14 December 2009

My Persephone Secret Santa and Book Review: The Home-Maker


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My Persephone Secret Santa
The delightful Claire over at Paperback Reader was my Persephone Secret Santa. Even before I unwrapped the package I was excited seeing that Claire was my Secret Santa because she is a voracious commenter and she and I have had some fun and informative exchanges over the past few months on both of our blogs.

My Persephone History
I am fairly new to the world of Persephone Books having only heard about them earlier this year and receiving my first order less than two months ago. My husband takes an aesthetic interest in these wonderfully beautiful books and has redubbed them Perstephones. So now it is common for both of us to add that interior “t” when referring to them.

My “Dot” System
When I first got the Persephone catalog I went through with a marker and made dots on each title according to how interested I was in each book. Five dots meant I was really interested, and those titles so marked, ended up being my first order of twelve books. Four dots meant I was pretty interested but could wait until the second round of ordering once I finished the first twelve. Three dots indicated a strong interest but it would probably be a while before I got around to buying them.

Claire’s Choice for Me
Well Claire bought me a three dot title. And having now read it, I couldn’t be happier. And it makes me hope that all my five dots are as wonderful. (Having already read Julia Strachey’s Cheerful Weather for the Wedding--a five dotter--I already know that that isn’t the case.) Being a bit of a control freak, when I signed up with Book Psmith to participate in this Persephone Secret Santa, my inclination was to give a list of titles that I wanted. But therapy seems to be working so I decided to throw caution to the wind and let my Secret Santa have an open playing field (except for the ones I already owned). I am so glad I did, because Claire’s choice was perfect.

The Home-Maker
Dorothy Canfield Fisher

First off, DON’T read too much of the catalog description of this one. Thankfully I didn’t remember anything about it so all of the plot twists were a surprise to me. I don’t think reading the catalog blurb would ruin your experience, but I do think it has unnecessary spoilers.

The Home-Maker is the story of Evangaline Knapp and her family. And let me tell you she is one uptight home-maker. Always harping on kids and husband, never happy with anything. To be honest, I identified with her quite a bit, and not in a positive way. I saw in her all of the behavioral traits that I have been trying to modify in myself (with some success I may add). Her husband Lester is a frustrated poet working in accounts at the local department store. The kids are perpetually afraid of their mother. The neighbors alternate between helpful and judgmental.

And then stuff happens. (No spoilers here.) A little bit of tragedy. A little bit of transformation. A surprise twist or two.

I loved this book because:
  • It had great, interesting characters. And although some are portrayed at times as heroes or antiheroes, none of the main characters are so one dimensional as to get stuck in either rut.
  • I love a good transformation story and this one had plenty to make me happy.
  • There are extended scenes about Evangeline finding her niche and being uber-organized and driven to excellence. A woman after my own heart.
  • It deals with some interesting gender issues that seem ahead of their time. These issues and their resolution also made me sad for the characters who had to endure 1924 gender roles that were antithetical to their happiness. It also made me a bit sad that, although things have changed greatly since 1924, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Often discussions of gender roles play out in terms of women’s roles in society, and I truly understand that women have not come close to reaching true parity with men in the workforce. But I think women today have emotional access to non-traditional gender roles in ways that men still don’t. Feel free to correct me if you think I am overstating the case, but in my experience the label “tom-boy” for a girl does not carry the same shaming sting that “sissy” carries for a boy. I have long thought that it all boils down to misogyny in any case. Traditional female roles have been so denigrated as second class or menial for so long that any male who would somehow identify with those roles or choose a “female” vocation is suspect at best and violently reviled at worst. Yes, all of this springs from this ultimately charming story written in 1924.
I hope you read it and I hope you enjoy it like I did. And thanks Claire. It might have been a long time before I got around to this one.

26 comments:

  1. Oooh...this one is also on my wishlist. You have provided me with another reason to move it up in priority...fantastic review!

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  2. Sounds wonderful! My namesake has great taste. :)

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  3. What a wonderful choice! I read the Home-Maker a couple of months ago and yes it was indeed lovely.

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  4. Thomas, I am so relieved that this choice was a winner for you and that (I should have done that - oh to be organised!)

    I took a chance with the title as it's a Persephone I haven't yet read (nor own) but really wanted to. I had high hopes for it, it did appeal to me from the catalogue (although very good point about the rather large spoilers) and I also wanted to send you one of their few American titles and this one won out. The gender politics and the domesticity of this title intrigue me and I look forward to reading it.

    I read about your unfortunate experience with House-Bound over on Simon's blog; publishing accidents happen but to be in the process of reading it at the time is most frustrating. I hope that your replacement arrives before Santa does!

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  5. So happy you received The Homemaker.. it's one of my favorites this year!

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  6. Glad your book has arrived and how interesting it sounds (must resist lure of Persephone).

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  7. Oh this sounds wonderful, Simon of Stuck in a Book got this too. I am not sure why I didnt join in with this it seems madness, if it happens next year I will.

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  8. Stacy: Thank you so much for hosting this. I hope we have it next year...

    Claire: She does!

    LitStew: (I hope you don't mind me abbreviating your name.) I really did like it.

    Paperback Reader: You did really well. If I weren't so happy with my copy I would lend it to you to read. I think the fact that it was an American author was one of the reason it only got three dots from me in the catalog. My first Persephone order was nothing but British.

    JoAnn: Me too.

    Jodie: To quote the Borg on Star Trek: "Resistance is futile!"

    Simon S: Actually Simon T got a different, but similarly titled book. I hope there is one next year. It was a lot of fun. I found that deliberating over the catalog, ordering, and giving Persephone is as much fun as giving.

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  9. Happy Persephone Secret Santa Day! I have yet to read the Homemaker and your review has caused me to bump it up in the list of Persephone titles I covet.

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  10. Hurray for Persephone Books and for Stacy and her brilliant idea! You are right on the ball, having already read your book and everything! Sounds excellent. :)

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  11. I love your "dot system." So well-organized :-) I am off to check out the Persephone catalog, too!

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  12. LOL! My husband calls them 'Persnickety' books. So glad that you enjoyed Claire's choice for you. Everyone has enjoyed Stacy's Secret Santa so much and I'm sorry not to have joined in. There's always next year!

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  13. Great choice for you! My husband simply groans at the thought of a new book find for me. He makes disgruntled faces but there is no umphh to his protest. And he knows I know. :) Happy reading and happy holidays!

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  14. Persephones are a new discovery for me too; I've gotten a few but haven't read them yet. I have this one on my shelf, and I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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  15. Leaning: Definitely a good book to put on your radar.

    Tuulehaiven: I have been a little afraid to tackle my Persephone stack. I am not sure why, fear of finishing them too soon perhaps, or not knowing which one to pick up first. So it made perfect sense to read this one in time for the "reveal" today.

    Aarti: When I choosing and Urban Planning grad program I also used the dot system to choose which ones to apply to--although it was a 3-dot scale, not a 5-dot scale. I went through each school's course offerings, added my dots to each class, and then totted up which schools had the most 3-dot classes.

    Darlene: I like that your husband calls them Persnickities.

    Frances: If your husband is like mine he probably has his own obessessions which you can casually mention when he get on you about reading.

    Teresa: Great that you own this one. I hope I didn't oversell it.

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  16. I don't have a dot system but this one is at the top of my list of "wants." Cheerful was my first Persephone read and I was a tad disappointed and ended up not even reviewing it.

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  17. Wow, you must be a very fast reader! I'm impressed! I *love* The Home-Maker so really glad you enjoyed it too. Great review!

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  18. A thoughtful gift giver is a wonderful creature indeed ;)

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  19. a wonderful post, Thomas! The Home-Maker is one I don't have to buy because a local library has an original copy -no cover, just beautifully old.

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  20. Lucky me - I have this one! You make me want to go pick it up right now.

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  21. Ti: I remember that you and I had similar reactions to Cheerful Weather, and that it was a Persephone first for both of us.

    Skirmish: Well it wasn't too long and was one I didn't want to put down.

    Heavenly: There are thoughtful gift givers, but I think Claire was inside my head when she picked this one for me. I could say she was Claire-voyant.

    Nan: Have you read it yet? What did you think?

    Tara: I think you will enjoy it. Lucky that you own it.

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  22. Paperback: Surely someone else must have made this bad pun at some point in your life.

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  23. This book sounds very intriguing - I am interested in what you say about the presentation of gender roles. I don't think I can resist the lure of Persephones much longer.

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  24. It ISS a terrific book, isn't it? I agree whole-heartedly with your last point. I have been saying for years that men and women will truly have reached a state of equality when no one looks down on a man who stays home to take care of the house and kids.

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  25. Melanie: Resistance is futile.

    Emily: Thanks for the input on the gender issues.

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