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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

If you're looking for something to read this winter by a woman author, something that'll engross you, take you to new worlds and introduce you to characters you'll never forget, I have some suggestions. These books are among my all-time favorites -- to be included, they had to be on my list of favorites for at least a decade.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Just about everything written by Barbara Kingsolver is entrancing, but this one is mesmerizing and haunting. The novel follows the experiences of a family of American missionaries in the Congo in the 1950s. This was a historical period of tremendous change in that region of the world, and Kingsolver brings us into it through interweaving narratives. Four voices tell us this story -- each chapter told by a different family member in her own voice. It is brilliant and beautifully written, and you’ll want to read everything else by Kingsolver after experiencing this. And on that note, I have to mention that I just finished her latest novel, Flight Behavior, and it's fantastic.

Song of Solomon and Sula by Toni Morrison

I can’t decide which of these two books is my favorite by Toni Morrison -- so I'm just going to suggest both. They're novels that suck you into people's lives, dreams and struggles in a way that's like traveling to another time and place. Especially if you've never read the brilliant Toni Morrison, read one of these!

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

This short novel moves back and forth in time, from 1967 Haiti to present-day Florida, and from one character to another. Each chapter reads as a short story, yet a horrific past connects them all, a tension that pulls us through the stories. Danticat, originally from Haiti, is a masterful writer -- each sentence and scene is captivating, vivid and complex. This book is a powerful introduction to recent Haitian history and to the legacies of violence.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

I've read every book by Isabel Allende, and yet this one remains my favorite. It's epic and sweeping, and carries us through a hundred years of Chilean history and politics, but it also has séances, ghosts, and wild, fierce women. This is a page-turner, and a classic in Latin American literature.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Do you ever read a book and love it so much that after a while you want to re-read it -- but you're afraid that, if you do, you might not like it? That's how I felt about this book -- and then, 25 years from the first time I'd read it, I did re-read it, and I loved it just as much. The Mists of Avalon is a recreation of the King Arthur legends from the perspectives of the women behind the thrones, primarily Morgaine (Morgan Le Fay) and Guinevere. Zimmer Bradley depicts the struggle between Christianity (which was sweeping the British Isles at the time that Camelot was believed to exist) and the pagan, goddess-worshiping cultures. The Arthurian legends are turned on their heads, and this might just have been the history of that time period -- untold, of course, because only the victors write history. This is a perfect winter read of almost 900 pages.

All of these books explore what it means to be a woman in the midst of social and political change, some more directly than others. They examine how socio-political forces can shape identities. And they're all compelling, engrossing reads. Happy winter reading!

Comments (7)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal

Can I add three titles? Mary Coin by Marisa Silver (http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Coin-Marisa-Silver/dp/0399160701) was just haunting. Inspired by Dorthea Lang's photo, "Migrant Mother," it's a fictionalized account of life during the depression and beyond, told through the lens of several different families. I read it in one sitting- though, granted, it was on a non-stop, coast-to-coast flight.

The other is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (http://www.amazon.com/Diana-Gabaldon/e/B000APXMEG/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1384...) . I've long held a deep and powerful hatred for time-travel books, but this series cured me of that within the first 100 pages and now I'm completely hooked. You'll never look at Scottish- or American- history the same way. If you start now, you'll be all caught up just in time for the release of her latest- Written in My Own Heart's Blood- in March of 2013.

And, for the YA reader in your life, let me recommend Amelia and Me by Heather Stemp. (http://www.amazon.com/Amelia-Me-Heather-Stemp/dp/1771172541/ref=sr_1_2?s...). As a Newfoundland native, Heather really catches the tone of what it meant to be a girl who aspired to great things in a time and place where expectations for girls were much more mundane.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer
Staff

"The Mists of Avalon" has to be one of my favorite books ever. I think it's over 400 pages but I've read it over three times -- can't get enough of it!

One other read I'd suggest is the "Red Tent" -- great read with very strong and diverse women characters: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4989.The_Red_Tent.

Anne OBrien's picture
Anne OBrien
Deputy Director of the Learning First Alliance
Blogger 2014

On Toni Morrison, I'd disagree - my favorite is "The Bluest Eye, " though it is also truly disturbing: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11337.The_Bluest_Eye

Another of my favorites is "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," by Betty Smith. I read it for the first time in about the sixth grade and at least once a year for the next ten...I've not read it since, because of fear of not loving it as much! A classic coming of age story, great for preteens, teen and adults along (in my humble opinion, of course): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14891.A_Tree_Grows_in_Brooklyn

James Dittes's picture
James Dittes
English teacher from Gallatin, Tennessee

For female writers of the past ten years, I would add the fillowing:

My wife and I really enjoyed Kate Atkinson's Life After Life this year, partially because it covers the same era of English history as Downton Abbey and more because it is haunting, the idea that a young woman gets chance after chance to endure in the same life.

Arcadia by Lauren Groff is so tender, so well written, you never want to leave the Adirondack commune she has created here, or its characters, Bit and Helle.

Finally, there is only one reason to read We Need to Talk About Kevin. It is a horror story that painfully explores any mother, wife or teacher's worst fears. It is a book whose characters will sere into one's brains and never leave (its effect is like the movie, Schindler's List, I don't care to see it again, but it was so well made that I won't have to. Those aren't good reasons. The reason why is that it's the greatest psychological novel I've ever read, and it's by Lionel Shriver.

Laurie Chu's picture
Laurie Chu
Edutopia staff and parent of two public high schoolers
Staff

[A thumbs up for "The Mists of Avalon", too.] I'm in the midst of reading "The Opposite of Fate" by Amy Tan, a book about her own childhood and family. ". . . Whether recalling arguments with her mother in suburban California or introducing us to the ghosts that inhabit her computer, The Opposite of Fate offers vivid portraits of choices, attitudes, charms, and luck in action? A refreshing antidote to the world-weariness and uncertainties we all face today." http://www.amazon.com/The-Opposite-Fate-Amy-Tan/dp/0142004898/ref=sr_1_8...

Bill Wolfe's picture
Bill Wolfe
English 10 and AVID 11 &12 teacher from Bakersfield, California

Elena, you might find my blog of interest. It's dedicated to literary fiction by women authors. I started it last summer and have reviewed and interviewed several writers in the last few months. I second Laura Thomas's recommendation of Marisa Silver's "Mary Coin." It just happens to be the first book I wrote about on my blog.

Diane's picture

I too appreciate books and women. My personal perspective is books not necessarily written by women, but ones that are about women. I have a website, www.booksaboutrealwomen.com, that is a bibliography of over 150 books about women, both living and dead. You might want to check it out.

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