So, I had no idea Ruth Rappaport was a real person. I chose this as a Kindle’s first read because it has such a fantastic title. Instead of the expected fantastic historical fiction the title exudes, A Well Read Woman is actually the biography of a Jewish librarian. The author, Kate Stewart came across Ruth’s belongings at an estate sale. She then took those letters, diaries and photographs and pieced together the unusual life Ruth led.
Because the author chose to write a biography rather than a tale based on Ruth’s life, things can get a little boring and mucky with research and there were a few detours. My favorite detour was how the librarians were tasked with providing books to soldiers in Vietnam. The shear scale of the logistics required to create a library, lend books and keep them safe in the jungle paired with the demand for books was astounding. I hadn’t really ever thought about the role books played during a war, and I really appreciated learning about that part of history.
This book wasn’t anything that I expected but it was a pleasant surprise to learn what it took to run a functioning military library in Vietnam. For the most part, this book walked a fine line between being a super personal look into the life of a woman breaking many cultural norms and an incredibly boring research project. At times, the reading was quite heavy and I think a clear distinction between Ruth’s biography and history of the Library of Congress would have helped keep things on track. Overall, interesting but not something I’d recommend unless you’re super interested in librarian history.