Questions for you

So here are two things that have been weighing on my mind.

I read about the Bechdel Rule recently.  Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home, says that for a movie to be worth her time, it has to meet three conditions.  1) There have to be two female characters that are 2) having a conversation about 3) something other than a guy.  So I went and counted my movies, and checked to see how many of them would qualify under this rule.  I own 107 movies right now, of which nine met these criteria.  That’s ridiculous.  (I’m counting Breakfast on Pluto, by the way, though I don’t know whether Bechdel would or not.)  I did it the other way round, two male characters having a conversation about something other than a girl, and I came up with sixteen on the first shelf (which holds slightly less than a third of my films).

That’s just ridiculous.  And I guess it’s not really a question for y’all so much as just me wanting to share that, because it made me sad and angry.  Also here is a link to people in Hollywood talking about racism and sexism.  It is alarming and will alarm you.

Second thing, and this is what I want opinions on.  What do y’all think about reading books that you are giving people before you give them to them?  Birthday and Christmas gifts, and like that.  I used to never do this, and then eventually I started doing it for certain people – if it was a gift for my Indie Sister, or my friend tim, or my mother, I would read it first.  Because I know they are all people who read books before giving them as gifts.  And now I’ve lost all self-control.  If there’s a book the library hasn’t got, and I buy it as a gift for someone, I always read it first.  (Unless it’s a mass market paperback, because I don’t want to bend the spine.)

I know this isn’t a good habit!  But I just can’t help myself!  I justify it to myself by remembering that I don’t at all mind getting books as presents that the giver read before giving to me.  Actually it is nice in a way, because then I know I can talk about it with them when I get through reading it.  One year my mother read Tamsin, which she had bought for my sister Anna, and she liked it so much she got copies for all of us.  See?  A book I wouldn’t own if my mother hadn’t read it before giving it away!

I am hungry for justification.  Do you do this?  Would you mind if someone read your gift book before giving it to you?

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43 thoughts on “Questions for you

  1. I wouldn’t mind if someone read the book before giving it to me. I often do try to give only books that I have already read (foolishly thinking this may be quality control, when other people may have very different taste). So I’ve often read the book, just not the actual book I’m giving.

    That thing about movie conversations is horrific and yet it strikes me as all too true. What a heart-sinking thought.

    • I almost never gives books as gifts that I haven’t read. It’s dangerous! And if I can get the book at the library, I’ll read it from the library before buying it. But sometimes I buy a book, which sounds like something a friend-and-relation will like, and then I start reading it with the idea that I will just read a little bit! To make sure! And then it sucks me in. I AM HELPLESS.

  2. I like your second question! Generally, I don’t read books before I give them to someone because I like to give books I’ve already read or books I know the other person wants but I might have no interest in. The one exception was last Christmas when I bought a book by an author I love but hadn’t read. I had a 5 hour ride from college to home and my mom was driving, so I sat in the back and finished the whole book before I got home and had to wrap it. I felt a little guilty, but since I didn’t hurt the book, no harm no foul?

    • That’s what I think! I am super, super careful with the books – I mean I’m always careful of my books but I’m triple careful when it’s going to be a gift. I don’t even open it all the way – I open it just a little and poke my nose inside. I subscribe to the no harm no foul theory. But sometimes I still feel tacky.

  3. I never give someone a book unless I’ve read (and LOVED!) it first. I don’t have a problem with giving people second-hand books, but I would never buy a new book and then read it before giving it to someone. I need to know it is good before I buy it!

    • Well, sometimes I give people books that they’ve asked for, and very occasionally I give books that I think will speak to people’s condition. When my friend was planning to go to France for a summer, with her mother, I bought her French Milk for her birthday. Since it’s about a girl who goes on holiday to France with her mother. (And then I read it first. My ways are wicked ways!)

  4. Same as farmlanebooks. But you could think of it this way: if you buy the book in the kind of bookstore with chairs and coffee, then it’s quite possible somebody ELSE has already read the whole thing before you even get it to the cash register.

    • I always buy my books in bookstores with chairs and coffee. I sit and read them in the chairs and then I go buy them (or not). But I feel guilty about that too – I do it loads with graphic novels that my library doesn’t have – so it doesn’t necessarily make me feel less tacky for reading people’s gifts.

  5. What a good question! I bought a bunch of books that I hadn’t previously read for my nieces and nephews this past Christmas, and I was desperate to read them. I probably would have read a couple too if I’d had time. (Like Kim and Jackie, I ordinarily like to have already read books I give as gifts, but in this case, the kids’ parents had already gotten them most of the age-appropriate books that I’ve read.)

    And as a receiver, it wouldn’t bother me to receive a previously read book, as long as it’s still in good shape.

    • What’d you get them? CURIOUS.

      See, I think the real reason I keep doing this is that I do not mind, at all, receiving books that I know the gift-giver has already read. At ALL. There is not even a tiny part of me that is bothered by it, and I think, Well, do unto others, eh? 😛

      • Let’s see…what did I get? Mysterious Benedict Society (that was the one that was calling out to me the most), Half Magic by Edward Eager, Children of the Lamp by Kerr, Ophelia by Lisa Klein, The Great Quarterback Switch by Matt Christopher.

        And then there was a whole array of picture books bhy Eric Carle, Sandra Boynton, Mo Willems, etc. I did read those, but I read them in the store.

        The only one I’ve gotten any feedback on is the Quarterback book, and the feedback I got was that the nephew I got it for kept picking it up and reading it over the next two days after he got it. So I guess it was a hit 🙂

  6. Alison Bechdel must not watch a lot of movies, which makes me question her entertainment advice, much as I loved Fun Home. I find some anime a good antidote to the “girls only talking about boys” stuff. Girls talking about family problems. Girls talking about other girls. Girls talking about saving the world.

    • Oh, yeah, I could never follow her rule, though I noticed that three of my five desert island movies (MirrorMask, Empire Records, and the fifth season of Buffy) do actually abide by the rule. And one (Before Sunset) only has two characters, so it couldn’t really fit with the rule. And then Angels in America, which surely Alison Bechdel can’t object to. But a lot of movies that I truly love, Lord of the Rings, Memento, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc., don’t have the women with the conversations. I still love them. I am just sad that Hollywood is so fail.

  7. Hm. I have mixed feelings. I sort of feel like I am nibbling someone’s apple before giving it to them. And I should point out: In the classic Tamsin case, I was only going to skim the first chapter. You know, to make sure it was good enough to give as a gift. When I got COMPLETELY IMMERSED (of course against my will), I did actually keep the first copy of the book – the read copy – and bought new ones for y’all.

    Of course, I AM a messy reader – that may influence my opinion.

    • Yeah, see, I’m the world’s tidiest reader. You may have noticed. 😛 And I wasn’t accusing you about Tamsin! I was, you know, celebrating your cleverness and generosity. 🙂

  8. I actually have quite a few movies with women talking to each other not about guys. I don’t own nearly as many movies as you, but on my first shelf (which has about 15 movies on it) at least half of them fit that criteria…

    I would probably read a book I bought for a present if I had that chance. Sadly, no one in my extended family likes books so I never get them any. Well, that’s not true, my mom likes self-help books and books about angels, but definitely not ones I’d be interested in reading.

    • Well, maybe I was being too stringent, or maybe I was just failing to remember the conversations between women that take place in them. Some of them I haven’t seen in a while – I should really take some more time and think more thoroughly about it (though it is few compared with the number of movies that fit the same criteria but for men).

  9. Of course you would count Breakfast on Pluto– Kitty identifies female. I think Bechdel would consider that kosher.

    I’m trying to keep my hands off a pretty copy of Redwall that’s for a friend’s birthday… but it’s in June! Ah, self-control, we meet again.

  10. a) Bechdel’s Rule is bollocks. Sure, it makes a good guideline for something to consider when picking movies, but it also pretends that sex and love aren’t two of the most important subjects. Now, the inverse of the rule certainly suggests a problem–and I would never say that there isn’t–which is also worth thinking about.

    That was an interesting link, by the way. Frustrating and disturbing, but good. However, John Singleton sucks ass. And Tyler Perry sucks even harder. The problem with TP (besides his being a jackass), is that he makes inferior movies, but they’re practically the only movies made by black people, for black people (FUBU, baby). So they go see ’em anyways. And that’s a damn shame.

    Secondly, unless it’s something I’d have no interest in reading or I just don’t have the opportunity, I absolutely read books before giving them away. (I can even do this with paperbacks because I am so ninja; I have been honing these skills since elementary school.) Pretty much my only excuse for buying a hardcover book I desperately want to read is that I can give it as a gift, haha.

    • I don’t think it makes a good guideline, exactly, and it’s not the way I’d choose my films. But as you say, it does suggest a hell of a problem. There are interesting stories to be told about women.

      Yay, this is validating! I can do it with paperbacks too, but I don’t if they’re mass market. I get too antsy about the risk, and the covers nearly always get a smidge flipped up. Trade paperbacks are no problem, I can manage trade paperbacks easy-peasy and nobody would ever know.

  11. I don’t often buy books for people because I worry that it has to be a book they absolutely love, and my tastes don’t necessarily overlap with those of the people for whom I buy gifts.

    But if I do, and if I haven’t read it or if I loved it and haven’t had a chance to read it for ages, I will sometimes read the book before I wrap it up, feeling guilty the whole time, and being really careful not to open the pages very far so I don’t crease the spine. It’s quite frustrating though, because I end up just skimming through it that way, not reading it properly.

    Of course if it’s a tatty old second-hand book, no problem!

    My sister found me a copy of Mara, Daughter of the Nile one year (we both loved that book when it was in the school library) and I’m pretty sure she read it before she gave it to me.

    • Aw, Mara! That’s the book that taught me the word “gamine”, if I recall correctly. I loved the little Babylonian princess, bless her heart.

      I love buying books for people – though it can be rather iffy. I’ve gotten to a point where I’m actually quite good at picking out books that people are going to like, based on what I already know of their reading tastes. Or at least I think I have – I picked out a book for my parents to get my sister’s boyfriend for his birthday, and I’m a bit nervous that it’s going to shatter my reputation for being a good gift-picker-outer.

  12. Glad you mentioned the Bechdel Rule! I’ve seen some interesting posts about it lately:

    http://thehathorlegacy.com/why-film-schools-teach-screenwriters-not-to-pass-the-bechdel-test/
    http://trueslant.com/childers/2010/02/09/how-the-bechdel-test-could-save-the-oscars/

    Here’s the original Alison Bechdel comic with the rule in it (from 1985!):

    http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/the-rule

    Schatzi, I submit that the Bechdel rule isn’t about saying that sex and love are not important. It’s about criticizing our culture’s persistent message that women’s voices aren’t important unless they’re talking with or about men, and about the lack of fully realized female characters in film. Not to mention heteronormativity (women can talk about sex and love without talking about men — because there are women who love other women).

    • I’d heard of the rule before, but I read about it recently, and it gave me the idea of checking to see how many of my movies would pass. I don’t want every single movie to pass with this rule (or the opposite, with men having a conversation not about women), but it should be far more of them than it is now. I’ve been really cross at Hollywood lately over this.

  13. It never ceases to amaze me how many movies don’t pass the Bedchel test. It sounds so simply, right? And yet… :\

    Like several of the other commenters, I mostly give people books I’ve already read, but I’d definitely not object to someone else reading something they bought me as a gift first.

    • I usually do too – give people books that I’ve read before! I do not wantonly give people books I’ve never read – unless they have specifically expressed a wish for them, in which case the burden is not on me to ensure that their gift has merit. 😛

  14. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book before I’ve given it away, but I think that’s only because I usually get books for people that I’ve already read before purchasing it for them. If that makes sense… at all.

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I wouldn’t do it for everyone and, like you, not to a trade. 😀

  15. I do sometimes read a book that I am gifting to someone. Mostly to check whether it would suit a person’s tastes or not.

    I remember once gifting a book to someone (I don’t remember which one, but it was really good) – unfortunately there were a couple of pages describing an abortion and the protagonist’s experiences on having an abortion, which totally upset my friend.

    So, yes, I am very careful giving out books as gifts. And in case I do, I do read it before hand to make sure that it will absolutely suit the person I am gifting it to 🙂

    • I am mostly super careful about the books I give as gifts. Occasionally, though, I get people books that I want them to read, the idea being that they will then feel too guilty not to read it, and then it is more about what I think they should want, than what they actually do want.

  16. I feel most “chick flicks” nowadays almost always depict women in a negative light. They always seem to be workaholic psychos with no social skills (but who are gorgeous and thin) and who can’t get a man, or who think they don’t want a man. Until, of course, the perfect man comes into the picture and wins the girl over. It’s a horrible way to treat women, and it is sad to me that these movies are called “chick flicks” when I don’t know any girl who is like those depicted in the movies. Women in literature often upset me, and women in films do, too. I often come off harsh towards women in the books I read, but that is because I expect more from them than authors are willing to have them give.

  17. In recent years, I’ve had more trouble finding the time to pre-read books I give to some good friends, with whom my husband and I have a tradition of giving books we’ve pre-read with an inscription saying “Pre-read for your enjoyment.” That inscription has always meant “as soon as you finish this one, we can talk about it.” I’ve felt bad when I haven’t had time to do it–we’re all voracious readers, so I can’t just give them a book I’ve already read; part of the challenge is finding something new and interesting.

    I’m enthusiastically on the side of reading a book before you give it!

  18. Though I wouldn’t make that a rule for judging merit, my roommate and I did have fun applying it to our respective movie collections. Each of us own about 60 movies (I included my miniseries in the count) and I had about 20 that met the rule, based on our judgment calls and she had about 15. It does provoke thought certainly.

    • Okay, you and Amanda having so many has made me think I was applying the criteria too stringently and/or forgetting about conversations between women that take place over the course of the film. When my sister with the freakishly good memory gets home, I’m going to try this again and see if I come up with better numbers.

  19. Good questions! I think I usually only give books as gifts that I’ve already read – they’ve sparked my interest as something that I think that person would want so then there is no need for me to read their copy. I wouldn’t mind if they read mind before they gave it to me (as long as they didn’t bend the spine or dog ear the pages or anything!).

  20. I’d never heard of the Bechdel rule. It’s a little depressing how few movies pass that 😦

    Also, I’m a pretty careful reader. Nobody would probably notice if I read the book before I gave it as a gift, but I’m not likely to do that. Just seems wrong. However, I wouldn’t care in the least if someone read the book before giving it to me as a present!

    • Even more depressing than how few of my movies pass the test is how few of the movies currently in theatres pass it. Of course I’m assuming they don’t having never in fact seen them because they look too silly and no women inside. 😛

  21. This past Christmas I bought a used book (that was in perfect condition, and signed), read it, and gave it to my aunt. I felt a little bad about it, but I figured that the author’s signature helped balance out the pre-readness!

    • Well, if it’s used already, there’s no point in not reading it first! I mean it’s been read before! You would just be crazy not to read it! (That sounds like such a great gift, btw.)

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