The Women We'd Like to Lunch With Book Club
Selections include fiction (and occasionally non-fiction) by women or with a woman character as the primary protagonist, or representing the concerns of women.
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March 2020 Selection: In the vein of Downton Abbey, Jane Austen's beloved but unfinished masterpiece--often considered her most modern and exciting novel--gets a spectacular second act in this tie-in to a major new limited television series.
Written only months before Austen's death in 1817, Sanditon tells the story of the joyously impulsive, spirited and unconventional Charlotte Heywood and her spiky relationship with the humorous, charming (and slightly wild!) Sidney Parker. When a chance accident transports her from her rural hometown of Willingden to the would-be coastal resort of the eponymous title, it exposes Charlotte to the intrigues and dalliances of a seaside town on the make, and the characters whose fortunes depend on its commercial success. The twists and turns of the plot, which takes viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, exposes the hidden agendas of each character and sees Charlotte discover herself... and ultimately find love.
February 2020 Selection: The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work.
These ten women--Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm--are united by what Dean calls "sharpness," the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit. Sharp is a vibrant depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slugging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books. It is also a passionate portrayal of how these women asserted themselves through their writing in a climate where women were treated with extreme condescension by the male-dominated cultural establishment.
Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is a celebration of this group of extraordinary women, an engaging introduction to their works, and a testament to how anyone who feels powerless can claim the mantle of writer, and, perhaps, change the world.
January 2020 Selection: "I really loved all the characters in this book. They're so complex and interesting, and in every story, you'll find them going through these pivotal moments in their lives."--Reese Witherspoon (Reese's Book Club x Hello Sunshine Book Pick)
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PEOPLE AND USA TODAY AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post - NPR - Financial Times - San Francisco Chronicle - New York Public Library - Refinery29
A suburban mother of two fantasizes about the downfall of an old friend whose wholesome lifestyle empire may or may not be built on a lie. A high-powered lawyer honeymooning with her husband is caught off guard by the appearance of the girl who tormented her in high school. A shy Ivy League student learns the truth about a classmate's seemingly enviable life.
November 2019 Selection: A dramatic story of WWII espionage, betrayal, and loyalty, by the #1 bestselling author of Life After LifeIn 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever.
Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.
Transcription is a work of rare depth and texture, a bravura modern novel of extraordinary power, wit and empathy. It is a triumphant work of fiction from one of the best writers of our time.
October 2019 Selection: "A powerful coming-of-age story that looks at ambition, friendship, identity, desire, and power from the much-needed female lens." --Bustle
From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Interestings, comes an electric novel not just about who we want to be with, but who we want to be.
To be admired by someone we admire--we all yearn for this: the private, electrifying pleasure of being singled out by someone of esteem. But sometimes it can also mean entry to a new kind of life, a bigger world.
Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women's movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer--madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can't quite place--feels her inner world light up. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she'd always imagined.
Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Meg Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It's a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.
September 2019 Selection: "Awe inspiring . . . An ardent, original, and beautifully wrought book." --The New York Times Book Review
Lakota Oglala Sioux Nation, South Dakota.
Two Native American cousins, Rick Overlooking Horse and You Choose Watson, are pitted against each other as their tribe is torn apart by infighting. Rick chooses the path of peace and stays; You Choose, violent and unpredictable, strikes out on his own. When he returns, after three decades behind bars, he disrupts the fragile peace and threatens the lives of the entire reservation.
A complex tale that spans generations and geography, Quiet Until the Thaw conjures, with the implications of an oppressed history, how we are bound not just to immediate family but to all who have come before and will come after us, and, most of all, to the notion that everything was always, and is always, connected.
July 2019 Selection: This is almost a love story. But it's not as simple as that.
Ellis and Michael are twelve-year-old boys when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more.
But then we fast-forward a decade or so, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question: What happened in the years between?
With beautiful prose and characters that are so real they jump off the page, Tin Man is a love letter to human kindness and friendship, and to loss and living.
June 2019 Selection: Rick Nagano is a graduate student in the history department at USC, struggling to make rent on his South Los Angeles apartment near the neighborhood where his family once lived. When he lands a job as a research assistant for the elderly Mrs. W--, the heir to an oil fortune, he sees it at first simply as a source of extra cash. But as he grows closer to the iconoclastic, charming, and feisty Mrs. W--, he gets drawn into a world of privilege and wealth far different from his racially mixed, blue-collar beginnings.
Putting aside his half-finished dissertation, Rick sets up office in Mrs. W--'s grand Bel Air mansion and begins to transcribe her journals--which document an old Los Angeles not described in his history books. He also accompanies Mrs. W-- to venues frequented by the descendants of the land and oil barons who built the city. One evening, at an event, he meets Fiona Morgan--the elegant scion of an old steel family--who takes an interest in his studies. Irresistibly drawn to Fiona, he agrees to help her with a project of questionable merit in the hopes he'll win her favor.
A Student of History explores both the beginnings of Los Angeles and the present-day dynamics of race and class. It offers a window into the usually hidden world of high society, and the influence of historic families on current events. Like Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby, it features, in Rick Nagano, a young man of modest means who is navigating a world where he doesn't belong.
May 2019 Selection: Rachel's current troubles--a middle-aged son mining digital currency in her basement, a scientist granddaughter trying to peek into her genes--are only the latest in a litany spanning dozens of countries, scores of marriages, hundreds of children, and 2,000 years, going back to Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Only one person shares her immortality: an illicit lover who pursues her through the ages. But when her children develop technologies that could change her fate, Rachel must find a way out. From ancient religion to the scientific frontier, Dara Horn pits our efforts to make life last against the deeper challenge of making life worth living.
April 2019 Selection: London. A fox makes its way across Waterloo Bridge. The distraction causes two pedestrians to collide--Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes, and Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist there to deliver a keynote speech. From this chance encounter, Aminatta Forna's unerring powers of observation show how in the midst of the rush of a great city lie numerous moments of connection.
Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma, as he has done many times before; and to contact the daughter of friends, his "niece" who hasn't called home in a while. Ama has been swept up in an immigration crackdown, and now her young son Tano is missing.
When, by chance, Attila runs into Jean again, she mobilizes the network of rubbish men she uses as volunteer fox spotters. Security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens--mainly West African immigrants who work the myriad streets of London--come together to help. As the search for Tano continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.
Meanwhile a consulting case causes Attila to question the impact of his own ideas on trauma, the values of the society he finds himself in, and a grief of his own. In this delicate tale of love and loss, of cruelty and kindness, Forna asks us to consider the interconnectedness of lives, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures, and the true nature of happiness.
March 2019 Selection: Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, Asymmetry explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice. The first section, "Folly," tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, "Folly" also suggests an aspiring novelist's coming-of-age. By contrast, "Madness" is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda.
A stunning debut from a rising literary star, Asymmetry is "a transgressive roman a clef, a novel of ideas, and a politically engaged work of metafiction" ( The New York Times Book Review), and a "masterpiece" in the original sense of the word" ( The Atlantic). Lisa Halliday's novel will captivate any reader with while also posing arresting questions about the very nature of fiction itself.
February 2019 Selection: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes delivers a remarkable story of science history: how a ravishing film star and an avant-garde composer invented spread-spectrum radio, the technology that made wireless phones, GPS systems, and many other devices possible.
Beginning at a Hollywood dinner table, Hedy's Folly tells a wild story of innovation that culminates in U.S. patent number 2,292,387 for a "secret communication system." Along the way Rhodes weaves together Hollywood's golden era, the history of Vienna, 1920s Paris, weapons design, music, a tutorial on patent law and a brief treatise on transmission technology. Narrated with the rigor and charisma we've come to expect of Rhodes, it is a remarkable narrative adventure about spread-spectrum radio's genesis and unlikely amateur inventors collaborating to change the world.
