Thursday, August 29, 2013

GARROW'S LAW!!!! (so good)

Garrow’s Law. You guys. Wow.

So, I started watching this a few years ago; but I am finally making my way from the beginning through the entire series.  William Garrow is a brilliant lawyer who, though from humble means, through his hard work as apprentice to the pragmatic John Southouse, has raised himself to the level of a gentleman (such as his nemesis prosecutor Silvester) in his comings and goings at court.

from the Guardian

The 18th Century, as you know, was a hugely pivotal era in terms of the shifting of morals, laws and the state of human happiness and well-being. Garrow helped propagate several changes, helping to usher reform chiefly on behalf of prisoners. In an age where branding, hanging, burning at stake and wrongful imprisonment for the slightest crimes awaited those unfortunate and defenseless prisoners shoved into the dock at the Old Bailey, Garrow coined his belief that every man be innocent until proven guilty. With him, the law and the right of the prisoner for sane and solid and solemn legal council changed.

Courtroom dramas are always riveting. For me, as a lover of detective stories and mysteries, I enjoy how the truth is let out often in the intricate and theatrical summations and evidence presented to the juries.  This courtroom drama, however, stands heads above any others because of its pure glee in excavating the strangest historical cases: ripped directly from the Old Bailey’s records.

Historically, Garrow was able to assist those standing trial for everything from infanticide, sodomy and high treason and loan a voice of compelling and compassionate leniency when the crown would rather rid London society of those even suspected of committing a crime.  Evidence was hard come by and circumstantial evidence prevailed: but Garrow’s quick mind and stern moral compass allowed him to logically infuse the circus of the courtroom with sound counsel and judgment. To add, he was extremely proficient at winning the sympathy and understanding of a jury.

The series provides a fascinating glimpse, entrenched with verisimilitude, into the cases that Garrow presided over.  Andrew Buchan plays Garrow as a lion in the courtroom but often out of water when not in the realm of the law.   He excels at blunder-headed moves that lead to the entrapment of his reputation by the cunning Sir Robert Hill, whose wife Lady Sarah, is an ardent female voice in the male-dominated society of the court systems.

I have so enjoyed the pitch-perfect dialogue, the theatrical antics, the climaxes and the denouement of each courtroom drama aside which moments from Garrow’s personal life are added in centrifugal and apt movement.   Georgian society is a fascinating one and the wigs, the costume make-up, the double standards and the bawdy double entendre of a society rid of the manners ushered in with the Victorians is on promenade here.

Check it out.

Note, I really enjoyed searching out the Old Bailey recordswhich are pristinely documented online for all to view.

As you can see from the screenshot, a search of William Garrow elicits several of his cases ---those which the series are based on:

Also, this is one article of the many that exposes some of Garrow's well-documented life: William Garrow: the Robin Hood of the courtroom 

Monday, August 26, 2013

At Day's Close: Night in Times Past by A. Roger Ekirch

Apparently I care about how our ancestors spent their time after dusk.

Wow, that sounded dirty. I didn’t mean it to be. Well, I suppose I did because did you know that they use to hang cowdung at the foot of their beds to detract fleas? That everyone washed only their feet before bed and everything was disgusting? That clean linen (and remember people gave birth and died on beds ) was almost unheard of in the lower classes? That spacial constraints forced entire families to sleep in one or two beds, that any visiting parties became a bedfellow and ALSO shared a bed?

It goes on and on.  People had a better sense of using their other senses to wade through the dark: especially merchants returning home by horse after a long market day. In the same vein, however, and so unfortunately, our forebears were prone to any and all kind of accidents: falling in ditches, losing their footing and ending up in a well.  Thank the lord for flashlights.

Night was  a time of superstition, of theft and murder, of a world unhindered by social obligations for the most part ( those crept in in the upper classes during the 18th Century and the Industrial Revolution changed it all ) where sleep and rest was a God-given gift after the toil of the day.

The book speaks to everything about night. Everything that kept our forebears ticking after the clock settled beyond the dusk hours.

The most interesting bit of the extensive research? The fact that we used to sleep in bi-modal and segmented patterns.  Get this, blog readers, research (which cites greats works of literature, primary sources and numerous first hand accounts from Barnaby Rudge to  Jane Eyre and Chaucer) proves that our ancestors went to be at 9 or so and woke up in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT for a few hours thus concluding what they called “First Sleep.”  While awake, they would smoke tobacco, talk to their bedfellows, engage in “other” night-time activities (wink-wink, nudge), even visit neighbours, say their prayers (special matins created for early morning that fit so tightly into the research here) before settling into SECOND SLEEP.

With the Industrial Revolution, gas-lamps and electricity, with the rise of coffee houses and the ability for those who were respectable to embark on social escapades outside of the region of the local pub or tavern (where hooligans and ladies of the night reigned supreme), people began going to bed later and sleeping through the night. No First Sleep and Second Sleep with a couple of interesting hours of waking interval betwixt. No. Just sleeping straight through.

We’ve changed a lot and this book gave me the best sort of glance into the secrets of yesteryear.  There is fascinating research in here; but a lot of it and a lot of citations. So if you are willing to spend some time meandering through extensive musings on night in centuries of yore, then this is your book.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"The Single Woman" by Mandy Hale

 [ Rachel's Note from 2 Hours After Publication of Post ---: first off, the lovely Lori Smith was kind enough to remind me what I had set out to say but had forgotten to:   authors have little say in their covers and I should have stressed that the cover itself is not the author's responsibility.

Secondly, this is a gift book.  I was not under that impression when I encountered it on amazon nor when I conversed with the author on twitter yesterday.  Nonetheless, the content itself and the words are what are post potent with me as a reader ---regardless of its packaging and my thoughts on some of the quotes and ideas have not changed having learned that this is a giftbook.  But, there you go! if you want a giftbook, there's another upsell ;) ]

When I first saw  The Single Woman on amazon the across-the-board  five star reviews made me wary. You see, five stars for a Christian-published book is not unheard of. We love writing positive book reviews and yet the topic is so sensitive ---- anything less than five stars might have indicated that it strayed from other books of its ilk: might have reflected a kind of dissonance indicative of a wander from the norm....   Might have made it jump out as a book to end the string of books written by Single Christian women that didn't seem to resonate with me at all. Negative reviews can often mean that someone who didn't like the book was passionate enough about their dislike to log in and outline how it chafed with them.

I even used it to spark a discussion on Facebook and on twitter in which the author immediately and passionately engaged.  That intrigued me even more so I bought it.   The chapters are so flittingly short I didn't find it hard to breeze through.  There are quotes from  Hale's twitter account and guides and tabbed lists ornamented with heart bullets. It is not so much an exploration of the fabulousness of single life as a good reminder guide on how to enjoy life.  It does marginalize itself in ways by painting women of a certain ilk into a corner.  If this scenario is one that tickles you: "...not having to shave my legs if I don't want to and blasting Girl Power tunes and singing into the broom handle while I'm cleaning my house" then you are in good company.   I always felt like a bit of an outsider on the Christian singles front and, unfortunately, this book made me feel even more so because, personally, I had trouble relating to Hale's experience at all.

Let me begin by pointing out some strengths to the book.  First, Hale is right in her belief that single women (and men), heck! people in general--- need to be told that they have value beyond their marital status, social status or appearance.  Let this ring again and again.

Secondly, I do not doubt the sincerity of the author's intentions to fill a gap she expresses she found missing in modern culture ( unfortunately, she falls into the trap of aligning acutely with it; but more on that later ); but her sincerity and her platform prove that this is a message that has been well-received.

Finally, you cannot go wrong with owning your independence. Lines like this "The real fairytale is designing a life so amazing that you don't want to be rescued from it" really resonated with me. 

My biggest complaint is that there is nothing in it that differs from the other Christian books I have read targeted at single women. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is one I respect in the faith based community. Hale's Christian worldview is minimally present, couched in a few paraphrases of 1 Corinthians in one chapter and random mentions of God and scripture; but fails to speak at all to the sometimes-felt and experienced constrictions of the Church culture for a single person. Certainly she mentions the stigma against singleness equaling depravity; but I was so hoping that her voice would speak out  from experience.  To add, and no fault of her own, Hale speaks for women who have had several serious relationships and dates -- an experience that  several  Christian woman of my acquaintance will not find easy to relate to. Speaking to the difference between "Mr. Now" and " Mr. Right Now" will, again, be foreign to several women who subscribe to Evangelical beliefs of courting and staying equally yoked. The Christian worldview, here, seems drenched in the Worldy worldview ( the capital W as pronounced as it is in one of my dad's emphatic Sunday sermons)

Hale is full of good-sense tidbits which speak more to being happy as a person than to being a single woman. To add, these tidbits were solidly entrenched into a narrative I just didn't relate to.  "Sassy stilettos"?  Oreo binge fests while watching "Friends re-runs"? It is  safe to say that although I am the demographic for this book it is not marketed to me. 

 I feel this book will cater to the woman who enjoys a good Chickflick montage of pink-trussled memories fading mutely in cascading pensive melody. But.... I  realized, yet again, how few relatable books there are out there for strong-minded, independent and intellectual Christian women who want someone who champions equality, who understands the confusion of having relationships of this matter evade them, who digs deeper into the manifestation of the Single Stigma within the context of the Church and who uses the Christian worldview to prod more deeply into scripture and experience.

While she encourages us to laugh "in the  face of the stigmas and stereotypes", they are, unfortunately, alive and well here. How can one celebrate singlehood as an independent and inspired female if one is presented with a  book with a packaging that caters to societal  standards of womanhood: a stiletto heel, pink, sparkles, hearts, manicures, frilly phrases and gorging on ice cream? While Hale excels at reiterating the brilliance of independence; she rescinds this forward thinking with quotes like this which, to me, were a disturbing balance: "We pay our own bills, file our own taxes, change our own oil  (or cruise on down  to Jiffy Lube on Ladies' Day for a half-price oil change" This chaffing of independence and equality coupled with a "Ladies' day" immediately segregating the sexes and conjuring images of sexualized and objectified women showing up for a discount based on gender alone was an odd juxtaposition for me.

To add, she advocates gender stereotypes and labels by straddling the domestic and a single woman's lack thereof....  "She’s not afraid to change her mind…but petrified to change a tire. She makes her own decisions…but can’t make toast without burning it. Her idea of a three course meal is a Lean Cuisine. There are shoes in her cupboard where flour and sugar are supposed to be. She is the Single Woman. She's me and she's you"
I cannot change a tire and I do burn toast; but I think this has little to with the gender or marital status. A friend aptly pointed out that this is in the same camp as those books which speak to the limitations of men when it comes to parenthood. The Single experience is not universal.

At the core, I came away realizing that her point is that women are fabulous:  but this book is not necessarily targeted FOR single women as her title and promotion suggests.  Instead, it is a good reminder for anyone who needs a boost. Most unfortunately, the book falls into the traps of branding and stereotypes: perpetuating the "chick" mentality we see in shows like Sex and the City ( oddly enough, a cultural phenomenon ostracizing much of a Christian audience who are uncomfortable with its subject matter). All of the branding in the book---she mentions retailers by name---Nordstrom and Target, for example--- heightened my opinion that this book, again, establishes further our societal tendency to label.  Labels are not what we need. 

 There is always a need for women to hear they are fabulous: but an authorial voice resplendent with tales of James Dean look-a-like boyfriends, splurges on frappucinos and great almost-engagements in jewelry stores will not strike a chord with several of the  Single Christian women who read this blog.  Be  fabulous because God loves you, Be fabulous because Jesus has got your back, Be fabulous because you are living for an ordained purpose whether or not you said the included affirmations or have the "sassy stilettos" Hale refers to.  It's okay not to align with this archetypes painted in this book;  this modern conceptualization of fabulous canvassed on this book's cover in the airy pink font and heel. The modern conceptualization of fabulous and single is mirrored here contains a few price tags, brand names, and some wisdom.

I read this book under the impression ( however wrong I might have been ) that due to its publication by Thomas Nelson and from its back cover copy, that it was written specifically toward the Christian single woman experience.  As such, my review of the book is greatly informed by that. There are several optimistic life-lessons for all of us here: single or non. Male or Female.   As always, what I found to be lacking in the book might be what you are LOOKING for in a book so check it out for yourself. 

                                                               * * * 

So what would I like to see in a book on single women published for the Christian marketplace?  I told @hopefulleigh and Kaye Dacus the following in conversations this morning

1.) A book ensconced in a Christian worldview 
2.) Exploring how purity and abstinence inform the dating scene
3.) The differentiators ( which are many) between being a single Christian woman and being a single woman
4.) Biblical backup

Please check out Kaye's series on Being Single in the Church  -- like me, you will applaud the candor.  I also appreciate Leigh Kramer's blog which touches on the same subject and Lori Smith has done magnificent work culminating in a rumination of her single experience in The Single Truth and   A Walk with Austen

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Random Things

First, I went to my gorgeous friend’s gorgeous wedding on Vancouver Island which is a gorgeous place and led me to ponder what books I have read set in British Columbia. And with the exception of Susan Juby I think I am blanking.  But, at the very least, the Alice, I Think  series

                                                                * * *

I was greatly saddened to hear about the passing of Elizabeth Peters who has the best quotes in the history of the world ---

“No woman really wants a man to carry her off; she only wants him to want to do it.” 

“I disapprove of matrimony as a matter of principle.... Why should any independent, intelligent female choose to subject herself to the whims and tyrannies of a husband? I assure you, I have yet to meet a man as sensible as myself! "

“When one is striding bravely into the future one cannot watch one's footing. ”

I love Amelia Peabody and I LOVE Elizabeth Peters

                                                                * * *

Secondly, here is an interview with the lovely mystery maven and all-time favourite of mine, Martha Grimes --- a nice prelude to the newJURY NOVEL WE GET NEXT YEAR!

                                                                * * *

Over the weekend, I watched 4.5 seasons of Doc Martin  ( which I discovered care of Tessa Afshar's blog ) which is just delicious and wonderful and tickles my funny bone and makes me ache with its adorably gruff, rough-around-the-edges romance.   To add, the series is set in gorgeous Cornwall with a sea-side view to die for.

I love the slow-burning romance between Doc Martin and Louisa, the local primary school teacher who steals his heart at first sight. Not unlike House ( but with more heart, indubitably), Martin struggles with social proprieties and etiquette. His bedside manner is appalling and his treatment of his neighbours and friends leaves a lot to be desire. But, oh! How he loves Louisa.  If you watch, you will hear that he says her name in a softer cadence than any other name---or line ---for that matter. And his odd, crinkly and harsh physiognomy lightens when she is nearby .

It is really quite endearing and but one circle of many, many outlining rings which take us through perplexity, surges of eccentricity, medical cases and the lovely, lofty little wonders of small village life.