Outside Reading — When She Squeezed Me Tight She Nearly Broke My Spine edition

Banned: The song deemed ‘too dangerous’ for the BBC by Stephen Dowling

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In a marvelous act of research and wry summary, Stephen Dowling provides the details on around a dozen different songs that have received official bans from the BBC over the decades. It’s the reasoning offered by the upstanding broadcasters that usually amuses the most. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than the British striking a song from playlists over concerns that it is overly jaunty. And then there are the instances of the sensitivity emerging from baffling motivations. There are plenty of reasons that “Lola,” the — it must be noted — agreeably jaunty hit from the Kinks might have raised eyebrows upon its release in 1970. The inclusion of a globally known product’s official brand name would seem to the least daunting of its incursions on a society still buttoned up all the way up to the stiff upper lip. And yet a quick edit to a more generic mention of “cherry cola” made the tale of Lola wholly safe for the impressionable masses.

 

LOVE, DEATH, AND BEGGING FOR CELEBRITIES TO KILL YOU by Jia Tolentino

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Look, I’m going to be wholeheartedly in support of any article with the sentence “Earlier this month, I got on the phone with Mistress Velvet, a dominatrix in Chicago with a day job in social work, to ask her what she made of all this.” Jia Tolentino offers further proof that she’s an astute and ingenious analyst of the peculiarities of modern times with this quick piece stemming from the social media trend of expressing affection for celebrities by opening longing for sadomasochistic punishment at their hands. A subject fit for easy mockery is instead taken seriously by Tolentino, including, in a very New Yorker touch, identifying historical precedent for expressing ardor as physical ordeal in the fourteenth century poetry of Plutarch and the words of no less than William Shakespeare. Without going overboard in assigning gravity to the situation, Tolentino allows for the ways the language is potentially a reflection of wider anxiety among the populace, especially the generation that is just beginning to earnestly survey the rat’s nest of problems that have been left for them to deal with. From an odd prompt, real insight is achieved.

 

The Highest Glass Ceiling (2016) by Ellen Fitzpatrick

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This nonfiction work provides truncated biographies of the three women who had the most significant runs for the U.S. presidency pre-Hillary. Victoria Woodhull, Margaret Chase Smith, and Shirley Chisholm each get roughly a third of the book, with special attention paid to the ultimately unsuccessful national campaigns. Writing with the expected clarity and dispassion of a highly experienced historian, Ellen Fitzpatrick takes care to detail with the care the ways in which all three of her subjects were accomplished individuals beyond the novelty of their presidential campaigns. The copyright date tells its own painful story here. The author and the publisher surely thought this was going to be a lovely companion piece to a historic election (and Hillary Clinton’s 2008 attempt at earning her place in the White House serves as the book’s epilogue). Instead it’s now a rueful reminder that even winning almost three million more votes than her opponent isn’t enough to put a women in the nation’s top job.