Women Writers Reading Challenge #54: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle

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I was really eager to read the story of a woman whose accomplishments and failures were totally overshadowed by those of her husband. While that was not necessarily unusual for women of the period, it seems a bit strange that we should do so for Constance Wilde if only because of the scrutiny her husband has received over the years. And it’s really too bad because Constance was an interesting writer and activist in her own right.

While I really enjoyed reading about Constance, I wasn’t really enamored with this particular book. I think that Franny Moyle has an excellent eye for research, but I wish she had condensed her quotes. Some of the long passages from various letters are really interesting, but most of them could easily have been summarized to a similar effect or at least shortened. I also felt that Moyle was really quick to label certain incidents as “the biggest mistake s/he would make,” as if they should have definitely known better. Sometimes, of course, that’s true, but I felt she was a little judgmental of Oscar and Constance, or that she wished they had done things differently. Both of these might be true, but I don’t feel like a biography is about those opinions. I think with better editing, this book could have been more moving–because their lives really are sad and tragic. I didn’t really connect with this book, though I’m still glad I read it in order to have a better understanding of Constance, who I’d never spared much thought for before this. If you’re a Wilde fanatic, you’ll probably like this book, but if you’re just in search of an interesting piece of nonfiction reading with a slightly feminist bent, I’d recommend Jill Lepore’s history of Wonder Woman instead.

Has there been a book lately that’s slightly disappointed you?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #51: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

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So the early Wonder Woman? Yeah, she was kind of a badass. And she is descended from some of the most influential suffragettes and women’s rights leaders of the early twentieth century, owing debts to Margaret Sanger and Emmeline Pankhurst. Her creator also invented the lie detector (though the patented invention–the polygraph–would be created by someone else). It’s a strange road that leads to Wonder Woman, and Jill Lepore navigates crazy amounts of available materials to bring her history to life. Well paired with images, Lepore’s text is engaging, with just the right kinds of details. The history behind this character is…complicated, and the author explores her subject with enthusiasm and without judgment. I really enjoyed this book and all the wonderful, hidden, almost-forgotten stories that Lepore uncovers. If you’re interested in comics or feminism, consider giving this history a try; I think it will make you see this popular heroine just a little differently.

Who is your favorite superhero?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #16: Personal History by Katharine Graham

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It’s hard to write about yourself. Examining yourself objectively isn’t easy, and to share your weaknesses as well as strengths with the world is even more difficult. However, this is the essential skill needed to write a good autobiography. Katharine Graham’s autobiography is perhaps the most frank and insightful of any I’ve read.

Born into wealth and privilege in Washington’s elite, Graham grew up with a strong sense of public duty and obligation from her mother, the political activist, and her father who, among other things, acquired The Washington Post. She talks about her marriage to the charismatic, intelligent, and ultimately self-destructive, Phil Graham. Her inheritance of the Post upon her husband’s death thrust her into the spotlight as one of the most powerful businesswomen in America at a time when women did not run large companies.

Her autobiography gives you an inside look into journalism, politics, Washington society, and the changing roles of women. The book is as powerful as the woman who wrote it and is a must read for anyone interested in the history of this famous newspaper, women in power, or the politics of the mid 1900s in the United States.

I also view finishing this book as a personal accomplishment, as I’ve been reading it on and off for about four years now. It was definitely worth the commitment.

2015 Women Writers Reading Challenge–Book #8: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

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There are books that touch your heart, but there are also people who touch your heart. I read this book because I heard really great things about it. I thought the book would be powerful and leave me with feelings of gratitude and a call to action on behalf of the rights of women (both of which I already feel by the way). What I didn’t expect was this amazing young woman, strong and intelligent and vivacious, worthy of admiration not only for what she has done and achieved, but for who she is.

The full title I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, goes a long way to explaining the premise of the book. Malala describes her family and life as well as the political situation in Pakistan, concentrating on her home region of Swat, that led up to her shooting and beyond. The book is written simply, honestly, but there are little spurts of joy and zest for life that I found refreshing in a memoir, which are often written by older perspective and have a more retrospective tone. There’s curiosity and confusion as well as understanding.

I definitely recommend this book, an inspiring look at a family that stands up for what they believe in and who have an amazing connection to each other, their community, and their religion. If you’re interested in current events, especially work for women’s rights and education in the Middle East and beyond, I think you’ll be inspired by this young woman, the youngest person ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.