Prairie Fires: Chapter 13 (Part 3)

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 13

(Tweet Link: Part 11) #PrairieFires Part 11, and here we need to revisit some of Rose's stuff from last night because holy shit. @Shaker_aphra has noted that the Pittsburg Courier, the African-American paper where Rose landed a column, was a big deal.

@Shaker_aphra And it's a BIG paper. 3rd largest AA paper by circulation, IIRC. It was the paper that invented the "Double V" campaign.

@arthur_affect has read about some of her columns there. It's... not good. He has also found an amazing article about her time at the Pittsburgh Courier.

@arthur_affect  Her first column was her going into detail about how racist she’d been to black servants and staff her whole life but now she’s suddenly become woke
@arthur_affect  You want to talk White Feminism™   She wrote a column about segregated restaurants and said “You know, in my youth respectable women weren’t allowed to smoke in restaurants — but we just kept doing it until finally they had to change the rule.
@arthur_affect  She gets in a back and forth with another columnist because she objects to a book review talking about “Negro literature for Negroes” saying that’s like “blonde literature for blondes”

Rose Wilder Lane was that white person. And it is worth noting that she's still virulently anti-Semitic and believes in conspiracy theories about Jewish people ruling the world and destroying America from within.

The New York Times does a profile on her and I want to make a grim joke about their penchant for profiling Nazis but apparently she's decided that no one hates Hitler more than she does. Which is peak white non-Jewish libertarian woman. "Profiled in the New York Times as “on strike against the New Deal,” Lane portrayed herself as a Revolutionary War hero, opposing George III’s onerous taxation to the end." She keeps linking King George III to FDR, hence the patriotism stuff in Little Town which Laura allowed her to put in.

"She spoke of herself as having “two sons in the Army,” refusing a ration book, and stockpiling hundreds of pounds of pork and jars of preserved fruits and vegetables, not for the war effort but as a one-woman resistance movement." SHE DOES NOT HAVE 2 SONS IN THE ARMY. She knows a guy in the Coast Guard (John Turner) and she knows a guy in Albania (Rexh Meta) and neither of them are her sons in any sense--not biologically, not legally, not financially, not anything.

I don't know what she plans to do with hundreds of pounds of pork and canned goods. Eat them all herself? She doesn't believe in charity, so she won't give it to people. Ten dollars says it'll spoil and go wasted. But way to stick it to the government. In the NYT profile, Rose says she's given up writing fiction to avoid taxation. No one will buy her work and she's out of family material to ransack, so this is like "you can't fire me, I quit". The NYT uncritically reprints a lot of lies she tells about local government and conditions.

The New Republic goes around afterwards and fact-checks everything she says, proving it all to be false. "The New Republic took up the challenge, fact-checking her accusation about the hogs, among other charges. Danbury representatives of the Department of Agriculture denied that there was a feed shortage in Connecticut. The Bridgeport plant likewise pronounced itself baffled. The magazine concluded that “Unfortunately, to Mrs. Lane the truth seems to be identical with any allegation that will further her own little private revolt against the war effort."

They literally printed that "the truth", to her, is whatever agrees with her ridiculous beliefs.

"But there was one member of Lane’s close circle who was neither perturbed nor alarmed by her politics, who in fact supported her beliefs wholeheartedly. That was her mother." LAURA, WHY. WHAT ARE YOU DOING. Laura reads Rose's non-fiction libertarian Discovery of Freedom and is enraptured. She starts urging everyone she knows to read it. (This is a departure from her policy re: Rose's fiction, which was to never comment on it at all.)

"Describing the family’s difficult early days at Rocky Ridge, Laura assured Kilburn that “What we accomplished was without help of any kind from any one. There was no alphabetical relief of any description and if there had been we would not have accepted it.”" This is so false it hurts. The family was repeatedly bailed out by Almanzo's rich relatives. Laura also accepted food and charity from others, like the passing Russian lady.

She knows this! It's fascinating how she can just elide all the charity she's received in her life as "[no] help of any kind from any one".

Laura believes that safety nets disincentivize work: "Now here we are at seventy-eight and eighty-eight … paying taxes for the support of dependent children, so their parents need not work at anything else; for old age pensions to take care of those same parents when the children are grown, thus relieving the children of any responsibility and all of them from any incentive to help themselves." Because children only work to support their parents?

"Wilder even went so far as to claim that she had stopped writing to avoid increasing her tax burden, as her daughter had." THIS IS A LIE. "She told the Kansas City Star in 1949: “The more I wrote the bigger my income tax got, so I stopped. Why should I go on at my age? Why, we don’t need it here anyway.” A Social Security number was never issued to her."

If she never got a Social Security Number, is she even paying into social security? Who knows. Not Laura! Laura rails against government assistance when her entire life has been about government loans and government homestead acts.

She never sought to explain the contradiction between her denunciation of New Deal programs and her praise of the Federal Farm Loan program she had worked for and borrowed from. Favorable terms on those loans were themselves federal assistance, subsidized by the government. And again, so were the lands given away by the Homestead Act, one of the largest federal handouts in American history. Why were homesteads and federal loans acceptable, while programs sponsored by the Roosevelt administration were not? Wilder’s inconsistency may be explained in part by the stark contrast of ambitions and scale. The Farm Loan program was a model of modest, community-based effort, hiring local bankers and, at least in Mansfield, a secretary-treasurer who was herself a paragon of rural farming. On the other hand, the massive New Deal programs brought in intimidating outsiders intent on inflicting top-down discipline, typified by the officious note-taking bureaucrat whom Almanzo ordered off his property with the threat of his shotgun.

Every step of her life, every stage of her existence has been living off government charity to white people. But Social Security was a step too far. Why? Was it because it benefited non-white people as well? Be very suspicious of white people who pull up the ladder as soon as they've got theirs and don't want non-white people to have the same safety nets.

Fraser notes that Laura was probably raised thinking that the family's highest value was self-sufficiency. I think that's probably true! But Laura is also in her 80s and capable of seeing that was a lie. She's a nationally known author. She has researched her family extensively. She has worked government loans. She has run for office. She is one of the most privileged people in the country at this point, despite her relative poverty.

Everyone is capable of looking back at their childhood and realizing that what their parents told them was true and what was actually true did not match. In fact, Laura has excelled at doing this, in her heavy edits to protect Charles from any censure. But when she went back and took out all the bits from her book where Charles needed help, she appears to have decided that those edits affected reality, not merely her legacy. So she can say her family never accepted help from anyone--no charity, no government--and this becomes "true" to her because she wants it to be true.

She is self-deluding, but deserves no sympathy for it. She is nurturing her classism and racism against harsh reality. Over and over, her family proved that "self-sufficiency" is impossible. Charles couldn't. Almanzo couldn't. James Wilder (Almanzo's father) couldn't. Eliza Jane, Mary, Carrie, Grace... none of them could do it. Laura and Rose couldn't either. Laura doesn't care about facts. She wants self-sufficiency to be real and achievable, so facts must stand aside. I get the impression that she blames Almanzo (and possibly Mary) for the weak links in why their families couldn't achieve the dreams she wanted.

Laura starts buying into Rose's conspiracy theories about everyone being against her crummy writing. "The New Dealers are in control of most publishing houses in New York and because they think Rose’s “Discovery of Freedom” teaches ideas contrary to their plans, they are working against its publication and distribution. Even the publishers of the book are trying to stop it." Please also recognize the anti-Semitic whiffs coming off any conspiracy theory about an elite cabal controlling The Publishing Houses.

Laura arranges to donate Pa's fiddle to a museum. In a poignant twist, they later discover that the fiddle was a cheap imitation and not the "Amati" (a famed 17-century Italian violin maker) Laura had thought. I... I feel there's a metaphor in there somehow, about how Laura's childhood and recollections and memoirs aren't the golden standard they've been marketed and labelled as. (It's unclear whether Charles knew the fiddle was a fake; there was an "Amati" label in it, and he could've been cheated. Then again, you'd think he would know.)

Carrie sells the last of Charles' houses and MY GOD CARRIE EBAY THAT SHIT. "A room upstairs was still packed full of jumbled Ingalls possessions—books, photographs, and furniture—when the sale was completed." Carrie dies, leaving Laura as the last survivor of the family. Not surprisingly, Laura has consistently been better fed than the rest of them. "Like her father, Carrie Ingalls Swanzey had juggled many odd jobs, trying to get by. She had been a pioneering newspaper woman, a homesteader, and a miner’s wife. Like her father and husband, she left barely enough to pay her bills."

It's really noteworthy to me that, despite having multiple houses on their property (80 acres? or more?), Laura never invites Caro, Mary, Carrie, or Grace to live with her, afaict. Occasionally Grace and Carrie write her begging for clothes, which she sends. But she doesn't seem to send back money or offer a place to live. And, look, nobody owes their family a living. But I say that as someone who believes in taxes and social safety nets. If you don't want social safety nets and don't want to help your little sisters, you're... basically saying it's fine with you if they starve to death. And you gotta think that it was hard for Carrie and Grace to write begging for clothes. Carrie doesn't even beg Laura directly; she asks Laura to ask Rose for clothes. Laura relents and sends some of her own.

Almanzo longs to move to apartments in town--I'm not sure how much he's doing farmwork, but it's not nothing, there's a mention that the farm has to be looked after constantly lest nature reclaim it. Laura tells him to decide which of his tools he wants to get rid of (downsizing to move into town) and he can't so he never brings it up again. My heart hurts.

People write Laura and she writes back. "Wilder shared with adult correspondents that some of the names were made up, but kept up the fiction that “Nellie Oleson” was a real person rather than a composite character, saying vaguely that she had moved back east." People send her fan fiction, pictures, drawings, stories of their own. I feel a stab of sorrow that no one sent, like, erotic slash pairings.

Laura's publisher plans a reprint with illustrations. The illustrator goes on a trip around the country, meeting Laura and seeing all her old houses (or the sites of the houses, at least). He talks to people in De Smet, who tell him Laura's stories are "our lives, we lived them." I'm struck by how these books made gazillions for the publisher and Laura and Rose, but how little of that reached the people in the pages. The non-Ingalls. It's almost... predatory, in a painful way. De Smet is idolized and fetishized, but they see almost none of these profits, outside of a smattering of determined tourists.

Outside of Rose's book, Laura basically stops talking about politics because the Ozarks are peaceful and she doesn't care. Got mine, etc. But then I hit this paragraph. "Wilder’s books were about to be given an extraordinary role. In postwar Japan, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, five-star general Douglas MacArthur, tasked with rebuilding a nation reduced to rubble, found Wilder’s model of cheerful, stoic endurance a useful tool." OH. FUCKING. NO.

Okay, first of all I need you to know that Douglas MacArthur was basically the WORST okay. "To instill positive views of Japan’s former enemies, GHQ launched a “Gift Book Program,”" and Long Winter is on the list. Aya Ishida translates Long Winter for Japanese readers. It becomes a huge hit and taps into the country's hardships with winters and food shortages. (This is honestly better than I feared; I was afraid MacArthur was going to make the book required reading or something. At least this is just "Japanese readers liked it". Phew?) Laura starts receiving fan mail from Japan and is thankfully gracious and not a total asshat. Good.

The Wilders negotiate a reverse mortgage on the property, selling the farm for the right to live there until they die. I guess Rose doesn't get the house. Detroit names a library after her (a pretty big deal!) and she donates her handwritten manuscripts of Long Winter and Happy Golden Years.

Laura starts relying heavily on the kindness of neighbors to help her and Almanzo. WHAT ABOUT YOUR RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM, LAURA. "In late July 1949, Almanzo suffered a heart attack. Neta Seal began spending occasional nights sleeping on the screened porch at Rocky Ridge, and she stayed with him while Wilder ran errands in town. Lane did not come." Almanzo dies and it's genuinely sad. God, he worked so hard his entire life, harder than anyone should have to. Hard up until the end, while his wife and daughter railed against any kind of retirement--even as Rose longs for servants of her own.

We here take a break. I think this book has flipped on my depression and that's annoying. I feel sad for no good reason and I blame Laura. It's really distressing reading about people who emerge from trauma to become horrible people, because I think part of me is like "oh god, is that my fate?"

Let's finish Chapter 13.

The year is 1949. Almanzo has died. Rose stays a week with Laura but then leaves again. She's remodeling a house again and has remodeling to do. In her letters to Laura she talks about "what it meant to know the difference between right and wrong. “Forty or fifty years ago I used to be bothered, trying to figure out what people meant by conscience, what is it, why don’t I have one, whatever it is?” Lane wrote."

I've given up trying to feel emotions about Rose.

"Wilder was undecided about staying at Rocky Ridge, and friends urged her to consider living in town. She seems never to have entertained the thought of moving east to be near her daughter. “I’m not sure they got along too well,” one Mansfield neighbor recalled." I think it's fascinating that these two women, only 20 years apart in age, can be so close, love each other so much, and hate each other so deeply. They would probably make a poignant movie or TV series.

Laura starts relying heavily on neighbors. Like, a lot. To sleep near her, to care for her, to deliver groceries for her. Maybe she's tipping/paying them? But for someone so bound up in never accepting charity, it rankles.

"There are neighbors just across the road and just a short distance to the side. Groceries are delivered to the door; mail every morning to the box by the road; my fuel oil tank for my heater is kept filled with no trouble to me and electricity and telephone ready to my touch. The house is warm and comfortable. Two boys from the neighbors on the East come every day to see if there is anything they can do for me and a taxi from town is on call to take me wherever I wish to go. Friends from town, only 1/4 mile away, come often to see me."

Sounds nice, Laura. Do we wanna count how much of that is available because of taxes, governments, and charity? Utilities and deliveries are made available to everyone regardless of whether your little shitty ass farm is 'profitable' to get to. Roads weren't organized and paid for by you. Those friends are being charitable to hang out with you and/or send their boys to look in on you.

Another library gets named after her. "She declined to make a recording to be played at the event, but she sent another treasure: the handwritten manuscript of Little Town on the Prairie." These are important later for proving her ownership of the material.

Back in New York, they're going all out to republish Laura's books with pretty pictures and covers and typesetting. They also correct a few mistakes, like this one: "There the wild animals wandered and fed as though they were in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no people. Only Indians lived there." A mother had written in, rather upset, and pointed out that the passage clearly contrasts "people" with "Indians", marking them as mutually exclusive groups.

Laura apologizes for the 'mistake' which was not her 'intent'. "Nordstrom passed along the author’s response. Wilder told her editor, “You are perfectly right about the fault…and have my permission to make the correction you suggest. It was a stupid blunder of mine. Of course Indians are people and I did not mean to imply they were not." (I don't see an apology in there.) "The passage would be revised in the 1953 edition to read, “There were no settlers.”"

