Tag: feminist literature


Best Books: 2014

Posted 30 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in books and publishing

best books 2014

It’s that time of year y’all! If you were here ’round this time last year, you know that I don’t do my best of list until the end of June, mostly because everyone is so sick of best of lists in December that they want to throw up. So, here’s my best twelve books of 2014 list while you’re fresh and ready!

  • The Word Exchange by: Alena Graedon – Mostly this list is in no particular order, but The Word Exchange blew my socks off so early in the year that very little else came close to me. I love dystopia, I especially love a near future dystopia where words are at stake. I loved this book.
  • Pro by: Katha Pollitt – This might have been the most important book published in 2014. It’s a call to stop shaming women who choose abortion and how access to abortion for all is not only something that women should never feel guilty about — it’s actually a morally righteous decision. Anyone who is on the fence about abortion or who thinks that exceptions for abortion are okay in rape and incest situations need to read this book.
  • The Magician’s Trilogy by: Lev Grossman – Okay, so only The Magician’s Land was actually published in 2014, but I gobbled up the whole 1,200 page trilogy in a matter of two weeks. I hate that I had the opportunity to see Lev Grossman speak (and did!) at The Decatur Book Festival last year but did not secure myself a signed copy of The Magician’s Land. Hailed as a ‘grown up Harry Potter’, I absolutely must agree. Except maybe it’s all the best parts of Harry Potter and all the best parts of the Narnia series. Go forth, read them all. Immediately.
  • Revival by: Stephen King – I loved the slow burn of this novel and the feeling of creepiness slowly coming up on you, along with the balls to the walls scareded-ness that come at the end. Yes. Absolutely a must read for Stephen King fans young and old.
  • Bellweather Rhapsody by: Kate Racculia – If you’re a band nerd, former or current, or if you love some crazy, quirky, mysteries this is a fabulous book for you. There was so much about this book that rang true to me — from being a former band nerd to the fact that it had almost a Stephen King-eqsue feel with the hotel (The Shining is what I’m thinking of) this book is unique and wonderful.
  • Dear Committee Members by: Julie Schumacher – Are you sick of the rash of epistolatory novels? DON’T BE! Dear Committee Members is delightful and laugh out loud funny at times. Anyone who has worked in an office setting or especially  in higher education in an underfunded department will find plenty of delight and fabulousness in this novel.
  • Station Eleven by: Emily St. John Mandel – Won the Rooster in this year’s Tournament of Books. It was a fantastic and beautiful literary dystopian novel that was absolutely enchanting.
  • How to Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran – The most important coming-of-age novel since Judy Blume. I adored this novel. I laughed, I teared up, I was always team Johanna.
  • The Bone Clocks by: David Mitchell – Yes. Just do it.
  • An Untamed State by: Roxane Gay – I was completely entrenched into this novel, the most important part of it wasn’t, for me, the rape of a woman of color, but it was dealing with the aftermath of that rape and finding hope and understanding in the most unlikely places. A fabulous debut novel by Gay.
  • Yes Please by: Amy Poehler – YES PLEASE! A fabulous feminist manifesto full of positivity and laughter. Poehler’s memoir was everything I wanted to to be, and more.
  • All the Birds, Singing by: Evie Wyld – Another book that I read thanks to the Tournament of Books. I found this book to be so beautifully complex and such a great puzzle. So much for discussion in a book club, so much symbolism and such great writing.

So, Reader, what were your favorite books of 2014? 

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Fabulous Feminist Friday: Dietland

Posted 12 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Feminist Friday: DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 272
Goodreads
five-stars

The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed. Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin. But when Plum notices she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots, she finds herself falling down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms. Reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerilla group begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her own personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive. Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.

As the memes say, Dietland was so much win for me. It’s possible that part of the win came from the fact that I almost didn’t read it. Shannon at River City Reading sent me her copy and I wasn’t really arrested by the description, but I am a feminist so I thought I might as well give it a whirl, if for no other reason Shannon spent $4.07 mailing it to me.

Guys. This book will change your life. Or at the very least will have you re-examining so many parts of our culture. This book touched me in a very personal way so,  before I get to the book review we’re going sit down and have a little fireside chat. Move in closer, I’m going to get a little personal.

Growing up, through my twenties, up until the point that I had The Girl four years ago, I was that girl. I was the girl who could eat as much of anything that she wanted and never gain an ounce. I fluctuated between 115 – 120 or so, never exercised until I joined the Air Force and never gained weight. Well, as so often happens once women pop out that first baby they find their bodies inexorably changed forever. I now fluctuate between 160 – 170 and it’s taken me a long time to recognize that this is my new body. Well, this is my new body unless I want to live in Dietland.

Foxy, hot, fuckable. Whatever it was called, that’s what I’d wanted  – to be hot, to elicit desire in men and envy in women. But I realized I didn’t want that anymore. That required living in Dietland, which meant control, constriction – paralysis, even – but above all it meant obedience. I was tired of being obedient.”

I freakin’ love to eat guys. I love it. I’m terrible at exercising regularly, which I should do for health reasons but that’s a different issue. Do you know what this book did for me? It set me free from Dietland. I’m a size 12, I’m going to stay that way, and I am okay with that. Okay seriously, the review now.

Dietland takes on all the issues. Gender inequality, fat shaming being one of the last acceptable prejudices, beauty culture. The writing is good, there are some characters that seem a little underdeveloped, but I almost wonder if this was intentional – if these characters are less characters and more caricatures. For me that worked with the satire and social commentary that Walker was creating.

I enjoyed every facet of this book with the sole exception being the treatment of anti-depressants in the novel. Monika mentions this in her review as well (linked below), and it’s just unclear what statement Walker was trying to make about the use of anti-depressants – but I’m uncomfortable with negativity expressed towards their use, just because the stigma against mental health treatment is so high.

The timing of the publication of this novel is perfect, the novel itself is light and airy while still packing a substantive punch of social commentary that the world needs to hear. This might be the best book I’ve read this year.

Other Opinions:

River City Reading

A Lovely Bookshelf

Books Speak Volumes

A quote for the road:

“On the Nola and Nedra Show, Nola Larson King said: “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, Nedra, and I agree with you. I don’t think that this is terrorism or lady terrorism. Do you know what I think it is?”

“I’m dying to know,” said Nedra Feldstein-Delany.

“I think it’s a response to terrorism. From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad men who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves late at night, not to dress in a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”

What do you think, Reader? Too subversive? Too weird? Let’s chat! Also – expect to see this broken down completely at The Socratic Salon some day soon!

April

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Mental Health Monday: Hausfrau

Posted 23 March, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Mental Health Monday: HausfrauHausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published by Random House Publishing Group on March 17th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.   But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

Dear God. Hausfrau is one of those books that hits you where it hurts. Love (or something close to love), marriage, infidelity, family, mental illness…

This book was an all around winner for me. It’s not just deep and important with plenty of things for bookclubs everywhere to argue about, it’s also beautifully written. I have a background in German so the parallels that Essbaum made between the German language and Anna’s life decisions were endlessly fascinating and relatable to me.

Despite her affairs and questionable moral behavior I liked Anna and understood her compulsions and actions (or lack thereof). Depression is not something that can be ‘fixed’ with something as easy as finding a new hobby or making new friends, and perhaps I excuse her affairs because of her long term depression.

This book is gorgeously written and tackles a number of complex and heavy topics. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Other viewpoints from:

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf

Andi at Estella’s Revenge

Shannon at River City Reading

Melinda at The Book Musings

What about you, Reader? Can you handle a book where you find some of the protagonist’s actions morally reprehensible? Do we judge men as harshly as women when it comes to marital infidelity? And don’t forget to drop into The Socratic Salon on Wednesday where we’ll really break it down.

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Feminist Friday: The Paying Guests (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 27 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist Friday: The Paying Guests (A Tournament of Books Selection)The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Published by Penguin on September 16th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Literary
Pages: 576
Goodreads
three-stars

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

What I liked about this book was the way it shook up gender roles within the narrative of historical fiction. I liked that Frances wanted to be independent and live on her own and have a real career outside of being a housewife. I liked that the first ‘friend’ Frances had actually realized that vision. 

What I can’t say is if this gives an accurate portrayal of post WWI English life, the NYT says that it does, so maybe my issue is that I’m not a hard-core historical fiction fan, nor am I a fan of romance. I’d categorize The Paying Guests under both of these labels, with a little murder/mayhem thrown in.

Look. This book is a perfect example of a well written book that just wasn’t for me. I only picked it up because of the Tournament of Books and even then was hesitant to do so because I knew enough about the novel to feel like it wasn’t in my usual wheelhouse. (This is not to say that the reading made me uncomfortable in any way, just that it’s not on my interest radar.) 

So. If you’re a historical fiction buff with a penchant for a little romance on this side, this might be for you. 

How will this fare in the Tournament? I think that it’s a close call with it paired up against A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall – but I think that ultimately A Brave Man will prevail out of the first round. We shall see.

