Different moods for reading strike me at various times, but lately I’ve been in the midst of a life plan-crisis, battling Seasonal Affective Disorder, and feeling alienated and alone in a city that’s still new to me after 9 months of settling in. So the literary mood I’ve been in has demanded stories about women who take life by the balls. Here are a few that sated the need.
Just Kids, by Patti Smith: This memoir of legendary lady-rocker Patti Smith about her young adulthood loving, living with, and working alongside groundbreaking photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe is one of those gripping first-hand accounts of a life so fabled before you even learn about it that you can’t quite believe everything you’re reading. Except, Smith’s voice is so authentic, so awkwardly, adolescently true, you must believe it. From busking in Paris to singing Janis Joplin a song written just for her in the Chelsea Hotel to caring for Mapplethorpe in his last, heartbreaking days as an early victim of AIDS, Smith’s memoir is ultimately about a woman playing with art –any art– until it is willing to play back with her. Yes, the name dropping is kind of deliciously bad, but at its heart, the story is inspiring. Here’s an artist it worked out for, worthy of accolades.
My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme: Another memoir by a relatively celebrated woman, Julia Child’s voice comes through these pages in its ever lively, down-to-earth, enjoyable way. Anyone who’s watched her show before knows the voice explicitly, so how delicious to read a hundred or more pages of her descriptions of early Parisian dinners of soule mariniere, pot au feu, and other delicacies. She does a little delicious namedropping herself, of both famous chefs and fringe celebrities from the Paris of the 1950s (she attended Ernest Hemingway’s son’s wedding!). But the real joy of My Life in France is reading about Chef Julia’s process of learning, testing, perfecting, tweaking, writing, and editing recipes. There is something almost meditative and definitely satisfying about the humdrum routine of her technique, the anal retentive perfectionism that haunts these pages. As a person who works with a similar sense of self-nitpicking, I thrilled to see evidence that it can be a quality that brings success.
Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, by Edwidge Danticat: This book, both a collection of essays and a cohesive work, chronicles thoughts both personal and national for Danticat, a Haitian-American writer whose book explores the tension of being bi-national and creative, and the responsibility of being a writer and the torch of truth-telling and story-bearing it carries with it. I took away a lot from this book (Danticat is a beautiful writer who writes in about 20 layers at once), but chief to my immediate struggles was the sense of victory in relaying a story, the acknowledgement that it isn’t really enough to do so, but that it is the most storytellers can do and so we must.
What are some books you’ve read about inspirational women?