bookrants: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Girl in a Band, Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records

Just little bursts of happy rants, originally written for my zine. I decided to add the book descriptions in this post, even though it makes me feel silly (as the descriptions are longer than my rants), so that these will make some sense 🙂

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

From a leader of feminist punk music at the dawn of the riot-grrrl era, a candid and deeply personal look at life in rock and roll.

Before Carrie Brownstein codeveloped and starred in the wildly popular TV comedy Portlandia, she was already an icon to young women for her role as a musician in the feminist punk band Sleater-Kinney. The band was a key part of the early riot- grrrl and indie rock scenes in the Pacific Northwest, known for their prodigious guitar shredding and their leftist lyrics against war, traditionalism, and gender roles.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is the deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein’s life in music, from ardent fan to pioneering female guitarist to comedic performer and luminary in the independent rock world. Though Brownstein struggled against the music industry’s sexist double standards, by 2006 she was the only woman to earn a spot on Rolling Stone readers’ list of the “25 Most Underrated Guitarists of All-Time.” This book intimately captures what it feels like to be a young woman in a rock-and-roll band, from her days at the dawn of the underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s through today.

hungermakesmeamoderngirl2015 was such a good year for me when it comes to music non-fiction, because several books came out about things/people I loved in high school.

Carrie Brownstein and her band Sleater-Kinney (with Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss) would definitely be in this list. I can remember the first time I listened to SK; someone on the Witchbaby list* recommended them and their site was streaming 2 minute samples of their songs.

Unfortunately, our awful dial-up meant that I could only hear the first 20-30 seconds of each song before the connection timed out. Didn’t matter. The first 20 seconds were all I needed to fall in love with “Get Up”, “One More Hour”, and “Burn, Don’t Freeze”. I reached out to the witchbabies and some of the girls sent me mixtapes with SK songs, and after that they’ve become one of my permanent favourites. This book is really more about Carrie Brownstein than SK, but because so much of her life was SK, it reminded me of high school, and that time when everything was exciting and new. It also renewed my love of Corin/Carrie/Janet dynamics, and the band as a whole!

* the witchbaby list was an egroup for fans of Francesca Lia Block – it really was a lot more than that at one point.  (think nerdfighter, but much smaller and without the involvement of the author) and then, like all nearly perfect things, it disappeared.

 Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon, founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story—a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll, written with the lyricism and haunting beauty of Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

Often described as aloof, Kim Gordon opens up as never before in Girl in a Band. Telling the story of her family, growing up in California in the ’60s and ’70s, her life in visual art, her move to New York City, the men in her life, her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, her music, and her band, Girl in a Band is a rich and beautifully written memoir.

Gordon takes us back to the lost New York of the 1980s and ’90s that gave rise to Sonic Youth, and the Alternative revolution in popular music. The band helped build a vocabulary of music—paving the way for Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and many other acts. But at its core, Girl in a Band examines the route from girl to woman in uncharted territory, music, art career, what partnership means—and what happens when that identity dissolves.

Evocative and edgy, filled with the sights and sounds of a changing world and a transformative life, Girl in a Band is the fascinating chronicle of a remarkable journey and an extraordinary artist.

girlinabandThe first time I thought Sonic Youth mattered was when Amanda made me listen to one of their songs on her music player (one of those early boxy mp3 players that only fitted 10 songs) and my mind was blown, that was Sonic Youth? Really? Why were they not in my life before this? And that started my search for all things weird and good.

I know everyone was in love with Thurston Moore but to me Kim Gordon was the coolest woman on earth maybe (besides Carrie Brownstein and Kathleen Hanna and Francesca Lia Block maybe, oh why did I not have non-white heroes back then?) and I guess she still is one of the coolest people ever now. This memoir is surprisingly non-weird (but still very good) and my only complaint about it is that Kim probably should have waited a bit to write it, because her bitterness towards Thurston Moore was still strong and seeped through the pages, which was okay with me, but I could see how some people might have issues with that.

Oh, and I did not appreciate her comments about Courtney Love because I wanted to keep my image of Kim as someone supportive of other women in bands – in fact, one of the not-cool things about this book is that it had a sort of “I’m not like other girls” vibe. I think overall I appreciated Carrie Brownstein’s memoir more because of her feminism, and Kim Gordon’s less because of her dismissal of it.

Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records by Michael White

From 1987 to 1995, Bristol, England’s Sarah Records was a modest underground success and, for the most part, a critical laughingstock in its native country-sneeringly dismissed as the sad, final repository for a fringe style of music (variously referred to as “indie-pop,” “C86,” “cutie” and “twee”) whose moment had passed. Yet now, more than 20 years after its founders symbolically “destroyed” it, Sarah is among the most passionately fetishized record labels of all time. Its rare releases command hundreds of dollars, devotees around the world hungrily seek out any information they can find about its poorly documented history, and young musicians-some of them not yet born when Sarah shut down-claim its bands (such as Blueboy, the Field Mice, Heavenly, and the Wake) as major influences.

Featuring dozens of exclusive interviews with the music-makers, producers, writers and assorted eyewitnesses who played a part in Sarah’s eight-year odyssey, Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records is the first authorised biography of an unlikely cult legend.

popkissIn a way this book was much more academic in tone than the two memoirs, but it was equally loved. Because it’s about Sarah Records, and there is no day that I won’t appreciate anything related to Sarah Records.

Here’s my Sarah Records story: in high school I received a lot of awesome mixtapes from the witchbabies and some of them would contain the loveliest songs that would shape my musical taste for the years to come. One of these was Heavenly’s “P.U.N.K. Girl” and another was The Field Mice’s “Sensitive” and I loved both of these songs to pieces but as cassette tapes disappeared from my world and were replaced by CDs and iTunes playlists, I couldn’t for the life of me find these songs again, until much later when I discovered that both groups belonged to the best record label in the world, Sarah Records. I listened to as many Sarah bands as I could and have yet to find one I didn’t love, and since then I’ve wanted to know everything I could about it all, but it’s just so hard, even with Wiki and Google.

So – thank you Michael White for this amazing, amazing, book with lots and lots of background info about the label and its bands (I didn’t know that Harvey Williams was in almost all of my very favourite Sarah bands!) and the interviews with Clare and Matt and the bits about fanzines and how music was supposed to make people HAPPY and EXCITED about things. This book made me feel like a kid again while reading it, I loved it so much.

DWJ ReRead · Non-Fiction

The Skiver’s Guide by Diana Wynne Jones

skiversguideThis is one of the books I haven’t read before, so I was pretty excited to start on it. I also wasn’t sure if I should include it (and Reflections, and  The Tough Guide to Fantasyland) in my list because it’s not fiction. Including the nonfiction would make the completist in me want to look up all the other nonfiction by DWJ not included in Reflections and add those to the list. In the end I added the books, but not the other stuff (not because I didn’t want to, but because time constraints meant that I couldn’t look them all up!)

The Skiver’s Guide is a thin book, not even a hundred pages, with tips on how to avoid doing work. I think I was a little surprised, the first time I found out that DWJ wrote such a thing – not because it wasn’t like her to write something this funny and true, but because I had never heard about it from other blogs/people before then, or saw it listed in those “other books by the author” lists inside her other books. But when I read it, it made perfect sense – not only was it full of things I’ve done at some point of my life, and have observed other people doing; I could see her characters, or the sort of characters she would write about, in her tips.

Divided into sections, she first discussed the various methods and basic rules for skiving, before detailing types of people, from family members (the section on fathers was hilarious, as was the one on dealing with toddlers) to teachers and friends, and the children of parents’ friends. The book seems to say that everyone’s trying to skive or make someone else do stuff, and the main goal is to be trickier and avoid it all. It also details types of chores and how to avoid them specifically, and the section on music practice reminded me so much of Howard from Archer’s Goon.

Overall, I think that while there isn’t much to this book compared to DWJ’s other writing – especially since my copy is only 93 pages long – it’s still imbued with her wit and humour, and would be something I’d enjoy reading very much when I was younger, and much more of a skiver than I am today. Not that I don’t think it’s worth reading as a grown-up – I found myself reading out loud from it to friends, colleagues, and my dad, and it never failed to make anyone laugh. I’ll be getting a copy of this for my niece!

