Links! Lots of Things to Read and Look At This Week

Book Harlequin E Boxed Set Link time! It's like we're on the internet, this enormous trove of interconnected data and opinion searchable in myriad directions. Oh, internet, you're so awesome. 

First up: I'm over at Kirkus this week talking about Coming In from the Cold by Sarina Bowen, which I read last week on vacation and which helped break my reading slump: 

In my last column, I wrote about my reading slump, and how so few of the books I was picking up to read were grabbing my interest. As far as slumps go, this was pretty bad for me: It lasted nearly two weeks, and I picked up and put down at least 10 different romances. But lucky for me, actual snow and literary snow helped break my slump.

Before I left on vacation, author Sarina Bowen contacted me and offered her book, part of a four-book digital set, for vacation reading because the hero and heroine start the story trapped in their cars in a blizzard. HELLO MY CATNIP. Get into my car!

Coming In from the Cold was a perfect slump busting read, and good for vacation, too. It wasn't perfect—I had some problems with the hero—but the story held my attention emotionally and intellectually. I had all the requisite emo-tingles for the heroine and the hero, and yes, their being trapped in a car for hours was a perfect start.

Hear ye, hear ye! Reader nominations for the DABWAHA will close tomorrow, 15 March! Head on over to enter your picks if you haven't! We'll be opening bracket selection on Sunday! 

Via author Sarah Mayberry comes this amazing link to the photography of Vivian Maier. This is incredible – you must look.

Imagine this : perhaps the most important street photographer of the twentieth century was a nanny who kept everything to herself. Nobody had ever seen her work and she was a complete unknown until the time of her death. For decades Vivian’s work hid in the shadows until decades later (in 2007), historical hobbyist John Maloof bought a box full of never developed negatives at a local auction for $380.

Via Tina C: a dress we'll all covet. This gown is made from the spines and cover art of discarded Little Golden Books. Have a look. No, really, this gown is incredibly beautiful. 

You'd think I'd have reached my limit of the 50 Shades of Grey analysis articles, but this one really, really fascinated me and gave me a lot to think about in terms of the wealth fantasy in the series: Heather Havrilesky in The Baffler examines the messages and codes within the wealth signals inside each book, and it's all kinds of brain-Jiffy-Pop in here. (Keep going past the “bodice-ripper” part – it gets way better.)

…what Fifty Shades of Grey offers is an extreme vision of late-capitalist deliverance, the American (wet) dream on performance-enhancing drugs. Just as magazines such as Penthouse, Playboy, Chic, and Oui (speaking of aspirational names) have effectively equated the moment of erotic indulgence with the ultimate consumer release, a totem of the final elevation into amoral privilege, James’s trilogy represents the latest installment in the commodified sex genre. The money shot is just that: the moment when our heroine realizes she’s been ushered into the hallowed realm of the 1 percent, once and for all….

After the fifteenth or sixteenth time Anastasia and Christian “find [their] release together,” they start to resemble tourists with no short-term memory, repeating the same docented visit to Graceland over and over again, drooling over the claustrophobic upholstered pool room and the mirrored wall and the fourteen-foot-long white leather couch afresh each time.

But let’s not mistake sex for the main event. The endless manual jimmying and ripped foil packets and escalating rhythms and release-findings are just foreplay for the real climax, in which Anastasia recognizes that she’s destined to abandon her ordinary, middle-class life in favor of the rarefied veal pen of the modern power elite.

Whoa. So in Havrilesky's analysis, it's not so much sex as money, power and lack of consequences that is the core of the fantasy.

Anne Helen Petersen wrote a really, really fascinating examination of “Cool Girls” and the current obsession with Jennifer LawrencePetersen examines the “Cool Girl” archtype, described in Gone Girl and summarized in the article's subtitle, “Be chill and don’t be a downer, act like a dude but look like a supermodel.” She then traces the celebrity Cool Girl history back to Jane Fonda, Carole Lombard, and Clara Bow:

Jennifer Lawrence is by no means the first nationally visible Cool Girl. Olivia Munn, Olivia Wilde, and Mila Kunis are recent also-rans, but the Cool Girl has a genealogy that traces all the way back to silent Hollywood. Famous Cool Girls are women who became stars during periods of societal anxiety over increasing freedoms for women, and as people quietly wondered whether women, once emancipated, would become homely, castrating bitches. Cool Girls have been proof positive that a woman could be liberated and progressive and yet pleasing to men, both in appearance and in action.

Yet the Cool Girl’s cool is ephemeral. We’ve been anticipating the J.Law backlash for months, but if and when it comes, it’ll have less to do with Lawrence and more to do with the need for a new articulation of the Cool Girl to keep the myth alive. This is an anxiety that needs constant soothing, and one star can provide only so much reassurance. One minute you’re cool, perfectly balancing the progressive and the regressive, but when that balance falters, you’re too much, too sexual, too loud, too performative, and the cultural backlash sweeps you under.

Petersen's book, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema, comes out in September, so she knows whereof she speaks (plus she wrote her PhD thesis on the history of celebrity gossip, which…COOL). 

I thought this entire analysis was superb and so thought-provoking. I wonder, are there Cool Girl romance heroines you can think of? Or are they too sexual, too loud, too performative, etc, to be successful within the confines of the genre? 

Book Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Recipe Book

Via Morgan, Parade Magazine, which is usually part of the Sunday paper that arrives on my driveway despite the fact that we don't subscribe (?!), published an examination of the most popular books by state

Scribd—a Netflix-like e-book subscription service that lets users read unlimited books for $8.99 per month—arrived at these results by calculating how many times a book was read by readers registered in that state.

Alabama likes Lisa Kleypas, as does Georgia (and really, who doesn't?). Alaska likes ice cream (which is totally funny except I have the Ben & Jerrys ice cream cookbook and it's freaking awesome). And Idaho likes Julia Quinn. And New Jersey likes Victoria Alexander. 

Ah, romance, you're so awesome. 

From Priscilla comes this lovely collection of funny book titles, some of which I've seen before, probably on BuzzFeed, but others were new, like this one:

Book Does God Ever Speak Through Cats?

Oh for crying out loud. OF COURSE GOD SPEAKS through cats. Have you ever TALKED to a cat?  

Oddly enough, I've read Taro Gomi's Everyone Poops at bedtime many, many times. It's kind of awesome, that book. But I can't read it in Morgan Freeman's voice, which is a shame.

(I won't mention how much I wish I had that guy's impression of Freeman saying “Which end is the snake's behind?” as a ringtone.)  

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  1. 1
    kkw says:

    I saw an exhibit of Maier’s photography fairly recently. Definitely worth checking out.

    I think the Cool Girl doesn’t feature so much in romance, because she’s more a fantasy creation to reassure men. Women in romance novels tend to be more reassuring to women: they can be too sexual too angry too everything, and be celebrated for that. Old Skool novels used to have more perfect heroines, but they were a regressive perfect, not generally cool at all.

    The heroes are the ones stuck reassuring us it’s possible to be manly and sensitive, aggressive and nurturing, to have an eight pack and never go to the gym. Because even if you’re a world leader you must be at all times available to the heroine, sexually, emotionally, as a caregiving protector, and an open wallet.

  2. 2
    LenoreJ says:

    Have you ever noticed how more and more we only exist in the larger world as consumers? And that consuming had better be monetized? I remember feeling puzzled when I stopped being called a passenger by the airlines, and became a customer. Maybe this wretched recession will remind us that even when we don’t or can’t shop we are still valuable. Or maybe not.

  3. 3
    Lynnd says:

    @ LenoreJ yes, this.

  4. 4
    jan says:

    Sigh   As an older woman (in my 60’s) who had watched firsthand the dismissal of woman artists, it saddens me to see the photos and know she, personally, never received recognition for her art.  The advent of blogs and websites written by women showcasing their work and their talent, opens the world to their work. 

    Love the dresses!! You’re right, they are incredible.

  5. 5
    Vasha says:

    You didn’t give the link to theBaffler article http://thebaffler.com/past/fifty_shades_of_late_capitalism

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    @Vasha:

    Oh, LORD. Thank you! That was dumb of me! Fixed.

    @kkw:

    I’m pondering what you said about heroes, that they are held within a fixed and narrow definition of manhood by romances. I’m not sure I entirely agree, but I don’t disagree either. I think I’ve tried to write four sentences here but my brain is stuck on, “Huh….” Clearly I’ve run out of words for the day. But thank you for that comment.

  7. 7
    Vasha says:

    kkw has a point. Although Cool Girls can be entertaining to read about (Phryne Fisher is a prime example), they can’t be romance heroines, because one of their two defining characteristics, beside hotness, is that they don’t give a shit. They never need anything, either materially or emotionally. They’re effortlessly fun, always on top of life, and never make any demands on their men. When Carole Lombard was married to Clark Gable, they had a public image showing her as his good pal and not the kind of wife who might make a man feel “shackled”. This is all the antithesis of romance’s emotional interdependence.

