In the Media: 26th April 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. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

This week’s been all about friendship. The Cut declared it Friends Forever Week and ran a series of articles including, ‘The Friend Who Showed Me the Life I Could Have Had‘ by Nell Freudenberger; Emily Gould wrote, ‘Envy Nearly Wrecked My Best Friendship‘; Carina Chocano, ‘9 Friends Who Made Me Who I Am‘; Heather Havrilesky, ‘The Friend I’ve Been Fighting With for 20 Years‘; Clique-Stalking: Instagram’s Greatest Social Pleasure‘ by Maureen O’Connor, and ‘25 Famous Women on Female Friendship‘. While Megan O’Grady wrote ‘This Spring’s Literary Subject May Have You Calling Your Pals‘ in Vogue; Lauren Laverne says ‘It’s time to rehabilitate matchmaking‘ in The Pool, Sulagna Misra writes ‘How Captain America Helped Me Make Friends in the Real World‘ on Hello Giggles and Leesa Cross-Smith writes, ‘Broken Friendships & Knowing All Too Well‘ on Real Pants.

If you’re still to discover it, one of my favourite blogs Something Rhymed covers friendships between female writers and is run by two female writers who are also best friends, Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa. On the site this week, ‘Crying Tears of Laughter: Irenosen Okojie and Yvette Edwards‘.

And then there’s the Amy Schumer sketch with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette and Tina Fey celebrating Louis-Dreyfus’ ‘Last Fuckable Day’. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must watch it RIGHT NOW! And when you’ve done that you can read Eleanor Margolis, ‘This Inside Amy Schumer sketch about the media’s treatment of “older” women is perfect‘ in the New Statesman and/or Lynn Enright, ‘Hollywood actresses skewer sexism and ageism brilliantly‘ in The Pool.

Unfortunately, it’s also been about Twitter trolls: Soraya Chemaly wrote in Time, ‘Twitter’s Safety and Free Speech Tightrope‘; Fiona Martin wrote ‘Women are silenced online, just as in real life. It will take more than Twitter to change that‘ in The Guardian; Sali Hughes wrote, ‘Trolls triumph by shutting down women’s voices‘ in The Pool

Congratulations to Yiyun Li who became the first woman to win the Sunday Times short story award and to Emily Bitto who won The Stella Prize this week.

In this week’s Harper Lee news, ‘Reese Witherspoon set to record Harper Lee’s new novel‘ reports Alison Flood in The Guardian.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Kate Bolick, author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, who writes ‘How Writers Can Grow by Pretending to Be Other People‘ in The Atlantic, and is interviewed on Slate, in Cosmopolitan and on Longreads. While Stephanie Gorton Murphy writes, ‘The Uneasy Woman: Meghan Daum, Kate Bolick, and the Legacy of Ida Tarbell‘ on The Millions.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music, Film and Television:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 21st December 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.

Lots of end of year round-ups this week, as you might expect. Two great things happened on Twitter: on Saturday morning, the @#ReadWomen2014 account became @#Read_Women and will continue. I say reading books by women is for life, not just for 2014 (I might make that the blog’s subtitle). Proustitute is convening a goodreads group for 2015 and Travelling in the Homeland has begun a list of Indian women writers available in English translation to help you continue and broaden your reading of books by female writers. Secondly, in response to a male dominated piece on hits and misses in the year in publishing in The Guardian, Ursula Doyle, Associate Publisher at Virago started #hitsandmisses which women in publishing then used to respond with their own take on the year. It’s well worth a read to pick up any gems you might have overlooked.

Elsewhere, Electric Literature told us Why 2014 Was the Year of The Essay; The Guardian had The Best Thrillers of 2014; Buzzfeed had The 28 Best Books By Women in 2014; Rabble in Canada had The Best Book Reviews of 2014; The Huffington Post had The Highlights: Best of Fiction 2015 and The Ones to Watch: Best Debut Fiction Coming in 2015 both from Hannah Beckerman; Flavorwire had The Best Non-Fiction Books 2014; Longreads had the Best of 2014: Essay Writing, and The Coast had Top 15 Books of 2014. And more mini-round-ups were published on The Millions. Ones by Rachel Fershleiser, Yiyun Li, Rebecca Makkai, Gina Frangello, Michelle Filgate, Emma Straub, Jean Hanff Korelitz and Tess Malone are particularly interesting in terms of female writers.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction or poetry to read:

And the lists:

And because it’s Christmas:

In the Media will be taking a two-week break over Christmas and new year. Thank you to everyone who’s read, shared and commented over the last three months.

In the Media: 23rd 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.

It’s been Ursula K. Le Guin’s week. Awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards, she gave a widely praised speech about the need for freedom. You can watch it here, or read the transcript here. She’s interviewed on Salon, in The Guardian by Hari Kunzru and there’s a piece on where she gets her ideas from on Brain Pickings

Arundhati Roy and Megham Daum are the women with the second most coverage this week. Roy’s in Prospect, talking about ‘India’s Shame‘ and the caste system and interviewed in The Observer, where there are plenty of unnecessary comments about her looks. While Daum is interviewed on FSG’s website, in The Guardian and on The Cut.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the best things I’ve read this week:

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:

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy – Rachel Joyce

This is my second letter to you, Harold, and this time it will be different. No lies. I will confess everything, because you were right that day. There were so many things you didn’t see. There are so many things you still don’t know. My secrets have been inside me for twenty years, and I must let them go before it is too late. I will tell you everything and the rest will be silence.

