Current reads 3

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1LolaWalser
Edited: Jan 1, 2016, 2:10pm

Happy new year!

Last 2015 book by a woman was Maira Kalman's lovely My favorite things; first 2016 book was Marian Engel's Bear (put on the map for me by @Nickelini--thanks, Joyce!) about which I wrote:

It begins with a deeply wounded woman--a person who, because she's female, has felt apologetic about being alive, taking up space, existing without "justification". A person who let herself be used by men and then never forgave herself the rage she felt and expressed for that.

She is given a break--a summer cataloguing a legacy on a remote island in Northern Ontario, with her only steady company being a tame, chained male bear. I suppose the quickest way to describe what happens is that "the bear helps her find herself", but it's not something that happens swiftly or straightforwardly. The ghostly influences of dead people, conveyed on scraps of paper and in books, lead her along in her strange, transforming relationship.

At the end, she is better off than she was at the beginning, feeling "strong and pure".

Great book to start a year which I hope will be calmer and kinder than 2015 turned out to be.

2rebeccanyc
Jan 1, 2016, 6:12pm

I love Maira Kalman!

3LolaWalser
Jan 1, 2016, 6:44pm

Me too! It's amazing how she can pull at heartstrings and never be mawkish, and how she makes tragedy and sunlight live side by side.

4janeajones
Edited: Jan 2, 2016, 10:34am


I loved Bear when I first stumbled on it in a lurid pb version in the late 1970s and then again in 2007 when I reread it as it appeared on a list of best Canadian books. It's haunted me for decades like the fairytale "Rose Red and Snow White."

5sparemethecensor
Jan 2, 2016, 9:27am

I'm reading Everything is Wonderful by Sigrid Rausing. This is a memoir of her time in post-Soviet Estonia during her doctoral work. So far, it is a fascinating look at a moment in time so bizarrely detailed it alnost seems like a hallucination.

6sparemethecensor
Jan 2, 2016, 9:30am

>1 LolaWalser:,4:

Wow, Bear sounds fascinating. I wonder if I can find a copy.

7LolaWalser
Jan 2, 2016, 11:19am

>4 janeajones:

My eyes! :) Actually, that's the edition I have but apparently I added a wrong ISBN.

>6 sparemethecensor:

It's really good. Short but powerful. I'll definitely keep a watch for more copies to give away...

8rebeccanyc
Jan 2, 2016, 12:28pm

>3 LolaWalser: What a great description of her!

9janeajones
Edited: Jan 5, 2016, 11:58am

I finished this one on New Year's Eve, so it was my last book of 2015.

I loved M Train; not quite as much as I loved Just Kids, but almost. Although Patti Smith is my contemporary, I never really hooked into her music or performances -- she peaked in the punk-rock scene when I was going to graduate school, having babies, and into folk-rock. She's a wildly restless, wildly adventurous romantic soul with deep connections to the Beat world of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. We do share enthusiasms for William Blake, Frida Kahlo, Bertolt Brecht, and favorite children's books like Daddy Longlegs and Anne of Green Gables.

M Train is a journey into the head of Patti Smith -- her memories, her obsessions, her present as a poet/artist in her late 60s. The picture on the cover of the book was taken by a casual acquaintance, passer-by, with Smith at her corner table of the Cafe 'Ino, on the day the cafe was closing. It is iconic of the voice of the book -- the watch-cap, the cup of black coffee, the Polaroid camera, the deeply ruminative gaze.

She invites us on her trip to Devil's Island to gather stones for Genet, to Reykjavik for a meeting of the exclusive Continental Drift Club honoring Alfred Wegener, on her drives through Detroit with her husband Fred, to the Dorotheenstadt Cemetary where Brecht is buried, to her cottage in Far Rockaway dubbed "My Alamo" which survived Hurricane Sandy.

She pushes her way through a persistent malaise with work, black coffee, beloved detective shows, and travel. Always in the background is an apparition of a philosophic cowpoke prodding her thoughts. The book is dedicated "for Sam." One cannot help but reference her onetime lover and collaborator, Sam Shepard.

M Train is the memoir of a purposeful, persistent wanderer through life. I admire both the writing and the writer.

10southernbooklady
Jan 5, 2016, 2:13pm

>5 sparemethecensor: I loved that book. I'm reading Andrea Wulf's book on Alexander Humboldt, The Invention of Nature, which is phenomenal, and a debut novel Over the Plain Housesby Julia Franks -- deep dark Appalachian lit that makes Wiley Cash feel like pretty pink cotton candy.

11Sakerfalcon
Jan 6, 2016, 5:37am

>9 janeajones: I've just started reading Just kids, not knowing much about Smith or her music, but enjoying the read so far.

12LolaWalser
Jan 6, 2016, 11:14am

Count me as another admirer of Just kids.

I bought Melting Away: A Ten-Year Journey through Our Endangered Polar Regions straight on seeing the cover, not knowing anything about it or the author--can't recommend it highly enough. Well, it's... expect mixed reactions. The photographs are unspeakably beautiful--and what the actual landscape must feel like!--but what they record is something not just waning, disappearing, but doing so as a harbinger of difficult, perhaps terminally difficult, times ahead.

The photographs are interspersed with short chapters describing how Camille Seaman became attached to the polar regions and that is an unexpected bonus. An amazing person. The story of how she came to visit Kotzebue in Alaska through a happy accident (a free trip anywhere offered by an airline), without anything previously in life calling her to the extreme North (or South), and how she set off to walk on the frozen sea in the general direction of Russia (not planning to walk all the way, but a good long time anyway) and the "awakening" she went through with that experience--all of this would be worth cherishing without a single illustration to go with it.

13janeajones
Jan 6, 2016, 5:28pm

12> Sounds incredible. But places I have no desire to ever visit except via a book.

14sparemethecensor
Jan 7, 2016, 5:04pm

Having just finished the exquisite Everything is Wonderful, I'll be changing gears entirely to a book of comedic essays by Jen Mann called Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat. It is too bad I didn't get this last month... Might have gleaned some tips.

