I am listening to the most delightful podcast, American Girls, after Bradley Agather of Luella and June introduced it to me in an Instastory a few weeks back. (Thank you, Bradley!) The podcast, narrated by two inquisitive, sardonic, and highly-educated 32-year-old historians, analyzes the American Girl book series, exploring (and problematizing) many of its assumptions about race, gender, and class as it works to understand the American Girl doll as a cultural production of its time.
It is a thing of beauty for those of us raised with the first generation of American Girl dolls, back when they were manufactured by The Pleasant Company (i.e., pre-Mattel years), and for several reasons:
First, there is a pleasant degree of insidership implicit in the podcast in the sense that the series makes reference to personas that only those of us raised in the 80s who owned first-generation AG dolls will immediately grasp. “She is such a Molly,” for example — and I know exactly what that cuneiform is meant to conjure. Those who did not own or appreciate the dolls will rightfully cast sidelong glances at the amount of space these books and dolls are being afforded. “How can you listen to so many hour-long podcasts on dolls from your youth?!” you might sanely ask. Well — nostalgia and, my second point, which is:
The podcast is equal parts stirring scholarship, snark, and common sense. The podcasters nail the perfect balance of sarcasm and intellectual inquisitiveness. At the end of the day, this is a “woke” re-reading of texts that many of us inhaled as young girls and absorbed in ways that shaped our understanding of families, relationships, independence, and responsibility. Their analysis has made me both laugh out loud while walking Tilly and think, hard, about how I unpacked and interpreted many of the cultural norms and themes the books present as a child.
(Note: I would not want to be Valerie Tripp, the author of the original book series. She is putty in their capable, clever hands.)
There is a particularly interesting treatment of the concept of “invisible labor” at the hands of women and enslaved people of color in the books focused on Felicity Merriman, a character from pre-American Revolution era Virginia, that left me thinking critically for some time.
And the exchanges are delightful and dry. In the second podcast on Felicity, Allison says: “One thing that drove us to make this podcast was thinking about how friends are represented in books.” (A gorgeous initiative.)
Mary: “We’re going to get into that. It’s a tough move. If you pull what this chick does in this book to me at any age…we would be done.”
Allison: “There are a lot of themes about loyalty in Felicity that are really interesting because, again, everything is given equal weight in this book — like, will her father be a part of the growing revolution against the king? Will Felicity gossip about her friend? Both things appear equally terrifying in this book.”
Mary: “And will she look good in a brunette wig?”
Allison: “The answer is no.”
Mary: “The answer is a hard no. And I’m happy that they clarified that for us.”
This brand of dry humor paired with thoughtful investigation and historical chops is just my cup of tea and I can’t recommend it enough for those of us raised on AG dolls.
Next: someone please publish a podcast undertaking the same intellectual work on The Babysitter’s Club, that other bastion of my childhood literary canon, from whose chapters I learned much about the various permutations of the “family” (we see adoptions and divorces and sibling relationships of all kinds across those pages) when my own was so straight-forward.
That is all for today. Just an unsolicited plug for something deserving of praise and a request for more.
What’s shaking with you?
+Speaking of laundry, I’ve now converted most of my household products over to the brand Puracy and am really impressed with the quality and the scents (I am picky on this front). I now use this detergent and one surprising benefit is that it is highly concentrated and one small bottle yields like 96 loads.
+Which books are in your personal canon?
+Micro is rapidly outgrowing his Baby Bjorn Mini, which has been one of my absolute favorite baby products this time around. So easy to get into and out of, and I love that you can unclip the entire front so you can deposit baby right into crib or stroller without too much of a disturbance. What should I use next? Hitha said she is testing the Colugo one as her baby grows. Any other endorsements?
+We recently ran out of hand lotion in our master bath and I re-upped with this delightfully-scented limited edition Molton Brown. But I thought you should know that Barney’s Warehouse currently has a bunch of MB’s wonderful shower gels on sale. Would be a great stocking stuffer / smaller-end gift for a man in your life. Or for yourself. I love that these scents run more “gender-neutral” / less floral and fruity. I have been testing Necessaire’s highly-and-widely hyped Body Wash and — it’s fine. But it’s no MB, which lathers up beautifully and is so elegantly scented.
+The art of tsundoku. On this subject: after a disturbingly long hiatus from reading (there was…a lot going on in my life), I finally picked up a new book: Yaa Gyasi’s Homecoming. Several of you had recommended this book and one of you had written a comment along the lines of: “Jen. You must read this book.” The message was pecked out with the kind of urgency I reserve for life-changing books and so I had it mentally tagged as something juicy for whenever I was ready to take on a bit more intellectual work than the latest thriller. Man am I glad I did. Only a bit of the way in and it is rich and important and beautifully written so far.
+Have been wearing this headband a lot lately.
+Someone gave Hill a bunch of these Rubbabu cars, trains, and planes and they are adorable! So cute I might line them up on a special ledge in his room!