The Wide, Wide World

Today in weird old children’s books! (Which I like to read while I’m sick, and I’ve had a cold all week.) The Wide, Wide World (1850) by Susan Warner was the first book published in America to sell over one million copies! It’s the book that Jo March was reading in Little Women when someone discovers her reading and crying in a tree! Girls in *other* books are often reading it too!

The Wide, Wide World starts out in a tense, claustrophobic situation where 10 year old Ellen is hanging out with her mother who is obviously dying of consumption. (The dad is an indifferent and kind of scary figure – barely there.) The mom has to go overseas for her health so they plan to send Ellen to her aunt in the country. Ellen devotedly makes toast and tea for her mother and tries (unsuccessfully ) not to cry and to love Jesus best.

The crowning glory of this book is probably in these first few chapters when they finally stop crying and praying (and coughing) long enough to leave the house on a shopping trip to get Ellen a Bible. (The mom sells her treasured ring to be able to afford it!) Agonizingly long bible-choosing scene. The mom also buys her a truly wondrous mahogany writing-desk with a zillion little drawers and compartments & all the things to go in them brand new. Pencils! different note-papers! Ink and ink powder and a screw top jar for the ink! (Even some pounce!) Then, surprise, a work-basket equally well provisioned. I wonder if Warner was fantasizing about having the best possible writing desk, or didn’t quite know how to go about moving the plot forward and had to fill up the chapter and used her own gorgeous little desk as an example?!

Then an utterly terrifying journey with some strange family who are not very genteel. They mock her bonnet. Luckily on the river boat she meets a kind old gentleman on deck who finds her crying and comforts her by discussing Jesus at GREAT LENGTH and then sets her to read the text of some hymns. Yay, he even gives her the tiny hymnbook which he’s helpfully marked up with pointers and explanations! By the end of the journey as night falls I think she’s cuddled up in his arms?! He never even says what his name is. I picture him as a very whiskery man in a top hat with his pockets just STUFFED full of weird religious tracts.

Then a stressful stay at an inn. The travelling companion lady lets Ellen just fall asleep on the floor and goes down to dinner. But the nice servant girl conspires with the inn’s chambermaid and they make up a nice bed for her & bring her fancy dinner. Huzzah! (No one mentions Jesus. Just how polite and sweet Ellen is. )

The next day they brutally yeet Ellen and her trunk in the town square of Uhhhh I can’t remember. Townville. Clearly we are in upstate New York though. She gets to ride in an ox-cart to her aunt’s house and then terrifyingly the ox cart driver tells her to just walk in. The aunt had no idea she was coming. OK this is getting too long so I’ll just say: The aunt is a sharp and hard hearted person, the ox-cart driver Mr. Van Brunt ends up befriending her, there are like a zillionty great characters (ox-cart guy’s old mother, charismatic Swiss French lady who lives on top of the mountain, her feckless, tricky and wild granddaughter Nancy, Alice Humphreys the young lady who is the minister’s daughter. Alice adopts Ellen as her sister and talks to her constantly about Jesus so they are BFFs. Then we meet Alice’s brother John ***DUH DUh DUNNNNNNNN*** ***super dramatic entrance music*** who is studying to be a minister and who LOVES to tell Ellen how to behave and truly be good and who also encourages (as Alice does) her education, her questions about science, the refraction of light, etc. Meanwhile, she and Alice learn perfect French from the lady on the mountain. She goes with Alice and John to a house party at their friends’? cousins’? mansion, Ventnor. Then she goes home to alternate staying with Aunt Fortune (the mean one) and Alice.

I can’t help seeing some of this from Aunt Fortune’s point of view. She works her ass off and is a perfect housekeeper and has to take care of a useless religious nut who cries all the time and Ellen’s nice genteel sweetness is never for her but only for strangers who don’t do all their own work. Anyway, at some point Ellen has to take care of the Aunt and the house mostly by herself for a month even doing the super difficult churning. Aunt still terrible though for opening her letters from her mom and not letting her have them for days. (Even when her mom just DIED.) Oh yeah her dad is also lost at sea.

Let us fast forward through the scenes at Ventnor and also when she finally gets a completely perfect pony.

Suddenly things take a completely bizarre turn. Nancy brings a hidden letter to Ellen! It says her mother’s dying command is that Ellen should go to her maternal grandmother in Scotland who is super rich! Who no one has ever heard of because they were estranged! Whaaaaat! But Ellen wants to stay with John her “brother” (i.e. the youngest and hottest creepy jesus loving control freak in her life) But it is her duty to obey her parents! OMG!!!! She is packed off to Scotland immediately of course. Impossible to tell how old she is but by this time maybe 18 or so. Her creepy uncle in Edinbugh adopts her (How many times COULD a person be adopted, Ellen wondered to herself) and makes her drink wine (GASP) and doesn’t take Jesus seriously — all the Scottish relatives make fun of Yankees and the backwoods – forbid her jealously to talk about her “brother” – Well, you can guess what happens at the end.

A++ excellent totally bizarro book; clearly L.M. Montgomery did a serious Jesusectomy on it to get herself going. Despite my alienation from all the religious stuff I liked Ellen’s moral quandries as she tries to be nice to people and do her duty even when they are horrible, despite her fierce temper.

JUST FOUND OUT that there is a 53rd chapter that wasn’t published until the 1980s (thank you Feminist Press) I need this! They have this edition in the Main library downtown for in-library use only so I’m going to have to go on pilgrimage!! Very exciting. I mean, obviously it’s just like Susan marrying John her “brother” which was only hinted at coyly in chapter 52.

Reading The Cruel Way

I am reading Ella Maillart’s The Cruel Way, about her road trip from Switzerland to Kabul in 1939 along with her friend Annemarie Schwartzenbach. This book was in theory free from University of Chicago, but I ended up buying it after several failed attempts to get the free book in a readable form, having installed several ugly and pointless pieces of bad software which I then had to uninstall. Better to buy the book and crack the DRM myself! Ridiculous!

Maillart is an ethnographer and writer, is interesting, often fantastically racist, hates Hitler, and is trying to help the famously “androgynous” men’s-suit-wearing Schwartzenbach clean up from a heroin addiction (what better thing to do than bring someone straight to Afghanistan????!!!) and get over some sort of stormy lesbian heartbreak. While I hoped initially they were lovers, now I think not – Schwartzenbach seems to have some other affairs along the way, though. Their relationship is pretty cool though. I enjoyed the moment where Schwartzenbach moans that Ella is more famous because her books have been translated (even though Schwartzenbach had more publications). Still true and no one seems to have translated her to English yet. Also fascinating, Maillart’s recordings of sentiment from people in various countries about Hitler, Mussolini, Britain, the US, Russia on the eve of war.

Neat stuff looked up in Wikipedia along the way
* Windcatchers of Hyderabad http://localcode.org/2017/03/windcatcher-passive-cooling-and-cultural-identity/ https://www.fieldstudyoftheworld.com/searching-windcatchers-hyderabad/

* The Tomb of Kabus and the Qabus-Nama

So many other things but it’s now a week later and I have moved on to read some other things! Oh well, I’ll post this anyway.

Reading Richard Hughes

I started reading Richard Hughes with High Wind in Jamaica (or, The Innocent Voyage) which was so strange and charming and unsettling that I had to set out to read this guy’s other books as well. In High Wind the adults in the book (and the reader) realize how amoral the children are – they’re terrifying, not innocent. You get a small taste of the protagonist, a 10 year old girl, starting to become conscious in an adult way. Glimpses of what we might think of as the reality of her situation appear to her and then melt away like mist.

My memories of these moments were like looking at mortality directly (since not only would I die but, the continuity of existence meant that the “me” of that moment would disappear and be forgotten) so I would vow to myself to remember particular things and write them someday so as not to lose the self of that time (paved over by some blithe future me.)

Next I tackled his incomplete trilogy, The Human Predicament. Also good and disturbing, with half the books taking place in England and the U.S. (with a detour to Morocco) and half in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. It is pretty wild to read a novel that has Hitler as a character making his cameos. Hughes can get very digressive in a Melville sort of way, prosing on about philosophy and psychology, which I enjoy but I’m sure not everyone will. Augustine, our young protagonist, wanders around rootlessly having just missed the Great War by a hair as an 18 year old cadet when Armistice was declared. Cut off from the generation of men above him who experienced the war directly, and having grown up expecting to die in the trenches, he had no plan for how to live his life.

I was thinking of Anthony Powell and his protagonist Jenkins (comparing him a bit unfavorably with Hughes’s narrative point of view which hovers & dips into many people’s minds, crossing class & gender & other boundaries)… Then wondered if Hughes is a character in Dance to the Music of Time and if so… who…. I have to poke around and think about it. He was a bit older than Powell so they weren’t at Oxford at the same time. Bonus tangent: find and read The Loom of Youth by Alec Waugh to find the controversial queer bits.

I’m now in mid-read of In Hazard, a novel based on a steamship caught in the 1932 Cuba hurricane, which is even more obviously Melville-ish than the others. I wondered about the casual racism of the British seamen towards the Chinese crew members and then happily the point of view switched to some of the Chinese crew, without making me cringe. We first see the thoughts of a young man, P’ing Tiao, praying to T’ien Fei. Then a young Christian guy Henry Tung, trying to keep up the spirits of his mates with tall tales, and then the view switches to Ao Ling, P’ing Tiao’s friend, who isn’t religious at all and who lived through famine and became a follower of Mao. (I enjoyed Hughes’ asides comparing Chiang Kai-shek to Hitler – calling him the first fascist revolutionary whose first act was to start shooting leftists). Oh, god, then the cringe when the Brits come down the hatch and start talking the worst condescending pidgin (they are terrified of mutiny).

Interesting books – I’m so sad not to have the rest of book 3 of The Human Condition (there are 12 chapters of it.)

Inadequate notes on recent reading

Am I ready to read The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley? Do I want a severe mindfuck experience? YES ABSOLUTELY.

*** hours later ***

Holy shit! This is a really good book. Very intense! Makes me think of Delany. Yes, and all the other logical things to think of like The Forever War. (And that Mary Gentle series too…) It’s so tight and beautifully structured & dense. I felt a little tempted to chart it out (maybe on a re-read!) Hurley just gets better & better as a writer.

Next book: Finder by Suzanne Palmer – Super fun space opera! If you like the Expanse I bet you will enjoy this interstellar repo man & his comrades.

The Book of Flora by Meg Elison – Another freaking awesome book, last in the trilogy started off by Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I nommed it for the Tiptree immediately on finishing it. Read the whole trilogy together – Book 1 stands on its own but the second and third books are better if you read them together (so that you don’t forget all the stuff that happened in the Book of Etta, which is important for Book of Flora). It is sort of a gorgeous gulliver’s travels of post apocalypse societies and how people of various genders and queernesses adapt to those different cultures & their rules (and keep leaving to try and found something new). Must add how much I loved the Librarians, and also Cheyenne – I would definitely visit though not join either!

Next book. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. It’s ok, nicely written, but left me a little flat. It’s a little too easy for the protagonist to be forgiven and forgive herself for her actions and the whole book was so heteronormative that it didn’t grab me. I have another thing to say but it’s a little spoilery that I’ll put it in the first comment to this post.

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach – Good, so good, but so unquestioningly and unnecessarily sexist. Why must people. So disappointing. (Like Gene Wolfe – such claims to all compassing profundity while having this absolutely ludicrous blind spot for gender.) When you hit the ending bit with the tall blond young woman and the archivist you will scream and mentally throw your book across the room. If you bracket all that and just kind of pretend everything is like some surreal leave it to beaver universe then it’s a nifty book.

Still reading those Morland books!

I’m on about book 26 or so. World War I is about to start, a bunch of damn Morlands just got onto the Titanic, and one of them is getting arrested at protests for women’s suffrage and force-fed in jail. Fairly intense!

Again… if you read these I recommend just skipping the U.S. Civil War one as it’s a hot racist mess. Go right back to England where this series belongs….. whew! Though, well, not like she doesn’t also manage to somehow have the Boer Wars be lily white as well (how?)

I had 2 days of conference-going after an active weekend of concert-going and I’m now having just a bit of a flare up feeling in various joints so I spent the day in bed. Sucks but I hope to be up and around quickly! But I don’t feel much like writing. Tired and achy.

A Few Hours in a Far-Off Age

I’m enjoying Henrietta Dugdale‘s utopian SF, A Few Hours in a Far-Off Age. Millions of years in the future, we and the disembodied narrator follow along as highly evolved humans discourse on education and the history of the Christian Blood Age. Australia sank into the sea and a new continent, Alethia, rose, though Melbourne is rising again and has this giant museum/school exhibit hall built on it with what sound like fancy study carrels next to elaborate dioramas of “torture instruments” ie corsets, low necked dresses, and high heels; or just like, men being sexist while drinking the Demon Alcohol and denying women a right to education whilst cheering on their various wars and not doing any of the housework.

The evolved teenagers (2 per family) gratifyingly listen to the smiling lectures of their evolved moms, then we weirdly follow one of them, Veritée, to her private study where she divests herself of our rational dress outer garments (loose trousers with a tunic and a short jacket, none of which are constraining in any way) to reveal her silk undergarments (similar to the top ones), does calisthenics, studies next to her giant pet tiger-dog, has some vegetarian food (delivered by the one family servant who is educated, evolved, and only works till noon after which she goes off for recreation and philosophizing, and who emerges bearing the trays of fruit and bread from a weird mirrored pillar with a spiral staircase). Veritée then has a bath (slightly creepily we see her beauteous form in the bath – better than any Blood Era statue of beauty since unconstrained by Torture Instruments and well calisthenicked.)

Some of the teenagers then fly off in an aircar (run by some sort of power plus kept safe by the Repelling Engine) to the beaches of the West Coast at 80 miles per hour. They frolic, have a picnic, and probably discuss Evolution some more. In one interlude we are treated to a description of the inventresses of the Repelling Engine (inspired by the corpses which used to rain down from aircar crashes!) They go on a test flight and then are welcomed by parades, honors, costly gifts, job offers (which they refuse unless they both get the job together) as the cheering crowds celebrate the new age of safer air travel.

Space travel is mentioned as a possible future but not really given much thought.

Henrietta does not seem to like church or the organized religion of her time, or the “myth-men” who run it, much.

I have returned to our earth. Oh, what cruel disorder here reigns! Truth crashed and persecuted! “Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone,” flaunting in every myth temple! howling in every community! checking progress at every avenue.

Fools and rogues! You who profess so much love and reverence for your skeletons. I tell you it is all useless that you noisily rattle their offensive bones before my vision. That bright light of truth from the far-off age shines to me through your blackest screens! Go, hug your loathsome relics of a loathsome era in privacy—if you can—and say not again to my ears what you dare not utter to the Infinite in your solitude.

Ha! I see I “obey” and do the “work” that was commanded, for the light shines more brightly!

A dream? What is dreaming? Some explain most learnedly how it is caused by certain conditions of the body. May not some dreams cause those certain conditions?

Dream, or what else it has been, I see always the beautiful light bright with truth and hope. No one can extinguish it!

Hot springs here I come!

I’m so excited to go to the hot springs, it’s all I can think about!

I re-read Sorcerer to the Crown recently & The True Queen by Zen Cho & heartily recommend them! They’re so much fun. I hope there will be more!

NOw reading Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World, by Miguel León-Portilla, and some other books – Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature, pretty interesting (the footnotes are where all the action is – I wish the footnotes were on each page instead of at the end of each work.)

What else. I’m pretty brain dead today. Milo is back from his 3 day camping LARP so I’m sure I’ll hear all about that soon! I’m going out for a drink and then plan to read until Danny gets home from LibrePlanet later tonight.

Spent some time looking over this May First stuff. Also reading about Cooperation Jackson.

Midnight descent to nothingness

I had an intense dream where I was one of the last people left in the universe. We were leaving things behind as we went toward nothingness. It was especially hard for me to leave my glasses, shoes, and sleep meds behind, as that seemed so final. We had to say goodbye to various experiences and aspects of life, like “Well, that’s the last time I’ll do THAT!” Very Inanna’s descent to the underworld feeling.

Four or five of us were trying to accept what was happening as we went through the process together. I kept resisting internally but persuading myself again that struggling for just a few more years was silly when the whole universe was ending. Then I’d start drawing on the desk I was sitting at with a sharpie little hearts and stars and I hoped Danny would see it and know it was a message to him.

Some of us wondered if we could stay for the birth of the new universe even if it would be lonely and painful to have survived it. I was trying to comfort a woman who was regretting this journey to say even if we fix it so that we come back it won’t really be us as we are now and we will never exist again because every factor that has made is who we are would have to be in place in the new universe. And, that is normal and just part of our existence and we have to accept mortality and the beautiful and sad aspects of how ephemeral everything is.

Thanks, weird dream, I guess! It’s very strange to be here this morning after experiencing that process so intensely.

I woke up at 1am and read various forums and tumblr for a while, until I felt less unsettled. Back to sleep.

I wonder if this dream was from finishing reading Zen Cho’s The True Queen just before bedtime?

The Stack

Danny just handed me a giant book called The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, saying, “Just open that anywhere and start reading.” 20 seconds later I squawked OH MY GOD!!! WHAT IS THIS! WHAAAAAT!!!!!??!!!

He always brings me good things!

It’s very interesting! I kind of want to re-buy it on kindle (it’s too big for me to hold up in bed) and dig in. This is going to be a wild ride.

Derailed by my free bookshelf

Someone put a faded booklet on my free bookshelf called “The Hope Slide Story” by Frank W. Anderson (Frontier Book No. 12). Looks like maybe the mid 60s though there is no date. The back of the booklet lists some great stuff in the series – Murder on the Plains! The Lost Lemon Mine! Regina’s Terrible Tornado! Reminds me of stuff I used to unearth in the basements of various libraries I worked in, in the 80s.

I settled in just now to eat dinner over this book. It starts out introducing its innocent victims or survivors, not sure which are which yet; they’re farmers, truckers, factory workers. I assume something dramatic is going to happen to these trucks. Are these Russian names? What’s up with that? Then I hit,

During the disturbances of 1953 in the Kootenays, Mary Kalmakoff had been one of the 103 Doukhobor children taken by the government and put in a special dormitory opened at New Denver. She was then in Grade 3. . . . On February 28th, 1958, 5 days after her 15th birthday, Mary left the New Denver internment camp and returned to her parents.”

I had to stop and look this up. What disturbances? Doukhobar?

So, Ukranian/Georgian/Russian Christian pacfist sect who believe in communal living and who emigrated in an enormous swoop to Saskatchewan where they formed special communal homesteads and, while non violent, were strangely into sectarian fighting via midnight arson. The Freedomites (Svobodniki or Sons of Freedom) also seemed to be into nude protest marches against the Community and Independent Doukhobors. Unclear who was bombing whom and why but a lot of it seemed to be protest against the government. They were still bombing railway bridges while naked in 1961…. wow. Well, I guess I’d bomb things naked too if they took my kids off to a prison camp and called it “Operation Snatch”. How horrible! But, they were originally marching naked to protest being given land that was too cold for crops (and other issues, like not wanting to sign a loyalty oath or register births and deaths, and I think also over not wanting to split their communities to register individually for land ownership.)

The Hope Slide Story certainly breezed right past this bit of history in its rush to bring together the cast of characters on the highway, “unaware that somehwere on the dark road ahead a yellow convertible, a hay truck and an oil tanker were rapidly moving towards a tragic rendezvous with fate.”

Very fried from a long day at work, I’m going to chill out with this amazing booklet and look everything up as I go.

Spoilers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_Slide

UPDATE:

I’m back just a few pages later as there was another breezy mention of the Japanese internment camp prisoners “evacuated from the coastal cities” forced to build the very road the Hope Slide is about to slide down on top of. Why do Canadians have a reputation of being “nice” again?

Further update: The Japanese prisoners also were brought out to do some woodland firefighting.

SILENT HELL: Uh oh. the yellow convertible has run into a small snowslide about 15 feet high that went across the highway. The oil tanker guy, Stephanishin, is walking over there with his 6 volt lamp. I love this book! Then, a new chapter: SILENT HELL. Seismographs jump in distant laboratories! Explanation of the hillside and its 60 million cubic yards of dirt, rocks, snow, and trees, hanging above the heads of the innocent 4 people below!
They all go to warm up in the oil tanker. The hay truck guy pulls up and hangs out under the avalanche some more! The young guys try to go free the convertible. I think they are toast. I would not be messing with that baby avalanche! Its mama might come next!

OMG now a whole Greyhound bus. Another bus! Uh oh. They are going to go have a look at that yellow convertible. But Bernie, Mary, Dennis, and Thomas the hay bale truck driver were still alive at this point, in the oil tanker with the motor running for heat.

The landslide has now swooshed past and then splashed backwards lifting up the trucks and carrying them away.

An hour later everyone else shows up and starts to realize how big the slide was. Search and Rescue to the rescue! A helicopter arrives! A mountie dog named Prince! They built up the rescue a lot but only pulled out one dead body and never found the others. THE END.