Feminist Criticism and the Mary Tyler Moore Show

I recently started watching all the episodes from the Mary Tyler Moore show which ran from 1970-77 and have now made it to the final season. I was curious about the show after reading Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, an excellent exploration of behind the scenes of this supposed “feminist” show. Early seasons were great, but the show tanks after Rhoda leaves. Mary is then left to interact with the incredibly dull characters that remain. But as I continued to watch, it became more and more of a chore. Why was I starting to turn against the show? Bonnie Dow’s criticism helps to pinpoint some of the reasons.

Essentially, Mary’s a token character. The network was able to pay lip-service to the growing (and complex) Women’s Liberation Movement but not really make any actual changes to the way women are portrayed in the media. Although she’s single and making it on her own, all the women around her are bee-lining for husbands—poor Rhoda gets married off quickly in her own spinoff, Phyllis extols the blessedness of married life, Ted and Georgette get hitched (and then pregnant… the oohs and ahhs of the studio audience for the big reveal of a tiny baby were disgusting).

Dow brings up a dynamic I’d overlooked, that of Mary as caregiver. She kowtows to Mr. Grant (Lou), and is always bending over backwards to help people. Random interruptions are constantly happening when she’s at home. Essentially, the show took the idea of a wife/mother figure and cloaked it in her 30-something single-ladyness.

“The demands made for increased minority and female representation result in higher visibility for these groups on television, although the situations and characters through which they are depicted may implicitly work to ‘contain’ the more radical aspects of the changes such representation implies. Some limited changes in content result, but the general hegemonic values remain intact…. those who create the programming actually have made only cosmetic changes in representation of the disputed group.”

This is exemplified starkly in the role of Gordy the weatherman on the show. He’s a black man and he is given the chance to be the anchorman when Ted’s out. But quickly he fades away and is largely absent for the last 5 seasons. There was also a woman with an Afro who worked as chief of staff for an incompetent local politician, but she’s in and out appearing in only one episode.

Once Rhoda leaves, the focus of the show swings back to be entirely male-focused. And the studio audience laps up Ted Baxter’s idiocy, not realizing they have been switched over to a feed of pablum that was seen in every other sitcom of the season. It’s the only show where I pay careful attention to who wrote the episode, because when it’s written by one of the talented women, I know it will have some good bits. Otherwise, just mind-numbing stuff that doesn’t stand the test of time.

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

This was a book I had to take in carefully measured sips, monitoring my blood pressure. After I finished, I exhaled a record-breaking sigh and paced the room, yanking my hair. It’s not a book for the faint of heart. Reading it is only pleasurable if you’re a masochist or a billionaire. It’s excellent, well-researched, incredibly engaging despite the sickening awareness that overcomes you as you learn how long this has been going on and how many billions of dollars has been spent to push American thought to the extreme rightward.

All of this stems from a tiny group of extremely rich men who mostly inherited their wealth (see: refutation of argument about how the poor are “handed things”), interested mainly on increasing their wealth and protecting it from taxation. They’ve been subtly influencing opinions, research, politics for decades—at least since David Koch’s failed vice-presidential bid in 1980 as a Libertarian. At that point they realized they just wanted to write the script that’s spoken, not try to be the actor.

Early days were the Freedom School, founded in 1957 by Robert LeFevre which highly influenced Charles Koch. LeFevre had been indicted earlier for his role in a right-wing movement that worked audiences into a frenzy as they chanted “Annihilate them!” in response to Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt’s names. Sound familiar? Hilariously, at the Freedom School Charles fell in love with the work of Friedrich Hayek, but only the condensed version offered by the Reader’s Digest which left out his support for minimum standard of living for the poor, environmental regulations, and anti-monopoly stance.

The book offers a glimpse into the litigious nature that led two of the Koch (Bill and Frederick) brothers into suing the other two (Charles and David) after being swindled out of millions of their inheritance. Despite being the wealthiest resident of his Park Avenue building, David Koch is known to the staff as a cheapskate, never tipping the doormen except for a ridiculous $50 check (!) at Christmas. (Worth watching: the Alex Gibney documentary, Park Avenue.)

It goes beyond the Kochs. Other asshole millionaires are also at the helm of this tragedy. They all take advantage of the tax loopholes of charitable giving by funneling cash into their own private foundations. The Olin Foundation left explicit instructions for the $370M endowment to be completely spent by 2005 out of “fear that it would fall into the hands of liberals, as he believed the Ford Foundation had tragically done.”

They infiltrated higher education and set up their own think tanks, subsidizing the next generation’s libertarians. George Mason is a hotbed of Koch cash, with an institute whose “applicants’ essays had to be run through computers in order to count the number of times they mentioned the free-market icons Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Students were tested at the beginning and the end of each week for ideological improvement.”

And then there’s climate change and the awful impact to the Koch’s bottom line that all the regulations were causing. Between 2003-2010 “over half a billion dollars was spent on… a massive ‘campaign to manipulate and mislead the public about the threat posed by climate change.'” This explains why every single Republican is a climate denier, in the Koch’s pocket owing money for their election. Koch Industries was the #1 producer of toxic waste in 2012 according to the EPA, generating 950M pounds of hazardous materials.

Betsy DeVos candidly admitted that they wanted something for their money in 1997, saying “My family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I’ve decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we’re buying influence. I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.”

How about those Astroturf movements (not grassroots, but fake)? Jim Ellis was brought in to agitate against Obamacare, having created fake movements in the past, most notably the “smokers’ rights” protests in the 1990s.

And of course, Citizens United‘s impact is a factor, opening the floodgates for dark money. Licking their wounds post-2008 defeat, they set in motion the groundwork for the 2010 takeover, first by taking over state legislatures for redistricting, then pushing their candidates into Congress. The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling led to huge amounts being funneled into the 2012, 2014, and 2016 elections.

The author, Mayer, was the target of an attmpted smear campaign after an extensive expose about the Koch brothers came out in the New Yorker which served as a springboard for this book. Luckily she was able to evade the false accusations of perjury and her personal life left nothing to smear her with.

I’m thinking about starting to offer book “pairings” much like wine; this one pairs well with breaks to read biographies about early pioneers in the conservation movement, or with a nice frothy fiction.

The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem

The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem

Oof, what a psychological mess. The town (and village) of Salem were on a collision course with history in the late 17th century and the narrow-minded justices steered straight towards it. Schiff bravely reads through the extensive historical record kept of the 1692 trials and pumps life into them, giving air, blood, tears, and wails an outlet over 300 years later.

She makes a lot of great points along the way, showing how grim life was on the frontier, several of the bewitched girls had lost fathers to Indian attacks. The gloomy Puritan atmosphere choked all joy out of growing up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690s, and a group of young girls took the region on a whirlwind of accusations leading to the jailing of hundreds and the death by hanging of at least 19.

“Hysteria is contagious and attention addictive; wanton self-abuse comes naturally to a teenager,” Schiff explains. The men in charge were complicit, Hathorne (great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne who added the ‘w’ to try to distance himself from his shameful ancestor) asked leading questions and handed partial answers to the defendants. The outcome of the trials was known before they began.

Witchcraft as envisioned in the late 17th century had been around for hundreds of years, the Pope charging the inquisitors in 1326 with getting rid of all devil worshipers. Not surprisingly, many outspoken women were caught up in this purge, much like Salem and every other outbreak of “witchcraft” in between and since. A book of classical authorities (Malleus Maleficarum)  states “When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.”

Schiff notes how powerful the girls must have felt: “the bewitched girls exercised uncommon power, the small and the meek displacing the great and the powerful. History is not rich in unruly young women; with the exception of Joan of Arc and a few underage sovereigns, it would be difficult to name another historical moment so dominated by teenage virgins, traditionally a vulnerable, mute, and disenfranchised cohort.” She also notes that the attention to the young women’s spiritual state intensified at the very age of the bewitched, “when children became simultaneously more capable of reason and less reasonable.”

She gives a hat tip to Anne Hutchinson’s treatment decades earlier, evicted from the colony for daring to speak about God. Ann Hibbins, Mary Dyer, and various other ancestors to the Salem women had claimed “starring roles as heretics and rebels. Women had troubled New England since its founding…. [she] had no political rights. She neither voted nor served on juries. Officially voiceless, she nonetheless found plenty of ways to make herself heard and demonstrated a vaulting need to speak her mind. In legal records she hectors, shrieks, quarrels, scolds, rants, rails, tattles, and spits.”

The Country Life: A Novel

The Country Life: A Novel

As much as I like Rachel Cusk’s writing, her earlier work is not as good. This was her third novel, a bizarre tale of a woman fleeing her week-old marriage by taking a job as an au pair in the country, leaving her entire life behind. She quickly gets sunburned, falls down stairs, nearly gets heatstroke, almost dies of hunger from not being fed properly, drinks large quantities of wine and gin. All the markings of a proper country tale, indeed. Her name is given as Stella Benson, which is odd, and then later she discovers a book by the real Stella Benson in the cottage she’s living in. Attempts at creating some sort of mystery about the farm she’s on arrive in furtive bursts, pamphlets pushed under her door, whispers at the post office (by something called the Creature that daubs her sunburn and fixes her bruises). It may have all been a clever joke that I missed the point of. The writing shines briefly and patchily, but I suppose it’s a comfort that even the best writers had to have their years of practice and mediocre books.

Boredom: Documents of Contemporary Art

Boredom (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art)

A heady compendium of snippets about boredom that quickly became completely self-referential. I wonder if the editor (Tom McDonough) simply started with a couple of essays from the past decade that he enjoyed, and then included bits that were referenced over and over (e.g. John Cage’s 4’33” in 1952, Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, Warhol’s Sleep, McLaren’s banner asking “What are the politics of boredom?” at the New York Dolls’s last show, Walter Benjamin’s “Boredom is the threshold to great deeds” quote from The Arcades Project, Kracauer’s 1924 essay on Boredom, etc. etc.)

It’s a beautiful physical book, thick pages, well-designed. McDonough’s introduction is carefully honed to pinpoint your attention to why you’re here reading a book about boredom. It’s a modern affliction that combines weariness with restlessness. The idea of rottenness pervades the pages, as if our insides have rotted out because we have nothing else to worry about.

Georges Perec has a lovely bit about this rottenness: “The enemy was unseen. Or, rather, the enemy was within them, it had rotted them, infected them, eaten them away. They were the hollow men, the turkey round the stuffing. Tame pets, faithfully reflecting a world which taunted them. They were up to their necks in a cream cake from which tehy would only ever be able to nibble crumbs.”

Walter Benjamin is called out by Jennifer Doyle as a philosopher of boredom in her 2006 essay. This is true, and probably my favorite bits in this book of tidbits was Benjamin’s collection of boredoms.

The idea that “one cannot be surprised if things are all the same or all different… Entropy, as loss of meaning, always lurks at both ends of the continuum from banality to noise. Redundancy and variety alike spell boredom” is interesting. (Georges Teyssot’s 1996 esssay referencing Orrin E. Klapp)

Raoul Vaneigem’s 1967 essay deals with the deadly boredom of social interactions:

“The no-man’s-land of neutral relations is the territory between the blissful acceptance of bogus communities and the total rejection of society… politeness [is] the art-for-art’s sake of non-communication… The innocuousness of neutral relations, however, offers no more than a moment of dead time in the ceaseless battle against isolation, a brief stopping-place on the road that seems to lead towards communication but that in fact leads far more often to the illusion of community. Which probably explains my reluctance to stop a stranger for the time of day, for directions, or simply to exchange a couple of words, for I am loath to seek contact in this dubious fashion. The pleasantness of neutral relations is built on sand, and empty time never does me any good.”

John Cage’s comments about teaching a class at the New School wherein he played an LP of Buddhist chants that was a “single loud reiterated percussive beat [whose] noise continued relentlessly for about 15 minutes with no perceptible variation.” A woman got up and demanded that he take it off, and when Cage did, a man yelled “Why’d you take it off? I was getting interested.” This, along with Erik Satie’s 1893 piece—Vexations—a 32-bar piece intended to be played softly and slowly for 840 times, which takes about 25 hours. These musical bits were extremely interesting—the idea that Boredom really is the threshold to great deeds begins to make sense as you dissolve your mind and simply exist as you sink into the pieces.

