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Like many (if not most) people in the SCA, I'm a mad book collector. I do occasionally get rid of books - ones that I bought because I was desperate for something to read, books that turned out to be utter crap despite their great write-up, that sort of thing - but I am loath to part with the majority of them. I read them over and over again; I have at least a third of them memorized, but it's like seeing an old friend and talking over stories you've heard a hundred times before - there's great fun in the re-telling.

I also have a bad tendency to collect antique books - not for snob value, or even market value (most of them do not have much, being printed on cheap pine pulp), but because I am infected with a virulent strain of retro-ironic nostalgia, and I find diet books from the 1930s and 19th century medical texts on women hysterical (rim-shot) reading. I like the way they look, and I like the insight into the thinking of other eras. I collect old magazines (pretty much exclusively from the '50s back, and not Life) for the same reason - I even have a very battered copy of the infamous Ladies Home Journal editorial that claimed women couldn't be fulfilled sexually until they had a child (it are a fact, they said). So, all us childless women are apparently faking our orgasms, even when we're alone.

(Nice image I've put into your heads, there, eh? Brain bleach it out - I don't ever do anything like that, oh no, not me.)

(Actually, complete aside about women and masturbation - Alfred Kinsey, in his follow-up book on women's sexuality initially published that something like 70% of women masturbate [citation needed], but there was such an outcry about how teh wimminz was not dirty like that, he had to change it. Basically, women do it, but lie about it. At least they did in the '60s - mind you, Jocelyn Elders, the US Surgeon General for just over a year (1993-1994), was thrown out of office for suggesting that masturbation should be taught as a safe alternative to risky sex (the kind teenagers in abstinence-only programs engage in almost exclusively, btw). Apparently, the US cannot handle the idea that woman and teenagers have sexual urges that need to be satisfied - we're clearly not even supposed to think about it.)

Some of these books are actually really cool - it's astounding to read Margaret Sanger's What Every Girl Should Know (published in 1915, and declared obscene by the Powers That Be) and see a sane rational argument that teaching your kids about the Birds and the Bees will help them become healthy, sane adults, and allow women more information so they don't end up with a syphillitic asshole who infects them and makes them sterile.

Some of Sanger's ideas were more controversial (unfortunately, she thought eugenics was a good idea, and she was a racist), but her ideas about sexuality are very modern. Of course, "modern" is a bit of an overstatement about the US's current attitudes towards sexuality when people seem to be losing their tiny little minds over the presence of blue peen (not erect, but somewhat idealized) in Watchmen, and one asshole in the theater when I was watching giggled every time he saw naked man-butt on screen. Individually, people may be totally cool with sexuality in the 21st century, but as a mob, they're 12 year-old boys.

Anyway. Most of the time, the old books I collect aren't as straightforward, but sociologically, they're kind of interesting. I've read books from basically the same era that are marvellously progressive (though it's somewhat depressing to see the same arguments for equality and against racism being made today that were being made in 1912), and others that are, for lack of a better word, blithely horrifying.

For instance, the The Little Colonel books by Annie Fellows Johnston are sweet, lovely books about a little girl growing up in late Victorian Kentucky.  There is drama, and crises, but everything returns to normal by the end of each book.  The books are described as "romantic and sentimental wholesomeness", but the one I read has a passage detailing a "negro" wedding that is mind-bogglingly cringeworthy in its unconscious and patronizing racism.  In fact, throughout the book, whenever PoC are mentioned, they are described as behaving like children, no matter how old they are, and the wedding is mocked as ridiculous and tacky, even though, through a modern filter, it sounds like an incredibly loving and close-knit community that does their best to make the wedding day as special as possible in a culture with little money and no real resources.

But that's how it was, and a lot of people chose not to question it.  The books were lauded for providing a good example to girls growing up in that era.

It's become a fascination for me, this almost schizophrenic view of different eras by different people.  It also gives me hope to see that in any age, there are people who will choose to risk opprobrium and speak about the things no-one wants to hear spoken of.  And it's educational to read the books that rigidly maintain the status quo, because, 100+ years later, I recognize those same speech patterns and attitudes in certain people, and I know that what they're saying is much more illuminating than they think.

Reading is power, yes; it's also a fun hobby.  I like combining fun and power.
 

Comments

( 27 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
rikibeth
Mar. 12th, 2009 01:09 pm (UTC)
I share the same passion for older books about "women's" stuff -- cooking, etiquette, health and beauty. Wedding books especially! It's such a weird little window into how things were -- not so much by the advice itself, but by what they assume is normal and doesn't need to be addressed! Like older etiquette books on how to handle a dinner party if you have *gasp* only ONE servant.
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
Do you have Pink Think by Lynn Peril? It's an awesome book about her own experiences and reactions to collecting old Home-Ec texts and feminine ephemera.
rikibeth
Mar. 12th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
No, but it sounds interesting!
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 01:56 pm (UTC)
Amazon listing. :) It's a great, if occasionally anger-inducing book. I think you'd really enjoy it.

