GREETINGS, NOBLES OF DAMES NATION!
Look into our dazzling eyes & prepare your To Read/Listen/Watch Lists for boarding.
First of all, thank you to the lovely and beautiful Dames for housing us in the fragile shell of their TinyLetter for a day. How late were we handing it in! So, so, snow-day late. We blame the toddlers!*
But who are we, you may reasonably be asking?
I'm Barrie Hardymon, senior editor at NPR. You can listen to me jaw on plenty of NPR podcasts -- like Pop Culture Happy Hour [DamesFav episodes include The Romance Novel Special and Labor Pains & Inspirations], and Sam Sanders' new project (it's piloting on NPRone! go listen.) You can follow my tentative tweeting at @bhardymon. Lizzie and I have known each other since the worst days of our twenties back in Baltimore. We used to smoke a great deal. Now we have toddlers and kindergartners and are sassy old dames. I have never done an NPR interview without mentioning Wolf Hall at least once -- a secret love letter to Lizzie.
I'm Lizzie Skurnick! I reprint old children's literature at Lizzie Skurnick Books, make up words at That Should Be a Word, and talk about my teen reading at Shelf Discovery. I was a literary blogger BACK WHEN YOU COULD GET FIRED FOR IT and also when people blogged. I have known Barrie since back when that belly-dancing restaurant in D.C. existed, and have been there with her, possibly more than once. I literally never tweet because I don't want strangers talking to me, but if you want to Friend me on Facebook, then you are not a stranger!
We know the Bossies work hard to keep you abreast of all that is best in media and ephemera and advice that week. However, lately, keeping abreast is sort of this:
So we thought we could commence not with the present, BUT THE PAST. Fear not: no tiresome actual historical documents that will shed light on the present or present tomes that discuss why everything happening now is SO. MUCH. LIKE. EVERYTHING that happened in the past. This is some SERIOUS HISTORICAL FICTION AND FICTIONAL HISTORY AND NARRATIVE NONFICTION, BITCHES--Henry the VIII, kid boots, Texas Rangers, Greenwich Village lesbians--to keep you firmly ensconced in an era that is NOT NOW.
Us too, Blanca!
*I just have to point out that while I was writing this, my child a) peed in the potty for the first time, and b) carried said bowl of pee over to the toilet while I was trying to figure out giphy. Worst mother in the world; best mother in the world? You decide. -- Lizzie
**Some of us however, are contending with the worst toddler of all -- THE NEWS CYCLE. It doesn’t sleep. It asks to nurse at your brain and your anxiety center at odd hours of the night. It makes you nervous that it will never grow up, pivot, and go to college. And perhaps worst of all, it asks that you Google the share price of Nordstrom, rather than spring open-toed booties of Nordstrom.--Barrie
ANYWAY. Let us commence.
Tudor bros (OR ARE THEY??)
WOLF HALL One of my favorite things about Wolf Hall, except for everything about Wolf Hall, is Mantel’s sly nods towards the Internet, which I literally think are the only wink-wink nod-nods in the novel, viz: “It is likely, he thinks, that we shall never know what it really was. A printing press that writes its own works? A mind that thinks about itself? If I can’t have it, at least the King of France doesn’t, either.” (That last is literally how I think about almost everything.)
BRING UP THE BODIES Forgive me. But you know how some people roll their eyes at you when you tell them to read Wolf Hall? “It’s too long! Everyone’s named Thomas! Not enough bodices!” While that’s all fake news, obviously, it’s worth mentioning that worthy gem of a sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, which both lives up to its predecessor, and can be read on its own. It’s also a thrilling read that in its last third brings Cromwell firmly toward 1984 territory, and might save you the trouble of being the seventieth person reading that old trope in the coffee shop.
RIDDLEY WALKER. Speaking of tropes -- if you want a weirder, more interestingly flawed dystopia, why not try Riddley Walker. Set in an barely recognizable post-nuclear England, it plunges you into its world with the oddest language -- something that’s both feudal and futuristic. The best part is the author is the very same man who wrote the beloved books about Frances the badger, from whom I learned everything I know about how to deal with picky eaters. If you see connections, please, please, write me -- it seems as if he must have had a psychotic break in order to go from one to the other, or maybe a long-suffering wife secretly wrote Riddley.
JOAN AIKEN’S JANE AUSTEN NOVELLAS. Did you know these existed? Seriously, I did not. They are nasty, twisted, brilliant pieces of work that make use of my favorite sequel convention--a minor character that becomes a major one. Purists and #superfans, these are not for you. Wolves of Willoughby Chase fans, these might not even be for you. These are for the people who thought that Marianne Dashwood might possibly grow up and still be a pain in the ass.
THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE While I can dip in and out of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies -- any page will do -- Crimson Petal requires a SCHEDULE. I read it approximately every year and a half, because I have to forget enough of it to have the feeling of being swept into Sugar’s Victorian fun house mirror. I actually don’t know that there’s another heroine I thought about more after my first encounter -- she’s such a genius weirdo that I found myself daydreaming about where she is now. The sexual politics are so well drawn, I almost thought this book was written by a woman. Bonus!! Did you know there’s a tiny sequel short story follow-up? You’re welcome.
THE BEEBO BRINKER NOVELS. If I could live anywhere in the world for one summer, it would be in 1950s Greenwich Village as imagined by Ann Bannon, ideally spent mostly in some bar underworld of secret signifying and pained people who stay in the closet while brave people come out. There, I could shed my straight upbringing and fall in love with the girl in the boatneck top and the grey eyes. Or the ballet shoes, I forget which. In a perfect world, Louise Fitzhugh, Marijane Meaker, and Sandra Scoppettone would also be there to be part of my children’s writing circle. Don’t ask, don’t get.
THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING. Black cowboys; Indian captives: what’s not to love? Britt Johnson, former slave, Texas freighter, real-life historical actual person, freed his family from the Kiowa Indians in Texas after a raid, then went back and rescued other Indian captives on his routes. (Yes! It’s THE SEARCHERS, but they made Johnson white in the movie, because WORLD.) Author Paulette Jiles’ precise, brilliant depiction of post-Civil War Texas in all its brutal complexity is just... SO GOOD. Not sure why there are not a million Britt Johnson novels, but this one is masterful, and it’s masterful to everyone on every side. (I recommend all of her books, btw.)
ALL THE JEAN RHYS EVER. I mean, I love Wide Sargasso Sea, too. BUT HAVE YOU READ THE FIRST FOUR NOVELS? They are so good that I stole a hardcover collected works from my college library (shhhh) and still occasionally hole up in my flannel jams to read Voyage In The Dark with a coupla glasses of something strong and brown. Good Morning, Midnight still haunts me. (This one, dames, you might want to skip if you haven’t gotten your meds all in a row. It’s brilliant and also a nightmare.) All of them are about women, slightly adrift, Lily Bart-ish, but so contemporary you’ll think the publishing date is a misprint.
TIME AND AGAIN. Is there ANYONE this book doesn’t cheer up? I mean, for God’s sake--the idea that if you take an apartment in the Dakota, wear a top hat, and eat mutton for a few weeks, you will somehow transmogrify into a citizen of the 1800s in which you will embark on a murder mystery and romance AT THE TIME the Statue of Liberty’s arm is still in Madison Square--I mean are you KIDDING me?
THE ENTIRE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR SERIES. I know, I know, you can skip the Land of the Painted Caves because COULD THERE be any more Donier tours and boring? But just think, through ingenuity and hardship, Ayla literally invents matches. I mean--THINK about that, for a second. That’s like--a whole world of basement bars and signifying for the King of France right there.
THE UGLY LITTLE BOY. And now, an OTHER adopts a CLAN child...I know, I know--Asimov was always writing these pathetic single women who were humiliated when the men they loved turned out to be married. But WHO CARES because WOULDN’T YOU HAVE DONE THIS and how much would it have sucked to be that peasant dude?
Historical footage of us.
