Joanne Sears

Television's much-awarded broadcast reporter Cokie Roberts might intimidate us ordinary souls if she weren't so personal, warm, and insightful. Her book, We Are Our Mothers' Daughters part memoir, part social history demonstrates these qualities. Roberts's title makes her chief point: no matter how political and social changes revise women's lives, women's nature remains the same.

“Women,” she says, “have always been multiple-minded.” Rather than regarding multiple-mindedness as a handicap, Roberts sees it as a strength. Women by necessity, she claims, will always focus on many things at once, jobs and family, professional life and personal life. Roberts, herself a highly successful professional woman, notes that “women are connected throughout time and regardless of place.” Our Mothers' Daughters develops this theme in 13 chapters organized around women's various roles. The anecdote-filled chapters illustrate women's toughness, tenderness, and flexibility at home as well as in more public arenas. Chapters on “Sister,” “Aunt,” “Wife,” and “Mother/Daughter” draw on Roberts's personal life. Daughter of Hale Boggs, the Louisiana congressman lost in a plane crash in Alaska, and Lindy Boggs, herself a member of Congress and now Ambassador to the Vatican, Cokie says “Politics is the family business.” “Sister,” a moving prose elegy, deals with Roberts's sister Barbara's death from cancer. “Mother/Daughter” praises her mother's strength, wisdom, good sense, and sense of humor. When Roberts's children were young, Grandma Lindy lived on Bourbon Street. “I used to jokingly chant [to my kids], ÔOver the hills and through the woods to grandmother's house we go,' as we tripped our way past the denizens of that naughty neighborhood.” “Aunt” registers appreciation of the network of southern women Roberts grew up in, while “Friend” expresses appreciation for the network of professional women that fostered Roberts's career. For women's more public roles, Roberts draws on experiences gleaned from her years as a reporter. “Politician” points out the importance of women being active in politics despite the difficult, sometimes tawdry, world politicians inhabit. “Consumer Advocate” profiles Esther Peterson, the woman responsible for truth-in-advertising package labeling. “First-Class Mechanic” chronicles the inspiring story of Eva Oliver of Baton Rouge, a mother who got off welfare and now counsels other women. “Civil Rights Activist” traces the career of 85-year-old Dorothy Height, President of the National Council of Negro Women. Roberts has unearthed fascinating tales of women in business, women in the service, women in reporting. She weaves them together in clear, informal prose well-spiked with her own warm personality.

Reviewed by Joanne Lewis Sears.

Television's much-awarded broadcast reporter Cokie Roberts might intimidate us ordinary souls if she weren't so personal, warm, and insightful. Her book, We Are Our Mothers' Daughters part memoir, part social history demonstrates these qualities. Roberts's title makes her chief point: no matter how political and social changes revise women's lives, women's nature remains the same. […]

New books on aging remind us that the ranks of over-50s move toward the millennium like a melon through a boa constrictor. Are You Old Enough to Read This Book? Reflections on Midlife, edited by Deborah H. Deford, directs its cheerful and varied wisdom to the over-50s gang in the voices of some of our age's wittiest and wisest spokespeople. Network journalist Linda Ellerbee introduces a collection of pieces reprinted from New Choices magazine. The volume's slick pages and bright visuals give Are You Old Enough? the feel of a hardcover magazine. Moving from the general topic of aging to observations on marriage, parenting, friends, work, and values, this book can sit on your night stand, in the bathroom, or on top of the TV zapper by your favorite chair.

In this pick-up-over-and-over-again kind of book, literary gems share space with pragmatic advice and sociological observation. John Updike observes in "The Truth about Life after 50" that "Fun comes in many flavors, and there is, believe it or not, an over-50 flavor." Deborah Mason reveals "Why Women over 50 Have Affairs," and observes that smaller families make "Reinventing the American Grandparent" a necessity. Interviewed by Susan Cheever, Arthur Miller offers some perhaps surprising advice born of his happy 32-year marriage to photographer Inge Morath: "It's a magical confluence of events, and it's amazing it occurs at all. We've solved some of our problems by ignoring them. This is probably the most long-term, safest solution ever devised by man: ignoring things."

Addressed to an older audience, Successful Aging places control over the aging process firmly back in our own hands. Author Dr. John W. Rowe, M. D. heads the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and chairs the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Aging. His co-author, Professor Emeritus Robert L. Kahn, Ph.D. taught psychology at the University of Michigan. As an octogenarian himself, Kahn speaks with personal as well as professional authority. In 1987 the MacArthur Foundation began a broadly-based longitudinal study of aging. Successful Aging reports a decade's worth of results of studies focused on factors contributing to a healthy and active old age. Some of these results will come as no surprise (lose weight, laugh a lot, stay involved with life), while others may offer new insights.

As Ernest Burgess said, "old age is a roleless role, a time of life when nothing is expected of you." A life without structure can be both a gift and a burden. Both of these books concentrate on age's gifts.

New books on aging remind us that the ranks of over-50s move toward the millennium like a melon through a boa constrictor. Are You Old Enough to Read This Book? Reflections on Midlife, edited by Deborah H. Deford, directs its cheerful and varied wisdom to the over-50s gang in the voices of some of our […]

Prolific Joanna Trollope, descendent of equally prolific 19th century novelist Anthony Trollope, publishes romances in England under the pseudonym Caroline Harvey. Her U. S. popularity stems largely from Masterpiece Theatre adaptations of contemporary novels published under her own name, like The Choir and The Rector's Wife. Banking on name recognition to reach an American market already acquainted with Trollope, Viking plans to publish Harvey novels under the Trollope name, starting with The Brass Dolphin.

Trollope sets her tale of self-discovery on rocky, history-laden Malta. Its stony heights and its peculiar mixture of middle East and Europe, of ancient and modern cultures, intensify protagonist Lila Cunningham's internal conflicts about status, social class, and her own sense of place. A hand-forged door knocker in the form of a brass dolphin serves first as icon for the island of Malta, later as symbol for young LilaÔs discovery of her genuine self.

World War II, with its heavy Axis bombardment of this tiny English outpost, intensifies Lila's sense of isolation and self-pity. She despairs of realizing her dream of release from a life of poverty and dutiful care of a crippled father. Trollope, who was herself born during World War II, renders the fatigue and grief of wartime experience mingled with the stuff of high romance.

Dislocated by poverty from her dream of London ( because that's where things happen ), unhappily chained to an eccentric father she sees as worthless, Lila holds the Maltese world at arm's lengthÐdespite the attentions of a young Maltese nationalist, Alfonso Sabila. Then she goes to work for Count Julius of Tabia Palace in the Silent City, and meets his two handsome sons, Max and Anton. Trollope knows better than to leave a plot at the level of melodrama. Her characters have intricate inner lives. She permits them slow and organic unfolding. She has the gift of making readers like an unlikeable protagonist. She does her homework, rendering her fictional worlds real, based on responsible research. She creates convincing if inconclusive endings that feel like life. In The Brass Dolphin the war itself proves a testing ground for Lila. She must come to terms with her narrow resentments, her oblique snobbery toward Maltese peasants, her desire to retreat into a sheltered world of refinement. If Lila can finally hang the dolphin knocker at her front door, readers, too, should come to a keener understanding of painful modern issues of caste and class.

Joanne Lewis Sears profiles artists for the Montecito Journal in California and writes travel articles for Senior magazine.

Prolific Joanna Trollope, descendent of equally prolific 19th century novelist Anthony Trollope, publishes romances in England under the pseudonym Caroline Harvey. Her U. S. popularity stems largely from Masterpiece Theatre adaptations of contemporary novels published under her own name, like The Choir and The Rector's Wife. Banking on name recognition to reach an American market […]

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