Lynn Peril started the 'zine "Mystery Date", which is how I found her book. I found her 'zine through Al Hoff's ThriftScore, which is also a great book.
gwacie
Mar. 12th, 2009 01:38 pm (UTC)
When I read something old that has modern egalitarian ideas in it, it kind of makes me happy at first... see? There were smart and enlightened people back then too! And then I get sad that they had such little influence or did not get to see the change they wanted in their lifetimes.

I think it's important to see the past as multi-dimensional. Too often I've heard the argument "Well, that was OK back then, this is the way people thought." No, that's the way that one person writing thought and he may have been more socially acceptable back then but he's still an ass. Thank you. ;)
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
Yup - you can get a very different idea of what life was like from such disparate things as the loathsome Birth of a Nation and Berta Ruck's The Land Girls from 1917.

One person's views do not a society make. It's the unconscious phrasing that does the talking, I find, not the overt message.
tudorlady
Mar. 12th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
'Advice to Women' - One of my favorite categories! I came to it by was reading old books on housekeeping (imagine several pages devoted to bedmaking). I don't know if I read them from curiousity or horrified fascination, but in any case, according to my Librarything, I seem to have quite a few. It would be interesting to see your booklist :)
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)
I got started on a librarything account, and then petered out - but that was when I had a dial-up connection.

On the other hand, I can publish my library (once I've catalogued it) anywhere. :)

I do have some great old medical textbooks, and a recent awesome find was a dressmaking manual from the 1920s. All sorts of amazing information in that book!
nitesongofafish
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
eugenics
The argument in eugenics is that the progeny of any group of people (and so the continuance of that group as a nation) benefits from healthy breeding stock. It is a racist and nationalist concept; and yet Sanger used it to promote sex education (and the ability to make intelligent choices on a mate), David Starr Jordan to promote peace (as wars kill off your best breeding stock). It is fascinating to me how good and not-so-good go hand in hand in these people. It shows our human limits.
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
Re: eugenics
It does; and it's very painful to read about someone who you respect so much for some of their views, and realize that in other ways, they were complete assholes. Like the first Suffragette movement getting support from racist white men.

We are products of our times, and all we can hope for is the strength to inch forward (and ocasionally be carried by someone amazing who has the strength not only to jump, but to carry people forward with them, like MLK).
popelizbet
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
Your comments about the last book reminded me of how shocked and appalled I was when Oyate.org talked about how Native people are characterized in the Little House books.

And then someone reminded me about the blackface. :(
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
Yup. :( I loved those books when I was little, but I can't read them now.
popelizbet
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
Ew.

Hey, do you mind helping us spread the word about con_or_bust, the fandom auction to raise money to assist fans of color in getting to wiscon?
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Sure!
popelizbet
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Super win. Big fat post at the community suitable for c&p.
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
Done! :)
popelizbet
Mar. 12th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC)
You rock!
mariedeblois
Mar. 12th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)
Oh god yes. I tried recently and just about died of ick.
(Deleted comment)
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
Hee!
donal_mac_r
Mar. 12th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
I happened upon a book from the early 20th Century at my in-laws' home out in West Virginia. It was fascinating in that the authors trumpeted how progressive and modern they were, while propunding theories about sexuality and gender roles that seem Neandertal to a modern reader. One example I recall was that the authors discouraged girls' participation in sports because becoming "too athletic" might have a negative effect on their later fertility.

And they advocated all manner of medical and surgical treatments to remedy the problem of excessive sexuality in girls . . . it was pretty explicit, and left me shaking my head.
wulfsdottir
Mar. 12th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
Have you thought about writing a book (or books!) on this (these) topic(s)? I think you've pulled some interesting threads here, that could well give a new shape to an old tapestry.
attack_laurel
Mar. 12th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
Actually, several people are ahead of me. :) I just like noodling in essays.
wulfsdottir
Mar. 12th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
Then I'm happy I get to read your essays. :)
etinterrapax
Mar. 12th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)
Jez is the only place where I've seen many women discuss masturbation openly. Even among my friends, who are generally awesome, it goes undiscussed.

I love books like that, particularly cookbooks, housekeeping books, and etiquette guides. I never want to romanticize the past, but I feel like I'm looking for the something that might be there, that would help with the present. Among other things.
attack_laurel
Mar. 13th, 2009 03:13 am (UTC)
It's interesting, isn't it - a lot of women I've known are quite open about their sexuality, but masturbation is still a weirdly unmentionable subject (for me too - it's just not something that comes up in casual conversation, certainly).

hazebrouck
Mar. 12th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
"So, all us childless women are apparently faking our orgasms, even when we're alone. "

BWAHAHAHAHA!

I needed that. Thanks.
( 27 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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