I Like These Books. You Should Read Them.

It’s summer, and apparently other people have summer reading lists.  I wouldn’t know, because this year I have a summer painting list instead.  I’m sanding, priming and painting all of the trim in my house (and please don’t tell me that trim should never be painted, because you haven’t seen THIS trim, which is beyond help).  It sucks.  I hate painting.

Last summer I had more fun.  I read a lot.  These are the books I read last summer and liked.  Check ’em out:

  • Go If You Think It Your Duty: A Minnesota Couple’s Civil War Letters I loved this book.  I stayed up half the night to finish it.  It’s fascinating to see how this newly-married couple managed a years-long separation during the Civil War.  It’s also fascinating to see how racy it is at times…those 1860s couples were kind of hot.
  • Letters of a Woman Homesteader Who knew there were woman homesteaders?  These are the letters of a young widow who moved from Denver to the wilds of Wyoming at the turn of the century.  It’s amazing to see how she fared (especially with a toddler in tow).  It’s also interesting to see how communities worked together in a place where they were so separated by geography (and sometimes weather).
  • Pioneer Women This book tells about the experiences of women and their families in Kansas in the 1860s-1880s, in their own words.  It blew my mind to see what they went through, and to contemplate whether I would have made it (answer:  no way).  I read this last summer, at the same time I was reading Little House on the Prairie with my daughter (that’s the one where the Ingalls family moved to Kansas).  It was eye-opening to see how much the experiences of the familiar Ingalls family mirrored those of other early white settlers in Kansas.  If you were a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, you’d probably especially enjoy this one.
  • The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s This is meant for people who are writing novels or other works about the 19th century, but it’s interesting on its own as well.  It’s in dictionary form, so it’s especially handy to have on hand when you’re reading stuff from old newspapers.   For example, under “wedding gifts,” it says that it was only in the second half in the century that gift-giving expanded from the immediate family to friends and co-workers.  Most gifts were decorative things (it lists sugar bowls, cake baskets, ice cream knives and napkin rings as “typical”).  That’s handy to know when you’re reading a small-town account of the gifts given at a wedding, or looking at the serving dishes and utensils you’ve inherited.
  • Isle of Canes If you liked Lalita Tademy’s Cane River, you’ll love this one.  It’s the story of generations of descendants of a slave woman, and how she secures freedom for herself and her children.  It was written by Elizabeth Shown Mills, who is kind of a big deal in the world of genealogy, and it’s based her research on a real-life family.  It’s over 500 pages, but it’s worth the investment.
  • Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie Honestly, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read (not just historical books—ALL books).  It’s the story of a Norwegian family who settles in Dakota territory (now South Dakota) in the 1870s.  To see how each character handles the huge challenges they encounter, and how their experiences shape them and their children…seriously, read this book.  Don’t read the foreward though, because it has a huge spoiler (why do they do that?). The sequels to this book are Peder Victorious: A Tale of the Pioneers Twenty Years Later and Their Fathers’ God, and both are excellent as well…but Giants of the Earth is a must-read.
  • The Help Required reading for every American.  If you haven’t read this, you need to.  Right now.

Happy reading!

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