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Heather, The Totality. Brilliant.

In Book Reviews, CannonballReadX 2018, Fiction, Short Stories on January 21, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: ,

IMG_3151Matthew Weiner’s first foray into fiction is one of the most striking works I have read, its very clever, very odd, but very clever. At 134 pages long it is more of a novella but still packs an enormous punch – a punch that comes in the most unusual format. The novel is written in a series of short choppy paragraphs with little to no dialogue – you will either love or hate Weiners first work.

Weiner sets his characters on what seems to be an inevitable collision course. New York 80s Power couple Mark & Karen Breakstone and their daughter – the eponymous, Heather, are on a trajectory headed straight for Newark born & bred, raised & incarcerated; Bobby Klasky. They are a collection of people tumbling towards an irrevocable breakdown, and in places, it is terrifying to read.

Weiner establishes the characters histories and their intentions; his writing has echoes of a Woody Allen-esque movie, a little un-funny and quite banal. He establishes, quite early, an underlying feeling of dread – there is something just awful coming but you don’t know what. Bobbys menace and malovelence just grows with each passing paragraph and the way in which Weiner creates the almost unbearable tension is beautiful, compelling and disturbing.

Weiners creative history ( a writer on The Sopranos then writer, creator, director and executive producer of Mad Men and most recently writer, creator, and executive producer of The Romanoffs – an anthology series expected to premiere in the northern spring of 2018 ) is second to none, he has crafted quality television and I wonder whether Heather: the totality was an experiment to see if his writing genius translated onto the page – I think it did, but you need to read it to see for yourself.

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feminism wrapped in a glittery pink bow? #nothanks

In Book Reviews, Business / Self Help, CannonballReadX 2018, Feminism, Non Fiction, websites on January 20, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged:

CBR10.1At a time when gender politics are making headlines in every major newspaper every day Feminist Fight Club should be a must read, but I’m not so sure it is.

Bennett’s fight is against the patriarchal construct not against individuals but what that then does is reduce her ability to discuss topics that are really at the heart of workplace sexism; sexual harassment and pay disparity. Neither topic gets but the  briefest of mentions.

Bennett states that the Feminist Fight Club is about creating a more egalitarian environment for everyone and that is that stead she has created a set of tactics to fight workplace sexism – sometimes they are just good old fashioned common sense and sometimes they are more complex. One upside to the way she writes is that the book is a collection of vignettes that have no real connecting narrative thread so you can read the chapters in no particular order.

Feminist Fight Club is infuriating, at times its laugh out loud funny and full of what I call mantra gems – those things you’re supposed to say to yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning. . . but Bennett is writing for the buzzfeed generation, her turn of phrase and creativity with the English language is at times overtly stereotypical, she has created a millennial feminist slang that really doesn’t need to exist. The Feminist Fight Club is trying to be Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for those just starting out.

You might find its tactics useful and relevant but they might not be – at a pinch, what it can do is open your eyes to the implicit, insidious and downright ugly behaviour we, as women, have ignored for too long.

Bennett’s content is aimed squarely at her target audience, the 20-30 something female that may not have been enticed by Lean In. It attempts to counter the Business Books are boring adage by engaging through quizzes, humour, illustrations and lists – but by packaging her ideas in the literary equivalent of a pink princess dress she pretty much lost me.

Reading Feminist Fight Club should have been a joy but it wasn’t but Bennett has made me rethink my interactions and check myself, and I guess for that I’m thankful – but tied up in a pretty pink glittery bow. No thanks. 

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A chronicle of 10 short lives

In Book Reviews, CannonballreadIX 2017, Non Fiction on November 12, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

youngeAnother Day in the Death of America is an indictment of the lack of gun control in the United States, Its not a book about gun control but a book about what happens in a country where there is none. I chose this book to read on the plane during a couple of long haul flights across the globe, I chose the right book.

Saturday November 23rd, 2013 – An everyday Saturday on which ten children were killed by gunfire – the youngest was 9, the oldest was 19. Gary Younge, award winning political journalist and editor-at-large for the Guardian, picked this day at random, he then searched for their families and told their stories.

Through ten moving chapters – one for each child – Younge explores the way these children lived and lost their short lives. He finds out who they were, who they wanted to be, the environments they inhabited, and what this might tell us about society at large.

Not all of the children were innocents and as Younge allows their stories to be told he details the conditions which turn the powerless, disenfranchised and excluded into victims of gun violence. What emerges is a scathing portrait of childhood and youth in contemporary America. Younge’s mission is to make the statistics surrounding gun violence human – and he succeeds wholeheartedly.

I found this book so moving, I paused after the first chapter and then began to slowly and surely devour the rest of the narrative. Younge’s writing is second to none – this work stands out due to the strength of his analysis, He humanises the murder victims whose deaths went largely unoticed.

Younge himself states that none of the victims made the national news because it was just another day in the death of America.

POSTSCRIPT: After shopping at Shakespeare & Co I learnt Gary Younge was speaking there the week after I was in Paris – The postcast of this interview is available here https://shakespeareandcompany.com/event/797/gary-younge-on-another-day-in-the-death-of-america and I simply cannot recommended listening to this enough, its an hour you will thoroughly enjoy.

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destruction, decimation, desolation, devastation….. Annihilation.

In Book Reviews, CannonballreadIX 2017, Fiction, Science Fiction on November 12, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , ,

anniSo, I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but, just look at how beautiful its cover is. . . . The artwork is utterly stunning. I found this spectacular edition staring up at me from a display table in Hatchards London at St Pancras. It is not what I would normally read but I could not resist the cover – odd really. Annihilation should open up Vandermeer’s writing to a much larger audience, he’s fast paced, unsettling and compelling, he’ll have you up late at night on the edge of your seat. . . .

Annihilation is equal parts psychological thriller, science fiction adventure, and dark fantasy horror. It’s a completely self-contained story, but it’s also clearly an introduction to a much broader mystery that VanderMeer will explore in the Southern Reach Trilogy sequels Authority and Acceptance.

Decades ago, an inexplicable environmental change occurred, a large swathe of land and sea, was sealed behind an invisible barrier and held under strict quarantine by a mysterious goverment agency. This clandestine agency is known as Southern Reach and they have sent 11, mostly failed, expeditions into Area X, Annihilation is the story of the 12th..

Annihilation focus on the experiences of the four scientists who are part of the 12th expedition, none of them are named, they are identified by their roles with the expedition team. There is a minimum of character development but it is not needed, these women are trimmed back to the bare essentials and we are only told what the narrative needs us to know. The richness in VanderMeer’s work is the environment – he brings the lush overgrown ecosystems of Area X to life, hinting at terrifying invisible animals in the distance. It’s a land of transitional, constantanly changing, even overlapping ecosystems – The expedition are tasked with experiencing and then explaining Area X to the folks back home – if they make it home.

You should all get down to your local bookstore and own it now….. 5 star review from me.

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Selfish, Shallow and Self-absorbed; Me? OK. If you say so.

In Book Reviews, CannonballreadIX 2017, Feminism, Non Fiction, Short Stories on October 22, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

img_3145.jpgWandering through Waterstones flagship store in Piccadilly I was in heaven, jaw dropping, mind boggling heaven. Six floors of books, 200,000 unique titles. I knew I had to own one, just one, but which one? After picking up and putting down title after title I came across a spine that stood out to me; Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed. What? As I plucked the book off the shelf, I read its subtitle; sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids. That was it, that was the book. Done. Dusted.

At 43 I know I will never have children, but then again I’ve known that since I was 16 or 17. I will never have children. I have no inclination to change my mind. If I have a ‘biological clock,’ it is well and truly broken. What else could explain the crawling horror I feel at the prospect of pregnancy? Nope, no babies for me.

Giving voice to that choice, Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed is a collection of essays by sixteen writers on their decision not to have children. From women & men, straight, gay – the essays touch on a wide variety of reasons why becoming a parent may not be for everyone. From careers, to families, childhoods and illness, each writer describes the journey to their decision.

As the title suggests, the accusations flung at those who decide to be childless range from selfishness and shallowness to self-absorption—when in fact, perhaps the opposite is true.

I would highly recommend this book not just to people who have decided not to have kids, but even more so to all those who do have kids. I think it’s important for those who are parents to realize that their lifestyle is not the only valid choice, nor are all those who make the choice not to have kids selfish, shallow, or self-absorbed! It is simply one of many life choices.

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Men explain things to me. . .

In Book Reviews, CannonballreadIX 2017, Feminism, Non Fiction, Short Stories on October 22, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , ,

IMG_3141I dislike starting the review of a work I enjoyed with a negative but I would like to offer an alternative way in which to read this book, Solnits collection of essays does not need to be read together or even at once, take it slow, read one essay at time, devour the writing and then take time to think on it.

Having said that, Men explain things to me and other essays is a collection of feminist writings which really didn’t go where I thought it would. Reading the collection as a whole I was expecting a common thread, a connection – something that bound them together, perhaps an overarching theme. There really is only one; feminism and its just not strong enough, its an obtuse connection and its not sharp enough, it’s too disjointed and disconnected to work as a whole.

