Archive for the ‘JAZZY’ Category

What is IT?

Phoebe’s eye – in tribute to Alexa’s eye on the cover of IT

September is officially the beginning of Christmas in book world. It’s the month when lots of books get unleashed onto the autumn in the hope that they’ll find homes on gift lists in advance of the present-giving season. And this year Alexa Chung’s ‘debut’, IT is one of them.

Alexa’s style is untouchable (in spite of the copyists). She knows what to wear and when and she always looks her very best, but IT – neither memoir nor getting-dressed guide nor glossy coffee table book - might test even her most ardent follower’s loyalty. We love her for her great taste and hip dry wit but how does that translate from the internet/red carpets/TV into a hardback book format?

After a big announcement from Penguin about buying the rights to the book in October 2012, there really seemed to be something to get excited about. (My thoughts that day>>> I LOVE Alexa’s tweets!! And a book-length version of her tweets with some new pictures in between? Wow. >>> ok maybe slightly exaggerated thoughts). Books should always be the confirmation of the author/subject’s frowny worthiness and permanence where there’s otherwise only vague tweets and grainy ‘gramz. However, almost a year on from that urgent-email-to-friends-inducing headline, comes IT itself.

Seemingly coaxed out of her by the editor over email and the blank pages in between filled in with internet snaps, IT challenges the very idea of what a book is supposed to be. Yes IT looks very lovely with its matt pink cover, and is not unreasonably priced (at £16.99 and discounted everywhere). It’s just rather disappointing that there’s not more to it. Looking back at the two volumes that it’s probably closest to in audience if not actual content/reading pleasure – Luella’s Guide to English Style and Kira Jolliffe and Bay Garnett’s Cheap Date – IT becomes an even bigger missed opportunity. Shouldn’t a book tell a story, reveal something you don’t already know, inspire curiosity, laughter, disapproval – anything?

The only things I thought while flicking through are, ‘Oh, the letters are really big’ and ‘Who are all these people in the photographs?’ Perhaps captions are really uncool. Or they didn’t have time? Or Alexa and her editor must have assumed that you, the reader, wouldn’t need captions because you follow her online and therefore will know who everyone is. Presumably the people in all the pictures have names which start with @ and don’t have capital letters too, like my friends.

After my quick flick through I realised that my name might begin with A but it doesn’t begin with @ and I am just maybe slightly/16 years too old for IT. But what of the Vogue, Style and Guardian covers Alexa did to promote this book and the serious writing career that she may or may not want. She seems to be plagued by a self-consciousness that means she can’t take anything seriously – great Russian novelists, eyeliner, feminism – but sadly you can’t see her ironic raised eyebrow while you’re reading a book and it just reads like it’s been written in a hurry. Obviously, like the sucker for a pretty dress I am, I’ll give her many more chances to disappoint me in the future. But I won’t be lending anyone the book – I don’t have it anymore.


Generation F: What Went Down at Our Flappers Salon

1Last Wednesday saw us hosting the third and final of our sold-out summer season of Pamflet salons at Drink, Shop & Do in Kings Cross. Our special guest speaker, Judith Mackrell, talked about her brilliant book Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation and answered our questions afterwards. Judith is the Guardian’s dance critic and has written several books including The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Her biography of Lydia Lopokova, Bloomsbury Ballerina was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Prize.

Judith spoke with incredible eloquence about why she’d written the book, what the six women whose lives she told meant to her and why they were so significant in defining the age in which they lived. Then she answered questions from us and from the audience and revealed that her favourite flapper was ridiculously chic heiress, poet, political activist and muse to many (including Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley and T. S. Eliot), Nancy Cunard.

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It was interesting that for both of us, Tamara was one of the most impressive characters in the book – she achieved so much, ensuring the survival of her family through sheer bloody-mindedness, while it felt like Nancy was one of the least ‘successful’ in terms of her professional attainments – her life felt the most unfulfilled and painfully chaotic. She dabbled in so many different ‘careers’, from poetry to publishing, but never achieved the dizzy heights she aspired to. However as a stylish, beautiful woman who lived her life fearlessly, without caring about society’s rules or constraints, she was sublime – and why can’t that be enough?