Fabulous differing perspectives found from:
Michael at Literary Exploration
Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books
Andi at Estella’s Revenge

How did you feel about The Paying Guests, Reader? When was the last time you read outside of your genre wheelhouse?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Feminist(?) Friday: After Birth

Posted 6 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist(?) Friday: After BirthAfter Birth by Elisa Albert
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 17th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 208
Goodreads
two-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A year has passed since Ari gave birth to Walker, though it went so badly awry she has trouble calling it “birth” and still she can't locate herself in her altered universe. Amid the strange, disjointed rhythms of her days and nights and another impending winter in upstate New York, Ari is a tree without roots, struggling to keep her branches aloft.When Mina, a one-time cult musician — older, self-contained, alone, and nine-months pregnant —moves to town, Ari sees the possibility of a new friend, despite her unfortunate habit of generally mistrusting women. Soon they become comrades-in-arms, and the previously hostile terrain seems almost navigable.

Honestly. I’m not sure how to feel about this one. My overwhelming feelings are negative. But at the same time I’m a feminist that wants to accept feminists of all stripes.

However. This is not a book that accepts all women as women. For me the protagonist of this novel seemed to encourage the ‘mommy-wars’ rather than bring us all into a warm and hugging sisterhood. There are looooonngggg passages about the evils of a C-section and the horrors of feeding your infant formula.

NEWSFLASH! C-Sections save lives. Lives of women and children. Formula. Christ. Not every mother has the ability to breastfeed — even if they want to. I’m prone to severe depression both as myself and through family history. PERSONALLY it was more important to me, my mental health – which thus affected the health of my infant to be sane rather than to breastfeed. So I chose formula… and I don’t feel even a little bad about that. But I felt like this novel attempted to make women who had to have C-sections or chose not to breastfeed to feel bad about it… and to me, that’s not what feminism is about.

To paraphrase Amy Pohler in Yes Please, those things are GREAT FOR OTHER WOMEN but NOT FOR ME. I support, encourage, and cheer on women who want natural home-births, to breastfeed their children until they are seven, and all the other attachment-parenting/”the way things were” stuff. But it’s not for me. Again, I won’t feel poorly about that. Again, this book felt like it was trying to make me feel just that.

There are passages that criticize second and third wave feminists… really? Maybe I missed a deeper meaning and irony in the book — but to me women are women and feminists (however trite the saying may become) are just people who want to see women as equal participants in society.

Let’s talk about the writing. Stream of consciousness can be amazing. (See: Faulkner) But Faulkner, Albert is not. Instead the writing becomes confused and convoluted, which takes away from whatever power the narrative may have. Instead it becomes a distraction and an irritation.

Between the failed attempt at stream of consciousness and the too narrow “feminist” message I was totally turned off. 

Lord. In the first draft of this review I was so disappointed by what I didn’t like about this book that I forgot to mention what I did like about it. I completely related to the rage that Ari felt after giving birth, the disconnected-ness to Walker, the lack of female friendships. I liked the way that Albert portrayed the (in my opinion, correct) idea that it takes a village to raise a child. The wet-nursing did not freak me out in the least.

Have you been recently disappointed by a book whose politics you thought you agreed with, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Carrie, Carrie, Carrie

Posted 27 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

As Halloween is upon us and I noticed that the new Carrie film was on Netflix, it only seemed appropriate to do a three way comparison. Since I consider Carrie to be a book/movie that has become a part of our collective cultures, there will be spoilers. But, I’m pretty sure if you haven’t read/seen it already… you still already know about it.

Let’s just get this out of the way up front. Neither movie holds a candle to the original source novel. King wrote an epistolatory novel that also has flashes of into the first person of a few different characters. See my review. But the characters are well fleshed out and there’s just no way that could ever be translated to the screen.  Now that we have that out of the way, let’s compare movies.

I lurve the original 1976 film directed by Brian de Palma and with Sissy Spacek in the title role. But last night I finally got around to watching the 2013 version directed by Kimberly Peirce with Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role. (I liked it a lot too!) I think the easiest way  to do this is going to be a side by side comparison.

Carrie

Title character – miscast this and the whole movie is going to be ruined. As I said before I lurve Sissy Spacek’s take on this kid, but Mortez brings something different to the character. I think that Spacek’s portrayal is more true to the book, but I love the attitude that Mortez brings to the character after she realizes the power that she wields. While Spacek remains the ‘deer in the headlights’ Carrie throughout the entirety of the film, after discovering her powers and especially after having the pig’s blood dumped on her, Mortez starts to kick ass and takes no names.

Verdict: Tie. I just can’t choose.

Margaret White

Personally, I think it would have been cool to see Sissy Spacek come back and play the role of Margaret White, but Hollywood and its infinite wisdom did not allow for that. Instead we have Piper Laurie in the 1976 classic and Julianne Moore in Peirce’s 2013 version. I loved what Peirce did at the beginning of the 2013 film, seeing Margaret give birth to Carrie, alone, and wanting to kill her because she’s such a fanatic nut was frickin’ brilliant. We get some of that in the ’76 version but it’s done through allusion rather than what the audience actually sees.

I also love how Moore is shown in the 2013 version flagellating herself, using her fingernails, or the seam ripper. That being said, Laurie didn’t pull punches when trying to portray the totally batshit crazy religious mom.

Verdict: Julianne Moore for taking it up a notch with the self flagellation, even if she seems a wee-bit more approachable than Piper Laurie.

Sue Snell

Maybe it was just the seventies realness that left me unable to really connect with Amy Irving as Sue Snell in the original movie. Or maybe it was because I wanted to punch her in the face. But I felt like Gabriella Wilde came closer than Irving in portraying the character as written in the book. In the book Sue really is sympathetic to Carrie and is haunted by her actions in the infamous locker scene even before the main action goes down.

Verdict: Gabriella Wilde, Class of 2013.

Chris Hargensen

The meanest of the mean girls. I love the feathered hair realness that Nancy Allen brought to the role in ’76, but I felt like it was Portia Doubleday brought the true mean-girl/really nasty girl high-school bully to the screen. Two parts masochist, one part scared little girl who counts on Daddy to make it all right. I was disappointed in both versions with the pissing contest that takes place between the principal and Hargensen’s lawyer dad over her suspension and loss of prom privileges. In the book the principal has some incredible balls and promises a counter lawsuit under the theory of locos parentis (which I really don’t think would have worked, but hey, fiction, right?) on behalf of the treatment Carrie receives from Chris.

This was close one, but I think the iPhone update pushes it over the edge for me.

Verdict: Doubleday, for publishing the ‘plug it up’ video on YouTube and for generally just looking scary and entitled.

Penultimate Shower Scene

The opening scene to the novel and the movies – this is the scene that sets the tone for the rest of the body of work. While I enjoyed the updates in the 2013 version, I felt like Spacek’s performance was rawer and realer than Mortez’s performance. I think that Spacek shows a lot more vulnerability that keeps pace with the way that the novel was written. Besides, Mortez is just too damn pretty. On the other hand the cinematography of the original focuses just a little too long to pubescent girls just having and awesome time in the locker-room, which is so far removed from reality I don’t even know what to classify it as.

Verdict: 1973’s performance was rawer, realer, and does a better job at setting the tone for the movie.


Prom Night

In the 2013 version I really think this is where Carrie begins to come into her own. She kicks ass, take no names and becomes judge, jury, and executioner to her tormentors. We also get to see Sue’s pregnancy (she’s not a virgin and she gets to live?! What the what?!). Even in the stances the two actresses are taking, you see Mortez owns the power better than Spacek. I like that.

Verdict: Prom Night 2013, foreveah!

Overall Verdict:
Well, obviously the book wins over any movie adaptation. But I think I’m going to have to go out on  a crazy limb and say that I preferred the 2013 reboot to the original film. It felt truer to the book, the characters were less one dimensional, and I’m pretty sure Peirce snuck some subversive feminist messages in there. It’s also worth noting that school shootings and mass terror wasn’t a thing in 1976, so that made the subject matter of a girl basically blowing up her high school all the more… explosive today?  (Sorry, poor taste.) But Peirce handles the subject matter deftly, and I can’t recall a single cringe worthy moment on account of that type of subject matter.

So, Readers, what do you think? Have you read the book? Seen either of the movies? What’s your preference? Oo! Has anyone seen the musical?


