Walking through Iowa; reading through Europe

Goals to keep mind and body fresh.

Shoes & BookI’ve set two goals for myself this winter: one walking and one reading. In just the first few weeks of the year, I’ve found some interesting links to these goals, beyond the fact that I do them at the same time.

  • My walking goal is to traverse the diagonal distance of Iowa, from the southwest corner to the northeast. A map taped to the wall offers a ready reference for logging my miles and noting the towns I figuratively pass through as I take to the treadmill.
  • My reading goal, as I shared in another post, is to read 10 works of historical fiction in 2014 as part of the historical fiction challenge. That’s in addition to all the other books I know will pass through my hands this year.

I began my trek in Hamburg, the southwestern most town in Iowa. According to the 2010 census, Hamburg’s population was 1,187. This little town was nearly wiped off the map in 2011 when the Missouri River breached the levee protecting the area. Despite great adversity, the people and their town survived.

It’s interesting (to me at least) that Hamburg is named for Hamburg, Germany, since the book I was reading at this point was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Set in Germany, The Book Thief tells the story of a nine-year-old girl who lives near Berlin during WWII. This child and her foster parents face great adversity as they risk their lives to befriend a Jew they hide in their basement. The book explores the ability of books to feed the soul.

Since leaving Hamburg (Iowa), I’ve traversed almost 50 miles, passing through towns I’ve never heard of – Essex – and some I have heard of but never visited – Shenandoah and Red Oak.

Coincidentally, I “walked” through Shenandoah at the time Phil Everly passed away. Phil and his brother, Don, grew up in Shenandoah from early childhood through early high school. They sang with their father on local radio station KMA before going on to achieve fame as The Everly Brothers.

Walking at 3.8 miles/hour, I can read comfortably and have completed several books, including:

  • Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. My choice for our book club to read this month, this novel took me to the coast of England to search for fossils with two nineteenth century women whose discoveries upset the scientific and religious worlds of the day. I found this book noteworthy because the author had a unique way to describe characters. One “leads with her eyes,” another “leads with her hands,” another “leads with her chin.”  As soon as I read this descriptor, I realized I know people like this. I admire authors who trigger that spark of recognition in readers in an unusual way.
  • The Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. This book about a lesser known part of American history, when some 250,000 children were taken by train from east coast cities to find homes in rural areas, drew me in because I have a thread on the Orphan Trains in my upcoming novel, Go Away Home. This is the one book I’ve read so far this year set in the United States.
  • Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth. The sequel to the book that is the basis for the the PBS series, this book caused me to consider the scope of creative non-fiction.  Worth was a nurse midwife in London after WWII.  Her life experience and writing are fully engaging. I do wonder, though, if it is appropriate to categorize much of this second book as memoir since several of the stories were not about things that happened to Worth or that she saw personally. Terrific stories, though, and a powerful look at a difficult time in English history.

As I continue to walk, I’ve crossed the Channel to France where I’m on a gastronomical journey with Julia Child in her memoir, My Life in France. She is making me very hungry. 

Sharing goals helps ensure I stick to them. So, I’ll share updates of my reading and walking musings from time to time. If you’d like to chime in on books you’re reading or places you’re traveling or goals you’ve set for the year, I’d love to hear from you.

Comments

  1. Great post, Carol. We left our treadmill in Michigan when we moved, but this way of using one is very tempting. Imagining travel is almost as good as the physical movement through space, and if you get your exercise also, double bonus.

    I too read Orphan Train and am eager to see the Third Season of Call the Midwife. What excellent television. Love the voice overs by Vanessa Redgrave.

    My own goals include 3-4 miles of walking/day with my husband. And three days/week of strengths training machines in the gym.

    I’m also ready to turn my attention to the Sixties. And to go through all my documents for that era as I share stories on my blog.

    All best to you in this year of novel launch, Carol. With you in spirit!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Thanks, Shirley. Thinking about each town I pass, visualizing the countryside – it’s the only way I can trick myself into getting on the treadmill! Strength training is still on the horizon. When I read Worth’s first volume, I thought they really nailed the characters in the series. I’m looking forward to the next season, too.

