14 July 2014

Caitlin Moran Readalong: How to Build a Girl

Welcome to the first week of discussion for the Caitlin Moran How to Build a Girl prepublication readalong!  Thanks to the generosity of Harper Collins USA, a whole bevy of book bloggers will be giving you a blow-by-blow discussion of this book, which will be published in the US in September.  (What ho, you lucky UK folks already have access to it!).

This week we're discussing part one, Blank Page, and I confess that I read part one about a month ago and neglected to take notes, so let me just turn to the dog-eared pages and see what I can come up with. Already on line one, page one, I'm stopped in my tracks.  Her brother is named Lupin?  What?  Is this a case of all roads leading to Harry Potter, or are little boys *actually* named Lupin in England?  Ridiculous.

Moving on.

Um. We arrive at the first moment where the main character and I diverge in a wood and I definitely take the one less traveled.  This teenage narrator is talking about masturbation.  In a rather open and matter of fact manner.  Um, I'm still pretty shy about saying the word out loud, but when I was a teenager, I don't think I ever even thought about it. It was the rural South and a different time and Southern Baptists were ready to run you on a rail out of town for any little transgression. There's a whole lot of wanking in this book, and I mean, bully for her and all that, though it's a little strange that she mentions she's sharing a bed with her little brother at the time.  And while I'm on the subject, maybe my usage is off on this one, but I thought "wanking" was a decidedly, erm, male form of activity.  That gerund just sounds like it's describing a particular hand gesture, and that gesture is not one that I associate with the female anatomy.
Yup, that's the one.
Then again, it worked in that episode of Buffy...
Or not...
Okay, enough with the crude gifs for a little while.

What I think is actually sweet about Johanna is the utter lack of embarrassment she seems to feel for her family, particularly for her parents.  I mean, when her dad roars home drunk from the pub and puts on his agonizing music show for the dude, Johanna isn't all *cringe* and *eye-roll*.  She's more, like, aw, Dadda's at it again. As someone who was pretty much perpetually embarrassed of my own parents for no particular reason, I find that rather sweet. She's so earnest, she even likes his music, though it's clearly awful.

And then when the nurse arrives and confuses Johanna with her postpartum mum, my heart just kinda aches for her when she launches into this:
This is all because I am fat. If you're going to be a fat teenage girl, it becomes hard for people to guess how old you are. By the time you're in a 38DD bra, people are just going to presume you're sexually active, having rough, regular procreative sex with alpha males on some wasteland. Chance would be a fine thing. I haven't even been kissed yet. I want to be kissed so much. I am angry I haven't been kissed.  I think I would be really good at it. When I start kissing, the world is going to know about it. My kissing is going to change everything. I'm going to be the Beatles of kissing (20-21).
Or where she's launching into what she wants in her life:
There isn't a word for what I want to be yet. There isn't a thing I can gun for. The thing I want to be hasn't been invented. Obviously, I know some of what I want to be: primarily I want to move to London, and be hot...I want everyone -- men, women, Minotaurs; I read a lot of Greek mythology, and I'm out for whatever I can get -- to want to have absolute, total sex with me, right in my sex places, in the most sexual way possible. Sexually. This is my most urgent mission (28). 
I'm not judging.

So angry and flippant, yet earnest and full of yearning for what she has yet to experience.  That's adolescence right there, kiddo.

In between Johanna's adolescent diatribes, I also love how she sneaks in wry political commentary, like the industrialization, and then the failed promise of that industrialization, of Wolverhampton: "the city died on their watch, and there is a communal sense of misplaced culpability about it. This is what dying industrial cities smell of: guilt and fear. The older people silently apologizing to their children (22)."

And then, the buildup for her television appearance...I thought any number of disasters were going to happen.  That she might forget her poem at home.  That she might clam up in front of the cameras.  I thought Johanna was home free when she quipped to the tv host that it would be inappropriate for them to go on a date.  BUT WHO COULD HAVE PREDICTED THE SCOOBY DOO BITS?
Scooby always pops out of nowhere
Not I.  And I'm pretty sure I actually threw my book on the floor so that I could indulge in some serious cringing on Johanna's behalf.  Because by now, I'm naturally feeling protective of her and I cannot imagine how this story of hers can possibly end well. Bring on part two, I say!

True story: on an only tangentially-related note, there is a persistent idea in pop culture that the five main characters in Scooby-Doo (my favorite childhood cartoon) are based on the five colleges in my area: Smith (Velma), Mount Holyoke (Daphne), Hampshire (Scooby), Amherst (Fred), and the University of Massachusetts (Shaggy).

