First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 10: A Queer Friendship

Ahem: “Hur, hur, that looks like an innuendo.”

Sorry, had to be done.

The chapter begins with a sensual description of swimming in a cold pool on a hot day.  I hear you Enid.  Even though it’s freezing right now and the thought of immersing myself in icy water is … unpleasant.

Darrell loved to have a game of tennis and then sprint down to the pool to bathe. Oh, the delicious coolness of the water then! She couldn’t understand how Gwendoline or Mary-Lou could possibly shrink from getting in. But they insisted that the hotter the day, the colder the water felt, and they didn’t like it.

Darrell sings the praises of the icy cold plunge, and finishes by calling Mary-Lou and Gwen cowards.

Neither Mary-Lou nor Gwendoline liked being called cowards.

WELL, THERE’S A SHOCK.

Mary-Lou resents, rightly, being lumped in a category with Gwen merely because they share a common distaste.  Also, her wooing is becoming more like stalking:

She tried her hardest to make Darrell pleased with her by running after her more than ever, even to tidying her locker in the common room, which exasperated Darrell because Mary-Lou always altered her arrangement of things.

‘ What’s happened to my sweets? I know I put them in the front here. And where’s my writing-pad? Blow, and I’m in such a hurry, too!’

And out would come every single thing in the locker, higgledy-piggledy on the floor! Mary-Lou would look on mournfully.

‘Oh—I tidied them all so nicely for you,’ she would say.

‘Well, don’t!’ Darrell would order. ‘Why don’t you go and bother with somebody else’s things? You always seem to make a bee-line for mine. You seem to have got a craze for tidying things and putting them away. You go and do Alicia’s—they’re much untidier than mine! Just leave mine alone!’

“I only do it to help you,’ Mary-Lou would murmur.

Yeah, Mary-Lou, no.  Step away from the personal possessions!

Alicia doesn’t appreciate Mary-Lou’s unsolicited tidying any more than Darrell does, and is even less tactful about it, if that’s possible.

‘Can’t you see when you’re a nuisance?’ she said. ‘Can’t you see we don’t want a little ninny like you always flapping round us? Look at that photograph! Smashed to bits just because you started messing around.’

Yep.  It’s possible.

Unfortunately, Darrell and Alicia are driving Mary-Lou right into the arms of Gwendoline.

‘Hallo! Crying again! Whatever’s up now?’ asked Gwendoline, who was always interested in other people’s rows, though never sympathetic.

I just love that, “Hallo!  Crying again!”  It reminds me of that bit in Harry Potter, when Harry wakes up from a nightmare and Sean’s all, “Somebody attacking you again, Harry?”

Gwen is just fascinated to learn that Mary-Lou is having problems with Alicia and Darrell, and is deeply sympathetic, and even manages to get in a few digs at Betty!

As she spoke, a perfectly wonderful idea came into Gwendoline’s head. She stopped and thought a moment, her eyes shining. In one moment she saw how she could get even with Alicia and Darrell, yes, and give that stupid little Mary-Lou a few bad moments too.

It’s a little known fact that the word “frenemy” was created especially to describe Gwendoline Mary Lacey.

To Mary-Lou’s intense surprise she suddenly slipped her arm through the younger girl’s.

‘You be friends with me,’ she said, in a honeyed voice. ‘I shan’t treat you like Darrell does, and Alicia. I haven’t a wicked tongue like Alicia, or scornful eyes like Darrell. Why don’t you make friends with me? I shouldn’t jeer at you for any little kindnesses, I can tell you.’

Gwen is about as plausible as a snake, but Mary-Lou has low self-esteem and is desperate for a friend.  Still, her self-preservation instinct is not entirely atrophied:

She took her arm away from Gwendoline’s. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I can’t be friends with you, Gwendoline. You were very cruel to me that day in the pool. I’ve had dreams about it ever since.’

Imagine if Gwen was a guy being called out for cruel and bullying behaviour towards a girl he was now trying to ask out.  What would he say next?  I’m guessing the “It was just a joke” defence would come out.

WELL, WHAT HAVE WE GOT HERE?

‘It was just a joke.’

DING DING DING DING DING!

