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/

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BOOK REVIEW: EMILY REYNOLDS – A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LOSING YOUR MIND

 

English freelance journalist Emily Reynolds was a teenager when she first developed bipolar disorder. It proved a hard diagnosis because it took around a decade of visits to health-care professionals and a cocktail of different medications in order to settle on the right ones. While on this journey, Reynolds researched and read the books that were available about mental illness, but she was unable to find one that resonated with her own unique condition. A Beginners Guide to Losing Your Mind is a result of Reynolds filling this gap.

 

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/225677

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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/

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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: LEE ZACHARIAH – DOUBLE DISSOLUTION – HEARTBREAK & CHAOS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

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The combination of a political analysis and a memoir about the dissolution of a marriage could be considered similar to oil and water.  But in the hands of Australian author, Lee Zachariah, this book is quite a funny and rather seamless slice of gonzo journalism. Zachariah draws parallels between the Liberal party’s entry into office in 2013 and his marriage to his girlfriend as well as the aftermath of 2016, which saw Australians starring down the barrel of an uncertain election and Zachariah also facing an ambiguous future with respect to his relationship and life in general.

Double Dissolution is based around Zachariah’s series of articles for Vice Magazine about the 2016 Election, although none of his pieces are included here. Instead, diarised accounts of the highways, bad coffee and campaign bus are included as well as vox pops and interviews with volunteers, voters and politicians like: Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young and senator and leader of his own political party, Nick Xenophon. This book is pitched at all readers with political fans being able to enjoy the commentary while those less enamoured with politics can at least get enough context to understand Zachariah’s perspectives and encounters with those vying for power. Zachariah does a fabulous job of this, providing just enough information to be educational while never being dry or boring.

Some of the funniest parts of this book are Zachariah’s little asides and extra thoughts that can be found in the footnotes. He draws parallels between what is transpiring before him and various slices of pop culture. These links are never forced or tenuous. Zachariah has previously cut his teeth on TV shows like The Chaser’s Hamster Wheel and Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell and he certainly knows how to craft and tell an entertaining yarn or ten.

Double Dissolution is not the most deep or comprehensive look at Australian politics or the 2016 federal election and nor does it purport to be. Instead it is perhaps the most entertaining look at these topics. Zachariah is an interesting, gonzo character and his perspectives and commentary are quite intelligent and well-put. Perhaps this foray onto the campaign trail will see Zachariah run for office some day? Because as this book proves, he can’t be as bad as what we’ve previously had!

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Bookstr giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.bookstr.com/book/double-dissolution/10478633/

BOOK REVIEW: JOHNNY MARR – SET THE BOY FREE

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Here’s Johnny! For years Johnny Marr has created great music and influenced multiple generations of guitarists by wearing various musical hats. Set The Boy Free is the first time the former guitarist of The Smiths has committed the story of his life to paper. This book is a cracking read and it proves that Marr is one charming man, indeed.

Johnny Marr was born John Martin Maher to two young, Irish immigrants in Manchester in 1963. At the age of five he got his first guitar and he grew up to be a lad that was obsessed with music and clothes. As a teenager he would work at a few different clothing shops while he toyed with the idea of forming a band.

In 1982 Marr tracked down Steven Morrissey, whom he’d met through a mutual friend some years earlier. This meeting marked the beginning of a chaotic and important few years where The Smiths would release four studio albums and numerous hit singles. The group helped revitalise interest in guitar rock and independent music in England and their songs are anthems that continue to get played to this day. This period makes up a significant portion of Marr’s book, although he does tend to gloss over the band’s rather acrimonious break-up.

Marr sounds like the quintessential English gentleman in this book. He also sounds like a wonderful and affable chap that you’d love to have a beer with (or an orange juice, as he is now a marathon-running teetotaller and vegan). Unlike Morrissey’s more bitter and cynical, Autobiography, Marr’s story is instead one that is filled with a kind of romantic and misty-eyed optimism. When Marr does tackle a difficult subject like the lawsuit brought against himself and Morrissey by his former Smiths-bandmate, Mike Joyce, he gives the story short shrift, instead choosing to focus his words on sunnier things like music and songwriting. (Although in a curious twist, Marr does say that he met up with Morrissey in 2008 and that they discussed the possibility of a Smiths reunion but that this did not eventuate into anything).

This autobiography may take a positive stance towards things but this could be due to the fact that Marr realises that he has a lot to be thankful for. He met his wife, Angie when he was 15 and the pair remain happily married and together to this day. He’s the father to a grown-up son and daughter, Nile and Sonny, and there was a period where Marr and Morrissey’s friendship was a close and happy one. These elements of Marr’s memoir do not prevent him from being frank and honest at other points. Marr admits that he told a journalist he didn’t like Michael’s Jackson’s Thriller album and he describes the Twitter storm that erupted after he forbade David Cameron, the then Prime Minister of Britain from being (or claiming to be) a Smiths fan.

This book is not the most polished one in a literary sense but it is all of Marr’s own work and it is a fun and easy read. Marr is friends with and has collaborated with lots of people. There are stories involving no less than: Hans Zimmer, Paul McCartney, Neil Finn, The The, Talking Heads, The Cribs, Modest Mouse and Electronic, to name a few. Marr has a great anecdote about the time he discussed some important things with the former Beatle that’s worth the price of admission alone. Marr’s stories are interesting to read and are often filled with great advice and wisdom. For example, Marr received some advice from a teacher when he was a school boy and that was: to find something he liked, be good at it and be an artist rather than getting bored or in trouble. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it with the benefit of hindsight.

Set The Boy Free is a must-read for any self-respecting fan of The Smiths. It is Johnny Marr’s direct and grounded account of a wonderful life in music and his forays into the world of fashion. This rock autobiography is a romantic story from an energetic and enigmatic Englishman who isn’t content to just sit back on his laurels. Johnny Marr wants to continue making great music and he’s revved up by fans who know that in Messer Marr there is most certainly a light that never goes out.

Originally published on 23 January 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/books/book-review-johnny-marrs-set-the-boy-free-is-an-honest-fun-look-at-the-energetic-life-of-the-former-smiths-guitarist-and-quintessential-english-gentleman/

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BOOK REVIEW: BRIAN WILSON & BEN GREENMAN – I AM BRIAN WILSON

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God only knows where pop music would be without Brian Wilson. The genius writer of many of The Beach Boys greatest hits has had a profound effect on popular culture. I Am Brian Wilson (his second autobiography; his first was published in the nineties) is a complex and forthright account of his life in music.

This book is written by Wilson along with Ben Greenman. It’s a story they claim is about music, family, love and mental illness. Wilson is often quite candid about his troubles whether it be his former drug-taking, the schizophrenic voices he hears in his head, the panic attack he experienced before a plane ride in 1964 or the major depressive episodes he has experienced over the years and the “treatment” he received by a domineering, quack psychologist by the name of Eugene Landy.

I Am Brian Wilson jumps around in time and it is by no means a comprehensive or linear account of his life. Instead, thoughts and ideas are weaved together based on themes and it doesn’t matter to Wilson that one event may have taken place in the sixties and the next memory may have taken place today. In this respect it’s an honest and chaotically-human piece. You also get the sense that you could imagine Uncle Brian in his armchair (a place he calls “the command centre”) recounting all of this to you. Or you could imagine Wilson sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch and doing the same thing. This is all deeply personal and often quite heart-wrenching stuff.

Wilson’s prose has a very gentle and familiar quality that often feels quite childlike too. He describes the famous people he knows rather casually and often with little introduction (for example: Paul McCartney is referred to as “Pablo” while Bob Dylan is met in an emergency department). I Am Wilson goes into some detail about the artist’s upbringing with his late brothers and bandmates Carl and Dennis Wilson and the abuse they experienced at the hands of their abusive and authoritarian father, Murry. Friend, Al Jardine and cousin, Mike Love (the other original members of The Beach Boys) are also described but the latter is painted as a stubborn, opinionated and litigious bad guy who had his own idea about what The Beach Boys should be and this was often incongruous to what Wilson believed.

Some of the anecdotes in this autobiography are worth the price of admission alone. Wilson’s description of meeting The Eagles’ Don Henley is particularly hilarious. There’s also the fact that Wilson once asked Bono for a diet coke, which proves pretty funny. But I Am Wilson is not just about silly little throwaway moments, this book also has real heart. Wilson describes his first marriage to Marilyn Rovell and the births of his biological daughters, Carnie and Wendy. Wilson acknowledges that he was an absent father but this is not the case with his current wife Melinda Ledbetter and their five adopted kids. Wilson gets rather misty-eyed when talking about Melinda because he claims she saved him from self-destruction (and this story is one that is told in the film, Love & Mercy).

This book also includes an in-depth look at Wilson’s song-writing and lots of his views and reflections on music. Wilson admits to being influenced by Phil Spector and The Beatles and is honoured that McCartney counts “God Only Knows” as one of his favourite songs. This memoir is ultimately a forthright look at music-making with Wilson describing his bands past and present as well as his work with session musicians, The Wrecking Crew. All of these things mean that this autobiography is essential reading for fans of The Beach Boys and Mr Wilson in particular.

I Am Brian Wilson is a multi-faceted look at the troubled virtuoso artist and Beach Boy. This memoir is also released at around the same time as Wilson’s cousin, Mike Love releases his own autobiography. The two will have different views on their lives as California boys singing about cars, surfing, girls and the sun but one things for certain, Brian Wilson’s brutal honesty ensures that his story has a modest and sensitive charm. This ultimately means that Wilson’s autobiography is a brilliant read and one that should make you stop and smile.

Originally published on 15 January 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-i-am-brian-wilson-is-a-charming-music-memoir-guaranteed-to-make-you-smile/

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BOOK REVIEW: AMANDA WEBSTER- A TEAR IN THE SOUL

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For years Amanda Webster had an idealistic view of the past. The smart, sixth-Generation Australian, who has published books about autism and whose father and grandfather were respected doctors, had assumed that everyone – including her Indigenous school friends – had enjoyed a comfortable upbringing that was similar to the her own.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201612/209506

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BOOK REVIEW: DENG THIAK ADUT – SONGS OF A WAR BOY

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NSW Australian of the Year, Deng Thiak Adut, is nothing short of an inspiration. A lawyer with a keen interest in social justice, Adut was born in Southern Sudan and conscripted to fight for the rebels at the age of seven. Songs of a War Boy describes his amazing life as a child solider as well as his arrival as a refugee in Australia and how he used education and knowledge to become a community leader and forge a great career.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201611/211578

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