Friday News: the history of Harlequin, Hedy Lamarr-inventor, new voices in Fantasy, and Paleo cookbook pulled by Australian publisher
How Harlequin Became the Most Famous Name in Romance – Not always loving the coverage in Jezebel, I approached Kelly Faircloth’s historical post on Harlequin warily. However, by the third paragraph, I realized this wasn’t going to be the usual fluff coverage of category Romance; instead the piece provides a respectful, insightful, and informative chronicle of Harlequin’s (and Mills and Boon’s) growth. In fact, it reignited my sadness that the company is no longer independently owned, but it also made me want to revisit some of my favorite categories, and I was practically cheering when I got to the final paragraphs:
I vehemently disagree that all women want to be “arrogantly bullied,” but she’s getting at something crucial, which is that a fantasy isn’t necessarily something you want. I don’t want anything to do with any billionaire. Rather, a fantasy is something you want to watch. Women are pressured so early and often to pick from a limited set of possible roles; sometimes it’s a pleasure to flirt with a life you’ll never have and wouldn’t want.
There’s a persistent tendency to assume that romance fans read only on a single level. Either we’re housewives fluttering against the confinement of the patriarchy like moths at a kitchen window, or we’re deluded foot soldiers in the backlash to the feminist movement, or we’re dowds somehow simultaneously repressed and sex-crazed. What so many critics miss is that it’s perfectly possible to roll your eyes at yet another hero with jet, an island and an overinflated sense of his own authority; arch your brow at the fucked-up gender politics of a particular scene; cheer when the heroine reads the hero the riot act; and swoon at the emotional climax.
I find feminist readings of romance, Harlequins included, very persuasive. But I’m sure you could find plenty of women who insist they like their favorite authors or lines because men are men and women are women and by God they know the difference. These books are surprisingly capable of bearing the weight of multiple meanings. “I think people read for different reasons, that’s the truth,” Morgan added.
Plus: They’re fucking fun. –Jezebel
How the “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” Invented a System for Remote-Controlling Torpedoes – So 1930’s movie star Hedy Lamarr was also an inventor, and among her inventions is frequency hopping spread spectrum, which is crucial to the availability of wifi and Bluetooth, and came in part from Lamarr’s experiences as an ethnically Jewish woman living in Europe and America from the period between World War I and World War II. At one point she was married to Austrian arms dealer Fritz Mandl, and she acquired a great deal of technical knowledge from attending a variety of dinners and events where any number of things were discussed (and she was believed to be beautiful but stupid by the men around her). A friendship with George Antheil, whom she met in 1940, led to a creative partnership and even a patent:
Antheil and his wife decamped for Hollywood, where he attempted to write for the screen. When Antheil met Hedy, now bona fide movie star, in the summer of 1940 at a dinner held by costume designer Adrian, they began talking about their interests in the war and their backgrounds in munitions (Antheil had been a young inspector in a Pennsylvania munitions plant during World War I.) Hedy had been horrified by the German torpedoing of two ships carrying British children to Canada to avoid the Blitz, and she had begun to think about a way to control a torpedo remotely, without detection.
Hedy had the idea for a radio that hopped frequencies and Antheil had the idea of achieving this with a coded ribbon, similar to a player piano strip. A year of phone calls, drawings on envelopes, and fiddling with models on Hedy’s living room floor produced a patent for a radio system that was virtually jam-proof, constantly skipping signals. –Brain Pickings
Fantasies that Bind: a conversation with Zen Cho & Stephanie Feldman, co-winners of the Crawford Award – A fabulous discussion between Zen Cho, Stephanie Feldman, and Sofia Samatar about fantasy, realism, genre fiction, and using a variety of genre tropes to confront and subvert the hegemonic effect of those tropes. Cho and Feldman were the first co-winners of the Crawford Award for first fantasy novel, and this is just an incredibly thoughtful and open conversation about how genre conventions can be mixed and remixed from different perspectives, to create new meanings for readers. For example, Cho talks about why she likes small community stories, which opens up this line of discussion:
But I also chose those settings because I’ve always loved stories that examine the dynamics within small communities with their own rules and conventions — Jane Austen’s two inches of ivory, Enid Blyton’s school stories, L. M. Montgomery’s Canadian villages, Star Trek’s starships. Schools and universities are a great canvas for fiction, because they’re a bubble that feels like the entire world when you’re in it. Everything can be very high-stakes and intense, while still being small-scale and human.
Samatar: High-stakes and intense, yet small-scale and human–a great description of fantasy at its best.
Zen, your mention of Jane Austen and Enid Blyton reminds me of one of your blog posts–the one about “postcolonial fluff for booknerds.” This is a genre you made up, and it’s about having fun, but it’s also deeply serious–it’s confronting imperialism with merry, romping stories, which seems like a necessary project. Can you say more about it? I think the concept really harmonizes with Stephanie’s effort to rewrite the story of the Wandering Jew. Stephanie, you’ve mentioned being fascinated by the legend, but also hating the fact that it’s rooted in bigotry, and trying to produce a new version from within the context of Jewish tradition. How do you both reflect on your literary revisions? Can you save a trope? –Electric Lit
Pete Evans’ paleo baby cookbook to be released as e-book after publisher puts printed version on hold over health warnings – Although I’m not exactly a champion of publishers backing off a book, in this case, I don’t think Pan Macmillan had much of a choice, since some of the recipes in this Paleo baby cookbook have been denounced by actual medical experts as dangerous and possibly fatal for infants. Undeterred, the authors have decided to go ahead on their own, and have vowed to publish a digital version of the book within weeks, buoyed by the celebrity status of Pete Evans and the media coverage resulting from this controversy.
Pan Macmillan put the book on hold after health agencies warned the book’s recipe for DIY baby formula, made from a bone broth, could be deadly for babies.
The Dietitians Association of Australia said the formula was vastly different to breast milk, and could cause “permanent damage” or kill infants due to its high salt and Vitamin A content. –Herald Sun
The Harlequin article is fascinating. Thanks for putting it in your list of relevant news!
The story of Hedi Lamarr always fills me with awe and sadness. What a brilliant mind, how utterly erased from public consciousness!
@azteclady: ” What a brilliant mind, how utterly erased from public consciousness!”
Not exactly. There are 82,800 results if you look up ‘hedy lamarr inventor’ and I’ve read this stuff about her dozens of times. It’s also in her Wikipedia entry.
She’s only ‘erased’ like other women scientists are erased. Which is considerably, but certainly not utterly.
The Zen Cho postcolonial fluff link referenced above is great!
“Paleo formula?” In the paleolithic, babies either consumed breast milk or starved to death. It’s amazing to me how much ignorance or stupidity there is in trendy health/diet ideas.
“it’s a pleasure to flirt with a life you’ll never have and wouldn’t want.”
There’s so much popular fiction with male protags who are uber-macho. Jack Ryan afraid of flying, parachutes into a sub in Red October. Jack Reacher taking on prison gangs in defense of glasses-wearing dweebs. Why isn’t this pathetic fantasy that we should patronize the readers of?