If you liked Goldberg's other books, you'll love this one--it's more of the same. Strong on writing topics (Look out your bedroom window. Write for 10...moreIf you liked Goldberg's other books, you'll love this one--it's more of the same. Strong on writing topics (Look out your bedroom window. Write for 10), less strong on structure. Use this as a source for writing prompts; for memoir, supplement with other how-to books.(less)
An authentic, honest, fierce story about growing up with a sister who has cystic fibrosis, and parents who are utterly engulfed by the experience. Thi...moreAn authentic, honest, fierce story about growing up with a sister who has cystic fibrosis, and parents who are utterly engulfed by the experience. This is a book about a family in crisis and the ways mother, father, sisters, and brothers coped. Compassionate, profound, deeply moving.(less)
If you have fond memories of the Tale of Peter Rabbit from your childhood; or if you have an interest in women who bravely challenged a social destiny...moreIf you have fond memories of the Tale of Peter Rabbit from your childhood; or if you have an interest in women who bravely challenged a social destiny that seemed foregone and inevitable; or if you are interested in naturalism and the history of preservation, you will enjoy and learn from Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, by environmental historian Linda Lear.
Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866 to wealthy Victorian parents. From early childhood, she was passionately interested in the natural world and drew what she saw in meticulous, painstaking detail, using as models the many animals that she and her brother collected during family holidays. These animal drawings became increasingly imaginative until they at last came to life in the delightful characters that populate The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and other books, all of which became phenomenal bestsellers.
In 1905, after the death of her fiancé and editor, Norman Warne, Potter used the royalties from her books and a small inheritance from an aunt to purchase a farm in the hamlet of Near Sawrey, in the Lake District. There, she met Willie Heelis, a country lawyer who in 1913 became her husband, and together they set about fulfilling a dream they shared: preserving and protecting the Lake District from the despoliation of commercial development. They lived and worked happily together until 1943, when Beatrix Potter Heelis died.
Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature is the most exhaustive and rigorous examination of Potter's life to date. Linda Lear skillfully covers the material that's been been made available by earlier biographers, Margaret Lane and Judy Taylor: the solitary childhood, the astonishing literary success, the dutiful attention to elderly parents, the retirement to marriage and rural farming life. But Lear breaks a good deal of new ground, as well, taking us deep into the experience of a gifted but very private woman with a "talent for reinventing herself." She not only tells the riveting story of a woman who seems to have led three lives, but also fully and meticulously documents her sources. Scholars will appreciate the endnotes, sources, references, and lists of primary and secondary material that Lear has provided, for it is the first time in the history of Potter scholarship that such a full and complete documentation has been made.
However, Lear never allows her responsibilities as a scholar to overshadow her fascination with the human story of Beatrix Potter. With tact, sensitivity, and a profound respect, she goes deeply within her subject to bring us a woman whose tragedies and triumphs seem very personal, compellingly immediate, and entirely real. Lear demonstrates that throughout Potter's long life, her imagination was fueled by a passion for nature, whether this was expressed in drawings of rabbits in blue coats with brass buttons, or in paintings of fungi, lovingly rendered, or in her love for the tenacious Herdwick sheep that populated the hills of the Lake District, or in her profound admiration for the traditional Lakeland lifeways of farmers and artisans. Within the larger context of environmental history that this biography provides, it is easy to see why and how Beatrix Potter became one of England's most important preservationists and greatest benefactors, leaving some 4,300 acres, including 15 farms, dozens of cottages, houses, and over 500 acres of woods to the National Trust. It was a magnificent gift, a model for gifts to come, and still, to this day, unique.
Linda Lear's biography is unique, as well, a fitting tribute to a woman whose many and varied accomplishments are just being recognized, long after her death.(less)
For Keeps is not an easy book to read. It is not about pretty women with perfect bodies who find easy acceptance in a beauty-obsessed culture. It is a...moreFor Keeps is not an easy book to read. It is not about pretty women with perfect bodies who find easy acceptance in a beauty-obsessed culture. It is an impolite, impertinent, irreverent collection of essays written by twenty-seven much-published and gifted writers who are not afraid to tell the truth about the imperfect bodies they have learned to live in--and learned to love.
These are hard truths. "My Mother's Body Image, My Self" (Sara Nelson), tells us that our obsessions about the size and shape and appearance of our bodies are often taught to us by our mothers--who may have been obsessed with their own bodies. An unhealthy preoccupation with physical image and the desire to use bodies to please men can be passed from mother to daughter.
"Dead Bone" (Aimee Liu) is the story of a young woman who became first an anorexic, then an "exercise zealot" for whom physical suffering was a path to perfection. A series of disabling injuries at least teaches her a necessary lesson. "My body finally, definitively, forced the message over my perverse will: I could no longer afford the fallacy that pain would make me better."
"What I Gave Up" (Ellen Sussman) follows the life of a woman who (pushed by her father) went from being a "killer tennis player" to being a compulsive competitive runner to the practice of yoga--each transition accompanied by the rupture of a spinal disk. Now facing her third spinal fusion, Sussman can say, "What I hope for is this: that I can live in this body without pain; that I can use it as well as I'm able to; and that my mind can accept these changes with the grace of an athlete." It's a prayer that we might all etch on our bathroom mirrors.
Victoria Zackheim, the editor of this splendid and often unsettling anthology, remarks in her introduction that most of us spend our lives "worrying more about taut stomachs than about healthy aging" and care more "about society's expectations than our own personal growth." But the women who contributed to this collection show us that it is possible to face our imperfections and confront the daunting prospect of aging in a culture that places a high premium on youth. "It's a new experience, living in a body that feels old," writes Joy Price in "Making Love and Joy in Seasoned Bodies." "My body surprises me every day: What parts will and won't work today?"
And yes, we are asked to own up to death. One of my favorites, "Death Becomes Her," begins with the Monty Python line, "Cake? or Death?" In it, Louisa Ermelino writes about the nearly simultaneous deaths of her mother and her husband. How does a daughter, a wife, live through something so impossible, so terrible? With grace, with compassion, with humor, with love. At the end, Ermelino writes: "I have a vision. My mother is at the stove; my husband is at the kitchen table. The sun is coming in the window. She is making him something to eat. Cake, please..."
Several of the writers had to confront the terrifying prospect of their own deaths. "One of the hardest things about having cancer was leaving the old me at the border, the innocent, healthy me, eater of broccoli and tofu, and facing my own mortality." That's Barbara Abercrombie in "The Best Birthday of All." And then there's Margot Beth Duxler, who learns (in "Impossible Geometry") that she has a tumor on her heart. "No, actually," her doctor corrects her as she wrestles with the news, "it's in your heart."
I wish that every woman could read and take to heart each of the stories in this anthology. It is a rare collection, uncompromisingly honest, ruthlessly real, uncomfortably raw, yet warmed with a very human compassion and brightened by the triumphs, small and large, that make each of these writers a heroine in her own right. (less)
The Rabbi's Daughter is a book about carnality, the often uncontrollable desires and appetites of the body, and the religious codes that are used to c...moreThe Rabbi's Daughter is a book about carnality, the often uncontrollable desires and appetites of the body, and the religious codes that are used to control them. It is not for the faint-hearted reader, or for people who prefer to have sex with the lights off, or for those who are offended by open lewdness. That said, this memoir is a beautiful book, written by a woman whose life has been a bridge between the holy and the profane.
Reva Mann is the father-identified daughter and granddaughter of important rabbis in London and Jerusalem. As a teenager, she rebels against the strictures of her Orthodox family's faith, indulging in drugs, sex, and exhibitionist behavior. Repentant and seeking redemption, she goes to Israel to train as a midwife, has a religious experience, and enters a yeshiva (a school for ultra-Orthodox Jewish women). At twenty-five, hoping that marriage to an ultra-Orthodox man will help her fix what is wrong with her and get closer to God, she goes to Mrs. Frankel, the matchmaker ("And vat kind of a husband are you looking for?"). After a few false starts ("Reva, darlink...making a match is harder for God than parting the Red Sea"), Mrs. Frankel provides Simcha, an American Hasidic Jew whose ultra-observant piety seems to Reva to open the path to purification. Within two months, Simcha proposes and gives her a prayer book as an engagement present. Mazel tov.
But the constant rituals soon become meaningless, especially those that require sexual separation during the weeks she is a niddah, unclean. Six years, three children, and one affair later (with the hunky Mr. Fixit, who comes to remodel the kitchen), she finds herself in the Rabbinical Court, seeking a divorce. After that, there is sexy Sam (a fixer of a different kind), her father's death, breast cancer, her mother's death, and a reunion with a brain-damaged sister. As the years go on, Reva ceases to ricochet between desperate piety and equally desperate promiscuity and eventually finds a middle way, a true path to redemption, "creating a synthesis of the sacred and the secular...bringing together the holy and the profane."
Reva Mann has a deft touch with description, particularly the ludicrous. After her ritual cleansing mikveh, the matron of the bath pronounces her clean: "And I know I am now as kosher as the salt beef sandwiches at Bloom's delicatessen, the ones made by the proprietress, an overweight ballbuster with long white whiskers growing on her chin." When she meets Mr. Fixit, she is impressed by "the way his sex juts out like a mango." Reva's father thinks her ultra-Orthodox husband has a bad case of "messianic fever," and the rabbi who pronounces her divorced wears a frock coat with tails that "flap like bat wings." The erotic scenes might be overpowering if they weren't so over-the-top and downright funny, reveling in the ecstatic messiness of whole-hearted, redemptive sexuality.
The Rabbi's Daughter exploits (and sometimes overuses) many of the clichés of the "bad-girl-turned-good" memoir. But while there is a very great deal (for some readers, too much) sensational unruliness as well as intricate descriptions of what it takes to be "truly good" by Hasidic rule-bound standards, the story somehow survives its excess baggage. It is a rabbi's daughter's courageously honest attempt to answer the unanswerable and universal question: How do we live fully in our carnal bodies while we nourish our immortal souls? It is a compassionate book about our fragile, faulty human efforts--never quite right, never quite enough, but always heroic--to find a way to the Divine. (less)