Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More book arrivals

Before it began to get light this morning I got a call from one of my daughters.  It was only later I realized the caller ID showed she was using her twin sister's cell phone.  She had taken her sister to the emergency room last night, neither had had any sleep, and they were still in the ER, hoping to leave soon.  It seems the stomach bug going around had hit one daughter hard, and she was dehydrated.  But the REAL problem was that she had passed out and hit her head.  When she got up, she fell and hit her head again.  Her husband was out of town, her daughter and son-in-law were both sick with that bug, so her teenage son called his aunt.

To make a long story short, my daughter does NOT have a concussion, though she has a bump on her forehead which hurts when touched.  Both daughters were sleepy and tired this morning, and one needed to get to work.  Would I come babysit my other daughter?  It's been oh-so-long since they were babies (they'll turn 50 on May 3rd), but the one going to work didn't want to risk her sister falling again and called to see if I could come.  I'm the night owl in the family -- they should have called me in the middle of the night so ONE of them could sleep, but it didn't occur to them they would be there so long.

Now "the rest of the story," as Paul Harvey always said.

Knowing my daughter would need to sleep today, I took a book with me (every book lover knows to take a book wherever we go).  I chose Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, the new book that arrived in yesterday's mail.  I failed to consider the fact that I'd read half the book at bedtime last night, which meant I finished it within an hour or two this morning.  So I folded a few clothes, read Anna Quindlen's article about the demise of printed books in the most recent issue of Time magazine that I found on her counter, looked at her newest paintings in her art room (my daughter is an artist with a show coming up in a couple of weeks), and -- finally -- started looking at the titles on her bookshelves.  That's what we bookaholics do.

The book I found was The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls, which everyone seems to love and I had not yet read. How could I resist this opening sentence?
"I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster."
I was hooked and had read about a fifth of the book when my daughter woke up.  When she saw what I was reading, she insisted I would also like Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel, also by Jeannette Walls.  She had gotten it because she liked the first book, though this one (she says) is not as good as The Glass Castle.  I brought it home, knowing nothing else about it.

Before I left, her out-of-town husband called to remind her to send out their statements (he is in business for himself, and it's the last day of the month), so she asked me if I'd mind taking them out to her mailbox.  I had to inform her the mail had run hours earlier, while she was asleep.  She got a blank look on her face, knowing she shouldn't drive with the medicines she'd been given and the lack of sleep.  I "saved the day" again by volunteering to run by the Post Office on my way home.  (Tired of my convoluted tale yet?)

The rest of the story, now, involves driving to the Post Office nearest their house and realizing there was a used bookstore less than a block away.  Surely you knew there would be more books in this story, right?  I have been keeping an eye out for The Vagina Monologues for the Women Unbound challenge.

A actor friend of mine performed The Vagina Monologues recently, and I want to read the print version before I talk to her about it. And there it was, in the used book store near the Post Office.  Even better, it's the V-Day edition, about the grassroots initiative to stop violence against women.

"Books go in and out of my house on an almost daily basis," I told you a couple of weeks ago when I listed ten new arrivals. Yesterday I listed an additional eight that had showed up at my house. And today I brought home three more. Umm, do you suppose I may be slightly overdoing it? On the other hand, I wouldn't have had any of these books if my daughter(s) hadn't spent the night in the ER. (Is it just me? Or can other book lovers rationalize like this?)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Newly arrived books

It's been over two weeks since I told you about books that have recently arrived at my house, so I'm overdue to share more titles.  First an update on some from the previous list:
The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran ~ My friend Donna finished it, gave it back to me, and I finished reading it this morning.  Review to come.

Wait for Me by An Na ~ I still need to write a review for this one.

Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson ~ I reviewed it Friday, along with a tribute to the most "independent dame" I've ever met.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead ~ I read it, but haven't figured out what to say in a review.  Excellent YA book!
That new book smell

Donna and I live in the same block, so we ordered our books together to save on shipping.  They were delivered to my door this morning.  Mine is Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, a 295-page YA book about a wheelchair-bound ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who is unable to walk, talk, or write.  She has been stuck inside her mind all her life -- until now.

Hers is Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street by Jim Wallis.  Rather than joining the throngs who are asking, When will this economic crisis be over? Jim Wallis says the right question to ask is How will this crisis change us?  I will probably read this one when Donna finishes it.

From the library stacks

Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth is set in India during the time of partition.  Twelve-year-old Leela was engaged at two, married at nine, and about to move in with her husband's family, when her fiance died.  Now she'll have to be confined to her house for a year ("keep corner") in preparation for a life of mourning a boy she barely knew.  Sounds interesting.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, on the other hand, wasn't as good as I expected (yes, I've already finished reading it).  Lots of folks seem to like his one, but I just wanted to finish it so I could move on to something else.

I posted a teaser for Infidel, a memoir by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, before I actually had the book in hand.  When the book came out in 2007, I was very curious about it because she championed free speech in spite of threats from Muslims.  She was raised in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya and now lives in the Netherlands.  It sounds perfect for the Women Unbound challenge.  But I never got around to reading it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is another book that was published several years ago.  I'd been told it's even better than The Kite Runner, but so far I haven't been quite ready to jump back into the fray in Afghanistan.  Maybe this time.

I posted a teaser for The Help last week.  This novel about Mississippi women and their "help" in the 1960s is one of the best books I've read lately.  I was totally engrossed and wondering if the violence that maimed and killed so many would also strike any of the main characters in the novel.  I'll post a review soon.

Because Gail Collins's When Everything Changed was so good (see my review), I checked out her earlier book about America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines.  It looks like one I really must read, eventually, but at 556 pages it's a big ole book and I may wait until a later time to savor what's in it.

A Thousand Sisters ~ by Lisa Shannon, 2010

This book and Half the Sky by Kristof and WuDunn taught me more than I ever wanted to know about fistulas:
"...traumatic fistula, which occurs when the wall separating the vagina from the bowels or urinary tract is punctured and cannot heal.  The damage creates a steady, uncontrollable leaking of urine or fecal matter.  The victim smells bad, causing her to be rejected by her family and community.  Women typically get traumatic fistula in childbirth.  In Congo, it is a common form of sexual torture, inflicted with guns, tree branches, or broken bottles" (p. 65).
Though I posted a teaser about this book back in February, I never did finish reading it.  That's what Nancy (Bookfool) calls a DNF book (Did Not Finish).  It didn't seem to have a point, other than telling one horror story after another about different women.  What's going on in the Congo is truly terrible, and I really wanted to finish this book.  It was a struggle to keep reading, though I tried for over a month and even renewed my check-out from the library.  Couldn't do it.  It was so repetitive!  I can't possibly recommend it, so my rating for A Thousand Sisters:  "nah."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The American Heiress ~ by Dorothy Eden, 1980

Last Sunday I reviewed Amanda/Miranda by Richard Peck and had a good "conversation" with Kerry in the comments (which you can read by clicking on the books title above).  Kerry, who lives in New Zealand, told me about this book:
"I read another book about the same time with a similar plot. It was smaller and about the Lusitania rather than the Titanic ... I think I had a tendency to mix the two up. ...  it was called The American Heiress and it was published in 1980 too. No wonder I get them confused, although this one was about the trip in the other direction."
 My library system had two copies, both in storage -- that told me something right away, since Amanda/Miranda is still in circulation.  The American Heiress is easy reading but, other than the similar story line, it doesn't compare to Amanda/Miranda.  In The American Heiress, both women have the same father, but one is the legitimate daughter and the other is the result of the father's affair and becomes a lady's maid to her half-sister.  In both books the lady's maid survives a ship's sinking and, when mistaken for the "lady," seizes her opportunity and marries the "lord."  However, the writing is not as tight, the story stumbles along in places, and it just plain wasn't as much fun to read.

Participants in the Women Unbound reading challenge (read two books to be a philogynist, five to be a bluestocking, and eight to be a suffragette) may find it interesting to learn the word "bluestocking" was used three times in this book.  A young man from Toronto who was onboard the Lusitania said (p. 29):
"I was a history student.  I know the megalomaniac dreams of the Germans.  They want to be world conquerors."

"I liked history, too."  Hetty was pleased to have something else in common.  "Although I never had a proper teacher.  But I read a lot.  I read everything."

"I think that's cute, a bluestocking lady's maid."
Hugo, the Lord she's to marry, is having breakfast with Hetty (pp. 56-57):
"Like a Corot painting," Hetty murmured.

"Is it?  Didn't know you cared about pictures."

"Oh, I do."  She was emphatic.  "Having been so near to death I care passionately about everything.  Did you think I was just a party girl?"

"I'm getting to know you better by the minute.  You're not going to turn out to be a bluestocking, are you?"

He sounded slightly alarmed.  She must remember to be more Clemency, less Hetty, at the beginning at least.  Hetty the bookworm who had made herself invisible for hours in the library whenever she had had the opportunity.

"I'm not a bluestocking; I just look awful," she murmured, leaning her head against his shoulder.
What?  Must a bluestocking "look awful"?  Today the word means "a woman with considerable scholarly, literary, or intellectual ability or interest," but originally it was a derisive word for a woman considered too learned.  I rate The American Heiress 6 of 10, what I'd call above average, but that's all.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Independent Dames ~ by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2008

The most "independent dame" I ever met was Mae Carey, the mother of my best friend, Donna.  I was soooo impressed when I learned what she had done during World War Two.  Some time after they were married in 1942, Mae's new husband Don joined the Marine Corps.  She told him she planned to join the Women Marines, but he said she couldn't.  She agreed not to join the Marines.  Instead, she joined the Navy!  I love it!  Women in the Navy at that time were called WAVES (the acronym for "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service").  Women were not allowed in combat and had to remain stateside, so Mae worked in the lab in Long Beach.

The photo above shows Mae in her uniform in the 1940s, about the time of this recruiting poster.  After the war, Mae and her husband had three girls, and my friend is the middle daughter.  If Mae had been a young wife during the American Revolution, rather than during World War Two, I think she might have trooped along with her husband and even taken the place of a fallen soldier, if the need arose.  That's what a few wives did back then, according to the legend of Molly Pitcher and some of the stories in this children's book.

Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution shows children getting ready to produce a play, when suddenly people of the eighteenth century are there in the auditorium talking with them.  Maybe that's a metaphor for "coming alive" to the students, but it didn't work for me.  I also thought putting tons of facts along the bottom of the page made the whole thing too "busy." Maybe children like that sort of thing, though I rather imagine the kids would skip all those words and dates marching along the bottom of the double-spread pages.  I rate the book 7 of 10 because of the confusing storyline.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Orange Prize for Fiction ~ longlist

The longlist for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction was announced on March 17th.  I have two of these books on hand (The Lacuna, borrowed from a friend, and The Help, from the library), but don't know anything about the others.  Have you read (or heard anything, good or bad) about any of these?

The Very Thought of You ~ by Rosie Alison
The Rehearsal ~ by Eleanor Catton
Savage Lands ~ by Clare Clark
Hearts and Minds ~ by Amanda Craig
The Way Things Look to Me ~ Roopa Farooki
The Twisted Heart ~ by Rebecca Gowers
This is How ~ by M.J. Hyland
Small Wars ~ by Sadie Jones
The Lacuna ~ by Barbara Kingsolver
Secret Son ~ by Laila Lalami
The Long Song ~ by Andrea Levy
Black Water Rising ~ by Attica Locke
The Wilding ~ by Maria McCann
Wolf Hall ~ by Hilary Mantel
Black Mamba Boy ~ by Nadifa Mohamed
A Gate at the Stairs ~ by Lorrie Moore
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle ~ by Monique Roffey
The Still Point ~ by Amy Sackville
The Help ~ by Kathryn Stockett
The Little Stranger ~ by Sarah Waters

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Help ~ a teaser

This teaser is from page 154 of The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  It's 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi.  Aibileen says to Miss Skeeter:
"I's thinking I ought to do some reading.  Might help me with my own writing."

"Go down to the State Street Library.  They have a whole room full of Southern writers.  Faulkner, Eudora Welty—"

Aibileen gives me a dry cough.  "You know colored folks ain't allowed in that library."

I sit there a second, feeling stupid.  "I can't believe I forgot that."  The colored library must be pretty bad.  There was a sit-in at the white library a few years ago and it made the papers.  When the colored crowd showed up for the sit-in trial, the police department simply stepped back and turned the German shepherds loose.  I look at Aibileen and am reminded, once again, the risk she's taking talking to me.  "I'll be glad to pick the books up for you," I say.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Blue Cotton Gown ~ by Patricia Harman, 2008

Patricia Harman, author of The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir (2008), obviously cares about her patients, and she thinks women need to be kinder to themselves.
"Women don't do enough nice things for themselves," she writes (p. 94).  "They give to their kids, their husbands, their parents and families.  Sometimes they volunteer in the community or at church, but they rarely give to themselves."
The work of a midwife is not easy.  Harman and her husband, a surgeon, opened a health clinic in West Virginia.  While they struggle to keep the clinic solvent, with the rising cost of malpractice insurance and her own medical problems, she always keeps her patients uppermost in her mind -- and they share all sorts of concerns with her.  Rated:  7/10.

As I read The Blue Cotton Gown, I was reminded of other books I've read about midwives.

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian is a 1998 novel about Sybil Danforth, an experienced midwife on trial for an illegal operation to save a healthy baby boy.  The midwife says the mother had died, but the prosecution claims the woman was still alive.  The story is narrated by the midwife's 14-year-old daughter.
"Throughout the long summer before my mother's trial began, and then during those crisp days in the fall when her life was paraded publicly before the county -- her character lynched, her wisdom impugned -- I overheard much more than my parents realized, and I understood more than they would have liked."
This midwife did not work with a surgeon/husband, as Harman did (above), so a question arises about the medical profession:
"The whole idea that a midwife can do what they do -- and do it better -- drives some of them crazy, and so they're persecuting my client" (p. 232).
Why didn't the midwife get the woman to a doctor?  Were the roads too icy on that winter night in rural Vermont?  What really happened?  Rated:  8/10.

