A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II tells an exciting story of well-timed war games that allowed the British navy to create new, successful strategies to overcome the dreaded German U-boats and allow supplies to flow into the UK. Unfortunately, the war games are buried into all kinds of other details and extraneous stories (and longish discussions of naval warfare, whichI found unbearably tedious).
The heroine of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is losing her mind. Her make psychiatrist seems more interested in making her fit the severely restricted life that South Korean women are expected to lead rather than hearing her story. The book is told in his notes, which miss the point so utterly that we know she will never get better, not through his ministrations at least.The story oozes drama even as the style remains clinically dry. It’s chilling.
In the style of Julie and Julia, the author of This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World — and Me explores Weight Watchers as she researches the life of its founder, the irrepressible Jean Nidetch, who transformed herself from a Queens housewife to the founder of perhaps the most successful weight-loss business in the world. The biography is fascinating, including the many anecdotes that remind us how hard it was for women to work and be taken seriously in the 60s. The personal history is less fascinating, but stays within reasonable bounds.
The heroine of Lost and Wanted is a theoretical physicist at MIT, who went to Harvard for her undergraduate degree and then on to Princeton. The author obviously needs us to remember these important facts because she repeats them every few pages, at least for the first half of the book. And the friends and associates of said heroine also went to Harvard and are teaching at Cal Tech and sundry assorted universities, waiting for their Nobel prizes. (There are a few associates who, horror, seem to have attended community colleges. Perhaps it’s no surprise that they seem remarkably human and successful in their lives.)
The heroine is prone to long digressions about space and particles, as irrelevant as her limited set of friends. All that for a (sadly) banal story of sexual harassment that manages to be told without much human warmth. Read something else.
I’ve been reading this series in reverse order (see The Bird Boys) and the first book in it, The Do-Right, is as accomplished as the second. In it, the PI’s assistant just left prison and is trying to reconstruct a life on no money, an elusive job search, and a host of characters in a small town in the South. I very much enjoyed this portrait of a strong woman who needs to hide a bit to be accepted.
A History of the Wife takes us from antiquity to today, with most of the book — and perhaps the less interesting part, because the most familiar one — covering the last hundred years in the US. The author shows the evolution of the concept of wife, from chattel to subjugated to a more egalitarian view of marriage through documents and letters. It feels like high-status women are sometimes over-represented since they are the ones who kept journals (or whose husbands could write about them!) but the slow transformation is fascinating, including the anachronistic developments (such as divorce being pretty easy in Roman times). A great book for anyone who is married or thinking about getting married.
No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History both traces the history of how older women have been treated throughout American history and tells many anecdotes of specific women. I found the first theme most accomplished, in particular as it highlights the surprising ups and downs of women’s status (I suppose I should say it’s surprising to see that there were many ups). The anecdotes are interesting but the main focus seems to be on politics and entertainment, so mostly prominent women, and it would have been good to consider more average women. Still, a very readable and entertaining book.
I find spy novels ridiculous and, although American Spy is elaborately staged and includes a clever family and romantic back story, I did not enjoy the spying bits, of which they are many. But you might!
Olive, Again continues the story told in Olive Kitteridge, with the heroine a little older but still blunt, practical, and just a little detached to fully commune with family and friends, to everyone’s dismay. It’s sweet and sad.
The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History tells the stories of the female artists who, when allowed by a fiercely male-dominated system, contributed essential story lines and lovely details to Disney movies. Think Dumbo’s “Baby Mine” song, or Cinderella’s mice. It’s astonishing that their names did not appear in the credits, as did many of their male counterparts’, that they worked on minute salaries, and that they were the first to be fired when the studio hit financial troubles. Along the way, the author also talks about the many technological changes that transformed animated movies–and we get to revisit all the classic movies. A treat.