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.
Allen Rizzi writes a blog that I follow. His post on March 30, 2021 (https://wordpress.com/post/janetswritingblog.com/17269) struck a chord with me and got me thinking. I made note of it so I could consider using the idea in one of my blog posts. I didn’t want to just duplicate the essence of Mr. Rizzi’s blog post, so I waited until I could put my own spin on it.
Mr. Rizzi asked his readers to share their earliest memories. The comments he received were surprising to me, for one woman remembered some details of a stay with her grandparents when she was nine months old. A man remembered his first ride in an airplane at the age of two.
I was amazed at both of those responses. I can’t remember anything from those early ages. I tried to think what my earliest memory was, but I was stumped for a few minutes.
My earliest memory
After pondering the question for a few minutes, I realized my earliest memory is of my Grandpa Morrison. He was the only one of my grandparents still living when I was born. He died when I was three years, five months, one week old.
Grandpa was unwell and pretty much bedridden by the time I was born. But he still had his cane. He spent his daytime hours in what is or was called a daybed. He kept his cane at easy reach. He didn’t shave every day.
My memories of him are specific: He delighted in taking the back of my tender little hand and rubbing it up his stubbled cheek to make me laugh. When I got within reach of his wooden cane, he delighted in tapping me lightly in the stomach to make me laugh.
Evaluating my earliest memory
I know what Grandpa looked like because I’ve seen photographs of him, but I have no recollection of what he looked like. Read that sentence again. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Taking it a step further, do you know why that sentence describes a distinct difference in memory? I didn’t understand the difference until I read Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova last week.
Dr.Genova is a neuroscientist and an excellent writer. She has to be an excellent writer if someone like me can understand what she’s trying to get across. Seriously. Understanding the intricacies of science was never my forte.
In her book, Dr. Genova explains how our brains create memories and store memories. She explains various types of memories: episodic, semantic, working, and “muscle” memory. She explains how working memory is able to retain a small number of items and for only 15 to 30 seconds.
It was interesting for me to read in Dr. Genova’s book that the average age for one’s earliest episodic memory as an adult is three years old, so my memory of my grandfather was right on time.
Dr. Genova explains how we’re able to remember the details of an evening on the beach such as the smell of salt air, the name of the song playing, what we ate, and a child getting stung by a jellyfish. We remember that collection of details in an episodic memory; however, another person who was present on that same beach that same night might not remember what song was playing but they might remember there were mosquitoes. That’s because we each pay attention to different details.
The reason I remember my grandfather rubbing my tiny hand up he stubbled cheek and poking me gently in the stomach with his cane is probably because he did it repeatedly. It’s not that I remember “that time” he did it. I remember it because that’s the way in his bedridden state he was able to interact with me and the way it made me feel created a memory in my brain.
Grandpa couldn’t hold me on his lap. He couldn’t push me in a swing. He couldn’t play hide-and-seek with me. He did the two things he knew he could do that made me giggle. Once he did them once, he remembered they made me giggle. With that memory, he probably did those two things every time I visited him thereafter. In a fascinating way, his memory to do those things also prompted my brain to remember them. His memory of what made me laugh in turn made my brain create a memory.
One last word about my memories of my grandfather.
One of the last chapters in Dr. Genova’s book is about Alzheimer’s Disease. One point she makes about Alzheimer’s patients is that they might not remember for five minutes what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel. She refers to this as emotional memory.
I hope I’m not making an incorrect connection here – because my point has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s Disease — but this made me think about my memories of Grandpa Morrison. I don’t recollect what he looked like. I only know what he looked like from seeing photographs; however, I remember how he made me feel – even though I was only three years old when he died.
Back to Allen Rizzi’s blog post and my original question
Even after reading Dr. Genova’s book, I still marvel that a nine-month-old baby could years later remember her stay with her grandparents or that a two-year-old could remember an airplane ride, but I don’t doubt them because the brain is a complex and wondrous thing.
