Friday, September 23, 2011

Summer Storm by Kristina Dunker


AmazonCrossing Cove
Summer Storm
(Sommergewitter)
Translated from German by Margot Bettauer Dembo
Edition I read: AmazonCrossing, 2011 (ISBN:9781611090307)
Oringinally published by Deutscher Taschen buch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 2004

This book came to me through The German Book Office (GBO) New York, Inc. Check out their Facebook page where they have a monthly book give-a-way.

This Summer Storm is a young adult novel, not to be confused with the German movie entitled Summer Storm, which was also released in 2004. The movie is about a teenage boy's coming out experience during a rowing competition where the teams are away from home and camped at a lake. I saw it a couple years ago and highly recommend it.

The unrelated movie
Summer Storm, the book, is about a teenage girl, Annie, and what happens the night her cousin, Gina, disappears.

Annie is sixteen and lives in an industrial area near Münster, Germany. Gina and her father have been living in Berlin and are planning to move in with Annie's family. Gina's father works as a journalist and is often out of the country. Gina's mother died when she was young (4, I think) and she's spent a lot of time alone and at boarding schools.  Annie's mother and Gina's father are siblings and apparently Annie's mother has offered her home to her brother for years. Father and daughter aren't getting along very well, and so the brother finally accepts his sister's offer.

Gina and her father arrive at Annie's home on a very hot Friday afternoon. When Annie gets home from school, which has been let out early due to the extreme heatwave the area has been experiencing, Gina sets off with Annie and her three friends for the local watering hole. Silver Lake is actually an old quarry where swimming is technically not allowed. The adults seem to have some hesitation about Gina going to the lake, but teenage persistence wins out.

Annie's best-friends are Steffi, Jonas, and Roger. They liken themselves to a four leaf clover and have been friends since they were toddlers. Gina doesn't seem to fit-in all that well. She's an attractive girl, but on the quiet side. They arrive at the lake and if you're imagining a picturesque mountain lake in Bavaria with cows grazing on the hillside, forget about it. Silver Lake is treeless, strewn with garbage, and filled with Peeping Toms who hang out with girlie magazines and binoculars, lusting after the young.

There's a thunderstorm brewing that adds an even larger environmental threat, and the tension between the teens gets heavier as they talk about the dangers of Silver Lake and how a woman once drowned there. Gina asks questions about the drowning and does not go swimming. Eventually the group relaxes into the afternoon. The boys go their separate ways to collect firewood, Steffi reads her book, and Annie lies in the sun listening to a CD. Gina says she needs to go off into the bushes and no one notices that she doesn't return until about 45 minutes later when the storm that's been building in the background arrives earlier than anticipated. The group can't find Gina. Parents are called, then the police. As the afternoon turns into evening, the strings of friendship binding the four leaf clover are strained to the point of breaking. Teenagers and parents look suspiciously at one another and eventually the majority turn their collective finger to point at one of their own.

Secrets between the friends and within Annie's family leak out under the pressure of Gina's disappearance and everyone is left changed by the crisis. Some, it is implied, are changed for the better. Annie obviously gains self-esteem and a greater sense of self throughout the ordeal.

To avoid a spoiler, let me just say that Dunker uses a prologue to set up the reader in an interesting way. When I got to the epilogue I found myself flipping back to the prologue to check out some things. In one you have a girl using unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with her pain and in the other you see a girl considering healthier coping mechanisms to deal with her feelings. In between is the story of teens making their way through the often painful transition from childhood to adulthood. The major issues explored include sex, abusive behavior, trust, loyalty, communication, and the pitfalls of making assumptions.

Overall, I enjoyed Summer Storm and if I owned a bookstore I'd stock it. I sometimes have a hard time getting into young adult novels because they can be so 'anxsty,' particularly around issues of sexuality and gender roles. But that's the nature of being a teen. It took me about 20 pages to relax into this book, but after that I was sucked in. If there's a teen in your life who wants a "realistic" novel, this one might appeal to her or him. At only 139 pages long, there's not a lot of character development, but the shortness might be appealing to a teen who wants to read something, but doesn't want to commit to a huge tome. There's also no gratuitous sex or violence, although one girl does tell her friend about kind of almost doing it one time with a boy she loves.

The translation seemed pretty smooth. There was one odd moment when hair gel is referred to as "setting lotion," and I don't think most American teens use the word disco anymore, but other than that the writing moved along without any awkwardness.

