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

#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

6 Books I Read in March 2021

I didn’t think March could match February in the books I got to read, but I was wrong. Good books just keep being published, and I’m having a wonderful time reading them.


The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah

What a wonderful historical novel! In my opinion, The Four Winds is even better than Ms. Hannah’s 2015 novel, The Nightingale.

The Four Winds plunges the reader into the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression and never lets go. It’s been decades since I read The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, but The Four Winds put me in the dust, grit, and terror of that time even more than the Steinbeck classic. Maybe that has something to do with my age when I read each book, but somehow The Four Winds made a stronger impact on me.

This novel follows Elsa, a young woman starved for love. She throws caution to the wind, for once in her life, and it turns out to have dire consequences. I don’t want to give the story away, so I’ll just say it follows Elsa through the Dust Bowl in Texas and a desperate journey to California in hopes of a better and a healthier life. The book illustrates the difficult lives of migrant workers and how promises and dangers of unionization in the 1930s. There are strong secondary characters in the book.

I blogged about The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah in my June 2, 2017 blog post, You Need to Read These Books! and The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah in my March 26, 2018 blog post, Some March Reading, in case you want to know what I thought about them.


Daylight, by David Baldacci

Does Atlee Pine find her sister?
Daylight, by David Baldacci

If you’ve been following David Baldacci’s Atlee Pine series, you’ll love this book. This novel reveals many details about Atlee’s parents and childhood. She continues to search for her twin sister, Mercy, who was abducted from their bedroom when they were six years old. Her journey takes her into some very dark places and danger lurks at every turn.

Will Atlee find Mercy in Daylight? You need to read it for yourself to find out! This is Baldacci at his best.


52 Small Changes for the Mind, by Brett Blumenthal

52 Small Changes for the Mind, by Brett Blumenthal

This is a self-help book that probably should be read a week at a time over 52 weeks, but I had checked it out from the library. I read it over several days and took notes so I can slowly absorb the points it makes that I can benefit from. Many of the recommendations are things I’m already doing, but several really stepped on my toes and got my attention.

Here are a few examples from the book:

Week 9 – “Kick indecision.” Don’t waste time trying to make the perfect choice.

Week 14 – “Silence your inner critic.”

Week 15 – “Go beyond your comfort zone.”

Week 27 – “Minimize screen time.” (I thought this just applied to teens and young adults who spend too much time on their cell phones, but this segment made me realize that I’m guilty of spending too much time on the computer and using my tablet.

Week 39 – Recognize your fears and confront them.

Week 49 – “Deal with [your] demons.”

There are helpful tools and resources at the back of the book.


Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende

The Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende

This turned out to be a surprisingly short book. I checked it out as an MP3 from the public library and listened to the entire book in an afternoon.

Ms. Allende begins the book with some experiences from her childhood and life in several countries, but the bulk of the book is about the status of women throughout the world.

She addresses all manner of abuses women endure at the hands of men and sometimes at the hands of other women. She writes about how tradition perpetuates the practice of female mutilation in parts of the world, how women are invisible in some regions due to Islamic law and practice, and how female babies are not valued and are sometimes killed in some cultures and countries simply due to their gender. She addresses human trafficking. She writes about how women the world over must struggle for every inch of progress they make in the business world.

Ms. Allende established The Isabel Allende Foundation in 1996 to pay homage to her daughter, Paula, who died at the age of 29 in 1992. The foundation works for the empowerment of girls and women through nonprofits in Chile and the San Francisco Bay Area. To read more about the foundation, go to https://isabelallende.org.


In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

I think I’ve read all of Erik Larson’s books now, until Thunderstruck is released later this year. Yes, I’m on the waitlist for it at the public library.

My earlier attempt to read In the Garden of Beasts didn’t work out. I just couldn’t get into the book. Although the premise of this book should be equally as gripping as his other books, even the second time around it didn’t hold my interest quite as well as Isaac’s Storm (Three Books Read in December 2020) or Dead Wake: The Last Crossing the Lusitania (4 Books I Read in February 2021.)

In the Garden of Beasts is the story of William Edward Dodd, US Ambassador to Berlin from 1933 until 1937, during the rise of Adoph Hitler. His mid-20s daughter, Martha – who is estranged from her husband — accompanies him and becomes quite a liability as she soaks in the nightlife of the city and forms a romantic relationship with a Russian.

Dodd was a professor, a thrifty, unassuming man – much the opposite of his daughter. He was the butt of jokes among his peers in Berlin because he insisted on driving his old car and wearing the clothes he’d worn as a professor back in the Midwest. Martha inherited none of her father’s personality traits.

This is a nonfiction book, meticulously researched, as are all of Erik Larson’s books. I learned a lot from the book. It was interesting to get a glimpse of the rising of the Third Reich from the perspective of an American living in Berlin.

 


The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only

Family Internment Camp During World War II, by Jan Jarboe Russell

FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II
The Train to Crystal City, by Jan Jarboe Russell

You may recall that in my February 8, 2021 blog post, 4 Books I Read in February 2021, one the books I wrote about was the novel The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner.

As soon as news broke that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, the lives of all Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent were at risk. The FBI started arresting the men for no reason other than their ancestry.

I learned a lot from this book. One thing I hadn’t known about was the Asian Exclusion Act, passed in 1924, which made it illegal for Japanese immigrants to become US citizens.

Here’s a quote from pages 28-29 of the book about the steps President Franklin D. Roosevelt took to create a vehicle through which a hostage exchange program could be put into place in the event the United States entered World War II:

“On September 1, 1939, the day German tanks, infantry, and cavalry invaded Poland with 1.5 million troops, Roosevelt created a highly secretive division within the Department of State called the Special Division. He ordered this division to identify American civilians… who were currently in Japan and Germany and who would be in danger when the United States joined the war…. More than 100,000 American civilians were in harm’s way. A few months later, Roosevelt authorized the Special War Problems Division to find Japanese and Germans in America and in Latin America who could be used as hostages in exchange for the more valuable of the Americans…. In 1940, [FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover installed the first group of FBI agents in Latin America. Based on the FBI reports, Roosevelt was convinced that Germans and Japanese in Latin America were a direct threat to hemispheric security.”

In addition, FDR formed an agreement with Peru that paved the way for 1,800 Japanese Peruvians with no ties to the U.S. to be brought to internment camps in Texas and other states. Pressure was put on other Latin American countries to do the same. All except Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil complied and deported Germans. Those three nations had internment camps of their own.

The men held in the internment camps were given an ultimatum. If they wanted to be reunited with their families — and these reunions had to take place inside the camp at Crystal City, Texas – they had to sign papers stating that they would relocate to their ancestral home country after the war. Imagine living for decades in the United States and then having to relocate to Germany or Japan as soon as World War II was over. Families were forced to make unimaginable choices in order to stay together.

I could go on and on, but perhaps I’ve given you enough detail that you will want to read the book for yourself. It was a real eye opener for me!


Until my next blog post

How is D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Month going for you? I hope you have one or more good books to read this month.

Spend some time enjoying a hobby this week.

Keep wearing a mask, even if you’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19, so we can get back to doing all the things we like to do – like seeing relatives we haven’t seen in almost 18 months.

Note: National Library Week in the USA started yesterday. Support your local public library!

Janet

#Idiom: As all get out

My first blog post about an idiom was on January 25, 2021. It was #Idioms: Reading the Riot Act. Today’s blog post is about the idiom “as all get out.” It’s an expression I don’t hear as much as I used to.

When was it first used?

Other people have researched this, and I’ll rely on their findings. It appears that the expression

“as get out” was first used by American writer Joseph C. Neal in his Character Sketches in 1838.

In that piece, he wrote, “We look as elegant and as beautiful as get out.”

“As get out” sounds odd today because we know the expression as “as all get out.” Without the “all,” it just sounds strange. Or, perhaps you’ve never heard the expression before, so it sounds strange to you either way.

What does it mean?

The idiom “as all get out” is used to describe something taken to it’s extreme.

When it became “as all get out”

Credit goes to American author Mark Twain for adding the word “all” to the expression. In the 38th chapter of Huckleberry Finn, Huck, Tom Sawyer, and Jim are working on a coat-of-arms. Tom says to Huck, “We got to dig in like all git-out.” Of course, Twain wrote in dialect in that novel.

It would be interesting to know if Twain coined the new phrase. Perhaps people were already saying, “All get out” and Twain just incorporated it into his writing in 1884.

Some examples of how the idiom is used

It was cold as all get out.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema on unsplash.com

The track stars ran fast as all get out.

Photo credit: Jonathan Chng on unsplash.com

The red velvet cake was good as all get out.

Photo credit: Estefania Escalante Fernandez on unsplash.com

As language loses its color

As I commented at the beginning of this blog post, I don’t hear “all get out” as much as I used to. I’m afraid English becomes a less colorful language as we lose such expressions. That’s why I chose “all get out” for my topic today.

Is “all get out” an expression you’re familiar with? Is it an idiom that’s used all across the United States? Have those of you who live in other English-speaking countries heard this expression?

Since my last blog post

It looks and feels more like spring by the day, but there’s a possible hard freeze in the weather prediction for later in the week. That will be a shame, since my peonies have sprouted and the blueberry bushes are in bloom. It’s my favorite time of the year.

I stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest on Facebook by posting a meme I borrowed from someone else. It is about the gun problem we have here in the United States. Just by saying “gun problem,” I’ve probably offended some people. I don’t know what else to call it. One of my high school classmates and a fellow church member have responded by educating me about the intricacies of firearms and gun registration.

At first, I was taken aback and wished I hadn’t posted the meme, but as days passed and I reflected on the issue and got deeper into the discussion I was glad I’d done it. Without being my intention, it has turned into “that difficult conversation” Janet Givens’ Zoom discussion group is addressing this year in monthly meetings. The basis for our meetings is Ms. Givens’ book, LEAPFROG:  How to Hold a Civil Conversation in an Uncivil Era.

How do you have “that difficult conversation” with someone with whom your opinion or world view differs greatly? How do you have “that difficult conversation” with someone when you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a discussion that you and the other party or parties maybe weren’t in the best mood to have?

People rarely react to anything I put on Facebook, so it was shocking when this particular meme created as much discussion as it has continued to have since I posted it on Thursday. Lessons I’ve learned: Fact check memes before you post them, and don’t post anything controversial unless you’re ready to defend your viewpoint and calmly listen to the viewpoints of others.

I returned to church yesterday for the first time in 14 months. It felt great going back into the sanctuary in which I’ve worshipped my entire life and in which my ancestors have worshipped since 1861, and it brought tears to my eyes.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read this week. As usual, I’m reading several at the same time. My mood and library due dates determine which one I pick up.

I hope you have time to follow your passion this week and spend some relaxing time on a hobby.

It’s now been more than two weeks since I got my second Covid-19 vaccination. I look forward to getting out in public more than I have in the last 14 months.

Note: Get ready for April. It’s D.E.A.R. Month (Drop Everything and Read Month), so let’s all give it our best shot starting on Thursday!

Janet

My Top 11 Grammar Pet Peeves

I was tempted to write about the Stamp Act of 1765 today, but I was afraid I’d scare off my audience. Let it suffice for me to say that today is the 256th anniversary of the Stamp Act of 1765 that contributed so much to the American Revolution.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan on unsplash.com

Today’s blog post is a little less serious than the last two. As a writer and the daughter of a former English teacher, I have many grammar pet peeves. Today I’m writing about 11 of my favorites. (By the way, this started out as my three favorites. I need to put this out there in cyberspace soon before my list becomes unmanageable.)

February 8, 2021 was National Grammar Day here in the United States. I mentioned it in my blog post that day but, due to the length of the post, I didn’t elaborate as much as I wanted. Therefore, I’m taking the opportunity to air my grammar grievances today.

I’ve found a new “label” for myself. It has come to my attention that I am on the verge of becoming a pedant. I sometimes get distracted by minutiae. I can’t see the forest for the trees. You get the point. Below, I offer examples of what I mean.

Who hijacked “fewer?”

Have you noticed that reporters on TV and some of the people they interview have completely abandoned the word “fewer” and have replaced it with “less?” Is this a new guideline? Whatever it is, I don’t like it. It is my newest grammar pet peeve.

I’m a native-born American. I was taught at an early age that “fewer” was used when referring to something that could be counted and “less” was used when referring to something that could be measured. That’s a little vague, and is probably a difficult concept for anyone learning English as a second language. To a native-born American, though, one grows up with certain things just sounding right.

For instance, I would say “fewer minutes” but “less time.” I would say “fewer dollars” but “less money.” I would say “fewer people” but “less population.” Substituting “less” for “fewer” in each of those examples just sounds wrong to me; however, the English language is ever-evolving. If the general consensus is to abandon the word “fewer” and use “less” in every instance, the day may come when it will no longer sound wrong to me. But I doubt it.

Right near

Another relatively recent pet peeve of mine is the use of the term “right near.” TV news anchors tend to say it. “The accident was right near the intersection of ….” “Our reporter is right near the scene of the crime.” Why and when did people start saying that? The word “right” is unnecessary. Think about it.

So

It was maybe eight or ten years ago that I first heard someone start a presentation or speech with the word, “So.” She was a young college student. The first word out of her mouth was, “So.” It wasn’t long until I heard other people falling into that habit. Today it has become so widespread I fear it’s here to stay.

Lie or Lay

Please take a minute to think about this one, people. You know who you are. You don’t think “lie” is a verb. You think it’s only a noun. A liar tells lies. I’m here to tell you that you also lie down. I lie down. He lies down. I don’t lay down. You don’t lay down. He doesn’t lay down. I lay down a book. You lay down a book. He lays down a book. All God’s children lay things down, but they don’t lay down. They lie down. Got it?

I want to… OR I’d like to…

This pet peeve is one I hear speakers make. It is in speeches or interviews on TV that I usually hear this. It causes me to talk back to the TV, usually at a higher volume than my usual speaking voice.

If you want to apologize, say, “I apologize for…” or “I’m sorry for.…” Don’t say, “I want to apologize” or “I’d like to apologize” and then not follow that with an apology. When I hear someone say they want to apologize but then they don’t, this is what goes through my mind: “What you’re saying is, ‘I want to apologize, but I can’t.’”

If you say, “I want to thank you…” but that’s not followed by an expression of appreciation, what I hear you say is, “I want to thank you but I can’t” or “I want to thank you but I’m not going to.”

Just go ahead and tell me you’re sorry. Just go ahead and say, “Thank you.” Don’t just say you want to.

Very unique, most unique

I suppose I’m nitpicking here, but something is either unique or it isn’t. There are no gradations in uniqueness.

Awesome

God is awesome. God’s creation is awesome. Your team winning a ballgame is not awesome, although the Carolina Panthers winning the Super Bowl would be something to celebrate. A new outfit is not awesome. McDonald’s fries taste good, but they aren’t awesome. The overuse of any such word weakens it and leaves it powerless. That’s what’s happened to awesome.

Normalcy vs. Normality

This is a new one for me. Apparently, the two words are interchangeable. I’ve heard “normalcy” all my life, but it seems like the last several months we’ve been inundated with people on TV saying “normality” instead. Is it just me, or have you noticed a change? “Normality” sounds more hoity-toity to me, but maybe that’s just me.

Come on guys, it’s prostate

This illustrates prostrate. Get it? Photo credit: Naassom Azevedo on unsplash.com

Maybe it’s none of my business, guys, but the name of that gland y’all have is a prostate. It’s not a prostrate. This mistake is made so often that when you search for the word prostrate on Microsoft Bing, it comes up with a kazillion sites about prostate and asks, “Do you want results only for prostrate?” I’m not kidding.

Hot water heater

It’s just a water heater. It’s not a hot water heater unless there’s such a thing as a cold water heater. The term “hot water heater” is especially irritating when it is used in printed material from a large electric utility company.

Apostrophe s

I hope I’m not stepping on your toes, but whoever wrote the computer program for the automated grammar checker got this completely wrong and has confused people to no end. The program insists that an s at the end of a word should always, always, always be preceded by an apostrophe.

Sometimes, a word is simply a plural. An apostrophe indicates a possessive. If you ever receive a Christmas card from “The Morrison’s” instead of “The Morrisons,” you’ll know I’ve gone around the bend.


A confession

I make grammatical errors. I still have to look up “affect” and “effect” because I’m unsure which one to use when. I still have to stop and think sometimes to figure out if I should say “I” or “me.” I make many punctuation errors. The use of commas has always tripped me up. My errors are probably some of your pet peeves. Point them out to me in your comments below. Go ahead. I can take it.

I feel better now. Thank you.

Since my last blog post

I had several rough days after getting my second Covid-19 shot, but it sure beats getting a bad case of the virus! The high fever was the worst part for me. It varies from one person to another. Some people just have a sore arm. Don’t let my experience deter you from getting vaccinated.

Until my next blog post

Try not to get too hung up on grammatical errors. In the big scheme of things, they aren’t life-and-death matters. On the other hand, ….

I hope you have a good book or two to read. I’m listening to Truths I Never Told You, by Kelly Rimmer, and I’m reading The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II, by Jan Jarboe Russell. Ms. Russell’s nonfiction book has been a real eye-opener for me. I’ll share more about it in my April 5, 2021 blog post.

Make time for a hobby this week.

What do you think?

Do you think I qualify as a pedant? Survey says….

What are your grammar pet peeves?

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in February 2021

Last week I blogged about four of the books I read last month. Today, I write about the other four books I read in February.


The Unwilling, by John Hart

The Unwilling, by John Hart

John Hart being a southern piedmont North Carolina writer, I looked forward to his new novel, The Unwilling. It did not disappoint. I listened to it on CD. It is a slice of American history when we were divided over the Vietnam War.

It is a riveting story about three brothers. Two were in the military and served in Vietnam. One didn’t survive the war, and the other one came home with problems for the rest of his life. Their youngest brother, Gibby, is the main character. At 18 years old, he is struggling to find his way in life. His mother is over-protective, and his father is a police detective in Charlotte. His parents want him to stay away from the middle brother, Jason, but Gibby can’t help but idolize him and is drawn to hang out with him. This leads to untold trouble.

The seedy, corruptive underbelly of the prison systems comes into play in a gruesome way. This novel is not for the squeamish, but the story really drew me in, and I couldn’t stop listening to it because I wanted to know what was going to happen next to Gibby and Jason. If you like a coming-of-age story wrapped in a police thriller, set in the winding down years of the Vietnam War, with some troubled family dynamics and prison time thrown in, this should be your next read.

Mr. Hart’s inspiration for this novel was Hugh Thompson, the US Army helicopter pilot credited with stopped the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968. It is not a war story per se but is the story of what a soldier sees and does that follows him or her home — the things those who have not been there cannot imagine; but more than that, it is a story of a small city in which the evil one fears isn’t always faraway but sometimes just up the street.


Southern Writers on Writing, edited by Susan Cushman

Southern Writers on Writing, edited by Susan Cushman

This delightful book is a collection of 26 essays by Southern writers, each giving their unique take on writing and how The South influences their writing.

One of my favorite essays in the book is “Southern Fiction: A Tool to Stretch the Soul and Soften the Heart,” by author Julie Cantrell.

Ms. Cantrell hails from Louisiana and writes vividly in her essay about the extremes of life in her home state. I love what she writes about Southern fiction about halfway down page 53 in the book:

“In literature, the South works as a lure by tapping all the senses. When we set a story here, we not only deliver a cast of colorful characters, we share their sinful secrets while serving a mouth-watering meal. We draw readers in with soul-stirring music and landscapes that would make anyone want to disappear beneath the mossy oaks. The South offers a fantasy, a place where time slows and anxieties melt like the ice in a glass of sugar cane rum.”

On page 54, Ms. Cantrell writes: “Many in life say the earth is our mother. If that’s the case, then the South is the lap into which we all crawl to hear her story…. The South is nothing less than a sanctuary for story. It is the porch swing, the rocking chair, the barstool, the back pew. It is everything that made me and shaped me and saved me. As a southern writer, I aim only to invite my readers to enter this sacred space.”

And then I read “The Burden of Southern Literature,” by Katherine Clark. She concisely explained how Southern literature came to be – how the South was looked down on after the Civil War and why would anyone want to read about such a place? Southern writers were weighed down by the region’s history. Writers like William Faulkner struggled to “strike a chord with a national audience.” Then, Faulkner and other southern writers learned to embrace the South and their southern-ness.

Ms. Clark writes on page 56, “Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the writer in the South is not plagued by the burden of southern history, but by the burden of southern literature. Our literary tradition is revered all over the world and has produced many of the best writers to come out of our country. Southern literature is the strongest tradition in American literature, and one of the greatest gifts that American culture has given the world.”

What the southern writer is left with today is the burden not so much of the history of the South, but the wealth of literature that has come out of the South. To paraphrase Ms. Clark, it is inspiring and intimidating. I can vouch for that!

I also liked what Ms. Clark writes about not wallowing in what she calls, “southern-ness.” Here’s a little of what she writes on the topic:

“Whereas 100 years ago, writers had to learn to embrace the differences of the South, nowadays the tendency can be to positively wallow in the eccentricities and grotesqueries of the southern experience, usually of an earlier era. We shouldn’t be wallowing in southern-ness, and we don’t need to embrace it either, because that’s been done. That’s a given now, thanks to our great literary ancestors. Our job today is not to stick to the foundation they laid for us, but to use it as a springboard launching us in the new and different directions demanded by a changing culture.”

River Jordan, another author contributing to Southern Writers on Writing, writes the following about how she can tell when she’s reading the work of a southern writer and when she’s reading the work of New York writer: “…when I read a writer from say New York I think, oh, they are so smart. I could swear I actually hear their brain ticking. But when I read a southern writer I can feel their heart beating. That’s how I know it’s southern. By the heartbeat.”

Ms. Jordan also writes the following about the danger of southern writing disappearing as our lifestyles change: “When the porches all finally disappear, when the backyard steps are replaced with the kind of yards manicured to perfection, then the days of real southern writers will shift and slip away. Assimilation will be complete and southern will be no more.”

I hope she’s wrong, but I worry about the assimilation. I worry as I hear aspects of southern accents disappearing. I worry when I notice that my great-nieces in metro Atlanta sound much less southern than I do.

Speaking of southern accents, the next contributor in Southern Writers on Writing is Lee Smith. I love to hear her talk. Her contribution to the book is from her book, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading five or six years ago. Ms. Smith is southern through-and-through, and her writing oozes “southern.”

About writing, Ms. Smith writes, “Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction, journaling or writing for publication, writing itself is an inherently therapeutic activity. Simply to line up words one after another upon a page is to create some order where it did not exist, to give a recognizable shape to the chaos of our lives.”


30 Short Stories, by Laleh Chini

30 Short Stories, by Laleh Chini

My blogger friend, Laleh Chini, just keeps writing books. You may recall in last week’s blog post (4 Books I Read in February 2021) I told you about her new novel, Soroosh. Also, I’ve blogged about her book Climbing Over Grit in my November 5, 2018 blog post, Many Good Books Read in October!

Laleh is a fantastic storyteller. 30 Short Stories is her new picture book. I don’t often read picture books now, but I just had to purchase and read Laleh’s. Although written for children, this book can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Each of the 30 stories teaches a life lesson. My favorite was the last story in the book, “Racism.” In it, Laleh relates a story of how as a Muslim from Iran she experienced racism in a store in Canada, where she has lived for decades. It’s heartbreaking.

In the spirit of cultural acceptance and respecting and valuing people, no matter their ethnicity or religion, I recommend this book to everyone who is open to seeing that people are just people. We need to take a step back and stop making snap judgments about people just because they are of a different culture than ours.


Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey

Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey

From TV interviews, I know that actor Matthew McConaughey is a good storyteller. Wanting to hear his book in his own voice, I got on the waitlist for the CD edition of Greenlights at the public library as soon as it showed up on the online catalog.

I must admit that listening to Greenlights on CD was probably not the best way to read the book. Mr. McConaughey is an enthusiastic storyteller, and he relates many very entertaining stories in Greenlights; however, as a good storyteller is prone to do, Mr. McConaughey varies the volume of his voice greatly as he spins a yarn. This can create discomfort while listening to the book on CD.

I read a review on Goodreads.com that gave the book a very high rating and recommended listening to it instead of reading it but with the caveat that it should be listened to in a quiet environment. That’s good advice. I would also say you shouldn’t attempt to listen to it with headphones or earbuds. Also, trying to listen to it in one room while someone is trying to sleep in the next room is not a good idea. Just sayin’.

I also admit that I have moderate hearing loss, but I don’t think that was the root of the problem I had in listening to Greenlights. If I set the volume to a comfortable level for the shouting, I could not hear much of the rest of the book. This meant I couldn’t hear the near-whisper parts at all. I had to constantly adjust the volume, so the CD edition of the book was a great disappointment.

Early on, the book talks about Mr. McConaughey’s home life as a child and teen. His parents had a volatile relationship, which couldn’t help but have a profound effect on him. He relates some very funny experiences he had as an exchange student in Australia. In fact, that was my favorite part of the book. He tells interesting and humorous stories about his world travels and how he more or less fell into the occupation of actor.

The overriding theme of the book is that we should learn from all life’s experiences. Don’t let the obstacles in life keep you down. Learn from them and keep going.

If you’re a Matthew McConaughey fan, you’ll enjoy reading the book. Listening to it? Maybe not so much.


Since my last blog post

I’m still reading good books and working on my historical novel manuscript for a partial critique by a professional editor.

I got my second Moderna Covid 19 shot on Saturday. I’m grateful that I live in a country where such things are available, and I’m grateful to all the people who worked to develop and distribute the vaccine. I had some unpleasantness for about 48 hours after the shot, but it surely beats contracting a bad case of Covid-19.

On Wednesday night, I enjoyed participating in the third virtual gathering of a group discussing Janet Givens’ book, LEAPFROG: How to have a civil conversation during an uncivil era. We had an interesting conversation about racial prejudice and our common humanity. I mentioned Ms. Givens’ book in my blog posts on January 18, 2021 ( Fictional Characters Can Take on Lives of Their Own), on December 14, 2020 (Favorite Books Read in 2020), and on April 13, 2020 (LEAPFROG and The Immoral Majority.)


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson, and I’m reading Cicely Tyson’s memoir, Just As I Am. Other library books are piling up and calling my name. What a wonderful “problem” to have!

I hope you have some time for creativity and hobbies this week.

Wear a mask and get vaccinated as soon as that’s possible for your age and location so we can rediscover “normal.”

Janet

#OnThisDay: The Florida Purchase Treaty, 1819. Consider the US without it!

Here I am, with another little history lesson. I hope I’m not losing my audience. My blog is about my journey as a writer. I write history and historical fiction, so continuing to study history and sharing some of what I learn is an integral part of my blog.

Last week I admitted how little I knew about the Spanish-American War. In today’s blog, I’ll admit how little I knew, or at least remembered, about the Florida Purchase. If history could be taught in story form instead of lists of battles and dates, I think we’d all retain more of it later in life.

As you read my post, I want you to think about what the map of the United States would look like today if not for this 1819 treaty.

In case you’re ever on “Jeopardy!”

The Adams-Onis Treaty was negotiated and signed by U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams on February 22, 1819. That’s 202 years ago today. Luis de Onis, the 1809-1819 Spanish Envoy to the United States, negotiated and signed for Spain; hence, the name Adams-Onis Treaty. It’s also known as the Florida Purchase Treaty, the Treaty of 1819, and the Trans-Continental Treaty.

What the treaty accomplished

The United States was still in its infancy as a nation in 1819. It had won two major wars against Great Britain, but it was just 40 years old. The map of the United States was still in flux. In fact, it still is with the possibility of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico possibly gaining statehood status. In 1819, the vast West was still occupied by native peoples and enormous herds of bison and other native animals.

Under this treaty, Spain gave up its claim to the Florida peninsula as well as the panhandle of Florida, the coastal lands of Alabama and Mississippi, and part of Louisiana. The United States temporarily gave up Texas. The boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase were more accurately defined, and the boundary between Spanish Mexico and the United States was settled. Spain relinquished its claim to the lands north of the 42nd parallel known as the Oregon Territory. (The 42nd parallel later formed the northern boundaries of California, Nevada, and Utah.)

What if…?

When I’m writing fiction, I often ask myself, “What if…?” Asking myself that questions leads to plot twists in my fiction, but it can lead to some fascinating theories of how history could have turned out differently if certain events had not happened. I touched on this question in last week’s blog post, #OnThisDay: Remember the Maine! What you might not know, when I asked how history would have unfolded if the Americans had known that the sinking of the Maine was an internal accident and not an act of war by Spain.

Imagine how the United States would look today if the Adams-Onis Florida Purchase Treaty hadn’t been signed and ratified.

There would be no Disney World or Cape Canaveral. Or, if there were, they’d be in Spanish Florida.

Photo credit: Justin Novello on unsplash.com

There would be no white sandy Gulf of Mexico beaches in the United States.

There would be nowhere in the southeast for people from the cold northern states to retire to or spend their winters.

The 55th Super Bowl wouldn’t have been held in Tampa, Florida earlier this month.

There would be no American Floridians creeping along at a snail’s pace on the curvy mountain roads in western North Carolina because they’re terrified of curves and hills. They’d be Spanish Floridians.

All jokes aside, we’d be importing lots of vegetables and citrus fruits from Spain because that’s who would still own what we know now as the state of Florida. And perhaps Spain would still control the Oregon Territory. The map of the United States would look quite different than it does today. Our history would be quite different, and we would lack many of the natural and cultural resources we enjoy today that make our country what it is.

I have given a simplified description of the Adams-Onis Florida Purchase Treaty in this blog post, but on this 202nd anniversary of its signing, I believe we Americans can be glad it was negotiated and signed.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading, writing, and enjoying both. The part of North Carolina I live in, dodged the snow and ice that much of the U.S. has been dealing with. The people of Texas and other areas without electricity and safe drinking water are in my prayers. Mississippi was hit hard, too, but hasn’t received much national publicity.

The first crocus of the year opened near our side porch and the daffodils are coming up. I look forward to spring with great anticipation.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Soroosh, a new novel by Laleh Chini, and listening to The Unwilling, by John Hart.

Find time for your favorite pastime.

Even if you won’t wear a mask to protect yourself, please wear one out of respect for others. We’re all in this Covid-19 pandemic together and it will take all of us working together to get out of it faster.

Note to my neighbors and friends in Canada (including author Laleh Chini): This is “Freedom to Read Week” in your country.

Thank you for dropping by my blog.

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in January 2021

My custom is to share with you my thoughts about the books I read during one calendar month in my first blog of the following month. Last Monday’s post, My thoughts on Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi, was about the novel Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi. In today’s post, I’ll tell you what I thought about the other four books I read in January. It’s a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction books.

After the attempted coup at the US Capitol on January 6, it was difficult to concentrate. My reading suffered, but my writing time suffered even more. I was surprised at the end of the month to discover I’d read five books.

I ran into some problems while trying to insert images of the books I’m blogging about today. Ironically, (or not?) the message I got when I tried to copy the publisher’s image of The Spy and the Traitor said “for security reasons” I was not allowed to use it. I had to laugh. I could download it to my computer, but I couldn’t insert it in today’s blog post. It’s recommended that all blog posts have images, so I’m disappointed to present a post today that has no illustrations.


The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, by Ben MacIntyre

On a scale of one-to-five stars, I give this nonfiction book six stars. The research that backs up this detailed account of the life of double-agent Oleg Gordievsky is stunning. The book reads like a spy novel but is all the more riveting because the reader knows it is true.

I learned about this book when I saw a list of the top five books of 2020 that Bill Gates recommended. This one sounded intriguing, and it didn’t disappoint.

Oleg Gordievsky started out as a KGB agent. Fascinated by the West, though, he read and learned all he could about Great Britain. He also read works of such Soviet dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, even though reading those works or having them in your possession was against the law in the Soviet Union. Gordievsky’s world opened up when he landed an assignment in England. It is there that he became a double agent and became the crown jewel in Great Britain’s MI6 spy network.

I learned how close we came to nuclear war in 1983 when the Soviet Union misinterpreted a NATO war game with the code name ABLE ARCHER 83. The book says on page 181, “Both Reagan and Thatcher understood the Cold War in terms of a Communist threat to peaceful Western democracy; thanks to Gordievsky, they were now aware that Soviet anxiety might represent a greater danger to the world than Soviet aggression.”

It is not common for an individual spy to have a profound impact on world history, but Oleg Gordievsky falls into that category. As the book says of Gordievsky on page 183, “…he opened up the inner workings of the KGB at a pivotal juncture in history, revealing not just what Soviet intelligence was doing (and not doing), but what the Kremlin was thinking and planning, and in so doing transformed the way the West thought about the Soviet Union. He risked his life to betray his country, and made the world a little safer.”

The story is far from over at that point, and the book takes the reader on an edge-of-your-seat nail-biting ride. Will Gordievsky be outed? Will Great Britain succeed in smuggling him out of the Soviet Union? What happens to his wife and daughters? Who turns out to be an American double agent? Is that spy still alive and, if so, where is he? Is Gordievsky still alive and, if so,  where is he?

All these questions and more are answered in the book, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. I highly recommend The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, by Ben MacIntyre. I listened to the book on CD while keeping a print copy in front of me. That made it easier for me to keep up with the unpronounceable Russian names.


My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman

Told from the point-of-view of seven-year-old Elsa, this is another somewhat quirky novel from Fredrik Backman. I think it was clever for Mr. Backman to give us a novel told from a child’s viewpoint. It was an interesting read, but not one of my favorite novels.

I listened to this book on CD. My favorite part of the book turned out to be the first disc, as it included Elsa’s feisty grandmother before she died. It was funny. Elsa’s grandmother wasn’t a typical grandmother or a typical old woman. She delighted in upsetting the powers that be. She thrilled at dragging Elsa into her various escapades.

Since both of my grandmothers died before I was born, I had trouble identifying with Elsa. I don’t have a firm grasp of the personalities of either of my grandmothers; however, since they were farm wives and were born in the second half of the 19th century, they probably didn’t resemble Elsa’s grandmother in any way, shape, or form.

Of course, the reason for this novel was not to entertain the reader with the antics of an old lady. It was to show the ramifications of a life lived as this woman lived it. This woman lived her entire life insulting people, but somewhere deep down inside she wanted to apologize. The burden of making those apologies fell on her granddaughter.


Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia, edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson

This is a book of profiles about nine writers of present-day Appalachia written by writers of present-day Appalachia. It is beautifully illustrated with photographs of the writers and the mountains from which they came. The writers highlighted are Wendell Berry, Crystal Wilkinson, Ron Rash, Adriana Trigiani, Silas House, George Ella Lyon, Frank X. Walker, Marie Junaluska, and Lee Smith.

Some of these writers were familiar to me, while others were not. I was glad to learn about each of them; however, the book did not live up to its promise as far as I was concerned. At least one of the “profiles” turned out to be more about the profiler than the writer being profiled. Therefore, the book ended on a sour note for me. Nevertheless, it’s worth checking out of the public library and giving it your attention.

The book addresses the influence of an author’s geographic upbringing and the importance of writing the truth that one knows. The importance of Appalachian writers to write the truth in order to dispel the myths about the people of Appalachia is an overriding theme.

The most interesting profile for me was that of Marie Junaluska, a Cherokee language teacher and translator.


The Fix, by David Baldacci

I’m attempting to whittle away at the 300 books on my To Be Read list (TBR.) I thought it might be a good idea to try to read one book from my TBR each month. But then I did the math and discovered that, at that rate, it will take me 25 years to read those 300 books. That doesn’t sound doable because I would be 103 years old by then. Also, I tend to add more than one book to my TBR each month, so the list is literally never-ending.

The Fix has been on my TBR for several years. It is the third in David Baldacci’s Amos Decker series. Labeled a thriller, I found The Fix to be more of a spy mystery. It did not keep me on the edge of my chair anxious to see what happened next. Perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for me to read this book, since I had trouble concentrating all month.

I’ve listened to many novels in the last year or two, which is quite a change for me. A lot depends on the professional recording reader. In addition to that, something that jumped out at me in listening to The Fix was how the “he said/she said” tags can distract. When reading a print book, our eyes often leap over those tags. In listening to The Fix, I was very distracted by them. There were several readers – male and female. When I female voice read a line, it was terribly jarring to have the male reader follow it by saying, “she said.” It reminded me that I was listening to a book – and that’s not a good thing. I’m not sure what the remedy is for this, but it continually took me out of the story in this novel.


National Grammar Day in the USA

No, that’s not the name of a book. Today is National Grammar Day in the United States It gives me an opportunity to share with you something I learned recently from a blog post.

I took courage from reading Melissa Donovan’s December 15, 2020 blog post. She opened my eyes to the difference between grammar rules and grammar guidelines. Here’s a link to her blog post: Grammar Guidelines Versus Grammar Rules | Writing Forward.

If grammar grabs your attention, please take time to read Ms. Donovan’s blog post. Like me, you might be surprised to learn that some things you think are grammar rules are just guidelines. You must follow the rules, but you don’t have to follow the guidelines. I wish someone had told me that years ago.

I have stressed over some guidelines because I thought they were rules. One of my favorites is that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. It turns out that rule of earlier centuries is now a guideline. Hurrah! I’ve twisted myself into a pretzel on occasion trying not to break that guideline because I thought it was a rule. What I’ve ended up with are awkward sentences. From now on, I’ll end sentences with a preposition when it makes better sense to do so.

And, by the way, you probably noticed that I used the numeral “4” in my blog post title today instead of “four.” I was taught to write out numbers one through nine in a written document – and always when it is the first word in a title or sentence — and to use numerals for 10 and higher.

I learned recently though, that when writing the title of a blog post, I should always use numerals because they make a bigger impact. They help my SEO (Search Engine Optimization). In those mysterious algorithms of cyberspace, they help my blog posts move up and get seen. They grab a person’s attention. That’s what “they” say.

Bear with me, folks. I’m in my 60s (or sixties?) and I’m trying to learn new things and adapt to the world of technology. When I was born, black and white television, black and white photography, and manual typewriters were cutting edge. And Caribbean was pronounced Ca-rah-be-in.


Since my last blog post

I’ve continued to read and I have some excellent books to share with you in March when I blog about the books I read in February. I have been entertained and educated by these books, and the month is just one-week old. I’ve read two historical novels this week that I can’t wait to tell you about.

I tried my hand at a new recipe for no-knead whole wheat sandwich bread. It held much promise in the beginning, but it turned out the size of half-of-a-sandwich bread. It tastes okay, but looks pitiful. I was disappointed but had to laugh.

We came within a few miles of having snow on Saturday night but only got rain. That’s the way it often is in the piedmont of North Carolina.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read this week – one that will not only entertain you but also educate you. Our learning should never end.

Wear a mask and get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as it’s your turn and you can get an appointment.

Stay safe, and be respectful of others’ desire to stay safe and well.

Janet

My thoughts on Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

I finished reading Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi a few days ago. It made such an impression on me that I decided to write about it today and share my thoughts on the other books I read in January in next Monday’s blog post.

I enjoy following the blogs of book reviewers. Their reviews often pique my interest in books I might have otherwise overlooked. From a review, I can be fairly sure a particular book is or isn’t for me. My fellow blogger, Stella Maud Maurer (https://stellamaudmaurer.wordpress.com/,) wrote about author Ursula Hegi a couple of months ago. It was that blog post that nudged me to read Stones from the River.

I don’t consider myself a book reviewer. I just enjoy sharing my impressions of the books I read. I don’t abide by the rules that book reviewers adhere to. (And if you think I shouldn’t have ended that sentence with a preposition, I’m excited to tell you that I recently learned that “rule” is now just a “guideline.” Look for more on that in a future blog post.)

Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

After reading Stella’s blog post, I wanted to read something by Ursula Hegi. I decided to start with the first novel in her Borgdorf Cycle series, Stones from the River. It wasn’t long before I was captivated by her prose.

Oh, to be able to write descriptions like Ms. Hegi does! She deftly weaves phrases of description into sentences in a way that you hardly notice. I admit, I was reading the book as a writer and not as a reader. The writing really isn’t supposed to pull the reader out of the story, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Trudi, the main character, is a little person. Her mother had what sounds like post-partem depression after Trudi’s birth. Her father, Leo, never gave up on bringing his wife and their daughter into a loving relationship. As a young girl in the late 1910s in Germany, Trudi yearns to grow tall. Her childhood isn’t an easy one, not only because she is different but because her mother is different, too. Her mother’s depression spirals out of control and she takes to hiding under the house, sometimes taking Trudi with her.

And then there’s the neighbor boy, Georg, whose mother wants him to be a girl. She dresses him like a girl and doesn’t cut his hair. Trudi starts to realize that she’s different, her mother’s different, and Georg is also different.

Through it all, Trudi has a priceless sense of humor that comes through especially in her dealings with her friend, Ingrid. Ingrid is tall and beautiful. Trudi would give anything to look like Ingrid; however, Ingrid thinks Trudi is the lucky one.

Trudi works in her father’s “pay library.” 1933 brings Hitler’s orders to destroy all books written by the great authors and thinkers of the day. She and her father hide some of his prized books under rental books in boxes. After all, what better place to hide books than in a library?

One day, Trudi discovers a woman and her little boy hiding under the house that she and her father still share along with the pay-library. They start hiding Jews in their cellar.

Due to her small stature, Trudi never expected to find romantic love. That yearning for love and a family of her own is a thread throughout the novel. I’ll just leave it at that and not spoil the story for you if you wish to read it.

This is a story of the unpredictability of life. It’s a story of thinking you know someone, but then realizing you don’t really know them. The constant backdrop was Nazi Germany. Step-by-step, day-by-day, year-by-year life became more precarious not only for the Jews but for everyone living in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Every word and action was suspect, and you never knew who was listening and watching.

What struck me, though, about this novel was the parallels I saw between Germany in the 1930s until the end of World War II and the United States in 2020 and 2021. If I’d read it when it was published in 1994, it wouldn’t have affected me like it did as I read it in December 2020 and January 2021. Over and over, sentences and paragraphs jumped out at me as if to say, “Wake up, America!”

It’s almost as if Ursula Hegi wrote pointed phrases and sentences in Stones from the River to serve as a cautionary tale for Americans living in the last five years.

The following sentence from Stones from the River stopped me in my tracks, since it rang so true for the United States in 2020: “She fought him by reminding herself what her father had said to Emil Hesping – that they lived in a country where believing had taken the place of knowing.” It seemed in 2020 and still today that nearly half of Americans believed what they were being told by the right-wing media and the Trump Administration instead of believing what they should have known to be true – what they saw and heard with their own eyes and ears. I’m not sure how that gets corrected, but I pray it will be.

There were several other quotes from the book that caught my attention. These three, in light of January 6, 2021: (1) “…breaking of windows….”  (2) “Maybe now, she thought, now in the blaze of fire, they surely would have to see. But it was as if they’d come to take the horrible for granted, mistaking it for the ordinary.” And (3) “Their allegiance to one powerful leader now became their excuse: since they had not made decisions but merely obeyed orders, they were not to blame.”

And this quote from the book parallels the fear some members of Congress now live with because they know that some other members of Congress wish them dead: “‘The Jews in this country,’ she corrected him one Saturday afternoon when he followed her into the garden, lecturing her, ‘are Germans and far more decent than those – those friends of yours who terrorize them –.’”

Since my last blog post

I almost finished the research necessary for the writing of one of my historical short stories. A little more research is needed in order to fill in some blanks. The story morphed into an essay. I had a lot of fun writing the 2,800-word piece on Saturday. The point-of-view “character” is a house. No more clues. I hope before the year is out, I’ll get to turn my stories and essays into a book. You’ll learn it here first, so don’t miss any of my blog posts!

Until my next blog post

Note: Tomorrow through February 8 is “Read an E-Book Week”.  If you’ve been wanting to take the plunge and try reading a book on your electronic device, this is the perfect week to do it. Don’t be an “I only read printed books” snob.

Note: Next Saturday, February 6 is “Take Your Child to the Library Day”. If your local public library is open and you feel safe to take your child there, perhaps you can do so. But if the Covid-19 pandemic has closed your library to in-person service – or you don’t feel safe going there yet – take next Saturday as an opportunity to explore the online resources your local public library system offers. Get your child excited about using the library online now and in-person as soon as that is safe. It will be a gift that keeps on giving for the rest of their lives.

I hope you have a good book to read (in print or on an electronic device) or a good one to write.

Wear a mask and get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as it’s your turn and you can get an appointment.

Stay safe, and be respectful of others’ desire to stay safe and well.

Janet

#Idiom: Reading the Riot Act

Just so you’ll know, I wrote this blog post, except for the “Since my last blog post” and “Until my next blog post” a month or more ago when I had no idea there would be an attempted coup at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021. There had been rumors of political demonstrations in support of the man who lived in the White House until he moved to Florida on January 20, but I had no idea it would be a day of insurrection against the United States of America.

#Insurrection #FailedCoup
Photo Credit: Little Plant on Unsplash.com

The word “riot” does not adequately describe what happened on January 6, 2021. The word “riot” is far too tame to use in talking about that event. What happened that day outside and inside the US Capitol was not a riot; it was an act of domestic terrorism, an insurrection, and attempted coup incited by the man poorly-holding the office of president of the United States at the time.

Nevertheless, the following gives some of the background for the “Reading the Riot Act” idiom.

Reading the Riot Act

Have you ever wondered where the idiomatic expression, “reading the riot act” and its variations originated? I’ve heard the expression all my life, but I couldn’t have given a definitive answer if asked about its origins. As I’ve said before, the evolution of the English language fascinates me, so this will probably be the first of many blog posts I’ll write about idioms.

Another reason for my interest in idioms is, as a writer of historical fiction, I must be careful not to use a word or phrase in a story set at a time before that particular word or phrase came into usage. For many years, I’ve relied on English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh, to guide me in the use of individual words and their meanings through time. Published by Writers Digest Books in 1997, this is an invaluable resource for writers of historical fiction.

However, I’ve recently come to know the book, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms: The Most Comprehensive Collection of Idiomatic Expressions and Phrases, by Christine Ammer. That collection of idioms and idiomatic expressions has opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of my need to be mindful of the use of words and phrases as I write fiction mostly set in America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I’ve been surprised over and over again by the advent of some familiar idioms. And it’s made me feel old to find so many have only just come into general use during my lifetime. English is an ever-changing and evolving language.

What’s an Idiom or Idiomatic Expression?

An idiom or idiomatic expression is a group of words in usage whose meaning is not self-evident by considering the individual words.

If you’re familiar with the expression, “reading the riot act,” you probably know its meaning. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms: The Most Comprehensive Collection of Idiomatic Expressions and Phrases, by Christine Ammer, to read the riot act means to “warn or reprimand forcefully or severely.

It is thought that the first use of the figurative phrase “read the riot act” in print was in William Bradford’s Letters in 1819. This idiom has been in common use since the early 1800s, but exactly what was the riot act that inspired the expression?

The Riot Act of 1714

There was much unrest in Britain early in the eighteenth century. There were riots in 1710, 1714, and 1715, and the existing laws were inadequate to control the situation. The Riot Act of 1714 gave local officials a proclamation that was part of an Act of Parliament to read to a group of 12 or more people who were illegally assembled.

Here’s the wording of the proclamation that had to be read:

“Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!”

You may recall the reading of Miranda Rights I blogged about on December 21, 2020 — Who said the world would end today? — . In like manner of police officers reading the Miranda Rights to a crime suspect in the United States today, a magistrate, mayor, bailiff, sheriff, or justice of the peace in Britain had to read the Riot Act in an effort to break up an unruly crowd. But that’s where the similarity ends.

The Riot Act of 1714 mandated that the people had an hour to disperse or otherwise be charged with a felony. The punishment for noncompliance was the death penalty! That was also the punishment for anyone interfering with the reading of the proclamation.

In actuality, if an assembled group’s rabble rousing escalated, the authorities didn’t have to wait an hour before making arrests.

What precipitated the Riot Act of 1714 ?

Parliament passed the Riot Act in 1714 – the same year George I became King of Britain – and it took effect in August 1715. The Crown feared that Jacobites (Scottish Roman Catholics – mostly Highlanders — who wanted to return James II of England and VII of Scotland and his descendants to the throne in London) would overthrow the government. In fact, the Jacobites invaded England in 1715 and again in 1745. They were eventually defeated at the Battle of Culloden. If the Jacobites had been successful, Roman Catholicism would have become the official religion throughout Britain. But I digress.

Was the Riot Act of 1714 always effective?

Of course not. I found the following two examples:

(1)        There’s conflicting information regarding the act’s effectiveness in 1839 at the Newport Rising. Some reports say the mayor was able to read the entire proclamation, while other reports say he was shot was attempting to read it from a hotel window; and

(2)        It is thought that the last time a sheriff tried to read the Riot Act was at the Battle of George Square in Glasgow, Scotland. People were protesting for shorter work hours on January 31, 1919. There was a confrontation with police. While the sheriff attempted to read the Riot Act, the piece of paper was grabbed out of his hands by protestors. That was apparently the proverbial last straw for the Riot Act of 1714.

According to the UK Parliament website, The Riot Act of 1714 was repealed in 1973, but it hadn’t been enforced in more than a half century. A version is still on the books in Canada.

Since my last blog post

I checked several weeks ago to see just how many blog posts I’d written. Much to my surprise, today’s post is my 500th. Yes, five hundredth! Thank you to those of you who have stuck with me through thick and thin since my first blog in 2010.

Joseph R. Biden has been sworn in as President of the United States, and Kamala Harris has been sworn in as the first female and the first person of African and Asian descent to the office of Vice President of the United States. I think the world took a collective sigh of relief at 11:49 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 20, 2021. I know I did!

I had a bit of a health scare last week, which prompted me to get an appointment on Saturday for a Covid-19 test at a local pharmacy. I’m feeling much better now, so I’m fairly confident that the results will come back “negative.” Better safe than sorry, though. I was pleased with how easy it was to schedule the test. Too bad it’s not as easy and timely to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine. I believe that’s improving, though, here in the United States.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or a good book to write.

Find your passion and make time to pursue it in a creative way.

Wear a mask and get the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as you can.

Thank you for dropping by my blog today.

Janet