Thursday News: Three Essays and a Video
More Titillated Than Thou: How the Amish conquered the evangelical romance market -A really interesting, insightful, and respectful piece on the popularity of Amish Romance written by someone with familiarity of the community – a Mennonite woman who grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which is widely considered “Amish country.” Beyond the popularity of the genre, the essay’s author, Ann Neumann, discusses the religious fantasy that the books contemplate – a fantasy that mingles Christian values and romantic yearnings in an idealized fictional world. The books, according to Neumann, are written largely by and for Evangelical women who have created a “makeshift safe space for their most dearly held moral imaginings,” that even features what she calls a “kind of conservative ‘feminism,’” and a definite sense of individual faith, which runs counter to actual Amish cultural and spiritual values:
Fiction, after all, is fiction—it offers escape from the strictures of our individual experiences and worldviews. But to enter the world of Amish fiction is to wholly leave behind the world as it exists. I don’t just mean ringing phones, CNN, computer screens, and interminable commutes—although, yes, these are technologies that the Amish live without (albeit with more exceptions than you’d imagine)—but more fundamentally, the world of crime, racism, 50 percent divorce rates, unwanted pregnancies, systemic pollution, same-sex marriage, college tuition fees, healthcare reform, endless war, and political gridlock. All the complexities of contemporary life are absent. It’s as if the evangelical authors have airbrushed their own ideal world onto the Amish vernacular, gently erasing the sharp, contested edges of the pietist denominational tradition.
While some books may chronicle a young heroine’s agonizing decision to leave the Amish community (or join it), the choice is always an intensely personal one—a matter of knowing God’s purpose for her, not of mulling over the long-standing theological premises the community is based on, like nonresistance, pacifism, and conscientious objection. In actual Amish country, these demanding faith commitments count for far more than this or that individual believer’s spiritual journey. Many Amish and Anabaptist believers have paid for these theological premises with their lives—as children in these communities learn in their typically thorough religious instruction in Amish or Mennonite tradition. Even the everyday burdens of Amish life, such as birthing and feeding an average of seven children, are either unaddressed in Amish fiction or transformed glibly into blessings.–The Baffler
A Gay Mystery Novelist Who Chronicles the Aftermath of AIDS – A compelling profile of Michael Nava and his mystery series featuring Henry Rios, a gay Latino defense attorney from Los Angeles who both represents and subverts the hardboiled detective of classic Noir mysteries. Nava, a staff attorney for the California Supreme Court, became interested in mystery fiction in college after one of his literature professors introduced him to the genre.
Nava also saw in noir a genre equipped to convey the experience of being both queer and Latino in America. “In classic noir novels,” he writes, “you had an outsider hero who embodied the virtues the mainstream pretended to honor—loyalty, courage, ingenuity—but rarely demonstrated.” Much of the pleasure of the early Rios books comes from watching Nava queer noir conventions. In “The Little Death,” Rios worries that a young man is spying on him before he realizes that he’s being cruised; later, the bad guy’s muscle takes the shape of a couple of “Castro clones.” “That was a lot of fun, to turn that stuff on its head, to see the possibility of taking the leggy, breathless blonde and instead of Lauren Bacall, you know, she’s Brad Pitt,” Nava said. In Nava’s novels, sex scrambles the usual categories of the whodunit: victim and assailant, suspect and investigator, and, above all, underbelly and élite. Eros is the great leveller, at least for a moment or two. The function of romance in noir is always to draw the detective into the crime he’s investigating, to implicate him in the narrative he’s trying to construct; in the course of the series, Rios finds himself erotically entangled with at least four suspects. And though at every point he faces hostility directed against his queerness, it also gives him access to a covert network of contacts, bound by an often secret sympathy.–The New Yorker
The Most Misread Poem in America -And yet another great essay, this time a deft reconsideration of Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, which has, as David Orr points out, become almost an American anthem celebrating individualism and going against the grain. And yet, as Orr points out, what has been read for generations as a seemingly straightforward chronicle of someone who takes a path less traveled and therefore more satisfying, does not, on its face, seem to support that interpretation (sort of like Mending Wall, the cynicism of which is pretty damn deep).
Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.
According to this reading, then, the speaker will be claiming “ages and ages hence” that his decision made “all the difference” only because this is the kind of claim we make when we want to comfort or blame ourselves by assuming that our current position is the product of our own choices (as opposed to what was chosen for us or allotted to us by chance). The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism; it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives. “The Road Not Taken” may be, as the critic Frank Lentricchia memorably put it, “the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But we could go further: It may be the best example in all of American culture of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.–The Paris Review
Librarian Rhapsody- Shoalhaven Library Staff? – Thanks to Kaetrin for sending this my way. And good luck getting Bohemian Rhapsody out of your head for the rest of the day. But it’s definitely worth it! –YouTube