From New York to the South to Scotland to the spinner rack: books read

THE HIDDEN PALACE is Helen Wecker’s sequel to The Golem and the Jinni and like many sequels has the romantic ending of the first book falls apart, leaving both Chava (the Golem) and Ahmad decide they are never getting back together. Meanwhile the appearance of a visiting female djinn and newly created male golem further complicate things …

I’m never enthused by sequels where the HEA turns out to have been unhappy and even setting that aside, this isn’t as strong as the first book. There’s just too many characters, plot threads and stuff going on in the real world (Triangle Shirtwaist Fire! WW I!) but even so I did enjoy this one. However the ending implication that V3 will have Chava founding the equivalent of Xavier’s Academy for magical creatures doesn’t excite me.

SOUTHERN BEAUTY: Race, Ritual and Memory in the Modern South by Elizabeth Bronwyn Boyd argues that the stereotypical images of Southern beauty and grace are a subtle version of Confederate nostalgia, from Southern sororities that favor an old-school, white ideal of beauty to historical pageants, clubs and tours of Stately Antebellum Homes which present a continuity between Modern Southern Women and the Mistresses Of The Old Plantations. While it’s no surprise the beauty ideal is an artificial and deliberate one, Boyd shows just how much effort goes into it in beauty pageants (“Southern contestants are cosmetically advanced.”) and how the standard imposes a conformity that by Total Coincidence excludes women of color. I’d have liked some analysis of movies beyond Gone With the Wind but that’s not the book she was writing, and the one Boyd did write is an interesting read.

I picked up Val Diarmid’s 1979 to see how a successful author (she’s a big-name thriller writer in the UK) handles the historical details. No question she does well, from cigarettes (I will assume the way the protagonist smokes Silk Cut cigs is accurate) to pop culture and politics to (again, assuming) the way British journalism worked; however the book is less the historical thriller I expected than a straight-up historical novel about two journalists exposing a corrupt tax-evasion scheme. As such I couldn’t get into the story.LOVE ON THE RACKS: A History of American Romance Comics by Michelle Nolan suffers a little in targeting both the general interest and the collector’s market (I skimmed over a lot of detail about how many issues of various titles came out) but nevertheless does a good job looking at this slice of the market. Nolan looks at the various companies and their approaches — DC carefully wholesome, Quality and the obscure St. John turning out above-average work, Fawcett showing how girls Bring Disaster on themselves — and describes some of the stories in the different categories. N0lan also shows the impact of the Comics cCde — no cleavage, no lurid-but-inaccurate titles, not too much parent/child conflict — and the slow decline of the genre, which at its peak made up 20 percent of all the comics issues sold annually. Part of the problem was, of course, the change in women’s roles; another was the development of the direct market, as specialty comics stores initially catered to men (so no point in stocking a woman-centric product). I’m not as sure as Nolan that romance comics couldn’t stage a comeback — as she points out, romance manga sell very well — but I doubt they have the will to try. Overall very good though I’d have liked more interviews with artists and writers (there’s a quote from a John Romita interview but that’s about it).

#SFWApro. Covers by Romita, rights to images remain with current holders.

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