Monday, January 26, 2015

Books I Want to Re-read

No one tells you when you start book blogging that re-reading becomes a thing of the past. Every now and then something might slip in, but the fact is you go from bopping through life as a casual reader, looking at the What's New display at Barnes & Noble when you drop in, and otherwise just kind of sticking to what's around, to a feverish rush through the world of publishing.

Or possibly a sprightly bounce

When you start book blogging, you become hyper-aware of new books, old books, and the fact that there are tons of books coming out you don't know about, and things you haven't even heard of are winning prizes -- haven't heard of because when you book blog you have a certain circle of people whose blogs you read, and, quite honestly, it all becomes a bit incestuous after a while and everyone just reads the same things.

This hyper-awareness regarding the millions of books out there in the world means re-reading can make you feel guilty. "HOW can I do this when I have 300 unread books on my shelves?" But the fact is, books have different functions at different points in time. The point is not just to read more of them, but to use them to relax, to enjoy them from different vantage points as you grow and experience more of life.

I was just reading Holly Black's The Darkest Part of the Forest (obtained because of Emily's review of it) and when a gay boy started crying because his boyfriend's parents made the relationship end, I suddenly realized I want to re-read Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Like, a lot. Then I started thinking about all the above and other things I wanted to look at again. So. Here's a list of things I want to re-read:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, David Levithan & John Green. Ohhh how excellent this book is. There are two Will Graysons. There is an effervescent character named Tiny. I almost never read gay male fiction, let alone gay male YA fiction, but this book. This book is so good.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck. I really hate Grapes of Wrath. East of Eden was written 13 years later and I scorn all other contenders because THIS is the Great American Novel.

"'Thou mayest rule over sin,' Lee. That's it. I do not believe all men are destroyed. I can name you a dozen who were not, and they are the ones the world lives by. It is true of the spirit as it is true of battles — only the winners are remembered. Surely most men are destroyed, but there are others who like pillars of fire guide frightened men through the darkness. 'Thou mayest, thou mayest!' What glory! It is true that we are weak and sick and quarrelsome, but if that is all we ever were, we would, millenniums ago, have disappeared from the face of the earth. A few remnants of fossilized jawbone, some broken teeth in strata of limestone, would be the only mark man would have left of his existence in the world."

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket. Middle grade fiction is my jam. Authors writing well without any of the asshole pretension that pops up in "Literature Fiction." Also it's usually got a good mix of humor and awesomeness. I'm still pretty mad at Series of Unfortunate Events because of the last couple books in the series, but I still reference it when heroes on TV act like villains and we're supposed to still be rooting for them. The first 10 books are pretty excellent, which is damn good for a 13 book series.
A man of my acquaintance once wrote a poem called "The Road Less Traveled", describing a journey he took through the woods along a path most travelers never used. The poet found that the road less traveled was peaceful but quite lonely, and he was probably a bit nervous as he went along, because if anything happened on the road less traveled, the other travelers would be on the road more frequently traveled and so couldn't hear him as he cried for help. Sure enough, that poet is dead.

Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters. This is the Holy Grail of lesbian books. I read it when I first came out and was reading anything that dealt with gayness. I'm pretty sure I'll still like it, but a friend said she recently re-read it and it was....not what she remembered. But still! Nan and Kitty and Victorian lesbians! And it gave me the quote that only I find funny and use in any occasion that calls for melodrama: "I HATE what you make me feel!" (get it? Because overly dramatic lesbians? no? all right then)

Bow chicka bow bow
Dracula, Bram Stoker. I mean, we're now totally aware of a way better version of this book, but apparently whenever I read Dracula, I was "absorbed to the very last page." I wrote that when I was 21, so I really don't trust that to mean it's a good book. I mean, that's only five years after I wrote that I'd get all of Edith Wharton's books "if she weren't so depressing!" So I'd like to revise my opinion.

Possession, A.S. Byatt. I've been saying this is one of my favorite books for years, mostly because the writing is RIDIC PRETTY and also you really want the two main characters to bang. And also they're both Victorian poets. So that's pretty sweet. But despite my total love for this book, I've only read it once, and that feels...weird? So. Re-reading should happen.

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell. I love GWTW. It should be re-read constantly. Constantly.

YAAAAASS

I'm gonna keep reading The Darkest Part of the Forest, though. 'Cause it's really good. Then there's Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, and I STILL have to finish Barnaby Rudge and ahhhh so many books SO MANY BOOKS.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Surveys, In Case You Were Unaware, Are What We Used to Do on LiveJournal When Bored


Alley from What Red Read posted a survey, and while those rarely happen here anymore due to PROFESSIONALISM ("Didn't you just do a big post about a CW show?"), I have been taken back to my LiveJournal days, and will now do this out of nostalgia. And also because who doesn't want to hear about people's past jobs. I mean, it's like the first thing you talk about when you meet someone, right?...Maybe this is why my dating hasn't been going well.

