Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

The Stack: Fall '18

The Stack: Fall '18


As much as I loved writing Don’t Stop & Paddle Hard, there was at least one reason I was really ready to finish it: Books.

When I’m writing a longer piece, I don’t read much. I needed to spend pretty much every ounce of free time I had on the story, for starters — there were a couple months where my schedule was go to work, get home from work, run, and write until I fall asleep — and I read so much nonfiction that I never wanted to chance it really influencing my own voice as I crafted the story.

By the time I hit “publish” on the last piece of the series, I was ready to dive back into a good book. Here’s some of what I read over the past few months; make sure to leave your own recommendations!

Ladies of the Canyons, Lesley Poling-Kempes. This was a fun book recommended to me by Ed Roberson and Jillian Lukiwski via the Mountain & Prairie Podcast (which I can’t recommend enough, by the way!). Chronicles the history of a handful of tough and inspirational women who trailblazed the American West, both literally and figuratively. It’s definitely a dense, detailed read — the whole time I read it, couldn’t help thinking, “How much research did this take?” — but the stories are golden, so just do some skimming as necessary.

Heartland, Sarah Smarsh. As I tried to properly communicate a few months ago, I love Hillbilly Elegy to a nearly-obsessive point. Heartland sounded in the same vein, and I snapped it up. Glad I read it, and would definitely recommend it to others; but I have to admit, I found it frustrating at times. If nothing else, it was a great reminder that social/class issues are extremely complicated, and should be approached with appropriate tenderness. The writing in this book is beautiful, I just felt at times it was overly cynical and called for idealistic solutions to an unhelpful point — however pessimistic that may be. (Has anyone else read it? Or better yet, both this one & Hillbilly Elegy? Would love to hear your thoughts and compare/contrast.)

The Last Cowboys, John Branch. I loved this book so much that I’ve already forced two people to read it, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. This book follows the Wright family of PRCA fame (you might recognize them from this Yeti mini-doc) as they rodeo and try to keep the family ranch afloat. Three major factors that won my heart: the quality of longform journalism (stunning, and clearly so much time & empathy put into the book), the presentation of the public lands debate (an extremely fair look into it from an extremely misunderstood angle, in my opinion), and — of course — the fact that I’m still kind of a horse girl at heart & this made me want to like, buy a bunch of cattle and wear chaps? Yeah.

Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren. Look, I realize that saying things made me cry is kind of losing its credibility since it turns out I cry about a lot of things & I’m guessing y’all have kind of caught onto that by now, but... this book. Every chapter made me cry. It’s beautiful & true & for me, in the stage of life I’m in, extremely important. (Although I have a feeling it’s one of those that will be important at every stage of life for me, just hitting in different ways.) The author takes moments of every day — waking up, sitting in traffic, eating leftovers — & draws a comparison to a spiritual discipline in it. They never felt forced & rang stunningly true. If you’ve ever felt like your everyday life was insignificant to the kingdom of God, this is such a powerful & gracious reminder of what a lie that is.

Two in the Far North, Margaret E Murie. Like Little House on the Prairie for grown-up environmentalists, which I am super into; but also so incredibly detailed, which I am not super into. I want to come back to this one at some point, but for now, it’s my DNF for the quarter.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, Alyssa Mastromonaco. I described this book to my roommates by saying, “It’s like if Mindy Kaling was the White House Deputy Chief of Staff.” And you know what? I stand by that description. This memoir is hilarious (& actually gives some great career advice, too). 11/10 would recommend. (UPDATE: I discovered before posting this that there is actually a photo of Mindy Kaling & Alyssa Mastromonaco together on the internet!!! Man, I just love happy endings.)

Your turn! Leave your book recs in the comments and let me know what I should add to my list.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

254 | Blanco County

254 | Blanco County