My Summer 2017 TBR list started out with all of the same books, but an entirely different theme: Books I Always Wanted to Read. Some have been on my Amazon wishlist for ages; some are books that, as an English major, I probably should have already read; others are recommendations from friends and family that I just never got around to picking up.
But as I read the list over, I realized these books all had other things in common. First of all, they were all written by women. And secondly, there seemed to be similar themes woven through all of them: those of self-discovery, self-doubt, adventure, and the importance of making space for yourself, wherever you are.
As I thought about my summer plans, this began to make a lot of sense. My current job, which I started right out of college, ends in a couple weeks. Soon I’ll say goodbye to the sleepy college town in Ohio where I’ve lived for the past 5 years, and head for the bright lights of New York, where I’ll be gainfully fun-employed for a little while. My relationship is now officially long distance, my friends are scattered around the country, and everything’s weird and wonderful and scary and exciting.
Now that you know way more about me than you ever wanted to, I’ll apologize and wrap this up! But I realized that I gravitated towards these books about women who are trying, for lack of a better phrase, to “find themselves.” It’s a messy, involved process, but it’s comforting to know that other people have gone through their own major transitions and documented them in funny, frank, and creative ways. So here’s the new Summer 2017 TBR: Women Finding Their Way. I hope that by arming myself with their words and experiences, my own journey will feel a little less daunting.
The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
Synopsis: An intrepid voyage out to the frontiers of the latest thinking about love, language, and family, The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of “autotheory” offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of author Maggie Nelson‘s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes Nelson’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.
Thoughts: I loved Nelson’s book of poetry Bluets, and have been super excited to read the rest of her work. I’ve heard The Argonauts weaves poetry, prose, theory, and other forms of writing in an unconventional and innovative way, creating a memoir that is utterly unique in form and content. Nelson also wrote incredibly richly and honestly about love and sex in Bluets, and I’m really intrigued to read her account of her love story with her husband.
I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron
Synopsis: With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.
The woman who brought us When Harry Met Sally and the author of best sellers Heartburn, Scribble Scribble, and Crazy Salad, discusses everything–from how much she hates her purse to how much time she spends attempting to stop the clock: the hair dye, the treadmill, the lotions and creams that promise to slow the aging process but never do. Oh, and she can’t stand the way her neck looks. But her dermatologist tells her there’s no quick fix for that.
Ephron chronicles her life as an obsessed cook, passionate city dweller, and hapless parent. She recounts her anything-but-glamorous days as a White House intern during the JFK years (“I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House that the President did not make a pass at”) and shares how she fell in and out of love with Bill Clinton–from a distance, of course. But mostly she speaks frankly and uproariously about life as a woman of a certain age.
Thoughts: I LOVE Nora Ephron. When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I recently binge-watched the two classic Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks films she wrote, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. I’ve always thought her screenwriting was incredibly sharp and laugh-out-loud funny, but I’ve never actually read her writing, so I thought this witty and notoriously honest book of essays would be a great place to start. I may not be able to relate with tales of menopause and marriage, but that doesn’t matter—I’m beyond excited to get lost in this legendary funny woman’s brain for a few hours.
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
Synopsis: A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf. First published on 24 October 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay, in fact, employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled Women and Fiction, and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction. The essay is generally seen as a feminist text and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.
Thoughts: I know, I know, I know—I really should have read this one already. It’s an essay, for God’s sake, not even a full book. I even own two separate copies of it, as multiple people have gifted it to me. I think they were inclined to give it to me because, despite never reading it, having a room of my own has always been very, very important to me. Especially in times of transition, settling into a private space and making it mine has always helped me to feel more productive and in touch with myself. I can’t wait to finally sit down and finish this essay—I have this feeling that it will be a very moving read.
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, Sylvia Plath
Synopsis: A major literary event—the complete, uncensored journals of Sylvia Plath, published in their entirety for the first time.
Sylvia Plath‘s journals were originally published in 1982 in a heavily abridged version authorized by Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes. This new edition is an exact and complete transcription of the diaries Plath kept during the last twelve years of her life. Sixty percent of the book is material that has never before been made public, more fully revealing the intensity of the poet’s personal and literary struggles, and providing fresh insight into both her frequent desperation and the bravery with which she faced down her demons. The Complete Journals of Sylvia Plath is essential reading for all who have been moved and fascinated by Plath’s life and work.
Thoughts: During my senior year of college, three of my friends put on an incredible play they devised using the journals and poetry of Plath to tell her life story. They did an incredible amount of research and walked around with annotated copies of her journals for almost an entire year. The project really piqued my interested in Plath as a woman and human, and not just as a writer, which is why I wanted to delve into her personal journals first, before eventually getting to her poetry and fiction. I’m really drawn to the fact that someone so singularly talented and brilliant as Plath so openly expressed her fears, struggles, and vulnerabilities, and in such beautiful and clear ways. This book will definitely be an undertaking, but I’m eager to learn more about this fascinating woman.
The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy
Synopsis: The Dud Avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. Edith Wharton and Henry James wrote about the American girl abroad, but it was Elaine Dundy’s Sally Jay Gorce who told us what she was really thinking. Charming, sexy, and hilarious, The Dud Avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living. — Goodreads
Thoughts: I found out about this novel through the wonderful website Girls at Library, which features interviews with women about the literature that has shaped their lives. Haley Boyd, a creative director, recommended this in her interview and I was immediately sold. Paris in the 50s? I’m there. Upon further investigation, I found out it’s a bit of a vintage classic, a sexy, guilty-pleasure read for women in the 1960s and 70s. I studied and lived in Paris for almost a year, so I am a sucker for any book that lets me relive a little of that magic—especially if it can also transport me to another era.
Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London, Lauren Elkin
Synopsis: ‘Flâneuse [flanne-euhze], noun, from the French. Feminine form of flâneur [flanne-euhr], an idler, a dawdling observer, usually found in cities.That is an imaginary definition.’
If the word flâneur conjures up visions of Baudelaire, boulevards and bohemia – then what exactly is a flâneuse?
In this gloriously provocative and celebratory book, Lauren Elkin defines her as ‘a determined resourceful woman keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk’. Part cultural meander, part memoir, Flâneuse traces the relationship between the city and creativity through a journey that begins in New York and moves us to Paris, via Venice, Tokyo and London, exploring along the way the paths taken by the flâneuses who have lived and walked in those cities.
Thoughts: Another book about Paris? Oui, s’il vous plait! Sorry, I’ll stop. But I love the fact that this book centers on the idea of walking and observing cities, as traveling by foot was one of the most memorable parts about my time in France. I have never been happier in my life than learning my way around different streets and neighborhoods, feeling independent and invisible at the same time. I’m really intrigued to hear about the stories of different female writers, artists, filmmakers and learn more about their experiences observing and existing in cities around the world.
Have you read any of the books on this list?!
Tell us which books you’re most looking forward to reading in the comments below!
Be sure to keep up with the Paperback Paris Team’s monthly TBRs!