The Voyage Out: The Life of Mary Kingsley

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by Katherine Frank

Can you imagine a very straight-laced lady in long skirts and mutton sleeves travelling up  the French COngo in the 1890s with wares to trade in exchange for rubber or ivory? Mary Kingsley had previously led a very limited life, forced to care for her invalid mother and later to keep house for her brother. Finally set free, she headed off for Africa to study the native peoples.

the very prim Victorian,  Mary Kingsley

the very prim Victorian, Mary Kingsley

Mary was particularly interested in African religion and fetishes. She also collected many specimens of rare fish or other small creatures which she donated to the museum of Natural Science. It is rather amazing that she was asked to address the National Geographic society at a time when women had never done so before, especially considering she had never been to school and was entirely self-educated. From an early age she was fascinated by the works of African explorers Richard Burton and Brazzi.

Travelling to Liberia, Cameroon and Gabon, Kingsley opted to trade with the natives as a way to get close to them. She ate what the villagers ate and slept in their huts. Later she published two books about her travels, particularly the best-selling Travels in West Africa.

Mary Slessor, missionary

Mary Slessor, missionary

Unusual for the time, Kingsley opposed direct colonial control in favor of trade with the African village chiefs left to govern as they were accustomed. She loved the African people and respected their native beliefs. Therefore she was quite put off by missionaries in general. She did become close friends with Mary Slessor however, and spent quite a bit of time with her in Calabar. Kingsley was won over by Mary Slessor’s  love of the African people, as well as by  her warmth and good humor. Of Slessor, we are told

(Kingsley)” was entranced by this unassuming , warm woman who, though 46 in 1895, looked far younger and almost boyish with her short, cropped hair…She lived in a mud and thatch house, subsisted entirely on local “chop”… and went for months or even years without returning to Calabar or seeing another white person.”

Slessor with her household at Calabar

Slessor with her household at Calabar

She reported that Mary Slessor took the time to learn the language and the mind of the African people. She was called Eka Kpukpro Owo or “Mother of All the Peoples.” Kingsley spent there in the village of Ekenge and the two women formed a deep friendship.

The most amazing thing about Mary Kingsley was how she utterly changed her life at an age when most of us would start becoming cautious about our future. She ventured into an area where women just did not go. Though denied formal education, she taught herself and was driven by great curiosity to investigate uncharted territory and catalog unknown species. Her books were read widely because she wrote so vividly and entertainingly in language that appeals to ordinary people.

Never having previously known about her, I was intrigued to find out about this fascinating and brave woman. A very well-written biography.

 

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Mornings on Horseback

by David McCullough

Morning

Well-written account of Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood and early career. Suffering from debilitating asthma attacks, Theodore was often unable to keep up with his siblings. But when his father whom he adored challenged him to build a strong body to go with his strong mind, he set himself to creating a healthy physique.

Given a gun, he went out shooting. Then he studied taxidermy so he could stuff the creatures he bagged! He did many drawings of the animals he saw. When he was about 14, he traveled down the Nile on a houseboat with his family and hunted many  creatures,skinning and preserving them. Later we know he went on to create numerous national parks and wildlife preserves.

I read for the first time the specific account of his first marriage. I have read several other biographies of Roosevelt but found much new to me in this book. A good read!

 

Hospital Books

Had lots of time while recuperating from surgery and read  these books!

Homelands and Waterways   by  Adele Logan Alexander

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A family history that takes you back to the days of slavery and provides more than a chronicle of the Bond family’s move from the  South to Hyde Park. This book gives a comprehensive history or race relations, intermarriage and the changing nation from the antebellum South to the civil rights movement.

John Robert Bond (1846-1905)

John Robert Bond (1846-1905)

The Bond-Logan family had connections at various times with such figures as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B.Dubois and the Grimke family.  The story begins with John Robert Bond, born in Liverpool in  1846 to an Irish mother and a free black father. John Bond  immigrated to the U.S. , joined the Navy and fought in the Civil War until suffering severe injury.

One review has stated

a monumental history that traces the rise of an African-American family (the author’s own) from poverty to the middle class, exploding the stereotypes that have shaped and distorted our thinking about African Americans, both as slaves and in freedom.

http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/on-the-homefront/literature/homelands.html

The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City        by Jennifer Toth

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This was my second favorite of all the books I took into the hospital. It was amazing to realize so many people are living down there, creating controlled communities with leaders and a code of behavior. Not to say that there isn’t violence, filth and lawlessness.

Homeless people who fear abuse in shelters and prefer the underground, runaway kids surviving as a group where the older looks after the younger ones and finally those who dwell at the deepest level and never come out. The are said to have webbed feet and survive on rats and garbage.

Yet this is a anthropological study, carried out in a serious manner by a brave young woman. I can’t believe she kept going down to meet these people. Fascinating reading!

Gone      by Jonathan Kellerman

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I zipped through this mystery in a day. I enjoyed relaxing with it. Combi of psychiatrist Alex Delaware and L.A. homicide  detective Milo Sturgis are after a rather deranged killer!

forget you had a daughter        by Sandra  Gregory

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Spell-binding story of a young woman who makes just one mistake in judgment and pays for it in a big way. Incarcerated in a Thai prison for trying to smuggle a small amount of heroin out of the country,  Gregory is at times kept in solitary, beaten by other prisoners and nearly starved. I know this happens and yet it is shocking to read of her ordeal. Recommended reading!!

Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and TABOO LOVE     by Edward Ball

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I am a big Edward Ball fan ever since I found his “Slaves in the Family” ( which I read twice. I also would recommend  “The Sweet Hell Inside.” The subject matter of this book was fascinating. Writer Gordon Hall was born in Britain and the midwife who delivered him had some difficulty in determining his sex! This leads him on a pursuit of his real self while living as a well-established citizen of conservative white Charleston in the 1960s.

Gordon Hall becomes Dawn Hall in an age when transgender operations were not heard of. “She” becomes the center of a media storm! IN his book, Edward Ball tries to determine if Gordon Hall was truly born with the sexual organs of both genders as he claimed.

I was disappointed in this book as it was kind of sketchy in the material and detail that always makes Ball’s biographies so great!

Last but maybe best of all..

The Inventor and the Tycoon     by Edward Ball

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Just great! If you are interested in the development of early photography, from daguerreotypes  and glass negatives to moving pictures, you’ll relish this story that took place in California 140 years ago. The “inventor” of the title, Eadweard Muybridge  (MY-BRIDGE) kept reinventing himself as often as he changed the spelling of his name. He took some of the earliest photos of Yosemite, lugging his huge camera up mountain trails!

Muybridge in Yosemite  (1868?)

Muybridge in Yosemite (1868?)

How did Muybridge come to shoot a man in cold blood and face a murder trial and yet survive to develop his projector which he named the “zoopraxiscope” and thrill audiences all over America and Europe with his moving picture shows? You’ll have to read this book to find out!

Muybridge's zoopraxiscope projector

Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope projector

 

Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge

 

At one point, Muybridge formed an association with Leland Stanford (founder of Stanford University) and was given funds to do a motion study on running horses. Stanford had racing horses which he kept in a huge stable in Palo Alto, He was intrigued to know whether all four feet of a horse actually leave the ground when running.

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Later in life, the artist Thomas Eakins helped Muybridge to get a position and funding at the University of Pennsylvania to do motion studies. He attracted some unwanted attention as he photographed not only animals but humans in motion in the nude.

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He published several books, but the most prized by collectors would be his 11 volume set of photographs published in limited edition. Among other subjects he photographed were early shots of San Francisco, the building of Stanford’s transcontinental railroad, and natives in Guatemala.

A fascinating man to read about and I highly recommend this book!

Or you might at least look at his motion photos and see his horse running at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadweard_Muybridge

 

Tender at the Bone

 

Bone

by Ruth Reichl

A rollicking good story  filled me with warmth and humor. Growing up, her Aunt and aunt’s cook looked after Ruth and that is where she learned to cook. Many of her best stories revolve around food, memorable meals and disastrous parties! SHe has included some of the pivotal recipes including her best ever Artpark Brownies!

The author writes about her mother’s rather unstable mental state with a light and loving touch, including a story of her brother’s engagement party that turned into a huge fiasco with week old and discarded food on the menu!I truly enjoyed reading Reichl’s book and look forward to reading more by her! Great read.

 

 

 

The Worst Hard Time

 

Worst

by Timothy Egan

I had heard stories and seen film clips of this devastating period when parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico were turned into a dust bowl where no vegetation grew and all the topsoil was carried awaY by the wind. But I had no idea of the impact it had on people’s lives, on the nation and on the whole environment.

Dust storm in 1930s

Dust storm in 1930s

I read for the first time about “dust  pneumonia” killing toddlers and older people alike as the dust filtered deep into their lungs, destroying cells. Since the dust particles had a high silica content, it tore at the air sacs, eventually having the same effect that coal dust has on a miner.

Car buried in dust in Oklahoma

Car buried in dust in Oklahoma

Perhaps the most famous photo of dust bowl misery

Perhaps the most famous photo of dust bowl misery

The author makes history come alive by peopling the book with many rich and colorful characters. This book is truly readable history and I can’t recommend it enough!

Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell: A Very Close Conspiracy

Woolf by Jane Dunn

One sister an artist, the other a well-known writer, these two sisters were the force that established the “Bloomsbury set”, a gathering of talented artists, and thinkers that would meet on Thursday evenings to discuss art, literature and ideas. Such figures as Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes and Roger Fry gathered at Charleston, Vanessa Bell’s rambling farmhouse every week.

The two sisters in 1894

The two sisters in 1894

Having suffered many losses together and living in a male-dominated household, these two became life-long allies that encouraged each other in their artistic endeavors, consoled and strengthened one another. Vanessa married Clive Bell and devoted herself to painting. It was a new and exciting time when Impressionist painters like Picasso were making bold new ventures in the art world. Continue reading

Praying for Sheetrock

Golden Week 028

by Melissa Fay Greene

Along the coastal waters of Georgia lies McIntosh County, a quiet country area that time had forgotten.Well into the 1970’s the town remained entirely segregated. Although black citizens were in the majority, no shops, no banks, no public offices employed any African Americans.  The town was controlled by a corrupt sheriff named Tom Poppell who continued to be elected year after year, handing out favors to his supporters.

Although the Civil Rights movement had spread across the country and brought great change, nothing had changed in this one pocket of the old South. Then one day, something happened that made the people stand up and face off with the sheriff. The chief of police had stuck his pistol in a man’s mouth and shot him, then locked him up without medical attention. Word spread and people began to gather. They chose Thurnell Alston. a decent family man who was deeply respected, for their spokesman.

What unfolds next is certainly not what I expected when I picked up this book. Yet, though somewhat disappointed in how things turn out, I found the author to be honest  in the telling, not trying to put a good face on things.

Although the title comes from one small unrelated incident in the book, it also reveals something about the corrupt ways of the white sheriff who distributes the bounty from trucking accidents to the needy residents. It was interesting to read about the particular events that finally make people  notice their situation and decide to change things.
It made me think back on my life and the series of events that brought me to finally free myself from oppression and abuse. It seems people stand things for many years and just one thing may happen to wake them up. Interesting reading.

Girl Sleuth, Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

Drew

by Melanie Rehak

I read Nancy Drew as a girl as did many thousands of girls all over the  world! I can remember borrowing these books from the school library and rushing home at lunchtime to read  while I ate!

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I also read these books to my Japanese daughters at bedtime and have many good memories of that time. “Read one more chapter!” , they’d beg me.  I believed that the books were written by Carolyn Keene but now I know that there is no such person! Nancy Drew was the invention of a publisher, Edward Stratemeyer ( the man responsible for creating the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey twins!)and were mostly written by ghost writer Mildred Wirt Benson!

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Nancy Drew debuted in 1930 and remained a best seller throughout the depression years when the books sold for fifty cents. Nancy Drew sold over 80 million copies and remained popular for five or six generations. Perhaps you are one of the girls who were enthralled by her escapades! Each chapter ended on an exciting or hair-raising note that kept us eager to read on!

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading Melanie Rehak’s book about how Nancy came to be written! It brought back great memories! Which book was your favorite?? (Mine was “The Hidden Staircase”!)

!950's Nancy Drew Board  Game

!950’s Nancy Drew Board Game

Look at this garage sale find. My brother found this at an estate sale. I bet it’s worth a lot  today!!

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My vintage collection which I read to the girls at night!

This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

by Kay Mills Fanniebook She was just an ordinary housewife living in Ruleville , Mississippi when she attended a meeting at Williams Chapel Church in 1962. After the sermon, a young man stepped up on the podium and urged the black parishioners to register to vote. This was a very dangerous thing to do, but Fannie was one of the few that raised her hand to do it. When she registered, the plantation owner kicked her out of her home. She had to leave her family behind.

Testifying before the Democratic convention

Testifying before the Democratic convention

Once set on the path to fight for freedom and equality, she never looked back. A devout Christian, she often kept everyone’s courage up by belting out  hymns like “Amazing Grace” or “His Eye is On the Sparrow” and her special favorite, “This Little Light of Mine”! Once she was severely beaten and left  in a cell without medical treatment, yet Fannie never wavered. She devoted herself to helping the poor blacks in the South to find housing and food as well as to register everyone to vote. Fannie2 Fannie Lou Hamer was black, poor, a woman and uneducated…but she impacted history and played a central role in the civil rights movement in America. She testified before the Democratic Convention in 1964n, protesting that the all white delegation did not truly represent the Mississippi constituency. Creating the Freedom Party, she ran for the State senate but was defeated. But just the fact that black candidates were put on the roster was an amazing feat in itself. Fannie4 I’m very glad that I read this book and got to know more about this very brave woman who inspires us to stand up for our  principles even if it means personal loss.

The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

by Debby Applegate

BeecherBook

Crowds of people took the ferry to Brooklyn every Sunday to hear Henry Ward Beecher preach at Plymouth Church at the height of his popularity in the 1860s and 70’s. Henry departed from his father Lyman’s fire and brimstone style to deliver a message of God’s love and mercy for sinful man. It is said that he is responsible for the transformation of the Christian church in America.

Henry Ward Beecher with sister Harriet Beecher Stowe

Henry Ward Beecher with sister Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

His famous sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, is more well-known today as her bestselling novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, turned many people to the abolitionist cause. However, Henry Ward Beecher was much more in demand during his lifetime as a public speaker travelling across the nation.

 Theodore Tilton accused Beecher of seducing his wife  Elizabeth

Theodore Tilton accused Beecher of seducing his wife Elizabeth

Derailed by scandal, he nevertheless managed to hold on to his pulpit. Newspapers carried stories of the civil trial in which he was accused of seducing one of his parishioners.

Pride goeth before a fall: Henry Ward Beecher

Pride goeth before a fall: Henry Ward Beecher

 

This Pulitzer-prize winning biography gives the whole story honestly and is a fascinating and perhaps a cautionary tale. At some point, Beecher got away from God and began twisting the Bible to say what he wanted it to. His fame went to his head and he began to feel people would love and support him no matter what he did.