15LolaWalser
Jan 8, 2016, 11:10am


"How to get rid of the bodies and clean up the mess"? :)

16southernbooklady
Jan 12, 2016, 11:16am

I've finished Invention of Nature, (phenomenal book about a phenomenal guy) and now I'm revisiting the writing of Florence King, who just died this past weekend -- most people didn't notice because they were too busy watching David Bowie clips on Youtube. King is a fascinating character for me because I'm not on her end of the political spectrum at all, but I absolutely get her attitude. "A true square peg" is what one of my friends called her. It's as good an epitaph as any.

17Sakerfalcon
Jan 12, 2016, 11:22am

>16 southernbooklady: I loved Florence King's books when I found them in my late teens. I've never been able to take John Updike seriously thanks to her. :)

Finished Just kids which was a brilliant read, intelligent and moving and deeply heartfelt. Now I've moved on to another memoir, Into the whirlwind by Evgenia Ginzburg.

18sparemethecensor
Jan 12, 2016, 6:56pm

>15 LolaWalser: It wasn't very good. I didn't understand why she wanted to punch her family members. They generally seemed innocuous.

I'm now reading Playing in the Dark by the inimitable Toni Morrison, which is a challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

19overlycriticalelisa
Jan 12, 2016, 8:35pm

just starting the icarus girl by oyeyemi who i think is a genius.

20LolaWalser
Jan 26, 2016, 12:06pm

Read a Star Trek novel for the old sci-fi thread, Ishmael by Barbara Hambly. Klingon machinations land Mr. Spock in Seattle in 1867--with amnesia. There are pointedly more female characters, in futuristic space as well as in the Wild West, than in comparable books by men so far, AND they are shown as independent persons, with minds, even.

I'm beginning to think that a simple first rule for enjoying genre writing is: choose female authors.

21sturlington
Jan 26, 2016, 12:19pm

>20 LolaWalser: I tend to agree with you, having sought out more genre fiction by women lately. I'm now focusing on horror and noir, two traditionally uber male genres, and there is a stark difference. You might be interested in The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes as an example.

22jnwelch
Jan 26, 2016, 12:29pm

I'm reading Ru by Vietnamese immigrant Kim Thuy, and it's very good.

23LolaWalser
Jan 26, 2016, 12:37pm

>21 sturlington:

Thanks, I'll keep that in mind.

My problem is that some of my preferences work against other--I love the atmosphere, the décor, the old technology of the past, but unfortunately that often means having to put up with women as ciphers etc. Not that I'm in favour of anachronistically "updating" attitudes, I'd much rather come across an authentic avant-garde thinker, warts and all, than follow someone too impossible to have existed at a given time.

24overlycriticalelisa
Jan 26, 2016, 4:28pm

i'm reading tipping the velvet by sarah waters for the second time. didn't like it on my first read but it's for book group so i grudgingly am reading it again, and so far (20% of the way in) i'm finding it excellent.

25LolaWalser
Edited: Feb 1, 2016, 1:18pm

Read Ainsi soit-elle by Benoîte Groult, an extended feminist essay dating from 1975, as relevant today as then. This relevance, of course, is not good news and I struggle to think of any specific things she talks about that have significantly improved. Perhaps such unbelievably crass, vulgar misogynistic attacks as she describes, coming from officials and intellectuals who were given a public platform, public trust and whose statements made the news, are not as common, at least in the West--but they are still made. Perhaps we can count on more of a public outcry when they happen. Perhaps some labour statistics have improved, it's hard to tell.

But we can't look at the news or step outside without becoming aware that we still live in a deeply misogynistic world, where every woman, whether she cares or not to think about it or "do" anything about it, is by default an embattled person.

I'd never heard of Groult before chancing on several of her books (a couple, some novels, co-authored with her sister Flora). Born in 1920, she is still alive, and in 2010 received the Legion of Honour. There can't be too many like her still around... The English Wiki is very spare, but for what it's worth:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beno%C3%AEte_Groult

Also read Martha Nussbaum's excellent Cultivating humanity : a classical defense of reform in liberal education. Dating from mid-nineties, with many references to courses and teachers then active, it is still a great introduction to academic thinking about what "diversity" means and why it is important in developing, as she says, a Socratic (inquiring and critical) disposition necessary to the truly free citizens of a liberal society.

26southernbooklady
Feb 1, 2016, 1:19pm

>25 LolaWalser: Is Benoite Groult available in English? My French is pretty elementary and I don't know if it would be up to her work in the original.

27LolaWalser
Feb 1, 2016, 1:25pm

>26 southernbooklady:

It looks as if there's only one book of hers available, Salt on our skin, a novel I think? I don't have it.

The essay above (not sure how the title would translate best, "Let her be so"--maybe it's part or paraphrase of some, possibly Biblical, quotation?) is, I assure you, nothing you don't know or haven't read a hundred times, except perhaps that the context and the examples are frequently French (she mentions often developments in the US, quoting Millett, Firestone, Friedan; and discusses FMG, African "masculinists" etc.)

28southernbooklady
Feb 1, 2016, 1:27pm

>27 LolaWalser: except perhaps that the context and the examples are frequently French

Yeah, I've been on a mission to get past my US-centric perspective, which is why I was interested.

29LolaWalser
Feb 1, 2016, 1:32pm

>28 southernbooklady:

Yes, from that angle it's a huge pity it's not been translated! If you'd like, I'd happily translate some excerpts.

30CurrerBell
Feb 1, 2016, 1:33pm

For this month's Reading Through Time theme (Celebrating the Writers), I'm doing a complete read/reread of Jean Rhys (novels, stories, and autobiography) along with the biography by Lilian Pizzichini. All I've ever read are Voyage in the Dark and, of course, Wide Sargasso Sea, but I could use a reread of both and I've got the Norton Critical of WSS so I'm going also to read those supplementary materials.

Since I already have all of these books (except for the Collected Short Stories, which I've just ordered from ABE), this will give me a few additions to my ROOTs challenge as well.

31Bookmarque
Feb 1, 2016, 2:07pm

Right now I'm reading Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. She's never impressed me much before and isn't really doing it now. Maybe it's just her characters though, all of which are insufferable and self-absorbed, and so maybe she's better than I'm giving her credit for. Too bad they're not doing anything interesting yet. I'll give it a while longer before it becomes a DNF.

32southernbooklady
Feb 1, 2016, 2:12pm

>29 LolaWalser: a generous offer, but I'll find a French copy and muddle through. If I get into trouble, I'll ask for help.

