The best character journeys (mainly of women) involving the many nooks, crannies, hills and valleys of life

Daniel Damiano Author Of The Woman in the Sun Hat
By Daniel Damiano

The Books I Picked & Why

The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath

Book cover of The Bell Jar

Why this book?

This is an honest, eloquently told tale of a young woman's struggle with depression in a time (the 1950s) when few seemed to understand the illness, much less comprehend how to treat it. Of course, knowing enough of Plath’s life, it is challenging to separate the source from Esther Greenwood, the novel’s protagonist, since there are said to be close parallels with Plath's own experiences, but ultimately the quality of the writing transcends the morbidity and makes the journey of Esther quite rewarding.

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Ham on Rye

By Charles Bukowski

Book cover of Ham on Rye

Why this book?

Bukowski's coming-of-age novel depicts his fictional amalgam Henry Chinaski’s upbringing and various assorted traumas, some humorous, some very moving. Of Bukowski's novels that I've read, Ham on Rye is indeed the most focused and nuanced. What is probably its greatest feat is how Bukowski has no trepidation about painting himself (or more accurately, Henry) in a less than flattering light. By contrast, Bukowski does not deviate from his struggles, his apathy, his bitterness, his aimlessness. It's an honest, raw, funny, and very human journey definitely worth taking – especially for Bukowski admirers.

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White Oleander

By Janet Fitch

Book cover of White Oleander

Why this book?

The dark and complex relationship between a daughter (Astrid) and her poet mother (Ingrid) is the thrust of this engaging work. The story is seen through the eyes of Astrid as she struggles to find a sense of herself as she moves through an array of foster homes, while the aura of her mother and the crime that has led to her incarceration looms over Astrid’s life.

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The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

By Anne Sexton

Book cover of The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

Why this book?

While, yes, this is not a novel, there is a true character journey in reading the complete works of Ms. Sexton in sequence; a sort of poetic analysis the likes of which I have not read to such a soul-baring degree, as she depicts her thoughts and struggles with marriage, relationships, motherhood, her own parents and various other facets of her life. To me, Ms. Sexton is very much the symbol of what became the confessional poetry movement. The eloquence and depth of her writing, especially in poems like " The Double Image", "Flee on Your Donkey" and " For My Lover Returning to His Wife", are remarkable.

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Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy

Book cover of Anna Karenina

Why this book?

While this mammoth work by Tolstoy has various plot threads, the one involving the title character is perhaps its most thorough and tragic, as Anna (a wife and mother) struggles in her marriage and embarks on an affair, only to find it no more gratifying and ultimately only serves to question her very purpose. The book is a thoughtful meditation on what so many of us live for and what recourse there is when our aspirations are shattered.

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