Four names people call me other than my real name
1. Al
2. Alicia Keys (shout-out to my cousin Janet)
3. Alice in Wonderland
4. Alison. ALL THE TIME, ALISON. I'm sure Alison is a fine name, and I'll answer to it, but 1) That is longer than my name and I don't know how you heard that instead of Alice. 2) I am not the son of Ali. My dad's name is Rod. That's not even close.

This is an Alison. I am an Alice.


Four jobs I’ve had:
1. When I was 19, I nannied for two little boys. I needed rent money while I did my internship in Chicago. This was not a good situation for a few reasons. #1 was that it was 8 AM - 3 PM. #2 was this was a time in my life when I stayed up until 3 every night writing Janeway/Chakotay fanfiction for the Star Trek: Voyager fandom, so I was always exhausted. And #3 was that I do not do well around children for long periods of time, because I get frustrated that their tiny brains don't understand logic. "Why would you do that! It makes no sense!" "Because my brain isn't fully formed and I barely speak English right now, let alone possess the capacity for rational thought!" "AGGHHHH."

2. Music Library circulation desk worker. I mainly looked up pictures of couples I was shipping. I was also Not Nice, so if you were checking out items, you'd want to go to my co-worker. One of my co-workers and I had a game where we'd stare at our computer screens REALLY hard to try to make the patron go to the other person. The music library was not a great place to go if you weren't a circ worker. If you WERE a circ worker, it was awesome because we all really liked each other. We just didn't like the patrons.

pretty accurate representation of my time there
 
It's Etudesque! Nahree, this was EIGHT YEARS AGO.

3. Dickensian caroler. My name is Agatha Crumpwhistle. Let me sing all three verses of Jingle Bells for you so you can sit there looking uncomfortable after the first verse is over since you didn't know there even were three verses, let alone what "two-forty for his speed" means.

4. Temp. Being a temp was a weird nine month situation. On one hand, I hated the uncertainty, having people not know my name ever, and getting paid Not Awesomely/not having benefits. On the OTHER hand, I remember almost having a panic attack when I thought about having to come into work at the same place every day. I've been at my current job for six years, so...I got over that.

Four movies I would/have watched more than once:
I grew up in the legit country. We couldn't even get cable, and the only pizza place that would even think about delivering to us was called "Bulldog Pizza," because our local high school was The Bulldogs. With no cable, we watched a lot of PBS and a lot and a lot of movies. So a lot of these are going to be from the early-to-mid '90s.

1. Sleepless in Seattle. This movie is basically perfect. The leads have, I think, two scenes when they're in the same frame, and it's still one of the best romantic comedies ever.
"Verbal ability is a highly overrated thing in a guy, and our pathetic need for it is what gets us into so much trouble."
"It's a sign." "It's a sign that I have watched this movie too many times."

2. Death Race. Death Race is in my top 3 movies of all time, and, as mentioned above, I have seen a shitload of movies. This is the remake from 2007. Someone on Tumblr described it as "It's like Mario Kart, but hardcore as fuck."

Yes.

3. Wayne's World 2. I mean, obviously the first one too, but the sequel is where I learned about the pop culture reference of the Native American who cries because of pollution, and who the popular bands of 1993 were, and where I saw a Graduate parody before I saw The Graduate


COMEDY GOLD
 

4. The Adventures of Huck Finn. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Young Elijah Wood! Super-attractive Anne Heche! This is legit a really good adaptation of Huck Finn and I love it way more than the book. The supporting cast is really solid, and I cannot hear "Don't you cry for me, Mr Finn" without dissolving into weepy weepy tears.

Four books I’d recommend:
1. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
2. World War Z by Max Brooks
3. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
4. The Soul of the Silver Dog by Lynn Hall. (it is about a Bedlington Terrier with glaucoma who learns how to navigate an obstacle course! very moving to a 10-year-old obsessed with dogs)

Four places I have lived:
1. Fairfax, Virginia
2. Champaign/Urbana, Illinois
3. Avignon, France (five weeks! I cried almost every day because Avignon is entirely too far away from hamburgers)
4. Chicago, Illinois. Obvs.

Four places I have been:
1. Arles, France. They have an amphitheater because shit in Europe is OLD, man. That's also where Van Gogh painted Starry Night, but as is usually the case with traveling vs. reading about it, I was much more concerned about where I was going to buy lunch than standing on the banks of the Rhone contemplating Van Gogh's madness. They had a market with strawberries!

2. London, UK. I was five years old. But my parents dragged me and my two brothers to probably every castle in the vicinity. My middle brother said he saw the ghost of Anne Boleyn in a window at Hampton Court (and later said he lied, but my mom refuses to believe that), and I drew pictures of Henry VIII's wives in my journal. Anne of Cleves had leaves on her head, for obvious reasons.

3. New York City. A bazillion times. It is my default visiting location because it has History and Opera and Musical Theatre and Art, but also because it is cheap due to my brother and brother-in-law living there. My favorite thing to do there lately is hang out with people, so if you're there this spring, let's hang out.

This isn't Emma Goldman & Ben Reitman's
street they lived on in 1910; YOU'RE weird.

4. Seattle, Washington. I never go west! Going west is so strange to my brain! My ancestors got this far and said "Fuck it" so who am I to question their judgment? But I loved Seattle and I want to go back. And also visit Portland! Yeah, boo hipsters, etc, but I feel like Portland has a chill vibe that East Coast cities do not. And yes, I'm somehow including Chicago in "East Coast" there.

Four places I’d rather be right now:
1. On the banks of the Chicago River in 1803.

2. Singing Abigail in The Crucible anywhere. Anywhere. Do you know how many evil sopranos there are? Like two. And she is one of them.

3. Having coffee with Robbie Kaplan, the attorney who argued for marriage equality in front of the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor. 

4. In Evanston, Illinois in 1861 because Frances Willard was going through a really, really hard time and I want to give her a hug.

Four things I don’t eat:
1. Olives. 
2. Eggplant.
That's it, but I hate the latter two SO MUCH AGH THEY ARE THE WORST.

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Mashed potatoes from Jestine's Kitchen in Charleston, SC. My best friend took me there, and after having dinner I asked for another order of them to go. Because they are that good.

2. This is gonna sound reeeeeal WASPy, but the country club my parents used to belong to had this steak called The 19th Holer that was...some kind of steak on top of toast, and it's just...I cannot even think about it because I'll want to eat it and that is impossible. They don't even go there anymore.

3. Um. This thing that I do, where I make a box of rotini, and dump like an entire jar of alfredo sauce in it, and then add chicken strips, and then I eat it in a giant bowl on my couch while watching Designing Women

Basically like this.

4. Combining Pretzel Crisps with hummus. 

In case the above doesn't make this clear, I generally allocate my money towards things that are not restaurants.

Four TV shows that I watch:
1. Reign!!!!!!!!
2. Jane the Virgin
3. Up the Women, which is about British suffragettes and I made a fanvid for it set to Nickelback that started as a joke but ended up with me being way too sincere about it.
4. Grand Hotel, which is basically Spanish Downton Abbey and available on Netflix!

Ooooh

Four things I am looking forward to this year (2015):
1. Going to NYC/LA
2. Meeting new people
3. Learning new arias
4. C2E2, which is basically Chicago Comic Con, even though I think we have something else called that.

Four things I’m always saying:
1.  "Fan-tastic" the way Jackie Kashian says it.
2. "Here's the thing"
3. "So there's that."
4. "Huzzah."

Feel free to take this survey as I so unmercifully took it from Alley.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt: "Does anyone act more like an overserious senior citizen with time running out on their chance for immortality than someone in their twenties?"




Movies! Patton Oswalt! Patton Oswalt talking about movies! How could you not want to read this.

I was relatively sure after Zombie Spaceship Wasteland that I would want to read any future books of his, and after Silver Screen Fiend, that is definite. The subtitle, Learning About Life From An Addiction to Film, perfectly describes it. The book discusses 1995-1999, describing the time in his life when Patton Oswalt saw an ungodly number of movies.

He ties it up with getting his standup and then television career off the ground, and manages to put in so damn many relatable/wise observations that I spent the whole time feeling like I was sitting next to him, hearing his stories and benefiting from the lessons he's learned in life — you know, like how we as a society are probably supposed to work.

At the beginning, when he's describing the moment someone realizes you're too into a thing – in his case, of course, film, he says: "You've got the queasy feeling you might not even need to be here right now, and I'd still spit Facts About Billy Wilder into the afternoon air."

Well, deal with it, kid, 'cause I have more to say about season 4 of The Office

I have that quote marked with "Eminently relatable." Because while it's movies (certainly a broad topic) for Oswalt, almost everyone has the topic that, if mentioned at the right time or in the right way, will set them off, leaving everyone in their wake either bored or terrified by the unimagined depths of nerdery and why — why would you know this much about this topic?

In Oswalt's case, he wanted to be a director, and he decided the way he was going to do this was watch movie after movie. Makes sense to a degree. But it became an obsession that got in the way of Actual Life. An obsession that of course benefits the reader of the book, because his deep knowledge coupled with his obvious writing skills yields up thoughts like:

I walked away from you, Four Star, but not before seeing a print of Gone With the Wind so perfect it felt like a massive hallucination from another dimension, where humans more operatic than us found a way to make the South's defeat in the Civil War the sexiest calamity that ever crashed into history.

Despite his eventual warnings about getting way, way too into movies, the book does want you to go out and see them. Preferably in a theater. Mostly because he clearly loves them, and points out specific moments that can make an entire movie worth watching. I spent some time trying to think if I have any of those -- moments that make me want to watch an otherwise kind of forgettable movie. There's the moment Hal first sees Rosemary in Shallow Hal -- I know people hate that movie, but I watch it for that scene and I cannot really tell you why. I love Christmas in Connecticut, but I'd probably watch it all just for "Jefferson Jones, are you flirting with me?"

Really the whole movie, but esp. this scene

And there is, of course, the scene in Death Race when the inmates from the women's prison walk, slow motion, off the bus to Mary J. Blige's "Grown Woman." It is magnificent. 

Death Race. The best of films.

The 20th century was the age of cinema! And other things too, but the medium of film has changed so much about the way we behave -- my brothers and I STILL use vocal inflections we first heard in Wayne's World in 1992 -- and I cannot imagine the world before it, even though that's how the world had been for almost its entire existence.

Other random bits from the movie include what you do to kill time while shooting a movie, in this case Down Periscope (which, by the way, is a movie I love):

We all came in with newly purchased Super Soaker guns. Each of us would grab a golf cart—or pair up, with one driver and one shooter—and do an eight-mile-an-hour Road Warrior reenactment all over the studio lot.

That sounds like perhaps The Most Fun Thing possible.

There's a beautiful Casablanca story. There's discussion of the horrifying Jerry Lewis creation The Day the Clown Cried, which I'd never heard of, but apparently it's about a clown in Auschwitz who had to entertain children on their way to the gas chambers, only Jerry Lewis decided the script needed more pratfalls. It was obviously never released, and has been described as being the same as if "you flew down to Tijuana and suddenly saw a painting on black velvet of Auschwitz."

Patton Oswalt is one of the few comedians who can also write. I'll read anything he puts out there, and you should read this.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Why Chicago Is a Baller Place to Live

I've lived in Chicago for almost seven years. I intend on staying here as long as I can, meaning until my brain finally says "Why are you, a conscious human with choices, living in a place where a -20 degree windchill just means 'Oh, better make sure you have your hat'?" Despite the bitter cold and high sales tax, it is a beautiful place to live.

A younger, more innocent Alice with her city + ice cream

On Friday night, it was a balmy 30 degrees and I decided, after a week of frigid temperatures and night after night of going straight home after work and watching Hulu, to walk the city — to tell the Victorian era to stuff it, because they did not have a female variant of the word "flâneur" ("the passionate wanderer") and I was taking back the night and becoming a flâneuse.

I started by walking up Wacker, a curving street that runs along the river east to west, and then cuts south at the Loop. The Chicago River is one of my favorite things in Chicago, because while we have reshaped the hell out of this city — and yes, reversed the direction of said river — the river is still there. You read a history of Chicago and you read about the river. My street exists because it used to be a Native American hunting trail that ran down to it. If you stop and stare at the river, you can think about how many people for the last hundreds of years have stopped and stared at that same river. There's probably a whole lovely thing one could talk about regarding its constancy vs its eternal flow, but I absolutely do not want to, so let's move on.

Hopefully more successfully than this cat


After watching the river for a bit, a sight made much more interesting by the fact that there were broken sheets of ice floating down it — some covered in tracks made by animals that you only hoped got to stable land in time — I started walking east with no definite corner in mind, because no matter how many times I come upon my favorite marker, I can never remember the cross street. I always just know it's on Wacker.

If you keep walking east on Wacker, on the north side of the street, you'll pass the Vietnam War Memorial. It's a reflecting pool, down some steps by the river, and at the top of the steps is an old statue of George Washington and two compatriots. This in itself is not really worth noting, but on the BACK of the statue, facing away from busy Wacker Drive is what is now one of my favorite Chicago images:

(source)


It's incredibly easy to forget that the America we know today was built by saying:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me"


I so prefer her having her arms open to her holding up the torch of Liberty. One of our most frequent embarrassments as a nation is forgetting the spirit of welcome, and hospitality to those looking to make a new life.

Walking a couple blocks further east, I hit it. My favorite marker in Chicago. At Michigan and Wacker, on the north and south sides of the street are a number of rectangular plaques that say "Site of Fort Dearborn." Fort Dearborn was constructed along the Chicago River in 1803. In 1812, during the war, 148 soldiers, women, and children tried to evacuate the fort during an attack. 86 of them were killed. If I could visit any place, any time in history, I would visit Chicago in 1803 when Fort Dearborn was newly constructed. If you've ever stood on Wacker Drive and looked at the mass of steel and concrete that comprises Chicago's downtown, this is what that same site looked like in 1831:

I know! So crazy, right? Totally.

I decided to walk north on Michigan, to eventually cut over to my street. Most Chicagoans stay away from Michigan Avenue because it is generally filled with tourists who don't know how to walk. I wanted to get off it quickly, but as I passed the Wrigley Building, I stopped.

Have you ever passed by a place tens of times, and one day because you decide "what the hell," you go in? I have never regretted making that choice in life. On the ground floor of the Wrigley Building is the Oppenheimer Gallery. They specialize in John James Audubon. Most of us grow up hearing about Audubon because of the National Audubon Society, but until this year, I'd assumed he was some philanthropist who enjoyed painting birds in his spare time. It turns out, no, he was more of a Davy Crockett type who enjoyed painting birds in his spare time. And by spare time, I mean in all of his time when he wasn't trying to raise money to print his bird paintings.

I'd listened to a podcast about him on Stuff You Missed in History Class, which basically indicated that you needed to look at his prints. I'd seen some on the internet, but the Oppenheimer Gallery offered the opportunity to see them large and un-digitized. All I had to do was pop my head in and ask if I could look around, and the two women there were so. gracious. Galleries intimidate the hell out of me because there's no way I can afford their works — one of the prints at Oppenheimer costs $85,000 — but I'm so glad I asked. Audubon's great egret is an amazing work of art that is insufficiently represented here, but what can you do:


When I had questions about the engravings/prints, I was directed to Sarah, who knew a startling amount about them, although I guess that's best if that's what you're selling. Sarah was incredibly intimidating and therefore totally suited to work in a gallery, but was as kind as said intimidatingness allowed. She took the following conversation in stride as she mentioned various birds that had not been illustrated by Audubon due to their not yet having appeared in America:

"There is no pheasant in Audubon's book."
"What! Why not?"
"Pheasants are from China."
"!!!"

After a lot of wandering, peering, and questions, I left and walked west to the bookstore After-Words at Wabash and Illinois. I put my phone on Spotify's Deep Focus playlist and after about an hour, ended up with these:


Perish the Thought: Intellectual Women in Romantic America, 1830-1860 was four dollars and had sat on the shelf for way too long. Like I'm letting those women be dishonored even MORE after the shit they had to go through in the 19th century. Dark Night of the Soul by St John of the Cross is a 16th century religious text that was mentioned in Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark as one of the few Christian texts that praises the dark's ability to bring us closer to God. And John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women, because John Stuart Mill was a badass.

I bought the above, met the woman working there, and after chatting some found out she lives on my block and has for 11 years (I've been there almost seven). I'm an introvert in that after being around people for a length of time, I need time to myself. But being an introvert doesn't prohibit a love of meeting strangers. Meeting strangers provides about 12% of the joy in my life. 

Other types of introverts

From there, I walked further north, past the Driehaus Museum (go, go, go) and up to...Chick-Fil-A. Because after years of refusing to eat there due to the asinine Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, I said "Whatever, Illinois has marriage equality now and I like chicken sandwiches." Building gay-straight alliances with chicken sandwiches and waffle fries — that's what Chick-Fil-A accomplished last Friday (just roll with me on this and don't tell my friend Katie-Anne I went there or she'll kill me).

After Chick-Fil-A, I walked home. The whole evening took me about three hours, and it was one of my favorite nights in Chicago. Getting to talk to new people, go into new places — places that have things like Audubon engravings the price of a cheap house — and just walk around a city that has so many people walking around it that you're not noticed: all of these things are privileges, and it's important to take advantage of them when the moment is right for you.

In conclusion, Chicago is great. Go Hawks.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

King Mob by Christopher Hibbert: "The most savage riots in English history"

I've been working on Dickens's Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of '80 for about three years now. It is not what we call good. But lately and with the advent of the new year, I've been making a push to finish it, and upon doing so, I realized that Dickens paints a very particular picture of these riots, and I wanted to know more about what actually happened. Fortunately, historian Christopher Hibbert provided an account in his 1958 book King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the London Riots of 1780.




Lord George Gordon was an eccentric man from an eccentric Scottish family. His mother, as a child in Edinburgh was "on occasion to be seen with her sister galloping madly down High Street on the back of a capering pig." He spent some time in the Navy, but didn't advance because he was a big weirdo and they said no thanks to that, so then he decided to try for Parliament, and got elected to the House of Commons. 

This is him, standing on some symbolism

In some ways, he was a stand up guy. He went to the West Indies and was horrified by slavery; he wanted members of Parliament to genuinely represent their constituents; he thought the gap between the rich and the poor should be lessened. But he'd also give long, incoherent speeches to the House and was overall just regarded as an eccentric (although later in life, one of his 'eccentricities' was saying that the crime of theft shouldn't be accorded the death penalty, so...hm).


Lord George believed passionately in the rights of the people, not as a politician should do, but as a humanitarian is obliged to do. He had all the humanitarian's emotional weakness, all the Romantic's enthusiasm, without the politician's hardheaded sense. His actions, contradictory as they sometimes seemed, and foolhardy as they often were, were the result of this unreasoning, overwhelming pity for the poor and the oppressed which forced him into positions and attitudes that were as ridiculous as they were useless. 

Ever since "Bloody Mary" had burned Protestants in Smithfield in the 1550s, England had been a bit 'hm maybe not' about Catholicism. Laws were put in place that basically made it impossible to live as a Catholic there, but by the 1770s, they were rarely enforced. In 1778, England's army was stretched thin between threats at home and the war in America, but Catholics were hesitant to sign up as soldiers because they had to take a Protestant oath. Parliament decided to do away with that and a few other restrictions (they were suddenly able to purchase and inherit land, and their bishops, priests and schoolmasters could no longer be imprisoned for life — lucky them).


Catholics' reaction to the still extremely limiting bill

Lord Gordon was outraged at this because he thought Catholicism was really dangerous and decided to organize a protest. After gathering thousands of signatures, he asked that fellow members of his Protestant Association gather in St George's Fields on June 2nd and walk with him to Parliament to show how many Englishmen opposed the encouragement of "popery."

The way Hibbard basically shows this as having gone down is maybe 50,000 people were there, which is a ridiculous number in the first place, but they seemed to be pretty ok, tradesmen sorts of people. As they marched to Parliament, some not-there-for-anti-popery people mixed in with them, because who doesn't love giant crowds, right? So you had this mix of genuine protestors, and probably drunk-already hangers-on. Lord Gordon delivered his petition, Parliament basically said "Nope," and the crowd was not happy. 

Yes, like that.

Horace Walpole said:
 "So blind was [Lord Gordon's] zeal, and so ill tutored his outlaws, that though the petition was addressed and carried to the House of Commons, the chief fury fell on the Peers" (Walpole, June 4, 1780)

Members of the House of Lords were pulled out of their carriages, beaten — one was hit across the face with a whip — and in some cases narrowly escaped worse harm. 

One of my favorite stories from this is when a certain peer was delivering a speech (which they were really, really into doing in the 18th century), but he was interrupted by another member running into the room and saying that Lord Boston's life was in danger. The peer who was speaking didn't quite hear him and said it was "very extraordinary that the noble Lord should interrupt him." Then a debate ensued as to whether the bill being protested by the mob was a good one, when "it was brought to [their] notice that Lord Boston was still in the hands of the mob beneath the Committee Room windows."

They then argued about how to rescue him until he finally just showed up after having escaped on his own. #parliament

But the abuse of MPs was only the beginning of the Gordon Riots. Everything seemed relatively quiet when evening came on, but after midnight, a group of people was seen marching with spades, pickaxes, blacksmiths' hammers, staves, and crowbars. That night began a series of five nights that were a truly terrifying time in London's history. At the end of them, one journalist wrote that "London offered on every side the picture of a city sacked and abandoned to a ferocious enemy." 

Imagine going out on the street and seeing this

Essentially, bands of mostly drunken people started roaming London, at first only attacking houses of people who had opposed the Protestant Association's petition, but soon it became just a funneling of rage against "oppression, riches, and dishonest power." Some of which was unfortunately directed at the Irish, who were a large part of the Other in 18th century English society, mostly because they were working for lower wages than Englishmen and perceivedly taking work from them.

Houses were looted, stripped of their furniture, remaining goods and floorboards, and burned. Numerous prisons were stormed, including Newgate, and thousands of their prisoners released into the city. Businesses belonging to Catholics were looted and then burned, resulting in hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of loss to the owners. The Bank was attacked, as well as the Prime Minister's home.

Where was the army? Where was the police force? Well, there wasn't really a police force, and the problem with the army was that it was not allowed to use force on citizens unless authorized by a magistrate AFTER the Riot Act was read (did you know that was a real thing? reading the Riot Act? and that it basically said 'if you don't leave after we read this, we can shoot you'?). And no magistrates were willing to step up and do this. So soldiers would march into an area that was being looted, stand there, and then just march away again. The rioters just laughed and threw things at them.

Basically.

It sounds incredible now, but the lawmakers were EXTREMELY worried about the army having too much power over citizens. They wanted civil authority to be the highest, and even during the riots, when their own houses were incredibly threatened, they did not want to authorize the army to shoot based on its own judgement.

