Virtual Book Club: The Secret Life of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

I know I’ve told you about our Facebook Virtual Book Club group before, right? Things are slowly but surely getting more and more interactive over there. Starting with the fact that this was the first month we were ever able to take a poll to decide which book we should read! We took another poll recently and if you make it to the end of this post, you’ll see what the group’s decided to read next. In addition, we also held a virtual book club meeting last night! A few of us all got on Facebook at the same time (which is difficult when the group is split in half by a two hour time difference) and discussed. It was a lot of fun to have people to unpack this with and I hope you join us next month. As always, if you want to be a part just let me know and I’ll add you!

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At first sight The Secret History of Wonder Woman looks like a really fun, light read. My copy was well over 400 pages—which was very intimidating to me as I’m a pretty slow reader. I was encouraged, though, by the fact that the back 1/3 of the book was source material in addition to the plethora of photographs and cartoons littered on every other page (there’s also a large section of color pieces in the middle—which was terribly interesting to get into). So while by all intents and purposes it looks easy—the literature most certainly was not. This book had facts on facts on facts. I feel like Lepore laid out the material as straightforward as she possibly could but this story was just… complex. She did an incredible job of knowing exactly what to do with the material before her.

While this is called The Secret History of Wonder Woman, I feel like it should have been called The Secret History of William Marston (though I can’t imagine that selling as many copies). William Marston was the creator of Wonder Woman (he was also a lawyer, a professor, the creator of the lie detector test, among so many other things). The book starts with his birth, goes through college, all of his many jobs, and goes on past his death. It also goes into the many women that Marston surrounded himself with throughout his life.

He met his first wife, Sadie Holloway, when they were of middle-school age. They married when they were both in law school. Sadie was an ardent feminist and Marston truly believed that the world should, and one day would, be run by women. Sadie knew that she wanted to have a career—something completely unheard of for a married woman during the turn of the 20th century. She also knew that she wanted to have kids as well. And when Marston approached her about opening up their marriage to bring in Olive Byrne (who just so happened to be the niece of Margret Sanger) as well—Sadie seized her opportunity. For the remainder of their lives together, Sadie was the primary breadwinner for the whole family while Olive raised the children. Though the “why” was rarely discussed, it seems that Marston was unable to keep a job for more than a year at a time. That is, until Wonder Woman came into his life.

I won’t go further into the details of the book because I’m finding (as I’m sure Jill Lepore did) that you really can’t get too far in without going all the way in and I just don’t have time to write 400 pages. Suffice it to say that when you pick up this book you’re also getting a primer on first wave feminism. You’ll learn a lot about Margaret Sanger and her sister who both went to prison simply for telling other women that there were things one could do in order to avoid another pregnancy (in the judge’s ruling he proclaimed that if a woman wasn’t willing to die in childbirth she should simply never have sex).

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I found this recounting particularly heartbreaking.

You’ll see the parts of Marston’s life that popped up time and time again as themes throughout Wonder Woman. You’ll get to see how a unique (and illegal) family structure managed to raise a happy family despite the secrets that they were forced to keep. And you’ll see how many ways a person’s life can twist, turn, and change before finally finding what it feels like you were meant to do.

Despite its size, I found this book to be a real page turner. Every chapter was truly fascinating—and I’m usually not a non-fiction reader at all. I find them boring. I’d rather get my lessons in the form of a TedTalk or a documentary but this managed to hold my attention and make me constantly say to myself, “wait, whaaaat??”

All that to say if you find any one of the following topics even vaguely interesting, you’ll probably do yourself a favor by picking up this book: early feminism, lie detectors, 20th century politics, polygamy, artists and illustrators, plural families, and there’s a little bit about comic books, too.

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Since February is a short month (and because we just finished a mammoth of a book and we deserve a break) we decided to go with a shorter read. The book the group decided on was Heartburn by Nora Ephron (it’s less than 200 pages). I’ve never read anything by Nora Ephron but I adore her movies and I’m very excited to get started on this one!

What do you think? Have you read any non-fiction books that turned out to be far more than you were bargaining for when you first started?
Have you read anything by Nora Ephron? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

XOXO, Libby

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