Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish - Elsie Blackwell

This was a quiet book, told in first person by Louis Pryor as an old man reflecting on his life.  As a seventeen year-old boy, the levee in his small, Louisiana town was deliberately dynamited unnecessarily in turns out, during the 1927 Mississippi flood.  The damage altered his life and comes to symbolize his loss of innocence.

I was impressed at a woman writer's ability to speak as a man.  She captured perfectly his sorrow and regret at what was lost, decisions made that changed the trajectory of his life.  I liked his father, an illiterate, poor, farmer who becomes superintendent of the logging company.  He explains to his son when criticized that his choices have always been "take it" or "leave it".  He's always chosen to take it as it moved him up in the world regardless of the compromises made.

I would recommend reading this one and will look for the author's first book, Hunger.

Published:  2007  Read: July 2018  Genre: fiction

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Glass Universe - Dava Sobel

Sub-title: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the Measure of the Stars

I got this book just over a year ago at the Tucson book fair, a recommendation from my brother-in-law, Tom.  I really enjoyed the author's other books that I read, Longitude and Galileo's Daughter

This novel tells the history of the women who worked at the Harvard Observatory analyzing and cataloging glass plate images of the stars. The plates were created by images captured by the observatory's telescopes in Massachusetts, Peru and South Africa.  Over 500,000 plates were created over several decades, a collection that is now being digitized including the paper sleeves they are stored in and the accompanying notes and card files.

The original observatory's efforts were made possible by ongoing donations from Anna Draper, the wife of Henry Draper, in honor of her husband.  She was very involved throughout the rest of her life in the programs.  Many women worked as "computers" to analyze and record the information on the stars.  It made me realize that astronomy involves a lot of math and physics.  I was struck with the education and skills of these women in the late 1800's and into the early 20th century and compared them in my mind to my women ancestors of the time, most of whom did not even go to high school.

There's mention of a Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin that I'll have to research as "Yerkes" is the middle name of my 2nd great-grandfather.

The women were not treated as second-class, although their pay was far less than their male counterparts.  The author features several who received doctorates in Astronomy and were instrumental in developing techniques for quantifying and cataloging the stars and who discovered many. 

A good read and history lesson.

Published:  2016  Read: July 2018  Genre: non-fiction, science

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

In the Name of Friendship - Marilyn French

Why have I not heard of this author before?  She was a major influence on feminism with her 1977 book, The Woman's Room.  She wrote many, many scholarly articles and books as well as works of fiction.  I am so glad I found this one! 

She tells the story of four women friends, from their late 70's to early 30's.  Their voices are so real, their conversations intimate, kind, meaningful.  It is a book written completely from the female perspective, with no apologies or stereotypes - so refreshing!  I bought another one of her books and will read her first.

She did a dissertation on James Joyce's Ulysses and has written extensively on feminism in Shakespeare. 

I liked this quote :
"What really happened in aging was that every day your got more and more amenable to dying."

Published:  2005  Read: July 2018  Genre: Fiction

Thursday, July 5, 2018

People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks

A book conservationist is hired to examine and repair an ancient Jewish book, the Sarajevo Haggadah.  The story tells of her discoveries of minute evidence of its past hidden in its pages which are explained in flashbacks to their origins.  The story is based on a true precious relic that has been a symbol of the various faiths living in harmony for centuries.  This is a work of historical fiction, so the author creates fictional characters to populate the facts.

Brooks has written other books of historical fiction: March which tells the story of the father of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women; Nine Parts of Desire, which I don’t think I’ve read and Year of Wonders, about a town during the Black Plague. 

People of the Book tells of the terrible tragedies of wars and hatred and the enduring strength of the people who persist despite the hardship.  I learned more about all religions – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and how much they are intertwined.  A wonderful read, highly recommended.

Published:  2008  Read: June 2018  Genre: Historical Fiction