Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Books read, week of 1/24

I continue on my journey toward reading 75 books in 2012:

10) Tough as Nails: One Woman's Journey Through West Point, by Gail O'Sullivan Dwyer.

I have a much-older brother who was in West Point Class of '80, the first US Military Academy class to admit women. He was my idol and my measuring stick when I was little. I remember going to his high school graduation, and on the way home asking my mom why Jim got to give a speech when none of the other students did. She said it was because he was valedictorian, which meant he had the highest grades in the whole class. I decided on the spot that I would be valedictorian of my class, too. I was five. But 13 years later I made good on that vow.

All through elementary school, I dreamed of going to West Point too. Jim left his cadet sabre with us after graduation because he moved so often as a young officer, and I used to get it out and pose with it. I even think some of my interest in the Napoleonic Era might spring from having imprinted on West Point dress uniforms, which wouldn't have looked at all out of place at Austerlitz or Waterloo!

I ended up changing my mind about the military by the time I got to high school, which is just as well. I'm allergic to chains of command. I can fake it in my day job, but one of the reasons I hope to write full time someday is if I'm self-employed I neither have to boss or be bossed. Gail O'Sullivan Dwyer, however, did follow her brother to West Point. She's Class of '81, so just behind my brother (and her husband is one of his classmates). Her memoir is mostly a straightforward account of her years at the Academy and how she toughed her way through as part of the second class to include women despite being tiny, not particularly athletic, and having almost no practical knowledge of Army life when she went in. I'd love to read a follow-up about her post-West Point years, how she managed as an officer despite not having what I think of as a typical officer's personality (she doesn't come across as assertive as most of the officers I've known, either in my family or on the pages of history), how she came to terms with the disordered eating habits she picked up during her education, and what it was like making the transition from officer to Army wife. (Two VERY different roles. I'm glad I never seriously tried to date any of the cadets I met when my brother was a math instructor at West Point while I was an undergrad at Penn, because if a lone wolf like me would be a less than ideal officer, I'd be even worse as one's wife.) I'd also like to read about other women's West Point experiences, because hers is very much an individual story.

11) Book Which Must Not Be Named (#1 of 8). I'm a first-round judge for Romance Writers of America's annual Rita awards, and the contest rules obligate me to keep strict confidentiality about the books I'm assigned to judge. Since I want these books to count toward my 75, I will just say that it was indeed a book, which I read and formed an opinion of in the form of a score somewhere between 1 and 9.

12) Mighty Be Our Powers, by Leymah Gbowee. The memoir of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and a leader of the Liberian women's peace movement. A moving book, and all the more so because Gbowee isn't the kind of person you'd expect to take on such a role--after escaping an abusive relationship, she was a single mother with four young children, she struggled with alcohol abuse, etc., but she kept fighting to get an education and then to organize women from across tribal and religious boundaries to work together for peace.

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