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 finished 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

Opportunities to Hear Author Interviews

It occurred to me that some of you might not be aware of the multitude of opportunities online to hear and see authors being interviewed live online. I have found so many this spring that I created a calendar on which to pencil in the events so I won’t miss one.

Photo Credit: visuals on Unsplash.com

SIBA’S Reader Meet Writer Author Series

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) has many author interviews scheduled. In fact, they’re so prolific they’ve named the shows the Reader Meet Writer Author Series. They’re often publicized through the social media platforms of independent bookstores. They are free.

You just need to register through SIBA or your favorite independent bookstore’s website. Reminders are usually emailed to registrants the day of the interviews. Most are aired at 7pm on weeknights, but a few are during the day or on weekends.

Author Wiley Cash is the primary interviewer for the Reader Meet Writer Author Series. The SIBA Reader Meet Writer Author Series webpage is https://sibaweb.com/mpage/readermeetwriter, You can find past Reader Meet Writer Author Series interviews on YouTube.

Independent Bookstores’ Author Interviews

Look up the websites of various independent bookstores and check their events schedules. Then, sign up for their newsletters and/or their social media. You will then receive announcements of author interviews they’ve scheduled. As I write this, most of these are online-only events. It will be interesting to see how these events

Evolve as we come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope even as in-store author events return, they will also be live-streamed so a greater audience can take advantage of them.

Friends and Fiction

I’ve mentioned this weekly Facebook Live group before, but it bears mentioning again. Friends and Fiction is a group of five authors (Mary Alice Monroe, Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, and Patti Callahan Henry) who meet virtually at 7:00 p.m. ET every Wednesday to discuss books and writing. They have a guest author almost every week.

You can find them on Facebook and join their page in order to get their occasional announcements. I look forward to this week’s segment because Pam Jenoff, one of my favorite authors, is the guest author.

You may recall that I blogged about Ms. Jenoff’s book The Orphan’s Tale on August 7, 2017 (Late July Reading)  and The Lost Girls of Paris on May 3, 2021 (5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.) I’m on the waitlist at the public library for her new historical novel, The Woman with the Blue Star.

Just announced: You can now find the Friends and Fiction interviews anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Author Websites and Their Social Media

Go to the websites of the authors that interest you, and click on “Events.” You’ll not only find information about any of their upcoming in-person appearances but also their virtual appearances. You can follow your favorite authors on social media and learn of their appearances that way, too.

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A Sampling of Authors I’m Hearing This Week

Yesterday I heard Dr. Jane Woodall in conversation with Peter Wohlleben (The Hidden Life of Trees and his new book, The Heartbeat of Trees) via Eventbrite, thanks to Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colorado. It was fantastic and inspiring! It was organized by the Miami Book Fair. I blogged about The Hidden Life of Trees on June 2, 2017 (You Need to Read These Books!) People all over the world took advantage of this event. They signed in from The Netherlands, Austria, South Africa, Germany, Canada, and the United States. (And those were just the comments I noticed in the chat sidebar.)

I signed up for a Virtual Lunch with Mary Adkins (Privilege) today at 12:30 p.m. ET through Hub City Books in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I haven’t read any of Ms. Adkins’ books, so I look forward to learning about her and hearing her speak. She’s an author and a book coach.

As I mentioned above, on Wednesday night I’ll get to hear Pam Jenoff thanks to Friends and Fiction on Facebook Live.

Thursday at 11:00 I’ve signed up to hear Susan Meissner. I blogged about The Last Year of the War in my March 8, 2021 blog (4 Books I Read in February 2021) and The Nature of Fragile Things in my May 3, 2021 blog (5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.) I thoroughly enjoyed both these historical novels and I look forward to hearing her speak for the first time. She’ll be live online at 11:00 a.m. ET thanks to the Warren County District Public Library in Ohio.

Mary Alice Monroe will be interviewed and live-streamed via Zoom on YouTube at 3:00 p.m. ET on Friday. I learned about this event through Tattered Cover Books in Denver, Colorado. I blogged about one of Ms. Monroe’s books, The Butterfly’s Daughter in my September 7, 2020 blog (Books Read in August 2020.) Her new novel is The Summer of Lost and Found.

Next week I’m signed up to listen to an event about diversity in books and the power of books via Zoom and sponsored by Room to Read.

My in-person social calendar is still sparse due to the pandemic, but my online social calendar is full. Some days I have to choose between two author events that are scheduled for the same time.

Since my last blog post

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta announced that those of us who are fortunate enough to have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can safely go without face masks indoors and outdoors, except when visiting a business or facility that still requires masks. It was great to go to church yesterday and not wear a mask. It’s wonderful to see others’ smiling faces once again. It was great and strange all at the same time.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. As usual, I have several books going. I’m reading several, listening to one on CD, and yesterday started listening to one on Playaway so I can “read” while I walk or do yardwork. And yes, sometimes the story lines get confused. Or maybe I’m the one who gets confused.

Remember: This is Get Caught Reading Month, so try to get caught reading this week.

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in April 2021

I read more books than usual last month. Today’s post is about the four books I read that were not historical fiction. If you missed my blog last Monday about the five historical novels I read in April, here’s the link to it: 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.

Let’s jump right in!

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

I’m not sure how this 2018 book escaped my attention for three years. I’m just glad I stumbled upon it recently.

Edited by Deborah G. Plant with a foreword by Alice Walker, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is author and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s account of her numerous conversations with a man who was on the last slave ship from Africa to the United States.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

Bringing slaves into the United States was made illegal in 1808; however, the trade was not completely stopped just by making a law. In 1859, two brothers originally from Maine and their business partner originally from Nova Scotia, illegally transported 130 African slaves from the coast of Nigeria to Mobile, Alabama on board a ship named Clotilde.  Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is the story of a 19-year-old man who was on that last slave ship to come to the United States.

The man’s name was Kossola, but his American name was Cudgo Lewis. Zora Neale Hurston found out about him, and a benefactor made it financially possible for her to go to Alabama for an extended time in order to meet Kossola and form a relationship of trust with him in order to hear and record his life story.

Kossola’s story of life in Africa, his capture, and his Middle Passage transport to Alabama is bone chilling. The details of how he was captured by the army of the king of Dahomey aligns with the historical record of that ruthless African king and his blood thirsty army of women and men.

What an amazing gift Ms. Hurston left for us! We are fortunate that Kossola lived long enough that Ms. Hurston was able to visit him a number of times over a three-month period in 1927 and put his words on paper. Publishers wanted Ms. Hurston to “correct” Kossola’s words to proper English, but she stood her ground and insisted that his words by pronunciation be preserved in the book.

I couldn’t help but think about the blog post I wrote two weeks ago (Censorship and Reader Sensitivities) and how appropriate I think it was for history’s sake for Kossola’s words to be recorded exactly how he said them.

There is an extensive appendix in the book. Included in it are a couple of children’s games from Africa, parables that are original with Kossola (from his own life experience), and various Bible stories told in Kossola’s own words.

There is also an extensive Afterword in the book about Ms. Hurston’s research and some debate about her motives and accuracy.  It seems that Kossola had become known as the last surviving slave from the last slave ship to America and there were others who wished to interview him. It was Zora Neale Hurston who was most successful in gaining his trust and recording his story. Ms. Hurston is remembered for his illustrious career as a social scientist, but she was just getting started in 1927.

Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson

I got on the waitlist for Cicely Tyson’s memoir the minute I heard about it. The book was on order by the public library, so I had to wait a while for it. In the meantime, Ms. Tyson died at the age of 96. I’d been a fan of hers since her performance in the movie, Sounder, in 1972. I was blown away by her portrayal of Miss Janie Pittman in the TV film, The Autobiography of Miss Janie Pittman.

Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson

Just As I Am was an interesting read. I learned about Ms. Tyson’s childhood in East Harlem, New York, and how her parents doted on her. She was their middle child, but she was born with a heart murmur that caused the doctor to predict she wouldn’t live more than three months. No wonder they treated her like a princess.

But there was a dark side to Ms. Tyson’s childhood. Her father was a womanizer. Her mother was a strict disciplinarian. Her parents had violent fights and Ms. Tyson was often caught in the middle.

Ms. Tyson had a sixth sense. Even as a child, she knew some events that were going to happen in the future because she could smell it (as was the case of a fire) or sense it in another way. Her mother was also blessed with a sixth sense, so the fact that Cicely had the gift was no big deal.

Early in the book, Ms. Tyson wrote about racial discrimination and our common humanity. It really struck a chord with me because I was reading that chapter the morning after the Zoom meeting of a group I’m in during which we had discussed racial prejudice and our common humanity. I couldn’t wait to tell the others in the group about the first chapter in Just As I Am.

She writes about what a rude awakening it was for her one day when she witnessed her mother and a group of other Black women on the street in New York City being looked up and down and evaluated by white people seeking a domestic laborer. It hit her as being no different from the way slaves were treated on the auction block a century earlier, and it made an impact on her life that she never forgot.

The 1920s and 1930s were her childhood and youth decades. What an interesting era! Although the Roaring 20s became the Great Depression in the 1930s, most people of color in the United States didn’t enjoy the abundance of the Wall Street in the 20s. And they had always been at an economic disadvantage, so the Great Depression wasn’t too much worse than what they were already experiencing.

It was in 1934 that the Federal Housing Administration instituted the practice of redlining to prohibit people of color from purchasing homes in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods. On the other hand, that era produced Black writers like W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. It was the age of jazz and the Harlem Renaissance.

