Friday, December 2, 2016

All the Books

All the books I've bought lately have had their own distinctive, incredibly satisfying feeling in my hands. Of one book, I bought four copies. Its pages enchanted me. The resonance, when you tap the stack of them, that echo inside the minuscule spaces between them, the space inside the books, their universe.

Image: Wikipedia

Of another, I bought two. These are older books, hardcover, each of them with the mylar slipcover. One is a first edition, a gift. The other is for me. The instant I opened it, and my hand touched its cover, and I felt that soft vibration, heard the sound of its thump - that soft thump when you pat a book, that satisfying thump as warm as the thump I give Penelope on her furry, deep chest ...

That book had the best thump I have felt in a long time.

Penelope has good thump.

I knew I had to buy another copy of this book for someone I love. And that one, when I found it - that soft, quiet, warm sound. Of a book.

That glorious sound - when you *have* opened a book, when you've been using it as G-d intended, filling yourself with it - and you have to close it again. That sound, of closing a book. Closing a hardcover. That soft, soft, but definitive closing, the almost invisible sound of the mylar, the indescribable movement of paper against itself, and the covers coming together, protecting it, saving the rest of the pages for you, saving them all for you.

What is the best-feeling book you have held lately?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


It just does not get better than the idea of "poop studies" as the "motherlode" of information in archaeology. (Ask an archaeologist!)

The Caustic Cover Critic has a great look at The Clothing of Books, which sounds as fascinating and somewhat frustrating as he describes. It makes you wish you could see this author speak on the topic that gave rise to the book itself, which is how covers are the wardrobe of a book.

Lahiri's talk begins from her own experiences as the child of immigrants, always dressed incorrectly in clothes that are durable but out of fashion, marking her out as an Indian amongst Americans.

Fellow Reider Donna Everhart's debut, The Education of Dixie Dupree, has found its way into my hands (can I just say: deckled edges ... you had me at deckled), but I have not had time of late to crack into it. Everyone has splendid praise for it, but either it's a busy season for me or I am savoring the anticipation for a while. I like to say it is the latter! Alla y'all will be done and feeling Bittersweet, longing for more, by the time I settle down on a long winter's day with an afghan and a Gossamer the Editor Cat, to enjoy it on my own.

Popularizing science and scholarship in the news is a blessing and a curse. While it can dumb-down or over-promise studies and breakthroughs to the lowest (read: most exciting) terms, journalistic coverage of historical study, archaeology, medicine, and other gee-whiz science serves the very real purpose of providing hope and inspiration to those suffering pain, ignorance, or fear and to those who may in turn bring innovations of their own into the world. Here is a great slice-of-life look at one such story - the supposed 14th-century caesarean ... or not - and its journalistic and intellectual implications. (Found by way of The History Blog's perhaps less critical look a the story, where the comments are worth reading.)

Television Watching 2

At the same time I am eliminating certain kinds of entertainment, I'm also analyzing what stays, and why it's worthwhile. What I'm realizing is it's simultaneously unsurprising and completely unexpected what "works" for me entertainment-wise, ethically speaking. One stupendously trashy show has struck me particularly.

Among the unsurprising keepers - and unembarrassing ones - are Luke Cage, with some of the best women characters I've seen in a long time, a killer soundtrack, and a team of black writers filling out a fully realized world it's exciting to learn about and inhabit for a while. Jessica Jones and Agents of Shield too, yeah. Trek, of course, but I won't bore anyone with the details; that's another tag entirely. On my DVD shelf are the queasily balanced Caprica (strong female characters, sure, but a creepily sexualized teenager at the center, and an entire ensemble of absolutely bat-splat crazy people all-round) and Battlestar Galactica (I am not overjoyed with the gender issues and the fact it's an overwhelmingly white, eurocentric show, though it really began to explore these things at least, which so much television fears to).

Of course, few people embarrass themselves by liking Luke Cage, a well-received entry in a Marvel Universe which has been well loved as well as blockbuster successful.

Meanwhile, few people would ADMIT what I am about to, but I have to for the purposes of this post.

I watch The Royals. I watch it gleefully, in tandem with a friend of mine whom I shall not name unless they choose to out themselves, and reveling in its soap operatics, its tonguey-cheekiness (sometimes exposing actual nether cheeks - so naughty!), and ... well, I mean. Dame Joan Collins.

Here's the thing about The Royals. Lambasted in a hurry by everyone in need of protecting their cred against its excesses, laughed at for being unrealistic (that's the POINT, rather), and avoided by all except apparently enough millions of viewers to keep it afloat, the series is on its way into a third season and shows no sign of dying on the vine.

