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: 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!

 

Amy Winehouse’s Death: They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab, But She Said No…

 

From “For Amy” by Russell Brand on his website:

“Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease. Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but a disease that will kill.”

Of course, Brand has a unique insight into Winehouse’s condition, as he used to be an addict himself.

He’s definitely right in saying society should not be romanticising drug addiction and death. And it’s certainly sad that she died so young, but I’m a bit conflicted about the whole situation.

She was ridiculed in the press and the butt of jokes, especially after her most recent attempt at a comeback, in Serbia, where she appeared to be drunk or high, or both, and addressed the audience as Athenians, I believe. And now that she’s dead, everyone wants to remark on what a fine young talent we’ve lost. The same thing happened with Michael Jackson. No one gave a rats ass about these people until it was too late.

But, on the other hand, if an addict can’t get clean, and doesn’t want to get clean, it’s no one’s responsibility but theirs, at the end of the day.

How many chances did Winehouse have to get clean? How many chances has Lindsay Lohan had? Corey Haim? Courtney Love? Pete Doherty? Anna Nicole Smith? The list goes on.

Yes, I understand that addiction is a disease, and we should try to help people afflicted with it like we would those afflicted with diabetes or schizophrenia. After all, addiction is a mental illness of sorts, and the two often go hand in hand.

And Brand writes that making drug addiction a crime is the wrong answer. “It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense,” he writes.

But we’ve all read the literature: drugs cause addiction. So why take them in the first place? To be cool? To cope? ’Cause you’re bored?

I can’t pretend to understand, as I have smoked less than five whole cigarettes in my lifetime, I’ve never been drunk, and I’ve never taken drugs (except for an accidental bite of a hash brownie, but that’s another story!). I have people in my life who are recreational drug users (some are very long-term recreational drug users), but I don’t approve and I can’t pretend to understand. Why would you knowingly do something that could—and probably will—kill you?

I’m not really sure where I stand on the issue: my gut reaction is to say that Winehouse has got no one to blame but herself, but my compassion for people with mental illness other than addiction, and those who have slipped through the cracks, makes me feel like this is not just a black and white issue. Can you feel sorry for some people, but not for others?

Maybe those reading this could shed some light on this issue? Have you had experience with addiction or are close to someone who has, and what are your views on the issue?

Elsewhere: [Russell Brand.TV] For Amy.

Image via Amy Winehouse Picz.

Event: Rock of Ages Review.

The last few musicals I’ve been to I haven’t enjoyed. West Side Story, Hairspray… My friends keep telling me I need to stop comparing them to Wicked! Fair call.

So I went into Rock of Ages last Tuesday night with trepidation. I was looking forward to the music and the ’80s campy quality, but I wasn’t expecting a storyline and character development of Gregory Maguire proportions.

And I was right. While the music and the one liners are great, Lonny (to be played by Russell Brand in next year’s big screen adaptation), the chubby, mullet-sporting narrator, admits ten minutes into the production that they should “probably introduce a storyline” to keep the audience invested.

This is where Drew aka Wolfgang von Colt (played by Justin Burford), aspiring rock star and busboy at Dupree’s Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip (a nod to The Viper Room, perhaps?), and Sherrie, a small town girl looking to make it big as an actress in Hollywood, come in.

While Sherrie is the most vapid character I’ve seen in a musical for a long time ever, her representation is typical of women in the male-dominated rock music industry at the time: just a piece of ass.

This is all mega rock star Stacee Jaxx sees her as, and acts accordingly. Jaxx seems to embody guys like Bret Michaels from Poison, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and perhaps Jon Bon Jovi (but he just seems too nice!), as the quintessential egomaniac douchebag who forgets where he got his start (hello, Bourbon Room!). The role is a good one, and I can really see Tom Cruise excelling in it in the film version, however I thought Michael Falzon overplayed the role. If he’d just kicked in down a notch and acted like he took himself more seriously as the best front man to ever walk the earth, I think the character would have been more effective.

In fact, if the production itself employed this tactic, I would see nothing wrong with it.

But all in all, the costumes were fab, the majority of actors killed it, the set “broke down the fourth wall”, both literally and figuratively and, of course, the music was pure ’80s hair rock and power ballads.

It’s the best thing going in Melbourne at the moment and, since the last musical I saw at the Comedy Theatre, Avenue Q, for a while.

Image via Crikey.

Event: Get Him to Rod Laver.

Who, out today, features a double-page spread on comedic bad-boy and star of upcoming Get Him to the Greek, Russell Brand, whom I was lucky enough to see live at the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, on Wednesday night.

As my hairdresser said, she’ll “wait for the DVD” to come out to get specifics on his hilariously inappropriate show, which I think is wise for all you Rusty fans, as I could never do his jokes justice.

However, here’s a taste: his 2008 and 2009 MTV VMAs hosting gigs, the rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, and Twilight and it’s relationship to “that time of the month” were all taboo topics on the cards.

Brand also used his fiancée, Katy Perry, as comedic fodder, which the Who article centres on.

