Reading Life


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Radium Girls

Kate Moore carefully documents many of the of dial workers' stories who worked in Orange, NJ and Ottawa, IL. In doing so, she preserves an important part of women's history, industrial history, and American history.

Lured by the glamour and high pay, these girls enjoyed their jobs until, one by one, they began getting sick. No laws protected workers from the occupational hazards of radium at this time. 

Moore makes much of the fact that these women were unwitting pioneers who paved the way for safer conditions in all workplaces. 
Undark (Radium Girls) advertisement, 1921
The product these women worked with, a radium paste, was called Undark. In the twenties, when glowing watch dials for the military were in hot demand, not much was known about the dangers of working with radium. 

By the late 1920's, the companies knew radium was harmful but still did nothing to protect its dial workers who lip-pointed. They would put the radium-tainted brush directly into their mouths to give the brush a point. This practice was encourage for quick production of the dials.

Radium's effects were devastating. Some women died quickly but some suffered a slow and painful death.

Some of these women, notably Catherine Donohue, fought courageously to win a lawsuit against the companies that employed them. Though the payouts were small, they changes working conditions for future employees.

The dial worker's cases led to the formation of OSHA. They also continued to help scientists by participating in tests at Argonne Laboratory.

Though other works on this topic focus on the physicians and scientists, Moore's work puts a human face to this tragedy by focusing on the women themselves. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Transactional Magic

"I need you to owe me something," Patricia said, "or this won't work. I'm really sorry. I tried to do it every other way, and none of them succeeded. In the end, the most powerful magic is often transactional
in some way."

Patricia to Laurence in All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.

Other adult books that feature magic:

Barker, Emily Croy. The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic
Flyte, Magnus. City of Dark Magic.
Grossman, Lev. The Magicians
McGuire, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway.
Schwab, Victoria. A Darker Shade of Magic.
Walton, Jo. Among Others.  

Young adult books that feature magic: 
Marillier, Juliet. Wildwood Dancing
Bow, Erin. Plain Kate.
Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest.
Durst, Sarah Beth. Ice.

Friday, April 14, 2017

What is "new adult" fiction or "twentysomething" fiction?

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is difficult to classify and has often been listed as genre-bending. One of the main character, Patricia, is a witch but the other character, Laurence, is a scientist trying to save the world from destruction.

All the Birds in the Sky contains magical realism, science fiction, and romance. A post-apocalyptic storm, artificial intelligence, and a ground-breaking project to create a wormhole give this novel an exciting edge.

Some of the themes in All the Birds in the Sky resemble the ones in Iain Pears' Arcadia--the ethical ramifications of creating a device that could repopulate the earth's inhabitants in another world. 

All the Birds in the Sky, though, is more tightly focused than Arcadia. It appeals to readers in their early twenties because it has elements of what Molly Wetta calls "new adult" fiction or "twentysomething" fiction. 

According to Wetta, new adult fiction follow teens "the summer after graduation, on into college, and beyond."

New adult fiction is often wildly inventive, with a focus on technology, relationships, and finding one's place in the world.

Other examples of fiction for new adults that Wetta lists are Rainbow Rowell's FanGirl and Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a strangely dark, yet funny story set in New Penzance island, a fictional island that Wes Anderson based on his trips to Naushon, off of Cape Cod.

Much of the movie operates as a framed narrative. At the film's outset we are given a glance of Suzy (Kara Hayward) looking at the world through a pair of binoculars. This scene implies that the movie will be from her point-of-view or that she is a lonely observer.

Though the narrator, another outsider, seems detached from the action in the opening scenes, he later joins the rest of the cast and interacts with the other characters.

The narrator later proves to be of vital importance. He provides key information about the possible whereabouts of middle schoolers, Suzy and Sam, who have run away. 

This is what I like best about Wes Anderson's films--an outsider whom everyone devalues suddenly rises in importance and surprises everyone.

Of course, Suzy and Sam are also outsiders. Suzy has anger issues and Sam is a bullied orphan.

By the film's end, though, the two misfits and star-crossed lovers have risen in importance. The whole island is looking for them and the search has caused adult to rethink their behavior.

Anderson claims he was influenced by Alan Parker's Melody (aka S.W.A.L.K.) and Ken Loach's Black Jack

Soucres consulted:
The Wes Anderson Collection, by Matt Zoller Seitz, Anderson

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