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

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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.

 

The Power of Beauty – Nancy Friday

2016eclecticreader_bookdout2016 Nonfiction Challenge

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Genre: Psychology, feminism

Narrative Style: Informal, first person

Rating: 2/5

Published: 1997

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Friday analyses the way beauty effects female lives. She uses psychoanalysis to investigate events early in her own life that she feels have held her – and all women – back. She uses anecdote and fictional examples to support her ideas.

Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge and Non Fiction Challenge

This book was a slog. I very nearly didn’t finish it. (It took me a month to read it, I was that irritated with it and it has gone straight on the charity pile.) The main problem is Friday’s tone. She sounds hard done by – especially in the early chapters. She blames a lot of her issues on problems with her early childhood. Her father abandoned their family and she felt her mother loved her sister more as she was prettier. This lack of loving gaze meant that Friday was lacking in confidence about her looks. This seems disingenuous when you look at the author picture and Friday is indeed a beautiful woman. She later says that by the time her looks came in, it was too late for her to believe that she was beautiful. She uses psychoanalysis to help her understand how her formative years were so important in making her the person she is. To a certain extent this is fine. I am happy to agree that psychoanalysis is a useful therapeutic tool but Friday takes this one step further. She then extrapolates from her personal experience to all women lacking the gaze from their mothers. My own experience of childhood was completely different from Friday’s. My father was very much involved in childrearing and my mother worked because she had to. How can Friday assume that my issues will be the same as hers?

Friday does seem to see all women as being the same as her. That is white, privileged, straight and American. She sees gender as the only issue affecting women and men. (And men are masculine and women are feminine in this little world.) All of the examples she gives are from the business world or from friends who are writers and artists. Hardly representative of the whole human race. Which is also fine but if you are going to talk about all women, perhaps you should think about what that really means.

At one point, Friday talks about sexual harassment in the office. Instead of blaming men, she says, we ought to think about how women have changed the atmosphere of the office by coming in to work dressed sexually and making it hard for men to understand the new rules of the office. There may be some truth to this. Undoubtedly more women being in the office has changed the dynamic between men and women but lets not let men completely off the hook. Harassment suggested a sustained campaign. Sexy clothes are no excuse for that sort of behaviour.

Similarly, when Friday talks about the media and its affect on women’s perception of beauty, she seems to let the media off the hook as well. She says that women aren’t so easily brainwashed. Well, true, women can think for themselves but there is also no doubt that the media influences how we feel about and see beauty around us. How Friday can discuss beauty for older women and not challenge the way beauty is seen in the media as a youthful characteristic, I do not know. Again, she puts the blame squarely at the feet of other women without stopping to think about what may make women act in this way.

Rightly, Friday says that we shouldn’t blame men for all of our ills. I remember being thoroughly depressed by some of the authors she mentions – Dworkin and McKinnon, for example. But instead of suggesting that patriarchy affects all of us, she goes on instead to blame other women. This is no more helpful that saying all men are evil. It is finding just another scapegoat instead of actually challenging any of patriarchy’s expectations.

Overall, I was disappointed with how personal this book was. I enjoy reading about others’ experiences, however, this was not an autobiography, this was supposed to be about men, women and beauty. Really it is just about Nancy Friday.