Articles

Essays

Refreshing a Mother's Memory With Love and Stories

Refreshing a Mother’s Memory With Love and Stories

My mother is slowly losing her mind. This fact, as well as all the tragic repercussions along the way, takes up a large chunk of my chats with my four sisters — and with many of my friends who are going through similar issues with their parents.

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My Mother the Feminist

My Mother the Feminist

Until I was seven years old, my mother was a housewife in New Jersey. She had wanted to be a writer but was persuaded by her family and 1950s mores to marry one instead. (My father, John McPhee, was actually working for a shipping company when they married, but his ambitions were clear.) When my father left my mother in 1969, the early call of feminism was barely making itself heard in our suburban town. But my mother, alone and reflecting on her life, began listening to what “liberated” women were saying, and she repeated it to me and my sisters. “There is nothing you can’d do,” she would tell us. “Nothing you can’t be.”

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The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

I have had my share of struggles with depression, but my greatest battle has been with happiness. Growing up one of four sisters, I was deemed the “happy” child. My father and mother called me their Sunshine Girl. I had such an easygoing disposition, the family used to wake me up after my sisters were asleep just to have a little fun after a stressful day. Cousins and friends told me in confidence that I was the “nicest” of the sisters.

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A Feminist Redefined

A Feminist Redefined

The other day, I was having lunch in a croissant ship in midtown Manhattan and eavesdropping on the people sitting at the next table. A twenty-something college-educated woman was describing her wedding plans in detail to a friend. Between discussing how much the caterer would cost and what color the bridesmaids’ dresses would be, she said, with considerable embarrassment, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this, that I’m talking about me doing this. But if I don’t get excited about it, who will?”

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A Mother's Name

A Mother’s Name

When I was 5 month’s pregnant with my son, I went to a dinner party in Florence, where my husband, Luca Passaleva, is from. The conversation briefly left politics when someone suggested that I name my son Silvio, after Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister at the time.
“No,” a friend said, “Silvio Passaleva sounds terrible.”
“Actually,” Luca responded, “his last name will be McPhee.”

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Generation IX: How an Act of Congress Changed the Lives of Thousands of American Girls

Generation IX: How an Act of Congress Changed the Lives of Thousands of American Girls

The previous summer, Congress had passed Title IX, the law prohibiting gender discrimination in educational activities that receive federal money, but the effects of Title IX had not yet reached us. For our half sister, Joan, however, who was born that summer of 1973, childhood was something quite different.

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Happiness

Happiness

Imagine in some future world that you go to your doctor because you’re feeling down, and she hooks you up to a brain-imaging device, watches a screen while she asks you a few questions and shows you images, and then send you on your way with a prescription for, say, tickets to the philharmonic or a large slice of Junior’s cheesecake…

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How Not to Let Your Family Ruin the Holidays

How Not to Let Your Family Ruin the Holidays

Every year as December approaches, I find myself longing to return to the family hearth, where I might encounter chestnuts roasting on an open fire; a goose roasting in the oven; Rudolph, Donner, and Blitzen prancing on the rooftop; and piles of brightly wrapped presents waiting to satisfy every heart’s desire. Although those details (minus the reindeer) genuinely describe my childhood yuletide seasons, Christmastime at home was always a nightmare.

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Where London Gets the Bird

Where London Gets the Bird

When I first moved to London, one of the worries foremost in my mind was whether I could find a butcher who sold turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t worry long. Every American I asked had the same response: “Lidgates.”

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Reviews

“My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul”: On Shakespeare and Women

In Shakespeare’s will, he left the bulk of his estate to his youngest daughter, Susanna; to his wife of 34 years, the woman who stayed home in Stratford to raise their three children while he went off to London to forge a brilliant career, he left his “second best bed.” Much scholarly ink has been spilled speculating on the meaning of this bequest — did Shakespeare despise her?

