Kate Elder, better known as Big Nose Kate, was a colorful character in the mercurial Wild West. Together with her paramour—possibly her husband—Doc Holliday, she shot, swindled and burned her way through Kansas, New Mexico, Texas and other parts of the American Southwest. My thanks go to Net Galley and Two Dot Publishing for the review copy. This book is for sale now.
Enss is a capable writer, and I enjoy seeing women about whom little has been written brought to the foreground. Enss amassed a fair amount of material on her subject, but some of it was contradictory, and the greatest contradictor of all was Kate herself, who decided to tell her own life story when she was too old to recall everything properly. Enss tells the reader in the title and introduction that she is telling Kate’s story from the subject’s point of view, and she adds numerous footnotes explaining conflicting information throughout the narrative.
I read things I had never known before about this time and place, and general historical knowledge is where Enss shines best. For example, a ‘soiled dove’ was allowed to own real estate, whereas married women of the time were not. There were a number of financial advantages to owning a house of ill repute. Kate grew up in a middle class household and was not without choices, but she didn’t care to be married off in the way her family had proposed. In the end she was both a shrewd businesswoman and an adrenaline junkie, one that made a point of having at least one loaded gun handy when a situation called for it. I enjoyed reading about it.
Unfortunately there is a lot of conflicting information and the gaps in the story are numerous. Anytime I start seeing the words “might,” “must have, “ “likely” and so forth, I pull back from the narrative. I can’t get lost in a story when I have to mentally filter the things that are known to have happened from the things nobody knows for sure. I think Enss has done as good a job as could be done with the documentation available, but Kate is a hard nut to crack.
What I would love to see is historical fiction written with Kate as the protagonist, viewed through the eyes of a feminist writer such as Enss. With historical fiction one can freely fill in the gaps, provide dialogue, and make notes at the end of the story letting the reader know what she has invented or changed.
Those with a special interest may want to read this biography, but I see it largely as a niche read.
This is the RBG book I’ve been waiting for. My huge thanks
go to Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers for the review copy. This book will
be publicly available November 5, 2019.
Justice Ginsburg wants us to know that the sky is not
falling. Though progressive thinkers see great cause for concern, primarily
within the executive branch of the federal government, the U.S. Constitution
hasn’t changed, and the Supreme Court, she insists, is made up entirely of
strong legal minds that revere it. Precedents are still the basis of future
rulings; the overturn of precedent is rare and unusual. But for activists—and she
loves us—she also points out that public opinion is what alters the course of
the law. Congress makes laws based on what their constituency desires. So she
isn’t suggesting we put away our pussy hats and our picket signs; she just
wants us to know that our advocacy works, and she appreciates everything we do
to further women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights.
Twice previously I read other books about RBG; one is a
popular biography that I enjoyed, but that didn’t go deeply enough into
Ginsburg’s legal ideas, and the second is just dross, minutiae gathered from
her high school year book and whatnot. Whereas part of me just wants her to
write an autobiography, I have to recognize that she is very elderly, has faced
health challenges lately, and to stand a chance of writing any sort of memoir,
she’d probably have to resign from the Court. And goodness knows, I want her to
stay there, ideally forever. Instead, Rosen’s series of interviews with this
feminist icon serves nicely.
Rosen has been friends with Justice Ginsberg for many years;
they were drawn together initially through elevator discussions of opera. His
chapters are brief but meaty, organized around key rulings and topical
interviews. Rosen explains succinctly at the outset how this friendship formed
and grew, but he doesn’t get windy or use the opportunity to aggrandize
himself. He keeps the focus strictly on his subject. The interviews flow in an
agreeable manner that is literate without being verbose or Byzantine.
