Joanne Rendell, author of The Professors' Wives Club takes readers back to the fictional university of Manhattan U in her second novel Crossing Washington Square. This is not a sequel but a stand alone novel that follows two strong, independent and highly different professors, Rachel and Diana. Diana is highly respected, serious, and gives off an air of superiority but poise and grace to those around her. Her main scholarly interest is in Sylvia Path's writings and she has a comfort and ease with students. Rachel is young, passionate, emotional and less experienced as a professor. Her scholarly interests are in contemporary women's fiction and how they relate to classics such as how Jane Austen's books relates to Bridget Jones Diary and The Devil Wears Prada. The two women have differing viewpoints as to the relevance and importance of popular women's fiction compared to literary fiction. I found this theme of contention between Rachel and Diana's views of literature relevant today as there are differing viewpoints among many readers as to the value of "chick lit" vs. "women's fiction" vs. "literary fiction" and "classics". Ms. Rendell's writing challenges the reader to analyze these differences and points out that there is much more substance and relevance to the lighter chick lit or women's fiction novels than what appears in a title or a cover.
As a reader, we get a glimpse into academic life among the departmental politics and relationships between professors as peers and between professors and their students. We get to see two strong female academic professors grow and develop and challenge their own core beliefs about literature and how to present their differing views in an academic setting with respect. There's also a little spice added to the story as Diana and Rachel are both attracted to the same man who appears quite handsome and alluring to them both. This adds some fun twists to the storyline.
Crossing Washington Square was an enjoyable novel to read that truly exemplifies women's fiction. It has strong characters, a story that challenges you to think about popular vs. literary fiction in a way that is fun and entertaining. I found these discussions some of the most enjoyable parts of the book as they made me think about differing viewpoints about literature and preconceived notions about genres. As readers, we can miss out on a vast amount of worthwhile books if we write off a whole genre (such as chick lit) without judging it for ourselves and being open minded.
Book Club Worthy: Absolutely! Crossing Washington Square would be a fabulous choice for a book club as it would facilitate great discussions about popular vs. literary fiction, academics, women's dynamics and relationships in the work environment, college students, life as a professor etc. There is a list of discussion questions at the back of the book as well as a conversation with the author. You can find all of this and more at Joanne Rendell's website, here.
Listen to a podcast interview with Joanne Rendell at Free Book Friday, here.
About the Author:
Joanne Rendell was born and raised in the UK. She has a Ph.D. in literature and lives in New York City with her husband, a professor at NYU, and her son.
Visit her website at: http://www.joannerendell.com/
Thank you to the author for sending me an advanced reading copy.
*Make sure to stop back tomorrow for an interview with Joanne Rendell and a giveaway!