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 Life of a Banana – PP Wong

Xing Li and her fifteen-year-old brother, Lai Ker are forced to live with their grandmother following the death of their mother on Xing Li’s twelfth birthday. Her mother panicked after realising she had no candles for Xing Li’s birthday cake and decided she needed to get some before Xing Li’s grandmother, Auntie Mei and Uncle Ho arrived. She wanted everything to be ‘super perfect’ says Xing Li.

On the way to buy the candles, Xing Li’s mum passed the Xiong Mao Chinese restaurant where she was often given free food in exchange for Lai Ker tutoring the chef’s son in Maths. Xing Li’s mum is embarrassed about the size of the portions she’s offered though and it resulted in a tug of war over whether she should accept them or not.

Mama died because it was my birthday.

If it weren’t my birthday, Mama wouldn’t have gone out to get the candles. She wouldn’t have passed Andy Cheung’s restaurant and dropped in to get a birthday treat for me. Then she wouldn’t have had to do the stupid tug of war ritual with Andy Cheung next to the cheap oven that the owners of the restaurant refused to repair. Then she would have been far away from Andy Cheung’s kitchen when the oven exploded. Then her photo wouldn’t have been on the front page of the local newspaper. Then I wouldn’t have spent my twelfth birthday in a morgue.

Mama dies because it was my birthday. She died ‘cos of me.

Grandma is rich and strict. She lives in a big house filled with expensive furniture, ornaments and appliances. She barks out commands. These fill not only Xing Li and Lai Ker with fear but also Xing Li’s Auntie Mei who still lives at home and is a huge disappointment to her mother.

At Xing Li’s first meal at her grandmother’s she and her brother begin eating before their grandmother:

“You think you so clever eat so fast? When grow very fat and go Weight Watchers who blame but you? In Wu house we eat proper, we respect. UNDERSTAND?”

“Now you both listen here for IMPORTANT thing. You act good. I act gooder. You act bad. I act badder. UNDERSTAND?”

Grandma picks up the feather duster and whacks it HARD onto the table. It almost breaks and I can see Lai Ker is scared.


We both nod together.

Grandma is far from the worst of Xing Li’s problems, however. She’s sent to a new school, West Hill Independent Secondary School where the bullying begins as soon as her first teacher declares she’s from China ‘(I was born in Hackney)’ and mispronounces her name. Shirley Teddingham, “Shils” to her friends, leads a verbal and physical bullying campaign against Xing Li that has her eating her lunch in the toilets in an attempt to avoid the bullies.

I start to daydream about what it would be like to grow up in a country where I am not seen as different. Somewhere where I am popular and don’t have to explain my name or that I’m Chinese. It would be a really cool place where Asians and Jamaicans are just seen as doctors, school girls and business women. Not “the Chinese doctor”, “the Asian school girl” or “the black business women of the year”. It would be a country where I was not seen as “ethnic” or “exotic” but just “me”.

Lai Ker has a different take on this. He tells Xing Li, ‘Gotta be proud of your culture innit.’

Lai Ker also has this thing called Chinks Have Mouths or CHM for short. He says if I’m not smart enough or cool enough or loud enough I won’t be a “Chinese person with a mouth”, and I will be “ignored by society”.

Over the next year both Xing Li and Lai Ker are going to have to consider how to reconcile their Chinese and British identities and deal with the people around them who are often ignorant and abusive. They’re also going to have to deal with their grief over their mother’s death; their grandma’s rigid rules, and their Uncle Ho’s mental illness.

PP Wong sets herself quite a challenge in The Life of a Banana: there’s the first person narrative in the voice of a twelve-year-old; a fairly substantial cast of characters; a lot of plot, and some big themes to consider. The voice is mostly convincing – there’s the odd false note, but they’re few and don’t spoil the narrative. The characters are all interesting although the perspective means that some of them aren’t fleshed out until the end of the novel where Xing Li learns a lot about her family in a short period. The plot’s engaging, although I did wonder towards the end if it was one tragedy too far for one family in less than a year, and the themes are well-handled, particularly ideas around identity. It was interesting to see the perspective of a British-born Chinese girl and how little difference her nationality made to the racist bullying she was subjected to.

The Life of a Banana is an engaging read about racial identity and family relationships. I look forward to reading more from PP Wong.


Thanks to Legend Press for the review copy.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015

It’s here! The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015 is as follows:

Rachel Cusk: Outline

Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart

Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?

Xiaolu Guo: I Am China

Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief

Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing

Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven

Grace McCleen: The Offering

Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star

Heather O’Neil: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

Laline Paull: The Bees

Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights

Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home

Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone

Ali Smith: How to be both

Sara Taylor: The Shore

Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread

Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

Jemma Wayne: After Before

PP Wong: The Life of a Banana

I’ve read and reviewed six of those already, if you hover over the titles, I’ve linked to my reviews.

Initial thoughts are I’m absolutely thrilled for Lissa Evans whose book I love and made my end of year list last year. Also very pleased for Sara Taylor whose debut I’ve read but not posted my review of yet (it’s published later this month), which is very good. I’ve got lots of reading to do but many of the books there are books I’ve had in my to be read pile for a while! (I also need to apologise to the person who commented on my wish list and mentioned Heather O’Neill’s book; I didn’t think it was eligible and clearly I was wrong. I’m pleased it comes highly recommended though.)

I’m looking forward to reading the rest and discussing with the rest of the shadow panel. Please do join in and let us know what you think of the list and any of the books you read.