Thursday, April 1, 2010
Recent additions to the Great Monstrosity that is my wishlist....
Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer
(Found at Rebecca Reads)
The erudite Lerer, whose Inventing English was enthusiastically reviewed in these pages, has now undertaken an ambitious, one-volume history of children’s literature. He begins in classical antiquity and ends with the salutary likes of Weetzie Bat (1989) and the Time Warp Trio, giving particular attention along the way—he being a philologist—to the language of literature, whether critical or narrative. Lerer does an extraordinary job of expanding our understanding of individual titles by richly contextualizing them in the world of their creation and stimulates readers’ imaginations by some surprising juxtapositions (Darwin and Dr. Seuss!). Though the book’s principal audience will be an academic one, general readers will find much of interest here as well.
Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West
In late October 1846, the last wagon train of that year's westward migration stopped overnight before resuming its arduous climb over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, unaware that a fearsome storm was gathering force. After months of grueling travel, the 81 men, women and children would be trapped for a brutal winter with little food and only primitive shelter. The conclusion is known: by spring of the next year, the Donner Party was synonymous with the most harrowing extremes of human survival. But until now, the full story of what happened--and what it tells us about human nature and about America's westward expansion--remained shrouded in myth. A fast-paced, heart-wrenching, clear-eyed narrative history, Desperate Passage casts new light on one of America's most horrific encounters between the dream of a better life and the harsh realities such dreams so often must confront.
Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres
In nineteenth-century England, girls were most commonly educated by governesses; the system was also a way of absorbing the country’s "huge pool of spinsters." (The 1851 census found that thirty per cent of women above the age of twenty were single.) For upper- and middle-class women forced to earn a living, it represented one of the only respectable employments, and often a dreaded inevitability: after succumbing to the profession, in 1820, Claire Clairmont, the cosmopolitan stepsister of Mary Shelley and the mother of Byron’s child, wrote in her journal, "Think of thyself as a stranger and traveller on the earth, to whom none of the many affairs of this world belong." This exploration of the lives of six governesses is as entertaining as the contemporary works of fiction such lives inspired ("Jane Eyre" chief among them), and although the bulk of the primary source material is not new, Brandon displays a keen understanding of a complex educational system that kept its subjects ignorant even while purporting to enlighten.