Librarian’s Pick: Limitless – Mallory Weggemann

limitless_3d shot“On January 21, 2008, a routine medical procedure left Mallory Weggemann paralyzed from her waist down. Less than two years later, Mallory had broken eight world records, and by the 2012 Paralympic Games, she held fifteen world records and thirty-four American records. Two years later a devastating fall severely damaged her left arm, yet Mallory refused to give up. After two reconstructive surgeries and extended rehab, she won two golds and a silver at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships. And perhaps most significantly, she found confidence, independence, and persevering love as she walked down the aisle on her wedding day.

Mallory’s extraordinary resilience and uncompromising commitment to excellence are rooted in her resolve, perseverance, and sheer grit. In this remarkable new book, Mallory shares the lessons she learned by pushing past every obstacle, expectation, and limitation that stood in her way, including the need to:

  • redefine limitations;
  • remember that healing is not chronological;
  • be willing to fail;
  • and embrace your comeback.

Mallory’s story reminds us that whatever circumstances we face, we have the capacity to face down whatever challenges, labels, or difficulties confront us–and to do so on our own terms.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Come Fly The World – Julia Cooke

Medium “In 1967, Coffee, Tea, or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses captured the world’s imagination with tales of amorous adventures. Decades later, Donald Blain revealed that as a publicist for American Airlines, he actually wrote the book and its sequels, and two female flight attendants were hired to pose as the authors for book tours. Although the stunt sounds like something from “Mad Men,” readers fell for it hook, line and sinker, casting an indelible reputation on the profession.

“The industry saw no reason not to capitalize on male fantasy,” writes Julia Cooke in the fascinating Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am. Cooke has created a sweeping account of not only the airline industry and its cultural history but also women’s evolution in the workforce. She blends an overview of the job with the personal stories of several (real!) flight attendants, dispelling ludicrous myths and showing how Pan Am presented adventurous, curious women with a way to see the world at a time when their opportunities were limited.

Stewardess positions were so coveted in the 1960s that in 1968, over 266,000 women applied for 12,000 spots in the American airline industry. Many of these young women, such as biology major Lynne Totten from upstate New York, saw the job as an exciting chance to try something new. Years later, when a male passenger spotted Totten reading an issue of Scientific American, he suggested that Vogue might be a better choice. She quickly set him straight, but Totten was hardly an anomaly. As Cooke points out, “throughout the 1960s, 10 percent of Pan Am stewardesses had attended graduate school at a time when only 8 percent of American women had graduated from college.”

Despite the unparalleled opportunities offered by Pan Am, these stewardesses had to pave their own way, fighting against weight and height limits, age ceilings, marriage bans, racism and other glass ceilings that prevented them from being offered management positions.

An entertaining and informative narrator, Cooke has a big story to tell and excels at painting her panorama in broad strokes. At times, however, readers may find themselves wishing for a few more anecdotes, as well as more direct quotations from the women she profiles. Nonetheless, many of her accounts are memorable, especially those involving Pan Am’s flights to Vietnam, which Cooke covers extensively and in which young American men reading Archie comics were dropped off, many to never return.

Come Fly the World is an eye-opening account of female flight attendants’ successes and struggles in the not-so-distant past.”

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Librarian’s Pick: You Don’t Belong Here – Elizabeth Becker

Medium “Award-winning journalist Elizabeth Becker turns her insightful gaze on three women who covered the Vietnam War in You Don’t Belong Here. Becker, who has firsthand experience of Southeast Asia and the challenges facing women in the field of journalism, begins her book with a personal anecdote. In 1973, while she was on her way to Cambodia to become a war correspondent at the age of 25, Becker met Kate Webb, a New Zealand-born Australian journalist who had survived capture by the North Vietnamese. Webb posed one question to the young reporter: Why had she crossed the ocean to cover a war?

Becker’s examination of three journalists’ careers—Webb, Frances FitzGerald from America and Catherine Leroy of France—powers this absorbing narrative about the challenges of covering the Vietnam War. As Becker explores the significance of these women’s legacies, she notes that “it took us decades to understand what we had accomplished as women on the front line of war.”

A few women (such as World War II reporter Martha Gellhorn, who stowed away on a hospital ship on D-Day) had done their best to report on wars in the past, but the United States military didn’t make it easy for women seeking to be war correspondents. Up until the war in Vietnam, women were forbidden on the battlefield. Even after that changed, news organizations still sent male journalists as a matter of course, with the result that most of the women covering the Vietnam War had to pay their own way and fight to stay.

Many of these barriers were eventually broken, thanks in part to the extraordinary women Becker profiles so adroitly here, combining their personal histories with the major events of the conflict. Leroy, a French photojournalist who died in 2006, was an experienced parachutist who used her skills to cover a parachute jump into combat and whose searing images appeared in Life magazine. Webb was one of the few journalists on the Navy command ship when the order to evacuate came, and she was able to file a report on April 30, 1975, the very day the war ended. FitzGerald later wrote a book about her experience on the ground, Fire in the Lake, which looked at the history of Vietnam and its people and won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

As to the question Webb posed to the author, perhaps it was best answered by Leroy, who once said, “I wanted to be there, to see it happen.” You Don’t Belong Here is a significant contribution to the history of both the Vietnam War and women in journalism.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Confident Women – Tori Telfer

Medium““Con men” is a familiar term for slick, slippery dudes who are out to relieve their victims of money—often taking honor, dignity and a prosperous future along with it. Now meet Tori Telfer’s Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion. These ladies lured people with their reassuring self-confidence and then, post-swindle, left their victims’ own confidence forever shattered. Tricked. Deceived. Cast aside with picked pockets and broken hearts. It’s awful stuff, but with Telfer at the wheel, reading these tales of plunder—littered with diamonds, fancy cars, mansions, booze and furs—is a fun, spicy romp.

Take Cassie Chadwick, a 19th-century counterfeiter and fortuneteller who proves “that the most ordinary woman could become someone truly memorable if they just bluffed hard enough.” Among other things, she claimed to be Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter (unbeknownst to him), swindling bankers out of a fortune before finally getting caught. Though she died in prison, perhaps she could rest in peace knowing that female scammers had become known as “Cassies.”

Then there’s Tania Head. A member of what Telfer calls “the tragediennes,” Head claimed to be a survivor of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City. She described her ordeal in such excruciating detail that she became a hero, a “World Trade Center superstar” and the “undisputed queen of the survivors.” But was she even there that day?

Anastasia Romanovs abounded in the 20th century, each claiming to be the youngest child of Nicholas II, Russia’s last czar. Among them were Franziska and Eugenia, whose accents didn’t sound quite right but who were believed and supported anyway—until “DNA, that great equalizer, eventually came for both.”

As Telfer stuffs the stories of these grifters, drifters, spiritualists and fabulists in mesmerizing detail, she more than succeeds in giving them their due. But, she warns, make no mistake about the damage they left in their wake. Confident Women is also a dark cautionary tale about the fragile nature of trust and why we choose to believe.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Daughters Of Kobani – Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Medium “The story of how young Kurdish women brought down terrorists from the Islamic State group has been waiting to be told. If Kobani, Syria, is a city that has gone unnoticed in the saga of Middle Eastern wars, then The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice will change that. It’s the story of a new generation of combatants, long denied choices about education, marriage or their very futures, who vanquished hosts of kidnappers, rapists and enslavers. Yet when author and journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon was asked to tell their story, she hesitated. “It just doesn’t make sense that the Middle East would be home to AK-47-wielding women driven with fervor and without apology or hesitation to make women’s equality a reality—and that the Americans would be the ones backing them.” She decided to go see for herself.

By 2016, civil war was tearing Syria apart, leaving room for ISIS, with help from allies such as Russia and Iran, to swagger in. President Barack Obama pledged that there would be no American troops on the ground; American support would have to come from the air, with airstrikes and weapons drops, while consultants and diplomats strategized from afar. On the front lines in Kobani were women like Azeema, trained as an expert sniper, and her childhood friend Rojda, whose mother still called her every day.

Based on hours of on-the-ground reporting and countless interviews with Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) fighters, Lemmon delivers a vivid, street-by-bombed-out-street account of the final days of the battle for Kobani. Strewn throughout are reports of what the soldiers were up against: appalling ISIS acts like beheadings, torture and worse. The YPJ was outnumbered and underequipped, but they were fearless.

The battles for Kobani, and later Raqqa, were key moments in a history that is still being made. With international interest waning and ISIS sleeper cells and foreign fighter recruitments quietly continuing, ready to reignite the landscape, those Kurdish and Arab victories in 2017 and onward hold no guarantees. As Lemmon observes, it is “easier to kill a terrorist than to slay an ideology.” Still, no matter the final outcome, the women who fought this war have shown the world what courage and justice look like. And if the next generation must keep fighting, these warriors have shown them how.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Doctors Blackwell – Janice P. Nimura

Medium “Florence Nightingale and Dorothea Dix loom large as women who reformed health care in the 19th century—in the fields of nursing and mental health, respectively—but Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell have remained largely unrecognized for their roles in medical history. No longer, though, for Janice P. Nimura’s compelling biography The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine reclaims the sisters’ enduring contributions to medicine and to women’s history.

In breathtaking prose and exhaustive detail, Nimura chronicles the lives of the Blackwell sisters—their childhood in England, their immigration to America, the challenges they faced as they made their way in the medical profession and their eventual establishment of institutions that would provide both access to quality medical care for women and a place where women could study medicine in order to practice it.

Attracted to healing as a teenager, Elizabeth saw medicine as a noble vocation, but as she sought to embrace her calling she encountered resistance at almost every turn. Eventually she was able to graduate from Geneva Medical College in New York, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to earn a medical degree, after which she set up a practice in New York City. Emily followed in her older sister’s footsteps, attending Rush Medical College in Chicago and the Medical College of Cleveland, where she became the third woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree. In 1857, the two sisters founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, and in 1868 they opened the Women’s Medical College in New York City, where Elizabeth taught courses on sanitation and hygiene and Emily taught obstetrics and gynecology. By 1900, the college had trained more than 364 women, and the sisters’ work led to thousands of women becoming educated in the medical field.

Nimura’s compelling biography not only recovers the lives and work of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell but also provides a colorful social history of medicine in America and Europe during the mid- to late-19th century.”

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