Books of the Year, Part Two: 2015 Publications

Here we are then, the books from this year I’ve read and rated most highly. I’m basing my choices on the very unscientific, I thought it was brilliant at the time and I’m still thinking about it. I was concerned this would skew the list towards the end of the year but it hasn’t at all – two thirds of the books are from the first half of 2015. Publication dates are UK (where applicable) and if you click on the cover it will take you to my review.

Citizen – Claudia Rankine 

A superb book. An examination of race and the treatment of black people in present day America. Rankine uses flash fiction, essays and poetry to explore the way people of colour ‘…feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background’ and, by implication, how often, as a white person, you are complicit in creating and maintaining that background. Short, sharp and powerful, I’d like to see a copy of Citizen distributed to every household, taught in schools and university, and added to the canon. If you believe art can change the world, this is a book that should be able to do so.


A Little Life
– Hanya Yanagihara

It’s divided readers and critics but I make no apologies for including this book for several reasons: it’s utterly absorbing, I felt as though I’d been entombed in Yanagihara’s world; it focuses on male friendship which I think is unusual; the friendship group consists of four men of different ethnicities and different sexualities, one of whom is disabled and Yanagihara has written about their lives as though they are, well, people. They are not defined by their ethnicity or sexuality and this feels like a break through. It’s huge and harrowing and clearly not for everyone but I’m still thinking about it six months on.

 

The House in Smyrna – Tatiana Salem Levy (translated by Alison Entrekin)

A short, sharp tale told in fragments. At the centre of the book is the story of the key given to the unnamed narrator by her grandfather: the key to his old house in Turkey, in Smyrna. There are four threads to the book: the narrator’s journey to her grandfather’s house; the grandfather’s journey from the house to the woman who became the narrator’s grandmother; the narrator’s relationship with her dead mother, and the narrator’s passionate affair with an unnamed man. A shocking and beautiful novella about exile in many different forms.

The Private Life of Mrs Sharma – Ratika
Kapur 

Mrs Sharma’s thirty-seven-years-old and married with a fifteen-year-old son, Bobby. They live in a flat in Dehli with her parents-in-law. Her husband, Dheeraj, a physiotherapist, has been working in Dubai for over a year in a bid to raise enough money to cover his parents’ medical bills and send his son to college to do an MBA in business. She works as a receptionist in a gynaecological clinic and dreams of starting her own business. Mrs Sharma’s veneer begins to crack when she meets Vineet Seghal on a station platform. Tightly plotted with precise, often repetitive, language, this is a brilliant book about an unfulfilled woman.

Vigilante – Shelley Harris

Jenny Pepper, 42, manager of a charity bookshop, married to Elliot, graphic designer, with a 14-year-old daughter, Martha, is fed-up of her life. She’s particularly annoyed and frustrated by the way men objectify women and the consequences of this behaviour. Donning a superhero costume for a fancy dress party, she stops a mugging and gets a taste for the vigilante lifestyle. Before long, she’s on the tale of someone who’s attacking teenage girls. A gripping and believable look at the concerns of a middle-aged woman and her life.

 

The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

When Cathy Rentzenbrink was seventeen, her sixteen-year-old brother, Matty, was hit by a car and left in a persistent vegetative state for eight years. The book is Rentzenbrink’s story of the effect of Matty’s accident on her and her family. Told in an unflinching first person account with a huge amount of love and dollops of humour, Rentzenbrink brings the Matty she loved back to life and pays tribute to her parents without descending into mawkishness. Heartbreaking and heartwarming. Buy tissues before reading, I’m welling up just thinking about it.

 

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson

A companion piece to Life After LifeA God in Ruins focuses on Ursula’s younger brother, Teddy and those who’ve shared his life – his wife, Nancy; daughter, Viola; grandchildren, Bertie and Sunny, and the men he served alongside in the RAF. The structure’s non-chronological, creating a jigsaw puzzle of Teddy’s life and the lives of his family members for the reader to reconstruct; every chapter capable of standing alone as a story in its own right. The chapters set in the war are some of Atkinson’s best writing but this is more than a character study, it’s a book that explores what fiction is. Superb.