This show is Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it's Grand Guignol. It's sumptuously daft, and not pretending remotely to be anything else. It is stocked entirely with ham in every casting, and home to more pouty lower lips than I've seen anywhere else on TV - and that is saying something. It's actually got a bit of heart here and there, and the delirious sets and costumes and performances are just right for the madness of the politics and deception around which the whole thing swirls prettily, like a gaudy fan.

Politics and deception have always made good tube. Dynasty hasn't even got a patch on Her Joanness in this gig. Most addicting-cinematic-TV of the 21st century has traded in exactly this sort of GOTCHA plotting. Joss Whedon has made a career out of it, and everybody likes him.

Not so The Royals.

Which is a shame. Not only is the show a lot more fun than the darker takes on murder and mayhem currently on offer (it doesn't hurt your heart to watch it), it's just as valid in honest ways.

And some other ways too, where there are dark shows doing the same thing and failing in important ways.

To wit: the women.

The Royals is outright run by women. The Prime Minister, the Queen, the Princess, the scheming would-be consorts of the on-again/off-again male heir, the million thieves and killers and hangers-on and lovers and exes ... the only characters here who actually move any pieces on the board are the women.

Oh, sure, current-King Cyrus is a gas to watch, for his chin alone. He's up there with Bruce Payne for greasily gluttonous scenery sneer-chewing, and I adore him all to bits.

But it's the tragically-eye-makeupped, colt-legged Princess Eleanor who's learning her way around real power. It's her mother, Queen Helena, played (if not simply embodied) by the sounds-Patrician-to-most-Americans Elizabeth Hurley, who has the will to do literally anything. It's the Queen's secretary, Rachel, who will pop your eyes with her understated outrages.

And even more importantly: most of the men are merely sitting around looking pretty. Prince Liam is all but non-present even when he tries to look determined. Jasper, the youngest and most impressively-eyebrowed security detail, who spends his time caroming through multiple roles only hoping to be near the princess, all but has "Mr. Fanservice" written all over his wonderfully cliche'd role as would-be protector. And his chemistry with her works both on the swoony and the emotional level.

Even the older fellows, especially those security gents, are awfully nice to look at, for those of us a bit leery of leering at the twentysomethings.

And all of them exist only in relation to the actions of the women, even the king, even the craggy fall guy so dedicated to The Crown that he sticks with being the fall guy even when he's given a pass.

In terms of its gender prominence and sexual politics, The Royals is an outstandingly progressive show. It's still a bit white (some of the people of color from season 1 seem to have disappeared entirely; including a very nice pretty security guard I rather miss) - I mean, if we've rewritten the royal family this radically, why not break the Caucasian monotony - but at least it's forward-looking on something, anything, in a world where we continually regress, culturally. And it's not a small thing. Women are, after all, a significant part of the world population. At least, two key women in The Royals are Black and Indian.

In a world where embarrassing discussions abound regarding Prince Henry's girlfriend, picking apart her ethnicity as if it is in any way relevant to anything at all, it's not the worst thing to see women in the royal milieu living entirely NOT on the terms of any men anywhere.

Imperfectly acted? At times. Overheated? Yes, please, and do turn it up. Ludicrous? Indeed, and loving it. This is a hilarious show, and means to be. Yet its reputation, as far as I have seen, has been formed by people dumb enough to think it is dumb enough to take itself seriously.

It's also a good laugh, and provides a few wonderful things to guess about along the way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Television Watching

Television Without Pity was a bit of an addiction of mine in its day, and after re-watching Battlestar Galactica a year or so back, I hit up TWoP for its recaps.

Reading about an awful lot that happened in that series, written in the shadow of 9/11 but perhaps more resonant still right now, is something almost eerier than "timely" ...

The most stunning aspect being its two Presidents, Laura Roslin (who attempted to steal an election) and Gaius Baltar, a celebrident possessed of superb un-self-awareness, psychological projection, and delusional urgency.

(H)is new plan is to strike a chord with the common man, which is funny because he totally had that, by virtue of being a sexy smart celebrity, until he put everybody in concentration camps.

Now is not the real seat of this post, but it's a good time for it.

Now has been a time of examining at my entertainments categorically, and eliminating some of them. Not my first time doing this (it's been *years* since I could stomach the "special" part of Special Victims Unit - namely, the weekly rape/exploitation/murder of women and children, or the darkness of "Criminal Minds"), but right now my focus is less on darkness than a different kind of cruelty. Right now, I'm eliminating normalization from my life.

