Monday, February 9, 2015

Fictitious Dishes

Fried, Dinah. Fictitious Dishes. New York, Harper Design, 2014. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
Dinah Fried writes, "Reading and eating are natural companions, and they've got a lot in common. Reading is consumption. Eating is consumption. Both are comforting, nourishing, restorative, relaxing, and mostly enjoyable. They can energize you or put you to sleep. Heavy books and heavy meals both require a period of intense a voracious reader, I devour my favorite books" (11). Reading this, I knew I'd enjoy this book.

The introduction explains how this project began and then grew. Fried takes a certain passage from a book that includes something about the food. Then, she creates a visual for the passage. No detail is too small. She says that preparing for the "shoot was a delightful and obsessive treasure hunt" (Fried 12).  It is delicious (pun intended)! I enjoyed seeing the extra attention to detail in many of the photographs.

I enjoyed reading this book one Saturday afternoon. It is not too text laden, but one thing that is included with the book passage are tidbits of trivia. Sometimes the information is about the writer, the book or about the specific food. Very interesting. For example, "a single banana is often referred to as a 'finger' and a bunch of bananas is called a 'hand'" (Fried 100). Another example of something I learned is about the moustache cup. "Invented in the 1860s and popular during the late Victorian era, the moustache cup has a semicircular ledge that extends across part of the cup's opening and keeps the user's moustache from getting wet while he drinks" (Fried 116). Now reading this is fine, but SEEING it is better! Fried has one in the photograph.

I did find what I would deem two "errors" in the book. In The Catcher in the Rye description, Swiss cheese is mentioned, but the photograph looks like cheddar cheese. In The Road photograph, I would have liked to see the fruit in the cans instead of the plastic cups.

There is a wide range of books included in this project. Many of the books I have not read, but it was not needed to understand what Fried is doing.

After her photos, Fried includes brief summaries of each book included as well as a bibliography where she gathered the ancillary information.

The Mockingbird Next Door

Mills, Marja. The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee. New York: Penguin Press, 2014. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
In 2001, journalist Marja Mills was on an assignment. The city of Chicago was participating in a One City, One Book initiative and To Kill a Mockingbird was the book chosen.  "The idea was to get Chicagoans in very corner of the city reading and discussing the same book" (Mills 4). Mills was to travel to Monroeville, Alabama and gather information about Harper Lee. What happened while there is the amazing story Mills reports in this book. Alice and Harper invite Marja into their inner circle. They share meals, books, and stories with each other. They build a friendship. How wonderful that Lee trusts Mills with her story! Eventually, Mills even rents the house right next door to the Lee sisters.
While reading this, I felt like I was Mills and allowed into the inner circle. At times, I was even jealous that it was Mills and not me!
If you haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird (Well, you should!), you get a sense of the book through Mills' insertion of quotes and summary. She also references the movie.
A funny thing that I learned was that Lee said she liked Flannery O'Connor less (than other Southern writers) because "O'Connor had once said that To Kill a Mockingbird was a good book--for children" (Mills 79). HA! Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite Southern gothic writers. Nelle tried to make sure that Marja read other Southern writers to understand the area. "Nelle referred to Faulkner as much as, probably more than, any other Southern writer" [another of my favorites!] and once "lamented the rise of what might politely be called redneck culture in the South... 'They're the Snopes,' Nelle said" (qtd. in Mills 232). FUNNY! Mills writes that Harper "tossed out literary references as easily as some might recite their own phone numbers" (Mills 232).
Another thing I learned from this book is the origin of Harper's name. After Louise was born, "she failed to thrive" and Francis was so distraught she had a "nervous disorder" (Mills 180). Dr. Harper, a specialist, helped. "So deep was A.C. and Frances's gratitude to Dr. Harper that when [the next baby was delivered], the parents gave her the middle name of Harper" (Mills 182). Harper used this name on the novel so that it would not be mispronounced or misspelled (Mills 224). 
I appreciated learning about Lee's personality through Mills' book. One example is when Lee says, "'I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it'" (qtd. in Mills 80). I agree. Lee was not concerned with wealth and fame. "The fortune she earned from the book did afford her the opportunity to live her life...and that was something she cared about, deeply: the ability to live her life on her own terms" (Mills 121). I also liked seeing that the Lee sisters were always learning. They were smart and "language, as always, was play" (Mills 173). There are numerous examples of this in the stories Alice and Harper share with Mills.
There is a "Truman Capote" chapter, as the two writers were friends. However, that friendship that began in childhood became strained. An interesting anecdote from this chapter, though, is when Truman and a girl named Martha decided to run away (Truman was 12 and Martha 16), they were sent back home. Years later, it turns out that Martha was a murderer. "Known as the Lonely Hearts Killers, their crimes were sensationalized in the popular detective magazines of the day" (Mills 166).
Again, I felt like I was sitting in the car with the ladies. I could hear their scratchy voices and see their practical clothing. I could appreciate their routines and how Marja understood that any time spent with these ladies was precious. I'm so glad that she has the Lee's blessing in writing this book, and that Harper's fans get a better sense of who she really is. I can tell that Mills is a fan as well. "It was another book I pictured on the shelf of those she could have written. The imaginary row of books that made me wistful when I thought about it. Wistful for what Nelle might have accomplished and taken pride in doing with her talent, with her insight. Wistful for all of us who would have loved to read them. But that decision was hers to make and she'd made it, however gradually over the years, for her host or reasons, starting with the difficulty of living up to the impossible expectations raised by To Kill a Mockingbird" (Mills 210).
I was saddened to learn that in 2007 Nelle suffered a serious stroke. If I knew that, I'd forgotten. Reading this made me do some research, but what I found was something about this book. I found an article that Lee did not authorize this book and that she did not spend time with Marja. WOW! It seems that either Nelle is mistaken or Mills is quite a fiction writer because it seems too real to be false.
Either way, this book was a delight to read (and I hope it is true). Another news story broke while I was reading this book that after 55 years, Harper Lee is publishing a second book. It is coming out this summer. Of course, I will read it.

Book Within a Book-To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Monday, February 2, 2015

Unflinching Courage

Hutchison, Kay Bailey. Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas. New York: Harper, 2013. Print.

My Thoughts
I was asked to do a book review for Delta Kappa Gamma. Here's what I presented. I didn't post this before the actual event, but I think it will be fitting now. I'm not going to insert the actual text that I read, as it would make my comments even longer here.

Debbie told me I only had four hours, so I’d better get started. J  Just kidding.

[picture] This is my grandma, Inez Frances Bailey Priddy. Notice her maiden name. This is why my daughter is named Bailey and the beginning of why Kay Bailey Hutchison became important to me.

One of the first times I voted, there was someone on the ballot with my grandma’s name and a woman. These are the reasons why I picked her. I know, I know. An uneducated vote shouldn’t count, but people vote for different reasons.

Since that first vote for her, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Kay Bailey Hutchison speak twice.

The first time I heard her was in 2007 at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.  She was speaking on the Senate floor about her book Leading Ladies. While she spoke a group of people, one by one, stood up, walked to the front of the chamber and unrolled their aprons. This was a war protest. As an audience member, I was a little scared of what was happening. Hutchison kept talking about her book and did not let the demonstration interrupt her. I was impressed. During the question and answer session, she even graciously asked the protestors to not interrupt the people asking questions.

I bought two of her books at the festival.   

The second time I heard Kay speak was at our Education Service Center’s annual Library Harvest in Fort Worth. Here she was talking about Unflinching Courage, and I was able to ask her a question. Since she was speaking to a room full of librarians, I asked her if any librarians helped her in the research for this book. She said yes and told an anecdote of a how a librarian in El Paso helped her see the original suicide letter written by Senator Thomas Rusk to his children. Kay shares this in the acknowledgements section of her book. 

Both times I heard her, I understood her passion not only for her books—but more importantly for the subject of her books. She is invested in creating something meaningful for generations to come. As a trailblazer herself--- she was after all, the first Republican woman to serve in the Texas House of Representatives in 1973 & the first woman Senator from Texas---- she wants to spotlight women, and I think she accomplishes that.

But, you don’t want to hear all of this. Let me get to the book. Well, in order to do that, I need to tell you about American Heroines first.

This book was published in 2006. I felt like I should read it before Unflinching Courage since I’d had it longer (It was one of the books I bought at the festival.).   

This book is a collection of mini biographies—46 women in all. Each chapter highlights a couple of ladies who pioneered in eleven specific areas, and then there is a modern day connection to women in the same area.  In the forward, she mentions that after publishing this book, people have made suggestions about other women and areas that should be included. I’m not sure if it will become a sequel or, as she writes “another dimension to the original text.”

Hutchison interjects her own research process, personal experiences and thoughts into the writing. This allows the reader to learn about both the subject and the writer. Hutchison writes that her  “hope in writing this book is to increase the awareness of the impact women have had—and are having—on our country” (American Heroines 355).  

I learned something about each woman, especially those I’d never even heard of before reading this book.

The other book I bought at the festival, Leading Ladies, I have not yet read.

Her 4th book Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women who Shaped Texas (2013) is what I will review today.  In the acknowledgements of this book, she credits Melinda Poucher, someone who helped edit the chapters, for coming up with the title. However, I’m not sure. Maybe a subconscious thought came out of American Heroines.  She used the term “unflinching courage” on page 18 of that book. I wouldn’t have noticed it, had I not known I was going to read this book.

I want to read something that Hutchison wrote in the introduction about Texas:
Read p. xvi

The format of this book is not the same as American Heroines, even though these chapters are mini biographies. There are eight sections, presented in chronological order, and Hutchison spends a few pages at the beginning of each section giving a little history of the time period.  She also includes a photo of the woman, if it is available. There are a total of 25 women featured in this book, and only two are duplicated from American Heroines, but the text is not exactly the same.  

As this is a non-fiction book, there is a table of contents and an index. Hutchison inserts five detailed Texas maps at the front of the book, and in the appendix, she includes several family trees. As a proper researcher, she gives credit for all of her photographs and maps. 

Now, I started this talk today referring to my grandma—my personal family. This is how Hutchison begins this book—she starts with her own family heritage in Nacogdoches. She spends about 15 pages talking about her mother, her grandmothers and her great grandmothers. She writes that these women “passed their strength and ingenuity through the generations of Taylor, Schindler, and Sharp women” (Hutchison 18). Her family tree is one included in the appendix.

[picture] The next featured woman is Jane Long, Mother of Texas. In 17 ½ pages, we see a 16 year old bride become a survivor. When her husband was of unknown status in Mexico, she stayed “right where he left her” in spite of everyone else leaving the area. She was able to trick the Karankawa Indians by raising a “flag” (a red flannel petticoat) and occasionally firing a cannon. She ate frozen fish & oysters.
Read page 48/49
Jane later learned that her husband had been killed in Mexico City on April 8, ten days after he had arrived there (Hutchison 49).  I won’t tell you the rest of her story, but I will say she lived until she was 82 years old.

[picture] The next section is 55 pages entitled “The Texas Revolution.” Five women are featured here. However, there are actually several more women’s stories woven into these five. For example, Susanna Dickinson is first, but what I found more interesting here is the story of her daughter, Angelina, who is not actually listed as a profile.
Read page 74

In Dilue Rose’s chapter, we meet Pamelia Mann & Margaret (Peggy) McCormick, both outspoken & practical women of the time. 

Mann agreed to loan the Texas army her oxen to transport two cannon. Once she learned the Houston’s plan changed, she caught up with him.
Read page 86 

[picture] In the “Indian Captives” section, Hutchison gives the accounts of Rachel Parker Plummer and Cynthia Ann Parker. Both were captured at Fort Parker. For those of you unfamiliar with this story, let me read how Hutchison introduces it in the book:
Read page 122

[picture] A large chunk of the book (almost 75 pages) is dedicated to Margaret Lea Houston, although much is really about her husband Sam. During their courtship, Houston tried to get Margaret to visit Texas. You can see her independent spirit from this passage
Read page 151

One thing I learned in Margaret’s sections really has nothing to do with her per se, but with Baylor University. Now, I’m a Tarleton alum. I didn’t know that Baylor was originally started in Independence, Texas. How I learned this was because I read the Houston family moved from Huntsville to Independence to “take advantage of the town’s excellent primary schools, run by Baylor University” (194). I thought this might be a mistake, so with the power of the world at my fingertips, I was able to confirm Hutchison’s facts. The university moved to Waco in 1885.

I should probably spend most of my time talking about Margaret Houston’s sections since it is the bulk of the book, but the section I found most interesting was the Trail Drives and Ranches section. Here Hutchison profiles 11 women from the 1860s to the 1920s.  

[picture] No story about Texas women would be complete without hearing about the weather-beaten, tough as nails, no nonsense kind of women who, “against the odds and the prejudices of the times” took up to being cowhands and ranchers (Hutchison 221).  Women you’ve heard of like Henrietta King and Molly Goodnight have their stories here, but there were others.
Take Hattie Standefer Cluck, for example.
Read page 244
Hattie wasn’t the only one to take to the cattle trails.

While on a drive, Indians approach Kate Medlin’s party.  Here’s what she writes:
Read page 228
Practical and tough as nails

Maybe you can relate to Mollie Taylor Bunton’s story. She was determined to go on the drive. Her husband
Read page 267
She was dubbed “Queen of the Cattle Trail” (273)

Lizzie Johnson Williams might not be well known either. She “hid her commercial ventures from her family—easy enough to do, since she was still teaching and managing books for other cattlemen—but was already having her own cattle trailed north to market in 1879, if not earlier” (Hutchison 262).
Read page 262 & 264

“The Texas writer J. Frank Dobie, whose uncle Jim was Amanda Nite Burks’s neighbor in La Salle County,  based a number of his stories on tales Amanda had told him” (Hutchison 242). She also was “the prototype of Taisie Lockheart, the heroine of Emerson Hough’s novel North of 36.  

After her husband’s death, Amanda sold her horses and cattle and concentrated on raising sheep. Some of these horses were purchased by James Gordon Bennett, Jr, publisher of the New York Herald and founder of the country’s first polo club. These horses are said to be the first horses from Texas to be exported to New York (Hutchison 241).

[picture] Eliza Bunton Johnson, Lyndon Johnson’s grandmother, gets a chapter in Hutchison’s book. As I’ve actually visited her cabin near Johnson City, I enjoyed reading about her. 
Read page 250

The last section of the book features two women, Sarah Cockrell and Oveta Culp Hobby.

[picture] Sarah Cockrell took an active role in her husband’s businesses, yet stayed discreetly in the background, as proper Victorian women were expected to do (Hutchison 296). After Dallas was designated the county seat in 1850, the Cockrells built a wooden toll bridge and causeway that allowed for easier travel across the Trinity River. They also invested in land parcels that would increase in value as the town of Dallas expanded. They built a two-story brick commercial building on the town square and one of the “finest hotels in North Texas” (Hutchison 297).
Read page 301

[picture] A generation after Sarah Cockrell helped transform Dallas, Oveta Culp Hobby transformed women’s role in the military.  General George C. Marshall asked Oveta to draft plans to include women as army auxiliaries who would take over tasks that they could perform as well as or better than men, in order to make more men available for combat roles” (Hutchison 310). Hence, the Women’s Army Auxillary Corps was born. Read page 310

Hutchison shares a personal story about Oveta.
Read page 315

So, that’s the book. If this isn’t enough, Hutchison did include several pages of suggestions for further reading.

Some OVERALL Comments:
  • I liked the narrative of the biographies. However, in some instances, I felt that I was reading the man’s story and not the woman’s.
  • I liked the layering of history’s events shown with the fortitude of the women.
  • I like that Hutchison wrote a book specifically about Texas women—a book I can keep as reference and one day share with my daughter.
Thank you for listening to me today. I hope that if you haven’t read the book, I’ve given you some interest in doing so.

Any questions?