I could be the poster child for how hard it is to learn the art and craft of fiction writing. It requires not only reading good fiction to see how certain things are done well but also lots of study and practice.
My first blog every month is traditionally about some of the books I read the month before. Usually, I’ve read five or more novels and I’m eager to write about them; however, in August I concentrated on reading books about the art and craft of writing fiction.
Not being able to afford to take the best writing courses in August, I prioritized the books I needed to read to bone up on such things as characterization and emotion in fiction. Between the books I had purchased through the years (most of them used books or inexpensive e-books) and the books I could borrow from the public library, I identified 18 books and two workbooks I wanted to work through before I attempt to finish polishing the historical novel I’m writing.
In August, I read the following books about the art and craft of writing:
Making It in Historical Fiction, by Libbie Hawker;
Writing Deep Point of View, by Rayne Hall;
Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View, by Jordan Rosenfeld; and
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman (pertinent chapters);
Also, I’m about 50% through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D. I’m working through a few pages each day and doing the many writing exercises provided. It has helped me immensely in rewriting and expanding my characters’ biographical sketches.
There are also many free resources online. There are bloggers with much more writing experience than I who give wonderful tips and advice. There are free online interviews with authors. Check the websites of independent bookstores for scheduled author events. Some are in person, but most seem to still be virtual.
I hope virtual author events will continue after the pandemic. They’re a wonderful way for readers and aspiring writers to get to hear authors. Many of us wouldn’t get to hear them otherwise. At least one good thing has come out of the pandemic!
Once in a while an excellent opportunity comes along that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Such was the six-hour “Writing from the Heart” free webinar I got to watch several weeks ago. (See my August 9, 2021 blog post, 2 Environment- and History-Related Booksto find out some of the topics covered by that webinar.)
Online course: “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel”
In light of the critique the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript received in July (See my July 26, 2021 blog post, How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique), I needed to take C.S. Lakin’s online writing course, “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel.” I must have read the course description a dozen times, but I couldn’t afford to take it.
Then, out of the blue, on August 4, Ms. Lakin offered a $200 discount on the course. That discount made all the difference in the world. I registered for the course, which starts today!
I’m excited about the skills I will learn in the next eight weeks. I’ll keep you posted. Today’s lesson is about high moment and character change.
Since my last blog post
In addition to the writing books I listed above, in August I read Seven Things That Steal Your Joy: Overcoming the Obstacles to Your Happiness, by Joyce Meyer. It not only helped me with my personal life, it gave insight into the inner conflicts some of my characters struggle with.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have one or more good books to read. Thanks to my cousin, Jerome Williams, I’m reading Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear.
There are many sources of conflict and concern in our world. Let’s all try to find something to be thankful for and joyful about every day.
Today’s blog post is the last in a three-part series about some of the things I learned by reading How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith. At the end of today’s post, I’ll include links to the other two.
Today I share with you some of the things I learned about Galveston Island, Gorée Island, and the Epilogue in the book.
There was just too much information in this book to give it appropriate time in one or two blog posts. Needless to say, I highly recommend the book. I’m just hitting the high points in my blog posts.
I did a double take when I read the following words at the beginning of the chapter about Galveston Island: “The long-held myth goes that on June 19, 1865, Union general Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas and read the order that announced the end of slavery.”
So soon after Juneteenth 2021, I couldn’t get past the word “myth.” What in the world could Mr. Smith mean by calling this a myth?
After rereading the opening sentence to make sure I hadn’t misread it, I had to keep reading. My curiosity had been piqued.
Mr. Smith continued with the following: “Though no contemporaneous evidence exists to specifically support the claim, the story of General Granger reading from the balcony embedded itself into local folklore…. It is an annual moment that has taken a myth and turned it into a tradition.”
I read on for several pages before I had a clue why Mr. Smith was calling any part of the Juneteenth celebration a myth. What I learned was something I’d never heard, and we’d do well to learn about the aftermath of June 19, 1865 in Texas.
Now that I have your attention, you’ll need to read Mr. Smith’s book to learn the rest of the story. I don’t want to steal all Mr. Smith’s thunder in my blog post.
Gorée Island is off the coast of Senegal on the west coast of Africa. The native translator who accompanied Clint Smith to the island admitted he felt guilty for never having visited the Slave House. He explained his confliction over realizing that if his ancestors had been captured and taken to the United States as slaves, he would be an American. His ancestors weren’t captured. It gave him a confused feeling.
Over the centuries, Gorée Island was colonized and renamed by a variety of European countries. It was important in the slave trade from the 1500s until 1848 when France abolished slavery in its colonies.
The author just wanted to see where the Slave House was. He didn’t want the full tour, but that’s what he got. He was shown two tiny rooms where African captives were held while waiting to be shipped to America. There was a room that was more like a dungeon where captives who were rebellious were supposedly kept. Mr. Smith was reminded of the Red Hat cell block he’d seen at Angola Prison.
The Slave House has become a symbol of slavery. Bonbarer Joseph Ndiaye, the curator of the facility from 1962 until 2009, came up with the concept of the Door of No Return. I remember seeing pictures of the Door of No Return, but I didn’t remember the name of the island where it was.
The Door of No Return is the focal point at the Slave House. It is presented as the door through which the captives being held inside the Slave House passed just before being loaded on slave ships bound for the United States.