Normalization of sexism, racism, homophobia, and anti-intellectualism.

Normalization of trivial and frankly unfunny gay "jokes" such as Big Bang Theory is rife with. That show made me laugh during one of the worst years of my life, and I hung in with it from its earliest days - but the stupid humor about Raj and Howard always annoyed me and never worked. And now I'm flat done with that show. It bends over backward by GENERATIONS to make outdated, stupid, mean jokes that don't work. No more.

Normalization of retrograde gender roles and/or The Stupid Girl (who may be well past 50 years of age) imagery. This ditches almost any reality show not starring RuPaul, and means my slowly-developed habit of allowing anything with Housewives in the title to run while I was doing other things, because it really doesn't require watching, is over. It means Two Broke Girls, not something I can deal with for long given the idiot-plots and buzzy voices, is something I won't deal with at all anymore. Any dating show, ever, in which telegenic fodder proudly displays a profound lack of education or interest in it. Any appearance of Jessica Simpson, not so long ago one of the more powerful vectors of The Stupid Girl in pop culture.

Normalization - indeed, aggrandizement - of stupidity more generally. Not that I consume these things, but shows about Bigfoot, the Merovingian Heresy, popularizations of the ludicrous, demonizations of study and thought. This stuff is EVERYWHERE. It overwhelms critical thought and even taunts the very idea; and I grew up valuing critical thought, by way of being raised by a pack of relentless literalists picking me apart at every turn. (Bless 'em.) The Doctors, gleefully shilling for products they get sued for on a regular basis. Paranormal. Reality. Let that one sink in. Every dating show sustaining the (heteronormative) narrative that women ("girls", almost invariably, in these things) are desperate and stupid and need a sexual relationship to be valid. Hell, even HGTV shows with 30-ish couples featuring young women actively annoyed by homes not featuring granite counters and/or white cabinets, because Maud Knows paint is not something they are equipped to grapple with.

Normalization of all of the above: Archer. A show I ate up with a spoon a couple years ago when it was recommended to me, which I could NOT accept as reflecting - or influencing - actual, functioning human beings, but which so relentlessly flogs its edginess that ... I wonder whether it's edgy or actual, anymore. So much bigotry IS clearly actual, I can't skate anymore, I can't consume what I don't know is really free from harm.

None of my minuscule boycotts means a damn in the wider world, but it's one more attempt of this old lady not merely to woke up (no, that's not a typo) and quite honestly, just to feel better. Funny as Archer was to me, it's essentially mean. Not letting that inside my head eases the tiniest bit of psychic pain in my brain, just as not watching SVU has for so long, refusing to witness rape and cruelty as entertainment.

I watched one single episode of Walking Dead, found it extremely interesting, and will never watch it again, because I just can't take the violence.

Mr. X and I talked about this very recently (probably the birth of this blog post; you'd be surprised how often discussions with him get me writing), and he said, about his own viewing/gaming, "I’ve always been super-resistant to messages in the (non-news) media affecting my views. That probably engendered a certain insensitivity on my part to how others are affected or how views are perpetuated. ... your saying all this makes me wonder if I just didn’t find some of it distasteful and unworthy of support for conscience reasons."

I have always liked that boy for his brainmeats.

The whole basis of some of these entertainments gives new meaning to the term diversion.

I don't want to be diverted anymore.

Monday, November 28, 2016

In the News

More and more lately, entertainment seems to reflect the news - not because it is even possible to be prescient and to write, produce, and release works that could have known what is happening around us just.this.month, but because human behavior is repetitive.

For all we feel stunned by human events, for all predicting what is happening - what WILL happen next - seems impossible, still it is true: nothing is new, under the sun. Perhaps any sun.

And so it is only fair that the news reflects entertainment as well.

Not for the first time, I am brought to mind of Star Trek Deep Space 9's brilliant episode, Duet. This week the story walks among us again in Oskar Groening, the bookkeeper at Auschwitz. No echo at all of the bookkeeper at Gallitep.

I won't add much more than what I observed in that first link, my post above.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Eclectic Music

I often have reason to recall the time I went to a music store in California and bought Billie Holiday, Judas Priest, and Leonard Cohen CDs. The clerk smiled something about me buying gifts, and I said no, these are all for me - pretty sure I got a gleam of respect for the breadth.

It may be a reasonable sample to illustrate just how wide-ranging my tastes are. When I was younger, I'd say, "I grew up in a house with a dad who loved classical, original Broadway musicals (circa 1940s and 50s), and used to wake us up with Switched-On Bach at top volume. My mom was into country and church music. My brother was a punk rocker."

I mean, yeah - of course the elastic broke on whatever bag it was that should have contained my musical tastes.

But I think there's a lot more to it than that. I am intensely easy to bore. Always was. But ...

I'm also easy to interest, if the right odd thing comes along. I still recall the ease with which I could become utterly absorbed in staring down the pattern of the pebbles and mica flecks in the asphalt on the playground, when they had me playing the outfield in kickball. You can get a LOT of absorption-time in when you're not the popular kid, and just what falls in front of your eyeballs (when your eyeballs are perfect and young and can focus or defocus with alacrity).

There was a time in my life I spent almost entirely with musicians. I was still in college, but dating a TOWNIE (gasp - but then, an awful lot of the frat boys were entitled, molest-y jerks), and he was in a band. The music scene where we lived in the Midwest was pretty tight, and very talented, and it was a big interbreeding soup of interesting people I still miss and think of often.

But as dynamic a crowd as we were, we were predominantly white, and pretty much centered on a certain docket of Acceptable Music. Oh sure, they felt it was varied - and I did too, as far as I had forgotten my dalliances with the Dead and disco and the soundtrack from Breakin'. But I can recall the extreme prejudice with which, say, Beloved Ex regarded rap.

Rap and hip-hop (a term we really didn't know, honestly - rap was a blanket for an awful lot of Black music) were NOT music, he felt. All he/we saw was guys posing with their arms crossed. Maybe the unfortunate white-suburban perspective on Flava Flav. Scratching.

Scratching, and sampling, were just STEALING. That wasn't music - it certainly wasn't creation.

And this from a man who was a musician himself. His feeling sprung from a common theme amongst our friends - that "music" involves playing instruments.

Last night, I was struck (not for the first time) by the thought that ... not all instruments have strings, keys, or sticks ...

PBS has been running a series - as so often is the case, excellently researched and peopled, with one hell of a soundtrack - called Soundbreaking. For almost anyone who cares about where music comes from creatively and practically, how it is actually made, its history and impact and the impulses that lead to new music and the ones that come from hearing it, Soundbreaking is immensely, essentially, worthwhile. And I'm not big on the whole "you HAVE to read this/hear this/see this" as a rule.

Last night's episode centered on hip-hop and rap quite a lot, and I was reminded of my periodic obsessions with Rakim, or Tupac, or Nas - of the enjoyment I got as a kid out of Run DMC - of an awful lot of music that wasn't supposed to be interesting to me.

And I realize, one of the million reasons I have never quite been able to lay claim to being a punk, or a goth, or a classic rocker or any one subcultural or pop-cultural thing that strongly associates with any music is that there is no music I'd be happy LIMITING myself to. Sure, I'm not the only person in the world who LOVES combinations like Grandmaster Flash and Warren Zevon and Southern Culture on the Skids (I once dated a guy who was both a huge KISS fan and also Color Me Badd - at the turn of the Millennium, no less, talk about past the sell-by date). But I'm actively, constitutionally incapable of committing to any one music above all others, because I have this stupid fear it'll define me, or I'll lose everything else.

Blame my family for raising me not only eclectic, but literalist. Bastards! :)

So last night, some old white woman bounces around her bedroom thinking, good gravy I am so wrong for this particular bouncing, and just incapable of caring.

I'm like Michael Bolton (not. that. one.).

There is something important, to me, in not accepting the music I'm supposed to be into - not limiting myself to the role of bland, frankly-past-middle-age (I do *not* wish to live to be 100, so I'm not in any sort of middle anymore) suburban woman. And I think, right now, reaching beyond boundaries is perhaps the best thing any American can do.

Where do you cross the lines, or blur them? Where can you bleed out of expectations, and understand a perspective that's not supposed to be yours?

Watch Soundbreaking and realize - or remember - one or two of the places you push your own envelope, break the bubble your everyday life leaves you in.

And maybe get a heck of a laugh at the bit with Sean Puffy Combs. Because that is a cackle-worthy damn DISS, y'all.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

LL Cool R

One of the reasons I love old movies is the truly bizarre things you can find in them.

Ricardo Montalban, in Latin Lovers, is a bit of a surprise to those of us who grew up knowing him from Fantasy Island; perhaps less so for those whose formative experience of his work was as the original, inimitable Khan Noonien Singh.

As he romances Lana Turner in this movie, he is one of the wittiest and most attractive men I've ever seen on screen. For anyone who likes that sort of thing, I'd give this a high recommendation!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

This ...

... is what got me to log back onto Twitter for the first time in a week and a half ...