As a pre-teen music fan in the early years of the 90s, I read Spin Magazine cover to cover every month. And when I say cover to cover, I mean from the...moreAs a pre-teen music fan in the early years of the 90s, I read Spin Magazine cover to cover every month. And when I say cover to cover, I mean from the masthead listing the editors to every single classified ad in the back. One of those three-line all text ads was for Kill Rock Stars, a record label whose roster included Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, and Bratmobile. I wrote them a letter for who knows what reason- they were all really good band names? maybe I had read about them in the Washington Post and my subconscious remembered? my Feminist Bitch Riot Godfairy whispered in my ear??- and they sent me a catalogue of records to order, and I ordered them, and in the fall of 1993, another baby riot grrrl was born.
It's actually, literally impossible to talk about riot grrrl without sharing at least two to three personal anecdotes. Sara Marcus, wisely, gets her own story out of the way in her author's preface, leaving the rest of the book to the delightfully dishy anecdotes of the ladies who formed the core of riot grrrl. In between the hot gossip, though (I mean, its hot gossip to some of us), there is also a carefully researched, straightforward history of this feminist/punk/zine movement. She begins the story in 1989 when Kathleen Hanna (who becomes famous as the singer of Bikini Kill) has a meeting with the author Kathy Acker, who encourages Hanna to ditch spoken word and form a band instead, under the premise that no one is ever going to listen to your spoken word. (Good call, Kathy Acker!) The book weaves between the two main riot grrrl scenes in Olympia and DC, introducing the reader to a number of key figures who would shape the beginning of the movement, through their bands, through their zines, or simply through their enthusiastic participation.
This narrative really picks up in the middle, when the mainstream media catches word of the existence of a bunch of super pissed-off teenage girls, stomping around in big boots, writing "slut" on their midriffs. Or that was the story a bunch of clueless reporters wanted to spin, at least. Marcus' best chapters deal with the riot grrrl boom around 1993, when the surfeit of idiot articles prompted some riot grrrls to call for a media blackout. Of course, oftentimes it was those same idiot articles in Newsweek or Spin or the Washington Post that brought the existence of riot grrrl to the attention of girls like me, too young or too suburban or too rural or too whatever to have heard about it otherwise. And the boom wasn't just some media-manufactured bullshit. Girls all over the country were hungry for something like riot grrrl, and when they read about it, they immediately wrote letters to whoever they could for more information. The book situates riot grrrl in both the specificities of the early 90s- Roe V Wade was on the verge of being overturned! The Christian Coalition was gaining in influence every election, etc- as well as the generalities of being a girl.
Girls to the Front is not perfect, nor nearly so. At first, Marcus' writing style grated on my nerves so frequently that I was sure I would never finish the book. It seemed really... juvenile, or like Marcus was trying to incorporate a style of writing more at home in a personal zine into a history of a movement, and it just seemed out of place. But riot grrrl was a movement by young girls for young girls, and slowly the youthful energy of the book pulled me in. It was fun to read, and consistently thought-provoking, ie not just a band gossipfest, and I think it would be fun to read even for someone with less of a personal connection to the story.
I love that this book ends with flawed figures and in-fighting and fucking ridiculous over-the-top self-righteous freakouts on the part of almost everyone involved. Our heros were and are people! The girls that were there when it was the coolest, in 1991 or whenever, in contrast to us seventh-graders adorned in baby barrettes with Pussy Whipped (a Bikini Kill record) in our Walkman in 1994, didn't necessarily have it more figured out then than we ever will. They had some great ideas and ran with them! And sometimes they had some kinda not-so-well-thought-out ideas, or were bitchy to each other, or got too up on their high horse. But no matter their personal flaws, or the many flaws of the movement, riot grrrl changed my life, and the lives of countless others.
