Friday, April 29, 2016

How much Sherlock is too much Sherlock?

Remember when Arthur Conan Doyle tried to murder Sherlock Holmes because he was so sick of him? I get that.

Sherlock Holmes is a compelling character because he's a superhero, but he's got about as much personal depth as the Trix Rabbit. Why don't we just call him Perception Man, make a comic, and call it a day. "Alice, you sound kind of grumpy about this." Yes, because we won't stop carrying him through the decades in various incarnations. 

Stopppppp. (x)

The latest -- unless something new has been written in the last couple months, which I wouldn't be surprised by -- is A Study in Charlotte, where the descendants of Holmes and Watson are at a boarding school in America and have to solve mysteries.

I mean. It's fine. It's a fine book. I left it alone for a week and didn't feel any kind of impulse to pick it up except that it was due back at the library. Tbh I haven't even finished it yet, but my lackluster enthusiasm makes me feel ready to comment on it. If something horrible/great happens in the rest of it, I doubt it would change my feelings much. Essentially, Holmes is a girl, Watson's a boy, Watson's vaguely attracted to Holmes because sure, let's keep up that idea. 

I don't ship Holmes/Watson in any iteration, any gender, any setting. Probably, again, because Holmes is never enough of a person to be shipped with anyone. Sudden love (or whatever Holmes can approximate as love) isn't going to suddenly change him or make him less of an asshole. The only time I've shipped Holmes with anyone was with Irene Adler, and it's because she's the first one to sincerely confuse him, and they both suck. But even that ship is more like a little dinghy that could be subsumed by the waves at any moment.

I do, however, def. ship Watson/Moriarty on Elementary

A Study in Charlotte feels like veiled Johnlock fanfic. Johnlock for the masses, perhaps, where they reel you in with heteronormativity and then bam! Gotcha. Jamie Watson narrates as he and Charlotte Holmes try to solve a murder at the school. Again, me leaving it alone for a week does not make a case for it being extraordinarily compelling, but if you're into Sherlock Holmes/Johnlock, maybe you'd be really into it. I'll be over here being grumpy and unimpressed in the corner.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Michelle McNamara was someone you would probably have a great conversation with

Michelle McNamara died, and I can't get over it.

Michelle McNamara was not only Patton Oswalt's wife and the mother of their 7-year-old daughter, but a fascinating true crime writer and researcher. I found out about her through episodes of the podcast The Dork Forest, which she guested on four times, each time talking about her love of true crime research and what progress she'd been making on her book about the prolific but little-known serial killer The Golden State Killer.

She was funny, she was engaging, she was clearly ridiculously smart, and I liked her so much. Her talk about not liking anything comic con-related and therefore hating to go to those with Patton Oswalt gave me hope that in relationships, you can love a person and not have to love, or even pretend to like, one of the interests that gets them out of bed in the morning (for those unaware, Patton Oswalt is a SuperNerd).

I strongly urge you to listen to her Dork Forest eps (unless true crime squicks you out). Here's one, and here's one, and here's one, and here's one. She also ran the site True Crime Diary, and I just...damnit I want this one to still be alive. Michelle McNamara, wherever you are, you are awesome. And you made this world a more interesting place.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Julian Fellowes's Belgravia: The Beginning

You might be familiar with writer Julian Fellowes and his endless series about the British upper crust and their servants. He's written Gosford Park, The Young Victoria, and of course Downton Abbey, among a ridiculous number of others. If you like him, you like him, because his tone doesn't vary much. I happen to like him very much, despite never having seen more than one season of Downton Abbey and being a bit suspicious of his fetishizing of the aristocracy. His stories are just so fun and dramatic and romantic and angsty. And now he is releasing a serialized novel, like the Victorian tales of yore. How very on brand for him! Belgravia is set in 1840s London, but begins at a ball in Brussels in 1815, right before the Battle of Waterloo.

Chapter 1 is available for free, then the subsequent 10 are $1.99 each. I pre-ordered chapter 1 to download to my Kindle app because, to be honest, I am SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS IDEA. I don't make the time and I don't have the patience to sit down and read through a whole book, but 40 page sections released once a week? And then we can talk about it online? A+. So great. Bring it on.

Serializing a novel is also an excellent idea because it can encourage you to read genres you would normally avoid. If I see a 350 page historical novel, I go "mmmmmm is my time really well-spent reading that?" But if it's like "oh, look at this tiny amount of reading. I can give that to any genre." I was going to have an "except" here, but I went through this list of writing genres and I honestly think I could give 40 pages of reading to any of them. Such a manageable size!

So what happens in the first chapter. I was hooked into this whole idea in the first place because I watched a video on Twitter where Julian Fellowes explain exactly that. So there's a ball, which is a real ball that happened, and is apparently "the most famous ball in history," which I won't contest, because while I'd never heard of it, I also can't bring any OTHERS to mind.

This is the Duchess of Richmond's ball in Brussels on June 15, 1815. Almost all of the high-ranking officers in the Duke of Wellington's army were there, cavorting with the English nobility that had moved to Brussels in a show of support for Wellington, and in the middle of the ball, the army was given notice that Napoleon was invading and they had to march out at 3 AM, some of them going to fight still in their dress uniforms.

According to Fellowes, some scandalous thing happens at the ball, and two families know about it, one obviously being from the rising middle class, and one from the aristocracy. CUT TO APPX 25 YEARS LATER and we are in 1840s London with the scandal presumably about to come out. Oh how exciting. Chapter 1 ends immediately after Waterloo, so I assume right before we jump forward. I AM SO PSYCHED.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Wander Society by Keri Smith: How to Wander in a Busy Life

It's hard to disconnect. It's hard not to be going somewhere with a purpose. But Keri Smith's The Wander Society encourages you to do just those things. It is a guide to wandering, to not filling your mind with anything but the impressions of your surroundings and the most unfocused of your thoughts. 

I'm not going to say we live in an age unlike any other in this respect, because if we were 16th century merchants and you told us to take some time off from scurrying to and fro from spice house to textile shop, we'd wheel about on you angrily and tell you to make off with yourself. [Exit, pursued by a bear]

We are like all humans have been for all of time. We focus on things in the future. We focus on things in the past. We run from task to task, and we don't let ourselves wander

Penguin asked if I wanted to review The Wander Society and I said yes, definitely, for a number of reasons.

1. I like things that are ostensibly going to tell me how to do something.

2. My church book group has been reading about Buddhism and this seems very closely connected.

3. I love wandering and I never do it. Well. Almost never.

When we repeat the same activities day in and day out, we limit our ability to have new experiences. Over time our bodies, senses, and brains start to atrophy. Our world becomes smaller and smaller until we are living in a tiny little box.

The above is in a section called "The Importance of Randomness." Which I love. I've had the best experiences with randomness. Most that immediately come to mind are, of course, bookish in nature. This book emphasizes that wandering can take many forms, and one of the ones that resonated the most with me, as I'm sure it would with anyone who's seeking out a book blog, is "Library Wandering."

Have you tried library wandering? She gives a list of "Ways to Subvert Your Browsing," which I'm going to try the next time I go, but in terms of basic, no-frills library wandering -- have you done it? I've found the most tremendous books by doing this, and they all feel especially special because they were found at random. I have absolutely no goal. I wasn't even particularly looking to check out a book; I just found a section I thought looked interesting and I started browsing.

I found Old Mr Flood this way. I found 50 Works of English Literature We Could Do Without. And just last week, I found The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War, which I am LOVING.

Different people will respond to different elements of The Wander Society. There are lists, there are diagrams, there are poems, there are assignments. They all encourage you towards a common goal: to let go, start wandering in your daily life, and see what happens.


Penguin is offering a giveaway copy of The Wander Society, so if you'd like to be entered, leave a comment and I'll pick someone on Monday. IT'S A SUPER-CUTE BOOK. US readers only, but international people, don't think I love you any less.

Not this cute though

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Madeleine Smith: The Scottish Murderess

I was browsing the internet a while back, reading about serial killers, as y'do, when I came across the Scottish "Bible John." In his article was a little paragraph discussing other Scottish killers. Among them was Madeleine Smith, who possibly (almost definitely) poisoned her ex-fiancé with arsenic in 1857 after he threatened to expose the letters she had written to him. According to the article, the letters, "when read aloud, caused a scandal in the Victorian courtroom."

How do you not then look those up?

After quite a bit of questing, but with my end goal in sight (i.e. pervy letters), I found them on a Harvard archive, located here. There are 149 of them, and DISAPPOINTMENT, very little raciness. Damn you, Victorians, and your easily shocked sensibilities.

"This is my couch I need for fainting. It is definitely not because I like lying down"

What I found from wading through almost all of the letters – for I will put up with much to read Victorians writing about sex – was that the sentiment was overly effusive and generally disgusting. I mean, I knew that this was the Victorian era's style, but as only the best novelists have been filtered down to us, I've almost never experienced it in all its flowery grossness. Example:

Emile, I wish I could convince you that I live, but for you alone. In whatever recreation I am employed, my thoughts are of my own Emile. I am thoughtless, but believe me, I never forget you, my own, my only love. Yes, my only love — you are the only man I love, or can ever love. Whatever your lot may be, I shall be thine, and however humble your home shall be mine. I shall share your couch, no matter where. I have thought well of all this, and I shall never repine though my husband is poor — no, it shall be my duty to make him happy, make him forget all the sorrows of the past, and look to a bright and happy future. Emile, nothing shall change me, nothing tempt me ever to prove untrue to you. No wealth shall ever cause me to forget that I am the wife of my own, my ever darling Emile. I swear to you that no man shall ever love me but you. Emile, I dote on you. I adore you with my heart and soul.

Remember, this is to the guy whom she later dumps for someone richer, and then poisons. So I feel like she was maybe not being COMPLETELY sincere. 

Here's the extent of the raciness: 1) they write about how she didn't bleed after doin' it, and how whoa, that was weird, but there must be some explanation, 2) they talk about how BAD they feel about having done it. 

The following is probably the part that caused the Victorian courtroom to have apoplexy (from her to him, Victorian spelling intact -- keep in mind "love" here = "sex me up"):

Would you were beside me and I would fall asleep on your bosom dearest love. What would I not give to place my head on your breast, kiss and fondel you – and then I am sure you would kindly love me – but some night I hope soon we may enjoy each other – what delightful happiness to be loved by a dear sweet husband – our love then shall be more than we shall be able to express.

Bow chicka bow wow. She does seem like a pretty terrible person from her letters. But at her trial she got let off with 'Not Proven,' which basically means "We're pretty sure you did it, but no one can prove you were around him when he got poisoned, so we can't convict you. But still. Totally probably did it."

I do want to say that there were precisely two sentences that made me have either one of those 'oh, what a lovely sentence' or 'connections across Time!' moments. They are:  

1. I often wish I could get a peep into futurity 

2. This is such a cold horrid night -- the wind is howling -- and rain -- it makes me feel so sad.

That latter sentence makes me like her the slightest bit. Weather does suck sometimes, Madeleine. You're right. But she poisoned a guy and that's not okay. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Guest Post: 'Wuthering Heights,' Or How Emily Bronte Made Me Grow a Vagina and then Kicked Me in It

We have here a re-run of one of my favorite Doug posts. For those unaware, my friend Doug is hilarious and great, and sometimes I make him read and review classic books that he hates 90% of the time. Here is his Wuthering Heights post. It's awesome.

I'm not quite sure how to describe in words what it was like reading Wuthering Heights from beginning to end. Luckily, this kid found a way to sum it up perfectly...

Thank you, boy! Your hilarious suffering is not in vain. Hi, I'm Doug Wilkinson... Wait, what kind of Internet contributor name is that?

Hi, I'm DeathStarBlowJob69, and I would have rather been God-punched in the dick with a meteorite than have ever read this book. Now, I use such extremes for comedic purchase, but I assure you, every character in this book would have literally rather been God-punched in the dick with a meteorite than suffer the indignity of not behaving like a piece of shit.

Imagine you're back in school. Do you remember that one worthless douche who just had to be the center of attention? Imagine an entire novel of those kids, but also acting like they're on the last season of The Real World. There isn't a single character in this book that doesn't deserve to be put down like... in a well. They should be put down in a well so they can die cold, wet, and alone in the dark.

Alice herself suggested that I provide a synopsis of the story.

So this one dick-bag that owns the isolated manor Wuthering Heights goes to London and brings back a street urchin named Garfi... Heathcliff. There's this total knob of a kid already living there, and he and Heathcliff hate each other, but Heathcliff is all over this emotionally sadistic bitch that also lives there. Years pass and Sadistic Bitch marries Total Knob for fat money. Heathcliff bounces to London and makes his fortune. He returns and marries Total Knob's sister to spite him, and takes her back to London. Sadistic Bitch pumps out a little girl and then dies of sadness. 15 years later Heathcliff's wife dies of sadness cause Heathcliff keeps threatening to kill her with sadness. Heathcliff moves back to Wuthering Heights with his kid and begins his plan to destroy his son and Sadistic Bitch's kid by forcing them to marry. They're cousins.

I get the feeling there wasn't a whole lot of genetic chlorine in this pool.

Total Knob dies of sadness. Heathcliff's son dies of sadness.

Sadistic Bitch's kid marries her other cousin who is an illiterate ball of violent tendencies.

Then Heathcliff dies of starvation/happiness, and I get to stop reading.

A happy ending after all!

There are other characters that I'm now going to speak on because they are totally relevant and not ancillary... Also because Alice told me this post has to be longer.

Mr. Lockwood – He's basically the reader, so this whole fucking thing is his fault.

Nelly – She's the housekeeper and child-raiser who spends 337 pages telling Mr. Lockwood every detail of everyone's private matters because he asked 'What's up?'

Hareton – Illiterate castaway pseudo-son of Heathcliff. He ultimately marries Sadistic Bitch's daughter after that first kid dies. They're also cousins.

I should mention that there's a whole town of non-relatives a horse-ride away, but those people probably don't even look like these characters' parents so why bother?

Joseph – I cunnu untersan harely a wert e' sais. Fook dis ashool. … Every time this guy opened his mouth I skipped ahead.

! - This is the most prolific character in the novel. Example: 'Cathy blushed, and whispered,'Well!'' That's not a whisper. Everyone can hear you when you !. It's kind of the perfect example for what this book is all about; Insipid over-reaction to indulgent egomania.

So that's it. If my summation made no sense to you then congratulations, you have now read Wuthering Heights. If you are an Internet commentator who knows what's really happening in this book then I implore you leave a message. Just a small note explaining why you killed yourself.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Creation of Patriarchy, Part III

The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner is a 1986 study into the possible origins of our current societal structure. I'm reviewing it in sections, because each chapter has a lot of ideas worth discussing. Part I can be found here, and part II can be found here.

If you will remember, this book focuses on ancient civilizations and the earliest records we have of patriarchal formations. Most of these chapters talk about the Code of Hammurabi, and Babylonian, Assyrian, and Hebrew law. In these we can see the gradual subjugation of women as it became codified and then part of our collective consciousness. This post is solely focusing on chapter 5, as it got way too long while I was writing it.

Chapter 5: The Wife and the Concubine

[A] man's class status is determined by his economic relations and a woman's by her sexual relations...It is a principle which had remained valid for thousands of years.
A civilization's laws don't show us how its citizens actually behaved, but rather what the values were of the ruling class, and therefore what its interests were. What started happening in ancient law was that women began being mentioned almost solely concerning their sexual "purity" and as people capable of producing offspring. This became their total value.

Apparently when societies develop "plow culture" and complex social stratification, they also develop "patriarchal monogamous marriages, homogamy [marriage within the same class], strong emphasis on premarital chastity, and a high degree of societal control over the sexual behavior of women." Essentially, people see a connection between the regulation of inheritance & marital property in a society, and restricting female sexual behavior. Because how else are you going to ensure that your stuff remains your stuff? You've gotta have your stuff. Better lock your lady down. No, not literally--ah, too late.

It's infuriating to read about ancient laws against women, and also to realize how little things have changed, at least in cultural perception: 

The various laws against rape all incorporated the principle that the injured party is the husband or the father of the raped woman.
 Reading about it reminded me of how guys won't leave you alone sometimes unless you say you have a boyfriend, the principle there being that if you "belong" to another guy, then he'll take it seriously, as opposed to thinking of you as a human being with opinions whose current opinion is you want him to leave you the fuck alone. 

The penalty for abortion in Assyria was death, despite there being a cultural practice of leaving infants to die of exposure when they were unwanted. The difference here, Lerner states, is that 

The right of the father, hitherto practiced and sanctioned by custom, to decide over the lives of his infant children, which is practice meant the decision of whether his infant daughters should live or die, is in the [Middle Assyrian Law] equated with the keeping of social order. For the wife to usurp such a right is now seen as equal in magnitude to treason or to an assault upon the king.

The Code Hammurabi is the first law code to equate a healthy family with a healthy state. It is in the interests of the state for the woman to regard her husband as king and the husband then to give his loyalty to the king. Without that, chaos! Anarchy! And with that idea, the state began punishing women instead of using the previous system where their husbands would.  

Essentially, as of appx 1700 B.C. women continue to be treated terribly. Which comes as a surprise to no one. The main purpose behind Gerda Lerner's book is to probe into how these systems came into being and why. Thus far, it seems to be about power + property rights. Everything comes down to property rights. This book's going to make me into a Marxist.

Think about it, ladies