Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley Book Review

*Mary Wollstonecraft will be referred to as MW. Mary Shelley will be referred to as MS.

There are numerous ways that a parent can influence a child, even after they have passed away. Charlotte Gordon‘s 2015 biography, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, is the story of the iconic mother/daughter duo.

Though they never knew each other in life (MW died soon after MS was born), the similarities are inescapable. MW wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Women. MS wrote Frankenstein. Both books were earth-shattering in their own right. The men (William Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley respectively) who they made their lives with were far from conventional. By the standards of their time, MW and MS broke all of the rules of what it was to be a female. In doing so, they paved the way for future generations of writers (female especially) to fulfill their dreams.

I loved this book. Gordon introduces her subjects to the audience in such a way that they feel modern. While reading, I was inspired to give the proverbial middle finger to what is “normal” and not care what others think. If nothing else, I think that is the legacy of this extraordinary pair of women.

The only thing I will warn is that Gordon’s narrative is not linear. She alternates each chapter between MW and MS. I took a minute to understand where Gordon was going. After that, I had no problem with the story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley is available wherever books are sold.

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Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës Book Review

For everyone who makes a crack in the glass ceiling, they stand on the shoulders of someone else who made that crack possible. Lovers of classic literature are (hopefully) well-versed in the lives and works of Jane Austen and the Brontes.

What has been lost to history is that without Anna Maria and Jane Porter, neither Austen nor the Brontes would have been able to become published authors. The story of the Misses Porter is told in Devoney Looser‘s new book, Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës. Published last fall, Looser introduces modern readers to the sisters and their numerous works.

They lived what can only be described as a double life. Though they were respected authors/celebrities of their era, the Porters were never financially secure. Debt and poorly made monetary decisions followed them from the time they were young. They were also posthumously buried by the male writers of their era (Sir Walter Scott to be specific), who never publicly named the Porters as the inspiration for their own works.

It goes without saying that the book would be completely up my alley. It goes without saying that it is for a niche audience. But that’s fine. What Looser does so well is to bring her subjects and their world to life. I felt like I knew them as human beings, not as icons and proto-feminists. While she kept to the standard womb-to-tomb biography format, it was far from the dry academic title that it could have been.

I think it is pretty safe to say that every female writer since then, regardless of genre or format, owes the Porters a debt that can never be repaid.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. It is a must-read.

Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës is available wherever books are sold.

Best Books of 2022

  1. Carrie Soto Is Back: Taylor Jenkins Reid‘s latest novel about a nearly over-the-hill tennis star took my breath away.
  2. I’m Glad My Mom Died: Jennette McCurdy’s memoir of her childhood, her career, and her abusive mother made me grateful for my parents, warts, and all.
  3. Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence: The revelations in this book are damming.
  4. What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix: The book takes Wuthering Heights in a new direction, deepening the narrative and an understanding of Bronte’s era.
  5. The Matchmakers Gift: A Novel: Lynda Cohen Loigman‘s latest novel about a Jewish teenage matchmaker in the early 20th century and her skeptic granddaughter is pure gold.
  6. The Princess and the Scoundrel: The book tells the story of the wedding and honeymoon of Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo after the destruction of the Empire in Return of the Jedi.
  7. The Weight of Blood: This reboot of Carrie adds racism to the mix, making Stephen King‘s novel even more relevant than it already was.
  8. Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America: Their tactics may not have been exactly legal, but standing up against antisemitism is nothing to sneeze at.
  9. Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power: This biography of Nancy Pelosi is a reminder of the barriers she has broken and the legacy she will leave behind.
  10. His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle For Racial Justice: The murder of George Floyd forced the world to face its racist past.

Here’s to the books we read in 2022 and the ones we will read in 2023.

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Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence Book Review

Rape and sexual assault are unfortunately a part of human history. For as long as anyone can remember, women have dealt with this reality on a daily basis.

Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence, by Ken Auletta, was published in July. This biography tells the story of former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the 2017 revelation of the numerous women he forced himself on.

Born to a Jewish family in Queens, Weinstein was an insecure boy who grew into an insecure man. Though this business acumen is notable, how he treated people (and women specifically) is another story. Though there were instances of kindness and generosity, those events were few and far between. He was temperamental, impatient, arrogant, and threw his power around like a frisbee.

The stories of the women Weinstein assaulted are basically the same. He would turn on the charm and make them believe that he was genuinely interested. He would then invite them to his hotel room to discuss possible career opportunities. Once that hotel room door closed, it was just a matter of time.

For obvious reasons, this book is hard to read. It is a long read and the subject is obviously a difficult one.

The psychological profile that Auletta presents is that of a bully. Like all bullies, he has unresolved issues. Instead of dealing with them in a healthy manner, he lashes out and takes his anger out on others.

If nothing else, it should get us all angry. The problem is not just Weinstein’s actions, it is the complicity of everyone around him. As Auletta points out, his sexual reputation was not unknown. Instead of rallying around his victims, the majority stayed silent. If they had the gall to speak out, there were consequences. It was only after the initial revelations in 2017 that the silence was acknowledged and genuine change started to occur.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I would also state that this is one of the top five books of the year.

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Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother Book Review

There is no bond as important as a mother with her children.

When the late Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, she left behind two young men who were forever changed. The new biography, Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother, by James Patterson, was published last month. It tells the story of Diana and her sons as human beings, not just celebrities or royals who live in a gilded cage.

While ensuring that both of her boys know what their responsibilities and futures will be like, she also gave them the opportunity to be ordinary kids. After her untimely passing, they grow up (with the usual and unusual hurdles due to the family they were born into) into responsible men, husbands, and fathers who continue Diana’s legacy.

