Too many facts, not enough information

I wanted so badly to like The Witches. Stacy Schiff has a lovely storytelling writing style, and the history of witches is interesting! (Ok, that’s a link to a specific story about witches in Norway, but I loved it and wanted to take this opportunity to share it.)

But her storytelling style of first-this, then-that was ultimately confusing. There are too many people in this book without enough context, both in terms of relationships between people and historically. I did get a good idea of why some of the suspicion existed between neighbors, a sense the isolation of New England in the late 1600s, and the weird city-country dynamics that affected how the situation played out.

But ultimately, I was done in by the fact that there was so much detail about each individual, who was accusing whom, and what specifically was going on, that I lost the forest for the trees. I ended up putting The Witches down when I didn’t want to. But the reading was so hard (and my to-read pile so big) that I felt like I had to. Maybe I will pick this up again at a later date when I have more time and brainpower.

Powerful women getting the short end of the story-telling stick this time

Livia

Even those of you who don’t like to read about Ancient Rome have probably heard of Augustus Caesar. He’s the one who saw Rome through its final leap from Republic to Empire. He was, by all accounts, intelligent and fairly ruthless. Livia was his wife. She – as most powerful women do – got a bad rap, particularly from Robert Graves’ I, Claudius. *

This seemed like a good opportunity to read a book about someone who’s pulled all the tidbits about Livia together into one coherent story. It should be interesting. Alas, it wasn’t. Records about women tend not to survive this long; the paucity of information means that the author relied on general observations about life at this time. That wasn’t what I wanted to know about. I remain dissatisfied.

There may very well be a good book about Livia out there. But it wasn’t this one.

* Which is a wonderful soap opera and a great opportunity to see Patrick Stewart with curly hair. Highly recommended.

Introducing a series: Women in History

Antony and Cleopatra
Cleopatra, seducing Marc Antony, like the powerful woman she was.

I listen to a lot of history podcasts. I enjoy history. I am also often frustrated with the lack of women at the center of the story. In some ways, that’s understandable: much of the world was run by men in the past, which means they wrote the histories. As a woman, though, it’s occasionally frustrating. As a mother looking to give her daughter more female role models, it’s downright infuriating. (Seriously, there’s The History Chicks – who do a great job – and that’s about it.)

So, I am starting to fill that void. I’m going to write a series of posts about royal historical women. That’s my niche: queens, princesses, pharaohs, tsarinas, empresses… If you’re a dead woman with a title, you’re eligible.

My plan is to eventually move this to its own website, but as I’m starting my research, I figured this would be a good place for a test run. There won’t be podcasts – not at first, anyway – but every Thursday there will be a short-ish post about a time period in a ruling woman’s life.

I’m starting with a series of posts about Cleopatra, who is not the original boss lady, but is one of the most famous. I’ve got my eye on Queen Christina of Sweden, Indira Ghandi, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine the Great, Hatshepsut, and many, many others.

My knowledge is mainly European based, and this is a shortcoming. If you have suggestions for any rulers, particularly African, Asian or Native American, I’m all ears! Please tweet them to @katedp.

I hope you all enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy writing them.