Around the Bookstore: Female authors

Celebrating women writers during Women’s History Month.


March has arrived. There are a few hints of spring, with stretches of gray and rain, and more than a small amount of pummeling by the weather, which always puts me in the mood to curl up with a book.

March means many things to people: the arrival of spring and, for sports fans, March Madness. For those who follow ancient history, it is to remember the Ides of March, the 15th, when, 2,068 years ago, Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate.

For this bookmonger, March means Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the lives of women, too often shuffled to the side by attention-grabbing males.

Do you like ancient history? Well, we all know Cleopatra, but she had a daughter who survived Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor, and became a queen in her own right, leaving a mark often forgotten in the shadow of her mother. Jane Draycott brings her era to life in her “Cleopatra’s Daughter: From Roman Prisoner to African Queen.”

Sports? While all eyes focus on March Madness, some thought it should be given to women athletes, who have scrambled to make themselves a place in a space dominated by men. “Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World” by Lauren Fleishman is both a memoir and a cry for female athletes to be supported as much as men. “Trailblazers: The Unmatched Story of Women’s Tennis,” by Billie Jean King, is the story of the women who paved the road in tennis for all who came later.

Dolly Parton has become an American cultural icon. Do you know she has built a program that sends books to families with children up to 5 years of age? It gives away 2.4 million books a month to children around the world. “She Comes by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Their Songs,” by Sarah Smarsh, pulls back the curtain on one of the cleverest women to have walked the earth. Dolly herself has written “Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones,” laying out the fashion scheme that is so uniquely Dolly.

If it’s hard being a woman, being a woman of color is one step more. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who contributed cells that have altered the course of cancer treatment. Rebecca Skloot’s book captures the journey of one woman’s cells and how they have changed the world, without her permission.

Or read “Let Us Descend,” by Jesmyn Ward, which imagines the life of an enslaved woman sold away from her plantation and her heart-rending journey to New Orleans.

This bookseller has become so aware of how we, societally, have historically diminished women.

The literary world has never been the same since Jane Austen left behind a body of work, capturing her time elegantly. We understand the customs of the early 19th century in England, the center of a growing empire, because of “Pride and Prejudice” (my personal favorite), “Emma,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and more. We would be culturally deprived if not for her.

What would the world be without Frankenstein? Thank Mary Shelley, who wrote the story over two centuries ago, a story which keeps finding its way into our lives in new ways. Just see the current movie, “Poor Things.”

One of the most arresting reads of the past few years has been Maggie O’Farrell’s “Hamnet,” which is the story of Shakespeare’s family, anchored by his wife, who is shadowed by her husband’s glory. But Anne Hathaway was a strong woman.

There are so many stories about women to which we should pay attention. Isabelle Allende is a great writer and author of many books; her “Soul of a Woman” speaks to her feminism. “Educated,” by Tara Westover, long on bestseller lists, is the harrowing tale of a woman clawing her way to education. “The Barbizon: The Hotel that Set Women Free” tells the tale of the Barbizon, a women-only hotel hosting generations of ambitious women who came to make their mark in New York: Joan Didion, Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath. It’s a list of women making changes.

So let’s take a moment this month to pick up a book written by or about a woman, and give due where it is deserved — to all the women living now, and before us, who have given so much. Let’s honor them by reading them.

Mathew Tombers is manager of Edgartown Books and an advocate for all things literary.