Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux is a wonderful look at Louisa May Alcott’s novel, including its context, history, meaning, contemporary significance, and more. I loved Little Women and read it multiple times as a kid and teenager (and should read it again as an adult), so Rioux’s book was particularly fun for me, although I think anyone who is interested in literary history would get a lot out of it even if they weren’t an Alcott fan. It’s not a terribly long book — less than 300 pages — but it packs a ton in. Rioux gives a biographical sketch of the Alcott family in the first section, and then moves on to the writing and reception of the novel; adaptations of the story, including theater and film versions; academic and critical debates about interpretations of the novel, particularly about its relationship to feminism; its influence on literature and on culture more broadly; and its place in culture today.
I particularly liked Rioux’s discussions about why Little Women isn’t taught often in literature courses — she argues convincingly that it should be — and I loved her chapter, “Can Boys Read Little Women?” where she talks about the gendered treatment of the novel and also the many boys who have read and loved the book. She gets into how concerns about boys not reading have led teachers to assign books aimed at boys and to assume that girls will be able to read the “boys'” books just fine. This leaves little room for boys to learn to see the world from a girl’s perspective and even less room for encouraging anyone to read a book like Little Women.
Rioux covers a lot of ground, and she covers it very well: this is an entertaining, informative, elegant look at one of the most influential books in American literary history.
Things have felt busy since the last time I posted here: we went camping for a few days at Lake George in New York, and then I was busy with summer classes (online ones, but still). But I have been steadily reading and have found some books I’ve really loved. Here are some very, very brief thoughts about what I’ve been reading lately:
- The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu: I’ve been in the mood for novels that are plotty but solidly literary fiction at the same time, and this was perfect. I read it while camping, which was also perfect. It’s about a group of five girls who get lost on an overnight trip and something happens. We get this story along with the lives of the girls as adults, and it was fun to watch the consequences play out.
- Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley: This book made me laugh. I actually wanted it to be deeper and meatier, but still, it was fun, and I always appreciate a breezy but smart voice. These are personal essays — yes, about someone living in New York City, which I’m a little tired of, but still, I enjoyed it.
- Katalin Street by Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix: This is by far the most serious book I’ve read recently, and I struggled with it now and then, although I appreciated it at the same time. It’s the story of how World War II affects three families living next to each other in Budapest. It took me a while to figure out that one character is speaking as a ghost, but once I figured that out, I thought her story was moving. It’s a grim read, but it’s powerful in the way it illustrates the ravages of war.
- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Braithwaite Oyinkan: What do you do if you love your sister, but she keeps killing the men she dates? This is a real problem for the narrator who loves but doesn’t understand her beautiful, flirtatious, fun-loving sister who has lived without consequences her whole life and doesn’t see why having to kill off a few inconvenient people is a big deal. I loved this novel; it was odd and amusing and moving all at once, a thoroughly enjoyable unconventional crime novel.
- Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori: I loved this last book too. It tells the story of Keiko, a 36-year-old woman who has worked at a convenience store for the last 18 years. She’s happy there — she has trouble functioning in environments that are less structured than the store is — but the people around her don’t understand why she doesn’t want a career and/or a family. I liked being in Keiko’s mind and seeing the world through her eyes. Watching her try to navigate a world that doesn’t know what to make of her was hard at times but I enjoyed rooting for her.