Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Capstone Lite: The Paper that Allowed Me to Graduate, Abridged

In a perfect world, this post would have gone up sometime shortly after the last day of my Capstone class... sometime around the 9th. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect - my bookshelves never have enough room and Trader Joe's meringue cookies don't automatically reappear in my pantry when I empty the box - and most of the time since I've officially graduate on the 11th has been spent attempting to reclaim some semblance of the sanity I completely lost during Spring Quarter!

However, I worked way too hard on my 15-page graduation-earning research paper and got way too good of a score not to brag about it here, especially because the topic I was taking on grew to be way too dear to my heart. No one in my entire class had ever heard of Thyra Samter Winslow - including my professor! - before I started my literary explorations, and yet I fell head-over-heels for her through weeks of research, and I already know that its only the beginning of a continuing obsession.

Of course, I'm never one to be selfish, so I'm sharing all this beautiful and interesting information with you!

tracking T.S.W. 

So, who, exactly, is Thyra Samter Winslow? She was a prolific magazine author, who wrote for numerous New York magazines between the years of 1915 to 1955, with more than 200 titles under her name. She wrote screenplays during the Golden Age of Hollywood, and television scripts at the time when the medium was only first starting to be developed, and on top of all that, managed to publish several books, as well.

However, not a lot of that information is available online, unless you know how to look for it: Thyra Samter Winslow, despite the amounts of work she wrote for a diverse range of mediums, does not have a Wikipedia page. What she does have, are a spot in the Jewish Women's Archive, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, and, thankfully, a firm foothold in the online Modernist Journals Project.

modernist matron of the magazines

The Modernist Journals Project is a joint project of Brown University and the University of Tulsa, and was the main focus of my research in the past year. What you'll find on the website are thousands of magazines printed during the modernist era, scanned and uploaded for your reading pleasure, and boy, was I pleased with it. By far, my favorite magazine was The Smart Set - a satirical skewering of the social sets of New York, written by some of the time period's best, and published monthly - and it was by exploring that work specifically that I stumbled upon T.S.W. completely by accident. 

It was really only a matter of time before I found her, as she published a total of 59 articles in the nine years of that magazine that are chronicled in the database. As it turns out, the objectives of the magazine and her own writing style enmeshed almost completely, and she was easily able to fill the bill of humorous poems, vignettes, short stories, and novellas humorously centering around the lives of society's boldest and brightest. 

However, what I appreciated most about her writing, was how she always made sure to center her stories around the characters she wrote best: young women working in the big city, as showgirls, secretaries, stenographers, and socialites. Her perspectives on the status of the modernist New Woman - independent, sexually active, and ambitious for a better life - are among the best I've ever read, and it was her marriage of rib-tickling satire with bigger social ideas that made her such a benefit to the magazine. 

T.S.W. recommended reading

It would be horrendous of me to talk so glowingly of an author's work, without providing you with the opportunity to explore some of it for yourself, as well, so here are a couple of my favorites:  

"The Best," a novella - Sylvia flees the claustrophobia of a small town for the showgirl lifestyle in New York, only to get married to a rich man and move back to a life in the suburbs. Feeling cramped again in her new environment, she is forced to consider where she really had "the best" years of her life: free and in New York, or secure in a small town? 

  • Why you should read it: the basis for the entire line of inquiry in my Capstone, this story highlights several of T.S.W.'s favorite themes, including the disparities between small town and big city life, the status of the working girl, and factors in her trademark ambiguous ending, where the reader is prompted to consider the moral dilemma at hand without a truly happy outcome.

"Little Emma," a short story - Emma escapes small town life for Chicago, and is desperate to remain in the city for as long as possible. Attempting to use her backstory to find a job - and a rich boss to seduce - she quickly realizes that she is too modern to play the part well, prompting an epic make-under, and a secured position as a secretary. However, her ploys work too well, and force the moral question of continuing the fabrication she's succeeding with, or going back to the modern persona she'd strived so long for? 

  • Why you should read it: providing yet more examples of the same themes we'd seen in "The Best," this story satirically profiles the idea of a "country girl" peddled by the 15 cent magazine story en vogue at the time, and how she can inevitably find success in the city. It's incredibly funny, but also provides my favorite ambiguous ending out of Winslow's entire body of work. 

"The Proper Thing," a short story - The social set of a Floridian winter resort for the wealthy and elite is turned upside down with the arrival of a new girl, perfect and proper in every way. Initially welcoming and curious, they are inevitably put off by her complete perfection, and the only gentlemen at the resort worthy enough of earning her favor is yet another completely, off-puttingly perfect person, a gentlemen who is similarly inscrutable. Together, this infuriatingly ideal couple seems to have come straight out of a romance novel... and it turns out, they have! 

