I found Sarah Smarsh's Heartland fascinating and informative. She has a writing style that is precise in delivering its message. It flows and is written in such a way that it feels like Smarsh is speaking directly to one person, which may be due to the fact that the book is actually written to an unborn daughter, August, that never existed. I found the approach fascinating, and it made the book more personal. Having grown up in a rural area myself, and in a family that certainly wasn't "well-off" by any stretch of the imagination, I had no trouble relating to the overall story and struggles Smarsh described.
Smarsh makes quite a few valid points and provides credible, well-researched information to back them up. Heartland is a more personal look into the rural middle class culture and economic situation than other books that cover this subject. My only complaint would be that it felt like Smarsh was blaming her family's teen pregnancies/single motherhood/being tied to dangerous men on being poor, when in reality, that comes down to a choice of whether to abstain or not. Just because you're poor, doesn't mean you have to be promiscuous. Smarsh herself proved that, abstaining in order to make sure she was never tied down or held back from her goals.
The teen mother/single mother issue is more an issue of raising and a personal and moral choice. All the issues that were a result of a teen pregnancy could have been avoided simply by choosing not to have premarital sex. So I don't think it's quite fair to blame your teen mom/single mom status on your economic status. There's quite a few of us who grew up poor without getting pregnant and tied down. Now, maybe I'm misreading Smarsh's intent regarding this subject, so I say all of this completely open to discussion. I just don't agree with blaming bad choices on your economic status.
Other than that one issue, I thoroughly enjoyed Heartland and would highly recommend it. It is enlightening and informative, and really an excellent look into economic issues faced by many in this country.
I give it a 8/10.
I am a fan of The Andy Griffith Show and all things Mayberry, so I couldn't pass up Daniel de Visé's Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American T.V. Show when I stumbled upon it on Amazon. I was a bit leery at first, worried that this would read more like a tell-all than a balanced look at two professionals' careers and personal lives. I am here to say that there's no fear to be had. This is a well written, properly researched book written with the utmost respect for its subjects.
Andy & Don was written by Daniel de Visé, who was Don Knotts' brother-in-law, having married Don's third wife, Francey's sister. This is a man who knew Don Knotts personally and therefore worked hard to ensure that this book was done with the utmost respect. According to the Acknowledgments section, Visé spent a great deal of time and energy researching his subjects, as well as speaking to well over 50 of Andy & Don's family, friends, and those that they worked closely with. While the book covers Knotts' 81 and Andy's 86 years of life, it is a fast-paced and an enjoyable read.
Visé discussed both Don and Andy's backgrounds, strengths, and friendships, as well as their flaws, mistakes, and darker sides with grace and dignity, showing his audience that both men were as human as the rest of us. He called attention to conflicting stories and theories, such as the origins of "The Pickle Story" and who persuaded Don to take his Nervous Man to Steve Allen, and presented each theory clearly, not taking one side or the other.
The center point, and indeed the highlight, of this book is the deep, enduring friendship between Don Knotts and Andy Griffith. The author mapped this decades long friendship beautifully. Along the way, Visé shares behind-the-scenes stories and information from those involved with The Andy Griffith Show, along with the men's other projects. It was interesting to read how certain gags and bits from the show, such as the "memorizing of the lawman's code" or the "sitting on the porch" bits, were developed. The master comedic minds of Don Knotts and Andy Griffith shines bright.
I wasn't familiar with Don's overall body of work or the fact that he really was the more successful of the two. I always just naturally thought Andy was, due to his lead role on The Andy Griffith Show, as well as his higher profile (to me) overall. I walked away from this book with a new found respect for Don and his comedic talents, and for that, I thank Visé.
Overall, this is an excellently done book. Well written, thoroughly researched, respectful, and enjoyable.
I give it an 8/10.
I'm so sad to see this series come to an end. I've thoroughly enjoyed Anne's memoirs. She has left me wanting even more. Anne LaBastille is a true inspiration to this young woman. Smart, independent, strong, admitted her fears and weaknesses, and tackled her life and career head on. I've been absorbed in LaBastille's writing for the last year, and now I'm left wondering what could possibly top her books.