We live in politically polarized times, and so even when I
am reading about a political figure that I admire, I generally expect my blood
pressure to rise a little, perhaps in passionate agreement. But if anyone in
this nation has the long view of history and the key domestic issues that have
unfolded, particularly with regard to the rights of women, it is RBG. And
although I am not as senior a citizen as Justice Ginsburg, many of the changes
she mentions that have occurred over the decades are ones that I can also
attest to, though I hadn’t thought of them in years. For example, when I came
of age in the 1970s, it was still not unusual to try to enter a bar or club
only to be barred at the doorway because women weren’t allowed inside. (“Gentlemen
only, Ma’am. Sorry.”) I had forgotten about these things; as her recollections
unspool I see that she is right. Change happens, but lasting change happens
slowly. We are getting there, at least with regard to women’s rights and gay
rights. Issues of race and class are something else entirely, and she points up
specific instances where justice has not progressed and change is imperative.
I could say more, but none of it would be as
wise or as articulate as when Ginsburg says it. If you’ve read this far in my
review, you should go ahead and order this excellent book now. I highly
recommend it to all that are interested in social justice, both formal and
Say this name to schoolteachers and children’s librarians and watch our faces light up, our backs grow a trifle straighter, our steps quicken. Dr. Seuss is the closest thing we have to a patron saint, and when I saw this biography, I wanted it as badly as I’ve wanted any galley. Big thanks go to Net Galley and Penguin Dutton, and many apologies for my tardiness. It’s a strange thing but true: when I must write an unfavorable book review, I know just what to say and can do it the same day I finish reading, but for a momentous work such as this one, I need some time for my thoughts to gel. Brian Jay Jones writes biographies of quirky visionaries such as Washington Irving, George Lucas, and Jim Henson, and he doesn’t cut corners. This biography is highly recommended to adult readers, but don’t go handing it off to your precocious fifth grader until you’ve read it yourself. Geisel’s life held some very deep shadows.
Geisel grew up with comfort and privilege as the heir to a
family beer making business; the slings and arrows that came his family’s way
during Prohibition taught him that small minds can do ugly things. Still, his
youth was mostly untroubled; he attended Dartmouth , where he was voted Least
Likely to Succeed, and then Oxford, where his studies in Medieval German
floundered, his attention drifting to the margins of his notebook, where he
drew fanciful creatures and turreted buildings that would later become iconic. It
was Helen, his sweetheart, who suggested he follow his heart and pursue art for
a living. His early success came in advertising for Flit bug spray. Once he and his bride became financially
stable enough to move out of their low rent neighborhood and into a tonier
area, he discovered he had no use at all for pretension, and he wrote:
“Mrs. Van Bleck
Of the Newport Van Blecks
Is so goddamn rich
She has gold-plated sex
Whereas Miggles and Mitzi
And Bitzi and Sue
Have the commonplace thing
And it just has to do.”
He served in the military during World War II with Francis
Ford Coppola making propaganda and training films. His pro-intervention
cartoons are surprisingly hawkish—I have the collection titled Dr. Seuss Goes to War on my shelves—but
he later realized that it was wrongheaded to demand the internment of Japanese
Americans, and in some bizarre way, he intended Horton Hears a Who to be his apology for it.
His family was not Jewish, but his surname confused some
people, and he received some anti-Semitic shade that inspired him to stand up
for the rights of Jewish Americans.
Jones deserves credit for confronting the anti-Japanese
racism and xenophobia in this author’s early years; he doesn’t gloss over it,
and he doesn’t turn it into something prurient either. He lays it straight out,
along with Ted’s more enlightened thinking in his later years, and it strikes
exactly the right tone. This isn’t comfortable material, but then it shouldn’t
The most amazing thing is to learn that Seuss—known to
family and friends as Ted—wasn’t a successful author until well into middle
age. He vacillated between advertising and “brat books” but hit it big when he
submitted How the Grinch Stole Christmas to
Bennett Cerf at Random House, which would be his second home for many years.
Though he and his wife moved to Southern California and much of his work was
mailed in, he became known for coming to read his book to the Random House
staff in person when it was publication time.
(He was also known for being difficult at times, micromanaging the
publication of his work, and this may be part of the reason he wasn’t urged to
attend business in person on a more regular basis.)
Ted and Helen were unable to have children, a painful fact
that they chose not to share with the public. When asked during publicity tours
why a man with such a great heart for children had none himself, Ted deflected
it by saying others should have the children and he would write for them.
Helen’s illnesses and Ted’s infidelity were aspects of this
author’s life I knew nothing about. It’s
hard to read about, but again, Jones includes these things in the narrative not
to shock us, but because they have to be there.
He was widely known and revered for his insistence that
books should be fun for children to read and should not preach or moralize, but
instead, should respect the readers. He
was a pioneer in this regard, and I owe him a great debt for teaching me to
love literature as a preschooler, and for providing such wonderful books for my
own children and students later in my life. It is this legacy that remains when
the rest falls away, that reading should open new worlds for its young readers;
it should not trick or manipulate its audience, but instead should speak to
children with respect using language they can understand.
Annie Clements is a badass union warrior, nearly six feet
tall with fiery red hair and a voice that carries. When the men that work the Quincy mine strike
for better wages, an eight hour day, and an end to the treacherous one man
drill, Big Annie leads the women’s auxiliary, and her role makes headlines
around the world. This magnificent novel, which holds closely to events as they
unfurled, came to me free and early, thanks to Atria Books and Net Galley. It’s
for sale right now.
The Quincy mine is owned by Calumet and Hecla, and it is one
of the deepest underground—and therefore one of the most dangerous—in the
US. It’s on the upper peninsula of
Michigan, an isolated location closer to Canada than to other states or even
the rest of Michigan; the winters are fierce. The only thing crueler than
winter there is the heart of the general manager, James McNaughton, a vicious,
vindictive man, who vows that “Grass will grow in the streets of Calumet before
C&H recognizes the Western Federation of Miners.”
Charlie Miller is our union organizer, traveling from camp
to camp, gathering support from working families. He intends to attack the
smaller, more outlying mining companies first and save the huge, wealthy ones
like Calumet for after inroads have been made around them. But miners are angry
about the one man drill, a recent change that saves the company on wages, but
leaves a single miner at risk of being injured or buried without a second miner
present to help get him out of there. The company won’t send workers in after
the injured, so working in pairs is a critical part of what little safety
exists. Too many have gone home dead or maimed, and emotion is high. The women’s
auxiliary organizes the wives and other family members of miners, and the women
are rising up as well. Miller doesn’t see a strike as winnable right now, but
if the union doesn’t get behind them soon, it may well become a wild cat
strike, one in which the workers strike without union backing; that would
embarrass the WFM.
Russell combines beautifully woven prose with careful attention
to historical detail; not much has been changed here, but in her end notes she
explains what has been altered and why. Where possible she uses direct quotes,
and this is above and beyond what most novelists will do.
Although the story is about Big Annie Clements, my favorite
part is when Mother Jones comes to Calumet. (Those interested in labor history
should also read Mother Jones’s autobiography, which is shorter and better than
what any biographer has done for her.)
This is the first time I have read Russell’s work, but it won’t be the last. A measure of how much I love a book can be found in how much I read, quote, and carry on about it right here at home. My husband could scarcely enter a room without my demanding whether we have any other materials about the copper strikers, and does he know about (this, that, the other thing)? I was reading ten different books, but he was hearing about only one of them. My own grandfather was a miner and died of Black Lung many years ago, but I felt him beside me as I read; I find myself hungry for pasties, the recipe preserved from my Finnish great aunt. But I digress.
Finally, readers should also know that this is a tragic
read, positively miserable in places. There are dead and dying children, and
the ending isn’t heartwarming. Yet it contains elements—an unlikely romance,
and in James McNaughton, a villain of monstrous proportions—that could not be
written into a purely fictional tale because nobody would believe them; and
yet, these are aspects that stick closely to historical reality.
