Friday, September 28, 2007

a book review

I guess it's kind of odd that with all the reading I have done over the past couple of months, I haven't included any book reviews on my blog. I have read some really interesting and thought-provoking books, and I do write short reviews of them on LibraryThing, but that is more for my own reference.

I recently read a book, however, that I do want to share. It is Miss Alcott's E-mail: Yours for Reforms of All Kinds by Kit Bakke. I took it off the new book shelf at the library and paged through it several times before I actually brought it home with me. It is a difficult book to describe. Although considered "fiction", it is actually part memoir, part biography, and part social history.

The author, Kit Bakke, must be a few years older than me as she was very much a participant in the turbulent political conflicts of the 1960s. Seriously. She was a member of the Weather Underground. As a middle-aged wife and mother, she is now wondering how she can stay vitally involved in the important issues of today. She decides to "contact" a woman of a similar age who was known to be an ardent reformer all her life - Louisa May Alcott. So Kit e-mails her, and Miss Alcott replies. Okay, you do have to suspend belief for that part, but I don't have a problem with that. The important thing is the dialogue between the two of them.

When Kit e-mails Miss Alcott, she details her own early life of activism, and then shares what she has learned from books and letters and diaries about Miss Alcott's life among the great thinkers of her day; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, her neighbors, foremost among them. Miss Alcott, when she replies, reminisces about her life as a writer and ardent abolitionist, and corrects some of the misconceptions we commonly hold about her.

You might think otherwise, but this literary device really works. The imagined interplay between their two personalities is fresh and believable, and, my gosh, I learned a lot. Not only about Miss Alcott's early life in a commune and her brief stint as a nurse during the Civil War, but about Kit Bakke's years on the run from the United States government, as well. And the author does an admirable job of presenting the slippery concept of transcendentalism so that even I can understand it.

I enjoyed the book a great deal, so I did something I have never done before. I e-mailed the author and told her so. And you know what? She e-mailed me right back and thanked me. How cool is that?


Ben said...

Does she advocate for transcendentalism as relevant in our time, as addressing her concerns with staying involved? (Good book report, by the way).

anne mancine said...

No. The author tries to offer a good definition so the reader will understand the way Miss Alcott was brought up. And, thanks!