Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
Through the Door of Life by Joy Ladin
c.2012, University of Wisconsin Press, $26.95 U.S., 259 pages
You knew there would be pain. No doubt about it, change was going to hurt. It would require, if not tears, then a kind of ripping of your soul, a new way of life, an alteration of outlook. You would no longer be a smoker, a drinker, a nail-chewer, a sweets-addict. You would be giving up—but you would be gaining so much more.
It was change and, good or bad, it wouldn’t be easy.
For author Joy Ladin, pain was exactly the reason for change. Pain had accompanied her for most of her days, but in her new book Through the Door of Life, she explains a journey that was, for her, long overdue.
Joy Ladin “never much wanted to live.” Born into relative privilege, Ladin had a good childhood, but death “seemed close.” Ladin remembers thinking that the idea of dying was exciting, while life was not because life, at the time, was spent in the wrong body: Joy Ladin was born a boy.
“I spent my childhood trying to be what people wanted me to be,” she says, which worked, outwardly. Few noticed or knew that Ladin was struggling, so adept was she at tamping down feelings of sorrow.
At 17, while away at college, Ladin met her “life partner,” to whom she confessed her inner turmoil. The woman was undaunted; they married in 1982—Ladin’s wife made it clear that she could accept Ladin’s transsexual feelings but not a transition—and they started a family within the decade. Ladin took pride in being a father.
But in 2005, everything began to fall apart. Ladin started having panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. No longer able to withstand the soul-crushing pain of living in a body that was all wrong, she shaved off the beard she’d had since puberty, began taking hormones and tried to maintain a dual life that would satisfy her wife, three children, her God and her colleagues at Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University. And slowly, Joy Ladin began to embrace the woman she knew herself to be.
Through the Door of Life is a bit of a conundrum. It soars with celebration, then drops like a stone into an abyss of angst. There are self-deprecating, bittersweetly humorous passages, followed by wailing rants that hurt to read. There’s love in here, and hate that’ll make you gasp. And, repeatedly, author Joy Ladin gives you all this in the space of a page or two.
Despite that repetition, what readers will appreciate most, I think, is that Ladin pulls no punches. We’re given a front-row seat at the difficulty—and shaky triumph—of being true to one’s self despite the costs. Yes, there are bumps in this story, but Ladin’s honesty is hard to beat.
Through the Door of Life is deep and thick with thought, emotion and pain, but its cover should clue you in on the kind of read you’ll end up with. That kind of Joy should make you want to change your schedule to read this book.
Voyagers of the Titanic by Richard Davenport-Hines
c.2012, William Morrow, $26.99, 342 pages, includes index
There’s no doubt about it: moving stinks. You pack your belongings, living with cartons and mess in the meantime, always needing something that’s stashed in a mystery box. Then you haul everything to your new place and unpack it, living with cartons and mess in the meantime, looking for the mystery box and apologizing to whatever friends you have left after they helped.
Now imagine doing it blindly and with very little real preparation, clutching a few paltry possessions and a half-promise of a job, leaving your loved ones an ocean behind. That’s just one of the stories you’ll find in Voyagers of the Titanic by Richard Davenport-Hines.
One hundred winters ago, the Arctic temperature was milder than normal, which created a higher number of icebergs from the glaciers near Greenland’s coast. These icebergs floated down into the Atlantic Ocean, right into shipping lanes for cargo ships and luxury liners.
One of the liners was the Titanic. Eleven stories high, weighing nearly 47,000 tons, the Titanic was massive. She carried 2,240 passengers and crew, gems and spices, books, a car, fine fabric, mail and more. There were fine dining rooms onboard, a swimming pool, library and quarters for pampered first-class dogs.
Most of the crew of the Titanic was new to this ship, although they were an experienced lot. An overwhelming majority of them were British and included stewards, a linen keeper and a slew of men whose backbreaking job was to fill 190 steel furnaces with coal every 20 minutes. Their captain was on the verge of retirement.
Third class passengers, who constituted most of those onboard, were likewise mostly British, but they also hailed from Ireland, Croatia, Norway and elsewhere.
Second-class passengers were largely working-class folks, social up-and-comers and small business owners. They counted among them a single black man, the only one on board.
First class passengers were the kind who might board the Titanic on a whim, or just as quickly cancel the trip to pursue another fancy. Some of them, in fact, did so.
Others, tragically, did not…
Step into any bookish place these days, and you’re likely to be faced with dozens of tomes marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. This one, though, has a different feel to it.
Voyagers of the Titanic begins in an unusual place, and one can almost feel the doom in author Richard Davenport-Hines’ words. For reasons you’ll soon see, the ship was ill-fated when first setting sail and—knowing what you know—you almost want to warn someone as you’re reading. Davenport-Hines then goes on to tell about each group of people onboard, and there are even further surprises here. I’ve read a lot of Titanic books over the years and I’ve seen even more, but I truly enjoyed this multifaceted take on the story.
In the next few weeks, you may be especially tempted to read up on the Titanic. That’s a good idea, and so is this book. For you, Voyagers of the Titanic will be quite moving.
* * *
Over the course of the last 100 years, we’ve learned a lot about the Titanic: what happened, why it happened and what we lost. There are a lot of choices for reading on the subject, but here are some of the best:
’Unsinkable’: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic by Daniel Allen Butler takes the story from before the ship was built to the days when she was discovered at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. First published more than a decade ago, this newly-refurbished paperback is nicely updated.
Author Charles Pellegrino jumps into the midst of the tragedy in his book Farewell, Titanic: Her Final Legacy and tells the story of the last minutes before the sinking and its aftermath from the survivors point-of-view. Pellegrino then goes on to write about the search for the ship beneath the sea.
Curious readers who only want an overview will appreciate The Titanic for Dummies by Stephen Spignesi. Like most other books in the For Dummies series, there’s just enough information in here to make you smart about what everyone’s talking about. The bonus is that this book is browseable and it includes some cool pictures.
Titanic: The Unfolding Story takes a look at the days before the ship was built, up through the days after. The unique twist here is that this book is created entirely of authentic newspaper articles and stories from those years. That, and the pictures inside really serve to give readers a “you are there” feel.
And finally, for the most unusual Titanic look of all, look for RMS Titanic Manual: 1909-1912 Olympic Class by David Hutchings. You know those automotive manuals that line your mechanic’s wall? Yes, this book is like those, with schematics, cut-diagrams, measurements and engineer stats. For the Titanic fanatic, this one can’t be missed.