Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge ~ Books #40, #41, and #42

Yes, three reviews in one week! That's because I never managed to get reviews posted for last week, alas. I'll try to keep it short.

This is my second read-through of Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Read my first review here. I loved it as much this time as I did then. Berry is a master prose writer. As someone who has spent her entire life in "fly-over country," I so appreciate Berry's portrayal of the people who live there~ the majority of Americans, after all~ with fondness and respect. Hannah is no unsophisticated bumpkin who does not and cannot grasp the larger issues of life. She is intelligent and wise. I wish she lived next door; I could learn so much from her! Berry is a Christian and this book is a product of his faith, but it is not Christian fiction in the traditional sense. There are no tidy and convenient religious conversions that clear up everyone's problems. Hannah weaves biblical allusions naturally into her conversation, but she is not preachy. (I wonder how many people read Berry's books and miss these? There was a time when that would have been unthinkable . . .) Hannah suffers and endures trials always with courage and sometimes without relief. She is of the last generation of pioneer stock.

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne is always a pure joy and delight. As a child, I was only familiar with the Disney-fied version (take pity on me), so discovering the originals when Girl Out of the House was little more than a baby was a real excitement. These stories are classics of childhood for very good reason. Milne understands a child's world. As for the adults~ well, we all know that the best children's books are also engaging for the adults who will be reading them to children, and Winnie the Pooh is certainly that. I love re-entering Christopher Robin's world where there are no Gameboys or Nintendos to distract from the real work of play and where the sources of amusement are Christopher Robin's own wits and resourcefulness. I always feel like all's right with the world after a visit to the 100 Acre Wood.

I've mentioned before that I love pioneer stories, and the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first introduction to them when I was a little girl. I've read my copies until they are falling apart, but I still own them for I couldn't throw them away! I have spent hours of my life crossing the Mississippi with Laura and Mary, huddled in log cabins during bitter blizzards, and blazing trails across the prairie in covered wagons. I think these books have such appeal today because children intuitively realize (or maybe it's not so intuitive) that there was a time when children directly and actively contributed to the physical survival of their families. A time when if they didn't help to make hay or tend the garden or care for livestock their family's very existence was in jeopardy. Now if a child forgets to take out the trash, no one is going to starve. Or if he misses school for a time, the livestock are not going to perish. Children were an integral part of the work necessary to keep everyone alive. I think readers of (or listener's to) these books recognize the difference and long to fulfill some necessary role in their families. I also think this loss of crucial work for the American housewife contributed to the discontent of young women like Betty Friedan and gave rise to the feminism of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but that's another post for another day.

I'm going to continue my foray into children's literature for at least the next week. I am enjoying myself too much to stop!


  1. Lovely reviews. Looking forward to your future post on feminism.

  2. Lovely reviews, all, Martha. Just last week I loaned my tattered copies of Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie to a friend who is reading them with her five-year-old daughter. I told Kristen that I need to find someone to read these aloud to again--maybe she will indulge me after we finish Hard Times. And, Pooh! Another favorite of mind. Do you have When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six? The poem "Teddy Bear" makes me laugh aloud, as does Beatrix Potter's, The Tale of Two Bad Mice--the part where they are trying to cut the plaster ham with knives.

  3. I hope Kristen will indulge you! If she won't just read them on your own. :-) I do own copies of the Milne poems. Hannah memorized many of them when she was younger. And The Tale of Two Bad Mice is one of my very favorite BP stories!


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