The Keeping Quilt

June 3, 2014 at 5:23 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Little girl got soap in her eye in the bath tub tonight.  It was awful.  There was banshee-like screaming, bright red faces from all involved, and a lot of tears.  Her daddy, the man with the magic hands, was able to pat her back long enough to soothe her into a half slumber after we got the eye rinsed out and pajamas donned.  Just as we headed out of the room, though, a little voice piped up from beyond the darkness, “But you didn’t read me my bedtime story.”

So snuggled under her own quilt, I whispered to her the story of Patricia Polacco’s family –

the_keeping_quiltTitle: The Keeping Quilt

Author: Patricia Polacco

Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks

The Keeping Quilt is a beautifully illustrated family history that spans six generations.  From the first immigrants of a family coming to America, through the making of a family quilt from the few cherished possessions they have from the mother country, through weddings, births, and old age, The Keeping Quilt tells a story of many lives united by love and history.

This book doesn’t just belong in every child’s library, but every quilt lover’s library as well.  As we were reading, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Rich Fabric edited by Melinda McGuire and all the beautiful family histories captured in that volume as well.

I’m so glad I stumbled across this book today at the bookstore, honored to have been given the opportunity to step into Polacco’s family for the evening, and amazed at how perfectly soothing it was for a child who was emotionally and physically exhausted after a battle with a bar of soap.

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An Autistic History

February 25, 2014 at 9:29 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

notevenwrongTitle: Not Even Wrong

Author: Paul Collins

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Genre: Memoir/ Psychology

Length: 245 pages

I’ve journaled nearly twenty pages of commentary on this book.  Now, having finished it, I’m not sure what I should share and what should be kept to myself.

Collins does a spectacular job sharing memoir with known history, diving into tales from the world and mixing it with tales from his personal world.  The first few chapters are dedicated to his pursuit of Peter the Wild Boy and an existing desire to write a biography on the mysterious boy who was ‘rescued’ by King George. (Reference to the boy made in Notes and Queries, of course.)  Collins later discovers his son is autistic.

The entire book is an ode to his son and his autism.  An ode to their life, their relationship, the world of Autists.

Therefore a lot of information is shared regarding what that means.  A lot of reflection on the gene pool it takes to cook up such a neurological anomaly that is an essential part of humanity as a whole.  The trifecta being science, art, and math.

Collins writes on page 96:

Apparently we have been walking around with the genetic equivalent of a KICK ME sign:

my father: mechanical engineer

jennifer’s father: musician, math major

my brother: phd in computing

jennifer: painter

me

At this point, I remember taking my own personal inventory.  My father is a civil engineer, not only that he was a musician and painter, and suffers from what I think is undiagnosed and extremely mild tourettes (also discussed in Collins’ book).  My immediate cousins and family members on that side of the family are musicians and scientists.  Some work in labs, some in an engineering field.  Although I’ve been an English and History girl my whole life, much to my father’s chagrin, I was raised by and around extremely scientific minds.  I think I get all the feelings and other eccentricities from my mother’s side.  But in a parallel universe, had I somehow procreated with people I had dated in college rather than the love of my life whom I married – musicians, computer geeks, Synesthesiacs (also discussed in Collins’ book) – I think I was very close to wearing that KICK ME sign as well.

Looking at the world through the eyes of Collins’ research, I think many people have been close to wearing that sign.  I think everyone should read through this book and see just how close.  It’s enlightening.  It’s scary.  It’s beautiful.

There are so many amazing people through out history who have changed the face of humanity – the way we work – integral parts of society and science… and they were very likely autistic.   Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Glenn Gould, Andy Warhol, Paul Erdos.  These people are essential to who we are as a species today.  These people have made our world more beautiful, even though they are very likely to be the same people described on page 109:  “Imagine if you tried to pretend to understand people, but didn’t really.  So you rehearse it all in your head: taking notes, analyzing every social action, trying to connect it all together.”  I don’t have to imagine.  I may not be a genius like Albert Einstein, I may not be as clever as Glenn Gould, and I’m certainly not nearly as eccentric as Andy Warhol – but I know all about rehearsing, taking notes, analyzing, and still feeling quite out of the loop.  A little bit of understanding from the rest of the world goes a long way in my book – even though I’m not so good at understanding the rest of the world, I’m trying to be better about it.

“You know, it used to be that when I saw someone acting or talking strangely, or just being odd on the bus, I’d think to myself: What’s his problem? I still have that reaction.  But now I stop, pause, and have a second thought: No, really, what is that man’s problem? There is a decades-long chain of events that created the person who are seeing.” – pg. 213

Paul Collins brings a little bit of humanity and the importance of curiosity and empathy into ALL his work.  For that I adore him, and will always adore him, forever.

On that note, I want to check out the artwork of his wife.  I love art.  I love paintings.  I am the CMO of an art company called Aoristos and I’m curious to see the style of art the spouse of my favorite author paints.  If anyone knows and can provide reliable links – please do.

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Things I Learned in a Weekend…

February 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

… But will take longer to undo.

CommittedThis is a Part Two post to my review of Committed as well as a response to Codependent No More.

Saying “I am not in control of that” is not the same as being helpless.

Counting is not productive.

Trying harder sometimes doesn’t offer results, but rather drives you a little nuts.

 

codependent_no_moreI am allowed to have contradicting feelings as long as I am honest about both and do not bury the less favorable/ moral one.  A feeling is not a decision.  But bottling feelings and under-reacting to things that hurt your feelings can turn into a very foolish and very public behavioral issue similar to a train wreck or a volcano that kills an entire village.

“What am I to conclude when my grandmother says that the happiest decision of her life was giving up everything for her husband and children but then says – in the very next breath – that she doesn’t want me making the same choice? I’m not really sure how to reconcile this, except to believe that somehow both these statements are true and authentic, even as they seem to utterly contradict on another. I believe that a woman who has lived as long as my grandmother should be allowed some contradictions and mysteries. Like most of us, this woman contains multitudes. Besides, when it comes to the subject of women and marriage, easy conclusions are difficult to come by, and enigmas litter the road in every direction.” – from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed.

I can’t control other peoples’ thoughts and feelings.  Nor, if I’m to be honest do I want to.  What I decide for them takes away from me making healthy decisions for myself.

Other people making a decision I do not like is not a slight on me as a human.  I am still in tact.  I can say my piece in peace without expecting them to bend to my will.  In fact, I want to enjoy the freedom of talking out my feelings knowing that it does not change the outcome of life.  My words won’t make or break the world and the people in it.  I am not that powerful.  I don’t want to be that powerful.  I want other people to feel comfortable making their decisions based on what they need.  Would I like for them to consider my feelings when they choose to follow that decision? Yes.  Do I want my feelings to be the basis of their decision? No.  God, no.

What I want and what I need are allowed to be out of sync sometimes, as long as I take time to process my wants and needs in a calm manner without panic – without drama – and without superfluous descriptions.  As a writer I am apt to take a small situation and find the epic, extraordinary, or devastation in it.  As a survivor I take big things that may actually be epic, extraordinary, or devastating, and belittle them – act as though they are nothing.  (Someone dies, I roll with the punches.  Someone says something irritating, I come out swinging.  It doesn’t make sense.  It has been a long running joke among many of my friends that I’m the girl you need at a funeral.  I’m the girl you need in a physical crisis, on the battlefield even.  Put me in a room of people having a good time, and suddenly I’m twitchy.)

These are things I used to know, and for various reasons, I have lost sight of.  These are things that I need to remind myself daily, if not hourly.

So my newest truth above all – there is no shame in reading self-help books and memoirs by people who have a very different world view from yourself.  There is no shame in believing that, “this woman should not be condemned or judged for wanting what she wants.”  In fact that’s a very beautiful belief.

