What I'm Reading: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be writing about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

First, you need to know that despite the name and despite the teenage protagonist, this book is 1, not a coming of age novel and 2, not appropriate for teens.  Need to be very clear on this.

I received The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani from Daniel, the owner of Boswell Book Company, a few years ago.  It's the first "uncorrected proof for limited distribution" that I've ever gotten my hands on!  There weren't any typos that I noticed, but some formatting and random quotation marks sprinkled throughout.  It was fun for me to see this brief little part of the publishing process.

Thea Atwell is sent to The Yonahlossee Riding Camp by her parents because of some heart-breaking family drama that she seems to be the root of.  She is snoopy and quiet, but one of the most popular girls at camp quickly befriends her.  Thea is an exceptional equestrian and develops a terse but peacefully competitive relationship with the best rider at camp, Leona.  She in an interesting social position, but even that is a little odd because she is so unsocial.  She grew up in a secluded property in Florida with her twin brother as her bestie, and their cousin who frequently visited them, and that was basically the extent of her interactions with people her age.  At home she rides her horse, takes care of her horse, takes lessons from her father, and follows her brother around their property looking for interesting or needy animals.  Even when they go into town, their mother is pleasant with people but obviously acts superior to the "townsfolk."  

While the "now" takes place at the riding camp, we learn about Thea's life in a series of flashbacks and daydreams.  However, the formatting of the flashbacks because aren't always clearly separated from the "now."  In the "now," we experience Thea's first couple days at camp with her, and -suddenly!- she's been there for several months.  So, some timing issues, but we can get past that because Thea is MAKING OUT WITH HER.... Nah I can't tell you.  I won't!

Because of the jump in time since her arrival, we miss Thea learn how to be a friend and interact with other girls.  While we aren't bogged down with visual descriptions of the buildings, the landscape, what meals are served, the complete layout of the camp, etc.  We learn exclusively about Thea and her experiences.  The book has all the making of a coming of age novel: loss of innocence, a journey, testing boundaries, rites of passage, but as I said earlier that's definitely not what this book is; Thea is lacking the epiphany.  In theory she overcomes her family tragedy, but doesn't gain insight into herself or the people she's involved with or grow from those experiences and introspection.  Her drama at school isn't something she feels bad about or wants to evolve from.  It's almost something she simply accepts about herself, like I'm 17 and a bad girl and I don't need anyone.  I'm not positive that Thea changes at all even though she is THE topic of the book.  It's unfortunate, and kind of sad.

There's a school dance and she definitely is interested in a boy, they dance closely and get in trouble.  She is filled so deeply with shame that she feels that all eyes are on her and she must leave the party.  This is one time she is incredibly self-conscious, but through the rest of the book she lives pretty uncaring to what other people think of her.  With her isolated upbringing, this makes sense but doesn't, to me, at the same time.  I'm no psychologist.  The boy she danced with writes to her, but she does not respond.  Somehow during this time Thea decides that she doesn't want boys, she wants men, but the decision is so out of place since she hasn't spent hardly any time in her life with either.

Thea takes solace from her family's rejection, or maybe indicates she needs some serious therapy following her family-drama, in a relationship with her headmaster... Icky, yes.  She definitely plans their affair, she is definitely the leader of it, and she definitely does not know what she's doing.  I'm not sure she even knows why she is doing it.  Her behavior is alarming, but what is more alarming is that there are no adults in her life to call her out or help guide her decision-making.  You would think a man who has been headmaster of a girl's boarding school would either 1, be way more experienced in selecting and seducing a student to have an affair with or 2, have a steely resolve not to have an affair with a student.  But Mr. Holmes is neither of those things and his motivation is unknown.  When he's around Thea he quickly gets inebriated enough to disclose secrets about the camp's funding and sometimes about the other girls, and it's during these times that Thea takes advantage of him.  She decides where and when they go places, and skips classes with the other girls without a second thought- from either of them.  As readers we learn more about their intimate discussions with each other after his wife returns from a trip and the affair promptly ends, so the significant clues about Mr. Holmes and his situation end up undeveloped.

