Friday, January 26, 2007

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women & The Rise of Raunch Culture, by Ariel Levy

(pb; 2005: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Meet the Female Chauvinist Pig -- the new brand of 'empowered woman' who embraces 'raunch culture' wherever she finds it. In her groundbreaking book, New York magazine writer Ariel Levy argues that, if male chauvinist pigs of years past thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs of today are doing them one better, making sex objects of other women -- and of themselves... Female Chauvinist Pigs makes the case that the rise of raunch does not represent how far women have come; it only proves how far they have left to go."


Levy's book, lean and direct, states that many women in their twenties, who came of age after the '60s and '70s -- "raunch feminists" -- have "perverted" the forward-looking precepts of early feminist thought by carrying on, sexually and otherwise, like teenage boys: they place a premium on being "hot," make fun of "girly-girls" (who hold them in ironic, sneering thraldom), and extol the virtures of mainstream porn (in what seems to be a misguided "beating the boys at their own game" gambit). Even lesbians, specifically bois (previously labeled transgendered or FTMs, Females To Males), who are "young, hip, sex positive, a little masculine and ready to rock," have embraced these regressive pseudo-macho attitudes.

Levy's backs her charges with points regarding the popularity and social effects of the Girls Gone Wild videos, the increase in vaginoplasties ("cosmetic operations to alter the labia and vulva so they look more like the genitals" of porn stars and Playmates), and the mixed social-sexual messages that teenagers (especially girls) receive (which, of course, may very well set them on the path of raunch feminism).

Eminently entertaining, this is a smooth, indispensable polemic, one that should be read by anyone who's alarmed at how our acelerated society is converging once-X-rated concepts into mainstream daily life.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Thunderball, by Ian Fleming

(pb; 1961: ninth book in the original 007/James Bond series)


A new terrorist group, SPECTRE – acronym for “The Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion” – headed by Ernesto Stavro Blofeld (who directly battles Bond in two later novels, On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice), has two atomic bombs and is threatening to use them on the United States and England… that is, of course, unless the two superpowers pay mad cash.

M, vexed, unofficially sends Bond to Nassau, in the Bahamas, to investigate the area as a possible stash spot for the bombs. There, Bond sniffs out (and later matches wits with) Emilio Largo (aka, SPECTRE associate “No. 2”), an urbane “treasure hunter” who means to make good on SPECTRE’s bomb threats, if necessary.

Bond also meets, and aligns with, Largo’s bored mistress, Domino – born Dominetta Petacchi – whose calid temper and cool intelligence makes her Bond’s compeer, in the ways of survival.

Felix Leiter, Bond’s friend and ex-Pinkerton detective, is back in action, too. Leiter has been reinstated in the CIA (serving as Bond’s American counterpart).

Ninth in the series, following the anthology For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball has a meant-to-be-funny but maladroit set-up in the first forty pages (Bond goes to Shrublands, an English health clinic, to detox from all his boozing and smoking, and ends up pissing off a SPECTRE hitter, Count Lippe). After that, it’s all systems go, and what a “go” it is!

There’s not a whole lot that’s new here, but it is a fun read – Fleming’s Bond novels are always a pleasure to peruse – and Fleming employs some effective foreshadowing – SPECTRE, replacing SMERSH; Blofeld – for future Bond tales.

Followed by The Spy Who Loved Me.

Thunderball was released stateside as a film on December 29, 1965.

Sean Connery played Bond. Claudine Auger played Dominique “Domino” Derval – the altered version of Dominetta Petacchi. Adolfo Celi played Emilio Largo/SPECTRE #2. Rik Van Nutter played Felix Leiter. Guy Doleman played Count Lippe.

Bernard Lee played M. Lois Maxwell played Miss Moneypenny. Desmond Llewelyn played Q.

Terence Young directed the film, from a script by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins.

What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal], by Zoë Heller

(hb; 2003)

From the inside flap:

“Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary existence; aside from her cat, Portia, she has few friends, and no intimates. When Sheba Hart joins St. George’s as the new art teacher Barbara senses the possibility of a friendship. It begins with lunches and continues with regular invitations to meals with Sheba’s seemingly close-knit family. But as their relationship develops, another does as well: Sheba has begun a passionate affair with an underage male student. And when it comes to light and Sheba falls prey to the inevitable media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend’s defense – an account that reveals not only an unwitting Sheba’s secrets, but her own.”


Barbara Covett, aptly surnamed, provides a first-person narrative for this story of supposed friendship and public scandal. Plenty of words describe Barbara – hyper-critical, parasitic, petty – as she stalks (from a quiet distance) Sheba, who may be too much of “free spirit” for her own good. When Sheba becomes friends with her, Barbara’s motives and actions turn creepier, culminating in an masterful, understated finish that left this reader shuddering in revulsion.

Heller – through Barbara’s eyes and voice – has crafted an incisive, minutiae-mindful tale that echoes the unsettling elements of Fatal Attraction (minus the grisly shrieks, tacky coitus and bodies).

Worth reading, this.

This became a film in 2006, titled Notes on a Scandal. Judi Dench played Barbara Covett. Cate Blanchett played Bathsheba (“Sheba”) Hart. Bill Nighy played Richard Hart, Sheba’s husband. Richard Eyre directed. Patrick Marber scripted.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dream of the Blue Room, by Michelle Richmond

(hb; 2002)

From the back cover:

"On a warm July night, thirty-two year old Jenny finds herself sitting on the deck of a Chinese cruise ship next to a charming but secretive stranger. Her husband is down in the cabin sleeping, and in Jenny's lap is a cookie tin containing the ashes of her best friend, Amanda Ruth, brutally murdered fourteen years earlier in a small Alabama town.

"In this foreign landscape, filled with ancient cities that will soon be inundated by the rising waters of the Yangtze River, Jenny must confront her haunted past and decide the direction of her future. As the ship moves slowly upriver, from one abandoned village to another, Jenny journeys deeper into her own guilt and eroticism..."


This death-themed, stream-of-consciousness novel is melancholic, though muted hope lightens the proceedings. Richmond's writing flows as easily as the river that Jenny, her emotionally-distant husband (Dave), and her intriguing stranger-lover (Graham) ride.

Jenny is a creature in transition, for whom things, emotions and traditional morality are hazy. So are many of the other characters, especially blunt charming Graham, whose secret may be pivotal to their collective fates.

Dream is movingly great. Check it out.

Bluegate Fields, by Anne Perry

(hb; 1984: sixth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)


1886. When the body of Arthur Waybourne, a sixteen-year old syphlitic sodomized well-to-do boy, is discovered in the sewer-slums of Bluegate Fields, Thomas Pitt is called in to investigate. As the scandal grows, and key clues are concealed by others -- family members fearing further scandal, and/or the killer himself -- Pitt finds himself in treacherous social waters that my end his career.

Then Pitt gets a break: Arthur's unpopular Latin tutor, Maurice Jerome, is arrested for the double crime (homosexual acts are illegal), tried and sentenced to be hanged in three weeks.

But the evidence doesn't add up. Thomas and his wife, Charlotte, both disturbed by the lack of solid facts, investigate separately -- Charlotte, with the help of her socially-adept sister Emily Ashworth, and their great-aunt Vespasia Cummings-Gould (aka Aunt Vespasia), whose observance of social etiquette masks her sharp memory regarding old scandals.

All of this happens nine months after the occurrences of Rutland Place. Jemima Pitt, Charlotte and Thomas's daughter, is two and a half. Daniel, three months old, is the newest addition to the Pitt family. And telephones are beginning to appear in the homes of the select rich.

Wonderful book, this. Perry rearranges her story structure and the nature of Waybourne's murder, which breathes further life into this consistently intriguing mystery series. While I spotted the villain straight away, it wasn't through any sharp-eyed reading; it was through bias. (I didn't like the character, so I wanted it to be that character.)

So check it out. Heck, check out the whole series! Be warned -- there are twenty-three books in it.

Followed by Death in the Devil's Acre

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony, by Eoin Colfer

(hb; 2006: fifth book in the Artemis Fowl series)

From the inside flap:

“Thousands of years ago, fairies and humans fought a great battle for the magical island of Ireland. When it became clear that they could not win, all of the fairies moved belowground – except for the 8th Family, the demons. Rather than surrender, they used a magical time spell to take their colony out of time and into Limbo. There they have lived for decades, preparing to exact their violent revenge on humans.

“Now the time spell is unraveling, and demons are beginning to materialize without warning on Earth. If humans were to find out about them, all fairies would be exposed. To protect themselves, the fairies must predict when the next demon will materialize. But in order to do so, they will have to decipher equations so complicated, even a great brain like Foaly can’t understand them. But he knows someone who can: Artemis Fowl.

“So when a very confused demon imp appears in a Sicilian theater, Artemis is there to meet him. But he is not alone. There is someone else who has unlocked the secrets of the fairy world and managed to solve complex mathematical problems as only a genius could. And she is just twelve years old…”


The whole gang is back: Holly Short, ex-LEPrecon-officer-turned-private-investigator; Mulch Diggums, Holly’s gas-passing dwarf business partner; Butler, Artemis’s level-headed bodyguard; Foaly, LEPrecon’s techno-geek centaur slash resident genius.

And there are new characters, too – Doodah Day, a fish-eating pixie and smuggler; and, more importantly (in this novel, anyway), Minerva Paradizo, a twelve-year old super-criminal girl, who is Artemis’s counterpart – in more ways than one.

Like the four previous Artemis Fowl novels, the plot is solid, the pace is mad-dash, the characters are semi-quirky, and crazy imaginings abound.

If you haven’t read the Artemis Fowl novels, you should. Read in order, these witty, accelerandic adventures are an out-and-out collective pleasure.

Followed by Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox.

<em>The Letter, the Witch and the Ring</em> by John Bellairs

(pb; 1976: third book in the Lewis Barnavelt mysteries . Drawings by Richard Egielski .) From the back cover “Rose Rita [Pottinger]...