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.

Books: Was This What Marilyn Monroe Was Really Thinking When She Was Filming The Prince & the Showgirl?

From Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe edited by Stanley Buchthal & Bernard Comment:

“Fear of giving me the lines new

maybe won’t be able to learn them

maybe I’ll make mistakes

people will either think I’m no good or

laugh or belittle me or think I can’t act.

Women looked stern and critical—

unfriendly and cold in general

afraid director won’t think I’m any good.

remembering when I couldn’t do a god

damn thing.

then trying to build myself up with the

fact that I have done things right that

were even good and have had moments

that were excellent but the bad is heavier

to carry around and feel have no confidence

depressed mad”

According to archival information, this was actually written in 1951 while The Prince & the Showgirl was released in 1957. So perhaps these weren’t Marilyn’s exact thoughts during the filming of the movie that was the basis for this year’s My Week with Marilyn, but it just goes to show she was plagued by insecurities from the beginning.

Related: My Week with Marilyn Review.

Fragments of Marilyn Monroe’s Literary Life.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Image via The Passionate Movie Goer.

Movie Review: My Week With Marilyn*.

 

“Thanks for telling me the truth, Colin.”

My Week With Marilyn is concerned with truth. Laurence Olivier tries to get Marilyn to perform a truthful portrayal of showgirl Elsie in The Prince & the Showgirl, while Marilyn expresses trepidation that Olivier’s imagining of Elsie isn’t realistic. Elsie could be seen as a metaphor for Marilyn Monroe’s misunderstood likeness since she changed her name from Norma Jean and became the buxom bombshell we all know and some of us love today.

But I didn’t find that the movie delved any further into the Marilyn mystique than any of the characters she played or any of the men who loved her did when she was alive. It was really only after she died, and in a slew of “lost” letters and photos that have made up such publications as Fragments and The Genius & the Goddess: Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe, that we came to discover that she was much more than just a dumb, sexy, childlike blonde who posed with Ulysses to make her look smarter.

It tried to go there, though, when Michelle Williams spoke such lines as “Shall I be her?” when Marilyn and Colin Clark  visit Windsor Castle, and after a fight with her husband, Arthur Miller, she says, “When they realise I’m not Marilyn Monroe they run.” But the film didn’t really show us anything different than the common perception of her.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I really enjoyed the movie and thought Williams did a great job with the script she was given. I just don’t think it was an apt representation of all that Marilyn was. As Dodai Stewart writes,

“… the biggest problem with My Week With Marilyn is that the film treats the woman who loathed being a sex object as a sex object. The story is told by a man who looked at her as a mesmerising other-worldly creature. Though he did have some intimate moments with her, a lot of the film involves Marilyn being gawked at by this slack-jawed fan-turned-friend who calls her a goddess. As a character, she is frustrated because she wishes people would see her as a human being, but she’s shot in the softest, most radiant light, frolicking through the English countryside and ever so gently batting her lashes: Male gaze ad nauseam.”

And while the film is wrapped up in a nice little package with Marilyn coming to say goodbye and thank you to Clark after having kicked him out of her bed and her life, I had the feeling he was still embittered about his unrequited love.

I haven’t read The Prince, the Showgirl & Me, so I couldn’t tell you for sure if this is the case, but even if it wasn’t, Clark was a 23-year-old boy who fell in love with the image of Marilyn Monroe, not the actual Norma Jean.

Related: Fragments of Marilyn Monroe’s Literary Life.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] The Problem with My Week With Marilyn.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Screen Rant.

Books: Stacked.

The other day a friend asked me how I “prioritise my stack” of books, and I thought it might make an interesting blog post, if only so I can navel-gaze at the books, magazines and articles piling up on my bedside table and bookshelf as opposed to offering any valuable insight into how I get through them.

’Cause the answer is, there is no system to getting through them. If anything, more books, magazines and articles are added to the piles than what is taken away from them and filed neatly in the bookshelf or recycling bin.

My friends often tease me ’cause it usually takes me several months to get through a book. The book I’m currently on, My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates, I started over two months ago! I try to put away a few chapters each night, but this is in addition to the probably 500 other pages of content I read per week. Blogs, magazines, articles. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good effort. I wonder how many of the haters get through a 500 page book per week :P.

My love of taking in anything and everything in the feminist blogosphere is both a blessing and a curse. I love that there’s always new content and I’m always being informed, but at the same time, it would be so easy to just curl up in bed with a good book and turn my brain off for a few hours. Then again, if I really wanted to turn my brain off, I’d carve out a nook in the couch and flick through channels all night. And who has time for that?

Currently in my book stack, I have three books that were gifts from my birthday last year, and winning a worst dressed contest (Fables comic book, The Big Book of Small Business and Self-Publishing for Dummies); three that are borrowed (Walt Disney’s biography by Neal Gabler, Russell Brand’s second memoir and Kristin Chenoweth’s autobiography); two I bought from Amazon in January (Marilyn Monroe’s Fragments and Sloane Crosley’s second book of essays, How Did You Get This Number?); and the rest (The Night Listener and Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin, Brock Lesnar’s Death Clutch, Less Than Zero and Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile) I’ve bought in recent months, mostly secondhand.

And the magazines and article stack, which is a complete eyesore on my bedside table, consists of several Vanity Fair’s, some Monthly’s and… to be honest, I don’t actually know what’s in there! When I go on holidays next week, I aim to get through that stack, and it will be a veritable treasure trove! Like Christmas morning!

Seeing as I can offer absolutely no substance to “how do I prioritise my stack”, I’m handing it over to you. Does anyone have any tried and true methods? Here’s one, at the suggestion of my friend Clare: stop buying books til I’ve finished the ones I already have. But they’re too good!

 

Event: Evolution of the Bookshop at the Wheeler Centre.

I never thought a seemingly boring panel conversation about e-books versus hard copy print media would trump a discussion about masculinity in Australia, but it seems “The Evolution of the Bookshop” has come out on top when it comes to talks I’ve seen at the Wheeler Centre lately.

I’m a bit late reporting on this one, but a couple of weeks ago I attended “The Evolution of the Bookshop”, which entailed the panel of Michael Webster, Corrie Perkin, Jo Case and Chris Flynn, with Sally Heath as the facilitator.

The main item of contention on the agenda was the receivership of the REDgroup, which includes Borders and Angus & Robertson (for those of you living under a rock in recent months) and how online shopping from overseas stores, like Amazon and the Book Depository, may have contributed.

2010 was a good year for books in Australia, actually, as Webster, of RMIT and Nielson BookScan, pointed out in a riveting (no, I’m not kidding!) spreadsheet. There was no denying the large amount of Australian dollars that were spent online on books, what with parity and all that jazz, and the panel urged the audience to buy local throughout the night.

But when Flynn, fiction editor of The Australian Review of Books, compared the prices of all the books he bought over the course of a year at Borders (the devil’s bookstore, according to the panel!), Readings (of which Case is a staff member) and the Book Depository (there was over $1000 difference between online and at a bricks and mortar bookstore), it doesn’t bode well for physical bookstores.

Personally, I’m not in the financial bracket to be supporting local bookstores when I can get the books I want online for half the price at a click of a button.

Earlier this year, I went into Borders at Melbourne Central wanting to purchase Marilyn Monroe’s Fragments, The Great Gatsby and Sloane Crosley’s two books of essays (which you may remember me writing about here). They had none of them in store. An hour later I was at home on Amazon, $70 poorer but immeasurably happier that four brand new books were on their way to me.

Case made the case (haha!) for the experience of shopping at a bookstore, but Flynn countered with the presumption that people who shop online probably already belong to an online community, and thus their experience at an online bookstore is just as valid and important as at a physical one.

As the owner of her own bookshop, Perkin asserted that she just can’t compete with free shipping and the iPhone app Shazam, which allows users to record a piece of music, to which the app generates the full details of and where you can buy it online.

But independent bookstores compete on service, not price. Perkin relayed the example of running out of Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals recipe book and being told that the next shipment wouldn’t be for awhile as it was, and is, a very popular title. She was forced to buy copies of the book on the Book Depository at her own expense, and provide them to her customers who had already committed to the title via pre-sale. Now that is service!

Flynn countered that whether we like it or not, e-readers have hijacked traditional forms of reading, but based on a show of hands, not one person at the Wheeler Centre that night owned or read books on an e-reader.

On a side note, I will be visiting the best second-hand bookstore I’ve ever been to over the weekend, and there’ll be more to come on that next week.

Related: “Who the Bloody Hell Are We?”: The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

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

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Images via Crunch Gear, TS Bookshop, Lance Wiggs.

Fragments of Marilyn Monroe’s Literary Life.

 

From “Marilyn & Her Monsters” by Sam Kashner, in the November 2010 issue of Vanity Fair:

“Several photographs taken of Marilyn earlier in her lifethe ones she especially likedshow her reading. Eve Arnold photographed her for Esquire magazine in a playground in Amagansett reading James Joyce’s Ulysses [above]. Alfred Eisenstaedt photographed her, for Life, at home, dressed in white slacks and a black top, curled up on her sofa, reading in front of a shelf of books [which forms the cover for Fragments]her personal library, which would grow to 400 volumes. In another photograph, she’s on a pulled-out sofa bed reading the poetry of Heinrich Heine.

“If some photographers thought it was funny to pose the world’s most famously voluptuous ‘dumb blonde’ with a bookJames Joyce! Heinrich Heine!it wasn’t a joke to her. In these newly discovered diary entries and poems [which make up the bulk of Fragments], Marilyn reveals a young woman for whom writing and poetry were lifelines, the ways and means to discover who she was and to sort through her often tumultuous emotional life. And books were a refuge and a companion for Marilyn during her bouts of insomnia.”

Related: All Eyes on Marilyn.

Marilyn Misfit.

Lindsay Lohan: Marilyn, Eat Your Heart Out.

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

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

Again, I don’t do New Years resolutions, but hopefully in listing the books I didn’t get around to reading in 2010 in a public forum where reviews are commonplace (um, this blog, for those of you not keeping track), I’ll be forced to devour in 2011.

1. Countdown to Lockdown by Mick Foley. I’ve been very vocal about my love for Mick Foley in recent months, and I was lucky enough to receive his latest memoir (number four, but who’s counting?) for my birthday, two months ago. I’ve been eagerly anticipating having enough time to dive into it headfirst, and I’m hoping it’ll be the first I check off my list this coming year.

2. Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, Bernard Comment & Stanley Buchthal. I love Marilyn Monroe, both as an icon (though I wouldn’t go as far as to have her image tattooed on me, à la Megan Fox), and as a fascinating person who had many layers, some of which are peeled away with the release of this book. This is a high priority read.

3. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady & the Unicorn, so something tells me I’m going to love Remarkable Creatures, about two female fossil hunters in 19th century England. The subject matter is a bit left-of-centre for historical fiction, but it appeals to me nonetheless. I know I couple of friends who own copies of this book, so maybe I can bum a lend…?

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have a tendency to build classics up in my mind before I’ve read them, and I’m then sorely disappointed. I have a feeling a similar effect will occur with The Great Gatsby, which I became interested in reading when I heard that it will be subjected to a movie remake at the hands of Baz Lurhmann. So bogan-esque, I know!

5. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Crosley’s books have done the review rounds in some of my favourite and trusted mags, like Yen and Cleo, with nothing but good vibrations about her collection of essays.

6. How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley. Yes, this is Crosley’s second appearance on the list, but all the buzz surrounding her books and her clever, witty and sometimes snarky tone means I can’t wait to gobble them up!

7. The Genius & the Goddess: Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe by Jeffrey Meyer. I read a review of this tome earlier in the year, and it has stayed with me since. Most intriguingly, the book “houses an appendix detailing the illnesses and operations” Monroe had throughout her life.

8. The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne. I can’t get me enough of Dominick Dunne, so it’s a surpriseeven to methat I haven’t read all of his books yet. This one is somewhat of an official memoir, as a lot of his fictional works blur the line between reality and fiction, Another City, Not My Own especially.

9. The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan. In case you were wondering, I plan to do a lot of Monroe-related reading in 2011. This is one of the more imaginative books about her life.

10. The Prince, The Showgirl & Me and My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clarke. Both are the basis for the new Michelle Williams effort, My Week with Marilyn. Just while we’re on that, I’d like to sneak in another Monroe-inspired fiction: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, which another biopic starring Naomi Watts as Monroe is based on. Perhaps if I had picked up the copy I always see at my favourite second-hand bookstore, Bendigo Book Mark, it would have given me more incentive to read it. No, wait, that doesn’t work for the numerous other books I’ve got sitting there, just begging to be read…

Related: In Appreciation of Mick Foley.

The Witching Hour: Halloween/My Birthday at Witches in Britches Cabaret.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Things Bogans Like.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Elsewhere: [Bookslut] Genius, Goddess: Reading Theatre.

[Bendigo Book Mark] Homepage.