Tag Archives: Texas

It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living: Lonesome Dove

book coverI did it! I read all 950-ish pages of Larry McMurtry’s Western epic Lonesome Dove! So glad to kick that one off the bucket list.

And guys! I really, really, really enjoyed this novel. I never in 1,000 years — okay, maybe I’m being a tad dramatic — would have thought I’d enjoy an essential cowboys-versus-Indians book as much as I just did. This book was everything I had hoped Lord of the Rings would be, but just wasn’t for me (sorry): page-turning adventure, breathtaking landscape descriptions, tragic tales of lost loves, incomparable character development, and a bromance to end all bromances. Probably Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call would shoot me down if they knew I referred to their fierce loyalty and decades-long friendship as a “bromance,” but that’s what I’m gonna call it.

The plot is almost mind-boggling simple for a book of this length: two former captains of the Texas Rangers, past their heyday of driving out Mexicans and the Comanche from Texas, are running a sad cattle company in a hoinky-doink bordertown called Lonesome Dove when their old pal Jake Spoon turns up, on the run from the law in Arkansas for accidentally gunning down a man, and then plants the idea of rounding up some boys and some cattle and heading to Montana, where the land is free for the taking for those willing to brave the wild, unsettled frontier. Commence really long cross-country cattle drive.

Or as Gus puts it simply, “‘Call’s gone to round up a dern bunch of cowboys so we can head out for Montana with a dern bunch of cows and suffer for the rest of our lives.'”

Gus McCrae

Gus McCrae

Although all the gun-slinging, cattle-wrangling and prairie-traversing really did rope me in (hardy har har, see what I did there? With my cowboy-appropriate puns?), what kept me going through this brick of a book were the characters. My God, if those men didn’t feel real to me by the end. I had to stop and stare at the walls a bit in recovery when I finished, which is always a sign of a book that has taken me taken me to new places and introduced me to people that I’m not quite ready to let go of just yet.

For a very male-dominated book, as you can imagine, the female characters were so fleshed out! I loved sassy, strong-spirited Clara, and my heart broke time and time again for the beautiful, withdrawn prostitute Lorena, forever betrayed and hurt by men. All of the characters were so well-developed, you fully understood their motivations, even when they made terrible, immoral choices. I think that is a tremendous accomplishment on the author’s part.

But my absolute favorite character was Gus. He is easily one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, right up there with Atticus Finch and Harry freaking Potter. That is a pretty big deal.

I usually HATE when authors spend ages describing the geography of the characters’ surroundings (cough cough, Tolkein, I’m lookin’ at you, cough cough). But in this case, the geography was so much more than mountains or valleys or plains. The geography deeply affected the characters’ well-being, both physically and psychologically. And maybe I’m a little prone to be moved by descriptions of the American frontier than, say, Middle-earth. Speaking of which, I loved the epigraph to Lonesome Dove, especially after finishing the whole book:

“All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.” -T.K. Whipple, Study Out the Land

I can tell why this novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. More so than an epic journey, it is a moving portrait of a special time in our history. Moving a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of cattle to uncharted land and battling both the elements and rightful native owners of that land was a big deal. And it makes for a gripping, memorable read.

This book made me laugh out loud in public, and also cry. And gasp. Any book that does that is more than worth your while, in my opinion. I can’t wait to watch the miniseries on Netflix!

Pro tip: The phrase “uva uvam viviendo varia fit” that is written on the sign for the Hat Creek Cattle Co. in Lonesome Dove is a butchering of the Latin for “a grape is changed by living with other grapes,” or more straightforwardly, “we are changed by those around us.” Yeah, just let that sink in for a while within the context of the story. You’re welcome.

P.S. Sean’s friend Patrick called me immediately after learning I’d finished this book to discuss it because he also loved it so much. I love that.

P.P.S. Texas forever.

lonesome dove

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You’ve got (snail) mail!

It is one of the greatest joys in life to receive a letter. Not a text message, a Facebook notification, or even an email from someone other than the marketing people at Sephora and Amazon. A real, bonafide handwritten letter. The thing is, no one really does this much these days. Sometimes I think the only things really supporting the U.S. Postal System are magazine subscriptions, wedding invitations, and Netflix DVDs. What else do you typically get in your mailbox except these things — and junk?

Some recent personal snail-mail I’ve received in the past month or so: a wedding gift thank you from Kaitlyn & Andy, a Paris versus New York postcard from Michelle, and a letter on Nancy Drew stationary from Caitlin!

I check our little mailbox every day, but aside from movies here and there and Friday’s copy of Time, it tends to be depressingly empty in there. Much to my delight, a couple of days ago I received a lovely Paris versus New York postcard from Michelle (I’ve linked to her blog, which is filled with lovely pictures), who was our wedding photographer. What could be more perfect than to receive this particular postcard to my NY address from a former French class buddy? Et quelle surprise! The thing about receiving mail — even a short, sweet note with a fantastic piece of graphic design on the back (front?) — is that it is wonderful to be thought of.

In order to receive a letter, someone had to not only take the time to sit down and write the thing, but also to scrounge up a stamp (and possibly an envelope), and then remember to drop it off in the mailbox and not let it be buried beneath the daily newspaper or what-have-you. For me, mailing things is a bit of a pain because I have to track down a blue mailbox on the street or an actual post office, but it’s an errand I don’t mind doing when I think of the delight of the receiver — or my delight, if it’s a Netflix DVD I’m returning, and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever’s next in the queue.

Fortunately, I’ve found a loyal pen pal in my college friend, Caitlin. It all started when she was so pleased with the personalized, detailed thank you note Sean and I sent her after our wedding, that she actually sent us a thank you for our thank you, or something like that. That’s when I realized that out of everyone I know, including my former college roommates (of which, Caitlin was not one), Caitlin would be the most likely to actually respond to a letter.

Some of my favorite stationary: a set with lined envelopes (!!!) that reminds me of something Elizabeth Bennet or Mary Crawley would use, and a divinely delicate Vera Bradley laser-cut notecard set my mother-in-law gifted me one Christmas.

So I wrote her one.

And a week or so later, I got one back that was TWICE as long. On Nancy Drew stationary. I just about died from happiness. (Nancy Drew was my childhood is my heroine. I still think the PC games they made loosely adapted from the books are the bee’s knees because you had to solve puzzles and riddles and interview/interrogate suspects and stuff. Plus, Nancy Drew is so stylish and just plain cool. I want to be as suave and savvy as her when I grow up.) Anyway, this chain of correspondence has continued, and now it is my turn to belatedly respond to her most recent correspondence.

Caitlin has such interesting stationary and stamps that I was persuaded to wait in line at the post office just to buy prettier stamps than the American flag/Statue of Liberty ones you can get from the self-service machines. I got Bonsai tree ones. Not as fun as Caitlin’s Disney/Pixar ones, but they’ll do. I also spent a copious amount of time exploring the entire ROOM of stationary at the UES Barnes & Noble recently. I have a number of assorted note cards remaining, but I’ve made it a goal to use them up before I turn 30. Which is…not so very soon.

Another thing about Caitlin is that she is an excellent organizer of things. From multi-part birthday parties to “No Pants Week” (the modern girl’s excuse to embrace her femininity and wear skirts and dresses for a full seven days), she dreams and schemes up it all. Perhaps her most impressive planning endeavor, in my opinion, is the creation of Lech-brary.

Lech-brary is a funny combination of the words “Lechner,” the name of our freshmen year honors dorm where I met so many of the best people and friends (including my husband), and, well, “library.” Basically, she realized we needed to do something to maintain our strong friendships with one another upon our graduations in 2011. She also knew we are all various kinds of nerdy, including bookworm-nerdy, and that graduating meant we’d have a lot more time to read for leisure. Thus, Lech-brary was born.

I’ll be honest and say I skipped out the first time because I was so opposed to any sort of book club and assigned reading after finally finishing the heaps of required reading I had double-majoring in English Lit and Communication. But I came around this year. Because the things is, I like reading…but I love my Lechnerd friends AND receiving mail. Combine these three things, and my gosh, I am a happy girl indeed.

I’ve joined in the second round, the theme of which is “your favorite childhood/YA book that no one else has ever heard of.” I figured that it would be a lot easier to work juvenile fiction into my already hefty personal reading list. Lech-brary is a lot like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but with books instead of magical jeans, and male participants are included. Everyone purchases a book under the theme, reads and annotates it, then ships it off to a designated recipient in the group, who then reads and annotates it in their own distinctive pen/handwriting. And so on and so forth each month until the thing comes full-circle. It’s a long-distance book club, of sorts.

My first Lech-brary book: a tale of time-travel, a cathedral, and according to Grant’s note inside, “cat descriptions.” Love it.

My first book arrived today, and I’m so excited! It looks a bit ridiculous, as the back cover description tells of time-traveling back to the Victorian era to save a cathedral destroyed in a Nazi air raid–but promisingly comical. My book-sender is Grant (his blog is linked, too), an aviation enthusiast, aerospace engineer (considering the first listed characteristic…duh!), Catholic hobbyist, and also one of my brother-in-law’s summer roommates during their internships at Boeing up in the Seattle area. It’s a small world, after all. And of course, Grant is a proud member of Lechner XIX, our fantastic pseudo-intellectual society of former dorm residents. Grant is a cool guy with very different interests from myself, so I’m ready to expose myself to the type of reading I wouldn’t ordinarily gravitate towards.

Note: I learned somewhat recently that Grant also enjoys the band Purity Ring, which I also like a lot, so that’s cool too.

I mean, my most recent read was Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key, a YA novel made of almost pure fluff with the occasional thought-provoking comment thrown in here and there. And my Lech-brary pick dwarfs in length and sophistication to even Grant’s silly book. I chose The Grand Escape (Cat Pack, No. 1) by Phyllis Reynold Naylor, more commonly known as the author of Shiloh. To give you an idea of how mature this book is, most of my “annotations” were smiley faces, “lol”s, “awww”s, and “so cute!”s. I must have read that book three times at least while in elementary school. Funny how small the book seems now — I read it in about two hours on Tuesday night — when I once thought the little chapter book was so advanced. (Um, it has illustrations in it? What was I thinking?)

Just look at that cover art! I know you want to read it already. This is an Ali-approved read.

The point is, one lucky young lady back in League City, Texas will receive a copy of that adorable cat-centric book very soon, along with a quick note I scribbled on — what else? — cat stationary. And it will most likely make her day, or at least break up the monotony of pizza delivery coupons, James Avery catalogs, and dental appointment reminders.

When’s the last time you mailed something to somebody? If you know me personally, send me your address in private (you know how) and I’ll send YOU a letter!

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