Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Poem for Edward Gorey on his Belated Birthday

A Poem for one of my personal favorites, Edward Gorey.
on the day after his birthday

 If you don't know the story
Of my friend Edward Gorey
And his creepy illustrations
That could drive you to libations
I would encourage you to give him a gander

For in his books
are people with hollow looks
Children who die strange deaths
And creatures from murky depths
Of one strange and beautiful imagination

But the story that I think is best
Is the tale of the Doubtful Guest
A cute little creature 
With a striped scarf as a feature
Who suddenly appeared
And quickly endeared
Himself to a strange, hollow family

Tearing up his shoes
Playing in Flues
Tearing books out of pages
And other outrages
Were some of his favorite to-dos

So, today if you need a distraction
To avoid social interaction
 Explore my friend Gorey
And take in his stories
On this his most special day.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book review: "Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations" by Olivier Le Carrer

You know how people talk about having "wanderlust"? These places will fix that.
Or how people have bucket lists for places they want to travel? This is the opposite of that.

In this lovely formatted, pleasure to hold in your hands type of book, Mr Le Carrer takes us to places all around the world that we would only want to visit from the comfort of our living rooms.  Some places we can't visit anymore like:

- The ancient city of Carthage where pits have been discovered that contain "twenty thousand funerary urns, mostly of young children". Children offered as human sacrifices.

-The Sundra Strait, which is still there, but it looks different then it did in 1883 when a massive volcanic eruption killed tens of thousands of people and created "the tsunami that lapped the planet three times over".

There are places that you absolutely can still visit like (but you shouldn't):

- The Bermuda Triangle, which I feel like I don't even need to describe because you know the stories

- The city of Nuremburg where Hitler had grand plans for his 1000 year Reich. (Though in a moment of "oh hell yes! Take that you bastard Nazis" the building that used to house the SS barracks now houses the High Commission of Refugees.)

-Or the place in far, far, far northern Russia where there's a whole bunch of nuclear submarines, still with their payloads bobbing and rusting and decaying in the cold waters. Do you trust that none of them are leaking? I don't. I think Russia's got some 3 eyeballed fish, a la the Simpsons up there.

Not only was this a beautiful looking book, the writing was elegant and kind of lovely considering the ocassionally gruesome subject matter. The short chapters made it easy, fast reading and a good book that you could pick up and set down on busy days. This was right up my weirdo alley and I wish there were 15 more books just like this. 4 out of 5 stars.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Book review: "Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Year of Erotic Tradition" by Beverley Jackson

You're probably thinking, uh Wesley? Erotic tradition of shoes? I don't understand. Are we talking about plastic high heeled platforms? Erotic shoes? Wha?

You know what, I wish we were talking about stripper shoes, but you know what we are talking about instead? Mutilation of children as young as 3, and the people that did this to them? Their friends and relatives. We'll be talking about the tradition of foot binding in China.

So it's going to be more talking about bones breaking than....let's say...Quentin Tarantino sexual foot fetish but we will cover both.

Image result for that escalated quickly

I know Ron. I know.

So let's talk about how this book got on my TBR. It was mentioned in one of the first episodes I ever listened to of one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed in History Class. The episode was graphic and interesting and eye opening. I just assumed that foot binding was something the aristocracy did to be like "hey, look at my wife. She doesn't have to work because I'm so rich so she's got these tiny ass feet and boy aren't I rich". But I figured there was more to it than that and I listened to the episode and I was right. This book was mentioned several times and I finally got it from the library. I'm going to be honest with you. If you're like, wow that sounds like an interesting book but I don't want to actually read it, listen to the podcast. (But you'd be missing out on all of the pictures of the crazily embroidered shows which would be a mistake!).

I'm going to broadstroke the process of footbinding because it's gruesome and gross and sad. It usually started for girls between the ages of 3 and 5 because the bones in their feet hadn't really developed and it was cartillagey yet. There were a couple of ways that the foot could be broken to achieve different types of bound feet, but no matter what you usually ended up walking on the tops of your toes. The ideal length of a foot was no more that 3-ish inches.The bones would need to be rebroken several times and the bindings were wrapped very tightly to keep the feet in place. I either didn't read it or just tried to gloss over it but I don't remember what they actually used to break the bones and I don't want to know. The chances of this going really badly and leading to infection and who knows what other medical problems would be really high. Though, most women would risk infection and death than to have their foot amputated if something did actually go wrong.

A couple more facts:

- There'd be Christian orphanages and they would allow the practitioners of foot binding to come in to the orphanages and bind the young girls feet, otherwise NO marriage prospects

-As you can imagine, having to hobble along on tiny 3 inch feet lead to almost universal back and spine problems for these women.

-If you were being trained as a young boy to be an actor and it seemed that you were going to be doing ladies parts (like how in Shakespeare's time men would often play the women's roles) they would get their feet bound to be more authentic.

The shoes that these women would wear were intricately embroidered and considered prized possessions. Many men also considered them HIGHLY erotic just to see them, and often women would pin their shoes to their clothing so no man could just push them down and snatch off their shoes and make off with them.

When a woman (I should say young girl, because let's be honest, that's what it was) would get married she would have a very special pair of red shoes. On her wedding night she would leave them by the bed, and put pornographic pictures in them for her husband to find, and then after viewing them together they would consummate their marriage. (Though it's worth noting here that only VERY rarely would a man see his wife's unbound feet. Probably something to do with the terrible smell that could be a problem and because of how gruesome it looked. Women would wear very soft, nonrestrictive shoes to bed). 

I'm just going to copy this sentence from the book "There is said to have been a special training manual for prostitutes which detailed in great variety how to use their feet during sex".(Basically what you're thinking is what happened).  Also, there seemed to be a lot of drinking games with the prostitutes involving their shoes. Like, basically beer pong with teeny shoes. So much drinking alcohol out of tiny shoes, but they were basically the size of a shot class so...

So, just to put a pin in the feet fetish section, bound feet played a HUGE part in getting a good husband, having sex with said husband, and keeping harmony in the marriage. Which is funny because I don't think my husband could pick any of my shoes out of a line up.

This is already a hella long review so I will just say that if you are interested in cultural differences, women's history, pictures of tiny shoes, and have questions about bound foot porn (because that's a thing, please don't google that at work) this book has all that and more. This book kept me intrigued, but it mainly made me feel sad for these generations of poor hobbled women who could barely walk without assistance.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book review: "The Bear and the Nightingale" by Katherine Arden

A book set in dark, cold Russia set in a world where the line between everyday life and the folkloric tales is smudged away. 

The setting of this book is truly one of the main characters. I'm so glad that I read this book in winter, the impact of this book would not be the same if you read this on a beach somewhere I think. The Russia of this book is cold and dark, with dark foreboding forests and squat, small villages.

The story centers around Vasilisa; the youngest girl of her land holding noble family. There is something different about her, maybe having something to do with the fact that her mother and her grandmother were always accused of having some magical or at least strange tendencies.  There's no denying that Vasilisa is different. The spirits that live in the forest, in their home, in their stables and even in the village bathhouse are all obvious to her. She talks to them and brings them food.

Upheaval comes twice in short order to Vasilia's life. Her mother died minutes after giving birth, so her father after a few years decides to go to Moscow to find a new bride. The czar basically forces him to marry a certain woman with noble blood...but who also sees the same things that Vasilia sees but instead of "oh these are just little magical beings who have been a part of this already old place for a very long time" she sees "DEMONS!". This gets even worse when she leaves the city for the country.  She's a very pious woman, and so she makes sure that a new priest follows her shortly after she leaves for the countryside. This new priest immediately feels that Vasilia is (somehow, simultaneously) alluring, frightening and  repulsive to him. Lots of mixed feelings there.

With the new priest comes big changes to the townspeople who are encouraged to disregard their superstitious ways. This means the little spirits that protect that village and it's occupants are weakened enough that something evil is able to find it's way in........

I liked this book. I like folklore stuff, I like magical realism stuff, I have a well documented weird obsession with Russia here on this blog. I feel like it maybe went a little of the rails at the end, but overall a very good book with interesting characters. Snuggle under a blanket and read this book!