Book suggestions for 2009

One of New Year resolutions is to read more, watch less TV.  I’ve just completed my first book of the New Year, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, a book loaned to me by my friend Meghan. It was a wonderful read and full of symbolism (that’s the English major coming out in me coming out, sorry).  I just received an email from Gwyneth Paltrow with her book suggestions (very appropriate considering my resolution) so I though I would share her thoughts with you:

I feel a bit swallowed up in January, the days are so short, the sky is so close and gray. The best way to escape (not to mention the least expensive, most hassle-free way) is to curl up by the fire with an amazing, transportive novel. This week I have asked a couple of my best and most literary-minded girlfriends to share their top picks. These are the women who read voraciously and with passion. No TV for them before bed (I need a little something, even 10 minutes of “The X Factor” or a forensic pathology documentary, just something, for Lord’s sake!). I always like knowing the literary preferences of people. I think it gives a better understanding of their inner life. I have also included some of the books that have affected me the most.

Happy reading!


--- Gwyneth Paltrow

Christy’s Favorites:
(Christy Turlington is an amazing friend, mother, and an activist who is pursuing her masters in Public Health at Columbia University)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

This novel was completely ahead of its time and Faulkner is surely one of the greatest American writers. What I love about it is the way he tells a family story from each person’s perspective within a historical context. The prose throughout is poetic yet unstructured.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

This novel transports me each time I read it, to a time and a place that is so much simpler than my own. I fell in love with Hemingway’s idea of Spain through these characters’ experiences, especially Brett’s, the book’s heroine, who is such an autonomous spirit.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Coming from a family of sisters and the second-born, I always identified with Elizabeth Bennet. The plight of women and our historically limited freedoms make Austen’s spirited characters all the more intriguing and inspiring.

Madonna’s Favorites:
(Madonna Ciccone rules the world, is a loyal friend and a terrific mother)

The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Aunt Louise’s Favorites:
(Stella’s Aunt Louise Weed is a wife and mother cum Obama activist in Boston, MA)

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

There is a recent, fabulous translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I read this version (after reading it in college oh-so-many years ago) this summer. It is beautifully written and captures so many essential truths. The first go-round, I mostly cared about the love story of Natasha. This second reading, I read every word about war. Very tongue-in-cheek much of the time.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

It doesn’t get better than this.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Dorothea Brooke has so much to teach us all. I have read this twice and will probably read it again. George Eliot was so ahead of her time in terms of both her use of language and the story she sketched. This book really influenced me. I read it for the first time in my junior year in college.

For short stories I love Alice Munro. She is a Canadian writer with a spare style. She is marvelous. I also loved Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies.

I just read a fantastic book when I was in Puerto Rico called Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert by Georgina Howell. It is about a woman of great independence during the Victorian era, who traveled many times across the desert (she also climbed many difficult mountains in Switzerland). She is responsible, in part, for the current configuration of Iraq.

Of course, I love all of Jane Austen. Probably Pride and Prejudice is my favorite, for all the obvious reasons.

Gwyneth’s Favorites:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

This was the first novel I ever read. Actually, it was read to me by my mother. We started it when I was 10 years old. The novel starts out with a young Jane, about the age I was at the time, so I was drawn in, in such a visceral way. It was the moment I really started to understand, from my little bed in a room with strawberry wallpaper, that there was a scope to the world, a past and future, that would be there for the learning and for the taking. It was a powerful and deep experience, being read those words, that story with all of its heavy imagery and emotion.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I first read this in high school and have returned to it numerous times. I think there was something about the complexity of the protagonist’s psychology that made me feel like I wasn’t the most misunderstood person in the world (which is what happens with hormonal teenagers). Besides the fact that it is incredibly written, the unsure morality was somehow reassuring. It was okay to be figuring out one’s own sense of right and wrong. In fact, it was one of life’s great endeavors.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

I was doing a film with Ethan Hawke in 1995 and feeling a bit in shock about what was happening with my life. I hadn’t found grace yet with the big changes that were afoot. Ethan correctly intuited that I needed some perspective, some grounding, a sort of literary bringing down to size. He gave me a few of his favorite novels and this masterpiece was one of them. It completely swept me up. It is, in essence, about what happens when one changes landscapes, physical or metaphorical, without intellectual and emotional openness. It also teaches that the unfamiliar must be approached with humility and respect, slowly and without force. It very much set me straight at a very pivotal moment in my life.

Abby’s Favorites:
(Abby Kane is one of my best childhood friends who is a mother of two and lives in Georgia)

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is the first line of the novel. Tolstoy’s incredible mind amazes me. Overwhelmingly beautiful and tragic, this is an epic novel. If you persevere through the arduous length, you will be in for a treat. Full of timeless romance and tragedy!!

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez truly transports you with his descriptions and characters. You feel like you are with these incredibly unique and spicy characters (Latin, of course) in this coastal Colombian town. It’s a beautiful and moving love story, which was a much easier read for me than another of Márquez’s books, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I love this book because of the incredible female protagonist, who is a brave and beautiful romantic. She overcomes adversity and is finally redeemed. The book is written in an African-American vernacular and exudes an intense depth of emotion. The side story about the author, Zora Neale Hurston, is amazing as well. She only got the recognition she deserved posthumously; she died working as a domestic with no money to her name.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I just finished this book, which was absolutely incredible. I loved it and was so splendidly depressed when it ended, that I started reading it again.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

My mom is reading this book right now, which reminded me of how provocative and exciting it is. One of my favorites, The Life of Pi is a fantastic discussion igniter about religion and other important stuff.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

This book was published 10 years after the death of its author. He never got recognition while he was alive, which is very sad. The main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, is a misfit genius who lives in New Orleans and is trying to survive.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

I have read most of Barbara Kingsolver’s books and have enjoyed them. I love this heart-wrenching story about a family who goes to Africa on a mission and how they try to survive in another culture.


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