Finding balance is the hard part.  When does what you want step on what someone else wants and needs?  When does what you want need to be suppressed and when does it warrant being spoken?  My understanding of this balance is erratic at best.

Making a very open attempt to find this balance has been interesting too (I say this as though I’m well seasoned at the effort that I’ve been making for a whole of four days).  I am diving into all this for myself.  Go back a few blog posts and you may notice my sanity attempting to escape me.  Yet, it hasn’t just begun to calm me, it’s helped me stop and smell the roses.

Roses that, though not real physical red petals and thorny stems, are more present than I supposed.

Roses like: I actually get more done when I am busy acting instead of busy reacting.  Roses like: when I attempt to be as direct as I once was my husband attempts to woo me like he once did.  This is nice.  I’ll take that rose.  Yet, I am not being direct so that he will woo me, I am being direct because I need to be, the wooing is just a happy accident.  And, for once, wanting to be wooed doesn’t sound like an act of selfishness – it sounds like an act of being feminine.  Yes, I’ll admit that typing those words were difficult, that in that admission I nearly panicked.

I don’t have all the answers.  In fact, I have pretty much no answers.  The only answer that I do have is that I hope to be less self-destructive this year than last year.  I hope to be more open, but less vulnerable.

This year, I plan to internalize something that’s been hanging in my own Grandmother’s kitchen my whole life…

God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.

Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet.  And, I’m not done reading this book!

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Committed – Part One

February 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

CommittedTitle: Committed

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Genre: Non-fiction of some kind. In a bookstore it would go in the memoir section, I’m sure – but it’s so much more than that.

I’m aware that when one decides to follow a book reviewing blog, they don’t expect the posts to start turning into self-aware sob stories.  However, I cannot fully digest a book without it becoming part of me and my psyche and putting  a little bit of pressure on my world view and myself.

When I read Eat, Pray, Love a few years ago, you may or may not remember my indignation.  I was so irritated.  This woman was so flippant! How dare she walk out on her marriage and go gallivanting and call that spiritual growth!  I loved Gilbert’s writing style, I loved her way with words, but all I could think was, “What a selfish whore.”

That was unfair.  I see that.

I’m reading Committed now.  A friend had told me Gilbert would redeem herself in my eyes in this book.  I was skeptical.  How could I ever see eye to eye with this woman?

But that’s the thing.  I don’t see eye to eye with her.  But now, I’m ok with that.  Not because of this book, though, I’m sure that helps; but because of me.  I’ve come to realize some things about myself in the very short time that it has been 2014.

I have a very intense moral code.  So intense, it is probably filled with much higher expectations for life than is humanly obtainable.  Stepping outside of this moral code in the past has left me trembling.  It terrifies me, because, simply:

I fall short.  It is impossible to live up to it.

I expect others to live up to it.  If we all strive to live up to it then maybe we can have a chance in hell of making it.

We don’t.

I see this now.

Yes, that makes me a hypocrite, I suppose.  Often.

Yes, that means that deep down I hate myself for not being able to live up to my beliefs.  Even saying this is in contradiction with my beliefs… I believe the whole bible to be true and even the bible says that we all fall short of the glory of God.  I believe in being a strong, independent, secure human.  Both of those things are in contradiction with me hating myself for falling short.

You see, it’s not just me being unforgiving of others.  I am completely unforgiving with myself too.  Especially when what I perceive as truth, and what I believe is right, is the polar opposite of what I want.

I was taught that my wants were frivolous nuisances to be disregarded.  Bury them.  Pretend they’re not there.  Doing what you *should* do is far more important than doing what you want.  Wants are things that destroy people, families, cities, empires.  Look at history – use your brain.  Don’t feel, use logic.

