The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The Four Winds is an unflinching look at life in the Texas panhandle during the Dust Bowl era. Part Steinbeck, part seventies meaty historical saga (those big, fat books I devoured as a teen) but with a literary slant, it is epic in scope and very ambitious. Author Kristin Hannah pulls it off masterfully. She’s an author who means business: intensity, sadness, and ultimately hope are central to her books, I’ve learned as a reader. I love me a good “bleak but hopeful” book (I’ve written a few myself — see below!), but wow, this one did me in. And you know what? I loved it! I found myself ready to plunge into Elsa Martinelli’s world every chance I got. What a character and what a story. There were beautiful and complex mother / daughter relationships in these pages. An up-close look at how deeply individual lives were changed by a climatic and man-made disaster like no other in the midst of the Great Depression. A reminder that humans can be downright awful and that kindness is what sustains and bolsters. And the most beautiful thread woven through these dire pages was the reminder that “hard times don’t last. Love does.”
Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World by Leah Hager Cohen
In the early nineties, I was fascinated by Henry Kisor’s What’s That Pig Outdoors?: A Memoir of Deafness, about a journalist making his way in a hearing world. Train Go Sorry (an ASL expression meaning “missed the bus”), a story of NY’s Lexington School for the Deaf, was written around the same time. While incredibly different, both books grapple with many of the same issues, primarily the best approach for teaching deaf children: Vocalization or sign? Mainstreaming or special schools? Deaf teachers or hearing? Hearing aids? Implants?
The school, which opened in 1864, has been through a number of changes as over time educational practices have shifted. I was glad to see Lexington’s still going strong. Leah Hager Cohen, the hearing daughter of Lexington’s then hearing superintendent, grew up in an apartment on campus, submerged in the Deaf community and longing to be a part of it. I loved the chance to look over her shoulder as she shadowed two Lexington students. This book is a glimpse into a rich community, the complexities of and challenges facing education, identity, and equality, and the undeniable truth that schools both expose deaf children to their own culture and become a second family.
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
This is a weird one to include here, I know. But reading Reem Faruqi’s verse novel Unsettled about a girl uprooted and placed in an entirely new setting made me think of my May Betterly. May was only fifteen miles from home but an entire world away. I haven’t picked up May B. since a quick read on an airplane to Atlanta in 2012, when I was cramming for school visits and wanted to be sure I knew my own story. It’s hard to read your own words and get any sort of distance, but nine years later, I was able to. Sure, there are parts more familiar than others (the ones I’ve shared at readings over the years), but other sections felt entirely new. For the first time, I was (almost) able to read the book as a stranger would.
Here’s the thing. I still love it! The metaphors are fresh! Of course there were words here and there I would change if I could. I’d like the chance to fiddle with some line breaks, too. May cries way too much (I now believe what Nathan Bransford does, that a character should cry once, maybe twice in a book), but my word, that girl went through a lot. I’ll cut her some slack. She was so strong! And brave! My favorite line is still Wolf, / show your face.
I was told when May published it was an evergreen book, and I’m happy to say it still holds up.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
I read this for the first time in college and have memories of laughing while reading on the shuttle from the parking lot to campus. It was a treat to re-read with my Dead Authors Society book club. I was again taken by the creation of a fictional author from a fictional land (S. Morgenstern from Florin, which once was between Germany and Sweden) and all the backstory and asides Goldman provides throughout the story. A line from the introduction caught my eye this time around — “How much can the truth be manipulated in the name of art?” Indeed!
It was fun to be so well acquainted with the movie that I could see places Goldman gave a line to another character, for example, (the “life is pain” line is something Fezzik’s mother told him during his youthful wrestling days!) or veered a bit from the original text. I’m curious about the decisions Goldman made in writing his book as a screenplay. What further changes did Rob Reiner make with edits of his own? If you’re a fan of the movie but have never read the book, you MUST. It’s an absolute treat.
What have you been reading lately?