Tag Archives: Women

Nick Hornby – Funny Girl (2014)

FunnyGirlNick Hornby is right up there as one of my favourite authors. He is sharp, witty, and while I’m not sure if anything equal my love of High Fidelity, Funny Girl, his newest book was pretty great.

The novel focuses on Barbara Parker, a beauty queen from Blackpool who wants nothing more than to be a comedian like Lucille Ball. She leaves her small town striking out for London but finds that she is considered too good looking to be seen as being funny. This is the 1960s and Barbara, who changes her name to Sophie, only gets bit parts in plays and TV shows often as a Ditz. Hornby then introduces a whole cast or characters; BBC writers Bill and Tony, producer Dennis, and leading man Clive. The novel follows the production of Barbara (and) Jim starring Sophie/Barbara and Clive as it becomes one of Britain’s most beloved sitcoms and as the plots parallel the lives of the other characters in the story.

I loved everything about this novel, the character of Sophie/Barbara was so likeable, and the other characters were also layered and interesting. 1960s London is an amazing time to set a book like this dealing with. Hornby is sophisticated and funny in his writing as always and there were some parts that had me laughing out loud. I can see this being made into a movie so easily, especially as one directed by Richard Curtis, and will be so excited if that does come about.

Recommended Listening:

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour episode about Funny Girl 

NPR also has a review and provides and excerpt of the book

Recommended Reading:

The Atlantic’s article about the real feminist impact of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The AV Club on why I Love Lucy still endures.

 

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Why I Cried During Wonder Woman

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Princess Buttercup No More

 

This article also appears on Creators.Co

I went to see Wonder Woman the week that it was released and was immediately struck by how absolutely average it was. (Bear with me here). Superhero movies normally have a very prescribed formula, something that doesn’t appeal to me quite as much. Wonder Woman follows this formula through the origin, the journey and the final battle with a villain making it a very standard typical superhero movie. And that is what is so remarkable.

The fact that a female-driven movie followed the same structure and performed just as well as male-driven one is groundbreaking in and of itself. While there was a lot of hype surrounding the movie and a lot of wonderful reactions to it, the movie is largely entertaining and incredibly accessible to various audiences. Like other block buster action movies it seemed to drag at some parts but was overall satisfying. So why was I so emotionally wrecked by it?

I cried. A lot.

Looking online, this seems to be a common theme. Women are finding themselves emotional and crying during the battle scenes like when Robin Wright kicks total ass as Diana’s Aunt Hipployta or when Wonder Woman marches across No Man’s Land. There’s an emotional catharsis here. I doubt anyone would argue that Robin Wright’s character in House of Cards is not strong, she very clearly is, but it’s a different kind of strength. One that is more reserved though nonetheless important. There’s been a growth of these kinds of strong women in the media but there is something different about seeing females in positions of physical strength. I could have watched the Amazons fight all day.

There is the emotional catharsis of seeing women depicted in such a strong way and there is relief at how the movie is doing justice to the story; it lived up to the insanely high expectations set for it. For me, the most emotional part was seeing Diana as a young girl watching her Aunt and the other Amazons fight, wanting so desperately to be one of them. I was an emotional puddle thinking about the young girls who will see this movie and be inspired by these amazingly powerful women on the screen. It’s the same reason I get emotional when I see little girls dressed up as Rey or as characters from Ghostbusters. Representation matters and this movie shows why. In the wake of its release teachers and parents have shared their stories of young girls wanting to be Wonder Woman.

Diana is the perfect hero to accomplish what she does. She’s a fighter but she also stands for love and justice. They were a bit heavy handed with Wonder Woman’s message of “true love conquers all” and many reviewers complained about how saccharine it is. This message however, isn’t a bad one to be teaching young people, and is very true to the original Wonder Woman in the comic books. I keep hearing friends of mine complain about this and I’m tired of trying to defend it so I’ll just say that it didn’t bother me. (What did bother me was the character of Chief. It’s great to see a Native American actor represented on screen but the whole characterization was reductionist and made zero historical sense to me, but that is a whole other article. In the sequel, because there will be a sequel, let’s hope the demigod theories are confirmed).

I’m not, nor have I ever been, a huge superhero fan. Maybe if a movie like this had come out when I was younger I would have been. Not that I grew up in a barren wasteland devoid of any female role models. As I mentioned Anne Shirley was a heroine to me, as were the traditional “smart girls” like Hermione Granger and even Rory Gilmore to an extent. This speaks to my outlook on life and experience as an academic nerd. Not everyone is me and not all girls will relate to the same female characters that I did. It’s been said over and over, but I’ll say it again, representation matters and Wonder Woman is bringing us one step closer to a more well rounded pop culture environment for women and girls.

Kate Bolick – Spinster (2015)

Spinster“Spinster” is one of those terms that is not as commonly used as it once was. Having used to refer to a woman who remained unmarried whether a conscious decision or not, the term has fallen into disuse, or when used conjures up images of severe middle-aged “spinster librarian” types. (A stereotype that, as a librarian, I dislike). In her book, titled Spinster, Kate Bolick explores what it means to be single and seeks to reclaim the term.

In this book (an outgrowth of a 2011 Atlantic Article, “All the Single Ladies”) Bolick traces the lives of five great female writers (all of whom never married) and interlaces their lives with stories from her own personal journey. I’ve never read anything quite like this before, that blends memoir/autobiography with non-fiction. I was unsure at first, but as I kept reading I really began to like Bolick and drew my own inspiration from her.

Unlike Bolick’s article in the Atlantic, which was much more “fun” featuring one-night-stands and whirlwind romances, Spinster, is full of contemplative ponderings and the joys of solitude. I bought this book at a time when I too was trying to find joy in being alone after a tumultuous relationship and maybe that’s why it spoke to me so much. If anything it made me realize that I was going to be ok, and being alone, as much as I disliked it at the time did not make me a failure.

I feel like this book will split readers down the middle with some loving it and other hating it. It’s interesting and I fall on the side of those who loved it. Spinster is above all a product of Bolick’s long-term goal; a rejection of the traditional female role for something that she finds more fulfilling. Agree or disagree with Bolick, it is still an insightful and interesting read.

Recommended Reading: How to Be Alone from Thought Catalog. This is an older article but is still in my bookmarks, and I revisit it often.

Recommended Listening: A podacst episode on Self Care produced by Bitch Media for Valentine’s Day. 

Julie Klausner – I Don’t Care About Your Band (2010)

IDontCareAboutYourBandAnyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge fan of funny books written by funny women. In her memoir, Julie Klausner shares what she has learned from dating her fair share of Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, Felons, and Other Guys.

My favourite chapter of hers is about how to handle dating a musician. I pulled two quotes that I thought were so brilliant.They show just how bitter and cynical she is, while also passing on some much needed wisdom.

“Your man will always love his bandmates in a way you can’t touch because they are the guys who help him create music. You can only help him create a living human being with your dumb uterus”

“Don’t you know that a musician who writes a song for you is like a baker your dating making you a cake? Aim higher” 

Klausner writes a bit like Chelsea Handler in detailing her outrageous escapades, but there is something a bit more subtle in her writing compared to Handler’s. Klausner is far more open and honest about her true feelings, she was genuinely hurt and heartbroken by a number of the guys she was involved with and lets the reader know it. It’s great, and there were so many times throughout this book where I identified with her. We’ve all been there, had our hearts broken by people who didn’t always deserve us, and its just always so reassuring to know that now matter what you’re feeling at the time, it will get better. Julie Klausner got through it and went on to write a fantastic book about it.

Piper Kerman – Orange is the New Black (2010)

OrangeistheNewBlackSome of my friends told me that they didn’t really like reading this book since they already watch the show and it’s basically the exact same thing. After reading it, I disagree, the show and the book are very different from one another and while some of the characters on the show draw inspiration from the book, they are by no means the same people. There are some things the T.V show does better, and some things the book excels at.

First off the T.V show does a better job with the ensemble characters. This makes sense, as Orange is the New Black is Piper’s memoir of prison life so she is naturally the focus of the book. The reason I love the T.V show so much is because of the flashbacks and the way to get the stories, sometime tragic, sometimes humorous, of all the women locked up in prison. Kerman mentions these women but cannot flush out their stories as much as the T.V show can.

The book however makes Piper a much more likeable character, which isn’t that surprising since, again, it was written by her. In the T.V show Piper is very self-centered and self-absorbed in her own problems. While she makes friends with women around her, she is still consistent in putting herself first, which makes her annoying and sometimes cringe-worthy to watch. In the book however (and I guess real life), Piper is this strong woman, who is, at least in hindsight, able to recognize her privilege as a white middle class woman. She has a support system on the outside, which she constantly appreciates and values through her writing.

Most of all however, Piper Kerman, as opposed to Piper Chapman, feels remorse for her actions. The book is a critique on the Bureaucracy of Prisons, but it still helps Piper come to terms with her sentence. Even though she was arrested on a 10-year-old drug charge for transporting drug money, after being surrounded by women who’s lives have been torn apart by drugs, be they addicts, recovering addicts, or involved in the drug world in some way, Piper realizes that she is complacent in these women’s situations. She feels true remorse for her actions; at least that’s how it comes across in her writing.

Overall Piper writes honestly and openly about her prison experience, leading to the carrying of a much more likeable person than the one portrayed on T.V. The Piper in the book however doesn’t make for great television watching, and so it’s clear why the writers took such artistic license with the show. Kerman’s prison experience is a very singular one, and many other women of different races would have a very different telling of their experience with the BOP. I still think the book has its merits however, and hopefully fans of the show will agree.

Amy Poehler – Yes Please (2014)

YesPleaseFirst, I love Amy Poehler, I cannot stress that fact enough. I love her so much, and I wanted to love this book so much but I just couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book; funny and well-written, but it was just missing that certain something that makes a book like this amazing. Her stories and anecdotes fell flat for me, and there were times where I knew she was trying to be funny, but I just didn’t find it funny.

She spends a majority of her book complaining about how hard it is to write a book, or mentioning her divorce. Still, there are some shining moments and the stories she tells about being in drugs (Amy Poehler smoked a lot of weed), about Parks and Rec, and about her children were simply wonderful.

I was talking to some friends about my mixed feelings towards this book, and they all mentioned hearing that the audio book got rave reviews. I was intrigued, and even though I know Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are both immensely talented in everything they do; in my head Tina strikes me as more of a writer and Amy a performer. So I bought my first ever audio book with an itunes gift card from three Christmases ago.

The audiobook does make the story come alive. You get Amy, as well as a host of guest stars reading her book and getting off track with other conversations. I would highly recommend the audiobook for Amy I would highly recommend the audiobook for Yes Please, but also be warned that you do miss out on the pictures/doodles/art that are included within the pages of the physical book.

Caroline Moorehead – A Train in Winter (2011)

ATraininWinterHow does one begin to explain the unexplainable? Convince others to believe the unbelievable horrors that awaited the women of the French Resistance, Les Convoi des 31000, once they arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the hundreds of women sent to Nazi death camps only a handful survived to tell the story. This is their story.

This book was so hard to read, I found myself stunned at times needing to put it down. I couldn’t read too much in a day or else I would end up too depressed. While the first part details the involvement of the women in the French Resistance, the second part deals with their lives in Nazi death camps. The horrors they witnessed and the helplessness they felt watching their friends die.

Reading about the Holocaust however, and other historical atrocities should be uncomfortable and hard to read. Even though the death camps have been common knowledge to me ever since middle school, I don’t think I have ever really truly grasped the full extent of the horror, nor do I think I ever will. Moorehead writes in so much detail about the conditions in the camps, the rampant disease and lice, the lack of food and emaciated bodies, the cold, the mud, the wet, and still I cannot begin to comprehend that anyone was able to survive this for 2 and a half years. Most did not, but some did.

Moorehead’s story is optimistic about the strength of women’s friendship and their lasting bond. She interviewed as many surviving women as she could and writes that no one would have been able to survive in the camps on their own. They all stuck together and helped one another, pooling rations, hiding sick or injured women, as much as they could. Moorhead also writes that “The French as a national group were more cohesive than other nationalities and more prone to look after their own.” She credits the survival of a number of women to this fact.

While Mooreheads story is one of women, friendship and survival it does not necessarily have a happy ending. The women who survived had returned to France but discovered that they had forgotten how to live. Many came home as widows, finding out that their husbands who were also involved in resistance activities were shot, or to children who did not even recognize them. Combined with the nightmares of the camps and the lack of a support network, many of these women withdrew into themselves finding it impossible to be happy again. While life went on, many women could not. Survivor Charlotte Delbo wrote, “Looking at me, one would think that I’m alive … I’m not alive. I died in Auschwitz, but no one knows it.”

Moorehead’s book shed important light on the important role that women played during the Second World War through their involvement with the French Resistance, and the sobering reality that many paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to their country. She deals briefly with the aftermath of the war, and the treatment of war crimes in France, but her main focus us on Les Convoi des 3100, the 42 women who managed to survive out of the 230 that did not.

Rating: 4.5/5