I'm halfway through Mary Beard's S.P.Q.R. and enjoying it. I like her perspective, which never sacrifices fact for speculation.

33Bookmarque
Feb 1, 2016, 2:17pm

oooh, I've been eyeing that one, sbl, but it's only a 14-day loan at the library right now and I KNOW it's going to take me longer than that to read it.

34jnwelch
Edited: Feb 29, 2016, 4:31pm

35CurrerBell
Edited: Feb 29, 2016, 8:30pm

>34 jnwelch: Speaking of sci-fi, I'm currently reading Ursula Le Guin's Four Ways to Forgiveness, finished the first three stories novellas and hoping to get the fourth finished tonight.

Also, just finishing up Mary Taylor, Letters from New Zealand & Elsewhere. Taylor (along with Ellen Nussey) was one of Charlotte Bronte's two BFFs from boarding-school days at Roe Head (NOT to be confused with Cowan Bridge, the school on which Jane Eyre's Lowood Institute was modeled). I've previously read Taylor's novel, Miss Miles; her essay collection, The First Duty of Women; and her co-authored travelogue, Swiss Notes by Five Ladies.

Taylor's quite an interesting character, the adventuresome of the three BFFs, who emigrated to New Zealand because she found British life too stifling, made a modest "fortune" Down Under from starting a general store, and then returned to England to take up feminist causes. Her novel, published in 1890 but set in the Yorkshire of the 1830s, reminds me of George Gissing's The Odd Women, except that I personally like Taylor's novel better.

Both these books will qualify for this month's ROOTs and Taylor's letters will also qualify for this month's Reading Through Time theme of Celebrating the Writers.

36Sakerfalcon
Mar 1, 2016, 4:40am

>35 CurrerBell: I'm also reading Ursula Le Guin - the essays collected in Dancing at the edge of the world. One or two of the ones about writing have been rather dry but the majority are thought-provoking and just as compelling as her fiction.

37LolaWalser
Mar 2, 2016, 1:19pm

Have read another play by Lorraine Hansberry, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's window (collected with two other authors in Penguin's Three Negro Plays). The plot's too complicated for brief summation, and I can't help feeling this would've worked better as a novel. Very interesting nevertheless for showcasing Hansberry's wide range of interests and references.

Also read Paula Fox's Desperate characters. OK, in general I dislike praising something by rubbishing something else but this once I can't resist--anyone who thinks John Williams' insipid, awkward, ridiculously self-indulgent Stoner is quality, could do worse than meet THIS example of a virtuoso "slim" novel.

38rebeccanyc
Mar 2, 2016, 6:16pm

>37 LolaWalser: I loved Desperate Characters too. Also her Borrowed Finery, which is a memoir.

39LolaWalser
Mar 2, 2016, 6:25pm

>38 rebeccanyc:

I just got Borrowed finery and another one, also a memoir, about her immediately-post-WWII trip to Europe (as journalist, to Poland), not sure when I'll get to them...

40rebeccanyc
Mar 2, 2016, 6:48pm

>39 LolaWalser: I read that too (the one as journalist) -- not quite up to the others.

41LolaWalser
Edited: Mar 10, 2016, 4:24pm

Finished Irène Némirovsky's first book, David Golder--first book of hers I've read.

At first I thought I'd end up thoroughly hating it, but somewhere after the second third, when the betrayed old man faces his impossibly spoiled daughter (who probably isn't his), I gave in to the passion of the story and the pathos of the character, writ so large where others are merely sketches. For such a short book it's odd how difficult it felt--for one thing, Golder is a dead man walking, in agony for almost the entire time; for another, he's surrounded by a swarm of odious characters, none worse than his monstrously greedy wife and daughter.

But all of them, including Golder, who self-made himself out of the desperate Russian-Jewish mud, have substituted appetite for money for every other zeal in life. At least the young daughter still has the capacity to enjoy the intoxication of love--except that even to her it comes in the character of a degraded young aristocrat who lives off rich old women. Money could literally free and buy him for her, if only she could persuade Dad to open his wallet. (Mother hates her as a competitor, no help from that side.)

This seems to be based on Némirovsky's own experiences with her parents, and knowledge of moneyed circles.

It is easy to see the character of David Golder as antisemitic, but somehow it transcends the negative stereotype. One doesn't only feel sorry for Golder; once we see where he came from, his existential struggle becomes not only understandable but admirable--epic. Like all tragic heroes he loses tremendously; left in the end with no tangible achievements, only the fight he put up all his life gives a measure of his size.

42LolaWalser
Mar 16, 2016, 12:18pm

Discovered I had unread books by Fred Vargas and finished Un peu plus loin sur la droite and Sans feu ni lieu, the second and third in the "three evangelists" series. Decided I like Adamsberg and his team far more. The mysteries seem better, and the "permanent" characters are at least somewhat more varied. Only after reading two more of the evangelists books, and one quickly after another, did it strike me how monotonously male and heterosexual (and white) is the cast. Their personal situations are also very similar--none have girlfriends, all have either abandoned or been abandoned by women, and, while I generally prefer stories that don't dwell on the sleuth's private life, given the setup here, where we keep returning to the evangelists' cosy domesticity, this sort of thing becomes glaring.

Also read the fourth and last book of Ferrante's Amica geniale, Storia della bambina perduta, which I see has been translated as The story of a lost child--for once I'm sorry that the gendering hasn't been kept, because it is very much to the point that the lost child is a girl.

Anyway, I read it and cried like a fool. What an experience this has been...

43LolaWalser
Mar 16, 2016, 12:18pm

About to start Roxane Gay's Bad feminist.

44LolaWalser
Mar 18, 2016, 12:40pm

I thought I'd just skim Marie Kondo's The life-changing magic of tidying up, but ended up reading it all--and getting unexpectedly moved, although not to decluttering my apartment! It was just surprisingly touching to read about the piety she has for things, the principle of keeping only "what sparks joy" etc. I thought it would be more like a tech manual or some such, whereas it actually deals with some pretty deep psychology.

It's very consoling. I can't do what the book teaches you to do for several reasons, but I'm sure I'll read this again, and again, go figure.