"Nordstrom asked Wilder to reconsider the minstrel scene in Little Town in which Pa and others put on blackface and sing “Skidmore Guard,” referencing “coons” and “darkies.”" Laura is okay with cutting "coons" but insists that the scene itself, and "darkies" is not offensive. It is 1949, and even were it not Fraser points out that "Frederick Douglass had denounced blackface performers as “the filthy scum of white society” a century earlier, in 1848." i.e., 100 years before.

I hate Laura, I just do. Deal with it. She's a racist asshole and even when white people are coddling her and like "heeeeeeyyyy girl, can we maybe cut this scene" she digs her heels in and wallows around in her racism. And the book notes that these are the first time she's hearing about these problems, despite hundreds of fan mails that she read personally and responded to. So what the fuck, fellow white people of the 1940s and earlier?

The Horn Book devotes an entire issue to the Little House books. "Also included was a long biographical piece about Wilder, emphasizing the books’ “incorruptible decency” and “steadfast morality” as emblematic of American pioneer values." And this is why I said waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back at the beginning of this that we need to make it clear these are white books for white people. Because when we say ~Americans~ that implies white people are the only Americans who count.

"In 1954, the ALA devised an entirely new prize: the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a bronze medal to be awarded to authors who had made a “substantial and lasting” career contribution to American children’s letters. Its first recipient was its namesake."


Town women start coming by to do Laura's chores out of the kindness of their heart. "Neta Seal, Irene Lichty, and other ladies continued to help with chores and cleaning, calling her every morning and evening to check on her." A reminder that Rose's libertarian position is that Laura should've been left to drown in her own shit.

"Early in 1955 she fell and cut her head badly. Seal spent night after night sleeping at Rocky Ridge to care for her. Wilder’s notes dwindled to a few words but captured her gratitude." And like??????! Nobody should feel obliged to go play nursemaid for their mother. Some mothers are toxic af, and I'm not going to take that position. But. Rose is a bestselling author, as is Laura, and Rose is pouring all her money into a house. Pay your help. Are these women being paid? They apparently just seem to be really nice? God, I hope they were being paid. Or I hope to god they looted the silver cabinet.

A Kansas City Star reporter comes to interview Laura about her writing process and how the stories came into being. "She had begun her career by penning several stories, sending them to her daughter, who felt “they might be the basis of a picture book but nothing else.… She told me to put some meat on the bones and then send the stories back and she would see what she could do.”" I do love the irony that Rose didn't realize she was sitting on a gold mine in her mother.

Laura is taken to a hospital for several weeks (she has diabetes) and her younger 'friends' (nursemaids) from town visit every day to bring her water because she dislikes the hospital water. By Laura's 90th birthday, they're regularly spending nights and evenings with her to watch over her. "By this point, Virginia Hartley and Neta were taking turns staying by Wilder’s side throughout the night, spelling Lane, who tended her mother during the day."

Laura dies 3 days after her birthday. She's buried next to Almanzo and everyone is very sad. She outlived her family by quite a bit, presumably because she was consistently richer than they.

Thus ends chapter 13.

Prairie Fires: Chapter 13 (Part 2)

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 13

(Tweet Link: Part 10) #PrairieFires, Part 10. Proceed with caution.

Rose urges Herbert Hoover to find Rexh Meta. She fears that her "vindictive personal enemies among communists" are causing her requests to be ignored. Does... she think Hoover is a communist? She doesn't find him (he's apparently/probably in prison) and laments forever that he totes would've been rescued if she'd been a member of the communist party. Okay, like, if you really believed that, wouldn't you join up????

Reader's Digest wants to run Hurricane. She meets with the editor and he brings his 14yo son Roger to meet Rose. While he is in high school, Roger regularly spends evenings and weekends at Rose's house. That's all the details I have on Roger MacBride at the moment. I will report as the situation develops.

Prairie Fires: Chapter 13 (Part 1)

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 13

(Tweet Link: Part 9) Okay. Let's... let's gird our loins. Deep breaths. Chapter 13 of #PrairieFires. Part #9 in my series of threads. I'm gonna admit to being a bit exhausted. I will continue because I don't like leaving things unfinished, but... these are awful, depressing people. Genuinely, I had to go take a break after Part #8.

Laura and Rose are some kind of case study in how traumatized people can turn around and absolutely terrorize others in an attempt to assert control over their lives. Rose is the most obvious problem, what with the "adopting" and abusing of young boys, and sucking up to famous friends only to castigate them unfairly when they fail to perform to her fantasies.

Prairie Fires: Chapter 12 (Part 2)

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 12

(Tweet Link: Part 8) Part #8 of #PrairieFires, here there is only rage.

[TW] After Rose alienates Don and Ruth Levine, Rose turns suicidal again, but I have zero sympathy for her and I say this as someone who struggles with suicidal impulses. You sympathize with Hitler, Rose. You ought to feel bad! Feeling bad is the correct reaction!

In an argument about politics, John Turner (adopted son; probably abuse victim for 6 years) storms out of the house and joins the Coast Guard. She will basically never see him again, feeling that he had gone over to the enemy by enlisting in government service.

Open Thread: Water under the Bridge


This is what happens when I can't think of a decent name for a picture.  There's a bridge.  There's water under it.  There's an idiom that goes "It's water under the bridge."  Thus: title.

More of me being enamored with reflections.

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Friday Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Review: D'Lish Deviled Eggs

D'Lish Deviled Eggs: A Collection of Recipes from Creative to ClassicD'Lish Deviled Eggs: A Collection of Recipes from Creative to Classic
by Kathy Casey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

D'Lish Deviled Eggs / B00AZKUERY

I love this cookbook so much and I keep coming back to it again and again. I know that seems silly, like, what more can you do with deviled eggs than the basic recipe? But this book has the best base recipe *plus* awesome variations with pulled pork, buttered corn, pimiento cheese, and a zillion other flavor combinations. For someone who really likes deviled eggs and has a lot of picky eating issues, this cookbook is great because it's good at presenting ideas (with gooooorgeous pictures) and letting you experiment with those ideas. "Hmm, what if Classic Picnic with Bacon Cheddar?" WHAT IF, INDEED.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

Review: Cheese and Beer

Cheese  BeerCheese Beer
by Janet Fletcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cheese and Beer / 1449421849

Be aware right this is a *pairing* book. It's not about cheese and about beer, it's about cheese-and-beer together. That wasn't quite what I was looking for, but that's okay! Pairing books are important too.

This is a gorgeous book with a lot of beautiful pictures and a huge variety of pairing suggestions. I've seen another reviews complain that the selections are too easy to find, but I think that's going to vary widely--I'm in Texas, not California, and even the nicest grocers around here don't serve half the cheeses in this book. Fortunately the pairing suggestions are very versatile so you're not going to be "trapped" into being unable to use half the book. The instructions for storing and serving cheese are especially good to know; I'm kind of a foodie when it comes to cheese and I still learned stuff which is always awesome.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

Review: Amish Friends Cookbook Desserts

Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends Cookbook: DessertsWanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends Cookbook: Desserts
by Wanda E. Brunstetter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amish Friends Cookbook Desserts / 978-1616262921

There's nothing really wrong with this book, but there's also nothing really right. There are almost no pictures for the recipes, and it's not clear whether these even *are* pictures of the recipes or just generic stock photos of "apple pie", "pumpkin pie", etc. The recipes are short and sweet--about the size of a recipe card, which is convenient for storage but not if you want any kind of in-depth instructions. But if you're an advanced chef, I feel like you already know about these recipes; there's very little in the way of variety or invention. If you have even a single church cookbook from the past 30 years, you have most of these recipes already. If you don't, then I guess this is a decent collection? But don't expect instructions or pictures to help you out.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

Open Thread: Something Purple


Yeah . . . I got nothing.  Could show up as pink depending on local conditions.

