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More Books for Women is the third publication to launch under the Books To Watch Out For umbrella. It’s been a gleam in our eye since we launched The Lesbian Edition and The Gay Men's Edition two years ago. Books To Watch Out For reviews make it easy to find the books that give you the best return for your scarce reading hours.
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Ann Christophersen is reading...Alison Lurie’s Pulitzer-prize winner, Foreign Affairs, has one of the best endings I’ve ever read (I’m a big fan of strong endings, which are often hard to find in otherwise very good novels). Truth and Consequences, her new novel just coming out in October, is also a marvel in that regard. But it’s all that happens between beginning and ending that made this book wonderful. It’s about a woman who eventually throws off the conventions of being good and nice and thinking of everyone else first (particularly her ailing, demanding husband) and the quixotic position her ostensibly convention-free husband finds himself in at the end. ($24.95, Viking Books)
Times Like These, by Rachel Ingalls, is a book I’ve been waiting for —not necessarily this collection of stories — just anything by Ingalls. I’d read her quirky, fascinating novel, Mrs. Caliban, published 15 years ago and various collections of stories sprinkled over the intervening years, all of them with great attention and pleasure. It has been awhile since this wholly unique writer of rather dark, eerie, droll stories has made an offering. I am grateful for this one. (Times Like These, $16, Graywolf; Mrs. Caliban, $12.95, Harvard Common Press)
Speaking of short stories, a collection of interconnected stories that I liked very much is Cathy Day’s The Circus in Winter which was nominated for this year’s National Book Awards. It is set in the town (a real one, but fictionalized here) that was the wintering quarters of a major circus in the heyday of traveling big tops. She vividly captures the feel of small, Midwestern towns and gives her reader a behind-the-scenes look at the daily escapades of the people who lived the life. I’d call it a fictional ethnography, with the emphasis on fictional: Day very skillfully creates her characters and pulls the various storylines together in very artful ways. ($13, Harcourt)
I wouldn’t normally contribute a book by a male writer to this column, but journalist J. R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar is an exception worth making. It is a beautifully written memoir of a young man finding his way toward adulthood in the embrace of some very colorful characters in a neighborhood bar. He starts hanging out there when he is too young to do so legally and he ends up drinking too much there when he is older, which becomes a problem. But that’s not really what this story is about. It’s about the people in his life, the tenderness they share, and the men he looks to in his self-conscious struggle for manhood. But, in the end it’s his mother who is the hero of his story — and she’s a terrific character. ($23.95, Hyperion)
Sara Paretsky’s Fire Sale, the newest in her V.I. Warshawsky series, is terrific. She brings her usual mix of progressive politics, great characters, fast-paced adventure — and excellent writing. This one opens with V.I. almost being blown-up when a manufacturing plant on Chicago’s South Side explodes and sends debris hurling her way. Thus begins an intricate journey to unraveling the strands of intersecting circumstances and clues as the plot moves briskly along. ($25.95, Putnam)
Audrey Niffenegger of The Time Traveler’s Wife fame is really an artist: novel-writing is her second career. Her new book, Three Incestuous Sisters, is her first novel-in-pictures, a collection of related prints that, along with text, tell the story of three sisters, two of them in love with the same man and the other in love with a baby about to be born. The pictures are absolutely beautiful and the tale is haunting. The book is most amazingly priced at $27.95. Everyone should at least look at this book and read the narrative. I have to warn you, though: once you’ve done so, you’ll want a copy of your own. (Three Incestuous Sisters, $27.95, Harry N. Abrams; The Time Traveler’s Wife, $14, Harvest/HBJ)
Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Bait & Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, is a worthy follow-up to Nickel & Dimed. As a result of many stories she heard about a new commonplace in the American workforce —down-sizing and the displacement of white-collar workers — she decided to investigate what it was like for people who had played by the middle-class rules (gone to college, gotten “a good job,” made a good living) — only to find that the supposedly firm ground under their feet had quite suddenly shifted to drifting sand. As with anything Ehrenreich writes, Bait & Switch is well worth reading for her unique insights and her great wit. (Bait, $24, Metropolitan Books; Nickel and Dimed, $13, Owl)
Linda Bubon suggests...Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love is a stunning, achingly tender novel written in two voices: an old man who is a Holocaust survivor and a 14-year-old Jewish girl. The voices are so real, so distinctive, that the characters walked off the page and into my mind and heart. There’s an engaging plot, too, concerning a lost book that creates a life of literary fame for one man, hope for its young reader, and resolution for its true author. ($23.95, Norton)
A Complicated Kindness (new in paper) is a darkly comic novel about a teen girl living in a small Canadian town in a strict Mennonite community. Her grief over her mother’s and sister’s leaving (they are shunned by the Elder) is palpable, her rage and acting-out understandable, and her loyalty to her passive, schoolteacher father endearing. Miriam Toews offers us a voice at once tough and tender, witty and heartbreaking. ($13.95, Counterpoint)
Delightful, engaging, and at times hilariously funny, Julie/Julia, by Julie Powell, is the ultimate recipe-laden, novice cook’s memoir. It is also a rather sweet saga of one woman’s challenge to herself to be more than she is. ($23.95, Little Brown)
Renny Golden is a lifelong political activist, poet, criminologist, and professor, whose new book, War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Families They Leave Behind shines much-needed light on the consequences of the war on drugs and the mass incarceration policies of our present system. “Rehabilitating few and devastating generations in ways that are systematically biased by class, race, ethnicity, and immigration status, Golden reveals the heavy costs of mass incarceration — financial, community, foster care, more violence and soul murder of generations to come.” –Michelle Fine. ($22.95 paper, Routledge)
Now in paperback, Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement is a scrupulously researched, readable, and inspiring biography of a pivotal leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Winner of numerous awards, Katha Pollitt said Ransby’s book was “One of the best things to happen to women.... Moving and invaluable.” ($19.95, 496 pages, University of North Carolina Press)
Telling Our Lives: Conversations on Solidarity and Difference, by Frida Kerner Furman, Linda Williamson Nelson, and Elizabeth A. Kelly, explores how three working-class women — one African American, one Jewish, and one Irish American, and all academics — connect across their differences through storytelling and conversation. Their approach and their honesty provide rare insights into how class shapes who we are. ($26.95, Rowman & Littlefield)
Pam Harcourt raves (and rants)One of my favorite books this year has to be Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. Her second collection of stories create these spooky, familiar, sometimes funny worlds where cats are parented by witches, cheerleaders hang out with the devil, and creepifying rabbits keep showing up in ever larger numbers on the lawn as a marriage becomes more and more strained. ($24, Small Beer Press)
Small Beer Press is owned by Kelly Link and her husband Gavin Grant and, besides publishing consistently interesting new authors, they have a reprint series called Peapod Classics. The second and newest in the series is Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light, which garners high praise from Ursula Le Guin on the Small Beer Press website: http://www.lcrw.net/peapod/mitchison/index.htm. ($12, Peapod Classics)
Jill Soloway’s Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants is a flawed but wonderfully rant-y look at adolescence, sexism, Hollywood, writing, relationships, celebrities, dogs, diamonds, reclaiming the word “Jewess,” and more. A Six Feet Under writer for many seasons and co-executive producer for the last season, Jill put me in a bind – she’s wonderful on gender, but some bits on class and race were painful to read. Still it made me laugh embarrassingly loud in public and, if you get a chance to hear her read from it, it’s even better. This is truly hilarious writing, from an author with a commitment to truth and a heartfelt plea for more women to write. ($21.95, Free Press)
Zadie Smith’s third novel On Beauty also has me laughing, and at things that would be unfunny in another writer’s hands: American race relations, class differences in the black community, and angry political divides in academia. I’m a third of the way through and I now remember why I loaned her first book, White Teeth, to everyone I could – her writing is smart, insightful, and both sharp with and forgiving of her characters’ flaws. White Teeth was the winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, and the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize. On Beauty has already been shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize. (On Beauty, $24.95, Penguin; White Teeth, $14.95, Vintage)
Arsenal Pulp Press has a new anthology edited by author and performance artist Anna Camilleri that “powerfully reimagines female icons and archetypes,” including Janis Joplin, the Rodeo Queen, Pam Grier, Lilith, Wonder Woman, and the Avon Lady. Red Light: Superheroes, Saints, and Sluts includes poetry, essays, stories and visual art, and seeks to re-imagine some well-known female icons, and give us some powerful new ones. BTWOF’s publisher, Carol Seajay, was particularly fond of Camilleri’s I Am a Red Dress: Incantations on a Grandmother, a Mother, and a Daughter about, among other things, taking her grandfather to court and winning a jail sentence for him for molesting her (and the generations before her) as a child. ($18.95 and $16.95 respectively, both from Arsenal Pulp Press)
Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler have followed up their Letters of the Century, with Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present. Nearly 800 pages of women’s voices are arranged chronologically; mostly women you’ve never heard of, although some you have (Emma Goldman writes to Margaret Sanger! Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes to the Akron Falls Women’s Convention! Patsy Cline writes to her fan club’s president!). These voices come alive when you read them. I think this is a perfect gift for yourself, your friends, or especially for any young person stuck in a boring high school history class. ($35, 824 pages, Dial Press)
Francesca Lia Block finally returns to her Weetzie Bat series to look at life and love as a grown-up in Necklace of Kisses. As Weetzie Bat’s relationship with her secret-agent lover-man falls apart, she sets out on a journey to rediscover herself. Her story is full of tears and magic, love and kisses, all told with Francesca Lia Block’s poetic, punk-rock style. ($21.95, HarperCollins)Recently my grandfather asked me what I do with my time, and I found myself explaining that when I’m not at work or eating or sleeping, I’m reading. Some people have hobbies; I have books. I could tell he just didn’t get it, which is one reason I am thrilled about Maureen Corrigan’s new book Leave Me Alone I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books — not only does she understand my life, but she’s written a book explaining it. As a book reviewer for NPR’s Fresh Air, Maureen reads for a living, and her book is part memoir, part coming-of-age story, and part reflection on the important books in her life. ($24.95, Random House)
Milkweed Editions (a fabulous non-profit press) has just released a new and expanded edition of Pattiann Rogers’s Firekeeper. I love Rogers’s keen observation of the world and the precision of her language; her poetry reveals the interiors of what is, to my own eyes, just surface. This collection reflects Rogers’s own selection from her thirty-year career. ($16, Milkweed Editions)
We hope you've enjoyed this issue of More Books for Women.
If you like it, please tell all your friends and colleagues about More Books for Women (and our sister publications, The Lesbian Edition and The Gay Men's Edition) and encourage them to subscribe as well. If you give holiday gifts, and can give some subscriptions to More Books for Women as a way to spread the word about it and to help us launch it far and wide, that would be a wonderful way to support this new publication. But if you don't like it, or have suggestions for improvement, please tell us before you tell your friends. If you really like it, and would like to join 25 women in making monthly pledges ($100-$25) for a year to help finance its first year, please call or email Maddy@BooksToWatchOutFor.com or give me a call.
We look forward to hearing from you about this exciting new publication. Please email your comments to More Books for Women or write to us at PO Box 882554, San Francisco, CA 94188.
Yours in spreading the words,
© 2005 Books To Watch Out For