Sunday, August 14, 2016

16th C. Angsty French Siblings in History

It's Sunday and let's look at some history I read on French wikipedia, because as far as I can tell it's not on English Wikipedia and might as well put that Comp Lit degree in French lit to use somehow. Today "somehow" will be translating this paragraph about the DRAMATIC AND SAD LIVES of Julien and Marguerite de Ravalet.

so many sad things

Julien de Ravalet was born in France in 1582, and his sister Marguerite in 1586. They were the children of Jean III de Ravalet, lord of Tourlaville. Tourlaville is in northwestern France, and part of Normandy. 

The article is a bit vague, but essentially, Julien and Marguerite were too close for their parents' liking (although the article uses "amour platonique," which totally has the same meaning here as there), so when Julien was 13, they sent him away. A few years later, when, according to the timeline here, Marguerite is 14, they marry her to Jean Lefevre de Haupitois, who's 32 years older.

Apparently the marriage of this 14 year old to a 46 year old wasn't happy (WHAT A SHOCK) and she ran away to find her brother. They were arrested September 8th, 1603 at the request of her gross husband, who accused them of adultery and incest (she's 17 now and her brother's 21). They both denied these charges, but were still executed in the Place de Grève in December 1603.

The Place de Grève is now known as the Place de l'Hotel de Ville, but was used for executions at least as far back as the 1200s.

Place de Grève

Place de l'Hotel de Ville

If you google them, you basically get landed almost immediately on a page about how incest is totes misunderstood and I'M SORRY TO HAVE CLICKED ON IT but info on them is scanty. That page says they were convicted because Marguerite was pregnant after being on the run for a whiiiiiile with her brother, which makes more sense than her husband just having accused them of incest and then having them be convicted, especially since their aristocratic father asked for mercy and it was denied

Look. Nature has shown us incest is not the way to go. Unless you think debilitating diseases are beneficial to the human race. That being said, these two super bum me out, not for that, but because Marguerite's life sounds real damn terrible, and she basically got murdered for that. Yep, I'm calling a state execution murder I'M EDGY LIKE THAT. 

the 17th c. French government

I only found out about these two kids because Netflix said "Would you like to watch Marguerite et Julien, Alice?" and I said "Maybe!" and watched the first 30 seconds and when it said based on real events or whatever, I paused it and did all this research. In the course of that, I found out that the movie was uniVERSALLY panned, so I'm not finishin' it. But now we all know about the sad sad lives of Marguerite and Julien de Ravalet, who were both killed the same year Elizabeth I died and the Stuarts came to reign in England. Just for some context. 

Let's not sleep with our siblings and let's also not marry our 14-year-old kids to people more than 30 years older than they are. There're just a bunch of lessons we can take from this. Essentially, don't do stupid shit, guys.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

God and My Father by Clarence Day: I Love This a Weird Amount

You know how when you're a kid, you love things uncritically, and when you're an adult, it's hard to walk back that love, or sometimes even understand it? 'Why do I want to punch someone who insults Fievel Goes West?' you might ask yourself. Or, in this particular case, 'How the hell did I grow to love Life With Father so much?'

Yes, Life With Father, the 1947 turn-of-the-century film about a harsh father, his silly wife and their four red-haired sons, based on a series of books by Clarence Day. The film centers around the discovery that Father has never been baptized. HOOKED YET?

I know I watched it a ridiculous number of times as a child, and I have no idea why. Did I find it on YouTube and do I still think it's funny? YES, obviously. But could that be seven-year-old Alice still reacting to the hilarity that is Oldest Teenage Son having issues with dating a young Elizabeth Taylor because they go to different Protestant denominational churches?


Anyway. So. The actual book.

THE ACTUAL BOOK IS GREAT. There's another book by Clarence Day actually called Life With Father, but God and My Father is the one that focuses on the baptizing issue. I got an awesome 1932 copy from the Newberry Library sale for $1. It's 83 pages long, so it is not what you would call a "challenging" text. 

I love the book, I love the narration, I love all the characters, it's an adorable book. Essentially: Father's a straightforward businessman who doesn't want to be baptized, and his wife is horrified that he hasn't been. That's the entire conflict.

It was useless to try to make him see that being baptized was a rite, and that it involved something holy and essential. He said it was a mere technicality. As to obeying the Bible, there were a lot of damn things in the Bible.

Clarence Day is entirely charming as a writer, and I have just been bummed out by a quick skim of his Wikipedia page, which not only reveals that Life with Father was published only a couple of years after this in 1935, but that Day also died that year at the age of 61, AND that "Day was a vocal proponent of giving women the right to vote, and contributed satirical cartoons for U.S. suffrage publications in the 1910s."