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Friday Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Review: Holiday Cookies

Holiday Cookies: Showstopping Recipes to Sweeten the SeasonHoliday Cookies: Showstopping Recipes to Sweeten the Season
by Elisabet Der Nederlanden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holiday Cookies / B01N6FSVZB

I seriously thought I reviewed this months ago, but it turns out I got lost in cookie making and forgot! I picked this book up on NetGalley thinking "oh, Ana, how many more holiday cookie books do you NEED when you own so many already" and it turns out the answer was "AT LEAST ONE MORE".

I love this book. I love the recipes; they're simple, and easy to read and follow. I love the pictures, oh gosh, the pictures. There is a picture for each recipe (as god intended for recipe books!) and they are all so gorgeous I want to lick the page. I love the variety; oh sure, we start with gingerbread and pinwheels and chocolate chunk but in no time whatsoever we're serving up cookies from Sweden, Italy, Austria, South America, Denmark, Mexico, and so forth. It's largely a very European selection and I would've loved to see more global variety (maybe for a sequel? please?) but what we have here is scrumptious, yummy, and there's almost certainly something here that isn't already on your cookbook shelves.

There's also some amazing decorating work on the pages, and some creative ideas like cookie place cards (for settings at the table) and one of the prettiest 3-D Christmas tree cookies I've ever seen. The section on gingerbread houses comes with guides for you to trace and cut out on paper. (Though this won't be much use, probably, to kindle users. I wish cookbooks would start writing the measurements on guides now that tablets are becoming ubiquitous.) If you love winter cookies--and these are definitely winter/yuletide/christmas cookies, don't be mislead by the "holiday" in the title to think there's a Labor Day cookie in here--this is a great book for your collection.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

Review: QUESO!

QUESO!: Regional Recipes for the World's Favorite Chile-Cheese DipQUESO!: Regional Recipes for the World's Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip
by Lisa Fain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

QUESO! / B01MT4WC2K

I feel like I should like this book more than I do, and I've been sitting on this review for awhile but I need to post it and get it out of my system: this is a good book, but it's not quite the book I wanted.

I thought I was picking up a cookbook... and I was... kinda. There are a lot of chile con queso recipes here, there's no doubt about that. There's only pictures of about half the recipes, which is never a bonus in my book because I want pictures of *all* the recipes. On the one hand, these are queso recipes so the pictures aren't going to vary a whole lot from each other until we hit the more complicated fare. On the other hand, there *is* more complicated fare deeper in--queso with pork and corn and mushrooms, and vegan queso--and yes, I want pictures of those. The pictures which are on the page aren't labeled (or weren't in the Advance Review Copy I received) which means that every 3-4 recipes there's 1-2 pictures and you have to try to match the pictures to the recipes. For a book that I want to browse through when I have a hankering to throw cheese in a pan, that feels like more work than I'd wanted.

This is also a touch of a history book... sorta. The author grew up in Texas (as did I) and was raised on the Velveeta-and-Rotel recipe that white Americans grew up on in the American South back in the day. Then she started branching out and researching the roots of the recipe and visiting different Texas towns to gather regional samples. She's looked into fondues and rarebits and other melted cheese dishes. All of this research has gone into little 2-3 page "histories" before each section of queso recipes, along with little paragraphs of historical context with each recipe.

I love food history so I feel like I should like these parts more than I do. There's a distressing shallowness to a lot of the history, like there's a deeper story and we're just getting a couple condensed sentences that would go on a Wikipedia stub until someone fleshed the material out properly. And the history we do get feels very much like a white outsider peering in--and sometimes in the wrong directions. From the very beginning, the author explains that her trek-for-queso took her from El Paso to Corpus Christi to Austin to Houston to San Antonio. I would've expected at least one jaunt over to Mexico while she "drove along the Texas-Mexico border". The first section of queso recipes features recipes from Los Angeles, Boston, San Antonio, El Paso, Arkansas ("Arkansas Cheese Dip"), Lubbock (a Velveeta-based recipe), and Lady Bird Johnson's Washington Post recipe.

Those feel like very unusual choices to set the stage for a book that is trying to be a history of queso. I feel almost like I'm reading a gentrification of queso--the Arkansas Cheese Dip is called "the term preferred by folks in Arkansas". Do you mean white folks in Arkansas? Because you can say "white folks". I'm assuming Spanish-speaking Arkansans still just called it chili con queso. (Though they probably didn't make it with "1 pound yellow American cheese" and ketchup, so maybe "Arkansas Cheese Dip" is the better term after all.)

I dunno, I feel like I'm being mean. As a coffee table book for Christmas, I think this is perfectly adequate. As an addition to your cookbooks to flip through when you want cheese to nosh on, I think it works. If you're interested in the history of chili con queso in America as adopted as part of the American culture, I think this is an interesting read. If you go into the book with that mindset, I think you won't be disappointed.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

Review: Baking Class

Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake!Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake!
by Deanna F. Cook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Baking Class / B06XPQX1ZC

This is an extremely cute little book which I think would be great for small children wanting to get into baking--especially if they've been watching cooking shows for years (like my nephew) and wanting to dip their toes in the water. The graphics are colorful and helpful, and the steps are easy to follow. I love how all the helpers in the book are kids (with a good variety in racial representation!) because it really emphasizes that yes, kids CAN do these recipes and so can the kids reading along at home.

The selection of recipes here is not the widest or most diverse. The bread section is loaf bread, banana bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza dough, etc; the cookie section is chocolate chip, oatmeal, sugar cut-out, snickerdoodles, etc. I do feel like a follow-up book could branch out just a wee bit into some more multi-cultural directions than just what would've been incredibly safe and familiar to me as a white American kid. I don't think this is a point of criticism for the book, just something I wanted to note for potential buyers.

This is definitely a book for KIDS, though. Some baking 101 books are accessible for adults, but this one is geared strongly for the under-12 age crowd. As a birthday or holiday present for a kid wanting to get into baking, though, I think this would hit the spot. Helpful, colorful, cheerful, and creative within the confines of the "safe" recipes served up on the page.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

Prairie Fires: Chapter 12 (Part 1)

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 12

(Tweet Link: Part 7) If you're just joining us, this is a completely accurate summary of Rose Wilder.

 novemberness‏  @Laura_the_Wise  Let's see: -con artist -exploits ppl -serial sexual abuser -fake news -a racist superficially admiring of other cultures -pretends to be rich but rly in debt -many failed building projects -dates younger men -mom issues -vain af -fascist  It's. She. She's Trump. Rose is Trump

Can I just say that I re-read the first chapter of Big Woods last night and I can 100% see why I like/d it. The food descriptions are amazing and Laura is really good at making shitty things seem like amazing adventures. This was apparently a real-world talent of hers which Rose scorned, so it's interesting to see how that plays out in her writing. I really would love to know what Rose thought reading/editing her stuff. Reading between the lines of their letters, she wasn't thrilled.

Chapter 12 promises us that we're entering "the most editorially incestuous phase of their relationship." That's never a good sign.

Prairie Fires: Chapter 11

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 11

(Tweet Link: Part 6) It's striking to me that Laura's writings are about hope and joy and beauty even in hard times, while Rose's writings are about grim unhappiness in relative wealth. (The Depression is happening and she never misses a meal; she's relatively rich.)

Rose joins the local men at foxhunting (further alienating the wives) looking for new story material to gather. She mocks their dialect to her literary friends. Similarities of scenes and turn of phase between Little House on the Prairie and Willa Cather's 1918 novel My Antonia are noted along with the fact that Rose was very familiar with Cather's work.

