How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique

Those of you who have been reading my blog for years know that (for years) I’ve promised to get my historical novel finished, critiqued by a professional, and published. You also know that I failed to take that second step until this year.

Since this is called “Janet’s Writing Blog” and is supposed to be about my journey as a writer, I promised somewhere in a blog post that I would report in my blog all the good, bad, and ugly of writing a novel. That includes the important part of getting a professional to critique my work. Hence, today’s post is about the ugly.

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In mid-July I decided to go for it! After reading several of her books about the craft of writing, I hired C.S. Lakin to critique the first 50 pages of my 303-page manuscript. I’m pleased to announce that I’ve received her detailed evaluation of those 50 pages. I hate it for Ms. Lakin but, as they say, “Somebody had to do it.”


The Good News

The good news is that Ms. Lakin liked five things about those 50 pages. To be specific,

she thought I had an intriguing premise and story idea;

she liked my couching this murder mystery/theft in the American colonial era;

she liked how I showed Sarah (my protagonist) shaking her fist in the air in pain as her dream is shattered;

she liked how the walls closed in on Sarah as the first rain drops of a sudden downpour pelted the windows; and

she liked how Sarah felt clammy, her heart raced, and everything started going black.


The Not-as-Glowing, Yet Much-Needed News

I don’t know where to begin. Ms. Lakin made numerous detailed comments and asked many questions throughout my manuscript. Proverbial red ink was all over the 50 pages. So much negative (yet constructive) criticism was difficult to swallow all in one evening. Having found out earlier in the day that I need a root canal and a crown on a back molar, receiving the critique was the ending of a not-so-perfect day.

I’ve heard that every writer goes through the anguish of being told their work is lacking no good. The initial read-through of the critique comments left me wondering if I even knew how to write a coherent sentence.

That was last Monday. After having a brief pity party, though, I got back to work.

On Tuesday, I reread Ms. Lakin’s comments and started forming a plan of what I needed to do in order to improve as a fiction writer. This is what I came up with, in no particular order:

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  1. I need to reread C.S. Lakin’s book, Layer Your Novel: The Innovative Method for Plotting Your Scenes. I’d read the first third of the book some time ago, but rereading it in light of her critique made the book make more sense to me;
  2. I need to study how to demonstrate emotion in my writing. In my manuscript draft I relied too much on the reader “hearing” the tone and emotion in the dialogue and descriptions I wrote. Sometimes I told what emotions a character was feeling instead of describing those emotions and how those emotions were affecting them physically. I need to work on what the characters are thinking;
  3. I need to put more time into making the setting of the story come alive so the reader will visual the time and place to a greater degree;
  4. I need to put more effort into getting into my point-of-view characters’ heads and show their reactions and what they’re feeling;
  5. I need to study story structure and the framework of a successful novel;
  6. I need to move some scenes around because some of them appear to be a bit early in the overall scheme of things;
  7. I need to work on pacing because some scenes seem rushed;
  8. I need to study deep point-of-view;
  9. I haven’t spent enough time in the book showing Sarah striving to overcome the inciting incident – which was the premise of the book that I described to Ms. Lakin in my one-page synopsis. In other words, I’m waiting too long into the story to have Sarah actively put a plan of action in place. Her efforts along those lines should be “well underway” before page 50;
  10. I haven’t adequately explained the purpose of some of the secondary characters;
  11. Ms. Lakin recommends that I take her Emotional Mastery course;
  12. Some of the dialogue sounds too modern; however, I don’t want to fall into the easy trap of using dialect that is expected in novels set in the South – especially the dialect that we’ve all been conditioned to expect slaves to have used. I’m adamant that the Black characters – free or enslaved – in my novel will be portrayed as the human beings they were and not mythical stereotypes;
  13. I need to pay attention to scene breaks and chapter breaks. For instance, Ms. Lakin said when skipping ahead several hours or days, it’s best to start a new chapter;
  14. I need to be sure every scene advances the plot;
  15. I need to remove the predictable, mundane, and boring lines and paragraphs;
  16. I need to explain why William had a will in order for his widow to inherit anything, including her own kitchen utensils. In the colonial era, a wife didn’t automatically inherit anything from her husband or the lives they’d built together. If particulars weren’t spelled out in the husband’s will, the wife was legally left with nothing;
  17. I need to explain why Sarah couldn’t just free a slave on a whim. Manumission papers or a statement of granting freedom in a will were necessary, but that only becomes evident later in the novel;
  18. I have too much dialogue in the manuscript;
  19. Ms. Lakin recommends that I take her course, The Ten Key Scenes That Frame Up Your Novel;
  20. Ms. Lakin recommends that the best course for me to take is her 8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel. Before taking this course, I need to read Layer Your Novel: The Innovative Method for Plotting Your Scenes and The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction, both by C.S. Lakin;
  21. Although I’ve already written 303 pages and almost 90,000 words, Ms. Lakin encouraged me “to put off writing a whole novel until you get these key elements of fiction writing under your belt. It takes time and practice and effort, but it’s really the best advice I can give you at this point.”

What I’ve done since making that list on Tuesday afternoon

It is said that ignorance is bliss. A couple of weeks ago I knew I had much to learn about writing fiction, but I didn’t know how much I didn’t know or have a good grasp on. Bliss is over now. Reality has set in.

I’ve visited Ms. Lakin’s website to read about the courses she offers and how much they cost.

I’ve looked at my bookshelves and my library of e-books. I own many books about the art and craft of writing. Some of them, I’ve not read. Some of them, I need to read again. Those are on my “to-be-read” list now alongside some novels I’ve been on the waitlist for at the public library for a while. I’ve listed those books (along with writing books I can borrow from the library) in the order in which I think I need to read them.

I started rereading Layer Your Novel: The Innovative Method for Plotting Your Scenes, by C.S. Lakin, as a result of number 20 on the above list. The assignment at the end of the first chapter is to write what each scene is about on index cards. The purpose of that exercise is to make it possible for you to lay out all the scenes in order on a table. By doing that, you can see the natural sections of the plot.

Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema on unsplash.com

In light of number 21 on the above list, my doing this exercise now is getting the cart before the horse; however, reading that assignment prompted me to look at all 68 scenes in my current draft. With all of Ms. Lakin’s comments swimming around in my head, I was able to readily pick up on some problem scenes as I reviewed the entire manuscript.

I made notes to remind myself to rewrite some scenes in Sarah’s (my protagonist’s) point-of-view instead of a secondary character’s point-of-view. There were some “aha” moments when I thought of new plot twists or thought some early scenes could better take place later in the story or vice versa. It refreshed the entire story in my mind.

Photo credit: Daniel McCullough on unsplash.com

As Ms. Lakin recommended in number 21 in the above list, I need to learn more about the key elements of fiction writing before tackling the entire novel. Ms. Lakin compares constructing a novel with building a house. In order to hold up, both must have a solid foundation. And solid foundations require careful planning, skill, practice, and an eye for detail.


What’s My Next Step?

In the near future I’ll dedicate more time to my writing. I’ll read everything I can about constructing a novel, constructing a scene, emotion, deep point-of-view, description of time and place, and speech in the backcountry of South Carolina in 1769.

I’m afraid this means I won’t get to read as much fiction and nonfiction about contemporary issues as I’d like. I will need to read certain types of fiction to see how successful authors construct a novel.

This week’s plan: Delve deeper into setting and description of setting. The question before me this week: How can I write about the setting of my novel more vividly and succinctly in order to plunge my reader into the Carolina backcountry in 1769?


Until my next blog post

Next week I plan to blog about two books I read in July that enlightened me about some issues of racial injustice and some of the lessons I’ve been taught that just weren’t true.

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re an aspiring author, I hope you get good advice and roll with the punches like I’m learning to do. It’s definitely a journey.

Janet

Taking Stock of Historical Fiction

I changed my topic for today’s blog post several times. In fact, I had it pretty much written and ready to go last Monday. Everything changed on Tuesday morning, when I checked for comments on my blog.

Last Tuesday, one of my blog readers who is Jewish left a heartfelt comment about what I had written about Pam Jenoff’s historical novel, The Woman with the Blue Star, in my July 12, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in June 2021.

That reader has more intimate knowledge of the Holocaust than I have and, through an acquaintance who lived in the Krakow sewers, says that the premise of Ms. Jenoff’s book is impossible. I read Ms. Jenoff’s novel as a work of fiction, knowing the story was not true. I didn’t think about the possibility that some readers would be offended by the premise of the book. Prior to reading the novel, I wasn’t aware that some of the Jews in Poland had to hide for their lives in the nasty city sewers. For Ms. Jenoff’s bringing that fact to my attention, I am grateful.

This comment and my response to it served is a reminder about historical fiction – and it’s important to me as a fan of the genre and also a writer of it.

The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

In fairness to Pam Jenoff, I heard her interviewed about her process in writing this novel. She did extensive research. It is a fact that some Jews took refuge in the sewers in Poland. There were many anti-Semitic people in Poland, but there were also sympathetic Poles who risked their lives to try to save Jews.

I heard Ms. Jenoff interviewed about this novel some weeks ago. I wish I’d taken some notes, so I could share them with you and with the reader who contacted me last week.


Admitting my own bias

I have lived my entire life in North Carolina. Two older ladies were friends of my family. By older, I mean older. Sisters, they were born in 1883 and 1888. Their father fought for the South in the American Civil War. Those sisters drilled it into me that it was “the War Between the States” and not “the Civil War.” That statement was always followed quickly with, “There was nothin’ civil about it.”

That really made an impression on me and even recently I’ve referred to the American Civil War as “the War Between the States.” I’ve written it that way in various things I’ve written and self-published.

I now see my bias. In the future, I will refer to it as “the American Civil War” or “the US Civil War.” It was a war between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America. For me to call it anything else is to twist history and reveal my bias.

I think it was Oprah Winfrey who said, “When you know better, you do better.” Those are words I try to live by. I hope I never get too old to learn new things and new ways to look at things.


The unwritten pact between fiction author and reader

A reader of historical fiction should always keep in mind that they’re reading fiction. Fiction is made up. It’s a story created in the author’s mind; however, there is an unwritten pact between the author and the reader. There should be enough factual information – whether in event or time and place – that the reader can trust that the story is plausible.

It is incumbent upon the writer of historical fiction to do due diligence in research. I heard author Sharyn McCrumb speak a few years ago about her research and writing methodology. As an aspiring historical fiction writer, I was impressed with all she said.

One thing Ms. McCrumb said, though, stood out and remains in the back of my head. I think about it as I’m doing my research, and I think about it every time I hear someone say they don’t read historical fiction. They often go on to say they only read history books.

Ms. McCrumb’s statement that stood out to me that evening was that (and I paraphrase) some historical fiction is better researched than some history books.


History books and their bias

We only need to stop and think about some of the history textbooks we had 50 or 60 years ago. (I can’t speak for the content of current school curriculum history textbooks.) Aside from the recitation of dates of birth and death of persons of alleged import and the dates of battles and the like, much of the way history was presented to students depended upon the author’s point-of-view. Textbooks are usually written from the winner’s perception.

For example, the textbooks I had as a student presented the white settlers’ “conquering” of the frontier as a positive thing. No time was spent trying to view the 1600s to the present through the eyes of a Native American. If the Cherokee Trail of Tears was even mentioned, it was only in passing.

Some Southerners still maintain that the American Civil War was fought over “states’ rights.” (Many of those same people still refer to that war as “the War of Northern Aggression.”)  I have relatives who still maintain that as the truth and will argue me down that it had nothing to do with slavery. Some people learned certain things about the Civil War and no facts today will change their minds.

If we are to be true students of history, I believe we should read both sides of the story. Both sides are tainted by the personal experience of the writer but, by the same token, both sides of the story probably contain some truth.

The antebellum American South has been romanticized to the hilt by such novels as Gone With the Wind. Confederate generals have been portrayed as dashing and religious Southern gentleman who fought for the honor of hearth and home. In some cases, that’s who they were. But they were basically fighting to maintain the status quo. Even if they didn’t own slaves, they didn’t have any quarrel with the institution of slavery. The economy was built upon it. What would happen if there were no slaves? They couldn’t imagine such a world.

Renowned historical novelist James Alexander Thom wrote a book called The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction. In it, he wrote the following: “History contains many errors because each person sees the same incident differently or remembers it differently. History textbooks are biased depending on the agenda of the writer, the publisher, the state, the school board.”


What James Alexander Thom wrote about historical fiction

The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, by James Alexander Thom

Here are four quotes from The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, by James Alexander Thom:

But fiction is not the opposite of truth. Fiction means ‘created by imagination.’ And there is plenty of evidence everywhere in literature and art that imagination can get as close to truth as studious fact-finding can.”

“Most early American white men thought women should be seen but not heard. As a historical novelist, you might wish to make your hero ‘politically correct’ by today’s standards, but if you do that, you’ll be lying to your readers.”

To be really good historical novelists, though (and that’s what I want us to be), we have to take our obligation to historical truth just as seriously as the historians do theirs. But we don’t have to bear the burden of being the authority on every factual detail. Our disclaimer is right there on the cover: a novel.”

But here’s the key: Whether your historical story is ancient or recent history, what you want to do is re-create it in full – live, colorful, smelly, noisy, savory, painful, repugnant, scary, all the ways it actually was – and then set the reader down smack in the midst of it.”

