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Narrator: Paula Becker
Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press Inc. (2016)
Length: 8 hours 10 minutes
This biography of one of America’s iconic women captures Betty MacDonald from top to bottom, from her grandparents to the relatives that survived her death. Her books shined a humorous, if sometimes critical, eye on certain aspects of living in the Pacific Northwest as one the last frontier lands in the country from the 1920s-1940s. Now Paula Becker draws the curtain back and shows us some of the things that Betty herself was reluctant to put in her semi-autobiographical novels.
After having listened to Betty MacDonald’s four novels, and having read her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books as a kid, I felt like I knew her somewhat. This biography filled in some of the blanks and had a few surprises for me as well. Getting to know more about Betty’s ancestors and her first husband was an interesting place to start. I loved that her mom was a no-nonsense kind of person and happily traveled with her husband (who worked for a mining company – if I recall correctly). This job took the family to some of the most rugged areas of the US.
Later, when Betty starts publishing novels, Becker gives a somewhat detailed account of what each one is about. While these books aren’t described one after another all in a row (but are sprinkled in among the biography along the timeline of when they were published), I did find the descriptions a little tedious. However, I have recently finished listening to them and they are still fresh in my mind. I think that if you haven’t read the books in some time (or perhaps you haven’t read all 4 of them) then this would be a good refresher for you.
For me, the most interesting parts were in the last quarter of the book – all that stuff that happens after Betty’s fourth novel, Onions in the Stew, was published. While Betty’s second marriage was evidently much happier than her first, it wasn’t untroubled. There were money problems which surprised me. Betty’s books were very well received in their day, complete with radio and TV series along with a movie. Yet success doesn’t always prepare one to manage money well, especially if one turns that responsibility over to a spouse. Betty was in the unusual position of being the breadwinner for the family and yet also feeling socially obligated to play the merry housemaker. Becker gives us details on this without falling into gossip. I really appreciate that she stuck with known facts and extracts from MacDonald letters to paint this picture of Betty’s and Don’s marriage.
While I had read on Wikipedia about Betty’s legal troubles (several people were not happy with how they were supposedly portrayed in her books), Becker gives us many details. Plenty of those complaining received a bit of fame. Some of them really seemed to enjoy it so it was hard to say that the portrayals in Betty’s books did them any harm.
I was saddened to learn of Betty’s death and this probably sounds quite odd as I’ve known since I picked up The Egg and I so many months ago that she was deceased. However, I’ve really come to enjoy her company through these books. As Becker’s biography walks us through her last months, I really felt for Betty. She died young by today’s standards but I doubt there was much more medicine could have done then. After reading her book about her lengthy stay in a tuberculosis sanatorium (The Plague and I), I can guess that she faced her final illness with the same pointed wit.
I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.
The Narration: Paula Becker narrated her own book and since this is nonfiction, it worked pretty well. She tried her hand at doing a few voices when necessary and those performances were passable. For the bulk of the book, she does a great job of maintaining an even speed and giving slight inflections here and there, letting us know that she’s just as engaged in the book as us listeners are.
What I Liked: Lots of good info on a deceased author I’ve come to enjoy; most of those claiming defamation by Betty’s books didn’t seem to be suffering from said defamation; some details about Betty’s and Don’s marriage and their financial difficulties; Becker sticks to the facts and doesn’t fall back on gossip.
What I Disliked: This isn’t much of a dislike, but I don’t think the image of Betty used for this cover really suits her. She kind of looks like an evil stepsister witch.
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About Author & Narrator Paula Becker:
Paula Becker is a writer and historian living in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of the book Looking For Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I (University of Washington Press), and co-author (with Alan J. Stein) of the books The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair And Its Legacy (Seattle Center Foundation, 2011) and Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Washington’s First World’s Fair (History Ink/HistoryLink in association with University of Washington Press, 2009). More than 300 of Paula’s essays documenting all aspects of Washington’s history appear on HistoryLink.org, the online encyclopedia of Washington state history, where she is a staff historian.
Connect with Paula: Website
Synopsis of Looking for Betty MacDonald:
Betty Bard MacDonald (1907 – 1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and The Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald’s vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald’s Ma and Pa Kettle characters.
MacDonald followed up the success of The Egg and I with the creation of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a magical woman who cures children of their bad habits, and with three additional memoirs: The Plague and I (chronicling her time in a tuberculosis sanitarium just outside Seattle), Anybody Can Do Anything (recounting her madcap attempts to find work during the Great Depression), and Onions in the Stew (about her life raising two teenage daughters on Vashon Island).
Author Paula Becker was granted full access to Betty MacDonald’s archives, including materials never before seen by any researcher. Looking for Betty MacDonald, the first biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.
About Betty MacDonald:
Betty Bard MacDonald (1907–1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, andThe Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald’s vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald’s Ma and Pa Kettle characters.
Author Paula Becker was granted full access to Betty MacDonald’s archives, including materials never before seen by any researcher. Looking for Betty MacDonald, the first official biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.
Find out more on Wikipedia
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