In the recent past Solnit’s writings on the environment, gender, human rights and violence against women, all of which goes back decades, seems suddenly and remarkably prescient. Solnit’s titular essay ‘Men explain things to me’ tells the story of a 2003 party at which Solnit experienced a man attempt to explain her latest book to her without realizing she was its author. The term mansplaining has been in use within popular lexicon since 2009 and Solnit is credited with its creation, although her essay never actually uses the term. It is a word that was needed because so many women recognized an experience they had never been able to vocalize before, they just needed someone, Solnit, to define it.

The internet being what it is, the essay was strip-mined for that one idea and very little attention was paid to where Solnit takes it next, she turns a personal account into the discussion of the same phenomenon on a global scale. Women who speak out and then find their testimony being downgraded or dismissed (the female FBI agent whose warnings about al-Qaeda were ignored; the women who need a male witness to corroborate their rape; the writers and politicians whose anger is read as “shrill” and “hysterical’), this may indeed be the most important conversation we need to have.

Don’t get me wrong, this opening essay is outstanding, and there are others which make this title well worth reading but perhaps just one essay, one subject at a time. Solnits writing meanders along, she makes stunning statements that stick with you but then goes on to contradict herself and somewhat condescend her audience. Her writing can be a little tedious If the subject matter has not grabbed your interest, but overall the essays are well written and well thought out.

Solnit is unflinchingly honest even when, especially when, it threatens the patricharcial narrative. Her writing is accessible, confrontational and deals with a wide variety of difficult subjects. The final essay “Pandora’s box and the volunteer police force” is the second essay that really stands out to me, its subject is hope. Solnit writes about the history of feminism, not that it is at a point where a full and frank history can be recorded but to show how much change has been facilitated in the effort to change something very old, something very ingrained, something that might indeed take a very long time to change.

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Freedom, like everything else, is relative,

In Book Reviews, CannonballreadIX 2017, Feminism, Fiction on July 14, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , ,

Margaret Atwoods The Handmaids Tale tells the story of Offred; a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead – a reconstructed United States. Offred witnesses the dissolution of her former way of life and the transformation of society into a totalitarian theocracy. Women are enslaved and stripped of even their most basic rights, they cannot choose who to be in a relationship with, they cannot, read, write, own property, gain employment or even hold on to their own name. Offred is a patronymic, it is a name gifted to the individual to signify ownership, she is of fred, therefore Offred.

Prior to the start of the story an environmental disaster has caused mass infertility and women are only valued if their ovaries are still viable, they have become breeding stock. These women are called Handmaids, they are forced to provide the Commanders with children in a grotesque parody of lovemaking, they exist as a sum total of their biological ability.

Atwoods story is full to the brim of fragments of Offred’s past, remembered with; perhaps, rose colored glasses, juxtaposed against the brutal reality of her life in Gilead. “All of those women having jobs: hard to imagine now, but thousands of them had jobs, millions. It was considered the normal thing.” In an attempt to make life in Gilead believable Atwood only used atrocities that have already occurred in our lifetimes; the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia under Wahhabi Law, The Lebensborn program ad book burning in Nazi Germany and the east German surveillance state.

I devoured this book, not only is Atwoods writing sublime, but the world she has created and the characters that inhabit it are challenging, thought provoking, demanding and above all else utterly real. I would have this book as compulsory reading in each and every American high school – but I guess that would challenge the status quo much to much.

With the inclusion of the seemingly additional final chapter ( Historical Notes ) it appears to me that Atwood wrote the Handmaids Tale as a sort of 1980s Anne Franks Diary – it is the literature of witness, her story has been recorded in the hope of being discovered, the hope of being shared and the hope of being understood so that it never has to happen again. She is an eyewitness to the fallen regime.

In reading a book which was released in 1985 I was interested to read how it was received, there were many positive reviews and a large number of prizes awarded but there is always one that can come back to haunt an author. When first released there was a review in The New York Times by Mary McCarthy. ( http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/03/26/specials/mccarthy-atwood.html?mcubz=0 ) McCarthy deemed Gilead as insufficiently imagined, she suggested that The Handmaids Tale is powerless to scare. She went on to say;  “I just can’t see the intolerance of the far right, presently directed at not only abortion clinics and homosexuals but also at high school librarians…. as leading to super biblical puritanism.” I wonder if she can see it now?

Dystopian literature or as Atwood calls it; Speculative Fiction, should be a cautionary tale not a blueprint for society. She imagines a terrifying world where Women are subjugated by the ruling male patriarchy – its all starting to sound just all to familiar. . . 32 years ago when it was first published it still felt overwhelmingly far fetched, now, not so much. Atwoods tale has taken on a frightening new relevance.