The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. Pamelo Dorman, 2019. 400 pp.
This is a novel inspired by a depression era program initiated by Eleanor Roosevelt. She was providing books to be lent to poor families. In this case, to people living in the hills of a coal mining area in Kentucky.
The main character is Alice Wright who has left her family home in England and gone to New York where she has relatives. She finds though, that their lives are as stifling as her families in England. However, she meets a handsome American -Bennett Van Cleeve – who comes from Kentucky. After a whirlwind romance, they marry and head for Kentucky, along with his father. Bennett, it turns out, is very much under his father’s thumb. They move into his family home along with his father. It is filled with his deceased mother’s collections, and she is not allowed to change a thing.
As you can imagine, this is not what she had expected married life would be. Bennett appears to have lost any romantic interest in her, and their social life consists of endless church meetings. She does hear of this new program and joins up, much to her husband and father in-law’s disapproval. The program is called “The Pack Horse Library” as they will be riding far into the hills to deliver books. It’s a grueling job- and sometimes dangerous- but she loves it. She and the four or five other women who she works with become fast friends, and it makes such a difference to these poor families in the hills.
There are many other stories in this novel as well. Her father in-law owns the local coal mines, and Bennett works with him. Although Alice’s husband is not as mean a man as his father, he cannot stand up to him and support her. The coal miner workers are treated very badly and women have no rights and can be abused by their husbands, or any man, with no repercussions for the men.
This is a wonderful historical novel. I enjoyed it very much, and I highly recommend it.
My Mistake, A Memoir By Daniel Menaker. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 231pp.
This book is the story, or memoir, of the author’s life, Daniel Menaker. He grew up in New York City, but as a child, spent summers on a farm in Massachusetts belonging to one of his uncles. His father was one of seven sons of a Jewish family that had emigrated from Russia. His mother had an English background and became an editor for Fortune Magazine.
He had a brother, Mike, who was three years older. As brothers, they were close friends. Mike died after having surgery for an injury. This was a terrible blow for the family and especially for Menaker, as he was partly responsible for the injury.
The author goes to college at Swathmore and then graduate school at Johns Hopkins. His first job after college is an editorial assistant at Prentice Hall. But soon after that he has an offer to be fact checker at The New Yorker —which he refers to as “the brilliant crazy house.” He will work at The New Yorker for 26 years, eventually becoming Editor-in-Chief. Later, he became Editor-in-Chief at Random House. He also wrote for The New York Times, The Atlantic and other publications, and has written six books.
This book is a revelation in the way it tells about what goes on in the publishing world: the problems that keep repeating, the unexpected success of some books, the failure of others that were expected be first rate, and the endless work. Menaker’s writing is fascinating. Some parts of the book are very funny- he is very humorous. But his stories of what goes on behind the doors and windows of a publishing institution are irresistible.