Salon recommends

Profiles of rule-breaking women from Simone de Beauvoir to Princess Di, how wildlife triumphs in New York City and more.


Salon Staff
May 14, 2001 11:10PM (UTC)

What we're reading, what we're liking

Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage by Elaine Showalter
You know that stereotype about feminist biography, that it's humorless hagiography that paints its subjects as victims and saints? Well, in this book Elaine Showalter single-handedly demolishes it. One of the few academics whose prose is both stylish and wickedly smart, she knows that what today's readers want are frank, complex accounts of how thinking women have negotiated the often torturous contradictions in their lives and dreams. This collection of short profiles ranges from Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir to Camille Paglia and Princess Diana -- figures who, in her words, were and are "rulebreakers who followed their own path ... women who defined themselves, however painfully, as autonomous." Some might complain to see their own favorite icons (Susan B. Anthony, for example) omitted, but for me, the only heroine whose absence I feel here is one Showalter could never have included: herself.

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-- Laura Miller

Wild Nights: Nature Returns to the City by Anne Matthews

"Wild Nights" is a nature book for people who think they can't stand nature writing. Anne Matthews, a contributing editor for Preservation magazine, makes the case that in New York City, one of the most urbanized areas of the world, wildlife isn't in the least intimidated by mammoth buildings, tangles of traffic and a thriving, often careless, human population: Nature simply comes back stronger, adapting to adverse conditions with surprising alacrity. It's a fascinating subject to begin with, but Matthews' liveliness, clarity and humor pull it into focus beautifully. She makes the horseshoe crabs of Brooklyn sound like as much of an institution as Coney Island or the Brooklyn Bridge -- or perhaps an even more significant one: "For 360 million years, they have come to lower Brooklyn to mate and lay their eggs. Their nearest neighbors, the borough's hundred thousand Hasidim, are living fossils too, keeping the eighteenth century a daily and living presence in cyber-age Flatbush. But the horseshoe crabs were here when Brooklyn and Europe were next-door land masses; here when the moon hung low and huge in the Devonian sky; here to greet the dinosaurs that once roamed New Jersey and Queens." They're not about to leave now if they can help it.

-- Stephanie Zacharek

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