  8. 8
    Emily A. says:

    As for the 50 shades article, I have longed thought the message was anything is worth it and your should put up with almost everything if you can end up with a billionaire. She says it more elegantly than I would have.

    I loved the photography and that dress.

  9. 9
    Karin says:

    That Golden Book dress! And I love the photos too. By the way, if you ever want to get lost for a few hours, the NYC Municipal Photo Archives has over 870,000 images. http://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/allCollections

  10. 10
    LML says:

    Well, see, regarding the excerpt from Ms Havrilesky and Emily A.‘s comment, this is why I didn’t study English Lit: I am unable to believe that author James wrote her stories with intent to convey ideas of inclusion in commodified sex genre, abandoning ordinary middle class life, or putting up with anything for economic gain.  It is interesting to read essays and opinions of an author’s work, but I trust only the author to tell me what ideas they intended to convey.

  11. 11
    Vasha says:

    Well, the point of this literary analysis is that the way the author “tells” what ideas she’s putting into the book is in the way she writes! She may or may not say in an interview “I aspire (or think my readers aspire) to “own” everything in sight and have absolute freedom from consequences” but if that is the sort of HEA that she gives her heroine, then that is the sort of fantasy the readers are dreaming over. Yeah, some books would be critiquing or questioning the values and experiences of the characters, but others (like this) are a straightforward fantasy, and again you deduce which is which by reading it. You can’t ask dead authors about their values but you can guess at them anyway.

  12. 12
    Cordy says:

    I am such a fan of Classic Scandals on the Hairpin – I’m excited to see she has a book coming out!

    Re: Cool Girls, as a reader of mostly historical romances, many contemporaries seem relatively rich in Cool Girls to me: ladies who are district attorneys or have some other type of hard-charging job, who are very attractive and sans sexual or physical hangups, who are often cool with the “starts out as casual sex” way the central relationship gets going, who totally have their life together and don’t secretly long for a boyfriend.

    Compared to many historical romances, where romance/marriage is both the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems, it seems to me that some contemporary romances have a fundamental tension between wanting to establish a heroine who is attractive, but totally autonomous, and yet also somehow missing that perfect someone who can complete her life. Which can be quite hard to pull off, I think, particularly if there aren’t a ton of good external obstacles to the couple getting together.

    That 50 Shades thing is really interesting. Another contemporary-historical thing: it seems to me that historicals tend to put financial issues really front-and-center, compared to contemporary romances, where the longing for financial stability and/or luxury is often much more coded. In historicals, people are always having very frank conversations about how much money someone has, and if a so-and-so needs to marry a rich wife, and it when a women is courted by a rich man, it’s pretty openly acknowledged that his wealth is part of the attraction.

    I just glommed a bunch of Cara McKenna novels (After Hours was my far-and-away favorite) and she seems to repeatedly write about blue-collar characters, which I found FASCINATING. I mean, it’s one of the only times I’ve read a contemporary romance that not only acknowledged that some people work as a carpenter, but was also really straight about the fact that maybe carpenters don’t make that much money, and worry about paying the mortgage. (Contra the many contemps I have started, but not finished, that feature things like magically wealthy lumberjacks or Navy SEALs or whatever, some guy with a butch job but a rich man’s lifestyle.)

    Really interesting.

  13. 13
    Bona says:

    As always, very interesting ideas flow in this post. What I really loved were Vivian Maier‘s pictures. They are incredibly beautiful. I sent the link to my significant other, that loves Art even more than me.

  14. 14
    Faellie says:

    Georgette Heyer did the cool girl heroine.  Venetia, anyone?

  15. 15
    Terrie says:

    Love the dress. LOVE the photos. Amazing. And that she did what she did so privately reminds me of Emily Dickinson.

  16. 16
    Sarita says:

    The Cool Girl thing is intriguing as a framing of something I’ve sort-of noticed but never had a clear picture of. Like the way sometimes women who are trying to break free of rigid expectations ending up looking down on other women. Or the way a woman with traditionally masculine traits and interests is considered cooler than normal women, but a man with traditionally feminine traits and interest does not get the same reaction. Or the way heroines in movies (and many books) get to kick tons of ass…as long as they still look like models. I don’t know where I’m going with this, I’m very tired. But anyhoo, neat post, and very interesting discussions in the comments.

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