City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

The cover of this book caught my eye. Flipping through the book, I realized that it revolves around the New York City theater world during the 1940s. I looked into the author and discovered that this Elizabeth Gilbert was the same author who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, among other fiction and non-fiction titles.

City of Girls  by Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of Vivian Morris. After receiving a letter from a male friend’s daughter asking for Vivian to finally explain to her what her relationship really was to her father, Vivian uses City of Girls as a long-form letter to the woman. Ninety-five-year-old Vivian looks back on her youth with a mix of sadness, regret, pleasure, and passion. Through this book, Vivian learns about her body, sexuality, and female promiscuity. She learns how to heal from various wrongs done to her and wrongs that she has committed.

In the summer of 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York to live with her aunt. Having been kicked out of Vassar College, Vivian, along with her suitcase and sewing machine, is relegated to New York by her parents who just don’t know what to do with her. Luckily for Vivian, she soon finds lodging and employment at her Aunt Peg’s dilapidated theatre, the Lily Playhouse, as the seamstress. Vivian learned how to sew from her grandmother and is good at making something out of nothing. By just looking at someone’s body type or looking at an outfit/type of fabric, Vivian can figure out what is wrong, what needs to be changed, and what would look best on someone.

Vivian quickly becomes the talk of the showgirl community as word circulates that she can make glamorous costumes out of seemingly nothing. The longer she stays at the Lily Playhouse, the more interesting characters she meets. Vivian meets showgirls, sexy actors, a famous actress, a disgruntled writer, and her aunt’s friend who serves as the stage manager trying to keep the Lily Playhouse alive. Vivian’s new life brings another new and exciting chapter of discovery: sex. Vivian discovers what makes her happy and that she has the power to make herself happy no matter what other people think.

When Vivian makes a personal mistake that threatens to ruin both her personal and professional lives, she is forced to start a new life again. The consequences of her actions will take her years to unravel and understand. The new life she makes for herself will lead her down a path she never imagined for herself: a life where she understands what she actually wants and how she has to behave/act/live in order to have it. Vivian also meets the love of her life while she is making a new name for herself. This love is completely different than anything else she has experienced before, but it proves to change her the most.

City of Girls is a glittery and glamorous look at ninety-five years of life. Vivian is able to look back at her life and acknowledge how the actions that she made changed the course of her life forever. Her life would have shifted to a more traditional role and been completely different if she had chosen one different path. Vivian was never afraid of what life threw at her. She was able to live an autonomous life that was not available to many women who grew up during the same time period as her.


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Upstairs at the Strand: Writers in Conversation at the Legendary Bookstore edited by Jessica Strand & Andrea Aguilar

upstairs-at-the-strandLocated at the corner of Broadway and 12th Streets near the East Village in New York City is an independent bookstore called The Strand. Its slogan boasts “18 miles of books.” The third floor of The Strand houses an opulent Rare Book Room. Here, dyads (or in one case, a trio) of writers were invited to sit and share their thoughts about life, work, and the things they love.

Upstairs at The Strand is a written collection of these intimate conversations.

As you read each chapter, you may be compelled to imagine yourself an unseen guest in the upstairs room, listening. If you have ever been to the Strand or are familiar with any of the authors included, you may find it especially easy to imagine.

Renata Adler. Edward Albee. Hilton Als. Paul Auster. Blake Bailey. Alison Bechdel. Tina Chang. Junot Diaz. Deborah Eisenberg. Rivka Galchen. A.M. Homes. Hari Kunzru. Rachel Kushner. Wendy Lesser. D.T. Max. Leigh Newman. Tea Obraht. Robert Pinsky. Katie Roiphe. George Saunders. David Shields. Charles Simic. Tracy K. Smith. Mark Strand. Charles Wright.

If you are not familiar with any of these names, by all means check out this book and acquaint yourself with some talented authors whose work you may enjoy exploring. There is something to be found by each of these authors in the RiverShare library catalog.

 

 

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

the house girlThe House Girl by Tara Conklin follows the lives of two women: Lina Sparrow, a first-year associate in a Manhattan law firm, and Josephine Bell, a slave living on a plantation. Lina lives with her father, a famous artist, while she works at the law firm. Her mother died when she was younger and as a result, her father seldom talks about her. When Lina discovers that her father is planning to open up a new art show and that the subject matter is her mother, she finds herself wondering who her mother really is and what happened before her death.

While she digs into her personal history, Lina is picked to work on a reparations case at work for the millions of descendants of American slaves. This historic class-action lawsuit would lead to trillions of dollars in reparations for all of the descendants of the slaves. Lina is in charge of finding the perfect plaintiff, a person that will bring a compelling back story that will catch the public’s eye and help sway the courts. She stumbles upon the life and work of Miss Josephine Bell.

Josephine Bell worked as a house slave on a plantation. Her mistress, Lu Anne Bell, taught her to read, draw, and paint without her master knowing. Josephine’s life was easier than the lives of the slaves working in the fields, but that doesn’t mean that her life was all sunshine and happiness. Balancing between house and fields left her with a sense of discontent. Her master’s continued unwanted advances combined with her mistress’s multiple miscarriages over the years made the house a turbulent area. Her mistress’ health is also declining rapidly with no cure seemingly in sight. With her friends being sold off, Josephine herself has caught the bug to escape and runaway. Will she? What about the people she will leave behind?

Lina stumbled upon artwork that was attributed to Josephine’s mistress Lu Anne, but historical research has come to light refuting this claim and showing that Josephine may actually be the artist. If this is indeed true and if Lina can manage to track down one of Josephine’s heirs, Lina will have found her perfect plaintiff. Digging into historical records, wading through murky legal territory, and convincing people to come forward becomes a major part of her life while she is simultaneously digging into her own past and learning about her parents’ relationship and their separate lives. Tara Conklin has woven together an intriguing tale of love, life, and the familial and friendship bonds that bring us all together across the years. Highly recommended.


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