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How Women Make Capitalism Possible and Other Feminist Shades of Socialism: On Eleanor Marx, Mrs Engels, and the Paris Commune

How Women Make Capitalism Possible and Other Feminist Shades of Socialism: On Eleanor Marx, Mrs Engels, and the Paris Commune

“Not since Mary Wollstonecraft,” claims Rachel Holmes in her brilliant biography Eleanor Marx: A Life, had “any woman made such a profound, progressive contribution to English political thought — and action.”

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A Miniature Model of Modernity: Suite for Barbara Loden

A Miniature Model of Modernity: Suite for Barbara Loden

“It seemed simple enough,” writes French author Nathalie Leger in the opening of her extraordinary new book Suite for Barbara Loden — and the reader immediately knows, whatever it will be, it won’t be simple — “all I had to do was write a short entry for a film encyclopaedia.”

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Nella Larsen's Fantastic Motley of Ugliness and Beauty

Nella Larsen’s Fantastic Motley of Ugliness and Beauty

The story of Nella Larsen’s literary career is one of the great tragedies of American letters. One of the Harlem Renaissance’s most influential and enigmatic writers, she published two novels and several short stories before disappearing into obscurity.

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Jumping Into an Orgy While Still Shaving Your Legs: On Women Filmmakers

Jumping Into an Orgy While Still Shaving Your Legs: On Women Filmmakers

We’ve all heard the latest appalling statistics regarding women in the film industry: according to a San Diego State University study, only 17% of directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing movies of 2014 were women. Despite the near parity of women and men receiving degrees from film schools, this statistic has remained virtually unchanged since the study began in 1998.

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Malinche's Revenge and Other Chicana Lesbian Feminisms

Malinche’s Revenge and Other Chicana Lesbian Feminisms

Malinche, the Nahua slave girl who became mistress of the Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés, was also his interpreter, advisor, mother of his children, and a key figure in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. In Mexican popular culture she is perceived as the ultimate traitor, an Eve figure whose evil is located in her sex and sexuality.

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The Joans of Arc

The Joans of Arc

Joan of Arc’s life story, seemingly so incredible, so implausible, so full of mystery and the doggedly unknowable, has inspired centuries of artists and writers to retell it in their fashion. Already in Joan’s lifetime, Christine de Pizan seized upon it to write “Song of Joan,” an epic ballad about divinely sanctioned feminine prowess and its possibilities for world peace.

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“Great Hera!” “Suffering Sappho!”: The Secret History of Wonder Woman

In 1937, William Moulton Marston, Harvard-trained psychologist, inventor of the lie detector test, and soon-to-be creator of Wonder Woman (first appearing in 1941), earned himself headlines when he declared that women would one day rule the world. In her extraordinary biography of Marston’s female alter ego, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore notes that this prediction was as old as the Amazons.

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Essential Feminism

Essential Feminism

How did I miss out on the legendary Ellen Willis? I’m embarrassed to admit that before reading this stunning, provocative, erudite, fun, challenging, witty, dire, brave, and above all incisive collection of her journalism and essays, I was unaware of one of the great feminist writers on the politics and culture of our times.

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“These Artful Jezebels”: On American Spies

During the American Revolutionary War, women up and down the East Coast spied for the rebels. They also spied for the British. They carried messages across enemy territory and through enemy lines. They reported on gun emplacements and recounted conversations overheard among officers about military strategy. Philadelphia women brought key military intelligence on the British Forces to General George Washington at Valley Forge.

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The Dangerous Women Game

The Dangerous Women Game

Recent studies on the appalling gender (mis)representation on TV have led some media analysts to conclude that the more television a boy watches, the more sexist he becomes, while the more a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life. I am a television addict but resisted the TV series Game of Thrones because I’d heard about the abundance of gratuitous violence, sexual and otherwise.

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The

The “Pure Cinema” of Germaine Dulac

In 1907, the French filmmaker, playwright, journalist, feminist, and political activist Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) gave a lecture on the “international task of French Women.” She urged her audience to “create things anew and according to your own spirit” and to organize into cooperatives and unions. Tami Williams’s in-depth historical study and critical biography Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations reveals the breathtaking extent to which Dulac followed her own advice.

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The Obscene Hilda Hilst

The Obscene Hilda Hilst

“If everyone were to remember what comes out of their butt, everyone would be more generous, show more solidarity,” says Tui, in Letters from a Seducer, concluding one of literature’s greatest discourses on farting during sex.

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“The Woman of the Injured Locust Tree of Qi” and Other Tales of How a Woman Should Be

There is a long tradition of literature written by men — and women — instructing women how to behave. Among the notable are The Education of a Christian Woman (1524) by the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives, richly praised by Erasmus and Thomas More, in which he calls for education for all women, regardless of social class and ability, because women’s progress is essential for the good of society and state…

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“All The Women Are White, All The Blacks Are Men, But Some Of Us Are Brave”: On the Legacy of Black Women Entertainers

“Sometimes we’d make a six-hundred-mile jump and stop only once,” Billie Holiday wrote in her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues about touring in the Jim Crow South.

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How To Be Lost: Sex (Race, Class, and Gender) in the City of Light

How To Be Lost: Sex (Race, Class, and Gender) in the City of Light

After graduating from college, I headed to Paris to study contemporary French philosophy — Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze — and semiotics with Julia Kristeva. I spent most evenings contemplating the meaning of life while drinking Scotch in a gay bar in the Marais. I lived in a series of chambres de bonne with a Turkish toilet down the hall and had a boyfriend in New York, a lover in Italy, and another in London, whose visits to me in the City of Love I expertly juggled.

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Women of the Fifties Redux: A Mad Men Antidote

Women of the Fifties Redux: A Mad Men Antidote

“One of the great up-sides of being the first of a kind,” journalist Rachel Cooke writes in her chatty, informative, and inspirational book Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties, “was that guilt, at least as it pertained to working women, had not yet been invented. You looked at magazines for recipes and dress patterns, not to be told how bad you should be feeling for the way you chose to live your life.”

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A Healthy Distrust of Reality: The Revolutionary Margaret Randall

A Healthy Distrust of Reality: The Revolutionary Margaret Randall

Margaret Randall is a writer, poet, photographer, feminist, and political activist. She lived much of her early adult life in Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua and has written over eighty books including collections of poetry, oral histories, memoirs, essays, translations, and photography books.

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Descended From Horse-Thieves: Who was Barbara Stanwyck?

Descended From Horse-Thieves: Who was Barbara Stanwyck?

It would be inaccurate to call Victoria Wilson’s nearly 1,000-page biography A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 exhaustive. For one, it only covers the first thirty-three years of the actress’s life, with fifty more to go. But more importantly, despite the repetitiveness, Wilson’s take on Stanwyck’s life and era is so commanding and delightful, I would happily read as many pages again and more.

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Hindered to Succeed: The Great American Spinster Poetess Marianne Moore

Hindered to Succeed: The Great American Spinster Poetess Marianne Moore

For most of their lives, Marianne Moore and her mother, Mary, slept in the same bed. Together with Moore’s brother, Warner, the family had many nicknames for each other: two favorites were “Mole” for Mary and “Rat” for Moore. In referring to her daughter, Mary usually used a masculine pronoun. Linda Leavell’s new biography, Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore, provides a rich, complex portrait of an artist against a vividly drawn backdrop of the modernist era.

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What Is Lost: Jane Franklin and the Great Man Syndrome

What Is Lost: Jane Franklin and the Great Man Syndrome

In her Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, Jill Lepore challenges the pre-eminence of The Great Man in historical and biographical writing. She brilliantly excavates the life of Jane Franklin, youngest sister of Benjamin, mother of twelve, wife of a “bad man or a mad man,” and an avid reader whenever she could forgo housework. In a rich account of an ordinary life of struggle, failure, and occasional delight, Lepore paints a revelatory portrait of an age, inclusive of the female perspective and experience.

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Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Domestic Suspense Redux

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Domestic Suspense Redux

Sarah Weinman, crime fiction connoisseur and editor of the essential new anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, is admirably doing her utmost to revive, restore, and reinvent the once highly-popular thriller subgenre of Domestic Suspense.

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Up and Down the Gaza Strip with Dervla Murphy

Up and Down the Gaza Strip with Dervla Murphy

Murphy has authored over twenty books about her travels. Now in her eighties, she spent three months in Gaza in 2011, resulting in A Month by the Sea: Encounters in Gaza, a remarkable book that paints a vivid picture of the daily lives of a wide range of Gaza’s inhabitants and provides a succinct history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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That Damned Mob of Scribbling Women

That Damned Mob of Scribbling Women

Gura’s study is a thorough, fascinating, and gratifying survey of American fiction from its beginnings to the late nineteenth century — and how that fiction reflected the developing American character. His work compellingly examines the effects of liberalism and capitalism on fiction, contemplates how Americans have perceived the function and object of literature, and interrogates the effects of fiction on society and vice versa.

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The Helens of Troy

The Helens of Troy

Ruby Blondell argues dazzlingly in Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, and Devastation that Helen, daughter of Zeus and Leda, possessor of “the face that launched a thousand ships,” was the greatest bombshell of all time.

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Two Ambitious Midwestern Girls: Willa Cather and Mary MacLane

Two Ambitious Midwestern Girls: Willa Cather and Mary MacLane

Though Cather, an intensely private person, expressly wished her letters never to be published, The Selected Letters of Willa Cather is truly a gift to literature. The 564 letters — selected and brilliantly edited, annotated, and commented upon by scholars Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout — span Cather’s life from her teenage years to her death in April 1947.

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I Died for Beauty: Dorothy Wrinch and the Cultures of Science

I Died for Beauty: Dorothy Wrinch and the Cultures of Science

In I Died for Beauty, her fascinating book about Dorothy Wrinch, one of the twentieth century’s most important and controversial mathematicians, now all but forgotten, Marjorie Senechal considers how Wrinch was driven, until her death in 1976, to pursue her scientific vision by the sheer beauty of her idea.

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Hardly a Female in Sight: David Thomson's The Big Screen

Hardly a Female in Sight: David Thomson’s The Big Screen

Midway through David Thomson’s meandering and (self-) reflective history of world cinema, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us, he discusses British director David Lean’s classic film Brief Encounter, a “woman’s film” about an adulterous affair.

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The Grand Adventure of Vera Caspary

The Grand Adventure of Vera Caspary

Caspary’s psycho-thriller Laura (1942, republished in 2005 by Feminist Press) is a pitch-perfect detective yarn that manipulates the tropes of the genre to explore the intersection of class, crime, and sexual politics. Her plot twists are ingenious, her characters expertly drawn, and her prose style as refined and faceted as the best of Raymond Chandler.

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Understanding the Other: Elif Shafak's Honor

Understanding the Other: Elif Shafak’s Honor

Spanning several generations, time frames, cultures, and geographies, the narrative unfolds from the viewpoints of multiple characters and seeks to discover the myriad forces and influences that lead İskender to commit such a heinous crime.

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Émilie du Châtelet: The Lady Who Was A Great Man

Émilie du Châtelet: The Lady Who Was A Great Man

In zestful prose, itself dripping with Voltarian wit, Mitford spins an account of the lovers’ incessant shenanigans, both highbrow and bawdy, and in so doing paints a flamboyant, down-and-dirty tableau of the French Enlightenment.

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Zelda: The Madwoman in the Flapper Dress

Zelda: The Madwoman in the Flapper Dress

“Is a pen a metaphorical penis?” Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar asked in their seminal study of women writers and the literary imagination The Madwoman in the Attic (1979, reissued 2011). Their answer was a resounding, if complex, yes, resulting in our most robust and far-reaching feminist literary theory to date.

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Reinventing Love or, Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking

Reinventing Love or, Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking

Worldwide, one of the first things enslaved girls are taught, Cacho reveals in Slavery Inc., her devastating exposé of the rapidly expanding global market for sex slaves, is to call their clients “my love,” “my life,” “darling,” “big daddy,” or “my king.”

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The (Imagined) Woman Reader and Male Anxiety

The (Imagined) Woman Reader and Male Anxiety

Male anxiety about the woman reader is as old as reading itself. In Belinda Jack’s new book The Woman Reader, she meticulously explores the manifestation of this anxiousness historically.

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Eluding Magnificent Monuments: The Stylish Lives of Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland

Eluding Magnificent Monuments: The Stylish Lives of Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland

In trying to come to terms with what she perceived as her friend Esther Murphy’s colossal failure of a life, the novelist Dawn Powell wrote to Esther’s brother Gerald, “Some people don’t want to be the action — they really want to be spectator.” In All We Know: Three Lives, Lisa Cohen’s mind-stretching book about three early 20th-century women who dwelled on the margins of celebrity, Powell’s division becomes specious.

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The Sultana of Subversion: Three Hard-Boiled Novels by Dorothy B. Hughes

The Sultana of Subversion: Three Hard-Boiled Novels by Dorothy B. Hughes

Hughes herself stole brilliantly from her fellow pulp writers, added her inimitable twist, and became the “Queen of Noir,” the “Mistress of Dark Suspense.” She, in turn, was stolen from by the likes of Jim Thomson, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, and Sara Paretsky.

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Blood on the Paper: The Barbed Legacy of Lillian Hellman

Blood on the Paper: The Barbed Legacy of Lillian Hellman

Historian Alice Kessler-Harris’s intriguing new biography A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman offers a reassessment of Hellman through the lens of “gender as an ideological force.” Hellman’s life is not examined chronologically but by theme, and Kessler-Harris’s spiral structure produces a richly layered approach, despite suffering from repetition.

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“Arm Yourself Against My Dawn”: Revisiting Jean Strouse’s groundbreaking biography of Alice James

First published in 1980, Strouse’s dazzling, bold, and formidable Alice James: A Biography has recently been reissued as part of the New York Review of Books Classics series and justly so. Strouse’s study, composed in radiant prose, is easily a classic of biography, deftly and elegantly incorporating social history, family history, the history of the science of psychology, and literary criticism.

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The Art of Voyeurism in Mumbai's Underworld: Mary Ellen Mark, Sonia Faleiro, and Katherine Boo

The Art of Voyeurism in Mumbai’s Underworld: Mary Ellen Mark, Sonia Faleiro, and Katherine Boo

Sonia Faleiro’s Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars(2010) and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity(2012) are literary complements to Mark’s photography some thirty years on.

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Adventures in Steinlandia

Adventures in Steinlandia

Published in conjunction with the eponymous exhibit at The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., this tantalizing, gorgeously illustrated book regards Stein through her objects — paintings, drawings, prints, handmade gifts from artist friends, snapshots, brochures, programs, clothes, jewelry, wallpaper, stationery, even posthumous Stein kitsch.

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The Scarlet Empress, The Iron Lady, and My Cab Driver

The Scarlet Empress, The Iron Lady, and My Cab Driver

Recently, I was wonderfully entertained — and edified — by reading Robert K. Massie’s new biography Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. The Pulitzer-prize winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs seeks in myriad ways to de-fetishize Catherine by placing her extraordinary rise to power within a full context, providing a nuanced geopolitical history of eighteenth-century Russia along the way.

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Larry Summers Eat Your Heart Out: Hollywood Bombshell Hedy Lamarr Invented A Sophisticated Weapons Technology Between Films

Larry Summers Eat Your Heart Out: Hollywood Bombshell Hedy Lamarr Invented A Sophisticated Weapons Technology Between Films

Hedy Lamarr has found a notable male ally in Pulitzer-prize winning science writer Richard Rhodes. His delightful, explosive book entitled Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World has brought significant, well-deserved recognition to this woman’s remarkable scientific achievements.

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Dopplegangers: Mary Shelley and Muriel Spark

Dopplegangers: Mary Shelley and Muriel Spark

Child of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley published in 1951 was Muriel Spark’s first book (revised and retitled Mary Shelley: A Biography in 1987). It is an extraordinary portrayal of the world-renowned but much neglected early 19th century novelist, daughter of pioneering intellectuals Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and wife of the Romantic poet Percy B. Shelley

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Eloise Grows Up: The Charmed Life of the Charming Rosamond Bernier

Eloise Grows Up: The Charmed Life of the Charming Rosamond Bernier

Barely five pages into the book the aptness of Bernier’s title,Some of My Lives, becomes apparent: by the age of twenty she had already lived several lifetimes, and her life had barely begun.

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The Forgotten First Wave

The Forgotten First Wave

Sheila Rowbotham’s unique and revelatory book Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century is a seminal work of history profiling an astonishing number of visionary women who incontestably changed life as we know it — then were preeminently forgotten.

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"Mother of the People": Biology as Destiny in the Dystopias of Jane Rogers, P.D. James, and Margaret Atwood

“Mother of the People”: Biology as Destiny in the Dystopias of Jane Rogers, P.D. James, and Margaret Atwood

Imagine a world where the human race can no longer reproduce itself due to a virus, a likely product of bioterrorism, that attacks a woman’s brain at the moment of conception, killing her within days. This is the premise of Jane Rogers’s recent novel The Testament of Jesse Lamb.

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Mary McCarthy's The Group, Hilton Als's "The Women," and Bridesmaids

Mary McCarthy’s The Group, Hilton Als’s “The Women,” and Bridesmaids

The Group, the story of the post-college decade of eight Vassar class of 1933 graduates, was published to abundant praise in 1963 and spent two years on the bestseller list. But it was also damned by Norman Podhoretz as “a trivial lady writer’s novel” and Norman Mailer famously pilloried it in The New York Review of Books.

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"God forgive me for my sins -- but I can really write": Irmgard Keun, Anita Loos, and Women Who Dare to Write

“God forgive me for my sins — but I can really write”: Irmgard Keun, Anita Loos, and Women Who Dare to Write

These stunning works of literature are searing satires of life under the Third Reich in which fascist ideology is subtly and hilariously subverted, Nazi racism pilloried. (Both books were eventually banned.) The overwhelming power of Keun’s work lies in her surprisingly raw, witty, and resonant feminine voices.

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A Wider View of Authorship: Eroticizing the Past

A Wider View of Authorship: Eroticizing the Past

An internationally renowned Irish poet, and a major feminine voice in contemporary English-language poetry, Eavan Boland has devoted much thought, evident throughout her work, to women’s marginalization and female authorship.

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Got Milk? The Gender Politics of Pleasure Dairies

Got Milk? The Gender Politics of Pleasure Dairies

It is a testament to Meredith Martin’s talent as both writer and scholar that the pleasure dairy has now become so vivid in my imagination, a part of our political and cultural history, that I feel as if I have always known about the phenomenon, Martin’s book serving as an exquisite reminder.

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Women Writing War

Women Writing War

Kingstone, Lemmon, Barker, Sebba, and so many women writers throughout the world make the silence surrounding women, especially in war zones, a little less deafening.

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A Soul Turned Inside Out: Clarice Lispector, Hélène Cixous, and L'écriture féminine

A Soul Turned Inside Out: Clarice Lispector, Hélène Cixous, and L’écriture féminine

Benjamin Moser’s thorough biography of Clarice Lispector, Why This World, struggles, and wonderfully fails, to bring us closer to the writer he describes as, “weird, mysterious, and difficult, an unknowable mystical genius far above, and outside, the common run of humanity.”

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Our Generalized Amnesia

Our Generalized Amnesia

Inseparable is a magnificent act of textual archeology, an exquisite excavation of literature. Donoghue’s focus is on what has been ignored regarding the theme of love between women.

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Holly Golightly Needs a New Dress

Holly Golightly Needs a New Dress

Sam Wasson’s Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman is a little black dress of a book: sleek, suggestive, and elegantly subversive.

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Our Cleopatra Moment

Our Cleopatra Moment

We are in a Cleopatra moment. Three books featuring the notorious Egyptian queen have been published in the past few months of which Cleopatra: A Life by Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer Stacy Schiff is generating bombshell-size buzz.

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Very Like A Sloth

Very Like A Sloth

Feminism is very like a sloth; in order to take a step forward, she first takes several steps backward. It seems after a long while in retro mode, feminism may be experiencing one of her periodic advances. This is the heartening message of two feminist political thinkers, one a cartoonist, Nicole Hollander, author of The Sylvia Chronicles: 30 Years of Graphic Misbehavior from Reagan to Obama, the other, Rebecca Traister, a journalist covering politics and gender for Salon, and author of Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women.

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Cordelia Fine, Neurosexism, and My Mother (again)

Cordelia Fine, Neurosexism, and My Mother (again)

According to cognitive neuroscientist Cordelia Fine’s explosive new book, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, gender bias has potentially worsened by going underground, becoming unconscious and unintended.

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Lisbeth Salander, the Millennium Trilogy, and My Mother

Lisbeth Salander, the Millennium Trilogy, and My Mother

My mother had been urging me to read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Like her, I love a good thriller but a ways into the first book, I had my doubts. There just wasn’t much thrill in this thriller.

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The Dangerous Emily Dickinson

The Dangerous Emily Dickinson

At the end of Lyndall Gordon’s Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds, the biographer describes the source of the poet’s genius as: “…a hidden life like a ‘Bomb’ in her bosom. The poetry it fueled,” she advises, “must be seen in terms of New England individualism, the Emersonian ethos of self-reliance which in its fullest bloom eludes classification.”

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NARCISSUS ASCENDING by Karen McKinnon

NARCISSUS ASCENDING by Karen McKinnon

I was in the waiting room of the Florence airport recently, eavesdropping on the cell-phone conversation of a young American woman. My flight was delayed, and although I had the International Herald Tribune and an issue of the New Yorker with me, I listened, riveted, to the entire conversation about the petty slings and arrows of my fellow traveler’s not so outrageous fortune…Reading Karen McKinnon’s first novel, Narcissus Ascending, I was immediately transported back to that sinfully pleasurable voyeuristic space.

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THE WONDER SPOT by Melissa Bank

THE WONDER SPOT by Melissa Bank

If Holden Caulfield had been a middle-class Jewish girl, he might have sounded something like young Sophie Applebaim, the protagonist of Melissa Bank’s hilarious and clever first novel, The Wonder Spot. About a parental tic, Sophie observes: “My mother told the same stories over and over — maybe twenty-five minutes in all; if you added them all up, there were only about two hours of her life that she wanted me to know about.” The Catcher in the Rye comparison ends, however, with the first chapter. Thereafter Bank favors Sophie — and us — with what J.D. Salinger denied Holden: adulthood.

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A Chevelle Comes to Paradise

A Chevelle Comes to Paradise

Wondeerful Women by the Sea (New Press, $25), a first novel by the Finnish short-story writer Monica fagerholm, is itself wonderful. Written in an impressionistic style and subtly translated from the original Swedish by Joan Tate, the story follows the summer escapades of two families during the early 1960’s.

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A FLEETING SORROW by Francois Sagan

A FLEETING SORROW by Francois Sagan

When it comes to concentrating the mind on the meaning of life, nothing works like a death sentence. Paul Cazavel, the 39-year-old protagonist of this brief novel by the author of, “Bonjour Tristesse,” is told that he has lung cancer and has six months to live.

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BITTERSWEET JOURNEY by Enid Futterman

BITTERSWEET JOURNEY by Enid Futterman

When Charlotte was a little girl, her father would often hide a Hershey bar in his pocket for her to find. Later, as Charlotte nears 40, she discovers that her taste for chocolate is the only thing that turns her on.

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ESAU AND JACOB by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

ESAU AND JACOB by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Rushing to meet the steamship carrying their beloved Flora, the twins Pedro and Paola Santos are so eager to reach her that while boarding the ship they nearly fall into the sea. “Perhaps that would have been the best ending for this book,” muses a diplomat named Aires, who is both the exquisitely unreliable narrator and peripheral character in the penultimate novel by the renownded Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908).

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FUNERAL AT NOON by Yeshayahu Koren

FUNERAL AT NOON by Yeshayahu Koren

In limpid, elegant prose, Yeshayahu Koren’s first novel unfolds in a small Israeli village in the 1950’s. Hagar, a young housewife whose husband often works late, restlessly fills her days by wandering in an abandoned Arab village that us used as a training ground by the Israeli Army.

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MATTANZA by Theresa Maggio

MATTANZA by Theresa Maggio

Depicted in 4,000 year old cave paintings, their image stamped on Phoenician coins, written about by Aristotle and prized by modern-day Japanese gourmets (who will pay more than $100 a pound for it), the giant bluefin tuna is a fish with a mystical aura.

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MONKEY'S UNCLE by Jenny Diski

MONKEY’S UNCLE by Jenny Diski

If Freud, Marx and Darwin were set adrift together in a boat, what would they talk about? Food, according to Charlotte Fitzroy, the protagonist of Jenny Diski’s overwrought sixth novel. Charlotte, 49 years old and unlikable, has gone mad.

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Not Your Average Beach

Not Your Average Beach

There is nothing unusual about the guests staying at the Almayer Inn, a seaside hotel “perched on the last narrow edge of the world” and the main setting for Alessandro Baricco’s euphoric new novel, Ocean Sea (Knopf $23), splendidly translated by Alastair McEwen. In Room 3 resides Professor Bartleboom, who is compiling an encyclopedia of limits, including an entry for where the sea ends.

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Otherworldly Stories

Otherworldly Stories

In “The Brew,” a powerful story from Karen Joy Fowler’s new collection, Black Glass (Marian Wood/Hold, $23), a women stands in a hotel lobby staring at an aquarium. “Sometimes,” she tells herself, “we can find a smaller world where we can live, inside the bigger world where we cannot.”

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OUT OF THE DARK by Patrick Modiano

OUT OF THE DARK by Patrick Modiano

The unnamed narrator of the French Novelist patrick Modiano’s latest book is so successful at escaping his past that he barely remembers he has one. Only Jacqueline, a fellow drifter whom he met on the Left Bank in Paris when they were both very young, remains vivid in his memory.

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TELL ME EVERYTHING by Joyce Hinnefeld

TELL ME EVERYTHING by Joyce Hinnefeld

Joyce Hinnefeld’s strong debut collection portrays in spare, haunting prose the lives of women of different ages and backgrounds, all of whom feel trapped in various female roles.

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THE LONE MAN by Bernardo Atxaga

THE LONE MAN by Bernardo Atxaga

The writings of Marx, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg provide a theoretical backdrop to his laborious thriller by the eminent Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga. Carlos, the lone man of the title, is part owner of a hotel on the outskirts of Barcelona, and a former Basque terrorist. The story unfolds during the 1982 World Cup, when the Polish soccer team is staying at the hotel…

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THE OFFICERS CAMP by Giampiero Carocci

THE OFFICERS CAMP by Giampiero Carocci

The Italian historian Giampiero Carocci’s memoir of the two years he spent in the German military concentration camps is a small masterpiece. His story begins in 1943, after the fall of Mussolini, when Carocci and another officer were captured by the German Army.

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The Perversity of Everyday Life

The Perversity of Everyday Life

Ines Arredondo’s collection of short fiction, Underground River and Other Stories (University of Nebraska, cloth, $30; paper, $12), is nothing short of spellbinding. Mostly set in a small town in northwestern Mexico at the beginning of this century, it provides a stunning expression of the erotic perversity found in seemingly ordinary lives in each story, hovering just below the placid surface of daily existence, lurks a tragicomic opera of battling desires.

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THE POLLEN ROOM by Zoe Jenny

THE POLLEN ROOM by Zoe Jenny

When the mysterious title of the Swiss writer Zoe Jenny’s first novel is explained, it only creates more mystery. In her affectless voice, Jenny’s narrator, a young woman named Jo, tells of her mother’s reaction to her stepfather’s death: everything that had belonged to Alois, who was a painter, is carted off to the dump; in the aftermath, Lucy, Jo’s mother, goes into his studio and spreads the pollen from masses of flowers allover the floor. Then she locks herself in and won’t come out.

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