Enter to win: Our Guest Editors’ Books!
Questions women asked themselves both in the 19th century and today!
Our wonderful Guest Dames, in addition to being expert newsletter producers, are also wonderful authors, and their publishers have been generous enough to provide us with a few copies of their upcoming books to give away to eight lucky Dames Nationals. Building on the tradition of books like Lindy West’s Shrill and Alice Bolin’s Dead Girls, Rachel’s new book, Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today, is a piece of discursive, witty non-fiction that looks at how our present understanding of female excess relates to the representation of women in 19th century novels. Laura’s novel Don’t You Know I Love You looks at one young woman attempting to extract herself from the control of her charismatic, violent father, and the bond she forms with another young woman that both fuels her creatively and disrupts the delicate balance in her family relationships. If you are interested in winning a copy of either, please enter your email in our handy dandy google form by the end of the day on Saturday, February 29th. We will reach out to the winners on Sunday, March 1st to coordinate delivery!
And now, on with the guest issue!
Let’s get bookish, shall we?
Hello, hello, Dames Nation! We are Rachel Vorona Cote and Laura Bogart, writers living in the greater DC/Baltimore area, and we have the honor of guest editing the newsletter this week. Thank you so much to Margaret and Sophie for having us, and to all of you for reading. Rachel’s first book comes out on February 25, and Laura’s debut novel comes out on March 17, so life has been quite hectic for the two of us. We’re excited to spend some time shooting the breeze about various and sundry enthusiasms.
We’ll take a second to introduce ourselves before proceeding!
Rachel: Here’s my deal, in brief! I’m a writer and erstwhile PhD candidate in Victorian literature. My first book, out next week (oh my god) from Grand Central Publishing is called Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today. Grounded in Victorian literature and culture, it’s a study of the ways feminine excess has been pathologized—thus, “too much”—that incorporates pop culture criticism and memoir together with the aforementioned literary analysis. Blending genres in this way means that I was able to write about Middlemarch, Nicki Minaj, Anne of Green Gables, and my failed attempt to masturbate with a Happy Meal Toy in the space of one book. Hopefully it worked out! I also write for venues like Longreads, Literary Hub, the Poetry Foundation, and The New Republic.
When I’m not peddling my writerly wares, I am listening to musical geniuses like Jenny Lewis, Tori Amos, Carly Rae Jepsen, and The National and trying not to eat too many Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (a futile effort, on my part, even though Lil Xan’s hospitalization was indeed a wakeup call). Or I’m blubbering through the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror, followed by a film from Jane Campion’s oeuvre (probably The Piano or Bright Star). Or, perhaps, I’m obsessing over the season two finale of Fleabag.
But really, the most important thing to know about me is that my husband and I have a ragdoll cat named Hobo, and she is extremely dramatic.
Oh, that I could stop at one photo.
Laura: Your cat is so stinkin’ cute that I want to give her a big ol’ squeeze even though I am allergic to cats and my Lab mix, Mina (who came named after Mina Harker from Dracula), would be decidedly angry at me. So take that as a high compliment to Hobo’s considerable beauty! My deal is that I’m a writer and my first novel, Don’t You Know I Love You is coming out from Dzanc Books. The novel is about a young artist who breaks her wrist in a car accident and is forced back to her family home - where she has to confront everything she’s internalized from her violent yet charismatic father and her passive yet innately talented mother. My heroine tries to extricate herself from generational trauma by becoming an artist and finding a first love - but will she ever find peace? I also write for The Week, DAME, and The A.V. Club (among other outlets).
When I’m not writing, I’m probably gardening (I once grew a beefsteak tomato that was bigger than my hand); hanging out with Mina; listening to podcasts about mythology; or making some visual art. Or I’m having arguably age-inappropriate thoughts about Timothée Chalamet or decidedly age-appropriate thoughts about Michael B. Jordan.
Just some casual hot glances pinging back & forth, no big deal
Rachel and Laura Talk About Sex, Specifically Women-Identified Persons Enjoying It
R: I feel as if we’ve both been thinking about horniness lately, at least as it manifests in women-identifying persons. You wrote that fabulous essay for The Week about celebrity thirst culture. One of the chapters of my book is entitled “Horny” and explores various ways intense feminine desire is stigmatized and/or lampooned. It also includes the Happy Meal Toy debacle. I still feel as if there is an enduring cultural anxiety surrounding horny women, but I’ve also been delighted to see more instances in which women-identifying persons insist upon their lust, in all its wild manifestations. “Fleabag” is the first example that comes to mind, perhaps in part because I’m nearly always thinking about “Fleabag,” but Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s rendering of feminine lust is nuanced and hilariously manifested with all the absurd vulnerability inherent to the way we desire and act on it. I should probably also say right now—or rather, confess—that I find the Fleabag and Hot Priest coupling very sexy. I completely understand why some people have taken issue with their relationship, and yet I can only cheer them on.
L: The Fleabag-Hot Priest pairing is absolutely sexy, and I think it’s because they’re both vulnerable in their own ways. Fleabag is so stark, so terribly unarmored in her pain and her longing - it’s hard not to watch the show and just physically ache for her, or to remember feeling like she does. But the Hot Priest is, himself, also vulnerable in ways he can’t admit. I’d wager to say that Fleabag may be emotionally healthier than he is, at least in certain ways, because she can at least admit what she really wants. The Priest fascinates me as a love interest, and especially a love interest for this particular woman, because he is so very repressed - I mean, he has his own sublimated sexual desires following him around as a fox. Clearly, the fox is some feral and cunning part of him he can’t acknowledge, so he hides it away (and I think PWB also alludes to his greater problems in all the moments of him drinking). We see him not only in terms of who he is as a character in his own right, but also in terms of what he reflects about Fleabag: who she is, and, most compellingly, who she could be.
One of the things I find most fascinating about this moment in our culture, where we can talk about thirst - especially thirst that doesn’t belong to cis straight men - is that it looks at what certain thirst objects can mean to us as individuals and collectively. In that piece for The Week (thank you for your kind words, btw), I mention the Thirst Aid Kit podcast, and I love that show because they really look at what makes a male celebrity appealing - not just in terms of their looks, but very much in terms of how the female viewer sees herself when she imagines herself with him.
R: It is criminal that I haven’t yet listened to Thirst Aid Kit, and I’m going to change that. Until very recently, I wasn’t listening to any podcasts on my own (Paul and I will listen to Comedy Bang Bang and basically anything else involving Paul F. Tompkins—one of our very favorite comedians). There’s a vast and wonderful world for me to explore.
I love the way you unpack the underpinnings of a desirous female gaze. It’s absolutely the case that who we want tells us something quite personal: who we think we are, what we want or are afraid to admit we want. These days most of my celebrity crushes tend to be on women-identifying persons, and I suspect that is because they serve as an outlet. I’m happily partnered to a straight, cisgender man, but in terms of orientation, I veer all over the place. And thank goodness I have another Two Bossy Dames pal, Samantha Powell, to indulge my thirst by sending me every gorgeous photo of Evan Rachel Wood that she comes across. All that said, I recently finished Breaking Bad (I know, I’m extremely behind), and am now navigating an attraction to Aaron Paul. Speaking of vulnerable male characters, Jesse Pinkman, my god.
I’m fascinated by Timothée Chalamet because I have what feels like the echo of a crush on him—that is to say, I know with blistering certainty that I would have been very into him ten years ago. What do you think your crush on him tells you about yourself?
This face hurts our feelings while being weirdly approachable
L: So my crush on Timmy (I can call him Timmy, right?) is also about that echo of a crush feeling - also, I’ve always been drawn to dark hair and light eyes (though my type, so to speak, varies wildly; I’ll get to that, when I react to your crush on Aaron Paul). I don’t necessarily want to take him to bed in the same way I’d want to be wooed by, like, Michael Fassbender or Winston Duke, but he has an approachable quality that I really respond to (you should see the pics of him being sweet to, and posing with, all kinds of fans) precisely because I had no self confidence, or certainly no confidence in my ability to be attractive to others, at the age I would have been when my crush on him would have been so terribly intense. I’m a fat woman, and it’s take a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time for me to accept that I can show desire, and that I might not repulse, like every guy. There’s still so much shame bound up in desire, I think; that shame is compounded by social standards of beauty. So I look at Timmy as a very pretty man who probably would have been nice to fat, awkward teen or twentysomething Laura, and, well, I appreciate it.
When I was younger, I was drawn to prettier types, but as I’ve gotten older, I find that I’m more drawn to men who seem more rumpled, like they have some experience. Sure, I loved me some Don Draper (I know. I know. I know.). But you know who I think would be an absolute blast in the sack? Jimmy McGill aka Saul Goodman. Yes. I know. I know. I know. BUT. I mean, the man seems fun. He seems like he’s been around a while, like he knows how to make a woman very happy (I mean, he did convince that one chick he was Kevin Costner, after all). There’s a surprising tenderness to him, as we see in Better Call Saul, when he courts a die-hard career woman (and never, ever pressures her to be less devoted to her job!) and allows himself to be humbled by, and reverent of, all the ways she surpasses him. He brings her a levity that she needs, and I think that’s probably what I’d need from a partner, too, so I respond to it really intensely. I also feel like I spent so much time dealing with so much self-doubt that I need to do a lot of catch up in terms of dating and sex, and there’s something so appealing about a man who is experienced without being smarmy or creepy or slimy about his experience. When I was a younger woman, I’d have been all about Jesse because of that non-threatening vulnerability (although oof, women who fall for Jesse have a bad track record of, like, staying alive). But now, I’d just want to feed him some pasta.
Have you noticed that your thirst objects have changed with age?
R: I want our readers to know that off to the side, in our chat box, Laura and I had a mutual meltdown over Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill. Because while he did nothing for me in his manifestation as a sleazy, try-hard lawyer, I’m now watching his origin story, “Better Call Saul,” and WHOA. Bob Odenkirk came for my hormones like Trogdor in the night! (I’m sorry I said that, and yet not sorry enough to delete it.) There is absolutely an allure to Jimmy’s tenderness: for example, the way he sloppily paints Kim’s toenails while she lounges in a massage chair is as sexy as it is endearing.
Jimmy McGill is the perfect example for a discussion of thirty-something thirst. These days, my attraction to someone is much less grounded in aspiration—what or who I wish I was—and instead turns on how loved and desired I imagine someone could make me feel. Evan Rachel Wood is hot, yes, and she also strikes me as a passionate and warm person. As for Jesse Pinkman, well, I suppose I can chalk that up to a bit of nostalgia. Teenage Rach loved a troubled fellow with a heart of gold. He would be so fortunate to be fed pasta by you, Laura!
Look at how Jimmy LOOKS AT Kim! Odenkirk Hive numbers, prepare to grow!
Do we want to suggest a few cultural items to Dames Nation? Perhaps share a few links to things that bring us joy?
L: I think that sounds right, because you and I could talk about this for a long time - and anyone who would love to see us go even deeper in conversation, and who happens to be in the Baltimore-DC metro area should come see us in the flesh at Red Emma’s on March 3 at 7 pm.
Speaking of podcasts, I love the Dear Prudence podcast and I’m excited for Daniel M. Lavery’s next book. I am loving this profile of him in the Washington Post.
I’ll read anything Angelica Jade Bastien writes, but this piece on a man who should have been a seminal figure in Hollywood’s hidden canon is especially good.
Michael Harriot is one of our best political writers, and his take on the erasure of Elizabeth Warren is so damn good.
Oh, and Rachel’s book, Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today . is gorgeous and smart and dazzlingly intimate. That anecdote about the Happy Meal toy is, well, I give you a chef kiss GIF.
R: Yes, if you’re in the general vicinity of Baltimore, please come see us at Red Emma’s! I’m fortunate that Laura has time to join me on my book tour before she’s busy with her own.
My copy of R. Eric Thomas’s new memoir-in-essays, Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in Americajust arrived today, and I could not be more excited to read it. Because I’m lucky as hell, I am currently reading Laura’s novel in advance of its publication, and predictably, it’s devastatingly good. I’m also wildly excited for Molly Pohlig’s The Unsuitable, Ellen O’Connell Whittet’s What You Become in Flight, Ilana Masad’s All My Mother’s Lovers, Evette Dionne’s Lifting as We Climb, Lucie Britsch’s Sad Janet, Claire Comstock-Gay’s Madame Clairevoyant’s Guide to the Stars, Nina Renata Aron’s Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls, Hilary Leichter’s Temporary, and Look, by Two Bossy Dames pal Zan Romanoff. (Zan is joining me at The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, CA on March 6, together with Mara Wilson!) My TBR list overfloweth, which is exactly how I like it.
If you haven’t yet watched the trailer for Armando Iannucci’s adaptation of David Copperfield I suggest you give yourself that pleasure now. Speaking of thirst, Dev Patel, everybody. (Laura tells me that there is a Thirst Aid Kit episode devoted to Dev!) On the subject of new and forthcoming films, I’m determining when in the next few weeks I will be able to see “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” My book tour starts the day of my book’s publication, but somehow I need to carve out time for this event. My health and general equanimity require it.
I also suggest mashed potatoes as a solution to most problems, Son & Park Beauty Water, if you fancy a splurge (it’s a versatile product and lasts quite awhile), and black tunics. I really, really love a black tunic.
Thanks so much for letting us drop in, everybody! May your weekend be filled with delight and rest!
Two Bossy Dames is brought to you by:
Another favorite Rachel’s true & correct views on Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet
Greece turning Brexit into an opportunity to get their plundered cultural patrimony back already
A notable Small Liberal Arts College of the Midwest’s President wearing a fancy British judge’s wig!
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