The oldest of us aren’t the wisest of us: feminist biographies and how they’re teaching me

I have not been writing a lot recently. This is because I have been reading. And learning.

Since graduating from university, after learning English Lit., I have found it pretty hard to sink my teeth into anything book-wise, ironically. I sort of worried that I’d inadvertently killed my love of reading through learning about it, which would have been the biggest bummer ever had that turned out to be true. In fact, for a long time it seemed as though that was the truth, each book I picked up followed in quick succession by being put down again after ten or eleven half-heartedly read pages. Books sucked, for a while. Only Gillian Flynn prevailed in this dark era and for that, I thank her (but not for the psychological damage she also bestowed. I’m a bit damaged by her writing).

This “dry spell” changed on discovering the niche genre of “feminist comedian biographies”. After spontaneously buying one, this last drizzly March (Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”), I quickly began to binge-buy many, my interest in this group spiralling beyond belief after months of bookless monkishness. Since then, I have been reading a new book on a fortnightly basis – a practice which has encouraged me to go beyond the sweet arms of this genre, including other old favourites like post-apocalyptic thrillers and strange gothic sex-fests. However, I always return to the sweet FCB – and in fact am currently reading Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl”, an enterprise that I know I should probably savour but will probably be finished by the end of the week, so total is my love for this book already.

There are many reasons why I recommend FCB’s to you – particularly if you are somewhat like me as a person. Chiefly, I’m profoundly interested by the human experience and by other people’s opinions – in finding out what makes people tick – and I also possess a great love for many FC’s (feminist comedians) themselves. The opportunity to peek into their lovely big brains, then, doesn’t go amiss, which is almost certainly how I am devouring these books at such an alarming rate.

For the longest time, my motto has been the pessimistic "That'd be great...but it won't happen for me." This new and improved motto is much more inspiring!

Additionally, I feel a strong affinity with many of them which is both comforting and enlightening (so I’m NOT the only weirdo in the world??? Really!?). For instance, like the lovely Lena I am a classic “oversharer”, and thus very much enjoy it when other people overshare with me. Despite using the term, I actually don’t believe in “oversharing” as a concept – nothing you could tell me I would consider to be “too much”. I like to know all things. I think that “oversharing” inspires a connection between people not found within the strict formal confines of “how’s your day going?” and “please be nice to Patrick in your email, he’s having a bad time over at Clientfest and doesn’t need any more of your passive-aggressive shit” (the second example is a fabrication – there is no such thing as Clientfest and I am far too afraid to be a passive-aggressive sort of person, but you get my drift).

Biographies certainly inspire this element of “overshare” which I, clearly, am addicted to. Not frivolous accounts of boring celebrities lives, may I quickly add – like Katie Price or Madonna who I couldn’t give two shits about – but deep, insightful works from clever, funny people with something poignant to pen. Those I love. I care about all the nitty-gritty, mundane details of their lives, as, if you’re my friend, I do your life (with the exception of pictures of microwave meals which are oddly quite popular on my Facebook and Instagram feeds). What’s your favourite colour? Do you enjoy weird arthouse movies or big Hollywood testosterone injections? What’s the weirdest sex you ever had?  I want to know it all, and biographies tell it all. What a great marriage.

* * *

With a rekindled adoration for reading has come a new routine. I come home from work, throw off whatever clothes I’ve been wearing and then don a dress I purposefully bought about 800 sizes too large for me, as it provides excellent airing in our current godawfully hot climate (I highly recommend this practice – it also makes you feel great about yourself, as you feel tiny when swamped by such Henry-the-Eighth-ish sized garments). I decided to try spending the evening naked once sans dress (it was in the wash) and, conversely, do not recommend that, if you own leather sofas like I do. Once suitably kitted out, I pick up whatever book I’m immersed in until my boyfriend comes home (as he has no concept of silence during reading [not being a big reader himself] and will talk despite the presence of my concentration face, which is mainly endearing and sweet. Mainly).

Most evenings, we’ll also go to the gym as he is that rare ilk of person who has good health intentions and follows through on them. Last week he took me, not realising I was a little drunk, and I spent the entire time giggling while staring at weights close-up.

I have good intentions too, with or without alcohol.

