Monday, May 20, 2013

Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder - TLC Book Tours

Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder
HarperCollins 2013

Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours

Cover?  Beautiful, elegant, and partially hidden...just like Sylvia

Title? Sylvia's words...perfect.

I'm reminded of? "The Devil Wears Prada"
A Room of One's Own, The Yellow Wallpaper

Why?  It's Sylvia Plath, people...what else do I have to say??

What Now?
an immediate re-read of The Bell Jar
Manhattan When I Was Young by Mary Cantwell
The Group by Mary McCarthy
A Google session including:
Betsy Talbot Blackwell - BTB - Editor in Chief of Mademoiselle
Florence Crittenton homes for unmarried pregnant women
Ocean 212
Polly Weaver
Cyrilly Abel, Managing Editor of Mademoiselle and Sylvia's boss during June, 1953
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg
Gloria Kirshner
Margarita Smith - Fiction Editor at Mademoiselle and sister to Carson McCullers

Golden Lines

Before she became an icon, before she was Lady Lazarus, she was Sylvia - a New England college girl with an internship in Manhattan (xiii).

The Schobers were very Austrian and very literate (57).

And there was something of  Saint Therese de Lisieux about her - collecting cockles and seaweed and talking to mermaids.  A sensitive little pagan with a blond braid down her back (60).

Her attachment to language was earthy, physical, and immediate (95).

I get a little frightened when I think of life slipping through my fingers, like fast that I have little time to stop running I have to keep on like the White Queen to stay in the same place. 
- Sylvia Plath (Letters Home) (108).

The journals show a remarkably solution-oriented person.  Even in the midst of the blackest desperation, her thoughts had a beautiful practicality to them, rapid fire, and directed outward.  Sylvia was not content to roam the wild moors of her mind for its own sake - she was totally in love with the external, physical world and wanted to stay there (140).

The Comstock Laws of 1873 were still in effect in 1953, prohibiting the distribution of birth control.  This would explain in part why Sylvia's junior year at Smith began under the shadow of suicide attempts, hasty marriages, and trips to "Dr. No." (155)

Sylvia summered in Manhattan during a unique cultural moment.  It was one of the most ambiguous, baffling, vertigo-inducing epochs in history for educated, ambitious young women (171).

There it was - that sick, clammy feeling that you have been Found Out, that you are an imposter - that she didn't deserve the awards, the city glamour, or even these clean leafy things like green lawns and tennis courts (226).

ANNE SHAWBER: Sylvia Plath was a genius, a poet of such incredible talent that she was unique.  She felt that difference, and didn't understand it, and instead thought there was something wrong with her.  When she tried to be like other girls, she was miserable because she couldn't understand.  And no one near her had the brains to figure it out and instead kept trying to shock her into a world which was not hers (250-251).


In June, 1953, 20 young college women, including Sylvia Plath, were chosen to serve as guest editors of Mademoiselle magazine for one month.  They lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, worked on 5th Avenue, and experienced for the first time a life on their own...sortof with freedom to make decisions and honestly figure out who they were and what they wanted of life...again, sortof.  Culture, society, expectations and need clashed the entire time the girls lived in New York.  Many, including Sylvia, left New York at the end of that summer a changed woman...forever.

What I Liked

A description of Sylvia as a young woman, with hopes and dreams beyond the legend, beyond the 
writer...just Sylvia.

Interviews and excerpts from some of the other women who were there with Sylvia as guest editors

At first I wasn't sure I was going to like all the detailed attention on what the girls wore...the lipstick colors, the heel heights, girdles, etc. until I realized these details were, in fact, a huge part of that June.  As guest editors of a fashion magazine and young "career" women of the 1950's, as they began to have more options, these choices would definitely be some of the ones they focused on.  

An inside look at how a fashion magazine is run (or was run, as in the case of Mademoiselle).   And, an inside look at the magazine itself...from illustrations, to advertisements, articles and sections.

The back and forth peeks from The Bell Jar to Winder's story and how the two meld as well as disconnect at times...the fact and the fiction.

The quotes Winder weaves into her story are perfectly placed and show examples of how Sylvia approached her summer in NY, and of course, how she left her own words.

The idea that Sylvia as a lifelong journaler only made one entry during the entire month of June, 1953 (her reaction to the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg)...will keep my brain humming for quite some time.

An honest look at women's sexuality and societal expectations in the 1950s and beyond.  

I'm a geek and I don't apologize for always, I appreciate a healthy does of credits, notes, a substantial bib section and anything else that gives me a place to dig...I know I will never learn everything I want to know about everything, but I can only learn so much with help from authors like Winder who provide so much for me to chew on and in such an organized manner.  

What I Didn't Like

On a lighter note...the idea of nylons...every. day....any. day...but especially not during a heat wave in NY.

More seriously though, the idea that medical professionals actually treated Sylvia's first breakdown with archaic, ridiculous electroshock therapy based on a process used with pigs headed to be slaughtered??? Or, the just as horrendous idea of insulin shock therapy???  Really?? And, these people were medical professionals??  I wanted to scream after a few glimpses into Sylvia's early treatment.  

The short chapter about Sylvia's summer after NY...made me sad...just sad.

Overall Recommendation

Pain, Parties, Work is an obvious read for anyone who is or ever has been a fan of Sylvia Plath or who has read and been changed by The Bell Jar.  

The Author

Elizabeth Winder

Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, April 16th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, April 17th: 50 Books Project
Thursday, April 18th: Veronica M.D
Wednesday, April 24th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, April 24th: The Road to Here
Monday, April 29th: nomadreader
Tuesday, April 30th: Man of La Book
Thursday, May 2nd: The Blog of Lit Wits
Thursday, May 2nd: Necromancy Never Pays
Friday, May 3rd: Luxury Reading
Monday, May 6th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Tuesday, May 7th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, May 8th: Book Hooked Blog
Monday, May 13th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, May 14th: missris
Wednesday, May 15th: guiltless reading
Thursday, May 16th: The Scarlet Letter
Monday, May 20th: Peppermint PhD


  1. I didn't know enough about Sylvia Plath to have found the reading of this interesting at first but now you've intrigued me...

    1. I think this one is reader friendly enough even for those who don't know a lot about Plath. The format helps a lot as well :)

  2. I responded too late on the offer for this one and missed the boat! I can't say that The Bell Jar changed my life, but it was a very interesting read for me. Enough for me to want to read more about Plath.

    1. I was a little older when I read The Bell Jar for the first time. Winter's book actually adds a lot of insight to the Plath's story. You should definitely read it!

  3. You seem to have read this with some of the relentless optimism that Sylvia's contemporaries had to muster up for everything, including wearing nylon stockings in 95 degree weather!

    1. I live in the deep South...where we swear nylons were invented by the devil! I don't wear them and cannot even imagine wearing them during a hot New York summer! The things women do in the name of fashion sometimes!

  4. You seem to have read this with some of the relentless optimism that Sylvia's contemporaries had to muster up for everything, including wearing nylon stockings in 95 degree weather!

  5. Interesting review format, I like it.

    I also find the idea of electroshock therapy barbaric but we forget how fast medicine advances. Twenty years ago it was “safe” to take Fen-Phen, 60 years ago electroshock therapy was considered “ideal”, 100 years ago pregnant women were given opium to get rid of their headaches, etc.

    I’m afraid to think what we’ll know tomorrow.

    Let me know how your husband likes the book.

    1. I couldn't help but think of how physicians used to "bleed" patients as well :/

  6. So glad you liked it! I've actually been caught "accidentally" wearing nylons in 90 degree weather in New York-- it's bad but not as grim as you might think. And I realize I've outed myself as someone who wears nylons.

    Elizabeth W.

    1. Thank-you so much for commenting!! I can't imagine wearing nylons all the time. I absolutely abhor them!

  7. So gad you liked it-- love the review format! I've actually been caught "accidentally" in nylons, in 90 degree weather, in New York. It's bad but not as grim as you might think. And I realize I've outed myself as someone who wears nylons...

  8. I've been thinking about the fact that Sylvia didn't journal at all while in New York too. It seems like such a strange thing, like the kind of thing you'd want to have a record of years later. I guess she remember a lot since it went in The Bell Jar, but still, weird.

    I love your review format!

    1. I really wish we knew more about the why...although I think the theory that this particular summer could have been the impetus to her severe depression could have something to do with it. Sadly, we'll probably never know.

  9. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be a bright, ambitious young woman in those days ... what a challenge.

    Thanks so much for being a part of the tour!

    1. I enjoyed being a part of the tour, Heather! Thanks!

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