From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides: An Autobiography, Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004)
I loved this book for its headstrong author who chooses to live on a windswept barrier island off Scotland’s west coast. She dedicates herself to preserving the old Gaelic folk songs and tales of the Hebrides. As part of the community, she documents their lives through writing and photography. She settles on the small island of Canna with her husband, where she hosts sailors from intrepid fishing ships, and writers and artists.
Ancient songs are often beautiful and surprisingly complex. Scarborough Fair dates to a royal decree in 1253. The song, “Scarborough Fair,” a traditional English ballad, has lyrics in common with a Scottish ballad, “The Elfin Knight,” traced back as far as 1670.
My Antonia, Willa Cather
This book is part of my effort to read classic books I missed over the years. I’ve read her short stories but was wowed by the skill of this writing. She handles the plot and themes in a unique way. Although prairie life is sometimes romanticized, the pastoral scenes are a joy to read. Her descriptions of small-town life are cutting. She portrays the pull of city life in several of her characters, one succumbing to despair and isolation, another buoyed by whimsical humor, and the narrator by his choice. It was daring I think to tell the story of immigrants back in the 1920s. Changes in the landscape, in farm life, and slowly, attitudes toward women, help tell the story. At times, I thought the narrative was overwrought and the pace too slow, but then I’m a modern reader!
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Another one that deserves to be a classic American novel. It’s a brilliant expose of American life and its continuous debates between conservatism and liberalism, capitalism and socialism, diversity and racial segregation. The characters are wonderfully eccentric, full of vim and vigor even when half-starved and overworked, and obviously smelly from rarely taking a bath. Apparently, the young white girl can only smell black people though. At times in the portrayal of the black inhabitants of the small town, she refers to their smell. Sure. And sultry sexual undertones run through the story. Still, it’s a romp through the crazy land we call home.
Miss Benson’s Beetle, Rachel Joyce
An older woman finds herself alone and useless. One day she can’t take it anymore and throws the whole thing off. She takes her savings and decides to go in search of the golden beetle of New Caledonia. I enjoyed parts of this story more than others, but the good parts had a fine and may I say golden humor and epitomized the drive and love we feel at our best moments. I sincerely wanted her to find that beetle. Slogging through the jungle, up a mountain, fighting a crazed attacker, and knowing no one supported her, she had to do it by herself – but no, she had her assistant, the equally fascinating Enid Pretty. The ending is sad and brutal, but the denouement is funny and beautiful.
Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo
This book mixes humor and tragedy, as the title suggests. “Welcome to Lagos” is a sarcastic remark, a knowing statement about the true conditions of this capital city. At the same time, it shows a resilient humor. I felt I was in the city with its traffic entanglements, homeless encampments, idealistic journalists, and scheming politicians.
Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy
From Amazon: “Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica.” The main character, Franny, is mentally unstable. The time is the near future, when mass extinctions have taken place, and humans seem to be next in line. The whole world is unstable. A frustrating book in that the reasons for her actions remain a mystery until late in the story and then seem contrived or questionable. It’s a sad story with a somewhat happy ending, intimating that we and other species may be able to hang on after all.
Strange as This Weather Has Been, Ann Pancake.
A family living in West Virginia battles the effects of coal mining while being dependent on the coal mines for a living. They live with the threat of having their homes washed away by slush ponds or crushed by mountaintop removal. Pancake tries to explain the attachment to the land and why people don’t move away, and why things don’t get better.
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, Erin Litteken
The story of the famine known as Holodomor inflicted on Ukraine by Stalin and the Soviet Union before World War 2 is told in two parts, one contemporary and the other set in the time of the famine.
I Dreamed There Was No War #Ukraine