Sunday, 30 October 2016

Random Reads (30/10/16)

In the lead up to the US Election and with Hallowe'en just around the corner, I have been reading some spooky stuff lately.

The tragic accident at Dreamworld in which four people died on a seemingly tame ride has lead the news all week. The event itself was horrific, but the handling of the aftermath by the company has been woeful. From seeking to reopen the park quickly (while still a crime scene), to the allocation of large bonuses to the executive, and the fact that CEO Deborah Thomas didn't know whether or not families had been contacted, resulted in a massive PR disaster. Advertising guru Dee Madigan penned an interesting article for the Guardian about how this crisis was managed so poorly.

New Yorker magazine has an article by Jeffrey Toobin about Justice Clarence Thomas, who has just served 25 years on the US Supreme Court. Toobin argues that Thomas has served on the fringes of the Court, having not authored landmark opinions on important cases.  I must admit I haven't thought much about Thomas in recent years, but I remember well his confirmation hearings in 1991 and the accusations of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. I was outraged at the treatment of Hill and by Thomas' eventual appointment. I highly recommend Toni Morrison's collection of essays Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power (1992) about this controversy. 

The World Economic Forum has published its's Global Gender Gap Report 2016 this week. Australia has moved down the rankings to 46th place (behind all of Europe, Scandinavia, New Zealand (9th)) so that we are now substantially lagging behind countries like Bolivia (23rd), Rwanda (5th), South Africa (15th) and elsewhere. Ten years ago we were 15th, so what has happened (or what has not being happening)?  Well, we have not done much to close the wage gap, reverse the decline in women's participation (through child care and paid parental leave), or to increase women in senior positions. While we have women attending university at equal numbers to men, once women hit the workforce they are disadvantaged. With our current lack of political will, we will likely continue to fall further as more countries realise the empowerment of women is the key to economic prosperity.

Finally, I love the article in the Atlantic this week by Siddharta Mahanta "Women in Movies Running in Heels" which uses the new movie Inferno as a catalyst for discussing how impractical it is for women in action films to run around in heels. Pointing to Jurassic World and other films in which women have to outrun dinosaurs, bullets or assassins in impractical footwear, Mahanta argues that if there had been more women involved in the production of blockbuster films women would likely be kicking butt in sensible shoes. Here, here!

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Booker Prize 2016

The winner of the Man Booker Prize was announced yesterday. In the lead up to the announcement there was a lot of hype that the prize would go to the bookies' favourite, Canadian author Madeleine Thien for her book Do Not Say We Have Nothing. The other front runner was Graeme Macrae Burnet for His Bloody Project, which has seen a dramatic increase in book sales since the shortlist was announced.

Ultimately the prize would go to Paul Beatty for his novel The Sellout. This is the first time an American author has won the Booker prize.

The Sellout is a satirical novel about a young black man who ends up in the Supreme Court having to defend himself for having reinstated slavery and segregation in his hometown of Dickens, California.

As a commentary on race relations in America, it seems like a clever choice for the Booker this year. From what I hear it is an outrageously funny book, and I look forward to reading this novel when I whittle down my to be read pile.

While I am saddened that His Bloody Project did not win, I am pleased that the Booker has increased the profile of this brilliant little novel.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Strike Back

The third instalment of Robert Galbraith's crime novel series, Career of Evil (2015), sees private detective Cormoran Strike and his trusty sidekick Robin Ellacott hit the streets on the trail of a serial killer.

Hot on the heels of their last adventure, Strike's detective agency is doing well with many clients keen to use the services of the man who solved the Lula Landry and Owen Quine cases.

This novel begins with Robin receiving a box by courier which contains a body part - so they have to find out who the limb belongs to as well as who the sender is. Strike has a handful of suspects in mind - all men from his past with a violent streak and a reason for targeting Strike.

As Strike and Robin try to rule out each of these potential killers, the killer is also watching their every move. To complicate things further, Robin is in the midst of planning her wedding and Strike is trying to decide if he really wants to date the glamorous but dull Elin.

There is a lot of suspense in this page-turner, with twists and turns along the way. But what I really loved about this book was that we learned more about the backstory of both Strike and Ellacott. Things that have been hinted at in the past are fleshed out in more detail, about Strike's groupie mother, his time in the military and his injury.

More importantly, we learn about Robin - her ambitions and her history - and she becomes a more complete character. She evolves in this novel to become Strike's partner in this business - on stake outs, interviewing potential witnesses and taking on a much more active role. I can't wait to see what she gets up to next.

I know JK Rowling has been extremely busy with the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play, the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, and more. But I do hope she slips into her Galbraith skin and pens the next novel soon.

In the meantime, the BBC is producing a series of Cormoran Strike mysteries for broadcast in late 2017. Should be great!

My review of Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling (2013) and The Silkworm (2014) are available on this blog.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Random Reads (16/10/16)

This week there has been so much in the news about Donald Trump and his attitude and behaviour against women that it has been almost overwhelming. As a feminist with a keen interest in political science, I have watched the events of the week unfold with anger and disappointment. Anger at the way in which Trump has defended himself (boys being boys, locker room banter) and disappointment at the way in which the Republican party has now responded. So many Republicans are now trying to distance themselves from Trump by saying they have daughters or granddaughters - as if they wouldn't know his behaviour was wrong if they didn't have female relations!

The thing is, none of this is new. The accusations against Trump span decades and his misogyny is just another element to a man who is fundamentally unfit to be President. Surely, the Republican Party would have vetted him before choosing him as their nominee. Surely, they would have looked for all the skeletons in all the closets and made sure there was nothing that would damage his (their) reputation. More likely it is a case of wilful blindness - they knew all about his behaviour and didn't see anything wrong with it at the time.

The good news is that Hillary will most likely become President. The Republicans will spend the next four years (a least) trying to figure out what they stand for and hopefully a leader will emerge who can see that divisive, anti-immigration, anti-women, politics is not what is needed to face the challenges in the world.

I have read some interesting articles this week about the whole Trump thing, including:
  • Trump Goes to War by Molly Ball in the Atlantic reveals how the 'unshackled' Trump is now that Republicans have abandoned him.
  • Burning Down The House by Timothy Egan in the New York Times, a powerful opinion piece on Trump's behaviour towards women.
  • The Quiet Tragedy of Melania Trump by Emily Jane Fox in Vanity Fair. This is an interesting article about Melania and what she has had to put up with during her marriage. 
The triumph of the week was Michelle Obama's passionate, articulate smack down of Donald Trump. She spoke so well about Trump's misogyny and it's impact on women and men. There is a great article, Michelle Obama Schools Donald Trump by Maureen O'Dowd in the New York Times. If you haven't seen it, you can watch it on Youtube (below).

Meanwhile, her husband penned an interesting article for the Economist called The Way Ahead. In this article, President Barack Obama attempts to answer the question 'what is happening in the American political system?'. He makes a passionate case for restoring economic dynamism to build a stronger economy through jobs and growth. 

In other news, the new Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres (former Prime Minister of Portugal) was appointed. I must admit I was disappointed that Helen Clark was not selected.  Francoise Girard wrote an excellent blog post for Ms Magazine called, We Need a Feminist Secretary-General at the United Nations, which looks at Guterres' record on women's issues. We will have to wait and see if he lives up to his promise.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Random Reads (09/10/16)

So this week there has been a LOT of hoo-ha about the alleged outing of Elena Ferrante. For those living in caves or just defrosted from cryogenics, Elena Ferrante is the nom-de-plume of an Italian writer of the Neapolitan novels which have taken the world by storm.

Ferrante Fever hit fever pitch this week when Italian journalist Claudio Gatti claimed to have found the real author, a translator who has come into some money via an Italian publisher. Gatti's desire to reveal Ferrante's identity seems to come from a place of vindictiveness, not idle curiousity, and outing her has  caused outrage and bemusement.

There are a lot of interesting articles about this around the interweb this week.
  • British author Jeanette Winterson wrote about The Malice and Sexism behind the 'Unmasking" of Elena Ferrante for the Guardian. In her fascinating article, she calls the outing a 'deliberately malicious act'.
  • Likewise, Noreen Malone in a New York Magazine article writes that Gatti's logic has an 'unfortunate whiff of 'she was asking for it'". Malone concludes that perhaps we are disappointed in who Ferrante might actually be - she is an ordinary woman and not 'a literary or feminist pinup'.  
  • Tom Geue wrote in the Conversation about how we should respect Ferrante's anonymity. 
  • Mary Schmich from the Chicago Tribune wrote about how Gatti has spoiled the fun of fiction lovers. She writes 'I prefer to read fiction for what's on the page, not for who's on the book jacket.' - here, here.
  • Rebecca Falkoff of the Guardian wrote about the differences in reception of Ferrante's work in Italy and translated texts around the world. While not specifically on the outing of the author, it makes for an interesting read about gender and authorship.

I liked that we didn't know who Ferrante is. She has the right to privacy and it is not in the public interest to know who she really is. She has given us her brilliant work, and that should be enough. We know her as she wants us to know her. As far as I am concerned, Ferrante is still a mystery. 

So many of my favourite authors wrote under a pen-name - George Eliot; George Sand, Karen Blixen, Robert Galbraith - all of them women seeking to find a safe creative outlet. Leave them alone and let them write!

In other news.... Hillary Clinton rides high after her debate triumph, and Donald Trump continues to win the hearts and minds of women everywhere with his love of the fairer sex. He loves women so much he cannot help kissing beautiful women and grabbing at them. If we needed more evidence of his absolute unfitness to be president, we got it in the form of a 'sex tape' of sorts when a recording of his misogyny was released to the press. Some of the more enlightening commentary comes from:
  • Susan Matthews at Slate writes about Trump's lack of a filter.
  • Jessica Valenti at the Guardian writes that Trump represents 'just how jevenile and ridiculous America is when it comes to the way we think about women and leadership' 
  • Nicholas Kristoff has written a fascinating piece, Donald Trump Groper in Chief, for the New York Times about his dealings with a couple in the 1990s. 
  • Finally, the New York Times Editorial Board has written a piece on The Sleaziness of Donald Trump, which calls out high profile Republicans - Paul Ryan, Mike Pence etc - and asks why they continue to stand by such a dirtbag.
I reckon Trump's biggest problem is his sense of entitlement. As a wealthy, privileged white guy, he is used to getting his own way in business and in life. He has demeaning views that objectify and alienate women. He is not fit to be President of anything.

Huw Parkinson prepared this mashup for ABC's Insiders, which is genius:

Finally, one of the best things I have seen on the internet this week if the Pantsuit Flashmob for Hillary. Enjoy!

Monday, 3 October 2016

A Crofter's Tale

In August 1869, seventeen year old crofter Roderick Macrae committed a ghastly murder, killing three people in the tiny Scottish community of Culduie in Ross-shire. Arrested and imprisoned in Inverness awaiting trial, Macrae documents the events that lead up to the crime for his lawyer Andrew Sinclair.

Macrae's memoir is the underpinning of His Bloody Project (2015) by his ancestor Graeme Macrae Burnet, who purports to have uncovered the manuscript while investigating his genealogy in Western Scotland.

His Bloody Project is a marvellous concoction told in a series of documents. In addition to Macrae's memoir, there are witness statements from neighbours, autopsy reports, media coverage from the trial, and an extract from J Bruce Thompson's posthumous reporting of his meeting with Macrae.

The novel is of course fictional, but Burnet writes in such a way that you are convinced it is all true. He finds an authentic voice and crafts an intricate and compelling tale. It is known from the opening lines that Macrae committed the crime, but what unfurls is a whydunnit - what caused young Roddy to murder and what was his mental state?

Roderick Macrae is an unreliable narrator, but then again so are all the witnesses and doctors and others whose documents have been compiled.  As a reader I became engrossed in this story, feeling the Macrae's were hard done by, and rooting for Roddy to be spared the gallows.

Burnet has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (which is how this book came to my attention) and I will be delighted if he wins.

There are so many things I loved about this novel - its structure made up from various accounts; the convincing depiction of class structure (crofters, landowners etc); the use of Scots dialect (there is a glossary hidden halfway through the book, but I relied on my resident Scotsman for translation); and the authenticity of the trial.

His Bloody Project brings to mind other novels that explore historical crimes like Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace (1996) and Hannah Kent's Burial Rites (2013), both of which are reviewed on this blog.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Random Reads (02/10/16)

I read a lot of interesting things each week, but only tend to blog about the books. So I thought I might add a new blog segment every so often on the random reads I come across.

This week much of my attention has been on the US Presidential Debate. I watched it with great interest, and then spent far too many hours absorbed in the commentary. It was an amazing event - historic in that it was the first time a female candidate for US President featured in the debates, but more importantly because it was a masterclass by Clinton.

Some of the interesting commentary is:

  • Jonathan Mahler's article for the NY Times - I Muted Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton During the Debate. I Still Knew The Score  - which focussed on the body language of the candidates. Mahler covered many of the things I noticed while watching - Trump's hand gestures and facial expressions, Clinton's confidence.
  • Likewise, this article - Measured Clinton beats Bombastic Trump - explored the character of each candidate through their body language. I did take issue with this article where they stated that Clinton interrupted Trump - I think if they counted interruptions, they would find the ledger is stacked the other way.
  • My favourite coverage on the debate was NPR's Fact Check: First Presidential Debate - in which the transcript of the debate is annotated with fact checking by journalists. Reading this confirmed the outrageous lies of the Trump campaign.
  • I also watched a few comedians cover the debate, but none as sharply as Samantha Bee. Watch her Full Frontal analysis.

Of course the debate wasn't the only news this week. More importantly, Brangelina broke up, causing the internet to go into meltdown. 
  • Check out the Guardian's article on How Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt Defined the 21st Century Fame Machine - which speaks of the cult of celebrity and how it was cultivated by the couple.
  • My other favourite article in the Guardian is how Madame Tussauds has rearranged their waxworks to seperate the couple by a respectful distance. 
For something different, check out Vanity Fair's interview with legendary Canadian crooner Gordon Lightfoot.