In the Media, May 2016, 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 as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

Jenny Diski at the LRB bookshop in London.

The last fortnight’s been dominated by death. On Thursday, Jenny Diski died less than two years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Literary Hub ran ‘Remembering Jenny Diski‘ including pieces from Hayley Mlotek, Michelle Dean, Joanna Walsh, Bridget Read, Laura Marsh, Marta Bausells and Charlotte Shane. The Guardian ran an extract from her cancer diary. Joanne Harris wrote a found poem ‘Opium Ice Cream‘ from Diski’s tweets, and The London Review of Books opened Jenny Diski’s entire archive to non-subscribers.

The previous week comedian Victoria Wood died. A.L. Kennedy declared her, ‘My Hero‘ in The Guardian; Helen Walmsley Johnson wrote, ‘Victoria Wood gave us the gift of being able to laugh at ourselves‘ in The New Statesman

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Although he’s not a female writer, Prince also died just over a week ago and so much brilliant writing by women has come from that: Porochista Khakpour, ‘Prince’s Woman and Me: The Collaborators Who Inspired a Generation‘ in the Village Voice; Maya West, ‘A Hierarchy of Love and Loss and Prince‘ on Jezebel; Bim Adewunmi, ‘Celebrating Prince For 48 Hours In Minneapolis‘ on Buzzed; Heather Haverilsky, ‘Prince Showed Me a Whole New Way of Existing‘ on The Cut; Amanda Marcotte, ‘Sexy MFers, unite: The feminist power of Prince’s sex-positive songs‘ on Salon; K.T. Billey, ‘Prince and the queer body: Our dirty patron saint of pop gave me permission to think outside the gender binary‘ on Salon; Kaitlyn Greenidge, ‘Surviving a Long Alaskan Winter with Prince‘ on Literary Hub; Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, ‘Prince Spent His Life Elevating and Mentoring Women‘ on Jezebel; Lily Burano, ‘Why Prince Was a Hero to Strippers‘ on The Cut; Ashley Weatherford, ‘Understanding the Politics of Prince’s Hair‘ on The Cut; Mona Hayder, ‘Prince Was a Demigod Who Uplifted the Masses Through Music‘ on Literary Hub; Naomi Jackson, ‘Prince: Finding Joy Outside Conformity‘ on Literary Hub; Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, ‘Prince conjured the kind of sex you’d want to have – filthy and fun, and sometimes offensive‘ in The Independent; Tracy King, ‘We should celebrate Prince for championing female musicians‘ in The New Statesman; Laura Craik, ‘“I loved him because of how his music made me feel”‘ on The Pool; Michelle Garcia, ‘Prince gave black kids permission to be weirdos‘ on Vox; Ijeoma Oluo, ‘Prince Was The Patron Saint Of Black Weirdos‘ on The Establishment.

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Other brilliant writing about music came from the launch of Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade. Brittany Spanos, ‘How Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Reclaims Rock’s Black Female Legacy‘ in Rolling Stone; Mandy Stadtmiller, ‘How Lemonade Helped Me Talk to My Husband About Cheating‘ on The Cut; Treva Lindsey, ‘Beyoncé’s Lemonade Isn’t Just About Cheating, It’s About Black Sisterhood‘ in Cosmopolitan; Caroline O’Donoghue, ‘Monica, Becky With The Good Hair, and the power of the Other Woman‘ in The Pool; Diamond Sharp, ‘Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Is an Anthem for the Retribution of Black Women‘ on Vice; Morgan Jerkins, ‘‘Lemonade’ Is About Black Women Healing Themselves and Each Other‘ in Elle; Daisy Buchanan, ‘What can Beyoncé’s Lemonade teach us about love?‘ on The Pool; Vanessa Kisuule, ‘Why Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ Shows a Refinement of her Artistry‘ on Gal-Dem; Carrie Battan, ‘Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” Is a Revelation of Spirit‘ in The New Yorker; Priscilla Ward, ‘Beyoncé’s radical invitation: In “Lemonade,” a blueprint for black women working through pain‘ on Salon; Ezinne Ukoha, ‘I Will Do Better By My Sisters‘ on Medium; June Eric-Udorie, ‘Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and the power it bestows young black women‘ on The Pool; Rafia Zakaria, ‘Warsan Shire: the Somali-British poet quoted by Beyoncé in Lemonade‘ in The Guardian; Juliane Okot Bitek wrote, ‘On the Poet Warsaw Shire, Nobody’s Little Sister‘ on Literary Hub. While Jamila addressed Piers Morgan’s criticisms of the album with ‘Dear Piers…‘ on her blog.

