Elevate Difference

The Words of Extraordinary Women

I have a confession to make. As a little baby nerd-in-training, I would spend hours in the living room reading Bartlett‘s Familiar Quotations along with various other reference works that weren‘t really meant to be read in that way. Despite my complete lack of understanding of anything resembling cool and my utter ignorance of virtually everything pop cultural, I still knew that that wasn‘t something you went around telling people unless you aspired to pariah status. Despite being years away from earning feminist street cred, I knew that there was something wrong with virtually everyone in these books being male. Where were all the quotable women?

Fortunately, for the future word nerds of the world, Carolyn Warner noticed that problem too and decided to do something about it. In The Words of Extraordinary Women, Warner collects the bon mots of than 400 famous, and occasionally infamous, women, organizing them into eleven broad categories: the arts, character, education, faith, family, humor, leadership, politics, self-image, success, and women. From Sappho to Sonia Sotomayor, from former slaves to presidents, prime ministers and princesses, the women Warner chooses fit no particular mold. Although they are drawn overwhelmingly from the United States, there is more representation of the various races, cultures and classes than one usually sees in your standard book of quotations.

It would be easy to find fault, nonetheless, in her choices. The categories are, at times, a bit too broad, so much so that one wonders how a particular quote fits at all. The quotes are given without context, depriving them, in places, of the power they wield within their proper setting. Some women, beloved by writers and readers alike, are notably absent. I find myself wondering what book of women’s quotations could possibly ignore the witticisms of the imminently quotable Molly Ivins, but surely that is merely a matter of personal taste.

However, I think overall The Words of Extraordinary Women, while not suitable as a reference tool for the advanced writer, would serve well as a young woman’s introduction to the women who came before her and the contributions they made to the sum of human wit and wisdom. Perhaps, it will inspire her to some day join them.

Written by: Melinda Barton, October 2nd 2010