Scribbling Women Blog Tour

31st March 2011

Welcome to the third day of the blog tour for Marthe Jocelyn’s Scribbling Women, published by Tundra Books*. Thanks so much for joining me from Open Book: Toronto, and I hope you visit the next stop: Teresa’s Reading Corner.

Scribbling women…ahh, Nathaniel Hawthorne. You may be better remembered for The Scarlet Letter or the short story “Young Goodman Brown,” but in my heart, your voice echoes across the decades in a harsh whisper: “damned mob of scribbling women.” What did he mean? Well, mainly he was upset because women were becoming so commercially successful. (For a response to this sort of criticism in the mid -1800s, click here.) His flippant remark has served long and well to discount the writing of women.

Marthe Jocelyn, author of Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives tries to dispute this image of women’s writing by highlighting 11 phenomenal women and how/why their writing is important. Although I found out later that the book is intended as a young adult book, I think it holds remarkably well for adults, and I’m pleased to talk about it today, the last day of Women’s History Month. Perfect for young and old, it gives a concise view of why even the most mundane of journals adds to our perception of the inner lives of women in different historical settings.

Jocelyn, a prolific children’s book author, was actually researching another project when she ran across the writings of the wife of an ambassador to Turkey, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She says,

As I learned and thought about Lady Mary’s life, I realized that there must be dozens of other women who had written letters, or travel journals, or diaries; women whose observations…had chronicled or changed the world around them, even in very small ways.

And so Jocelyn highlights these women, among them prisoner Margaret Catchpole, banished to a foreign island for stealing a horse; the famous Harriet Jacobs who hid in a crawl space for seven years to escape an abusive slaveholder; Nellie Bly, a daring reporter willing to do the outrageous to be famous for her writing; and Mary Kingsley, whose tales of adventures in Africa exposed the harsh treatment of native peoples in Africa.

What struck me most was how audacious these women all were – striking out into the unknown, walking where no woman had been, breaking barriers with words and action, and risking life and limb. A quote from a letter Jocelyn uses seems to be the most appropriate for this book: “Real history is made up from the documents that were not meant to be published.”

What we have to say, as women, is no less important. What we blog about, journal about, scribble about has value, and I hope that you’ll take a look at Scribbling Women to re-confirm that and share what you learn with others. (Buy a copy here.)

After reading this book, I realized just how many writers with whom I am in contact and asked a few to join me (tangentially) in this review, providing thoughts or photos about the act of writing.

A Twitter friend, @literarychica teaches English and is a writer but says, “Interestingly, I didn’t think of myself as a writer until recently. Earlier this semester I asked my students: what is a writer? Do you consider yourself a writer? It wasn’t until then that I asked myself the same thing: do I consider myself a writer? The answer is ‘yes.’ I write because I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Another, @myrmicatforever with the blog of the same name says, “As for me, I write because I’m not happy if I don’t; it’s in the blood.”

I ask you to join in: Dear reader, why is your writing important – even if it’s a grocery list? Why do you write?

jenn aka the picky girl (who writes)

P.S. Tundra Books is hosting a huge giveaway (28 books!) for this blog tour. You can enter for your chance to win this set of Marthe Jocelyn’s books. Just leave a comment below. Check out Tundra Books’ blog for more information and for links to the other stops on this tour.

P.P.S. A big thanks to Sylvia Chan and Tundra Books for coordinating this blog tour and shipping me a copy of this book to review. It was right up my alley.

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  • Great post!
    Laura
    laura.leahj@gmail dot com

    • pickygirl

      Thanks!

  • I suppose I write to show my children another side of me.

    • pickygirl

      That is really interesting. Writing is really freeing (except when it’s not), which is why I think it can also be fraught with self consciousness. What will ____ think about what I have to say?

      Thanks for adding.

  • Wonderful previous article that you linked to. I posted an article about that last month and we got a good discussion going. One of the points is that Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom were very similar in terms of the content they covered and yet were received by the literary community in two completely different ways.

    Definitely something that gets me riled up.

    I think of A.M. Homes when I think of literary dysnfunctional suburbia. And I wonder if the initials were intentional as well…

    For my part, I’ve been convincing myself that writing wasn’t important. Over the last ten years, I’ve written, deleted, buried half-written novels in my closets and generally done everything I could to avoid doing it. And now, I’ve got the regret of the last decade on my shoulders and I’m not sure how to approach writing. Which is what got me blogging. Some writing is better than none. I’m thinking of taking some creative writing courses in the fall, just to see if I have what it takes. The propect is quite frightening.

    • pickygirl

      Jennifer – I’d love the link to that post if you don’t mind. Of course, I hadn’t heard of The Cookbook Collector.

      As for the writing, that’s exactly why I started blogging. After a period of no (zero, zilch) writing, I decided if I were to ever get back to it, now was the time. Haven’t quite made the jump back to the kind of writing I used to do, but I’m not convinced I won’t.

      It is frightening. The blank page and the possibilities it holds…

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  • It’s often interesting to hear people talk about writing…and only in terms of books. There is so much more that we write whether letters, cards, email, blog posts, lists, etc. Marthe Jocelyn emphasizes the point that any writing about the times in which we live will have value in times when we are no longer here.

    • pickygirl

      Exactly. Trace documents have such great importance. I try to emphasize this when I teach American Literature so that students understand you don’t have to be a “writer” in order to be important. We even talk about FB, Twitter and how all of these writing spaces are important.

  • This book is a reminder that all things that I write are important.

  • In one of the classes I teach for young writers, we do an extended exercise using the medium of texting – obviously a natural for them, and probably often as poetic as some of Sei Shonagon’s entries in The Pillow Book. However, it is important to remember that NOT everything one writes is worth saving and reading! Re-writing and ruthless editing are very important activities! That’s under the heading of literature.
    Under the heading of history, there is a whole different set of criteria…

  • ps. Thanks for a provocative blog post!

    • pickygirl

      Thank YOU for stopping by. And I agree 100% that not all writing is important; however, I like them to understand that what they write does count and should be counted and that they have a voice – regardless how small or large. As for re-writing and editing: my students absolutely hate it until I show them how I work on that in my own writing. I think it’s necessary to show them I write as well, and I am not asking them to do anything I don’t do naturally.

  • martha s

    to me what is most wonderful and poignant about these eleven women is the plainness and simplicity of their words in light of the remarkable bravery of their lives.

    • pickygirl

      Yes, especially the story of Ada Blackjack. Just survival.

  • I write because I have something to say and I truly believe that there are readers out there who want to know what I think on a variety of topics.

  • Christinabean

    I write because I have thoughts that are bursting at the seams to get out. After that, it is the reader’s choice whether or not to participate. 😀

  • Hi, must say that you have an amazong blog. If I may be allowed, I have a recommendation for all the readers. Last book which I read,The Skunk Girl turned out to be an awesome read. A teenage girl facing dilemma over her looks and life, seems like its our story being re-told. I got my copy of the book from uRead. You will love this one:)