A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You By Amy Bloom
These two books have nothing in common except that they're both collections of short stories mostly about women, and I loved them both. Rebecca Miller's book begins: "Greta Herskovitz looked down at her husband's shoes one morning and saw with shocking clarity that she was going to leave him." I knew the moment I read that sentence that I was going to fall in love with the book—not just because it made me remember an identical moment in my own life (not having to do with shoes) but because it was obviously written by someone who knew how to grab a reader by the throat. Amy Bloom's collection of stories sneaks up on you in a much more insidious way. Bloom is talking about love, yes, but there's nothing ordinary about any of the love stories in this book. There's always a catch, and there's always something that takes her story into unfamiliar terrain. As I read her book, I became almost frightened to see where she'd take me next. It was always someplace I'd never been; but in the end it felt very much like home.
The Golden Notebook By Doris Lessing
At an early point in this novel, Lessing's heroine, Anna, says that she wishes she could write "a book powered with an intellectual or moral passion strong enough to create order, to create a new way of looking at life." That's as good a way as any to describe this book and its effect on me—but it's also a genuinely involving and surprisingly enjoyable read, especially given that it is by a writer with almost no sense of humor. There was a time when I believed that any modern woman had to read The Golden Notebook, but I'm no longer given to pronouncements that are quite so doctrinaire.
The Eustace Diamonds By Anthony Trollope
If you haven't read Trollope, this is a good place to begin. Along with Can You Forgive Her?, The Eustace Diamonds is among the most delicious and contemporary of Trollope's Palliser novels, and like any great classic, it's crammed to bursting with characters who are remarkably like people you know. Well, maybe you don't know anyone like Lizzie Eustace—a young woman who cares more about money and jewels than anything else—but I'm afraid I do.
Anne of Green Gables By Lucy Maud Montgomery
Well, of course you probably read it when you were a girl. Read it again. In Canada, it's almost an object of worship since the author is Canadian, but the truth is it's an absolutely wonderful book that will start you crying about halfway through, and you won't stop. I particularly love rereading children's books when I'm sick because I want guaranteed rapture; I want the book equivalent of mashed potatoes.
Emma and Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen
For many years I had a problem with Emma, as compared to, say, Pride and Prejudice. I loved "P and P", and I loved its practically perfect heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. Emma, on the other hand, has a much more problematic heroine: Emma Woodhouse is bossy, controlling, obstinate, pigheaded and manipulative. In short, she is horribly like me at my worst. Getting older has mellowed me in many ways, and now that I like to delude myself that I'm not as much like Emma Woodhouse as I used to be, I've grown to love the book. Still, Pride and Prejudice is probably my favorite book ever, ever, ever.