Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Last Week's Reading: Madeleine L'Engle and the Dust Bowl Days

                            

Last week was a pretty good week for reading. I read a couple quick reads for young people and a nonfiction that was dry as its subject matter---but still worth it.

Book Description: "A Wrinkle in Time: The mysterious Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which send Meg and Charles Wallace through time and space to rescue their father on the planet Camazotz, accompanied by their new friend Calvin. Along the way, the three children learn about the "Black Thing", a cloud of evil that shadows many planets, including Earth. They encounter a Brain named IT, which controls the minds of people."

Reading, finishing, and actually UNDERSTANDING this book sparked a huge sense of accomplishment and pride in me. Ha! I've read it several times over the years, never understood it in school, and "kind of got it" as a younger adult. Since the Bible passages aren't referenced, baby Christian me never realized they were Scriptural and I always got distracted and lost when things got "too scientific". But this time through I thoroughly understood what I was reading and immediately picked up the second book in the series upon finishing.

5 stars from me for a great book---but even more so deserved after reading some biographical info and learning all L'Engle went through to finally have this published!

Book Description: "A Wind in the Door: Meg, Calvin and the disagreeable school principal Mr. Jenkins have to travel inside one of Charles Wallace's mitochondria to save him from a deadly disease, part of a cosmic battle against the evil Echthroi and the forces of "Unnaming"."

I struggled with this one a lot---I'm so bad with scifi/fantasy! I struggled to keep my attention on the story---nonhuman characters, poorly explained science, Meg does a lot of "stamping". Extreme drama mixed with extreme fantasy was a bit much and I had a hard time following. I did have a little deja vu, now and then, until the second half. Maybe I read this waaaaay back in elementary or middle school?

My favorite quote was this: "It is only when we are fully rooted that we are really able to move."



Book Description: "The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times).

In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, The Worst Hard Time is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature."

This was a very interesting and informative read---I learned a few things and definitely had a shift of perspective about this time in history. I'd been told that my great grandmother and her family went through the Dust Bowl but looking at the timeline compared to where they were doing those years, it looks like they were probably more financially affected by the lack of work than by the bulk of the dust storms themselves. Her family left Beaver County, Oklahoma (in the heart of the Dust Bowl) in the 1920s and went east to Enid (east of the worst of it by a couple hundred miles, according to this book). So they were out of there long before the dusters started hitting, but definitely would have felt the financial fall out of that mixed with the other effects of the Great Depression. From what I can tell, that family began to move west to Oregon in the early 1950s, with my great-grandmother arriving within 10 years of that.

Reading about the beginning of the depression reminded me of last summer when the government was... read the full book review here.

The L'Engle books fulfill the following challenges: The Children's Books Challenge at Belle's Library; and four challenges for the Brighter Winter Reading Program.

The Worst Hard Time fulfills the following challenges: The Historical Reading Challenge at The Intrepid Reader and two challenges for the Brighter Winter Reading Program.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan -- Book Review

 


Book Description: "The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times).

In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, The Worst Hard Time is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature."

This was a very interesting and informative read---I learned a few things and definitely had a shift of perspective about this time in history. I'd been told that my great grandmother and her family went through the Dust Bowl but looking at the timeline compared to where they were doing those years, it looks like they were probably more financially affected by the lack of work than by the bulk of the dust storms themselves. Her family left Beaver County, Oklahoma (in the heart of the Dust Bowl) in the 1920s and went east to Enid (east of the worst of it by a couple hundred miles, according to this book). So they were out of there long before the dusters started hitting, but definitely would have felt the financial fall out of that mixed with the other effects of the Great Depression. From what I can tell, that family began to move west to Oregon in the early 1950s, with my great-grandmother arriving within 10 years of that.

Reading about the beginning of the depression reminded me of last summer when the government was buying truckloads of produce from farmers and distributing it free all over the country due to the effects of COVID. As much as I say I don't want to rely on the govt. for anything, it was sad and a little scary to read about what these people went through before the advent of govt. aid. I suppose I'm appreciative that the help is there for those who need it, but I also think it's heavily abused and should be more strictly regulated.

I was surprised that more mention wasn't made of the correlation between the "plagues" suffered during this time and the Exodus plagues. I imagine that was hot on most minds, being the Bible belt and all. I also learned that "No Man's Land" is a real place!

I was surprised by the naiveté of many who tried all kinds of strange things to induce rain. Scientific methods of the time included dynamiting the sky, plowing to create atmospheric disturbances, laying out dead snakes on fences, and trusting the steam from trains to make the skies weep. In addition to that, I think there was a bit of ignorance in Washington about how big of an area they were dealing with. One solution to the problem of blowing dust was to just asphalt the entire Great Plains, and Roosevelt had the brainy idea to plant a forest over the entire area to change the climate. Oy!

But speaking of naive... I was really interested and surprised to learn how big of an issue static electricity was during the storms. I didn't realize it built up with such strength as to make a couple of friends fall over shaking hands!

This was a super interesting read and really caused me to think about the things I freak out about nowadays. Nothing I've ever gone through compares to the things these brave (and maybe stubborn?) people went through. 

The Worst Hard Time fulfills the following challenges: The Historical Reading Challenge at The Intrepid Reader and two challenges for the Brighter Winter Reading Program.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Last Week's Reads: Washington Irving, Cottingley, and Stories from Grandma

 
Washington Irving, author of The Sketch Book, 1820


Last week was a pretty successful reading week---which was good because January got off to a much slower start than I was hoping! I began the month reading Washington Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., originally published serially in 1819-1820. Two of his most famous stories, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow are on a couple of my classic reading goals lists so I read those first. The rest of the book I enjoyed pretty slowly over the course of 10 days or so. 

The collection of stories is random and extremely disjointed, but it's not an uncommon compilation for the time. It didn't take long for me to realize he was an obvious forerunner to some of my favorites like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens, both of whom claimed him to be a literary mentor. His compassion for the downtrodden and disadvantaged, he reminds me of Dickens. In his ability to weave a moral tale into a story of his home town or region, he reminds me of Hawthorne. I did think he spent quite a bit more time on Shakespeare than he deserved---he seemed to have a bit of an obsession---but I'm not really a fan. I also found the parts about the Indians to be unfortunately prophetic. It was interesting in a sad/happy way to read about a time when many of them were still living in their own way on their own land.


My favorite passage was this:

pg. 14: "To an American visiting Europe, the long voyage he has to make is an excellent preparative. The temporary absence of worldly scenes and employments produces a state of mind peculiarly fitted to receive new and vivid impressions. The vast space of waters that separates the hemispheres is like a blank page in existence. There is no gradual transition by which, as in Europe, the features and population of one country blend almost imperceptibly with those of another. From the moment you lose sight of the land you have left, all is vacancy, until you step on the opposite shore, and are launched at once into the bustle and novelties of another world." (The Voyage)


I love that picture because its exactly how I feel on my flights to England.




I semi-enjoyed these short stories about "grandma's day" (more like great great great grandma's day for me). They have a very Little House on the Prairie feel and many of them pointed to times when faith in God was grown. However, some did seem a bit contrived and the one about the liniment cake was straight out of Anne of Green Gables. It did make me question the legitimacy of the others but perhaps the author is mixing up what she's read from what she's heard.


One story I liked in particular was the one about how the little girl tried to win a contest at school with a book being the prize. I like to collect antique books and have several in my collection that were given as prizes in school and Sunday school. At a time when most homes only had a handful of books, if that, I'm sure these books were very precious! 


I only have one real complaint with the book and that's the fact that it didn't seem to be a big deal for the adults in the story to shame the children for childish mistakes. Apparently, that was supposed to be humorous but I didn't find it funny.



From Amazon: "The author turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.


1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.


One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers."


This story earns a very rare 10 star rating from me---it was absolutely wonderful in every way. Not only did the author take a small moment from history and turn it into a fantastically woven tale spanning multiple generations, but she did it in a way that was mature, believable, and relatable. I am very much naturally drawn to the popular "magical realism" genre but, as a Christian, I feel it's one I need to be very careful about. I end up abandoning most books I think might be "ok" from this genre. This story centers all around the idea of fairies, yet what Frances saw and what she and Olivia dreamed, can all be explained with the rational and the "real". I absolutely loved it. Plus, no sex, no meanness, and just two or three swear words...it's definitely a cozy read.


Reading the history that inspired this story makes me laugh. It's unbelievable to me how so many grown and professional individuals took these photos seriously. I guess it's like Frances said---people wanted to be taken in. It truly was a different time in history that is often impossible to imagine.


The night I finished this I turned off the light earlier than normal and I found that my room was full of fairy lights! My husband set up one of those laser shows to shine on the house for Christmas and it doesn't turn off until close to midnight so I watched the fairies dance through my window for a few minutes before falling asleep!


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The two Grandma's Attic stories fulfill these challenges: The Victorian Reading Challenge at Belle's Library; The Victorian Reading Challenge at Becky's Book Reviews; The Historical Fiction challenge at The Intrepid Reader; and four challenges for the Daughter's of Promise Brighter Winter Reading Challenge.


The Sketch Book fulfilled The Georgian Reading Challenge at Becky's Book Reviews;

The Historical Fiction challenge at The Intrepid Reader; two of the Classics Club readings; and two challenges for the Daughter's of Promise Brighter Winter Reading Challenge.

The Cottingley Secret fulfilled The Historical Fiction challenge at The Intrepid Reader; and two challenges for the Daughter's of Promise Brighter Winter Reading Challenge.

Friday, January 1, 2021

2020 New Year's Eve Book Haul

Happy 2021 everyone! Are you starting off the year with all kinds of big goals and plans? I am... I'm a sucker for resolutions, for sure! Last year my reading goal was 50 books---I read 57. This year I thought, "eh, what the heck..." and decided on 70!! Hahaha! Goodbye homecooked meals and well-schooled children---mother is reading.

Yesterday my husband took the day off work and spoiled me rotten. First he took me out to the Apple store and bought me a nice MacBook Air to replace my swiftly dying Walmart Special. So kind! Then he took me to my favorite bookstore and said I could pick out whatever I wanted! I got the stack of books above and he picked out these three gifts for me. 

A super cute little owl bookmark; a slim, lightweight book light; and this fun box of Charlotte Bronte themed stationery. It's fun to be spoiled!

Since our trip was unexpected and I didn't have my book wishlist with me, I decided to grab some books that I knew were on the 1001 and classics book lists since I know I'll be working on those goals this year. First up is this copy of The Canterbury Tales translated into modern English prose by R.M. Lumiansky (1971). I think this particular version was required reading the summer before my senior year. I've read some of the Tales, both in modern and original versions, but never in their entirety. This book is found on my Classics Club challenge list.

Next up is a book I've got mixed feelings about.  The Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792) is also on the Classics Club list. I tend to run from modern Feminist garbage like it's got the Plague, but reading the back of this, Wollstonecraft sounds pretty mild by today's standards. (On another note, does anyone else feel the phrases we've always used about 'running from something like the Plague' aren't really that scary anymore? I mean, a plague is just another word for pandemic and that's not really turned out to be such a scary thing after all and...oh never mind.)

I think I actually have some of these...maybe all of these...already. BUT---they were pretty cheap and I wasn't sure and I knew they were on my lists, so I grabbed them. The Pickwick Papers (1836), parts one and two; Main Street, (1920) and a couple stories from The Sketchbook (1820) are on the Classics Club list and Main Street is also on the 1001 list. Lorna Doone (1869) is a favorite of one of my English friends and I told her I'd pick it up one of these days.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Steward (1913) was on the same shelf as the Wollstonecraft book and looked interesting so I picked it up too. 

I'm pretty excited about this pretty book as I've just started collecting these types of Victorian books of miscellany. This is Lothrop's Annual from 1892. It's a very large, thick book full of stories, poems, advertisements, drawings, and color artwork.

You can read more about the publisher, Daniel Lothrop, here. He published quite a bit of magazines and other literature, mainly for children and young people. This periodical was published the year he passed away. 

How fun to own a copy of this beautiful Victorian magazine. I'll be adding to this collection, I'm sure!

What books have you picked up lately? I'd love to know what you're planning on reading this season. Be sure to check out my reading challenges for some inspiration!