It’s been awhile since I posted a blog to The Book War and it took me a bit to figure out why. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say about the books I’ve been reading lately. Some have been fantastic, but I realized that those books weren’t the ones I want to talk about…I want to talk about the disappointments.
When it comes to reading I find it difficult to criticize because I do not want to discourage others from picking up a book and getting lost in the story. I love reading and I realize the amount of time, effort, and sacrifice that goes into writing so I do my best to honor those who provide me with literature and a pastime that I love.
Sadly, there were two books that I read recently that I found particularly disappointing for related but different reasons. The first was Joan of Kent: The First Princess of Wales by Penny Lawne and the second was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I know, I know, don’t fall off your chair, everyone LOVES Little Women, it’s a classic, etc., etc., etc. Stay with me, I’ll get to Little Women in a moment, but let me begin with Joan of Kent.
Joan of Kent: The disappointment in this book lay in the fact that the historical records of women’s lives are oftentimes lost to time (if written records ever existed) and when an author attempts to write an historical account without primary source material about the person in question the narrative naturally becomes the history for that which we have records. In this case, there is very little historical evidence which speaks to Joan of Kent’s life as her own person, rather we have the political history (battles, wars, marriage alliances, etc.) of the men around her. So this book would go on for pages (chapters) without mentioning Joan and thus became just another Edwardian history of England. Major let down.
Little Women: I realize that this book is beloved by many and I, in no way, want to anger anyone with my critique of this book so let me begin by saying that this book was most certainly profound, even revolutionary, when it was written and published for a variety of reasons. First, Little Women was written by a woman who did not use a male pen name when publishing…pretty big deal for 1868-1869. Second, the story revolves around women, their lives, and their relationships, again, not often done in our own day and age, not to mention the mid 19th century. Finally, while the women fall into the traditional roles for women in the 19th century, at least one woman had a rather circuitous path which opened up the idea of social critique of the ‘roles of women’ in society. My disappointment in Little Women lay in my own historical context as a woman born at the end of the 20th century, educated in the liberal arts by amazing feminists who pushed me to recognize the many ways in which women/girls are “The Second Sex” (de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex) and this story is riddled with these nuanced and pervasive allusions.
As the young women grow up and mature they are increasingly defined by their relationships with men rather than as individuals with value outside of their roles as wife/mother/caretaker/etc. While these roles are life-giving for women, they are certainly not exclusive and women must realize their value as ‘person’ rather than entirely in relation to the men in their lives. As the generation currently raising children (girls, boys, non-binary) we must instill in all of our children that all people are equally valuable in their individual person-hood regardless of gender, race, economic situation, religious orientation, etc. When we continue to insist generation after generation read and internalize antiquated and in this case, sexist, literature without asking them to critique what they are reading we will continue to perpetuate systems built on inequality.
One other book I recently read that was extremely disappointing was, Last Day by Luanne Rice, which I listened to and by the time I realized that it wasn’t going to get any better I had already put so much time into it that I just had to suffer through. This book was just boring, bad writing, and should have been about 1/4 of the length. ‘Nuf said.
Learning to live with disappointment…
Read on my friends!