Book review – Willa Cather – “My Antonia” #readalong #amreading

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I planned to read this novel (or re-read it) this week after popping it on my Readalong schedule for this month, Elle and Bill having both suggested they’d choose it to read from my massive TBR. I then undermined myself completely by grabbing “Queenie” from my new purchases and then having the peculiar combination of not that much time to read and not being able to put it down. So “My Antonia” was started a bit late, and finished today, and apologies to Bill, whose review was all ready to go two days ago (AND he read two other Cathers first!).

I received this book in my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa last Christmas (I have a horrible feeling that I haven’t got up to the ones from 2018 in my TBR yet, so maybe I’d better go back to chronological reading next month!), from the lovely Cornishgirl. It was one of my Honorable Mentions in my Best Reads for 2005 post, however I started blogging part way through 2005 and must have read it earlier. I will admit now that I had it mixed up with “A Lost Lady”, which, to be fair, I read in 2006.

Willa Cather – “My Antonia”

(25 December 2019)

A small but beautifully crafted portrait of the hard life of settlers in the Midwest of America, both those from other parts of America and those from Europe and Russia. It’s also apparently a thinly veiled portrait of Cather’s own life, with her gender switched to the narrator’s, but I read it without thinking too much of that, for the social history and description. Being an Oxford Classic, there are copious notes which add all the detail if you want it (and also lots of detail about plants, history and terms which make it peppered with asterisks on some pages – I like to feel a bit smug when I know what something is, I have to admit).

Jim Burden meets his new neighbours, the Shimerdas, on his first day in Nebraska after travelling there from Virginia to live with his grandparents. Their stories run in parallel, with a strong theme of neighbours helping each other out which chimes with these lockdown days. Other Bohemian inmmigrants fill in more of the different paths lives could take, and there’s triumph and tragedy as there always will be when living so close to the edge of survival. I love the detail and the nature, and it reminded me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books with their move from the hardships of the country to softer living in the town. The nature and descriptive writing is beautiful and evocative, even if this is the Midwest and not the South-West, which I know better personally and have enjoyed reading about in her other books.

Some reviewers have mentioned how Antonia is not really described that much, but the title is “MY Antonia” and she is seen from all these different perspectives – Jim’s, her father’s, her mother’s, her friends’, her eventual husband’s and childrens’. It’s unbearably poignant in places – her carefully left message with the new tenant of the farm when she moves away, knowing it will reach Jim and his grandmother eventually, the story of Otto the hired man who is so integral to the farm and then is gone in an instant …

I loved the theme, too, of women working as hard as or in the place of men, both Antonia and Frances Harling, and other of the hired women making their own way in life and living strong, muscular and successful lives. The description of Samson the musician’s awakening to the piano is powerful but a weird interlude in this odd but indeed powerful novel that I was glad to revisit.


I’m still working my way through “Hidden Figures”, which is excellent but long and deep. I am breaking off from that to read a book for Kaggsy and Simon’s 1920 Club this weekend, so anyone reading that, I’ll be finishing it over the next week and reviewing it then. Happy reading, everyone! If you’ve read this one, please comment or link to your review! And watch out for some Book Confessions on Tuesday …

Book review (and readalong) – Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle”

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This is one of the books I decided to read along with others after I published photos of the whole of my TBR and some people picked out books to read with me. There’s still time to join in, of course – I love hearing what other people thought of books I’ve read and reviewed, even years after I posted my review! I received it for Christmas in 2018 and looking at this pile, I’m a bit horrified to see I’ve still got most of these books on my TBR (and the Thirkells will have to stay there until I’ve got the three reprints in August which fill in the wartime gaps between ones I have on there).

Anyway, hopefully Elle from Elle Thinks has been reading this one, too: Lory was thinking of it but not sure she committed. Anyone else reading or read it recently? Well I liked it so much, I ordered the two sequels (oops).

Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle”

(25 December 2018, from Laura)

A lovely story, set in a world where all those magical things like seven-league boots are real but people are prosaically and nicely basically the same. Sophie’s the oldest of three daughters and therefore feels doomed to be the boring one who fails in her tasks. However, her hat-making skills have amazing effects and she ends up with powers of her own, living as the housekeeper to a wizard who MIGHT be evil and steal girls’ actual hearts, in a castle that moves around thanks to a demon in the fireplace (got that?). It’s just such a fun read, which you can see Wynne Jones had great fun writing!

There are some small leaps into what’s almost our world, and knowing comments “I’m surely due to have a third encounter, magical or not. In fact, I insist on one,” says Sophie (p. 36). I also love the computer game given to a boy which is set effectively in the world of the book. We’re set firmly beside the author and our heroine in these asides. And looking back at the book, I’m also cheered that although Sophie is magicked into being an old lady, she’s still full of energy and vim and vigour.

There are great interviews with the author about writing the book and the film adaptation in this newer edition of a 1980s book (how did I not read it at the time; maybe I thought there were only the Chrestomanci books).

This also fills in a year on my Century of Books. I’ve been doing well with that recently. Any recs for missing years gladly received!

April readalong – care to join me?

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On my state of the TBR April post, I shared a picture of the whole of my TBR and asked if anyone fancied reading along with me. Alongside plans hatched with a few friends outside blogging, I now have A Plan.

The books

Helen Lewis – “Difficult Women” – A history of feminism in 11 fights, my friends Linda and Emma have copies and are going to read along with me. I’ll be reviewing it both here and for Shiny New Books.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle” – Elle from Elle Thinks fancied a re-read of this one and it’s up next on the fiction front, after I’ve finished my Ada Leverson. ETA Lory was also considering reading this one.

Margot Lee Shetterly – “Hidden Figures” – Louise from my photo-a-day group felt like going for this one (I think on audio book) so I’ve pulled it off the shelf. The non-fiction story of the black women mathematicians of NASA on whom they based the film. ETA Wandering Cranes is looking at reading this one.

Willa Cather – “My Antonia” – Elle requested this one and Bill from The Australian Legend is also planning to join in (he’s reading the first two in her Pioneer series first so I hope I’m leaving him enough time to get those done!)

Simon Barnes – “Rewild Yourself” – about how you can get nature coming back into your garden and life. Emma has this one (I bought it for her!) so we’ll do that at some time nearer the end of the month. ETA Wandering Cranes and Claire are thinking about reading this one. Hope they get to join in!

The schedule

6-12 April – “Difficult Women” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”

13-19 April – “Hidden Figures” and “My Antonia”

27 April – 3 May – “Rewild Yourself”

How it will work

I don’t have the bandwith for anything fancy. So I’m proposing that I read and review on here, and people add their comments and links to their blogs, if they’re bloggers, and I will link to their reviews, too. That worked well for my Iris Murdoch readalong so fingers crossed it will work here, too.

If you’d like to join in with any of these, please say so in the comments – but there are no rules and no expectations, just a desire to draw people closer together, somehow. Happy reading!