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The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke [Kindle Edition]

Barbara Riddle
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $9.99
Kindle Price: $2.99
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Book Description

The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke is a coming-of-age novel set in a biology lab in the summer of 1963 in Boston. Both the heroine, 19-year-old Bronwen, and America are suffering growing pains and soon all the standards of the past will be shattered as the Pill and the war in Vietnam change people's expectations forever. A shocking telegram forces Bronwen to choose between family and the temptations of a dazzling future in science.

"Barbara Riddle has given us a sharp, funny glimpse into a little-explored moment in women's recent history. The year is 1963, the same year Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. Brave young women were heading out from college and looking for lives very different from those their mothers had lived. My excitement about The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke stems in part from the fact that I was there- heading for graduate school in science in 1963. I recognize Riddle's heroine Bronwen for her spirit of adventure as well as her sometimes crippling self-doubts (carefully nourished by the all-too-realistic boyfriend-from-hell). Today's 20-somethings will recognize her as a woman struggling, like themselves, for personal coherence in a world that still has difficulty seeing us as complete and entire human beings."
-Barbara Ehrenreich (author, Nickel and Dimed)

Editorial Reviews


"'The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke' is a rite-of-passage novella set in the hothouse atmosphere of cutting-edge molecular biology research in Boston, circa 1963- the 'last year of the Fifties.'" -- Randall Wilson

"Sharply funny" -- Barbara Ehrenreich

"This engaging first novel from Barbara Riddle, written with verve and humour..." -- Dr. Adam S. Wilkins, Editor, *BioEssays* and author of Genetic Analysis of Animal Development

About the Author

Barbara Riddle was born in New York City in 1944 and grew up in the (then) shabby genteel bohemian paradise of Greenwich Village, when the best education in Manhattan was in the public schools--and after school in Washington Square Park.... She was painfully educated at Reed College (Woodrow Wilson Fellow) and holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Brandeis University. She turned down a fellowship to do postdoctoral work in England when she realized she would rather be an unsuccessful novelist than a successful scientist. She has never regretted that decision, even as it led to jobs as a dog- walker, artist's model, health food clerk and medical editor. Her highest honor was being voted "Best Sense of Humor" in the 7th Grade at P.S. 3, in the West Village. Barbara managed to realize her dream of living in England during the '70's and began to publish in little magazines in London and the U.S. (kayak, AMBIT), traveling also to Spain, Wales, Ireland, Germany, France and Switzerland. Two highlights from this time were hearing the dazzling Ted Hughes giving a live reading and receiving a postcard from Robert Bly praising a poem of hers. When she returned to the United States she settled in San Francisco, at first joining the poetry reading circuit and then mostly working at day jobs and raising her daughter Laramie (Wesleyan, theater/English, with honors). She was officially enrolled in the Creative Writing MA Program at San Francisco State (another degree!) until she dropped out to concentrate on her fiction efforts. She now lives in San Francisco and Greenport, Long Island with her husband, Czech emigre film director Ivo Dvorak ("The Metamorphosis") and their sheepoo (1/2 Shih Tsu, 1/2 poodle) Cosmo. They try to visit Prague- and Stockholm, where Ivo's adult children Adam and Simona now live. One of the benefits of being married to a Czech is discovering writers like Ivan Klima, who should be more widely read in America! (A favorite: "Love and Garbage") She is working on a second novel, and on a collection of short humorous pieces called "Not the Village Idiot" about growing up in Greenwich Village in the 'Fifties. One of these, "Sex and Sinclair Lewis" appears in the anthology Other Voices, available from

Product Details

  • File Size: 1064 KB
  • Print Length: 213 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1484141628
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00BP01WWE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,761 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke January 29, 2003
This beautiful Roman a Clef is must reading for all my female students who are entering science or academic medicine. It gives a wonderful and true flavor of the time and situation of a young woman who wants to become a scientist in the early 1960's [before Betty Friedan's book and the women's movement]. The book is almost painful in its honesty. The author describes an exciting summer of research after her junior year in college, in which she has the thrill of making a novel and important discovery ... all the while juggling a very unsupportive (even crushingly competitive) graduate school boyfriend/wunderkind, and trying to be respected as a developing researcher in a very male elite and sexist (Harvard/Boston) environment. On top of that, the problems of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy make an interesting epiphany to the book ... giving a flavor of the 1960's before abortion was legal. The book is great history, but with lots of lessons for both men and women in science or thinking of going into science (especially biomedical research) today. It probably would also have strong resonance with women seeking to break the glass ceilings in science and medicine today.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is a wonderful book. Full of humor and insight... about the trials of a bright young woman entering the almost entirely male scientific community in the l960's. As a woman physician I could easily understand and empathise with Bronwyn's difficulties and triumphs. The book describes a pivotal, difficult, and disturbing summer internship and Bronwyn's struggles and growth in both her personal and professional life. A sexy, funny and smart heroine with whom any woman can identify.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast, submerging and entertaining read! July 1, 2000
From the moment I settled into the book, I was hooked. Great characters - some you want to shake, some you want to hug and buy new shoes! Loved it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great look back December 14, 2013
By Steve G
Format:Kindle Edition
This book was fun to read. Author Barbara Riddle crafted a well-written, fast-moving story that was hard to put down. Riddle vividly describes the adventures of a female science undergrad student in the 60’s. The characters were very well developed and the scenes were very well laid out. Having been an undergrad in a similar area as the protagonist, I thought that Riddle does an excellent job of capturing the ambiance of the situation. I particularly recommend this book for anyone nostalgic for their science undergrad days, but I think that general readers will also appreciate this book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read- especially for young women today August 13, 2009
By Kaypee4
I was lucky enough to come upon this book this summer. It immediately brought me back to my own college days in Boston. While mine were in the 90's and my field was painting rather than science, I couldn't get over the similarities and parallels between 1960's Boston and 1990's Boston.
I could relate personally to many of the characters and situations, particularly Bronwyn's up and down moments of confidence and insecurity.
It was an excellent read and I devoured the book in just a few sittings.

My only complaint is that the writer has invented a lovably flawed character who loves Dunkin Donuts so much that his laments about them triggered cravings so intense I nearly hopped on a plane to fulfill them. I am pregnant and living outside the USA where donuts are hard to come by.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprising, engaging, worth reading April 20, 2009
The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke is a fast, engaging read that cruises through one summer in Cambridge, where self esteem seems to be as precious as brilliance is. The book paints a bright, sharp picture that draws the reader in completely. Riddle's bright, strong heroine is determined to make something of herself in her chosen field, science - no small thing at Harvard in the early sixties. Absolutely worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story May 25, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An interesting story from the 1960's era. It was sweet, funny, had great characters - some you liked and some you sure didn't.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Pretending to Read Riddle January 3, 2014
By Annie
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
"The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke" by Barbara Riddle is about a very bright young woman's summer internship at Harvard University. The year is 1963. Bronwen is excited about beginning her career as a chemist and already has boyfriend, a selfish Harvard grad student named Eric. At their first meeting Eric had courted Bronwen by playing Bach partitas for unaccompanied violin.

"A room containing both a violin and and exposed prick," Bronwen muses, were "an unbeatable combination." Sleeping with Eric was like "sleeping with Bach, with Brecht, with Science."

Riddle's writing allows you to enter that summer world of young intellectuals and see it clearly: a professor whistling Beethoven violin concertos; Eric's companions reading The New Republic, while Bronwen secretly prefers The New Yorker; a question about the inverse relationship between the quality of a scientist's work and that of his shoes. But, Riddle writes, "Best of all is to be nineteen and wearing white Levi's on a summer evening in Cambridge, with a boyfriend who is your boyfriend and 24 flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream around every corner."

Peripheral to Bronwen's life challenges are references to an up-and-coming folk singer named Bob Dylan, a Time Magazine article about racial disturbances in Alabama, and the news of a CIA cover up and troop buildups.

The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke is one of my favorite books. It reminds me slightly of David Brooks' "The Social Animal: How Success Happens," while being shorter and more musical. It's a smart book that makes me feel smarter when I'm reading it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A TIME OF CHANGE & CONFLICTS
Poised in a moment in time marked by change, Bronwen, age nineteen, is eager to begin a research summer job in Boston. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Laurel-Rain Snow
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant piece of fiction and social commentary
The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke

This is a brilliant piece of fiction and social commentary. Read more
Published 10 months ago by CJ
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine First
A Fine First
Barbara Riddle’s novella The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke is a confident, talented, suspenseful debut. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Joan L. Cannon
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspires one to read bios of female scientists
Feels current until the date is noted - apropos of prevailing ceilings. Enjoyed the exposure to the actual science and thought proudly of the women I personally know in the field. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Gina M Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars About a courageous and persistent young woman from the 60-ies
“The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke” by Barbara Riddle is a well-written novel that tells the story from the 60-ies of, about the time that although not so long ago, in many ways... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Denis Vukosav
2.0 out of 5 stars the book pretending to be Literature ***SPOILERS***
It was suggested to me that I read this novel because of my absolute awe of Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things: A Novel. Read more
Published 10 months ago by K. Wilkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written coming-of-age
Every once in a while the author of ‘The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke’ stopped me in mid-sentence. Sometimes it was an eerily accurate description (of an army-surplus store, for... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Carol Ryan
5.0 out of 5 stars Get in your favourite reading spot and be ready to stay there for a...
I really enjoyed this book. Reading it gave me one of those rare but wonderful reading experiences where I simply couldn't put down the book until having reached the end. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Adam Dvorak
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks depth.
The content of the book does not live up to its intriguing title. It leaves one disappointed and feeling short changed. Read more
Published 10 months ago by kavi
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
This book was Anticlimatic and cold. It had No real ending. It just leaves you with a sick, sad feeling. I would not recommend this book to anyone, not even someone I dislike.
Published 15 months ago by Amazon Customer
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