Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

Open Doors (28/05/11–29/05/11).

For one weekend a year, here in town, over 150 buildings are opened up to the public for them to have a little look-see for the annual Doors Open Toronto. A lot of these places are not normally accessible to us mere mortals pedestrians. In order to be a part of this event the buildings must have been built before 1940 and you can look at any or all of them (if you have the time!) for free. [Early Bird note: Sounds a bit like Melbourne’s Open House.)

While this may not be something that everyone gets excited about, I am in awe of old buildings and enjoy perusing the architecture and sticky-beaking inside. I set out on my own on Saturday and my first stop was the Old City Hall building: by far my favourite building in Toronto from the outside, so I was very excited to take a look inside.

The building was designed by Edward James Lennox who also designed Casa Loma, another notable Toronto landmark, and about 70 other buildings around town.

These days Old City Hall is used as the provincial court house. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside but I did get to look at the amazing foyer, complete with murals, and an example of one of the court rooms. It even had the upstairs viewing area, reminding me of the court room used in the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird.

After that I was bound for a firehouse at the top of town, station 311, about an hours walk from where I was. Well, what was probably meant to be an hour turned into two, and a very sore body. I kept passing intersection after intersection, hoping the next street I would get to would be the one I was looking for. Eventually I found it and went in for a look around. It was rather dull in comparison to what my expectations were.

With no one there with me to take a photo of me behind the truck’s wheel or at least hanging out the window I was a little let down.

Since most of my Saturday was filled with walking I didn’t have much time and/or energy to go to any of the other buildings on offer,  but luckily there were some to look at on the walk back down the hill, homeward bound.

I had made plans on Sunday to go explore The Beaches with James but I decided to squeeze in a little excursion beforehand to the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre and the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto, time permitting.

When I got to the theatre there was a line down the block and I thought about just bailing. But seeing it as my only chance to look around inside, for free, I decided to just join the back of the queue and hope that I wasn’t too far down the line and would actually make it inside. Turns out they had a really good system in place. We all filed into the lower level, the Elgin Theatre, and all took seats. An older gentleman welcomed us and proceeded to give us a lovely rundown of the history of the theatre, being the only double-decker theatre (that’s one theatre positioned directly above another theatre), and some information about the kinds of things it had been used for.

After that we headed upstairs to the Winter Garden Theatre for yet some more history and an in depth description of the theatre’s construction.

Some interesting things that I learnt were that the ceiling over the seating in the Winter Garden theatre is decorated with approximately 80% real leaves that have been through a process to preserve them in a life-like state and that the ceiling of the Elgin theatre is actually floating, suspended from the floor of the above floor.

After the informative talk and a good look around the theatres we were invited to hang around to look at some memorabilia and perhaps purchase some wares, with all of the proceeds going to keep the theatre running. I got myself a badge for my collection and picked up the book, as well, as a memento because it was full of wonderful photos and ran through the history of the building. When making my purchase, the lady who served informed me that me that the man who had compiled the book was standing right behind me! I got him to sign my copy and thanked him for his informative speech and shuffled out.

I looked at my phone and realised I actually had enough time to squeeze in a trip up to the Arts & Letters Club.

I headed further up Yonge St (which for those of you playing at home is the longest street in the world and the same street I had spent what felt like all day schlepping up the day before!) and easily found the quaint building at 14 Elm St. I snapped a photo of the historic society sign out the front and was informed on the way in that there was no photography allowed inside. It was, of course, to protect the artworks but I really just wanted to take photos of the building. 

Having spent a little too much time exploring, I raced to meet James for our trip to The Beaches. He decided that, since we were in the neighbourhood, he’d like to take a quick look inside Old City Hall, too. So, in one weekend I got to explore it twice!

After another sticky beak we jumped on a streetcar out east. Thanks to James’ choice to sit near the front, we got semi-harassed by some crazy homeless guy who made inappropriate comments and felt up my leg. Eek!

When we jumped off the streetcar I saw another fire station, this one also open as part of Doors Open Toronto. James agreed to come take a peek with me and was very please to find an old style Pepsi vending machine where the cans were only 50 cents. Bargain!

This station, 227, was much like the one I’d already seen but I did get to enjoy a nice mini-tour with one of the fireman who filled me in on some history and the amount of call-outs they get a year. Pretty crazy!

With that, we made our way to explore The Beaches. Our journey started at the Kew Gardens where we looked at the Alex Christie gazebo and a few war monuments. We met a sweet little squirrel that a lady was trying to feed a mint. He took it, tried storing it in his mouth, then spat it out and decided to bury it. All of which I got photos of. Absolutely adorable!

Making Progress (30/05/11–04/06/11).

My fifth week in Toronto got a little bit quieter. With Sol gone (that’s right, he went off to camp. Did I not mention that?!), and the others having moved into their sublet, I was on my own again in the hostel. 

Luckily, I had my second job interview to distract me.

Again I was left with nothing to wear so I had purchased another H&M dress. This one was a pale pink, rather modest, and somewhat fitting for a job interview.

This time my interview was with the assistant manager of the store and covered some of the same questions, just a little more specific. Being a business running inside a hospital I fielded some questions on my experience with similar environments/experiences and felt like I answered them quite well. I got to know a little bit more about the job itself and the people I’d be working with.

Again, it was over pretty quickly but I felt fairly confident in my efforts. And who can complain about getting through to a second interview for the only job you actually applied for?! I just had to wait a few days to know whether or not I had the job. Fingers crossed!

Having not much else to do and only really seeing the others at night, I was quite delighted to be asked by the bar manager to pick up where Sol had left off in painting the tables for the hostel’s patio bar. So my week consisted of my touching up painting over the old flags that were on each table so they were all shiny and new again. This time they also had lacquer so I sealed them as well. It took me a few full days and a few hours here and there to get it all done to my liking. My work actually got me four free nights in the hostel, much to my surprise. Works out to be the same as being paid minimum wage here. Handy!

On the Thursday, when waiting for Sarah, as we were going to have lunch together, I got a call from the bookstore to tell me that I had been successful and that they wanted me to start work the following Monday! I was so excited to now have something to fill my days with. I shared the news with Sarah straight away. We also met up with the boys, Thomas and Declan, who congratulated me on my news.

Thanks to my new job I had to go pick myself up some new clothes to fit in with the dress code. After scouring H&M and other cheapish stores, I ended up at Sears where I found discounted black pants that fit me perfectly and a respectable collared black top to team with my black shoes. I also treated myself to a new warm jacket, since the weather was still miserable.

I had a job. Now the only thing left was to find a place to live!


Today marks my first day as an employee in a Canadian workplace! I can now officially say I work ‘in a bookshop’!

I am envisioning it being something like the show Black Books. I’d like to be Bernard but I know I’ll be Manny! No seriously, it’s going to be fun and a little bit hard since I really have no idea about books, but I am incredibly confident in my ability to serve customers so that bit is going to be easy. The book smarts can come later.

The first thing my new boss said to me was actually that he knew when he met me that he wanted me to work in his team, that I would fit in really well. He listed a lot of things that he identified in my from my interview. Some true, some not so true. Man I’m good at that bullshitting interviewing thing!

Summer Wonderland (08/06/11).

With the weather predicted to be 31 degrees (that’s Celsius, of course!), we decided it would be a good time to head to Canada’s Wonderland, an elaborate water/theme park about an hour from downtown Toronto, public-transporting it.

After all meeting up on the subway, we headed off.

 Arriving there we discovered the water park was only open on weekends, despite it being summer holidays, a fact the Internet neglected to mention! Our crew for the day—myself, Thomas, Declan, Sarah, Yann, Peter, Tanya and new recruit Gary—decided we’d just wander around the park, clockwise it would seem, and select rides that took our fancy.

There were a few in the bunch that didn’t partake in some of the rides due to their specific dislikes/fears: heights, the feeling of falling, the resulting dizziness or going upside down. I must admit to some degree I’m not okay with any of those but with the chances of anything going horribly wrong (à la Final Destination 3) very slim it was pretty irrational to be afraid of a ride. Gary pointed out all fears were irrational and, with that being a very valid point, I decided to overcome ignore my fears and go on all the rides the others suggested. Oh, and of course to preserve my dignity!

We spent the day going on pretty terrifying ride and, when we enquired about going on one again, we were told the park was closing. 

It was 6pm. The Internet had said the park was open until 9pm.

We had only made it about halfway through the rides and had missed the one we’d been building up to all day, the Behemoth.

Slightly morose, we headed back to collect our belongings and grab the bus home. As we were packing up it started to rain.

 Following that came a massive thunderstorm just as we were making our way to the bus. As we drove back to the subway station we watched the lighting crack all around us. So vivid. So close. So intense. Yann helped lighten the mood with his own rendition of Kiss From A Rose by Seal!

All it all it was a good day. I didn’t let the freak weather at the end sully my memory of all the crazy fun we had riding our way around Wonderland. I only hope we can go back again soon and check out the amazing water park.

I left the park bruised and battered, with a throbbing neck and very tired eyes but a very warm feeling in my heart.

—April Bonnick.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada: 19th May to 26th May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 2nd May to 14th May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 26th April to 1st May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 5th August 2011.

Related: [Explorational] Homepage.

On the Net: 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: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Women in Fiction: Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] It’s All About Pop-U-Lar.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Strong Female Characters in the Land of Oz.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Guest Post: Pop Culture Power Women.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] So Misunderstood.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Pop Culture Role Models.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] In Defence of To Kill a Mockingbird.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] The 5 People I Would Be Friends With. If They Were Real.

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

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

I’ve been wanting to write a post on Overthinking It’s “Female Character Flowchart” since I saw it on both Jezebel and Musings of an Inappropriate Woman about two weeks ago, and the time has finally come I’ve finally gotten around to compiling a list of my favourite fictional female characters and whether they qualify as “strong” ones.

Without compromising the quality of the image, I wasn’t able to enlarge the chart, nor add my own annotations as per the below characters of my choosing. Instead, I’ve reproduced their equations below, as well as Mean Girls’ Regina George, who appears on the chart, and Blair Waldorf, whom Rachel Hills believes is a “girl Hitler”, but who I find to be much more of a genuine strong female character.

Regina George (Mean Girls): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? NO. Villain? YES. Sexualised? NO. (I would argue yes. Hello? Have you seen her Halloween getup?) Over 35? NO. Is the protagonist male or female? FEMALE. Is this a rom/com? NO=Mean Girl.

Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? YES. Does she represent an idea? NO. Does she have any flaws? YES. Is she killed before the third act? NO=Strong female character.

Belle (Beauty & the Beast): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? NO. Villain? NO. Is she mainly a love interest? YES. Do they get together? YES. Is she only interested in her man? NO. Is she in a committed relationship with a protagonist? NO. Changes her man or is changed? CHANGES. Are they from different cultures? YES=Nobel Squan, whatever the hell that is! (Looks like something out of Avatar, though.)

Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? YES. Does she represent an idea? YES. Villain? NO. Is she mainly a love interest? NO. Is she part of a team/family? YES. What is her main role? LEADER. How does she feel about babies? NOT RIGHT NOW. Does she get pregnant? NO. Is she in a horror story? NO. Is she violent? NO. Is she nearly perfect? NO. What is her flaw?=sassmouth, which I guess is true, but Scout is so much more.

Elphaba (Wicked): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? YES. Does she represent an idea? YES, many. Villain? NO. Is she mainly a love interest? NO. Is she part of a team/family? YES. What is her main role? ROGUE=wildcard.

Elle Woods (Legally Blonde): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? YES. Does she represent an idea? YES. Villain? NO. Is she mainly a love interest? NO. Is she part of a team/family? YES. What is her main role? LEADER. How does she feel about babies? NOT RIGHT NOW. Does she get pregnant? NO. Is she in a horror story? NO. Is she violent? NO. Is she nearly perfect? YES. Is she older? NO. Should the audience like her? YES. Who likes her more? WOMEN=Mary Sue.

Related:  Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

Elsewhere: [Overthinking It] The Female Character Flowchart.

[Overthinking It] Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women.

[Jezebel] Flowchart: Know Your Female Character Stereotypes.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Flowchart: Know Your Female Character Stereotypes.

Men in Fiction: My Most Loved Made-Up Males.

Last week I featured my favourite fictional females, and this week I thought I’d give the guys a go.

In the vein of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, her father Atticus is way up there. He represents “the father figure I never had”, guiding Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dil through the last summer of their naïve childhood and how judging a book by it’s cover (or skin colour) is not the way to go. Plus, he has a kick ass name!

Similar to my obsession with To Kill a Mockingbird is my love of Dominick Dunne and any of his books, specifically Another City, Not My Own, in which Dunne’s alter-ego Gus Bailey acts as the fictional narrator of Dunne’s real-life O.J. Simpson trial experiences. It is hard to separate the two men, which is what I love about Dunne’s stories; a reader familiar with Dunne’s experiences doesn’t know where real-life ends and fiction begins.

Every fan of Friends has a favourite character, and mine has always been Chandler Bing. He gets the funniest storylines, and Matthew Perry has great comedic timing. There are many episodes I could ramble on about, but my two favourite Chandler moments are when Phoebe attempts to seduce him into admitting his relationship with Monica, and when Chandler kicks up a stink about Joey stealing his chair before Ross’s benefit, and in a check-mate move, Joey puts on every item of clothing in Chandler’s possession, quipping in true Chandler fashion, “Could I be wearing any more clothes?”

It’s been a Disney-centric year, what with Beauty & the Beast about to be re-released in 3D, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing Disney songs in December (which I’m so going to, FYI), the first African American Disney Princess in the lacklustre The Princess & the Frog, and the much anticipated release of Toy Story 3, with one of my all-time favourite characters, Woody. The pull-string sheriff is inspirational in that he’ll never “leave a man behind”, he exists primarily for the pleasure of his owner, Andy, but discovers that there’s more to life, like making friends and other people happy, than what he thought his true purpose was; to be with Andy. I loved the third instalment of the saga, but it can never top the first one. So quotable, so timeless, so child-at-heart. ♥

Other inspirational men of fiction include Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon; Shia LaBeouf’s character in Disturbia, and the character who inspired him, L.B. Jeffries from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window; Fiver, Bigwig and Hazel from Watership Down; Woody’s space ranger counterpart, Buzz Lightyear; the Beast in Beauty & the Beast; and Holden Caulfield in A Catcher in the Rye.

Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

A recent post on Girl with a Satchel (which was reblogged here) inspired me to assess my favourite fictional female characters.

One of my favourite books is To Kill a Mockingbird, and protagonist Scout Finch is one of my favourite characters of the written word. Her innocence and naivety are super-endearing, and her past-tense narrating allows the reader to put themselves in her shoes easily.

Wicked is a niche book and musical that theatre buffs can’t get enough of, but the general public are a bit oblivious to because it hasn’t derived from/been made into a movie, like Melbourne’s current season of musicals, West Side Story, Mary Poppins and Hairspray, all of which are on my theatre-going agenda in the coming months.

I’ve seen the production three times in Melbourne, and many a friend has seen it in its various international incarnations on Broadway and the West End… oh, and Sydney! I was so touched by the story and its messages of friendship, good versus evil and judging a book by its cover, and even more so by Elphaba, better known as The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Unlike in the original story, Wicked’s Elphaba is fiercely loyal to her disabled sister Nessarose, and those who become close to her like Glinda, Doctor Dillamond and Fiyero, misunderstood because of the colour of her skin and the slander spread about her when she discovers the Wizard of Oz is a fraud and seeks revenge.

In the vein of fairytale musicals, Beauty & the Beast (which is being re-released in selected theatres in 3D from 2 September) is by far my favourite, and I love its heroine Belle so much, I have been known to fight with my friends and children alike over the fact that I AM BELLE! Hello, I have brown hair, like burly men, read a lot and have a penchant for yellow gowns! While there have been arguments circulating that the Disney princesses are beacons of anti-feminism, I maintain my stance that Belle doesn’t need a man to rescue her (in fact, she does the rescuing, helping the Beast when he is attacked by wolves, attempting to make the townspeople see the error of their ways in going after him, and ultimately, setting his heart free) and sees the Beast for who he truly is, not for what he looks like or what he can do for her. She’s a kick-ass beauty in the vein of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

I’ve blogged (or reblogged) a little bit lately about Elle Woods. She’s an everywoman. Rachel Hills identifies with her, as does Satchel Girl Erica Bartle. A law-studying friend of mine recently compared herself to Miss Woods, also. And I won’t lie; I’ve fantasised about wearing a Playboy bunny suit whilst purchasing an Apple Mac! Elle Woods proves that you can take pride in your appearance and have fun whilst pursuing your dreams and making a name for yourself separate from the name of the man in your life.

There are plenty of other made-up women who I have an affinity for, including the aforementioned Buffy Summers, and Daria Morgendorffer for their kick-ass feminist mentalities; ditto for the Charmed sisters; Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf, who can be a psycho bitch at times, but she’s THE psycho bitch; for similar reasons as Elle Woods, Cher Horowitz; and Barbie.

Related: Guest Post—Pop Culture Power Women.

In Defence of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Event: The Way We Wear Vintage Market.

Elsewhere: [Girl with a Satchel] Women of Pop Culture & the Unashamed Use of Cutesy Clichés.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Have You Ever Seen Yourself Through Someone Else’s Eyes?

Seven Links in Heaven.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger has challenged his fellow bloggers to post seven links to seven blog posts in response to seven categories.

Rachel Hills did it (albeit with eleven), and now it’s my turn!

Your first post: Aside from the “Welcome” page, it was a review of Dog Boy by Eva Hornung, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

A post you enjoyed writing the most: The ones about issues that get me fired up. “Why Are Famous Men Forgiven For Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?”, “Is there Really a Beauty Myth?”, “Katy P VS. Lady G”, “In Defence of To Kill a Mockingbird, “Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves… But Not The Gays” about Julia Gillard’s appointment to PM, but her refusal to legalise gay marriage, and anything to do with The Hills (The Hills FinaleAll Good Things Must Come to an End” and The Hills Have (Dead) Eyes”). Of course, I love “On the (Rest of the) Net” and “Magazine Cover of the Week”, as those posts showcase my favourite things of the week.

A post which had great discussion: As a fledgling blog, none of my posts have great discussion! But a couple that spring to mind are “Beautiful Women Cause Earthquakes AND Heart Attacks, Apparently” in which the comments were longer than the actual post, and “Everything They Touch Turns to Gold” about mag editors Mia Freedman, Sarah Oakes et al. In addition, “Beauty & the Book” was meant as some fluffy man-candy, but drew criticism from the masculist crowd.

A post on someone else’s blog you wish you’d written: Anything on Jezebel, Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, Mama Mia and Girl with a Satchel. They are my muses.

Your most helpful post: This is a hard one, as none of my posts deal particularly with things that people need help with. Perhaps, “How NOT To Promote Your Book” and “Life by Numbers”?

A post with a title you are proud of: “Bad Boys, Watchya Gonna Do? Host a Seven Family Show”.

A post that you wish more people had read: “Katy P VS. Lady G” was one I had a lot of fun writing (see above), but I can take solace in the fact that Sarah Ayoub of Wordsmith Lane commented on this one! As well as “The Beautiful Bigmouthed Backlash Against Katherine Heigl & Megan Fox”, which I thought would fire people up a bit, but not a bite! And while “The Changing Face of Beauty” garnered my highest number of hits, not one comment! Would like to know what people thought of that one.

Books: Happy Anniversary!

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the release of To Kill A Mockingbird. Fittingly, there has been a lot of hullabaloo in the media of late about the canonical status of the book and whether it is deserving of this status.

And we all know I think it is.

Happy anniversary, Mockingbird! Knowing you has made me a better person!

Related: In Defence of To Kill a Mockingbird.

In Defence of To Kill A Mockingbird.


By now loyal Early Bird readers will know my affection for To Kill A Mockingbird, so I couldn’t resist, after seeing a recap on Jezebel, responding to Allen Barra’s assertion in The Wall Street Journal that Harper Lee “doesn’t really measure up to the others in literary talent, but we like to pretend she does” and her Pulitzer-winning work is “virtuously dull”.

Well, I never!

Out of everyone I’ve ever spoken to about To Kill A Mockingbird, only one person said they didn’t like it, but she also didn’t finish the book, so she missed the part of the book I think is most poignant: the final paragraphs where Scout recounts the events of the summer from Boo Radley’s front porch, citing her father Atticus’ wise words that “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes.” For Scout, “Just standing on the Radley porch was enough,” and I think that is one of the most beautiful pieces of imagery that brings the story full circle.

Atticus is the quintessential beloved father figure, and beacon of “all the best lines”, who, funnily enough, Lee crafted to oppose the attitudes of her own father, who allegedly “once remonstrated a preacher in the family’s hometown… for sermonising on racial justice”. Barra mocks Atticus’ juvenile explanation of the Ku Klux Klan (he is speaking to a CHILD, where a certain amount of sensitivity is required) and his dialogue, as seeming to have been written “to be quoted in high-school English papers”. God knows I had a field day with quotes from the book in my Year 11 English Literature essays, and perhaps the reason I feel so affectionately towards Atticus is that he reminds me of my grandfather, who passed away several days before I started Year 11. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Atticus could be representative of the father figure I never had.

For Mockingbird’s haters, there is the defence that it is a novel for children (Barra quotes “fellow Southerner” and author Flannery O’Connor on her observation of To Kill A Mockingbird: “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book.”) something that I was not aware of until reading the Jezebel article, which should say something about Lee’s writing skills (or my reading skills?).

Nonetheless, I stand by my belief that Mockingbird is one of the best books ever written. Barra might say that, “In all good novels there is some quality of moral ambiguity… There is no ambiguity… at the end of the book , we know exactly what we knew at the beginning: that Atticus Finch is a good man, that Tom Robinson was an innocent victim of racism, and that lynching is bad.” But I think there is some moral ambiguity: was it right of Atticus to “collaborate with the local sheriff to ‘obstruct justice in the name of saving their beloved neighbour…’”? And, as Jezebel asks, “Is Atticus’ evisceration of Mayella Ewell permissible because she is making a false rape claim in the knowledge that it will likely cost an innocent man his life? Is Mrs. Dubose a cranky old racist or ‘the bravest woman I have ever known,’ as Atticus says? Did Boo Radley truly kill Bob Ewell in self-defense? Are Atticus and the sheriff, in their willingness to protect the social status quo, contributing to the system of white male privilege that subjugates women and blacks—and the secrecy on which it depends?

And what did happen to Boo Radley, whom Scout “never saw again”?

Related: Taking a Leaf Out of Amazon’s Book: Bad Customer Reviews.

[Jezebel] Re-Evaluating To Kill a Mockingbird.

[Wall Street Journal] What To Kill a Mockingbird Isn’t.

Taking a Leaf Out of Amazon’s Book: Bad Customer Reviews

Jeanette Demain recently wrote for an article on “amateur critics” bemoaning the plotlines of her favourite books, most of them canonical.

At the end of her Amazon search-related compilation of readers’ negative comments on classics from “The Grapes of Wrath to 1984”, she urges readers to peruse Amazon’s customer reviews of their favourite books.

So, I thought I might take a stab at this, and compiled my very own list of attacks on the books that “changed my life forever”.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

One of the finest pieces of modern American literature, I was hard pressed to find bad reviews on this one. The harshest was from three-star-rater Jane A. Marshall, who said To Kill a Mockingbird was “a good book but not as good as the movie. The exact ending as to how the attacker was killed left too much doubt as to who actually was the killer—I don’t think this was a good way to end the book.” Mmm, good, good, good. And more good.

Seriously, though, for my money Harper Lee crafted one of the best endings of all time. So much so that I defaced my copy by highlighting the passage for easy retrieval when I want to marvel at the beauty and power a good writer can wield.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

One Amazon discussion thread was titled “Catcher in the Rye should be banned”, and continued with “not because it’s obscene or perverse”—ever read Bret Easton Ellis, my friend?—“but…because it’s a lousy book.” Eloquently put.

The general consensus in response to that thread was a) who are you to judge whether a book should be banned based on it’s lousy-ness, and b) we are not in favour of censorship. My sentiments exactly.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.

While I will agree that this book is somewhat fluffy compared to the others on this list, I wouldn’t say that it was “a huge disappointment,” according to A Customer. They go on to say that, “I have loved the movie version of Valley of the Dolls for a long time. Admittedly, it is a BAD movie, but its camp sensibility and generally over-the-top style make it a classic of the ‘bad movie’ genre.”

Put a different way, Wayne M. Malin calls it a “silly soap opera that follows three women… [through] death, suicide, lesbianism, cancer, marriages, tons of drug abuse, institutionalisation, etc…” Yes, but isn’t that the appeal of the thing?!

I will agree on one of the most common allegations, that protagonist Anne Welles “ is perhaps the dullest character ever created,” said QueensGirl.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

The author of this book, whose “plot unfolds through three points of view—a 16-year-old girl in search of her father who disappeared into vampire land in 1972 and reveals himself through letters to her, the father who was searching sixteen years earlier for his abducted thesis advisor who secondarily reveals himself through a trail of letters, and the thesis advisor who was searching for Dracula through historical research,” has apparently “committed an act of such brutality that it rivals any atrocity that Vlad Tepes [aka Dracula] ever committed,” reviewer Carlos asserts. (Thanks for the plot summation, William J. Meggs!)

Meggs goes on to say that “if you would enjoy the tedium of being an historian digging through old libraries, you might enjoy the tedium of reading this book.” I would, and I did, thankyou very much!

Tietam Brown by Mick Foley.

It was difficult to find a bad review for this novel, “because only wrestling fans read it.” Which is probably 90% true, but even non-wrestling fan reviewers found it a struggle to comment negatively on it.

But lo and behold, I found the diamond in the rough in A Customer’s (again—take credit for your opinions, people!) response: “The dialogue is painfully bad, I’d rather be stuck in the ring with Mick for ten minutes than be subjected to reading another ten minutes of this book.” With Foley’s trademark barbed wire-encased baseball bat and thumbtacks? That is a fate worse than death.


Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Mostly light-hearted fun-poking to be found in the Customer Reviews section for this book. Caraculiambro says, “I suppose my threshold for silliness for books with talking animals (particularly bunnies) is The Wind in the Willows. Anything more sophisticated than that is preposterous, I think… on the whole, it’s hard to take it seriously unless you’re a pre-teen girl. But if you are, good luck with the language.” Touché.

Much in the same vein, Lucy the Bargain Hunter says, “this book is really boring, but since there was no bad language or sex, I didn’t have any excuse for not trying to get through it.” She then goes on to ask, as I have many a time after ploughing through a Jane Austen or Stephenie Meyer, “everyone else loves this book. Maybe there is something wrong with me[?].” To borrow a phrase from the late Brittany Murphey’s Tai in Clueless, “everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, a’ight?”

A Lion’s Tale by Chris Jericho.

Again, another WWE alumnus’ tome, so it is geared towards a very niche audience with mostly glowing reviews. The most damning assessment comes from Sean M. Hurley, who says the autobiography doesn’t live up to that of Mick Foley’s debut, Have a Nice Day, or even “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels’ ghost-written memoir. “My main gripe with the book is that Chris doesn’t get as personal with the reader as one would have enjoyed. Mick really exposes himself and allows himself to be vulnerable, while Chris still seemed to be holding back…” he says. Funny, as I found A Lion’s Tale to be on par, if not better, than Have a Nice Day

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne.

Dredging through page after page after page of one star reviews hurt, as this is my absolute favourite of all the books on this list.

To dig the knife in even further, A Customer says “I had to rate the book at least one star for the review to be kept. Actually, it’s worth zero.” Show your face, nameless hater!

Next week, the positive reviews! Yay!

Elsewhere: [Salon] Amazon Reviewers Think This Masterpiece Sucks.


Hi, my name is Scarlett Harris and I am the creator and administrator of this blog.

I have been wanting to start a blog for over 12 months, so what better time to start it now that I don’t have to commute to and from work every day?

I live in Melbourne, Victoria, and in 2008 I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Professional & Creative Writing from Deakin University, with a double major in Media & Communications. I have also done work experience with Cosmopolitan magazine and the RSPCA.

My passions are reading, writing, pop culture and social commentary, which this here blog will primarily focus on.

My favourite authors are the late Dominick Dunne and Mick Foley (yes, the professional wrestler! Check out any number of his memoirs, children’s books and novels; he’s actually a brilliant writer.). Book wise, my favourites are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (come on, who doesn’t?) and A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (likewise).

Keep in mind this is a small blog, starting out with basically no readership and not many media contacts, so any suggestions or constructive criticism is welcome. Please, if you like what you see, recommend the blog to friends!