I promised y’all a “what I’ve been reading” post an embarrassment of weeks ago, so a “what I’ve been reading” post I’ll give you, dammit. And with my new red blazer from Carla Sue Vintage providing a perfect pun, no less! Here’s what I’ve been enjoying the past month or so.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell | I tend to skip anything described as “Harry Potter for [insert demographic]”. Harry Potter’s fine and all, but I like my magic much more eldritch. So imagine my surprise that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – aka “Harry Potter for adults” – has fast become one of my favorite books. Yeah, there’s wizards, but they might as well be an afterthought to the groundswell of so much more. And yes, that “more” includes properly unsettling fae. No cheerful winged abominations here.
What I found most interesting about JS&MN, I think, was that it actually made me root against secular Enlightenment values. Despite my tastes in fiction, I’m pretty much a skeptic in all things. A lady of logic and reason. The titular Mr Norrell, though, in representing secular modernity, is such a fusty old jackass that one finds oneself screaming, “just shut up and use faerie magic, you fool!” In standing up for logic, he’s the worst kind of prescriptivist. I didn’t even realize until I’d finished the book that my usual alliances had been totally upended. That’s damn good storytelling.
Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America | I’ve got a couple chapters to go yet, but so far it’s quite solid. I’ve always enjoyed social history, and for a while now I’ve been particularly interested in Puritan societies, especially their sexual norms. To that end, Intimate Matters told me damn near everything I’d wanted to know. It’s an academic, not a pop, text, and therefore quite dense, but fascinating once you commit to biting in. Who knew that Puritans weren’t quite as, well, Puritanical as they’re made out? They proscribed premarital sex, but once you were hitched, pleasure was an important part of marriage. The notion of women as chaste and passionless didn’t really take hold until a few generations later, when the Industrial Revolution began to separate male and female “spheres”. With more young people working away from home, women were more vulnerable to pregnancy and abandonment than they had been in the family-centered past; parents instilled sexual hesitancy in their daughters in the name of keeping them safe.
It blows my mind that seemingly inexplicable social forces map out so neatly in hindsight. Humans are pretty predictable, honestly. I wonder what they’ll say about 2016 in fifty years.
Cold Hand in Mine | I bought this Robert Aickman story collection on the spot after seeing that it contained my favorite work of his, “The Hospice”. I’m only two stories in, but I am very pleased to find them both spiritual successors to said Hospice. Aickman is one of my favorite authors first because he’s just plain weird, and second because he gives me that feeling precious few authors give me: the feeling of that could be mine. Aickman’s work feels distinctly like something I am capable of creating, a sensibility I’ll soon be able to master. It gives me something to strive for.
Blazer: ’40s vintage, via Carla Sue Vintage
Blouse: ’50s vintage, via 1919 Vintage
Hat: ’50s vintage, via Twice Upon a Time
Skirt: ’50s vintage, thrifted
Shoes: gift from Kristina!