Sunday Post #33: Reading the Midwest

Iowa photo
I seem to be spending more reading time than usual in the Midwest this year. I finished re-reading Jane Smiley’s book A Thousand Acres. My AP students are also reading it right now. I won’t review it, as I reviewed it for this blog already.

In addition to A Thousand Acres, I read following books set in the Midwest this year:

Five books might not seem like a lot, but it’s more than usual. I’m not sure why, but I tend to read along the East Coast, and my reading map for this year certainly reflects that habit as well, though it does seem to have a bit more diversity of setting than usual. I can’t help but notice I’ve read only three books set west of the Mississippi this year.

In some ways, I do feel drawn to the Midwest, though I have never lived there myself for any substantial period of time. I lived in St. Louis for about three months, but other than that, I’ve only visited. I was really struck by my visit to Kenyon College in Ohio this summer, especially as I noticed we drove through Licking County on our way from the airport in Columbus to Kenyon in Gambier. My family farmed in Licking County in the 1800’s before they migrated west to Iowa, settling in Story County. Farmers haven’t existed in my direct family line for several generations now, but I suppose most of us descend from farmers, don’t we?

In other news, we are now in the midst of October, my favorite month. We have fresh apples we picked from a local farm in the kitchen. The weather is finally exactly the way I like it (do I ever loathe summer weather). I’m enjoying my current R. I. P. reads, Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn and Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan. It took a little longer than usual for fall to reach us this year, but I’m glad it’s here at last.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Photo by TumblingRun

Review: Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

I read Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon in order to prepare to teach it this coming school year. Song of Solomon is the story of Macon Dead III, also known as “Milkman.” Milkman feels lost and disconnected, but he goes in search of his family’s history and in the process discovers himself.

I hardly know what to say about this book. It’s incredible in way few things I have ever read are. I loved the magical realism. I think a lot people find magical realism confusing perhaps because it doesn’t fully conform to fantasy, so you can’t really suspend your disbelief and just go with it, but it also doesn’t conform to realism, and sometimes events can happen that are hard to make sense of. This story is so perfectly layered and carefully written. It’s a masterwork in the art of writing. It’s not only one of the most beautifully poetic books I’ve ever read, but it’s also spiritually fulfilling and a captivating story as well.

One suggestion I have for anyone who reads this novel is not to miss Toni Morrison’s forward. When she reveals the care and thought that went behind just the first sentence, you will understand just how tightly written a work of genius this novel is. I appreciated the way that no thread was left abandoned. Every idea that was introduced was brought back. There was nothing “extra”; no details were just thrown away. As such, it requires quite a close read. Be careful though. I found errors in the online help sites SparkNotes and Shmoop that might cause a reader to be confused, especially if he/she makes the egregious mistake of reading the help sites alone instead of the novel.

I am so glad I read this book. I think I loved it even more than Beloved. This novel deals with some of the same themes as Beloved—the legacy of slavery that resulted in cycle of abandonment by black men and single parenthood and grief for black women. In another writer’s hands, exploration of these theme could go badly wrong. Morrison is an essential writer for our times. She could teach us so much about the ways in which the past still impacts us today and will impact us in the future.

Man. What an excellent book.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book is a bit contemporary for historical fiction, but I’m still counting it because the ending occurs at least ten years before it was published, and many of the events concern the past. Not everyone may agree with this categorization, but given the importance of the past in this book, I think it’s fair.

Summer Reading

Photo by Vassil Tsvetanov Ah, summer. That glorious time of year when it seems like all the time in the world to read is within our grasp. It seems like my TBR pile is getting larger and larger. The good news is that I have managed to find myself a book club, which I’ve been trying to do for some time. The book club is reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I have been wanting to read Adichie for some time, and without the impetus of the book club, I’m not sure when I would have gotten around to it.

I’m finally reading The Age of Innocence. I’ve seen the movie with Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder many times, but I haven’t actually read the book, and it’s long overdue. I’m enjoying it a great deal so far. Beyond these two books, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to read. I signed up for a course in Greek and Roman Mythology through Coursera, and it has some required reading. Luckily, we start with The Odyssey, and I read it so recently (plus I’ve taught it a bunch of times), that I don’t feel tasked to re-read it for the class. I’m trying to figure out what’s been on my list for a long time that I really want to try to read.

However, it’s shaping up to be the summer of catching up on things I’ve meant to read for a long time. Case in point? I really would like to get to Toni Morrison’s [amazon_link id=”140003342X” target=”_blank” ]Song of Solomon[/amazon_link] and Ernest Hemingway’s [amazon_link id=”0684803356″ target=”_blank” ]For Whom the Bell Tolls[/amazon_link], both of which I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I keep picking up [amazon_link id=”045123281X” target=”_blank” ]The Pillars of the Earth[/amazon_link] and putting it back down again. I didn’t used to be so squeamish about really long books with tiny print, but in the last few years or so, I don’t know… I really have to want to read it if it’s that long. I’m not as bothered by listening to them as audiobooks, curiously. Perhaps it’s that my eyes are starting to bother me now when I try to read really tiny print. As I said, I wasn’t bothered by big books with tiny print so much in the past.

I have a lot of books on my Kindle that I want to get to, as well: [amazon_link id=”1250012570″ target=”_blank” ]Eleanor & Park[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0345806972″ target=”_blank” ]Longbourn[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0307948196″ target=”_blank” ]The Dressmaker[/amazon_link], and many others besides.

I also need to read [amazon_link id=”0763662585″ target=”_blank” ]More Than This[/amazon_link] by Patrick Ness, as it’s my school’s Upper School summer read. What are you reading this summer?

Photo by Vassil Tsvetanov