The Reading Hour.

books

Tonight at 6pm marks 2015’s edition of The Reading Hour.

In celebration, here are the books I’ve read in the past year and a brief review of them.

What have you been reading since last year’s event?

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

If you haven’t read Roxane Gay’s book of essays since it was released last year, then what the hell have you been doing?! Gay is one of the best writers out there, and her take on all things pop culture and the conflicted relationship feminists sometimes have with it is a must read.

Death Clutch by Brock Lesnar.

This is one of those terribly ghost-written wrestling autobiographies and the main reason I read it was because it had been sitting in my to-read pile for far too long. Brock Lesnar is one of my least favourite wrestlers mostly because he was the first one I met and he was an asshole. This book gives a glimpse as to why he’s so introverted, which can sometimes come across as rude and ungrateful.

Rebels & Chicks: A History of the Hollywood Teen Movie by Stephen Tropiano.

Having been written a decade ago, this book unfortunately misses many of the teen movies we’ve come to know and love since then, such as Mean Girls and John Tucker Must Die, not to mention the booming genre of fantasy/dystopian teen flicks. But it does provide a pretty thorough and entertaining history of many teen movies you might have missed from as far back as the ’50s and, of course, the golden age of teen flicks, John Hughes’ ’80s.  

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

This was one of those books that, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get into. The main reason I stuck with it was because it was a gift and I wanted to tell its giver that I’d actually read it.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Carrying on from the funk that Madame Bovary got me into, I spent a few weeks reading this on public transport (which, at over 600 pages, is no mean feat!) but my mind wandered elsewhere.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.

Of all the celebrity memoirs I read over the past year, I’d probably recommend this one the most, if only for the salacious alleged molestation Dunham detailed and her experiences breaking into sexist Hollywood.

Too Much Money by Dominick Dunne.

Not one of Dunne’s better books but a carefree romp for the reader nonetheless.

The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales.

This was also a gift from the same person who gave me Madame Bovary. I’m pleased to report it held my attention much more than Flaubert.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Another gift, and one of my first forays into comic books. I enjoyed it more for the story than Bechdel’s illustrations.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

By far the worst instalment in the Hunger Games trilogy. I know it’s set in a dystopia, but Mockingjay was thoroughly depressing.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

I had such high hopes for Yes Please, but it was mediocre, both in writing style and humour.

Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin.

One of only two books written by Maupin outside the Tales of the City franchise, I didn’t fall in love with the characters as I have with his previous books, but it was an interesting story based on the life of Tamara De Treaux, the actress who played E.T.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Not as good as the movie and I struggled with the animal cruelty portions.

Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy.

One of the most overrated feminist texts I’ve read. This is probably a testament to the fact that it was written ten years ago and feminist theory has come a long way since then, baby. A lot of unnecessary scaremongering not unlike this recent Vanity Fair article on Tinder and online dating in general.

The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin.

Maupin’s second non-Tales book, it was turned into a film in 2006 starring the late Robin Williams which was dubbed as a “psychological thriller”. While I would say the book is far more campy than a psych thriller has a right to be, I did enjoy the suspense of Maupin’s fictionalised real-life encounter with Anthony Godby Johnson, the young author of a book about his abuse as a child, which later turned out to be a hoax.

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter.

A poor woman’s Female Chauvinist Pigs.  

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

This book could have stood to be shorter, but it is very suspenseful and lives up to the hype.

Wild Things by Brigid Delaney.

I had high hopes for this modern-day Aussie version of the aforementioned The Secret History set in the residences of an elite Sydney university. The local spin increased the novelty factor, but I was expecting more.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay.

Not for the easily triggered, Gay has a knack for writing about suffering that is second to none.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock.

If you ever need to explain the plight of trans people and how to talk to and about them, I can’t recommend Janet Mock’s memoir highly enough.

Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine by Andi Zeisler (ed).

A selection of some of Bitch magazine’s best pop culture writing from its inception in 1996 to this book’s publication in 2006. Another decade has passed since then, so it’ll be interesting to see if Bitch comes out with another collection. I hope so. In the meantime, subscribe to them.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.

There’s a lot to be said for feminist theory that is accessible to its readers and I don’t think The Beauty Myth is. I found it hard to stay focussed on some of its more wordy theories and criticisms.

Periods in Pop Culture by Lauren Rosewarne.

Who would’ve thought there were enough examples of menstruation in pop culture to warrant a whole book?! I enjoyed this exploration of periods in pop culture and its demystification of something that is normal but rarely discussed.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie.

I was obsessed with this movie as a kid so I thought I’d finally read the book. The movie trumps it TBH.

Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith.

I had different expectations for this relationship thriller but I was pleasantly surprised by what Deep Water turned out to be.

Laurinda by Alice Pung.

One of the best YA’s I’ve read… well… ever. Pung has a knack for putting to paper the way inner city teens talk and the dynamics of private school girls. If you’re looking for something easy to read but gritty, Laurinda is the one for you.

Nightlight by Harvard Lampoon.

This book made me understand the nuances between satire and parody: satire is smart and crafty, parody is the equivalent of Chief Wiggum—annoying and stupid.

Bossypants by Tina Fey.

In the vein of Amy Poehler’s Yes PleaseBossypants wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. In fact, it was barely funny.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty.

This was one of the best books I’ve read all year. It looks at the funeral industrial complex and argues that people have options for their loved ones in death that don’t include embalming, a sterile mortuary and an impersonal traditional funeral.

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb.

A lot of statistics and studies brought down what is otherwise a funny, engaging argument for more equality between men and women in the home and at work.

Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister.

With the announcement of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run, I thought I’d finally get around to reading Rebecca Traister’s take on the 2008 election, which has been on my to-read list for years. It was interesting, however its distant tone means I barely remember its contents only a few months after reading it.

Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave.

This is a beauty of an Australian fictional work and I can’t wait to see the film it was recently adapted into. Very tender and sad but also brilliant.

Playland by John Gregory Dunne.

This book began the series of four books I attempted to into over the course of a few weeks but just couldn’t. I think this one was about Hollywood (as Joan Didion’s husband and Dominick Dunne’s brother, it seems only fitting) but I gave up after less than 100 pages.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo.

I got almost to the end of this novel about September 11 after realising I’d taken in nothing.

Oswald’s Tale by Norman Mailer.

Coming in at over 800 pages, I couldn’t justify giving any more than about 90 pages of my time to this biography of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Feminisation of American Culture by Ann Douglas.

I’d bought this book six years ago when its contents may have interested me, but upon cracking its spine, I realised I was no longer.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron.

The Most of Nora by Nora Ephron.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron.

I decided to get into Nora Ephron after the previous spate of books that kind of made me hate reading. Whilst I’d never read any Ephron before, I did devour most of her movies over the summer, so I thought her book writing might be similar. I was right, although I did end up encountering most of her essays more than once as these collections tended to double or triple up on some of them.

Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas by Jane Mayer & Jill Abramson. 

Another book that had been on my list for years that I decided to read upon HBO’s announcement that they’d be turning the sexual harassment of Anita Hill by current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas into a biopic starring Kerry Washington as Hill. While Strange Justice isn’t light reading by any means, it did enlighten me to the politics of the case ahead of the biopic.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I was late to the party on this one. I did have a little cry as was expected, but I found its protagonist annoying, the dialogue unrealistic, and the writing misogynist at times.

The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills.

Naomi Wolf and Ariel Levy, take note: this is how you write feminist theory. With an informal, accessible tone and a non-judgemental discussion of sex, this is the seminal text about sex and feminism for the millennial generation.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman.

I had no idea some of the Netflix series’ characters would be so heavily based on real people Piper Kerman encountered during her incarceration that inspired the show. While her story and her subsequent work with the Women’s Prison Association are important, I found some of the language she used alienating and transphobic, in particular.

Paper Towns by John Green.

Despite The Fault in Our Stars‘ overhype, I still had high expectations for Paper Towns, which I had written on my to-read list next to the words “debunking of Manic Pixie Dream Girl”. While the book tries hard to do that, particularly towards the end, it ultimately fails. Also, too much use of the word “ret*ard” and Quentin’s friend Ben is a complete creep who refers to women as “honeybunnies”. Gag me.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen.

I love Anne Helen Petersen but I didn’t necessarily love her take on classic Hollywood which is arguably what made her famous. I’m looking forward to her dissection of more modern stars and the gossip surrounding them for her second book.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

No wonder Harper Lee kept this original manuscript of what would eventually become To Kill a Mockingbird hidden for so long. It’s pretty average on all counts and focusses far too much on the racism we’ve all heard about. Mockingbird is by far the superior text so if you aren’t able to separate the two in your mind, steer clear of this one.

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum.

This, along with Laurinda and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, was perhaps the best book I’ve read all year. Featuring only a few longform essays, The Unspeakable is bookended by the two standouts: “Matricide”, in which Daum explores her ambivalence and sometimes rage towards her dying mother, who passes away less than a year after her own mother with whom she had a tumultuous relationship; and “Diary of a Coma”, which details the viral infection that almost killed Daum, again, less than a year after her mother’s death. Challenging, laugh out loud funny and gasp-inducing.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume.

Based on the real life events in Judy Blume’s hometown in the ’50s, where three planes crashed in the period of a few months, I expect to finish this one tomorrow. I’m enjoying the story however there are far too many characters and giving them equal time in their own little mini-chapters distracts from the central story of Miri and her family.

Related: The Reading Hour 2014.

The Reading Hour 2013.

The Reading Hour 2012.

Blood Bonds—The Sisterhood of Menstruation.

Interview with The Sex Myth Author Rachel Hills.

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] Lena Dunham, Slenderman & the Terror of Little Girls.

[Vanity Fair] Tinder & the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse”.

[The Hairpin] Scandals of Classic Hollywood.

[The Independent] Go Set a Watchman: Atticus is Now a Racist in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird Sequel.

Image via HuffPo.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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Rachel Hill’s book The Sex Myth, released on Wednesday, is excerpted here. [Sydney Morning Herald]

And I interviewed Rachel on the book. (An extended version to come.) [Junkee]

I also wrote about how I Am Cait might be the turning point in reality TV. [Spook Magazine]

35 of the 46 women who have accused Bill Cosby of drugging and/or sexually assaulting them have been photographed for and told their stories to New York magazine. [The Cut]

How that story came about and how they recovered from the DDoS hack. [Mashable]

What happens to mass murderer groupies when their subjects are convicted? [Slate]

In the wake of last week’s Twitter hubbub, Taylor “Swift isn’t here to help women—she’s here to make bank.” [Gawker]

Is there room for the Legends Football League in the recent revolution of women’s sports? [Grantland]

A history of World Wrestling Entertainment’s racism. [The Atlantic]

Orange is the New Black fails its Asian characters. [Hyphen Magazine]

On the “racebending” of Hermione Granger. [HuffPo, Buzzfeed]

ICYMI: My thoughts on Hulk Hogan and racism in wrestling.

Image via Musings of an Inappropriate Woman.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

When-She-Just-Lying-Naked-Smoking-Trunk-Full-Money

“To be Rihanna… To be a black woman and genius, is to be perpetually owed.” [Pitchfork]

Why we find the sexualised violence of #BBHMM so disturbing. [HuffPo Women]

The Supreme Court of the United States’ landmark decision to legalise marriage equality nation wide is great, but the freedom to marry should also mean the freedom not to marry. [The Cut]

The Kim Kardashian sex tape flag at Kanye West’s Glastonbury set shows women’s sexualities aren’t their own. [The Guardian]

Has Kim changed… or just the way we think about her? [Daily Life]

Orange is the New Black and a defence of rape scenes:

“My hope is that going forward we can have a Pennsatucky Test for rape scenes much like the Bechdel Test. Is the victim’s point-of-view shown? Does the scene have a purpose for existing for character, rather than plot, advancement? Is the emotional aftermath explored? As long as sexual assault continues to be a scourge of our society, TV shows ought to mine the subject; it’s important we keep the conversation going. Just take care of your characters. Don’t rape ’em and leave ’em. They deserve to have their trauma acknowledged. They deserve to have their stories told.” [Vulture]

“The Personal Politics of Public Bathrooms.” [The Cut]

Grief in the time of social media. [Kill Your Darlings]

Why does TV suck at understanding the internet? [Junkee]

To celebrate U.S. series UnREAL‘s renewal and debut on Australian screens on Stan, read about how the show flips the reality TV script and how it’s pushing the boundaries of female masturbation. [Vulture, TV Tonight, The New Yorker, HuffPo Women]

Mums with guns. [Jezebel]

Magic Mike XXL was released this week and I wrote about the original here. [TheVine]

The latest Down Under Feminists Carnival has much more Aussie and Kiwi feminist goodness to keep you satisfied. [A Bee of a Certain Age]

Image via Pop Sugar.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea’s “Pretty Girls”‘ emphasis on looks dates the song. [Pitchfork]

The reemergence of talking about abortion. [WaPo]

Jurassic World didn’t have to be “overtly feminist”, just “overtly not sexist”. [Vulture]

The return of the teen movie. [The Dissolve]

Just when you thought Mad Max: Fury Road couldn’t be milked (pardon the pun) for any further feminist viewpoints, someone writes a breast milk article. [Bitch Flicks]

The rise and rise of In Touch magazine. [Buzzfeed]

ICYMI: “The Perception of Power in Orange is the New Black.

The Perception of Power in Orange is the New Black.

orange is the new black season 3 piper

*This piece contains spoilers for the third season of Orange is the New Black.

In the lead up to last Friday’s debut of Orange is the New Black’s third season, promos littered the internet about how the show would deal heavily with faith and motherhood this time around.

The motherhood motif bookends the season, with the inaugural episode opening with a Mother’s Day fete at Litchfield while the requisite flashbacks deal primarily with each prisoner’s relationship to motherhood, whether as a parent or a daughter.

But one of the less obvious but just as imperative themes of season three is power and the perception of it.

Power manifests itself in many guises this season but takes root in several main storylines.

Piper, using the money in her commissary account (a privilege her upper middle class pre-prison lifestyle affords her in itself), buys out all the noodle flavouring packets the prisoners have taken to seasoning Litchfield’s new, inedible menu with as an incentive to the other inmates to give her their used underwear to sell in her prison panty business.

Of course, she supplies the underwear that she steals from the new prison “sweatshop” which has Piper, new inmate Stella (played by Ruby Rose), et al. earning $1 an hour sewing “$90 bras” for lingerie company Whispers. And when Stella betrays her by stealing her profits two days before her release, Piper exercises her dominance over her new lover by planting contraband in Stella’s cell and it’s off to max(imum security) she goes.

Piper had originally pointed the finger at Flaca who’d been agitating for “fair pay for skanky panties” in a parallel storyline to the power plays prison manager Joe Caputo has to make as Litchfield becomes privatised. The guards turn to him as they attempt to unionise in the face of pay cuts and lost benefits, however rumblings of Caputo’s internal struggle to be a good guy versus being paid his dues that we saw last season (when Officer Bennett confessed his relationship and subsequent pregnancy with Dayanara Diaz and Caputo told him to sweep it under the rug) reveal themselves and he throws the guards under the bus.

orange is the new black season 3 norma

Religion presents as a powerful currency inside as mute Norma is held up as a deity to the meth head laundry crew, Soso and even Poussey. Being the one lorded over in an abusive, polygamous relationship in her backstory, we see Norma relish her newfound religious power.

Meanwhile, Cindy leads her friends in their quest for Kosher meals. While the others are claiming Kosher ’cause it tastes good, Cindy actually has a religious revelation of sorts, and becomes a Jew by season’s end.

orange is the new black season three pennsatucky rape coates donuts

Perhaps one of the more harrowing exhibits of power and just how little female prisoners have is in Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett’s trajectory. Her backstory paints a depressing picture of trading sex for soft drink and after her sensitive and sexually giving high school boyfriend leaves town, she’s raped by a former paramour who didn’t like that she cut off his supply of sex.

Food acts as a snare in Doggett’s relationship with a new guard who also works at a donut shop. During their errand runs off prison grounds, they stop to feed their uneaten donuts to ducks in an uncomfortable violation of prisoner-guard relations. While nothing funny happens for a few more episodes, and it’s unclear whether the guard had designs on assaulting Doggett from the beginning, it reinforces that even if a prisoner is willing, the imbalance of power between guards and inmates is too great for there to be a clear choice. (This is echoed in Daya’s pregnancy.)

Other, arguably less obvious manifestations of power can be seen in the ignorance and violence that further marginalises the already marginalised as rumours about Sophia’s transition circulate; Taystee’s newfound role as the “mumma” of her friendship group; Red’s return to the kitchen; Angie’s escape and, later, the entire prison population’s Litchfield Redemption.

Despite the fun, sisterly environment Orange is the New Black can sometimes portray Litchfield to be, women in prison—and, by extension, women in the outside world—have a lot less power than this article might suggest. In back to back episodes that look at perception, Flaca says of her counterfeit LSD business that “people will believe what you tell them” while Chang is told by a business associate that it’s not whether the exotic animal parts they’re smuggling “work, but whether you think they work.” Even Norma seems incredulous to her apparent religious powers, with her fellow inmates perceiving her hugs when she sees them as their “morning blessing”. Cindy might not have chosen Judaism had she continued her frivolous pre-prison lifestyle, but freedom of religion is a small exertion of power she can express in incarceration.

These seemingly small grabs at power, or the perception of it, is crucial in an environment where lives may depend on it. And in Litchfield, it’s all the women have.

Related: Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Orange is the New Black‘s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance.