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4I noted that while we’re astonished and impressed by the progressive attitudes and boundary-smashing stances that these six women adopted – to our eyes they seemed seriously ahead of their time – perhaps to the girls who were aware of them in the 20s, they were nothing more than glamorous celebrities of their time whose exploits fascinated people in the papers.

Judith agreed that this might have been the case with some of the women in her book, but for a figure like Josephine Baker, her influence on poor black Americans following her dramatic exploits back home, you couldn’t underestimate how much her achievements inspired them to think that anything was possible.

I think lots of us may have felt at some point “who am I going to BE, what am I going to DO?” and the women who came of age in the 20s faced these existential questions for the first time. Many of them didn’t have to do anything, but they felt – like, I suspect we do today, that choosing a career or profession (and making a success of it, obvs) is a statement to the world about your character. Today when we ask someone “what do you do?” we’re really asking “who are you?

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After Judith’s talk and Q&A, we had a cake break, then regrouped to discuss Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. It’s always a challenge when you’re writing about a real life character who had her own incredibly vivid, unique voice, to recreate that in fiction – and its even riskier when she’s got a protective and obsessive cult following all of her own too. I don’t know if the author necessarily pulled it off, plus you can find all of the same information in Zelda’s own writing and her biography. But the story gathered pace towards the end of the novel.

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We broadened out the discussion to include (forgive me for using this nauseating term) ‘literary wags’ of the period – Zelda, Hadley, June Mansfield (Henry Miller’s wife). While reading Z, Flappers and other books about the time, I’d been wondering, would it be better or worse to have literary ambitions of your own, like Zelda, or to stand deliberately outside that world and dominate the domestic sphere like Hadley?

We need to talk about Ernest…
We asked the audience if they’d read any Hemingway, because I haven’t and I’m fascinated by the way he’s (unfavourably) portrayed in both these books. It’s starting to feel like the women rewriting the history of this period are reassessing Ernest’s reputation, moving away from the hero-worship he’s perhaps been traditionally afforded and aligning their sympathies more with Zelda and co. They’re not falling for his macho man schtick  (I love the fact that Pablo Picasso didn’t buy it either) and are highlighting his misogyny.

I can see why Zelda found this incredibly frustrating – especially when Scott’s name was put on her stories. My sympathy for her increased towards the end of the novel – she seemed well aware that she was a ‘dabbler’ and there’s a sinister section (which may or may not be true) where she has to pretend to accept that she must subsume her ambitions to those of her husband in order to be released from a mental hospital – very disturbing.

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The salon will return in the spring – just keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook updates or email us at [email protected] to join the salon mailing list for news.

Recommended reading (and watching) around the Flappers theme – and beyond:

Singled Out, Virginia Nicholson. As one historian wrote, ‘in 1914 the door of the doll’s house opened’ for many young women in terms of opportunities to have a life outside the home, but while our Flappers had various husbands and lovers, they were almost the exception in the twenties – the lucky 10% if you will. Many women were not able to marry and this book tells their story…
How the Girl Guides Won The War, Janie Hampton
Girl Trouble, Carol Dyhouse
Bachelor Girl, Betsy Israel
Diana Cooper, Philip Ziegler
The Edwardians, Vita Sackville West
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall
The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy
Midnight in Paris
The House of Eliott
and one I really want to read: Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald by Tiziana lo Porto


Pamf-LIT: Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell, the Guardian‘s dance critic and author of Flappers: Six Women of  a Dangerous Generation stars in Generation F, our next salon at Drink, Shop and Do on Wednesday 18 September. Here she shares her reading past and present – as well as her iphoned bookshelves. Get your £11 (including wine, cake and a goodie bag) tickets here before they sell out! 

Do you read paperbacks or ebooks?

My Kindle is brilliant, obviously, for travelling. It weighs almost nothing and it’s great being able to order up whatever  books suit the place or the mood or the company I’m in, rather than having to decide what to take in advance.

I like the fact that ebooks are so much less of a commitment. Working as a journalist I felt obliged to read at least a few pages  of 50 Shades of Grey, just to find out what all the noise was about. But it wasn’t a book I wanted to give shelf room to, so it was perfect to be able to get it, and then lose it, at a click.

Since I’m now at the stage of double stacking on my book shelves, I’ve also started to draw a line between books I’ll only want to read once, and will buy as ebook, and those I’ll want to keep. Very special books I’m much more likely to buy in hardback now.

Judith’s ‘double-stacked’ shelves

There are books all over the house, but quite a lot of them have ended up in my study.  There are shelves on either side of my desk: on one side are  the  novels and short stories – nominally in alphabetical order; and on the other are poetry, biography and history, and the dusty relics of the philosophy I studied at university.

What’s the book you reread more than any other?

Sorry to sound  lofty, but I’d say Proust – all twelve volumes.  I’m a really, really fast reader,  and about once a decade I like to get lost in it all over again.

Recently I’ve started re-reading a lot of stuff I first read as a student. It’s quite shocking how little I understood when I was twenty. Read More…


Pamf-LIT: Evie Wyld

evie wyldThe multi-awarded, fiercely talented young novelist Evie Wyld co-starred with her friend Katie Kitamura at our Birds in the Wood salon earlier this month. Here she shares her bookshelf dos and don’ts in our latest Pamf-LIT:
Do you read paperbacks or Kindle?
I read paperbacks – I had a go at reading on an electronic device just to see what it was like, but I kept accidentally pressing things and losing my place. It made it feel like research rather than reading. And I run a bookshop (Review Bookshop in Peckham), so I’m in favour of actual books.
How do you organise your books?
Initially we organised them alphabetically, but we’ve bought so many in the past 5 years that it’s gone out the window. Now books are lucky if they find a shelf to sit on rather than being piled up by the steps in the fashion preferred by hoarders.
What’s the book you reread more than any other?
Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs

What’s the book you own but have never read?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – I really wanted to read it and then some friends very sweetly gave me a signed first edition, all wrapped up and so obviously I didn’t open it.

What’s on your nightstand?
About 9 half full mugs of water and A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke

What’s in your handbag?
Sudafed, handkerchiefs, leaking biros, scratched sunglasses and unpaid bills.

What’s the book you foist on people?
The Gamal by Ciaran Collins

Name the four books that mean the world to you
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, Maus by Art Spielgelman, The Dog of the Marriage by Amy Hempel and The End of the Affair by Graham Greene.
Evie Wyld’s second novel All the Birds, Singing is out now.

P-P-P-Pussy POWER: on screen + on the page

PR Quad Sml (1) When Pussy Riot broke out on the internet last year, I was obviously going to be obsessed with them. Riot grrrl for the 2010s, dressed in Beyond-Retro-ish frocks and masked in fluro balaclavas, they had a lot to be angry about and were a reminder of the power of youth, music and rebellion when the closest most of us get to a protest is retweeting someone’s disgruntled missive.

The new book Let’s Start a Pussy Riot curated by Emely Neu and edited by Jade French and the HBO documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer have just been released to help contextualise their story and remind us about their cause as two Rioters – Masha and Nadia – remain in prison.

pussy riotPussy Riot might look the same as any other twenty-somethings in Moscow, New York, London or wherever, but that’s where the comparison ends. At the launch for LSAPR at Yoko Ono’s MELTDOWN FESTIVAL last month in front of an audience that included PR-agitator Peaches, two Pussy Riot reps made a surprise appearance that was humbling, inspiring, colourful and greeted with some noisy applause. Their faces masked, their voices vocodered through microphones and then translated into English by an interpreter, they were determined to share their stories and answer questions in spite of the layers obscuring quick communications.

However ‘punk’ and improvised their protests appear, they’re thoroughly planned and their objectives are always clear, the girls explained. Since most of the Rioters come from a (performance) art background, they are concerned with the visual impact of their activities, and, importantly, those balaclavas are not just about hiding their identities – they’re a statement against the 21st century cult of personality and celebrity. Rather than intimidating, they want that balaclava’d-anonymity to encourage like-minded people to join Pussy Riot wherever they are.

And why not join in? The wider PR collective’s inclusive campaigning is how the makers of the Punk Prayer documentary (which follows the trial of the three Rioters last year and meets their families, giving a Russian as well as an outsider’s insight into their arguments and objectives) and blog-turned-book Let’s Start a Pussy Riot (featuring contributions from Antony Hegarty, Robyn, Kim Gordon, Yoko and many more) got made after all.

[Their latest protest video has just been posted at the Guardian. See Yoko talk Pussy Riot for the BBC here, watch the LSAPR launch at the Southbank Centre online here and follow the campaign here.]


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