Cornelia Meigs, Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women. This biography for young people, written in the 1930s, is accurate and insightful, if somewhat incomplete. No romance here, but a solid sense of Alcott’s accomplishment.
Sara Paretsky, Total Recall: A V. I. Warshawski Novel. The Chicago female private investigator, Victoria Iphigenia Washshawski, meets schemers and crazies in this suspenseful novel of Holocaust victims, survivors, and the immoral insurance companies who rip them off.
Honoré de Balzac, A Harlot High and Low. Free at last, after 554 pages. Click here for my comment on the first half of the book. The second half is concerned with the structure of the French criminal justice system; the layout of the prisons and the courts (no corridor or staircase is omitted); the lawyers, magistrates, procurators, chaplains, turnkeys, police, detectives, detectives in disguise, spies, criminals — major, petty and demented. He puts forward some interesting theories about criminals. Instead of marijuana as an entry-level drug, we have the sex-obsessed man who steals a shawl for his girlfriend and goes on to a life of crime. It will be a long time before I persist to the end of another Balzac.
Peg Bracken, The I Hate to Housekeep Book. Peg understands. It’s not so much that I hate housekeeping. It’s not like war or mosquitoes — I do admit its necessity. It’s just that I have better things to think about, much less do. Written in 1962, the technology has changed somewhat, but the principles are as true as they ever were.
Richard Russo, The Risk Pool. The risk pool is where you have to get your insurance when you have had so many accidents no insurance company will have you as a customer. In this early novel, Russo tells the story of Sam Hall — energetic and smart, but also uneducated, sometimes alcoholic and always a risk taker.
Barbara Pym, A Few Green Leaves. By five pages in I knew that I had read this one before, but it was all so pleasant that I just kept going. No surprises in this tale of a young woman who settles — temporarily? she is not sure — in an English village, but a lot of worthy characters and amusing incidents.
Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life. To tell of the life of Cleopatra, Schiff must also tell of Caesar and Pompey and Octavia and Mark Antony, especially Mark Mark Antony. The life is skillfully told in a book dense with history and rich with the images of ancient Egypt.
Peg Bracken, I Didn’t Come Here to Argue. The switch from Cleopatra to Peg Bracken is to go from queenly edicts in ancient Egypt to American middle class commentary. These diverse essays are a follow on to The I Hate To Housekeep Book (see above). A little dated, but a welcome diversion after Ptolemaic troubles.
Susan Cheever, Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography. Just the facts about Alcott’s life with personal commentary by the author of American Bloomsbury. Cheever sees Alcott within her world, not ours. I hope to have more comments on the book in July.