Tag Archives: politics

The Good Fight

There’s a category of books I sometimes choose to read. I won’t say that I like them, even though I recommend them to friends. These books never leave me feeling better; most of them lack catharsis or even schadenfreude. They are full of terrible, violent things happening to undeserving people, and these events are so far in the past that no fundraisers or awareness campaigns or angry letters can ameliorate them.

When I was young, this category was manifest through Holocaust literature. There are a surprisingly large number of juvenile and adolescent works about the Holocaust (and the Second World War more generally). Some of the best are Number the Stars, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and The Book Thief. Perhaps so many exist because so many people were affected, so there are many stories that can be told. Though they have good and brave heroes, (including real historical figures such as Corrie Ten Boom and Anne Frank) all are, at some level, stories of fear and cruelty and death.


Image obtained from Hashtag the Planet - click through for source.

Image obtained from Hashtag the Planet – click through for source.

In college I discovered the Soviets. I had intended to introduce myself to classic Russian literature (i.e., Dostoevsky, et al.) and instead got Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. And while Russian literature is often characterized by suffering, the writings of anti-Soviets are particularly gut-wrenching because the suffering is a result of deliberate persecution by those in power. The Gulag Archipelago and The Bridge at Andau depict systemic victimization of populations within and outside of Soviet Russia, respectively. They depict a populace hurt, angry, and bitter. At their best moments, they leave me sobbing.

My shelf of terrible books has continued to expand, encompassing more of the world’s tragedies and shames. It now includes more contemporary stories of child soldiers (Never Fall Down), violence against women (Girls Like Us, Half the Sky) and more. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I read these books, not only despite but because of the discomfort they cause me? Why do I recommend them to my friends and family?

I read these books because the horrors they describe need to be known, and they need to be felt. I need to be familiar with this darkness so that I can recognize and fight it in the world around me. I need to see the effects lone people can have through deliberate moral action in the face of injustice. While it is far too late to save the victims of the Holocaust, the world still has cruelty and persecution I can fight.

What else should be on this shelf? What else do I need to read and know? Leave me your recommendations in the comments.

  • Bonnie T.


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All The Truth (n’at)

I’ve mentioned on this blog previously that one of the many perks of working in a library is stumbling on books and movies and music that you might otherwise have been totally oblivious to. Such was the case with me and All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai. I stumbled across the book one day at work, got it out from the library, and I was very into it from the beginning.


This is one of the best book covers I’ve seen in ages.

At the risk of betraying my age, I remember the Gary Hart scandal pretty well. At my house, when I was a kid, it was standard dinner time fare to discuss politics. From about the age of 10 or so, I was listening in on, and chiming in on, whatever the topics of the day were. I already had a few years of this under my belt when the Gary Hart scandal hit. Reading Bai’s book brought many of the details back to me.

Whereas political scandal is nothing new, this event had a different element to it. Bai posits that the real reason to look at the Hart affair, especially now, almost 30 years on, is that this event was a very specific moment in terms of how the media worked before this event and after. Indeed, he believes that this was the moment that changed the tone of reporting in the US. The sub title of the book is “The Week Politics Went Tabloid,” and that goes a long way to grasping the author’s take on these events and their ramifications.

It might be worth noting that after, at that point, 7 years of Ronald Reagan, the political landscape in the US had a very particular look. Hart was poised to be the opposing candidate early on in that election, and the events outlined in this book changed all of that.

Another possible aspect of the fallout from this event might be described in the cultural attitudes that people politically coming of age around this time had, and how these events helped shape their view of politics in a larger sense. Many of the folks who would have been looking at these events while formulating a political identity would be considered, by generational standards, Gen X. There is perhaps no real way of quantifying how these events shaped the political consciousness of a generation, but one might speculate.

At any rate (and generationally-charged-political-identity-naval-gazing aside) Bai writes a very well-crafted book that gives a good sense of the time, both before, and after, this watershed moment of the confluence of media and politics. Check it out, if you are so inclined.


