If you’ve been visiting this site a while you know my love of YA books. One of my favourite YA books, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun is being adapted into a movie for Warner Bros and Jandy is writing the screenplay herself. Sarah just wrote yesterday about WB’s intent to reboot The Matrix and what that means for the studio, wondering if it means they’re scrambling for content. I’ll Give You The Sun is GREAT content! Focus on that! And maybe Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park? Last year, Rainbow revealed although she had worked on the screenplay, Dreamworks (they held the option) wasn’t interested in making the movie anymore and the rights reverted back to her. So, for the time being, there will be no film version of E&P which… I mean if Warner Bros is looking for projects, I feel like we need more than a new Matrix?
There is, however, another YA book that’s moving ahead. Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ is set to start filming in the summer and Deadline reported yesterday that Jennifer Aniston has joined the cast. I read Dumplin’ a couple of years ago when the book was chosen for The Social Chapter. Willowdean is not a teen waif. She is confident, she is comfortable with her body, and her mom is a former beauty pageant queen who now runs the local pageant. But then she gets a new job, and she starts hanging out with a boy, and her feelings about herself start to change, so she decides to enter a beauty pageant, kind of as a joke, but it ends up changing her in ways she never expected. Dumplin’ isn’t my favourite YA book but what I did like about it is that Will isn’t perfect. In fact, at times she’s a f-cking asshole. I appreciated that Julie Murphy wasn’t interested in turning her main character into an angel. Also…there’s a LOT of Dolly Parton. Can’t complain about Dolly Parton.
They’ve yet to cast Willowdean. But Jennifer Aniston will be playing her mom. And the movie will be directed by Anne Fletcher who previously directed Step Up, 27 Dresses, and The Proposal – all movies I know you’ve seen. For some reason, Disney decided they didn’t want to do Dumplin’ so the film will be an indie “in the vein of Pitch Perfect and Bring It On”. Which will probably work better for the story in the end but it’s amazing, isn’t it? That a major studio wouldn’t want to be a part of this?
One of the reasons Jennifer is, presumably, part of it is that the Dumplin’ screenplay was written by Kristin Hahn, one of her best friends and her producing partner. It’s good casting, I think. I buy Jennifer Aniston as a former beauty queen who still lives in the pageant world. And I also buy her as the mom of a teen who wants nothing to do with that world. Just think of the hair possibilities.
There’s a book bandwagon that’s been steadily gaining momentum over the last few weeks. I just hopped on that bandwagon this weekend. Calling someone a “bandwagon follower” is generally not a compliment. So you can criticise me. But I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed to be on the Angie Thomas bandwagon. Like Zadie Smith and Diana Evans and Sadie Jones and Yaa Gyasi before her, Angie Thomas is what I call a First Book Bitch. Her first book, The Hate U Give, is the book everyone is talking about. Thirteen publishing houses bid on the manuscript before it was acquired by Balzer + Bray last year.
The reviews have been outstanding so I don’t need to validate the quality of the story for you. Instead, I’m here to harass you to read it. And the reason I might have to harass you is because, technically, The Hate U Give is considered YA, Young Adult. And there are all kinds of reading snobs who think they’re above the genre. Well, this book, in this particular genre, addresses the modern family, biracial romance, institutionalised racism, mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, police brutality, code-switching, complete with all kinds of pop culture references from Harry Potter to Tupac, and Mashable just called it “required reading for this American moment”. At book tours across the United States, readers are lining up by hundreds, clutching their copies of The Hate U Give, to get Angie Thomas’s autograph. She was just profiled by The Guardian this weekend.
As Angie tells The Guardian, The Hate U Give would not have been possible without the work of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organisation that “advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people”. But not only does The Hate U Give honour its characters, some of whom are young people, what it does, through main character Starr, is give other people, who may not have grown up like Starr, a perspective of what it might be like to be Starr, to live in Starr’s world. As you will read in the book, that perspective could one day, literally, save lives. While still being, at times, incredibly funny. No one is above a book like this. This is the incredibly powerful work of Angie Thomas.
Kevin Kwan’s Rich People Problems, the third and final book in the Crazy Rich Asians series, comes out today. Are you ready? If you’ve not read the first two books, it’s perfect, because now you have all three, without a wait to find out how it ends. If you have read the first two books but need a refresher, get caught up with Cosmpolitan’s primer, Everything You Need To Know Before Reading Rich People Problems.
Rich People Problems, to me, is probably the funniest in the series. Also funny – what Kevin Kwan told Cosmopolitan about some of the characters in the book and the real people who claim to have inspired them. To be clear, he insists that none of the actual people who inspired the characters have ever come forward. But that there are those who think they’re Astrid or Kitty Pong and have confronted Kevin, all injured, like he exposed all their secrets which… can you imagine who you’d have to be to think you’re the enigmatic, beautiful Astrid Leong, the girlcrush of all of Asia?
As for Kitty Pong, have I mentioned that I don’t want to be an actor but that I really want to play Kitty Pong in the movie? And that I tried? They’ve already cast Kitty Pong but I went for it, I really did. Because I so wanted to be part of this project, part of an all-team Asian movie that is directly challenging the prevailing – and bullsh-t – idea in Hollywood that certain people can’t draw an audience. What draws an audience is a great story. Crazy Rich Asians is a great story. Rich People Problems is a great conclusion to a great story.
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise And Reign Of The Unruly Woman is the new book by Anne Helen Petersen, just released today. And she opens with Serena Williams’ unruly rise and reign in a chapter called “Too Strong”, about how Serena defied sport – and society’s expectations about women in sport – with her body and with her attitude. Serena’s chapter is followed by a chapter on Melissa McCarthy’s unruliness for being “too fat”. And from there we move on to the women who are “too gross”, “too slutty”, “too old”, “too shrill”, until there are 10 women in total, all of them unruly in their own ways, and it’s not necessarily a celebration of that unruliness so much as a conversation about how each woman’s brand of Unruly challenges our idea of How To Be A Woman.
I love this book. To me it’s not just an essential read, it’s an essential resource. Because Anne Helen Petersen, as always, has put in the work, is showing her work. And she has always upheld celebrity gossip as a vital form of communication, a reflection of social culture, and an observation of the changing nature of our social morality. So, in addition to being a study of how unruly women have confronted and expanded the narrow spaces that they’ve occupied, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise And Reign Of The Unruly Woman is also an analysis of female fame within the celebrity ecosystem. It’s PhD level gossip written by a woman with an actual PhD in gossip.
A couple of years ago, Sasha and I designed a capsule collection for a line of pyjamas. It was a rewarding experience and we really loved the process, but I have a major regret: the collection was not inclusive. That is, the collection did not include a range of sizes that represent the body types of the people who read this blog – so the body types of all people, period. This was brought to my attention by many of you who were interested in the pieces, but were disappointed to find that certain sizes weren’t available. So, just to be clear, that’s two f-ckups: the collection was limited and, therefore, inadequate, and also, I wasn’t aware of it until the mistake was pointed out to me. It’s ignorance upon ignorance.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my ignorance lately while reading Roxane Gay’s new book, Hunger. Hunger is a memoir about Roxane’s relationship to her “wildly undisciplined” body. It’s a gorgeously written memoir about what it’s like to live in a world that favours thinness and how we all, consciously or unconsciously, contribute to that imbalance. One of the reasons Roxane’s work has always moved me, and changed me, is because in her writing, her first target is herself. She’s not here to make outward accusations. She sees herself from the inside with an unflinchingly critical, sometimes cruel, observation of self. It’s not just honesty, it’s deconstruction. How did this happen? How did I happen? What did I do? What didn’t I do? What should I do? What if I don’t want to?
Hunger isn’t a book that yells at people for size insensitivity. Hunger shares with you the effects of it on the people who have no choice but to internalise it because of assholes like me who sell pyjamas and make them feel invisible. It addresses the cost of our collective fatphobia and, through Roxane’s deeply personal insights, it challenges us to confront our part in upholding this discrimination.
Last week, to promote the book, Roxane Gay spoke to Rolling Stone about why Hunger was so difficult to complete and how she needed to go back to the places and times in her life that she was running from to be able to tell the story of her body. As says, “The story of my body is not a triumph”. Hunger, then, is not about winning. She tells you right off the top that nobody’s coming away from this feeling like there’s been a victory. But that’s not the point. The point, I think, is acknowledgement, to acknowledge that her story is worth knowing. And the more we acknowledge it, maybe the closer we can all come to doing better.
Hunger, by Roxane Gay, is available now. Definitely worth your time.
Recently on The Social we talked about story that was published at the NY Post this week, Millennials Don’t Really Care About Classic Movies. One millennial member of our team admitted at the morning meeting that he only knows the “Carrie Underwood version” of The Sound Of Music. Is it a problem that millennials aren’t interested in classic movies though? I haven’t seen certain movies that millennials consider classics themselves. Like Hocus Pocus. When I mentioned this last year in a post on this site, Emily, our site manager, texted me all-caps, “HOW HAVE YOU NOT SEEN HOCUS POCUS?!”
Who gets to say what’s a classic though? One of my favourite “classics”, as I’ve mentioned before, is Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday. But also? Friday. And Heathers. But everyone has their own lists. And my point here is not to offer you a list. I really just want to talk about My Own Private Idaho. Because when the NY Post is talking about classic movies, and implying that millennials might be missing out by not giving a sh-t about classic movies, I wonder if they include My Own Private Idaho along with Citizen Kane. In these time especially, some argue that Citizen Kane is more relevant than ever. I just read a book that argues that, over 25 years later, My Own Private Idaho shaped a generation that has influenced culture and technology, the environment, and politics – and is also now more relevant than ever.
Gentlemen Of The Shade: My Own Private Idaho by Jen Sookfong Lee revisits the film’s impact on the youth of 90s and how that impact informed the decisions of the adults they would become. Even the fact that it doesn’t seem, for some, to be as radical as it was considered back then is worth discussing. Because in 1991, a story about two gay hustlers that worked as a meditation on class, sex, self-expression, loneliness, and masculinity became the unlikely inspiration for many to embrace their otherness. And it’s an excuse to spend a couple of hours back in the 90s, while balancing that nostalgia with critical analysis about why the film was so provocative and, perhaps more importantly, what it was trying to provoke.
The first book I read by Jen Sookfong Lee was The End Of East, the story of a Chinese family in Vancouver, where she is based, and about how immigration shaped the city. I read it a few years after I moved to Vancouver from Toronto where I was born and raised. I am back in Toronto now but, having spent 15 years in Vancouver, perhaps the most important 15 years of my life, as corny as this sounds, I love Vancouver in my blood. Which is why I’m so upset about what might be happening in Vancouver this weekend. There’s a rally planned, a rally apparently motivated by Charlottesville. It breaks my heart that the city that produced the words and the voice of someone like Jen Sookfong Lee could also produce the opposite. This is a stupid and naïve thing to say. Because Vancouver certainly wouldn’t be the first or the only and maybe that’s the problem, that we only wake up when it’s on our doorstep – and it would have been too late, if not for people like Jen who have been doing the work, who will be continuing the work this weekend to make sure that the best of Vancouver is louder than the worst. She is one of the very best.
A few years ago, Stanford University published a study that found the “hidden benefits of gossip”. The research “showed that gossip and ostracism can have very positive effects. They are tools by which groups reform bullies, thwart exploitation of ‘nice people’ and encourage cooperation”. When you think of bullies in Hollywood, who comes to mind – like today, over the last few days? Anyone in particular?
My friend Paolo recommended a book to me recently – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002. He was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. Thinking, Fast and Slow made the bestseller lists when it came out in 2011 and was subsequently named one of the best books of that year. In the book’s introduction, Dr Kahneman begins… with the gossip, specifically the value of gossip:
Every author, I suppose, has in mind a setting in which readers of his or her work could benefit from having read it. Mine is the proverbial office watercooler, where opinions are shared and gossip is exchanged. I hope to enrich the vocabulary that people use when they talk about the judgments and choices of others, the company’s new policies, or a colleague’s investment decisions. Why be concerned with gossip? Because it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own. Questioning what we believe and want is difficult at the best of times, and especially difficult when we most need to do it, but we can benefit from the informed opinions of others. Many of us spontaneously anticipate how friends and colleagues will evaluate our choices; the quality and content of these anticipated judgments therefore matters. The expectation of intelligent gossip is a powerful motive for serious self-criticism, more powerful than New Year resolutions to improve one’s decision making at work and at home.
One paragraph down from that, gossip comes up again:
The hope for informed gossip is that there are distinctive patterns in the errors people make. Systematic errors are known as biases, and they recur predictably in particular circumstances.
After Dr Kahneman lays out the thesis of the book and the order in which he’ll make his points, the introduction concludes on a note, yet again, about gossip:
I return to the virtues of educating gossip and to what organizations might do to improve the quality of judgments and decisions that are made on their behalf.
And Dr Kahneman comes back to gossip at the end of the book:
We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell is available, and cognitive illusions are generally more difficult to recognize than perceptual illusions. The voice of reason may be much fainter than the loud and clear voice of an erroneous intuition, and questioning your intuitions is unpleasant when you face the stress of a big decision. More doubt is the last thing you want when you are in trouble. The upshot is that it is much easier to identify a minefield when you observe others wandering into it than when you are about to do so. Observers are less cognitively busy and more open to information than actors. That was my reason for writing a book that is oriented to critics and gossipers rather than to decision makers.
That line though. I mean, right now, that line could not be more on the nose, even though Dr Kahneman was not actually referring to “actors” by profession:
Observers are less cognitively busy and more open to information than actors.
Who are the observers? Gossips are the observers. And good gossip is the observation. Or as Dr Kahneman calls it – “educating gossip”. This is how he ends the book:
There is a direct link from more precise gossip at the watercooler to better decisions. Decision makers are sometimes better able to imagine the voices of present gossipers and future critics than to hear the hesitant voice of their own doubts. They will make better choices when they trust their critics to be sophisticated and fair, and when they expect their decision to be judged by how it was made, not only by how it turned out.
For years and years, gossip has been demeaned because it has been the domain of women. For years and years in Hollywood, the gossip at the women’s “watercooler” was about Harvey Weinstein. The gossip was exchanged from one woman to another and, as Anne Helen Petersen writes in her new piece for Buzzfeed, the gossip went past the better decision-making that Dr Kahneman was aiming at to become a “means of survival”. Gossip is what women have used to warn and protect each other – in Hollywood and beyond.
I recently read Jasmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (an incredible work) and there’s a couple in the book, their love for each other is relentless, and really, really terrible. Every scene between them was familiar, and traumatic, especially if you’ve been there, and or if you’ve watched someone in that space where love, literally, becomes a trap. And then a black hole. After a while, you don’t even know if there’s a way out anymore.