Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Officially Moved

Greetings, Gentle Reader! Please join me over at the new and improved Arrogant Self-Reliance, at http://amyreading.blogspot.com.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year, New Title, Same Joy (part II)

Happy New Year, Gentle Reader, and I hope you are enjoying a wonderful start of it! I would like to direct your attention to new, exciting things happening in the Arrogant Self-Reliance world. I'm changing locations and names, to better reflect the direction I feel this blog is going in. Please update your links to
As this address will be null and void in a few days.
Please mind the dust and grime as I remodel!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holidays!

It's Christmas Eve, Gentle Reader, and Mr. Reads and I are at his parents' house, ready to celebrate the Christmas Eve Pizza Tradition. Tomorrow morning, we head over to the Parents Reads' house for the Christmas Day celebration, complete with turkey and presents. There is creole cream cheese ice cream in the house, Pup Reads is having a blast playing with her puppy-cousins, and the tree is lit.

From all of those in the Reads and Reads-In-Law Households, we wish you the best and the brightest for this holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it! May your lights be bright, your comic books shiny and new, and your action figures poseable and articulated!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Corsets Do Not Work That Way (and neither do women's bodies)

I believe I've mentioned before, Gentle Reader, that I currently study fashion in literature. I don't much care for Modern Fashion; anything after Dior's New Look makes me shudder, more than a bit. But I adore the Neo-Classicism of the Napoleonic Wars, the rise of the turban in the 1830s, the fall of the crinoline in the 1870s, the height of the Bustle in the 1880s, the rise of hemlines in the 1920s, and my favorite style of the 20th century, Depression and WWII era clothes. All of it, Friends, makes me smile, more than a little bit. Give me a man in suspenders and a fedora and a woman in clunky heels and an A-Line dress, and I am as happy as a clam.

But what Bogie and Bacall fashions don't have, and indeed, what most 20th-century clothing doesn't have is this:

The Corset.

Now yes, of course, the Corset was transformed into the brassiere at some point in the early-20th century. There are many, many books on this subject, Friends, and I urge you to check out Uplift, perhaps, or even the more simply named Bra, if you'd like to read up on the history. But there are equally as many books on the Corset as there are on the Bra.

Of my personal favorites, might I recommend Valerie Steele's Corset, Beatrice Fontanel's Support and Seduction, or Leigh Summer's Bound to Please? All are wonderful works and detail the history of the corset quite well.

These three books might tell you a secret, however. A secret so, well, secret that no one seems to really know it.

Corsets aren't very comfortable. At all.

Sure, the one tailor-made for you is more comfortable than others, because all tailor-made clothing has the fortunate side effect of being rather comfortable. But when you lace a corset around the middle to create that artificial hourglass effect, you are constricting the flow of oxygen throughout your body, not to mention smooshing and destroying your internal organs. This is why 19th-century women would use tightly-laced corsets as an abortefacient, or why young girls' bodies were deformed by age 15 (as most would begin wearing corsets around 12 or 13). This is also why women did not participate in sports, or why when they did, at the turn of the century, diary accounts record how in the dressing rooms of tennis courts, corsets soaked in blood would be strewn about, because the whalebone would pop the lining with all of the movement, and stab the wearer in the side.

Corsets have now become fetish or fantasy clothing, and tend to be represented as the sexiest article of women's clothing. But very few people can afford the tailor-made corset, or even know where or how to get one, so many simply buy the pre-made corset, which fits, but not very comfortably.

And trust me, Gentle Reader. I am a firm believer in Personal Choice. You wear what you want to wear, whenever you want to wear it. I think the corseted women at the Ren Faires are quite beautiful, and many women wear corsets on their wedding days. It's a special article of clothing, and despite its long dubious history in the annals of fashion, it was the only support women had for hundreds of years.

