Full House Reading Challenge – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

full-house-challenge-2017-final

Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology, Culture

Narrative Style; First person, journalistic

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperbackunknown

Published: 2015

Synopsis: The story starts with Ronson discovering a Spambot posting as himself on twitter. He uses the righteous indignation of the Internet to get it taken down. He then begins to look at the phenomenon of online shaming. This leads him to talk to some of the people who have suffered badly at the hands of the Internet – Justine Sacco, Adria Richards and Lindsey Stone, for example – and discusses the best ways to survive shame. 

Reading Challenge – Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Non-Fiction

I was interested in this book for two reasons – the first was Ronson himself, an always enjoyable writer who tackles interesting subjects, the second was the subject matter. It has been with increasing distaste and disappointment I have watched such shaming unfold online. Unlike Ronson, I have never taken part. It is particularly disgusting to see the way the comments go when women are the object in question. No one deserves to be told they should be raped and abused. It is horrific.

Ronson first gets involved in the subject of online shaming when he uses the power of the Internet to get some researchers to take down the spambot they had made in his name. The comments turned nasty and Ronson won. They took down the spambot. Ronson cites early examples of the shaming of corporations into treating their customers better or newspapers being slapped on the wrist for printing homophobic or sexist stories. This was a new phenomenon and Ronson decided to investigate.

There is a difference between shaming corporations and shaming individuals although the basic impulse may be the same. (Ronson suggests that people think they are doing good in both situations.) This is what unfolds in the rest of the book as Ronson speaks to Justine Sacco (she of the I can’t get AIDS, I’m white tweet), Jonah Lehrer (who made up quotes in his books), Lindsey Stone (who mocked the sign for silence and respect at Arlington National Cemetry, to name but a few. Most of them were guilty of stupidity at most. Lehrer was more difficult to sympathise with but even then, you couldn’t help feeling that no one should have to read what people posted on the live twitter feed while he was trying to apologise. It is certainly true that a stupid tweet or photo should not still be impacting your life a year later.

Ronson also looks for solutions and ways to survive. He discusses the role of shame in a prison environment, visits a workshop for Radical Honesty and discusses the historical origins of shaming. All of which is very interesting and told in Ronson’s trademark style. However, what he can’t offer is any sort of solution or ways to avoid being shamed. And it certainly seems like this is something that is here to stay. In the Afterword, Ronson describes being accused of being racist for supporting Justine Sacco and of being a misogynist because of a misjudged comment about rape. His final advice is to the reader is to make sure that they don’t stay silent if they think that someone is being shamed, get involved and stand up for them. Empathy is the solution to shame. And it is true that we can’t leave the Internet to the trolls and lowlifes who would say that they would see someone raped or murdered because they made an ill-judged decision.

Reading and Writing Goals 2017

Reading Goals 2017

Last year, I read 60 books and although I didn’t meet my Goodreads target, I was still pleased as some of them were very long and some of them were very bad. Some of them were both of these things (The Power of Beauty by Nancy Friday for example).  So this year I have set my goal a bit lower at 50 books. There a couple of reasons for this. I plan to read War and Peace this year. This will undoubtedly take a while. Also, I am going to be starting a new job which will see me traveling less so I will be reading less on my Kindle.

I’m taking on one reading challenge this year. The Full House Reading Challenge has 25 categories which should be manageable. The categories are an interesting mix – some are genres (Western, Cozy Mystery), some are author based (European author, North American author) and some are circumstance based (borrowed, attractive cover) so it should make for a good mix of books over the year.  I am just starting the first of these books So You’ve Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson which I got for my birthday last year.

Writing Goals 2017

Obviously, the main goal is to get Choose Yr Future published. I’m currently re-working it based on feedback I have been given and am hoping that process won’t take too long to finish. I should have more free time now that I have a new job so here’s hoping. I’m also working on my next novel which is currently called The Meaning of Sickness but this may very well change.

