• A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield. A fascinating look at the history of a color. As the Booklist review says, “Pirates! Kings! Beautiful ladies! Daring spies! Elements essential for a page-turning action/adventure thriller, yes, but who would think they'd turn up in a scholarly examination of a little-known substance called cochineal? It is responsible for producing that elusive shade of red deemed vital for dyeing royalty's robes, and the quest for this coveted resource involved some of history's most infamous episodes and ignoble scoundrels.” I first read this book as research for The Threadbare Heart, when I thought I might make one of my characters a textile historian. It proved to be more inspiring to this novel than that one.
  • Scoundrel Time by Lillian Hellman. The playwright’s account of her refusal, in 1952, to become an informer for the House Un-American Activities Committee. This book has been discredited in recent years, as some people say it’s somewhat fictionalized, but if you want to know what those times were really like, there’s no better way in.
  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. It’s like time travelling to the ‘50s, plus you get the hilarious and wise voice of Bill Bryson as your guide. He’s one of my favorite writers and this book is a gem.
  • Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus. Ursula Nordstrom edited so many of the children’s books we all know and love, including those by E.B. White, Margaret Wise Brown and Shel Silverstein. She was a brilliant, generous and larger than life editor, and reading the letters she wrote to her writers is like getting a sneak peek into the heart of literary history. If you love books, you’ll love this book!
  • Manhattan When I Was Young by Mary Cantwell. A rollicking, racy read about a single woman working at Mademoiselle magazine in the ‘50s.
  • Stet by Diana Athill. A memoir of the heyday of postwar London publishing by a woman who was at its center for nearly half a century. A wonderful story about a woman who was passionate about books and wouldn’t let anyone stop her from making them.
  • Fire and Ice by Andrew Tobias. The story of Charles Revson, the man who built the Revlon empire. It’s got giant egos, unchecked ambition, corporate in-fighting – so fun!
  • Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture by Kathy Peiss. A social history of the culture we’re all part of, to one degree or another.