Oh shit.

Prairie Fires: Chapter 10

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 10

(Tweet Link: Part 5) Part 5, in which the books are written and I assume everything goes horribly right.

Chapter 10 opens with Laura and Almanzo taking a road trip to De Smet (Charles' old town). They're horrified by the ruination of all the farm country (crop prices tanked due to over-growth) and everyone is losing their farm to taxes. I can kind of see why farmers would gravitate to anti-tax positions when they associate taxes with foreclosure and those taxes have never been used to properly safety net them. Sigh.

Laura's manuscript for Little House in the Big Woods is accepted, but Knopf folds because of the Depression before she can sign. (Sorry, to be clear, Knopf folds the children's arm of the publishing company, not the entire company itself.) Rose insists the Depression will be brief, nothing is wrong, people are just being cowards. She's $8,000 in debt.

Prairie Fires: Chapter 9

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 9

(Tweet Link: Part 4) Rose Wilder has invested all her money into the stock market and is planning a palace with servants and guns to keep out the riff-raff.

[TW: Self Harm] When you're being Dramatic Online: [Rose's article] appeared under a sensational title: “I, Rose Wilder Lane, Am the Only Truly HAPPY Person I Know and I Discovered the Secret of Happiness on the Day I Tried to Kill Myself.”

Oh my god, I cannot summarize this article of hers. I am screaming. It is the most dramatic childish thing ever. It is 100% the slow-faint-on-the-stairs-lady gif.

gif of a lady on a fancy staircase, pretending to faint in dramatic slow motion

Writings: Release


[TW: Death of a Parent, Failed Pregnancy Attempt, Talk of Self-Harm]

I wrote this many years ago after two failed IVF attempts with my spouse, during which one of my parents (survived) a bout with cancer. I wanted to reconcile myself to loss--both the upcoming one I foresaw when my parents died, and the loss of dreams and the future I'd planned as I acclimated to the fact that I was infertile.

I sometimes tell anti-choice trolls that I lost "thirty babies" during IVF, which is not incorrect per their worldview, as thirty fertilized eggs stopped developing one by one. But though I don't feel like I lost thirty children--and am squicked out by fundies who insist I'll meet my excessively large brood in heaven--I do feel I've lost one child. Not a child I carried, but a child I'd planned a future around and towards. This story is my farewell to that child.

This is also a ghost story, which seemed fitting for October and All Hallows' Eve.

Prairie Fires: Chapter 8

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 8

(Tweet Link: Part 3) Rose is touring Europe in the wake of a world war and briefly toys with the idea of adopting a "war orphan" but she gets and discards another boyfriend instead.

Laura is classist again, fretting that the recent women's right to vote will only be utilized by "rougher classes" of women while "home-loving home-keeping" women stay home from the polls.

Caroline dies and it is sad. I hated her in the books, but here she benefits next to everyone else being way worse. Rest in peace, Caroline.

Btw, if you're liking this live read, you've got to check out the Prairie Fires book because there's a lot of wild stuff I just don't know how to summarize. Like Rose Wilder's angsty Twilightesque self-insert sexual escapade fanfic.

Good morning, everyone. Laura resigned her column after her mother's death, writing one last paean to Caroline and another to Almanzo and that time he took her home for Christmas.

Rose ping-pongs about Europe, fetishizes Albania and Albanian men, considers adopting a 15 guide (she's...40?), and claims an Albanian bey (leader) proposes to her mid-gun battle. She becomes so absolutely annoying about her fetishization of Albania that her best friend's husband writes an Annoying White Lady caricature of her in his books and I'm here for it.

She gets... wow. Really awful.

[TW] Rose is proud of the fact that Americans killed the indigenous people over land, rather than religion, and scorns the Europeans for not having the same "clean" reasons for killing. She approves of killing! Just not the reasons.

In a deep depression, Rose goes back to Rocky Ridge and Laura. Laura is 57 years old and struggling to keep doing all the farm chores she'd done all her life; she's described as old and unwell. Rose moves into her old bedroom and turns her old Jack London stuff into a "novel" about him (instead of a biography) and fuck you, Rose, fuck you forever.

Rose hates farm life and manual labor of any kind, which tells us volumes about what kind of traveling companion she was in the Albanian mountains, I feel.

Rose refuses to save money and grows more disconnected from financial reality. "With fantastic optimism, she estimated that she could sell a hundred stories over the next five years at five hundred dollars each, an output scarcely suited to a temperamental writer." 100 stories in 5 years, at $500 each! For what would be thousands of dollars in today's money! Writers, here is the part where we throw back our heads and laugh.

Rose is outraged when Laura points out that a story might not sell, or Rose might become too sick to write or suffer an accident, etc. SPOILER: THIS WILL DEFINITELY HAPPEN?

Man, I have every mixed feeling about their relationship because Rose is basically Ayn Rand but worst, but I too would not like living with Laura? Like, I am wincingly sympathetic to the whole "MOM, I am a cosmopolitan WRITER and you married at NINETEEN and chair a bingo parlor slash masonic lodge."

I don't honestly think Rose understands her own impulses. "[Rose] was publishing a rhapsodic tribute to rural farm life in Country Gentleman, while declaring privately that her parents should sell the farm and move to England. Supremely confident in this decision, she nonetheless expressed bafflement how they could find income there." Like. 'Mom, you should sell your home and source of income (eggs, butter, etc) and move to England where you will have no income whatsoever.'

Laura runs for office and fails, so turns to writing; she asks her aunt to write down everything she can remember from childhood and send the stories back to Laura for her to use as raw material.

Rose buys her parents a Buick; Almanzo crashes it and sends Rose flying through the windshield. "Accustomed to driving a team of horses, he had braced his foot on the gas pedal while pulling back on the steering wheel, saying “Whoa!” Lane went through the windshield, leaving her with glass in her face, a crushed nose, and two black eyes." Ouch.

"In her enthusiasm, [Rose] pulled her parents into the [stock] market along with her. “Stocks are leaping around like corn in a popper,” Rose wrote to them. “Fortunately, we can’t lose.""

OH GOD NO.

Rose cannot keep a dollar without spending it, but is commissioning plans for a palace and servants. "Lane paid their Russian tutor, a former architect, to design a new home on the Adriatic, in the “pure Arab style.” The sketch showed a lavish colonnaded affair with a walled garden, swimming pool, terraces, defensive gun emplacements, open courtyards, and a servants’ court."

GUN EMPLACEMENTS AND A SERVANTS' COURT. LIBERTARIANISM.

I... I don't know how to deal with this, I am losing my shit. How do you pay your Russian tutor to design a feudal palace for you? She has no money, I have to add. She can't keep herself from spending all of it instantly.

Prairie Fires: Chapters 6-7

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapters 6-7

(Tweet Link: Part 2) Okay, when we left the last thread: Laura had grown up and gotten married and had Rose before her husband got very sick and had a stroke that left him disabled. They are now replicating the bad decisions of her childhood: Hole up with a financially stable family, gain a few belongings and a foothold, sell everything, move to the latest land-grab in an attempt to strike it self-sufficiently rich, fail.

There are a few genuinely sad things here. One, Laura's white family is a cloud of locusts driving indigenous people from their homes and destroying the land. Two, the lack of real safety nets for disabled and impoverished people is the gale wind behind the white locusts. The people getting rich off the land-grabs are (a) the government and (b) the railroads and (c) the people selling farm equipment. That's pretty much it. Everyone else loses.

Prairie Fires: Chapters 1-5

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapters 1-5

(Tweet Link: Part 1) Wow, I'm really liking Prairie Fires so far. (New... expose? biography? of Laura Ingalls Wilder.) "Showing American children how to be poor without shame, she herself grew rich." I wish the author had specified white American children. I hope race is explored more, because it's inextricable to the Wilder legend. Her mythic story is a white story.

Chapter 1 is about how the Wisconsin "Big Woods" farm, land, and maple sugar trees featured in the first book were freshly stolen from indigenous people. Like, extremely freshly. I knew that the other books (Silver Lake, Prairie, etc) were about LIW's white family stealing indigenous land, but I hadn't realized Big Woods was part of that pattern as well.

I'm not sure yet when Pa's family shows up, but noting that he was born in 1836, the 1855 German and Bohemian settlers migrated into the Big Woods by moving into indigenous homes while the owners were our hunting, then refusing to leave when the owners came home.

Open Thread: Bookstore Pillow


After bringing primary computer in to be fixed (in theory) I stopped by a bookstore before heading home.  This bookstore sold pillows.  This is the pillow that caught my eye.  Lacking money with which to buy such a thing, I snapped a photo.

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Friday Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Reverse-Engineering Eternity: The Puzzle of the Snow Queen



[Ana: Today we have a guest post from Benjanun Sriduangkaew about her upcoming book, Winterglass. For those who haven't read Andersen's The Snow Queen, a Project Gutenberg link is here.] 



Reverse-Engineering Eternity: The Puzzle of the Snow Queen

Content warning for discussion of misogynistic abuse, sexist false dichotomies.

Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen has the distinction of being the one western fairytale that's ever had lasting effect on me — I never did warm to Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or even the rest of Andersen. Mostly Disney's fault.


There's the exotic world which The Snow Queen presents, the frozen Lappland, the forever winter, the peculiar imagery of the snow bees, that compelled me more than the generic dark forests of Sleeping Beauty or Beauty and the Beast. And part of it was, inevitably, the Snow Queen figure — immaculate, beautiful, limitless. Long before I came to frame all my writing (and I do mean all) through queer lens, she was compelling and magnetic. While a lot of us gravitate to the malicious stepmothers and the evil witch-queens, creating for them a sympathetic perspective or origin story, the Snow Queen has always been ambivalent. Unlike the wicked stepmothers and the witch queens, she's never shown in defeat. Her hold on the boy Kay is a spell done in absentia, an offering of a beautiful puzzle—we never hear from her again past a certain point in the story. In absentia, eternally unattainable, impossible to defeat even by the most pious of Christian girls.

Piecing the Mirror Together

When you rework a western fairytale, you run into the risk of retreading old ground: most have been retold to death or have received the unfortunate Disney treatment or both. The Snow Queen has eluded Disney, but she's been places (and how odd, how interesting, that it is the queen who's usually central rather than Gerda or Kay). Lumi of the Fables comics, Arianrhod of Joan D. Vinge's Snow Queen Cycle, Princess Kaguya of Sailor Moon: Kaguya-hime no Koibito, the White Witch Jadis of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Freya from The Huntsman: Winter War (2016). But the source material is still interesting to me, and I wanted to give it a try.

Winterglass isn't an exact retelling. Most keep the core concepts: a boy is corrupted into the worst version of himself, is seduced and taken away by the wintry sorceress-queen, an innocent girl — usually his childhood sweetheart—sets out on an adventure to rescue him and free him from the queen's grasp. That I had to jettison immediately, as I don't find much of interest in a heterosexual love story. The aspect of this story that often plays out as Gerda and the queen vying for control and (sometimes romantic) attention of Kay doesn't interest me either.

Gerda's defining trait, the one that lets her free Kay, is her purity of heart, her innocence, in so many words.

“But can you not give little Gerda something to help her to conquer this power?”

“I can give her no greater power than she has already,” said the woman; “don't you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart. If she cannot herself obtain access to the Snow Queen, and remove the glass fragments from little Kay, we can do nothing to help her. Two miles from here the Snow Queen's garden begins; you can carry the little girl so far, and set her down by the large bush which stands in the snow, covered with red berries. Do not stay gossiping, but come back here as quickly as you can.” Then the Finland woman lifted little Gerda upon the reindeer, and he ran away with her as quickly as he could.

It's a very Christian story (Gerda literally dispels the Snow Queen's enchantments with Christian prayers). The Finnish woman doesn't remark on her endurance or strength: it is Gerda's purity alone that she praises, and Gerda's purity alone that — she asserts—compels and charms all into serving Gerda. Vinge has an interesting take on this, where her Gerda figure Moon Dawntreader does win through kindness and empathy rather than purity, and there's mileage to be had from stories where kindness and empathy are the guiding principles (Steven Universe, Puella Magi Madoka Magica). But so often what happens is that writers position Gerda as the virgin, the queen as the whore, the way it happens in any story where a powerful woman is pitted against a younger, naiver one: just look at Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Disney's own take on Snow White (1937) or Sleeping Beauty (1950) or The Little Mermaid (1989). Even Vinge's rendition falls into this trap: Arienrhod is defined by her ambition and sexual appetites while her clone Moon is younger, sweeter, kinder and most importantly more innocent (she has sex with one man at a time and only with a deep emotional connection while Snow Queen Arienrhod throws orgies: how scandalous). Sailor Moon plays it straight: an astronomer boy is seduced by the icily beautiful, cruel Kaguya-hime. She is defeated by the titular Sailor Moon, a young woman empowered by her innocence and purity.


So many reinterpretations of the Snow Queen fixate on her having been abused by men into bitterness, even though Andersen's never was— his Snow Queen is a figure of elemental force and alien motivation, untouched by men and untouchable. Freya in The Huntsman: Winter War, Lumi in Fables, one way or another all have been shaped by patriarchal malignancy, by male entitlement. Elsa of Frozen's catalyst is the threat of power-hungry, treacherous men seeking to exploit or remove her. Vinge's Arienrhod is spited one last time by a man— her discarded former lover—as she is thrown into the sea to drown alive. Men, it seems, are inescapable.

This inescapability has something to do, possibly, with the idea that the appeal of The Snow Queen lies in being a story where the girl rescues the boy. While Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty are passive, Gerda adventures. She strives, she endures, and she overcomes. There's certainly something to be said for that, but it's still a girl and a boy. It still confines and, fundamentally, it places supreme importance on the boy as a person so worthy and precious that a flawless, morally impregnable girl beloved by all she comes into contact with will go through hell to regain him. To me this wasn't a fantasy of female empowerment: it is a fantasy of male all-importance.

When I started writing Winterglass with the intent of basing a story on the Andersen, I was faced with a few options.

  1. Gerda and Kay are both girls, they are lesbians. The Snow Queen is also a woman, older and sexually voracious in contrast to Gerda's and Kay's inexperience.
  2. Gerda and Kay are both girls, they are lesbians. The Snow Queen is a man, he is a sexual and sexist threat, an embodiment of patriarchal power that suppresses queer women and threatens them with corrective rape.
  3. Gerda is a boy and Kay is a girl.

And so on, and so on. (Putting them in an American high school or college is, naturally, right out.) Number two goes out the window fast: Andersen's story doesn't have a sexual assault component to it the way Grimm's tend to, and I'm not desperate to introduce any. Making the Snow Queen male would also center a man, and I just don't find that — even when the man is an oppressor — all that interesting; 'darker, more adult' fairytale retellings which play up sexual assault are a well-trodden territory, sometimes to ridiculous excess (take Anne Rice's regrettable The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty).

