There are princesses and pornstars in my letterbox

Over the last few weeks, various packages have been arriving in my letterbox, packages I don’t mind my husband seeing because they are not clothes that feed my online shopping addiction; they are ‘research’ books. But then I opened a few of the packages and left the books lying around on the kitchen bench, having been waylaid en route to my study. My husband picked up one of the books and read out the title: ‘Princesses and Pornstars.’ He looked at me. ‘Research?’

He looked through the rest of the pile. The Lolita Effect. Female Chauvinist Pigs. So Sexy so Soon: The New Sexualised Childhood …. ‘Happy reading,’ he said.

And I am happily reading my way through a pile of provocatively titled books that all express different opinions about the extent to which girls are prematurely sexualised through popular culture and the media, or whether this idea is an overstatement, a kind of moral panic. I won’t fill you in on my opinions just yet; a third book is looming with some of this research at its core, and of course I want you to read the book.

But working my way through these books has made me realise just how many ‘movements’ and ‘ideas’ there are about childhood these days. There’s the Modesty Movement, there’s ‘Girl-power’ there’s ‘raunch culture’ and just about everything else from Ophelia to Cinderella has been used to critique the way children, but more particularly girls, are being brought up, sold to, sexed-up, overstuffed and used. Are there any positive stories out there about girls? I can’t find them.

So, in between all that, I’ve been reading a few other books that are no less thought-provoking, but a lot more subtle. One of these is Rachel Robertson’s memoir, Reaching One Thousand. I’ll insert a disclaimer in her – yes, I do know Rachel but I’m recommending her book because it’s great, not because I know her. The publishers have labelled it a memoir of motherhood, love and autism and it’s a lovely reflective work on the challenges of motherhood, which are made more stretching through having a child whose mind doesn’t work in ways that are considered ‘normal’.

What else? Helen Garner’s The Spare Room, Joan Didion’s Blue Nights and Brenda Walker’s Reading by Moonlight. All of these were worth reading, but none of them quite lived up to my expectations – perhaps my expectations were at fault thought, rather than the books. The pick of these, for me, was Garner’s book.

Next on my list: for research, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (no, not a positive story either I don’t think) and for relaxation: The Women in Black, By Madeleine St John. What are you reading? Any recommendations?

6 comments

  1. Glen Hunting

    Muriel Spark’s “The Ballad of Peckham Rye.” My first novel for a while, actually, as I have been finding it hard to find enough time to devote to one without just nibbling at it and forgetting all the plot threads. And I’m not just reading it because it’s short; I’ve been a Spark devotee for a while now. Lots of short stories before that, mostly out of Penguin’s newly re-released Books of English and American Short Stories. Amanda Curtin’s “Inherited” and “Best Australian Stories 2011” are waiting on the pile for me after that.

    Poor hubby sounds a bit bemused by the goings-on in your house, what with ham bandaids, cornflake lions and now treatises on raunch culture. 🙂

  2. Snap! I am reading Rachel Robertson’s book right now too. It’s quite beautiful, despite the fact that I’ve been a bit disturbed by it as my son’s now the same age as hers was when he began to be diagnosed and I’ve been over-analysing all tantrums and obsessions.

    I rather liked The Spare Room too but I did have greater expectations for it, I have to say.

    Other than that I’ve been having a bit of a YA kick reading all of John Green’s novels – I have a good writing friend in the US who is all about YA and his stuff came highly recommended – have loved reading all of them but especially “The Fault in Our Stars”.

    And I believe I’ll see you on Saturday at my course? It should be heaps of fun!

    • Hi Amanda, yes I’ve been doing the same thing with my two year old – 2 year olds do some very strange things at times and you can’t help but reconsider their behaviour in light of Rachel’s book.
      And yes, I will see you on Saturday, I’m looking forward to it!

  3. marlish glorie

    Just loved Inherited by Amanda Curtin. Brilliant! As was The Twin by Dutch author Gerbrand Bakker, and Bereft by Melbourne author Chris Womersely and about to dive into Light Years by American author James Salter.
    Thanks so much for your blog Natasha. They always get me thinking….which is something!

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