Fall Reading Retreat
On October 24 to Oct. 27, I attended a Fall reading retreat in Collegeville, Minnesota. I go almost every year and I figure this is probably my 9th reading retreat. The location has varied over time but the sustenance I receive at this event continues to nourish me each year. Glenda Martin and Mollie Hoben, founders of the Minnesota Women's Press and BookWomen magazine, are the organizers and creators of this wonderful event. We each read 7 books in preparation for the retreat, all around the theme, Our History is What Shapes Us, What Do You Know About Yours?
The seven books we read are:
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Original Fire: Poems by Louise Erdrich
Going Blind. A memoir by Mara Faulkner
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy by Jeanette Winterson
Pieces of a White Shell by Terry Tempest Williams
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
I arrived at St. John's University around supper time and settled into my private room at the Episcopal House of Prayer. I was excited to see friends from past retreats and eager to meet all the
new women in attendance.
This year, 15 women attend from 6 different states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Rhode Island. We ranged in age from 21 to 70 something. Normally I am the youngest but not this year.
On opening night, Thursday, we sat in a circle to discuss a question about the importance of our 18th year of life. The range of experiences are incredible and what we find out is that we are all educated and many of us are teachers. We talk about time and how Everything is Connected. After a great discussion, we hurried off to bed to continue reading and reviewing our books to get ready for the tomorrow's discussions.
Friday: In the morning we met to discuss land and one of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich. The Round House won the National Book Award and in my opinion it is well-deserving. We also read some of her poems from Original Fire. Wow, Erdrich poems are powerful.
After lunch, author Mara Faulkner met with us to discuss her book, . The theme for the afternoon was spirit. Mara writes about how her father slowly went blind and refused to acknowledge his blindness. Her family has a genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa and her sisters and now Mara also suffer from this degenerative disease. Faulkner's book is a testament to her father and a history lesson on blindness that was never taught in school. It was a pleasure to meet her and I'm hoping to attend one of the creative writing workshops she teaches, someday.
After Mara Faulkner left we had some free time to explore the land and grounds of the college. Guess where I went? I went to the student bookstore and bought a book called The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.
After dinner, we read aloud a children's book by Louise Erdrich called The Range Eternal and then watched an excellent documentary called My Monster and Me about author, Jeanette Winterson. We cozied up to two different laptops in two different rooms and many of us were riveted. This is an excellent documentary and if you have read her books, I think it would be beneficial for you to view it.
Saturday: In the morning we met to explore gender and discuss the books by Jeanette Winterson. Winterson knocked my socks off with her intelligent writing and her experiences in many ways mirror mine. I was really worried I would cry during this discussion as I have gone through similar experiences in my life, but I held it together.
After lunch we had a two hour break and I decided to spend it alone, reading in bed and relishing my time. I don't get a lot of free time and it was wonderful to just read without interruption.
In the afternoon we met to explore war and discuss Terry Tempest Williams books. This is the first time I have read a book by Williams, who is a fierce environmentalist and a Mormon. I find her books about the land, women, Natives and history compelling. I will definitely be reading more books by Williams.
After dinner I got a call from a hospital in North Dakota. Turns out my son was in an ATV accident. Luckily, he is going to be OK but I was visibly shaken and worried and many horrible possibilities flashed before my eyes. No broken bones. Just a sore and swollen body. Thank God he was wearing his helmet.
The rest of the group started a movie called Real Women Have Curves. After I talked with my son, I joined the group and was able to relax and enjoy the movie. Then I went back into my room and poured all of my emotions into a poem. I haven't written a poem in a long time and it felt good.
Sunday: The weekend always goes so fast and I woke up disappointed that the reading retreat was already coming to an end.
In the morning before we left we met to look at children's books, Between Cattails by Terry Tempest Williams and The King of Capri by Jeanette Winterson. We also revisited the theme, How has Time, War, Land, Gender and Spirit shaped you? Then Glenda read to us from a book called My Bookstore and I thought, wouldn't it be fun to visit all the bookstores in the book? I just might have to do that. The last thing we did before we hugged goodbye was to pick our Great Book for the weekend. I chose Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy by Jeanette Winterson. I had marked more pages in this book than all the others. It was a poignant, emotional, beautiful read.
What a great reading retreat. I am counting down the days until next year.