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Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  4,537 ratings  ·  373 reviews
A beautiful meditation on life in the Great Plains from award-winning author and poet Kathleen Norris.

 

Kathleen Norris invites readers to experience rich moments of prayer and presence in Dakota, a timeless tribute to a place in the American landscape that is at once desolate and sublime, harsh and forgiving, steeped in history and myth. In thoughtful, discerning prose, sh
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Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 6th 2001 by Mariner Books (first published 1993)
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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Connie G
Kathleen Norris and her husband David Dwyer, both poets, left a thriving New York City arts community to live in South Dakota in 1974. Norris' family had inherited her grandmother's farm in Lemmon, a small town in northwestern South Dakota. Although they had originally planned on staying for only a few years, the couple decided to make it their permanent residence. In addition to their writing, they picked up a succession of part-time jobs to carve out a living.

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography is a
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Suzanne
May 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
“Nature, in Dakota, can indeed be an experience of the holy.”

I ran across a review of Dakota on Goodreads, and couldn’t believe I had not heard of this book before. As a native North Dakotan and someone who is on a faith journey herself, Dakota seemed to be a must read for me.

The author, Kathleen Norris, has had an interesting journey in her own right. She was born in Washington DC, but spent summers in South Dakota with her grandparents. Eventually, she found her calling as a writer (poetry,
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Rebecca
My third from Norris, one of the most profound spiritual writers I know. Although this is more niche than Amazing Grace and The Cloister Walk, its lessons about slowing down and savoring the peace of solitude and wide open spaces are still widely applicable. In moving from New York City to her grandparents’ home in Lemmon, South Dakota, Norris left behind career and cultural opportunities but gained a healthier pace of life and sense of community. She also recognizes the challenges of small-town ...more
Lacey Louwagie
Jul 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who romanticizes small towns or forgets they exist
Shelves: memoir
I came across this book while doing some research for work, and when I told my boss I was interested in reading it, she generously loaned me her copy. I've always had a bit of a love affair with the Dakotas -- the vast openness and the miles upon miles between towns speaks to both the recluse and the small-town girl in me. In this book, Kathleen Norris has collected her essays about Dakota (she lived in S. Dakota but repeatedly refers to both Dakotas as just "Dakota"). I could appreciate her ins ...more
Lisa Lieberman
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I acquired this book (used) sometime in the late 1990s. I'd liked another book of Norris's, The Cloister Walk, and thought I might like this one, but Dakota didn't grab me and at some point during our globetrotting years, I packed it in a box and forgot about it.

My father died in 2008. For several months I was able to put my grief on hold by focusing on the tasks of settling his affairs, selling his house, packing up (or giving away) his possessions. A lot of stuff ended up in our basement and a
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Jennie
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
I liked her Weather Reports, I liked the short poetic bursts about life on the high plains, I liked her parallels between Dakota and a monastic life. What I'm not sure I liked yet was her tone. At times I felt it was condescending as in "Well, I moved to Dakota from NYC, now let me tell you about these simple folk."
I understand that some of this might be because she is writing as an outsider- this is one of the places on Earth where anyone who isn't born there will always be an outsider. I unde
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Joanna
Sep 16, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookgroup
This book had some really cool bits and pieces about the spirituality and desolation found in the geography of South Dakota. However, i found those bits were wrapped in a thick layer of condescension and prejudicial judgement. I did not enjoy reading this book because I bristled at her tone so many times. She seemed to generalize about the people who made that space their home.
Mary
Sep 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this several years ago and am rereading it. I was born and raised a Catholic and have since fallen away from the Church. Norris, as a Protestant, made me look again at the faith of Catholicism versus the Church of Catholicism (two very different things). While she does not say this explicitly in this book, for non-Catholic readers, the Church is a centuries old corporation of power and politics. The faith is just that: faith. It is what doesn't get practiced by the Vatican which tries to ...more
Phil
Oct 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is frequent re-read of mine, just as any Kathleen Norris. One of the reasons for that is she is so inherently calming that I find myself returning to her contemplative and thoughtful writing time and again.

Dakota is the first of Norris' non-fiction spiritual books and is as much a reflection on the Great Plain as it is on Christian Benedictine contemplation. By marriage, I have become acquainted with the Prairies (further north and east than Norris in Manitoba which is, after all, long gra
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Irene
Jul 18, 2009 rated it liked it
This is a collection of short pieces by an essayist and poet with a spiritual bent. I found many of these pieces rather parochial, so focused on the geographical and social atmosphere of the western plains of South Dakota that I had no finger hold by which to grip them. But others, with more overt spiritual explorations and connections to Benedictine monasticism were more accessible for me. These left me thinking and nodding, sometimes in agreement and sometimes in disagreement, but engaged.
Mimi
Firstly, my Dh's grandmother was from Lemmon, South Dakota, so it was fun to see that locale play into this collection of essays on faith, the Dakotas, and writing. However, though Norris' family is also from Lemmon, she will always be an outsider and has an often uncomfortable viewpoint on those who are from the town. There were some good gems, but I have read other books of hers that I found more spiritually edifying.
Melinda
Jun 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Ok, so I'm on a Kathleen Norris kick here. What can I say?

Kathleen Norris grew up in Hawaii, but went to South Dakota every summer to spend time with her grandparents. She went to college on the east coast, worked for awhile after graduation in New York City, but eventually moved with her husband (also a poet) to her maternal grandparents home in South Dakota to live.

A parallel story is Kathleen Norris growing up not really understanding or liking the God she was taught about in the Presbyteria
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Jackie
This is a book of essays about the genius loci of Dakota, where the vast geography and midwestern sensibility give it a distinct identity. Norris tells it like it is when it comes to Dakota:

"By the time a town is seventy-five or one hundred years old, it may be filled with those who have come to idealize their isolation. Often these are people who never left at all, or fled back to the safety of the town after a try at college a few hundred miles from home, or returned after college regarding th
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Emily
Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: heartland
Unlike the NY Times Book Review, I did not find this book "deeply moving". There were moments of clarity in her descriptions of extremes in weather and Hope church. But reading it was not enjoyable which is surprising since the author is (as she regularly points out) a poet. For instance, she uses monastic ("It's hard to say what monastic people mean to us"), monasticism ("My monasticism is an odd one"), and liturgy so often it was making me crazy. These clunky words conjure up little meaning fo ...more
Edoardo Albert
Aug 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book. Norris is a poet as well as a writer, and this shows in the prose, and the precision of the language she uses. As an adult, she returned to her family home in a small town in South Dakota and, through a series of essays and snapshots, she reveals the dynamics of life in an environment that is extreme in many ways: climate, isolation, history. She interweaves this with the related but dissimilar insights gained from the time she has spent at Benedictine monasteries in th ...more
Becky
Jun 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Poignant moments of reading throughout this memoir for me -- most often through Norris' descriptions of the landscape, movingly familiar and beautifully rendered for this girl who was raised on a North Dakota farm. I even recognized the people she depicts and often, to my hyper-sensitive reader's ears, seems to criticize. To be fair, her awarenesses of 'Dakota' (the western-most portions of South AND North Dakota) are much fresher than mine, given my departure from ND over 30 years ago. In all, ...more
Homeschoolmama
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me awhile to read this book. It isn't the kind of book to read fast- it's almost like reading a lot of little books at once.
Kathleen Norris writes about the Great Plains - "Dakota" (she kind of throws both Dakotas together) and her experiences living there- and she interweaves this with her experiences of the monastic life- visiting monasteries, interacting with monks, readings of ancient monks. There are 44 chapters, or sections, and some of these are very short: some are weather repor
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Cameron
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful. Norris poignantly and comically captures the paradoxical pains and pleasures of life in western Dakota. But anyone living in the Midwest would benefit from this insightful meditation on Plains life. I was especially struck by her comparisons of Dakota and the monastery, a central theme of the book. Truly wonderful.
Amy
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Place is the centerpiece of Kathleen Norris’ memoir, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. This textual map is an eloquent gathering of herself as she explores her inheritance and her faith in a small town in western South Dakota. The land she captures on the pages of this aptly named ‘geography’ lives, breathes, transforms. But Dakota is not for the romantic seeking a nostalgic reconnection with the earth. It is a land of fierce winds and oppressive skies, drought and dust, killing rains. It is a land ...more
Julie Golding Page
In "Dakota," author Kathleen Norris captures accurately, affectionately and yet also brutally honestly, what it is like to live in the American plains/Canadian prairie region of North America. On the positive side, she addresses the stark beauty, vast unpopulated territory, recent frontier history, and interesting ethnic mix. On the negative side, she confronts the isolation (both geographic and psychological) and potential loneliness which follows from it, often prevalent provincial attitude, u ...more
James
Sep 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
It is always interesting to see how a book stands up to a re-reading. This book fared fairly well in that I think it is one of Norris's best written books. There is little narrative sequence in Norris's reflections, save the general story of moving from New York to South Dakota and through a process, South Dakota becomes home. Instead, what we have here is a series of poetic reflections on Dakota, on place, on the Benedictine monastery (Norris is an Oblate).

I found it interesting that many of N
...more
Laura
Poetry and Essay that recognizes the link of spiritual to geography. Our place affects our interaction with God. Norris in this book explores how the extremes of living in very rural South Dakota influenced her spirituality. I appreciated her lyricism.

As a North Dakotan by birth and choice but now living elsewhere, I miss the stark reminders of the true human position in the universe that the Dakotas provide their residents. When life and death and the cycles of seasons are harshly evident, it
...more
Elizabeth Theiss
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the book that appeared at precisely the right moment in my life to convince me that moving to South Dakota was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I did. It was. Blue Cloud Abbey closed recently but the tranquility of the space is eternal.
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
I have read other Kathleen Norriss' books which I enjoyed, this one was not the same...I tried to enjoy it but...
Rusty
Sep 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Living in a rural setting is quite different from living in an urban one. Consequently, I enjoyed this read about living in a small town in South Dakota. You see, I, too, live in rural SD. The author discusses the people who live in such an area and how different they are from the areas where she lived earlier in her life. Although she was born in Lemmon, SD, she lived in Hawaii and New York. Returning to Lemmon she encountered what might be termed a rural mentality. Readers seemed to be few and ...more
Ellie Trebilcock
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A professor of mine recommended I read this book after I had to go back to my parents house in Sioux Falls, SD when the pandemic hit. While I'm actually from the biggest town in the state, during the pandemic I felt as if I'd almost as well be in the smallest, rural town in my South Dakota. Sitting in my house alone I felt a bit isolated. I was missing my friends, my school, and my independence. Plus, there are a lot of unknowns during this time. But as many thoughts and anxieties were swirling ...more
Laura Kisthardt
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Kathleen Norris has written a beautiful ode to the prairie lands of America.
Her words paint brushstrokes of the natural environment and human isolation.
I felt like the week I spent reading this book was actually a full year soaking in the seasons of the Plains. She does an incredible job detailing the weather and landscapes.
“More than ever, I’ve come to see conspiracy theories as the refuge of those who have lost their natural curiosity and ability to cope with change.” Page 53
“Maybe the dese
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Emily Schmader
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Writing from her experience of returning to the Dakotas after years away, Kathleen Norris poetically captures the contradictions of life in rural Dakota. She evaluates culture, religion, and geography through the lens of the plains. As someone who grew up in North Dakota, I have a reverse experience. I left the Dakotas and will likely never return permanently. As a result, this book was beautifully painful to me. I loved reading her descriptions of a place so vast and lonely...yet, I ached to be ...more
Traci Rhoades
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It got a little thick at time with geography and history, although the author makes a solid argument that these also make up one's spiritual journey. The writings on Benedictine orders, church and small town existence were treasures. I listened to the book but went back in my hard copy to highlight sections for later reference.
Ali
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Leave it to Kathleen Norris to find the through lines connecting Dakota ranchers, poets, and monastics. She shows the good about the bad and the bad about the good. I’m a long time fan of hers, but I never got around to this one, which was written in 1993. Things of course were by no means perfect then, though at this moment, even the most contentious political divides she names sound functional by comparison. Still relevant and insightful though.
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Kathleen Norris was born on July 27, 1947 in Washington, D.C. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as on her maternal grandparents’ farm in Lemmon, South Dakota.

Her sheltered upbringing left her unprepared for the world she encountered when she began attending Bennington College in Vermont. At first shocked by the unconventionality surrounding her, Norris took refuge in poetry.

After she grad
...more

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