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Kaethe

Kaethe

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"Keep the Damned Women Out": The Struggle for Coeducation (The William G. Bowen Series) - Nancy Weiss Malkiel 

"Keep the Damned Women Out": The Struggle for Coeducation (The William G. Bowen Series) - Nancy Weiss Malkiel

I've already mentioned how deeply angry this book makes me. Stabby, even. It took me forever to get through it with the constant need to put it down and let my blood pressure return to normal.

 

So, long about the mid-sixties the most elite private colleges in the US and UK discovered decreasing numbers of applications, and a smaller percentage of registrations from the number of successful applicants. High school students were preferring to attend public institutions that were not segregated by gender. Then it kind of became a free-for-all as they each (in the case of the Ivys and most of the Seven Sisters) raced to go coed before one another, so as not to lose too many of their highest-ranked applicants to whichever one got there first.

 

Some schools managed better than others, but they all bollixed it up somehow. Interestingly, non of the Ivies focused on the idea of fairness, or anything really any loftier than not losing applicants. Not surprisingly, many people had trouble grasping the idea that female college students were primarily interested in a college education for themselves, rather than existing to enrich the environment for male college students. This was less of a problem at Oxbridge where women's colleges existed within the university system already. All the boy schools got tremendous push-back from alumni, most of whom got over their ire when they realized that their daughters or granddaughters could now attend the alma mater. Idiots.

 

The girls schools got similar push-back from alumna, but had more realistic concerns about loss of leadership roles for women students and employment opportunities for women professors, valid concerns as it turns out. The women's colleges that didn't enroll men in the first wave mostly didn't ever: there remained a market for women-only schools.

 

Quality scholarship on a topic that just makes me seethe. Highly recommended for anyone with the intestinal fortitude to wade through so many old men being stupid.

 

Library copy

 

 

The Detective Dog - Julia Donaldson, Sara Ogilvie 

The Detective Dog - Julia Donaldson, Sara Ogilvie

While it doesn't adhere to the most basic conventions of mystery stories, and the plot raises more questions than it resolves, I really loved Nell the Detective Dog. The art is loose and free and feels very active, and Nell is just perfect. I love a clever dog.

 

But seriously, what is with that guy? And the wheel barrow? What? I don't understand.

 

Library copy

Reading progress update: I've read 136 out of 240 pages.

Life Among the Savages - Shirley Jackson

I've finished the bit I love best, that starts "We are all of us, in our family, very fond of puzzles."

 

It's three card monte on the page, which is a really challenging bit of sleight-of-hand, what with the ability of the reader to slow down the action and go back over it just as carefully just as many times as one wants. I had misremembered that it was a pillow lost, but otherwise it was as good as I remembered.

 

I have chosen wisely with my Christmas book gift card.

The Listing Attic - Edward Gorey 

The Listing Attic - Edward Gorey

It's a relief to know that it isn't just contemporary MFA graduates whose second book is a smattering of random work thrown together to capitalize on whatever success the first published work enjoys. Probably Shakespeare regretted The Taming of the Shrew, too, or at least, not taking the time to work on it a bit more.

 

I like limericks and light verse, so I'm not sneering at the form, but the rhythm is off in a few, or the joke isn't very funny, or the tone is wrong, and they're a bit too creepy. They're not awful, they're just not really good. Likewise, the art is kind of all over the place. The overall effect is a bit stuff grabbed out of a folder at the back of the drawer when he realized he had to hand over a draft in about two hours and also he had to get across town i rush hour.

 

That is to say, a much higher quality than anything most of us could manage with years of effort and careful coaching.

 

Library copy

The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel - Edward Gorey 

The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel - Edward Gorey

So as part of my ongoing Gorey-related nonfiction I am also going back and reading the books in the order they come up for discussion in Born to Be Posthumous, every time Dery talks about the influences on Gorey I fall down yet another rabbit hole. There are authors I wasn't familiar with, such as Firbank, I've requested something of his by ILL.

Then there's authors I only had a passing familiarity with such as Ivy Compton-Burnett (the name was familiar, but that's all) and Alison Lurie (a writer who had never much interested me, such that I gave to the library booksale a signed edition of Foreign Affairs, which now seems interesting, when I realize that she wrote The War Between the Tates, a novel which became The War of the Roses film, and which I loved in both original and adaptation. Oh, well, I couldn't possibly keep everything.)

So several days back I read this along with the other little random hardcover Gorey books I own. And then today, when Dery got up to it, I had to read it again, to see if I agreed with his analysis, which I don't quite, although I feel it is fair and valid, just overthought like much literary criticism.

Personal copy

The Library Book - Susan Orlean

The Library Book - Susan Orlean

  Orlean is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. The topic doesn't matter, she's going to teach me something weird and wonderful and even if she doesn't spark an obsession in me, she does a brilliant job of explaining why other people love whatever it is so much. 

So, yeah,  no surprise that I was way into this. I loved the history of the L.A. Public Library; the remembrances of her childhood visits to the library with her mom, the dramatic account of the Central Library fire, the bizarre true crime/Kafkaesque political nightmare that was the aftermath of the fire, the sidebar on traveling libraries...but most of all, the librarians. No one's perfect, everyone has flaws, whatever. ..Not librarians. Every single one of them is a superior being blessing this world with their kindness and helpfulness, their eternal quests for truth and justice. I am an agnostic and a secular humanist who believes in nothing except that the scientific method is really useful, but librarians are very nearly holy in my mind, and libraries are almost sacred, but also, perfectly pragmatic. Orlean reports on quite a few librarians and library-saving volunteers and she moved me to tears.

 

Library copy of course 

 

 

I Am the Boss of this Chair - Carolyn Crimi illustrated by Marisa Morea

I Am the Boss of this Chair - illustrated by Marisa Morea Carolyn Crimi

Silly cats acting all catty. Best cat name this year:Oswald Minklehoff Honey Bunny III  Pom Pom is the cutest thing ever.

 

Library copy

 

 

Attack of the 50-Foot Fluffy - Mike Boldt

Attack of the 50-Foot Fluffy - Mike Boldt, Mike Boldt

We wanted more destruction and laying waste.  It would have been better for us if it had been way over the top.

 

Library copy

I'm Sad - Michael Ian Black,Debbie Ridpath Ohi 

I'm Sad (I'm Books) - Michael Ian Black, Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Punchy art, amusing characters and story. It has a point, but isn't too heavy-handed about getting there.

 

Library copy

Bubbles - James Hadley Chase 

Bubbles - James Hadley Chase

So cute! And "Bother!" from Pooh! The point gets made in a charming and quiet way. Did I mention how cute? Lovely art.

 

Library copy

Reading progress update: I've read 74 out of 512 pages.

Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey - Mark Dery

Proceeding slowly as well, but that's because I keep following tangents down rabbit holes. I can't hardly go a page without wanting to Google something or add another book to the eternal list.

Headless Bust: A Melancholy Meditation on the False Millennium - Edward Gorey 

Headless Bust: A Melancholy Meditation on the False Millennium - Edward Gorey

Gorey is a magician who evokes humor without writing any jokes; large country houses as sets by showing nothing but a chair, or a bit of a wall; Victorian doorstoppers with only a handful of sentences. It's not at all surprising that his production of Dracula was a hit. 

 

One thing that comes up in the books about Gorey is this idea of him as the godfather of Goth which I don't see: the Gothic for him is always mixed with the humor. The modern Goth seems more akin to the Romantic poets. While individuals have a sense of humor, I don't feel like the aesthetic does. Goth is Edgar Allan Poe not Oscar Wilde's Canterville Ghost.

 

Anyway, if anyone has other authors who combine Gothic and humor, please let me know. I would hate to think that I had missed someone.

 

Personal copy

The Curious Sofa - Edward Gorey 

The Curious Sofa - Edward Gorey

The literary equivalent of Gypsy Rose Lee's strip tease. No doubt the most sex-per-page of any book yet remains appropriate for readers of all ages. "But is it sex positive?" I ask myself. I think not in the end, but others may differ. 

