All Maggie Louise Higgins knew growing up was cleaning and childcare. Her mother, Anne, already frail from recurring flares of tuberculosis, was always pregnant; out of 18 pregnancies, 11 were live births, though not all of her children made it to adulthood. The house was always filthy, diapers always needed washing, children always needed feeding. The family fretted constantly whether Anne would survive childbirth.
Maggie, whom the world would eventually come to know as Margaret Sanger, always wanted more than a life of drudgery and childbirth. There were few options for girls as the nineteenth century drew to a close, especially poor ones. The older Sanger girls each had dreams of an education, only to have those dreams dashed as the family’s economic realities weighed down on them. The family then lay their hopes on Maggie, outspoken and intelligent, and pooled their meager resources to try to send her to school. At the very least, maybe she could be a teacher one day.
But Maggie didn’t want to be a teacher. She didn’t exactly know what she wanted, but she knew that she didn’t want to be stuck in the narrow confines of what was allowed of women of the era.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2019
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Length: 12 hours, 2 minutes
Source: Personal copy
What it is: A novel written as a collection of stories that are all somehow linked Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher in a sleepy Maine town. Some of the stories center around major moments in her life, while others only mention her in passing and instead focus on people who exist in her periphery.
Why I read it: I bought this book a good decade ago because of the buzz, and then it went on to win the 2009 Pulitzer. But it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since! Truth be told, it’s still sitting on my shelf; I ended up buying it on audiobook earlier this year and finally listened to it during my work commute.
What I thought: I know it’s a novel, but since each chapter is more like a short story, the book is much like any other short story collection: some are stronger than others. But since the book is set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, the reader definitely gets a feel for the characters from different angles. As the title character, Olive naturally gets featured the most. She is a stubborn woman who had gone through some hardships and mostly sees herself living out her retirement years in peace. But her personality is sometimes too much for people, including her own son, and she can’t seem to understand how she pushes people away. It’s a beautiful book that excels at exploring its characters’ inner worlds.
Dev is back with a new series, The Rajes, in which she puts her spin on Jane Austen. True to form, it has slightly over-the-top characters in completely relatable situations. Trisha Raje is a genius neurosurgeon in a family of control freak overachievers: her father is actual royalty-turned-successful surgeon/immigrant success story; her mother is a former Bollywood star; and her brother, Yash, is probably going to be the next governor of California. Her sister, Nisha, runs the campaign, and the other Raje members in the family’s orbit are tightly bound by loyalty and closeness to make the campaign succeed.
Enter DJ (Darcy James) Caine. He’s the Cordon Bleu, Michelin star restaurant-trained caterer hired to work his magic for Yash’s big gubernatorial campaign announcement. He’s also the overprotective older brother of Emma, a talented young artist who will die unless Trish can remove her brain tumor. The catch: the only way to do that will leave Emma permanently blind.
DJ and Trisha don’t like each other.
I’ve been working my way through my Pulitzer Project for almost ten years now. I break it down into manageable goals — this year I’m focusing on the winners for the years ending in 9 — which also forces me to at least acknowledge the existence of some of my ugh titles (although it might take me another few decades to crack open the damn remaining Updike title).
The Yearling was one of those books I was dreading. Not because I considered it to be in the same gross misogynist category as Updike, but because from the title alone I already knew how the book was going to play out and I was not down. It’s a book that seems to have always had, through its numerous printings, a tragically dated book cover (for real: do a Google image search) that screams “sad coming-of-age story.”
And it is a sad coming-of-age story, one that I knew I’d probably like but had to work myself up to á la Call of the Wild. Because animals.
The book takes place in Florida shortly after the Civil War. Jody Baxter lives with his parents on Baxter Island, not the name of an actual island but a homesteaded scrap of backwoods that the family has claimed for themselves. Jody is a much-loved only child; all of the other Baxter children died young. His only real friend is Fodder-wing Forrester, a disabled boy roughly the same age who lives miles away; his parents allow him to keep a collection of animals as pets. The Forresters are a rough and tumble, quick-tempered bunch. They, along with the Baxters, survive off farming and hunting. All are at the mercy of the elements.
I happened upon this article from December 5, 1980 while I was doing genealogy research. It’s a little better, but the same visibility/availability arguments are still happening today.