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The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke by [Riddle, Barbara]
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The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Length: 212 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
Page Flip: Enabled

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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: 1055 KB
  • Print Length: 212 pages
  • Publication Date: December 16, 2013
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00BP01WWE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #858,381 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Poised in a moment in time marked by change, Bronwen, age nineteen, is eager to begin a research summer job in Boston. And with the job comes a reunion with boyfriend Eric, a graduate student at Harvard. For the summer, they will be living in Eric's Cambridge flat.

The 60s had brought remarkable opportunities for young women. At any other time in history, could a young woman have obtained an internship with a Harvard Junior Fellow? Before Betty Friedan's book hit the stores, had women ever realized all of the possibilities available to them?

But Bronwen is in a state of conflict, too. She is ready for love, but she also wants her life as a scientist.

Over the next few weeks, we watch as she deals with the conflicts in her life, including a less-than-attentive boyfriend, another possible love interest, and her life of commitment to her work. Just as she is ready to complete her summer, sad news erupts. And shortly afterward, she is forced to face another obstacle to her goals.

I enjoyed engaging with this young woman as she confronted her personal and work issues. I liked how she protected herself with her Rilke collection, for as much as she loved science, a part of her clung to another kind of inner life:

"Zipping up her Army surplus parka, she bent her head into the late afternoon breeze. In the pouch-like pocket of her jacket, next to the letter, she felt for the presence of her trusty ubiquitous Rilke volume, her shield against unwanted dinner conversation...."

The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke took me back to my own younger days, when I, too, had to consider my options and make choices. Sometimes impossible choices. 4 stars.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
“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 was different from the world we’re living in.

In her novel author introduce one female science student named Bronwen who works in a Harvard lab. Due to her life inexperience she will make a huge mistake and jeopardize her entire career that in those years in the scientific community was already difficult to achieve if you were a woman…

Barbara Riddle wrote an exceptional novel about the difficulties one young woman will pass to enter almost completely male scientific community of the post-war America.
The author skillfully describes this woman internship full of obstacles she will need to avoid on her way to the finish line from which she will emerge stronger and smarter.

Bronwen is believable character, smart, humorous and full of life but as all young people prone to making the wrong decisions, which are often direct life in one-way street.
The characters with which Bronwen will interact are brilliant in their diversity, and no matter how much we liked or despised them for their actions, they’re all excellently characterized from the pen of this author.

And this is just one of the reasons why this novel about a courageous and persistent young woman who was living and struggling in times when you had to be brave if you wanted to succeed as a woman, is worth reading.
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