Great Reads: May 2010

May’s must-reads.

by Carmela Ciuraru
Photograph: Photo: Peter Ardito

Betsy Ross and the Making of America by Marla R. Miller (Henry Holt)
Miller examines the life of Philadelphia upholsterer turned folk hero Ross in this delightful biography. Sifting
through fact and fable, the author makes the case that, even if Ross wasn’t the creator of the first flag—as some historians insist—her story is still intriguing. Ross is portrayed as a noble yet modest figure: a shrewd, loving matriarch and an industrious artisan. She reminds us, Miller says, of “the pleasure taken in the simple comforts of beautiful and functional things made by capable hands.”

Young Romantics by Daisy Hay (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This fascinating group biography traces the rise of the brilliant British Romantics—Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and others—from 1813 to 1822. They were a high-strung bunch: Percy considered monogamy “absurd” and Mary was “singularly bold” (she traveled through revolutionary Paris as a teenager). In telling their stories, Hay debunks the myth of creative genius as the product of solitary misery. Friendship sustained these artful renegades—and helped produce some of the greatest works in the English canon.

Thief by Maureen Gibbon (Sarah Crichton Books)
A self-destructive high school teacher is at the center of this dark, tension-filled novel. Suzanne is drawn to two men: a drifter named Gabriel and a convicted criminal, Alpha Breville. “When I was a young girl, I liked boys with wolfish faces, who had a bit of the hoodlum in them, and my tastes still ran that way,” she explains. Suzanne, who was raped as a teenager, clings to Breville in an attempt to understand her past. While there’s not much action in this graphic narrative, Gibbon evokes the intensity (and illogic) of love as she steers Suzanne toward a more hopeful, independent path.

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