Book clubs are the best invention since the portable hair dryer. But it's so easy to get stuck in the "what shall we read next?" rut. The Babes have a few ideas of how to get out of that rut with some contemporary classics (a few quietly neglected). All below were chosen because in one way or the other they illuminate the myriad dimensions of the modern woman’s life. Books are listed in no particular order -- six fiction, four non -- and each tells us something about where women are now. For better or worse. Discuss, discuss.
1. “Housekeeping,” by Marilynne Robinson – It’s hard to believe this novel was published in 1980 because the question it poses is still so relevant today: How do you define family?
2. “White Teeth,” by Zadie Smith – Postcolonial London offers a backdrop for this fictional exploration of what it means to be an immigrant and the competing forces that surround assimilation.
3. “”Open Secrets,” by Alice Munro -- Actually, any set of Munro’s stories will do (there is also a volume marked “Selected”), given this Canadian short story writer’s ability to explore the relationships between men and women. This one, first published in 1994, is one of our favorites.
4. “No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Of all the books about this extraordinary couple, we like this one best because of Goodwin’s sensitive and sympathetic rendering of their relationship.
5. “Property,” by Valerie Martin. Toni Morrison lavished praise on this “fresh, unsentimental look at what slaveowning does to (and for) one’s interior life.” The novel’s protagonist, a white lady of the manor, is married to such an ogre that she identifies with the oppressed. This seems like it was written for another era. Not really.
6. “My Life So Far,” by Jane Fonda. Few have mined celebrity as well as Fonda, and in this candid autobiography she discusses both its rewards and costs.
7. “Love in the Driest Season,” by Neely Tucker. An interracial couple working in Africa swoon over an orphaned girl in Zimbabwe and show how love – and the fight to hold on to it – can occur anywhere. This is Tucker’s own story.
8. “The Liars’ Club,” by Mary Karr – This pivotal book helped fuel the memoir craze in the 1990s and shows Karr’s skill at telling the tale of her dysfunctional upbringing without ever saying, “Poor me.”
9. “A Distant Shore,” by Caryl Phillips – In this insightful novel, loneliness closes the cultural gap between a black immigrant and a white woman living in an English subdivision – for a time.
10. “Brooklyn,” by Colm Toibin – No immigrant success story here, just a finely wrought portrait of a young Irish woman who is transformed by her move to America in the 1950s. Leaving home changes you.