Mary-Lou is trapped.  She doesn’t want to be friends with Gwen, but she doesn’t know how to assert herself.  So she gives in:

‘Well,’ she said, hesitatingly, ‘well—if you really didn’t mean to hurt me, that time in the pool, Gwendoline, I’ll be friends. But I’m not going to talk against Darrell or Alicia.’

Gwendoline gave her arm a squeeze, bestowed another honeyed smile on the perplexed Mary-Lou and walked off to think out her suddenly conceived plan in peace.

Gwen’s plan is to play tricks on Mary-Lou, figuring that Alicia and Darrell will be blamed for them, as they’ve made no secret of their annoyance with Mary-Lou.  And Gwen genuinely believes that Darrell and Alicia would be that overtly cruel, even though their meanness is generally verbal and to one’s face rather than elaborate pranks designed to scare people.

She couldn’t even see that she was doing a mean thing. She called it ‘giving them all a lesson!’

I like this.  It’s plausible.  Most people don’t set out thinking, “Hah, I’m going to do the wrong thing!”  Rationalisations are go!

In fact, a similar plotline appears in the second season of Dance Academy — I really must do a post sometime about how Dance Academy combines boarding school and stage school tropes in one glorious Australian setting — when a girl destroys her pointe shoes and those of her “friend”, leaving the girl with undamaged shoes to take the blame.  But Grace doesn’t bother with rationalisations beyond the fact that her father ignores her and she’s jealous of the other students.  She’s quite upfront about being manipulative, which is refreshing compared with Gwen, but had her bordering on cartoon villainy by the end of the season.

Anyway, Gwen’s plans for Mary-Lou are about as sophisticated as breaking pointe shoes, only presumably less expensive:

She would pop a black-beetle into Mary-Lou’s desk—or a few worms—or even a mouse if she could get hold of it. But no—Gwendoline quickly ruled out mice because she was so scared of them herself. She didn’t much like black-beetles or worms either, but she could manage to scoop those up into a match-box or something.

She could do that. And she could remove Mary-Lou’s favourite pencils and hide them in Alicia’s locker. That would be a cunning thing to do! She might put one or two of Mary- Lou’s books in Darrell’s locker too. And how sympathetic she would be with Mary-Lou when she found out these tricks!

Gwen takes herself off to the garden in search of a worm, where Scottish Jean is dry and Scottish at her.  Giving up on worms, Gwen finds a spider, and even more impressively, manages to catch it.  (*shudder*)

She led the conversation round to spiders that evening. ‘I got my head caught in a web in the shed today,’ she said. ‘Oooh, it did feel horrid. I don’t like spiders.’

‘My brother Sam once had a tame spider,’ began Alicia, who could always be relied on to produce a bit of family history of any moment. ‘It lived under a fern in our green¬house, and it came out every evening for a drink of water, when Mother watered the ferns.’

There really ought to be some kind of Alicia’s Brothers Drinking Game.

Mary-Lou, to no one’s surprise, is afraid of spiders.  Alicia plays right into Gwen’s hands:

Terrified of this, scared of that—what a life you lead, Mary-Lou. I’ve a good mind to catch a large spider and put it down your neck!’

I don’t like to ask how, but Gwen manages to keep her spider alive until Monday.

Gwendoline’s chance came, and she took it. She was told to go and fetch something from her common room, ten minutes before afternoon school. She tore there to get it, then raced to the first-form classroom with the cardboard box. She opened it and let the great, long-legged spider run into the desk. It ran to a dark corner and crouched there, quite still.

Gwendoline hurried away, certain that no one had seen her. Two minutes later Darrell and Alicia strolled in to fill the flower-vases with water. Ah, luck was with Gwendoline just then!

WHAT A CLIFFHANGER!

This is the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.

It’s Interregnum Development.

Currently reading: The Stuart Princesses by Alison Plowden.  I like a bit of royal history now and then, because it’s the popular history subgenre most likely to contain books about women.

I also like the Stuarts, because that family produced a hell of a lot of intelligent, educated women who tend to get overshadowed by the Tudors.  Okay, in fairness, the two Stuart queens, Mary II and Anne, may have been intelligent but they were barely educated at all, because hey, they’re only the women most likely to inherit the throne, right?

Anne gets a particularly bad rap:  she was uneducated, bigoted, a bit of a drama llama, easily led by her better-educated friends and courtiers — WOW, THERE’S A SHOCK — and, worst of all, she was fat.  I can’t think of a single popular history of the Stuart queens that doesn’t mention, only about eighty or ninety times, that Anne was a fatty.  Never mind that she “let herself go” over the course of seventeen pregnancies in a desperate attempt to produce a living child (and the one that survived infancy died in young adulthood, BECAUSE IT SUCKS TO BE ANNE).  She was fat.  Fatty McFatfat.

Anyway, mostly what I’m taking from The Stuart Princesses is that the whole family was hilariously dysfunctional, and the world desperately needs a costume drama/sitcom in the style of Arrested Development. 

Okay, so a couple of these people won’t live to adulthood, but the ones who do? HILARIOUS.

This is especially true during the Interregnum, that wacky period where England was a republic.  Because the Stuarts were basically scattered all over Europe, trying to keep up appearances whilst being totally broke.  And there were passive-aggressive religious conversions and fights about money, and that time the Duke of York secretly married a Catholic and it was totes awkward, and Charles II basically being the Tony Stark of Europe and concealing his royal angst behind a whole boatload of wacky shenanigans and also a spiffy beard.

Then Charles was restored to the throne, and the shenanigans continued, only they were less wacky and more sad, because Charles was kind of a dick, and his favourite sister was in an abusive marriage with a gay man, and England kept going to war with people.  And meanwhile, Charles’s German cousin Sophia of Hanover, was getting on with things over there, happily married, popping out kids and writing voluminous and hilarious letters to everyone in Europe.

Sophia is seen here in a culturally appropriative “Indian” costume, but what’s notable about the portrait is that it was painted by her sister.

So she was super-intelligent, and so were her sisters — Elizabeth was BFFs with Descartes, Louise was an artist who ran away to join a Catholic convent and wound up running it, and Henriette Marie was a confectioner, although then she married a prince and died because that’s what women do, right?

Oh, and Sophia?  Heir to the throne of England.  Because Anne had no surviving children, and her younger brother was Catholic (OH NOES) and also she’d spent years putting it about that he wasn’t really her brother at all, so she had to kind of flail about looking for an appropriate Protestant heir.  And wound up calling the German branch of the family.

Anne was a lot younger than Sophia, but she only outlived her by a few weeks.  (BECAUSE SHE WAS FAT – many historians’ opinions.)  So Sophia’s son George became the king of England, and that put us on the path that led to mad George III, the vacuous Prince Regent/George IV (HE WAS ALSO FAT, YOU SHOULD KNOW), and eventually Queen Victoria and the current lot.

In short, history is AMAZING.  And there really ought to be more costume comedies.

Books read in September

Justice Hall – Laurie R King
The Game – Laurie R King
Locked Rooms – Laurie R King
Ba(nd) Romance – Sarah Billington (short story)
The Language of Bees – Laurie R King
God of the Hive – Laurie R King
The Pirate King – Laurie R King
Garment of Shadows – Laurie R King
Beekeeping for Beginners – Laurie R King (novella)
A Spy in the House – Y S Lee
Point of Honour – Madeleine E Robins
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
The Casual Vacancy – J K Rowling

A bit of a light month, what with all the re-reads. Other than the Russell novels, the standout was obviously JKR’s The Casual Vacancy. I wasn’t totally blown away — I found the realism jarred against the satire, and the ending didn’t thrill me, but it was a good read, and I’m eager to see what she writes next.

Chicks Unravel Time

Chicks Unravel Time. It’s a book. That I’m in.

I’m super-excited and proud to announce that I have an essay in Chicks Unravel Time (Mad Norwegian Press, edited by Deb Stanish and L M Myles), a look at every season of Doctor Who from a female perspective.  Other contributors include Barbara Hambly (so I know what my mum will REALLY be excited about), Joan Frances Turner, and Diana Gabaldon, so I’m in totally august company.

I got to write about season 17, and the way its reputation has been rehabilitated since it first aired.  You may ask, “How can a season that was script edited by Douglas Adams and included Daleks, Paris and a guys in bull masks and platform shoes get a reputation for being bad?”  And I say, “I DON’T EVEN KNOW!  But it’s surprisingly good despite budget problems and general behind-the-scenes shenanigans, and is driven by relationships and women in a way that people generally don’t expect of Classic Who.”

Then I talk about Nick and Nora Charles and get in a reference to Sherlock and a dig at Adric.

First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 9: Alicia in Trouble

Where were we?  Ah yes, Darrell has been forced to apologise for smacking Gwen; Mary-Lou has become the founder and pope of the Church of Darrell; Gwen has gone off in a huff; and Alicia has water in her ears.

The affair at the Pool had a good many results. First, it made Mary-Lou follow Darrell about like a dog that has found its master and doesn’t mean to leave it! She was always there to fetch and carry for Darrell. She tidied her desk for her. She even tidied the drawers in her dressing-table, and offered to make her bed each day.

Unfortunate dog metaphor is a bit unfortunate, given we’re dealing with a school for girls, but hey, 1946, remember?

Darrell, like a good Blyton heroine, is uncomfortable at this attention and tries to tell Mary-Lou to bug off and have a bit of self-respect.  Not in so many words, but that’s the subtext.  But Blyton is quite sympathetic to Mary-Lou:

But it didn’t in the least matter what Darrell said, Mary- Lou persisted in adoring her, and being on the watch for anything she could do. Darrell found chocolates put inside her desk. She found a little vase of flowers always on her dressing-table. But it irritated her and made her cross. She could not see Mary-Lou’s mind reaching-out for a friendship that might help her. Mary-Lou was so weak. She needed someone strong, and to her Darrell was the finest girl she had ever met.

The funny thing is, Mary-Lou is about as weak as Neville Longbottom.  It’s just that she has no self-confidence and is a bit young for her age.

Well, somewhat.  Flowers and chocolates, bless:  she’s pitching woo at Darrell Rivers.

So that’s Darrell and Mary-Lou.  What’s Gwen up to?

Another result of the Pool affair was that Gwendoline really did feel bitter towards Darrell now. She had never in her life been slapped by anyone, and she couldn’t forget it. Not even her mother had slapped her! It would have been very much better for spoilt, selfish Gwendoline if a few smacks had come her way when she was small. But they hadn’t and now the four or five slaps she had received from Darrell seemed to her, not a sudden flash of temper, soon to be forgotten, but a great insult somehow to be avenged.

‘And one day I’ll pay her back, see if I don’t!’ thought Gwendoline to herself. ‘I don’t care how long I wait.’

Scheming like a Disney villain, apparently!

I’d be curious to see if any of the current editions have removed the lines about Gwen needing to be smacked as a child.  They didn’t stand out to me as a kid, because I was occasionally smacked myself (and suffered no ill effects — but then, my mother also smoked through her pregnancy, and I came out fine, so I’m pretty sure my family just exists to undermine sensible parenting advice) but they seem like the sort of thing that would attract outraged headlines these days.

The third result of the Pool affair was that Alicia really did go deaf through swimming under water so long.

Le sigh.

On the upside, French is being taken by Mme Rougier, who’s less gullible than Mme Dupont and has no sense of humour whatsoever.

I mean, that’s the upside for me, not Alicia.

A quick sketch of Mam’zelle Rougier:

She was rarely in a good humour, as her thin lips, always tightly pressed together, showed. It was funny, Alicia thought, how bad-tempered people nearly always had thin lips.

Embarrassing fact: for years I thought that was a flat truth, not a rather harsh generalisation.  I mean, not that I stopped to give it any serious thought, but … yeah, well, then there was the time I had an epic girlcrush on Captain Janeway, and Kate Mulgrew has very thin lips, and suddenly I had to reconsider a few things!

Mam’zelle Rougier had a soft voice, which, however could become extremely loud when she was angry. Then it became raucous, like a rook’s, and the girls hated it.

I like the comparison to a rook.  Poor birds are always being overshadowed by crows and ravens.

Mme Rougier assumes, not unreasonably, that Alicia’s deafness is another attempt at a joke.

‘Alicia,’ she said, patting the little bun at the back of her head, ‘you are a funny girl and you do funny things, nest ce pas? But I also, I am funny and I do funny things. I would like you to write out for me in French, fifty times in your best handwriting, “I must not be deaf in Mam’zelle Rougier’s class.'”

