February drifted onto the Cutoff in much the same way as January did, amid snowflakes that fell from the evening hours of January 31 into the dinner hours of February 1. From a misty haze of sleet, to large, fluffy flakes, Mother Earth gathered four or more inches into her already laden arms, and the long, long winter continues here, and through most of North America.
It has been good weather for making soups and stews, trying my hand crafting sweet pralines, working on projects that had been piling up – and for doing what I love most, reading. Would you mind if I shared a few books with you?
The horticulture committee of our garden club usually selects a garden related book to read and discuss in January, which is a perfect month to start gathering one’s thoughts of seeds and soil. This year’s read was a delightful one of essays and observances throughout the year by Czech writer Karel Capek, “The Gardener’s Year”. We had a lively conversation around a bountiful table. Our conversations flowed from Capek’s writing to reading translated works, the charming illustrations of Karel’s brother, Josef Capek, and the sadness that came into their lives during World War II. We discussed the Modern Library Series of gardening books that Michael Pollan has chosen, which includes “The Gardener’s Year”, to, well, actually, the discussion still continues, because, you see, good garden literature is like good gardeners around a January table; they go cheerfully and hopefully on and on and on.
Rose Laws’ memoir, “The Gold Coast Madam”, was the January choice for our book discussion group (which is entering our 26th year). What can I say about “The Gold Coast Madam”? Co-authored with Dianna Harris, it was a fast paced and rather fascinating, sometimes titillating, look into the life of a modern Chicago madam, er, agent, and provided one of most lively discussions we have had. Miss Laws “names names”, which most of us recognized, and the names she didn’t name, we energetically speculated on. Business transactions were conducted at restaurants, hotels, and motels around the Chicago environs, many of which we all have eaten at over the years. She even lived in the town we all lived in – until she was run out of town by her neighbors. Those of you from or familiar with the Chicago area might find this an interesting subject to explore.
“The Aviator’s Wife”, by Melanie Benjamin, has been on my radar screen since it was first published. I stumbled upon an excellent used copy in one of my favorite book stores, Centuries and Sleuths, in Forest Park; for a price I couldn’t resist, and it followed me home that one clear and relatively warmish January day – and it kept me company for but a few days afterwards, as I could not put it down. “The Aviator’s Wife” is a fictional story of the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and her famous aviator husband, Charles Lindbergh. I enjoy historical fiction, and I enjoyed this, as I followed Anne’s brief encounter in Mexico, where her father was the U.S. Ambassador, with the dashing hero who had just flewn solo to Paris, to their marriage (after the briefest of courtships, if it could even be called that), to her role alongside Lindbergh as he charted flight paths around the world in the 1930’s, to his death in Maui in 1974. Once finished, out came my cherished copy of Anne Lindbergh’s “The Gift from the Sea”, and a welcome re-reading, followed by an interest in learning more about the Lindbergh’s, especially Anne.
Through snowstorms and frigid temperatures in January, I spent some time emigrating from Norway to the Dakota Territory in the 1880’s with Lauraine Snelling’s “An Untamed Land”. Thank you, Helva, for taking the time to recommend the Red River of the North series to me in a recent comment. In this first book of the series, we follow two Norwegian brothers and their wives from their family village in Norway, across the Atlantic, through their first days on the streets of New York, to their quest for a homestead out west. Through faith and courage, stubbornness and resolve, they begin a new life “busting” sod near the banks of the Red River. Much like “Lantern in Her Hand” and the Little House books, “An Untamed Land” is about the spirit of the pioneers, many who were immigrants, who tamed the prairie and settled much of the United States in the late 19th century. The story of the Bjorklund families, Ingeborg and Roald, Kaaren and Carl, is one of fortitude and strength, in unimaginable situations filled with hardship and tragedy. It is also a story of family and faith, neighborliness and kindness as the Bjorklund’s and others build a new life for their children in a wild and new world.
I will warn you, dear reader, “An Untamed Heart” could lead to palpitations. No, not for steamy scenes. You can find those in “The Gold Coast Madam”. The palpitations come from the many moments where Ingeborg and Kaaren have a cup of good, Norwegian brewed coffee, or offer it to neighbors or other settlers passing through in search of their own plots of land. All the cups of “kaffee” I drank while reading “An Untamed Heart”, and, now, its sequel, “A New Day Rising”, have me in a wee bit of caffeinated jitters, reaching for molasses cookies, and remembering the book and movie I wrote about here, I Remember Mama/Mama’s Bank Account, as well as another long ago read memoir of Norwegians in Wisconsin, “First We Have Coffee; Then we Talk”, by Margaret Jensen.
Uff da! This has grown into a too long post, so, I’ll just show you my latest audio book, read by Billy Collins, himself, who has kept me company on a few wintry errands in the car this past week.