What does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @JaneatRandom.
My garden is starting to come to life with some daffodils—“new beginnings”—and purple hyacinths—“please forgive me”—though I’m still waiting for the tulips—“declaration of love”. I learned about the meanings of different flowers from Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s magnificent first novel, THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. The novel’s heroine, Victoria Jones, is a fiercely independent and guarded young woman who is most comfortable communicating through flowers. From the moment Victoria leaves the foster group home where she grew up and enters the world as an adult, she relies on flowers to help her make her way—first when she works at a florist then to communicate with the man she eventually falls in love with. This beautiful story will have you rooting for this lovely, fragile young woman, needing to talk about the twists and turns in her story, as well as looking at every bouquet with a new eye as you try and decode its message.
Clara Driscoll, who spent decades working for Louis Comfort Tiffany, also knew a lot about flowers, for she was the designer of many of Tiffany’s most famous lamps—including the Wisteria, Lotus, and Laburnum lamps. Susan Vreeland’s novel CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY tells her story, introducing us to this gifted artist who, like so many women even now, must choose between her profession and her heart. Vreeland gives her readers a fascinating look at how both Clara and Tiffany created these gorgeous works of stained glass as well as the complicated friendship the two shared set against the changing social climate at the turn of the 20th century New York City.
Friendship has also been the core of many of my favorite novels: Khaled Hosseini’s THE KITE RUNNER, Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP, Jane Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, and Maeve Binchy’s CIRCLE OF FRIENDS. When I asked readers to name some of their favorites on Twitter they reminded me of others: Patrick Dennis’s AUNTIE MAME, John Knowles’s A SEPARATE PEACE, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A LITTLE PRINCESS. On LibraryThing, Ann Brashares’s THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS was mentioned as the third most tagged book about friendship. I hate to confess that I haven’t read the early books in Brashares’s series, but I absolutely adored SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING, the most recent installment and the first to have been published as an adult novel. The foursome—Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget—are about to turn 30 and are finding it harder to stay connected to their best pals as men, careers, and families take up more and more of their time—so they decide to take a trip together to cement their bonds of friendship and sisterhood. I can’t, of course tell you what happens, but let’s just say that Brashares’s novel is so emotionally satisfying and heartwarming that you’ll find yourself calling your BFFs just to say I miss you or sending them a bouquet of saxifrage—“affection”—and freesia—“lasting friendship.”
I’d love to hear about your favorite reads about friendship in the comments below or on Twitter at @JaneatRandom.