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A Few Good Books: April 2017

by Emily M | Apr 24, 2017

Looking for a good book recommendation? Look no further!  Here are a few good books I’ve enjoyed recently.

Book Review:  The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber


The opening sequence of this book features a mother who, along with her husband and two older children, is lowering her six-year-old daughter into a well.  The mother, Rachel, is frantic, terrified, praying ceaselessly for her daughter’s safety, yet she doesn’t stop from placing her young child into this dark, dangerous place.  Why would someone do such a thing?  Because the DuPrees are a homesteading family in the Badlands of South Dakota in the early twentieth century.  There’s no running water, no nearby neighbors, and the family’s well has run so low that simply lowering a bucket into it yields no results.  Six-year-old Liz can use a cup to scoop the last dregs of water into the bucket, keeping the family and their livestock hydrated for just a few more days. And so begins the story of Rachel DuPree and her family’s attempt to survive in one of the most formidable landscapes in the country.

For fourteen years Rachel and her husband Isaac have homesteaded in South Dakota, and as a result have 2500 acres and a wooden (rather than sod) house to show for it.  However, as the drought worsens and more and more of their neighbors are giving up and leaving their homesteads behind, Isaac remains determined to do whatever it takes not only to hang on to what they have, but also to acquire the land their neighbors are relinquishing.  As an African-American man, Isaac believes that land ownership is the secret to gaining equal status to white men.  Rachel, on the other hand, is worried for their children, for their current needs that so often seem to go unfulfilled, as well as for their future prospects.  Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns about the non-conventional start to the DuPree’s marriage, and how that start has influenced Rachel’s unwillingness to confront her husband on the decisions he makes.  While the DuPree family wrestles with the forces of nature that threaten their survival, Rachel wrestles with balancing her desire to please her husband with what she believes is best for her children.

Book Review:  A Square Meal:  A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe


I’m completely fascinated by what people eat and why, so when I saw the title of this book, I knew I had to read it.  Ziegelman and Coe set the stage for their culinary exploration by looking at how Americans ate prior to the Great Depression (World War I and the 1920s), allowing the reader to see how the 1930s diet differed from the preceding years.  Additionally, they provide a thorough explanation of the differences between how rural and urban Americans ate (generally speaking, of course).

Two large factors in how Americans ate during the Great Depression, which the authors delve into with great detail, were emerging nutrition science and the types of relief aid granted to hungry Americans.  In fact, I learned much more than I expected about how the U.S. government approached providing relief during this time period. (It was different than I thought!) 

Finally, some of the most interesting, although not necessarily appetizing, aspects of this book were the sample recipes from the time period.  So if you have a hankering for creamed spaghetti with carrots, prune pudding, liver loaf, or jellied lime and grapefruit salad, be sure to pick up a copy of A Square Meal.

Book Review:  The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

TheGoodEarthWinner of the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, The Good Earth was written by Pearl S. Buck, the daughter of American missionaries who spent most of the first 40 years of her life living in China, and explores the life of a Chinese peasant farmer, Wang Lung, in the early years of the twentieth century.  The reader meets Wang Lung as a young adult on his wedding day and follows his story for decades through marriage, children, poverty, and wealth.  While the Chinese Revolution wages in the background, Wang Lung remains mainly ignorant of its existence as he focuses with ruthless singularity on his land: keeping it, expanding it, providing for his family with it.  Wang Lung is portrayed as a man of good moral character, who struggles with the corruption that wealth so often brings. 

While The Good Earth is Wang Lung’s story, it is also an exploration of traditional Chinese culture, particularly the oppression of women.  Wang Lung’s wife, O-lan, is the epitome of what a good wife should be – dignified, nearly silent, and unendingly hard-working for the benefit of Wang Lung, yet Wang Lung seems largely unappreciative of her efforts, and rewards her with disloyalty and, at times, cruelty. 

Ultimately, The Good Earth is a rich, compelling read, exploring the complexity of humanity, of family, of tradition, and of wealth and poverty.

What good books have you read lately?

Click here for more book reviews written by Emily

EmilyLong before becoming a librarian, Emily was an avid library patron. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, biographies, and classic children’s literature. Her favorite book is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.


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