Passion, responsibility, feminism.

For some context as to where a lot of my recents books have come from, I come from a long line of readers–the kinds who are in years-long book clubs, who will place a book in your hands and tell you to read it right away, who will mail you a book so you don’t have to buy it yourself, passionate readers.  Lately, I’ve been making my way through some of the books my mom and her sisters have read, having packed six of them in my suitcase the last time I was home (including Beautiful Ruins and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats).

If you are looking for a legal mystery, try Defending Jacob about a District Attorney whose son is accused of murdering a classmate.  In keeping with the family reading ties, my brother borrowed it when he was last home, drove it to Louisville for Easter and I flew it back to Brooklyn. It’s the kind of book you can read really quickly but then you are left considering all of the ethical dilemmas long after the end of the story.  My summer reading list is being developed in part from a facebook conversation I’ve been having with a few of my cousins. There is something I love about literary lineage.  My summer reading list will be posted tomorrow, June 1!

The latest from my mom’s stack is called Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, based on a true story: Frank Lloyd Wright’s affair with a married woman, Mamah Cheney who he met while designing her home in Oak Park, Illinois.  It is told from Mamah’s perspective and hosts its own number of ethical dilemmas.  It reminded me a lot of The Paris Wife, only in this story, it is the woman who leaves her family to pursue personal, artistic growth.  Horan writes it as a story Mamah tells in a quest to process her decisions and perhaps feel understood: “It has always been on the written page that the world has come into focus for me. If I can piece all these bits of memory together with the diaries and letters and the scribbled thoughts that clutter my mind and bookshelves, then maybe I can explain what happened. Maybe the worlds I have inhabited for the past seven years will assume order and logic and wholeness on paper. Maybe I can tell my story in a way that is useful to someone else.”  

Throughout the book Mamah battled judgement from most, and to be honest, it was difficult to see past the fact that she abandoned her children–which was part of the tension I imagine Horan wanted to create.  What was interesting was the way the media was still at work in those days, publically scandalizing the affair in newspapers–and blaming Mamah for her corruption of Frank Lloyd-Wright.

I suppose one of the questions I was left thinking about was: what is enough? Mamah’s umarried sister who had an apartment in the Cheney house was left with child-rearing duties confronted her sister with this truth near the end of the book: “You had everything. You had a wonderful man who adored you, beautiful healthy children. Freedom. No money worries. A nanny and a housekeeper. You didn’t have to work, and Edwin never asked a thing of you. Do you realize what you gave up for Frank Wright? The kind of life most women– most feminists– dream of.” 

It is interesting to think about where dreams and responsibility intersect, regardless of gender. But, needless to say, I added this book to my list of books that help me process through and understand women’s history.  I wanted to end by sharing a list of other titles that have helped me think through that concept:

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Beloved by Toni Morrison

A Room of One’s Own (and every other title by Virginia Woolf)

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