Wednesday, February 10, 2016

#HamAlong: John Adams is the best and Chernow can shut his face

I am especially bummed about being behind in my reading (YES, STILL) because this section talks about John Adams, and John Adams is my dude. So rather than say things like "how bad was 'Creole bastard' in the 1790s really?" and listen to Chernow talk about how terrible John Adams was, I'm going to talk about why I love John Adams.

THE YEAR WAS 1995 and a 5th grade Alice was watching 1776 the musical every day and writing short stories about it for class. John Adams sure was great in that.

THE YEAR WAS 2002 and a high school senior Alice was weirdly not finding any guys in her high school to have a crush on, so she decided she would say she was going to marry John Adams because he was short and talked all the time and argued with everyone and wore ruffled sleeves in a very becoming way.

she also had this picture in her locker

THE YEAR WAS 2010 and a 25-year-old Alice decided that for her golden birthday, she would go to Quincy, Massachusetts and visit all the John Adams spots because sure why wouldn't you do that for your 25th birthday.

The trolley on the National Parks tour
John and Abigail's home, Peacefield

Climbing onto pedestals and hugging statues, to the mortification of my friend

John and Abigail in the crypt of their Unitarian church

Abigail's sofa in the John Quincy Adams Library

Suck it, Chernow

John Adams is peevish and adorable and great. And I will forever owe him a debt of gratitude for being my high school beard. 


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mardi Gras Post!

It's Fat Tuesday! The tradition that echoes down to us from the medieval ages and possibly before, I don't know, I'm not going to Wikipedia for this. But back when people took Lent seemingly much more seriously, today was the last kickass day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, where things involve deprivation and sadness. 

(by the way, my high school judged you if you gave up sugar or something dietary for Lent, because then you were doing it to look better and not for God #ChristianHighSchools)

If you threw your reading responsibilities to the wind, what would you read? What giant and/or trashy novels?

WELL. Personally, if I lived in a time lock like where the Daleks were exiled on Doctor Who and I could just take however long because TIME DOES NOT MOVE, I would read The Last of the Amazons, because my voice teacher keeps telling me I'd love it because it's all ladies and olden times, and to be honest, I would not be averse to reading some damn books about the Amazons.

Crimson Petal and the White. You guys. It's Victorian. It's meta. It's all about this one lady. Unbelievably gorgeous Romola Garai plays her in the film version. How have I not read this yet it's sitting right there on my shelf. Oh man. I want to read that thing. And yet here I am, reading Hamilton like it's my homework (it is) and Mindy Kaling's new book, and Men Explain Things to Me, which, granted, that last one's probably important because Feminism, and Humans Not Being Assholes Someday, but I still want to read meta stuff about a pretty Victorian lady.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. IS THIS THE GRAVITY'S RAINBOW OF OUR GENERATION? Will it sit unread on our shelves for decades, minus a few smug bastards who finished it? I started this book and I genuinely think it's really good, but I haven't been able to stick with it. BUT. Given the aforementioned time lock situation, I would finish the shit out of that book.

I'd probably read a decent amount of not-great YA lit with an interesting premise. Anything with time travel, anything with monster hunting ladies, anything with insane asylums. Anything with "academy" in the title.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

HamAlong: I've lost count of which number we're on

How're you all feeling about Hamilton? Do you like him? While I assume he was likable, since the book keeps saying he was, I've kind of been pissed at him for a while. And this quote of his:

"I pledge myself to you and to every friend of mine that the strictest scrutiny into every part of my conduct, whether as a private citizen or as a public officer, can only serve to establish the perfect purity of it"

left a bad taste in my mouth about him, because sir. You have been having an affair for almost a year, and this is a baldfaced lie that you have said right here.

I mean. Everyone's human. People make mistakes. People do stupid, stupid things, and it doesn't make them "bad" people. But the Reynolds affair just straight-up sucked, which fortunately, after all the "fatal enchantress" etc comments, Chernow admits. Thank you, sir.

A lot of the rest was the Whiskey Tax (boooooo) and the French Revolution. Or rather the French Revolution after the execution of Louis XVI, when everything went bananas. Notre Dame was renamed The Temple of Reason, which, ahahahahahaha. Also, re the French ambassador to the U.S.:

On June 5, Jefferson had to tell GenĂȘt to stop outfitting privateers and dragooning American citizens to serve on them.

That is amazing. "SIR. Stop making our citizens get on your boat."

Lastly for this section, whether for good or ill, the fighting between Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton makes you realize how literally nothing has changed in politics, and it's basically just always been terrible. I think this makes me feel somewhat despairing, actually, but at least when the Founding Fathers are held up as paragons of peace and virtue, now we can be like "O RLY because I have some anonymous newspaper columns from the 1790s that would beg to differ."

We're gonna finish this damn book.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

HamAlong: This book is great but also it can bite me

Because I skimmed this section, I will leave it to others to comment on the Maria Reynolds situation, as that is where we ended our reading for this week. If Chernow stays true to form, he'll be in Hamilton's corner and somehow speak of his being seduced by this "fatal enchantress," but maybe he was surprising and made it clear that everyone makes their own decisions and Hamilton has to be held accountable for being a cheating asshole. That's not all he was. But it was part of it.

While this book can be occasionally frustrating while overall surprisingly readable, I wanted to take a second and talk about the unexpected benefit of this being a crash course in American history that goes to a depth none of my classes ever reached. I feel as if I'm learning about my country for the first time, and I have found myself shocked and embarrassed at what I realized I did not know about our founding, and the documents that brought us into being.

The fact that Hamilton was there for essentially every pivotal moment in the United States's nascence means this is a survey of early American history, and I am extremely grateful for this information, as it makes me feel like more of a responsible citizen.

My only other comment on this section is Chernow and his obvious preferences for certain people over others. Jefferson and Adams both seem to be garbage in his eyes. I'm hugely fine with this in one respect, and not at all in another. I'd be angrier, but he seems to have anticipated such a reaction and has a blurb from acclaimed Adams biographer David McCullough on the back of his book. But he does seem to have a strange bias against him, which I suspect will only show itself more as Adams get older and more pugilistic.

A grumpier John Adams

Jefferson though. What an asshole.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Midwifian Novels (note: contain no midwives. probably)

While my reading time is eaten up by ignoring Chernow's Hamilton and how massively behind I am on it, I've still been buying books/checking them out of the library. Because that is how I satisfy my shopper's urge.  I'm also trying to donate heaps of them, so it's a strange conveyor belt of books in and out of my apartment these days.

The books in my purse today were a tribute to Emerald Fennell, aka Nurse Patsy Mount on BBC's Call the Midwife, a show about East London in the 1950s and early '60s, and the midwives who helped the poor there. I tried watching it for about a season and a half before I gave up because every episode was making me cry, and I do enough of that in my day-to-day life because of  things like my friend Doug giving me half his breakfast sandwich, so I don't need it from a show where there're dead babies.


Tumblr showed that there vintage lesbians in season 4 of Call the Midwife, so I flouted my own rules and skipped ahead to meet Patsy Mount and Delia Busby.

omg you nerds, you NERDS, look at you (x)

Patsy's the redhead (have you met me?) and Emerald Fennell not only does an excellent job playing her, but she also writes horror-inspired children's books! And went to Oxford, because basically all actors in England are hella smart and they can all bite me with their beautiful perfection.

(Delia Busby, aka Kate Lamb, is an adorable starfish who does parkour and has the best Welsh accent of all the Welsh accents, but she did not write any books, so we are not speaking much of her today)

Emerald Fennell's books are the Shiverton Hall series, and Monsters, both of which I've ordered from the Book Depository, because they are the best and not Amazon. (edit: I have been informed Book Depository was bought out by Amazon NOTHING IS SACRED)

I love both these covers.

Shiverton Hall came in the mail today, and the opening is v. promising. The other book I had in my bag was The Good Soldier, because, creeper that I have decided to be, Fennell mentioned on Twitter that she's read it, and I've had it on the bookshelf over my desk for MONTHS and months without reading a page, so. I made an effort and moved it from the shelf to my bag. I still haven't read any of it, because my lunchtime today was devoted to sitting next to my friend's desk and playing Doodle Jump on my phone while she worked and I chattered away until she'd say "Hm?" and I'd lose my train of thought.

As always, I am delighted when interests make me jump from rock to rock until I end up ten rocks away and find myself saying "Why am I reading a biography of Ford Madox Ford, I thought I was just watching 1950s lesbians."

Looking forward to all these books enormously. Just as soon as I tackle Hamilton. 550 pages to go.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#HamAlong: Week 3

I didn't do the reading. I did none of it. But I am HERE FOR YOU ALL, as your gracious host who didn't prepare for your arrival at all but frantically spreads some towels on the bed in lieu of clean sheets and offers you a half-eaten box of Triscuits.

Go-to with your posts. I'm proud of all of you, even if you, like myself, spent this past week staring at British dramas set in the 1960s and kept waving off Hamilton as something you'd "get to later on."

Jane Rule: Human whatever it costs

 "It's people that matter, Mar, not sexes or ages...The monsters are those who go rutting around like monkeys, not those who choose to be human whatever it costs."

Certain brave humans have fought over the centuries to make those around them realize that love between people is love between people, and it exists in many forms. This idea has been viciously denounced, smeared, lambasted, and beaten into silence. But someone new has always appeared to carry the torch and continue the fight.

Jane Rule, for those not living deep in the forest of Lesbian Literature, is the author of the rather famous lesbian novel Desert of the Heart. She wrote a book in 1975 called Lesbian Images, which while being a title you'd rather hide while reading on the train, is in fact very worth reading.

Lesbian Images starts with a chapter on 'Myth and Morality,' which is where 1975 Jane Rule has to talk out why we believe what we believe, and make us think about whether what we believe is justified. She gets in points like "for morality also is a test of our conformity rather than our integrity," saying that morality is not so much based on if you're doing something that feels right to your soul, but if society as a whole sees you going along with its established conduct and therefore approves of you. Then you are being "moral."

"Women have lived not outside the law so much as beneath it," and yes. I love this. Because you can make these arguments about the past like "oh, well, by being ignored by lawmakers to a great degree, we had more freedom," but it was tremendously denigrating to half of the population. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton pointed out in The Woman's Bible, women were excluded from civil and religious law, resulting in things like having no place in the Jewish covenant with God through circumcision, and having little to no voice in the public sphere. Women practically did not exist, except when being mentioned as part of a property exchange.

As mentioned in my post on Same-Sex Dynamics Among 19th Century Americans: A Mormon Example, Rule is writing this intro as part of a pushback against mainstream thought. Arguments still had to be made for making someone even begin to think that their wholesale condemnation of homosexuality was maybe not completely correct. Rule points to us living in a Judaic law-inspired society, which does not quite fit us, as the ancient Jewish tribes were survivalist nomads for much of their existence, and their laws were formed around the idea of surviving.

She goes from this opening chapter to a discussion of 20th century authors whose work can be interpreted as having lesbian overtones. Rule doesn't condone all of these authors and their usually cruel and prejudiced portrayals of lesbians, but she discusses their influences and the author's background. I found it all to be a helpful survey of those whose work I've either avoided, overlooked, or never heard of.

Gertrude Stein, who I've heard either criticized rather viciously, or found myself scared of after hearing her work described as "experimental," wrote in a rather readable way early on in her career, allowing fantastic quotes like, "You are so afraid of losing your moral sense that you are not willing to take it through anything more dangerous than a mud-puddle."

Rather than letting herself be bowled over to these towering or at the least extremely well-known literary figures, Rule dissects them in a cold, academic way and says things like this about Colette, author of Gigi: "If she was ever troubled about hurting herself with the image she created of a precocious and cruel schoolgirl growing into the indulged wife of an aging libertine, she does not say so."

Radclyffe Hall, Willa Cather, Vita Sackville-West, Elizabeth Bowen, Dorothy Baker, and others are covered, giving one a brief look into their background and work, making criticisms where they seem merited while giving some leeway to the pressures working against these women while they were writing.

Having even a vague idea of who more authors are is better than not, and while I will still inveigh against the bad writing of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, I can admit that to end your 1928 lesbian book with this is an act of bravery that makes my eyes well up:

'God,' she gasped, we believe; we have told You we believe...We have notdenied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, beforethe whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!'

Rule rounds out the book with a chapter on the contemporary feminist movement, i.e. what was happening in 1975, which was extremely eye-opening and made me check out Kate Millett's Sexual Politics. Much like with the feminist movement of the 19th century, our history seems to only have room for one or two names from the 1960s Second Wave. Suddenly in addition to the usual Steinem and Friedan talk, names cropped up before me like Del Martin, Jill Johnston, and the aforementioned Millett, all of whom made tremendous, sometimes controversial, contributions to the movement.

...maybe sit this one out, Jill.
The National Organization for Women disowned the lesbian feminist movement until it was essentially forced not to; psychiatrists fought tooth and nail to retain homosexuality in its list of mental illnesses; Del Martin spoke of "stories of isolation, despair, madness, and suicide that must be told, for in no other way can the oppression of lesbians be understood for what it is."

The book ends with "The silence has finally been broken." Rule speaks of gay women in the 1970s taking the small but revolutionary step of speaking to close friends and family about themselves, and one cannot help but think of how those small steps grew and grew over the decades until 40 years later, in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges was decided, and marriage equality became the law of the land. All I can feel after finishing this book is gratitude to those of the past for breaking that silence, and for starting this country on a path that has brought its citizens that much closer to true liberty.