Wednesday, January 26, 2022

So Many Choices, Where Do I Start? New Year's Reading Resolution 3

Photo Credits:  Lyn Fenwick
Like Thomas Jefferson, "I cannot live without my books."  My New Year's Resolution should be--and is to some extent--"I resolve to read books in my library that I have not made time to read."  Some of you know that I collect illustrated children's books, and I have read most of those.  There are still a few classic books in that collection that I have not read.  Reading those classics is at the top of my list.  I love history, and I have particularly collected books by and about American presidents.  For some surprising reason, I am also interested in W.W. I, and there are a few books of that category that I have not read.  My New Year's Resolution is to spend more time reading and less time wasted, and even if I keep that resolution, I am sure I will have unread books as 2022 ends.

When I made my Millenium List, I still believed that if I carefully selected a book as worthy of reading, I should finish it.  I no longer adhere to that creed.  Life is too short to read every great book, and it is not my responsibility to every author to finish their book!  However, it is my responsibility to search out wonderful books and try to read as many of them as I can.

A good place to start is with book lists prepared by serious readers, book sellers, publishers, and friends whose reading acumen you respect.  The internet has many book lists that are easily available.  For example, Amazon has a list titled "100 Books to Read in a Lifetime" complied by their editors.  Of course, they would like for you to buy those books from Amazon, but there is no requirement that you do.  They also have lists for specific types of books, such as Childrens, Mysteries, Biographies & Memoirs, and more.

If you prefer novels, "Time" has a list prepared by Critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo with what they consider the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.  They list the books alphabetically by title, rather than ranking them from best to "barely made it on the list."  Modern Library has a list titled 100 Best Novels, which is a 'ranking' list.  Good Reads is another source with more current and popular rankings.

Obviously, I lean heavily on the classics that have retained their popularity longer than a few years, but there are wonderful books being published all the time.  I also tend to read all the books written by my favorite authors, once I become a fan.  It is no secret that I have been a Willa Cather fan since I sneaked a book out of a box of books my brother brought home from college when I was eight.  It was "My Antonia," and I also favor "O Pioneers," and "One of Ours," although they are not necessarily the ones critics rank highest.  I also like Barbara Kingsolver, and I have read all of her books. The first months of Covid I decided to read all of the "Harry Potter" books chronologically.  That was great fun.

Whether you join a Book Club, decide to read Children's Classics to your children, select a particular historic period or a favorite author to read everything that author has written, I hope you consider making your New Year's Resolution for 2022 a commitment a read more books.  I'd love to hear from you to learn what you are reading!  I am just finishing "If, The Untold Story of Kipling's American Years," so I think I will take a second look at my beautiful copy of "The Jungle Book," illustrated and signed by Robert Ingpen, and another publication of that book illustrated by Don Daily.

Next week I will share a memory of my favorite author.   

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Why Should I Read? New Year's Resolution Part 2


Remember when reading was fun!  Your New Year's Resolution should be about rediscovering the fun of reading.  And, there is no reason why your reading resolution could not be a family project.  Reading with children reinforces the idea that reading is fun and important.

33% of H.S. Graduates never read another book the rest of their lives.

However, assuming your resolution to read more books is going to be solitary reading, there are many good reasons for you to make a New Year's reading pledge.  I will share just a few of those reasons.

42% of college grads never read another book after college.

Last week's blog described two friends who read to relax at bedtime in one case and to just pass the time without any particular reason in another case.  There is nothing wrong with reading to reduce stress.  Personally, even if I am reading to relax, I still prefer to read something of value to me, so  I keep a book of poetry beside my bed which serves that purpose well.  The rhythm of poetry and the shorter length, which makes it easier to find a stopping place, are both reasons why poetry is especially restful and relaxing.  Often the substance of the poems offer content for reflection as I fall asleep.  In a similar category, reading can be inspiring, whether read at bedtime or any other time.  Reading about the achievements or courage or good deeds of others can be an inspirational reason for reading.

The more a child reads, the better they are able to understand the emotions of others.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Three hundred years ago, Joseph Addison described another important reason for reading:  "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."  Studies have shown that reading really does increase the blood flow and improves connectivity in the brain.  It is not just what you learn by reading but also an actual physical impact.

