Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Women's History: Those Who Rose Up and Said 'Fuck This Bullshit'

The other day, I decided to lay out all the women's history books I had in my room (minus my Emma Goldman books, which have their own shelf section).

My path to women's history wasn't extremely wendy, but I somehow wasn't expecting to be on it. When I was five, my family went to England. I learned about Henry VIII and his wives and got really into them (and drew some EXCELLENT five-year-old-child pictures of them in my journal, but that's for another time). 

Then I feel like things kind of stagnated except for random things, like PBS aired a Catherine the Great biopic in the '90s and I asked my mom for a biography of her. I was kind of too busy memorizing dog breeds and planning my soon-to-be-thriving full-time dachshund breeding business to care about women's history.

I mean...look at that

Being obsessed with particular women started around age 11 when I thought the woman who played Dr Marlena Evans on Days of Our Lives was the sum of human perfection. Other actress obsessions followed, and with them, obvious fears about being gay. But women were just so much more interesting than men. "Oh, a man accomplished something, how very difficult that must have been. What challenges he must have overcome."

"Women are interesting because they overcame more" was the explanation I gave to myself in high school while I angstily worried in my journal that the reason I listened to women singers and read biographies about women and had pictures of women all over my walls was that I wanted to date women. Teenage Alice, that turned out to be true, but it also turns out it was true that women who made their mark on history, particularly before the 20th century, are astonishing. Particularly considering that legally, they were not thought of as full humans in their time.

The field of women's history is so comparatively new (coming into being within the last 40 years), and current collective memory seems to maintain such a small amount of space for it that every new women's history book seems groundbreaking to me. "WHO is the reason we can vote now?" "WHO created the science fiction genre?" "WHO was the first computer programmer??"

We don't hear these facts growing up. Or my generation didn't. There's been a big push to get these women's voices to the forefront now, but the fact they've been buried so long makes me want to just STAMP my foot so hard. 

Women are interesting. They're interesting because they're people, but even more so, they're interesting because while they have always been half of the world, it is a half that was silenced until enough individuals stepped forward and said "Fuck this bullshit."

The "fuck this bullshit" women are the ones whose biographies are on my bed. May we all follow their example.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Master and Margareadalong 3: Does anyone wear pants in this book?

As we plough through the overcast but fallishly festive month of October, we continue this weird, weird book.

This week, more people went to jail, more people were slapped around by Satan and his minions, and there was a weird Harry Potter-feel to some of it. Also the housing crisis continues to be made fun of, which makes me think I need to read about it. As a modern lady living in Chicago, my mentality is kind of "well......but there're lots of apartments here." Was it just a bunch of people moving to Moscow and they have no apartments to house them, or was it a specifically Soviet thing? If it's the bunch of people moving to Moscow thing, then that makes more sense for Berlioz's uncle being told to go back to Kiev.

Meanwhile, Margarita's doing this:

Satan and his pals are being suuuper nice to Margarita. Maybe because she doesn't give a fuck about anything except finding the Master. And also she's really good at sucking up to people. And by the end of the section is literally massaging Satan's knee. WHAT IS THIS BOOK.

Margarita discovers she's a wizard, Harry, and also that you can't try to have a good time by a riverbank without a pantsless man showing up.

this whole book

What is your brain, Bulgakov. And what is Russia's brain that this is basically their favorite book of all time. ALL TIME. Also I really hope that pigman doesn't get cooked. And also ahahaha Satan was playing wizard chess with his cat minion. I wish this whole book took place at Russian Hogwarts


Monday, October 10, 2016

Master and Margarita: "Who would let Styopa on a fighter plane without shoes?"

What happened in Master and Margarita this week? A bunch of people got disappeared by the devil (Secret Police), Apollonian and Dionysian values got compared (apparently), and there was more Jesus stuff.

AND THE MASTER SHOWED UP. Finally. Did anyone else almost immediately google to see if you could buy his hat? Because I did and I cannot find it, which seems RIDICULOUS. Anyway, I assume the woman he was obsessed with and whose flowers he hated is Margarita, and also that the Master is essentially Bulgakov (further research has supported this), which means our two main players have finally shown up. Does it feel a bit like a chess game where all the pieces are being strategically placed around? Yes? No? Maybe?

Anyway, I found this (again, from Middlebury's fine site), which I liked very much. It's addressing the chaos at the theatre in chapter 12 (bolding my own):

Apollonian vs. Dionysian: The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is very difficult to understand, but it appears to be quite appropriated in discussing this novel. In his work The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche exalts the culture of ancient Greece. He revered Greek tragedy and the way that it combines myth and music. Nietzsche saw tragedy as a synthesis of what he terms the Apollonian and the Dionysian. These names are derived from the names of the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus.