  • Why you should read it: out of the entirety of Winslow's canon that I managed to cover during my short time with research, this was my absolute favorite! It breaks from some of her favorite themes and topics, in order to more accurately skewer the rich and frivolous, providing one of my all-time favorite excerpts from her work: an explanation of the inverse relationship between how well you play tennis and how well you dress for tennis, as being an indicator of whether you were Old or New Money. 

why this all matters so much to modernist literature  (& me!) 

So, as you might have been able to tell from the above explanations, Thyra Samter Winslow was not only a very accomplished author, but a very under-represented one, especially when it comes to what we read from the era nowadays. She should be sharing shelf-space with the like-minded reprints of Dorothy Parker and Anita Loos, but to be perfectly honest, I think her writing has a lot more in common with some of the romance and chick lit authors who came so many years later, as well.

I made my professor laugh when, during a presentation, I referred to her as "a Modernist Nora Ephron," but I stand by my comparison: T.S.W. wrote fearlessly about women - women's issues, women's places in social circles and career fields, women's relationships with men and sisterhoods with other women - at a time when that was only recently becoming an acceptable thing to focus on, and she did so in a way that was compelling, engaging, and more than anything, while still being funny and relatable.

the outcome

And so, with a lot of hard work and late-night synthesizing sessions, my paper was completed and turned in, earning itself a very cool 3.9! (I lost points for getting a little too excited about the topic to provide a comprehensive sense of organization, as well as going a page over limit.) I couldn't be happier with how I did in the class, and am proud to have
earned not just that grade, but also a new favorite author to collect in the future!

Had you ever heard of Thyra Samter Winslow? What bookish topics and genres do you like exploring? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Love and Friendship: Why Austen and Non-Austen Fans Alike Will Love this Movie

This past week, I was lucky enough to convince my friend Callie - She Who Lends Books, as well as enjoys Austen adaptations just as much, if not, somehow, more, than I do - to come with me to a screening of the newest inductee into that particular club, Love & Friendship, at Sundance Cinema, just a stone's throw away from the Ave. I had first informed her of the movie back when we were taking an English class together Spring Quarter (in which we both got 4.0s, thankyouverymuch), and she had heard of a deal that allowed us to get tickets for only $6, so we made a ladies night of it!

I had been somewhat trepidacious of the film when I had first watched the trailer back in January, mainly because I already recognized the title: while the trailer billed it as "Jane Austen's Comic Gem," it's actually one of her works of juvenalia, written when she was just a teenager, and is widely unread in comparison to her classic novels. More deceptive still, the movie itself is actually based on a different work of Austen juvenalia, titled Lady Susan, a novel that is even less likely to have been read or published! I was worried it was just an attempt at cashing in on a famous name for the sake of a half-made period movie, and the title swaps did nothing to persuade me to think otherwise.

Which means I was completely unprepared for the fact that I'd be laughing every three lines the actors managed to deliver, and would frequently be looking to Callie, only to see her giggling, too. It was easy for us Austen fans to love this film, but as it went on, and we were confronted with not just witty one-liners, funny faux pas, and even modern directions of comedy taking place on screen, I became thoroughly convinced that anyone could love this movie.

for the die-hard Darcy lovers... 

If you love Jane Austen, obviously you are going to love the fact that Austen wrote it. However, beyond even that basic element, there's plenty to be enjoyed, like historical elements and antique social graces. 

The filming locations and the outfits are probably one of the most prominent things to drool over, for fans of the Austen era: as soon as the movie got out, Callie and I started for home by ranking some of our best and worst looks for the characters (keep an eye out for a particularly iffy pink-and-blue getup worn by Kate Beckinsale's Lady Susan around the movie's halfway point!). But oh, all that sumptuous velvet and embroidered lace, all those bustles and petticoats and everything else! I, for one, petition to bring back the popularity of incredibly stylish lace headbands. 

Additionally, the comments made about the time period - both directly and indirectly - deliver some of the film's most subtle funny moments, too. For instance, those in the know about England's dietary foundations know that peas are a substantially important produce for the area, which makes the foppish and idiotic Sir James Martin look even more the fool at his astoundment over the peas on his plate ("Novelty vegetables!"). Even Lady Susan's interactions with her best friend, Alicia Johnson - played by deadpan Chloe Sevigny - over threats made by the latter's husband to send her back to Connecticut, are riotous, based on Susan's complete condescension of the United States. It's these kinds of moments that really impress those who love the classics. 

for the casual comedy fans... 

Don't be turned off by the fact that this has every outward appearance of a period piece; the proliferation of modern funny moments throughout the film, as well as the stellar comedic performances by some of the film's main actors, make the production an inherently hilarious one. 

The modern elements of the film's production that utilize more timely humor are some of the most interesting stylistic choices, as well. For instance, the integration of typeface that appears on screen when characters do things like read letters or poetry, is a purely contemporary kind of humor, one made unique by the medium. Additionally, one of my favorite parts of the movie was the way it introduced the characters: through type of their name and brief character description appearing beneath their faces, often to hilarious effect. 

The highlight of why this film would appeal to even those who don't like Austen, are the comedic performances by some of the film's most ridiculous characters. Cringe-worthy conversations with the aforementioned Sir James Martin, and the hysterical Lady Manwaring, both made for entertaining moments that reminded me a lot of ludicrous performances you'd see on television, like on The Office. These modern perspectives of humor did a lot to freshen up the film's overall aesthetic, as well as appeal to viewers beyond the witticisms of its Austen origins. 

In summary, while the adaptation itself doesn't truly hold through as an Austen classic like some of her big- and small-screen novel adaptations due, it's an incredibly fun and funny film that will definitely appeal to Austen fans, but also those who might not love her other works... just in case you needed a friend to go see it with you. 

Have you seen, or are planning on seeing, Love and Friendship? What's your favorite Austen adaptation? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, June 13, 2016

End-of-Quarter Book Haul, Spring Edition!

It was only after I'd officially been on Summer Vacation for about a day, on Friday, before I realized that since it was the end of the Quarter, that meant, inevitably, that the University Bookstore would be having its end-of-Quarter sale! 

Despite having a bit of a reader's slump recently as I finished my Capstone, and feeling a bit in flux due to unsettled feelings about one of my required classes - more on that in a different post - I knew that getting a couple new titles in my hands would help perk me right back up. Besides, I knew that the books that I'd bought at the end of Winter Quarter had been incredibly cheap for what great books they were (despite the fact that I still haven't read any of them yet... oops. Thank goodness it's summer!). 

Anyways, not only did I make the trip myself, but after only spending half an hour in the store with my sister, I made a return visit that same afternoon with my friend Taylor, just to do another lap around, and make sure I hadn't missed anything! Here's what I picked up: 

trip one

1. Emerald City, a collection of short stories, Jennifer Egan
One of the two books I simply grabbed with the immediate thought of "Yup, you're leaving here with me," this book is the product of one of my favorite authors in the whole world, who I've also been hoping to reread. 

2. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, James Shapiro
The second of those two books, this nonfiction breakdown of the validity of some of the most prominent Shakespearean conspiracy theories is divided by section into the most likely candidates for who really wrote the Bard's canon, then sets about debunking them. 

3. Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World, Claudia Roth Pierpont
This Finalist for the Nat'l Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism profiles the lives of different women writers like Gertrude Stein, Ayn Rand, Margaret Mitchell and Zora Neale Hurston, and emphasizes the contributions of their work in relation to politics, pop culture, and, of course, literature. 

4. Memoir: A History, Ben Yagoda
In what is almost the most Savannah-type move ever, I immediately loved the idea of a book specifically documenting the history of memoirs. The cover is gorgeous, too! 

5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
Recommended to me by several people, this Pulitzer Prize winner is an iconic fictional account of two men at the turn of the '40s, cashing in on the craze for comic books by creating their own.  

trip two

1. The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare
Not only is it the basis for two of my favorite Shakespearean adaptations ever created - the musical Kiss Me, Kate and the seminal teen movie classic, 10 Things I Hate About You - but it's also from my favorite line of editions: the Folger Shakespeare Library. 

2. The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of Women Who Have Lead their Nations in War, Antonia Fraser
I recognized the name of the author almost immediately, having written Marie Antoinette: The Journey, and figured I'd at least glance through it, and was quickly convinced I had to buy this book! 

During Trip One, while I had been settling into the floor to reach the way-down-low shelves, my sister was bored and roaming the general tables, and she picked me up a copy of "Summer Book Bingo 2016": hosted by the Seattle Public Library, and in partnership with independent bookstores around Seattle - including Elliot Bay Book Co! - this bingo and blackout board is populated with various genres, sources, and general themes for books to read, like  "Recommended by a Librarian" and "Finished Reading in a Day." Once you're done, you can post the sheet on Instagram with the event hashtags, or send it in, in order to be entered to win prizes, like a $30 gift card to a participating Seattle-area bookstore, or even the grand prize of a curated library set from Seattle Arts & Lectures authors!

Needless to stay, I'm excited. Delaney somehow managed to have even more faith in me, saying, as she handed the sheet over, "I'm expecting you to be done with all these by the end of the month." Yikes!

Anyways, while I'm still waiting on pins and needles for grades to update, at least I've got a beautiful new stack of books to distract me. Now I've just got to read them, and start filling in that bingo card!

Are you a part of any cool summer reading challenges? What's the most recent book you've bought? Let me know, in the comments below!