      I look forward to reading your stories about the 60s. What a decade that was!

  2. Carol, What a creative way to nurture your body and soul by simultaneously exercising and reading your way across Iowa! It’s amazing how many connections you have made on your journey. This is a great reminder to all writers that it is possible to conquer the sedentary ways our writing passions can promote. I love how you have put tangible reminders of your goal ( the map) in front of you as a reminder to stay the course. I look forward to hearing the rest of the story!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      It’s true, Kathy, there are connections everywhere. Walking frees my mind to find them. On the treadmill, I have to find ways to trigger the thoughts; the map and the reading do that for me. I, too, look forward to discovering what the rest of the journey reveals!

  3. Carol
    What a great way to make a miserable activity (the treadmill) almost fun!

  4. Maybe some day you’ll come here and we can walk together. It’s an open invitation for you. :-)

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      What a wonderful thought, Paulette! I would love to walk and talk with you. I expect we would not run out of conversation for a very long time!

  5. Elfrieda Schroeder says:

    I have read “The Book Thief” for Book Club, then watched the movie and then reread the book and I’ve gained new insight each time. I find that when I read a book the first time, my mind is focused on the plot and how things are resolved. The second time is when I appreciate all the nuances, the character description, etc.
    I’m now reading “The Insistent Garden” by Rosie Chard for the second time and the descriptive phrases blow me away. It’s almost like I didn’t read it the first time.
    We are having a second cold spell of 40 below weather here in Winnipeg, Manitoba and it’s a choice between frozen limbs by going outside or rusty joints by staying indoors. Guess I’d better haul the tread mill back out from storage. Reading and walking at the same time is a great idea!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      You are a kindred spirit, Elfrieda! I, too, read books multiple times. I am a fast reader and my first read is like yours – to absorb the story. The deeper meanings, metaphors, themes, often don’t surface until the second read. Many folks think I’m nuts, but it works for me and I’m glad to know now that I’m not the only one. I am not familiar with “The Insistent Garden” or Rosie Chard. I’ll look her up; I’m always interested in authors who use language particularly well.

      We had beautiful weather this past weekend. Into the high 30s. Perfect for sledding, which I enjoyed with my granddaughters. Today it is -2 degrees! We’re getting the extremes this winter.

      I credit my niece with the idea of reading and walking at the same time. There has also been a good deal of media attention to the obesity issue and walking work stations is one way suggested to combat that.

  6. Ronda Menke Haas says:

    I LOVE the maps and treadmill combination. This really motivates me to get the exercise space organized so I can actually use our treadmill!
    I didn’t know anything about the orphan program until I read “The Orphan Train.” Great book; another blot on our history by well-intended people when some less honorable people took advantage.
    “Remarkable Creatures” has been on my “save for later” list; I’ll have to get to it. I just read two by Elizabeth Joy Arnold: “Pieces of My Sister’s Life” and “Promise the Moon.” Not happy books, but good winter-time-shut-in-the-house reads.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I’m glad to spread this idea!, Ronda! Even though I walk more slowly when I’m reading, I figure movement at whatever speed is good. The multi-tasking benefits abound – exercise, reading, touring Iowa, triggering unexpected connection. It’s all good.

      Given how many people were affected, it is surprising how little is known about the orphan train part of our history. I’ll be devoting a blog to it soon.

      We had a lively book club discussion of “Remarkable Creatures” last night. You may know that the two women in the book were actual people. That fact surprised some of our readers. And made the book even more interesting. I will add Elizabeth Joy Arnold’s books to my list to check out, though I’m not sure unhappy books are a good choice for me in the dead of winter!

  7. Great post. Such a great idea. And you’re really making progress. And you’re not getting lost in a blizzard like you probably would if it weren’t for our beloved modern conveniences.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Getting lost in an Iowa blizzard is a distinct possibility this winter, Grace! We’re ‘enjoying’ the extremes.

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