I read a lot of men. It’s hard not to, if you read at all. Some of them have changed my life—Alex Haley, Vladimir Nabokov, Michael Ondaatje—and some have simply always been a part of it, from seeing Dick Francis’ horse stories stacked on my father’s nightstand, to enjoying Dahl’s whimsy, to immersing myself in Vonnegut, Tolstoy, and Salinger in school.
But, I do especially cherish a great book written by a woman. This year saw Gillian Flynn emerge as a force in the mystery genre; Fifty Shades of Grey take over the universe; and bookies (like a foodie, but for books. No? Novelies? OK, nerds) anxiously await the latest from A.M. Homes, Zadie Smith, and J.K. Rowling.
Here are a few of my recent favorites. They aren’t a laugh a minute, but that’s a column for a different day.
Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks picks a small village in post-Cromwellian England to examine the plague of 1666. It’s not a book for the faint of heart—there are several graphic descriptions of both the plague and the bizarre torture devices used as punishment for minor crimes. But it is a stunning portrait of a brave mother dealing with major tragedy and her life-changing choices, beautifully illustrating how apart women really were from the rule-makers of the day. It suffers from a strange ending, but is otherwise nearly impeccable. Other favorites from Brooks include March and People of the Book.
It was my privilege to read these books—I’ve spent a lifetime reading, and the reward is Marilynne Robinson. Gilead is the story of dying John Ames and his young son, his neighbors, his past, his grace. Home is his neighbor’s story, as he tries to reconcile and understand his wayward and broken son. Both books examine the simple in the mundane and the heartbreak in, beautiful, complicated lives. When you finish these stunning novels, Robinson has drawn you so close to her characters it feels as if you actually know them. Her debut novel, Housekeeping, is also a wonderful piece of writing.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
State of Wonder is another heavy book, but it’s also an adventure story and a quick read. Dr. Marina Singh sets out on a life-altering journey to find a lost colleague and understand his last project— researching a drug that allows women to carry children well into their 60s. Set deep in the jungle, the proverbial heart of darkness, Marina confronts her own nightmares and memories, while readers encounter elusive tribesman and an enigmatic scientist, herself lost to the darkness. The ending will lift you up, even if you get torn down a bit at first. I also really enjoyed Patchett’s Bel Canto.
Photo of woman reading courtesy of Shutterstock.