Fifty lines becomes a hundred, and then Betty gets a hundred for trying to help Alicia out, and finally a note is passed:

‘You’ve got to write out a hundred lines for M. For goodness’ sake don’t say you can’t hear anything else, or you’ll get a thousand! She’s in a real paddy!’

“In a paddy” is slang I’ve never encountered elsewhere, but I rather like it.  And I appreciate how Betty takes the time to punctuate “for goodness’ sake” correctly.  Lots of twelve year olds wouldn’t bother!

Alicia makes it through French, but Mme Rougier lets Miss Potts know what’s happened.

‘You thought—or pretended you were deaf the other day,’ said Miss Potts, unfeelingly. ‘How in the world am I supposed to know when you are and when you aren’t, Alicia?’

Miss Potts: the very soul of common sense.  She has Alicia move to a desk in the front row.  Personally I don’t understand why that hadn’t happened already, because can you imagine teaching a class with Betty and Alicia sitting together?

Anyway, all the movement makes Alicia’s ears pop, and her hearing returns.  Miss Potts finds this all rather convenient.  Darrell finds it hilarious:

‘Oh, Alicia, I know it’s unkind of me to laugh,’ said Darrell, ‘but honestly it’s funny! First you pretend to be deaf, and pull Mam’zelle’s leg well. Then you really do get deaf, and nobody believes it! It’s just like that fable of the shepherd boy who called “wolf wolf!” when there wasn’t a wolf, and then when there really was, and he called for help, nobody came because nobody believed him!’

‘I thought you were my friend,’ said Alicia, stiffly. ‘I don’t like being preached at.’

Oh, grow up, Alicia.

(Odd side effect of reading these books at a young age: as an adult, it’s a real shock to look at these characters and realise that they’re adolescent children.  It’s like that moment when you look back and go, “Hang on, most of the Babysitter’s Club were thirteen.  What kind of parent lets thirteen year olds babysit their kids?  How could Stacey and Claudia afford all those amazing clothes?”)

Darrell sucks up by offering to write half of Alicia’s lines for her.

Mam’zelle Rougier was presented with one hundred lines that evening, half of them rather badly written and the other half quite nicely written. ‘Strange that a child should write so badly on one side of the paper and so well on the other!’ said Mam’zelle wonderingly. But fortunately for Alicia Mam’zelle got no further than wondering about it!

The next chapter is called “A Queer Friendship”.  Sadly it doesn’t involve Mary-Lou stepping up her courtship of Darrell with a romantic candlelight dinner.

Excuses for my absence; an ebook DRM rant

Soooooooooooooooooo, been a while, eh?  I do apologise; RL has been a bit busy, not to mention the minor matter of a month-long migraine that pretty much wiped me out for August.  (My doctor and I suspect it’s jaw tension and night-time teeth-grinding;  rather than pay $600 for a splint right before I leave for North America, I’ve ordered a nightguard from Dr Brux.  STAY TUNED.)

Also, the prospect of typing out large chunks of text has been … well, not all that enticing.  And I don’t think it could be avoided by having the Malory Towers books available in an ebook format, since generally DRM and copying and pasting are not considered compatible for some reason.

Now, I love ebooks!  I have a Kobo reader, but these days most of my reading is done on my lovely iPad, so I can jump between ePub and Kindle formats at will.  I still buy paper books, but frankly, I don’t have that much bookshelf space, so I try to stick to ebooks.

But just of late I’ve had some problems with DRM.

First I was no longer allowed to download new copies of the Laurie R King novels I bought back in 2009 and 2010, because the store no longer had the rights to sell them to Australia.

Fine, I thought, and eventually managed to find the ePub files I had downloaded back in the day.  No biggie, they were sitting on my old EeePC.  Only took half an hour!

BUT WAIT.  These DRM-locked files can only be managed through Adobe Digital Editions!

And ADE doesn’t acknowledge the existence of my iPad!  Something about the ongoing war between Adobe and Apple re Flash means hardly any Adobe things will work with iThings.  REAL MATURE, GUYS.  Thank God there are non-Adobe PDF readers, or I’d be screwed!

(Notability: for that happy moment when your friend has sent you her manuscript, and you need to scribble notes all over it but don’t want to print it out!)

In short, if I wanted to read these novels — for which I had paid AU$20 each, since at the time they weren’t out on Kindle and I could only find one store that would sell them to an Australian — I’d have to do it on my laptop, which is uncomfortable and not hugely mobile compared with the iPad, or I’d have to buy them again.

(Where was my Kobo, you ask?  Lent it to a friend.  Well, I wasn’t using it!  I FIGURED MY iPAD WOULD TAKE CARE OF ALL MY NEEDS!)

So I bought them again.

A few days later, I had inhaled all of King’s Mary Rusell novels (a cross-dressing 1920s theologian who is married to Sherlock Holmes and occasionally investigates crime herself?  SIGN ME UP.  SIGN ME UP TWICE) and I desperately needed more.  And bitter experience has taught me that this is not a fandom that produces much good fan fiction.

Then I remembered “Beekeeping for Beginners”, an e-novella published last year.  I had even bought it at the time!

Oh.  Adobe Digital Editions again.

Well, it was pay week, and the Kindle version was only $2.  So I bought a second copy.

Then I read it, and loved it, and tried to send a copy of the Kindle version to my friend Branwyn, who has long been my partner-in-crime when it comes to this series.

Oh no.  Amazon took my money, then told Branwyn, “Nope, this is the international version.  No can do.”  And gave her a $2 gift voucher in substitute.

I mean, seriously.

I’ve never really given much attention to the arguments about locked versus unlocked ebooks and consequences with sales, but I’m generally in favour of paying for things that I want to read (or at least going to the library) and hence not pirating books.

But I do not understand how restricting electronic sales across arbitrary geological boundaries is in any way a good idea.

(See also the Sarah Tolerance novels by Madeleine E Robins – the first two are available again in Kindle format, but only in the US.  I had to go through a lot of user-unfriendly rigmarole to get the first one via an inter-library loan.)

If a customer can jump on Amazon or BookDepository and buy a physical book, why is that same customer unable to buy the electronic edition?  Is this good for business?  It’s not as though Australia is teeming with ebook sellers, and those that we have tend to be ridiculously overpriced.

(I worked at Borders for a long time, and I was very glad to be getting a much higher wage and better working conditions than, say, Amazon staff.  But staff expenses alone don’t justify the difference in pricing between American and Australian ebooks.)

And I like Apple products, but there’s a lot of “I’M TAKING MY TOYS AND GOING HOME” where they’re concerned, and it’s customers who suffer.

There, I have ranted!  Now I shall make an unprecedented second post of the day, dealing with chapter 9 of First Term at Malory Towers!

Books read in August

One of my projects for 2012 has been keeping a list of books I read each month.  At first I was just posting the list and a couple of thoughts if the books seemed to warrant it, but every month that post grows longer.

So, begging patience from anyone who already sees this on Dreamwidth, here are my books for August and corresponding thoughts:

VIII – H M Castor
Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia – Matthew Dennison
The Poisoner’s Handbook – Deborah Blum
Alchemy and Meggy Swann – Karen Cushman
The Colour of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa
I Want My MTV – Craig Marks
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
A Monstrous Regiment of Women – Laurie R. King
A Letter of Mary – Laurie R. King
The Moor – Laurie R. King
O Jerusalem – Laurie R. King
Am I Black Enough For You? – Anita Heiss

The round-up:

VIII is a YA novel covering the life of Henry VIII. As such it breaks a bunch of sometimes-written rules of YA, in that the main character ages well past the target audience’s age bracket and does things they might not have direct experience with, like marriage, divorce, spousal murder, ruling England, declaring war on France and Spain, etc. I don’t think breaking that rule guideline was the reason why the book sort of floundered after Anne Boleyn died, though — it’s more that (as happens so often), the first two wives got all the characterisation, so after the beheading it felt more like a series of sketches about an increasingly unpleasant character. The first half, though, was really good.

