Writing Bloc’s Best Reads February 2019 Edition. Welcome to the seventh post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of February, we hear from Becca, Jacqui, Cari, and Michael.
Still not sure what to read next? Check out Writing Bloc’s 2019 Writers as Readers Challenge.
Becca’s Recommendation – Lipstick Brigade by Cindy Gueli
In Lipstick Brigade: The Untold True Story of Washington’s World War II Government Girls, historian Cindy Gueli brings to life this important part of World War II history. I have a professional interest in these 100,000 women who moved to Washington D.C. to fill important clerical positions: my novel, Rock of Ages, follows a Government Girl. My interest is also personal. My beloved grandmother was one of them, classifying fingerprints for the FBI.I picked up Gueli’s book as research, hoping to make my own book as historically accurate as possible, but ended up feeling more deeply connected to my grandma, who passed away two months ago.
Gueli explains the political and personal forces which drew the women to the nation’s capital, an important government and military hub. She describes in detail their often monotonous jobs, the crowded and expensive living conditions in the bustling wartime city, the sexual and social traditions the women challenged, and the media portrayal of Government Girls that the real women contended with. She does it all with an eye to the influence of gender and race. Gueli is an excellent historian and an engaging writer.As I read about beauty seminars hosted for Government Girls, I began to understand my grandma’s fascination with Avon products and saw the time she took me for a makeover in a new light. She brought with her the experience of being a 19-year-old woman from rural West Virginia, on her own in a big city for the first time, learning beauty standards.
Reading about the cost of various amenities in D.C. at the time, I was able to make more sense of the letter my grandma kept detailing her raise and of her story about her $25 a month room. My grandma’s independence, patriotism, resourcefulness, and fashion sense all make more sense to me after having read this book. At a time when feeling close to my grandma is especially meaningful, I am grateful. My novel, too, will no doubt benefit from Gueli’s extensive knowledge.Readers interested in 1940s history, labor history, and feminism will certainly enjoy this thorough, readable book.
Jacqui’s Recommendation – Beartown by Fredrik Backman
“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil.”
― Fredrik Backman
Ever since reading A Man Called Ove years ago and absolutely loving Backman’s style, I’ve had several of his books on my to-read list, but they kept getting pushed to the back-burner for some reason. I think because deep down I knew that when I chose to enter another Backman book, I wouldn’t come out unscathed. There are certain authors that you know can wreck you, leave you reeling for days. Fredrik Backman is apparently one of them for me, and he is quickly becomming one of my favorite authors.
It’s hard to explain what exactly it is about Beartown that resonated so deeply. On its surface it’s a story about a hockey team and a devastating event that rocks a small town, but it is so much more than that. It is a story about the many, often contradictory, layers we have as humans. It is a story about the sometimes-toxic world of sports and tribalism. It is a story about snap judgements and self reflection. Highly recommend.
Cari’s Recommendation – Duped by Abby Ellin
Author Abby Ellin almost married a con man – she tells her story in this part-memoir, part-fascinating fact book about liars. While there are other books out there about liars and their motivations, this one stands out because of its strong storytelling and clear, engaging style. Highly recommended for writers – if you’re looking for a reasoning behind your deceptive character’s motivation, you’ll be able to find it here.
Michael’s Recommendation – Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
I recently found Octavia Butler’s work thanks to friend recommendation. She was a powerhouse in science fiction, and all of her works are worth praise. Most of her stories feature complicated characters exploring issues that mirror current events, and her characters are rich and diverse, unlike the campy science fiction stories she fought to counterbalance. This recommendation is truly for Octavia Butler’s entire catalogue. From Kindred (1979) to Fledgling (2005), you can’t go wrong with any of her stories.
The reason for specifically pointing out Parable of the Talents is that it shows some of the author’s uncanny ability to predict future events by exploring her world at the time of her writing. Parable is actually a sequel to Parable of the Sower, and it was written in 1998. Part of the story features a dystopian take on a future America featuring a presidential candidate hellbent on controlling the population by use of virtual reality and shock collars. This power hungry candidate also used an interesting slogan to push his agenda: “Make America Great Again.” Yes, she wrote this in 1998. Now go read her work. Unfortunately, we lost this literary giant in 2006, but thankfully she left a lot of work behind for us all to marvel at and enjoy.