And I wanted to include this story because it’s just lovey: Jessie Burton’s new novel The Muse includes a setting named after Waterstones’ bookseller Leila Skelton. Skelton does the most incredible window displays at the Doncaster shop which are often shared on Twitter.

The best of the rest:

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On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Francine Prose

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Not Working – Lisa Owens

I tell him about the day I was seized by a powerful impulse to start swallowing things on my desk: drawing pins, lumps of Blu-tack, whatever fit into my mouth.

‘I got as far as putting a paper clip on my tongue before realising there was another way. So I spat it out and went to my boss’s office to quit.’


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Claire Flannery quit her job a fortnight ago and is living off her savings while she tries to figure out her purpose in life. She begins her quest by re-reading the same paragraph of Ulysees; applying for a job she’s not even sure she wants writing blue heritage plaques; going to the gym to end her membership but signing up for personal training sessions instead; drinking, and causing a family rift following her comments at her granddad’s wake:

‘He really did love to show off his war wounds,’ I say to our table. My cousins nod and smile, murmuring agreement. ‘And more!’ I continue, pointing down at my lap and laughing. ‘Even after the heart op.’

‘Woah!’ says my cousin Faye. ‘What? Gum used to show you his…?’

‘Oh – no, no. “Show” makes it sound…It wasn’t…I don’t think it was really on purpose on anything,’ I say. Everyone is looking at me. No one is talking. ‘Honestly, it definitely wasn’t a big deal. At all. I always thought it was – Did no one else have this? How it just used to kind of slip out?’

The novel’s divided into chapters which are then subdivided into vignettes, the length of which varies from a single sentence to four or five pages, all of which have a short heading. Some of these reoccur throughout the novel: Tube details the people Claire sees on her journeys while Dreams is fairly self-explanatory. The lengthy pieces tend to be encounters with her friends, family members or her long-term partner, Luke. It’s the latter which interested me the most, Owens excels at showing what a long-term relationship is like:

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Some nights our bed feels much too small: hot and hard with elbows and knees, and the cloying stickiness of flesh against flesh, not just Luke’s on mine, but my own on me, inner thigh cleaving to inner thigh, arm to armpit, breast against breast, and I long to be alone and stretch out asterisk-like; but then, of course, there are also the nights when the space between us is chilly and wide, and my reaching fingertips yield no response, or sometimes a slight shrugging-off.

Claire’s quest to find her purpose explores the modern idea that we have a function, that our work should be fulfilling and worthwhile rather than something which pays the bills without personal enhancement. Her visits to her grandmother also show how life has changed for women in particular:

‘Claire,’ Grandma says, ‘I’m joking. You don’t help out – that’s fine; it’s how you are. I remember what your age was like – of course, I had four children under eight then, but modern life is different. You’ve got an awful lot on.’

The structure of the book could have leaned towards meandering but there is a narrative drive, led by Owens’ sharp insight into relationships between family, friends and lovers. Not Working is the millennials’ Bridget Jones’ Diary but, despite appearances, this generation seem to be much more together than mine ever were.

 

Thanks to Picador for the review copy.

In the Media, April 2016, Part Two

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 as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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It’s the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. Contributors including Sarah Waters, Margaret Drabble and Jeanette Winterson reflect on Jane Eyre in The Guardian; Samantha Ellis wrote about ‘The Greatest Heroines of All Time‘ on the BBC, and Sam Jordison asked, ‘Reading Jane Eyre: can we truly understand Charlotte Brontë or her heroine today?‘ in The Guardian. The Brontë Blog is doing an excellent job of curating everything and well worth having a look at.

The Guardian commissioned some research into the 70 million comments which have been left on its website since 2006. The results revealed that while the highest commenters are white men, the most abuse was left on articles by eight women writers and two male writers of colour. The only people who seemed surprised were white men. It’s great to have statistical evidence in support of this but listening to female writers and male writers of colour and acting on it might be a good idea too. Jessica Valenti, the most targeted writer wrote, ‘Insults and rape threats. Writers shouldn’t have to deal with this‘.

Andrew Piper and Richard Jean So decided to carry out some analysis regarding the words used in book reviews of books by male and female writers, ‘Women Write About Family, Men Write About War‘ in the New Republic details their findings.

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The Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced this week. Hanya Yanagihara has ‘A Little Life – A Photo Story‘ on the Picador Blog; Anne Enright, Elizabeth McKenzie, Hanya Yanagihara and Lisa McInerney are interviewed on the Baileys’ Prize blog, along with longlistees Shirley Barrett, Vesna Goldsworthy, Becky Chambers, Julia Rochester and Kate Atkinson. Some of us (myself included) were shocked that Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins failed to make the shortlist, Eleanor Franzen considers why on Litro.

And in Australia, the Miles Franklin literary award longlist was announced with books by women taking five of the nine slots.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media, February 2016, part two

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.

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On Friday, the death of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird was announced. Obituaries followed from Ed Pilkington and Matthew Teague in The Guardian; Eric Hamburger also in The Guardian; Casey N. Cep in The New Yorker, and The Irish Times, and appraisals of her work from Michiko Kakutani, ‘In Harper Lee’s Novels, a Loss of Innocence as Children and Again as Adults‘ in the New York Times; Sarah Churchwell, ‘Harper Lee: author battled to reconcile racial justice with a racially unjust society‘ and Elaine Showalter, ‘Harper Lee: an American novelist deserving of serious attention‘ both in The Guardian; Michelle Dean, ‘Did Go Set a Watchman spoil Harper Lee’s literary legacy?‘ in The Guardian; Katy Waldman, ‘What Is Harper Lee’s Legacy After Go Set a Watchman?‘ on Slate, and Alex Clark, ‘Why Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird endures to tell its tale of radical change‘ in The Observer

You might have heard that a fortnight ago Beyoncé released a new song ‘Formation’ which she went on to perform at the SuperBowl. Lots of people had lots to say about it. LaSha wrote, ‘Kendrick Lamar won’t face backlash like Beyoncé: Socially conscious art, sexual expression and the policing of black women’s politics‘, Priscilla Ward wrote, ‘White Beyoncé haters don’t get it: “Formation” isn’t “race-baiting” — but it is unapologetically about race‘ both on Salon; Banseka Kayembe wrote, ‘Beyonce Gets Political: Here’s Why it Matters‘ on the Huffington Post; Shantrelle Lewis wrote, ‘“Formation” Exploits New Orleans’ Trauma‘ on Slate; Nikita Richardson did ‘A Deep Dive into the Important, Unapologetic Blackness of Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’‘ on Hello Giggles; Suzanne Moore said, ‘Black Pride at the Super Bowl? Beyoncé embodies a new political moment‘ in The Guardian; The Pool asked, ‘Four women on what Beyoncé’s Formation means to them‘, and Anna Leszkiewicz said, ‘Beyoncé and #BlackLivesMatter: why “Formation” is her most radical release to date‘ in the New Statesman.

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Last weekend was Valentine’s Day; there was plenty of writing around that too. Emma Dowling wrote, ‘Love’s Labour’s Cost: The Political Economy of Intimacy‘ on Verso Books; Eleanor Franzén wrote ‘V Daze‘ on Elle Thinks; Eileen Myles, ‘on the Excruciating Pain of Waiting for Love‘ and Heather Haverilesky, ‘What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage‘ on The Cut; Marie Phillips wrote, ‘What I learnt from a year of being in love‘ and Emer O’Toole shared, ‘The Rules, and how I fell in love‘ both on The Pool; Lauren Duca asked, ‘Is There Such a Thing As a Feminist Marriage Proposal?‘, Laura June revealed, ‘What I Thought Romance Meant, Age 12–Present‘ and Meaghan O’Connell told us, ‘Getting Married in One Week Was the Most Romantic Thing I Ever Did‘ all in The Cut; Emma Flowers wrote, ‘Finding, Nearly Losing and Finally Building Love Across Two Genders‘ on the Huffington Post; Heidi Julavits on ‘My High-School Boyfriend, the Con Artist‘ in The Cut; Tiffany Yannetta wrote, ‘Lights, Camera, Love‘ on the history of dating shows on Racked, and Alana Massey said, ‘Tinder Is the New Meet-Cute‘ in The Cut.

Congratulations to Ríona Judge McCormack who won the inaugural Galley Beggar Press short story competition with ‘Blackburn‘. And The Stella Prize announced its 12 book longlist for 2016.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

Ones to Read in 2016

2016 is already being talked about as a ‘vintage year’ in terms of forthcoming books. In the second half of the year there’s a spate of second novels from writers who published fantastic debuts two or three years ago. There’s also lots of promising looking books from more established writers. I’m looking forward to all of those but there’s the first half of the year to talk about first.

Initially, I was going to limit this list to ten books; I could’ve populated that list three times over with the wealth of good stuff coming in the next six months. So, the list’s a little longer and the books I’ve chosen to recommend are those that, for me, had the ‘wow factor’ (often for different reasons). Listed in order of publication, all publication dates are UK and subject to change; full reviews will appear on the week of publication.

Human Parts – Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

Human Acts centres around the student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea in 1980. Beginning with Dong-Ho working in the gymnasium where the bodies are being brought and looking for the friend he abandoned, the story moves through a variety of characters as the repercussions of the army’s suppression is felt throughout the city. Brave, brutal, brilliant.

Wow Factor: the variety of voices/perspectives (credit to Deborah Smith’s translation); the sudden switches to violent imagery

#ReadDiverse2016 #womenintranslation #translationthurs #ReadWomen

Published by Portobello Books 7th January 2016

American Housewife – Helen Ellis

A short story collection giving voice to a variety of American housewives. From the emails of two neighbours who move from passive aggressive to downright aggressive moves regarding the décor of their shared hallway to the struggling writer taking part in an antiques reality TV show to the woman allowing junior pageant participants to escape, this is a sharp, darkly funny look at women’s lives.

Wow Factor: the dark humour; the insight into people’s (often appalling) behaviour

#ReadWomen

Published by Scribner 14th January 2016

Paulina & Fran – Rachel B. Glaser

Art students, Paulina and Fran, meet at a party. Self-conscious and desperate to be liked, they (Paulina in particular) behave appallingly, feigning an air of indifference. But when they leave art school, they have to negotiate their own ways in the world and decide how much their friendship’s really worth.

Wow Factor: the dark humour; the insights into a type of female friendship and behaviour

#ReadWomen

Published by Granta 14th January 2016

If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa

Mallika gives birth to twins but only one survives: a boy, Siva. But she wanted a girl and refuses to believe her daughter’s dead. She calls Siva, Tara and flies into a rage if anyone attempts to do otherwise. Narrated by Siva, who believes his sister lives within him still, this is a beautifully written novel about trying to find your own identity.

Wow Factor: the language; the storytelling

#ReadDiverse2016 #womenintranslation #translationthurs #ReadWomen

Published by Bluemoose Books 21st January 2016

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

If you’re on social media, you’ve no doubt heard lots about this novel already. If hype puts you off, ignore it and get stuck into this regardless. The story of a ‘normal’ street in England in the heatwave of 1976. Margaret Creasy’s disappeared and she knows everyone’s secrets. Ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly set out to find her and uncover a whole lot more in the process.

Wow Factor: the psychological insight

#ReadWomen

Published by Borough Press 28th January 2016

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Eden, New South Wales, 1908. The story of a whaling season told from the point-of-view of Mary Davidson, the 19-year-old daughter of a whaling family. There’s whales, running a family after the death of their mother and a romance with former Methodist minister, John Beck. Often funny, feminist and fascinating.

Wow Factor: the voice; the descriptions of the whales and whaling

#ReadWomen

Published by Virago 4th February 2016

Under the Visible Life – Kim Echlin

The 1960s. Two girls. Mahsa, born to an Afghan mother and an American father, is orphaned after her parents are killed. When the relative she’s sent to live with discovers her relationship with a boy they send her to study in Montreal. There her love of jazz music grows and brings her a lifetime’s friendship with Katherine. Born to an American mother and a Chinese father who she never meets, Katherine sneaks out and begins playing the jazz clubs as a teenager. They lead her to a lifelong romance with an unreliable man. A gripping story of women who want more than society wants to allow them. Already a firm contender for book of the year.

Wow Factor: the language; the protagonists; the insight into relationships, marriage and family

#ReadWomen

Published by Serpent’s Tale 4th February 2016

Martin John – Anakana Schofield

Martin John is an ‘inadequate molester’. Sent to London by his Irish mother, he works, goes to visit Aunty Noanie, phones his mum regularly and circuits Euston Station looking for women he can rub up against. As his mental health deteriorates so does Martin John’s behaviour, revealed in vignettes and repetitive language. But it’s his mother’s story that will really get to you.

Wow Factor: the language; the mother’s story

#ReadWomen

Published by And Other Stories 4th February 2016

The Ballroom – Anna Hope

1911. An asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. Ella Fay’s incarcerated for breaking a window in the textile factory in which she worked. John Mulligan was brought there emaciated and destitute. When John and Ella meet at the dance inmates are allowed to attend on Friday evenings if they’ve been ‘good’, a romance begins. The third wheel in the story is the doctor, Charles Fuller, who’s been at the asylum for five years. A disappointment to his parents, he decides he’s going to make his name with some research on eugenics. Gripping.

Wow Factor: the language; the treatment of the main theme

#ReadWomen

Published by Doubleday 11th February 2016

Mend the Living – Maylis de Kerangal (translated by Jessica Moore)

Told over a 24-hour period from the moment Simon Limbeau’s alarm goes off and he leaves to go surfing with his friends to the point when his heart is transplanted into someone else’s body. de Kerangal tells a gripping tale of the procedure that occurs when an emergency transplant can take place. As the timeline progresses, she dips into the lives of all those involved in the procedure.

Wow Factor: the language; the dipping into the life of each character involved in the transplant

#womenintranslation #translationthurs #ReadWomen

Published by MacLehose Press 11th February 2016

Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

1964. 24-year-old Eileen is thin, jagged, angry and unhappy. She lives with her retired, ex-cop, alcoholic father and works as a secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. Desperate to leave her grim homelife, Eileen dreams of moving to New York. The novel tells the story of the week before Christmas 1964, the week Rebecca Saint John comes to work at the facility. Dark and disturbing, the less you know about this book before diving in the better.

Wow Factor: the perspective; the plotting

#ReadDiverse2016 #ReadWomen

Published by Jonathan Cape 3rd March 2016

Not Working – Lisa Owens

After the day she felt an impulse to start swallowing office supplies, Claire Flannery quit her job to work out what she really wanted to do. Told in vignettes about her long-term relationship with Luke, trips on the tube, increasingly drunk nights out with friends and fall-outs with family members, Claire could be any one of us.

Wow Factor: the protagonist; the insight into a 21st Century female psyche

#ReadWomen

Published by Picador 21st March 2016

The Cauliflower® – Nicola Barker

A fictionalised biography of guru, Sri Ramakrishna. Told in fragments partly by his nephew, Hriday, but also by an anachronistic film director and another narrator. Using haiku and script as well as prose, Barker tells the story of a man elevated by faith and raises questions about the nature of worship.

Wow Factor: Barker’s unique style

#ReadWomen

Published by William Heinemann 21st April 2016

My Name Is Leon – Kit de Waal

1980. Tina gives birth to baby Jake when Leon’s nine, but she struggles to cope and when the upstairs neighbour rings social services Jake and Leon are taken into care. Initially they both go to live with Maureen, an experienced foster parent, but soon baby Jake – who’s white-skinned – has people who want to adopt him. Older, black-skinned, Leon is left with Maureen and his anger at the unfairness of the world. Searing and heartbreaking.

Wow Factor: the voice; the insight into a life of poverty, mental illness and foster care

#ReadDiverse2016 #ReadWomen

Published by Viking 2nd June 2016
Thanks to all the publishers for review copies.