And now for something completely different….
Hadley Freeman, The Guardian columnist and author of the popular “Ask Hadley” fashion column, has written a collection of essays called, Be Awesome.
This is not the sort of genre I usually discuss here, but this book is so hilarious, so daring, and so important that I just have to bring it to your attention. The cover cries out in sparkly stars, “Modern Life for Modern Ladies”, and the jacket blurb singles out her scathing discussions about women’s magazines and why the funny girl in the film never gets the guy. It highlights quotes like this:
What happens when the media run out of problems to make women feel bad about themselves? We need a new body insecurity, something a bit trendier, a bit more zeitgeist-y, a bit more, you know, NOW. But whatever could that be? Hello, cankles.
It makes it all seem so light and fun, so tongue-in-cheek jibing in a Bridget Jones sort of way that lots and lots of women will buy it thinking it’s chic lit in essay form. And that’s fine with me, because then more women will read it than would have if it was marketed as what I believe it to really be, namely an important, well-argued, undeniable description of feminism in today’s world. It is a feminist call to arms couched in humour and no-holds-barred stabs at The Daily Mail, Stephen Fry, Jennifer Anniston and Julie Burchill, to name a few — a very small few. Ultimately, it is a book which makes all women feel better about themselves and their life choices, and which would make men feel prouder of the women in their lives if only they took the time to read it.
I am thrilled to say that Hadley has agreed to appear here on this very blog for one of my great conversations. And here it is:
Me: What was the impetus for writing this format of book, i.e. a group of essays? Did this grow out of your Guardian columns?
Hadley: No, not really. I just kept hearing women talk about the same things that get them down – the Mail, fashion magazines, self-loathing – so I decided to write a book and tackle all of them.
Me: You never hold back on your opinions and to be honest, sometimes you are so outspoken about individuals that I worry about libel suits. Did you think about that at all when writing? Did your publisher encourage or discourage you from being so outspoken? (Of course, I love the fact that you don’t hold back and I think that’s one of the elements that makes the work so successful).
Hadley: Not really, I just write how I speak. I don’t think I ever take on someone who doesn’t in some way deserve it, either because they’ve opened themselves up for judgement or because they’ve done something ridiculous. I would never criticise someone about, for example, their looks or their parenting, because that’s just mean and stupid. My publisher just let me write anything I liked, really!
Me: Humour. You are hilarious! I have tried to be funny in print and it is absolutely daunting, but your writing is hysterical. Does that come easily? Are you funny in person? Given that these are personal essays where you talk freely about yourself, I wonder if this is your personal voice or an authorial persona? Can those be separated out, actually? Ooh…several questions in one here, but hopefully you see what I’m getting at.
Hadley: Thanks! I don’t know if I am that funny in person but, as I said, I do just write how I speak. I think if I tried to write any other way it would come across as fake, or just weird. So no, I don’t think of myself as having a separate persona, just another way of expressing myself.
Really, this is a book which I know I will come back to again and again. It made me laugh out loud, many, many times. That in itself would be important enough. But it also made me feel better about who I am and who I’m not, and believe me, that’s a gift beyond words.