 

The Vegetarian – Han Kang (Translated by Deborah Smith)

Mr Cheong chose his wife, Yeong-Ho, because she’s passive. But then, due to a set of reoccurring dreams, she turns vegetarian; a highly unorthodox act in South Korea. The reactions of Mr Cheong and Yeong-Ho’s family turn dark and sometimes violent quite quickly. But Yeong-Ho’s brother-in-law is fascinated with her and her mongolian mark which leads to him creating a physical work of art with her. A disconcerting story that explores society’s treatment of a woman who defies expectations and how her internalisation of those expectations affects her psyche.

 

The Ship – Antonia Honeywell 

In the not so distant future where banks have collapsed, the homeless population is out of control, food is scarce and the military rule, Lalage is protected by her father, Michael Paul, and his creation, the ship. The ship is a version of paradise, stocked with everything you might need and more. As it sets sail with Michael Paul’s chosen people on it, Lalage begins to question her father’s motives and what she really wants from life. The Ship raises questions of wealth and poverty; of governments who fail to protect all their citizens; of the value of art and artefacts. It’s futuristic setting is misleading, this is really a novel about what’s happening to society now.

The First Bad Man – Miranda July 

Cheryl Glickman, early forties, lives alone and works for a company who make self-defence, fitness DVDs. She has two fascinations: Phillip Bettelheim and babies who might be Kubelko Bondy, the son of her parents’ friends. Cheryl’s bosses ask if their daughter, Clee, can move in with her until she finds a job. First Clee trashes Cheryl’s system for keeping the house clean and tidy, then she’s physically fighting Cheryl for extended periods before Cheryl begins imagining herself as Phillip having sex with Clee. It sounds absurd but it’s a sharp exploration of loneliness which transforms into something emotionally fulfilling.

The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall

Rachel has spent almost a decade in Idaho, monitoring wolves on a reservation but an unplanned pregnancy, the death of her mother and the offer of a job supporting the reintroduction of the Grey Wolf to Great Britain sees her returning to the Lake District. The Wolf Border considers a variety of different intersections that humans come up against – birth, death, addiction, love, political change and, of course, nature. The precision of the language, particularly in the descriptions of the Lake District and the wolves, is superb as is the characterisation of Rachel. One of our best novelists, probably her best book.

Grow a Pair: 9 1/2 Fairytales About Sex 
 – Joanna Walsh

From the very opening sentences of the first story to the end of the afterword of Grow a Pair transformations occur: characters adopt and change their genitalia; a man becomes a woman; a queen becomes a witch; a woman fragments into multiple vaginas. Walsh mixes retellings of traditional fairytales like ‘The Princess and the Penis’ with new pieces. Filled with as many moments of humour as it is ones of magical realism, the collection allows its women to take control of their own sexuality and fulfilment. Entertaining, smart and thoughtful.

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

A dual narrative following two young women – North, who lives with Circus Excalibur, travelling the sea but performing most nights on land with her bear, and Callanish, the gracekeeper, living on a tiny island by the graveyard and performing Restings for the dead. North has a number of issues to deal with – she’s engaged to Ainsel and his father wants them to live on land, but she doesn’t want either of these things; Ainsel’s mother is jealous, and North is pregnant to someone else. She’s also tied to Callanish in ways that only begin to reveal themselves when the two meet. A beautifully rendered world.

 

An Untamed State – Roxane Gay 

Mirelle is kidnapped in front of her husband, Michael, and their baby, Christophe, directly outside the heavy steel gates at the bottom of the drive to her parents’ house in Haiti. She’s been taken because her father’s rich and the kidnappers believe he will pay a lot of money for her, his youngest and favourite daughter in U.S. dollars. He refuses, assuming they will return her unharmed. She’s repeatedly raped and tortured. The majority of the book deals with the aftermath, looking at whether it’s possible to rebuild a life, a marriage, a familial relationship after such horror. An interesting examination of power and privilege.