Since Gorée Island is the only chapter in Mr. Smith’s book set in Africa, he addressed the African end of the slave trade. I learned more than I had known about that. Based on what Mr. Smith was told by Eloi Coly, the curator and site manager of the Slave House at the time of the author’s visit, I learned why some African tribal chiefs decided to capture other Africans and use them as currency for what they wanted from the Europeans and Americans. I invite you to read Mr. Smith’s book if you want to learn more about that.
I found it interesting that Mr. Smith found parallels between Senegal and the United States. Just as towns in the U.S. are struggling to change street names from Confederate generals’ names to more appropriate names, in Dakar, Senegal, there is a move afoot to replace the names of streets bearing French colonial names to the names of African heroes.
And just as there is conflict over the removal of Confederate statues in the U.S., in Senegal there is a statue in the ancient capital of Governor Louis Faidherbe, but being an independent country since 1960, perhaps it’s time to take down statues of people associated with colonialism.
Mr. Smith talked to the history teacher at a boarding school for girls on Gorée Island to get his perspective about teaching about slavery in a school in Africa. They also discussed reparations. The teacher has some interesting things to say on that topic.
In the Epilogue, Mr. Smith wrote about how talking to his grandparents born in 1930 (if memory serves me right) and 1939 and hearing their stories as an adult made racial injustice and segregation real to him in a way that textbooks and old black-and-white photographs could not. His grandfather’s grandfather was a slave.
Mr. Smith expressed how jolting it is to realize how recently, in the big scheme of things, slavery was and school segregation was. He is 33 years old. I’m 68 years old. I was in the seventh grade when the schools in my county in North Carolina were optionally desegregated. At the end of that school year, the Black school was closed.
When Mr. Smith wrote his grandmother’s memories of the white children riding by them as they waited for their bus to the Black school, I was right there in my memories. When she told him the white children would throw things at them and hurl racial insults at them through the school bus windows, I was right back on my school bus on Peach Orchard Road at present-day John Bostar Road in the early- to mid-1960s.
I didn’t throw anything and I didn’t yell out the bus window because I was raised better than that. But there were white students on my bus who did those things, and I remember being embarrassed at the time because I knew it was wrong. I can remember it clearly nearly 60 years later, and I wasn’t even one of the victims.
Like Mr. Smith said in his Epilogue of the people who shouted insults in Little Rock and the people who threw things at his grandmother who was born in 1939, some of them are still alive. Likewise, the people on my school bus back in the 1960s and the children they called “the N word” out the bus window are also still alive. It wasn’t that long ago.
Since my last blog post
I keep studying books about the art and craft of writing. I’m working my way through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.
This blog series about How the Word is Passed has created some good discussion. Every comment is appreciated. I hope you’ve gained some new insight into how we present our history in the United States. The book has reminded me that things aren’t always as they seem. Anything we read – even in history books – should prompt us to look deeper into the sources of information. Always search for the truth.
A case in point: The story from history that I originally based the ending of my historical novel on turned out to be a myth. Not wanting to perpetuate a lie, I had to drastically rewrite my book – and that process continues.
I hope you have a good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.
Note: September starts on Wednesday. It is Library Card Sign Up Month, Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month, National Literacy Month, and Read a New Book Month. Wow! Lots of literature-related things to celebrate in September!
You do know that library cards from your local public library in the United States are free, don’t you? That free library card can open up a whole new world to you. All you have to do is ask for it. Maybe the best things in life are free!
Last week’s blog post, Things I Learned from How the Word is Passed – Part I covered some of the things I learned about Monticello Plantation and the Whitney Plantation from How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith. Today I share with you some of the things I learned about Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and New York City from the book.
There was just too much information in this book to give it appropriate time in one or two blog posts, so I’ll wrap this up next Monday. Needless to say, I highly recommend the book. I’m just hitting the high points in my blog posts.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary is known by many as Angola Prison. The author was accompanied to the prison by a Black man, Norris, who spent almost 30 years imprisoned there for a crime he didn’t commit. He wants to show people the connection between Whitney Plantation and Angola Prison.
Norris said if we want to end mass incarceration, we must get at the history of it, the reason it still exists, and what that looks like.
After the Civil War there was a change in policy in Louisiana not to require unanimous jury convictions. It was meant to funnel Blacks into the convict leasing system. Convict leasing partly replaced the labor force lost when slavery ended. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows involuntary servitude as a punishment for crimes committed. Under the convict leasing program, prisoners (mostly Black) could be rented out to individuals and companies. Railroads, plantations, and businesses took advantage of the program. Due to the program, most Angola inmates leased out lived no more than six years because the leasing assignments were often gruesome.
The book goes into more detail about how the laws governing juries changed over the decades, not always to the good.
The author (and I) found it interesting that the tour of Angola Prison begins in the gift shop. A gift shop at a state penitentiary. Such things as shot glasses, sunglasses, and T-shirts with the name of the prison on them are sold.
There is no mention in the prison museum that the place used to be a plantation.
I visited the prison’s website last week and was struck by how it is presented as a tourist destination. I don’t know about you, but when I go on a vacation it never occurs to me to work an operational prison tour or prison rodeo – I’m not making that up! – into my agenda.
Blandford Cemetery is in Petersburg, Virginia. It started as the cemetery for Blandford Anglican Church. It was deconsecrated in 1806 when the congregation decided to move to a more central location. After the Civil War a group of southern women were distressed over how their dead soldiers weren’t being honored like the Union soldiers. There was a 15-year effort to dig up Confederate dead and send them home for reburial, but 30,000 of the 32,200 could not be identified and they remain at Blandford.
The City of Petersburg gave the Ladies Memorial Association the abandoned church as a focal point for the cemetery. They commissioned Tiffany Studios to design stained-glass windows but couldn’t afford the usual $1,700 per window price. They couldn’t afford the $300 per window discounted price, so they went to the Confederate and border states and told them to raise the money. Saints are depicted in 11 of the 13 windows. There are state seals and inscriptions tying the Confederate dead to such things as “the Army of Heaven” in the case of South Carolina.
Before leaving Blandford, the author had an opportunity to talk to the woman in charge there. She seemed uncomfortable fielding his questions and appeared to be uncomfortable that a stack of flyers advertising a Memorial Day event hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that was easily visible on the counter.
This chapter also included some facts and theories about Robert E. Lee.
The author closes the chapter by wondering if we’re all “just patchworks of the stories we’ve been told. What would it take – what does it take – for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life? Even if it means having to fundamentally reexamine who you are and who your family has been? Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to accept it. Just because someone tells you a story doesn’t make that story true.”
To me, that is the unspoken theme of the book.
New York City
Like me, you might have wondered why there is a chapter about New York City in How the Word is Passed.
This chapter is a real eye-opener! As with all the other chapters, I learned more from this chapter than I can possibly include in this blog post.
The author went to the National Museum of the American Indian for a walking tour about slavery and the Underground Railroad. The guide began by telling participants that many things she was going to tell them would make them uncomfortable but that would be all right. We learn by having our beliefs and our misinformation questioned. (I loved this woman already and I wasn’t even there!)
The tour included lots of general facts about slavery. The guide explained that slavery in the United States was different from slavery throughout world history. Historically, people were enslaved after taken prisoners of war or in payment of a debt. These enslavements were usually for a limited time and rarely involved the descendants of the enslaved. Slavery in the U.S. was based on racism and the widely-held belief in Europe that Africans were genetically inferior or subhuman. Skin pigmentation was the defining factor
Owning land and things was a European concept. The Dutch brought the first African slaves to the U.S. (present-day New York City). Eventually, some of the slaves were freed and given land. They weren’t gifted land due to the benevolence of the Dutch, though. The Dutch wanted Blacks to serve as a buffer between them and the Indians.
The British took over New York City in 1664. “According to historian David Brion Davis, around 40 percent of households in British Manhattan owned enslaved people. The practice of keeping female slaves in town to care for homes and white children and sending male slaves outside the city for agricultural work resulted in the slaves not having many children. In turn, this made the transatlantic slave trade more necessary for economic purposes.
In 1712, there was a slave uprising in New York. In it, 25 to 50 slaves killed nine white people. The result? “More than seventy Black people were arrested, forty-three brought to trial, and twenty-three executed – some hanged and others burned at the stake.”
Just before the American Revolution, there were 3,000 slaves in New York City and another 20,000 within 50 miles of Manhattan.
The second largest slave market in the United States was on present-day Wall Street between Pearl and Water Streets in Manhattan, New York City. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t! (The largest slave market in the country was at Charleston, South Carolina.)
Thinking about the banks he could see from the site of the slave market, Mr. Smith delved a little deeper. He discovered the predecessors of several of the largest banks in the United States had accepted slaves as collateral for debts.
The author’s tour guide said, “ʻOne of the biggest lies we are still telling in this century – and I know because I’m trying to combat it – [is that] during the Civil War we were the good guys, right? New York City was good. Everybody else in the South, they were bad.’”
I think that’s a good place for me to stop sharing what Mr. Smith had to say about New York City, although I could go on about such things as the Underground Railroad, a huge slave and free Black cemetery that’s been built over, and the predominately Black village that was destroyed so Central Park could be built.
Since my last blog post
I continue to work on biographical sketches of the characters in my novel. I’ve taken a couple of days off from my writing project this week. I tend to get too serious about my self-inflicted to-do lists. I’m trying to lighten up on myself.
Friday night I worked on genealogy, one of my favorite hobbies. I found lots of interesting information on Ancestry.com. Now, all (Ha ha!) I have to do is make sure I can duplicate the research these other people have done before I add it to my family tree. The problem with genealogy is with every new generation you discover, you want to add another one. This hobby is never finished.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
My blog post next Monday with be about Galveston Island, Goree Island, and the Epilogue in How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith.
My skill doesn’t lie in reviewing books. Most of the books I read, however, do make me think. Many of them prompt me to question the way I’ve seen the world all my life. To my mind, that’s a sign of a great book.
I promised myself to lighten up on my reading in July. In a way, I did. I didn’t read as many books as I usually do in a month’s time. I didn’t lighten up on the content of what I read. The books I read in July were all “heavy” in topic and were not the kind of books you want to read while on vacation at the beach or in the mountains. At least, I don’t. Since I wasn’t going anywhere in July, these books suited me just fine.
Three of the books I read in July had to do with race. I read a book about the caste system in America, and I read a book about the Confederate monuments and how they’ve brought out the worst in some of us. (See my August 2, 2021 blog post, _2 Books about Racial Injustice.)
I read a book about how various venues present either an honest or a skewed image of the history of Black Americans and how many white Americans treated or interacted with them. All three books were thought-provoking to say the least.
How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith
What a book! I found myself taking copious notes, which slowed down my reading considerably. There were so many little gems of insight in the book, I couldn’t stop taking notes.
The author allotted individual chapters to how the story of slavery is told at Monticello Plantation, the Whitney Plantation, Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, Galveston Island, New York City, and Gorée Island.
Before starting to read the book, I didn’t know how it was organized. The way each chapter was written about how the story of slavery is told at these various locations was powerful.
Today’s blog post will cover some of the things I learned about Monticello Plantation and the Whitney Plantation. I’ll save Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and New York City for my next blog post. Galveston Island, Goree Island, and the Epilogue will highlighted in my August 29, 2021 blog post.
Tours available and displays at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, have changed dramatically since the house and grounds were opened for tours in 1923. In the beginning, the tour guides were Black men dressed as house slaves. They had to play a role. Today, tour guides do their own research, plan their remarks, and shadow other guides. There are several tours. One is about slavery on the plantation.
The author was struck by the fact that his tour guide referred to Jefferson’s slaves as “human beings.” To say Jefferson gifted his children and grandchildren with human beings doesn’t sound as palatable to our ears as saying he gifted them with slaves. The tour guide went out of his way to impress upon visitors that the slaves were human beings.
Although Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”), he owned 400 or so slaves over his lifetime and even until death. He wrote eloquently about equality but, as a politician, could not speak out against slavery. When it got down to it, Jefferson didn’t consider his slaves as being human beings.
That leads us to the matter of his relationship with Sally Hemings. There is now a Sally Hemings Exhibit at Monticello. It has received a range of reactions from visitors. I suppose I knew this at one time but I’d forgotten that Sally Hemings and Jefferson’s wife, Martha, were half-sisters.
The Whitney Plantation
I hadn’t heard of the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, an hour west of New Orleans. It’s off the beaten path and not the kind of place one just happens upon and decides to visit. How is the story of slavery told (or, the word passed) at Whitney Plantation? In a rather shocking way.
There are 55 ceramic dark heads of black men on metal stakes.
In 1804, slaves in Haiti rebelled and defeated the French. They founded the first “Black-led republic in the world.” After this defeat, Napoleon Bonaparte sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States (while Thomas Jefferson was president) for $15 million (= four cents per acre.) If not for the success of the revolt in Haiti, Napoleon probably wouldn’t have sold Louisiana to the United States!
In 1811, there was a slave uprising in Louisiana. Within 48 hours the armed (knives, machetes, muskets) rebellion was put down. It had been led by a mixed-race slave driver, Charles Deslondes. He was captured and to say they made an example of him would be a gross understatement. To quote from the book, “His hands were chopped off, the bones of his legs were shattered with bullets, and he was burned over a bale of hay. Many of the rebels were slaughtered on-site, their heads cut off and posted on stakes that lined the levee, a warning to other enslaved people that this was the price to pay for rebellion.”
How is it that I’ve never heard or read about this?
John Cummings purchased Whitney Plantation in 1999 and invested almost $10 million in it over the next 20 years. He donated it in 2019. It is now a non-profit.
There is high poverty in the area, which is 90% Black. The area is known as “Cancer Alley” due to the high incidence of cancer caused by the petroleum plants nearby. As quoted in the book, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II said of the area, “ʻThe same land that held people captive through slavery is now holding people captive through this environmental injustice and devastation.”
At Whitney, they utilize the late-1930s Federal Writers’ Project to help them tell the stories of slaves using their own words. According to the book, “The voices and stories of enslaved people are the foundation of how visitors experience the Whitney.” The author’s point about this was that through the Federal Writers’ Project, former slaves got to tell their stories in their own words. The author theorizes that by allowing such former slaves as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to tell their stories, they consciously not only denied most average or common slaves (the ones who did not escape) the chance to tell their stories but also thereby made sure those slaves who did not escape would be looked down upon as not trying “hard enough.”
This is part of the insidiousness of white supremacy – to shine a light on the exceptions and place “blame on those who cannot, in the most brutal circumstances, attain superhuman heights. It does this instead of blaming the system, the people who built it, the people who maintained it.”
There is a Wall of Honor at Whitney with the names, country of origin, and date or year of slaves at the plantation.
Sexual violence is also addressed at Whitney. The rape of female slaves by white owners was about power. The owners knew the female slaves were powerless to refuse their advances. To really understand slavery, the sexual violence against women must be included in the equation.
The trade in slaves’ bodies is also addressed in this chapter. Medical schools like Harvard, and the Universities of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia often bought Black corpses on the black market for research.
Did you know all this about Whitney Plantation? I didn’t. And to think, I considered skipping that chapter because I’d never heard of that plantation!
Since my last blog post
I had a rollercoaster week with my novel. In studying point-of-view, I wrestled with which one to use. In my draft of the novel, I was apparently head jumping as I changed the story’s point-of-view character occasionally at scene or chapter breaks. I thought that was acceptable, but not when you’re writing in third person intimate.
I considered rewriting the book in first-person, but that would be a real challenge for several reasons. I spent hours studying various points-of-view and the rules governing each. I find these rules maddening. I took a walk to clear my brain overload because I thought some fresh air and exercise would result in mental clarity. Then, I took a second walk. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I went back through my manuscript scene-by-scene and determined how every scene could be changed into Sarah’s point-of-view or which parts could be modified to be part of the trial. I concluded third person intimate is still going to work best for this novel.
