March is Women’s History Month, and who is better to read about than the women who have made history in writing. For example, did you know the first recorded writer was a woman? Around 2500 B.C., Enheduanna of Sumeria, now southern Iraq, recorded her poetry in cuneiform on clay tablets that withstood the test of time. Later and farther east, in eleventh century Japan, Lady Murasaki Shikubu became the first novelist when she wrote The Tale of Genji, about courtly lives and loves of the time.
The author of Wild Women and Books — a lively and enjoyable read — is Brenda Knight, a San Francisco scholar of medieval literature and modern poetry. Her collection is eclectic, both in choice of authors and in their arrangement. Included are romantic poets, religious transcribers, erotic playwrights, political dissidents, the well-known, and the unknown (until now.)
The introduction is subtitled “Women Who Love Books Too Much”, debatable as a negative condition, but considerably preferrable to loving men too much. Books don’t willingly run away. Knight has arranged her bibliomaniacs in themed chapters such as Mystics and Madwomen; Banned, Blacklisted, and Arrested; and Salonists and Culture Makers. Each group has an alliterative or clever subtitle, like “Indefatigable Ink”.
The text of Wild Women is generously sprinkled with callouts and quotations of interest and depth. Some contain URL’s to additional information online about an author. Many of the writers’ sections are illustrated with reproductions of appropriate woodcuts or photos. The text is truly “black and white and red all over”, like the childhood riddle, for it is printed with red accents that add to the attractiveness of the pages.
But this is not just another book about women writers or women and books. The back matter is especially useful to bibliophiles. An appendix by Donna Paz gives good tips for running a book club and offers a listing of book group resources in print and online. Paz runs a bookstore consulting firm and the website Reading Group Choices. Knight included another list of resources for contemporary bibliomaniacs, including online book groups, her bibliography, and three indexes–Names Cited, Works & Periodicals Cited, and a general one.