In the Media: 16th November 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.

Photo by Wayne Thomas

This week, there’s been lots of discussion on my Twitter timeline about an article by Joanna Walsh, writer and creator of #ReadWomen2014 on ‘Why must the “best new writers” always be under 40?‘ prompted by Buzzfeed’s ‘20 Under 40 Debut Writers You Need to Be Reading‘. Traditionally, these lists have disadvantaged women who, for a number of reasons, often publish their first novel later than many men. So, although it’s arbitrary/silly, this week’s top slot is going to pieces by or about those who published their first book at 40 or over.

We have Linda Grant (first novel published at 44) on why she’s hooked on the Serial podcast in The Guardian; Joan Chase (47) in her own words and Amy Weldon on her both on Bloom, a site dedicated to writers whose first major work was published at 40 or over; Ruth Graham tells the true story of Laura Ingalls Wilder (65) on Slate; Alexander Chee looks at Penelope Fitzgerald (59) via Hermione Lee’s biography of her on Slate; there are interviews with Lissa Evans (42) on the One More Page blog, Helen DeWitt (43) in BOMB magazine, Meg Rosoff (48) on Rebecca Mascull’s blog, Katherine Boo (48) on the theatre production of Behind the Beautiful Forevers in the Independent and Donna Douglas (40) on Female First; while Bobbie Ann Mason (42) has a new short story ‘Ready‘ on TNB Fiction and the first chapter of Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye (51) is up to read on One Book Lane; finally, you can find out why middle-aged women are dominated self-publishing according to The Guardian.

At the other end of the spectrum, writer Nikesh Shukla supports young writers in Bristol. They publish online magazine Rife. Here’s Sammy Jones’ ‘The Five Stages of Street Harassment‘ and Jess Connett on ‘Hidden WWI: Teenagers at War‘.

There’s also been more gender discussion. Time magazine added the word ‘feminism’ to a list their readers could vote on to ‘ban’. Roxane Gay responded in The Washington Post; Hannah McGill discussed gender depiction in Sci-Fi in The List; Jess Meacham critiqued Suzanne Moore’s column on selfie’s being anti-feminist and her use of Sylvia Plath’s poetry in ‘The Eyeing of my Scars‘ on her blog, while Non Pratt looked at gender representation in Young Adult books in We Love This Book.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Amanda Palmer, whose book The Art of Asking was published on Tuesday. She’s in The Guardian following a live web chat; interviewed by Maria Popova of Brainpickings on YouTube; has written an article for The Independent and been interviewed in Billboard.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

This week’s ‘Who is Elena Ferrante?’ piece is by Jane Shilling in the New Statesman

If you want some fiction to read:

Or some non-fiction:

This week’s lists

In the Media: 2nd November 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.

The week kicked off (almost literally) with Julia Stephenson writing a piece in the Telegraph with the headline ‘Can a Woman Be Happy Without Having Kids?’ to which Bryony Gordon responded also in the Telegraph. They weren’t the only woman writing about children this week; The New Yorker ran an extract ‘No Babies, Please‘ from Megan Amran’s book; Kate Long wrote about ‘The Five Stages of Motherhood‘ for Mslexia, and Shappi Khorsandi wrote on ‘Raising Girls‘ on Huffington Post.

This was followed on Tuesday by Hollaback’s film of a woman being catcalled for ten hours in New York which raised issues about race as well as the way some men behave towards women in the street. Emily Gould wrote about it for Salon and Hanna Rosin for Slate.

On lighter issues, it seems I was pre-emptive putting Amy Poehler top of the list last week as this week she’s EVERYWHERE. (Which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.) If you don’t know who she is, I’ll direct you towards her 10 Funniest Clips on the Telegraph first, then you can feast on the rest: Amy Poehler reading from the Prologue of Yes, Please on Pan Macmillan’s Soundcloud; an extract on taping SNL while pregnant on Vulture; talking about writing being ‘hellish’ on Huffington Post; interviewing George R.R. Martin on Vulture; 11 Amy Poehler Stories You’ve Never Heard Before, But Will Totally Relate to Your Life in The Huffington Post; 30 Hilarious Truth Bombs Amy Poehler Dropped During Her Reddit AMA on Buzzfeed; doing #AskAmy at Twitter HQ;

