, also, when Maggie Hamilton writes, “… boys and girls generally do not have a natural [original emphasis] sexual sense until they are between 10 and 12 years old.” I studied psychology in high school, and even at its base level, we know that young children are very aware of their sexuality. I remember playing the “sex game” (whatever we thought that meant!) in my first year of primary school. Observing children in the playground as part of my Year 10 childhood psychology class they, too, were playing the “sex game”! Sure, we don’t want kids that age accessing porn and getting all these fucked up ideas about what naked bodies and (porn) sex looks like, but their natural curiosity will ensure they will try to at some stage. That’s where healthy discussion from parents, teachers and other adults about what sex, in all its carnations, means.
Not all of the contributors are people I disagree with. Sex and anti-violence writer Nina Funnell is someone I admire, and whose inclusion in Big Porn Inc. was what compelled me to read it. She writes about sexting and the intrusion of the camera in our lives (p. 34–40), topics on which she is writing a book. While teen sexting and “peer-to-peer porn” can be dangerous (child pornography charges and having your image on the internet til the end of time before you’ve even come of age are frightening thoughts), I think they are a little out of place in the Big Porn scope of things. In my opinion, they are worlds away from actual consensual porn; the making and consumption of. Again, as long as parents and teachers are there to advise why sexting is something that should be done after careful thought and your 18th birthday, I don’t see it as the problem porn is made out to be.
When I spoke to Rachel Hills about her profile on Melinda Tankard Reist and her thoughts on Big Porn Inc., she contended that the book could have done away with the multitude of contributors in favour of fewer, more in-depth essays. This would perhaps allow Big Porn Inc. to be taken more seriously by pro-porn (or at least anti-anti-porn) people like ourselves. I have to say I agree, as by about two thirds of the way through I was ready to put it down, especially as the last section reads like an advertorial for Anti-Porn Inc., which is something I’m not buying.
Related: In Defence of Porn.
Image via Melinda Tankard Reist.
When the #MenCallMeThings hastag started trending on Twitter and feminist writers galore started detailing their internet abuse at the hands of misogynists, I thanked a higher power that I hadn’t experienced online harassment because, in a nutshell, of my gender. (That’s probably because my blog and extra-blog writings aren’t that well-known [yet].)
But we only have to think back to the vitriol spewed at Mia Freedman when she dared to question our worship of sports “heroes” to realise that members of the “fairer sex” are guilty of it, too. Or how about that recent “leggings are not pants” debacle?
And how about Melinda Tankard Reist? As someone who blogs about conservative feminism, anti-porn and anti-raunch, she’s bound to get her fair share of criticism, which came to a head a few weeks ago after Rachel Hills’ article on her was published in Sunday Life, and subsequently launched a thousand blog posts.
Some of MTR’s ideas are worthy of criticism, in my opinion, but she often gets comments, emails and other forms of communication hurled at her that are anything but constructive. I believe one choice comment in the wake of Hills’ article was that MTR should be raped with a coffee cup. Nice.
A couple of weeks ago I had my first article for The Good Men Project published, followed by a second one last week. While the first article, “Manning Up” was originally written with a feminist—or at least female—audience in mind and I probably should have thought twice before pitching it to the guys at GMP, I proceeded to get torn to shreds in the comments. I stand by the article and I’m sorry if it offended, but I’ve been around these parts long enough to know that when you’re writing about contentious issues such as gender relations, you’re bound incite people who don’t like what you have to say.
Because these articles were published on a site that is not my own, I was lucky enough not to see the more personal comments that were not approved by the moderators. But I can imagine… If it’s not an attack on my womanhood (whether that be my integrity as a human being because of my feminist leanings, my appearance, or my sex life), it’s an exercise in “mansplaining”, but rest assured, when you’re writing about gender (or race, equality, sex, disability etc.) on the interwebs, it’s a common perception that you’re fair game for the trolls.
Have you experienced gender-related trolling?
Related: In Defence of Mia Freedman.
It’s unfair to throw all the contributors into the one, anti-porn basket, but the authors featured in Big Porn Inc., edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray all seem to think porn is eroding our society. I haven’t finished the book yet, but stay tuned next week for the entire review.
One aspect of Renate Klein’s essay on the correlation between pornography and the medical industry (“Big Porn + Big Pharma: Where the Pornography Industry Meets the Ideology of Medicalisation”) had me livid: that the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, was an unnecessary luxury vaccine promoted by the porn industry for slutty girls. Sure, Klein doesn’t actually write that, but it is certainly implied.
Klein has done her research, though. She sites the website SaneVax which reports that the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine has resulted in 5,010 women who “did not recover” after receiving it, whatever that means. On viewing the website, it looks more like a propaganda machine rather than “an international women’s group that promotes safe vaccination practices.”
This way of thinking—that vaccination is unnecessary, a moneymaking scheme thought up by the government to keep tabs on us, and that girls who receive the Gardasil vaccine are also receiving license to slut around without thinking about the consequences of unprotected sex (or sex in general, some would say)—is rampant on the U.S. conservative scene at the moment. Michele Bachmann, anyone?
In Klein’s chapter, she talks about Gardasil in relation to the safety measures porn stars should take to ensure they stay disease free and are thus able to work. But Gardasil is only recommended for teens, or at least those who’ve never had sex before (including oral), as most people have contracted or will contract HPV during their sexual lifetime.
Just like with any vaccine or medical ailment, there are risks, but is it safer to go unvaccinated and risk spreading disease onto others? What infuriates me is that those who already have small minded, conservative views are the people whom Big Porn Inc. will attract; those who are susceptible to the anti-porn, anti-sex and anti-vaccination messages the book espouses.
Elsewhere: [SaneVax Inc.] Homepage.
Image via Melinda Tankard Reist.