Smith College Alumnae Reading Suggestions

From Kate Kelly '73

Kate Kelly ’73 is completing her second and last term on the Friends of the Library board and has loved being involved with Chris Loring and the library leaders who are thoughtfully navigating a useful path for the libraries through all the technological changes in information retrieval, reading, and information storage that are well underway. As a writer now running her own website, Kate shares the group’s commitment to keeping the libraries front-and-center for all types of information retrieval by both students and alumnae of Smith.

book cover Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. 
This is the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who joins the military and is captured and held by the Japanese during World War II.  The story itself is quite an amazing narrative, and Hillenbrand tells it well. (It is recommended on Lizanne Payne’s list as well but the book is so good it is worthy of a double mention.)  Hillenbrand’s research is superb and she seamlessly blends so much information into this compelling story.  I happened to be writing about the history behind the “Mae West life preservers,” which were first used in a major way in World War II; Hillenbrand’s detailed work added new information to the body of knowledge about the way the preservers were used…and tampered with during the war.  I was so taken with Hillenbrand that I went back to her earlier work.
book cover Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand.
Hillenbrand takes readers back to race track life of the 1930s with several not-obvious heroes.  Seabiscuit was a horse with imperfect legs but a highly competitive spirit, and the people around him were oddballs in the world of horse racing. The fellow who invests in Seabiscuit was a bicycle shop owner who made it big when he switched over to selling automobiles; the horse’s trainer was known for working with mustangs not thoroughbred racehorses; and Seabiscuit’s jockey was a blind-in-one-eye former boxer.  Hillenbrand weaves a wonderful tale of the horse and the men around him, and readers are transported to the 1930s and the challenges our nation faced at that time.
book cover Rin Tin Tin The Movie Star by Ann Elwood Rin Tin Tin: the Movie Star by Ann Elwood
Elwood is a history professor within the University of California educational system. While Susan Orlean has recently published her book on Rin Tin Tin, I would put forth that Elwood may have gotten closer to the true story of Rin Tin Tin.  She does in-depth research that reveals that certain aspects of Rin Tin Tin’s life story were told in order to create a Hollywood myth, and she carefully documents her findings.  Susan Orlean takes at face value Lee Duncan’s description of how he found the puppies on a battlefield in France; Elwood uses photographs to document Rin Tin Tin’s likely age at various junctures of Duncan’s and the dog’s lives, and I believe that Elwood is correct that Rin Tin Tin was not scooped up by Duncan just after the conclusion of a battle.  Both Orlean and Elwood have found a book-worthy subject in Rin Tin Tin and his owner/trainer Lee Duncan, bit I was particularly taken by Elwood’s book because it peels back the cloud of mystery that tends to hover over Hollywood. It does not lessen the dog’s or Duncan’s accomplishments; it simply reveals that a “well told tale” may be told again and again, if it feels like the kind of story the public would like.
book cover The Roads that Built America by Dan McNichol The Roads that Built America by Dan McNichol. 
Here’s one you won’t find on anyone’s list but I loved it. The subtitle is “The Incredible Story of the U.S. Interstate System,” and it really is an incredible story.  By examining the growth of our roads, from George Washington’s first survey for a road going west to the completion of Boston’s Big Dig, it is fascinating and it explains so much about our country.  There are many photographs which make the book especially interesting, and I really strongly recommend it! 
  Various Mysteries: I watch for any new mystery by Michael Connelly, and fortunately, he seems to produce about two per year.  I generally purchase them as audio books and listen while walking my dogs and/or driving. (If I’m distracted by something important as I’m driving, the story can be easily picked up again later, so I find that it makes for a good way of reading these books.) I also like Linda Fairstein but I will be looking for other mystery writers that might be suggested here.