Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

Pain-Parties-WorkThat’s a long title. But the book itself is rather short and fantastic. It’s a non-fiction new release that focuses on Sylvia Plath’s summer internship with Mademoiselle magazine and the culture of the early fifties. The novel is comprised of pictures, fashion tidbits, and anecdotes from Sylvia’s diaries as well as the other ladies who interned alongside her. You also get a brief synopsis of Plath’s short life before and after her internship to give you a fuller picture of her trials and tribulations.

Winder’s purpose in writing this novel seems to be showcasing a Sylvia Plath in opposition to the typical mythology. Instead of a bleak, suicidal existence, we are privy to a 20 year old girl out living life to its fullest. Bright red lipstick, a vibrant dating life, and a vivaciousness that’s hard to imagine in someone who will attempt suicide for the first time in a few short months. Winder proves that Plath is so much more dynamic and so much more interesting than her death scene. I loved that and was thankful to see her so thoroughly fleshed out.

Having read The Bell Jar several times, I was surprisingly shocked to see just how autobiographical a character Esther was. In so many ways, Winder’s novel and Plath’s novel are like twin sisters. I think reading these books back-to-back might be a very fascinating authorial case study into the life of such a prolific human being. I can also see Pain, Parties, Work being a successful educational text – not just because of its academic qualities, but also because the book is just so dang readable. I think high schoolers and college kids alike would eat this up.

I’d recommend this look into Sylvia’s young adulthood to anyone who has ever been even remotely interested in Plath’s life, her writing, or even just the culture of the 1950s – particularly the feminine culture. I think this book could easily be read as a history of a certain time period and interest those readers who aren’t even invested in Plath herself. A great addition to any non-fiction collection. A short work that’s so accessible to any reader or even a non-reader. I’ll definitely be seeking out a finished copy for my permanent shelves!

Bonus:

Sylvia loved New York City and that love shines through here! I loved reading about the city in 1953. You really feel like you’re walking the streets alongside Sylvia and all her friends.

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Thank you so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of the book in return for my honest review! Please visit the TLC website for other tour stops!

About the Author:

Elizabeth-WinderElizabeth Winder is also the author of a poetry collection. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Review, the Antioch Review, American Letters, and other publications. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University.

 

 

 

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Edith Wharton at Home by Richard Guy Wilson

13330391My second Wharton post takes a look at a non-fiction book dedicated to the house she lovingly designed and built called The Mount. Located in Lenox, Massachussetts, Wharton lived here from 1902 to 1911 when she permanently moved to France. The Mount was her first full scale house project overseen by her from the ground up. And what a beauty it is.

I love houses and interior design so I was very pleased to discover that Wharton had passions for both subjects as well. In fact, her very first published book was on the art of interior decorating. How many people knew that? I didn’t. She also wrote books on garden design and loved traveling to such places as France, Italy, and England to draw inspiration.

At Home documents Edith’s early childhood briefly before delving into her first house projects – those homes she occupied during the beginning of her marriage in Newport, RI and New York City. The novel quickly moves on to the first design ideas of The Mount and the chaos involved in building such an estate. The reader also gets quite an impression of the ‘gilded age’ with all its splendor and money. Several famous architects are discussed as well as first hand anecdotes of the society that visited Edith in her many homes.

Stepping inside The Mount once it’s finished is breathtaking. The pictures throughout the book are stunning – some literally taking my breath away. I cannot imagine living in such monstrosities and was amazed to learn that Wharton’s house was built on a rather narrow budget!! I also adored thinking of her sitting in The Mount’s corners, writing away at Ethan Frome.

I wouldn’t recommend At Home to everyone, just those of you would might really enjoy a book devoted to architecture, beauitful stately homes, and Edith Wharton. You get a real sense for who Edith was and how her passions filled her writings. The book reads very easily and didn’t feel dry a single time. The pictures are worth the rather large price tag – sometimes I would find myself just staring at them, wishing I could walk the gardens (which I totally can and plan on doing someday!). Such a gorgeous addition to my collection!

Bonus:

Hearing of Edith Wharton through the words of her great friend, Henry James.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

8664353I love narrative non-fiction; I really do. Throw in anything related to WWII and normally I’m sold. But Laura Hillenbrand also wrote Seabiscuit which is about a horse. Horses, I do not love. I recognize their beauty, but they bore me to death. For some reason and despite the overwhelming number of people to recommend Unbroken, I avoided this novel written by the lady who wrote an entire novel about a horse. I was afraid.

Color me stupid. What an utterly ridiculous excuse not to read this novel which turned out to be one of the best books I read in 2012 (that post is coming soon!). Hillenbrand is a genius and Louie Zamperini’s story is breathtaking. The things that man accomplished and survived – from celebrated Olympic athlete to WWII bombardier and Japanese POW, I could not believe how richly his life unfolded. But even more than these amazing feats, I enjoyed his ‘aftermath’ story the most. It wasn’t nearly as flashy, but hit home on such a deeply emotional layer than I can only tell you that Hillenbrand is, in fact, a narrative non-fiction goddess.

I really don’t know what else to say that won’t just end up being a gushy mess all over this post. You must go read this yourself if you haven’t yet. Throughout the narrative are pictures, bits of historical data, and fascinating sideways plots (I’ll always remember you, Lost) come together flawlessly to create not only Louie’s story, but the story of an entire generation. I love that Hillenbrand, while focused on Louie, also gives much deserved attention to the important people in Louie’s life and other brave men and women who have stories that probably will never grace the pages of their own bestseller.

I really can’t find one single, solitary criticism. By the end of Louie’s story I was grinning like a mad fool – especially at the picture of him skateboarding in his 70s or 80s. Mr. Zamperini, you are a true American classic and Ms. Hillenbrand, I’d pick you over all others to pen my own biography. I’d even allow you to include a horse or two.

Pssssst…should I read Seabiscuit? Someone convince me in the comments. It won’t take much.

Recommendations: I Need Them!!

Hey guys and gals, fellow readers, and amazing bloggy friends – I need some recommendations!  I’ve been craving some great political non-fiction that is engaging, tackles multiple issues from multiple sides, and can help fill the void of astute political debate I’ve enjoyed participating in these past few months leading up to the election.  I am a political junky – so no topic is off limits!  Just point me in the direction of something you’ve enjoyed or someone you know and trust has enjoyed!  And mucho thanks in advance!!

I do also have one minor additional request – if you recommend something very left-leaning or very right-leaning, do you know of something similar on the other side to balance out the argument?  I am a total Independent and can truly listen to dozens of arguments about the same issue.  It makes me happy and then I feel much better informed.  THANK YOU!

Some topics I’m particularly interested in:

Global Warming (Darn you, Flight Behavior!  Something other than Al Gore!)

Race/Class Warfare/Social Issues

Religion

Political Theory especially as pertains to our two-party structure

HISTORY – I love reading about all the Prezzies!

Foreign Policy (Particularly the Middle East)

Education

The South