Book Review: Girls to the Front-The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus

girls to the frontMention the term “riot grrrl” and you’ll probably get a lot of different responses. ‘Zines, Doc Martens, punk bands, feminism, baby barrettes, Kathleen Hanna, and writing “slut” on one’s stomach are just a few words that may come to mind. But to write a history of the riot grrrl movement and how it shaped a generation is one hell of an intimidating task. Thankfully, writer Sara Marcus has the ovaries to do just that in her book Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s young women and girls were sick and tired of the sexism they found in their beloved punk music scene. Girls were to be seen, not heard. They were also furious about a country that seemed to be eroding the rights their feminist foremothers fought for. But instead of withdrawing, these brave women and girls decided to fight back through music, activism, ‘zines and support groups. And they called themselves riot grrrls.

In Girls to the Front, Marcus writes how the riot grrrl movement got its start in the Pacific Northwest and the Washington, DC area and soon grew throughout the country uniting like-minded girls (and some guys, too). Some of them of these riot grrrls became well-known names and were considered the leaders of the riot grrrl movement.

But many were just young girls who finally found something they could believe in, themselves.

Marcus doesn’t solely focus on riot grrls as a whole movement; she focuses mostly on the grrrls themselves the most famous probably being Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail and Erin Smith. She describes in vivid detail how a lot of young women formed their own bands and many produced their own zines. And there were riot grrrl meetings where budding young feminists discussed abusive families, rape and the sexism they dealt with on a daily basis, often for the very first time.

Though the riot grrrl movement turned out to be a positive thing for most involved, it did have its share of problems, and Marcus isn’t afraid to discuss them. The riot grrrl movement was often looked upon as too white and middle-class. The sexism the bands had to deal with at shows was beyond appalling. When the mainstream press finally decided to examine the riot grrrl movement, it simplified it to a bunch of silly girls in vintage frocks and Doc Martens, writing slogans on their bellies and boobs.

But most disheartening was the infighting among the women in the riot grrrl movement. I must admit I cringed when Marcus described how Bratmobile broke up at a gig while playing on stage. And sadly, by the mid -1990s the riot grrrl movement as it was known splintered and imploded.

However, in a follow-up, Marcus tells us what the women profiled in the book are doing with their lives. Some continue to play music. Some are professors, writers and artists. Many are activists. As short-lived as the riot grrrl movement may have been, it turned out to have a long lasting effect on countless women.

Girls to the Front is tirelessly researched, empathetic to its core and brutally honest. At times it can be a daunting read, but it’s also empowering and enlightening whether you were a riot grrrl or not.

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Book Marks

bookmarks obamaLovely tributes to Alison Parker, reporter and Adam Ward, photojournalist.

Author Joseph Stiglitz discusses growing income inequality issues.

Yes, please do this. Oh, wait. Don’t.

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Wrote a Book. Hmm, Morrissey is writing a novel.

Just what is JK Rowling’s favorite Harry Potter fan theory? She’s happy to tell us!

Male writers hide their gender to gain female readers.

Beyond the standard book shelf. Really cool and unique ways to store your books!

Toronto Libraries lets patrons check-out humans as well as books. I love this idea, so clever!

Words of wisdom from Judy Blume.

Librarians on bicycles are bringing books to under-served children.

Book Review: The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

the vinyl princessMusic sales are lagging. Record stores are becoming extinct. And the music in MTV has been replaced by various reality TV shows. The state of music is quite uncertain, which leads me to wonder: Do today’s teenagers obsess over music the ways teenagers did in the past?

Allie, the teenage protagonist of Yvonne Prinz’s young adult novel The Vinyl Princess does. She works at Bob & Bob Records in Berkeley, one of the last hold-outs of independent record stores.While her peers fill their iPods with the latest releases, Allie prefers the romance of putting a needle on the record’s groove and cherishes her massive vinyl collection.

She is also a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge. Name a Beatles’ song, and she knows exactly what album it’s on. Allie puts her knowledge to good use (and not to mention, her access to all the great music at Bob & Bob), and starts her own music blog and hard copy zine, aptly titled The Vinyl Princess.

She blogs about vintage LPs and the tangibility of records. “I love the look of vinyl, the smell of it, the tiny crackles you hear before a song starts.” And others agree with her – before long her fan base grows, wanting her opinion on everything from David Bowie to the perfect music mixes.

Meanwhile, beleaguered store owner Bob (there is only one Bob) claims he’s going to shut down because people prefer to download music. Plus, a string of neighborhood robberies has him worried that Bob & Bob will be next.

Allie’s personal life also hangs in the balance. Her parents are divorced. Her dad’s new wife (barely older than Allie) is pregnant, and her mom is dipping her toes into the world of online dating. Allie has boy troubles of her own — she has serious thing for the mysterious Joel who often visits the store, but whose intentions may or may not be sinister in nature. Then there is Zach, who brings Allie homemade music mixes, and tries to fill her brain with new musical facts. Guess which boy she likes better?

As summer unfolds, Allie realizes she’s going to have to embrace some pretty huge changes, both personally and at work. But will hard-won maturity come at the end?

While reading The Vinyl Princess, I kept forgetting that it was a young adult novel. Prinz never talks down to her audience, respecting them no matter what generation they got slid into. Being into music makes Allie a cool girl — her love and knowledge of music was infectious, and her real-life problems rang very true.

The depiction of Allie’s blog was a bit unbelievable. It became hugely successful overnight, and within a couple of months a business wants to buy it. To anyone with a blog, this is quite unrealistic. It takes a very long time to get an audience in the blogospshere, and some of the best out there get ignored for absolute dreck.

Still, my complaints are minor. Allie is the kind of teenage girl character that needs to be represented more in pop culture: smart, relatable and interesting. The Vinyl Princess’s crown may be a bit tarnished, but it still royally rocks.

Writer’s Block

$T2eC16R,!)!E9s2fCG0GBRZ91IfK3!~~60_35Well, I hope all my readers are enjoying the end of summer. Autumn (my favorite season) is quickly approaching, and like a lot of people, I’ve been quite the busy bee.

First, if all goes according to plan I start a new freelance gig using my writing talents after Labor Day. I just got the good news today. There are a few minor details that need to be addressed, but my recruiter said things are a go.

Tomorrow I have friends coming from out of town and we’re going to spend all day painting Milwaukee several shades of red. And I hope to have lunch with another friend this week-end.

On Sunday afternoon, I have a meeting for my church’s RE programs (I’m a teaching assistant) and I hope to connect with one of my friends. I haven’t seen her in a few weeks, and we have so much to catch up on.

As for this blog, don’t fret. A PR person sent me some PDFs of some books he wants me to review, and I just started reading one of the copies. I hope to have a review of a novel up soon (sometime next week). And I have some book reviews in reserve. I also hope to share with all of your some interesting links.

Looks like autumn will be an interesting time for The Book Self!

Retro Review: Bonjour, Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

51+u6c95UmL._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Published in 1954, when French author Françoise Sagan was a mere 19-years-old, Bonjour, Tristesse tells the story of Cécile, a well-off teen girl who has been kicked out of university and is now vacationing with her widowed father Raymond along the French Riviera. Joining them for a long summer along the gorgeous blue waters of the Riviera is Elsa, Raymond’s mistress. Cécile doesn’t actively loathe Elsa, but she does find her to be a bit gauche and noisy. But being widowed since Cécile was a little girl, Cécile expects her father wants to have fun and by now, she is used to her father collecting women and then doing away with them once he has grown bored.

Cécile, like a lot of teen girls, is blossoming into womanhood and is trying to figure out who she is. She often comes across as an old soul, and at other times, a petulant child. She hangs out at casinos with her father and his older friends, and has an affair with Cyril, a man in his twenties. But she also pouts and rebels when she is expected to study so she can continue her education.

Cécile expects to have a carefree summer, spending time on the beach, dancing and drinking at nightclubs, spending time with her father and his friends, and yes, learning the ways of horizontal love with Cyril. But then someone joins this scenario, Cécile’s father’s long-time lady friend, Anne.

Anne is everything Elsa is not. She is closer to Raymond’s age and has an impressive career in fashion. She is sophisticated, wise and refined. And soon Raymond turns his affections towards her, and it is not long before he asks Anne to marry him. Cécile is not too happy about this. Though she has long admired Anne for her grace and intelligence, she thinks of Anne as an interloper, not welcomed into the world Cécile and her father have created for the two of them. And when Anne counsels Cécile on how she should behave with her lover, Cyril, and implores that she devotes more time to her studies, Cécile can’t help but get touchy. Who does this vieille dame think she is?

What seems to be an over-riding theme for Cécile during this summer is a sense of loss, everything from the loss of her father to Anne (and his affection) to the loss of her sexual innocence to Cyril. And though Cécile tries to put on a brave face, you sense her vulnerability, her melancholy, hence the title of this book Bonjour, Tristesse-Hello, Sadness, is very approprié.

Cécile learns a great deal at this tender age. She learns that the adult world can be very confusing, but she also learns about herself. She doesn’t know everything, but every day she is learning more.

Bonjour, Tristesse is a slim novel, pretty much novella. It is an exceptionally well-written piece of literature that captures the timeless essence of what it is like to be a teenage girl. Though this book was published long before I was born, and I spent my summers at the mall and the movie theater, I found myself relating to young Cécile thoughts, ideas and opinions. Yes, I was once so very young; I thought I was so sophisticated but non, I was still such an unformed girl.

Sagan writes in a spare, yet detailed style I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the descriptions of idling along the French Riviera, the stolen moments of love making with Cyril, frustrated moments with the adults that structure one’s life and in the end, Cécile’s quest to find meaning in a confusing world. Bonjour, Tristesse is stand-out in the world of literary debuts.

Brag Book

french_flirt_vintage_pinup_girl_reading_mug-r8cecd8ed389b4a4abc98e2e2c2d25474_x7jgr_8byvr_324I sent author Debra Ollivier a link to my review of her book Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl and she was very touched. I guess she found my review to be tres bien! She also suggested I read her second book What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind. Ooh, la, la! I’m definitely going to read this book once I get the chance.