Books for Women
- May 2006 -
Volume 2 Number 5
Welcome to More Books for Women #8.
This issue leads with a few news bites, followed
by this issue’s round-up of excellent reading, then the Kids section,
followed by Mysteries.
I have to say I'm intrigued that Threshold,
Simon & Schuster’s new, conservative imprint, hasn’t (yet) seen
fit to send Books To Watch Out For a review copy of Vice-Presidential
daughter Mary Cheney’s Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle
of Political Life, despite our request several months ago.
I wonder if that’s an oversight, or if they think it will get
a more sympathetic reading in the mainstream press than from us?
Venerable feminist publishing institution, Spinsters Ink,
has emerged from its recent hibernation under the care and ownership
of Linda Hill who also runs Bella Books. The first book in the
new incarnation is French Postcards by Jane Merchant,
a short novel set among the wives of Americans working in France.
It’s a reprint of a title that didn’t get much circulation in
its previous edition. Spinsters has eight other titles in the
pipeline, including a new novel by Sheila Ortiz-Taylor and a mystery
series by Jennifer L. Jordan. More info at:
The Center for New Words (which used to be New Words Bookstore, and
promises to open a bookstore again, eventually) is just launching a new website.
One of my favorite features is the Watch/Listen page where you can access
audio and video recordings of many of the readings CNW has sponsored in recent
years — including the keynote speakers from their recent Women Action Media
Check out the website at:
Find some good company at:
The Orange Prize Shortlist:
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
The Accidental by Ali Smith
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
This year’s shortlist includes three writers who have previously been shortlisted
for the Orange — the two Smiths (no relation) and Sarah Waters, one relatively
unknown book, and writers from the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. The prize,
which gets remarkably little attention in the U.S., is for the best novel
by a woman written in English. It carries a £30,000 prize.
The Orange New Writers Award Shortlist
Disobedience by Naomi Alderman
The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li
This is the second year that the Orange has sponsored the New Writers Award.
It carries a £10,000 prize.
Kelly Link, twice reviewed in these pages, won two Nebula Awards this year:
Magic for Beginners (published by Link’s own Small Beer Press) won
the Novella award and "The Faery Handbag" won the Novelette Award. Carol Emshwiller
won Short Story for "I Live With You."
ColorLines ran a great article on the thriving Toronto Women’s Bookstore.
Read it at:
Find more about ColorLines, a wonderful magazine with a fiercely feminist
consciousness that looks at race, culture, and action.
And check out BTWOF’s nifty ad offering 3-month Trial Subscriptions to More
Books for Women, The Lesbian Edition, and The Gay Men’s Edition
in the Spring issue of Ms. Magazine. We’re on page 71.
And now, on to the books.
Yours in spreading the words,
Publisher and news mogul
Ann Christophersen is reading...
Interested in enjoying some light, funny, ingenious stories this summer? I have
just the book for you. It’s a collection of short mysteries told
by some of the best contemporary women writers in the genre (Sara
Paretsky, Nevada Barr, Marcia Muller) as well as
some lesser-knowns who do a bang-up job, and the stories
are connected thematically:
Deadly Housewives, the book is called, and the women
here concoct some mighty clever ways to do in their hubbies and
a whole host of others who annoy them, get in their way, don’t do
their bidding, have done them wrong — or simply can serve them better
dead than alive. They aren’t always heroes, these gals, but they
are all entertaining. Christine Matthews, editor and contributor,
Avon, $13.95 paper, 0060853271.
Most Beautiful Girl in the World, a first novel by Judy
Doenges, is told in the third person but very much from the perspective
of the main character, Robin, who is a schoolgirl at the beginning
of the story and a high school graduate at the end. Her family
is hardly a model one for a young girl whose mother has just died
of cancer: her father is a lost man emotionally who becomes a
drug dealer; her grandmother, who comes to help take care of her
after the death of her mother, is a prostitute. The three of them
live together in a ramshackle house and try to have some semblance
of a reasonable life. Luckily, Robin is precocious and a budding
lesbian, her father is endearing in his love for her and his old-hippie
values, and the grandmother is flat-out a character, driving
her Cadillac around town and finding creative ways to show her
cleavage to anyone who’s interested — and most of the men are.
I actually loved the characters quite a bit and read to the end
just to see how they would all fare. The novel has its limitations,
however: it is rather overwritten, particularly in its metaphors,
and has some other features of a first novel that has some kinks
to work out. Still, I enjoyed reading it and applaud the University
of Michigan Press for giving it a chance. $24 hardcover, 0472115618.
The Art of Possibility, (Penguin, $15, 0142001104) which
has been out in paper since 2002, for two reasons: one, a sister
bookseller in Denver recently told me that it was a really good
book; two, I was intrigued by the concept suggested by the title:
art? possibility? — I’m in. It is a variety of self-help book,
offering suggestions and examples to explain and support the central
idea that we limit ourselves in our personal and professional
lives by relying on an array of conventions and assumptions that
often fail to serve. Rather than put those same old practices
in service over and over again, authors Rosamund Stone Zander
and Benjamin Zander argue on behalf of “re-framing” circumstances
we encounter, with an eye to the possibilities they offer instead
of the hardships or difficulties or drudgery they may present.
What I appreciate about the book is that it really does focus
on creativity — and has given me much to experiment with, including
the desire to read a new book that just came in called Stumbling
on Happiness (Knopf, $24.95, 1400042666). Harvard College
Professor of Psychology Daniel Gilbert says of his book that it
is distinctly not a self-help book, however. What it is
is a book about how our minds work — and how absolutely unpredictable
the self we become over time, even a relatively short period of
time, will feel about decisions and expectations our earlier self
thought were obviously the right way to go. Intriguing, yes? I’m
going to start reading it tonight and perhaps will let you know
the outcome of that experience next month.
And just coming off press:
Alison Bechdel of Dykes to Watch Out For fame has a new
offering for us: a graphic memoir. In Fun
Home: A Family Tragicomic, Bechdel has drawn and written
her way to impressive new heights. This complex — and complexly
structured — narrative of growing up in the family she did is
a powerful story. The Fun Home in the title refers literally to
what the family called the funeral home that housed the family
businesses. But it refers to other things as well, for example,
the Gothic Revival house the family lived in (which reminded her
of the Addams’ family house, a source of some great humor in the
story) and the sort of “funhouse mirror” that describes elements
of her and her family’s life.
Because the narrative does not proceed in a
straight line through time but rather keeps circling back on itself,
the story is quite nuanced and layered. This allows her to develop
her central metaphor of Daedalus and Icarus, including how their
relationship is like (and in the end, significantly unlike) that
of her and her father’s. There are many other literary allusions
in the book, stemming organically from another feature of this
father-daughter connection: both are steeped in books. One doesn’t
need to be terribly conversant with these references, however:
Bechdel gives the reader most of what she needs to know about
them. There’s much more to say about this book because there are
many dimensions to it. It’s one to read, then read again to appreciate
all that’s here. Houghton Mifflin, $19.95 hardcover, 0618477942.
Editor’s note: For more lesbian literary fiction and non-fiction,
check out The Lesbian Edition of Books
To Watch Out For.
Linda Bubon is reading...
In thinking about these three novels, the term "post-feminist" comes to mind,
a term I’ve long deplored and to which I’ve always automatically retorted,
"I'll be a post-feminist in the post-patriarchy." These books were all written
by women who, I’m pretty sure (as I’ve talked with all of them), consider
themselves feminists. They have wonderful female protagonists who firmly believe
that women can do whatever it is they want (fix their families, find lost
writers, sing opera, avenge their sister’s murders), but there is no overt
feminist "message" or theme. They are all wonderful reads, with a mixture
of humor and poignancy.
The History of Love, new in paperback, by Nicole Krauss 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, finally, for
its true author. I had thought often about lives lost during the Holocaust,
and lost art treasures too, but this book made me think of lost literary treasures.
What about the poetry and novels that were in manuscripts, the half-finished
masterpieces, the bound galleys sitting on editor’s desks that we’ll never
get to read? Krauss made me think anew of all that’s been lost to us, but
this is ultimately a hopeful story, making me believe in mysterious connections
and the steady force of destiny. Norton, $13.95, 0393328627.
Cage of Stars by Jacqueline Mitchard has a young narrator as well,
teenaged Veronica Swan, a good Mormon girl who witnesses the swift, brutal,
shocking murder of her two little sisters by a deranged schizophrenic. While
this may sound like movie-of-the-week material and is loosely based on a true
story, in Mitchard’s sure hands, the novel has an unusual grace and charm.
She makes the inconceivable real and has a divine gift for expressing universal
feelings of grief, loss, anger, and yes, even in these circumstances, forgiveness,
and healing. Mature teens will appreciate this novel as well as adults. Warner,
I encountered another quirky teen narrator in Elinor Lipman’s new novel,
Latest Grievance, a pure delight for a weekend read. Frederica Hatch
has been raised by two impeccably politically-correct parents (one a psychologist,
the other a sociologist) in a dormitory at a second-rate women’s college in
Brookline, Mass. They have always told her the truth about everything and
spoken to her as an adult. At 15, she is the most precocious, witty, and often
obnoxious teenager I’ve encountered in fiction; that is, they have reaped
what they have sown, and the reader gets all the rewards. When Frederica invites
her father’s first wife, a melodramatic, narcissistic, former dancer into
their lives, all hell breaks loose, and Frederica manipulates and insinuates
and makes matters, delightfully, much worse. Houghton Mifflin, $24, 0618644652.
Tish Hayes can't resist...
can't get enough of the University of Nebraska's Flyover Fiction
series. The two novels I've read so far are the most interesting
and provocative novels I've read in some time, and both are unmistakably
Midwestern voices. Last month I read Skin by Kellie Wells.
This month I read Tin
God by Terese Svoboda, a novel narrated by God in the guise
of a Nebraska farm woman. The present day stories begin in a field,
just after a tornado, with a young man in flashy clothes and a shiny
Porsche looking for his lost bag of drugs. This narrative is interspersed
with the tale of a Spanish conquistador searching for gold, dying
of thirst and discovered by the people whose land he is lost in.
Both men are seeking something they will never find — neither can
comprehend that what they need to survive is right in front of them.
Terese Svoboda brings a poet's sensibility to this novel: her sentences
are spare but playful, and it is the details that lead to layers
of meaning. University of Nebraska, $24.95, 0803243316.
Gathering Amy Hempel's four collections of stories together into one volume,
Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, creates both the perfect introduction
to her work and a complete view of her growth as a writer. This was my first
experience with her near-perfect stark prose, and I am so thrilled to have
finally discovered her. Very few writers can tell a story with what is left
unsaid, but she has mastered the art; story after story left me stunned and
wondering how did she do that? Rick Moody provides an insightful introduction
with a short look at each of the collections. It will be released in hardcover
in May by Simon & Schuster. $26, 0743289463.
Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil provoked a great discussion this
month in the Intergenerational Feminist Book Group. Inga Muscio, author of
Cunt, presents a history lesson that isn't often taught in the classroom,
dispelling the myths that maintain the oppression of everyone from which white
men benefit. She weaves in her personal experiences and philosophies to create
an unconventional narrative. When Inga sticks to facts and when she systematically
breaks down oppression she is compelling and passes on really important information.
Many in the group felt that her tone is too strident and a tad on the condescending
side, but some loved the book and really felt changed and motivated after
reading it. Personal taste in writing style aside, Inga Muscio provokes the
discussions about race and class that so often get shoved aside. Seal Press,
Pam Harcourt is reading...
Ali's follow-up to her critically acclaimed Brick Lane, Alentejo
Blue, tells the story of a Portuguese village community
– much of it through the longings and missed connections of its
residents. Characters weave in and out of one another's stories
until you begin waiting for the local-dude-made-good to come home
and fulfill expectations (or not), for the English writer to finally
offend people beyond repair, for the unfortunate Potts family to
unravel, for the new Internet cafe to open.... As in Brick Lane,
Monica Ali is unsparing in chronicling the wasted time and sad unrealized
expectations of many of her characters, but ultimately she is generous
and gracious enough to show multiple shades of even her most sad
or foolish characters, giving us some realistic hope for possibilities
of change. Simon and Schuster, $24, 0743293037.
new anthology My
Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored
Iranian Voices collects short pieces on Iran and Iranian
identity by many familiar voices — Reading Lolita in Tehran
author Azar Nafisi, filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Persepolis
author Marjane Satrapi, actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, and artist
Shirin Neshat are some of the better-known contributors. I loved
the variety of subjects covered, taken all together they provide
a portrait of an incredibly complex country, or probably more
realistically, a tiny corner of a portrait. There aren't many
anthologies like this. In “Death of a Mannequin,” Mehrangiz Kar
discusses the disturbing changes undergone by mannequins in store
windows starting in 1979 and how they paralleled what was happening
to women. For those who loved Reading Lolita, one essay
in particular is fascinating: “Misreading Kundera in Tehran” by
former Nafisi student Naghmeh Zarbafian. She explores state censorship
of a novel, and how deeply it changes not only what we're reading
but how we read. Beacon Press, $12, 0807004634.
Eisenberg's collection Twilight
of the Superheroes contains six longish short stories,
all with immediately layered characters, whose histories and relationships
with one another feel as complex as real life. Many of the stories
contain a character with a slippery hold on sanity, and we watch
and hope along with those close to them as they lose and then
regain their stability. Most of her characters are some kind of
screwed up, but she brings you in so close to them (I can't believe
how much she made me feel for the neurotic, nitpicking, hilarious
Otto in "Some Other, Better Otto"), that you stay right there
with them. Her characters argue passionately about language and
her families are deeply invested in their lifetimes of misunderstanding
one another. Funny, sad, and rewarding. Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
For children and adults, anyone graduating, or someone who just needs to
cheer up, Dream
Big: Starring Olivia by Ian Falconer is a winner. I
might just keep one of these 6” by 6” gems in my purse for inspiration. Wonderfully
well-chosen quotes accompany the preschool diva: “You can have whatever you
want if you dress for it” (Edith Head); “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as
six impossible things before breakfast” (Lewis Carroll); “When in doubt, wear
red” (Bill Blass); and the final one, “I am just too much” (Bette Davis).
If anyone on the planet has yet to discern that Ian Falconer is a delightful
gay man, this may give them a clue. Andrews McMeel, $9.95, 0740758187.
Writer Rachel Rodriguez and artist Julie Paschkis capture perfectly the wonder
and magic of Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and art
In language that even a 4 or 5-year old could understand, Rodriguez makes
clear that it is a hunger for the “Faraway” and a way of seeing the world
around her that make an artist. The paintings are beautiful, reminiscent of
O’Keefe’s most famous work, and made me long to see the big canvases up close
once again. An enchanting and personal introduction to an American icon.
Henry Holt, $16.95, 0805077405.
I’d like to have a little chat with Ole Konnecke, the creator
and the Girls, clearly a wise man. Charmingly simple drawings and equally
simple sentences show a little boy in the sandbox trying to get the two happily
playing girls to notice him. All his macho tricks fail to get them to turn
their heads. But when he falls down and cries, the girls give him a cookie
and invite him to play. Socialization 101. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15,
Krouse Rosenthal breaks down the complexity of civilizing values
(fair and unfair, greedy and generous, proud and modest) to a
child’s level of understanding in Cookies:
Bite-Size Life Lessons, beautifully illustrated by Jane
Dyer. Amy, a Chicago treasure, has always thought way outside
the box, and it pays off wonderfully in using cookies – the making,
eating, and sharing of them — to teach children (and the rest
of us) what’s truly important in life. HarperCollins, $13.99,
There have been other books like Ladies
First: 40 Daring American Women
Who Were Second to None, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, for children in the
8-14 range, but as far as I’m concerned there are still too few. This collection
of short biographies with photographs focuses on the “daring,” and along with
the usual suspects (Jane Addams, Nellie Bly, Gertrude Ederle), there is Victoria
Murden, born in 1963, and the first woman to ROW across the Atlantic, Stacy
Allison, born in 1958, and the first woman to climb Mount Everest, and Brenda
Berkman, born in 1951, and the first woman to challenge the ban on women in
the Fire Department in New York City. Now here’s a great present for that
8th grade graduation. National Geographic, $18.95, 0792253930.
By Nan Cinnater
These days it isn't enough for a cozy mystery
to be well-written, character-driven, and relatively non-violent. Judging
from the pile of paperbacks next to my computer, every cozy mystery has to
have a gimmick, no matter how absurd. Not only are there all kinds of specialty
mysteries ("an antique lover's mystery," "a tea lover's mystery,"
etc.), many feature recipes and other craft-y and self-help tips. On just
one day, going through about two dozen paperback cozies, I encountered a pet-sitter
mystery, a garden mystery including gardening tips, a candlemaking mystery
with, of course, candlemaking tips, a "bath and body mystery"(includes
beauty and spa tips!), and a new entry in Ann Waldron's Princeton series,
A Rare Murder in Princeton, with recipes included. (Why, I wonder?
It's a Princeton series, not a cooking series.) It's enough to drive a girl
to chick-lit mysteries! And it did.
In spite of the ominous D-word, Harley Jane Kozak's
Is Murder ($12.95, Broadway, 0767921240) is not a catalogue
of romantic misadventures. Rather, Wollie (short for Wollstonecraft) Shelley
is having her fifteen minutes of fame on a particularly taste-free reality
show called "Biological Clock,"where the audience votes on which
couple would make the best parents. An intern from the show, a sweet German
au pair named Annika, is missing, and Wolllie sets out to find her. If not
exactly substantive, Dating is Murder is not entirely fluffy, either.
Wollie copes with her mentally ill brother and her mother — a refugee from
the Sixties who lives in an ashram — while solving a well-plotted, surprising
mystery. Kozak's first mystery was
Dating Dead Men ($12.95, Broadway,
Sex, Murder and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis ($12.95,
Red Dress Ink, 0373895801), newly out in paperback, features Bay
Area mystery writer Sophie Katz, half African American and half
Jewish. Disturbed by an apparent break-in in her apartment, Sophie
soon realizes that someone is acting out scenes from her books.
Of course there is a romantic interest (a sexy Russian who is
also a suspect) and the requisite gay hairdresser friend, as well
as girlfriends from central casting. This may be a little too
frothy — more a cappucino than a latte — but in any case, it serves
as a nice pick-me-up. Advance reviews of Davis' new hardcover,
Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights ($21.95, Red
Dress Ink, 037389578X), indicate that it's just as much fun.
Angela Henry is the founder of MystNoir (www.mystnoir.com),
a website dedicated to mysteries "written by or featuring African Americans.";
(Check it out for info on the 11th Annual Black Mystery Writers' Conference
in Oakland May 20.) Henry has just published her second mystery featuring
Kendra Clayton, a twenty-eight-year-old GED instructor who still lives in
her hometown of Willow, Ohio and helps out at her uncle's restaurant. Kendra
The Company You Keep ($6.99, BET, 1583147608), in which
her best friend's cheating boyfriend is murdered. In
($13.95 BET, 1583146083), one of Kendra's favorite GED students is suspected
Laurie R. King is really at the top of her game
— witness the last few Russell/Holmes mysteries. The latest,
($6.99, Bantam, 0553583417), is now out in paper. (See MBW #3.)
But it's been a long time since we've seen anything in King's other series,
featuring present-day SFPD detective Kate Martinelli. (Martinelli is a great
character; it's a bonus that she also happens to be a lesbian.) Now we have
a new Martinelli novel,
The Art of Detection ($24.00, Bantam, 0553804537).
In this novel, the victim, Philip Gilbert, is found dead in his apartment,
which he has made into an exact replica of Holmes' famous rooms at 221B Baker
Street. This is from the Bantam jacket copy:
Philip Gilbert was a true Holmes fanatic, from his antiquated décor to
his vintage wardrobe. And no mere fan of fiction’s greatest detective, but
a leading expert with a collection of priceless memorabilia — a collection
some would kill for. And perhaps someone did: In his collection is a century-old
manuscript purportedly written by Holmes himself — that eerily echoes
details of Gilbert’s own murder.
Some months ago, King announced in her newsletter
that this new book would tie together the two series, and it is now becoming
clear how she will do that.
What Bantam — and King — don't tell you is that
The Art of Detection is based on a true story! In 2004, a Sherlockian
scholar named Richard L. Green was found dead at his home in Britain, which
he had transformed into a veritable Sherlock Holmes museum, completely matching
221B Baker Street in every detail. Green was president of the Sherlock Holmes
Organization and involved in a bitter rivalry with other Holmes scholars.
It is still not clear whether his death was suicide or murder. (Fans of CSI
may remember that an episode of that TV show was also based on this real-life
event. I can't wait to see what King does with it.)
Webb's socially conscious series featuring private eye Lena Jones
is set in Scottsdale, Arizona, which also happens to be the home
of her publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. In
Desert Shadows ($14.95, 159058273X), a right-wing
publisher is murdered at the Southwestern Book Publishers' Expo.
In the new hardcover,
Desert Run ($24.95, 1590582349), Lena is working on
a documentary film about a German POW camp in Scottsdale in 1944.
The mystery of Lena's own origins — she was abandoned at the age
of four and grew up in foster care — is perhaps the most compelling
mystery of all.
I just recently discovered Naomi Hirahara's wonderful mysteries featuring
elderly Japanese American gardener Mas Arai. Hirahara's latest is
Snakeskin Shamisen (0385339615). Her two previous books,
Summer of the Big Bachi (0385337590) and
Gasa Gasa Girl (0385337604) are reviewed in MBW#5
(all $12, Delta).
Now in Paper
Sara Paretsky's latest in her classic — and very feminist — private eye
series featuring V. I. Warshawski,
Fire Sale ($9.99, Signet, 045121899X).
Dead Run by mother-daughter team P.J. Tracy ($7.99, Signet, 0451218159)
is the latest in a very nifty series of fast-moving thrillers. The ensemble
cast includes a number of intriguing and diverse women characters, including
some beautiful big women and some lesbians. If you've never read Tracy, start
with the first in the series,
Monkeewrench ($6.99, Signet, 045121157X).