Another factor is the characters' ages, which is more crucial than you would expect: in the original they start the story as children, and in most retellings they begin their journey as teenagers. I didn't care to write an ingenue who is led by her naivety and who triumphs because of it, or an innocent who falls afoul of icy seduction. I very specifically made Nuawa and Lussadh experienced (in all ways) and accustomed to violence, with Nuawa in her thirties and Lussadh in her forties. Setting next — fairytale retellings are often quite white, with Vinge's The Snow Queen set on a sea planet populated entirely (and improbably) by white Celts. I could set Winterglass in a similar analogue, or a secondary-world mishmash of medieval Europe and Britain, but the Winter Queen's threat seems much more interesting and terrifying as a literalization of colonialism. Sirapirat is not a direct analogue of any one city, but the shape and origins of its culture should be obvious, and I want Nuawa's relationship with her city to be unambiguous: her opinion of Sirapirat would have been very different had she been a person of color born and living in a white-majority country.

I am not actually that enamored of the Andersen story.

It made an impression on me; I felt the images in it were beautiful, more distinct and concrete than anything in Grimm's, more particular. But if pressed I wouldn't, now, name it as something I necessarily love. Andersen provides me with a structure, a few images I like, but I don't owe him or his story any debt. I'm sure I loved it when I was much younger—I looked up every retelling I could find, and was incredibly into Vinge's version—but it's not just that Andersen's story is deeply white, I also don't believe in what it believes: that resistance through innocence suffices or even works. The Gerdas of the world, in their white purity, may be able to get what they want through demonstrating that they have beautiful hearts and sterling character. But for people like Nuawa, women of color subjugated by imperialism, that will not get us very far at all. We know that we're born screaming, and to our graves we'll be screaming still, fighting to breathe and to die with dignity. Prayer is for white girls whose innocence will be believed, whose goodness is assumed and whose socialized position is ever on pedestals.


Vinge's Moon Dawntreader is chosen by the closest thing to a god and taught from childhood to be kind and loving, because in both her world and ours, the compassionate heart of a white girl is an assumption supported by universal consensus. Andersen's Gerda dispels the Snow Queen by Christian prayer; animals love her, people cannot resist helping her, and to the end she and Kay remain 'children at heart', pure and therefore fit for God's light. Nuawa survives to adulthood on a terrible sacrifice, raised and forged to be a weapon who will burn her heart out if it means overthrowing a tyrant.

And this, to me, is what it means to reconfigure a fairytale through post-colonialist lens: not just by making the characters of color rather than white, but by upsetting completely the worldview and assumptions of the white original. It is to relocate everything from the pale, frozen lands of Europe to a country all your own, and it is about — most of all — fighting with everything you have, even if it becomes your undoing, because you know no alternative exists and no gentler options will be offered.


Winterglass is a lesbian epic fantasy based on 'The Snow Queen', set in secondary-world Southeast Asia, out December 2017, and available now for pre-order.

Narnia: Doggy Hands and Cut Throats

[Narnia Content Note: Racism]

Narnia Recap: Shasta has reunited with Aravis, Bree, and Hwin and now they are returning to King Lune and Narnia. Obligatory note about racism, intent, and Lewis is here.

The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 15: Rabadash the Ridiculous

There is one chapter left in this book and it is difficult to analyze for reasons which I think will become apparent as we did in. I am going to try my best to wade through here, but appreciate your patience as we go along.

[Confession: I think, too, as this deconstruction has gone on that I've come to put pressure on myself more with each post. What was a few years back a project of "read a chapter, have reactions on the internet" has now been built up in my mind as "no, I must post a perfect post that captures every nuance of the chapter and if I can't do that then I might as well not even try". I'm going to try to get out of that mental rut because it's not helpful for me, but we'll see how that goes.

So here is a short post and I'm not going to apologize because there is nothing wrong with a short post. Right?]

Open Thread: Blue Car on the Orange Line


Some think that the key to getting people to use their product is immersing said-people in ads to the point that the ads are completely unmissable to the majority of the population.

I have no idea if it actually works, but it is kind of hard to miss that almost everything in this particular T/train/subway car was blue when it is usually the case that none of it is.

Picture taken at Oak Grove, but I rode the exceptionally blue car to Downtown Crossing.

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Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Open Thread: Bird on a Whatchamacallit


I . . . have no idea what the thing the bird is on is called.  None.  I can describe it, I understand the principles behind it, I've seen it and its ilk all the time, I don't know what it's called.

That, however, is not the point.  This is: bird!

Also, I kind of forgot that it was Friday.  I was doing a lot of stuff that I more associate with Thursdays (and, less often, Wednesday.)

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Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Open Thread: Disordered Sidewalk


A sidewalk in Portland, Maine.  On the street that leads to the red bridge to South Portland.

Apparently it's actually sidewalk construction season because, up the hill and down the road from where this picture was taken, a massive section of sidewalk is being rebricked.  Not the first such project I've seen of late.  I very much doubt that this particular sidewalk will be rebricked any time soon, though.  It's doing fine and the street isn't heavily walked anyway.

Also: Friday open thread on an actual Friday.  Woo!

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Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Writings: Escaping Margaritaville


[CN: Spoilers for the Dream Daddy dating simulation game.]

I spent the last week of July briefly obsessed with a visual novel dating simulator called "Dream Daddy" in which you are a single-parent who, yes, dates dreamy daddies. It's sweet and good and wholesome and funny and fat-friendly and trans-friendly and I have all the feels about it. I recommend the game very highly. Here is a twitter thread in which I gush even more. I also made my best friend Kristy write a post for kir patreon here, and there will be another one going up on kir patreon which is a follow-up to this post. DUAL PATREON POSTS.

If there is one thing I do not like about the game, it's that I think they dropped the ball with the character Joseph. There's a looooong backstory to the creation of this character, which I will not get into here, but the short version is that the character started out as a villain before the creative vision for the project shifted and the character was re-purposed into a sympathetic character. This isn't a bad thing--we got the movie FROZEN out of such creative vision shifts--but I think the developers didn't quite go far enough with their revision of Joseph.

Joseph is a youth pastor in the game, and heavily involved in the local church. He's the only dad who is still married when you meet him, and he and his wife Mary are trapped in a loveless marriage. He is heavily implied to be a closeted gay man who has 'strayed' with men before in the past, and Mary is managing her understandable anger at the situation with alcohol and barbed insulting witticisms at every turn. I love them both and they are both hurting so much and I want them to stop hurting each other and themselves and get a healthy divorce.

Instead, what happens in the game is you go to bed with Joseph on his yacht, losing yourselves to happiness in the "Margaritaville" he's constructed for himself as a retreat away from his wife and church. Then he panics and dumps you, returning to his wife and trying (again) to make their broken marriage work. All the other daddy routes in the game end with you happily coupled with your daddy of choice, so Joseph's breakup ending is a painful slap in the face and shows the stitches of the developers changing his ending hastily from the "villain" ending they'd originally planned for him to a more sympathetic ending in which he dumps the player instead.

As a trans and queer person raised in an oppressive church community, I had a lot of feels about playing a trans man dating Joseph. This scene is set on the yacht just after the player character and Joseph go to bed for the first time. Kristy's scene--which I highly recommend--is set in the end-game party, and involves a much-needed conversation with Mary.

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Escaping Margaritaville

Sunset glitters on the ocean and we drift in a sea of liquid gold, yellow and warm as Joseph's hair. My fingers brush over his skin, savoring the glow where he's bathed in the light from the yacht window. He catches my hand and kisses my fingers, but gently this time; we've worn each other out. I've been this happy before plenty of times but it never stops being special, this feeling of being with someone you love and knowing they love you back. I could get used to this, with him.

Joseph's eyes are as blue as his favorite sweater. He squints against the dying light, sensitive to the sun, but the age-lines in his face only make him more beautiful. I know he's been miserable for so long, living a life that was true for him once but soured into a lie, and I don't blame him for any of this. We should have handled it better, maybe, and there'll be awkward conversations when we leave the sea and go back to shore, but pain is necessary. You can't set a broken leg to heal without hurting the patient.

"I love you." His voice is gentle, but with a wistfulness that brings me up from the endorphins I've been riding. He sounds like he's saying goodbye, memorizing a moment he'll never have again. He sounds like sorrow.

I know that voice: it was mine once. He thinks I don't understand because I'm not Christian like him, that the guilt he wears wrapped around his shoulders at all times isn't familiar to me. I haven't told him I once was a Christian. I didn't want to get into an argument with my new neighbor and then, later, I didn't want to pressure him to make the same choices I'd made. But I know that voice like I know my own, the lament of a sinner memorizing his best and sweetest sin before he vows to give it up forever. He's trying to save his soul.

If he were anyone else, I would be angry. I would feel used. He got his urge for sin out of his system, scratched the itch, and now he sets me free with a fond farewell I'm not supposed to resent. But I'm not angry. I know him too well and I see the misery behind his eyes. He isn't afraid of losing Mary and his kids and the church; his greatest fear is losing me and this, the freedom he's craved for years. What we did together didn't scratch an itch--we put a band-aid on a broken leg and now he's trying to walk out of the hospital as though he were healed and that was all he needed to be well again.

"I love you, too." None of his wistfulness in my voice; I won't play this game for him. I love him too much to coddle him while he ruins his life and I take collateral damage. "What aren't you saying to me, Joseph?"

He's startled, eyes widening. I've shocked him by being too direct. Does he ever speak honestly with anyone? His ministry involves a constant verbal two-step: speaking what he ought, but hiding his own hypocrisy and treading around those committed by his audience. Mary is more abrupt in her speech, but still not direct; her words hold layers of painful meaning, cutting him with veiled references to their problems. I can pity them both while wishing they would call a halt to their intricate verbal dance and just talk to each other.

The lie coalesces behind his eyes, spinning soft truths as webs to let me down 'gently'. "I'll just miss... all this. Margaritaville." I'm supposed to pretend he's talking about tomorrow rather than forever.

"Joseph." I prop myself up with my elbow, and brush fingers over his perfect chin. "I like Jimmy Buffett as much as the next red-blooded American dad. But have you actually listened to Margaritaville?" My eyes soften at him. "It's not a happy song, baby. It's a sad, guilty, trapped song. Jimmy's singing about living in a dream vacation spot and drowning in regrets even as visitors to paradise envy him for living the good life."

He opens his mouth to object, but I stop him. "No. Joseph, listen to me. You're living a dream life. Beautiful wife and four lovely children. Your community looks up to you as a religious leader and you throw amazing-yet-wholesome parties for the neighborhood. You have a decked-out grill that could pilot someone to the moon, and you know how to use it." My fingers swipe gently over his lips. "And you look perfect doing it."

A pink blush colors his cheeks, but I've coaxed out a smile. He's beautiful like this, shy and confident all at once, averting his eyes in embarrassment from my praise even as a part of him--the younger rebellious part that raised hell and got tattoos and hoisted a middle finger to the world by bringing me out here on his boat--knows he deserves adoration. He's handsome and strong and charismatic and clever, and his church has made him feel guilty for those talents while profiting off him for years. They took his youth and used him until he's wrung out and miserable, and then told him that misery was his own fault.

"Margaritaville is my escape." His whisper is soft in the gathering darkness as the sun dips below the dancing horizon. "It's where I retreat with you and... and let myself be myself."

I shake my head, wondering if he can see me through the tears pricking his blue eyes. "Baby, Margaritaville is where you're living. You're boiling shrimp to pass the time and watching life move by without you. You're wrestling with whose 'fault' it is that your marriage is broken, going back and forth between shouldering the entire burden yourself and blaming Mary."

He jerks his head up to look at me. "It's not her fault."

The words are automatic, spilling over his lips without pause for breath or thought, and I shake my head again. "What, you know it's 'your own damn fault'? Yes, I do remember the song, Joseph. Hence my point." My teasing echo of the lyrics is cruel under the circumstances--we are talking about his marriage--but he's so mired in his Buffett metaphor as coping mechanism I don't think he'll listen if I don't brutally dismantle it.

"It is, though." Joseph looks away, unable to meet my eyes. "If I'd been a better husband, if I'd been a different kind of man..." His voice trails off in the dark.

"If I'd been what the church wanted, what my father expected." I stroke his hair as I whisper, letting him hear the old pain in my voice. My wounds have healed, but scars linger. "If I just try a little harder not to be queer anymore, if I make the right choices, if I cross my fingers and tap my heels and wish on a shooting star and pray every night as hard as I possibly can..." Leaning forward, I kiss his forehead and let him feel my warm breath. I'm alive and I'm here, and even that much is a miracle. One I made myself, when I gave up on God to hop to it. "It didn't work, Joseph. Not for me. And I... I don't think it's working for you, baby."

His sob almost breaks my own composure, strong arms finding me in the darkness only to cling as he cries. I'm small enough for this man to pick up and carry to bed, but he holds me like a life-raft on the stormy sea. "I want to do the right thing. I promised her forever and I love my children. How can I leave them? I keep telling myself we can stay together, we can be... partners if not lovers. But there's so much old hurt and anger and we both just..."

"I know. Baby, I do know." Gentle pats on his back, letting him cry it all out. "But this thing you're doing together? Joseph, it isn't working. And if you think your kids will grow up not noticing the rift in your house, you've got another thing coming." I kiss his forehead again and wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I don't want to break up his marriage, I don't want to break up anyone's marriage, but their marriage is already broken. Six miserable people in a house together and all of them deserve better.

"Joseph, I can't tell you what to do. But no matter what you've told yourself, you have options. Hugo is divorced and shares custody over his son with his ex-husband. He's happier, healthier, and very much a part of his child's life. You don't have to choose between your children and your happiness." My fingers find his chin and tip his face to me; I can just make out his face in the moonlight. "And you may have promised her forever, but I think you need to sit down with Mary and talk about whether she still wants that with you. It's okay to be friends and partners in raising your children and not be married to each other anymore."

"Do you really think she would let me go?" Hope and need mingle in his voice, sharp enough to stab a heart.

I stroke his hair again, as gently as I would a newborn kitten. I think of Mary, sharp-tongued and miserable. Easy to hate at first glance, until you see how gentle she is with Damien and how fond she feels towards Robert. Even when she has every reason to be angry with me, she's apologetic when hurling her mocking barbs; going through the motions of hating me as a homewrecker even as her empty eyes plead for me to point her towards her own escape. How miserable is she at home, married to a man who dreams of escaping their relationship? Playing the perfect Christian wife at their bake sales, pretending their problems aren't real? In her shoes I would want to end the sham, to make a clean break and find a fresh start. To look for love in the Maple Bay bars, and not the fleeting attention of drunken strangers she doesn't intend to ever touch.

"Joseph, I don't think she's the one who's been keeping you here. When you're finally ready to escape Margaritaville, I think you may find she's on your side and ready to escape with you."