Rocket Girl…and Equality Among the Sexes in 2017

When my youngest son was in kindergarten, I was a middle school principal. My son’s school principal was female. Many of my closest friends were also…you guessed it…female principals. This caused my five-year-old to innocently ask, “Can men also be principals?” “Only when they are very, very good,” I said with a wink.

One of my book clubs is currently reading Rocket Girl. This ‘creative non-fiction biography’ pieces together the life of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s first female rocket scientist, and ‘unsung heroine of the space age.’ Source.

When introducing this novel at our book club, we also touched on the similarly-themed movie, Hidden Figures. In both works, obstacles to women (often combined with other barriers of racial prejudice, poverty, etc.), in male-dominated fields, sat continually at the surface. This evoked a spirited book club discussion as to how far we truly have come in regards to ‘equality among the sexes’ in 2017. Our group remained divided in their responses to this question.

Stimulated by this discussion, I did some checking.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, produced by The World Economic Forum, examines ‘equality’ between men and women in four different areas (education, health, finances, politics) in 144 countries. This document also highlights countries, that within their region and economic group, provide opportunities and distribute resources more equitably among the sexes.

What were the findings?

For the 144 countries studied, in 2016, the gender gap between education and health outcomes had closed 95% and 96% respectively. However, gaps between political attainment and economic participation had only closed 23% and 59%. In summary, this report stated than an average gender gap of 31% remains. Source 1. Source 2.

It is frustrating that the road to gender equity often contains steps forward mixed with several steps back. (68 countries increased their gender equity in 2016, while 74 countries saw decreases. Overall, the economic gender gap reverted to where it was in 2008!). Adding to this discouragement, geographic areas that I consider to be the most liberal (like my own), often ranked far behind other areas regarding this attainment. Iceland, Finland, and Norway took the top three spots of the World Economic Forum’s Gender Equity ranking. Canada placed 35th overall, while the US placed 45th (down from 28th in 2015). Source. Report findings reveal that if the rates of change seen in the past ten years continue as is, South Asia could see a closing of their overall gender gap in the next 46 years. Whereas, due to its slow progress over the past decade, the North American gender gap is currently predicted to take 158 more years to close. Source.

Of course, these projections are just that and cannot be interpreted as conclusive facts. However, by documenting, graphing and highlighting present trends, these stats are an eye-opener and urge a strong call for action.

Do any of the above figures from the World Economic Forum surprise you? What are your thoughts?

Also, if you are interested in finding out more about Mary Sherman Morgan, I found Rocket Girl to be an absorbing, fascinating read…and a great springboard for provocative, engaging discussions!

Cover image created by Canva.com

Alone in the Classroom…and the Love of Words

The above quote is spoken by the narrator of Alone in the Classroom as she pieces together fragments of her ancestry in search of self-acceptance. Although this novel has arguable flaws in plot and structure, this quote gives us a taste of Hay’s distinctive style, evocative descriptions and provocative messaging. From the woody smells of childhood to the villainous school principal who “moved through the school like mustard gas,” Hay’s artful prose invigorated every fiber of my being. I was reminded once again about my on-going love affair with words, and their intoxicating magic.

According to researchers at Washington State University, a single word has the power to “inform, persuade, hurt, ease pain…get your point across, or destroy any hope of your ideas ever being understood.” In the fatal example of the Japanese use of the word “mokusatsu” at the end of WWll, one word can trigger unspeakable horrors. (Read more.)

Multiple researchers have supported the claim that reading great literature improves us as human beings. Studies, both with adults and with children, have indicated that “individuals who frequently read fiction are better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.” As an interesting aside, no similar effect was noted when participants watched television. (You can read more here.)

As Hay continued to lure me with her skillful prose, BAM! I was transported back to the long, hot, restless summers of my own childhood.

“Newspapers of old smelled damp, inky, pungent. We would lie on the floor when we were kids, our noses inches above the paper, and devour the comic strips that were so glamorous in those days, the women and the men bewitching, all chiselled cheekbones and thick hair, full lips and swelling breasts. The damp wonder of romance, and the excitement of the world out there awaiting us – it was all transmitted directly into our noses through newsprint and ink.”

and

“Roads were narrower…more shaded. Cars less common and slower. Summer feet were bare and tough, or shod in old leather. Faces were careless of the sun. Noses burned, and children aided the peeling by picking the skin loose and giving it a fascinated tug. As many peelings per summer as there were pips in a winter grapefruit.”

What about you? What is your relationship with words? Is there a recent, or favorite passage, that has transported you in time? Please share!

And while we’re sharing a love of words, a new children’s book in the Piper Morgan series is being released on April 4. This series is written by Tennessee author and blogger, Stephanie Faris. You can check out more details here. This is a non-sponsored recommendation.

Featured image created by Canva.
Feature quote from Alone in the Classroom, Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Hay. Publisher: Emblem Editions.

#FridayBookShare: Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story By Daphne Sheldrick

I’ve previously mentioned that I am a member of two book clubs. The clubs meet two weeks apart from each other which, for me, spaces out the timing of the readings perfectly. In an earlier post, I used the link-up #FridayBookShare to comment on my previous novel read. I was happy with the easy review format, while still allowing me ample reflection on my core experiences with the story. So, here I am again with a quick review of my most recent book read, Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story by Daphne Sheldrick.

First line of the book:

To give you the best sense of this memoir, I took the middle paragraph from the opening prologue. Upon reading this, I was totally hooked and had great difficulty putting the book down after that.

“The elephant took a pace backwards, swung her giant head and, using her trunk to lift my body, threw me like a piece of weightless flotsam high through the air with such force that I smashed down onto a giant clump of boulders some twenty paces away. I knew at once that the impact had shattered my right leg, for I could hear and feel the bones crunch as I struggled to sit up. I could see too that I was already bleeding copiously from an open wound in my thigh. Astonishingly there was no pain — not yet anyway.”

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb:

Daphne Sheldrick (nee Jenkins) was born in Kenya, in 1934, to British parents. There began her deep affinity with the wildlife that surrounded her. From an early age, Daphne began to care for orphaned wild animals. This culminated, years later, in Sheldrick being the first to discover a successful milk-substitute for orphaned elephants.

Sheldrick has done a remarkable job bringing her characters (both humans and wild/domestic animals) to life. Her story documents joy and sorrow, wonder and tragedy, deep love and devastating heart-break. This memoir is simultaneously inspirational, beautiful and gut-wrenching.

Introduce the main character (3 key words):

Daphne Sheldrick is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished (against all odds) when extreme empathy, tenacity and passion combine. The results are truly inspirational.

In 2006, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Daphne Sheldrick “‘Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire’ for services to the conservation of wildlife, especially elephants, and to the local community in Kenya” (source). Although this title does not fit neatly into three words…wouldn’t you just love to be introduced in this way?


Delightful design (add the cover image of the book):



.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.


Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?):

Sheldrick’s story is well-suited to animal lovers, conservationists and those drawn to well-told non-fiction tilted towards igniting action. In fact, at several points I felt as I was having tea in Daphne’s living room, listening to her tales with awe, sincere admiration…and much discomfort.

Your favorite line/scene:

This book has much to say, with messages that refuse to be ignored. Although not my favorite paragraph in terms of delight, one section that continued to haunt me was:

“The death of this great elephant evoked in us a lament for all the wild creatures of Africa and the vanishing wilderness that had protected and sheltered them for so long. It was symbolic of the tenuous future all wildlife faced in a continent where poverty bred corruption and greedy people in faraway lands created the demand the fueled the killing. The bull’s very size and magnificence heightened the sense of tragedy, for there is nothing so profoundly dead as a five-ton elephant with the allotted lifespan of a human, who has died before his time simply to supply some unthinking Westerner with a trinket.”

