#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 1

Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to publish today’s blog post for months. Who am I to have the audacity to attack such a topic? I haven’t even published my first novel.

Perhaps I should have left #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization on the back burner until I had more writing experience. However, to be perfectly honest with you, I got tired kicking the can down the road. I got tired revamping my blog’s editorial calendar and shifting this topic further into the future.

I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in today’s post.

In my journey as a fiction writer, I’ve read about all aspects of the craft of writing. New articles and how-to books are published every day. It’s impossible to keep up.

Today’s blog post is a combination of the things I’ve read about characterization by people who know more about that skill than I do. It’s my job as an aspiring fiction author to wade through all the advice, discern what’s worth keeping, and try to put those gems into practice.


Author Kristin Lamb’s take on characters

I read a September 23, 2019 article by author Kristin Lamb several weeks ago and immediately added it to my resources list for today’s blog post. I love the title of Ms. Lamb’s article: “Characters: Audiences Read Stories, but Great Stories Read the Audience.” It pulled me right in. Her article can be found at https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/09/characters-story-audience/.

Of course, I had to keep reading to find out what she meant. In a nutshell, Ms. Lamb said that every reader reads a book through their unique perspective. The character in a novel has “baggage,” but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her into the story and that completes how an individual reader sees a character.

If there are three main characters in a novel and three people read it, it’s possible that each reader will identify with a different character due to the readers’ backgrounds and life experiences.

Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Pablo Rebolledo on Unsplash.com.

Also, I think “Great Stories Read the Audience” is an excellent way of saying a writer must know her target audience. I could try to write a novel that would appeal to everyone, but the finished product would probably appeal to no one.


Proofreader Louise Harnby’s take on characters

In https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/unveiling-your-characters-physical-description-with-style­­­­, Louise Harnby addresses how a writer needs to make her characters distinguishable. Some writers tell the reader what a character looks like or gives hints.

One method is to do what Ms. Harnby suggests:  let the viewpoint character describe another character, but don’t let it sound like a description in a police report. The reader doesn’t need to know every detail of how a character looks. Tell what is different about a character. Give each character a distinguishing physical or personality trait.


Author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland’s take on characters

Something Lori Freeland says in her June 3, 2019 blog post, https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/06/down-with-the-rules/, also addresses a method a writer can use when describing their characters. It’s a twist on bending or breaking the writing “rule” that says a character shouldn’t describe herself or himself.

Ms. Freeland writes, “Main characters can describe themselves if they do it right…. Go ahead. Put your character in front of a mirror. But make it a funhouse mirror that emphasizes her faults and grows them larger than life.”

In this blog post, Ms. Freeland also comments about motivation. A writer needs to tell the reader what motivates a character. This clarifies the story.

To quote Ms. Freeland, “The internal journey of your character is as crucial as the external journey.”


Australian Fantasy Author Douglas W.T. Smith’s take on characters

Douglas W.T. Smith wrote about characters, voice, and dialogue in his April 9, 2019 blog post, https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/five-ways-to-improve-your-characters-voice-and-dialogue/.  He states something important about characters and dialogue:  “Remember, if the dialogue doesn’t advance the plot, give insight into characters, or show relationships between characters, it should be deleted.”

Mr. Smith goes on to talk about how a writer can make characters distinguishable by giving each one a unique speech pattern or word choice. From there he reminds the aspiring writer that all dialogue in a novel should be necessary and should move the story forward; otherwise, it is unnecessary.

Some things are better told through narrative. Mr. Smith writes, “Use dialogue when it’s needed – when it will show relationships or reveal character or plot the way no other tool will.”


Back to Louise Harnby

Related to that last quote from Douglas W.T. Smith, is this comment Louise Harnby made in https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them­­­­­:  “Dialogue should be purposeful. If you’re using it to introduce information, have the characters seek answers to questions they don’t know the answers to. Unveil backstory that’s known to the speakers through the narrator, not the speech.”


Author and Writing Instructor Janice Hardy’s take on characters

Janice Hardy’s April 30, 2014 blog post, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/04/five-ways-to-create-likable-characters.html, is titled “Five Ways to Create Likable Characters.”  This brings up a whole other aspect of characterization. As if making each character look and sound different from every other character weren’t enough, a novelist needs to make most of their characters likeable.

Ms. Hardy prefaces her list of five ways to create likable characters by cautioning writers not make the characters perfect. She says, “There’s a fine–and often moving–line between likable and perfect, which can make it difficult to create a well-balanced likable character.”

Ms. Hardy’s blog post goes into detail about how to make a character likable and how to make each character distinguishable, so please click on the link above and read her entire post if you want to learn more.


Until my next blog post

At my own risk, I’m announcing that my blog post next Monday will be a continuation of today’s. If the topic doesn’t interest you, please check in again in two weeks when I’ll write about some of the books I’ve read in February.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende while I’m partially-incapacitated with my fractured leg.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.


Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer to read plot-driven novels or character-driven novels? If you’re a writer, which do you prefer to write?

Janet

Three More Books I Read in January 2020

Today’s blog post is a follow up to last Monday’s. I read six books in January and I’ve split them up between last week’s blog and today’s. I hope you’ll find a book among the six that piques your interest.


The Sins of the Father, by Jeffrey Archer

Book Two in Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Series, The Sins of the Father.

I only have myself to blame. Why I thought it was a good idea to read the second book in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles Series before reading the first book, Only Time Will Tell, is a mystery. The Sins of the Father ended with a cliff hanger that compels me to read the third book in the series, Best Kept Secret; however, I feel even more compelled to read Only Time Will Tell next.

The Sins of the Father is based on the premise that Harry Clifton assumes the identity of another sailor during World War II. He lands in an American jail for this offense. Meanwhile, Giles Barrington is assumed to be the heir to the Barrington estate. Harry’s love, Emma Barrington, gives birth to a son whose parentage is a mystery. Harry’s parentage is also in question. Who will inherit the Barrington estate? Will the real Harry Clifton please stand up? Not in The Sins of the Father. The case of which man is the lawful inheritor of the estate goes to court, but court is adjourned in the last sentence of The Sins of the Father, without a verdict declared.

This was an enjoyable read for me. Working through my to-be-read list, I’ll eventually get to Only Time Will Tell and then to the remaining five books in the Clifton Chronicles.

Let this be a lesson for me:  Always start reading a fiction series by reading the first book in the series!


Keeping Lucy, by T. Greenwood

I must admit that I didn’t finish reading Keeping Lucy. It held much promise. The scenario is a woman gives birth in 1969 to a Down’s Syndrome infant girl. While she is recovering from a hard delivery, her husband and father-in-law secretly have the days old infant moved to a institution that “cares” for such children.

That secret arrangement goes over with the mother like a lead balloon. I enjoyed the book to that point and was eager to see what happened. Unfortunately, I stopped liking the mother. For starters, she didn’t try to see her daughter for two years. What mother would let her husband dictate that?

Spoiler alert:  when the mother finally goes to see the two-year-old daughter without telling her husband, she finds the toddler is a victim of horrendous neglect. I won’t go into the gory details, but things were really bad. The mother checks Lucy out of the institution for a long weekend but vows she will never take her back to the facility.

I was trying to forgive the mother for not visiting her daughter for two years, but instead of taking Lucy to a pediatrician or an emergency room and reporting the abuse to the authorities, she tries a home remedy to purge Lucy of the parasites with which she is infected. This is a mother who is financially very comfortable. She doesn’t take the action I think any mother would take because Lucy isn’t on the family’s health insurance policy.

That’s when I had to close the book. I was disappointed. I liked an earlier novel by T. Greenwood, Where I Lost Her. I wrote favorably about it in my May 2, 2017 blog post, “What I Read in April.” (I can’t seem to make a clickable link to that post today.) Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read the first 14 chapters of Keeping Lucy. I really wanted to like it.


Twisted Twenty-Six, by Janet Evanovich

Years ago, I enjoyed reading the first 15 to 20 books of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Either I’ve aged out or just become bored with Stephanie Plum’s escapades. The latest books in this series just haven’t made me chuckle, much less laugh out loud like her earlier books did. I’ll probably not read the 27th book in this series.


The Broker, by John Grisham

I’ve read only 18 of John Grisham’s novels, so I’m still playing catch-up. The Broker was published in 2005, so many of you read it a long time ago.

In this suspense novel, Joel Backman is “the broker.” He has ended up in prison for hacking into a spy satellite system the US didn’t know about. After six years of incarceration, the government decides he can do them more good on the outside than in prison.

