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Books #3-4

Book #3 was "Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored" by Mary Gabriel. I always found Woodhull to be a fascinating character and had heard good things about this biography of her, specifically. Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to run for president (with Frederick Douglass as her running mate). She was the first woman to address the U.S. Congress and to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street. She also came from a fairly shady family and was a spiritualist. What separates her from other feminists of the time was that her focus wasn't solely on winning the right to vote but largely to lessen the misery of both men and women by making it easier for women to marry for love and to divorce if the marriage was abusive or just highly unhappy. Her unconventional views on romantic love got her maligned as a prostitute and con woman, but, just like today, she was often punished by society not so much for sinning as for pointing out the sins and hypocracies of others. I felt Mary Gabriel provided a balanced and nuanced view of a woman who was far from perfect but also passionate about social reform and helping the downtrodden. I liked that she lets the original source material speak for itself and quotes newspaper articles by and about her and Victoria's own speeches at length. Highly recommended.

Book #4 was "Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home" by Sheri Booker. Booker, a sheltered child of a police officer father and a school principal mother, begins working at a funeral home in inner-city Baltimore at age 15, shortly after her beloved Aunt Mary dies, and ends up staying there for nine years, ultimately acting as the unofficial office manager for the funeral home by the end of her stay. In the meantime, she learns about love and death, how not to cry, and the toll that holding back your tears can take. She talks about the ins and outs of the funeral business, and the rise of black-owned funeral homes. She tells humorous or scary anedotes about things that happened during her nine years at the funeral home, from a shootout at the funeral of a gang member to getting two bodies mixed up on a busy weekend. Her writing is NOT PC. There are a couple unkind cracks about fat people, and the way she talks about transgender women seems naive if not borderline offensive. However, this sort of unfiltered way of writing about her experience makes it feel like you're one of her girlfriends and she is gossipping with you over coffee about the weird things she encountered at work, and that makes it more entertaining than a book about the funeral business has a right to be. I liked this a lot and recommend it.

1. Death's End (third and final installment in the "Three-Body Problem" trilogy) [fiction]- Cixin Liu (translation by Ken Liu)
2. Brat Farrar [fiction]- Josephine Tey

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