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Librarian Picks Books for Women's History Month


March is Woman's History Month, as we mentioned, so we thought it was a good time to catch up on stories about phenomenal women of the past and of today. Joining us to talk about good page-turners about women and girls is Loriene Roy. She's the president of the American Library Association and our frequent guest for conversations about books. Loriene, welcome back.

Ms. LORIENE ROY (President, American Library Association) It's good to see you, Michel.

MARTIN: Does the American Library Association do anything special to acknowledge this month?

Ms. ROY: Well, we make suggestions through some of the ALA, American Library Association divisions and units. How we can help people and patrons, and how we can celebrate this month. I found that they develop a list every year called the Amelia Bloomer list and according to the people who compiled the list, they say it is to encourage and inspire girls to be smart, brave and, proud.

MARTIN: Let's hear some.

Ms. ROY: Well, one of the first titles we selected was actually one of my favorites, and it is the one picture book on this year's list, "Patience Wright: America's First Sculpture and Revolutionary Spy." And in this story, you read about the true story of a woman who was a wax portrait artist in the late 1760's, who moved from the colonies back to England, and had the opportunity to overhear what her patrons and customers were talking about. And she would seal this information in little notes and send them back to the colonies in the sculpture that she made.

MARTIN: I think you have something in there about Madame Curie? Is that right?

Ms. ROY: Yes. There is a new biography about Marie Curie, and it's a portrait of this Nobel Prize winner, but showing many facets of her life that I didn't know about. Romance, duels fought over her. They describe her as one of the - probably one of the first celebrities pursued by paparazzi. And of interest, especially to me, is that she developed mobile x-ray units and trained 150 women, who went to the front in World War One, to x-ray soldiers who had been wounded to make sure that their medical care was improved.

MARTIN: Wow. That's interesting. OK, anything else?

Ms. ROY: Well, there is another book for - these would be teen readers, and this book is called "The Plain Janes." It is a graphic novel, so it's illustration and words. Jane and her parents live in an urban setting. There is a terrorist attempt there. They leave city for the suburbs, and Jane finds other young women like herself. And they become sort of subversive artists, and you need to read the story to find out what - exactly what they do, and what this means, and how this helps Jane come to terms with her own experiences during a bomb threat.

MARTIN: That's interesting. It's interesting how graphic novels have really become important in a way that - and more serious, frankly, then I remember them being. I remember, you know what I mean? Don't you remember thinking of graphic novels as basically sort of trivial, comic books?

Ms. ROY: And libraries questioned - I know there was a big question in, like, the '60s and '70s to stock comic books for patrons, but the graphic novel format is a lot different now. They look a lot like bound books, and you'll find serious topics. In our own home collection, we have two or three Shakespeare plays as graphic novels, and they were great ways for the family to start to become aware of some of the plays, look at the pictures, understand the language better.

MARTIN: Are there any books that you recommend for people who are interested in more contemporary issues?

Ms. ROY: Eve Ensler's "Insecure at Last: Losing it in our Security-Obsessed World." And it's really - much of it is autobiography, but she looks at how her path through life has brought her to women who are experiencing great difficulties. Women in Afghanistan, who are searching for their missing daughters, and she not only describes these women's lives, but interweaves her own search for stability in her life.

MARTIN: Any fiction on your reading list? For those of us, once we've kind of worn our brains out talking about the heavy stuff?

Ms. ROY: I looked at a couple of the older lists and saw a few titles that were among my favorites - Carolyn Mackler's, "The Good Sea," "The World, My Butt and Other Big Round Things", and it's a wonderful young adult novel. And it brings up a young woman who just, kind of, questions her role in what she considers the perfect family and how she feels sort of, not quite with it, in the family setting, and then you realize that she is somebody who brings a lot of gifts to that family. The family is not as perfect as she imagines.

MARTIN: What else?

Ms. ROY: Well, the next title that we found was - is a mystery. And you've heard of Sherlock Holmes? But you probably have not heard of his younger sister. And in this fictional story, Enola Holmes, Enola standing for ALONE. ALONE, cryptic backwards, is starting to solve mysteries on her own. And this is the second of a series, so if you have young women who like reading series books, this is - I haven't read the first one. I read the abstract, and I want to go back and read the first book in the series.

But Enola is solving crimes and in this case, she's asked to find out, and introduces herself to a family of a missing young woman. I think it is Lady Cicely, and she is uncovering the clues that will help solve the crime. Meanwhile, she's hiding out from her brothers, including Sherlock, because she's - they want to put her in a ladies school, and that's not her style.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Ms. ROY: So Enola's on her own, solving crimes.

MARTIN: Are there any - let's see, recently I saw a movie, it was trying to - was it "Becoming Jane Austin," which purports to tell a back-story of Jane Austin? I have no idea whether it has any resemblance to the truth. But are there any, sort of, classic works that you would encourage us to take another look at in honor of Woman's History Month?

Ms. ROY: You know, I think, reading Jane Austin at any time, I think is useful. I know a number of young librarians, in fact, who have weekends - Jane Austin weekends. They read the books. They show every version of "Pride and Prejudice". they can find. As you mentioned, even recent movies that have other takes on the story of Jane Austin.

MARTIN: And finally, I can't resist asking your take on so-called chick lit. I don't know how you feel about the term, but, sort of, on the one hand, I know some people say, look, as long as people are reading, they're reading. On the other hand, people are - some people think, oh, come on! You know? Do - is there anything else to talk about besides whether you get a man or not? But I don't know, what's your take on it?

Ms. ROY: Well, I think I am in the camp of reading. You should never apologize for your reading tastes, and that's a little phrase that comes from Betty Rosenberg, who wrote the first edition of a book called "Genreflecting." Chick lit didn't sound too unusual to me because we've hear of chick flicks and chick lit, but when I heard lad lit, I kind of stop for a minute and go, what is that genre? But there's nothing wrong with reading chick lit.

MARTIN: All right. You tell them. Loriene Roy is the President of the American Library Association and our frequent guest for conversations about books, and she was kind enough to join us here in our Washington studios. Thanks again, and come back and see us.

Ms. ROY: Thank you.

MARTIN: For a list of Loriene Roy's recommendations, including even a couple more that we didn't get a chance to talk about here, please go to our website, npr.org/tellmemore.

I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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