Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Year in Books: September, October and November in One Post

September's book was Half-Broke Horses, a fictional re-telling of the author's grandmother's life and written as though she is telling it. She was born in 1901 in a soddie (a house dug into the earth with a grass roof). My granddad was born in a soddie in Nebraska in 1898 and I imagine his childhood was just as dramatic.

You may have read about a house like this in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book Little House on the Prairie. This is a more realistic description of what that life would be like.  She takes care of her younger brother and sister because her mother is city girl overwhelmed with ranch life. She also helps her father run the ranch, teaches school and learns to fly. She grows into a no-nonsense, pragmatic woman, unlike her dreamer of a sister who goes off to Hollywood and lands on the casting couch with disastrous results.

This colors her attitude to her own dreamy daughter whom she tries to toughen up but fails spectacularly. Walls' mother marries a feckless man and they make their children's lives hell as Jeanette Walls outlines in her memoir The Glass Castle. You can draw some conclusions about the reach of decisions down through the generations.  I was going to read it because Half-Broke Horses was enjoyable, but I am done with dysfunctional family memoirs for the moment.

October's book was Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. I read this on a 5-hour flight to Washington, D.C. And it is fascinating.  It can also be seen as an example of how parental decisions affect children. After her parents divorce, Piper moves far away and makes some odd friends who are into some very bad things.

After awhile she pulls herself out of it and starts to build a better life, when Wham! someone gives her name up as part of a plea deal. She waits years before going to trial, is convicted and sentenced to 18-months in a minimum security prison.

This is where the real story begins.  This is not the horror story I expected, no shivs in the yard or rapes in the shower. What is it like to carve out some kind of life in within a restricted environment?
How do you enter a whole new world, learn the rules, and create alliances? The women she meets each have their own stories and ways of coping.  Highly recommended.

After all this reality we come to November's book, a lovely, lovely read. The Hollow Land by
Jane Gardam is set in Cumbria, England. It is the story of two boys, Bell and Harry. Harry's family rents a place in the country as a retreat from their London lives. Bell's family owns the house and has lived and farmed in Cumbria for generations.

The boys have adventures, the grown-ups have their grown-up dramatics as vacations come and go. Vivid characters and descriptions of place draw you into another world where history both cradles and influences the present. One of my favorite books this year.

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