Hearty Tales: December Book Recommendations

No light reading here! Dive deep into the worlds of some of our heartiest storytellers - Charlotte Yonge, Joan Didion, and Nancy Aronie - and find yourself and your world enlightened as a result.
Header Image courtesy of Walker Studios LLC.

I was born into a family of storytellers and have always loved reading. Moreso, I use reading as a way to bring more experiences into my life - experiences I would never get to have like...being an intelligent woman in the early 19th century...experiencing San Francisco during the height of the American teenage wanderings...or being the loudest person in the room.

I used to get lost in books as a way of escaping reality; however, reading tales such as these no longer makes me wish I lived during a different time--my life now feels too good to let go of! Rather than read to escape, I read to enlarge the life I'm living. I can't think of a better trio of books with which to accomplish that intention than the three I'm recommending here.

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The Clever Woman of the Family, Pub. 1865, Charlotte Mary Yonge

Heroine Rachel Curtis is perhaps one of the most interesting female characters I've ever gotten to know. Though Yonge was a traditional writer, immersed in the theories of her own age, she was such a good writer that her protagonist is as multi-faceted as any modern woman you'll meet in today's literature. In fact, the depth with which Rachel experiences life, growth, and emotions reveals that women have always been multi-faceted; it's just that no one wanted us to know that!

In fact, while the plot of this novel is more complex than the typical (read: Austen-ish) boy-meets-girl conflict, it wouldn't stand up to the test of time without Yonge's brilliant characterization of both major and minor people in the novel. If you like visiting other worlds, than Clever Women is a book you will enjoy. If you also like these other worlds to inform your modern life, you'll enjoy the book that much more.


Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Pub. 1968, Joan Didion

This collection of early essays by Didion is one of my go-to reads when I'm longing to be taken out of my comfort zone. In her astute attention to detail, Didion can make any situation full of wonder. She treats every subject seriously and covers the facts comprehensively, yet there is a quality of amazement in the narration that an intelligent reader can't help but pick up on.

Though the title essay is a crowd favorite--for good reason, given its political overtones--I personally dive deep into Didion-land whenever I read "On Keeping A Notebook." Maybe it's because I"m a writer or a lover of words or a poor diarist, like Joan herself...or maybe it's just that Didion is ultra-vulnerable in this essay. Reading her confession that everything she writes down is a statement about herself feels like a "best friend" kind of admission. In the absence of actually sitting down to a tête-à-tête with Joan, I'll take reading her essays any day!


Writing from the Heart, Pub. 1998, Nancy Slonim Aronie

Why would I recommend a book about writing for the general public?  Because you really don't need to be a writer to sop up a heaping amount of wisdom from this book. Aronie is the kind of writer who doesn't believe writing can be taught, anyway! Instead, she talks about just doing it--whatever the thing is you know deep down inside you're supposed to be doing; whether it's writing or something else--Just do it.

In that way, this tutorial reads as a much more general (and useful!) positive thinking manifesto. With tales from her own life interspersed and told in her signature self-defamatory way, you're easily swayed into thinking anyone can live the life of their dreams. Even big "losers" who've been put down or excluded or told to "get out of the frame of the picture" their whole lives...  Because of her vulnerability and verisimilitude, the reader is drawn in, not just to Aronie's life, but to her entire philosophy: LIFE--any life--is worth living, both wholeheartedly and consciously.

If you are looking to escape--that's certainly okay; and these books will allow you to do just that. At the same time, if you, like me, are looking to expand your experience without losing grasp of present day wonders, plunging deep into the magical worlds of these three hearty tales will enliven your sensibilities and remind you of just how amazing this thing called life can be.