BOOK REVIEW: LINDY WEST – SHRILL – NOTES FROM A LOUD WOMAN

 

Lindy West was one of the highlights from this year’s All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House. So it is unsurprising that this Guardian columnist and Jezebel blogger’s book, Shrill – Notes From A Loud Woman is funny, accomplished and excellent. West’s book is ultimately a hybrid between memoir, with personal anecdotes, and essays, where she writes about important issues and uncomfortable truths in a compelling and articulate way.

For those people who are unfamiliar with West’s work, the Seattle-born writer first came into prominence while working as a film critic for Seattle’s alternative newspaper, The Stranger. Her review of Sex & The City 2 went viral. Initially her work focused on reviews of the arts, film and comedy but over time she started to become an activist for causes she felt strongly about, and a lot of these causes are covered in some detail in Shrill.

This volume opens with West’s account of growing up as a shy, fat girl. She admits that she was once so overwhelmed and consumed with shyness that she was unable to ask her classroom teacher if she could be excused in order to go to the bathroom. In the end Lindy peed her pants and she tried to blame this on a nearby water jug.

For years West grappled with the shape of her body and society’s demands, where women are often taught from birth that we should be small both physically and in presence. But over time West realised that she could not ignore the fact that she was fat. She also came out of her shell, and all of these things meant that Lindy eventually came to the realisation that she wanted to obliterate those views that permeate society.

Lindy’s fat activism means she’s received her fair share of negative retaliation. Her former editor, Dan Savage tried to weigh into the fat debate, using the argument that accepting fatness contributes to the obesity epidemic. West, however, addressed the argument raising the idea that fat people should not be considered acceptable human punching bags. West’s arguments were both well-considered and thoughtful. It is this same style that was particularly evident in West’s TV debate with comedian Jim Norton, over rape jokes in comedy,  and as well through much of this book.

Shrill includes a lot of things that are clearly quite personal to Lindy. One of the hardest parts to read is where she takes on one of her meanest internet trolls. They had created a Twitter page where he pretended to be West’s father, Paul, shortly after he had passed away. The troll also wrote that Paul West was the “Embarrassed father of an idiot.” This broke Lindy’s heart and she penned an essay about the ordeal. The troll eventually apologised to her and the two had a frank and open discussion on an episode of This American Life. Score sheet Lindy West: 1 Trolls: 0.

In Shrill, West should be commended for tackling some uncomfortable topics (abortion, rape, periods, etc.) and for being outspoken, witty and sassy in her remarks. West makes some compelling arguments, whilst also letting the reader in on some very intense and private moments from her own life (including her love for her husband, Ahamefule J. Oluo). Shrill is ultimately a bit of a rollercoaster ride where you’ll laugh, cry, feel rage and be jubilant at West’s uncompromising and relatable anecdotes and prose. West clearly knows how to strike a chord with readers, so some things are a laughing matter, others will appeal to your grey matter, and then there are even more topics that just matter. Period.

 

Originally published on 19 March 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-lindy-wests-shrill-will-make-you-laugh-cry-rage-and-feel-jubilant-at-her-uncompromising-prose/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

BOOK REVIEW: PAMELA HART – A LETTER FROM ITALY

 

A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/226447

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BOOK REVIEW: PETER POLITES – DOWN THE HUME

 

When we think of an “Australian story” the ones that typically spring to mind are predominantly about the country, bush or the past. So what is a reader to do when they want something that reflects their own modern life in the Western suburbs of Sydney? Thankfully, Peter Polites has answered this in his debut novel, Down The Hume, one that seems like a likely successor to Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded.

Polites is the associate director of SWEATSHOP, a literary movement based in Western Sydney which is devoted to empowering marginalised communities. Polites was also a co-writer of the Sydney Festival show, Home Country, an epic story about culture and identity that was performed in a Blacktown carpark. When we consider Polites’ previous work it is unsurprising that he also brings his experiences as a young, homosexual man of Greek descent to his debut novel. The book’s main character Bux also has these same character traits, but Bux also loves a violent, abusive drug-enabler and gym-obsessed man named Nice Arms Pete.

Down The Hume is a little like a car speeding at full force along our nation’s famous highway from Sydney to Melbourne. The book is a complex one that negotiates important topics like machismo, hedonism and a deep sense of existential yearning. The text itself is also quite raw and confrontational. The story is told in the first person and you very much get the sense that you are along in the passenger seat for the ride with Bux, come what may.

We follow Bux through addiction to prescription medication, as well as some tender moments where he bonds with his mother (another person who had a “vanishing” and abusive man in her life) and a friendship with an elderly gentleman who he cares for at his nursing home job. Bux is a paranoid and jealous lover who takes to stalking his boyfriend Pete, whom he suspects of cheating.

Each of the chapters of the book are named after places in Sydney and sometimes these moments read like little vignettes or discrete episodes; Bux grapples with the implications and ideas of culture and identity as a man of Greek descent wearing an outfit typically worn by Middle Eastern men. In another moment he has to reconcile his position as a homosexual man with the weight of familial expectations on his head (in one flashback his family had assumed that he’d want to settle down with a nice girl and have a family.)

Down The Hume is a dark noir story. It uses sharp, street-wise language to create a multifaceted tale that reads like urban poetry. Peter Polites is ultimately a refreshing new voice in contemporary literature and his dynamic prose proves that there is so much more to Australian stories than the expected bush gangs, convicts and farms of yore.

Originally published on 13 March 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-peter-polites-down-the-hume-shakes-our-expectations-about-australian-stories/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

BOOK REVIEW: HOW TO WIN AT FEMINISM – PRESENTED BY REDUCTRESS AND BY ELIZABETH NEWELL, SARAH PAPPALARDO & ANNA DREZEN

 

How to Win at Feminism is a book that needs to be taken along with a large grain of salt as it is supposed to be a funny and subversive – if misguided – look at feminism for millennials. The writers even include acknowledge this, with, “At the end of the day, we’re just a bunch of cute klutzes who wrote an effing book” but is this admission at the end of the book one that is too little too late? If How to Win at Feminism achieves anything it is to prove that for some people feminism isn’t and will never be a laughing matter.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/226256

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BOOK REVIEW: MESHEL LAURIE – BUDDHISM FOR BREAK-UPS

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There are many people who ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” but in the case of Meshel Laurie, it was, “What would Buddha do?” The Australian writer, comedian and radio personality was looking towards her Buddhist faith as a way of making sense of the end of her 19 year marriage. Except that there were no self-help manuals on successfully separating, not from a Buddhist standpoint, so she wrote her own and it’s a thought-provoking, relatable and compassionate read.

Laurie’s book finds the right balance between offering her own personal tale as well as the fundamental principles that Buddhists believe. She describes her separation from her ex-husband, Adrian Lewinski in some detail, whilst also offering a template for navigating through the negative emotions of fear, grief and loneliness that are synonymous with heartbreak.

If you’re sitting there dismissing this book as a bunch of hippie nonsense then think again. This book is instead a rather practical and logical collection of different chapters. Early on Laurie has us considering the fact that we will all lose somebody close to us someday: “No relationship – romantic, familial or platonic – is absolute and forever. We will all lose someone we rely on at some point in our lives. Sometimes the other person chooses to leave us, sometimes they’re taken from us tragically, and sometimes we discover that they were never ours to begin with. But one way or another, the relationship will end.”

This means that the ability to deal with the loss of a relationship is a useful skill. Another handy lesson that Laurie offers is to learn about the Buddhist principles of “impermanence” i.e. understanding that everyone and everything is constantly changing and “dependent arising” or understanding that we never actually stop evolving or changing and that this process is shaped by the conditions around us. For Meshel she simply wants us to consider and focus on the positive aspects of a break-up – even if it’s just being able to lie in a large bed and watch your favourite shows on Netflix – you should seize this opportunity for happiness and growth.

Meshel Laurie offers us some very practical pieces of advice in her second book, Buddhism for Break-ups. This combination of well-written, well-explained and considered Buddhist teachings as well as her own real-life experiences can offer some real comfort to readers in much the same was as Chicken Soup For The Soul has done. You can really get a sense that, “If Meshel can do it then perhaps I can too.”

Buddhism for Break-ups should be essential reading for anyone that finds themselves broken-hearted and open to the prospect of learning new things and becoming a better individual. Buddhism for Break-ups may not answer all of your questions but it is certainly clever and therapeutic enough to steer you in the right direction. Namaste!

Originally published on 28 February 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-meshel-lauries-buddhism-for-break-ups-is-the-buddhist-dating-equivalent-of-chicken-soup-for-the-soul/

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BOOK REVIEW: HELEN RAZER – THE HELEN 100 – HOW I TOOK MY WAXER’S ADVICE & CURED HEARTBREAK BY GOING ON 100 DATES IN LESS THAN A YEAR

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There was the bride stripped bare and now there’s the dumped stripped without a care. In The Helen 100, broadcaster and writer, Helen Razer is disarmingly honest in recounting the aftermath of the breakdown of her 15-year relationship. It’s a tale that thumbs its nose at traditional, dating self-help guides and instead offers something more funny and grounded in reality (the pain and heartbreak may be real but Razer sure does know how to make ‘em laugh).

Razer begins her dating odyssey by describing the day one dry Melbourne afternoon when her partner announced without warning that she was leaving and “Needed to grow.” It was only later on when Helen reflected on things (and hacked the ex’s Facebook account) where she learned that the writing had been on the wall for the relationship for some time. Her ex-girlfriend had been cheating on her and there were several occasions where these love trysts happened when Razer was standing several metres away.

Razer takes some tentative steps into the crazy and occasionally frightening world of online dating. She does this with her sweet cat, Eleven by her side and the pair share a diet of barbeque chicken and sadness (it’s a dish best consumed in sorrowful, elasticised pants like pyjamas.) Razer also decides to publicly criticise Coldplay (thank God) and embark on 100 dates inside a year. It will be one point per date and a maximum of five per individual and no, this isn’t an Australian Bridget Jones.

This book is not a gritty tell-all. Do not expect Helen to sit there writing about date one and his bad breath or that date two didn’t turn up. Instead, Razer recounts the exchanges she had with potential suitors on a XXX app (males and females) as well as the recent events in her life (like chucking in her soul-destroying job writing copy for a discount beauty website.) She also describes her world views on politics, which make this book not unlike Lee Zachariah’s Double Dissolution: Heartbreak and Chaos on the Campaign Trail.

Razer is an opinionated individual with some very clear ideas about politics. It is unsurprising then that we see her discussing Marxism with a man in possession of a “Big Slavic cock” (in his humble opinion). We don’t find out if Razer agrees with his assessment because she actually spends her night with this Russian man and his daughter. She is also forcibly restrained in order to watch the Barbie Live show (I may have made up the part about the restraint.)

The Helen 100 is an antidote to love just like Adam Sandler singing “Love Stinks” in The Wedding Singer or if you burn rather than listen to a Cure album. Razer is one cranky and messy lady but damn, she is one we can all relate to. Her story is a fresh take on love and heartbreak in all of its complicated wretchedness. The Helen 100 is an unfiltered and bold conversation that we all need to have and we should be glad that Helen wasn’t afraid to go there- chicken, cat hair and all.

Originally published on 22 February 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-helen-razers-the-helen-100-is-a-brutally-honest-look-at-heartbreak-and-bbq-chicken/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

BOOK REVIEW: MARTIN SIXSMITH – AYESHA’S GIFT

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Ayesha’s Gift is a book that could also be called “Ayesha’s Curse” because it is brimming with sorrow. It’s the fictionalised account of the real-life events that saw Philomena author and former BBC foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith assist in investigating the death of a British-Pakistani man. The book is ultimately a rather multi-faceted detective tale where a murder is solved, cultures collide and a kind of quiet respect, empathy and trust is forged between two unlikely main characters.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/224417

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BOOK REVIEW: J.C. GREY – LOST GIRL

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Lost Girl is like a gift wrapped up in an enigma, topped off by a riddle. The novel is a wistful romance by J.C. Grey. It is a first person narrative where the titular character is the narrator. What ensues is a dark and mysterious novel filled with love, loss and heartbreak.

To outsiders, Emerald Reed-McAllister has it all. She’s the “it” girl around town. A successful model and stylist, she’s nabbed herself an adoring and clever husband in the form of a sexy man named Marc McAllister. But all is not as it seems. Em is the kind of girl who runs away from her problems and they don’t get much bigger than the one she suddenly finds herself in the middle of.

So Em seeks sanctuary in the form of a strange, old house named Lammermoor. This building has had a chequered history to say the least. Some of its previous inhabitants have been subjected to unfortunate accidents or other inexplicable things. The locals are scared and convinced that the place is haunted. Em is encouraged to leave but she wants to fix the place up and remains steadfast in her plans.

Over the course of the novel we learn more about the house as well as Em’s own history and the nature of her relationship with Marc and his family. The prose is well-written and nicely-paced and overall it is a rather clever, romantic mystery. The beginning is a bit of a slow burn as things are put into place and the alternating timelines can jar a little bit but if you can see past these things you will be rewarded with an intriguing and extraordinary novel. This book is so much more than your average love story, it’s ultimately a mysterious and atmospheric look at the past and it proves that some relationships are in fact, built to last.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-lost-girl#comment-286418

BOOK REVIEW: DR HELENA POPOVIC – NEUROSLIMMING

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We live in an obesogenic environment. It’s a world of fast living, sedentary jobs and leisure activities, labour-saving devices, and an overabundance of cheap, accessible, energy-dense, nutrient poor, highly-processed foods. It’s also an environment where a growing majority of people are overweight or obese and those who succeed in shedding weight will often find themselves regaining it (and possibly more) in the 12 months after the fact.

NeuroSlimming looks to address some of these problems and get people to really stop and think about how and why they eat, rather than getting too hung up on what they consume.

 

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/223334

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