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Throughout my years studying American history Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin were names that appeared in the literature but often only in connection to the men they were associated with. In fact it’s often only Victoria who is mentioned due to criticism of the minister Henry Ward Beecher and his affair with Elizabeth Tilton. Victoria and Tennie are also mentioned in passing discussions surrounding the suffragist movement but because the two sister led such scandalous lives, often times their role is downplayed. In this account, Myra MacPherson gives the sisters the full attention they deserve.
For starters I had no idea that Victoria and Tennie were the first women to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street and were quite successful at it. In addition to being outspoken supporters of the suffragist movement, both sisters were also advocates of free love and legalizing prostitution, both of which were not popular views to be held by women at the time. For all their progressive thought however, both sisters were still opposed to abortion and in favour of eugenics falling in line with mainstream opinions on both those social issues.
MacPherson in her account traces the sisters’ lives from childhood and their involvement with the spiritualism movement, through their ventures as stock brokers, their work towards women’s rights and Victoria’s Presidential campaign, to both of their deaths and legacy. The book was entertaining and informative but it’s true strength lies in the epilogue where MacPherson ties what Tennie and Victoria were attempting to accomplish to the current “War on Women.” I will end with this quote from the author:
“In the end, we come full circle, back to 1870 when the sisters argued that the vote alone was not enough; women need to be elected and in positions of power.” With the United States coming up to an election year, it will be interesting to see what happens.
This is third and final installment of Grossman’s trilogy, and frankly I was a bit disappointed in it. As with the other two books, this was about the futility of essentially everything, and it felt like Grossman got a bit lazy. Also there was definitely not enough of Julia who had very quickly become my favourite character in the previous book. There are spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read this, stop now.
While Quentin is a bit older now, he’s still pretty mopey as he works as a Brakebills professor for a short spell before inevitably being fired due to some illegitimate use of magic. We meet Plum, a spunky young student who also gets expelled, but out of all the characters in this series she was probably my least favourite. I liked all the parts in Fillory with Janet and Elliot, even Josh and Poppy are ok, but I couldn’t stand Quentin and Plum in the real world.
Essentially Quentin decided to try and create his own world as Fillory is dying and in the process brings Alice back. I’m still unsure how I feel about this decision as, while I liked Alice, I had kind of made my peace with her being gone. Bringing her back also seemed out of line with what Grossman was trying to do. That and of course there’s a happy ending with Quentin saving the day. For all his harping on other Fantasy series, Grossman ends his the exact same way as the others, Fillory is saved, Quentin and Alice get to live happily ever after, and Julia continues livinge her existence as a demi-God (But really, where was she the rest of the book!)
Overall I enjoyed the trilogy, and while I guess the happy ending works, i never thought I’d be rooting against everything working out. It would have been nice if Grossman had just had Fillory die and everyone forced to adapt, although I guess maybe then it would have been too expected.
In lieu of a “further reading” section, I leave you with two of my favourite quotes from the book.
“It was funny about magic, how messy and imperfect it was. When people said something worked like magic they meant that it cost nothing and did exactly what you wanted it to. But there were lots of things magic couldn’t do. It couldn’t raise the dead. It couldn’t make you happy. It couldn’t make you good looking. And even with the things it could do, it didn’t always do them right. And it always, always cost something.”
“And it was inefficient. The system was ever airtight, it always leaked. Magic was always throwing off extra energy, wasting it in the form of sound, and heat, and light, and wind. It was always buzzing and singing and glowing and sparking to no particular purpose. Magic was decidedly imperfect. But the really funny thing, she thought, was that if it were perfect, it wouldn’t be so beautiful.”
“Spinster” is one of those terms that is not as commonly used as it once was. Having used to refer to a woman who remained unmarried whether a conscious decision or not, the term has fallen into disuse, or when used conjures up images of severe middle-aged “spinster librarian” types. (A stereotype that, as a librarian, I dislike). In her book, titled Spinster, Kate Bolick explores what it means to be single and seeks to reclaim the term.
In this book (an outgrowth of a 2011 Atlantic Article, “All the Single Ladies”) Bolick traces the lives of five great female writers (all of whom never married) and interlaces their lives with stories from her own personal journey. I’ve never read anything quite like this before, that blends memoir/autobiography with non-fiction. I was unsure at first, but as I kept reading I really began to like Bolick and drew my own inspiration from her.
Unlike Bolick’s article in the Atlantic, which was much more “fun” featuring one-night-stands and whirlwind romances, Spinster, is full of contemplative ponderings and the joys of solitude. I bought this book at a time when I too was trying to find joy in being alone after a tumultuous relationship and maybe that’s why it spoke to me so much. If anything it made me realize that I was going to be ok, and being alone, as much as I disliked it at the time did not make me a failure.
I feel like this book will split readers down the middle with some loving it and other hating it. It’s interesting and I fall on the side of those who loved it. Spinster is above all a product of Bolick’s long-term goal; a rejection of the traditional female role for something that she finds more fulfilling. Agree or disagree with Bolick, it is still an insightful and interesting read.
Recommended Reading: How to Be Alone from Thought Catalog. This is an older article but is still in my bookmarks, and I revisit it often.
Recommended Listening: A podacst episode on Self Care produced by Bitch Media for Valentine’s Day.
This was a big year for Aziz Ansari. In addition to this book, Ansari had two major Netflix hits, his stand up special Live at Madison Square Garden and his series, the critically acclaimed Master of None. While there is some overlap with all of his material, it’s not so much the same that it becomes redundant. Ansari is funny, there is no denying that, but he’s also incredibly perceptive and smart. Part of the reason I think he’s so funny is because his humour is so relatable; he speaks about situations that are totally commonplace for our generation, especially when it comes to dating.
To be completely honest I bought this book not really knowing much about it, expecting another comedian biography similar to Bossypants or Yes Please. I was surprised and then blown away at how much I enjoyed this hilarious and scholarly work. Ansari has teamed up with a social psychologist to conduct studies and then present findings about how technology has affected modern romance, and everything Ansari presents is very real and very true (the hilarity arises from Aziz’s quips and comments throughout the book – I read the whole thing in his voice). He looks at the rise of new dating apps and travels around the world examining the dating culture as it exists in other countries, something I almost wish he spent more time on.
The book is interesting, funny, and incredibly relevant. Ansari’s comedic sensibilities and level headedness has truly established him as one of the voices of this generation.
I originally had this book described to me as “Harry Potter meets The Catcher in the Rye.” As a fan of both those things I was intrigued. While Grossman does draw inspiration from Harry Potter, making casual references to the series and subtly mocking it, this book was much more of a dystopian version of the Narnia series.
The book starts off at Brakebills, a special school for young magicians (much like Hogwarts, leading to the comparisons to Harry Potter), but moves much farther past that. The characters in the book are older than Harry and his friends, and as such are much more prone to vice. They drink, do drugs, have sex, and use magic for their own personal gain. While magic is the driving force behind this book, the characters still live in the real world which is much less fantastical than other fantasy series. Magic is something that is hard, and it does not necessarily solve all the problems.
Even when the group of friends travel to Fillory, the magical Narnia-esq realm, magic is still a very dangerous thing. This novel is a very weird, twisted, cynical, and bitter look at the fantasy books that we all read growing up. In Grossman’s world, magic is not some wondrous problem solving thing. With or without magic, people are still people and will make mistakes and be corrupted. Using magic, even for good, changes a person and has the ability to break them.
The only problem I had with this book is that on a number of occasions very strange and random things happen, (like the group is all turned into geese in order to fly to the South Pole), or Grossman will be building up to a major event, which will quickly be resolved by magic but in a very uneventful way. I think Grossman was doing these things on purpose, but they bothered me nonetheless. There are still two more books left in the trilogy and I’m excited to see where those take us.
I love reading about the Salem witch trials. Obviously anything to do with witchcraft will seem intriguing and is easily sensationalized, but the trials, because the were so confined to a specific time and place make them so interesting to study. Why Salem? Why 1692? These are questions that have bothered American historians. While many are apt to pass over the witch trials or view them as simply an anomaly in American history, there are a number of scholars who have attempted to give this event a significant amount of attention.
Frances Hill’s book is one of the better accounts that I’ve read. For those unfamiliar with the trials, the historical record is shaky at best, and absolutely impossible to get through at its worst. There are so many families involved, many sharing names and way too many people to keep track of. Factor in the debts owed and the grudges held and wading through the history of the Salem witch trials becomes a giant mess. Hill does a good job however, writing clearly and focusing on the prominent community members so the reader does not get lost.
What was especially interesting was Hill’s ideas about what started the whole paranoia about witches. As most know, the panic started when a number of teenage girls appeared hysterical and claimed to be possessed by other women in the community. Hill blames this on the nature of their existence. Growing up in the Puritan faith would have caused young people a great deal of stress and anxiety. While boys had a physical outlet for these feelings (it was permissible for boys to play outside, fight, etc), girls had no such way of dealing with these emotions. Hill believes the mass hysteria that gripped teenage girls in the community was a result of this. They blamed women who were outcasts in society to begin with and as Hill points out, this episode became one of the first episodes of women-on-women bullying.
It is definitely a feminist perspective on the whole episode in Salem, but seeing as the trials involved a majority of women (only one man was convicted of witchcraft), viewing it through a feminist lense is not off base. Hill does a great job in dealing with this very interesting, but aso muddled subject.