I’ve read So Big (first published in 1924) by Edna Ferber many times since I was a little girl. It is one of several classic books that shaped my idea of what being an admirable woman would involve: an appreciation of beauty, a love of learning, enthusiasm, a capacity for love, an ability to work very hard, and, above all, resilience. In So Big, Ferber creates a wonderful character in her protagonist, Selina, and uses beautiful language to do it.
Ferber kicks off the book by immediately grounding it in a mundane portrait of everyday life and behavior that almost every parent has at some time indulged in. Selina is described working – at housework, at cooking, at farming. She is a woman “[w]ith little time for the expression of affection. The work was always hot at her heels.” However, from time to time, Selina would glance at her baby and this happens:
Yet, in that moment, as the woman looked at the child there in the warm moist spring of the Illinois prairie land, there quivered about them an aura, a glow, that imparted to them and their surroundings a mystery, a beauty, radiance.
“How big is baby?” Selina would demand, senselessly. “How big is my man?”
The child would momentarily cease to poke plump fingers into the rich black loam. He would smile a gummy though slightly weary smile and stretch wide his arms. She, too, would open her tired arms wide, wide. Then they would say in a duet, his mouth a puckered pink peal, hers quivering with tenderness and a certain amusement, “So-o-o-o big!” with the voice soaring on the prolonged vowel and dropping suddenly with the second word. Part of the game. The child became so habituated to this question that sometimes, if Selina happened to glance round at him suddenly in the midst of her task, he would take his cue without the familiar question being put and would squeal his “So-o-o-o big!” rather absently, in dutiful solo. Then he would throw his head back and laugh a triumphant laugh, his mouth a coral edifice. She would run to him, and swoop down on him, and bury her flushed face in the warm moist creases of his neck, and make to devour him. “So big!”
So Big relates the story of Selina’s life. She is raised by her father, a gambler, who teaches her to roll with the punches (metaphorically – sometimes they have a lot of money and sometimes none). When he dies, she gets a job as a teacher in a community of Dutch farmers in Illinois known as High Prairie. She marries one of the farmers, Pervus, and discovers how hard farming life can be.
Selina has one son who survives childbirth – Dirk (the baby who plays the “so big” game). Selina experiences a change of fortune and becomes prosperous. She hopes that this will allow Dirk, who is interested in architecture, to explore the arts and the intellect in a way that she wasn’t able to.
The second half of the book is centered on Dirk, and yet Selina keeps stealing the story from the edges. Dirk becomes obsessed with earning money (he sells bonds). Selina is disappointed in this outcome and yet she herself thrives, finding satisfaction in her work and the friends she continues to make.
This story is not a romance novel – in fact, romantic relationships tend to go badly. However, it does have some of the most AMAZING romantic moments. The lunch auction! The slate! The machinations of the Widow Paarlenberg, which entertain and delight the High Prairie congregation every Sunday! The trilliums!
Beyond romance, the story is full of complex women. Selina’s friend Julie is usually quite happy to be led about, but in moments of crisis she shows amazing stubbornness. Maartje Pool, the woman with whom Selina boards, is shabby and overworked and lacks education but she is the core of her family. Some of the women are clearly forces of nature and some less so, but none of them should be underestimated.
There is some language that was not considered offensive at the time (pre-WWII) but is today. However, Selina is a model of someone who is interested in everyone and everything. As an older woman, whenever she visits Dirk, she likes to explore different parts of Chicago, especially those populated by different communities (Italian, Chinese, and Black, for instance). To Dirk’s utter horror, she takes random people home to her farm and feeds them, not out of pity, but out of interest, enthusiasm, and a genuine love of feeding people. Dirk treats his Japanese servant much like any other expensive appliance. Selina would have the man’s life story within five minutes.
There are so many themes in this book to pick apart. For instance, there’s the book’s unashamed embrace of unregulated capitalism – the one element of the book that I heartily dislike. There’s also the theme of living for another person. Selina lives for Dirk, hoping to impart to him an appreciation of beauty and an acceptance of other people. Her goal is to give him all the tools he might need to follow his dreams, whether those dreams turn out to be lucrative or not. Paula, a beautiful friend of Dirk’s, is a whip-smart woman with a love of money and fantastic business sense. In a later time period she’d be a financial mogul, but instead she has to live vicariously through Dirk, feeding him ideas and convincing him that they are his own. While the second half of the story is told from Dirk’s point of view, he is not nearly as interesting as either of the women who share such an interest in him.
The element of the book that has always stuck with me, from my first reading at about the age of ten to my most recent reading last week at the age of forty-four, is the portrayal of Selina. Regardless of whether she is doing well or badly, she never allows an often joyless life to sap her ability to find joy in the world. It’s not that she’s a Pollyanna-type of person, nor is she perpetually cheerful. It’s simply that she never stops noticing things. The same characteristic of noticing potential that helps her in business helps her in life.
Early in the book, Selina rides to High Prairie from Chicago for the first time with Klaas Pool in his wagon. Selina is enchanted by the landscape and gushes about it to Klaas, who is utterly baffled. For the rest of his life, he teases Selina with the phrase, “Cabbages are beautiful!” The author relates that Selina is not offended by Klaas’s mirth; she’s too excited about her new life to be offended.
For equipment she had youth, curiosity, a steel-strong frame; one brown lady’s-cloth, one wine-red cashmere; four hundred and ninety-seven dollars; and a gay, adventuresome spirit that was never to die, though it led her into curious places and she often found, at the end, only a trackless waste from which she had to retrace her steps, painfully. But always to her, red and green cabbages were to be jade and burgundy, chrysoprase and porphyry. Life has no weapons against a woman like that.
I’m so grateful to this book, which taught me early to value beauty in the ordinary. It is one of my formative books, all of which share a similar trait of heroines who are resilient, tough, generous, blessed with an unshakeable sense of self, and capable of finding beauty and joy in everyday life. Some others that leap to mind that I discovered young are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and of course my beloved Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I have felt so blessed to have these heroines in my life, reminding me that cabbages are beautiful.
Romance Readers Guide to Historic London
I read travel guides like any other book. In a world where people seeeeeeeeeeem to think Oh, no, who uses Lonely Planet anymore when you’ve got the internet in your pocket, let me tell you, internet. Browsing through a travel guide is worth your time. You’ll find at least one thing that you may not have found on Expedia’s Top Ten Things to do in London that is clearly a perfect trap set personally for you. (To the point that if I vanish next fall, it’s because the Dennis Sever’s House is RHG bait and I knew that and I booked a visit six months in advance anyway.)
I also saw this particular travel guide advertised at RT, and seeing as I am going to the UK this fall (Stay tuned for meetup details) and three of those days will be spent in London, YEAH YOU BET YOUR ASS I GOT THIS.
The concept behind this guide is to help romance readers find places that appear in our favorite historicals, and explains what’s still around and what you might be able to see. For example, the Serpentine is still there, but Almack’s is completely gone. It includes relevant excerpts from a large handful of romances, from Georgette Heyer to Erin Knightley. Do you want to know exactly how to get to Vauxhall Gardens? Or go to Tattersalls? Need an idea of what to expect from the various Royal Palaces around London? Or want someone to explain exactly where Mayfair is, what that means to a Regency historical reader, and how to get there? This book has you covered.
Hotels and places to eat are sorted by price range (from “Governess on holiday” to “King’s ransom”) and then ranked by how authentic a feel the historic establishment has. How old is, is it a Grade Listed building? How preserved is it? Does it have period decor? Does it give you that feeling of being in “Merry Olde England?”
The Guide also goes through an exhaustive list of hotels that are old and of interest to the historical romance reader. Rouillard lays out in stern detail how, should you stay in a hotel that was built back in The Day, you could expect small, weird shaped rooms and perhaps no elevator (but in the interest of accessibility, she does tell you where there are no lifts), and that Americans will sometimes be… distraught… over the idea of a small hotel room. But if you want to fork out for a room at Brown’s Hotel, where many of the political movers and shakers of the last two centuries have stayed, what you need to know is all there.
My favorite part is the listing of pubs and taverns and restaurants. It’s an impressive list that gives the history of each place (“The current building only dates from 1667 – yawn – when the pub was rebuilt after the Great Fire.” – Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese) and tips on what food is offered and what the best bets are for meal choices. Also important, Rouillard gives the basic price range and dress code – after all, you wouldn’t want to be turned away from your High Tea at the Ritz because you’re wearing sneakers. (I know that none of you would dare.) Also very handy: a lot of these tiny tiny pubs are hidden and tucked away in the medieval nooks and crannies and you need some specific directions to find them (“Down an unmarked alley…”).
SPEAKING OF THE HIGH TEA, there are many options, dissected and ranked by price and snootiness. (I will be doing one, but in Edinburgh, not London. I’ll report back, don’t worry.)
One thing I found annoying: Rouillard includes notes on things “for the guys” like the Imperial War Museum or the Sherlock Holmes Pub. First, what? Second, these parts are still relevant to the interests of romance readers, some of whom are dudes. Third, gender-essentialist much? Finally, please don’t do that. She explains this as, “You might need something to salt your conversation with as you plan this trip for your dude to go along with it” but…ugh.
I will be going through this book with post-it tabs as I finalize plans for my own trip. I have my major excursions planned, but there’s a wall left of the Newgate prison to see (complete with ghost), and a girl has to eat, so pubs that are older than the United States are going on the list. I’m excited! I don’t know if I’m going to make it to Vauxhall, though.
Even if a trip to London isn’t in the cards in the near future, this book is fun to read. If you’ve ever wondered what all of the places that keep appearing in historicals are like today, this is for you. I wish I could afford a room in some of these hotels, but I will content myself with knowing they exist.
Memo to Sean Hannity: I WILL HAPPILY LET YOU BE A WINGNUT MARTYR IN EXCHANGE FOR THE END OF YOUR FUCKING CAREER.
As Donald Trump's popularity sinks lower and lower, and the scandals around him pile higher and higher, he's being forced to rely more and more heavily on a shrinking base of die-hard suporters who believe any bugfuck crazy thing he says as long as it's mean to liberals.
On a completely related note, last week, for the first time in 17 years, Fox News came in third in the cable news ratings in the most important demographic. This follows a series of sex scandals that first took down Roger Ailes before gravity could, and then took down Bill O'Reilly.
Panic and desperation has been known to cloud the judgment of the best of men, so imagine what it might do to a rancid turd with an unlimited hair care budget like Sean Hannity. Oh, wait, you don't have to imagine, because it's played out in the news and on social media over the last week.
Hannity has been obsessed with the right-wing conspiracy theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich's murder wasn't a random crime, but instead was a hit job by the DNC and Hillary Clinton as revenge for Rich leaking the DNC e-mails to Wikileaks, a thing Rich did not do. To help prove this, Hannity has partnered with New Zealand fugitive Kim Dotcom, who you only vaguely remember as that guy who did Internet piracy shit a decade ago because of his stupid fucking name.
Now, as anyone who's followed Greater Wingnutttia for any length of time knows, they tend to suffer from delusions of Democrats' graneur. Seth Rich is the latest in a long line of people the Clintons have supposedly killed or hurt, including, most notably, Vince Foster and a bunch of child sex slaves in the basement of a pizza parlor that has no basement.
Hannity spent the better part of the last week flogging and promoting this sub-Breitbart-level bullshit on his TV show and his radio show and Twitter. And because I cannot stress this enough, the man primarily claiming to corroborate his story is a 44-year-old former software pirate with a ridiculous name holed up in fucking Hobbiton trying not to get extradited to the United States.
Why would he do this? Well, see, here's the thing. The DNC e-mail hack is the primary and most famous means by which Russia helped elect Donald Trump. If Sean Hannity's lizard-brain viewers can grab on to some conspiracy theory that undermines the idea that the Russians hacked the DNC, they can safely ignore everything that sprung from it, and what has sprung from it is what's currently unraveling the Trump presidency. I can't imagine Sean Hannity actually believes any of this, but he surely sees the utility of it.
Unfortunately, wildly hawking debunked conspiracy theories on a major cable news network occasionally and all-too-rarely results in public blowback, especially if you do it in a way that's clumsy and cruel and hurts innocent people like Rich's family. As a result of the blowback, Hannity announced that he'd stop SAYING the DNC murdered Seth Rich, though he wouldn't stop BELIEVING it. And now advertisers have started to pull out. We know how this story ends. It ends with Tucker Carlson pulling a double shift.
The only man that can save Sean Hannity is Donald Trump, and only by doing something else so boneheadedly stupid and illegal that "Hannity Is Losing Advertisers" stops being a national story long enough for the rest of the advertisers to stop looking bad if they don't pull their ads. For once, I hope Trump stays on his meds for another week.
I know that nobody out there could possibly be as worried about this as I was, but the yarn is here.
Let the great blanket sprint begin – and yes, I know that swatch is tiny but I say it counts. Casting on in 3-2…. oh, wait. I have to get dinner together first. Oh, and answer that email. I’ll do it right after, crap. I’m due at Meg’s place.
Today. It begins sometime today.
(PS, Thanks for everything on the post before this one, you guys are amazing, and Team Knit is creeping towards its goals. We love you!)
Utah's Hogle Zoo is pleased to introduce their new Amur Leopard cubs, Rafferty and Roman!
The cubs were born February 17 and have been bonding with mom, Zeya, behind the scenes, learning all the basics of being an Amur Leopard. Rafferty’s name means “one who possess prosperity”, and Roman means “strong, powerful”.
According to keepers, Zeya is doing a great job nurturing her little duo and is fiercely protective of the boys. At their recent check-up, Rafferty and Roman clocked in at 12 and 13 pounds and are now ready to meet Zoo guests!
Hogle Zoo is thrilled to contribute to the population of this critically endangered species. Experts estimate only 60 Amur Leopards remain in the wild.
The Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is a subspecies native to the Primorye region of southeastern Russia and the Jilin Province of northeast China. The Amur Leopard is also known as the “Far Eastern Leopard”.
Amur Leopards are threatened by: poaching, encroaching civilization, new roads, poaching of their prey, forest fires, inbreeding, possible coexisting with disease carriers and transmitters, and exploitation of forests.
Due to the small number of reproducing Amur Leopards in the wild, the gene pool is so reduced that the population is also at risk from inbreeding depression.
The Amur Leopard is known as the most endangered of all Leopard subspecies. It is currently listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. In 2007, only 19–26 wild Amur Leopards were estimated to have survived, and as of 2015, fewer than 60 individuals are estimated to survive in Russia and China.
According to the IUCN’s latest report, “Although the population of P. p. orientalis may have increased recently, especially on the Chinese side of the border (Xiao et al. 2014), the total population remains <60 individuals. With no noted population or range increase, the Sri Lankan Leopard (P. p. kotiya) should retain its current status as Endangered. The Leopard of southwestern Asia (P. p. saxicolor or ciscaucasica) has been recorded in previously undocumented areas of the Caucasus, such as Georgia and Azerbajian (Sarukhanova 2014, Voskyanyan 2014), however, due to overall low numbers and restricted range, this subspecies should remain listed as Endangered (Khorozyan 2008).”
Sital Kalantry, Cornell University Law School, is publishing The French Veil Ban: A Transnational Legal Feminist Approach in volume 46 of the University of Baltimore Law Review (2017). Here is the abstract.
After the gruesome terrorist attack that killed eighty-four people in Nice, many beach towns in France began to ban Muslim women from wearing the “burkini” on beaches. The burkini, which was created by an Australian designer, is modest swimwear that covers the body and hair. The Nice attack occurred on the heels of a series of attacks in France. The timing of the French burkini ban suggests it was targeting Muslims due to the anger over the attacks. The argument that burkinis are not hygienic is a fig leaf for other more pernicious justifications. Others argue that religious garb generally contravenes the French vision of secularism. Another line of attack against the burkini relates to gender equality. For example, the French Prime Minister argues that the burkini reinforces the “enslavement of women.” In this article, I will focus on arguments that justify bans on Muslim women’s religious clothing on the basis that they are oppressive to women.
The full text is not available from download from SSRN.
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Meagan M. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Mid-Length Contemporary category.
A SECOND CHANCE IN THE SADDLE
All widowed veterinarian Zach Talbot wants is to raise his two boys in the peace and quiet of his New Mexico town. Who’d have thought that being roped into helping a woman choose a horse for her son would upend the single father’s whole world?
Except ex-actress and rodeo rider Mallory Keyes isn’t just any woman.
With its wide-open spaces and sky that goes on forever, Whispering Pines is the ideal temporary haven after the accident that changed Mallory’s life forever. Falling for the sexy, caring man who found the perfect palomino for her eleven-year-old wasn’t in her short- or long-term plans. Zach’s also determined to get Mallory back in the saddle. Can she return the favor by helping to heal the still-grieving vet’s heart?
Here is Meagan M.'s review:
As the book opens, we’re introduced to Zach Talbot, a veterinarian who lives in Whispering Pines, a small town in New Mexico, and Mallory Keyes, formerly an actress and now a paraplegic woman hiding from everything and everyone. Zach is a widower, he has two boys that are 3 and 8, and while he’s kind of lonely and overwhelmed, he’s doing okay. Mallory bought a house in Whispering Pines in order to hide out from the paparazzi, because she was afraid that their dogged pursuit of her, post-accident, was negatively impacting her 11 year old son, who stayed behind with his father and new stepmom.
If their first meeting is supposed to indicate love at first sight, it did not come across that way to me. Attraction is there, and maybe even curiosity, but I didn’t get some sort of soul-shattering connection from their first meeting. And normally, that would be fine. Some gentle build-up can be good, too, but their romance ramps up much too quickly after they meet to be considered a slow burn, and they seem somewhat obsessed with each other.
They resist the so-called pull between them for about a week, despite having some pretty good reasons to stay apart. (He doesn’t want to deal with loss again after his wife’s passing, and she feels like she is too physically broken to be able to give herself to someone.) They go on an overnight trip together, both of them hoping the other will instigate sex, and so it’s no surprise that they do sleep together. Both of them seem to think it’s a one-time thing, as if they just needed to have sex once and get it out of their system. There’s some minor drama with her son and then lickety-split, they’re in love and committed. And then, if it already wasn’t fast enough, Zach proposes marriage to her before the book’s just-over-200 pages comes to a close.
I was not satisfied with how the disability tied into the story. The point of diverse fiction is both to increase representation and to show others what it can be like to live differently than others, to perpetuate understanding and empathy for someone on a different life journey–but here, the paraplegia is little more than set-dressing. Which would be okay if most of Mallory’s characterization didn’t center on it. Most of her identity in the book comes from the fact that she considers herself broken. But while Mallory’s new identity centers around her disability, we don’t get much of an idea about how life has really changed for her. She mentions that not everywhere is accessible, but instead of being told how much her life has changed, we could have been shown, as she goes through her day-to-day routines. The horse therapy was a nice touch, especially how Mallory needed to use special ramps and belts in order to ensure her safety, and then afterward, she could ride just like anyone else. But, isn’t horse-riding somewhat dependent on your legs, in order to communicate with the horse? Wouldn’t she have to learn a new way of riding, using her upper body?
And let’s talk about that sex scene. It was not at all explicit, so if you’re a reader that prefers the sexy be behind closed doors, this book will probably make you happy. It’s about a page long, and it is not explicit in the least. However, Mallory alludes to certain challenges for paraplegic women in the bedroom, and Zach replies that he did some research, and so he gets it. But what? What exactly is the challenge? I did some Googling myself, and let me tell you, it would take days to uncover whatever the particular challenge of hers was, because there are as many types of paralysis injuries and problems that come with them as there are snowflakes, and while I did learn some interesting things, this passage kind of irked me. I had no idea what they were talking about, and while I surmised it had something to do with bathroom functions, I can’t be sure. Yes, toileting is not sexy; I get it. The passage didn’t need to go into meticulous, medical-jargony detail. It just needs to be enough so that the reader can understand what the heroine is going through, or don’t mention it at all.
The other characters were vibrant and well-rounded. I enjoyed the glimpses of other people in the town, and how they interacted and seemed to have history with our main characters. (From the way the author writes them, with familiarity and love, it came as no surprise to me that most of them also star in their own books. In fact, Back in the Saddle is the 8th book in the Wed in the West series.) But the romance on its own was bland, dull, and skipped over all the interesting parts. Zach’s realization that he was in love with Mallory and ready to try again seemed so rushed, especially since he was still mourning his late wife for most of the book.
The actual writing was not bad at all. The pacing was the issue with this book, and it made it very hard to be invested into the story when, after some careful groundwork is laid, it all gets tossed aside in order to get the characters together for their HEA. Sometimes, a plot needs to breathe a little more, and relationships need to be explored in order to give the conflict and conclusion the oomph that it needs.