Discerning ROAR readers might have noticed that I missed writing this list in March, and for that my apologies. . .
I do intend to make this a monthly column, and each month I’ll highlight ten titles that I believe have pertinence to feminists. As with all of my booklists for various publications, I place titles alphabetically by author—no other privileging is used. Wherever possible, I use links to buy the books from the authors’ own websites—my sneaky way of bypassing the big A and getting you, perhaps to learn a little more about these writers.
by Omar El Akkad
It’s 2074 and the United States is in the middle of a Second Civil War. A teenager named Sarat Chestnut is forced into a displaced persons internment center called—Camp Patience. Yes, this is a dystopian novel, and author El Akkad uses a burning sun and rationed food to signal that genre, but he also signals something radical in his protagonist’s name. “Sarat,” of course, signifies Middle-Eastern heritage, but “Chestnut” is a huge nod to the woman who wrote one of our best civilian chronicals of our “first” Civil War, one Mary Chesnut of South Carolina. But as Sarat tells us about life in the camp, she’s also detailing her apprenticeship at the hands of a radicalized Southerner named Albert Gaines. The results? Chilling. Important.
by Leslie Nneka Arimah
Numerous reviewers have mentioned debut author Arimah’s ability to convey much in very few words, and this line from her bio confirms that: “Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK and grew up wherever her father was stationed for work, which was sometimes Nigeria, sometimes not.” She was born a black woman in an imperialist nation, and raised in a patriarchal economy that occasionally allowed her to live in her country of ethnic origin. Arimah’s stories crisscross the globe but never pay short shrift to her characters’ sadness and hunger, be that hunger for food, for a child, for safety. She also never forgets that many of her characters still live in a society where a girl on the brink of marriage still counts her worth in yams.
by Bethany Ball
Who’da thunk one of this year’s funniest novels would largely take place on an Israeli kibbutz? Bethany Ball’s eponymous characters, Marc and Carolyn Solomon, have rich Los Angeles lives—but it just happens that Marc is an Israeli ex-Navy commando who gets falsely accused of money laundering. Meet Marc’s father, Yakov; his mother, Vivienne; his brother-in-law, Guy Gever; his sister Shira; and several others (if I named them all, we’d be here all day!). The entire family is given to gossip and speculation, and as they apply both to Marc and Carolyn’s situation, we’re treated to an unparalleled view of family paranoia, drama, and even, occasionally, some love and tenderness. Or maybe that’s the whole megillah?
by Eden Collinsworth
New or old, does morality matter at all any more? This is what author Collinsworth, a former publishing executive and a consultant in intercultural communication, sets out to determine in this quest through ethical quagmires. She talks to everyone from a prime minister to a pop star about the meaning of morality, where and when it gets lost, and so on. One of her sharpest and most feminist questions is about “immoral” woman: Are they simply having a better time than other women? And yes, this opens a whole Pandora’s box (note to self: that’s anti-feminist, too) of difficult morality problems, as we attempt to cope with women—and men—who simply refuse to be put in boxes, yet still consider themselves moral.
by Julie Buntin
Just when you think you’ve read every story there is to tell about teenage female friendships, along comes Julie Buntin with a story about two female teenagers so haunting that you can barely remember the names of those other books you’ve read. The title character, I can tell you without spoilers, dies, and dies early, but the echoes her young life leaves for her friend Cat are dizzying in their devastation. The story of these two young women—girls, really—is set in Northern Michigan. This author’s use of her own home landscape truly serves the narrative, with its deep-forest places set so close to suburbia. Even in the backwoods, Marlena lives in the fast lane, and soon Cat will learn that lane is a dangerous one. Stunning.
by Peter Gethers
When Judy Gethers is in her 80s and dying, her son Peter wants to give her a beautifully personal gift: A dinner featuring all of her favorite dishes. This will truly be an extravagant feast, since Judy was a mentor and friend to some of the 20th-century’s most famous chefs, including Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman, and Julia Child. There’s just one problem: Peter doesn’t know how to cook. Fortunately for Judy, and now for the rest of us, he doesn’t let that stop him. Through a series of visits, he learns his mother’s recipes and tips and is able to cook up a wonderful story of food and love. He’s also able to give us a portrait of a woman who was too often behind the scenes in sharing her great gifts for fine cuisine and hospitality.
by Tasoula Georgiou Hadjitofi
“The Munich Case” involved undercover agents making a bust into the Munich apartment of a Turkish smuggler who was suspected of holding looted antiquities. Author Tasoula Hadjitofi, a Greek Cypriot, placed her life on the line to repatriate her country’s sacred treasures lost during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The icons she seeks are not just masterpieces of art, but also important to Orthodox Christian believers in their worship. Tasoula takes on these “merchants of God,” the smugglers, as she navigates the underworld of art trafficking. The Archbishop of Cyprus entrusts her―an ordinary woman, wife, and mother―with the mission. It’s a fascinating tale of faith, determination, and true grit, all from a woman.
by Anne Lamott
You can almost hear a new Leonard Cohen song with that title, right? “Hallelujah Anyway” is Anne Lamott’s call to consciousness, her cri de coeur not just for fellow Christians, but to anyone who needs a reminder that we have to begin by facing the mess, especially “the great big mess of ourselves.” That message may be greeted easily and warmly by the thousands (more?) readers who refer to Lamott as “Annie” and already love her “I’m Broken, You’re Broken” philosophy—but even if you’re not among the Annie-ites, this slim volume may sound a note your heart can hear, because Lamott mostly focuses on kindness and outreach. “Mercy,” she writes, “is radical kindness.” Forgiving the unforgivable. We can all take note, and take heart.
by Dani Shapiro
I recently wrote about Dani Shapiro’s new memoir for Lit Hub, and I’ll try not to repeat myself here, but oh wow, is this a terrific book. Yes, Shapiro in her cool beauty is on the cover, but inside she’s anything but cool or beautiful, instead wholly honest about the joys and terrors of a long marriage. In these pages, Shapiro refers to her spouse only as “M.,” but that is the only shorthand in use: She truly reckons with her husband and their union, opening all of the doors and windows and yes, drawers, of their shared lives in order to examine how what can be our most important bond is shaped by and changes through forces including, but not limited to, time and memory. I will repeat this much: I think this book is already a classic.
by Stephanie Powell Watts
Like boats against the current, we’re constantly beaten back to “The Great Gatsby” in American literature—and perhaps that’s because F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel deals so closely and incisively with American striving and social class. Stephanie Powell Watts takes the bones of “Gatsby” and re-inters them in working-class African-American North Carolina. There’s no Nick Carraway (unless you count Daisy/Ava’s mother Sylvia), but there is a Jay Gatsby, one JJ Ferguson, a local boy who has made good in furniture and built a new mansion up Brushy Mountain Road. The novel shows what contemporary black Americans are allowed to want, taught to want, and its language is nothing short of breathtaking.
Bethanne Patrick is the Co-Executive Editor for ROAR, a position she has been training for since childhood, when she organized games of “newsroom” in her basement, and always made the assignments. When she’s not emailing Sarah and Jeet, she can be found reviewing books for The Washington Post and NPR, acting as a contributing editor at Lit Hub, and working on her novel. Just kidding–she’s usually reading, which is why she is also the Books & Media editor for ROAR. Patrick is on the board of the National Book Critics Circle.