Pen-Wielding Women Have Powerhouse Year

Friday, December 19, 2008

With new books from Morrison, Lahiri and Gilpin Faust, female writers had a strong showing in '08. Jane Mayer's "The Dark Side" offers an authoritative investigation of the internal arguments about torture, Guantanamo Bay and the Bush-era CIA.

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Curtis Sittenfeld

(WOMENSENEWS)--Although 2008 wasn't marked by the same high-profile triumphs for female authors as 2007--no Nobel Prize, no Harry Potter finale--it was still a banner year for women with pens, or perhaps word processors.

Many of the most lauded and bestselling female authors of our era published in 2008, vaulting an impressively large number of works onto year-end "best of" lists and the front displays of bookstores. In a struggling climate for publishing, these powerhouse female authors helped keep the industry afloat.

Leading the pack in the world of fiction this year were Nobel laureate Toni Morrison and Pulitzer alumnae Jhumpa Lahiri, Marilynne Robinson and E. Annie Proulx, as well as bestseller Curtis Sittenfeld.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Morrison's latest historical novel, "A Mercy," is a tale about the birth of the American psyche in a world where the Native Americans are being slaughtered, slavery is growing more popular and wives are sent over from England to pay off their family debts. The complicated, far-reaching act of mercy that bookends the story is a mother in slavery who willingly parts with her daughter so that the girl can be owned by a more humane master.

Writers Lahiri, Robinson and Proulx returned to territory with which they have become synonymous. Lahiri's "Unaccustomed Earth" is a series of thematically linked stories exploring immigrant families, particularly the gulfs between Bengalis in America, their first-generation children and their homeland.

Proulx's "Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3," goes back to the plains and mountains of the state where her "Brokeback Mountain" took place. Robinson's "Home" is even more explicitly familiar, reuniting the family from her Pulitzer-winning "Gilead" as they gather at their ailing father's deathbed.

"Prep" author Curtis Sittenfeld envisions a world of gossip and intrigue not unlike--but on a much grander scale--the tony prep school in her debut. "American Wife" tells the life story of a Midwestern librarian who unexpectedly marries into a WASPy dynasty and watches her husband battle alcoholism, find Jesus and climb the political ranks, a story closely modeled on that of Laura Bush.

Buzz and Acclaimed Debuts

Beyond the big names, women authored many of the year's acclaimed debut novels. Kate Morton's "The House at Riverton" is the remembered tale of a British family told by its loyal servant at the end of her life. Debut novelist and blogger Carleen Brice's "Orange, Mint and Honey" is about a young grad student's attempt at reconciliation with her formerly alcoholic mother.

Recommended Books

Here are 10 books from 2008 written or recommended by WeNews editors, writers and friends:

"The Jewel of Medina" by Sherry Jones, a controversial fictional portrayal of Muhammed's first wife that was canceled by Random House before being published by Beaufort Books

"The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) Positive" by Marvelyn Brown and Courtney E. Martin

"Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leading Roles" is a New York Times best-seller written by Gloria Feldt and Kathleen Turner

"Midnight" by Sister Souljah, the follow-up to her wildly popular street saga "The Coldest Winter Ever"

"Women of the Court: Inside the WNBA" by Juliette Terzieff

"Political Odyssey: The Rise of American Militarism and One Man's Fight to Stop It" by Sen. Mike Gravel and Joe Lauria

"The Lake Effect: Two Sisters and a Town's Toxic Legacy," Nancy Nichols

"Feminism and Pop Culture" by Andi Zeisler

"Death by Domestic Violence: Preventing the Murders and Murder-Suicides" by Katherine van Wormer and A.R. Roberts

"Hellions: Pop-Culture's Rebel Women" by Maria Raha

One of the year's most buzzed about and lauded nonfiction books was New Yorker contributor Jane Mayer's "The Dark Side," an investigative look at the internal arguments about torture, Guantanamo Bay and the CIA in the Bush administration. "The Dark Side" has been widely cited by journalists and commentators since its publication as the authoritative, comprehensive book on the subject.

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