02 May 2015

Review of The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

Title:  The Astronaut Wives Club

Author:  Lily Koppel

Publication Information:  January 2013

How I Got This Book:  I bought it at work.

Goodreads Synopsis: As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.

Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK's favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night as the country raced to land a man on the Moon. 

As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.

My Thoughts:  I had a great time reading this book!  It read like a novel, but it was a well-researched non-fiction history on a topic that surprisingly had never been covered before.  Koppel conducted interviews with the surviving Astrowives and read the usual primary source documents.  Her narrative is truly compelling.

I had seen this book by chance at work one day and was interested.  After a recent viewing of Apollo 13, I immediately purchased a copy of the book and started as soon as I could.  Then I began seeing the previews for the upcoming TV show based on the book.  I am so excited about the show!  And I'm curious to see how closely it will follow the book and how much it will veer off into total fiction.  Either way, it's going to be interesting!

I loved how Koppel set up the narrative to show that these women were supposed to be utterly and completely traditional, while also being a part of the latest and greatest in technology via their husbands' work, and contrasting them with the women's movement going on outside of their world. As pseudo-celebrities, they had to suffer in silence while their husbands slept around.  By the end of the space program, most of them got divorced, which I thought was surprising, but it also made sense due to the tremendous pressure of their husbands' work.

I was very happy to see how the women grew as time passed.  They started standing up for themselves to their husbands and to NASA.  One eventually became a very vocal proponent of the women's movement, having her own feminist talk show.  Some of them had to deal with losing their husbands in a very public manner and then try to rebuild and restart their lives.  Many dealt with alcohol and drug problems as coping mechanisms.

Yet the women created a very strong and loving support network, dropping everything in the case of an emergency, staying throughout the entirety of a flight operation with food and drinks in hand.  It was a very strong community, which I thought was absolutely fantastic.

My one gripe about the book is that as the narrative progressed, Koppel seemed to rush through events and spoke less about the later astronauts' wives than about the earlier ones.  The whole Apollo 13 mission got about a page and a half, if that.  So I would have liked to see more, more, more.

All in all, it was a very fun read that was more like a novel than a cut and dry history.  I highly recommend it.  I think this would make a pretty good book club read and my edition has book club materials (discussion questions, recipes, an author interview) in the back.

01 May 2015

Gone with the Wind Readalong

AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!  I am sooooo excited to be rereading this novel again.  It has been far too long.  But it truly comes at a perfect time because I've been gradually returning to a version of myself that I actually liked, which oddly enough happens to most closely resemble a high school version of myself, older and wiser of course.  I didn't totally dislike college me, but high school me read a whole lot more because I wasn't an English major.  I feel like I am in a good place again and returning to this favorite novel of mine feels like an excellent decision.

And in high school I read Gone with the Wind twice a year.  Seriously.  I read the novel ten times between my first read the spring of 7th grade and the time I graduated.  That averages to twice a year.

The person who first came up with the idea of a group read of this classic suggested using today to write a post gushing about all of the GWTW love that we felt.  Done.

I've written about my love for this novel before on an old blog.  I went on an excavation and found the post and am going to put up excerpts of it and add some new thoughts at the end...

