Then consider Joseph Bottum’s marvelous new volume, The Christmas Plains.
After growing up in South Dakota, Jody left for the East Coast, where, first as student, then as a writer and editor, he married, became a father–and realized that something was wrong. From the first chapter:
About a decade ago, Lorena and I began to worry that we were letting too much of our time slip away–living homeless, in a peculiar kind of way: chasing from East Coast city to East Coast city, one new job after another, and providing for our daughter no clear geography in which she could center herself as she grew. Giving her no sense of place like the one I was given as a child…out on those western plains. We needed a foothold, we decided, and what we found, at last, was a sprawling old Victorian monstrosity going cheap in the town of Hot Springs, down in the southern Black Hills.
We intended the house mostly as a playground, I think–a summer retreat that would serve the secondary purpose of allowing us to teach Faith western things: how to ride a horse, how to study the wildlife, how to climb the crumbling granite rocks. How to cut a [Christmas] tree, for that matter. But the ridiculous Black Hills house proved a help when, last fall, the eastern world in which I was working felt as thug it was blowing up around me. Lorena and I decided, in a sudden rush, that we needed to escape the craziness for a while. We said good-bye to our friends in Washington, DC, sublet our tiny apartment in New York City, and fled out, for the winter, to that summer place in the hills–hoping, I think, just to get a little breathing room. A little distance from which to think about it all.
With that return to South Dakota begins a memoir of Christmas on the plains. Love of family and faith. An intense sense of place. Gorgeous prose–really, Jody writes as beautifully as any writer working today. And all in a book brief enough to enjoy in a weekend.