ALSO check this out: 
Day achieved lasting fame in literary circles for his comment, "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men's hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."

SIR, your book is as fresh as the day it was written, still telling people's hearts of the hearts of those decades gone. Thanks for being awesome.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

24in48: I am not good at focusing

Let me amend the title – I am good at focusing in short bursts on things I'm obsessed with. But otherwise? Hahahaha no. But let's do this anyway! Sounds fun. And I haven't done a readathon in a while and I have so many books. So many.

Let's get on to book selection! Which was done hastily 10 minutes ago before I leave to cat-sit and then do a Chicago Pokemon meetup because #priorities.

I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young. Something I love about Image (ONE OF MANY THINGS) is that they tend to price their volume ones at $9.99, which is an easy entry price. Then when you're hooked, bam! $15.99. But they're a business, guys. Gotta try to make some money. But yes, anyway, so I appreciate the initial low price thing. And also the technicolor insanity of this particular comic that I'm very much looking forward to checking out.

Without a Doubt by Marcia Clark. O.J. Simpson. So hot right now. Who saw this coming? Whatever, it's been extremely helpful. The trial happened when I was 10 years old, and as I've learned more and more about what was going on at the time, I've realized how very little I knew and how very much my knowledge depended on the National Enquirers my mother would buy and leave around the house. Ex: I thought Kato Kaelin played a HUGE part in the case. Due to my at-the-time dog obsession, I have also forever linked him with an Akita.

I am just saying.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I got an email blast for book requests, requested this, and promptly forgot about it. It's basically True Grit with a retired Army captain and a little girl who was kidnapped by an American Indian tribe who he has to return to her relatives. Reserved stoic people in the West are my literary JAM and the cover is so pretty. Totally on board with this book.

The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill. John Stuart Mill is a total feminist badass, but he's also a little dry, so his 100-page book has taken me a WHILE. If I can get through it, I'll be thrilled. He basically reasons through why it's a dumb-dumb move to limit the ways women can move through the world and how it damages society's progress. What a great guy. Much like.

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The lady who wrote The Yellow Wallpaper wrote another book! "The book describes an isolated society composed entirely of women, who reproduce via parthenogenesis." What is parthenogenesis? Glad you asked. I had no idea, but you can bet the internet did.  

"Parthenogenesis is a natural form of asexual reproduction in which growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization."

I'll add to this post throughout the weekend so WATCH OUT FOR THAT and stay safe out there, kids.

4:35 PM Saturday
  1. Where in the world are you reading from this weekend?
    CHICAGO and it's very muggy here. I was out at Lincoln Park Zoo for a couple hours, catching Pokemon, and I returned a sweat-soaked wreck of a person.
  2. Have you done the 24in48 readathon before?
  3. Where did you hear about the readathon, if it is your first?
    Imma say on Twitter from Liberty, because that seems most likely of all possibilities.
  4. What book are you most excited about reading this weekend?
    Probs I Hate Fairyland, because it seems the most likely to be finished this weekend. Also because of the above-mentioned technicolor insanity.
  5. Tell us something about yourself.
    I'm a copywriter/opera singer/aspiring cryptozoologist, and I'm never leaving Chicago except maybe when I'm old and can't walk on ice anymore.
  6. Remind us where to find you online this weekend.
    HERE and also itsalicetime on Twitter and timetraveldanceparty on Instagram.

WELP. So, I finished I Hate Fairyland (obvs), read about the first 50 pages of Herland, and the first 100 of Marcia Clark's Without a Doubt. Which I am FAIRLY proud of, as the weekend was insanely busy. I'm gonna read the next volume of Fairyland when it comes out, because whiiiile it's kind of overly violent for me, it's this really really creative world that the artist + writer have planned out, and it's really fun seeing what's going to be drawn next.

Herland is this amazing feminist utopia thing where this band of 3 men find an ancient settlement of just women who are confused about things like why they drink cow milk and why they bury their dead people in the ground instead of cremating them. It's not like, the most compelling plot ever, but as feminist essays go, it's interesting, esp. being from 1915 and by Yellow Wallpaper Lady.

I love Without a Doubt. Love it. It's compelling and great.

GOOD FIRST 24 in 48, PEOPLE. Hopefully in the future I'll be able to make some actual attempt at the 24 part.  

(oh and I found out why I equated an Akita with Kato Kaelin, it's because Nicole Brown owned an Akita named Kato; that case is crazy) 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes: So...people're just normal in Wonderland then.

I got a lot of confusing feelings about this book. Like, hey, it's cool that you're doing a backstory on the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. I am INTO it. But are we going to make her.

