Now Departing for : Texas

Hello Online Reading Challenge Members!

Yee haw! We’re off to the Wild West this month! Well, we’re off to Texas and the American Southwest, a part of the United States with a colorful history that continues to be a favorite of writers and film makers alike. There will be no shortage of excellence this month.

I have to admit, when I first drew up this year’s list of subjects for the Online Reading Challenge I included the American Southwest with Texas because I didn’t think there would be enough books just on Texas. Wrong! I discovered lots of great titles, many of which are among my personal favorites. Here are some of them:

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Don’t let the various awards (including the Pulitzer Prize) for the this book scare you off as “too literary”. It is indeed a masterpiece of writing and a joy to read, but more importantly, it’s a masterpiece of storytelling. It is the story of one last epic cattle drive across open country, fiercely real, set against an unforgiving landscape and filled with tragedy and triumph,  You will never forget the characters or their stories. An excellent mini-series, starring Robert Duval and Tommy Lee Jones, is also highly recommended.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles reminded me quite a bit of Lonesome Dove although it’s a very different story. What they have in common is uncommon characters, epic adventure and tragedy and triumph. I blogged about it in more detail last year. Highly recommended.

If you have not read Tony Hillerman’s books then do yourself a favor and start! Set in the Navajo Territory, these books follow Lt Leaphorn and Officer Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police as they work to solve crimes in this beautiful but remote and isolated part of the country. While these are on the surface crime-solving mysteries, there is a lot going on beneath the surface including the push and pull of old vs new – Leaphorn is older but does not believe in the Navajo myths; Chee is a young man studying to become a Navajo shaman – and the frequent misunderstandings between cultures. Hillerman was a master writer, spare and evocative with great respect for the Navajo Nation. Amazing books. The Blessing Way was the first book; Skinwalkers is the first with Leaphorn and Chee working together; The Thief of Time is probably my favorite (although I love them all).

Finally, there are many tv shows and movies set in Texas and the Southwest. My favorite is Friday Night Lights and I will argue that it is one of the best television shows ever. Starring Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, this series features great writing, excellent characters and epic stories all beautifully filmed and with a pitch perfect final episode. Set against the backdrop of football crazy Texas, it’s actually about family and friendship, finding your own way and growing up. I wrote (enthusiastically) about the show here and here.

My plan for August is to go to the classics and read Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop I’ll you know how it goes.

Now, what about you? What are you reading this month?

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

newsoftheworldCaptain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels throughout north Texas, reading aloud news articles of interest to the small, scattered communities of a still very wild West. The year is 1870. The Captain has lived through three wars and has no desire to see another, keeping to himself except to collect coins earned from his readings, remembering the past but always moving forward, forever restless.

One day the Captain is given $50 in gold to return a 10-year-old girl back to her only living relatives, a 400 mile journey through hostile, difficult country. Taken by the Kiowa after they killed her parents and little sister four years earlier, Johanna has forgotten how to speak English, has no knowledge of white people’s rules and manners and wants nothing more than to return to her Kiowa family.

Gradually, with patience and kindness and shared hardship, Johanna and the Captain learn to trust each other. The Captain helps Johanna re-learn English and tries to reintroduce her to the white man’s world. Johanna becomes a fierce defender of the Captain, loyal against impossible odds.

When they finally reach their destination and the Captain delivers Johanna to her only living blood relatives, he realizes that she is viewed as an unwanted burden and that her life with them will be harsh and abusive. Can he leave them with her white family, or will he find another way to rescue her?

A wonderful, complex book, News of the World frequently reminded me of Lonesome Dove (although much shorter) – an epic journey across difficult terrain through a mostly lawless land where an individual must depend solely on his own resolve and resources. Kindness and softness are in short supply, danger lurks everywhere and the weak are not given any allowance. The Captain is a wonderful character – intelligent, thoughtful and authoritative, he has a sly, dry wit and a kind heart that he keeps carefully hidden. Johanna, nearly silent at first, gradually adapts and even thrives in the circumstances she’s been thrown into – her resilience is remarkable. A lovely book about the human spirit set against a wild, untamed landscape. Highly recommended.

 

The One & Only by Emily Giffin

the one and onlyThe One & Only by Emily Giffin is a book about family, whether it be your biological family or the family that you are raised with. Shea Rigsby has lived in Walker, Texas her entire life. After graduating from college, she even decided to stay in town and work in the athletic department at her alma mater. The thought of leaving her beloved hometown never even occurred to her.

Her best friend Lucy’s father, Clive Carr, is the head coach of the Walker college football team, a legend within both the coaching and local communities. He and his wife served as a second set of parents to Shea after her own parents divorced and her mother had a breakdown. Tragedy hits the Carr family, leaving them all reeling and Shea wondering if she is really happy with the way her life is going.

Breaking up with her slacker boyfriend, Shea finds encouragement from Coach Carr and decides to look beyond Walker to expand her life. New relationships and old relationships weave a messy web all around Shea, forcing her to leave her comfort zone and do things she never thought she would do. This book is truly chick lit with some serious football lingo thrown in. If you are fans of Emily Giffin or enjoy chick lit, check this book out.

The Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross

In The Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross, Ansley is a southern belle, Dallas style, whose well-planned life takes an unexpected turn; her perfect fiance leaves her for a fellow Baylor sorority sister. Unusually for romantic fiction, this is completely justified as the heroine is selfish, mean, and manipulative.

To get away from the gossip, she heads to New York City to live with her grandmother. The women of the family have always been expert bakers and have passed down a cookbook in which they record original recipes. Ansley uses her baking and business expertise to open a cupcakery.

A strong point is the insider information about baking (in particular, the difference between home baking and volume baking). Also, insights into Southern culture, specifically the uniquely Dallas way of life is fascinating.

Unfortunately, the novel wraps up quickly and glibly. Up to that point, the reader has willingly suspended belief when there were unlikely plot turns because the writing is graceful and the characters well-drawn. However, the last few chapters are written awkwardly, as if the author ran out of time or inspiration. I’d still give it an overall thumbs up, though…

Inspiring Others

June is the month of transitions – graduations, weddings, the end of the school year. It’s a pretty good bet that someone in your life – or you yourself – is going through one of those big life changing events right now. This week our blogging librarians offer some ideas for helping to send these people (or anyone!) onto the next stage of their life a little wiser.

I’ll start things off with, of all things, a tv show. Friday Night Lights is easily the best show on television with superb acting, graceful writing and story lines that are both heartbreaking and inspiring. This show is not about football – it’s about people – the mistakes they make, the hardships they overcome, the love and support they get from each other.

Many of the characters are in high school, struggling to find their place in the world. At the end of the third season, Tyra applies for college, a goal she never thought she’d achieve. Her essay on why she wants to go to college provide words for anyone to live by.

“Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying and trying would lead to failure. But now I find that I can’t stop wanting. I want to fly somewhere in first class. I want to travel to Europe on a business trip. I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important. I want to be the best person that I can be. I want to define myself instead of having others define me. I want to win, and have people be happy for me. I want to lose and get over it. I want to not be afraid of the unknown. I want to grow up to be generous and big hearted, the way that people have been with me. I want an interesting and surprising life.

It’s not that I think I’m going to get all of these things. I just want the possibility of getting them. College represents possibility. The possibility that things are going to change. I can’t wait…..”