Little War on the Prairie. FAKE NEWS FTW! 1862: a cover-up of the largest mass execution in American history in a small town in Minnesota. Dakota Indians, White settlers, This American Life.
J. Dilla’s Lost Scrolls. Rapper names. Storage unit auctions. Lost tapes. The healthcare industry. Beauty. Tragedy. Serendipity. I listened to this one again and again, as will you.
As Good As Our Last Memory. One of the great plot points of Wolf Hall is Cromwell’s memory system, where his capacious knowledge is uniquely filed. This story of a daughter and her father’s silence on the Holocaust is another take on the preservation of memories. (Look, at least I didn’t gloss these ALL with Wolf Hall references.)
Tumanbay Dames. THIS. IS. SO. AWESOME. It’s the radio drama of my dreams, as opposed to the daily radio drama with which I contend. Tumanbay is a BBC production of an epic multi-character drama based on the Mamluk slave dynasty of Egypt. It’s a Jacobean drama stretched over the top of Game of Thrones. And my god, the drama. It’s sort of impossible not to giggle in delight at each stabbed back and prolonged death scene. It’s so ridiculous I dare you not to enjoy it. [We have to offer this one with a caveat: if you're listening outside the UK, you'll need to do so using an app like Tunnelbear, because this series has expired from the BBC's iPlayer, but this extra step seems REAL worth it to us. -- Eds.]
--I am very sorry I can give you so little audio, as I do it for a living, and therefore go through the occasional period where I cannot stand to listen to ANYTHING. But Tumanbay, I can recommend heartily. --Barrie
Crimson Petal And The White I know, I know, I cheated! But the adaptation is SO GOOD and doesn’t even gloss Sugar’s flaky skin. Romola Garai does a Sugar that is so much her own that it’s both wonderful and still allows me my own version of Sugar. I almost don’t want to reveal the male lead, because it’s such a weird casting choice and yet it gets at how childish and venal the character is. Read the book, discover the series, tell me what you think.
“Is the American Dream at the Expense of the American Negro?” We have tickets to I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO tonight, which is why we are so pleased to share the video of James Baldwin debating William F. Buckley at Cambridge University in 1965 ON THIS VERY QUESTION. Note the opposition student’s laughing insistence that “it is not our purpose to oppose civil rights; it is our purpose to oppose this motion.” Those were the days!
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot If you’re sick of all of our Tudor propaganda, here’s a little something you can get behind. A little known series about Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son, James the I, feels like a kinder gentler Outlander (more beheadings, less torture), and still does a very nice job with a complicated political and religious history. Who am I kidding -- I was mostly there for early Kevin McKidd and Michael Fassbender.
EPIC. I know this thing is silly and was made at the beginning of the Internet but it CAME TRUE and it wasn’t even TRYING to make you buy Google and Amazon stock, it was trying to tell you that information and commerce were one and the same. (Which is a little like Wolf Hall and how Cromwell knocked the Church to its knees and brought in the gospel by being an accountant, but seriously did you buy that stock?)
You know what we would love to hear? YOUR favorite jaunts into history. Anything that you don’t need to memorize dates for totally works. Tell us all about it! We're Lizzie Skurnick on Facebook & @bhardymon on ye olde Twitter.
Missing Your Usual Dames, Philadelphians & South Jerseyites? Come Be Our Valentines!
TOMORROW, Your Regularly Scheduled Dames will be either participating in or attending the live show Dame Margaret’s podcast Appointment Television is going to be with our beloved creative partners, Overdue at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The full details:
Where: The Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, 19103
When: Saturday, February 11th. Doors at 5:30, Appointment TV at 6:00, and Overdue at 7:00
How: By purchasing a $15 ticket (with proceeds to benefit the library!), available here! You will also be able to buy tickets at the door if you prefer -- cash only!
What: Appointment Television will be discussing everyone’s favorite way to cheat on English homework, the PBS show WISHBONE, and Overdue will be discussing Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
After Party: Will be at THE KITE AND KEY at 1836 Callowhill Street, and hugs will be FREELY distributed!