A mixed bag, then: a one-of-a-kind anthology that, though large, needs to be larger still to do its job, and that begs for...



Overstuffed but still thin anthology highlighting women’s contributions to American—and world—literature.

In a frustratingly brief introduction, Princeton emerita professor Showalter signals her intent to make “available works by important American women writers from 1650 to the present”—women whom she calls “the literary mothers of us all.” She goes on to note, however, that both space considerations and the cost of copyright permissions prohibit including “many great women novelists.” Poets and essayists suffer as well, and the anthology is a lopsided affair, with scarcely a word from Native American and Hispanic writers, from Leslie Silko or Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo or Denise Chavez. The anthology is somewhat better with African-American and Asian American writers, though again with some curious absences. That said, many of the selections show considerable awareness of the ethnic and economic diversity of American society, from a piece by Louisa May Alcott concerning a “contraband” slave to the little-known writer Mary Noailles Murfree, who, sandwiched between classics Sarah Orne Jewett and Kate Chopin, paints a richly detailed portrait of hardscrabble life in the Great Smoky Mountains. Some of the usual suspects are on hand, though some aren’t; in a way, it’s refreshing to find an anthology of this kind that does not include Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.,” though unusual to have no Welty at all. Showalter makes well-thought-through choices that avoid anthological clichés: The ever-problematic Mary Austin, for instance, is represented by two autobiographical pieces that are not often read these days, a century after they were written, while it’s perhaps daring but smart to represent the always wonderful Willa Cather with a story from her debut book of short stories rather than her better-known mature novels. An anthology of this sort is impossible, of course, without founders Anne Bradstreet (“I am obnoxious to each carping tongue / Who says my hand a needle better fits”) and Mary Rowlandson, though Showalter’s headnotes are too brief and cursory to give uninitiated readers much sense of why they’re important in the larger scheme of things.

A mixed bag, then: a one-of-a-kind anthology that, though large, needs to be larger still to do its job, and that begs for more extensive annotation and context.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4000-3445-1

Page Count: 840

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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