Pop quiz #2: This week's newsletter title is an easy guess, but humour me anyway. (If you're curious "Some Pig" is from Charlotte's Web, which features my favourite literary rat character (even more than Rat in Wind In The Willows) a wisecracking every-creature-for-himself glutton called Templeton.)
This week in the Lives of People Who Are Dead Now: I am very late to the Nancy Mitford party, but I just began reading her very thinly veiled "novel" about two young girls in Britain living the U-life (U meaning upperclass, a thing that was being written about in Mitford's time, vs. of course, the Non-Us). There's a reference to the Us and non-Us in The Pursuit of Love as well, as the children belonging to this large extended family are all daughters of lords, so they get to have an "Hon." before their names, and so form a society: Hons vs Counter Hons. You don't have to be born an Hon to be an honourary Hon, a hon-Hon if you will, but Counter Hons say things like "notepaper" for writing paper and "dentures" for false teeth.
I looked up Nancy Mitford yesterday, and while she was quite fascinating, what I found most interesting was the life of her sister, Unity Mitford. Unity VALKYRIE Mitford, a first world yoga name if I've ever heard one. Here is a picture, she was quite lovely.
If you've watched The Crown on Netflix, you know that every old established rich British family has some Nazi lovers closer than you think. In the Mitford sisters' case, there were about three of them who were reasonably sympathetic, but Unity really took it to a new level. If she had been born today, she'd be dangling off Trump's arm, talking about white pride with gusto and poise on television, but since she was born in 1914, she took up a pro-Hitler stance, primarily just to get some attention from her family, being a middle child.
However, she traveled with a sister to Germany, and there she saw Hitler and decided to take her fandom to a completely different level. She basically found out all his hang out spots and went and sat at the same cafe as he had lunch at every single day. TEN MONTHS LATER, Hitler finally asked her to join him, so this was a pretty dedicated case of stalking. He was completely charmed by her, her Aryan good looks and her connection to Wagner, who Hitler loved. (Unity's grandfather was a close friend of the composer.) Anyway, Hitler was quite superstitious so he considered Unity a sort of "sent from heaven" reward or something, and also, was quite happy to play her off against Eva Braun, because it's not enough to be a monster, you must also be an asshole boyfriend.
She wanted very much for Hitler to reach some sort of deal with Britain and threatened to kill herself if a war ever happened. War did happen, and she shot herself with a pistol, only she survived the impact and the bullet stayed inside her skull, after which Hitler paid her hospital bills and arranged for her to go back to England. She was changed, apparently, a bit like she had had a stroke, incontinent, like a large child, but she still remembered being a Nazi, and said she wanted to have many children and name the eldest son Adolf. Eventually she died of meningitis because of the swelling of her brain around the bullet. She was 33.
Here's another interesting fact about Unity: she was conceived in a town called Swastika, Ontario. I wonder if she thought about that and about the Nazi party and decided that was the way her life was going to go since she was born to it.
(There is a biography of the Mitford sisters that looks quite good: The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell, which is on the Amazon store in India. Will get a copy and let you know how it is!)
This week in stuff I wrote: My review of Yashodhara Lal's How I Became a Farmer's Wife. "Was it really that good?" asked someone to me skeptically, and yes it was. I'm not polite at all in my reviews, if I don't like something, I will say it, as you will see in a review that should be out next week. I do sometimes try and find a redeeming thing though, and there usually is a redeeming thing.
Excerpt: Lal is, by her own description, a “romance” writer, and this book is meant to be a sequel of sorts to her first, which was similar fiction-ish, memoir-ish story of the first years of being married. Romance writers can definitely plot, even if they are somewhat condescended to by the greater literary establishment.
This week in television I recommend on Amazon Prime: I made this list for Twitter, but I'm finding my engagement on that platform is way down from even a few months ago. No retweets at all, and maybe one or two likes? It's odd, because nothing else has changed, not my tweets, not my follower count, so I'm just putting it down to faulty algorithms and not just that people aren't finding me interesting any more. (the horror!), So I thought, let me just migrate the things I would tweet about to this newsletter, and give up on Twitter for a little bit. Of all the social media I use (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) I'm getting the least interactions out of Twitter, so I think I might start to wind down there mostly. Are you having the same problem or is it just me?
1) Parks & Recreation: brilliant, government office mockumentary with one of the FINEST feminist protagonists you'll ever see on television, Leslie Knope. In the same vein, and inspired from, The Office (US) also on Prime and it is also amazing.
2) The Magicians is a subtle satire-y sci-fi show that just goes from strength to strength every season. There's pop culture, there's magic, there's humour, there's pathos, you'll love it.
3) Parenthood: If you liked Gilmore Girls or Brothers and Sisters or anything with a big messy family and their interactions, this is a MUST MUST WATCH show.
4) Friday Night Lights: It is about American football, yes, but I, an avowed sports hater ("so boring ya!") am still binge watching it like it is going out of style.
5) The Mindy Project: will take you two or three episodes to fully get into but after that it is just like candy. So funny and refreshing.
This week in stuff I read on the internet that was cool
I have a Dom character in my new Girls of the Mahabharata book, so this long read (and winner of a journalism award!) about a modern day Dom was truly fascinating.
Excerpt: Mithun spends hours performing the back-breaking work of sifting through mountains of ash to cull tiny pieces of melted gold and silver - remnants of jewellery the deceased were wearing - to later sell for a meagre sum of money. Out of respect for their dead, families leave the jewellery (often a necklace, a few bangles, a gold nose-ring, or a gold tooth) on their relative before performing the last rites. For the Doms, the competition to find these tiny, precious pieces is cut-throat. As soon as the ash from a burned out pyre is swept into the river, an army of men - with pants rolled halfway up - rush in, wading through the murky water. To reduce the competition, some throw in broken glass and razors to make the process more arduous for others.
Excerpt: Strangely I can hear my dad in this book, perhaps because “third rate” is a word he uses quite often. And also because the book reminds me of his particular brand of “strict reassurance” – this will annoy you but this is ultimately good for you. For instance, there was a time when my father would find me dreaming serenely on Sunday afternoons and attempt to break my reverie by asking me stuff like, “what is 167395 minus 578?” His is a lifelong mission to make me alert, either by shocking me with mental mathematics or dark warnings of potential accidents that would most certainly occur thanks to incessant day dreaming.
Excerpt: When visitors come, they often cry. Others are overwhelmed by inspiration, or a sudden feeling that everything makes sense and they know just what they need to do. By the end of their visit, they want to speak to, confide in, or be counseled by Wright. It feels like there is a magnetic air of wisdom around him that you can’t help but want to feel close to. Wright listens and hugs, he understands.
Excerpt: What have we aged into? We’re still capable of action, change and 10K races. But there’s a new immediacy to the 40s — and an awareness of death — that didn’t exist before. Our possibilities feel more finite. All choices now plainly exclude others. It’s pointless to keep pretending to be what we’re not. At 40, we’re no longer preparing for an imagined future life. Our real lives are, indisputably, happening right now. We’ve arrived at what Immanuel Kant called the “Ding an sich” — the thing itself.
Excerpt: At the end of the decade, Vice President Al Gore edges George W. Bush in one of the closest elections in American history. Observers credit his win to the positive influence exerted on his campaign and the election by CNN — which is the only major 24-hour news network. Rupert Murdoch watches from the United Kingdom; he’d failed to find a solid entry point into American media in the mid-’80s, Fox having collapsed years earlier, and his dreams of a conservative challenger to CNN remain unrealized.
Excerpt: Today, children’s book publishing—an industry richly described in Leonard S. Marcus’s excellent new book, “Minders of Make-Believe”—is one of the most profitable parts of the book business. But that industry exists only because, in much the same way that the nineteenth-century middle class invented childhood as we know it, early-twentieth-century writers, illustrators, editors, and publishers—and, most of all, Anne Carroll Moore—invented children’s literature. It would be convenient if White and Moore stood on either side of a divide between antimodernist and modernist writing. But things don’t really sort out along those lines. A better way of thinking about it might be to say that Anne Carroll Moore did not like fangs. She loved what was precious, innocent, and sentimental. White found the same stuff mawkish, prudish, and daffy. “There are too many coy books full of talking animals, whimsical children, and condescending adults,” White complained.
Excerpt: Miranda arrives late to brunch because one of her favorite male colleagues was just fired, following #MeToo accusations. She’s conflicted because, despite her feminist convictions, she loved this guy and isn’t sure the accusations warranted his dismissal. Samantha says that she, too, is being sued by a former assistant for sexual harassment, which she doesn’t feel is warranted. Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda share their #MeToo stories, and Miranda is particularly horrified to recall several experiences she had as a teenager — the same age her son, Brady, is now. Miranda reconsiders how she’s raising her own son; when he tells her he’s taking a girl on a date, she insists on a sit-down with the two of them, during which she goes embarrassingly overboard and scares them out of their date.
And finally, Prayaag on football, his football-averse partner and the fact that their first child is due during the first week of the World Cup.
Excerpt: Perhaps fitting, given her deep distaste for the sport, that my wife is scheduled—if all goes well, please keep your fingers crossed—to give birth to our first child in the first week of this year’s World Cup. She’s happy because she believes this means I will not be able to watch any of the games. I’m happy because I believe this means I’ll be able to watch them all.