Looking at a famous person - or even the life surrounding them - sideways may be the closest many of us will come. -- Linda White
by Linda White
I have found reading books that relate the story of someone who is close to a famous person can be almost more interesting than reading the biography of the actual famous person. I started this ride when I read "Girl With a Pearl Earring" (and how much better was that book than the movie!).
Movies tend to try to give us some moral tale about how valiant and heroic these peripheral characters can be. Whereas, when you read the books, the author takes you into the mind of the character, so you get all the doubts and faults of that person.
The beauty of the book is that it can take you inside anyone's head. Some of the best books simply imagine what went on, filling in the blanks with details we can't possibly know.
This is the case with "Daughters of the Witching Hill" by Mary Sharratt. We know all about Salem, but how many of those cases are presented from the point of view of the accused?
And then there are others that are simply told as-is, like "Miriam's Words," letters full of fascinating details and with a voice that catches your attention at once. Miriam was the wife of 20-year Minnesota congressman Dr. Walter Judd. During that era (1930s-1950s), her place was wife and hostess. She wasn't in the driver's seat, but she was a masterful manager of the many worlds she inhabited.
In recent years we've seen a spate of titles that cover the women of the Gilded Age authors Fitzgerald and Hemingway. We've got "Hemingway's Girl" and "Call Me Zelda" by Erika Robuck, as well as "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain.
It's not always roses to be living so close to celebrity. In fact, search for the name "Zelda" and you will come up with a slew of titles (minus the videogame, of course). While she was a fascinating woman herself, would we have ever heard of Zelda had she not married F. Scott?
Looking at a famous person - or even the life surrounding them - sideways may be the closest many of us will come. It's a little voyeuristic, but in the hands of the right writer, it can be highly satisfying.
Linda White lives in Maplewood and is a writer and editor. She operates BookMania. She teaches at the Loft Literary Center and writes the Minneapolis Books Examiner column for www.examiner.com.
BookShelf: Linda White recommends these stories of women in the spotlight by women authors: The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere by Caroline P. Murphy
The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt
Miriam's Words: The Personal Price of a Public Life, edited by Mary Lou Judd Carpenter
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