Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Persuasion by Jane Austen

Jane Austen sure is the bomb at writing Hateful characters. Previously I read Mansfield Park and I pretty much didn't like anyone in that. Even Edmund - the best of the lot - is sometimes manipulative to Fanny. But this is a review of Persuasion.

I pretty much agree with what Cecelia said about Anne's sister Mary, she is whiny and disagreeable. Very frustrating.
Austen's heroines often seem to be stuck in disagreeable families. Lizzy Bennett seems almost fortunate to have a sister-confidant AND a caring father when compared with the likes of Fanny Price and Anne Elliot. It kinda makes me wonder what Austen's family was like!

I had a little trouble getting into Persuasion because at the beginning it was all "Anne is old and has no suiters and people pretty well mistreat her plus her family are proud spendthrifts".
I actually had to call Cecelia and ask why I should proceed.

[spoiler alert]

She asked if I was up to the bit where they go visit Wentworth's navy friend. Which gave me something to look forward to, but also threw me off the scent. I was sure Anne would end up with Captain Benwick. He did seem so very suitable. But I guess you never really get over your first love.

I did like that Charles' family were bummed that he married Mary not Anne.

I don't really think that everyone should read this, but it was a pretty quick read. Although I would recommend reading a couple of the other more amenable Austen's beforehand, because it takes a bit to get into the swing of things and understanding some of the cultural norms of the time. Such as I believe it was pretty non-kosher for a single man to leave a letter to a single woman.

Friday, March 2, 2012

All the Sneaky Ones Part 3

Time for another female author! Today’s sneaky book review is Bossypants, by Tina Fey.

I have been wanting to read this book for a while, based on Sally’s review of it. When I visited the lovely Erin the other day, she was talking about it and ended up loaning it to me. “I told Caitlin she could borrow it, but you’re a quick reader, so you can have it,” Ez said. Challenge accepted! I thought. I finished it last night, a few days shy of two weeks after she gave it to me. Not too bad, considering it’s pretty long and I started uni this week.

I liked Bossypants. I don’t think everyone should read it, and I didn’t find it as funny as Sally said it was. Maybe it’s because she’s American and the humour is slightly different. It was funny, don’t get me wrong, but it just wasn’t side-splittingly funny.

Ez warned me the writing wasn’t that good, and I found her assessment to be true. It wasn’t up to the literary style I’m used to reading. I think it’s because she’s a script-writer, but it seemed more like a written-down speech rather than a piece of writing that embraced the book-form. I really can’t articulate it any better than that. I think I’m going to go away and think more about what I mean by this, because right now I have no idea.

Tina Fey identifies as a feminist, but I think she has the problem feminists of her class and race have been accused of since they started protesting back at the turn of the 18th/19th century: “women’s equality” for her means “women like me who struggle with the same issues as me”. I don’t know if I’m being unfair on Fey, or hypocritical because my feminism probably has the same fault, but it’s just the impression that I get. She is also deeply entrenched in the American capitalist cultural model. And her references to feminism weren’t really supported by any kind of theoretical background.

Let me backtrack a bit. Tina Fey does make reference to some intersectional class and race issues, briefly. And also, Bossypants is not a feminist text; it’s the memoir of a woman, who counts feminism as a part of her identity.

If I met Tina Fey, would I like her (based on her book)? I don’t know. I think I would enjoy talking to her. She’s ambitious and awkward and a feminist, all traits that I share. But there were certain parts of the book that I felt uncomfortable with. Like when she kind of screwed over a co-worker. There are other examples but I can’t remember them.

I’ve just figured out what it is that makes me uncomfortable. Fey just seemed to not want to fight for institutional change. Instead of protesting at sexist attitudes in the entertainment industry, she recommends that women get jobs in the area and hire diverse women. When bemoaning that because she works long hours she can’t see her daughter as much as she wants, she doesn’t suggest a change to workplace structure, but rather says she just has to suck it up because people rely on her for their jobs, and there are positives and negatives to both being a working mother and being a stay-at-home ‘Mom’.

I enjoyed Bossypants. It was light and entertaining reading. But I don’t think everyone should read it.

All the Sneaky Ones Part 2

I have posted here about my rebellion against the book list and decision to write about the sneaky alternatives I have been reading.

Number two on my haphazard sneaky book list is Holding the Man. I borrowed this book from my Aunt back in September when I was on a queer theory hunt. It misses the mark, but it’s still a story about gay men so it’s close.

Holding the Man is the autobiographical account of Timothy Conigrave. He details the story of his childhood and adolescence as a young gay person in 1970s Melbourne, his great love with first boyfriend John, and the eventual decline of both of them as they struggle with AIDS.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book. In the 1970s homosexuality was not something that was talked about much, and though a lot of the same prejudices are around today, it is more acceptable now for same-sex couples to hold hands in public, for example. I always like reading stories that are set in Melbourne, and to have a perspective from a past era, with a perspective I hadn’t considered, was insightful.

I also learned more than I had ever imagined about gay men sex. There is so much more to it than I had previously thought. I won’t go into details here, but as in my previous post, if you want to know what the homos (men) are doing, check out Holding the Man. As well as the actual sex, I discovered that there is a lot of sexual play between adolescent boys. This I learned from the book and subsequently from discussions with friends.

This probably sounds really callous, but once the AIDS segment of the book started, it got kind of boring and tedious. I hate reading novels where I am literally waiting for characters to die. The medical jargon loses me and there is no plot or character development.

Another problem with Holding the Man was the two main characters, the writer/protagonist and his lover John. There was very little characterisation. The only description he ever gives of John is that he has beautiful brown eyes and luscious eyelashes. We learn nothing about what it is that attracts Tim to John’s personality, apart from the fact that he loves Tim unconditionally. As for Tim, I feel like if I met him (which I can’t now, because he died 6 months after the book was finished) I wouldn’t like him. He was just kind of annoying and whiny. Especially as a grown man, he just seemed like a stereotype of a flamboyant gay man. I liked him better as a teenager.

Should everyone read this book? I think everyone should read the first part.

And one more thing: I’d just like to note that in all 113 books on the book list, not one of them is at all queer (as far as I can tell, I haven’t actually read them all). Only Dorian Gray (see also here) has homo-erotic undertones.

All the Sneaky Ones Part 1

There must be a word for this: a specific form of procrastination where you do something you’ve been putting off in order not to do something else you’re putting off. For example, a friend of mine went to Centrelink and got a healthcare card, something she had been meaning to do for months, as soon as she had to write a 4000-word essay.

This effect has played out on me in the last few months since we started book challenge. Once I had a whole list of books I had to read, I was suddenly desperate to brush the dust off the stack of books on my bedside table and devour them. So, in the spirit of rebellion against this book list, I am going to pen a few reviews of the books I’ve been reading while studiously ignoring the ‘have to’ books.

First off: Girl Walking Backwards, a YA novel I read in December when Dracula got too scary/monotonous. I wouldn’t say this is a book everyone should read. I’m not even sure I should have read it. It’s the story of a fairly disturbed 16- or 17-year-old girl living in Southern California, who is coming to terms with her sexuality, her history, and her place in the world. As the title suggests, the book meanders along, not going anywhere in particular. It had the classic first-novel fault of not knowing where/how to finish, the result being that the last quarter of the novel resembled that sandwich you left in your bag for a week which, though once delicious, is now just mush.

But what this book lacks in plot it makes up for in scandalous and daring content. I kind of wish I had read this book when I was in high school. It certainly would have opened up my mind more than the hundreds of samey YA books I tore through. One of these aspects is sexuality. The protagonist, Skye, is bisexual-identified but to my mind she seemed much more like a lesbian. I feel really embarrassed about this, but I think I’ve only read one or two other novels that are from a first-person lesbian perspective. I thought it was interesting, and radical, the way she looked at and talked about, other women, kind of objectifying but in less of an aggressive male-gaze manner. It opened my mind to new modes and concepts of lesbianism.

This book was also radical about sex. There was a lot of sex in Girl Walking Backwards; none of it, not even the heterosexual sex, is “penis in vagina” (PIV) sex. At the start of the book Skye has a boyfriend, Riley, with whom she has what she terms “our version of sex”. This includes masturbating together and cunnilingus. Later in the book, [SPOILER] Riley cheats on Skye with a girl she has a crush on by giving the girl cunnilingus in a bathroom. [END SPOILER]. There is also some detailed lesbian sex, so if you’re still wondering at this stage in life (whatever that stage is, I don’t know you so I’m not judging) how people have sex when there’s no penis, then maybe you should read this book and find out. Or just google it, I don’t know.

Girl Walking Backwards also had some intense themes: drugs, abuse, abandonment, witchcraft, new age cults. It was written in the 90s, so I don’t know, maybe YA books were a bit edgier than they were ten years later when I was a teen. It was good to see some of this content, but I didn’t like how it was dealt with. It was pretty dark and just made me feel down. I like it when books can go to the dark places but not leave you there.

Finally, it is worth noting that Girl Walking Backwards, unlike 75%+ of the consensus cloud book list, is written by a woman. Grrrrl power, yeah!

A Room of One's Own

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

I really enjoyed this book as the writing style made me think of Sally, whom I love. There were so many fabulous feminist sentiments held within. The main idea that Woolf explores deeply is that for men to feel comfortable within themselves they need to feel superior, and what better way than to believe that half the population is innately inferior to them?

I would really like to buy my own copy of this book to highlight her wonderful arguments and turn of phrase. She deftly lays out the issue of women and men’s equality and how many men see women being brought up to their level as taking away their rights as a man. I’m not going to try to recreate the argument here, I have never been able to articulate it well and she is a master at it.

Woolf is not above admitting that she has biases and they will affect her writing. “Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.” She does not purport to be an oracle speaking on women and fiction. I found her style of writing comfortable and enjoyable. Very stream-of-consciousness, but a consciousness that has been thinking deeply about these issues.

One of the things Woolf pontificates on is how much men have written about women. And how little women have written about everything. I read about a challenge where one would write their assignments at University referring only to books written by women. As much as I would have liked to achieve that for some assignments in my undergrad, I was mostly studying theology and I had to settle for one book written or edited by a woman – even that was often a struggle. I also recently read about Jack Heath who read only women authors for a year.

I was phenommed* to find that this book, which is clearly a seminal feminist work, was not on The List. In fact nothing by Virginia Woolf was on the list. The list has obviously succumbed to the patriarchy and I see it as my solemn duty to recover it. Thus, this review will be posted on the consensus cloud blog, because I will not have dictated to me that this year >75% of the books I read must be by men.

Everyone should read this book.

*it was phenomenal to me