The Witch of Cologne by Tobsha Learner is a 2003 novel (published in 2005 in the United States) takes us back several centuries to a woman who is learned in a time when women are not supposed to be knowledgeable.  It can get a woman in trouble.  This book does not focus solely on what Ruth bas Elazar Saul, daughter of the city's chief rabbi, does when she delivers babies.  But that's where the problems started.  Ruth runs afoul of the Spanish Inquisition for using new lifesaving methods and is labeled a witch.
“I have learned that perception is very much in the eye of the beholder, Monsignor Solitario. A man will see what he desires. You see a witch where others simply see a very good midwife” (p. 112).
I wrote more about The Witch of Cologne (and women's issues, such as being asked, "Do you type?") exactly three years ago tomorrow.  Rated:  8/10

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Falling Angels ~ by Tracy Chevalier, 2001

I got this book to read for the Women Unbound reading challenge because Emmeline Pankhurst is in it (click on her name to read what I wrote about her in December). This photo shows her being arrested during a protest about women's right to vote.  Pankhurst does show up in Falling Angels, but not in any major way.  The one fighting for women's rights in this book is the mother of one of the little girls who like to play in the cemetery in their neighborhood.  During one of the protests, Emeline Pankhurst is present, but the book's action centers on what the girl's mother does -- and fails to do.  Here's a scene where the fathers of the girls are talking (from page 223):
"Tell me Albert, how do you handle your wife?"

I stumbled over a paving stone.  "How do I handle my wife?"  With firm affection, I thought, as I regained my balance.  I did not say so aloud -- there are things men do not say aloud.

"Kitty has blackmailed me," Richard continued.

"How so?"

"She says that if I try to forbid her to work for the suffragettes she will begin giving speeches at rallies.  Can you imagine the Coleman name all over those infernal handbills they pass out?  Or plastered on posters, or chalked on the pavement?  Holloway [the prison] almost killed my mother from the shame of it -- this would finish her off.  What would you do in my situation?"

I was trying to picture Trudy making such a threat, but it was impossible to imagine.
There are several stories running through this book, including the one with the maid who was quoted in my earlier teaser.  I did not enjoy this book as much as some of Chevalier's others, such as Girl with a Pearl Earring, or my favorite, Remarkable Creatures, which I reviewed recently.  Therefore I rate Falling Angels 7 of 10, good but not excellent.

Amanda/Miranda ~ by Richard Peck, 1980, 1999

Two unrelated women who looked surprisingly alike, and both wanting the same man.  What a premise for a novel!  The book also uses a word that ties it completely to the Women Unbound reading challenge:
"I was a married woman in the eyes of the law.  That was another chain that bound me" (p. 110).
The book deals with a strong woman who knows what she wants.  That woman says:
"I want the freedom you men take for granted.  But I doubt I'd find that even in the Land of the Free, as you Americans so arrogantly call it.  I want to make my own decisions.  This is the twentieth century.  Yet women are still meant to be decorative by day and compliant by night, while men have cornered the market on freedom of choice" (p. 31).
One woman finds out something about the other:
"From the time I'd found her ill, so much like Betty, I knew she was carrying a child, and now I knew who the father was" (p. 110).
Both women boarded the ship pictured on the front of the book (see the cover pictured above) and steamed toward America.  Need I tell you the name of that ship?  It was 1912, and one of the women would later think:
"I stood before one of the windows on our wedding night, and the hand that bore its new wedding band grew cold with memory of that other band it had worn.  And my other hand had signed two church registries, two marriage licenses within this single year" (p. 150).
There's also an abridged edition, published in 1999.  I've read both versions, and you get the whole story either way.  Find a copy, if you can, to see how both women were changed in the short time they knew each other.  I recommend this one as fun reading and a page turner.  Rated:  9 of 10.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Room of One's Own ~ by Virginia Woolf, 1929

I recently posted a couple of things about Virginia Woolf:  a birthday tribute and this teaser from the first paragraph of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own:
"But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction -- what has that got to do with a room of one's own? ... All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point -- a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction ... I am going to develop in your presence as fully and freely as I can the train of thought which led me to think this. ... Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact.  Therefore I propose, making use of all the liberties and licences of a novelist, to tell you the story of the two days that preceded my coming here ... I need not say that what I am about to describe has no existence; Oxbridge is an invention; so is Fernham; 'I' is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being.  Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping."
This small quote says a lot about the book.  The main thing Woolf says, over and over, is that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."  She makes the point by telling "lies" that are full of truth -- in other words, she does it by using fiction, which often tells deeper truths that facts do.  Woolf may be making up stories, but it is obvious to me that she's telling us about things she has experienced.  So she says, "'I' is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being."  She learned through experience that she, as a woman, is a nobody in the world of men.  Like the time she (or her fictional self) tried to enter a library and was told it was for men only.  How frustrating would that be, trying to do research as a writer and being told you had no access to the only place then available for finding the information she needed?  I copied that passage into my notes:
"...but here I was actually at the door which leads into the library itself.  I must have opened it, for instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown instaed of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are ony admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction.  That a famous library has been cursed by a women is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library. ... Never ... will I ask for that hospitality again, I vowed as I descended the steps in anger" (pp. 7-8).
In spite of the difficulty women have found when they wrote or attempted to be published, Woolf thinks they may have been published more often than most of us realize.  She says,
"Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman" (p. 51).  [In another context, Virginia Woolf also said, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”]
Beyond the oft-quoted point of this book -- that a woman needs space to get away from the world and money enough that she could focus on something besides survival -- Trisha, in her review at eclectic / eccentric, catalogs the reasons why, according to Woolf, women have not been writing "Great Literature":
  • men have adamantly and aggressively denied them the opportunity
  • culture and ideology has adamantly and aggressively demonized them for the desire to write
  • family life and responsibilities are a constant source of distraction from creative energy
  • women, when they do write, are too often concerned with their own oppression and this seeps into their writing
  • women have historically been isolated from life and experiences outside the home
  • the lack of female role models to draw from limits women writers' resources
  • women, when they do write, too often cater to patriarchy and try to write like men
Go read Trisha's review, the best I've seen on this book.  My rating of this seminal work:  9 of 10.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When Everything Changed ~ by Gail Collins, 2009

