Monday, April 4, 2011

Scribbling Women - for Nonfiction Monday

This week's Nonfiction Monday round-up will be at L.L.Owens!

Jocelyn, Marthe. "Scribbling Women": True Tales from Astonishing Lives. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

In this slim volume, Jocelyn looks at the writing of 11 women throughout history and around the world. Some of them were famous in their own times and have names that are still recognizable today. Some of them meant for their writing to be read by thousands, some meant for it to be read by only a few. They differ in nationality, economic status, opportunity and experience. What they do have in common is the need and the will to write down the incredible stories of their lives.

Starting with Sei Shonagon in Heian Japan and working her way chronologically to Doris Pilkington Garimara in modern day Australia,* Jocelyn manages to look at the writing of a wide variety of women. She admits in her introduction that she was limited to work written in or translated into English, which explains the predominance of North American and British women in these pages. Still, this is not a book filled with the polite letters of Victorian ladies.

Of the eleven women in these pages, five are women of color and five (not the same five) spend a better part of their lives as decidedly lower class. Their stories really do cover a broad spectrum of the female experience; no two are alike. Whether you are looking for action or introspection, gumption or the strong will to make do, there is woman represented here for you. Following closely on the heals of the rather offensive to our modern sensibilities writing of a barely pre-Victorian wife of a wealthy captain (Mary Hayden Russell), we are treated to the writing of a slave who remained hidden in her mother's attic for years (Harriet Ann Jacobs). Daisy Ashford, the eight year old author of the still in print The Young Visiters, is followed by Ada Blackjack, the sole survivor of an expedition to the Arctic. A surgeon during the Vietnam War (Dang Thuy Tram), an undercover reporter (Nellie Bly) and one of the first female felons to be shipped to Australia (Margaret Catchpole) are also represented here.

My only problem with this book was that I wanted to know more about each of the women. In some cases, there is just not that much more that is known. In others, I'm going to have to go looking for information about these women or others like them on my own. There is a bibliography in the back of the book, but it's arranged in alphabetical order (like bibliographies should be) rather than organized by subject or chapter, and it's pretty long. I would have much preferred short biblios at the end of each chapter even if it would have broken up the narrative a bit. Also, though this book has the subject heading of "biography," the information contained in Scribbling Women is based almost entirely on the writing of the women themselves. I love this, but it will make this book a hard sell for report writers as some common details are often not included (birth and death dates, however, are present). Still, this is an interesting book about an interesting mix of women that nonfiction readers and budding young writers will enjoy.

Scribbling Women came out last week!

Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

*Upon whose book (about the life of her mother) the movie Rabbit Proof Fence is based. This movie is heart-breaking and horrible at the same time that it is inspiring. I highly recommend it!

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April (BooksandWine) said...

This sounds fabulous. I love reading primary sources written by women, especially traditionally underrepresented women.

Lawral the Librarian said...

April, I thought it was great! There was enough of the source material present that you really go a feel for each of the women and their writing, but there was also enough explanation/translation that readers won't get too hung up on archaic language, spelling errors, etc.