I grabbed The story of a single woman by Uno Chiyo for my commute read, which I like on the thin side, and now I want to tell everyone about it, what a delicious book. It was published in Japan in 1971, when she was 74, it's apparently autobiographical, and tells the story of her life up to her thirties. I'm not sure in what sense "single" is meant--Uno was married at least three times and seems never to have been without male partnership--but something "single", singularly independent, certainly seems to be the hallmark of her character.

It's not often that I encounter women's stories of predominantly romantic and sexual seeking that manage to reflect the woman as a whole person in her own right--typically the woman "vanishes" masochistically into obsession, relationship, wifehood, motherhood...

Not Uno. While pursuing relationships with men was clearly very important to her, somehow they don't seem central. Really nothing was central but her will. Here's a woman who worked for men and suffered for men and sacrificed a lot to her passions--but never sacrificed herself. Another marvellous thing is her relationship with her young stepmother, whom she always thought of as her mother (the biological one having died when Uno was small). Both how that woman cared for her, despite getting saddled by four five children of her own by Uno's worthless father, and how Uno returned that love.

I don't know whether the deadpan humour I detected is an artefact of the translation, but I thought there was a lot of it, and this bit made me LOL:

Kazue could not believe that only yesterday she had taken a knife and gone to visit a man.

Take that, Nietzsche! :)))

45Sakerfalcon
Mar 19, 2016, 6:16am

>44 LolaWalser: The story of a single woman sounds fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation!

I'm currently reading Full bloom, a biography of Georgia O'Keefe, as there will be a big exhibition of her work in London this summer and I'd like to know more about her before I go. I'm also reading a fantasy novel, Wolf's head, wolf's heart by Jane Lindskold, and am about to start Jo Walton's The philosopher kings, having loved The just city.

46LolaWalser
Mar 19, 2016, 12:12pm

>45 Sakerfalcon:

Re: Uno, I didn't do it justice really! Kazue (Uno's stand-in) is wonderful in her mix of naivete, determination to say "yes" to life good or bad, generosity, passionate affection, and this blithely nonchalant way of doing as she pleases, as if she didn't exist in one of the most unequal countries in the world.

I have started Nnedi Okorafor's Who fears death (and am still reading Gay).

47jnwelch
Mar 19, 2016, 12:19pm

Reading lots of Patricia Briggs lately. After enjoying her Mercy Thompson books, I'm a ways into her Alpha and Omega books. Fun escapism.

48sparemethecensor
Mar 19, 2016, 12:37pm

As part of my reading of the books cited in Bad Feminist, I read Joan Didion's Play It as It Lays, which I cannot recommend highly enough. That 1960s ennui, it's never been done better. I fully realize it is a rich white woman's ennui, but a stunningly written, arresting novel nonetheless.

49CurrerBell
Mar 19, 2016, 2:12pm

>47 jnwelch: I just finished the latest Mercy book, Fire Touched, and I also just read last year's graphic novel Hopcross Jilly. I don't that much care for the Alpha and Omega books, though. I read the first and I guess it was alright enough but not so much so that I feel like getting myself involved in a new series.

50jnwelch
Mar 19, 2016, 3:23pm

>49 CurrerBell: I can understand re Alpha and Omega. Not at the level of the Mercy Thompson ones. But I'm still enjoying them - she tells a good yarn. How did you like Hopcross Jilly?

51CurrerBell
Edited: Mar 20, 2016, 8:02pm

>50 jnwelch: I gave Hopcross Jilly 3½*** but I'm not the biggest fan on earth of graphic novels. If you like comics, graphic novels, whatever, you'd probably rate it higher. Really a pretty good story, and good illustrations especially of Jesse. (It's really more her story than anyone else's.)

ETA: I personally wouldn't be that inclined to buy graphic novels unless for the sake of Mercy Thompson or Rachel Morgan (or better yet, as to The Hollows, my NUMBER ONE's Ivy). That's just me.

And I do get graphics for the Percyverse too, although there my NUMBER ONE's Clarisse LaRue and she doesn't appear in much of anything after her own quest in The Sea of Monsters except in cameos. I positively refuse to watch the Percy Jackson movies because of what they did to Clarisse, casting her with some kind of pretty-face starlet.

52LolaWalser
Mar 25, 2016, 3:00pm

Finished on the subway Maryse Condé's short memoir, Le Coeur à rire et à pleurer : Souvenirs de mon enfance, dealing with her childhood in Guadeloupe and university time in Paris.

She's another Caribbean author with a privileged background. Her father was a functionary of some kind and a recipient of a Legion of honour; her mother was one of the first black women teachers locally. The family lived in "best" neighbourhoods, travelled to Europe many times, and Maryse won a scholarship that enabled her to go to Sorbonne at sixteen. She didn't care much for her father, who was sixty-three when she was born and it seems rather indifferent to her, and writes much more about the mother, an adored and feared figure. The mother, in drastic contrast to Maryse, grew up in wretched misery, born to a servant woman who was also a child of a servant, neither of these women having been married and more often than not forced into sexual relationships with men who never hung around long enough for even their names to register. With this in mind, the criticism of Maryse's eldest brother Sandrino, who tells her their parents, with their upper class aspirations, are "alienated" from the poor blacks, seems especially ironic. The mother used to be "a poor black"; her "alienation" is the struggle to keep her children away from that fate in the only way then possible--assuming white ideals and traditions.

53jnwelch
Mar 26, 2016, 3:34pm

>51 CurrerBell: Thanks. I am a graphic novel fan, so I'll see whether the library has it.

54jnwelch
Mar 29, 2016, 4:33pm

A Manual for Cleaning Women, short stories by Lucia Berlin, is very good so far.

55LolaWalser
May 6, 2016, 10:17am

I'm here to gush about Red Rosa by Kate Evans! (Touchstone... Wuthering Heights? Um.)

Well, I'm interested in the subject so I knew I'd find it interesting regardless, but I'm delighted to be able to say that it's a thoroughly fabulous work and something I'll be recommending and giving far and wide. The artwork is lovely! (I admit, I sort of expected it would be on the perfunctory side, like those comic book intros to philosophers series...) I'd never heard of Kate Evans, but she's fantastic. Her Rosa is so expressive and vivacious she jumps off the page. The text, especially that of the dialogue, is culled from Luxemburg's letters and reminiscences. The pages that describe Luxemburg's long wartime imprisonment, and the final ones... are pure poetry. And, reader, I cried.

Wonderful book about a wonderful person, a hero, a luminous soul.

56Sakerfalcon
May 7, 2016, 6:31am

>55 LolaWalser: I just heard about Red Rosa at an exhibition of female comic book artists at the House of Illustration in London. They had collected examples of the work of 100 women working in the form since Victorian times, and my friend and I both came away with a long list of names and titles to seek out. This was one of them. It's good to know that the whole book is excellent, not just the pages we saw.

57LolaWalser
May 7, 2016, 11:46am

>56 Sakerfalcon:

It really is. Previously my standard for excellence in historical graphic novel form has been Will Eisner's The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but this is better. Of course, it helps that it has such a fantastic central figure.

58jnwelch
May 11, 2016, 12:34pm

I'm halfway through Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, set during WWII, and it's very good.

59overlycriticalelisa
May 11, 2016, 8:38pm

reading the chimney sweeper's boy for a mystery book group and have gotten really into it.

60LolaWalser
May 24, 2016, 1:00pm

Read an oldie, but goldie, The book of Eve (1975), recommended by an LT-er... After forty years of loveless marriage to a difficult man, the last eighteen of which she spent as a practically housebound servant to him because of his arthritis, Eva leaves the house one morning with only the clothes on her and her pension envelope in hand, never to come back.

She moves just to the other side of Montreal, but it's a giant leap to her. She's never lived alone, with complete freedom to do what she pleases as she pleases. Working through memories of her past, slowly she reacquaints herself with her self, previously always yoked into service to someone else's expectations, the parents, the world's, then the husband's and son's--and starts enjoying life, the good and the bad, as, finally, a free person, a real person.

61overlycriticalelisa
May 24, 2016, 7:43pm

reading zami by audre lorde. have only ever read her poetry before. this is (ostensibly) prose but it's very poetic, and pretty fantastic.

62southernbooklady
May 24, 2016, 9:15pm

>61 overlycriticalelisa: One of the best books I read last year. Pretty heartbreaking in places, though.

63overlycriticalelisa
May 25, 2016, 8:54pm

>62 southernbooklady: so matter-of-factly heartbreaking, when it is. (i'm about halfway through.) she's really something.

64LolaWalser
May 28, 2016, 11:38am

>61 overlycriticalelisa:, >62 southernbooklady:

I'm looking forward to reading Lorde for the first time.

Meanwhile, I read Ibis (1985) by Linda Steele, an sf novel that inverts many of the tropes of "boy's own" type of adventure story, but is rather more thoughtful and ethical than the usual "spaceman & his sex slaves" fare.

Here a man becomes a powerful woman's sex-slave, and because they belong to alien species, previously unacquainted, she is slow to understand that her treating him as a lesser type of being (regardless of how much she lusts for him), is a moral problem and an injustice.

The language is more swoony-sexy than pornographic (alas ;)), but, after some initial misgivings, I was glad to see the sex served the plot rather than vice versa.

I also read Beatrix Potter's art : paintings and drawings and a bunch of Peter Rabbit (and friends) books by Potter herself, because I wanted to look at the pictures in the light of what Hobbs says. I was amazed to learn just how industrious and careful an observer of nature Potter was, having produced many thousands of studies of plant and animal life, landscapes, even furniture sketches.

The tales are of course delightful, with two special mentions--The tale of Samuel Whiskers, which is the one I remember most vividly fascinating me as a tot... I wish I could know exactly why, but it had something to do with the combination of horrific villainy and jollity in Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria--how they argue if the kitten should be rolled in breadcrumbs or dough--how could they do that and wear a pretty dress, and Samuel Whiskers have such a charmingly round bottom, in pantaloons and a waistcoat--there was something astonishing in this to me.

Oh yes, also the "smuts" in the dough getting camouflaged with raisins, in the end--that outraged me. Such dirtiness, such treachery! (I drove mum crazy asking about the "smuts" in the food she served for months.)

The tale of Ginger & Pickles I don't remember reading as a kid, but it made me laugh NOW with the droopy candles drawings and Mr. Dormouse retiring from the complaining mob to his bed and muttering only "very snug"--it's no way to run a business! Just recalling it makes me grin...

65southernbooklady
May 28, 2016, 12:21pm

I saw your review of Ibis in your other thread and was interested.

As for Beatrix Potter, she's always been a favorite, I even had a little Wedgewood tea set when I was young!

My best-remembered stories were Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, and The Tailor of Gloucester. Squirrel Nutkin stayed with me especially, because even though the animals are all anthropomorphized, the Mr. Owl was so owl like -- inscrutable and a little scary -- definitely a predator! The squirrels were also very squirrelish.

66LolaWalser
Edited: May 28, 2016, 1:38pm

>65 southernbooklady:

Cool books like Ibis always make me feel guilty about not doing proper reviews on them, but yes, if you chance on it, it's worth a read. I don't know whether I've emphasised this enough, but what's especially interesting (to me anyway) is that, while the premise is "the opposite of" that in the usual macho power trip, it's not JUST that... like, say, a revenge fantasy might be.

(Possibly women simply don't write books like that. "Where are female Jim Thompsons" etc.)

In macho pulp the fantasy is all there is--hero sees, hero conquers, women are no more than toys or garbage. No conscience, no qualms, no morality (regarding treatment of women anyway). In that realm they all "think they have the right to kill their wives".

Steele's heroine inadvertently treats her human captive with a similar negligence, but only for a brief time (while she still assumes he must be more or less the same as a male of her species)--she understands eventually that he is more like herself, both capable and worthy of the same feelings that she has. I was grateful for Steele unequivocally (in Padrec's POV) saying Anii had raped him--despite his technical "consent", because humans cannot resist insect-like potency of nomari pheromones. Padrec continues to be wretched and increasingly depressed at his humiliating captivity and being used as a sexual toy, even as he develops a real attraction to Anii--that's another thing I've never encountered in any of the usual "me Tarzan you Jane" setups.

IOW, Steele not only has a message, she treats the male sex slave with consideration and sensitivity (as a figure who does NOT deserve such a fate, as no one does) that doesn't exist in the rape-o-rama macho pulp fantasy.

That said, the ending where Padrec chooses to stay with Anii instead of join others in the escape struck me as too "rosy romance". They may understand each other better and she treat him like a person now, but the power imbalance is too stark--and he is entirely alone and dependent on her for his existence.