But they finally did. Because prisons were being pulled down and burned and distilleries were being blown up and the unrefined alcohol from them was being slurped up by people in the streets who then died from it. Large numbers of people were fleeing the capital. Shit was bananas.

An estimated 850 people died as a result of the Gordon Riots. They were ultimately seen as possibly siphoning off a lot of the unrest from the populace, and preventing something like the French Revolution, which occurred only nine years later. I'm rather confused as to why we NEVER hear about them now, because London really seemed like hell on earth during those five days, and who doesn't enjoy those stories. 

Everyone. Everyone enjoys those stories.

Lord George Gordon went on trial, but was found not guilty of high treason, because he really did seem like just a weirdo who didn't understand what he was unleashing. He was later found guilty of libel against Marie Antoinette and fled to Amsterdam, where they said "Nope" and sent him back to England, where he hid out in Birmingham and converted to Judaism for the rest of his life. He was eventually caught and sent to prison, where he ended up dying of typhoid at age 41.

The Gordon Riots of 1780. If you're going to read a book about them, read Christopher Hibbert's and not Charles Dickens's. This one's way better.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Carmilla: "If you were less pretty I think I should be very much afraid of you"

Carmilla, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, is 108 pages long, Victorian, and about a lady vampire.

I've been hearing about this book for a long time, but kept putting it off because A) Didn't sound like it'd be good B) I kept thinking it was 18th century and C) I didn't really feel like reading another thing where a lesbian's a life-sucking creature out to defile your daughters (I mean, only the latter part's even accurate).


But then the webseries Carmilla came out, and Tumblr wouldn't stop talking about it because it had lesbians and that's pretty much all that site needs, so I finally sat down and watched all of season 1. And you know what, it's not great. But Laura, the lead, is so cute and Natasha Negovanlis who plays Carmilla is so much fun to watch be grumpy that I've started watching it all over again. So it made me want to read the book. 


The book's kind of different from this

Carmilla was published in 1872, which predates Bram Stoker's Dracula by a good 26 years. It's about a girl named Laura who lives with her father in a small castle in Austria, and one day through total chance (note: not true), they get a house guest who is a beautiful young girl named Carmilla. But then weird stuff starts happening and oops, looks like Carmilla might be a vampire. Carmilla heavily influenced the writing of Dracula, which I would completely believe because many of the things we find to be vampire canon today that really seem to come from the Dracula story are ALSO in evidence in Carmilla. Well done, Le Fanu, you crazy Irishman.

In some ways, Carmilla is better than Dracula. Not in how it's written, because it's not written very well, but there's a much more interesting set-up, because you have this girl vampire who's completely able to blend in with proper society; she doesn't really have tell-tale "devilish" features or seem morally loose, but she tricks these families and basically steals their daughters away. The character of Dracula is kind of boring if you think of it that way, because oh, he's a guy who gets all weirdly sexually metaphoric with the young ladies of the neighborhood. That's kinda been done, sir.


Carmilla says weirdass things to the narrator, Laura. Weird for the 1870s. 


She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, "Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die--die, sweetly die--into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit."

We all know "dying" was a euphemism for orgasming in the past, right? Okay. I mean, it probably also means dying here, because she's a vampire, but the fact remains.

1869 involved the coining of the word "homosexual," a term invented by Karl-Maria Kertbeny in a pamphlet advocating for the repeal of Prussia's anti-sodomy laws. He was hoping that by using that term and opposing it to heterosexual, it would make homosexuality just the opposite of heterosexuality, so a classification rather than a morality issue.

So sexuality was coming into the public eye more in the latter decades of the 1800s, and with that came a suspicion of the previously lauded female friendships. People started to wonder, what if something more is happening, what if these friendships aren't so innocent. I'd say the 1870s are pretty early for these suspicions, but they still fit. 



If we look back at my 3 point list for why I didn't want to read this book, C is actually a pretty good reason. Le Fanu's all about vampires and lesbians being peas in a pod. Because of this (and because I kept picturing her as Natasha Negovanlis from the webseries), I felt sorry for Carmilla. I mean, yeah, she's an unholy demon who turns into a puma or something at night and then over a series of days sucks the blood from the girls she calls her friends, but this is the life she's known for over a hundred years! She doesn't actually see what she does as wrong. She says things like "I hate funerals. What a fuss! Why you must die--everyone must die; and all are happier when they do."


To her, she loves Laura and wants to be with her, as shown in this frankly shocking passage for the time (I mean, it's not like this is a French novel):

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever." Then she had thrown herself back in her chair, with her small hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling.

