Archive | June, 2013

Friday Night Playlist: Literary Songs

21 Jun

If you don’t have Spotify you can listen to the playlist on Last.fm here.

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Book Porn: Rainbow Bookshelves

19 Jun

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From my Pinterest board ‘Sexy Bookshelves‘.

It could be practical if you can always remember what colour the spine is on your favourite books!

I think it could be fun to devote one or two shelves in a house to LGBT+ authors. And for sexist and homophobic authors you could try gently ripping off the covers and sort of tossing the book into some mud somewhere.

What do you think of the rainbow bookshelf method of organisation?Are you more of an alphabetical or organise-by-genre kind of reader? Or are all your books on a Kindle? Let me know in the comments!

Ten Books that Should Have be Written

17 Jun

I’m always saying how authors should be writing less alienating female characters, or improving their inclusion of minorities, or just generally writing, say, better vampire fiction. For his 100 Days project, graphic designer Tyler Adam Smith has come up with his own concepts for books that should be, or should have been, written. I’ve put together my top ten – publishing houses, take note.

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Are Book Covers Gendered?

15 Jun

The answer is… probably. YA author Maureen Johnson set her Twitter followers the challenge of the ‘Coverflip‘ — taking a book that is marketed for one gender and then imagining it in reverse. She explains:

the simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow […] This idea that there are “girl books” and “boy books” and “chick lit” and “whatever is the guy equivalent of chick lit” gives credit to absolutely no one, especially not the boys who will happily read stories by women […] I would love a world in which books are freed from some of these constraints.

It turns out that the results of Coverflip are a bit like the male pinup project Men-ups!, meaning that they’re a sad and absurd insight into how gender is represented, commodified and exploited… but they are also undoubtedly hilarious. Here are a few of my faves from Johnson’s Twitter followers (the original cover will appear first):

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The ‘Lord of the Flies‘ one just kills me.

Johnson (whose book appears in the slideshow above) notices that “lots of times the ‘perceived good’ stuff goes to male authors, with the female authors falling in that ‘let’s sell it as romance, which is soft and silly’ pile, when in fact romance is fascinating. And not all women write it.”

Jodi Picoult weighed in over Twitter:

Why is it ‘domestic fiction’ if a woman writes about family/relationships, but if a man does that, it’s Pulitzer-worthy? … what would happen if a woman submitted a book under male pseudonym to a publisher? Would it be treated differently?

And Amanda Hocking blogged:

more women read books than men, more women write books than men, but only a small fraction of books that win literary awards are written by women. Women are the publishing industry’s bread and butter, we are the backbone of the damn entertainment industry, but we are constantly demoted to ‘fluffy’ to ‘light’ to ‘meaningless’.

So, question time! Is the publishing industry inherently sexist when it comes to women’s fiction? If so, do we only think this because we think that “girlie things” are considered inferior by default? Do you judge a book by its cover? And what would a nongendered book cover look like? Does such a thing exist? Will this argument become moot when the Kindle takes over the world and the last book has been used as kindling? Is that why they named it that? Let me know in the comments!

The Poetry of Book Spines

13 Jun

Nina Katchadourian is a Californian artist whose work has appeared in The Serpentine and MoMA. It’s been a decade since she conceived Sorted Books, an ongoing project which has manifested itself in many different places. Sorted Books is a very simple concept. Katchadourian visits private homes, or is commissioned by museums or peers, to peruse a collection of books, cull them down to their most useful titles and then group the books together so that their spines can be read in a sequence with the semblance and majesty of poetry.

Procrastination
I’ll Quit Tomorrow
I’ll Quit Tomorrow

DAVID
DAVID
FIRST AND LAST LOVE
SWEET MAN
Trust Me With Your Heart Again

MADE OF IRON
THE VICTOR WEEPS
The End is NEAr!
Yes, but…
STILL
IT HURTS

A DAY AT THE BEACH
THE BATHERS
SHARK 1
SHARK 2
SHARK 3
SUDDEN VIOLENCE
SILENCE

They seem to beg that age old question, what qualifies as art? Do these books become art when they are deliberately placed together? Do they remain art when the components are taken apart and the separate titles are returned to the shelf?

I was so inspired that I decided to try my hand at making some myself. The results are under the cut.

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New Fiction Review: ‘The Academy: Game On’ by Monica Seles

12 Jun

gameon

Author Monica Seles is a retired tennis champion. She won the French open at sixteen and went on to become the number one ranked woman in tennis, winning a total of nine Grand Slam titles before retiring from the game in 2004. I know this only because I read her biography in the back of ‘The Academy: Game On’, which I won through a Goodreads First Read competition. ‘Game On’ also has another author in very small print on the title page, so I’m guessing it was ghost written – not that it really matters.

It turns out that ‘Game On’ is your typical rags to riches plot, set against the backdrop of a very exclusive sports academy. You know, “17-year-old tennis superstar in the making gets the scholarship of her dreams… and more than she bargained for”. It’s sort of like Mean Girls meets Bend it Like Beckham, with a touch of The OC (‘cause they’re all so super rich).

The girls were fairly interesting, and this novel definitely passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. There’s the protagonist, Maya, who is fairly likeable, punk Cleo, rising star of the ultra conservative golf scene, Renee, a girl rich enough to buy her way in to the Academy, and Glamazon Nicole, Maya’s heroine – and competition.

‘Game On’ is filled with all the hot guys and frenemies you’d expect. I haven’t read a lot of teen romance, but I imagine the romantic interests are fairly typical of that genre as well (bad boy vs. shallow stud). There are so many twists and changes of heart that my eyes were flicking back and forth across the page like I was witnessing a tennis match. Some of them were predictable, some of them I didn’t see coming and they struck me with the force of a tennis ball hurtled from a malfunctioning ball machine. (Are these tennis metaphors going a bit too far?)

This novel had a slow start but picked up the pace very quickly. It was genuinely funny at times, and although I never found myself laughing aloud I did find myself smiling a lot. The author does have a tendency to spoonfeed the reader a bit with her descriptions and there are a lot of instances of wishing she’d show instead of tell. This sentence on page two we probably could have gleaned for ourselves: “Finally, she had done it. This sixteen-year-old have-not from central New York with absolutely no connections whatsoever had somehow made it into the most exclusive club.”

Some of the description made me wince a little bit, like calling Cleo “an Asian girl with a towel wrapped around her head” the first time we see her, and

“You will be able to pick a Russian from a Belarusian from a Czech at a hundred yards in three seconds flat. Facial features, skin color, clothing, hairstyles […]”

feels borderline racist and wasn’t really necessary to the story or plot at all. ‘Game On’ also has a very “feel sorry for the poor beautiful rich kids” feel. For example, this quote:

“The only things Maya had ever heard about the way she looked were how freakishly tall she was, how creepily blue her eyes were, how plain blonde her hair was.”

Like, you can’t really just add an unflattering adjective to a word and make it so it seems like she doesn’t fit society’s idea of the perfect woman. Come on, Seles!

Also, after a dad says something offhand to his son:

“Jak and Maya found each other’s eyes. The pain was almost physical. Certainly worse than anything the kid he injured was feeling.”

I kind of disagree, considering that the character in question had just broken a fellow football player’s arm so hard that he’d let out a scream which sounded “primal, like a wounded animal”!

The whole novel offers an interesting commentary on class divides. I know it’s never going to happen in a million years, but a spinoff series about Cleo and her life as a Chinese immigrant who is also a lesbian would be A-MA-ZING. I really liked Cleo and it was super inclusive of them to put a lesbian in BFF role, but they really skimmed over her romance with Svetlana. Like we didn’t even meet the girl. I’m hoping to see more of baby dyke Cleo and her radical undercut in the sequel – although, speaking as a queer girl with an undercut, Cleo is pretty misogynistic for a queer girl with an undercut.

I have to admit that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. And what I mean by that is that when the sequel comes out, I’m prepared to spent actual, real money on it. Nice serve, Seles.

Happy Birthday Maurice Sendak!

10 Jun

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Google marks what would have been Maurice Sendak’s 85th birthday with a delightfully interactive tribute to his most famous work, ‘Where the Wild Things Are‘.

Sendak is pretty much the coolest picture book writer of all time, even if he had a bit of internalised homophobia going on. He didn’t believe in fairytale childhood, and while my favourite story of his has a very clear moral (“care”), most of his work didn’t. He simply believed in telling the truth. Sometimes the truth involved man-eating lions, sometimes it involved death, sometimes it involved a penis or two.

This bluntness was the central message of his documentary with Spike Jonze, ‘Tell Them Anything You Want’. If you’ve never seen it you should make time for it today. Right now, actually.

Come on. It’s only forty minutes long!

Surrey Poetry Festival 2013

10 Jun

Here’s the University of Surrey’s poet in residence, Stephen Mooney, talking about the annual Surrey Poetry Festival which took place on Saturday. (Recognise him? He headlined our LGBT+ Arts Night last year!) The festival was held in the super historic Guild Hall on Guildford High Street this year, and included several book launches from Veer Books and Contraband, as well as an interactive installation, and readings and presentations from some really amazing contemporary poets.

yeah1 yeah4 yeah3

The first performer we saw give a reading was David Ashford, who was launching his collection of poetry ‘Xaragmata’. In my opinion, Ashford is the best candidate to be Steven Moffat’s next Doctor. Holding his book for the first time, he jokes about object fetishism and we laugh – his stage presence is endearingly awkward. Ashford was one of my lecturers for the entirety of my university education so I don’t really feel entitled to critique his performance, but the truth is that there’s not much to critique. His unique brand of poetry, which draws inspiration from mathematics, science, mythology and history, is really engaging and almost hypnotic to hear spoken. One of the audience members told me that he entered a trance-like state, in which the boundary between abstract and visual, numbers and colours, lost all meaning. If that’s not impressive I don’t know what is.

Nat Raha‘s book ‘countersonnets’, out with Contraband, was the first thing to catch my eye when I entered the Guild Hall. With a cover photograph by Del LaGrace Volcano I knew that this poet was going to be pretty radical, and it turns out that we saw her read at the very first Poetry Festival a couple of years back and she was just as engaging then. Raha is a super cool queer girl and the way she rocks on her heels when she’s speaking, her sporadic breaths, tasty choice of words, and sparing use of the word “fuck” in her poetry are all totally captivating. I hope she comes back to Surrey for next year’s festival!

The last poet that we saw was Karen Mac Cormack, who was launching her book AGAINST WHITE with Veer Books – quite a hefty tome. I liked a lot of her poetry, especially the piece she chose to close the session with, which was a kind of experimental use of alliteration and wordplay. My favourite groupings of words were the most sibilant. I love that sharp “ss”.

We only bought tickets for one ‘session’ and I was sad to miss Sophie Robinson, as I really enjoyed her readings at the very first Poetry Festival. I was also disappointed to miss Stephen Mooney and the student showcase, both of which were happening right after we had to go — Sophie Goodman in particular looked like she’d be really exciting to hear.

I really love student poetry, because I think that there’s a tendency from academic poets to be really inaccessible and/or experimental and while that might be good on a page when you have time to absorb the language and syntax, I think something might be lost in performance. Student poets and amateurs are just a little bit more raw, a little bit more honest or truthful which I think is what poetry is supposed to be, ultimately.

Conversely, I’d love to see some people at a future event who do performance poetry as a thing, e.g. Emilie Zoey BakerJeanann Verlee , Kai Davis. I know none of these ladies are British — maybe England is too ‘English’ for slam poetry?

Anyway, check out our haul from the event:

this one

I’m so gutted we forgot to get people to sign their stuff!

Incidentally, this free  copy of Potlatch was put together by a bunch of my talented uni pals, and also featured David Ashford’s work (among others). You might be able to get a free copy by emailing the potentially-defunct address at the back of the booklet, but no promises. It was designed by Emma Thomson, whose collage skills are incredible — she also makes some adorable handmade mascots for her roller derby team now, which you can buy.

Back in the day, Potlach was co-edited by Christina Manning, who just got married (congrats you guys!!), and Sarah Tuckwell, who recently helped me out at a craft fair by selling incredible cake while I tried to unload my Gliterature products onto strapped-for-cash students. Sarah runs a blog for Contraband called Black Market Modernist, and she is also available for human trafficking.

What is better than books and tea?

8 Jun

Question: What is better than books and tea?

Answer: Tea-stained books! No, wait — TEA THAT IS SOMEHOW BOOK-THEMED!

Novel Teas are cute little English Breakfast teabags that have been individually tagged with literary quotes. According to the website:

There is no better company than a steaming cup of tea as you open the cover of a favorite classic or turn the page of the latest thriller. Whether traveling to distant times and far off lands or discovering new characters in a nearby locale, a soothing cup of tea makes the journey more pleasurable and the memory lasting.

I totally agree! And there’s no better place to drink fiction-themed tea than in a fictional cafe. Failing that, in your own home will do, with one of these lovely tea accessories under the cut.

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Book Porn: Antique Occult Edition

6 Jun

While doing a routine Google of the Enchiridion from Adventure Time (I live a sad life) I found this amazing website that sells antique occult books, i.e. the top fifty books most likely to be cursed of all time).

Look at this Enchiridion! It’s hand coloured! It belonged to a Pope! It also has several handwritten inscriptions, including an invocation written on an extra paper and inserted in the book. It’s so coooooooool.

Look at this cool and practical diagram for making your own magick circle! Don’t try this at home, kids. This is a page from one book from a set of four grimoires. But they’re priced at € 6,000, so au revoir grimoire, I guess.

This is a Major Inquisitor’s manual on Demonology from the year 1578 and I want to casually read it on the tube on the way to work.

This comes from the end pages of ‘Discours et Histoires des Spectres’, published in 1605, the most beautiful copy of the most extensive study on the history of ghosts and Demonology to come out of the period. Just look at this page! Don’t you just want to stroke it? Can’t you feel its demon powers of hypnotism taking hold?!

What’s your favourite book from the website? I bet I’ve missed all the good ones.