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The Cozy Spot

15 posts categorized "Books"

September 19, 2008

Another SATC Couch Trip: The Carrie Diaries or Bullshit Ad Infinitum

I was reading an article in Australian Vogue about the Carrie Bradshaw phenomenon, namely the unrealistic example of a writer's life offered by this fictional character. The article is only available in the print edition of Australian Vogue, but if it can be summed up, it basically points out flaws in the Carrie Bradshaw world of writing. For example, it's completely impossible to go spastic in luxury fashion stores in Paris on a mere twenty thousand dollars; you can't buy four Chanel suits with twenty thousand dollars. There's more where that came from. Regular splurges on premium designer heels for a once-weekly columnist is completely unrealistic. In the Sex and the City film, one pair of shoes Carrie wears are quoted (in the film) with an incorrect price in the vicinity of five hundred dollars when the real pair is around nine hundred dollars.

So what the hell is going on? What is it with unrealistic characters? Do writers (Candace Bushnell) really believe that other writers are going to swallow the bullshit? Carrie lives in Manhattan, she writes a one-weekly column, she can afford to pay her rent, buy heaps of designer heels, go on spending sprees in Prada (a mere handbag averages two thousand dollars; Prada doesn't create dresses below five hundred dollars) and go nuts with her book advance (a paltry twenty grand) in Dior, in Paris. I'd believe if it there was any reference to a huge trust fund, but there isn't, which is why the character of Carrie Bradshaw is severely flawed.

The Vogue writer pointed out the disparities; she was unable to recall any similarities in her life. At one point she decided to increase her writing schedule and relied on her partner financially; she still couldn't afford designer trinkets. If you're single, have no additional financial support from a spouse or family, then you're on your own. People wonder why writers are –in a way- predisposed to bouts of depression. Well here's a clue: you're trying to write, balance writing with a full-time job, have no other form of financial support apart from your day job, and feel like you're going nowhere sometimes. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why some people find it discouraging or downright depressing, but in the world of superficial columns, fictional writers like Carrie can afford to buy nine hundred dollar Louboutins from the boutique.

Well there's more Carrie. Not to worry. Bushnell is planning the Carrie Diaries
. The first book in the Carrie Diaries is slotted for 2010. By then, are we going to be interested in a teenage Carrie? It's been years since the TV series finished, and by 2010, two more years would have passed since the film, and why would thirty-year-old women, or thirty-plus year old women be interested in reading the 'teenage' diary of Carrie? I mean, we've already read about the sexual incidents, have watched the show (which is absolutely nothing like the original book) and the film, and we're going to take a retro dive into Carrie's teenage insights? It's becoming like Friday the 13th; endless sequels of nothing-in-particular. Then again, I can see the appeal or corporate appeal behind such a character. Sex and the City is also about advertising fashion brands, and it has become more about fashion brands than a story. Can we expect a teenage Carrie to wear a bubble skirt, tube skirt or shoulder pads, Eighties style? (Insert Al Pacino Godfather III voiceover) "Just when you thought you got out (from the pile of shoulder pads, Choose Life! T-Shirts, Frankie Says Relax T-Shirts, bubble skirts et al) they (Harper Collins and Candace Bushnell) drag you back in."

When will Candace Bushnell ever grow up? By 2010, the aftermath of the financial crisis (around the globe), not to mention the recession that the US is in denial about, a character like Carrie will be out of synch or out of the times. I never thought I'd see the day where characters (book to television) would get up my nose but Carrie Bradshaw is a neck-and-neck tie with Belle (de Jour). I'm just waiting for the photo-finish.

September 12, 2008

Holy F$%%! In the Confessional?

I don't know what to say about the 101 Things to Do Before You Die bandwagon of books. Perhaps there ought to be another book titled 101 Types of Books Not To Write Before You Die? These books have become so freaking unoriginal. Why the 101? What is it about the number? Why not an even number?

The latest in the 101 series is the 101 Places to Have Sex Before You Die. This book has angered the Catholic Church because of a place - the confessional booth. I realize that certain books (of this caliber) are all about sensationalism; who really follows the silly lists to a T? Few. People buy them for the humorous aspect, but how long before these books become...tedious? I'm amazed that it took two authors to write this book. Is it that difficult to compile a list of sex places?

I wouldn't go as far as a church rep, who said "This is sick stuff and the authors and the book publishers should be ashamed of themselves," but I will say that this type of book is a waste of paper. As for having sex in a confessional booth. It would be really difficult in popular churches, and let's face it, who really wants to be known as the person who fucked (and was arrested) in a confessional booth? Is it really that controversial in the world of celebrity sex tapes and porn? I'm wondering if the authors have included Mt Everest as a sex destination?

August 26, 2008

Insecurity as a measure of book bestseller lists

Bitches My mother's side of the family boasts one tradition that has gone unnoticed, and while black sheep are categorized thus due to a host of eccentricities, I'd have to be a black sheep due to marriage. You see, the tradition in my mother's side of the family is to be married before the age of twenty-five. 95% of my relatives (including uncles and aunts) were married before that age with the exception of one cousin who married in his thirties, and actually met his maker on his wedding day. Thus, I'm not sure if it was so much of a 'goal' but a 'done thing' for the males within that side of the family because let's be truthful here, males don't share the same wedding fantasy as women.

"One day you'll marry," was one of the first things I was told as a young child. It also followed that I'd marry a nice boy or was expected to marry a nice boy, so I spent a quarter of my early life with this idea in my head: marriage is a natural function. Enter the 21st century and marriage appears to be an impossible feat, but here's the thing: I've spent the last decade of my life turning my back on cultural programming, going the opposite direction. It is simply not in the plan and as far as I'm concerned if things don't naturally evolve that way, there's little point in forcing the issue. Hence, I don't trawl dating sites or party each weekend with the hope of meeting Mr Groom. It may come as a shock, but I don't really give a rat's testicle anymore, but observing trends, especially publishing trends in the form of advice books, is amusing and if I reveal the controversial snippet that I bury within, I find that it only annoys people but how else to view it? Men aren't really insecure about whether they'll marry at some point in their life and I think that women ought to follow their example and not be hung up on the issue of marriage. The more hung up, the more elusive the 'dream' becomes.

If women weren't insecure (about whether they'll marry) then why are books such as Why Men Marry Bitches – A Woman's Guide to Winning a Man's Heart successful? In fact, why are all similar books successful? Men aren't the primary market for these books – women are, which is the reason why I pay little heed to modern feminism because deep down, way down town, the wedding fantasy thrives. Women may deny it, but the book sales are proof that the wedding fantasy hides behind most women. Why else would these books occupy prime self-help space in bookstores?

Why Men Marry Bitches is a New York Times bestseller.

My amateur theory on marriage is that men marry when they want to marry, which is a controversial observation because it implies that women follow a man's cues, and the popularity of these books is an indication of that despite any rebuttals and denials. For crying out loud, women tend to wait for a guy to call and if that is the case, and it is in many situations, it follows that women will wait for a man's cue before any wedding takes place. Maybe it is the courtesy we give men, I am not sure, but there is a high value placed on getting married and arriving to the altar isn't restricted to the idea of finding that eternal relationship. It's also about acquiring the trinkets along the way. Women enter the ecstasy zone when they show off their engagement rings. The engagement ring is significant. Size does matter. Fellow women aren't concerned about the future groom's penis size, but the four C's: cut, clarity, carat and color. The more C's the better. When a former co-worker presented her engagement ring at the office, women reacted like she presented her fiancé's phallus and I have no idea how a ring or diamond becomes a phallic extension of sorts, but it does. She had a small diamond despite the decades old, international De Beers marketing campaign about engagement rings requiring one month's salary. Remember the De Beers campaigns? I do. "Diamonds are Forever." And they're right. Elizabeth Taylor would also agree; after her marriages ended, she kept the diamonds, including the dazzling Krupp diamond Richard Burton gave her.

The "How to Marry" school for women that manifests as self-help guides ranging from The Rules to Why Men Marry Bitches is, without a doubt, heterocentric or mainstream. It also points out the modern (heterosexual) woman's Achilles Heel. This may not apply to all women, but it definitely applies to a significant percentage, otherwise the book wouldn't be a New York Times bestseller – the units alone determine bestseller status, and that is the sobering fact, irrespective of feminist anger. I don't buy the patriarchal excuse on this one: no one has put a gun on womens' heads to purchase these books but they end up on international best seller lists.

Can you name any books aimed at men (on marriage or how to get married) from the top of your head?

I thought so...

August 25, 2008

How to be a real man or an oaf?

Howtobearealman It's official. Metrosexual men are out and retrosexual men are back in, and thank the good lord for that change of scenery. The only gripe I have is the book cover. It is actually taken from a vintage (chauvinistic) cigarette advert (trust me to know these things, as a smoker): “Blow in her face and she‘ll follow you anywhere".  Cig I was reading about a new book titled The Retrosexual Manual: How to be a Real Man.

According to an online blurb:

"What kind of man are you? A namby-pamby 'metrosexual'? Tongue-tied when you're handed it on a plate? Unsure if she's a girl, woman, lady or a Ms? Are you mincing along to book clubs thinking you're going to pull a quiet one who's a screamer in the sack? It's time to go back to basics - back to when men were men and women made the bacon sarnies after a night of your unbridled passion. Because what a woman really wants is a real man - the hairier, louder and more dominant the better. And this book is a celebration of it all...There are examples of great Retrosexual men throughout history, and what you need to enable you to join the ranks of real retrosexuals, and more."

The only (minor or teensy weensy) issue I have with the above snippet is the word 'dominant' as it can mean various things to people. A lot of women don't like men micromanaging everything in their lives; like men, we do like to have our own private space or independence. This book isn't about being a housewife, it's more about celebrating real men or blokes that don't fret about their mascara, foundation makeup or trying to recall if they've moisturized.

This metrosexual thing was bound to reach its conclusion. It'll probably return in one or two decades, fashion is like that or better yet, Oscar Wilde summed fashion perfectly when he said that "fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months." And metrosexual men aren't ugly, they're often far too pretty, but they're a pain in the arse. They're the opposite of 'dominant', and I'm taking 'dominant' (in the above book summary) to relate to being in control (of their lives) and being assertive when required – not agonizing like a fretting teenager on the edge of a breakdown if they run out of hair product. Maybe it would be more functional to alter Wilde's quote, substitute 'ugly' with 'awkward,' because that is what metrosexuality is. Even in fashion. The metros are always uncertain about everything. They don't have a definite style, they tend to be followers and they often have no taste – they're fashion victims.

A quick list:

Metrosexual: David Beckham and Justin Timberlake (I don't care if he brought 'sexy back' he still looks and sounds like he's sixteen years old in interviews)
Retrosexual: Daniel Craig, Clive Owen and Gordon Ramsay.

I realize that there are many, and I mean plenty, of advisory blogs/sites advising men on dating tips, but we don't care about 'feelings' or 'moisturizer' or whether men have enough hair product. We care about hygiene, and that means no embedded dirt beneath fingernails, no farting or belching in restaurants and not being an overlord-boor, and despite all the bullshit that we're told by female dating 'experts', that we ought to be asking men more about themselves, we women would like to discuss ourselves as well. I personally think that a bloke that has no time to ask a woman questions about herself is a waste of time, and the authors of such books as The Rules (that tell women to be like doormats) do no one (men and women) any favors in the long run. Will The Retrosexual Guide: How to be a real man, help both genders?

August 02, 2008

Time Vs Body

Hanif_kureishi_150 Every time I pick up a book to read, or explore my local library, I think 'so many authors, so little time,' and there are millions of authors out there. What does one do? What sort of story does one select? Some authors are blessed with a type of foresight, able to pinpoint common trends that concern the human population, and Hanif Kureishi is one of those authors.
The Body, a short novel, explores the character of Adam, who is a renowned author with a major problem - he is getting old. He's, as Kureishi aptly states (as narrator), shitting screws, as he tries to accept his upcoming twilight years or senior life.
What happens, can be taken straight from a sci-fi story. Adam meets Ralph, who reveals an extraordinary secret. Ralph isn't what he appears to be - young, handsome and attractive. He is closer to Adam's senior years, but underwent a procedure that transplanted his brain into a younger person's body. Ralph talks Adam around. Adam doesn't have any issues trying out the technology for six months, after all, he'd like to experience a new surge of creativity in his life. So he goes ahead and becomes Leo, a younger specimen. It can be said that Adam/Leo relives his life, travels around Europe indulging in everything from recreational drugs to copious sex. He is no longer the recognized author, but a young 'Newbody'.
The fountain of youth appears in many folk tales. People tend to - like Adam/Leo in Kureishi's story - look back on their lives and find something unsatisfactory. Leonardo Da Vinci felt that he didn't achieve everything he set out to, and in his later decades, felt unsatisfied. Then again, had Da Vinci lived in the modern era, he could have eclipsed the Wright Brothers, but that wasn't to be. So people are still restrained by the time or era that surrounds them. Time is something that humans cannot control, and it's one of the points in Kureishi's story.
Even within our modern era of cosmetic surgery, time is still standing in the shadows and it catches up with people irrespective of the carousel of cosmetic procedures they commission. In this current era, is it really mind versus body, or time versus body? Sometimes the mind enters the equation as an insecure narcissist ("Does this outfit look good?" "Do I look old?" "Do I look fat", ad infinitum).
Every single leading lady has some sort of cosmetic procedure. Desperate Housewives may as well be an advertorial on the uses of Botox. Pornographic films frequently depict pneumatic women and the only reason (I suspect) why older female pornstars shave their pudendum is because it's more convenient than dyeing gray pubes. Then there's vaginal cosmetic surgery, plumping up labia to further emphasize youth, and it goes on. Society is obsessed with youth because companies are obsessed with it, not because younger people are more appealing or more beautiful (if you take beauty as an intrinsic quality) - most adolescents are egocentric, insecure and socially awkward - but because they need to maintain a market, condition future customers and maintain profits. Brand awareness is important. Starting young, or marketing toward children and teenagers is important to companies. How else will they create a customer base? The older one gets, the more cynical one may become. Older people tend to question things, weighing up pros against cons. Impulse tends to diminish over time, and while this may be ideal for saving more pennies and making better decisions, it doesn't diminish the 'what if?' question that crawls at the back of our minds from time to time. If we had our smarts then, as we do now, then what? What if we did things differently in our twenties? And these are pointless thoughts because time cannot be rewound and re-enacted. There are no repeat performances in life and even if -by some weird stroke of happenstance - there were, there is no guarantee that one would be happy or content, as indicated in Kureishi's, The Body. It's like trading one set of problems for another, and life is like that: a continual train of trade-offs known as the compromise.


For those interested in reading one of Hanif Kureishi's short stories, check out "Long Ago Yesterday," at the New Yorker.

July 28, 2008

Telling It Like It Is

Memoirs are interesting pieces of work and all vary in terms of life experiences. There are memoirs that describe life experiences in tandem with emotional growth, and there are others, that contain masses of passive-aggressive anecdotes about family relationships and dynamics (such as Christopher Cyclone’s ‘Life With My Sister Madonna’, extracted in The Times and published all over the world. In Australia, it appeared in the debut issue of Grazia last week). Then there are the faux memoirs that have caused upheaval (such as Frey’s many fictional Pieces of himself), so what makes a good memoir?

Continue reading "Telling It Like It Is" »

July 17, 2008

Legendary Lovers: Don Juan

Lostdiary The greatest lovers are dead, and their legends still breathe. I wonder who will be considered the most legendary lover of the 20th and 21st centuries. The 21st Century hasn’t really produced any male lover of note. Perhaps it’s still early.

What is certain, is that renowned lovers (such as Giacomo Casanova)  or infamous libertines wrote fine prose that learned toward elaborately opulent descriptions that immediately transported a reader to another era; the perfect romantic (or libertine) escape. So it’s a great privilege for the Lost Diary of Don Juan to appear on this page (on the left hand sidebar). Publisher’s Weekly doesn’t mince words:

"The famously insatiable lover is brought brilliantly to life in this lively, suspenseful debut novel by Abrams. Framed as Don Juan's long-guarded diary, the  narrative picks up at a gallop and never relents…The story unspools with the invigorating trajectory of a thriller and the emotional draw of historical romance."

Legendary lovers like Casanova, or the mythological Don Juan differ from contemporary models. The first published tale featuring Don Juan is said to have appeared between 1620-1625. Over the years, depending on the tale, he is viewed as a womanizer, or a lover of all women. One thing is certain, the lover of past legend, is contrary to the contemporary romantic hero who has - whether it is appreciated or not - a slight sadistic streak and/or insecurity of sorts. It's always admirable to see writers take a legendary character, and construct an ambitious project, and succeed.

Now for the ultimate question:

What can modern man learn from romantic legends such as the legend/tale of Don Juan or the non-fictional memoirs of Casanova? I'm guessing, a lot. What makes Casanova's tales interesting is the era he lived in: sexually austere. Despite such austerity, he still managed. He had to work harder, or think laterally, and this possibly explodes the myth surrounding modern man and his inability to think laterally or multi-task. Books, like the Lost Diary of Don Juan, as are inspirational to men as they are to women. It seems that being a fantastic lover isn't just about technique or tawdry IM-speak but more so finesse or, borrowing a term from Hemingway: grace under pressure.


For more on Douglas Carlton Abrams, and the tremendous journey of his book, visit his blog. Take the time to read this post.


June 18, 2008

Meet the New Sponsor

Yep, my first new sponsor appears on the right sidebar 'Are you alright pet', and at an opportune time. In the past, I've been a skeptic. Sure, I've bought books like The Road Less Traveled and the Celestine Prophecy, but do you think that these things have really talked to me as an ordinary human being? I think the origin of the author does play a role. Although the western world is considered one and the same, cultures vary from one place to the next. Australia isn't the United States or vica versa. The way we communicate, right down to the things we find entertaining, may differ. The same may apply to self-help or self-improvement guides. But in saying that, all three nations speak the same language, and people do tend to desire the same things in life, so it shouldn't make a difference right? But the tone of a book can make all the difference, especially if it feels like you're reading science/fantasy fiction (like Celestine).

If you ask me about self-improvement or self-help guides at this moment of my life, I'll give you a different view to the view I had two or three years ago. The reason for this difference relates to something simple, something that every person will (hopefully) appreciate and understand: MONEY.

I've had a few sessions at the shrink, and I feel that the sessions are over the top. Firstly, I'm not clinically depressed or bi-polar. I'm just an ordinary female who is frustrated by the corporate shebang, or has become frustrated by things that have been beyond my comprehension. The fact that I reveal my frustration, or go with the emotional flow, doesn't mean that I lay in bed staring at the ceiling all day. I don't, which is why the two hundred dollar plus sessions are a killer.

Yes, you read right. Two hundred bucks per session, to have someone with a few medical degrees ask me about my work updates and offer little else. I think self reporting is a crock, especially if there is minimal feedback. I was slotted for psychotherapy, but my therapist's view of psychotherapy is sitting there listening to me recount the usual crap that I'm tired of discussing, which is why I look forward to exploring the down-to-earth book that doesn't go for chants, new age meditations, and other mystical things in a James Redfield fashion (trust me, I felt quite disappointed when I realized the Celestine Prophecy to be a complete fiction - talk about naive huh?)

So in the coming fortnight, I'll be bringing you snippets of my little journey with Are You Alright Pet.

December 17, 2007

20 Million Sexless Americans

I kind of understand why the book I'm about to briefly outline is on sale a day after Christmas; it isn’t something you’d buy your partner, not unless you really wanted to drive the point home (or right between your partner’s eyes).

I read a snippet in the city MX Newspaper, and the first sentence was enough to make me think, and then ask the real question: how many American couples are having sex?

Bob Berkowitz and Susan Yager-Berkowitz have penned a book, which is based on a massive survey they have conducted. Get this:

“It is for the estimated 20 million American men and women who are in relationships in which the man has stopped being sexually intimate.”

It’s freaky.

Aptly titled He’s Just Not up to it Anymore, the book aims to explore causation. Now in the newspaper article I read, some blame was attributed to porn, anger and medication.Yager-Berkowitz is  quoted as saying, "Sometimes I do imagine the sex is so boring it's not worth having." Hubby Berkowitz is quoted as saying, "If these guys are not having sex with their wives, they're probably having affairs." (No! Really?)

I tend to disagree about porn. Porn is what one makes of it; one selects if one will be obsessed by porn, or allow its frequent, unrealistic imagery, to influence one’s sex life. A DVD doesn't grow legs and chase after you like a possessed Chucky doll, and no one is holding a gun to someone's head, ordering them to view porn on the Net: blaming porn is a cop out or excuse. As for anger? Once again, one is in charge of one's emotional response, as well as emotional outlets, and if one can’t deal with anger, why enter a relationship? Anger is stressful, a health hazard, and a pain in the ass. Medication, however, is different. Many illnesses do require certain medications, that interfere with the libido. The most common example is the way Prozac can inhibit orgasm and reduce libido. There’s also organic impotence (that can result from diabetes, and if compounded with cardiac problems, tends to make Viagra a no-no.). In short, there are things we can control, and others - unfortunately - that are difficult to control, but where coupling is concerned, people do have more control: they make the choice to enter long term relationships, often without pausing to consider the long run.

The data, or survey sample is staggering, and the Berkowitz' have gathered this data, which makes them quite an authority, or more of an authority than the Internet sex writer, or sex blogger (who never gathers such data, and usually focuses on their self, like their issues are universal or set in stone), which is why this survey, like its predecessors (Kinsey, Hite, Masters & Johnson, etc), ought be a a mandatory source of sexual data or information.

Here’s my quick solution to the above problem:

Don’t get married? What do you do?

On a more serious note, something I'd like to ask Mr and Mrs Berkowitz: is our society (along with its demands and pressures, in the sense of being a Western society, with its trappings and common trends/maxims) compatible with the notion (religious or otherwise) of marriage?

October 25, 2007

Power, Sex and the Improbable

“Let us go one step further. It is high time to recognize that we humans are far better at doing than understanding, and better at tinkering than inventing. But we don't know it. We truly live under the illusion of order believing that planning and forecasting are possible. We are scared of the random, yet we live from its fruits. We are so scared of the random that we create disciplines that try to make sense of the past--but we ultimately fail to understand it, just as we fail to see the future.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

There was no way of predicting that I’d walk into a bookstore today, and go ape shit.  I briefly cringed at my receipt. I wasn’t sure what I was hunting. I even made a return trip to pick up a work that fanned my mind after I attended a work counseling session. The session made me think about power, and the thought grew. Power is an intriguing element, and one of the most perverted abstract schemes; power is not an object, and people respond to it as though it is a magical orb.

I decided to explore the philosophy section. Philosophers discuss subjects like power, learning, thought and how they impact on society. I normally don’t think of blogging as an educational medium; there are few posts that contain educational merit, that propel a one to expand one’s reading. Let’s face it, a large proportion of posts (in general) are written with the audience in mind: likes, preferences, traffic potential and popularity. One of my book selections directly related to a blog post in Sexegesis, that mentioned Michel Foucault. I stood, scanning the bookshelf, and opted for Madness and Civilization, Foucault’s first work and its early chapters prove interesting; more on that, later.

Although one is told never to judge by a over, I have to admit that the cover of Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Nassim Nicholas Taleb) intrigued me. There was no title, and certainly no author credit on the cover. I opened it up, and read briefly, and thought it interesting, certainly potent in its content and argument. Black Swans aren’t new. They have been a part of humanity since the dawn of time; every unpredictable event in history can be considered a Black Swan. Environmental disasters, massacres, plagues, basically every overwhelming event that one can think of can be a Black Swan. The only issue or problem associated with Black Swans is the way humans claim ownership; according to the individual, or the individual who requires a mix of linear logic, indoctrination and isms, each event is explainable in hindsight.

Continue reading "Power, Sex and the Improbable" »

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