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

Obviously, reading can provide information that can alter your thinking.  Right now, with health issues limiting travel, we can still learn about other people and other places through books.  Books can even take us back in history.  Mark Twain wrote that history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.  Instead of every generation needing to learn hard lessons for themselves, reading can spare the mistakes and build on the achievements.

70% of U.S. families have not been inside a bookstore in the past 5 years.

Children are not alone in benefitting from reading books that challenge their imaginations.  Fiction authors of the 1800s are believed to have inspired and challenged inventors and scientists who read their books and made fantasy into reality.  How many young boys credit reading a book about an athlete as what made them believe they too could run faster, jump higher, or enter a sport that they believed had been closed to them because of a disability or their color or financial limits.  How many people have built something or written something or baked something or explored something because they were inspired by a book they read, and age need not be a barrier to readers inspired by a book. 

I do not know the source of the statistics I quoted.  Frankly, I hope they are wrong, because I cannot imagine not wanting to continue reading for a lifetime.  But, I do know that other sources support the severe reduction in reading, and I know too many bookstores closed because people stopped buying books.

Whether you read to relax, to be inspired, to be educated, to learn, to improve something about yourself, to gain confidence--and I am not referring to "self-help" books but rather well written books that appeal to you for many reasons, I hope you believe that reading is worth making time to read.

Thank you to Kansas for recognizing Kansas authors & books about Kansas.

And thank you to Libraries and librarians for all they do to encourage reading!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Not Too Late for a Resolution

New Year's is past, but it is not too late for a resolution.  It probably will not surprise you that I am about to suggest that you resolve to set a reading goal.  In the past I have written about my Millennium Reading List.  I chose 100 great books published between 1900 and 1999 to read.  Have I read all of the books on my list?  No.  Is that a bad thing?  No, because the list became the source for discovering more and more books I wanted to read.  

The original list was intended to be fiction, but often fiction made me curious about the time period in which the novel was set, and I discovered history books I would not have otherwise read.  Then the history books led me to biographies.  I also discovered authors I admired, and in addition to reading a single book by that author, I sought other books that particular author had written.

The point is that by making a list of books to read it is likely that you will discover more and more books to enjoy reading.  At least, that is my experience.  

I have also written about the decline in reading.  From my perspective, that is a serious matter.  I know that many people now "read" audio books, especially if they have long commutes to work, or their jobs involve repetitive labor that allows listening to a book without hindering their work.  Audio books have their place, but the reader's interpretation inevitably alters the content with every decision about where to place emphasis, the tone of voice to be used to describe characters, or the character's voice used in dialogue.  All of those things and more can alter a listener's response to the book.  Listening to a book is not the same as reading a book, but it is better than not reading at all.

I am a slow reader.  A friend told me that she set her goal for the number of books she wants to read in a year at 50 books.  I could never accomplish that!  If you make a Resolution, do not set yourself up for failure by demanding more of yourself than is reasonable.

First, consider the kind of books you want to read.  For me, fiction is much quicker to read than nonfiction.  A friend of mine loved reading Romance Novels.  I asked her why she enjoyed them, and she said because they are all alike.  For her, they were just a way to relax and escape into an imaginary world.  Those are not really the kind of books for which you need a New Year's Resolution or a book list.  Another friend told me she reads to relax at bedtime.  She might not select books that stimulated her mind with new ideas for her bedtime reading.

If you decide you want to make a reading list of books, here is my advice:  Don't set yourself up for failure by making an impossibly long list or selecting especially long books.  To start, set a reasonable goal, maybe one book a month, or ten books for 2022.  If there is a particular book you know you want to read, start reading it now.  

If you don't have a particular book in mind, visit your local library and ask the librarian for a suggestion.  Before you go, decide the type of book you want to read--fiction or nonfiction, history or biography, a classic you remember from high school or college that you want to read again with a more mature perspective, a book by a particular author you have liked in the past or that you have heard about.  If you have a particular type of book in mind, the librarian will be better able to direct you to something you will enjoy, or at least to direct you to the shelf when those books are housed. If you are fortunate enough to live in a town with a bookstore, ask a knowledgeable clerk for suggestions, but be prepared with the same thought about the type of book you are interested in reading in order to give the clerk some guidance.

Finally, read the first two pages before you buy or check the book out.  Don't force yourself to start off your New Year's Resolution with a book that feels like an assignment.  If you want to be generous to the author, read five pages before you decide, but don't begin your Resolution with a book you are not enjoying.  Maybe later you will want to give a challenging book another chance, but at least start off the year's reading with a book that interests you from the early pages!

Good Luck!  I'll see you next week with some fresh ideas for why we should Resolve to Read!! 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

She Didn't Marry a Farmer

Continuing last week's blog that shared 3 generations of women who married a famer and concluded with a husband who married a farmer's daughter, I will remind all of us that while it may be true that young women today may be choosing farming for themselves, they are far from the first Female Farmers!

The Homestead Act of 1862 identified "heads of households" as the family member allowed to stake a homestead claim.  Since husbands were always the ones considered as the head of the family, married women could not stake a claim unless they could prove that their husband did not provide support for them in any way.  That was often difficult, since even the worst of husbands usually managed to bring home some bit of revenue occasionally.  

The picture above right compares the roots of prairie grass that the homesteaders had to break through to plow their fields for crops to the shallow roots of cultivated grass.  Breaking the native prairie sod was no easy task for male or female farmers!

Single persons, male or female, could stake a claim to prove up, as could widows and divorced women.  Adjacent to Isaac Werner's timber claim were two such women.  Persis Vosburg lived across the road to the west of Isaac's timber claim.  She had never married, but she had her own home and staked the quarter section on which it set.  Her widowed brother's claim was just to the north of hers.  She helped take care of his motherless children and he helped with some of her farm work in exchange.  A neighbor, coveting her land, raised a complaint that she was not complying with the requirements of a homesteader.  Isaac spoke up for her, saying that if two brothers had claims side-by-side and shared work, no one would object.  The fact that the work she did for her brother involved childcare should be treated no differently than the case of two brothers sharing work.  Persis was allowed to prove up her claim.

Just to the east of Isaac's timber claim was a divorced woman with children who had staked a claim.  No one seemed to object to Isabel Ross staking her claim, since it was obvious that she was supporting herself and her children.  Isaac often did simple kindnesses for her, including hiring Isabel and her children occasionally to help with his potato crops. 

Homesteading Chrisman Sisters

Perhaps the most famous female homesteaders are the four Chrisman sisters, Hattie, Lizzie, Lutie, and Ruth, who all staked claims in Custer County, Nebraska in1886.  They were not alone.  Historians today have estimated that about 20% of the homesteaders in Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North & South Dakota, Utah, and Idaho were single women.  Not every person staking a claim managed to endure the hardships of survival or the loneliness and hard work, and many claims were abandoned.  However, the success rate for proving up their claim was higher among women than men.

These brave, resourceful, stubborn women homesteaders were generations ahead of the Pioneer ad that inspired last week's blog, which is continued this week.  In the book "Letters of a Woman Homesteader," a widow with a young daughter decided to stake a claim.  Her Pastor advised her to "get a position as a housekeeper for some rancher who would advise [her] about land and water rights."  As you might guess, the widow and the rancher didn't quite stay single for five years, but she maintained her own land and he continued paying his bride the housekeeper wages he had paid before their marriage, so that she had her own money for maintaining her claim.  The government accepted the arrangement and awarded her the land at the end of the required 5 years.  Isaac Werner's neighbor ladies Persis and Isabel had no such romantic entanglements and proved up their claims 'by the book.'  Perhaps for some of these ladies, a man may have come along after her hard work of proving up a claim and asked for the lady's hand in marriage.  I'm not sure whether these ladies would have accepted a marriage proposal after proving they could manage on their own, especially since the laws of their time would have taken away some of their rights if they married!

But, like the woman in the Pioneer ad that inspired the two blogs starting last week and concluding this week, perhaps some of those homesteading women could eventually say "Her husband married a farmer."