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

Standard

“A book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle 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 Historical 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 became the source material for the entire Little House series. For me, the annotations made the book. They provide a wealth of historical 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 American pioneer family.

 

Lost: A Memoir by Cathy 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, sophisticated suspense novel” (to quote the book jacket), Cadence 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 can’t quite bear to put this book away on the shelf, I suspect it will sit on my bedside table – so I can dip into it now and again – for quite some time.