Monthly Archives: April 2014

Barbara Graham: Is sexual abuse at the hands of women the last taboo?

In her haunting Shebook memoir Camp Paradox, writer Barbara Graham grapples with the realization that the “love affair” she’d believed she’d shared with her 28-year-old female camp counselor as a preteen was actually sexual abuse. In this fascinating tell-all interview, which recently aired on HuffPost Live, Graham speaks candidly about her memoir and the notably unspoken issue of abuse at the hands of women.

Enjoy the program? Read the rest of the story by downloading Barbara Graham’s memoir Camp Paradox, only at Shebooks!

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Zoe Rosenfeld: New York is a sucked orange | Video

Zoe Rosenfeld is the author of the Shebooks novelette Owl in Darkness, a literary gem about a woman with maddening writer’s block. Listen to Zoe Rosenfeld’s carefully crafted lecture given during the tour of the NTUSA’s Chautauqua about the draw that New York has had, and continues to have, for artists of all stripes.

New York is a sucked orange. Emerson said that almost 150 years ago and he meant it a bit more subtly than it sounds taken out of context. But let’s face it; it’s true. Everything has been done, thought, written, performed, handled, pissed on before you ever got here….

 

Watch the video to hear the rest:

Zoe Rosenfeld at the NTUSA’s Chautauqua! from Matt Kalman on Vimeo.

Check out Zoe Rosenfeld’s Shebook, Owl In Darkness.

Owl in Darkeness

Elizabeth Geoghegan: For better or worse, the city of Rome is my muse

Elizabeth Geoghegan is the author of the immensely popular Shebook The Marco Chronicles: To Rome, without love. Her second e-book, Natural Disasters, is on the way. In this fun Q&A session, Geoghegan tells how she fell for Rome, the Eternal City, and why fiction is sometimes more personal than memoir.

 

Are there any themes, characters, or imagery that you find recurring in your writing? What are they, and what is their origin?

For better or for worse, the city of Rome has become my muse. I never expected to live here for as many years as I have, and I never imagined I would write a memoir about Italy, the precedents—Henry James, Elizabeth Bowen, Goethe, D.H. Lawrence, and Mary McCarthy to name a few—are impossible to live up to. But in the end, I finally allowed myself to put down a few of my own experiences in The Marco Chronicles. I wanted to debunk some of the romantic myths about life here and about Italian men. Everyone always seems so surprised when they discover I didn’t stay in Rome for a relationship. Of course, between the lines, the real love affair is with the Eternal City.

There is a dark humor in my fiction; but definitely my nonfiction is lighter, the voice more like my speaking voice, or as my Shebooks editor has said, it “sounds like me over lunch.” Ironically, writing nonfiction feels less personal to me. Fiction comes more naturally and happens on the page in a way that I find more intriguing because it draws upon so many overlapping experiences—my own, those I imagine, events read about, overheard, or at one time recounted to me. Quite often an image will be the starting point for a piece of writing. Other times it is a simple line that I get in my head and can’t let go of until I put it down.

In both nonfiction and fiction, setting is always crucial. I am interested in the intersection between geography and intimacy—how the landscape reflects the inscape or identity of a particular character. In fiction, the theme I return to is loss—whether the literal loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, or even the loss of the self. Losing one’s way as a form of exile. I predominantly write about female characters who find themselves outside of things. I try to examine how they live their lives, what they become as a result of the relationships they form, what they learn.

Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?

I think the issue of authority is more integral to nonfiction. And even so, with the proper amount of research, many are able to write about situations they have barely been exposed to and pull it off with great aplomb. However, for an essay, I prefer to write closer to my own experience.

On the other side of things, fiction writers have always been given license to make things up. And they have always written from the point of view of various characters, real or imagined, as well as from the point of view of the opposite gender with great success. It is always a question of voice.

When did you first decide you were a writer?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write. I was an early reader and I wrote my first “book” at age seven, which won a prize and meant my inclusion in a Young Author’s Conference. Since then, it has been a circuitous route toward and away from my writing, but it’s something I always knew I wanted to do.

What writing projects are you working on now?

A collection of interlocking stories where each takes place in a different city or country, and a novel set along the Silk Road. Readers can get to know my fiction in my forthcoming Shebook, Natural Disasters, which contains two short stories.

Do you currently have a job other than writing?

Yes, I teach creative writing and American Literature in several university programs here in Rome, which is something I very much enjoy.

What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

I have had a lot of disparate jobs, from working as a stylist for a very successful photographer in Chicago to event planning in New York, to translating Italian screenplays in Rome. But I don’t think there is really any better education for a writer than working in a bar or a restaurant. The characters and stories are there for the taking—and usually they leave you a tip at the end of the evening.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

My mentor Lucia Berlin was one of the most underrated short story writers of her time. I recently discovered that FSG (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) plans to reprint one of her early story collections. I am so delighted other readers will soon be able to discover her work. She’s a true talent.

Otherwise, it occurs to me that the authors who most influenced me early on were those who lived in some form of exile (self-imposed or otherwise), apart from their culture and their native language—such as Paul and Jane Bowles, Marguerite Duras, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, and Nabokov. Although I never planned on living the expatriate life, I ended up doing just that for the past fifteen years. Now it makes more sense to me why, on some intuitive level, I was always drawn to certain books that had an underpinning of exile in them. More recently, I owe a debt to Flannery O’Connor, who has had an unexpected and strong influence on me. O’Connor, too, lived in a kind of exile for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the lupus that disfigured the trajectory of her life and dictated where and how she was able to live.

Do you have a quote, mantra or thought that you’d like to end with?

“Art requires a delicate adjustment of the outer and inner worlds in such a way that, without changing their nature, they can be seen through each other. To know oneself is to know one’s region. It is also to know the world, and it is also, paradoxically, a form of exile from that world.” —Flannery O’Connor

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See what all the fuss is about: read Elizabeth Geoghegan’s hilarious short memoir The Marco Chronicles: To Rome, without love.

Beth Kephart: “I do things I’m bad at, just to keep myself alert.” | Q&A

Memoirist Beth Kephart opens up about her obsession with birds, her definition of “truth,” and her new short memoir Nest. Flight. Sky.

 

What prompted you to write Nest. Flight. Sky.?

I teach memoir at Penn, I’ve written about its glories, challenges, and consequences in Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, I blog daily about life (Beth Kephart Books), and once, a lifetime ago, I wrote five memoirs. But it has been many years and many books since I’d dared to write the extended truth. By the time Shebooks emerged, I was desperate to speak. My mother had passed away. I had become obsessed with birds and nests, but I did not understand why. I believe that it’s only in writing toward questions that we find at least some of the answers. I wrote Nest. Flight. Sky. to find some answers.

Birds and nests have been a recurrent theme in your work. What is the origin of this?

Nest. Flight. Sky: On love and loss, one wing at a time is, indeed, about recurrent images. It’s about those birds, those wings, those nests that have entered into all the fiction I have written—one book after another, ever since my mother died. It all began with winter finches tapping on my windowpane in the months after her passing. It became a quest for hawks, for hummingbirds, for flight.

When did you first decide you were a writer? 

Do we ever decide that we are writers? Or do we just decide that we must write, that we will not be able to breathe if we do not? I’m not sure, even all these books in, that I am a writer. I think readers are in charge of that decision. I only know that, since I was nine, words and their melodies gave me a sense of being nearly whole.

How do you define “truth” in memoir?

Truth is a quest—not a juried conclusion, not a slate of “facts,” not a report, not a prettied-up-look-at-me guessing game. Truth changes with time; it changes photograph to photograph. It is never possible to be precisely, scientifically, indisputably accurate, but it is essential to bring an honest heart to the framing of questions and the searching for answers. Empathy—for one’s own self and for others—is essential to the quest.

Do you currently have a job other than writing? 

Most writers I know have job multiples. Me? I run a boutique marketing communications firm (Fusion Communications), producing annual reports, commemorative books, and employee publications for companies in the pharma, real estate, and insurance industries. I also teach creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania, review adult novels for the Chicago Tribune, write about the intersection of memory and place for the Philadelphia Inquirer, write about publishing trends for a variety of publications, and do whatever else that is required to live a full life and write the kinds of books (never the best sellers, or at least not yet) that I want to write.

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

I do things I’m bad at, just to keep myself alert and alive to new vocabularies and challenges. Two cases in point: I take ballroom dancing lessons. I muck around in a pottery studio.

What is your favorite word right now? 

Muck.

Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now?

I do have an e-reader. I have a house full of books and an e-reader. I love to read the New York Times on my pretty little e-reader. But I also read books I just can’t wait to get in hand. Right now, that book is Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi. (Love.) I’ve also read a number of Shebooks. They are excellent. I know you’ll agree.

What writing projects are you working on now? 

I am releasing, on April 1, Going Over (Chronicle Books), a Berlin 1983 young adult novel (but truly, it is a crossover young adult novel) that takes place on both sides of the Wall. In the fall, a book I published many years ago—Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River—is being released by Temple University Press as a paperback (yay!). Flow tells the story of the river in her own words, which is to say, it is the story of a woman stuck in perpetual middle age. Next year, Chronicle Books will release a new novel that takes place in Florence, Italy. I’m also at work on a book about my city, Philadelphia, and I’ve just begun another novel for Chronicle Books. I have a novel for adults in mind. I just haven’t found the time to work on it.

 

 

Beth Kephart is author of the Shebook, Nest. Flight. Sky.

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A Foolproof Guide to Writing a Best Seller

Novelist Valerie Frankel, author of the Shebook Mom Overboard, relates how she finally made the New York Times best-sellers list (and simultaneously brought about the end of the world) after years of quiet embitterment watching others succeed.

 

When I set out to write a memoir called It’s Hard Not to Hate You, about embracing toxic emotions and giving myself permission to be an unrepentant rageholic, I knew I had to include a chapter on professional jealousy. Nothing flared my freudeschaden—taking misery in another person’s joy—like New York Times best-selling debut novelists.

The rich. The thin. The beautiful. I’ve got no problem with them. If the world’s wealthiest, hottest woman walked into my office and asked for a cup of coffee, I’d get it. But if she said, “Guess what? My first novel just hit the New York Times best-sellers list!”?

Hate. She could get her coffee in hell.

My first novel was published (with a whimper) in 1991. I’ve written two dozen books since. Most landed with a thud, but some did well enough to eke out another contract. Critically, I’ve earned stellar—and horrific—reviews. I’ve won an award and been nominated for others. My books have been translated into dozens of languages. And yet, I’m as anonymous an author as Gertrude M. Sneedermann. Who? Never heard of her?

Exactly.

I’ve never made it—“it” being, as any author could tell you, the New York Times best- sellers list. When I started out, I fantasized about striking it big. I still do. Dreams of literary stardom didn’t die or fade away. They limped along, dragging tirelessly, like a zombie.

I was fortunate that writing itself wasn’t painful for me, as it was for many of my friends. I loved filling blank pages. Writing was easy. Making a living at it was hard. Making “it” was damn near impossible.

* * *

A first-time novelist sent me a manuscript and asked me to “blurb” her, or supply a quote for the cover. I read it, blurbed it, felt smug in my benevolence and a trifle worried about how the author would react when her debut failed to catch fire. A few months later, the book came out, became an instant megahit, an NYT best seller, readers lapping up more copies in a single week than my last five novels combined sold, which, granted, wasn’t many.

This exact scenario has happened to me four times.

Each time it did, I felt a little sorry for myself. Blurbing flops was easier on the ego. I didn’t hate the best-selling authors, per se. I hated the cosmos that allowed anyone to have so much so fast. I hated the guilt and shame of my jealousy. I should be thankful for my modest success. And I was! But, on some days, gratitude was trampled by jealousy and, worse, doubt. I might lack the talent, skill, depth, understanding of human nature, and luck to connect with a large number of readers in a meaningful way.

My next-door neighbor, a famous shrink, once asked me what my professional goals were. I said, “To write a best-selling novel.”

She said, “I once dreamed about that. But then I decided it was too shallow a goal.”

Shallow! She was calling my name.

My best-seller dreams weren’t entirely ego and money driven, though. Entertaining people, linking lives, contributing to the culture via the written word were noble goals. It was the ambition of any novelist to get a reaction, not just write furiously into a vacuum. Despite 20 years of cycling between expectation and disappointment, I hump along with that aim in mind. Deluded? We all do what we can to get through the night.

Maybe if “it” happened, the freudeschaden would stop. I asked the most successful person I knew if she still felt professional jealousy. “All the time!” said Joan Rivers, American Icon. “Anyone who says they’re not jealous is turning a blind eye to their true emotions—or lying. When friends call to say, ‘I just got a TV show,’ I say, ‘I’m so f—— jealous, I’m going to kill myself.’ That’s my way of congratulating them. You have to say out loud that you’re jealous to keep it from taking over. Pretending it’s not there makes it more powerful.”

Bowing to her wisdom, I spent a month outing my freudeschaden to family and friends. One said, “That’s it? Jealousy is your secret shame? Jesus, I thought you had a body buried somewhere.” Most admitted that they, too, hated nearly everyone of equal age and ability who’d topped them. Joan was right. Talking about jealousy really took the edge off. If I’d known that years ago…all the clumps of hair and bitter tears I’d needlessly sacrificed. What a waste.

*  *  *

The chapter on professional jealousy is the centerpiece of It’s Hard Not to Hate You, a memoir I’m proud of and hopeful about. In an emotionally detoxed state of mind, I began work on the next book, which, ironically, led to my becoming—by proxy—the very creature I so despised: a NYT best-selling debut novelist.

Time travel? Mushrooms? No, the feat was accomplished by the raw star power of Snooki. I collaborated with Nicole Polizzi on her beach romance, A Shore Thing. Although my name isn’t on the cover, Snooki gave me plenty of credit. When Matt Lauer mentioned my name on the Today show, I squealed. Her fans loved the book. Literary types universally loathed it. They called it a sign of the apocalypse, the death of publishing, and so on. On Twitter, Jodi Picoult called its release “the end of the world.” If it’d been up to me, I would’ve put that blurb in 20-point type on the paperback edition:

“The end of the world.” —Jodi Picoult

I sympathized and related to the hate. For two decades, the hater was me. I’d lived in the struggle to get attention for my work, to elicit a passionate reaction, to contribute to the culture, even the lowbrow, via the written word. To finally break out of the vacuum was, as Snooki might say, friggin’ awesome. The glory might be shallow and small. But I loved every minute of it.

 

This article originally appeared on the Daily Beast and was reposted with permission of the author.

Valerie Frankel is author of the Shebook, Mom Overboard

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How to Make Risotto Like “The Risotto Guru”

What’s the perfect accompaniment to Italian travel writing? A piping-hot plate of homemade risotto! Laura Fraser, author of the best-selling memoir An Italian Affair, recently came out with her first Shebook, The Risotto Guru, which details her adventures in Italy bite by bite. Here is Fraser’s delicious and authentic recipe as taught to her by a true risotto master (and taxi driver) in Vercelli. This dish is to die for, so please watch and follow along at home!

 

 

Read Laura Fraser’s mini-memoir, The Risotto Guru, only at Shebooks!

The Risotto Guru

Jennifer Haupt: The Letter That Changed My Life

Jennifer Haupt’s new Shebook memoir, Will You Be My Mother?, details the time she spent as a journalist and volunteer in Haiti, Rwanda, and other devastated places documenting stories of faith and forgiveness. Prompted by the question “Has a letter changed your life?” Haupt shared this story of one very special connection she made during her time abroad.

 

Seven years ago, while volunteering in Kenya with the Red Cross, I met a 15-year-old boy named Julius who deeply touched my heart. He showed me around his village of shacks with no running water or electricity, excitedly explaining his dreams of becoming a teacher and maybe even a journalist someday. What struck me wasn’t the poverty he lived in, but the richness of his heart. He had nothing but his dreams, yet there was something special in his eyes. I wanted to help make those dreams come true, but I didn’t know how. I just encouraged him to study hard so that he could succeed.

When I returned home, I wrote to Julius several times, and even though years went by without an answer, I still prayed that this bright child wouldn’t lose his spark. Then, in 2007, I finally received a letter from him. I was thrilled.

Julius apologized for not getting in touch sooner, admitting that he wasn’t confident enough in his grammar to send a letter before then. He wrote that my words of encouragement had helped to keep his dreams alive, and he wanted to share some good news: He’d been accepted to college.

Julius was also fulfilling one of his other dreams: teaching at his church elementary school. The church couldn’t pay him, so he worked in construction as well, earning $5 a day, to help feed his family. He didn’t ask me for money, but I could read between the lines. So I decided to send him $1,000, the cost of a year’s tuition at community college. I did it as much for me as for him. I’ve always felt a need to help others, and I thought this was a way to make a real difference in one child’s life.

Today, Julius is a college graduate with a degree in journalism. We continue to exchange letters, now mostly by e-mail, writing about our families, the future of our countries and much more. My relationship with this young man has colored the way I view the world. I used to be overwhelmed by all the problems, wondering how I could possibly make a dent. Now, I see that one-on-one connections can make a difference.

WillYouBeMyMother?

Read Jennifer Haupt’s touching memoir, Will You Be My Mother?, available from Shebooks.

 

This story was originally published in Woman’s Day.

Faith Adiele: “Though I’m African, and though I’m American, I’m not African-American.”

Faith Adiele is the author of the recent Shebook, The Nigerian Nordic Girl’s Guide to Lady Problems, a surprisingly hilarious short memoir about what it means to have fibroids. Below is an introduction to Adiele’s fascinating life history, which was featured in the PBS documentary “My Journey Home.

So, Nordic you say?

“Like so many Americans, my maternal family came here via chain (member by member) immigration at the turn of the last century. Our Swedish ancestors arrived not long after the American Civil War, reaching Chicago just in time for the Great Fire, and eventually settling to rural log cabin life. One Finnish relative landed on a major stop on the Underground Railroad before going insane, leaving his wife — a non-English-speaking teen fleeing servitude — to a life of single motherhood and constant Westward movement.

After a brief stint panning gold in Alaska, my free-thinking Swedish grandfather (Old Pappa) and Finnish grandmother (Mummi, a.k.a., Portland Snow Princess of 1932) purchased farmland taken from the Yakama Indian Nation in the Pacific Northwest and tried their hands at becoming good, middle-class Americans.”

But how did the Nigerian get mixed in?

Faith's father

“In the early ’60s, my precocious 17-year old mother Holly became the first in the family to go to college. There she met a similarly pioneering international student — Magnus, the son of a Nigerian Latin teacher. After stints in London during the African independence movements and the American South during Civil Rights activity, Magnus was working on a third degree in rural Washington. For three months — before my grandparents separated them — Holly and Magnus were the only interracial couple on a campus of 10,000 students.

For a year they exchanged passionate letters about politics, occasionally meeting in secret, until cultural differences and Magnus’s move to eastern Canada led to a break-up. A few weeks later, Holly learned that she was pregnant. The doctor predicted twins. Tossed out by her parents for refusing a back-street abortion, she contemplated suicide.She then spent 6 months in a home for unwed mothers, where — as the only white girl planning to keep her baby, and the first interracial baby at that — she threw the place into disarray.”

Baby Faith with Mom

And the American part?

 “When I was born, my mother gave me 3 names — one Nordic, one African, one American: Faith. Eventually, with help from surprising quarters, my mother managed a return to college, raising me fiercely in Seattle housing projects on African storybooks she wrote and illustrated herself, government-surplus cheese, and strange grains she had no idea how to prepare.”

“She never married. Eventually she reconciled with my grandparents, and we moved to their farm in southeast Washington State. There, in a segregated community of white landowners and Latino farmhands, I — the lone African for miles — lived an idyllic, rural life, Mummi and Tati gossiping in Finnish at the kitchen table, a wreath of candles in my Afro on Swedish holidays.

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Our family kept the true circumstances of my birth hidden from the community — including me. While baking pulla, however, I learned other family secrets: white children sold into servitude, wives left behind when bigamist husbands remarried in America, fathers thought long dead but actually institutionalized. My legacy was strong women whose menfolk disappeared to unsettled countries, to mental institutions, to the barn with a bottle of vodka.”

What about the war?

“When I was 4, two of my aunties were murdered in the anti-Igbo killings of northern Nigeria. Forty-eight hours later, my father caught a ship home — before ever getting the chance to see me. He wrote to tell us from the middle of the Atlantic, additionally anxious about what his newly independent country held in store. Modern Africa’s first civil war soon erupted, and my mother labored feverishly to keep the infamous images of starving Biafran children from me. After two years of her letters returning unopened, she assumed my father was dead.

A year after the Biafrans surrendered, we received a letter from my father, who’d found our address in the ashes of the ancestral compound and written to say he was alive. Though his home had been destroyed and family members killed, he chose to stay to rebuild Nigeria. He married and rose quickly to high political office in Nigeria’s oil-rich Second Republic. Then, when I was 12 years old, his letters — the sole link to my black heritage — stopped. Yet another family member disappeared across the ocean.”

What happened next?

“College — my first exposure to real live blacks! — came as quite a shock. When, on New Year’s Eve, my uncle threw me out of the house, and a coup ended democracy in Nigeria for the next 16 years, I pulled the covers over my head and proceeded to flunk out of Harvard. When I awoke from my daze months later, I found myself in the Thai forest — head and eyebrows shaved, about to ordain as a Buddhist nun.

After my return to the USA and successful graduation, I dreamed about meeting my first Nigerian, a security guard who taught me how to pronounce my surname correctly. Suddenly, wherever I went, I encountered Nigerians, all of whom spoke reverently of my father. When, unexpectedly, I was offered a yearlong fellowship to the University of Nigeria, I scurried home to consult my mother. Handing over my father’s love letters and instructive messages to me as a child, she cheered: Go!”

Faiths family in Nigeria

“Enthralled by the optimistic young Turk recounting the lived history of African nationalism and 60’s race relations on the page, I left for Nigeria, determined to retrace his own return home after a decade spent schooling abroad. I found a country straining beneath harsh military rule and the corrupt legacy of colonialism. Narrowly escaping clashes between soldiers and university students sparked by worldwide IMF and World Bank protests, I discovered to my surprise that by African standards, I’m considered white.

As news of my arrival spread, I met my father — whose chest is home to both a pacemaker and a bullet — for the first time. Cultural misunderstanding and mutual suspicion plagued our attempts to reconcile. Once I learned that I — an only child for 26 years — had three teenage siblings, I redoubled my efforts and was rewarded by my father the chief’s pronouncement upon introducing us: “This is your sister from America. You love her.” My sister resembled me so much that villagers mistook me for her spirit double, a pale ghost returned from the netherworld. Together we traveled to our ancestral village, where I visited war sites and tried to uncover what had happened during my father’s 14-year silence. On New Year’s Eve, I was crowned princess of our clan.”

Faith Adiele Now?

The Nigerian Nordic girls guide to Lady Problems

Learn about Faith Adiele’s current projects; find her latest books, blog posts, speaking events and more on her website. Plus, read Adiele’s new short memoir, The Nigerian-Nordic Girls Guide to Lady Problems, only at Shebooks!

Micah Perks, author of the Shebook Alone in the Woods, chats about her distaste for semicolons, her Incredible Hulk strength, and her upcoming writing projects.

 

Is there anything that you consider too personal to write about? How do you find that edge?

I can’t think of anything “too” personal to write about myself, but I do try to be really careful when writing about other people. When I wrote my full-length memoir, Pagan Time, I showed the manuscript to my family, asked for their responses, and then included their responses in the last chapter. For Alone in the Woods, I showed the manuscript to my daughter and asked her if she was OK with it. I actually ended up including her response in the e-book, too. So, I guess giving the people I write about a chance to voice their version of the story is important to me.

How do you define “truth” in memoir?

For me, it’s simple. I can’t make anything up. Unless I make clear I’m making it up, like I say, I imagine…

Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

I love my job as a professor, but I really enjoyed teaching water aerobics way back. I would make everyone get in a conga line, and we’d bounce down the edge of the pool to Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

I’m secretly really, really strong, like Incredible Hulk strong.

What is your favorite word right now?

I don’t know, but my least favorite word is gonna used in prose. And being—I hate that conjugation of to be, too. I also hate semicolons.

 Who are some of your favorite authors?

I love so many authors. But favorite authors who write about women who could make it alone in the woods—Charlotte Bronte, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Marilynne Robinson, Angela Carter, Sarah Waters, and most recently I loved The Wall by Marlen Haushofer.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m finishing up a story about Typhoid Mary, writing an essay about Edith Wharton, and just finished a novel that took me over ten years to write, A Shadow, A Blast, A Bubble.

Aside from writing, do you have any other secret talents?

Nothing besides the incredible secret strength I mentioned before

 

Micah Perks is author of the Shebook, Alone in the Woods

Alone in the Woods

Ten Books by Women That Will Change Your Year

Laura’s 10 Best Titles of the Year

Laura Fraser, Shebooks cofounder and editorial director, admits she’s a compulsive reader. In fact, she’s kept a list of all the books she’s read since she was 12! Meanwhile, here’s her list of her favorite print books from the past 12 months—all by women, in honor of the Shebooks launch.

 

1. My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

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This author writes under a pseudonym—perhaps because her depictions of life in Southern Italy are so raw and honest. This novel is the first in a trio about two smart, ambitious young women from a poor Naples neighborhood and the twists their friendship undergoes as they confront jealousy, resentment, changes in circumstance, and new opportunities.

 

2. Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan

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Finney Boylan—whose original novella for Shebooks, I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, to be released in May—writes a moving book about her gender change with characteristic good humor: “I was a father for six years, a mother for ten, and for a while in between I was neither, or both–the parental equivalent of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo.”

3. The Panopticon, by Jenni Fagan

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This novel is about a young Scottish woman who survives a series of foster homes and abuse to land in a facility for troubled adolescents—beautifully written.

4. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

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A young boy survives an explosion in an art gallery that kills his mother and takes a priceless painting with him out the door. The sprawling novel follows his progress to adulthood as he lives with various memorable characters. I couldn’t put it down!

5. The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner

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Set in the 1970s, this is the story of a young motorcycle racer who is (briefly) the fastest woman on earth. The book careens from the New York art world to political turmoil in Italy—a heady read concerned with art, love, politics, and class but still full of heart.

6. Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

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The story of Anne Boleyn never gets old (just watch “The Tudors” or any of the movies made about Henry VIII). But Mantel takes the story to an entirely new psychological depth, with vivid historic detail.

7. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

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This novel follows teenagers at art camp into middle age, as their connections are strained by changes in fortune, ambition, degrees of satisfaction, and the realization (or not) of their early talents.

8. The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud.

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The main character, Nora, is a humdrum teacher who builds little dollhouses—a direct nod to Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House—and imagines a more interesting life of glamour, travel, and intrigue. She is the opposite of the “woman upstairs,” the madwoman in the attic, but as this novel proceeds, her equilibrium and creativity are challenged, as is her sense of reality.

9. Knocking on Heaven’s Door, by Katy Butler.

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A beautifully written and meticulously researched tale of Butler’s years taking care of her elderly parents, exposing the flaws in the American medical system and our costly avoidance of death. An important read for anyone who will ever have to care for an elder.

10. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich.

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A coming-of-age story of an American Indian boy, layered with a dawning understanding of human evil, cultural conflicts on and off the reservation, and a wavering sense of justice.

 

Laura Fraser is author of the Shebook, The Risotto Guru

The Risotto Guru