malala day: give a kid a book already

Malala Yousafzai, Claude TRUONG-NGOC

Malala Yousafzai, Claude TRUONG-NGOC

Today is Malala Day, the birthday celebration of Malala Yousafzai, the girl the Taliban shot in the head because she wanted to go to school. That was two years ago, and I am still moved by everything she does. It’s so easy to let life unravel in the face of horrible circumstances, and yet she kept going, keeps going. Her continued existence would have been enough to fight back. Going back to school would have been enough. But Malala skyrocketed, becoming an advocate for girls’ education and a role model for girls all over the world.

Her brave yet peaceful response to the Taliban, and to all who try to hold girls back, is a great lesson for our warmongering leaders, if they took the time to really listen to girls. She doesn’t fight violence with violence; she fights it with education and, more precisely, books. Check out this new video where she explains how books are stronger than bullets.

Malala just turned seventeen. My niece is going on fourteen, and the night before she came to visit us last week my partner and I watched The Punk Singer, the movie about Kathleen Hanna. It got me all fired up about making a mix CD for my niece. (Side note: since the 80s and 90s are back in, will kids start making mix tapes again? Pretty please?) My partner and I started talking about how so much of our values and world views came from the books we found at the library or borrowed from friends, the records we collected from thrift stores and out-of-the way shops, and the zines we traded when we were kids.

My feminist life, for instance, started when I cracked open The Bell Jar and discovered that someone had put my feelings into words. The Color Purple started me on the path to racial and economic justice. When I listened to “Rebel Girl,” Kathleen Hanna was the queen of my world. I devoured these books and records and then I learned about the women behind them, and I finally had an image of the kind of woman I wanted to be.

I wanted to create, to agitate, to express myself. Each book or record was like a window to what could be.

By the end of my niece’s visit, we walked out of a used bookstore, arms piled high with books and CDs. Malala had to face gunmen to get to books; we only had to stroll into a shop the size of a warehouse and take our pick.

Though we in the US are lucky to have access to free public schools, there are a lot of arguments about the state of education here today. Teachers have their hands tied by nonsensical standardized tests that leave children of color further and further behind. To make matters worse, attendance and performance here are affected by everything from street violence and school attacks to dating violence and bullying.

But there is one way we can help young people get at least a little of the education they need. For Malala Day, think about the things that helped you find your way when you were younger, that helped to define who you are today–a book, record, print, poem–and give a copy to a kid.

Books are #strongerthan bullets.


new music: but really this is about kathleen hanna

Kathleen Hanna by Jason Persse

I’m not the new-music sleuth I used to be. Back in the day (the 90s), I loved to flip through CDs and records until I found something that seemed interesting and shell out what little cash I had to make it mine. It was always a bit of a gamble but often worth it. And because I didn’t have much money to spend, each new item was special.

Then I married a serious music collector and ended up in a house so full of records and CDs that I don’t even know where to begin. My collection got swallowed up, and I often don’t remember what I have. He knows what he has, however, because he has a spreadsheet (or something much fancier now, some kind of app, I think) but also because I think he might have a photographic memory when it comes to records. But only records. You might say, no, he has whatever is the equivalent for sound memory, but there are records in there he has never listened to. And he still knows. He’s like the record whisperer.

Not long ago, he confessed that there probably isn’t enough time in his life to listen to everything he owns, so I said, “Maybe you have enough?” He looked at me like I was a naive child or confused alien. Recently, we watched a documentary about crazy record collectors, but that got me thinking that there needs to be a documentary about the people who live with record collectors and their multiplying shelves and stacks and bins and obsessions.

Though I’ve sometimes bought music online, it doesn’t elicit the same thrill as a living, breathing record store. There’s so much music online and so many avenues to wander down that I often feel overwhelmed and just go back to playing out the Cat Power CDs I can see at the front of one of the many shelves in our house.

So I’d been thinking that I needed some new music in my life, but then the news about Pussy Riot’s release (hurrah!) got me in a Bikini Kill mood. The original riot grrrls started their own record label, Bikini Kill Records, and reissued their 1992 self-titled debut in late 2012. It sold out, but they’ve got more now! The 20th anniversary reissue includes cool extras like interviews, liner notes, and zine excerpts. O zines, how I have missed thee! I know, that’s not exactly new music…

Remember that Julie Ruin album Kathleen Hanna made between Bikini Kill and Le Tigre? Get off the internet! I’ll meet you in the street. Well, she formed a band called The Julie Ruin, and their first album, Run Fast, came out last fall. (Oh my god, they have played with Hot Fruit.) That’s new! That counts, right?

Did you know there’s also a documentary about Kathleen Hanna? The Punk Singer, directed by Siri Anderson, includes Joan Jett, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Free Kitten), Johanna Fateman (Le Tigre), Kathi Wilcox (Bikini Kill), Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker (Sleater Kinney), Ad-Rock (Beastie Boys and her hubby, in case you didn’t know), and Tavi Gevinson (Rookie Magazine). It’s still playing in select cities. If you don’t see your town, you can get a local venue to book it.

Kathleen Hanna’s “Riot Grrrl Manifesto” was instrumental in expanding my feminism and helping me define myself. She was an important figure in my life, and I still adore her.

This all makes me happy, but I need new music from new people. Hold the phone–Cibo Matto has a new record coming out on Valentine’s Day! Their last one came out fifteen years ago. Fifteen years!

Okay, I’m stuck in the 90s.

I promise that my next music post will be about new music.

I’m also taking suggestions. Ahem.