Women are mostly relegated to the feminist section (Nothing Happens) that begins with Friedan and ends with Solanas, although I have to give props to any book that includes clips from her manifesto and who lists her in the biographical note section as “a dramatist and radical thinker based in New York.”

This from Warhol resonated with me as I was staring out the window: “When you just sit and look out of a window, that’s enjoyable.”

Just realized that the index is a great way to visually see who was referenced the most. Here are the top mentions:

  • John Cage
  • Walter Benjamin
  • Siegfried Kracauer
  • Andy Warhol
  • Karl Marx
  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Jean Baudrillard
  • Elizabeth Goodstein,
  • Marcel Duchamp
  • Guy Debord
  • Henri Lefebvre
  • Sex Pistols
  • Gertrude Stein


Off-topic— How I pay the bills, and a new blog about email marketing

To support my reading habit (sometimes categorized as voracious, unstoppable, and insane), I work for various clients doing things like providing email marketing strategy and analysis, executing email campaigns, recommending email service providers (ESPs), building automation flows, yadda yadda yadda. I also do a ton of writing and have found a few clients who pay me to interview people and write their stories, which is amazing and fun and sometimes I can’t believe my luck.

So my head is firmly in writing-land and in email-marketing-land. I never could have predicted this while getting my humanities-laden degrees in English and History, but I’m thankful for being in the right place at the right time.

Being the email nerd that I am—and I’ve been known to rant to a roomful of people about the wonders of email marketing—over the years I’ve always casually tossed examples of emails (good, bad, ugly) to another friend who’s also a nerd. We had an email marketing blog over a decade ago which fizzled out but I’ve now relaunched the effort with a new semi-snarky, super-helpful blog for email marketers.

Take a look if you’re so interested. The goals are fuzzy for now, but attracting potential projects is a good start. Plus I really really really want to write a piece about how ESPs suck at welcome messages, and I didn’t want it to live on this site or on any other domain.

Postcards from the Edge

Postcards from the Edge

Another hilarious book of Carrie Fisher’s finally washed up on my shore after months of waiting. Dammit I wish I’d known about her writing talent and appreciated her when she was alive. This is an early one (her earliest?), pub’d in 1987. A book of stories about Suzanne, the actress who gets her stomach pumped free of Percodan and does a stint in rehab with other addicts, who dives back into Hollywood life sober, girding her loins to handle ridiculous parties, who lazes about watching TV and giving up on the world but who meets an intelligent author in the green room when her friend was on a talk show. Her quips are endless, relentless. “Romancing the stoned.” “There but for the grace of overdose go I.” Etc. At one point she puts on the soundtrack to Somewhere in Time to listen to while she takes a bath. It’s pure Carrie, mainlined straight into your heart.

Transit: A Novel

Transit: A Novel

If I could, I would burrow deep into a Rachel Cusk book and never come out, completely escaping the world forever. Her writing continues to stun, mesmerize, delight. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, or to draw attention to one specific example or phrase. It’s more the feeling that as you’re reading, her words wash over you with the peacefulness of waves calmly lapping you with warm soothing water. Her characters get into lengthy complicated dialogues that don’t seem such; the lack of “quotes” helps make the conversation seem deeper without jarring your ear with fragments of talk.

For just a sip, here’s the narrator interposing a question after pages of intense reveal from a woman she just met at a mutual friend’s house: “I asked her whether she still had the feeling of unreality, and why she thought it had come in the first place… ‘I like it that you ask these questions,’ she said. ‘But I don’t understand why you want to know.’ ”

The story involves a woman with two children newly free from her marriage, moving to London where she’s able to buy a bad house in a good neighborhood and then sink tons of money into repairs. Her downstairs neighbors are nicknamed trolls by her sons, an evil-spewing older couple who bang incessantly on the floor with their broom, tell neighbors outrageous lies about her, and cook abominably stinky food that reeks through the floor. The narrator is a writer, runs into her ex-boyfriend taking his daughter to school, goes on a jaunt to read her work, teaches creative writing and counsels a student named Jane about not spending her time writing about the painter Marsden Hartley. She meets a man, she visits friends in a fog-enshrouded country home. It’s all quite magical.

