Monday, May 04, 2009

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

Eleven people from our church came to our house last week for a discussion of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. The book is a collection of very personal essays by Norris about her returning to live in her grandparents house in South Dakota after living in New York City. She had planned to reside in the rural community for only a couple of years as her family decided what to do about the house and furnishings, but she and her husband stayed. In addition to rediscovering rural life, Norris also visited Benedictine monasteries to practice a more contemplative life. Dakota is the first of a series of books Norris has written about her spiritual journey.

While the group seemed generally supportive of the book, there were a few dissenters. A question that came up is why Norris felt the need to take retreats when she seemed so alone most of the time any way? Also, why Norris said so little about her husband in this book was asked. Of course, several of the group had read subsequent books and were able to fill in gaps in our knowledge.

This bring up the subject of just how self-revealing are memoirs and do authors get better at it? I am reminded of Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. Hickam held back some of details and stories from the book, which he later revealed in Sky of Stone and Coalwood Way. Like Hickam, Norris had a certain objective with her first book and only so much would fit into the text. Also, she may have just not been ready to tackle her husband's depression when she wrote Dakota.

As a person who grew up in a small town in a remote area, I felt Norris was fair and enlightened in her assessments of rural life. I especially enjoyed her descriptions of the western part of the Dakotas, which I thought starkly beautiful the one time that I saw it. I liked that at night she could see lights from over twenty miles away. I sometimes think that that is my kind of place. I would enjoy reading more.

Norris, Kathleen. Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. Ticknor & Fields, 1993. ISBN 0395633206


Willo said...

Odd how one finds their way home...I mean back to SD. I am a retired librarian and was quite thrilled to read Norris' "Dakota...," having grown up some miles west of Lemmon.

Your discussion comments were enticing and I am certainly going to explore ricklibrarian more!

ricklibrarian said...


The reader always brings something to the exchange that place in reading. So, I often mention my own link, something many book reviewers are told not to do. I am glad you enjoyed the review. Thanks.


laura said...

Dakota is one of my very favorite memoirs, and it was good to see it show up in my feed reader.

J.T. Oldfield said...

I just reviewed Dakota for my blog, though I read it a few years ago in college for one of my Comparative Religion classes.

I think the reason that Norris didn't talk about her husband was that she wanted to focus on rural life, and not get bogged down with too many personal details. Having spent time in a Benediction she wanted to discuss a lay community in a spiritual context--not just her family life.

But that's just my take. :)