Woodswoman IIII is the last installment of LaBastille's wonderful memoirs. Unlike the first three books in the series, which each cover a decade of Anne's life, Woodswoman IIII only covers five years. Another thing that sets this book apart from the others is the fact that it has a Forward written by Christopher Angus, author of The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty. Readers will know Petty by the pseudonym "Albert" from Anne's memoirs. He was a very dear friend of Anne's. Fun fact: Anne actually wrote the Forward to Angus' book on Petty's life.
In Woodswoman IIII, LaBastille continues to write about her extraordinary life, detailing her experience as a self-publishing author and book seller, a harrowing night while teaching down South, the death of her beloved German Shepherd Chekika, and the pleasure of good friends. An excellent mixture of conversational and informative, Anne's writing is a delight to read. She has quickly become one of my favorite writers, a status she'll no doubt hold for the rest of my life.
I've said this numerous times, but it bears repeating, I love the way Anne writes about her dogs. She writes with love, respect, and admiration about her beloved German Shepherds. One of the chapters I enjoyed the most in this book was where Anne gave thoughtful, helpful tips on how to help the grieving process along after detailing the death of Chekika. She treats the death of a dog with respect and sensitivity, giving the love you felt for your beloved pet the dignity and understanding it deserves.
Another aspect of Anne's writing that I thoroughly enjoy is the fact that she makes sure she celebrates her friendships. She makes it quite clear that though she is a strong, independent woodswoman, she hasn't come all this way on her own. She has had the help of many devoted friends. I find her willingness to address the importance of friendships in one's life admirable. Too often people dismiss the importance of friendships in order to either build up an image of self sufficiency or to highlight the importance of marriage. Anne manages to show how one can lead an independent, self sufficient life all the while enjoying deep friendships that are mutually beneficial.
Overall, the Woodswoman series is a superb group of memoirs. I would highly recommend reading through these wonderful books, soak them up and savor them.
I give it a 9/10.
I have been slowly making my way through Anne LaBastille's excellent Woodswoman series, having read the first book in January 2018 and the second book in January 2019. The first two books in the series, Woodswoman and Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake are available on Amazon, and I'd highly recommend them. Unfortunately, the third and fourth books in the series, Woodswoman III and Woodswoman IIII, are currently out of print and therefore hard to come by. Thankfully I was able to acquire both, though for a rather hefty price, but when it comes to books, I'm definitely willing to make the spurge (usually).
This series gets better with each book, in my opinion, because you learn more and go deeper and deeper into Anne's life and career. With each book, it seems that Anne gets more confident in being more open and vulnerable. Woodswoman III covers Anne's third decade living in the Adirondacks. Among the subjects discussed in this book are her beloved dogs, peddling her books, her farm, changing life at her cabin n the lake, and growing environmental concerns.
As with the first two books, my favorite chapters are the ones where Anne talks about her dogs, though sadly, because each book covers roughly a decade, they all contain a sad chapter covering the death of a dog. This one features the decline and death of Condor. The way Anne writes about the decline and death of her beloved dogs is absolutely heart-wrenchingly beautiful. She brings me to tears every single time. Though I cried my eyes out through these chapters, my heart is always quickly soothed by the following chapters that detail the arrival of a new puppy, in this book's case it is Xandor who joins LaBastille's pack. I admire LaBastille all the more for these chapters, her love and devotion for her dogs is palpable, admirable, and moving.
I also enjoyed the chapters in which LaBastille writes about finding, buying, and settling into her farm, Kestrel Crest Farm. At the current stage of life Anne was in while the writing of this book, she found the hard Adirondack winters increasingly difficult to live out in her cabin on the lake, especially while trying to conduct business. A million things could go wrong or keep her from meeting deadlines and fulfilling her business engagements. Therefore, she made a compromise: She'd live part time at the farm, and part time at the cabin. This allowed her a bit more freedom, and made life a bit easier, all the while providing more storage space, an important commodity for the business woman. The farm was still in the Adirondacks, but easier to get to, and provided different opportunities to observe the workings of nature and wildlife.
