Posts Tagged review by Amy Steele

book review: Living Like a Runaway

lita ford. living like a runaway

Living Like a Runaway by Lita Ford. Dey Street Books| February 23, 2016| pages | $26.99| ISBN: 9780062270641

RATING: 3.5/5*

“The power and the grit that come out of heavy metal music and the way it makes people feel and act attracted me, and ever since I can remember I’ve been drawn to it.”

An easy conversational read that grips with its sincerity as well as with the sex and drugs and rock and roll, Lita Ford’s memoir Living Like a Runaway revolves around content and tone. Edgy. Confrontational. Honest. Lots of swearing. Lots of run-on sentences. The writing falters at times. Most won’t be reading it for its scholastic merits. 80s heavy metal icon Lita Ford dishes about The Runaways, her solo career, being a woman in rock and roll, her romantic hookups—with Eddie Van Halen, Nikki Sixx, Dee Dee Ramone, Toni Iommi of Black Sabbath and others– and more. The chapters on The Runaways run flat and lack energy. The passion-fueled intense guitarist fails to draw those emotions and details to the page.

Not so heavy on the drugs. Lita dabbled but never got wrapped up in the excess as much as others in the 70s and 80s. Maybe it’s the close relationship she maintained with her parents. Although Ford joined The Runaways at age sixteen and lived on her own to pursue her musical career, she remained close to her Italian mother and British father. She wrote the song “Lisa” about her mom. Seems the music bug hit after Lita attended her first concert– Black Sabbath—at age 13. Lita’s mom bought her an acoustic guitar and Lita gave up on lessons after two weeks and started teaching herself to play songs by listening to the radio. Her parents met in an Italian hospital during WWII. They supported everything she did and even hosted parties for her musician friends.

In 1975, Lita Ford became part of the world’s first major all-female rock group The Runaways along with Joan Jett and Cherie Currie [I read her memoir about The Runaways—Neon Angel–years ago]. It was a band put together like many boy bands, based on looks and perhaps talent ensures and maybe not. Lita describes The Runaways as “an all-girl jail-bait rock band.” The music part went well. Lita loved playing and touring. The business aspects weren’t that great with the teens touring the world with questionable management. Touring is messy. Managers and others aren’t completely honest with and take advantage of youth. It was a whirlwind for the teens who ended up developing their musical talents and styles along the way. Lita writes: “Inside the music scene, though, people recognized our ability, and we were hanging out with the big dogs: Queen, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Rush, Led Zeppelin. We were interesting, original, musically talented bad girls, and everyone wanted to meet us.”

Too young during the Runaways heyday, I remember Lita Ford in the MTV 80s when she had such hits as “Kiss Me Deadly”—long blonde hair, full-on black leather and wicked guitar riffs– and well as her duet with Ozzy Osbourne, “Close My Eyes Forever.” I admired this strong, beautiful California-blonde playing guitar to rival the best. However I’ve always steered toward alternative music. During the 80s I mostly listened to The Cure, Depeche Mode and of course pop like Madonna and Duran Duran. Although it was impossible to escape hair metal bands in the 80s and I did see Poison, Def Leppard and Whitesnake the summer after my senior year of high school.

Lita broke out as a solo artist with the debut of Out for Blood in 1983. Lita writes: “I was a bona fide rocker by the time the Runaways broke up, which means not only had I grown into my own musical style, but also that they all really don’t care about you. They want to use you. They want your money and they want your fame. And then they spit you out when they’re done with you.” So there’s that. Lita chronicles her albums, her hits and tours as a solo artist. Her band consists of guys and her writing partners were always men as well. Interesting but not sure how much to read into it. That I’d like to discuss with Lita Ford. I’ve found that many solo female artists have bands full of men. After the Runaways maybe she needed to move away from working so closely with women. Or it’s just the nature of the music industry—it’s male-dominated. Sharon Osbourne managed Lita. It’s a rocky relationship that Lita suggest didn’t work because Sharon assumed Lita and Ozzy were physically involved. Lita insists that she and Ozzy never hooked up and Sharon had nothing to be concerned about. She writes: “As much as I truly loved Sharon, I couldn’t help but feel she was undermining my hard work. I continued to wonder if she thought I had fucked Ozzy. Maybe that was why she was doing this. Let me tell you, he was fucking everything that moved, so to speak—except me.” [Don’t plan on being invited on The Talk.]

“Another fucking battle for me in the industry.”

Being a woman in rock, Lita dealt with sexism all the time. On tour with Poison, she describes how the band’s crew would select women from the audience and bring them backstage for the band to choose from. She writes: “The women probably thought they were going to a party, but they were just pieces of meat for the band and crew that one night. It was a game to them. It was degrading to women in general, and it was upsetting to me to see other women being treated like fucking cattle.” After she collaborated on the song “Hungry” with Michael Dan, its overtly sexualized message wasn’t well-received. Lita notes: “At the time, a song like “Hungry”—sung by a female—wasn’t something that would get played on the radio. As a result, it was banned from radio and the video turned out to be a disaster.” She adds that MTV would not air the video but did play 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny.” Double standards abound.

In the early 90s, Lita struggled as many 80s rockers did. In 1993, Michael Jackson’s team called her to replace the guitarist on the Dangerous tour. However she surprisingly didn’t get the part despite her talent. Michael’s longtime guitar player Dave Williams told her: “[sic] Michael didn’t want me in the band because I had too much credibility and had my own name in the industry.” She grew more disillusioned with the industry and decided to leave the scene in 1994. She and her husband moved to Oregon, then Florida then to Turks and Caicos. She writes: “I stopped listening to music completely. I didn’t feel in control of my life. I was growing resentful of my marriage, because it had taken me away from the people and things I had known all my life and loved the most.”

Living the island life, Lita grew further isolated and miserable—“We were living like the fucking Amish. I loved being with my boys, but I felt trapped living in that house and being on that island.” Her husband wanted this solitude and separateness but Lita didn’t like the woman she became after home-schooling her boys and being cut off from the music scene for more than a decade. The increasing sequestration led to soul-searching and a final breakdown. Lita moved out, filed for divorce and returned to California to get back into music. In divorcing her husband she lost custody of her sons. One thing is clear: Lita’s a tough and resilient woman.

–review by Amy Steele

 FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Dey Street Books.

purchase at Amazon: Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir

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book review: The Big Rewind

big rewind

The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore. William Morrow| February 2016| 241 pages | $14.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-240353-7

RATING: ***/5*

“We never had to lose touch with anybody; our Facebooks were filled with people we hadn’t spoken to in years, just in case we ever needed to find out how many kids our best friend from nursery school had or whether the guy who sat in front of us in Earth Science had ever come out as gay.”

Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young—one of my favorite 2015 films– features two GenXers who meet two hipster millennials obsessed with anything retro i.e. skateboards, vinyl, Atari. Things from the GenXers 20s and teens. No tapes or even Laser Disc players. Remember those? Wave of the future. This novel reminded me of that. The married couple spends time with the younger couple and becomes detached from their current lives. Turns out regression doesn’t solve anything. Appreciating one’s age and the past remains vital to being in the moment. That’s what I’ve learned from therapy and social media.

Jett moved to Brooklyn with plans to pursue a career in music journalism [tough field to be in, I should know]. She’s temping and living in her grandmother’s apartment. Jett finds her neighbor KitKat dead when she brings a mis-delivered mix tape to her apartment “I had the honor and the horror of finding her body. Not the cleaning lady or the cops, just a neighbor with a mistaken piece of mail.” Jett and her best friend Sid[obvious 80s reference] play records and watch old television programs while lamenting their dating lives. We get it Libby Cudmore, you like the 80s and this mystery/romance follows a standard rom-com blueprint [think When Harry Met Sally meets any Nicholas Sparks novel].

Chapter titles are song titles: Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now; Watching the Detectives; Everyday is Like Sunday; This Charming Man [lots of Morrissey and The Smiths]; The Impression That I Get; A Girl in Trouble [Is a Temporary Thing]; Smile Like You Mean It; Only the Good Die Young. You get it.

Determined to find out who killed KitKat, Jett embarks on an investigation that begins by analyzing KitKat’s collection of mix tapes. Why tapes? The sound isn’t great. Difficult to grasp that anyone would make actual tapes these days. I spent many a Saturday afternoon making mix tapes in the 80s. It’s time consuming. There’s a college professor that may be KitKat’s romantic interest instead of her under-suspicion current boyfriend Bronco, who is gay and doesn’t want anyone to know despite living in New York where things generally go over well. On KitKat: “She was a party on a purple ten-speed, a neat-banged brunette who baked red velvet cupcakes and pot brownies, read tarot, and had both an NES and a Sega Genesis.”

By digging into her neighbor’s relationships, not surprisingly Jett examines her past relationships and in the process makes a realization about her present. At first I couldn’t figure out the age of main character Jett and that bothered me. Finally there’s a mention that made me pinpoint her age at 28. Not many want to read about struggling 40somethings. This strong concept falls flat and becomes formulaic and cliché at times. If you’re looking for a sentimental light read, this should fit.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.

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purchase at Amazon: The Big Rewind: A Novel

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book review: The Ex

the ex

The Ex by Alafair Burke. Harper| January 26, 2016| 304 pages | $26.99| ISBN: 9780062390486


RATING: ****/5*

High-powered New York defense attorney Olivia Randall gets a call from her ex-fiancé Jack Harris, a successful novelist, after more than 20 years. They dated while she was in law school and were got engaged. An impulsive move for Olivia as marriage wasn’t truly part of her life plan. So she hurt Jack and they’ve never spoken until now. Jack sits in a jail cell accused of murder. Several years ago Jack’s wife died during a mass shooting at Penn Station. Can Olivia help him? As the story unfolds, Olivia isn’t even sure whether Jack is innocent or guilty but he’s her client and she’ll do what she can to make sure he never goes to jail. The Ex is an unexpectedly good thriller. Author Alafair Burke unravels the details of the mass shooting which devastated Jack and his daughter. She slowly reveals the events which caused the split between Jack and Olivia.

“For the first three years, Jack and I were happy. Being with him felt easy and safe, the way I always thought relationships should be but never were. But I should have known that a fear of losing someone was not the best reason to kick off a serious relationship.”

The character of Olivia Randall appealed to me. She’s a 43-year-old, never married attorney with no children and no desire to partake in either societal convention. Burke writes: “At forty-three, I knew by now that my natural expression when I was thinking—intense, brow furrowed, lips pursed—could be intimidating to most people. The Internet called it RBF: Resting Bitch Face. And, no question, I had it.” Olivia’s best friend and confidante runs a bar—an auspicious sounding board for Olivia as she sees all types of people visit her establishment.

It’s a thoughtful thriller which addresses many issues without wearing thin at any point. Burke covers hot button topics such as the criminal justice system, revenge, surveillance, wealth, depression and mass shootings. The reader may doubt Jack’s innocence as much as Olivia which keeps the pages turning.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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book review: Drawing Blood

drawing blood

Drawing Blood by Molly Crabapple. Harper| December 2015| 352 pages | $29.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-232364-4

RATING: *****/5*

“I wanted to meld my two communities: professionally-gazed-at girls like Stoya, and professionally-listened-to journalists like Laurie [Penny] and Tash [Natasha Lennard]. The world tells women they must choose between intellect and glamour, but I saw no such distinction.”

What a difficult review for me to write. It’s such a beautiful book. Gorgeous drawings. An intriguing, meaningful progression. I’d like to say just read it already.

Feminist and activist Molly Crabapple details her journey from burlesque dancer to artist who sketches conflicts and society’s woes with fervent energy in this compelling memoir. Born in New York, Molly has lived there her entire life. She now travels extensively to worn-torn and hot-zone countries in order to document the travesties so the rest of the world can see and feel what she witnessed through her writing and drawings. She’s an artist and a journalist these days but it wasn’t a simple road.

“Artists are the fanciest of the fancy. We’re presumed to exist in a rarified space requiring silence and deep thought. Because of this, the world often ignores the physical reality of what we do in favor of the ideas that animate it. The work of artists often involves skilled and demanding manual labor. Yet we’re often treated more like sophisticated pets than like true workers.”

Molly stripped and worked as a burlesque dancer. She searched Craigslist for illustrator gigs. Working as an artist and performer allowed Molly an entrée into a world she’d never envisioned she’d be in. She schmoozed and mingled with the wealthy and the corrupt. She delves deep into the underground art community filled with weirdos and creatives, the working poor. It’s all sex, drugs and art. She first works art for desire then for money and then for a purpose. She writes: “Once I was out in the world, the art that so horrified my teachers would become my way of gaining the attention of politicians, criminals, nightclub barons, and porn stars. It slipped me past doors marked “No Admittance,” past velvet ropes to rooms where dancers glittered, their lips the purest red.”

Before college, Molly heads to Paris and lives at Shakespeare and Company for a time. “Dirt coated every surface at Shakespeare and Company. It was brown, fragrant, a mixture of mold, cooking oil, and the dust of decaying books. Sometimes if I slept on a top bunk, cockroaches feel on my face. In the upstairs kitchen, the mold-furred refrigerator was stuffed with rotten soup. For Sunday tea parties, George baked pancakes with rancid flour. Ants drowned in the tea. Yet all that decay only made the store more lovely; the place had all the dark romance of Miss Havisham’s wedding dress.” One book Molly read –Explosive Acts: Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde, Felix Feneon, and the Art of Anarchy of the Fin de Siecle– greatly influenced her future. “Though I was the daughter of an artist and a Marxist, I’d always feared that politics had to be grim and art had to be frivolous. The book showed me another way. Art and action could infuse each other.”

I’ve always appreciated art but never have been a part of the art world. Music sure. I do have a wonderful artist friend Cynthia von Buhler [also a musician/ former band manager etc.] who threw the best parties and dubbed her house filled with antiques and thrift store finds and mirrors and velvet “Castle von Buhler.” Turns out that Cynthia hired Molly for one of her first gigs. Molly writes: “the artist Cynthia von Buhler hired me to pose as a human statue at a loft party. I painted myself white like Venus, with my breasts out and my hips draped in a white sheet. After a night drinking absinthe with Manhattan’s moneyed bohemia, I took home two hundred and fifty dollars in tips, and swore off honest employment forever.” [note: Cynthia told me at the time of this party she herself was broke. As I said she’s super creative and knows how to inventively throw a party. She and Molly remain friends. I’m sure because they’re both scrappy and driven by art.]

“Despite our ambitions, we had almost no entrée to the New York art scene. There, art was a hobby for trust-fund kids. The road to getting a gallery started with an MFA from a prestigious school—preferably Yale—which would cost you around fifty thousand dollars. Tack on a staggering sum for studio space. In New York, money was the silent grist for the creation of art.”

After leaving college, Molly continues to scrape away painting murals in nightclubs and posing nude. She also begins to evaluate what’s important to her. Burnt out at 22, she starts a “live-drawing workshop where models would be muses” called Dr. Sketchy. It became extremely popular and now runs in other states and countries [not by Molly but by others using the same format.] She spent time at Occupy Wallstreet, sketching people and talking to people and hanging out. From there she starts writing for various publications and finds herself at Syrian refugee camps and Gitmo. Finally art and politics merge for Molly Crabapple.

You can be a feminist and pose nude, work as a stripper or escort, or do burlesque. It’s about maintaining control over your body and your image. Molly comprehends this better than many. She worked for the well-known web site Suicide Girls until it imploded. She explains: “When I thought of every proposition or threat that I got just walking down the street in my girl body, I decided I might as well get paid for the trouble.” It’s standing strong, owning one’s sexually and using it as one wants. That’s all about feminism as much as women’s reproductive issues and fair pay. After an abortion Molly writes: “Lying in bed, I promised myself two things: I would do my best to help anyone as powerless as I was at that moment. And I would never be that powerless again.”

The memoir maintains a perfect tone. Molly assumes nothing. She’s not arrogant or condescending but genuine and earnest. She describes events just enough to remind us of what happened and provides us with insight from her perspective. Just what a memoirist should do. These pages burst with stunning moments, pure honesty, inspiration, scrappiness, art and politics. Just read it already! It’s truly perfect and riveting.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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book review: The Green Road


The Green Road By Anne Enright.
W.W. Norton| May 11, 2015| 304 pages | $26.95| ISBN: 978-0-393-24824-0

Rating: *****/5*

A perfect novel with imperfect characters that spans decades and continents. Dublin author and Booker prize winner Anne Enright [The Gathering] writes beautifully constructing plausible and faulty characters, of which one wants to read more, know more and become attached. The Green Road is where the family matriarch Rosaleen Madigan enjoys taking long walks. Rosaleen is strong-willed, unyielding and resilient particularly after becoming a widow. In Ardeevin, County Clare, Rosaleen raises four children—two daughters Hanna and Constance and two sons Dan and Emmet. The children move away from their childhood home and live varied lives throughout the world.

Dan becomes a priest but then moves to New York with a fiancée. He carries on a relationship with the handsome Billy lying to himself that he’s gay only for Billy. Enright writes: “Two nights later, at eleven forty-five p.m., Dan the spoilt priest was outside Billy Walker’s door, looking for sex. Again. And sex is what he got.” During the early 90s he’s in the midst of New York’s gay scene at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Later he finally admits he’s gay and marries a man in Canada. Emmet travels the world to aid the impoverished and fulfill his wanderlust. He never has to commit to any one place or one person for long. He travels to war-torn, medically inefficient countries to work to help improve their living conditions. At one point he’s living with a woman in Africa. His relationships are always tenuous and he cares more for his own happiness and the people he’s helping on his various missives than any long-term coupling. Constance remains close to home to raise a family after somewhat settling in marriage. She once considered moving to America but didn’t get on the plane. “Constance still liked Ireland, the way you could talk to anyone. I would not be the same in America, she thought, and tried to remember why she failed to get on the plane.” Hanna gives up her love of theater and the potential for a career when she gets pregnant. These are flawed, struggling children that Enright describes and develops with compassion.

In 2005, Rosaleen summons her children home for one last Christmas as she’s decided to sell the family home. “She had been waiting, all her life, for something that never happened and she could not bear the suspense any longer.” This brings out the inner child in the four siblings and makes for a messy homecoming. Enright writes: “The truth was that the house they were sitting in was worth a ridiculous amount, and the people sitting in it were worth very little. Four children on the brink of middle-age: They had no money. Dan, especially, had no money, and he could not think why that was, or who might be to blame. But he recognised, in the silence the power Rosaleen had over her children, none of whom had grown up to match her.” No one wants the family house sold. No one wants that disruption. Nobody wants the truth. As Rosaleen thinks: “Such selfish children she had reared.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.

Anne Enright will be reading at Harvard Book Store May 13, 2015 at 7pm.

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The Green Road: A Novel

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book review: Whatever . . . Love is Love

love is love

Whatever . . . Love is Love By Maria Bello.
Dey Street Books| May 12, 2015|256 pages |$25.99| ISBN: 978-0-062351838

Rating: ****/5*

Actress and activist Maria Bello is known for her roles on ER and in films like Coyote Ugly and A History of Violence. She wrote a much lauded and popular Modern Love essay for the New York Times entitled “Coming Out as a Modern Family.” Bello wanted to share her disdain for labels and illuminate how her perhaps unusual family situation works. She’d fallen in love with a female best friend yet remained close with her 12-year-old son Jackson’s father. While struggling from a parasitic infection after a trip to Haiti, Bello started reading her journals and decided she thoroughly need to tell her story.

“In the summer of 2013, while I struggled in the hospital, I realized that waiting to do something isn’t always an option. In a moment, everything could end, and my stories would be lost—stories of love, partnership, miracles, and madness that filled the hundreds of notebooks beneath my bed. During my months of recovery, I read through each one of my trusted journals, collections of my thoughts since I was a teenager.”

In Whatever . . . Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, Bello ponders many aspects of her life. She shares intimate details about failed affairs, insecurities, challenges growing up with an alcoholic bipolar father and her own bipolar diagnosis. She shares stories and thoughts on being labeled a humanitarian, a feminist, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an actress and a lover. In her memoir Bello answers questions such as am I a partner; am I perfect; am I a good mom; am I a humanitarian; am I a feminist; am I a writer. This is how she shares her stories and shares herself with the reader. She lives life on her own terms. While Hollywood and acting situations constantly change and flow, Bello strives to remain in the moment and be appreciative. She possesses a beautiful spirit and attitude. It’s an enlightening read that’s honest, smart and thoughtful.

On labels:

“Traditional labels just don’t seem to fit anymore. These labels are limiting the possibility for people to question more and become who they are meant to be. By asking questions and challenging our own beliefs, I feel we can update all of our outdated labels and realize that labels need to evolve just like people do.”

On the term partner:

“I have never understood the distinction of a ‘primary’ partner. Does that imply that we have secondary and tertiary partners, too? To me, a partner is someone you rely on in your life—for help, companionship, mutual respect, and support.”

On sex vs. love:

“To me, sexual desire and love are two different things. That certainly doesn’t mean that people inside of long-term committed relationships don’t have great sex. I know some who do. But not many, if I’m honest.”

Maria Bello has struggled with the sex/love connection like many women:

“I felt rejected. I knew he just wanted sex and what I really wanted was sex and love.”

She’s done humanitarian work in Nicaragua, many countries in Africa and Haiti. After the Haiti earthquake Bello returned to help: “Those of us who went in those days after the quake all experienced a deep despair, and an incredible joy, feelings that would bond us together for life. In those first few months after the earthquake, I saw the best and worst of what human beings, nature, and I are capable of. I saw moments of grace that I won’t ever forget. We were all challenged by what we experienced. When I left Haiti for the first time after the earthquake, all I could think of was returning.”

She expresses what many with mental illness feel and for an actress, celebrity, public figure to discuss mental illness so openly and bravely is wonderful for the rest of us who also grapple with mental illness every day: “I cried because no one would ever want me, because I was too messed up. And now, everyone knew. They knew that my father was sick in his head and that I was just like him.” And another reality: “Now and again over the years I’ve had to adjust my meds, just like my dad and others I know who have this or similar illnesses. I am dutiful about taking my pills every day. But once every couple of years, if I am triggered in some way or the medicine stops working, I find I’m not quite myself. I know it’s time to go back to the doctor. And I do. I know that without medication I would end up suicidal and eventually dead.”

On feminism:

“For me, calling someone a feminist is one of the highest compliments I can pay a woman, or a man, for that matter. It’s a label I give myself and I wholeheartedly accept others giving it to me.”

On being herself:

“I am already whole—just complicated, wounded, loving, difficult, and kind. I have finally discovered the joy that comes from hitting bottom and pushing oneself up to the top again.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Dey Street Books.

Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves

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book reviews: fancy a twisty psychological thriller?

Both these psychological thrillers drew me in and kept me reading to find out what would happen to the women involved.

pocket wife

The Pocket Wife By Susan Crawford.
William Morrow| March 2015|320 pages |$25.99| ISBN: 978-0-062362858

Rating: ***/5*

A woman’s mental illness grows increasingly worse as she suspects her husband cheated on her and that she may have killed her neighborhood friend Celia and erased it from her memory. Dana Catrell married a safe, quiet man—Peter– whom she thought would balance her and enable her bipolar disorder to remain mostly dormant. “For a while she took the medicine that made the world around her such a faded, unbright place to be, let it hold her in its sagging, dimpled arms until with a sigh she shuffled into the rest of her life, eventually trading the drug for a tall blue-eyed husband and a world more numbing than lithium could ever be.”

When Celia winds up dead, the day after the two women argued, Dana spirals out of control and her thoughts race. She’s not sure whether to implicate herself or her husband in the suspicious death. Crawford writes commendably about mental illness. It’s realistic. “This time Dana feels anger surging through her—anger for the lost, baffled way she’s lived her life, for the father who deserted her, for her enigmatic, cheating husband; for the cruel, disabling illness wrestling with her mind.” A great psychological thriller to read over a weekend.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.

where they found

Where They Found Her By Kimberly McCreight.
Harper| April 2015|336 pages |$26.99| ISBN: 978-0-062225467

Rating: ****/5*

A baby is found in the woods near a prestigious university campus. Whose baby is it? How did it die? Who abandoned it? Using multiple female perspectives author Kimberly McCreight weaves a page-turning psychological thriller as complex as her first novel Reconstructing Amelia. Molly a freelance journalist who recently lost her own child gets assigned the story. “Despite my initial vertigo, I was no longer conflicted about staying on the story. I wanted to, needed to write about it, and with an intensity that even I had to acknowledge was somewhat disconcerting.” Sandy struggles to survive—she’s attempting to pass her GED– as her wayward mom spends nights out and skirts bill collectors. Then there’s rigid and regulated Barbara, married to the Chief of Police and concerned for her youngest child’s outbursts in school. McCreight creates complicated characters, develops each character and utilizes their innate differences to effectively advance the story. Many twists will keep readers captivated to the end.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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book review: Models of Influence

models of influence

Models of Influence By Nigel Barker.
Harper Design| February 10. 2015.| pages |$40.00| ISBN: 978-0-06-234584-4

Rating: ****/5*

“Our culture often puts fashion down as phony, materialist, and shallow—is it a coincidence that people would denigrate a business mostly run by and catering to women? It’s not just a multibillion-dollar business, employing people on an international level. It’s also a means of self-expression, for designers and models, certainly, but also for everyone who wakes up and gets dressed in the morning.”

Modeling seems diametrically opposed to being a good feminist. Models and advertising make women feel inferior. Not perfect enough. Not thin enough. Not pretty enough. Just not enough. You can be a feminine feminist who cares how she looks, wears make-up and likes fashion. You can be any kind of woman you want to be. We’re a consumer-driven society [unless like me you like to revolt against being like everyone else and shop at Goodwill and thrift shops] and these things must be advertised in magazines and commercials. Generally models do that.

These days it’s cool for celebrities to be the face of a brand or to do advertisements when years ago that wasn’t the case. Just like TV actors didn’t do film and film actors didn’t do TV. As Gisele Bundchen said recently modeling is a job and when she gets home she’s no longer a model. I don’t read magazines that often anymore. I used to subscribe to music magazines as well as Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. I became first aware of models in my 20s when Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista—“The Trinity”– were supremely popular. The beautiful and smart Christy Turlington has always been a favorite for me.

“In my job as a photographer, I’m inspired not so much by other photographers or art directors as by the models themselves.”

Photographer and TV judge/host [also listed on the press release as “authority”] Nigel Barker profiles 50 models who he feels substantially shaped the modeling industry in one way or another from the 1940s to present day. I’ve watched America’s Next Top Model and The Face. Nigel Barker knows what works. His definition of supermodel also differs from that of Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell, models he works with on those programs. Barker explains: “Today, the term “supermodel” has become so overused that it’s lost all its meaning. The word should really only be employed in cases when a model has transcended the limitations of her field and crossed over into new territories, both in the business and at large, through her influence upon contemporary standards of beauty.”

Models of Influence includes the triumphs and the tragedies of modeling. Barker includes plenty of information about each model’s career and a bit about their lives outside of modeling. He’s also selected wonderful pictures by world-renowned photographers. Interestingly no female photographers. Sharp and well-written. A beautiful coffee-table book if you enjoy beauty and beautiful faces and bodies.

Barker divides the models into these sections: The Golden Age [Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, Dorian Leigh, Bettina Graziani, Dovima, Carmen Dell’Orefice, China Machado]; The Cult of Personality [Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, Peggy Moffitt, Twiggy, Penelope Tree, Naomi Sims]; The Beauty Revolution [Lauren Hutton, Jerry Hall, Margaux Hemingway, Iman, Janice Dickinson, Gia Carangi, ; The Million-Dollar Faces [Christie Brinkley, Brooke Shields, Ines de la Fressange, Isabella Rossellini, Paulina Porizkova, Elle Macpherson] ; The Supermodels [Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patitz, Stephanie Seymour, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen, Tyra Banks] ; The Androgynes [Kate Moss, Kristen McMenamy, Amber Valletta, Stella Tenant, Alek Wek, ; The Noughties [Gisele Bundchen, Sophie Dahl, Natalia Vodianova, Liya Kebede, Daria Werbowy]; The Contemporaries [Coco Rocha, Lara Stone, Liu Wen, Karlie Kloss, Joan Smalls, Kate Upton, Cara Delevingne]. Some models are familiar and others not.

“Above all, models have moved us over the years to think and see the world differently. They hold up a mirror to society and show us where we are and where we still have room to grow. What is considered beautiful evolves, but it’s very often through models and fashion that we come to understand beauty in the context of our time, by extension, within ourselves.”

It’s interesting that many models in the 40s and 50s didn’t start modeling until later in life. Also they gave it up when children came along. Top models pursue interests in art, dance, curating art, expression, business and design. They’ve also been humanitarians and remain involved in giving back in huge ways through their own foundations or other international organizations.

Here’s how Nigel Barker describes some of these models:

Bettina Graziani: “Gamine, with a freshness that broke through the aristocratic mold, Bettina Graziani had a rock-solid connection to some of the most influential designers of the age. With her long, swanlike neck, tiny waist, broad, full mouth, and sharply defined profile, she was built for the graphic, sculptural couture and high-drama black-and-white photography of the 1950s.”

Peggy Moffitt: “As a model, Peggy put her great intelligence and dance training toward creating an angular new style of posing that called to mind the work of choreographer Martha Graham, which she complemented with Kabuki-esque makeup.”

Iman: “Iman also happened to be stunning, with a long, aristocratic neck and delicate features, a powerful grace of movement, and an ability to channel her energy into very impactful moments in front of the camera.”

Isabella Rossellini: “The dreamy, faraway look in her eyes; the noble face so like her mother’s; the air of refined intelligence; the maturity that her “older” years brought even to her still images—all added up to a seductive, sophisticated antidote to the cheerful blonde brigade that still dominated the big-money modeling world. . .”

Christy Turlington: “A sublime combination of exotic and down-home, regal and approachable, enigmatic and familiar, and greater than the sum of her parts.”

Amber Valletta: “Although Amber was emblematic of the delicate, childlike beauty that was in favor when she first became successful in 1993, her versatility and soulfulness have always differentiated her, resulting in work with lasting impact.”

Sophie Dahl: “At a British size 14, the equivalent to a US 10, Sophie did not have the kind of proportions that designers and photographers were used to, but she had a laundry list of irresistible qualities: luminous sexiness, refined facial features, enormous eyes, and a rank fearlessness, which in her case was born of a peripatetic childhood and an unstable mother.”

Joan Smalls: “She has hauteur and fierceness, a mature and womanly bearing, and smoldering sexiness that is all class. With a mixed heritage—Spanish, African, Taino Indian, Irish and South Asian—she has face with a unique yet universal appeal.”

Some interesting tidbits:

Dorian Leigh
–opened her own agency and used a voucher system to advance money to the models and Eileen Ford ended up using the same system
–opened a restaurant and wrote two cookbooks and her autobiography, The Girl Who Had Everything

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn
–married photographer Irving Penn
— Often called world’s first supermodel due to her versatility from art photography to editorials to hair dye ads.

China Mochado
–highest paid runway model of the time earning $1000 per day
–in February 1959, she became first woman of color to appear on cover of a major fashion magazine [Harper’s Bazaar]
–at age 81 she signed a two-year contract and appears in advertisements for Cole Haan and Barney’s New York

Jean Shrimpton
–dated actor Terrence Stamp
–was the highest paid model in 1963 at $120/hour
–she was on the cover of Vogue 19 times

Lauren Hutton
–in 1973 she signed a three-year contract with REVLON for $1 million.
–on 26 Vogue covers

Jerry Hall
–before marrying Mick Jagger, she dated Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry

–in 1985 Yves Saint Laurent created a collection inspired by Iman called “The African Queen”
–her father was a diplomat, her mother a gynecologist
–she speaks five languages

Isabella Rossellini
–she signed a contract with Lancome in 1981 for $2 million and worked with the company for 14 years until she was terminated at age 42
–in her mid-50s returned to school to study animal behavior and created a film series about the sex lives of animals called Green Porno

Paulina Porizkova
–In 1988 she signed a $6 million/year contract with Estee Lauder

Elle Macpherson
–most covers of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue at five
–created a skin-care company The Body
–cofounded a nutrition company

Christy Turlington
–discovered at age 13 riding horses in Miami
–signed an exclusive contract with Calvin Klein in 1988—which made her the face of Eternity perfume and ready-to-wear and lingerie
–earned a degree in 1994 in Eastern religion and philosophy from New York University
-started foundation, Every Mother Counts, to support international women’s maternal issues and released the documentary No Woman, No Cry

Linda Evangelista
–had been on 60 magazine covers by early 1990
–named the face of Revlon’s Charlie perfume
–at the end of the 90s after a breakup with a famous French soccer player and a miscarriage she moved to the South of France and remained there in self-isolation for years
–George Michael saw a cover with Linda, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz and cast the video for “Freedom 90.”
–in 2001 she returned to modeling with a spread in Vogue

Naomi Campbell
–has never taken a break from modeling
–in her 33-year career has had more than 500 magazine covers
—she founded Fashion for Relief in 2005 to raise funds to rebuild Haiti

Cindy Crawford
–dated Richard Gere
–Prince wrote the song “Cindy C” about her
–she hosted MTV’s House of Style [a show I watched.]

Liya Kebede
–in 2003 she became the first black model to sign a contract with Estee Lauder for $3 million
—vocal advocate for her native Ethiopia
–started a casual contemporary sportswear line called Lemlem which is made by artisanal weavers in Ethiopia
–in 2005 she became a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Design/Harper Collins.

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book review: The Art of Asking

art of asking


The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing [November 11, 2014]. Memoir. Hardcover. 336 pages.

RATING: *****/5

“I’m thirty-eight. I started my first band, The Dresden Dolls, when I was twenty-five, and didn’t put out my first major-label record until I was twenty-eight, which is, in the eyes of the traditional music industry, a geriatric age at which to debut.”

Amanda Palmer has accomplished quite a lot as an independent alternative musician and artist in slightly more than a decade. She might not be an uber-recognized name or international superstar but she’s adored by many. She’s worked hard to express herself through her music and through her performances. When you see Amanda Palmer perform it’s a complete show borrowing much from cabaret acts. Years ago, I’d somehow found out that Palmer would be performing at her former high school, Lexington High School along with some students. I went to the show with a then close friend. It was an event. Quite theatrical with an electrifying and mysterious air about the entire thing. I grew up in Acton, two towns over from Palmer’s native Lexington, Mass.

I’ve been a music critic for maybe too long. In the 90s national publications published my work and I was occasionally paid for my efforts. Never full-time. I’m slightly known in Boston but that’s about it. The only instrument I played was the flute for four years in elementary school and junior high. I’ve hung around with lots of bands. I’ve dated musicians and I’ve hooked up with plenty of musicians. In the 90s, I let a band stay at my parents’ house while they were away. I knew this band pretty well, or thought I did the Durham, North Carolina band Queen Sarah Saturday had been opening for The Charlatans UK on the current tour. Don’t think they asked. I think I just offered. Maybe that was the problem.

In her brilliant and revealing book, The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer talks about couchsurfing a lot. Even crowdsourcing meals from fans. She asks people to let her stay at their homes while on tour. She asks them to bring food to the venues at which she’s performing. She says she always gives them CDs, t-shirts and other merchandise in return. Recently at Great Scott a band announced from stage that it needed a place to crash that night. I was a little miffed that they said “we have nothing to offer you.” Really? A CD or a t-shirt might be just the thank you a fan might appreciate. Andy from the wonderful 90s indie band IVY made a point of letting me choose a t-shirt because he so appreciated my reviews and my relentless support for the band. And this was the 90s, pre-Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. Think of the damage I could do now.

“There’s an inherent, unspoken trust that happens when you walk through the door of your host’s home. Everybody implicitly trusts everybody else not to steal anything. We leave our phones, our wallets, our laptops, our journals, and our instruments lying scattered around our various mini-couchsurfing campsites. To my knowledge, I’ve never had anything go missing.”

I had a crush on one of the guys from Queen Sarah Saturday [bassist Chris Holloway—it’s always the bass player or the drummer, occasionally a keyboardist] so as a young naïve 23-year-old I was kind to this band. I made them cookies. I was in graduate school for journalism at the time and didn’t have extemporaneous time and money to spend. I was just starting my music/entertainment journalism career. I let them sleep anywhere they wanted in my parents’ house. My two girlfriends and I all slept in my bedroom. I’m pretty sure I even got the band bagels for breakfast in the morning. Here’s the thing: lead singer/guitarist Johnny Irion TOOK one of my The Charlatans CDs right out of the case. I think it would have been better if he’d taken it case and all. I might have thought I’d lost it somewhere. I was appalled. How could he do such a thing? After that I felt they took advantage of me that entire night. Perhaps the entire tour.

For the most part not many people take advantage of Amanda Palmer in her thousands of moments of asking and trusting. However once a woman touched her inappropriately as she let fans sharpie messages on her naked body. Another time her red ukulele got stolen (later returned after a call to action via twitter). She tells about a few other incidents when someone wasn’t all that cool. For the most part you put your trust in others and expect the best. And Amanda Palmer’s response to the unexpected bad events: “Some people just suck.” So, 20 years later I’m saying you suck Johnny Irion.

After she posted “A Poem for Dzhokhar” to her blog, Palmer received nasty messages and death threats. I read the poem and didn’t think she was supporting his terrorist acts. I think she was expressing her empathy for a young man caught up in something horrific. Artists express themselves in good times and in bad times. It’s an outlet. Palmer wrote: “To erase the possibility of empathy is to erase the possibility of art. Theater, fiction horror stories, love stories. This is what art does. Good or bad, it imagines the insides, the heart of the other, whether that heart is full of light or trapped in darkness.”

As a feminist and a Boston-based music journalist, I love everything about this memoir. It’s absolutely engrossing. I liked Boston’s The Dresden Dolls and always appreciated Amanda Palmer for her outspoken nature, her feminism and musicianship. Now I truly admire Amanda Palmer and feel we’d be friends if we ever met. I’m wondering if we were ever at a party at the same time at Castle von Buhler—my artist friend Cynthia von Buhler’s former Boston home. The Art of Asking illustrates the importance of making lasting connections through art, love and creativity.

“Our first job in life is to recognize the gifts we’ve already got, take the donuts and show up while we cultivate and use those gifts, and then turn around and share those gifts—sometimes in the form of money, sometimes time, sometimes love—back into the puzzle of the world.”

“Our second job is to accept where we are in the puzzle at each moment. That can be harder.”

In the Art of Asking, Palmer shares what she’s learned to succeed as a musician and artist. She details her career and interweaves the story of how she and her husband Neil Gaiman met and fell in love. She includes song lyrics. It’s quite impeccably done. Engrossing from page one. Not too much of anything at once. Evenly distributed throughout the memoir. Both inspirational and comforting—[I can do it and she’s like me]! Palmer chronicles her days as a street artist to being in The Dresden Dolls to her solo music career to being and artist and an individual. It’s mostly about asking for what you want, asking for what you need and accepting the outcomes.

“Often it is our own sense that we are undeserving of help that has immobilized us. Whether it’s in the arts, at work, or in our relationships, we often resist asking not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for.”

“Asking is an act of intimacy and trust. Begging is a function of fear, desperation, or weakness.”

“It has to start with the art. The songs had to touch people initially, and mean something, for anything to work at all. The art, not the artist, is what fundamentally draws the net into being. The net was then tightened and strengthened by a collection of interactions and exchanges I’ve had, personally, whether in live venues or online, with members of my community.”

A few things Amanda Palmer revealed in The Art of Asking:

1. Amanda Palmer was reluctant to marry author Neil Gaiman. After they’d dated for a year, Neil wanted to get married. Palmer panicked a bit and worried about losing her independence and defying her feminist core. There were some practical reasons for getting married. She said to Neil: “I want to live and work alone. If we get married, do I have to live with you?”

“I felt my hard insides, my desperation to stay independent, and the irony of it all: the girl who stood on the box for five years, falling in love and merging with a million passing strangers, yet remained staunchly resistant to an actual human merger. My inner feminist was also rolling her eyes. Just date, for chrissake. Maybe move in together. What is this, the fifties?”

2. Palmer moved into a low-income cooperative for artists in Boston called Cloud Club decades ago when she worked at Toscanani’s ice cream and performed as The Bride in Harvard Square. The Dresden Dolls would practice on the top floor. She still keeps the apartment.

3. I knew Amanda Palmer had a fervent fanbase but didn’t know how far some of her fans would go to help her. Amanda has not only asked for food and places to crash but electric pianos to record music, costumes for video shoots, equipment and rides to and from the airport. The payback is a hug, her music and her art. How many mailing lists have you signed up for at shows and never heard from the band or artist again? Palmer knows the value in the mailing list.

“Explaining how I use Twitter to those who’ve never used it is difficult. It’s a blurry Mobius strip of love, help, information, and social-art-life exchange.”

4. Despite stripping off her clothes and baring her body at numerous gigs Palmer admits “I’m still vain. I still cringe when I see my belly after a monthlong muffin-and-beer binge, spilling over a waistline that’s too tight.” She doesn’t shave her armpits or legs which is kick-ass feminist.

5. The Kickstarter for Palmer’s full-band album Theatre Is Evil raised a recording-smashing $1.2 million. She’d set an original goal of $100,000. Naturally a woman in music simultaneously garners criticism, skepticism and praise for this.

“As I launched my campaign, I walked right into a wider cultural debate that was already raging about whether crowd-funding should be allowed at all; some critics were dismissing it out of hand as a crass form of “digital panhandling.” Apparently, it was distasteful to ask. I was targeted as the worst offender for a lot of reasons: because I’d already been promoted by a major label, because I had a famous husband, because I was a flaming narcissist.”

6. Palmer’s closest friend is her former neighbor, Anthony, a therapist. He still lives in Lexington where her parents live. She calls him her mentor and advisor. He’s several decades older than her and she talks to him regularly. They take walks around Walden Pond discussing anything and everything. He got cancer and Palmer took time off a tour to drive him to chemo appointments and spend time with him.

“Anthony was also one of my patrons. He gifted me books on Buddhism and pocket knives. Occasionally, when he knew I was broke, he’d include a crisp hundred-dollar bill in a letter.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Grand Central Publishing.

Purchase The Art of Asking

purchase at Amazon: The Art of Asking (Signed Edition): How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

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Comparing and contrasting Bad Feminist and Unspeakable Things: feminist essays by two generations of feminists


“No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.”
—Roxanne Gay

unspeakable things

“Feminism is not a set of rules. It is not about taking rights away from men, as if there were a finite amount of liberty to go around. There is an abundance of liberty to be had if we have the guts to grasp it for everyone. Feminism is a social revolution, and a sexual revolution, and feminism is in no way content with a missionary position. It is about work, and about love, and about how one depends very much on the other. Feminism is about asking questions, and carrying on asking them even when the questions get uncomfortable.”
–Laurie Penny

Two well-known feminist authors/columnists, Roxanne Gay and Laurie Penny, released essay collections. Roxanne Gay is a GenXer and has much more life-experience than 27-year-old Laurie Penny. Although with all her protest and underground movement experience, Penny might think she has more life experience. Gay is American and makes her living as a cultural critic and teacher. She grew up in a mostly white town with a middle-class upbringing. Penny is British with a career as a political reporter. She’s a contributing editor at New Statesman and editor at large at the New Inquiry. Penny seems to do a lot of protesting, squatting and couch surfing.

Both women write essays on what it means to be a feminist, on various women’s issues such as contraception and pay equity and a feminist perspective on various news and pop culture items. Both are serious about being feminist and about the importance of feminism in today’s world. With different writing styles—Gay tends to write with humor and a cheerier flair while Penny utilizes a more aggressive approach– they both present a clear message about the urgency facing feminists today. Read both works. They’re well-crafted, dynamic and provocative particularly for any woman who’s ever heard a man say “Oh you must be some kind of feminist.”

Being close in age to Gay, I could relate to nearly everything she said– except that I never read Sweet Valley High. I was reading other books. I was riding ponies and horses. Penny represents the newer generation of feminists who embrace lifestyles and methodology that I’m not used to. In fact, Penny had this to say: “The young women of today know far better than their slightly-older sisters who came of age in the listless 1990s how much work is still to be done, and how unglamorous much of it is. They know how bloody important it is to talk about power, and class, and work, and love, race, poverty and gender identity.” I could’ve stopped reading right there. Listless 1990s? I was in my 20s and it was a fantastic time. I’ve identified as a feminist since 5th grade and have been active and outspoken about my feminism all along. I found this a bit dismissive and offensive. What happened to sisters supporting sisters? Gay writes in “How to Be Friends with Another Woman”: “Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses—pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”

Gay breaks down Bad Feminist with these sections: ME; GENDER & SEXUALITY; RACE & ENTERTAINMENT; POLITICS, GENDER & RACE; BACK TO ME. Essays within each section. Penny has five chapters in Unspeakable Things: Fucked-Up Girls; Lost Boys; Anticlimax; Cybersexism; Love and Lies.

“I get angry when women disavow feminism and shun the feminist label but say they support all the advances born of feminism because I see a disconnect that does not need to be there. I get angry but I understand and hope someday we will live in a culture where we don’t need to distance ourselves from the feminist label, where the label doesn’t make us afraid of being alone, of being too different, of wanting too much.” —Roxanne Gay

Gay has a penchant for pop culture and some feminine frippery, thus she labels herself a bad feminist. Can you be a feminine feminist? Can you like looking pretty and favor the color pink. Is a feminist a sell-out if she wants to be taken care of by a man. If she wants the support and constant of a serious relationship. If she doesn’t want to know how her car functions, sometimes fakes orgasms and closes her office door for a good cry? Gay likes watching reality shows, listening to questionable hip-hop and picking apart cultural phenomena. In clear, strong words she thoughtfully writes about Chris Brown, the song “Blurred Lines,” The Hunger Games, The Help, Django Unchained and Fifty Shades of Gray.

“A culture that treats women as objects, that gleefully supports entertainment that is more often demeaning toward women than it is not, that encourages the erosion of a woman’s autonomy and personal space, is the same culture that elects state lawmakers who work tirelessly to enact restrictive abortion legislation.”

In the essay “Girls, Girls, Girls” she discusses the Lena Dunham vehicle Girls as well as women on television. “Girls have been written and represented in popular culture in many different ways. Most of these representations have been largely unsatisfying because they never get girlhood quite right. It is not possible for girlhood to be represented wholly—girlhood is too vast and too individual an experience.” She also adds: “There are so many terrible shows on television representing women in sexist, stupid, silly ways. Movies are even worse. Movies take one or two anemic ideas about women, caricature them, and shove those caricatures down our throats. Indie films provide the most expansive and feminist representations of women. Unfortunately Hollywood’s a sexist environment and there are less female writers, directors and producers making films and television programs than men.

Gay writes about serious matters such as violence against women in “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence” where she addresses society’s desensitization. “While there are many people who understand rape and the damage of rape, we also live in a time that necessitates the phrase “rape culture.”) As I read about her dislike for the term triggers in the “Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion,” I fervently nodded in agreement. “Trigger warnings also, when used in excess, start to feel like censorship. They suggest that there are experiences or perspectives to inappropriate, too explicit, too bare to be voiced publicly.” In “When Twitter Does What Journalism Cannot,” Gay says: “Social networks are more than just infinite repositories for trivial, snap judgments; they are more than merely convenient outlets for mindless joy and outrage. They offer more than the common ground and the solace we may find during culturally significant movements. Social networks also provide us with something of a flawed but necessary conscience, a constant reminder that commitment, compassion, and advocacy neither can nor ever should be finite.”

In the essay “The Alienable Rights of Women,” Gay accentuates all the issues with birth control and women’s constant fear that we’ll lose every personal right for sexual freedom we possess. “Birth control is a pain in the ass. It’s a medical marvel, but it is also an imperfect marvel. Most of the time, women have to put something into their bodies that alters their bodies’ natural functions just so they can have a sexual life and prevent unwanted pregnancies.” Penny too tackles the attack on women’s bodies. She writes in “Anticlimax:” “The backlash against abortion access and contraceptive availability is a sexist backlash, rooted in fear of female autonomy and hatred of women’s sexuality.”

Both women are avid readers and both women like Kate Zambreno. I have Green Girl sitting here and must read it soon. Of Green Girl, Gay writes: “She wants to put her fist through a window but doesn’t because she knows that’s not what is expected of a green girl. She knows she is beautiful but does not necessarily feel her beauty inside. Throughout the novel, these tensions are brightly exposed over and over. At times, the novel makes it seem that to be a green girl is to be in a rather hopeless predicament.” Of Heroines, Gay writes: “They say that every writer has an obsession, and in Heroines, that obsession is reclamation or, perhaps breaking new ground where women can be feminist and feminine and resist the labels and forces that too often marginalize, silence, or erase female experiences.” And in explaining how her career intimidates men, Penny writes: “I would have understood what Kate Zambreno means when she says, in her marvelous book Heroines, I do not want to be an ugly woman, and when I write, I am an ugly woman.”

Women must be likeable which usually means not being terribly outspoken, loud or opinionated. And who wants to be like that? Both Gay and Penny often felt like (and sometimes still do) outcasts for various choices, career goals and how they express themselves. From “Not Here to Make Friends”: “As a writer and a person who has struggled with likeability—being likable, wanted to be liked, wanting to belong—I have spent a great deal of time thinking about likeability in the stories I read and those I write.” An unlikeable man in literature becomes intriguing, dark, compelling. An unlikable woman on the page remains perplexing, a complete outcast and rather hopeless. In her essay “Fucked-Up Girls,” Penny discusses her struggles with an eating disorder and the rampant desire for perfection combined with society’s unrealistic expectations for women. Penny writes: “Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love. If we have desires, we are expected to conceal them, to control them, to keep ourselves in check. We are supposed to be objects of desire, not desiring beings.” Dark prospects indeed. The pressures of being female. She adds: “The perfect girl is a blank slate, with just enough personality to make her interesting enough to take to bed.”

Penny has been a young activist in various political movements such as Occupy and she pays careful attention to address gender, race, sexuality and class structure. She focuses on her activism and the underground cultural movement. The radical methods to address conflict and issues in our culture. She elicits a call to action for men to become involved in the feminist movement in “Lost Boys.” As someone who’s been cyberharassed for four years, I took solace in a kindred soul in Penny. In “Cybersexism” she boldly and rightly states: “The Internet creates offline prejudices and changes them, twists them, makes them voyeuristic, and anonymity and physical distance makes it easier for some individuals to treat other people as less than human.” She adds: “Freedom of speech does not include the freedom to abuse and silence others with impunity.”

The veracity of Penny’s ideas on independence and not giving in to societal expectations to couple up, have a monogamous relationship are poignant and quite how I feel as a never-married, childfree by choice feminist of 45. The entire chapter “Love and Lies” is a brilliant turn-about on societal expectations for coupling, for love to be the ultimate goal for everyone’s happiness and to sustain one’s own self and one’s own interests to be satisfied. This IS OKAY. Penny writes: “But I refuse to burn my energy adding extra magic and sparkle to other people’s lives to get them to love me. I’m busy casting spells for myself. Everyone who was ever told a fairy tale knows what happens to women who do their own magic.” And this: “We are all encouraged to feel sorry for ourselves if we are single, to consider ourselves incomplete, but women in particular are urged to consider themselves inferior if their time is not spent comforting and cosseting a man, and ideally children too.” What a sad sad thing. You’re still single? How about people’s obsession with Renee Zellweger, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston finding the “right” man, get married and procreating. It’s revolting and we need to revolt against it. Fight. Speak up. Be yourself and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re less than.

Laurie Penny reads at Harvard Book Store on Friday, September 26, 2014 at 7pm.

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxanne Gay. Publisher: Harper Perennial [August 2014]. Feminism. Essays. Paperback. 320 pages.

RATING: ****/5*

Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA [September 2014]. Feminism. Essays. Paperback. 288 pages.

RATING: ****/5*

Review by Amy Steele

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Bad Feminist
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