Book Reviews

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield (1924)

An ahead-of-its-time novel, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (at the time known as Dorothy Canfield), published in 1924 by Harcourt, Brace & Co., imagined a domestic role-reversal.

Quite a rare set of circumstances to consider in its time, Evangeline and Lester Knapp were both going through the motions of their proscribed gender roles as parents. An accident forced them to reverse roles out of necessity, and from that adversity, their family found strength and happiness.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879 – 1958) was an American author, educational reformer, and social activist based in New England and identified most closely with Vermont. She earned a Ph.D in 1905, was able to speak five languages, and worked for the cause of refugees in Europe. Read More→

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The Reef by Edith Wharton (1912)

The Reef by Edith Wharton, published in 1912, came more or less in the middle of her novel-writing career. It came after the triumph of The House of Mirth and before her Pulitzer Prize-winning turn with The Age of Innocence.

The author herself wasn’t pleased with this book, writing her regrets over it to a friend not long after its publication, describing it as a “poor miserable lifeless lump,” and vowed that next time she was “going to do something worthwhile!”

Some critics tended to agree with Wharton’s self-assessment. The New York Sun’s review called The Reef “a bitter, disheartening, sordid story and we could wish that Mrs. Wharton would look on brighter and nobler aspects of life.”

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925) — A Jazz Age Classic

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, subtitled The Intimate Diary or a Professional Lady, published in 1925, popularized the unfortunate tropes of “dumb blonde” and ruthless gold-digger in the character of Lorelei Lee.

We accompany the unflappable flapper around New York and Europe, where she dallies with the affections of hapless men. Maybe she’s not so dumb after all.

Anita Loos (1889 – 1991, who was by the time of the book’s publication already a successful screenwriter, claimed that the book’s inspiration came from a real-life incident. Read More→

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The Land of Little Rain by Mary Hunter Austin (1903)

Mary Hunter Austin (1868 – 1934) is no longer widely read, but during her lifetime, she traveled in vaunted literary circles. The Land of Little Rain (1903), a nonfiction compilation of connected essays, is her best-remembered work. From the publisher:

“The enduring appeal of the desert is strikingly portrayed in this poetic study, which has become a classic of the American Southwest. First published in 1903, it is the work of Mary Austin, a prolific novelist, poet, critic, and playwright, who was also an ardent early feminist and champion of Indians and Spanish-Americans.

She is best known today for this enchanting paean to the vast, arid, yet remarkably beautiful lands that lie east of the Sierra Nevadas, stretching south from Yosemite through Death Valley to the Mojave Desert. Read More→

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Reservoir Year: A Walker’s Book of Days by Nina Shengold

Nina Shengold’s Reservoir Year: A Walker’s Book of Days  takes its place in the tradition of deeply felt nature writing, the kind that heightens observation of the world while delving into questions of self.

Literary Ladies Guide rarely features books that aren’t by classic (that is, departed) women authors or directly related to them (fictional homages, biographies, etc.). But when I opened Reservoir Year (Syracuse University Press, 2020), I at once imagined it as a descendant of the works of several classic authors whose profound affinity to the natural world became central to their art. Read More→

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