I've been struggling to find a good absorbing nonfiction read to keep my attention. While I have lots of great books waiting to be read, I need something easily portable and something engaging enough to make me want to reach for it over the massive stack of novels I am reading at the moment. Now I think I have found not just one but two!
The first book is my easy way into nonfiction again. I bought Rocky Mountain National Park Dining Room Girl: The Summer of 1926 at the Horseshoe Inn by Kay Turnbaugh last summer when I was visiting Estes Park. I am, by the way, hoping very much to get back there again this summer and have been talking about it (in the very early wishful planning stages) with my family about possibly going in August. It is an easy and inexpensive little vacation, but the scenery is so vastly different than Omaha that it feels like getting far away from the mundane of everyday life. It is a lovely book filled with vintage photos of Estes Park and of Eleanor Parker's summer working at the Horseshoe Inn lodge.
The author's grandniece (?) wrote the book using Eleanor's journal and letters home to create a sort of illustrated memoir. Eleanor was a college student who had just graduated from Upper Iowa University and was an avid horsewoman. It's such an interesting book and I only wish there was more of it. You could easily read it in an afternoon but I am drawing it out and savoring it as long as I can! One of the cool things about the book is one of Eleanor's friends was from Omaha so I am enjoying the references and also the fact that many of the places she talks about I know from having visited Estes. It is also a little teaser of what I hope will be another vacation there later this summer. I will share more about this later (and hopefully find some readalikes--if not in locale then in the type of book this is--I love that it has mementos as illustrations).
The other nonfiction I pulled from a stack is Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder. This is a light, breezy, almost gossipy sort of read. It seems much more like social history (which I love) than a biography of Plath. For someone who has read a lot about Plath or wants a critical work, something more substantial about her life or writing, then you might look elsewhere first. I picked this up less to read in particular about Plath (she is almost just the 'draw' to get into this little moment in history) than to read about Mademoiselle magazine's guest editors and living in New York City in the early 1950s, which is a favorite era for me. I love the elegance of the period. And while I would not have wanted to be a woman in that time (gloves, marriage, lack of opportunities . . . seems so very restrictive) I think it is an interesting era for a variety of other reasons.
Plath was the guest editor in 1953 for Mademoiselle, which at the time was quite the plum job. Mademoiselle was as much a literary magazine as a fashion and lifestyle magazine. Here is a teaser so you get the tone:
"Decades before its end in 2001, Mademoiselle was admired for its élan and known for publishing new fiction by Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Flannery O'Connor. (Sylvia Plath was an avid reader of Mademoiselle--she described it in her journal as 'the intellectual fashion magazine.') The Mademoiselle girl was cultivated, career-minded, and just worldly enough. She was still fresh--she could enjoy an Arthur Miller play and a Yale football game in the same weekend. She shopped, danced, volunteered, and still made the honor roll. She was (in Mademoiselle's own words) 'perfectly turned out for college, career or cocktails' She probably planned on getting married a little later than her peers--no high school sweethearts for her."
In comparison I would have been (and really not much has changed since then . . .) quite a social misfit. This is easy and interesting reading and just what I need to get my feet wet again in terms of reading more nonfiction (now must find the equivalent for a classic read). The chapters are short and it is a book, though filled with lots of information, I can dip into and set aside and get right back into later.
It has also been really hot here (the last ten days in the mid-to-upper 90Fs), which is a little too toasty for me (I have been sleeping on the sofa in a cooler part of my house and it is getting rather old I must say seeing it is not yet officially summer). I am having a less successful reading months than the last few and am hoping that by planning my reading and the book I most want to finish this month, I might be able to salvage a good reading month out of June after all.
To think I was dragging my feet for so long on Ken Follett's Fall of Giants and now I am within close sight of the end (maybe just a little over 100 pages). That and Deborah Moggach's A Quiet Drink are on my weekend reading list in the hopes I can finish one or both of them. I have a nice, neat reading plan all typed up as a gentle reminder of where my focus should be and my sheet has titles to finish this month highlighted in yellow and a few ideas of what I will pick up next (always open to modification of course). I think I will press on with Ken Follett's trilogy as I have the second book on hand and I am so immersed in the lives of the characters I don't want the story to end (how convenient there are two more books). The second book begins in the early 1930s and picks up with the next generation of characters--five families--American, British, Welsh, German and Russian. He certainly knows how to create a page turner. And of course more short story reading. And maybe dipping into a few other things besides. Whatever to take my mind off the heat!