Jennifer Astle

October 16, 2009

Book Review: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

coverWe all have that author.  That author who has shaped our perceptions of fiction (or non-fiction, perhaps), for whom we have spent many hours ignoring the outside world while we fully wrap ourselves in the pages, and allow ourselves to be swept away for two, four, eight, twelve hours at a time, and before we’ve discovered what we must, MUST know about the book, it’s dinner time, and a hungry partner gives a forlorn look like “you love that book more than me.”  For me, Margaret Atwood is that author.

When The Handmaid’s Tale was handed to me by a favorite teacher, I had no idea the journey I would be on, for Atwood’s has been the voice that followed me through the years, a decade really, feeding my overactive imagination, resurrecting the hurt child in me, and shaping me into a feminist long before any university professors got a hold of me.

I picked up The Year of the Flood a week ago, and set it down yesterday.  If I could somehow quit working, I could have made much shorter work of reading the book, but such is life.  I did however wait until my husband was out of town on business, so I could give the book the attention it truly deserves, hours of reading, uninterrupted. I settle into Atwood books much the same way one settles into a warm bath.  I slide into each page with care, slowly absorbing the imagery she spins with her pen, sometimes re-reading to ensure the tiniest of detail is unearthed.

The Year of the Flood took me by surprise.  For the first hundred or so pages, I suspected that it was either a prologue or an epilogue to Oryx and Crake, which I read a few years ago.  Had I read it more recently, and my short term memory not been so shoddy, I would have grasped this connection from the very first page.  Now I have more reading to do (or re-reading, rather).  Either way, I would have been wrong, since The Year of the Flood is happening concurrently with Oryx and Crake.  It takes a supremely talented author to tell the same story twice, without it being the same story.  Some (including myself) are even linking the two to The Handmaid’s Tale.

True, all three are dystopic, sociological works at their roots, each depicting a world radically different from the one we live in, but not so radical that it doesn’t seem to be a minute away.  My argument for the connectedness of the The Handmaid’s Tale to the Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood is subtle, and I acknowledge that there is a possibility that I might be grasping at straws.  “Glenn” is a character in the later two, while we are introduced to “Ofglen” as a minor character in The Handmaid’s Tale.  Is the woman, Ofglen of Glenn, the character who brings them all to where they find themselves after the flood?  Is The Handmaid’s Tale really taking place after nearly all of humanity has been destroyed by the flood?  Is this story that of humanity reorganizing itself after the events of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood? Perhaps not, but I won’t restrict my imagination from running away with me.  That’s the beauty of great fiction.

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April 14, 2009

Glitch, My Ass

I might be a little late to join the discussion of the epic fail on the part of Amazon, but I am joining the discussion none the less.  Think of it this way; I needed a day or two to wrap my head around why, in the 21st Century, Amazon (a product of said century) would begin to act like a tiny Christian bookstore in a small Texas town?  For those of you who haven’t heard, or don’t understand what the big fuss is about, let me clarify.

Amazon has recently removed sales rankings from books that they deem “adult”.  As a result these books will not appear as frequently (if at all) in related searches, or display how well they are doing in sales.  The problem is, the books that are being stripped of their sales rankings relate primarily to homosexual issues, queer theory, and don’t forget, the evil feminism, while books by the likes of Tucker Max, chauvinist extraordinaire (you have to be good at what you do, I suppose), are allowed to remain in the regular search and sales rankings.

Pardon me, but what the fuck?

I’m not a big fan of censorship in general.  My mother raised me in a censorship-free home.  This doesn’t mean that I was raised with a get out of jail free card, but it does mean that I was encouraged to think for myself, ask questions, and form opinions based on what I knew, not what I thought.  The only time I can ever remember my mother denying me the right to watch or read something was when I expressed an interest in Clockwork Orange…when I was twelve.  I can’t say I blame her.

But, back to this epic fail by Amazon.  They are defending their actions by saying that this is a glitch.  Let me clarify what this means for you in Public Relations speak; “We were subversively trying to marginalize books by the LBGT and feminist communities, and we really didn’t think that anyone would notice, because who reads books by gay and women writers? And then we got caught.  So as not to offend what we now realize is a large portion of our base, we’re saying it was a glitch. Please believe us!”

Others (including myself) aren’t taking the bait.  Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com, an author whose books were stripped of their rankings, quotes her editor who communicated with Amazon about the issue;

Basically he said that amazon has been experimenting with the way they dole out content specifically so that people who are searching Harry Potter or whatever won’t run into links to products that might be offensive.

