The Street is a brutal examination of racism, sexism, and poverty in America. Set in 1940s Harlem, Ann Petry's novel primarily tells the story of LutiThe Street is a brutal examination of racism, sexism, and poverty in America. Set in 1940s Harlem, Ann Petry's novel primarily tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a young single mother, and her son Bub. In the process, she tells the story of many of the street's inhabitants, allowing the reader an intimate peek inside each of their lives as she reveals all the pain and disappointment that makes them who they are.
The best part of Petry's novel, though, is how relevant it remains 60+ years after it was first published. The kinds of dangers that Lutie and Bub would face in the street of an impoverished neighborhood in 2009 are different, but their causes have not changed. We have not escaped the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, or lynchings. We have not figured out how to eradicate poverty or even, most days, indicated that as a society we are truly interested in doing so. We have not created a world that is as safe and welcoming for women as it is for men. Thus, The Street still has much to teach us decades later....more
In Bachelor Girl, Betsy Israel reconstructs the single American girl in all her manifestations -- suspicious early factory worker, bohemian, rule smasIn Bachelor Girl, Betsy Israel reconstructs the single American girl in all her manifestations -- suspicious early factory worker, bohemian, rule smashing flapper, 1970s mace toting single woman afraid of being raped or killed on her way home each night, 1980s ice queen -- using popular legend, newspaper clippings written by hysterical men afraid of new female independence, copious novels both well known and obscure, and occasionally, though sadly few remain from the earliest days of female singledom, firsthand accounts from single women themselves. Primarily about single women in NYC with a sprinkling of singles from Chicago, she's largely talking about urban women's lives; her focus is also largely middle class, white, and heterosexual.
For me, the mark of good nonfiction is that it sparks a desire to read other books. Bachelor Girl certainly does that. It took a great deal of willpower not to stop every couple of minutes and log into Goodreads, adding three or four books at a time to my to-read shelf. The only thing that helped was knowing that a lot of the materials she mentions are primary source materials -- likely available, if at all, only through extensive library searches. Many (actually, it would probably be more accurate to say most) of the secondary sources she refers to are novels and movies. This, too, made me happy. She does a really good job of demonstrating how popular books and films constructed ideas of single women throughout the decades right up to Bridget Jones and Ally McBeal, and to her credit (or maybe detriment depending on your point of view), she made those two particular characters sound interesting to me for the very first time. Maybe I'll even watch those Bridget Jones movies, or maybe this will all blow over in a day, and I'll go back to not caring at all. Regardless, her analysis is interesting.
I really appreciate her ability to analyze journalistic decisions rather than taking news reports at their word. She is keenly aware of the anti single woman tone of most articles -- even those that purported to be on the single girl's side. She also provides a really interesting, albeit brief, history of women in print journalism and the struggle to break out of "the 4F cookie/sweater slum" with 4F referring to food, furnishings, fashion, and family stories -- the only ones available to female reporters for a long while.
I recently got to hear composition scholar Lynn Bloom speak at a conference about writing. She said that clear, approachable writing shows profound respect for one's reader. I totally dig that, and Israel respects her reader. Her tone is casual and conversational. She doesn't get bogged down by academese. I'll admit, though, that I prefer a more rigorously academic citation style over the loosey goosey one that journalists tend to favor. She has an impressive list of resources at the end of the book, but it is often unclear which source goes with which quotation while reading. Also, I enjoyed her writing style, but she has a penchant for sloppy transitions -- "Getting to the point," "But enough of that." Her transitions remind me of an awkward party guest, stumbling from one topic of conversation to the next at break neck speed in a desperate attempt to connect with one of the strangers in the room.
My biggest criticism is that Israel's work fails to adequately address the lives of single women of color, lesbians, and working class women. Of the three she probably does the best job with the latter, as she does briefly examine what it was like for very low paid factory workers around the turn of the nineteenth century. She then largely abandons further discussion of poor women, however. Her discussion of women of color and lesbians amounts to no more than a dozen or so sentences in her 200+ pages. I was really disappointed by this. I would have been more forgiving if she had at least included race and sexuality analysis in her discussion of the last half century. After all, that doesn't seem too difficult to research (though SOMEONE needs to be doing the harder early research because WOC and women-loving-women did not miraculously come into existence without a history). Much of her last chapter was devoted to personal interviews, yet she never once indicated that she thought about race or sexuality while talking to her many interviewees. I don't mind reading about marriage for page after page after page as long as I get to hear what lesbian and bisexual women have to say about their concerns. I don't mind endless input from white women as long as that is balanced by representing the myriad experiences of Women of Color. Unfortunately, I got mostly marriage and white women. I guess if I get all bright and shiny, silver liningish I could say that at least this leaves room for someone else to write a more encompassing book. The thing is, I'm tired of waiting for it.
In her introduction, Israel admits that because WOC "make few primary appearances in the public record until occasional stories on the 'sad,' 'dreary,' or 'dead-end' world of the 'Negro single,' circa 1966" they make an insignificant appearance in her text. She pleads, "it would be impossible, anyway, to do justice to the complexities of the black single experience in this volume. It deserves its own study." Yes, we've heard it all before: it isnt possible to include black women because it wouldn't be fair to them. Their experiences are too varied, complicated, fill-in-the-blank to be included (by the way, Israel doesn't mention whether it would be unfair to other WoC) in this book. The thing is, you can't title a book Bachelor Girl: 100 Years of Breaking the Rules -- A Social History of Living Single and then use your introduction to explain that large parts of the population just didn't fit neatly into your design. Perhaps she should have subtitled it A Social History of Living Single, White, Straight and Mostly Monied. That's a more accurate description.
And for freak's sake, how do you talk about spinsters without talking about lezzies? If we didn't invent spinsterdom then we at least perfected its practice! She gives an even shorter excuse for that exclusion.
I'm practical enough to know that a book cant be everything for everyone, but apologizing upfront for everything that a book is not does not let you off the hook for what I consider to be egregious omissions.
Overall, I really liked the book for what it was; I just thought it could have been a lot more....more
I'm late to The Poisonwood Bible game by almost two decades. I've wanted to read it for a while, but it's daunting to pick up a novel so beloved by alI'm late to The Poisonwood Bible game by almost two decades. I've wanted to read it for a while, but it's daunting to pick up a novel so beloved by almost everyone I know. It has so much to live up to that it seems unfair both to it and to my experience of reading it. I should have known, though, that Barbara Kingsolver would never disappoint me. Like usual, she has created characters full of life who feel so real I could swear they told me the story themselves, and, in a way, they did. I'm pretty sure I can't do this story justice. In fact, I would need to read it at least half a dozen times to catch all of what is happening. That is one of the charms of a Kingsolver novel, though, so I'll forge ahead with a review though I feel ill equipped to do so.
One of the things I most admire about Kingsolver's books is her impeccable research. In less capable hands the second half of the novel could have gone south. In the first half we learn a lot about the geography and nature of the Congo while in the second half we are immersed in its politics. It's didactic. Kingsolver and her various narrators don't hide the fact that they are our teachers. It's easy to see how American audiences could get bogged down in the details of a postcolonial African nation. We generally don't have much of an attention span for such things, partially because, as the novel demonstrates, we are reluctant to acknowledge that we are complicit in the difficulties faced by so many countries on that continent. Kingsolver, though, teaches us through the voices of narrators that we have grown to care for. We realize that the political state of the Congo affected them and their friends directly. We can see that connection, and it makes what might otherwise feel like a far off conflict matter on a more personal level. We see, through Orleanna and her daughters Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth Mae, our own imperfections and the ways -- positive and negative -- that we affect the world.
Those voices make the novel. It is narrated by Orleanna and her daughters in what feels like journal entries. The narrative structure is never explicitly explained, and that bothered me a little, but its execution was so well done. Kingsolver created those five distinct voices in such a way that my favorite character shifted with every shift in narration. Orleanna's sad, practical narration was countered by Ruth Mae's five year old ramblings. Leah was earnest and, later, racked by guilt while her twin sister Adah's narration was poetic, playing with palindromes and forcing readers to see and hear language from different directions. Then there was Rachel. I started out reading the novel, but I had to switch to the audio version in order to finish it in time for my book club meeting. I'm not a big audio book listener, but I'm so glad this one worked out this way. Rachel was so alive in the audio version. She had the most Southern accent of the narrators. Though they all had come from Georgia before ending up as missionaries in the Congo with their zealous Pentecostal father, she was the one most marked by that southern lineage. She was also the least well educated. I do have just a bit of a problem with that combination since so many southern characters are poorly educated that it's become a stereotype, but I loved (and hated) Rachel nonetheless. She is a bratty teenage girl in the beginning of the novel, and her malapropisms seem to grow as she becomes an older bratty adult later in the novel. She brings a bit of levity, though, to a story full of pain, loss, and suffering. I was grateful for that. She also represents how so many Americans think about Africa in general and the Congo in particular, if they think about it at all.
I could go on and on, but I'll end this review abruptly yet decisively by saying that I loved this novel. Loved. ...more
Ok, so this is a short story rather than an actual book, but the copy I read was bound by itself, so I'm adding it to goodreads. It was good (though IOk, so this is a short story rather than an actual book, but the copy I read was bound by itself, so I'm adding it to goodreads. It was good (though I'd probably give it 3.5 stars instead of 4 if I had that option), but I probably would have enjoyed it more if there hadn't been so many bratty kids in Barnes and Noble when I was reading it. There was no way I was paying $10.95 for a short story when I could finish it right there in one sitting....more
I'm not a big fan of historical fiction, but Robin Morgan's well-researched novel about the Inquisition's arrival in Ireland fills a huge gap in our uI'm not a big fan of historical fiction, but Robin Morgan's well-researched novel about the Inquisition's arrival in Ireland fills a huge gap in our understanding of the clash between traditional spiritual beliefs and the capital C church. Just as interesting are Morgan's notes at the end of the novel in which she clearly indicates how she gathered information and which bits were fictionalized. She also includes facts about the surprising number of women and children executed in Europe as heretics.
What I find most appealing about Morgan's characters is that she embraces their complexities. Alyce Kyteler, the noblewoman charged with heresy, is very likable, yet Morgan does not fail to show just how arrogant Kyteler is, having been raised with financial freedom and power. Indeed, Alyce has many lessons to learn. Likewise, Alyce's servant Petronilla de Meath is also a mass of contradictions as she moves between allegiances to the Church and The Craft.
I loved Alyce's and Petronilla's stories. I also really enjoyed the way Morgan so clearly illustrated the connection between Alyce and the land that she loved and its animals. It is rare to find an author who can write about animals in a way that expresses the fullness of their characters without trivializing or anthropomorphizing them to death....more