Only Gossip Prospers

Only Gossip ProspersOnly Gossip Prospers by Lorraine Tosiello

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads):

In late 1875 Louisa May Alcott spent a winter in New York City. Her journals give a rough sketch of the people she met, the salons she attended and a few outings that she enjoyed. She intended to stay “until I am tired of it,” but left abruptly in mid-January.

Filled with biographical references to Louisa’s family, New Yorkers of the time and Alcott’s literary works, Only Gossip Prospers intertwines the real people Louisa met, the actual events of New York City and a host of fictional characters who inhabit a world that Louisa herself would recognize. Written in a style reminiscent of Alcott’s juvenile fiction and short adventure stories, the book is part historical fiction, part love letter to the charm of 1870s New York and part biography of Louisa and her contemporaries.

My Review:

For as much as I love reading, especially reading classic literature and well written literature, you’d think I’d be a bigger fan of “Little Women.” I have read it, but only once and I think I was probably too young because I found it boring. I did love the Winona Rider movie from the moment I saw it, and I have often thought I should read “Little Women” again. (I also love the movie of “The Inheritance,” another Louisa May Alcott novel. But I’ve never read that book and feel I should.)

What does all of that have to do with this book – “Only Gossip Prospers”? Well, it’s the reason this book gets 3 stars instead of 4 for me. It has nothing to do with the book, and everything to do with my experience. This book is beautifully written. The description and historical information is poetic and and scientific all at the same time. The characters are interesting, and their stories being presented as pieces in a bigger puzzle was intriguing; I wanted to know how it was all going to fit together and what the final takeaway would be with so much variety and almost randomness in happenings. The author does tie it all together believably and very satisfyingly. All the while painting a picture of Louisa May Alcott that is human and heroic. She was fascinating to me as a character even though the events and actions of the book were mostly mundane.

Unfortunately, because my personal interest in Louisa May Alcott and Little Women is low I didn’t have the love for this book that it deserves. There are definite nods to feminism as well, and I don’t consider myself a traditional feminist so that theme didn’t resonate with me like it would for many readers. I don’t know much about this period in history, particularly the history of New York, mostly because it hasn’t been of high interest. I certainly know more after reading “Only Gossip Prospers,” but my interest level hasn’t really increased. That’s all on me though. Just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, with the new perspective this book gave me on Louisa May Alcott and on the societal and historical importance of “Little Women,” I am very interested in reading Little Women again. I think I’m likely to enjoy it much more now that I’m more mature, but also because of the window “Only Gossip Prospers” gave me into how autobiographical “Little Women” is.

If you are already a Little Women fan, I imagine this is a book you don’t want to miss. With the genius of the writing I bet it would feel as inviting as coming home for the holidays. If you are not a Little Women fan, or maybe aren’t sure if you are, this book is informative, interesting, and worth reading so you can appreciate the easy and yet poetic prose. It may not have been a page turner for me, but it is impressive in its literary value.

Age Recommendation: This book is appropriate for all ages, but I think 16 and older will understand it best, and get the most out of the message. I think It takes some life experience with complex emotions, and some independent decision making to be able to understand the feelings and choices of characters in the book.

Appropriateness: I found nothing offensive. There is reference to drug addiction and sex, but the references are so innocent. Book club groups would enjoy discussing the many themes presented: similarities between Alcott’s life and her book, how feminism has progressed since her time, and how we can present our best selves to the world without losing our true selves, to name just a few.

Other Book Recommendations: Obviously Little Women and other books by Louisa May Alcott would be good choices if you like this one. I think you would also enjoy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  by Betty Smith, the Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wicker, or I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai.

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni (The Golem and the Jinni, #1)The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection.  Helene Wecker’s debut novel weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

My Review

I almost didn’t finish this one because it had a really slow start for me; there were a lot of characters to meet and some were interesting, others I wasn’t so sure about. There were multiple cultures, eras in time, and settings. At first it took some work to keep it all straight and I wasn’t sure if I cared enough to try. I was curious to see how it would all fit together which kept me reading, and I was eventually drawn in and finished the last 2/3 pretty quickly.

I enjoyed the history, philosophy, and theology woven into the fantasy. By the end I found all of the characters fascinating and intricate. Each gave unique insight into the book’s themes; I appreciated that each had weakness and strength and it was their choices that determined the total sum of each of their parts. When the sequel is available I will likely pick it up.

Age Recommendation: I wouldn’t give this book to my teens. Adult readers with more life experience will relate better to character’s individuals struggles and choices, and the book’s themes.

Appropriateness: Mention of and focus on sex was beyond my comfort level, but not so graphic that it kept me from finishing.  I didn’t find the language offensive.

There is plenty of material for book club discussion regarding faith, religion, cultural tradition, immigration, nature vs. nurture, and responsibility for and importance of agency.

Other Book Recommendations: If this book interests you I think you’d also enjoy The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Magician’s Elephant by Katie DiCamillo, The Time Key by Melanie Bateman, and The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson.

 

 

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

A poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

My Review

How did I go so many years as a book devourerer and not read this one until now? The forward by Anna Quidlen describes my thoughts and feelings about the book so well. It’s not one that you can easily sum up if asked “what is it about?” As Quidlen puts it, “It is a story about what it means to be human.”

The lives of the Nolans are full of hardship, poverty, hunger, uncertainty. Yet somehow the book is not depressing. I found myself feeling such gratitude for all I have and the things my children and I don’t have to face because we have money for food, clothes, and fun every month. But there was that small part of me that also admired the character of the family, of the children, that the developed because of their struggles. Francie and Neeley express that when thinking about their baby sister who will not have to collect junk to help the family get by. Lucky her they say, but she also won’t have the fun times they had either. And they feel sorry that she will miss out on that.

Certainly social issues are presented in this book, but I loved that they were not the main theme. They were there simply because it presented the scene for how these characters dealt with it. There is no preaching in the book’s pages about how poverty should or shouldn’t be dealt with. There is no cheering for “republicanism” or “democratism” while condemning the other side. It’s just showing that horrible things that are somewhat out of our control don’t have to make life worthless or unhappy for any of us. I loved Johnny Nolan’s simple explanation of what makes America a free country. He marvels at all the fancy carriages in the rich part of Brooklyn and at how anyone can ride in one of them provided they have the money. Francie asks how that’s different from the old countries to which Johnny replies that in the old countries even if you had enough money not everyone could ride in a carriage. Francie wonders wouldn’t it be better if everyone could ride in the carriages for free? And Johnny says that’s socialism “and we don’t want any of that here.”

Whether we struggle with poverty and alcoholism, or with depression, or with greed we can see ourselves in the Nolans and their reactions to the things that happen to them. Best of all, we see how they take control of what they can and work really hard so that things stop happening to them, and they start making things happen. But the Nolans also know that their survival is not only a result of their hard work. They recognize God’s hand in their lives and miracles occur.

This was a story that left me proud of those who came before me and worked so hard to make it possible for me to have the opportunities I have now. And I hope I can create an even richer future for my children. As Katie Nolan observes, the key is not money; it’s education. My children are warm in the winter and well-fed. They have toys to play with and a safe yard to run amok in and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, but I also hope that like Francie they can look at others with compassion and understanding. I hope they can value and appreciate what they have rather than judge those who have more or less. I hope they can recognize the value of hard-work and loyalty especially among family. I hope they will see their positions in life as a result of their own hard work and the support of so many around them. And then I hope they will help to lift and build others up.

The best way I can teach that is by example. Hopefully my children will learn from my good example and also my screw ups just as the Rommelys and Nolans did. I am grateful of the reminder from these characters of how precious life is. How happiness is made up in the small things. How hard work, independence, and selflessness are their own reward. And how it’s also fun to feel rich sometimes by throwing a little money around, but really the richness comes because of the memories created and the character that is built.

Age Recommendation: Experienced readers with a broader life experience will get the most from this book. I recommend for 17 and older.

Appropriateness: The lives of these characters are tough; reading this book means facing alcoholism, poverty, mental illness, social injustice, and bullying to name a few.  But on the flip side you experience triumph, courage, and hope. There is also swearing in the book frequently. It’s not for the faint of heart but for me, it’s totally worth the journey.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like this book or are interested in it you may also enjoy Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery,  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.