The other high profile funny feminist woman who’s had plenty written about her this week is Lena Dunham, who was in the UK promoting her book. Alex Clark interviewed her in the Observer; Emma Gannon interviewed her for The Debrief and wrote about meeting Lena and her event at the Southbank Centre with Caitlin Moran on Friday night on her blog. She’s on video on The New Yorker talking about Girls and Sex at The New Yorker Festival and there are facts about her on Oprah. While Rebecca Carroll wrote about Lena Dunham’s Race Problem on Gawker and Sonia Saraiya responded in Salon.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

In translation:

If you’d like some fiction to read:

Photo by T. Kira Madden

And the lists:

In the Media: 26th 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 there’s definitely a celebration of feminist role models happening. At the forefront (mostly because her book Yes, Please is out in the US on Tuesday and the UK the following week) is Amy Poehler. Bustle have 15 Quotes that Prove She’s Our Brilliant Fairy Godmother; Popsugar have 19 Times Amy Poehler Said What We Wish We’d Said, while People have her answering questions people posted on Twitter and Facebook. Amanda Hess, in Slate, wrote about Poehler joining the famous women’s comedy/memoir/advice-book club; Lydia Kiesling wrote in Salon about how Nora Ephron presides over Poehler, Dunham, Fey and Kaling’s books, while Sam Baker in Harpers Bazaar wrote about Fearless Feminist Reads and why they’re important for teenage girls as well as adults.

Someone else who’s been written about as a feminist role model this week is Jane Austen. Jane Austen: Feminist in Action by Sinéad Murphy ran on the Huffington Post blog; Alexander McCall Smith explained why he’s modernised Emma on the Waterstones’ Blog; Sarah Seltzer on Flavorwire wrote about ‘Why We Can’t Stop Reading – and Writing – Jane Austen Sequels‘, while on Something Rhymed, Emma Claire Sweeney wrote ‘In Praise of the Spinster‘ about playwright, Ann Sharpe, Austen’s family’s governess.

Another amazing woman, Joan Didion, is also being celebrated this week. Her nephew is making a documentary about her. You can watch the trailer here. He’s decided to raise funds via Kickstarter which led to Flavorwire publishing Some Other Joan Didion Kickstarter Rewards We’d Like to See and Vogue re-publishing her 1961 essay ‘On Self-Respect‘.

It would be wrong not to mention Hallowe’en this week, particularly as there’s been a group of pieces around that theme. Wired’s podcast, which features Lauren Beukes, is What’s Scarier, Haunted Houses or Haunted People?; Electric Literature have published ‘“Then, a Hellbeast Ate Them”: Notes on Horror Fiction and Expectations‘, looking at Diane Cook and Helen Oyeyemi amongst others; Sarah Perry has written on The Gothic for Aeon, and Kate Mayfield who wrote the memoir ‘The Undertaker’s Daughter’ is on For Books’ Sake talking about How Not to Write a Memoir and in The Guardian talking about ‘Growing Up in the Family Funeral Parlour‘.

Talking of scary, Gone Girl‘s still a hot topic this week. Tana Wojczuk wrote ‘Gone Girl, Bluebeard, and the Meaning of Marriage‘ in Guernica in response to Elif Bautman’s piece ‘Marriage Is an Abduction‘ from last week’s New Yorker. Amanda Ann Klein wrote about the ‘Unbearable Whiteness of Gone Girls‘ for Avidly, and Steph Cha wrote about ‘Laughing at “Gone Girl”‘ in the LA Review of Books.

This week’s other notable essays/articles:

And the interviews:

In translation news, I’ve seen no articles this week about the identity of Elena Ferrante – hurrah! But I have seen that there’s a new imprint called Periscope devoted to translating poetry by women – hurrah!

If you’d like some fiction to read/listen to:

Or some non-fiction:

This week’s lists:

And the best things I’ve read this week:

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:

Books of the Year 2013

Choosing the books that I’ve loved, recommended and bought the most copies of for friends wasn’t difficult, whittling them down was. Because of that, I’ve gone for fifteen books that I enjoyed the most this year. If you click on the title of the book, it will take you to my original review.

Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel follows Laura and Ravi. Laura chooses to travel, using her inheritance from her aunt to do so; Ravi is forced to travel when the civil war in Sri Lanka visits his doorstep. de Kretser considers the myriad of ways in which we travel in modern society in a novel that’s sublimely written with a perfect ending. Winner of three awards in Australia, I’m astonished it hasn’t had a bigger fanfare in the UK.

 

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe

Love, Nina contains a series of letters from Nina Stibbe to her sister Vic, written in the 1980s. At the time, Stibbe was a nanny to the sons of Mary Kay Wilmers, editor of the LRB. Alan Bennet frequently pops round for dinner, while the street contains a number of the UK literati. Stibbe’s letters are full of keen observations delivered in the same tone, regardless of the participants, and this makes the book both warm and humorous. It’s one of those books that’s larger than the sum of its parts. A joy.

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Apple Tree Yard tells the story of Yvonne Carmichael, a 52-year-old geneticist, who embarks on an affair with a stranger. An affair that will threaten her family, her career and ultimately, her freedom. Told in retrospect beginning with Yvonne standing in the dock at the Old Bailey, Apple Tree Yard had me up late at night, frantically turning pages. It’s a tightly plotted tale with an ending that will leave you gasping.

 

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being is the dual narrative of Ruth, an American novelist living on a Canadian island, and Nao, a Japanese school girl. Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washed up on shore, containing Nao’s diary, some letters and a watch. She assumes it is debris from the 2011 tsunami. As Ruth reads Nao’s diary and the store of her family unfolds, we read Ruth’s story and are manipulated by it. A wonderful story of time and quantum physics.

 

 

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

After almost a decade of rejections, the small, independent Galley Beggar Press published this gem which went on to win The Goldsmith’s Prize. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is the story of an unnamed female narrator as told to (for?) her brother who is dying of a brain tumour. It is brutal both in its short, staccato prose and in content. (I don’t recommend reading it in the depths of January, it’ll send you over the edge.) This really is ‘a new voice in fiction’.

 

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

Winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Luminaries is a yarn of a tale set amongst gold diggers during the gold rush in New Zealand. It is a story of murder, theft and love with a with a structure that builds throughout the first half and explodes with revelations in the second. One to indulge in.

 

 

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Barrington Jedidiah Walker, 74, born in the Caribbean but resident in London has kept a secret for fifty years from his wife and two grown-up daughters: the love of his life, his best friend Morris. Barry decides it’s time to come-out but obviously, it’s not going to be that easy. Evaristo has a wonderful ear for dialogue and the rhythms of Barry and Carmel’s speech are a joy.

 

Jacob’s Folly – Rebecca Miller

A story told from the point of view of a fly shouldn’t work but it does and it does so brilliantly. The fly is the reincarnation of Jacob Cerf, an ex-peddler from 18th century France. When Jacob the fly becomes aware that he can influence others, he decides to meddle with the life of Masha Edelman, a 21-year-old Torah Jew and Leslie Senzatimore, a man who lives his life in order to help others. Miller uses their stories to consider whether we really have free will or whether our lives are constrained by other forces.

The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer

Six friends meet at summer camp in the 1970s and their lives become entwined forever despite the huge differences in their statuses. Wolitzer follows them through adult life looking at the choices they make and how these affect the whole group dynamic. It’s a dense novel but one that is driven forward by a non-linear narrative and a thread that you know is going to explode spectacularly.

 

The Engagements – J.Courtney Sullivan

The Engagements opens in 1947 with copywriter, Frances Gerety, creating the line ‘A diamond is forever’. The novel then goes on to intertwine her story – one of a woman who definitely doesn’t want an engagement ring – with those of four others: Evelyn Pearsall, whose son Teddy has just left his wife and children; James McKeen, a medical responder whose wife was recently mugged; Delphine Moreau, whose young lover has betrayed her, and a human rights officer whose helping with the preparations for her cousin Jeff’s wedding to his boyfriend, Toby. An unashamedly feminist look at our society’s values.

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, bound to relive her life until the changes are made that prevent her previous death. The concept sounds bizarre, the execution is brilliant. Atkinson takes us through the war, affairs and a meeting with Hitler. The section of the novel during The Blitz is particularly well drawn, so much so, you’ll want to hide behind your hands during some passages. This one will leave you wanting to find someone else who’s read it to discuss in detail.

 

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The only book on the list not published this year, however it is one of this year’s Fiction Uncovered titles. Set in 1830, 14-year-old Mary tells us about life on her father’s farm with her four sisters and her elderly grandfather. Offered work at the vicarage, Mary is forced to go and tend for the vicar’s ill wife. When the vicar’s wife dies, she is kept on and the course of her life takes a turn for the worst. A novel about the control of men over women told with a voice that will have you rooting for this young girl.

 

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

The story of Theodore Decker, who’s caught in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, in which his mother dies. The attack leaves him with the painting ‘The Goldfinch’ in his possession and a ring that he’s to return to James Hobart. These two things will set his life on a dangerous course. Told in immersive detail, this is a wonderful novel which will have you living Theo’s eventful life alongside him.

 

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls is the book that reignited my love of thrillers. It’s the story of Harper Curtis, time-travelling serial killer (stick with it, it works) and Kirby Mazrachi, who should have been one of his victims but who survives his attack and sets out to track him down. But The Shining Girls is more than that, it’s also the story of all Harper’s victims and those victims tell the story of women through the twentieth century. Shining, indeed.

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was the first book I read to make the list. It’s the story of Hattie, who leaves the segregated south for Philadelphia and a better life. Hattie is already pregnant with twins and with her womanising, gambling, alcoholic husband whom she can’t stay away from, Hattie will have another eight children. These, along with her first grandchild, form the twelve tribes of the title. Each chapter tells one of their stories, stories of homophobia, abuse and mental illness. A beautifully written story of a family and one woman’s quest for survival.

Thanks to all the publishers who’ve sent books for review this year.

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

Every now and then, I like to read a good thriller. I don’t read them very often because, to be honest, they scare me something rotten and I can only handle the gruesome murder scenes once in a while. There’s probably only so many variations you can play on the serial killer theme too and surely they’ve all been done by now?

Maybe not.

On the 17th July 1974, Harper Curtis meets Kirby Mazrachi for the first time.

‘How old are you?’
‘Six and three-quarters. Almost seven.’
‘That’s great. Really great. Here we go. Round and round, like your Ferris wheel. I’ll see you when you’re all grownup. Look out for me, okay, sweetheart? I’ll come back for you.’

On the 23rd March 1989 he attacks her and leaves her for dead.  Kirby is 21. Harper has barely aged at all.

When Kirby’s sufficiently well, she decides to finish the job that the police have been unable to and sets out to track down her killer, using a position as an intern on a local paper to help her research and make contacts.

The story moves between Kirby, Harper, Harper’s other victims and, arguably the main character of the book, the house.

The House has been waiting for him. It called him here for a purpose. The voice in his head is whispering home.

The door to the main bedroom is closed…He reaches for the handle, half-expecting it to be locked. But it turns with a click and he nudges the door with the tip of his crutch. It opens onto a room bathed, inexplicably, in the glare of a summer afternoon.

He squints against the sudden brightness outside and watches it change to thick rolling clouds and silvered dashes of rain, then to a red-streaked sunset, like a cheap zoetrope. But instead of a galloping horse or a girl saucily removing her stockings it’s whole seasons whirring past.

And that’s not the only surprise the house has to offer him:

Every surface [in the main bedroom] has been defaced. There are artifacts mounted on the walls, nailed in or strung up with wire. They seem to jitter in a way that he can feel in the back of his teeth. All connected by lines that have been drawn over again and again, with chalk or ink or a knife tip scraped through the wallpaper. Constellations, the voice in his head says.

There are names scrawled beside them. Jinsuk. Zora. Willie. Kirby. Margo. Julia. Catherine. Alice. Misha. Strange names of women he doesn’t know.

Except that the names are written in Harper’s own handwriting.

These women shine for Harper. They shine for us too. Beukes has cleverly taken women who are pioneers – the black woman who works as a welder on a ship in the early 1940s; the female architect in 1954; the woman who helps to run an illegal abortion service in 1972 and so on. It seems as though Beukes has created an underlying theme of women’s rights, showing us females who’ve pushed the boundaries and been struck down again and again. Kirby carries the hopes of the modern female – if she succeeds in stopping Harper, does she succeed for all women in the fight for equality?

It would be difficult to overstate how much I loved this book. It’s a thriller for people who don’t read thrillers; fantasy for people who don’t read fantasy, and literary fiction for people who don’t read literary fiction. It’s a bloody good book for people who like to read bloody good books.

 

 

Thanks to HarperCollins for the review copy.