Why I only buy books written by men.

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 9.43.48 AM.pngYes, it came as something of a shock to me too. But I think I know how it happens.

I buy books from op shops. This is for two reasons. First: I am poor. Second: There is nothing I enjoy more than tipping an entire cup of coffee and/or brake fluid into a good book. The three-for-a-dollar shelf at the Salvos is the clumsy reader’s natural habitat.

Op-shopping hones my reading choices in a rather hokey way, unmediated by popular media or breathy reviews on National Radio. It introduces a deliciously wobbly stochastic process oriented by little more than, ‘For fuckssake, just tell me which one of these boxes isn’t going to the tip, Russell’.

What it doesn’t do, however, is weight for gender.

Last Thursday’s three-for-a-dollar selection is typical;

  1. a peculiar work of ‘experimental literature’ (Habitus, by James Flint)
  2. a well known but tragically dated work of cleverness (Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express)
  3. a classic that I should have read as a teenager but chose to modify a set of header pipes instead (Huxley, Brave New World).

You’ll note these books are all written by men. Female authors are under-represented in the publishing industry, and therefore, ultimately, on the op-shop shelves. But this doesn’t entirely explain why I end up taking home only male authors (so to speak).

Last year, Booker prize winner, Marlon James firmly planted himself in a towering pile of shit for claiming the publishing industry deliberately appeals to white, middle class women (WMCW). According to him, writers of colour are tacitly encouraged to write WMCW’s stories. This, according to James, is the key to getting published.

James characterised these books as;

“…pander[ing[ to that archetype of the white woman, that long-suffering, astringent prose set in suburbia. You know, ‘older mother or wife sits down and thinks about her horrible life’.”

He’s right, of course, writers of colour are tacitly encouraged to write stories for White Middle Class Women. Mostly however, WMCW write these books for themselves. In other words, most self-involved, white women’s narrative fiction is narrated by self-involved white women.

We’re all familiar with this genre. I like to call it suburban-ennui, it is characterised by suffocating interpersonal relationships, pop-sociologies of motherhood or overly considered evocations of minute moral dilemmas. Frequently, these books do little more than reconcile the small generational differences between the author’s mother’s life (as remembered by the author), and the author’s own. They are unutterably dull and redolent with the scent of score settling. Men are one-dimensional or absent altogether. The storyline is often animated by some kind of contrived family secret *gasp*, a banal horror like alcoholism or sexual abuse of which the white, middle class author knows sweet fuck-all. They are portraits of seething proximity and emotional tourism, a claustrophobic, technicolour yawn.

It’s worth mentioning the type of middle class white women’s literature — something I like to call Gyno Grunge. The apotheosis of the exhausting suburban tomes above, Gyno-grunge is equally formulaic. Unlike their motherly suburban counterparts, these stories typically revolve around a single, hideous alter-femme, women who are overtly, grotesquely physical — comprised of cheesy creases and coarse, unbidden hairs. Venal and lazily violent they are part circus-freak, part modern morality play — women in extremis. Invariably they succumb to the purple excesses of loneliness, masturbation and poor dental hygiene. Their class status and motivations are unpredictable and unknowable. They are foreign and base, a clunky ‘other’. Like its suburban-ennui counterpart, above, Gyno-grunge also makes for dispiriting reading.

‘Suburban Ennui’ and ‘Gyno-Grunge’ comprise an inward-looking women’s lit, as tedious and insulting as it is dominant. And the fear of encountering it amongst the jaunty stacks of paperbacks at the Salvos has me clutching for the Wilbur Smith.

And this is how I end up buying the work of male writers. It’s not that I think all women writers produce the kind of work as described above, but many do, the industry rewards it and I fear I might accidentally read some of it.

I’ve decided, though, that in 2018 I will right the balance. I will only select works by female authors upon which to drop honey and brake fluid. Let’s see how this goes.

