March was Women’s History Month—but, while we appreciate the sentiment, we also know that women make history every month. In the entire world, men outnumber women only slightly, with a ratio of 102 men to every 100 women. We also know (or should know) that, in certain region, the infanticide of female children has impacted this figure. In the United States, women outnumber men. And yet, women’s stories are frequently placed into their own categories. Women’s stories are frequently deemed less universal. This week, we delve deeply into those stories: the professional, the political, and the historic. So often, women’s stories are all three of these things at once. (Let’s just note that these stories in particular share one more important quality—they’re damn good reads.)
So, although it may be April, here are Bookstr’s Three to Read: Women’s History edition. Why? Because we know it matters!
our HOT PICK:
Trailblazing food writer and beloved restaurant critic Ruth Reichl took the risk (and the job) of a lifetime when she entered the glamorous, high-stakes world of magazine publishing. Now, for the first time, she chronicles her groundbreaking tenure as editor in chief of Gourmet, during which she spearheaded a revolution in the way we think about food.
When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. And yet . . . Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?
This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl’s leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media–the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.
Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams–even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.
Women never have to apologize for their success. So it’s complicated to realize that we are often expected to. This book is a fascinating look at the career trajectory of an accomplished professional at the height of her power. Ruth Reichl asserts herself and her capabilities as she takes on a massive leadership role with talent and personality, inspiring all readers to not only live their dreams but also CRUSH them. Beyond the feminist elements of Reichl’s boss rise to success, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir is a colorful story of big-time creative professionals, sure to add plenty of flavor (bad pun, accurate description) to your reading list. Reichl has also written a number of other successful books that draw upon her relationship with food, including the successful Delicious!: A Novel. As a bonus, this cover design is especially inventive—we look at the tantalizing first page of an open, glossy magazine, a nod to Reichl’s role in Gourmet that perfectly captures the feeling of such a prestigious publication. Also, we love food. We assume you feel the same.
our COFFEE SHOP READ:
The dramatic true story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade–codename Hedgehog–the woman who headed the largest spy network in occupied France during World War II, from the New York Times bestselling author of Citizens of London and Those Angry Days.
In 1941, a thirty-one-year-old Frenchwoman born to privilege and known for her beauty and glamour became the leader of a vast Resistance organization–the only woman to hold such a role. Brave, independent, and a lifelong rebel against her country’s conservative, patriarchal society, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was temperamentally made for the job. Her group’s name was Alliance, but the Gestapo dubbed it Noah’s Ark because its agents used the names of animals as their aliases. Marie-Madeleine’s codename was Hedgehog.
No other French spy network lasted as long or supplied as much crucial intelligence as Alliance–and as a result, the Gestapo pursued them relentlessly, capturing, torturing, and executing hundreds of its three thousand agents, including her own lover and many of her key spies. Fourcade had to move her headquarters every week, constantly changing her hair color, clothing, and identity, yet was still imprisoned twice by the Nazis. Both times she managed to escape, once by stripping naked and forcing her thin body through the bars of her cell. The mother of two young children, Marie-Madeleine hardly saw them during the war, so entirely engaged was she in her spy network, preferring they live far from her and out of harm’s way.
In Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, Lynne Olson tells the tense, fascinating story of Fourcade and Alliance against the background of the developing war that split France in two and forced its citizens to live side by side with their hated German occupiers.
Culturally, we’re fascinated with female spies and operatives: consider the sheer number of listicles starring Hedy Lamarr, film actress, inventor, and WWII radio operator. Perhaps its appeal comes from something inherent in the subversion of gender roles. War is a man’s game, pop culture and history dictates. But, if that were true, why are women so good at playing? The reality is that men are frequently the ones writing the history they populate, removing the narratives of these compelling women. In Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, Lynne Olson explores the multifaceted life of a fascinating woman—a woman whose motherhood (and womanhood) does not make her any less of a Nazi-fighting badass. Olson is a prolific writer of non-fiction, and you don’t have to take my word for it: former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright dubbed Olson “our era’s foremost chronicler of World War II politics and diplomacy.”
OUR DARK HORSE:
Based on exclusive interviews and access to the Supreme Court archives, this is the intimate, inspiring, and authoritative biography of America’s first female Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor- by New York Times bestselling author Evan Thomas.
She was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. At a time when women were expected to be homemakers, she set her sights on Stanford University. When she graduated near the top of her class at law school in 1952, no firm would even interview her. But Sandra Day O’Connor’s story is that of a woman who repeatedly shattered glass ceilings–doing so with a blend of grace, wisdom, humor, understatement, and cowgirl toughness.
She became the first-ever female majority leader of a state senate. As a judge on the Arizona State Court of Appeals, she stood up to corrupt lawyers and humanized the law. When she arrived at the Supreme Court, appointed by Reagan in 1981, she began a quarter-century tenure on the court, hearing cases that ultimately shaped American law. Diagnosed with cancer at fifty-eight, and caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s, O’Connor endured every difficulty with grit and poise.
Women and men today will be inspired by how to be first in your own life, how to know when to fight and when to walk away, through O’Connor’s example. This is a remarkably vivid and personal portrait of a woman who loved her family and believed in serving her country, who, when she became the most powerful woman in America, built a bridge forward for the women who followed her.
It’s a rare biography that fully juxtaposes the human with the historic, the personal with the political. The New Yorker contributor Evan Thomas‘ First: Sandra Day O’Connor is one such work… and it’s worth putting first on your reading list. While the biography may center around O’Connor’s professional accomplishments, it also portrays her as a complex person. All of us craving that Game of Thrones content (specifically, the gossip and artifice of power dynamics) will feel the hypnotic pull of the Supreme Court’s political intrigue… without as much of the baggage of contemporary political discourse. There’s an inherent (if slightly voyeuristic) appeal in looking at the secret side of stories we’ve seen play out on the news, people we’ve seen on television made whole and complete. Thomas grants us access to rivalries hidden from the media, to the intimate accounts of friends and colleagues. This biography captures that same appeal of reality television—just with fewer beach hookups and parking lot fights. (By ‘fewer,’ we mean absolutely none. Just to clarify.)