Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014) is a biography of William Moulton Marston, who created the iconic comic book heroine. It describes Marston’s personal life and work and how factors in his life influenced the development of the superhero Wonder Woman.

William Marston was a psychologist who was educated at Harvard University. He was an inventor and developed an early version of the lie detector test. In addition, Marston was a writer, who penned academic essays and screenplays. In the 1940s, Marston created the character Wonder Woman as a powerful female superhero. The character was illustrated by the artist and cartoonist H.G. Peter. When Wonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in 1941, male superheroes abounded in comic books. Wonder Woman was a novel creation, a woman who represented the feminist ideals of strength, sisterhood, anti-violence, and respect for human life.

The book delves into the personal, titillating details of William Marston’s complex family. He was married to Elizabeth Holloway Marston. Elizabeth contributed to his work on the lie detector test and to the development of Wonder Woman. Together, William and Elizabeth had two children together. Marston also had a relationship with his psychology student Olive Byrne, who was the daughter of Ethel Byrne and the niece of Margaret Sanger. In 1916, Ethyl and her sister Margaret opened the first birth control clinic in the US in Brooklyn. Olive moved in with William and Elizabeth Marston, and William had two children with Olive. Even after William Marston’s death, Elizabeth and Olive continued living together.

These women influenced Marston and contributed to his ideas of Wonder Woman as powerful and good. Marston’s lie detector became Wonder Woman’s “Lasso of Truth.” Olive Byrne’s bracelets inspired Wonder Woman’s indestructible bracelets. The fight for women’s liberation is reflected in Wonder Woman’s repeated escapes from bondage. I especially liked the presentation and descriptions of old Wonder Woman comics that illustrated these themes. The book was a fascinating, surprising read.

Purchase and read books by Jill Lepore:

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore The Story of America: Essays on Origins by Jill Lepore

Friday, November 6, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934) by James Hilton is a look back at the career of an English schoolmaster named Arthur Chipping. Mr. Chipping first arrived at Brookfield as a young teacher in 1870. Through his care and commitment, he changed the lives of his students, who gave him the nickname Mr. Chips. Arthur is briefly married to a charming woman named Katherine, who dies in childbirth. Over time, Mr. Chips is known for his solitary, bachelor life.

After more than forty years teaching, Mr. Chips retires in 1913. During the war, he’s asked to return to work at the school, and following the war, he returns to retirement. The book is a reflection on his life and career, his brief marriage, the profession of teaching, and the isolation of growing old.

Purchase and read books by James Hilton:

Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Lantern in her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

A Lantern in her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

A Lantern in Her Hand (1928) by Bess Streeter Aldrich is a story of maternal sacrifice and pioneer life. Abbie Mackenzie is full of dreams to be a lovely woman like her grandmother. She has a beautiful voice and dreams of singing and playing music on the stage. She wants to write something and make her mark on the world. As the story plays out, it's painful to watch Abbie put away and sacrifice her dreams one by one.

Purchase and read books by Bess Streeter Aldrich:

A Lantern in her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich Song of Years by Bess Streeter Aldrich

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Not Now, but Now by M.F.K. Fisher

Not Now, but Now by M.F.K. Fisher

Not Now, but Now (1947) is the sole novel written by M.F.K. Fisher, who is best known as a food writer. The book has four main chapters, each telling a story set in a different time and place that all feature the same character named Jennie. Jennie seeks conquests, wealth, and adulation. She corrupts those around her, bringing them pain and destruction. A recurring motif is Jennie’s reptilian accessories, symbolizing both her evil nature and the way she can shed her skin. She can slither out of one time and place to form a new life for herself in another.

M.F.K. Fisher described the book saying, "To my mind it is really not a novel at all... It is a string of short stories, tied together more or less artfully by a time-trick. The female Jennie appears everywhere, often with heedless cruelty or deliberate destruction to her docile associates, and then slips away in her little snakeskin shoes..." It’s a curious and very different type of story.

Purchase and read books by M.F.K. Fisher:

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Notes on a Prison Wall by Nicholas Catanoy

Notes on a Prison Wall by Nicholas Catanoy

Notes on a Prison Wall is a memoir by Nicholas Catanoy that was published in 1994. In this volume, Catanoy remembers being a young cadet in Romania and his imprisonment by the invading Russians. The book is a collection of poems, poem fragments, quotations, and reflections. Catanoy was one of the few prisoners to survive the imprisonment, and he escaped random executions three times. His collection of quotes and poetry is profound and makes one consider the senseless cruelty of war.

Purchase and read books by Nicholas Catanoy:

Notes on a Prison Wall by Nicholas Catanoy Modern Romanian Poetry edited by Nicholas Catanoy

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses (1992) tells the story of John Grady Cole. Sixteen-year-old Cole and his friend, Lacey Rawlins, cross the Rio Grande from Texas into Mexico on horseback. Along the way, they meet another young man, Jimmy Blevins, who joins them on part of their journey south. Eventually, Cole and Rawlins work on a ranch, and Cole falls in love with Alejandra, the ranch owner’s daughter.

At first, I found reading the novel frustrating because of the lack of quotation and apostrophe marks for contractions. The post-modern, stripped-down style was difficult to read. Luckily, I did not put down the book before the half-way mark, and eventually McCarthy’s writing style grew on me.

There is a profound change in John Grady Cole from the beginning of the story to its end. I enjoy coming-of-age stories, and I thought this was an excellent one. Cole is directed by the women around him (his mother, Doña Alfonsa, and Alejandra) while struggling with the ethics of his actions and lack of action. Compared to his expectations, it’s sad what Cole finds along his journey, and it’s surprising that he’s not jaded at the end of the novel. He still loves life, and he’s still in search of more.

Purchase and read books by Cormac McCarthy:

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy The Border Trilogy: All the Pretty Horses, the Crossing, Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy