My senior year of college, once winter was officially gone, one of my housemates or neighbors bought a backyard games set from Walmart on a whim. And that's how I spent half my senior year playing badminton.
I'd played occasionally before, like you do as a kid because—let's face it—badminton has a certain amount of whimsy built-in. Elegant rackets like the wings of dragonflies! A winged ball! That's called a shuttlecock! That makes a very satisfying thunk when struck in the sweet spot!
We even held a tournament once, though our careful brackets and fabulous prizes quickly devolved into "take a sip of your beer when anybody scores" and "this ribbon says, 'I Can Dress Myself.'"
There is a very poorly taken photo of me from this time. I have a racket in my hand and am going in for a spike shot. I'm wearing a long-sleeved grey t-shirt and an ankle-length denim skirt that looks as though it was made from a single pair of jeans. (It was not, but such were the fashions of the day.)
And it turns out, this is perfectly in line with the new badminton dress code as described in the New York Times: female badminton players are now required to wear skirts.
Naturally, as the Times hurries to explain, this is being called out as a sexist move. An extra wrinkle is that badminton is played by lots of Muslim women, who currently play in long pants. Pants would still be permitted, but only if a skirt is worn over them. And not a sheer skirt.
The reason for the change? According to Badminton World Federation deputy president Paisan Rangsikitpho:
“Hardly anybody is watching,” he said. “TV ratings are down. We want to build them up to where they should be. They play quite well. We want them to look nicer on the court and have more marketing value for themselves. I’m surprised we got a lot of criticism.”
So, just to be clear: sports marketing value = skirts = harder to play in for religious or physical reasons = women have an extra obstacle to playing well in comparison with men. Way to sell me on the integrity of your sport, sir.
But don't worry! A woman is wiling to go on record and say this isn't sexist! We're in the clear! Former world champion Nora Perry: "Being a woman myself I do not think that the rules in any way discriminate against women."
I guess I missed the message from the Feminist Hive-Mind saying that being held to different standards because I am female is not actually discrimination. Possibly because, um, that is pretty much the textbook definition of discrimination.
Introduction: I read books, and as a consequence I look at a lot of them. I look at more books than I read, in fact! Sometimes looking at books makes me want to say things about what I see. So there will be an ongoing series on this blog to talk about book cover design. And the name of this series is Coverings. Don't laugh. That took me like ten minutes to think up. You don't want to hear about the options I discarded.
This afternoon I stopped at the library to pick up my egregiously large pile of books on hold. In the two minutes I spent there, somehow I found both the best and the worst covers I have seen in some time.
Both made me laugh right out loud.
Man, it's been years since I've been actually shushed in a library. That takes me right back.
The first, worst cover: Eternal Kiss of Darkness by Jeaniene Frost.
Hey there, Creepy Stare-y Dude, either you've got yourself an old-fashioned nosebleed or you should really wipe the ketchup stains away before you try to seduce the girlfriend.
Add in the inexplicably cliché blue-skinned people (what is this, nighttime in a silent movie? Avatar? when did "blue skin" become code for "scary preternaturals"?) and the magenta text (eye-popping in a bad way) and you have yourself a mediocre cover-turned catastrophe.
I've saved the best for last: The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian:
This cover, of course, is so deliberately bad that it turns brilliant. Especially since the obvious mistake in centering that bold sans-serif title underscores the title's meaning. What's more, the invisible F has the added benefit of softening what might otherwise be a more provocative and troubling cover. As is, it looks funny, and then sad. Even before I've read one word of the novel, the cover has told me a story made of only half a word and a great deal of wit.
Plus: gray. There are very few gray book covers out there. Especially a dull, slate gray like this. It's unique and impossibly boring at the same time -- a perfect combination. I am so excited to read this book that I can hardly stand it -- which is precisely as the cover designer hoped.