Finally, I have to expose a book routine I have...  When I get a new book, I get a 3x5 notecard and write down the book title, author, and maybe the circumstances under which I received the book.  When I begin and finish the book I write down those dates; sometimes I write down the books I read before.  Always, though, well, pretty much always, the notecard also gets filled up with quotes from the book that were funny, meant something to me, or were simply beautiful.  But through this 388-page book, I have no notable quotes from this book.  The book is about Thea, and in my opinion Thea is unremarkable.


She lives pretty uncaring to what other people think of her, and seems to do whatever she wishes.  With her isolated upbringing, 

What I'm Reading: And Now We Have Everything, by Meaghan O'Connell

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

In the months after Hardy was born I didn't really do a lot of reading.  I often didn't have hands to use, and it was more fun to watch my baby and try to keep my home and body clean than to escape into a book.  Once he was sleeping mostly through the night with just one 2am snack, I read LOTS of books on my iPad: Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Call of the Wild, The Last of the Mohicans, Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, O Pioneers!, Peter Pan, The Scarlet Letter, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Grimm's Fairy Tales.  Admittedly, I probably stayed up in the rocking chair holding him and cuddling with him much longer than I needed to, because, well, stories.  And then Hardy's 2am snacks ended (what a blessing!), and so did the reading.  We'd put him to bed around 7 and then I had quiet evenings to myself after a long day of work and parenting.  I was too tired to do anything of substance; I remember painting my nails and watching TV while mostly unconscious with exhaustion.  Slowly, very slowly, things started to change for me. 

One Saturday we went to the library, and I ventured into the adult section alone and browsed through the familiar stacks.  Atwood, Austen, Bronte, Forester, Greene, Hemingway, Marquez, Oates....  Sometimes I feel like I've read a lot of books, and then I go to the library and.... whoa, there are so many books left to read.  People are so creative! And so dedicated to what they are inspired by!

Anyway, I picked up a book, checked it out, and over the next few evenings while Hardy was asleep, I READ IT.  And since then, I've been reading.  I had to find that part of me again, though.  While I was in the midst of my mom-transition, I felt so overcome with my child and breastfeeding -and being back at work didn't help- that the ideas of "self care," which is so big right now, and "my identity" were completely overwhelming, the thought of doing something extra was going to push me over the brink.  What I didn't know what that it just takes time for things to settle.  Time.  Simple as that.  And suddenly, slowly, I began to find myself again.  I was different; the same, yes, but different.

Last week I went to Boswell and bought myself a couple books for my birthday (32!).  With my second mother's day coming up, I was drawn to books that touched on the experience of women and mothers, and I ended up buying two books: one, a collection of poetry called She Walks in BeautyA Woman's Journey Through Poems selected by Caroline Kennedy; two, And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready by Meaghan O'Connell.

O'Connell's book begins with her feelings about parenthood, plans for married life, her life as a cool lady in NYC, and then she finds out she is pregnant.  Whaaaaat!  She and her fiance stuggle through what they imagined their life would be like after they get married versus where they found themselves, and ultimately she decides to have the baby.  So they do.

Week by week of her pregnancy, O'Connell takes us through funny, sad, strange and confusing moments of being a pregnant woman out in the world.

11: Prenatal yoga is a lot like regular yoga except the teacher talks about Kegels and has us walk around grabbing our pubic bones just to get us thinking about them.  The new utility of our private parts.  [...] Whoever is the most pregnant wins.  At eleven weeks, twelve weeks, thirteen, I am apologetic, a chubby imposter, merely bloated.  Each body is a revelation.  I wish I could put the women nearing forty weeks behind glass and ogle them properly.

Her perspective is great, and so, so real.  As readers we are in her head, experiencing things with her as the thinks through it and hearing her candid responses.  I had my own experiences which were funny and complicated and sad, but it's so affirming to read another woman's story.

She also touches on the process of learning about childbirth from people who have or haven't gone through it.  For example, she, like the rest of us that aspired for a natural childbirth (at home, for me), holds in high regard Ina May Gaskin, the Queen of Midwives, while she takes childbirth from a teacher she describes as "a chipper blonde woman who has never had a baby."  She also touches on the expectations and plans made from reading and watching other women's birth stories.  Of course we read and watch these experiences because we have no idea what is coming up for us and we want to have some idea of what it looks like.  Just like you watch people on a roller coaster, and review the track while you're in line so you know that the big turn comes after the second loop, we pregnant women want to know the path we will be strapped onto.  The thing though, is that each woman gets her own path, and its in the dark. So, good luck.

Next we experience her labor.  Start to finish.  It was emotionally challenging to read, but funny at times because she's a funny lady.  Obviously I was thinking about my own experience birthing Hardy while reading her story, and while these are two very different stories, they are similar in that they are hard.  Labor is hard, and giving birth is no small feat, no matter how long any of it lasts.  Pregnancy, and often birth, leave lasting marks on a woman's body and soul, so while we can come to terms with what we've gone through (and even look forward to it again!), an important part of moving on or embracing our story is often forgiving ourselves for our not achieving our high (and often unreasonable!) expectations.  (Again, the roller coaster no one else has been on and is in the dark.)

Washing dishes one night, she listens to an episode of The Longest Shortest Time podcast where the host interview Ina May Gaskin.  I want to summarize this, but it deserves to be read in full.

The host confronts Ina May, telling her that the books made her feel like a failure when her birth didn't go the way she'd envisioned.  "I was under this impression," she said to Ina, "and maybe it was the wrong impression, that you believe that all women could have, if not a pain-free labor, then at least, like, a relaxed labor?"

"No," Ina May says. "No! Not everybody has a great time.  Someimtes it's really rugged, it's really hard. You're not alone if you felt like you experienced a lot of pain and you felt like you failed." When I hear this I put down the bowl I am scrubbing and brace myself against the sink and sob. I'm a little horrified by how much her words affect me and how much I needed to be forgiven by this woman I've never met for what I think of as my poor performance. 

Then Ina tries to explain.  "What if we just told people that it always really, really, really hurts?" she asks, and then she answers herself: "Well, that wouldn't be very good, because you'd get everybody so frightened."

This meant something even to read second-hand in this book.  Like, seriously.  

She also has to share her trauma with her fiance.  In my experience, I wanted to move on and be cool, but my midwife encouraged that Ben and I discuss our birth story, the highs and lows.  I, like many other women, often internalize my experiences and often just can't find the words or the right time to share my fears.  After struggling to resume their sex-life post-baby, O'Connell finally opens up.

In a week or a month from this February 13, we'll find ourselves in bed in the middle of the day, and after another botched attempt at sex, I'll confess to him about the birth flashbacks I get sometimes when I'm on my back, pinned down.  We'll cry together in bed and it'll be the beginning of the end of my avoiding him and avoiding difficult conversations.  I'll know, soon, that just because something is hard and takes work and doesn't come naturally, doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile.  It doesn't mean anything.  I'll know that as long as we can talk to each other, we aren't doomed.  But we have to do it on purpose. We have to try now. Ugh.

The final section of the book, Extra Room (1 to 26), will be everyone's favorite.  Well, probably.  It was for me.  1-26 are short, maybe weekly, moments shared with the reader.  I felt like their baby was growing so quickly before my eyes, and her path as a mother changed overtime in a path I can recognize.  Moving, childproofing, starting a daycare, leaving the house for the first time ALONE, sleep training, successful sleep training (#19: I am not sure what to do with my newfound free time in the evenings.  I hide out, paint my toenails, watch TV.), ending breastfeeding, celebrate a fun night out without the baby, pressure from other people to have another baby.  Gosh, it's fun to read, and it was fun to go through myself.  