So there's Carmilla's want for Laura, but Le Fanu also puts Laura in the role of the Virginal Victim of the Lesbian. I don't know if this is the earliest case of it, but it was used throughout the 20th century in literature and cinema. Some woman would come on to a perfectly normal girl who just wants to get married to Jimmy and start a life, and the girl would be disgusted and horrified. This language pervades all scenes involving Carmilla being passionate. Laura is always attracted but repulsed.

In these mysterious moods I did not like her. I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust. I had no distinct thoughts about her while such scenes lasted, but I was conscious of a love growing into adoration, and also of abhorrence. This I know is paradox, but I can make no other attempt to explain the feeling.

It becomes almost comical when she's so naive that she wonders "was there here a disguise and a romance? I had read in old storybooks of such things. What if a boyish lover had found his way into the house, and sought to prosecute his suit in masquerade." Really, Laura? That's the only thing that could be going on here. Really.

She reacts "correctly" to Carmilla, and remains innocent regarding her intentions the entire time, and so she gets to live. Well done, Laura. I'm glad the 21st century made you make out with Carmilla. And Carmilla, I'm glad this new version worked out better for you in the end.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

End of Year Book Survey!

I was all set to write an actual post, and then I saw that there was an end of year survey. SO. This was stolen from Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads)! Huzzahs all around for other people thinking of how to summarize one's year in reading.



Number Of Books You Read:
66

Number of Re-Reads: Ahahaha One. Which was Bleak House. I was about to write a giiiiant zero, but then I remembered -- ah yes. I have read that one before.

Genre You Read The Most From: That's REALLY hard because my books were particularly all over the map (while staying almost exclusively American, let's not get ahead of ourselves). But most likely Fantasy, because of the thoooousands of pages I read by George R.R. Martin this year.


1. Best Book You Read In 2014?

Oh, I thought this question would be hard, but World War Z. Like. No contest. World War Z is one of the best books I've ever read. WAIT LET ME PRAISE IT MORE.

Yes, that.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

AGH The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. So many people (mostly tiny baby people, but still) disagree with me that I feel like I should revisit it. But I was SO set to like it and it was so not good.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?

Honestly, probably The School for Good and Evil again. But in a GOOD way, Ella Enchanted, which, man. That is a great book. Such a great book. Well done, Gail Carson Levine,

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014?

Probably The Invention of Wings, because I thought it was more likely to be read than something like Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.

5. Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

Oh, most definitely Game of Thrones. I won't start the fifth book until a release date comes out for book six, because I am NOT ending on a cliffhanger for that long. No no no.

That's YOU, Martin. And maybe they do.
But I still want that damn book.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?

Saying Max Brooks (he's the one who wrote World War Z) is probably a cop-out, so a tie between Joseph Mitchell, who wrote fantastic short stories in the '40s, and Samantha Irby, who wrote Meaty, which is definitely in my top 5 for this year. MEATY.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

I don't usually read fantasy, and I think Storm of Swords was my favorite so far from Game of Thrones. That's the one with the Red Wedding and SO MUCH STUFF HAPPENS.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Maybe again Storm of Swords.

9. Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Either Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? or Meaty. They're episodic, and I loooove episodic books so very much.



10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?



11. Most memorable character of 2014?

Y'know, maybe Barbara from Notes on a Scandal. I think of her whenever I think of loneliness and what it can do to people.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2014?

Notes on a Scandal. Almost definitely.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read?

Ella Enchanted! What! How did I miss this as a child? It's so good! Also Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, because I've owned it since it was released.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

I grabbed something from Heart of Darkness, because I'm reading this as a favorite passage.
The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.
Kindle-noted with "Joseph Conrad don't give a shit."

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2014?

Shortest was some reeeally brief eBook called Safe Passage, which was basically a lesbian short story involving a safe and some old letters. It was ok. LONGEST was Storm of Swords at something ridiculous like 1200 pages. Whatever. Doesn't matter. Was still great.

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Most likely Heart of Darkness, because I didn't think Conrad was gonna take on the MAN like that.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Emily, OTP = One True Pairing, which back in the early days of shipping meant the couple you shipped above ALL OTHERS, but now has been pretty watered down to just mean 'your OTP for whatever show.' 

Hmmmmmmmmmm. I have so many appropriate GIFs for this question. Example:




Ship ship ship....I want to ship Margaery/Sansa, but there's pretty much only evidence for that on the show. The books? Nah. I'm also REALLY into the idea of Jamie/Brienne, but quite frankly, I don't trust GRRM one iota, so I feel that shipping anything in the Game of Thrones series is going to end in weeping and gnashing of teeth. That being said:

Margaery/Sansa 4VR

And I'm not doing the other questions because I'm tired and this post has enough GIFs to replace them, damnit. If you want the others, they are on Emily's delightful blog. If you want more Margaery/Sansa GIFs (and why wouldn't you), you can find them here. Mmm. Shippy.