Sunday, November 27, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #28


Don't Make Me Go to Town: Ranchwomen of the Texas Hill Country
Rhonda Lashley Lopez
UT Press

"My husband says every now and then, 'well, I can hardly get her to town.' I just dread the days I have to go. My life is so full. I have the livestock to tend to plus all the other things. I can stay out here three or four weeks and be happy."
—Joan Wagner Bushong

"I don't have any brothers, so I've done the boy stuff. My sister plays the piano. She stayed in the house with Mom and I'd stay in the pasture with my dad. . . . When I was ten or eleven years old, I would drive the pickup while Daddy pulled the sucker rods out of the wells and releathered them. I learned to drive the pickup just so I could pull the windmill."
—Lorelei Hankins

When I first moved to Texas, I guess I romanticized what it meant to run a working ranch. I guess I thought it would be amazing to spend most every day outside, to work with animals, live in solitude, and have casual Friday every day. Turns out the only thing I am really built for is casual Friday every day. [By "casual Friday" we all know that Gianna's talking about not getting dressed at all, right?]

Don’t Make Me Go to Town profiles and photographs eight woman ranchers in the Texas Hill Country (basically between San Antonio and Austin).
Their ages range from forty years old to over eighty years old. Yeah, if there is anything to wake you up from the ranch dream, it is the stone cold fact that you will be working that ranch in freezing temperatures, in a heat wave, and in the pouring rain when you are eighty years old.

These oral histories (and really that is what this book is, eight oral histories, as the author has transcribed the interviews pretty much word for word) are priceless, as this way of life is disappearing, and with the brutal drought this winter it is easy to understand how difficult it is to keep the land viable when you are at the mercy of the weather.


Hemingway's Boat
Paul Hendrickson

I admit that I'm one of those people who really doesn't enjoy Hemingway's novels.  He's always been too...shall we say "testosterone frenzied?"...for my tastes.  Too much barbaric yawping and manly men and pulling the marlin in with his bare, bleeding hands.  What do I know of Hemingway the man?  I know he was married a bunch of times, and that he served in World War I, that he hung out in the best years to be in Paris, that he settled in the Florida Keys and then killed himself.  He liked six-toed cats or something.  Most of this information is from the literature major's form of gossip in college.  Recently I read The Paris Wife, a novel about the young Hemingway and his first wife, but it...wasn't my kind of thing.  Some of my vast Hemingway lore comes from that book, but I'm not trusting the source.

Then there's Paul Hendrickson's Hemingway's Boat.  Hendrickson has won the National Book Critics Circle Award and is an elegant, engaging writer. He focuses on the last thirty years of Papa's life, but the peak of his writing successes to his eventual suicide, using Hemingway's fishing boat, Pilar, as the focal point.  It's a fascinating way to conceive a biography.  The boat was the constant in Hemingway's tumultuous life, the place where he thought, raged, played, challenged his manliness against giant fish, entertained, drank, seduced women, spent time with his children.  It was where, in his later years, he struggled against his waning life and abilities (Can you imagine Papa on Viagra?  Shudder).  Hemingway seems to be a popular book topic right now, and Hendrickson's book should be at the top of any pile for people interested in this American author.

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