BUT! There's been such a huge upswell in riot grrrl-related writings in the past few years, in ways that have sometimes been a little disappointing. Tobi Vail, a key figure in this whole story, in her review of the book, writes "nostalgia is the enemy." Riot Grrrl is not the only way to be a punk feminist, or a young feminist, or whatever. It was one category that emerged in the early 90s that became incredibly influential. Vail asks us to "re-invent punk rock feminism again and again and again." LET'S!(less)
I came across Diana: A Strange Autobiography because it was the oldest looking book on the gay/lesbian shelf of Charlottesville's premier used booksto...moreI came across Diana: A Strange Autobiography because it was the oldest looking book on the gay/lesbian shelf of Charlottesville's premier used bookstore. (Daedalus Books, not that there's any doubt.) It was copyright 1939, had a really foxy drawing of a woman embracing herself on the title page, and chapter titles like "Am I a Lesbian?", "I am a Lesbian!" and "Jane the Huntress." Most interesting at first glance, though, was the Introduction written by a Victor Robinson, MD who explains the book is "the confession of one who was destined by Nature to gather forbidden fruit in the gardens of deviation, and who saved her life from frustration by knowing herself." Doctor Robinson firmly plants himself in the 'nature' camp, asserting that lesbianism is "not a question of ethics, but of endocrines," and reassures readers that reading Diana's hot tale of lesbian love will not lure any ladies over to the other side. "There is no danger that the woman biologically craving the male, will seek that strange light," he writes. "Only the sisterhood enters to remain, and those who are borne here on the hormonic tides of inversion, cannot by laws or maxims or ostracism, be kept from that dark temple."
On the very next page, Diana stakes a claim for the 'nuture' camp, writing in her author's forward that "my lesbianism is, I believe, the result of long environment peculiarly fitted to foster whatever inclination to homosexuality I had as a child." She remains firmly on the nuture side of the debate for the entirety of the book. After all, it was the 1930s and Freud and Jung were the freshest ideas around. For the author, it seems that understanding homosexuality as an acquired quality rather than one present from birth (Dr Robinson's endocrines) was more liberatory. She explains that thinking of homosexuality as an innate quality made her feel like a "freak of nature" and understanding it as a product of her upbringing was preferable. It's quite a different sentiment than we are used to now, and one of the many reasons why this book is such an invaluable contribution to understanding queer history and thought.
Diana: A Strange Autobiography is so fun to read. There were literally hundreds of sentences I wanted to highlight because they were so charming and great. The story is also quite pulpy at times, so much so that I doubted its authenticity at first. I should note here that I bought my copy of the book three or four years ago, and read the first chapters then, before the episode of PBS' History Detectives revealed that book was, in fact, written by an honest to god lesbian, though most scholars of the book treat it as a novel that skillfully plays with archetype rather than as a pure memoir, whatever that is.
Perhaps most shocking for contemporary readers is that a book published in 1939 would not only be unabashedly unashamed of lesbianism, but would also contain numerous and beautifully honest accounts of her physical relationships. Most heartbreaking for contemporary readers is how many of the problems Diana faces are still so current, reminding us how much prejudice remains to be struggled against. It's not much of a giveaway to say the book ends on a happy note, with Diana in a fulfilling relationship. And the description of the book's actual author, Frances V. Rummell, by her niece, is equally positive. "She was a very bright woman. I think she enjoyed life. She was a big personality. She came into the room, you knew she was there. I was very fond of her." (less)
Los Angeles! Is where this cute little fable takes place. An extra-kitsch fantasy LA where everyone looks like 1950s movie stars, drives 1950s Chevrol...moreLos Angeles! Is where this cute little fable takes place. An extra-kitsch fantasy LA where everyone looks like 1950s movie stars, drives 1950s Chevrolets, and lives in adorable pink cottages in the hills. Weetzie Bat is a young lass who wears vintage prom dresses to high school and is a weirdo. She meets some boys and has some adventures with them, and by adventures, I mean babies. Sassy Magazine told everyone to read it in the early 90s (every single one of my goodreads reviews is actually about the early 90s), but I failed to do so, though I assiduously followed that magazine's cultural advice. I probably would not have liked this book when I was 13. The childlike, treacly style of the writing and sun-drenched LA setting might have been to cutesy-poo for my goth adolescent soul, even though there is quote/unquote Mature Content just underneath the sugarcoated surface. Doin' it! Homosexuals humpin' and lovin' other homosexuals! Drugs! AIDS! Losing the ones you love! etc.
Reading it this summer, after having spent a couple of days feeling like an alien in Southern California, Weetzie Bat struck me as some kind of commentary on the eternal desire for and ultimate impossibility of LA and New York every really understanding each other. Weetzie's dad is a New York film dude who meets, marries, and makes a baby with an LA starlet, but their relationship falls apart, and Mama and Papa Bat hole up in their respective cities to embody every possible coastal stereotype. Everyone in LA is involved with movies and everyone in New York eats bagels all the time. They are intrigued by each other but ultimately cannot coexist, because LA is too sunny for New York people, and New York is too gritty and grey for LA people. I suppose this book is about other stuff, too, like how everyone should be able to make families with the people they love, even/especially if that family is you, your gay best friend and his lover, the baby they impregnate you with, your boyfriend, the baby your boyfriend spawned with a witch, and a dog named Pee Wee.
This book was a fun way to spend 45 minutes but I am not sure I will bother to seek out subsequent books from this series, although I will certainly read them if they are in a waiting room somewhere.
Adolescence feels like a bloodbath to the death, so it makes complete sense that a book about an actual teenage bloodbath to the death would be so pop...moreAdolescence feels like a bloodbath to the death, so it makes complete sense that a book about an actual teenage bloodbath to the death would be so popular.
I was curious to read this trilogy since its basic plot premise- that a totalitarian government forces young people to fight to the death in an entertainment spectacle designed to keep the rest of the population under control- is so similar to the plot of Battle Royale, the Japanese novel that became a manga that became a movie. I've only seen the movie version of Battle Royale, and its about as hilarious and witty a take on teenagers murdering each other that one could ho
In Battle Royale, the government selects one extra-bad middle school class every year to go fight on an island, while in the Hunger Games, two young residents from each of the 12 districts of the country of Panem are selected to go fight in an arena in the Capital. In both stories, the games are televised entertainment for the population, and the victors become huge stars. So, both Battle Royale and Hunger Games really try to hammer home the point that reality tv + politics of spectacle + violence as entertainment = bad bad bad. But similarities end there, for the most part.
Hunger Games is much darker than Battle Royale. At least the movie version. The heroine is from what was once Appalachia, and hey, people are still really broke and exploited coal miners! Everyone in Panem is really broke and exploited, except for residents of the Capital, which is some pumped up version of LA. LOS ANGELES WINS THE GIANT WAR?! IN WHAT ALTERNATE UNIVERSE?!?! Allegedly because they were protected by the Rockies or some shit, but I'm not really buying that California would win a huge civil war. Sorry, West Coast. Anyways, the book makes a lot about the ridiculous accents of Capital residents, and I assumed they all talked like Valley Girls, even the politicians. Its clear in the Hunger Games that the Games are a fucked up plot by an evil government, whereas in Battle Royale, the plot is framed as "kids got really bad, so the government had to do something drastic." Basically, the Hunger Games trilogy is clearly gearing up for a revolution, and no such spark in Battle Royale. Which makes Battle Royale more depressing to me in the end, even though its much funnier. (less)
**spoiler alert** Well, this was a real page turner, but an emotionless one. Suzanne Collins just didn't seem to get which characters were compelling...more**spoiler alert** Well, this was a real page turner, but an emotionless one. Suzanne Collins just didn't seem to get which characters were compelling and which deaths were emotional (Cinna, Finnick) and which characters never really go anywhere or evoke any feelings (sorry, Prim, we barely knew you.) I guess she got Boggs death right, that one really hurt! He was a funny revolutionary, and no one is funny in this book! And there was no Cinna backstory, which is bullshit. He was the most fascinating character in this entire series. (AND HE'S GOING TO BE PLAYED BY LENNY KRAVITZ IN THE MOVIE?!??!!!???!)
The best part about this book was the "revolutions are complicated, sometimes no one is really a good guy, and can unequivocally 'good' people win wars?" theme. Katniss is always freaking out about how terrible she is, but she's not really doing anything about it, either. Maybe because she's not actually so terrible, just a 17 year old, and also, she did the right thing at the end of the book. The worst part was the boring-ass love triangle, although the bonding scene between Peeta and Gale was sort of cute.
