Simplify your reading

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October 29, 2014

halloweenkindleeffectsBuzz, buzz, buzz simplify, minimize, reduce. Buzzz!You know, this is what everyone is talking about these days. It seems that we live lives that are generally overwhelmed by information and stuff, and we need to escape that if we want to lead a fulfilling existence.

So when it comes to books, how do you do it? I am not talking about how you shelve or get rid of physical books. I have solved that dilemma for myself: I don’t buy paper books anymore: only digital. It suits me and I’m very happy with it.

But these digital devices, sorry to break this terrifying news to you, can store hundreds of books that you don’t have to dust or pack into a wall of boxes when you move. These books accumulate very quietly and subversively, until one day when you have so many that you just can’t breathe anymore. They are all over and they keep growing. They are in your dreams and in your every thought. They take so much space that you can’t breathe anymore. I know it happens to me. But then I clear my Gmail inbox every year or so, because the idea of thousands of e-mails hanging around there is just intolerable. Digital clutter is as bad to me as physical clutter. Don’t you feel the same?

To keep my book list simple I apply a few filters. I read fiction only written by women and in a few genres like literary, contemporary women’s fiction, mystery. I enjoy sci-fi too, but haven’t read anything of that in a million years. When it comes to non-fiction, I usually try to decide at some point (beginning of the year) what area of interest I want to investigate deeply and try to stick to that. Of course, I will make exceptions here and there, when trusted friends recommend one book or the other, knowing that will be a satisfying read. In general my non-fiction reading will fall into a few categories: psychology, philosophy, spirituality, and women’s studies.

I constantly check the list on my e-book reader and delete everything that I have finished or I’m not planning to finish. Still, you will probably find at least twenty books on my reader at any given time.

How do you keep your book list from turning into an out-of-control monster that one day will surely eat you alive? (Sorry, but it is Halloween!)

I have been reading (and watching a lot of TV)

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October 2, 2014

coffee and book on a benchMy love for reading fiction is slowly recovering after almost a decade of suffering from an unknown yet terrible, life-threatening disease. I’m relieved. It’s been so strange to be a writer of fiction who doesn’t actually enjoy reading fiction much at all. I know, right? Well, I’ve been an unsuccessful writer of fiction (understandably!), so it’s fine.

I am convinced that many of us go through this: at some point all fiction seems pointless, the product of someone feverish imagination, not worthy of our time since it doesn’t seem to enrich us in any way, either intellectually, spiritually, or emotionally. Especially after a lifelong complete, almost religious devotion to reading, it’s a bad place to be in. I suppose this happens more in our day and age when we benefit of really good TV shows that cover all our escapism/relaxation needs. Reading requires more effort than TV, and many times it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it. Because there is an overwhelming number of books being published lately, some of them of really doubtful quality. While TV is getting better and better. Series like True Detectives, The Returned, Hemlock Grove, Jekyll, Midsomer Murders, or Wallander can teach many writers quite a few lessons about storytelling techniques. True, some of these are based on books, but some are not, and yet their quality is beyond question.

I’m reading now The Silkworm of J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith, and I love it. It’s captivating and atmospheric and better than TV, although I’m sure it would make a good TV series too. It was fun to notice that she introduced a rant by a male writer about women writers:

“I said that the greatest female writers, with almost no exceptions, have been childless. A fact. And I have said that women generally, by virtue of their desire to mother, are incapable of the necessarily single-minded focus anyone must bring to the creation of literature, true literature. I don’t retract a word. That is a fact.” (The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith)

I have discussed the issue of women writing and having children in the same lifetime another time on this blog, and I don’t feel like going into that again today, because I have a feeling that more self-pity would be involved, with my being so overwhelmed by toddler care these days. But it is something to (always) think about.

In the meantime fall has taken over our part of the world. And it came with beautiful light that covers everything we see in amber and honey.autumn light through the trees Books and golden light. Should be enough to make one happy. Or, you know, content. For a short, aware moment.

