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Shelf Life March 2021

by Lauri Wilson | March 6, 2021 at 9:00 p.m.

History is interesting, but for me, fictionalized history is so much more fun to read about. This month I had to decide among so many good titles for our theme of Women’s History Month. But that’s a good problem to have.

In these examples, women made history, sometimes as pioneers, sometimes behind the scenes and always helping when times were tough.

Recently published was “The Four Winds” by Kristen Hannah. I know that there are many fans of this author, and with this book there should be more. In her previous novel “The Nightingale,” she told the story of the French resistance during World War II. “The Four Winds” describes a family’s struggles through the American Dust Bowl. Sometimes I read a book in one day; this is one of those. I found it difficult to put down, and difficult to see it end as well.

Speaking of challenging times, imagine getting just 2 ounces of cheese, 4 ounces of margarine, 3 pints of milk, 8 ounces of sugar and 1 egg allotted to you for a week. How would you make it stretch—along with your family’s allotment—to feed everyone and still be tasty? In Jennifer Ryan’s novel “The Kitchen Front,” see what happens in WWII Britain when women compete to host a wartime cooking radio show. The not-so-friendly competition sparks conflicts in the little village of Fenley. There are plenty of contestants, including Audrey Landon, a war widow and skilled baker who supplies goodies for every local gathering. Winning the contest could change her life, but she’s competing against Lady Gwendoline (Audrey’s sister) and her cook Mrs. Quince. If you’ve read her previous book “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir,” you know that Ryan can tell a good story with a lot of heart, fun and warmth.

So glad that I read this when the weather was a lot warmer; I could not have made it through when we were going through our own “Arctic Fury”—a great name for the book and for our winter storm. Total fiction about what might have happened if someone commissioned a group of women to find the infamous Franklin Expedition of 1848, which set out to find the Northwest passage in the Canadian Arctic. In fact, there were several attempts to locate the lost expedition, but there was not one made up of all women. Greer Macallister’s novel imagines an odd cast of characters as they head to the wilderness, and a mystery-thriller starts to unfold when we find out more information about this diverse group.

Wintry weather made Arkansas history last month—an event like I haven’t experienced in my lifetime. Aside from the record temperature drop, we also had a heavy snowfall, so it was a treat to escape into a book set in the English Yorkshire dales and read the descriptions of the rolling landscapes and bucolic countryside—simple, but endearing stories of a country vet as he made his visits around the local farms. You may have read it already, or are watching the series on PBS: “All Creatures Great and Small,” by James Herriot, was first published in 1972, and I read it sometime after that. As I read it again, it’s just as wonderful and escapist as I remember. As well as the funny and poignant incidents about the animals themselves, the people also make for some great storytelling. Are you wondering about the women’s role in this book? Just a few examples are the indomitable Mrs. Hall, keeping house for the veterinary practice; Helen Alderson, running a farm and being a mother to her young sister; and the farmers’ wives who made breakfast for James after a night in a cold barn. At a time when many small farmers were hanging on by a thread, women had to pull their weight and more to keep the places going and caring for animals was an all-important task.

If you’re interested in these or other books about women’s history, let us know. Just call the library at (870) 864-7115 or email [email protected] We have curbside pickup available for residents.

Lauri Wilson is the cataloging and digital content manager at South Arkansas Community College.

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