Somewhere in that teaching, there’s a logical fallacy.  Like Gilbert’s ice cream purchases correlating with drownings example – which made me laugh out loud.  (Statistically where there are higher ice cream purchases, there are more drownings.  Obviously, this does not mean that buying ice cream will increase your chance of drowning yourself, that would be a logical fallacy – yet, that’s exactly the kind of logic that has been ingrained in me.)

Now, 10 days away from 30, I feel a strong urge to fix this problem.

This is not something that can be fixed in 10 days.

Shockingly, despite my looming 10 day notice, I find myself a little at peace while reading Elizabeth Gilbert – author whose views I have previously found revolting – has spent page after page talking about forgiveness.

Things I have always been really cranky about – HOW does someone behave THAT way – she spells out.  Instead of just saying, “It happens,” she takes great descriptive pains that only an eloquent writer could take to tell me how.  To explain.  Pages 108-110 left me in tears.  Finally, I see why people have been so angered by my judgement.  Finally, I see why I have no right to judge.

I was wrong.  I’m sorry.

I’m not sure how this will effect my future decisions.  But at least I can start to not hate myself, whatever they might be.  Yay for mid-life crisis number two (and I’m not even mid-life yet, am I?).

I’m not finished reading yet, but I’m sure I will be soon.  I have so much to say and think about this book and there will be a second post on it in the future.

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Scoffing No More

February 9, 2014 at 4:43 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

codependent_no_moreTitle: Codependent No More

Author: Melody Beattie

Publisher: Hazelden

Genre: Self Help/ Addiction & Recovery

Length: 250 pages

When I worked in the bookstore full time, shelving, there was a brief few months that I ran the psychology section.  I had become territorial over the fiction/literature section – my dream job if I’m to be honest with the world, despite the simplicity that infers – and this was an exercise my boss had to help me let go.  To learn something out of my comfort zone.  The psychology section was waaaaaaaay out of my comfort zone.

Being raised a Christian, there were some very un-Christ-like biases and stigmas surrounding that section.  These biases were mostly self-righteous scoffing.  Especially towards titles exactly like Codependent No More.  I remember thinking, people should just stop being selfish whores and everything would be fine in the world.

Pretty sure, in hindsight, this was some very codependent thinking.

Whether you are a traditional codependent tied to a substance abuser in some way, an author looking for some insight into people and character development, or simply a breathing human – this book should be read.  It opens your eyes to problems you might not know you have.  It opens your eyes to problems I’m sure someone you know has – even if that someone is a psycho you wrote off ages ago.

Whatever your situation, whoever your person, this book is about peace.  This book is about calming the anxiety and the panic and the anger issues.  I wish I had read it much sooner rather than scoffing at it on the shelf.

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The Evolution of Everything

October 17, 2013 at 9:49 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

ev of janeTitle: The Evolution of Jane

Author: Cathleen Schine

Genre: Fiction

Length: 210 pages

The perfect fall day in Texas: a spinach and onion soup with lots of cheese mixed in, coffee gone cold, Huckleberry Sage in my Scentsy Warmer, all the windows open because it’s so nice outside, Tethered by Sleeping at Last playing softly on repeat, and The Evolution of Jane in front of me.

In a week of epiphanies, nostalgia, cold fronts, random spurts of rain, and recuperation after sheer emotional exhaustion, Schine’s novel is perfect and lovely.  Soft and defined at the same time. A little more perfect than I expected.

It’s supposed to be a comedy… “A cerebral comedy of manners,” the Boston Globe calls it.  I find that in itself humorous, as I haven’t laughed since the first page. Instead, it feels (oddly) exactly like life.  It’s a mish-mash of inappropriate feelings, unexplained drama, stress where there should be none, and complete nostalgia.

It even has a delicious quote that made me swoon as it so much reflects how I feel about my own life.  “I loved my job, for it allowed me to rub shoulders with ideas, to listen without having to retain, to gather information like flowers.”

My job, this job that is part author, part homeschool mom, part event coordinator, part reader and reviewer, part so many things… this job feels like that… like gathering flowers.  My life feels like that in general.  I am a forager, I pick up and discard things as I go, looking for any bit of nutrients and beauty I can get along the way.

I bought this book years ago at the height of my Darwin and Evolution studies.  When I was trying to squeeze every bit of information on anything that briefly fascinated me.  When I was trying to retain everything.  How appropriate that I wait to read it now, when I can read it with more of a passing fancy, where I can absorb a story without trying so hard to remember it all.

Life isn’t meant for you to remember every single moment.  If we were meant to remember it all with such clarity, I think that we would.  Some things are best left discarded.  This book, however, is not one of those things.  If you buy it, you should keep it.  It will get added to the re-read sometime pile.

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Love is a Choice

September 24, 2013 at 2:04 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

lovechoiceTitle:Love Is A Choice

Authors: Dr. Robert Hemfelt, Dr. Frank Minirth, Dr. Paul Meier

Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishing

Genre: Psychology/ Self-Help/ Christian Living

Length: 275 pages

Back in college I read Happiness Is A Choice with a few girls I knew.  We went to a Baptist school, but clearly weren’t behaving like the other little Christian girls we knew, so of course we devoured a book that seemingly addressed all that was wrong with us and how to fix it God’s way.  Mostly, it just made us feel better.

Naturally, I spotted this in a giant giveaway pile, knew it was by the same authors, and impulsively picked it up.  Approximately 3 years later (now), I got around to reading it.

It did not make me feel better.

At least not at first anyway.

Reading Love Is A Choice from a parental perspective can be daunting and, to say the least, overwhelming.  The first half of the book had me completely convinced that everyone on the planet has been abused in some form or another… active abuse, passive abuse, this abuse, that abuse.  Unless you’re Jesus, NO ONE IS SAFE.  I am not Jesus, so essentially, all I determined was that my kid was going to grow up to have issues.  NO MATTER WHAT I DID.  For that, I kind of hated it.

However, because all these very human issues and mistakes run rampant in the world – because we are human – it ends up being a good read.  Handy.  Fair warning, so to speak.  Be careful of this, be careful of that, be warned that these kinds of actions effect your children this way or that way into adulthood.   And above all, put God first.

I can get on board with that.

Just remember when looking at this cover and judging whether or not you think this applies to you, codependency probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.  I know I was fooled.  Essentially the core sort of means the same as what I thought, but all the nuances are different.  If you’ve read my blog for long, you know I love a few good nuances!

Anyway, it took up the better part of a week after my kiddo was asleep… when I wasn’t reading a Thomas Jefferson biography or going over homeschooling stuff… and I don’t feel like my time was wasted.  Self-help isn’t typically a genre I care much about, so that means if I mostly like it then it’s probably pretty stellar. Check it out.

Below is a picture of me and my kid, who along with my husband, I choose to love every day – the best I can.  P.S. The first week of October is Banned Books Awareness Week.  BE AWARE! Read a ‘banned book.’  As far as I know, Love is a Choice isn’t banned anywhere and this statement has nothing to do with the review, just my t-shirt.

Photograph by Michael Palmer

Photograph by Michael Palmer

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The Wild Girls – A Review

March 14, 2013 at 3:58 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

WildGirlsTitle: The Wild Girls

Author: Pat Murphy

Publisher: Speak (an imprint of Penguin Group)

Genre: Young Adult

Length: 288 pages

Dear Publishing Companies,

Allow me to tell you something you probably already know: Take a book, add a matte finish to it, trace some swirly-like-ivy lines about, and add a garden or forest scene – I will most likely take the book home on the spot.

At least that’s what happened with Pat Murphy’s The Wild Girls.  And despite having an equally girly and gardeny looking book on my night stand (The Distant Hours by Kate Morton), I started reading The Wild Girls that day.

Even if the cover had not been so fabulous, the first line is:

“I met the Queen of the Foxes in 1972, when my family moved from Connecticut to California.”

How do you pass up a first line like that?

It’s a story about twelve year old girls for twelve year old girls, but at twenty-nine I was still dying to know all about the Queen of the Foxes and how interesting a girl would have to be to have the honor of meeting her.

My own wild girl, running, after we read in the park and took a boat ride, but before we had our picnic in the grass.

My own wild girl, running, after we read in the park and took a boat ride, but before we had our picnic in the grass.

Joan meets Sarah in the woods behind an old orchard and immediately takes to her even though Sarah is malicious and contemplating throwing rocks at her.  She can hit a kid dead on from about thirty feet away, too.  Soon the girls are fast friends with woodsy aliases Newt and Fox, telling and writing stories together as they each escape their lives in the comfort and enchanting beauty of the woods and its wildlife.

In the spirit of Bridge to Terabithia (without the inevitable water works), The Secret Garden (without the invalid), and a dash of How to Buy a Love of Reading (or writing), The Wild Girls is a great coming of age story for girls harboring an inner Josephine March (Little Women).

I loved it.  I read a lot of it to kiddo outside and she loved it as it served for a great book to welcome spring.  I can’t wait to read it again when she is older and see what she thinks of it then.

In the mean time, I’m looking for more Pat Murphy titles, reading Kate Morton, and writing a novel.

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Eden’s Outcasts – A Review

March 10, 2013 at 9:18 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

January 2013 079Title: Eden’s Outcasts

Author: John Matteson

Genre: Biography/ History

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Length: 497 pages

I knew I wanted to read this book the first time I saw it at Jill’s Books in The Woodlands a few years ago.  I have loved Louisa May Alcott all my life and in the last few years I’ve really started to enjoy the art of the biography.  My best friend bought it for me on the spot because she is one of those beautiful people who doesn’t think people should be denied their bookish desires.  It wasn’t until March (a novelization of the younger years of Marmee and Mr. March) was chosen for the HPB Humble Book Club that I actually committed to sitting down with it in an attempt to understand Brooks’ portrayal of the patriarch.

*Notes about A Family in Debt*

So my review of the biography begins with Bronson Alcott’s astonishing ability to over zealously botch everything he touches.  This trait of Bronson is made overwhelmingly clear around page 181.  By this time in the biography, his utopian commune Fruitlands has failed, he has lost all his manuscripts, the house the family is living in was purchased with his wife’s inheritance, and he has completely disappointed me.  At this point in his life Bronson refused to be employed and takes up an architectural endeavor on Emerson’s land, a building that would be nicknamed “Tumbledown Hall” and “The Ruin.”  For a man portrayed as one so taken with education, he tackled projects with a whole lot of zeal and not nearly enough research.  When he did research, others’ ideas were usually disregarded in order to implement his own innovative plans.  To me, most his plans pretty much always sucked.

On the other hand, Louisa, his daughter, was exceptionally prudent.  She had an intense crush on Ralph Waldo Emerson when she was young, which I find adorable, but never shared the love letters she wrote to him.  Instead, when the crush was over, she burned them, but continued to look up to Emerson as a teacher.  Emerson would be a part of Louisa May Alcott’s life from her birth until his death.

Bronson may have failed in many things during the first half of his life, but his efforts as a father are later a solid testament to home schooling.  Matteson shares on page 182 that

“During her teen years, Louisa received essentially no formal schooling outside the home.  However, reading Dickens with her family, poring over Goethe in Emerson’s library, and scrambling through the woods with Thoreau comprised a unique education in themselves.”

Bronson Alcott, I believe, had some serious issues.  Matteson has the grace to allow you to come to this conclusion on your own before he shares the fact that mental illness did indeed run in the family and that it is likely that both Bronson and Louisa May were manic depressive or bipolar, but that there is no way to know for sure.

Bronson’s worldview was both passionate and skewed.  He established his house at Hillside (a few years before the well-known Orchard House) as an underground railroad station and fought viciously for equal political rights for African Americans.  Then in contradiction to his own actions stated that blond hair, blue eyed people were closer to God and that black men should not be allowed to reproduce.  How these beliefs reside in one human being baffles me.  It reminds me of an observation Bill Bryson made in his book The Lost Continent, where when traveling the United States he identifies a curious contradiction in American culture and race relations.  In the north, Yankees are known for their belief in equality and pretend to make no distinction between black and white in personal treatment and political issues, yet they live very segregated lives and rarely share the same neighborhood.  However, in the deep south, there is a general assumption of hatred between the two groups, but they live side by side as neighbors.

Why such dichotomy?  I find it all rather ridiculous.  In Bronson’s case, he refused to use products made by slaves and destroyed his career on the principle that even black students had a place in his school.  Kudos! But then he thinks something so crass as an idea that black men should be denied their God given right to have children.  Absurd!

I find Bronson entirely too duplicitous.  He insisted on a family commune but almost left his family to a more philosophic way of life.  He was passionate about fatherhood, but made it very difficult for his children to feel worthy of his praise.  He desired a Utopia, but in every action tore what could have been to the ground.  His ease in living off hand outs from the labor of his friends while simultaneously declining anything done honestly through the labor of animals is confusing.  It is no wonder to me that the father figure in Little Women is both absent and idolized.  The fact that Bronson went to such great lengths to have a perfect transcendental family and then refused to accept work when it was offered because he had as “yet no clear call to any work beyond [him]self,” is irritating.  The Alcotts were flooded with debt and Bronson had the means to fix it, but was too busy living in his head.

The greatest contradiction of all is that in the second half of his life he would rectify my horrible opinion of him…

*Notes about An Authoress*

The thing I love most about biographies is the same thing I love about “bookish” books – they provide lists, a more diverse reading experience.  While reading Eden’s Outcasts, the biographer periodically offered reviews and insightful critiques to Alcott’s little known works.  So while reading her biography, I was also led to read specific stories out of A Whisper in the Dark, like Love and Self-Love.  It also led me to desire to seek out a piece called Hospital Sketches.

Matteson continues to offer literary criticism on many of Alcott’s publications and goes into a lengthy discussion of An Old Fashioned Girl.  It is during this portion of the biography that Bronson has redeemed himself as a father in my eyes.  At this point he was quietly living at Orchard House in between traveling and making his money.  His ideals were far less irritating later in life than when he had a poor young family to support, because at this point Louisa’s fame had made the entire Alcott family debt free.  This success and income is also what finally made Bronson a more supportive father who spent many of Louisa’s later years doting on her and praising her success.

This age old story of the parent-child relationship reminds me of a Bill Cosby sketch where he laments his parents as grandparents.

“I’ve never seen such a turn around in all my life […] That’s not the same woman I grew up with; you’re looking at an old person who’s trying to get into heaven now.” (watch the whole sketch here)

In the story An Old Fashioned Girl, Alcott actually praises her father by inferring that,

“Shaw’s offspring would need less reforming if he had given them more of his time and less of an allowance.”

Matteson continues to say,

“Louisa goes to far as to suggest that a well-provided childhood is a hindrance to happiness and achievement.”

This is a much different sentiment than that during the aftermath of Bronson’s failed Fruitlands.  Mostly proud father, but partly opportunist, Bronson wrote, “I am introduced as the father of Little Women, and I am riding in the chariot of glory wherever I go.”  Bronson may have begun to be capable of providing for his wife and family, but only because Louisa made it possible with her fame.

As Matteson picks apart Alcott’s life and novels, he states:

“As is more than once the case with Alcott, the fiction teasingly invites speculation that the surviving facts can neither confirm nor dispel.” – pg. 382

Of her own fame, Alcott said: “I asked for bread and got a stone, – in the shape of a pedestal.”

