My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams / Reclaiming Her Time by Helena Andrews-Dyer and R. Eric Thomas

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Please and Thank You. Those were the magic words you learned at your mother’s knee, the ones that opened doors and gained favors. That was also when you learned something important, as you’ll see in My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams: letters, when properly collected, can move mountains.

Born in working-class Brooklyn in 1933, Joan Ruth Bader was her parents’ second daughter; sadly, their eldest died of meningitis just 14 months later. Theirs was a close-knit neighborhood, and the family had many of the luxuries of the day. Bader attended public school a block from her home; there, because of other girls in her class who shared her first name, she started using her middle name “for more official purposes.” She was raised to be independent and was an avid reader, a notably talented storyteller. And since she grew up in the shadow of World War II and was Jewish, she was fully aware of anti-Semitism.

Even as a child, in fact, Bader chafed at inequality and “hypocritical rules.” She was also eloquent in her writing and was first published in a Jewish Center newsletter at age 13. Her leadership skills apparent, she entered Cornell University the fall after graduation from high school; there, she was greatly influenced by two teachers, novelist and European literature professor Vladimir Nabokov, and constitutional scholar Robert E. Cushman. The latter man encouraged her to go to law school.

In mid-2003, co-authors Williams and Hartnett approached Bader Ginsburg and pointed out that it was time for her to tell her story, before someone else did. She had known both Williams and Hartnett for years through mutual interests and similar work.

In her preface, author and Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg says that My Own Words was meant to be written after a planned biography but her co-authors “thought it best” to wait on the biography until her “Court years neared completion.” They “flipped the projected publication order.”

You might wish they hadn’t. You’ll hang onto every word of Ginsburg’s life story. It’s everything you’d expect from her, and it surely won’t disappoint readers. What will, though, is that My Own Words isn’t always her own words. You’ll read transcripts of speeches by Ginsburg, legal briefs, bench announcements, introductions and wisdom inside law review articles. You’ll see her fierce strength in that which she firmly believed. But a good amount of this book consists of various-length essays, speeches and articles written by others about Ginsburg, including things written by her co-authors. That could be a disappointment; it’s just not what you might expect, so be warned.

Reclaiming Her Time by Helena Andrews-Dyer and R. Eric Thomas
“Excuse me. It’s my time to talk.”

Ugh, it’s frustrating when someone doesn’t honor your voice or respect your ideas. When it’s your time to speak, they should at least be quiet, and you shouldn’t feel bad for wanting to be heard. Speak up! In this new book, one politician had no problem doing so.

Born and raised in poverty, little Maxine Carr had one thing most kids in the 1930s and 1940s didn’t have: she had the certainty that if she didn’t open her mouth to speak up, there’d never be any food in it. With 13 children in the family and just an overwhelmed mother raising them, Maxine and her siblings scrabbled for whatever they got; they learned to stand up for themselves because nobody else was going to do it for them.

Maxine was always a fighter and never let an opportunity pass her by. She landed a job at age 13 so she could buy her own clothing. She worked hard to graduate from high school, knowing that an education was important. At 18, she was married, became a mother shortly afterward and worked to help support her family. When she was 28, someone told her about Head Start, a program for children who needed a boost, and she applied to be a teacher. “Head Start changed my life,” she said later. It opened up a world for her and gave her the opportunity to use other talents to become a community advocate for the people of Southern California following the Watts riots. Her roots gave her an innate ability to use the power of connections, which led her to volunteer work in local politics and later, to office.

In 1976, she made the leap to state politics with her election to the California State Assembly. She became Maxine Waters when she remarried in 1977. In 1990, she became the second Black woman to represent California and just the sixth Black woman in the House.

In addition to Waters’ lively and meteoric story, the authors explain how their title words fit into Congressional hearings, firmly promising readers that “reclaiming” is no-nonsense and not rude. ■