Sunday, October 27, 2019

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren, #33

Famous/Quasi-Famous People I’ve Known or Met


Ann Richards, Governor of Texas

My memories of Ann are so rich and deep I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps the memory for which I am most proud, was the inaugural parade. About 25 Texas Women’s Political Caucus members and I were selling the “A Woman’s Place is in the Dome” t-shirts all along the parade route, and I looked up to see Ann walking down congress to the Capital with a huge procession of supporters alongside and behind her. She yelled out “SueAnn, come here, come join me”. Unfortunately, I had a box full of t-shirts I couldn’t abandon and couldn’t join her, but I was extremely proud of that moment. Proud of Ann for making it into the Governorship, proud of women being so powerfully represented, and proud of the small part I play in all that.

I was President of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus when Ann was appointed State Treasurer and when she ran and won the Texas Governor’s seat. Because of our relationship, my famous graphic designer husband designed several ads for her campaign. She loved to flirt with him, suggesting I should share, to which I jokingly responded that I’m sure we could work something out. This is to say I was fairly involved in her campaign, and was, in fact, a member of her Capital Committee, which was a sort of honorary steering committee.  

We held a fundraiser for her at the National Women’s Political Caucus annual conference in Minneapolis, and the turnout was so overwhelming that we literally had hotel security limiting the number of people who could enter the room because of fire regulations. I had so many women virtually throwing money at me to give to Ann that I began stuffing it into my bra. Later that night at dinner with Ann and a couple of other people, much to our amusement, after I thought I’d already given Ann all the funds we raised at the event, I kept feeling something scratching against my chest, and found another $700, which I pulled out of my bra and handed over to Ann. We laughed so hard. It was a heady time! 

And lastly, is the memory of Texas Women’s Political Caucus float in a parade just prior to Ann’s Election to Governor. The float consisted of an eight-foot-tall replica of the Texas Capital Dome, with a large “A Woman’s Place is in the Dome” sign. We put as many elected women officials as possible, as well as firewomen, policewomen, etc. on the float.  And my 84 year old mom got to ride on that float. She was so proud and excited.

First Lady Hillary Clinton, US Senator, Secretary of State

Although I promoted and supported Hillary Clinton in the bid for the Presidency, I didn’t meet her until June 2015, at a fundraiser at Suzanne and Marc Winkelman’s.  Funny thing happened, when the special security checked my bag I forgot I had a knife in there - I joked and said us Texas girls always carry knives, but I don't think they were amused, and of course they made me remove it from my bag. They were probably keeping an eye on me the entire party too.

When I told Hillary my five-year-old (at the time) granddaughter asked me to ask her what's her favorite thing to do, despite a long line of people patiently waiting to be photographed with her, she replied, "Well you tell your little granddaughter that I love to swim, and I love to play with my dogs. But my most favorite thing to do is to play with my new little granddaughter Charlotte." America is the only industrialized nation yet to elect a woman President/top leader. What are we waiting for? Was Hillary Clinton perfect? No. Who is? If we wait for a woman candidate who is perfect, it will never happen. Are any of the male presidents or male presidential candidates perfect? No. Why do we hold women to a different standard? Women really need to cut each other a little more slack, and they need to stick together. Why? Because the female perspective is important. Not more important, just important.

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100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren, #34

Don’t get married until you’re older.
 (Me at age 18, just a few months before my marriage, and much too young.)

My #34, “Don’t get married until you’re older,” is inspired by my grandchildren reaching the age where they have and/or will start thinking about marriage. As I pondered the issue of what to tell my grandkids about marriage, and whether what I say has any value, a vivid memory popped into my mind.  

It is 1978, and I’m sitting in my sister Dorothy’s car in front of our mother’s house. As I told her why I was unhappy in my marriage and wanted to leave my children’s father, and asked her what she thought I should do, I watched pain unfold across her face and tears fill her eyes, because she too had struggled with her marriage. Then after a minute heavy with both of our disappointments, failures and regrets, she said, “I can tell you what I think you should do, but it won’t matter.  You will do what you want to”. 

She was right. I wasn’t looking for advice, I was looking for validation. 

