Here are a few Midwest-related books that I've enjoyed reading recently:
Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Keishin-What made this 1970s television show set in Minneapolis such an enduring classic? This show inspired Oprah to pursue a career in television and inspired many more women with the idea that they could do anything they wanted to do in their lives. Folks watching reruns of this show today may think that they are watching a typical 1970s sitcom, but many of us watching this show during its first run had the idea that we were watching something far more revolutionary. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the first to have a female lead character who was a "career woman" making her own way in life without relying on a man to carry her through life. I remember loving this show for its "family" of characters and for the idea that housewife, teacher or nurse might not be the only viable career options for girls growing up at the time to consider (says the girl who had a high school counselor tell her she should consider taking cooking instead of an advanced Geometry class because it cooking would surely be more useful than math in her future). It was fun to learn what later happened to the people who created the show and played the characters and how the show changed the television industry...for good.
Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini- I featured the historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, on one of my book lists early last year. This is another engrossing Civil War-era story from Wisconsin writer Chiaverini. This time, Chiaverini bases her novel on the life of Kate Chase, the "Belle of Washington", who engaged in a fierce rivalry with Mary Todd Lincoln for primacy in the Washington D.C. social and political scene. The book runs through the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln's assassination and the first year of Chase's contentious marriage to William Sprague (Rhode Island's "Boy Governor"). Chase loved her husband, but his alcoholism, infidelity and abuse made remaining married to him impossible. In real life, after the time period covered by this novel, Kate took the then relatively rare steps of divorcing and taking back her maiden name. The end of her life was rather sad as a son committed suicide and Kate lived the rest of her live as a poverty-stricken recluse. I'm curious to read a good biography of this woman, and I'm also curious to learn more about her younger sister, Nettie, who I later learned authored and illustrated children's books.
The Spymisstress by Jennifer Chiaverini-Another engrossing historical novel from Madison, Wisconsin author Chiaverini. This time, the novel focuses on the tale of Union loyalist Elizabeth Van Lew who lived in Richmond and served as a spy during the Civil War. The book gives you a real sense of the despair, poverty, wartime casualties and prisoners from behind Confederate lines up until the day that Richmond finally fell to the Union Army. Van Lew experienced the wartime poverty, as well as the ostracism and suspicions of her neighbors as she carried on her work with other Union loyalists to get essential information to the Union forces. I later read a biography of Van Lew (Southern Lady, Yankee Spy by Elizabeth R. Varon) and found that Chiaverini's fictionalized version of the story hewed pretty closely to the events and spirit of Van Lew's true life story).
Capitol Park: Historic Heart of Detroit by Jack Dempsey-Michiganders know that the beautiful state capitol building is in Lansing, but how many people know that the first capitol building was in Detroit, Michigan? This book is an interesting history of the location of a little known Detroit landmark and the city's history as Michigan's first state capital. I found Dempsey's writing style a little stilted and flowery and thought that the inclusion of so many entire documents and event transcripts bogged the book down. Still, I found the book valuable as I learned a lot of interesting things about Michigan's early days as a state.
Come back later this week as I share my thoughts about other Midwest-related books I've read recently.
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