What I’ve been reading, Volume 1: A balm for the soul

“A book is like a key to unknown chambers within the stle of one’s own self”
~ Franz Kafka

Back in December, I had big plans for what I was going to read this year. Except… I’ve gotten sidetracked reading lots of other things. As a librarian, I am a firm believer in the principle of “the right book for the right reader at the right time,” and so I am choosing to believe that I will get back to reading all those books on my shelves when the time is right. In the meantime, here are a few books that I’ve especially enjoyed lately:

 

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill. South Dakota Historil Society Press, 2014

Pioneer Girl

I spent a good part of January reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiography Pioneer Girl, which has been annotated by editor Pamela Smith Hill. Wilder wrote this autobiography first, and when she and her daughter could not find a publisher for it, it beme the source material for the entire Little House series. For me, the annotations made the book. They provide a wealth of historil context as well as insight into Wilder’s writing process (not to mention some literary theft by Wilder’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane). It was fascinating to compare this original recounting of her life with the narrative of the fictional Ingalls family that was eventually published, complete with explanations about how Wilder and Lane shaped the story to better fit the mythology of the Amerin pioneer family.

 

Lost: A Memoir by thy Ostlere. Key Porter Books, 2008

Ostlere explores the nature of grief and loss as she recounts the year following her brother David’s disappearance while sailing with his girlfriend Sarah between Ireland and Madeira. I completely agree with the assessment of the friend who recommended it to me: well-crafted and heartbreaking. I also highly recommend Ostlere’s verse novel for young adults, Karma.

 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Penguin Random House/Delacorte, 2014

In this “modern, sophistited suspense novel” (to quote the book jacket), dence Sinclair Eastman is desperate to remember what happened the summer she was fifteen, when she suffered a head injury during a mysterious accident on Beechwood Island, where her family spends the summers. I wasn’t sure about the ending at first – which one person in my book club astutely described as a Holy F*** ending – but the fact that I’m still thinking about this books weeks later is a sign that it works. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks is also well worth a read.

 

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver. Penguin Books, 2012

thousandmornings

This gorgeous, spare book of poetry was like a balm for a bruised soul. (I didn’t even know I had a bruised soul.) It was one of those books I devoured and then was sorry it was finished. Since I n’t quite bear to put this book away on the shelf, I suspect it will sit on my bedside table – so I n dip into it now and again – for quite some time.

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“Our lives are at once ordinary and mythil.”
~ Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones

marriage certifiteAn ordinary document: my grandparents’ marriage certifite.

My grandmother’s life was ordinary: she immigrated to nada as an infant with her parents and older brother, she went to a country school. She worked as a housekeeper and cook; she married, farmed with my grandfather, had two children.

Her life is also mythil: her story is – in many ways – the story of Alberta, the story of this country.

Her stories filled my childhood and beme part of the mythology I rry with me everywhere. I may have missed many of the Greek and Roman classil stories growing up, but I know about the first time my grandmother, Olga, baked bread on her own: it was the day her youngest brother was born. He was born on her last day of grade eight, her last day of school ever. Olga’s basketball team was playing a game but she couldn’t go to school beuse her mother was having a baby, and Olga had to stay home to bake the bread. (She never let my great-uncle Art – the baby born that day – forget it, either, and teased him about it the last time she saw him, when she was in the hospital. I know beuse I was there.)

I know all about the adventures she and her siblings had growing up along the train tracks, and all the trouble they got into on the family’s farm. I know how the men on the threshing crew at the farm where she worked when she was a young adult loved her baking, especially her pies, and told her she should open a bakery.

Of course, there is a darker side to this mythology too, one she didn’t talk about. Now, as an adult, I am slowly uncovering more pieces to the puzzle and filling in the gaps of some of those stories.

Last month I wrote about finding inspiration in history – and what better place to find it than in my own history?

While that is a rhetoril question, I’ve been thinking about the connections between the ordinary and the mythil lately, as my current project – although fiction – touches on my family’s history. I find myself asking other, real questions. Questions I don’t have answers for yet: what do I do with all of these stories? What is my obligation, my responsibility? And: if I am telling these stories, how do I do so in a respectful way – but a way that is also honest and doesn’t shy away from the darker parts of my personal mythology?