Apollo is associated with light and art in mythology. Dionysus is linked to music, drinking and revelry. By definition, the Apollonian serves to distinguish, separate and define individuals. The Dionysian breaks up all of these boundaries and creates chaos. Nietzsche writes that the Greek philosophers applied a veil of Apollonian order to civilization. According to Nietzsche this veil of reason and rationality, ascribed to the world by the great thinkers Plato and Socrates, is an illusion. The downfall of civilization is believing in this illusion of order and not realizing that it is the modern world that is a shallow illusion. It is a precarious balance between applying the veil of order and remaining aware that the veil exists. In each of these instances, Woland has removed the veil of order surrounding these Soviet citizens and allowed them to act naturally. He removes reason and rationality from the equation and gets outrageous results. It shows the wild and chaotic nature that lurks beneath the surface of a calm exterior.

Speaking of which, what do you all think? Are you liking it more? I think I am. Yes. Yes, I am. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

I'm Just a Person by Tig Notaro: Funny People Writing Sad Things

I have loved Tig Notaro since I clicked on her first album one night before bed while browsing Spotify and proceeded to laugh until my stomach cramped. Then, of course, her 'Live' album was released and that was a huge deal, and thank God more people know about her now. Have you seen her just push a stool around a stage for an uncomfortably long period of time? The things she does with comedy contribute to it as an actual art form, and I am unbelievably impressed with her.

So she wrote a book. That's cool. Lots of comedians writing books these days. It's not a funny book though, because it deals with her terrible terrible four month period that's described in Live. It's basically Live, but much more detailed. 

It's pretty short. It makes you think about life. It's probably more meaningful if you've suffered a recent loss, or dealt with anything pretty traumatic, which KNOCK ON ALL THE WOOD IN THE LAND, I've been spared from for quite some time.

As with most other books by comedians, I feel like I'm Just a Person is probably better as an audiobook. Tig's delivery is so uniquely her -- I can absolutely see this being really really compelling with her just telling you the story instead of reading flat words on a page.

also this.
For those of you who don't know, Tig went from getting very sick, going to the hospital, getting C. diff (which is basically a bacteria eating your intestines), having her mother suddenly die, going through a breakup, and then finding out she had cancer. In four months. So the book is mainly what her feelings were during it, how she dealt with it. Which is interesting, right? People like seeing what other people do in times of intense tragedy so we can maybe feel like we know what to do during those times.

So if you're into finding that out, this is probs for you. One thing I WOULD LIKE TO NOTE THOUGH. Is that in the book, Tig is like "it's super weird how the media latched onto this idea of my girlfriend dumping me in the middle of all this when it was a supes mutual breakup" and I WOULD LIKE TO QUOTE, TIGGERA (that is not her full name) from your own show:

"Then I went through a breakup. Right in the middle of it all. It's tough times. Can't stick around for that. Gotta get out before the cancer comes."

See how they would think that? I'm just saying. Because in your book, when you said it was mutual, it was a total surprise to me because in your show you said that thing. That made it sound not mutual. Just saying.

ANYWAY, Tig Notaro is a great comedian. She went through some terrible things. She has this book. It has sad things. Probably look for the audiobook. And listen to all her albums.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice: GUINEA PIG ALL THE THINGS

You guys. Imagine the scene. I'm at Volumes Book Cafe with a group of writers from Book Riot. I turn the corner. And I see a picture of a guinea pig dressed up like Elizabeth Bennet.

This guinea pig.

You know how sometimes, something strikes you as unspeakably hilarious that perhaps confuses those around you? Every new page I saw in A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice had me doubled over in paroxysms of laughter while my fellow Book Rioters stood there, staring at me. BUT I DID NOT CARE because guinea pigs were wearing bonnets.

ahahahahaha they're guinea pigs

Bloomsbury, who publishes this, has done an A+ job on promotions. Mainly because they have a tumblr for it and also made a very very serious trailer:

Guinea pigs wearing bonnets is my new favorite thing. Guinea pigs being said to emote at all is hilarious because they are the Bartleby of rodents, and if they could say anything it would most assuredly be "I would prefer not to." Because they very clearly just want to sit there and do nothing. Which is why you can put bonnets on them.

This guinea pig book is displayed cover out on my bookshelf, because how can you not. Bloomsbury has an Oliver Twist coming out soon which omg I am so excited about I cannot even. Let this series continue forever.

I leave you with this:

Monday, October 3, 2016

Master and Margareadalong: The Master and Margarinning!

Wow, I sure did not have any idea what this book was about. Mostly because I 100% thought it was about a ship's cat. If someone had told me it "concerns a visit by the devil to the fervently atheistic Soviet Union" I PROBABLY WOULD HAVE PICKED IT UP SOONER.

Is a cat involved? Yes. But a shifty cat.

The book begins with a poet and his editor, because #Russia. They're in a park. This park:

please note 'i love cake'

benches! like where they sit in the book! also how can the cars be parked facing different ways #anarchyinrussia

How much does Russia love this book? A SHIT TON is the answer. They still love Patriarch's Ponds, (or, if you're talking to your brother-in-law and forgot the name, Patriarchy Park) pretty much solely because of this book (although that's according to, so take it with a grain of salt) AND they have put up this amazing sign that is now 90% of the reason I want to go to Russia:

On June 20, 2012, the connectedness of the Patriarch's Ponds with The Master and Margarita was again illustrated when a unique road sign turned out to be placed there overnight. It's a prohibition sign, showing the well-known silhouettes of Professor Woland, accompanied by his henchmen Koroviev and Behemoth. Under the sign is mentioned what exactly is supposed to be prohibited: Запрещено разговаривать ц незнакомцами or Do Not Talk with Strangers.


Right, so back to the book. A stranger approaches the poet + editor (DO NOT TALK TO HIM) and starts chatting about how they're saying God doesn't exist and then you the reader are magically whisked away to

No, Jerusalem.

And Jesus is there! But like, DifferentJesus. And all of the Bible is a lie written by an annoying guy who won't quit following Jesus around and misquoting him. Or so says the mysterious stranger in the park you're not supposed to be talking to.

Then other things happen, which are mainly the poet going INSANE because he wants to find the devil and his friends, but let's talk about the background of this book. This weird, weird book that I'm liking a fair amount but not understanding enough and I'm glad we're doing this readalong of it and good job whoever first suggested it once we all realized we had copies of it sitting around.

Master and Margarita was written from the 1920s to the 1940s under the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union. Most people know this was a shitty, shitty time, especially if you had any opinion other than "Stalin and the Soviet Union are A+ #1 great and I have no problem with them at all because of the aforementioned greatness," but sometimes things were shitty for you even if you totally said all that stuff. Because it was a shitty, shitty time.

I watched a documentary called Stalin's Lies FOR YOU that began with "The Soviet Union was the first state to formally renounce truth in order to build a classless utopia. Truth was a bourgeois illusion." Then I watched one about Lenin. It was actually pretty neat; you can check it out here. Then I watched a documentary about Bulgakov on YouTube and OMG YOU GUYS it is the worst/best documentary I have ever seen. Here's what it says distilled:

Bulgakov was a doctor whose job was very hard. One day he did morphine to combat some pain and got crazy addicted because he was convinced that the dream-state he entered while in it would show him the Real Story about Christ's crucifixion. He also during this morphine-insane period came up with The Seventh Proof for God's existence, which is that if the devil exists, God must too. This documentary made me think Bulgakov was an asshole, but it was also, again, a terrible documentary. Wikipedia backs up none of this, and instead talks about how M&M is one of the best novels of all time and how it condemns the totalitarian Soviet state and its atheist tendencies. It kind of backs up the Seventh Proof thing actually. But it makes Bulgakov sound like less of a giant weirdo. It also has this snazzy photo of him:

Middlebury also has a pretty great resource for the book and its themes/info on what the chapters mean here: Great Middlebury Source that Alice Found

What do you think of the book so far! Do you have any thoughts on 1920s and '30s Russia? Do you want to talk about kulaks? LINK UP BELOW.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Future Readalongs Under Consideration

YES the time of readalongs is nigh at hand, as Master and Margarita is starting NEXT MONDAY (posts posted whenever on that day) and it has gotten me thinking about what's next.

I personally am on a mission to read some Tolstoy, and it must be with a group, becuase otherwise itw ill never happen in my lifetime. So! War and Peace and Anna Karenina are both possibilities (using Volkhonsky and Pevear), but what else! What have people wanted to read and have just never gotten up the energy to get through? It doesn't have to be long. Hell, Master and Margarita isn't long, but enough of us owned it and had never read it that it seemed one of those books we just needed a group push to get through. So! Tell me things! Authors! Do we want to read that one book by our beloved Wilkie that I have forgotten the name of? I don't think it's No-Name, but ha. There's some other famous one. And there's sci-fi! We haven't done sci-fi. And there's...there're other genres I've forgotten but which are probably muy importante and should be considered and read together and have GIFs applied to them.