Talk of the Toun – Helen MacKinven

Angela’s short-term ambition is for her and her best friend, Lorraine, to lose their virginity over the summer holidays. Long-term, she wants to move away from the council scheme she’s grown up on and attend Glasgow School of Art. Her parents are determined she’s getting a job. Over one summer in the 1980s, Angela and Lorraine’s friendship will deteriorate thanks to Pamela aka Little Miss Brown Nose and Stevie Duffy, just out of borstal and ‘a total ride’. Class, religion, family and friendships are all explored but it’s the perceptive look at women’s sexuality and the use of Scots dialect that really make this a stand out read.

 

Honourable mentions also go to The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester; The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips; Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey; Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, The Chimes by Anna Smaill and Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller.

In the Media, December 2015

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight 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 fortnight’s mostly been about end of year lists. Last year I linked to those that were gender balanced but this year I gave up counting after the first two, deciding it was a futile endeavour. Having said that, Sarah Seltzer says , ‘White Men Are the Minority on This Year’s Biggest Book Lists‘ on Flavorwire and there was some excitement around a new ‘Best UK novels’ list commissioned by the BBC. On The Pool, Lynn Enright said ‘Women writers dominate the top spots in list of best British novels‘. Which they do but the list as a whole isn’t balanced and it’s dominated by Nineteenth Century novels.

A fortnight ago I was going to begin this piece by mentioning The Good Immigrant an essay collection being published by Unbounders which means it needed crowdfunding. It includes essays by Chimene Suleyman, Bim Adewumni, Salena Godden, Sabrina Mahfouz, Coco Khan, Sarah Sahim and Reni Eddo Lodge and was fully funded in three days, partly thanks to JK Rowling. You can read about what an excellent person she is and what a great collection it sounds in The Guardian. And you can still contribute to the funding.

Clare Vaye Watkins essay ‘On Pandering’ is still being discussed. She talks about it further (with Marlon James) on NPR. Anne Boyd Rioux responded with ‘A Brief History of Pandering‘ on The Rumpus. Aya de Leon responded initially with ‘“On Pandering” and Subversive Revelations of Female Insecurity‘ and then to Marlon James’ Guardian conversation with ‘On Pandering, White Women as Scapegoats, and the Literary Industry as a Hand-Me-Down‘ on her blog, while Dreda Say Mitchell replied with ‘Black authors don’t write only for white women‘ in the Guardian.

In prize news, Sarah Howe won the resurrected Young Writer of the Year Award for her poetry collection Loop of Jade. She’s profiled in The Sunday Times (£) and interviewed on Bookanista and The Workshy Fop. And the Saltire Society Literary Award was announced with wins for Helen McClory, Patricia Andrew and Tanja Bueltmann.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

In the Media, November 2015, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight 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.

We’re still deep in book awards territory this fortnight with a number of winners and shortlists being announced. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Bailey’s Best of the Best for Half of a Yellow Sun. The award prompted pieces from Alice Stride in The Bookseller, an editorial in The Guardian and Anna James on The Pool about why we still need the Bailey’s Prize.

Sarah Waters won Stonewall’s Writer of the Decade; Lydia Davis will receive The Paris Review’s Hadada Award 2016; Kerry Hudson won the Prix Femina for Translated Fiction; Roxane Gay won the PEN Centre USA Freedom to Write Award; Jacqueline Wilson won the JM Barrie Award

The shortlists include the eclectic, female dominates Waterstones’ Book of the Year Award, chosen by Waterstones’ Booksellers; The Guardian First Book Award which Catherine Taylor, one of this years judges, discusses, and The Young Writer of the Year Award (which not only has gender parity, but also an equal split between writers of colour and white writers).

Meanwhile, Arundhati Roy returned her National Award for Best Screenplay, she explains why in The Guardian and Heather Horn investigates why the Prix Goncourt has been awarded to a man 102 times and a woman 11 times on The Atlantic

Irish women have been speaking out about the Abbey Theatre where nine out of ten plays in its 2016 centenary programme are written by men. Emer O’Toole writes about the reaction in The Guardian and Ellen Coyne in The Irish Times while Dr Susan Liddy, academic at the University of Limerick, writes ‘Women and the Irish film industry‘ to The Irish Times.

And if you only read one thing from this fortnight’s list, I highly recommend Jacqueline Rose’s essay, ‘Bantu in the Bathroom: on the trial of Oscar Pistorius‘ in The LRB.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

In the Media: 22nd March 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.

The big news this week is that Kath Viner became the first woman appointed to the role of editor-in-chief at The Guardian in its 194 year history. The first woman to edit a UK broadsheet and only the second EIC of The Guardian to have attended a (selective) state school.

Unfortunately, the other trend in articles this week have been about the abuse women have suffered from a variety of sources; Heidi Stevens wrote in the Chicago Tribune ‘Hate mail lesson: Uncombed hair threatens the natural order‘; Sarah Xerta wrote ‘The Brick Wall: The Intersection of Patriarchy, Privilege, Anger, and Language‘ on VIDA; Juliet Annan ‘is a Lazy Feminist‘ in publishing on the Penguin Blog; Sara Pascoe wrote ‘The hymen remains an evolutionary mystery – and the focus of the oppression of women’s sexuality‘ in The Guardian; Katie McDonough wrote ‘If you’re shocked by this Penn State frat’s nude photo ring, you’re not paying attention‘ on Salon; Jessie Burton took ‘Speakers’ Corner‘ on Hunger TV; Claire Byrne wrote, ‘One sordid, gross and offensive comment must have been thought up while he sat there scratching himself in his grey fading jocks. I wonder what makes people think it’s acceptable to make comments like that?‘ in the Irish Independent, and Ashley Judd wrote, ‘Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass‘ on Mic.

And there’s been a number of articles about race; Rebecca Carroll wrote ‘Calling out one racist doesn’t make white people any less complicit in supremacy‘ in The Guardian; Jia Tolentino wrote ‘How to Talk About Race With Your Starbucks Barista: A Guide‘ in Jezebel; Maya Goodfellow wrote, ‘Climate change is easier to ignore because right now it’s people of colour who suffer the most‘ on Media Diversified; Vulture interviewed Claudia Rankine on ‘Serena, Indian Wells, and Race‘ and KCRW’s Bookworm asked her about writing the racial ‘other’.

This week’s Harper Lee news: To Kill a Mockingbird was named #78 on The Guardian list of The 100 Best Novels; Casey N. Cep reported on ‘Harper Lee’s Abandoned True-Crime Novel‘ in The New Yorker, and Jonathon Sturgeon asked ‘Is It Time to Get Hopeful About Harper Lee?‘ on Flavorwire.

And prizes this week went to Louise O’Neill who won the inaugural YA Book Prize and Louise Erdrich won the Library of Congress Award.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists:

In the Media: 15th March 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.

It’s been a great week for women writers and prizes. The Wellcome Prize shortlist was announced on Monday, including four books (of six) by women. Congratulations Miriam Towes, Alice Roberts, Sarah Moss and Marion Coutts. On Tuesday, the twenty-strong Bailey’s Prize longlist was announced. Chair of this year’s judges, Shami Chakrabarti discussed the need for the prize in The Guardian and Buzzfeed created a guide to the longlisted booksThe OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature has five women (of nine) on the longlist. Congratulations Tanya Shirley, Monique Roffey, Tiphanie Yanique, Elizabeth Nunez and Olive Senior. The PEN/Faulkner award has three women on a shortlist of five. Congratulations Emily St. John Mandel, Jennifer Clement and Jenny Offill. The Stella Prize, the Australian prize for female writers announced its shortlist this week too. Congratulations to Maxine Beneba Clarke, Emily Bitton, Ellen Van Neervan, Sophie Lagune, Jean London and Christine Keneally. Marina Warner won the Holberg Prize 2015. And women won four of the six categories at the National Book Critics Circle Award. Congratulations Marilynne Robinson, Roz Chast, Ellen Willis and Claudia Rankine.

It’s Mother’s Day in the UK today. Jo Hogan writes ‘Surprised by a Jumper: On Being Motherless on Mother’s Day‘ on her blog; Scottish Book Trust list ten books that celebrate pioneering women; Emma Healey wrote, ‘From Offshore to Oranges: a literary tribute to Mother’s Day‘ in the Guardian; Emylia Hall wrote, ‘The Mother of All Years‘ on her blog; Windmill Books published an extract of Charlotte Gordon’s forthcoming book, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley on their website, and Kate Hamer wrote, ‘Literary matriarchs and their daughters, from Little Women to Carrie‘ in the Independent

Two in-depth Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie interviews have been published this week, one in Vogue and the other on Olisa.tv: part one and part two.

The woman with the most publicity this week is Caitlin Moran. She’s interviewed on Buzzfeed and on the British Comedy Guide with her sister Caroline Moran; Pilot Viruet wrote, ‘Caitlin Moran’s UK Series ‘Raised by Wolves’ Is the Teen Sitcom America Needs‘ on Flavorwire; she’s profiled by Vanessa Thorpe in the Observer and her own Times Magazine column this week was ‘What it really means to be a mum‘ which you can listen to for free here.

And the latest on the Harper Lee story: on Wednesday, The Bookseller reported, ‘State investigators interview Harper Lee‘ and on Friday, Lee’s agent issued a statement, The Bookseller reported, ‘Nurnberg blasts ‘shameful’ Lee claims‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

Claire Fuller Colour

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 8th March 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.

It’s International Women’s Day today and, as you might expect, there have been a number of articles written about and with regards to it. Verso Books published a reading list; in the New Statesman, Stella Creasy said, ‘On International Women’s Day, let’s ask men why progress towards equality is so slow‘; One Book Lane ran a series, ‘The #WonderWomen you need to read about this International Women’s Day‘; Rebecca Winson wrote, ‘We mustn’t forget the revolutionary roots of International Women’s Day‘ in the New Statesman; Somayra Ismailjee, wrote ‘Self-Love Amidst Marginalisation‘ on Media Diversified; Cathy on 746Books wrote, ‘Putting Irish Women Writers Back in the Picture‘ with links to the articles the Irish Times have been running for the past fortnight and their celebratory poster which you can download; Harriet Minter wrote, ‘No need for International Women’s Day? What world do you live in?‘ in The Guardian; Emily Thornberry declared, ‘We Need a New Equal Pay Act‘ in the New Statesman, and Lucy Mangan says, ‘Women take more than enough shit‘ in Stylist.

The Harper Lee story continues, Connor Sheets of AL.com wrote to her and got a response, ‘Harper Lee appears to be fully lucid: She just told me to ‘go away’ via snail mail‘.

And an absolute joy of a series in Vogue: for the whole of March, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does ‘Today I’m Wearing‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists:

My Bailey's Prize Wishlist 2015

You know that spring is almost here when the Bailey’s Prize for Women gets underway. Next Tuesday (10th March) the longlist of 20 novels (if it remains the same as recent years) will be announced. Eligible novels have to be written in English and published by a UK adult imprint between the 1st of April 2014 and the 31st of March 2015. Translations are not eligible.

Here’s what I’d like to see on the list. If you click on the cover, it’ll take you to my review, unless the book is yet to be published, in which case the review will be posted on the week of publication.

As ever, I’ll be shadowing the whole process. Check back on Friday for more details on this.

(Published 26th March)

(Published 26th March)

(Published 5th March)

And three I haven’t read yet but are strong possibilities:

In the Media: 1st March 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.

I’ve spent a fair proportion of this week agog at some of the comment pieces, particularly in regard to the three girls from Bethnal Green who appear to be en route to Syria. Emma Barnett in the Telegraph wrote, ‘Stop pitying British schoolgirls joining Islamic State – they’re not victims‘; Grace Dent in the Independent said, ‘If teenage girls want to join Isis in the face of all its atrocities, then they should leave and never return‘; Mary Dejevsky wrote, ‘If Britons want to join Isis, let them go‘ in The Guardian and Allison Pearson said, ‘Let’s stop making excuses for these ‘jihadi brides‘ in the Telegraph. Judith Wanga responded on Media Diversified with, ‘The Denial of Childhood to Children of Colour‘, as did Chimene Suleyman with, ‘It’s Time To Talk About Why Our Young People Turn Against Their Country‘ and Nosheen Iqbal in The Guardian with, ‘The Syria-bound schoolgirls aren’t jihadi devil-women, they’re vulnerable children‘. Emma Barnett responded with ‘Racists are alive and well in Britain – but I’m not one of them‘ in the Telegraph. Chimene Suleyman also wrote, ‘‘Defining’ Terror, and Why ISIS Suits the West‘ on Media Diversified, prior to these most recent articles.