On the flipside were the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from which the United States is stilling feeling ramifications and probably always will. That horrible experiment on Blacks today makes many people of color afraid to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

As you see, I could go on and on with examples of the backdrop of Ms. Tyson’s childhood, but perhaps you’d rather read the book for yourself.

Throughout the book, Ms. Tyson gives God credit for leading her. She speaks of an unflinching faith in God that sustained her from childhood until her last days. Events that others might have called coincidences, Ms. Tyson recognized as the hand of God working out her life’s journey. That’s how her modeling career came about, and that’s how her acting career fell into place without her even knowing that’s what she was meant to do.

This was an entertaining and enlightening read about a woman I have long appreciated as an actress without knowing anything about her background.

The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini

The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini

This most recent novel by Laleh Chini is about war and one young woman’s experience in Poland during World War II. It is written in person from that woman’s point-of-view. Hanna Przybylski reminisces about the lovely and peaceful city squares and bustling marketplaces in Warsaw of her growing-up years in the 1920s. Her mother was an artist. When her mother has a second child, a girl named Lena, when Hanna is 11 years old, they think their family and their lives are complete. The Great War was over and life is good.

Everything starts to unravel when Lena is a toddler and their mother dies. When the father remarries just three months after the mother’s death, Hanna’s life spirals downward. When Hanna is 16 years old, Germany started bombing Warsaw. World War II is beginning and will further disrupt Hanna’s life. What I’ve shared just covers the first 17% of the book.

What will become of Hanna and Lena? Will Hanna become responsible for more children than Lena? Will they flee Poland for a safer place? Will there be people to help them along the way? Will their father care what his daughters do? Did he and his second wife have children? Will Hanna survive World War II?

You’ll have to read The Endless Sunset to find out. The book is enriched by illustrations by Nihuel Navarro, whose website can be found at nihu.artstation.com.

Dictionary of Americanisms (1848), by John Russell Bartlett

I was expecting this book to take the form of a dictionary; however, the majority of it is narrative.

Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett

Near the end of this book there is a short section about some words that were “charged upon us as Americanism” but they are actually derived from English provinces. Examples are expect for suspect, reckon for think, and guess for suppose. These “Americanisms” come from Kent and Derbyshire in England.

The book continues with some words that were apparently Americanisms when the book was written in 1848, but they don’t make sense to me today. Among them are clever for good natured; desk for pulpit; and improve for occupy, or employ.

The book pays its respects to the clergy for starting and continuing to use solemnize for to make serious. Other Americanisms the writer didn’t appreciate at all included transpire for happen, and temper in the sense of passion or irritation.

Jumping on “educated men, and particularly … the clergy,” the writer bemoans the evolution of some nouns into verbs such as to fellowship, to eventuate, to doxologize, to happify, and to donate.

The author would, no doubt, be horrified at the evolution of American English since 1848. This book is proof that American English is forever changing. The words in common usage in 1848 that grated on the nerves of the dictionary author, have for the most part fallen by the wayside today.

By far, my favorite “new” word after reading this dictionary is happify!

Since my last blog post

I continue to have good books to read – in fact, more than I have time to read. I’m also doing some scrapbooking.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. Try to get caught reading, since May is Get Caught Reading Month!

If you don’t have a hobby, find one. It will enrich your life.

Note: In addition to being “Get Caught Reading Month,” May is Short Story Month.

Note: This is Reading is Fun Week.

Janet

5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021

April brought me a boatload of good historical novels! I’m not sure what next month holds, but it will be difficult for May to match what I got to read in April. If you know me, you know that historical fiction is my preference in literature. It’s a joy when so many good new historical novels are released (or reach the top of my waitlist at the public library) at the same time.


Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

You may recall that I read News of the World, by Paulette Jiles in October 2017 and blogged about it on November 6, 2017 in Some Good New Books. Also, I blogged about a favorite quote from that book on May 14, 2018 in The Lampasas County Asylum. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie that’s been made by the same name, News of the World, starring Tom Hanks. I haven’t seen it yet.

One of the things I like about Paulette Jiles’ writing is how she manages to sneak in bits of humor. Simon the Fiddler is by no means a comedy, yet Simon’s sense of humor comes through and makes him a very likeable fellow.

Simon the Fiddler, by Paulette Jiles

The story takes place at the end of the American Civil War. Simon has managed to escape being conscripted by the Confederate Army until a barroom brawl in Victoria, Texas in March 1865. His life of flitting around making somewhat of a living playing his fiddle is briefly interrupted by a stint in a Confederate regimental band.

After the war, Simon sets his sights on buying land in Texas, building a house, and settling down to create a family. Along the way he meets up with a variety of musicians and a beautiful young lady from Ireland whose life in America is so awful she wishes she’d never left her home country. She steals Simon’s heart.