It is summer, I just got married, and I am a writer, so lately many of my days involve A) drinking, B) writing, or C) both. Lucky me! Lately everyone has advice about these activities!First, there is the NYT essay, which is delightful -- and now, a Jezebel article, which makes me want to take issue with a couple of the points they obviously think are hilarious.
Full disclosure: at present, I am writing this and also drinking some delicious local wine. Plus that Dry Fly gin and tonic aperitif before dinner. So, hey! Drinking and writing!
To begin, the New York Times.
Honestly, I've read a lot about wine, and booze, and history, and the history of wine and booze, and literature about wine and booze, and so on. I am totally behind Geoff Nicholson's point that fictionalized drinking (or history of same) is more fun than instructions on drinking correctly tend to be. (And hey! I had a recent post on that too!) His connection between drinking advice and writing advice strikes me as witty and revealing. In sum: I liked it, and have nothing besides more uninteresting praise to offer.
And now: the Jezebel article.
I read it. And the arguments marshaled themselves and marched full-tilt in the direction of this blog. This may get pedantic, but if I don't let it out my head will explode, so in the interest of, um, not-explodey, here goes:
1. The article's thesis: "This article makes an insightful connection between the uselessness of drinking advice and the uselessness of writing advice -- let's reduce this to a series of pithily described drinking games! Because writing a great work of literature ourselves would take too long."
2. The David Foster Wallace game could easily kill you. Seriously, ten pages or less.
3. Jane Austen: In college, some friends and I came up with a drinking game for the film version of Sense and Sensibility: drink whenever someone dies; drink whenever it rains; drink whenever Fanny says something horrible; drink whenever an engagement is announced; drink whenever Marianne cries; drink whenever someone mentions the letter F. We poured homemade wine into thrifted tea cups and sat back. Twenty minutes later, we had to slow the game. I did not go to the partiest college, is the upshot here.
4. Jezebel knows nothing about Sappho. "Hot or disgusting"? That's the best you can do for the foremost female writer of the ancient world? I mean, yes, there's the "don't prod the beach rubble" fragment, but that's way more poetic in the original Greek, and the few complete poems we have are just stunning . . . (rambles on about love triangles and splintered selves until everyone moves on to the next in the list . . .)
5. Or Homer: ancient Greek wine was thick and hugely alcoholic, like port or vodka if you could make vodka from grapes. It was watered down with strict proportion so that it resembled the red wine we know and love today. People who drank unwatered wine were barbarians, and not worth talking to, much less drinking with.
6. Or Twilight: seriously, there's not nearly enough blood-drinking in Stephenie Meyer for this rule to result in any drinking game worth playing
7. Any James Joyce drinking game is hilarious.
7. Any Dylan Thomas drinking game is in the poorest of poor taste.
Internet personality quizzes are my Achilles heel. I enjoy finding out what interval best embodies my complex individuality (major 7th, as it happens) and what the shape of my letter A's says about me on a fundamental level. If I'd been around in the late eighteenth century I would have been totally into phrenology, though it pains me to admit it. But there's something eternally seductive about the idea that my self is just a code waiting to be decrypted. I'm always looking for the key.
So when Twitter alerted me to the existence of I Write Like, I jumped all over it. Into the machine went my favorite part of a blog post on my recent honeymoon in Helsinki.
But wait. I had put in a sex scene -- and a very purplish one, at that. We've already seen Dan Brown's name, and someone else on the internet has gotten Stephen King, so modern (male) genre authors are totally bring-uppable. Is Lovecraft really the closest thing this site could get to a romance author?
Online I found an excerpt from Danielle Steele's The Journey, and put in a goodly chunk of text.
At this point I was getting a horrible feeling that whoever built this site did not think women could write anything significant, memorable, or worth imitating.
Of course, modern romance authors are still kind of ghettoized, sure. So I went classical, and pulled the start of chapter 38 from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. The one that begins, "Reader, I married him." Who does Charlotte Bronte Write Like?