The out-going US president grants Backman a pardon hours before leaving office. Backman is whisked out of the country, where he is to live out his life in something similar to the Witness Protection Program. Notice I said “similar.”

Spoiler alert: In truth, the whole thing is a CIA setup. The bad guys track Backman down. They are supposed to kill him.


Since my last blog post

I’ve spent the last two weeks either in bed or in a chair with my leg in an immobilizer. I’ve tried reading other blogs on my tablet and leaving a few comments, but our internet service isn’t the best. Sometimes it works better than other times. It’s frustrating after being used to using the desktop computer. That’s where I am for a few minutes, so I can finish writing this post and get it scheduled to go out.


Until my next blog post

I’ll have more x-rays and see what the orthopedic doctor has to say about my fractured leg. I’m not in pain, which is an encouraging blessing. I’m growing weary of the immobilizer and not being able to put any weight on that leg. I need some patience, and I need it NOW!

I have a good caregiver, and for the foreseeable future I don’t have to cook or wash dishes. There’s the silver lining! My planned blog posts the next two weeks is about characterization in fiction. I’ve worked on these posts off and on for a while. If I can get the material pulled together and edited to my satisfaction, that’s what I’ll post on February 17 and 24. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll try to come up with something else that won’t bore you to tears.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Diane Chamberlain’s new novel, Big Lies in a Small Town.

If you’re an artist or writer, I hope you have quality work time this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You have many demands on your time, so I appreciate your taking a few minutes to read my blog. If you like what you see, please share my blog with your friends.

Janet

Three Books I Read in January 2020

The first Monday of the month seems to come around faster and faster, and it’s time for me to blog about the books I read the previous month. As usually happens, I have to divide the books I read the month before into two blog posts. No one wants to read a 2,000-word blog post.

I read approximately 6.5 books in January. Today’s blog post is about three of them. I’ll write about the other 3.5 books next Monday.

The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

This book pleasantly surprised me. From the title, I wasn’t sure I’d like the book, but it’s an excellent piece of creative nonfiction.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

I didn’t know the history of the World’s Fair:  Columbian Exposition except that it was held in Chicago to mark the 400th anniversary of the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus’s.

Chicago was a rough-and-tumble place at that time, known primarily for the slaughterhouses located there. The city was in competition with Washington, DC as the site of the fair.

When Chicago was selected, the depth of the bedrock immediately became a source of concern for the fair’s planners, architects, and construction engineers. The weight of the fair’s proposed buildings and the poor soil were difficult to overcome with the construction equipment of the day. I found that aspect of the book to be fascinating.

The fair was planned, built, and held with a backdrop of mysterious disappearances and murders in Chicago. As the title suggests, that comes into play. The murderer is a physician.

The mandate the Chicago fair had was to “out-Eiffel Eiffel.” The grand Eiffel Tower was built as part of the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, so the Chicago fair authorities were under a lot of pressure to construct something more amazing at their fair. That turned out to be the Ferris wheel, although that first Ferris wheel was made up of “cars” that could hold 20 passengers. The construction details about the Ferris wheel were interesting to me. Being the daughter of a structural steel draftsman, I grew up being exposed to discussions and an appreciation of such things.

Mingled in with the details of the construction and operation of the fair itself are tidbits of the personal lives of the people involved such as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who was also working on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina at the same time.

Reference is also made to some of the new inventions that were introduced to the public at the Chicago fair, including zippers, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cracker Jacks snack, moving pictures, the vertical file, shredded wheat cereal, and Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix in a box.


A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci

A Minute to Midnight is David Baldacci’s latest novel and the second book in his Atlee Pine thriller series. I’ve only read five of Mr. Baldacci’s books, so I’ve missed a lot of his work. I missed the first book in this series, Long Road to Mercy. I’ll definitely read it before the third book in the series is published.

A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci

Atlee Pine is an FBI Special Agent. In A Minute to Midnight, she returns to her small hometown in Georgia to try to find answers to some nagging questions about her family. In the process of finding out some startling information about her parents, she is drawn into the investigation of several local murders. Who is the murderer? Are these murders – which are rare in this small town – somehow connected to Pine’s presence in the community?

Mr. Baldacci takes us on an eerie journey as he ties in the morbid history of the infamous Andersonville prisoner-of-war prison of American Civil War days. The prison’s cemetery plays a part in this novel, as that is where the murderer likes to leave his victims.


