My rating: 9/10.
I searched this one out because of Claire’s intriguing posting about it on The Captive Reader recently. Click this link to read her take, and don’t forget to scroll down into the comments for an interesting side note onto the life of Charles Dickens. Here you go: Moranthology
I had never heard of Caitlin Moran before, but the lack of context was no barrier to enjoying this collection of columns originally published in the London Times. A previous book, How to Be a Woman, gets rave reviews on the back cover of Moranthology, and also, when I did my small bit of “research” for this review, all over the internet. One I may also seek out, because I liked Moran’s brash, cheeky and occasionally heart-rending voice in this later compilation.
Some articles are decidedly stronger than others, but every single one was more than readable. Moran works the pop culture beat, with frequent forays into personal memoir, and anecdotes about her own marriage and family life.
Caitlin Moran apparently had quite a counter-culture childhood and adolescence. Growing up in a self-described family of “hippies”, she frequently mentions her family’s poverty and the heavy-as-lead despair of the slow slide downward; the family lived on Moran’s father’s disability benefit, never quite enough to meet the basic daily needs, let alone afford any sort of advancement in life. Moran refers frequently to her youthful status as one of the lookers-on. As a homeschooled child, she remarks that she had zero experience in fitting in with her more conventional peers, and I suspect that it is this position outside of the norm which has helped make her such a sharp observer of the more ridiculous of the pop culture excesses splashed across our universal consciousness in this age of hyper-information.
There are poignant moments throughout Moranthology which I found most moving, in contrast to the aggressive humour of some of the pop culture critiques. Caitlin limping through London on her first visit there, astounded by the scale of the city and unable to find her way, on foot, to either the British Museum or Buckingham Palace, which she thought she’d just briefly visit before visiting the offices of The Observer; she’s won a “young writers” prize which includes a tour of the newspaper office and a chance to write a youths’ view article for publication. Caitlin and her brothers and sisters squeezed into the cab of their camper van, singing to drown out the sounds of their parents’ lovemaking in the back. Caitlin’s four years as a supremely heavy user of marijuana, and the gap in her life (and memories) this caused.
This is a strong collection with a wide variety of pieces; the range meant that it never blurred for me, as collections of newspaper columns sometimes may.
Outstanding pieces were a rather brutal observation of the ironies of Michael Jackson’s lavish funeral and the public response to it, and two interviews with rock and roll icons, Keith Richards and Paul McCartney. The Keith Richards piece is an absolute stand-out, jaw-droppingly frank and frequently very funny; a must-read for any long-time Stones fan such as myself. I learned nothing new – Keith’s excesses and the sordid details of his frequently wasted (in every sense) life are common knowledge to anyone who has been paying attention to the mesmerizing freak show of the Stones during the various stages of their rock royalty progression – but what Moran observes, and how she reports it makes for a brilliant piece of pop journalism. This article alone makes Moranthology worth buying, but there’s a lot more packed in here, too. Including, I must mention, a visit to a German sex club with Lady Gaga, a surprisingly gentle article which shows a strong affection and admiration for the blatantly controversial main character of the ongoing Gaga Saga.
Switching gears successfully from the pop world to social commentary, Moran also writes compelling, thought-provoking and serious pieces on such diverse topics as the importance of public libraries, the compassionate and economic benefits of a strong public welfare system, and the right of women to access safe abortion.
Cheeky, over-the-top, family-targeted humour abounds. Moran pens a scathing critique of the practice of providing goody bags at children’s’ parties, and gives a spirited defense of the occasional need for parental binge drinking. A slightly more serious, but exceedingly funny piece discusses the changing meaning of the word “special” to something rather dirty – references to “Daddy’s Special Lemonade” (it has limes in it!) and playground requests for Daddy to “tickle me in my special place” (under the chin, for heaven’s sake!) – bring parental mortification and suspicious glances from other ever-vigilant parents on high alert for any shadow of anything smacking of sexual perversion.
All in all, a most entertaining read. Loved it.