It’s on the wing of these good intentions that I’ve been thinking about biographies in a more, I-can-craft-an-article-out-of-this light (finally getting to the point of this piece!!! Which should be delightful news for those of you who are still with me). I’m going to share with you what I’m learning from these books, and a little more about why they make me feel good, which will hopefully make you feel good in turn (FC biographers scratch my back, I scratch yours e.t.c e.t.c, in some weird trifecta of virtual back-scratching activity).

As aforementioned, I feel good because I feel connected to people as opinionated and (more often than not) on the same street of weird as I am. Or at least on an aligning street close by or something.

Every year I notice my one little word finds me more often than I find it. I read this today here and...

As aforementioned, I feel good because I enjoy learning about life from other people’s perspectives – particularly those of my favourite group of people, who happen to be funny feminists (I also love food lovers, animal enthusiasts and metalheads, if you were wondering).

As not-yet-mentioned, I feel good because biographies glorify or, at least, promote self-love and inspection – no matter what age you are. Now I don’t think that I have anywhere near enough experiences yet to write a biography of my own (also nobody would read it except for, maybe, my mum, which would be fairly pointless as she knows a lot about my life already) but there are people my age that do. You no longer have to wait until you’re seventy to write a story about your life or your thoughts, and I think that’s brilliant. With this new age of biographies written by the young, we’re seeing a new approach to the concept of what stories and voices are wise and worldly – no longer restricted to old shamans and grannies who love to talk about their filthy history whilst you eat their pineapple upsidedown cakes.

Of course, this is something of a crux because at the same time you’re not supposed to love yourself or think yourself smart or worldly these days (even if you’re doing something smart or worldly such as writing a biography or sharing a credible and well-sourced opinion) – only other people are allowed to think that about you. If you think that kind of positive stuff about yourself, you run the risk of coming across as arrogant, vainglorious and an all-around shithead (that sentence had the potential to be so profound before I stained it with that poop reference. Oh well).

Get gusty; tell your stories already. (a lena dunham quote of awesomeness)

The FCB’s I have been reading dispute this by the very fact that they exist, and I appreciate that, because I disagree with the self-hating society we currently inhabit. Your opinion is important, your view is important and your life is important – and you shouldn’t let any cynical journalist or heartless advertisement tell you otherwise. You are biography-worthy. Somebody out there would love the little details of your life and think your views important. You don’t have to wait until you’re old to feel wise. Based upon that, I think that all people should be allowed to discover themselves, to talk about their life or to offer advice (so long as you’re not totally demented – I probably should have mentioned that earlier. Sociopaths and unrelenting psychotics should probably stop reading this) regardless of their age, education, place of birth, gender, sexual preference, religious view, allergies, opinions about asparagus, affinity to cats, ability to sing and/or whether or not they like bubbles in their bath.

People are changing all the time and, the older I get, the less faith I have that the oldest of us are the wisest of us. I change all the time, like a reptile incessantly shedding its skin, over and over in a bizarre time loop – not unlike the one Jensen Ackles experiences in Supernatural when he wakes up in the same day repeatedly (or was it Jared Padalecki? This sentence both epitomizes my enjoyment of fantasy programmes led by super hot male protagonists and my awful memory which doesn’t allow me to retain any of it). Those of you mentalists (friendly mentalists, not the unrelenting psychotics of earlier note) who have read every entry of this portfolio (if you even exist, which I both hope and don’t that you do) will have been subject to the ever-changing spectrum of my mind which should be proof of the above statement. I learn different things all the time and morph as a person, ever so slightly, all the time. Sure, at my base I’ll always be thoughtful and a little bit funny (I hope) but my interests are ever-evolving and so is my outlook.

Doesn’t mean that I’ll stop writing and exploring myself (no euphemism intended, for once). Doesn’t mean that I’m less intellectually capable at this moment than the old worldly codger over the road. Just means that I’m on a different page of the same, wise book – perhaps paraphrasing due to youth but with thoughts that are just as valuable, all the same.

My FCB book list:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling

Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham

How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

Yes, Please – Amy Poehler

Bossypants – Tina Fey

Girl Walks Into A Bar… – Rachel Dratch

I Was Told There’d Be Cake – Sloane Crosley
Note: The above is likely to grow at an alarming rate. Watch this space.


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