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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I Died for Beauty: Dorothy Wrinch and the Cultures
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.
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.