National Women’s History Month: By the Book

Two weeks ago, I blogged here about National Women’s History Month, making the first in a series of posts about new and recent books available from UNC Press focusing on the lives of women. That entry featured books that looked at the lives of American women in the Civil War and women returning from tours of Afghanistan and Iraq in the past few years.

Today I’ll be following that up with a profile of two books being published this spring, each taking a fascinating look at the role of reading in the lives of women.

By the Book

Barbara Sicherman’s research of the day-to-day of the Gilded Age public has paid off: with Well-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women, Sicherman has created an outstanding look at how girls and young women of all classes and colors counted reading as an integral part of their lives. Those born into aristocracy, like The Greek Way author Edith Hamilton, had almost every resource at their fingertips, while others like African American journalist Ida B. Wells used reading as an escape from the reality of being orphaned and expelled from school as a teen. Sicherman details how characters like Little Women‘s Jo March inspired women of the late-19th century to be the cultural leaders they became in adulthood. (We recently ran another post about Sicherman’s book: see Louisa May Alcott and the Godmother of Punk!)

Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons, a recent UNC Press publication by Megan Sweeney, sheds light on the current state of reading among incarcerated women, analyzing everything from recent Supreme Court decisions that make it possible for inmates to be denied all non-religious and non-legal reading materials, to the three genres most popular with the subjects she interviewed (narratives of victimization, urban crime fiction, and self-help). In the end, Sweeney explains just why reading is a crucial part of rehabilitation for incarcerated women in America’s prisons, arguing that books are often their only means of support, betterment, reflection, and most of all, a connection to the outside world.

– Matt