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.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Books 22-25: I might only read 52 books this year

We're halfway through the year, and I'm right at 25 books at the beginning of this month. This suggests that I might only read 52 books this year, which has long been my goal but is going to fall somewhat short of my totals for past years. I guess we'll see how it goes, but in the meantime, here are the books I've finished since the last time I posted an update (and promised to post more often):

22) Everybody was talking about the Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" for a while, but I don't have Netflix, so I picked up the book the show is based on. If you don't know already, it's the story of a set of 13 cassette tapes recorded by high school student Hannah Baker just before he death by suicide. Each tape is about a specific person, and explains why and how Hannah feels that person contributed to her suicide. As the book opens, Clay receives the tapes, and is horrified to discover that the girl he had a crush on is someone he didn't know at all, the same way he didn't really know the other twelve people, either. The tapes come with a warning that if they are not passed on, a second set will be released to the world, and Clay listens, as did the people before him and, presumably, the people after him will.

As a book, this was an interesting concept, because Hannah, in framing her entire story only as the placing of blame, is a classic unreliable narrator. Is what we're hearing the whole truth, or only the truth as seen through the lens of how the events fueled Hannah's depression and isolation? I'll be the first to agree that high school is a terrible place filled with terrible people, and that teenagers as individuals may be ok sometimes but as a group are heartless, soulless monsters, but my feeling after reading this wasn't sympathy for Hannah. Listening to these tapes is emotionally devastating for Clay, and Hannah did that to him on purpose. She flings accusations that cannot be answered, because she flings them from beyond the grave, blaming others for damaging her while inflicting a good bit of psychological damage herself. Hannah, in death, becomes the same sort of person she blamed in life.

I don't know if people watching the show have the same takeaway. I assume Hannah is a sympathetic character there, and she should be. Terrible things happen to her. At the same time, though, the book skirts toward suggesting she's also a bit of a selfish villain through Clay's reactions and thoughts, but never quite gets all the way to that idea, and I doubt the show does either. Then again, I'm judging without watching it, so I could be totally wrong.

23) I wanted to read Paul Tremblay's Disappearance at Devil's Rock because I really enjoyed his previous book, A Head Full of Ghosts. I enjoyed this one, too, but not quite as much as that one.

This tells the story of the disappearance of Tommy Sanderson, who snuck out into the woods with friends at a sleepover and then vanished into the night. The remaining boys' story doesn't quite make sense, and on the same night that Tommy disappears his mother, Elizabeth, sees a fleeting specter of him in her house, crying out for her before vanishing. As the search for Tommy intensifies, pages from his diary start turning up in Elizabeth's living room, hinting at strange activities in the woods, and meetings with mysterious strangers at Devil's Rock, deep in the forest. Kate, Elizabeth's daughter, and several neighbors report seeing shadowed faces peering in their windows at night, or running into the woods at the edges of their yards, and it becomes clear that much more happened in the woods the night Tommy disappeared than his friends have let on, and that it may have been too late to save him even before he vanished.

This was interesting, but something about the pacing seemed off to me. Overall, it was still a good read.

24) Jennifer McMahon's Island of Lost Girls opens with Rhonda, parked at a gas station and watching a scene so bizarre that she doesn't recognize it as a crime until it's over: a person in a rabbit costume invites a toddler from the car next to Rhonda's into his own, and drives away, initiating a statewide manhunt and casting suspicion on Rhonda herself for not acting. Trying to clear her name, Rhonda undertakes an investigation of her own, but as she gets closer to figuring out what happened to little Ernie she also finds herself getting closer to discovering what happened to Lizzie, her friend from childhood who also vanished long ago. Is there a link between the two? If so, what? And how are Rhonda's memories of another person in a rabbit suit long ago tied to the whole thing?

This was a fast read. It was interesting, but tied up very quickly.

25) During the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" four part reunion, Andy, Kandi, and Porsha revealed the shocking truth that viewers had wondered about and argued over all season: Phaedra, the attorney who has always presented herself as an upstanding churchgoer who had no idea her convicted felon husband was involved in any crimes at all and would never hurt anyone because it wasn't the proper, Godly thing to do, was the one who started the rumor that Kandi and her husband drug and rape women in a sex dungeon. In the course of shrieking, crying, and attacking Phaedra for this, Kandi happened to mention that anyone who had ever read Angela Stanton's book about Phaedra would have known she was dirty, and like any good viewer I immediately searched Amazon for the book: Lies of a Real Housewife. Apparently I wasn't the only one, because the book climbed several thousand places on Amazon's sales chart in under a week.

Was this the best book in the world? Oh, absolutely not. The grammar is terrible. On the other hand, it was highly entertaining. It tells the (allegedly) true story of Stanton's troubled background, relocation to Atlanta, and how she fell into a ring of criminals run by Phaedra. Moving through check fraud, bank fraud, auto theft, identity theft, and title fraud, Stanton ends up in prison and Phaedra ends up married to Apollo to keep him from testifying against her. When Stanton gets out and becomes an author, writing about the women she met behind bars, she is shocked to find Phaedra still acting against her while selling an image of herself on television that's nothing like the woman Angela knows, and she wrote this book to get back at her.

After finishing, I'm not sure how much of it is true, but I also note that Phaedra hasn't sued Angela, so maybe there's something to this after all.