Read women

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May 8, 2014

books on the sidetableYou know the feeling when you think you’re having a brilliant idea that is so original and so perfect it sends shudders through your spine? And then you find out that many other people have had that same thought much before you, and their version was also much better than yours? Right. One of those moments has been brought to me by the generosity of my very average, unoriginal mind (which is, however, delusional and overestimates itself all the time) when I came up with the idea to read only books authored by women, which was maybe a year or more ago.

It actually started for me organically, if I am to be honest with myself. It was not the proverbial light-bulb moment. I slowly began to feel that I didn’t want to pick up books written by men. I was not interested anymore in men’s worldview. Not because it’s not valuable in itself, but because I’ve had enough of it already. I’ve read the classics of literature throughout my youth, and they were overwhelmingly men, of course. Which is fine, I think: for the longest time very few women wrote anything more than diaries and letters, mostly because they were not permitted anything more–they were not allowed education and if they somehow got that, they were not allowed to show it beyond the confines of their homes and salons.

But these days women write extensively. They write in every genre, on every possible topic, with all imaginable degrees of success, from garbage to Nobel-prize worthy.  So I don’t feel I am limiting myself in any way by choosing only from probably half of the books that are being published. Well, I don’t actually know how many books are being published by women compared to men, but you know, women are a little bit more than half of the world’s population, so reading only what half of the population is writing doesn’t seem so restrictive, does it? I don’t feel that I am missing on big works of genius, because the chances are, for every brilliant book written by a man, there will be a woman’s book just as amazing, even if not touted as such by the painfully patriarchal and biased system of the literary establishment.

Besides, let’s not forget that many men would never read a book written by a woman. For disgusting reasons that I feel nauseated to explain here. But that is why so many women writers feel like they have to hide their identity if they want any readers of the opposite sex to pick up their tomes. And nobody makes a fuss about that. It’s normal to not want to read women. They just think silly thoughts about love and dresses and such. They are not working with the big, universal truths. But to not read men? Isn’t that just extreme and doesn’t it make you miss out on too much? Yeah, I’m crying myself to sleep because of how much I’m missing, let me tell you.

Anyway, it seems that many other women have reached similar conclusions and are making an effort to support literature by women. On Twitter, there is a #readwomen2014 campaign. We should join. It just makes good sense.

P.S. For those who wouldn’t know where to start, here is a list from The Atlantic of 21 books written by and about women that men would benefit from reading.

The good fight

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January 11, 2014

jennifer_weiner4The literary world is not as boring as some might think. Every now and then, good disputes arise and keep us all on fire. I have been reading lately about those in the middle of which we find writer Jennifer Weiner, author of books such as Good in Bed or In Her Shoes, which was turned into a movie with Shirley MacLaine, Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz. Her latest book is The Next Best Thing.

So, Jennifer Weiner has been very vocal about how literature written by women is constantly ignored by the critics. Her outrage is valid. The organization Vida, Women in Literary Arts, keeps an eye on the statistics, and according to their research, in 2012, The New York Times Book Review covered 488 male authors versus 237 female authors. The numbers were similar in the previous years: 520 vs. 273 in 2011 and 524 vs. 283 in 2010.

It looks like she has become a sort of a crusader for the inclusion of women’s literature into the pages of any serious literary journal and in any literary dialogue, and she is suffering a lot of backlash because of her uncensored comments.

I haven’t read any of Jennifer Weiner’s books yet, but I think I might pick one up because the author seems like such an intelligent, down-to-earth, and very funny woman. And she is not afraid to voice facts that are hard to hear for many. I am not a big reader of chick-lit, although I’ve always wished I had a little bit of that sense of humor (for that reason only, I should read more of the genre, in hopes that I will catch some of that), but disregarding the voices of women authors (and so many women readers) because genres like chick-lit or romance are “light” and not literary enough is disturbing. Because it happens that, as a consequence of muddled causality vs. correlation, most of the fiction written by women, literary merit or not, is overlooked and labeled a priori as lacking in any literary, “serious” value (despite the commercial value, which can be many times outstanding).

While some have accused Jennifer Weiner of only trying to publicize her own books by continuing these debates, I think that she is fighting the good fight. I think that she is brave to expose herself as the “hysterical” woman who will scream out loud every time she perceives an injustice in the way the critical world treats women writers. It’s not a comfortable position that she has assumed. It is an admirable one. The way I see it, women authors don’t need to write more like men to have their works perceived as valuable, but they need to change the concept of literary value itself, so make it more inclusive of the feminine sensibility or aesthetic. And we have a greater chance at achieving that because of flag bearers like Jennifer Weiner.

Indie-book reviews

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July 27, 2012

indie-book-reviewsI published in READ a review of Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty, and this might be the last random book review that I post on the website. I am aiming at more focus on independently published books.

There are many books out there. I am usually very selective with what I read, because I value my time like that. We all do, right? However, books are my line of work, so reading for me is both pleasure and business. I need to focus more on the business part of things these days, because, well, that’s how things are. So from now on I am going to read and review exclusively independently published books. There will be women’s fiction books mostly, because that’s my specialty, although some other genres (like thrillers or mysteries) might find their way in there. I think this is a direction that I should have taken long ago, but well, I am rarely that focused. I am doing this because I want to support independent publishing and the ebook market, because I think these two publishing avenues are doing a great service to literature as a whole, freeing it from the pressures of commercialism while at the same time allowing commercial literature to exist and prosper. I am doing it because I plan to release my own book soon, and I know I will need help promoting it just like many other writers need help with their books.

So, yeah, I am going to start supporting indie authors from now on with my book reviews, because reviews are essential in generating sales. And here comes my first review: Heather Hummel’s Write from the Heart.

Margaret Sanger, A life of passion, by Jean H. Baker

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July 11, 2012

margaret sangerI read this book mostly in the beautiful vacation house we rented in Ogunquit this summer. We spent there the whole 4th of July week and it was such a gift. Mornings were beyond beautiful in the back sunroom or on outside on the patio with a book and a cold coffee. Although I had started the book at home several weeks before, I was not able to make any progres through it, but on vacation, on the porch, there was no stopping me.

I hadn’t known about Margaret Sanger before reading this book, because I am illiterate like that in the women’s movement in US. She is such an interesting character: a dedicated woman who believed so strongly in the cause of women controlling their own fertility that she worked for it tirelessly until the very end of her life in spite of all the difficulties of living in a time when birth control was illegal and considered murderous to the nation, when women were urged to procreate as the best thing they could do for society. Those were very dark times when even doctors were afraid to teach women about contraceptive methods and only the upper classes had access to such information as the use of spermicides. Women had as choices only abstinence or more pregnancies than their bodies could handle  and more children than they could actually feed.

She was very vocal against the Catholic church and its priests who, never actually knowing a real woman, spoke with authority about what women should do with their lives and bodies.

She was controversial for being a lifelong promoter of eugenics and her opening birth control clinics in African-American communities. According to the author of this book, however, Margaret Sanger, although with many faults, was in no way a racist, and it was very important to her that all women, regardless of race and social status, have access to contraception.

I felt inspired by her determination and dedication. The story of her life also raised many questions and doubts. The book does not portray her in the best of lights, on the contrary, it shows many of her failures, including that at parenting. She left her children in boarding schools to be able to travel and spread her message, because she felt she couldn’t fully be a mother and an activist. One of her children actually died due to difficult conditions in the boarding school, but she didn’t seem to have ever stop to blame herself or question her priorities. After the biography of Agatha Christie, I seem to see a common theme here: women throughout history who ever achieved something, did so at the expense of their role as mothers. In one way or another, they sacrificed motherhood for their work. I wonder if it is indeed true or these are just random examples. I hope some of them found the middle ground. Emily Dickinson never had children. Neither did Virginia Woolf. Or the Bronte sisters. Or Jane Austen. I am a believer in the middle ground, but does it truly exist? Even today?

Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

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May 15, 2012

20book Agatha Christie an AutobiographyA very enjoyable book. Evidently coming from a different time and a different place, Agatha Christie knows, however, how to put her very interesting life on page and keep you hooked. She did not have an ordinary life. Not a charmed one for sure (she lived through both world wars and her first husband left her for another woman) but an exceptional life in many ways.

Agatha Christie appears as somewhat of an outdated, shallow figure. She does not waste a lot of time talking about her writing but mentions multiple times that she took a long time before she thought of it as a career and of herself as a writer. “Married woman” would be the occupation she declared on official papers for the longest time. She was not one of those tormented creators, whose flame burns day and night for their work. She wrote because it made money and because she was good at it. And in the end she was not particularly proud of many of her books. It appears to me as if she didn’t find writing as something to be particularly proud of. Or she was of unbelievable modesty. Or both.

I do have great admiration for Agatha Christie because she was so successful as a writer, which very few women managed at that time. I also admire the fact that she wrote (most of her work) under her own name. Isn’t that admirable for a woman writer? Of any time? But she did come from a place of extreme privilege, which I cannot identify with or understand much. I must confessed that I felt judgmental of her ways many times throughout the book. I don’t know what were the upperclass standards of living in that day (or today, for that matter) but she had a child whom she left behind numerous times, for long periods, from an young age, so she could travel the world. It was something that she clearly did without giving it a second thought: it was not something she worried about for a second. At least that’s what it looks like. The child grew up with nurses and was cared for by Agatha Christie’s sister when Agatha was away on travels.

She was quite a fearless woman, though. I will give her that. And as a writer, she will always have my admiration. And I consider it a privilege to be able to read now the autobiography that she wrote toward the end of her life.

The Tigress of Forli, by Elizabeth Lev

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April 18, 2012

tigress-of-forliSo, I go to the library last week and stop as usual at the new book section (because it is the closest to the children’s section, and often my books come from here). And what do you know? There was a whole bookshelf (meaning maybe ten to twelve books) of literature about women or by women! I couldn’t take my eyes off that for a few good minutes. I should have taken a photo. This never happens in real life! Right? Anyway, I ended up picking out a historical book about the life of Caterina de Medici and the autobiography of Agatha Christie. Give me a few more sunny days at the park with the bicycle-riding child, and I will write the second review very soon also.

I was excited to read this new account of Caterina de Medici’s life because it was written by a woman historian. I thought it would be a fresh perspective on a historical figure that had been demonized by the chronicles of the past. I think the author did start from this premise, but the thing is, there is only so much one can freshen the history when using the same old set of sources. Although, I do wonder why the author did not use intimate diaries and letters to reflect more of Caterina’s inner and personal life, rather than the public and political events that she was involved in. Maybe they are not available, what do I know?

After reading this book I was left with some more knowledge about the Italian political scene of the era but very little knowledge of who Caterina actually was. She doesn’t even come out as too impressive, if judged only by this book: just a woman who felt strongly about her status, her lands, her people and her family. She didn’t do anything more than what a man in her position would have done, and her acts were deemed extraordinary only because she was a woman. And the sad thing is that, as it appears from this book, she would have been quite happy with a small life, creating herbal remedies and raising her children away from the political scene, because she withdrew from the matters of the state often when she was married. But her husbands kept dying on her, so she had to go back to leading her armies and defending her fortresses.

I did enjoy the book, though. There is always something to learn from history. Although we keep repeating it, nonetheless.

Interview with Rae Joyce, author of Escape Behaviours

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April 7, 2012

escapebehaviours-title-page-RaeJoyceI interviewed author Rae Joyce about her graphic poem Escape Behaviours which will leave you with a lot to think about, like who our heroes are, how they look and what their place should be.

THE MYTHOLOGICAL HERO FROM INSIDE THE KITCHEN

Interview with Rae Joyce, author of Escape Behaviours

Rachel Fenton is an award-winning writer of unique talent. She writes poetry,  fiction and (because, she is also a graphic artist) she is making her way into the graphic literature scene, as Rae Joyce.

Her work is characterized by complexity and depth, but also playfulness, joy and what seems like unlimited creative energy. Her writing is fertilized by a unique, honest, straightforward and uncompromising view of the world. She is also an exceptionally warm and generous human being, which makes being inside her mind, while fascinating, also safe and not intimidating.

Escape Behaviours is a work of graphic poetry that you might find different from anything else you’ve ever read. Rachel Fenton is an author whose writing is so creative and exciting to experience that it often challenges the reader: you cannot be absent minded or multitasking while reading, and you cannot just browse her work. The effort, however, is always more than worth it.

I asked her a few questions about her work and, as she always does, she gave this interview a lot of thought and her answers reach far beyond anything I had expected.

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Photo by John McGowan.

Escape Behaviours is a work of graphic poetry. I am a literary snob and I have a hard time relating
to the genre. Why does poetry need graphics? Can you make the case for graphic literature to help
someone like me warm up to it?

RF: First of all, Lori, thank you for inviting me to talk about Escape Behaviours and for having me at your place, it’s smashing to be here.

I’m so glad you asked me this question; I have a hard time relating to the genre too but I’ll expand on this a little more in a moment.

Why does poetry need graphics? Well, the simple answer to that is, it doesn’t. Masses and masses of poetry out there is doing just great without graphics; there’s masses and masses of imagery out there, also, that strikes me as being poetry without words, and that’s doing fine. But there isn’t really much in the way of graphic poetry – Google it, let me know what you come up with. For me, the form was dictated by one very important factor: my target readership — my husband.

Now, back to your first point and I’ll try and wrap it up with your last one. I think it’s difficult to avoid falling into the trap of being a literary snob when so much of what we perceive to be our choice in literary matters is actually the result of our having little choice, which isn’t to say there aren’t myriad books out there to appeal to all tastes – there are – but I think there are two factors which push us to make limited choices as readers.

Firstly, peer pressure; we want to read what others say is great. We are easily swayed by emotive and well written reviews, and we don’t want to be the odd one out. Fair enough. However, the second influential factor (and there are others but I’m simplifying), is capitalism; business and profits is why we choose the books we choose because they are the ones that were chosen to be published because they are the books the vast majority will buy because the vast majority want to read what has been deemed worthy. And another notch on the worthy post is a so called literary book. The literary book is the marketing coup that makes the consumer believe they’re a reader. If you read graphic literature for no other reason than to broaden choice – for the love of reading and expanding your experience (and not profits) it will be worthwhile.

Sorry that’s a whopping response!

Is there a place for women in the graphic literary scene? I was under the impression that the way women are represented in this genre is not very flattering. I bet if many women writers infiltrate it, the situation will change dramatically. What are your thoughts on this? And why is your hero naked throughout Escape Behaviors?

RF: There definitely is a place for women in the graphic literary scene, even if we have to sweep a blumming path through the hordes of superhero lovin’ dudes to make it. Sure, in terms of the genre’s history there’s a definite male trajectory at play but there are women sending the stereotypes off course (typically my brain goes blank here). I think, for starters, the genre is broad, so women such as Marjane Satrapi, (great interview about Persepolis here) whose work I love and seems to have been the inspiration behind Mari Naomi’s graphic memoir graphic novel, have paved the way. Sarah Mensinga, Lee-Yan Marquez, Andrea Offermann, and Sarah Laing are doing it for the comics; the ones who spring immediately to mind, the ones whose work I like for varying reasons, and there’s interesting cross genre stuff being published such as Alex Wilde’s The Constant Losers. Oh, and Posy Simmonds…wow, the more you think, the more women come to mind… I don’t really like graphic novels or comics, to go back to your first question again, but I think I could, given an opportunity, a choice, if the form dares to amble a little farther from the current genre norm.

I hope more women become as prominent as Neil Gaiman, for example, that would be good; to know their names outside of the graphic scene. I’d like to see the form change; I’d like to see more graphic novels getting the critical acclaim afforded to other genres; I’d like more realistic and non-sexist depictions of women – then I’d read more comics and graphic novels – so, women who represent real women would definitely figure into this. And domestic life; I’m infuriated by authors who say they are sick of domestic fiction then go on to lambaste women who perpetuate the notion of women at home. To these people I say, you are lucky, that you do not have this kitchen orientated life, but for the vast majority of women – the women I identify with – the sink is the norm. And yeah, I’d love to liberate women from domesticity but that won’t happen if we only present the world with fiction where women are not recognisable to the majority. And, it comes back to choice – women so often do not have the choice to leave their domestic orientated lives yet the myth we do is all around us. Give me a woman I can relate to and show me how she changes her circumstances.

My hero is naked for several reasons. As a work of poetry, and confessional, self-referential, (memoir?) poetry at that, I was already presenting myself naked metaphorically. So, the hero’s nakedness is, in the first instance, a metaphor for my baring my-self. But beyond this it’s an expression of freedom, of choice and right.

I’ve long been interested in representations of women and the body in art, and particularly sculpture. I’ve read extensively about Camille Claudel, Rodin’s contemporary, about how women were not allowed to draw naked subjects in life class (men were), and how her work, for all its skill and artistry, was deemed too sexual if it revealed too much of the human form in realistic detail. Conversely, the more explicit of Rodin’s sculptures were not criticised in this way. This prejudice still exists. Escape Behaviours is as much about taking authorship of my-self as it is a nod to the body in art. The hero’s nakedness is also an act of defiance against modesty.

I think modesty has become the control word for women. All women may not have spouses or partners to give them permissions because they have other people (too often, other women) to moderate them. Society says, you can sell your product on a naked woman’s body, you can make her a celebrity, a music star, you can bombard her with thousands of images and messages each day about what a beautiful woman is and how she should look, you can have polls on who is the most beautiful woman, but a woman cannot call herself beautiful, cannot present herself in her naked form by free will, cannot tell YOU what she is without waiting to be asked or told as this is deemed, if not immodest, then arrogant; arrogance seems to be the opposite term, the negative counter to modesty for women. If a woman presents confidence, she is arrogant, if a woman puts herself forward, suggests she is qualified for a position of high status without waiting to be told she has that worth, she is arrogant.

What is the genesis of Escape Behaviors? Can you tell us a few words about what made you write this story and why you chose this form for it?

RF: Escape Behaviours started out as a series of provocations to get my husband’s attention – no mean feat when your husband a) doesn’t like poetry and b) doesn’t read anything you write. But he will read comic strips and graphic novels (of which my daughter is a huge fan), so I had over a hundred poems addressed to my husband in some way, either about us or the great white elephant in our lives, his stutter, and I wanted him to read them. Putting the words into pictures achieved that.

As the project progressed, I realised the images brought extra elements to the poems I hadn’t envisaged, and at times I left out the words and let the images do the communicating. I saw a relationship between the image and what the poem was trying to express that I hadn’t noticed before. It excited me.

I love the ending of Escape Behaviors: “In every home, forgotten, every woman’s a hero, muse, and goddess.” It’s beautiful and sad at the same time. What hope do you see for a forgotten hero?

RF: Ah, see, that’s a tricky question. Can one be an optimistic nihilist? And, of course, there’s that rotten forgotten; you can’t hold hope for what you don’t remember, can you? And if she’s not really forgotten, well, then you’ve called the whole thing into question….I think society likes to raise select individuals up and make heroes of them but I think this is perception. By turning the page around you could view this same act as society squashing the masses down a little more to reveal these heroes. The hope, then, is for perceptions to see all women as raised and all society equal. I think when a phrase like the one you’ve quoted has no impact, no power at all, when the need to stand out at all is gone, that’ll be the time such a hero can be forgotten.

I think that your work has a very strong feminine imprint. Many women writers of today and yesterday have tried to hide their gender under pseudonyms and have considered a great praise to be told that they write just like a man. Escape Behaviors does not disguise its gender in any way. How do you feel about that?

RF: I don’t think there’s any chance of equality while ever we assert a myth that men have greater intellectual worth. Escape Behaviours is definitely a celebration of womanhood – however bittersweet my personal experience may have been – and I’d like to think this comes across. I consciously used a contraction of my own name to emphasise the point, Rae Joyce, which, if you say it fast comes out rejoice.

Do you want to add anything else that you feel is important for the readers to know about your work?

RF: I’m not trying to be didactic. I think my work presents a picture of a formidable woman; this wasn’t and isn’t always so. But if we all, each of us, support one other woman, even if that’s by not criticizing where before maybe we’d utter “silly woman”, however harmlessly it was meant, then, I think, good things can happen, and you don’t need a cape, pert tits or superhero abs!

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Rachel Fenton is a writer based in New Zealand. Her poetry has appeared in Horizon Review, Blackmail Press, Otoliths, Brief and more, and it was longlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Award. Her fiction was longlisted for the Sean O’ Faolain Short Story Prize and  shortlisted for the Fish One Page Prize, Binnacle Ultra Short Competition. This year, her short graphic fiction “Alchemy Hour” won the AUT New Zealand Creative Writing Competition. You can find out more about the author on her Web page, Snow Like Thought.

2012 Interview by Lori Tiron-Pandit.

The Toughtful Dresser, by Linda Grant

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March 28, 2012

The-Thoughtful-DresserThe Thoughtful Dresser is a book that I wanted to like. It’s one of those themes — women and their clothes — that can be deeply interesting because there is so much negativity attached to it. I also have strong feelings about the topic and I was hoping to find more thoughts in the line with my own.

It started like that. The book seemed to have had many good intentions in the beginning, but somewhere it failed to deliver any sort of deep message beyond: beautiful clothes are a pleasure that we should not deny ourselves. Which is not a bad message in itself, but which, at the same time, is not enough. There are pleasures and there are pleasures, and wearing beautiful clothes is among those pleasures that we are not sure what to do with, like eating and sleeping. It’s among those pleasures that we blame all our misfortunes on and not among the pleasures that we keep in higher regard, like watching team sports. I think that making clothes and putting together outfits the reflect a style and various moods, are forms of art, an art with immediate and strong impact on various psychological levels. But this is not the direction of this book.

All the time reading the book I felt excitement at the beginning of the chapter, and as the reading continued I was let down, time and time again. No, this is not an enlightened book that will leave you feeling entitled to own and wear that beautiful dress while still viewing yourself as an intelligent and valuable individual in the world. If that is what you’re looking for, then you need to keep looking. This book only reinforces old-time tales of women’s imperfect bodies that need cover and designer clothes that are an ultimate cover which sadistically will never fit our bodies.

A large part of the book is dedicated to the story of Catherine Hill, a holocaust survivor who became successful in the fashion industry owning several stores and having known well many big names in the high fashion world. Sure, I told myself, now the revelations will come, from the experience of this extraordinary woman who had been through the unimaginable and turned to clothes to make her life beautiful again. Unfortunately, even that line of the story fell flat. We are left with an image of Catherine Hill wanting to cover women’s imperfect bodies, because the cover had been denied to them in the camps at different times, and that had been unbearable to them. As much as this might be a powerful message, I do not want to be left with the idea that I need to cover my imperfect body.

Maybe I found the book distressing also because the message was often contradictory. For example, on one page we are told that designers don’t care about us, the women who would buy and wear their clothes. They only care about themselves and what’s in their minds. On the the next page we are told how lusting for designer shoes is just normal and OK, and going for glamor is all that is left for a woman over 40 (one definition of glamor being the designer label).

The parts that I did like were those few incursions into fashion history, Christian Dior’s thoughts on the New Look and Coco Chanel’s preference for simplicity and cheaper, comfortable fabrics (jersey, yes!). But I am sure there are many other books that discuss these issues to more depth.

The book could also have used a better editor: many ideas were repeated several times throughout, for example how you can tell the age of a photograph by looking at the clothes the people in it are wearing, or how the author inherited her thick ankles and thick wrists from her peasant Russian and Polish ancestors. Throughout the book you can feel the author’s sense of displeasure with herself: her body, her aging, her inability to wear designer shoes. Don’t we have enough magazines, commercials for cosmetics and surgery that show us how much our bodies are lacking? I personally do not feel any need to also read books that reinforce these ideas.

One question this book did leave me with: who is the thoughtful dresser? Certainly, it is not the reader, because the readers do not get any insight  or advice into how to put more thought into their dressing. No. The thoughtful dresser can only be the writer herself, who put some thought into writing this book. Unfortunately, the book’s relevance does not extend beyond her person either.