Mollie Moran – Minding the Manor (2013)

Minding the ManorAfter the first few seasons of Downton Abbey exploded in the United States, books like this one started to be published and quickly became a dime a dozen. There’s nothing especially remarkable about this particular book, but I liked it nonetheless. Mollie was obviously a spitfire in her day and that spirit and sass comes through in her writing even though she was 93 at the time this was published.

This book takes place pretty close to the Downton Abbey period as Mollie takes up service just before the Second World War. Her memoirs detail the friendships she made (and kept) as well as the hardships she bore and the things she learned as she worked her way up from scullery maid to head chef in a manor house. The appendix also contains a number or recipes that are made reference to throughout Mollie’s writing. She writes about the importance of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a book I’ve become quite familiar with, and includes one of my favourite quotes, “Sauces are to cookery what grammar is to language.”

It’s a neat little read and while it doesn’t shed light on anything particularly new about the time period, fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy it.

Suggested Listening:

This podcast about the food from Downton Abbey.

 

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Dear NHL: This Isn’t Your Fight But It’s Time to Take a Stand

JT Brown

Through most of my life I have held the opinion that hockey players are a different breed of athlete, and for the most part, I have viewed this as positive thing. They’re down-to-earth mostly small town boys who live, sleep, and breathe the sport that they love. The only thing important to them is hockey, and that’s fine, except when there are more important things.

This past week I have found myself feeling a deep disappointment in the NHL with their stance of ‘not taking a stance’ in the fight that The President of the United States seems to be waging with the world of professional sport. I keep waiting for some sort of sign that someone, the players, the coaches, the owners, the players association, the commissioner of the league, will stand alongside members of the NFL, NBA, WNBA and the MLB.

This past weekend however, J.T Brown became the first player in the NHL to protest raising a fist during the anthem. It was a dignified act, one that Brown defended in a statement, and an act of extreme bravery. He’s all alone.

Brown’s act sheds light on the dark side of racism that exists in a league that is over 93% white with a fan base that is also largely white. After Hockey Night in Canada tweeted a photo of Brown’s protest I was appalled and disgusted to see that a majority of the responses were negative and disparaging. Brown himself has come out mentioning the death threats he’s received in the wake of Saturday night.

These protests that have been sweeping the sports world, they’re not about the flag, or the anthem, or the military. They are about police brutality and racial injustice that are rampant in the United States. The response to Brown is just another display of why these protests are necessary, and that Canada is not exempt from the racial biases that permeate the world of professional sports. Even while members of the Tampa Bay Lightning have stated they “have his back,” the support seems halfhearted at best and no one has outright condemned death threats. It’s also interesting that Brown didn’t play Monday night.

Now I get it, the league is made up of predominately white, non-American, affluent, cis-gender men, who are so far removed from the racial issues that Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling for. As a white Canadian cis-gendered female, I am also an outsider, but sport, specifically hockey has played an important role in my life and I believe we can do better.

As white people we need to be better allies. At the 1968 Olympic Games Peter Norman stood beside Tommie Smith and John Carlos in support of fundamental human rights. He didn’t raise his fist, it wasn’t his fight, but he did say “I’ll stand by you” and wore a badge supporting the Olympic Project For Human Rights. Norman faced backlash for his support. NHL players need to look around themselves at what is happening off the ice, to their compatriots in the league and in other sports and say “I’ll stand by you,” and it needs to start at the top.

Gary Bettman needs to stop being such a weiner, and the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins needs to stop kowtowing to The President. The decision of the Pittsburgh Penguins to attend the white house today is disgraceful because it gives Trump a win. Gary Bettman has often maintained that he would prefer that his players be apolitical. In this Trumpian era however, there is no neutrality anymore and Crosby defending his team’s decision to attend the White House calling it a great honour, is just about as political as you can get.

The Penguins, and the NHL as a whole is trying to act as though everything is “business as usual.” This speaks to the underlying privilege that most NHL players are ingrained with. In a league that is 90% white and 75% non-American, the NHL has tried to stay out of it and “stick to hockey.” Not so fast. (I will also point out the hypocrisy of the Calgary Flames endorsing a mayoral candidate).

The NHL likes to talk a big game with their “Hockey is for Everyone” campaigns, and yet when the players, owners, and coaches have an actual chance to show the young people they are trying to inspire that they care about them, they can’t. The NHL is being pulled into a situation that they are uncomfortable with but they’re going to have to learn how to deal with it.

I don’t know how many more hockey player’s we’re going to see protesting but white men in a position of privilege and power need to do better to stand behind their teammates who take a stand. It’s time to realize that sports cannot always be apolitical and there are in fact times when they are forced to become so. Trying to stay out of it sends the wrong message to fans and members of the sport community.

The President and now his Vice President have made it abundantly clear that they are not going to let this issue die. They will continue to try and divide their country by using sport, something that should be a unifying influence. While the NHL would prefer to ignore what is happening, it’s difficult to try and stay neutral when there is only one side.

Nick Hornby – Funny Girl (2014)

FunnyGirlNick Hornby is right up there as one of my favourite authors. He is sharp, witty, and while I’m not sure if anything equal my love of High Fidelity, Funny Girl, his newest book was pretty great.

The novel focuses on Barbara Parker, a beauty queen from Blackpool who wants nothing more than to be a comedian like Lucille Ball. She leaves her small town striking out for London but finds that she is considered too good looking to be seen as being funny. This is the 1960s and Barbara, who changes her name to Sophie, only gets bit parts in plays and TV shows often as a Ditz. Hornby then introduces a whole cast or characters; BBC writers Bill and Tony, producer Dennis, and leading man Clive. The novel follows the production of Barbara (and) Jim starring Sophie/Barbara and Clive as it becomes one of Britain’s most beloved sitcoms and as the plots parallel the lives of the other characters in the story.

I loved everything about this novel, the character of Sophie/Barbara was so likeable, and the other characters were also layered and interesting. 1960s London is an amazing time to set a book like this dealing with. Hornby is sophisticated and funny in his writing as always and there were some parts that had me laughing out loud. I can see this being made into a movie so easily, especially as one directed by Richard Curtis, and will be so excited if that does come about.

Recommended Listening:

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour episode about Funny Girl 

NPR also has a review and provides and excerpt of the book

Recommended Reading:

The Atlantic’s article about the real feminist impact of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The AV Club on why I Love Lucy still endures.

 

Hilton Als – White Girls (2013)

WhiteGirlsWhile the collection of essays is titled White Girls, to simply call it a book about white girls both true and false. The subjects of these essays, Truman Capote, Michael Jackson, Eminem, and Richard Pryor are all ‘white girls’ in some respect, according to Als.

This collection was very dense and theoretical and I sometimes got lost amid all of Als writing. I understood what he was trying to do but for a general audience (Als is a staff writer for the New Yorker), if feel like readers might find themselves a bit in over their head. It’s not exactly theory, but it’s not far off.

Throughout his collection Als interweaves his own personal memoir and reflections on society with biographies of major cultural influences. Essentially as a gay black man, Als writes about other gay black men’s desires. “White Girls” are the absolute opposite of gay black men, yet the symbol with which they most identify with. It is within this paradigm that Als fits cultural icons into, treating them as the “White Girls” that he wishes he could be.

Its a worthwhile read for anyone studying culture in an extremely critical way. He takes notions of race and gender and upends them quite successfully. It’s dense and tough to get through at times, definitely not a beach read, but quite worth it if critical theory is your thing.

I’d Rather Be A Murdress Than a Murderer

AliasGrace

Sarah Gordon as Grace Marks [Image Netflix]

Around four years ago I published my very first post. It was a book review of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, one of my favourite books. Now a mini-series inspired by the book is coming out in September and I am so excited. So excited that I wrote a bit for MoviePilot about it. 

 

You can check out the piece and watch the trailer here.

Julie Kavanagh – The Girl Who Loved Camellias (2013)

16030646I’m not quite sure what compelled me to pick up this book. It tells the story of Marie Duplessis, one of the 19th century’s most well known courtesans from her difficult upbringing to her rise among the Paris elite. Made famous by her beauty, Duplessis’ story is much better known through the novel, play and opera that made her a cultural icon.

In her colourful biography, Kavanagh seeks to look at who Marie Duplessis actually was not the woman portrayed on the stage. Duplessis was much more calculating and manipulated that she is portrayed as. This will be disappointing to those readers looking to find some integrity behind Marie as her letters to various suitors and willingness to do anything to get ahead show that Marie was quite calculating and her one true love always remained money.

Kavanagh is actually quite sympathetic to Marie however using her hard upbringing as an explanation for her behavior later in life. The daughter of wretchedly poor peasants in Normandy, her father an alcoholic peddler, Marie’s early life was definitely not easy. After moving to the city and working as a laundress however Marie (formally Alphonsie) began to gain notoriety for her looks and realized she could make money and succeed being “kept” by another man. Her love of material good strong, Marie elected to this option.

This was a good book but I wish that Kavanagh had spent a bit more time setting the scene in 19th century Paris. I loved learning about Marie Duplessis but would have loved to know more about her historic context and the world of high class courtesans in Paris.

Lisa See – China Dolls (2014)

18404427In defining this book I would say that it was totally and wholly expected. It’s one of those historical fiction novels that you pick up in an airport for a pleasant, although unremarkable read. Maybe some will disagree with me, but there wasn’t anything in this book that really stood out for me; nothing took my breath away.

Essentially the book takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown just before the United States enters the Second World War. Following three characters; Grace, a young Chinese girl from the mid-west who has run away from her abusive father; Helen, a young Chinese widow from a prominent family; and Ruby, a Japanese girl posing as Chinese, Lisa See tells a story of fame, female friendship, and betrayal set against a looming war. All three work as dancers at a nightclub each pursuing their own dreams, and quite unsurprisingly their lives are turned upside down when Pearl Harbour is bombed.

The characters were charming although one-dimensional, and it was easy to see where the story was going from the start. Maybe I’m asking a bit too much of the author or expect too much from the fiction that I read but overall this book was good, but nothing special.