Getting My Mojo Back: Re-Reads

The most wonderful thing about having a co-bloggeuse is that I get to keep in touch with Teresa and we can share our thoughts and opinions about books, as we’ve done our entire friendship. The second best thing is that when I completely bail out, as I did the past few months, owing to an impossibly stressful semester, she keeps the lights on at Shelf Love with her steady excellence. There are some of you out there who will understand the gravity of my situation when I tell you that not only was I not blogging, I was not reading. (I know, it horrifies me, too.) I spent almost two months reading nothing but advice columns online. After so long, I was almost afraid to pick up a book, as if I might have forgotten what to do with it.

girl-of-the-limberlostThe solution, of course, was re-reading. Back on the bicycle. My first choice was a favorite of mine, something I haven’t read in a while: A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter. I asked Teresa to read this a couple of years back, and I was surprised at the number of people in the comments who really disliked the book because the heroine was “too perfect.” It’s true — Elnora Comstock is intelligent and beautiful, and least likely of all, she’s a natural violinist. But she works extremely hard for anything she gets — education, work, musical training, opportunity — and is grateful, not entitled. I can’t see my way to disliking her for her looks; that seems shallow to me. I’d rather have that than the “her eyes were two different colors, which was a serious flaw in her looks and not a strikingly interesting and beautiful thing about her like it is with most people” sort of writing. In any case — and not to be defensive! — it’s a terrific book: over the top sometimes, but also interesting and funny and eventful. If you start it, do try to finish it; the complexities of the story and the adult themes of the second half do redeem some of the simpler ideas in the first half, and I’ve loved it for years.

drinking a love storyThe other book I re-read is Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. This is a memoir about Knapp’s long entanglement with high-functioning alcoholism. She describes her first glass of wine with her father (another very accomplished and high-functioning alcoholic — she never suspected until after he was dead) at the age of 13; the way alcohol became a protection for her, a way for her not to feel so much. She describes the way it loosened her up, made her easier in her skin, helped her be just a little more social. She loved it: the Jack Daniels on the rocks, the crisp white wine, the mojitos — and more, she loved who she was when she had them. Someone else. Not her own, trapped, pathetic, nervous self.

She also describes the daily hangovers, the obsessive exercise to “sweat it out,” the drunk driving, misplacing her car. She describes the hopeless, miserable, failed relationships, unable to move on. She describes putting bottles in other people’s recycling bins so that no one would know all those bottles were hers; going to several liquor stores so the clerks wouldn’t think badly of her; keeping a stash of liquor behind the toilet in her parent’s house so she wouldn’t have to worry that there wouldn’t be enough wine at dinner.

And she describes, finally, getting well — feeling her own discomfort, just sitting with it, minute after minute, realizing that there is nothing here that a drink would help. She discusses rehab and AA, and her terror of relapse, and her hope that she can stay on this path.

This is a marvelous book. Her insights (which are not just personal but national, and not just about drinking but about women and stress and social expectations around appetites) are sharp and widely applicable. I thought about my own relationships when she talked about hers, and some of the patterns they fall into. This book is almost 20 years old, but I think that, barring a few references to power suits, it’s as relevant as when it was published. I like good memoirs; if you haven’t tried this one, you might pick it up.

This entry was posted in Classics, Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Getting My Mojo Back: Re-Reads

  1. This is the second time I’ve seen Gene Stratton-Porter’s name recently, so I must investigate. I’m not a huge fan of nature, but I do love a striving heroine. I agree totally about re-reads as a way to get oneself back on track, though I find myself almost too comforted sometimes. ;-)

    • Jenny says:

      I think some of the nature stuff is what marks Stratton-Porter as a purely American writer. She uses her setting (here, and often, the Limberlost forest) as a character in the novel. But it’s not necessary to like nature to love the book. These are things I think would really appeal to you, Vicki, great turn-of-the-century stuff.

  2. biblioglobal says:

    Yay Girl of the Limberlost! One of my favorites too. I recently went back to it because I saw my first Rose-Breasted Grosbeak and remembered Elnora’s funny writing about the Grosbeak family

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, that’s a clever scene. It’s funny, natural, and extremely practical, all of which are native Elnora characteristics. So nice to find another fan!

  3. I have long been jealous of the both of you, co-bloggers. How I would love to have a co-blogger.

    • Jenny says:

      I think you would make a splendid co-blogger. You should ask around with people who share your taste in books! That’s how it happened for me. :)

  4. Lisa says:

    My grandmother told me about A Girl of the Limberlost, which she had loved as a child – and I did too, when I read it. I haven’t really enjoyed any of Gene Stratton Porter’s other books, but this remains a favorite.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, really? I love tons of her books. Others I do find off-putting (I can never get into Daughter of the Land or Laddie) but I love Michael O’Halloran, Freckles, The Harvester, and Keeper of the Bees. Which ones have you disliked in particular? I promise I won’t try to convert you, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  5. Christy says:

    I read A Girl of the Limberlost when I was in high school. I remember really liking the first half, but then something changes – a broken heart, IIRC – and the book became less interesting to me. But I could see trying it again. My high school self’s opinion of books has not always stood up to the test of time.

    • Jenny says:

      Ha, mine either! I hated The Great Gatsby when I was in high school. I think the book really hangs well together and is very satisfyingly done. It’s more complex than it appears at first, and I’d encourage you to try it again if it appeals to you at all!

  6. vanbraman says:

    The Harvester is one of my favorites. I have a shelf full of Gene Stratton-Porter books.

    • Jenny says:

      I love The Harvester, too! The idea of cultivating medicines in the woods is so satisfying, along with making a house purely from what you have locally. It’s actually very consonant with current ideas.

  7. Hmm, now I think I should get a co-blogger, too, except I want someone with completely different tastes in order to generate long angry comment threads, every one of which begins “What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is a-going on here?” or something like that.

    Anyways, welcome back!

    • Jenny says:

      I can think of a wide variety of people who have completely different tastes from you, Tom. If you’d like a list of suggestions, or anything. I think the angry comment threads would mostly derive from the times your co-blogger said something like “I loved –” and you started to snarl and foam. And then it would turn out that you and your co-blogger were the same person, and this was a Borges story.

      Thanks for the welcome. I missed my spot.

    • Your idea is a big improvement on mine.

  8. Teresa’s reviews are invariably a treat, and since yours are too, I’m glad you’re back! It’s nice seeing posts pop up in my reader from both of y’all again. :)

    • Jenny says:

      I’m glad to be back, too — this is one of my favorite things to do, and it makes me feel more like a human being to be able to do it regularly. And to be filling my TBR with recommendations from you! I’m reading Persian Fire right now!

  9. JaneGS says:

    I’ve heard of The Girl of the Limberlost for years–another classic that slipped by me. Now, I’m interested in reading it–making up for rereading my way through childhood and my teens and ignoring books I didn’t already have on my shelves.

    Welcome back to the reading world–I was telling someone the other day, I don’t feel right if I go to sleep at the end of the day without having read some part of some book at some time.

    Sounds lovely to have a co-blogger who can pick up the slack when the going gets rough. My own blog has been neglected of late because of busy work/travel schedule.

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you so much — I genuinely feel I’ve returned to mental health now that I’m reading again. I know something’s not right with me if I’m not reading.

      And Teresa is the perfect co-blogger. She reads such interesting things and writes so well about them! She’s marvelous.

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