A touch of Feminine Mystique

I had already planned to read the classic of feminist thought, but had also put it off for the same reason.  However, the ongoing chapter-by-chapter discussion posted here at a great book blog got me to dig around for my copy and open it up.

I’ve only gotten through two chapters myself, and I can already see that Betty Friedan is a lot like Andrew Dworkin– very very intelligent, insightful, emotive and prone to fabulism. Both women reward close reading to ferret out what they’ve found out in their researches from what they fabulized.  Both also identified real issues with middle class and above white female life, and, though this wasn’t their intent, revealed some issues with historical and current black female life.  I can already see how this woman’s writing spawned dozens upon dozens of other books, both in support of and in rebuttal to her assertions and claims.

Very strangely, she spends Chapter Two running women down for keeping a truly massive civic and social structure going, the more fascinating because it was fairly brand new.  She also complains about the shift in content in women’s magazines while ostentatiously ignoring the tv-shaped elephant in the room.  When women’s labor was a lot less saved, reading a light story about a sassy proto-feminist heroine who still got the man was easy and relaxing.  But by the 1950s white women with college educations had tvs, sometimes more than one, and could see it instead.  So they did that.

Friedan so far seems to be quite cross that women don’t want to have dorm room bull sessions for their entire adult married lives.  Welp, her side won, married motherhood done right is now a permanent struggle of acquiring and demonstrating credentials and consulting with experts (quite frequently self-proclaimed, but what is Bad and Low Class when someone fundie or evangelical does it is A-OK if they got a couple of degrees first and are aggressively secular).

Whether you went to college or not, good motherhood’s peg is set by the women who never wanted anything other than the boundaries and limited definitions of the schoolroom to be the whole world.  And now we have no other choices.  Funsies.  I’d write more, but I have to take a class to be able to teach my own children at home, and they have to take classes on how to receive instruction itself.

 

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October reading update

I read 15 books for this month.  It was also an ebook-only month, which is pretty unusual for me.  It usually means I’m mentally overexerted and want easier stuff to read.  So almost everything was fluff, esoteric, or esoteric fluff.

I read seven short novella-length ebooks about spies and true crime.  I also read Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s love letter to fandom and when nerds *really* loved science, Fallen Angels.  That one is cute and parts of it remain terrifyingly plausible.

I also continued reading a light D&D-ish series, as the third book was just sent to the mailing list and was a happy surprise.  In similar vein, I read the wrap-up book of a pretty good zombie series, also a surprise release earlier than the author said.

I tried out Kindle Unlimited, and I’ll probably keep it for a couple months.  I used that to read a truly fascinating biography of Cordwainer Smith, a collection of Clifford Simak shorts that reminded me of why I am just not that into his work, a very silly but cool-concept sci-fi book about magic being introduced into the world when humanity is banned from using space technology by evil aliens, and a very cute Tanith Lee novella.

I also used Kindle Unlimited to read the very funny, very sharp, but also very “written by a Boomer” satire “The Narrative.”  It’s by Deplora Boule and quite spot-on.

Anyway, 87 books down, 13 to go.

 

September reading update

I read 8 books for this month.

I finished the last two books in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.  It was pop cheese, but there was also a lot of emotional resonance with the wartime love that was a major subtext of the trilogy and a major plot point in the last book.  On an ACU scale, the series was quite authentic and universal but not all that great on craft.

I continued with Alt-Hero, there’s a dozen or so planned in the initial crowdfunded set, so I’ll be reading at least that far with this alternate history comic book world.

I read an amazing book by Margaret Kennedy and it is a rare instance of reading without spoilers being absolutely appropriate.  It is called The Feast and even reading the book jacket is not recommended, because for some weird reason the publishers spoiled the entire book there.  It’s a tour de force.  I look forward to continuing to read her work, she is a most astonishing and excellent writer who is unjustly consigned to dustbins even among people who like old books.

I also read four Kate Wilhelm books.  She is known for her “clone wars” book Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, and I finally read that and a bunch of her short stories in various collections.  She is a better writer than her husband Damon Knight, but that’s not high praise.  She mostly writes deeply authentic character fiction about people in her area, but with sci-fi sprinkles.  Her clone novel is full of 70s ideas, with all the bad that entails and little of the good.

So, 72  books down, 28 to go.

 

August reading update

I read 13 books for this month.

I read two Frank Herbert books that touched upon elements expanded and explored in Dune (selection pressure, genetic experimentation in pursuit of immortality, nasty side effects of messing with nature for personal gain) and I will probably continue reading more Frank Herbert some time in the future, though probably not this year or even next.

I read more Alt-Hero, which now reads and looks like an above-average comic.  It’s a comic book, turns out it doesn’t take long to get decent when you start with experienced comic book artists.  I finished Stalky and Co., a Kipling boarding school book that is absolutely fascinating and charming, but also a bit shocking.  I read a reprint that was done in the 1960s explicitly as “We are reprinting this book about young boys subverting authority FOR SCHOOL ASSIGNMENTS”.  The irony, very much lost.  I also finished Sheila Jeffries’ groundbreaking and extremely useful book about Victorian-era and WW1-era spinsters and their work trying to protect women and children from a rampant climate of abuse and exploitation, including excessively youthful prostitution.  Radical feminists have their own major biases, but they tend to be where I have to go for useful historical background on women, particularly when looking at the last 200 years or so, but sometimes they’re the best game in town further back than that, too.

I finally read the Space trilogy by Lewis and it’s still banging around my head, shocking me with its prescience but shocking me even more with how even Lewis could not predict or suspect the sheer eagerness of people to go much further than his own characters.  It was a more innocent time, or at least he was more innocent in some real and very beautiful ways.

I also read a book by Janice Holt Giles, an astonishingly depthful and accurate historical fiction writer who did a little memoir-work as well and who has apparently disappeared down the memoryhole, despite being extremely prolific and high-selling in the 1960s and 1970s.  There are a bunch of American women writers like this, they were popular essentially until 1980s trash romance took over women’s pop fiction.  And they competed ok through a fair bit of the 1980s in some cases.

I read a simply awful Alfred Bester novel he wrote late in life after 20 or so years out of the sci-fi game.  It was dated sounding, trashy and weird, missing all the charm he had in his 1940s and 1950s stories.

I read some MFK Fisher, in particular her book about how to get along deliciously during wartime or other instances of rationing.  It is a cool little book and many of her tips for how to cook well and enjoy food under extreme deprivation conditions hold up.  She had no animus towards things in boxes if it was what you could get.

I read Crazy Rich Asians.  It was an extremely useful read, but golly, some of the foreign-language profanity was much more graphic than I was expecting somehow.  Since I’ve heard quite a few of those words, having spent much of my life in Asian diasporas or neighborhoods, knowing what they mean will now be…interesting going forward.

And at long last I finished Hippies of the Religious Right.  I didn’t think I could get any more militant and radicalized, and then I finished reading this, including the lengthy notes section.  Welp.

Anyway, 64 books down, 36 to go.

 

Sky King did nothing wrong

He followed the script.

He played by the rules.

He married young, but not too young.  He met his wife when they both were in college.  They moved to be close to family.  He took a job that provided him with free travel to see his own family regularly and stay in touch with more than social media posts.  He was upbeat, patient and pleasant to his co-workers.  He worked hard and did his job unstintingly.

And none of it worked out.  He was making barely more than daycare workers in Washington State make.  His wife was working at a bakery, making around the same.  Combined they were making around the median household income for their state, which is about half what married couples make who have kids in Washington.

But he met her at college.  They married young, but not too young.  They lived near family.

And he was almost 30 and fatherhood was looking like a dream.  He hoped further, additional credentials would finally get him a pay raise, into management.

But hope curdles in the face of grinding reality, where following all the rules pushes you deeper and deeper under and all the smiles and positive attitude aren’t moving you forward, but locking you in place.

His name was Richard Russell.  His friends called him Beebo.  What a privilege they had.

He took a plane up into the light, because for all his efforts to follow the rules, the light was slipping further and further away and all his smiles and good spirits couldn’t push away the dark shadows of despair and futility.

But in that plane, for a little while, he touched the light.  He reached down into this bleak world of corruption and the grinding down of good, young, decent men and he gave a taste of it to the rest of us here on the cold gray ground.

We who only knew him in death call him Sky King.  Sky King did nothing wrong.