Smith College Alumnae Reading Suggestions

From Jenny Frost '73 

As an undergraduate, I had the tremendous and unforgettable honor of working with Ruth Mortimer in the Rare Book Room. I spent more time in my carrel at Neilsen than I did in my room at Talbot. Reconnecting with Smith through FSCL has been a bit like returning to Neverland. With my daughter at Smith ('15), the connection is even more meaningful. 

book cover To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee To Kill A Mockingbird - by Harper Lee
I think I must have read this classic story close to forty years ago. Two startling facts to start off this recommendation: I decided to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird because my recollection of the story was pretty hazy and tinted by the visual memory of Gregory Peck in the film version. And to be completely candid I listened to Cissy Spacek's reading of Harper Lee's classic story rather than actually turning pages. Cissy Spacek did a fantastic job and I think the language and idiom of this book was enhanced through hearing her voice. What strikes me most about this story is how, despite the tremendous changes in society and the strides made in civil rights, the essence of this classic remains completely valid. At heart this is a story about acceptance and respect. While race runs throughout the book as a theme of divisiveness, economic class is equally effective as a demarcation of status. As tragic as the false accusation against Tom Robinson is in the book, it was a much smaller part of the whole in actuality versus my recollection. What remains as true in this re-reading as it was in my initial reading is the humanity and dignity exemplified by Atticus. His thoughtful example is as much a beacon for addressing social ills today as it was over fifty years ago when Harper Lee first put pen to
paper. 
book cover Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell Gone with the Wind - by Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell was, of course, a Smithie. But I first read Gone with the Wind when I was thirteen and years before I considered Smith as a future college choice. There are many reasons to recommend a book to someone else, but perhaps the most compelling is that it is a tremendous read that can stay in one's memory for many, many years. Decades even.  I recall clearly that we were on a family vacation to Upper Michigan when I first opened the pages to this epic novel. I was immersed in the South of the Civil War for the next five days. I think I was little more than excess baggage as my family went about the daily vacation activities. My mother was indulgent. She understood the pull of a good book. Margaret Mitchell's characters were mesmerizing from the selfish, headstrong Scarlett to the wise Mammy, limp Ashley and, of course, Rhett. Fast forward many years and I waited eagerly for my own daughter to be old enough to experience this most compellingly told story. I bought a copy and tried for months unsuccessfully to get her to venture into the pages. Finally, a visiting friend dipped in one afternoon, motivated by pure boredom, and my daughter was enticed by peer example (much more compelling than maternal recommendation) to give Mitchell's tale a try. She was lost to us for several days. There is no more powerful drug than the best told story. If you haven't read Gone with the Wind or if it has been decades as it had been for me, it is worth the investment of time. And if you think you know this book because you saw Clark Gable, don't kid yourself. As great as he was, there is no substitute for the original uncut edition as it flowed from the author's pen. 
book cover The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian The Double Bind - by Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian has written many bestselling yet intelligently written novels. Often there is an activist message buried within the plot lines, but the stories are always well-crafted and his women characters particularly compelling. Chris graduated from Amherst and is married to a Smithie. That has nothing to do with the recommendation, but it keeps him in the family as it were. While I have long admired many of Chris' books, my favorite is The Double Bind. When I finished reading this book, my jaw was hanging open and I had to turn back to the beginning and start all over. Bohjalian conceived his story after being shown a box of historical photographs taken by a once homeless photographer and he embellishes the text with some of these period photographs. Chris also uses details from The Great Gatsby in his storyline which focuses on a 26 year old social worker, Laurel Estabrook, the survivor of a brutal attack. The story follows her attempts to understand what has happened in the life of one of her clients-a man who was incredibly successful earlier in life as a celebrity photographer and now down on his luck. Bohjalian explores both homelessness and violence against women as twin social themes in this book, but he does so deftly and without compromising a taut and compelling plot. Great read, excellent book group book and the author has an outstanding web site to boot.