Jonathan Franzen’s Purity might be the most talked-about new release in the book world this fall, which is well and good -- his novel about naive, youthful attempts to lead morally pure lives is fun, if flawed.
But there are plenty of other brilliant reads to add to your shelves this season, especially if you’re seeking out novels, memoirs or fascinating non-fiction deep-dives by women. Assuming your book club has already voted to read Elena Ferrante in the near future, here are a few more fantastic new books by women to keep on your radar.
Negroland by Margo Jefferson
Jefferson offers her own unique perspective on race in America, through the eyes of a girl who was raised in a financially well-off black community, alongside her father, a successful doctor, and her mother, a socialite. Jefferson also reflects on the burgeoning feminist movement, and the movement for black women's inclusion in it.
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth
If you think Lena Dunham and friends’ exploits on “Girls” are wild and wildly unrealistic, Unsworth might not be the best bet for you. In the vein of Emily Gould’s Friendship and other books that question where the threshold between youthful partying and irresponsible adulthood should be, Animals follows a couple of party-crazy friends. Laura plans to jump straight from her all-consuming best friendship into marriage; Tyler, however, will do anything to stop her.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
A travelogue by Gloria Steinem promises to be -- well, not your average travelogue. Less than revealing the intricacies of cities through the eyes of a visitor, Steinem employs her token optimism to write about traveling as a radical act. “The road is messy in the way that real life is messy,” writes Steinem, the activist who paved the way for so many other women writers and thinkers.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson, the very funny blogger-turned-writer of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, a book of “mostly true” essays, has done it again. In her latest book, she chronicles her own dealings with depression in anxiety -- but does so by relating life events with dry humor. Part mantra collection, part meandering narrative, it’s a refreshing addition to literature about mental illness.
The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship by Marilyn Yalom
As the author of The History of the Wife and How the French Invented Love, Marilyn Yalom is adept at taking vast historical themes. There may be no one better, then, to survey the recorded history of female friendship. BFFs are having somewhat of a moment in literature right now, so Yalom’s books adds some nonfictional context to stories like Elena Ferrante’s series and Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.
The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams
Williams’ pithy prose cuts to the bone. Rarely does she dress her acclaimed stories up in fancy prose; instead, she focuses on the perplexing psychology underlying our basic choices and motivations. The Visiting Privilege is her first short story collection in over a decade, and it’s well worth the wait.
Vertigo by Joanna Walsh
From the publisher that unearthed the brilliant and now-lauded Nell Zink comes another slim work of fiction as strange as it is compelling. Vertigo is a funny, absurd collection of stories that Jeff VanderMeer says “packs a wallop into a very small space.” Walsh writes about the way a woman’s body shifts into something incomprehensible during pregnancy with a dizzying intensity, the effect of which is described aptly by the book’s title.
Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
Remember Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”? The story was packaged with the inflammatory tagline: “the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.” Regardless of which side of her argument you fall on, its worth checking out her book-length examination of the state of feminism today.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
You’ve probably read more than one dystopian novel in the last year or so; avoiding them has become a challenge. But Claire Vaye Watkins is very aware of the genre’s pervasiveness -- her characters act like characters who’ve read too many dystopian novels to be surprised by the state of their affairs. With stunning, earthy prose she follows a couple as they attempt to bring up a child they found while avoiding a terrifying, rapidly growing sand dune that’s slowly conquering the American West. Yes, it’s as weird -- and as wonderful -- as it sounds.
You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent
Alida Nugent wears her feminist badge proudly, an act that sometimes gets in the way of making fast friends at parties. But, as the title of her latest book implies, she’s not too concerned with what you think about how she identifies. In a mature follow-up to her first book, Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse, Nugent explores what being a feminist means today. Buy it for the badass, Georgia O’Keeffe inspired cover, keep it for the keen insights.
M Train by Patti Smith
With her album “Horses,” Patti Smith proved her ability to put poetry to music. With her recent memoir Just Kids, she demonstrated just how versatile of a writer she is, snagging a National Book Award along the way. Her latest book, M Train, is another worthy addition to her impressive body of work, beginning on a tender note: “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.”
Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser
An ode to the fragmented nature of so many female friendships -- one moment you’re super-close, the next you’re bickering over shared crushes and outfits -- Glaser’s debut novel is the story of two dramatic and in-love art school kids, who continually fall just short of connecting. For anyone who adored this year’s “Diary of a Teenage Girl” or the raw humor of “Broad City,” this one’s a must-read.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Groff’s latest book has been called a “literary Gone Girl,” probably because it tells the story of a marriage from two perspectives -- first, the husband, Lotto’s, next, the wife, Mathilde’s. But Groff’s stunning story is much more than the sum of its plot twists -- she writes with dazzling language not just about what makes a marriage difficult, but what makes it successful, too.
Chelsea Girls: a Novel by Eileen Myles
Myles is primarily a poet, so she’s got a dazzling command of language, and writes with a frankness that’s tough to ignore. Her coming-of-age book, Chelsea Girls, isn’t new, but it was re-released this fall. In addition to her poems, Myles is none for her blunt remarks about gender and writing -- with humor, she speaks out against writers like Frank O’Hara for propping up the self-image of inspired, lazy genius. If that kind of truth-spinning appeals to you, read Chelsea Girls.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Dystopia is sort of Margaret Atwood’s schtick. As a master of the genre, she’s proven her ability to reveal the problematic direction we might be headed in as a culture without sacrificing the twists and turns of a great story. Her latest book might be cynical -- it is, as we write in our review of it, “peopled by the kind of of fatally flawed, pitiable remnants of humanity we all secretly fear to see in ourselves” -- but if it helps usher in change, we’re for it.
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