Quiz: Literary Heroine

Wow, this result is totally not a surprise. I’m glad I didn’t get Anna Karenina or Estella (from Great Expectations). It’s a cute quiz, but more than just questions about love would have been nice.  Found via Big A little a

Which Classic Female Literary Character Are you?

You’re Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen!
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Woman: Margaret Wise Brown

Margaret Wise BrownName: Margaret Wise Brown

Dates: 1910-1952 (May 23)

Place of Birth: Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Why is she interesting?

Margaret Wise Brown was the author of a large number of picture books for children. Her most famous work is likely Goodnight Moon. She studied at the famous Bank Street Experimental School in New York City where she learned about many new and unconventional ways of teaching. Many of her books were clearly inspired by her work at Bank Street. Margaret was clearly innovative in her own right, however, since after a while she began to develop new types of picture books and experimented with styles that clearly are not compatible with the Bank Street philosophy. She wrote The Little Island, which was awarded the Caldecott Award in 1947.

Margaret’s life was as unconventional as her books. She lived for a time with a flamboyant woman poet who may or may not have been a lesbian, she bought a cute little cottage hidden in the middle of a city, and she always kept dogs (usually kerry blue terriers). She hunted rabbits on foot in elaborate Long Island contests where the winner was the first to reach the prey with the hunting dogs (hardly a lady’s type of entertainment for the time).

Margaret died at the age of 42. She suffered from appendicitis while on a book tour in France. She recovered quickly. Unfortunately she did a can-can kick to show her doctor how much better she was feeling and promptly died of an embolism. Her death shocked everyone, especially her friends and publishers.

Why do I admire her?

I admire Margaret Wise Brown for a number of reasons. I admire her life and her willingness to take risks. I wish that I could shrug off other people’s opinions the way she seems to have been able to do. She was a strong, independent woman who managed to live her own very unconventional life.

I also wish I had a fraction of Margaret Wise Brown’s creativity and innovation. Some of her books are absolutely brilliant! Her noisy books are unlike anything that had ever been done before in picture books. I know that Goodnight Moon is her most famous book, and it is certainly an amazingly well-done book, but I was always even more impressed with the lay-out and story of Runaway Bunny. Some of her construction ideas are even more brilliant. The first edition of The Little Fur Family was originally covered in real rabbit fur. Brown was one of the first people (perhaps the first) to produce books made entirely out of soft fabric. She came up with a book that was never produced where four separate quadrants are bound such that they can be read in any order desired as the book is turned. Her ideas were always completely fresh and all her own.

Margaret Wise Brown was just so creative and such a passionate woman. She had independence and strength that are rare in anyone, but particularly impressive in a woman who lived in the first half of the twentieth century when independence was a less than desired quality in an affluent young woman. I live in a time when independence is perfectly ok in a woman, but I can’t do half the things that she did. I really admire that strength and independence! It’s amazing. And creativity like that is uncommon in anyone and greatly admired.

Book: Queen of the Negro Leagues

Queen of the Negro LeaguesQueen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles
James Overmyer

This is, ostensibly, a biography of Mrs Effa Manley, co-owner of the Newark Eagles (a Negro National League baseball team) and the first woman to ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (in February 2006). It tells about how she and her husband, Abe Manley, created and managed the Newark Eagles. The book was written before Effa was inducted into the Hall of Fame, but the reasons for her being worthy of the honour are clearly laid out. She not only managed one of the best teams in the league, but she also fought for integration in professional baseball, fair treatment of both the players and the owners, and more respect for black Americans in general. One of her particularly impressive fights was for the Negro League teams to be fairly compensated (as white minor league teams were) when the major leagues hired one of their players. This ensured that the teams could try and find more players to replace the lost talent, while also showing the players themselves that they were worth a lot to both the team they were leaving and the team they were going to join. Effa was a woman in a man’s game, but she played the game as good as any of them (and better than most).

The biggest problem that I had with this book was it’s lack of organization. Overmyer is a good writer, but even good writing gets old after twelve or so pages of information that is only vaguely on topic. The book is so badly organized that I really have trouble calling it a biography. It doesn’t do the things one usually expects from a good biography. Almost nothing is said about Effa’s life before and after the Eagles, and even less about her life outside of baseball even while the Eagles were playing. In fact, so much time is spent focused on the Eagles themselves and the antics of the other Negro League owners that it is really more about them than about Effa herself. It is clear that she presented a unique challenge to the owners and a distinct advantage in some ways to her team, but what she actually wanted out of the whole thing is never entirely clear. The book states that she had two marriages besides Abe, but virtually nothing is said about them (the author never even explicitly states that she divorced them both, just that she was single shortly after marrying the first and that she got sick of the third fairly quickly). Virtually no details are given about Effa’s life at all. It’s very frustrating.

The writing, as I said, is excellent. Overmyer’s descriptions of action – particular plays and bits of games – are amazing. Unfortunately, that isn’t the focus of the book. Most of the book is discussing the internal politics of Negro League baseball, which is very light on action. Several times I wondered why Overmyer had wanted to write this book in the first place. It is clear that he cares very much about this part of baseball history (which is largely forgotten in many ways), but why try to write a biography? This book would have been much better as a piece on the league in general or simply focusing on the Eagles. Trying to make either of those into a biography clearly didn’t quite work.

I loved hearing about this amazing woman’s life, but this wasn’t the book to tell me about her. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it’s the only book on the subject. Perhaps now that Effa Manley has been formally recognized by the Hall of Fame someone will undertake to write about her again, but as of now I know of no such project. If you really want to know about Effa, the book might be worth plodding through, but I don’t recommend it. Most of the information about her can be found on the internet (which shows how little there really was). This book is interesting, but not worth the frustration.

- Publisher’s Description
- National Baseball Hall of Fame: Effa Manley
- Book Blog: First Impressions
- Book Blog: Scattered
- Book Blog: Organization
- Book Blog: Community
- Book Blog: Business
- Book Blog: Money
- Book Blog: Jumping
- Book Blog: World War II
- Book Blog: Descriptions
- Book Blog: Payment
- Book Blog: Suppositions
- Book Blog: Owners
- Book Blog: Final Thoughts
- Buy it from Amazon

Woman: Annie Oakley

Annie OakleyName: Annie Oakley (Pheobe Ann Moses Butler)

Dates: 1860-1926 (August 13)

Place of Birth: Darke County, Ohio

Why is she interesting?

Annie Oakley went from a difficult childhood (to say the least) to stardom for being good at something women didn’t do. She very much lived in a man’s world, travelling around the world with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show for nearly seventeen years. She performed brilliantly night after night doing something that was considered quite odd for a woman to do.

Annie managed her image carefully so that everyone could see that she was lady, demure and proper, as well as a great sharpshooter, she never appeared tomboyish at all. Her costumes involved short skirts, but she wore long stockings so that no one ever saw any of the skin on her legs. Her outfits were practical, flattering and proper at all times. Annie was a tiny (about five foot tall) woman and wore her hair down like a child when she performed. She appeared as the perfect little lady, and always lived up to that image. Annie was breaking barriers at the same time that she was helping to create an image of American womanhood that showed them as proper, attractive women who were practical and able to handle themselves. The woman Annie represented didn’t need protection, she could protect herself.

Annie Oakley was very aware of the changes happening around her. She offered to lead a regiment of women into battle in both the Spanish American War and World War I (neither offer was accepted). She offered shooting lessons to soldiers and raised money for the war effort. She was in many ways an activist.

She lived to see women gain the right to vote, but was never a part of the women’s movement. That said, she didn’t really need to be. She embodied much of what the feminists were fighting for. She also encouraged women to learn to shoot and worked to make sure that they were allowed to carry guns to protect themselves. She even showed women how to conceal their guns in umbrellas! She never fought for the right to vote (in fact, she seems to have publicly opposed the idea), but she did fight for equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to protect herself. She fought for many feminist ideas, but she would certainly not have called herself a feminist.

Why do I admire her?

I admire Annie Oakley for a variety of reasons. She was an incredible woman. She made her fame worldwide doing something that only men did, and doing it better than most men ever could. She managed to maintain this image of being a perfect lady, which is non-threatening, even if she held a large gun in her hands (which she usually did). Her level of skill is certainly something to admire, as is her ability to always stay above her own personal standards (as well as society’s, which were considerably lower in this case). Annie fought for women’s rights in a very unconventional way. She never fought for the right to vote or other “big” issues, but she did fight for equal pay and the right to protect oneself. Many leading feminists of the day hadn’t even thought about those issues much yet. She was way ahead of her time in many ways, but also always the true American Victorian lady. I’m particularly impressed at the image of American Women that she projected to not only the outside world, but also to American women themselves. She taught that to be a woman you could still be strong, self sufficient and self-reliant even if you were a proper lady. That’s a powerful image that in many ways came out of the image of Western Women that Annie helped create. It certainly goes against much of what the world thought women were at the time. The best part is, she could create that image without ever being threatening. Annie wasn’t scary to really anyone, as far as I can tell. She was a woman who you probably didn’t want to cross, but who you wouldn’t worry about talking to or having tea with! In some ways she was more revolutionary than many of the feminists living and working at the time. She may not have shocked a lot of people with her ideas, but that was probably partially because she never stated those ideas, she just lived them. It’s much harder to question the validity of something that already exists than it is to question something that only exists as an idea. Annie may not have been a feminist, but she certainly embodied many of the qualities that feminists over the years have been fighting for.

Book: A Begonia for Miss Applebaum

A Begonia for Miss Applebaum
Paul Zindel

This is the story of two teenagers and their teacher, Miss Applebaum, who is dying (presumably of cancer, but her disease is never actually named). The two teenagers, Henry and Zelda, are very different from each other, but very close friends. They take turns telling the story of their relationship with Miss Applebaum as she slowly dies. The story is quiet, with few major plot moments, but very powerful. There are so many facts packed into this book that it almost boggles the mind, and yet they never feel forced – it seems totally natural that Miss Applebaum would babble information at them in an attempt to teach them everything she can while she’s still got time.

The most interesting part of the book was Henry and Zelda’s musings on death. They explain their fears, thoughts and wishes in terms of dying. We learn that Henry believes that he will always be connected to everything else, but fears death by falling pianos and spectacular car crashes. Zelda is more afraid of death itself and less of the act of dying. The discussion of death is carried throughout the entire book, not always obviously there, but always just below the surface ready to peek out from time to time. It deals with death both concretely and philosophically and does an amazing job with both. I’m not sure that I’ve ever read an adult book that deals with the subject near this well, and certainly never before found it in a children’s book!

The writing in the book is fantastic. Each narrator, Henry and Zelda, has their own distinct voice and way of telling the story. Henry is very methodical and records what happened when and exactly what he saw. He’s almost scientific in his way of telling the story, but never ever cold. His observations tend to focus on the big picture and rarely give details or more than cursory emotional impressions. Zelda is less linear and far more artistic in her descriptions. Her storytelling is full of emotion and imagery, but often less clear about what is actually happening. We know she’s upset, but not always sure why (and it seems that she isn’t sure why either sometimes). Her descriptions are amazing, though. They are poetic and so full of colour, detail and emotional reactions that you can’t help but sink into them! As different as the two narrative voices are, they work together brilliantly. They work with each other to tell the story beautifully and completely. It’s masterful.

The emotional impact of this book is strong, but it is also very thought-provoking. It made me think about death and about the way we think about death. It made me wonder what I would have done in Henry or Zelda’s place and fume at Miss Applebaum’s niece’s actions. It was emotional to read and made me wish that every story I read felt as real as this one. It was brilliant and I highly recommend it. It is sad, but it’s totally worth reading.

- Book Blog: First Impressions
- Book Blog: Descriptions
- Book Blog: Death
- Book Blog: Knowing
- Book Blog: Final Thoughts
- Buy it from Amazon

Movie: V for Vendetta

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot.

I saw “V for Vendetta” today and it was awesome. A little loud at some points in the IMAX theater for my headache’s taste, but not so much to ruin the rest of my day. The story is really good (I totally want to read the book now) and the acting was great. Natalie Portman is an incredibly talented woman. I think that it’s a little sad that the point seems to have been lost on so many Americans (probably at least partially due to the government’s huge anti-terrorist push), and even more sad that for many people the image will be remembered as V rather than Guy Fawkes. Of course, that isn’t surprising as I doubt one in ten people in the United States could tell you what Guy Fawkes day is anyway. I really enjoyed it though and think it was a wonderful movie. I’m glad that I spent money to see it and would even buy it on DVD when it comes out.