Or, more to the point, how UN-INSANE are we going to make her? Are we going to make Wonderland a place where anything makes sense? Wonderland is where the Jabberwocky lives, and therefore where the author lives who wrote 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/All mimsy were the borogroves,/And the mome raths outgrabe.

But yeah, all those people are just noooormal.

So...the deal here is that the princess of Wonderland is named Dinah (sure), and her father rules Wonderland, but he's a bloodthirsty tyrant who hates her (and maybe thinks her mom banged another dude? unclear). He brings in some girl he says is his bastard daughter (suspicious) and she's super pretty, so immediately you're like "oh, no way is Dinah taking the throne. And that captain of the guard/Card warrior boy she's in love with? Totally going to be married off to Super Pretty Bastard Daughter." These don't get solved in this book, because it's YA, so why make it one book when you could make it three, but I'm like 98% sure that's how it's going to play out. Half for the angst and half because we know what happens to the Queen of Hearts's love life.

Speaking of which, my brother and I made a startling discovery.


So...Lea DeLaria is the Queen of Hearts is basically what I'm saying.

So anyway, there's a reference made to Card warrior boy wanting to become the Knave of Hearts and also he really loves tarts? If you will remember, there's a poem in Alice in Wonderland about the Knave of Hearts stealing tarts and I'm PRETTY sure this will now gain some very angsty love trio related significance in future books, because if I were writing it that's 100% how it would play out.

Colleen Oakes does some really kickass worldbuilding here, which I always appreciate. Her descriptions of features of Wonderland are frequently gorgeous and if she created a Wonderland encyclopedia, I would be all over it. As far as actual storytelling, it's really hard to get past 

1) Things making sense in Wonderland
2) The (presumably future) Queen of Hearts being so very very very rational and normal.

If you're looking for other Alice in Wonderland retellings, there are SO MANY. I read and liked (more so in retrospect) The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, and Marissa Meyer of Cinder fame has one coming out this fall, I think, ALSO about the Queen of Hearts (called -- can you guess it? -- HEARTLESS).

...I'm probably gonna read Heartless.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Cloud by K.I. Zachopoulos: This book does not deserve this art

My friend and I were walking the halls of Book Expo America when we ran across a booth for graphic novels. Great! So exciting. We're fans. One stuck out in particular – The Cloud by K.I. Zachopoulos, with art by Vincenzo Balzano. The cover art was striking and it was gorgeously presented in hardcover with a little ribbon that matched the binding.

Great, right?

It was the last day of BEA, and publishers wanted to get rid of stuff so they didn't have to bring it back with them, so the guy manning the booth just gave it to us. Wow, so exciting, much happiness, look at this beautiful book.

You guys the writing in it is so garbagey.

At first I thought it was me. 'You just don't like exclamation points and they're used...a lot in this,' I told myself. But when I read a pirate saying "Say yar prayers, scallywag!" I was like

But the thing is – THE THING IS – the art in this book is so. damn. good. It's like a cognitive dissonance where you're seeing these soul-enriching illustrations so you think 'ooh, so great' and then you read this piece of shit writing on top of it and it is JARRING. I legit just stopped reading the text after a while. Every now and then I'd check in, but nope, still garbage, so I'd go back to the illustrations. 

It's like...a boy? Who's searching for a wish. I think. And some girl steals it, but then pirates steal it from her and then the boy gets it back maybe and there's some old man who says "hee hee!" and the girl who's obviously also a love interest because why else are girls there says stuff like "You know, when I first spied on you, you looked like a selfish boy but there is much more under your skin." 


I felt like 5% bad at the end, because I saw the writer's from Greece and now lives in Germany, so it's like, maybe it was a terrible translation? But NO TRANSLATOR IS MENTIONED. I'd be willing to say "Okay, so he's never lived in a country where English is the first language," but I hold the publisher at fault here because someone must be held accountable. They decided "No, this is good enough that we will get this amazing illustrator to do the art and GET THIS PUBLISHED BY HOOK OR BY CROOK."

You deserve better, Vincenzo Balzano. Your pictures are so pretty.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How We're Closer to the 14th Century Than We Think

I didn't think while reading a book about the Black Death in 1348, I'd find something that resonated so strongly with me in 2016.

The Black Death, a plague that swept across Europe in the late 1340s and killed approximately 1/3 of the population, changed the course of human history so thoroughly that it's impossible to trace back all the "what might have been" threads that were snipped by it. A princess who might have united England and Spain died. An archbishop who could have ushered in a golden age of scientific discovery never got that chance. And who of the countless peasants, gentry, and noblemen who were taken by it would have made their mark if they had been allowed to. Which snuffed out families could have had descendants who changed the world 100, 200, 700 years in the future?

But the Black Death carried with it something that is shatteringly familiar to us. Something that should absolutely not be left out of its history. In that time of fear and confusion, the people of Europe turned their anger in a very specific direction.

When the plague began hitting cities, towns, and villages across Europe in the late 1340s, the Jewish population began to be targeted as the source. People claimed that Jews were poisoning wells, and the populace reacted to this. They arrested some, they tortured them, they validated their own suspicions by coercing confessions from them, and they began burning entire Jewish populations.

Let me say that again: they began burning entire Jewish populations. 

What I absolutely did not expect in the face of this heart-rending fact were the contemporary attempts to protect the Jewish community. There can be a tendency to paint medieval Europe with the same bigoted brush, but the courage of many of its citizens made me cry over something that happened well over 600 years ago. The pope in Avignon protected the Jews in his city, and attempted to do so further out. In Regensburg, in what is now Germany, 237 of its leading citizens formed a band to guarantee the protection of its Jewish population. 

Other towns weren't so lucky. The leader of another city "opened the gates" to the enraged mob. In another, the Jewish residents locked themselves in their synagogue and set it on fire, rather than die at the hands of their neighbors.

We hear about the Black Death and we go "oh yeah, Ring Around the Rosy, a third of Europe died, I know." No one had ever told me reprisals were taken against the continent's Jewish population. No one had ever said "This is what can happen when you let fear and panic overwhelm you. This is what can happen when you forget that love is love is love and you just want someone to hurt so you can feel safer." It's easy to look back on the medieval age and see ourselves as Too Enlightened to relate to their mentality, but that human trait of transferring fear into action has never ever left us. It's dangerous and however enlightened we might think we are, the possibility of it is always one fear-mongering demagogue away.

Today we have mounting xenophobic rhetoric both overseas and in our own country. It's because people are scared. People are scared so they're looking for a smaller group they can take it out on.  But in the midst of all this, what I find so incredibly heartening is the image of that band of people in the 14th century, who despite a frightening time, despite the fact that their friends and family were dying all around them, despite false confessions being waved in their faces as "proof," still stood up and protected those the mob wanted to harm. 

Our actions have an echo. By standing up now, we will not only be fighting against a voice that is solely motivated by hatred and fear, but beating that voice back into the shadows. We will be leaving people of the future a view of our time that surprises them. They will expect ignorance and social injustice, and they will find it in abundance, but they will also find love and camaraderie across lines of faith and race. They will find that people stood up and protected those who deserved that protection, because that protection is deserved by everyone. History repeats itself. Let's make sure it repeats the good.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure: An innocuous mystery with a ghost from that universe Ghostwriter came from

You know sometimes...sometimes life is just hard and you need a book where nothing really bad can happen. Which is what the Aunt Dimity series is. Oh, there're issues, like how will the village populace get the glass display case from the bossy pub proprietress for their museum, and what if Sally who runs the tea room gets upset about the main character liking someone else's pastries more, but real problems? Nah.

Jumping in on the 21st book in a series is rather nice, because it discusses events that no doubt took entire books to unfold, but now that they're done with they're referred to glancingly, you say "oh how nice" and move onto the current mystery. Which is about a bracelet.

Since reading Murder By Candlelight: The Gruesome Crimes Behind Our Romance With the Macabre i've felt more and more guilty about murder mysteries. It essentially says we read them for fun (true), that they trivialize death (also true), and make it just one part of a logic puzzle (true a third time). I tend to think of non-murder-mysteries as boring, but the incredibly perfect life Lori Shepherd leads is fun escapism of a different kind.

The entire series revolves around Lori, her family life, and the ghost of her dead mother's best friend who lives in a journal and communicates by writing in it. Yes. 

This particular book involves a bracelet found by Lori in the attic, which when she mentions it to the ghost of Aunt Dimity (by talking to the journal, obvs), Aunt Dimity gets VERY FLUSTERED FOR A GHOST and needs some time to calm down. She later explains to Lori the history of the bracelet in her former lifetime, and makes a request of Lori that I would have 100% said no to, but apparently Lori just loves people more than I do.

You can read these in a day. They're fun, they're a bit silly, it's English country life at its MOST innocuous, which has its own charm (ex: Vicar of Dibley). There was a lovely bit about a WWI soldier, and it made me feel like I learned more about London (and also made me google 'cream buns' and now I want one).

Ghosts! Bloomsbury! Aforementioned cream buns! Check it out if you want your brain to chill for a bit.