Fantasy · Non-Fiction

Reading Log: March 2011

Looking back at the list of books I read in March, I was surprised by how little I read last month. I felt like I was reading all the time. I continued reading Hiroya Oku’s GANTZ– this time no longer re-reading, but continuing from where I last left off. I read through volumes 21 to 26, and I think if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m swamped with assignments, fics to write, and reading for work, I would have continued reading until the latest volume. But then again, maybe I wouldn’t, because it’d be sad to not have any more volumes to read. GANTZ is just too addictive. I also finished reading the fourth volume of Yoshinaga Fumi’s Ooku, which I’ve been taking my time reading throughout some of February and all of March.

Since I didn’t have to read any GotM titles for March, I had more freedom in what to read. I started out with Dreamhunter and Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox. The premise of these books is very interesting, and I love how the world is fleshed out without ignoring characterisation or plot. I did feel like I got a bit lost towards the end of the second book, but it was probably more due to the fact that I was suddenly craving non-fiction than any fault of the book itself.

Kiddo brought to my attention this wonderful book by Stephanie Staal, Reading Women, which is both a memoir and a book about books – about the classic feminist texts, to be exact. I bought it and dived into it immediately, and it reminded me so much of those riot grrrl days. I ended up with a long list of books I wanted to read and/or purchase by the time I was done with it. It also had me craving for more books that reminded me of high school and college, so of course I went and bought Sarah Marcus’ Girls to the Front. I’ve only wanted to read ever since I heard about it last year. It tells the history of riot grrrl – not just the inspiring parts, but also the problems and conflicts within the community/movement. I wished that there would be more on Asian riot grrrls, and even riot grrrls in Asia, but I suppose that would be too much to ask. Actually, that was also my problem with Reading Women – when I went through the list of books Staal read for her classes, I saw that there were several titles that weren’t about white, middle-class women, but none of these were discussed in her book. I suppose that they weren’t relevant to her, as she’s writing it as a memoir, but I would have liked to know what she thought of those books.

As for books I normally wouldn’t read, I went through two of Anthony Browne’s picture books, The Tunnel and Piggybook, as well as Oedipus Rex. I absolutely loved the picture books – actually, I’ve been reading them more and more lately, so I’m not sure if they still classify as a kind of book I don’t usually read. Oedipus Rex was for class, and, well. It’s interesting to revisit it now, compared to when I read it as a kid, I suppose. It’s also interesting to note that no one else in class was familiar with the mythology in the play; it makes me wonder if I had a particular peculiar childhood or something.

~ originally posted on livejournal


Review: DIY: The Rise of Lo-Fi Culture by Amy Spencer

I ordered this book because it seemed really interesting – it’s about D.I.Y. and Lo-Fi culture, mostly zines, indie music and pirate radio stations. Since a lot of the books about D.I.Y. that I’ve seen focuses on art and craft, this book definitely seemed different from the others. And it is. It explores the origin of D.I.Y. ethics, the skiffle movement and Dadaism in the 50s, mail art, independent publishing, sci-fi zines in the 30s, and connects them to the punk and zine scene in the 70s and 80s, as well as the current indie scene. It gives a lot of historical info about the development of self-produced music and litereature, as well as the politics behind it.

Just flipping through the pages, and seeing bold titles about Riot Grrrl and Cometbus, I knew that it’s something I want to read. Most of stuff I have read about before, but not in a way that connected them to each other. There were also some historical stuff that I really didn’t know that much about and was glad to read (like the skiffle movement), but I was kind of disappointed that other than mentioning some bands (like Beat Happening), the indie pop/twee movement is largely ignored in this book. Spencer writes about Nirvana and K Records, but not about Sarah Records or Heavenly or The Field Mice (and not even the Vaselines!). I think this book is really worth the purchase, if only for the information on zines (my favourite part), but I was disappointed too. There are so many books on punk history and music and Spencer devoted a lot of pages to it, but the longest write-up on indie pop I’ve read is the “Twee As Fuck” article on Pitchfork and Spencer hardly mentioned it at all.

