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What I've Finished Reading

Some of the stories in Chicks in Chainmail are still witty and fun, but the main source of enjoyment for me was as a window into the recent past. It has something of the same feeling of strained currency as "Uncle Charlie's Poems," (from the 1890s) and I'm not sure what it is that makes it feel strained rather than simply of its time. There's a lot of name-dropping of Hot Topics. Names dropped include: hacking, credit cards, the foster care system, ADD, divorce settlements, working mothers, Mel Gibson as heartthrob. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it - it was very relaxing weekend reading.

Also: Chicago by Gaslight, Samuel Paynter Wilson:

"Get Busy With Emily." Isn't that a picture for you! O, you praying fathers and mothers, how many of you have witnessed the performance of this nasty, suggestive, pig-pen show? How about your Emily, Mary or Martha, who is being dragged down by these immoral shows? It should be "Get Busy with Your City Officers."

This is an insubstantial expose of "vice" in all its forms, by a member of the Douglas Neighborhood Club, circa 1910. I couldn't tell at first whether it was a parody or not, but I think it's for real, just poorly written. The story he tells about a woman who almost escapes brothel life only to be thrown back by a nastily pious employer is genuinely affecting. Wilson uses it to encourage rich women to look out for their "fallen sisters," but doesn't let it dampen his enthusiasm for turning sex workers out of doors.

It was worth skimming, but apart from a few notes - like the intriguingly DISGUSTING and OBSCENE title of this musical comedy, and some rants about chop suey palaces and ice cream parlors (some of which may have served alcoholic drinks disguised as fancy milkshakes, if that wasn't just a fever dream of Wilson), it wasn't specific enough to keep as a reference book.

Did 1910 have vanity presses? I was trying to figure out why this insubstantial and vague-yet-extremely-local screed would be printed on such unusually good paper.

What I'm Reading Now

Herself Surprised by Joyce Cary is the fictional autobiography of Sara Monday, who appears in The Horse's Mouth as the woman Gulley had such a grand time beating in the old days. There’s a little bit of a Daniel Defoe homage here, since it’s narrated by Sara in the wake of her trial for theft, sometime after she became housekeeper to one of a series of hapless older men.

“Know thyself,” the chaplain says, and it is true that I never knew myself till now.”

Yet I thought I knew myself very well, and that I was humble enough, and I remember the first time I saw myself in my true body. [. . .] It stopped me dead with the blow. I knew I was not a beauty, but till that hour I had not seen myself with the world's eye. I had made a love of my nose, snub and broad though it was, and my eyes which were nothing but brown. Are not any eyes wonderful if you will look at them alone and forget the rest?

It's good. Sara's a narrator who is doing her best to sort out the mysteries of life for her interlocutors, but she's been awfully busy this whole time and you can't expect her to put everything aside for you, a stranger, when she could barely do right by the people she loved.

What I Plan to Read Next

MAYBE A Single Man and a glorious return to the 99 Novels list? Maybe something else.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2017 11:14 am (UTC)

I adored A Single Man so much when I read it this year. It's such a wonderful book.

Jun. 17th, 2017 11:45 am (UTC)
Well, good! I'm looking forward to it - I loved Isherwood's fictional autobiography.
Jun. 16th, 2017 02:42 pm (UTC)
They knew how to make books then!

I don't know about vanity presses, but I do have a few books that are magazines (oldest being 1920s French) that someone has had bound and made into a hardback, so I guess those book binders would print too?
Jun. 17th, 2017 11:52 am (UTC)
There are some very nice books made in 1910, and also some awful cheap ones with staples in them. This one seems a little too nice to me - the paper is just a little too thick, for example, so that it feels like an error in judgment.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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