The best artists turn inexplicable pain into art and beauty. Jeannette Walls places herself in that category by detailing her childhood in her incredibly honest memoir, The Glass Castle. Despite living a life that most of us can’t imagine, Walls somehow manages to tell her story without it being colored by hindsight. Rather, she tells it through a child’s lens. Through it all, she demonstrates how love can distort your opinion of someone but also that silver linings and good memories can be found in even the toughest of times.
March can be pretty bleak for a lot of reasons, mainly because it’s acting like January when all you want is spring. But one positive thing is guaranteed to occur during the third month of the year: Women’s History Month!
While it’s important to celebrate the real-life women who have paved the way for us in 2019 (though look at how far we still have to go), it’s important to also honor the literary legends who have been inspiring for centuries or even just a few years. Because books are the epicenter of female empowerment, compiling this list wasn’t easy; it was worth the challenge though. Alas, here is my ranking of the top 10 female characters of all time (or at least of the books I’ve read).
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows proves Ariana’s point: God is a woman.
Too often, society boxes female authors and their stories about sex into sweeping tales of love, romance, and magic. Balli Kaur Jaswal’s novel confirms that women — even conservative women — are humans too and that they have fantasies just like men. Sex doesn’t have to be folded into a fairy tale, and it doesn’t have to be forbidden (unless, of course, that’s part of the fantasy per some of our characters here). Women want and need to talk about it too.
This novel breaks cultural boundaries by questioning gender and cultural stereotypes and bringing taboos to the forefront. It challenges the concept of “other,” which confirms we’re more alike than different, and it’s really fun to read. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Some books can’t escape you. It’s not just your inner circle reading them; rather, it seems every bibliophile on the planet has picked up a copy at some point. You can’t explain why you haven’t done so yourself, but you know one day you will. And that day will be a good one.
The Nightingale has been that book for me the past few years. I’ve had multiple friends and family members rave about this historical fiction favorite, and one of them compared it to All the Light We Cannot See, a fellow World War II novel I adore. Surely I’d have the same feelings toward this one.
It’s had a far greater reach though. I’ve seen many subway riders reading it, and once I asked one of them what they thought about it.
“Oh I cried on here yesterday reading it.”
I owe my cousin, Julie, who sent me her copy of The Nightingale, among other books I can’t wait to read. Thanks to her, I could no longer be distracted by other novels. It was time to dive into this instant classic, and I’m so happy I did.
“Storytelling is fundamental to human beings.”
Lisa Lucas wrote this line in a recent piece for TIME about how books are anything but dead; yes, they are alive more than ever. Although I give credit where credit is due, this declaration from Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, is far from novel (no pun intended).
Of course storytelling is an innate part of being a human. It’s why our parents tell us stories before we go to bed. It’s why we dream at night. It’s why we listen to music and why we crave the songs’ backstories. It’s why we give speeches to honor and celebrate people at parties, weddings, funerals, etc. It’s definitely why, as Lucas argued, books are not dead. It’s also why we need them to continue to flourish.
That’s right. I said continue. As in books already are flourishing.
I mean, look how cute I was.
You know those annoying movies and TV shows: the ones where no words have to be spoken or facial gestures have to be made, not even one little eyebrow kink or twitch of the lips. It’s just one glance between two people, and it says it all.
Well, it’s supposed to tell all, but as a viewer and a realist, you’re calling the bluff. To us, it’s a straight-up poker face.
I kept coming back to this ineffective visual while reading Rebecca Serle’s The Dinner List. Too much of this book contains those unspoken moments that must mean something to the characters but leave us outsiders blinded. A lot is left unsaid and poorly hinted at in the book until it quickly comes to an end. It’s as if we’re expected to read the characters’ minds and predict what’s coming without any type of foreshadowing. There’s something to be said about a book in which you can literally read through the lines. You can’t do that with The Dinner List, and even though it’s been praised by celebs and friends alike, it frustrated me more than thrilled.
My feminist awakening wasn’t spurred by some emotional moment that shook my whole being. Rather, my awakening happened in the driveway of my parents’ house as I lounged in a lawn chair reading The Scarlet Letter. My 17-year-old self was nearing the end of the book when I had my ah-ha moment. The injustice of Hester Prynne’s plight sickened me, but the way she endured and owned her predicament empowered me. I even texted the guy I was sort-of-but-not-really seeing at the time and essentially said “I GET IT NOW.” (I think he wrote back “lol” as one high school boy does.)
The main character in The Female Persuasion happened upon her feminist awakening in a much bigger, more significant way: after she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party her freshman year of college. In the midst of the #metoo movement, Meg Wolitzer’s most recent novel speaks to a society that also needs to be roused awake. It’s calculated and necessary; the only downfall is the book doesn’t carry the spunk and power needed to really make its mark. Where her novel soars with meaning and relevance, it lacks in poignancy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite do the topic justice.