Russell Smith is Awesome, According Russell Smith

From the missing the point files, Russel Smith writes about what a swell guy he is to not sleep with the women who work for him (or rather, his publisher):
I need these people working at their best and most relaxed. They make me look good. If I made any of my colleagues nervous about talking to me or seeing me then I would only be damaging myself. They wouldn’t want to help me. So you could say it’s a selfish self-control. Hell, even a consensual relationship would be idiotic: I need my colleagues to be objective and unemotional. And I need my career more than I need the ego-boost of impressing a lady. Perhaps I’m getting old, but believe it or not, I actually value my colleagues’ professional abilities more than their beauty.

Which is tough to believe, given the space he devotes to telling all the LAYDEEZ in publishing how smokin' they are. By the way, if you're not 32, gorgeous, with a graduate degree* from one of the best universities in the country, you're invisible. Because according to Smith, publishing is absolutely filled with these women. That's the "truth." Except, it's not. At all. Publishing is filled with bookish girls, nerdy girls. As Stacey May Fowles pointed out, working in publishing is a "labour of love." It's not the pay and the glamour that attracts women (and men) to the industry, because there isn't a lot of either. It's the chance to work with the love of our lives: books.

If Smith is attracted to women because of their brains, that's one thing, but the article makes it sound like publishing is filled with Runway Model PhDs turned publicists. (Granted, publicists have more pressure on them to look good — way more). Then he wants to be a hero for managing to keep things professional. Hell, maybe he is, since so few manage to do so. I could do without the massive self-congratulations though.

Edit: Something just struck me: isn't it amazing that an industry so "dominated" by women (as Smith points out) is one of the lowest paid and hardest to get into? If we're so dominant, how come all these really educated women are making so little? Look, I know the margins on books are next to nothing, I know the industry as a whole makes next to nothing, but.. yes. Amazing.

*Actually, the graduate degree thing might be right. You need one to be an assistant these days, the field is that crowded

Sex & Fantasy (But Not Like That)

In a moment of extreme cynicism*, I once said: "Every time a woman has sex, it's a transaction."

The characters in Sub Rosa are women who have sex for money. However, the book manages to be rather unsexy for the most part. I hope this was a conscious choice on the part of the author, Amber Dawn, because it works here. The book is a fantasy, about another world, or parallel universe, where sex work is always extremely well-paid, safe, and glamorous. Even the downtrodden on Sub Rosa are Goth Lollis who reside in -- to steal a phrase -- a majestically disheveled mansion. Perhaps, it is an effort to normalize sex work in the context of a unreal novel. I do appreciate Sub Rosa for attempting to be a female-led fantasy quest novel. I never could get through The Hobbit; I tried so many times to read the Shanara series when I was in grade school; I couldn't even get into Kushiel's Dart**. Perhaps it's that Sub Rosa still has a hand in the "real" world, that kept me interested. More likely, I think an author finally set aside whatever it is I find so tedious in the usual fantasy novel, and just gave good story.

I don't think I'd be too out-of-line to call Amber Dawn sexually progressive. It's clear she's into shaking up perceptions of what sex is, or should be. So why is it, that in a book which attempts to normalize and humanize sex workers, our heroine is, at the beginning of our story... a virgin? I mean, what!? How are we not past this trope? I remember the first, last, and only Jodi Picoult novel I tried to read. I don't even remember what it was called, but I do remember how our heroine finds the man of her dreams, is assumed a virgin, and never tells him different, because he's so incredibly invested in her "purity." I think I was about 50 pages in when I stopped in disgust. Right, also, Jodi Picoult is not very good, but the point is, why isn't this whole cult of virginity over already? What year are we in? Why is virginity still so important? Dawn doesn't dwell on Little's virginity, and it's only mentioned a couple times. Still, I was bothered by it, and couldn't help dwelling. What am I missing here? It's a small detail that got me thinking a lot, but overall Sub Rosa worked for me.

* * *

Yep, I just talked about sex after I talked about sexual harassment. No, I don't see a problem there. Anyway, the Quill Blog linked me (with permission) yesterday. Book Ninja followed suit this morning, and then somehow The Huffington Post got a hold of the post. My hit counter exploded.

Hi, People.

So many of the hits have been from publishing houses, and media sites. Names I spent my whole adult life wanting to work for. The irony of getting their attention only after I have likely burnt my last bridge is crushing my ribcage a little bit right now. *ow* In the end it's fine, because this whole thing isn't really about me. Weird head-space though.

I was talking to the Boyfriend a bit about it all, and he wondered how Boss could even live with himself. I'm not defending or making excuses, but Boss does not live in a vacuum. He had a corporate culture behind him that permitted and excused his behaviour. That corporate culture is part of a larger culture that still undervalues women as people, and overvalues them as receptacles. These "incidents" aren't isolated, they're symptoms of something larger, and you know, ladies, we're not "there" yet. Wherever the hell "there" is... sometimes it feels like they keep moving it on us.

*Ah, but did you know? Romantics make the best cynics
**A book which is supposed to be incredibly sexy, and kinky, and all that, and I was just bored.
Pick up Jessica Valenti's excellent The Purity Myth.
That's not me in the photo. We didn't even have a water cooler!

Day Two

When I wrote yesterday's post, I linked it on my Twitter account so my friends could read it. Over 500 hits later, I'm humbled and stunned that it has traveled so far. Thank-you, everyone, so many of you, for your kind linking and for your support.

On Twitter, yesterday, I said that if I can help just one woman call "bullshit," then I'll have done something good in the world. Or maybe get someone to think, "Wow, this isn't my fault." Because it's not your fault, and you're not asking for it, and you have a right not to be treated this way. Please remember that.

If you've subscribed to this blog*, but haven't read anything else, I want you to know this is generally a humble book blog, and the talk will go back to that soon. You should also know I'm a feminist, and I'm not afraid of that word, or the politics that go along with it. If none of this is your bag, jump ship now. If you're interested, I'm very happy to have you along for the ride.

I do wish I had written a better, more coherent post, but it was the sort of thing that you write up in five minutes, and hit send before you can talk yourself out of it. Truthfully, I might have deleted had it not been linked within the first couple moments of its life. I'm glad I didn't delete. I'm glad you read. I hope, one day, more will write their own stories. I hope we can blow the lid off this thing, because I know; it's not just me either.

*Thank you, too, anonymous commenter. I've set up a button for that purpose. I never thought to do such a thing!

What It Feels Like For A Girl

Ever since the news about CEO of Penguin Canada, David Davidar's, departure came out, I've been thinking about making this post. About how much I could say, and whom it would implicate, and what would happen. In the end, I need to write this post, because it turns out a lot of women are silenced in publishing, by the small nature of the industry, and by the fact that most of the execs are men. I'm not in the industry any more, and I'm not going to name names. I am going to write about it.

I worked in a very small office, with a male boss. When I interviewed with my female soon-to-be-supervisor, we talked job experience, qualifications. When I had my second interview with the Boss, we talked about what music I liked and what I did on the weekends. This set up the "good cop/bad cop" dynamic I would work under for three years. She was mean, he would soothe our wounds. He was our buddy, she was the task-master.

I worked in an office of all women, save for the two six-month terms the two males lasted. Other than Supervisor, we were all under 30 when we were hired, and for most of us it was our first real job in publishing, after school and internships.
The atmosphere at the office was very casual. We were encouraged to view each other more as friends than co-workers. We laughed, we talked, we all went out drinking together. As friends, we were expected to talk about our relationships. So many many meetings disintegrated into conversations about whom we were dating. Those conversations often led to discussions of our sex lives, sometimes in graphic detail; the exact sort of conversations you'd have with your friends. We were young, we were among "friends," and we thought nothing of it. I'd often joke about "Boss's harem," though I was more right than I thought I was.

I have anecdotes, and hearsay about what my co-workers have gone through, with that Boss. I won't relate them here, because those are their stories to tell. I will tell you that on several occasions, outside of work hours, I was propositioned by the Boss. Once, at a club after a work dinner, all of us drinking till last call, he leaned in and said "You are a very sexy woman." I laughed it off. Like I laughed off the time we split a cab home from a publishing party and he said "Hey! Let's fuck!" I babied him, stuck in my own stupid Stockholm syndrome. "Now you know that wouldn't be a very good idea. You're drunk, and high, and I know you're not in your right mind." I got out of the cab at the end of my street, and let him go home alone. He apologized the next day, laughing about it. I told him not to worry, I wasn't "going to sue or anything." It was all just a big joke.

I flirted back, when he'd flirt, and I'm ashamed. But I blame him. I blame the way he manipulated us into thinking it was all part of the job, the "culture" of the office. We were often told to "entertain" people at our parties, like we were geisha. Dress sexy, be the first ones on the dance floor, get drinks. Looking back, I feel like we were supposed to represent not the brains and talent of our office, but the tits and ass. Lucky for him, we were a smart, hard-working bunch of people, and we managed to make that place work. That made him look good too. You know, I'm still not sure really what he does, other than take buyers to lunch. His tales of business trips always involved a lot of drinking, eating, and weed-smoking. At Book Expo, he'd point out all the women he'd slept with.

Some of my old co-workers still defend him. I can't begin to imagine why. Maybe if my termination from that place -- and let me make it clear I assuredly was not let go for my failure to sleep with the Boss* -- hadn't happened, I'd still give him a lot of leeway too. Maybe I'd still think he was a nice, but screwed-up guy. Right now, writing this post, I feel like my termination was a gift, so I could have the clarity to look back and say "No. You were wrong. This was wrong." I have been at my current job almost two full years, and no one's asked me if I like it up the ass yet. I'm pretty damn okay with that.