I ask this of Amazon; what if I find Harry Potter offensive, or Tucker Max, or any of the books about “curing” homosexuality in your kids?  I still have to look at those search results.  Here’s my trick…if I find it offensive, I don’t click on the fucking link.  Or better yet, I click on the link so I can learn the perspectives of those who offend me so I am better able to make clear and succinct arguments about it.  It’s called not living with your head up your own ass. Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp?

But changing the collective conciousness of an America who encourages young women to wear purity rings and promise their virginity in a mock marriage to their fathers is not a task I feel I can accomplish in my lifetime.  The question still remains what Amazon’s intent was.  What did Amazon hope to accomplish by creating it’s very own dark room behind the curtains for certain books?  From Deanna Zandt;

What kinds of books received this “adult” label? Erotica with gay themes (but not heterosexual themes), rape survivor advocacy and rape culture criticism, and feminist missives were among those suddenly labeled adult material. Soft-core hetero porn (such as Playboy centerfold calendars), hetero-themed sex toys and anti-gay screeds were left untouched. Let the maelstrom begin.

Yes, let’s. As someone who has probably spent somewhere in the vicinity of thousands of dollars on Amazon, I am outraged that my money is paying for the salaries of those who specifically chose to exclude LBGT and feminist books while leaving Playboy centerfolds untouched (so to speak).  I’m not saying censor Playboy, or Max, or any of the other books on the site.  Leave them all alone.  Presumably, if we are an intelligent society we can grasp the horrors of finding a book we may not like for personal/political/homophobic/religious reasons in our search results, can’t we?  Remember the old adage; don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

This all boils down to one thing; the dehumazining of the homosexual (and to some extent, female) writer.  Both life and the publishing industry are difficult enough for straight people, let alone gay people and feminists searching for their voice, and readership in the literary world and Amazon simply decided this literature didn’t count.  It’s sick, and it’s sad, and yes, I feel very strongly about this issue.

The LBGT community has theory and history, and they have more than earned their right to a collective literature about their lives and struggles.  Imagine for a moment if Amazon decided to declare all books about Black History or by black authors inappropriate?  Of course, then it would be a mistake too, wouldn’t it?

This little book burning party by Amazon has caused me to realize that, at least until this issue is fully rectified, and an apology is issued to the LGBT and feminist communities, I can no longer continue to patronize Amazon.  Over the years I have ordered many books, electronics, and other items from the site, and these humble dollars will now go elsewhere.  I urge you to do the same.

Below I have included a list courtesy of Jezebel, of books that have and have not been stripped of their sales rankings.  Decide for yourself what message Amazon was trying to send.

Books Stripped Of Amazon Sales Rankings:
Wetlands
Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography
Outing Yourself: How To Come Out As Lesbian Or Gay To Your Family, Friends, And Co-Workers
Gay Life And Culture: A World History
Homosexuality And Civilization
The Way Out: The Gay Man’s Guide to Freedom No Matter if You’re in Denial, Closeted, Half In, Half Out, Just Out or Been Around the Block
The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World
Coming Out Of Shame: Transforming Gay And Lesbian Lives
The Gay And Lesbian Self-Esteem Book
Heather Has Two Mommies
Dude, You’re A Fag: Masculinity And Sexuality In High School
Sexing The Body: Gender Politics And The Construction Of Sexuality
Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life: A Collection Of One Night Stands
Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown
Full Frontal Feminism by Feministing’s Jessica Valenti
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
For Yourself: The Fulfillment Of Female Sexuality
Queer Theory: An Introduction
Out In Theory: The Emergence Of Gay And Lesbian Anthropology
Diary Of A Drag Queen
The Rise And Fall of Gay Culture
A Memoir Of No One In Particular
Apples And Oranges: My Journey To Sexual Identity
Bi Lives: Bisexual Women Tell Their Stories
Bisexual Women In The 21st Century
Lesbian, Gay, And Bisexual Identities Over The Lifespan: Psychological Perspectives
Social Services For Gay And Lesbian Couples
The Lesbian Parenting Book: A Guide To Creating Families And Raising Children
The Truth Is…My Life In Love And Music by Melissa Etheridge
Nasty: My Family And Other Glamorous Varmints by Simon Doonan
The Praeger Book Of Transsexuality: Changing Gender to Match Mindset (Sex, Love, and Psychology)
True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism—For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals
GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond The Sexual Binary
Girl Meets Girl: A Dating Survival Guide
The Art Of Meeting Women: A Guide For Gay Women
The Mayor Of Castro Street: The Life And Times Of Harvey Milk
Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life In America
Women, Gays, And The Constitution: The Grounds for Feminism and Gay Rights in Culture and Law
Identity And The Case For Gay Rights: Race, Gender, Religion as Analogies
Gay America: Struggle For Equality (YA)
Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer
Men Who Rape: The Psychology Of The Offender
Gay Day: The Golden Age of the Christopher Street Parade 1974-1983
Gay And Lesbian Washington, DC
Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter To America
Stone Butch Blues: A Novel
Sexual Rhetoric: Media Perspectives on Sexuality, Gender, and Identity
Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965
Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities
Odd Girls And Twilight Lovers
Band Fags
Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink Or Blue
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, And The Rest Of Us
Queering The Popular Pitch
Homosexuality In Greece And Rome: A Sourcebook Of Basic Documents
Greek Homosexuality
Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World
Between Men: English Literature And Male Homosexual Desires
She’s Not There: A Life In Two Genders
Live Through This: On Creativity And Self-Destruction
My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely

Books NOT Stripped Of Amazon Sales Rankings
Fear Of Flying
Belligerence and Debauchery: The Tucker Max Stories
The Complete A**hole’s Guide To Handling Chicks
Lesbian Couples: A Guide To Creating Healthy Relationships
Cunt: A Declaration of Independence Expanded and Updated Second Edition
How To Be A Happy Lesbian, A Coming Out Guide
Ron Jeremy: The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz
Traci Lords: Underneath It All
I’m With The Band: Confessions Of A Groupie
Emma And Meesha My Boy: A Two Mom Story
Boy Meets Boy (YA)
How To Be A Super Hot Woman
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Amazing Sex
Female Chauvinist Pigs
Getting Off: Pornography And the End Of Masculinity
A Parent’s Guide To Preventing Homosexuality
Gay Children, Straight Parents: A Plan For Family Healing
Confessions of a Video Vixen
The Vixen Diaries
Candy Girl: A Year In The Life Of An Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody
A Stripper’s Tail: Confessions Of A Vegas Stripper
Seduce Me! What Women Really Want
The Professional Bachelor Dating Guide: How To Exploit Her Inner Psycho
Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds
Super Beauties: Nude And Natural
Male Nude Photography: Lance And Beau
Hot Cougar Sex: Steamy Encounters With Younger Men
Exercising The Penis: How to Make Your Most Prized Organ Bigger, Harder & Healthier
Whore
The Anarchist Cookbook
Hot Luxury Girls: Best Of Sugar Posh Beauties

And to illustrate…

This book is okay; Gay Children, Straight Parents – A Plan for Family Healing

This book; not so okay; Ellen Degeneres – A Biography

This book gets the Amazon grade; A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality

While this one is stripped down; Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities

This book is totally acceptable; The Complete Asshole’s Guide to Handling Chicks (yes, really)

While this book is very, very naughty and god forbid a child even see the title; Gay America – A Struggle for Equality

Have I made my point?

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April 3, 2009

Enough with this Eat, Pray, Love Crap

eatpraylove2Does anyone else cringe when they hear the term “chick lit”?  I always thought it was a term that was thrown around in book reviews to define material written by and for women, but behold, “chick lit” is an entire genre, like horror, that agents and publishers recognize. And, it just won’t go away.  Take Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert for example. Despite the book being published in 2006, it seems to still be lurking in the media, and setting the standard by which all women writers are being compared.

Now, I can’t say I have read the book anymore than I can say I read Confessions of a Shopaholic, beyond of course what Amazon was kind enough to provide me as a preview, and the few minutes I spent leafing through the pages in a book store before moving on to The God Delusion.  Needless to say, a woman’s memoirs about finding herself that starts with the line “I wish Giovanni would kiss me” is unlikely to captivate me the same way that Orwell captured me with his construction of a futuristic society in which the bourgeoisie worship an organization called The Party.

This brings me to another point.  When reading an article about gendered choices in literature, I was shocked to learn that men are actually impressed by women who read Orwell and the like. You know, because wrapping our vaginas brains around a complex political movement marked by submission and rebellion, is like, totally out of our reach…unless someone is going to bring up chocolate.  Which Orwell does, so I guess that’s why I read it.  Not because it is an iconic piece of literature and remarkably timeless in its representation of political fundamentalism (oh, shit I forgot, I am supposed to be talking about shoes).

