This feature (for now in the custody of sarah.of.a.lesser.god) is our way of sharing those book titles, both fiction and nonfiction, that have been standouts in recent reading, and hopefully getting some from our readers in return. The focus is primarily, but not necessarily exclusively, on books concerning women and feminism, and/or written by female authors.
My Pick: Blood and Roses: One Family’s Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses by Helen Castor. As always I am an incurable history geek, and this book definitely helped keep my sanity on a disastrous family vacation this month. The book is remarkable in part because of the documentary evidence it is based on: a chest containing hundreds of handwritten letters concerning the Paston family, over three generations, that have been preserved for over half a century. The family worked its way up from villein status to reach the upper echelons of society as time progressed. A large portion of the letters were dictated by one of the family’s matriarchs, as she was not literate, and they’re a terrific window into the concerns of women in that society — managing and defending the home while the husbands and sons were off at war (including literally holding down the fort during a siege by family enemies), guaranteeing foodstocks, handling tenant grievances, and securing marriages for the next generation.
That anxiety over marriage matches comes through clearly, even five hundred years later, as one Paston daughter reaches the “advanced” age of twenty-eight before she is betrothed, and she is grateful enough to refer to him to her mother as “my master, my best beloved that you call, and I must needs call him so now, for I find no other cause and as I trust to Jesu never shall, for he is full kind to me.” Another Paston daughter, one generation later, elopes with a household confidant, an arrangement so scandalous that her mother tries to have it dissolved and her brother feels personally affronted by the perceived blight on the family name, calling her “our ungracious sister.”
A bonus for Shakespeare fans: the Paston’s chief benefactor was Sir John Fastolf, later immortalized as Falstaff in King Henry IV. As we perch on the cusp of spring, I’d love to know what books have kept you warm through winter. Share your picks in the comments!