The Lies We Told, by Diane Chamberlain

In this novel, Diane Chamberlain takes us into a devastating hurricane on the North Carolina coast. There is massive flooding in the southeastern portion of the state, and we’re soon caught up in the lives of two sisters who just happen to be doctors. Each sister tries to do her part to help in the aftermath of the hurricane. Their duties take them to different directions and a breakdown of telephone communications results of their not being able to communicate for two long weeks.

The Lies We Told, by Diane Chamberlain

The sisters have a history of secrets that date back to the day their parents were murdered. One sister desperately wants children, while the other one is wrapped up in her career and doesn’t let herself have dreams of a family of her own.

There is a helicopter crash and one of the sisters cannot be located at the crash scene. She’s found by a local citizen and taken to his home for recovery. There are undertones of trouble within that home, though. Tensions rise because the small rural community is cut off from the mainland by the flooding, and the wife’s baby is due at any time.

I got a little weary of the part of the book that gave details of rescue efforts, but I’m glad a stuck with it. The ending was worth the wait.


Since my last blog post

Since my blog post last Monday, I had a freak accident and broke my right tibia. Therefore, you won’t see me as much on social media as usual.


Until my next blog post

I’ll be seeing an orthopedic surgeon to see what the plan of treatment will be for the next months. I hope I’ll get to blog about the other books I read in January next Monday.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty, a novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.

Janet

#ColonialAmerica: What’s a High and Dry?

If you look up “high and dry” in the dictionary, you’re likely to find a definition something like this:  being out of reach of the current or tide; being in a helpless position. My dictionary only identifies “high and dry” as an adjective that first came into common use in 1786. It’s first known use was in 1727.

You can find this and additional information about that use of “high and dry” by going to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/high%20and%20dry. (I hope that’s clickable. I’m having some problems posting this today.)


That’s not the “high and dry” I’m talking about in today’s blog post.

My introduction to the noun “high and dry” came from a docent at the Hezekiah Alexander House in Charlotte, North Carolina. I learned that it was the name of an enclosed tiny cupboard on the mantle of a fireplace. If memory serves me correctly from the tour I took 15 or more years ago, that particular high and dry was approximately eight inches wide and perhaps ten inches tall. It was made of wood and had a secure door. It was where the Alexander family would have kept their cone of sugar in the 1700s.

In the backcountry of the Carolinas, sugar was a precious commodity. In order to be of use, it had to be kept dry. It stands to reason, that a homemaker who had spent precious family resources to purchase a cone of sugar would have taken measures to keep the sugar protected from moisture and the high humidity associated with The South.

One of my handiest reference books as a writer of historical fiction is English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh. It has saved me more than once when I was going to use a word in a short story or my work-in-progress novel, only to find out from Mr. Brohaugh’s book that the word I wanted to use was not yet in use in the time period of my story or novel.

Mr. Brohaugh’s book says the “high and dry” was in use as a noun “by 1825.” I had hoped for proof of its use in the 1700s, but seeing it in the Hezekiah Alexander House is proof enough for me. I wish I had a photo of the Alexanders’ high and dry to illustrate my blog post today.


An illustrative blog by Stephanie Ann Farra:  World Turn’d Upside Down

I was pleased to find the following blog post from 2013 that illustrates the form of sugar that was used in colonial America:  https://www.worldturndupsidedown.com/2013/05/how-to-make-colonial-era-sugar-cone-or.html. If you aren’t familiar with a cone of sugar, please look at the photographs Ms. Farra included in her blog post.

Just for fun, I decided last Wednesday to follow Ms. Farra’s instructions and try to make my own sugar cone. How did that go? Here’s a picture of my sugar cone. With the assistance of gravity for several hours and hot water, the cone was eventually released from the vase that served as my mold. I now have more of an appreciation for the making of sugar cones in colonial times.

Sugar cone made with water, sugar, and a vase as a mold.
My attempt at making a sugar cone.

Inheriting the Trade:  A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, by Thomas Norman DeWolf

While writing this blog post, I was reminded of a memoir I read in 2008 (yes, I’ve kept a list of the books I’ve read since 1993) that is related to today’s topic about sugar. Inheriting the Trade:  A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, by Thomas Norman DeWolf, is an eye-opening book about how the trading of slaves, sugar, and rum were intimately entangled in colonial America – the largest such family dynasty being in Rhode Island. I highly recommend this book to anyone who believes only Southerners were guilty of benefiting from the slave trade.

