I have an absolute treat for you today. I’m thrilled to welcome to the blog Jennifer Close, author of Girls in White Dresses and The Smart One. Jennifer’s kindly written about her favourite books by female writers and they’re corkers.
TOP 5 BOOKS BY WOMEN
Trying to narrow down my five favorite books is nearly impossible! Whenever someone asks me for book recommendations, I always end up rattling off a long list and then following up days later as I remember more fantastic novels. Below are some of my very favorites!
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank has been a favorite of mine for so many years. I first heard about it from a writing teacher in college and fell in love with the writing style and the characters. My copy is very well worn from reading it so many times. It’s just fantastic!
Maine by Courtney Sullivan combines family drama with a beach setting in Maine…what more could you ask for? It’s written from the perspective of four different women in the Kelleher family, and one of those books where the characters feel so real that you find yourself thinking about them well after you’ve finished the book.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld is a boarding school novel, which is a subject that I love. There’s something fascinating about the setting and the rules (spoken and unspoken) of boarding schools. The narrator’s voice is wonderful and simple and you won’t be able to put it down.
The Dive From Claussen’s Pier by Ann Packer is a book that I read for the first time in grad school. There’s so many things I love about it—the setting (Madison, WI) is described so well, and as a reader you’re able to picture all the little details of the town from the shops to the restaurants to the houses. It’s also a love story, but an unusual one, and it feels very real. The last thing that’s so impressive is that on the first page, Packer manages to immediately create tension in a relationship and you’re swept up in the story as soon as you start it.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is the only one on my list that isn’t a novel. This is a memoir/writing instruction book that I read in college. It changed the way that I viewed writing and my approach to it. I used to always get frustrated when I started to put a story down on paper, and feel like if I was struggling through a first draft that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer. I thought I was the only one who felt this way. But Lamott describes the life of a writer, the challenges and frustrations and the crazy thoughts that we all have. Reading this book made me feel like I wasn’t alone, like I could keep writing. I reread it all the time and teach it to my fiction class at George Washington University. If you love writing, it is a must read.
Thanks to Jennifer for such a great list. I don’t know about you, but I’ve just added several of those to my TBR. While you’re visiting a book shop, there’s another book you might want to add to the list, Jennifer’s latest The Smart One.
Claire Coffey, 29, NYC office worker is in trouble. Having split up with fiancé, Doug, she’s remained in the apartment they shared although she can’t afford it on her own.
She probably shouldn’t be ordering out, considering her money situation, but what difference did twenty more dollars on her credit card really make at this point? The credit card balance was so high, so unbelievable, that she was able to ignore it most of the time, to pretend there was no way she’d spent that much in the past six months. It just wasn’t possible.
Eventually, Claire has to come to terms with the fact she’s going to lose the apartment and the only real solution she has is to move home.
Already living back at home is Claire’s sister, Martha, 30. Martha’s a manager at a branch of J.Crew. She works hard, considering her job to be as important as any other. It’s a point of pride for her, so much so that when one of her employees quits unexpectedly, she says, ‘I hate it here…You’re like a Nazi’. Martha’s a registered nurse but she quit, moved back home and started seeing a therapist when it began to cause her anxiety:
She would lie awake for hour, wondering if she’d done everything she was supposed to. Had she given all of her patients their medications? Had she measured right? Had she filled out their charts? She was sure she was killing her patients, and that kept her awake, always.
And then there’s their younger brother, Max, college student, apple of their mother’s eye. Although his stunning girlfriend, Cleo, is not so popular with the rest of the family.
Weezy was immediately worried that she was too much for Max. She wanted Max to date someone just a little less stunning, someone who didn’t seem like she would break his heart so easily. And so, although Cleo seemed perfectly polite and nice, Weezy prayed every day that they would break up.
Weezy aka Louise Keller, got her nickname when she met Will, her husband, when they were freshmen. Weezy was a teacher for a year but hated it and wasn’t sorry to give it up when she became pregnant with Claire. Although she’s had jobs on and off since, she prefers being at home, organising the kids and her husband. Will is a lecturer whose had some success with a book in the 1980s which he’s now attempting to recreate.
The family come with a brilliant supporting cast – Claire’s best friend, Lainie; Weezy’s sister, Maureen and her children Drew and Cathy (and Cathy’s girlfriend, Ruth); Cleo’s mother, Elizabeth, and my favourite, Weezy and Maureen’s mother, Bets, who’s the queen of inappropriate comments and gifts.
The Smart One is the late 19th/early 20th family saga transported to the 21st century. Close considers modern issues of single living, career burnout, women’s choices, and the quarter-life crisis. Every character has a distinct personality/voice and the tensions of having an entire family in the same house are portrayed with skill. This is a novel to immerse yourself in.
Huge thanks to Jennifer Close for the guest post and to Vintage books for the review copy.
Lovely post – I’m quite a fan of Jennifer Close and it’s a delight to find that her five choices are books that I’ve read and enjoyed, all of which points to a trip to a bookshop to buy her latest!
That’s interesting, Susan, as I haven’t read any of them! I have bought them all now though.
I discovered Anne Lamott on a trip to the States and bought several of her novels. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t published here, and I’m not sure she is now.
Hodder & Stoughton publish her here. There’s a new one on the way by the looks of it.
Excellent news! Yet another for the list…
I loved Prep too ….and American Wife was even better. Thanks for yet again adding to the TBR
Sorry, Helen, I always feel bad when you add to your TBR! I’ve only read Sisterland but have Prep and now American Wife (arrived yesterday). Lots of people I trust think very highly of them so I’m very much looking forward to reading.
Great piece Naomi, I love Jennifer Close and have always felt that her writing is underrated and not marketed properly – the novels look like chick lit but should really be in the literary fiction category. I loved THE SMART ONE (although I read an early copy of it which was called ‘THINGS WE NEED’ – they must have changed the title?!) and found the characters to be very sincere and endearing. I was particularly enamoured with Weezy, who kept reminding me of my late grandmother. Have you read FRIENDSHIP by Emily Gould? I think Gould’s writing and female characters are comparable to Jennifer Close – both are brilliant at capturing the nuances and exposing the strange behaviours of female relationships (particularly between siblings/best friends) – like a more intelligent version of GIRLS
I’ve only read one of Jennifer’s top 5 (Melissa Bank) so I will add the others to my reading list immediately. I’ve only just discovered Curtis Sittenfeld (very late to that party!), I adored American Wife and have Sisterland next in the queue
Thanks for the follow Naomi – just realised I was logged in to my old blog, Jazz Age Alice. My proper one is Girl 20 http://girltwenty20.wordpress.com
Sorted! I’ll reply to your original comment when I’m at my laptop later.
Thanks, Alice. Yes, I agree. I remember seeing ‘Girls in White Dresses’ and thinking it would be more commercial until people I knew were literary fiction fans started raving about it. (And yes, the title of her latest book has changed, along with the cover. Don’t know why.) I thought the characters in ‘The Smart One’ were well-rounded. All of them got on my nerves at some point but I had sympathy with them all too.
I haven’t read ‘Friendship’ but I did buy it (and Gould’s collection of essays, ‘And The Heart Says Whatever’) when I saw you talking about it on Twitter. I’m hoping to get to it in the next couple of weeks.
I too was late to Sittenfeld – read ‘Sisterland’ last year and now have both ‘Prep’ and ‘American Wife’ in the pile. I look forward to comparing thoughts.