Every time you think things can’t get worse for poor Simon, something worse happens. Such is the bedrock of fiction, and so goes this tale.

I invite you to come along for the ride with Simon, his companions, and the love of his life. Does he get what he’s been seeking all his life by the time you reach the last page of the book? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

I enjoyed listening to Simon the Fiddler on CD. The professional reader is Grover Gardner.


Yellow Wife, by Sadeqa Johnson

Sadeqa Johnson was inspired to write this historical novel after learning about the life of Mary Lumpkin. Mary Lumpkin was a 12-year-old slave of Robert Lumpkin in Virginia. She bore him at least five children.

Ms. Johnson did extensive research into the lives of Robert Lumpkin and Mary Lumpkin and has woven a gripping novel that will keep you turning pages and yearning for something good to happen to Mary. The book contains many scenes of unthinkable beatings and the torture of slaves. Mr. Lumpkin owned a jail where slaves were sent for punishment, and Mr. Lumpkin delighted in inflicting that punishment. He absolutely delighted in it. I didn’t know that slave jails existed until I read this book.

Yellow Wife, by Sadeqa Johnson

Ms. Johnson put herself in the body of Mary Lumpkin and, thereby, puts the reader there, too. As much as is possible, Ms. Johnson helps us to put ourselves in the shoes of a slave woman who is at the mercy of her master and is put in an awkward position with her fellow slaves because she is seen as the favored one. All the while, her heart is broken because she can’t be with the man she truly loves and who truly loves her. For Mr. Lumpkin, Mary is a wife of convenience.

Yellow Wife is not a pleasant read, but it is based on a true story – one we as Americans should know about and not forget. It’s part of our history.


The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner

I highly recommend this historical novel set in San Francisco in 1906 – the year of the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

Sophie lives in the north of Ireland and seeks a better life in America. She joins her brother in New York City, but he soon falls in love and moves to Canada. Sophie’s life as a single young female Irish immigrant in the big city leaves her desperate for a better life. She answers a mail-order bride ad and travels to San Francisco to marry a widower who has promised her a stable life and a ready-made family: a five-year-old daughter. Sophie’s dream has come true. She longs to be a mother, but she’s been told she can physically never have her own child.

From the beginning in San Francisco there are clues that her husband, Martin Hockings might not be all he’s cracked up to be on paper, but Sophie tries her best to adapt and be patient with him and his daughter, who won’t talk.

The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner

From there, the book takes off in unexpected directions – and the earthquake hasn’t even occurred yet. Hold on for the ride as a pregnant stranger shows up at Sophie’s door one day asking for a Martin Hockings. Don’t jump to conclusions, though; it’s not what you’re thinking. Sophie’s life unravels quickly from this point. Her discoveries take her and Martin’s little girl through the harrowing earthquake and on a journey to Arizona see what they can find out about the girl’s dead mother.

I hope I haven’t told you too much. There are more secrets in this book than “all get out.”

(If the idiom, “all get out” leaves you scratching your head, please read my March 29, 2021 blog post for clarification: #Idiom: As All Get Out.)

If you are a fan of historical fiction, you’ll love The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner!


The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff

I don’t know why it took me until now to read The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff. I added it to my To Be Read List after reading a good review of it on https://jennifertarheelreader.com/ way back in February 2019.

You might recall that I blogged about The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff in my August 7, 2017 blog post, Late July Reading. I enjoyed that book, so that adds to the mystery of why I waited until last month to read The Lost Girls of Paris. Being historical fiction, Ms. Jenoff’s books are right down my alley.

The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff

The Lost Girls of Paris transports you to France in 1944. It’s about young women who volunteered to be radio operators behind enemy lines during World War II. Participants were carefully chosen and trained. They knew they were putting their lives on the line in the Allies’ attempt to defeat Nazi Germany.

A woman looks in an abandoned suitcase at Grand Central Station in New York City and discovers photographs of 12 women. She sets out on a mission to find the owner of the suitcase, and she wants to know something about the women in the photographs. Her research leads her to Washington, DC and on an on-the-ground search for the woman who trained and led the group.

There are twists, turns, courage, fear, loyalty, and betrayal in this novel that will keep you turning the pages.

By the way, Pam Jenoff has a new historical novel on the way: The Woman with the Blue Star is scheduled for release on May 4, 2021. I’m on the waitlist for it at the public library.


The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner

I listened to The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner on CD. I usually don’t enjoy novels that take two different timelines, but this one really held my interest. A secret apothecary in London in 1791 caters to women who need an herbal way to get rid of the oppressive men in their lives. An innocent mistake made by a 12-year-old girl who takes a serious interest in learning the apothecary trade turns the 18th century story on it’s head and threatens to be the end of the hidden business.

