This is a transcription of Bad High School Analogies & Two New Books — 27 January 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a page-turner about Britain’s scandalous Mitford sisters.
David: A book on creativity by one of the world’s most successful music producers.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: The author Marie Benedict has written nine historical novels that tell stories about fascinating women from history. You might have heard of her book The Personal Librarian. It had a lot of buzz in 2021. That’s all about Belle da Costa Greene, the first director of the Morgan Library in 1924. No small feat for a Black woman in the 1920s. Another of her books is The Mystery of Mrs. Christie. That one’s a fictional account of when Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926. She also wrote The Only Woman in the Room. That’s the story of Hedy Lamar. She wasn’t only a glamorous actress. She also helped fight the Nazis by developing a radio-guided torpedo system.
Melissa: Marie Benedict’s books celebrate intelligent, complex women we don’t necessarily learn about in history class. Her new novel is called The Mitford Affair. I don’t think Americans are very familiar with the Mitford sisters, but they were ‘it’ girls in WWII-era Great Britain.
Melissa: There were six of them, born into an aristocratic family that was a bit down its luck and also a bit eccentric. In the 1930s, as fascism was on the rise, two of the middle sisters — Diana and Unity — got all caught up in sympathizing with the Nazis. Diana left her perfectly nice husband to marry a fascist leader. And there were rumors that Unity, the younger sister, was Hitler’s mistress!
Melissa: Their eldest sister Nancy was a pretty successful novelist, and described herself as ‘vaguely socialist.’ According to The Toast, there are only two good Nancy Mitford novels: The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate — both romantic comedies.
Melissa: That’s all true.
Melissa: In the novel, when Nancy finds out what her little sisters are up to, she makes it her mission to stop them becoming full-on Nazi spies. Publisher’s Weekly called it a ‘silky-smooth page-turner.’
Melissa: It seems like a great way to learn some new-to-me history. That’s The Mitford Affair Marie Benedict, and it’s out now.
David: Rick Rubin is a wildly successful music producer. He founded Def Jam Recordings when he was a senior in high school. Rubin has since worked withthe Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, Metallica, Jay-Z, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He worked with Johnny Cash on one of Cash’s last projects, the American Recordings. Rubin was recognized by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
David: Rubin has said that his secret to success is to make an environment where people can be their best. He wants to make a space where artists of different genres and traditions can focus on who they are and what they can offer. There is no Rubin sound. He just seems to make good artists better.
David: He has a book out this week. It’s called ‘The Creative Act: A Way of Being.’ He says he set out to write a book about what to do to make a great work of art. And instead, found himself writing a book about how to be.
David: I’m curious about this one. The bits I’ve read so far have a bit of a vibe of the wise old man on the hill. He writes things like: ‘The person who makes something today isn’t the same person who returns to the work tomorrow.’
David: That sounds like wisdom. There are also more practical passages. And also, Rick Rubin is a wise old man on a hill. He may have something helpful to say. Anyway, I’m curious. Maybe you are too.
David: That’s Rick Rubin’s ‘The Creative Act: A Way of Being.’
David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: I went deep with a joke meme that one of my friends posted on Facebook recently. The meme was called ‘Really Bad Analogies Written by High School Students.’
David: I started looking into it, and I found one shocking thing and one thing that struck me a little sad. The shocking thing is that this meme has been going around the internet since 1995. It is a 28-year-old joke. If it was a person, it could be middle management by now.
David: The sad thing we’ll get to in a second. I don’t suppose it would surprise anyone that the ‘Really Bad Analogies Written by High School Students’ were not written by high school students. They were written by adults for an ongoing competition called The Style Invitational.
David: The Style Invitational started in 1993 as a column in the Sunday Washington Post. It was a contest for clever, edgy, wacky humor and wordplay. The editor would give a prompt, and people would write in with ideas.
David: So, as an example, the editor might ask for items on an underachiever’s midlife list of goals. Like they did back in 2001. The winner was, ‘Win the admiration of my dog.’
David: Or the prompt might be, ‘Change a movie title by one letter,’like it was in 2010 … The winner was, ‘Four Weldings and a Funeral: A man attaches a set of rocket engines to his Chevy and momentarily achieves his dream of driving a flying car.’
David: The sad thing I mentioned earlier? … The Style Invitational ended last month. They ran their last column on December 8. I feel like I ran into the room, looking for a party, only to see them folding chairs and sweeping up confetti. But, in celebration of the end of The Style Invitational, I will leave you with three horrible analogies written 28 years ago.
His fountain pen was so expensive it looked as if someone had grabbed the pope, turned him upside down, and started writing with the tip of his big pointy hat.
From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7pm instead of 7:30.
And this one, this one I love.
David: I would read the novel that was from. If you want to read more of The Style Invitational, an excellent place to start is their last column. They re-ran some of their best entries there. We will link to it.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library more details about the books we discussed and to dig into more delightfully bad analogies.
David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of kyo azuma/Unsplash.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.