In the Media: 25th January & 1st February 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

Thanks to everyone who said such lovely things last week after I lost the In the Media post and to everyone who offered suggestions to stop it happening again. I think I have a solution and it seems to have worked well this week.

The morning after last week’s last minute loss, I realised that all was not entirely lost; all the articles I’d linked to that hadn’t saved were in my laptop history, so I recovered the remainder of last week’s post (apologies if you received an email with a half-done post in it, it posted when I retrieved it) and relinked all the articles, then added this weeks. The result of that is this bumper issue. Enjoy!

This week saw the death of Colleen McCullough, author of The Thorn Birds, as well as 23 other books, and a neuroscientist. Steve Dow remembers her in The Guardian; Alison Flood gave her tribute with ‘Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds helped me get over heartbreak‘ also in The Guardian, and in response to that obituary (I’m not linking to it) Rebecca Shaw wrote ‘We’ll celebrate a woman for anything, as long as it’s not her talent‘ in The Guardian while Liz Kearney responded with ‘You may be a best-selling writer, but never forget that you’re still fat and ugly‘ in The Irish Independent.

It’s been a fortnight filled with awards. Last week, Claudia Rankine became the first person ever to be nominated for two National Critics Circle Awards in the poetry and criticism categories; her editor tells The Washington post why she’s a ‘genius’ and Jonathon Sturgeon tells us why the double nomination is ‘the correct decision’ on Flavorwire;  While Jhumpa Lahiri won the DSC Prize. Here’s ‘Six things you should know about Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland’ on Scroll.in

This week, it’s been the turn of the Costa Awards. Helen Macdonald won the overall award for the fantastic H is for Hawk. Here’s an interview she gave to The Times last week; you can watch her talking about the book here; you can listen to an audio excerpt and read her piece ‘On Ringing Wild Goshawks’ on Vintage Books, and discover the six books that made her in The Guardian. You can also watch the short films made of the other finalists: Emma Healey; Kate Saunders; Ali Smith. Zoe Gilbert won the Short Story Award with Fishskin, Hareskin. With Joanne Meek, Lucy Ribchester, Jane Healey and Paula Cunningham also shortlisted. You can read all the shortlisted stories here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Other exciting news for female writers is the launch of #ReviewWomen2015, following the success of the #ReadWomen2014 campaign. Hannah Beckerman explains why she wants more books by female writers, especially commercial fiction, to be reviewed in the broadsheets in the Huffington Post. Anne Enright became the first Laureate for Irish Fiction in a unanimous decision and in China came the discovery of a new poet, ‘dubbed China’s Emily Dickinson‘, Want China Times reports on Yu Xihua.

There’s been a wave of feminist articles this fortnight, partly thanks to The Sun newspaper appearing to stop publishing pictures of topless women on p3 and then declaring it a joke by the middle of the week. Sarah Ditum wrote, ‘The “return” of Page 3: the Sun revels in the chance to make women with opinions look stupid‘ in the New Statesman; Marina Hyde responded with, ‘No more t*ts in the Sun – a campaign we can all get behind‘ in The Guardian. Elsewhere, Sophie Heawood wrote, ‘If Björk can’t stop a man stealing the limelight, what hope is there for the rest of us?‘ in The Guardian; Eleanor Catton wrote a statement on her website following a media furore in New Zealand about comments she made about the government; Louise O’Neill related, ‘My journey to feminism‘ in The Guardian; Elisabeth Camp asked ‘Should I let my daughter wear pink?‘ in Aeon; Jami Attenberg recounted her time passing as a man, ‘Track Changes‘ in The New York Times; Bayan Perazzo wrote ‘The Burden of Being Female in Saudi Arabia‘ on Muftah; Rose George declared, ‘My period may hurt: but not talking about menstruation hurts more‘ in The Guardian; Arabelle Sicadi wrote, ‘A Bridge Between Love And Lipstick: Queering the beauty industry‘ on Buzzfeed; Jeanne de Montbaston responded to an Alison Wolf article (link in the piece) with ‘What the Hell kinds of Feminists are you Reading, Alison Wolf‘ on Reading Medieval Books; Lucy Magan says, ‘Let’s Silence the Voice That Tells Us We Can’t‘ in Stylist; Marina Sofia looked at the new Barbie Princess Power on her blog; Rebecca Carroll wrote, ‘I was six when a man first touched me. I didn’t speak up until I was an adult‘ in The Guardian; Jia Tolentino wrote, ‘Rush After ‘A Rape On Campus’: A UVA Alum Goes Back to Rugby Road‘ on Jezebel; Homa Mojtabai listed ‘Reasons You Were Not Promoted That Are Totally Unrelated to Gender‘ on McSweeney’s; C M Meadows-Haworth, ‘Reading Audre Lorde Is Changing My Life‘ on A Room of Our Own; Chika Unigwe wrote, ‘Why Nigeria is failing its citizens over Boko Haram attacks‘ in Litro; Maddie Crum told us ‘Why Virginia Woolf Should Be Your Feminist Role Model‘ on Huffington Post; Brandi Bailey selected ‘The Best Feminist Picture Books‘ on Book Riot, Monique Wilson said, ‘Critics of the Vagina Monologues must acknowledge its transformative powers‘ in The Guardian, Alison Flood told us ‘Why I hate the Little Miss books‘ in The Guardian, Sarah Ditum also told us, ‘I ain’t afraid of no girls: why the all-female Ghostbusters will be good for Hollywood‘ in the New Statesman; Max Cairnduff wrote, ‘Looking back on #readwomen2014 and my favourite reads of the year‘ on his blog; Hannah Renowden shares, ‘2015 – When I got angered by a reading list so read it. Also, crochet.‘ on her blog, and Isabel Rogers read and took down Mike Buchanan’s Justice for Men and Boys (and the women who love them) Party Election Manifesto on her blog.

