March is Women’s History Month so this month’s task for our 2021 Reading Challenge is to read a nonfiction book or classic novel written by a woman. Below you’ll find a few recommendations to meet the task, but for even more suggestions, give us a call at 708-867-7828. Your librarians are here to help.
Download a printable form and keep track of your reading tasks throughout the year to earn a free book.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
A Swedish family migrate to Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century. The daughter of the family inherits the land when her father dies, and the story follows her struggle to maintain it when many around her are leaving the prairie in defeat. There are two romantic narratives in the novel: that of the daughter and a family friend, and of her brother and a married woman.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
The women at the center of The Enchanted April are alike only in their dissatisfaction with their everyday lives. They find each other–and the castle of their dreams–through a classified ad in a London newspaper one rainy February afternoon. The ladies expect a pleasant holiday, but they don’t anticipate that the month they spend in Portofino will reintroduce them to their true natures and reacquaint them with joy. Now, if the same transformation can be worked on their husbands and lovers, the enchantment will be complete.
Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
Lord Peter Wimsey comes to the trial of Harriet Vane for a glimpse at one of the most engaging murder cases London has seen in years. Unfortunately for the detective, the crime’s details are distractingly salacious, and there is little doubt that the woman will be found guilty. A slightly popular mystery novelist, she stands accused of poisoning her fiancé, a literary author and well-known advocate of free love. Over the course of a few weeks, she bought strychnine, prussic acid, and arsenic, and when her lover died the police found enough poison in his veins to kill a horse. But as Lord Peter watches Harriet in the dock, he begins to doubt her guilt—and to fall in love.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
A governess is sent by an employment afency to the wrong address, where she encounters a glamourous night-club singer, Miss LaFosse.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
From the moment she entered the world, Francie Nolan needed to be made of stern stuff, for the often harsh life of Williamsburg demanded fortitude, precocity, and strength of spirit. Often scorned by neighbors for her family’s erratic and eccentric behavior—such as her father Johnny’s taste for alcohol and Aunt Sissy’s habit of marrying serially without the formality of divorce—no one, least of all Francie, could say that the Nolans’ life lacked drama. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the Nolans’ daily experiences are tenderly threaded with family connectedness and raw with honesty. Betty Smith has, in the pages of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, captured the joys of humble Williamsburg life-from “junk day” on Saturdays, when the children of Francie’s neighborhood traded their weekly take for pennies, to the special excitement of holidays, bringing cause for celebration and revelry.
South and West by Joan Didion
Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles—and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies’ brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through. And from a different notebook: the “California Notes” that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento.
Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon
We all know Dorothea Lange’s iconic photos — the “Migrant Mother” holding her child, the gaunt men forlornly waiting in bread lines — but few know the arc of her extraordinary life. In this sweeping account, renowned historian Linda Gordon charts Lange’s journey from polio-ridden child to wife and mother, to San Francisco portrait photographer, to chronicler of the Great Depression and World War II. Gordon uses Lange’s life to anchor a moving social history of twentieth-century America, re-creating the bohemian world of San Francisco, the Dust Bowl, and the Japanese American internment camps. She explores Lange’s growing radicalization as she embraced the democratic power of the camera, and she examines Lange’s entire body of work, reproducing more than one hundred images, many of them previously unseen and some of them formerly suppressed. Lange reminds us that beauty can be found in unlikely places, and that to respond to injustice, we must first simply learn how to see it.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine: The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.
Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.
The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.'” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?
Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.