Between the Lines Book Club: Biographies and Spin-Offs

between the lines book club logoIt’s link time! Charlotte Bronte was a prickly person who experienced a great deal of loss in her short life. She lived long enough to see Jane Eyre be a success and even enjoyed some literary fame. Here’s a link to my review of Charlotte Bronte, A Fiery Heart, by Clare Harman. You might also enjoy The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, by Diana Lutz (my review is here).

Many people have tried retelling Jane Eyre’s story from the viewpoints of different characters or in different time settings. The most depressing but also influential and challenging of these is Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, who tells the story from Bertha’s perspective and challenges Victorian ideas about gender, race, colonialism, and sexuality. Another popular retelling is The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey, which places the story in the 1950s. Here are links to my reviews of some retellings:

Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier

This is a collection of short stories inspired by Jane Eyre and featuring variety in setting and tone.

Mr. Rochester, by Sarah Shoemaker

Mr. Rochester’s story, from childhood through the end of the events of Jane Eyre.

Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye

I loved this book! A Victorian orphan named Jane is inspired by Jane Eyre, with whom she has many life events in common. Jane Steele, however, is capable of using force to defend herself and her friends, which has far reaching consequences.

Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn

A science fiction version which works surprisingly well.

Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

A dark fantasy, one of my favorites.

 

 

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Between the Lines Book Club: Wuthering Heights Vs Jane Eyre Smack-Down

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books and also a book I’ve done a lot writing about in the past. We’ll be meeting to discuss Jane Eyre at Arden Dimick Library on October 28th, 2017 at 10:30AM.

Today I raise the question: can a person be equally besotted with both Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte? Generally speaking I’ve found that the answer is “No,” but there are exceptions. In this piece written for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I asked readers this question after comparing the two novels. what do you think?

Between the Lines Book Club: Jane Eyre

between the lines book club logoI am so excited about our October book, because it happens to be one of my favorites. We’ll be reading Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Our next meeting is at Arden Dimick Library on October 28th, 2017 at 10:30AM.

Jane Eyre was first published on October 16, 1847 under the name Currer Bell. It was a more or less instant hit, which allowed Charlotte Bronte to know a significant measure of fame before her early death at the age of 38. It tells the story of an English governess who is “small, plain, and friendless” who becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, home of the mysterious Mr. Rochester.

I love all of Jane Eyre but I have to admit that it takes a while to get going. Here is my top-secret tip – if you get stuck, skip ahead to Chapter 11 which is when Jane finally gets to Thornfield Hall. Until then it’s all back story about child abuse, possible ghost sightings, burnt porridge, typhus, and lectures about heaven that leave both Jane and the reader unimpressed. The mysterious Mr. Rochester doesn’t show up until Chapter 12.

I’m looking forward to discussing this book with you all in person and here in the comments!

Between the Lines Book Club: Interviews with Margot Lee Shetterly

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. It’s a spellbinding nonfiction book about the women who made the space race possible. You can join us to discuss this book at Arden Dimick Book Club at 10:30AM on September 23, 2017.

Margot Lee Shetterly is a passionate advocate of preserving and publicizing the contributions that Black women have made to science. Here are some interviews with her:

New York Times

On the importance of imagination:

Writing this book helped me understand just how powerful imagination is: having the clarity of mind to see the world as it is and then to see it as it might be. That’s what this whole thing is. That’s what “Star Trek” was: We don’t know how to make an ideal society, but we’re going to portray that, and then we’re going to work backward. I think that’s why science fiction — despite the dystopian parts — comes out of this super ideal that, eventually, we will get to some better place where we actually live up to our ideals. Without imagination, I don’t think there’s any progress.

Shadow and Act

On growing up in the world of NASA (her father worked there):

I did know them growing up. My dad worked with Mary Jackson very closely at one point. I knew Katherine Johnson as well. They were all part of this group of Black engineers and scientists within this larger NASA community. So these people on one weekend would go to the HBCU Alumni Association Dance, and then the next weekend they would go off to the National Tech Association where they would put on their science hats and be together and talk about that.

There was no disconnect between those parts of their identities; it was very normal. But you know, while I knew the women; I didn’t know their story and how they got there. It was really my husband who helped spark the idea. We were visiting my parents almost exactly six years ago and had run into one lady who is a Sunday School teacher, and my dad was talking about the work that she’d done, and it just turned into this larger conversation about these different women. My husband was like, “This is amazing! Wait a minute nobody knows about this!” And I was like, “Wow, I don’t know this story.” That was really the beginning of me saying, “OK, I need to know this story.” Six years later here we are.

NPR

On Katherine Johnson and John Glenn:

She started working at Langley in 1953. … Johnson did many things, but among them was co-author a report writing the trajectory equations for putting a craft into orbit around the Earth. One of the most notable moments of her career was leading up to the orbital launch of John Glenn’s flight, which was really a turning point in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

You know, the Russians had got a real head-start into space; America was playing catch-up. And this was also a moment where electronic computers were taking over the task of much of the calculating that was necessary for these increasingly complex missions.

But as sort of a handoff moment between human computers and electronic computers, John Glenn asked Katherine Johnson — he actually asked “the girl”; all of the women working at that time were referred to as “girls.”

