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: 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

Visit 100% Rock’s homepage at: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/

 

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/

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

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: 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: JEANETTE WINTERSON – CHRISTMAS DAYS

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Joy to the world, Christmas Days is a collection of twelve short stories and other tid-bits that celebrate the festive season. The book is written by Jeanette Winterson (Why be Happy When You Could be Normal?) an author who by her own admission loves Christmas and this could be due to the fact that she was adopted by a family of Pentecostal Christians. Winterson states on the cover that Christmas is: “A tradition of celebration, sharing and giving. And what better way to do that than with a story?”

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201612/213480

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DVD REVIEW: GRAFFITI BRIDGE

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The late, great Prince was an undisputed, musical genius. But this same praise cannot be said about his filmmaking skills. Graffiti Bridge was considered a kind of sequel to the film, Purple Rain, but it was a disaster at the box office and as a story because it is an incoherent mess of clichés about love, life, music and spirituality.

For Graffiti Bridge Prince wore several hats including lead actor (reprising his Purple Rain role as The Kid) as well as director, writer and soundtrack composer. The film is a Prince machine in every sense of the word but it is obvious from the results that the Purple One was a little out of his depth because it is little more than a mess of different and competing ideas.

The story goes that the owner of the Glam Slam, Billy has passed away and left his nightclub to be divided equally between The Kid and the former one’s old foe, Morris Day (himself.) The pair have a bet to decide who will take over the ownership of the club. Over the course of the film there are some strange moments like Day urinating on a pot plant before setting it on fire. There is also a bizarre love triangle between these two men and a kind of higher force or angel named Aura (Ingrid Chavez.)

Purple Rain was a success because Prince handed over the reins to Albert Magnoli and William Blinn in the writing department and to the former for the directing. The soundtrack to Purple Rain was also Prince’s best album but Graffiti Bridge has none of these things going for it. The songs are adequate, although the spiritual ballad seems sanctimonious. The plot is also flimsy at best and at its worst seems like nothing more than an extended music video clip.

Graffiti Bridge does have Morris fronting Prince’s pseudo-group, The Time as well as cameos by Mavis Staples, George Clinton and Tevin Campbell. It is also obvious that Prince had good intentions for this film in trying to explore his spirituality, sexuality and musicality. But none of these things make a particularly good film. At the end of the day Prince should have stuck to making music – or if he had to venture into films making concert movies – because at the end of the day, Graffiti Bridge proves to be a bridge too far.

Originally published on 13 November 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/graffiti-bridge-dvd-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com

BOOK REVIEW: MICK WALL – PRINCE: PURPLE REIGN

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Prince was an enigma. And after reading a biography like Prince: Purple Reign the artist formerly known as remains a real mystery. The book is by the accomplished music journalist Mick Wall, and while it presents some facts, anecdotes and chronology about Prince’s life, there are many aspects that are glossed over or omitted from this slender volume.

Wall begins the biography in an objectionable way, including the verbatim 911 call from Prince’s home by an unidentified male on the day the musician’s body was discovered. This biography is bookended by salicaceous text, because at the end also sees Wall speculating on Prince’s alleged addiction to pain killers and other drugs. Fortunately, the rest of the book seems to be more focused on the music and the art.

Purple Reign does not offer any new information for the diehard Prince Rogers Nelson fan (and it is these readers who will notice some glaring mistakes and omissions.) Instead, this biography relies on secondary sources like the few interviews the artist gave himself, as well as articles and books delivered by those closest to Prince. The story is by no means comprehensive, but it does at least present a straight-forward, easy-to-read chronology of the majority of Prince’s projects. This in itself is no mean feat considering how prolific this talented, composer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was.

Mick Wall is no stranger to the world of music. He is a music fan through and through. He was also an early champion of Prince’s music as well as many other artists he wrote about in his decades spent working as a music journalist. Wall is also a prolific writer himself, having penned dozens of music biographies for the likes of AC/DC, Lou Reed, Metallica, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam, to name a few. There is no question that Wall is an excellent writer who creates interesting sentences that are easy-to-read and follow, but these biographies do feel like they barely scratch the surface.

For casual fans, Purple Reign may satiate your appetite for learning about Prince’s background and the wider cultural context he operated in. There are some interesting moments where you learn about his quest for artistic freedom and his insatiable appetite for writing, recording and creating. But for those readers who want books with more in-depth analysis of their favourite artist, Purple Reign will leave them hungry for a book with more diamonds and pearls.

Originally published on 26 September 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-prince-purple-reign-by-mick-wall/

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

INTERVIEW: GRAEME SIMSION AUTHOR OF THE ROSIE PROJECT

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Graeme Simsion had lots of inspiration he could draw upon for the socially-challenged professor character (Don Tillman) in his novel, The Rosie Project. Simsion is a self-confessed “escapee” from the world of IT. For over 30 years he worked with computers and he’s also studied and taught science at University. These experiences have all helped shape his books, even if this is sometimes in an inadvertent way.

His latest novel, The Best of Adam Sharp looks poised to take a slightly different direction. This book is a first person narrative about a man grappling with the girl that got away. It’s a reflection on love, life and regrets and it even has its own Spotify playlist to help set the tone for the reader. We sat down with Simsion to have a chat about music, his work with his wife and fellow author (Anne Buist) and how Adam Sharp is being realised as an audiobook.

Can you briefly describe yourself and tell us how long you’ve been working as a writer?

I’m an escapee from the IT industry, where I spent 30 years and I wrote a couple of books on database specification. I didn’t start writing fiction ‘til ten years ago, when I enrolled in a screenwriting course, which led to a novel-writing course… My first novel, The Rosie Project, was published in 2013.

Your novel The Rosie Project was a big success. Where did you get the inspiration for the socially-challenged professor, Don Tillman?

I told you, I spent 30 years working in IT. And before that, I studied physics. I have a PhD in a science faculty and have taught at universities. I had plenty of inspiration for a socially-challenged scientist.

Your latest novel is called The Best of Adam Sharp. Can you briefly describe this book for us?

It’s about a love affair rekindled. Adam Sharp has never truly let go of the “one that got away”, the Great Love of his Life. So when she gets in touch 22 years after they met, he has some decisions to make. Like what to do about the 20-year relationship he’s in.

It’s about the nature of love and how we deal with the past. And it’s full of classic rock music – because Adam’s a pianist and rock-music lover.

The Best of Adam Sharp is about love, life and regrets in middle age. Why do you think readers should read this book?

Because they care about love, life and the things they might have done. My early readers tell me it’s compelling reading (which I’m always aiming for), moving and funny, and leaves them thinking. And the music references will bring back memories.

The Best Of Adam Sharp sounds like it has a few things in common with Alain de Botton’s work. Are you influenced by other writers and if so, who are they?

Well, in his latest book, he looks at the nature of love, and so do I, through Adam, who has to choose between what the psychologist Robert Sternberg would call “companionate” love with his long-term partner and passionate love with his old flame.

I’m influenced by many, many writers, every writer I’ve read, I suppose, and I’ve read a few! I don’t want to mislead readers though – to say I’ve been influenced by Albert Camus is not to say that reading Adam Sharp is like reading Camus. It’s more John Irving, John Fowles, Nick Hornby…

Can you please explain how the audiobook of The Best of Adam Sharp was important in bringing the characters to life?

Well, Adam Sharp’s Northern England accent was an important feature of his characterisation, so it was important that the reader could manage that! An Aussie accent (for him) would have been all wrong. But his Great Love is Australian and the reader had to get that right too without overplaying it.

It’s a first person narrative, and reader David Barker makes us feel as if we’re sitting at the dinner table or in the bar and he’s telling us a story – it’s a lovely way to experience the book and totally in line with what I was reaching for. A lot of women (my wife included) find Northern accents pretty sexy, so that may be a bonus!

You are a fellow of the Australian Computer Society and you have a PhD in data modelling. How difficult was it to transition away from your work in analytics to writing fiction?

And you’ve been looking at my Wikipedia entry. My ACS fellowship has expired!

It wasn’t any more difficult than any transition to another profession is going to be, and I took more with me than you might imagine. I studied creativity in my PhD – really useful stuff for a writer – I learned how to manage complex writing projects and I developed working practices that have stood me in good stead. The most important thing I learned from working in another profession was how long it takes to become expert. I tackled the transition with that in mind.

Who are some of your favourite authors? and Why?

My wife, Anne Buist, author of Medea’s Curse and Dangerous to Know and a swag of erotic fiction under the name Simone Sinna.

Seriously, this is such a hard question. I used to follow individual authors, reading all they wrote, but these days I tend to go from book to book – and I don’t have as much time for reading as I’d like.

Some authors have been important in my past (as a teen I read the leading science fiction authors) but I wouldn’t read them today. The last three books I read were Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison, Love Life by Zeruya Shalev and The Original Ginny Moon in proof by Benjamin Ludwig – a real mixed bag.

The Sydney Morning Herald said that you are planning to write a novel with your wife Anne Buist about a man and a woman who meet on a famous pilgrim work through France and Spain. How is this coming along and can you tell us any more about it?

The SMH was correct. It’s coming along really well – and I’m working on it right now. The working title is Left Right and it will be alternating chapters from the male and female protagonists’ points of view. Anne is writing the female part and I’m writing the male – we thought we’d keep it simple! It’s a romantic comedy, but hopefully, like The Rosie Project, there will be more to it if people want to look. Publication late 2017, we’re thinking.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Expect to put in the amount and type of effort that would be required if you were learning any other profession: architecture, neurosurgery… database design.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of The AU Review about The Best of Adam Sharp or your other projects?

Get hold of the Spotify playlist for The Best of Adam Sharp  and listen to it before you read or listen to the book.

I tried to do something unusual by creating a soundtrack to the novel and this will give you the best chance of experiencing what I was aiming for.

The Best of Adam Sharp is available now as an Audiobook through Audible.com.au. You can also get a print version of the book, which is available now through Text Publishing.

Originally published on 21 September 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/interviews/author-graeme-simsion-talks-about-escaping-from-it-the-rosie-project-music-his-new-novel-the-best-of-adam-sharp/

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

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