Five Book Friday!

And a very happy 19th Amendment Day!  On this date in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted, making it illegal to deny any citizen the right to vote on the basis of sex.  Though it was the culmination of the first wave of feminism in the United States, it was by no means the end of the fight for voting rights–for example, the 19th Amendment did not extend to the US territory of Puerto Rico, and women who could read and write were only allowed to vote in 1929 (the franchise would be extended to all women in Puerto Rico in 1935).  The 19th Amendment also only applied to the Federal government, and many states and citizens took it upon themselves to prevent many from casting their votes.

New York Suffrage Parade, courtesy of The National Archives

Nevertheless, the adoption of the 19th Amendment remains a watershed moment in American history, and the culmination of a grass-roots movement that brought women across the country–indeed, across the world–together to fight for their rights as citizen.

You can learn much more about this history here at the Library.  Or, you could come check out some of these titles that have sprung up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to share this (potentially dreary) weekend with you!

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature:  Willa Cather wrote that the world “broke in two” in 1922 “or thereabouts”–and, speaking in literary terms, she was rather spot-on.  That year, James Joyce published Ulysses, a book that was already having profound effects on the way people thought of the novel.  T.S. Eliot also published The Waste Land, a poem that deals intimately with brokenness.  These works, and the others discussed in Bill Goldstein’s new work, would give structure and definition to the emerging modernist movement.  Though it had begun in the years before the First World War, and developed in the trenches and hospitals by those seeking for a way to describe the indescribable, as Goldstein shows, modernism got its definition and its shape in 1922, thanks to the works, the personal experiences, and the hardships of Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, and D. H. Lawrence, all over the span of one seminal year.  But while this book is certainly about literature, it’s also about the lives of these remarkable writers.  As NPR explains, “In letting these four writers speak in their own words―their own witty, gossipy, often waspish words―Goldstein…sacrifices historical sweep and gravitas for something much more grounded and intimate. In his hands, these literary lions prove surprisingly―and bracingly―catty.”

The Amber Shadows: Lucy Ribchester’s second book is an historic, psychological thriller that has critics and readers alike raving.  We open in 1942 at Bletchley Park, where Honey Deschamps sits at her type-x machine, tediously transcribing decrypted signals from the German Army, doing her part to assist the British war effort.  Leningrad is under siege, and some of the world’s most important art work, from paintings to the fabled Amber Room, is in threat of being destroyed.  As reports begin filtering into Bletchley Park about the stolen loot, Honey receives a mysterious package, hand-delivered from a man that she has never seen before who claims that he works at the Park as well. The package is postmarked from Russia, and inside is a small piece of amber. It is just the first of several such packages, and when she examines them together she realizes that someone, relying on her abilities to unravel codes, is trying to tell her something.  Is Honey being tested?  Is someone at Bletchley Park trying to use her?  Or has she unwittingly become a part of something much, much bigger?  Ribchester is a marvel at weaving a suspenseful plot that keeps both the characters and readers on the most perilous of edges, and for all that her book is a send-up of the wartime spy novel, it’s also a beautiful addition to the genre, and earned a ‘Pick of the Month’ rating from Library Journal, calling it “a fascinating historical mystery that explores issues of secrecy, trust, and families but never impedes the element of almost Hitchcockian suspense. A sure-bet for fans of the PBS series The Bletchley Circle, Susan Elia MacNeal’s “Maggie Hope” series, and Rhys Bowen’s In Farleigh Field.”

When the English Fall: Yes, this book is about life after a solar storm initiates the collapse of modern civilization, but the apocalyptic novel has been getting more and more elevated and thought-provoking recently, and this book is far less a science fiction work than it is a study of humanity itself.  When the solar storm began, the Amish community in which Jacob lives was able to endure unaffected.  But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) in the cities become increasingly desperate, they begin to invade nearby farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the gentle communities.  This book is Jacob’s diary, written as he tries to protect his family from the encroaching, and increasingly violent, strangers, as he wrestles with how to remain peaceful in a world that has grown so alien, and what survival in such times really means.  Critics have been lining up to praise this work, and it’s already been celebrated as one of the best books of 2017, with Kirkus giving it a starred review and praising it as “A standout among post-apocalyptic novels, as simply and perfectly crafted as an Amish quilt or table. Lyrical and weirdly believable.”

North Haven: Sarah Moriarty’s debut novel is set both close to home (on an island off the coast of Maine), but also deals with emotions, loyalties, and heartache that we all know well–what makes this book remarkable, however, is how she spins her tale.  It’s the Fourth of July, and it’s the Willoughbys’ first summer without their parents, in their crumbling house.  When a substantial offer is made on the estate, the two brothers and two sisters are forced to confront issues they had hoped to keep hidden, the secrets that lay scattered throughout their childhood, and the legacy of the parents they only now realize they may never have known at all.  Rich with scenic and personal details, this is a book that will envelope you from the first scene, and linger in your mind even after you’ve left.  Library Journal loved this book, saying in its review,  “A gifted author of singular talent, Moriarty has captured the unbearable rifts of a family under emotional stress. A magnificent debut.”

Goodbye, Vitamin: Another debut dealing with grief, yet Rachel Khong’s work is unique, utterly original–and surprisingly funny despite (and perhaps because of) it’s heavy subject matter.  Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.   Told through Ruth’s diary entries, this book is both an oddball comedy and a poignant picture of families at their best and worst, that has earned rave reviews in publications across the board, from The Wall Street Journal to Entertainment WeeklyBuzzFeed was also among its biggest fans, calling it “one of those rare books that is both devastating and light-hearted, heartfelt and joyful, making it a perfect and unique summer read. Don’t miss it.”

 

As always, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!

An update on the solar eclipse…

And while we can confirm that Bonnie Tyler will be singing her enduring hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” during the eclipse (on an eclipse-themed cruise ship), we are also sorry to say that we don’t have any eclipse glasses to offer you.
We do, however, have some helpful tips and tools to help you get the best out of this remarkable event!
For those of you who would like a visual on the event, this is what happens during a solar eclipse: the moon comes between the Sun and Earth, very temporarily blocking our view of the Sun (and freaking out a lot of birds).
For those of you looking for eclipse glasses, NASA and the American Astronomical Society have issued a list of reputable vendors and brands, should people be interested in purchasing them. Lowe’s retailers are listed as having inexpensive pairs, but we highly recommend that you call your local Lowe’s before heading over.  There are glasses available online, but please make sure you are purchasing ones that have been endorsed by NASA and the AAS.  Your eyes are very important to us.
We in Massachusetts are not in the path of totality (by any means), but that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to enjoy the eclipse–and it doesn’t mean that it’s safe to look at the eclipse directly.  Seriously.
Check out these safety tips from NASA before making any eclipse plans.
NASA has also prepared an in-depth guide to the eclipse, complete with this really funky map that allows you to see the Path of Totality (the places where the sun will be fully obscured), as well as when the eclipse will be visible in your area.  Here is what we can expect (NOTE: The times listed are UT, or Universal Time.  Subtract 4 hours to get the time in Massachusetts, or use this handy converter):
Click on the image to see a larger version

Again, please be safe during the solar eclipse, and care for your remarkable eyes.  But that being said (again and again), we also hope you can enjoy this remarkable event!

“NOW is a fact that cannot be dodged.”

“A country that tolerates evil means- evil manners, standards of ethics-for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end.”  (Sinclair Lewis)

 

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published a book, a political semi-satire, entitled It Can’t Happen HereYou may have heard about it recently…it’s been getting a lot of renewed attention.

The novel centers on Doremus Jessup, an American journalist covering the campaign of Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a charismatic and power-hungry politician , who promises to restore the country to prosperity and greatness, to secure “traditional values”–and to do it by any means necessary.  He calls himself a member of the “League of Forgotten Men”, whose statue in society has been diminished by Jewish organizations, non-white people, and women.  When he is eventually elected, Windrip begins systematically dismantling the American government and instituting a “Corpo” government that gives rights to businesses.  The “Corpo Government” proceeds to outlaw dissent, incarcerate political enemies, restrict the rights of women, minorities, and establish concentration camps where those who oppose the regime are sent.  Jessup ends up in one of these concentration camps, but manages to escape, making his way to Canada, and working as a writer and a spy by the New Underground, working to bring down Windrup’s regime.

Make of this plot what you will.  Sinclair was writing in 1935, when Fascism was gaining power at a frightening speed in Europe, and his concern was that fear would lead the United States down a similar path.  His message throughout the book is two-fold:

  1. That democratic institutions, civil rights, and systems that ensure equality are very easy to break.  It only requires people to be frightened enough to mistrust each other.  Throughout his campaign, Windrip sows this fear by emphasizing racial, ethic, and religious stereotypes, by telling people that they are not safe around people who don’t look like them, and by assuring them that he alone can protect them.  But once broken, those institutions are incredibly difficult to reinstate.
  2. That … well, I’ll let him say it for himself:

More and more, as I think about history…I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”

We know this is a scary time for just about everyone.  But we at the Library encourage you to fight that fear, first with information–with good information, from reputable sources.  We are quite literally, full of such information, and we exist to help you find that information.  George Peabody knew that the only way democracy could function was to allow its citizens to be capable of thinking for themselves, and we function to fulfill that goal.

We also want you to know that, now, and forever, that you are welcome here.  The Library is a place of safety and a place of trust.  And we reject any ideology that does not respect the dignity and humanity of every person that comes through our doors. 

Hatred, by Wislawa Szymborska

See how efficient it still is,
how it keeps itself in shape—
our century’s hatred.
How easily it vaults the tallest obstacles.
How rapidly it pounces, tracks us down.

It is not like other feelings.
At once both older and younger.
It gives birth itself to the reasons that give it life.
When it sleeps, it’s never eternal rest.
And sleeplessness won’t sap its strength; it feeds it.

One religion or another—
whatever gets it ready, in position.
One fatherland or another—
whatever helps it get a running start.
Just also works well at the outset
until hate gets its own momentum going.
Hatred. Hatred.
Its face twisted in a grimace
of erotic ecstasy.

Oh these other feelings, listless weaklings.
Since when does brotherhood draw crowds?
Has compassion ever finished first?
Does doubt ever really rouse the rabble?
Only hatred has just what it takes.

Gifted, diligent, hard-working.
Need we mention all the songs it has composed?
All the pages it has added to our history books?
All the human carpets it has spread
over countless city squares and football fields?

Let’s face it:
it knows how to make beauty.
The splendid fire-glow in midnight skies.
Magnificent bursting bombs in rosy dawns.
You can’t deny the inspiring pathos of ruins
and a certain bawdy humor to be found
in the sturdy column jutting from their midst.

Hatred is a master of contrast—between explosions and dead quiet,
red blood and white snow.
Above all, it never tires
of its leitmotif—the impeccable executioner
towering over its soiled victim.

It’s always ready for new challenges.
If it has to wait awhile, it will.
They say it’s blind. Blind?
It has a sniper’s keen sight
and gazes unflinchingly at the future
as only it can.

Announcing the winners of the 2017 Hugo Awards!

Last night, the winners of the 2017 Hugo Awards were announced at Worldcon 75, in Helsinki, Finland.  We talked a good deal about the Hugo Awards a few months ago, covering the really troubling “Puppies” and their attempt to hijack the awards (which are voted on at the Con itself), as well as the need to celebrate diverse books of all kinds, genres, and forms.

So it’s a delight to present this list of award winners, which highlights the diversity of the science fiction genre, and, hopefully, will provide you with plenty of ideas for your To Be Read pile!

In total, 2464 valid nominating ballots (2458 electronic and 6 paper) were received and counted from the members of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 World Science Fiction Conventions, and 3319 members of the 2017 Worldcon cast vote on the final ballot.

And the (literary) awards go to:*

Best Novel: The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (her second win in a row!)

Best Novella: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Best Novelette: “The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

Best Short Story: “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales)

Best Related Work: Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Best Graphic Story: Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough

Best Editor, Short Form: Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form: Liz Gorinsky (editor with Tor Books and Tor.com)

A big, Free-For-All Congratulations to all the winners!

 

*A number of Hugos are awarded for materials that the Library does not stock, such as fan fiction, fanzines, and visual arts.  We nevertheless support and celebrate their achievements, and you can read the whole list of winners here. 

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Friday to you, dear readers!

As you’ll see from today’s Google Doodle, today is the 44th ‘birthday’ of Hip-Hop, a subculture and art movement developed by African-Americans and Puerto Ricans from the South Bronx in New York City.

Learn more at https://www.google.com/doodles/44th-anniversary-of-the-birth-of-hip-hop

On August 11, 1973 DJ Kool Herc was the DJ at his sister’s back-to-school party. He extended the beat of a record by using two record players, isolating the percussion “breaks” by using a mixer to switch between the two records. Herc’s experiments with making music with record players became what we now know as breaking or “scratching“.  His house parties soon gained wider popularity, moving to outdoor venues where more and more guests could hear his unique brand of music–and begin to create their own, establishing culture around hip-hop that not only provided a lot of young people an outlet for their energy and expression, but also gave a number of minority artists a voice to speak on social issues.

If you want to learn more about this fascinating and highly diverse art form, come check out some hip-hop recordings from the Library–or some books on its history and influence!

And speaking of books…here are just a few of the many new titles that sashayed up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to be part of your summer adventures!

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old: Any fans of A Man Called Ove should seek this book out immediately.  It’s another book that celebrates longevity, irresistibel humor, and the insight of the…vintage members of our community.  Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he has to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is…elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?  So sets out to write a shocking tell-all book about life in his Amsterdam nursing home, including his comrades in the the anarchic Old-But-Not-Dead Club. And when Eefje, Hendrik’s longtime, far-off love, moves in, he sets out to win her once and for all, with heartbreaking and hilarious consequences.  Though there may be some cultural differences between our world and Hendrik’s, as Publisher’s Weekly points out in its review, some things are universal.  As they put it: “Hendrik’s diary gives a dignity and respect to the elderly often overlooked in popular culture, providing readers a look into the importance of friendship and the realities of the senior care system in modern society.”

The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek: Howard Markel is a medical historian, and since the Kellogg’s started out as homeopathic ‘health reformers’, he is in the perfect position to shed new light on these complex, dynamic…and surprisingly eccentric brothers.  The Kelloggs were of Puritan stock, but turned their back on their considerably large and wealthy) family in order to follow one Ellen Harmon White, a self-proclaimed prophetess, and James White, whose new Seventh-day Adventist theology was based on Christian principles and sound body, mind, and hygiene rules.  The Whites groomed the young John Kellogg for medical school, and together, he and his brother set out to cure the American malady of indigestion, experimenting with wheat, corn, malt, and eventually developing an easy-to-digest product known as “corn flakes” for their patients and consumers.  John Kellogg also opened world-famous Battle Creek Sanitarium medical center, spa, and grand hotel attracted thousands actively pursuing health and well-being.   This book is a fast-paced, well-researched, and highly entertaining trip through a cast of 19th century celebrities, industrialists, policy-makers, and the men who treated their guts.  Kirkus called it “Delightful . . . Markel refreshingly resists the temptation—not resisted by films and novels—to deliver caricatures . . . A superb warts-and-all account of two men whose lives help illuminate the rise of health promotion and the modern food industry.”

Drinks With Dead Poets: Glyn Maxwell is a both an acclaimed poet and a teacher, and this novel allows him to bring all his formidable talents to bear in a fascinating and joyful literary fantasy.  Poet Glyn Maxwell wakes up in a mysterious village one autumn day. He has no idea how he got there―is he dead? In a coma? Dreaming?―but he has a strange feeling there’s a class to teach. And isn’t that the poet Keats wandering down the lane? Why not ask him to give a reading, do a Q and A, hit the pub with the students afterwards?  Soon the whole of the autumn term stretches ahead, with Byron, Yeats and Emily Dickinson, the Brontës, the Brownings, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen, and many more all on their way to give readings in the humble village hall.  Though poetry and Brit-lit lovers are sure to devour this novel, there is plenty in here for those who haven’t discovered–or enjoyed–these authors previously.  It’s a big, beautiful, exuberant book about life, literature, love, and the wonder of teaching that earned a starred review from Booklist, who said “This novel packs so much truth and so many conspicuously educational moments―along with character studies of 12 major nineteenth-century poets and writers―that it defies classification. An intoxicating blend of fiction, memoir, and literary criticism.”