The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner

In comes a present-day young woman, Caroline, from the United States. She has a variety of personal issues to sort out and, early in her visit to London finds an intriguing medicine bottle on the bank of the Thames. This launches Caroline on a mission to find out all she can about the apothecary whose stamp in on the bottle.

The novel is well-researched and is sure to be of interest to anyone with a curiosity about herbal remedies and herbal poisons used in secret in 18th century England.


Since my last blog post

I’ve been dealing with an allergic reaction to poison oak. It hasn’t been fun, but the prednisone injection is helping. I’d forgotten just how intense the itching sensation is once one is exposed to the innocent-looking plant.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book or two to read this week. Maybe you’ll get to read one of the three books I wrote about today. Next Monday I’ll blog about the other books I read in April.

Make time to relax and enjoy a hobby.

Stay safe and well – and please wear a mask when necessary.

Note: May is Get Caught Reading Month! Have you been caught yet?

Janet

Censorship and Reader Sensitivities

I try to plan my blog topics well in advance so I’ll have time to devote to writing each one. The fancy name for it is “editorial calendar.” Today was a day I had trouble settling on a topic. I’d made a list of possibilities, but none of them really grabbed me.

Another blogger came to my rescue on April 12, 2021. John W. Howell, an author of thriller novels, inspirational fiction, and family life fiction, wrote What to Do With Books That Are Insensitive to Social Norms | Story Empire (wordpress.com) and in it he referred to his March 24, 2021 blog post, Avoiding Insensitivity in Characters or Story | Story Empire (wordpress.com). Viola! I was inspired to write today’s post.

(Here’s a link to Mr. Howell’s Story Empire website and blog: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/.)

An Example of Book Censorship

Reading Mr. Howell’s blog posts got me thinking about book censorship and the closely-related topic of cultural appropriation and reader sensitivities.

The very idea of a book being censored or people demanding that certain books be banned from public libraries, school libraries, and bookstores really gets my ire up. Book censorship is a slippery slope. Images of book burnings in Nazi Germany come to mind.

#bookburning #censorship
Photo credit: Jonny Caspari on unsplash.com

The American Library Association’s (ALA) annual list of the top books requested for banning or restricted reading is fresh on my mind. Here’s the link to the ALA’s website where you can see the list: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee is consistently on that list. It’s on the list the ALA published earlier this month. One reason given for its being requested for banning is that the lawyer who represents the black man in court is white. The story is set in Alabama in the 1930s, so it is true to the time and place that the lawyer and all the jurors would be white. Racial injustice is the core theme of the novel. The book was published in 1960, and little had changed by then.

I believe we can learn the lessons of history by reading good historical fiction. It’s one thing to read a list of laws governing people of color in the United States in the 1930s, but how better to illustrate and shine a bright light on the laws – written and unwritten – prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 than to bring them to life on the pages of a novel and the subsequent movie based on that book?

I’d no sooner had that thought than I found Jabari Asim’s article from July 17, 2015 on Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/soapbox/article/67521-rethinking-to-kill-a-mockingbird.html. (Please take time to read his entire piece after reading this blog post.)

Being a black man, Mr. Asim offers a different perspective than the one I can offer. His words made me stop and think. Perhaps I had read To Kill a Mockingbird with naive blue eyes. Mr. Asim is one of the most influential African American literary critics of this generation. If you’re not familiar with his work, please visit his website: https://jabariasim.org/about_jabari_asim/.

Among Mr. Asim’s sentences that made me reconsider my stance are the following: “Mockingbird, like Uncle Tom before it, often strikes me as a form of literary ointment for white guilt, meant to soothe outbreaks of conscience while dispelling perceptions of how pervasive white supremacy is. Its homespun patter and deep-fried homilies enable many readers to overlook its sketchily drawn black characters—little more than archetypes—and bask in the glow of Atticus Finch’s exemplary moral courage.”

Also, this: “Some days I can ignore Mockingbird’s mostly pedestrian prose and regard it as a cleverly subversive send-up of white racism, minus Mark Twain’s stylistic flair but dutifully echoing his irreverent tone.”

And this: “Other days I marvel at Mockingbird’s apparent prescience when, years before Fox News and talk radio, Atticus Finch says to his brother, ‘Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand.'” 

What is To Kill a Mockingbird‘s place, then? It’s likely to be debated for decades to come.

#ToKillaMockingbird #censorship
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Self-censorship, Cultural Appropriation, and Reader Sensitivities

Being a writer can involve self-censorship, and there are degrees of that when it comes to reader sensitivities. I’m not a published novelist, but as I work on my historical novel I’m ever-cognizant of reader sensitivities.