Blog-alongers: please leave a comment and add your blogpost to the linky list.  Hope y'all are having as much fun as I am!





44 comments:

  1. I laughed so hard at the Scooby Doo part, so it seems we differ there. I probably SHOULD'VE felt bad for her, but I was like "whateeever, she'll get over it. Y'know, probably."

    Also AMERICAN HORROR STORY GIF yessssssss.

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  2. Ah, you're so right about her not being embarrassed about her parents! I guess it's a thing where she doesn't have any friends to be embarrassed about them in front of, so she just takes them as they are as she would friends. She is mildly disturbed when they get a bit touchy-feely though, to be fair!

    All English boy children are called Lupin now. I think that's a rule. (No, really, I'm not entirely sure what that's about. I would say it's a posh person thing, but that's not really the case here... But I'll take the Harry Potter road here)

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    1. I wish I'd had that insight re: no friends for her parents to embarrass her in front of. I'm sure that's key.

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    2. Are we certain Lupin is his actual name and not a nickname? Maybe?

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    3. I feel like, in a pre-Harry-Potter world, nicknaming your kid Lupin is probably even weirder than naming him that in the first place.

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  3. Ohhh, that Buffy GIF! LOOK AT GILES'S FACE! My day is made and it's not even noon yet. Yeah, I'm in England and I totally thought wanking was the guy version, but... whatever. Regional language differences, maybe. I adore Lupin and his pigeon-stalking. I think Johanna may be my spirit animal. I nearly died at the Scooby Doo moment, half from laughter and half from sheer embarrassment. And I want Caitlin Moran to be my cool auntie. THAT IS ALL.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not alone re: the use of wanking. I feel the same way about women who use the phrase "jerking off." I keep wanting to say, "I think you might be doing it wrong."

      Johanna is definitely one of my spirit animals. And maybe now it's Caitlin herself.

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    2. Women have pretty much no decent slang equivalent to "wanking" or "jerking off." I mean, I will DIE before I use the phrase "flicking my bean."

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    3. I now will be giggling all night over the phrase "flicking my bean."

      There have *got* to be better euphemism for masturbating for us ladies. I vote that we should all create our own before the end of the readalong.

      BTW, I am getting a *ton* of spam comments this week on this post.

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    4. The spambots are PERVS.

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    5. The only female-centric wank term I can think of is "jilling off." I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that in real life, though.

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    6. I have never heard 'jilling off' before and will probably never use it, but that's hilarious.

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  4. Y'ALL: THE LINKY LIST HAS DISAPPEARED...I DON'T KNOW WHY, BUT IT JUST OCCURRED TO ME THAT IT MIGHT BE BECAUSE OF THE CONTENT OF THE POST. SO PLEASE LEAVE A LINK TO YOUR DISCUSSION POST IN THE COMMENTS SECTION INSTEAD.

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  5. The linky is showing up for me now :) Yes to everything about the wanking! Not something I have her comfort level discussing nor something I would ever describe a woman as doing. Also, fantastic GIFs! Like you, I cringed for Johanna about the scooby doo thing. Poor girl! Hopefully things will get better for her, but I'm not sure I expect them to!

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    1. It's the case of the disappearing, reappearing link.

      I think by the end of the book Johanna will triumph with a sense of self-confidence and self-worth but it will take us through lots of cringe-worthy scenes before she gets there.

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  6. OMG your wanking gesture GIFs!

    I thought of her lack of embarrassment for her parents as well, except... I kind of think she SHOULD be a little more embarrassed. I'm chalking it up to her still being kind of young and naive, but her father is pathetic (seriously dude, stop accidentally flashing people) and well... their situation sucks. So I guess I'm glad that she's not feeling much turmoil over them being poor, but at the same time, I want her to realize that her parents are kind of acting like big children and that it's bad for her and her siblings, you know?

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    1. Erm, I wasn't expecting embarrassment over her poverty, exactly. I look back and I was mortified if my mom did the "walk like an Egyptian" dance in front of my friends, or if my dad kissed my friends on the cheek when he saw them. I was unspeakably embarrassed by totally minor things, so when Johanna completely took it in stride that her dad was aurally assaulting a random stranger from the pub with his bad music, I was impressed.

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  7. this sounds like so much fun! i can't wait to read more in this series- and get my hands on the book!

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    1. it's so fun--I bet AnneDeC has a copy she could send you...

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  8. Yes! The complete unabashed honest and (pretty damned unconditional) love that she feels for her family is fabulous. I also like that for a 14 year old she seems to lack a lot of snarky resentment about having to be the big caretaker.

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    1. Johanna is a bundle of contradictions and I just love her.

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  9. I was also surprised by Johanna's lack of embarrassment or even self-awareness. I was mortified for her when she was clueless. It's a great read -- utterly raw in it's langauahe

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    1. Yeah, "raw" is a good descriptor. Both of the humor but also Johanna's lack of filter when it comes to her narration--and also, occasionally, her life.

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  10. Your gif game is strong. Well done!

    You pulled out such great quotes. Some of my fav ones. And you make a good point about Johanna not being embarrassed by her parents and it's so sweet. Her dad is such a mess, but a sweet mess.

    The linky is showing up for me but I tried adding my name but was DENIED. I'll try again but if I show up multiple times, sorry!

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    1. Looks like all of the linky problems have been fixed. I'm glad it wasn't a case of content censorship!

      Re-skimming some of this last night made me realize what an ass I was about my own parents when I was 14.

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  11. I laughed and cringed in equal measure at the Scooby-Doo incident. It was embarrassing yet hilarious, but the aftermath is just pure mean. Although I know that is exactly how it would go down. Still, Johanna is such an interesting character already, I'm really excited to see her grown and change.

    Your gif choices are top notch. I need to get on the gif action - that'll be my aim for next week.

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    1. yeah, clearly the gifs are the most important part.

      Cringing and laughter--that about covers most of section one, doesn't it?

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  12. I admit I got off to a rough start with this one, mainly due to the frenetic nature of the narrative and the jumping back and forth between past and present tenses, but by the time Johanna appeared on TV, she had me. Love your Gifs. :-)

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    1. Glad things came together for you near the end. With luck, it'll stay on the same course. Can't wait to read about her reinvention!

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  13. Following all your comments is intriguing! I nearly didn't start this book (having loved "How To Be A Woman") as the first paragraph made me feel uncomfortable - imagine that gender reversed!!??
    Anyway ladies you are me new addiction - I will be tuning in regularly!

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    1. Not having read Moran before, I'd say that the first page took me a little bit aback, too. But I'm glad you'll be following our adventure!

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  14. I've become obsessed with this readalong. And with the bar exam breathing down my neck in T minus 16 days, I'm totally blaming Caitlin Moran if I fail. :)

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    1. Failing the bar because of Caitlin Moran is totes legit. (Did you see what I did there?)

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  15. That AHS gif is everything Emily.

    In terms of wank being male/female. I've heard it used to describe female masturbation but it's usually within a context of trying to reclaim it and desexualise female masturbation. Since female masturbation always seems to be framed for male pleasure, whether in porn or romance novels, it seems to be about removing the candles and silk sheets and just make it a human urge instead. If that makes any sense.

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    1. Couching "wanking" in terms of reclamation makes sense to me. Tell me: are women ever called wankers as an insult? Or is it a term still strictly reserved for males?

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    2. I know I've used wanker to insult men and women, but I'm not sure if it's common at all.

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  16. Wait, Hampshire isn't Shaggy?? I am shocked.

    I'm wondering how quickly this book will make it onto the banned books list after reading this first section. I know Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was challenged somewhere recently because it happened to mention masturbation a few times. And Moran certainly doesn't make it hard on them to find the wanky bits. I mean, usually the idiots who try to ban books don't even bother to read them, but in this case the part they'll probably find most offensive is right there in the first paragraph.

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    1. Scooby = always craving Scooby snacks = marijuana culture = Hampshire. Shaggy = dumb guy = public university.

      Not saying it's PC, but that's the usual justification.

      This is a book marketed to adults, not YA, despite the 14 year old protagonist, and adult books are usually shielded from the banning craze unless they're put on school reading lists. BUt yeah, in this case they wouldn't have to read very far to find something they think is offensive and worthy of banning.

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    2. I was thinking as I started the book that it doesn't seem very YA. Not because of the content (I think teenagers can handle and would likely benefit from the frank discussion) but because of what Caitlin said in the intro letter about wanting readers to remember what it was like to be a teenager.

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    3. In honor of Caitlin and how she doesn't mince words, I'll confess that there's something...extremely sexy about the Minotaur. *runs away*

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    4. Ah, Megs, you made me LOL.

      Why did I think this was kind-of-sort-of being marketed as YA? Maybe it's because I can't take the cover art seriously, and I tend to think bad YA cover art is more excusable? Hmmm.

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  17. This book made me hoot with laughter. It's witty, hilarious and struck me as absolutely authentic. This may be because it is more than loosely based on Caitlin Moran's own experience but that didn't take any of my own enjoyment away from it. Thoroughly recommended for anyone that enjoys either How to be a Woman or her columns, or for that matter anyone who likes to laugh.
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Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)