Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rereading My Antonia

I was in the middle of my Junior Lit Challenge, reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and I couldn't get the wolf story in My Antonia out of my mind.  Have you read it? Do you know what I'm talking about?  I could reread the book just to reread that story.  Stranger than fiction.

As it was, My Antonia was the next book on my Willa Cather Chronologically challenge, so I already had it on the radar.  Rereading ensued.  I'm not typically a huge rereader, but I have no problem revisiting a book I've loved...isn't it curious to see how a book will change depending on when in your life you read it?  When I'd read My Antonia previously, I had to speed through it in order to finish by the time my book club met.  This time around, I was determined to take my time and soak it up.

Turns out, it just isn't a very long book.  Also turns out, it just doesn't entrance me like Cather's O Pioneers! or Song of the Lark.  It's very good, but even less than halfway through reading Cather's oeuvre, I wouldn't say it is her best.  My rereading experience was remarkably similar to my initial reading experience a few years back: it's a good story, well-written, and quite evocative of place and era.  It didn't make me cry or sigh, but neither did I get bored or irritated.

The thing that amazes me about Willa Cather is her ability to display all of her passion in such seemingly simple words.  Plot-wise, My Antonia isn't a suspenseful story with twists and turns, rather it is a remembrance of youth, of hopes and dreams, and a look at the outcome.  You get to decide if Antonia's resulting life is squandered potential or life truly lived - an interesting question when compared to Jim's life.  Conventional wisdom would assert that Jim lived up to his potential and Antonia did not, but if you tilt the picture and view it through an Old World lens, it ends up looking quite different.

Isn't it interesting how an author's best known book isn't necessarily their best work?  Obviously this could be debated ad nauseam, but it does seem to happen.  Have you had any experiences with that?  I think that's why I'll often choose a less popular book - I feel I'm more likely to get lucky.

(Next Willa Cather read is a collection of short stories: Youth and the Bright Medusa.  This collection contains 4 stories that were previously published; I haven't decided if I will reread those or not.)


  1. Would you believe that I"ve never actually read Willa Cather? One of these days I'll just have to delve in. Thanks for the review!

  2. I've read this one (I think), but I obviously remember less of it than other Cather novels I've read (O Pioneers!, The Professor's House). I would revisit any of her novels, though, Great stuff.

  3. I read O Pioneers! And it was a great, innovative read. Something I had never experienced before but that I wanted to revisit.

  4. I think O Pioneers! is much better than My Antonia. It's my favorite of the few Cather novels I've read - will add Song of the Lark to my list, too.

    I've had a similar experience with Wallace Stegner. He seems best known for Angle of Repose, but Crossing to Safety is one of my favorite books of all time and you never hear that one mentioned.

  5. This is the only Cather I've read and while I liked it, I didn't love it. I'm encouraged that you didn't think it was her best as I'm hoping to connect better with O Pioneers.

  6. Isn't it funny how some scenes in books really stick with you?

    The only Willa Cather I've read is "Death Comes to the Archbishop," and I wasn't wild about it. I'm sure I'll read another of hers eventually, though.

  7. Crowe, surprising! For some reason I feel like you've probably read everything. :) She's become literary comfort food to me...something that hits the spot when I'm feeling nostalgic.

    Andi, I can see how My Antonia would fall into the read-it-but-don't-remember-it category. Even though it's enjoyable, there's not a huge hook...I read it 2 years back and my biggest memory was of a side story. There is something about Willa Cather's writing though. love.

    booksandreviews, I always think of O Pioneers! as a coming-of-age story about the land - definitely innovative I'd say. I'm looking forward to meeting some of her other novels for the first time.

    JoAnn, I'm glad you agree! Song of the Lark seems to be a loveit/hateit book, (obv. I'm on the loveit side) so I hope that you connect with it. I think it has much more to say than My Antonia. And re:Wallace Stegner, I must have heard you mention Crossing to Safety in the past, because I had that on my wishlist before I even knew who he was. I'm planning on reading Angle of Repose (that was the Pulitzer winner, right?) so it'll be fun to compare it to his lesser known novel.

    Sam, My Antonia doesn't hold the passion that O Pioneers does. Some of the things are similar, with the immigrants and the prairie and all, but I think there is some magic missing in My Antonia. I'm hoping that you'll enjoy O Pioneers much more!

    MJ, I haven't read Archbishop yet...I have to confess that it sounds very dry to me, hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised!


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