Tuesday, October 16, 2007

whatcha reading?

I am in the middle of The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan, thanks to a recommendation via email from Mark or Rodger or Tater or a phone chat with TedBear (alas, no blog).

It's a history of the worst ecological disaster in this country, the transformation of the prairie grass sod of the high plains into wheat farms. It is particularly moving to read this account because my father, born in 1917, survived that time on a wheat farm 20 miles outside of Dodge City, Kansas.

From childhood, Daddy has told us about April 14, 1935, a beautiful day by every account I've ever heard and confirmed by the author's interviews with others. He and his cousins left church that Palm Sunday to play baseball. It was the first clear day anyone could remember, it was beautiful, and they thought the worst might be over.

The dust storm began in the Dakotas, sweeping down through Nebraska, 65 mile per hour winds pushing a menacing, enormous roiling black cloud, darker than anything seen before. It was Black Sunday, and the way my father tells it, they thought the world was ending.

The sky turned black and the air was thick with finest dust, so heavy with it that headlights made not a dent and the only break in the darkness came from the sparks of static electricity. My father and his cousins headed for home in an old Model T, Daddy standing on the running board to shout directions to my Uncle Bill, who was driving. When they found their way back to the farm, Bill and my father found their dad sitting at the kitchen table, covered in fine silt, reading his Bible. He, too, thought the world was ending on that terrible day.

The book delves into the roots of this disaster: greed, financial mismanagement, speculation, theft, manipulation of folks wanting to make a life for themselves, farming practices that should never have been implemented on the plains. The banks were going broke, taking the savings of small farmers with them. Wall Street was a disaster, and piles of the most abundant wheat crop ever harvested lay rotting in the railyards. It is an astonishing and cautionary tale in this time of rampant greed, speculation, and disregard for the environment.

This afternoon, I met my folks half way between Tulsa and their little city and I read to my father some of the passages from The Worst Hard Time. At 89, seventy one years after Black Sunday, his eyes filled with tears as he listened to the words. His voice shook when he described his feelings from that day, the experiences of his family ~ my family ~ living through that wretched time.

It seems to me that the best books create a kind of resonance, a perfect pitch of identification, understanding, empathy. This book increased my understanding of a man I've known all my life, and the passages I read to him honored his experience and allowed him to again express feelings he has held inside for seventy one years.

So what are you reading? Planning to read? What? Tell me. I'll add them to my list. To Mark, Rodger, Tater and/or TedBear (and I do think it was you, cupcake, because it seems like I'm hearing that discussion), thanks sweetie(s). This one is a keeper.

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20 Comments:

Blogger Ms. Place said...

I have just finished reading the most wonderful journal, a personal account of adventure and faith by Lori Smith, a writer who, after a crisis of faith and after a debilitating illness, quit her job to follow Jane Austen's journey.

The book became available today(can you believe your timing? Or Lori's?) and it is called: A Walk With Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith. You can read my review on my Jane Austen blog. http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2007/10/16/a-walk-with-jane-austen-part-3/

Thanks for this post, dahling. I will pick up your book and read it.

October 16, 2007 11:04 PM  
Anonymous Brion. said...

Whooh Hoo!! You're back!!

At the risk of sounding trivial....the operating manual of my new cell phone!!
Very generous birthday present from my sister!!

Otherwise...hopefully reading something interesting after Sunday (hint,hint!)

BJ.

October 17, 2007 1:46 AM  
Anonymous tater said...

My sister told me to read that very same book! I will have to pick it up. Currently reading tales from the city...and a manual for my new phone (which I am typing this in with, and it is maddening!). I will get back and comment more when at my computer!

October 17, 2007 5:22 AM  
Anonymous tater said...

As you may know, My grandparents, and my father and his sibs went through the same horror your dad did. during this same time period, lightening struck my dad's house, and burned it to the ground. My grandpa, an exceptionally bright man, was forced to pump gas for a living, and had to move his entire brood to his parent's house to survive the depression. Those were horrible times, but they managed to make it through. The culture of greed has brought this country to it's knees before, and is headed that way again, now. I may want to read this book as a survival manual...

Love this post, and would love to read more about your father's story sometime!

October 17, 2007 9:11 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I'm an unabashed biography junkie.

At the moment, I'm reading "Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart".

It transports me to the heart of Broadway in the mid century- I wouldn't mind staying there.

October 17, 2007 9:25 AM  
Blogger Willym said...

What a powerful post to come back to. I've missed so much over the past two months. I found myself chocking up beause to someone like your father this isn't history but his story. You grew up listening to what happened in the tradition of oral history - a tradition that seems to be fading. If only we could capture all those stories we would be richer for it.

October 17, 2007 9:27 AM  
Blogger Willym said...

As to what I am currently reading: strangley enough my new cell phone (telefino) manual as well as the washing machine manual - both in Italian so I guess I am also reading the Oxford Italian Pocket Dictionary.

But seriously: rereading The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf, A Florentine Death by Michele Giuttari and my annual rereading of the best book ever on writing On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

October 17, 2007 9:32 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Rereading the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman. It's classified as a young adult fantasy, but it's one of the most searing and subversive condemnations of organized religion ever written. (And it's gorgeously written, with a kick-ass plot.)

October 17, 2007 9:36 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

Ms. Place! Definitely one for my list. Sounds like just the thing for this time in my life.

BJ ~ wait! people read those things? maybe that's why i struggle so ;-) i see you're in good company with the cell phone manual. must be a gay thing, like having waxed paper in the pantry :-)

tater ~ i think you'll find the book fascinating. and again with the cell phone manuals. it's because you wish to do things like hook up with the internet via phone that you're having to read the manual. get a simple 1-2-3 push button do nothing but ring and connect phone and you'll never have to read again.

listening to Daddy yesterday, i had a terrible sense of coming loss. it seems impossible that such a history, such amazing personal experiences, could just vanish when he dies.

jeff ~ i'm with you, mid-century and broadway ~ a great combination. i envision constant nights out in the clubs, lots of glisten and glamour, drinking martinis without ending up in the gutter :-)

WILLYM!! honey!! how are you, cupcake?? and are you reading that cell phone manual in Italian? you're right, the oral history seems to be fading. i fear we're all too caught up in technology to actually sit down face to face and listen to one another.

elizabeth ~ i have never heard of philip pullman (a philistine, no doubt), but the "searing and subversive condemnation" thing appeals. thanks for the tip.

October 17, 2007 10:04 AM  
Blogger kusala said...

Wow, that book sounds fascinating. I may never read it myself, but I love your synopsis. It's so interesting to discover these well-researched bits about history that so very few people seem to know about. That's why I love books or even in-depth magazine or newspaper articles so much, as well as some NPR pieces that capture the same thing.

Which brings me to something your review reminded me of right away: a recent piece on NPR that educated me about how much carbon is released into the atmosphere just by tilling soil! I never knew that! You must read and/or listen to the piece at this link. Really fascinating stuff.

Anyway, right now, I'm still finishing a book called Suite Française which was just recently published (2005) from a manuscript by a French author, Irène Némirovsky, who died in a concentration camp in 1942. This book is two novellas in the form of a series of vignettes of different families in Paris and the French countryside during the day of occupation by the Germans and the ensuing months. It's not at all about the round-up of Jews or anything like that, but about the simplest changes that occur when a country is all of a sudden taken over by an enemy occupier. Small tales of daily life "as usual but not normal at all", punctuated by small acts of greed and human survival. It's provided insight to an aspect of WWII that I think I never really considered before: that is, what was it like to actually just be trying to get by day-to-day after your country suddenly is no longer "yours."

Next on my list is Half of a Yellow Sun, a new novel by a Nigerian writer dealing with the Biafran civil war in Nigeria in the late 1960s. I'm an Africa and history nut sometimes.

Glad you're back!

October 17, 2007 11:55 AM  
Blogger Red7Eric said...

Lynette!! You're home!! Currently, I'm still plodding through The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which is fantastic -- right up there with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, truly -- after which I'm going to read The Road because Tater told me I had to. And then -- then!!! -- I will turn to page 1 of Lonesome Dove and dive in. I expect to re-emerge in February.

October 17, 2007 2:02 PM  
Blogger rodger said...

Yea...Lynette's back!

I'm actually finishing "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen on Tater's recommend. It's fascinating, funny, disturbing and hits too close to home but a great read. Tater reviewed it on his blog a while back and I'm certain not to do justice to his description so head on over to his place for a full review.

The Worst Hard Time is now on the future read list here at ScuffCo. If it's honest enough to take your daddy back then it must be a powerful read.

October 17, 2007 2:14 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

joe! thanks for the link. me too ~ i love finding these unusual books that change my world view. very cool. and one of my favorite sources is "Fresh Air" on NPR. you've given me some to add to my list :-) finding out what you all are reading makes me feel rich with possibilities for my next library/book shop visit.

Eric! yes! hey, i've heard about Heart but never read it. I love Tree, though, one of my lifetime favorites. The Road . . . on the list. And Lonesome Dove, forever on my list. I so love that book.

Rodger!! THAT'S THE BOOK!! it's the one i have been trying to think of. i heard about it from several of y'all and THAT'S IT!! :-) thank you!!! let me know what ScuffCo thinks about Hard Time.

October 17, 2007 6:37 PM  
Anonymous TedBear said...

Hi Doll. Back from vacation at www.parrotcay.com. Best vacation ever. Hurricane Rates, excellent. Trip insurance, priceless.

And yes, it was me, the read-a-holic that chatted about the "The Worst Hard Time". I picked it up in the airport, and was stunned. I trade books with my read-a-holic parents, and they said the book was too real, too much like being there.

I do love to read. Traveling 170k miles per year to meetings affords me the fly time to read a bunch.

What am I reading now? "Armed Madhouse" by Greg Palast. Excellent, and a must read. The subtitle is: "From Baghdad to New Orleans- Sordid Secrets & Strange Tales of a White House GONE WILD". This book is really going to piss you off. All of it is footnoted, with sources listed.

You may remember Greg's previous investigative work "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" on the 2000 and 2004 election thefts. Greg is one of the world's best investigative journalists. If you expect him to be a left wing hack, you would be wrong. Greg appears on BBC's Newsnight program.

Before that, I devoured "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" by the former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post. Horrifying. True. Amazing stories of life in post invasion Iraq, all staffed by dogmatic Republican party purists. Like the new college grad 24 year old in charge of restarting a stock exchange (like NASDAQ or NYSE) without any previous experience.

Before that, I read J.R. Ackerley's "My Dog Tulip" a New York Times Book Review Classic. Terrific. Even if you aren't a dog lover, this is a great book.

Before that, I read, "Arrow of the Blue Skinned God" by Jonah Blank. Great book recommended by a friend that is a professor of World Religion.

My next book will be, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". My sister said to read it.

October 17, 2007 10:51 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

teddybear . . . i just finished Armed Midhouse, and it was so very depressing and scary. i'm waiting for Shock Doctrine and Letter to a Young Patriot. More depression on the way ;-)

the rest look like keepers for my list. so where have you been? what happened? trip insurance? hurricanes?? tell!

October 18, 2007 10:26 AM  
Blogger David said...

I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read a book since August: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, all about eating locally and trying to find a way out of the agribusiness black hole. Most of my reading lately has been articles in The New Yorker, which I guess ain't too shabby. Next on my list is Magaret Atwood's newest collection of short stories, "Moral Disorder."

October 18, 2007 11:34 AM  
Anonymous TedBear said...

Hi Lynette,

Armed Madhouse made me insane. I had to put it down for a few hours at a time to recover. What an ugly little circle of thieves.

Anyway, back to more pleasant topics. We went to the Turks and Caicos and stayed at Parrot Cay Resort. It all started with an American Airlines fare sale email. $239 airfare roundtrip to Provo/Turks Airport. After we bought the tickets, we needed a place to stay. I discovered Hurricane Season (low season, natch) room rates and bought trip insurance. Everything about the trip was just the best. www.parrotcay.com for pictures of the hotel. Very nice. We went scuba diving every day on coral walls and laid on the beach reading all afternoon. Amazing food. Amazing rooms. Great hotel. Great time. Parrot Cay was the best service and best food we have encountered in our travels. Perfect.Thursday through Tuesday.Getaway.Vacation.

Now, we are off Parrot Cay Fantasy Island, and back to our normal day to day routine.

From this wonderful book review blog topic, we have added the book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" to our reading list.

We are off Friday to New Orleans for family madness this weekend. Back Sunday night.

Xo,

T

October 19, 2007 12:03 AM  
Blogger Big Fella said...

"The Shock Doctrine" a must read, the "war on terror" is actually a Bushliburton economic strategy to move the wealth of the world away from an equitable distribution in to the coffers of their pupeteers.

October 20, 2007 2:46 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

this makes me sad, because i've bought so many books the past six months or so, and i've barely made a dent in them. I love to read, but life's insanity has been getting in the way. I wish I could really absorb it through my pillow through osmosis. Was it Linus in the Peanuts who used to do that?

I read the Kite Runner not too long ago, which was very good, but not a light read. I'm plowing through "An Inheritance of Loss" right now ... I only get a few pages it seems, before I konk out to sleep. Maybe the descriptions of rain/wet are too much for me to take given Seattle's current season. I'm also reading "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria" and some others ...

October 21, 2007 1:26 AM  
Blogger SubtleKnife said...

I didn't reply to this???? That's not me. EDIT: I just remembered what happened. I tried to reply to this on my cellphone from work and I'd written a long story before I noticed the page hadn't loaded properly and there was no "publish" button.

I just started (very late!) the Tales of the City series, I just finished the second book.

But there was another book, one a colleague leant me, that I think all of you might like, it's called A Thousand Miles Without a Cloud and it's about a Chinese woman's journey trying to trace the footsteps of this seventh century buddhist monk, who went all the way to India to learn more and to bring back scrolls (because he thought maybe both the teachings and the texts may have become muddled on their original journey from India up to China)

It's very interesting because it tells her about her experiences as a child during the Cultural Revolution, later developments in China, the history of the country, both history and current situation of many of the countries they both travelled through, and her spiritual journey in trying to understand her buddhist grandmother.

October 29, 2007 4:52 AM  

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