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Terrific Tuesday: How to Build a Girl

Posted 7 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: How to Build a GirlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Published by Harper Collins on September 23rd 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Humorous, Literary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn't enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.It's 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there's no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.By sixteen, she's smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She's writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.But what happens when Johanna realizes she's built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

I read this book as part of a read-along with a number of other bloggers a few months back. I adored it. This book is going to piss some people off, lots of people are going to be put off by the opening scene, fourteen year old Johanna Morrigan masturbating in bed.
But what’s great about How to Build a Girl is, for the most part it’s an incredibly real book. It’s a book that finally gives a narrative voice to teenage girls about growing up as teenage girls. Sex, drugs, poverty, and welfare are all explored by Moran in such an expert way that I have half of the book highlighted. Moran shies away from none of these things. There is no misty lighting when describing Johanna’s sexual experiences – it’s done very matter-of-factly, there is nothing titillating or pornographic about it. I would love to see this book in high school libraries. I’d love to see it taught to high school students (but it’s never ever going to happen). There’s plenty of laughter and places to feel the feels.
I know other readers are bothered by some tense shifting within the novel. Most of the time we’re hearing the voice of 14 – 17 year old Johanna, but every now and then the tense shifts and the words seem to be coming from an older, wiser narrator. This didn’t bother me in the least, but there are plenty of readers I know who it drove crazy. Which is a bit weird to me, because I’ve read plenty of books since (which some of these same bloggers have also read) that had the same tense shifting and no one said boo about it…
Moran has written a novel here, that, for the first time since Judy Blume, has given teenage girls a voice. But for all the good it could do for teenagers to read this book, it’s not really a YA novel. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it’s a highly relatable coming of age novel that women and girls have needed for a long time now. I applaud Moran for writing this and her publishers for not shying away from the hard topics.
How to Build a Girl is the perfect balance of levity, heart-break, and reality. I highly recommend this to well… everyone. But those most likely to enjoy it will be people with an open mind and understanding of feminism who are willing to stretch just a tiny bit outside of what they perceive their comfort zone to be. It’s worth it.
What do you think, Reader? Could you venture just a little (or a lot) outside of your comfort zone to read this revolutionary book? Or does this sound completely out of bounds for you? I can’t help but shout it from the rooftops. It’s so good.

 

 

 

P.S. If you’ve already read the book, or have no intentions of reading it I might highly recommend my read-along posts:
Part One
Chapters 5 – 10
Chapters 11 – 15
Chapters 16 – 20
Endings

I’m excited to be participating in the tour for Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl, be sure to check out the entire tour schedule here, it runs through 22 October. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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How to Build a Girl: Endings (Read Along)

Posted 11 August, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

How To Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran
Read Along! Part Three.

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
How to Build a Girl – Ch. 5 – 10
How to Build a Girl – Ch. 11 – 15
How to Build a Girl – Ch. 16 – 20

Part Three

Well. I just have to say, I don’t know if this has been Mr. Toad’s Wild 
Ride for anyone else, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this book.

So at the end of Part Two I thought that Johanna was realizing that her behavior tearing down bands was kind of douchey – but then she continues to act douchey early in chapter twenty one. It’s just not very nice to get people drunk, off the record, and then make fun of their sexual fantasies that they’ve trusted you with. Don’t be a douche, Johanna.



Well, Johanna’s been a douche, so she gets a drink thrown in her face and seems oddly surprised about it. It’s a lesson. Words matter. You know who else is a douche? Kenny. Taking a seventeen year old girl into the bathroom and giving her speed? What the fuck is wrong with these people. But Kenny justifies their douche-baggery and Johanna feels better. Boo, Kenny. Booooo!

I did actually laugh out loud after Johanna blows her nose – thus blowing out her drugs and then asks, “Should I … eat it?” (p. 256)



Johanna becomes the M in the S&M sex with Tony Rich. Who researches S&M at the library? I love Johanna so much. Only tangentially related, I first heard the word ‘masturbation’ on a Roseanne episode and when I asked my parents what it was, I got a very unsatisfactory answer – so I looked it up in the dictionary. So I guess had I wanted to be a lady sex adventurer, I might have gone to the library to research S&M too. Damnit, April.


But, basically we’re back where we were last week – And so we’re back to Johanna not having sex for her own pleasure – but to for the pleasure of the man. Just reference the whole of page 260.


Finally Moran writes in a reminder that Johanna IS seventeen and for all her Lady Sex Adventures – she’s struggling with her feelings for Tony Rich. All the other men seem to be in the periphery, one night stands, but she keeps going back to Rich. In this section much more than the last one, we see Johanna confusing sex with love. Previously – she was using men to gain experience – even if she didn’t understand she should have been enjoying the act as well, she knew she was having casual sex – and she was okay with it. Here, not so much.



Yep. She’s seventeen alright and she has no sense of self … and I don’t think it has anything to do with the lack of mirrors in the house.

Then Krissi tells her how it is. Johanna goes to Krissi, in crisis trying to figure out whether or not Tony Rich is her boyfriend. Krissy: “He’s your smashing posh pedo not-boyfriend.” (p. 263)



Can we stop and talk about the age of consent? It’s really slippery subject that’s a necessary evil to legislate, but I contend that it’s truly different for every person. I’m not sure that 17 to 23 makes Tony Rich a pedophile – but I don’t like him and it has nothing to do with his age.

Before we move on, I want to go back to the scene where Johanna plays her co-workers Dadda’s demo.


I found this scene to be oddly tragic – I think it’s representative of that time in our lives where we finally realize that our parents are just people – they aren’t the all knowing gods and giants that we’ve held them up to be.


Tony Rich’s Parents House – Where Poverty Meets Middle Class.


The whole conversation at the dinner table with Rich’s parents is yet another brilliant commentary showing the juxtaposition between Johanna’s world, where the family barely has enough money to subsist, and upper middle class – where people can sip champagne and laugh at the antics of their black sheep son who chose not to be a lawyer. Similar things happen with Rich’s friends and Johanna’s inner dialogue tells us about her insecurity on the matter. Fabulous commentary.

Okay. Let’s get to the sexy parts.

Johanna’s conversation with Emilia. The subsequent humiliation and the poor poor decision making that the best way to save her pride is to get off with Emilia. She ends up, again confusing her own pleasure with that of someone else. She does what a lot of girls in college did/do – she puts on a show.


In my book – in big capital letters I wrote: this makes no sense!

OF COURSE Rich is into it.
God, he’s such a douche! But Johanna comes back from reapplying her makeup “I am like a dirty goth bride, preparing for her bisexual wedding night.” (p. 274) to find Rich and Emilia have already started. “And suddenly – for the first time in years – I get angry.” (p. 276)



At first I was cheering Johanna on here – because finally! She allows herself to get angry with Tony motherfuckin’ Rich, but then she starts crying and I realize that all this huffing and puffing is a standard teenage heartbreak response – she doesn’t really believe what she’s saying. She still feels less than Tony.


 

Chapter Twenty Three – The Next Day.


I love this realization because it’s the exact opposite of what society teaches girls and women.


Naturally, after coming to terms with the fact that she does indeed have control over her own destiny, she runs to John Kite. …and promptly bursts into tears.

 
YAY JOHANNA!
 


Kite gives her a great pep talk.



Good God. That’s hard cold truth right there. I’ve been biting and scratching my way up, professionally, academically, personally and way too often I tie my self-esteem to my accomplishments, and my self esteem always comes up short. I should emulate Johanna here and put that quote on my mirror.

Kite and Johanna proceed to get incredibly drunk and the last thing we’re treated to before Johanna passes out is her spilling her guts to Kite on how she feels about him. Fade to black. Johanna wakes up the next morning in Kite’s hotel room, it was his turn to sleep in the bath. (p. 285)


Still drunk, with no idea how the night ended, Johanna feels strangely mortified and leaves Kite’s room to (finally) head home. On the bus she picks up a copy of D&ME and reads her own writing.



Johanna has devolved from a blogger before there were bloggers to being a troll before there were trolls. Complete with Godwin’s law.

Upon arriving home, Johanna falls into what can only be described as a deep, black depression. She turns to self harm, and, par for the course, Moran gives us such a great description on why people cut.


Full stop here.

Teenage girls generally don’t just cut once and stop. Just like most people aren’t cured from depression after being lifted from one episode. I felt that this part was just a little off and kind of skimpy on the severity of what it means when kids cut. But I suppose you can’t tackle every teenage issue in one novel.

I did love the bonding time with Krissi – how he cleans her up and takes care of her. Now I’m worried about him, it was astute of Johanna to question whether he’s addicted to Dadda’s pain pills.



Chapter Twenty Four is the culmination of Moran’s manifesto here. Basically, you could skip everything else in the book – read this chapter – and get the essence of the book.

Chapter Twenty Five – I liked – Johanna has reinvented Dolly to be more like herself, a music enthusiast, not a cynic. She’s changed her friends and decided what to keep and what not to keep. These lists have a bit too much clarity from what I’d expect from a teenage girl – but I’m glad she decided to keep having lots of sex with as many people as possible and reject cynicism. Though personally, I’d have gotten rid of the top hat as well.


I loved the heart to heart with mom – glad that the post-partum seems to have lifted and the acceptance and recognition of anti-depressants. In 1993 – that would have been a big fucking deal.


I think that Ali’s part in this book was to be a contrast for what the typical teen experience was versus the experience that Johanna had – it’s a clever device.