For those that love excellent historical fiction, this is a
must read. For those that love both historical fiction and labor history, it
provides the sweetest of crossroads. Highly recommended.
I read this biography free and early thanks to Net Galley
and Hachette Books.
I have enjoyed Streep’s movies and her feminist moxie since
the first time I saw her, and so I figured this would be a good fit for me.
Sadly, there’s nothing new here at all. There’s no depth of analysis, no stories
of inner struggle or insight into her development. The overall tone is
uniformly adulatory, which is fine as far as it goes; I don’t enjoy seeing a
journalist do a hatchet job on a performer, so if she has to lean in one
direction or another, I’m glad it’s on the positive side. But once again—I have
seen every single thing in this book somewhere else already. I knew about the
friction between Streep and Dustin Hoffman (who is also a great favorite of
mine,) and I knew she takes roles that show strong women. I knew she wanted to
sing, and she did it in Mama Mia. Readers that have followed this actor’s
career over the decades with a magazine article here and there can’t expect to
cover new ground. It’s shallow and superficial for the most part, and for me,
the only good thing is that I didn’t pay for this book.
Streep’s fans that haven’t followed her career in the press
may find more joy than I do here; nevertheless, my advice is to read it free or
cheap if you decide you want it. It will be available to the public September
“Oh, Mrs. Churchill, do come over. Someone has killed Father.”
Lizzie Borden is the subject of one of America’s most
enduring legends, and Robertson is a towering legal scholar, educated at
Harvard and Oxford, and then at Stanford Law. She’s participated in an international
tribunal dealing with war crimes, and has been researching the Borden case for
twenty years. Here she lays it out for us, separating fact from innuendo, and
known from unknown. My thanks go to Simon and Schuster and Net Galley for the
review copy. This book is for sale now.
The Borden family lived in the heart of Fall River, and it consisted of Andrew, father of two grown but unmarried daughters Emma and Lizzie, still in residence, and his second wife, Abby. Their mother had died when Lizzie was tiny; Andrew had remarried a woman named Abby, whom Emma never accepted as a parent, but whom Lizzie called her mother until a short time before her grizzly death. Until this time the Borden household was well respected; Andrew was possibly the wealthiest individual in this Massachusetts town, but he was a tightfisted old scoundrel, and his refusal to relocate the family to the fashionable neighborhood on the hill where well-to-do citizens lived made his daughters bitter, as appropriate suitors would not call on them in their current home. Both had passed the age when respectable young women were expected to have married; they held that their father’s greed had ruined their chance at marriage and families of their own. Things had come to a head when Borden was persuaded to purchase the home in which Abby’s sister lived in order to prevent her from being cast out on the street. Emma and Lizzie were angry enough that they wouldn’t go downstairs when the parents were there, and poor Bridget, the servant, had to serve dinner twice to accommodate them. Everyone locked their bedroom doors against the others. Andrew had belatedly tried to smooth his stormy home life by purchasing a comparable house for each of his daughters, but the damage was done.
The story of Lizzie Borden is not a new one, but what sets
Robertson’s telling apart from the rest—apart from the meticulous research and
clarity of sourcing—is her explanation of how the cultural assumptions and
expectations of 1893 New England differed from ours today, and how these
nuances affected the trial. They lived in a time and place in which it was
assumed that women were ruled far more by their hormones and ovulation than by
intellect and reason. In fact:
“Experts like the influential Austrian criminal psychologist
Hans Gross contended that menstruation lowered women’s resistance to forbidden
impulses, opening the floodgates to a range of criminal behaviors…Menstruation
may bring women to the most terrible crimes.”
Had Lizzie confessed to the killings, she might very well
have been judged not guilty; her monthly cycle would have been said to have
made her violent and there was nothing to be done about it, rather like a moose
Criminal behavior was believed to be inherent in some people
and not in others, and this counted in Lizzie’s favor. The Bordens were seen as
a good family, and a girl from a good family doesn’t plot brutal murders. It
isn’t in her. This sort of thing, experts said, was more likely to be done by a
transient or a member of the working class. The women of Fall River were
polarized around this case, and though women from comfortable homes were all
certain that poor Lizzie was being railroaded, working class women weren’t as charitable
in their assessments.
There was a ton of evidence against her, most of it
circumstantial; the most damning aspects of the case against her were ruled inadmissible,
and the jury never got to hear them.
Robertson is a fine storyteller, and her narrative lays it
out for us so clearly. There is occasional gallows humor, as well as amusing
bits of setting not seen in cities of any size today, such as the neighborhood
cow that mooed near the courtroom window at inauspicious moments while
testimony was being given. However, the first half of the book is more compelling
than the second half, because prosecutors and attorneys must repeat things,
sometimes many times and in many ways, in order to convince judges and juries,
and since this book is about the trial, Robertson must do the same. Still it is
fascinating to see how the whole trial shook out.
Those interested in the Borden case, or in true crime
stories in general, should read this book. It’s the clearest, most complete
recounting and analysis available to the public today, written by a legal
scholar that has done the work and cut no corners. `
“The memory of an elephant, the cleverness of a fox, the guile of a serpent, and the fierceness of a panther.”
Marie-Madeleine Fourcaude ran the largest spy network in France during World War II. Charismatic, organized, intelligent and completely fearless, she was possessed of such obvious leadership skills that even very traditional Frenchmen (and a few Brits as well) came to recognize and respect her authority and ability. I had never heard of her before this galley became available; thanks to go Net Galley and Random House. This book is for sale now.
Fourcade was born into a wealthy family, and this fact almost kept me from reading this biography. Fortunately, others read it first and recommended it, and once I began reading I quickly caught onto the fact that no one without financial resources could have initiated and organized this network. At the outset, there was no government behind them and no funding other than what they could contribute themselves or scrounge up through the kinds of contacts that rich people have. There are a few fawning references to some of her associates—a princess here, a Duke there—that grate on my working class sensibilities, but they are fleeting.
Fourcade’s organization ultimately would include men and women from all classes, from magnates and royals to small businessmen, train conductors, waitresses, postal clerks and so on. Some were couriers delivering information about Nazi troop placement and movement, U-boats and harbors and so forth, whereas others quietly eavesdropped as they went about their daily routines. Once they were able to network with the British, the organization became better supplied and funded, and it had an enormous impact on the fascist occupiers, which in turn drew more enemy attention to the resistance itself; among the greatest heroes were those that piloted the Lysander planes that delivered supplies and rescued members that were about to be captured. But not everyone was rescued; a great many were tortured, then killed. Fourcade herself was arrested twice, and both times escaped.
If you had tried to write this woman’s story as fiction, critics would have said it lacked credibility.
In reading about Fourcade, I learned a great deal more about the Resistance than I had previously known; in other nonfiction reading this aspect of the Allied effort was always on the edges and in the shadows, not unlike the spies themselves. In addition, I also came to understand that France was barely, barely even a member of the Alliance. The British bombed a ship to prevent fascists from seizing it, but they didn’t evacuate it first, and an entire ship full of French sailors were killed, leading a large segment of the French population to hate the British more than the Germans. Then too, there was a sizable chunk of the French government that welcomed the fascists.
Revisionist histories will have us believe that the Nazis were opposed but that France was powerless to stop them, and for some that was true; yet the ugly truth is that it was the French themselves that incorporated anti-Semitism into their governmental structure before the Germans demanded it. Vichy cops had to take an oath “against Gaullist insurrection and Jewish leprosy.” When planning D-Day, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t even want to include the French in the planning or even inform them that the Allies were invading. Let them find out the same way that the Germans would, he suggested to Churchill. But the British insisted on bringing in friendly French within the orbit of De Gaulle, not to mention those around a pompous, difficult general named Henri Gouroud, a hero from World War I who had to be more or less tricked into meeting with the Allies at the Rock of Gibraltar. The guy was a real piece of work, and some of the humorous passages that are included to lighten up an otherwise intense story focus on him.
I have never read Olson’s work before, but the author’s note says that she writes about “unsung heroes—individuals of courage and conscience who helped change their country and the world but who, for various reasons, have slipped into the shadows of history.” Now that I’ve read her work once, I will look for it in the future.
Highly recommended to historians, feminists, and those that love a good spy story, too.
I was invited to read this debut novel by Net Galley and
Simon and Schuster, but when I first saw it in my inbox, I recoiled. Another
addiction memoir! Another chance to live through someone else’s excruciating
nightmare! But then I read a few early reviews—they didn’t bear the numbed courtesy
of an obligatory write-up. And then my
own sense of courtesy tipped me over the edge. I was, after all, invited. Did I
not want to be invited anymore? Of course I should read it.
The story is Lichtman’s own written as autofiction, and his
unusual writing style drew me in. I was surprised to see how quickly I went
through it. At the outset, he is teaching creative writing and is crestfallen
to find that a student he has championed has plagiarized her work for him, and not
only is his anecdote written with great humor, it is immediately familiar to me,
and most likely will be to all English teachers. We want to believe; we want to be supportive.
And once in awhile, someone younger than ourselves comes along and manipulates
the hell out of us. It is a humbling experience.
Jonas is half American, half Swede, and he finds that to get off of opiates and opiods, he needs to be in Sweden, where street drugs are much harder to procure. He is enrolled in a graduate program in Malmo, but finds his time is primarily consumed by the refugee crisis as he volunteers to teach in a language school. Young men from the Middle East come by the thousands, and he is proud that Sweden doesn’t close its border, doesn’t set a cap to the number of immigrants it will welcome. At the same time, the Swedish government has some double standards where race is concerned; the Roma people that set up an encampment are quickly swept away. Then the nightclub bombing in Paris provides officials with an excuse to shut it all down; it’s a tremendous blow to the refugees and to those that want to help them.
At times I fear for this writer, because he seems to have no
filters with which to protect his own heart as he hurls himself into his
volunteer work; he wants to make a difference so desperately. Many years ago I saw a short film that showed
a Bambi-like deer grazing in a forest, and then the massive foot of Godzilla
smashes it like a bug, and in his ragged, hungry quest for social justice, the
author reminds me of that deer. Social justice work requires sacrifice to be
sure, but a little care toward one’s own mental health is also essential.
Lichtman’s master’s thesis focuses on a Swedish writer that ultimately succumbs
to despair, turning on the car and closing the garage door, and I found myself
urging this author to have a care, lest the same happen to him, a danger he refers
to himself in the narrative. (From the acknowledgements at the end, I see that he
appears to have emerged in one piece, at least so far.)
The stories of the refugee boys are searing ones. A young
man told of walking through Iran, followed by Turkey, Greece, Macedonia,
Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Denmark on his way to Sweden. The whole
journey was done on foot. So many families were dead that the boys’ tutors
learned it was sometimes better not to inquire too deeply about those left
behind. At one point, Jonas decides to become a mentor to one person, but
things go amiss and he ruefully recalls his own role as that of “clumsy
Lichtman’s prose is gently philosophical in a style that is
slightly reminiscent of Zen and the Art
of Motorcycle Maintenance, though in no way derivative. His perceptive
commentary regarding the events that unfold around him, along with the lessons
he learns about himself, is witty and absorbing. Along the way I picked up a
little knowledge about Swedish culture and society that I didn’t have before.
The title has sharp edges.
Recommended to those interested in Swedish culture, the
refugee crisis, and addiction issues, as well as to anyone that just enjoys a