Of how the pair met, Brand says, “She was so rude… I was showing off in front of some people and she threw a bottle at me! I didn’t understand. Who was this girl taking the piss out of me in front of all my friends? It was hypnotic.”

“His romance with Perry ‘has brought out the protective side in me… I had no idea I had it in me’.”

Brand continues, “as long as she’s happy, I will be happy… It’s part of my agenda to make this woman extraordinarily happy. Most things that I really want, I’m pretty diligent about getting.”

As for the woman who pointed her daughter out to him as he made his way through the crowd, Brand asked, after this extremely graphic closing skit centred around anal sex, “aren’t you glad you pointed her out to me now?!”

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

In Perez Hilton’s words, “2010 has really been the year of the cheater”. First we had Tiger Woods’ cheating scandal, which broke late last year but has continued to be a headline grabbing story, then Jesse James’ spiral of shame, and now David Boreanaz, who went public a few weeks ago with news that he cheated on his wife of almost nine years, Jaime Bergman.

And last year was the year of the sports scandal, you might say, with the Matthew Johns group sex story coming to light in May.

What do all these men, with, perhaps, the exception of James, have in common? Their shady pasts have virtually been forgotten in favour of their more positive talents. Boreanaz plays the lead in hit TV series Bones, Johns now hosts his own self-titled show, and Tiger is back on the Masters tour.

While the wrongdoings of the Australian underworld are being glorified on Underbelly no one bats an eyelid. To take it even further, O.J. Simpson, although acquitted of double murder, was held up as a hero amongst African Americans in Los Angeles following his trial, despite being thought of as guilty in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps this is just a sign of the times changing; that our society has become so desensitised to notions of war, violence, drugs and sexual depravity that they are not longer taboo. I would argue that this is true to some extent it is not reflected on the other end of the spectrum.

For example, a recently refurbished Heidi Montag admitted to undergoing 10 cosmetic surgical procedures in one day because she wasn’t happy with the way she looked. She obviously has deep-rooted body dysmorphic issues, however instead of helping and supporting her, the public has turned on her.

The same could be said of the Britney Spears’ and Lindsay Lohans’ of the world. A recent Jezebel article, “In Defence of Lindsay Lohan”, was in support of the former child star everyone loves to hate.

Sure, Lindsay has a father who “is a nightmare… and her mother is more of a friend than a parental figure. So perhaps she is lacking in guidance and role models. But who among us, in some way, is not? Her experience [of growing up in the spotlight]… is not one many people can relate to, anyway.”

The author surmises that the public’s fascination with Lindsay and their “build-you-up-to-take-you-down” mentality is much simpler: “She’s 23-years-old and being ripped to shreds in the press mostly because she goes out at night.”

Right. Someone like Colin Farrell has had a sex tape released, sexual misconduct allegations brought against him and has battled substance abuse problems, however he is still held up as a Golden Globe-winning actor. We all know Lindsay has the acting chops, it’s just a matter of her getting out of her own way. Double standard? In the words of Sarah Palin, you betcha!

The beautifully tragic Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith were, and still are, vilified for being just that. Even in death, the girls can’t catch a break.

So that brings us back to the question, why do men get away with so much more than women can? Or, more to the point, why are men almost celebrated for their wrongdoings while women are banished into social oblivion?

I think, in a nation that celebrates sport as the highest level of achievement, especially, we want to give our sportsmen the benefit of the doubt. While I do think we focus too much on sport as the be all and end all of success in Australia, and the very nature of being “Australian”, it can be seen as admirable to offer someone a second chance. Johns, for example, could be seen as brave for coming forward and being the only one of his Cronulla Sharks teammates to own up to his mistake. But I do think it’s a bit soon to be running a television show off his back.

However, we also like to kick people when they’re down. Britney Spears, for example, was heralded as the princess of pop in her golden days, but when she started donning pink wigs, speaking to herself in a British accent in the gutter, and being carted off to the looney bin, we wanted nothing to do with her. Oh, I’m sorry, only to denigrate her on the cover of tabloid magazines.

Then last year she launched her comeback tour, and everyone was back on her side. That is, until, she lip synched (come on, it’s Britney! When has she ever not lip synched?) her way through Australia and out of our collective consciousness.

But how many second chances are we going to give these men, in particular? Charlie Sheen was embroiled in his latest domestic dispute over Christmas last year. But what of his past child pornography, prostitute and drug allegations? Not to mention the shooting of ex-girlfriend Kelly Preston in a domestic dispute. Do we just sweep them under the rug too so that Sheen can keep the $1.2 million per episode of Two & a Half Men coming?

When these mistakes are hurting people other than themselves, maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Do we really care if Lindsay, Britney or Mischa are off to rehab again? And shouldn’t we be caring that Jesse James allegedly ran dog fights out of his West Coast Choppers headquarters and is apparently a white supremacist? Or that Sheen is essentially being rewarded by the cash cow that is Hollywood for his reprehensible behaviour? Or that Tiger sleptand somehow found time to golfhis way across the country in a narcissistic bubble of admiration from his countrymenand women?

Related: All Eyes on Marilyn.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] In Defence of Lindsay Lohan.