It’s Been a Hell of a Week

It’s been a hell of a week. Not personally – I’m fine, my partner is back from travels, and even though there’s a heat wave, it’s actually quite pleasant in the shade.

No, what’s making me miserable is the U.S. Supreme Court, which is apparently stocked with the sort of “originalists” who think the American Revolution was a bad mistake, given that they just gave the President (though maybe only the former guy) powers usually reserved for kings. The people who wrote the Constitution had a lot of flaws, but I’ve read enough history to doubt very seriously that they were in favor of kings or anyone else being above the law.

The court also dismantled the administrative side of government – you know, the agencies who deal with air quality, medicines, consumer goods, air travel, workplace safety, and so on. That is, they’re undermining what government actually does.

Combine that with the fact that the Republican candidate for president is a convicted felon and a grifter who is spouting absurd lies and promoting an extremist authoritarian plan for government and yet the coverage of the presidential race treats him as if this is normal.

Despite all this, the news coverage is focused on Joe Biden having a bad debate with the criminal grifter and urging him to drop out.

It’s enough to make one run screaming for the woods, except that I don’t think I’ll be safe there. It’s not the bears; I’m just not sure it’s possible to get far enough away from the disasters of this world.

(I forgot to mention climate change. A category 5 hurricane – unheard of this early – just devastated several places in the Caribbean. And there’s a nasty heat wave in California. Plus fires.)

My response to all of this – outside of ranting and feeling unsettled at all times – has been my go-to response since I was five years old: I read.

Such times call for comfort reading. My library had some mysteries available as quick ebook downloads and I devoured them. While I was looking for more, I discovered the first six books of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series in an omnibus ebook edition.

I’d wanted to read them for a long time, but when I’d looked before, they weren’t available.

Why yes, I did read all of them over about three days. It was glorious.

Mysteries have always been my comfort reading of choice. I think I’ve figured out why. There are adventures, there are villains, terrible things happen, but there’s a pretty good shot that things will end with something that resembles justice. And your detective will be OK.

So you get a thrill, but you also know in your heart of hearts that things are going to be all right.

(I should note that I gave up on the hard boiled noir of people like George Pelecanos about 20 years ago. Great writing, maybe even somewhat realistic, but I just can’t take stories rooted in the idea that everyone is terrible anymore, even in a world in which there are blatantly terrible people.)

In the case of Springer’s books, there is a great joy in watching a teen-age girl outwit so many people. But there’s also depth there. The inequality of the society is obvious. Watching Enola deal with some things with the careless attitude of someone of her class but also become very aware of the real suffering of other people is fascinating. She is, of course, very like her famous brother in that regard.

One thing that stands out in the books is the way the requirement of corsets displays the misogyny of the time. In one of the stories, a woman is literally rendered unable to walk without a corset because she has always worn one, something that may, in fact, be true. (I did a cursory look at the possibility and I’m willing to bet Springer researched it.)

A great deal of the conflict between Enola and her older brothers is that they want to send her to a boarding or finishing school where, among other things, tight corsets are required.

On the other hand, Enola uses corsets (though not tightly laced ones) and bustles and other required dress to her advantage. She refuses to dress as a boy or a man – something very refreshing, since in most adventures stories about plucky young women from earlier times, they do just that.

That is, the corsets stand for the restrictions of society, but Enola’s use of them mocks those restrictions.

I am of an age to have once owned a tight girdle and a push up bra that also held in my rib cage and had about a dozen hooks up the back. My mother, though herself a feminist, bought me both.

In my first semester of college, my gym teacher opined that girdles were bad for your stomach muscles, and though I had never listened to a gym teacher before in my life (or since), I went home and threw mine out.

The bra I kept a little longer, but I didn’t really wear it.

I haven’t worn high heels in many years – I can rant on what’s wrong with them at length.

We’re still dealing with rules on what women can wear that are designed to hobble us. Women in public life must still pay careful attention to their appearance.

But it’s not as bad as it used to be. These days corsets are used for cosplay that would horrify the Victorian society. And I take a great deal of joy in the fact that the pregnant people I see are not bothering to hide their expanding stomachs under the frilly tent dresses common in my youth.

Anyway, good comfort reading can still include some substance. My favorite of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries is The Doorbell Rang, which is as good a commentary on the red baiting of the 1950s U.S. as you are likely to get.

But one cannot limit oneself to comfort reading. It’s for a break, not for all the time. I’ve got a stack of books that require more engagement that I want to get to.

But a break is good. Take one if you need it. These are trying times.

3 thoughts on “It’s Been a Hell of a Week

  1. I immediately went to my library’s ebook site, to find that they have only one Enola Holmes title in ebook form (SFPL seems to have a lot more audio books–a format I don’t favor–than ebooks). I have borrowed it, because yeah, a little comfort reading is on the docket this week.

    1. I so agree about the audio books. I’m glad they’re out there for those who like that sort of thing, but I only want to listen to things when I’m doing something like a long boring drive.

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