- by Betty Smith
I’ve heard my mom gush about this book for pretty much my whole life, and finally read it in January explicitly for this category in the Reading Challenge. Of course, my only regret was that I’d waited so long: I loved this story from page 1. No description I ever heard before made me want to read it, so I'll spare you the plot synopsis. I'll just say: read it. Wistful, haunting, satisfying. I listened to the audio version, which—barring some infrequent random jazz music—was quite good.
The publisher calls this a "classic, engrossing memoir—a triumph of the pioneer spirit and an adventure-charged chronicle of a life lived to the fullest." Beryl Markham was an amazing woman, and one of the first people to successfully cross the Atlantic by plane. Yet she's not nearly as well known as others who share her arial accomplishments. In her autobiography, she preserves the moments that meant the most to her—from her childhood, spent in Africa with her British colonial family, to her adult years, when she became the first professional pilot in Africa and successfully crossed the Atlantic, alone. The title refers to the fact that when she flew, she was mostly in the dark.
From the publisher: "In World War II [Corrie Ten Boom] and her family risked their lives to help Jews and underground workers escape from the Nazis, and for their work they were tested in the infamous Nazi death camps. Only Corrie among her family survived to tell the story of how faith ultimately triumphs over evil." Add Audible narration for $3.49.
- by Anne Frank
This classic needs no introduction. In 1942, in occupied Holland, Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis in a tiny attic for two years. After an informer gave them away to the Gestapo, they were discovered and sent to the concentration camps. This is Anne's diary that she kept during that time. It was discovered in the attic, after her death.
This one is on my reading list. Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset tells the story of her heroine in 14th century Norway with great love and attention to detail. Book-of-the-Month Club famously said, "We consider it the best book our judges have ever selected and it has been better received by our subscribers than any other book." My friend (who's been urging me to read this for ages) tells me she'd give it ten stars if she could.
- by Willa Cather
From the publisher: "In this symphonically powerful novel, Willa Cather created one of the most winning heroines in American fiction, a woman whose robust high spirits and calm, undemonstrative strength are emblematic of the virtues Cather most admired in her country. Antonia Shimerda is the daughter of Bohemian immigrants struggling with the oceanic loneliness of life on the Nebraska prairie. Through the eyes of Jim Burden, her tutor and disappointed admirer, we follow Antonia from farm to town and through hardships both natural and human, surviving everything from poverty to a failed romance--and not only surviving, but triumphing."
L’Engle begins her groundbreaking science fiction/fantasy work with the famous opening line “It was a dark and stormy night,” and plunges you headlong into the world of the Murray family, who must travel through time to save the universe. I wanted to be Meg, of course. Wrinkle is the first—and most famous—of the Time Quintet, but I read them all, again and again.
I’ve adopted Madeleine L’Engle as an honorary mentor. Anyone who can coin a phrase like “the tired thirties” and admit that her kids told her to sit down at the typewriter and write when she got cranky is worth listening to. I suspect our brains work the same way (except for the part where hers cranks out gorgeous fiction and mine is terrified of the genre).
From the publisher: "Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning and the tragedy of its fulfillment. Published in 1970, is the first novel written by Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing."
Arianna Huffington, writing for O, The Oprah Magazine says, "If you’ve never read it, read it now." From the publisher: "Landmark, groundbreaking, classic—these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of 'the problem that has no name'. Writing in a time when the average woman first married in her teens and 60 percent of women students dropped out of college to marry, Betty Friedan captured the frustrations and thwarted ambitions of a generation and showed women how they could reclaim their lives. Part social chronicle, part manifesto, The Feminine Mystique is filled with fascinating anecdotes and interviews as well as insights that continue to inspire."
When I asked what books every woman's gotta read, Alcott's 1869 novel about New England sisters growing up in the Civil War Era was an overwhelming crowd favorite. I only recently learned that Alcott herself didn't want to write Little Women: when a publisher asked her to write a book for girls, she put aside the thrillers she'd been writing and wrote about the only girls she knew— her sisters. The book's unexpected success changed her life and literary career.
- by George Eliot
Eliot's hefty masterpiece combines her "study of provincial life" with a close look at several young couples who fall (or think they fall) in love. Who will find lasting happiness, and who won't, and why? By focusing on the narrow disappointments and particular joys of this small community, Eliot cuts to the heart of human nature. A novel about love, happiness, and second chances.
Woolf's long essay about society and art and sexism is thoroughly of its time and timeless. She argues that a woman must have money and a room of her own (literally and figuratively) in order to write well. It's a little slow to get into but keep at it: this is one of Woolf's most accessible and rewarding works.
Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of Prince Edward Island, Canada decide to adopt an orphaned boy to help them on their farm. Their messenger mistakenly delivers a girl to Green Gables instead—an 11-year-old feisty redhead named Anne Shirley. The series follows Anne from her childhood at Green Gables until she is a mother herself. Don't miss the final books of the series when Anne's own sons set sail to fight for Canada in WWI.
A spoiled, loveless orphan and a coddled, cantankerous invalid bring a forgotten garden—and each other—to life again in this childhood classic. The themes of rebirth and renewal—and the literal spring that blooms before their eyes in their secret garden—make spring the perfect time to revisit this book, or read it for the first time, as I just did.
- by Harper Lee
In this 1960 classic, small-town attorney Atticus Finch attempts a hopeless defense of a black man unjustly accused of rape, and to teach his children, Scout and Jem, about the evils of racism. It's been a staple on high school reading lists for years (and I talked about my significant high school experience with Mockingbird here), but it enjoyed a fresh burst of publicity when its companion Go Set a Watchman was published this summer. (I'd love to be in the course that reads both, together.)