Oh, and I was on Team Peeta the entire series. In the first part of the series, Gale just seems like that dude that's all "we are just friends, you are not even that cute" and then someone else likes you and all of a sudden he's all "hey! I knew you first!" and, you know, fuck that dude. In the later part of the series, Gale is like that radical dude that hates complexity, moral ambiguity and your feelings, because all of those things are inconvenient for The Revolution, and fuck that dude, too. Peeta Mellark, you dreamy baker, froster of fantasies, call me!(less)
Ha, who rates primary source historical documents on goodreads? "Better luck next time, Gandhi! 3.5 stars"
This is one of Gandhi's first texts, written...moreHa, who rates primary source historical documents on goodreads? "Better luck next time, Gandhi! 3.5 stars"
This is one of Gandhi's first texts, written in 1909, in which he lays out his arguments for Indian home rule. He advocates for an Indian nationalism not based on imitating the British in any way, describing British (and Western) civilization as a sickness. A lot here against machinery, against lawyers, against Western doctors, against trains, against violence. You can see that the basis of Gandhi's ideal of Indian nationalism is religion, although he argues that it's not a particular religion, just a society based on religion, as opposed to the material basis of Western civilization. Nonetheless, his Hinduism stands out. Gandhi also packs in a bunch of zingers here, my favorite being his argument about why home rule can't be won by violence:
"In effect it means this: that we want English rule without the Englishman. You want the tiger's nature, but not the tiger; that is to say, you would make India English. And when it becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englishtan. This is not the Swaraj I want."
This book is more a meta-biography of Gandhi as a political figure than a straight-forward account of his life, but a recent-ish viewing of the Attenb...moreThis book is more a meta-biography of Gandhi as a political figure than a straight-forward account of his life, but a recent-ish viewing of the Attenborough film and a thorough reading of his Wikipedia page should be enough to keep less knowledgeable readers such as myself from feeling too lost in the woods.
Since there are something like 400 biographies of Gandhi to choose from, I would recommend this one to people already reasonably knowledgeable about the arc of his life, and looking for a compact volume of critical analysis about Gandhi.(less)
This is a novel that I deeply enjoyed and will return to again and again. Perhaps the fact that I won it in a giveaway, after decades of never winning...moreThis is a novel that I deeply enjoyed and will return to again and again. Perhaps the fact that I won it in a giveaway, after decades of never winning anything, and it showed up in my mailbox with a little letter from the publisher extending me a special discount for "being such a dedicated and enthusiastic reader," swayed me. Probably it didn't. This is also a novel where I could anticipate all the criticisms leveled against it without coming up with a rebuttal. Is it the quintessence of Self-Absorbed White Guy Abroad literature? Yes, yes it is. Is the narrator a douchebag? Does nothing happen? Are all the insights about art crap and this guy doesn't know anything about John Ashbury despite what he claims? Yes, sort of, no but I guess that's subjective, and I don't know, because poetry criticism and its evaluation are not in my wheelhouse.
So what happens? Adam is awarded a fellowship to go to Madrid and write a long poem about the aftershocks of the Civil War on Spanish poetry. Adam seems to not know very much about the Spanish Civil nor Spanish poetry and is somewhat paralyzed by feeling like an impostor. He spends time staring at the same painting in the Prado, sitting in a park smoking blunts pontificating on the success or failure of his ex-pat experience, wandering around Madrid at night trying not to look like an American out alone, which he is. Adam is extremely self-conscious, and his observations on his own his experiences, as well as his observations of his observations (yes the book is that meta) is where most of the 'action' of the plot lies. Of particular delight to me, someone who has lived abroad in a country where I knew the language but not fluently, were the descriptions of all the possibilities that a single conversation in the foreign language contains when one understands, but only sort of. "Then she might have described swimming in the lake as a child, or said that lakes reminded her of being a child, or asked me if I'd enjoyed swimming as a child, or said that what she'd said about the moon was childish." As a narrative device, this might get tiring for some, but this linguistic multiplicity, and Adam's excitement to harness it in a way that might make him seem smarter and more insightful than he actually is, is a key facet to this novel.