When male writers show what they really think of women…

I’ve just finished two books that could not be more different, and yet they had one important thing in common. Both books, written by men, present an across-the-board indictment of women–all women.

Granted, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon is a schlocky horror novel published in the 1970s. However, the fear of women expressed in the novel, and the resulting hatred of them, is so palpable that reading it felt icky. I wanted to wash my hands each time I turned the page. The story presents women as unfathomable to men, and ultimately violent toward and oppressive of them. Women are linked to an ancient mother Earth force that imbues them with the power to do whatever they want, despite the objections of some of the male characters. One of the “horrors” of the story is when the male protagonist loses control over his wife and daughter, and they begin acting independently to fulfill their needs and desires.

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson was published just this year, so it doesn’t have the excuse of dated values. This novel, about a social worker in rural Montana, presents all the women characters as weak, damaged, addicted, unable to fulfill their basic roles as girlfriends, wives and especially mothers. Unlike the men in the story–who despite being flawed are still essentially noble, striving to do the right thing and protect children–the women are unable to overcome the damage life has dealt them. Everything they do inflicts more damage, especially on their children. The male protagonist has also lost control over his wife, who cheated on him, and his daughter, who runs away from him. The daughter, however, is allowed one show of strength, but she is still young, and it seems like she is on the same path as all the other women characters.

My problem with these two books is that neither treats women as what they are, which is human beings. In each book, women are the “other,” portrayed as essentially different and opposed to men, wrong where men are right. Women are not mysterious and unknowable goddesses, nor are they automatons only meant for sex, reproduction and raising children. They are individuals, each with her own needs, desires, flaws and admirable qualities, just like men.

The worldview that these two authors are expressing is not one that I recognize as true, and therefore I cannot recommend either of these books. However, it does give me some insight into why misogyny and discrimination against women persists, even today.

Crowd-sourced publishing is The Cat’s Pajamas…

This week, I  got the opportunity to attend an author reading at my local bookstore, Flyleaf Books. The book is a children’s picture book, The Cat’s Pajamaswritten and illustrated by Daniel Wallace, who wrote Big Fish and is a local-to-me author.

What I did not know is that Wallace’s picture book is the first book to be published by a new crowd-funded publishing company, Inkshares. What they are doing is a new model for publishing that gives different kinds of writing the chance to be funded and published, and also allocates a greater share of royalties to writers. Because publications are funded by audience interest, Inkshares can take risks and bring books to market that might not otherwise see the light of day.

If The Cat’s Pajamas is any indication of their products, Inkshares is going to be a great source of high-quality books. Both my 6-year-old and I enjoyed the reading and loved the book (it was my son’s first author signing!).

And, oh yes: “itty-bitty kitty underpants!”

Hitchcock’s Marnie…

I watched Marnie last night for the first time. I thought it was a good movie, although probably not destined to become one of my favorites. The acting was impeccable, Sean Connery was incredibly easy on the eyes, and I enjoyed the self-conscious artificiality of the world Hitchcock created, especially his use of color.

Marnie

Does this look like a nice guy to you?

I have read that this film “proves” Hitchcock’s misogyny, but I couldn’t see it. Men come off worse than women in Marnie. Marnie is damaged, but Connery’s character Mark is perverse in his obsession with her and his desire to “fix” her that doesn’t seem to arise out of any pure intentions, but rather out of a need to possess and control her. Rather than proving Hitchcock’s hatred of women, Marnie is another dark, twisted view of humankind that characterizes all of his movies and is the primary reason why I am drawn to them.

Whatever Hitchcock’s feelings about women were in real life, I don’t want to know about them. I am sure they were more complex than a simple hatred of women. What I care about is his work. If misogyny did come through clearly in his films, that would turn me off of them. Hitchcock does not shy away from female characters who are immoral, self-serving, or shallow; certainly there are women who are like this. I think he is interested in male obsession with women, though, as can be seen in Marnie, Vertigo and possibly Notorious (which I need to rewatch soon). In all of those movies, though, I don’t see the man as a hero, as a portrayal of what Hitchcock thinks all men should be, no more than I see the woman as an indictment of what all women are. I see them as stories about people, stories that challenge our own exalted views of ourselves. This is why Hitchcock’s films continue to be so compelling.

Room 237…

I watched Room 237 last night on Netflix instant streaming and highly recommend it. It is a documentary that presents several theories on what is really going on in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But wait! It is so much more than a geek-out about The Shining. (Although, to be fair, the film will be more enjoyable if you’ve seen The Shining, and read it, and seen all of Kubrick’s other movies.)

The brilliance of Room 237 is that, even though it’s a documentary, the people being interviewed are never shown in that classic talking-head documentary style. Instead, film clips constantly play as they explain their pet Shining theories, most of the clips from the film, the bulk of the rest from other Stanley Kubrick movies, and some from other films. These clips serve as a constant commentary on the voiceovers, so that Room 237 becomes more about how people become obsessed with films (or books or other works of art), fueling their obsession with every possible piece of evidence, however slight. My favorite part in the film is when the guy is explaining his theory of how Stanley Kubrick helped fake the Moon Landing, and points to Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater in a scene in The Shining as his aha! moment.

I actually have a theory on The Shining myself, but mine isn’t as far-out as the ones presented in Room 237 (or maybe it is, and I just think it’s normal). I think that Kubrick, as an artist, challenged himself to make films that were not only in a particular genre, but that transcended the genre and perhaps even defined it. He did this with 2001: A Space Odyssey in the science fiction genre, and with The Shining, he was trying to make the horror movie. Many of the clues and inconsistencies pointed out in Room 237 were probably deliberate, as Kubrick was an exacting director, but they aren’t signs of some uber meta-theory. Rather, Kubrick was trying to subtly unsettle his audience, have them feeling constantly off-kilter in small and large ways, in an attempt to truly horrify them, rather than just scare or shock them. This is why The Shining actually gets more disturbing the more you watch it, as you start to pick up on these subtle inconsistencies. The Shining is a movie about a place where the rules of reality no longer apply, and the rules of movie-making don’t apply in the film, and the inference is that maybe none of us can trust what we think is real. Now, that’s terrifying.

The Shining Movie Poster

Speaking of Stanley Kubrick, I read this essay yesterday too, and it made definitely me want to watch Eyes Wide Shut again. That film has a lot of parallels to The Shining, doesn’t it? I feel another theory coming on…

Vintage vs. Penguin: On being seduced by book covers…

Who cares what it's about? It is a very pretty book.

Who cares what it’s about? It is a very pretty book.

I have been rearranging my books, necessitated by a large Christmas haul of mostly beloved classics. I hate to admit it, but I mostly organize my bookshelves based on aesthetics– books all the same height together, for instance, or a publisher’s similar designs together. In this latest rearranging, I noticed how many black and white and silver books I had, and how nicely they go together on the shelf. Then I went through my husband’s books and picked out some of his b&w books that looked interesting. If I read them and like them, I may steal them to fill out my shelf.

I’ve always really been attracted to Penguins, especially from the Penguin Classics line with their black covers. Now I’m starting to notice that Vintage has some very attractive books, also mostly in muted or neutral colors. I have no trouble passing on books once they’ve been read, but those pretty books, they earn their place on my limited shelf space.

I do most of my reading on Kindle, but I still love print books, mostly just love looking at them and browsing through them. I especially love minimalist covers or anything that looks pulpy and vintage. What do you look for in a book cover?

Book cover: Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (Vintage International)

On privacy…

SHARING IS CARING.

SECRETS ARE LIES.

PRIVACY IS THEFT.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

One of the ideas explored in Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle is the loss, and even voluntary relinquishing, of privacy in a world where everything is filmed and nothing is ever deleted. Considering the revelations this year about the NSA’s electronic snooping, and the knowledge that big companies like Facebook and Google are monetizing our personal information, we should be asking whether privacy is dying or dead. And if it’s not, how can we protect it?

Given the advances in technologies like information storage and retrieval and facial recognition, it almost seems inevitable that anonymity will go away. Rather than struggle against this reality, it might make more sense to figure out how we can best live within it. David Brin suggests that total transparency is the best way to do this–no more secrets for anybody, including corporations and governments. The emerging dystopia portrayed in The Circle also advocated this, except of course, there were ways to circumvent even total transparency, if someone was powerful enough.

In The Circle, most people opted in to the emerging system. They willingly went transparent in exchange for the benefits they were offered: convenience, simplicity, security, popularity. In this dystopia and similar ones like Feed by M.T. Anderson, it is easy enough to see that privacy may become an anachronism, something the young folks shrug off as “not such a big deal.”

In order to remain truly anonymous, you must turn into something of an electronic hermit, or even a literal one. But with face recognition software, cameras installed in every convenience store and stoplight, and private drones manning the skies — all technologies that are either here or coming soon — even that might not be enough.

I think the issue is more about control over our own information. People always have, and always will, demand agency over their own lives. Who has the control now: corporations and governments, or individuals? Right now, the balance is tipping toward the former. But this is a fight we could wage, and quite possibly win. It’s not a question of never posting anything to Facebook or Google or a blog ever again, although if that is your choice, it’s a valid one. But we should still be able to participate in the positive aspects of these new technologies without sacrificing our agency over our own lives in return.

For further reading: David Brin on the transparent society; A World Without Privacy (NYT opinion piece on The Circle); or just Google “is privacy dead” for about a million opinions on the subject.

Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis–Thoughts

At left in the foreground, a printer removes a...

At left in the foreground, a printer removes a printed page from the press. The printer at right is inking the plate. In the background, compositors are using cast type. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just downloaded and read Jeff Jarvis‘s Kindle single, Gutenberg the Geek (free to Prime subscribers, 99 cents otherwise). It provides a short history of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, drawing parallels between his initial business and how the printing press revolutionized every area of human endeavor and Silicon Valley tech start-ups and how we are currently going through a similar revolution with the Internet. At the end, Jarvis offers a persuasive argument for protecting the openness and public nature of the Internet, since we still cannot predict what revolutionary changes it will bring about in human civilization, just as in the early days of the printing press, no one could foresee that it would power the Reformation, enable the rise of modern science and create entirely new professions. It’s an entertaining and informative read (less than 20 minutes) that will be of interest to anyone who cares about books, technology or entrepreneurship.