Book Review: The Transplanted

Book Review: The Transplanted by John Bodnar

This volume, written in the 1980s, is a survey of patterns of immigration into urban areas of the United States between 1830-1930 (approximately.)    It covers those who came to stay, those who just came to get a nest egg to improve life in their home country, and those who intended to go back but just never got around to it.  Mr. Bodnar was and still is a professor of history at Indiana University.

The Transplanted

The general theme of this book seems to be “it’s complicated.”  The immigrant experience was not uniform, with their reactions and outcomes varying considerably depending on their initial motivations for emigration, the areas they came from, their initial social class and starting capital, and what part of America they ended up in.  Trying to fit the immigrants into a single narrative that fits a particular philosophy doesn’t really work, according to Professor Bodnar.

It’s pretty dry stuff, starting with a chapter on the countries immigrants came from and focusing on when various regions had their largest numbers go.  This isn’t a book for the casual reader.

The most interesting chapter for me was on religion and how their faiths both influenced how immigrants adapted to American life, and were forced to adapt themselves.  Often there were clashes between those who felt they were (ethnicity) first, (religion) second, and those (especially religious leaders) who felt the reverse.  One example was Slovak immigrants who were suspicious of their priests and ministers who preached in favor of Hungarian rule of the homeland.  (It was later confirmed that the Austro-Hungarian Empire did indeed pay off religious leaders to spout pro-Hungarian propaganda in the U.S.)

Another conflict that often came up was between the urge to embrace Americanization and blend into their new society, and the fear of losing the unique cultural elements of their homeland or religious beliefs.  This often led to a preference for parochial or ethnicity-based schools rather than putting children into the public school system.

There are extensive end notes, a bibliography and index, as well as a handful of black-and-white pictures.

Again, this isn’t a book for the casual reader, but is best suited for college students and up who are doing serious research on the subject of immigration.  For most people, I’d recommend one of the many fine memoirs of immigrant families available at your local library.

Book Review: Rad Women Worldwide

Book Review: Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz

Right up front, I have to say that the title is the most annoying thing about this book.   Did anyone ever use “rad” as an adjective unironically?  That said, “radical” is not an unfair term to apply to many of the women whose short biographies are written in this volume.  There are forty stories set around 30 “countries”, starting with Enheduanna of Mesopotamia, the first named author that we have records of, and wrapping around the globe to Emma Goldman, born in Russia, anarchist and advocate for worker’s rights.

Rad Women Worldwide

This is a sequel to Rad American Women A-Z by the same creators; the greater scope allows them to have more variety.  There are scientists, athletes and entertainers, politicians and even a princess!  The book is written for middle-grade girls, but some of the subject matter may be difficult for more sensitive readers.  (A couple of these biographies moved me to tears.)  Many of the women covered I had heard of before, but a few were new to me.

The papercut illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl give the book a distinctive, rough-hewn look; it also ties the appearance of the volume together better than a mix of photographs and paintings might have, as there are both historical and contemporary women covered.

This book also wears its politics on its sleeve, obvious in the selection of women to write about.  Politically conservative parents might find it uncomfortable that Kasha Jacqueline Nagabasera (fights for gay rights in Uganda) and Buffy Sainte-Marie (anti-war activist) get full entries while such right-wing icons as Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa don’t even make the 250 honorable mentions in the back.  The poem about “the stateless”, refugees, exiles and others torn from their homelands includes the line “No human being is illegal.”

As is common in collections of short biographies, only the highlights of any given woman’s life are included, and edited according to the author’s intent.  Many of these women were controversial during their lifetimes, and some of them are still controversial now.  A reader who takes a particular interest in one of the subjects would be well advised to seek out more complete biographies.  I’ve previously reviewed biographies of King Hatshepsut http://www.skjam.com/2016/01/20/book-review-the-woman-who-would-be-king-hatshepsuts-rise-to-power-in-ancient-egypt/ and Queen Lili’uokalani http://www.skjam.com/2014/02/21/book-review-lost-kingdom-hawaiis-last-queen-the-sugar-kings-and-americas-first-imperial-adventure/ , for example.

I expect that this book will end up in  a lot of elementary school libraries.  I’d also recommend this volume to parents of middle-grade kids (yes, boys too, to go with their many books about famous men) with the caveat (or bonus!) that you might want to sit down with them to discuss some of the topics that will come up.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.

Book Review: Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology

Book Review: Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

As the subtitle of this volume indicates, it’s a collection of 29 short stories written from a feminist perspective. There are selections from the 1960s through the 2000s–SF, fantasy, horror and a couple of stories that seem to be included out of courtesy because of “surrealism.”

Sisters of the Revolution

The anthology begins with “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.” by L. Timmel Duchamp, an account of a journalist’s meeting with a woman whose use of language is considered so dangerous that a Constitutional amendment has been passed to specifically ban those words. The journalist has a photo-op with Margaret A. in the prison that woman is being held in, and the experience changes her. It’s an interesting use of literary techniques to suggest the power of Margaret A.’s words without ever directly quoting them.

The final story is “Home by the Sea” by Elisabeth Vonarburg, in which a gynoid in a post-apocalyptic world returns to her mother/creator to ask some questions. The answers to those questions both disturb and give new hope. Like several other stories in the volume, this one deals with the nature of motherhood, and the mother-daughter relationship.

There are some of the classic stories that are almost mandatory for the subject of feminist speculative fiction: “The Screwfly Solution” by James Tiptree, Jr. (men abruptly start murdering people they’re sexually attracted to, mostly women but the story tacitly acknowledges homosexuality); “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ (a planet with an all-female society is contacted by men from Earth after centuries of isolation–it originally ran in Again, Dangerous Visions, an anthology for stories with themes considered too controversial to be published elsewhere, times have changed); and Octavia K. Butler’s “The Evening the Morning and the Night” (a woman with a genetic disorder discovers that she has a gift that fits her exactly for a specific job, whether she wants that job or not.)

The anthologists have also made an effort to include stories that are “intersectional”, providing perspectives from other parts of the world. “The Palm Tree Bandit” by Nnedi Okorofor tells the story of a Nigerian woman who defies a sexist tradition and starts one of her own. Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Glass Bottle Trick” is a retelling of the Bluebeard story in modern Jamaica (this time the women avenge their own), and “Tales from the Breast” by Hiromi Goto, wherein a Japanese-Canadian woman discovers a solution to her breastfeeding problems.

Some other standouts include: “The Grammarian’s Five Daughters” by Eleanor Arnason (a fairy tale about language); “The Fall River Axe Murders” by Angela Carter (one of the stories that really doesn’t feel like speculative fiction, but is really well-written, set in the moments just before Lizzie Borden is about to get up and kill her parents) and “Stable Strategies for Middle Management” by Eileen Gunn (how far would you go to fit into the corporate culture? Would you let them shoot you up with insect genes?)

Tanith Lee’s “Northern Chess” is a fantasy tale of a warrior woman infiltrating a castle cursed to be a deathtrap by an evil alchemist. It’s exciting, but the ending relies on a now-hoary twist. Still worth reading if you haven’t had the chance before.

Most of the other stories are at least middling good. The weakest for me was “My Flannel Knickers” by Leonora Carrington, which falls into the surrealist category and seems to be about a woman who has rejected conventional beauty standards. Probably.

Rape, sexualized violence and domestic abuse are discussed; I’d put this book as suitable for bright senior high schoolers, though individual stories could be enjoyable by younger readers.

Recommended for feminists, those interested in feminist themes, and anthology fans.

Book Review: Headstrong

Book Review: Headstrong by Rachel Swaby

This is a collection of short biographical sketches of women who made advancements in various scientific fields.  According to the introduction, it was inspired when the New York Times ran an obituary of Yvonne Brill that listed her home cooking as her most important accomplishment, followed by being a wife and mother.  And only then mentioning that she was an award-winning rocket scientist that made it possible for satellites to adjust their orbits.

Headstrong

And it is true that scientists who happen to be women have often been downplayed or outright ignored in books on the history of science.  So in the interest of making these scientists more widely known and giving role models to women and girls interested in the sciences, Ms. Swaby picked fifty-two stories to tell.  One of her criteria was that they had to be dead, so their entire body of work could be assessed; she points out that this made her list less ethnically diverse as women of color and those outside the Europe/America culture area have been even more hampered in pursuing science careers, though strides have been made in recent decades.  Also, she chose to write about Irène Joliot-Curie rather than her mother, as Marie Curie is the Smurfette (the one woman who gets to be in the club) of science books.

Ms. Swaby suggests reading one entry a week, but reviewers have to step up the pace, so I did it in two days.  The biographies are divided by scientific fields such as medicine, physics and mathematics (Florence Nightingale was listed under the last category for her advances in statistical analysis.)  The women profiled go from Mary Putnam Jacobi, who did a medical study disproving the then popular theory that a college education made women infertile to Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar.

Many of the stories are bittersweet; the women had to fight to even be allowed to study, were denied paying jobs in their fields, denied credit for their work, denied promotions, titles and awards–and these are just the ones who persisted!  Things have improved over time, but one can see where systemic sexism has slowed advancements in science and technology.

It should be noted that some of the women in this book did work or had opinions that are still controversial,  Certain readers may object to their inclusion, despite their prominence.

While the book is written for adults, the language is suitable for junior high students on up.  It may be an uncomfortable fit for some male readers, but that’s the way it goes; growth is painful sometimes.  Elementary school readers may enjoy Girls Research more; see my review of that book.  The volume comes with endnotes, a bibliography for further reading, index, and credits for quotes used.

Highly recommended to science fans and those wanting a quick introduction to scientists they may not have known about before.

Disclaimer:  I received this volume from Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was involved.

Book Review: A Curious Man

Book Review: A Curious Man by Neal Thompson

Disclaimer:  I received this volume free from the Blogging for Books program, on the premise that I would write a review.

This is a biography of Robert Ripley (nee LeRoy Robert Ripley), the cartoonist who created the Believe It or Not! feature.  I was fascinated by the paperback reprints of the cartoons back in my boyhood, but knew little of the story behind the creator.

A Curious Man

This volume covers Mr. Ripley’s life from barefoot poverty in Santa Rosa, California, to his early career as a sports cartoonist, through his discovery of a love for bizarre factoids and the creation of his famous comic strip to his worldwide fame.    He became a world traveler, a millionaire, star of radio and newsreels and knew many beautiful women, all for doing something he enjoyed immensely.

Of course, he also had his faults; Mr. Ripley was a heavy drinker, sexist, racist by our current standards (though progressive for his time), could not keep it in his pants, and had a tendency to fudge facts about his own life the way he didn’t the stories in his cartoons.  He also became a more difficult person towards the end of his life as his health failed and his drinking and overwork caught up with him.

The story of Ripley’s life is told in mostly chronological order,  with little “Believe It!” factoids about the people and places mentioned.  There’s also the story of various supporters of Ripley; most importantly, Norbert Pearlroth, Ripley’s main research person who found many of the factoids that appeared in the comic.  (He actually stayed with the strip longer than Ripley himself!)

There is a black and white photo section in the middle, but if you have a smartphone, you can download an app with audio and video clips from Mr. Ripley’s many public appearances.  For those of you with multimedia capability, this will make the book a much better value for money.  There are extensive end notes and an index as well.

This biography benefits from the very interesting person at its center, and I would recommend it to any Believe It or Not! fans.

Open Thread: The Power of Weak Ties

Yes, another open thread already.  Today I went to a “lunch and learn” seminar at Joule, which is a co-working office and meeting space.  Joule helps people who run businesses out of their homes or tiny offices when they need more space to talk to clients or hold a meeting.  http://joulemn.com/

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

The seminar was sponsored by Car2Go (an interesting variation on rental cars) and the speaker was Dr. Janel Anderson.   The topic was “The Power of Weak Ties.”  The idea is that networking is not just creating your own connections, but helping plug people together when you see they have matching interests.  You see Bob needs a financial planner, and Sally needs financial planning clients.  You introduce Bob to Sally, and when they spot connections that might be useful to you, they will plug you in.

The “weak ties” part comes in when you need something from outside your immediate circle of contacts.  You need to know someone who can arrange a tour of the British Museum when you visit, but no one you know has ever even been to England.  So instead you look up someone who’s likely to know someone who might be able to score you that tour.  And they might not know anyone themselves, but they know someone who probably does.  People you only know as loose acquaintances are the most likely to know people you don’t.

And then came some networking time with each of us mentioning what it is we are currently looking for.  (In my case, it’s a customer service-related job, so I want to get connected with hiring managers and human resources people.)  And here’s some other people who might need a hand up.

Dovette DeVore of IV MAID (Intra Venous Anti Infection Device) at Http://www.ivmaid.com is looking for contacts in the Canadian health care system to see about getting the product tested for approval up there.

Joule is starting a new online magazine for micro-business to micro-business relations, so is looking for micro-businesses to subscribe and create content.  See that at http://joulemn.com/mb2mb .

Janel Anderson is looking for women entrepreneurs to join Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota.  You can find them at http://www.wemn.org .

Brian R. Kelly is a financial advisor  with a specialty in creating technological solutions for start-ups, so is looking for clients that need his expertise at http://www.briankelly-nm.com .

V. Scott Holmgren is a landscape architect and urban designer who would like Minnesota clients with a need to revitalize older buildings and boring business campuses.  Check his company out at http://www.innovativelanddesign.com .

Allison Trimberger is a freelance writer who wants to write content for business websites.  Mission statements, press releases, that sort of thing.  You can contact her at allison dot trimberger at gmail dot com.

Maria McCarthy wants to expand her business communications skills into the medical field.  Currently, she’s at http://www.abcomllc.com .

And Sarah Tower is the community relations officer for Angel Foundation, a non-profit that helps cancer patients with their non-medical bills, so that someone with cancer doesn’t have to choose between meds and rent this month.  She’d like to talk to businesses about setting up ways to let their employees know about this resource.  (Donations, as always, would not go amiss.)  You can find more information at http://www.mnangel.org .

There were a good twenty other people, but I didn’t get to talk to everyone.  If you can help one of these people out with a connection, that would be right neighborly.

For a discussion topic:  What’s your favorite “made an unexpected connection” story?

 

Book Review: Frances Elizabeth Willis

Book Review: Frances Elizabeth Willis by Nicholas J. Willis

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Frances Elizabeth Williams

Frances Elizabeth Willis (1899-1983) was the first woman to rise through the ranks of the U.S. Foreign Service to become a Career Ambassador, serving as the United Stares ambassador to Switzerland, Norway and Ceylon.  (There had been other women who had served as ambassadors previously, but they had been political appointees.)  This biography traces her remarkable career.

The author (her nephew) starts with a rare anecdote Miss Willis (and it was Miss Willis until she became Madame Ambassador) shared with her family, asking them not to repeat it until everyone involved was dead.  And no wonder, as it contradicted official history and might have reflected unfavorably on another ambassador!  She never kept a diary, did not retain any official documents that were not about her directly, and by the time she thought about writing a memoir, Miss Willis’ memory was beginning to fail for medical reasons.

So it is that there are some unfortunate gaps in this biography–but I have certainly seen biographies with worse gaps.    The author was able to get access to declassified documents, including her service dossier, and the latter has much of the interest in this book.  It seems that during her career, Frances Willis never requested to see what was in her dossier, and as a result, was unaware of just how deep the gender bias against her was.

The subtitle of the biography is “Up the Foreign Service ladder to the summit–despite the limitations of her sex, a repeated phrase in the dossier.  The old saying that a woman has to be twice as good as a man to be given half the respect certainly seems true here.  The “old guard” did not think consular work and diplomacy were fit work for women, and did everything they could behind the scenes to discourage them.

But Miss Willis was an extraordinary person, and went above and beyond to prove her worth to the Foreign Service.  Promotions might have come long after they should have, but she kept plugging away, and those co-workers who knew her personally boosted her career.

This book offers some interesting insights into the world of the Foreign Service, and how it changed during Miss Willis’ long career.  Sadly, some of the most interesting-sounding bits remain classified, so we will probably never know much about the espionage side of her job.

There are photos throughout the text, rather than crammed into the middle like many other biographies.    There’s an appendix explaining the history, bureaucratic structure and nomenclature of the Foreign Service, which is helpful to decipher some of the more arcane moments, as well as an index.