In the process of digging deeper into point-of-view, I stumbled upon several articles and YouTube videos about the Rashomon Effect. I realized I’m already using it in my trial scenes, and now I know what it’s called.
On Tuesday evening I watched and listened to an interview with author James Tate Hill. Mr. Hill lost his vision as a teen. In addition to his just-released memoir, Blind Man’s Bluff, Mr.Hill has written a novel, Academy Gothic, which was awarded the Nilsen Literary Prize for a First Novel. It always gives my writing a boost to hear an author speak or be interviewed. This interview was online and was hosted by Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC.
I’m slowly working my way through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional and Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon. I purchased it years ago and should have read it and taken it to heart then. I’m glad I rediscovered it. It’s really putting me through the paces and will help my writing on many levels. It has a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon. I don’t know why it doesn’t have a 5 out of 5.
Until my next blog post
If you can get your hands on a copy of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith this week, please do so. I can’t imagine you will regret reading it.
I hope you have How the Word is Passed or another good book to read.
There was a common theme in two books I read in July. They weren’t books I read for pleasure. They were books I read because I knew I should read them. I needed to open my eyes.
I needed to remove those rose-colored glasses through which one sees old southern plantations like “Tara” of Gone With the Wind fame, where white slave owners and slaves were all just one big happy family. The only bad guys in most of those stories were the occasional evil-minded heavy-handed overseer.
That’s the fiction we’ve grown up reading. It’s the fiction we’ve grown up watching on TV and on the big silver screens in movie theaters. But it’s fiction.
There’s nothing particularly wrong in settling down to read Gone With the Wind, but it isn’t a history book. It’s fiction. Too often we let fiction color our perceptions of how things were “in the good old days.” They weren’t “good old days” for everyone.
It’s like watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show or Father Knows Best and yearning for life to return to how it was in the 1950s and 1960s. But life wasn’t good for everyone in those decades. If you were in the white majority then in the United States, you probably have pretty good memories of those decades. If you are a person of color who grew up or were an adult in that era, your memories are probably tainted by incidents and even everyday occurrences that were meant to “keep you in your place.”
Two of the books I read in July were No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice, by Karen L. Cox and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. Racial injustice is the common thread the two books share. They weren’t pleasant reading, but they were enlightening and enriching reading. I highly recommend both.
No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice, by Karen L. Cox
Karen L. Cox is a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. During the shut-down days of the Covid-19 pandemic, I heard her interviewed online. I immediately got on the waitlist at the library for her latest book, No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice. Due to that same pandemic, the library was very slow to receive the book order. Nevertheless, it was well worth the wait.
Written by a history professor, the 178-page text is indexed and thoroughly annotated with source notes and references. There is an extensive bibliography.
As the opening words of the inside fold of the book jacket states, “When it comes to Confederate monuments, there is no common ground. Polarizing debates over their meaning have intensified into legislative maneuvering to preserve the statues, legal battles to remove them, and rowdy crowds taking matters into their own hands. These conflicts have raged for well over a century—but they’ve never been as intense as they are today.”
The day I started reading No Common Ground, July 9, 2021, was the day a video clip on the news on TV shows a crane removing a statue of Robert E. Lee sitting on his horse, Traveler, from its place in Richmond, Virginia. It was noted that a statue of “Stonewall” Jackson would come down next.
We’ve seen many such news reports over the last couple of years as more and more people are realizing that these statues that many of us thought of as just part of the landscape and markers of our history were, in fact, very offensive to our fellow citizens of color.
Dr. Cox’s book examines the history of Confederate monuments and the mindset of the generations of southerners who erected them. Her book brings that history forward to the points of disagreement those statues represent today.
The book explains how Ladies Memorial Associations sprang up throughout the former Confederate states immediately after the Civil War. They were groups of white southern women who led the way in raising awareness and money to bring home the bodies of many Confederate soldiers who had died on battlefields far from home. Theirs was seen as “holy work.”
Those organizations morphed into the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1894. It was the UDC that is responsible for the majority of Confederate monuments. The organization’s main purpose was educating children about their revisionist version of the history of the Confederate States of America, and erecting ever-taller, ever-larger monuments in public places such as county courthouse lawns ran a close second.
As Jim Crow laws gained authority in the 1890s and the lynching of black citizens became more common, the UDC dedicated more and more monuments. Fiery speeches and big celebrations accompanied those dedication ceremonies and they drew huge crowds.
Robert E. Lee thought the constructing of great Confederate monuments was “antithetical to a peaceful reconciliation” after the Civil War, but some southerners were undeterred. Lee died in 1870, and as soon as Reconstruction ended in 1877 state legislatures got involved in building statues of Lee.
A 109-foot tall $36,474 (an estimated $945,000 in today’s dollars) monument to Lee was unveiled in 1884 in New Orleans at the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. Not to be outdone, the city of Richmond unveiled its massive statue of Lee sitting atop his horse, Traveler, in 1890.
The Confederate monument building really came into its own around 1895 and continued until World War II, only interrupted during that time by the World War I years. Between 1900 and 1940, more than 550 Confederate monuments were erected.
No Common Ground doesn’t end there, but I’ll stop there. I wanted to share some of the things I learned about the history of the Confederate monuments that have been much in the news in the last several years as there’s been a push to tear them down. If you’ve paid attention, you already know about those recent events.
I read No Common Ground because I wanted to know the history of the Confederate monuments. The more I learn, the more I know there’s really no place for them in our world today. They were built more out of hate than honor. They were built as tangible symbols of white supremacy, and such symbols should not be tolerated today.
I hope I’ve shared enough from the book to make you want to read it. When you know better, you (should) do better.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson
If you are serious about figuring out what’s at the root of our discontents in today’s society in the United States, read this book.
I’d never thought about our having a caste system in the United States. That was something they had in India, but not here! But the more I got into Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, the more I thought she made a very good point. We don’t call it a caste system, and we don’t like to talk about having a class system, but I believe Ms. Wilkerson is correct in her deductions after her extensive research.
This is a hard pill for most of us to swallow. We like to think of America as being a beacon of liberty and individual freedoms. Compared to many other nations, it is; however, follow Ms. Wilkerson as she methodically lays out her thesis and you will, possibly, also conclude that we have our own brand of a caste system here. It’s not as rigid and blatant as the caste system in India, but it is written on our souls.
Those of us who are Caucasian don’t want to be told we’re racist. Even the most “woke” and antiracists among us, though, must admit that we have enjoyed countless privileges that were and continue to be afforded us simply due to the light hues of our skin and the texture of our hair.
I shuddered as I read parts of Ms. Wilkerson’s book. She related stories of terror, abuse, torment, and murder that have occurred throughout our nation’s history – but were not included in those written histories. The shameful acts of discrimination and physical violence against people of color in the United States continue today. It is incumbent upon all of us to speak out against it.
Once you know injustices are happening, you simply can’t turn a blind eye. It’s easy to use the excuse, “What can one person do?” We must move beyond the excuses and find ways to fight injustice.
As many state legislatures in the United States are enacting laws to make it harder for people to vote, it is our obligation to make it known to lawmakers and our fellow citizens that this isn’t right.
Be an informed citizen. The state legislators who are pushing laws of voter suppression don’t advertise it. They usually work quietly and, literally, under the cover of darkness. Before you know it, it’s done. It’s the law.
They use that favorite lie that there is rampant voter fraud. The truth is that there is rampant voter suppression. Creating US Congressional districts “with surgical precision” as was done in North Carolina needs to be held up to the light. The only case of fraud perpetrated in the 2018 election in North Carolina was perpetrated by a candidate’s campaign – and that candidate was a member of the political party that cries first and loudest about voter fraud.
What will you say when your grandchildren ask you what you did to stop racial injustice?
Since my last blog post
I’ve received many supportive and conversation-starting comments about last Monday’s blog post. I appreciate the interest that post created and every comment.
I’ve studied setting in fiction writing – setting in general and rural pioneer setting in particular. I’m making my way through C.S. Lakin’s book, Layer Your Novel.
Until my next blog post
I plan to continue to study setting and scene construction.
I hope you have a good book to read. If you can get your hands on a copy of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson, I highly recommend it.
My blog post last Monday was about three historical novels I read in June, so today’s post is about the other four novels I read last month. I was amazed at how many good books I got to read or listen to.
The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz
As an aspiring novelist, I really enjoyed this book. The premise of The Plot is that a wannabe writer teaches writing one summer at a failing college in Vermont. One of his students is a real pain in the neck but a good writer.
The student shared with the instructor his idea for a novel. The instructor thought it was a brilliant idea. When the instructor found out the student had died and supposedly left no living relatives, the instructor writes a novel based on the student’s plot. He becomes famous and is much sought after. Just as his second novel is to be released, though, he receives a scary message: “You’re a thief.”
I think I’ll stop there and let you read the book to find out what happens. Is the writing instructor really a thief? And are the messages coming from his student’s long-lost niece or someone else? The ending surprised me.
The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer
After liking Kelly Rimmer’s earlier historical novels, The Things We Cannot Say (See my September 9, 2019 blog post: #BringBackOurGirls) and Before I Let Her Go (See my October 7, 2019 blog post: Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month) I got on the waitlist at the public library for her new novel, The Warsaw Orphan, as soon as it showed up on the library’s catalog as having been order. I was able to check out the book on CD a couple of weeks ago, and it did not disappoint.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading novels set in World War II Europe. This story grabbed my attention immediately and never lagged. Sometimes plots lag in the middle of a book, but not this one.
As you might surmise from the title, this novel is set in Warsaw, Poland beginning in the spring of 1942. Elzbieta Rabinek is a teen girl who grows more and more afraid of the German police patrolling the city streets and ever more aware of and concerned for the Jews who were confined in the ghetto behind the city wall.
You’ll find that Elzbieta is not necessarily who she passes as, and this is the case for more than one major character in the book. She befriends a young man who lives in the ghetto while she volunteers with a nurse who is secretly smuggling children out of the ghetto. There is danger, terror, and courage at every turn. This book will keep you turning the pages or wanting to listen to “just one more CD” before you turn the light off at night.
The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff
I’ll start by saying this novel is not a pleasant read, but it’s an important historical novel. It opened my eyes to the horrors of the Jews who escaped capture by the Nazis by hiding in the sewers. This is unimaginable to me, but it is true.
The book brings out the stench and filth in which these people lived for more than a year. In that respect, the sewer itself becomes a character in the book. The protagonist, Sadie, is a teen girl who looks up through a sewer grate one day and sees a girl, Ella, about her age. Sadie and Ella make eye contact and Ella returns to the grate to look down into the sewer to talk to Sadie. Ella’s family is not Jewish and they enjoy a comfortable life. Both girls must keep their friendship secret.
The Jews hiding in the sewer are at the mercy of a young man who brings them scraps of food. It is barely enough to keep them alive. To compound the situation, Sadie’s mother is pregnant.
This story is filled with suspense. The ending was bittersweet, but I loved the epilogue.
I’d heard and read good things about this novel and looked forward to listening to it. I had trouble keeping up with whose point-of-view I was hearing, though, so I returned the book on CD to the public library.
Reading the printed book might be easier, when I get a chance to do that. I think the problem was mine and not the writer’s. With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I sometimes have concentration difficulties.
One thing in the book made me laugh out loud. You may recall that on March 29, 2021, my blog post title was #Idiom: As All Get Out. Several of you responded to let me know you’d never heard that expression before, while others said that you had but not in a long time. I was absolutely delighted that one of the characters in Local Woman Missing used “as all get out” several times.
I’ll probably give this book another chance when I can read it on my Kindle and adjust the font size.
Since my last blog post
I’ve worked on my historical novel manuscript. It feels great to be back on it! I’ve arranged for a professional editor to evaluate the first 50 pages of my 303-page manuscript. I’ll let you know what she has to say about it in a future blog post.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read. I’m reading several.
I hope you’ve been able to get your Covid-19 vaccination, if you’re health allows you to take it. Variants of the virus will continue to develop until a greater percentage of us receive the vaccine. How fortunate we are to live in the 21st century when such vaccines are possible!
I read a bunch of good books in June, so without any delay I’ll jump right in to tell you what I thought of three of them.
The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian
I hardly know what to say about this debut historical novel by Kelly Mustian, a native of Mississippi. Wow! What a great book!
I’ll be careful not to give away anything about the plot. Ada is a white teen. Matilda is a black teen just a little older than Ada. They both live along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi in the early 1920s. When the book begins, they don’t know each other.
A string of ill-fated events throw the girls together in the stilt shack Ada lives in on the swamp. Both of them have secrets, some of which they don’t learn about one another until near the end of the book.
This book will keep you turning pages and yearning for Ada and Matilda to get the opportunities they deserve to have better lives. Ms. Mustian is a true wordsmith. She writes beautifully and even weaves a touch of humor here and there in this book of tragedies. She carefully crafted every sentence. I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!
The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh
The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh was inspired by true events in Belfast during the early days of World War II.
Denise Weston Austin was one of the first female zookeepers at the Belfast Zoo. Ms. Austin took a baby elephant named Sheila out of the zoo so she could escape being killed when the Ireland government ordered the zoo animals to be killed after Germany started bombing Belfast.
Government officials feared that if the zoo enclosures were damaged in future bombings, the animals could escape and pose a threat to local residents. Ms. Austin took the elephant to her home north of Belfast!
Author Sheila Kirk Walsh took that information and more historical facts and wove a fascinating novel about a fictional character – Hettie Quin — based on Denise Weston Austin and Violet – the name of the elephant in the book.
It was a frightening time with much death and destruction in Belfast. Ms. Walsh drew on her own experience in Manhattan on 9/11 to bring to this novel a feeling of insecurity and not knowing what might happen next.
There is depth to this novel, as Hettie Quin loses much that is near and dear to her. She not only saves Violet, Violet saves her.
Charlotte McCurry read the book for the CD edition. Her lovely Irish brogue added an air of authenticity to the story.
My apologies to Ms. Walsh. I was unable to capture a clear photograph of the book.
The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang
The premise of this novel enticed me to check it out. It’s based on a real event. In 1937, during the Second Sino-China War, university students and faculty members took 500-year-old Chinese writings (“the Library of Legends”) more than 1,000 miles on foot in an effort to save them from the bombings of the major cities by the Japanese. The premise intrigued me.
What I didn’t know, was that these ancient writings were just that: legends. Some of those legends are interwoven into the book. While that fantasy element appeals to some readers, it doesn’t especially appeal to me. I’m just not a fan of fantasy novels.
That said, I enjoyed the parts of the book that described the actual arduous journey taken by a group from one university, but I found myself skipping the pages about the legends. Halfway through the book, I stopped to read reviews of the novel. Some reviewers loved it because it is a combination historical novel/fantasy novel, while others disliked it for that very reason. I’m afraid I fall into that second camp.
It is said that China was fighting two wars at the same time. They were fighting Japan and they were fighting to keep communism out of their country. The communist influence is brought out in the book.
It was definitely worth my while to read as much of this book as I did. I learned something about Chinese history. It amazes me that university students and faculty members walked more than 1,000 miles in order to save some of the most treasured Chinese writings. I had no idea!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. Remember – you don’t have to finish reading a book just because you started reading it. That’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn. I don’t know why. That lesson finally became real to me last month when I was able to walk away from The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang. I had learned what I was meant to learn from it.
I’m listening to Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. I highly recommend it!
I hope you enjoy your vocation or your retirement, and that you have time to enjoy a hobby.
My planned topic for today’s blog post was #OnThisDay: World War I Treaty of Versailles; however, a book I started reading earlier this month and hope to finish in July pulled at my heartstrings and begged to be written about. The name of the book is The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.
One of my blogger friends, Janet Givens (author of LEAPFROG: How to Hold a Civil C Conversation in an Uncivil Era) moderates a group on Zoom the second Wednesday night of each month for 10 months this year. I’m privileged to be in the group. We’re from varied backgrounds and regions of the country; however, I am the lone Southerner. This puts added pressure on me to make interesting and intelligent contributions to the discussions. Being the introvert that I am, this isn’t easy.
Each month, we discuss a different chapter in Janet’s book. The group is all-female and there are no people of color. Since race relations is such an important and difficult issue in our society today, our discussions often evolve into that subject matter. I’m making some strides to help the others in the group see that all white people from the South aren’t bigots.
During our group discussion in May, one of the members said she was reading and highly recommended The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. I immediately got on the waitlist for it at the public library. I’m so glad I did.
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
I read the first 50 pages of this nonfiction book and the notes about the author’s methodology on my Kindle before it had to be returned to the library. I was captivated by the subject matter: The Great Migration of black Americans from the South to points north and west from 1910 into the 1970s.
The author interviewed more than 1,200 people and did extensive research. It had to be a labor of love and devotion because the miles and decades involved in The Great Migration would have deterred most researchers. The book is beautifully and artfully written and puts names and personalities on the stories of the hardships these migrants faced in the South and the courage and desperation it took for them to leave the only homes and people they knew and to strike out in search of a better life in other regions of the United States.
The Jim Crow laws and unwritten laws and policies in the South were the driving force in The Great Migration.
The Govan brothers of Harrisburg, North Carolina
Reading this book brought to mind a story a black man in his 90s told me around 2010 when I was a freelance local history columnist for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper in Harrisburg, North Carolina. Mr. George Govan graciously allowed me to visit him on numerous occasions and ask him anything I wanted to about his life. We talked about race, and he helped me realize what a privileged life I’d lived due to the color of my skin.
One of the stories Mr. Govan shared with me was about one of his older brothers. I won’t give his brother’s name in this blog post out of respect for the man’s privacy, although I’m quite certain he’s no longer living.
When I interviewed Mr. Govan, I’d never heard the term “The Great Migration,” so I didn’t make a connection at the time. A few pages into The Warmth of Other Suns, I couldn’t help but recall what Mr. Govan had told me about his brother.
Without giving any advance indication that he planned to leave Harrisburg, North Carolina, George Govan’s older brother stopped plowing with a mule in the middle of a field in 1929 or 1930, shrugged out of the straps of the plowing apparatus, walked several miles into town, and hopped a northbound train.
When George got home from school that afternoon, his father told him that his brother had left and now, in the ninth grade, George would have to quit school and do the farm work his brother had been doing.
It would be two years before the family would learn that George’s brother had made it to Washington, DC. There, he struggled for years before making a good life for himself and his family.
What struck me about that story is that George Govan felt no ill will toward his brother. I’m not sure I would have been that gracious and forgiving if my older brother or sister had left me in a situation that made it necessary for me to have to quit school in the ninth grade.
In my many conversations with Mr. Govan, I never picked up on any bitterness in his heart although, as a black man born in 1917, he certainly had numerous excuses for being bitter if he had chosen that life path.
Since my last blog post
Our computer printer suddenly stopped working one day. Going a week without a printer can drive a writer to distraction. At least, that’s what it did to me.
I’ve been reading, reading, reading.
When I’m not reading, I’m eating tomatoes, squash, okra, and corn from the local farmers market. Nothing can beat that first tomato sandwich of the summer or that first bite of bi-color corn-on-the cob.
Until my next blog post
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that tomorrow would have been my father’s 110th birthday. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 66 in 1977. He and Mama both instilled in me a love of history and reading. My mother was an author in her own right, and I’m very proud today of the church history she wrote in 1976.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve had many good ones to read in May, and I can’t wait to tell you about them in my blog posts on July 5 and 12.
Were you or were members of your family part of The Great Migration? Did you know people of color who left the South and moved west or north between 1910 and into the 1970s? I’d love to hear your stories.
If you don’t wish to share your stories with me online, please take time to tell the younger people in your family about your experiences. Also, write them down. You can do it! Your written memories will be a wonderful gift to leave your family.
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.
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.
This historical novel is based on a group of students from the all-female Smith College who volunteered to go to France during World War I to aide civilians displaced by the war. Being from Smith College, they came from wealthy families. I had trouble identifying with any of the students except for Katie, who was not from a rich family.
This failure on my part to identify with most of the characters left me feeling a little disappointed in the book. I just wasn’t able to suspend memories of my own experience of working my way through college and graduate school enough to put myself in the shoes of these wealthy young women. That’s my problem, not the author’s fault.
I will give Lauren Willig’s novels another chance. She is obviously a talented historical fiction author. Reading novels about wealthy people just isn’t interesting to me, usually. Reading about privileged white college women in 1918 didn’t interest me enough to finish listening to this book. It’s well-written and inspired by a true story, but the privileged attitudes of some of the students irritated me. I had to work my way through college, so I can’t identify with the students in this novel.
The Last Green Valley, by Mark T. Sullivan
This is a book I’d looked forward to listening to but, like I mentioned about the audio recording of Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey in an earlier blog post, there were so many extremes in volume on this CD that I just couldn’t deal with it.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.