At this point I started to go a little crazy, throwing anything and everything into that damn white frame on the site and growing increasingly sure that my outrage was more than just a figment of my imagination. Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own:
If you've noticed there's an elephant in the room, sipping tea and wearing an empire-waist gown and arguing that the choice of who to marry is screamingly important when it's the only real choice you get to make in your entire life, you're correct. I'd been avoiding putting anything by Jane Austen in here, because honestly it would break my heart to see Jane Austen writing like James Joyce, or Dickens, or frakking Lovecraft. But the question had to be answered.
Jane Austen's beautiful, perfect opening scene from Pride and Prejudice:
In conclusion: no female author has ever produced anything important unless they are Jane Austen.
A sly thought occurred. I went back to the Gutenberg Project, and looked up the truncated and very sarcastic History of England that Austen wrote in her youth. I entered this passage:
"The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was a YORK, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man. It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews and his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to beleive true; and if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard. Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor E. of Richmond as great a villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown and having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it. "
So lately -- on Shakespeare's birthday, in fact -- there was this Huffpo post by Jason Pinter, which then meandered through the blogosphere until it reached my habitual environs (NPR's delightful Monkey See Blog). The article alleges that there are not enough books for men because of a publishing mantra: men don't read. So there should be more books marketed for men. And I got very angry and had to kill some pixelated zombies in Castlevania until I calmed down a bit.
The comments are pretty evenly split between the expected "Oh man you are totally right publishing is totally sexist to dudes" and "what are you talking about I'm a man I read/I know a man he reads." And, of course, absolutely everyone heaps scorn on the romance novel, as represented by Twilight, chick-lit, and Danielle Steele. Negative bonus points for Huffpo commenter RobinSeattle, who offered the following gem: "There is almost no piece of advertising on tv that doesn't make men look like knuckle dragging hapless boobs. Feminists are silent on this sort of sexism because they are largely a bunch of intellectually dishonest opportunists anyway." On RobinSeattle's profile: comments: 6243, friends: 2.
But that's not what I wanted to pinpoint here.
One of the things Pinter laments is the way e-readers are supposedly marketed primarily to women, and cites the ads for the Nook:
. . . and the Kindle:
Pinter then offers this lovely sentiment:
Why would men buy an e-reader, considering the takeaway from these ads is you can a) learn about your pregnancy after falling for Mr. Darcy, or b) become Amelia Earhart or Holly Golightly?
Yeah, Amelia Earhart's alright -- for a girl. And no man in the history of men has ever found Holly Golightly interesting -- except, you know, the dude who created her. And who needs to learn about pregnancy? Nobody important, that's for sure.
I like to think that every time a male writer dismisses the attractions of Mr. Darcy, somewhere in the world a romance novel is born.
Luckily, according to Mr. Pinter, the iPad ad gets things right:
Cool, right? They catch your attention without alienating half the consumer population. Why can't we do that? Make a fun, cool campaign that doesn't cut your audience off at the knees?
It's funny he should mention knees, because here are the full lyrics for that particular (admittedly catchy) song:
Be Be the charming type
Take off your gloves
And show what they hide
Please take my naked wrist
With your hands and fingertips
And please, baby get on your knees
Don’t bare bare bare your teeth
I’ll let you pry if you close your eyes
I’ll have an answer for your wives
There goes my love
There goes my love
There goes my love love love love love
There goes my love
There goes my love
There goes my love love love love love
Why be the charming kind?
Oh you’ll get yours when I get mine
Oh no it’s not for me
If you’re too good you won’t be free
Meanwhile, the full lyrics for the song in the Kindle ad (which Pinter dismisses as "twee") are:
Silver Moons and paper chains,
Faded maps and shiny things.
You're my favorite one-man show.
A million different ways to go.
Will you fly me away?
Take me away with you,
Painted scenes, I'm up all night.
Slaying monsters, flying kites.