I thoroughly enjoy LaBastille's writing. Her willingness to share her vulnerability, particularly her fears concerning the arson of her barns on her Kestrel Crest Farm property and the break-in at her cabin. She built a life on an image of a strong, independent, brave woodswoman, yet she shows no qualms in sharing her fears, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. She shares how her fear from the arson incident left her cold and scared, and ultimately led her to resign as a commissioner in the Adirondack Park Agency. Her continued willingness to be real and honest is admirable.
Overall, this series is a superb bit of writing. It's among the best collection of memoirs that I have had the pleasure of reading. I'd highly recommend it.
I give it a 9/10.
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux - A Review
Anne Boyd Rioux's Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy is a thorough, thoughtful, and engaging examination of the lasting appeal and legacy of Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic Little Women. This is one of those rare books that teachers, scholars, and avid fans can all read and use, and more importantly enjoy. Released in August 2018, in time for Little Women's 150th Anniversary, this book had a great deal of buzz around it and six months later, it's still a book with a lot of buzz attached to it.
Rioux organizes the book into three parts: The Making of a Classic, The Life of a Classic, and A Classic for Today. Part I: The Making of a Classic details the history of Little Women. Rioux gives a thorough biography of Louisa May Alcott and how Little Women (and its sequels) came to be. I found the information on Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott, as well as Louisa's complicated relationship with him very interesting and enlightening. It explains why Mr. March is almost completely absent from the books. An avid Alcott fan, I found that I still learned a great deal from Part I of the book and found it an excellent way to open a fascinating study.
Part II: The Life of a Classic walks the reader through the many forms Little Women took as its popularity and legacy grew. Rioux dissects many of the adaptations of the book including movies, plays, and radio programs. She explains each adaptation's impact, its highlights, and its shortcomings. As an Old Hollywood film buff, I found the chapters covering the film adaptations most interesting. Among the film adaptations (all under the title of Little Women) discussed are the 1933's Cukor directed/Katharine Hepburn version, 1949's June Allyson/Liz Taylor version, and 1994's Winona Ryder version.
Part II also covers the lasting impact that Alcott's Little Women had on readers and ultimately future writers. I was amazed, but not surprised, by the amount of writers, both male and female, who claim to have been inspired by/impacted by the book. As a budding writer who was herself inspired by Little Women, and more particularly by Jo March, I found this part truly delightful, like a meeting of kindred spirits.
Part III: A Classic for Today examines the impact and relevance of Little Woman today. This part was particularly fascinating and eye-opening. I was both surprised and appalled at the fact that Little Woman, once seen as an important book to be taught in schools, was lacking pretty much any presence within our schools currently. The fact that the driving force behind the book's absence in our school seems to be a concern that the boys won't like reading it and that we shouldn't subject them to having to read a "girl's" book is absolutely ridiculous. Meanwhile, as the book expertly points out, girls are subjected to reading boy-oriented books like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and The Lord of the Flies, and have to grin and bear it, but God forbid that boys read a couple of girl-oriented books such as Little Women or Anne of Green Gables. Double standard much?
Rioux's writing reflects thorough and dedicated research. It is both informative and enjoyable. I could not put the book down. I would HIGHLY recommend this book to all. Read, learn, remember the information within this book, and after you've done all of this, go read Alcott's Little Women for yourselves (or again). Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy is a superb and absolutely fabulous read, much like the book it discusses.
I give it a 9/10.
I first stumbled upon Anne LaBastille about a year ago (in 2017) when I found her first memoir, Woodswoman, in an amazon search. Having grown up in the foothills of and having camped in the Adirondack Mountains annually for years now, the fact that she both lived in and was a certified guide for the Adirondacks intrigued me. I quickly read her first book and absolutely loved it. I found LaBastille fascinating.
Fast forward to this past summer (2018), my father gave me LaBastille's second book in her Woodswoman series, Beyond Black Bear Lake. I had stacks of other books that I had to read through before this one, books from authors and publishers that had to take priority, so I didn't actually have a chance to read it until just recently. It was certainly worth the wait.
Continuing on where Woodswoman left off, in Beyond Black Bear Lake LaBastille takes the reader through more of her life. She details the life of a freelancer and how she manages such a demanding, busy schedule all the while living off the grid. She explains how she deals with calls, mail, and invasive fans. LaBastile also shares her quest and journey to retreat even more into the wilderness and live the way Thoreau did over a 100 years before her, detailing the construction of her second cabin, Thoreau II.
I found the chapters in which LaBastille discusses her research on acid rain and its effects on the environment, particularly the Adirondacks, and her fight to keep nuclear waste out of the Adirondacks both fascinating and eye-opening. Other chapters I found most interesting were where she wrote about her dogs, the loss of Pitzi, which moved me to tears, and the gain of Condor and Chekika, and the bonds that she shared with these beautiful shepherds.
I highly recommend this book. It is a superb memoir, that also serves to educate the public on environmental concerns and conservation. Excellently written, well researched, Beyond Black Bear Lake finds LaBastille writing from her head and her heart.
I give it a 9/10.
I'm officially hooked on LaBastille's writing and will continue on in her Woodswoman series. Next up: Woodswoman III. ;)
Winter is officially here. I don't know about you, but I usually end up reading mostly nonfiction and classics during the winter season. I'm not sure why, I just naturally gravitate towards them. So winter is here and I've, once again, found myself digging into some great nonfiction.
Around the same time last year, I had just finished Anne LaBastille's Woodswoman. I absolutely loved it and found it fascinating. This year, totally unintentionally, I found myself finishing the second book in her Woodswoman series, Beyond Black Bear Lake. I really enjoy LaBastille's writing, and her passion for the Adirondacks, conservation, and nature.
I've noticed a pattern in my reading during the winter season. Yes I usually gravitate towards nonfiction and the classics (Alcott, Emerson, etc), but I've noticed that I usually spend the last part of December and most of January reading nature themed books. Be it John Muir's Nature Essays or Anne LaBastille's books, I find myself wanting to center my mind on nature. I love being outside and in the woods. Being in and around nature brings me to a peaceful state of mind and soul. I think READING about nature also achieves this.
I also have a pile of other nonfictions books that I received for Christmas. Most of them are autobiographies/biographies, as I enjoy reading about other people's lives and stories. Among those are books about legendary cowboy actor Ben Johnson, and books by Jamie Farr and Gary Burghoff. I have a few other nonfiction books mixed in, like Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux and Life at the Dakota by Birmingham, that I'm super eager to dig in to.
While reflecting on my own winter reading habits, it made me wonder: Do you all lean towards/favor certain genres in certain seasons? Let me know! I'd love to hear from you! ;)
As I mentioned in my review of Scott Berg's Kate Remembered, I've been on a Katharine Hepburn binge as of late. Me: Stories of My Life was second on my list of Hepburn books to read, and I have to say, it was interesting, enlightening, and an enjoyable read.
Me reads the way Hepburn speaks. Some parts read as though Hepburn is reminiscing to herself, piecing together the bits and pieces of her life and working through it, trying to make better sense of some things. There are quite a few realizations that Hepburn shares throughout the book and you get the feeling that they are new realizations that came to her as she looked back and worked through her past. Other parts read like she's speaking one on one with someone, sharing memories and telling stories. It's an interesting way to go about writing a memoir and it works well within the context of Hepburn's life.