My previous exposure to Cusk was in Outline, wherein I describe being “pummeled” by her work. Now ready to read anything and everything by her.

A London Child of the 1870s

A London Child of the 1870s

Delightful reminiscences of a childhood in London near the dawn of the twentieth century, a daughter born with four older brothers and parents who fluctuate between having money and not. A very free and open and fun kind of childhood, lots of games got up, sneaking away to ride the “bus” (with horse) around London with her brothers, the 12 hour train ride to Cornwall where much adventure awaited them every summer. It ends abruptly with her father’s unexpected death from being hit by a carriage in the deep fogs of 1879, but apparently there are 2 more books that continue the story.

Cities I’ve Never Lived In: Stories

Cities I've Never Lived In: Stories

Dreamy, ethereal, gauzy, not very good stories; mostly east coast, Maine and NYC. The only one that sticks out as interesting was about the woman with two kids whose husband ran away when he found out she loved another man on the island they lived on (in Maine); she goes and lives with her father-in-law, the grocery on the island closes, she must schlep groceries from the mainland where she works. The eponymous story was about a woman who travels around volunteering in soup kitchens then eating there, living in hostels. But overall the writing wasn’t anything you could sink your teeth into and appreciate.

Amusing Ourselves To Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

I had to wait several weeks for this to filter through the library to me since everyone seems eager to understand the calamity of Election 2016. This book helped, despite being over 30 years old (pub’d 1985), by outlining the ways our television culture redefines discourse. It holds up well through the decades if you can overlook the dated cultural touchstones (even the intro from Postman’s son in 2005 dated quickly, mentioning Tivoing and Game Boys).

Postman first outlines the ways that print culture forced various modes of communication, mentioning Plato’s recognition that no intelligent person would write down their philosophy in unchangeable text. How strange writing must seem to people of an entirely oral culture “a conversation with no one and yet with everyone.”

In 1835, de Tocqueville presaged the arrival of Twitter hundred of years ahead of time: “In America, parties do not write books to combat each other’s opinions, but pamphlets, which are circulated for a day with incredible rapidity and then expire.”

From the perspective of someone with a 2 second attention span, it’s mind boggling to imagine the audiences for the Lincoln-Douglas debates that took seven hours. “Is there any audience of Americans today who could endure seven hours of talk? or five? or three? Especially without pictures of any kind?” He then shows an example of the complex clauses used by Lincoln while speaking and says (of Reagan, but it applies to Toxic T) “It is hard to imagine the present occupant of hte White House being capable of constructing such clauses in similar circumstances. And if he were, he would surely do so at the risk of burdening the comprehension or concentration of his audience.”

Enter photographs and advertising, then slogans and the decline of text was on the rise. But the death knell came with the invention of the telegraph, which “dignified irrelevance and amplified impotence… making public discourse essentially incoherent.” He quotes Lewis Mumford as saying that it brought us into a world of “broken time and broken attention.”

Television forced everything to become entertainment, including the news; everything is there for our amusement and pleasure. This focus on amusement makes us leery of caring about facts, quoting a 1983 NYTimes story saying “President Reagan’s aides used to become visibly alarmed at suggestions that he had given mangled and perhaps misleading accounts of his policies or of current events in general. That doesn’t seem to happen much anymore [due to lack of public interest].”

Walter Lippmann in 1920 wrote: “There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.” This assumes that the press would function as lie-detectors and that the public would care. We don’t. Further on, Postman notes (quaintly for 2017’s alternative facts) “And there is no Newspeak here. Lies have not been defined as truth nor truth as lies.”

On the pernicious effects of commercials:

A person who has seen one million television commercials might well believe that all political problems have fast solutions through simple measures—or ought to.  Or that complex language is not to be trusted, and that all problems lend themselves to theatrical expression.