 

I amused myself by trying to imagine making a film of it. I was wondering how one could maintain the feel of the book, but also make it last longer than about 6 seconds. It would be a fun side project to take advantage of casts, sets, locations, costumes, and all on some big drama production. It would also be funny to swap the cast around, with the cast playing nobility in one and servants in the other, and vice versa. Now I really want someone to comb the footage of Downton Abbey and make this for me.

 

Personal copy

The Other Statue - Edward Gorey 

The Other Statue - Edward Gorey

I'm on a run of reading about Gorey, so it was time to re-read the books of his that I had on hand. Sadly my local library doesn't have anything by him.

 

Reading several together I was struck by a couple of things. Previously I don't think I had noticed that Mortshire was a recurring county name. I rather like that many of his stories are set in the same place, as were Thomas Hardy's. Also, I really want to live there. It appeals to me the way early Christie stories do: wealthy, leisurely, lots of sitting and reading in the library. It's the appeal of Downton Abbey and the suspense, although in Gorey's work the suspense is never satisfied. 

 

Weirdly I am put in mind of Jane Austen; all of his books come from exactly the same place as Northanger Abbey. There is such affection for and familiarity with books. It doesn't matter that all the ones mentioned by Austen are real and none of the ones in Gorey are. Someday I'd like to browse through his personal library: I expect to find a lot there I haven't read but would enjoy. He had 26,000 volumes: it's as if I could own every book I'd like to read*. Every single book on a shelf right here. I don't like to leave my house as it is, with a supply like that I never would.

 

Nothing profound in my thoughts. If there is another life after this life I hope I get to spend it in Mortshire. I'm sure it will be full of my kind of people.

 

Personal copy

 

*PS. I say that, but of course it doesn't matter how many books are in the house, I'm still going to want new ones. My To Read list never grows shorter.

How To Be a Lion - Ed Vere 

How To Be a Lion - Ed Vere

Here is one of my inconsistencies: I am willing to accept athropomorphized critters writing poetry and talking and so forth, I'm good. But, when authors write about lions as hunters, and then only illustrate with male lions, I am sorely vexed. It's not that I'm in favor of heavily gendered roles: my specific exception is to using the male as default, even when the male doesn't exhibit the behaviors one has selected the animal character for in the first place. I'm sorry Mr. Vere, in some ways I like your book, but the particular masculine stereotype that your whole book is built on doesn't apply to the species you selected. There aren't usually a lot of grown males lions in a pride, mostly the boys leave around age 3. And "hanging about" is the thing: the males don't do the hunting for the pride, and lion society is matriarchal, so if anyone was trying to enforce behavior, it would be the Queen.

 

I don't mind the fanciful, but I balk at the wrong. One way to discourage rigid sex roles is to actually teach children the vast array of behaviors to be found across species. I'm not saying picture book creators have to be zoologists, but a cursory read of Wikipedia would clear up some of this sort of thing.

 

Library copy

 

 

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North - Blair Braverman

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North - Blair Braverman

I  am just stunned by Braverman's fearlessness. 

Cold weather makes me want to read about colder weather; dog sledding has all those appealing doggies. Happily this was lying about the house waiting for me.

Be warned: there isn't nearly as much dog sledding as I would have liked. Unlike say Winterdance (a beloved memoir with lots about training and such) the sport isn't the point. The point is loving the cold and the Northwoods. The point is that nature isn't even a tiny bit as scary as the men a teen girl/young woman has to put up with.

The fearlessness is in the revelation which astounds me, even as so many women are speaking up about sexual assaults and harassment they have withstood. Each such revelation astounds me. 

Yes, I know that the victim isn't to blame, but I also know the abuse and indignity that is heaped upon anyone telling her experience. To dredge it up, to spend years remembering, and then to share that with others: it is a strength and a heroism I can't begin to imagine. Someday may we all be so brave.

 

 

Library copy