I’ve referred to James Alexander Thom in a number of my blog posts over the years. One of them was my February 12, 2019 blog post, Two for Tuesday: Two Books that Helped Me Fall in Love with Reading.


Until my next blog post

Time will tell what my blog will be about next Monday. I hope you’ll come back next week to find out.

I’ll continue to read and write historical fiction. Mr. Thom says good historical novelists are respected by historians. That’s what I aspire to be.

Let me know what you like or don’t like about my blog. I’m especially trying to reach people who like reading historical fiction and have an interest in Early American history. I also enjoy exploring current events and discussing them with people from around the world. It amazes me every week to see that people from around the world have read my blog. In that respect alone, I think blogging and the internet are wondrous avenues for the sharing of ideas.

You never know. A comment you make about one of my blog posts might stop me in my tracks and force me to dig a little deeper into a subject or even admit I’ve been wrong.

Thank you for reading my blog. All comments, opinions, criticisms, and corrections are welcome.

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in June 2021

My blog post last Monday was about three historical novels I read in June, so today’s post is about the other four novels I read last month. I was amazed at how many good books I got to read or listen to.


The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

As an aspiring novelist, I really enjoyed this book. The premise of The Plot is that a wannabe writer teaches writing one summer at a failing college in Vermont. One of his students is a real pain in the neck but a good writer.

The student shared with the instructor his idea for a novel. The instructor thought it was a brilliant idea. When the instructor found out the student had died and supposedly left no living relatives, the instructor writes a novel based on the student’s plot. He becomes famous and is much sought after. Just as his second novel is to be released, though, he receives a scary message: “You’re a thief.”

I think I’ll stop there and let you read the book to find out what happens. Is the writing instructor really a thief? And are the messages coming from his student’s long-lost niece or someone else? The ending surprised me.


The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

After liking Kelly Rimmer’s earlier historical novels, The Things We Cannot Say (See my September 9, 2019 blog post: #BringBackOurGirls) and Before I Let Her Go (See my October 7, 2019 blog post: Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month) I got on the waitlist at the public library for her new novel, The Warsaw Orphan, as soon as it showed up on the library’s catalog as having been order. I was able to check out the book on CD a couple of weeks ago, and it did not disappoint.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading novels set in World War II Europe. This story grabbed my attention immediately and never lagged. Sometimes plots lag in the middle of a book, but not this one.

As you might surmise from the title, this novel is set in Warsaw, Poland beginning in the spring of 1942. Elzbieta Rabinek is a teen girl who grows more and more afraid of the German police patrolling the city streets and ever more aware of and concerned for the Jews who were confined in the ghetto behind the city wall.

You’ll find that Elzbieta is not necessarily who she passes as, and this is the case for more than one major character in the book. She befriends a young man who lives in the ghetto while she volunteers with a nurse who is secretly smuggling children out of the ghetto. There is danger, terror, and courage at every turn. This book will keep you turning the pages or wanting to listen to “just one more CD” before you turn the light off at night.


The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

I’ll start by saying this novel is not a pleasant read, but it’s an important historical novel. It opened my eyes to the horrors of the Jews who escaped capture by the Nazis by hiding in the sewers. This is unimaginable to me, but it is true.

The book brings out the stench and filth in which these people lived for more than a year. In that respect, the sewer itself becomes a character in the book. The protagonist, Sadie, is a teen girl who looks up through a sewer grate one day and sees a girl, Ella, about her age. Sadie and Ella make eye contact and Ella returns to the grate to look down into the sewer to talk to Sadie. Ella’s family is not Jewish and they enjoy a comfortable life. Both girls must keep their friendship secret.

The Jews hiding in the sewer are at the mercy of a young man who brings them scraps of food. It is barely enough to keep them alive. To compound the situation, Sadie’s mother is pregnant.

This story is filled with suspense. The ending was bittersweet, but I loved the epilogue.

I’ve read and enjoyed two of Pam Jenoff’s other novels, The Orphan’s Tale (See my August 7, 2017 blog post, Late July Reading) and The Lost Girls of Paris (See my May 3, 2021 blog post, 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.)


Local Woman Missing, by Mary Kubica

Local Woman Missing, by Mary Kubica

I’d heard and read good things about this novel and looked forward to listening to it. I had trouble keeping up with whose point-of-view I was hearing, though, so I returned the book on CD to the public library.

Reading the printed book might be easier, when I get a chance to do that. I think the problem was mine and not the writer’s. With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I sometimes have concentration difficulties.

One thing in the book made me laugh out loud. You may recall that on March 29, 2021, my blog post title was #Idiom: As All Get Out. Several of you responded to let me know you’d never heard that expression before, while others said that you had but not in a long time. I was absolutely delighted that one of the characters in Local Woman Missing used “as all get out” several times.

I’ll probably give this book another chance when I can read it on my Kindle and adjust the font size.

Since my last blog post

I’ve worked on my historical novel manuscript. It feels great to be back on it! I’ve arranged for a professional editor to evaluate the first 50 pages of my 303-page manuscript. I’ll let you know what she has to say about it in a future blog post.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. I’m reading several.

I hope you’ve been able to get your Covid-19 vaccination, if you’re health allows you to take it. Variants of the virus will continue to develop until a greater percentage of us receive the vaccine. How fortunate we are to live in the 21st century when such vaccines are possible!

Enjoy your week, whatever you’re doing.

Janet

3 Historical Novels I Read in June 2021

I read a bunch of good books in June, so without any delay I’ll jump right in to tell you what I thought of three of them.


The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian

The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian

I hardly know what to say about this debut historical novel by Kelly Mustian, a native of Mississippi. Wow! What a great book!

I’ll be careful not to give away anything about the plot. Ada is a white teen. Matilda is a black teen just a little older than Ada. They both live along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi in the early 1920s. When the book begins, they don’t know each other.

A string of ill-fated events throw the girls together in the stilt shack Ada lives in on the swamp. Both of them have secrets, some of which they don’t learn about one another until near the end of the book.

This book will keep you turning pages and yearning for Ada and Matilda to get the opportunities they deserve to have better lives. Ms. Mustian is a true wordsmith. She writes beautifully and even weaves a touch of humor here and there in this book of tragedies. She carefully crafted every sentence. I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!


The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh

The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh

The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh was inspired by true events in Belfast during the early days of World War II.

Denise Weston Austin was one of the first female zookeepers at the Belfast Zoo. Ms. Austin took a baby elephant named Sheila out of the zoo so she could escape being killed when the Ireland government ordered the zoo animals to be killed after Germany started bombing Belfast.

Government officials feared that if the zoo enclosures were damaged in future bombings, the animals could escape and pose a threat to local residents. Ms. Austin took the elephant to her home north of Belfast!