I do have some concerns with his statements, especially the comment that “a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought it too busy for that, and too detached.” He also mistakenly assumes “women were probably more adept readers than men” on the American frontier, woefully ignorant of the lack of basic education open to them. Jane Franklin, Ben’s sister, rose up in my mind, embarrassed about the spelling errors in her letters to him.

O Fallen Angel

O Fallen Angel

Originally published in 2010 as Zambreno’s first book, it’s re-released with an awkward and unnecessary introduction by Lidia Yuknavitch who first published it. The end acknowledgments bookend us with praise for Yuknavitch in a way that just leaves me wishing we could have the text sans Lidia.

It’s a weird, triptych-ish book that follows the story of Mommy, Maggie, and Malachi. Mommy is in full denial that the world is falling apart, closing her eyes to her daughter Maggie’s self-destruction. Malachi sets himself on fire and jumps off an overpass onto the highway.

Zambreno’s language sparkles: “Cell phone towers of Babble.” ; “Mommy likes books with stiletto heels on the pink cover. Anything pink. Pink, pink, pink. Think pink! Don’t think at all!”; “Caution is GrandMommy’s middle name. Although it’s really Marie, like all good Catholic girls.”; “The whole family likes to watch TV—they gather around it, it is their altar… Missy she is three and needs to learn to sit like a lady! Which is on your ass watching the television! It’s best to practice the assumed position of apathy and defeat!”

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

Cleverly titled and fun read about how data scientists are wielding their WMDs in finance, education, prisons, government, hiring, and ecommerce. O’Neil points out that WMDs tend to punish the poor because the rich are processed more by people and the unwashed masses processed by machines. One signature of a WMD is that the model contributes to a toxic cycle and helps sustain it, not pulling in enough feedback to allow it to correct itself.

Models are opinions embedded in mathematics.

Great anecdotes throughout, from the DC school teacher who lost her job due to an algorithm based on her students’ test scores, to the rejection that a Vanderbilt-dropout got from several part-time minimum wage jobs due to personality tests (Kyle was tested for extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to ideas).

She covers wellness programs and their invasive tracking, along with social media tracking, search behavior logging, all adding up into bits that go into the Big Data cauldron to be sipped at leisure by the WMDs or other interested parties.

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit (Penguin Classics)

If everyone started the day by reading an hour of Dickens, I’m convinced the world would be a better place—in good humor and with eyes twinkling. This 800+ page tale envelopes you, luring you into its cozy layers, tales within tales. Dickens serialized this between 1855-7 when he was in his forties, getting better with each foray into the printed world. The characters pile up fast and furious, and if you’re not paying attention, you have to flip back several hundred pages to wonder where it was that you first heard of Mrs. Merdle (not to be confused with Mrs. Meagle, although their stories do slightly cross) and her squawking parrot. The eponymous character, Little Dorrit, is Amy Dorrit, daughter born to a gentleman in debtors prison and raised all her life there until fortune smiled on him with his friends uncovering the fact that he was heir to a title and lots of money. Mr. Dorrit immediately wants to forget the previous 25 years of his life and turns his back on those who helped him, but Amy still yearns for those simpler days with Arthur Clennam and Maggy (the 80 year old child). Dorrit dies in Rome along with his brother, and this seems fortuitous, releasing Amy from the need to “marry well” and removing the threat of having Mrs. General as her stepmother.

There’s a mystery laid down at the beginning, when Arthur returns from China after his father’s death to ask his mother if there were some sort of wrong that he had done to someone that needed reparation. His wheelchair-bound mother sniffs off this suggestion and turns her back on him to solely run their business with Mr. Flintwinch when Arthur gives up his claim. Spoiler alert: she’s not really his mother! And the mystery is that she’s withholding £1000 that should rightfully be Little Dorrit’s, although I’m a bit confused about the circumstances.

Dickens is at his best when he pokes fun of the obtuse inflated flaccid bureaucratic arms of government, here represented by the Circumlocution Office. “Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving – HOW NOT TO DO IT.” He goes on to detail the red tape, paperwork, forms, and in general abhorrence to “doing things” in preference to “not doing” anything. Much of this rings true about our illustrious Congress in the early 21st century.

His writing is always entertaining, secret jabs and pokes that make you laugh like “his genius, during his earlier manhood, was of that exclusively agricultural character which applies itself to the cultivation of wild oats.” His description of Pancks as a tugboat steaming away always brought a smile to my face whenever he appeared. And when describing Mr. Baptist/Signor Cavalletto, “He looks to me as if every tooth in his head was always laughing.”

You also pick up random bits of life from mid-19th century, like the fact that bakers kept their ovens going continuously and would cook food in it for people for a small fee (like a leg of mutton stuffed with oysters in this case). Refrigerators were in use (and called such); at this time they were vessels filled with cold water or any cool place.

Once again I’m amazed at the variety of names. A sampling: Mr. Pancks, Mr. Rugg, Mrs. Chivery, Plornish, Flora Finching, Meagles, Doyce, Clennam, Merdle, Gowan, Tite Barnacle, Stiltstalkings, Barnacle Junior, Mrs. Bangham, Flintwinch, Mrs. Tickit.

The Thirteen Travellers

Delightful collection of stories about the residents of a posh apartment home (Hortons) in the center of London, all figuring out how to live post-war in 1919. Published in 1920, this provided a fantastic glimpse into the chaos and psychic mess that people had to deal with.

1. There’s Absalom Jay, the man at his best in the 1890s who simply withers without funds/social engagements/society in the post-war world.

2. Fanny Close is the highly competent portress who takes over the job when all the men ship off for war, and retains it when they come back; she’s quite pleasant to everyone because compared to her sister Aggie, everyone is dreamy.

3. The Honorable Clive Torby is a silly chit of a man who spends his parents money without care until the day that it runs out and then he cheerfully goes out and learns how to be a (one-armed) house-painter.

4. Miss Morganhurst is an old spinster who only cares for her tiny dog and who effectively seals off her brain from any war news; she goes insane and dies after her dog dies and she’s unable to keep the vivid horrific war images from her brain, insisting that she was there: “I was there, you know.”

5. Peter Westcott is a has-been novelist who borrows the flat of a rich and successful author; he snubs modern authors for their cheap tricks and says he could do it as well as they: “Write in suspensive dots and dashes, mention all parts of the human body in full, count every tick of the clock, and call your book ‘Disintegration,’ or ‘Dead Moons,’ or ‘Green Queens.’ ”

6. Lucy Moon comes to visit her aunt in Hortons on the eve of her wedding, discovers that she knows nothing and has not yet begun to live. She exchanges glances with a strange man at the symphony and realizes she will not marry the older man she’s said yes to.

7 & 8. Mrs. Porter and Miss Allen have a bit of a ghost tale in them, haunted by the apparition of dead Mr. Porter who swore that as soon as Mrs. Porter began to enjoy her life without him, he’d come steal her for death.

9. Lois Drake is one of those hard, modern women who thrived during this time, whooping it up with men and living loud, drinking whiskey, flaunting convention. Only it turns out that her best friend falls in love with the man Lois is in love with, leaving her alone and weeping.

10. Mr. Nix is the manager of Hortons who begins having bad dreams after the war. This rings quite true for me in 2017: “everyone was having bad dreams just now, that it was the natural reaction after the four years of stress and turmoil through which we have passed.” His wife decides to leave him and assert her independence, at which point he falls madly in love with her again and vows never to take her for granted.

11. Lizzie Rand is an old maid whose last job as a companion netted her a boatload of money from the woman who wanted to spite her nephews and nieces. She meets a widower who struggles to let go of his wife’s image, and he soon proposes to her. Lizzie turns him down because she sees how easy it is to dominate him and just wants to stay pals.

12. Nobody is actually Tom, back from the war thrice wounded and inheriting a pile of money from his uncle. He’s dead on the inside until he has a chance meeting where he helps an old couple get home in the rain to their squalid home.

13. Bombastes Furioso is the storyteller who cannot seem to tell a completely true story about himself but does not think he is lying. His stories are threatened to come to an end when he falls in love with a woman who says she’ll marry him if he stops lying.