“Valor rarely reaps the dividends it should.”

On October 15th, the Central Library Brown Baggers book group met virtually to discuss A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win WWII by Sonia Purnell.

This book tells the story of how, in 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.” This spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman–rejected from the foreign service because of her gender and her prosthetic leg–who talked her way into the spy organization dubbed Churchill’s “ministry of ungentlemanly warfare,” and, before the United States had even entered the war, became the first woman to deploy to occupied France. Virginia Hall was one of the greatest spies in American history, yet before this book, her story was untold.

While the Brown Baggers were very impressed with Virginia Hall and her achievements, many were underwhelmed by the quality of the writing, and found it hard to get through at points. Some found Hall herself so compelling they were not bothered by the writing, and all expressed admiration for the impact Hall had on the world, and history, especially in the face of extreme disadvantage and prejudice from her own side. 

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on Thursday, November 19 at noon to discuss The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.  Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books Mentioned:

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre

The Night Witches by Garth Ennis

True Grit by Charles Portis

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania  by Erik Larson

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy, France by Carolyn Moorehead

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell

Woman of No Importance (play) by Oscar Wilde

Other books on Virginia Hall:

Hall of Mirrors by Craig Gralley (historical fiction recounting Virginia Hall’s life)

The Wolves at the Door by Judith Pearson

Films:

 Julia (1977)

Links:

Deadline – ‘Paramount Buys Spy Novel ‘A Woman of No Importance’ for ‘Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley’ by Mike Flemming Jr.

IMDB – Upcoming Movie Page

NPR – ‘Female WWII Pilots: The Original Flygirls’ by Susan Stamberg

Women Airforce Service Pilots (general information)

Night Witches (general information)

Books & Authors For Women of Color

The following content was researched and compiled by JMRL-NAACP Intern Casey Alexander. You can view a related presentation that she created here.

The books listed below are Young Adult & Adult pieces of literature meant to educate, empower, and motivate women, specifically women of color. All of these works are sure to leave a positive impact on their readers, while opening the door to a world that may not be familiar to some. These books include rich language, excellent storytelling, personal freedom, and depict some of the struggles women of color face throughout their life. Whether you are looking for a quick read or something deep in description and complexity, you are sure to find it in one of the following books. Disclaimer: All books are based on and written by women of color. 

Age Level: 14+

Books Owned By JMRL Available to Checkout

Training School For Negro Girls – Camille Acker 

Letter to My Daughter – Maya Angelou 

The Toni Morrison Book Club – Juda Bennett 

A Black Women’s History Of the United States – Diana Ramey Berry

Black Girls Rock!: Owning Our Magic, Rocking Our Truth – Beverly Bond 

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower – Brittney Cooper 

Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture – Emma Dabiri 

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves – Glory Edim 

Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo- Lodge 

Badass Black Girl: Questions, Quotes,and Affirmations for Teens – M.J. Fievre 

Ordinary Hazards – Nikki Grimes 

The Sisters Are Alright – Tamara Winfrey Harris 

This Will Be My Undoing: Living At the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America – Morgan Jerkins 

Hood Feminism – Mikki Kendall

Becoming– Michelle Obama 

So You Want To Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo 

Small Doses: Potent Truths for Everyday Use – Amanda Seales

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) – Elaine Welteroth 

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“Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss Treasure Island  by Robert Louis Stevenson, as per our tradition of reading a classic at least once a year. Primarily remembered as a boy’s adventure story, it did lend itself to a lively discussion. 

Those of us reading it for the first time were put off by the nautical terms and more than one was confused by the staging of the action. Others were better able to engage by listening to the audiobook or watching a film adaptation (see below). 

We were surprised to find that many of the things we think of as pirate cliches are present already in this 1883 novel (serialized from 1881-1882). We encountered men with peg legs and one eyes, parrots on shoulders, mutinies, barrels of rum,  pieces of eight and undifferentiated “natives.” Hidden in this adventure tale is an anti-hero. Long John Silver is feared as a violent pirate before he shows up on the page. Jim, our young hero, is terrified of the man until they are thrown together and Jim recognizes the man’s cunning charm. Stevenson doesn’t make a moral judgement but does spotlight the way that greed overcomes ethics and creates shifting alliances. Due to the novel’s dense language, casual violence, sole woman character and questionable representation of “natives,” we wouldn’t recommend it to today’s young reluctant readers. 

Stevensons’s biography intrigued us as much as the novel. Born into wealth in Edinburgh in 1850, he had severe respiratory illness for most of his life. He frequently traveled to warmer areas in Europe, and the United States, dying in Samoa at 44. He followed a widow from Switzerland to the US and later wrote Treasure Island to entertain her son. We wondered if his imagination blossomed during periods of isolation while recovering. One of our members remembers visiting Robert Louis Stevenson-related sites while a child in Northern California. 

Books on Tap will meet again on November 5 via Zoom. For the link, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite,which the library owns in multiple formats. Email Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:
About the Author
Biography (may require library card login)
Great Lives podcast
Wikipedia entry 

About the Novel
Synopsis  (may require library card login)
Wikipedia entry

Other works by Stevenson (including poetry)
Modern parrots who would be at home in a Stevenson novel 

Other Titles Discussed
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
McTeague by Frank Norris 

Film Adaptations:
Available at JMRL
2012 series starring Eddie Izzard, recommended by a book club member 

Upcoming Meetings:
November 5: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
December 3: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck