Event: The Reading Hour.

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, I’ve 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.

Big Porn Inc. edited by Melinda Tankard Reist & Abigail Bray.

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.

The Book of Rachael by Leslie Cannold.

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?

Related: Big Porn Inc. Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray Review. 

The Book of Rachael by Leslie Cannold Review.

Bendigo Writers Festival.

Book Review: Big Porn Inc. Edited By Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray.

 

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.

Is Big Porn Inc. Anti-Vaccination As Well As Anti-Porn?

Picture Perfect.

Elsewhere: [Sydney Morning Herald] Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist?

Image via Melinda Tankard Reist.

Books: Is Big Porn Inc. Anti-Vaccination As Well As Anti-Porn?

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.

Related: Conservative Feminist Melinda Tankard Reist for Sunday Life.

Elsewhere: [SaneVax Inc.] Homepage.

[New Yorker] HPV, Perry & Bachmann.

[Jezebel] Michele Bachmann’s Curious Tale of Vaccination Gone Wrong.

[Jezebel] Oral Sex Linked to Throat Cancer, Is Best Argument Yet for Giving Boys HPV Vaccine.

Image via Melinda Tankard Reist.

Magazines: Conservative Feminist Melinda Tankard Reist for Sunday Life.

 

Sunday Life is back with a bang for 2012, featuring Rachel Hills’ fantastic article on “anti-raunch, anti-porn, pro-life” activist, Melinda Tankard Reist.

I’ve been reading Tankard Reist’s work for about a year or two now, and I have to say, like Hills and many other feminists, I don’t always agree with her views. Hell, I barely ever agree with her views. I’ve got her latest book, Big Porn Inc., which you can read a bit about in the article, on my bedside table ready to go. I have some trepidation about the book, as I don’t see a huge problem with porn, but MTR does. She also views our culture as an increasingly raunch-filled and pornified one, which I also disagree with.

The article details MTR’s “brand of feminism” and also quotes some of her supporters and detractors, which I think rounds out the article very nicely. There’s also a side box about some other notable conservative “feminists”, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. If ever there were two women who used feminism to further their (clearly non-feminist) political agenda, it’s them. Writes Hills:

LA Times columnist Meghan Daum [writes], ‘If [Palin] has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she’s entitled to be accepted as one.’

“‘I was at a debate recently where a lot people were saying we needed to reinvent feminism because it has become loaded with too much negativity,’ says Eva Cox. ‘But if it’s negative, it is interesting that the right is picking it up.’

“Still, Cox warns: ‘Those who don’t want feminism to be co-opted by the Palins and the Tankard Reists need to do some thinking about what direction they want to take it in instead.’”

I can be a bit of a snobby feminist when I want to be, and don’t think that everyone can call themselves a feminist. But, in a Facebook exchange on the topic, the idea that anyone can call themselves a feminist and has the right to that label was prevalent. I’ve been known to opine that my personal feminism isn’t as radical as second-wave feminism is perceived to be. Just as MTR’s feminism is just as radical, if not more.

Hills rounds out the article by asserting that, “whether you agree with her or not… Tankard Reist is now one of Australia’s best-known feminist voices… It is her language—and that of her supporters—that increasingly frames our debates on sex, gender and popular culture.”

Maybe I’m not hanging out in the right places, but I disagree. Those who shape the debates on sex, gender and pop culture that I read and listen to are the ladies at Feminaust, Jezebel and Feministe, and Hills herself. It just goes to show that everyone does subscribe to their own personal feminism. Mine just isn’t akin to MTR’s.

Related: In Defence of Porn.

Elsewhere: [Rachel Hills] Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist?

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Melinda Tankard Reist & Me: Meditations on My Sunday Life Cover Story.

Image via Musings of an Inappropriate Woman.