As I write this, I am still pregnant. The nest has been nested, so it’s now a matter of getting my mind off of the fact that I am not in labor and have had no signs thereof. So let’s just chat about some of the books I’ve finished over the last two months or so.
The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
I’ve long been fascinated with the last few generations of the Habsburg dynasty, and Empress Sisi’s story is one of the most interesting, bizarre, and (not surprisingly) touched by tragedy. This historical novel goes through her initial meeting with Emperor Franz Josef, their early marriage, and its eventual demise. It was well done, overall, though the first quarter of the book I found a little plodding as it seemed to read like a movie script, describing every movement, action, glance, etc. But it picked up after awhile and gave a glimpse into just how crazy and often messed up life was as a royal in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time. I don’t envy Sisi’s lot in life one bit.
The Rule of St. Benedict by St. Benedict
Not sure how I hadn’t yet read this, but I’m glad I did. It’s really short and Benedict is super thorough, covering everything that could come up in monastic life: when to get up, how much to eat every day, what to do with disobedient monks, etc. It was kind of amazing to see how very much motherhood and abbot-hood have in common, and I found all of his advice to abbots to be completely applicable to parenting as well. I think anyone can read and relate to his rule on a personal level (although his chapter on the ins and outs of praying the Divine Office did leave my head spinning).
Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman
This is one I read back in high school, but I really enjoyed re-reading as a wife and mom. It’s a fictionalized account of a real woman’s life who visits her uncle in the wilderness of Canada as a 16-year-old, and falls in love with and marries a Mounty just a few months later. Their life in the unforgiving climate of an extremely uninhabited part of Canada at the turn of the 20th century certainly puts things in perspective! No electricity or heat, weeks and weeks of travel via sled/dog teams to get from one post to another, no access to modern medicine, hardly any communication with the rest of the world, dealings with large Indian settlements, etc. Oh and the endless winters of -40° F. Just brr. We can do Mid-Atlantic winters with heat and SUVs and instant hot water. Anyway, the story is both sweet and gritty, as it follows the blossoming marriage of Kathy and Mike, as well as the tragedy and hardships they face together.
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Tom and I read this together, and it was our first Flannery full-length novel. She’s a really gifted writer who can spin hilarious descriptions that will make you laugh out loud, followed by some super interesting insights. I will say, though, we were a bit over our heads with the weirdness of this work. We ended it and were like, “Uhhhh….so what was this supposed to be about??” We even tried looking up some essays and articles to help us out, but we need a professor or something. Anyone care to shed some light here? If I were to give a quick synopsis it would go something like this: a young soldier home from WWII struggles to accept the faith of his parents and decides to go to a small southern town to preach that there is no Christ and no church. He comes across several really bizarre characters and some really bizarre things happen to him. It’s hard to explain…again, if you’ve read it and have any thoughts, we would love to hear them!
Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag
This novel is kind of the immigrant version of Little House on the Prairie– with a lot more of the actual gritty, depressing details. A Norwegian family travels from Norway to the United States, eventually making their way westward to the uncharted Dakota Territories, to stake a claim on land and begin farming. They form a community with three other families, the closest human beings for about 90 miles around them. The book really gets into the heart of how the intense loneliness and desolation of the prairie affected many of the foreigners and pioneers who sought to make their home there– the main character’s wife basically suffers from deep depression and what ultimately seems like some sort of psychoses, due to the fact that she never really wanted to leave her homeland and is terrified of everything in the wilderness of their new life. It’s also a classic man vs. nature story, as the weather and the prairie itself often play a huge role and are written as entities out to destroy man. It’s a gripping tale of determination, survival, and the effects of the pioneer life on marriages, relationships, and communities.
(And as I mentioned before, this book was also very appropriate as a blizzard/winter-weather read, as their 7 month winters of daily blizzards with little fuel and food once again put our life into perspective. Electricity and heat FTW).
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