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: The Book of Rachael by Leslie Cannold—I’m Still in Love with Judas, Baby.


In Jesus’ time, nothing much was recorded about the women. So, for all we know, Jesus could have had many sisters, in addition to his brothers.

Leslie Cannold has imagined the lives of his sisters in The Book of Rachael. Shona is in love with one man but is raped by another and forced to become his wife and move far away from her family and sister Rachael, who is the rebellious one in the family. She’s inquisitive and passionate, and teaches herself to read when women weren’t allowed to. When she meets her brother’s (called Joshua in the book) friend, Judah, she falls head over heels in love with him, but the feelings aren’t reciprocated until some time after. They become married, but Rachael isn’t ready to become just a mother to Judah’s offspring, and consistently aborts his children using herbal remedies, which causes a rift in their marriage.

As a noted Aussie feminist, you’d have to expect some feminist sentiments thrown into the mix from Cannold. For example, the notorious mansplaining is invoked:

“‘Why is it,’ I asked, cutting across Judah’s lovesick cant, ‘that a female infant renders the mother more unclean than a male?… Forty days confinement if the child is a boy, twice this time for a girl,” I said, rattling off the well-known rule.

“‘The cause for difference,” Judah ventured hesitantly, ‘could be the labours. The distinct way that women labour when bearing a boy as against a girl. And the difference in the burden of guilt they acquire.’

“‘What?’ Distinct labours? Different guilt? Since my own flowering I had attended dozens of births. My preparation for initiation had required I listen to Bindy describe hundreds more. Not once had I even heard it suggested that an infant’s sex determined the severity of the trial faced by the mother. ‘Whatever are you talking about, Judah?’

“But Judah mistook my confusion for a confession of ignorance and a request for enlightenment. Relieved to have been restored to his accustomed role of authority, he set forth confidently to explain. ‘Everyone knows, Rachael, that in her hour of suffering, the mother is desperate and swears she will not live in intimacy with her husband again. If a boy is born, she repents this vow sooner because he occasions such rejoicing. But with a girl, all is gloom. Many women feel their failure keenly, so the mother’s return to her husband’s arms is delayed.’

“It was the silliest thing I had ever heard. And from a man! A man who knew nothing of monthly cycles and giving birth, yet had no hesitation in describing—explaining!—the features of that experience as if they were his own. A man, like the Great God Almighty, who had no right to say!” (p. 123–125).

Furthermore, when Rachael seeks to liberate the women tasked with midwifery duties from doing so until they “are free to serve and worship the Queen”, Bindy, her crone employer, warns, “What of the women who will be trampled in the stampede for freedom?” (p. 201). Do I detect a hint of second-wave vs. third/fourth-wave feminism?

Obviously, the unknown story of women in that time drew a feminist to them, and the characters’ plights to be seen as more than just baby- and bread-making machines are inherently feminist. Hell, to be forced to marry your rapist to restore pride to your family, and to claim that your out-of-wedlock pregnancy is the result of the consort of God, harkens back to a grim time for women, indeed. Cannold does a lovely job of trying to bring those women and their struggles to life.

Related: Surfing the Third Wave: Second Wave VS. Third Wave Feminism on Gossip Girl.

Elsewhere: [Tiger Beatdown] Chronicles of Mansplaining: Professor Feminism & the Deleted Comments of Doom.

Image via Verity La.