“The drink was good” (Paraphrased from too many female biographies)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I wish there was a greater variety of book lengths out there. This biography could have been accomplished in 100 – 150 pages, but who would have picked it up? The modern reader is so used to the heft of a 300-page novel that any less seems cheap and any more feels grueling. Authors probably feel pressure to fill out their works to reach the 300-page benchmark even though their subject might only warrant 70 or 100 pages. In school, a favorite professor of mine refused to give a required paper length; he said that the paper would be however long it needed to be. I think it is rather unfortunate that this piece of wisdom isn’t applied to the modern book; we are losing out on experiencing a wider range of reading pleasures.
About half way through the book, my mind couldn’t help making connections between Ruth Harkness and other subjects of biographies or autobiographies I’ve read of women living roughly between 1900-1950; namely, M.F.K. Fisher and Edna St. Vincent Millay. All of these women start out with glorious, brilliant careers of unparalleled splendor but then end as alcoholics or morphine addicts. It makes you wonder if it was a characteristic of the time period that somehow had this effect on courageous and creative women, or if perhaps it is impossible to lead such a bright life without burning out in the end. I am not sure of the answer, and perhaps some excellent dissertation has been written on the phenomenon, but I keep being drawn to these biographies and always end up with the same question. I would appreciate any insight.
All this being said, however, The Lady and the Panda was a worthwhile read even if only to familiarize yourself with the rather incredible fact that a woman brought back the first captive panda to America.
Beverage: Stay away from alcohol here! Ruth’s on the wagon/off the wagon drinking problem will make you want to turn teetotaler before the end, so I’d recommend a nice, hot black tea for the cold winter atmosphere represented.
Reminds me of… As I said, Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher and Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Millford.