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4 Books By Women That Will Make You Feel Smart

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It’s hard to make time to read, especially if you’re a juggling a million things (like the small task of keeping another human alive). It can be even harder to find books you actually want to read, not to mention have the motivation to dive into during a free period on the weekend, or during your commute if you ride public transportation (like I do).

This is why I rounded up four amazing reads by ballsy brave and bold women writing right now–all of these books take risks and don’t apologize for being harrowing. These books explore modern feminism, womanhood, motherhood, mental illness, loss, and more–you know, all those ways we struggle on the daily.

Here are my picks:

1.”Sunshine State: Essays” (Harper Perennial, 2017) – Sarah Gerard

Sarah Gerard should be a national treasure. Her first book “Binary Star,” which explored eating disorders, was talked about everywhere. Her second book, essays, doesn’t disappoint. She writes about her experiences growing up along Florida’s gulf coast through a series of heartwrenching and compelling essays that explore class economics, sexuality, addiction, religion, homelessness, and incarceration. Her book has received rave reviews from places like NPR and the New York Times. In the Brooklyn Rail, Gerard talked about her book, and why we don’t always need happy endings:

“In writing a story you reach a conclusion, in your mind you don’t have that. You know it’s not the only version of the story that exists in the world. There’s another version of that story that lives on in your brain. There’s a minor sense of peace that comes with telling a story of your trauma, but it’s not like it erases your trauma. I’m using the word trauma because it’s a single word but, there are things not necessarily traumatic, yet I have to continue to grapple with, as a human being in the world.

You know how writers write about the same things over and over? It’s because we don’t figure it out. It’s because the things that we write about are emotional touchstones: we navigate there, and then we move away again, but not because we’ve figured them out and we’re perfectly at peace in our lives. It’s why writers are some of the most troubled people on the planet, because even though it’s the way that we process our lived experience, it’s not a form of therapy necessarily.”

2. “Difficult Women” (Grove Press, 2017) – Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay needs no introduction. From the Los Angeles Review, New York Times Review, The Rumpus, and Salon, Gay’s writing has appeared and reviewed pretty much everywhere. And it’s not by mistake: it’s because Gay has a lot to say–and you need to hear it. Her writing is accessible, but not dumbed down. In this book, Gay’s short stories focuses on women from all backgrounds and privileges: women who are engineers, strippers, have marital problems, are abducted, and more. It’s definitely not a colllection to miss. When interviewed about the book at NPR, Gay talked about why she loves her friendships with other women:

“I really love my friendships with other women, and I have found so much solace and joy and debauchery with other women. And so I definitely wanted to put that into the book, that — for me at least, the way I see the world — that women are very good to other women most of the time.

And now I know there are so many popular narratives and many people have had bad experiences with other women, like competitiveness and so on and whatever; but I also think that women, when it’s necessary, can come together and will come together and support each other. Because I think we know things about what it’s like to be a woman in the world and that common bond really is a strength.”

3. “What to Do About the Solomons” (Grove Atlantic, 2017) – Bethany Ball

This is Ball’s debut novel, which has exploded (she’s gotten a glowing New York Times Review)–and rightly so. The book explores different aspects of a family’s life in Israel, New York, and Los Angeles–following the dark and dirty secrets in a kibbutz community near Jerusalem. It’s definitely not a story often told, but one that deserves to be. I interviewed Ball about her work for Kveller here, and she told me that she wanted to write about a world many American feel unfamiliar with:

“I wanted to write another language in the organic way Junot Diaz uses Spanish so that the reader might feel immersed in this unfamiliar culture, or familiar if you grew up with Israelis, or in Israel. I did a six-month ulpan in Israel, and have lived with an Israeli and among Israelis for years. I wanted to write about a large family—very different from my own Midwestern three people nuclear family existence.”

4. “Leaving Lucy Pear” (Viking, 2016) – Anna Solomon

Anna Solomon’s novel (which was notably chosen as a must-read book by TIME and lauded at New York Timesis an incredibly poignant story of two women in Prohibition Era New England whose worlds intersect over the care and concern of a child. The novel is also an intimate portrayal of mental illness. Sara Lippmann interviewed Solomon about her book for Kveller here, and she described the moment she became fascinated with the real-life woman who the story focused on:

“As a child, we had these pear trees down below our house. Every year the fruit would all disappear. We never knew where it went. So that always stayed with me.

Then, a few years ago, my stepfather, who reads a lot of history books, gave me “The Sage of Cape Ann,” which is a very dramatic telling of things that weren’t necessarily dramatic about Cape Ann—which is where I grew up, in Gloucester, MA. In it, I found a section about this wealthy Bostonian woman who was summering on Cape Ann and suffering from a nervous disorder, and because she had connections with the navy, she had requested that the whistle buoy, which had been installed off the coast to warn fishermen and to keep sailors safe, be removed. Which I found fascinating.

Then there was an addendum that said, The next year it was recorded that Mrs. So and So had gotten married and therefore was feeling much better so that the whistle buoy could be put back in. I found that compelling, both the nervous disorder and that the marriage “made it better.” On the plot level—what if, when the whistle buoy was taken out, something happened? What if there was a consequence to it? It’s hard to say exactly how that came together with the pears because that part of the process is always mysterious, but the stories started forming.”

If you aren’t tired out yet (and/or want to bookmark some more awesome poetry by women), check out these awesome Jewish poets. 

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