*What it all Means to Me…*

All in all Matteson’s biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father is the most well-written and thorough biography I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  I hung on every word.

All the detailed family relationships, the well thought out literary critiques, and little factoids like the fact that Louisa was the first Concord woman to register to vote, made the whole book a joy to read.

Above all, I am pleased that Matteson has finally put into words a truth that has been part of my own beliefs since childhood when I first read most of Alcott’s work.  Without reading Matteson’s biography I may have never come to understand a piece of myself and where aspects of my own worldview were initially formed.  It seems that my ideas regarding feminism may be largely attributed to what Louisa imparted to me through her novels, as our views are nearly identical.

Louisa’s ideas call for

“each person, male and female to cultivate his or her talents without regard to sex, so that each may optimally serve the community.”

Matteson also says that

“Louisa remained true to the ideals of her mentor Emerson, who, as William James observed, believed that ‘no position is insignificant, if the life that fills it out be only genuine.’  Louisa was hostile to any limitation on women’s opportunities.  Nevertheless, she would have been mystified by any feminist credo that implicitly valued traditionally masculine pursuits above the conventionally feminine.” – pg. 419

Whether you want to be a doctor or stay home and bake pies, male or female – just do it well.

I could not agree more.

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The House at Riverton – A Review

March 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

ImageTitle: The House at Riverton

Author: Kate Morton

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Genre: Fiction

Length: 468 pages

Buy The House at Riverton

I fell in love with Kate Morton’s writing when I first read The Forgotten Garden, Morton’s ode to her love for Frances Hodgson Burnett.  How appropriate then that I fall in love with her work all over again while reading The House at Riverton, Morton’s ode to all things F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ian McEwan’s Atonement – appropriate because I recently wept and swooned over Tanya Egan Gibson’s own ode to her love of The Great Gatsby (How To Buy a Love of Reading) and felt compelled to re-read the work myself.  Apparently it is to be a year of the jazz age.  I’m even on a mission to read the entire Agatha Christie Crime Collection.  In honor of it all, I may be a flapper again for Halloween this year, but what I really want is that green dress Keira Knightly wears in Atonement and for my husband to take me to a play while I wear it.  Of course, I no longer have the boyish figure of the jazz age, emaciated with Kate Hudson sized breasts, I haven’t had that since college.  Now I have the soft roundness of motherhood.

But of course, I’m not talking about me, I’m supposed to be writing a review.  That’s the thing about Kate Morton though, her work is beautiful and intricate and secretive and it feels so real.  Although I get completely engrossed in her story (because she is an amazing story teller), by the end all I can think about is my own story, my own secrets.  Obviously, nothing so dark and grand as love-babies out of wedlock and murder and suicide, but still she makes you think about all the things in your life left unsaid that will remain unsaid even after you die.

Morton wrote the elderly Grace beautifully.  I imagine that is exactly how it must feel to be old.  I loved her so much, and she reminded me so well of people I have met in nursing homes when I used to sing there.  She left so many little hints of other pieces of Grace’s life outside of Riverton, I was left longing for more of Grace even after Hannah and Emmeline’s story was over.  I wanted to dive into a spin off story of Grace on her archeological adventures and reconnection to Alfred.  I know it wouldn’t be a best seller, wouldn’t hold the same magic with Grace’s deep dark secret already revealed and the last thoughts at her death already documented, but I wanted to have a little more of Grace nonetheless.  That’s what makes Morton’s writing so great though, you don’t get tired of the story.  She wraps everything up so nicely for you, but still leaves an inkling of longing in your heart for what is now done.

One thing that I must say to the masses about this book… if you are one of those that reads the last page first – DON’T.  You will ruin the charm and the magic.  I can’t imagine reading the last page first without the whole book losing its adventure.

Check out this blog to read a more detailed and descriptive review: http://gigilovesparis.blogspot.com/2009/12/house-at-riverton-by-kate-morton-review.html

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