A few weeks after the country locked down this spring, we wondered what books Wellesley alums were turning to, whether for solace or escape from the present reality. So we posted a query in two places on Facebook: the magazine’s page, and the Wellesley Writers group. Within minutes, titles began popping up on both feeds. The first title to appear? A familiar friend, Pride and Prejudice. We have whittled down the list a bit to fit it in these pages, but we hope you find something here to revisit or to read for the first time.
Since we reported this story, we have been thinking about books to further educate ourselves about racism, and how to better support our Black alumnae and colleagues. The entire Alumnae Association staff is reading How to Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal M. Fleming ’04 this summer as one part of our continuing effort to fight systemic injustice and inequity. We welcome your suggestions as we move through this journey together.
Emily Rankin Welch ’99 suggested Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Paula Butturini ’73 quickly replied, “P&P is the only book I have succeeded in reading since the arrival of the coronavirus. I’ve read it cover-to-cover every year since I was about 13. Balm for the soul always.”
Sejal Shah ’94 recommends Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, “an amazing essay collection about race and college friendships … mental health and art-making and so much more.”
Catherine Nicoloff ’19 enjoyed The Chosen by Chaim Potok—“an incredibly humane book about human goodness, redemption, and learning to see past difference.”
Anjali Sundaram ’18 recommends, “Literally anything by Clarice Lispector. Her words draw you in and make you feel so present. Going through her Complete Stories now.”
Julia Johnson Attaway ’82 suggests My Ántonia and other books by Willa Cather. And “anything by Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove, who writes about flawed people with such warmth and love.”
Catherine Bue-Hepner ’02 has turned to old friends: “I’m almost all the way through L.M. Montgomery’s entire Anne of Green Gables series, then I’ll move on to Emily of New Moon, and then on to Jane Austen.”
“I still go back to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,” says Alison Greer ’87. “I literally read it until the cover fell off during high school. My dad had it custom bound in leather with my initials on it for high school graduation.”
Susan Gies Conley ’93 provided a rich list, including several childhood friends: “A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle; Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (feral NYC child theme here); Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfield. Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow for the stuck-inside theme. Susan Elia MacNeal’s (’91) mysteries are highly satisfying. Neil Gaiman anything. Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night will bring you to a women’s college of times past. All comfort reads.”
A poster who preferred to remain anonymous suggested “books written by our sisters Susan Elia MacNeal ’91 and Jasmine Guillory ’97.”
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin was the suggestion from Lindsay Karloff Giroux ’07—“a nice read when you are really trying to appreciate home now that you can’t leave it.”
Marsha Howland ’73 recommends The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charles Mackesy. “This is exquisite in so many ways, with important lessons for all of us.”
For Esther Kim ’12, “comfort lit” includes The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and To Be Young, Gifted, and Black by Lorraine Hansberry.
“I haven’t revisited it yet, but as far as I’m concerned I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is the most comforting book ever,” wrote Katie Blair ’11.
Kerry Lydon ’17 turned to the manga (Japanese comics) series by Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist. “I reread all 27 volumes this weekend, and the author has a lot of philosophy related to illness and risk and humanity that was really soothing and made me remember why I loved it in high school.”
E.B. Bartels ’10 recommends three titles by Black writers: This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jenkins, Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, and Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward.
“My wife, Erin Nealer ’15, and I have been reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón out loud to each other each night, and the magical realism of escaping into books in a post-war Spain struggling to cope in similar ways has been both poignant and comforting,” says Claudia Bach ’14.
Janet Arelis Quezada ’96 has turned to Devotions, selected poems by Mary Oliver.
Mara Palma ’15 suggests Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, which was “gifted to me from an alum. The book talks about medicine, mortality, and ‘what matters in the end.’ It seems counterintuitive to read a book on old age, mortality, etc., but it’s helping me process the emotional anxiety.”
Love in Action, by Thich Nhat Hanh, was the suggestion of Julia Celeste Chille ’15. “Written earlier than most of his other works, it is centered around how he and his community practiced engaged Buddhism and nonviolent resistance during the years of conflict in Vietnam. Offers a beautiful place to land and practice presence in times of deep sorrow and social change.”