Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

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Read: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Stars: Two

Have you seen the trailer for the Wonder Woman movie yet? If not, stop everything, go watch it and then come back. It looks EPIC.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was disappointing. Jill Lepore found a fascinating, complex web of influences and family secrets. But the way the narrative was structured made it incredibly difficult to read. She jumped around in time and between characters with little to no transition or explanation. Given that the book is a biography of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator, and his polygamous family,  more narrative structure would have helped immensely.

Marston was a con man who was entirely sincere. His life was full of lies and half-truths that he seemed to believe anyway. From the invention of the lie detector to the true author of various papers and books that he wrote, the truth was stretched in every way possible. He used this exaggerated credentials for publicity for himself and his creations.

Marston was an unusual man who believed in women’s rights and equality in a time when even many women did not. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he heard famous suffragettes like Florence Kelley and Emmeline Pankhurst speak. His feminism clearly influenced the creation of Wonder Woman and all she stands for.  The Marston family was polygamous at a time when bigamy was incredibly taboo, although the family kept it hidden. His two wives, Betty and Olive, and their families also influenced Wonder Woman’s creation. The younger wife, Olive, in particular, was a model for Wonder Woman. She wore two thick bracelets around her wrists following their marriage. Her aunt, Margaret Sanger, was also an influence on Wonder Woman’s principles and activism.

Lepore discusses the changes to Wonder Woman following Marston’s death. The character remained popular, but her focus turned away from gender equality. The new writer did not agree with Marston’s vision of Wonder Woman as a women’s rights activist. In the 1970s, Wonder Woman, controversially, was on the cover of Ms. magazine, sparking a discord among feminists and conspiracy theories that Ms. and Gloria Steinem were trying to destroy the women’s rights movement. A superhero born to be a feminist icon became a point of division.

And, while the Redstockings’ consipracy theory really was crazy, they did have a point about Wonder Woman. Who needs consciousness-raising and equal pay when you’re an Amazon with an invisible plane?

The most touching detail of the book is that Betty and Olive lived together following Marston’s death until Olive died in 1990. Their decades of family life, with Betty earning to support the family and Olive raising the children and writing articles for extra money, made the two women close. All four children considered both women to be their mothers. When the children finally found out the truth about the family, one son was angry about the secrecy, but the rest took it in stride.

Overall,  The Secret History of Wonder Woman has a lot of good history and facts. But the narrative structure is so difficult to follow that I really cannot recommend it. Lepore had unprecedented access to the Marston family and their documents, but unfortunately, that is not enough to overcome the reading issues. If you are interested in the feminist  influences on Wonder Woman and her history, it’s hardly worth trying to read.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, IMDB

 

30 Days of Books: Day 5 – A non-fiction book that you actually enjoyed


Reading: The Dutchess by Amanda Foreman

Disclaimer: I actually have enjoyed many non-fiction books.

I may be cheating a bit, since I’m in the midst of Foreman’s biography of Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire, but I don’t care.  I am enjoying it immensely.  Georgiana comes back to life on the pages.  She was impulsive, beautiful, fashionable, addicted to gambling and an active political figure.  One can’t help but to love her and root for her even as she sinks into the despair of infertility and gambling debts.

Although Georgiana looms larger than life in the book, other characters, such as the Prince of Wales, politician Charles Fox and con woman Lady Elizabeth “Bess” Foster, the Duchess’ friends.  Rife with scandal, drama and tragedy, the biography is a detailed account of a strong, if flawed women who was ahead of her time. var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push([‘_setAccount’, ‘UA-26693790-1’]); _gaq.push([‘_trackPageview’]); (function() { var ga = document.createElement(‘script’); ga.type = ‘text/javascript’; ga.async = true; ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘.google-analytics.com/ga.js’; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s); })();

30 Days of Books Challenge

Day 01 – Your favourite book

Day 02 – Least favourite book 

Day 03 – A book that completely surprised you (bad/good)

Day 04 – A book that reminds you of home

Day 05 – A non-fiction book that you actually enjoyed

Day 06 – A book that makes you cry

Day 07 – A book that’s hard to read

Day 08 – An unpopular book you believe should be a bestseller

Day 09 – A book you’ve read more than once 

Day 10 – The first novel you remember reading

Day 11 – The Book that made you fall in love with reading

Day 12 – A book so emotionally draining you couldn’t complete it or had to set aside for a bit

Day 13 – Favorite childhood book

Day 14 – Book that should be on hs/college required reading list

Day 15 – Favorite book dealing with foreign culture

Day 16 – Favorite book turned movie

Day 17 – Book turned movie and completely desecrated

Day 18 – A book you can’t find on shelves anymore that you love

Day 19 – A book that changed your mind about a particular subject (non-fiction)

Day 20 – A book you would recommend to an ignorant/racist/closed minded person

Day 21 – A guilty pleasure book

Day 22 – Favourite series

Day 23 – Favourite romance novel

Day 24 – A book you later found out the author lied about

Day 25 – Favourite autobiographical/biographical book

Day 26 – A book you wish would be written

Day 27 – A book you would write if you had all the resources

Day 28 – A book you wish you never read

Day 29- An author that you completely avoid/hate won’t read

Day 30 – An author that you will read whatever they put out

30 Days of Books – Day 4 – A book that reminds you of home

Read: Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
Stars: Five

As with the “favorite” category, I have read many, many books that remind me of home.  Ex Libris, a series of witty essays by Anne Fadiman, has possibly the strongest association.  There are several reasons: it was a gift from my friend J when we were in high school, it’s about family and home, and Fadiman always makes me feel better.  I mean, how could an essay about excessive footnotes NOT make one happy?