The Oscar ceremony was another place for some jaw-dropping comments. Megan Kearns wrote, ‘Patricia Arquette Undermined Her Own “Most Feminist Moment” of the Oscars‘ in Bitch Magazine; Betsy Woodruff commented, ‘The Gender Wage Gap Is Especially Terrible in Hollywood‘ on Slate; Maitri Mehta wrote, ‘Patricia Arquette Defends Her Oscars Backstage Comments On Twitter, But Still Misses The Point‘ on Bustle; Jenny Kutner also wrote about Arquette’s tweets on Salon, ‘Patricia Arquette doubles down on equal pay: “Why aren’t you an advocate for equality for all women?”‘; Amanda Marcotte wrote, ‘Patricia Arquette’s Feminism: Only for White Women‘ on Slate; Katie McDonough wrote, ‘“Fight for us now”: What Patricia Arquette got right (and wrong) about equal pay‘ on Salon. Brittney Cooper wrote, ‘Black America’s hidden tax: Why this feminist of color is going on strike‘ in Salon.

Remarks made by one television reporter about Zendaya Coleman’s locs prompted pieces by Loretta de Feo, ‘Why do we feel the need to taunt and judge black hair, rather than embrace it?‘ in Stylist; Jodie Layne, ‘Why Zendaya’s Response To Giuliana Rancic’s Awful ‘Fashion Police’ Comments Is Important‘ on Bustle, and Grisel E.Acosta wrote, ‘“Racism begins in our imagination:” How the overwhelming whiteness of “Boyhood” feeds dangerous Hollywood myths‘ on Salon.

The Brits were written about by Tracey Thorn in the New Statesman, ‘The Brits are so polite these days. One reason? There’s no bands left‘; Bidisha wrote, ‘Madonna is superhuman. She has to be to survive the ugly abuse‘ in The Guardian; while Salena Godden covered both the Oscars and the Brits in ‘Julianne Moore is 54. Madonna is 56.‘ on Waiting for Godden

Writing awards wise, the Sunday Times Short Story Award shortlist was announced and is dominated by women. As is the Walter Scott Prize longlist, released to the public for the first time.

There’s an entire series of articles currently being published in the Irish Times on Irish Women Writers. The link will take you to the round-up so far. While academic Diane Watt has just completed 28 days of LGBT book recommendations. You can read this week’s in a Storify here; links at the bottom of the page will take you to previous weeks.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Kim Gordon. She’s this week’s New York Times ‘By the Book‘; there’s an excerpt from Girl in a Band in The Cut; you can listen to Gordon herself read an extract on Louder than War; there are five standout moments from her memoir on Slate, and in The New Yorker, Michelle Orange writes about ‘Kim Gordon, Kurt Cobain, and the Mythology of Punk‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists:

The First Bad Man – Miranda July

Cheryl Glickman, early forties, lives alone and works for Open Palm, a company who make fitness DVDs; ‘self-defence as exercise’. When the book begins she has two fascinations: Phillip Bettelheim and babies who might be Kubelko Bondy.

That’s the problem with men my age, I’m somehow older than them. Phillip is in his sixties, so he probably thinks of me as a younger woman, a girl almost. Not that he thinks of me yet – I’m just someone who works at Open Palm. But that could change in an instant…

Kubelko Bondy was the son of friends of Cheryl’s parents in the early seventies. She played with him one evening as their parents drank wine. She was nine and he was barely one. When he cried and she consoled him,

…he looked at me and I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew that he loved me more than his mother and father and that in some real and permanent way he belonged to me.

As his parents take him and leave, she hears his voice in her head telling her to stop them. Since then she’s seen him again and again in the bodies of different children.

The core of the conflict in the novel though comes from Clee, the daughter of Cheryl’s bosses. She needs somewhere to live until she finds a job and an apartment in LA. Initially, one of Cheryl’s colleagues agrees to take her but changes her mind soon after. Cheryl gets a phone call late at night asking if Clee can move in with her instead.

When you live alone people are always thinking they can stay with you, when the opposite is true: who they should stay with is a person whose situation is already messed up by other people and so one more won’t matter.

Cheryl has a system at home. It’s pretty simple:

Fewer dishes.

They can’t pile up if you don’t have them. This is the main thing, but also:

Stop moving things around.

Of course, Clee’s barely in the house two days before the system’s been trashed and it’s not long before Clee’s presence begins to anger Cheryl. Then things become much more intense:

I didn’t even see her get up. The crook of her arm caught my neck and jerked me backward. I slammed into the couch – the wind knocked out of me. Before I could get my balance she shoved my hip down with her knee. I grabbed at the air stupidly. She pinned my shoulders down, intently watching what the panic was doing to my face. Then she suddenly let go and walked away. I lay there shaking uncontrollably. She locked the bathroom door with a click.

Initially, Clee and Cheryl’s fights reminded me of children who are attracted to each other but either don’t know how to express this or are embarrassed about it. They take a more sinister turn part way into the book, however. Cheryl makes contact with Phillip early on in the novel and they telephone each other regularly. He talks to her about the young woman he’s seeing and his desire for her which leads Cheryl to begin seeing Clee through Phillip’s eyes:

Each time Clee sang jiddy jiddy jiddy rah rah she pumped her pelvis forward to the beat and her bosom bounced. Dear God, look at those jugs, Phillip panted. I whispered the word.

“Jugs.”

He wanted to rub her through her jeans. Jiddy jiddy jiddy rah rah. And cream in her mouth. Mutual soaping. Jiddy jiddy jiddy rah rah. My member was stiff…

I went to my room, locked the door, took off her purple bra with its shiny, shiny straps and pressed my balding head into her jugs. My big, hairy hand worked itself down the front of her jeans and my fingers, with their thick blocky fingernails, slid into her puss. She was wet and whimpering. “Phillip,” she moaned. “Put it in.” So I quietly, forcefully, made love to her mouth.

July spoke about these passages in a recent interview with Lena Dunham. She talked about the way we’re ‘sold’ heterosexual fantasies and that the object is the woman, she’s ‘the sexy one — the one you want to get. So if you’re just looking at it in that way, sex is fucking a woman. There isn’t any other sex.’

In the novel, they demonstrate Cheryl’s loneliness and her desire to connect with someone. July explores this in different ways, through Cheryl’s link with babies she believes are Kubelko Bondy; through her relationship with Phillip; through her therapists. It is her relationship with Clee however that forces her to move from passivity into a more active role and, by the end of the book, changes her life.

July’s handling of what could’ve been absurd situations is skillful; while many of the scenes in the first half of the book aren’t intended to be realistic, they are underpinned by insights into women’s experiences of single life and relationships. The final third of the novel is emotionally fulfilling. This was definitely unexpected and could have delved into sentimentality; instead it shifted the novel from an interesting one to a superb story of love and where we find it.

The First Bad Man is bold, bracing and brilliant.

 

Thanks to Canongate for the review copy.

(Harper Lee) In the Media: 8th 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.

You would have had to be living somewhere with no media access since Tuesday not to know that after 55 years, Harper Lee has a ‘new’ novel coming out. Go Set a Watchman is the prequel/sequel/first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, discovered in a bank deposit box and set to be published on both sides of the Atlantic in July. There’s probably already been as many words written about the book as there are in it. Harper Lee’s/Go Set a Watchman‘s week in the media went something like this:

On Tuesday, The Bookseller broke the news, then ‘About that new Harper Lee novel…‘ was published on the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog. Vulture published, ‘Read Harper Lee’s 5 Amazing Nonfiction Pieces‘ with links to them all before Jezebel ran ‘Be Suspicious of the New Harper Lee Novel‘ and The Guardian ended the day with ‘Harper Lee to publish new novel, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird‘.

Wednesday began with Vulture publishing an interview with Lee’s editor which Mallory Ortberg responded to in The Toast with ‘Questions I Have About the Harper Lee Editor Interview‘. Judith Claire Mitchell wrote about her dream date with Atticus Finch on the 4th Estate website. The Atlantic published, ‘Harper Lee: The Sadness of a Sequel‘ while The Guardian said, ‘Harper Lee is excited about new book, says agent after sceptics raise doubts‘. Electric Literature came in with ‘Should We Hold the Horses on the Harper Lee Celebration?‘; Buzzfeed gave us ‘12 Beautifully Profound Quotes From “To Kill A Mockingbird”‘, while The Huffington Post ended the day with ‘12 Women On What Harper Lee’s Work Has Meant To Them‘.

By Thursday morning, Hadley Freeman in The Guardian was telling us ‘Let’s not assume Harper Lee is being exploited. Atticus Finch wouldn’t‘ and then a new statement arrived and was reported in The Bookseller, ‘Harper Lee ‘happy as hell’ with book reaction‘. The Guardian reacted to the statement with, ‘Harper Lee’s ‘lost’ novel was intended to complete a trilogy, says agent‘. Then Lincoln Michel came in with ‘Harper Lee And Exploitation In The Name Of Literature‘ on Buzzfeed, while The Telegraph asked ‘Could there be a third Harper Lee novel?‘; the Times Literary Supplement ran a piece titled ‘Harper Lee: happy as hell‘ and cartoonist Emily Flake drew ‘What Harper Lee’s Really Been Up To All These Years‘ for The New Yorker

The Huffington Post began Friday by asking ‘Is The New Harper Lee Novel A Mistake?: Author Idolatry And “Go Set a Watchman”‘, followed by Sarah Churchwell in The Guardian telling us ‘Why To Kill a Mockingbird Is Overrated. The Guardian also ran, ‘Harper Lee book news leaves home town surprised, bemused and sceptical‘ before Slate stated, ‘Don’t Publish Harper Lee’s New Novel, HarperCollins‘. Flavorwire went for ‘Harper Lee’s New Book: The Case for Optimism‘ and Salon started speculating on the content of the novel, ‘“Scout is a lesbian”: Some modest theories on what Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” follow-up will hold‘. The Guardian finished the day with, ‘Harper Lee and the vexed question of who owns an author’s work‘; Yahoo interviewed one of Lee’s friends, ‘Harper Lee was fine the day before sequel announced‘ and the Wall Street Journal wrapped it up with ‘Harper Lee Bombshell: How News of Book Unfolded‘.

The only news since then came on Saturday when the cover of Go Set a Watchman was revealed. Here’s Bookriot on it.

The other person to have a bit of a week in the limelight is Kelly Link whose latest short story collection Get in Trouble was published in America this week (it’s out in the UK next month). She’s interviewed on Electric Literature, Publishers Weekly and NPR Books. You can read ‘The Summer People‘ from Get in Trouble via Random House orStone Animalsfrom Magic for Beginners on Electric Literature

Elsewhere, there’s been a reoccurring theme of friendship (thanks to Longreads for pointing this out): Anne Helen Peterson wrote ‘The Genius of Taylor Swift’s Girlfriend Collection‘ on Buzzfeed; Claire Comstock-Gay wrote the story ‘I Knew I Loved You‘ published in Midnight Breakfast; Jennifer Weiner wrote ‘Mean Girls in the Retirement Home‘ in The New York Times; Meghan O’Connell wrote ‘Trying to Make Mom Friends Is the Worst‘ in The Cut; Nicole Soojung Callaghan wrote ‘Friendship and Race and Knowing Your Place‘ in The Toast; Freddie Moore wrote, ‘Is Every Unhappy Friendship Unhappy In Its Own Way? On Emily Gould’s Friendship and Lindsay Hunter’s Ugly Girls‘ on Electric Literature

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The new edition of The Letters Page was published this week including letters (fiction and non-fiction) from Rosa Campbell, Naomi Alderman, Kim Sherwood, Haisu Huang, Emma Chapman, Evelyn Conlon, Melissa Harrison and Karen McLeod.

The lists: