Monday, September 6, 2010

Bookshelf: Sara Gruen



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So I fell in love. It's a horse book though, so it wasn't all that surprising. But more than that, it's Sara Gruen, who I adore as a writer. If you haven't read "Water For Elephants" you must. Now.
"Riding Lessons" is the story of Annemarie Zimmer, an Olympic-bound equestrian, who's future riding career was dashed in a horrible accident which left her neck (among many other bones) broken and her beloved horse dead. After she came out of her coma and went through rehab she left her past behind, moved west and started a family. Nearly two decades later a combination of things happens that drives her back home where she must relearn how to fit into her parents' lives back on the farm. In her desire to help out, or rather, take control of seeming dire situations, Annemarie ends up driving almost everything she touches into the ground. There's her complicated relationship with her teenage daughter, her even more complicated relationship with the parents that forced her to train away from home at an early age, and her lingering feelings for the boy she liked when she was a teenager - but when she tries to impress him with a home-cooked dinner his trailer literally catches on fire.
Gruen's ability to bring me back to the barn - to remember the smells of manure, or saddle leather, even the horse's own smell, had me aching to ride. In "Water For Elephants" it was much the same, where I felt completely immersed in traveling circus life even though I've never even experienced it. She knows what to hone in on to bring you through the pages and into the story and reading "Riding Lessons" made me remember what I loved most about riding and I think it's time I get back in the saddle. So I thank her for that.
There's something about a human-animal relationship - whether it's John Grogan & his beloved canine Marley, Annemarie Zimmer and her beloved Highland Harry, Vicki Myron and Dewey. I'll stop now, but I could go on. There's something extraordinary about animal stories, maybe it's their inability to fully communicate with us, or maybe it's their unconditional love. Either way, animal stories (fiction or non) always seem to touch me a little bit deeper than human relationship stories. "Riding Lessons" was no exception. And even better, there's a second part: "Flying Changes". Unfortunately I can't pick that up just yet as I have been neglecting my growing queue by reading "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (loved it just as much as the first time). But now I am on to "I Am Number Four" by Pittacus Lore. (Pittacus Lore is actually James Frey (of "A Million Little Pieces" fame) and Jobie Hughes) So far I'm hooked, although it helps slightly that Alex Pettyfer has been cast in the lead role (movie is in post-production). But anyways, what was my point? Oh yes, Sara Gruen is fantastic, I love her writing style and I love that she has made me realize how much I've missed out on by not riding for the past two years (two years this weekend, actually). If you haven't read any of her books I recommend starting with "Water For Elephants" because it sucks you back to another time when if everything was taken away from you, everything you had known and loved, you could just leave it all behind and join a traveling circus who circumnavigate the US by train with a beautiful elephant rider and you can befriend Kinko and his dog Queenie. Life was tough, it was grande, it was unknown and thrilling. So start with "Water For Elephants" and then, if you fall in love with Gruen, move on to "Riding Lessons". I promise, you won't regret it.
Happy reading!

~Stephanie
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