An exemplary biography of a not-always-exemplary subject. Sure to be the standard work on Wharton for years to come.

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EDITH WHARTON

A BIOGRAPHY

Absorbing life of the expatriate novelist and socialite whose work, though not widely read today, underlies film after film.

She was hailed as both a “citizen of the world” and “the last Victorian writer” when she died 70 years ago. Edith Wharton was indeed an accomplished traveler who transcended idle moneyed tourism to endure a few discomforts in search of an interesting story. Still, as Lee (Virginia Woolf, 1997, etc.) tells us, Wharton came up in wealth and enjoyed every ounce of accumulated privilege, which included the wherewithal to build splendid neo-palaces and restore real ones—and manors and farmhouses and gardens. She lived abroad in post–Gilded Age luxury thanks to the inheritance of three fortunes and, for at least part of her life, a solid income as a writer. Wharton, Lee allows, had the prejudices of her age and class; on her deathbed, she “talked about her love of Balzac, her strong feelings for the Catholic Church and her dislike of Jews.” Yet she was a pioneer who took the circumstances of her own life, such as her unhappy marriage to a depressive alcoholic, and turned them into romans à clef such as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. The Wharton who emerges as a vigorous and visible presence in these pages loved life, was at home in many languages and places and was free of other kinds of prejudices; she may be one of the earliest American writers to have used the word “gay” in its modern connotation. She was also a brilliant writer, recognized as such in her time, mentioned in the same breath as Henry James, with whom she had a long relationship—and who is now mentioned less than she, at least “as an indicator for certain subjects: wealth, social status, old New York.”

An exemplary biography of a not-always-exemplary subject. Sure to be the standard work on Wharton for years to come.

Pub Date: April 30, 2007

ISBN: 0-375-40004-4

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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