For all the birth stories I read, and birth videos I watched, and plans we made for our baby's birth, nothing could have prepared me for the labor and delivery I went through, or how completely I would be changed by it and motherhood.  I'm not sure if reading this book prior to having a baby would have changed my expectations at all. Or if I could have learned anything in advance about myself potentially in labor or as a mom.  Even surrounded by women and moms that I love, it was special to read this woman's story in the privacy of my own home, without having to give advice or share my thoughts.  O'Connell is the queen of her story, I am the queen of mine, but to feel her story the way a reader often internalizes a good story was, at this specific point in my life, oddly ideal, it was vindicating.

What I'm Reading: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

My friend Kevin says it's always playing when he comes over.  Ben says watching it with me is like being in a room with an echo.  Well, okay, you got me: The Princess Bride is my favorite movie.  

I'm not entirely sure when I first saw it or when I first knew we would be lifers, but The Princess Bride is always there for me, my default, my gal pal.  It leads a Top-5 which includes When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail, Mary Poppins (obviously), and this amazing 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice that keeps me giggling throughout.  There are no surprises here. 

What DID surprise me, however, was receiving this beautiful, Folio Edition of The Princess Bride for my birthday.  (There's definitely something to be said for important people and important relationships; it's not only amazing birthday gifts, but important people are probably the only ones who can pick out the perfect gifts.)  

I'd never read the actual book, and let me tell you...  It's weird.  Unique?  Not what I expected.

Let me explain, "the good parts" are terrific;  I understand parts of the movie in a whole new way and everything makes so much more sense.  I love it.  ...Let's just say that when I read it to my sick ten-year-old one day, I'll keep it to "the good parts" because the rest is puzzling and/or hilarious depending on your sense of humor.  

Are you going to ask about whether the book is better than the movie?  Are you going to insist that it can only be better than the movie (because you're elitist like that)?  Okay- "have it your way."   I'll tell you what I think, though you might not like it.

I don't care.  Yes, the book is great; I'm learning a lot and I've caught myself wishing more of the background information could have made it way into the movie.  But I also love the movie and I'm pretty sure it was impeccably done, and I just can't honestly tell you the book is better than the movie.  If it were a boxing match, the book would be in a different weight class, but the movie would be more agile ("hey, you're quick!").  

I love it.  And by "it" I just mean The Princess Bride book&movie.  I love them identically.  Read it.  Watch it.  In whichever order you choose.  

And no, I will absolutely not be loaning out this copy.  Ever.  

PS, I learned a reasonable amount about Andre the Giant and how he got and prepared for the role of Fezzik.  That was worthwhile on it's own.  

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

What I'm Reading: Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

My weekday off this week was Tuesday, and so I went out for breakfast with a friend of mine who had never been to Beans and Barley on Milwaukee's East Side.  (You've been there, right?  Please say yes!)  She's a teacher, so I wanted to catch her for a social hour before her hectic school year begins!  We live about two blocks from each other, and she's wedding planning, so there's always a lot to talk about.  

I worked at Beans for a little while when I was in college, and it was one of my favorite jobs, so I go there quite frequently.  (For lunch or dinner, I suggest any of the burritos WITH a margarita; for breakfast, the pesto scrambled eggs.)  

Anyway, after breakfast I mentioned that I needed to go to Boswell Book Company to preorder these Puffin in Bloom books... and here I was to discover that my sweet, sassy friend, had NEVER been to BOSWELL!  A misfortune to be corrected, we made the quick drive to this special Milwaukee bookstore.  

(You will hear more about these beautiful, Rifle Paper Co editions after August 28th, when they finally debut...and I pick up my copies!)

As my friend is a school teacher, we headed to the children's book area of the store.  I love reading children's books since the writing is so deliberate and illustrations so vibrant or just plain beautiful.   We laughed over a book by Peter Brown entitled, My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I am Not.) which I highly suggest reading.  

While browsing, I came across a series of books called the Wildwood Chronicles which are written by Colin Meloy, the lead singer of The Decemberists.  I couldn't believe it, can hardly believe it still. 

I opened to the first page of the first book and began reading.  Two chapters in, I decided to buy it.  

You guys, it's so good.  

Yes, this is a children's book.  However, it is a New York Times Best Seller, and a quote from a review from The Atlantic is on the back cover.  I could get into a discussion about commercial fiction and "is readability a good thing;" or, "just because it's difficult to read doesn't make it 'Literature;'" and that whole, "adults reading Harry Potter thing;" but I won't.  What is important here, is that you read this exciting book and find out if the baby abducted by a murder of crows will EVER be discovered in the Impassable Wilderness.  

I cannot wait to find out!

...PS, Carson Ellis does the art in this book, and it's lovely.

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

What I'm Reading: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

Is it Friday already?

I guess I've had a pretty busy week filled with work, wine, and... More work?  Fortunately, I was able to one worthwhile thing (just kidding, the wine was also totally worthwhile!).

I read The Giver by Lois Lowry on Thursday. Have you read this book?

I thought this was a book that everyone had read, but I've been polling people I've come across, and for the most part, they hadn't.  

The Giver was published in 1992, and I was just a kid then, so maybe it makes sense that I feel like most of my peers had read this: it was still relatively new when we would have been "old enough" to read it.  In my case though, by the time I was "old enough" for this Newberry award winning book, I was very busy reading much more advanced things.  And I'm not saying that to sound smart, because it's really unfortunate: it's why I'm reading children's books and young adult books when I'm in my LATE-TWENTIES.  

I want to say that reading these books is a timeless thing and, "sure, you can always enjoy a book if it's good!"  But is it?

My thought is..


...though perhaps not in the same way.

I read this book and I pay attention to how the plot unfolds, and the knowledge in the back of my head that something is going on that I don't quite know yet.  Once I find that thing out, there's still more to learn.  There's clues of conspiracy (like about the lying rule), and suspense building to the last few chapters where everything goes against the grain.  

The end?  Obviously I won't share the details (because you really should read The Giver on your own!), but it completely surprised me.  And I'm not sure I like it yet.

Did you?

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

What I'm Reading: The New Yorker

Yesterday was spent in the sun and water, enjoying summer at Noah's Ark.  


Today we're heading with friends Kevin & Erin up to Marquette, Michigan for a wedding, so I need to bring something to read, but it needs to be a particular thing to read...  A magazine.

I'm a magazine addict, I get eight issues a month and one weekly: The New Yorker.  I love short stories, as I think I've mentioned before, so I get The New Yorker every week because they generally publish great stories.  If the fiction piece of the week isn't good then the cartoons are, and if the cartoons aren't good, the art is.  

The New Yorker, August 11 & 18, 2014.  Cover art, "Siesta" by Lorenzo Mattotti.

This cover art is great: if you replace the dog with a cat, and the woman's hair color to blonde, you're pretty much looking at my summer.  This particular issue's fiction piece is is entitled "Picasso" and is written by Cesar Aira.

The New Yorker, August 11 & 18, 2014.  Hand lettering by Joel Holland, page 76.

Bonus: this issue includes an article by Sasha Frere-Jones about "Weird Al" Yankovic.  It begins by asking, "Do people enjoy 'Weird Al' Yankovic because he's funny or because he's not that funny?"  This question approaches blasphemy to me; hasn't this author EVER seen UHF?  Funny!  Very funny!

I hope you all have a great weekend!  The weather should be great, the sun is hot, and I think I can hear your beach towel calling your name.  ...You hear that, too?

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

P.S.  Look who was born on August 5th!  Paxton Daniel. ~*swoon*~

What I'm Reading: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

I'll be straight with you here, I haven't just been reading this book this week, I've been plodding my way through it since  e a r l y  M a r c h...  Yep.  

So I've buckled down and will be turning the last page sometime still tonight.....or tomorrow morning.

I spotted A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra on one of the used book shelves at my favorite book store: Boswell Book Company on Downer Avenue.   When I saw another exact copy there on Monday when I stopped by, I suspected other people have had the same trouble reading it.

Some of the descriptions in this book are so chilling, like a blind man described as missing " two spoonfuls" from his face.  But also these unpredictable but completely real moments of life:

"In London, this would be an escalator," Sonja said as they descended a staircase.  

"What's an escalator?"  

"It's a moving staircase."  

"Like a children's ride"  

"No, it's not like a ride.  It's just a staircase that moves.  That's all."  

"Then this is a broken escalator."  

She descended on the right side; even in a choice as arbitrary as which side to walk on she strove for order.

--A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, page 190

What could be causing the plodding?  I'm reading about these harsh realities the Chechnyan people went through following the dissolution of the USSR on through the second Chechnyan war which only recently  came to a halt, and it's not a history I'm aware of because I was a child during pretty much all of this conflict.

When I was in second or third grade (what is that, 1994, or something?) my family went in a weekend excursion to Chicago, my first time there.  For some reason we went to O'Hare, and I got a huge thrill out of the moving sidewalk with the traveling neon lights above me. In the quote above, one of the main characters, Akhmed, doesn't know what an escalator is, and it's 2004.  

Another character, Natasha, lives on the street not because she is homeless, but out of fear of being crushed in the rubble of her building if it is bombed. 

Reading about these characters "navigating two brutal wars," as one reviewer states, is an eye opening experience for me about life outside my own realm of experience and awareness. That being said, I need a brief history lesson to grasp the  conflict. 

To you, reader, I declare, if you would like to read this one, please E-mail me your address, for I will gladly loan it to you indefinitely.

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

What I'm Reading: The Elements of F*cking Style, by Baker and Hansen

Friday's What I'm Reading is late.  On Saturday, yesterday, I threw a baby shower for my brother and sister-in-law (they make up what I regularly call J&V), and my preparation for that event took up a lot of my time last week.  I choose some light reading for the week, after finishing last week's O Pioneers! by Willa Cather.  (The main character, Alexandra, does not lose her land, by the way!)  

And by "light reading," what I really mean is a grammar guide.  


Have you read the Elements of Style by Strunk and White?  

I purchased my first copy at the booktore in downtown Wisconsin Rapids, and though it was in no way any part of my school curriculum then (or even later in college) I read my copy cover to cover.  This was maybe 2002 or 2003? 

For Christmas in 2009 I hit a book jackpot for Christmas: J&V gifted me a couple issues of the McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, as well as the illustrated copy of.....

....The Elements of Style (illustrated), by Strunk/White/Kalman.  

It is so beautiful.

So I came across The Elements of F*cking Style somehow while online, and I knew I needed to read it.  Though I wouldn't really say either of the first two copies I have are "light reading," this one definitely is.

In the introduction, which is titled, "Introduction, or How I Learned to Stop Writing Like a Three-Year-Old and Love Grammar," the authors explain why this guide is important:

It has sold more copies than Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code combined, and is about as dry as the obituary section of your local newspaper.  
The Elements of Style was first published in 1918.  Think about that for a moment.  In 1918, gay meant happy, opium derivatives were prescribed for headaches, and top hates and monocles were un-ironic fashion choices.

--The Elements of F*cking Style, pages 1

They continue to explain that the aim of the book is to "guide you through the painful world of English grammar and style by using sex, drugs, and fucking swearing.  Why?  Because we're into that shit."  

So for example:

10.  Pronouns are a real bitch.

     Pronouns can be a real bitch, making good writers look stupid and poor writers look like complete morons.  When to use me, myself, or I? The easiest way to remember I versus me is to drop the other person from the sentence and see if it makes sense:

     My dad got my brother and I drunk last night. (wrong)
     My dad got I drunk last night. (wrong)

     My dad got my brother and me drunk last night. (right)
     My dad got me drunk last night. (right)

--The Elements of F*cking Style, pages 16-17

You have to read the rules for the examples to make any sense.  Examples like, "A decent homemade sex tape requires: good lighting, attractive participants, and a tripod. (wrong)" just don't make sense unless you've read the rules under #7: A Colon is More Than an Organ That Gets Cancer.  The authors are forcing you to learn while being amused.