-who is half seriously looking for a “monkey business crew” t-shirt for the summer

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5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats’ Office Here

By Alfred E. Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 1972
And so began Watergate, 42 years ago tomorrow. I was in my early teens during the last year of Richard Nixon’s first term, 15 when he resigned on a hot & humid August 9, 1974. I was certainly politically aware and had followed the course of the investigation during the two years from break-in to resignation; but I have to admit that at the time I don’t think I fully appreciated Watergate’s significance.  From my POV, Watergate and the doings of CREEP – that’s right, CREEP the Committee to Reelect the President – were a string of related events and reactions, but not something that could be isolated as a singular historic event like an assassination or landing on the moon.
So, what is Watergate? It’s kind of like manna from heaven, it can be many things;
  • the Washington DC apartment complex that housed the headquarters of the DNC – the Democratic National Committee
  • the burglary and bugging of the DNC offices at the Watergate (twice actually)
  • the denials and cover-up that followed after investigators connected the burglars to CREEP
  • the discovery and exposure (Woodward, Bernstein, Rather, etc.) of the roles prominent members of the cabinet and advisers to the President played in investigating opposition to the President and how they used the executive branch for illegal partisan political purposes.

Finally Watergate is the President of the United States caught up in his own fears, insisting he’d done nothing wrong, but not being able to convince anyone outside of his most partisan supporters.  Much of what Richard Nixon did wasn’t unique or pioneering in terms of political wrongdoing, stretching the bounds of credibility and abusing Executive Privilege, but as the expression goes; he got caught.

If such a thing is possible, I’m reminiscing here about the Watergate era because it all came back to me after watching Frost Nixon a few weeks ago; it was a memory tripwire.  It wasn’t abstract history like watching a documentary or infotainment about McCarthy or Truman; I read and heard about Watergate (in all its guises) almost everyday as a teen (no need to add impressionable as a qualifier, it should be assumed.)  The memories stuck. In the days before C-Span or CNN, we watched Sam Ervin preside over the televised proceedings of the  Senate Watergate Committee on network TV while in school; ringside seats for Civics and US Government without needing a textbook.  For all its low-points and revelations, we wanted to believe Watergate also had a lesson; that the system worked. That the independent branches of government worked, that the Press plays an important role in informing and examining, and that the interests of the public will be represented and discharged by elected public servants regardless of party and affiliation as exemplified by Senators Ervin and Baker.

The legacy of Watergate is political and cultural. For those of you too young to have observed it, you have Watergate to thank for the ubiquitous -gate suffix for any and all snafus and wrongdoings that have occurred since the mid 70s.  There is also a legacy of film and literature that capture the timelines and complexities of the episode / era.

Frost Nixon [DVD]
Cover ImageRichard Nixon (Frank Langella) is the disgraced president with a legacy to save. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a jet-setting television personality with a name to make. This is the legendary battle between the two men and the historic encounter that changed both their lives.

Cover ImageFrost/Nixon the original Watergate interviews [DVD]
“Includes in-depth interviews of U.S. President Richard Nixon by Sir David Frost in May, 1977 regarding the infamous Watergate scandal, followed by a segment, “Behind the scenes.” That final segment features footage from 2007 of Frost discussing “clinching the interviews, Nixon’s advisors, ground rules, on location, Nixon’s reaction, and the final meeting” he had with Nixon at San Clemente.”

All the president’s men / Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward
The two young “Washington Post” reporters whose investigative journalism smashed the Watergate scandal wide open tell the whole behind-the-scenes drama the way it really happened. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were assigned to cover the breakin at the Watergate. The two men soon learned that this was not a simple http://librarycatalog.einetwork.net/bookcover.php?id=.b26394030&isn=141981706X&size=large&upc=&oclc=&category=&format=burglary. Woodward and Bernstein picked up a trail of money, secrecy and high-level pressure that implicated the men closest to Richard Nixon and then the President himself.
Over the months, Woodward met secretly with Deep Throat, now perhaps America’s most famous still-anonymous source. 

All the President’s Men [DVD]
Based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bod Woodward whose roles are played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford.

The Palace guard / Dan Rather
The first Watergate book I picked up. Rather, the CBS News White House correspondent covering the Nixon White House, starts his recitation with an introduction to who was behind who in the administration.  Not the Secretary of Defense or Head of the NSA (Henry Kissinger BTW,) but rather the men who controlled access to the President, set agendas, and (important to keep in mind in this case) provide the President plausible deniability; keep him officially out of the decision-making loop when the decisions are ethically (or legally) questionable.  This was my first exposure to the likes of White House Chief of Staff H.R. Bob Haldemann, John Erlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, and of course Henry Kissinger the President’s National Security Adviser.  At the time they were euphemistically referred to as the Berlin Wall.  Given his role in formulating international policy to the exclusion of all domestic politics, Dr. Kissinger seems to have avoided any taint by Watergate.

Washington Journal / Elizabeth Drew
“Forty years after the tumultuous events that led to Richard Nixon’s historic journaldownfall, a new edition of Elizabeth Drew’s Washington Journal,
featuring a brilliant new afterword. Originally published soon
after Richard Nixon’s resignation, Elizabeth Drew’s Washington Journal is a landmark work of political journalism. Keenly observed and hugely insightful, Washington Journal opens in 1973 and follows the deterioration of Richard Nixon’s presidency in real time.”


Just a note. The Doonebury strip above appeared on May 29, 1973. In several newspapers Doonesbury was either dropped for a time, or moved from the Comics section to the editorial pages. The Washington Post didn’t show it at all, until last year.

– Richard

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I Fought the Law… and I’m a Pittsburgh Mayor!

This week marked the inauguration of Pittsburgh’s 60th mayor, Bill Peduto.  I’ve lived in Pittsburgh going on eight years, and have only experienced two mayors.  And so I became curious about who’s been minding the shop  all these years.  I was surprised (or maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised?) to find out just how many of our leaders have run afoul of the law.

Our very first mayor (burgess, officially), George Robinson, was arrested by George Washington for participating in the Whiskey Rebellion.  To learn more about this Western Pennsylvania moment of revolt, check out some of the most popular books of that era, and if you just want to celebrate whiskey and toast our first mayor, whip up some cocktails with our Fight for Your Right to Imbibe list.

A government inspector is tarred and feathered during the Whiskey Rebellion, which took place in...

George Robinson is the guy with the stick.

Then there is the even more curious case of one Joseph Barker, the “Anti-Catholic” party candidate, who served as mayor from 1850-1851.  He won as a write-in candidate while serving a jail sentence for indecent language and inciting a riot.  He was released from jail for one day for his inauguration.  The next day, the governor pardoned him.  Barker is also  notable for two arrests during his term, for assault and battery and possibly kidnapping.  He was decapitated by a train, and you can visit his grave at Allegheny Cemetery, if you are so inclined.

Joseph Barker

Thinking about his next street sermon: “How to get elected mayor from jail.”

William McNair was mayor during the disastrous St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936, but is mostly known for a disastrously contemptuous relationship with City Council.  When he resigned in October of 1936, he then quickly tried to renege on his resignation.  The City Council had had enough, and refused him.  He was jailed for two hours in April of 1936, for refusing to pay a numbers runner who had been found innocent. McNair wasn’t a fan of  gambling, but he did love to play the fiddle, and even played on the radio.  A New York Times article was titled: MAYOR M’NAIR FALLS TO GET RADIO GONG; Pittsburgh Executive, Just Out of Jail, Performs on Amateur Hour and Berates Foes.

The face of someone who once put his desk in the lobby of the city-county building. (Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Still hankering for more knowledge of Pittsburgh’s quirky mayors?  Check out our the Pittsburgh research page on our website, or visit the Pennsylvania Department‘s skilled researchers  at the Main Library.



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Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Most of us have seen or heard comments about books and reading; their ability to transport us away from the here and now to the wherever and whenever.  It could be Berlin in the Cold War and you’ve become one of Smiley’s People, or perhaps you remember when Jules Verne took you aboard the Nautilus and you were sweating out how to fight off giant squid.  Maybe you even saw yourself as an aspiring literature student off to interview a successful, handsome businessman, but we’ll let that one go.

Every so often we forget some basic truths and need to be guided back to the better path, and I don’t mean morals. I’m talking about writing.  This happened to me just recently.  Browsing the New Books display on the second floor of Main Library, one of the spine names caught my eye – Philip Caputo.  If you haven’t heard of him, and you enjoy reading, then you really should do right by yourself and find some of his works.  He successfully writes both fiction and non-fiction, has shared a Pulitzer for Journalism, and is credited with writing what is perhaps the first (and best?) defining book about the Vietnam War.  The title that drew me in and was a delight to read is: The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean.


I discovered Caputo when I bought hist first book, A Rumor of War, his Vietnam memoir, right after it was published in 1977. I was either still in high school or just on my way to college, and its currency (remember, the war had ended in 1975) brought some unpleasant truths home to me. Not so much the war, but the warriors, the Vietnam Vets who were my brothers’ ages became very real.  It was the first time I remember that history lost some of its abstraction.  Philip Caputo writes vividly and in the case of a combat narrative, not gratuitously; every episode and description in Rumor’s pages has a purpose and a function.   I became hooked for many years, in the same way others of us patiently wait for the next Sue Grafton, Barbara Kingsolver or James Lee Burke (me.)

The Longest Road lives up to that literary city-on-the-hill of moving the reader.  In 2011, the then 70 year old author and his wife take us with them (and their two English Setters) on their 16,000 mile trip from Key West, Florida – the southern most point in the continental US –  to Deadhorse, Alaska – the northern most point. Their mode of travel; a 19 foot Airstream and a 2007 Toyota Tundra.  Yes, the goal was to see America, maybe in a 2010s derivation of Kerouac or a modified Zen and the Art of Airstream Repair.  They pretty much avoided the interstates and deliberately went through populated areas. For much of the trip they followed the route that Lewis & Clark forged, but no visits to Pittsburgh.  Caputo’s focus is simpler and more aligned with his background as a newspaperman. Given the extreme political divisiveness of the last 5-10 years, he wanted to find out what holds us together as Americans. Or maybe if we really still hold together.

The book’s Preface sucked me in and I was hooked after that; I couldn’t put it down. When I did, I couldn’t wait to pick it up again.

The idea hatched on Barter Island, A WIND-SCOURED ROCK in the Beaufort Sea that was almost not an island; the channel separating it from the Alaskan mainland looked so narrow a center fielder on one side could have thrown to a second baseman on the other.

. . . Kaktovic had the architectural charm of a New Jersey warehouse district: a dirt airstrip, a hangar, houses like container boxes with doors and windows.

More than just enjoying the book, and thinking about Americaness through the writer’s eyes, is the idea plant. That kernel in the back of my head that’s trying to think about how I’d approach my wife (not to mention the Library) with the idea of finding a camper or an Airstream (NO, they are not the same) and making our own American sojourn.

– Richard


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Do You Hear the People Sing?

Chinese poet Liao Yiwu‘s most recent memoir, For A Song and a Hundred Songs, takes its title from a particularly fiendish torture imposed on him during a prison stint: caught singing by a guard, Liao was forced to squat against a wall and sing non-stop for about eight hours, until his voice completely conked out. It’s a horrible story, but the wondrous part about it is that it didn’t stop Liao from singing again. Or writing. Or escaping to Germany so that he could share his story with the world.

There’s a power in words and music, a power that makes some people nervous, and others celebrate. History and culture are filled with moments that highlight this power, like this iconic scene from Casablanca:

Or the time Elvis Costello bit the hand that fed him on network television, which you can watch here and learn more about below:

We could write a whole separate blog post about “We Shall Overcome” and other freedom songs:

And, of course, the power of music is a world-wide phenomenon, as can be seen in Algerian rai

…the protest songs of Filipino musicians…

…and countless other examples.

The library is a great place to learn more about the power of music in history and culture. Some representative samples:


33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs From Billie Holiday to Green Day / Dorian Lynskey

Story Behind the Protest Song / Hardeep Phull

Protest Song in East and West Germany Since the 1960s / David Robb, et. al.

Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song / David Margolick

Rockin’ the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements / Reebee Garofolo, ed.

Recorded Music

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Songs of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement / The Cultural Center for Social Change

The Best of Fela Kuti, Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Classic Protest Songs, Smithsonian Folkways

Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement / Smithsonian Folkways

Songs of Conscience and Concern / Peter, Paul & Mary


The People Speak / A&E Television

Soundtrack for a Revolution / Docurama Films

A Night of Ferocious Joy / Artists Network of Refuse & Resist


Songs That Changed the World / Wanda Wilson Whitman, ed.

The People United Will Never Be Defeated: 36 Variations / Frederic Rzewski

The Big Red Songbook / Mal Collins, et. al.

Songs of Protest and Civil Rights / Jerry Silverman

As ever, you can get more materials and information by asking a librarian. But right now, it’s your turn: has there been a particular song, or type of song, that raised your awareness of the world around you? Did you live through an era where music played a significant role in political / historical / cultural  events? Tell us about it.

Leigh Anne


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The hopeful, heartbreakingly beautiful, glorious writing of Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano is often described as “one of Latin America’s most distinguished writers.” That may be true. He IS an award-winning author, and his work has been translated into over twenty-eight languages. What I DO, however, know about Eduardo Galeano’s writing is that it comes about as close to sanctified as I’ve ever read. His style is accessible, yet rich and complex.



What’s more, Galeano has the ability to break me down, deconstruct and dismantle me, and then rebuild me all in the same paragraph. His work tends to explore the connectivity of different people and different groups. Galeano’s writing faces the insanity and brutality that can exist in the world, and looks back with realism that shines through with a hope that fills the heart and a beauty that is at once blinding and eye-opening.


Whether Galeano is writing about politics and social justice, interpersonal relationships, or soccer, his writing is emotive, expressive and touching. Do yourself a favor and check out this fantastic writer. And, yes, dear Eleventh Stack blog reader, these are all available through your very own CLP. Check them out!

galeano mirrors



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10 Things You Need to Know Before You Read The Casual Vacancy

As I’m writing this post there are still over 700 folks waiting to read J.K. Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy in all the formats we could purchase [click here to learn why we don’t have the e-book]. Because there is almost nothing worse than waiting a very long time for a book that disappoints, today’s post serves as a guide to whether or not you might like it. No spoilers here: simply indicators that will tell you whether or not to hang in there with the wait, or graciously let go and make the line a little less long for everyone else.

Ready? Okay.

1. This novel is nothing like Harry Potter, and you need to be at peace with that. If you are open to a beloved author doing something completely different with style and theme, hang in there. If, however, you are secretly holding out hopes that The Casual Vacancy will be anything like the adventures of the boy wizard and his pals, you are just going to wind up chucking the book across the room. And since it clocks in at 503 pages, you might hurt somebody, or someone. Possibly a kitten. Please, think of the kittens.

2. Politics and class warfare permeate the plot. This should heavily influence your decision, especially if you read to escape from the 24/7 News Cycle of Gloom and are still recovering from the loud, screamy info-barrage of the recent presidential election. Test yourself with this summary: when a local councilman dies, the small town he lives in drives itself bonkers during the search for his replacement. If that plot description turned you green at the gills, it’s time to let go.

3. There are a lot of characters to remember. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing–just a litmus test for whether you should hang in there or not. Some people love novels with tons of subplots and complex character interactions. Others don’t. If you’d rather focus on the adventures of one engaging hero/ine, this might not be the book for you. Conversely, if you love village gossip and elaborate machinations, hang in there.

4. Many of those characters are not very nice. Again, this is a personal preference. Many people read fiction to understand and engage with reality better. Others read fiction to escape. I can guarantee you that most of the characters in The Casual Vacancy are not folks that you’d want to hang out with in real life. However, they are fascinating, troubled mirror images of the kinds of people we live and work with every day. Do you want more or less of this dynamic in your life? Choose accordingly.

5. Less than a dozen people are on hold for the Playaway edition of the novel. If you are determined to read this book, and you’re on hold for the audiobook, why not consider transferring your hold to the Playaway version? Playaways are delightfully compact MP3 players that come pre-loaded with your book of choice. Just add your own headphones and a AAA battery, and you’re golden. Plus, you can then read the book on the bus, or during your daily walk / run, without lugging a lot of text around. Interested? Ask a library worker for more details.

Please, think of the literate kittens.
Originally seen on thatcutekitten.com

Still here? Good for you. The Casual Vacancy is an intriguing novel about contemporary social issues, in the vein of Jodi Picoult (minus the melodrama, plus a few style points) or Chris Bohjalian (minus a little formality), and is definitely worth waiting for. Now what you need to know is what you could be reading in the meantime. Here are five suggestions:

1. The Year of the Gadfly, Jennifer Miller. A privileged, yet troubled, teenager stumbles upon generations of secrets at her new school. Tonewise, this will give you a good sense of what reading The Casual Vacancy is like; it also has its share of unsympathetic characters and small-town viciousness, albeit in American style.

2.Still Life, Louise Penny. Three Pines is a lot quieter than Pagford, but the dynamics and culture of small-town life play  an important role in both books, making this a good pick for those intrigued by this kind of setting. First in a series, Still Life explores how a town comes apart, then back together, after a murder.

3. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh. Wait, what? The poverty and desperation some of Rowling’s characters experience looms larger than life in this iconic tale of the down, out, and drugged-up in Edinburgh. Grittier than The Casual Vacancy, to be sure, but excellent preparation for that novel’s less savory elements (do not substitute the movie, unless you’re really ready to take a walk on the wild side).

4.  The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Fay Weldon. If you can’t wait to see how Rowling’s characters outwit each other in small-town politics, you might enjoy reading–or perhaps revisiting–this tale of a woman wronged who achieves revenge through a series of carefully orchestrated plots. Ruth’s elaborate scheme to get back at her cheating husband, Bobbo, mirrors on a smaller scale the Pagford citizens’ attempts to get elected to the parish council.

5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce. This, too, was an extremely popular novel this year, and may be difficult to get a hold of. The most “contemporary British” of my picks, however, is also worth hanging around for (the lines are considerably shorter, too). When Harold receives word that a former co-worker of his is dying, he decides to walk to her hospital to pay her a visit. Which is very sweet, except that her hospital is 627 miles away!  Closest in characterization and setting to The Casual Vacancy, but with a softer edge to it (and, arguably, a better ending).

Bonus suggestion:  Peyton Place, Grace Metalious. 350+ pages into The Casual Vacancy, and just after a very small-town shocking-hilarious thing happened at a council meeting, it dawned on me: Rowling’s written the British Peyton Place, an uncomfortable novel that exposes the seamy underbelly of people’s secrets and lies, as well as the propensity of folks to gossip about their neighbors while hiding their own foibles. Also, unpleasant things happen to children and teens.

Hopefully you now have enough information to answer that burning question, “Should I stay on the waiting list, or should I go?” Have you read The Casual Vacancy yet? Are you planning to? What would you recommend for other readers patiently waiting in line, and why?

–Leigh Anne


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And the Ladies Have It

Welcome spring, and welcome Suzy–please enjoy the first blog post from our newest contributor, who will be joining us monthly in the writing staff rotation.

For Women’s History Month I wanted to honor the “bad” girls of history. Then I got hung up on the definition of “bad” in this case. Do I mean bad like Nell Gwyn, orange-seller, comedienne and long-time mistress of King Charles II of England? Or bad like Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, one of the most prolific serial killers of all time and fan of bathing in virgin blood? Both ladies are fascinating, but there are degrees of bad. I think Gwyn’s amorous misdemeanors sort of pale in comparison to murdering 600 people. But I’m judgy like that.

So, being the scientific chick that I am, I chose my favorites.  Without further ado, my top 10 bad girls of history:

 Nell Gwyn –Reputed to have told her coachman fighting for her honor, “I am a whore. Find something else to fight about.” Gwyn’s feisty wit and lusty personality are the reason King Charles II, on his deathbed, begged his brother, “Let not poor Nelly starve.” And she didn’t.

Cleopatra–Sure, she was an amazing administrator and Egypt’s culture and economy flourished under her reign. But she murdered her own brother and sister to become the Queen of Egypt! She was the mistress of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony! She swallowed a priceless pearl to demonstrate her wealth!

 Elizabeth Bathory–As mentioned above, killed 600 people in pretty gruesome fashion. 600 PEOPLE. That’d be like killing all of my Facebook friends. Twice.

Bonnie Parker–I freak out if I get pulled over for speeding. Parker was involved in at least one hundred felony criminal actions during her two-year career in crime. This includes, but is not limited to, kidnapping, murder, armed robbery and one major jail break. She also chain-smoked Camels.

Mae West–The very first play she wrote (“Sex”) got her convicted on a morals charge. But the lady who said, “Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often,” was an instant success and never looked back.

Marie Antoinette–Hopefully we all know by now that Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” But she wasn’t that into helping the starving masses either. And she really, really, really, really liked clothes.

Margaret Sanger–Considering the current controversy over birth control and woman’s health, we ladies may need to channel the spirit of Sanger in 2012. She promoted the pill before the pill existed. And got tossed in the clink for it.

Anne Boleyn–Did she sleep with her brother? And a poet? And a groom? Did she really commit treason?  I don’t know, but she had six fingers and a killer sense of style.

Lucretzia Borgia–Again with the incest. But also a poisoner!

Wallis Simpson–King Edward VII of the United Kingdom abdicated his throne to marry her. Enough said.

Your turn–who’s your favorite “bad” girl? 



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Fantasy novels are like pizza:  even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good, and while the “toppings” may vary somewhat, you know what you’re getting when you choose one.  Now imagine you pick up a pizza expecting the same old thing, but then you are pleasantly surprised, as if someone had sneaked chunks of pineapple, or perhaps roasted red pepper, onto your pie.  That’s what reading Stan Nicholls’s First Blood trilogy is like.

Nicholls turns fantasy conventions on their ear by making orcs the good guys this time around.   Human beings have invaded the land of Maras-Dantia, ruining its natural resources and stripping the land of its magic, making it difficult for the elder races—such as orcs, merfolk and trolls—to survive. The humans have also brought their religious quarrels with them, and the constant fighting between the polytheistic Manis and the one-true-god Unis keeps the rest of Maras-Dantia’s citizens off-balance. Our hero, Stryke, and his warband, the Wolverines, grow weary of serving an evil queen and set off on a quest that could lead to complete orc freedom…or, possibly, death at the hands of dragonfire, religious fanatics, the aforementioned evil queen, or one of her equally deadly sisters.

Reversing the “good humans/bad orcs” trope allows Nicholls to make some fairly pointed commentary on colonialism, environmentalism, religious tolerance and the like.  However, you’ll be having so much fun reading the fast-paced, gripping battle scenes that you might not notice the political subtext right away. Stryke is a terrific protagonist, a dedicated warrior who looks after his troops and tries to do the right thing in a low-key, no-nonsense manner. The supporting characters, while less well-rounded, are also sympathetic and endearing, and include Coilla, Stryke’s feisty second-in-command, and Jup, a dwarf who complicates the novel’s racial themes by abandoning his own people and choosing to serve with the orcs. Jennesta, the evil queen, is pretty appalling, even for a villain, and some of her bloodier deeds might be difficult for the squeamish to read. The chapters, however, are both short and thrilling, so you can always let your eyes skim past the more disturbing elements and move on to the next rowdy ambush or dream sequence.

If the First Blood trilogy sounds like fun to you, you can read the collected omnibus volume, called Orcs, in either print or audio formats. And if you find it as thrilling as I did, you can move on to the first volume of the second Orcs trilogy, called Bad Blood.  After that, the sky’s the limit, especially when you have an entire team of dedicated librarians to recommend all the fantasy novels your little heart could ever desire.

 —Leigh Anne
proud supporter of both orc independence and Spak Brothers

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