the next good book

The Personal Librarian

By Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray


321 pages

What’s it about? Belle da Costa Greene was the personal librarian to J.P. Morgan.  She was also one of the most important women in the art and book world at the beginning of the twentieth century. Being a career woman in the early 1900’s was complicated enough, but Ms. da Costa Greene also had a secret, she was a black woman passing as white. What did it make me think about? Ms. da Costa Greene must have been one formidable person! Should I read it? This story is set in a really interesting period in history.  Directly after the Civil War there was a time where it looked like equality might be possible.  But when the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was ruled unconstitutional, America took a turn back to overt racism.  This book examines one woman’s life and how sexism and racism shaped her journey.  Belle da Costa Greene was a remarkable woman who defied expectations.  I enjoyed learning about her.  The authors took the outline of Belle’s life and filled it in with details that felt contrived to me.  The formal language also felt stilted, but I am still glad to have read more about this woman’s life.  I must add that everyone I know that has read this book raves about it. This book will appeal to anyone who likes historical fiction.  One of my favorite parts of the book were the author’s notes- sharing about the friendship  they had formed while writing this novel.  Just another layer to appreciate about this book. Quote- “Embedded in what she told me is another message: living as white is not what she wanted to do, but what she felt she must.”

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