Sep 12

Pearl of China

Asia, Memoirs, Women's Studies 6

Hello Bookworms! I’ve mentioned that I’m highly susceptible to marketing tactics, have I not? I purchased the latest entry in my Kindle because Amazon was having a sale. A girl’s got to budget, you know?

Pearl of China by Anchee Min is a novel based in part on the life of Pearl S. Buck. Pearl S. Buck, in case you were unaware, is a Nobel Prize winning author. A Nobel Prize winning author yours truly has never read, shamefully, although now I fully intend to add some of her work to my never ending reading list.

If this book hadn’t taken some historical liberties, it would be a dry-as-toast biography that nobody would want to read. So, Anchee Min, I’ll forgive any historical inconsistencies that might exist here because it was so enthralling. Pearl of China is written from the point of view of Pearl’s childhood best friend, Willow. Willow is largely fictional, but as a fictional character the author has the freedom to give her the sort of life story that is most compatible with Pearl’s legacy, so it all works out in a nice little package.

Willow is born into abject poverty. Her father was born into a wealthy family that falls to ruin and has a difficult time adjusting to his new circumstances. He goes so far as to rent out his wife as a prostitute (yeah, Chinese women really get the raw end of the deal A LOT.) Unfortunately, when Willow’s mother becomes pregnant as a result of this encounter, she is killed by an attempted herbal abortion. So. Willow is poor. She is motherless. And she’s a thief so she doesn’t starve to death. It pretty much sucks to be Willow.

Pearl lives in Willow’s village. Pearl is the daughter of American missionaries who have come to China to convert the heathens. In a way, this book reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible as that was about a missionary family living in Africa (you should read The Poisonwood Bible if you haven’t- it’s very good.) The biggest difference between the two though, is that the daughters in The Poisonwood Bible are brought to Africa as adolescents (except for little Ruth.) They are old enough to experience the culture shock that comes with leaving 1960s Georgia and trying to make a life in the decidedly less industrialized African Congo. Pearl, though, is brought to China as an infant. She learns the language the way a Chinese child would and identifies more closely with the culture she is raised in than the culture she was born into.

Pearl is an outcast because she’s not Chinese and her father is more than a little overzealous about converting the townspeople. Willow is an outcast because she and her father are thieves. Luckily for both girls, they find each other and their families intertwine to their mutual benefit. They forge a friendship that will last them a lifetime.

Unfortunately for our heroines, China in the 1930s was NOT where you wanted to be if you were foreign. First a bloody war with Japan, and then the Communist uprising meant that a blond haired-blue eyed woman was a walking target. Eventually, Pearl and her family flee to the US, but her heart remains in China.

Willow, upon Pearl’s departure, marries a man who turns out to be one of Mao Zedong’s closest advisors. I don’t like to take sides in political battles. In fact, I hate it. However, it’s difficult not to get a little bit political when discussing early Communist China. In theory, Communism sounds great. Everyone is equal, everyone has enough food, everyone is taken care of. Unfortunately, that is NEVER the way it works in practice. If you don’t believe me check out what Stalin did in Russia. Mao totally wanted to be Stalin, so killing off dissidents and imprisoning people who happened to have ties with “outsiders” was par for the course. It really didn’t end up being “Communism” at all because there was totally an elite class favored by the dictatorship, and millions of people starved anyway. Sigh.

If you want to learn more about China and it’s less savory chapters in history, read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. You’ll get first person accounts of this time period, as well as two generations previous. It’s excellent. You’ll learn things.

Anyway, poor Willow gets the short end of the stick with the Communists. Despite being married to a big wig, her friendship with Pearl (who started publishing novels critical of the regime) lands her in prison on several occasions. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel on China that wasn’t absolutely devastating in one way or another, but beneath that devastation there’s always a stoic beauty about the place.

So my Bookworms, as this was a book centering on a lifelong friendship, let’s talk about it! Do you have any friends you’ve kept since childhood?


Sep 10

Snow Flower and The Secret Fan

Asia, Coming of Age, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 10

I promised you we’d “travel,” didn’t I, Bookworms? Let’s got to China! Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See takes us on an adventure though 19th Century China. More historical fiction, I know, but this is in CHINA, y’all! Totally new perspective.