I also want to blog more this year. I was very neglectful of my blog last year. I was very lazy. I could have made the time but I didn’t. This year, I am going to make myself write more. It used to be second nature to blog at least once a week but I have lost the habit. I need to get back into it.

As a sidebar to this, I am also resolving to tweet and post to my Facebook page more often. These two things have also been woefully neglected. I’m really looking forward to all the new connections I will make.

Full House Reading Challenge Sign Up Post

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I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do any reading challenges this year. I certainly felt like I wanted a change from the ones I have done for the last few years. With this in mind, I have decided to do the Full House Challenge which is hosted by The Book Date. There are twenty-five categories and I have an idea what I’m going to read for about half of them.

Instructions are as follows:

Challenge will run from Jan 1st to December 31st 2017
Write and publish a post stating your intention to participate. In the post please include the Challenge graphic and a link back to this post. Then link your intention post at the bottom of this post. Make sure it is the actual post and not just a generic link to your blog.
Add your reviews back here on the link in this post. At the end of every three months, there will be a U.S. $12 prize with a book of your choice from the Book Depository or U.S. Amazon voucher, for the entries. There will be a new linky then for the next quarter and so on to the end of December.

Here is the grid with the categories….

full-house-challenge-2017-grid

Here are the ideas I have so far:

Non-Fiction – So You’ve Been Publically Shamed – Jon Ronson

On TBR for more than 2 years – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCuthers

More than 500 pages – War and Peace – Tolstoy

Page Turner – The next instalment in the Rebus series

Published Pre-2000 – Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

European Author – The Immoralist – Andre Gide

Award Winner – Troubles – J. G. Farrell (Booker Prize Winner)

Size word in the title – Big Brother – Lionel Shriver

Two worded title – American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Book from childhood – Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson

USA / Canadian – Towards the end of Time – John Updike

Recommendations for the other categories are gratefully received.

Non-Fiction Challenge – The Hell Of It All – Charlie Brooker

2016 Nonfiction Challenge

Genre: Cultural Comment, Journalism, Humour

Narrative Style: First person opinion pieces

Rating: 5/5

Format: Kindle51i2ihfnmml-_sx315_bo1204203200_

Published: 2009

Synopsis: A collection of Brooker’s columns for The Guardian. Subject matter ranges from Celebrity Big Brother to The State of Gordon Brown to Holidays to The Apprentice. Filled with Brooker’s trademark snarky ire. 

Reading Challenges: Non-fiction Challenge

I probably ought to admit that I bought this book because it was cheap for Kindle and I didn’t investigate any further than that. I’m rather fond of Brooker’s grumpy brand of pessimism so I was quite excited by its cheap price. However, it transpires that it was from 2008-9 so it was a little weird to be reading about things from that long ago. Still, it didn’t stop it from being enjoyable although I did sometimes wonder if I’d been asleep throughout that time as I couldn’t remember everything that he was talking about.

It also felt a little surreal. There are columns here on the vacuity of celebrity culture, on the horribleness of politicians, on the racism of the BNP, the global financial meltdown, and the way people over-react to everything. Reading it from the vantage point of 2016, it felt like these were our halcyon days. If Brooker was this angry then, his head must explode every time he switches on the news these days.

There are many laugh out loud moments such as when he suggests that breathing is the only hobby he is likely to be able to cope with or when he describes the woeful attempts of crisp manufacturers to delight us with new flavours or his opinion on nightclubs (he doesn’t like them much, in case you wondered).Or when he describes his lazy attitude to household tasks which leads him to have to live by the light of his fridge when he fails to buy lightbulbs. As my husband and I are currently down to two out of four lights in the kitchen and are involved in a protracted game of lightbulb chicken, this definitely resonated.

Like reading Owen Jones’ Chavs, it is always good to remember that there are journalists who I can agree with and who give voice to the things that trouble me. Especially at times like these.

 

End of the Eclectic Reader Challenge

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I wasn’t sure I was going to get this finished in time. I was doing well at first. In fact, I was well ahead of reading one book a month. Then suddenly, I had three to read and not very long to do it in. And for all of them, I had no book in mind. However, thanks to Goodreads recommendations and an Amazon voucher for my birthday, I have managed to read them with a month to spare.

It’s been a mixed bunch this year. Some of the genres were not ones I would normally read. As ever, the challenge forced me to read some books that have been on my shelf for a long time and even though I didn’t enjoy all of them, it was good to have read them.

My favourite books from this year were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for the genre paranormal romance. I was definitely not looking forward to this genre but I was hooked by this novel from the very start. Next was Chavs by Owen Jones, an excellently angry analysis of the way our culture has demonised the working classes. Finally, Small Island by Andrea Levy had been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I was really glad to have been made to pick it up as it was a very interesting read.

Disappointments were plenty as well. I decided to read The Power of Beauty by Nancy Friday for the psychology genre, thinking it might be an interesting feminist analysis but I just ended up irritated with it. I was in a mood for the entire time it took me to read it. (About a month, it seemed to go on forever!) For the first time in a long time, I decided to read a Stephen King novel for the serial killer genre and I don’t know if it was just my tastes have changed but it was very disappointing. It must have been 20 years since I last read one so that is definitely a possibility. Perhaps I was a bit hard on it. I used to love Stephen King and so was expecting greatness. Joyland definitely didn’t give me it.

For all that, I’ve enjoyed the challenge and I’ve enjoyed reading things I might not normally read. I’m not sure whether I’m going to sign up again next year. I’m thinking I might not do any reading challenges at all. I quite fancy going back to just choosing any book of my shelves and reading that.

Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016 – Behind Closed Doors – B. A. Paris

2016eclecticreader_bookdout

Genre: Thriller, Debut Author 2016

Narrative Style: First person, chapters divided between past and present.

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2016unknown-2

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Grace and Jack Angel seem to have a perfect life. They are newly-weds who can barely stand to be apart from each other. Jack is a renowned lawyer who works with battered women and is chivalrous almost to a fault. However, behind closed doors, the story is completely different. 

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016 – Debut author in 2016

I don’t tend to read books as soon as they come out unless they are by an author I already like and even then, there are only a few I would dash out and buy straight away (Margaret Atwood and Julian Barnes are two that spring to mind). As a result, I didn’t have much of an idea who to read for this genre. I decided to look at the Goodreads awards for debut authors. Behind Closed Doors looked interesting and it had quite a lot of four and five star reviews so I decided to give it a go.

I have to say I was disappointed. Although if I’d realised that it was published by an offshoot of Harlequin, I’d have known that I wouldn’t like it. I’d also have realised that it wasn’t going to be very challenging. All of the ‘twists’ were signposted so clearly that there was very little suspense and the characters were so flat it was impossible to care whether they lived or not.

What is most troubling about this novel is the archaic sexual politics. It reminded me of an essay Iread when I was at university by Joanna Russ called ‘Someone’s trying to kill me and I think it’s my Husband‘ which is about the modern gothic, books she describes as being in the tradition of Rebecca. There is a heroine in peril with a husband who appears charming but may, in fact, be a killer. This seemed an old-fashioned trope to me and one I could not get to grips with.

Part of the problem is that there is no ambiguity. We know that Jack is evil before we even start to read. It says on the back cover that Grace is a prisoner. There is no ‘is he isn’t he’ about this. The only tension exists in wondering exactly how much of a psycho Jack is. Quite a big one, it turns out.

Still, it was hard to care. Grace has no personality of her own but is merely a foil to Jack’s great evil. I found it difficult to cope with a novel that so squarely placed man as aggressor and woman as victim. There was a little interest in seeing exactly how she would escape – because escape she would, that was equally apparent – and that was the only thing that kept me reading.

 

Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Classes by Owen Jones

2016eclecticreader_bookdout2016 Nonfiction Challenge

Genre: Journalism, politics

Narrative Style: Academic

Rating: 5/5unknown-1

Format:paperback

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Jones investigates where our current image of the working classes as layabout, trouble making chavs has come from. He analyses political decisions made by Thatcher, New Labour and the current Tories as well as analysing newspaper headlines and shows such as Little Britain.

