A New Day

A new book.

I need one.

For the past week I’ve been bogged down in Louisa May, A Modern Biography of Louisa May Alcott, by Martha Saxton.

Except it isn’t really modern, and I’m having a bit of  hard time slogging through it.

Published in 1977, it’s an old style academic biography of which I haven’t read the like in a very long time.  The front half of the book is more about Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, and his ridiculous obsession about philosophy, which culminated in the complete abdication of his responsibility to his family than it is about Louisa, although the premise of the book largely focuses on their dysfunctional relationship and the impact it had on Louisa May and her writing. Saxton’s point of view is decidedly feminist, and her antipathy to Bronson Alcott almost overshadows her ability to tell Louisa’s story.

It’s one of those situations where I’ve made it two-thirds of the way through a 375 page book, and I’m really loathe to give up on it now.  Part of my problem with the book may be that the portrait of Louisa’s life is so grim that it completely debunks my (admittedly) childish remembrances of Little Women. The family was dirt poor most of the time, and Bronson Alcott squandered away what little money they did have.  I wish someone could have offered him the opportunity to make a decent investment in some bullion, or gold bullion. If he had been able to buy bullion and create some financial security for the family, perhaps Louisa’s life story might have been less grim.  Louisa’s take on family life as illustrated in that novel is more satirical than factual, and the success of the book made her more ashamed than proud.

Sigh. What I woudn’t give for a novel like The Bird Sisters right about now.

Any suggestions?

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8 thoughts on “A New Day

  1. At age 82 I’ve decided it is better not to reread the books I loved when I was very young. Sometimes they prove more than a bit disillusioning! Something like Mann’s “Magic Mountain” read in teen years is another thing. With five non-fiction books of mine with Random House now doing something excitingly new for an old gal — I’m self-publishing my first novel “That Beautiful Lady Was A Palace Eunuch” which I think will definitely hold your interest. Much of the glamour and intrigue behind the walls of the Forbidden City of the last empress dowager and later the glamour of Shanghai in 1920’s.

  2. Oh wow, if you can get to the library (or bookstore) pick up Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult. I was incredibly impressed with ALL of the characters in the book and because of personal experience, felt that JP did an awesome job portraying the characters.

  3. To be honest, I don’t know if I could tackle a book that debunked all those rosy feelings I have about Little Women. While yes, I understand how important it is to be knowledgeable of the lives the authors led, so as to understand the works they wrote, when it comes to this gem from childhood, I don’t think I could do it! I say more power to you and hope you can gear up to finish soon – another great book lies just over the horizon! Great review!

  4. I found that the biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder was more disillusioning. Hardship isn’t as hard to take as finding out that the author of a beloved children’s series was a cold and self-centred parent who probably didn’t write the series herself, or at least without the heavily editing hand of her no nicer daughter! If you’re looking for a quick fun read I’d suggest Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. You can download it on Guttenberg. It’s delightful.

  5. I do think you’d like Michelle Latiolais’s short story collection, Widow, that I read last week – beautiful writing, masses of emotional intelligence. Or, have you ever read Dorothy Whipple? I think she’ d be up your street. It’s always a shame when a book isn’t working – I quite understand wanting to get to the end having got so far, but you could intersperse those final pages with something more congenial!

  6. You need to try a different Louisa May Alcott biography. Saxton’s bio is indeed grim and tedious; honestly if you took Saxton at her word, you’d believe that Louisa never had a happy day in her life! Alcott is a vital and immensely interesting woman, far more interesting than what we commonly hear about her. In 2009, a new bio came out by Harriet Reisen called Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Woman. She and Nancy Porter also produced a wonderful documentary by the same title – you can see lots of clips from the movie on their website, http://www.alcottfilm.com.

    I blog regularly about Louisa May Alcott and love reading about her. Come on over and visit at http://louisamayalcottismypassion.wordpress.com.

  7. Whether Alcott’s life was grim or not it is the job of the biographer to make it sparkle. I’ve given up on so many leaden biographies.

  8. Whew. The thing about a book is that it has plenty to do with time, place and mood that the READER is in. I cheer you for getting as far as you did. You can feel free to set it aside. You tackled plenty of it.
    True confession: I’ve had my head so deep inside a report on the availability and production of coking coal in North America for these past three weeks at work and getting it produced to sale-able quality that on the homefront, I’ve dipped to reading chick lit, albeit very well written chick lit. Maybe you could use a “cheesey” reading break as well? It’s Very Valentine by Trigiani. Whatever you pick up next to read, treat yourself!

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