Elsewhere: [Vulture] Orange is the New Black Season Three Will Be Lighter, Focused on Faith & Motherhood.

Images via Screenrants, She Knows, IMDB.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

amber rose how to be a bad bitch

Amber Rose’s feminism. [Feministing]

I raged against the dire state of Aussie TV, particularly in terms of storytelling and racial diversity. [Spook Magazine]

Miss Piggy, ourselves. [Fusion]

Rape jokes are not “just how the internet is”:

“… [T]he idea that the Internet is static and that everyone’s experience of it is the same, and nothing can ever be changed or fixed is an excuse to not fix a system that keeps certain people comfortable and other people uncomfortable.” [Cosmopolitan]

Orange is the New Black and How to Get Away with Murder‘s Matt McGorry is a feminist. [Jezebel]

Black teens using swimming pools need to be saints lest they get arrested. [Pandagon]

Looking at Hot Girls Wanted from an alternative perspective. [Medium]

More links are over at the 85th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Ana Stevenson]

Image via Slumz.

 

 

TV: Catching Up on Women-Friendly Media.

emily nussbaum kristen wiig jenji kohan lena dunham mindy kaling sundance panel

Summer is usually a time when I catch up on TV shows I’ve neglected throughout the year.

In Australia, (when I owned a TV) all the shows would be on hiatus and in its place tennis and cricket as far as the eye can see. Likewise, American TV comes to a halt usually from about Thanksgiving which gives me ample time to keep up with the Kardashians or, in a more high brow vein, Breaking Bad, which I finally watched in its entirety this time last year.

Recently I lamented to a friend that this summer I’ve been watching more movies and, like, reading instead of catching up on shows like I should be. There’s so many on my list: The Good Wife, Orphan Black, Parks & Rec, House of Cards. I didn’t even watch American Horror Story: Freak Show when it started a few months ago and, low and behold, it just aired its season finale.

So what better time to catch up on it than this past (long) weekend? (And yes, I am well aware that AHS cannot be construed as women-friendly, but stay with me.)

I also have ample days off from my day job in the next week so, in addition to more freelance work and my side gig at OCW, I should be able to finish the 13 episode season by the next weeks’ end.

I intend to work just as hard throughout the year, but I also need to make sure I engage in self-care to keep the momentum up. So when I’ve emptied out my brain onto the page and filled it again with the words of others, what better way to unwind with some TV that functions as a hug?

I’ve been very vocal about my love for Grey’s Anatomy: when I was sick a few weeks ago, I knew I should have started one of the abovementioned shows but I just needed comforting in a way that no one but Meredith Grey and co. could do, so I rewatched the first half of this season. It, along with its Shondaland cohorts Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, return this week and I’ve got a hot date with the Middleton Law School kids and President Grant on the weekend.

From there, I intend to either dip into The Good Wife or House of Cards as research for a piece I’ve been ruminating over for months. While the beauty of many Netflix-based shows is their short seasons allowing quick consumption, there’s a good six seasons of The Good Wife, so who knows when I’ll emerge from Alicia Florrick’s law offices?

In contrast to the abovementioned shows, it was only a few years ago that many of the books, movies and TV shows that I was drawn to were about men. My favourite authors were men, the movies I was interested in seeing at the cinema were about men, and many of the TV shows I watched were all about men. Don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite authors are still men (Dominick Dunne and Mick Foley), and I’m hanging out to see Foxcatcher at the movies. But on the whole, I’m so fucking sick of only learning about men’s lives—either real or fictional.

That’s why, this year, I’m making a conscious effort to consume media about women and minorities. What started out as something I was completely unaware of has blossomed into a newfound appreciation for the voices of women I may not have sought out before. I’ve slowly started to realise that all the shows I watch are about women—OITNB, Total Divas, Girls, Revenge, 2 Broke Girls, The Mindy Project—as are the shows I intend to. I’ve only recently started watching movies again, and I started with Nora Ephron’s cannon over Christmas and New Years. Wild is the next movie I intend to see at the cinema. And my reading list from the past month has consisted of Roxane Gay, Janet Mock, Donna Tartt, Lena Dunham, Brigid Delaney and Amy Poehler, amongst many others.

Which shows—and other media—are you looking forward to consuming this year?

Related: Hustle, Loyalty & Respect: Where I’m Taking My Career in 2015.

The Golden Age of Television.

Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Girls: A Season Two Retrospective.

Revenge is a Dish Best Served by a Woman.

2 Broke & Tampon-less Girls.

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] The Choice to be a Total Diva.

Image via InStyle.