Posts Tagged ‘Horse Heaven’

The first book I ever bought with my own money was Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. It was just the first of many books about horses that crowded my shelves.  On any given day as a kid, I rode what other people saw as a blue bicycle but what was to me my favorite horse of the moment, usually named after a fictional steed in one of Dorothy Lyons’ teen novels — Midnight Moon, Golden Sovereign, Red Embers — or maybe a Kentucky Derby contender whose name I liked. Crimson Satan!

If I still had a 10-speed stabled on my porch, I probably would call it Devil May Care or Jackson Bend, two entries in this year’s Derby that I like the sound of. Or maybe my ride would be Justa Bob, one of the most memorable of  many notable equines who come to life in Jane Smiley’s novel Horse Heaven. It’s my favorite fictional horse tale of recent years as it chronicles two years on the Thoroughbred racing circuit and is stuffed with so many stories of humans and horses that you practically need a racing form to keep up. That’s what I wrote in my 2000 review (http://tinyurl.com/2vou7ao), as well as “If this novel were a racehorse, it would be keeping company with Secretariat.”

Also Seabiscuit. In 2003, Laura Hillenbrand’s nonfiction account of the scrappy brown horse was published as Seabiscuit: An American Legend, and it later became a movie. Like the film but love the book, and not just for its contents but also its backstory. Hillenbrand came down with debilitating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 1987, the same year I was diagnosed with lupus. Reading about her struggle with CFS in The New Yorker made her one of my heroines, as inspiring as Seabiscuit. 

So, even if you don’t give a mint julep for the Kentucky Derby, or ever prayed for a pony to call your own, these two books are sure things. Like the racehorses they depict, they’ve got plenty of heart.

Open Book: I have both Seabiscuit (Random House)and Horse Heaven (Knopf) in my permanent collection, as well as Smiley’s A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck. Also, my original copy of Misty of Chincoteague. Sadly, Dorothy Lyons’ books apear to be out-of-print; I used to check them out over and over from the public library.

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