Sunday, July 9, 2017

Books 27-30: Number 31 is taking weeks

Right before I left on my trips I read a couple of short books, because I was saving two long books for the trips and figured I would just write up all of the books together when I got back. I haven't done that, though, because the second long book is killing me. It's interesting, but so long that I started it in Providence, kept reading when I got home, read it in Greenville, and am still reading it now.

My goal is to finish it before I leave for New York later this month.

In the meantime, here are the other books I read before I fell into the longest biography ever:

27) From late 2004 to early 2012, I played an online game called City of Heroes, where I made many friends online and some of them became friends offline. One of them was my friend Lisa, who I continue to interact with in a different game, Champions Online. Recently, Lisa asked if she could use one of my game characters in a novel she was writing about one of her game characters, and Grimaulkin is the result. It tells the story of Mike LeBonte, who just got out of five years in magic prison for summoning demons to eat bullies when he was a teenager. Now that he's out, he has to find a way to rebuild his life, but he's forbidden from using any of the summoning spells that grant him the most power.

He's also extremely attracted to a young magic shop owner with fantastic abs who works down the street from his sister's apartment. Guess whose character that is?

This was a fun book. Mike starts working with a seedy private investigator whose helping the police with a series of murders, while also trying to reconnect with his family and explain what happened to him and why he vanished. It's a fast read, and also the book is dedicated to me, so you should buy it because it's also entertaining and it looks like there may be a sequel coming.

28) Robert R. McCammon's Last Train From Perdition returns us to the world of his late 1800's vampire bounty hunter, Trevor Lawson, last seen in I Travel By Night. Trevor and his human ally, Ann, are still on the hunt for LaRouge, the vampire who turned Trevor and took Ann's sister and father, but are also taking jobs in between to cover the bills. One job, tracking down a wealthy businessman's wayward son in the far west town of Perdition finds them surrounded by enemies human and vampire, struggling to save a train full of people from certain death even as the dark forces within him threaten to overwhelm the last of Trevor's humanity.

This was also a good read. The story moves quickly, but there are some good character moments and some interesting scenes. Both books in the series are on the short side, more novellas than novels, but I'm looking forward to a third.

29) Carol Goodman has a niche: she likes to write books about the Hudson River Valley, and almost every book involves a secret illegitimate baby. It's come to the point that as soon as I start reading them, I immediately start trying to figure out who the secret baby is and how the plot will hinge on them, but I keep reading her books anyway because they are well written, entertaining mysteries.

With secret babies.

In The Widow's House, Clare and her husband, Jesse, move from Brooklyn to their former college town, becoming caretakers for their former writing professor and his estate. Staying on the grounds, Jesse is planning to work on his novel, and Clare starts writing again as she begins to see visions of a legendary village girl, the Apple Maiden, who died tragically on the grounds of the estate, after losing her secret baby in a terrible blizzard. Is the estate haunted? Is Clare having a breakdown? And is Clare, who is adopted, someone's secret baby?

This, like all of Goodman's books, was a nice, entertaining vacation read.

30) I knew I wanted to read Nancy Isenberg's White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America as soon as I saw it at the bookstore, and I was saving it for a trip, since I knew I would have hours to sink into it then. I'm glad I did, because this was a long, complicated book. Although it's full of facts, it's written at a pretty easy level to sink into, and it will definitely make you think.

It apparently also made other people think, because everyone who saw the title of the book in my hand wanted to know what it was about, if it was good, and if I liked it. I did, even if I did disagree that the Civil War was based as much in class as it was in race. Class may have played a part, but the Civil War was primarily about racism.

That said, it's time to get back to my extremely long, extremely detailed biography of my pretend literary boyfriend, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Travel and Work and Travel

I've been travelling a little this month, and meant to write about my two separate trips separately, but I got back from one, went back to work the next day, and then left for the other two days later. I spent the two days between a conference trip to Providence, Rhode Island (which I have only ever visited for another conference four years ago) and a personal trip to Greenville, South Carolina (which I've never visited before this trip) catching up on the work I missed in Rhode Island, and was too tired to write in between.

