Book Review

the cléo reader: 2013-2019

commencing unemployment and panicking about expertise

I’ve reached the point in the coronavirus lockdown now where I am unemployed and unmotivated, where I’m bored of drinking and bored of reading short books and watching trashy films and I’m finding myself (now, after reading the cléo reader: 2013-2019) jumping into massive novels and watching “worthy” cinema.

Eurgh. I disappoint myself.

The lockdown is fucking stressful, it’s anxiety-building.

There are about seven days (today is March 31st) until the Canadian government launches the website that should – in theory – allow me to access some of their free money for reprobates like me who have been laid off due to the COVID pandemic, and I haven’t done anything productive outside of work-related tasks until today.

And now there will be no more work-related tasks, not unless I start trying to get some writing work, which I haven’t had any of for ages and ages and ages, and that’s a stressful thing in itself.

I’m not without unpaid tasks, though: I have the Truther Press x Queen Mobs Poo Anthology to edit, plus a poetry chapbook to tidy up, my own essay collection (the pleasure of regret) to finalise, plus QMT Satire submissions to go through (SUBMIT!!!), and I’d also like to try and make some evergreen content: ideally me singing something. I like to sing.

Now that I’m unemployed, maybe I can properly lean into it and get cracking on my long-gestating musical about a bald man and his handsome dog who get frozen in time for two hundred years and emerge in a world where pooing no longer exists (due to improvements in diet) and the protagonist leads a revol-poo-tion, bringing excrement back to the masses. Tbh, even if I finish one song for that by the end of this lockdown, I’ll be ecstatic.

What have I done?

I’ve grown a small child’s moustache, and that’s about it.

And, of course, I’ve still been spewing on here, but that’s something it takes more than a pandemic to stop! (It would take another mental health emergency, which may well happen if I’m denied coronapayouts and run out of money lolololololol haha.)

Whatever happens, I won’t run out of books. No matter what happens this pandemic, I won’t run out of books.


cléo was a Toronto-based feminist film journal that ceased publication in 2019, and this gorgeous book is a reader containing a selection of pieces from across its six years of operation, both online and offline.

There’s a really engaging variety of essays in here: both “low” and “high” cinema are discussed. There are pieces on intriguing experimental short films, on mainstream thrillers and comedies, as well as on established “art house” luminaries. As someone who enjoys cinema but has seen a strange selection of films (there was no cultural engagement in my familial home and the artform I dove into on freeing myself from those shackles was literature, rather than film), there were lots of directors and actors and studios mentioned in this book that I have heard of, but whose work I’ve never encountered.

It stays with me, that sense of being bullied or maligned for my ignorance of basic cultural, social, norms when a teenager.

When trying to think about and write about film I feel a terrifying sense of dread, which the fact that I’ve regularly worked (off but mostly on) in cinemas since 2016 greatly adds to.

Yes, I’ve seen a lot of wonderful films, but there is a base level of film fluency that often feels expected which I lack: and none of the mainstream “films to see before you die” appeal to me. I’ve never seen The Godfather but I’ve also never seen Shoah, and that the latter seems much more worth my time to see, but is also daunting. Does this make sense?

I’ve worked in cinemas, yes, but working as a manager on the operations side of single-screen cinemas doesn’t mean I get to watch films constantly: it was the same working in South London as it was working (and hopefully will be again soon!) in Toronto; when films are on I have admin to do. If anything, until I decided to make a point of going to rival cinemas regularly a couple of months ago, the periods when I’ve worked in cinemas have been the periods when I’ve watched the least amount of films. Busman’s holiday, innit.

Anyway, I feel scared that people will disregard my thoughts on film because I’ve only ever seen one movie by Martin Scorsese: when would I watch more? Working in cinemas has given me the opportunity to learn about films that are far more interesting to watch than the contents of those very regular “100 Oscar Winners 2 Watch B4 You Kill Urself”-type lists.

Opening the cléo reader was pleasant: it was nice to read informed essays and interesting articles about obscure cinema. It was nice to engage with people whose knowledge is focused and who are comfortable in their awareness of their focus. This is, I think, what I’ve always struggled with, a feeling of being unable to accept or accede to a speciality.

Really, though, I do have a speciality, and it is literature: I read widely, internationally and (I think!) from a reasonably diverse selection of viewpoints. I could do better, of course, everyone could, but I don’t feel “bad” about the books I’ve read or the books I haven’t read, because when I read a book and feel it was unsuccessful I understand the ways in which it was, and then I take that note and ignore it when making my own texts lolololol.

OK, I need to go. I keep having diarrhoea and now I’m unemployed I don’t have the excuse of “some work to do” to be productive. Right. Onwards!


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