What’s Been On My Mind This Week

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1. There was a fascinating essay by Mark Gevisser in Granta‘s latest issue – ‘Fate’, titled ‘Self-Made Man’. In it, Gevisser looks at the genderqueer movement in America today, and what it’s like for children growing up with what is now generally called ‘gender dysphoria’: those who identify with a gender that is different from the one they were assigned at birth. Gevisser interviewed many young people for the piece, as well as professionals working in the field of gender and identity, and he examines many of the arguments currently surrounding the issue, such as those for and against early transition, and the difference between ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’.

There is a sense of wonder in the piece at the depth of conversation around notions of gender today, so different from just a few years ago. Ask yourselves when it is you think you understand gender, or what your gender is? Is it something that is fixed and immutable from birth, or is it a societal construct, and actually something that is fluid rather than biologically determined? In examining gender – and sexuality – this essay asks interesting, difficult questions of its readers, whether they knowingly or unknowingly identify as gay, straight or queer, male, female or genderqueer. To have to work out how we conceive of ourselves, as individuals and in relation to others and to wider ideas of society and community, is important. Is it it what we do that is important to who we are? Or how we look? Or maybe whom we sleep with or those we are attracted to? Or is it none of these, or a combination of all of them? What is also clear from reading ‘Self-Made Man’ is the power – and danger – inherent in language, and in ascribing labels to people and types of behaviour.

2. This week, a long-running publishing dispute finally came to an end, as publishing giants Hachette Book Group USA and Amazon finally reached an agreement over eBook pricing. Vanity Fair published a in-depth article about what it describes as a ‘siege’ and a ‘war’, which saw some authors declare their support for Amazon and many others sign a petition against the online giant. Those of us who work in publishing have been nervously awaiting the outcome for months, but I imagine the general population are blissfully unaware of the situation. All they care about is being able to buy what they want quickly, easily and cheaply, and this applies to all products, not just books. Amazon is largely responsible for the dramatic shift in reading habits from print to digital that has taken place over the last five years or so. As to where we’ll be in another five years, and whether Amazon will have any real competitors in the digital reading marketplace, remains to be seen.

3. The second series of The Fall started again on BBC this week. After coming under fire for alleged misogynistic and dehumanising depictions of its female victims, most of the column inches dedicated to previewing it (and I’ve also written one, due to be published in Standard Issue next week), wondered whether the new season would be any different. It was a slow-burner of an opening episode, though by the end it’s fair to say most of us were probably hiding behind our hands, or sofas. As she did in the first season, Gillian Anderson’s detective Stella Gibson was used as a mouthpiece – it seemed – to speak directly to the viewer (and critic), responding head-on to those criticisms. I think it’s only fair to suspend judgement until we’ve seen the whole series. For now I’m going to enjoy the ongoing cat-and-mouse situation between Gibson and serial killer Paul Spector (played by Jamie Dornan), the dialogue – it seems as though every word is carefully weighed and judged, and that it’s pared down to essentials only, which is refreshing, and the way the series makes use of the Belfast setting, which is damp, dark and dangerous in itself.

4. This week I’ve been listening to Hannah Georgas, a singer/songwriter from Vancouver, specifically her self-titled second album. Opening track ‘Elephant’ is one of the strongest, showcasing Georgas’ vocal ability and a great middle section where the bass kicks in. Other stand-out tracks are ‘Shortie’ and ‘Robotic’. The album is mostly made up of catchy numbers which you want to dance to, but the best are those with an overlay of synth, some good guitar work and more searching lyrics. Definitely a singer to watch, and I’m going to make time to listen to her debut album, This Is Good, too.

5. I haven’t read anything new this week, as I’m still judging the Green Carnation Prize and re-reading the shortlisted titles in advance of announcing the winner on 28th November. Instead, whenever I’ve had a spare few minutes I’ve been listening to an incredible piece of radio journalism: the podcast series, Serial. Chronicling one journalist’s investigations into a real-life crime (the murder of an 18-year-old high school student in Maryland in 1999), each episode (which varies in length from 30 to 60 minutes) looks at a different aspect of the case, as Sarah Koenig tries to work out if the man jailed for murder fifteen years ago is actually guilty. It makes for utterly compelling listening; much like the best of gripping television, it quickly becomes an obsession, and you’ll want everyone you know to be listening to it, and of course be up-to-date, so that you can discuss it with them and exchange your theories as to what really happened that day, and who was responsible.

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Categories: On My Mind . . .

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