What struck me was that Diana learned how to work within the system while rebelling against a way of life that may seem archaic to some. Her love for her sons, specifically when her marriage to Prince Charles (now King Charles III) was falling apart, was evident from the word go. Even when her own mental health issues weighed heavily on her, her boys still came first.

Choosing to live and parent as she did, she set up William and Harry to become empathetic and understanding of the idea that not everyone lives like they do. In doing so, she set the English monarchy on a path that allows tradition and modernity to exist concurrently.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother is available wherever books are sold.

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The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story Book Review

To be the descendent of a Holocaust survivor is to grow up with a trauma that stretches well beyond the first generation. They have a unique responsibility to tell the stories of their loved ones that sometimes feel more pressing than those of us whose direct families were out of harm’s way during the war.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story, by Nechama Birnbaum, was published at the end of last year. The book tells the story of her late grandmother, Rosie Greenstein. Though Rosie was often told that her red hair was undesirable, she believed that it was an asset. Though her family was poor, Rosie’s childhood was idyllic. Raised by her widowed mother, she dreamed of her wedding day and future husband.

That dream came crashing down in 1944. The Jews of Hungary were forced out of their homes and sent directly to Auschwitz. The only thing that is keeping her alive is her fierce spirit and the will to survive in the face of all-encompassing death.

This biography is written in such a way that every gruesome and horrific detail is hard to ignore or forget. The narrative flashes between two different time periods until the story converges: Rosie’s life before the war and her time in the death camp. What I got from the book was more than a granddaughter’s love for her grandmother. It was pride in the strength that was passed down through the generations and families that come into the world since the end of the war.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. P.S. I also recommend following the corresponding Instagram account.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story is available wherever books are sold.

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Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power Book Review

To be a woman in politics is to have a backbone made of steel. It requires courage, strength, an incredibly brilliant mind, and the ability to navigate through the bullshit.

Nancy Pelosi has done this and so much more. She has broken barriers, become a controversial figure, and stood toe to toe with some of the most notorious political figures of our era. Her biography, Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power, by Susan Page, was published earlier this year. Pelosi was born in Baltimore, the youngest child, and only daughter in a prominent Italian-American family. Though she was raised in an era in which girls were boxed in, her mother encouraged her to color outside of the lines.

Moving to California after marrying, Pelosi only got into politics after her children were grown. Starting at the local level, she climbed up the ladder with a shrewd mind and an understanding of the game. Page spends most of the book examining her career and the challenges (especially when going against you know who) that she has come against. Diving into the details of the last few decades, the woman we meet is one who does not shrink when coming against a man who thinks that he knows better than her.

I enjoyed this book. The reader is introduced to Pelosi as the whole woman, not just the image on the evening news. She is thoroughly human in a way that I found relatable and inspirational. Pelosi may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you cannot deny that what she has accomplished is exceptional and admirable. We need more women in this world like Nancy Pelosi.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power is available wherever books are sold.

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Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality Book Review

No social movement that aims to create a better world is without its internal struggle. While the men are at the forefront, it is often the women who do the work. But few are given the spotlight and the respect they deserve.

The late Constance Baker Motley was one of these women. Her story is told in the new biography Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality. Written by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, it was published in January. Born to immigrants from the Caribbean in 1921, she came of age in an era in which both her gender and her skin color created barriers. Instead of just submitting to these barriers, she broke them. After graduating from law school, she was the only female on staff working for the legal team of the NAACP under the leadership of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, Baker Motley smashed both Jim Crow to bits and created a large crack in the glass ceiling. Her career contained a lot of the firsts: the first African-American woman who was a state Senator in NY and the federal judiciary, and the first woman elected as Manhattan Borough President.

As a product of the American education system, I am utterly dismayed that she is not a household name. She was not just a groundbreaker, but a rule breaker. These days, it is perfectly normal for a woman to have the figurative balls of her job, her marriage, and her children in the air at the same time. But not back then. In fighting for the rights of both women and Black Americans, she paved the way for equality that has become the norm and unfortunately, still has to be fought for.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality is available wherever books are sold.

True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness: A Feminist Coming of Age Books Review

We’ve all read our fair share of celebrity biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies. They range from being a dry retread of what we know about them to drowning in the overbearing “look at me” type profile.

In 2018, actress Christine Lahti wrote her own story. It is entitled True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness: A Feminist Coming of Age. One of six kids in a 1950s picture-perfect midwestern family, she was raised by her doctor father and homemaker mother. Coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, she was transformed by the second wave of the feminist movement. Jumping from her childhood to her early adulthood to her current life and in between, this book is the story of a woman making her choices and standing on her own two feet.

I loved this book. I could hear her voice through the pages. It is honest, raw, emotional, messy, and most importantly, authentic. Her story is the story of a generation of women who fought for their rights, and in doing so, paved the way for future generations to do the same. For me, it is a reminder of how strong we are and how much we can accomplish when we stick to our guns.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World Book Review

One of the major tenets of Judaism is “tikkun olam“. In English, it means “repair the world” and in our modern lingo, it is social justice.

Hasia R. Diner‘s 2017 biography of the late businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald is entitled Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. Born in 1862 to Jewish immigrants, his early years were modest. As an adult, he took over the helm of Sears, Roebuck & Company and made it the retail giant of it’s day. He also ahead of his time in the manner that he treated his staff and his approach to those who were not as fortunate as he was. Instead of putting his names on buildings and using his wealth for conspicuous consumption, he was passionate about giving back. In addition to supporting his co-religionists, he supported the African-American community in a way that many Caucasians did not in that early 20th century.

Before reading this book, I had no idea who Rosenwald was. He is one of those figures in Jewish history who is not as well known as others of his day. This is a quick read (in a good way) and a story that I think is inspiring for us all, regardless of faith or family origin. It shows that it is possible to be a mensch and not give into the preconceived notions of other people.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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