My girlfriends and I used to have a monthly book club. Once babies entered the picture and thwarted any possibility of reading a full novel for a few years, it turned into a monthly non-book get-together.
But I’m back on full novels now, and I miss talking books, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to recommend four recent reads—and invite you share your feedback. All (coincidentally) feature strong, complicated female protagonists, and all will keep you turning the pages well into 2019. Let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s rare that a novel is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking—but this beautifully rendered story of the life of Eleanor Oliphant hits both notes while telling broad truths about the human condition. 30-year-old Eleanor has had enough of her small life and journeys to overcome the childhood trauma that led her there, with a mix of pain and triumph in the end.
Brought up in a harsh home environment by a semi-tyrannical survivalist father in the Utah mountains, memoirist Tara Westover wasn’t allowed to go to school. So she educates herself, learning everything from trigonometry to high school science, then makes her way into Brigham Young University and ultimately Cambridge, all the while confronting what it means to reject her family’s way of life. The memoir is reminiscent of The Glass Castle, both featuring true stories of women who endured unthinkable abuse and found the strength to survive—and succeed.
It’s an autobiography but reads more like a novel: The story of the long-time head of The Washington Post (characterized by Meryl Streep in last year’s “The Post”) gives an intimate account of what it was like to serve as one of the country’s first female CEOs. The book is as much a time capsule of historical events (JFK, Watergate) as it is an incredibly personal account of mid-century marriage, her husband’s mental illness and suicide, and what it was like to be plunged into a new world…and learn on the fly in a male-dominated business.
For me, nothing compares to books with characters so well-drawn you feel you’ve actually met them. This set of related short stories, dotted with distinct, colorful characters and a setting (Crosby, Maine) that’s practically a character itself, will reel you into its human drama, and in getting to know the flawed but empathetic protagonist, Olive Kittredge, over a span of decades. (Read it, then watch the show on HBO.)
**Related read: How to read more in 2019
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