Books: Migrations

In the last few weeks Charlotte McConaghy has become one of my all-time favorite authors. I devoured both Once There Were Wolves and Migrations. Her writing is perfection. I awkwardly fan-girl-messaged her on Instagram to find out details about what she’s working on next. She even responded!

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Migrations weaves an emotionally wrenching tale of Franny, a troubled woman with no shortage of trauma in her life. It is set sometime within the not-too-far future in which most animals are now extinct or on their way to being so. Franny fixates her interest on the arctic tern, a small bird that makes the longest migration of any animal in history.

While Franny seeks the tern by joining a group of fisherman, she also seeks healing and closure. The story transitions back and forth between different points in her life, but does so in an organized and exquisite way. I will post about Once There Were Wolves in the next few weeks, and will be eagerly awaiting McConaghy’s next work, due out in 2023.


Books: Broken Horses

I picked up Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile despite having listened to very little of her music. The book came recommended by some of my recent favorite writers. I also liked listening to what she had to say on Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach’s We Can Do Hard Things Podcast, which you should check out if you haven’t already.

Carlile writes candidly about her struggles growing up in the Pacific Northwest in a family that was involved in the local music scene. Her family moved a lot and during that time she found herself attached to two different horses, broken in their own ways. Those horses would play an important role in the artist’s life, teaching her that the word ‘broken’ can mean a lot of different things.

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Carlile also writes about motherhood. When she and her wife decided to do in vitro to conceive, Carlile felt some reservations about not carrying their children. She writes about feeling somehow like less of a mother at first and how society defines what a mother is.

Carlile merges life as a touring musician with parenthood. She and her bandmates frequently bring their entire families on the road with numerous young children taking over the tour busses. These anecdotes were some of my favorite parts of the book.

Despite being a Grammy winner, she is still awestruck by her heroes Joni Mitchell, Tanya Tucker, and Elton John. I enjoyed the print version of this book very much, but I hear the audio version is even better because Carlile narrates it and sings some of her songs throughout the narration. Now I’m onto exploring more of her music.


Books: I Came All This Way to Meet You

Is there a certain age at which we are expected to have found ourselves? Truly, do we ever? And who sets those expectations? Those are the questions I was left asking myself as I finished I Came All This Way to Meet You novelist Jami Attenberg’s memoir.

After all, Attenberg finished writing her memoir as she approached age 50, and was only beginning to feel like she was finding herself. After years of working odd jobs, moving around, and wanting to devote more time to writing, she finally published a novel. Then, after years of writing, traveling, crashing on friends’ couches throughout the world, and undergoing a fair share of personal trauma, she found she was only just beginning to decide what she wanted out of life.

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Despite her lack of success in romantic relationships, Attenberg writes about very close and loyal friendships with people she has met throughout her travels. She explored the Capuchin Catacombs in Italy where her friend Viola took her to see a small child perfectly entombed in glass since 1920. After, Viola took her out for a piece of decadent seven-layer chocolate hazelnut cake.

Just like Attenberg herself, the book seems to be trying to find its way. Her stories are flawed and pieced together, but remind us to enjoy our journeys, even if we are unsure what destination we want. As for me, I’ll skip the catacombs, but gladly take the cake.


Books: The Discomfort of Evening

The Discomfort of Evening is the debut novel by Dutch poet Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Discomfort does not even begin to describe it. Winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize, the book is not at all a pleasant read, but it would be impossible to argue that the writing is anything short of stellar.

Rijneveld tells the story through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl growing up on a Dutch dairy farm. Anyone who has grown up on a farm or ranch would describe Rijneveld’s details of the smell, the cold, and the sounds of the cattle shed in the depth of winter as authentic and accurate. Rijneveld pulls from her own experience working on a dairy farm and it is clear she knows that world well.

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At the beginning of the book, Jas loses her older brother to a skating accident. She, her parents, and her two remaining siblings are left to cope, not very well, with the bleakness. Much of the book is deeply disturbing, even cringe-worthy as the family becomes unhinged. As a reader I wanted to intervene, help them, hug them.

This book is not for everyone and I would caution readers that this was probably the most disturbing book I have ever read. I briefly expected there to be some kind of light at the end, but I was mistaken. Still, I have to say Rijneveld has an remarkable gift for putting the reader right in the moment through the eyes of an innocent child.


Books: Born a Crime

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah tells The Daily Show host’s story of growing up in South African under apartheid. Noah truly was born a crime. When he was born in the early 1980s, it was illegal under apartheid for his black mother and his white father to have a relationship.

Noah incorporates South African history into the anecdotes of his youth. Growing up where he did was a challenge and his mother did all she could to ensure he had a good education. Noah struggled with his racial identity among his peers, but found his niche doing comedy and booking gigs as a DJ. Life was not easy for Noah and a lot of the stories he tells will leave the reader wondering how he even survived to adulthood.

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The writing and editing is a little sloppy in parts. Some of the anecdotes are contradictory or simply do not flow well. Still, there are some laughs to be had as he recounts his youth.

I have to admit I did eventually lose interest in stories of his teenage antics. His devotion and admiration for his mother, however, was written about beautifully. The book is worth sticking with for the ending about his mother’s strength in surviving and escaping an environment of domestic violence. One thing is certain: Noah and his family have truly been through a lot.


Books: The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music

I read a lot of memoirs and biographies and my favorites are those that leave me feeling as if a friend just told me a story about their lives. Reading The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Foo Fighters founder and frontman Dave Grohl was much this way, despite the fact that I’m not really friends with any famous touring musicians. Grohl is funny and the book is even more endearing by the fact that he wrote it himself without the help of a ghostwriter.

