Look back on thirty-five years of Vanity Fair stories about women, written by women, in this collection of profiles, essays, and columns edited by Radhika Jones with David Friend. Vanity Fair’s Women on Women (Penguin Press, $30) illuminates icons from Frida Kahlo to Michelle Obama, Emily Post to Tina Fey. The featured writers—including Maureen Dowd, Leslie Bennetts, Jacqueline Woodson, and more—bring larger-than-life celebrities down to earth, humanizing them with memorable quotes, unexpected anecdotes, and palpable descriptions of the interview sessions. At the same time, the writers adeptly contextualize their subjects, illustrating their reverberating cultural impact. The profiled women made history and became history. As Jones reflects in her introduction, “This is a moment for women’s voices.” Women on Women not only captures women’s voices, but in doing so, clarifies what brought us to this moment. Readers of all ages and genders will savor this trip through time, society, and identity, collecting their own favorite stories along the way.
I could equate reading Lydia Davis’s work to several things: being shaken awake after a long nap, taking a cold shower, drinking a strong cup of coffee. She holds her space in the literary canon for being electric, and of course, this newest collection of lectures and meditations, Essays One (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30), surpasses expectations. What makes the collection so rich and special is that there is at least one essay—if not many—for everyone. Fans of literature will adore her sharp, and sometimes tender, commentaries on some of our most beloved authors, from Berlin to Blanchot to Pynchon. Lovers of fine art will appreciate her ponderings (her essay on Joan Mitchell still holds as one of my favorites in this collection). And, of course, writers will cherish her words on craft. No matter the topic at hand, every element of her language is purposeful. Nothing is misplaced or hurried; the book is a masterclass on how to do so much with little. With this newest assemblage of musings, Davis solidifies herself as one of our greatest literary treasures.
Jia Tolentino writes from an explicitly millennial perspective, but the “generation-defi ning” forces she so ably explores in Trick Mirror (Random House, $27)—the internet, feminism, the 2016 election--have touched everyone, no matter when they were born. Blending the intimate, honest approach of a personal essayist with an experienced cultural critic’s skepticism and range, Tolentino clarifies and complicates every subject she touches, from athleisurewear and reality shows (her story of appearing in one is priceless) to “difficult women” and drug use. Calling the name of today’s game “scamming,” she draws on her own experiences with blogs, books, and a megachurch—christened by its youthful members “the Repentagon”—to dissect some of the artifi ces at work today. These are mostly webbased, but even with familiar suspects like Amazon and Facebook Tolentino adds a lot to our understanding of how these forces affect us and how they stay so powerful; her discussion of the internet as a theater without a backstage is apt and memorable, as are her expositions of how feminism still knuckles under to the “tyranny of the ideal woman” and of how intensive marketing, dating only from the nuptials of Queen Victoria, has created “traditional” weddings where, for just tens of thousands of dollars, every woman can get the royal treatment for a day.