The book is also organized in an interesting way. The chapters are divided into memories, particular times during Hepburn's life, people, etc. Some of her work (i.e. movies and plays) receive their own chapters, others are lumped into one chapter labeled "Movies", "Early Career", and "Early Films". There are 9 chapters that are about people, 10 people in all. One chapter covers her parents and there are other chapters for Howard Hughes, George Cukor, L.B Mayer, her housekeeper/companion Phyllis, and Spencer Tracy, among others.
There are actually four chapters about Spencer Tracy, those are the ones I found most interesting because Hepburn never talked a whole lot about Tracy, so these chapters give us a rare look at their life together. They are also the most vulnerable chapters in the book. One chapter, "Spencer", covers her thoughts on him as an actor, how they met, and the movies that they made. "Love" is about their romantic relationship, "Leaving the California House" is about her packing up and selling the house that she shared with Spencer, her thoughts, feelings, memories, and mementos surrounding the house.
The last chapter featuring Spencer Tracy is "Dear Spence", which is a letter Hepburn wrote to Tracy decades after his death while composing this book, in which she asks questions she never asked him when he was alive. This chapter has a feel of Hepburn trying to understand and come to terms with what truly went on within Tracy's own mind and their relationship. It was beautiful.
Overall, I found this book both fascinating and enlightening. I would highly recommend it to Hepburn fans, and Old Hollywood fans. I'd also recommend it as an excellent memoir to anyone who enjoys that genre. Truly wonderful.
I give it an 8/10.
I started really digging into Katharine Hepburn's film catalogue this Fall. I'm not sure why I chose that time to do so, but I've always found Hepburn vaguely interesting and decided that I wanted to learn more about her. After watching several of her films, I decided to see if she had ever written an autobiography or if there was a good biography on her. I found both. I quickly realized that I had A. Scott Berg's Kate Remembered on my shelf already, therefore I started with that one.
Kate Remembered is more of a memoir than biography, though it does detail Hepburn's life. The book is written through the lens of one of Hepburn's close friends and includes conversations and antidotes that would have been lost if the book had been written strictly as a biography.
Berg came into Hepburn's life in her later years, but developed a quick and, by all accounts, deep friendship with the actress. Known for being deeply private, getting to know Hepburn on a deeper level is quite a feat.
I love the way Berg outlined the book, flashing back and forth from the "present" time of his friendship with Kate to other times in her life, weaving the chapters into a nice flow. It made sense and, I believe, made it easier to digest the details and information about her life and career in between their conversations, dinners together, etc. The book definitely gave the reader a deeper understanding of the Hollywood and stage star, and maybe even helped the public feel closer to her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I couldn't put it down and found it absolutely fascinating. I enjoyed Berg's writing style and his personable voice. It felt very much like he was sitting in a warm parlor, recounting his friendship and knowledge of Hepburn. It is the best "biography" of Katharine Hepburn I've come across and a must have for any fan.
I give it 8/10.
Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through The Prayers of Jane Austen was released October 2nd of this year and found its way to me soon after. This is a wonderful devotional centered around three beautiful prayers that Jane Austen wrote.
For those who might have lived under a rock, Jane Austen is the beloved author of classics including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. I first fell in love with Austen's work through Emma, which is still among my all time favorite books. When I saw a devotional that was based on Austen's prayers, I HAD to get it.
Praying with Jane is absolutely delightful and enlightening. The devotional is divided into three parts, each focusing on one of the three prayers. Each day within each part is devoted to a section of the prayer, usually a few lines per day. Each part opens with the full prayer, so that the reader can first read it as a whole. Then each day features a section of that prayer, along with a devotional that focusses on the theme of that particular section, what it means, and how we can use it in our own lives, all while relating it to Jane's life and works. Each day also features an Invitation to Pray, which helps the reader get in the right mind set to pray the theme for the day, and then Let Us Pray, which gives you a prayer to pray, letting you plug in what you need.
Overall, it is a beautiful, enchanting devotional that encourages prayer and helps the reader grow in their prayer life. I absolutely enjoyed working my way through it and will definitely use this devotional again. I would highly recommend it.
I give it 8/10.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....