Monday, 15 May 2017

Random Reads (15/05/17)

It has been a while since I posted about my random reads. I have definitely been doing the reading, but the processing and sharing has been put on hold as work took up a lot of my time in the last two months. But now I can get back at it.

This week I have been reading a lot about US politics. I was shocked (but not surprised) when Trump sacked FBI Director James Comey, and then threatened him on Twitter with 'tapes' of their conversations. Some interesting pieces that cover this saga are:
  • James Fallows writing in The Atlantic, "Five Reasons the Comey Affair is Worse Than Watergate". Fallows details the circumstances that allowed for Watergate and compares them to today. He argues that Trump is "impulsive, and ignorant, and apparently beyond the reach of any control, even his own."
  • Nicolas Kristof's op-ed for The New York Times, "Is President Trump Obstructing Justice?" points to how Trump has "challenged and evaded the ethics rules that traditionally constrain administration officials."
  • Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker writes "Firing Comey was a Grave Abuse of Power". He argues that "Trump has proved himself temperamentally and intellectually unfit for the Presidency". 
  • The New York Times Editorial Board have published "The Republican's Guide to Presidential Behaviour" which offers a scathing indictment of the new low standards to which Trump has sunk. No longer is the President to be admired as a role model to the world. 
  • David Frum published an interesting piece for The Atlantic on why "A Special Prosecutor is Not the Answer". Many have been calling for an independent investigation into the alleged Trump-Russia connections. Frum argues that the role of the special prosecutor is to investigate crimes, so if there is something uncovered that is wrong but not prosecutable, the prosecutor is supposed to look away. 
  • David Frum has also done an interesting short video on public indifference which is leading to Trump's autocracy. Much to think about.

Beyond politics, here are some of the other things I have been reading lately:
  • Christopher Orr wrote an interesting piece in The Atlantic titled "How Pixar Lost Its Way" in which he dissects what happened to the most innovative animation company once bought by Disney. The creativity and quality Pixar was renowned for gave way to pressure for sequels and merchandising. A cautionary tale serving as a reminder to hold true to your values.
  • Alice Bolin wrote an interesting piece for Electric Lit called "Miss Marple vs the Mansplainers: Agatha Christie's Feminist Detective Hero". In it she explores spinster stereotypes and women's  intuition. It contains an interesting contrast of the urban noir stories of Chandler and Hammett to the domestic village mysteries of Christie, Marsh and Sayers.
  • Erin Kodicek has published a post in Omnivoracious about Margaret Atwood and her favourite works of speculative fiction. As a lover of both Atwood and the genre, this was a great insight and many of her faves make my list too. 
  • Joanna Robinson's article for Vanity Fair on "Why the 1980s Anne of Green Gables is such a Hard Act to Follow" brought back many fond memories. As a child I devoured LM Montgomery's Anne books and when the tv series came out my obsession grew. This article nails it - highlighting all the various reasons to love Anne and the lessons she taught us. Time to revisit again I think...

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Life in Verse

I have always enjoyed the writings of Australian essayist, memoirist and poet Clive James. His wit and wisdom comes through in every line. Last year I purchased his Collected Poems 1958-2015 and have been slowly making my way through this epic tome, savouring every morsel.

The five decades of verse contained within are wonderful. Despite leaving Australia for England in the 1960s, there is a fondness and longing for his birthplace that permeates many of the poems. Whether it is the song lyrics he wrote for Pete Atkin, of the poems he wrote while battling illness, each one demonstrates his intellect and ability.

The poems I liked best are ones about people, such as "The Young Australian Rider, PG Burman" and "In Praise of Marjorie Jackson". He also writes poetic letters to Martin Amis, Gore Vidal and others. The poems from his collection "Sentenced to Life", written when diagnosed with leukaemia, are so emotional and raw.

I loved the poem "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" in which he takes delight at a competitor's bad fortune. His "Fridge Magnet Sonnets" reminded me of my dud attempts to composed poems on my refrigerator.

James' verse is so evocative. Some of my favourite lines are:
The treetops shudder to silence like coins set spinning (from "Berowra Waters, New South Wales") 
He asked her hand in marriage. She said yes. / Later he often said she must have known / To be with him was to be left alone (from "Flashback on Fast Forward") 
Under the jacarandas / The pigeons and the gulls / Pick at the fallen purple / That inundates the grass / For two weeks in October. (from "Under the Jacarandas")
My cataracts invest the bright spring day / With extra glory, with a glow that stings. (from "Too Much light")
I know this will be a collection that I dip in and out of whenever I need to feed my soul.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Rebel Yell

American blogger and columnist for the Guardian, Lindy West recently visited Australia for the All About Women Festival. She appeared on ABC's QnA and had a lot of interesting things to say about misogyny, body image and violence against women. So I grabbed a copy of her memoir Shrill - Notes from a Loud Women (2016) to see what else I could learn from her.

In a series of essays, West talks about the challenges of growing up fat,  internet trolls, abortion, pop culture, misogyny, bullying and more.  Having recently read Clementine Ford's Fight Like a Girl (2016), it was hard not to compare the two as they both cover similar ground. West's is better written (though still very bloggy), has more humour, and in some respects was more personal. It is at times emotional, suddenly hilarious and always thought-provoking.

A chapter that stood out for me is "Hello, I Am Fat" in which she recounts the difficulty of working with a boss who hated obesity. Lindy has landed her dream job as a writer for "The Stranger" in Seattle. Her boss Dan Savage regularly wrote fat-shaming pieces articulating his disgust. West approached Savage and told him how she felt having a boss writing pieces about people like her and when he didn't stop she wrote a post in The Stranger, 'coming out' as fat. In it she talks about how if her employer was so concerned about her health, he should also be concerned about her mental health and the impact of fat-shaming. The chapter covers this episode and it's aftermath. It is pretty powerful.

Another chapter that was interesting was about the comedy-club scene and misogyny. West was part of this scene, really enjoying comedy until she took a stand on rape jokes. A comedian in Hollywood made some rape jokes and a woman in the audience told him that it wasn't funny. The comedian then suggested it would be funny if she were gang raped in the club. West wrote a column about this incident and then went on TV to debate a comedian about it. The chapter made me think about whether there are some things that are never funny, or whether it is possible to use humour to throw shade on the perpetrators.

I wasn't familiar with West's writing before Shrill, and I quite enjoyed this book. However, if you only have room for one contemporary feminist memoir on your reading list, I would start with Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist (2014).