Thursday, January 5, 2017

Mary Astor's Purple Diary by Edward Sorel: So this is how obsessions look to other people, huh.



I have a lot of thoughts about Mary Astor's Purple Diary, most of which can be summed up in the notes I made on my voice recorder while walking in downtown Chicago, which begins with "You know how you write that story about meeting the person you're obsessed with? And you don't show it to other people? Well, Edward Sorel decided to...like...publish it. And illustrate it."




For those of you who didn't have a lot of alone time with Turner Classic Movies in high school, Mary Astor was a movie star during the Golden Age of Hollywood, more specifically in the 1930s. By the mid-1940s she was playing mom roles, but in the '30s and early '40s she had kickass parts like the wealthy eccentric sister in Preston Sturges's The Palm Beach Story, and that main lady character whose name I don't remember in The Maltese Falcon.

Edward Sorel is apparently "one of America's foremost political satirists." He also happens to have been obsessed with Mary Astor for about half a century, and he decided to write and illustrate a short but very pretty book that talks about her life and, more specifically, her diary where she talked about how much she liked banging George S. Kaufman (famous playwright of the mid-20th century).

this fun guy

So. I love Old Hollywood. In 7th grade, my friend and I exclusively called each other by names of characters that Katharine Hepburn had played. I have a deep and abiding love for the screen pairing that is Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. I had a Barbara Stanwyck keychain on my backpack senior year of high school. Old Hollywood is the shit.

I did not know anything about Mary Astor, aside from having seen her in a few movies. What I appreciate about this book is that Edward Sorel, like a true obsessive, saw one article about Mary Astor and immediately got obsessed.

What's kind of weird about this book is how very focused on her sex life he is. I mean, yeah, the whole scandal with the diary was that she was talking about her sex life, but like...she had other stuff going on in life. I'm sure he respects her as a person and an actress, etc, but there's also this undercurrent of "Man, she must've been really great in the sack," which is like...dude. 

I kept reminding myself throughout that Edward Sorel's 87 now and it's pretty cool he got to write and illustrate a book about a lady he's obsessed with. And his illustrations are great.

look at that.

I enjoyed the second half more than the first, which covers the end of the trial she was involved in (a custody battle for her daughter) and talks about her being in meetings with Louis B. Mayer and hanging out with Norma Shearer, which is really what I wanted the whole book to be about. The first half involves, in part, an imagined conversation between him and her that's just like "omg who okayed this you are not supposed to let other people see this sort of thing." 

In the end though, Sorel wanted to write a little biography of his favorite lady, and he did that, so I'm proud of him.

And it legit is so pretty.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016: The Year Everything Was a Garbage Fire, Including My Reading Stats

 

Getting a real job that requires, y'know, time and energy and attention, has played havoc with my Goodreads stats, let me tell you. Said job, plus a girlfriend who, while being extremely supportive of my book obsession, also would like me to talk to her sometimes, mean I had an appx 30 book drop in my reading this year, for a grand total of 46 books read.


I will be over here in this box

What themes did we find for this year's reading though! Of this 46, 22 were by women, which is...not quite half. Of my entire reading for the year. I know. Me. My reading. Over half of it by men.


I am not worthy to be in your presence, Leslie

You're probably thinking "hey, wha happened" and I get it. I...get it. Well, Neil Gaiman happened. And Ron Chernow. And David Sedaris and Norman Cantor and John Lewis and Edward Carey and just a LOT of dudes writing books I wanted to read. Because y'know what, it's going to happen, because the publishing world favors them. "That's why you should make an extra effort to read women and POC, Alice." I KNOW THAT. My extreme interest in ladies usually self-corrects this problem, but this year, nope.

"How many books did you read by people of color this year, Alice?" That would be six. Which is 13%. It really wasn't a great year for intentional reading. I did, however, read Lindy West's Shrill, Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh's Muslim Girl, Lucy Bland's Modern Women on Trial, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists, Pamela Toler's The Heroines of Mercy Street, Carol Faulkner's Lucretia Mott's Heresy, and Jane Rule's Lesbian Images.

I mean...these were all pretty good.

Do I have 2017 reading goals? Well....yeah, but they're primarily "read social justice books." Because the world right now is TERRIFYING. And yeah, sure, it's always been terrifying, but now it is terrifying in a specific-to-our-times and in a very overt way, because we are being led by a reality TV star and omg we're living in Idiocracy IT CAME TOO SOON WE WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE MORE TIME.