I went to Rhode Island with four coworkers, but other than my friend Meghan and I meeting up for some things the five of us mostly stayed with our own friends and colleagues, and didn't overlap much. On our first morning there, Meghan and I went to the same restaurant for breakfast that we ate at our first morning there last time, Brickway on Wickenden. While there, I spotted an intriguing sign:

Providence, RI June 2017

"The grilled muffin...," I began, asking our server for clarification. "What is that?"

"They take a muffin, slice it in half, butter the halves, and throw it on the grill."

"I would like the blueberry."

Providence, RI June 2017

I've never heard of a grilled muffin before that moment, but it was amazing. Crunchy on the outside, and butter-soaked and almost soggy on the inside.

After breakfast, Meghan got coffee while I marveled at their cold brew set up:

Providence, RI June 2017

which, according to the man at the coffee place, takes 24 hours to brew a single pot. We also went to the Providence Pride Festival:

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

where the Providence Pride Festival stole ten dollars from me. When we were walking up to the entrance, all of the signs said it was either a dollar (for regular admission) or five dollars (for alcohol area admission and discounts from some vendors) to get in. Meghan wasn't carrying cash, so I offered to pay hers. I only had a twenty, so I offered it to the lady at the gate and told her it was for both of us.

"Admission for two? That's ten dollars each."

None of the signs said ten dollars each for any form of admission, and when we got to the other end of the festival they were charging either one or five dollars. I hope my (stolen) money is going to a good cause.

It was interesting to walk through a Pride Festival in a city, and state, that actually embraces and celebrates their LGBTQ+ community. There were banners on the lightpoles, signs everywhere, unvandalized posters, and they even lit the state capitol building in rainbow lights at night:

Providence, RI June 2017

Compared to Tennessee, it could almost make one think about moving until one remembers that the northeast is an icy horrorscape of wintry snow for several months a year.

After breakfast, shopping, and Pride festing, we met up with my friend Stacy, and Meghan took us on a walking tour of Brown University, which is very fancy:

Providence, RI June 2017

and has a bear:

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

The next morning, the conference had a 5K, which was not timed but was still fun and in which I did not come in last:

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

That night I had an excellent dinner with my friend Sonja, who I haven't seen since college, and the next night I convinced a group of people to go have dinner at Umelt, a restaurant that specializes in grilled cheese:

Providence, RI June 2017

and dankness:

Providence, RI June 2017

I had the special Pride grilled cheese, which was a regular grilled cheese with a lot of food coloring:

Providence, RI June 2017

During the extra long lunch hour one of the other days Meghan and I walked to the Rhode Island School of Design bookstore, because I wanted a t-shirt for their very interestingly named sports teams:

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

and then when the conference was over and we had a whole morning before flying out I went and did some sightseeing:

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

Providence, RI June 2017

and then we flew home, I went to work for two days, and then got up last Saturday morning and drove to Greenville, South Carolina, to see a play and visit my friends Mike and Sandy. Sandy and I see each other every few years, but this is the first time that Mike and I have seen each other in person since 2006:

Greenville, SC

That's us last weekend, not us in 2006, outside of Mike's theatre.

Since I was only in town for an overnight, I didn't see much beyond downtown, a few walking paths, and the park by our hotel, but Greenville seemed very pretty:

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

and the walking paths were wonderful, early in the morning before it got really hot and humid:

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

We also went out for drinks after the play, and my screwdriver came with a slice of orange so wide and with such a thick rind that we all kind of stared at it and tried to figure out if it was really an orange or some other, larger citrus fruit:

Greenville, SC

I thought it might be a blood orange, but that makes no sense in a drink made with regular orange juice, and it didn't occur to any of us to taste it, because it seemed vaguely frightening.

Except for the terrible construction traffic outside of Asheville, it was a wonderful weekend, and I'm supposed to go back in December to see another play, at Mike's theatre.

I might take a day off from work and actually spend more than a night there.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Book 26: Fashion Victims

I must have read an article somewhere about Alison Matthews David's Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, because I can't imagine how it would have ended up on my Amazon wish list otherwise. It did, though, and my parents bought it for me for my birthday or Christmas this year. A lot of books come into my house at that time of year, so I can't always remember which holiday I got one for, but I know it was from mom and dad, so thanks! I got around to reading it, finally (much more quickly than some books that are from a few Christmases ago and still hanging around the house waiting for their chance), and it was very entertaining.

David's book explores the dangers associated with clothing, both in wearing it and in production of it, from the beginning of the industrial age to the present. It only briefly mentions the dangers to animals, with a few mentions of European beavers being hunted almost to extinction for hatmaking purposes or turtles being hunted for their shells, and focuses instead on the dangers to people, most often to women. Rather than go through the more common paths of corsets and foot-binding, it looks instead at things like mercury in felt hats, toxic dyes, highly flammable fabrics (apparently it was just a thing for a while that nightgowns and ballgowns were made of fabric that burst into flames as soon as it got near a candle), explosive plastic hair accessories, and all the ways in which these things were deadly to the (mostly female) wearers and to the laborers who worked to produce them.

David doesn't shy away from the more gruesome aspects of her reporting, describing rotting jawbones and death by fire in vivid detail. She also paints a very clear picture of the ways in which known dangers were downplayed or suppressed entirely because they could damage business interests or, more disturbingly, because they were only a danger to women, and considered less important. Overall, David takes what could have been a dry, academic read and keeps it conversational, and as an added bonus provides a lot of illustrations to make the clothes come alive. This was a really good read, but I feel like the idea of dangers being ignored because fashion was considered more of a women's concern could have been elaborated on more. The idea was intriguing, but there didn't seem to be a lot of evidence to back it up.

For a blog entry

Lois Lane? You had trouble with fashion once?

For a blog entry

There's the charming, totally sane Lois Lane that we all know and love, and here she is in the story in question:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

Our story begins with Lois attending a Broadway performance of "Hamilton". No, it's not the Hamilton you're thinking of, because this story was published in 1970 as the backup feature of the same issue where Lois dies and marries Satan on Lana's birthday. No sooner does Lois go backstage to congratulate the actor on his performance than he casually mentions that, oh yeah, his wig is cursed.

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

As Lois' life goes, this is pretty normal, actually, right up until the moment the curse takes effect:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

Yup, he's dead. Intrigued, Lois decides to investigate the wig shop:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

which is apparently in Ye Olde Towne section of Metropolis. The wig shoppe owner and Lois laugh about the alleged curse, and Lois buys a Marie Antoinette wig for the masquerade ball that night just to prove that there isn't really a curse. Upon arriving at the ball, Lois barely has time to get inside before the curse strikes!

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

Lois is almost bludgeoned by a watermelon, just like Marie Antoinette.

Wait, that's not how Marie Antoinette died? Well, what killed her, then?

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

Who knew that guillotines were made out of razor sharp serving trays? Panicked but still suspicious, Lois returns to the wig shoppe and picks out the Joan of Arc wig. Uncertain of its historical accuracy, she takes it to the Metropolis Museum to compare:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

and immediately is almost burned alive:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

She manages to save herself, but decides that the curse is real and the wigs are deadly.

Inexplicably, she then decides to return to the wig shoppe and buy another wig. What are you doing, Lois? Do you want to die?

It doesn't really matter, because the wig shoppe wants to kill her:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

and they decide the best way to do so is by using this Byzantine scheme to convince her that a magic wig can give her super powers:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

and then running her over with a truck. Their plan goes slightly awry:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

because it's not Lois at all:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

Not only that, but the wig shoppe owner isn't who we think he is, either:

"Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" #103, DC Comics, August 1970

Yes, the whole thing was a setup. Supergirl happened to overhear the criminals plotting after the fire at the museum, and swooped in to save Lois.

Probably because, as we learned above, dangerous fashion is a female problem.