Drunks: An American History: Though the title of Christopher M. Finan’s work sounds flippant, his subject matter–the cultural history of alcoholism and sobriety in the United States–is really quite a serious, and a seriously overlooked, one.  From Native Americans whose interactions with European settlers led to a new and problematic relationship with alcohol to John Adams, who renounced his son Charles for his inebriation, to Carry Nation, who destroyed bars with a hatchet out of fury for what alcohol had done to her family, to Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, who helped each other stay sober and created Alcoholics Anonymous together, this book reframes the American experience as one constantly searching for liberation from vices of its own making.  Well-researched and well-told, this is a book that sheds light on a number of unsing heroes and nearly-forgotten struggles that deserve to be told.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, calling it “An appropriately harrowing account of booze and its discontents…A worthy treatment of recovery movements in American history, unsung heroes and all.”

Dead on Arrival: If you can stomach any more doomsday-type narratives, Matt Richtel’s newest release is turning a number of heads, and drawing comparisons with Michael Crichton and Stephen King to boot.  The story focuses on Flight 194, which lands in a desolate Colorado airport–and finds that everyone who wasn’t on board appears to be dead.  While they were in the air, a lethal new kind of virus surfaced, threatening mankind’s survival, and now Dr. Lyle Martin, a passenger on Flight 194, and once one of the most sought-after virologists on the planet—is at the center of the investigation.  This is a techno-thriller that not only dazzles with fancy-schmancy locales and high-end gadgets, but also takes into account our own dependence on digital wizardry…and turns it against us in some pretty interesting ways.  It’s earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who enthused, “Richtel grabs his audience by the throat from the start of this intelligent nail-biter.”

In Defense of Good Wives

On Tuesday, Book Riot published a piece regarding my beloved (and your beloved, perhaps…?) Little Women, and the quirkiness of some editions. Now, I adore Book Riot; I love the way they talk about books, I love that they talk about Libraries; and I love that they encourage discussion about an enormous variety of books, genres, characters, adaptations.  I have got some excellent recommendations from their site (and passed a number off to you, dear readers!).  So it is from this place of love that I am discussing this piece.

When it was first published, Little Women ended with Father coming home from the Civil War, and Beth recovering from scarlet fever.  The book proved so overwhelmingly popular that Alcott’s publisher, Thomas Niles, suggested a sequel.  That book was, in the US, published as the second part of Little Women; in Britain, however, it was published as a second book entirely, called Good WivesThe title choice was the publishers, not Alcott’s.  As a result, there are some editions of Little Women, almost all of them British-based, that end with Father coming home from war.  So, as Book Riot pointed out, there are some editions of the book where Beth doesn’t die.  Sort of.

All of that is fine.  And also good to know, because there is no “definitive” edition of Little WomenSome publishers put it out as two volumes, some distinguish between Part I and Part II in the text (say, with a title page, or something).  It’s helpful to know what to expect from your books.

British editions of Little Women and Good Wives

However, it’s what Book Riot had to say about the second half of Little Women that we are here to discuss today.  They note, “This work, which Alcott never intended to have a sequel, ends with Beth contracting scarlet fever and recovering.“, and appreciate the fact that readers are allowed to imagine their own ‘happy endings’ for the March girls and their families.  Good Wives, they claim “sort of exists as a Sliding Doors moment making fans wish it had all ended at the end of the original book”.

….Hold on there.

First of all, some historic clarification.  No, Little Women was not specifically intended to have a sequel, but very little of Alcott’s work was written with any plan other than to make money.  As a breadwinner of a family that had regularly known very real poverty, she wrote, admittedly, and unabashedly, for the paycheck.  That she could turn out such meaningful and enduring work speaks a great deal to the real power of her writing talent.   I worry that overlooking this aspect of her career, and using an “artist vs. capitalism” framework to disparage Part II (Good Wives).

So let’s be clear: Little Women was written for a paycheck, as was Work, as was Hospital Sketches.  So Niles’ request for a sequel wasn’t a command (he was a great friend to Alcott, and it’s not fair to paint him in a bad light, either), nor was the task onerous–except in the physical sense.  Alcott wrote by hand, on blue-lined paper, in ink.  Her rate of turnout, therefore, is absolutely remarkable: she began writing Little Women in the spring of 1868.  It was published in October.  She turned the completed manuscript of Part II (aka Good Wives) three months later.  And also managed to write a number of letters revealing her writing process to us.  And from those letters, I would argue that Part II (Good Wives) of Little Women was the book Louisa May Alcott wanted to write.

With her, and her family’s financial safety assured, Alcott had not only the funds, but the standing, to make some pretty bold choices.  First and foremost for many, including Book Riot, is to have Jo marry someone other than Laurie.  And that is a good thing.  Because it is perhaps the first of many examples throughout the book where Alcott shows her readers, who were largely female, how to grow up.  Little Women is full of ‘life lessons’ about the dangers of anger, about the power of forgiveness, about patience, and about pride.  All of which are great…but are nonetheless fairly familiar in the course of 19th-century literature.  What Part II does, and does so heartbreakingly well, is show us how messy, how painful, and how redemptive it can be to grow up, to put those childhood lessons to work in real life, and to know you’re not along doing it.

As Alcott wrote to one of her fans: “‘Jo’ should have remained a literary spinster but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn’t dare refuse & out of perversity went and made a funny match for her.  I expect vials of wrath to be poured out upon my head, but rather enjoy the prospect.”  Look, Theodore Lawrence was my first love, and no one can ever, or will ever, hold a candle to him, and I will fight any who dare disparage him. But Louisa was making a point, as she does throughout Part II of Little Women: Life doesn’t turn out the way it does in books.  People grow and change.  On top of that, Alcott is adamant throughout this book that a woman’s life shouldn’t be defined by whom she marries (and that we should respect women’s decisions about their lives), which is why she marries a quirky, quiet, bookish guy who is happy to let her be precisely her.  Laurie admits freely that he feels for Amy something he didn’t feel for Jo–because he (and Amy) grew up and made grown-up decisions.  That’s not settling, as Book Riot claims.  That’s teaching readers not to settle.

And also–how fantastic is it that Jo and Laurie remain friends for the rest of their lives?  How many female/male platonic friendships endure so long, and remain so true, especially in literature?  To overlook that part of their relationship isn’t fair, either.

Part II of Little Women teaches us how inordinately cruel life can be.  People die.  Beth dies.  No off-the-page where we can skip past it.  She fades away before our eyes, just like Elizabeth Alcott, leaving a hole that would never be replaced.  And that, too, is crucially important.  In the 19th-century, people died elegantly and beautifully, looking like a saint.  They lingered as ghosts to teach lessons.  They are not, by and large, grieved in a realistic, human way.  Part II of Little Women is one of the few novels I have encountered that show us the bitter injustices of death, and the work it takes to grieve.  Does anyone want Beth to die?  Of course not.  But Alcott chose to share her loss with the world to help them bear their own sorrow.  It’s not fun, and it’s not easy, and it’s not what “should” happen.  But that’s the whole point.

To claim that Part II of Little Women wasn’t “what Alcott intended” overlooks the very serious financial straights in which she was forced to work, the remarkable quantity and quality of work she managed to produce as a result.  Saying that it’s not the book readers wanted discounts the very important messages that Alcott was sharing with the ‘little women’ who were reading her books.  She wasn’t just helping them be good ‘girls’, but helping them grow up, which we still don’t do well in literature today.  Is it fun?  No.  Do things turn out the way they should?  No.  But Part II tells us that we’re not alone when this stuff happens, and that is a phenomenal gift that needs to be acknowledged.

 

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass