Monthly Archives: January 2022

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

One of this year’s “big reads” through the NEA is Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. I read this in college and have lugged around a copy for about two decades. I decided it was time to read it again, and I’m glad I did.

my own well worn copy of The House on Mango Street

I remember almost nothing from reading it the first time. It truly is an excellent book, and I think very original, especially given it’s publication date (1984). I noticed that it seems more dated and even historical than the first time I read it. Her childhood happened in the early 60s, and that was 60 years ago! However, some things about childhood never change.

Rereading this book made me realize that I am now old enough to reread books, which I never did before. I’ve lived long enough now to have forgotten books I read in my early 20s. I’ve lived long enough now to gain completely new and different insights from some of the books I read in my early 20s. I was also an English major, and so I read a lot of books during that time! I find myself scanning my bookshelf wondering what other old gems could be rediscovered.

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The Lais of Marie de France

The Lais of Marie de France are real bodice rippers, so to speak. You can see how these stories of ancient romance have influenced everything from Shakespeare to Rom Coms since. There is a strong sense of love and loyalty in each story. The same intensity of life and death love stories, like Romeo and Juliet, are played out repeatedly throughout the lais.

the library’s copy

I read through these relatively quickly, after learning about them from a dear one’s scholarship. First, I was looking for significance in fabrics and cloth. I also frequently thought about the fabrics having just read A Short History of the World According to Sheep and learning more about the wool and processes (and abuses) that went in to making these fabrics.

Eventually, I just got caught up in each story–the excitement and intensity of the love, the suffering, and the joy. (Though, as with most romance, the “ever after” is short changed, and I think most of us are left wondering how that part’s supposed to work.)

The lais capture an intensity that is unique to human love and courtship, and honestly, I think it’s a really intense thing worthy of our focus. The main characters aren’t being cool or dealing with their baggage. They’re just strong and perfect knights, who win all of their tournaments, and fair and beautiful women, who are kind and loving and good, so much so that a knight would sacrifice his life to her, a life that many other knights had tried taking many times before. That they are already married to someone else or in some way betraying someone else is a liner note.

These lais are over the top, sometimes to the point of being ridiculous, but they are entertaining. And, they have literary merit too, not only because of their rich history and staying power, but because, as I read them, I was also inspired, for the first time in a long time, to write a few poems myself!

A Short History of the World According to Sheep by Sally Coulthard

My first book of 2022 is A Short History of the World According to Sheep by Sally Coulthard. This isn’t necessarily my genre, but it’s about sheep, and it was recommended somewhere online, and so I read it.

my copy of A Short History of the World According to Sheep

It’s an interesting book, and it did increase my appreciation for sheep and my understanding of the history of sheep and just how closely they lived and evolved with humans. The closer I am to livestock, I continue to be at peace with the omnivore diet. The relationship feels symbiotic, like we evolved together for this sacred purpose. Domestic animals changed significantly living alongside humans and vice versa.

The human relationship to wool was particularly fascinating. Understanding just how much wool has been produced over the years, and how that wool very much helped the evolution of the human species, and the rise of empires, was shocking. It was also difficult to read about the child labor that was used to produce so much of the woolen fabric that was used very nearly every purpose, especially 150 years ago.

Thinking about the domestication process of sheep, and other livestock, was also interesting to me. I had never thought that centuries ago, humans caught newborn wild animals, women may have breastfed them to imprint on them, and that is likely how the domestication process began. It’s shocking to think about.

I found Coulthard’s writing to be somewhat challenging. I would have appreciated a more linear organization. The chapter and subject titles are creative, but don’t add much to the understanding of the content. It’s a work of nonfiction, and those titles didn’t quite seem to fit. Additionally there were many missing transitions throughout, and so I sometimes had a hard time following. By the end, either because I was trained to it, or because the linearity improved, I started to enjoy the organization of the book.

It’s a book worth reading, but this is only especially true for us who really appreciate sheep in the first place.

2021 reading list

I read twice as many books this year as the year before, and although this year still felt very hectic, wrapped up entirely with child care, farm prep, and work work, I feel like somehow I hit my stride and was able to read a few books during key breaks throughout the year. Here’s hoping I can continue this pattern into the year ahead.

Idiot by Laura Clery

The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Meditations with Cows by Shreve Stockton

The Beadworkers by Beth Piatote

Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner

Not Your Happy Dance by Ryan Scariano

Raising Sheep the Modern Way by Paula Simmons