Quoting from the book jacket:  “In 2001, at forty-seven, Thomas DeWolf was astounded to discover that he was related to the most successful slave-trading family in American history, responsible for transporting at least 10,000 Africans to the Americas. His infamous ancestor, U.S. senator James DeWolf of Bristol, Rhode Island, curried favor with President Jefferson to continue in the trade after it was outlawed. When James DeWolf died in 1837, he was the second-richest man in America.”

In researching his family’s history, Thomas Norman DeWolf and nine of his relatives retraced the steps of their ancestors, going to Ghana, Cuba, and New England. I salute their honesty in revealing to us their family history. It puts a face on an important part of United States history that has been swept under the rug for far too long.


What was left out of my history textbooks?

When I was in school, I wasn’t taught much about the slave trade in colonial and early America. I grew up believing that The South bore all the blame for slavery in America. That’s how the history books of the day were written.

My textbooks did not tell me that Africans were enslaved in the northern states at all, much less for more than 200 years. They did not tell me that the majority of slave trading in America was done by people from the northern states.

It has only been in my adult years that I’ve learned more of the truth. It troubles me that I wasn’t taught the whole truth as an elementary and high school student. It troubles me even more that so little time is now allotted to the study of American history in the public schools of North Carolina that today’s students will graduate knowing even less of our nation’s history than I did. I hope conditions are different in the state in which you live.


Since my last blog post

When I select a topic for a blog post, I don’t necessarily know where it will take me. In today’s post, I set out to define a high and dry. Little did I know it would lead me into a reference to the slave/sugar/rum trade in America. The three are interwoven, though, and one cannot truly understand the one while ignoring the others.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Tackling my to-be-read list, I’m listening to The Broker, by John Grisham.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.


Let’s continue the conversation

I would love to know what any of my blog readers know about the “high and dry” as I’m writing about it today as a noun. Have you seen such a little cupboard as you’ve toured other colonial homes? Please share anything you’ve seen, read, or heard about this tiny piece of cabinetry.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Camcorder? Not.

Martin Luther King Day is celebrated today in the United States. It is one of our movable holidays, meaning it doesn’t always fall on January 20. It is celebrated on the third Monday of January.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. This holiday in Dr. King’s memory and honor is a day on which Americans are encouraged to make a difference, just as Dr. King demonstrated through his life and example that one person can indeed make a difference.

Countless blog posts will be written today about Martin Luther King Day. Not being an expert on Dr. King, I chose to shine a light today on something well off the beaten path. I came to today’s topic in an unusual way.

Camcorders

I read that it was on January 20, 1982 that five corporations agreed to work together to develop the camcorder. When I planned my blog’s editorial calendar for 2020, I thought I might be able to work something out about that for today’s blog post; however, when it came time to expound on that, I found conflicting information. Since my main interest was the era of 8mm home movies and not the camcorder, it really didn’t matter.

Home Movies

Thinking about the advent of the camcorder brought back some warm and special memories of the days before that piece of photographic equipment arrived on the scene. I’d already committed to write about home movies in conjunction with the camcorder topic, so I’m going with that today.

When I was a child in the 1950s, my father had a movie camera that used 8mm film. The film came in round tin containers. It wasn’t cheap to buy the film and get it developed, so Daddy was extremely frugal in taking movies. It wasn’t unusual for him to start a roll of movie film with the January birthdays of my sister and myself and finish the roll on Christmas Day the following December.

By the time the roll of film was developed and we gathered round at night with all the lights off to watch this new “home movie” on the large and heavy projector which showed the movie on a grainy  screen affixed to a tripod, it was like taking a step back in history because a year had passed since the opening scenes of the movie had been taken. 

Occasionally, something would go awry with the film or the projector. The film would stop moving through its various sprockets and within a couple of seconds the heat of the projector’s light would burn a hole in the film if Daddy didn’t get it turned off fast enough.

Photo by Brandi Ibrao on Unsplash

Daddy isn’t in any of our home movies because he took all the movies. It’s a wonder the rest of us weren’t permanently blinded by the rack of lights he bought in order to make movies inside the house. Like with the flashbulbs on a still camera, we’d see spots for a fminutes after the movie camera lights were turned off.

That was life in the 1950s and 1960s. Technology gradually progressed so that a rack of four or five blinding lights was no longer necessary to take home movies.

In this day and time, when we can take videos on the spur of the moment with our cell phones, it seems like ancient history to recall the excitement cause by the old home movies and the invention of the camcorder

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I finished listening to The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. It’s about the World’s Fair:  Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the progression of inventions and the engineering aspect of how things work.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I appreciated the fact that you took time to read my blog today.

Let’s continue the conversation

Did you grow up with the blinding lights of home movies? Don’t tell me I’m the only one!

Janet

The Other Books I Read in December 2019

Today’s blog post is a follow-up to last Monday’s post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/01/06/three-books-i-read-in-december-2019/. I hope within the six books I read in December, I’ve sparked an interest in you to read at least one of them. Reading is one of the joys of my life, and I enjoy sharing the books I read with my blog readers.


A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the jumping back and forth from one decade to another confusing.

I hope all Arab families aren’t like this one with the emotional and physical abuse of women being carried on from each generation to the next. The book left me feeling like all Arab men beat their wives and no Arab men want their wives or daughters to be educated or think for themselves. In that respect, it was a very depressing book.

In an interview at the end of the book, Ms. Rum talks about her fear that the book will further the stereotype of Arab men as wife beaters, but she felt compelled to write from her own experience. My brain tells me that all Arab families aren’t like the one she described in her book, but it could easily leave that impression. I don’t want to stereotype Arabs or any other group of people, so I’ll try to take the book at face value as just an example. No ethnic group has a monopoly on domestic abuse.

Aside from the jumping back and forth in time, the writing was excellent and it held my attention once I got into my mind the year in which each chapter took place. The beginning of each chapter pulled me out of the story and I had to stop reading and mentally adjust to the generation being written about. Since nothing changed from one generation to the next, though, I suppose the year and generation didn’t matter.

All that said, though, I do recommend the book.


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan

Like The Baker’s Secret, I’ve been meaning to read Beneath a Scarlet Sky for more than a year. I was initially drawn to the book by it’s brilliant red cover. I know they say to never judge a book by its cover, but in this case the book did not disappoint.

Based on the lives of real individuals who lived in Italy during World War II, this story gradually drew me in. Once I was “in,” I was “all in.” It is a story of espionage and reminds us that people who are spies aren’t necessarily ones we would readily assume were in that line of work. It is a story of people getting caught up in espionage even against their wills or life plans. It is a story of loyalty among friends and family, and the secrets that had to be kept for the greater good.

This was a book I hated to finish. Fortunately, the author included details at the end of the book that inform us of what happened to each of the characters after the war ended. I really appreciated how the author tied of all the loose ends, since these were real people.

If you’re looking for a World War II-era book to read that delves into the day in and day out lives of regular people, this is the book for you.


When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

Aside from The Guardians and A Woman is No Man, all the books I read in December were ones that had been on my to-be-read list for quite a while. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, received a lot of good publicity when it was published in 2016. I didn’t read it then, but it was one of those book titles that nagged at me.

After bouncing around in several areas of study, Kalanithi is drawn to the field of medicine and neurosurgery in particular. He determines that there is more to medical science than facts. He discovers that relationships matter and that there is an important human aspect to medicine.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with cancer in the prime of his life and career. It is a gripping story of his feelings and physical hurdles as he battled stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The book was published after his death.

Although not an entirely upbeat book, it is a touching story of love, dedication, and the human spirit striving to overcome the worst of circumstances.


Since my last blog post

I read a blog post that offered advice about how to have a successful blog. (Success in blogging seems to be having thousands of readers and followers.) As I’ve read many times before, this post said I need to find my niche and blog only about that. It said I shouldn’t blog about this and that. Since I’m not an expert on any subject, though, for the foreseeable future I’ll continue to write about the books I read, history, and the things I learn about the art and craft of writing.

Thank you for sticking with me in spite of the fact that I don’t have a “successful” blog. If I hit on a topic occasionally that a few people find interesting, I’ll consider that my blog is successful. I’ve never been one to go along with the crowd.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci, and have started listening to The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. The introduction was intriguing. It will be interesting to see how I like the book. That probably depends upon how graphic the murder and madness are!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always eager to know what you are reading. Feel free to share the titles of the books you’ve been reading and your thoughts about them.

Janet

Three Books I Read in December 2019

Once again, last month I read a good number of books and decided to split them up between my blog post today and my post next Monday.


Think you can't be fooled by a lair? Think again!
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers:  What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

Mr. Gladwell’s book says most of us default to thinking strangers are truthful until they prove us wrong, but we are not good at discerning a lie. This can lead to disaster; however, if the majority of people assumed everyone is dishonest, that will have even worse outcomes. It’s an interesting thing to consider.

After reading a pre-publication excerpt from the book, I got on the waitlist for it at the public library. I was intrigued by the idea.

In the book’s introduction, Mr. Gladwell relates the tragic story of Sandra Bland, a young African American woman pulled over by a police officer in Texas in 2015 for not signaling a lane change. Things rapidly escalated and Ms. Bland committed suicide in her jail cell three days later.

The book includes an interesting example from Russian folklore. It seems there is a yurodivy or “Holy Fool” in Russian folklore who is a misfit, an outcast, sometimes seen as mentally-ill, but this person “has access to the truth.” Because he isn’t part of proper society, he tells the truth. He calls people out for lying. He is the modern-day whistleblower.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the child is the “Holy Fool” who blurts out, “Look at the King! He’s not wearing anything at all!” Everyone else sees that the emperor’s magical costume is nothing at all, but the king has been convinced it is a real outfit and everyone but the child is afraid to call the king out – or perhaps many of them have been hoodwinked just like the king.

We need “Holy Fools,” but we can’t all be “Holy Fools.” They see liars everywhere. If everyone operated that way, commerce and interpersonal relationships would cease.

I can’t succinctly summarize this book. Mr. Gladwell gives numerous examples to illustrate how we are fooled every day by strangers. We think we are too smart to be tricked by a liar, but we are all susceptible to it.

He gives many examples where intelligence agencies, diplomats, and governments have been tricked by strangers to an unbelievable extent. Examples include “The Queen of Cuba,” Bernie Madoff, the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University, an episode of the TV series “Friends,” the Amanda Knox case in Italy, the case of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain being completely fooled by the personality of Adolph Hitler, and several other such large-scale examples. Mr. Gladwell goes into great detail about each of the cases he cites in his book.

The average person’s response to these examples is, “That would never happen to me!” and “How in the world did they get fooled?” Before we jump to such a conclusion, though, we need to keep in mind that we, too, can be fooled by strangers (and by people we think we know well.)

Talking to Strangers:  What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, is food for thought. It is a very interesting book.


The Guardians, by John Grisham

People convicted of crimes they didn't commit
The Guardians, by John Grisham

This much-anticipated latest legal thriller by John Grisham did not disappoint. The name of the novel comes from a loosely-organized organization that works to get out of prison individuals who were wrongly convicted of a crime. The protagonist is a lawyer who got involved in The Guardians after he became disenchanted with the judicial system.

The overriding theme of innocent people being railroaded by the judicial system and spending decades in prison or given the death penalty should make us all stop and think.

In this book, Mr. Grisham takes us to death row and even to a condemned prisoner’s last meal, when we know the prisoner is not guilty of the crime of which he was convicted. The book follows several such cases.


The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan

This novel had been on my to-be-read list for a long time. I’m glad I finally got around to listening to it. It’s a captivating story of Emma, a young French woman who is ordered to become the German kommandant’s baker during World War II and what she did to fool the kommandant and to help keep her fellow citizens alive during the German occupation of France.

The story of Emma is beautifully told as D-Day approaches. She lives in Normandy and has given up on the Allies ever coming to France’s rescue. I especially enjoyed the way the author describes D-Day and the days that followed through Emma’s eyes.

More so than most any other novel I’ve read, The Baker’s Secret brings to life the everyday lives and struggles faced by the regular people in the countries that were under foreign occupation and attack during World War II. Something this book brings out is the very real hunger experienced by the citizens of France during the war.

Cassandra Campbell does a great job reading the book for the CD edition.


Since my last blog post

The holiday season is nearing an end and it’s time to start a new year. I’m trying to be optimistic about 2020, but the events of the last several days makes that more difficult than it was just a week ago. I am, of course, referring to US-Iranian relations.


Until my next blog post

As I stated in my December 30, 2019 blog post, I will continue to seek a higher level of peace and contentment in 2020. I wish that for you, also.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just started A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog.


Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? Have you read an especially powerful or enjoyable book recently?

I look forward to your feedback.

Janet