SEPTEMBER 2013

Lily Koppel

"I think we look like Stepford Wives, don't you?" said Jane Dreyfus, formerly Jane Conrad, looking at an old photo.  "Because we all tried to be so calm and so cool and everything, but we were a far cry from Stepford Wives."

It is the wives of the men The Mercury Seven who boldly went where no one went before.  They had first-hand seats to the Space Race and Camelot during an era that also gave birth to women's lib.  But they stayed home, smiled and baked because, they were "The Astronaut Wives Club." Sometimes this was fun and magical, other times it was simply stressful. 

They came of age in era that was pre media handlers but, they figured it out.  They learned that if you drew the curtains, you could shut out the press. And if put on happy face on, the odds of your man making the next flight increased.

Time wasn't good to these marriages but some how these women found each other and their way. While this historical account takes the reader behind the scenes, it often reads like a book report with endless fact dumps.  I found that if I let my mind fill in the images from movies like "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13" the narrative had more color.

About the Author
Lily Koppel is the best-selling author of The Red Leather Diary:  Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal.  She has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine The New York Times Book Review, The Huffington Post, and Glamour.

Same Shelf
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolf

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    The Aviator's Wife
    Melanie Benjamin
    2013

    Contributed by Regina Anne Theisen

    The is the story of Anne Morrow, the wife of Charles Lindbergh.

    The author, Melanie Brown, wanted to tell Anne's personal story.  And she wanted it to be the "entire" story.  Morrow Lindbergh, our hero, was tender, courageous, resilient and a great person in her own right.  She was the first female glider pilot, a great navigator and a writer of poetry, including the well-regarded book of essayGift From the Sea.

    The story of Charles Lindbergh is so outsized in the telling.  There is his first flight across the Atlantic to Paris in 1927, and the fame the trip brought, to his storied career in aviation throughout the rest of his life and two world wars.  His story overshadowed Anne's for most of her life.

    He was tall and handsome with a warm boyish charm.  She was a retiring personality from a privileged background. The daughter of the

    ambassador to Mexico, well-educated, she was reared for leadership and to be the wife of an important man--much like her mother before her.

    The Lindbergh's had a great love affair for more than half of their 45 year marriage. Pushed by him, Morrow Lindbergh achieved great things that rose above what most women of her day accomplished.  She was the mother of four children as well.

    This story is so enjoyable because it is thrilling and real. There were parts of their lives that were horrible and bizarre.  But, they both seemed to rise above the fame and the infamy that can take such a toll on any life.  His late life behavior certainly defied his early image.

    Though a work of fiction, Benjamin has said the basic timeline of the book is accurate. The novel is not a blow-by-blow account; the author was more interested in the emotion, and the personal drama, than in giving a history lesson.  She admits the first flight that Anne and Charles take together in her book is fictional.  The first recorded instance of Anne flying with Charles is the second flight mentioned, and the one she takes with her mother and sisters in front of the press. Other items like the flying upside down and losing a wheel on takeoff were taken from a compilation of earlier flights before they were married.

    Melanie Benjamin is a pseudonym for Melanie Hauser. She was born in Indianapolis, Indiana.  From early on an avid reader, she attended Indiana University & Purdue University in Indianapolis.  She moved to Chicago with her husband and they raised two sons. She always had a desire to write and she started writing for local magazines and newspapers.  Her first love was fiction, and she combined her passion for history and biography, which pointed her to her special niche, historical fiction.  She concentrates on the stories behind the stories.  As of this writing she still lives in Chicago.

     

    Recommended Read.

    About the Contributor: 
    This reviewer is Regina Theisen, who read this book in her monthly book review club at Lynn University in Florida.  She worked at Lynn University while attending school. "There were other things that contributed to my interest. I raised my family in Chicago.  I love that I get to go back often as my children and grandchildren are there.  Two of my children attended Indiana University so I found much in common with the author but also my past before marriage was as an international flight attendant and so anything to do with aviation still intrigues me," Regina said about the book.

    Same Shelf:
    The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
    The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

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    The Burgess Boys
    Elizabeth Strout
    2013

    Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s, author of Olive Kitteridge,  newest and equally compelling novel.  

    Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his big-hearted brother their whole lives.  Bob, a Legal Aid attorney, who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a trouble, and  desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

    With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. It'll leave reader's wondering if you every really know someone.

    Inspired by The New Yorker, Around The Town review  

    About the Author:
    Elizabeth Strout’s also wrote, Olive Kitteridge, a novel in stories, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was a New York Times Bestseller. She is the author of two previous novels, Abide With Me, a national bestseller, and Amy and Isabelle, also a New York Times Bestseller.

     

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    The Great Dissent
    How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind--And Changed the History of Free Speech in America
    Thomas Healy
    2013

    Our last entry for this month's tribute to American Icons is a good one.  Perhaps, we should have started here, because this take on Oliver Wendell Holmes shift and appreciation for Constitutional law affects us all.  Thomas Healy, a professor of law at the Seton Hall University School of Law, well regarded for his writings about freedom of speech, has accessed recently discovered letters and confidential memos that inform this story. Healy focuses on late in Holmes' career and the 1919 Abrams dissent, which became the arbiter and definition of how we view free speech today.

    Healy's narrative captures the concerns, content and intellectual rigor of the times.  Post WWI, concern over the Bolsheviks and foreign enemies echoes the threats of today. Holmes, who had outlived many of his contemporaries, kept young through friendships with progressive thinkers of the day.  They, with prose and evidence, took as their duty to bring Holmes around to their way of thinking. Part history text and part biography, The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes changed his mind and the history of free speech in America will leave you better informed and perhaps restore your faith in some American institutions. I plan to share this book with my dad, which is a testament to it's content.

    Thomas Healy clerked on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  He was a Supreme Court correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and is currently a Professor of Law at Seton Hall.  

    Same Shelf
    The Nine
    Jeffrey Toobin