Speak to me in foreign tongues.
Share your secrets one by one.
Will you fly me away?
Take me away with you,
Now I cant think what life was like
Before I had you by my side.
Cant say what I'd do without you,
Knowing what its like to have you.
Hidden walk ways back in time.
Endless stories, lovers cry.
In my mind I've been set free.
Will you take this Journey
You and Me?
Will you Fly me away?
Take me away with you,
Fly me away with you,
Take me away with you,
In sum: the Kindle wants to keep you up all night with adventures, words, and monster-slaying. The iPad wants you naked and submissive. Which one sounds more like a satisfactory reading experience?
Here is a list of things momentarily featured in the iPad ad above: photo displays, a romantic suspense/mystery novel by Tami Hoag, the New York Times, the new Star Trek, Ted Kennedy's memoir, and some kind of dude-heavy outdoorsy document/blog called "The Powder Report," which the user is editing. Note how many of those things are not books.
A list of things that are featured in the Nook ad: Where the Wild Things Are, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Pride and Prejudice, What to Expect When You're Expecting, The Book Thief (which if you haven't read you should do so immediately, but have a hanky close to hand). Of course, all these are also coyly referenced in the first-person female voiceover -- which then gives way to a male voiceover, which says this: "Experience the only e-book reader from the bookstore you've grown up with. Nook, by Barnes and Noble. Browse and download over a million titles wirelessly, and take your story wherever you want it to go."
The Nook ad is, of course, personal. It is designed to be this (undoubtedly fictional, but thoroughly plausible) story of one woman's history with books. And the male voiceover at the end reinforces the fact that this is one particular story, and that you (whoever you are) have a story of your own, and somehow buying a Nook helps you tell it or relive it or something. (Also: putting The Book Thief right there in an e-reader commercial is kind of hilarious for several reasons.) There is a mix here of books by male authors (Sendak, Zusak) and female authors (Blume, Austen, Murkoff and Mazel).
Whereas the iPad ad does feature both male and female hands on that pretty, pretty touchscreen, the content displays one female author (Hoag), one male author (Kennedy), a newspaper (journalism being an industry notorious for its sexism), a movie written by, directed by, and starring mostly dudes (though at least they tried to clarify Uhura's job in this one, but come on, we know it's all about the Kirk-Spock bromance), somebody's kids, and snowboarders. Moreover, the only book opened in the iPad commercial is the Kennedy memoir -- the Hoag mystery only appears as some kind of ad or banner that the user's hand never touches.
By preferring the iPad ad to the Kindle and the Nook, Pinter is saying two things. One: despite his screed against the publishing industry's neglect of men, Pinter is more interested in shiny gadgets with a rock soundtrack than in something that uses actual books, and not just the latest trendy political read. (Partly this is because the iPad is meant as a media-consumption device rather than just an e-reader -- but don't get me started on that whole mess.)
And two: gender disparity in the material (so many dudes in that iPad!) looks like equality to Pinter if you see both men and women dealing with it, and something closer to actual equality (60/40 if you count Murkoff and Mazel as one author) looks like it's skewed because the ad's protagonist happens to be a woman. The same is true of the music above: Pinter likes the male vocalist's rock song despite the lyrics, which are questionable from an advertising standpoint (how does this song sell iPads aside from being catchy?), and dislikes the female vocalist's piano melody despite the appropriateness of the song's sentiment for the product being advertised. (Shades of the recent Tiger Beatdown guest post on dude music, anyone?)
Pinter does not expect to identify with a woman -- but he expects women to identify with men. Because men are the default. (White men. Straight white men. With short hair. And guns.) All this tends to take the wind out of the whole "I don't read because publishers make books look girly" argument, which essentially amounts to "Why don't they put some explosions on the cover so it won't threaten my masculinity to be seen holding it?" Men shouldn't have to imagine themselves in a woman's place -- because that's a woman's place.