Two books to add to your list

Here are two books, both by female authors, and both, I?ll tell you beforehand, I?m awarding the coveted Empty Nest 10.

By and large, I find female authors more sensitive, better writers, and better story tellers than men?not always, but generally; also more descriptive with their prose, better at creating images, and more able to draw the reader into a story, often with the first sentence, like bees to a hive.

Ann Proulx has a new book, it?s called ?Barkskins.? What or who are ?Barkskins?? Good question. Proulx never does define ?Barkskins? per se, but prefers to tease the reader?s imagination with descriptive prose. ?Barkskins? could simply be old-fashioned woodcutters, the kind who felled trees with an ax; or ?Barkskins? could be material Native Americans used to make the sides of canoes; or ?Barkskins? could be the leather tough, sun burned, mosquito-bitten skin of the old-time woodcutters who ventured into North America?s virgin forests to lay the earth bare. Proulx isn?t sure herself, what ?Barkskins? means, and admits that she may have made it up. Only a Pulitzer Prize winning author can take such license.

?Barkskins? tells the stories of two 17th Century families, the Sels and Duquets, who make their way to North America, first as indentured servants, then as wood cutters. The Duquets, later, Duke, over the centuries, become lumber barons, stripping the earth of its natural resources. The Sels marry into a Native American tribe and attempt to protect the land, wildlife, and flora. In this gut-gripping, multidimensional tale, the forest is the protagonist, with a theme of conflict between man and nature. Everything is linked to the forest, including what we now call ?climate change.? If there?s a conflict in the reader?s mind, Proulx views that as good.

I?ve never read anything like ?Barkskins.? It?s completely different from Proulx?s ?Shipping News? and ?Brokeback Mountain.? I have no idea how she spun such a yarn. A talent such as hers is beyond my comprehension. I only know that I could not put the book down, and once it was finished, I wanted to (and did) curl up in a ball to lie fallow from reading for awhile, like after your dog dies, and you don?t want another one for a period of time.

But alas, my funk lasted only until the next morning. Reading, like an addiction, must be fed. I picked up ?Eat, Pray, Love, 10th Anniversary Addition,? by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had heard of this book, but never paid any attention to it, thinking it too much of a chick read. Silly me. This book has as much, maybe more, to offer men. It?s follow your heart, no matter where it takes you. Being just about to start my life work, ?Eat, Pray, Love? was, for me, the perfect book at the right time because, ?I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water.? ? also a relationship?a play between divine grace and willful self-effort. Half of it you have no control over; half of it is absolutely in your hands, and your actions will show measurable consequence. Man is neither entirely a puppet of gods, nor is he entirely the captain of his own destiny; he?s a little of both. We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses?one foot is on the horse called ?fate,? the other on the horse called ?free will.? And the question you have to ask every day is?which horse is which? Which horse do I need to stop worrying about because it?s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort??

Two books: one new, one old, one historical fiction, one autobiographical self-help. Enjoy.


Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Curt stories are also read at 106.3 FM, in Farmington.