Our heroine Lily is paired up in an “old sames” relationship with another young girl named Snow Flower. Because women were kept in near total seclusion at this point in history (at least women with any social standing) they didn’t exactly get to go out and meet people. Being in “old sames” was sort of like having a matchmaker find you a BFF. Then you and your BFF would exchange notes via your matchmaker on a fan using a secret phonetic form of women’s writing. (You remember having code names in your middle school notebooks for the boys you liked? It’s kind of like that, but it allowed you to actually communicate with other women without censorship, which is pretty cool.) Being “old sames” Lily and Snow Flower were destined to begin their foot binding at the same time.

Oh yeah. Foot binding. In graphic detail. Before I read this book, I really had no idea what foot binding entailed. I imagined ace-bandages wrapped tightly around the foot in an attempt to keep it small. There was no “attempting” in foot binding. They would essentially force young girls’ feet to fold over on themselves. Then the bones would break and they’d heal in a grotesque distorted version of a foot. Assuming you didn’t die of blood poisoning before the healing could take place, of course. The women were then doomed to wobble around on these “golden lilies” for the rest of their lives. Learning the truth about foot binding is reason enough to read this book.

The problem was, the foot binding was culturally NECESSARY. If your feet weren’t bound, you had virtually no prospects for marriage, and marriage was by FAR the most appealing life option for a Chinese woman at this point in time. It was like, all the dudes in China had a foot fetish. For real. Only the men would only see the feet while perfumed and wrapped in slippers, because naked deformed feet are stinky and unattractive. (Since we’re on the subject of feet, I think it’s worthwhile to mention that my feet are quite lovely. My toes go in perfect descending order, and although I’ve heard that having a long second toe is a sign of intelligence, I’m content to embrace my toes for their esthetics.)

My feet are gorgeous. Perhaps my best physical feature.

Lily and Snow Flowers’ childhoods are spent preparing for their marriages. They spent their time embroidering slippers for their newly deformed feet, making clothes, creating gifts for their future mothers-in-law,  and writing each other letters via the fan. When their marriages do occur, the girls are separated- Lily to a life with a respectable family, and Snow Flower to a life with an abusive butcher. (Being a butcher was NOT a well respected occupation. It was seen as one of the lowliest ways to earn a living, but when your father is an opium addict who has squandered his fortune on drugs, you don’t exactly have the reputation or dowry to “marry up.”)

Anyway, the poor girls suffer a misunderstanding at the hands of the secret fan, they have a falling out, then they have a dramatic deathbed reunion. It’s all very touching, I promise.

I recommend Snow Flower and the Secret Fan to anyone who is interested in Chinese history, women’s history, or the gruesome spectacle that is foot binding. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn something!

I realize that as a modern American woman the idea of foot binding disgusts me, but it was the utmost form of beauty in China until a little over 100 years ago. What sort of beauty rituals do you Bookworms indulge in that may be considered barbaric by other cultures?


Sep 07

Confession Friday: I Have a Penguin Problem

Children's Fiction, Personal 15

I have a penguin problem. When I was in the 3rd grade, I made a penguin habitat out of a shoebox and a white mold-a-rama penguin from the Brookfield Zoo. Ever since then I’ve been a crazy penguin lady. Penguin jewelry, penguin trinkets, penguin teapots, an entire drawer full of penguin pajamas…

Halloween 2006. Yes. I’m a “grown up.”

The Penguin Tree. It is GLORIOUS.

This is my wedding cake, complete with penguin topper. That’s COMMITMENT right there.

It should come as no surprise that I count Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater among my favorite books. I do NOT approve of the blasphemy that was the recent Jim Carrey debacle of a movie. Okay, I guess I can’t really DISAPPROVE of penguins being adorable in a movie, but as an adaptation of a book, it was abominable.

I first read Mr. Popper’s Penguins when I was… I don’t really remember. Somewhere between 9 and 11 I’m guessing. We’ll say 10. Obviously, I loved it. I’ve since read it a few more times over the years and it never ceases to amuse me. When I was a kid, I loved the idea of turning my house into a giant skating rink for penguins to play around in. Who wouldn’t love to have a house full of penguins?! (This was before I thought about the grossness of bird poop in one’s dwelling…) Penguins doing circus tricks and forming a travelling show? I would have spent my allowance on that ticket!

It’s award-winning, y’all!

When I read this as an adult, I am not immune to its whimsy, but there are a few things that make me giggle. The bit that stands out to me the most though is Mrs. Popper. This book was written in 1938, so you’d expect the mother figure in a children’s story to be a homemaker. Poor Mrs. Popper, all she ever does is complain about what a mess Mr. Popper (a house painter by trade) makes in the house. It takes some SERIOUS penguin charm to get her to be on board with a pack of antarctic birds hanging out in her house. In the winter. With the windows wide open.

The Mrs. Popper moment that is (probably unintentionally) hilarious to me is at the end. The Poppers realize that it isn’t a good idea to keep a flock of penguins living in their home, so they agree to send them off to pioneer a new penguin colony at the North Pole. (Because if you didn’t know, penguins are a South Pole thing. And they hang out on some islands too. But they most certainly do not live at the North Pole naturally. Which is why I sometimes get annoyed at holiday items that show penguins and polar bears together, because that just doesn’t happen in nature. Of course, then I remember that penguins don’t really wear hats and scarves either, but that doesn’t make it any less adorable, and I get over it. Also, polar bears are ruthless savages that would EAT penguins, which is not a good thing.)

Anyway, at the end of the book, Mr. Popper is devastated that he’s got to let his beloved penguins go… Until the arctic expedition captain pipes up and offers Mr. Popper the opportunity to hop aboard the ship and join the penguin pilgrimage. Wait- this is where it gets funny. Mr. Popper turns to Mrs. Popper and his children and goes, “Hey are you guys cool if I’m not home for supper… or at all… for the next year or two?” And his kids are all like “Yeah that’s cool, take care of the penguins.”

But Mrs. Popper’s reaction is priceless. Mrs. Popper says something to the effect of “I’ll miss you, but it’ll be really nice to not have to clean up after your messy self for the next two years. I think we’ve got enough in the bank. Later!” Sigh. Whimsy goes with everything.

So bookworms, do any of you have silly animal obsessions or oddball collections? (If anyone says “jars of urine,” I’m seriously going to rethink this question segment…)


Sep 06

I'm A Spy. Shhhhh… Don't Tell.

Personal 2

Hello Bookworms! I am going to be out of the blogosphere for the next week and a half or so. I’m going to be super busy doing things I cannot tell you about. Yet. (Please feel free to assume that I’m a spy and that I’m saving the world and such.)

BUT! I wanted to let you know I have not forsaken you! I have posts ready for your enjoyment that will pop up while I am indisposed. However, I probably won’t be responding to comments or checking in overly frequently.

So, if you leave me a note and I don’t acknowledge it, it’s not because I do not LOVE you. It’s because I am not going to be attached at the hip to computerized devices with full keyboards.

Rest assured I am still reading voraciously.


Sep 05

Gardens in Literature: Secret, Forgotten, and Red

Classics, Historical Fiction, Mystery 12

Good day, Bookworms! As you probably recall from an earlier post, I enjoy flowers and gardening nearly as much as I enjoy reading. Today we’re going to discuss a trio of books concerning gardens. Are you excited yet? I’ll take that collective groan as an enthusiastic “Yes!”

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a classic that’s been enjoyed by children for generations. Sadly, I was not one of those children. I wasted an awful lot of quality childhood reading time on RL Stein and Christopher Pike. So, at the age of 29, I finally got around to The Secret Garden. Better late than never right? At the beginning, I felt really badly for Mary being orphaned in India, but her parents sounded like douchebags so it doesn’t seem like too big a loss. She literally barely knew them anyway. Plus, when she came to England she got to hang out with Dickon, the wild mystical younger brother of the house’s maid. Later she discovers the young master of the house, a mewling wretch named Colin who has been tucked away in back rooms and not told of her presence.

Luckily, the three little misfits discover a garden hidden on the property that once belonged to Colin’s mother. The children gradually nurse the garden back to health, and in the bargain, sickly “I’m going to die any minute” Colin manages to get over his hypochondria and walk. There’s never anything wrong with Dickon (except that he seems to have a little Dr. Doolittle vibe about him, but that’s eccentric, not annoying), but Mary and Colin are a hot mess of brattitude when they start out. It’s a romantic notion that obnoxious children can spend a few hours in a garden and  get their problems ironed out. Realistically, Mary and Colin probably would have needed intensive therapy to get over the neglect and drama that made up their early childhoods, but doctor’s offices aren’t as pretty as GARDENS, now are they?!

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is our second foliage filled selection. A young Australian girl named Cassandra spent most of her childhood living with her grandmother (thanks to an unstable mother). Upon her beloved grandmother’s death, Cassandra inherits a cottage in England, but is given no explanation. Cassandra has never been to England, and to her knowledge, neither had her grandmother. As far as Cassandra knew, her grandmother was a native born Aussie. Cassandra sets out on a journey uncovering the secrets of the cottage and learns the truth about her grandmother’s mysterious beginnings as a foundling on a ship’s dock. Unfortunately, Cassandra’s grandmother Nell never fully uncovered the truth about her past and her biological family, but Cassandra has better luck. What we end up with is a story within a story within a story. Frances Hodgson Burnett even makes a cameo! This appeals to historical fiction buffs AND mystery mavens.

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman is the final selection in our trio. Alice Hoffman writes with a sort of magical realism, so there’s always a mysticism and other worldliness about her novels. The Red Garden tells the story of a small American town from European settlement to present day. We follow the lives of a myriad of characters who pass through the town, and it centers particularly on one patch of land where the earth is quite red. Hence the name of the novel. The magical elements makes this book a hoot. (Yeah, I just said “hoot” like my grandma.) We see a woman making friends with a bear (and not being eaten!) Johnny Appleseed makes an appaerance as a barefooted hippie-like character who leaves more than one kind of seed in town before he leaves (if you know what I’m saying… cough.) We see a teenage boy become a recluse, friendships dissolve, and a lot of ladies growing tomatoes. It’s a good time, I recommend it!

How do my Bookworms feel about gardens?


Sep 04

I Want To Join The Night Circus

Fantasy 13

Good Morning, Bookworms! I hope you all had a fantastic holiday weekend! In case anyone reads this who is not in the USA, this weekend was Labor Day, where Americans celebrate ye olde working stiffs. Once a year we all pay tribute to the laws that keep children out of factories and give us weekends. Huzzah! Now, as much as we may honor those who work for a living, there isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t thought at some point, “dang it all, I want to run away and join the circus!” (Maybe it’s not the circus for everyone, but if people are willing to applaud looking cool in a tutu and doing poorly executed cartwheels, I’m a shoe-in for the acrobat job…)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern takes you on a magical journey through an enchanted circus. This book falls into the magical realism category, but don’t be discouraged if fantasy isn’t your thing. This book has plenty to offer.

The Night Circus begins with two mysterious old magicians. They each choose a young pupil to begin training for an epic battle of magical wits to prove with of the two old men is the better magician. Why not just battle each other one on one? I don’t know, I supposed they have  a penchant for ruining young lives. Besides, when you’re ageless (which these two appear to be) you have to find ways to amuse yourselves, and hand-to-hand combat gets old after a couple hundred years.

It is determined that the “arena” for this magical battle will be a circus. What better way to disguise from the world that you’re having a magical war than to invite the public in to watch. Seriously. You expect to see the unbelievable at a circus, but if you’re just walking down the street, you’d be pretty suspicious of the elaborate display of bouncing clouds. This isn’t just any circus though. It’s a circus that arrives in towns without notice and is only open at night. It’s all spooky and mystical and delightful that way.

Anyhow, eventually the two magic pupils realize who they are competing against, which sucks for them,  because they’ve fallen in love. The only way the “battle” ends is for one of the magicians to die. As you can imagine, years or putting together spells and holding up elaborate illusions wears one  out, so the couple faces a real dilemma. They can’t keep up the competition indefinitely. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a bit of Romeo and Juliet with a dash of Tuck Everlasting and a pinch of Harry Potter.

What I liked best about this book was Morgenstern’s imagery. I could see the black and white striped tents appearing unannounced in a field. I could visualize the exquisite clock that was the circus’s centerpiece. I could smell the food, taste the caramels, appreciate the wonder that the circus provided its patrons. This book is great escapist literature- I recommend it if you want to take a hiatus from real life.

So Bookworms, if you were to run away from reality, where would you go? Anybody joining me in the mediocre circus?


Aug 31

Confession Friday: It's About To Get Mushy

Children's Fiction, Personal, Young Adult Fiction 18

Hello, Bookworms! Today I thought we’d branch out a little bit and discuss the man I married. Why? Well, he keeps pointing out clever and odd things that he does, which is a not-so-subtle hint that he wants to be famous on my blog. I tried to tell him that he probably doesn’t want the entire internet to know about his terrible jokes and made up songs, but he refused to listen. Plus, it’s still about reading, so it’s totally appropriate.

Jim is a pretty good sport about the amount I read- most of the time. Every once in a while he’ll claim “husband neglect.” This usually occurs after he’s FINALLY put down his iPad and exhausted his amusement at playing with the security cameras he hooked up. (He’s a part MacGyver, part crazy paranoid guy, and 100% nerd.) It’s at this point I lovingly tell him to “bite me.”

This was our engagement photo. Highly functional relationship!

Jim is NOT a bookworm. He doesn’t understand the allure of spending hours reading literature when one can go to Wikipedia and almost immediately know the major characters and the ending. I know, it’s tragic. However, he’s not entirely opposed to having ME read things that he would theoretically LIKE to read and having me explain them to him. Case in point, Slaughterhouse Five. He seriously tried to get me to read every book that Sawyer was reading during LOST because it might provide him with clues. I refused any more of his suggestions after the Vonnegut incident. (Click here for more on THAT debacle.)

Books have always been a weird sort of background character in our relationship. I met Jim in college. He was my audio lab monitor, and I was (still am, really) technologically challenged. After a few months of putting up with me stalking him (most CHARMINGLY, I assure you), he asked me out on a date. After a few months of dating, he graduated and moved back to his hometown- 70 miles from where I was. I know, I know, that’s hardly a “long distance” relationship, but if you can’t see one another daily, it’s a long enough a distance to completely suck.

He hates having his picture taken. He either makes weird faces or tries to attack a camera with a camera of his own. It matters not, because I make these antlers look awesome.

Luckily, by this point in time we both had cell phones (It was 2003, okay? They weren’t completely ubiquitous yet!) and had free night and weekend minutes. But, let’s face it. There’s only so much you can tell someone you talk to every day. So… (This is where it gets schmoopy, fair warning.)

Ladies, in case you were wondering, THIS is how you know a guy is butt-crazy in love with you:

1. He agrees to listen to you read Harry Potter aloud. (The whole series available at the time, 5 books.)

2. Over the phone.

3. Using weird voices for different characters and a terrible British accent. (My Umbridge is LEGENDARY.)

4. Just so you can spend more time “together.”

And they lived happily ever after. Once they got over the shock of having married such weirdos.


Aug 30

Badass & Biblical: The Red Tent

Historical Fiction, Religion, Women's Studies 25

Yesterday I wrote about Pope Joan, and I’m feeling theme-y, so let’s continue with the historical fiction/women in religion vein, shall we? The Red Tent by Anita Diamant tells the story of Dinah. Who is Dinah? Yes, that is the name of Alice in Wonderland’s cat, but more importantly, Dinah was in the Bible. I grew up Catholic, so it’s with great shame that I admit that the bulk of my knowledge about Dinah’s family history I learned from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “It’s all there in chapter 39 of Geeeenesis”… (We saw it in Chicago with Donnie Osmond playing Joseph when I was like 11. Then my mom played the soundtrack in the car constantly until the cassette was eaten. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a genius, yo.)

The woman on the cover reminds me of the Statue of Liberty for some reason. I have issues.

Striking a chord yet? Jacob is the patriarch of a ginormous family that includes 2 wives, 2 handmaidens (women who bear children when the wives cannot), 12 sons, and one daughter. Dinah is that daughter. The Red Tent is told from Dinah’s point of view. We get to experience the cameraderie of the “red tent” (literally where all the women in the compound hang out to menstruate) and learn of the women’s relationships in the polygamist family. Since Dinah is the only female child, she’s allowed to spend time in the red tent long before she’s “of age” and is adored by her various mothers.

In the bible, Dinah only gets a couple of lines of recognition. Her lines go something like this.. She marries (or is forcibly taken as a wife- the Biblical text is unclear) Prince Shechem who does not worship the God of Abraham and her family (as you may predict) FLIPS OUT.

Shechem tries to make amends by offering Dinah’s family a bride price fit for royalty (isn’t it wonderful to see women bought and sold like chattel? Of course, her brothers DID sell Joseph into slavery out of jealousy, so…) Shechem also agrees to be circumcised (and volunteers his men for the same treatment.) Unfortunately, this isn’t enough  to placate her brothers, so while all the men of Hamor are distracted by the pain of their newly shorn genitals, Dinah’s brothers show up and slaughter all the men in town. How civilized of them!

In this version of her story, she falls madly in love with Shechem and is absolutely devastated by her brothers’ murderous rampage. We follow her through the aftermath, and the trials that follow. She leads a heck of a life!

This book is wonderful. Historical fiction at its best. Is there a woman out there who hasn’t wished during an especially bad bought of cramps that she could just retire from society for a few days? Who wouldn’t want a metaphorical Red Tent? The one in this book had a lot of wine in it! So my worms, take a chance and read Dinah’s story. You won’t be sorry!

Have you ever felt like a footnote in your family? Did your brother have a famous musical written about him that you weren’t even IN?! Let’s talk about it!


Aug 29

Pope Joan: More Than Myth?

Historical Fiction, Religion, Women's Studies 13

I was a women’s studies minor in college, and as our final project, we had to write a research paper on… anything to do with being a woman. Pretty broad topic, right? I had just finished reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown and I was completely obsessed with the idea that women may have been written out of important roles in the Bible. I set about writing my research paper on the subject. My results were inconclusive and random. It’s a fascinating subject-but it’s unbelievably frustrating to try and research anything to do with the Bible. I don’t even know how old the Old Testament is-several thousand years? There is no way to corroborate facts or compare accounts or even find reliable primary resources from that long ago. My grand dreams of unearthing some previously overlooked tidbit to piece together the absolute truth of religion and humanity ended with a wimper.

There’s a silver lining, though! My women’s studies professor, Dr. Stacey Robertson (who is awesome and writes books and can be found here) presented each graduating senior with a book. Because I had been so enthused about my research project, despite turning up no spectacular insights, she presented me with Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross.

Pope Joan! Joan of Arc! If you want your daughter to be noted in the annals of Christian history, you’d better name her Joan!

Pope Joan is based on a legend widely accepted during the middle ages that a woman disguised as a man somehow rose through the religious ranks and became Pope. You are taken on Joan’s journey from her poverty stricken childhood to the halls of Rome. At a young age she demonstrates a particular aptitude for learning and is taken under the wing of a rogue tutor in spite of the commonly held belief that girls should not be educated. We follow Joan through school, through a Viking battle (seriously- marauding Vikings!), through her stay in a monastery, and all the way to her work as a priest/physician in Rome.

Joan is eventually elected as Pope, and is only exposed as a woman when she gives birth during a procession through the streets. You read that correctly. She takes a lover, gets pregnant, and OOPS gives birth in the middle of the street. The birth also kills her (so ladies, don’t get any ideas.) It makes for enthralling historical fiction, but could it be true?

The middle ages are nearly as bad as biblical times for digging up reliable resources, so historians mostly dismiss the story of Pope Joan as a legend. What historians agree on, however, is that for centuries the Vatican and much of the population BELIEVED the story to be true. Supposedly, there was even a special chair used during medieval papal coronation proceedings with a keyhole shape in the seat used to check the newly elected Pope’s genitalia. (Lest they suffer another embarrassing birthing episode mid-parade.) If you watch The Borgias on Showtime, you’ll have seen this chair in action. You’ll also have heard Jeremy Irons bellow “LECHERY” a lot, which is awesome.

Personally, I think it would have been entirely possible for a woman to have lived as a man in a monastery. People in the dark ages didn’t exactly bathe often, and bulky brown robes don’t accentuate one’s figure. I think a woman who wanted to learn may have seen a life as a monk as her only option. Convents at this time were hit or miss on allowing the education of their sisters, so taking the male route through religious education would have been a more secure plan. While I have no doubt that there were women who did fly under the radar and join monasteries and the like, I don’t think there ever was ACTUALLY a female Pope. The giving birth during a public procession bit smacks of “cautionary tale.”

But hey- this is historical fiction! That’s what makes it so much fun- taking history and making it pop! I love this book- I feel like it writes women back into a religious tradition that has largely written them out. I know this review sounds kind of controversial, but seriously give this book a chance. You won’t be sorry! What about you, bookworms? Do you think it’s possible that there was ever a female pope? I’m open to theories!


Aug 28

My Mom: A Bookworm with a Bad Memory and a Credit Card

Personal 17

My mom is a bookworm. A bookworm with a bad memory. And a credit card.

I obtained at least a third of my book collection by “shopping” in my mom’s bookshelves. She an I had an agreement. If I was able to find multiples of any given title, I got to keep the spare. It doesn’t sound like this sort of thing would happen very often, but I would routinely leave my parents’ house with a shopping bag full of extraneous books- the spoils of my mother’s overzealous bargain hunting.

My mom has been a reader for as long as I can remember. She’s on a first name basis with the librarians and always has a long list of titles she’s waiting to check out. It got to the point where they would call her if there was a new release out they thought she’d like.

As the years went by, our little Chicago suburb grew from a motley patchwork of strip malls amongst fields and farmland to a size where it could support a large bookstore. This gave my mom the flexibility to buy books as well as borrow them, all within a mile of her house. She’s also a sucker for a bargain. Remember Borders? I think my mom bought every bestseller in their 3 for the price of 2 section for years. She bought so frequently that she’d forget which ones she already had and would buy them again. This is how I came to possess such a large swath of Oprah’s Book Club selections. (I have never personally purchased anything written by Anita Shreve, though I’ve read a decent chunk of her catalog.)

I stacked the “doubles” from my mom until the pile threatened to topple. This is NOT all of them, unless my dad is reading this. Dad, this is all of them, plus a couple I threw in just to make my blog more dramatic, K?

I’m not sure my dad ever knew the extent of my mom’s dual purchasing, but he sure as heck noticed the stacks and stacks of books piled on the floor when nothing else would fit into the overstuffed bookshelves. Christmas of 2010 when my parents purchased a Kindle for me, my dad stealthily ordered a second one for my mom. This hasn’t stopped her library habit, but now she buys her books online (much to the relief of the overworked bookshelves.)

I was having a conversation with my mom the other day about how I’d started a blog. It went something like this:

ME: Yeah I started a blog about books and it’s been fun so far.

MOM: I’ve been reading it and I’m so impressed a the number of books we’ve both read! We must have similar taste!

ME: Mom. Seriously?

MOM: What?

ME: You know why right?

MOM: What are you talking about?

ME: Do you have any idea how many books I got from you because you’d purchased multiple copies of the same thing?!

MOM: Hahahahahhaahahahaha

ME: I’m not even kidding.

MOM: Well I guess it’s a good thing I have a Kindle now. They don’t let you buy the same book twice. A warning pops up saying that you’ve already downloaded that book.

ME: Sigh. You know this from more than one experience, don’t you?

MOM: Hahahahahaa! Yes!

Ladies and Gentlemen, my mom. Responsible for my love of reading, though luckily, NOT my memory.