1. O Pioneers!. This is probably my favorite book. It is a more plot-based story about a wonderful woman who fits too practically into life and people around her who fit too delicately.
2. My Antonia. This is a close second for favorite Cather's. It is a more character-based study of a girl through the eyes of a childhood friend. It has a few magical side-stories that are absolutely perfect.
3. The short story Coming Aphrodite! (and all of Youth and the Bright Medusa, but that story is my favorite favorite). I have a plan to write a book based on this story. It is about the struggle between popular art and forward-thinking art. It is about how love and attraction are sometimes not most important.
4. The Professor’s House. This is another character study, but about a younger man, through the eyes of an older man. I am no traditional fan of the desert or the prairie, but Cather’s description of the mesas in this are beyond beautiful.
5. My Mortal Enemy. This is almost a short story. At least a novella. It is just how I think of what life must be like for people who rely on romance.
6. One of Ours. This is a truly beautiful character study of what war is like for those who stay home.
7. Death Comes for the Archbishop. This is outrageously good. Traditionally, I hate stories about walking, but this book throws that assumption out the window. It is truly beautiful. And the instances in all of Cather’s writing, that describe domestic violence are so effortless and poignant that they take my breath away. This book contains a perfect example of that.
8. Alexander’s Bridge. This is Cather’s first book, and more plot based. I love it, though I can see its flaws and how predictable it is. I think it is lovely all the same, especially in the question of whether it ends kindly or cruelly. The characters are brief, but I still get the feeling that I know what they represent.
9. The Song of the Lark. I honestly did not care for this book. It is an awkward transitional novel between the plot-based structure of Alexander’s Bridge and O Pioneers! and the character-based structure of My Antonia and those that follow. It has a truly beautiful story within the story, as most of her books do, but that protagonist drove me crazy. Not a favorite.
I have three left, and then I will proceed to finding out about her life. I did watch a documentary about her once, but I do not think that makes me knowledgeable enough to really comment about her as a person. Maybe I don’t think even someone who has studied her life is knowledgeable enough to comment, but holy shit, look at the Willa Cather Archive. That is so rad. Also, check this out: http://cather.unl.edu/geochron/. Cather was so well traveled.
I do know that at the end of her life, Cather tried to burn all of her letters, which I think is pretty badass despite being a little tragic for me personally. But, like Seymour Glass, she probably just didn’t want a bunch of fools looking at her tattoo. Along these lines, there is a lot of speculation about her personal life, including speculation about her sexual orientation. My uninformed opinion is that this type of speculation can be empowering or demeaning depending on the way it goes down. While Cather writes wonderful women, she does not do so in an overtly sexual manner, so, to me, guessing about her sexual orientation is not a particularly illuminating pair of glasses through which to read her books.
Rather, I think Cather is inspiring as a successful woman who found success on her own terms. The caveat to that, of course, is the question, how much can a woman live on her own terms in a country where she can’t vote, can barely own property, can be legally raped, and can be imprisoned for using birth control? But, you know, I still feel like Cather lived, as much as possible, as herself. Maybe it is naïve to think this, but I do feel like the women she wrote are real women, talking like women talk, caring about what women care about. They are strong and practical and beautiful, like Cather herself.