Interviews with a feminist

Am I a feminist blogger? I have been interviewed by "e" of A Blog without a Bicycle ("riding the cyberwave of feminism"), for part of  her MA project on feminist self-presentation in blogging.

The first interview can be read here,  and the second one, here.

It was interesting, and somewhat rejuvenating, being asked questions about feminism. It took me back to my late teens and early twenties, when the issue of "women’s rights" did seem very pressing, and was the stimulus for many a late-night heated conversation (usually a group, and quite often degenerating into complaints about how someone’s boyfriend didn’t do the washing up).

In those days, I am shocked to recall, the UK did not have an anti-discrimination act or an equal pay act. I read The Female Eunuch, The Woman’s Room, and many others of that ilk with a passion and a fury. (Of course, it was a lot worse for previous generations of women — but to me as a late teenager, the fact of my being considered "less" by virtue of being female came as a shock, having only sisters and being educated at all-female establishments.) I remember the pages of the newspapers being full of ads for "Girl Fridays". I could not join the "Oxford and Cambridge" club even quite recently — they have been forced to admit women graduates on equal terms now, since EU legislation a mere few years ago, but that is what it took to make this outfit accept that a woman graduate has as much right to the same facilities as it would extend to a male one. (Naturally, I have not the least intention of joining this organisation, as I know what they really think, despite the four-colour flyers they now send proclaiming their new-found "liberalism" and soliciting membership. Just call me Grauchina Marx.)

But I wonder why feminism seemed more important to me all those years ago, compared with now? Is political activism a young person’s thing; or has life really changed for the better? Or is it that "having it all" — earning a living, being a parent, maintaining the home environment, etc — has worn me out after 16 + 11 = 27 person-years of it?

Shamanka and Jacky Daydream

Shamanka Jacky_daydreamJenny is currently entirely absorbed by two books. She bought Shamanka by Jeanne Willis after some considerable thought, on World Book Day – we were in W H Smith where she was exchanging her £1 voucher (as given to every schoolchild in the land) for a specially written Caroline Lawrence "Roman mystery", when she saw the third of Julia Golding’s "Companions" quartet. She just had to buy this, but as it was on a "buy one get one half price" offer, she also , after yet more considerable thought, chose the beautifully presented Shamanka from the various (enticing, I thought) options available. She dashed through the Golding, not as keen on it as she was the first volume in the series (the second also not as popular as the first) and then embarked on Shamanka. She has been glued to the book ever since. She spent a long time on Saturday morning telling me all about the plot, but it is so fearsomely convoluted that I’ll simply reproduce the synopsis from Amazon:  "What is magic? What is illusion? What is real? Step into the extraordinary world of Sam Khaan, who has just discovered a witch doctor’s notebook in her attic. Convinced that it belongs to her long-lost father – the son of a witch doctor – she sets out on a journey to discover the answers to these questions. In her encounters with diviners and healers, conjurers and mystics, Sam learns the truth about magic the hard way. Here is your chance to take a far easier route." The paperback book has a loose cover with all sorts of mysterious puzzles and drawings on it.

On our W H Smith outing, Jenny was not interested in buying "Jacky Daydream", Jacqueline Wilson’s autobiography. Although Jenny was very keen on all JW’s books until a couple of years ago, she lost interest (unlike Cathy, who continued into all the "Girls in Love" secondary school stories).  However, last week Jenny found out that "everyone" in her class is reading Jacky Daydream, so she just had to have it too.  Never being shy to buy a book, I immediately bought it for her, whereupon she started in right away. She’s now reading both books in tandem, occasionally looking up to ask "what’s an eiderdown?" and "what’s an ottoman?". (This is from the Jacky Daydream book: Shamanka presents no such anachronistic challenges, it seems.)

Jacqueline Wilson is not only the most borrowed author in UK libraries, but is a fantastic woman who happens to live near us. She spends so much time and energy going round all the local schools, reading festivals and other events,  to read from her books and talk to children about her inspiration and her life as a novelist.  I have attended several of these packed-out events with each of my daughters (in series rather than in parallel), and am impressed with the intelligent and keen questions from the audience of (mainly) girls familiar with the minutiae of the books, and with the accessible and open style of the speaker. Many of the books have been made into plays and TV movies/series, so we get to learn a lot about that process too.

Shamanka — I thought I had not heard of the author before: it is her first book for the teen/pre-teen readership.  However, after the end of Jenny’s marathon plot description I glanced at the author’s bibliography and see that she wrote one of the most screamingly funny young children’s picture books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading 23,699 times:  Dr Xargle’s book of Earthlets. It is priceless for anyone with a baby (Don’t bother too much about the sequels).

Incidentally, Jenny was dismissive of the Caroline Lawrence Roman mystery "taster" for its lack of historical accuracy. I suppose that is one series of books she won’t be reading, then, even though it is currently being filmed as a TV series.   

Writer’s choice 95: Debra Hamel

At this link: normblog: Writer’s choice 95: Debra Hamel is a truly excellent piece by Debra Hamel (of the deblog, BAFAB week and more) reviewing Patricia Highsmith’s book The Talented Mr Ripley. How well Debra sums up the appeal of this book and its unusual author. Like her, I read all the rest of Patricia Highsmith once I had finished my first (I think in my case it was Strangers on a Train), although, as I am 150 and therefore considerably older than the eternally young Debra, I would have read at least some of Highsmith as the books were published (at least one Ripley sequel comes to mind).

But that is to digress. Not only does Debra get to the nub of this book, but the insight she provides illuminates the appeal of this unsettling author. Thank you, Debra, for a most enjoyable and educative read.

Squaring the circle

A few items that have caught my interest tonight:

Pan’s Labyrinth, as recommended by Kimbofo of Reading Matters, is out on DVD. These days, I not only have to manage to obtain the DVD via competing requirements on the rental service, but also find an hour or two when I am not already supposed to be doing something else, and then beg for screen time– so not sure if I will be able to square all those circles. If I can, this is certainly one to watch.

Twitter: do we love it or hate it? Do I want to know what you are doing each second, and do you want to know what I’m currently up to? Can we even get it to work, owing to vast demand? What is it, anyway? Find out, courtesy of Bloggers Blog.

You have to be quick to ride the trends of the blogosphere, as they are here and gone in a day, but today’s fad is to ask whether you can predict Oprah’s next pick? Some links to posts attempting this feat are over at Zooba.

On a more serious note, the Tart of Fiction/Fictionbitch discusses the sale of first, second and third novels.  Money quote: "publishers are publishing more first novels than previously and cutting back on their mid-list authors".

Jennifer Rohn of LabLit (the science-in-fiction website) writes the first review that I’ve read of Nature Network: Is the world ready for MyLab? I’m probably biased, but from what I’ve seen so far, yes. (Jennifer thinks so, too.)

Despite the typo in the title, the post "Wandsworth to close public libraries" is one of the most depressing I’ve read for a while on the Good Library Blog — which, by definition, spends a lot of time and space on depressing posts.  So, turn secondary schools into gigantic institutions where nobody knows anyone else; close down the libraries; and then wonder why civilisation is threatened. Hmm.

Everyone is writing about bookstores closing down after mergers, HMV, Ottakars, Waterstones — now here is W H Smith eyeing up Borders for airport stores. Well, we already have branches of W H Smiths at all UK airports, so this can only mean yet more "rationalisation".

Let’s get back to something more worthwhile: reading and appreciation of books. How do you feel about about cheating?, asks Peter of Detectives beyond Borders. And, against expectations, Elaine of Random Jottings…. enjoyed last night’s Northanger Abbey on TV. I have taped it (or rather, someone in my house has, I hope — I have never learned how to "tape" onto DVDs), so clearly, a delight in store, once we can get everyone here and with the requisite 2 hours to spare. I think this is where I came in, so I will stop here and retire to bed with a good book.

A complete history of blogging

Say no more: dustbury.com: A complete and utter history of blogging.

What’s next?

‘Tis the writing season

For some, with the weekend clock change in the UK, Spring has begun. For others, like my friend Henry Gee, it is the writing season.

"I have a constitutive inability to suffer from writer’s block. Some say that this literary derepression is my greatest curse as well as my greatest asset, in that I can write voluminously and very much more quickly than I can think. The hardest thing in the world is to not to write.

Last year I sat down to write a novel, just to see if I could. Four months and 178,000 words later it was done. If you like, you can read it here, but even if you don’t, and even if no-body reads it at all, that won’t detract a whit from a feeling of personal achievement that will, for me, mark one of the more satisfying of my life."

Henry is a polymath: an erudite palaeontologist as well as author, editor and science-fiction buff. Perhaps nowhere are his various interests combined to better effect than in his various Lord of the Rings guises (though he has written on plenty of other themes, including some purely scientific books). One such Tolkenian homage is his book The Science of Middle Earth; he’s talking about that on 13 April at Cromer library. See here for more details about that, and for more about Henry.

The extract from his "writing" post is from his latest blog, "The End of the Pier Show", on the Nature Network, and which I can highly recommend for Henry’s own particular fusion of talents, not the least of which is humour.  As well as his writing post (in which we learn what can happen while you lock yourself into a shed to write your PhD thesis), we can read about Linnaeus’s 300th birthday, Henry’s family move to Cromer, use of English in scientific writing, and standing next to scientist-celebrities at parties.

Voices, by Arnaldur Indridason

My review of Voices, by Arnaldur Indridason, was published on the excellent website Eurocrime the other week. (Also pasted-in below.) One of the many things I like about the Eurocrime website is that you can read more than one review of the same book and compare opinions. In this case, for example, you can find Karen’s review of the same book here. While you are there, take a look around this wonderful resource for all things Euro-crime-fiction related.

Anyway, here’s my review:

Indridason, Arnaldur – ‘Voices’
Hardback: 320 pages (Aug. 2006) Publisher: Harvill Secker ISBN: 1846550335

VOICES, the third book by Arnaldur Indridason to be translated into English, is even better than the first two, and that’s saying something, as SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, the previous outing for Inspector Erlendur, deservedly won last year’s CWA Gold Dagger. Each book covers a narrower canvas than the previous one, but reveals and explores more of Erlendur’s psyche. This increasing depth and focus is, for me, what makes this crime-fiction series among the most excellent I have read.

Continue reading

Five Non KidsLit Blogs

Link: Scholar’s Blog: Five Non KidsLit Blogs I Read.

Can the adjective ‘prolific’ be applied to reading? If so, Michele of Scholar’s Blog (link above) deserves the description. She usually reviews what these days are called "young adult" books, but her current challenge/meme [not award] is to provide a list of five "non kids lit blogs that I read". Not hard to do in my case: I will highlight some here that I didn’t in my last doomed meme [award] post, for variety:

Light Reading, in which Jenny D in a series of fearless and intensely personal posts dashes through books, academia, literary articles in newspapers, life and running at the speed of…..yes, light.

Books, Inq, the Instapundit of the book world, in which Frank Wilson keeps us up to date with everything you need to know about what is happening in the literary scene, with added insights.

Books, Words, and Writing: Amy provides a daily post on a literary or book-related website or blog. One up for the Canadians.

Random Jottings…, in which Elaine (aka Renaissance Woman) shares with us her reviews of books, music, literary adaptations, china, commuting and other aspects of daily life in south-east England — but more often than not, book-related.

A book a week, in which Becky reviews a wide range of books — old favourites, new finds, fiction (mainly), nonfiction— check it out. Interesting debate is available via the comments.

The Journal of Star Wars Research?

Link: Friday Sillies: The Journal of Star Wars Research « Panorama of the Mountains.

I’m not really supposed to be online today, as 24 March is the international "boycott your computer day" or some such. I suppose whoever decided this had to make the day a Saturday so people wouldn’t have an excuse not to work. I made it to 1900 h local time, so not bad. However, I thought that the future of the peer-reviewed literature, as envisaged on "Panorama of the Mountains" blog, might be of some amusement, so I’ve broached the virtual picket line.

Apart from alerting us to the academic theory put forward in the journal of SWR, the Panorama of the Mountains post provides a video of Eddie Izzard recreating the missing scene where Darth Vader attempts to order penne a la abbriata from the Death Star Canteen (not viewed by me, but probably funny).

A Nature editor speaks (partially)

Link: Nature Publishing Editor on the idea of a public scientific multimedia site « Pimm – Partial immortalization.

I achieved partial immortalization today on a science blog in my work persona, on the topic of scientific multimedia data-hosting sites (see link above).

Here is a wonderful example of multimedia science: mechanically morphing molecules, a (free access) videostream from the current issue of Nature.

But irrespective of all that, since I have started the authors’ and peer-reviewers’ blogs at Nature earlier this year, I sense integration in the air. Most unsettling, for a natural compartmentaliser.