How to Build a Girl: Chapters 5 – 10 (Read Along)

Posted 21 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

How To Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran 
Read Along! Chapters 5 – 10.

Note: As this is a read along spoilers are gonna spoil ladies and gentlefolk. But it’s gonna be hella fun.

If you want to read along later go to Odyssey Books and get yourself a pre-order! Of course I want to extend a giant thanks to Emily at How the Crowe Flies (and Reads!) and the good people at Harper Collins.

Note Two: These posts are going to have all the language. But on the bright side, it’ll be colorful. Clean readers: This book is not for you.

Final Note: This post differs from many of those on The Steadfast Reader. (Of course it’s still fabulous.) But if it’s not your cup of tea, just know, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming, tomorrow. Also, a proper review (one less gushy and with fewer fangirl moments) will be published on the blog sometime in October. Read along continues every Monday until August 11, 2014.

In case you missed it!
How to Build a Girl – Part One

Today, let’s try only to use Veep gifs. It makes things more fun.

Aww, man guys, are we still loving this? I’m still loving this! Chapter five starts out all serious. But still incredibly funny. Teenage suicidal ideation? Who knew it could be approached with such levity? But that just turns out to be a little teenage angst. Johanna decides on something better than suicide. (That’s a weird sentence, 99.9% of the time anything is better than suicide.)

YOU GO GIRL.

And then, Dear Lord, God, Jesus, Buddha, Mary, and Krishna. [insert your choice of blasphemy here] Johanna starts trying to find her name to ‘build a girl’.

She has an array of choices for a non-de-plume that are equally amusing. Belle Jar? Kitten Lithium? Juno Jones? Hamburgler? All of those sound like porn stars, FOR THE WIN! (Maybe not Hamburgler, but I’m pretty sure she’d run up against some sort of copyright infringement for that one. McDonalds does NOT fuck around y’all.)

So who shall Johanna Morrigan become?

Am I the only one who thinks that Dolly Wilde also sounds like a porn star? Then again, Oscar Wilde’s scandalous alcoholic lesbian niece who dies young, isn’t so far off. I mean, with a name like that, what could possibly go wrong? As an American, of course this name conjures up images of Dolly Parton for me – who actually is totally amazing.  Moving on.

A NOTE: From here on out I’m probably going to use the names Johanna and Dolly interchangeably more or less. If you’re not reading along, understand that they are the same (at least physically) person.

I was actually pretty impressed when she started building what I’m going to call her vision board (wall) for her inspiration on who Dolly Wilde is going to be.

  • The “triumvirate of irrepressible gingers” (Barbara Streisand in Hello Dolly!, Anne of Green Gables, Miranda Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I in Blackadder)
  • The brunettes (Dorothy Parker, Kate Bush (who?), Elizabeth Taylor)
  • The poor blondes — her only inspiration appears to be Bugs Bunny dressed in drag. 
(Cue the Drag Race gif) 
Aww. Sadface, we’re in Veep Mode today.
Then her men. Her “imaginary coterie of brother-lovers”. All I have to say –  mostly awesome picks. George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, Orson Welles, Tony Benn – inventor, Rik Mayall (who?). Then Lenin. Hot and sexy Vladimir Lenin.

Before we go on, can we stop to observe something? Not only does Johanna categorize her women into hair color – her women are all beautiful, some are powerful, but that seems secondary. She doesn’t put up an actual portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, she puts up a pretty actress that’s playing her. From her women she draws the desire to be beautiful. (Because Bugs Bunny in drag always was kinda hot, amiright?)

Now consider the men. They’re smart, groundbreaking, and powerful. (Okay, maybe she put up Lenin primarily because he was hot, not because he was a revolutionary, but still.) Where are Johanna’s smart powerful women? Who on her list of women encourages her to ‘lean in’ not with her body, but with her brain? I think this is a problem that we still have today. True, we have Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Pohler, Tina Fey, and of course Caitlin Moran. But smart powerful women aren’t on the whole society wants. And that needs to change.

Networking. Did anyone else love this scene as much as me? The goth teens, hanging around the war memorial. (I feel like they should be smoking, but that part doesn’t appear in the text.) There’s something mildly absurd about Johanna bringing her “business associate” along (read: baby brother Lupin). Oh the meeting with the goths… it’s so awkward, but Johanna is just so damned ballsy and won’t be put off by it – much.

God, that inner dialogue. I love it. I also love that Johanna is so incredibly smart and witty – even if her peers don’t get it. I totally make stupid obscure jokes all the time and get all the blank stares. I’m really relating to her here. I want to give her a hug and tell her that her authentic self is freakin’ amazing. But isn’t that a part of being a teenager? (Hell, of being a person?) Not having the ability to see yourself as awesome as you really are?

Johanna’s decision to turn Dolly Wilde into a music journalist is brilliant. On pages 86 and 87 I think we get a glimpse into why Johanna so unconditionally loves her family – it’s because they (despite their MANY shortcomings) unconditionally love her.