The more I learn about the brain, the more I’m in awe of it. To paraphrase something I heard Dr. Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and current Director of the National Institutes of Health, say in a speech at Queens University of Charlotte a few years ago: The more I learn about the human body, the more I’m convinced that there is a God who created it.
Since my last blog post
I have finished reading or continue to read a number of books. I’ll share with you more about Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova, in my blog post on June 7 or June 14 when I tell you about all the books I read in May.
Thank you, Allen Rizzi for inspiring me to write today’s blog post.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read. In her book, Dr. Genova says that one way we can try to avoid getting Alzheimer’s Disease (unless we’re predisposed due to our DNA) is to read books like hers that teach us new things.
Celebrate life and look for the positives. Look for the wildflowers! My yard and the open meadow across the road from my house are full of them!
Note: June is Audiobook Appreciation Month. If you’ve never listened to a book, try it. You might like it!
I read more books than usual last month. Today’s post is about the four books I read that were not historical fiction. If you missed my blog last Monday about the five historical novels I read in April, here’s the link to it: 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.
Let’s jump right in!
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,”by Zora Neale Hurston
I’m not sure how this 2018 book escaped my attention for three years. I’m just glad I stumbled upon it recently.
Edited by Deborah G. Plant with a foreword by Alice Walker, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is author and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s account of her numerous conversations with a man who was on the last slave ship from Africa to the United States.
Bringing slaves into the United States was made illegal in 1808; however, the trade was not completely stopped just by making a law. In 1859, two brothers originally from Maine and their business partner originally from Nova Scotia, illegally transported 130 African slaves from the coast of Nigeria to Mobile, Alabama on board a ship named Clotilde. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is the story of a 19-year-old man who was on that last slave ship to come to the United States.
The man’s name was Kossola, but his American name was Cudgo Lewis. Zora Neale Hurston found out about him, and a benefactor made it financially possible for her to go to Alabama for an extended time in order to meet Kossola and form a relationship of trust with him in order to hear and record his life story.
Kossola’s story of life in Africa, his capture, and his Middle Passage transport to Alabama is bone chilling. The details of how he was captured by the army of the king of Dahomey aligns with the historical record of that ruthless African king and his blood thirsty army of women and men.
What an amazing gift Ms. Hurston left for us! We are fortunate that Kossola lived long enough that Ms. Hurston was able to visit him a number of times over a three-month period in 1927 and put his words on paper. Publishers wanted Ms. Hurston to “correct” Kossola’s words to proper English, but she stood her ground and insisted that his words by pronunciation be preserved in the book.
I couldn’t help but think about the blog post I wrote two weeks ago (Censorship and Reader Sensitivities) and how appropriate I think it was for history’s sake for Kossola’s words to be recorded exactly how he said them.
There is an extensive appendix in the book. Included in it are a couple of children’s games from Africa, parables that are original with Kossola (from his own life experience), and various Bible stories told in Kossola’s own words.
There is also an extensive Afterword in the book about Ms. Hurston’s research and some debate about her motives and accuracy. It seems that Kossola had become known as the last surviving slave from the last slave ship to America and there were others who wished to interview him. It was Zora Neale Hurston who was most successful in gaining his trust and recording his story. Ms. Hurston is remembered for his illustrious career as a social scientist, but she was just getting started in 1927.
Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson
I got on the waitlist for Cicely Tyson’s memoir the minute I heard about it. The book was on order by the public library, so I had to wait a while for it. In the meantime, Ms. Tyson died at the age of 96. I’d been a fan of hers since her performance in the movie, Sounder, in 1972. I was blown away by her portrayal of Miss Janie Pittman in the TV film, The Autobiography of Miss Janie Pittman.
Just As I Am was an interesting read. I learned about Ms. Tyson’s childhood in East Harlem, New York, and how her parents doted on her. She was their middle child, but she was born with a heart murmur that caused the doctor to predict she wouldn’t live more than three months. No wonder they treated her like a princess.