Reading Challenges: Non-Fiction Challenge, Eclectic Reader Challenge – Genre Investigative Journalism

When it comes up in conversation, I tend to say that I come from a working class background rather than I am working class. There are two reasons for this. First of all, I now have a lot of the trappings of a middle class life. I’m a teacher, I live in suburbia, I read the Guardian and have a veg box delivered and people are keen to point that out. I don’t really believe that class is something that you shrug off the minute that you start to earn more money. Just like if you are upper class and you lose all your money, you are still upper class, you just have no money. It makes more sense when you think about it that way round but it is just as true of working class people who have climbed up the ladder a little bit.

The other reason is less pleasant. I want to disassociate myself from the popular image of the working class chav. I want to say I’m working class like it was perceived 30 years ago when I was growing up rather than working class as it is perceived now. Having read Owen Jones’ book, I feel more than a little ashamed of myself.

It’s not that the things that Jones discusses were news  to me and it’s not like I’m supportive of measures to cut benefits but it is easy to forget that there are genuine reasons and real people behind the stereotypes.

Jones outlines the systematic destruction of working class culture by first, Thatcherism, then New Labour and finally, the Tories again. It is easy to see how this program of cultural demolition has pushed many of the working classes into the open arms of the far right. The role that Labour used to play in many working class communities has left the ideal space for the BNP and UKIP. Cleverly, the BNP have started to play a community role in some of these areas, organising events and dealing with problems.

As Jones points out, the demonisation of the working classes has allowed this Government the most almighty get out clause. It has allowed them to avoid dealing with tax evasion, instead focusing the public’s eye on the much smaller problem of benefit fraud. It paints working class people as lazy and shiftless rather than deal with the fact that there aren’t enough jobs and a lot of the jobs there are are insecure. Focusing working class minds on the problem of immigration has allowed them to avoid putting in place legislation which would stop businesses being able to pay lower wages to immigrants. The list goes on, each item more deplorable than the last.

It is very easy to see why immigration is seen as such a big problem in working class communities. Of course, it would be easy to dismiss this as racism but as Jones points out, this is a far more complex problem than that. Immigrants who are willing to work for a low wage – but probably higher than they were earning at home – drag the entire job market down. Similarly, immigrants are less concerned about having permanent contracts so jobs become more insecure. It is in this atmosphere that parties such as the BNP and UKIP thrive, playing ruthlessly as they do on these insecurities.

Jones describes an experience he had while knocking on doors during the run up to the 2010 election. He describes what seems like a normal working class conversation about immigration except that the woman was Asian. I had a similar experience more recently in the run up to the Brexit referendum. Pupils were very keen to share their opinions (or their parents’ opinions, I suppose.) One Asian pupil was particularly vocal about how we should leave so we could get rid of all the immigrants. There was no point in saying that at some point, somewhere in his family history, they must have emigrated to this country. At the time, I was annoyed with him, I must admit. It seemed unfair that he should wish to stop the very process that had at some stage brought his family to this country. Having read, Jones’ book, I feel like I understand a little more. It is to do with feeling threatened and insecure and that is the motivating factor for the working classes and the issue of immigration, not racism.

After reading this, it is easy to see why so many working class people voted for Brexit. At the mercy of right wing politicians who made promises they could not keep and abandoned by mainstream politics, it is little wonder so many voted to leave. It is the logical result of the systematic ruin of working class communities.

Jones is rightly angry and after reading this book, you will be too. It is frustrating to think that things are only going to get worse when we eventually leave Europe. Brexit will compound problems in working class communities without actually doing any of the things that it promised to do about immigration.

One thing is for sure, this idea that we are all middle class now or that class no longer exists is a big lie. It is unlikely to be challenged any time soon, as it is so helpful to the Government. I’m not sure what the answer to all this is. A stronger Labour party who were genuinely concerned about working class issues would be a start but until they can stop all the in-fighting, that doesn’t seem all that likely.