It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).
So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.
Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:
- The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
- The Feminisms
- The Future
In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.
In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”
And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.
The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).
Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.
And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.
“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”
Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:
- The Rich are Blithe
- Poor People are Clever
- Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
- How I Learned About Sex
- Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape
And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:
- The Real Equality Checklist
- What Really Gives Me Confidence
- All the Lists of My Life
So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!
P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.
I first became familiar with Wally Lamb when I read his novel She’s Come Undone many moons ago. It was an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and though I’m usually not subservient to the Big O’s charms, I decided to read Mr. Lamb’s novel and really liked it. I was delightfully surprised a man could write a female character with such understanding, richness and depth. Now years later, I am not surprised a male writer can do this, just as I’m not surprised a female writer can write a male character with the same talent and skill. All it takes is some common sense and some empathy, which are traits of good writers.
But I digress…
Now Lamb is back with his latest novel I’ll Take You There, which features one Felix Funicello, who was first introduced in Lamb’s early work Wishin’ and Hopin’.
Felix Funicello (yes, he is related to the late Annette Funicello) is a film scholar. He has an affable relationship with his ex-wife Kat and is quite close with his daughter Aliza who is a feminist-minded writer for New York Magazine.
On Monday nights, Felix hosts a Monday night film discussion group at an old vaudevillian theatre where he shows films from Hollywood’s earliest days. There are tales that old film legends haunt the dusty nooks and crannies of this old theater, but Felix figures that just a bunch of silliness until one night he is visited by the ghost of silent movie director Lois Weber and film star Billie Dove.
At first, Felix thinks he’s going a bit nuts as most of us would if ghosts visited us. But soon Lois Weber is taking him on a nostalgic journey of both the heartbreak and bliss of Felix’s childhood.
It is during this celluloid journey where Felix relives memories that at times are trivial and silly. But he also comes to grips with one memory that seared the very psyche of the Funicello family.
One of Felix’s earliest memories is of watching the Disney move Pinocchio with his older sisters Frances and Simone. From this moment, Felix is hooked on movies and everything related to cinema and Hollywood. And somehow just knows the movies will impact him long before the final credits of Pinocchio scroll on the movie screen before him.
Another early memory for a wee Felix is the Rheingold Beer search for a spokesmodel. Now remember, this is 1950s Brooklyn. You can’t vote for your favorite Rheingold Beer candidate via social media and the company’s website. You have to vote via a ballot box, and the winner gets a host of goodies and the possibility of fame and riches, how exciting! The Funicello children take it upon themselves to hustle up some votes for their favorite candidate Dulcet Tone, who they know better as Shirley Shishmanian, a local neighborhood gal. Miss Shishmanian changes her name because Shishamanian is way too ethnic, too Armenian. I have to admit this made me giggle considering today it’s a Kardashian world, and we just live in it.
But darker times loom for Felix and his family. Frances develops a serious eating disorder that throws the Funicello’s into a distressing episode of confusion, despair and hopelessness. Felix also learns the truth about Frances’ birth, which involves a ne’er do well uncle and a fallen southern belle.
And then there is Felix in the present. Just as his past is unfolding before him, his daughter Aliza is dealing with pressing issues, both professional and personal. One issue includes writing about the Rheingold Beer model search, a topic she finds rather unsettling as a committed feminist. However, the feature she does write is not one of self-indulgent finger-wagging. It is well-researched and nuanced and I really enjoyed reading it. She also makes decisions regarding her personal life that will bring true joy to both herself and her parents.
Once again Wally Lamb has written a novel that is both thought-provoking and just a satisfying read. I’ll Take Your There, does just that, takes you there, which means in my case, reminds me why I love books so much.
Another sad moment for good writing, columnist Jimmy Breslin dead at 88.
We also lost poet Derek Walcott.
Sidney Keys III launches a book club to celebrate black boys.
How celebrity cook books and takes on nutrition affect us and comment on us a society.
Chelsea Clinton to pen children’s book She Persisted.
Now you can use postcards to promote your favorite books! I love this idea!
Five tips to follow as you write your first book.
Why Hannah Arendt still matters today more than 40 years after her death.
Great books on horrible fictional governments and how they can inspire you to take action.
I hope everyone is having a fun March. I know I am. My birthday was on the second, and I spent my day treating myself. Also, my friends Nora and Elaine treated me to a mini-vacay and it couldn’t have been better. I just adore my friends, and I can’t thank them enough for making my birthday extra special.
I’ve also been dealing with some busyness in my off-line life both professionally and personally. And I also have to brag, my film-related blog, Popcorn In My Bra, is doing well, and I’m gaining followers and fans.
But don’t worry, The Book Self, is still close to my heart, so look for more reviews shortly. I just finished the latest book from Caitlin Moran, Moranifesto, and it is a knock-out! You might remember me reviewing her novel How to Build a Girl a while back.
I’m also in the middle of a delicious novel that I can’t wait to review, too. It’s film-related so I’ll also post my review to Popcorn In My Bra.
Just so happy for great books and great writers!!!
A few years ago Cathy Erway made a decision — for two years she would not eat out in any of New York’s five boroughs. Instead, she would discover the pleasures of cooking and eating at home, and she’d keep a blog called Not Eating Out in New York, tracking her culinary adventures.
Her foray back into the kitchen is now chronicled in the book The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove.
I can’t imagine never eating out in New York, one of the best restaurant cities in the world. I was intrigued on how Erway was going to accomplish this monumental task. Cooking can be a lot of fun, and there is something very satisfying about eating a meal you made yourself. At the same time, cooking large meals with lots of ingredients can be time-consuming and costly, and constantly trying new recipes that are both delicious and nutritious can be a challenge.
The Art of Eating In started out strong. In the beginning, Erway gives a brief history of restaurants — the first of which began in the Middle East during the late tenth century. The first known restaurants appeared in the Western world in Paris (where else?) in 1766. Today, we have our pick of everything from fast food joints to high-end eateries anywhere in the world. Needless to say, this is having a huge impact on both our wallets and our waistlines.
Dollars and pounds aside, what Erway really wanted to do was start a blog about her project (ah yes, the blogging-your-way-to-fame tactic). She tried her hand at freeganism, dumpster diving for food restaurants and shops just throw out. She was appalled by the amount of food she found, many of it still safe to eat. Erway also foraged for edible plants at a local park.
Eventually, she got involved with New York’s supper clubs, underground clubs where people share all kinds of meals. Before long, she became semi-famous in these circles, both for her blog and for her dishes, even winning an award for her no-knead bread.
But as the book went on I found myself getting irritated, not inspired. Rarely does Erway mention a mishap in the kitchen or a recipe gone awry. Even the most seasoned gourmands make a mistake. Furthermore, despite being just out of school and nebulously employed, she seems to have oodles of money for supper club fees, exotic and expensive ingredients and fancy cookware. Never does she really break down a budget for her two-year experiment, so there’s little commentary on the economic side of the project, which would have been helpful.
Plus, every one of Erway’s friends seems to be a hipster “foodie” and completely bowled over by every single dish. This seemed highly unrealistic to me. Surely someone must have turned their noses up at something.
Furthermore, it doesn’t help that Erway’s writing is rather dry and not very engaging. After a while, I just didn’t care about her little experiment, and ordered Chinese food in protest. I would have liked to read some of her initial blog posts to compare to the actual book. Even the recipes interspersed throughout left me rather cold.
In the end, The Art of Eating In is like fast food meal — you feel stuffed, but you won’t feel satisfied.
Earth is poorer and the heavens are a bit richer. And cancer sucks.
“Just look at us, all of us, quietly doing our thing and trying to matter. The earnestness is inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.”
― Amy Krouse Rosenthal,
Many of you might remember Jen Locke. She wrote a guest review of the book A Winsome Murder by author James DeVita a while back. I met Jen at our alma mater Alverno College and we remain friends to this day. She keeps a blog known as The Rectory of Doubt where she writes intelligent and interesting posts about feminism, technology, history, politics, current events, arts and culture and one of her favorite hobbies, knitting.
I have a limited knowledge of world history, with bits and pieces of European and Egyptian history comprising the majority of what’s in my head. I had no idea this was based on real history – people that actually lived and events that actually occurred. I picked this up partly because someone told me it was like a version of 1001 Arabian Nights with the gender roles reversed.
I feel that categorization is a poor representation of the essence of this novel. It’s more about a woman’s independence and how she was able to provide independence, in a way, to other women in a patriarchal system with very strict rules.
It’s also about imperialism and how people can assimilate into their abductors’ culture, but how some never lose their affiliation with their home country and religion.
And a love story. Unlikely men and women finding love with each other. And the love that ties siblings together for life.
I like reading contemporary fiction written by Muslims, some translated from the Arabic. This can be difficult to find, but more of that is working its way into our culture. This is a good complement to that since it gives a little historical perspective wrapped in a good story.
I’d recommend this to anyone interested in learning about the culture of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. Also to people who like a good love story. And those who like political intrigue.