"Radium Girls," by Kate Moore

This terrific book is about two of my favorite themes: fighting for justice and giving voice to the voiceless.

It’s an exhaustively researched 475-page tome that flies by with the speed of a novel. I appreciated that the author, being a theater director, was committed to assembling a deep cast of characters and putting the story in their own words and the words of their family and friends as much as possible.

"Radium Girls" truly puts women at the heart of the story. These women who worked in various radium dial factories during WWI and beyond were daily and knowingly exposed to radium with no safety precautions put in place by their employers. Many died horrific early deaths, while others met slow, excruciating ends. Radium caught up with all of them no matter what. Their fight was not to be cured — an impossible wish given their levels of exposure — but to prevent such a fate from happening to others.

I closed the last page feeling some feelings…

1. This story is incredible and tragic, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard it before (except via Terry Gross’s interview with the author, Kate Moore, in 2017). I'm so glad Moore took up their cause.

2. Corporations when only motivated by profit are terrifying and evil, and this is one of the most stunning examples I've read.

3. I keep picturing myself in their shoes, going through my tasks each day with radium attacking my bones, organs, jaw and skull and growing cancers on my extremities. I can’t fathom how they coped, and I feel so grateful for my comparative health.

4. These women were truly remarkable for the legal, medical and scientific battles they fought, and we are still benefiting even though many of us are unaware.

5. Justice is a dish best served promptly.

6. Let’s never let this kind of industrial travesty happen again.

7. Whatever you do, don’t Google “radium necrosis.”

"My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir" by Mark Lukach

This book kept me breathless while reading and left me feeling full. I can’t recommend it enough to those looking to gain a greater understanding of mental illness.

It’s a memoir by Mark Lukach about his wife, Giulia, and the onset of her first psychotic break that came despite no family history of mental illness. Lukach chronicles a five-year period of Giulia’s on-and-off psychiatric hospitalizations and how they cope with life on the razor’s edge while raising their young son.

The book does just what the cover review says it will: tears your heart out and then lovingly stitches it back into place.

Having been through mental health issues of my own, the details ring true — the fear and exhaustion for caregiver and loved one, strain on relationships, guesswork of treatment, and the eventual realization there is no cure.

But for all the negatives, it has hard-won silver linings. You learn who your friends are. You find new depths of love in your most supportive relationships — kin by blood or choice. You come to appreciate the light times more for having journeyed through darkness. And you drink deeply from your cup of joy when the ground is level beneath your feet, before that next big climb.

It's worth your time to give this a read.
"All the Colors We Will See," by Patrice Gopo

I’m ending the holiday feeling grateful for the beautiful words of Patrice Gopo.

I can’t emphasize enough how powerful and deeply thoughtful this essay collection was and how enriched and broadened I feel for having read her poetic and fluid reflections on race, identity, inclusion/exclusion, family, place and culture, marriage and divorce, and faith and spirituality.

Definitely read it!
"Solo," by Kwame Alexander
Incredible book.

“Solo” is a young adult coming-of-age novel about the son of an alcoholic rockstar.

It’s told in a cohesive series of poems that range from conversations to solitary reflections to stirring dramatic scenes, with each strung after the other like the notes of a chord in a beautiful song.

Prescribed for anyone who feels the music deep inside and uses it as a guide to unravel the tangles of the soul.

Review: "Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder"

At least half of this biography about a complex family during a fraught period in American history centers around the co-dependent and tempestuous relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.

Lane's unbylined authorial partnership with her mother — forged despite Lane's narcissistic, attention-seeking tendencies — led to the publication of the Little House novels during America's Great Depression and Dust Bowl.

As soon as the chronology of the biography shifts to Lane, she steals the show with her bizarre behavior, exhibiting mood and personality swings that worsen as she ages, and which, to me, sound like untreated bipolar disorder.

Lane got her start writing yellow journalism — not even bothering to conceal that her work was either fictionalized, plagiarized or flat-out false — as well as unauthorized and wildly inaccurate biographies of celebrities such as Jack London, Charlie Chaplin and Herbert Hoover.

Around the time of WWI, Wilder began writing a farm column for her local paper, and Lane took it upon herself to become her mother's unsolicited writing coach.

She would return over the years to borrowing or stealing stories from her parents' lives — including those Wilder planned to publish in a memoir and the Little House books — showing that Lane never drew from her own well to create stories but fed off and distorted the stories of others.

Lane was obsessed with homes, a product of her childhood poverty and rootlessness, yet never bought her own. Instead, she rented and renovated homes during her travels in the U.S., Europe and Africa.

After tiring from globetrotting, she returned to Mansfield, Missouri, kicked her parents out of their farmhouse, built them a new house on the back forty and commandeered their old house.

During alternating periods of mania and depression, she castigated friends about their relationship choices while suffering from her own — she was a divorcee and had other affairs but refused to marry again — and even went so far as to start a smear campaign against FDR for his New Deal, calling him a dictator and comparing him to Lenin.

She also fancied herself an expert in agriculture and commodities prices and predicted a book of matches would soon cost $25,000 — $463,000 in today's dollars.

These are just a few of the strange facts enumerated about Lane. She died in 1968 at the age of 82, despite decades of predicting her death was just around the corner.

A 23-page introduction to the book offers unsugarcoated historical context by examining Lincoln's Homestead Act of 1862, which was both a byproduct and sponsor of manifest destiny. It resulted in the slaughter and forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans in less than a decade, which is why Wilder in her "Little House in the Big Woods" book sentimentally describes the Minnesota woods as having "no people." There were about 50 Native Americans left in the vicinity at the time.
After this intro, the biography zooms down into the lives of the Ingalls and the struggle of white settlers as they "pioneered" the frontier.

If you're looking for a thoroughly engrossing read packed with historical details and drama, this book is for you.

For more info on the Dakota circa 1862, see "Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota."
"Jane Austen at Home: A Biography," by Lucy Worsley

This book was such a thorough and interesting deep dive into Austen's life, covering her moves from home to home because of increasingly straitened financial circumstances in her large family. 

I had no idea her brothers/extended family were such a bunch of scalawags, taking every opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of her and her sister, who both remained single and unprovided for. It seems like her sister, Cassandra, was the only bright spot in her life, and they stuck together.

The domestic responsibilities/financial burdens I learned she had make it all the more amazing that she wrote and published her novels, since they eventually ended up without servants, doing their own cooking and housekeeping and getting around without a carriage. 

Austen was truly a woman ahead of her time for remaining committed to her writing when it was not looked upon kindly or convenient for her to do so.

Pick this one up, and you'll learn a ton about eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century life in addition to the Austen family history.