Most of us practice self-censorship in our communications with others. Some people who should self-censor are sadly unaware. As a writer, I feel the need to self-sensor. I don’t use racial slurs in my speaking or thinking, but that doesn’t mean I won’t need to include one in my writing in order to be true to time and place. It doesn’t mean I condone the use of such words. My challenge in writing a novel presented from multiple points-of-view is having the audacity to put myself in the skin of a person of color – especially a person of color who is male and enslaved in the United States in the 18th century.

Doing so is somewhat akin to cultural appropriation, which is a dominant culture adopting a practice that is inherent in or associated with a minority culture. I’m not doing that in my novel, but I am attempting to write thoughts, emotions, and conversations of three people of color. I want to be aware of possible reader sensitivities, but I don’t want that awareness to fundamentally change my writer’s voice.

I’m writing a novel set in the North and South Carolina backcountry in 1769. It includes two black male slaves, one free black woman, a Frenchman, and a number of white Scottish and Irish settlers. I’ve been working on this novel for many years. If I were to look at my first draft, there would be many cringe-worthy words and scenes. I started out really over-doing writing accents phonetically. It was tedious to write, and I’ve since learned that it’s not appropriate. It can be degrading, and it can be exhausting for the reader.

I’ve grown as a person and as a writer since I started the book probably a decade ago. I’m striving to make the final product true to the time and place. I’ve done extensive research – even into the laws on the books in South Carolina in 1769 that governed the fabric of the clothing slaves were permitted to wear.

If and when my novel is published, I hope no one’s sensitivities will be offended, but that’s probably wishful thinking. I’m attempting to write a book that will be entertaining and educational. I hope it will be a book that will cause readers to put themselves in the skin of the various characters and come away with an appreciation of history.

An Earlier Blog Post about Cultural Appropriation in Writing

Author and administrator of the “Writers on the Path to a Page-Turner” Facebook group, Barbara Kyle, wrote the following: “The move to self-censorship for fear of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a sad state of affairs. Author Morgan Jones eloquently champions the opposite position: ‘Fiction remains the best means we have of finding connection where there seems to be none; and the novel, of all forms, encourages a search that’s deep and sustained. By reading (or writing) one, you’ve travelled somewhere else. You’ve moved, if only slightly, towards others. In a world that finds and increasingly exploits division and difference, this in an invaluable, precious exercise.”

I copied the above quote several years ago and taped it to the top of my computer monitor. In trying to find an online link for you, I was reminded that I used it in my August 27, 2018 blog post, Cultural Appropriation in Writing. Ms. Kyle shared (and I included in that 2018 blog post) this link to an October 1, 2016 article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/01/novelists-cultural-appropriation-literature-lionel-shriver.) Please go back and read my earlier blog post and click on the link to Mr. Shriver’s article in The Guardian.

Where do we go from here?

I think writers would do well to keep in mind the following question asked by John. W. Howell in his March 24, 2021 blog post referenced in my opening paragraph today: “Am I knowingly or unknowingly writing characters or a story which casts aspersions on anyone relative to their race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, religion, disabilities, or age?”

Mr. Howell goes on to say, “The key to the question is we may write something that we didn’t think would discriminate but did that exactly.” He also said, “The caution here is that if you are not part of a group you are writing about, be very diligent in your research. Some would say unless you are a part of a group, don’t write about them. I disagree since I do not want to believe that writers can only write what they know.”

#Censorship #readersensitivities
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

In his follow-up blog post on April 12, 2021 (also referenced above in my opening paragraph), Mr. Howell gave Gone with the Wind as an example of a book that could be criticized on several fronts due to its glorification of the Southern plantation. A little later in his blog post he said the following: “Maybe because I’m an author, I hate to see a book be declared undesirable, but it does seem that we should embrace a discussion of any book that is outside our social norms. Include in the discussion why a text no longer reflects current attitudes. If we were to discuss why certain depictions in a book are wrong, we all would better understand each other. Maybe, more importantly, we could learn more about what actions and depictions are especially hurtful.”

I agree with Mr. Howell on that. Let’s not ban books from our library and bookstore shelves. Let’s read and discuss them and, thereby, learn to do better.

Since my last blog post

I enjoyed all the beautiful azaleas in our yard. I don’t think they’ve ever been prettier. All good things must come to an end – or so “they” say. Wednesday afternoon brought snow 100 miles away in the North Carolina mountains, and Thursday and Friday mornings brought record-breaking below freezing low temperatures to my house. I hope this was winter’s last gasp.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read this week. I have more books checked out from the library than I can possibly read. It’s a nice dilemma to have.

Enjoy a relaxing hobby.

Note: Tomorrow is National Tell a Story Day in the USA. Don’t tell a lie. Tell a story. Tell a young person about one of your good memories. It will give them something to remember you by.