Author Sheila Kirk Walsh took that information and more historical facts and wove a fascinating novel about a fictional character – Hettie Quin — based on Denise Weston Austin and Violet – the name of the elephant in the book.

It was a frightening time with much death and destruction in Belfast. Ms. Walsh drew on her own experience in Manhattan on 9/11 to bring to this novel a feeling of insecurity and not knowing what might happen next.

There is depth to this novel, as Hettie Quin loses much that is near and dear to her. She not only saves Violet, Violet saves her.

Charlotte McCurry read the book for the CD edition. Her lovely Irish brogue added an air of authenticity to the story.

My apologies to Ms. Walsh. I was unable to capture a clear photograph of the book.


The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

The premise of this novel enticed me to check it out. It’s based on a real event. In 1937, during the Second Sino-China War, university students and faculty members took 500-year-old Chinese writings (“the Library of Legends”) more than 1,000 miles on foot in an effort to save them from the bombings of the major cities by the Japanese. The premise intrigued me.

What I didn’t know, was that these ancient writings were just that: legends. Some of those legends are interwoven into the book. While that fantasy element appeals to some readers, it doesn’t especially appeal to me. I’m just not a fan of fantasy novels.

That said, I enjoyed the parts of the book that described the actual arduous journey taken by a group from one university, but I found myself skipping the pages about the legends. Halfway through the book, I stopped to read reviews of the novel. Some reviewers loved it because it is a combination historical novel/fantasy novel, while others disliked it for that very reason. I’m afraid I fall into that second camp.

It is said that China was fighting two wars at the same time. They were fighting Japan and they were fighting to keep communism out of their country. The communist influence is brought out in the book.

It was definitely worth my while to read as much of this book as I did. I learned something about Chinese history. It amazes me that university students and faculty members walked more than 1,000 miles in order to save some of the most treasured Chinese writings. I had no idea!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Remember – you don’t have to finish reading a book just because you started reading it. That’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn. I don’t know why. That lesson finally became real to me last month when I was able to walk away from The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang. I had learned what I was meant to learn from it.

I’m listening to Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. I highly recommend it!

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

I hope you enjoy your vocation or your retirement, and that you have time to enjoy a hobby.

Janet

The Attraction of the “Warmth of the Other Sun” in Washington, DC

My planned topic for today’s blog post was #OnThisDay: World War I Treaty of Versailles; however, a book I started reading earlier this month and hope to finish in July pulled at my heartstrings and begged to be written about. The name of the book is The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.

One of my blogger friends, Janet Givens (author of LEAPFROG: How to Hold a Civil C Conversation in an Uncivil Era) moderates a group on Zoom the second Wednesday night of each month for 10 months this year. I’m privileged to be in the group. We’re from varied backgrounds and regions of the country; however, I am the lone Southerner. This puts added pressure on me to make interesting and intelligent contributions to the discussions. Being the introvert that I am, this isn’t easy.

Each month, we discuss a different chapter in Janet’s book. The group is all-female and there are no people of color. Since race relations is such an important and difficult issue in our society today, our discussions often evolve into that subject matter. I’m making some strides to help the others in the group see that all white people from the South aren’t bigots.

During our group discussion in May, one of the members said she was reading and highly recommended The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. I immediately got on the waitlist for it at the public library. I’m so glad I did.


The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson

I read the first 50 pages of this nonfiction book and the notes about the author’s methodology on my Kindle before it had to be returned to the library. I was captivated by the subject matter: The Great Migration of black Americans from the South to points north and west from 1910 into the 1970s.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

The author interviewed more than 1,200 people and did extensive research. It had to be a labor of love and devotion because the miles and decades involved in The Great Migration would have deterred most researchers. The book is beautifully and artfully written and puts names and personalities on the stories of the hardships these migrants faced in the South and the courage and desperation it took for them to leave the only homes and people they knew and to strike out in search of a better life in other regions of the United States.

The Jim Crow laws and unwritten laws and policies in the South were the driving force in The Great Migration.


The Govan brothers of Harrisburg, North Carolina

Reading this book brought to mind a story a black man in his 90s told me around 2010 when I was a freelance local history columnist for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper in Harrisburg, North Carolina. Mr. George Govan graciously allowed me to visit him on numerous occasions and ask him anything I wanted to about his life. We talked about race, and he helped me realize what a privileged life I’d lived due to the color of my skin.

One of the stories Mr. Govan shared with me was about one of his older brothers. I won’t give his brother’s name in this blog post out of respect for the man’s privacy, although I’m quite certain he’s no longer living.

When I interviewed Mr. Govan, I’d never heard the term “The Great Migration,” so I didn’t make a connection at the time. A few pages into The Warmth of Other Suns, I couldn’t help but recall what Mr. Govan had told me about his brother.

Without giving any advance indication that he planned to leave Harrisburg, North Carolina, George Govan’s older brother stopped plowing with a mule in the middle of a field in 1929 or 1930, shrugged out of the straps of the plowing apparatus, walked several miles into town, and hopped a northbound train.

Photo credit: AG ZN on unsplash.com

When George got home from school that afternoon, his father told him that his brother had left and now, in the ninth grade, George would have to quit school and do the farm work his brother had been doing.

It would be two years before the family would learn that George’s brother had made it to Washington, DC. There, he struggled for years before making a good life for himself and his family.

What struck me about that story is that George Govan felt no ill will toward his brother. I’m not sure I would have been that gracious and forgiving if my older brother or sister had left me in a situation that made it necessary for me to have to quit school in the ninth grade.

In my many conversations with Mr. Govan, I never picked up on any bitterness in his heart although, as a black man born in 1917, he certainly had numerous excuses for being bitter if he had chosen that life path.

Since my last blog post

Our computer printer suddenly stopped working one day. Going a week without a printer can drive a writer to distraction. At least, that’s what it did to me.

I’ve been reading, reading, reading.

When I’m not reading, I’m eating tomatoes, squash, okra, and corn from the local farmers market. Nothing can beat that first tomato sandwich of the summer or that first bite of bi-color corn-on-the cob.

Until my next blog post

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that tomorrow would have been my father’s 110th birthday. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 66 in 1977. He and Mama both instilled in me a love of history and reading. My mother was an author in her own right, and I’m very proud today of the church history she wrote in 1976.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve had many good ones to read in May, and I can’t wait to tell you about them in my blog posts on July 5 and 12.

Were you or were members of your family part of The Great Migration? Did you know people of color who left the South and moved west or north between 1910 and into the 1970s?  I’d love to hear your stories.

If you don’t wish to share your stories with me online, please take time to tell the younger people in your family about your experiences. Also, write them down. You can do it! Your written memories will be a wonderful gift to leave your family.

Janet

What’s Juneteenth and Why Did I Just Hear About It?

I had planned to blog about this being the 234th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution today, but some of my #OnThisDay blog posts have not gone over very well. 

U.S. President Joe Biden signed Juneteenth into law as a federal holiday last week. It was celebrated on Saturday, June 19 as an official holiday for the first time. This seemed like a more timely topic than the ratification of the United States Constitution.


When I heard of Juneteenth

I’m not sure, but I think last year was the first I’d heard of Juneteenth. Or maybe it was mentioned on a news broadcast a year or two before that. The first time I heard of it is immaterial. My point is that I was approximately 65 years old when I first heard of the celebration, and that is inexcusable.

In order to understand the significance of Juneteenth, one must know about the Emancipation Proclamation.


What the Emancipation Proclamation Did and Didn’t Do

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. In part, it declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Word of the freeing of the slaves spread slowly. Communication was much different in 1863 than in 2021. Plus, the Confederate States of America did not recognize Abraham Lincoln as their president.

The Emancipation Proclamation was limited in ways that are often glossed over. It only applied to the states that had seceded from the United States. That meant that slavery was still legal in the border states. Southern secessionist states that had come under Northern control by January 1, 1863, were also exempt. Additionally, the freedom of the slaves depended upon the eventual military victory of the United States over the Confederacy.

The Emancipation Proclamation gave the Northern troops and citizens an added incentive for victory over the South. As Northern troops advanced, the freedom of slaves expanded. The Proclamation also made it possible for black men to join the United States Army and Navy.


What is Juneteenth?

I’m ill-equipped to explain Juneteenth, but this is what I’ve learned so far…

Federal troops reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, and made it known to slaves there that President Lincoln had declared them free on January 1, 1863 – some two-and-a-half years earlier.

Since June 19, 1866, June 19 has been celebrated as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Juneteenth by black Americans. Most of their white counterparts, though, remained ignorant of the date’s significance until very recent history.

I don’t recall the mention of June 19, 1865 or Juneteenth in any history text book I ever had in elementary school, high school, or college.

Why is that?

The answer is simple. History books have always been written by white men. (I started to say “white people,” but “white men” seemed more accurate. I don’t remember ever having a history textbook written by a woman.)

That’s why the American populous has not been taught about the accomplishments of black Americans. It’s why it is now necessary for us to have Black History Month in February.


Where do we go from here?

Photo credit: Logan Weaver on unsplash.com

As long as black and brown Americans are by in large excluded from the decision-making process (such as voter suppression) and are elected to public office in miniscule numbers compared to their proportion of the population, the entire population will suffer. We’ll continue to just learn the history of white America. We’ll all suffer because the talents and ideas of black and brown Americans will be excluded from the workings of government and business.

It’s not enough not to be a racist. We must strive to be anti-racists. And beyond that, those of us who are white need to take anti-racism a step further. We need to be allies. That means when we’re in a situation where someone says something derogatory about people of another race, it is incumbent upon us to speak up against such talk. We need to have the courage to speak up for our fellow human beings who are being maligned.

Our silence is not only complacency, it signals our agreement, compliance, and acquiescence.

Our silence will convict us.

Instead of making snide remarks or having malevolent thoughts about the new Juneteenth holiday, let’s embrace it and learn from it.


Since my last blog post

Our almost-13-year-old rescue dog is hanging in there. The week before last, he spent four days in the hospital due to erratic glucose levels. He’s a diabetic. We’re starting to understand how sick he can become in just a matter of minutes.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Among other things, I’m reading The Girls in the Stilt House, a debut novel by Kelly Mustian. She really has a talent for painting pictures with words.

Those of you living in the northern hemisphere, I hope you have a pleasant summer. Those of you living in the southern hemisphere, I don’t envy you. You know I’m not fond of cold weather.

Wherever you live, make the most of this week. I intend to get back to work on my historical novel.

Janet

3 Books I Tried to Listen To in May

I tend to only borrow library books that I think I’ll like. Once in a while, I’m led astray. I attempted to read eight books in May. Five of them were winners. The other three just weren’t my “cup of tea” – at least the mode in which I tried to listen to two of them just didn’t work out.

After waiting for weeks to get to the top of the waitlist at the public library for most of the books I read or listen to, it’s disappointing when one doesn’t meet my expectations. Please read on, though, for one of these might be just what you’re looking for. And each of them might be great reads in print.


Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

I’ll admit up front that I did not get through even half of this book. After hearing and seeing Chris Bohjalian interviewed online recently, I decided to give one of his novels a try. I found that the public library had Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands on Playaway and I needed a book I could listen to while I walk or do yardwork. This book fit the bill. I checked it out without knowing what the storyline was.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian

It’s written in first person from the viewpoint of a teen girl. That can’t be easy for a male writer to do, but Mr. Bohjalian pulls it off.

Emily is at school when the nearby nuclear power plant experiences a meltdown. Her parents work at the plant and it is immediately speculated that her father is responsible for the accident. Knowing in her heart that both her parents were killed in the accident, Emily strikes out on her own rather than being evacuated to a shelter with her classmates.

I had problems with the Playaway device itself. It kept malfunctioning. At chapter nine, I gave up. I think there are 21 chapters.

My other problem with the book was the language. I know there are teen girls who use excessive foul language, but I decided I didn’t need to listen to anymore of it.

I’ll just leave it at that.


Band of Sisters, by Lauren Willig

Band of Sisters is Lauren Willig’s 27th published novel, but it’s the first one I’ve read. It has received rave reviews – and rightfully so. I listened to it on CD.

Band of Sisters, by Lauren Willig

This historical novel is based on a group of students from the all-female Smith College who volunteered to go to France during World War I to aide civilians displaced by the war. Being from Smith College, they came from wealthy families. I had trouble identifying with any of the students except for Katie, who was not from a rich family.

This failure on my part to identify with most of the characters left me feeling a little disappointed in the book. I just wasn’t able to suspend memories of my own experience of working my way through college and graduate school enough to put myself in the shoes of these wealthy young women. That’s my problem, not the author’s fault.

I will give Lauren Willig’s novels another chance. She is obviously a talented historical fiction author. Reading novels about wealthy people just isn’t interesting to me, usually. Reading about privileged white college women in 1918 didn’t interest me enough to finish listening to this book. It’s well-written and inspired by a true story, but the privileged attitudes of some of the students irritated me. I had to work my way through college, so I can’t identify with the students in this novel.


The Last Green Valley, by Mark T. Sullivan

This is a book I’d looked forward to listening to but, like I mentioned about the audio recording of Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey in an earlier blog post, there were so many extremes in volume on this CD that I just couldn’t deal with it.

The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan

I really liked Mark T. Sullivan’s earlier novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky. If you’d like to read my comments about it, here’s a link to my January 13, 2019 blog post, The Other Books I Read in December 2019.

The Last Green Valley is probably equally as good as Beneath a Scarlet Sky. I just thought I’d mention my experience with this book on CD in case you also depend upon audiobooks.


Since my last blog post

Update on that new air fryer/toaster oven: I’m happy to report that I’ve gained confidence and understanding, and this new “gizmo” doesn’t intimidate me anymore. That said, I admit I haven’t yet tried the rotisserie feature.

We’ve weathered yet another health crisis with our almost 13-year-old diabetic rescue dog. He spent another night in a specialty veterinary hospital in Charlotte. If you live in the Charlotte area, I hope your regular vet will refer you to Charlotte Animal Referral and Emergency (CARE) when your pet needs specialized care. They’re great! They’ve saved our dog’s life three times since last August.

Except for printing spine labels for the five archival binders for our 96-year-old friend’s love letters between him and his wife during the Korean War, my sister and I have finished that project. Their more than 200 letters to each other from 1951 until early 1953 have now been organized and put in archival-quality sleeves in binders. He and we can only hope that his descendants will appreciate the treasure these letters are.

My fibromyalgia flare continues and is making it difficult to chew even soft food. I know this is probably just a temporary flare. It will pass. I just need faith and patience to supplement the pain medications.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve reached the top of the library waitlist for a half-dozen audiobooks at the same time. Too bad I can’t listen to one book with my right ear and another book with my left ear! I finished listening to The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh. It’s a wonderful novel inspired by a true story about an elephant in the Belfast Zoo in 1940.

For those of you living in the northern hemisphere, I hope you’re having a splendid summer after being confined for so long due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t have any trips planned, but I’m making the most of these warm, sunny days with fewer face-covering restrictions.

For those of you in the southern hemisphere, I learned on Friday that the National Geographic Society has named the Southern Ocean around Antarctica as Earth’s fifth ocean. I must be getting old. Since I was in school, Pluto has lost its designation as a planet and Earth no longer has just four oceans. This is proof that we should never stop learning new things.

Until next Monday,

Janet

5 Books I Read in May 2021

I had more books from the public library in May than I could read, but I gave it my best shot. Some appealed to me more than others, of course. I’ll dive right into the five I finished reading. The other three, I’ll save for next Monday’s blog post.


The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth

The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth

I listened to this new novel by Australian author Sally Hepworth. I’ve liked all her books. (The Things We Keep, The Mother-in-Law, The Mother’s Promise, and The Family Next Door.)

Rose and Fern Castle are twins in The Good Sister. Fern works in a library and is tied to a predictable routine. Rose has always sort of looked out for her. When it becomes clear that Rose cannot have children, Fern takes it upon herself to find a man with whom she can have a baby for Rose. This is her chance to do something for Rose.

The man Fern chooses for this mission is somewhat odd in his own right, and their unorthodox lifestyle together is cause for some raised eyebrows in the neighborhood. There are twists and turns in this story and it soon becomes difficult to discern which one is “the good sister.” It depends on what is meant by “good sister.”


Fatal Scores, by Mark de Castrique

Fatal Scores, by Mark de Castrique

A member of the citizen volunteer organization River Watchers is discovered dead in the Pigeon River near Asheville, North Carolina, downstream from a paper mill. In the middle of investigating that death, private detectives Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robinson are recruited to investigate a death threat made against a visiting musician from Cincinnati.

At first, I wondered why Mr. de Castrique was taking me down the rabbit hole about the musician; however, there are some interesting turns of events through which certain characters are found to be acquaintances.

Fatal Scores is the eighth in Mr. de Castrique’s Sam Blackman series of novels. If you like a good mystery or books set in my native state of North Carolina, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s not necessary for you to have read the earlier books in the series, but they’re all entertaining.


A Million Reasons Why, by Jessica Strawser

A Million Reasons Why, by Jessica Strawser

Imagine you discover through a DNA analysis that you have a half-sibling through your father. Take it to the next step and ask your parents about it. Boom! Things don’t go well, to say the least.

In this age of DNA testing, this scenario isn’t so far-fetched. Jessica Strawser takes the idea and weaves a heart-wrenching novel in A Million Reasons Why.

Everyone in your family, including your husband, want you to just forget the whole thing. Take it another step and you find out your newfound half-sister needs a kidney.

I hope I’ve told you just enough that you’ll want to read the book. I’ve left out a lot of the twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages to see what happens next.

Like Fatal Scores, by Mark de Castrique, A Million Reasons Why primarily takes place in the mountains of western North Carolina – specifically in Brevard and Asheville.


Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova

Remember, by Lisa Genova

If you read my blog posts regularly, you may recall that I drew extensively from Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova in my May 24, 2021 post, What’s Your Earliest Memory? Here’s Mine.

I won’t repeat the examples I used in that post, but suffice it to say this is little book is packed with understandable details about how our brains work – how memories are formed, how they’re stored, how they can be forgotten when Alzheimer’s Disease sets in.

The book says that retrieval of a memory is made easier if we put it in context, that is, in association with time or place. “We see this phenomenon with prospective (what you plan to do), episodic (what happened), semantic (information you know), and muscle (how to do things) memories.”

One of the many things I did not mention in my May 24 blog post was how Dr. Genova writes about how to best learn something new. How I wish someone had told me this when I was in high school or college! I never did know how to truly study.

Dr. Genova says in her book that the best way to commit something to memory is to do over it repeatedly and quiz yourself about it. If you do that, it’s much more likely to stay with you than my technique which was usually cramming the night before an exam.

Dr. Genova gives reassurance that we all have instances where something is on “the tip of the tongue,” but we can’t quite retrieve it. She says that’s normal and no reason to panic

The book also addresses forgetting. Dr. Genova says, “An intelligent memory system not only remembers information but also actively forgets whatever is no longer useful.”

In the book’s appendix, Dr. Genova gives 16 specific things you can do to improve your memory. She also lists seven pages of suggested reading, in case you want to learn more than she covers in her book.

Truly, fascinating stuff.

Lisa Genova will be interviewed by AARP online tomorrow at 7:00pm Eastern Time. Here’s a link, if you’d like to register to watch and listen to this interview for free: https://local.aarp.org/vcc-event/aarp-presents-a-conversation-with-lisa-genova-lnn7nlnny5l.html. According to the website, a recording of the live interview will be available for viewing for two weeks after the event.


Sooley, by John Grisham

Sooley, by John Grisham

I’m a basketball fan, but even I had trouble getting into this latest book by John Grisham. In fact, I came close to giving up on it and returning it to the public library before I finished listening to the first of the nine compact discs. I’m not sure someone who isn’t a basketball fan will hang in there long enough to start caring about the main character: Sooley.

That said, I’m so glad I gave it another chance. I was soon completely captivated by the gripping story of Sooley’s personal history in war-torn South Sudan. Sooley plays on a basketball team in South Sudan, but his coach thinks he has great potential and a possible opportunity to play in the United States.

While on a basketball trip to America, Sooley’s hometown is destroyed. He desperately wants to go home and look for his family, but it’s too dangerous. One thing leads to another, and coach of HBC (Historically Black College) North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham takes a chance on him.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I won’t give any other details. Mr. Grisham is a master of suspense. Even though Sooley is not his typical novel in that it’s not a legal thriller, it will keep you turning pages (or putting the next CD in the player) because you can’t wait to find out what happens next to Sooley and what happens next to his family members who survived the original attack but are still in Africa.

Part of the book is blow-by-blow accounts of the action in NCCU games against such collegiate basketball giants as “that other school in Durham.” It reminded me of the old days when few basketball games were televised and one’s only choice to follow away games was to listen on the radio.

That comparison really came to life since I was listening to the book on CD. The writing is spot-on and the professional reader who did the CD version, Dion Graham, did a superb job. I felt like I was listening to an actual game.

If you aren’t a basketball fan, please give this novel a chance anyway. It would be a shame for you to miss this story just because you aren’t a sports fan.

Dion Graham does a superb job reading Sooley for the audio version. He not only brought the ballgame play-by-play to life; he brought each character alive through the dialogue.


Since my last blog post

Life here in North Carolina is getting back to a semblance of normal, since the COVID-19 pandemic is getting under control. Those of us who have been fully vaccinated are under no restrictions except we must abide by any safeguards in place when we visit a grocery store, pharmacy, or other business or public building with strict rules about face masks, etc.

We had a cookout at our church last Wednesday night and it was great to be able to sit at a table and eat hamburgers, hotdogs, and watermelon with friends I’d rarely seen in the last 16 months. I look forward to the day I’ll feel it’s safe to sit in a restaurant around strangers again. I’m not there yet.

Our home toaster oven broke. Something on the inside broke (I heard it) and after that the door wouldn’t close. It served us well for many years, and I used it almost every day. It was so simple. I didn’t appreciate it until it broke. It had knobs on it so you could set the temperature, timer, and function. Life was good. It was a simpler time.

In looking online for a replacement, I had the bright idea to purchase a little appliance that is a combination toaster oven/air fryer. Well, let me tell you – there is a learning curve to operating this electronic gizmo. I believe it has more options than I’m capable of using, but I’m trying something new in it each day. It’s sort of like learning a new language, so perhaps it’s making my brain grow. Perhaps by this time next year I won’t have to read the owner’s manual every time I use it.

I follow the delightful blog of Sally Cronin of Ireland. Her blog, “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life” is always something fresh and entertaining. I especially liked something she quoted from fantasy author D. Wallace Peach in her blog post on May 31, 2021 (https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2021/05/31/smorgasbord-blogger-daily-monday-31st-may-2021-bookreviews-d-wallace-peach-bookreviews-d-wallace-peach-planes-jim-borden-travel-pete-springer/,)

Ms. Peach had written that she and her husband named their deck “vacation” so they could “go on vacation” and read. Don’t you just love that? I think I’ll name our side porch “vacation,” so I can go on vacation this summer!


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

Look for the positives along your way this week. Try not to let the negatives get you down. Life is short.

If you don’t have a hobby, find one. Find something to do that will make your brain grow.

Janet

Bibliophobia and Scriptophobia/Graphophobia

Before I jump into today’s topic, I’ll tell you what I went through in preparing a blog post for today.

You can’t always trust the printed word. I read in a book (not on the much-maligned internet) that the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified on May 31, 1913. In fact, I wrote a 702-word blog post about it for today.

It turns out that it was ratified on April 8, 1913, and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan officially announced its ratification on May 31, 1913.

Photo credit: Anthony Garand on unsplash.com

“#OnThisDay: 17th Amendment’s Ratification Announced” just doesn’t have the same blog title punch as “#OnThisDay: 17th Amendment Ratified, 1913.” Upon discovering my mistake last Monday night, I had to find a new topic for today’s post.

For those of you who are dying to know all about the 17th Amendment, don’t worry. I saved that blog post on my computer and will use it some other time – perhaps when I’m in a bind and can’t think of a blog post topic. It will pop up when you least expect it.


What about today’s blog topic?

When I learn something new about reading or writing, I like to dig a little deeper and then write a blog post about it. If it’s news to me, perhaps it’s news to you, too. Let’s look into bibliophobia, scriptophobia, and graphophobia.


Bibliophobia

A few minutes after I discovered that my blog topic for today shouldn’t be the ratification of the 17th Amendment, my sister made me aware that reading is stressful for some people. We are both avid readers and were gobsmacked to learn this.

This is a real thing. Bibliophobia is a fear of books – and can be extended to a fear of reading or a fear of reading aloud in public. It probably affects more people than I can imagine.

Photo credit: Siora Photography on unsplash.com

The cause of bibliophobia is not certain, but it is thought that some people develop it after having an embarrassing experience when reading aloud. That negative experience is remembered by the brain and can come back when asked or told to read out loud in public again.

A person who has bibliophobia usually knows it is irrational to be afraid of books or afraid to read in public but is hard-pressed to do anything about it. The reaction this phobia causes can be both physical and psychological and be as severe as to cause panic attacks.


Scriptophobia or Graphophobia

Scriptophobia or Graphophobia is a fear of writing in public. I didn’t know this was a thing until I stumbled upon the words while researching bibliophobia. Ironically, I think I have it, at least to a degree.

Photo credit: Alvaro Serrano on unsplash.com

It makes me extremely uncomfortable for someone to watch me sign my name. This source of stress came to light in 2014 when my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina was published.

Photo credit: Marie Morrison

I had a book launch event and was thrilled when people lined up to buy my book and get me to autograph their copy. But as soon as the first person eagerly waited for me to sign their book, I nearly froze. I think that was the first time I realized I had a problem. I just didn’t know there was a name for it until last week.

When I have to sign a contract, application, or other such document, it is stressful because someone is usually watching me. I know this is irrational. Now that I know it has a name, I want to overcome it.


Treatment for Bibliophobia and Scriptophobia/Graphophobia

Recognizing you have such a phobia is Step One. Step Two is seeking treatment. According to what I’ve read this past week, cognitive behavior therapy and desensitization therapy are usually helpful in treating phobias like bibliophobia and scriptophobia.


Disclaimer

I am not a psychologist or a medical doctor, so the information in my blog post today is based entirely on sources I’ve read in the last week. The terms bibliophobia, scriptophobia, and graphophobia were new to me as of last Monday, and I just thought I’d blog a little about them today in case some of my blog readers weren’t familiar with the terms. If you have either of these two phobias, just know that there is help available. Perhaps I can get help to overcome my fear of signing my name in public before I have another book signing.


Since my last blog post

One of my great-nieces graduated from high school in Georgia on Thursday. I couldn’t be there in person, so I was delighted to be able to watch it live online. Two of my other great-nieces graduated from high school in past years. I couldn’t attend their commencement ceremonies either. Thanks to the expanded use of technology due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are enjoying the opportunity to watch such family milestones online. I hope school districts will continue to offer this service even after the pandemic is over.

Writing today’s blog post made me realize that we all have phobias. I not only fear writing my signature in front of someone, I also have a phone phobia. Email and texting have been a blessing for me.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I finished listening to A Million Reasons Why, by Jessica Strawser on CD last night, and I’m reading The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang on my tablet.

I’ve admitted some very private things in this blog post. I don’t expect any of you to tell me about your phobias when you leave a reply, but it helps me to know and might help you to know that a lot of people have at least one irrational phobia. Stop being hard on yourself or other people about their phobias. Most people are trying hard in this life and are doing the best they can.

If you know someone with bibliophobia or scriptophobia/graphophobia to the point it disrupts their lives, please encourage them to seek treatment. It makes me sad to know that there are people so afraid to read in public that it causes them mental and physical distress.

Trust me — it was easier to write 700 words about the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution than it was to write what I’ve posted today.

Note:  Get ready! June starts tonight at midnight. June is Audiobook Appreciation Month. As I’ve found it more and more difficult to read books in regular-sized print, I’ve come to appreciate audiobooks. I didn’t see that coming any more than I saw the topic of today’s blog post coming!

Janet

What’s Your Earliest Memory? Here’s Mine.

Allen Rizzi writes a blog that I follow. His post on March 30, 2021 (https://wordpress.com/post/janetswritingblog.com/17269) struck a chord with me and got me thinking. I made note of it so I could consider using the idea in one of my blog posts. I didn’t want to just duplicate the essence of Mr. Rizzi’s blog post, so I waited until I could put my own spin on it.

Mr. Rizzi asked his readers to share their earliest memories. The comments he received were surprising to me, for one woman remembered some details of a stay with her grandparents when she was nine months old. A man remembered his first ride in an airplane at the age of two.

I was amazed at both of those responses. I can’t remember anything from those early ages. I tried to think what my earliest memory was, but I was stumped for a few minutes.

My earliest memory

After pondering the question for a few minutes, I realized my earliest memory is of my Grandpa Morrison. He was the only one of my grandparents still living when I was born. He died when I was three years, five months, one week old.

Grandpa was unwell and pretty much bedridden by the time I was born. But he still had his cane. He spent his daytime hours in what is or was called a daybed. He kept his cane at easy reach. He didn’t shave every day.

My memories of him are specific: He delighted in taking the back of my tender little hand and rubbing it up his stubbled cheek to make me laugh. When I got within reach of his wooden cane, he delighted in tapping me lightly in the stomach to make me laugh.

Evaluating my earliest memory

I know what Grandpa looked like because I’ve seen photographs of him, but I have no recollection of what he looked like. Read that sentence again. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Taking it a step further, do you know why that sentence describes a distinct difference in memory? I didn’t understand the difference until I read Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova last week.

Dr.Genova is a neuroscientist and an excellent writer. She has to be an excellent writer if someone like me can understand what she’s trying to get across. Seriously. Understanding the intricacies of science was never my forte.

In her book, Dr. Genova explains how our brains create memories and store memories. She explains various types of memories: episodic, semantic, working, and “muscle” memory. She explains how working memory is able to retain a small number of items and for only 15 to 30 seconds.

Photo credit: David Matos on Unsplash.com

It was interesting for me to read in Dr. Genova’s book that the average age for one’s earliest episodic memory as an adult is three years old, so my memory of my grandfather was right on time.

Dr. Genova explains how we’re able to remember the details of an evening on the beach such as the smell of salt air, the name of the song playing, what we ate, and a child getting stung by a jellyfish. We remember that collection of details in an episodic memory; however, another person who was present on that same beach that same night might not remember what song was playing but they might remember there were mosquitoes. That’s because we each pay attention to different details.

The reason I remember my grandfather rubbing my tiny hand up he stubbled cheek and poking me gently in the stomach with his cane is probably because he did it repeatedly. It’s not that I remember “that time” he did it. I remember it because that’s the way in his bedridden state he was able to interact with me and the way it made me feel created a memory in my brain.

Grandpa couldn’t hold me on his lap. He couldn’t push me in a swing. He couldn’t play hide-and-seek with me. He did the two things he knew he could do that made me giggle. Once he did them once, he remembered they made me giggle. With that memory, he probably did those two things every time I visited him thereafter. In a fascinating way, his memory to do those things also prompted my brain to remember them. His memory of what made me laugh in turn made my brain create a memory.

One last word about my memories of my grandfather.

One of the last chapters in Dr. Genova’s book is about Alzheimer’s Disease. One point she makes about Alzheimer’s patients is that they might not remember for five minutes what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel. She refers to this as emotional memory.

I hope I’m not making an incorrect connection here – because my point has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s Disease — but this made me think about my memories of Grandpa Morrison. I don’t recollect what he looked like. I only know what he looked like from seeing photographs; however, I remember how he made me feel – even though I was only three years old when he died.

Back to Allen Rizzi’s blog post and my original question

Even after reading Dr. Genova’s book, I still marvel that a nine-month-old baby could years later remember her stay with her grandparents or that a two-year-old could remember an airplane ride, but I don’t doubt them because the brain is a complex and wondrous thing.

Photo credit: Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash.com

The more I learn about the brain, the more I’m in awe of it. To paraphrase something I heard Dr. Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and current Director of the National Institutes of Health, say in a speech at Queens University of Charlotte a few years ago: The more I learn about the human body, the more I’m convinced that there is a God who created it.

Since my last blog post

I have finished reading or continue to read a number of books. I’ll share with you more about Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova, in my blog post on June 7 or June 14 when I tell you about all the books I read in May.

Thank you, Allen Rizzi for inspiring me to write today’s blog post.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. In her book, Dr. Genova says that one way we can try to avoid getting Alzheimer’s Disease (unless we’re predisposed due to our DNA) is to read books like hers that teach us new things.

Celebrate life and look for the positives. Look for the wildflowers! My yard and the open meadow across the road from my house are full of them!

Note: June is Audiobook Appreciation Month. If you’ve never listened to a book, try it. You might like it!

Janet