So I'm sitting and watching the Parks and Recreation episode I missed two weeks ago while I began the first long drive of my vacation. It's Episode # 203, entitled "Beauty Pageant." The plot in brief: Leslie Knope, Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation, serves as a judge for the local Pawnee beauty pageant. The subplot thickens as she discovers the police officer who is interested in dating her is not quite familiar with her real-life female role models -- specifically, Madeleine Albright.
It's the last scene of the episode, and I almost closed my full screen view so I could push on to view The Office episode I also missed, when...could it really be? Yes! It is! What do I spy in the background but a copy of Gail Collins's America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines! My favorite history book of all time!
America's Women on Leslie Knope's bookshelf:
America's Women on my own bookshelf:
I love this book with all my heart. It was the first book I ever read, at the ripe old age of 22, to really get me interested in, and sometimes fascinated with, history. From the era of the very first colonists up to the 21st century, Gail Collins, an editor at the New York Times, explores the common life, struggles, victories, failures, political activism, and overall history of American women. She includes many races, backgrounds, and classes in one of the largest compilations of diary entries, articles, books, and journals I've ever seen. According to Amazon, "...some of these women -- from the justly famous, like Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman, to the undeservedly obscure, like Elizabeth Eckford and Senator Margaret Chase Smith -- will not only make any woman proud to be a woman, they will make any American proud to be American."
I am absolutely smitten with this book. Admittedly, it took me a whole summer and then some to get through it...the amount of content is just so vast, and I'll confess that not all of the stories held my attention equally. At first, it's even a little befuddling. I thought I'd try to take notes in the margins, but there are so many stories about so many women, I'd already lost track by the 3rd chapter. I had to learn to let some 'characters' go, because they rarely turned up again later. You kind of have to let what stands out to you really stand alone, and let the rest fall where it may. Let me clarify. It's all so interesting; so many of the stories felt...inherent...to me. But I think it qualifies as a great re-read because I'd bet you'd learn something new every time. Really, you have no idea how much she fit into this little 608-page book (yes, 608 pages will seem ridiculously minuscule when you think about how much she probably didn't include).
The book was such an important discovery for me. It really did make me feel closer to my heritage as an American, and as an American woman. When I saw it in the background of last week's Parks and Recreation, I was so ecstatic. I feel driven to share how much I love this book every time I think about it. I'm surprised this whole blog hasn't had at least one mention of it by now. Well, I'm finally saying something. Go pick up a copy of America's Women by Gail Collins, and learn. Endorsed by Leslie Knope.* It's what it was written for.
*Not an actual endorsement.