I had never heard of the historical phenomenon of the Magdalen laundries until I read the plot synopsis for The Magdalen Girls. Learning about them was equal parts fascinating and horrifying. They were essentially penitentiary work-houses for women who were deemed by society to be ‘fallen’ or ‘sinners’ for a variety of reasons that today seem baffling. The worst ‘sin’ of many of the women who were sent by their families to be relegated to these institutions was often just to have had a child out of wedlock.
Throughout both distant and more recent history, women across the globe have often been hidden in secreted locations when finding themselves unexpectedly pregnant. The difference with the Magdalen laundries is primarily that the women were forced to work in extremely hard conditions for their keep, while being condemned through bodily mortification bordering on torture for their ‘sins’.
V.S. Alexander brings this troubling chapter of history to life in The Magdalen Girls through three very relatable young characters that find themselves in the Sister of the Holy Redemption convent for different reasons. The book is both an interesting historical commentary on the laundries, as well as a novel about the more universal themes of friendship, right and wrong, identity and personal freedom.
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Some of you may have noticed that I was completely absent from posting last week. If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen that it was because I was in an interview process for a new job. I was lucky enough to get the new job last Friday and I’m super excited about it. I’m starting in another 2 weeks, after a brief break.
The additional time and energy required for the interviewing meant I didn’t have as much time to read or work on my blog after my regular full time job. But I’m back to my regular posting schedule this week! I may keep things on the lighter side (2 to 3 posts per week instead of 4) while I’m adjusting to my new job.
Please note that starting next week, I’m, officially moving my weekly Links I Loved posts to Sunday mornings. Enjoy this week’s links!
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The True Crime genre is definitely having a bit of a moment not just in print, but also on television and in other forms of media. This recent increase in interest in the genre was initially accelerated by the sudden popularity of podcast Serial, which covered the story of the murder conviction of Muslim teenager Adnan Syed in its first season of episodes released in 2014. After that came Netflix’s original documentary series Making A Murder, which followed the apparent wrongful conviction of Steven Avery, and later the production of broadcast television series American Crime Story, which reenacted perhaps the most famous trial in U.S. history – that of O.J. Simpson.
Though these recent productions definitely incited further interest in True Crime, the reality is that human’s have always had a more or less morbid interest in real stories of crimes – and often the more gruesome or complex the better. There is something voyeuristic about people’s interest in the genre of course – most people (luckily) will never be involved in serious crimes like those which the genre encompasses, and it’s these extremes in human experience that typically draw a lot of attention from average citizens leading average lives. I’m among those interested in True Crime partly for the thrill of reading about events that are so far from my personal life experience, but I also have an intellectual interest in the criminal proceedings that are often discussed in True Crime titles. I like to put myself in the place of the detectives investigating the crimes, or the attorneys prosecuting a case or defending a suspect.
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February was definitely an easier month for which to pick a good number of new Nonfiction and Fiction releases that I’m excited about. I think January is typically a less active month in the publishing world, so I had a harder time ferreting titles out that I felt truly compelling. This month, on the other hand, I had to cull my list down from 20 titles or so to ones that I thought sounded the most interesting.
I would also add Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons to the list but I’ve already read it (here is my review). It was available to Book Of The Month subscribers as an exclusive and one of their five December 2016 picks, but will be released in hardcover to everyone else on February 7th 2017. I highly recommend it – the way in which the story is in part told through past letters written by the absent mother figure in the novel is fascinating.
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It goes without saying that going into reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead I had huge expectations. It was an Oprah pick, has received endless buzz in the bookish world since its publication in August 2016, and most recently was selected as the 2016 National Book Award winner for fiction. Basically, it’s a pretty big deal.
I was prepared to be at least marginally disappointed but instead the novel not only met but exceeded all of my expectations. It’s gorgeously written, moving, thought-provoking, and magical while remaining historically accurate and painful to read. I had to join the bandwagon by giving it an extremely well-deserved 5 star review.
As a side note, I’ve been looking for a good nonfiction book on the history of the underground railroad, but have had a hard time finding one with consistently good reviews. I purchased and started reading Bound For Canaan by Fergus M. Bordewich, but I found his writing lacked cohesion, which made the book very hard to follow. He strung descriptions of people and anecdotes along with not much to connect them to a larger overarching point. I may have given up on it too soon though and may have to revisit it. If you’ve read it can you let me know what you thought in the comments?
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