~ originally posted on blogspot

Books · Fantasy · Non-Fiction · thinking out loud

Books Read, and Other Updates

I really haven’t been in a blogging mood lately. I’ve been reading a lot, although not quite the books that I had wanted to read in December. I’m just really tired lately. Not really sure why exactly. Anyway, tonight my sister will be arriving home from Russia – it’s her winter break right now. I’m looking forward to her return – no one could annoy me like she does, which means she’s my favourite person in the world. She’s really crazy about Stephenie Meyer right now, and Harry Potter fanfiction.
Yesterday I made an account at Bookmooch, since I think some of the books I have in the Desa View room should go to better owners. I realised that I have a mass market paperback of The Neverending Story still! Since I also have a hardcover edition, I guess I don’t really need the mass market. Usually when I find double copies or books that I don’t mind trading/letting go I’d give them to friends, but I thought I’d try Bookmooch. I haven’t added all the books I’m willing to give away, though. Will be doing that later.
In February our store will be having a promotion on selected fiction titles about the faerie folk. At first it was going to be just the children’s and YA section, so I was just helping Kit out a bit in book selection (since I read a lot of books with this theme). Then Kit decided that my section (Fantasy) should have a selection of books as well. Choosing ONE title to for our monthly promotions (Gems of the Month) is difficult enough. There’s the choosing part, which could get pretty annoying, and the paperwork, which is rather tedious. This is my first time doing a 20-book promotion, and since it’s the Chinese New Year month we had to get the final draft to the printers early. It’s as frustrating as it was exciting. I actually really love the fact that we’re having this promotion, but the work involved is incredible. Now that most of the paperwork is over, though, I could say that it was fun. And I’m really looking forward to it – our combined final list includes Jane Yolen and Patricia McKillip and Charles de Lint and Holly Black and Neil Gaiman and Juliet Marillier and Melissa Marr and Emma Bull and Will Shetterly and Terri Windling!

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, retold by Nicky Raven. This is one of my favourite fairy tales, and this retelling is as enchanting as the original. My favourite thing about this particular book, however, is the illustration. Illustrated by Vladyslav Yerko, the art is just exquisite and full of little details that I might not have noticed if I hadn’t spent so much time looking at the pictures. I will probably be scanning some of the illustrations and posting them in my LJ after I’m done with scanning my Heath Robinson’s Andersen anthology.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Because I had lost my copy soon after finishing it the first time, and only bought myself a new one recently, this is my first re-read of Howl. And the first time I’m reading it in a very long time. What immediately struck me when I started reading it was how much I’ve missed the first time around. Back then I hadn’t read as much folklore as I have now, and that changed how I read the book in a big way. I wrote a “second impressions” rant on LJ that is about 3 pages on a Microsoft doc. file, and I’m even thinking of rewriting it and expanding it into a paper someday. (I haven’t been in a blogging mood much lately, but I have been in this “paper writing” craze, where I get ideas all the time and yet have no real reason to write them, since I’m studying Multimedia, not Lit) .

Robin Hood Book by Enid Blyton. I didn’t even know that Enid Blyton had a Robin Hood book! Found it at a used bookstore. The illustrations inside were really a distraction and doesn’t add anything interesting to the story, I think – I didn’t like them. But I enjoyed the book. Robin Hood is one of those legends that I’m only familiar with from the movies and one or two short pieces I read as a child, so Blyton’s version is the first time I’m reading it differently. I thought that since the volume was written for children, the story would have the same happy ending as the movies, but it went on to Robin’s death. This is definitely the volume I wish I had read when I was younger, and obsessed with Disney’s Robin Hood (my favourite Disney movie, even now).
The Sandman Papers edited by Joe Sanders. This anthology is meant for non-academic purposes, but the papers included are all very interesting. Some of them I really enjoyed, while at least one of them made me wonder if the writer have actually read The Sandman. The book is divided into two parts, the first one containing essays about specific issues or story arcs (mostly A Game of  You, The Kindly Ones, The Doll’s House and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) from The Sandman, while the second part examines The Sandman from the context of other works, or studies certain elements in the series – the choice of costume/dress for the Endless, for example. Some of the papers were definitely more interesting than others, but I found this collection a fun read anyway. I wonder if I should include this under “Non-Fiction” or under “Anthologies” for my 999 Challenge?

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. To tell the truth, I didn’t think I’d enjoy this as much as I did. I found this copy at BookXcess for less than 20 ringgit, which was the only reason I thought I might as well try it. I ended up enjoying the story and the description of C.S. Lewis’ Mars (Malacandra), and I especially enjoyed Ransom’s observations about Malacandra and its inhabitants, as well as his conversations with them. I’m usually uneasy with, and will avoid, fiction that is heavy with any kind of religious symbolism, but with this book (as was with Narnia, for me) the story is enjoyable by itself. I’m definitely looking forward to reading Perelandra, the next book in the trilogy.
~ originally posted on blogspot
Books · Non-Fiction

Review: Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer

A confession – I’m a sucker for memoirs about bookstores, or by people who worked in bookstores or in publishing. Or just by people who are bibliophiles. Fortunately Kinokuniya has a good selection of books on books in our “lit criticism” section. This particular book, I found in the “travelogues” section, but the same book is also in “Lit Criticism”, under the title Time Was Soft There.
This memoir is about George Whitman’s Shakespeare & Co bookstore (not Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co), which resides across the Notre Dame in Paris. I really can’t write about this without being incredibly biased. This is a truly romantic tale about an independent bookstore, the kind that I wish exists here. As a bookseller, I was pretty much gob-smacked by George Whitman’s way of running the store – he never kept an account ledger, he kept his money in hidden places all over the store, and he let total strangers run the counter. The bookseller in me was horrified – I couldn’t believe that this bookstore survived all of that – and the bibliophile in me was completely and utterly charmed. Because, you know, it is the wild eccentricities of book-people that make me love them so.
Even though I enjoyed the book, I wasn’t too keen on Mercer’s writing style. I wasn’t interested in all of the anecdotes he provided, and I wanted to know more about Whitman and the other characters in the store, rather than Mercer’s own experience there. But the story he told about Shakespeare & Co is an enchanting one, and perhaps it is his “down the rabbit hole” perspective that gives the book it’s edge.
~ originally posted on blogspot
Books · Non-Fiction · Romance

Mini Reviews: Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, Time Was/Times Change, We Thought You Would Be Prettier

Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella

This is a great book to start the year with, because (1) it’s hilarious and had me laughing almost the whole time I was reading it, and (2) it’s scary enough to make me vow not to overspend this year… or at least this month? After all, I already have 4 birthdays to shop for…


The first book had me reaching pretty much the same way – I loved it and it scared me. Add to that the feeling that I probably won’t read the second book, because I’m not too keen on getting a whole series of mass market books cluttering up my shelves. Then one day I at work I saw the shiny new B-formats, and I thought, I have to have them!
…Becky and I have something in common, even if it isn’t shoes.
Time Was / Times Change by Nora Roberts
The version I have of this is an older one, but I can’t find the cover so I’m putting up the reprint version instead. This book is really an anthology of two of Nora Roberts’ sci-fi novellas, Time Was and Times Change. I think it’s the whole time-travel thing that makes them two of my favorite Roberts stories, rather than the actual quality of the writing (these two were part of her earlier work, which are not as addictive as her current work).

I like her take on what the future would be like – instead of focusing a lot on technology, she shows that people are still people in the future, no matter how much else changes. The interactions between Caleb and Liberty in Time Was, or between Jacob and Sunbeam in Times Change were really funny and interesting. I enjoyed the different ways they phrase things, and how the meanings of words could change in time. Liberty/Libby’s thoughts on how Caleb’s speech patterns or word choices reflect the century he came from were interesting as well.

Other than that, both of these books are typical love stories.

We Thought You Would Be Prettier by Laurie Notaro
This would have gotten 4 hearts from me if it wasn’t for the fact that there were one or two chapters/articles that I find myself skipping through. Everything else in this book is so funny and engaging, that I pretty much breezed through this book. I loved entries like “Attack of the XL Girl” (if she thinks shopping for XL sizes is hard in US, she should try it here – I’d love to read her take on that!), “National Stupidity Day” (reminds me of all the less-than-intelligent customer inquiries I’ve had to handle), and “But It Won’t Fit Up My Nose” (a funny take on what happens when two biblioholics marry).
~ originally posted individually on blogspot