Note: Ironically, Wednesday is the anniversary of author Harper Lee’s birth in 1926. Some literary critics say a person who writes just one novel (such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird) is not a great author. (I know, I know. Her unpublished manuscript for Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015, so she actually wrote two books.) My example is still valid. Ms. Lee died in 2016, and until 2015 she was known as an acclaimed author who wrote “only” one book. I’m not saying the historical novel I’m writing is a great novel, but it gives me hope to know that Harper Lee “only” got one novel published during her lifetime. If I only get one novel published, I’ll be more than happy.

Note: Watch out for May! It arrives on Saturday. May is “Get Caught Reading Month”. Start making your plans for getting caught.

Janet

#Idiom: Stick-in-the-Mud/Fuddy-Duddy/Old Fogey

My blog post last week was about a difficult subject, the American Civil War. I decided to write about a less serious topic today.

I was driving to one of my favorite places (the public library) recently, when the expression “stick-in-the-mud” flew into my head out of nowhere. I don’t have a clue what brought that on unless it was all the rain we’d had that week and our yard had turned into a sea of mud. Who knows how the human brain works?

When I got home, I thought: blog post! My research led me to idioms meaning essentially the same thing as stick-in-the-mud. Those others are “fuddy-duddy” and “old fogey.”

stick-in-the-mud
Photo credit: Annie Spratt on unsplash.com

When were they first used?

One source says “stick-in-the-mud” was used as early as 1700, while Merriam-Webster attributes

it’s advent to 1832. English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh says 1735.

Merriam-Webster says “fuddy-duddy” originated in 1904, while William Brohaugh’s book says

it came into general usage in 1905.

Merriam-Webster says “fogey” dates back to 1780. William Brohaugh agrees.

What does it mean?

All three of these idioms are colorful ways to insult someone for being old-fashioned, stuck in their ways, slow to accept change, etc.

Some examples of how the idiom is used

Don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud!

Don’t be a fuddy-duddy!

Get with the program. You’re being a stick-in-the-mud.

As language loses its color

#stick-in-the-mud
Photo credit: Joseph J. Cotten on unsplash.com

I’m sad to report that “fuddy-duddy,” “fogey,” and “old fogey” did not make the cut when The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, by Christine Ammer was published in 1997. I guess that means I’m a fuddy-duddy and an old fogey for even including those expressions in today’s blog.

It’s idioms like “stick in the mud” that make the English language interesting. A synonym for it is “antediluvian,” but I much prefer “stick-in-the-mud.” Don’t you?

A question for multilinguals

For those of you who are fluent in languages other than English, do you know of a colorful idiom for antediluvian in another language?

A question for my friends and relatives

Are people calling me a stick-in-the-mud, a fuddy-duddy, or an old fogey behind my back? I hope not!

Since my last blog post

The spring weather has been beautiful! Our yard is ablaze with azalea blossoms and irises. I enjoyed doing a little yardwork, and I have stiff joints now to prove it. I also have poison oak on my face and arm to prove it, although I thought I was being careful to avoid it.

Until my next blog post

If you’re new to my blog, you might like to read my earlier posts about idioms: #Idioms: Reading the Riot Act on January 25, 2021, and #Idioms: As All Get Out on March 29, 2021.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff, and I’m reading The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth.

I hope you have time for a hobby this week.

I hope the Covid-19 pandemic is getting under control where you live.

Janet

#OnThisDay: The War that Never Ends

The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when southerners fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Fort Sumter was, of course, a United States military fort on the coast of South Carolina.

Photo credit: Michelle Burdick on unsplash.com

The American Civil War was the culmination of the falling apart of a nation.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops to US Gen. U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, but fighting continued for a while west of the Mississippi River. U.S President Andrew Johnson declared the war over in all states but Texas on April 2, 1866. After accepting the new state constitution for Texas, President Johnson officially declared the insurrection over on August 20, 1866.

Death toll

The exact number of deaths in the American Civil War is unknown, but it seems to be agreed upon that it was at least 620,000 and as high as 750,000.

Local losses

In 1999, I compiled a booklet, “Rocky River Presbyterian Church and the War Between the States,” about how the American Civil War affected Rocky River Presbyterian Church in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Established in 1751, in 1860 the congregation had 616 members. 440 of them were White and 176 of them were Black. The congregation lost 72 men in the Civil War. Their average age was 28. The youngest was 16 and the oldest was 44. Of the 72 who died, 52 died between January 1862 and November 1863. I’ve tried to imagine what an emotional impact that had on this farming community, but I can’t.

Rocky River Presbyterian Church, Cabarrus County, North Carolina

I researched each of the 72 men and boys in published genealogies, church records, census records, etc. in an effort to put names and real people on the statistics. Some families were hit especially hard, losing several sons.

Another local loss

In addition to the numerical and economic loss those 72 men and boys cost the congregation, the war resulted in a radical and racial change in the church’s make up. In 2004, I compiled another booklet, “Slaves and Free Blacks Known to be Associated with Rocky River Presbyterian Church Prior to 1870.” My purpose was to compile in one document all known records about the slaves and free Blacks who were communing and/or baptized members of the congregation from the earliest extant church records (1835) through 1870.

Photo credit: US Library of Congress, via unsplash.com.

I was astounded when the project was finished to find that I had a list of 917 slaves and 11 free Blacks. In addition to the church membership rolls and Session disciplinary trial minutes, I searched the 1860 and 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment Lists – which listed every slave living in the county at those times—and the US Census records for Cabarrus County from 1870 and 1880. (By the way, the county tax assessment lists recorded not only the names of each slave under his or her master’s name, but also included each slave’s age, physical condition, and value. They are sobering documents.)

In 1867, present-day Bellefonte Presbyterian Church was formed by former Black members of Rocky River. The White pastor of Rocky River, being a product of the place and time, was hurt when the Black members of his congregation chose to go two or three miles up the road to establish their own church. Unfortunately, he saw them as children who didn’t know what they were doing. He didn’t understand why they didn’t want to stay at Rocky River and continue to sit in the balcony while the White members sat downstairs on the main floor of the sanctuary. No wonder they left! That’s easy for us to see today.

How racism continues to this day

Southerners tend to romanticize about the Civil War, but I doubt there was anything romantic about it at the time. The wives, mothers, sisters, and younger brothers were left behind to try to farm the best they could, not knowing when or if their loved ones would come home. I would not have wanted to be alive during that time.

All four of my great-grandfathers and one of my great-great-grandfathers fought on the losing side in the American Civil War. They were farmers in North Carolina. They did not own slaves. In trying to put myself in their places in that place and time, I can’t help but think they didn’t have much choice in joining the North Carolina Troops when the war began.

Lee Dulin, home from the Civil War

One was a boy of 16, no doubt out on a bit of an adventure with his neighborhood friends in the same company. He wrote letters to his parents and sister asking them to send him socks. One was in the 1st NC Cavalry and survived a severe head wound at Gettysburg that left him with headaches and a convulsive disorder for the rest of his life. One had restricted use of one of his arms for the rest of his life due to injuries sustained in the Seven Days Battle of Richmond. One was in Charleston at the end of the war and walked the 200 miles home. One of my great-great-grandfathers was a man in his early 50s – much too old to go off to war, but that’s what he did. It’s hard to find the romance in any of that. They came home defeated, with perhaps a little worthless Confederate currency, only to have to go back to eking out a living by farming in a broken economy.

They were not the ones who built monuments to Confederate leaders. They did not raise the Confederate battle flag by their houses to show their Southern pride. They just went back to the hard-working lives they’d known since birth and tried to live out their lives as law-abiding American citizens.

I don’t know what any of those five ancestors of mine thought about race. I can’t sit in judgment of any of my ancestors any more than I can take credit for anything good they accomplished in their lives. Each of us is accountable for our own ideas, beliefs, and actions.

Where do we go from here?

Until Americans have an honest discussion about slavery and the ramifications of it… until people across the country study the facts and recognize that slavery existed in some northern states… until people across the country realize that northern states benefitted from the slavery in the South because the slaves picked the cotton that was sent to northern textile mills to be turned into fabric for people there to sell and wear at a low cost due to slavery… until people across the country accept each other and fight for all citizens to have the same rights and chances to excel… until as individuals we admit our prejudices and have the courage to speak up when we see racial injustice… I’m afraid the American Civil War will never be over.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao on unsplash.com

My heart sinks at the sight of the Confederate battle flag because, to people of color, it is a symbol of hate. I didn’t see it that way when I was growing up because I was White, but I do now. When you know better, you should do better.

As Americans, it’s easy for us to sit back, protected by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and criticize the Arabs and Jews in Israel holding grudges over wrongs committed centuries ago, but many Americans are unwilling to forgive and forget when it comes to our own Civil War after 160 years. We can’t see the plank in our own eye because we’re concentrating on the speck in someone else’s eye.

#ElectoralCollge #USConstitution #12thAmendment
Photo by Luke Michael on Unsplash.com

Since my last blog post

We finally got to bring our diabetic dog home from the hospital last Thursday. He was hospitalized for eight days with bronchial pneumonia. We’re so thankful for the good care he received at CARE (Charlotte Animal Referral & Emergency) once again.

Until my next blog post

Continue to celebrate D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) Month. I hope you have at least one good book to read this week.

Make time for a hobby.

Note: The two booklets I referenced in today’s blog, “Rocky River Presbyterian Church and the War Between the States” and “Slaves and Free Blacks Known to be Associated with Rocky River Presbyterian Church Prior to 1870,” are available through http://www.JanetMorrisonBooks.com. Click on “Rocky River Presbyterian Church Booklets.”

Janet