I wanted to read Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia since I found it in Hill of Content back in 2010, but couldn’t bring myself to pay $50 for the hardback. LIBRARIES, MAN. It was a good, clear biography with an increasingly hilarious hate-on for Robert Graves and I, Claudius and the general historiographical hatchet job on Livia. It could have done with some closer editorial attention, though, with unintentionally hilarious sentences like, “Augustus himself had given birth only to Julia.” There’s also an irritating trend through the book of praising Livia by putting other prominent Roman women of her era down.

Alchemy and Meggy Swann: decent middle-grade fiction about a disabled girl who comes to live with her father, an alchemist, in Elizabethan London. I was really impressed with Cushman’s use of the slang and songs of the era, and the portrayal of Meggy’s physical limitations.

The Colour of Earth is the first part in a manhwa trilogy. (That’s the Korean graphic novel and comic form, I discovered when I went straight from Amazon to Wikipedia.) I was pretty mixed — the art is gorgeous, but I kind of finished it going, “And this is three whole books about a mother and daughter who have no existence beyond their romantic dreams?” And then there was an afterword explaining that it’s notable for its unusually feminist and layered portrayal of women. How to scare Liz off an entire genre in one easy move! (I did like the relationship between mother and daughter, I just kept waiting for them to have a conversation that wasn’t about men or romance or sex.)

I Want My MTV is an oral history of the network, with various employees and celebrities sharing their memories and experiences. Parts of it were quite interesting, lots of it made me want to throw things, and the repeated complaints that it’s all terrible now made me want to go and watch Pimp My Ride. Boomers v Gen X: no one wins, least of all Gen Y.

THEN, because I had a cold and was feeling sorry for myself, and also because the book I wanted to read is unavailable in Australia, I started re-reading the Mary Russell novels. Which are only intermittently objectively good, but I love them. And I also love the way Sherlock fans on Tumblr express OUTRAGE that any character could be written as a match for Sherlock Holmes, LET ALONE A WOMAN. The misogyny wasn’t cute when it was coming from neckbeards; it’s downright ugly coming from women.

Finally, the month’s winner for book I liked most is Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss, which is part-memoir and part exploration of Aboriginal identity, expectations, stereotypes and more. (I especially enjoyed the chapter on Indigenous cultural expressions, copyright and cultural appropriation.) Heiss is an academic, writer, poet, activist and author of commercial women’s fiction. You know, chick-lit. In this case, chick-lit about educated young Koori women with jetsetting lifestyles and complex romantic lives. (I’ve been circling her novels for a while, torn between, “But I don’t really like chick-lit!” and “But if it had a different label you’d snap that up in an instant!”)

Heiss was also an applicant in the Andrew Bolt racial discrimination case last year, for which I was part of the transcription team. (In fact, nearly a whole page of Am I Black Enough For You? is a quotation from transcript I did myself! SHUT UP, I WAS VERY PROUD OF OUR WORK THERE! There were fair amounts of research involved, and also it was 90% rage-typing!) I don’t think I’ve ever before had a chance to read about a case I worked on from a party’s point of view, and it was informative and interesting.

I was also interested that Heiss discusses race and racism in terms that the internet (okay, Tumblr) claims is unacceptable, which was a handy reminder that fandom’s attitude towards discussing race is strongly US-centric and not universal. (Not that I discuss race much, online or elsewhere, but I read a lot.) One of the problems Heiss discusses is identity policing from people, black and white, who say she is too educated, urban, middle-class, etc, to be “really” Koori. Given that a few months ago, fandom was being told Korra, a brown-skinned fictional character, is “really” white because she has … well, any privilege at all — that rang pretty strongly. That identity-erasure was at the heart of the entire lawsuit last year, so I was kind of fascinated and horrified to see the Andrew Bolt Approach being taken up by people who are ostensibly anti-racist.

From politics to cartoons, and I still managed to get one nail painted! Saturday morning accomplishment: ACHIEVED!

[ETA:  One thing I meant to say in this post, and forgot, that if you’re writing, or thinking of writing, anything involving Aboriginal people, cultural works, characters, etc, Am I Black Enough For You? also contains a wealth of information about authors, reports and guidelines to check out.  I mention this because a major supporting character in Le Novel, who will have the POV if I ever get to the sequel, is a twelve year old Koori girl, and I’m really glad to have all these resources for the avoidance of offence and stereotypes.]

And if, by chance, you want to look at earlier posts, check out my books tag on DW.