Then then then…. the twist we’d all been waiting for. (But kind of knew was coming) the benefits hadn’t been cut because Violet narced on the family – no they were cut because Johanna had decided to leave school, a weird stroke of irony that in her effort to save the family – Johanna caused their downfall.



JOHN KITE FTW. I can’t say much more here, but Ms. Moran, you made me very happy with the ending in regards to John Kite.


It’s still unclear if Johanna knows that Krissi is gay in the epilogue, where he’s coming to London with her for a few weeks – like most seventeen year olds she makes it about herself. “I know what he’s really coming down for: to take me to my first ever gay club, so I can finally make a gay best friend!” (p. 314) No sweetie, he’s looking for a man. I suspect she knows he’s gay – I would have liked to see the conversation – but maybe it was just a close sibling understanding.


That’s all she wrote, Readers! I have so much love for this book. If World Book Night US would have saved itself, I would have handed this out on street corners. Much love to all my fellow #moranalongers. I would have loved this book regardless, but it’s been much more fun with you ladies. How does everyone feel?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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How to Build a Girl: Chapters 16 – 20 (Read Along)

Posted 4 August, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

How To Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran 
Read Along! Chapters 16 – 20.

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
How to Build a Girl – Ch. 5 – 10
How to Build a Girl  – Ch. 11 – 15

Mmm. I think that we all knew shit was going to get real this week. And it does. I don’t know if I’m having a harder time with this post because I’m in post-bar decompression mode, but don’t misunderstand that I’m still incredibly excited about this book. Plus, all the Star Wars references in this section made me unreasonably happy.

There are two big themes in these chapters. Feminism and cynicism. Let’s get to it.

Dolly is fully fleshed out now and yes, she is trouble.



Oh, sweetie! Dadda has troubles, addiction troubles. I don’t want that for Johanna – who shares a body with this troublesome persona she has created for herself.  But even at the beginning of chapter 16, where Johanna feels most definitely ‘incontrovertibly real’ – she’s still faking it when it comes to that one thing that teenage girls are taught to obsess over – her virginity.



Not So Side Note: I’m not sure which part of society is worse – the conservative side that treats girls as irredeemable whores for sex outside of marriage or that part that makes them feel unlovable and un-liked because they haven’t had sex yet. It’s also worth nothing that both those sides pull on girls – and it’s total bullshit both ways. There’s no way to win. Back to the story.



Lord. Seventeen, booze, music, and a writing job – and Johanna is still incredibly innocent. I laughed pretty hard at the ensuing discussion on Neil Young owning all the buffalo, Mike Nesmith’s mum inventing Wite-Out (is that true?) and how to get high on office supplies. It made me remember how weird gossip and facts were exchanged before you could just pull up all that shit on Google. “I had no idea. Basically, the WH Smith in the Mander Centre is Wolverhampton’s version of Studio 54. It’s a narcotic goldmine. I’ve only ever used it to buy staples.” (p. 194)


So Johanna procures her first kiss from The Kisser – who’s name she doesn’t know. “He’s a man slag.” (p.193) After nine minutes of kissing – he wanders off – no hard feelings and Johanna feels super about it. Good for her!

Getting home Johanna’s sent out to talk to Dadda in the garden, there’s an incredible feeling of love and bonding that goes on here. Dadda’s recounting of his own childhood and the horrors of post war Britain.


Hit the nail on the head again Moran. I often feel this way about the not so distant past. Women’s suffrage, contraception, World War II. For sure, things aren’t perfect now. But I can’t think of another time in history I would ever want to be a woman.

Drunk and full of family love and feeling Dadda asks the question we’ve all been waiting for: “You’ve got to get me in there, kid. Get me a break. Get me in that paper. And we’ll be millionaires by Christmas.” (p. 200)

Never drunkenly agree to nepotism.

Chapter Seventeen has some levity and I was glad to see Krissi and Johanna make up after “Satanwank-gate” and we get the first peek into a heavy truth that is going to laid upon Johanna by the end of this section. (We’ll get there.) 

Chapter Eighteen we all had our eye on John Kite for the douchebag – but we were wrong! Tony Rich. I’d like to say that Moran has written the best description of sexual tension that I’ve ever read.


So, Tony Rich takes her virginity. Like many girls, Johanna isn’t surprised by the sex itself.
“Here’s the amazing thing about sex: you get a whole person to yourself, for the first time since you were a baby.” (p. 209)

These thoughts and feelings are still incredibly innocent and naive. Yes, at it’s best, that is what sex is, but Tony Rich isn’t having that kind of sex with Johanna. I love Johanna for her innocence, so much. But please, for the love of all things holy. Don’t get pregnant. Also, AIDS – this is the early nineties – AIDS is still a death sentence. Please don’t get AIDS Johanna. I’m so worried.

Okay. So. Aside from the mom-like worrying we have to have: 

Feminist Stop #1
I’m going to take things out of order because I want to highlight just how much importance Johanna is placing on feeling useful during sex and how little she values her own pleasure.

Yes, I’m really happy that Johanna is enjoying herself and seems to be gaining confidence. However, this section is brilliant commentary on what’s societally expected with women and sex, what we (read: me) somehow believe and still struggle to overcome.  She talks again and again about wanting to be useful, she wants to help these men… Often at the sacrifice of her own enjoyment of the act.  This rang so true for me. I can’t say it better than Caitlin Moran, so get ready for the best of: (the bold is all mine)

  • “…I still didn’t come, but when he came, I felt enormously … useful. Men need to come – and I made it happen. I had a simple purpose.” (p. 210)
  • (Blow jobs) “Like sucking your thumb, but whilst making someone else very, very happy.” (p. 221)
  • “Keep on pretending you’re Al. Think about how amazing it must be for him to have sex with you! […] Yes – this is a good day for Al. Lucky, happy Al.” (p. 229)
  • “I am being a generous lover!” (p.228)
  • “And also, no one yet has made me come. I am still the greatest lover of me. I’m still the best I ever had.” (p. 223) 
  • “How long should you take to come? Do I take too long? Should you not even ask it of a man if you take more than, say, four minutes? Is that simply unreasonable? I don’t want to be a difficult case…” (p. 223)

Look me in the eye (or right into your webcam) ladies, and tell me you’ve never worried about being a ‘difficult case’. If you can, I think I hate you a little. In the nicest possible way. Moran points out that there are no examples of female orgasm at this time outside of When Harry Met Sally, and let’s face it, even today we’re sadly lacking in realistic discussions on female pleasure, at least in mainstream media. Especially when you stop to consider all the examples of male pleasure we have. 


Shit man. You can’t sit in front of the television for fifteen seconds without a Viagra or Cialis commercial coming up, but when Trojan ran a relatively discreet commercial – late at night, might I add – for a vibrator – the whole frickin’ internet was up in arms. Nope. Even in 2014, the idea of women getting pleasure from sex is somehow weird and shameful and should be hidden in the back of your dresser.

In case you’re curious here it is: 



Racy, huh? 


Big Cock Al. More variations on the theme. She takes it like a champ, he then falls asleep and what does she do? She cleans his flat. To be useful. Again, this resonated with me. I’ve actually done this.



So despite poor Johanna’s aggravated cystitis, “I need codeine and cranberry juice, please.” I say. “These are the medicines of cystitis.” (p. 235) I still found this section to be pretty hilarious. On how to deal with an unfeasibly large penis, I think my favorite was number four “Think of Han Solo.”


I thought that the party at Big Cock Al’s with Johanna sitting in the bathtub, tending to her lady parts was an interesting juxtaposition with the last time Johanna found herself in a bath with rockstars in the room – with John Kite. I’m not sure what it means, but I’m pretty sure it’s deep and important.


Feminist Stop #2 


Yep. Right there y’all. Remember earlier when I was talking about which part of society was worse? It’s all bullshit because it comes around from the ridiculous idea that a woman is nothing more than her virginity or her sexuality. Fuck that noise. Preach on Sister Moran.


Before we get to the cynicism I need to talk about how Johanna describes her deflowering to Krissi.

Did anyone else dissolve into giggles when Johanna decides to describe her deflowering to Krissi using different names? “”Why don’t we give the protagonists different names?” I suggest, “Not me and Tony Rich. Say, Peter Venkmann and Dana Barrett?”” (p. 213)


Cynicism
So, Krissi lays it on Johanna in Chapter Seventeen that he likes music, so he doesn’t read her work, because all she ever does is tear bands apart. She doesn’t seem to get it at first – but by the end of Chapter Twenty she starts to. I basically have the entirety of pages 244 – 246 underlined, I hate playing favorites – but I’ll only make you suffer through two short quotes that don’t need any explanation. 


And then we’re left with another cliffhanger. Please don’t make it be AIDS. But the title to Part Three “Rip it Up and Start Again” gives me hope.

That’s a wrap this week, Readers. How are we feeling? Anxious? Scared? Like Caitlin Moran is an AMAZING FEMINIST WUNDERAUTHOR? And yes… Pats is my favorite character in Ab Fab. 


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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