The Book of the Month in Red’s October issue is Deborah Copaken Kogan’s The Red Book. With that title it was a bit of a shoo-in. It’s like Sex and the City crossed with Cold Feet. But at Harvard. The Red Book is an actual Harvard thing: an update of everyone in your university year, published every five years. This novel follows four university friends who have taken very different paths in life and usually ones they didn’t exactly intend to follow. The Red Book makes them face the lies they’re telling each other and the lies they’re telling themselves. It’s good.
A reader wrote in recently to ask about a book she had seen featured in Red which was like Sex and the City. It was weird because I knew we were about to feature The Red Book so her question felt clairvoyant. I realised after thinking about it for several days that she was actually thinking about The Group by Mary McCarthy, mentioned in Red on a regular basis by me and also by editor Sam Baker. See review here by Elizabeth Day in the Observer. It’s set in the 1930s and is a favourite novel for a lot of people.
Candace Bushnell once described SATC as “a modern-day version of The Group.” There are parallels too with Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, set in the 1950s, and Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten-Year Nap, set in the early 2000s.
Elsewhere in October issue, I’ve written a piece linked to Red’s latest survey into attitudes towards parenting: Emotional Infertility: What Nobody Tells You About Modern Motherhood. What a bumper bonanza.
Writing in today’s Independent on Sunday about Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina: A New Biography. Read here. Dubbed “the crocodile’s mouth” by the Munduruku tribe of the Amazon basin and “the gate to hell” by theologian Tertullian, now the source of life is now re-branding itself via genitalia cupcakes, anatomically-correct armchairs and, in the US, an invitation to “Knit Your Congressman a Vagina.” (In protest against healthcare cuts, keen craftswomen send crocheted depictions of female body parts to politicians.) Cupid Stunt would be proud.
Naomi Wolf pic by David Shankbone.
Writing in today’s Guardian (here) about the physical experiences described in Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, out next week. Following an operation to repair her lower vertebrae, Wolf likens her “sexual reawakening” to Dorothy finding herself in the technicolor Land of Oz. Bad news for anyone who doesn’t need back surgery. If birds fly over the rainbow, then why, oh why, can’t I? Away above the chimney tops, at the osteopath’s. That’s where you’ll find me.
Naomi Wolf pic by Thomas Good, Next Left Notes.
The story of poor Lady Gaga and her off-stage sick bucket. She said, “I went backstage and vomited and I did not want you to see this. It happens to me sometimes.” “Sometimes”? In that dress surely “most days”? Also in today’s Sunday Express column: teenagers and GCSEs. First they’re told the exams are too easy and count for nothing. Now it turns out they’ve been marked down in an attempt to curb grade inflation. Who’d be sixteen again? Plus: Bad news for old fathers from Nature magazine. Architects’ floor plans uncovered for Friends, Mad Men and Sex and the City. And an instruction to Prince Harry to put on his missing pants and watch The Hangover. Because what happens in Vegas never stays in Vegas.
Gaga MonsterBall Tour pic by TamTam.
Three years ago I went to Washington DC in pursuit of Barack’s “burger n’ dog trail.” Now back for a travel story for Red magazine, spending most of my time supposedly eating what Michelle Obama eats: chocolate custard milkshake from Shake Shack on 18th St NW, the Michelle Melt turkey burger from Good Eats Eatery on Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Cajun-style fries cooked in peanut oil from Five Guys at Dupont Circle. She has Madonna’s arms. But Homer Simpson’s gut. And now so do I. Only without the Madonna arms.
Milkshake pic by Alex Gorzen.
So I interviewed Stephen Mangan in a grotty cafe in north London. (Was the cafe the PR’s choice or Mangan’s? Not his, I’m sure. He is too classy. Unless it was a double bluff. He drank builder’s tea and was utterly charming.) Anyway. Mangan was in rehearsals for Birthday, a new play for the Royal Court by Joe Penhall, where he plays a pregnant man in hospital, about to give birth. By the time we had met the play had not opened so I had to read it instead of actually seeing it. Which was an interesting experience — during the interview I got the sense that both of us really like the play but we were both in the position of not knowing whether it would actually work on stage because it had not actually been staged yet. I’m seeing it in July.
Afterwards I talked to the playwright Joe Penhall who admitted that he felt uncomfortable about writing about childbirth as a man. But also appeared to suggest that women are wimping out when it comes to covering life-and-death issues in the theatre: “It crossed my mind that someone is bound to accuse me of robbing a woman of her chance to tell her story. But it’s a free country. You can buy computers in shops and get to work on them. Someone is bound to pop up and say, ‘What’s wrong with a woman going through labour?’ But the theatre is a complex art form and you have to do things to circumvent convention. If you want to see a woman going through labour? It’s on TV every night.” Brutal. Buy a computer, woman playwrights!
Royal Court pic by Oxyman. Birthday pic by ArtisticZen.
Writing in today’s Independent about the new Ofqual recommendations for A-Levels. The bottom line is, they’re going to tweak them a tiny bit. Because actually they’re not that bad. But that does not make a headline, does it? It would be so much more interesting if newspapers reported that A-Levels aren’t actually as bad as everyone is always making out. How do I know? Because I took one. Yes, I’m still banging on about the English Literature A-Level I took in 2010. And who wouldn’t? It was bloody difficult and the coursework took ages. I’m hardly going to say the standard was appalling…
Thrilled to interview Mark Rylance for the London Evening Standard.
He was scarily mesmerising. An hour with him feels like five minutes. I cried about three times during the conversation just because his manner is so weird, open, raw and child-like. He genuinely had brought his lunch in from home. Sweet.
Globe pic by Yair Haklai.
He’s the nation’s Jubilee sweetheart! He’s your ideal guest at your street party! He’s the man you’d want to have playing the organ at your wedding! No, he’s not. But he’s something like that. Or at least he’s the person you go to if you have a choir full of people who don’t really want to sing and don’t believe in themselves. Yes, it’s Gareth “speccy bowtie” Malone! In today’s Observer profile. I have been a fan since his CBBC series. Although I was kind of watching that more for Mel C’s hilariously effusive and melodramatic voiceover. Whatever. Gareth rocks. And so will you when you hear his choirs! (Repeat ad nauseam with mega-enthusiastic Blue Peter presenter intonation.)
Picture by ArdFern.
Writing in the Independent today about the case of the 19-year-old from Merthyr Tydfil who had to be cut out of her house and taken for medical treatment because she had become too large to stand up.
The most tragic thing about her case is the fact that she was put on a hardcore weight loss program in the US, similar to the one in the teen fat camp drama Huge (pictured). She lost fifteen stone, but as soon as she came back home, there was no ongoing support for her, so she put it all back on again. In the context of that, the tabloid hatefest against her has been particularly painful to watch.
I do fear, though, that the only reason I care about this is that I may simply identify with her a little too strongly. There but for the grace…