Writers are given tons of advice on, well, how to write. Write something every day, we’re told (does my Target shopping list count?); keep plenty of pencils handy for comments, edits, and notations that come to you in the middle of the night (how about for putting my hair up in a bun because it just looks so cute?); write what you know (I know that if I can’t get past this chapter I’m working on, the characters are going to get it).
And this one – one I stand by verbatim – read. Read, read, read.
I find that reading wonderful novels – and even some not-so-great ones – is a terrific way for me to feel inspired. Knowing that other writers have crafted stories that work keeps my creative fires burning. Reading is also one of the few things that relaxes me and uncrunches my brain so that I can later focus more clearly on my own work. Reading others’ work allows my own work to flow.
I read a lot (a lot, a lot). Most of what I read is fiction, and most of that fiction is written by women. Before you assume I’m talking about “chick lit” – don’t go there. Do not even get me started on how much I detest that categorization, both for how it labels the women who enjoy those stories – chicks? really? – and for the way it minimizes those mostly light and breezy novels with a marketing executive’s stamp designed to make those books sell. (Ugh. Just ugh.) My favorite books have an engaging (whether strong or vulnerable – or both) female main character, unusual adventures or life challenges, strongly drawn relationships (friendship, marriage, it’s all good), and interesting locations. Some qualify as literature; others are sweet and funny; but all of them make me feel enriched and satisfied after reading them.
So, for those of you who may be curious, what follows is a collection of some of my favorite women writers and some of their work. Note that this is just a sampling (remember, I read a lot, a lot). To wit:
Anne Tyler: French Braid; Redhead by the Side of the Road; A Spool of Blue Thread; Clock Dance; Digging to America; Vinegar Girl (in short, if she writes it, I’ll read it)
Anne Rivers Siddons: Burnt Mountain; Islands; Outer Banks; Off Season; Up Island (exceptional fiction from a preeminent Southern writer)
Rona Jaffe: The Best of Everything (a classic); The Other Woman
Lily King: (an original voice in today’s fiction) The Pleasing Hour; Euphoria; Writers & Lovers; Five Tuesdays in Winter (I’m in the midst of this one now)
Alice Hoffman: (I’m a big fan) The Marriage of Opposites; The World That We Knew; The Dovekeepers; The Red Garden
Ruth Reichl (former food critic for The New York Times and former editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine): Tender at the Bone; Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise; Comfort Me With Apples; Save Me the Plums (all exceptions to my “mostly non-fiction rule); Delicious! (this one is fiction)
Elizabeth Berg: The Year of Pleasures and most everything else she has written
Jhumpa Lahiri: The Namesake; The Interpreter of Maladies; Unaccustomed Earth (masterfully written, moving novels – or short stories in the last title – with Indian families and culture at the core)
Laurie Colwin: (an absolute jewel of a writer) Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (warm and wonderful non-fiction); Happy All the Time; Another Marvelous Thing (novels)
Abbi Waxman (she writes delightfully quirky characters just trying to get through their delightfully quirky lives): The Bookish Life of Nina Hill; The Garden of Small Beginnings; Other People’s Houses; I Was Told It Would Get Easier; Adult Assembly Required (currently on my nightstand)
Paula McClain: Circling the Sun; The Paris Wife; Love and Ruin (marvelous historical fiction)
Erica Bauermeister: The Scent Keeper (absolutely gorgeous writing); The Lost Art of Mixing; The School of Essential Ingredients
Again, this is only a partial list because this blog post can’t go on forever (even though I wish it could). Summer is starting, so if you’re looking for a wonderful book (or five) to take on vacation, or to the beach, or just to your favorite reading corner, perhaps you’ll find something here to pique your interest. (Unabashed plug: if reading about women whose art is their heart and whose heart is their art – combined with mermaids and mahjong and magic and mystery – sounds enchanting, check out the first novel by yours truly.)
I believe that reading is indisputably one of life’s great pleasures. I believe that books are the best gift ever and that bookstores are national treasures. And I believe that one of the most delightful sounds in the world is that of a page turning.
©2022 Claudia Grossman