50 shades of Mills & Boon

Rather disconcertingly, the boys bought me a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey in England. Mr JB, of course, put them up to it, suggesting Mum might like to read a book during the relaxing break in Phuket. How considerate of him.

Brownie asked me what it was about. I said I wasn’t sure, but that I think it’s about a man and a woman who don’t like each other, but secretly they do, and it’s probably very silly.

Three chapters in, and that’s a pretty good review. Problem is, I’ll never know if it’s anything more than that because I just can’t read any further. I’d had enough by the end of chapter two, but forced myself to read five more pages just in case. Just in case what, I’m not sure – perhaps more story and structure, I guess.

Rewind a number of years, to when I took a freelance writing unit as part of my degree, and as part of our cursory glance over money-making writing ventures, the ‘romance’ genre was right up there. We were told not to titter and be high-falutin’ about writing, but to observe the strict style and conventions, and if we had the desire it could be a good option to pursue.

As part of my research *ahem* I went to Kmart (that’s where you get them) and, looking confident and not at all embarrassed, I started perusing the Mills & Boon shelves. What an awakening! I had no idea there were so many categories: Blaze, Blush, Desire, Historical, Intrigue, Medical, Nocturne, and the list goes on.

I decided to stay away from Medical and Historical, because doctors and nurses and heaving bosoms were never my thing, and thought I’d buy a couple of the more, um, contemporary categories. Well! They were a bit racy. So I read a couple more just to check for consistency. They were consistent all right.

And then I got caught up with other things, and my M&B were tucked away into the Writing box where they remain to this day. But lesson learnt: writing romance novels is not to be sneezed at, whether into a delicate lacy kerchief, something all together more sheer, or just in the altogether. Respec to the authors.

Which brings me to the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. In all seriousness, this is what I thought I knew about the books; that an English (?)  housewife/home writer (whatever) had been writing stories online and getting a good following, and they sorta went viral, were a little bit saucy, a bookseller/publisher picked up on the demand, and – kaboom – massive sales and she’s set for life. Even if I’m wrong in part or all of that, good for her. It’s every writer’s dream.

What I didn’t know, and have subsequently found out, is really it’s Mills & Boon, but just bigger and longer. And now I feel robbed, because I didn’t want to read a bloody Mills & Boon on my holiday, and it was too late to get a refund when I finally sat down with it by the pool in Phuket three days ago.

And oh, if thou doth protest too much at this assessment, have a look at the top two news items from this Bookseller page.

None of this, though, appeared to be bothering the woman of a certain age, three pool lounges down from me. Mr JB noticed she was reading the same book. She seemed to be sticking at it. Good for her too. I wish I could say I’ll have what she’s having, because clearly I’m not.

= = = = =

Then there’s the Fifty Shades of Grey for Blokes doing the rounds:

Dedicated to Mr Becker’s pecker

In a world of war, ugly journalism and too much hot hair, this in today: Mr Becker, from Los Angeles, had his penis cut off on Monday by his estranged (and clearly emotionally unbalanced) wife. It’s a truly horrible thing to have happened, but to have such a good rhyming name? Not quite a Wiener, but gee it lends itself to a limerick …

There once was a woman called Becker
who cut off her poor husband’s pecker
On her way to divorce
she used drugs and some force
to become the ultimate home wrecker

Having lured Mr Becker to dinner
she didn’t want him fatter, but thinner
A long kitchen knife
won’t improve your life
as the garbage disposal’s the winner

From the Daily MailBecker is now being held at the Orange County jail, charged with aggravated mayhem, false imprisonment, assault with a deadly weapon, administering a drug with intent to commit a felony, poisoning and spousal abuse

Desperately seeking SlutWalk sensibility

I really want to have an opinion about SlutWalk, I really do. I want to be firm in my resolve, and to be able to argue my points convincingly to anyone who’s interested in hearing them. “Yes! Go along and march, it’s great for women” or “No! It’s wrong, the messages are wrong.”

But I’ve been reading opinion pieces for just over a week now, and each time I think, “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I really think” and then I read the next one and think, “Hang on, maybe I think this after all.” More tellingly, I’ve now got to the point of , “I like that bit, but not that bit; this bit makes sense to my flickering inner feminist, and that bit’s just hypercultural postmodern bullshit.”

And that’s the problem for me -there are too many complexities to neatly encapsulate the event, let alone the arguments for and against it. And that’s because, in my case at least, being a 40-something woman in 2011 is a complex thing. All the experience of a wasted youth, a bit of travel, some great education, interesting career choices and now the constant puzzle of parenting two boys is there to remind me that a woman’s place in the world is usually where she’s standing, catching her breath, right at that moment.

And let me say that within that great education was a fair amount of cultural theory including feminist studies, and my mum was one of the career trailblazers in the 60s and 70s yada yada, so this whole feminism concept is not entirely new to me. So the fact I feel unable to find my place in this argument worries me.

One of the niggling aspects for me is the location of the conversation. When I think of how I’ve accessed SlutWalk, it’s been through ABC online News (only yesterday!), The Drum, Q&A and Radio National; crikey.com and New Matilda. I’m not saying it hasn’t been covered anywhere else, but they’re the only places I’ve had time to listen, to read – to engage, dahling, with the arguments being put by the writers.

And let me be clear on the contributors I’m referring to. It started with a porn discussion from the Sydney Writer’s Festival I heard on RN driving home on Sunday evening, then my online onslaught began with Drag0nista, Guy Rundle (why Guy, why?), Mel Campbell, Clem Bastow in The Age, SlutWalk organiser Karen Pickering, self-proclaimed radical feminist Sarah Langford, Kimberley Ramplin, then the blokes-for-a-laff got in with Ben Pobjie taking no prisoners as usual, and cartoonist (Mr Lovely) First Dog On The Moon, who was just lovely as usual.  And I can’t forget the viewing pleasure that was this week’s Q&A. Finally, this evening I read Catherine Deveny’s contribution, which I agreed with more than I expected to.

And that’s because one thing I agree with, as an underlying theme of SlutWalk, is that rape is rape, and I couldn’t help but smile at Deveny’s t-shirt, “You’re not allowed to rape sluts either.”  Now that to me is a direct message to the target audience, which comes back to the location of the arguments, raising the bigger issue at play.

To explain, let’s jump for a minute to Lindsay Tanner, talking to political journalist George Megalogenis about his new book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy on Radio National’s Big Ideas on Thursday 26 May:

Out on the Internet, out in digital land, there are all kinds of fantastic new products with high quality commentary, blogs, even some stuff on pay TV – the trouble is: that is talking to the engaged, educated minority … and until you’ve actually got a mechanicam for engaging the bulk of the population in a political conversation about the major issues of the day, which we used to have and which I think is slowly diminishing, then you’ve got a problem.”

I have no immediate answer (other than a long essay about the challenges of content and communication in contemporary Australian culture and politics) but I also have no doubt that Tanner’s point will be made hard and fast, as Kimberley Ramplin points out, this weekend:  on the commercial television news we will see images of scantlily-clad frozen young things having a bit of a lark in the name of the new sisterhood, not really sure how much of it is supposed to be fun, while alongside them the sensibly dressed women (shoes or otherwise), making a point with their placards, a genuinely heartfelt and passionate point about sexual freedom, won’t get any screen time, and the female journalist sent to cover the story will be squirming in her Jimmy Choos later in the evening watching the playback on the little screen; something won’t sit quite right with her and yet she won’t be able to put her finger on what it is. But if Deveny’s t-shirt gets a few seconds onscreen, maybe that’s an achievement.

So in the end I guess it comes down to: if you walk, good for you. If you don’t, I understand. And that, unfortunately, is the best I can do. And I mean it.

[Thanks Hollaback for the image].

Words and meaning, form and content

I’ve been sorting through the office, a much overdue task since the renovation / carpet / painting / new desks / renewed study habit, and found a copy of the June 2010 Monthly which I’d been keeping aside.  Why?  Because I remember being quite taken by this opening line from Juliana Engberg’s Artful Excess review:

The marketing material for the seventeenth Biennale of Sydney displays a lusty engagement with the semiotics of font.

When I first read that I remember thinking, “I wish I could write an opening line like that one day.” It sounds good when you read it out loud, it flows and is so damned descriptive!  Words and meaning.

And it’s not as if I’m a huge participant or observer of the art world. Because of where and how I live these days, I don’t get a chance to do Biennale stuff and discover people’s eclecticism and all that other arty stuff – I’m lucky if I make it into the WA Art Gallery for the school holiday Lego activities. But upon engaging with Engberg’s words, I just wanted to dive head first into the brochure and wallow; first, to explore the form, and then maybe even float about the content and dream a little.

Form and content. Words and meaning.  Learning these two bits of cultural theory were a great revelation for me. And that’s why I wish I could write an opening line like that one day.

[And now that I’ve been to the Biennale site, I see what she was getting at!]

New words*

* in the style of the Washington Post Style Invitational, where, in this case, one letter of a word is removed and replaced with another to create a new meaning:

Sacrilecious – the act of enjoying, against the will of its intent, the taste of any item offered in religious ritual; eg the Eucharist.

Ediot – someone you entrust with your writing to make comments, corrections and suggestions but end up realising they’re not as clever as they think they are.

Riputation – what big business, politicans and celebrities don’t want to lose in New Zealand (apologies :)).




[Thanks Adios, Nirvana for the image.]

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