Book Club Friday! Take Two!

Friday, April 1, 2011
Of Woods and Words

It's Book Club Friday again: the semi-regular feature Of Woods and Words feature where I discuss my most recent read and invite you to do the same in the comment section.  

Today's read? Shelter by Sarah Stonich. 

Published just last month (no foolin'!), Shelter is the memoir of Minnesotan author Sarah Stonich's adventure of buying land in northern Minnesota and slowly developing a vacation compound. I'm always interested in hearing another person's take on  "my stomping grounds" and I was anxious to dive into short (208 page) read.

Stonich, who has read just about every published "up north" Minnesotan author there is, seems well aware of the risk of becoming overly romantic when writing about "living the dream" in northern Minnesota. The land she purchases is not far from the small town where her parental grandparents lived and raised their many children and as such, Stonich must walk the line of being not quite a local, not quite just another Twin Cidiot cabin owner, not only in the community by the cabin, but also through the pages of Shelter

When she describes her cabin's location on "the butt end of the Canadian Shield,"I kind of wished for a little more romance than I got and I also wondered if anyone living outside of the upper Midwest would get what she was talking about. She makes it clear that this is no charmed summer cabin where funds are unlimited and the sun always shining. She writes of the various building project on the property, the largest of which is a 10 x 12 cabin, a far cry from the usual new cabin and so teeny I couldn't help but think "omigod, that sounds awful." No one should ever have to call a cousin of the Shack (homey as it was) their vacation home. In fact, by the end of the book, it's uncertain whether or not Stonich will hold on to her cabin. 

I found myself longing/waiting for a detailed description of what everyday life at the cabin was like. Instead I heard about her internet dating exploits and her now-grown son's travels to Japan. No doubt, Stonich incorporated these details of her life in the Twin Cities to help drive home just what exactly the cabin was meant to provide "shelter" from, but to be honest, I often find memoir authors, bogged down by knowing all the little details of the "whole story," often fail to edit their back story down to barest, most poignant kernel of fact needed to infuse their prose with depth and meaning. Likewise, Stonich's chapter devoted to her immigrant grandparents is probably the book's most compelling chapter, yet seems slightly out of place in the midst of a narrative that otherwise discusses retaining walls, dovetail construction, and the logistics of punching in a road to the property.  

Is it cabin construction memoir? A divorced mother memoir? A "my ancestors" memoir? It's all three in one memoir and sometimes the edges of the three themes doing more running into each other than melting down into one intertwined story.

Stonich has lovely things to say about the human need for wilderness, but I wonder if her thoughts are remarkable, or unique, enough to have people shuffling around their bookshelves to squeeze Shelter in next to their Sigurd Olson books. But if you're looking to escape to the north woods, at least in your heart, Stonich's take on the area is both heartfelt and down to earth and her cabin world is one worth wandering through.

Bottom line: A decent read if you're interested in the area, but probably not enough of a story to appeal to anyone without some innate knowledge of life in MN. Perhaps it wasn't meant to.   
Do you like memoirs? What are you reading right now?

Happy Reading and Happy Friday!

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book, but this review is based on nothing other my true opinion.)



  1. I like some memoirs. But I agree with you- when they don't have enough focus, or chronology to immerse myself I get distracted and sometimes don't finish them. I just read a memoir of sorts, called Waiter Rant, that is sort of a blog-turned-book, and I really enjoyed it but I think it's because after working in a restaurant it was just so relatable, and the stories were pretty funny and rang uncomfortably true :)
    I am amidst tropic of cancer but finding it hard to get momentum. It's like when I read Gertrude Stein. Why care if I ever finish it? there seems to be no plot, is that the point?

  2. I might check it out for the MN aspect. I'm currently reading one in the Hannah Swenson series by Joanna Fluke (born in MN). They're light, murder mystery cozies based around her baking skills and set in MN. I switch back and forth between light, fun reads and more serious reads. I do usually like memoirs too.

  3. I am pretty picky when it comes to memoirs. I don't like when they cross into self-indulgent territory.

    As for the above book, it sounds like it is meant for a very very small niche.... perhaps mostly the writer herself?

  4. I found a David Balducci which writes about living the the mountain of Virginia, off the grid add racism and an time gone by area. I do learn a lot about the farmers life as it used to be here and might partly still be. I see it a bit a preparation as I plan some days out visiting hirtoric framn grounds and villages where I may participate in former working wayyas. My bones are aching already ;-))))

  5. I usually love reading memoirs if they are well written. I just finished reading a book yesterday. 33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners It was not too bad. I learned a lot of behind the scenes things that I didn't see on tv. But it might have been better if written by one of the miners.

  6. Just finished reading "Demons are a girl's best Friend" for review, and about to start "Committed" for book club.
    I'll try to leave you a link for the review, but not sure if you have a block on that...

  7. It does sound interesting to me, being from MN.

    Too funny, I've never heard the term Twin City-ot!

  8. I went through a big memoir phase about 6 years ago. But I found them to be all really sad: Glass Castle, Running with Scissors.

    currently I am reading D.H Lawerences' Sons and Lovers.

  9. This does sound interesting, I am picky about the memoirs I do read though!

  10. Thanks for the tip! I am actually so excited to say I just got my copy of "The Help" from the library. I got Water for Elephants too and started that one first, I have a ton of reading to do before I have to return them, eek! I hope I can do it.

  11. I always enjoy those types of books too. Sounds like a really great read.


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