And he said: Get the girl to do it. I want this human computer to check the output of the electronic computer, and if she says they’re good, you know, I’m good to go as part of one of my pre-flight checklists.

So the astronaut who became a hero, looked to this black woman in the still-segregated South at the time as one of the key parts of making sure his mission would be a success.

Between the Lines Book Club: A Timeline

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading In the Garden of Beasts, by Eric Larson. We will meet in person to discuss the book at Arden Dimick Library on August 26, 2017 at 10:30AM.

In the Garden of Beasts describes the lives of the Dodd family, who were Ambassadors to Germany from 1933 to 1937. For your reference, here is a timeline of Hitler’s rise to power so you can see where the Dodd years fell in the development of the Third Reich. This timeline is condensed from a much more detailed one at Open Learn.

1920: Hitler becomes the head of propaganda for the German Worker’s Party and changes the party’s name to the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party (NAZI).

1925 – 1926: Publishes Mein Kampf while in prison for political activities.

1930 – 1933: The Nazi Party rises in prominence.

1933: Enabling Act passed following the Reichstag Fire. This act gives Hitler full legislative powers for four years. Hitler bans all other political parties and trade unions.

1933: William Dodd appointed US Ambassador, stationed in Berlin.

1934: Paul von Hindenburg, Germany’s elected president, dies. Hitler names himself head of state with the support of the military.

1935: Hitler re-arms the military and introduces military conscription.

1937: Dodd leaves Berlin and resigns as Ambassador.

1938: Crystal Night, a night of terror which is often thought of as the beginning of the Holocaust.

1941: The United States of America enters WWII.

 

Between the Lines Book Club: The Dodds and Their Books

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. We’ll be discussing the book in person at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM on August 26, 2017.

The Dodds had fascinating lives in diplomatic circle, but they were also authors. William Dodd was a historian who wanted more time to write. He wrote Expansion and Conflict about how economic regional competition influenced the outbreak of The Civil War. He also wrote biographies of Jefferson Davis, Nathaniel Macon, and Thomas Jefferson, among other papers and books.

Martha Dodd, William’s daughter, wrote novels and memoirs. She wrote a memoir called  My Years in Germany and another one called Through Embassy Eyes. Her novel Sowing the Wind, published in 1945, is about life in Germany under Nazi rule. The Searching Light, which was published in 1955, deals with American paranioa and persecution of those suspected to be Communists.

After the war, Martha Dodd became a spy for the Soviets. Be sure to check out her wikipedia.org entry for the details!

Between the Lines Book club: Interviews with Erik Larson

between the lines book club logoOur selection this week is In the Garden of Beasts By Erik Larson. This book tells the sotry of the american Dodd family, who lived in Berlin in the 1930’s and witnessed Hitler’s consolidation of power and the pre-war years of the Third Reich.

Larson specializes in non-fiction books that read like novels. For instance, Dead Wake told of the sinking of the Lusitania, while The Devil in the White City is about serial killer H.H. Holmes, who murdered women and children during the 1893 World’s Fair. Over the years Larson has given many interviews describing his process, which includes Oreos and coffee.

In this npr.org interview, Larson talks specifically about In the Garden of Beasts. Speaking of Martha Dodd, he says:

“One of the things that drew me to her as a character is she follows this very interesting personal arc — almost like the kind of thing you would expect from a novel,” Larson says. “That’s not to say it has the satisfying end you might get in a novel — like maybe she would start an underground operation and start shooting up Nazis; that didn’t happen — but she does come to a realization that this is not the benign revolution she had first thought.”

In this interview for readitforward.com, Larson talks about his research process and the importance of primary materials:

In the case of correspondence, even an envelope is important, because you never know what’s going to be on that envelope. Or on a calling card for instance. When I was researching In the Garden of Beasts, one of the first files I came across were letters and papers from Martha Dodd, the young woman who was the ambassador’s daughter. At first I just kind of passed over these cards—she had three files full of calling cards, which were literally calling cards to announce the fact that you had arrived to somebody’s house—and there were hundreds of cards in each of these files. At first, I went past them, but then thought, Wait a minute. I should go through these. So I went through them, piece-by-piece, and I got a lot of interesting stuff from those cards. One of the cards was from Nazi official Hermann Göring. So you’re holding his card, and it’s like, wait a minute. This was held by him, and also held by Martha Dodd. This card is—it’s electric.

He also says that the only book he’s written that really got to him was In the Garden of Beasts (he’s asked if he was terribly disturbed by writing The Devil in the White City)

I didn’t find anything disturbing. I mean, this sounds a little odd, ‘cause the guy was this weird serial killer who killed people, and dissolved them in acid baths in his hotel.

But to me it was just like, seriously? This is great stuff. You know, people ask me, “Well, did you ever have any sleepless nights after working on The Devil in the White City?” And I answer, “No. It was perpetual fascination.”

But I’m a trained journalist and I see things in two ways. I see the emotional power of something, and then I also realize that some things make great material, so it doesn’t cause me any sleepless nights. The only one that started to get into my head was In the Garden of Beasts, because of Hitler, and the Nazis. You read about that enough and it really drags you down.