Tuesday, 24 April 2012

My first guest post

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

 I'm a little bit excited.

Anyone who occasionally checks my blog might have become aware of semi-regular references to Jeremy Northam, who in my opinion is a) a very talented actor and b) damn sexy.

A friend who I met through Twitter, Gill Fraser-Lee,  has an excellent blog about Jeremy's work - "The Jeremy Northam Blog" - for which she asked me to do a guest post about his recent audiobook of George Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier."  If you fancy popping over to her blog to read my guest post, you can do so here.

I am choosing to think of this as my first writing commission.

If you are interested in the work of this very talented man, I'd recommend having a browse around the great posts that are available on Gill's blog.....

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

"How to be a Woman," by Caitlin Moran

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

It is no surprise that I like this book, since my last 3 posts have been quotes from it.  I was even considering giving it 5 stars on Goodreads, but I think I will give it a 4 (the perfect 5 star read is as mythical as the griffin).

I thought that I was going to like this book when I read the prologue, as I liked her sense of humour.  By page 12, when she said that Germaine Greer was her heroine, I knew that I was going to love it.  I, too, love Germaine Greer because she is a truly excellent mix of being passionate, articulate, intelligent, funny and occasionally barking mad.  I have seen her talk twice, the first time at a feminism conference at which her talk was inspirational - then a later speaker who I won't name came on with a self-aggrandising "feminism-was-great-once-but-now-it's-all-shot-to-hell" litany and completely undid her good work.  Germaine Greer is still fighting; this other woman was giving up.

Caitlin Moran isn't giving up either.  Her book is very funny - I hope my few previous quotes have shown this - but she also seems to be trying to take feminism out of realms of the abstract and theoretical and into the everyday, practical world.  It should be something for real women, and not just fusty academics.  According to her, there is a quick way to work out if you are a feminist:
Put your hand in your pants.
a) Do you have a vagina? and
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said "yes" to both, then congratulations!  You're a feminist.
Her writing takes in experiences and choices that women face throughout their lives: sexism in the workplace, brazilian politics (and I don't mean the country), marriage, motherhood and abortion.  I would recommend the chapter in which Caitlin relates the difficult and painful birth of her first child to anyone who is feeling broody and - whether it is down to lack of finance, inadequate accommodation, being without a partner or with the wrong partner, or whether it is just not happening - is not currently pregnant.  Her experience is likely to make you feel a lot happier about that; it is an excellent antidote to broodiness and could probably be used as a contraceptive.  If you are currently pregnant, it might be best avoided.  It might be a short-lived antidote, however, as her second labour is easier and she writes about the pleasures - as well as the hard-work - of having children.

It was interesting to read this book, having just read "Eat, Pray, Love" before, as the two are very different.  Elizabeth Gilbert's book is very much a spiritual journey, whereas Caitlin Moran's book is about learning to live as a woman in the physical world with which we are blessed (or which we are stuck in, depending on what kind of a day you've had).  I gave both 4 stars on Goodreads for very different reasons but, if you are a girl and you are only going to read one of these, I'd pick "How to be a Woman."  You might not learn how to meditate, but it might help you to laugh and deal with that bad day at the office.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Another quote from "How to be a Woman"

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I think that this will be my last quote until I write a review of this book.  I just found this very funny.

The bra is, perhaps, the rudest item of women's clothing.  If you do not doubt this, try this simple test: throw a bra at a nine-year-old boy.  He will react as if he has had a live rat wanged at his head.

I think it is the excellent use of the word "wanged" that makes me love this quote.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Today's Caitlin Moran quote

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

When the subject turns to abortion, cosmetic intervention, birth, motherhood, sex, love, work, misogyny, fear, or just how you feel in your own skin, women still won't often tell the truth to each other unless they are very, very drunk.  Perhaps the endlessly reported rise in female binge-drinking is simply modern women's attempt to communicate with each other.  Or maybe it is because Sancerre is so very delicious.  To be honest, I'll take bets on either.

Monday, 2 April 2012

A quote from Caitlin Moran's "How to be a Woman"

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I wanted to quote an extract from this, because I am discovering that I really love this book.  It might even be a five star on Goodreads - and I am quite conservative with my stars, so I think it would be my first.

Please don't think of the previous paragraph as a spoiler for my review in a couple of days time.  I prefer to think my "How to be a Woman" review as the blog equivalent of an episode of "Columbo:" you already know who did it - or you already know I like it - but you still go along with it to see how Columbo (that's me, in this rather suspect metaphor) gets there.

Over the next couple of days while I am reading the book, before I write my review, I might post a quote that I've loved each day.  The bit I thought I would post today is the longest I wanted to quote...
What I AM going to urge you to do, however, is say "I am a feminist".  For preference, I would like you to stand on a chair, and shout "I AM A FEMINIST" - but this is simply because I believe that everything is more exciting if you stand on a chair to do it.

It really is important you say these words out loud.  "I AM A FEMINIST."  If you feel you cannot say it - not even standing on the ground - I would be alarmed.  It's probably one of the most important things a woman will ever say: the equal of "I love you", "Is it a boy or a girl?" or "No! I've changed my mind! Do NOT cut me a fringe!"

Say it.  SAY IT!  SAY IT NOW! Because if you can't, you're basically bending over, saying, "Kick my arse and take my vote, please, the patriarchy."

And do not think that you shouldn't be standing on that chair, shouting "I AM A FEMINIST!" if you are a boy.  A male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution.  A male feminist should ABSOLUTELY be on the chair - so we ladies may all toast you, in champagne, before coveting your body wildly.  And maybe get you to change that light bulb, while you're up there.  We cannot do it ourselves.  There is a big spider's web on the fitting. 

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Tagged (part 1)

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Back in February I was tagged by Annalisa in her blog "Wake up, eat, write sleep." I've been very tardy in answering her questions - sorry, Annalisa.

I have to answer Annalisa's 11 questions, and then ask 11 questions of my own to another 11 people.  I haven't yet decided on my questions, of even if I know 11 people who might want to do it, but here are my 11 answers anyway.  There might be a part 2 of this post if I think of my 11 for 11...

Q. Which book, that you're supposed to love, do you actually hate?
A. That's difficult, as I've now decided that I have so many books and so little time that if I don't like a book, I won't force myself through it.  I love Tennessee Williams who loved D.H. Lawrence, so I always feel like I should try more D.H. Lawrence but I don't get on with his writing style.  Likewise I love Howard Jacobson who is a big advocate of Dickens' genius, but right now I am finding it tough to come to terms with the Victorian prose style again in "Oliver Twist" (although I loved "Bleak House"). I know people who love Thomas Hardy, but I loathe him (sorry Alicia, sorry Gill).

Q. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
A. John Carter.  And, whatever the marketing people might think, removing "Of Mars" from the title doesn't alter the fact that it is largely set ON MARS.

Q. Name four people (dead or alive) you would like to invite for dinner.
A. My husband - of course - Mark Kermode, Stephen Fry and Germaine Greer.  I don't think any of those choices will surprise people much.  I thought of inviting a famous person with a reputation for being stupid to bring down the average intelligence of the group so that, in comparison, I wouldn't seem stupid in front of people I admire.  However I decided that to do that would be a) mean and b) a waste of a dinner space.

Q. Can you remember your first teacher?
A. She was called Miss Bell and she had long, blonde hair.

Q. In which order should Star Wars be watched: IV, V, VI, I, II, III or I, II, III, IV, V, VI?
A. You should watch IV, V and VI, and ignore I, II and III altogether.

Q. Which fictional character would you like to be for a day?
A. I can't decide between Stephanie Plum on a day when she gets to spend time with Ranger and Morelli and doesn't get shot at, or Thursday Next on a day when she gets to spend time with Mr Rochester and Landen Parke-Laine and doesn't get shot at.

Q. Sweet or savoury?
A. Chocolate.

Q. Do you have a tattoo? How many?
A. I have one. 

Q. Do you still have your first teddy bear? (I do.)
A. I think it is still at my parent's house.  It was so worn that at various times its arms and legs fell off and had to be sewn back on.  I do remember an instance when it was a torso with a head.

Q. Oggy, oggy, oggy... Does anyone know what comes next? (hehehe)
A. Oi, oi, oi.

Q. What are you reading right now?
A. How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

"Eat, Pray, Love," by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I was given my copy by a work colleague who hated it; she had also been given the book by another work colleague who hated it.  I have wanted to get the chance to read it ever since then.  I trust their taste, and yet I have a couple of friends who love it - and I trust their taste too.  It is a book that seems to polarise people (Mark Kermode - my second favourite Mark in the world - hated the film so much that he calls it "Eat, Pray, Love, Vomit"), so I was curious to find out how I would feel about it.

The opening of "Eat, Pray, Love" finds Elizabeth Gilbert desperately unhappy, in a marriage that stultifies her, ostensibly trying to start a family but actually thanking God for her every period.  After an agony of soul-searching, which finds her near-suicidal, she leaves her husband and immediately jumps into another misguided and unsuitable relationship.  When this also collapses, she has to learn how to be independent.  Her passion in life is travelling, and circumstances come together - largely helped by a book deal - to allow her to spend 4 months of pleasure in Italy, 4 months of spiritual retreat at an ashram in India and 4 months in Bali trying to find a way to combine the two.

I know that one person who hated the book disliked her authorial voice, and thought her actions selfish.  I don't have that problem.  I found her voice engaging - she writes well, and wears her learning lightly - and, although I have had blessedly few periods of unhappiness in my life, those that I have had taught me that there can be times when you need to make a choice that might outwardly seem selfish in order to preserve your own mental health.  I would have had more of an issue with her life choices if she had shown divorce to be an easy option - she leaves her husband after much agonising, and the divorce is traumatic - or if she hadn't acknowledged what her body and mind were telling her and had a child she didn't want because it was expected of her.

I have another theory regarding what divides opinion about this book: some of the people I know who like this book have a spiritual/religious dimension to their lives which, to my knowledge, those who disliked it don't have.  This is, after all, a book about a spiritual journey as much as, if not more than, her physical journey.  As a wild generalisation, if you are aware that you are seeking something that is missing in your life; if you are dissatisfied with an area of your life and wish to change it, then you might find that you recognise something of yourself in her quest.  The "grass is always greener" paradigm is a fundamental condition of human nature: no matter what blessings a person has, the quest for something more / different is common to many of us.  I have to say though - as my husband was, I think, a little nervous that I was reading a book about a woman who leaves her husband and goes traveling - my marriage is one of the things that I wouldn't change.

As this is such a personal book, I do also have a personal response to one thing that she writes in passing.  At the ashram she gathers a social circle around her, but a part of her wants to be a quiet girl at the back of the temple; a "shy girl with thick, dark hair."  Speaking from the other side of the introvert/extrovert divide, I can tell Elizabeth Gilbert that the silence of a shy girl is less likely to be due to mystical peace and more likely to stem from social anxiety.   The quiet girl at the back of the temple is probably envying your social confidence and the ease with which you attract friends: she probably has inner turmoil, just like you,  and works hard for any peace she finds - it's just a different fight from yours.  I don't understand wanting to be a shy girl.  The thick, dark hair, however, I totally get.

I like travelogues, so I approached this book in that vein more than I did a memoir and, on that basis, I enjoyed joining Elizabeth Gilbert on her travels (although I like Venice more than she did).  This is a book that comes with a lot of media hype and baggage - I gather her ex-husband at one point planned to retaliate with a book about his side of their marriage and divorce - and that public feud holds no interest for me.  It also has to be said that her marriage and her divorce take up very little of the book; the majority is her travels and her mental / emotional recovery.  As most of my money when I was younger was put into being a perpetual student, I traveled very little - so this was a nice opportunity for me to vicariously do some traveling and meet some interesting people.  I didn't expect to like it, considering the mixed reactions I've heard, so I was pleasantly surprised.