Book Review: On Homesickness by Jesse Donaldson

I like most books I read, on some level. Even if it isn’t my favorite, or if I didn’t like it enough to read the next one in the series, I can usually find something redeeming in everything I read. More than that, I’d say I like most books I read a lot. Maybe this means I’m good at picking books, or maybe this means I like reading enough that I have a very low threshold for enjoyment when it comes to literature.

Every once in a while, though, I pick up a book that sings to me– that speaks so much to me that it feels like it was written directly to my heart.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Bird by Bird, Everything Is Illuminated, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and now On Homesickness by Jesse Donaldson. I want to hold it to my chest and take deep breaths until it becomes a part of me. It feels like it already is a part of me.

Each page of On Homesickness has the shape, name, and year of formation of one of Kentucky’s 120 counties on the left and a prose poem on the right. The poems detail Donaldson’s nostalgia for his home state from his new home of Oregon. So many of his sentiments give voice to my own feelings about West Virginia in my new home of California. Part of this is because the geography is so similar. We both left Appalachia for the West coast. Part of it is because Donaldson and I are both young married adults with young children. I relate so much to the culture shock Donaldson describes, ache reading the myths and legends he shares about Kentucky because they remind me so much of those from West Virginia, and also felt incredibly invested in his story as it parallels my own.  We have the same cultural references, particularly Wendell Berry. I earmarked almost every other page.

On Homesickness  made me ache in another way– one I didn’t expect. For the first time, I read a book that I so wanted to share with my father. Of course there are lots of things, lots of moments, lots of thoughts I’ve wanted to share with him, but this book…he would have loved it so much. I haven’t felt his loss like this in a while– so fresh. He’s been gone for 19 years now and it hurts that he can’t read it.

Donaldson’s book conveys so many of the feelings and themes I’d like to capture in Rock of Ages so well and I’m so glad I read it while working on the rewrite. This is a book I’ll keep on my bedside and pick up to read a page or two every once in awhile. It has earned its place next to my favorites.

What books feel like they speak directly to you?

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