Monday, August 28, 2006

March, A Novel - Winner, Fiction, 2006

March, A Novel
by Geraldine Brooks
Hampton, NH : Sound Library/BBC Audiobooks America, c2005

As you can tell, I have already skipped way out of order to read March. I happened to be taking a long road trip and was at the library the night before. So, I found the one book on my list that they had on CD that was also checked in at the moment.
The novel March is the story of Mr. March (his first name is never given), the father of the famous March girls of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. For those of you who grew up on Little Women like I did, you will remember that Mr. March is away at war during the book. The March family is based on Louisa May Alcott's own family, so, fittingly, March is loosely based on the real life of Louisa May Alcott's father while he was a chaplain in the Civil War.
The books presents some fascinating insights into the Civil War and how many Northerners were often just as rascist as the Southerners. Something discussed in March that I don't remember being in Little Women was the March family being part of the Underground Railroad. While that makes an interesting story line, it is an example of something that often happened in the book - it often felt like Ms. Brooks created extras storylines that seemed a little too convenient to the plot. I hope that makes sense. It just sometimes seemed that there were too many coincidences in Mr. March's life for it to be real.
It should be noted that this book is not a children's book like Little Women. It often has grisly details of war and overt sexual inuendo. Don't expect the innocence of Little Women. This book is very obviously written for an audience in 2006 who expects complete realism at the expense of romance instead of Little Women's 1868 audience who expected romance at the expense of reality. Choose for yourself which you prefer.

Julia Ward Howe - Winner, Biography or Autobiography, 1917

Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910
by Laura E. Richards (1850-1943) and Maud Howe Elliott (1854-1948)
assisted by Florence Howe Hall (1845-1922)
Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915
Volumes I & II

I began this book, as I will with many of them, having no idea who Julia Ward Howe was. It was fascinating to discover her as I read the books. I always love to read things with first hand accounts, and because she kept extensive diaries, there was plenty for her two daughters who wrote the book to quote from.
In case you don't know who Julia Ward Howe is, she is the woman who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She was also an outspoken proponent of full suffrage for women. She lived in Boston, but spent much of her time travelling the country and the world speaking, reading her poetry, and preaching in Universalist churches.
The book was quite an easy read, but a little long. There were two volumes and each chapter in each volume covered sometimes only 1 or 2 years of the 93 she lived. This sometimes caused it to be a bit tedious.
I think the thing that interested me most was the freedom she had to travel and speak as a woman in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her husband died many years before she did, so she did much of her travelling with a daughter or granddaughter by her side. Not only did she visit a large part of the United States during her lifetime, but she also travelled extensively in Europe on multiple occasions and even visited Egypt and Israel.
My husband and I will soon be visiting Boston, so I look forward to visiting some of the homes Julia Ward Howe lived in and seeing Faneuil Hall where she often spoke on the many issues of the day that burdened her.
If you are a fan of biography, I recommend the book. It is an easy read and provides a wonderful glimpse into early 19th century society and politics.