Sunday, May 15, 2011

"My Ruby Slippers"

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing excerpts from my USF colleague Tracy Seeley’s new book over the years she was writing it; for example, she gave a very moving in-progress reading from it when she was the USF NEH chair. Now I have had the pleasure of reading the book itself. “My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas” (University of Nebraska, 2011) is a mixture of memoir, cancer journal, travelogue, environmental essay, reflections on place, and much more. Seeley’s family moved often when she was a child, and her parents’ marriage was difficult and complicated. She decided a few years ago to revisit the places her family had lived, and in particular to reacquaint herself with Kansas. After years in San Francisco, she realized that she had suppressed the Kansas part of her life and its imprint on her, and had even acquiesced to the belief common among many San Franciscans that all culture and beauty is on the coasts and not in the heartlands. In the course of several visits to Kansas, she confronts her feelings about her father and about moving so often, is reminded of all she loved about Kansas, and discovers new reasons to value and cherish it. Because she gave herself several years to absorb these experiences and her epiphanies about them, and to think and read and write about them and their contexts, this book has great depth, breadth, richness, and complexity. All the strands of the author’s background, her relationships, her experiences, her reading, her activism, and her passions (for teaching, for literature, for her family, for her husband, for the environment, for nature, for gardening, for meditation) influence each other and inform this wonderfully thoughtful book. Seeley also writes beautifully. “Ruby Slippers” is –- although sad and difficult in parts -- a pleasure to read. It is also a book that –- as befitting a publication from the lifelong educator that the author has been -- teaches readers much about our own relationships with the places we live, our families, our health, nature, literature, and love in all its varieties.

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