January 2019 Selection: n such acclaimed novels as The Photograph, Family Album, and How It All Began, Penelope Lively has captivated readers with her singular blend of wisdom, elegance, and humor. Now, in her first story collection in decades, Lively takes up themes of history, family, and relationships across varied and vividly rendered settings.
In the title story, a Mediterranean purple swamp hen chronicles the secrets and scandals of Quintus Pompeius's villa, culminating with his narrow escape from the lava and ash of Vesuvius. "Abroad" captures the low point of an artist couple's tumultuous European road trip, trapped in a remote Spanish farmhouse and forced to paint a family mural and pitch in with chores to pay for repairs to their broken-down car. Other stories reveal friends and lovers in fateful moments of indiscretion, discovery, and even retribution--as in "The Third Wife," when a woman learns her husband is a serial con artist and turns a house-hunting trip into an elaborately staged revenge trap.
Each of these delightful stories is elevated by Lively's signature graceful prose and eye for the subtle yet powerfully evocative detail. Wry, charming, and keenly insightful, The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories is a masterful achievement from one of our most beloved writers.
November 2018 Selection: A witty new novel about three self-proclaimed "old bags" who run off to a Greek island
Since their children left home, Ruth, Dania, and Bess have grown used to living wonderfully free lives. Only now they're beset by children again--this time, their grandchildren. In order to escape, they decide to run away to Greece together for a year.
At first, settled on a glorious island, barefoot and contented, they think they've rediscovered the wheel. But then things begin to go awry. Dionysus, a local poet, takes up with Bess, at least until his wife gets wind of things. Dania, a therapist, is being stalked by one of her patients. And Ruth's ex-lover turns up out of the blue, closely followed by the man who lost Bess her fortune. It doesn't help when the children and grandchildren also start turning up whenever they feel like it. As Bess writes in one of Ruth's weekly "Granny à Go Go" columns, this is not an Enchanted April sort of year.
Lynn Freed's previous novels have received rave reviews everywhere from The New York Times Book Review ("Makes us laugh while packing, finally, a punch"), to the Los Angeles Times Book Review ("Deeply absorbing and ambitious . . . Astonishingly vivid"). In The Last Laugh she returns with a beautifully written and funny novel about money, sex, friendship, and the pleasures and perils of children.
October 2018 Selection: Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Two old friends--Daniel, a centenarian, and Elisabeth, born in 1984--look to both the future and the past as the United Kingdom stands divided by a historic, once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand-in-hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.
A luminous meditation on the meaning of richness and harvest and worth, Autumn is the first installment of Ali Smith's Seasonal quartet, and it casts an eye over our own time: Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art. Wide-ranging in time-scale and light-footed through histories, Autumn is an unforgettable story about aging and time and love--and stories themselves.
September 2018 Selection: An uproarious novel ("Both heart-piercing and, crucially, very funny." --Louise Erdrich, The New York Times) from the celebrated author of Single, Carefree, Mellow about the challenges of a good marriage, the delight and heartache of raising children, and the irresistible temptation to wonder about the path not taken.
When Graham Cavanaugh divorced his first wife it was to marry his girlfriend, Audra, a woman as irrepressible as she is spontaneous and fun. But, Graham learns, life with Audra can also be exhausting, constantly interrupted by chatty phone calls, picky-eater houseguests, and invitations to weddings of people he's never met. Audra firmly believes that through the sheer force of her personality she can overcome the most socially challenging interactions, shepherding her son through awkward playdates and origami club, and even deciding to establish a friendship with Graham's first wife, Elspeth. Graham isn't sure he understands why Audra longs to be friends with the woman he divorced. After all, former spouses are hard to categorize--are they enemies, old flames, or just people you know really, really well? And as Graham and Audra share dinners, holidays, and late glasses of wine with his first wife he starts to wonder: How can anyone love two such different women? Did I make the right choice? Is there a right choice? A hilarious and rueful debut novel of love, marriage, infidelity, and origami, Standard Deviation never deviates from the superb.
August 2018 Selection: She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy's to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, "in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it."
Now it's the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It's chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now--her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl--but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed--and has not.
A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.
Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young.
July 2018 Selection: In her "dry, delightful fairy tale for grown-ups" (People), celebrated novelist Marcy Dermansky offers a biting exploration of a woman's search for self-realization and models of a life well lived. When Leah's former boss and mentor, Judy, dies in an accident and leaves Leah her most prized possession--a flashy red sports car--the shock forces Leah to reevaluate her whole life. Leah is living in Queens with a husband she doesn't love and a list of unfulfilled ambitions. Returning to San Francisco to claim the mysteriously powerful car, she revisits past lives and loves in several sprawling days colored by sex and sorrow.
Dermansky evokes an edgy, capricious, and beautifully haunting heroine--one whose search for realization is as wonderfully unpredictable and hypnotic as the twists and turns of the Pacific Coast Highway. Tautly wound, transgressive, and mordantly funny, The Red Car is an incisive exploration of one woman's unusual route to self-discovery.
June 2018 Selection: An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love.
When Cora Seaborne's brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one. Wed at nineteen, this woman of exceptional intelligence and curiosity was ill-suited for the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space in the wake of the funeral, Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year old son, Francis, and the boy's nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend.
While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year's Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief.
These seeming opposites who agree on nothing soon find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart--an intense relationship that will change both of their lives in ways entirely unexpected.
May 2018 Selection: In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.
In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.
In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna's parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.
Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act "civilized." Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.
Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember--strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become--in the eyes of the law--a kidnapper himself.
April 2018 Selection: An ambitious, exuberant new novel moving from North West London to West Africa, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty.
Two brown girls dream of being dancers--but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It's a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.
Tracey makes it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life, while her friend leaves the old neighborhood behind, traveling the world as an assistant to a famous singer, Aimee, observing close up how the one percent live.
But when Aimee develops grand philanthropic ambitions, the story moves from London to West Africa, where diaspora tourists travel back in time to find their roots, young men risk their lives to escape into a different future, the women dance just like Tracey--the same twists, the same shakes--and the origins of a profound inequality are not a matter of distant history, but a present dance to the music of time.
March 2018 Selection: Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life--but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father's college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work "with both the heart and the hands." She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
February 2018 Selection: Within these fourteen hilarious and insightful tales of urban life, you'll meet:
- Raiford Phelps, an ornithologist who discovers new patterns of animal behavior when he meets Mary Leibnitz.
- Benno Morna, a temporary bachelor, free to indulge in TV, junk food, and Greenie Frenzel when his wholesome wife is out of town.
- Vincent Cadworthy and Guido Morris, whose elegant friendship is suddenly disrupted by Misty Berkowitz.
- Elizabeth Bayard, whose passion for order and civility does constant battle with her unruly loves.
- They are buffeted by the pressures of their jobs, imposed upon by their families and their surroundings, and remain ever hopeful of making sense of their lives. With compassion and biting wit, Laurie Colwin has created a new sort of comedy of manners.
January 2018 Selection: Mary Frances "Frankie" Lombard is fiercely in love with her family's sprawling apple orchard and the tangled web of family members who inhabit it. Content to spend her days planning capers with her brother William, competing with her brainy cousin Amanda, and expertly tending the orchard with her father, Frankie desires nothing more than for the rhythm of life to continue undisturbed. But she cannot help being haunted by the historical fact that some family members end up staying on the farm and others must leave. Change is inevitable, and threats of urbanization, disinheritance, and college applications shake the foundation of Frankie's roots. As Frankie is forced to shed her childhood fantasies and face the possibility of losing the idyllic future she had envisioned for her family, she must decide whether loving something means clinging tightly or letting go. A new classic from the author of Oprah's Book Club picks A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth.
November 2017 Selection: Pulitzer Prize winner and American master Anne Tyler brings us an inspired, witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies.
Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she's always in trouble at work - her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don't always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.
Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There's only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.
When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he's relying - as usual - on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he's really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men's touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?