MULTIPLE people had already made this


May God have mercy on us all. #2017

Friday, December 30, 2016

When Pennsylvania Hall Burned: The Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society and the Mob

Lucretia Mott was not the only one fighting for abolition in Philadelphia. There was also:

I love this picture because underneath their severe hairstyles this looks like
any social justice group photo

I know what you're thinking: "Wait...is their acronym...PASS?" And YES. Yes it IS. As in "How about some slavery?" "Mm, PASS. Get it? Like the society name and also I don't want any because it's terrible."

Mott and her husband James were co-founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia in 1833 (AASS -- no, the acronym is not as good, and yes, there were a lot of anti-slavery societies), and Mott helped craft this line of theirs, also mentioned in the previous post about her life:




The building in this picture is Pennsylvania Hall. Pennsylvania Hall was built by the badass SJWs in the first photo, aka the members of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, as a place to hold meetings, preach, teach, whatever was needed in the work of abolishing slavery. They spent $40,000 in 1838 money to build it, which is about a million dollars today.

It stood for three days.

If people think about the North in general and Philadelphia specifically in the 19th century, they tend to assume it was a safe haven for people of color. Nope. Black Philadelphians not only dealt with day-to-day violence, but also endured race riots in their city in 1834, 1835, and 1837. When Pennsylvania revised its constitution in 1838, "the state simultaneously disenfranchised African American men."

Robert Purvis and other free blacks argued that the new constitution 'laid our rights a sacrifice on the altar of slavery,' in order to win favor from southern states. This loss of their citizenship further endangered the uneasy freedom of the state's African American population, now lacking the political power to resist further attacks on their civil rights.

Robert Purvis, who despite being able
to "pass," chose to identify with the
black community and fight for abolition
his entire life 

Mott and other Pennsylvania women founded the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, which was shocking because 1) women were speaking publicly, and 2) black and white women were members of the same group and were sitting together. 

At the time that Pennsylvania Hall was built, women were pissed the hell off. Not every woman, obviously, because people are products of the times in which they live, but it seemed like a larger number than before was furious, and a large amount of that fury was directed at a recent move made by Congress. In the 1830s, the country was in a very peculiar mood. All sorts of religious cults were springing up, the Utopian movement was strong, Jacksonian democracy had taken root (this emphasized actual democracy as a value, and it had resulted in an extension of voting rights for white men). Women were taking part in this spirit of optimism and individualism by deciding they could really do something, despite their extremely limited political power.

The only political recourse women had at the time was to petition Congress. So they sent anti-slavery petitions, temperance petitions, etc, in droves to ensure they had some kind of voice in their country.

Then Congress passed a series of gag rules, and from 1836-1844, they tabled all anti-slavery petitions. "Women in particular watched as their sole political right evaporated."

IT IS 2016 WHY IS THIS STILL HAPPENING


So we come to 1838. Pennsylvania Hall has been built in Philadelphia. They hold their inaugural meeting with 3000 people attending. Black women, white women, black men, white men, all in attendance and sitting together (in the audience, but not on the stage, which the ever-fantastic William Lloyd Garrison complained about). This was a racially integrated meeting in 1838. Think about the attempts to racially integrate in 1960 at the Woolworth's lunch counter, and what it must have been like to be these 1838 people. In a city that had experienced riots surrounding race almost every year for the past four years. Imagine being a black woman at that meeting.

Rumors went around the city about the meeting. Somehow it was said that an interracial marriage was taking place. Crowds started to gather and surround Pennsylvania Hall. People began throwing rocks and bricks through the windows. Men ominously inspected the gas pipes on the outside of the building. Staunch abolitionist and South Carolinian Angelina Grimke was speaking onstage, and over the din from the outside, said "Hear it--hear it. Those voices tell us the spirit of slavery is here, and has been roused to wrath by our abolition speeches and conventions."

The meeting ended and the participants were able to exit without much harassment. The following day, however, the women held a much smaller meeting. The crowds came again, and again threatened the attendees: "During the meeting, the women remained calm, despite being surrounded by a mob filling the doors and threatening to enter the room."

After it was over, Lucretia Mott and all the attendees, black and white women, all who had returned despite the terror of the previous night, had to pass out through the crowd, now numbering in the thousands. Angelina Grimke, again being a 100% badass of a human being, "proposed that they link arms with the African American women present in order to protect them, and so they did." Angelina Grimke knew that while society was f'ed up enough to not punish people for terrorizing any class of black women, there would be hell to pay if they did it to middle class white women. In essence, she used her white privilege as a weapon against the very people who were struggling to uphold it.

The women left the building, and the mob burned it down.

Ten years later, white citizens sat in a crowd and listened to black speakers on the stage talk to them about black rights. Mott said:




At that meeting 10 years later, in 1848 (the same year as the groundbreaking Seneca Falls Convention), Mott stood in front of this group of tired social justice advocates. She tried to inspire them by looking to the past, not knowing that even then they were still 17 years and untold struggles away from the abolition of slavery. With a frank assessment of the situation, she said to them:

Even though the slaves are increasing in numbers, even though their territory is being enlarged at every circle, yet, when we look abroad and see what is now being done in other lands, when we see human freedom engaging the attention of the nations of the earth, we may take courage.

The future looked bleak. But there were signs, both in front of them at that meeting, and when they broadened their vision to the greater world, that all was not lost.

We today have much to fear about where our nation is heading. But when I see the progresses made in our lifetimes, I see three steps forward and two steps back. It is slow and it is painful and it is frustrating, but it is still an ever-trudging advance. Let us look not only immediately in front of us, but also at the broader world, and take courage.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Who Is Lucretia Mott and What Did She Do?



Lucretia Mott, guys. Damn. I've always just kind of thought of her as one of those older suffragists who probably wrote some things for ladies and then Elizabeth Cady Stanton went charging forward with it.

WELL THAT'S WHAT ELIZABETH CADY STANTON WANTED YOU TO THINK.

One of the main reasons we don't hear much about Mott is that Stanton and Susan B. Anthony literally wrote the book on the history of women's suffrage. Also Mott had other fish to fry. Abolition fish.




Abolitionists had been organizing since 1775 and they were not only determined to stop slavery, but were becoming radicalized in their efforts as the battle for America's future seemed to grow more and more pressing. 

Lucretia Mott was a Nantucket-born Quaker (did you know Nantucket used to be a Quaker island?) who then moved to Philadelphia with her husband James Mott and KICKED ALL THE PRO-SLAVERY PEOPLE'S ASSES.

Through, like. Earnest discussion, peaceful boycotts and politeness.

Mott:



Mott has been seen as a quiet grandmother-type figure for over a century, largely due to her biographers. Lucretia Mott's Heresy, my main source, seeks to fix that. The Mott that Carol Faulkner describes was passionate, probably overly rigid about her beliefs, while at the same time having one of the most progressive theologies of her time, stating that:


"Jesus taught the heresy of that age, and it was his opposition to the cherished forms and creeds of the day that constituted his greatest offense."




She also stated that the Constitution and laws of the U.S. were "altogether tending to rivet the chains of the oppressed." Because she was a badass. When you think of Lucretia Mott, DO NOT THINK OF THIS:




Instead, this is much more accurate for how Mott lived her life and what it was completely centered around, which was human equality:




Mott ate, breathed, and slept abolition. She and her husband James were co-founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) in Philadelphia in 1833. Philadelphia had long been home to abolitionists: it was a Quaker state, and Ben Franklin had been president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery (they weren't awesome at succinct names back then). Mott helped craft one of the lines in the AASS's founding document that struck the tone for the movement:




Why were people so keyed up about slavery in the 1830s? Let's quickly summarize decades of complexity as well as personal, local, and national differences and animosities: slaveholding states wanted to keep their enslaved people enslaved, new states kept wanting to join the Union, and the slaveholding states were afraid the federal government, empowered by newly-created free states, would use force to take away their liberty. Which is ironic because of the slavery thing, but also something we'd just fought a war over, so it makes sense this would be at the top of their minds.

Slaveholders were also freaked the hell out because of Nat Turner's rebellion, which had happened just two years earlier and involved the murder of around 60 people. In some areas, enslaved people outnumbered free people, and the slaveholders wanted to lock that situation down and not have some interfering government making everything worse.

Mott and other Pennsylvania women founded the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society the same year as the Pennsylvania Anti Slavery Society, which was dominated by men. And yes, it has an A+ acronym and that acronym is PFASS. What was so relatively shocking about PFASS was that this was a time when you did not speak in public if you were a woman. Where were you going to do that? On the street? There was no platform available to you.


The 19th c. in America sucked for almost everyone but white dudes.
Like every other time in America.

HOWEVER. Due to the comparative equality of the Quaker Church, which allowed women to preach extemporaneously in Meetings, Mott and other Quaker women had some experience with public speaking. This allowed her to make speeches at abolitionist meetings. Unless it was the World's Anti-Slavery Convention, which didn't allow women to speak and made both Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sit in a marked off section and watch. Or if it was the World's Temperance Convention:


Antoinette Brown planned to offer her credentials as a delegate to the 'World's Temperance Convention' scheduled for September 1853. Despite the thirteen years that had passed since the World's Anti-Slavery Convention, that slight was fresh in the minds of female reformers. And, as expected, the white male delegates rejected Brown. They also rejected an African American delegate, James McCune Smith. Then Brown and other 'black and white, orthodox and heretic' reformers proceeded to hold their own convention, which they named the 'Whole World's Temperance Convention.'

Here, I made a graphic for Antoinette Brown and her friends' "fuck you" to the World's Temperance Convention:






Stanton marked her exclusion from the aforementioned Anti-Slavery Convention in England as the start of the women's rights movement. Her story was that she and Mott bristled with indignation at being shut out and planned right then to have a women's rights convention in America (eventually to become the Seneca Falls Convention). Mott makes absolutely no mention of this in her diary, nor does she seem that upset at being kept from speaking. She probably thought it was idiotic ("I long for the time when my sisters will rise and occupy the sphere to which they are called by their high nature and destiny"), but her #1 priority was always human equality and abolition.


"Looking back many years later, after the successful war against slavery, and the disappointing exclusion of women from voting rights guaranteed in the Fifteenth Amendment, Stanton's exaggeration of their conversation illustrated the importance of abolitionist rejection to the history of the women's rights movement. By contrast, Mott's neglect indicated her focus at that moment on the anti-slavery movement. Her support for women's rights flowed less from her outrage at exclusion than her notions of individual liberty and common humanity." [emphasis added]

Which brings us to the women's rights movement.




Look...so....it's a little awkward. This whole thing about why no one knows about Lucretia Mott and everyone knows at least Susan B. Anthony, if not also Elizabeth Cady Stanton. And it's not that there was even really a rivalry between them! Mott always loved Stanton & Anthony, but she did not always love what they were doing. The fact of the matter is that Stanton believed women's rights were more important than black men's rights and she said some pretty horrific things. Mott said about their newspaper, "The Revolution is not satisfactory & I have not the littlest notion of being a subscriber." She also resigned from their organization, the American Equal Rights Association, after listening to their rhetoric.

Side note on said rhetoric, Frederick Douglass, g.d. classy as ever, and an attendee and speaker at Seneca Falls, said in response to awfulness by white women feminists: 

When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.

Yes, this ignores black women (history is so surprised it cannot even), but everything is complicated and pat answers will never cover everything.

Stanton and Anthony saw the struggle for black rights as competing with women's rights, and so when they wrote their history of the women's rights movement in America, they did not include what Mott considered the beginning, which was at a women's anti-slavery convention in 1837, but rather started it all at Seneca Falls in 1848. And that's the story we've followed ever since.


I know.

Mott believed in women's rights because, as I believe she saw it, "duh," but it didn't captivate her interest. She saw the movement as consisting of a lot of conventions and no action, whereas black rights was her life. She saw slavery through to its end, fought against the Fugitive Slave Act (which helped turn many people who had been passive about it against slavery), raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause, only bought products not made by enslaved people (which was DAMN HARD, but as black abolitionist Frances Watkins Harper ridiculously beautifully said, it was "the harbinger of hope, the ensign of progress, and a means for proving the consistency of our principles and the earnestness of our zeal"), and accomplished a whole host of other items, all to help make the inherent equality of man a living reality.

Lucretia Mott was the shit. If you ran into her right now, she'd ask what you were doing to better the world. So let's all make sure we have an answer ready for her.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Who Is Jean Shepherd? Just a Man in Love With Words. And Maybe Himself.

Jean Shepherd is a writer who revels, bathes, and frolics in the English language.

You have all sorts of writers: utilitarian, plot-driven, wanting-their-prose-to-be-poetry-without-writing-poetry, and you have writers who just obviously love words so DAMN much. William Styron is one of these ("the quagmiry but haunting monochrome of the Narew River swampland") and Jean Shepherd, famous for In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, the basis for the fan-damn-tastic film A Christmas Story, is another.


I have made quote graphics for your reading ease, since it seems all wish to be visually entertained nowadays.

Also I like making quote graphics. Onward!:














FROM THE SUN-DRENCHED SHORES OF GREECE REDOLENT OF THE EARTH'S BOUNTIES. I'm super-into how he uses the English language. While Jean Shepherd was a man very much of his time (that time being 1921-1999), he was also a man who knew his way around a dictionary, if you know what I mean.





(....words. I just mean words)

Also A Christmas Story is great and we should all rewatch it right now. 




Friday, December 16, 2016

Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock: He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions



Stephen Leacock was a silly Canadian man who lived from 1869-1944. At some point in his life, he decided to write a book making fun of all the other books. The forward to the modern day edition of Nonsense Novels is written by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket of Series of Unfortunate Events fame, which absolutely makes sense when you read lines like:

I saw before me a fine sailor-like man of from thirty to sixty, clean-shaven, except for an enormous pair of whiskers, a heavy beard, and a thick moustache

That is pure Lemony Snicket right there. Or pure Lemony Snicket-written-by-Daniel-Handler-inspired-by-Canadian-humorist-Stephen-Leacock.

Nonsense Novels covers most if not all genres of novel. Each "novel" is v. short. It goes from detective novels to seafaring novels to Lorna Doone On the Moors-type novels (I've never read Lorna Doone, but I'm making some guesses that she stands on moors) to a sci-fi sort of ender that I loved the most by far (except for some blatant old fashioned sexism near the end, but that's probably to be expected) and THAT is called The Man in Asbestos. It's about a man who decides to fall asleep and Rip Van Winkle himself into the future, only guess what, the future blows. But WHY does it blow. That's why I've provided the above link for you.

Leacock's funny, but not like...hilarious funny. It's one of those "oh, he was probably the Daniel Handler of his day, but I do not live in that day." So on that note, I probably enjoyed Handler's introduction more than 90% of the actual book, but there are still some gems, like this about a wedding ringless girl with a baby:

And why had Caroline no wedding-ring? Ah, reader, can you not guess. Well, you can't. It wasn't what you think at all; so there.

And Leacock's parody of a Russian novel:

On the way home I passed an onion.
It lay upon the road.
Someone had stepped upon its stem and crushed it. How it must have suffered. I placed it in my bosom. All night it lay beside my pillow.

I think I picked it up at random when I was at the library. Those are some of my favorite types of books. This takes like an hour to read, and it's v. cheap, or you can find it for free online, so either get it as a stocking stuffer for someone who likes genre parodies, OR read it yourself online. EITHER OPTION IS GOOD.


Monday, December 12, 2016

A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist: The Guinea Saga Continues



You guys. Here's the thing. I don't even LIKE guinea pigs. I think they are pointless animals. But maybe that's why I find Guinea Pig Pride and Prejudice and now A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist so completely hilarious and delightful.

All guinea pigs that I have been exposed to were lumps of fur with no personality. Which makes it extra funny when they're wearing stocking caps to sleep in.

ahahaha anxious guinea pig


I, for one, want Bloomsbury to guinea pig-up all the classics. 

Dickens's Oliver Twist isn't one of his best novels, but it's got enough culturally recognized moments to make it worth this version. You get Guinea Pig Oliver, the Artful Dodger, Fagin, Nancy, and even those boring characters no one cares about, like Mr Brownlow. It's not fair to him, because he's very nice, but nice people don't sell books, Brownlow, gotta move with the market, chop chop, keep up.

No one's going to remember you but they will remember your fabulous coat

Now, I know your primary concern is is this classic tale told through guinea pigs appropriate for children? That is an EXCELLENT question. I must inform you there is indeed a guinea pig chalk outline page in this book, so if you think your children would be scarred by that kind of a hilarious image, then by all means stay away

If you just want to have a hilarious book facing outward on your shelves, then this one'll do for you. Or get it as a joke gift since Christmas is BASICALLY TOMORROW omg.