Today’s Friday Reads post is thematic in celebration of International Women’s Day, which has been, quite rightly, trending on Twitter all day, and has evidently got the Gollancz team thinking about all manner of female-focused things. We left the scope pretty open to the team, so here we have a collaboration celebrating everything from bloggers to books to other members of the team…
Happy International Women’s Day!
Earlier in the week, I was struck down with a malady, the details of which I won’t bore you with; the salient point is that when I’m unwell, reading comics makes me feel better. So, I took my day in bed as an opportunity to read the recent Batman story arc ‘Death of the Family’, in which The Joker made his long awaited first appearance in the New 52.
Aaaand . . . it was good. Some parts better than others, obviously, as is usually the case when storylines proliferate across multiple books with different creative teams. Scott Snyder’s run on the central Batman title has been justifiably praised, and I harbour residual affection for the character of Nightwing from when he first appeared in New Teen Titans back in [puts hand across mouth and mumbles old, old date as inaudibly as possible], so I’m enjoying that comic, too – although I harbour the sneaking suspicion that Dick may never return to his Wolfman/Perez heights. But the stand out in an arc that was of pretty high quality all through, was undoubtedly Gail Simone’s Batgirl.
Holy Definitive Takes, Batman! DC took a lot of flak for their decision to give Batgirl/Barbara Gordon back the use of her legs after so long being in a wheelchair (courtesy of events in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s brilliant Batman: The Killing Joke graphic novel), but in Gail Simone they had a writer – perhaps the only writer – with the chops to pull it off. And she’s done a magnificent job. Her depiction of Batgirl as a young woman coming to terms with her second chance, bravely taking up the cowl again while at the same time suffering understandable doubts and anxiety over what The Joker did to her is a masterclass in comics writing. And the way she reacts to The Joker’s actions in this storyline is a joy to read. I can’t say more without spoiling it – and you should all go out and read this story immediately (Batgirl #13-16) – but this book is quite simply one of the best comics on the market at the moment.
Bizarrely, DC almost took a .38 calibre to their own tootsies a little while ago when the decision was made to push her off the book. Madness. I confess I was one of the self-righteous horde who took to Twitter to let them know in no uncertain terms that I don’t read Batgirl because of the character, I read Batgirl because of Gail Simone; if she goes, so do I. I guess the people spoke and were listened to, because soon after it was announced that she’d be staying, which is excellent news. The esteemed Mike Carey put me on to Gail Simone’s writing by passing me a copy of The Secret Six – one of the best recommendations I’ve ever had, and I’d soon read all of her run on that (fantastic) series – and I now count myself a fan. I will read whatever she decides to write. And in the unlikely event that you’re reading this, Gail, and you think you might have an SF or fantasy novel you’d like to write? Don’t waste any time wondering where to send it – I might know a few people who’d be interested . . .
I’d like to take a moment to share some of my favourite kick arse* YA heroines. From pretty much any Kristin Cashore character (Bitterblue, Fire, Graceling) to Gemma Doyle in Libby Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy to Sabriel and Lireal in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy and Alina in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. These are female characters who save the world, themselves, their friends, their families, fight off legions of the undead, rule kingdoms and fight with swords, beauty and truth. They also deal with real world problems like addiction, abuse, grief, loss, love, sex and the pressure of growing to the person you want to become and the person the world wants you to become. When faced with difficult choices these heroines grow, change and find ways to not only save their world/kingdom/selves, but make their worlds a better place. I can’t think of any finer message to give to women. Especially young women. We can and do save the world every day. In fantastical ways and in not so fantastical ways.
My Friday Read this week, in honour of International Women’s Day, is something I read daily. As a Guardian-reading lefty, it’s no wonder I find the Women section of their website to be full of thought-provoking debate written by women (and men) from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. I feel fortunate to live in a country where feminism has already made so much wonderful progress, especially when I am very aware of the plight that many women suffer in less liberal countries. That said, and not ignoring these plights (the Guardian have been celebrating and supporting women all over the world today), I find Guardian Women to be exceptional at raising awareness of the everyday sexism women suffer closer to home. Ellie Cosgrave’s story is one that more women than you think would share, and the recent abuse of a student at a university debate is just one of many examples of laddish, offensive and harmful behaviour among students. It also features some of my favourite bloggers, such as the Vagenda writers, and the Everyday Sexism project, which is doing amazing work in tackling these attitudes, simply by highlighting things that people often ignore. It’s a good place to start if you’ve never thought about feminist issues before, and it’s pretty apparent that a lot of people haven’t. Get on with it, slackers.
Oh, also, I’d like to high-five Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I do that every day(in my head), but it seems especially appropriate to honour them publicly as a women I think to be awesome on International Women’s Day.
Mary Gentle’s Black Opera, published by Gollancz last year, was my first exposure to Mary’s work. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when the book was delivered – I knew it had an operatic theme, and was set in Napoleon-era Italy, and that was about it. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure where it was going to fit on the Gollancz list. Mary’s previous books seem to have been more obviously fantasy, whereas this sounded quite different. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I started reading. That trepidation lasted for about three pages, at which point I had been utterly sucked in to the world Mary had created. Our hero is a young opera-writer who has just had the opening night of his life. The crowds loved it, he got very drunk, and now he has a hangover. So when he’s arrested on about page three, he isn’t very happy about it. It turns out that his opera was so good it created what might have been a minor miracle – music and our response to it has that power, in this world – and the church aren’t very happy. Only religious music sent by God should have that impact, not populist opera written by an atheist. All of the performers are being arrested and face an unpleasant future. Until the Duke of Sicily intervenes, and explains that he needs a miracle – the world is about to end, thanks to a rather annoying volcano and a shadowy group of madmen – and only opera can stop them!
What follows is a wonderfully detailed recreation of a time and place (albeit with added miracles and zombies), a touching love story, a crazy ‘let’s do the show right here’ comedy, a chilling exploration of humanity’s response to religion, a James Bond-ian final showdown, and quite frankly one of the most brilliant and wonderfully strange novels I’ve read. I suspect that if you know more about opera than I do, there’s a whole layer of plot and language that will resonate with you, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t know a thing about it, the book will pick you up and take you along with it. Actually, that’s what normally happens when I try to watch opera, so perhaps Mary Gentle is even cleverer than I thought. Anyway, enough rambling from me – go and read it, please.
The lovely thing about International Women’s Day is at it gives us an excuse to shout even louder than usual about some of the fabulous colleagues, peers and friends who make our lives that little bit more amazing. So today I’d really like to give you all a chance to read (Friday Reads, right?) about one of the Gollancz women who always makes my day more sparkly (sometimes literally, using glitter). And that woman is our very own Jen McMenemy. Marketeer extraordinaire, enthusiast par excellence, she’s the lady who brought you the Gollancz Geeks, our tumblrs, this blog, our newsletters and Facebook sites and so many other awesome things that I can’t begin to mention them all. But it includes book trailers, competitions and giveaways, sneak peaks inside our books, advertising campaigns – and she’s prepared to trek to the other end of a *different* country to get us the very best video interviews from some of our most brilliant, reclusive, or intriguing authors.
From the work Jen puts in every day, I can tell you three things:
1) She’s a total professional. No challenge too big, no detail too small to get it absolutely right. And no project so perfectly formed that she can’t spot a way to make it even better.
2) As you can maybe tell, she loves our books and our authors. Its incredible for us to work with someone who reads, thinks about, and completely gets our books. And as you can imagine, our authors love it too.
3) OMG she evidently loves you guys. Everything Jen does is about communicating with the brilliant Gollancz readers, and trying to make absolutely sure when an amazing book comes out you’re the first to hear about it – and you have every scrap of information you need to decide it you want it now, or you want to save up for it.
And I’ll tell you one extra thing for free: Jen is so warm, smart and funny she’s amazing to work with. We’d (literally) be a tenth of what we are today without her, and I think a colleague like this is 100% worth celebrating on International Women’s Day. But she’s not the only amazing woman out there, so if I’ve made you think about someone wonderful you know, use today to let her know she’s appreciated too!
* Another reason to celebrate Jen McMenemy – even though she’s American, she said ‘arse’, when she really wanted to say ‘ass’. – H