I'm also thinking a lot lately about the ultimate impossibility of love in an unequal world between unequal people. Perversely, it's always the "weaker" one, the disadvantaged one, that we burden with the responsibility of loving more.
But, eh, let me not digress...

I read yesterday all three Potter tales you mention! Yes, I too thought there's frequently a sharp edge within the sweetness, and it's not mean so much as... real, I suppose. You get a cute pig hero who bumps his head on a ham and shudders, because yes, this is the world in which pigs are lovely "persons" but also food. Bunnies wear jackets but also end up in meat pies.

67overlycriticalelisa
May 28, 2016, 4:32pm

still slowly reading/savoring zami. parts of it seem less edited than others, but i'm finding it irrelevant. this book is fantastic. not just to learn about lorde's earlier years, but also just to learn about queerness in new york and mexico during those years. i'm reading it for my lesbian book group's pride month pick and finding it a perfect time to read/discuss it. i don't take too many books home these days but this one is a keeper.

68jennybhatt
Jun 22, 2016, 2:01pm

Just found this group and thread.

Of the few books I'm currently cycling through, I'm particularly enjoying Angela Carter's short story collection Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories.

This is my introduction to Carter's work, though I've been meaning to get to her for quite some time now. Mysterious, weird stories told beautifully. Some of these are fairy tales for adults (though not retellings, I don't think).

69sturlington
Jun 22, 2016, 2:41pm

I am currently reading Four Ways to Forgiveness. Ursula K. Le Guin, like Margaret Atwood, is an author I return to once or twice each year.

70jnwelch
Jun 22, 2016, 2:43pm

Just finished Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree. Good one - my review's on the book page.

71CurrerBell
Jun 22, 2016, 2:51pm

>69 sturlington: Just finished that myself a few months ago. One of these years I'm going to have to move on from the Hainish scifi, of which I've read quite a bit, to the Earthsea fantasy, of which I've read none at all.

72Jesse_wiedinmyer
Edited: Jun 22, 2016, 6:25pm

I've not been reading much at all recently (and quite a bit of it has been brain candy-ish), but the five most recent books I've read by women have contained some standouts.

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. There's been quite a bit of shade thrown at just how "true" this memoir may be, and it does seem to end at a particularly dramatic interlude, but... A relatively easy read and there's quite a bit to think over in there about just where "homelessness" begins and ends (if I'm living out of a car or trailer, is that "truly" homeless?) I'm not sure I'd wave anyone off the book, but I'm also not sure I can give it any strong recommendation.

The Confidence Game : Why We Fall For It Every Time

As an autistic, I'm sort of fascinated by the concept of honesty and dishonesty (and the way that personal narratives shape our realities). I'm not sure this book deals much explicitly with women's issues, but one of Konnikova's larger points is that one of the simplest things working in most con's favor is our own willingness (desire, even) to believe what they want to sell us.

Blood, Bones & Butter

Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir of her entry into the male dominated kitchen industry. There's quite a bit else in there (family dynamics, including her estrangement from her mother, lesbian relationships, and her attempt to make a true marriage of a green card marriage to an Italian PhD, with visits to his family in Italy.) She has quite a bit to say on what it was like working in a restaurant (hers) where there were no men a good chunk of the time...

It wasn't until I opened my own place that I realised how present and ongoing the struggle to be female in a professional kitchen had been. It's like the hood during service. Everybody talks about the heat in a kitchen, and the heat, without doubt, is formidable. It's a powerful opponent. But for me, the real punisher is the exhaust hood, with the suction so powerful that it sucks up all the metal bound filters from the spots and bangs them against the lip of the hood. The big mechanic kick of the fan belts starting up, the unified clank of the filters rising - like a Rockette's kick, all in unison - then followed by eighteen hours of heavy-duty vacuum hum, over which orders are barked, dishes are clanked, pots are slammed around, and the stereo blasts. Then finally at midnight or one, after the disher has turned off the fryer, someone turns off the hood and a profound silence descends. I never realise how much space the noise of the hood takes up in my mind and head - the heavy vacuum sound - until I shut it off, and total bliss and relief set in.

In the same way, when I opened my own restaurant, I enjoyed such an absence of boy-girl jostling that I only then understood that, all through my entire work life, I had been working a double shift. I had been working the same shift as my peers, with all of its heat and heft and long hours on your feet. But I had been doing a second job all along, as well - that of constantly vigilantly figuring out how and calibrating my place in that kitchen with those guys to make a space for myself that was bearable and viable. Should I wear pink clogs or black steel-toe work shoes? Lipstick or chapstick? Work double hard, double fast, double strong, or keep pace with the average Joe? Swear like a line cook or giggle like a girl?


Not a great book, but engaging and better than average.

Lila

I'm not sure what to say about this one. Housekeeping is one of my favorite books of all time. This one's the latest in the trio of books centering around Gilead. I was not overly fond of either Gilead or Home, but this book is an absolutely gorgeous little gem, centered in such simple grace and compassion that it's astounding. I've already bought one copy for a friend, and very easily see myself revisiting this in the near future.

A Mother's Reckoning : Living In the Aftermath of Tragedy

I've mentioned this book briefly elsethread. Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold's mother, Sue Klebold writes of her attempts to process her son's part in the Columbine massacre. I know using the word "visceral" is something of a cliche, but I was amazed at the physicality of my response to certain portions of this book. It was, quite literally, wrenching at times.

Like mothers all over Littleton, I had been praying for my son's safety. But when I heard the newscaster pronounce twenty-five people dead, my prayers changed. If Dylan was involved in hurting or killing other people, he had to be stopped. As a mother, this was the most difficult prayer I had ever spoken in the silence of my thoughts, but in that instant I knew the greatest mercy I could ask for was not my son's safety, but for his death.

Klebold documents her immediate reaction (and complete and utter helplessness) to the shootings, the sheer blindsided pain as she struggled to reconcile the actions of her son with the son she thought she knew, her attempts to figure out what she had done wrong or could have done differently (at one point a friend suggests that it must be impossible to forgive her son... "Forgive Dylan?" she asks, "I need to figure out how to forgive myself"), her need to grieve her son while respecting the suffering her visited upon others, and her subsequent work with suicide prevention and support groups.

By no means was this an easy book to read, but I found it more than worth the effort.

73Sakerfalcon
Jun 23, 2016, 4:34am

>68 jennybhatt: Angela Carter is one of my favourite authors, and I think her short stories are some of her best work. Some of the fairy tales are based on Bluebeard, Beauty and the beast and Puss-in-Boots, but I think the wolf ones are her own invention, although obviously with some debt to Red Riding Hood. I think they are brilliant.

>70 jnwelch: I loved The lie tree. I'll look for your review!

I'm currently reading The true game by Sheri S. Tepper, Pilgrimage 3 by Dorothy Richardson and Ash and silver by Carol Berg. All are very good in different ways.

74jennybhatt
Jun 23, 2016, 11:05am

>73 Sakerfalcon:: I'm reading the Bluebeard story right now -- Bloody Chamber. I've read a few different versions of it over the years by different writers. Looking forward to seeing how this one goes.

75jnwelch
Jun 23, 2016, 1:06pm

>73 Sakerfalcon: My review of The Lie Tree is on the book page now, Claire. What an unusual premise!

76LolaWalser
Jul 9, 2016, 12:05pm

Finished quickly an "accidental" read--Garnethill by Denise Mina. I didn't know what it was about, typically I'd avoid books about sexual abuse, especially crime thrillers, but there were some interesting differences here. For one thing, Mina's background is in academic research on mental illness and "female offenders" (from the short interview included in the book), and there is a special weight to the world she depicts; for another, the point of view is shifted from the usual one of the perpetrator and the crimes, to the victims--their condition, their lives, their doings.

The villain here is almost marginal--though not less menacing, and it's a very suspenseful story to the end, even if you guess "whodunnit" early on.

It's endlessly depressing to think that the experiences she describes are actually happening, all the time, and that people such as the abusers in this book really exist--evidence no further away than the first women's shelter...

A very good read, with notably well-drawn characters.

77jnwelch
Jul 9, 2016, 2:32pm

Reading The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer. I think this is my tenth of hers. It's not quite as good as An Infamous Army, IMO (trying to cram in too much historical detail from her research?), but it's still well done.

78LolaWalser
Edited: Sep 8, 2016, 2:17pm

A quick summary of my reads, before I forget even more about them... :)

The Russian ballet by Ellen Terry (the legendary actress), a lovely book published in the heyday of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The text is in no way perfunctory, and although writing meaningfully about dance and music is notoriously at least as difficult as "dancing about architecture", something palpably exciting and real comes through. All the more remarkable as Terry was ancient by that time.

Books by Algerian lesbians aren't thick on the ground so I really wanted to like Nina Bouraoui's Mes mauvaises pensées (My bad thoughts), but that proved impossible... Stream-of-consciousness may seem easy to write but it's hellishly difficult to write well and this book is an object lesson in how not to do it. On and on it drones endlessly without any rhythm or structure. Like a black hole made of words, the more I read the less it said.

Twyla Tharp's The creative habit, which I got with a vague idea of giving it to my niece (who seems to want to be an artist, at least currently), was surprisingly smart and engrossing, especially in the first two thirds. I need to re-read them and note down some stuff.

I finished Denise Mina's Garnethill trilogy and read one other of hers, Still midnight. As I mentioned before, the down-and-out world and grubby misery of her thrillers isn't something I'm inclined to enjoy, but I'm filled with awe at her power of characterisation, especially of women and relationships between women.

I didn't know Kiffe kiffe demain (Kif kif tomorrow) was "YA" not just in terms of author's age (nineteen I think, at the time of writing), but in language. It's a very readable and moving story of a 15-year-old Moroccan girl (sounding much younger, to my ears) living in a Muslim-dominated French suburb, alone with her illiterate mother, abandoned unceremoniously by their dad and husband for the chance of getting a son with a younger second wife. Between the patronising, casual, mostly low-level but nevertheless hurtful racism from the few whites the girl interacts with (teachers, social workers...) and the repression and violent discrimination forced on women within their community, the girl's prospects look rather bleak--until she falls in love with a nice Muslim boy who also inspires her to greater ambition. I'm ambivalent about such "some day my prince will come" solutions but it seems a churlish complaint... I think I feel the habit of consistently referring to white girls as sluts ("blonde sluts" was a recurring motif)--none of whom she had any contact with; simply because they were something she was not--was worse. Yes, I know it's probably defensive more than offensive--and possibly accurately descriptive of Muslim attitudes.

I have yet to add the book of Mary Petty's cartoons for the New Yorker, This Petty Pace. Women illustrators and cartoonists are still rare, and she was a great pioneer in even harder times... You've probably seen this one somewhere:



79jnwelch
Nov 3, 2016, 3:57pm

I just read The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan and loved it.

80LolaWalser
Nov 4, 2016, 1:01pm

I've started on Nawal El Saadawi's The hidden face of Eve, as the introduction to the small collection (5-6? titles) about women and Islam that I've gathered.

Since the last summary I read Sade, dissertation et l'orgie by Chantal Thomas--only occasionally rewarding, to me, with some insight into his peculiar world--and Phyllis Hartnoll's efficient short history of the theatre for the Thames & Hudson "The World of Art" series--I enjoyed it.

81LolaWalser
Edited: Nov 6, 2016, 11:53am

While my impressions are fresh: Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard. I'm not particularly interested in Graham Greene, but I am interested in Capri, and, marginally, in the "expat" cultures in Italy, of which the British or, loosely, "Anglo" varieties are especially notable for their unsurpassed ability and/or aspiration to treat the surrounding society as mere stage scenery and props in their personal amusement park. Qualified exceptions exist--Baron Corvo's penury forced him, and linguistic ability enabled him, to eke a down and out existence in Venice; Norman Douglas, the doyen of British clique on Capri, found frequently a most intimate use for pre-pubescent local boys (which he justified by saying they weren't, properly speaking, children at all, being so poor they led a battle for survival from earliest age); people who married Italian partners sometimes assimilate enthusiastically, and of course there are those like Bernard Berenson and Harold Acton who "marry" into the culture through professional vocation and aesthetic passion, experts who frequently know more about aspects of local history and art than the average native.

