I don’t often read the same book twice (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Blink are a couple examples of the handful that I have), but I didn’t do My Antonia justice the first time around, so I was eager to return to it.
My dad inspired me to pick up this book again after his book club covered it last fall. I remember being swept away in the descriptions the first time I read it while also being in the midst of college studying/homework/etc. So I was a little distracted and in a general state of hurry-as-much-as-possible with everything in my life at that time, therefore rushing what is a beautiful book.
Five years later? Things are a little different for me, and while I will always have the impulse to go-go-go (it’s just my nature), I am setting some guidelines that help me be intentional about slowing down and savoring things I truly enjoy (more monotasking, less multitasking, ya know?). For example, when it comes to reading, instead of making a resolution to read more books than I did the previous year (which is usually my goal, thus upping the ante year after year), this year my resolution was simply to rent more books than I buy. This lends itself to mindfulness in a few ways: 1) I am more conscious of the effect my choices have on my financial health and the community 2) because there is usually a wait list at the library, I am not in as much of a rush to pound through my current book 3) I’m not trying to beat whatever number of books last-year-Rachel read, allowing me to just enjoy the book as it comes to me depending on what’s going on in my life at the time.
All of that manifested itself quite nicely with My Antonia, which tells the story of life on the plains. One of my favorite things is when an author uses place as a main character in the book, and Willa Cather certainly does that here. The plains – Nebraksa to be specific – are a living, breathing, force to be reckoned with. The place becomes enmeshed with the characters, as if everyone from that land has part of their blood formed from the very dust under their feet. People who lived – survived might be a more fitting word – out west had to make their way in harsh conditions, shaping strong, brusque women and tough, weathered men.
That’s not to say there isn’t fun along the way. It is a pure, simple, often forgotten kind of fun: a dance tent comes to town for a season; they hide in the tall grasses by the railroad tracks; they sit around a lamp after dinner and talk. All of these habits shape the young men and women who grow up to go away to the cities and talk about the country, or, if they stay in the country, to raise the next generation who will shape and tend the land.
The story is told from the point of view of Jim Burden, who goes on to become a Harvard graduated lawyer in NYC. He talks of Antonia Shimerda, a childhood friend but a true force of nature. No matter how far Jim goes, their lives seem to intertwine, if not physically, then in memory. My Antonia is a powerful story about how where we come from makes us who we are, and how the people we are raised with stay with us forever.
My dad grew up in Pierre, South Dakota, and I can only imagine how much this book resonated with him. His admiration for it leads me to believe it is a fairly accurate portrayal of life on the plains. I highly recommend savoring this book. Don’t make the mistake I did by rushing through it. My Antonia is an escape into another place and another time, so slow down and enjoy the journey.
Rating: 3/5 stars
Stats: 252 pages
Recommended for: Anyone who needs to soak in a book about the old days or who wants to know more about what life was like more than a century ago in the west.
Up Next: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena