International Women’s Day

9780230294011_p0_v1_s114x166Today marks International Women’s Day, a celebration of women around the world that has been observed since the early 1900’s. .  In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.  In Britain, Professor Elisabeth Kelan will discuss her book – Rising Stars – an examination of the next generation’s female leaders.

Books to read to celebrate the day… what books would you add to the list?

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant 9780312427290_p0_v3_s114x166

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver9780060786502_p0_v3_s114x166

Cleopatra: A Life  by Stacy Schiff9780316001946_p0_v1_s114x166

The Ides of March

The fifteenth of March wasn’t always prefaced with Beware. “Until 44 B.C., the Ides of March were best known as a springtime frolic, an occasion fit for serious drinking, like so many others on the Roman calendar.  A celebration of the ancient goddess of ends and beginnings, the Ides amounted to a sort of raucous, reeling New Year’s.  Bands of revelers picnicked into the night along the banks of the Tiber, where they camped in makeshift huts under a full moon. It was a festival often indelibly recalled nine months later.

In 44 the day dawned overcast; toward the end of the cloudy morning,  Caesar set off by litter for the Senate, to finalize arrangements for his absence. The young and distinguished Publius Cornelius Dolabella hoped to be named consul in his place, as did Mark Antony…”

…from page 124 of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra

And March 15th was changed forever…

For Thornton Wilder’s historic fiction of this famous day, check out the review for The Ides of March

For the review on Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra: A Life, check here

Cleopatra: A Life

In her biography, Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff clearly confirms that Cleopatra was no Elizabeth Taylor, but the Egyptian queen made up for what she lacked in beauty with shrewd intelligence and cunning intuition to get what she wanted – a diva after all.

Cleopatra: A Life is compelling and well-researched – with over 60 pages of notes and references – as well as a surprisingly easy read.   From teenage queen to the mother of Julius Caesar’s son, and finally to her torrid relationship with Mark Antony, Cleopatra is a competent ruler who successfully used her facility with languages, her grounding in Greek learning,  with her power and influence to protect and embellish her own holdings – for over two decades – longer than her ancestor, Alexander the Great.

By modern standards the civilizations in 50 B. C. were barbaric – intermarrying, killing off relatives to maintain power and land – not to mention the severed heads on display. Rome was all-powerful, always looking for another conquest,  and Alexander the Great’s progeny in Egypt, with the largest library in the world and excessive wealth, was on Rome’s wish list.  Cleopatra “made Rome feel uncouth, insecure, and poor…”

Despite Schiff’s overly precise description of the display of wealth in Cleopatra’s lavish entertaining – details worthy of a scriptwriter – she provides an amazing clarification of how it all really went down – before Hollywood.   You will gain a new respect for Cleopatra as a clever strategist and brilliant politician – not the “whore queen” labeled by prolific Roman writers – but certainly a queen to beware and a woman to know.

“We will remember that Cleopatra slept with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony long after we have forgotten what she accomplished in doing so, that she sustained a vast, rich, densely populated empire in its troubled twilight, in the name of a proud and cultivated dynasty… and was a remarkably capable queen, canny and opportunistic in the extreme, a strategist of the first rank…incomparable…”

Most Notable for 2010

From the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010, I’ve read and reviewed only 7 – lots left to read…how about you?

  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
  • Great House by Nicole Krauss
  • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  • The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
  • The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine
  • Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff


New York Times List: