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Reggie Reads: May 2014

The Alumni Center bookshelf.

The Alumni Center bookshelf.

Illinois State is proud to be able to acknowledge the work of graduates who are successful authors.

If you’ve written a book that has been released by a publishing house within the past decade, submit it for review by Professor Emerita of English JoAnna Stephens Mink ’73, M.S. ’75, D.A. ’85.

All books authored by alums will be added to a collection of work by other graduates on display in the Alumni Center. Autographed copies are especially appreciated.

Please send your book to Illinois State editor Susan Blystone at Illinois State Alumni Center, 1101 N. Main Street, Normal, IL 61790.

Inquiries can be sent to sjblyst@IllinoisState.edu.

Brakebill, Tina Stewart. “Circumstances are destiny”: An Antebellum Woman’s Struggle to Define Sphere. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2006. 255pp.

Summary: When Celestia Rice Colby was born in Ohio in 1827, her life options were fairly typical. She married, had five children, worked as a dairy farmer and housewife for much of her life, and died in 1900. This was her surface life. Like many other women of her time and place, Colby kept detailed and reflective diaries and writings. But, atypically, Colby’s writings show her struggle to reconcile her personal hopes and dreams with society’s expectations of a white Midwestern female. Brakebill’s book puts into historic context Colby’s reflections so that readers gain an understanding not only of this individual woman but, perhaps more significant, an appreciation for the struggles of seemingly mundane women.

“Circumstances are destiny” book coverAs Brakebill explains in her Introduction to “Circumstances are destiny,” the diary evidence of Colby’s struggle “challenges as well as corroborates some conventional thoughts about how ordinary, white, mid-nineteenth-century women reacted to conflicting role messages” (xiii). As a result, we see the implications of the term separate spheres not as a theoretical construct but applied to everyday lives.

For instance, Brakebill’s analysis of Colby’s writings about slavery at mid-century reinforces the changing attitudes of many women. Brakebill points out that while many Northern women wanted to end slavery, they were disinclined to make themselves objects of public censure and, instead, worked within established organizations such as churches and benevolent societies. Colby felt this way too. However, by 1858, Colby was more willing to “shock some good people,” as she described it in a letter condemning orthodox churches, going so far as to write that churches that did not condemn slavery openly were “standing with the devil” (81-82).

Brakebill summarizes Colby not as a typical antebellum housewife and not as a radical who consistently defied societal conventions, but as similar to many women in her concerns. What makes Celestia Colby special is “her ability to so vividly reflect her emotional struggles on paper” (223). Brakebill’s discussion incorporates Colby’s writings with commendable research sources, thereby enabling readers to understand the significance of Colby’s thoughts and reflections. The detailed Index and extensive Bibliography are useful to readers and researchers alike. “Circumstances are destiny” is a fine addition to published scholarship on the life and role of women in early nineteenth-century America.

About the author: Tina Stewart Brakebill, ’99, M.S. ’02, is an assistant professor of history at Illinois State University. “Circumstances are destiny” is her first book publication. She is also the author of Barbara Egger Lennon: Teacher, Mother, Activist (Westview Press, 2014).

McKinzie-Lechault, Pat. Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball. 4th ed. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. 206pp.

Home Sweet Hardwood coverSummary: In her self-published book Home Sweet Hardwood, Pat McKinzie-Lechault describes the “gut-wrenching and uplifting journey” of women’s sports. McKinzie-Lechault is a protégé of Jill Hutchison, M.S. ’69, head coach of ISU’s women’s basketball team for 28 seasons and one of women’s basketball’s pioneers. McKinzie-Lechault was herself a pioneer. As described by Cary Groth, Athletic Director at the University of Nevada, McKinzie-Lechault was a trailblazer. This is her story.

When McKinzie arrived on the Illinois State University campus in fall of 1975, she “felt like a dwarf” compared to the expanse of the Quad, the silhouette of the Tri-Towers, and the skyscraper lights of Watterson Towers. Living in the Tri-Towers residence halls was the first time she confronted the racial tension which underlay the Northern attitude of “separate but equal.” That attitude applied not only to race but also to gender.

Undaunted, McKinzie wanted to play basketball. “Before recruiters and TV highlights, women played ball, not to impress college scouts or become media darlings, but for our own entertainment. The only glory we needed was the game itself,” recalls McKinzie. It was “a game played for pure joy—as essential to my well-being as the air I breathed” (22).

In Home Sweet Hardwood, McKinzie-Lechault recounts her journey from Horton Field House at Illinois State to basketball courts in Europe. Her story should inspire others, not only female basketball players but anyone who aspires to a goal.

About the author: Pat McKinzie-Lechault ’80 was the first female athletic scholarship recipient in Illinois and first female player to score 1,000 points at ISU. She is one of the first Women’s Professional Basketball League draftees and female inductees in the Hall of Fame at Illinois State. She is married to a Frenchman with whom she raised two Third Culture Kids. She lives in Switzerland, where she currently teaches at the International School of Switzerland.

Schulz, Clair. On the Screen, On the Air, On My Mind. Albany, GA: BearManor Media, 2011. 598pp.

Schulz, Clair. Tuning In The Great Gildersleeve: The Episodes and Cast of Radio’s First Spinoff Show, 1941-1957. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2013. 236pp.

Tuning In The Great Gildersleeve coverSummary: A hefty tome, On the Screen, On the Air, On My Mind contains a plethora of information about performers in the early days of show business: vaudeville, radio, Broadway, motion pictures, and television. Many of Schulz’s profiles previously appeared in magazines and books. He explains in his Introduction how he became interested in these performers and how the individual articles came about. Some were a natural progression as, for instance, when a piece on Eve Arden led to others about Joan Davis and Lucille Ball, a most remarkable trio of funny ladies.

Most of the profiles are succinct but informative, making for entertaining reading. Schulz has written Bob Hope’s, for example, as a first-person monologue, aptly entitled “The Road to Laughter.” Most articles are supplemented by photographs of the subject, film stills or studio publicity shots or candid photos, all from Schulz’s vast personal collection. The still accompanying “Life with Lucy” is from the unforgettable episode where Lucille Ball flogs Vitameatavegamin health tonic, with unintended humorous results.

On the Screen is an amazing omnibus which will evoke memories for the older set and which is a readable research tool for the younger. The portrayals are divided into categories, detailed in the Table of Contents. Some include The Funnyman, The Frightmeisters, The Movies, The Radio Shows, and Selected Short Subjects. The 21-page index attests to the breadth and depth of the book.

In Tuning In The Great Gildersleeve, Schulz continues his love affair with the history of radio shows. The Great Gildersleeve was one of radio’s most enduring and best loved shows from 1941 to 1957. The series was radio’s first major spinoff—from Fibber McGee and Molly. Although other books have been written on the series, none has examined it as Schulz does, from beginning to end, each step along the way.

Tuning In The Great Gildersleeve includes entries of each episode listed chronologically by broadcast date, title, cast, summary, writer(s), and comments. Appendices provide information on cast members, an essay on Gildersleeve in film and television, an alphabetical list of episodes, notable occurrences, and a summary of ratings and rankings. The Bibliography and Index not only help the reader navigate the information included in Tuning In but also provide references for future research.

About the author: Clair Schulz, M.S. ’72, has written numerous articles about films, radio programs, and collectibles, and is the author of Fibber McGee and Molly, On the Air 1935-1959 (2008), previously reviewed by Reggie Reads. He has also authored Aldous Huxley 1894-1963: a Centenary Catalogue (1994). He lives in Muskego, Wisconsin.