One young woman who has read When Everything Changed said the first part of the book felt like alien territory.  Not to me.  It felt like I was "there" again, back in the bad ole days of the 1960s and 1970s.  Gail Collins got it right.  From childhood on, my generation learned that it was a man's world.  Here are some examples from the book that I experienced, back in the day:
"On Father Knows Best, younger daughter Kathy was counseled by her dad on how to deliberately lose a ball game.  Teenage daughter Betty found happiness when she agreed to stop competing with a male student for a junior executive job at the local department store and settled for the more gender-appropriate task of modeling bridal dresses" (p. 14).

Maria K., a single mother working in upstate New York, remembered objecting to the fact that men doing the same things she did 'made twice as much,' and being told in response that 'they had families to support'" (p. 7).

"To facilitate employers' ability to discriminate, newspapers invariably divided their classified ads into HELP WANTEDMEN and HELP WANTEDWOMEN.  Medical and law schools banned female students or limited their numbers to a handful per class" (pp. 7-8).
I became an adult in the middle of all these "alien" things today's young women cannot imagine. It was 1973 when I was divorced after fourteen years and three children.   That's when I learned that HE got "our" good credit rating, while I had NO credit worthiness.   I wasn't the only one.
"In 1974 Kathryn Kirshbaum, the mayor of Davenport, Iowa, was told she could not have a BankAmerica card unless she got her husband's signature.  Billie Jean King was the winner of three Wimbledon titles in a single year and was supporting her household with the money she made from tennis.  But she could not get a credit card unless it was in the name of her husband, a law student with no income" (p. 250).
Me, too!  Me, too!  I was turned down when I applied for a J. C. Penney's card in 1974.  When the law changed that same year, Penney's sent me a notice that surprise! I qualified after all!  Speaking of Billie Jean King...
"By the time she went to college, Billie Jean had already won the Wimbledon doubles championship, but she was working her way through Los Angeles State as a playground attendant.  Athletic scholarships for women were virtually nonexistent.  Larry King, the aspiring lawyer whom she would soon marry, kept pointing out to her that he was 'the seventh man on a six-man team' as a tennis player and still got money from the school, while she was the best-known athlete on campus and got nothing" (p. 245).
All of this was considered, by most people (and all the men I encountered) to be perfectly normal and obviously appropriate.  We women realized we needed to raise people's awareness about the inequities.
"The consciousness-raising group was the central tool of the women's movement, and it was as simple as a handful of people sitting down together once a week to talk about being women" (p. 186).
The other day I ran into a woman who was part of my consciousness-raising group in the 1970s.  We joined the National Organization for Women (NOW) and met regularly.  She told me she still has a box full of things from that time, and I look forward to sitting down with her to look through that box. Here's another kind of consciousness-raising that made me grin when I read it.
"The first [woman elected to California's state senate (in 1976)], Rose Ann Vuich, had ... become famous for sitting through senate debates with a little bell, which she would ring every time a speaker addressed his colleagues as 'Gentlemen' " (p. 256).
While we are talking about women in government, I really have to tell you about Ruth Bader Ginsburg's application for a Supreme Court clerkship in the 1970s:
"Justice Felix Frankfurter rejected her after asking, 'Does she wear skirts?  I can't stand girls in pants' " (p. 242).
Even if you don't know what she looks like, you can probably pick her out of this line-up.  From 2006 until 2009, she was the only woman on the Supreme Court.  (Sandra Day O'Connor retired on January 31, 2006, and Sonia Sotomayor assumed office in August 2009.)

The full title of this book is When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.  Yes, things changed, but not EVERYTHING.  Discrimination against women has not disappeared yet, though I do admit that things have improved in fifty years.  This book gets my highest rating it's that good 10 of 10.

For the record, women in 1959 did NOT mop and clean while wearing high-heeled shoes and fancy dresses no matter what the television commercials showed!  (See the top photo.)

Infidel ~ a teaser

When I went to my library's online catalog to look at Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2007), I read this much from the Introduction and immediately put the book on hold.  I knew already that I really want to read this book.
One November morning in 2004, Theo van Gogh got up to go to work at his film production company in Amsterdam. He took out his old black bicycle and headed down a main road. Waiting in a doorway was a Moroccan man with a handgun and two butcher knives.

As Theo cycled down the Linnaeusstraat, Muhammad Bouyeri approached. He pulled out his gun and shot Theo several times. Theo fell off his bike and lurched across the road, then collapsed. Bouyeri followed. Theo begged, "Can't we talk about this?" but Bouyeri shot him four more times. Then he took out one of his butcher knives and sawed into Theo's throat. With the other knife, he stabbed a five-page letter onto Theo's chest.

The letter was addressed to me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Eva (A Striped Armchair) wrote On the Validity of Audiobooks a couple of days ago.  Because of migraines and other health problems, she discovered audiobooks in high school and has found that reading a book and hearing a book are equivalent for her.  She wrote the post for her blog in response to those who say "listening" is not the same as "reading" a book.  I want to share my opinion here on Bonnie's Books and find out what you think.  Mainly, I have two complaints about audiobooks:
(1)  I'm a visual person.  When I read using my eyes, I retain more than when I use only my ears.  It was true in college and graduate school, too, when I took notes while listening to the professor lecture.  Unless I wrote it down (making it "visual" for me), I didn't get as much from a class.

(2)  Taking notes while listening to an audiobook is near impossible for me.  First, I can't write as fast as a narrator can read, which means I have to back up over and over.  Second, I can't write down a page number that I can later return to before writing a book review.
As for "reading," I'm with Eva about one being equal to the other.  As long as the "reader" is satisfied with the way s/he takes in a book, so am I.  When I take long trips, it's really nice to have an audiobook to enjoy while driving the long stretches.  So far, I have never reviewed an audiobook, in part because (as I said above) I can't quote very well from it.  Would I ever?  Sure, but I would probably get a bound copy of the book, find the part I wanted to quote, and then write the book review.  But that's just the way I do things.  I wouldn't expect it from anyone else.

So what do YOU think of audiobooks?

I.Q. test

Top o' th' mornin' to ya, and a happy St. Paddy's Day may you have! 'Tis now time to test your I.Q. (Irish Quotient). Don't peek at the answers until you at least TRY to answer the questions, please and thank you.


1. What's Irish and stays out all night?
2. Why do people wear shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day?
3. Why did St. Patrick drive all the snakes out of Ireland?
4. Why can't you borrow money from a leprechaun?
5. How can you tell if an Irish woman is having a good time?


1. Pati O'Furniture!  [UPDATE:  I should say "Paddy O'Furniture."]
2. Real rocks would look funny.
3. He couldn't afford plane fare.
4. They're always a little short.
5. She's Dublin over with laughter.

Did you get any of them right? Ah, then sure, an' you must be Irish (at least for today). Put an "O" in front of your name, and enjoy the day.

