Yep, I did a lot of reading during December: almost two dozen Christmas magazines I had saved up from the moment they had been released until after Thanksgiving—next year I start earlier or buy fewer magazines!—or the Christmas books I bought, which are all reviewed in Holiday Harbour November and December 2009, and January 2010 entries.
However, I did have this non-Yuletide book on reserve at the library, reserved the moment I knew about it:
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, Harriet Reisen
Reisen states in her introduction: "Like so many other girls, I fell under the spell of Louisa May Alcott when my mother presented Little Women to me as if it were the key to a magic kingdom. I was taken into Louisa's story so completely that a book with covers and pages has no place in my memory of the experience. While I was there, by my mother's decree, my life was suspended. Jelly omelets were delivered to my room on bed trays, and sleep was optional. At such a time, school was out of the question. Jo March was coming to take up residence in my heart, a companion for life, to endow me with a little something of Louisa Alcott's own wise, funny, sentimental, and sharply realistic outlook."
The good news is that this is a lively, very readable biography that presents Alcott in all her moods: jubilant over money earned, depressed over family situations, frank over her juvenile writing (she hated it, and only did so to earn money to make her mother comfortable), envy of her youngest sister's seemingly charmed life. She becomes less the stiff woman in her few portraits and more someone you might know: the lady next door with the charming but offbeat father who couldn't manage to hold a job due to a combination of principles and pig-headedness, the overworked mother, the placid older sister, the sister who died early, and the ladylike, artistic sister.
I did enjoy it, but Reisen is a lot more charitable to Bronson Alcott than I would have been. I felt last year's Eden's Outcasts gave a more rounded portrait of Bronson and Louisa in relation to Bronson. But then I've always wanted to bonk Bronson Alcott on the nose, yakking about the philosophical while physically his family was always on the brink of penury, if not starvation.
The one thing that did bother me is that Reisen does that fabulous intro about being a Little Women/Alcott literature fan, then makes two elementary mistakes about events that happened in the March family books! First she states that Bronson taught Louisa her letters by teaching her to mold her body in the shapes of the letters, a sequence that was used "in Little Men" with Demi learning his letters from Mr. March. Uh, no, it's in Little Women, in the chapter "Daisy and Demi." She also states that Daisy and Demi are Jo's children! Er, no, the twins are Meg's. Jo and her professor have two boys, Robert and Theodore, otherwise Rob and Teddy. Beats me why such a strong fan made such silly mistakes.