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The Anti-Cool Girl

Content warning: mental illness, addiction, suicide ideation. 

My experience of this book was a bit different to my usual reviews because I didn’t read it, I didn’t listen to it as an audiobook per se, but I listened to it as a podcast called “Mum Says My Memoir is a Lie“.

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“The Anti-Cool Girl” by Rosie Waterland is deeply personal memoir about Waterland’s experiences growing up in a dysfunctional family plagued by mental illness, addiction and poverty. Waterland chronicles her sometimes hilarious and sometimes deeply painful memories from birth up until just before publication. Although Waterland’s mother Lisa’s alcoholism had prevented her from reading the book when it first came out, Lisa has since sobered up and is ready to challenge Waterland on some of the things depicted in the book. On the podcast, each episode begins with Waterland narrating a chapter from the book and then Waterland and her mother Lisa spend the rest of the episode discussing the events of the chapter, especially around whether Waterland’s recollections are correct.

I think it’s difficult to separate out the book from the podcast because so much of podcast is the book, so this is going to be a kind of combined review. Waterland is a very funny writer, and has a exaggerated, self-depreciating sense of humour that balances out the more serious parts of the book. Waterland is also unflinchingly honest about her feelings and experiences, sometimes in quite shocking (and refreshing) detail. This book is overall an incredibly telling insight into Australia’s care and protection system, the public housing system and the mental health system. Rosie also shares her personal experiences with depression, suicide attempts, bullying and weight gain and then her remarkable success in her writing.

When I first started listening to this podcast, hearing Waterland read a chapter of her book, my initial judgment was that her mother Lisa was a terrible mother whose alcoholism traumatised her children. I think that if I had read the book by itself, that would have remained my judgment the entire way through. However, having Lisa participating in the podcast and responding to each chapter did lead me to think that Waterland was perhaps not always the most reliable narrator, especially in the chapters about her younger years. It also gave me a lot more empathy for Lisa and a better appreciation of her own struggles. However, where the facts aren’t completely clear or when some of the subject-matter gets a bit dark, you can count on Waterland to bring the mood back up with a joke or an embarrassing story about herself, even if it’s a bit embellished.

This is a powerful, hilarious and insightful book that is given a whole new layer of depth through this unconventional storytelling platform. I think the book is good, but the podcast is excellent and it is a very rare opportunity to listen to frank conversations between an author and her subject-matter: her mum.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Non Fiction

More Hubs That Provoke

I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the author, and I was very interested to see what it was about. Roy T. James is recently retired from a long and diverse career with the Indian Navy and has been writing at length about his thoughts and philosophies about the world and where it’s heading.

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More Hubs that Provoke” by Roy T. James is a short collection of essays about various topics that have piqued the author’s interest. This book ranges in topic from the modern role of politicians to predictions about the evolution (or demise) of humanity. James has a particular interest in the organisation of society, and a lot of his chapters explore the changing roles of caste, democracy and gender.

This book is clearly intended to be provocative, yet I was surprised by how many of James’ ideas I agreed with. I particularly enjoyed his suggestion that with a more educated public, political leaders are becoming less distinguishable from the general populace and therefore more redundant and easily replaceable with computer programs. James is an articulate writer with clearly reasoned arguments and this is a succinct and snappy book. The only one of his statements that I found myself violently in disagreement with was right at the beginning where he suggests that writing is an unnatural form of communication for people with insufficient social skills. Given he wrote this book, that may have been irony.

A quick, interesting and eloquent read with some novel ideas.

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Fight Like a Girl

Clementine Ford is one of Australia’s most well-known feminists. A columnist for Daily Life, Ford has become famous for her acerbic and dramatic writing style and for unashamedly publicly drawing attention to the horrific online abuse she receives on a daily basis. She’s just published her first book, and as the set book for Feminartsy‘s Read Like a Feminist bookclub, it was solidly on my list.

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“Fight Like a Girl” by Clementine Ford is her manifesto on feminism. Drawing largely on her own personal experiences and knowledge, Ford discusses topics ranging from eating disorders, sexual violence, online abuse, abortion and sexuality. Part memoir, part statement of values and part humour, this book chronicles Ford’s journey towards finding her brand of feminism.

I struggled with this book. About halfway through I messaged a friend who was reading it at the same time to discuss it. I couldn’t really figure out what I was reading. It wasn’t a heart-wrenching, beautifully written memoir like “The Hate Race“. Nor was it an immaculately researched, clear and succinct guidebook like “Speaking Out: a 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls”. My friend said it sounded like I was having trouble with the structure, and I think that was exactly it.

This book is loosely structured by theme, but there is a lot of overlap. It reads like a stream of consciousness. While there were some interesting insights and vividly described memories, there were also a lot of blanket statements, vulgarity and humorous hyperbole. Although I agreed with a lot of what Ford was saying, I’m not sure this is a book I would recommend. I thoroughly agree with the right for women to be as gross and loud and human as they like, but this book kind of reminded me a bit of an art exhibition I saw earlier this year. A film had been playing of a one-armed man who was vomiting blue dye. I could appreciate the art, but after I while I simply couldn’t look at it any more. I appreciate that the language she uses represents the language in which she is spoken to every single day, but after a while this book became a bit too abrasive.

Thematically, I think some of Ford’s chapters were stronger than others. I felt like her arguments about abortion, her exposé of online abuse and the hypocrisy of being called a “man hater” were her strongest chapters. She really hit her stride and stuck a great balance between facts and feelings, and wrote convincingly and evocatively. In some of her other chapters she was a bit more laissez-fair with facts and sources.

I also felt like this book was written for a narrow audience: Ford’s fans. Ford is critical of men, ranging from white (ribbon) knights to to MRAs, and fair enough. Ford is also scathing of women who “don’t need feminism because…” and rightly so. However, it’s a little hard to figure out who this book is for. Instead of hooking people with urgent and heartbreaking empathy like Maxine Beneba Clarke, or with cool logic and by being informative without being condescending like Tara Moss, this book seems to be written for people who already agree with her. While I agree that it’s not the role of women generally to educate men on the overwhelming social benefits of gender equality (that’s what the internet is for), I think as a prominent feminist Ford could probably have used her writing a little more effectively to spread her sound and valuable messages – especially to other women.

There was a lot in this book, and it gave me some stuff to think about and a few chuckles, but mostly I felt like I was the choir being preached to. Ford’s columns are great in moderation, but a whole book’s worth of sexist slurs (regardless of the irony with which they were being used) was a bit overwhelming and ultimately, this book was a bit of a slog.

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