Thursday, February 25, 2010

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was a little afraid of this book, I'll be honest. First off, I had no idea that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is LDS until about 30 pages in. This surprises me because I tried (and failed) to read her other book A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, which I thought was good, but so boring I fell asleep probably about 275 times reading it. It surprises me that I didn't pick up on it, not surprising that she's Mormon. Anyway, I was suspicious of it because I'm generally suspicious of all Feminist literature. I didn't know too much about it going in (it was for book club), and I was afraid I was going to get stuck reading 200 pages of man-hating, hairy-legged, feminazi rants. Or, something that praises women for throwing tantrums and/or for not having babies. (Which, I'm not sure why I thought that because the woman who picked it has 4 children, and I've never seen her throw a tantrum.)

But it was neither of those things.

It's a history of women's history, so it's an exploration of the question of how women made history, which I found very interesting. I learned several things about amazons, Wonder Woman, milkmaids, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Rosa Parks, and a lot more. I like history, so if she'd named it something different, I might have read it a long time ago.

Like A Midwife's Tale, I felt the writing was a little redundant as she wanted to make her points extra extra clear by restating them 3 different ways, which was tiresome. But overall, I'd recommend this book, even if you only have a passing interest in women's history.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly by Jennifer Fleischner

The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave

The subtitle should read something more like Parallel Biographies of Women from Opposing backgrounds and the Story of their Relationship, since they don't actually cross paths until 2/3s through the book. I liked this book because it was fascinating and readable. I always find it interesting to read about details of the period.

I find very little to admire in Mary Lincoln. She probably had some abandonment issues (her mom died when she was six and her stepmother sent her away to a boarding school), made manifest by her neediness, emotional instability, and compulsive spending. One of the most interesting things about her, I thought, was that, according to this author, she pretty much guilted Lincoln into marrying her. She had great political aspirations, always claiming she was going to be married to the President some day, but it seems that Lincoln ultimately married her out of a sense of obligation and honor. I'd be interested to read more about Lincoln himself.

Elizabeth Keckly is the antithesis of Mary Lincoln. Resourceful and hardworking, she was sensible and smart with a good head for business. She was ambitious and practical. She was born into slavery, the daughter of a slave mother and white father. As a mulatto, she was given work in the Big House, tending the children (she practically raised many of her half-siblings and their children), sewing, and helping around the house. Eventually she was sent to live as the slave of one of her half-brothers and his wife in another town. She was raped there by a white neighbor, had a little boy, and eventually bought her and her son's freedom. She went on to open her own business as a renowned seamstress, ultimately sewing in the White House.

The "remarkable friendship" between Lizzy and Mary is founded more on the fact that Lizzy was reliable and dependable than anything else. Jennifer Fleischner claims that Mary felt safe and comfortable with Lizzy because of Mary's early experiences with a black "Mammy", although there also appears to have been trust and respect on both sides of the relationship. Elizabeth Keckly wrote a memoir, Behind the Scenes, about her years sewing for Mary Lincoln in the White House and in a way, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly is Fleischner's way of defending Elizabeth Keckly and her motives for writing the expose, which ended their friendship. According to Fleischner, Keckly's motives were pure and she intended only to help Mary but it backfired.

While it's never the main story, there is quite a bit of backdrop with the Civil War.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, America's Beloved Poet by Bonnie L. Lukes

In early December I sang (with my choir) at the temple visitors' center lighting ceremonies. It's kind of a big deal; there's a big sign out front that says, "Tonight's Program is for Invited Guests Only," and the guests consist of ambassadors and diplomats from all over the world, a few LDS senators and representatives, and members of the seventy. Elder Marriot is always there (he has sponsored the event for 32 years), and Salt Lake always sends someone to speak. Last year it was Neil L. Andersen, who was called a few months later to become an apostle. This year we heard Elder Jay E. Jensen speak. He talked about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, quoting several excerpts from his journals and poetry. It was fascinating and moving. I love early American history, biography, and literature, so this was right up my alley. Anyway, Elder Jensen's talk prompted me to get a few books from the library on Longfellow. I visited the exterior of his house when I was in Boston in March, but it was closed for tours for the winter.

America's Beloved Poet was nice in that it gave a good overview of Longfellow's life and his work. It was short; I read it in one sitting over the course of about two hours. I thought it was a nice introduction. It included several stories about his tragedies and triumphs, and painted a very nice picture of this wonderful man. I would have enjoyed a lot more integration of his journals and letters. It adds so much to hear his voice. It did include several photographs. It made no mention of the poem that became the hymn I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, which Elder Jensen's talk centered on. Overall, it was a good book that makes me want to read more in-depth about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Gone-Away World

The Gone-Away World The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wish I could give this 3.5 stars. This book was part Matrix, part Fight Club, part Catch-22, but mostly it's own thing; really original.

Good: I liked the characters, I didn't see the twist coming and was completely baffled and a little bit unsettled by it. It was interesting and thought provoking. Well, I knew there was a twist coming, I just didn't know what it was going to be. And, the writing is really good. I mean, who else can think of calling someone a "geosynchronous shrew." What does that even mean?

Bad: There is A LOT of swearing in it. Like, a lot, a lot. To be honest, I only kept reading it because I was too sick to go to the library to pick up something else. And, the first chapter is in medias res, which is exciting, and then it goes back for 150 pages of sort of boring and seemingly pointless exposition and the only thing that kept me reading was the promise made in chapter 1 of a good story, and that I was sick and had nothing else to read.

But, I don't really regret it. After those almost painful 150 pages, it picks up quite nicely and sails right to the end.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this book in 1.5 days, much to the dismay of my family. I think Bridget said it best (although she was talking about a different book):
The point here is that Catching Fire is one of those lovely, delicious books that sucks you into its world and makes you want to ignore every other responsibility in your life, every other engagement, commitment, or member of your family, even the tiny helpless ones, and just READ. As much as I love reading, this particular kind of book doesn't come around very often (the Twilight series and some of the Shannon Hale books come to mind as other examples...)

This book did remind me a lot of Goose Girl in style and the mythical world milieu but edgier and it didn't end quite how I wanted it to end. But, I couldn't put it down, and will probably read the companion prequel, even though the review says it has dragons in it, and I usually draw the line at dragons. And Fairies.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

Another fly-by find from the library, this book is made great by both the characters and the mode of storytelling. Conn is the first person narrator, but in between each chapter you get a page or two of notes or letters from the wizard Nevery, so the change in perspective helps further along the plot. Loved all the characters. Loved Conn's strong stubbornness and innate trust in himself. Loved his matter-of-fact approach to life. Loved the way the relationships developed. I recommend this book for a quick getaway (sometimes I just want to escape from my life for a little while, don't you?). Highly enjoyable.

I'm utterly useless with pictures tonight. Blame the nasty cold complete with sinus headache. Here's a link.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

A friend of mine recommended the movie to me, which I was surprised to learn is an anime movie that was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005 (lost to Wallace and Grommet, which I find creepy but my kids love). I have yet to see the movie, but I found the sequel to this book in the library during a fly-by and was thus reminded to check out the book. Sorry, long intro.

The basic premise is that Sophie gets turned into an old woman by a witch and goes out to seek her fortune and try to get her own figure back. Along the way she strikes a bargain with a fire demon and becomes housekeeper to the wizard Howl. It was a pretty good story. Not fantastic, but I did enjoy it. There was a little too much description of the scenery for my taste.

The sequel, written some 22 years later, I found much more compelling. It's called House of Many Ways. It has a different main character and a different setting, but Sophie and Howl and the fire demon get wrapped up in the plot, as well. The author employs a very imaginative use of magic (bending time and space).

Apparently there's another one called Castle in the Air. I think they all stand on their own and are only sequels in that some of the characters overlap.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird Pond The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If I read this book as a child, I don't remember it. But, that didn't matter at all because I really liked this book. It was a quick read and it had just the right amounts of suspense and love story and happy feelings.

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