Book Reviews

Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson (1790)

Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson (1762 – 1824, sometimes known as Susanna Haswell Rowson) was the best-known work by this American-British author. It was also America’s first best-selling novel. First published in England in 1790 as Charlotte: a Tale of Truth, it was retitled Charlotte Temple in 1797. With its classic theme of seduction and remorse, it sparked a great deal of controversy in its time. Yet it remained the most widely read novels of the first half of the nineteenth century.

Other than Charlotte Temple, Susanna Rowson’s prolific body of writings (which also included other novels as well as plays, poems, and school textbooks) has been largely forgotten. Though contemporary readers give this novel mixed reviews, judging from comments on Goodreads, Charlotte Temple has endured as an example of early American literature. Read More→

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To Be Young, Gifted and Black by Lorraine Hansberry (1969)

To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in her Own Words is a 1969 collection of autobiographical writings by the playwright and author best known for A Raisin in the Sun. It was the first play to be written by an African-American woman to be staged on Broadway.

Lorraine Hansberry‘s ex-husband and friend, the songwriter and poet Robert Nemiroff, became her literary executor after her death in 1965. He gathered her unpublished writings and first adapted them into a stage play of the same name, which ran off Broadway from 1968 to 1969. The acclaimed play was one of the most successful of that season. It continues to be performed around the world. Read More→

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A Country Doctor by Sarah Orne Jewett (1884)

A Country Doctor by Sarah Orne Jewett is an 1884 novel by this American author noted for regional fiction set in Maine. Nan, the main character, is a young woman wants to become a doctor, something that was quite out of the ordinary at the time this novel was published.

The story follows a central character in a narrative, unlike the linked sketches in her best-known book, The Country of the Pointed Firs. But like those linked stories, it’s more episodic than plot-driven.

Jewett was inspired by her own father, who was indeed a country doctor. In her formative years, she learned about human nature by accompanying her father as he did his calls to neighboring farms and villages in South Berwick, Maine. The following review came out as the book was published in 1884, and gives a contemporaneous view of the story about a woman with the ambition to become a doctor:  Read More→

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The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown (1942)

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown was inspired by the French ballad “Les Métamorphoses.” This tantalizing tidbit comes from In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown (2016), a fascinating biography by Amy Gary.  Brown (also renowned for the classic picture book Goodnight, Moon) translated the ballad whose lines conjure a dark and foreboding picture of relentless pursuit: Read More→

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The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (1896)

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah One Jewett (1896) is considered this New England author’s finest work. Neither a novel nor traditional short stories, this book is rather a series of linked sketches of a fictional Maine seaport town called Dunnet Landing.

A quietly evocative writing style conveyed everyday events and quiet emotions, the joys as well as the inevitable losses and hardships experienced the people living in Maine’s coastal fishing villages. Crafting a portrait of a disappearing way of life with this book and the others that she wrote, Jewett helped popularize the genre of regionalism in fiction. Read More→

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