The Devil and Mrs. Bradley

I started Gladys Mitchell’s The Devil at Saxon Wall today. The opening chapters, about a timid young woman who marries a strange man on impulse and then begins to suspect that her new husband is using witchcraft on her, are really creepy and effective. I hit the end of my e-reader sample chapters and was all, “I CAN’T. I have to find out what will happen to this poor girl.”

Mitchell was a contemporary of Golden Age mystery writers like Sayers and Christie, but if you know her protagonist Mrs. Bradley today, it’s probably from the British television adaptation starring a very glam Diana Riggs as Bradley. The novels are much darker than the series and Mrs. Bradley is usually described as “reptilian,” rather than elegant. That’s one of the things I enjoy about period novels–characters are sometimes less likable than contemporary mystery protagonists and you read them in frustration and amusement rather than identification (this is a very fancy way of saying I find Nero Wolfe obnoxiously endearing!).  It looks like the Mrs. Bradley ebooks have been recently re-issued, since all I could find were used copies when I looked for them after watching one episode of the series on Netflix sometime last year.

 

 

A fun discovery

Have you read anything from UC-Berkeley’s “Greater Good” center? Among their “core themes” of research and writing is happiness, as well as mindfulness and altruism. Explore here. Want something else fun to do this weekend? Take Keri Smith’s advice in the amazing How to Be An Explorer of the World  and uncover a mystery:

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Quote of the Day

“One lives in the naïve notion that later there will be more room than in the entire past.”
—Elias Canetti, The Human Province

*From Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home, which has an *incredible* appendix of happiness readings (I take back everything I said in the last post about Rubin being more Type-A than me, for her happiness resources alone!) which have me searching my library catalog for fun books and contemplating more book buying.

Happy New Year!

I’m having a relaxing New Year’s Eve, reading and listening to jazz. I have some yoga penciled in, too. What are your plans?

What I’m reading today:

Need an escape from the Mondays?

  • My Daily Muse column for New Year’s Eve, “What to Read on the Subway,” is a virtual vacation to Paris! Check out some of my favorite books and podcasts, like Amy Thomas’ Paris, My Sweet. 

News: New column over at the Daily Muse!

  • I am taking over Molly Donovan’s weekly column at the Daily Muse. It’s called “What to Read on the Subway This Week.” Check out my first week of suggestions here.
  • I’m so stretched out from yoga last night. Pigeon pose totally kicked my {always-tight} right hip around, especially since I’ve been avoiding that pose lately. Gotta keep at it.
  • I’ve been painting a lot lately and was accepted into a local art show. I’m trying to decide whether or not to say yes. In the words of Brene Brown, this is one of my vulnerability moments. Manning a booth in front of the public is a scary proposition. Here is one of my new paintings. If I get brave, I’ll probably try to sell this one:

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Hollywood: Anita Loos’ hats & Marilyn Monroe’s diamonds

I haven’t talked about my MFA thesis on classic Hollywood hair in a while, but I’m in the process of revising parts of it & thought it might be interesting to blog about it a little. I’m expanding my Marilyn Monroe chapter to spend more time on one of Monroe’s most famous roles, Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Lorelei is the character–a glitzy blonde showgirl–that Monroe is playing in this musical number:

This musical number is a classic–yes, Madonna borrowed it for her “Material Girl” video–but she’s not alone in looking to Monroe’s Lorelei for inspiration. That pink dress is the drag costume James Franco wore awkwardly on a recent Academy Awards telecast and “Diamonds Are Girl’s Best Friend” is the song Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! used to introduce Nicole Kidman’s tragic protagonist {although her glittery corset is drawn from another classic: Marlene Dietrich’s The Blue Angel, not Gentlemen Prefer Blondes}. By virtue of Monroe’s performance, I think, the onscreen Lorelei is a sympathetic, funny character, not a one-note gold digger.

What many people don’t know is that Lorelei Lee was the creation of author Anita Loos, a screenwriter and playwright with a long Hollywood and Broadway career. Beginning in the silent film era, Loos wrote silent “scenarios” for DW Griffith, talkie parts for Jean Harlow, and her own plays and novellas. Of all her work, the satirical 1925 novella Gentlemen Prefer Blondes–about two gold diggers traveling abroad–made her famous. But Loos herself wasn’t a blonde or a flashy showgirl. She had an interesting, flapper-ish image that she created and stuck with all her life–shiny bobbed hair and wild hats–and was a petite 4’11. There’s a fantastic website, The Anita Loos Museum, with photographs of her hat collection that you should go look at if you’re interested in clothes. Even if you don’t love crazy period hats, Loos is a noteworthy figure: she had a fabulous career, but one of the strangest marriages in the world, to a director named John Emerson. Emerson was eventually institutionalized & diagnosed with schizophrenia after attempting to kill his wife, according to Gary Carey’s biography of the author. Loos’ hobnobbed with Hearst and Marion Davis, knew Joan Crawford, and yet, couldn’t escape the shadow of her marriage, something I find fascinating.

Fun fact: Edith Wharton called Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “the Great American Novel.”

Celebrating Fall: A List

The weather has been beautiful this week. The semester has started in earnest, so I’m back on-campus in the sunshine. I feel a little wistful because I’m not taking any classes–if money were no object, I’d take more art history, honestly. The department offers Egyptian art now!–but I’m using the free time to do more freelance work, paint, and read. Some fun things worth mentioning:

  • I got very brave and entered a local artists exhibition on campus. Very casual stuff, but I’m hoping I’ll be accepted. Fingers crossed!
  • Tutoring is off to a fantastic start this semester–my new tutoring coworkers are wonderful.
  • YD has a great post on meditation.
  • I really recommend Keri Smith’s How to Be An Explorer of the World. I caved & bought it, after talking about it a few posts ago. It has dozens of wonderful exercises for art and writing projects. In Smith’s words, “Anything can be a starting place. Begin where you are.” Yogic, right?
  • Also fun: Vivian Swift’s When Wanderers Cease to Roam. I received it as a Christmas gift and just started reading it recently. Swift, an artist & writer, traveled the world in her youth with the Peace Corps & has now settled down on Long Island Sound. Part memoir, part graphic novel, When Wanders Cease to Roam is organized by month and contains Swift’s memories of interesting things in her life and quirky daily observations. She does fantastic watercolor and line drawings. You can see an excerpt here on NPR’s website.
  • In a similar vein, this review over at Bill & Dave’s Cocktail Hour has me tempted to–what else?–buy more books! Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life sounds like an interesting project. {I’m diagnosing myself with “Sudden-Onset Book Lemming Disorder,” ladies & gentlemen.} Actually, I think Smith, Rosenthal, & Swift’s books could form the reading for a really fun elective on writing and craft–the intersections of memoir, everyday life, and craft projects. How cool would that be? I could envision students making their own art/memoir journals.
  • Just saw this post on Mason Jar Cakes from Niki Lowry at The Daily Muse. I’m a little klutzy at baking, but these are SO adorable. Mason jars are nifty; I saw a DIY project that repurposed them as  painted pendant lights recently too. My inner southern girl hearts mason jars.

Yoga Miscellanea

Miscellanea is a word, right? It’s one of those that seems made-up, I think. Some things I’ve been doing lately that fall under the general category of yogic hodge-podge:

    • I’ve just finished reading Lucy O’Brien’s Madonna: Like An Icon. That might not sound overly-yogic, but O’Brien looks at Madonna’s self-invention and influences, including yoga and eastern culture. It’s a solid biography because O’Brien, while sympathetic, isn’t afraid to reveal the inconsistencies in Madonna’s behavior. What’s interesting to me is how much Madonna typifies “complex personhood,” Avery F. Gordon’s description of how human beings will do things that contradict their stated intentions or seem counter-initutive. In Madonna’s case that means embracing yoga and mysticism, but also marrying the ultra-macho Guy Ritchie and subsequently taking on the very un-mystical and un-yogic persona of an English aristocrat and remaining a competitive businesswoman (among many other examples). But Madonna’s reasons for taking up yoga—at least according to O’Brien—leading to her  Ray of Light album are actually fairly relatable. O’Brien describes her as frazzled, frustrated by the reception of her previous work, tired of her current lifestyle, and looking for something settled and meaningful. Those are the same reason many women (and men) are drawn to yoga, even if they aren’t pop icons. The difference between Madonna and the rest of us seems to be the degree to  which she revamps her life in response to her frustrations–like Jane Fonda, another Hollywood icon of transformation–she seems deeply mutable. O’Brien pegs this as a sign of Madonna’s deep-seated insecurity stemming from her childhood, claims that are hard to dispute.
    • I’ve also been reading Christina Sell’s My Body is a Temple, which acts as a kind of meditation-slash-workbook for questions of wholeness, body image, and goals. While I’m not really a guru-oriented person like Sell seems to be {read: I don’t have a spiritual advisor or guru}, I think the questions she raises at the end of each section are fantastic what-if exercises that can help you, if you’re trying to figure out where you are in your beliefs, practices, and goals. Sell talks about her own struggles with body image, eating disorder, and how difficult it can be to remain consistent with your goals. She argues that sometimes you just aren’t ready until you’re ready–seeing it as a spiritual process–and that willpower alone sometimes isn’t enough, if you’re struggling with addiction. I haven’t finished the book yet, and will probably write more about the exercises later.
    • Rosie Molinary is doing a series of free exercises in August for her Shine program and Mara Glatzel (of Medicinal Marzipan fame) has retooled her website.
    • In my free time, I’ve been thinking about crafts, jewelry, and adornment. I have a PBS documentary from the library on body art that I want to watch this weekend that talks about tattoos on a spectrum of bodily art and adornment. I’m not quite brave enough for a tattoo {yet–maybe one day!}, but I do love jewelry. I made this little craft bracelet myself: 
    • I’ve also been writing a lot this month and listening to Krishna Das on Pandora. I’m particularly drawn to Om Namah Shivaya. I don’t know why it appeals to me more than other kirtan songs and mantras, but it does.

Nora Ephron has died

The Washington Post is reporting that Nora Ephron has died. I love Nora Ephron. I love When Harry Met Sally  and You’ve Got Mail. I love that she referenced Jane Austen and Julia Child’s memoirs in her books and movies, but also I love that she wrote about Bill Clinton, the popularity of the pepper grinder, and blonde highlights. I could read I Feel Bad About My Neck or I Remember Nothing  over and over. I even quoted her essay “On Maintenance” in my MFA thesis: “Where haircolor is concerned, being blonde is practically a career.”

You’ve Got Mail

My favorite Ephron essay might be “On Rapture,” from I Feel Bad About My Neck, originally published on Oprah.com. This is exactly how I feel about books.

There’s something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All this happens to me when I resurface from a book. The book I’m currently resurfacing from—the one I mentioned at the beginning of this piece—is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon. It’s about two men who create comic book characters—but it’s also about how artists create magical things from the events of everyday life…. I was almost dazed by the playfulness of the author and his ability to do something that has such a high degree of difficulty with such apparent ease. Chabon’s novel takes place in New York City in the 1940s, and though I finished reading it more than a week ago, I’m still there. I’m smoking Camels, and Salvador Dali is at a party in the next room. Eventually, I’ll have to start breathing the air in New York in 2002 again, but on the other hand, perhaps I won’t have to. I’ll find another book I love and disappear into it. Wish me luck.

Read more here.

The world is a little bit less wonderful in her absence.

PS: I love her parents’ writing, too; Henry & Phoebe Ephron wrote Desk Set, the Hepburn-Tracy film about corporate librarians. It’s lovely.

Spiritually & Physically Hungry, Part 2

I was a little delayed in writing this, mostly because I didn’t know how aggressively I wanted to approach discussing someone else’s book. Ultimately, I’ve decided not to mention the name of the book, both because I think this a more widespread issue than any one individual or work, and because I’m not even sure the author is conscious of the tone of her work. To explain: Last year I read multiple yoga memoirs, many of which I’ve reviewed on this site. But there was one that I ultimately gave up on and never reviewed. I suppose I was lured in by the promise of yoga in the title, the cute cartoon yogini on the front, etc. It looked like a fun book. But I didn’t find it particularly fun reading. The narrator was very hard on her family, her body, and her initial diet, which she dismissed as bad, lazy, too commercial, etc.  In fact, the primary focus of the book seemed to be diet, not yoga. The author kept talking about restricting her diet and restricting and restricting, but didn’t seem any happier with her life.

I’m perfectly comfortable hearing about how people have revived their energy or reclaimed their self-esteem with diet and exercise–that can be inspiring and interesting–but there was just so much shame in this book. Shame is a terrible thing to do to your body. At some point in my reading, I realized that the narrator’s shaming was bringing me down, too. It was a little bit mysterious. I wasn’t like I thought, ‘oh, shaming!’ as much as I found myself slightly disconcerted and had to think about why parts of the book bothered me.  I realized that, despite the fact that I’m a healthy person, I was still prone to empathizing with an author when I’m following them for a whole book. I even wondered if I’d read the book in a bad mood that had clouded my judgment, but then stumbled across another reviewer’s take:

“I may not go as far as she does in her low-fat diet (I’m lucky not to have weight issues), but she makes me think twice about the ice cream in my freezer, or at least consider serving myself a much smaller scoop….Later in the same chapter, she writes, “If you eat healthy and low-fat most of the time, you can splurge on the occasional more-indulgent foods.” I perked up, wondering what would count as indulgent for someone who bemoans her previously unenlightened nightly snack of Cheerios and chocolate chips (please! My indulgent snack is a bowl of melted peanut butter, topped with vanilla ice cream, granola, and chocolate syrup.) So she continues, “On a weekend—not every weekend, but on the occasional Sunday—Neil and I will go out for whole wheat organic pizza made with hormone-free cheese (I know, I live on the edge).” If she’s living on the edge, even my decent diet puts me over the cliff, but that’s fine.

If an author can make readers without weight issues feel slightly bad about ice cream in the freezer, imagine how those struggling with their weight or eating disorders would respond to this book. That’s why I’d encourage anyone who feels themselves being brought low by a book just to stop reading. Especially when you could read Curvy Yoga’s “Curvy Voices personal essay collection instead.