Anyway, I think the jackpot would be an illustrated copy of this book, amiright?!

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

What I'm Reading: O Pioneers! By Willa Cather

This past winter I reread the entire Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I enjoyed transposing my childhood memories into this current adult frame and experiencing the books in a whole new way.  Little Laura, as I commonly refer to my childhood self, romanticized the stories in these books, whereas now the struggle of pioneer life and the difficulty the Ingalls family faced in the various uninhabited places they lived or moved to is unfathomable to me.  When I imagine a good place to live, I think of the walking or biking distance to my favorite city amenities, crime rates, the political stance of the area, etc.  Charles Ingalls, Laura Wilder's father, wanted to live far away from all other people; when they left Wisconsin it's because they might have sometimes simply heard a neighbor in the distance.  

These pioneer books reminded me of another book I read as a child (maybe in fourth or fifth grade), Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, so I reread that this winter as well.  This one is about a girl growing up in Oklahoma during the dust bowl.

And, since I was on a roll of reading books about pioneers and cutting up grasslands, I read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath which shook me, caused me to rethink human nature, made me miserable, and continued this personal deliberation about pioneer life, farming the plaines, the Depression, and nomad life in relation to pride.

ANYWAY.  Here I am, continuing it all, and reading the novel that made Willa Cather famous: O Pioneers!

I'll admit, I'm about half way through this.  I got distracted this week and finished a book of short stories I started reading in November, This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz.  Diaz' voice is so entertaining and blatent, it was a good break after the short stories I completed last week.  

So I'll be spending the next few days at the turn of the century looking forward to Alexandra and Carl's imminent romance, and dreading the inevitable loss of her Nebraska farm.....?  Hopefully not?

Have you read any books by Willa Cather?  I read Death Comes for the Archbishop a very long time ago, the first of hers I read, and my favorite is My Antonia.  

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 

What I'm Reading: American Innovations, by Rivka Galchen

Have you ever used the book reserve system on Barnes & Noble's website?  I work at a mall, so it's ridiculously easy for me to reserve a book and quickly pick it up before I leave work for the day using this system.

 I was on my lunch break earlier this week reading May's issue of Elle magazine where they printed a review of this week's What I'm Reading: American Innovations, by Rivka Galchen.  I impulsively requested the store to set it aside for me; they did it so quickly, I just marched on over there and bought it.

I love a good short story.  I love lots of good short stories. I even love some bad short stories that I wouldn't even recommend despite my love of them.  I confuse short stories with my own life or dreams that I've had.  

I'm not sure I love any of these short stories...

But.  They sure are interesting.

This fairly expensive hardcover book which contains ten short stories is printed by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and retails for a whopping $24.  I would consider it a fairly obscure purchase, and I probably wouldn't have tracked it down if the aforementioned Barnes & Noble book reserve wasn't so awesome and fast (within 15 minutes of my request did I get a confirmation of reservation).  

My favorite story is titled "Real Estate" and it's about a woman who moves into her aunt's mostly abandoned apartment building only to disappear from the life she lived before.  She encounters a man who may or may not be her deceased father while he was still alive, and there are other space/time issues that are typical of a mundane life.  A short paragraph on ghosts inhabiting buildings left me concluding that the narrator was a ghost, and that made me happy.

One of my favorite parts of reading is discovering sentences or portions from a book that truly reflect life.  Lines that depict a truth as I've never considered it before.  Paragraphs I have to reread several times because they are just so poignant in my life that it could not possibly be a coincidence that particular book could possibly be in my hands right now. 

Are you familiar with this feeling?

There are a few of those moments in this book, the truly reflect life moments. 

Anyway, have an excellent weekend!  If you're in Milwaukee, go eat a crepe at Bastille Days this weekend :)

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday.