"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Staff Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

By Hannah

    Recently, there has been a very audible exclamation of “feminism” in celebrity-land. Stars like Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, Amy Poehler, Emma Watson, and Patrick Stewart have all proclaimed their feminism. However, there are far more celebrities who shy away from the label than there are who proudly own it. Shailene Woodley rejects the word “feminist” because, she says, she “love[s] men.” Sarah Jessica Parker calls herself a “humanist, not a feminist.” So, why all this rejection of the word “feminism?” As Carrie Underwood so succinctly put it, “that can come off as a negative connotation.”

    Roxane Gay, whose favorite color is pink, who reads Vogue without irony, and who “willingly give[s] blow jobs,” explores, in her brilliant essay collection Bad Feminist, how the word “feminist” has been contorted into a synonym for “angry, sex-hating, man-hating victim lady person.” Beyond that, feminism, until very recently, seemed to only concern itself with the white, heterosexual, cisgendered, college educated, middle class experience of womanhood. This is, indeed, a problem. However, unlike Shailene Woodley or Carrie Underwood, Gay is unwilling to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Bad Feminist examines the humanity of the movement-- it is imperfect, it is messy, it has long strides left to make, but, does that mean feminism is unworthy of our association with it? After all, how many of us are perfectly clean, completely rational Adults-with-a-capital-A?

    The vulnerability and honesty with which Gay writes these essays is part, in my opinion, of what makes this collection so important. I, like Gay, am a both a “bad,” and a very vocal, feminist. I get more excited about new dresses than I do about political debates. I almost exclusively wear sparkly ballet flats, which aren't exactly practical footwear. I like for the man to pay when I go on dates and, sometimes, I think that all I really want in life is to have a gaggle of babies. This does not mean that I am not a feminist. On the contrary, my  emphatic feminism comes from my desire to be recognized as a multi-faceted, complex, messy, imperfect individual. In other words, I am a person. Unfortunately, in the current social climate, my femininity does not allow for my personhood.

    Bad Feminist is a valuable work because it delves into that personhood. It is not just about feminism. It's about race, it's about sex, and it's about privilege, but it's also about Scrabble and The Hunger Games. It is a multi-faceted, complex, messy, imperfect, and totally engrossing, book. It is both relatable and critical. It is simple, but intricate. It is a fantastic read that will make you consider who you really are.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Harper Perennial, $15.99


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A selection of ART book staff selections

From Keely
Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take.
The only time I've ever been brought to tears by art was at an exhibition - this exhibition in fact - of Hodges's. Powerful installation art that socks you in the gut and kisses it all better afterward.

From Hannah
What A Beautiful Day! Cindy Wang.
Too often, we forget how important it is to just be joyous and silly. Luckily, Cindy Wang is here to remind us!
Call the store for details! 310-659-3110

From Zane
The River Book. George Herms.
Over the last six decades, George Herms has recontextualized his artistic identity through rubbish. One of the last standing Beat-era assemblage artists, Herms's prolific body of work continues to provoke criticism and reflection on the inherent symbolism of detritus in an object obsessed culture.

From Lexi
This Is Warhol. Catherine Ingram.
What a deliciously appropriate and concise look into Warhol. Littered with nifty little facts about the man behind the glasses!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

5 Questions with author Tom Sturges

1. You've published two great books about parenting. Tell us about your new book Every Idea Is A Good Idea? You talked to a lot of people for this, right?

EVERY IDEA IS A GOOD IDEA is a book about Creativity.  It profiles the methods and techniques of some of the many writers and artists I have worked with, who I signed, or whose story is legend.  Although I spoke with and interviewed many famous people, not every big name got dropped because not everyone knows exactly what happens when they create.  I also look back over the years to describe the process of some of the greatest creators who ever lived, including Mozart and Beethoven and Michelangelo.

2. Getting the most out of creative people came in handy when you were president of Chrysalis Records. What was the best and worst thing about the music industry at that time?

I was actually President of Chrysalis Music, the publishing arm of the Chrysalis Group here in the USA.   These were great years in the industry, and I signed some amazing talent, including Smashing Pumpkins, Outkast and Goodie Mob, Slaughter, Green Jelly, and Tripping Daisy, among many others.  Not usually mentioned was one of my favorite misses, Billy Bizeau, an artistic muse who never achieved his due.  The key to running any successful business, now or then, is to surround yourself with the most creative and talented people you can find and afford, and then letting them do what they do best, whether songwriters, artists, producers or executives.

3. You teach a course at UCLA on the Music Business Now. From the outside looking in, it would seem the adaptable are the ones who survive. Is the model always changing?
Creativity is a disruptive force.  It changes the status quo, in every setting.   Think about how the automobile changed the world when it arrived, how the telephone completely altered the way we communicate with each other, how television changed the way we look at each other and the events that shape our lives.  But nothing has been more disruptive (and amazing) than the internet.  It's effect on the music business was to destroy the distribution model and the marketing and promotion protocols that had been in use for the previous fifty years.  Only the companies and artists that were able to adapt to its complete takeover have been successful.  We teach our students that change is not only the norm, it is the inevitable.

4. Who are the  creative people that inspire you?
I am easily inspired.  It might be a sidewalk artist recreating the Mona Lisa with chalk or my son playing me a new song he's just written.  But at the same time I am struck by the nature of creativity flowing during difficult times in the life of the person creating.  When in doubt about that fact, I listen to the later Mozart symphonies (39, 40 and 41), which are not only masterworks of creativity and harmony and melody, but arrived during the most stressful and financially painful times of his life.  I also find the single vision of a writer like Paul Simon to be a constant inspiration and the fact that he does it on his own, without collaborators, without co-writers, without any external pressure but his own will to leave his mark, leaves me awe-struck. 

5. The book is just landing now. What projects are on the horizon?

I have already finished my next book, a semi-autobiographical noire-ish memoir about how to break up or divorce and stay friends with your ex.  I also wrote a children's book about dogs that figure out how to communicate with their owners.  And I’m working with a writer in the UK on a project about my father's last ten years on this earth, as told through his plays and screenplays, and the letters he wrote to my mother during this period.  

Tom Sturges discusses and signs Every Idea Is a Good Idea on Friday, September 26th at 7pm.

Each purchase of Every Idea Is a Good Idea enters you into a raffle to win one of two signed and cancelled checks from film legend Preston Sturges!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 Questions with author Dawn O'Porter

1. You've had a colorful career as a television presenter, covering many topics with grace and humor. Did you balk at any assignments?
Ha, people always say I’m shameless and that I’d do anything on TV, but you’d be amazed what I’ve turned down. Most involve taking drugs on camera, having sex in the name of science and other big salacious ideas. I try to pick things that I think have a point. Like female issues and getting to know the weird and wonderful people in this world.

 2. Do you have a favorite?

Yes, I have a favorite. I made a documentary about Polygamy where I spent a week with a polygamous family. It felt exciting as, at the time, Polygamy was coming under a lot of fire in the media, and there I was, on the front line finding out what it was really about. You can’t beat that feeling in documentary making.

3. Paper Airplanes is loosely based on your childhood growing up in Guernsey. The two central characters are 15 year old schoolgirls, and wildly different but they forge an intense bond. How did you find a balance in humor and pain, and was it difficult to find those voices?

It was harder for me to find Flo’s voice because Renée is a version of me. But Flo isn't a version of anyone, I created her. I just wanted two girls who were very different to find a bond and so I had to start from scratch with Flo. Writing Renée felt very natural to me. As far as humor and pain goes, actually I found that easier than I expected. Many of the experiences the girls have I have experienced myself. From losing a parent to feeling misunderstood, and humor has always been present in my life. I think that especially as teenagers we are capable of switching from big emotion to big emotion, laughing and crying go hand in hand.

 4. You were born Dawn Porter and have worked for many years under that name. How did you arrive at O'Porter?

My husband’s surname is O’dowd and when we got married I couldn’t bear the idea of changing my name, it was never an option. But that wasn’t to say I didn’t want to do something, show unity in some way. Luckily the O’ was easy to take, so I changed my name my deedpoll and I absolutely love it. Around the time I was deciding what to do was when Paper Aeroplanes (UK edition) came out in the UK. We mocked up two covers, one with Porter and one with O’Porter. O’Porter looked better. So that was that, decision made.

 5. We love the wide variety of your projects. What's next?

I’m currently writing the third in the series of the Renée and Flo books, it’s called, Broken Eggs. After that, I have the fourth to write. I’m also launching my own fashion line called, BOB. Basically I am trying to carve out a future involving my two favorite things...books and dresses. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Dawn O'Porter celebrates the publication of her first (U.S.) novel Paper Airplanes at 4pm on Sunday, September 14th.

Read Dawn's blog here: http://www.dawnoporter.co.uk/


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

5 Questions with photographer & artist Glen E. Friedman

1. This book covers an extensive period which saw a major transformation in underground culture during the 70's up through the 90's. While reviewing your archive for this new collection, "My Rules", what prevailing feeling did the arc of your photography evoke for you?

it’s always exciting and inspiring!

2. Given the sometimes violent imagery of your photos, did you ever feel at risk while documenting your subjects?

I actually don’t see anything violent in any of my imagery, except for a very very few images that do have guns in them (which i have not used in images since 1993). While making these images, only at a few moments did i feel at risk. In fact i felt more at risk in trespassing skate spots in the 70’s, or getting hit by stage divers at some punk gigs. But indeed during one shoot in particular in South Central Los Angels just after the riots, it was uncomfortable at moments.

3. What contemporary youth cultures or outsider movements fascinate you?

At the moment there is nothing in particular, but The Occupy movement was of some inspiration and interest while it was in full gear.

4. As a veteran of counterculture, what qualities of an artist do you consider inherent to  become a catalyst to an evolution in the medium?

Being involved with the subjects, and the subject matter, personally, having a personal stake in the work, being responsible to your peers in the culture.
If it’s vital to you, then you may have a chance to do something important. If it’s just a hobby or it’s not something vital to your life, one can hardly expect the work to be worthy of others interest.

5. Do you feel the technology which has made photography available to everyone is reductive or invigorating to the form?

I think it’s both!! with a lot more bad comes a little more good (which is good). The quality of images on the whole is not very great, but it’s certainly entertaining and interesting at times, and lots of fun for people. I just think it’s kinda like when cell phones first got popular, and people’s etiquette took some time to get straight… hopefully people will stop getting in between subjects and other spectators holding up there cameras and phones for no good reason, as they do now so much. Over-documentation seems to be a word some have been using in the last few years. Every single moment of experience does not need to be photographed in my opinion.

Our questions were submitted by our staff member Zane Morris. 

Glen E. Friedman presents and signs Glen E. Friedman: My Rules on Monday, September 29th at 7pm. 


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

5 Questions with author/bookseller Michaela Carter

Poet Michaela Carter discusses and signs her debut novel Further Out Than You Thought on Tuesday, September 9th at 7pm. She was kind enough to participate in our 5 Questions Survey. Enjoy!
1. There has been a lot of non-fiction writing/reporting about the LA Riots but it's difficult to name a work of fiction centered around it. How did this book come about?

I find it fascinating that more hasn’t been written about that time. Anna Deavere Smith wrote her phenomenal play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 in the voices of numerous Angelinos of various races and ages, both men and woman, which she performed as a one woman show, but other than that no creative work comes to mind.

I knew when I first started that the novel would focus on the lives of three twenty-something bohemians, people who came to L.A. to make it in the entertainment industry but didn’t have any real success. Worn down by the city, they still have their dreams, but their lives don’t look the way they thought they would. And there’s a pull between the beautiful, if squalid, life they’ve made for themselves, a life still shaped by their illusions and hopes, and the truth they don’t want to face.

The riots seemed to me to be about this very thing. It was a time when L.A., the city of dreams, had to face its own unpleasant reality. It could no longer overlook its race issues, economic disparities, its actualities—all those undercurrents were right out in the open.

During the 1992 Riots I lived in the Miracle Mile area and worked in Hermosa Beach. Like all the other Angelinos, I went to work the morning of what is now considered the second day of the riots. The afternoon prior, there was the Rodney King verdict, the white policemen were acquitted, and there were the angry protesters at the L.A. County Courthouse, along with the Reginald Denny beating, but they all somehow seemed like isolated incidents. No one anticipated the explosion of riots across the city the next day. So I found myself across the city needing to drive home. The 405 was bumper to bumper, and I decided to take South La Cienega, where I got stuck in my car, alone, in the middle of riots, with a gas station on fire sending all this black smoke over everything.

It was a day I’ll never forget. And it changed me—made me want to live a life that mattered, at least to me. The feelings the riots prompted were complex, and so, even years later, they continued to intrigue me. On the one hand, I felt terror, and real fear for my life, and on the flip side of that, I felt free in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve always been a perfectionist, the straight A student who tows every line, but on that second day of the riots, driving by fire after fire, when Los Angeles, a place I’d believed was predictable, became unrecognizable, I realized I could be anyone, do anything I wanted.

As a writer, I wondered what this sort of moment would cause my characters to do. I wanted to keep the riots very personal to them. They aren’t analyzing the political implications of what’s going on around them, they are just living their lives, trying to figure out what’s next.

2. You co-founded Peregrine Book Company in Prescott, Arizona and you're also the book buyer there. What led to your decision to jump into the book business?

Prescott needed a bookstore! Barnes and Noble was closing and we didn’t have a single store that sold new books. It’s a town of 100,000 people, and my partner, Ty Fitzmorris, and I thought that had to be enough to sustain at least one bookstore. Our friend, Tom Broderson, cofounded Changing Hands in Phoenix back in the 70s, and he owned another bookstore for a while in Prescott, and when he was willing to start the store with us, we knew we had to do it.

I love leading people to books, helping them find the perfect book for that moment in their lives. Books are so personal. Your experience of reading a book will always be different from another person’s experience, but a place where people can have the kind of discussions that books inspire—readings and talks, but also all those little conversations you have in the aisles—this is essential to the kind of town I want to live in. And it’s going really well—the community has embraced us profoundly.

3. You're also a poet and painter. How do you decide which creative outlet to pursue daily? Do you have to build in time for painting? Writing?

This sounds terribly unromantic for a writer, but lately I’ve taken to “clocking in” when I write, to make sure I devote real time to it. You have to make time for the things that matter to you but aren’t pressing. If I don’t get my kids dinner, they are going to have something to say about it. If I don’t respond to my students’ work, they’ll get upset with me. But I’m the one who will suffer most if I don’t make time to write—well, me, and the people who have to be around me. I get really grumpy when I’m not writing! Routine always helps here. I get my son off to school, make coffee, and sit and write for the rest of the morning.

Painting is different, at least for me. I started painting when my kids were young, one reason being that when my hands were covered with oil paint, I couldn’t drop everything and immediately be Mom again. I had to clean up a bit first. I’m usually reticent to start a painting because I know once I get into it I won’t be able to let it go. I get completely obsessed—the way I get when I’m writing a poem. I can stay up all night, the painting takes absolute precedence.

4. Tell us about teaching creative writing at Yavapai College.

I’ve been teaching at Yavapai for the last ten years. I used to teach composition as well as creative writing, but now I feel very fortunate to only teach creative writing, and mainly poetry. For the most part, students take these classes because they want to, and that makes a world of difference at a community college. The best classes have a wonderful mix of ages. There are people in their 70s alongside students just out of high school. This is an amazing mix for creative writing, when so much of what students write about and share comes from their lives.

My favorite class to teach is Writing and Healing, in which the whole focus is to reconnect with those impulses that made you want to write in the first place. So often, when we get further down the road as writers, we lose touch with those raw emotions that give the writing real power. It’s easy to play it safe and to do what you’re good at. But writing requires risk, and in this class students feel safe enough to be vulnerable.

5. If you could read your poetry aloud in performance with two other poets (living or dead), who would they be?

What a great question! It would be Anne Sexton and Patti Smith.

Anne Sexton used to read with a jazz band behind her. She’d get on stage, throw off her shoes, light her cigarette, and launch into her iconic poem “Her Kind.” “I have gone out, a possessed witch, / haunting the black air, braver at night; / dreaming evil, I have done my hitch / over the plain houses, light by light.” She must have been something to hear live.

And Patti Smith, from her descriptions in her memoir Just Kids, seems like she’d be equally free-wheeling, strong and sexy. Of course, her readings were also backed by musicians, which led to her idiosyncratic sound as a singer/songwriter.  

I’ve loved reading poems best when I have musicians on stage with me—everything from light percussion to a three-piece jazz band. Maybe it’s some unfulfilled desire I have to be a musician, or maybe it’s not feeling so alone up there and having others to play off of, or the fact that the readings are in bars or restaurants and I have a glass of wine to sip on, but these readings are the most fun I’ve had on stage. And if I could be alongside Sexton and Smith—that would be unthinkably cool.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Way We Were

We have a pretty kick ass Art & Photography section here at the Soup, and as happens, some real gems slide in unnoticed from time to time. It was on a swing through the photography section recently that I happened upon Anthony Friedkin's gorgeous new black & white monograph The Gay Essay. It's the companion book to his current exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Friedkin documented the gay community (or what there was of it) in the late 60's and early 70's, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He photographed drag queens, hustlers, community organizers, trans people, and even Divine! He shot them on street corners, in bedrooms, music halls and parades. 

It is startling to look at these photos in 2014 and think about how far we have come in the 40+ years since many of them were taken. There is a defiance in these photographs that is palpable. These were people who were used to being beaten by the police, kicked out of their homes and harassed on the street. Many of them would lose their lives eventually or have them otherwise ravaged by AIDS.  They couldn't imagine a world where they would be courted by politicians for votes, or allowed to marry the person they loved. To pose for a photo at that time was an act of courage and something I'm afraid our "selfie" obsessed culture would find difficult to relate to now. 

When you view the photos now it all makes sense. Of course we have come this far and nothing was given to us. We took it by forming bonds with people we loved, and creating safe spaces to be together, and marching in the streets. We put on dresses anyway, and smiled pretty for the camera, and reshaped the culture. 

I hope people find their way to this book or to the exhibit in San Francisco which I was lucky enough to stroll through one Saturday afternoon a few weeks back. It's a powerful and moving document.

Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay is published by Yale University Press and can be purchased at the link below:
Visit the de Young Museum: