One Reason to Like Recent Fiction

I love classic literature that was written decades or centuries ago. But one advantage of more recent lit is that it features more women and people of color in prominent professions — such as medicine, law, academia, the media, and politics.

Older fiction has mostly white males as doctors, attorneys, professors, publishers, etc. — which of course reflected real life at the time. Female and “minority” characters tended to be homemakers, secretaries, laborers, craftspeople, servants, governesses, one-room-schoolhouse teachers, and so on — with many of them frustrated that societal norms didn’t allow them better job opportunities.

Obviously, long-ago classics featured some exceptions — including preacher Dinah Morris in George Eliot’s Adam Bede, journalist Henrietta Stackpole in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, and the title characters in Mark Twain’s historical novel Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and Eugene O’Neill’s play The Emperor Jones. But those cases were relatively rare — and the characters were often “punished” in some way for their prominence, or eventually became stay-at-home wives/mothers.

Which reminds me that Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables and its many sequels is a brilliant girl who later becomes a teacher and college student (in that order) — but then ends up as a homemaker. She is happily married (to Dr. Gilbert Blythe), a great mother, and an admired person who retains intellectual interests, but it’s all a bit disappointing after her early promise. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne novels were set during a time of more restricted gender roles, but the author did break the mold by having the title character in her semi-autobiographical Emily trilogy become a professional writer.

Sometimes, women and people of color in older novels fared okay if they were prominent in the arts or entertainment fields. For instance, while her life was by no means perfect, renowned opera singer Thea Kronborg did pretty well for herself in Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark.

Accomplished women often felt/still feel that they have to choose between professional success and marriage/parenthood, while men have less trouble attaining both. That’s of course the case in fiction as well as real life.

Life can also be hard for the rare females and “minorities” who don’t know “their place” in novels written recently but set in earlier times. For instance, Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures co-stars amateur fossil hunter Mary Anning, whose expert 19th-century work was mostly dismissed because of her gender (and because she was working-class). Madison Smartt Bell’s All Souls’ Rising features Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture, a brilliant military and political leader who couldn’t indefinitely overcome overwhelming odds.

Obviously, tons of recent books that are not historical novels feature women and people of color in prominent jobs. I’ll name just a few.

Female professors? In such works as Alison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs (Virginia Miner) and Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride (Tony Fremont), while academics in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty include female prof Claire Malcolm and black prof Monty Kipps.

Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters focuses on several young Nigerian intellectuals in various fields, while Terry McMillan’s novels include African-American women such as Stella Payne (a stockbroker in How Stella Got Her Groove Back) and Savannah Jackson (a TV producer in Waiting to Exhale).

In the health-care field, we have pharmacist Zandy and psychiatrist-in-training Clarissa in Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company — among many other examples of medical people populating recent novels.

We also have attorney Reggie Love in John Grisham’s The Client, prominent law-enforcement agent Julia Sorenson in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novel A Wanted Man, computer wiz Kat Potente in Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, politician Alma Coin in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, and publisher Erika Berger in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc.).

Who are some of your favorite female and “minority” characters holding prestigious positions in both recent and older literature?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else. Also, please feel free to read through comments and reply to anyone you want; I love not only being in conversations, but also reading conversations in which I’m not involved!)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

145 thoughts on “One Reason to Like Recent Fiction

  1. Dave, I went to lunch with my best friend today, and I was telling him about your latest blog post and how I and others had mentioned Miss Marple. He reminded me that this character was very much like that of Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury (“Murder She Wrote”). He said that she was also like Miss Marple in that she was much smarter than any of the male professionals. I used to enjoy the TV series, though I never read any of the books based on it. I did however remember that Angela Lansbury appeared once as Miss Marple in the film version of “The Mirror Crack’d” and that some think that the Jessica Fletcher character was based on a combination of Miss Marple, Agatha Christie herself and Ariadne Oliver (another of Christie’s characters appearing in some of the Hercule Poirot novels). Of course that is from Wiki, and not always reliable. Another gem I got from Wiki was that Christie was unhappy with a stage production of one of her novels that changed an older unmarried woman into a young girl, and because of that she developed Miss Marple. I hope that is true.

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    • Kat Lib, that’s a fantastic anecdote about Agatha Christie’s creation of Miss Marple! I hope it’s true, too. She was reacting to yet another example of how movies, plays, etc., often take literature’s great female characters and make them younger and more glamorous.

      Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher — definitely some similarities! I’ve never read the books, either, but did watch “Murder She Wrote” sporadically back in the day.

      Thanks for the great comment — and for talking about my blog post at lunch. 🙂

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  2. from wikipedia:

    “Nellie Bly is the protagonist of the 2014 historical murder mystery novel The New Colossus by Marshall Goldberg…”

    One of the earliest and most famous female newspaper reporters, in 1889, Bly most famously emulated character Phineas Fogg in Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, going around the world even faster: 72.

    So, Nelly Bly is now a fictional character as well as a real person whose most famous exploit was to copy (and best) the doings of a fictional character.

    Like I always say: life imitates art imitating life.

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    • Wow — fiction and nonfiction in sort of a continuous loop! Amazing!

      One of these days I’d love to reread some of Jules Verne’s novels. I read four or five of them as a teen, but nothing since.

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      • Same here! I did read a Verne story recently, in Joanne C. Kessler’s Demons of the Night, a collection of 19th century French fantastic short fiction in translation. Of all the stories therein, I felt Verne’s Master Zacharias came closest to something Hoffmann might have done, and not by accident, but rather with skill, close observation and realized intention. I’m sure he’s worth a revisit or three.

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        • Verne WAS good. I guess he gets pigeonholed by some as a YA writer, but his work is definitely grown-up caliber. Often sci-fi/adventure, but real literature, too. (Of course, sci-fi/adventure and real literature are not incompatible!)

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  3. “Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture, a brilliant military and political leader who couldn’t indefinitely overcome overwhelming odds.”
    Somewhere around here I’ve got a biography of the man written in the 1920’s, and as I recall, illustrated and thinnish. What wasn’t in it, and needs more circulation, is one odious outcome of his nation’s fight for independence:

    From a letter submitted by the Office of International Lawyers (BAI) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), as well as that from Haïti Liberté.

    “Haiti’s current economic crisis and political turmoil have their roots in the “odious debt” of 150 million gold francs (later reduced to 90 million) which France imposed on the newborn republic with gunboats in 1825.

    The sum was supposed to compensate French planters for their losses of slaves and property during Haiti’s 1791-1804 revolution, which gave birth to the world’s first slavery-free, and hence truly free, republic. It is the only case in world history where the victor of a major war paid the loser reparations.

    In fact, French colonial losses were only an estimated 100 million gold francs, if one stoops to placing monetary value on human slaves.

    This extortion, perhaps more than any other 19th century agreement, laid bare the hypocrisy of France’s1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, modeled on the 1776 American Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed: “Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights.” The U.S., which assumed the debt in 1922, proved itself equally insincere in respecting this fundamental democratic principle for which it claims paternity.

    It took Haiti 122 years, until 1947, to pay off both the original ransom to France and the tens of millions more in interest payments borrowed from French banks to meet the deadlines.”

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    • Thank you, jhNY, for bringing up such an important (and horrendous) thing. I read about that debt somewhere — I forget where; definitely not in a sanitized high school history textbook — and it really is one of the most disgusting financial “agreements” ever. A financial “agreement” that took an incalculable human toll. People like to think Haiti’s poverty is its own fault. It’s largely the fault of France and the U.S. (with assistance from some sell-out Haitian leaders seeking riches and power).

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  4. “In the health-care field, we have pharmacist Zandy and psychiatrist-in-training Clarissa in Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company — among many other examples of medical people populating recent novels.”

    Decades ago now, but once a brand-new female character with real and terrible power in the mental health-care field: Kesey’s Nurse Ratchet, from One Flew Over, etc.

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  5. In unrecent fiction, though there are many wives and mothers and sisters who strain under various forms of domestic tyranny,I recall a female character who was anything but retiring or subservient– autocratic and regal would be more fitting adjectives in her case. Also, tyrannical,hot-headed and downright dangerous. I refer to Lewis Carroll’s The Red Queen.

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  6. Great topic on International Women Day Dave !
    The protagonist in ” Grey Mountain” by John Grisham is Samantha Kofer, was a graduate of Georgetown and Columbia Law — is a third-year associate at a huge New York law firm until 2008 when recession hit the Country.

    She was offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay until Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to help real people with real problems.
    Mattie has kept the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic alive for 26 years. Every single employee in that firm is a woman including another lawyer.
    Samantha`s mother herself is a high powered lawyer in Washington.

    Then of course Miss Marple Agatha Christie`s famous private eye was mentioned before.

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    • Thanks, bebe! That novel sounds excellent, with strong women characters. Nice description of it! John Grisham once again puts some social-justice content into his great writing.

      And, yes, Miss Marple!

      My posting of the column on International Women’s Day was a coincidence. I should have thought of that, and mentioned IWD in the piece. 🙂

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      • Millennium’s editor in chief, Erika Berger is a powerful female character in all the three books.
        Blomkvist in Millinium Triology was an investigative journalist and co-owner of the monthly magazine Millennium based out of Stockholm, Sweden.

        Erica despite her being married and Blomkvist`s irrepressible attitude penchant for tomcatting were occasional lovers, and have been since book one and had relaxed attitude toward sex and her husband often slept with men.

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  7. Dorothy Gilman wrote a whole series of novels about Emily Pollifax who becomes an accidental operative for the CIA. Mrs. Pollifax was an elderly widow who was bored just staying at home and participating in her local garden club so she volunteers for the CIA and gets accepted for an assignment through a ridiculous series of mistakes. The books are fluffy and entertaining, and I enjoyed them immensely. They made a couple of movies about Mrs. Pollifax, the first starring Rosalind Russell and the last starring Angela Lansbury. Neither one of these great ladies fit MY mental image of Mrs. Pollifax. I would have cast either Helen Hayes or Ruth Gordon, both of whom were too old by then to play the part.

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      • That “Anonymous” thing happens sometimes, lulabelleharris. (I’ve investigated, and it’s not a surreptitious ad for the 1996 novel “Primary Colors” written by “Anonymous.” 🙂 )

        Those Emily Pollifax novels sound great! I love the premise. As for the two movies you mentioned, Hollywood does have plenty of expertise in miscasting!

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    • Lulabelle, I also read all of the Mrs. Polifax spy novels and found them very entertaining and quite humorous. When I went through a very serious, life-threatening health problem 25 years ago, Mrs. Polifax helped me get through it, along with the Harry Keleman mystery series, with the amateur sleuth being a Jewish rabbi (David Small). Quite a diverse duo, if you will.

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  8. Dave! Ah, yes, the differences between what’s expected of women today vs. yesteryear. These expectations are largely created by women themselves. But to enumerate a few: career, raising kids in a challenging era, aging parents, and some are even try to achieve great culinary heights! No wonder the psychological thriller is such a popular genre today!

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    • Terrific comment, Cathy, with a great last line!

      I agree that many expectations are created by women themselves, but I think many (not all) men and male-run institutions also have a lot to do with making things more difficult for women. 😦

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      • I agree with both you and Cathy. I honestly don’t know how other women could have a career and raise children and take care of aging parents. I came of age in the first wave of feminists, and my biggest problem was that I was turned down for a car loan for “not being stable enough,” which meant that I was a single woman (at a time when many women needed their husband’s OK in order to get a credit card in her name). I was emboldened by the feminist movement to go directly to my bank and accuse them of gender discrimination. I won that fight. Anyway, Dave, since I have now reached the age of 65, without a husband or kids, am I now considered an “elderly spinster” like Miss Marple? 🙂

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        • Thanks, Kat Lib. Some kinds of blatant sexism (such as you experienced with the car loan; great that you fought that!) are mostly gone. But so many problems remain — less pay for the same work, less chance for promotion, women judged more by their looks than men are, exhausted women with jobs who also take care of their children and their parents more than many men do, etc. And prejudicial attitudes remain toward single women, women without kids, women WITH kids, older women, etc.; the patriarchal establishment seems to make life difficult for so many people. (I know I’m not saying anything you don’t already know about!)

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          • I noticed that you didn’t weigh in on whether I was an elderly spinster or not, which I know isn’t something that we talk about these days, thank goodness! I think most women today are faced with things that I didn’t have to deal with nor even my mom, who had six kids. Mothers today are held to a much higher standard. They have to breast feed, then all food must be natural or organic, whatever that means, and children must be exposed to all things artistic and cultural, not to mention that they should never ever leave them for a second in a car or at home before they are how old? I don’t even know what the age is for leaving a child on its own.

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            • I think “spinster” or “elderly spinster” are such negative, sexist terms. Adults should be “labeled” as either women or men — whether single, married, or whatever. In some ways being single is harder, in some ways it’s easier. And as you say, being a parent today is often much different than it was in our parents’ generation.

              My wife was single until age 46, and she was able to do many things a married person would have had more trouble doing — joining the Peace Corps, moving to New Zealand for a couple of years, etc.

              Well, those are my disjointed thoughts. 🙂

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              • Wow…on your wife . Living in Midwest most of my adult life Dave…I cringe every time when a man addresses me as ” young woman”, it is used less and less still it feels like talking down to someone.

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                • Getting called “young woman” does sound patronizing, bebe. The Midwest is great in many ways (certainly a friendlier feeling there than in the NYC area where I live), but it’s as sexist as anywhere else!

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                  • Ha..hope they don’t say..hey you ..
                    Thanks Dave for correcting my silly typo above, so often I postbbeforw crossing the t’s dotting the i’s. I’ll be back later. 😉

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                    • Thread’s maxed, so:

                      Believe it or not, I was called ‘young man’ by various clerks when I was in my fifties, though I do admit much less often than when I was younger, yet…. no worries now. That’s all behind me. The greying of my temples has conferred a spurious maturity to my whole person, apparently.

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                    • Thanks, jhNY! Like you, I haven’t been called “young man” in a number of years. And while I have an affinity for Neil Young’s music, I haven’t been called a “Young man,” either. 🙂

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                  • Not the same thing, of course– but I get a thrill (very small) watching twenty-something grocery cashiers type in the age of the beer-purchaser (me) without asking for ID, as I definitely look well past legal, yet always guessing wrong by at least a decade. Of course, it may just be that these folks can’t imagine anybody’d still be alive if they were born way back when I was, and so, guess the furthest year back imaginable to themselves….

                    Oops— now the thrill is gone.

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                    • Interesting, jhNY, and I loved your funny concluding line! For me, gray hair is the killer; I’d look younger than my age if that hair was still partly brown. 🙂

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                • What I really hate are people who are calling me in a doctor’s office or hospital, and especially those who cold call me on the telephone, as Mrs. so and so. In the former cases, I merely say, please call me by my first name, and in the latter I usually say, “There’s no Mrs. living here.” Whatever happened to “Ms.”?

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              • That’s awesome. I’ll bet your wife is a VERY interesting and well-rounded person, Dave. I’ve been reading all the comments and have absolutely nothing new to contribute, but I just had to respond to this; you’re absolutely right — we should be “labeled” as men or women. Period. Have a great week, Dave 🙂

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                • Thanks, Pat! I get the sense that there are many well-rounded people who comment here. 🙂

                  Rereading this conversation, including the part about “Ms.,” it made me think once again that it’s ridiculous for there to still be categories for women (“Miss” and “Mrs.”) but not for men (just “Mr.”).

                  Have a great rest of the week, too!

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                  • Hey Dave, you made me remember a discussion I had years ago with a man in which I said that when I was living in the South, that at that time, everyone, whether a man or woman, called all women “Miz,” He laughed because he had gone to school on North Carolina, and he agreed with me.

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                    • “Miz”! I remember hearing that during my visits to the South and reading it in some southern literature, Kat Lib. Is it a variation of “Miss” or “Mrs.” or both? I wish it was a variation of Ms., but I’m guessing not…

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                    • No, Dave, it was just the generic version of the inability of Southerners to differentiate between Miss and Mrs., at least that was my experience.

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  9. Toni Morrison created two characters in “Sula” (Sula and Nel) who were developed quite differently. Both grew up in poverty in a small Ohio town, but their lives were as different as night and day. Nel opted for the traditional roles as wife and mother whereas Sula wanted more out of her life. She grew up in that environment and wanted to explore to see what else the world had to offer besides home life and motherhood.

    She escaped to the city, attended and graduated from college, worked nice jobs, wore nice clothes, and had an active social life. Those things were unheard of in the 40s for women (especially for women of colour). Her eventual return to her former home in Ohio was not a pleasant one. She made the mistake of bringing her big city attitude and experiences to a small, socially conservative town.

    The reactions of the townspeople were the same as today when it comes to the rural/urban divide and social roles of women. Sula was castigated and labeled as a loose woman, a sinner, and hit with other ridiculous labels just because she wanted to make something out of her herself in the big city. And it was disappointing to see that most of her main critics were other women. Women have choices. Some opt for traditional lifestyles, some opt for something more fulfilling for them. No reason why both choices can’t be respected.

    And I can’t leave this topic without mentioning the one man of colour who came from very humble beginnings and is one of the most well-respected, most powerful men in the world…President Barack Obama. In Dreams from My Father, the president details his life from his days in Hawaii to his early political career as an Illinois senator.

    Reading his book, you can’t help but to be fascinated by his background. It’s almost hard to connect the young boy who grew up as a victim of so many social ills with the man in the White House that we see today. And for me, his background is especially intriguing because I share some of his characteristics (biracial, one African parent, fluent in a foreign language, and have an international background). Some of the -isms and cultural/racial problems he experienced in America, I can relate to). Regardless of how people may feel about his politics, no one can deny the impact he has made on history.

    *Quick shout out and high-five to jhNY and bebe. My summer itinerary is complete, and yours truly will be in Nashville mid-July. I think it goes without saying that I will be doing some top-notch partying downtown and on Music Row. Don’t worry though…I will have fun for the both of you. LOL*

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    • Hi, Ana. At some point I was going to bring up the speech that President Obama gave in Selma on Saturday. I didn’t see it live, but I read the text, then watched it on video. I just thought it was a magnificent speech, just the words themselves were so moving. I mentioned below about “The Secret Life of Bees. I’d forgotten until I picked up my copy today that the reason Rosaleen ends up in jail, to be sprung by Lily, had to do with her very strong desire and attempt to get her voting card. Now we seem to be going backwards when it comes to voter ID laws.

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      • I subscribe to the PBS Newshour channel on Youtube, and watched his speech once it was uploaded. The president’s words and delivery were masterful, as always. You have to appreciate the historical significance of that moment. 50 years ago in that city, black people were violently attacked for exercising their constitutional rights and fighting for social justice. Fast forward, and our first black president, along with the first black US Attorney General and head of the Justice Department, spoke to commemorate those events from 50 years ago. Incredible.

        As far as the voter ID laws go, I want Democrats to beat Republicans at their own game. While these ridiculous laws are working through the court systems, Democrats who don’t have proper ID need to start working on obtaining them now. We need a strong presence on election day in order to keep the White House, take back the Senate, pick up more seats in the House, and get rid of some these regressive Republicans in state legislatures (particularly in the blue states).

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        • I agree with you completely about the voter ID laws. Here in Pennsy, our former Governor and the state legislature pushed through a very strict photo ID law, and were stupid enough to say that it was done in an effort to elect Romney in 2012. I had the misfortune to need to go to the DMV to renew my DL, and it was a madhouse with long lines of people trying to get a photo ID. Fortunately, the law got overruled by the courts, so we didn’t need to show any ID in that election or any since then. We now have a Dem Gov, so hopefully this won’t come up again soon.

          I also need to read for the first time “The Bean Trees.” It’s one of my sister’s favorite books. I picked it up at the library last year, but the only copy was so used and dirty that I just returned it. I’ll have to download it on my Nook.

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          • Nice to see that Pennsylvania voters are trying to right their wrongs by getting rid of Gov. Corbett. It is so disappointing to see former Democratic strongholds across the Midwest, Rust Belt, and Mid-Atlantic fall like dominoes under Republican control. Kudos to PA for hanging in there.

            The Bean Trees is a great book. I really like how the plants and garden topics are sprinkled throughout the chapters. Learning about different seeds and plants was how the little girl Turtle started talking and thriving. I love rustic gardens anyway. The way Kingsolver described those veggies plants at the tire shop where Taylor worked made me wish I could be there gardening.

            BTW, I just read your other post where you mentioned you were 65. I hope I’m not out of place here, but I pegged you to be in your early 50s. 51, 52, no older than 53.

            55, 65, or 75, doesn’t matter your age…you’re cool and I’d still hang out with you.

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            • Thanks, Ana. I certainly don’t think of myself as being 65, and feel much younger, even if I need a cane to get around. As far as Kingsolver goes, she has a degree in biology and her knowledge about subjects of flora and fauna are probably unparalleled in modern fiction writers. And I’d definitely hang out with you too!

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    • Ana, wonderful description of — and thoughts about — those two “Sula” characters!

      As for President Obama, the arc of his life is more amazing than most novels. I respect him for that a lot. I do have mixed feelings about his politics (for instance, I wish he would take on Wall Street more, take on police violence against black men more, not be in favor of all this awful education “reform”/over-testing, etc.). But he has also done some good things despite rabid right-wing/racist opposition.

      Great that you’re going to Nashville this summer! bebe and jhNY will be very interested to hear about that. 🙂

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      • I think he has to play the hand that he’s dealt. I didn’t/don’t expect him to check off everything on the Liberal Wish list just because he’s a Democrat. Concessions have to be made.

        His responses to police violence is tepid at best (Republicans approve; Democrats disapprove) but he vetoed the Keystone Pipeline bill to protect the environment (Republicans disapprove; Democrats approve). He’s not going after Wall Street criminals with too much fervour (Republicans approve; Democrats disapprove), but the ACA is covering 10 million+ formerly uninsured Americans, and women’s health services, such as wellness visits and affordable contraceptives, have expanded under this bill (Republicans disapprove; Democrats approve).

        The most successful deals and negotiations are achieved when neither side walks away from the table happy.

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        • I hear you, Ana. Well stated! Obama can only do much with the hand he’s been dealt, and it’s good when compromise gets something rather than no compromise getting nothing. Also, as you note, Obama seems progressive on some issues.

          Still, on certain things, he’s even to the right of some Republicans — as with surveillance of Americans and with education “reform” that involves so much over-testing of students and profiteering by private “education” companies such as Pearson. Like Hillary Clinton, Obama seems at heart more of a centrist than a liberal. Still, he’s MUCH better than anything the GOP has to offer!

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            • I agree, jhNY — not a complete description, but it does fit him in a lot of ways. It also fits a number of his current and former administration higher-ups: Rahm Emanuel, Hillary Clinton, Timothy Geithner, Arne Duncan, etc.

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      • I hope you stop by Centennial Park for a few minutes during your visit because there are a lot of music events going on now through August. The Big Band dances start in June, and I’m not leaving Nashville until I’ve attended at least one.

        Love, love, love big band/swing music. Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Hot Lips Page, Duke Ellington, Una Mae Carlisle, Dizzy Gillespie, Henry Mancini…I bought so many of those artists’ albums (and others in that genre) from local record stores in Memphis and Jackson. Those businesses closed down years ago, so I treasure every record and album I purchased from them.

        Have a good weekend.

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        • I may just do that– Centennial Park was among my haunts when I was living in Nashville, and my little brother volunteered there as a guide for a few years, dispensing more information to the bewildered than anyone might reasonably have expected. During my long years away, as I’m sure you know, the interior of the Parthenon was graced by a statue of Athena, gilded and huge in context. The spear which she holds has a shaft donated by McDonald’s– it’s on of their flagpoles repurposed. Seems so Nashville-y to me, that detail.

          I am a fan of earlier jazz than swing– Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, etc. There is, most Sunday afternoons, a performance by enthusiasts of the music, themselves mostly professional musicians, usually at Dalt’s, a mall pub near Belle Meade. I’ve enjoyed seeing this core of players and their invitees as much as I’ve enjoyed seeing anything in years. If it sounds like something you might like, see the link below, and stop by when you visit! Be forewarned, however: if it unnerves you to see a room full of mostly seniors having a flat-out wonderful time, the experience may be hard to endure.

          https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nashville-Sunday-Jazz-Band/175934669117900

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          • Volunteer at Centennial…nice gig:)

            The Parthenon is a beautiful structure. I hope the museum is still open because I’d love to see what collections they have now. Last time I was there, I saw some artwork that had Civil War themes.

            Thank you a million times over for that link! I’m following the Nashville Jazz Workshop on Twitter now so I can keep up with the summer events of the Sunday Jazz band. I have no problem with the 50+ crowd. As long as people share common interests with me, they are open-minded, and know how to have a good time, I’ll hang out with ’em regardless of age.

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            • The Centennial celebration in Nashville took place on what had been L&N Railroad property; the first Nashville Parthenon, constructed, like most of the buildings made for the occasion, to be temporary and plaster. But Nashville residents could not bear to part with it when the centennial had passed, and for a while, the plaster Parthenon sufficed. But lawmakers and citizenry alike knew that it could not last, and so, a few years later,commissioned a permanent Parthenon out of cement, to be mixed with gravel dredged from the Cumberland River, so as to give it more of a local content.

              In sixth grade, my teacher was at retirement age. She had gotten her education at Peabody College for Teachers, and had often, as a young college student, studied in Centennial Park, a brisk twenty minute walk from campus. For a seat, she chose the huge molds employed to make our present cement and river stones Parthenon…. yep, I’m getting on a bit.

              As far as art inside that building is concerned, they have a nice collection, which I think is permanent, of American Impressionist paintings, and of course, lots of reproductions of frieze sculpture, etc., all over…

              In the gift shop, at one time it was possible to purchase a rubber Venus De Milo, about four inches high and hollow– it made a noise when grasped. The salesperson called it a “squeaky Venus”. Well worth purchase price, though after a few years, it had a meltdown, and looks unsettlingly now like the flayed man Michelangelo painted on the front wall of the Sistine Chapel.

              You are most welcome for the link. Should you get a chance to see the band, listen up for Dennis when he picks up the soprano saxophone– somehow, he makes it sound sweeter than anybody else I’ve heard. Anybody.

              Have fun in Nashville!

              Liked by 1 person

              • oh I miss the yearly art fair..at the Park…so many artisans displaying their work the the food corners there. Then parking becomes a big problem ” Borders / bread & company) across the street were always taken.

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    • How did I miss this…Hellooooooooooooo Ana…

      Going Nashville ? I wonder if Provence Breads & Cafe near Vandy and Music Row is still there . Great place for lunch or branch . Say hello to all there…the landscaping at Vandy , old trees…I remember a huge Hawk parked on a brunch there.
      Have fun….can`t wait to see some greens in here…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I should probably throw a couple of bathing suits in my luggage just in case we go up to Fall Creek. bebe, you have no idea how excited I am. I’m calling this my “Return to My Roots Tour.” It kicks off in Boston w/the Cape Verdean Festival, a day trip in NYC, overnight stay in Newark, then we’re headed to Nashville. If my husband is up to it, we’ll take a quick flight to Memphis to spend a day there as well.

        The Provence Breads I’m thinking about is near the airport. As far as I know, they’re still in business. At least, I hope they are still in business because I’m gonna want one of their yummy eclairs after we check into the hotel.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes you should look like you have it all planned. It will be so green at that time of the year perhaps you might get to go to the art fair at the centennial park..do check on that.
          Provence is near Vanderbilt a walking distance a nice place to stop by and to walk along the street.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, if you mean the place on 21st Ave (also called Hillsboro Road)– saw it from across the street in Fido’s last December.

        An aside–
        I hope it was not inside Provence while you were there, that brunching hawk– might still have been dangerous even while parked, especially if you happened to have a mouse in your pocket..

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes that where it is something some musicians drop by then the young women get starry eyes.
          Ha…No the hawk was inside Vandy campus, top of a tree in a cozy corner now I am thinking was it an owl…oops ..forgot. Perhaps aiming for those delivery lab mouse or rats…

          Liked by 1 person

          • In other raptor news around Nashville, the trip home before last, after visiting my folks, my wife and I were witness to a falcon at his workplace– the Nashville airport(!)

            Seems they employ the bird to put the fear of death, or worse, into sparrows which sometimes wander inside the terminal. He works mostly during off-hours. We arrived for our flight hours early, and so saw the falcon on the arm of his keeper as they were leaving.

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            • Evidently the keeper have his falcon as his bodyguard..obviously he thinks two legged birds are more trustworthy than two legged homosepians. ( my PC is not recognizing the word correcting it to homosexuals. NOT )

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              • Plato defined a human as a featherless, biped animal and was applauded. Diogenes of Sinope plucked a chicken and brought it into the lecture hall, saying: “Here is Plato’s human!”
                — Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Philosophers 6.40

                I am reminded of this incident by your comment. But only one of the two examples would look like food to a falcon…

                Liked by 2 people

                • Dave!

                  Here I have made, what for me, is a new kind of error, not unrelated to the anonymous problem that has sometimes plagued me. I mistyped my e-mail address, thus earning myself a new and hopefully unique decorative button, yet I retained, by typing my blog moniker correctly, my jhNY identity here.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Ha! Interesting, jhNY! Sounds like one could type in almost any email address and things would still work. Perhaps I’ll open a “geemail” account rather than a gmail account. After all, certain email messages evoke the reaction, “Gee!” 🙂

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Dave not only your weekly posts are fantastic the exchange between the posters on and off topic are absolutely terrific.
                      Thanks for opening up this forum for your readers.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Thank you very much for the kind words, bebe! I agree that the discussions are enjoyable and great — including the Nashville conversation I’m just watching. 🙂

                      Like

  10. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees has two great women characters: Taylor and Lou Ann. Taylor grew up in rural Kentucky where prospects were bleak. Her primary goals were to graduate from high school, avoid pregnancy, and leave Kentucky as soon as she could.

    All three goals were accomplished. She packed up her car after graduation and headed West. While at a diner in Oklahoma, a Mexican woman gave Taylor a child and told her to take care of the little girl because she had no one else to do so. Taylor was suddenly thrust into motherhood, which was something she really didn’t have an interest in. But rather than put her own dreams on hold and settle into a life that she wasn’t prepared for, she took the little girl (nicknamed her Turtle) with her on her journey.

    Along the way, Taylor and Turtle met a hodgepodge group of people who would later turn out to be their best friends. Lou Ann was one of those people. She was a young pregnant woman, married, and didn’t work outside the home. During the final weeks of her pregnancy, her husband Angel decided he didn’t want the responsibilities of having a family, so he left/divorced Lou Ann. Obviously, Lou Ann was devastated, but she didn’t fall apart at the seams. She got a job at a salsa-making factory. Started out as a line worker, then moved up to a management position. When Taylor and Turtle moved in, they decided to raise their children together.

    What I really liked about this book was how the female characters were not developed as helpless creatures. Taylor made it up in her mind that she would not drop out of high school, she was in control of her reproduction and refused to have children at an early age like so many of her peers, and she lived her life on her own terms. Lou Ann did what so many single and divorced women have done forever and will continue to do when cowardly men abandon their families: she got a job, worked her way up to a higher position, and raised her baby.

    Taylor, Lou Ann, and their quirky mix of friends created a communal-style environment where everyone looked after each other. The children thrived, Taylor and Lou Ann made some discoveries about themselves, and they somehow made everything work. They weren’t doctors/lawyers/business owners, etc., but they were strong in their own way. I admire those type of qualities in people, especially in women.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for bringing up Barbara Kingsolver, Ana! So many strong, accomplished women in her novels.

      Among the many, many examples (in addition to the ones you so wonderfully mentioned and described) are Deanna the park ranger in “Prodigal Summer” and Violet Brown the secretary who’s much more than a secretary in “The Lacuna.”

      As you allude to in your comment, and as J.J. McGrath notes in his comment, characters don’t have to hold so-called “prestigious” positions to be people who do impressive things.

      Like

  11. Goodness, Dave, I hardly know where to start, but perhaps I’ll go with my first role model in detective fiction, Miss Marple. She didn’t have a profession, but it was refreshing to read about an elderly spinster who seemed to be having a fulfilling life without a husband or children of her own; yet she also was much more clever at solving mysteries than any of the male professionals, as well as brave in helping to catch the criminals. Most of the other women writing in the Golden Age had gentleman detectives, although their wives or women friends were usually accomplished women: Agatha Troy, artist (Ngaio Marsh); Marta Hallard, actress (Josephine Tey); and of course my favorite, Harriet Vane, mystery writer (Dorothy L. Sayers). Sayers devoted much of her penultimate Lord Peter novel “Gaudy Night” to Harriet, and to issues regarding doing one’s proper job and the role of women in education and society. Most of it takes place in a women’s college in Oxford, so there are many interesting conversations amongst Harriet, the female dons, and Lord Peter. I suppose it was in the late 70’s, early ’80’s that female private investigators became all the rage, from Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, and many others. I think all of these writers are still writing books in these series, but I have to admit that long-running series become tiresome after awhile and I haven’t read any of their newer books. I couldn’t even tell you which of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series was my last — perhaps M or N? But back when I first was reading them, it was so great to read about strong, smart and sexy women. The same can be said about the many crime thrillers I’ve been mostly reading lately. There are way too many to mention, but there are the female police detectives in both American and Scandinavian novels, FBI profilers, doctors, medical examiners, defense lawyers and prosecutors, professors, and judges. It’s also been noticeable that today there is much more diversity in crime fiction, with gay characters, Muslims, blacks and other people of color, ethnicity and religions. By the way, what did you think of “Mr. Penumbra’s…”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the terrific and VERY wide-ranging comment, Kat Lib!

      Miss Marple — great one! Either the first or among the first of many memorable women detectives, amateur or otherwise. As you say, a lot of them began appearing during the past 30 or 40 years. Wonderful that detective fiction, crime fiction, and mysteries have become so much more diverse, in gender and other areas.

      I’m enjoying “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” (I’m about 80% through it). Not a great novel, but a very good one. If I’m remembering right, you mentioned it under my blog post about tech in literature, and the book indeed has LOTS of tech while still retaining the human element.

      Like

      • You’re right about the blog post that I brought this up. The book is loaded with tech, so much so, that I’d read pages and not understand a word, but what kept me going was that I liked the characters so much.

        Ana’s comment above brought to mind several other Kingsolver books, which we’ve talked about often. Dellarobia in “Flight Behanvior” has her sheltered life expanded by the arrival of the Monarchs to her husband’s family’s land and finds a new purpose to her life, and Lusa in “Prodigal Summer” must learn how to keep her late husband’s farm going in spite of his family’s interference.

        Another novel that I was reminded of was “The Secret Life of Bees,” by Sue Monk Kidd, with the story of young Lily who runs away from her father with her black nanny, Rosaleen. They end up living with three black sisters in South Carolina, who are beekeepers, and they introduce Lily to many things, not the least of which are bees, honey and the Black Madonna. I loved all the female characters, especially the very wise August, and wished I could go live with them too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kat Lib, I also can’t understand a lot of the tech stuff in “Mr. Penumbra’s…,” yet, as you note, the novel and characters are engaging enough for the “digital density” not to detract from things.

          Thanks for naming two of Kingsolver’s many great female protagonists! (She’s also excellent at creating male characters, like Dellarobia’s kind of hapless husband and, in “The Lacuna,” Harrison the writer and McCarthy-era victim.)

          I just put “The Secret Life of Bees” on my to-read list because of your description. 🙂

          Like

      • Miss Marple may well have been the first female detective, but the other day, idly looking through books on a blanket for sale by a street merchant, I discovered: Anna Katherine Green, who wrote a bast-seller titled “The Leavenworth case”, which also served as the introduction for the first American series detective, Ebeneezer Gryce—- in 1878, nine years BEFORE Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes story. The liner notes in my Penguin Classic reprint refer to her as “the mother of the detective novel”, which is not the same thing as being the mother of the detective story, but is no small achievement in any case.

        I have yet to read it, but in time…..

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow — that’s so interesting! It’s a shame some true pioneers get lost or almost lost to history. (And “Ebeneezer Gryce” is quite a name!)

          I know of at least one detective novel (rather than, say, Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin stories) before 1878: Wilkie Collins’ 1868 classic “The Moonstone.” Perhaps Collins was the FATHER of the detective novel? 🙂 But, jhNY, did you once tell me there was another detective novel many years before 1868?

          Still, none of that diminishes Anna Katherine Green’s accomplishment.

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          • My pet peeve on this topic is merely this: it has been in the air for a great long time that EA Poe invented the detective story (though I don’t believe EA Poe would agree). ETA Hoffmann wrote a very early (published 1819), if not the earliest detective story– and it’s a long one, a novella– “Madamoiselle de Scudery”. I’d say that qualifies Hoffmann as The Father of the Detective Novel, unless somebody comes up with an earlier candidate. The only possible quibble is that a novella is not a novel– but that’s a bit too fine a distinction in my book. In any case, even if one were to cede the title of Father of the First Detective Novel to an author of a longer, thus entirely qualifying work, Hoffmann should still be considered as The Father of the Detective STORY at the very least– again, unless somebody comes up with an earlier candidate. In 1819, Poe was 12, and precocious I’m sure, but…

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks, jhNY, for refreshing my memory about Hoffmann! He sounds like both the father of the detective story and the father of the detective novel, because to me novellas are novels, albeit shorter ones.

              The only detective work a preteen Poe may have done was look for a happier upbringing…

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                  • Yes. Incidentally, if I remember right, the first edition of Poe’s first publication, possibly titled Tamerlane, or at least containing a version of the poem, is among the most rare and valuable of all American printed matter– think it came out paper-bound (and thin). Few were printed; far fewer survived.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • That does sound VERY valuable. (And, like many other people, I’m a big Poe fan.)

                      Decades ago, I read a YA novel — perhaps a Tom Quest book? — that I think had that rare Poe manuscript as a plot element. Can’t remember any details, though.

                      Like

                  • Thread’s maxed, so:

                    As a small boy, I was lucky to know my father’s friend, Manly Wade Wellman, who received an Edgar shortly before one of our visits. Naturally, the award occupied a place of prominence in the front room, and as it was porcelain, and I was four or five, I was repeatedly warned to stay away, which of course only focused my interest on the thing all the more, though fortunately I obeyed the warnings. Since then somehow, Poe has always been a person about whom I felt a sort of familiarity, even kinship, as well as admiration, though the latter came to me around ten, when I read most of his short stories. I intend over the next few years to reread him, and have gathered the appropriate materials aforehand.

                    About thirty years I ago, I dug a valuable item literally out of the trash: a bronze cast bas relief of Poe by a female sculptor, Edith Woodmon Burroughs, made in a small batch for members of the Grolier Club, an antiquarian book group founded in the late 19th century. There were even a very few cast in silver. One of these items is owned by the Met, and I saw one offered in a gallery here for $4,000– what it sold for, I can’t say. They were cast on the occasion of the centenary of Poe’s birth– in 1907.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • You had a very early Poe connection, jhNY! And glad you salvaged that bronze cast bas relief of him.

                      When I was perhaps 11 or 12, I was given a Poe short-story collection as a gift (still have the book, in falling-apart condition). I devoured those stories a number of times that year, and as a teen. Then I didn’t reread them until two or three years ago, but still remembered many lines despite the passage of several decades. Such a compelling writer!

                      Like

    • ” There are way too many to mention, but there are the female police detectives in both American and Scandinavian novels”– In the later Wallanders, his boss is female. And his daughter is a policewoman– who works under Wallander.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, jhNY!

        I’m drawing a blank on her name, but the female law-enforcement person in “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” (the third of Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster trilogy) was also quite memorable.

        Like

      • Three of my favorite Scandinavian series are those featuring Irene Huss, by Helene Tursten; Frederika Bergman, by Kristina Ohlsson (both from Sweden); and Louise Rick, by Sara Blaedel (from Denmark).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Do you see them on a cable channel I might be able to find? I used to watch such things on WorldMhz, but my carrier here reverted to an all-news format, and I am bereft.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I actually don’t know if any are on video, I just was referring to the book series. However, I did just read a report that the first three Kristina Ohllson books were going to filmed by a Nordic production group. The report is from late 2012, which said they’d be filming in 2013-2014, so who knows when or if they might show up here. It was interesting how both the Stieg Larrson trilogy and some of the Wallender novels were first adapted for film by Sweden, then they were re-done by either American or British production companies. The latter series that I have on DVD actually stars Kenneth Branagh as Wallender.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I guess I’ve just got Nordic tv drama on the brain, me assuming you meant dramatizations instead of books– on a book blog.

              One night I stayed up way too late and watched the Danish dramatization of the Stieg Larrson stuff– many hours (8?)– in one sitting. What I remember now: mostly a blur. One day I’ll dig it up someplace and watch it while entirely conscious.

              However, I did happen on both Swedish Wallanders– on World Mhz, by the way– and interviews with the director and star of the latter. What became obvious: the Swedish audience, and possibly the author, preferred Wallander’s second dramatic incarnation to the man who played him first. Me? I liked the first guy better, but only because I’d already seen the Branagh series– obviously based on the characteristics and portrayal of the first Swedish Wallander, and not the second.

              On the topic of Nordic police novels, have you read any of Ake Edwardson’s? I like them pretty well (have read three), though I do think the most unbelievable portions of them are the crimes themselves– it’s almost as if the author must force himself into realms of the unlikely just to have a crime. The procedural stuff, the office politics, the personal relationships– all done quite well. I think crime books written here often have the opposite problem.

              Thanks for the information in your reply!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, I did read one of the Erik Winter books, but I don’t remember which one although I liked it, and I think I picked up another one but I couldn’t get into it. But I think it was less the book than that I sometimes just don’t feel like reading that type of novel at that particular time. It took me a few years before I could read the other two novels in the Stieg Larsson trilogy. One of my favorite Nordic authors is Jo Nesbo, who wrote the great Harry Hole series (Norwegian), yet he has two stand-alone novels that I’m reluctant to buy.

                Liked by 1 person

                • I’ll be on the look-out for Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, though I must say the character name does give one pause. And assuming your refer to books translated or originally written in English, my only language.

                  Liked by 1 person

  12. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are some of your favorite female and “minority” characters holding prestigious positions in both recent and older literature? —

    The positions of the title character in Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” may be more informal than formal, but it is an undisputed fact in her fictional universe that her unflinching exercise of naked power was an unparalleled success in bringing about a political solution to a military problem, namely, the interminable Peloponnesian War, an action I believe was intrinsically prestigious: Blessed are the peacemakers and all that.

    On a directly related topic, I think Aristophanes could be best described to your average erudite 8-year-old in American contemporary society not as the Neil Simon but as the Jon Stewart of pre-Alexandrian Greece: It’s all about the references.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • Thanks, J.J., for the great mentions of Lysistrata and Aristophanes — and for the Neil Simon/Jon Stewart comparison that helps us modern folk understand the approach of a long-ago writer.

      You bring up an interesting angle to this — women or people of color who don’t hold prestigious positions per se, but informally wield plenty of power in the home or in wider spheres. Among the many examples in addition to yours would be the Duchess in Stendhal’s “The Charterhouse of Parma,” Lee in John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” Ma Joad in Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” Ursula Iguaran in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the title character in Thomas Hardy’s “The Hand of Ethelberta,” etc.

      Like

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