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The true cost of books

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This (old) article from the Huffington Post popped up on my facebook feed yesterday. It asks – what’s the true cost of cheaper books?

It got me thinking.

I’ve never written a book in anger but I’ve self published two of them for fun. I ‘make’ about $6 from each one sold (at the bookshop).

Although the writing bit happens relatively quickly (for me), each of my books took at least a hundred hours of editing. The price doesn’t begin to reflect the cost.

Shameless sycophants tell me that they very much enjoy my books. This response is nice, lovely, in fact, given that I write such rude stuff. But it’s perhaps not surprising, given the amount of time that went into producing them. You can’t polish a turd, but if you spend a hundred hours trying it’ll at least take on a high shine. 

And yet pointing this out is like driving a fork into an untouched shibboleth. To talk about ‘my practice’ as ‘actually practicing a lot’ seems to denigrate the idea of artists as divining some kind of rare, unfathomable genius. Real genius doesn’t take time or practice. It’s genius! 

I blame the visual arts. The visual arts celebrates the artistic genius – the idea that an artist can whip out to the washhouse and churn out a masterpiece between goon bags. Perhaps this reflects my recent lap through the hallowed Boyd studio at Bundanon. In the artist’s studio we listened to an eager volunteer deliver a rattle-gun analysis of the huge paintings propped up around us. They all looked to have been painted in a tearing hurry to me.

The idea that a ten minute painting might look anyone other than a twelve minute painting in good light is anathematic in the world of visual arts. Painters routinely expect to be paid thousands of dollars for work that took a few hours, or perhaps a couple of days. Sure, they might claim that this price reflects years spent ‘engaging the their practice’ – basically, honing their skill, but writers do this too.

Unlike painters, writers cannot rely on the ‘immediacy of the message’. You can’t stand in front of a book for two minutes and claim to know what it’s about. In fact, it needs to be extremely well written for readers to comprehend it at all. You can’t just chuck all the words onto the page and give the audience the finger – that’s called experimental poetry. Experimental poetry is the literary equivalent of modern art, except it looks better under the kitchen sink than above the fireplace.

Or perhaps the immediacy of the message is the key to understanding why visual art expects to be reimbursed for its quick-and-dirty ‘genius’. Perhaps we value it more because you can instantly judge the work. A book, on the other hand, requires commitment. You can’t know anything about it until you’ve read a few pages (and you can’t claim to understand it just by standing in front of it like a winsome ingenue either). Really, what we’re really paying for is our own lack of commitment as viewers.

Something to think about maybe…

My general thought is that writing and literature is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Writing follows the same patterns of economic history as everything else. The late 20th Century democratised the production of literature. For the first time, poor people were both educated and could sustain themselves long enough to pen their epistle. Those days are now drawing to a close. We’re heading back to the time of self-sponsored drivel that represents the cushy upper classes, where we will once again be forced to choose between the florrid insights of upper class toffs and (televised) penny dreadfuls.

Bring it on.

PR is a feminist issue

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First page of results…..

TOP STORIES

Self identified fat woman who makes a living out of complaining about her treatment, complains about her treatment! On one of the top women’s websites in Australia, no less! As part of her book tour!

It’s almost as if Mamamia’s Mia Freedman deliberately inserted a needle into the festering boil that is women’s fatness for publicity!

Perhaps Roxane Gay is a savvy media manipulator too. After all, she made a name for herself by claiming to be a Bad Feminist, thereby staking out the territory of a Good One, as if that’s something we can all agree on. And yet even that confected ‘controversy’ ran out of steam eventually. Thankfully she had narcissistic body-shaming to fall back on.

Consider her move to refuse to be photographed for her interview, prompting Mamamia’s article’s title;

“Why, for the first time, I have no photo from my interview with Roxane Gay”

Who could have seen that coming?

In other words; ‘Women of Australia! Google images of Roxane Gay immediately! Pay a lot of attention to her body! She’s really fat! This is her point of difference between all those other feminists you’ve grown tired of!’

Apparently Gay actively cultured her fatness with the goal of making herself sexually ‘untouchable’. This assumes that not having ongoing sex with a man is the cornerstone of self-negation. How can I be human without the sexual gaze of a man to validate me?

This is a master class in PR, and mamamia knows it.

Women’s fatness is underpinned by two key tenets;

  1. The idea that fatness is a choice
  2. women’s bodies are public property.

The choice element suggests morality, combined with the public property element this means everyone gets a say! You could not design a more clickbait-y topic. In fact, fatness is such a public issue that everyone’s now chucking their two cents in. This ‘shitstorm’ has kicked off predictable opinion pieces from women moaning about the seamless integration between their bodies and their feelings.

Many rail against the ‘false’ kindnesses that have come their way;

Oh, people tell me I’m beautiful to them! I know they’re well meaning, but it’s so exhausting. 

‘Exhausting’, in case you weren’t aware, is the new term for ‘I’ve decided to interpret all the kind things you say to me through a lens of my own self-hatred. I’m so offended. Perpetually offended. Poor me. I SAID, POOR ME. Is this thing even on?’

I’m fucking exhausted.

Look, I couldn’t give a rat’s clasper about mamamia. I don’t read it because it’s schlocky bullshitty clickbait, designed for the echo chamber that is boring, neurotic upper middle class white ladies who spend their days imagining they’re ‘balancing’ their careers when instead they’re at the park trying not to spill smoothie on their Country Road pashmina.

What fucks me off is the idea that this is is being touted as feminism. Does feminism mean paying enormous attention to the relatively minute differences in our appearances? Or competing in the I’m-more-offended-than-you Olympics?

This is the most effective kind of alienation. If you’re constantly telling everyone they can’t engage with you because they might do it wrong, they won’t engage with you at all.

The key point here is that if we’re all endlessly fascinated with our bodies we won’t be paying much attention to anything else.

But I would say that wouldn’t I? No-one ever says anything mean or hurtful about me. No-one has ever told me how to live my life, what choices I should make. No-one’s ever judged me on my appearance, or the choices I make with my body. Nope, plain fucking sailing here.

 

 

Dogma, Karma, bullshit

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-4-14-30-pmHow many times must I stab the radio this summer?

In today’s ABC ‘Documentary Piece’ about Roald Dahl, we hear of a young woman’s literary love affair with the author who shaped her childhood. Dahl, she tells us, with excruciatingly ponderous pace, made her into the writer she is today.

But wait, there’s a twist! There is a Dark Side to Roald Dahl, a side so horrible that one can barely bring oneself to look into it, lest their childhood be tapped open like a festering egg!

Tell me more!

Well, apparently Roald Dahl was an adulterer. And, he once called his daughter a bitch for confronting him on it. There’s more. Dahl once remarked that he’d rather be dead than fat (he’s as evil as Kate Moss! Shuffle over, Hitler and stop hogging the blanket!). It gets worse, folks. Dahl was a racist. His oompah loompahs were originally cast as African pygmies, and he ruminated on the character flaws of the Jewish people. Why, he wondered, had they attracted such perverse persecution? Sure, Hitler was a prize bumpfswiggle but in Dahl’s view the Jews had partly brought their fate upon themselves.

The radio narrator/writer weeps and wails over their gravity and depth of these failings…. Oh my God, how could I have loved this guy? How could I have read his books? WHAT A MONSTER! I can’t believe I was somehow complicit in his vile world!

After about thirty hours of this self-righteous, hyperbolic panto routine I turned it off.

When I was 8 my Dad showed me some film footage of Jews being pushed into pits. It is still the most distressing thing I’ve seen in my life and remains securely fastened in a repertoire of lively nightmares. I’ve since questioned my father’s judgement, but I’ll never forget his words;

If you had grown up in a family of Nazis, you would believe this was right too.

Dad wanted me to think about judgement, about the relativism of right and wrong. He wanted me to think hard about the social conventions that I was growing up in. (I’m making him sound like a morally righteous demi-God – he isn’t, he’s just a person like everyone else. A person who should have looked into a bit more Disney).

And so when I hear blind judgement, without consideration of context, background, politics, family, gender or class I get nervous. Because this is truly frightening. This is the blueprint of unblinking dogmatism. And unblinking dogmatism gets you front row seats at the pit.

Simply stating ‘Dahl was a monster’ demonstrates a troubling fixity of thought, something far darker than his supposed ‘dark side’. What is really, truly frightening, is cultivating the lack of insight that allows us to come to grips with what people are thinking and feeling, to think critically about the cultural patterns, tropes and values that are in ascendence at any one time. The Holocaust can’t be understood with the idea that there were just a few more shittier human beans in the can. Dahl’s story tells us that intelligent, well-connected people, loving fathers and mothers can come to hold dreadfully dangerous ideas. We are all ‘monsters’. We need to think hard about how that happens.

Dahl was a product of multiple moments in time, of the family he grew up in, the British class-constrained school he attended, the war he fought, the Africa he experienced and the women he disgraced himself with.

Dahl was a human bean. Like the rest of us.

Self-publishing and Other Feeble Forms of Self-Abuse

There comes a day when you have to throw off your felted merkin and tell it like it is. Today is that day. Ladies and gentlemen, I have self-published a book. Oh, what’s that? You couldn’t give a fuck? Well I can’t blame you, I kind of feel that way myself. After all, the internet is a morass of poorly written, self- published drivel. I mean, ask yourself this; Was self-publishing invented by:

  1. A)  A marketing genius who recognised that the internet was simultaneously creating an entirely new sense of individualism and democratising the human desire to express it,

or,

  1. B) A marketing genius who identified a troubling dearth of erotic sci-fi penned by thick-thighed IT administrators, meatily sweating their way through consecutive paragraphs of clunky sex while sucking on cartons of Moove?

I think we can all agree it’s the latter. But, that’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this post because I think we’ve forgotten what self-publishing SHOULD be about. For starters, self-publishing should be more than the sole means of emotional rejection for an entire cohort of entitled baby-boomers. And it should be more than just a platform for hairy-chinned shut-ins who’re keeping the tartan cat-hutch market on its feet. Self publishing is stuck in this rut because we’ve lost sight of its purpose. We keep clinging to the delusional belief that it is a short-cut to traditional publishing, a kind of egalitarian; ‘Become a famous author without leaving the comfort of your onesie’ scheme.

Because you won’t. Or, more rightly, you shouldn’t.

And that’s OK. Because for most people writing is just a hobby, a craft no different to any other. It’s an art-form, like painting or patchwork, where some participants are professionals, but most are amateurs. Many people of a certain age happily spend their days sewing poorly thought-out patchwork handbags or laboriously felting knee-length merkins that look as though they’ve been eaten once already. These are pieces of art created by amateurs. They are personal and individual and best appreciated by loved ones, preferably in-utero. At its widest their audience usually comprises local arts and crafts fairs and anyone with a backyard incinerator.

Importantly, through, these artists don’t look at their finished work and think; “Yes! This is the piece that will finally catapult me into the mainstream tie-dyed tea-cosy industry!” So why should writing be any different?

Last year I self-published short collection of essays simply for friends and family, and of course, anyone with a backyard incinerator. I wanted something they could read at the beach, rather than on a screen. And I wanted a project that was ‘finished’. Self-publishing ticked all these boxes. It was simply another part of my hobby.

So here’s my advice. Stop thinking of your mighty epistle 67 Shades of Puce as the next bestseller. Try instead to imagine it as a unique and personal work of art, perhaps with a hand-felted dust-jacket. And slip back into that onesie.