Having been married several times unsuccessfully I don’t know if that qualifies me to be a good advisor on marriage, or a horrible one, or both. If it were a business decision, we could simply compare the pros and cons, but it’s not, it’s a business decision made under the influence of the most potent mind-altering drug in the world, love.  

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Cluster Critiques

Waters Plantation by Myra Hargrave McIlvain
Five Presidents by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin
The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates 
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss

Waters Plantation by Myra Hargrave McIlvain

I worry about reading and reviewing books written by friends. What if I don't’ like it? What if it isn’t well written. Then what do I do? 

Apparently, I have a knack for picking friends who are great writers, because Very Smart Gals Book Club member and friend, Myra Hargrave McIlvain, author of Waters Plantation, and other award-winning books, like Stein House and The Doctor’s Wife, never disappoints. 

Water Plantation brings together some of the characters in her previous books, tying together the stories of the decades long progression of Texas settlers through the turmoils of Mexican rule, Civil War, and Reconstruction. German Immigrant Amelia Stein, who suffered the loss of family and was trapped in a loveless marriage during her life in historic Indianola, is reunited with the man she fell in love with in New Orleans, and secretly lost a child from, plantation owner, Al Waters. Al, a former slave owner who conceived a son with a Black slave and secretly raised that child as white, struggles painfully as his Harvard Medical schooled son, Toby, returns to Brenham intent on embracing his biracial origins in a community still struggling with racial prejudice and an active Ku Klux Klan. 

McIlvain’s fictions of early Texas history include complicated, relatable characters, full of ambiguities, flaws, spirit and love - people trying to do the right things but not always succeeding – just like us, so, we care about them and feel for them. Waters Plantation is a beautifully told family saga, rich in texture with all the real-life ingredients that fill our everyday lives, and which filled the everyday lives of our Texas ancestors, and made Texas who and what it is today. 

You will enjoy this Texas historical novel. Read it.

Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin

Five Presidents is an a-political, unsensationalized, personal, and unique, view into the lives of the American Presidents between the 1950’s and 1970’s - told from the perspective of the (not so) Secret Service Special Protective Detail for the Presidents during that time. Special Agent Clint Hill’s humbly told account is so full of history-making events (he was the agent that jumped on the back of the limo to protect Mrs. Kennedy seconds after John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas), that it has, as one astute reviewer noted, a Forrest Gump feel to it. 

Although I entered into this book mostly driven by a sort of perverse curiosity, I quickly found Mr. Hill’s apparent compassion, authenticity, and dedication quickly changed my interest to that of simply hearing a well-told story about interesting people in interesting circumstances and times – which is at the heart of any good book. 

Read Five Presidents and learn unique information about the lives of some of our Presidents - like Eisenhower played golf and Kennedy swam every afternoon no matter what was going on in the world, and Johnson spent most of his Presidency at his Johnson City ranch.  You will also learn about the quality, sacrifices, and dedication of at least one member of our Secret Service.

You will enjoy Five Presidents. Read it.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren, #32

Books have significantly written my life.

The past two months have been hard. My husband, Crouse, who has a congenital heart condition, has undergone three dangerous but life-saving surgeries, and has suffered three Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs, mini-strokes), costing him heart-breaking losses in his capacity to articulate, and some difficulty keeping his balance. For the 30 years Crouse and I have been mates we’ve professed we’d rather die than live diminished physical or mental quality of life. But there’s a powerful will to live default in the human psyche. With each new health challenge, we find ourselves desperately clinging to life, in any form, and being thankful for it.  

We all have life challenges on an almost daily basis, but facing death so closely will make you especially introspective. This week, when not conducting the astoundingly demanding job of advocating for my husband’s hospital care, and keeping up with my work schedule, which is intense, I’ve been reading a book about the Los Angeles Central Library arson in 1986 (see my below review of The Library Book by Susan Orlean), which has made me think a lot about my mom and her books, my books, and how books have been a constant in my life.

Another recent incident inspiring memories of my mother and her love affair with reading was the death of a mother of a childhood friend.  The last time I saw Helen Wright, she and Marie Smithson, mother of another childhood friend were at my mother's funeral, and told me a lovely story about my mom that I’d never heard. My family lived in a small west Texas town surrounded by “oil camps”, which were clusters of homes out in the more remote areas provided to the families of men working in the oil fields. Helen and Marie told me that in the early 1940’s, years before my mother successfully led efforts to get the county to establish a library in our community, she maintained an informal lending library in our home, and loaned books to the oil camp wives who came into town every two weeks to buy groceries.

That triggered other book-related memories. In my childhood home, unlike my friends, I was surrounded by books newspapers and magazines, but I never thought of it as anything extraordinary. Then, when my high school sweetheart took me to his family’s ranch to meet his mom, I fell a little more in love with him when I saw his mom too was living in a home library – books cluttering practically every surface.  

I also recall, as a young bride living on that ranch, seeing an article about Jacqueline Kennedy, post-White House, when she was a consulting editor for Viking Press. There was a photo of her in her Manhattan living room, surrounded by stacks of books. I remember wanting both my beautiful country life and the innately smart people I shared my life with there, AND the Jacqueline Kennedy cosmopolitan lifestyle, surrounded by books and “the intelligentsia” of New York. Although life doesn’t always take you down the path you imagine, and indeed, mine has been circuitous, in a way I have achieved that ideal. My children all live on their family ranches, where I can visit and enjoy the many unique benefits associated with the country lifestyle, in addition to the urbane lifestyle Crouse and I enjoy here in Austin.

The retirement and legacy I hope to live and leave is significantly about books as well. I’ve been buying books for about 20 years, and my plan is to read every one of them again when I retire, and then donate them to my hometown library in honor of my mother. It is also gratifying to know that all three of my children are readers – and doubtless they will pass that on to their children, who will pass it along to theirs. And that is my mother’s legacy, and mine.

In May 1994, John Kennedy Jr. announced his mother’s death to the press, saying she had died, “surrounded by her friends and her family and her books, the people and the things that she loved". Hopefully, someday my children will say that about me too. 

Cluster Critiques

In Pieces by Sally Field

I though Sally Field was possibly the happiest person in the world. She was the girl we all wanted to be. Pretty, funny, happy, a cheerleader.  But in Field’s well-written, yet heart-wrenching autobiography, In Pieces, we are reminded that even famous people are occasionally forced to traipse through the cesspool of life.

Sally and her siblings grew up in a broken home until her semi-famous actress mother married semi-famous stuntman, Jock Mahoney, and Sally, like too many children, had to face a childhood unsuitable for a child. When she became a teen her assent to fame was quick and final, putting her on an unstoppable and treacherous treadmill to maintain celebrity and to vie for better roles. She seemed to always be desperate for money and stability, which is not something I would have imagined for such a famous actress. Maybe actors are just better at acting like they’re doing better than they really are. 

Not that Sally Field didn’t do well as an actress. She did. She won three Emmys and two Oscars, and starred in some great movies, including, “Forrest Gump," Norma Rae”, and my personal favorite, “Steel Magnolias”. She was also Burt Reynold’s lover for years, and remained his very close friend and confidant until he died (the story of which Field tells with touching humanity). But it doesn’t seem life was ever easy for Sally Field.

There was a part of me that felt Field’s story was nothing short of a cellular-level shoulder cry, an off-loading of a lifetime of too many sorrows and challenges, and not enough joy. But there was another part of me that felt Field was doing what she does best, acting. It wasn't that I didn’t believe her dramatic life-story of childhood abuse and exploitation, professional struggles, marriage difficulties, and classic mother-daughter conflicts, but at times, especially since I listened to the audio version of the book, which was read by Sally, I felt she was playing the role of her life, and playing it well.

Sally’s story, In Pieces, was interesting, well written, and in the audible format, well performed. I believe Sally Field is as genuine as she seems. I liked her book, and I like her!

Circe by Madeline Miller

Wow! What a soap opera – a Greek one at that.  Circe is the quasi-family saga of an unfavored daughter of a particularly nasty Greek God and Goddess, and who is condemned to an isolated island for mingling with mortals and dabbling in witchcraft. I have vague recollections of a book about the Greek Gods my mom had around the house when I was a kid, and recognized the names of some of the bit role players in Circe, including Zeus, Minotaur, Icarus, Medea, and Odysseus. What I don’t remember was how ridiculously dysfunctional the characters of Greek Mythology were – or at least according to Madeline Miller anyway. If Circe reflects the original writings, I think the adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” must have been coined in reference to Greek Gods. 

I also don’t remember there being so much sex, unless I simply didn’t recognize it as such at my young age. Or maybe mom’s book was the “sanitized” version. Anyway, there’s plenty of it in Circe. There’s loveless, passionate sex, there passionate love sex, infidelity sex, rape and more rape, oh and I almost forgot, there’s even bestiality. 

There’s also gobs of misogyny, hate, cruelty, and just plain bullying between the Gods and Goddesses of greater and lesser status, and marterism, and revenge – LOTS! Oh yes, and sea monsters and turning men who are male chauvinist pigs into literal pigs. 

So, this all sounds like I didn’t like Circe, but I did. Not so much the story, which was just mildly amusing, and a bit sluggish at times, but rather Miller’s writing, which was imaginative and lyrical. Also, the narrator, Perdita Weeks, (audible book) has a beautiful voice and did an exceptional job making Circe probably more interesting then she might have seemed on paper. Here are a few of my favorite passages. 

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

“So many years I had spent as a child sifting his bright features for his thoughts, trying to glimpse among them one that bore my name. But he was a harp with only one string, and the note it played was himself. 

 “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.” 

If you like clever nuanced writing, and don’t mind that the story drags a bit, you’ll like Circe.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I love it when I pick out an audio book to listen to on a road-trip and my husband says, “I don’t want to listen to that.  It sounds boring.” Then after being forced to listen to it for a while, upon embarking on a subsequent road trip says, “Why don’t you put back on that book about the library fire”. That’s what happened with The Library Book by Susan Orlean, which is about the 1986 arson of the Los Angeles Central library, which took firefighters more than seven hours to extinguish, destroyed more than 400,000 books and damaged more than 700,000 books. 

Sound boring? Maybe you’d be interested in the crime investigation aspect. Who started the fire? Why? How? I won’t spoil it by telling you much more than there’s a good bit of the book dedicated to the investigation, and I found it all mesmerizing. 

Then there’s the history of libraries in general, and in Los Angeles specifically. I can picture your eyes glazing over right now, and in the hands of most, that history could be sleep inducing. But author Susan Orlean has the enviable skill of turning seemingly mundane topics, like library fires and orchid thieves (reference Orleans fab book-to-movie starring Meryl Streep, The Orchid Thief) into heart-racing, tear-inducing, edge-of-your-seat stories. The sordid, crazy history of Los Angeles, even told in the context of the history of libraries in Los Angeles, was surprisingly intriguing. I loved The Library Book and was sad when it ended. 

Very Smart Gals in Grantmaking Salon

(pictured, l-r, Lindsey Aylieff, Melanie Cazier, SueAnn Wade-Crouse, Jami Hampton, MariBen Ramsey, Karen Kahan, Katherine Wright, Tracy Firsching, Cindy Raab)

In April, MariBen Ramsey, Karen Kahan and I hosted a salon for Very Smart Gals in Grantmaking to talk about the challenges and joys of grantmaking in family foundations (a few of the attendees are pictured above). The turnout was great and the gals able to attend really enjoyed sharing and learning from each other. Attending were, representatives from The Cain Foundation, Kozmetsky Family Foundation, Lola Wright Foundation, Topfer Family Foundation, Carl C. and Marie Jo Anderson Charitable Foundation, The LIVESTRONG Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Shield-Ayres Foundation, St. David's Foundation, Wright Family Foundation, and Webber Family Foundation. 

Other representatives of Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation, Austin Community Foundation, Tingari-Silverton Foundation, Still Water Foundation, Sooch Foundation, and Donald D. Hammill Foundation regretted they were not able to attend, and all expressed interest in re-convening the group in the fall.  The food was tasty, the beverages relaxing, and the camaraderie was beyond all expectations. 

A separate group of co-hosts and sponsors will also be convening a fall salon of Very Smart Gals in Corporate Foundations/Corporate Giving Programs. If you know of someone who should receive an invitation to that salon, please let me know.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

100th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution

Etymology: Latin suffragium, "vote", "political support", and the right to vote.

