An Initial Exposure to Queer Theory

I’ve been reading a lot since I finished Secret Ingredients on Friday, or more importantly since I finished my research assistant position.  Even though I have a lot on my calendar for the next two and a half weeks leading to my move (from Iowa City to Baltimore), it’s so refreshing to not worry about that three hour chunk of work each day, or feel guilty because I haven’t completed it yet.  All the reading is also sparking my desire to start writing again, anything from short stories to editing my novels to revisiting poetry.  I’m keeping a physical journal, which is an occupation that normally only lasts a few weeks, but I find that if I don’t try to write daily, or write a certain amount, but just pick it up at random, I do better.

Anyway, after a kind of so-so collection of essays by lesbians on “home,” Saturday I decided to read an anthology called Queer Studies that I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while.  Though I’m really interested in LGBT issues, I don’t have much academic exposure to queer theory.  This book is not strict queer theory, really, but it does have some of it, albeit with specific applications.  It was written in 1996, so it does have a bit of an out-of-touch component, especially when discussing transgender issues.  There’s a lot on hostility to bisexuality, too, which I gather has changed in the 2000s.  I did find the essays on race very interesting, though, as well as some other essays on identity generally.  I think it’s interesting for me, as a lesbian, to think about identity, because I know that my identity is at least in part a choice.  One of the essays in the book on bisexuality talks a lot about how queer identities have different elements, be they who you’re attracted to, an individual partner, social institutions, etc.  It’s interesting to think of it that way, and it helps me understand my chosen identity a little more.  Being someone who’s dated men in the past, if I think of my identity as partially shaped by social institutions – whether that be the lesbian community of which I feel a part, or the feminism that leads me to crave woman-only spaces and safety – it makes more sense.  I’ll be interested to read some more queer theory, though, that’s a little more updated.


Review: Lucy Knisley, French Milk

I devoured this book in a little over an hour. It’s my first graphic novel (actually a graphic memoir), but it was just so fabulous and especially reminiscent of my own life. My mom and I went to Paris together for only a few days, and we were 16 and 43 at the time, not 22 and 50, but there’s the same age difference between us and Lucy and her mom, and I really related to the way Lucy chronicled her six weeks in Paris. All about the food, but also I like how she’s very real about her more dep…more I devoured this book in a little over an hour. It’s my first graphic novel (actually a graphic memoir), but it was just so fabulous and especially reminiscent of my own life. My mom and I went to Paris together for only a few days, and we were 16 and 43 at the time, not 22 and 50, but there’s the same age difference between us and Lucy and her mom, and I really related to the way Lucy chronicled her six weeks in Paris. All about the food, but also I like how she’s very real about her more depressed days. I definitely had my share of those both on our brief Paris trip and during my six months abroad in Ireland (with intermittent trips to France) when I was 20/21. Lucy is actually my exact same age (just a couple of months older), and so there was a real sense of connection. But aside from all that personal stuff, it’s just fun, and funny, and it really flows. Highly recommended.

The Lure of Do-It-Yourself

I’ve never been all that much of a do-it-yourselfer.  I need strict supervision from my father if I’m to embark on a carpentry project, and the help of a stronger-armed friend for hammering together rails on some-assembly-required dresser drawers.  I can’t really garden because worms freak me out.  But I have to admit that a couple of pieces in Secret Ingredients have been tempting me to try a little homework in the area of food.  One is about an expert in foraging for wild food, and for someone on a budget, the idea of gathering mushrooms and edible flowers for lunch is quite tempting.  The other is about a woman known as the “Cheese Nun,” and though I do have a natural fear of anything that might possibly be deadly (raw oysters, for example), I do agree that the FDA has gone overboard on raw milk cheese prohibition.  French cheeses are just so good.  If I had a cow, it would be tempting.  Alas, I do not, and there isn’t much foraging to be done in downtown Baltimore, so I’ll stick to attempting a sourdough starter instead.

Rediscovery and Reading in Reverse

I’m one of the many Tolkien fans who came to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, followed by Tolkien’s less-popular works, after seeing the immensely popular Peter Jackson films.  I actually didn’t even come upon the films until a couple of years after the last one debuted, because I was on a Harry Potter kick in those years and felt that one could only actually enjoy fantasy one series at a time (I’ve since, incidentally, become a fan of the genre).  In college, though, a friend and Tolkien fanatic insisted that I sit down for just fifteen minutes of the first movie on DVD.  Three extended editions in the span of two days later, I was hooked.

Watching the films late, never having read the books, was actually quite fun, because I could experience their drama fully.  The other students in my dorm were also pleasantly amused by my surprise at various moments (“Sam’s dead?!” before Frodo’s hand reaches down into the water), cleverness at others (“Friend!  The password’s ‘friend!'”), and sheer and utter glee at still others (“It’s the Heir of Elendil, bitch!” when Aragorn jumps out of the ship at Pelennor Fields).  I then ended up overnight in the hospital, followed by about ten hours in airplanes going overseas shortly thereafter, and thus had time to read the trilogy.

Along with my general love of Tolkien’s verse, of his writing and the fantastic depth of the world he created, one of the great things about reading the books was the differences from the films.  Though I love the films, and have seen them many, many times now, and though I completely respect that some things make for much better filmed scenes than others, many of my favourite parts of the books are left out of the films, and many of my least favourite scenes are quite abbreviated in the books (think Helm’s Deep, etc.)  For example, my favourite character?  Glorfindel.

Reading the books again straight through (I sort of have been reading them as I create a Middle-earth index that’s been in the works for a few years, but not with my full attention), it’s a joy to read sections that I’d forgotten, the filmverse being planted much more firmly in my mind.  For example, I’m just now at Lorien, and I really like the way the scene with Haldir plays out in the book.  On the other hand, I did not like the extended battle scene in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and I don’t mind leaving out the grand suspense of the Bridge of Khazâd-Dum.  I love the image of the Mirrormere, and just the general feeling of safety you get in the book when they reach Lorien.  I think the reader emerges nearly as healed as the Fellowship.

The Joys of Good Food Writing

As I move further into The Secret Ingredient, I delve into some really fabulous food writing.  As nice as it is to read about grand classic French restauranteurs (especially Fernand Point, whom I find quite fascinating), I really like the local colour of pieces like Joseph Mitchell’s “A Mess of Clams” and the fabulous descriptions in Jane Kramer’s “The Reporter’s Kitchen.”  There’s a piece by Calvin Tomkins about Julia Child that’s really interesting, but even better is the hilarious complementary “Look Back in Hunger” by Anthony Lane, a writer who evidently is not so good with recipes.  His disdain for Martha Stewart is perhaps matched only by mine.

French Food, the War, and the New Yorker

A.J. Liebling’s essay entitled “Dining Out” in Secret Ingredient: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink is very slow going for me.  It’s not the writer himself, as I loved the essay before it, but I think it’s difficult when he goes from describing the classic French cuisine and the people who serve it to remarking on the war, the decline of the restaurant scene, etc. etc.  There are some food writers that I want to read for the stories of life and travel, and the food is just a little flavour to ease it along, but I get the sense that Liebling’s real strength is the food itself.

A Thought on the Lord of the Rings and WWII Analogies

I know a lot of people tend to try to either look at The Lord of the Rings trilogy as an allegory or to match it up to World War II-era Europe.  I’ve kind of shied away from that, because I just love Middle Earth so much as it is, as this fantastic universe that stands on its very own.  I’ve written academically about what we can take away from it in terms of our understanding of history and the signficance of man, but I tend not to draw very explicit comparisons.

That said, I’m in the middle of reading it for the second time all the way through (I’m on the Council of Elrond now), and I can’t help but start matching things up in my head.  Some of the comparisons came to me geographically, others just based on plot and not geography, but here’s what I have:

Isengard = Italy

Mordor = Germany

Imladris + Lorien = Switzerland

Rohan = France

Gondor = Russia

Shire = England (with significantly more fail, really it’s closer to Jersey)

Mirkwood = Poland (with significantly more win)

Harad = Spain

Any thoughts?  I really should read some Tolkien scholarship.