I have some absolutely wonderful books to review for you today.
The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith by Joanna Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book, and I love Joanna Brooks. I related to so much of what she said, from the evident nostalgia with which she recounted her childhood experience of growing up in the warm, safe certainty of the Mormon faith to the anguish of finding a “knot of contradictions” at the heart of her faith.
My struggles and doubts and questions about my faith have been somewhat different from hers, but my feelings are very similar, as is my tightrope walk to find a way to belong to the faith I love while dealing honestly with its sometimes troubling past (and present).
Joanna asks the hard questions, but she does it with grace and compassion. I cried through several parts of her book, because the things that kept her awake at night are similar to the things that keep me awake. I have said many of the same anguished prayers she describes. I love her for saying what so many of us are thinking, for working to build bridges of understanding between Mormons and non-Mormons, orthodox and not-so-orthodox believers, and for reassuring me that there is a place at the table for me.
The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have to say I was pretty sad to come to the end of the Palliser Chronicles, although this was in nowise my favorite of series. I mean really! What’s with [SPOILER]killing off Lady Glencora[SPOILER] in the first chapter?
The most interesting part of the novel, for me, was watching the evolution of 19th century society. It slowly dawns on the Duke that he is living in a different world from the one he inhabited as a young man. Where his beloved wife was coerced into marrying him by interfering relatives, his own children will have their way in marriage, whether that means his daughter marrying a penniless MP, or even worse, his son and heir marrying a (gasp!) gregarious American.
Plenty of the typical Trollope hilarity, with ridiculous English noblemen and excruciating social situations. I will dearly miss the world of the Pallisers.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve been going through the Development Economics course at Marginal Revolution University, and the professors recommend Diamond’s book. I really enjoyed reading it, not least because Jared Diamond is the sort of Renaissance man it is difficult to find in Academia nowadays. His book takes a broad-brush approach to history and attempts to answer some very fundamental questions about the development of civilizations and their interaction with one another.
I think anyone who has spent time in a developing country has asked themselves the question of why some peoples are on top and others are on the bottom. Diamond is passionate most of all about disproving the idea that any ethnic group of humans is genetically inferior to another. Instead, he postulates that the inequities between human societies arose largely as a result of geographical factors, among which were the availability of plants and animals for domestication and the axes of the various continents.
His arguments were fascinating and compelling, and although I’m sure they’re not the whole story, I’m equally convinced that they form a pretty significant part of it. However, my favorite parts of the book were the later chapters, where Diamond applies his theories over and over to different civilizations. I felt like I came away with a better picture of pre-history and early history, especially in places like Southeast Asia and Australia, of which I’d been previously completely ignorant. The only part I found a little bizarre was the end of the book, where Diamond (a specialist in physiology) draws a sort of road-map for how to make the disciplines of history and anthropology more scientific. Weird, but I guess you have to take eccentric geniuses as they come.
As a bonus, National Geographic did a great mini-series on Diamond’s ideas, which I am watching with my kids as we prepare to start a homeschooling unit on ancient world history.
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I admit, one of the reasons I liked this book was that it made me feel vindicated. When you are the mother of a daughter it is not easy to stem the flow of pink, pink, princesses, pink, and more pink, so it’s nice to have someone besides myself tell me that my sometimes herculean efforts really matter.
Orenstein lays out in pretty stark detail how our consumerist society’s constant insistence on pushing princesses and everything pink on girls contributes to the premature sexualization of our daughters, as well as depression, eating disorders, and drastically reduced opportunities, ambitions and abilities.
I was particularly struck by her chapter on child beauty pageants, which was predictably scathing, but also contextualized the pageants with frightening rationality as just another aspect of the girlie-girl culture that so many people see as innocent and innocuous. This quote from that chapter describing a mother getting her four-year-old daughter ready to perform at such a pageant was priceless:
“You look just like a princess!” the older woman exclaimed, and her daughter grinned. I recalled museum portraits I had seen of eighteenth-century European princesses–little girls in low-cut gowns, their hair piled high, their cheeks and lips rouged red–that were used to attract potential husbands, typically middle-aged men, who could strengthen the girls’ families’ political or financial positions. So yes, I thought, I suppose she does look like a princess.
Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was lucky enough to find a beautiful copy of this book at the library book store for $1. I remember it being one of my favorite books as a child, and it was out of print for a long time, so it’s not easy to find.
I loved this book as a child because it was so full of interesting ideas–how cultural evolution progresses, the ethical and moral dilemmas that arise when civilizations at different stages of development collide, and the essential humanity that transcends culture. It’s also told simultaneously from three different points of view, which is one of my favorite literary devices.
As well as being excellent thoughtful science fiction, this is a beautiful, nuanced retelling of The Faerie Queen. Reading it as an adult, I realize that it’s not quite as sophisticated or brilliantly written as I thought it was when I was ten years old, but I still think it’s a great book, and it’s definitely one I’d love for Axa to read in a few years.
6 thoughts on “Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Guns, Germs & Steel, and Book of Mormon Girl”
I so enjoyed reading your reviews – such an excellent assortment! I am intrigued by Enchantress, especially. I just might be on goodreads, but hesitate to have another site to keep track of. I will take another look.
From joy to joy,
Started watching “Guns” yesterday, and started Joanna Brooks’ book this evening.
Have you also had bad times with born again Christians? That chapter made me sad and irritated. Before meeting Mormons online, I only met one that I recall and it’s when we both were NC House pages in Raleigh years ago. I was 16, and it was less than a week of my life, but I still remember Stephanie. Her family had several children all with S names. We got along well, and ate together and talked during one of our meal breaks. I think that is the extent of my knowing Mormons in real life. They just are not numerous in my area, and the ones that are here have never made themselves known. I have seen elders shopping at Walmart, but none have ever come to my house presenting the faith.
I went to the library this afternoon and got it! I’m already reading Rachel Held Evans’ book on living a year of biblical womanhood, but I’ll probably read Brooks’ book at the same time. Fun!
Great, Susanne. I haven’t had a chance yet to discuss Joanna’s book with any non-Mormon friends, so I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts about it.
I just found the Nat’l Geo stuff on YouTube and marked them to watch later. And my library has Joanna Brooks’ book on the new book shelf. Yay!
Thanks for the recommendations!
Looks like great books. I am going to see if I can find a couple of them. Thanks!