She announces at fourteen (fifteen?) her intentions to become a music journalist – and instead of laughing at her or telling her it’s dumb they totally embrace the idea. How great is that?

Then. Then we get the backstory. Dadda’s addicted to pain pills. God, it’s so tragic. An injured fireman! So, at least we know that Dadda isn’t completely and totally a man-child. He did man up once, after giving up his dreams of the band, but then was injured – as a firefighter. It’s almost enough for me to feel some sympathy for the poor man – until we find out that was 1982. With only two kids. Last week someone said something about birth-control. Eight years and three kids later. Get the man a goddamned vasectomy… and into rehab… and some better pain management.

Shit man. Being poor is complicated and I love how Moran brings this all to light here with the perfect balance of levity and gravitas. Even on birth control accidental pregnancies happen. Kicking drugs is hard. And kicking a pill habit while you’re still in massive amounts of pain on a regular basis? It’s nearly fucking impossible. Dadda is a man-child, but he has my sympathy, if even just a little. Is he gaming the welfare system? Ok. Maybe a bit.


1992.
Viewing her as an adult, I think that Johanna Morrigan fucking rocks. She’s sixteen and landed an interview with Disc & Music Echo (D&ME). How? How does a sixteen year old from the sticks land an interview with a music magazine in London? TENACITY. Two years of research, twenty-seven consecutive letters, phone calls. All from Dolly Wilde.


Holy shit. She was a blogger before there were blogs.

Then there’s this:

Did that sentence evoke the #YesAllWomen campaign on Twitter a few weeks back for anyone else?

I’m getting close to wrapping this up… but there’s just so much. I feel like we have a re-run of the Scooby Doo episode when Dolly walks up to D&ME for her interview and she makes an obscure Annie reference that is met with silence. Ohhhh… I felt all the pain of this. As I said before I still do shit like this.

Frankly, that whole meeting was deliciously awkward and I could feel the feelings that Johanna was having after the meeting. Going into the bathroom, the grinding your teeth together, taking some breaths. Replaying every. stupid. comment. you made. Oh yes. I still feel like this every time I have to get out there and network with the big boys.

But she gets the job. Here’s where I have to stop and suspend belief. I dunno, it just doesn’t feel realistic, but it’s necessary for the momentum of the story so I’m gonna roll with it. Dolly gets the job but Johanna has to return to real life and bicker over the use of the Commodore 64 with little Lupin. She fights with Mom and damnit man, they’ve got to stick to the schedule.


The gig. D&ME calls. You see Johanna play Dolly and there’s something heartbreaking here. Because Johanna is good enough, but she doesn’t know that. Not even a little bit. She doesn’t need to fake playing the wild card. Ah, teenage (and middle age) insecurity.

I love the borderline offense that Dolly takes at the kids in Birmingham being so totally into The Smashing Pumpkins and the appropriation of American culture. There’s something incredibly amusing in her outrage.


I have no idea what most of the words in that sentence mean. Probably because I’m an American.

But I totally agree with her that moshing and crowd-surfing is dreadful, after all, she’s a MUSIC CRITIC, not an ANIMAL. I’m pretty sure that I was British in most of my past lives.

Of course Dadda comes with her to the concert, mostly for the free booze, and of course he gets totally drunk and befriends Protestant Pat. (“but we’ve sorted it all out.”What does that even mean?!)

Backstage with the Pumpkins also is a replay of every bit of social awkwardness poor Johanna experiences. Then when Dadda and Protestant Pat appear, well, I just want to sink into the ground for poor Johanna. At the same time – I laughed my head off.

Chapter Ten ends with what I consider to be some really bad decision making. Johanna drops out of school. Granted, she does so in a most fabulously dramatic way. She’s pretty easy breezy about it, maybe because she just doesn’t give a fuck about talking to the school secretary – but there’s nothing awkward at all about this exchange. I do love her fabulous mean girl attitude about her classmates.  I want to quote the whole paragraph on p. 125 about the way she narcs out her classmates, but I won’t. Just go back and read it and tell me it’s not funny. Because it totally is.

Thank goodness that her parents don’t approve – they’ve got that bit of childrearing down at least. But there’s no arguing with Johanna’s logic:

Not a Veep gif, but the reference was too good to pass up.

Teenagers.

Looks like Dolly’s going to Dublin and I can’t wait.

But first. I want to leave you with two things.

On a side note: I had a bitch of a time creating this graphic because I just couldn’t find the right font to express who I feel like Johanna is becoming on this journey. I know. First world problems right there.

Finally. (I know, FINALLY.) This statement really spoke to me. I’m not sure exactly what it means, but it’s definitely one of those fabulous characteristics of Moran’s writing that amidst all the zaniness and weird, eccentric things happening, she slips in these really deep and important concepts.

So tell me, Readers? Whatcha thinkin’? Poor Go Book Yourself! bailed after the sexmergency last week. (Hopefully just for that post.) Is my enthusiasm a bit overwhelming? (I don’t care.) Are any of my fellow #moranalongers feeling dislike, disappointment, or some other variance of negativity for this book? Do you hate networking as much as I do? If you don’t already watch RuPaul’s Drag Race or Veep, am I inspiring you? Am I asking too many questions?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

13 Comments/ : , , , , , , ,

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  • I liked the first section, but I LOVED this part. Like, LOVE LOVED. That first quote about the teenage mothers had me rolling and the music scene Johanna gets herself into is perfect. I love the point about her female idols, though I’m wondering if that might change over time for her. We shall seeeee.

  • amycrea

    I didn’t have any problem with her getting the job–I figured she already had it, based on the 27 reviews she’d sent in. I didn’t think the interview was anything more than a formality. Loved this section, especially the big family gathering.

  • Katie

    It’s not just the Americans – the name Dolly conjures up a very specific image in probably every reader’s mind.

    Rik Mayall was a British comedian and actor who died recently 🙁 My friend adored him. He was part of the Stephen Fry/Hugh Laurie/Rowan Atkinson set, appeared in Blackadder and apparently was cast in Harry Potter as Peeves, but was later cut. I’d have liked to have seen that.

    I loved this section, especially the inspiration collage wall – it was so deliberately constructed, as she decided to make her new identity (as the book’s title suggests) but it reminded me of the many ways I tried to reinvent my surroundings to reinvent myself, and was usually disappointed with the results.

    I think the interview story was based on Caitlin Moran’s own experiences, but just because it really happened, doesn’t make it realistic. I thought that was the weakest part of the story here.

    • kayleigh M

      I didn’t know Ryall was cast as Peeves. That makes me even more sad there were no Peeves scenes in the films. Myall was also in The Young Ones (fantastic tv series) and Drop Dead Fred.

  • Emily@As the Crowe Flies

    I love your take on this week’s section. You dissect it far more brilliantly than I did, and coherently, come to that. though you point out something here that clears up the POV switch that confused me–she’s writing in third person about dolly only during the interview bits then she’s back to her first person stuff.

    i think that even having presented a body of work to DME, they might have raised an eyebrow at her age. how young can somebody be in England and work legally? And sending her off to Dublin? I mean, maybe they’re not a model employer. and i know that traveling to another country’s capital from England is far different from traveling to another country’s capital from the US, but it still seems a bit far-fetched that she’d be doing that on her own and that it would be okay with the music magazine.

    • kayleigh M

      I wrote this on your post too Emily, but in Aus in the 90s (and earlier obvs) if you had a job lined up you could quit school after grade 10. Which would make you 15/16. You can’t do that anymore, but the English system is almost identical to ours so I’d imagine they had similar rules.

      The Dublin thing we’re more on the same page about. Although, America does have Tavi Gevinson and Lights, Camera, Jackson, two bloggers who are now paid very well to visit other countries and events and are both under 16.

  • Now I want to watch Veep. Unless you can give me more time in my day (or volunteer to hold crying babies), you have to stop recommending such good stuff!

  • Sarah Says Read

    I love your quote graphics. And that you point out that her dad is still kind of a man-child and still kind-of scamming the system. I feel like I’m the only one who’s seeing this.

    But yeah, Johanna has brilliant inner dialogue and I kind of liked her way of dropping out of school. I like that her parents tried to change her mind, because they’re her parents and it’s their job and school IS important… but sometimes dropping out really is the better option. I hope it continues to work out that way for her.

  • I also have a SERIOUS issue with moshing and crowd-surfing. I go to concerts to enjoy the music, and then I’m suddenly being kicked in the head by someone from above or finding myself in the middle of a spontaneous mosh pit where I have to remove focus from the stage so I can fight for my very life. And I’ve felt this way since I was 13 so it is NOT because I don’t understand young people today or some-such thing.

    I really liked that scene where her dad and Protestant Pat went backstage with her at Smashing Pumpkins, because she wasn’t embarrassed by them at any point. She seems mysteriously uninhibited at the same time as she’s fairly self-conscious. An enigma.

  • Rayna

    First of all, now I have in my head an image of the Hamburgler as a porn star. So thanks for that.

    Also, I am in awe of your quote graphic abilities – very impressive!

    That Courtney Love quote made me legitimately laugh out loud. Moran does a good job of both making the reader remember their teenage years AND making them cringe to remember their terrible judgement.

  • Love the “triumvirate of irrepressible gingers” — Ha!

    A musical journalist? That’s great. I couldn’t even have thought of that career when I was a teenager.

  • She is like a blogger! How fun!

    I wasn’t impressed with her list of female role models, but I didn’t notice that the men were more accomplished role models. Interesting point!

    Oh, her Annie reference. Honestly, I thought she was pretty insane for thinking that was a good idea. Even 16 year old me never would have done something silly like that at a job interview.

  • Kayleigh vW

    I love themed GIF posts. Good on you.

    Excellent point on the values she showcases in the men vs the women she idolizes. Also, those are some DEEP TRUTHS you’ve graphicked up all nicely, there. The Scooby Doo one is especially important.