Kate Elliott and I have started a Bestselling Women’s Fiction Book Club together. Our criteria is that each book be a bestseller, classified as women’s fiction, be published between the end of World War One and twenty years ago. So no books from before 1918 or after 1994. We also decided not to look at any books by living authors. That way if we hate a book we can truly let rip. So far we’ve discussed Jacqueline Susann’s The Valley of the Dolls here on my blog and Ron Jaffe’s The Best of Everything over on Kate’s.
So that more of you can join in here’s what we’ve got planned for the rest of the year. All of these books are in print and available as ebooks except for A Many-Splendored Thing
and Imitation of Life. Turns out Imitation is still in print in the US. We’ve scheduled it for September so you’ll have plenty of time to inter-library loan or find it second-hand:
- March: Jacqueline Sussan The Valley of the Dolls (1966). Here’s our discussion.
- April: Rona Jaffe The Best of Everything (1958). Here’s our discussion.
- May: Grace Metalious Peyton Place (1956). This book was a huge blockbuster in its day and was made into an equally popular movie. I read and loved it as a kid but have memories of finding everyone’s behaviour very odd. This one was suggested by many different people. Here’s our discussion.
- June: Ann Petry The Street (1946). I confess I’d never heard of this one until Kate suggested it. Ann Petry was the first African-American woman to have a book sell more than one million copies. Set in Harlem in the 1940s. I cannot wait to read this one. Here’s our discussion.
- July: Patricia Highsmith Price of Salt aka Carol (1952). This was the first mainstream lesbian novel to not end miserably. Highsmith wrote it under a pseudonym. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Highsmith is one of my favourites but this book is nothing like her other books as it doesn’t make you despair of the human condition. It’s almost cheerful. Here’s our discussion.
- August: Winifred Holtby South Riding (1936). Kate and many others suggested this one. I’d not heard of it. Here’s our discussion.
- September: Han Suyin A Many-Splendored Thing (1952). This is set in Hong Kong and China. Suyin’s The Mountain is Young is one of my favourite books but I’d never read her most popular book Splendored. Partly because it was made into a crappy movie, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, with an unspeakably awful song of the same title in 1955. I hate that song so much that it put me off reading the book. What can I say? Every time I read the title the song pops into my head. Like, right now. Aaaarrrgh! Here’s our discussion.
Then in October we’ll be doing something slightly different. We’ll be reading two books together. They’re both about a black girl who passes as white. One was written by a black woman, Nella Larsen, and was not a bestseller. The other by a white woman, Fannie Hurst, was a huge success and made into two big Hollywood movies. (I wrote a comparison of the movies here.) Interestingly it’s much easier now to get hold of Larsen’s work than it is Hurst’s. Even though in her day Hurst had multiple bestsellers and was crazy popular. When you read the books you’ll discover why. If you wind up skimming the Hurst we won’t judge. At all.
- October: Nella Larsen Passing (1929) and Fannie Hurst Imitation of Life (1933). I’ve read both of these. The Larsen is far superior on pretty much every count. But they’re both fascinating documents of their time. (Passing is available as part of the collected fiction of Nella Larsen: An Intimation of Things Distant.) Here’s our discussion.
- November: V. C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic (1979). This one is mostly for Kate who for some strange reason has never read it. Me, I have read it multiple times. When I was twelve I thought it was the best book ever written. *cough* Why I have even blogged about Flowers. V. C. Andrews was my Robert Heinlein. Only much better, obviously. Here’s our discussion.
- December: Barbara Taylor Bradford A Woman of Substance (1979). If I have read this I have no memory of it. I don’t remember the mini-series either. Again many people suggested this one. Here’s our discussion.
Thanks so much for all your suggestions. They were most helpful. Keep ’em coming. Maybe we’ll keep doing this next year. I hope so. We’d especially love if you can recommend books by women of colour that fit our bill. Even if they’re not bestsellers, like Passing, we can read them against what was selling at the time.
And, of course, do please join in. We’d love to hear what you think of these books in the coming months.
That’s a great list!
Thanks. We had fun putting it together. Hope you’ll join us discussing them.
This club is a great idea. I just finished teaching a course of these books and the students really got into them. One title that gets overlooked by an AA woman is The Living is Easy by Dorothy West. A ruthless black woman and the price she pays when she tries to do good.
Never heard of it. Oh, excellent. Sounds like something we can do next year. Thank you!
Hope you have time to join in here. Would love to hear your thoughts and any of your students too if they’re interested.
Sure! Do you pick a day in the month you discuss them, or blog about them all month?
We do. We even have a hashtag: #bwfbc. Yesterday we talked about The Best of Everything. We put up a blog post of mine and Kate’s comments then we discuss on Twitter and on the blog. The comments on the blog keep trickling in after the official discussion time. We’ve only done it twice so far but it’s slowly growing.
The trickiest part is timezones because I’m in Sydney and Kate’s in Honolulu but most of the people taking part are in the US. So yesterday the discussion started at noon my time, 4pm Kate’s, and early evening on the west coast of the US, late evening for the east coast. So. Complicated.
Complicated but fun! I’ll post the link in our class blackboard and be on the lookout for it next month! Imitation of Life is still available in print here in the U.S. but it is a little pricey, so the library may be a good option.
Thank you. And good to know about Imitation of Life.
Planning on it — I’ve been meaning to read Patricia Highsmith, and I actually looked for Peyton Place at the library today.
Just remember it’s very atypical Highsmith.