If you're interested in learning more about Kristina Dunker, her website in only available in German at this time, but Amazon has an interview with her in English that you can read here.

This is the second AmazonCrossing novel that I've read this summer and I have to say I appreciate them making recent German books available in English.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

War & Restrepo by Sebastian Junger

WAR
Sebastian Junger
Hachette Book Group, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-446-55624-8

I've been puzzled by this book since I read it in February. Shortly after finishing the book, I attended an engaging lecture by Sebastian Junger at Elmhurst College (February 20, 2011). I thought his talk was much more organized and intentional than either his book, War, or his movie, Restrepo (with co-creator Tim Hetherington). Recently I listened again to a talk Junger gave at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago that you can listen to here.

War is Junger's account of what an Army combat platoon went through on a 15 month deployment to Afghanistan. He was embedded with them five different times over those 15 months. Restrepo is Junger's and Tim Hetherington's award-winning documentary of the platoon consisting of footage that they both shot over the months they were there. Sometimes Junger and Hetherington where in Afghanistan together and other times individually. Hetherington was killed earlier this year while covering the civil war in Libya. Sebastian wrote a tribute to his friend and colleague that you can read here.


First: the book War

The pre-publication hype about this book was substantial. I'd come across ads for it in Publisher's Weekly and on book-related websites and blogs. It was touted as being unlike any other book about war and would give readers the experience of what its like to be in combat. I think it had a negative impact on my reading of the book.

The book left me scratching my head wondering why Junger presented his observations the way he did. From my perspective as someone who has read a fair amount of military literature, I just didn't get what was so special or different about this book. Junger describes the adrenaline, fear, boredom, loneliness and grab-ass behavior within the brotherhood of these soldiers and how they're lost without their unit when they find themselves back home, but that's nothing new in the literature of war. What is powerful about the book was Junger's description of how a certain type of young man thrives on the adrenaline of war and his advocacy that society has to find a way to work with them, to channel that energy in a healthy way when they come home from fighting our wars. Perhaps Karl Marlantes's new book, What It Is Like To Go To War, may prove to be a fitting companion book to War.

I'd read Junger's first book,  A Perfect Storm, years ago and was swept in by Junger's ability to tell a story, to make characters come alive, to make me feel the power and violence of the ocean and the danger of the job of being a commercial fisherman.

War did not grip me or engage me like that. Junger was reporting what he saw in the Korengal Valley, but he didn't shape his reporting into a coherent narrative. He relates what the men told him they felt or tries to piece their feelings together from observing them. As a result, at times it seemed rather stereotypical and general, a bit vague even. Junger isn't reporting what its like to be in combat, he's reporting what its like to watch others engage in combat. He's reporting what its like to be along for the ride and I do not mean that to sound flippant or disrespectful. He's a journalist in a combat zone. Yes, he's getting shot at, but he's not a solider who is fighting. And although he claims friendship with some of the men, he's still an outsider, a civilian who can come and go as he pleases. Maybe that's the disconnect I felt. He also regularly inserts his own experience which may have added to some of the disconnect.

There was also a vagueness to the chronology so I wasn't sure when things were happening which took away from any sense of growth between the men or Junger's relationship with them or even how a particular man changed over the 15 month deployment.

Part of me wishes he would've either focused more on the men and the importance of their mission OR focused more on his own experience. Trying to do both seemed to water the book down, to keep it in the realm of the general rather than going deep. I didn't get a sense of who most of the men were when they'd pop up in various chapters and there's no sense of his connection with the men (other than his direct statements claiming friendship).


Second: the movie Restrepo

After having confused feelings about the book, I looked forward to seeing the movie Restrepo.  I was hoping it would fill in the gaps and weaknesses that I thought the book had.  But I don't think Restrepo is meant to be a companion to Junger's book. The best thing about the movie for me was seeing the landscape of the Korengal Valley. I didn't think Afghanistan was so green or snowy. Almost all of the pictures that I've seen of American military in Afghanistan are gray and rocky with steep, pointy mountains in the background. It was pretty stunning to actually see just how steep those mountains are as the men hike up and down them on patrol and just how large the landscape is. I also liked the footage of civilian dwellings. The movie clarified the importance of the creation of outpost Restrepo and how its presence impacted the war effort.

However, the movie excludes some pretty important facts (such as how the platoon beats each incoming member, including its new lieutenant, which I found to be completely incomprehensible) and it does not set up some of the scenes so viewers know what's going on. For example, the L-shaped ambush scene that was well explained in the book.

Third: the lecture at Elmhurst College

Junger started his talk by telling the audience about himself, where he comes from, what he did as a young man, how he got into journalism. When covering wars he's always been with the local civilian population, be they non-combatants or militia.  He'd covered Afghanistan in the 1990s.  After the US invaded Afghanistan it was clear that the US military would be in country for years to come and Junger decided he'd like to see what it was like inside a professional fighting force and became an embedded journalist.  He tried to simply report what he saw and tried to understand the experience of the men he was with.

Junger's talk was entertaining and informative and several audience members asked insightful questions that lead to powerful replies from Junger.  Three stick in my mind.

1.  The first was a veteran who said he'd read the book, saw the movie, listened to Junger's talk and couldn't decide if he was pro- or anti-war.  Everyone laughed, including Junger.  His reply was the he was simply trying to report what he saw.  He leaves it up to the reader/viewer to form their own opinions.  It would have been really lame for Junger to leave it at that.  He added that his background was liberal, he's seen many wars around the globe, and he's not pro- or anti-war, but is for doing whatever will end up causing the least human suffering.  Or whatever looks like it might help.  As he said, when a government is killing its people, others can't just sit there and watch it happen.

2.  The second question came from a high school junior who said he is starting to get recruitment emails from colleges, one being West Point.  He's seriously considering applying to West Point and asked Junger if he thought he could make a difference in the world as a lietenant in the US Army. There were lots of gasps and wows whispered throughout the audience after the well-spoken young man asked that question.  Junger seemed a bit bowled over by it.  His answer was yes.  In a nutshell, he said you will make a difference in the world whatever you decide to do.  And toward the end of his reply he made it clear that that difference could be positive or negative depending on how aware one is.

3.  The third question from an audience member that sticks in my mind was more of an accusation, the implication being that Junger had glorified the bombing of civilians and the stealing of their food (the cow incident) and would he consider going back and living with a civilian family with bombs being dropped on him. Junger handled the question very well although at least one person sitting near me rolled his eyes and a few others shifted in their seats uncomfortably.  I imagine Junger probably has at least one angry person at every event.  He answered this question by talking about how all his prior war reporting had been from the civilian or militia perspective, how he lived with civilians in northern Afghanistan in the 1990s and how terrifying it was to be bombed.  He repeated that he isn't pro-war or anti-war, but he is pro- doing whatever can be done to prevent the least amount of human suffering. If the US withdrew its military presence now, the civilian population would be stuck between a government they don't trust and the Taliban.  Sometimes the presence of a professional military force, particularly one as effective as the United States, can keep the number of deaths lower or prevent them all together while the civilian population has a chance to get it's government in order.

In response to a question about books to read, Junger recommended reading books by people who have actually been in combat because, he claims, they respect combat too much to glorify it and they respect combat too much to demonize it.  I was struck by this statement and find myself using it to think about the military books I read or movies I watch. I certainly see a lot more glorification, even in books or movies that claim to be neutral or anti-war. Perhaps its just the way I interpret things. What do you think about Junger's statement?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Event recap: Louise Penny at The Book Stall

The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL
Louise Penny is my new author-crush. What a pleasure to meet her when I'm in the middle of reading her back-list! I've finished four of the now seven books in her Chief Inspector Gamache series. Some folks refer to the books as The Three Pines Series.

The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL hosted Louise Penny on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 7pm. People where filling up seats shortly after 6pm and by the time Louise started talking it was a standing room only crowd. My friend Ruth and I drove up to Winnetka, a northern suburb of Chicago, from our stomping grounds in the western suburbs of Chicago. It's about 35-40 miles away and we left before rush-hour traffic was in full-swing. Our friend Linda was unable to attend the event and Louise personalized the copy we purchased for Linda with appropriate sentiments. A fourth friend, Missy in Iowa, drove with a group of her friends to see Louise in Omaha, Nebraska the night before and had a great time.

I'm mentioning these friends because it was Ruth who first read Penny and word spread from her to Missy, to Linda, to me. Now I'm telling everyone about Louise Penny. This word of mouth is what authors and publishers strive for. It's the magic that can eventually grow best-selling authors.

How did Ruth come to read Louise Penny? Once upon a time we four friends all worked in the same bookstore. One day when Ruth was helping a customer or shelving books, the title STILL LIFE caught her eye. Still Life was Penny's first novel. Ruth likes to read books about art and artists, and so Still Life was a must read for her. She bought the book and the rest is herstory.

So, anyway, Ruth and I had a great time on Thursday evening. First of all, The Book Stall is a wonderful bookshop. The people who work there were friendly and helpful. As Ruth said, just stepping into the place made you feel good, relaxed and at ease. Ruth and I browsed for a bit, put our books on hold, and then grabbed a bite to eat. When we got back to the store we purchased our books (I also picked up a copy of Karl Marlante's What It Is Like to Go to War, which I've been awaiting), grabbed some coffee from the Caribou next door (some genius broke the wall between the coffee shop and book shop. If I lived closer I'd be a squatter), and then took our seats. We chatted with some of the other Penny fans sitting around us. It seems most people stumble onto Penny's books or they are forced upon them by well-meaning friends and relatives.

Penny in action. Photo by John Thomas Bychowski
I have no idea if the event started on time; suddenly Louise Penny was there and after a brief introduction started talking. She's one of those writers that I could listen to for hours. She's genuine and funny and doesn't shy away from pain. She talked about how absolutely amazing it is to have her first showing on the New York Times best-seller printed list (A Trick of the Light landed at #4 on the hardcover fiction list). She also talked about her path to becoming a writer, from the time she was eight until now, and how she's trying to help other new writers get published by starting a Canadian award for unpublished manuscripts. A similar award played a major role in her own break-through into print: Penny had been on the short list for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award. She didn't win that award. She came in second place, but it opened a few doors and she landed an agent. Penny was prepared. Hard work and a little bit of luck. There are no over-night successes, at least not ones that last for more than 15-minutes.

Penny answered about a dozen questions from the audience before it was time to move on to the book signing portion of the event. It seemed like everyone who attended took the time to meet Penny and get their books signed. Penny took her time with each fan, but the line moved along nicely. Really, I don't think anyone would have minded if the line had moved slower. We all chatted and enjoyed the company. It turns out that the author escort and person who took our picture below is a former Borders employee (as are Ruth, Missy, Linda, and myself. Well, technically I still work at Borders but the closing date for my store is next week and it really hasn't felt like Borders/a bookstore for weeks now). Another Borders connection this evening is that John Thomas Bychowski, who took the picture above, is the cousin of a guy that I used to work with at Borders. I only found that out through messaging John on Facebook later that night after he posted pictures of the event. It is a small world.

Me, Louise, and Ruth!
A Trick of the Light is book seven in the series and Penny has recently finished the manuscript for book eight. She has book nine in her head and is thinking about book ten. So, Penny fans, rest assured that there is more Gamache and Three Pines to come!

Check out Louise Penny on Facebook--she's posting while on book tour.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

Sarah's Key
Tatiana De Rosnay
St. Martin's, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-312-37084-8
Source: bought it, passed it on

I finally read this book because so many customers at work told me their book group read it and had a great discussion about it. Sarah's Key is one of those books where you learn some tremendously important history. It is the story of a young Jewish girl and an American journalist living in Paris.

I was engrossed in the first half of the book but started losing interest in the second half. In the first half Sarah and Julia's stories are told in alternating chapters. Sarah's story takes place mainly in 1942. She is a young Jewish girl, born in France to Polish parents who apparently fled their homeland for the safety of France. Julia's story is contemporary. She's an American journalist who has lived in Paris for 25 years and is married to a French man, yet she's always felt like an outsider in his family.

The first chapter starts with Sarah's story. Sarah and her parents are taken by French police on the night of The Vélodrome d’hiver Round-up, July 16 and 17, 1942. Sarah hides her younger brother in a secret cabinet, thinking that she'll be able to come home soon to let him out. She does everything she can to get back to him.

Known as the Vél’ d’Hiv' it was the largest single round-up of Jews on French soil. Some 13,000 people were taken and held for several days without food or water in what was once an indoor bike track before transportation to concentration camps. The children included in this roundup were taken to Auschwitz where they were immediately sent to the gas chambers, as Julia says, "By the French government, on French buses, on French trains" (116). The Nazis did not ask that children be included in the round-up, but for reasons not discussed in the novel the French police had included them.

Julia is assigned to write a story about the Vél’ d’Hiv' and eventually discovers that her husband's grandmother's apartment which they're rehabbing before they move in to, was the home of Sarah and her family.

Sarah's story makes for riveting reading. Julia's story was initially interesting, but shortly after the half-way point Sarah's Key becomes fully Julia's narrative and I started losing interest in the book. My momentum slowed down and I realized it was because I didn't really like Julia.

While liking a character isn't a prerequisite for me, character development is or at least some valid reason for a lack of character development. Julia is passive in all her relationships and she seems to be coasting through life. I thought perhaps she'd grow and change through her experience, that Sarah's story would wake her up, but it doesn't. She's a doormat to her handsome, charming, and sophisticated Parisian husband who is going through a mid-life crisis and has had a lover on the side for years. Although Julia decides against having the abortion that her husband wants her to have, she doesn't tell him herself, but leaves it to the doctor to tell him. Julia never tells her husband the truth about how she feels about his sarcasm or the baby, nor does she share with him what she's doing with her life (or with their older daughter's life, for that matter). Julia calls him a coward, but I think she's the coward. She's passive-aggressive and lost and the plot starts to feel very contrived as she chases down Sarah's son.

The final scene in the cafe between Sarah's son William and Julia actually made my skin crawl. Below is the interaction between William and Julia. Let me set it up a bit: Julia had tracked Sarah's life from Paris to the camp to America. Julia found out Sarah bore a son in American who is now living in Italy. William is his name and he had no idea about his mother's history. Julia tells him the whole story and he's stunned; eventually he retraces his mother's journey and meets people who knew her as a young girl. Can you imagine finding out that your mother lived a completely different life than the one she told you about? That she was Jewish and lived through the Holocaust and had an adoptive family that you never knew about?

In this scene William and Julia are in a cafe in New York City. William speaks first:
"But it was difficult, hard to go through. And I wished you'd been there with me. I should never have done all that alone, I should have said yes when you asked to come along."
"Maybe I should have insisted," I said.
"I should have listened to you. It was too much to bear alone. And then, when I finally went back to the rue de Saintonge, and when those unknown people opened your door, I felt you'd let me down."
He lowered his eyes. I set my coffee cup back in its saucer, resentment sweeping through me. How could he, I thought, after all I'd done for him, after all the time, the effort, the pain, the emptiness?
He must have deciphered something in my face because he quickly put his hand on my sleeve.
"I'm sorry I said that," he murmured.
"I never let you down, William."
My voice sounded stiff.
"I know that, Julia. I'm sorry."
His was deep, vibrant.
I relaxed. Managed a smile. We sipped in silence.

This interaction reads to me like Julia is turning into one of those narcissistic, stern, straight-backed, grand French women that she described her ex-husband's grandmother of being. Distant, remote, shut off. After all the compassion she seemed to have for Sarah's story, all the anguish she went through regarding her own marriage, and her husband's family's apartment, she doesn't catch the irony of William showing up at her apartment in need and finding a stranger at the door just like his mother found a stranger at her door 60 years ago?  For William, Julia was a strong connection, indeed his first connection to his mother's true story. Apparently Julia did not get the irony or make the connection. Instead Julia thinks about herself, all she's done for him, and then scolds him so he murmurs an apology like a child. This is not a great start to a new romance. She's just trained him how to respond to her irrational, narcissistic feelings. He apologizes and she manages a smile that I imagine as a bit condescending. Its as if she goes from being the abused to being the abuser. I realize that happens in real life, but in this book Julia's behavior was tiring.

However...

Movie poster (2010)
The strength of this book lies in Sarah's story and the initial part of Julia's story. What most readers seem to appreciate about this book is the history that it teaches about the French government's collaboration with the Nazis and the decades of silence surrounding the transportation of 76,000 Jewish people from France during WWII.  As one of the characters says, a man who had dedicated his life to identifying those murdered by the Nazis, "The truth is harder than ignorance" (124). He tells Julia not to judge her French husband's family too harshly because although there was "a considerable amount of Parisian indifference" to the plight of Jewish neighbors, people also "feared for their lives" under Nazi occupation (126). Throughout the narrative it is made clear that many, if not most, contemporary French citizens are ignorant about what happened or are still indifferent to what happened. During her research, Julia sees historical commemorative plaques throughout the county that blame only "Hitlerism" or the Nazis for what happened, with no mention that it was the French government and police who did the Nazis' dirty work (pages 143, 145).

It was a complicated time and simply pointing fingers isn't helpful. Sarah's Key doesn't set out to condemn the French, but to explore what happened through the character of Sarah and also showing how the past still impacts the present through Julia's story. Although I was annoyed by the character of Julia, I do recommend this novel to those who are interested in Holocaust studies and French history.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Julia's character is portrayed in the movie. If anyone has read the book and seen the movie, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Cather's birth house . . . which I didn't see.
On my summer vacation I went to see another house that Willa Cather lived in.

Regular readers of WildmooBooks know that Red Cloud, Nebraska is Mecca for Cather fans. It's where Cather lived from the time she was nine until she left for college as a teenager. Friends and loved ones have heard, ad nauseum, about my visits to Red Cloud and the Cather family home there.

Cather is typically associated with Nebraska, but she was actually born in Virginia (and never lived in Nebraska after college, but that's grist for another post). Oddly enough, even though I've driven through Virginia dozens and dozens of times and even lived next door in North Carolina, I'd never thought of visiting Cather's Virginia homes. Until this summer.

There are two Willa Cather homes to see in Gore, VA. The first is her birth home, the home of her grandparents where she lived until she was about a year old. The second home is Willow Shade, where she lived from the age of one to nine when her family moved to Nebraska.

After spending a glorious week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina we headed to Gore, VA, known as Back Creek Valley when Cather lived there.

We left the Outer Banks in the morning at a humane hour and drove first to Staunton, VA to have lunch with an old friend. After that we headed north on I-81 where I became unreasonably excited upon seeing signs for Winchester and Romney, towns that are mentioned in Cather's novel, Sapphira and The Slave Girl (1940), which I had just finished re-reading because it seemed the right thing to do in preparation for visiting Gore. Sapphira was the last novel that Cather published and the only one set in the Virginia of her childhood.

At Winchester we took Hwy 50 West toward Gore. The first sign that we were in Cather territory was spotting a gas station and convenience store called Cather's Market. We stopped for gas and I tried to chat with the woman behind the counter, but she wasn't a big talker. She was, to be fair, trying to work. Yes, years ago someone with the Cather name did own the market, but I'm told it is now owned by someone else.

When I said we were looking for Cather's birth home and Willow Shade, she said to just keep going west on 50 and we'd see a bunch of signs. Perhaps she phoned ahead when we left and had someone to take the signs down, because we only saw one sign. I spotted Willow Shade which is shaded from the road by not just by a willow, but by a whole bunch of trees. The house is smack-dab next to the highway and situated a bit lower than the road, so if you're driving the speed limit and never saw a picture of the house, you'd probably miss it.

This is Willow Shade, the house Cather lived in from ages 1-9 and described by her in Sapphira and The Slave Girl. The home is privately owned and we didn't want to bother anyone, so this was as close as we got. Taken from the side-road at the driveway.

The historic marker for the house, which is not really near the house, but a ways west of the house. In fact, if you're standing next to the sign there are two houses that you can see through the trees before you'd spot Willow Shade. However, I think the sign placement is more about safety--its situated on a clearing where you can pull over and park.
This historic marker for Willow Shade is B17. Historical marker B18 is for Cather's birth home, but we were unable to find that marker. Wish I had a smart phone. We drove up and down 50 several times and around the town of Gore, but never saw the marker. The guy working at the general store in Gore didn't know about the birth house (but he did know about Willow Shade). I had seen pictures of Willow Shade many times over the years in books about Cather, so I knew what to look for, but I didn't recall seeing pictures of the birth home so I didn't know what to look for. I think it might have been one of two houses on the north side of 50, west of Willow Shade, but I'm not sure.

I found a disturbing post by LL Golem on her Whole Wheat Rising blog about how Cather's birth home is slowly being eaten away by termites and has fallen into disrepair. Even though the home has been on the National Register of Historic Places since November 16, 1978, the current owner is under no obligation to maintain the house. And there's a comment on LL's post from Ann Romines, a prominent Cather scholar, who says, "In recent years, local government, local scholars, Cather family members, and other concerned persons have made efforts to buy and restore the house, to no avail."  How can this be? Cather's reputation has grown in recent decades, so it seems doubly odd that the home of one of America's most respected literary figures is being left to rot.

If you plan on going to check out Cather's VA homes, it will help to know what the houses look like.

There isn't any Cather fanfare in Gore at this time. However, across the street from Willow Shade, there is a new housing development in the works. The street is called Willa Cather Lane and lots are going for just under $100,000.

Did you have any literary adventures this summer?
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