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review 2019-02-06 20:20
"Keep the Damned Women Out": The Struggle for Coeducation (The William G. Bowen Series) - Nancy Weiss Malkiel 
"Keep the Damned Women Out": The Struggle for Coeducation (The William G. Bowen Series) - Nancy Weiss Malkiel

I've already mentioned how deeply angry this book makes me. Stabby, even. It took me forever to get through it with the constant need to put it down and let my blood pressure return to normal.

 

So, long about the mid-sixties the most elite private colleges in the US and UK discovered decreasing numbers of applications, and a smaller percentage of registrations from the number of successful applicants. High school students were preferring to attend public institutions that were not segregated by gender. Then it kind of became a free-for-all as they each (in the case of the Ivys and most of the Seven Sisters) raced to go coed before one another, so as not to lose too many of their highest-ranked applicants to whichever one got there first.

 

Some schools managed better than others, but they all bollixed it up somehow. Interestingly, non of the Ivies focused on the idea of fairness, or anything really any loftier than not losing applicants. Not surprisingly, many people had trouble grasping the idea that female college students were primarily interested in a college education for themselves, rather than existing to enrich the environment for male college students. This was less of a problem at Oxbridge where women's colleges existed within the university system already. All the boy schools got tremendous push-back from alumni, most of whom got over their ire when they realized that their daughters or granddaughters could now attend the alma mater. Idiots.

 

The girls schools got similar push-back from alumna, but had more realistic concerns about loss of leadership roles for women students and employment opportunities for women professors, valid concerns as it turns out. The women's colleges that didn't enroll men in the first wave mostly didn't ever: there remained a market for women-only schools.

 

Quality scholarship on a topic that just makes me seethe. Highly recommended for anyone with the intestinal fortitude to wade through so many old men being stupid.

 

Library copy

 

 

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review 2019-02-02 02:31
The Library Book - Susan Orlean
The Library Book - Susan Orlean

  Orlean is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. The topic doesn't matter, she's going to teach me something weird and wonderful and even if she doesn't spark an obsession in me, she does a brilliant job of explaining why other people love whatever it is so much. 

So, yeah,  no surprise that I was way into this. I loved the history of the L.A. Public Library; the remembrances of her childhood visits to the library with her mom, the dramatic account of the Central Library fire, the bizarre true crime/Kafkaesque political nightmare that was the aftermath of the fire, the sidebar on traveling libraries...but most of all, the librarians. No one's perfect, everyone has flaws, whatever. ..Not librarians. Every single one of them is a superior being blessing this world with their kindness and helpfulness, their eternal quests for truth and justice. I am an agnostic and a secular humanist who believes in nothing except that the scientific method is really useful, but librarians are very nearly holy in my mind, and libraries are almost sacred, but also, perfectly pragmatic. Orlean reports on quite a few librarians and library-saving volunteers and she moved me to tears.

 

Library copy of course 

 

 

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review 2019-01-21 18:52
Nine Perfect Strangers - Liane Moriarty 
Nine Perfect Strangers - Liane Moriarty

Dear book designers: a rainbow on a book jacket currently means Gay. While I support inclusion, and appreciate it, in this context, it is misleading. I get not wanting it to look girly, but I think I would have gone more in the crime vernacular. Not that it matters about selling it to me, I was going to read the book regardless, because I really like Moriarty's unusual mix of humor and crime and social issues and romance, but some people be sadly disappointed.

 

Loved the book. I was pleased that at least one character wasn't white. There were some interesting surprises, lots of story on everyone, and a very satisfying finish. 

 

Library copy

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review 2018-10-30 02:34
So You Want to Talk About Race - Ijeoma Oluo
So You Want to Talk About Race - Ijeoma Oluo

Really I don't have any interest in talking about race. What I want is to be a better human in a way that is helpful to other human beings. Oluo is someone I follow on Twitter. Her writing is wonderfully clear and straightforward and also surprisingly kind.  But so practical! Mostly I try to avoid ever talking to anyone about anything, but this book lays out for me concrete times and places and ways to use my privilege to benefit others. Surprisingly kind because withstanding a lifetime of abuse by society should enrage everyone. Our culture is cruel and dehumanizing and grossly unfair, and some days it is all I can do not to run screaming. This is what we have made and it is awful and cruel and murderous. It is prejudiced and short sighted and stupid and it is only the astounding grace and kindness of individuals in the worst moments that make it worthwhile.

I want to make life easier and better and more just for everyone and I thank Oluo for taking the time to share her wisdom and determination and to encourage me forward in the light. Right now feels very dark, so I am grateful to all those who can show me a way forward and give me hope not just that we can do better, but that we will rise up and choose to do better. Sometimes just looking after those closest to me is all I can manage and not even do that well. But more often I can listen, and learn, and witness, and maybe, just a little more, I can speak. And remember, every day that humankind is my business.

 

Library copy

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review 2018-10-04 23:59
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield  for Deadlands
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

[10/05/18  Edited to add: I managed to upload a bad picture of my bingo card.]

 

This is such a good book I want to be a better writer to do it justice in my review. Waiting longer for inspiration is just not on though: my memory will let the details blur and the experience fade. 

 

Setterfield is a writer who's greatest flaw is not being prolific. Actually, that may be the only flaw. She has once again crafted a work of fiction that has a convincing Victorian setting with a modern sensibility directing the reader's attention to characters and incidents that a true Victorian wouldn't, but logic suggests that they are all valid. She manages to tell quite a few stories and examples of the craft of storytelling within a greater story of amazing events. While many writers succeed at making a house a character within their fiction, Setterfield has made part of the Thames a character, nor was she stinting in permitting this character moods. Okay, on the winter solstice the usual group are sitting around drinking in the Swan, an inn distinguished by the storytelling within. The door opens, a man, his face a bloody mess staggers in clutching a large doll in his hands.

 

Over the course of one year we watch the repercussions of that moment: how it affects characters major and minor and also, this is the tricksy bit, we watch how those events become stories. Yes, many stories dependent on point of view, and skill, stories becoming more stories as that one event is observed (or not), in light of new events, and then, still later developments. The metaphor is well served: there is an attempt to trace the roots of the story back to the beginning, which you can't do any more than you can trace a river back, fractally there are always more branches feeding in.

 

There is so much: there are clever half-starved orphans, prosperous farmers, the family of innkeepers, the town midwife, the minister, servants and animals, wealthy distillery owners, thieves and blackguards, despite the extensive cast one never feels that the author is coasting by with stereotypes or with every character having the same voice. There is plot and pathos enough for Dickens, and despite the 21st century sensibility there's none of that business of giving a character clearly modern ideas.

 

There is, of course, a supernatural element as well as a few mysteries, dreadful crimes and moments of grace. Everything is here, told my a humanist in the Pratchett vein, but without the jokes and footnotes. It is a lovely, suspenseful book that I couldn't bear to put down in order to post updates. Read it soon: give it to yourself or someone you really like as a gift for one of the several solstice-adjacent holidays. Just the thing for long winter nights by the fire.

 

ARC from publisher

 

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