But there was a dark side to Ms. Tyson’s childhood. Her father was a womanizer. Her mother was a strict disciplinarian. Her parents had violent fights and Ms. Tyson was often caught in the middle.
Ms. Tyson had a sixth sense. Even as a child, she knew some events that were going to happen in the future because she could smell it (as was the case of a fire) or sense it in another way. Her mother was also blessed with a sixth sense, so the fact that Cicely had the gift was no big deal.
Early in the book, Ms. Tyson wrote about racial discrimination and our common humanity. It really struck a chord with me because I was reading that chapter the morning after the Zoom meeting of a group I’m in during which we had discussed racial prejudice and our common humanity. I couldn’t wait to tell the others in the group about the first chapter in Just As I Am.
She writes about what a rude awakening it was for her one day when she witnessed her mother and a group of other Black women on the street in New York City being looked up and down and evaluated by white people seeking a domestic laborer. It hit her as being no different from the way slaves were treated on the auction block a century earlier, and it made an impact on her life that she never forgot.
The 1920s and 1930s were her childhood and youth decades. What an interesting era! Although the Roaring 20s became the Great Depression in the 1930s, most people of color in the United States didn’t enjoy the abundance of the Wall Street in the 20s. And they had always been at an economic disadvantage, so the Great Depression wasn’t too much worse than what they were already experiencing.
It was in 1934 that the Federal Housing Administration instituted the practice of redlining to prohibit people of color from purchasing homes in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods. On the other hand, that era produced Black writers like W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. It was the age of jazz and the Harlem Renaissance.
On the flipside were the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from which the United States is stilling feeling ramifications and probably always will. That horrible experiment on Blacks today makes many people of color afraid to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
As you see, I could go on and on with examples of the backdrop of Ms. Tyson’s childhood, but perhaps you’d rather read the book for yourself.
Throughout the book, Ms. Tyson gives God credit for leading her. She speaks of an unflinching faith in God that sustained her from childhood until her last days. Events that others might have called coincidences, Ms. Tyson recognized as the hand of God working out her life’s journey. That’s how her modeling career came about, and that’s how her acting career fell into place without her even knowing that’s what she was meant to do.
This was an entertaining and enlightening read about a woman I have long appreciated as an actress without knowing anything about her background.
The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini
This most recent novel by Laleh Chini is about war and one young woman’s experience in Poland during World War II. It is written in person from that woman’s point-of-view. Hanna Przybylski reminisces about the lovely and peaceful city squares and bustling marketplaces in Warsaw of her growing-up years in the 1920s. Her mother was an artist. When her mother has a second child, a girl named Lena, when Hanna is 11 years old, they think their family and their lives are complete. The Great War was over and life is good.
Everything starts to unravel when Lena is a toddler and their mother dies. When the father remarries just three months after the mother’s death, Hanna’s life spirals downward. When Hanna is 16 years old, Germany started bombing Warsaw. World War II is beginning and will further disrupt Hanna’s life. What I’ve shared just covers the first 17% of the book.
What will become of Hanna and Lena? Will Hanna become responsible for more children than Lena? Will they flee Poland for a safer place? Will there be people to help them along the way? Will their father care what his daughters do? Did he and his second wife have children? Will Hanna survive World War II?
You’ll have to read The Endless Sunset to find out. The book is enriched by illustrations by Nihuel Navarro, whose website can be found at nihu.artstation.com.
Dictionary of Americanisms (1848), by John Russell Bartlett
I was expecting this book to take the form of a dictionary; however, the majority of it is narrative.
Near the end of this book there is a short section about some words that were “charged upon us as Americanism” but they are actually derived from English provinces. Examples are expect for suspect, reckon for think, and guess for suppose. These “Americanisms” come from Kent and Derbyshire in England.
The book continues with some words that were apparently Americanisms when the book was written in 1848, but they don’t make sense to me today. Among them are clever for good natured; desk for pulpit; and improve for occupy, or employ.
The book pays its respects to the clergy for starting and continuing to use solemnize for to make serious. Other Americanisms the writer didn’t appreciate at all included transpire for happen, and temper in the sense of passion or irritation.
Jumping on “educated men, and particularly … the clergy,” the writer bemoans the evolution of some nouns into verbs such as to fellowship, to eventuate, to doxologize, to happify, and to donate.
The author would, no doubt, be horrified at the evolution of American English since 1848. This book is proof that American English is forever changing. The words in common usage in 1848 that grated on the nerves of the dictionary author, have for the most part fallen by the wayside today.
By far, my favorite “new” word after reading this dictionary is happify!
Since my last blog post
I continue to have good books to read – in fact, more than I have time to read. I’m also doing some scrapbooking.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read. Try to get caught reading, since May is Get Caught Reading Month!
If you don’t have a hobby, find one. It will enrich your life.
Note: In addition to being “Get Caught Reading Month,” May is Short Story Month.
April brought me a boatload of good historical novels! I’m not sure what next month holds, but it will be difficult for May to match what I got to read in April. If you know me, you know that historical fiction is my preference in literature. It’s a joy when so many good new historical novels are released (or reach the top of my waitlist at the public library) at the same time.
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
You may recall that I read News of the World, by Paulette Jiles in October 2017 and blogged about it on November 6, 2017 in Some Good New Books. Also, I blogged about a favorite quote from that book on May 14, 2018 in The Lampasas County Asylum. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie that’s been made by the same name, News of the World, starring Tom Hanks. I haven’t seen it yet.
One of the things I like about Paulette Jiles’ writing is how she manages to sneak in bits of humor. Simon the Fiddler is by no means a comedy, yet Simon’s sense of humor comes through and makes him a very likeable fellow.
The story takes place at the end of the American Civil War. Simon has managed to escape being conscripted by the Confederate Army until a barroom brawl in Victoria, Texas in March 1865. His life of flitting around making somewhat of a living playing his fiddle is briefly interrupted by a stint in a Confederate regimental band.
After the war, Simon sets his sights on buying land in Texas, building a house, and settling down to create a family. Along the way he meets up with a variety of musicians and a beautiful young lady from Ireland whose life in America is so awful she wishes she’d never left her home country. She steals Simon’s heart.
Every time you think things can’t get worse for poor Simon, something worse happens. Such is the bedrock of fiction, and so goes this tale.
I invite you to come along for the ride with Simon, his companions, and the love of his life. Does he get what he’s been seeking all his life by the time you reach the last page of the book? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.
I enjoyed listening to Simon the Fiddler on CD. The professional reader is Grover Gardner.
Yellow Wife, by Sadeqa Johnson
Sadeqa Johnson was inspired to write this historical novel after learning about the life of Mary Lumpkin. Mary Lumpkin was a 12-year-old slave of Robert Lumpkin in Virginia. She bore him at least five children.
Ms. Johnson did extensive research into the lives of Robert Lumpkin and Mary Lumpkin and has woven a gripping novel that will keep you turning pages and yearning for something good to happen to Mary. The book contains many scenes of unthinkable beatings and the torture of slaves. Mr. Lumpkin owned a jail where slaves were sent for punishment, and Mr. Lumpkin delighted in inflicting that punishment. He absolutely delighted in it. I didn’t know that slave jails existed until I read this book.
Ms. Johnson put herself in the body of Mary Lumpkin and, thereby, puts the reader there, too. As much as is possible, Ms. Johnson helps us to put ourselves in the shoes of a slave woman who is at the mercy of her master and is put in an awkward position with her fellow slaves because she is seen as the favored one. All the while, her heart is broken because she can’t be with the man she truly loves and who truly loves her. For Mr. Lumpkin, Mary is a wife of convenience.
Yellow Wife is not a pleasant read, but it is based on a true story – one we as Americans should know about and not forget. It’s part of our history.
The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner
I highly recommend this historical novel set in San Francisco in 1906 – the year of the Great San Francisco Earthquake.
Sophie lives in the north of Ireland and seeks a better life in America. She joins her brother in New York City, but he soon falls in love and moves to Canada. Sophie’s life as a single young female Irish immigrant in the big city leaves her desperate for a better life. She answers a mail-order bride ad and travels to San Francisco to marry a widower who has promised her a stable life and a ready-made family: a five-year-old daughter. Sophie’s dream has come true. She longs to be a mother, but she’s been told she can physically never have her own child.
From the beginning in San Francisco there are clues that her husband, Martin Hockings might not be all he’s cracked up to be on paper, but Sophie tries her best to adapt and be patient with him and his daughter, who won’t talk.
From there, the book takes off in unexpected directions – and the earthquake hasn’t even occurred yet. Hold on for the ride as a pregnant stranger shows up at Sophie’s door one day asking for a Martin Hockings. Don’t jump to conclusions, though; it’s not what you’re thinking. Sophie’s life unravels quickly from this point. Her discoveries take her and Martin’s little girl through the harrowing earthquake and on a journey to Arizona see what they can find out about the girl’s dead mother.
I hope I haven’t told you too much. There are more secrets in this book than “all get out.”
(If the idiom, “all get out” leaves you scratching your head, please read my March 29, 2021 blog post for clarification: #Idiom: As All Get Out.)
If you are a fan of historical fiction, you’ll love The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner!
The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff
I don’t know why it took me until now to read The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff. I added it to my To Be Read List after reading a good review of it on https://jennifertarheelreader.com/ way back in February 2019.
You might recall that I blogged about The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff in my August 7, 2017 blog post, Late July Reading. I enjoyed that book, so that adds to the mystery of why I waited until last month to read The Lost Girls of Paris. Being historical fiction, Ms. Jenoff’s books are right down my alley.
The Lost Girls of Paris transports you to France in 1944. It’s about young women who volunteered to be radio operators behind enemy lines during World War II. Participants were carefully chosen and trained. They knew they were putting their lives on the line in the Allies’ attempt to defeat Nazi Germany.
A woman looks in an abandoned suitcase at Grand Central Station in New York City and discovers photographs of 12 women. She sets out on a mission to find the owner of the suitcase, and she wants to know something about the women in the photographs. Her research leads her to Washington, DC and on an on-the-ground search for the woman who trained and led the group.
There are twists, turns, courage, fear, loyalty, and betrayal in this novel that will keep you turning the pages.
By the way, Pam Jenoff has a new historical novel on the way: The Woman with the Blue Star is scheduled for release on May 4, 2021. I’m on the waitlist for it at the public library.
The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner
I listened to The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner on CD. I usually don’t enjoy novels that take two different timelines, but this one really held my interest. A secret apothecary in London in 1791 caters to women who need an herbal way to get rid of the oppressive men in their lives. An innocent mistake made by a 12-year-old girl who takes a serious interest in learning the apothecary trade turns the 18th century story on it’s head and threatens to be the end of the hidden business.
In comes a present-day young woman, Caroline, from the United States. She has a variety of personal issues to sort out and, early in her visit to London finds an intriguing medicine bottle on the bank of the Thames. This launches Caroline on a mission to find out all she can about the apothecary whose stamp in on the bottle.
The novel is well-researched and is sure to be of interest to anyone with a curiosity about herbal remedies and herbal poisons used in secret in 18th century England.
Since my last blog post
I’ve been dealing with an allergic reaction to poison oak. It hasn’t been fun, but the prednisone injection is helping. I’d forgotten just how intense the itching sensation is once one is exposed to the innocent-looking plant.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book or two to read this week. Maybe you’ll get to read one of the three books I wrote about today. Next Monday I’ll blog about the other books I read in April.
Make time to relax and enjoy a hobby.
Stay safe and well – and please wear a mask when necessary.
Note: May is Get Caught Reading Month! Have you been caught yet?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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.”