From a descendant of the old sod,
~~~ Bonnie O'Jacobs

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hold on!

Today I went for an eye exam (looking good! -- pun intended) and stopped by the library to pick up the books they had on hold for me.  You'd think the ten books I told you about yesterday would be enough to read, but no, here are three more.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron is at top left.  I reviewed this 2007 Newbery Medal Winner back in 2007.  I got this copy from the library so I can promote it at my April book club meeting because some of the women want to read Newbery books.  Other Newberys that I suggest are (1) When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, that I wrote about yesterday; (2) Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, that I reviewed Friday; (3) Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff, that my online book club read and discussed; (4) On My Honor  by Marion Dane Bauer, which I reviewed a couple of years ago; and (5) A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond, which I reviewed in August.  (Actually, I have loved quite a few more of the Newbery books, but I'll save those for another post.)

Olive Ketteridge by Elizabeth Strout has a "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize" sticker on it.  The book is due back in seven days, so I need to finish The Secret History of the Mongol Queens (see yesterday's list) and start reading this novel.  Olive lives in Maine, so I'm hoping this one will count toward my Book Around the States challenge.  I'll let you know.

I want to read America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins (the big book down front) because her 2009 book, When Everything Changed, is excellent.  Maybe I'll review them together.  America's Women spans the years from "The First Colonists" to "The Sixties"; When Everything Changed takes us from 1960 to the present.  I seem to be "doing history" backwards!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New crayons ~ and what's new on my bookshelves

When I was a kid, I loved getting a new box of crayons. Not only were they sharp instead of dull, but they also smelled so good! Following the lead of Susan at Color Online, here's a photo of my new crayons, along with what's new on my bookshelves this week.  Note:  Susan has in mind a weekly thing, where we are to report each week what books we've gotten from the library or a bookstore or on trade.  I intend to add "or borrowed or as gifts" to the list, and I don't promise a weekly accounting.  Books go in and out of my house on an almost daily basis, like the one I bought a couple of days ago while book shopping with my friend -- which I let her borrow that same day.

That book, which she is reading first, is The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran.  We both need to read it by April 12th for our book club meeting.  She was ready to start reading it, and I wasn't.  I'm looking forward to this one.  It's about a husband who takes his wife and children from England to New Zealand, even though she doesn't really want to go (he didn't ask her before he committed to a job there).  There's a Maori uprising, their house is burned, and a woman's body is found in the ruins.  He can't find his children, moves to the United States, eventually remarries -- and the first wife shows up with the children.  He is put on trial for bigamy, and the story is based on a real case.  It should be interesting.

The next three are from the library.

Wait for Me by An Na is about a girl of Korean-American parents working hard to give her a good education in the United States.  Mina has become the perfect daughter, who is a straight A student, president of the honor society, and on the fast track for Harvard.  It's the summer before her senior year, and she is working at her family's dry cleaners.  Oh, and she has a hearing-impaired younger sister.  Everything seems to be going right for her, but Mina knows that her life is a lie.  (I've already finished reading this one.)

Somebody's Daughter by Marie Myung-Ok Lee is about a girl born to a Korean mother, who is adopted by an American couple.  The daughter, now named Sarah, wants to go to Korea to try to find the birth mother she has always wondered about.  Sarah drops out of the University of Minnesota and decides to study in Korea.  The Korean mother, meanwhile, fell in love and was abandoned at a vulnerable moment.  She has wondered, ever since leaving her new baby, what became of her.  (This will be a re-read, which I want to review for the Women Unbound reading challenge.)

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford is a NEW book, which the library allows me to keep only seven days, so I'm already halfway through this one.  This, as the title says, is a history book.  The subtitle is "How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire."  I can tell you already that his daughters were taught by their mother(s) to rule, while his sons were pretty useless and self-centered.  That pattern continued for generations.  I'm really, really enjoying this book.

Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson is also from the library, but I finished it the first day I got it and let my friend borrow it, too.  It's subtitled "What You Never Knew about the Women and Girls of the American Revolution."  Yes, you guessed it.  This one -- and all the books in this post -- are among those I'll either read or add to my annotated bibliography for Women Unbound.  (One of these days I'll tell you more about what I'm doing, since I've already read the Suffragette level of eight by a multiple of about six -- in other words, I've read more than 48 books for the challenge so far.)

The next three are from my librarian.  Yes, the librarian, not the library.  She's been helping me find books related to the Women Unbound challenge, especially books that show children all the exciting things women and girls can do.  These are her own books that she brought to work one day so I could borrow them.  I have a great librarian, don't I?

Sista, Speak! by Sonja L. Lanehart is subtitled "Black Women Kinfolk Talk about Language and Literacy."  From the back cover:  "The demand of white, affluent society that all Americans should speak, read, and write 'proper' English causes many people who are not white and/or middle class to attempt to 'talk in a way that feel peculiar to [their] mind," as a character in Alice Walker's The Color Purple puts it.  In this book, Sonja Lanehart explores how this valorization of 'proper' English has affected the language, literacy, educational achievements, and self-image of five African American women -- her grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, and herself."  This one looks really good.

Weaving New Worlds by Sarah H. Hill is about "Southeastern Cherokee Women and Their Basketry."  In other words, the author examines changes in the patterns and materials of their baskets.  The back cover says:  "Over the course of three centuries, Cherokees developed four major basketry traditions, each based on a different material -- rivercane, white oak, honeysuckle, and maple.  Hill explores how the addition of each new material occurred in the context of lived experience, ecological processes, social conditions, economic circumstances, and historical eras. ... Even in the face of cultural assault and environmental loss, she argues, Cherokee women have continued to take what they have to make what they need, literally and metaphorically weaving new worlds from old."  There are lots of photos of the women and their baskets, good photos that show the patterns formed by the different colors.

