Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Books read in Chincoteague (3 of 7): Not Becoming My Mother

eople of first world countries in the twenty-first century have a tendency to take an awful lot for granted. While many in democratic society worry that their freedoms are shrinking, it also seems as though they are expanding. Even a few decades ago a more conservative U.S. might not have put up with the diatribes of certain "grassroots" movements, more likely dismissing them outright as being incoherent and extremist. Today we still have the great benefit of an equal voice for all, even though some may be less deserving of serious consideration.

Orchid lying on a page from VogueAll of which is, for some reason, leading up to my notes on Not Becoming My Mother, this short memoir by Ruth Reichl about her mother's search (somewhat in vain) for a life as a non-homemaker in the middle of the 20th century. I have a certain weakness for reading about the lives of others, who, while not consequential or influential on any grand scale, have at least merited some well-written words and a bit of immortality on the bookshelf. No one is really inconsequential, in the big chaotic world of butterfly wingbeats, but some are significant only to a small circle of fortunate insiders.

Reichl's search for her mother's story focuses on the the fortunes of mid-century homemakers, facing proud and territorial husbands in a difficult job market after the Depression and World War II. Reichl had originally made the mistake of assuming that everything changed to roses for women after the 19th Amendment was passed. In truth, society took much longer to adjust to the change, and families behind closed doors longer still. Traditional patriarchal values (often maintained by the physically larger and stronger sex, and accepted by women who aren't sure how to do otherwise) still linger today. Reichl's mother did her best to instill deep seated independence and self-reliance in her daughter, such that she might never feel the need to ally herself with a husband in order to get by. Anyway, the thing was inspiring, comforting and entertaining, a quick read. Recommended.

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