The author is perhaps a little too fond of reminding the reader that he was in the Navy, and there are some spellchecker-passed typos (“compliment ” and “complement” get mixed up a couple of times.)  It’s not bad for a self-published book, but could have used another editorial pass.

This book will be of interest to those who want a look at the workings of American diplomacy, and those who want to read about successful women (note that Frances Williams was careful to distance herself from the feminist movement as such; that could have been the kiss of death in the early days.)

Due to the self-publishing, it may not be stocked in your local library, so consider buying a copy.

Comic Book Review: Persepolis

Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Disclaimer:  I received this book through the Rasmussen College One College, One Book program on the premise that I would review it.

Persepolis

This is the graphic novel memoir of Marjane Satrapi, who was nine years old when her home country of Iran had a revolution and kicked out the Western-backed Shah.  It follows her life from when she was small to about age fourteen, when her parents sent her to school in  Austria for her safety.

As it happens,  her family was far from ordinary, as her great-grandfather had been the Emperor of Persia before he was overthrown by Reza Shah, the father of the Shah that was overthrown in 1979.  Her grandfather had been made Reza Shah’s prime minister, but converted to Communism and was treated as a traitor thereafter.  Even so, the family remained relatively wealthy and influential.

Mari (as she is called in the text) and her parents had high hopes for the 1979 Revolution, hoping it would bring the proletariat to power in a socialist republic.  Instead, the Shi’ite fundamentalists took power, and Iran soon became a very different country.  Worse, the things that the revolutionaries most wanted to change from the old regime, imprisonment of dissidents, torture, assassination, only changed in the persons who did them.

All this has a traumatizing effect on young Mari; she sees friends, relatives and random people she meets suffer great injustice, and feels stifled under the new religious restrictions she must obey, even if they are technically not actually laws.  As if all Iran had happening internally was not enough, Saddam Hussein decided that it would be a good time to invade Iran.

Marjane Satrapi does not depict herself as an entire innocent–Mari lies to inflate her self-importance, says hurtful things, and breaks even fair rules.  She has a rebellious spirit that becomes more dangerous to her as she grows older.

The art is black and white, with much use of large black areas.  The creator is a trained illustrator, and it shows.

Trigger warnings for torture, and for off-panel rape.

Because of the subject matter, this book may not be suitable for children, especially sensitive ones, despite being about a child.  I’d rate it as for older teens and up.  There’s also an animated movie which combines this volume and Marjane Satrapi’s later life, which I have not seen.

This is a book that is valuable for its look into a country many Americans have not heard anything good about in a long time, and a reminder that no culture is monolithic.  There are real people underneath the seemingly united front Iran shows the world.

Book Review: Blind Dates and Broken Hearts: The Tragic Loves of Matthew Murdock

Book Review: Blind Dates and Broken Hearts: The Tragic Loves of Matthew Murdock by Ryan K. Lindsay

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Blind

Matthew Murdock is the Marvel Comics character known as Daredevil, a blind lawyer blessed with a “radar sense” that allows him to sense his surroundings which he uses to fight crime.  Since his creation in 1964, Daredevil has gone through several love interests, most of the relationships having ended badly.  In large part this is because of the Marvel formula of soap opera plotting ensuring that there must always be more drama coming, that no major character can ever stay happy.

This volume touches upon that, but is more interested in what it says about Matt Murdock and his relationships in-story.  There are sections on the five most important love interests in the Daredevil comics, from overly clingy Karen Page through dangerous Elektra to sensible Milla Donovan.  A couple of other girlfriends get a brief mention.  Each gets a look at her personality, their plot function and what their relationship with Daredevil tells us about him.

This is more an extended essay in a double-spaced pamphlet than a book.  There are a few illustrations and a couple of footnotes but no table of contents , bibliography or index.  I spotted a couple of spellchecker-passed typos.  On the good side, it really felt like the author had taken the time to reread the entire Daredevil series.

If you are a huge Daredevil fan or the kind of person who loves analyzing superheroes’ love lives, then Blind Dates and Broken Hearts is for you.  I really cannot recommend it to the layperson, as it assumes familiarity with the material.

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