In the Media: 22nd March 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

The big news this week is that Kath Viner became the first woman appointed to the role of editor-in-chief at The Guardian in its 194 year history. The first woman to edit a UK broadsheet and only the second EIC of The Guardian to have attended a (selective) state school.

Unfortunately, the other trend in articles this week have been about the abuse women have suffered from a variety of sources; Heidi Stevens wrote in the Chicago Tribune ‘Hate mail lesson: Uncombed hair threatens the natural order‘; Sarah Xerta wrote ‘The Brick Wall: The Intersection of Patriarchy, Privilege, Anger, and Language‘ on VIDA; Juliet Annan ‘is a Lazy Feminist‘ in publishing on the Penguin Blog; Sara Pascoe wrote ‘The hymen remains an evolutionary mystery – and the focus of the oppression of women’s sexuality‘ in The Guardian; Katie McDonough wrote ‘If you’re shocked by this Penn State frat’s nude photo ring, you’re not paying attention‘ on Salon; Jessie Burton took ‘Speakers’ Corner‘ on Hunger TV; Claire Byrne wrote, ‘One sordid, gross and offensive comment must have been thought up while he sat there scratching himself in his grey fading jocks. I wonder what makes people think it’s acceptable to make comments like that?‘ in the Irish Independent, and Ashley Judd wrote, ‘Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass‘ on Mic.

And there’s been a number of articles about race; Rebecca Carroll wrote ‘Calling out one racist doesn’t make white people any less complicit in supremacy‘ in The Guardian; Jia Tolentino wrote ‘How to Talk About Race With Your Starbucks Barista: A Guide‘ in Jezebel; Maya Goodfellow wrote, ‘Climate change is easier to ignore because right now it’s people of colour who suffer the most‘ on Media Diversified; Vulture interviewed Claudia Rankine on ‘Serena, Indian Wells, and Race‘ and KCRW’s Bookworm asked her about writing the racial ‘other’.

This week’s Harper Lee news: To Kill a Mockingbird was named #78 on The Guardian list of The 100 Best Novels; Casey N. Cep reported on ‘Harper Lee’s Abandoned True-Crime Novel‘ in The New Yorker, and Jonathon Sturgeon asked ‘Is It Time to Get Hopeful About Harper Lee?‘ on Flavorwire.

And prizes this week went to Louise O’Neill who won the inaugural YA Book Prize and Louise Erdrich won the Library of Congress Award.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Alice Hoffman

The truth frightens people because it isn’t stable. It shifts everyday.

Professor Sardie runs The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a ‘freakshow’ based in Coney Island, opposite the Dreamland theme park. On her tenth birthday, his daughter Coralie becomes ‘The Human Mermaid’. He has been training her for this for some time:

I ate a meal of fish every day so my constitution might echo the abilities of these creatures. We bathed in ice water, good for the skin and inner organs. My father had a breathing tube constructed so that I could remain soaking underwater in the claw-foot tub, and soon my baths lasted an hour or more. I had only to take a puff of air to remain beneath the surface.

Coralie plays the human mermaid for eight years. She has a birth deformity on her hands – webbing between the fingers, which is dyed indigo every morning – and long black hair which, along with a specially constructed tail, aid her act.

However, aged 18, Coralie’s popularity is beginning to wain and her father starts to search for something new, something more dramatic to bring the crowds to the museum. In 1911 then, when the novel is set, we are to find Coralie swimming the Hudson River at night while her father spreads rumours of a monster.

It is as she emerges from one of these night swims that Coralie sees Eddie Cohen and his dog Mitts.

Eddie was born to Orthodox Jews in the Ukraine and named Ezekiel. After his village was burnt down, his mother inside their house, his father took them to New York City where he became a tailor until the factory owners brought in cheaper labour prepared to work longer shifts. On the day Ezekial sees his father try to commit suicide, he abandons both his faith and his father and goes to work for ‘The Wizard’, Abraham Hochman, searching for missing people.

By the time Coralie sees him though, Eddie is a photographer; his photographs of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, his talent for finding people and her discovery of a body in the Hudson during one of her swims will bring them together.

However, The Museum of Extraordinary Things does not only tell the stories of Coralie and Eddie, it also tells the tale of a city in transition; a city whose population is growing; a city whose rural areas are being eaten up by concrete; a city whose worker population is mobilising itself and creating unions to fight for its rights. It’s a book filled with movement and change.

The narrative voice of the novel also moves; it shifts between Coralie and Eddie in first person, as well as a third person subjective narrator that closely shadows both of them. This allows Hoffman to give us an insight into their thoughts and back stories while giving us sight of their actions from a perspective which allows us to watch and question more easily.

I should point out here that my two favourite ingredients for a novel are freakshow characters and a setting of New York which means that the chances that I would enjoy The Museum of Extraordinary Things was high. However, Hoffman is a well-established writer more than capable of telling a bloody good story and that’s exactly what this novel is: it’s a detective story and a love story. It’s about class and religion and rights – workers’ and womens’ – and the bond between parent and child. It’s an absorbing read that unravels its core slowly and satisfyingly. Highly recommended.


Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the review copy.