This is a list of reads—new and old—to keep you enchanted during those brilliant sunsets as they approach earlier and softer. Think romance, times of war, butternut squash in your favorite rust-colored bowl and a leafy green blanket that barely covers your feet as you sink into these page-turners:
DRAMAS ABOUT LOVE WITH A STRONG FEMALE LEAD; Or “Netflix Literature”
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel; novel
A sumptuous tale of unrequited love and the chaos of wartimes, Esquivel intimately weaves the story of Tita with recipes that nourish and entice. How does “quail in a rose petal sauce” sound? Tita, who at first may seem to be a damsel in distress, is actually an enviable sorceress in the kitchen. In a beautiful metaphor for her strength and quiet protest, Tita can only express her feelings through the meals she prepares causing all who eat it to feel with her. Talk about food for the soul.
This is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz; short stories
Yunior, the character who narrates Diaz’s prize-winning novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is back again to show us what he’s made of—heartbreak, self-determination, a deep desire to know love, and an impressive mastery of cusswords. While not quite a “strong female lead,” as you read these cutting narratives, it will be quite apparent to you just how strong the women in Yunior’s life can (and must) be.
Birds of America – Lorrie Moore; short stories
In a word, this collection is “witty.” In several words, it is the devilishly intelligent and humorous narration of various women at their most desperate and relatable wit’s end.
TELLING IT LIKE IT IS: Nonfiction Straight From The Heart
Just Kids – Patti Smith; memoir
Musician/poet Patti Smith’s bittersweet account of her truly boundless friendship with photographer/artist Robert Mapplethorpe is a story for lovers, creatives, urbanites and outcasts alike. From their first encounter in an apartment in Manhattan in 1969 to their last at a hospital bed in 1989, you will intrinsically feel the tenderness of their inspiringly resilient love.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot; biography/science writing
Talk about immortal, this is Skloot’s lovingly researched account of one women’s historical cells and their infinite effect on the world of science. Henrietta Lacks was one of the many hospital-bound African-Americans in United States during the 1940s and 50s whose cells were studied and tested without consent. Lacks’ cells, however, had a notable and previously unheard of ability to duplicate and survive, forever changing the lives of scientists, cancer patients, students and—eventually—her own family.
Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood – Judith Ortiz Cofer; memoir
This collection of narratives and poetry is a deliberately honest self-investigation best summed up by the Virginia Woolf quote used to introduce them: A woman writing thinks back through her mothers. Cofer presents her childhood through the stories passed down to her while unabashedly exposing the cultural stigmas and realities of classism, racism and sexism in 1960s Puerto Rico and New Jersey.
STORIES TO SPEND A SEASON WITH: Lengthy Novels That Will Make You Forget Where You Are
The Wind-up Bird Chronicles – Haruki Murakami; novel
Toru Okada spends the better part of this book searching: for his estranged wife, missing cat, mysterious wells, bizarre new acquaintances and—more significantly—answers. The question, however, is something that the reader will only come to understand as multiple tales—including a historical sidebar grippingly drawn out in letters from an old solider—unfold and captivate.
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez; novel
Possibly the most magical novel ever written, enchanting as a sky so drenched with stars that you are completely lost in them—imagining (and keeping track of multiple timeframes and family members). This is what Marquez’s narrative—rich with odd characters, evocative metaphors and a family secret—will do to you as you follow the Buendia family tree through Macondo.
The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America – Luis Alberto Urrea; novel
These rigorously researched companion novels offer the reader a decadent introduction to turn-of-the-century America (that’s including Mexico, of course), the Mexican Revolution, and—most significantly—the tale of Teresita, an unlikely saint whose courage and tenacity defies liturgical mystery.
BOOKS WITH PICTURES
Embroideries – Marjane Satrapi; graphic memoir
Another transcendent look into Iranian life and womanhood from the author of Persepolis. This is a hilarious and touching series of confessional tales from the women who come together in Satrapi’s grandmother’s house to convalesce about body image, sex, love and marriage. You will sail through this but not without an inventive cache of thoughtful images to ponder.
Vietnamerica – GB Tran; graphic memoir
Tran’s book is a masterful telling and illustration of his family’s story through the backdrop of his first trip to Vietnam, with a significant insider’s perspective of the Vietnam War. He and his parents make the trip after the death of his grandfather, and along the way he’s made privy to a history he didn’t know was his: family stories he had never heard, relatives he had never met, and foods he had never—maybe for the better—tried. It is equal parts informative, funny, and visually stunning.
Fun Home: A Tragicomic – Alison Bechdel; graphic memoir
This is the first of two graphic memoirs in which Bechdel reaches back through recollections of her parents to tell her own story. This dark tale does “coming of age” and “coming out” right with plenty of stirring plot twists and a most sincere attempt at understanding and forgiveness.