[Book Talk] Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage & Manners by Therese Oneill

Book Details:

Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Read: November 2017

Synopsis:

Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there’s arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn’t question.)

UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, giving you detailed advice on:

~ What to wear
~ Where to relieve yourself
~ How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
~ What to expect on your wedding night
~ How to be the perfect Victorian wife
~ Why masturbating will kill you
~ And more

Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O’Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers.

(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.)

My Thoughts

This book was so much fun to read! I started reading it one afternoon when the husband was watching sports and I was laughing within the first few pages. I’ve been reading more classics, some of them Victorian literature, and it was funny when Therese mentioned that all of these books feature wonderful heroines who never have to poop. We have such a romantic idea of the past and that it was all falling in love, thanks to all the literature available.

I mean, we all watch those romantic Victorian shows where the women wear beautiful dresses and it looks so fancy and perfect and we all wish we could live in that era. After reading this book, though, I realized we have it pretty good now. We can wash our clothes and not feel the need to step in horse poop just so we don’t walk improperly in the street. And we can walk alone somewhere, without an old crone or family member walking with us.

I loved learning more about how Victorian women dressed, how they menstruated (seriously thankful for everything we have for this one), how they engaged men and looked for husbands. And it was crazy to think that the only thing women were good for was their uteruses.

“Remember, the center of a woman is her uterus. Her crazy, crazy uterus.”

I also loved reading the literature of men writing about women in this time. They basically knew nothing about the interior workings of women so anything could be called ‘hysteria’ and if you were a difficult woman, well, there’s no hope for you. Seriously, this book made me so thankful that I live in the 21st century where we have more freedoms available to us.

“First I would like to tell you what hysteria actually was. Which is incredibly difficult. Because the only honest definition I can give you is “a misdiagnosis.” Epilepsy, diabetic shock, neural disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, postpartum depression, and bipolar disorders do not necessarily cause similar symptoms, but they were all commonly diagnosed as hysteria.”

This was such a fun read and now I’m wishing that I had bought a copy for myself – I’d love to go back and read certain chapters. I also feel like this would be a great book to refer to when you’re feeling like nothing is going your way, or if your kids give you attitude because of some modern-day thing not working right. We definitely have it good these days – feeling very humbled by that. I highly recommend this one!

Have you read Hunger? What is your favourite Roxane Gay book? Do you have any favourite books that deal with weight issues? 

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My thoughts on reading the classics in high school & the one classic I’m most looking forward to reading

When I think back to high school, I wasn’t the biggest reader. I read, but I didn’t read a lot. I hate to say it, but I was obsessed with finding a boyfriend and having friends — at least until I had an argument with my main group of friends who were doing something I disagreed with, and then I was focusing on music. I wasn’t a person who really enjoyed high school, which is sad because I feel like I could’ve done better. Now, nearly 20 years later, I wish I could have a do over and actually focus on my studies more and not be so obsessed with things that weren’t overly important.

Anyway, this post isn’t about my social life and hating high school, but about reading the classics in high school. Honestly, I can’t remember reading a lot of classics – or reading a lot of books at all. I remember reading a lot out of those giant collections of classics; books that had poetry and short stories and the like but gave you a backache when you tried to read anything in it. I didn’t understand the poetry, I didn’t understand the Shakespeare, and I got bored with the classics.

The only classic I remember actually reading (besides some Shakespeare and The Outsiders) was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and even with that, I never actually read it. I got bored within the first 5 pages and couldn’t get past his descriptions and I instead wrote my paper by winging it and failed miserably. So I don’t really have fond memories of reading in high school. After high school I read more, though not as much as I do now, but even with the amount I was reading it interested me in reading more in university and I signed up for so many courses that had me reading the classics (though I was scared away by any course that had a classic that was overly long).

I had always read, whether it be the The Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High of my teens; or attempting to read Stephen King or Danielle Steele, the books my mom enjoyed; or classic chick lit by Sophie Kinsella or Emily Giffin, the books I enjoyed after university. I loved reading in university but even that didn’t make me want to read more than I already did.

Now, 20 years later, I really enjoy reading the classics and I have so many on my shelf that I’m legitimately looking forward to reading, but I wonder if I hadn’t been a voracious reader before this (my reading kickstarted by reading Twilight back in 2008 – don’t judge) would I be interested in reading at all?

I think back to high school and how I didn’t want to read. I would fall asleep reading a text book and couldn’t get through a few pages of a book without getting bored. I rejoiced when another English teacher showed us the movie for Lord of the Flies rather than having us read the book. It makes me wonder if reading the classics in high school is detrimental to reading later in life. I know of some teenagers who are amazing readers, who already read the classics (one reason I love Lucy the Reader so much) but not all teens are like this. Reading the classics is scary! It’s reading in a voice that is very much unlike our own and written about a time a hundred years or so before ours.

When I think about the themes of some of the classics I read 15-20 years ago, I am reminded of Ethan Frome, a book by Edith Wharton that I recently finished. The story deals with very adult themes and maybe I was a really naive and ignorant teenager and young adult, but I can guarantee I would have no idea what that book was even about had I read it in high school or university. Do we need to experience life more before attempting the classics? Can we just dive into them without knowing about themes of adulthood?

More importantly, why do we continue to have many of the same classics in the high school curriculum now that we had 20 years ago (or longer), when there are so many actual young adult books available to teach teenagers about themes relevant to what they’re actually going through in high school? Is it just laziness on the teacher’s part?

After thinking all these thoughts, my mind then wandered over to think about The Grapes of Wrath again, the book that I couldn’t get into at all 20 years ago. When I think about it now, I realize that this is the book I’m most excited about reading when it comes to my classics reading. Now, reading its synopsis, I really want to read the story! I loved Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and have loved many of the classics I’ve been reading during this latter part of the year, and now I feel like I’m ready to read the book that may have turned me off of reading, had I not already found a bit of the joy of reading in my youth.

I bought this gorgeous centennial edition of the book and it’s just so gorgeous and it sounds so so great. In case you’re not sure what the story is about, here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression follows the western movement of one family & a nation in search of work & human dignity. Perhaps the most American of American classics. The novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, & changes in financial & agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, & in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they sought jobs, land, dignity & a future. When preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck wrote: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression & its effects].” The book won Steinbeck a large following among the working class, perhaps due to the book’s sympathy to the workers’ movement & its accessible prose style.

The Grapes of Wrath is frequently read in American high school & college literature classes. A celebrated Hollywood film version, starring Henry Fonda & directed by John Ford, was made in 1940.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just me and maybe I really wasn’t a reader like other kids in high school, and other times I still think that the curriculum should be changing to include more books written specifically for young adults and maybe leaving these classics for when teenagers choose to specialize come university. But even still, I have that little niggling in the back of my head that makes me want to go back and just redo high school without thinking that boys and friends were the most important thing ever. Maybe had I gone that route, I would’ve been a voracious reader in the years between high school and discovering Twilight in 2008. At any rate, I’m glad that now, in my 30s, I’m discovering the joy of reading the classics and coming into my own when it comes to reading, finding the styles I like and being my own reading person rather than following what everyone else is reading.

What do you think when it comes to reading the classics in high school? Were you a fan of them then, or did you discover that you appreciated them more later in life? Do you agree that more current young adult books should be relevant in high school reading? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

How I Used To Read & Other Thoughts on Reading and Blogging Now vs. 10 Years Ago

This post is inspired by a few videos I’ve seen floating around BookTube, mainly Laura’s video, The Way We Used to Read: Reader Fatigue and Reading as Spectacle, as well as Mercedes’s video, Am I Falling Out of Love With Reading? Both videos made me think about how I read now vs. how I used to read, be it pre-blogging, or during the early days of blogging.

Like I had mentioned before, I wasn’t always an avid reader. I can go anywhere from reading 100 to over 200 books in a year (this year I’m over 250) these days, but in the early days of blogging and before blogging, I’d read anywhere from 30 books to maybe 100 books in a year – if that. I used to go to the library (never the bookstore, really) and I would browse the stacks and just find books that looked good to me. If I was in a bookstore, I was probably in a used bookstore, and again, I’d find something that sounded good to me. Book blogs and BookTube wasn’t a thing back then and I didn’t read a lot of reviews anywhere else. I’d just pick up what other people (in real life!) were talking about, or just get what looked interesting.

Blogging became a thing for me around 2007. I remember finding this one book blog; I can’t even remember the name of it now and I don’t even think it still exists, but I loved reading this girl’s reviews. She didn’t post them daily, or have discussions or memes or anything like that, but just her thoughts on books. I loved reading her blog so much that eventually I started my own and when I did, I continued on how I used to.

I used to read …

  • slowly, taking my time with a book.
  • sporadically, not reading all the time or immediately picking up another book after finishing one.
  • what I wanted or what looked interesting, not really going with the trend of what was popular.
  • what I owned or library books, maybe having a handful of books on my owned TBR rather than a couple hundred.
  • one book at a time, never multiple books.

