When I was in school, we didn't read Edith Wharton. I'd heard of Ethan Frome, but the idea of - spoiler alert - attempting suicide by sledding into a tree didn't put it at the top of my book pile.
Years later a friend mentioned Edith Wharton and I admitted to never reading her. My friend said I was an idiot and go get The House of Mirth immediately. (She said "idiot" in a nice way. I think.) Okay, The House of Mirth is incredible - set in high society New York around the turn of the century, Lily Bart tries to choose between love and money. It doesn't go the way she'd like.
After binge-reading every Edith Wharton I could get my hands on (except Ethan Frome), I was surprised at how witty much of her writing is. I assumed it would be dry and bloodless. Wrong. And she brilliantly skewers her familiar aristocratic world. The women in her books feel timeless - yes, men and women weren't exactly equal a hundred years ago, but there is an almost contemporary spirit to most of her female characters.
The Custom of the Country is one of my favorites. Undine Spragg (best name ever) comes to New York determined to succeed. She marries multiple times, has affairs, she's kind of a manipulative hot mess - but somehow you still root for her. The book is sly and funny and epic and very entertaining.
If anyone would like to encourage me to read Ethan Frome, drop me a line.