Greene was "none of the above". Capri was just a place "to be away" with one or the other married woman with whom he spent his life. Through a stroke of chance, rather than a deliberate plan, he bought a house there cheaply in the lean postwar years and then simply kept returning to it until his death, in between other regular stays at his "headquarters" in the Antibes and many trips around the world. Curiously, the natural beauty of the island meant as little to him as its wonderful fresh food--he certainly could observe, and occasionally enjoy it, but he didn't love it.

Hazzard, who with husband Francis Steegmuller (translator, editor and biographer of Flaubert and Cocteau) would meet Greene regularly on Capri for more than two decades, writes that he didn't care for the arts, never went to museums, galleries, concerts, never enquired after or discussed such sympathies in others.

Just before reading this book I read a collection of Greene's, The Lost childhood and other essays (in a desperate effort to make space on my shelves or rather the floor, ironically I end up first reaching for and reading stuff I *think* I won't mind "letting go") and I was surprised by the dull, bland quality and sheer narrow-mindedness of someone who is a better-than-mediocre novelist, at least judging by the few titles I've read (The quiet American, Our man in Havana, The comedians...). From the essays it would seem the Catholic obsession was the culprit for these pinched, sour, unimaginative judgements, almost all of which on any subject sum up to "if only they believed..." Greene must have been as disappointed by the Catholics on Capri as Douglas was amused by them. Italian Catholicism is illiterate and unintellectual, which is the only way for a religion to continue existing--the high-falutin' concept of "Catholic agnosticism" was fine for Greene and the manipulators in the Vatican, but won't serve a poor fisherman.

So, yes, what were the points of communication? There were none. Capri or any such place is just a hotel, the natives servants and helpmeets.

Which brings us to Greene's attitudes toward women, "traditional" in a word. Hazzard relates, quietly and without rancour, several terrifically awful insults Greene dished out to her (he did apologise in one case). Apparently Greene had a very specific limited idea of and use for women, as, of course, sexual partners, and beyond that, strictly self-sacrificing aides and servants, which clearly doesn't leave much space for friendship such as with men. Any opposition or suspicion of humour or criticism from a woman was liable to turn him berserk. To be physically attractive was a woman's duty; to be that AND intelligent was an infraction. Neither did he care for the "woman's side" of anything. Hazzard puts this smouldering resentment of women in a larger context, reminding us of the climate in which Greene and his close friends existed:

In the characterization of women, the male novelists of those years wrote as though Elizabeth Bennet, Dorothea Brooke, Becky Sharp, and Emma Bovary had never been created. Woman, ideally, should be the handmaid of man, or sexually disposable. In his collection of essays, Enemies of Promise, Cyril Connolly addresses the grim fate of good writers--for him, exclusively male--who are misguided enough to marry...


Green echoed Connolly in The quiet American, and apparently took to heart in his life, if the devotion to poaching on other people's domestic lives rather than making one for himself is anything to go by.

Given the current moment, when we can collectively as never before in public (on this scale, at this level) observe the importance of gender essentialism to men (and some women), I found this example all the more interesting, as such things are when the subject is "highly articulate" and has articulated through a significant body of work.

Final note: Hazzard writes of meeting Greene's model for the character in Travels with my aunt, the formidable "dottoressa" Elisabeth Moor, Norman Douglas' doctor. The dottoressa, who doted on Greene and was doted on in return (or at least treated with kindness and sympathy as no other woman in his life), was a rabid and vocal misogynist who, on being sorely disappointed that Hazzard and Steegmuller were to share her evening with Greene, launched into a tirade against women that ended with a fervent desire that "all women be eradicated". Hazzard says that during the whole evening she didn't look at her or address her once, and Steegmuller rarely. Greene, one gathers, neither protested nor mitigated that behaviour.

On another occasion, out of the blue, he told Hazzard something, possibly a favour he did her, was "kind, as one is kind to Indians and women".

So the great men casually assert dominance over the lesser beings, already dubious even in their frightened, uncertain minds.

82LolaWalser
Nov 6, 2016, 12:32pm

Forgot to mention--and it was actually the reason I kept reading--that Greene had generously sent money to struggling Muriel Spark, something Hazzard learned from Spark herself, just as he was financially generous to some other writers, R. K. Narayan, for example. This, as Hazzard frames it, in curious contrast to his frugality or what could even look like miserliness, although to me it's not illogical that one would spend money on what one feels is important, and not, say, using taxis or expensive hotels etc.

83jnwelch
Nov 7, 2016, 2:48pm

Just finished Heyer's Black Sheep, and had fun with it. Now I'm starting A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.

84LolaWalser
Nov 8, 2016, 12:46pm

Accidentally read a book by a woman!--another sci-fi writer more or less masquerading as a man.

The running man by J. Hunter Holly hooked me with a terrific scene of mob violence. Enjoyable for the writing and the picture of a scary religious cult, if a little underwhelming on the overall plot.

85overlycriticalelisa
Nov 8, 2016, 3:59pm

just starting case histories and am immediately taken by the writing.

86southernbooklady
Nov 8, 2016, 4:12pm

>85 overlycriticalelisa: that book is a marvel of storytelling.

87overlycriticalelisa
Nov 8, 2016, 7:11pm

>86 southernbooklady:

i'm excited to get into it!

also just read possessing the secret of joy which was hard, awful, and important.

88LolaWalser
Nov 9, 2016, 11:48am

>85 overlycriticalelisa:, >86 southernbooklady:

I read that one, she's a born storyteller. I remember wishing I could write like that.

89jnwelch
Nov 14, 2016, 4:22pm

I'm reading a Florence Nightingale biography by Catherine Reef, and Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood.

90overlycriticalelisa
Nov 16, 2016, 12:08am

finished case histories in time for my book group's discussion of it tonight, and managed to love it. but will have to reread it sometime because i had a lot of trouble reading (and sleeping) over the last week. books are usually my to-go place for anything, even mourning, but this has been hard.

i thought it was one of the better written books i've read in a while, but couldn't concentrate on it like it deserves. i do know that the writing was so good that i will read everything she's ever written because of it.

in case anyone's wondering, it wasn't a terribly good book for a group discussion because no one had anything negative to say about it at all. a few questions and things to talk about, but everyone in group loved the book as well.

91jnwelch
Nov 22, 2016, 12:49pm

I'm reading the very good Hero of the Empire (Winston Churchill as an ambitious young man) by Candice Millard.