50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40. It's a list with many great books, some of which I've already read. However, the list loses some credibility for a number of reasons. First, the blurb states that the list celebrates female writers, but then Gustave Flaubert is one of the authors? Second, and more importantly, Fifty Shades of Grey is on this list. Their defense is that it became a literary sensation and reminded women that they can enjoy sex and enjoy reading about it??? I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey, but from what I've heard, it's painfully bad and should not be included on any list. Nevertheless, I don't think that unfortunate inclusion should ruin the rest of these books. And I'm a sucker for lists. So, I have about thirty books left to read before my next birthday.
One of the good books on this list is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (The Definitive Edition, 1991). I know we discussed this book when I was in grade school, but I can't remember if I ever sat down and actually read the whole thing. So, I decided to read it just to cover all my bases.
Anne Frank is only thirteen years old when she goes into hiding with her family and another family in July 1942 in German-occupied Netherlands. They live in what they call the "secret annex," some hidden rooms in the upstairs floors of the building where Anne's father works. In June 1942, Anne receives a diary from her family for her birthday. In this, she writes her thoughts, experiences, and dreams as they go into hiding, live in fear, and struggle with the lack of freedom and food. Her diary cuts off abruptly in August 1944 when the secret annex is exposed, and everyone within is arrested and sent to concentration camps in Germany. This book is her diary.
If someone told me I had to read the diary of a thirteen-year-old girl, I would be far from excited. Thirteen usually isn't the age for wise introspection, but raging hormones and high drama. And at first, Anne Frank's diary reads very much like a typical teenager. She lists her friends and her beaus, being clear on which ones she likes and does not. She even makes a list of everything she received for her birthday. But even if you take out the omnipresent shadow of war and danger, Anne is an intelligent and captivating writer. Her put downs of people she doesn't like reminded me of Jane Austen. And you can see her mature as she gets older. Sometimes she even goes back to older entries and comments on how she's changed. She is a fascinating person and the diary is worthwhile even as an inside look to the coming-of-age of a young girl.
But there is, obviously, so much more to this diary. Anne and her family are trying to survive one of the greatest atrocities of our time. In so many ways, she is a typical teenage girl, but what she has to endure is nothing like a typical teenage existence. She does not go outside for over two years, constantly living with the fear of being found out. Bombing raids keep everyone awake at night. They hear about friends who have been taken and are presumed dead.
"Outside, you don't hear a single bird, and a deathly oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld. At times like these, Father, Mother and Margot don't matter to me in the least. I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage." (139)
As the book continued, I found it harder to read because I didn't want to lose the little bit that was left of her. You know what's coming for her, and her sweet, ambitious, optimistic musings of what she'll make of her life are truly tragic. Anne writes often how much a comfort writing in her diary is, and how much she loves her family. And then her diary stops, and you imagine the pages strewn all over the floor in the secret annex when all of her worst fears and nightmares come true.
"And if I don't have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. But I want to achieve more than that. I can't imagine having to live like Mother, Mrs. van Daan and all the women who go about work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death!" (250-251)
"I've asked myself again and again whether it wouldn't have been better if we hadn't gone into hiding, if we were dead now and didn't have to go through this misery, especially so that the others could be spared the burden. But we all shrink from this thought. We still love life, we haven't yet forgotten the voice of nature, and we keep hoping, hoping for...everything." (308)
I know many children read The Diary of a Young Girl when they are about Anne's age, but it's interesting how my perspective has changed with age. In many ways, this book is much more meaningful to me as an adult--maybe because I understand more what she's lost, and the pain of what she probably went through. This book was haunting.