So I started rereading it last night in bed.  I turned on the fan so that I'd have to pull up my quilt.  I read the preface written by Pat Conroy.  Then I savored the words of the first chapter before deciding to call it a night.  As soon as I started reading the preface, I felt a compulsion that I hadn't felt before.  I was happier reading than I have been in a long time.  I knew I had to read this book every chance I get.  I knew that my new motto would become "If I get this (homework, errands, sleep) out of the way, then I *get* to read Gone With the Wind!"  I actually bragged to one of my friends about it.  Because *I* get to read this amazing novel right now.
My first experience with Gone With the Wind was in the 7th grade.  It was Christmas.  I saw that Gone With the Wind, this movie that I had heard about from somewhere (I honestly don't know where because I hadn't gotten into old movies yet, but somehow I *knew* it was *The* movie to watch), was on TCM.  We had already opened presents.  My dad and I began watching the movie in the den while everyone else was in the sunroom.  For whatever reason, I decided to read the screenplay as we watched the movie.  And my papa was clueless about why I'd have the screenplay up while the movie was on because he was wanting to get his brand new wireless keyboard working.  I couldn't really explain why I wanted to read the screenplay as I watched the movie, but it was like I knew how much this story would affect me.  So that's what happened.  We watched the movie, I read the screenplay, and I was hooked.
Maybe that same day, maybe another visit to my grandparents', I found a copy of the novel upstairs.  This amazing movie was also a novel?!  I took it.  It wasn't my first classic--I'd already read Huck Finn and that abridged copy of Pride and Prejudice by then (and maybe, but possibly not, To Kill a Mockingbird  and The Great Gatsby).  I didn't know what a classic was either at that point.  I didn't know how famous this book was.  In my 13 year-old mind, it was a lost book that nobody paid much attention to.  I felt like I was discovering something amazing that people had forgotten.  I remember feeling a little bewildered when I realized how many people knew and loved my book because Gone With the Wind had become my book.  It wasn't that I was selfishly trying to hold onto it.  I was willing to share.  But I wanted to share it with people, to turn them onto this amazing little secret that I had.
I read the book.  I inhaled the book.  I absorbed the book.  I probably even displayed poor manners and outright devoured the book.
But I read it again and again.
It's one of those books that resonates more with some people than others.  I believe that it resonates more with Southerners because it's telling our story.  Your heart swells with pride, hope, and acceptance as you turn the pages.  You nod your head in complete understanding as the plot progresses.  You laugh and cry as the passages dictate. [Note--I feel like I need to step in here and say that the racial stuff is not included in this pride and understanding.]
From the time that I was 13 years-old, I adopted Scarlett as my role model.  She may not have always done the most upright thing.  But she did what she had to do to survive.  She was strong.  She was beautiful.  She was pretty smart.  She had the personality that I always wanted.  She had Rhett Butler, that symbol of earthy manliness that my exes never really lived up to, but against whom they were always measured.
And for the last 11 years, she has been there.  Sometimes at the back of my mind.  Sometimes at the front.  I've said ever since that first time that this is my favorite novel.  Then why haven't I read it in six years?  I really can't explain that.  Maybe I took all I could take from it as a teenager and had to change enough to be able to take more from it.
I am ready to again devour Gone With the Wind.  I want to will myself into reading it more slowly this time, to let it soak in again, to get lost in the beauty of Mitchell's magic and not just get lost in Scarlett (although, I know that I will do this too).  Some of the lessons I still remember and follow (sometimes you have to be a little bold to get by), others I remember and quietly ignore (not leaning on my elbows because it makes them ugly), and others I've downright forgotten.  But this, this is the book that I want living in me.  Pat Conroy describes in his preface how his mother lived this book.  I used to live it too, but I lost it somewhere along the way.
I'm ready to pick it back up now and carry it with me.

It's been two and a half years since I wrote that post.  For one reason or another I didn't finish.  But my thoughts and feelings towards the book are the same.  Obviously, I didn't discuss the current political ramifications of liking the novel.  I don't have a lot to say about it because a lot has already been said.  I don't love this novel because of the presence of the Civil War.  (I actually kind of hate reading or talking about the Civil War)  What I like about the novel is that Scarlett made some really tough decisions for herself and a lot of other people who depended on her at a time when the rulebook had been thrown out the window, though women still weren't supposed to do certain things...even when they had no choice.  She made unpopular decisions and stuck by them, which is at least admirable because some of her decisions weren't really good decisions and she faced the consequences.  She and Rhett are complex, realistic characters and I love reading about them.  Their story could have been told at several points throughout history when other cultures have been utterly overturned.  The Civil War aspect is not integral to my reasons for liking the story.  Therefore the political aspects of the novel were never really a sticking point for me, though, yes, much was deplorable about the South at that time.

Anyway, I've been thinking about Scarlett lately.  I watched part of the movie as I fell asleep the other night when it was on TV.  I recently found a Scarlett Madame Alexander doll.  I organized my various copies of the novel together (except for the hardcover copy that sits on my desk along with my favorites).  I am so ready to reread this novel again.

The "schedule" for the readalong has us reading ten chapters for every check-in.  I almost see myself devouring the novel in a fever pitch immediately, then going back and reading the ten chapter segments.  We'll see what happens.

I own five physical copies of the novel and the ebook.  I don't know which edition I will read.  My old mass market copy is highlighted like crazy because I had to mark all of my favorite parts, naturally.  :)  I may switch back and forth depending on what I'm doing and what size purse I feel like carrying that day.

If you're joining the readalong too, happy reading!  I can't wait to check out your posts and thoughts as we go through this novel together.