Riddle Me This...
have written this memoir in a unique way. The story is in four voices—each sister, the sisters together, and (as the title suggests) the windmill on their farm. With chapters set in themes, these four storytellers reminisce about everything from their parents’ early soil conservation efforts to Toni home permanents to helping deliver lambs when Dad’s hands were too big.
In their early seventies, the youthful Jackie and Janine are bundles of energy. Both were queens in the 1960s—Jackie the North Dakota Rodeo Queen and Janine the state’s Short Horn Lassie Queen, finishing as a runner-up in the national competition.
After careers as home economics teachers, Jackie is a professional volunteer and travel adventurer; Janine runs a mail-order bakery while helping husband Fred wind down their sheep breeding business. Her hands are still the smaller of the two.
In June, The Sisters took North Dakota by storm with a cross-state book tour with eight stops in six days. This is even more amazing when you know that Jackie hails from Colville, Washington, and Janine from Atlantic, Iowa. I hope you pick up and enjoy their book. Did I mention it also includes recipes?
As the Monty Python catchphrase says, “And now for something completely different!”
Meanderings: Life, a Column at a Time is a selection of the collected writings of Hertha Shively Wehr of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania. Hertha’s daughter Wendy, a former colleague, approached me about helping her and siblings gather their mom’s more than twenty years of columns written for their local paper. Hertha began her career in the late 1930s writing a column named “Call Me Farmer Brown,” I speculate because maybe people wouldn't read a column about the rural life written by a woman. After a few years and a few kids, Hertha put down her pen. Then nearly 50 years later, she embarked on another stint of writing, this time with no pseudonym, writing until around 2012.
When Wendy and I started in February 2020, the plan was to have the book ready for an August 2020 major family reunion. At 97, Hertha was living in a care home in Mifflinburg, and knew nothing of the project until the reunion was cancelled and the kids couldn’t keep the secret anymore.
While dependent on a wheelchair, Hertha’s mind was not dependent on anything. Wendy began showing her layouts of themed chapters—“When Everyone Owned a Cow” and “Travels Near and Far”—and Hertha began giving us edits. What a delight it was!
Unfortunately, Hertha caught what was going around at the time and in October 2020, fell to COVID. The book took a break but was revived in time for us to print 500 copies for the family to give away in June at her memorial service and for Hertha’s church to sell. All the proceeds from the book are going to one of Hertha’s favorite Lutheran charities. I hope you’ll take a look at this droll and whip-smart woman’s writing.
Some people ask me what it means to be a book consultant. First, it’s a great privilege to be asked to join writers in the expression of their dreams—to do whatever they need to turn their personal expression into an actual book that I can place in their hands. From the nuts and bolts perspective, for all my clients I edited either extensively or lightly (or both at different times), I designed the look of the book interior, and for one I also designed the cover. I built websites for some and created marketing plans. I consoled and only occasionally put my foot down. I found them the printer and did all the technical stuff that got the pages between the covers. What rewarding work it is!
I feel my own novel writing calling to me, if I can stop working for everyone else long enough to answer the call. And when the time comes, I’ll be able to move ahead with confidence that I know a thing or two about publishing a book!
P.S. You might also want to look at another book I edited and helped publish that lives on the 1666 Authors shelf: Dakota Attitude by Jim Puppe (but shelved by my last name and currently checked out). Released in late 2019, Jim’s first 2,000 copies sold out in five days, and we are now preparing for a seventh printing, with more than 13,000 books sold. These stories of 617 people living in North Dakota—one from every town on the state map—took Jim nearly 14 years and 113,000 miles to gather and hone.
A big thank you to our librarians who long ago decided to extend the 1666 Authors shelves to include editors.
Books I Should Have Read
In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruellest month.” In this sixteen-page poem, Eliot hits home this year when he writes,
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road…
If there were water we would stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock…
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain…
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
Although The Waste Land contains a few foreign phrases and some uncomfortable images and incomprehensible passages, words of meaning and truth pierce the stanzas and give us pause.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans, is not an easy read. But I urge you to pick it up and at least look at Walker Evans’s classic candid photos of Alabama sharecroppers who featured in his and Agee’s summer of 1936. If you decide to continue reading the book, skip the preface, and jump right into page seventeen. The book is shelved under “A” in U.S. History.
Ulysses. Famed for its “stream of consciousness” style and for its impenetrability, as well as for being banned as “obscene,” James Joyce’s masterpiece is still celebrated annually at pubs on June 16, Bloomsday, when Molly’s monologue is read aloud. So if, as I, you have never read Ulysses, pick Molly Bloom’s monologue, the last fifty pages of the book, and raise a glass to her.
And then there is Marcel Proust. If you have dipped a madeleine cake in your tea, you have tasted Proust. The madeleine and his mother’s love are referred to frequently in literature. But how often have we gone to the source? Which is an eight-volume novel, Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time), beginning with Swann’s Way. We find the madeleine and his need for love: “My sole consolation, when I went upstairs for the night, was that Mama would come kiss me once I was in bed. But this goodnight lasted so short a time…that the moment when I heard her coming up…was for me a painful moment” (p. 13). Now it is for you to seek out, on page 45 of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Swann’s Way, the story of the tea and the madeleine. No need to read the remaining seven volumes. Bonne chance!
My greatest embarrassment is never to have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly. Fragments of the story pop up so often that Tom, Eliza, little Eva, and Simon Legree are as familiar as any other fictional characters.
Now I’m going to stick my neck out and tilt with windmills. Never did I expect to read The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. But after reading the first paragraph, I am intrigued. It is humorous! It is full of small details. And of the character himself, “So great was his curiosity…that he even sold many acres of tillable land in order to be able to buy and read the books that he loved, and he would carry home with him as many of them as he could obtain.” What’s not to love about this guy?
Calypso, Circe, Cyclops, Charybdis and Scylla, the Sirens. All met by our hero, the resourceful Odysseus, as he wanders homeward to Ithaca and faithful Penelope at the end of the Trojan War. Richard Lattimore’s sterling translation of The Odyssey of Homer is available on the third floor of our Library under Poetry Collections.
If you haven’t guessed, these classics and many more are on the shelves in our library, just waiting for you or me to pick them up and check them out.
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