When Georgia was twenty and I was twenty-four, we worked together at an Australian skincare shop. Georgia’s previous job had been working as the personal assistant to an Australian fashion designer who never paid anyone. The one upside was that she had some amazing clothes- and some amazing stories. On Thursday nights when the store was open late, we would listen to the same Frank Ocean song over and over, eat M&Ms and tell each other all our secrets. I really think that for the both of us, the job was a safe place to exist in- a calm cocoon protected from the elements of the outside world of lives in tumult; uncertain and shifting. Being able to escape, and just be among the geranium leaf body wash for hours was a relief. We would talk about books, sex, relationships all night (in between hours of recommending superlative skincare for the face and body, of course) in a space specially designed to make people feel magical. It felt to us both safe and thrilling.
Georgia now works for the Greens. She’s taken the impulse that’s always been inherent in her personality- and made it her work. Her political worldview can also clearly be mapped on her reading habits. Several months ago, I visited her home in Alexandria and asked her about the books that have shaped the way she sees the world. She was also at somewhat of a crossroad when I recorded this conversation. Torn between the feeling of obligation to finish her law degree and strong desire to continue exploring politics as a career. Below, you can draw distinct lines from her recently read texts to her current path. As a young woman dealing with the trauma of existing with and expressing a sexual identity outside of the sanctioned boundaries of her conservative family. As a political person exploring ways to take action. And as a passionate reader; looking for more, finding herself.
BH: Tell me about the books that have most influenced you.
GT: I saw Roxanne Gay speak at the 'All About Women' Festival and that was amazing- Bad Feminist was one of the most incredible, influential books I’ve ever read. I love her. I love her because that was a book that really shaped my understanding of privilege and really opened up my understanding of feminism.
I’ve always identified as a feminist somehow, but reading that book made me acknowledge my privilege and also start to think really critically about race and think critically about my place in Sydney 2015, the daughter of a father who migrated out and the daughter of a woman who’s first generation Australian. And how that also interacts with my identity as a woman and my identity as a bisexual woman. And how there are so many different levels of privilege and oppression. I’m not doing gender studies at university. I wish I were doing gender studies at university, that would be amazing. But I’m doing law for some unknown reason. So I’m not really exposed to that kind of thinking or texts on a daily basis. So I think it really has to come through fiction and non-fiction that I can somehow fit in.
BH: So it’s self-directed?
GT: Yes. So we’ve had the first wave and the second wave (of feminism). First wave being that really radical feminist, second wave really being about the essence of being female. Which is great to a degree. But it also ignores trans women. Now we have this third wave of feminism, which is really empowering and critical. From what I see, not being heavily involved in university groups and so having this independent study of it. It’s like, Beyonce getting up on stage and saying ‘I am a feminist.’ Or Lena Dunham writing Not That Kind of Girl. And I remember you and I having this discussion when it came out. I really enjoyed the first few chapters. I read it. I felt a little bit uncomfortable about a few of the things that were discussed in this book. I was like, this is from quite a privileged perspective. And then I read Roxanne’s book and it gave me a new lens to view that. And how this third wave of feminism we’re in is really dominated by thinking about class and privilege. And how we all sit around talking about how exciting it is that Hillary Clinton might be the next President of America, but we ignore the way she has treated workers, and particularly workers in retail and hospitality industries, and how these industries that are disproportionately filled with women. I suppose it’s all about the interaction between gender identity and capitalism, basically.
BH: What kind of books did you read when you were young?
GT: I read so much when I was young, and I really miss it. I can’t remember the last time I sat down with a book and was up until 1 in the morning reading it, with my little lamp light on next to my bed getting yelled at by my parents. I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was younger. I wasn’t really close to my parents. So I read heaps. A Series of Unfortunate Events- it was an exposure to a new language. Judy Moody…Lemony Snickett was my primary school experience, but I just remember reading those books thousands of times. The Princess Diaries, Harry Potter, I loved series. Anything that would just never end.
