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text 2018-11-11 19:15
Not a formal status report, but . . . . .
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

I knew I wouldn't be able to stay up and read very long because I was really, really tired when I went to bed.  I did, however, want to start this book.

 

There's no question that this is a gothic romance.  The publisher put it right on the cover!  It's compared to Du Maurier's classic Rebecca. The artwork is almost typical gothic, with the spooky house and single lighted window.  The young woman, however, is in close-up portrait rather than full-length with windblown hair and gown.

 

And the author is male.

 

There are also quotes from a number of reviews published in real newspapers.  Hmmmmmm.  Gothic romances did not get reviewed in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the 1960s.

 

I only read 12 pages, not quite the first whole chapter, before I just couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, but that was enough to confirm my suspicions that I had read this book before, decades ago.  One small incident ticked my memory, something I would not have consciously remembered but that came back to me the instant I read it. 

 

There were only two ways I could have read this book in the 1960s.  It was either condensed by Reader's Digest, or it was a Doubleday Book Club selection.  My parents subscribed to both for a number of years at that time.  I read the condensed version of The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglas Wallop as well as his later novel, Ocean Front, though I don't know if that was book club or condensed.  I do remember the cover, however, so maybe it was a book club edition.  I also read two other book club offerings, The Daughter of the Pangaran and Summer Doctor.  I remember details of both those books, and they were published about the same time as The Tulip Tree, so I'm more comfortable guessing I read a book club edition.

 

So in 1963, a gothic romance written by a man would be published in hardcover by Doubleday and be reviewed numerous newspapers, be selected for their subscription book club, and later be republished in paperback.  No doubt Howard Rigsby earned a great deal more for his gothic romance novel than most of the women writing paperback gothics.

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review 2018-11-10 18:42
The Everyday World as Problematic . . . and a problem
The Everyday World As Problematic (Northeastern Series on Feminist Theory) - Dorothy E. Smith

This is a superb analysis of the intertwined issues of gender, gender roles, and power.

 

One of the most interesting graduate classes I took at ASU was "Sociology of Everyday Life," for which this was one of the texts. 

 

Sadly, much of our time in class was flat-out ruined by a trio of middle-school teachers who were more interested in chatting (loudly) than in listening to any discussion.  They became an informal example of how "ruling relations" affect our everyday lives: Accustomed to being in charge in a classroom, they transferred their sense of authority to our classroom.  The professor, being only an adjunct and therefore lacking in authority, hesitated to demand their attention or call them out for their disruptive behavior.

 

I had no such reticence.  I got sick and tired of it one evening (it was a night class) and told them to shut up.  They were sooooo insulted!  Who was I to tell them to shut up when the professor himself hadn't said anything?  Well damn it, I was paying for that class and I wanted to get something out of it beyond hearing their problems with their students.

 

We were treated to a special Saturday session for which Dorothy Smith and another sociologist were brought in.  One of the things I remembered most about her presentation was a diagram showing how texts -- meaning books, magazines, movies, advertisements, etc. -- are never static because they get interpreted by those who consume them.  Therefore it's virtually impossible to evaluate any text solely on its own merits without considering the context of both the producer of the text and the consumer.

 

Needless to say, this applies to the reviewing of books: Regardless what the author may have intended the book to be or to mean or to do, the reader's reaction is an independent and valid context.

 

 

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review 2018-11-09 18:11
All the Happy Endings - and the power of popular culture
All the Happy Endings - Helen Papashvily All the Happy Endings - Helen Papashvily

If popular culture weren't so politically powerful, we wouldn't have so much of it.

 

I read All the Happy Endings as part of the research for my master's thesis, and it was one of those old books that I could never find a copy of for myself.  So I brazenly photocopied it.  Now that I'm scanning these photocopies into PDF format, I'm taking another look at some of my notes, too.

 

Papashvily focuses on the "domestic novels" of the 19th century, but also on the writers and the readers.  She sees enormous social and -- more important -- political impact from these seemingly harmless tales.  She claims they were in essence guidelines for domestic revolution.

 

If indeed they were, but if their influence only went as far as a revolution confined to the private space of hearth and home, did they encourage women to become independent, or did they instead reinforce the patriarchal status quo by making women believe in an illusion of domestic - and therefore matrimonial -- power?

 

There has been so much talk lately about why women -- and yes specifically white women -- so often vote against their own best interests.  It may in fact be that they aren't, because those women have a very different definition of their own best interests.  And that definition may lie in some -- but not necessarily all -- of those happy endings.

 

Shelved for a re-read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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text 2018-10-22 22:22
My "used" copy arrived from ThriftBooks today
Edging Women Out: Victorian Novelists, Publishers, and Social Change - Gaye Tuchman,Nina E. Fortin

The dust jacket's spine is faded, as though this book sat on a sunny shelf for too many years.

 

Other than that, it's virtually new.  Not a single mark anywhere.

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review 2018-10-21 05:39
The Conjurer compared, and fails - but fills the Amateur Sleuth square
The Conjurer (Martha Beale Mysteries) - Cordelia Frances Biddle

In truth, I skimmed a great deal of the last 20%.  The story itself ended at 89%, with the rest being historical notes and a preview of the next Martha Beale "mystery."

 

I don't watch soap operas and I know next to nothing about Philadelphia social history, so whether or not Cordelia Frances Biddle's name recognition contributed to whatever success this book might have enjoyed is beyond my knowledge.  I don't care, either.  As far as I'm concerned, the book was an utter failure.

 

The weakness of the plot and the unlikeability of the characters brought the rating down to two stars at absolute best.  The present tense narrative dropped it another full point.  At the moment it's sitting at one-star but that may not hold.

 

Martha Beale, daughter and heiress to Lemuel Beale, is part of 1840s Philadelphia society.  That set seems to have little to recommend it or redeem it of its sins of greed.  At the other end of society, there are the child prostitutes, the beggars, the criminals.  There seems to be nothing in between.

 

And that's where Biddle lost me. 

 

At first, I compared her to Dickens, then a bit later to Hugo.  But they were writing of their own contemporaries and for their contemporaries.  Caleb Carr, author of the New York City-set The Alienist and The Angel of Death, wrote of the past, like Biddle.  So as I compared The Conjurer to the other works, I kept finding less and less to like.

 

I sat back and considered just the element of the mysteries.  Biddle brings in a lot of loose threads to weave her tale, but in doing so, she makes the whole solution more the result of blind chance than of any kind of detecting. Well, blind chance and the utter stupidity of the criminals.

 

That there were so many criminals in the highest circles of society was a bit unrealistic, if only because Biddle didn't show the other side.  Her story was of almost unrelenting depression.

 

There was some hopefulness at the end, but even that was tempered with tragedy, as poor people who tried to do something good were ultimately destroyed. 

 

I'm not inclined to read either of the other two Martha Beale mysteries, though I have them.  I don't need any more of that kind of depressing fare.

 

 

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