“Suffragists knew that women were not a unified bloc, 
and they still aren’t”.
Ellen Carol DuBois, Professor Emeritus, University of California Los Angeles.

When I saw the above quote in a recent The Washington Post article, "What activists today can learn from the women’s suffrage movement", I felt a pain deep in the pit of my stomach – old scars from years of personal failures trying to organize women as a unified voting block – my only “success” being the admittedly minuscule role I played as President of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus when Ann Richards was elected Governor in 1990. There were so many other defeats for me, simply because even the strongest proponents of women placed friendship, political promises, party politics, and sometimes tiny qualification differences above their support to women (endorsing male candidates over equally and sometimes more qualified female candidates). I cannot tell you how many times I stood up in meetings and said women’s perspective matters, and been booed and out-voted – to the point that I, and my stomach, were perpetually angry and in pain. 

I still occasionally stand up and say gender matters, but for the most part I cowardly view the main battlefield from behind the tree of cynicism, with sadness and as little self-recrimination as I can muster. But enough of about me and my guilt.

Thanks to friend Tracey Firsching, for reminding me 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19thAmendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. Technically the 100thanniversary is August 17, 1920, when the Tennessee legislature approved the amendment, becoming the last of the necessary 36 states to secure ratification. 

Tracy also recommended Melinda Gates' book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, in which Gates, when overwhelmed with the immensity of the need (violence against women, educating girls, fair pay, equal rights, and more), says she took a step back to look at “intersecting lines”, saying, “as much as any insight we've gained in our work over the last twenty years, understanding the link between women's empowerment and the wealth and health of societies is crucial for humanity”.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn reached the same conclusion in their exceptional 2010 book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,saying, as they traveled country to country interviewing leaders, they were only successful at gaining audiences when they pointed out that women accounted for more than half of the GNP.

As I looked into Gates’ book, I came across a number of articles talking about the approaching suffrage centenary, and other books about suffrage, including  The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss, which is apparently a riveting account of the Tennessee battle to achieve the final state approval needed to ratify the 19th Amendment – so riveting  in fact, that Steven Spielberg has purchased the rights for the movie. 

According to this recent, excellent article in The New YorkerThe Imperfect, Unfinished Work of Women's Suffrage, “the Tennessee battle included anti-arguments including, “women’s supposed emotional instability and intellectual deficiencies, the danger to society of anything that distracted them from their domestic duties as wives and mothers, and the threat to the moral order should they sully themselves with politics”. Some argued that most women did not even want the right to vote, others that the expanded electorate would be an expensive burden on municipalities. Still others raised the paradoxical objections that women would vote the way their husbands did, thus doubling their votes, or not vote the way their husbands did, thus cancelling them out, making the whole thing a waste of time”.

How could we be so unintelligent, so illogical? 

Why did the question of women voting ever even exist?

Why is equality even an issue?

Sadly, these are all rhetorical question.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren, #31

Where “Gals” came from.

For some reason, I woke up this morning (1) excited at the prospect of having time to write on my blog, and (2) inexplicably wondering where the term “gals” came from.

Admittedly, I’ve not been very dedicated to my blog the past year, and not that you would necessarily notice, but if you’ve wondered, it’s because I have been redirecting my “recreation” time to spending time with grandkids and/or working more so I’ll have money to spend on my grandkids (I rationalize it as “buying experiences and opportunities” for grandkids). 

With regard to “gals,” I’m not sure where my curiosity about that word came from, other than my preternatural curiosity about all things, but whatever the motivation, I had no idea what I was getting into when I struck off on my research into the term gals. 

First, as we all know, in the era of high-speed access to the bottomless internet, research is never done. I could have spent the balance of the week in the gals research maze. But at some point, you just must stop and go with what you have so far – and so far, I’ve discovered there is a never-ending list of synonyms for gals, many of which I’ve never heard of and are mind-blowing! I also discovered there are both positive and negative connotations.

Gals is considered derogatory as relates to slavery. Apparently, some slave-owners referred to women slaves as gals. I never knew this and feel regretful that I may have offended someone with the use of gals. On the other hand, we are all residuals of our zeitgeist, and in the world I grew up in, a gal was an endearing term. So, what to do. Well, I just hope that anyone offended by my use of gals will forgive me and understand I use it in reference to women I particularly respect. 

On the fun end, take a look at all these words I found related to gals – some of which are very offensive, a few of which I had to research further, and one of which I am particularly enamored, “bluestocking” - an educated, intellectual woman, originally a member of the 18th-century Blue Stockings Society led by the hostess and critic Elizabeth Montagu (pictured above), who was a salonnière. And how wonderful is the word salonnière?  How many gals-related words below are new to you?

adventuress, amazon, amie, arm candy, aviatrix, babe, bad kitty, bag, baggage, baroness, belle, bellibone, belladonna, besom, biddy, bimbo, bint, bird, bit, bitch, box, bridezilla, broad, butterfly, charlie, chica, chick, chiquita, chicadee, chook, colleen, collegiette, coquette, contessa, countess, dame, damsel, daughter, demimondaine, demoiselle, dyke, dish, doll, dowager, doxy, doyenne, duchess, duck, dudette, duenna, editrix, editress, empress, female, femme, femme-fatal, fille, filly, flipper, floozy, fox, frail, frau, gentlewoman, girl, girlfriend, girlie, godiva, grandmother, gurl, hag, harridan, hoe, hoochie, homegirl, honey, hussy, ice queen, ingénue, jane, judy, lady, lass, lassie, lesbian, little woman, love, ma’am, madam, maid, maiden, mama, marchioness, mare, matriarch, matron, mavourneen, member of the fair sex, member of the gentle sex, mädchen, milady, miss, missus, mistress, moll, mother, nina, noblewoman, Mrs. , Ms. , mujer, old bag, old lady, old woman, peeress, pet, petticoat, piece, poontang, popsy, princess, pussy, queen, queen bee, regina, rib, sausage jockey, schoolgirl, she, sheila, sister, skank, skirt, slattern, sleeze, sororiwhore, squaw, sultana, sweet thing, sylph, tail, tart, termagant, tootsie, tramp, vamp, victress, virago, viscountess, vituperator, wahine, wench, whore, wifie, woman, yenta, and yorga

Best Books 2019

Of the 38 books I read in 2019, these stand out:

Best Fiction 2019




Best Non-Fiction 2019




Cluster Critiques

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

When Kya was six, and barely old enough to remember, her mom walked away from their home tucked into the marshland of the North Carolina coast, and never returned. Kya and her three older siblings learned to stay out of the way of their violent alcoholic father, each growing up and leaving as soon as they could, until eventually the dad disappeared as well, leaving Kya, age 10, alone and on her own. By necessity, the earth, water, flora and fauna of the marsh became her companion, teacher, mother and savior. 

Although there were rumors in town about a “swamp girl,” and Kya even trying for a while to attend school, soon enough, she turned away from the foreign, complicated nature of society, and back to the comfortable, uncomplicated society of nature. The child welfare systems soon forgot about her, and she grew up with the marsh and its inhabitants her only trustworthy, knowable constant.

Where the Crawdads Singof course also includes a complex plot involving Kya’s sexual awakening, betrayal, true love, personal achievement, and even murder, but those are only side dishes (albeit fairly yummy ones) to the lovely, lyrical, relationship Kya had with the marsh that raised her, and the extraordinary persona she developed as a result of that isolated upbringing.

When author Delia Owens was a little girl, her nature-loving southern mother would encourage her to explore, saying “go way out yonder where the crawdads sing.” And Delia did, eventually becoming a wildlife scientist in Africa.  When my book club recently discussed this book, going around the room, picking one word to describe how this book made them feel, the word “jealous” came up several times – jealousy of Kya’s simple, quiet, satisfied existence. I too found myself wondering how peaceful and uncomplicated it would be to be Kya – way out yonder where the crawdads sing. Except for a few clichéd characters, this is a unique story, beautifully told. 

The Witch Elm by Tana French

I found myself loving this book, but anxious for it to end. I truly enjoy French’s exceptional writing, but in this case, she seemed to lose sight of “diminishing return” - when enough is enough and resolution is called for.

The Witch Elm is about Toby, a Dublin publicist for an art gallery, and his pastiche of friends and family members who discover a human skull in a tree on his Uncle Hugo's property – a place where they’ve all spend many summers and holidays together for decades. Who does the skull belong to? How did it get there? What role, by virtue of their lives and personas, did each of them play in the mysterious death.

French beautifully weaves a tapestry of suspicion, red herrings, hints and threats as she leads us through what Stephen King in his NY Times review described as a Thomas Hardy-like mystery, and which made me flash back on the many Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mystery books I read in my youth. 

The Which Elm characters twist you around their little fingers, making you sure you know what’s what, when in fact you do not, and you’re all the more grateful (literally speaking) for it. 

Good? Yes. Long? Yes. Worth it? Yes. 

Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

If you watch TV you may have seen both the commercial and PBS versions of the story about Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, the technology company dedicated to making multiple medical diagnosis through a single finger prick and one drop of blood – obviously, a revolution in medical science that would change the world. Unfortunately, over time, the facts surfaced that their technology was failing frequently and many of their claims were exaggerated and in some instances false. One might surmise what makes the very public crucifixion of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, a story seemingly even more compelling than their revolutionary ambition, is the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” methodology embraced since the beginning of time didn’t work for this invention because it endangered people. However, it feels more sinister to me. 

Yes, Theranos claims were misleading and produced inaccurate blood test results, but industry has been misleading the public and placing them in danger forever – cigarettes, alcohol, cars, birth control, food preservatives, sugar, you name it. But I don’t recall any of those being attributed to a single individual – but rather to the companies.  Elizabeth Holmes to be so publically shot down in flames and villainized - even to the point of criticizing the tone of her voice, her wardrobe choices, and her decision to drop out of college to found her company (although Steve Job, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all did as well). 

Could it be that Elizabeth Holmes, once named by Forbes the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America, was getting a little too uppity in a world yet dominated by men? I do not know. Just as Elizabeth Holmes charmed the likes of her very high profile board members and investors (George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, Bill Frist, Richard Kovacevich, Riley Bechtel, Tim Draper, Rupert Murdoch, Walmart, Betsy DeVos and others) she too sort of charmed me with her unflinching vision, fearlessness and ambition.  Alas, in March Elizabeth settled fraud allegations made by the Securities and Exchange Commission, agreeing to pay a $500,000 fine, give back a large portion of her Theranos shares, and be barred from acting as a public company's officer or director for a decade. 

Ronya Kozmetsky once told me the difference between the way women do business and men do business is that men fail and fail and fail, never looking back until they succeed, and that too often women fail and then spend years analyzing why and mourning their failure. I wonder which path Elizabeth Homes will take. Bad Blood is a fascinating look at what happens when theory and scientific discovery are driven by a culture that measures output in megabytes per second.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Author Michelle McNamara entered the world of unsolved crimes when, as a teenager, a girl was murdered near McNamara’s home, and her killer was never caught.I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is about the Golden State Killer (aka East Area Rapist, Original Night Stalker and Visalia Ransacker), a serial killer/rapist/kidnapper/burglar with whom our author was tragically obsessed until her death from an accidental drug overdose in 2018. 

Joseph DeAngelo, now 72 years old, was finally arrested last spring when a covert mission captured his DNA and matched it to crimes attributed to the Golden State Killer. Prosecutors believe DeAngelo killed 13 people and committed more than 50 rapes and 100 burglaries in six California counties in the 1970s and 1980s – a portion of which time he was a police officer. His trial in Sacramento County is expected to take as long as 10 years. 

With staggering detail and dozens of interviews with involved law enforcement and victims, this book sews together a patchwork of thousands of clues, revealing a profile of the seemingly unstoppable, undetectable predator who terrorized California for decade, and remained uncaptured for nearly 50 years. Sadly, it also profiles the torment of its writer, so consumed by her subject that it eventually contributes to her death. If you are interested in true crime, you won’t find a much more detailed study than this. Michelle McNamara literally gave her life to documenting and tracking down one of our generations most prolific and elusive serial killer/rapist. That level of commitment to writing doesn’t get more serious. 

One Second After by William R. Forstchen

Post-apocalyptical books tend to not bother me any more than movies about zombies, simply because there are much more evident pressing dangers to which we are exposed on a daily basis, like driving a car. But One Second After, about the challenges of surviving an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) did because unlike most books of this ilk, it didn’t focus on the bad guys or larger than life saviors and gross destruction, it focused on the very fundamental, small, real dangers, like infection and starvation. 

First, electromagnetic pulse is a burst of electromagnetic radiation that theoretically can wipe out all electronics – including computers, phones, vehicles, anything that runs on electricity (which almost everything does). Which means no food, no medicines, and in some areas, no water. Your imagination can take you from there, but suffice it to say it will be dog-eat-dog as everyone strives to keep their families alive. 

So, in the book, there is a EMP in a small, rural, close-knit North Carolina town, which might seem safer, then say, a large city where relationships are much more disjointed. But as vehicles with electronic dependence shut down, and travelers wander into town looking for help, and as criminals’ sense opportunity and families become desperate to protect their own – chaos ensues.  
And soon enough marshal law is enacted with brutal outcomes, wars begin between cities fighting for water and food, and simple cuts without the advantage of antibiotics become deadly.  

Three things I drew from this book that I’d not thought about before:
1.    How vulnerable one becomes if one has resources other do not. For example, if you’re a “prepper” who has stocked up on supplies and planed for an “end-of world” scenario, you will immediately become a prime target for those who have not. 
2.    The need for coalition. Groups will overtake individuals, and larger groups will overtake smaller coalitions. 
3.    Individuals who know the old ways of living off the land and are not so dependent on modern technology will survive longer.

Human behavior is pretty predictable and self-preservation is hard-wired, so it is always interesting how writers portray their version of what happens when our social structure breaks down. It’s hard to judge right or wrong when survival is the motivation, but just as with most post-apocalyptic books, One Second After primarily focuses on individuals with integrity and a concern for the greater good, which is why we read them – they feed our need to believe that no matter what happens the good people will survive. Read it? Sure. It’s pretty well-written, but digresses towards the end when the author is scrambling for a believable ending. 

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

I never met a man worth fighting with another woman for.  If his intentions aren’t clear. You can have him. Good luck. You’ll need it.

But that’s seemingly not the case with Vanessa and Nelly. Two women in love with the same man – suave, sophisticated, financially secure, and handsome Richard. But Vanessa, the x-wife, who once had Richard and his money and his sophisticated lifestyle, can’t let Nelly, the new fiancé, marry him! She can’t! She must stop the wedding. Nelly should know the truth So, she stalks Richard and Nelly, plotting and planning. But who is the real predator? Who is the prey?

The writing is good. The plot is wicked. The ending is smashing. But, you will slog through a good bit of adolescent-feeling narrative to find the psychological-thriller aspect of this pretty good book.  

The Gay Place by Billy Lee Brammer

This book was the book choice for our March Very Smart Gals Book Club meeting, and since hostess Marcia Milam picked it, she kicked off the discussion, recalling so many captivating personal connections and memories, which were quickly added to by so many of the gals who were also mingling on the cusp of that 1950-60 political era, and the characters who evolved out of it. Cathy Casey brought with her a first edition hard-cover reprint of The Gay Place that her company, Texas Monthly, produced in the ’70. It even had some penciled-in marginalia. There were so many wonderful stories and discovered connections that came from that book discussion, bringing all us gals even closer. I certainly have some great memories of that political period, as it was during that era that my mother was attending graduate school at UT during the summers. And although I was very young, I still absorbed impressions and they did impact me. 

I did a little research on The Gay Placein anticipation of our March meeting and came across the below, very lovely description of this book. I couldn’t say it better, so I won’t. Thanks to Matthew for this critique:

“I certainly didn't expect a novel based on LBJ's political career in Texas to be chock-full of eroticism and complicated passions. Not that the Johnsonian character is involved in most of the hanky panky - he floats over all the proceedings spouting quotes from the Old Testament and Hill Country superlatives - strangely, he is the most aloof character and the one I identified with the most. This novel is largely concerned with young people involved in Texas Government in the late fifties - filled with Austin's rich and powerful pining for the innocence they never had - they just don't cough up beautifully-wrought prose about it anymore.”

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