Review: 100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell

Sometimes, you’ll read about an historical figure so amazing, so completely badass, that you know that your life will never be the same for having learned about them.

100 Nasty Women of History has 100 of these.*

I’ve always had an interest in history, particularly women’s history, and while this book doesn’t go into a lot of detail (it has a lot of ground to cover, after all), it’s a great introduction to some of the most incredible, groundbreaking, and trailblazing women throughout history. After reading it, I was inspired to do some of my own research into the figures that I knew less about.

Unlike most “history books”, however, this is an easy read. It’s entertaining, side-splittingly funny, and not at all dry like you’d expect an history book to be. Jewell does an amazing job of keeping things factual while bringing out the lighter side in some horrid situations. At the same time, she acknowledges that some of these women’s stories are too devastating to be laughed at, and in these cases the stories take on a more sombre tone.

The book is split into sections, all of which have hilarious names – “Women who wore trousers and enjoyed terrifying hobbies” and “Women who punched Nazis (metaphorically but also not)” being two of my favourites – and the stories themselves are written in a casual, conversational tone. There’s a lot of millennial humour and slang in here, but luckily there’s also a glossary of terms for older readers, or millennials who spend all of their time in their rooms playing video games and reading books instead of interacting with others and therefore don’t “get” their generation. (Who, me?)

Another wonderful aspect of this book was how diverse the historical figures in it were. Jewell made sure to include women from all over the globe – including my beloved New Zealand, tucked away in our little corner, which will now gain more exposure thanks to the inclusion of figures such as Nancy Wake, Jean Batten, and Whina Cooper. Pity we’re still not on all the maps.

If there’s one complaint that I have about the book (and it’s less a complaint than a minor annoyance, really), it’s that the stories aren’t in any particular order – they’re separated into sections, but inside those sections they just seem to be thrown in randomly. My chronology-loving brain had a hard time with that one.

Apart from that, though, I would recommend this book to anyone, even those not very well-versed in history. The writing style and short chapters make it a great read to dip in and out of when you want to feel inspired. And the humour, while it probably won’t gel with everyone, makes this already great book even better.


*Technically over 100, since one chapter encompasses four sisters. But I digress.

Review: Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison

Or: “Big surprise, Hugh Hefner is super fucking creepy”.

Although I love biographies, I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up if it hadn’t been recommended to me. A book about a former Playboy Bunny? That doesn’t exactly spell “intellectual stimulation”. Truthfully, though, I couldn’t put it down.

Holly Madison was Hugh Hefner’s “main girlfriend” for seven years. That’s right, seven years. She was 22 when she moved into the Playboy Mansion, and Hef was 75. There’s a May-December romance, and then there’s… whatever this was. Although, from what the book says, it wasn’t much of a romance at all.

Madison loved the idea of being part of Playboy from a very young age, having grown up worshiping the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Jenny McCarthy. Like a lot of people, she moved to LA with the dream of becoming an actress; she thought that getting a centrefold in Playboy was a good stepping stone to doing so.

Through people she knew, she started getting invited to pool parties at the Playboy Mansion- and soon enough, she became a regular attendee. About a year after this, her roommate moved out and Madison was left without a place to live. So she did what any logical, rational person would do: she walked up to Hugh Hefner and asked to live in the mansion.

He said yes. She moved in, and so started her life as part of the Playboy harem.

On her first night out with Hef and his girlfriends, he took her to a nightclub and proceeded to offer her a Quaalude- or, as he referred to it, a “thigh opener”. This apparently didn’t raise too many red flags with Madison, and although she refused, she did get extremely drunk and ended up back in Hef’s room. Here, she goes into quite a bit of detail about what transpired, but I won’t: they had an orgy.

From then on, she was one of Hef’s “girlfriends” (I keep putting that in quotation marks because I still can’t take it seriously). She didn’t get along with the other girls, which wasn’t helped by Hef’s pitting them against each other, and eventually her self-confidence eroded to the point where she developed a stutter. However, all this did was endear her to Hef even more, and eventually she became his No. 1 girlfriend, the “Queen Bee” of the girlfriends. All this really entailed was moving into Hef’s room and standing directly next to him during photo ops; although she did manage to get rid of the other girlfriends and replace them with ones who eventually became her friends.

Hef, to nobody’s surprise, was controlling and possessive. He dictated what the girlfriends wore, wouldn’t let them keep jobs, and required them all home by 9pm- even if he himself were staying out late. He gave them a clothing allowance and would track how the money was spent so he’d know whether or not his girlfriends were putting money away (above all, Hef was insecure about his girlfriends leaving him). They didn’t have any kind of independence.

Madison recalls an incident where she had decided to do something nice for Hef by dressing up as one of his favourite blondes- Marilyn Monroe. She cut her long hair short and put on red lipstick, then asked Hef what he thought. Little did she know, Hef hated red lipstick with an unreasonable amount of passion. He screamed at her, telling her she looked “old, hard, and cheap”. After that, Madison stuck to the script as much as possible.

After seven years of being Hef’s plaything (and with no centrefold to show for it), everything came to a head when Holly spent her first (!!) night away from the mansion on her own. On a trip to Vegas, she met a man who walked her back to her hotel room. Although nothing happened, she woke up to a frantic call from Hef, who had had her followed and was convinced she had cheated on him (oh yeah, did I mention that Hef was allowed to sleep with whomever, but the girlfriends were required to stay completely faithful? Yeah). This, finally, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Madison decided to leave mansion life behind forever.

The book ends with Madison finally finding her “happily ever after”: marriage, children, and her own TV show. Even if you don’t necessarily approve of her choices, you can’t help but applaud her from how she picked up the pieces of her shattered life after she leaves the mansion. Ultimately, it’s a story of hope, as well as being an eye-opening account of what life in the Playboy Mansion was really like. Read this with an open mind: I swear you’ll find it as interesting as I did.

Review: The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero

Ah, The Room; the cult film once described as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”, while watching it was “like being stabbed in the head”. Everyone’s heard of it, and if you haven’t, I can only assume it’s because you don’t get good reception under that rock.

The Room is quite possibly the best worst movie ever made. The “plot”- such as it is- centres around a “young” man named Johnny, played by Tommy Wiseau- who was also the director, writer, and executive producer- whose fiancee Lisa cheats on him with his best friend, Mark.

The dialogue makes no sense, the scenes are disjointed and unrelated, the acting is ridiculous, and plot points are brought up and never mentioned again. It’s easy to think that the entire movie was just a huge joke- until you read The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero.

Sestero, who plays Mark in the film, met Tommy Wiseau in an acting class in 1998, and was immediately intrigued by his acting style- that is, his strange inflections and amazing ability to mispronounce every single word in the English language. While his accent sounds like a weird amalgamation of different European accents, he insists he’s from New Orleans.

This is just one of the many strange and fascinating things about Tommy Wiseau. His love for the United States is so huge he’s willing to forget his entire life before he moved there, and insists he’s a born-and-bred American- a “ragin’ Cajun”, as he tried to convince everybody during the marketing for The Room.

Sestero, in spite of himself, is drawn to this strange man, and decides to approach him about doing a scene together for their class. Wiseau accepts, and so they embark on one of the strangest friendships known to man.

The Disaster Artist covers their friendship from the first meeting all the way to the premiere of The Room five years later. Wiseau is an egotistical, volatile, and temperamental man who is deluded about his acting abilities, and Sestero manages to provide insight into his friend’s behaviour without defending or apologising for it. Sestero is under no illusions about what Wiseau is like, and he doesn’t go out of his way to make him seem better (or worse) than he is. It’s a refreshing perspective; it’s like he’s saying, “Here’s my friend- this is what he’s like, make of it what you will.”

One thing that Sestero admires about Wiseau is his earnestness. He’s set on becoming an actor and truly believes that’s his destiny. When writing The Room, he approaches the challenge with childlike delight, convinced he’s writing a masterpiece. He celebrates every small achievement as if they’re Earth-shattering. At the premiere of The Room, his eyes fill with tears as he sees his dream come to life.

That moment is where the book ends. We don’t get to read about the audience’s initial reactions to the film or how they affected Wiseau. As fascinating (and probably heartbreaking) as that would be, I feel that the book ended in the right place. Wiseau is the ultimate example of never giving up, and never giving in.

For all these admirable qualities, this is Wiseau we’re talking about. For those who aren’t aware of his batshit crazy interviews, this man has a tendency to blow up at the tiniest thing, leaving everyone in his wake wary and confused. This happens multiple times in the book, including one instance of Wiseau emotionally tormenting Sestero just to get a reaction out of him. In his mind, this behaviour is a perfectly acceptable way to find out if Sestero truly wants to be his friend.

You have to admire Greg Sestero’s patience. Even reading about some of the things Wiseau did left me emotionally exhausted. It’s true what Sestero said, that their friendship was the most human thing that had happened to Wiseau- most people would have pulled away from him, and no doubt most people had.

While it provides hilarious anecdotes about the making of one of the worst films in history, The Disaster Artist is ultimately a tale of friendship, equal parts heartwarming and frustrating. Plus, it’s really, really funny. It’s currently being made into a movie starring James Franco as Wiseau and Dave Franco as Sestero. I would definitely recommend giving this book a read- you’ll probably have as hard a time putting it down as I did. It’s the Citizen Kane of good books.