Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is a nonfiction book with short biographies of princesses real and fake (apparently, pretending to be a princess is a thing) across many centuries. It's divided into the following sections:

Warriors: Princesses who fought their own battles
Usurpers: Princesses who grabbed power in a man's world
Schemers: Princesses who plotted and planned
Survivors: Princesses who made controversial and questionable choices
Partiers: Princesses who loved to live it up
Floozies: Princesses notorious for their sexy exploits
Madwomen: Princesses who were likely mad, or close to it

Some of those categories interested me more than others and some princesses were more interesting or appealing or weird or just plain fun to read about than others. I enjoyed reading about Hatshepsut, for example, because I'd read about her being erased from Egyptian history and then rediscovered later but knew very little about her, beyond that. Rodriguez McRobbie explained the erasure in a different way than I'd read about in the past and I learned a lot more about the actual person. Princess Margaret's story was interesting, too, as I knew she was always considered a troublemaker and a jealous sister but apparently I didn't pay much attention to the details of her life. For those who aren't familiar with her, Princess Margaret was Queen Elizabeth II's younger sister.

It took me a while to get into Princesses Behaving Badly because of the writing style, which is a bit dry and inaccessible (and slow). I didn't consider abandoning it, but I just wasn't enjoying the book, at first, and then at some point I realized what it's problems were and got used to the pace. Then, I started to enjoy reading about the princesses and the courageous, evil, crazy, etc., things they did. I looked up a few of them online to see images or photographs of them and some of them interested me enough that I'd like to read more about them. A handful were people I'd read about peripherally and got to know a little better and some were the wives of famous men I was familiar with (the Prince Regent, namesake of the Regency Period, for example).

My biggest problem with Princesses Behaving Badly is the problem I had, In general, with history in school. History requires a bit of storytelling flair to be fully accessible, in my humble opinion. Throw too many names, dates, and/or locations at a person (at least, this person) and it all just goes over their head. Occasionally, this author would not only throw in a date where the age of the princess would have done, but then would also give her age in the next paragraph when referring to something that happened at another time, so that you knew her age in one case but not the other. Sheesh. Just tell the reader how old the heroine was when each event happened, rather than make us subtract to figure it out. Even saying, "When Ignatia was 27, in 1543, the ceiling fell on her head" would have worked fine and added few words. The result is a bunch of bios that alternately make your head hurt and mesmerize.

Recommended hestitantly - I enjoyed Princesses Behaving Badly more, the farther I read. But, I still found it stiff and dry. It could have been a much more interesting book. So, mixed feelings on this one but I would say if you like reading about women who broke the mold and don't mind a book of historical bios that's a bit slow, go for it. Just don't expect sparkling descriptions and a quick read. 

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  1. This sounds like a book I would enjoy for the subject at hand, it I orally agree with you about the accessibility of history. I need it in a storytellling fashion to absorb the information too. Otherwise I get bored. So not sure if I'd make it through this one.

    1. I wouldn't say I got bored so much as frustrated because I wanted the individual bios to flow a bit more and feel less like reading a textbook. But, once you become accustomed to her particular writing style, it feels a bit more flowy. I think that was more a factor of becoming more interested in the characters, the farther I got into the book. It just took a bit to warm to and then I was fine. I still have a few windows open on my iPad to remind me which princesses I want to read more about. The fact that I found myself wanting to read more is a positive sign and one reason I gave it an above-average rating.

  2. Yeah, no. A book like this needs to be exciting! Not slow! :(

    1. It's funny; I agree with you and yet I absolutely don't regret the time spent reading this book. I'll spend a little time with the bibliography in the back of the book in the hopes of finding some resources for going deeper into a few of those princesses' lives.


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