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.

Physical & Mental Health in Orange is the New Black.

orange is the new black season 2 cast

Whereas last year’s inaugural season of Netflix’ women’s prison effort, Orange is the New Black, introduced us to the myriad characters in Litchfield Penitentiary through the incarceration of the WASPy Piper Chapman, this year is all about the more diverse women that wear orange (well, mostly beige).

Specifically, we see the challenges of staying physically and mentally healthy in America’s prison industrial complex.

Last season we did see some of these issues come to light; transgendered inmate Sophia Burset, played by the incomparable Laverne Cox, had her hormone medication limited due to concerns about the drug’s side effects, while Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren’s mental illness was a comedic calling card for the show.

This year Suzanne’s backstory gets more airtime, as well as an explosive trajectory for Lorna Morello, which reveals that though both women probably need psychological counselling, they’re not going to get it at the indebted Litchfield. Instead, their issues fall through the cracks so much so that only Nicky is privy to exactly what Morello did to land her in prison.

Season two has been applauded for giving more airtime to the minor characters who also happen to be from racial minorities: Gloria, the Hispanic cook who took over the kitchen from Red and is serving time for welfare fraud, and her Latina cohorts; Vee, Taystee and Poussey’s familial-love triangle cum drug ring, and Rosa, the bank robber with terminal ovarian cancer.

There’s also been an influx of older women this season, whom feminist recapper Sady Doyle describes as a “knitting circle” with “an alarming tendency to shiv people”. This includes dementia-ridden Jimmy, who wanders the grounds (and even inadvertently escapes!) looking for her presumably long-dead husband, Jack. Due to her deteriorating mental state, Jimmy is given “compassionate leave” which is revealed to be not-so-compassionate when you take into account that she has no family to look after her and is without the mental faculties to secure herself a home or care. Inmate Frieda predicts she’ll be out on the streets and “dead within a week”.

Jimmy’s release is apparently due to the above mentioned “budget cuts”, which seem to be happening all too regularly at Litchfield. Reporter Andrew Nance contacts Piper’s ex-fiance, writer Larry, and later Piper herself, to see if he can get the inside scoop on the missing millions from Litchfield.

There was talk of the building of a new gym, but that money—along with the gym—is nowhere to be found. The inmates’ bathrooms are leaking raw sewage and they have no heating in the Eastern winter. The prison’s dire financial state comes to a festering head in the penultimate episode of the season as a storm rips through Litchfield, leaving the prison flooded and without power, a backup generator and whatever functioning plumbing they had left.

These appalling conditions contribute to newcomer Brooke Soso, Yoga Jones, Sister Jane and some girls from Pensatucky’s former laundry crew going on a hunger strike. Sister Jane’s past as an activist comes to light, and let’s just say she’s not as selfless as she makes herself out to be. Having said that, though, she berates prison administrator Caputo for releasing Jimmy with no accountability:

“The elderly are the fastest growing population in prison and they have special needs. So-called ‘compassionate release’ in lieu of care is completely unacceptable. You can’t dump sick old ladies on the street. It’s unconscionable, inhumane and illegal.”

Surely Rosa would be a better candidate for compassionate release as she has weeks to live?

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Sophia leads the inmates in an episode-long exploration of “which hole” pee comes out of and the importance of knowing your body.

This season really attempts to get at life in America’s underfunded and overcrowded minimum security prison system. While there’s still a ways to go in achieving a realistic portrayal of the dire reality many incarcerated women face, it’s the only piece of pop culture striving to do so. If it keeps heading in that direction, who knows the depths season three will plumb, so to speak.

Elsewhere: [In These Times] Orange is the New Black Makes Other TV Look Quaint.

[Global Comment] How Progressive is Orange is the New Black, Really?

 

On the (Rest of the) Net.

ICYMI: Navigating popular culture as a feminist.

The freezing, hungry reality of NHL “ice girls”. [Mother Jones]

What it’s like to work at Playgirl. [Medium]

Orange is the New Black‘s second season dropped on Netflix last weekend, and Sady Doyle explains that it’s not just a “knitting circle” show for women:

“I mean, there is a knitting circle. But they have an alarming tendency to shiv people.” [In These Times] 

What a difference 40 years makes: Seventeen magazine then and now. [Shameless Magazine]

Is Miley Cyrus proving that sex doesn’t sell anymore?

“The old adage that sex sells meant a lot when you literally had to buy into an artist or performer. You couldn’t read Madonna’s Sex book without purchasing it, or watch Deep Throat without going to the cinema. True, music videos have always been free at the point of access, but they once acted as adverts for a purchasable product; now people can watch ‘Wrecking Ball’ as many times as they want, with no interest in the Miley album itself. They can tweet about what she means for feminism till they’re blue in the face, but with no real interest in the end project, there’s no guarantee that all publicity is good publicity.”

I would argue that Miley’s selling a different kind of sex than your Britneys and even Madonnas once did; she’s portraying a crazier, more aggressive and perhaps more authentic sexuality than we’ve seen amongst female pop stars in quite awhile, barring Rihanna and her IDGAF attitude. [Vice]

Slenderman shows that “adolescent intensity, obsession, fantasy, derangement, illness and yes, sometimes violence, are not the exclusive domain of boys.” [The New Republic]

And if you’re after even more linkage, check out The Conversationalist‘s hosting of the 73rd Down Under Feminist Carnival, featuring links from yours truly and many other feminist musings.

Sexism in Fantasy.

From “Young Females as Superheroes: Superheroines in the World of Sailor Moon” from FemSpec journal:

“Further illustrating the negotiation of femininity and empowerment, girl power characters are often represented in a fantasy setting. This is a particularly significant factor when interpreting these characters in terms of their fighting abilities. The heroes generally face fantastic villains that are often unmistakably evil and are represented as protectors of innocence and humanity. This reinforces the idea that girl power heroes should have a nurturing, protective nature: both one of the conflicting femininities described by Douglas and an aspect of femininity reclaimed within third wave feminism.

“… Fantasy helps to alleviate the threat of castration because these characters are not meant to represent reality. Thus, the threat itself is marked ‘not real’.”

I think this was what Sady Doyle was trying to get at in her scathing critique of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire series which, while valid, didn’t win her many fans in the fantasy community.

In a nutshell, I think she was trying to say that women experience sexism, rape, sexual harassment and value based only on their looks in everyday real life; we don’t need to be represented that way in fantasy too, where the author has the opportunity to create an alternate reality for women.

In FemSpec (an article which I originally accessed online but has since been taken down), the author studies Sailor Moon and how the heroines in that were created as a response to third wave feminism, but as a large portion of the show and manga’s audience is male, they’re typically feminised in order to eliminate threat to the status quo.

I’m not a fantasy fan, but I think we can all agree on less sexism in fantasy (nay, all fiction. Or, here’s a radical idea, in real life!) and more accurate portrayals of what it’s like to be a woman that doesn’t centre around sexuality.

Elsewhere: [Tiger Beatdown] Enter Ye Myne Mystic World of Gayng-Raype: What the “R” Stands for in “George R.R. Martin”.

[Tiger Beatdown] Chronicles of Mansplaining: Professor Feminism & the Deleted Comments of Doom.

Is Robert Pattinson the Male Version of Megan Fox?

 

From “The Edward Cullen Underpants Conundrum” by Sady Doyle on Tiger Beatdown:

“Robert Pattinson talks shit about the projects he is in. Robert Pattinson is honest about the fact that he is not the best actor. And Robert Pattinson’s main source of employment is facilitating his own objectification, which he does, but also complains about all the time. Robert Pattinson is… Megan Fox, basically!

“But the issue of Our Cultural Discomfort With Objectifying Robert Pattinson… is perhaps best illuminated by how different it is from our generalised Cultural Discomfort with MF. Because we have no problem with objectifying Megan Fox, really! We just have a problem with everything she says, and specifically the things she says wherein she takes issue with being objectified. We just hate her. Whereas people don’t hate Robert Pattinson, really.

“Because those women [young, female Twi-Hards] are acting in a way that is typically reserved for men. And they’re treating Pattinson like a girl.

“… We are used to seeing straight men’s goofy, unrealistic sexual fantasies. They are everywhere, all the time. Beer commercials, magazines, Michael Bay movies, porn obviously. We’re used to having female characters flattened out, falsified, emptied out and filled up again with a boundless desire to satisfy men’s needs for no apparent reason. We’re used to the fact that straight male sexual fantasy scenarios (or, at least, sexual fantasies marketed to straight men: and, hey, a lot of dudes are buying them) are cartoonish, in poor taste, unsophisticated, weird.

“… It’s part of the accepted context of straight male desire—it’s tacky as all hell, aesthetically, and that’s just how they do—and so criticising it, in an aesthetic way, seems pointless… But when girls do the exact same thing—when they prove themselves capable of the exact same sort of objectification, and the exact same goofiness or tackiness or unrealistic fantasy in the name of getting off—well, it freaks people out. It’s weird. Why are they acting like this? Don’t they know that Robert Pattinson is a person? Why are they treating him like a big chunk of meat? Why doesn’t Edward Cullen act like a real guy would?

“Because Edward Cullen is porn.

“… He is an object designed for the gratification of female desire. He’s the most ridiculous person who’s so amazing at everything, and he’s so beautiful you creamed yourself. And that’s it. And we’re used to dudes writing ladies this way, we’re even used to dudes writing ladies this way and passing it off as ‘literature,’ but the idea of a female author writing a male character in this way, for the pleasure of other ladies, is profoundly disconcerting.

“… We just happen to live in a world where straight men are expected to objectify, and given lots of opportunities to do it… but the fact is that sexual fantasy… looks goofy and weird and dehumanising for a lot of people, women and men both. And probably we all need to grow up, and deal with the fact that everyone we meet in the world is a person with a complex inner life, and also be open to the fact that people are pretty in different ways and our entertainment only portrays one very limited slice of the vast spectrum that is human prettiness.”

Related: Megan Fox Transforms from “Android Ice Queen” to Relatable Person.

Megan Fox Too “Spicy” for Transformers?

“She Just Wants Attention”.

The Beautiful, Bigmouthed Backlash Against Katherine Heigl & Megan Fox.

Elsewhere: [Tiger Beatdown] The Edward Cullen Underpants Conundrum.

Image via OMG Celebrity News.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

It’s a smorgasbord of Katy, Ke$ha, Britney and Gaga as Complex counts down “The 25 Greatest ‘Slutwave’ Songs of All Time”.

In other Katy and Ke$ha-related news, Feminist Music Geek critiques their acts.

Finally, closing off a Katy Perry heavy week, Jezebel ponders the similarities between “Firework” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”.

Sady Doyle on Charlie Chaplin’s paedophilia on film:

“I… kind of forgot, actually, that Charlie Chaplin was a pedophile?… Boy howdy, this movie sure didn’t!… It invites you to get off on this… We got a scene where the FBI tried to go after Chaplin for his dangerous left-wing activities, BY PERSUING STATUATORY RAPE CHARGES AGAINST HIM. “It’ll ruin him,” the evil right wing poo-hating US government cackles.”

Hmm… strangely echoes a certain left-winger accused of rape in the media at the moment…

Hermione Granger perfects her “judgemental badger” face.

“Empty Bellies Do Not Beget Genius”.

Now this is how “self-marriage” is done. Glee, take note.

Following on from last week, “Is Lara Bingle the new Paris Hilton?”

Is the antidote to “Taylor Swift’s Endless Reign” a Lindsay Lohan singing career revival?

Coco Rocha reveals “The One That Got Away”.

Gala Darling detoxes her closet.

MamaMia asks, “Do You Have Mother Issues?” Oh hell yes! And daddy ones, too!

More on why Gwyneth Paltrow is just that damn unlikeable.

JWoww’s heinous ex calls her pre-surgery body “deformed” by cellulite. Nice.

2010 was the year of the mistress.

In defence of May-December romances.

What does your ponytail say about you?