Book Reviews

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Robber Bride

It’s easy to appreciate fiction’s dedicated heroines. Who doesn’t admire Jane Eyre or Miss Jane Pittman?  Neither is it difficult to muster animosity for callous villainesses such as Lady Macbeth or Madame DeFarge.

But what about those characters who straddle the line by stirring up feelings of love, hate and everything in between?

We know we shouldn’t ape their actions, but we admire their chutzpah. Their battle cries are a mixture of “All be damned” and “So be it” — an intoxicating blend of challenge and acceptance, whether they’re Carrie Bradshaw in pursuit of the perfect pair of shoes or Medea in pursuit of the perfect revenge.

It’s not the ramifications of their actions we admire – no one could endorse spending the whole paycheck on Ferragamos or Medea’s concept of sole custody. It’s the dedication to a vision these women see as an integral part of themselves, no matter how ill-advised. And they manage to make us love them for it, even as we disapprove.

It can happen at any age and any time. It’s the engulfing panic that maybe you chose the wrong career. Maybe you committed to the wrong person. Maybe you made all the wrong decisions. Maybe you’re living the wrong life.

For any woman who has wondered “what if” during her life, here are stories of other women who wondered, who dared, who tapped unknown reservoirs of strength and discovered the right person was actually living the right life all along.

Drinking the Rain, Alix Kates Shulman

For Alix Kates Shulman, it happened in the early Eighties. She felt herself slipping away in this unfamiliar world. Drinking the Rain is her enticing memoir of self-rediscovery during a summer spent on a remote Maine island. Schulman revels in her newfound independence as she collects rain water to drink, gathers mussels from a tide pool for dinner, and watches the ocean tides. Her solitary summer reveals numerous mini-miracles of life.

The Pull of the Moon, Elizabeth Berg

Thomas is unsure about several things. He can’t remember where he is from, how old he is, or how he wound up in this place called “The Glade.” All he knows is that he is looking for answers, and all of the boys around him seem very unwilling to answer his questions. Where are they? Who put them here? And what are these vicious creatures known as “Grievers?”

Thomas arrives at the Glade in an elevator-like shaft with no memory, just like all of the other boys there his age. The boys in this isolated homestead are all in their early and mid-teen years, although no one is sure of their exact age. They raise the animals and crops for their food, they all have assigned jobs, and they live inside a huge and winding Maze.

So begins The Maze Runner, book one of a young adult dystopian sci-fi trilogy by James Dashner.

Andersonville Diary

For July, I thought something quintessentially American was called for, and as this is the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War, John Ransom’s diary of his 14 months as a P.O.W. in the Confederate prison system seemed a natural choice. 

Ransom was born in 1843, and joined the Union army in 1862.  He held the rank of sergeant and was the Quartermaster for Company A of the 9th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. He was captured in Tennessee in 1863 and, after spending some time at Belle Isle prison in Virginia was sent to what is perhaps the most infamous prison camp in that brutal war – Andersonville in Georgia. 

Ironically, Ransom “flanked out” (i.e. he jumped the line) to get out of Belle Isle, where he was first imprisoned, figuring any other place had to be better – was he ever wrong.  In his first year at Andersonville, he writes, the combination of lack of food, poor conditions and a brutal administration result in the death of about half the prisoners at the camp. 

For example, one of the “dead lines” that prisoners are not supposed to get near is along the only source of fresh water in the camp, with the result that prisoners suffering extreme dehydration risk reaching beyond the line to get some fresh water, and are shot for their troubles.

Last winter I experienced Disney World’s animated production It’s Tough to Be a Bug. I use the word experienced because no senses were left untouched. Wow, what imagination went into this nine-minute piece of entertainment! I walked out of the theater with all kinds of questions about creativity.

Is a person born with creativity? Can it be developed? Does artistic expression come easily to some? Why do some companies find awesome solutions while others primarily service the status quo? Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries, provides insight into some of these questions.

Business writer Peter Sims has corralled some entrepreneurial behaviors and attitudes into a philosophy he refers to as “little bets.” Don’t jump to the quick conclusion though that this book is just for business people. Little Bets will give ideas that will be useful to anyone who wants or needs to come up with new ideas or new ways of doing something – which means everyone.