And a number about class following James Blunt’s open letter to Chris Bryant. Sarah Perry responded with, ‘James Blunt has misunderstood the relationship between privilege and success‘ in The Independent and Suzanne Moore with, ‘What James Blunt doesn’t understand about the politics of envy‘ in The Guardian. Other issues surrounding class were covered by Lisa McKenzie, ‘The estate we’re in: how working class people became the ‘problem’‘ in The Guardian; Lucy Mangan, ‘If you don’t understand how people fall into poverty, you’re probably a sociopath‘ also in The Guardian; Nicola Morgan asked, ‘Why fund libraries when it’s all online?‘ on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure; Harriet Williamson said, ‘Every time I visit the job centre, the staff treat me like a subhuman‘ in the New Statesman; Grace Dent said, ‘When rents are so high that you have to share a bed with a stranger, surely the revolution can’t be far off‘ in The Independent, and Kathryn Hughes wrote, ‘Yes, Kirstie Allsopp, littering’s bad. But then so is self-righteousness‘ in The Guardian

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists:

and Diane Watt is spending February recommending LGBT reads on her Twitter account using the hashtag #mylgbtbooks

In the Media: 12th October 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought-provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

This week, I’m starting with prizes as there seems to be a fair few announcements at the moment. The Man Booker Prize jury will announce its winner on Tuesday. In The Guardian, the shortlisted authors revealed the inspiration behind their books. (Karen Joy Fowler’s contains a spoiler if you you’ve managed to avoid the reveal so far.) The Samuel Johnson Prize shortlist contained four books by women. I’ve only read one so far, but H Is for Hawk is one of the best books I’ve read this year. But the prize that’s got me most excited is The Green Carnation Prize which celebrates LGBT literature. (You can see the longlist in the photograph above.) Eight women on a longlist of thirteen and the two I’ve already read (Thirst by Kerry Hudson and In Search of Solace by Emily Mackie) are two of my books of the year. Expect reviews of more of the books on list before the shortlist is revealed on the 6th of November.

Elsewhere, Lena Dunham continues to be everywhere. She’s guest editor of this week’s Stylist magazine in which she interviews herself while Ashley C. Ford interviews her for Buzzfeed. She’s also written for Pen & Ink about her tattoo. (If you’re interested in Pen & Ink: An Illustrated Collection of Unusual, Deeply Human Stories Behind People’s Tattoos, there’s a great piece on Brainpickings.) In other corners of the internet, people were defending Dunham against the backlash around her book and criticisms of self-indulgence; first, Heather Havrilesky in the Los Angeles Review of Books and second, Sloane Crosley in the New York Times.

Often just as unpopular, Caitlin Moran is in Time talking about Teen Girls, Sex and Pretending to be Courtney Love and in the Radio Times talking about the filming of her co-written sitcom ‘Raised by Wolves’. If her feminism doesn’t interest you, perhaps her piece lamenting the loss of birds in her garden in this weekend’s The Times will. (Paywalled)

Leading feminist writer, Roxane Gay has been prolific again this week. She’s in The Guardian writing about why celebrity feminists should be a gateway to feminism, not its all; on VQR Online talking about The Price of Black Ambition, and in Dissent with a Theses on the the Feminist Novel.

Other notable articles are:

And the interviews:

If you’d like some fiction to read (or listen to):

And the lists:

And the four best things I’ve read this week:

The Bailey's Prize – A Guide to the Shortlist

The Bailey’s Prize is announced this week. At this point the only thing that’s certain is the five judges are going to have a tough time choosing a winner; the shortlist is exceptional. Here’s my guide to the six remaining books (if you click on the covers it’ll take you to the full reviews):

 

Americanah is the story of Ifemelu and Obinze’s enduring love but also a tale of racial inequality and the West’s racial narrative.

Best for: A new perspective and a cracking love story.

Any flaws? I loved it so but I could see why people might find it slightly too long.

 

 

 

Burial Rites is a fictionalised version of the story of Agnus Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland.

Best for: Incredible descriptions of the Icelandic scenery; giving a voice to a marginalised woman.

Any flaws? The conversations Agnus has with the Reverend Thorvadar become an expositional device towards the end.

 

 

The Lowland is the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, and their lives. Initially the action takes place in Calcutta and then moves to America. There is also a third character, a woman, Gauri, who becomes central as the novel progresses.

Best for: Incredible layered prose that builds into something spectacular.

Any flaws? A slow starter.

 

 

The Undertaking tells the story of Peter Faber and Katharina Spinelli’s marriage. It’s 1941 and Peter is a soldier fighting at Stalingrad. Katharina is the daughter of a family of Nazi sympathisers.

Best for: The dialogue is superb; the viewpoint is unflinching and relates without condemning.

Any flaws? It’s grim, oh so very very grim.

 

 

 

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is a coming-of-age tale of an unnamed Irish girl who tells her story to her younger brother who is dying from a brain tumour.

Best for: Fragmented prose which builds images in an almost poetic way. It’s like nothing you’ve read before.

Any flaws? It’s grim; the darkest book on the list. It will leave you broken.

 

 

The Goldfinch is Theodore Decker’s story following his mother’s death in a terrorist bombing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It follows him through New York, Vegas and Amsterdam along with the painting from which the book takes its name and Theo takes from the museum.

Best for: A cracking good yarn you can immerse yourself in.

Any flaws? The ending’s ludicrous.

 

The Winner? For me, it has to be Americanah; it’s an incredible book – a book that changed my perspective while making me will the lovers on.

However, if I was in the judging room and forced to compromise, The Lowland and A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing would be my alternative choices.

The Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist

It’s here! The six shortlisted books are:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah

Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland

Audrey Magee – The Undertaking

Eimear McBride – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch

(Click the titles for links to my reviews.)

First thought: Oh my goodness, no The Luminaries followed by yessssssss for Americanah and The Undertaking. Four of my wishlist are on, including the two that for me had to be there. Very much looking forward to the debate over these six for the next few weeks.

My Bailey's Women's Prize Shortlist

On Monday 7th April, the judges of the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction will announce their shortlist. Trying to second guest the books those five women will decide to put through to the second round of the prize is not my aim here – I would no doubt be wrong on several counts. However, having read sixteen of the longlisted books and partially read three (at the time of writing), were I to be one of the judges fighting for the books I love to be included, these are the six I’d be fighting for (click on the covers to read my reviews):

I was stunned to discover that the longlist included two of the best books I’ve ever read. Stunned because the older you become and the more you read, the less often a book is the ‘best’ book you’ve ever read. However, Americanah is an incredible book. It has a fresh, direct tone; its subject matter is intelligent and thoughtful but doesn’t detract from the love story at its core; it’s quite an achievement. The Lowland is a masterpiece. Skilfully written with carefully layered sentences and ideas of loss at its centre, it’s deeply affecting.

The Luminaries makes the list because it combines a cracking detective story with a interesting structure. When I reached the second half of the book, the plot and the decreasing length of the chapters meant I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing is another novel with an interesting structure – the present day story is told forward, while the past is presented to us in reverse. This leaves the reading feeling like a detective looking for the protagonist’s motive and being wrong-footed at several points.

Then I have two debuts: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is an incredible piece of literature. Again, the sentences are layered, although in this case they are staccato and dense – an odd juxtaposition that you have to completely immerse yourself in. This could have been a fairly straight-forward (although very grim) coming-of-age story but the style and structure transcend it. The Undertaking also transcends a genre, in this case, war fiction. Two things make this a good book as opposed to a good debut – the use of dialogue and the point of view. The novel’s mostly dialogue, not an easy thing to write, and it works; it’s snappy and clear, while leaving room for ambiguity of meaning. Point of view wise, this is a story of a family of Nazi sympathisers and a soldier in the battle of Stalingrad. Again, this was a book that felt fresh.

It’s worth pointing out here that of the nineteen longlisted books I’ve read (or partially read at the time of writing) there isn’t a bad one amongst them. I was going to post some ‘near misses’ too but I found myself wanting to post all of them. The full list of my reviews is here (hopefully this will be complete shortly); I’m sure there’s something there you’ll enjoy.

Now for the excitement of waiting for the actual shortlist…

 

(The only book I haven’t read any of is Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam as I want to read the whole trilogy.)

The Undertaking – Audrey Magee

‘I had no choice.’
‘We all have choices…’

Peter Faber is in need of a wife. The reason Peter Faber is in need of a wife is that he wants leave from the army. It is 1941 and the German push to take Stalingrad is underway.

Through a marriage bureau, Peter chooses Katharina Spinelli because he likes her hands. She has signed up to the bureau because

‘My mother said it would be a good idea. A bit of security, I suppose. The title of wife. Other girls are doing it.

As Peter says his vows in front of a chaplain and three drunk comrades, Katharina does the same, a thousand miles away in Berlin, in front of her parents. Her father approves of Peter – a soldier fighting on the front – while her mother wishes she’d married one of the other four men she was offered, ‘a doctor’s fat son’.

While Peter’s home on leave, Katharina’s father introduces him to Doctor Weinart, a member of the SS and one of Hitler’s inner circle. Weinart has Peter’s leave extended so Peter can join him rounding up Jews.

The following nights, he smashed soup tureens and china clocks, irritated that he had to leave Katharina to drag snivelling children from attics and cellars. He shouted and screamed at them, struck their legs and backs with the butt of his gun, slapped them across the face when they took too long moving down the stairs, more comfortable with howls of hatred than pleas for mercy.

Katharina was always waiting for him afterwards, always warm. On the seventh day, as the sun rose, he took a wide band of wedding gold from an old woman. Later he slipped it on his wife’s finger.

‘I need you, Katharina.’

Surprisingly for both Katharina and Peter, they find there’s real attraction between the two of them and when it’s Peter’s time to return to the front he is reluctant to go.

The story then divides in two as we follow Katharina and her family in Berlin and Peter and his unit on their journey to Stalingrad.

The Undertaking is mostly told in dialogue, the sentences simple, conveying just the amount of information needed. It’s a powerful technique which places the action directly in front of the reader and allows us to observe and make our own judgements.

By taking a detached tone, Magee shows her characters’ behaviour and attitudes without placing any authorial judgements on them; this makes for some uncomfortable moments. You would expect the sections that focus on Peter and his colleagues in Stalingrad to be grim – and they are, there are some incredibly upsetting events – but it was the goings on back in Berlin that made me squirm on several occasions.

I often think that both World Wars have had so many pages dedicated to them that there can’t be any more angles to take and again and again writers prove me wrong. Audrey Magee is the latest of those writers. The Undertaking is a powerful novel focused on two very unpleasant scenarios that destroy a family. I would be delighted to see it on the Bailey’s Women’s Prize shortlist.

Thanks to Atlantic Books for the review copy.

The Bailey's Women's Fiction Prize Longlist 2014

Well it’s after midnight and I’m bleary eyed but here it is, the Bailey’s Women’s Fiction Prize longlist for 2014.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah

Margaret Atwood – MaddAddam

Suzanne Berne –  The Dogs of Littlefield

Fatima Bhutto – The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

Claire Cameron –  The Bear

Lea Carpenter – Eleven Days

M.J. Carter – The Strangler Vine

Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries

Deborah Kay Davies – Reasons She Goes to the Woods

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Signature of All Things

Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

Rachel Kushner – The Flamethrowers

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland

Audrey Magee – The Undertaking

Eimear McBride – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing

Charlotte Mendelson – Almost English

Anna Quindlen – Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Elizabeth Strout – The Burgess Boys

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch

Evie Wyld – All The Birds, Singing

First thoughts: I’ve got a lot of reading to do! I’ve read and reviewed seven: The Luminaries, The Flamethrowers, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Still Life with Breadcrumbs, The Burgess Boys, The Goldfinch and All the Birds, Singing. Am particularly thrilled for Eimear McBride, Anna Quindlen and Evie Wyld. I also think The Burgess Boys has been hugely underrated in the UK, so it will be wonderful to see Elizabeth Strout get the recognition she deserves.

As for the rest, Americanah, Burial Rites, The Lowland and Almost English were already high on my review pile. I have copies of The Signature of All Things and Maddaddam, although Maddaddam’s terrifying me – I love Margaret Atwood’s writing but it’s the third part of a trilogy of which I’ve read nothing and I don’t want to read the end before the beginning. I might have to hide for a long weekend to read that one!

The Dogs of Littlefield, The Bear and Eleven Days were also already on my radar and I’m really looking forward to those.

That leaves four I’ve never heard of, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

As ever, I’ll be linking my reviews on this page as I add to them. I’m excited as to what the next month of reading brings.