Creating shared experiences through books is my primary objective for our book club. Reading can be pleasurable, educational, and more! But in a large community, especially one populated from around the world, it can bring us all a little bit closer, give us a reason to get together, help us understand each other, make us all insiders — privy to a history and legacy that is much more than the “Sin City” outsiders see. Participating in this year’s Nevada Reads: First All State Community Group Read is exactly the kind of experience I feel privileged to share.
We had over 20 library patrons and eight staff members read Twenty Miles From a Match by Sarah E. Olds. Staff members shared (and continue to share!) their thoughts — often with a smile or laugh. One staff member was particularly taken by Sarah Olds’ “great determination.” She was impressed by how “a positive attitude goes a long way in making our lives happier and contented.” Another was more unbelieving that the tall tales were actually true!
At our meeting, we had the same mix of awe and incredulity: Pollyanna, Eyeopener, Superwoman! Several members commented that they like their “city life” and couldn’t imagine choosing to head out into the desert wilderness. This was pioneering, not just homesteading! One felt that the book was “like a window into another world.” Another loved the silence in the story. Our world today — with television and internet — is always demanding our attention. He said that the book “hit me and gave me a sense of loss.”
We discussed our own experiences. One member grew up in rural Hawaii, laughingly sharing with us how the word macadamized seemed made for the macadamia nut shells they used to cover roads. We all seemed to be struck by the sense of community. Thirty-five miles from Reno and twenty miles from a match, Sarah Olds’ family seemed more a part of a community than we are with neighbors ten feet away. Another member had taken her children in the 1970s to rural North Dakota to escape city life — a fabulous experience but hard. Bad things can happen anywhere.
Which brought us back to the importance of that positive attitude. That horse that never died! A one room school — basically in your own house! Can you imagine dancing all night long? We thought longingly over these possibilities. I asked about the feminism in the book and many seemed to think women had it easier in the West. Sarah Olds was accepting of the prostitutes as a business, even if she didn’t want associate with them. A few of us wondered about A.J. He seemed certainly a crotchety old man, who just kept living despite being seriously ill! But he made sure everything was in her name before he died. One member felt that songs and hymns seemed to keep Sarah’s spirits up throughout. She was the quintessential supermom. One staff member shared the quote: “Mama, you can think the queerest things are fun! My back aches, my eyes are full of dirt, and my fingers are sore. I intend to stay with this job till it’s finished, but it isn’t a bit of fun!”
We spent a lot of time discussing fiction versus nonfiction. How can we know what is true or not?! How true is any memory? Any memoir? We agreed that the story was easy to read. Sarah Olds had a great voice. She was a natural storyteller. There were no literary pretensions. We decided that she was writing oral history. We discussed the differenceI was surprised to learn than none of the members present had read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. I was a huge fan and even though her books are marketed as fiction, the people, places and stories are seemingly as real to me as those of Sarah Olds — if not more so because she has a museum with pictures and artifacts.
I cannot emphasize enough how important sharing our history can be. In a scrapbook, in a journal, in short written anecdotes. At one of my first book club meetings a member mentioned that she didn’t think her grandchildren would care about her stories. Maybe not now, but in twenty years. . . Whose stories will we be reading in another fifty years?
We never reviewed any of the book discussion guide questions. Time flies — and in my memory, it was wonderful. I still haven’t covered everything. As always, the discussion can continue here, or wherever we meet someone who shared this experience. It matters!
- Other works discussed:
- Works by Willa Cather
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (book and dvd)
- Death Valley Junction : the story of the Amargosa Opera House by Marta Becket.
- Gold Camp Drifter, 1906 – 1910 by Emmet L. Arnold
- Friendly Fallout 1953 by Ann Ronald.
- Lazy B : growing up on a cattle ranch in the American Southwest by Sandra Day O’Connor
- Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Little house in the Ozarks : the rediscovered writings by Laura Ingalls Wilder ; edited by Stephen W. Hines.
- Martha and the Doctor : a frontier family in central Nevada by Marvin Lewis ; edited by B. Betty Lewis.
- “Portraits of an Antique West” by William J. Shepperson. Nevada Historical Society Quarterly Fall 1980. web accessed 12-4-2014 nsla.nevadaculture.org