As the Boston Globe so astutely warns, “(readers) may be tempted, after turning the last page, to sell all possessions and join the cause.” (Source) After finishing the book, I may not have been seduced to that extreme…but I did become insatiably restless about meaning and purpose.

One could easily argue the flaws in this book. Still, this heartfelt memoir, by a truly remarkable woman, earns five solid stars from me. Not only do I recommend it highly…I also recommend having tissues handy!

#FridayBookShare: Cutting for Stone

One of my favorite aspects of blogging is the connection and interaction with others. I love finding new blogs that share similar interests. I also love how one site often leads you to other great sites on related topics. Comment sections have provided me with engaging exchanges, provocative ideas, and new/renewed friendships.

Through the Australian blog, Deb’s World, I discovered British author/blogger, Shelley Wilson, and her #FridayBookShare. This link-up provides a simple format (spelling out FRIDAY) that allows bloggers to share what they are reading and offers readers a quick peek at a wide range of books.

I’ve just finished reading Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone and thought that I’d give Shelley’s format a try. Here goes!

First line of the book:

“After eight months spent in the obscurity of our mother’s womb, my brother, Shiva, and I came into the world in the late afternoon of the twentieth of September in the year of grace 1954.” Okay…so there are arguably better lines in this novel, but this one is effective at introducing us to the main character’s unique voice…and chatty style!

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb:

Being a ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of gal, I decided to write my own blurb instead of presenting the one from the book’s jacket (as I believe we were intended to do). If my words below don’t convince you, please check out the blurbs on Amazon or Goodreads. The reviews, although mixed, are predominantly glowing.

Set in India, Ethiopia and inner city New York, this moving tale of twin brothers vividly unfolds its landscapes, histories, and characters with unforgettable humanity and compassion. I became so absorbed in the story that I could taste the injera (spongy Ethiopian bread) and smell the incense that was lit each morning. There are many aphorisms woven throughout the layers of the novel, most notably “The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not.” I do recommend this book to others, but caution that it can be exhausting at times.


Introduce the main character using only three words:

Narrator, Conjoined, Betrayals

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book):



.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.


Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?):

Written in 2009 by an Ethiopian-born medical doctor, by 2012 this fictional novel had been on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years and had sold over one million copies. (Source) As this novel contains numerous stories within stories, including key themes of family, identity, betrayal, suffering, political unrest, medicine, compassion and forgiveness…this book would likely appeal to a wide range of readers. I believe that it is also an excellent choice for many book clubs. I read this novel with one of my book clubs (shout out to Seaside Sirens). Once again the reviews were mixed, but the discussion was very stimulating.

Your favorite line/scene:

Throughout the novel I found myself underlying small sections of text that spoke so meaningfully, and often uncannily, to our current times.

After struggling to find my absolute favorite marked section, I decided to quit torturing myself and narrowed it down to three. Okay, okay…the final quote is really my favorite, but I thought that you would get a better sense of the wisdom of this book if I included additional excerpts.

Favorite Quote #3:
“The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

Favorite Quote #2: “My VIP patients often regret so many things on their deathbeds. They regret the bitterness they’ll leave in people’s hearts. They realize that no money, no church service, no eulogy, no funeral procession no matter how elaborate can remove the legacy of a mean spirit.”

Favorite Quote #1: “The uneventful day is a precious gift.” What a brilliant reframing of “ordinariness” and a great reminder that our days do not need to be “a nirvana of extraordinary adventure” to be a blessing.

As I finished copying down these quotes, I could hear the television in the other room blare out the non-stop ‘Reality-TV-Syndrome’ of our current times. That made these quotes even more meaningful to me…and made me grateful for this sleepy, snowy February afternoon.

If you’ve read Cutting for Stone, what were your thoughts? Let’s talk!

Why not join in the fun? Use the above format to share your favorite novel. Be sure to add #FridayBookShare. Always in search of a good book, I look forward to reading your review.