Reading to celebrate from the bookshelf of the award-winning novelist and commentator.
A writer of uncommon warmth, insight, and skill, Anna Quindlen won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992 and then embarked on a career as a #1 New York Times bestselling author, exploring themes of love and motherhood troubled by violence in novels like Black and Blue and Every Last One. Her new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, looks back on family, marriage, career, and friendship with sagacity and no shortage of humor. This week, she points us to three of her favorite memoirs written by women.
By Katherine Graham
“Kay Graham was used to being underestimated, so she would have found it unsurprising if people expected her memoir to be a vanity production. Instead, it is an illuminating look at a woman born on the cusp of a changing world, straddling roles of subservience and power. Graham was an only child, but when her father passed on the leadership of his newspaper, The Washington Post, he anointed her husband. Brilliant and mentally ill, Phil Graham committed suicide while on a visit home from the hospital. The shy and insecure mother of four took over and became one of the great newspaper publishers of the 20th century. Her beautifully nuanced telling of all this makes for an exceptional read.”
By Deborah Mitford Duchess of Devonshire
“It takes a certain sort of woman with a certain sort of life to put an exclamation point at the end of the title of her memoir. Deborah Mitford was the youngest of the fabled Mitford sisters, a gaggle of six girls that included the muckracker Jessica (The American Way of Death) and the novelist Nancy (Love in A Cold Climate). Debo vividly describes her antic family — British aristocracy short on money but long on eccentricity — and then her own long marriage into one of the great English titles and ancestral homes. With an eye for telling detail and a keen sense of both the ridiculous and the historic, she evokes a world that has largely vanished into the pages of novels and onto the TV screen.”
By Lucy Grealy
“At age 9, Grealy was diagnosed with a cancer that took an enormous chunk of her jaw. There followed one surgery after another, most designed to make her look more like other people. But Lucy — charismatic, elfin, peripatetic, creative — was nothing like other people. Her book details the parade of wrongheaded diagnoses, the almost medieval medical procedures, and the long recoveries, always followed by the ubiquitous question: ‘What’s wrong with her face?’ In the process, it becomes a meditation on how the world assesses beauty and disfigurement, about being female and the things women do to fit in and to feel whole. Grealy was a lyrical stylist, a poet turned prose writer, but it is her unsparing honesty and lack of self-pity and bathos that elevates this book, published eight years before she died of a heroin overdose.”