Essential Reading: Friendship
“Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.” –Virginia Woolf
Download the list to find it fast at your local bookstore or library.
Columnist Heather Cori shares, “I was walking the tall aisles of the heavenly book store, Powell’s, when I spotted Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott. Even though I was shopping for Christmas for others, I picked up the hardback and said, ‘I’ll be getting this.’ To me, the topic doesn’t matter because it’s Anne Lamott. Imperfect Birds follows Anne’s two other novels: Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. We pick up when Rosie Ferguson is 17 and from the outside everything is perfect, but on the inside it’s a much different story. Anne opens the first chapter with the line, ‘There are so many evils that pull on our children.’ Rosie uses alcohol, drugs, risk, and her body to make it through her senior year. She lies to her mother and step dad constantly — and to herself. Her parents, Elizabeth and James, struggle to understand and impose consequences in a community where this type of teen behavior is normal. I connected to the theme of friendship in this book as Elizabeth and James reach out to their best friends, Rae and Lank, who listen, counsel, prepare food, and step up when Elizabeth and James make a difficult decision to give Rosie a chance to free herself.”
Kristina Riggle, Fiction Co-Editor, recommends The Last Girls by Lee Smith. “In this novel, readers meet a group of college friends who bonded as suitemates in a writing class and meet again many years later on a Mississippi river cruise to scatter the ashes of one of their own, the wild and emotional Baby Ballou, whose death may not have been an accident. The book is across two timelines — their college days and present day — and explores the varying aspects of female friendship in youth and in midlife in all of its wonderful, loving and exasperating forms.”
Creative Non-Fiction Co-Editor, Kate Hass, says, “One of the best books I know about friendship is Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. The novel takes us through the lives of Lydia, a pianist, and her three friends: flighty Esther, focused Nina and Gabrielle, a dancer. As students at Barnard in the 1950’s, they’re just coming into their own as young women, passionate about philosophy and finding their places in the world. Their friendship sees them through the next twenty years, as marriage, work, motherhood and loss shape their lives. I’ve always been particularly taken by Schwartz’s depiction of Lydia’s experience of motherhood and marriage — raw, painful, difficult, constantly evolving but ultimately worthwhile. Schwartz evokes a powerful sense of time and place (NYC from the 50’s through the 80’s) and her ear for dialogue between women is terrific. This wise and compelling novel was a revelation when I read it at twenty; now, in my forties, I always find something new in it.”
Karna Converse, Blog Co Editor, recommends I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women’s Lives by Ellen Goodman and Patricia O’Brien. “Two longtime friends, both successful writers, write a book about what makes their and other longtime friendships work. Both women wrote each chapter, their comments in separate segments. It’s an easy read and one that has you nodding your head in agreement because you ‘know just what they mean.’ ”