What I Read – Brooklyn

I’d never heard of this book and likely would have never even considered it, had I not stumbled upon the movie adaptation one night when I was desperate for something pleasant to watch. Apparently, the movie premiered in 2015 and was nominated for some awards. Looking back, it seems I’d spent that year in a pregnant, then postpartum haze and now I’m wondering what else I might have missed.

So, it was a Saturday night and Little B was fast asleep. I made myself a cup of tea and curled up in bed to start binging on the new season of Orange is the New Black. A few episodes in though, I realized I just…couldn’t. It was grating on my soul and while I rarely turn to drama/romance to cleanse my emotional palette, there was just something about the trailer for Brooklyn that pulled me in. I should point out here, I was also extremely hormonal that night and that probably played a pivitol role in this choice.

Brooklyn (the novel) was set in 1950s Ireland where a young woman named Eilish found herself without any prospects, financially or romantically. She lived with her widowed mother and older sister, while her three brothers had all moved to England to find work. Her sister, sharp and self-possessed, was always looking out for her and with the help of an Irish-American priest, she orchestrated Eilish’s move overseas to ensure a better future for her. Eilish was apprehensive but didn’t protest. She did what was expected of her, as she always did.

After a rough start in Brooklyn, she overcame her homesickness, made friends and found a boyfriend. Then suddenly, her family suffered an unexpected tragedy and she had to return to Ireland where her hometown friends and family expected her to remain. This left her torn between her new life in the United States and the familiarity and new possibilities of her old one so she had to make a decision. It’s a simple story with some subtle complexity. There wasn’t a perfect choice. She had two almost equally appealing options, but with some minor consequences on either side. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and all that. As a reader, it was hard to decide which future to root for.

I picked up the book right after watching the movie because my weepy, pre-menstrual heart needed to confirm that she’d made her decision based purely on love. I have to tell you, after reading the book, I’m really not sure. The novel is actually less definitive than the movie in that regard. Otherwise, with only a few minor exceptions, the screen adaptation stayed true to the book, so there wasn’t much additional insight to be had by reading it.

It was a beautifully written book though. It reminded me a bit of Maeve Binchy. It had a real Irish chick-lit vibe that reminded me of the late 1990s when I used to plow through books of this genre on a weekly basis. That wasn’t really the best time in my life, but thinking about it makes me nostalgic for all the time and brain space I once had for leisure reading. However, I have to admit, if I had to choose, I think in this case I would pick the movie over the novel. The costumes and cinematography were stunning.

As for Orange is the New Black, I think I’m over it. I was finding last season was getting too outrageous and weird. This season, I just didn’t understand what I was watching. Perhaps I’ll just stick with pleasant movies like this for a while.

Any suggestions?

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What I Read – Pioneer Girl, The Annotated Autobiography

I’m a serious Laura Ingalls Wilder fan girl. As a child, I read my boxed set – the circa 1980s editions with the Garth Williams illustrations, until they were in shreds. Those books are long gone now but I’ve since bought a new set for Little B. Actually, that’s a lie. I bought those replacement books for myself at least five years before she was even born. Regardless, I really do hope she’ll share my love for them when I read them to her someday.

Back then, I was so obsessed that I’d dress up in pioneer garb and role play Little House stories with a friend in an undeveloped wooded area near our house. Just thinking about that makes me so grateful I was a kid in an era where we only brought out the camera on special occasions so these cringe-worthy moments of my childhood are not preserved digitally or otherwise. I’m almost positive that there is no photographic evidence of me wearing my hand-sewn sunbonnet.

With this in mind, it’s needless to say, I was really excited when I heard Pioneer Girl,, the manuscript of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiography was being published. Its unexpected success made it hard to come by for a few years but it came available recently, so I put it on my Christmas list and a copy was bestowed upon me back in December.

Pioneer Girl was written around 1930 but was never published. It was rejected. Instead, it would serve as the framework for the children’s series she wrote shortly after. While the series was fictionalized, albeit only slightly to produce a simpler, sanitized and fluid narrative for a young audience, Pioneer Girl, is a bit grittier and unpolished.

Much of her story is familiar but the manuscript includes some of the darker times in her young life that she omitted from her series, including their family’s brief stay in rough town in Iowa where they lived among drunks and wife beaters in a hotel. It was in this same place that her little brother was born and died shortly after, another part of her life she deemed too sad for children.

I was pleasantly surprised that Pioneer Girl wasn’t a Liberation manifesto. In fact, her story actually chips away at the illusion of their independence and self-sufficiency that’s threaded throughout the series. They relied on the government (and some mysterious benefactors back east) much more than she let on in her other writing – including a public subsidy to send her sister Mary to the school for the blind. Then there was Pa, who was usually portrayed as the epitome of hard work and integrity, once packed up his family and skipped town in the dead of night to avoid paying rent.

I’m positive that if this had been published back then, it would have been easily forgotten. Laura’s tone and style in both her manuscript and published series seems to lend itself much better to kids. What makes this publication really special though, are the annotations. When they call it an annotated autobiography, they’re not kidding around. The editor annotated the ever-loving crap out of it and it you are like me and enjoy trivial details, it’s wonderful. The margins are full of notes. In fact, sometimes the notations fill up entire pages.

There are passages of correspondence between Laura and her editor/daughter Rose, old maps, and newspaper articles confirming or correcting dates of events. Along with census information and historical documentation about friends, family, and neighbours to corroborate some of her stories as they’d passed through the filter of time and her childhood naivety. Everything you ever wanted to know about the Ingalls family is right here.

Pioneer Girl is a hardcover the size of a textbook and weighs about four pounds so it’s not the kind of book you can just slip into your bag to read while waiting for an appointment. It’s for true fanatics who will find the detailed history and the evolution of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s development as a storyteller fascinating.

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Garden Update

We are now at the point in the season when my enthusiasm for gardening has begun to wane.

The weeds are getting out of hand and I’m losing my footing in the battle against the backyard critters and crawlers. My strawberry patch was ravaged by squirrels and when they’d had their fill, the robins came along and finished them off (I watched this all play out from the dining room window one afternoon). There’s also something munching holes in my radish greens and digging up my onions, beets and carrots.

I had to rip out my spinach, as well. It was infested by leaf miners, which are also tearing through the nasturtiums that I’d planted because I’d read they were good for deterring pests.

*Sigh*

It’s not all bad though. Some things are thriving:

The cilantro I started from seed is coming up beautifully.

I think I transplanted my squash a bit too early and some of the plants didn’t make it. This one looks promising though.

A local woman was thinning out her raspberry bushes and offered her surplus to anyone who wanted to come over and dig them out. I transplanted about six of her suckers in a giant pot on our deck since we don’t really have anywhere else that would offer them enough sun to thrive. They weren’t doing so well at first. I didn’t think any of them would survive, but most of them are bouncing back.

I bought a blueberry plant in the spring and it’s actually still alive. Winning!

Lettuce is so easy to grow. We have a bumper crop.

I can only hope that in a few weeks, the insects and animals will leave me something for another update!

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