Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl

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3.5 Stars

Few if any authors capture obsessive and hapless male characters as well as Nick Hornby, so I was hesitant to start Funny Girl after picking up my copy because Hornby tries to capture female characters as well but often falls a little flat.  It was a wonderful surprise for me at how wonderful Hornby’s titular funny girl, Sophie Straw, really is.  Born Barbara Parker, the character is funny, charismatic, and sublimely well rounded.  After winning the Miss Liverpool title in the first few pages of the book, Barbara realizes that isn’t the life she wants. She relinquishes the title and runs to London where she wants to be the next Lucille Ball.

Barbara, now going by the stage name Sophie Shaw goes to read for a BBC comedy and the writers fall in love with her presence and rewrite the script around her.  At this point Hornby takes his only misstep, a pretty large one, he shifts the story from not just Sophie but to the two writers Tony and Bill, the producer Dennis and even her costar Clive.  It’s sad because Sophie is such a wonderful character but also understandable as Hornby starts to tackle a lot more than just a quirky sitcom star.

The setting is 1960s London where homosexuality is a crime, a woman is just meant to look good and find a man, and comedy is viewed as an inferior form of  entertainment. Hornby uses Sophie’s small town upbringing as a contrast with the views of the optimistic and worldly Dennis and the jaded Clive.  The big reason for the shift is we see this world through the eyes of Tony a bisexual who has opted to be happy in the marriage to his wife June while Bill struggles with both his homosexuality, as well as his desire to create something society deems as real art.

Hornby manages to discuss a lot of serious issues such as sexuality, sexism, repression, elitism, and so much more all while still giving a fun, enjoyable read.  Even with all their faults and failures, he loves these characters that he has created but none more than Sophie. “She wasn’t the sort of catch one could take home and show off to people; she was the sort of catch that drags the angler off the end of the pier and pulls him out to sea before tearing him to pieces as he’s drowning. He shouldn’t have been fishing at all, not when he was so ill-equipped.” That line wasn’t just about a potential male suitor, but all the guys that encounter her as she is the catalyst for where their lives go from here.

I decided to pair this book with Passion Fruit Kicker by Green Flash Brewery.  I don’t usually drink wheat or fruit beers, so it felt appropriate for such an ambitious novel from Hornby.  It helps that this new experience in both beer and novel came from consistent favorites in Green Flash and Nick Hornby.

Format: Trade Paperback

Inga Muscuo’s CUNT: A Declaration of Independence

4.0 Stars

First and foremost, take the title literally. This is not some ideological rambling on theIMG_20160607_124128 feminist movement or feminist expression. This is straight-up talk about your fucking cunt.

Muscio embraces a very holistic and almost neo-pagan approach to being a woman or as she proclaims a goddess. I found her passion and her experiences charming, if not quite elegant. She talks about everything from menstruation to abortion to activism. I admire her unabashed love for her blood towel and the way she has followed the moon phases to know her own body better. The level of deep love and respect she has for her body is akin to religious zealotry. While I don’t think I can ever be that type of girl (one who is dedicated enough to chart the moon every night), I surely admire her power.

Reading other reviews on Goodreads, I noticed that many people were critical of how she spoke against men and the male-dominated world. But to paraphrase from another feminist, Rebecca Solnit, when a woman starts talking about a man and the patriarchy, we may start off at describing something small, petty and patronizing and end with rape and murder. The violence against women and the dangers that a male dominated society poses to anybody with a cunt – it’s hard for some people, women included, to criticize because we have been bred to accept it.

I can’t say that I agree with everything in this book. But I do think it is a great womanifesto that all women of all ages should read. For example, I don’t agree with the glorification of whoredom without taking into consideration the sexual abuse, physical abuse, drug abuse and sex trafficking that happens because of prostitution. Furthermore, I believe that “whores” are created for the male gaze and for male desire. While she doesn’t specify too much about what type she’s referring to when she talks about “whores,” the impression is that she is referring to sexually empowered women who choose to sell their bodies. She refers to them as goddesses or priestesses. And teaching women and teaching men how to be sexually free is supposedly the greatest thing in the world. Ehh…Whatevs.

However, where I think she shines is when she talks about womanhood, sisterhood and motherhood and being “cuntlovin’. “Women should support each other. Women should look out for one another. Friends should make sure other friends get home safely. Women should not judge other women, etc…, if a woman in the community has been sexually harassed, all other women should harass the harasser. We should fill up his car with Limburger cheese and tell his new girlfriend that he’s an abuser. Embarrass the shit out of him.

And to end with a few fave quotes:

“Why did we fuck those boys who never exactly made our clits pound out the Bohemian Rhapsody in the first place? What were we doing? Did we love ourselves at all? We certainly mustn’t have, or we would at the very least, have practiced safe sex.”

“The enforced silence of women allows men’s fear of us and our sexual power to reign unchallenged. Thus ,the wisdom of brilliant people such as Audre Lorde is not venerated, and we are still sent to school where idiotic puds like Aristotle are worshipped.”

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I’m pairing this book with a fruit beer, Éphémère Pomme. This beer drinks like a cider or a white spritzer with a hint of apple. It’s light and drinkable without being too sweet. This book was fun and informative and made me feel happy as I read it, which made me want to drink something fun.

Beer Photo Credit: Beer Crank

Book Format: Paperback.