Grohl documents his humble beginnings learning to play the drums and guitar in humble suburban Virginia. He finds himself “in the right place at the right time” throughout his journey from Washington, D.C.-area band Scream to drumming for Nirvana to eventually founding and fronting Foo Fighters. The Storyteller does not fixate on Nirvana or the death of Kurt Cobain, but Grohl does describe his relationship with Cobain and the fear he felt when he realized his bandmate and roommate was suffering from addiction. The only thing Grohl was addicted to was coffee.

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As a parent of young daughters myself I perhaps most related to Grohl’s stories about raising his three girls. Having grown up with a mostly absent father, Grohl prioritizes being there for his daughters. One story documents his experience with food poisoning while flying home from Australia while on tour to attend the Daddy/Daughter Dance.

Despite his own success and fame, Grohl still is awe-struck by his idols and continues to be amazed and inspired by any opportunity to meet or jam with them. He also describes his love and appreciation for his mother. The Storyteller is a humble ode to music and its impact on all of us, and, overall, is just a really entertaining tale as told by someone who seems like an old friend.


One Book South Dakota: The Children’s Blizzard

I read David Laskin’s true account, The Children’s Blizzard, some time ago, so I was interested when Melanie Benjamin’s novel by the same name was announced as the 2021 One Book South Dakota. Benjamin takes the true story and tells it through fictional characters, two sisters who are schoolteachers. When the blizzard hits and the main characters, like many actual school teachers during that storm, have to choose between trying to flee their one-room schoolhouses and get their students to safety, or hunker down with what little food and firewood they had. Each sister reacts differently, resulting in very different outcomes.

More than 200 people died in the blizzard, which ravaged Dakota Territory on January 12, 1888. These were seasoned homesteaders who were quite used to harsh Midwest winters, but what took everyone off guard was the sunny weather that morning and the extreme speed of that particular storm. It hit mid-day as well so students had already made the long trek on foot or horseback to their primitive school houses.

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Both books also remind us of the extreme hardships of early homesteaders in the Midwest, especially during a natural disaster. Schools had very few supplies, such as enough firewood, and teachers were usually very young and inexperienced. Mothers who had already lost babies and young children during childbirth or to disease found themselves mourning yet again.

I definitely recommend reading both books. Laskin’s book is a fascinating account of how homesteaders arrived in Dakota Territory from Europe and the many struggles they faced. He also writes about the meteorological aspect of the blizzard and why it caught so many people off-guard. Benjamin’s book brings that story to life through interesting characters who are very human in what drives their decisions, both good and bad, when faced with hardship.


Books: Talking to the Ground

Talking to the Ground was another book I grabbed on a whim off our local library’s shelves when I was there with my daughters. In the early 1990s, Douglas Preston, his fiancée, and her nine-year-old daughter embarked on a 400-mile horseback journey through the Navajo desert. They wanted to get closer with nature and with one another.

During the trip they were completely reliant on each other, their own strength, their horses, and the kindness of strangers they encountered along the way. They packed everything they needed on two pack horses, each rode one of their own, and were accompanied by an energetic dog. They searched for water, endured dust storms, and slept under the stars.

I will admit at first I thought the author was out of his mind. He had been on similar journeys before by himself, but now bringing along a child with limited riding experience? There are steep cliffs. Water is scarce. There are scorpions!

The book came out in the late 1990s. I related to nine-year-old Selene (I was nine in 1992, too) who brought a Gameboy and copy of “Matilda” on the trip. It would be interesting to get her account of the trip now as a 38-year-old woman looking back.

Talking to the Ground is rich with Navajo history, and real, boots-on-the-ground journalism. It also is an honest account of a family with a changing dynamic. Selene and her future stepfather become closer during the journey. Overall, it is a touching account of a new family learning about one another through extreme conditions.


Books: Dear Child

I took a significant hiatus from blogging over the past few months. I did a lot of reading during that time. One book I recently finished was the thriller Dear Child by Romy Hausmann. A young woman is kidnapped and found years later, but is it really her?

The book has tones of both Gone Girl and Room. In fact, the cover bears that praise written by another author. Having read and liked both of those, I will still say Dear Child is even better than those books. It has richly developed characters, many twists and turns, and delves into the psychology behind the various characters.

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Some pieces of a father’s love for his child and what it would be like to have that child go missing are absolutely heart-wrenching. Hausmann’s writing offers the perfect amount of description of a creepy cabin in the woods, a child’s naïve observations, and the strategic thought process of a captive woman hell-bent on escape. Read this one!


Books: Wolfpack

If you are looking for a quick and highly inspirational read, grab Wolfpack by Abby Wambach. Wambach is a former professional soccer player and happens to be married to Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed. I loved this book.

I don’t have much (well, any) interest in soccer, but I do have interest in ways women can support and encourage one another. Wolfpack is short at just 95-pages, but it packs a punch. I never grow tired of being inspired by women who are honest and positive and know how to persevere.

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Wambach also published a version of this book geared toward pre-teen and teenage girls. I plan to pick up that copy in the near future as I gear up for parenting two teenage daughters in less than a decade. Time flies.

My favorite part of the book is when Wambach writes about how when she would score a goal on the soccer field, she’d immediately begin pointing. That is because the goal was not scored by her alone. Others were involved in every success. She tells her readers that when they succeed, they better start pointing.

She writes this: “Her victory is your victory. Celebrate with her. Your victory is her victory. Point to her.”