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BookMaven’s Picks: My Favorite Heroines of a Certain Age


(Graphic: Kat Borosky/ TueNight)

While there aren’t scores of books out there specifically and explicitly about menstruation (can anyone name many others than Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Carrie and The Red Tent?), there are none — zip, zero, nada — specifically and explicitly about what our parents and grandparents elliptically referred to as “the change.” Go ahead, comb through your mental library stacks, type away on your search engine of choice — you’ll find that no author of fiction wants to be tagged with “menopause, end of menarche, change of life, cessation of menses.”

Small wonder. We live in a youth-obsessed culture, and for centuries women’s nature-driven transition from fertile to fallow has been derided, mocked, given the gimlet eye. Women of a certain age in literature were long given this treatment, too: Think of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, or Lady Macbeth, on and on to Mrs. Danvers and even Miss Jean Brodie.

Fortunately, today women tend to think of menopause less as the end of life, and more as “the end of the sentence.” That sentence, of course, being decades of painful, messy, inconvenient bleeding. Contemporary portrayals of female characters may not always include detailed descriptions of hot flashes, weight gain, skin problems and sleep disturbances, but they do include detailed descriptions of women over 40, 50, 60 and even 70,  working, playing and having active sex lives that aren’t all about body shame and health issues.

Here are a few of my favorite books featuring older women in recent literature; I’ve tried to give you a list with a mix of different genres. I’ve also offered a few titles by male writers. This list’s characters, to me, represent women going through perimenopause, menopause, and after-menopause who are realistic. It’s by no means exhaustive — I would love to see your suggestions in the comments!

1.  The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

2.  The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

3.  The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

4.  Eyrie by Tim Winton

5.  Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

6.  Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

7.  The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

8.  If Today Be Sweet by Thrity Umrigar

9.  Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

10.  Wonderland by Stacey D’Erasmo

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