Thursday, April 29, 2021

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Sunburn by Laura Lippman
Read by Susan Bennett
Published February 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: audiobook checked out from the library
Publisher's Summary:
New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman returns with a superb novel of psychological suspense about a pair of lovers with the best intentions and the worst luck: two people locked in a passionate yet uncompromising game of cat and mouse. But instead of rules, this game has dark secrets, forbidden desires, inevitable betrayals—and cold-blooded murder.

One is playing a long game. But which one?

They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through. Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets.

Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?

Something—or someone—has to give.

Which one will it be?

Inspired by James M. Cain’s masterpieces The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce, Sunburn is a tantalizing modern noir from the incomparable Laura Lippman.

My Thoughts: 
This is my fifth book by Laura Lippman and, as I go back through the blog to see what I've read, I find that I've mostly been a fan. Which seemed a little odd to be because I could only remember two of those books. This one I'm likely to remember; my book club read it this month and we spent a lot of time talking about it. 

Here's a thing I learned from all of that talking about books - it can absolutely change your impression of the book. More than once I've found I had a greater appreciation of a book after my book club talked about it and I had a chance to think about it in a different way. This book wasn't one of those times. 

My initial impressions:
  • I really enjoyed the relationship between Polly and Adam - two people who couldn't keep their hands off each other, despite the secrets they were both keeping. Also two people who began to resent the other one for having that hold on them - Polly needing her time in the morning before Adam woke up, Adam wishing for the ability to just take off on a long time as he was used to doing. 
  • I have never heard of James Cain, the author, but I have seen the movie adaptations of his books which are all film noir staples. Having seen those, I very much got that same impression from this book - the secrets, the small set of the action, the flawed characters, the cat-and-mouse game play. 
  • I liked the way Lippman slowly reveled Polly's past to explain her motives, her weakness, and a dark side present-day Polly only hints at. 
  • The secondary characters were mostly well done and given a depth secondary characters don't always get.
  • Except when they weren't...there definitely some caricatures and sometimes it felt like these characters got too much page time and took away from the storyline for me. 
  • I had mixed feelings about a couple of pretty major things - one is the big revel about Polly and the other has to do with the ending but since I really enjoyed the book, I was ok with those things. 
My impressions after book club:
  •  The book really does feel like it has two parts - before a death and after - and the second part is not as strong as the first part. 
  • Those major things that I had mixed feelings about? I'm less inclined to overlook them. 
  • Polly's motivation for everything she has done just doesn't feel believable the more I think about it. I'd explain more but that would give away too much. 
If you look at reviews of this book, you're likely to find them very divided. Lippman's fans mostly really liked this book. Others didn't like it at all. I find myself somewhere in the middle and, maybe wishing I hadn't discussed it so much so that I was left with a better impression of this one. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers by Claudia Kalb

Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers
by Claudia Kalb
Published April 2021 by National Geographic
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Yo-Yo Ma's ear for music emerged not long after he learned to walk. By the age of seven, he was performing for President Kennedy; by fifteen he debuted at Carnegie Hall. Maya Angelou, by contrast, didn't write her iconic memoir, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, until she was 40. What propels some individuals to reach extraordinary creative heights in the earliest years of life while others discover their passions decades later? Are prodigies imbued with innate talent? How often are midlife inspirations triggered by propitious events, like Julia Child's first French meal at the age of 36? Do late bloomers reveal their talents because their skills require life experience and contemplation? 

Through engaging storytelling and intriguing historical and cutting-edge scientific research, best-selling author and acclaimed journalist Claudia Kalb explores these questions to uncover what makes a prodigy and what drives a late bloomer. In this series of linked biographies, Kalb follows the journeys of thirteen remarkable individuals—from Shirley Temple to Alexander Fleming to Eleanor Roosevelt to Bill Gates—to discover the secrets behind their talents. Each possessed a unique arc of inspiration. Each—through science, art, music, theater, and politics—reached extraordinary success at different stages of life. And each offers us a chance to explore the genesis—and experience—of genius.

My Thoughts:
I jumped onto this tour and when the book arrived I thought it looked interesting. Then, when it was suddenly time to read it, I found I didn't want to read it. I have no idea why not. But I figured perhaps I'd bounce around the book, reading a few of the chapters and call it good; I was a little put off when Kalb, in the introduction, suggested that the book should be read straight through. Who was she to tell me what to do? Yeah, I know, I was channeling my teenage self quite a lot there. Here's something you rarely heard me say when I was copping attitude, though. Kalb was right. 

Kalb first introduces readers to people who excelled early in life; then she moved onto those whose talents became clear when they were between 13-27 and finally she moves onto those whom she calls the "late bloomers." That order allows us to see that while many people seem to be born with genius, childhood prodigies don't necessarily show continued excellence in their fields; that for some, a certain amount of learning, encouragement, and an ego that has not yet been crushed result in extraordinary achievements; and for still others, life lessons learned and personal growth are essential to attaining full potential. Perhaps it's not too late, a reader may conclude. 

Of course, I had some subjects I was particularly interesting in reading about: Maya Angelou, Yo-Yo Ma, Eleanor Roosevelt. Others I was tempted to skip over Isaac Newton, Bill Gates, Alexander Fleming. What was Kalb - ancient guy who discovered gravity, guy whose business ethics I question, and guy I thought I'd never heard of. Kalb made them all worth reading about and I learned a lot what made them tick and what made them special. Fleming? Yeah, he's the guy who accidentally discovered penicillin but who could not have discovered it if he had not put in the hard work before that and who could not have discovered it without working in the exact way that he worked. 

Kalb doesn't just talk about each of her subjects but explores the research behind what we call genius and what each person had that helped them to excel where so many other fail. Nature vs. nurture? Both, says Kalb. It's about being born into the right family — not necessarily the rich family but the family who encourages a child's passion and those who live the lives that model that passion (Picasso's father was an artist, Ma's parents were both involved in music). Many of these examples had incredible memories. Many were inherently creative. Some required hardship growing up to develop into the person they became. 

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour here

CLAUDIA KALB is an award-winning author and journalist who reports on a wide variety of health and science topics. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities. A former senior writer at Newsweek who has also contributed to Smithsonian and Scientific American, Kalb has written cover stories for National Geographic that explore genius through the lens of biography, history, culture, and science. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Find out more about Claudia at her website, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Life: It Goes On - April 25

Happy Sunday! It was supposed to be sunny and warm today but so far it's gray and cold. It's going to put the kibosh on the picnic we were planning on taking with my dad today if it doesn't get better soon. 

I'm dragging this morning. I stayed up late reading for Dewey's Readathon last night then at 7:15 a.m. my eyelids popped open and there was no going back to sleep. Is this what getting old is like? If so, it's just one more thing I don't like about aging. I didn't get as much reading done as I'd hoped to, but I did read one book and get more than half way through an audiobook which is well more reading than I would normally get in on a Saturday so I call that a win. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Behold The Dreamers, which is my book club's selection for May, and started the first Hamish Macbeth book, Death Of A Gossip. I've read a lot of the Hamish Macbeth books so it was interesting to go back to the beginning and see how his character, and Beaton's writing, have developed over the years.  

 Not a lot. The bulb went out on our television and while we wait for a new one, The Big Guy is watching t.v. shows on his iPad which makes it a little difficult for two people to watch. We did catch a new performance of Romeo and Juliet on PBS and we've started watching the latest iteration of the Law and Order franchise, Law and Order: Organized Crime. It's a little strange that we've gotten hooked on it since we've never watched any of the other version of the franchise. 

 I got a book a week ago then was surprised to find that it needs to be reviewed already this week. So I spent the readathon reading Spark, which is a book about how genius works, spotlighting 13 people who have made a mark on the world. 

Made: There's still been almost no cooking in my kitchen. I did make shortcakes yesterday for today's picnic. Nothing says "it's warm weather season!" like strawberry shortcake!

Enjoyed: Mini-him came by yesterday to help move some things and just around for a few hours. Was it just to make sure he got a meal for his efforts? Maybe. My guys got some shelves moved so that my laundry room project is nearly done. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On doing some more work in the laundry room and 40 Bags continues (what am I at now, 120 days?!). 

Thinking About: Patio furniture. We need some new chairs but what kind seems to be a sticking point. Isn't that the silliest thing for married people to disagree about?

Feeling: Slow. My allergies are kicking my rear end this week, which isn't helping my lingering effects of CoVid-19 (I still need at least one nap every day). 

Looking forward to: Getting plants this week. It's early but the forecast looks good and I'm ready for some color and prettiness. 

Question of the week: One of my coworker puts out fake flowers, another bought ten hanging pots at Costco the other day. Me, I'm somewhere in between. Where do you fall on the flower planting spectrum? 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Life: It Goes On - April 21

Happy Thursday! Yeah, that's how far behind I'm running this week. So far behind that I didn't even notice that the book review I posted for Monday was actually posted to the wrong blog. Sorry TLC Book Tours! Did get that righted yesterday. 

I'm not completely without a good excuse for running behind. We were in Rochester over the weekend, picking up my dad, who had been staying with my sister for a couple of weeks, and getting a chance to see Mini-me and Ms. S. Then Monday was all about prepping a game for last night's book club meeting. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm listening to next month's book club selection, Behold The Dreamers, which I hope to finish in the next couple of days. Not sure what's up after that; I've got nothing in the hopper.

Watched: Pretty much the usual.

Read: I finished The Beauty That Remains and now I'm reading Wintering by Katherine May, another book that is benefitting from being read at the right time. 

Made: Brown butter Rice Krispie treats (not sure they were worth the extra time and effort) and a whole lot of salads. 

 Time with these well as my sister and Ms S. Got to see our grandpets, eat some delicious food, and visit the Spam Museum along the way. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm playing catch up this week, lots of odd jobs to be done and I'm still working on 40 Bags. 

Thinking About: Gardening. We've had a couple of freeze warning nights this week and then I think we're in the clear. I can't wait to start buying plants!

Feeling: Concerned - a friend's daughter delivered her son very prematurely this week. I can't stop thinking about how tiny he is, the battle he'll have to wage, the pain his parents are suffering and the pain my friend is suffering, who is worried not only about the baby but also about HER baby. 

Looking forward to: Warmer temps that should be arriving soon. 

Question of the week: Anyone else having worse allergy symptoms this year than usual?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Why I Never Finished My Dissertation by Laura Foley

Why I Never Finished My Dissertation
by Laura Foley
Published August 2019 by Headmistress Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

My Thoughts: Six years ago I read and thoroughly enjoyed Laura Foley's Joy Street. It was a no brainer for me to pick up this volume when it was recommended to me. Like Joy Street, Why I Never Finished My Dissertation is a deeply personal collection. The first collection was focused on one aspect of her life but here Foley explores all aspects of her life, her first marriage at 19 to a man looking for his green card as she was looking to escape her privileged life, her second marriage to a much older man, mothering a mentally disabled daughter, becoming a grandmother, and finally finding real love in her forties. It is a life's journey.

Many of the poems are Foley's quiet reflections in moments alone. In others, the world comes crashing in, such as in Tehran Snow. While Foley's poetry is plain spoken and very approachable, she can also pack an emotional punch that hits you even when you see it coming, as in Visiting My Sister In The Mental Ward. Foley is capable of conveying so much in so few words, as she does in Motherhood:

Almost four, on a dare
from his bother,
he leaps from the raised silo floor
to the ground, ten feet down.
Due to birth my daughter soon -
my mouth's a wide-open O
as I watch his flight -
my hands an umbrella
around my big belly,
till he lands - on his feet
on soft summer grass,
and smiles up at me -
as I breathe, bracing myself
for whatever comes next.

If you're a mother, you can certainly relate to this poem, as you will be able to when you read Foley's poems about her daughter. They won't be the only poems that speak to you.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour here.

About Laura Foley: Laura Foley is the author of six poetry collections, including Joy Street, Syringa and Night Ringing. Her poem “Gratitude List” won the Common Good Books poetry contest and was read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her poem “Nine Ways of Looking at Light” won the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, judged by Marge Piercy. For more information on Laura’s work, please visit her website.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

How Much Of These Hills Is Gold
by C. Pam Zhang
Read by Catherine Ho and Joel de la Fuente
Published April 2020 by Riverhead Books
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Along the way, they encounter giant buffalo bones, tiger paw prints, and the specters of a ravaged landscape as well as family secrets, sibling rivalry, and glimpses of a different kind of future.

My Thoughts:
I've been struggling with writing this review. I've put it off repeatedly. I know I'm supposed to have been blown away by this book; it was on the Booker Prize long list, for heaven's sake. It's like nothing I've ever read before, the writing is impressive and the narrators are terrific. Zhang shows us the Wild West in a way that we've never seen before, an American West populated by the kind of people who have been conspicuously absent in other stories about the settling of America. 

Finally I decided it was time to really think about this book. It was another one of those books that made me wonder if I just wasn't smart enough to "get it." Then two things came to me. As original as this story is, it is also a quest story, a trope I'm very familiar with. And then there are the similarities to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Zhang's book is entirely her own story but much of it also entails a family carting a dead body around, looking for a place to bury it, and even has a chapter where Ba takes over the narration, much as as Faulkner's Addie Bundren did. Once I realized those things, I knew that my feelings about this book had nothing to do with me not being smart enough. 

There were, though, a number of things played against this book for me. First, it was a terrible time for me to be reading a book so focused on death and so unremittingly sad. It was too soon after my mom died. Then I listened to about two-thirds of it before my loan expired and it took several weeks for me to get it back. I'd lost the flow. The things that had pulled me in seemed to be gone. All I was hearing, when I picked it back up again, was unrelenting trauma. 

I began to be a little upset with Zhang for all the terrible things she was putting Lucy through, for all that pain she had heaped on Sam. Clearly it was a book that made me care about the characters. It's a book that I'll be thinking about for a long while. Which makes me really wish that I had read it at a different time, without that break, and maybe with a better understanding, going in, how very dark it is. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Life: It Goes On - April 11

Happy Sunday! 

I signed up yesterday for the next Dewey's Readathon, coming up in two weeks on April 24th. I haven't done well with a readathon in a long while but I'm trying to put myself in the mindset that I deserve to take a full day to do nothing much other than read. We'll see. I may deserve it, even need it, but it really means losing a whole weekend because I'll need to sleep on Sunday. If you want to join us, sign up here

Friday I went into Target for the first time in over a year. Once I parked, I sat in my car for a while, trying to decide if I really needed to go in. I didn't need to go in to buy anything in particular; but I finally went in because I did need to start getting back to life as it used to be. It was stressful and I'm not sure I'll do it again any time soon. But it was a good first step. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Sunburn by Laura Lippman, which is this month's book club selection. Now I have to figure out how to discuss this one. Today I'm starting Imbolo Mbue's Behold The Dreamers, which is our book club selection for May. 

Watched: The Trial of The Chicago Seven, starring Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Sasha Baron Cohen. Four thumbs up from this house - terrific history lessons and fantastic acting. 

 I'm reading entirely too many different things at once. So many good books right now including two that are really providing the healing I need.

Made: If it wasn't quick and easy, it wasn't getting eaten this week. Some salads, some readymade spinach ravioli, leftovers from Easter. I wasn't really cooking and I wasn't making any other kind of thing, either. 

 A couple of years ago my sister gifted me a set of peg dolls of the ladies of the Supreme Court. A while later, a peg doll suffragette showed up in my mail. Thursday a new peg doll arrived to add to my collection of strong women. My sister had commissioned a peg doll of my mom. She's wearing a sweatshirt of my mom's alma mater, which was so important to her, and holding a can of Pepsi, which my mom always had nearby. I love it so much!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: A quick trip north to pick up my dad, who went home with my sister last weekend. We'll meet in Rochester, which gives us a chance to see Mini-me and Ms. S. Very excited to get to see them, especially since we haven't seen Ms. S since last summer. 

Thinking About: Mother's Day. I'm dreading it and trying to think of a way to keep myself busy that day so that I don't think about it. 

Feeling: I was asked to return to the office full time. I'm going to miss the slow mornings, starting work still in my pajamas, and being able to start supper, do laundry, and snuggling with my cat. But I also know that being in my house 24/7 hasn't necessarily been the best thing for me. Mixed feelings about this but grateful that I got a year mostly working from home; I felt so much safer. 

Looking forward to: My second dose of the vaccine. Well, I'm sort of looking forward to it but not looking forward to having the same side effects that I had with the first dose. At least I know it only lasts a day. 

Question of the week: If you've lost your mom, how did you navigate that first Mother's Day without her?

Thursday, April 8, 2021

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby
Read by David Case
Published August 1995 by Riverhead
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Rob is a pop-music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at his store, who endlessly review their top five films; top five Elvis Costello songs; top five episodes of Cheers. 

Rob tries dating a singer, but maybe it’s just that he’s always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again. And Rob begins to think that life with kids, marriage, barbecues, and soft-rock CDs might not be so bad.

My Thoughts:
I adore the movie adaptation of this book, mostly because I adore John Cusack who plays Rob Fleming. I already knew that but this book reinforced that it was Cusack who did that for me, rather than the character, because on the written page I really, really did not like Rob. 

