Our editors’ picks for this reading list just happen to be books that depict women in memorable and convincing ways. Although I’m not currently in the midst of any such book myself, reading these reviews put me in mind of one of my favorite novels by one of my favorite writers: Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle. Pym has often been compared to Jane Austen for her quiet books about the mundane dramas of life in an English country village. Pym has a particular talent, however, for capturing middle-aged women, whose maturity is more complicated than youth. Although she started writing Some Tame Gazelle when she was a student at Oxford in the 1930’s, its chief protagonists are two unmarried sisters in the vicinity of 50. The book is wry and delightfully funny, written with an economy that highlights Pym’s gentle and erudite humor. It is also deeply poignant, as Harriet and Belinda, with different degrees of self-awareness, navigate lives that seem so firmly linked and comfortably set, yet which still offer the tantalizing possibility of belated change.
Editor-in-Chief Caroline Grant writes, “I just finished Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland and I’m going to be thinking about it for a while. The novel follows a pair of twin sisters, moving back and forth between their childhood and adult lives in St. Louis. Vi is single and childless; her twin, Kate, is a married mother of two young children. Both of them have what they call ‘senses’ — ESP — but when she became a mother, Kate (always ambivalent about this ‘gift’) tries hard to shut herself off from these premonitions and thus, in ways, shuts herself off from her twin. There’s a lot (probably too much) going on in the novel — Vi’s premonition of an earthquake (and subsequent 15 minutes of fame); a child’s abduction; difficult family and marital issues — but what will really stay with me are the little details about Vi and Kate’s relationship: their in-jokes, their inadvertent (and intentional) insults, the shared history they alternately cherish and reject. I’m not a twin, but the sisters in Sisterland rang true for me.”
Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-Editor, recommends another work of fiction that rings true: “Before reading Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator's Wife, I had a vague notion of Anne Morrow Lindbergh as the wife of Charles, the author of inspirational essays and poetry, and a Nazi sympathizer. Benjamin imagines another Anne: a woman who was torn between her children and her famous but distant and demanding husband, an aviator to rival Amelia Earhart (or perhaps even exceed, as Anne was a skilled navigator, as well as a capable pilot, whereas Amelia relied on Fred Noonan), and a dedicated writer. By the time I finished this book, I had grown to respect Anne as never before. This novel also made me want to seek out more of the original writings of this literary mama extraordinaire.”