The Season of the Witch, Bold Red Lips, and Le Chabonbon

Hello, Friends!

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So, over at our preferred pop-culture website, Vulture, this week is WITCH WEEK, a theme which has brought forth great writing on everything from why witches are the pop-culture heroes we need right now (by our beloved palKathryn) to just what has made Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” into such an enduring part of Broadway history. But it has produced no piece of #content greater than this interview with Griffin Dunne, the director of PRACTICAL MAGIC, wherein he earnestly claims that the movie’s reputation as a flop might be due to a curse placed on it by a WITCH CONSULTANT he hired to get the magic right. He believed it so deeply that he _paid for an exorcism_ to lift the curse. We felt that this, above all, was the kind of news we could use. So, grab yourself a magically well-blended margarita, and enjoy these links and all the other good things we’ve packed in here for you.

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YOUR DAMES SPEAK on The Big Sick and Romantic Comedies

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SPEAKING OF MOVIES! Your Dames are once again available FOR YOUR EARS with the second of our quarterly podcast episodes! It’s been available to our $10-a-month Patreon subscribers since early September, but now it’s up on SoundCloud for the benefit of all! For this outing, we got together to chat about The Big Sick (now rentable on streaming platforms everywhere), a romantic comedy from this summer that Dame Margaret loved deeply and Dame Sophie appreciated (with some gentle and well-articulated reservations) (P.S .Dame S. wants to recommend that you also listen to Episode 11 of Desi Geek Girls, in which Preeti Chhibbher and Swapna Krishna set forth a more detailed & effective critique, also incorporating a comparison with My Big Fat Greek Wedding). From there we branched out into discussing romantic comedies as a genre, what attracts us to the form (or pushes us more towards romantic drama instead), and some favorites in the genre we think are worthy of further attention. Give us a listen and, if you like it, please DO @ us and any other friends you think might enjoy it.

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Sighhhhhhh, yeah, that’s the stuff.


Ask Two Bossy Dames: A Primer on Red Lipstick

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Learn to embrace your inner Lisa P. Freemont.

As all our stalwarts now know, We Your Dames love give advice and keep a formopen where You Our Subscribers can seek it. This week, Dame Margaret is tackling a seemingly straightforward question in an exhaustively thorough way. From Emily, we received the prompt:

What is the best way to start wearing a classic red lip on a casual everyday basis? 

Dear Emily,

All I can tell you is that you came to the right Dame. Since 2014, wearing a classic red lip on a casual everyday basis has been among my favorite things to do, and it’s a skill I acquired from scratch, going from a No Makeup Ever person to a Some Makeup Effectively Applied Most of the Time person. The only thing that’s hard about making this transition is overcoming the hurdle of “Oh god, I am doing a new thing, and it looks WEIRD because it is NEW and EVERYONE IS STARING AT ME,” a feeling that accompanies nearly any bold new look the first 3-6 times you wear it out of the house. And the best way over that hurdle depends on the kind of person you are. Here are three possible approaches, delineated by character type, replete with product recommendations:

  • The Expertise Seeker: Is it easier for you to try a new thing if you can start, from the very beginning, with a seal of approval from a certified expert? Will you take comfort, when confronted with your own AHH THIS IS NEW unease, in saying “But someone smarter than me said this is right?” If yes, 1) you’re just like Margaret, and 2) your road forward is very easy. EITHER you can do just what I did: grab a kindly, makeup-obsessed friend that you trust and head to a Sephora or similar makeup emporium to pick out Certified Best for You products, then retreat back to her house for comprehensive application instructions. OR, if you lack access to someone as great as Jess, go right ahead and take a class-- Sephora offers them for free! And the staff at any department store makeup counter will happily provide instruction. This route requires more money at the outset than the others mentioned here-- my go-to lipstick and liner (in Dragon Girl) cost just under $50 combined, but are both worth their price, and that initial expenditure really helped this particular dilettante actually follow through on forming her new habit. So, if #TreatingYoSelf is a good motivation technique, this is definitely the right route for you.

  • The Easer-In: Do you have an easier time making transitions very gradually? Inching your way into too-cold water vertebrae by vertabrae, even though EVERYONE SAYS you should just plunge in head-first? Then you may want to ease yourself into this transition, too, by wearing a bright lip-tint, like ColourPop’s Ultra Blotted Lipstick in Bit-O-Sunny, and getting really used to that, THEN upgrading to a daily classic red-- with guidance on shade, again, from either a wise friend or a makeup professional. Building up to the change and getting used to the feel of having something on your lips before you ALSO have to get used to a big visual POP of color can be a great way into a new look. Pro-tip: my go-to brand Besame could be a friend to you here as well, because their lipsticks are highly saturated with pigment. That means you can vary their application intensity really easily-- apply them mixed in with a lip balm, or dab them down post-application, and you can get more of a subdued, buildable shade. Apply two coats, or over liner (a tip every red-lipstick how-to will give, and one I wholeheartedly second), and you have WHAM BAM classic lips.

  • The D.I.Y. Plunger: Do you do best if you can just jump straight into a thing, with minimal monetary outlay, and start figuring it out for yourself? Then what you need most from ME is advice about some great, affordable red lipstick options. For high-quality, highly-affordable cosmetics, it is tough to beat ColourPop-- I could shout about their products for WEEKS. If you don’t mind reapplying semi-regularly and would mind your lips feeling dried out, you should grab one of their true red $5 Lippie Stix like Bossy (owned and loved by This Dame-- and not merely for its apt name) or Trust Me (mentioned as being slightly more transfer-proof by reviewers), plus their $5 lip liner in Bossy, and their $5 lip primer (to help with staying power). If you’d prefer a sharply clean line and minimal reapplication, even if it means drier lips, then you want a liquid lipstick like either ColourPop’s $6 Ultra Satin Lipstick in London Fog(a blue-toned true red, much less pink on than it appears in the tube) or, for slightly more money but a truly universal color and fool-proof application, Sephora’s $14 Cream Lip Stain Liquid Lipstick in 01 Always Red. If you want PERFECT RED LIPS in 4 minutes that will last THROUGH MEALS, Sephora’s Cream Lip Stain is your holy grail.

From here, the world is your oyster. A casual classic red lip is a really fun thing to bring into your life and it’s a much easier look to nail than you would ever expect. So go forth, LIP BOLDLY, and please send us MANY selfies.

(Brightly Pigmented) Kisses,
Dame M.

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Dame Sophie + Her Beloved Chabonbon: (completely one-sided, come on, I am not that delusional) True Love Always

If there were a Dame Sophie Starter Pack, it would include Wonder Boys,
but Kavalier & Clay are pretty great, too.
The Pulitzer Prize Committee concurs.

Have you heard the good news about Michael Chabon (or as I have been referring to him for some time, Le Chabonbon)? You may be familiar with his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a fictionalized & Jewish mythology-laden account of early comic book writers-and-cousins, Joe Kavalier & Sammy Clay. Or perhaps you know and love the film Wonder Boys, based on his novel of the same name. Or maybe you know him best as the famously beloved husband of fellow writer Ayelet Waldman.

What’s all the fuss about? Well, first of all, there’s his prose, which is a delicious mix of sparkling and earthy.

Here’s a timely example for this week, from p.181 of Moonglow, describing the grandmother of the main character (who is named Michael Chabon, but who is not the actual Michael Chabon, except for when he is, listen, it’s complicated but not confusing). In the early 1950s she appeared frequently on one of Baltimore’s TV stations in a variety of guises, including, most memorably, a rather compelling witchy presence:

To this day most of the people who remember my grandmother on television were kids at the time, my mother’s age or a little older, and what they remember is a mass of dark hair teased into a feather cowl around a dead-white face, eyebrows like a raven’s wings, dark sleeves restlessly flapping and swooping in a dry-ice fog as my grandmother stalked the set of The Crypt of Nevermore, an antebellum Gothic fantasia of toppled columns, tilted headstones, and iron gingerbread. They remember her as “Nevermore, the Night Witch,” and they are unanimous in recalling that if you were allowed to stay up late on a Friday night during those years, and tuned in to channel 13 for the forty-five minutes before WAAM’s twelve-forty-five sign-off, my grandmother would freak you the fuck out.

That’s a perfect paragraph. It’s dazzling. But it’s also in service of the story as a whole, and the characters he’s developing. My literary nemesis Jonathan Franzen wishes he could write such a sentence & knows he never will, and that’s why he’s such a miserable crank.

Then there’s his insistence on shuffling together and mashing up all the genre literature he loved as a kid, so as you’re reading Wonder Boys, you might be so wrapped up in the campus farce of the hapless, stoned Grady Tripp that you don’t notice how sad and mournful his story is. Or you might be so focused on that sadness that you don’t catch on that it’s also a love letter to mid-century pulp magazines like Weird Tales, thanks to Grady’s obsession with the cthonian horrors invented by fictional author August Van Zorn.

Fast forward to now. What a great year 2016 was for Le Chabonbon. The GQ story he wrote about his son Abe, a burgeoning fashion maven, was a minor viral hit. (If you haven’t read it, do so now, it’s such a beautiful portrait of paternal love). His new novel, Moonglow, was a critical success much beloved by me (and also official book critics). It’s such an odd book, encompassing both family and world history, elements of memoir, horror, and adventure novels, and was definitely one of my big favorites of 2016. BuzzFeed has helpfully excerpted the novel so you can get a taste before borrowing from the library or buying a copy of your own. If you’ve already read Moonglow, swing by the Slate Audio Book Club for their insightful conversation about it. (And if you like smart people talking about Chabon, swing on by the Bowie Book Club, where I was a guest last year talking about Wonder Boyswith lovely hosts Greg & Kristianne.)

I went to hear him speak and give a reading from Moonglow at the Free Library of Philadelphia last December, and through the magic of internet video, you can enjoy it, too! Admire his lovely salt-and-pepper coiffure! Enjoy every grown-up’s secret favorite thing, being read aloud to! Thrill to his charming & erudite responses to reader questions! The same day, appeared on our NPR affiliate station’s brainy conversation & call-in show, Radio Times, and was predictably delightful there, too.

I want to close with one very serious thing and one very light (but impressive thing). The serious thing is his essay Say It In Yiddish (previously published under the title A Yiddish Pale Fire). It’s about a Yiddish phrase book that was part of a series of phrase books for fairly obscure but vibrant languages, and the discovery plunges him into a speculative state that ultimately yielded his alternate history hard-boiled detective novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Most of the world's native speakers of Yiddish were, of course, murdered en masse by the Nazis, which makes the existence of this phrase book almost too poignant to bear, though a recent resurgence in Yiddish studies & publishing, along with the success of Yiddish-based YouTube channels like YidLife Crisis, suggests the language is far from dead.  

The light but impressive thing is his presence on Spotify, which is a source of true joy for my ears every time I check on what he’s been doing. He creates excellent playlists - some linked to his books, some especially for his wife & kids - and occasionally gives them deeply groan-worthy pun titles. Feast your ears:

I don’t have any deep concluding thoughts, just that Le Chabonbon has been consistently excellent and exuberantly interesting for decades now, and since he’s as brilliant in essay form as in the novel (to say nothing of the playlist), there are many entry points for you to access. Pick a possibility & go for it! And then please comeyell with me on Twitterabout it.


Dame Margaret’s Links: Two Good Things, One Sad But Necessary Thing

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Geena Davis is just an unreasonably beautiful human, and that's a plain fact.

  • As I head into Halloween weekend with a Rockford Peaches costume to iron, it feels appropriate to share this terrific essay from The Ringer’s Katie Baker on why A League of Their Own is an all-time great sports film. If you can read this essay without immediately renting the movie to revisit it, well, you’re a stronger woman than me.  

  • One of Your Dames’ favorite band, the folk-pop, searingly harmonic Swedish sister act First Aid Kit just (1) announced a new album (Ruins, due out January 18th!)  and (2) released a new (AND TERRIFIC) single “Postcard.” Please bask with us in their beautiful voices and arrangements.

  • And finally: while the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein appear to be producing (for the moment) real consequences for abusers in Hollywood and adjacent industries, other predators are continuing largely unchecked, a fact driven home by radio DJ Kitti Jones’s harrowing account of life as one of R. Kelly’s girlfriends. Pay attention to your mental well-being and assess carefully whether you need to read another account of sexual abuse right now-- bearing witness to suffering is not always the best way to sincerely effect change and nor need it be a requirement. But we have to take note of how differently our society responds to charges of abuse when the victims are poor women or girls of color instead of wealthy white women. R. Kelly has been a known abuser of women since 2002. I can’t imagine that Benedict Cumberbatch would be called upon to recite lyrics to his songs as a late show gag if the teen girls Kelly stands accused of systematically grooming and assaulting were white. The only way to make sure that changes is to make sure we give the same attention to accounts like this one, by Jones, that we do to those by women like Gwyneth Paltrow-- which is why, despite my own wish to retreat from this topic, and the sincere and careful warning I issue along with the link, I did not feel right sending this email without this story.