Maybe it's because as the mother of a men and aunt of more men who are nearly the same age, I have no tolerance for men who suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome. Sure, it's fine for you to really, really enjoy records (or gaming, or sports, or even Dungeons and Dragons) but they cannot...I repeat cannot...define your life at the expense of doing things like making sure you can support yourself. And records define Rob (and Barry and Dick). Also, Rob is just not a very nice guy. Early in his "romantic" life, he engineers the breakup of a friend just so he can pursue the ex-girlfriend. As an adult he cheats on his live-in girlfriend. He sleeps with another woman just because she has a recording contract and he's hoping that maybe she'll include him on a record cover. 

In the movie, because Rob was played by Cusack it was understandable to believe that there was a good person in there just waiting to come out. And, in the end, he did. In the book, we don't get that preconceived idea about Rob so that even as Rob and Laura work to patch things up, you're never entirely sure that Rob has what it takes to make a relationship work. Luckily, by that point in the book, I did finally like him enough to hope that he did. 

Now I need to go watch the movie again. Because the parts of this book that are funny (and there is quite a lot of funny here) shine in the movie. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Catstrology: Unlock The Secrets of The Stars With Cats by Luna Malcolm

Catstrology: Unlock The Secrets of The Stars With Cats
by Luna Malcolm
Published October 2020 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: Christmas present from my daughter

Publisher's Summary: 
A delightfully quirky, cute, and funny guide to horoscopes told through adorable cat photographs. 

With the help of a collection of sweet and hilarious cat pictures, Castrology will unlock all the secrets of the stars that you need to know, including: 

Each of the signs at their best and worst (and the perfect cat to illustrate them) 
The common traits of each element and modality in the zodiac 
What do you and your “sister sign” have in common? Find out, with the perfect cat picture to complement it… 
And of course: the right cat for you, based on your star sign!

My Thoughts: 
For Christmas my daughter bought me a gift that hadn't arrived by the time she left to come home for the holidays. An emergency to trip to Target was in order so that I could have something to open from her. One of the things she got me was an Idris Elba coloring book because she knows I love that man. This was the other thing she got. Because she knows I love cats, even more than I love Idris Elba. Also, I think she secretly hoped that when I was finished gleaning all the knowledge this book has to offer, I'd pass it on to her because she, too, loves cats and also astrology. 

Of course, I loved the cute kitty pictures, like the cat curled up napping inside of two hula hoops and the kitten snuggled in on the back of a pony. Seriously, how does anyone not like cats? If you prefer dogs, you can find Dogstrology, which I'm sure is filled with adorable pictures of puppies. 

As for the astrology, I can't speak to how accurate it is but I suspect someone who goes by Luna might know a thing or two about it. Because I've never studied astrology, I did brief lessons about the impact of planetary positions, inner and outer planets, the elements, and modalities. 

Malcolm tells me that, as a Scorpio, I'm passionate, resourceful, and distrusting. All true. On the other hand, on a page entitle "What To Know Before Inviting Each Sign To A Party," Malcolm says that a Scorpio will trap someone in an intense conversation for hours. I would prefer not to be at the party in the first place and I'm more likely to find a spot to sit and hope that people will come talk to me. I discovered that I'm best paired with a Taurus, which is surely news to the Aquarius I've been married to for 38 years. And now I know that my next cat should be a black moggy, a cat breed I've never heard of before. Looky there, even a just-for-fun book has me off to do more research and you know how much I love that in a book!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Life: It Goes On - April 4

Happy Easter Sunday! If you celebrate, in whatever way you celebrate, I hope you had a good day. 

Every week, since my mom died, when I type that title I think of new ways in which life, as it turns out, does go on, even when we think it won't. We've celebrated a baby gender reveal, a few birthdays, and now our first holiday without my mom. Some have told us that they were advised that it was a good idea to start new traditions so the loved one's absence isn't quite so palpable. It's a great idea and I know that it's been exactly what some people needed to do. For us, we needed to honor our mom by doing Easter dinner the way she would have done it. We put out the china and the Easter decorations; we made the traditional foods, and a couple of new dishes. It was hard for a bit but we think she would have been proud of us. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished, finally, How Much Of These Hills Is Gold and started Laura Lippman's Sunburn, which is this month's book club choice. 