So this brings me back to chick lit and Elizabeth Gilbert’s quest to get over her failed marriage, and her sense of being lost in life.  Here is my official position; if your life and your travels were that interesting, they wouldn’t be marketed as the bible of chick lit, they would be marketed as a memoir of an interesting life.  Show of hands, how many men have read Eat, Pray, Love?

*insert sound of crickets chirping*

So why is it that the industry finds this type of writing so appealing?  Obviously there is a market for it, or else agents and editors would be tearing the Gilberts of the world down to their heels and hashing it all out on #queryfail.  I can see it now “OMG, another query about her divorce and how she got over it, shut up already! #queryfail”.  Or maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part.

Of course it is no secret that many a woman have written under a nom de plume, or pseudonym (ahem, J.K. Rowling) to draw attention away from the fact that they are women and gain respect in the literary world before anyone looks up their skirts and realizes that they have an inkwell instead of a pen hidden up there.  Unless, of course, they are writing about “women stuff” like pining over 20 something Italian guys as a means to finding oneself.  Then girly names like Elizabeth can be plastered all over the cover like a rogue noodle that broke free from the covers font.

Now, before anyone jumps on me and says women publish literature other than chick lit, just look at Stephanie Meyer and Twilight, I ask you to pause for a moment.  ‘Cause there’s nothing darker than vegetarian vampires that blow sparkles out of their asses.  Stephen King look out, you have some competition (*snorts*).

Words are words, and the last time I checked the area between my belly button and my knees had very little to do with my choices of reading material or writing topics (excluding feminist literature of course, which is much different than wanting Giovanni to kiss you).  Women frequently write from the perspectives of men, and vice versa, with astonishing insight.  This begs the question; do we really need an entire genre of “Oh my god, I found myself in Jimmy Choo?” or are we creating it by filing it under the vagina niche and calling it a day.  You know, so men won’t have to make the mistake of picking up a book written by a woman for a woman while perusing the aisles of their local book store…because there is an entire section segregated off where women can confide in each other about yoga, having babies, being married, getting divorced, and shopping; all of the important life lessons a girl must learn.

This is my call to women writers; stop publishing this Eat, Pray, Love crap, and find a voice based on your writing talents, not on the chance that you got an X instead of a Y in your chromosome make up.

Update: Apparently my writing is worth plagiarizing without credit.  Check it out here, and feel free to let them know how us bloggers love link backs.

March 14, 2009

Weekend Reading: Women in the Media

20090119-091203-pic-605449109_011In honor of Women’s History Month, weekend reading is focused on women in the media.  The media, I would argue, is one of the last great vestiges of The Patriarchy.  This is evident in journalism, the television and film industries, and the literary world.  Allow me to demonstrate.

What is the next logical step for a woman in politics after a long, challenging election?  Why, be immortalized in a comic, of course!  Bluewater Productions brings us Sarah “Super Power” Palin and Adventures in Abstinence.  Okay, not really, but they are in second print of their Palin-themed comic.

Speaking of people who worship the cult of Palin, Ann Coulter’s new book; Guilty; Another Book Blaming Liberals for Everything, is struggling in sales.  I can’t imagine why.

Jennifer Weiner talks about a lecture featuring Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert, where the two apparently spent more time at the spa doing yoga than at the podium waxing literary.  The article is titled “Why Can’t a Woman (Writer) Be More Like a Man?”  Your parenthesis don’t fool me!  Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love.  Weiner adds “If you’ve read Gilbert’s work (and by now, who hasn’t?), then you know that her confiding, urgent tone is precisely what so many women found irresistible.”  Raises hand…I haven’t, and I don’t.

Of course, we all know that those ladies were off doing yoga, because a woman can’t possibly be successful in the media if she doesn’t conform to all known stereotypes about what defines women as attractive, right?  Two people suited to discuss this issue are Rachel Maddow and Meghan McCain. 

Maddow was recently asked about her “dyke-stache” in an interview with Vanity Fair’s George Wayne. Here’s a taste.

W: By the way, before your Peacock Network makeover, didn’t you have a dyke-stache?

M: A what?

W: Facial hair over your lip—a dyke-stache.

M: I never had any facial hair in my life.

It gets even better when he asks her if she enjoys eproctophilia.

Last, but not the least, Meghan McCain (who post-election is now a writer for The Daily Beast) is being criticised by Laura Ingraham, not for her writing skills, but her weight.

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