Women, Art, and Society by Whitney Chadwick is a relatively small art book, but it is heavy! ... and filled with color photographs.  The chapters range from "Art History and the Woman Artist" through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to modern and postmodern art.  It deals with gender, women's sphere ("separate but unequal"), and "Sex, Class, and Power in Victorian England."  Whew!  This one may be a little heavier than I want to tackle right now, but it may go in my bibliography.

And one more.  When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was borrowed from my friend Donna, the one who has borrowed two from me, as I mentioned above -- correction, she has borrowed two this week, I mean.  We used to own a bookstore together and still share books constantly.  This one is the winner of the 2010 John Newbery Medal.  The summary given by my library says:  "As her mother prepares to be a contestant on the 1970s television game show, 'The $20,000 Pyramid,' a twelve-year-old New York City girl tries to make sense of a series of mysterious notes received from an anonymous source that seems to defy the laws of time and space."  This girl is also reading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time all through this story, not because it is taking her a long time to read it, but because it's her favorite book which she dips into over and over and over.  She's read it so many times she practically has it memorized.  Now, the really interesting part is that -- get this! -- Madeleine L'Engle won the 1963 Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time, which was a favorite book of this author when she was a girl.

Oh, wait!  There's one more.  I forgot that Donna and I also went shopping at the big used book store this week, where I managed to restrain myself and bring home only one book.  The Seasons of Women edited by Gloria Norris is an anthology with stories, articles, and snippets from the writings of 49 women.  The list includes Annie Dillard, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler, Tillie Olson, Amy Tan, Gloria Steinem, Abigail Thomas, May Sarton, and Gail Godwin.

What books did you get this week?

Rachel won the Chili Cook-Off

Rachel, daughter of my friend Joanne, dethroned their pastor, the Rev. David Anderson, at the 3rd Annual St. Marks Chili Cook-Off today.  Sorry, David, but you did win last year.  Congratulations, Rachel, on making this year's prize-winning chili!  (Doesn't Rachel have a great-looking family?)

Women Unbound ~ new buttons

Bitsy (whose blog is Fabula) made three additional buttons for the Women Unbound reading challenge.  I'm sharing this because Susan (of Black-Eyed Susan's) noticed I had one of them on my sidebar.

Half the Sky ~ by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, 2009

The full title of this book is Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  WuDunn and Kristof were the first married couple ever to receive a Pulitzer for journalism, for their reporting about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 (she mentions that time in the video below).  I have thirteen pages of quotes from this book, so you know right away how important I think it is.  Let me start with a perfect, but terrible, word:  gendercide (page xvii).
"It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century.  More girls are killed in this routine "gendercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century."
Wow!  In case you aren't into numbers, however, Kristof and WuDunn give plenty of examples of what's happening to women all over the world.

About a woman in Pakistan:
"In Pakistan, we met a young woman from the Christian minority who insisted on choosing her own husband; infuriated at this breach of family honor, her brothers bickered over whether they should kill her or just sell her to a brothel.  While they argued, she escaped" (p. 150).
About a thug in India:
"One of his specialties was the threat of rape to terrorize anyone who might stand up to him.  Murder left inconvenient piles of bodies, requiring bribes to keep the police at bay, while rape is so stigmatizing that the victims could usually be counted on to stay silent.  Sexual humiliation was thus an effective and low-cost strategy to intimidate challengers and to control the community. ... The more barbaric the behavior, the more the population was cowed into acquiescence" (p. 49).
About women in America:
"During World War I, more American women died in childbirth than American men died in war. ... When women could vote, suddenly their lives became more important, and enfranchising women ended up providing a huge and unanticipated boost to women's health" (p. 116).
About women in Afghanistan:
"After the Taliban was ousted in Afghanistan, banditry spread and Amnesty International quoted an aid worker as saying:  'During the Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh, she would have been flogged; now, she's raped" (p. 150).
About deaths in childbirth:
"In most societies, mythological or theological explanations were devised to explain why women should suffer in childbirth, and they forestalled efforts to make the process safer.  When anesthesia was developed, it was for many decades routinely withheld from women giving birth, since women were 'supposed' to suffer.  One of the few societies to take a contrary view was the Huichol tribe in Mexico.  The Huichol believed that the pain of childbirth should be shared, so the mother would hold on to a string tied to her husband's testicles.  With each painful contraction, she would give the string a yank so that the man could share the burden.  Surely if such a machanism were more widespread, injuries in childbirth would garner more attention" (pp. 116-117).
Below is a video of Sheryl WuDunn speaking about the issues and what made them decide to write this book.  It's entitled "Fighting for Women's Rights in China."

If the video quits working, click this link to view the video on YouTube.

Now, what are some things that will help?  Education and microfinance, for a start.
"Education and empowerment training can show girls that feminity does not entail docility, and can nurture assertiveness so that girls and women stand up for themselves" (p. 47). "... the single most important way to encourage women and girls to stand up for their rights is education" (p. 66) ... "Empowering women begins with education," she said (p. 66) [quoting Mahdere Paulos, the dynamic woman who runs the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association].
 "Microfinance has done more to bolster the status of women, and to protect them from abuse, than any laws could accomplish.  Capitalism, it turns out, can achieve what charity and good intentions sometimes cannot" (p. 187).
Kristof and WuDunn suggested a surprising way to improve education and keep children in school.
"One of the most cost effective ways to increase school attendance is to deworm students.  Intestinal worms affect children's physical and intellectual growth.  Indeed, ordinary worms kill 130,000 people a year, typically through anemia or intestinal obstruction, and the anemia particularly affects menstruating girls.  When deworming was introduced in the American South in the early twentieth century, school teachers were stunned at the impact:  The children were suddenly far more alert and studious.  Likewise, a landmark study in Kenya found that deworming could decrease school absenteeism by a quarter" (p. 171).
Lest you worry about the cost:
"The average American spends fifty dollars a year to deworm a dog; in Africa, you can deworm a child for fifty cents," says Peter Hotez of the Global Network for neglected Tropical Disease Control, a leader in the battle against worms. (p. 171)
I shared some information (and a video) from Nicholas Kristof about women in the Congo.  He went there with Lisa Shannon, whose book about women in the Congo will be published in April.  I rate Half the Sky at 8 out of 10, very good.