I wanted to bawl.
Now, I have nothing against a good piece of escapist fiction and, sure, I can learn a great deal about Jim Crow and historical race relations from a moving novel set in Mississippi in the 1960s. But there is such a wealth of knowledge, insight, and, yes, even fun to be had amongst the numbers of the Dewey Decimal System.
This bi-weekly column will introduce you to an eclectic mix of topics, styles, and authors. I’ll carry a general theme over two columns to include a range of books within the theme. Some weeks I’ll review books that provide different perspectives on a single issue because I enjoy reading varying opinions, including those with which I disagree.
Some of the books reviewed will simply add to your store of knowledge; others may challenge long-held assumptions or spur you to make a change in your life. Some columns will include books on topics you never in your wildest dreams thought of as even remotely interesting – give them a chance. I hope that something you read here will pique your interest enough to try a slight variation from your normal literary fare.
So let’s begin, shall we?
We’re starting with some books that are an easy introduction to non-fiction: accessible, interesting, and representative of the enormous range of writing styles and topics available.
“To Make History … Do the Unexpected”
This book is like a teaser or a movie preview — it just cracks opens the door to give you a peek at what's out there. Using the famous slogan as a launching pad, Ulrich gives us a taste of women's history, covering an amazing spectrum of time, class, and geography.
She discusses legends of Amazon warriors, women's suffrage, Mrs. O'Leary's cow, stories of Judith and Susanna in the Apocrypha, female Renaissance artists, home decoration in Botswana, Native American basket weaving, and 1960s second-wave feminism.
I was particularly drawn to the chapters on slavery and second-wave feminism. In the first, Ulrich highlighted four "Harriets": Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and runaway slaves Harriet Powell and Harriet Jacobs. Through these women she tells the story of slavery, drawing parallels with the rights denied women of the time.
I am ashamed to admit how much I didn't know about the past forty years of the women's movement. I've been the beneficiary of so many of its hard-won results, completely ignorant of those who made them possible.
Ulrich gathers compelling stories of fascinating women, but there's so much more to learn. Each of the chapters could have been expanded into a book of its own. In fact, the only quibble I have with the book is that it wasn't long enough. Still, some chapters felt too dense, with not enough breaks to absorb the information. This book stands on its own, but may be best used as a starting point for continuing research into women's history.
“Vital Interest … Definite Attachment”
After reading this book, I seriously may never buy anything again.
Ok, so that's not realistic, but I'm certainly more aware, almost paranoid, about the statement I'm making with each purchase. I'm a confirmed bargain shopper, but I don't want my search for a great deal to mean that workers in Mexico don't make a living wage or that Chinese migrant workers are standing in vats of toxic substances for 14 hours a day.
Shell captures the dilemma for many of us perfectly when she says, "Consumers are left to choose between discount retailers whose practices they find questionable and high-end stores whose prices they cannot afford ...'Voting with your feet' doesn't apply when your values are so completely out of line with your budget.”
According to the author, there is plenty of blame to go around for the lack of product quality, workers' protections, environmental concerns, and other marketplace woes. Manufacturers, retailers, governments, CEOs, suppliers, you name it — all shoulder part of the responsibility. And this wide-ranging book does not let consumers off the hook, either. We are complicit by our all-too-frequent lack of interest in questioning the origins of the items we buy due to our single-minded focus on low, low price.
BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- One of the biggest names in choral music takes its tour to Black River Falls for the first time.