Book 12: Helena S. Paige: A Girl Walks Into a Bar

Books I've read

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Growing up, my sister and I often spent weekends at my paternal grandmother’s house. Granny Moira, loved to read and do crosswords. She had an amazing flat in Umhlanga Rocks with a massive balcony and swimming pool. Whilst we didn’t always see eye to eye, I have so many happy memories of lying on the bed in her spare room reading books.

Normally those weekends would include vast amounts of cold pork sausages or roast chicken, chocolates, playing card games, and a trip to the Umhlanga library. Sometimes they also involved painting ceramics, or chipping the old plaster off of the back of old tiles (I’m not sure why because I don’t remember her ever re-tiling).

Some of my favourite books to take out where the choose your own adventure stories. I would make sure to mark each option that I had chosen, and read them over and over again until I had exhausted all the options. I was always left with that lingering feeling though that I had missed one, and so because they were quick, often did a double-check.

With A Girl Walks Into a Bar, I had the exact same feeling of thrill and excitement. Would I be able to choose all the options? Where would they lead me? For the uninitiated, A Girl Walks Into a Bar is a choose your own adventure erotica. You begin the journey by choosing the underwear you’d like to wear for your night out on the town, and the rest is history (the type of history you should probably not read on the train because it is that saucy and because you will blush the whole way home).

I have never read erotica before, mostly because I didn’t like the idea of a woman being rescued by a man, which I’ve been led to believe is the plot of most of them. (Side note – if I’m wrong, tell me now, and recommend some more books!) This book, however, was nothing like that. This was a woman, enjoying herself, experiencing sexual pleasure, and going home afterwards with a grin on her face. As will you. A big grin.

Part of the pleasure of this book, aside from the obvious, was in the choosing. The whole focus was on choosing an experience that you thought would be pleasurable, a narrative which is sadly often missing from discussions about women’s sexuality. I loved that. This book has been published the world over in a host of different languages, pointing to the fact that a) many women love sex and want to read about it, and b) we love stories that affirm our right to make choices.

The other cool thing about this book is that it is written by three female writers, together. As a writer, that thought excites me. (Note to self: plan famous novel collection with friends). The ‘Helen’ in Helena is Helen Moffett, whose book of poetry I reviewed earlier in the project. The S. is Sarah Lotz, whose thrilling speculative fiction I reviewed earlier in the project. The Paige is Paige Nick, a novelist also from South Africa (watch out Paige, I’m coming for your fiction).

Finally, the coolest thing about A Girl Walks In is that it is a series! So you can also get A Girl Walks into A Blind Date, and A Girl Walks Into a Wedding. I’m super keen to read the next two.

Follow A Girl Walks In on twitter here and on Facebook here.

 

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Book 4 – Strange Fruit – Helen Moffett

Poetry
Helen Moffett - Strange Fruit

Helen Moffett – Strange Fruit

One of the benefits of Metrorail’s delays and break downs is more reading time on the way to work. I’m only in the second month of this project and I’m already behind on publishing the pieces on the books that I’ve read.

Books still to be reviewed

Books still to be reviewed

That pile doesn’t even include this current one, or Gemsquash Tokoloshe which I finished two weeks ago.

Helen Moffett’s collection of poetry Strange Fruit took me a train ride to read one morning in September, but it has sat with me ever since. The poems are vivid and powerful and cover a wide range of topics including fertility, sex, relationships with parents, and the way that personalities change when travelling.

I only started reading and writing poetry this year, so I am by no means an expert, but as my first ever reading of a collection of poetry I was really pleased. It was enjoyable, and easy and I think that my mistake in the past has been to read poetry that wasn’t written by a woman. J That’s too simple, but it is interesting to read feminist poetry dealing with themes I found interesting and could relate to. Moffett also has a great sense of humour, which comes through in her descriptions of courtship and sex.

The title poem Strange Fruit was definitely one of my favourites, along with the poem about waking up early with her mother. I think so often in films and popular culture we are presented with images of women as simple, flat characters who don’t have any other goal than finding a life partner or losing some weight. Strange Fruit reminds us that women are more complex and that their character is certainly not just skin deep.

I also related to the idea of a hard exterior, which she described in Strange Fruit. In my line of work (women’s rights research and activism) a hard shell is often required in order not to spend all your days despondent and in tears. I loved the image of an “invisible fault-line” as well, because that line is always there, and when people know you and have found that line, it helps to remind you that you’re not hard. That it is the world that makes you that way. I believe in celebrating the idea of ‘being emotional’ because I think it has been used as an insult against women (and to limit men’s emotional range) for too long.

I recommend reading this collection as a chance to reconnect to emotion and power.