My senior year in college, I changed my major from marketing to English because I enjoyed reading and talking about books more than my business classes. It worked out well—I ended up being a marketing director for nearly 20 years at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, a group of independent bookshops in Milwaukee.
Now, I am sharing my love of nature as director of marketing and communications for Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, another Milwaukee gem. But, as I like to say, you can take the girl out of the bookstore but never the bookseller out of the girl.
This reminiscence includes some of my favorite fiction written by women that I read and sold while a bookseller. They all stand up to the test of time and I still recommend them to readers.
Although I started at the bookshops selling business books, I spent my lunches perusing fiction. Here I found TURTLE MOON, my first Alice Hoffman. About a divorced woman, her runaway teenage son, and the events that change their lives, this may be one of Hoffman's more conventional novels—but it was the suspense and element of magic that stuck with me and have kept me reading her ever since.
Each May, sea turtles follow the lights into the coastal town of Verity, Florida, thinking that the artificial glow is actually the moon. Not only do the turtles start to act up at this time of year—the town’s residents also begin acting strangely. But not every year does it lead to murder, missing children, and incredible searches into the depths of the swampy coast.
THE REPUBLIC OF LOVE was my introduction to Carol Shields and then I couldn't stop reading her work. Being responsible for booking author appearances, I was thrilled to host her for THE STONE DIARIES. Remarkably, the event turned out to be the day she won the Pulitzer! THE STONE DIARIES is the "autobiography" of what Daisy Stone believes is an uneventful life. Reading the book, we learn otherwise.
Carol Shields won the Pulitzer Prize for this subtle portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life. What transforms this seemingly ordinary tale is the richness of Daisy’s vividly described inner life—from her earliest memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death.
I visited Canada a number of times when I was young, which may be why I am drawn to Canadian literature. I also appreciate great short stories, and Alice Munro is a master. I was awestruck and speechless when she visited the bookshops for OPEN SECRETS, an outstanding collection of connected stories that provides a real sense of the place and people of Carstairs, Ontario.
This is the story of a village in Germany before, during, and after WWII as seen through the eyes of one of its residents, Trudi, who is a dwarf. The book conveys both the effects of war and the desire for normalcy. At 525 pages, it is a lengthy one for me, but I devoured it.
I've read every one of Elinor Lipman's smart, comedic novels. This is the one I often recommend people start with when they are new to her books. THE INN AT LAKE DEVINE is a great summer read. It's 1962 and a family is looking to stay at a hotel in Vermont. But there is an issue—they're Jewish and the owners prefer Gentile guests. Twelve-year-old Natalie sets out to correct the injustice.
Jhumpa Lahiri's stunning collection of short stories provides insight into the Indian American and cross-cultural experiences. I was amazed that she could convey so much in so little space. While many people know her for her novel THE NAMESAKE, INTERPRETER OF MALADIES is my favorite of Lahiri's books.
I love India so much that I cannot wait to go back. At this very moment, I am struggling against the desire to pack some lightweight clothing into a suitcase and head to Kerala, where I spent the better part of a week while traveling abroad in 2012. Here are a few of the stories I return to when I’m longing for a jasmine flower tucked behind my ear and a seat at an old friend’s table on the streets of Cochin.
In Tracy Chevalier's novel GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, seventeenth-century Holland and Vermeer's most famous painting come alive. Chevalier tells the imagined story of the woman in it: Vermeer's 16-year-old maid, Griet, and how the painting came to be.
Johannes Vermeer’s GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING has remained a beautiful enigma for centuries. In her atmospheric novel, Tracy Chevalier imagines the painting’s subject to be a young girl hired by the Vermeer household, whose rise from maid to assistant to model brings with it a world of jealousy, intimacy, and secrets.
YEAR OF WONDERS vividly tells the story of the plague striking a small village and the woman who tries to save its people. When my husband and I were preparing for our trip to China to adopt our daughter, we didn't have time to talk about which books we were bringing. Once seated on the plane, I was tickled when I pulled out FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE by Geraldine Brooks and he BLUE LATITUDES by Brooks's husband, Tony Horowitz.
This novel was published shortly after our daughter came to the US from China, which gave it added resonance for me. Lisa See beautifully details cultural nineteenth-century China. She also portrays a deep female friendship between two women, something I always find fulfilling in a novel.
A captivating journey back to nineteenth-century China when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, Lisa See’s gorgeously written work of fiction is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful.
Like THE STONE DIARIES, THE HISTORY OF LOVE features a book within a book. The book within this novel connects an old man and a young woman in a way that neither of them understands. With a multilayered plot, literary references, and multiple points of view, this novel is a puzzle, but well worth the read.
ASTRID & VERONIKA is about two women who come together to share their loss. Though their friendship is short, taking place over the course of one year, they share a lifetime of feeling. Linda Olsson beautifully captures both the inner and outer landscapes. Sweden and food.
This novel has received renewed attention with the award-winning Netflix film. Set in the 1940s Mississippi Delta, MUDBOUND is the tale of two families, one white and one black, that gives a clear and harrowing picture of the issues of the time—racism, sexism, effects of war, and the unforgiving farming life. I was blown away.