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Life by the Book

The sky was a little gray when I set out on my very first by-myself walk to the center of town. There would be streets to cross, and I’d practiced long how to look both ways. My memory insists this was the summer before I turned 8, and in those days, in a small town, 8 was plenty old enough to make this maiden “voyage”. My destination was the new bookstore, and I wanted to read “Charlotte’s Web.” How grown up I felt, handing the clerk the $5 bill Mom had given me, and getting change. This was, obviously, a long time ago.

It was only a few minutes into my return trip that the darkening clouds lived up to their threat. Lightning fractured the sky and thunder rumbled. I slipped the book under my shirt and ran, jumping over rivulets and puddles, and rounding the last corner to see Mom on the top porch step, waiting.

But instead of going inside to dry off, I plopped into one of our wicker chairs, pulling my knees to my chest, and broke open the spine of my brand-new book against my bent legs. I remember the first scene, with Papa getting the ax because he needed to take care of the runt born the night before. I remember the sound of the rain pelting the porch roof, and the belief that little Wilbur would be protected.

When I’m not working as an educator here at  A Woman’s Place (AWP), I publish nonfiction. But for pleasure, I read fiction only. Because pretty much always, fiction ends happily.  And if you were to check out my profile on the online book club Goodreads, you will see I prefer books about women (probably because I am one), but specifically about women who, despite odds or obstacles, come to live a flourishing life.

Here, in the AWP Education and Training department, we are all avid readers, so I polled my coworkers, Christina Baer, Christine Ferrante, and Liesbeth Bisschops, about their favorite strong-women books. Together, we’ve compiled, in no particular order, this list of our favorite female-centric fiction (or nearly fiction) titles from the last decade: “The Paris Wife,” by Paula McLain; “Fortune’s Rock,” by Anita Shreve;Ahab’s Wife – or, the Star Gazer,” by Sena Jeter Naslund; “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” by Khaled Hosseini; “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” by Lisa See; “The Secret Life of Bees,” by Sue Monk Kidd, “The Red Tent,” by Anita Diamant;The Tea Rose,” by Jennifer Donnelly;  “Room,” by Emma Donoghue; “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins; “The Time In Between,” by Maria Dueñas; and “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett.  (Did you catch the two “Wife” and “Secret” titles? Mmmmm.)

This Friday is National Book Lovers Day. And when I think about my own history of loving books, it begins on a rainy day on a porch in a safe and loving home. According to our Mission Statement, A Woman’s Place envisions a society where all individuals are safe in their relationships and can flourish. Safe physically and emotionally. Sadly, there are too many women, men, children who are not flourishing because they are not safe. We always make sure to acknowledge callers to our hotline as being strong, courageous in taking that first step in taking back their lives. And what keeps us doing what we’re doing is holding onto the belief they will come to be protected, hoping that in real life, their stories end happily.

Carla Odell
Community Educator

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