Watched: A lot of college basketball, This Is Us, Hometown on HGTV, and the first games of the MLB season (thanks T-Mobile for the free subscription to!). 

Read: I'm bouncing around a bit. I started Peter Geye's latest, Northernmost, but then Steve Leder's The Beauty of What Remains came in and I'm more focused on that right now. It's the comfort I need right now. Thanks for recommending it, Ti!

Made: My contributions for Easter dinner were Ree Drummond's French Silk pie, a strawberry pie, cheesy hash brown casserole, and deviled eggs. I tried a new deviled egg recipe and then didn't even try one but they must have been good because they were gone when the meal was done. 

Enjoyed: It has been warm here this weekend and we spent a lot of time sitting on my parents' front porch. Last night we had a fire, today we had mimosas out there, all weekend we had laughter. It was good to be together and laugh. 
This Week I’m:  

Planning: 40 Bags in 40 Days may just run through April. I have gotten rid of 30 bags but still have so many areas I want to work on. This week I want to focus on my office and start the basement. 

Thinking About: Flowers and gardens - I'm so ready for a trip to the nursery!

Feeling: I got happy hour with friends Monday and lots of family time this weekend and this introvert loved all of that people time!

Looking forward to: Ya know, I still look forward to weeks with nothing on the calendar even though there's been almost nothing on the calendar for a year!

Question of the week: We had chocolate pie, strawberry pie, and red velvet cake for my nephew's birthday for dessert today. Which would you have picked? 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisin

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women
by Harriet Reisen
Published October 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale. 

Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. This biography explores Alcott’s life in the context of her works, all of which are to some extent autobiographical. A fresh, modern take on this remarkable and prolific writer, who secretly authored pulp fiction, harbored radical abolitionist views, and completed heroic service as a Civil War nurse, Louisa May Alcott is in the end also the story of how the all-time beloved American classic Little Women came to be. This revelatory portrait will present the popular author as she was and as she has never been seen before.

My Thoughts:
I'm pretty sure that I've told you before that I received a copy of Alcott's Little Women when I was eight years old. It is one of my treasures and no amount of the truth behind the book will ever change that. When I read Geraldine Brooks' March, the truth about Bronson Alcott began to be clear, as it did in Kelly O'Connor McNees' The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. Still, I'm sure I was hoping that Alcott's real life hadn't been so very terrible as those ladies portrayed in their fiction. 

The truth was much worse. Bronson Alcott was a terrible selfish, single-minded man who had no real idea how to handle his headstrong second daughter and didn't seem to notice the burden he placed on his wife. Myth of Father March completely busted. What was new here was finding out that my beloved Marmee (Alcott's portrayal of her mother in Little Women) was not the saint she was made out to be, either. She followed her husband from place to place as he pursued his vision, despite the hardship to herself and her children and seems to have felt as if it were her family's and their friends' duties to support the family when times were hard (which was pretty much always). 

On the other hand, who might Louisa May Alcott have been if she had not been introduced to Ralph Also Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, and a host of well-known abolitionists? In that regard, her father served her well in drawing the family into those circles. 

I couldn't help but wonder what Louisa might have become if writing weren't the only way she could reliably make money, money that her family desperately needed. And what might she have written if she had not felt obliged to write so much of what she wrote simply because she knew that kind of story would make money. Still, Alcott turned out a mountain of writing in her lifetime, in a lot of different genres, including poetry. Reisen certainly has me wanting to scout out more of Alcott's writing than simply the works for young people which I'm so familiar with. 

Reisin was able to obtain some interviews never before published which add a lot of new information to Lousia's adult life. It wasn't an easy life, despite eventually becoming well off, able to support her family and be very generous with others. Alcott became sick nursing soldiers during the Civil War and never completely recovered; in fact, Reisen theorizes (as did Alcott) that Louisa eventually died of mercury poisoning from the calomel given to her in the hospital to treat typhoid pneumonia. She used morphine, opium, and hashish to ease her chronic pain; never married; lost two of her younger sisters; and became of the caretake of her mother and, to some extent, her father. Top all of that off with the fact that she didn't much enjoy her popularity; Reisen even called her "curmudgeonly." 

Louisa May Alcott lived an incredibly interesting life but one that, sadly, lacked the happily-ever-afters found in her most popular books. If you're a fan of Alcott's, I definitely recommend this book, as well as the documentary of the same name.