In 2011 and 2012, I feel like book blogging became a “thing” – everyone was doing it and the book blog world exploded with blogs. But still, there weren’t as many as there are now. I remember having great relationships with publishers, but still didn’t really know anything about authors. It still seemed weird to me from that time between 2007 and 2011 to want to get an author’s signature in my books. I was a music person and I felt like it made sense to see a musician after a performance and get their autograph, but authors didn’t seem that big to me. I think it was with the rise of Twitter and actually getting to know more about the authors that I was reading that I got interested in them and actually paid attention to who was coming to town for book signings and whatnot. All of a sudden, it was exciting to me! Lawrence Hill is coming to town? Sign me up!

But when book blogs suddenly became a thing, the downside was that all of a sudden everyone was talking about the same books. There was this hype surrounding certain books and it felt like I had to be reading what everyone else was reading. I had to accept review books and read the most popular books that publishing houses had. I had to talk positively about everything and didn’t want to tarnish a relationship by not liking a book. Rarely did I read a lot of older books and I found my tastes heading towards Young Adult books because that’s what everyone was reading. There was definitely a time that I loved these books, but in these later years, I’ve found that my tastes have gone elsewhere.

Now, in 2017, I don’t want to read what everyone else is reading. I want to pay attention to the books that make me happy rather than the books that are hyped, whether they’re old classics or modern classics, and definitely the books that everyone isn’t talking about. In 2017, it’s tiring to me to see the same posts on the same books and authors, while there are other deserving authors out there who should be hyped. I think that’s why I’ve loved reading more Canada – it’s so much fun to find new-to-me Canadian authors and talk about them on social media, hype them up, these authors that aren’t talked about a lot (or, at least, nowhere I’ve seen).

Now, in 2017, I’ve realized that blogging should be what I want it to be. There was a time when I wanted to be popular and tried to emulate the popular blogs. I felt like I needed this huge status and tons of followers and the only way I could do that was to read what was popular and what everyone was talking about. I’ve also realized that blogging isn’t a competition, even though it feels like it is sometimes. Maybe I’ve grown up with my blogging and reading, but it seems silly to me that I used to buy the hyped books that everyone was talking about without actually knowing that sometimes bloggers are paid to hype up these books and maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. I’ve realized that I can go back to vlogging on BookTube again and I don’t need a ring light or perfect shelves or to look perfect or to say perfect things in perfect coherence. I can just be me on both fronts, blog and vlog, and the people who want to say something will say something.

Now, in 2017, I’ve realized that I like reading whatever the heck I want to read. I like reading the books on my shelves and hyping up deserving and little-known authors. I like reading when I want to read, whether that’s all the time or not. I’ve realized that it’s okay to carry over books into another month rather than pushing myself to finish everything by month’s end. It’s okay to take a few weeks or a few months to read a book, it’s not a contest with anyone but myself. It’s okay to read 20 books in a year or 200 books in a year, but I don’t need to put the pressure on myself to read a certain amount, but just make sure that I am reading when I want to and taking a break when I want to. It’s okay to make reading lists for the month and not follow them, just like it’s okay to set goals to read the winning titles from every Canadian book award just for fun – even if the only person who cares is me. It’s okay to go weeks or months without blogging – there are no “rules” with blogging, just the rules I’ve engrained in my brain. And you know what? Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

So now that 2017 is winding down, I want to go back 10 years. I want to browse the bookstore or the library and just find books that look interesting to me. I want to take breaks, watch a TV show, or just take a nap, rather than feel like I have to read x number of books in a week, month, or year. I want to not follow the hype and buy ridiculous amounts of books, feeling like I have to for the sake of followers. It’s so interesting to think that I started this blog for me and to have those moments of over-importance, thinking that if I read something different or didn’t post in a month, or something, that my followers would care. Ultimately, in 2017, I still blog for me and if people like that, that’s great.

I don’t think I’m ready to give up a reading goal, but I feel like I’m going to set one goal, not up it and not stress about reaching it or going over it. I still love using Goodreads, just for the sake of tracking certain things, and I love the Savvy Reader’s 50 Book Pledge and the goals that come with it. Reading isn’t a competitive thing and no one cares if I am still reading the same book in two month’s time. I will still love planning the books that I want to read, but I’ve realized, at 36, that I had gone off track with my reading in the past years. It’s kind of fun to get back to my roots with reading. I honestly think that 2018 is going to be a great year of reading and I look forward to doing it just for me.

How do you view your reading in 2017? Are you a competitive reader with yourself? Or with others? Do you find that the rise of social media led you to change your reading habits? Do you read according to the ‘hype’ or just what looks interesting to you? What does your 2018 reading look like?