attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

Wherein I take a sharp right turn into the library...

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.
Tags: antiques, blah blah blah, books, feminism, racism, sex

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