March is Women’s History Month and it’s the perfect time to get inspired by some of literature’s greatest contributors. Here are 18 outstanding, masterful titles that have landed on the American Library Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction shortlist or took home the gold medal.
From New York mobsters to the first woman diver at the Brooklyn Naval Station during WWII to the archetypally motley crew of a merchant-marine ship in U-boat-infested waters, Egan’s insightful and propulsive saga portrays complex and intriguing individuals navigating the rising tides of war.
In telling the story of a Mississippi family––brother and sister Jojo and Kayla and their troubled mother, Leonie, and their legacy of grief and spiritual gifts, Ward explores unresolved racial tensions and the many ways humans create cruelty and suffering. A novel that is, at once, down-to-earth and magical.
The unnamed narrator in Smith’s agile and discerning bildungsroman is entranced and provoked by a Fred Astaire dance number in the movie Swing Time. “Swing time” is also a feat her narrator performs as she pivots from the disastrous present back to the past as she tries to understand her plummet by telling her story and that of her childhood best friend, Tracey. With homage to dance as a unifying force, arresting observations, exceptionally diverse and magnetizing characters, and lashing satire, Swing Time is an acidly funny, fluently global, and head-spinning novel about the quest for meaning, exaltation, and love.
Eleanor Roosevelt, born to privilege, prosperity, and power, first crossed paths with Pauli Murray, the granddaughter of a slave struggling against racism and poverty, in 1934 when the First Lady visited an upstate New York facility for unemployed women. Four years later, Murray sent the opening salvo in what became a fervent correspondence that lasted until Roosevelt’s death. Bell-Scott meticulously chronicles their boundary-breaking friendship, telling each remarkable woman’s story within the context of the crises of the times, from ongoing racial violence to WWII and the vicious battle over school integration, creating a sharply detailed and profoundly illuminating narrative.
Mann reveals the deep wellsprings of her most poetic and disconcerting images. She shares, for the first time, the dark side of her notoriety, as well as the daring adventures behind more recent photographic series. Mann shares staggering family secrets, including her in-laws’ deceptive lives and violent deaths, her Mayflower-blue-blood mother’s scandalously unconventional childhood, and her self-sacrificing country-doctor father’s complicated legacy of slave ownership, wealth, and philanthropy.
This long, claustrophobically written novel follows the lives of four college men from their early post-graduation days in New York through much of their accomplished adult lives, and backward to their childhoods. This profoundly disturbing book is about pain and compulsion, secrets and betrayals, sexuality and loss—but, finally, about friendship.
Transfixed by books and birds of prey as a girl, Macdonald became a historian, writer, and professional falconer involved in avian research and conversation. After the sudden death of her father, Macdonald trains for the first time a dangerous goshawk predator as part of her personal recovery. In this profoundly inquiring and wholly enrapturing memoir, Macdonald exquisitely and unforgettably entwines misery and astonishment, elegy and natural history, human and hawk.
Andrea Wulf, a historian with an invaluable environmental perspective, presents with zest and eloquence the full story of German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt’s adventurous life and extraordinary achievements, from making science “accessible and popular” to his early warnings about how deforestation, monoculture agriculture, and industrialization would engender disastrous climate change.
Kolbert combines travel adventures, lucid science, and informed and awestruck descriptions of natural wonders, from rainforests to
the Great Barrier Reef, to forthrightly address the deleterious impact our use of fossil fuels is having on the very fabric of life.
In the wake of his nefarious father’s abandonment, Theo, a smart, 13-year-old Manhattanite, is extremely close to his vivacious
mother—until an act of terrorism catapults him into a dizzying world bereft of gravity, certainty, or love. Tartt writes from Theo’s
point of view with fierce exactitude and magnetic emotion.
This masterful study examines the complex relationship between two presidents, Roosevelt and Taft, who played major roles in the
Progressive movement of the early twentieth century. Acclaimed historian Goodwin offers a superb re-creation of a period when
many politicians, journalists, and citizens of differing political affiliations viewed government as a force for public good.
To the women in the hair-braiding salon, Ifemelu seems to have everything a Nigerian immigrant in America could desire, but the
culture shock, hardships, and racism she’s endured have left her feeling like she has “cement in her soul.” Americanah is a
courageous novel of independence, integrity, community, and love.
In interlocking stories moving back and forth in time, Danticat weaves a beautifully rendered portrait of longing in the small fishing
town of Ville Rose in Haiti. The stories flow seamlessly one into another and are distinguished by Danticat’s luminous prose.
As the floodwaters rose after Hurricane Katrina, patients, staff, and families who sheltered in New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital faced
a crisis far worse than the storm itself. Fink’s breathtaking account of the storm and what happened at Memorial offers a fascinating
look at how people behave in times of crisis.
In her fourteenth novel, Erdrich writes in the voice of a man reliving the fateful summer of his thirteenth year. Erdrich’s intimacy
with her characters energizes this tale of hate crimes and vengeance, her latest immersion in the Ojibwe and white community she
has been writing about for more than two decades.
From board games, including one called The Mansion of Happiness, to public-library children’s rooms to cryogenics, historian
Lepore’s episodic inquiry into our evolving perceptions of life and death is full of surprises, irreverent wit, and arresting perceptions.
The vicissitudes of extramarital love and the obstructions to its smooth flow—including spouses, children, and the necessary secrecy
surrounding an affair—are charted in sharp yet supple prose.
This dazzlingly inventive first novel introduces 12-year-old gator-wrestling Ava Bigtree and her eccentric family, whose lives (and the
Florida theme park they run) straddle the boundaries between the real and the surreal.