Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Small town? DARK SECRET? Let's round up these books please.

I was listening to a true crime podcast this morning on my walk to work, and one of the hosts was talking about a "small town community with a daaaark secret" and my immediate reaction was "I LOVE small town communities with dark secrets!"

And probably of dark secrets.

And who. does. not. love them. So, in the interests of gathering up potentials, DO YOU KNOW OF ANY OF THESE BOOKS.

I read The Fever by Megan Abbott last year, which was in that vein. There's also Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix, which I read in my early teens and thought was the cat's pajamas.

The internet suggests Salem's Lot, but any mention of Stephen King horror novels terrifies me, so I'm just not sure that's gonna fly, internet.

I can handle Willow and that's about it

There's also Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, which I've only heard of because there was a movie in the 1950s starring Lana Turner, but if it's small town/dark secrets, I will read it.

I guess Shirley Jackson's The Lottery? Which I've never read, but doesn't everyone know the Dark Secret at this point? If you don't, you should read it. I'll bet that'd be fun and shocking.

ANY OTHERS? Gotta be a small town. None of this contemporary YA bullshit of a corporation or a giant city secretly doing things for reasons. I demand idyllic on the surface but super not that way in reality

Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage Equality in America Is Official and I'm Gonna Cry a Lot

I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I had grown up knowing that marrying a woman was possible. I can imagine growing up seeing the disgust on my mom's face when Ellen came out, the uproar the country went into when Hawaii was on the verge of legalizing marriage equality in 1996, and the years of being told that the Bible clearly states being gay is not okay.

From today on, children growing up in America will see marriage equality as totally normal. They won't grow up seeing it debated in legislatures and hearing their potential marriage compared to incest and bestiality because the HIGHEST COURT IN THE LAND talked about "equal dignity in the eyes of the law" and declared marriage for all a fundamental right. 

This is huge. This is progress. This is human beings realizing experiences beyond their own are okay. This is us still having a long way to go in terms of civil rights, but this is such a big step to take along the way.

Let's just close with GIFs from my Gay folder, because WHEN ELSE.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh: IT'S ANOTHER HARRIET THE SPY BOOK

If you were ever interested in children's literature, you most likely read Harriet the Spy. If you did not, it is a weird and great book about a girl named Harriet who lives in New York City under the watchful eye of her nanny, Ole Golly, and goes around spying on her neighbors and classmates and writing about it in her spy notebook. Some stuff happens. You should read it.

AND THEN. Then you should read this follow-up that I never even knew about until my delightful friend Jenny casually mentioned it the other day. The Long Secret is about Harriet and her friend Beth Ellen on vacation in a town near Montauk, New York, where both their families have summer homes.

Like this dog, they are doing quite well for themselves.

THE LONG SECRET IS MAYBE BETTER THAN HARRIET THE SPY. But this is possibly because I'm reading it as an adult and more aware when Louise Fitzhugh is Doing Something Very Good in her book, as opposed to when I was a kid and thought the Animorphs series was pretty hot shit.

I mean....maybe I wasn't wrong.

Essentially, someone in town is leaving notes with very pointed Bible verses for particular people to find. As Harriet is, of course, a spy, she decides to unravel this mystery. But also! Also Beth Ellen is being raised by her grandmother and then her very absent socialite mother decides to come back and there are feelings and things to deal with and discussions of religion and oh, it is all excellent.

Harriet is a secondary character, but still very much herself.

"How can you be twelve when I'm only eleven?" Harriet looked furious.

"I don't know what's so bad about space," said Harriet. "I'd like to go to the moon. I'd rather go to Mars, actually. I can't wait to see what those other people look like." 
"Suppose there aren't any?" said Beth Ellen, feeling lonelier than ever. 
"Of course there are," said Harriet. "There're people on every planet, I'm convinced of it. They may look like shoe trees or something, but they're there."

Louise Fitzhugh was a weird bird. By which I mean you should read her Wikipedia page. Wikipedia doesn't mention that she was gay, but hey, it's Pride Month, so let's also link to this NPR story

It's short. It's funny. It's good. We should probably talk about it more. Let's all read more Louise Fitzhugh.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "The Woman's Bible": Exodus

If you will remember, in 1895, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other noted feminist writers published The Woman's Bible, which reexamines the Bible from a 19th century feminist perspective. It is the shit.

The second book of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, and something Christianity has in common with Judaism) is Exodus. Exodus has the story of the Israelites fleeing Egypt, Moses parting the Red Sea, the creation of the Ten Commandments, and the journey to the Promised Land. Basically it's this movie:

80-year-old Elizabeth Cady Stanton once again comes out swinging with:

The question naturally suggests itself to any rational mind, why should the customs and opinions of this ignorant people, who lived centuries ago, have any influence in the religious thought of this generation?


Women have had no voice in the canon law, the catechisms, the church creeds and discipline, and why should they obey the behests of a strictly masculine religion, that places the sex at a disadvantage in all life's emergencies?

I mean. Daaamn, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Is this 1789, 'cause I sense a revoLUTION. 

Something I hadn't even thought about is how -- obviously -- only men can be circumcised, which meant only men could be consecrated to God. Way. to. leave. out. half. the. population. Stanton points out that women were "permitted to violate the moral code of laws to secure liberty for their people, but they could not officiate in any of the sacraments, nor eat of the consecrated bread at meals."

Another truly excellent point is that men will rarely violate something they have been trained to respect. Because women are essentially not on the list, but are in fact consciously and unconsciously seen as lesser, they are attacked all the time. As she says, "Males are the race, females only the creatures that carry it on."

At every stage of his existence Moses was indebted to some woman for safety and success. Miriam, by her sagacity, saved his life. Pharaoh's daughter reared and educated him and made the way possible for the high offices he was called to fill; and Zipporah, his wife, a woman of strong character and decided opinions, often gave him good advice.

Hell yeah he is. 

What was that? You wanted a longer quote that involves ECS sticking it to Revolutionary War men? DONE.

So tired were the children of Israel waiting at the foot of Mount Sinai for the return of Moses, that Aaron to pacify them made a golden calf which they worshipped. To procure the gold he took the jewelry of the women young and old, men never understanding how precious it is to them, and the great self-sacrifice required to part with it. But as the men generally give it to them during courtship, and as wedding presents, they feel that they have a vested right therein for emergencies.
It was just so in the American Revolution, in 1776, the first delicacy the men threw overboard in Boston harbor was the tea, woman's favorite beverage. The tobacco and whiskey, though heavily taxed, they clung to with the tenacity of the devil-fish. Rather than throw their luxuries overboard they would no doubt have succumbed to King George's pretensions. Men think that self-sacrifice is the most charming of all the cardinal virtues for women, and in order to keep it in healthy working order, they make opportunities for its illustration as often as possible. I would fain teach women that self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice.

Who thinks about that! No one thinks about that! No one but Elizabeth Cady Stanton! I'm mad FOR you, women of the 18th century. That is some bullshit.

Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice. We are still having a hard time with that one as a gender. Because we're still subtly taught to be helpful and self-effacing and yes, sacrificing. Self-development makes you a person who is able to give more. It can sound selfish, but fuck. that. noise. Elizabeth Cady Stanton says you should work on yourself, so you work on yourself. Not even work on! That's not positive enough! You develop yourself. Becoming awesomer each day, except some days when you just wanna sit back and watch old episodes of 30 Rock, and that's okay too

...that's okay too.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Revolutionary Summer by Joseph Ellis: John Adams remains the greatest

Hot damn, Revolutionary Summer.

If you feel like there might be a whiff of scandal around the name of Joseph Ellis, there is! Ellis, who won a Pulitzer for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, also falsely claimed to have commanded a platoon in Vietnam, when what he really did was teach history at West Point. 

Sir. Teaching history at West Point is nothing to sniff at. But I get that you might have some weird "I feel bad for not having fought in a war" thing when you write so much about them. But still. It's ok. You just keep writing short but informative histories about our Founding Fathers.

So Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence unsurprisingly deals with the summer of 1776. The way Ellis differentiates this from SO MANY other books about that year is he says that most people write either about the Continental Congress, or the Continental Army, and you have to write about both because they affected each other. Fair. Point. Sir.

I didn't go out of my way to find this book. I was stuck at Midway Airport in Chicago for two hours and realized my clever "I'll only read things on the Kindle app on my phone" didn't factor in my intense paranoia about my phone's battery, so I went to a Hudson Books and skimmed titles for 20 minutes until settling on this as something I could maybe finish on the trip. 

It's short, about 220 pages.  He starts in the spring of 1776 and gives a quick gloss regarding the events leading up to the official break with England. I realized early on that I know very little about American history, and this was an awesome & quick overview. Ellis obviously is in love with and wants to marry our Founding Fathers, particularly John Adams, which I 100% support. His love of Adams doesn't stop him from saying things like this about him, though:

He had been auditioning for the role of American Cicero in the privacy of his own mind for nearly a decade.

I'm sure you were very good at it, Johnny.

The main thing I got from this book is how thoroughly America was fucked when you looked at the basic facts, and how insane it is we won the war.  That summer was decisive in that General Howe, the leader of the British troops, could have destroyed our army time and time again, but he kept not doing it. 

Our army in 1776 that somehow did not get destroyed

During one foggy night, we had to ferry all our troops from Brooklyn to Manhattan without the heavy British naval presence somehow seeing us and cannoning us to hell. But we did it.

The initial response on the British side was utter disbelief that Washington had somehow managed to extract his entire army without being noticed. The Americans, so it seemed to several British officers, had shown themselves to be wholly inadequate on the field of battle, but brilliant in their talent at running away.

Aw, yeah.

 I'm basically impressed by any historian who can keep things clear and to the point, because historians are famously terrible at that. And his book left me wanting to learn more about the Revolutionary War. What happened to Howe during the rest of his time in America! Did Henry Clinton suck as much as everyone seems to have thought? How did Alexander Hamilton rise through the ranks? And what the hell happened at Yorktown that everyone seems to be so jazzed about?

Totally was into this book. 4 stars for Joseph Ellis.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summertime Madness (hahaha I'm not reading)

So what with travel, summer doings, and general heat-produced languor, books and other reading materials have fallen by the wayside, AS WELL THEY SHOULD. Life is for living! Out! out, gentle sirs, into the world to explore its manifold treasures and wonders!

Basically how I live life

But no, reading's the shit, and I've been doing a little of it. I'll climb back on that horse for reals soon, but for now I'm kind of dithering by the barn.

I just read volume 1 of East of West, and HOLY SHIT, YOU GUYS. 

I think I've discovered with comics that if I'm not really into them, I shouldn't continue. Because there are some comics I'm really, really into, and enough of them exist that I don't have to make myself read Hawkeye. I am not saying Hawkeye is bad. It's probably great. But after trying that, Sex Criminals, and Bitch Planet, I've come to the conclusion that I am just not on board with that guy and his wife's writing. I feel the same, weirdly enough, about Locke & Key.

You know one of the weird things that bugged me about Locke & Key, the series about the house with all the mysterious keys that do things like turn you into a ghost? You can't tell how old anyone is from the way they're drawn. I didn't even realize that was a skill because so many people apparently have it, but whoever's drawing that series very much does not. So I was constantly like "Wait...he's supposed to be 15 and not 30? That's someone's mom? What?"

East of West sounds like a weird fever dream when I try to explain it, but basically, the Civil War went differently in their world. It's the not-so-distant future, and people are still kind of dressing like it's the Old West, but also they have robots and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are trying to end the world. Well. Actually Three Horsemen, because Death left for reasons made clear later. And Death rides a fun robot horse!

Fun robot horse!

San Francisco is also instead called New Shanghai and you should just read it unless you don't like violence at all, in which case maybe stay away and play Katamari Damacy instead.


I'm also reading Alice + Freda Forever, which is a true story about 1890s lesbians, where one of them is MURDERY. Guess which one. Guess. Because it's not the one I'm happy about. 

It's really short, and it's got illustrations, which is just fun, but I've been distracted by things, including The Walking Dead Compendium, which is maybe 2 million pages long, but saves having to get each volume from the library. I'm about halfway through and times. are. tough. Because zombies.

There is also the book Revolutionary Summer by Joseph Ellis, which is about the summer of 1776 in America. I'm kind of Not Great at American history, which is the worst as I am an American citizen, damnit, and I just don't need to know as much about England as I do. But we're so much newer! You start learning our history and too soon they want to talk to you about the Marshall Plan and Dwight Eisenhower and agghhh I don't care, it's too modern. 

But. The founding of the country seems important, and I had brought no books to the airport in a silly attempt to save suitcase space, so this was purchased at Midway. And it is great and I'm learning all sorts of things, most of which involve the fact that we were seriously fucked and I don't understand how we beat the British.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

San Francisco: Oh shit, I knew I left my heart somewhere

From Los Angeles, I flew to foggy San Francisco! To remind all, I was turning 30 but mainly stalking the sites of the 1958 Hitchcock film Vertigo. Have we all seen Vertigo? No? Mm, maybe rectify that.


Vertigo is the shit. The first time I saw it at age 19, I didn't like it. I hated the ending. I made my friend rewind it and stop it at a different part so I could pretend that was the ending (...I do this with several movies). But then I watched it again. And again. And a few more times. EVERY time, I get something different out of it. The way I see it has changed almost 180 degrees in the last 10 years. And there's still a lot about it I don't understand, but I'm psyched to figure it out.

When I was 19 and first getting into it, all I wanted to do was go to San Francisco and visit the filming sites. But that seemed pretty impossible. This year, I suddenly went "Hey. You're a grown-up. You have money. You have the ability to get on a plane. And most importantly, you have a friend with an air mattress who basically has to take you in because she was part of your Inseparable Trio in high school."

I stayed in Berkeley, where plastic bags are met with nuclear-intense glares, all the ladies have decided to go grey naturally, and there is a long long line for corn pizza. My friend Becca lives a half hour walk from the train, which I did not realize until we got off said train and she told me. Told me it was not just a half hour walk, but a half hour walk uphill. I don't know how many of you are familiar with Illinois, but it is essentially the flattest flat place that ever flatted. I am excellent -- EXCELLENT -- at walking on a level plane. But add some hills and you have Becca glancing at me in alarm appx every 10 seconds and offering to carry my bag as I wheeze and wave her away. Here we have the end of that journey:

"I AM STRONG but also out of breath please let me sit down."

That night, I found my way into San Francisco via the BART system and met up with my college roommate Becky and her fiance Patrick. They started dating when we roomed together. I have a specific memory of studying in the living room for a paper on Lady Mary Wortley while they were being new-coupley on our couch, but now everyone's calmed down and I only bring up 18th century ladies--well, all the time, but nevertheless. Dinner was swell! We went to a place called E&O Kitchen and Bar, which was like Asian fusion or something. I got ahi tuna tartare with black sesame crackers. It was excellent.

Mmm. Sesame.

THE NEXT DAY Becca and I met Becky and Patrick again, this time Italian place I have forgotten the name of. And I drank Moscato, which made Becky make a face because some people do not enjoy the reapings of Candyland in their alcoholic beverages, and then Becca and I were off again! This time to walk to Coit Tower, a place mentioned by Madeleine in Vertigo as a landmark she could see from Scottie's apartment. (psst -- I realized later that you can see Coit Tower from pretty much everywhere in San Francisco, so this is a remarkably unhelpful landmark. It's mentioned in Vertigo because it represents a penis)

This was part of the walk up to Coit. Nope.
Nope nope nope. #Illinoisan


So then we walk to Scottie's apartment, which is at the bottom of Lombard Street, which is "the crookedest street in the world." This would've been a much better landmark, Madeleine. So, let's make it clear first that the people who bought this house not only were buying a house 100 feet from one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco, but they were also buying the Vertigo house. And guess what. Guess what. After the place remaining almost exactly the same since 1958, in 2012 the owners said "fuck it, get off my lawn" and it went from this:

To this:

The brick chimney was stuccoed-over along with every
other damn thing

Those people suck -- they SUCK. An interview from 2012 had them saying that it wasn't history, it was pop culture history, so whatevs. YOU DON'T DESERVE THAT HOUSE, YOU DICKS. anyway, here's the view of Coit Tower from the apartment, which they were unable to stucco over:

It's that big phallic symbol in the middle

We walked to Fisherman's Wharf, because I had vague memories of seeing seals when I last visited at age 14, and thought there might be seals there. NOPE. There were people, though. Oh, so many people. And ice cream! I ignored the people and ate the ice cream. Becca and I walked back to the BART and watched Vertigo at her apartment.

THE NEXT AND FINAL DAY BEFORE MY DEPARTURE. It was the Tuesday after Memorial Day, and Becca had to work, so I was on my own (after bothering her at her job). Did you know Becca works at an antiquarian bookstore? Did you know they have a first edition Dickens and I got to touch it?


Then I was off on my own, and I had a mission. To go to a mission. I KNOW I'M SORRY that sentence wasn't even on purpose until I'd already typed it out. But ok, so early in Vertigo, Scottie is a private detective, trailing Madeleine Elster for her husband, because he's concerned about her well-being. Because he thinks she's nutso. And one place she goes is this old Spanish mission called the Mission Dolores. AND IT IS A REAL PLACE AND YOU CAN GO THERE. I think admission is like $5. The only problem is if you go during the day, there will be a hoard of screaming children, which somewhat defeats the "centuries old holy space" purpose, but if you wait 'em out in the chapel, you can take pictures after they leave and quiet once more reigns.

Mmm 18th century.

This is the scene in the movie. Madeleine runs out a door on the left, which you can see the outline of in my pic above:


At this point, I hadn't eaten all day and I'd been walking the hell all over San Francisco, so I called my oldest brother in New York and said "I'm on Valencia and 15th Street. Find me food." And he said "Turn right," like he was Tank in The Matrix, because that's the damn awesome age in which we live, and I turned right and I ran right into Pica Pica, which makes arepas. What are arepas? STILL NOT SURE. Something to do with cornmeal. But I got the shredded beef one, and I ate it with a fork like I saw the other people doing, and it was fantastic.

Plantains, I am fond of you

Then I kept walking up Valencia, because I had to make it to Market Street, which cuts diagonally across San Francisco. What no one had told me, because I had not asked, is that Market Street is 100% populated by homeless people. I had no social skills for that situation. So I called my ex-girlfriend (you guys remember Minnesota Girl? she remains delightful) and while I was mainly calling to say "THERE ARE SO MANY HOMELESS PEOPLE," she assumed some kind of more humanitarian impulse on my part and went into a talk about how we can Give the most, and are handouts a good idea when you can support shelters instead, and I am so sorry for misrepresenting, girl. I was really just calling to say there were so many homeless people.

I was heading to Sutter Street, because there were multiple Vertigo sites there. One of which was the old Empire Hotel, which then became the York Hotel, and is now the Hotel Vertigo. A thing online said they had a bar. I went in and asked. They do not have a bar. And when you ask if they have anything else having to do with Vertigo in the hotel, they will stare at you blankly and then say no. YOU WORK AT HOTEL VERTIGO. I just looked online! You have a staircase that mimics the bell tower! False! False information! anyway, then I went across the street and took a picture of the window Judy stands in.

From there, I walked down Sutter to the Argonaut Bookshop, which sooome people say is what the Argosy Bookshop in the film is based upon. Scottie goes there to talk to the proprietor about old San Francisco history. I went there, bought a book about Spanish missions, and the proprietor's daughter told me stories about old San Francisco history. Including Emperor Norton and how crazypants/revered he was. 

Awesome orange Vertigo-themed book

Then! (we are almost done) I walked down the street, turning right onto the street where Scottie first sees Judy. I stood outside the flower shop where he stands, and it suddenly hit me that I was being g.d. Scottie, following Judy like a giant creeper throughout the streets of San Francisco, only I was following a damn fictional character. 

Not that this deterred me any, because this -- THIS is exactly where she walked in 1958.

Right in the middle right there! Like so:

Ahhh! So exciting!!

After standing there for an embarrassingly long amount of time (but not as embarrassingly long as I stood outside Hotel Vertigo, staring at Judy's window), I went to Becca's shop, her boss gave me a huge discount on an 1879 edition of Henry James's The Europeans, we went back to Berkeley and ate corn pizza while watching the fantastic film Gross Anatomy, and I was back in Chicago the next day.

SUCH A PHOTO-INTENSIVE POST. In conclusion, Vertigo is the best, everyone should watch it, the end.