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

Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

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Serrano’s Whipping Girl is a very personalized and informative discussion on gender identity. Serrano explains the language of gender and the many factors that make up our expectations of gender. Serrano goes into length about femininity, trans-misogyny, and sexism. She explores what it means to be a transwoman and how they are treated. Her knowledge coupled with her clear writing style makes this book an enjoyable read. It is the best educational text for trans-allies or anyone hoping to learn a little more about the people around them. At times, I found all the new language overwhelming. It makes me a little nervous thinking and learning about these issues as a trans-ally. If it’s so confusing for me, how do I advocate effectively for the community that I support? So much about the LGBTQ is based on ignorance and misunderstanding. The ongoing battle to change or enlighten people’s pre-established biases is frustrating.

Quotes: “It is no longer enough for feminism to fight solely for the rights of those born female.”
“And while we credit previous feminist movements for helping to create a society where most sensible people would agree with the statement ‘Women and men are equals,’ we lament the fact that we remain light-years away from being able to say that most people believe that femininity is masculinity’s equal.”

I’m pairing this book with Goose Island’s saison, Sofie. I love saisons and this style alesofie drinks pleasingly when reading a book that will leave you feeling confused but informed. Oh, the things you didn’t know you didn’t know. Let your beer be a comfort to you as you try to sort out cissexuals, oppositional sexism, traditional sexism, gender hierarchies and femininity in feminism. Good luck!

Beer Photo Credit: Beer Metal Dude
Format: Paperback.