Week 15: So many books: female authors and perspectives across genres

I didn’t realize how reluctant I have been to read until I really got stuck in this week and started to really enjoy what I was reading. Even though not everything I read is going to be a lasting favorite, I really enjoyed the action and process of reading.

I noticed as I started to write these books up that there is a theme of women’s roles running through these. In Doc, Mary Doria Russell takes the time to look at the lives of the women who lived with the larger than life men involved in the shooting at the OK Corral, and what their motivations and desires were. In The Invisible Library, the world-hopping female protagonist takes the time to consider what the gender roles of the world she is entering are, and how she can work within them (and laments not being able to wear trousers). In Unmentionable, Therese Oneill passionately confronts the many (male) doctors who recommended dangerous and, frankly, stupid procedures to women, basing their ideas on scant research and little or no first-hand experience. In Letters From Yellowstone, the protagonist must wrestle with the (still very real) dilemma of becoming a scientist in her own right, or being an “assistant” to the male scientists around her, a dilemma that exists in spite of their respect for her work.

All of these authors are women, and I would guess that the perspective that these authors have BECAUSE they are women is what allows them to provide the insights I described above, and to, for the most part, do it in a way that merges seamlessly with the rest of the book.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

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I am going to say the least about this book today, but it was my favorite of the week by miles. I read this book because there are many authors who I claim as favorites when I have only read one or two of their books. Mary Doria Russell is one of these, so I set out to make sure I had read her work. I don’t know how Russell manages to turn off-the-wall scenarios into the masterpieces she writes, but in my opinion, she is one of the best authors alive today.

Russell is best known for her book The Sparrow, which is a beautifully written tale of human exploration with an improbable plot involving Jesuits in space, and all of you should read if you haven’t already.

Doc is an equally beautiful and completely fresh story about the human friendships, ambition and illness with a plot involving Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers, some of the most infamous figures the history of the American West. However, the beauty in this book is not in its choice of plot or setting, but in the complexity of its characters, who all feel like real people, from Doc Holliday to “soiled doves” or Dodge City to the young boy who is killed when he tries to assassinate Wyatt Earp and appears in the book for less than a page.  This book combines exceptional storytelling with exceptional writing, and is well worth your time. I cannot recommend this book enough.

The Invisible Library by Genevive Cogman*

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I was interested in this book because I love books about books and I love good fantasy, and this book promised to be both, but with a badass female protagonist. Although I enjoyed it, I can’t say that I loved it as much as I hoped to.

The Library at the center of this book is completely intriguing. Anchored to multiple alternate worlds, it collects unique works from each world, and when multiple versions of the same work exist, scholars will take the time to research those differences. Maybe because I found this so interesting, it irritated me that we didn’t get to see more of the Library and its contents because the action takes us out into an alternate world almost immediately.

The plot itself is fun and pleasantly unpredictable, but I struggled with the world-building in this book. Successful fantasy relies on the reader being able to grasp the major rules and guidelines of the world fairly easily and in a book where the plot hinged on these rules going awry, there just wasn’t enough to hang on to for me. Reading the chapter preview for the next book, I noticed that there were excerpts from The Student Librarian’s Handbook that provided background information, and had there been something like that in this book, I think I would have enjoyed it more.

I did like the main character, and I found the (almost) complete lack of romantic plot very refreshing. Overall the book was an easy read, and satisfying, and I would recommend it to someone in middle or high school who loves fantasy, but I just don’t think it was for me.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners by Therese Oneill

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I often get frustrated when people ask what era or time period I would like to live in (maybe you don’t get this question a lot, but it seems to come up every once in a while for me). The reality is that women’s lives were incredibly difficult for much of our history, and the ability to choose any period before the last 75 years (or even less if you happen to be a woman of color, transgender, or just about anyone who is not a white, cis-gendered, straight, Christian man) is a privilege, even if the question if hypothetical. This book makes this point for me, and it also made me laugh.

The information, no matter how horrifying, was so funny that I often found myself laughing out loud. This book addresses the reader directly as a 21st century woman who has journeyed to the Victorian Era, and although this structure is somewhat limiting, and not always consistent, the general tone is great fun. Light, airy and irreverent, yet still informative, Oneill’s opinionated voices comes through very strongly, making Unmentionable both a work of non-fiction and a comedic treatise.

I don’t think everyone will appreciate the way that this story is told, but I really enjoyed the ability to get information and to laugh at the same time. If you are interested in history (women’s history in particular) and want your information to come with a side of comedic commentary, you will definitely enjoy this book.

Letters From Yellowstone by Diane Smith

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I have been searching for a good book about Yellowstone that I could read this summer. This book was a fun surprise for me because I thought it would be nonfiction until it came in the mail. Luckily, I really enjoyed it! The author, Diane Smith is a scientist and a naturalist, and obviously very familiar with Yellowstone, and these qualities made this book a fun read for me as a naturalist exploring Yellowstone myself.

Told in letters, this is the story of a scientific expedition into the park in 1898 and what happens when A. E. Bartram, also known as Alexandria Bartram, is invited onto the expedition as a scientist, but surprises everyone by being a woman. As everyone adjusts to this surprise, the reader is introduced to the place and the many people who came into the park during this time period, from Crow Indians to elderly female naturalists.

What I loved in particular was the references to plants and animals I have loved seeing, and the reminders that the park has changed a lot in the past 125 years or so, both in ways that have made it wilder and in ways that have made it tamer. For anyone planning on coming here, I highly recommend this, although I would suggest that if you are not familiar with scientific names or the plants of this area, I would read it with a field guide next to you.


 

What went well

I read so much this week, and I loved every minute of it. I have been finding the time to read for a few hours every day, it feels good to be enthusiastic about reading again.

What did not go well

Although I read a lot, the books I read this week were very white, and I’m not too proud of that. Considering the types of bookish diversity I talked about on Friday, I feel like I can claim genre diversity (I read a YA fantasy, a non-fiction, and two very different fiction books) but not much else.

What I am reading next week

I’m still looking forward to reading The Wanderers by Meg Howrey and The Windfall by Diksha Basu, and I am going to be exploring some of my options that might add to the diversity of what I am reading.

*This book was received free for review. All opinions expressed above are my own.

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3 thoughts on “Week 15: So many books: female authors and perspectives across genres

  1. Gosh, you read so much in one week! I’m intrigued by the description of Doc, it sounds very mysterious to me although that may be because I haven’t heard of Doc Holliday…I’m not American. I’m definitely adding Unmentionable to my to-read list though, I’ve been trying to read more non-fiction and it sounds perfect!

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    1. Glad to hear about Unmentionable! I think Doc would be completely enjoyable without knowing the history of the OK Corral shooting, but you can also look up the characters online if you are more inclined that way. I have such a hard time describing Russell’s books, because the plot feels secondary to her exploration of character and humanity, so I can see how that could seem mysterious.

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