Ellen Heltzel: What to Read Now

      Book Critic and Author, Ellen Heltzel, stopped by with five books she recommends we read now!


      1. "Lean In," by Sheryl Sandberg. The chief operating officer of Facebook makes a pitch to women everywhere, claiming that the final frontier of equal rights for women has yet to be conquered. That frontier, she says, is women's self-perception, which needs to focus less "what will people think" and more on "what do I need/want." Sandberg has some useful practical advice, like explaining the purpose of a negotiation rather than doing it the hard-ball, "male" way. But it's hard to shake the feeling that she's talking from such a privileged place that she can't relate to the rest of us little people.

      2. "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life," by Megan Marshall. If she hadn't died in a ship wreck at age 40, Margaret Fuller might have ended up as famous as her peer, Ralph Waldo Emerson. She, in fact, served as his editor and was an important thinker and writer in New England, central to the Transcendentalist movement, before going to Italy and writing about the rise and fall of the Italian republic in 1849. She was a child prodigy whose ability and confidence was the wellspring for her unconventional life. "There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman," she said. Touche!

      3. "The Colour of Milk," by Nell Leyshon. Here's another take on power: from the vantage of a young farm girl in 1830s England. Mary's cruel father doesn't like her back talk so he rents her to the vicar, who needs someone to care for his sick wife. There Mary discovers books and the words within them, and the vicar teaches her to read. But there's a price for this gift of learning. Leyshon tells the story from Mary's point of view, and it tells volumes about how women fared during Margaret Fuller's own lifetime.

      4. "The Burgess Boys," by Elizabeth Strout. Strout's Pulitzer Prize winner "Olive Kitteridge" is memorable for the flinty Maine math teacher who was the title character. In this novel she focuses on a Cain-and-Abel story that shows how a family crisis starts by reinforcing the same old roles for the siblings but eventually rips them apart. The story gets diluted with side issues like the plight of the town's immigrant community because Strout is her best when looking one-to-one relationships.

      5. "Wave," by Sonali Deraniyaga. Here's a memoir no one would want to write: In December 2004, while on vacation with her family in Sri Lanka, Deraniyaga was among those in the path of the tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean and killed almost 200,000 people. Among the victims were her parents, her husband and her two children -- in sum, all the people who meant most to her. She describes the tragic event, its aftermath and her struggle to deal with such unimaginable loss. While the story is sad, it also serves as a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.