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What We're Reading, April 12-18

Mito Habe-Evans
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NPR

A retelling of the famous Johnny Appleseed myth; a devastating memoir about the birth of the organic farming movement and its effect on a homesteading family; an attempt to discover the secrets of Little House on the Prairie; and an NPR contributor's struggle with the recession and its economic aftermath.


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Johnny Appleseed

The Man, The Myth, The American Story

by Howard Means

At Easter time, Peter Cottontail comes hopping into our mind's eye — helped out by an eponymous song that's easy for kids to learn. And when the apple trees open their blossoms, we may have a thought for Johnny Appleseed, wandering the frontier with a sack on his shoulder and a tin pot on his head. But he's real, right? I've known the name John Chapman, and realizing that's about the extent of my knowledge, welcomed the chance to read a fresh biography. Chapman left the actual world in March 1845, dying of "winter plague" in a cabin near Fort Wayne, Ind., where he had asked for shelter and food, having walked 15 miles in cold, wet weather. His mythical status as Johnny Appleseed was already lofty: a smiling man — a vegetarian — who shared the forest with the Indians and bears and cougars, and brought his gift of apples to an expanding new America.

Hardcover, 336 pages; Simon & Schuster; list price, $26; publication date, April 12


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This Life Is In Your Hands

One Dream, Sixty Acres, And A Family Undone

By Melissa Coleman

Eliot Coleman was one of the stars of the "back to the earth" movement of the late '60s and early '70s, after he moved to the rural coast of Maine with his young wife to start living off the land. Eliot and Sue (known in this book as Papa and Mama) were homesteaders — no running water, no electricity and a small one-room farmhouse where they made all of their vegetarian meals, raised directly from their own land. The Colemans' first daughter, Melissa, has now grown up, and she tells her version of remote farm life in This Life is In Your Hands. The book chronicles the more luscious aspects of homesteading — the basketball-sized squash, the ripe strawberries, the cool wind off the ocean — but Coleman also divulges the darker secrets of her family and tracks her parents' ultimate undoing (involving a tragedy that we won't reveal here). This is a story of paradise lost; of why the earth both gives and takes away.

Hardcover, 336 pages; Harper; list price, $25.99; publication date, April 12


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The Wilder Life

My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

By Wendy McClure

Wendy McClure is an unsentimental writer, but she loves the Little House On The Prairie books. No, she really loves them. She loves them so much that she bought a butter churn on eBay. And she churned butter — you know, just to see. She took off on a trip with her heroically game boyfriend (who's charming in part because he doesn't insist on making a point of how heroically game he is), and they visited historic places where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived, and museums and pageants and kitschy stores where she's still beloved. The Wilder Life is a book of stories about these adventures, and unlike a lot of similarly structured books in which writers appear to be doing unusual things just to write books about them, McClure essentially uses the opportunity to write a series of thoughtful essays about memory at different levels. There's the tiny, very specific theme of her particular childhood love of the Little House books, but as she immerses herself in those memories, it pulls back to become a book about the way all of us relate to stories we hear as children, and about the way nostalgia operates unpredictably and sometimes painfully, and ultimately even about our false cultural memories of a romantic pioneer past that only sort of happened.

Hardcover, 352 pages; Riverhead; list price, $25.95; publication date, April 14


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Made For You And Me

Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home

By Caitlin Shetterly

If you have listened to Weekend Edition for the past few years, than you're likely to rememberthe story of Caitlin Shetterly — she and her husband decided to leave their home in Maine and pursue the dream of living in California. Unfortunately, the recession hit, and suddenly the couple found themselves without jobs — and pregnant. The pair had to trek back across the country to squeeze into Shetterly's mother's house in Maine, and Shetterly blogged (and spoke) about the journey (and her dwindling bank account) along the way for NPR. The Shetterly family was just one of many hit hard by the economic downturn, but her graceful telling of her struggles with money, health and optimism is as unique as it is universal.

Hardcover, 256 pages; Hyperion Voice; list price, $23.99; publication date, March 8

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