Edit: I had anonymous commenting turned off, due to spam. I've turned it back on, for the time being, in case you want to comment, but don't feel comfortable doing so under an online identity. I went through and removed all pictures of myself from this blog after publishing this post, so trust me, I get it.

*Shit, maybe it was.

Starting Over Easy, Gently Please

Last night a friend said to me "every act of writing is an act of starting over." This, after I told him I couldn't possibly write here any more. So I'm trying again. I miss the process of thinking more about the time I've spent with a book, rather than just consuming it.* All I can do is try. So here we go again, and be gentle please, I'm rather out of practice.

I still read the New York Times Book Review now and then, because I'm poncy like that. I try to pay particular attention to fiction reviews of authors I've never heard of, because at this point in my reading career, I prefer variety and new voices, to reading the complete works of one author, or re-reading an old favourite. This (not altogether positive) review of Bloodroot caught my eye, and into the library queue it went.

I have a proclivity for multi-generational sagas, and Bloodroot delivers, in the typical non-linear fashion of such things. The novel centres around Myra, the granddaughter of the first narrator, and the mother of subsequent speakers. The family is somehow "cursed," though their lives are no less difficult and tragic than others around them. The curse the family seems to hold onto, to explain their circumstances, could be equally applied to any of the neighbours or in-laws they come in contact with, with varrying degrees of intimacy. To illustrate that no one character is immune to this curse, the antagonist, Myra's husband John, is given voice at the very end of the novel, to show he too is only human, and suffers from social and familial difficulties that have shaped him into the extremely flawed human being he is.

Two related themes are prominent in Bloodroot: escape and incarceration. We are told that generations of women in Myra's family have "itcy feet" that keep them up at night, and many have difficulty remaining indoors for any length of time. They howl, they jitter, and they run from their mountain cabin with the first man that will take them away, mistaking "escape" for "love." What these women invariably find, however, is that life away from the mountain, down in the town, is more brutal and prison-like than they could have imagined. Myra's mother Clio falls to drink, and mental illness. Myra, too, is caged by the violence enacted upon her by her husband, twice being literally imprisoned, in the crawl space beneath their rundown house. Myra escapes her husband and flees with her twins back to the mountain, only to be found and judged an incompetent mother. When this last blow to her fragile state of mind comes, it reduces her to animalistic instincts, and she physically attacks. She is sent to a Nashville mental institution, where she spends the next decades.

Myra's children both spend time in detention centres. Johnny, her son, burns down his paternal family's hardware store, after he finds they want nothing to do with him. Laura assaults a children's aid worker, who comes to take her child away, in much the same way her mother did, resulting later in her incarceration. However, Luara is able to restrain herself somehwat, knowing that further outbursts of violence and mad behaviour won't help her get her child back, and moreover, she makes a conscious decision to break the cycle -- or curse. "I was fixing to bust out fighting again," she says. "But then I remembered how awful it was for me and Johnny, seeing Mama go wild. I didn't want to mark Sunny like Mama done me. I forced myself to be calmer."

Geographic and institutional barriers, however, stand-in for the true binding presence of violence, which touches the lives of everyone in the novel. If a man you repeat the violence, if a woman you crave it, because it means that you're cared for. Myra craves this ultimate possession proposed by John. He says "I want to marry you. But if you're going to be with me, you belong to me. I can't have it no other way" and she readily agrees, cheekily assuming "it works both ways." In a later section, John tells of the violence done to his own mother, which he unconsciously re-enacts on Myra, though time and distance are able to give him a perspective on the issue. In a rumination on the past, John notes, "Since I quit drinking and got a few decades older, I can look back and see how mean and crazy I was myself. I figure I ain't nobody to judge the way Myra acted, or where she ended up." Distance, however, is a luxury given only to males; men are free to move far away, and often do, but women only move by a few miles, into the houses of their husbands, and lives of drink, mental illness, and violence.

Bloodroot is compared to The Color Purple on its jacket, which I assume is a thematic comparison. The modern reader has likely come across many narratives about domestic violence, since The Color Purple. We are aware that those abused often abuse in turn, so Bloodroot doesn't really break new ground here. The New York Times tossed the word "gothic" around, and I suppose Bloodroot could loosely be termed as such. The curses and visions, decaying homesteads situated in a miasma of industrial chemicals and railroad noise, hysterical animalistic women, and dark family secrets can indeed be viewed as gothic devices. However, I think Greene makes a conscious decision to show that the horror is actually in the everyday details of familial violence, which in the end respects no border or class strata, but replicates itself through generations. Like a curse.

Ultimately, I feel like I've been through Bloodroot before, and I had a strange detachment** from some really horrific storylines. Maybe that's the point, I'm not sure. If you live a life of violence, for any period of time, maybe you check out and see that life like a reader or writer, instead of a participant.

*It's appropriate that my booklist tracking is on a companion site of All Consuming

**A rural-south-Americana novel I found far more moving, was the excellent Strange as This Weather Has Been, by Ann Pancake, which was in my top 5 list of 2007 (as requested by Steven W Beattie).