The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives
by Cheryl Jarvis
recommended by GenJunky
Early in this decade, a woman in southern California (who considers herself an old hippie) walked past a jewelry store she had seen dozens of time, but was completely caught off guard by the beauty of a diamond necklace that was on display in the window. Over the ensuing weeks she admired it many times, but was struck by the thought that such remarkable luxury was available to so few. If other resources could be shared, why not a necklace?
Upon finding out that the necklace was going to be auctioned, she sprang into action and recruited a dozen women to each put up $1,000 and put in a bid on the piece. Each would own the necklace. The jeweler, amazed to see such regular and enthusiastic women in his store (diametrically opposed to his regular crowd) that he let the necklace go for a fraction of its worth on the condition that his wife could join the group.
The group, known as "Jewelia" (the truly inane name chosen for The Necklace), met monthly to swap stories, pass on the necklace and, ultimately raise money for charity.
Oh, and fight.
The thing is that while I love the premise of this book, and the idea behind their sharing, I had a really hard time with the book itself. Each chapter is a character sketch of the women. And though each is certainly unique, I have to admit that I didn't really feel connected to any of them. Even the ones described as being of modest means (and some of them certainly had backgrounds that fit the term), seemed exceptionally wealthy to me without truly appreciating just how remarkably blessed they were. It was rather astounding to me that they had to become a part of the group before they felt the necessity of sharing their (vast, by global terms) resources with others.
The jeweler who sold the necklace said the wear and tear on the clasp of the thing indicates that it was worn nearly 700 times the second year after purchasing (like anyone can KNOW that). With a single owner, such a high-end item might be worn just 2 or 3 times in a year. My first thought is that so much wear and share would take away from the wonder and uniqueness of such a thing, but on the other hand, the women say that what makes the necklace so special is the sharing. Interesting idea.
Some of the lessons of the necklace were truly profound. It seems that for the most part, their involvement in the group has made them less selfish, more bonded to a strong sisterhood, and more community-minded. On the other hand, some of the essays seemed trying too hard to create meaning, or shared lessons just a little too personal. Like the woman who only could convince her husband to let her join because she told him that she would wear ONLY Jewelia during their lovemaking. That is only the tip of the TMI iceberg.
I'm not exactly certain why I disliked the book so much. The essays, for the most part, weren't brilliant. Jarvis is a nationally renowned magazine writer (according the jacket), but I really didn't like her writing in this format. The timeline was all over the place; I didn't know what year anything was happening and it lost me a little bit. I also couldn't keep the women straight. Though they were different, most of their stories weren't all that memorable and when she would refer to one of the women later in another's essay, I was always thinking "Which one is this again?"
I think it is a book that would have been wonderful as a blog. The women who started Jewelia should have chronicled their journey in their OWN essays. It may have been more convincing.
A Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson
recommended by Katie
I feel a bit sous doing the review of this one now because I haven't actually finished it yet. I was truthfully a bit daunted by the size and topic, though the recommendation came from a highly trusted source. I was hoping to finish by year's end, but it just won't happen. I'll be close, but not quite there.
This book is basically a chronicle of all major scientific discoveries for lay people. I love it because so much of the science he describes I already have a basic understanding of, so I don't get lost in the details. What I didn't know was all the drama behind so many of these discoveries. The history, and maybe more so the telling of it, of scientific thought in the 1800's reads like an episode from a soap opera. He has really delved to find the story behind the eccentric and brilliant people whose remarkable discoveries have made modern life possible. Bryson worked hard to find female contributors as well. (Favorite anecdote read today: Marie Curie was so steeped in radiation that even her personal effects, many of which still are in existence, are still emitting toxic levels of it, 80 years after her death. To handle her things, even her cookbooks!, researchers must don special suits and remove the artifacts from lead-lined boxes. Awesome.)
It would have been so amazing to have had science professors who could have elucidated the history of all the discoveries about which they took such care to teach the details. I can see Bryson's point about science being so fascinating, but so inaccessible. When I teach again I think I will incorporate some of this human drama into the process. What a great approach to a student textbook. This book (which reads like a novel in sections) has also shown me what a great addition to a humanities course the history of science could be.
And I haven't even made it to all the good, meaty biological science portion yet. You see, the oldest science is really math. Once scientists had a good understanding of math, a study of physics became possible. When planetary motion proved baffling, Newton had to first discover a new math (calculus) in order to move forward. From physics you can move outward to astronomy or inward to chemistry. And only when chemical interactions can be explained, understood and cataloged, can the biologist create any meaning from the observations he makes. So the biological stuff will come later. I can hardly wait.
It isn't a book for everyone. I think Bryson kind of takes atheism as a basic premise in his foundation. I, for one, will take just the opposite stance. I find such wonder in all that he describes. Even as we find explanations for things, we can never discount the depth of intelligence in all living things. Our most brilliant men just shake their heads and shrug about what happened, what was, where everything was, in the instant before the Big Bang. I think it will be funny when we get to the other side with our list of questions only to find out that we were wrong about so much that the questions themselves don't even make sense. We will ALL have to go back to Science 101 to really figure stuff out.
Now it is your turn!
Submit your recommendations here. I will randomly choose two and read them next year (preferably a little bit earlier!) along with whatever else happens my way. You can recommend as many books as you'd like, but I will only give each person a maximum of two entries in the contest. A $10 Amazon gift card if I pick your book. Let's try to get 50 recommendations!
Contest ends on January 10.
Contest ends on January 10.