BH: Did you have anyone who influenced you as a young reader? How did you come to find the books that you read?
GT: Not really. I spent a lot of time in the library. And especially in high school I started reading a lot of non fiction, and forming ideas about different things. Like I started reading Michael Moore’s books. Germaine Greer. And just kind of sticking to a category and working my way through it. Looking back at ‘high school Georgia,’ I went through really big phases, and I’m sure that this is a huge part of finding your identity. Like there was this whole phase where I was interested in the French Revolution. And like, really really interested in climate change for a couple of years. And then really interested in government corruption. Now, a lot of this makes sense. Like why do I think this way today? I was reading a lot of these books when I was in high school. And because I don’t really have progressive parents, I never had someone putting a framework around it- it was just like I read all these books and now I can see that it shaped me.
BH: Are there any books that you have read that have made you think about writing in a different way?
GT: As I said, I read a lot more non-fiction than fiction. The last amazing, influential fiction book that I read was Juno Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her. He wrote a whole lot of short stories and novellas, and it’s detailing this one man’s look back on his past relationships and how they changed him as a person. And like being a crazy Pisces and being obsessed with emotions… Yes it was about race and yes it was about class and all these really interesting topics, but when I read that book I really realised how interesting it can be to focus on something really, really intimate. It was really beautiful. It made me re-assess relationships. It made me re-assess previous motivations. It was also about how universal heartbreak is. I read it after a breakup. It was really powerful writing.
BH: You said that these days you read more non-fiction than fiction.
GT: There’s a guilt associated with that.
BH: Really? Why?
GT: Because I have a torts textbook that I should have read through by now, but I haven’t. And even during the holidays I have this whole list of canon texts to read that I haven’t yet. To be ‘well read’ I need to have read them. It’s a lot of pressure! And not even to be well read. To be a ‘good feminist.’ A good feminist should have read The Second Sex. It’s sitting on my floor upstairs. And then I get anxious because I should be reading my law text book, and then every second week there’s a government report I should have read. So then I don’t read my textbook, and then I don’t read the book I should be reading, and I end up in a cycle.
One thing I think helps is having a really good reading spot. So I’ve just re-arranged my room so that I have a lamp next to my bed to read. And the other thing I’ve done is- so I’ve got a work thing up in Byron and I’ve booked my flight two days in advance so that I can just spend two days alone reading beforehand.
BH: Have you ever chosen a book based on its cover? Or sought out a first edition cover? Are these things important to you?
GT: It is important to me. You know Ariel books, don’t you? I always have the thing of ‘should I just save some money and go online to Book Depository, or do I go to Ariel? I love hardcover books. If I can buy the hardcover version I will, because it’s so much more beautiful. I have this beautiful hardcover copy of Silvia Plath’s The Bell Jar- it’s this black hardcover with this gold motif on it. I’m really vain, I judge a book by its cover!
BH: Have you ever read a book on a kindle?
GT: No I haven’t read a book on a kindle or an iPad, I have no interest in that. My dad is a printer- my physical paper is important to me. I have my paper delivered to me on a Saturday, I don’t read it on the web. Same with my books. So much so that I can’t throw out my newspapers. I’m a hoarder. Like, The Saturday Paper is beautiful. Sick paper, beautiful layout. When I moved out of my house in Clovelly, I had all the wrapping paper in the world, because I had about 20 copies of the Saturday paper. And at that point I didn’t even have a subscription. I can’t throw out magazines either. I don’t know in what situation in my life I’ll go ‘I really need that issue of The Saturday Paper from six months ago, or that issue of Russh from 2011…’
BH: Do you read any magazines or journals?
GT: I used to read magazines- I used to read Russh. But I don’t anymore. I think it’s the whole tumblr thing- like tumblr has all the cool fashion images now. Maybe it’s my subscription to the Saturday paper because I’m like ‘fuck I’ve got to read last week’s edition before I read this week’s edition.’
BH: What’s your favourite form?
GT: Short stories. All the books I’ve recently read have been short personal essays, I find. There are also some Australian journals I find really interesting. There’s Archer magazine, which is all about sex and personal identity. Filmme Fatales, which comes out of Melbourne.
BH: Do you ever read books that you know won’t be pleasurable? Do you ever read difficult books?
GT: I used to. I used to read difficult books because I thought I should. Now I don’t. It’s totally a waste of time, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to just waste your time reading something just for your ego.
BH: Where do you look to find new reading material?
GT: I look in online. I know what I like so I know where to look online. But I do love a good book recommendation.
BH: What kind of reading material have you been seeking out recently?
GT: Actually the Socialist Alliance have a really good book section, and Better Read Than Dead up on King Street have a good one too, particularly in their politics, and gender section. I know where to go when I next have the time. I’m the kind of person who prefers to give a book to someone else. I think that all my cousins must hate me because for their birthdays they always get a book about feminism.
BH: To shape their little minds!
GT: I feel like I wish that when I was their age that people… that there were adults giving me books and stuff like that. Like I remember being given The Little Prince when I was their age and thinking, ‘ugh, what a dumb gift.’ I just kinda wish that when I were their age someone had given me these books, and I wish that when I was 15 someone had told me that these 16 year old boys were being idiots and I knew that… well I just feel that the sex education we were given in school was really inadequate and we should get really angry and question it.
I wish when I were their age I had read these texts because then I would have known what this was all about.
BH: Are there any books that you feel sentimental about?
GT: Oh my gosh Looking for Alibrandi, like I’ve said a million times before!
BH: Of course. It’s like a seminal text for teenage girls in Australia.
GT: For second generation wog girls, it’s like our anthem. My mother told me that she was in the year above Melina Marchetta in high school and one day she punched a girl who called her a wog, so she’s convinced that that scene is about her. It’s a really easy read and it’s really fun and I love it.
BH: I feel like it was the first book I read where I was like, ‘oh my god Bondi Junction is featured in this book!’ Like ‘I can relate to this!’ She’s doing the HSC and I’m doing the HSC.
GT: Really, we’re all Josie.
I don’t want to say Anais Nin's short stories was special because a shitty ex- boyfriend gave it to me. It was actually a really good recommendation, because being 21 and thinking about sexuality, and where I fit. And the whole idea of slut shaming. And her ideas about gender and sexuality and fluidity and taboo and all of that. I really enjoyed reading them.
That should be on the year 10 english compulsory reading lists! Imagine that.
I actually started reading her book A Spy in the House of Love, which is less sexual and more of her psychoanalytical work. But I think I enjoyed her short, smutty stories more.
BH: She’s so fearless.
GT: Reading her work was really important to me because I identify as bisexual and how much sex I have with a partner has in the past really confused me because I’ve felt this sense of ‘oh I have to either be gay or be straight.’
I was having this discussion with my friends over brunch- because I know a lot of girls who are queer, or bisexual, and who currently have boyfriends. And I’ve definitely had more boyfriends than I have had girlfriends. That’s fine. And I think there’s this anger and resentment for these cool girls who wear POMs. Like I feel like it was unjust that I had to go through this really traumatic coming out, going through this really intense period of my life with my parents and struggling with that. Um, and me being with a woman when I was 17 and 18 had to be this really big thing and define my identity and has completely defined where I am at 21. And I have this real jealousy of girls who had it so easy. It’s totally easy (for them). It’s just like, ‘hop on tinder!.’ But that’s my own thing.
In summation, I think that’s why being bisexual… there’s this whole thing of ‘you’re too young to know.’ And the other thing is slut-shaming, and that whole idea of ‘oh well you’re just really sexual and you want to sleep with everyone.’ And so reading Anais Nin, for me it was that whole idea of, you can be a sexually liberated person, and it actually has no impact on your integrity.
And for a long time, that was a really big thing for me.