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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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Buy Le Divorce from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith + Howards End by E.M. Forster
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Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
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Passing by Nella Larsen
My Salinger Year has recently been adapted for the big screen – starring both Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley – and Joanna was kind enough to share with me her Desert Island Books. From Zadie Smith’s magnificent third novel to her all-time favourite book, here are the eight tomes Joanna would take with her to the sandy shores of a desert island.
I’m cheating a little here, but bear with me: Zadie Smith’s magnificent third novel, On Beauty–which takes place in a fictional version of my city, Cambridge, Massachusetts–is, famously, a modern gloss on Forster’s elegiac comedy of manners. Both novels are about the freedoms and constraints and delusions of the educated upper middle classes, a constant subject of mine, and about the ways in which our ideals can both liberate and destroy us. And both are wonderful on their own, but read best as a pair.
Le Divorce by Diane Johnson
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Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
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Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
I love all of Wharton’s novels but this one has special resonance for me because I, like Newland Archer, found myself in a perfectly okay but bloodless marriage, longing for a person I’d long known, for whom I felt a passionate connection. Over the long years of my marriage–in which I felt trapped, certain I would incur the wrath of society at large and, of course, my conservative parents, if I left it–I read and re-read The Age of Innocence countless times, my heart racing with recognition.
Way back when I was an intern at Bloomsbury Publishing – shortly after graduating – I read My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff. A memoir about literary New York in the 1990s it recounts the time Rakoff spent living in New York when – after graduating from university – she worked as an assistant to the literary agent for JD Salinger. A wonderfully charming tale that is both poignant and nostalgic, I later went on to read her debut novel – A Fortunate Age – tells the tale of a group of Oberlin graduates who move to New York to chase dreams, relationships and a life less ordinary and perfectly captures the transition to adulthood.
Family Happiness by Laurie Colwin
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Possibly my all-time favorite novel. I’ve read it a dozen times or so. Diane Johnson, an American who lives in Paris, primarily writes novels about cross-cultural connections, relationships, and misunderstandings; and this novel is, I think, her best. Narrated with deadpan aplomb, Le Divorce follows Izzy–the aimless child in a family of ambitious go-getters–as she travels from California to Paris, to help her sister, Roxeanne, in the final stages of her second pregnancy. Only to find that Roxeane’s seemingly perfect life is a shambles: Her French husband has run off, to the horror of his very proper family. As Izzy tends to the distraught Roxeane, she gets drawn into both the world of American expats and that of her brother-in-law’s wealthy family. I could go on and on but you just have to read it!
Like everyone else on the planet, I love all of Jane Austen’s novels. In my twenties, I favored Persuasion; in my thirties, Emma; and in my forties, Sense and Sensibility, which so gorgeously gets at the ways in which women define themselves, try to carve out lives and identities for themselves, within the structures and confines of their times. Buy Howard’s End from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.