Online Reading Challenge – July

Hey Folks! It’s time for a new month of reading with our Online Reading Challenge! What will you read this month?

The theme for July is Westward Expansion. Most of us probably immediately think of cowboys and Native Americans and the “wild west” and while there are several very good Westward Expansion books with exactly this setting, you don’t have to limit yourself to that era. In reality the “wild west” only lasted a few decades, no matter that it holds such a vivid place in our imagination. Westward expansion  started with the arrival of colonists on the East coast of the continent, continuing through US history as the population pushed westward, including into Alaska.

Unfortunately, Westward Expansion also encompasses some of the worst of American history, the treatment of Native Americans which ranged from poor to horrific. This might be the time to read more about their history. Try the modern classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown or The Earth is Weeping: the Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens for insights into the story of these proud people.

There are a lot of great books to read in this category, including some American classics. Try My Antonia by Willa Cather for an evocative, breathtaking view of life on the prairies. Two of my personal favorites are Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – a chunk of a book that nevertheless ends too soon – and News of the World by Paulette Jiles – a slim volume packed with heartfelt emotion. Both of these titles recall a time when the West was still raw and life was difficult. They depict a time that is, at first look, similar to traditional stories of the West, but in fact both show great depth and the complexity of the time.

Now might be the time to try a classic Western – Max Brand, Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. For a woman’s view of the West, take a look at the novel The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas or the non-fiction Frontier Grit: the Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women by Marianne Monson.

I’m setting my sights on Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about the journey of Lewis and Clark. It’s been on my list for a long time and I’m looking forward to following their epic adventure.

As always, there will be displays with these titles and lots more at each of our library locations. And let us know what you plan to read!

 

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Marta McDowell

Guest blog post by Laura

The seeds of my relatively new hobbies: gardening, landscaping with native plants, and what my friends call “pioneer” cooking, may have been planted long ago by my favorite childhood books. I would disappear into the Little House in the Big Woods or Little House on the Prairie both by Laura Ingalls Wilder for hours at a time. I also spent time with the Island of the Blue Dolphins, a fictional account of the true story of a Native American woman’s story of survival while stranded alone on an island, by Scott O’Dell.

In The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, McDowell aptly describes the various places Pa Ingalls’ wanderlust took his young family. They lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. Some locations were still Indian Territory at the time the young Ingalls family built homesteads. Finally, Laura and her husband Almanzo settled permanently in Missouri.

I was absolutely amazed at the speed in which forest and prairie were decimated and towns emerged. Laura and Almanzo traveled from South Dakota to Missouri by covered wagon in 1894 and she went to visit her cosmopolitan daughter in San Francisco by train in 1915 and by Buick 1925! McDowell includes a section on Visiting Wilder Gardens and Growing a Wilder Garden for those interested in road-tripping or attracting pollinators.

It was fun to see the Moline Wagon Company and John Deere mentioned. I learned I have planted some of the native plants Laura found on the landscapes of her youth. Some of the herbal remedies she used were familiar, but most were new to me. I also enjoyed seeing the names of familiar seed catalogs that regularly show up in my mailbox over a hundred years after Laura may have ordered from them: Stark Bros. & Gurney.

I was happy to get a second look, this time through mature eyes, at the literary heroine of my childhood. She was a remarkable, intelligent woman, and her daughter was an amazing character in her bold independence for a woman of her time. Laura clearly passed along the pioneer spirit to her.

This is my favorite passage from the book and sums up her view of the world: “Laura didn’t curtain its windows so she could see the changing pictures of the world outside. Depending on the time of day, the season of the year, and the weather, the scenes framed in the glass panes shifted, but were a constant draw. She appreciated ‘the forest trees in the wood lot, the little brook that wanders through the pasture, the hills and valleys, and the level fields of the farm lands.’ Living close to nature was a fundamental thing. Along with love and duty, work and rest, nature was a key ingredient in her formula for happy life.”

The High Divide by Lin Enger

high divideIn 1886, Gretta Pope wakes up one morning to discover that her husband is gone. Ulysses Pope has left his family behind on the far edge of Minnesota’s western prairie, with only the briefest of notes and no explanation for why he left or where he’s heading. It doesn’t take long for Gretta’s young sons, Eli and Danny, to set off after him, leaving Gretta no choice but to search for the boys and their father in hopes of bringing them all home.

Enger’s breathtaking portrait of the vast plains landscape is matched by the rich expanse of his characters’ emotional terrain, as pivotal historical events–the bloody turmoil of expansionism, the near total demise of the bison herds, and the subjugation of the Plains Indians–blend seamlessly with the intimate story of a family’s sacrifice and devotion in The High Divide. (description from publisher)