My favorite essay is the first, “Marrying Libraries,” but they are all so wonderful.  Written over four years, they chronicle Fadiman’s life during that period but also her life story and that of her quirky family (her father, the late Clifton Fadiman, was the author of the Lifetime Reading Plan among many other books).  Mostly, though, this is a book about books and the love of books.  There is nothing that reminds me more of growing up than my love of books and reading that survived college and has carried over into adulthood.  I highly recommend this to anyone who loves books, words or family.

Now I’m going to dig out my copy and re-read it and think of home. 

30 Days of Books Challenge

Day 01 – Your favourite book

Day 02 – Least favourite book 

Day 03 – A book that completely surprised you (bad/good)

Day 04 – A book that reminds you of home

Day 05 – A non-fiction book that you actually enjoyed

Day 06 – A book that makes you cry

Day 07 – A book that’s hard to read

Day 08 – An unpopular book you believe should be a bestseller

Day 09 – A book you’ve read more than once 

Day 10 – The first novel you remember reading

Day 11 – The Book that made you fall in love with reading

Day 12 – A book so emotionally draining you couldn’t complete it or had to set aside for a bit

Day 13 – Favorite childhood book

Day 14 – Book that should be on hs/college required reading list

Day 15 – Favorite book dealing with foreign culture

Day 16 – Favorite book turned movie

Day 17 – Book turned movie and completely desecrated

Day 18 – A book you can’t find on shelves anymore that you love

Day 19 – A book that changed your mind about a particular subject (non-fiction)

Day 20 – A book you would recommend to an ignorant/racist/closed minded person

Day 21 – A guilty pleasure book

Day 22 – Favourite series

Day 23 – Favourite romance novel

Day 24 – A book you later found out the author lied about

Day 25 – Favourite autobiographical/biographical book

Day 26 – A book you wish would be written

Day 27 – A book you would write if you had all the resources

Day 28 – A book you wish you never read

Day 29- An author that you completely avoid/hate won’t read

Day 30 – An author that you will read whatever they put out

Review: Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes

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Read: Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel L. Everett

Stars: Three and a half

Everett’s thirty-year examination of the language and culture of the Pirahã (pee-da-HAN) peoples of the Amazon was introduced to me by my father with the explanation, “It’s about a missionary who loses his faith.”  While this may have been the selling point for my father, I was instantly drawn in by the linguistic and cultural discussion that forms the narrative.  The story is one of cultural immersion – it is the story of a missionary family from California and their experience in the jungle.

I initially compared Don’t Sleep to Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, but the similarities are few.  Everett’s story has the added advantage of being true.  He evokes the heat of the jungle, the beauty of the river and the simplicity of Pirahã life in his lovely prose.  He also emphasizes the necessity of humor when living in a culture completely different from one’s own.

Two things take the book from “amazing” to “ok.”  The first is that Everett is clearly a linguist – normally not a problem, but he uses this book to expound on his arguments against Noam Chomsky’s linguistic theories.  The narrative gets bogged down with technical terms and linguistic theory.  Although these are interesting, and Everett peppers his theory with examples, at times he loses his drift.  Second, despite his obvious respect for the Pirahã, parts of the narrative come off as paternalistic and elevate the Pirahã culture as a “way back to nature.”

It is very cool, however, that the Pirahã have strongly resisted “modernization,” largely because of the sense of superiority in their way of life and their language.  Everett’s argument is that their culture and language are intertwined – one does not create the other as many linguistic theories suppose.  However, because of their sense of cultural superiority, Everett’s mission – to translate the Bible into Pirahã and tell the people about Jesus.  Other aspects of their culture, such as a need for direct observation, also made his task a challenge.

Overall,  the book is an excellent exploration of a unique culture and a discussion of the challenges of immersing oneself in a completely different environment.  Certainly, Everett’s linguistic contributions will have a lasting impact on the field.  I recommend the book to language buffs and to anyone interested in immersing themselves in another culture.

Review: The Lost Girls

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Read: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett and Amanda Pressner

Stars: Four

The book records the journey of three friends – Jen, Holly, and Amanda – as they take a one-year journey around the world.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these three young women quit their jobs – good jobs! – to backpack, hike, volunteer and yoga their way  through three continents.  And they had an amazing time and learned so much about themselves and the world.  Life-changing doesn’t even begin to cover it.  So, yes – inspirational.

It was easy to connect with this book.  First of all, the ladies are all journalists that worked for magazines or other media so the writing is fun and accessible.  Second, they lived out a fantasy that most of us only dream about – leaving the pressure of day-to-day to go on an adventure.  And third, I read it during a cold snap in February and everywhere they went (except Vietnam) was warm.

The “Lost Girls” also did a great job of explaining exactly how they got the funds, made plans and delt with setbacks, an essential to any travel writing.  It also allows the reader greater connection because she is thinking “Wow, I can totally do this.  It wouldn’t be easy, but it is possible.”  My main quibble is that we only see their experience in the Masaai village in the prologue, so the Kenya section seems truncated (I actually had to double check that my nook wasn’t missing a section).  I love how they admit to the hard times, the disagreements and frustrations right along with the amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences like meeting a nun in Laos to get her secret herbal cure recipes.

Overall, a great book.  I highly recommend it, particularly to the travel-hungry.  Be forewarned, though – you might just start planning your own round the world trip!