Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tea and Books

I spent two-and-half days last week curled up on the couch in a blanket with a bad cold, a pot of mint tea with honey and a stack of library books.

I've gotten into the habit of ordering a book through interlibrary loan whenever I read a review online that sounds good. This usually results in pleasant surprises when I pick up the books (I rarely remember any titles once I've clicked "request"), but sometimes they pile up faster than I can read them. Just such a situation was threatening last week until I was laid low and given the rare opportunity to read in peace for hours each day (broken only by making more tea and naps).

Three of the books explored the mistreatment of women in three different historic periods and settings (witch trials of the Reformation, insane asylums of the Victorian period, and American textile mills early last century). Truly, I eat this stuff up; I think it's such a valuable role for literature to shine a bright light on the darker parts of our history--especially those parts that tend to get ignored or glossed over in our history classes. I'm also stunned and amazed by the research that went into writing these books (two were based on actual events, the third was based on a renowned work of literature from the era).

Triangle by Katharine Weber tells the story of the last living survivor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in interview transcripts alternating with scenes of her granddaughter and her fiance/husband. I have to admit to rushing through the parts about the granddaughter, and especially her fiance's music to get on to more about Esther's experience of the fire, which is horrific and, as it turns out, a bit of a mystery.

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt is the fictionalized story of the lives of the women of Pendle Forest who were tried as witches in 1613. I'm endlessly fascinated/horrified by this era of history, and found this book very well done. In fact, I think it's my favorite of the four.

Dracula in Love by Karen Essex is the Dracula story recast in feminist clothes. I have to admit to being too illiterate to having read Stoker's original, but I found this version (told in the voice of Mina) to be a fascinating look into both life in Victorian times for women and the history and mythology around vampires. Stoker plays a walk-on role, which is amusing. I only wish it had been a bit scarier...I would have liked more suspense...and that some of the characters that were introduced earlier on (e.g. Kate Reed) had been carried through the narrative in some way. Otherwise, very well done and I might just go read the original.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender departs from the other three books I read in that it takes place in the now-ish era. It is the strange tale of a woman who can taste people's emotions in their cooking. As she grows up and begins to find a way to cope with her strange skill, she discovers that other members of her family have unusual skills as well.

What are you reading?


  1. I hope you feel better! I am reading Just Like Us: the true story of four Mexican girls coming of age in America.

  2. I read "Lemon Cake" this summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. I just finished "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri, a story centered around a first-generation immigrant from India. Now I'm searching around for another book, hmmm ... maybe one of yours.

  3. I also have a fast trigger when it comes to ordering inter-library books. I come to hope for a bad cold that would keep me in bed reading but no luck there ;o)

  4. LSM and Rachel--Thanks for the suggestions...I'm ordering them from ILL right now!

  5. I am looking forward to reading Lemon Cake, thanks for re-reminding me about it.

    I just finished "The spirit catches you and it knocks you down." by Anne Fadiman. It was AWESOME.

  6. Too bad we have to get sick to squeeze in two days of solid reading!Do hope you are feeling better now.

    I'm reading a kid's book right now -- The Mysterious Benedict Society. Before THAT I read Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of Figment of My Imagination and Mary Karr's Lit.


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