Those of you who read Rachel Joyce’s debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will be familiar with Queenie Hennessy as it is she Harold walks towards wanting to atone for acts committed twenty years previously. Queenie is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed dying of cancer. In the companion novel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Joyce allows Queenie to tell her side of the story. Aided by one of the nuns in the hospice, Sister Mary Inconnue, Queenie writes her second letter to Harold.

Since I left Kingsbridge, I’ve remained single. I made my home in a derelict timber beach house, and I tended my heart in a garden by the sea. My life has been small, it has been nothing to speak of. But the past is still inside me Harold. I have never let it go.

Queenie tells us how she managed to get an accountancy job in a brewery, despite the rampant sexism; she tells us how she and Harold met (which is not the way he told us) and about their drives once he’s appointed to take her to and from work, and she tells us all the things she knew about Harold and Maureen’s son, David, things that Harold never knew.

I don’t know why some of these memories must remain so crystal clear. I recall one sliver and the whole picture comes rushing back, while other things, for instance, other things I would like to remember, are completely unavailable. If only memory were a library with everything stored where it should be. If only you could walk to the desk and say to the assistant, I’d like to return the painful memories about David Fry or indeed his mother, and take out some happier ones please.

Her memories of Harold, Maureen and David are divided in the structure of the text by two things: the first of these is Queenie’s life after she left Kingsbridge. These sections tell us of the beach house she renovates and the sea garden she builds which illustrates her heartbreak and attracts others who walk along the costal path. ‘I made my sea garden to atone for the terrible wrong I had done to a man I loved, I said’.

The second is the daily routines of those in the hospice. Joyce provides a cast of characters – Sister Lucy and Sister Catherine, the Pearly King, Barbara, Finty, Mr Henderson.

For the majority of the novel, Queenie’s fellow residents provide some much-needed comic relief:

From the other side of the door came a hoot of laughter. ‘Fuck me. I’ve won a camper van!’ The laughter was followed by a dour Scottish voice: ‘You have not read the small print. She has not read the small print.’

But, of course, they are in the hospice for the grimmest of reasons and eventually there are regular visits made by the hearse.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is equal parts heart breaking and heart warming; it’s a balance that’s needed in a novel that could so easily have been devastatingly sad as Joyce considers the part we play in the decisions of others and how our role and our memories of it affect who we become.

It would be easy to question (and easy to be cynical about) the decision to write a companion piece to a best-selling novel but I’ll give you two reasons why Joyce was right to do so: one – Queenie’s side of the story is more interesting than Harold’s; two – Joyce’s writing gets better with every novel she writes. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is an absolute gem.

 

Thanks to Doubleday for the review copy.

Perfect – Rachel Joyce

In 1972, two seconds were added to time. Schoolboy, James Lowe thinks this is ‘extremely exciting’:

First, man had put a man on the moon. Now they were going to alter time.

James’ friend, Byron Hemmings, doesn’t feel the same way:

But how could two seconds exist where two seconds had not existed before? It was like adding something that wasn’t there. It wasn’t safe.

It turns out to be very unsafe for Byron and his family. He becomes so preoccupied with the moment the two seconds will be added that when he thinks he sees the second hand on his watch moving backwards, he tells his mother to stop, grabbing her shoulder. His mother is driving. Late to drop Byron and his sister, Lucy, at their private school, they’ve taken a short cut through the local council estate where Byron’s father has ordered them never to go.

He couldn’t make sense of what came next. It was so fast. While he tried to poke his watch, or more specifically the adjusted second hand, in front of his mother’s face, he was also aware of the miracle tree and the little girl bicycling into the road. They were all part of the same thing. All of them shooting out of nowhere, out of the dense mist, out of time. The Jaguar swerved and his hands smacked into the mahogany dashboard to brace himself. As the car slammed to a halt there was a sound like a metallic whisper, and then there was silence.

The story that plays out following this moment is told by Byron but isn’t really his story – it is his mother, Diana’s. Diana is a woman ruled by her husband’s aspirations. ‘With her slim skirts and pointy heels, her matching handbags and her notebook, Diana made other women look both oversized and under-prepared.’ The house the Hemmings live in, the school Byron attends, the Jaguar Byron’s dad buys Diana are all designed to impress. To make the other mothers jealous; to show that the Hemmings are part of the established middle class.

Running alongside Diana’s story is one set in the present day. It is the story of Jim, a lonely man who lives in a caravan and works in a supermarket café. Jim’s life is ruled by rituals:

‘Door, hello,’ he says. ‘Taps, hello.’ He greets each of his possessions. ‘Kettle hello, Roll-up Mattress hello, Small Cactus Plant hello, Jubilee Tea Towel hello.’ Nothing must be left out. When everything has been greeted, he unlocks the door, opens it and steps outside…Then a dog barks and someone yells at it to shut up. Jim unlocks the door to the van and steps inside.

He performs the ritual twenty-one times.

Any dual narrative comes with an expectation that at some point the two stories will converge. Joyce does a good job of making the connection less obvious than it might appear at first.

The novel has three key themes: the class system – seen through Diana and the other mothers in her social circle and Beverly, who lives on the council estate; the position of women, and the fragility of our mental health. Joyce has astute points to make about all three, doing so through her characters, not at their expense or in a manner that is detrimental to their stories.

Perfect is a real move forward from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which I enjoyed but at times seemed a little too contrived. Perfect has a voice that sparkles and engages you from the first page. The characters are fully formed human beings whose stories are heartbreakingly real. Indeed, at points, I thought I’d struggle to finish the book because there are moments where it’s so overwhelmingly sad. As Diana says towards the end of the novel:

‘We don’t know what to do with sadness. That’s the problem. We want to put it out of the way and we can’t.

Perfect examines that sadness, its causes and its effects and ultimately, whether redemption is possible.

Thanks to Transworld for the review copy.