International Women’s Day 2017

How is it March already?? Well, here we are, and here are some female driven film and literary things that have caught my attention.

The 2017 Bailey’s Prize longlist has been announced – an intriguing lineup here as always.

IMDB, quite probably the largest source of movie and TV information, has adopted the F-rating: a rating to show if films are written by women, directed by women, and/or feature women on screen in their own right. Admittedly, as this article points out, the rating isn’t featured on every film page, instead you can use their search tool to find movies that meet one or more of these criteria. I’m willing to give it time though, for this to be adopted fully on individual pages.

A shoutout to Scottish writers Claire MacLeary and Clio Gray, who I saw at an event during Aberdeen’s recent Granite Noir festival. Their books sound very interesting indeed, and are at the top of my list for upcoming reads. Claire MacLeary’s debut novel is Cross Purpose, set in Aberdeen City. Clio Gray, on the other hand, is a veteran writer (longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize last year), and her new three-part series begins with Deadly Prospects.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor. It’s about historians who study historic events in ‘contemporary time’, i.e. through time travel. It’s got some dark bits, but overall it’s fairly light reading and good fun. I’d say it’s almost like a boarding school series, but featuring the staff.

The little things matter as much as the big things when it comes to changing the world. So let’s be proud of ‘little’ things like celebrating female authors and filmmakers, and equally let’s not be shy about ‘making a fuss’ when something’s not right. This year’s International Women’s Day theme, Be Bold for Change, is a good reminder of that.

International Women’s Day 2016

2016-03-07 Books by female writers

In keeping with last year’s literary theme, I’m celebrating female writers today.
The past year was pretty packed for me so reading time suffered, but here are some books by women that I’ve very much enjoyed.

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler
It’s hard to describe this story without giving away too much, but it delves into family relationships, communication, society, finding your identity – told from the point of view of a girl growing up with psychologist parents. A pick from my book club.

Half Bad and Half Wild – Sally Green
Young adult fantasy, dealing with segregation, societal expectations, and coming of age amongst witches. Classic witchy, magicky stuff in a very contemporary setting (they carry mobile phones, use the internet, and deal with local authority bureaucracy). Really quite gripping reads, and the final book of the trilogy, Half Lost, is out later this month.

The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman
Librarian spies from a mysterious Library hunt down books from alternate worlds, and here they investigate goings on in a steampunk London. A good, fun read.

I plan to slowly work my way through Penguin’s Little Black Classics, and my reads so far include:
A Pair of Silk Stockings – Kate Chopin, and
The Old Nurse’s Story – Elizabeth Gaskell
Kate Chopin’s tales are gritty and hauntingly sad, while Elizabeth Gaskell’s two stories are gothic chillers – very much unlike her more familiar stories, but just as intriguing.

As expected, my “to read” list is one I could keep adding to forever, so I shall just share my Pinterest board for books instead, which I think is quite female heavy.

Finally, here’s something to look out for today:
The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction longlist will be announced, followed by the shortlist in April, and the winner in June.

Happy International Women’s Day!

International Women’s Day 2015

This International Women’s Day I shall be reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

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With chapter titles like these,

Observations on the State of Degradation to which Woman is Reduced by Various Causes

Morality Undermined by Sexual Notions of the Importance of Good Reputation

Of the Pernicious Effects which Arise from the Unnatural Distinctions Established in Society

I’m looking forward to an interesting read, and to finding out what women were thinking and feeling about their place in society back in 1792.
The text is in the public domain, and is available to download here.

If you’d like some other ideas for Women’s Day reading, here are some books by and about women and girls, which I’ve read in the last few years and which made an impression on me:
The Duchess, by Amanda Foreman
Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson (aka the Bloggess)
How To Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

I haven’t read these ones, but they sound very interesting indeed:
11 new and recent books for the feminist reader – a bit of a cheat as this is a list, but they all sound exciting!
The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty, by Amanda Filipacchi
Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey
When I Grow Up I Want To Be Mary Beard, by Megan Beech
The Bees, by Laline Paull
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, by Hwang Sun-Mi  (ok, these last two are about female animals, but the lives they depict sound very similar to human female lives…)

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

The Raw Shark Texts

57 of 365 - This glass is extra strong, right?

This week I finished The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, and boy is it a read and a half! At the start our protagonist, Eric Sanderson, wakes up and doesn’t know who he is. So far so Memento. Pretty soon Jaws and The Matrix come along, as we find out that he is being hunted by a memory-shark, a Ludovician. He receives letters from himself, with encrypted clues about what happened to him previously, and in order to find answers he has to delve into un-space. It’s all very unsettling, confusing, overwhelming, and you really feel Eric’s frustration – it is first person narrated, so we only know as much as he does, and there’s a lot he doesn’t know! It’s also worth remembering that this was written in 2007, before things like Facebook and Twitter had quite taken over the world.

Now, some folks don’t like the similarity to Jaws, but to be honest, if you’re going to have a monstrous predatory animal flowing through the ether of concepts it might as well be a shark, and if it’s going to be a shark you might as well embrace the Jaws connection that people are going to make anyway. One of the characters even comments on comparing things in real life to things in films. Besides, there are only 6 original stories (or whatever the number is that ‘they’ say), and the author brings his unique take on these ideas. The use of images and ‘text images’ is fascinating (everybody loves a bit of ASCII art), and more intriguingly, there are 36 Negative Chapters out there to be found – for every chapter in the book there is an un-chapter. I haven’t read any of them yet, but my curiosity is certainly piqued. The author’s forum has much more information on this (spoilers).

This book explores the power of concepts and the flow of ideas – one passage I found particularly mind blowing was when Eric reads one of the mysterious letters, which describes the scene of a boat on a lake, asking Eric to imagine this scene. It continues, “Here’s what’s obvious and wonderful and terrible all at the same time: the lake in my head, the lake I was imagining, has just become the lake in your head.”

How do you ever read anything again without thinking about the connections between you, the author, and everyone else reading it? And what about movies, paintings, popular culture? Ask people to draw you a light sabre, and you’ll probably get very similar, specific, images. “Imagine two Italian plumbers” and you’ve probably already got Mario and Luigi running around in your head. I guess the concept of language itself relies on shared ideas – when I say chair, you know exactly what I mean. But this book takes the connections between those shared ideas to a whole other level.

It’s also a bit of an odyssey – Eric journeys from place to place, having to take risks and face dangers, accompanied by his trusty companion, the cat called Ian. Along the way he meets characters that help and hinder him, all the while uncovering more snippets of the elusive truth, and more questions as well. And in the end, well, you can interpret the ending to be as straightforward or as complex as you like. I loved it, and I’m looking forward to these un-chapters.

Random

“Pick a random word and do Google image search on it. Check out the eleventh picture it brings up. Write about whatever that image brings to mind.”

Daily Prompt, 30th October 2012

The first word that came to mind was “random,” typical…So I happily Googled it, and then realised what was going to happen just as I selected the Image results…yup, lots of hits for the Penguin and Random House merger. The eleventh picture was from this Guardian article about it.

Firstly, seeing the book spines made me think of arranging books by colour. They’re just so beautiful to look at, although I’m often torn between the me who loves colour arrangements (like these M&Ms), and the me who loves categorising and alphabetising…I will do it someday, even if just for a few days, and treasure the photo forever…

As for the merger itself, I’m not sure how I feel about it. There’s anti-competition issues, a loss of brand identity, and also, if true, Bertelsmann having a controlling share – does that mean there’ll eventually be less Penguin and more Random? However, with the move being made in an effort to take on the big technology giants and their e-books, a different take on the merger predicts that with financial worries out of the way, the print publisher will have more space to be adventurous and experiment with new authors.

It seems like the first reaction to this sort of major change is doom and gloom, while forgetting that these two large publishing houses are themselves made up of a variety of smaller publishing companies that have been assimilated over the years anyway. So I think for now, it remains to be seen what comes out of all this, and I have a feeling that after the dust has settled, we’ll carry on as before. The only thing I’m disappointed about in this whole thing is the decision to call it Penguin Random House. Really?? That’s the best they could come up with? The whole of Twitter already knew that Random Penguin would’ve been the best name ever. There’s still time to change it!