There is the crux of it, no? Women need support, and the corset was the best, and truly only option, until the end of the 19th century. Works like Steele's and Summers' tell us that women did not, in fact, lace their corsets as tight as we think, overall. That the ones who did were fetishists in their own right, or were urging bodies to do things like abort unwanted pregnancies. But the fact of the matter remains: the corset kept women somewhat immobile.

All of this preamble to say that I found This Young Woman's Livejournal this morning through When Fangirls Attack and Ms. Sproutie82 has directed our attentions to This New Statue of The White Queen, Emma Frost.

Now, Friends, much ink, literal and figurative, has been spilled over the Woman (in comics) Question. This Humble Author has, in fact, spilled much of that ink Herself. Recently, some of that ink has been spilled regarding the new Star Sapphire costume which is, as Our Brother and Sister Feminists remind us, fairly ridiculous.

And it is. Movement has been completely discredited in Star Sapphire's outfit, and as for the statue of Emma Frost, which is already sold out, my first thought was, "Dear Heavens, I can see n*pple!"

And here's the real problem: Sideshow Collectibles, I am your market! I am an employed, middle class comic book reader in the 25-35 age range, as is Mr. Reads, who often buys statues and action figures and collectibles for me as birthday, Christmas, or anniversary presents. But he would never buy something like this for me (or, thank heavens, for himself) because its very presentation is so preposterous that I want to laugh, or cry, but am not sure which.

And even Adam Hughes' original art, pictured below the statue, while obnoxious, does not even reach the levels of outlandishness the statue can claim. Perhaps my eyes are jaded; I am used to seeing such things 2D. But seeing it 3D has turned my stomach, and caused me to avert my eyes.

To return to corsets, as a by the bye literary tactic, let me also suggest to you that *corsets do not work that way*, and for that matter, *neither do women's bodies*. With the kind of movement Emma Frost does on a daily basis--the, I don't know, walking down the hallway or eating a bowl of cereal wacky movement of fun--she would soon no longer be employed as an instructor of impressionable youth, much less allowed to walk in public.

And yes, Friends, I know that some of my Dear Readers may Cry Foul and Exclaim, "But Ms. Reads, This Is Fiction!" or, "But Amy, this has No Bearing On Real Life!" To you I ask, but doesn't it? What does this statue say about our desire to see our comic book heroines about to fall out of their tops? Or, in the case of the new Big Barda collectible, to have barely visible tops at all? And all of this not only in comic books, but in $100+ collectibles?

I am not afraid of clothing that is revealing, or of corsets. Nor am I afraid of bodies, or male artists, or sexiness in clothing, art, comic books, or real life. But I am afraid of the message that this statue of Emma Frost sends. Not just about the accepted spectacle of women's bodies in our society, but about the mythical power of bust support, as well. We have fetishized the corset because it represents the Repressed Victorians to us, and the Victorians fetishized the corset because it represented, well, was actually Undergarments, which, for the Victorians, was Quite Naughty Indeed. But there's something unnerving about seeing this translation of print to statuary, of turning 2D to 3D that sends a shudder down my spine.

To wit, it seems Bad Enough that Emma Frost must be The White Queen *in her underwear and high heels*, but to make her bust defy gravity, logic, *and* common sense? That seems almost--just almost, Gentle Reader!--a tad insulting to women.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Quick Hits Through My Pop Culture World #4

It's a big comic day for me tomorrow, Gentle Reader. Not only do we have new issues of Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Teen Titans, Civil War, and Y the Last Man, I'm also finally picking up the rest of my backlog from the past few weeks. Neither Mr. Reads nor I have read 52 for a few issues, at least, and we're finally, finally going to get caught up. I've averted my eyes from All Discussions Supernova, and am trying, desperately, to remain unspoilered.

In other news, The Family Reads is packing for our upcoming holiday trips, and so to distract ourselves from laundry, we have rented several movies. A few of those have made the rounds so far, and please, find their reviews (brief as they are!) below.

What I'm Reading

The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits.
It's a lovely blend of Freud's Dora, Salem witch trials, and 30-something visits home town after long period of absence story. I'm enjoying it, very much, and look forward to more reading time.

Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce.
I've recently received book 2 from the library, and really enjoy her writing style.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson.
In anticipation of my second trip across the Pond, of course! Funny and irreverent and absolutely true.

Also in the Queue
Lisey's Story (Stephen King), Book of Fate (Brad Meltzer), Grave Surprise (Charlaine Harris), Machine's Child (Kage Baker), Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution (Caroline Weber), and still working through The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield).

What I'm Watching

Stay Alive
Gentle Reader, have I ever told you my absolute love of terrible horror movies? Stay Alive definitely fits the bill, and it's better than the Grudge and Pulse--although I don't know if that's much of a recommendation! Bonus, it has the distinction of being the last movie filmed in my beloved New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. I must admit that most of my viewing pleasure comes from seeing my hometown, whole and sane once again.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Cute, predictable, and slightly annoying. Perhaps the acting, the plot, or the ex-girlfriends are crazy storyline that never ceases to amuse Hoi Polloi, but never ceases to annoy This Humble Author? Although I must admit: live shark in the apartment=mad crazy fun.

Sports Night
Mr. Reads and I are huge West Wing fans, and a friend of ours loaned us the first Sorkin series. Rocky at first, but it finds its stride and eventually, you see the genius that went into West Wing. Definitely worth picking up.

Also in the Queue
All the King's Men, Lady in the Water, Wicker Man, X-Files Season 8, West Wing Season 7

What I'm Recording

Low and behold, I walked into the bedroom and saw that Pup Reads had nested herself in the blankets, and with the book currently abandoned on the bed. You may remember, Friends, Pup Reads' adoration for All Books Meltzer (she finds them The Tastiest). It seems that she has also expressed her admiration for All Things Whedon.

So, of course, I had to truly introduce her to the Wonder That Is Joss.

She gave the page a lick, and said that she would get back to us with a lengthier review.

I hope to have reviews of this week's releases before I leave, so tune in tomorrow, Friends, for Catwoman and Birds of Prey goodness!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

We Are Outcast: Brief Reviews of Gail Simone's Welcome to Tranquility #1 and Gen 13 #1

There are some people in this world, Gentle Reader, who would do anything to return to high school. They try to relive their "glory days," or, as is most likely the case, try to create glory days that never really existed. These people have fantasized and fetishized high school into a mythical time, and spend their entire adult lives trying to go back, back, back, never remembering how very awkward and scary high school really was.

These people, more often than not, are people afraid to grow old. Not that anyone truly longs to reach the twilight-—and hope for us all, healthy midnight—-of life, but there is something to be said for aging gracefully, and healthily. There is something to be said, Friends, for the Knowledge and Wisdom that comes with age.

To juxtapose Gail Simone's two new runs, then, is to look at these two extremes: Youth, and Age. It is to look at the knowledge gained and missing, the time wasted and spent wisely, the recriminations, the trials and tribulations with growing pains: at the pink flush of dawn, and at the darkening violet of dusk. Of growing up, and growing old. Neither are very graceful times, and neither are times of great social strength and respect.

We, as a society, tend to discount our youth and our elderly: one for not knowing enough, and the other for knowing so much that forgetfulness begins to rear its ugly little head. We trumpet our youth's failings at the same time we place the weight of the future entirely on their backs. We look forward only as we look back, forever expecting better of them, and forever comparing them to those that came before. And what an interesting time this all comes in, as the Baby Boomers are on the edge of retirement, as my Generation, the infamous Gen-Xers, settle uncomfortably into middle age, and as the new Generation, technologically advanced, computer-literate, shiny and clean and new, tries very hard to grasp some toehold of power as it trickles from high school to college as we watch, chewing on our fingernails, to see how it will take to it.

The old and the young. What came before and what comes next. Is anyone more outcast than those on the periphery?

Gen 13 #1 begins with a fairly harsh and stomach-clenching scene in which a party of onlookers, eavesdroppers, and overseers monitor, from the very confines of the car, one young woman's impending date rape. One voice, the mysterious Special-T, starts to express his discomfort with the scene, with his position as Onlooker as a young woman is raped. He is told, "you pay, you stay," and reminded that, for a "diamond mine owner," it is sheer audacity to suggest that others are cruel and immoral.

As the scene continues, however, we discover that the young woman's reaction, her metamorphosis, her mutation, if you will, into her power is the true spectacle of the evening, rather than the rape itself. That the flesh dealings of the evening are even more grotesque: teenagers, much like this young girl who mutates to protect herself, are the commodities of the day. Her rape and eventual murder are just a "taste" for the clients. Remember, Friends: the first one's always, always free.

Then, in quick succession, we are introduced to several teenagers all suffering, in one form or another, from the cruel realities of everyday life. Growing up for these kids seems to involve a great deal of suffering. The first young woman, Caitlin, asks, "do they hate me because I'm smart, or am I smart because they hate me?" A crucial question and an interesting dilemma: has she turned inward because she lacks social acceptance from her peers (started, perhaps, at a young age?) or does she lack peers because she doesn't need social acceptance?

This Humble Author has fiddled, briefly, with teenager-important issues on this blog, mainly in conjunction with one of the latest issues of Supergirl, but what I haven't said is that you couldn't pay me enough to go back to high school. Not that my high school experience was particularly brutal or horrifying; I believe I was luckier than most bookish, chubby girls stereotypically are. I escaped high school relatively unscathed. But does anyone ever leave high school without any scars? Do we not relive some of those most painful moments over and over again, just to remind ourselves that we don't, not for a billion dollars, ever want to be that neurotic and insecure and awkward ever again?

"I dreamed I was falling and never hit the ground," Bobby, our next character says, and how apropos this statement is for the high school experience. "Slut. Tramp. Idiot," goes through Roxanne’s head, while the skaterboi tell us, as he falls off of his skateboard, "I am overthrown." And the most poignant words spoken, by Sarah, level a wealth of outcasting at us; she, a lesbian teenager of American Indian descent, tells us, "I will never be invisible enough for them."

Five teenagers. All with different dreams and desires and needs, all trying desperately to keep their heads above water. All trying, with great hope and determination, to keep breathing. Then they watch as their parents die before their very eyes. When they wake up in the same room together, they wake up as five strangers, but five strangers connected, so very intrinsically, by an overwhelming bond: they have nothing left now, but each other.

At the very end of the book, Caitlin pulls them all in for a group hug, and this pure moment of genius is so typical of Gail Simone. She takes five strangers-—and who are strangers together more than teenagers?—-and makes them realize that there are no strangers in strange lands. That before this moment, they were separate, but now, they are a team. Together, united behind a common goal, whether that is revenge or loneliness or desperation, it doesn't matter. They are, as of now, a united front. Ms. Simone is a master of her craft, but most importantly, she is a master of the Team-Up. No one, no one writes a team of disparate characters and brings them together better than Gail Simone.

I was worried Gen 13 would remind me too much of Runaways, so much so that I would read it as DC's answer to the Runaway Dilemma. Not so. Not so at all. I've only read the first issue of Gen 13, Gentle Reader, so I can only speak to that issue. But I've read it three times so far, just in the course of writing this review, and I can say, with great authority as A Reader, that it is, without a doubt, some of the best that Ms. Simone has offered us. I read Gen 13 as I read Whedon's Firefly so very long ago: I loved all that came before, but in this, I see all of the genius that the writer has learned, over the course of the passing years.

Welcome to Tranquility offers us a glimpse into the idea of passing years, as we are presented with a superhero retirement community. Those Golden Agers, who fought for truth, justice, and The American Way have long since hung up their tights (too baggy) and flights (now too myopic), in theory at least. In actuality, they are menaces to society as they try to continue to do the work that they have done for years. The citizens of Tranquility are less trying to relive their glory days as much as they are trying to hang on to the life they've known for so long. The sheriff, Tommy, tries to protect her town from geriatric aviators, elderly mongoose-and-cobra-vendetta avengers, and lecherous but charmingly aging swordsmen while maintaining some modicum of dignity for the town's residents. Not an easy job, of course, when octogenarian Minxy Millions seems hellbent on crashing her plane in town square.

All fun and games, yes? A gentle guffaw at the gentle sight of aging. So it seems, indeed, until we see the former Maximum Man reading every word from a dictionary. He used to have a magic word that transformed him from Accountant to Superhero, but over time, has forgotten it. Desperate to get it back, he reads dictionaries out loud, cover to cover, in every language he can find. All fun and games.

That is, until someone loses an eye. Or a word.

What this comic reminds us of is simply this: aging is not a graceful process. Imagine the fluster of lost door keys, Elizabeth Bishop tells us, or the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master. We lose something every day, and the longer we live, the more we have to lose. Maximum Man reminds us of our own mortality, of the sometimes undignified process that is part and parcel with getting older. Sometimes the growing pains are funny, worthy of a chuckle, but mostly they are of quiet desperation. We spend our whole lives accumulating knowledge, only to watch that knowledge fail us, in the very end.

Or as the sheriff reminds her journalist companion, "These people, Collette. They told the Nazis to shove it. Sometimes literally. Don't make them a punchline."

There are no cheap punchlines in Ms. Simone's delicate, funny, ruthless, beautiful little book. It's a fantastical world in which everyday things happen. Sometimes the young woman turns to the older man for sexual companionship, and sometimes people put themselves in danger for a paycheck. Sometimes, just sometimes, people die and stay dead. This is a comic book, certainly, but it makes no pretensions as one.

This community was formed, the mayor tells us, "As a safe haven for MAXIs and their families to live out their golden years in peace." But there is no safe haven anymore, even if there ever was, and there is no chance for peace when the very body you inhabit betrays you, again and again. And this "safe haven" still doesn't protect you from the knowledge that you formed it just so you wouldn't be an outcast anymore. A community of outcasts is still a community, yes?

What Tommy seems to want to remind Collette (the journalist) of the most is the fact that *others* judge the outcast and label him or her so. Because Collette is on the outside looking in, she is able to make judgments such as these. She's able to label Tommy the Hero because she doesn't see the legacy the hundreds of others in this town left behind. Or, rather, she's only able to see the legacy, and not the potential. What if Maximum Man were to remember his magic word? What then?

What then, indeed?

I, for one, am going to pick up the next issue and find out.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Holy Belated Postings, Batgirl!

Gentle Reader, I know it's been a while since I've posted, but that doesn't mean that I've forgotten you. Nor have I forgotten the recent issues of Batman, White Tiger, Manhunter, and everything else I need to read and/or review. Nor have I forgotten that today is My Thirtieth Birthday, although to be quite honest, I maybe should. I came down with the consumption earlier this week, or perhaps the plague. We're not quite sure. Whatever it was, it warranted an overnight hospital stay (!) complete with IVs (!!!), and now, Poor Mr. Reads has succumbed to the same (!!!!!), but, thank goodness, to a much lesser degree.

So all's quiet in Household Reads on this, my second 29th birthday, but that doesn't mean I didn't get shinies.

There are more shinies ordered, according to Mr. Reads, in the form of Elseworlds Wonder Woman and Infinite Crisis Wonder Woman, to go, of course, with the burgeoning Reads' Wonder Woman Collection:

So plague, hospital visit, birthday, finals, dissertation, and Sickly Spouse all equal Belated Postings Indeed, but I hope, by offering photos, and reminding you, Dear Reader, constantly, of Today's Celebration Of My Birth, you will excuse my Bad Blogging.

In the meantime, I, too, have jumped on the bandwagon. Please, Friends, feel free to friend me!