So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography

The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, My First Life (1906-1926) by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

The Rebel Girl is a memoir by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn of her early work as a Socialist labor organizer for the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). The first chapter tells of her life growing up in an Irish-American family. Her mother was an Irish nationalist and a feminist while her father was a Socialist. When she was 16 Elizabeth gave her first speech at a New York Socialist meeting on the rights of women.

She was so good at public speaking that it became her life's work, traveling all over the US while still a teenager. Mining towns in the Rockies and Minnesota, lumber camps in the Northwest, textiles strikes in Massachusetts and New Jersey are all places she went to help workers fight for safe working conditions and living wages.

Later on she talks of ideological struggles within the IWW leadership, her two marriages and raising a child, World War I, and the oppressive atmosphere in the US after the war against the Left. The Rebel Girl ends with the trial and appeals for the two Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.

The book was meant to be the first volume of her autobiography covering 1906 to 1924, her years before joining the Communist Party, and was first published in 1955. She died before she could complete the second volume which was to cover the 35 years she spent as a Communist.

Flynn is a great writer and tells her story of the early 20th century labor movement well. As a first person account, it is full of detail and personal perspective. At times I longed for a more objective account of some events for balance and this book has encouraged me to read further about the events described.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society by Edith Van Dyne (L. Frank Baum)

Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society is the 5th in a series of 10 novels written by L. Frank Baum under the pseudonym Edith Van Dyne. The series is about 3 nieces of their rich uncle John: Louise, Beth and Patsy who met in the 1st novel of the series when they were invited to visit their dying Aunt Jane so she could decide which of them, who she had neglected all their lives, she would leave her fortune to. After her death, the nieces are cared for by their rich uncle John Merrick who, having retired from industry, takes them on various adventures which are detailed in the books of the series.

In this the 5th volume of the series, published 100 years ago in 1910, Baum contrasts the simple goodness of the nieces to the pretentiousness and artificial values of high society. Louise's social climbing mother asks John to see if he can use his connections to get the three nieces introduced to New York's fashionable society. John loans money to a prominent socialite and asks his help. This man's daughter Diana sees this as an opportunity to gain influence with the rich financier and takes the three girls under her wing. All goes well and the girls are accepted at their debut and a charity ball. However Diana's cousin Charles Mershone, a socialite sociopath and one of the darkest characters Baum ever created, is smitten by Louise. When Diana takes a shine to Louise's suitor Arthur, she plots with Charles to separate the naive Louise from her fiancé.

Baum creates a good adventure with a delightful new character while shining a light on the artifice of society. Today's reader will find interesting the limitations the three nieces had to work within as young women in the early 20th century.