Friday, December 4, 2009

Homestead Reading: List Three

Homesteading is uniquely American and much has been written about it. It is sometimes difficult to know where to begin learning about the Homestead Act of 1862 which transformed the Great American Desert into the breadbasket of the world. The following three lists of 24 books might be a good place to start. It was compiled by Todd Arrington. He was the historian at Homestead National Monument from 1998 until 2008. The first two lists are non-fiction and the third is fiction.

List Three

A Lantern in Her Hand
By Bess Streeter Aldrich

"When A Lantern in Her Hand came out in 1928, critics took little notice, but people everywhere soon discovered it. By the end of 1919, even as the Great Depression set in, Bess Streeter Aldrich's novel was in its twenty-first printing. Now translated into over twenty languages, A Lantern in Her Hand has outlasted literary fashions to touch generations of readers. It is the classic story of a pioneer woman. Bess Streeter Aldrich knew what she was writing about. Her protagonist, a strong-minded pioneer woman named Abbie Deal, was modeled on her own mother, who in 1854 had traveled by covered wagon to the Midwest. In A Lantern in Her Hand, Abbie accompanies her family to the soon-to-be state of Nebraska. There, in 1865, she marries and settles into a sod house of her own. The novel describes Abbie's years of child-raising, of making a frontier home able to withstand every adversity. A disciplined writer knowledgeable about true stories of pioneer days in Nebraska, Bess Streeter Aldrich conveys the strength of everyday things, the surprise of familiar faces, and the look of the unspoiled landscape during different seasons. Refusing to be broken by hard experience, Abbie sets a joyful example for her family - and for her readers." (from Publisher’s Note) Published in 1995 by University of Nebraska Press.

Spring Came on Forever
By Bess Streeter Aldrich

"Acclaimed for her 1928 novel A Lantern in Her Hand, Bess Streeter Aldrich became one of the most widely read interpreters of the prairie pioneer experience. In 1935, she published her masterpiece, Spring Came on Forever, a novel of two Nebraska pioneer families from settlement to the 1930s. Elsewhere an artist of the romance, here Aldrich turns romance on its head. The heroine is Amalia Holmsdorfer, one of a band of German immigrants who settle on the prairie. From her late teens to her mid-eighties she confronts and defeats the forces of nature and society that discourage or ruin others. Her life might be a modest triumph but for one detail: she married the wrong man. Quickly paced and precisely drawn, this novel is Aldrich's greatest tribute to the complexity, humor, endurance, and intelligence of the people who settled the prairie. Whatever its sentiments, it has as many cutting edges as a buzz saw." Published 1985 by Bison Books

A White Bird Flying
By Bess Streeter Aldrich

"Abbie deal, the matriarch of a pioneer Nebraska family, has died at the beginning of A White Bird Flying, leaving her china and heavy furniture to others and to her granddaughter Laura the secret of her dream of finer things. Grandma Deal’s liter aspirations had been thwarted by the hard circumstances of her life, but Laura vows that nothing, no one, will deter her from a successful writing career. Childhood passes, and the more she repeats her vow the more life intervenes. Laura is at the center of a new generation of Deals in Bess Streeter Aldrich’s worthy sequel to A Lantern in Her Hand." (from back cover) Published 1998 by University of Nebraska Press.

My Antonia
By Willa Cather

"An enduring literary masterpiece first published in 1918, this hauntingly eloquent classic is an inspiring reminder of the rich past we have inherited. Willa Cather's lustrous prose, infused with a passion for the land, summons forth the hardscrabble days of the immigrant pioneer woman on the Nebraska plains, while etching a deeply moving portrait of an entire community. As Jim Burden revisits his childhood friendship with the free-spirited Antonia Shimerda, we come to understand the sheer fortitude of homesteaders on the prairie, the steadfast bonds cultivated there, and the abiding memories that such vast expanses inspire. Holding the pastoral society's heart, of course, is the bewitching Antonia, whose unfailing industry and infectious enthusiasm for life exemplify the triumphant vitality of an era."

"In Willa Cather's own estimation, My Antonia, first published in 1918, was "the best thing I've ever done." An enduring paperback bestseller on Houghton Mifflin's literary list, this hauntingly eloquent classic now boasts a new foreword by Kathleen Norris, Cather's soulmate of the plains. Infused with a gracious passion for the land, My Antonia embraces its uncommon subject - the hardscrabble life of the pioneer woman on the prairie - with poetic certitude, rendering a deeply moving portrait of an entire community. Through Jim Burden's endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature's most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia's desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society's heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia Shimerda." (Publishers note) Published 1995 by Mariner Books.

O Pioneers
By Willa Cather

O Pioneers!, Willa Cather’s first novel, is the classic American story of pioneer life as embodied by one remarkable woman and her singular devotion to the land. Alexandra Bergson arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Nebraska as a young girl and grows up to turn her land into a prosperous farm. In this moving story, Cather conveys the physical realities of the landscape as well as the transformation of the frontier more faithfully and perhaps more fully than any other work of fiction has. " (from back cover) Published 1995 by Mariner Books.


Giants in the Earth
By O. E. Rolvaag


"The classic story of a Norwegian pioneer family's struggles with the land and the elements of the Dakota Territory as they try to make a new life in America." [Synopsis] "The fullest, finest, and most powerful novel that has been written about pioneer life in America." [Nation] Published 1999 by Harper Collins.

Free Land
By Rose Wilder Lane

"In the late 1880s, when adventure lay in the conquest of the prairies, David Beaton and his bride came to Dakota to claim three hundred acres of grassland. Rose Wilder Land tells of their struggle to survive with such force that Free Land has become a classic frontier novel. The young couple experience cyclones, droughts, and blizzards that isolate then for days in their sod shanty and endanger their livestock. The simple pleasures of home cooking, horse trading, and socializing interrupt work, here described in its wealth of variety. In every detail, Free Land comes to life because Lane grew up in the time and place of which she writes. The book embodies her belief that “living is never easy, that all human history is a record of achievement in disaster, and that our greatest asset is the valor of the American spirit.” (from back cover) Published 1984 by Bison Books.

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