Books Read in July 2022

Suddenly, it’s the first Monday in August! Summer months fly back too quickly for me. (I’m not a fall or winter person.) Today’s blog post is about the books I read in July. I hope my comments will prompt you to read one or more of them.

I try to always point out that I’m not a book reviewer. I just like to share my thoughts about some of the books I read. I don’t follow any book review guidelines. I don’t receive books for review. I get 99.9% of my books from the public library. I’m not beholding to any of the authors I mention – or to any publishers. Reading is just part of my journey as a writer.


The Foundling, by Ann Leary

The Foundling, by Ann Leary

This novel is based on an experience of the author’s grandmother. It’s Ms. Leary’s fourth novel, but the first one of hers that I’ve read.

Set in 1927, The Foundling is the story of two women who grew up in the same orphanage.

As an adult, one of them is falsely accused of being “simple-minded” and is incarcerated in a facility for such women of child-bearing age. They’ll all be released when they can no longer have a child. The “reasoning” behind that policy is that a simple-minded woman will pass on her mental deficiencies to her children.

As an adult, the other woman gets a job working in the facility where her long ago childhood friend is being held against her will.

The female worker is determined to get her friend released because she knows she shouldn’t be in the facility. Along the way, the worker befriends a newspaper reporter who has always wanted to write an exposé about the facility.

At times, I found the worker to be too gullible, but I was completely drawn into the story and had to keep reading to find out what happened in the end.


Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, by Sally Cronin

Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, by Sally Cronin

This is an e-book I purchase several years ago. It landed on my TBR and there it stayed. I follow Sally Cronin’s blog and she follows mine. Please check out one of her posts from yesterday. ( https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2022/07/31/smorgasbord-posts-from-my-archives-memoir-waterford-ireland-history-the-colour-of-life-the-shop-and-bakery-family-1840s-1940s-by-geoff-cronin/).

I finally got around to reading one of her books. Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet is a delightful collection of Sally’s stories. They run the gamut from humorous to sad and bittersweet. I enjoyed each one and found it impossible to choose a favorite.

It’s not the only book of yours I’ll read, Sally! I promise!


Sparring Partners, by John Grisham

Sparring Partners, by John Grisham

This latest book by John Grisham is a collection of three novellas. By definition, a novella is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.

If you do an online search for guidelines about word counts, you’ll find there’s no ironclad publishing industry agreement. Trust me. I’ve tried to find definitive guidelines. I tend to give more credence to Brian A. Klems, the online editor for Writer’s Digest magazine than to some of the other sources. Mr. Klems said a short story is 1,500 to 30,000 words; a novella is 30,000 to 50,000 words; and a novel is 55,000 to 300,000 words. As you can see, there’s a lot of leeway in there.

That being said, I don’t know the word counts of Mr. Grisham’s novellas in Sparring Partners. The title of the book is a clue that each of the novellas is about lawyers.

The first one is the longest of the three novellas. It’s about a lawyer who steals settlement money from clients and then abandons his family and flees the United States. He’s had no contact with anyone for years. The plot gets quite involved. A local reporter is determined to unravel the mystery of the lawyer’s disappearance. Rumors swirl about the lawyer’s whereabouts and there’s speculation he has returned to the area. His wife is dying of cancer. One of their two daughters wants to talk to him. Is he being investigated or have the authorities just written him off?

The second novella is called “Strawberry Moon.” It was my favorite of the three, which probably qualifies me as a proverbial “bleeding heart liberal.” It is a touching story about a young man who is in the wrong place at the wrong time as a young teen and ends up on death row. That’s where he’s been for 15 years and he’s scheduled to be executed tonight.

Mr. Grisham has a knack for getting across his philosophy about a moral issue in his books – something that novice authors are advised to avoid. I love how Mr. Grisham is able to pull it off and remain one of America’s most prolific authors. The moral issue he tackles in “Strawberry Moon” is capital punishment. He also conveys the importance of books and how books (and a person who gets books into the hands of a death row prisoner) can have a profound impact on a prisoner.

“Strawberry Moon” brought me to tears – which a story rarely does.

The third novella in Sparring Partners is about a young man who enters a hospital for relatively routine surgery and leaves the hospital paralyzed. A lawyer wants to make a big splash by winning a tremendous settlement from the hospital for his client.

I had trouble getting into this novella and completely lost interest in the plot when it came to light that there was a snake in someone’s house. It was after midnight when I got to that part of the story. Not good! I didn’t read the rest of the story. Just sayin’.

I highly recommend the first two novellas in Sparring Partners. I’ve heard that Mr. Grisham enjoyed writing this format, so maybe he’ll write more novellas for us. I hope so – as long as he leaves the snakes out!


Gray Mountain, by John Grisham

Gray Mountain, by John Grisham

It was coincidental that I read two books last month by John Grisham. That can happen when you’re on the waitlist at the public library for multiple books by one author. Murphy’s Law sometimes kicks in, and you get both books at the same time.

When I logged into my Goodreads.com account to list this novel on my “Currently Reading” list, I discovered that I’d already read the book and given it four stars. The funny (and slightly frightening thing) is that I have no recollection of having read the book.

The “up” side of that is that I got to enjoy it all over again. With absolutely no memory of the plot, every twist, turn, and development was a surprise.

In true Grisham fashion, this legal thriller grabbed my interest from the beginning and never let me go. It took me back to the dark economic days of 2008 with the failures of huge financial institutions and the uncertainly of the time.

The book follows Samantha Cofer from the day she is laid off by a large financial institution in New York City and given the option of working for a short-listed nonprofit organization for free for one year. The reward would be that she might get a job again with the company that laid her off.

Samantha signs on with a nonprofit in southwestern Virginia’s coal country and is introduced to the underbelly of big coal companies and the way in which they rape the Appalachian Mountains and leave wildlife and people in dire straits and in worse conditions than they were before strip mining started destroying mountains from the top down with the resulting debris cutting off streams and the resulting slurry behind forever – or until a dam breaks and it crashes down the mountains to pollute the water, destroy homes, and wreck peoples’ lives.

I listened to Gray Mountain on a Playaway device while I took my daily walks. Some days I walked longer than planned, because I wanted to keep listening to the book. Books can be good for your physical health, as well as good for your mental health.

I highly recommend the book… even if you’ve read it. Or, especially if you’ve read it but forgotten all about it.


Since my last blog post

My sister and I have been busy compiling family favorite recipes and typing them in my new Atticus writing software program. We hope to publish them! I’ll keep you posted on our progress toward that goal.

I’ve also been organizing my thoughts toward publishing some historical short stories. One I’m considering writing has led me to early 18th century research about Essex County, Virginia – a place one of my ancestors lived in the early 1700s.

My historical novels are on the back burner but not forgotten as I turn my immediate attention to things I can start publishing on a smaller scale.


Until my next blog post

Keep reading! I hope you have at least one good book to read.

Make time for family, friends, and a hobby.

Start writing a journal or a book. You know you have a book in you that’s begging to come out!

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, or Highland Park, etc.

Also, add to that list the people of eastern Kentucky as well as the wildfire areas in the western United States. Do what you can.

Janet

More Quotes from Madeleine L’Engle

In today’s blog post, I’m revisiting a favorite book, Madeleine L’Engle {Herself}: Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase. This little book is filled with gems from author Madeleine L’Engle.

Here’s a sampling of Ms. L’Engle’s quotes from the book:

From page 287, “Avoid Limiting Vocabulary”

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

          “I have a profound conviction that is it most dangerous to tamper with the word. I’ve been asked why it’s wrong to provide the author of a pleasure book, a non-textbook, with a controlled vocabulary list. First of all, to give an author at list of words and tell him to write a book for children using no word that is not on the list strikes me as blasphemy.”

She goes on to give the word soporific from Beatrix Potter’s description of the effect lettuce had on Peter Rabbit. Soporific was the perfect word and much better than saying, “Lettuce made Peter sleepy.”


From page 295, “Writers Are Dangerous”

Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

          “When Hugh and I went on a trip to Russia I almost didn’t get a visa because our travel agent put down my occupation as writer. Writers think. Writers ask questions. Writers are dangerous. She finally persuaded ‘them’ that I write only for children and was not a threat. In any dictatorship, writers are among the first to be imprisoned, and vocabulary is quickly diminished and language deteriorates. Writers, if their vocabulary is not leashed, are quick to see injustice, and rouse the people to do something about it. We need words with which to think; kill words and we won’t be able to think and we’ll be easier to manipulate.”


From page 106, “The Pain of Rejection”

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

          “During that dreadful decade [of rejection’ I pinned on my workroom wall a cartoon in which a writer, bearing a rejected manuscript, is dejectedly leaving a publisher’s office; the caption says, ‘We’re very sorry, Mr. Tolstoy, but we aren’t in the market for a war story right now.’


From page 39, “A Work of Art Is Work”

          “A young writer told me once that she was asked by a neighbor what she did; and when she replied that she writes poetry, the neighbor said, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean your hobby.’ A woman probing about how much a year I make in royalties remarked, ‘And to think most people would have had to work so hard for that.’

          “Well, make no mistake about it, a work of art – great or small, major or minor – is work. It’s hard work. El Greco’s paintings didn’t just spring to the canvas in an hour. And it encourages me to think of the enormous amount of rewriting Dostoyevsky did – thousands of pages just thrown out.”

I think that’s a good Madeleine L’Engle quote to end my post. In case you want more of her quotes from Madeleine L’Engle {Herself}: Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase, look for this delightful book in an independent bookstore or online. Also, here’s the link to my June 20, 2022 blog post, A Book Chock-Full of Gems.

Madeleine L’Engle {Herself}: Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase

Since my last blog post

Along with almost everyone else in the northern hemisphere, I’m trying to stay cool during this very hot summer. My thoughts are with the people who have been affected by severe drought and wildfires, the people who have to work outside, and the people who don’t have air-conditioning.

I grew up without air-conditioning. When you’ve never had something, you just make do. Once you’ve grown accustomed to air-conditioning in the summer and central heat in the winter, though, it’s hard to give them up. I don’t want to go back to those hot, humid nights when it was too hot to sleep.


Until my next blog post

Read a good book. More than one, if you have the time and opportunity.

Don’t take a single day for granted.

Spend time with friends and family.

Remember the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, Highland Park, . . . .

Janet

Three Books Read in June 2022

The month of June brought a nice variety of books to me. I found myself listening to one on a Playaway device while I walked, listening to one on CD, reading part of a very long print book, as well as parts of a couple of e-books.

Here are my thoughts on three of those books.


What Happened to the Bennetts, by Lisa Scottoline

What Happened to the Bennetts, by Lisa Scottoline

A pickup truck driver appears to want to carjack the Bennett family in this latest book by Lisa Scottoline, but nothing in this novel turns out to be as it seems. In the incident, the Bennett daughter is killed. Her parents and brother are put in the witness protection program, but it soon becomes clear that all the FBI agents aren’t on the up-and-up.

The book is written in first-person, from the viewpoint of Mr. Bennett.

For my taste, this novel was longer than it should have been. Perhaps that’s because I was listening to it on Playaway from the public library.

My main takeaway from the novel was how innocent, victimized people can have their lives turned upside down when forced to enter the witness protection program for their own safety.


A Sacred Oath, by Mark T. Esper

A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times, by Mark T. Esper

When I requested this book by former US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, I didn’t realize it was more than 700 pages long. I admit that I didn’t read every word of it.

Secretary Esper writes about his efforts to modernize and improve the US military.

The book did refresh my memory about some things that Trump did while in the White House. Secretary Esper’s book gives some details of conflicts he had with Trump. Esper was especially irritated about Trump’s constant attempt to politicize the military.

He writes about how he and Gen. Mark A. Milley felt duped and used by Trump on June 1, 2020 when he instructed them to go with him to see the damage that had been done to St. John’s Episcopal Church the night before during protests against the murder of George Floyd. It turned out to just be a political photo op for Trump, which made Secretary Esper incredibly uncomfortable.

Secretary Esper writes about Trump’s dislike for Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and the president’s knee-jerk request that the Department of Defense pull 9,500 military personnel and their 10,000 to 20,000 family members out of Germany in three months.

And there was Trump’s grandiose desire for a military parade in Washington, DC that would have rivaled those typical of Russia, China, and North Korea.

I hope Secretary Esper spoke for most of us when he wrote the following:

“The most shocking and troubling event of the Trump presidency was the organization and incitement of a pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and stopped the constitutional process Congress was following to affirm the election and transfer of power to a new president. I never thought I would see what happened on Capitol Hill that day.”

It’s a sad narrative when the US Secretary of Defense has to see himself as a buffer between the US President and the US Constitution. I’ve just hit the highlights.


The Alzheimer’s Prevention Food Guide, by Sue Stillman Linja, RDN LD and SeAnne Sefaii-Waite PhD RDN LD

The Alzheimer’s Prevention Food Guide, by Sue Stillman Linja, RDN LD and SeAnne Sefaii-Waite PhD RDN LD

After reading about the MIND diet, which is based on the theory that we might be able to postpone getting Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years by eating certain foods and avoiding certain other foods, I found The Alzheimer’s Prevention Food Guide at the public library.

I found it to be a thorough, yet simple, food guide. It is well organized and takes a great many foods one-by-one and tells exactly why each one is good for us and why it is particularly good if you’re trying to take steps to possibly postpone Alzheimer’s Disease. Among the benefits listed for each one are anti-inflammatory, cognitive function, nerve function, memory, cell regeneration, and sleep enhancement.

The foods addressed in the book are all healthy. Their connection to Alzheimer’s isn’t totally proven, but what do you have to lose by giving them a try?


Since my last blog post

I appreciate Sally Cronin highlighting my June 27, 2022 blog post on her blog, https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2022/07/02/smorgasbord-blogger-weekly-july-2nd-2022-writing-d-g-kaye-with-wendy-van-camp-review-olga-nunez-miret-stress-david-kanigan-idioms-janet-morrison-wip-stevie-turner-personalities-cheryl/ . (That’s a long URL. I hope it works!) My blog has been visited by a number of Sally’s readers. If you’ve never visited her blog, I highly recommend it. She blogs about book, music, and throws in some humorous videos and cartoons. It really is a smorgasbord.

I’ve continued to work on my genealogy.

I’m considering buying Atticus writing/book publishing software to help me get some of my projects e-published or possibly published in paperback form. I’ve been impressed with their customer service. I e-mailed them a question and have received two prompt and helpful replies!


Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read and a rewarding hobby to relax with.

Spend some quality time with family and friends.

Remember the people of Ukraine; Uvalde, Texas; and the people of Highland Park, Illinois – especially the orphaned two-year-old boy and the partially-paralyzed little boy.

Janet

A Book Chock-Full of Gems

Early last summer, I finished reading Madeleine L’Engle {Herself}: Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase. It’s a collection of Ms. L’Engle’s statements about writing and other topics. You might be familiar with her Newberry Medal winner A Wrinkle in Time or one of her other 49 books.

Madeleine L’Engle {Herself} is a book to be savored. Each page is a quote of something Ms. L’Engle said or wrote about life.

Each quote is a gem. Therefore, I allowed myself to read no more than two pages per day. I wanted the reading of the book to last as long as possible. My few minutes with the book each day soon became my favorite part of the day. I’ve tried finding another book of equal quality and richness that I can read in tiny snatches each day, but nothing has measured up to this book.

It’s one of those rare books that I visit again and again. I enjoy just reading and savoring each random page.

I considered making memes of Ms. L’Engle’s words of wisdom for Facebook, Twitter, or my blog, but there was no way to settle on just a few. To use all of them or even a sizeable percentage of them would put me under the jail for copyright infringement.

Therefore, I’ll share just a few quotes from the book with you, and leave it to you to pamper yourself by reading the entire book.

From page 19, “Again and Again”

Photo credit: Jason Heung on unsplash.com

“With free will, we are able to try something new. Maybe it doesn’t work, or we make mistakes and learn from them. We try something else. That doesn’t work, either. So we try yet something else again. When I study the working processes of the great artists I am awed at the hundreds and hundreds of sketches made before the painter begins to be ready to put anything on the canvas. It gives me fresh courage to know of the massive revision Dostoyevsky make of all his books – the hundreds of pages that got written and thrown out before one was kept. A performer must rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, making mistakes, discarding, trying again and again.”

From page 164, “Creativity in Children”

Photo credit: Catherine Hammond on unsplash.com

“I don’t think all children have to write, but I think they all have to read. Reading is an incredibly creative act. Once a schoolchild asked about all the illustrations in my books and was a little bit surprised that they’re not illustrated. He’d read them and seen the illustrations in his own mind. So to read a book is to create a book. To read a book is to listen, to visualize, to see. If the reader, child or adult, cannot create the book along with the writer, the book is stillborn.”

From page 145, “Story Is Revelatory”

“Your point of view as a human being is going to come over in your work whether you know it or not. There’s no way you can hide it. So if you are a Christian, your work is going to be Christian. There’s no way you can hide that. If you’re not, you can talk about Jesus all you like and it’s not going to be Christian. If you are someone who cares about human beings, that’s going to come over in your work. If you are indifferent to the fate of other people, that’s also going to show.

“You cannot hide yourself, and that’s a very scary thing – particularly true, oddly enough in fiction. Sometimes in nonfiction you can hide yourself behind statistics and facts, but in fiction you are writing story, and story is revelatory. One of the wonderful things that comes out of story is that you not only find out more about your characters, ultimately you are helping to write your own story.”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re like me, you have more books you want to read than you have time to read them.

Madeleine L’Engle {Herself}: Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase

After reading the above quotes from Madeleine L’Engle {Herself}: Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase, I hope you’ll decide to add that book to your collection. You’ll want to read it more than once.

Make time for a hobby. I’ve let my dulcimer sit in its case in the corner of the room for so long that the case needs to be dusted. That’s never a good sign if you’re trying to learn how to play a musical instrument.

Remember the people of Ukraine and Uvalde, Texas.

Janet

4 Books Read in May 2022

I read a somewhat odd combination of books last month. I’m sharing my thoughts about them in today’s blog post.


The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan

This historical novel is based on the story of a real family. In light of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, I think this was the perfect time for me to read it.

a novel of Ukraine
The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan

With the backdrop of the history of the Holodomor (“The Horror”) of 1932-33 during which Joseph Stalin starved to death more than four million Ukrainians, the book demonstrates a deep-seated anger between Russia and Ukraine. After World War II, Stalin sent millions to work camps (including many to Siberia) and they were never heard from again. This history puts this year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine in perspective. No wonder Ukrainians would rather die than live under Putin’s thumb! They’ve tasted freedom, and they aren’t going back!

During World War II, Ukrainians were caught between Stalin and Hitler. That is where The Last Green Valley begins with the Martel family.

The Martels are of German ancestry and they live in Ukraine in the early- to mid-1940s. They’ve survived Stalin’s attempt to starve them. Now, World War II rages on and the Martels are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Do they take their chances with Stalin’s Russian Army or do they trust Hitler’s troops to guide them safely out of Ukraine? They choose the Germans and there begins the family’s horrendous trek across Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland.

This book is a novel of the human spirit, faith in God and in our fellow human beings. It is also a book of man’s inhumanity to man. In the end, it is also a story of the dream called America.

The book’s “Afterword” will refresh your memory about Ukrainian-Russian history.

You might recall that I read Mark Sullivan’s novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, in December 2019 and blogged about it on January 13, 2020: The Other Books I Read in December 2019. I tried listening to The Last Green Valley last May and wrote about that experience in my May 14, 2021 blog post, 3 Books I Tried to Listen To in May. I found reading it to be a much better experience than trying to listen to it on CD. It’s great to have options.


Finding Me: A Memoir, by Viola Davis

I rarely read a memoir, but I was drawn to Finding Me: A Memoir, by actor Viola Davis. I’ve admired her acting talents since seeing the movie, “The Help,” or perhaps before on TV, but I had no idea how bad her childhood was until I read her new book.

Finding Me, by Viola Davis

Ms. Davis grew up in a poor, abuse-filled home in a predominantly white town in Rhode Island. Her father regularly beat her mother and the children were unable to shut out the noise of those beatings. There were rats in the house they rented and extensive times when there was no electricity of hot water. She writes about how hard it is for a poor child to compete in school when they have no way to stay clean and they’re always hungry. These are things I’ve never faced in my entire life. I’m incredibly blessed.

A few key teachers, mentors, the Upward Bound program, and her first taste of theater pulled Ms. Davis out of that deadend environment and enabled her to see where her talents lay. And we are all now reaping the benefits of her incredible journey.

She writes about the racism she experienced in Rhode Island and New York City. She was accepted at Juilliard in New York City, where they tried to train all acting students to be white actors. There was only other other Black person in her class at Juilliard and only 30 Black students in the entire student body of 856 (all disciplines.)

The students at Juilliard were forbidden to perform anything but opera, ballet, and the European classics.  They were told singing Gospel music, playing jazz, participating in tap or modern dance, etc. would “ruin your instrument.”

Ms. Davis writes about a life-changing and life-affirming experience she had after her second year at Juilliard when she was awarded a scholarship to travel to The Gambia with a group led by Chuck Davis, an African dance choreographer out of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

She continued two more years at Juilliard and graduated from that prestigious fine arts school, but her heart and soul were opened by the beautiful innate talent she saw and heard in The Gambia, and it was really through that experience that she found herself.

In later life, her father got himself under control and Ms. Davis was able to have a loving relationship with him and her mother that she had been denied as a child.


The Rowan Story, 1753-1953: A Narrative History of Rowan County, North Carolina, By James S. Brawley

I was delighted to be able to check out a copy of this book from the Cabarrus County Public Library. It contains many tidbits of information that will enrich the historical novel I’m writing.

The Rowan Story, 1753-1953: A Narrative History of Rowan County, North Carolina, By James S. Brawley

The novel I’m writing now actually comes before the one I wrote first. Now, Book One is Book Two, since the one I’m working on now needs to be Book One. I got so involved in imagining the backstory for the first one I wrote, I decided that backstory needed to be a book of its own. Will either book ever be published? That remains to be seen, but I enjoy the process of writing and doing the research.

What does any of this have to do with Rowan County? In Book One, Sarah and her brother and their father leave the mountains of Virginia and travel down The Great Wagon Road. A stopover in Salisbury in Rowan County turns into the family settling down there. Book Two finds Sarah living in The Waxhaws settlement in Lancaster County, South Carolina.


Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s, by Meryl Comer

This is probably the saddest book I’ve ever read. At its publication in 2014, the author’s husband had had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease for nearly 20 years. He was diagnosed at the age of 58 and had been a physician and medical researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.

Slow Dancing with a Stranger, by Meryl Comer

The author is an advocate for more research into Alzheimer’s Disease and is pushing for more studies of people before they show signs of the disease. Her hope is that such studies will help researchers to discern how to diagnose the illness earlier – while the patient can still have a good quality of life.

She writes in detail how the disease not only destroyed her husband’s life and stole his personality, his ability to control bodily functions, his ability to talk or communicate in any way, his ability to swallow except for droppers of water, etc. She also details the care she provided 24/7 and the caregivers she hired to assist her. The toll it took on her was incalculable.

I’m glad I read it. When I started reading it, I thought it would be a book I’d recommend to my family members who are dealing with the early stages of the disease in their mother. By the time I finished the book, I thought their reading it would only be profoundly depressing at this early stage in their journey.

An online search revealed that the author’s husband died in 2020.

Since my last blog post

I took a week off from writing my blog last week. Since my last blog post of May 23, there was yet another mass shooting in a school in the United States. This one was in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In addition to two teachers, 19 precious children were massacred.

We have to find the courage to stop the madness in the United States of America. Until the National Rifle Association and its clones/wannabes stop financing political campaigns, nothing will change. Until elected officials on Capitol Hill and in the state legislatures develop backbones, nothing will change. Their “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read or write. I received a complimentary copy of the hot-off-the-presses 3rd edition of LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. I look forward to reading this edition and seeing the changes Ms. Givens made from an earlier edition I read.

Find time to relax and enjoy a hobby.

This afternoon I’ll watch/listen to the fourth in a series of four free webinars about writing a book proposal offered by Chad R. Allen. The three sessions so far have been very helpful.

Remember the people of Ukraine and the people of Uvalde, Texas.

Janet

6 Books Read in April 2022

In case you checked out my blog post last week expecting it to be about the books I read in March, I’m sorry you were disappointed. I hope you found last Monday’s topic of interest, though. It dealt with my favorite local history story.

Today I’m writing about some of the books I read last month. There was quite a variety, as this is all part of my journey as a writer.

The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett

The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never read a Ken Follett book until last month. I don’t really know why. What prompted me to read this particular novel by him was another book I was reading, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman. The Zuckerman book was recommended by author A.J. Mayhew of The Dry Grass of August and Tomorrow’s Bread fame.

The Man from St. Petersburg was filled with political intrigue during the early years of the 20th century. A Russian anarchist comes to London to assassinate a Russian prince who is in England trying to work out an alliance between Great Britain and Russia against Germany. It is assumed that war is coming, so it’s time for countries to choose sides.

Personal secrets are revealed along the way in this novel that will keep you turning pages. It was written in 1982, but I hope your public library still has a copy in case you haven’t read it.

Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman

Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman

This book, referenced above, has been very helpful to me. It takes The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett; The Godfather, by Mario Puzo; The Witness, by Nora Roberts; and Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell and examines how they were outlined and written. The main focus is on Ken Follett’s book. It was interesting to see four different outlines of The Man from St. Petersburg to see how even a good writer like Follett went through the process of outlining, making changes, and making more changes before he produced the final product.

The Younger Wife, by Sally Hepworth

The Younger Wife, by Sally Hepworth

I became a fan of Sally Hepworth’s novels when I read her third novel in 2017, The Mother’s Promise. Shortly thereafter, I read her second novel, The Things We Keep. Since then, I’ve read The Family Next Door, The Mother-in-Law, The Good Sister, and last month I read The Younger Wife.

The Younger Wife is Hepworth’s seventh novel. I just realized I’ve never read her first one, The Secrets of Midwives. It’s been on my to-be-read list for years.

The Younger Wife deals with several difficult issues, including Alzheimer’s Disease and how it affects the entire family and not just the person who has the illness. It also deals with physical and psychological abuse. I can see how, if a person is living with those traumas or has lived with them, this might not be a book for them to read.

A History of Rockbridge County, Virginia

I was delighted to find an online copy of this book online because it supplied me with little tidbits of information that I found interesting as I continue to research life along the Great Wagon Road in Virginia for the historical novel I’m writing.

Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out, by Jennie Nash

Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out, by Jennie Nash

If there ever was a bargain “how-to” book for fiction writers, this book is it. I paid $2.99 plus tax for it for Kindle. In it, Ms. Nash spells out how to “outline” a novel. I never have followed the old outline model we had to use in elementary school (and probably high school, too) because it was too confining. I could never write an outline that way for a book.

I usually write my outlines in paragraph form if I’m writing a novel or short story. I’ve taken a number of writing classes and I’ve read more how-to-write-a-novel books than I care to admit. For some reason, some things fell into place as I read Ms. Nash’s book.

The idea that if something happens there has to be a reaction finally fell into place for me. I already knew it, but Ms. Nash’s book drilled it into me that as I’m planning/outlining a novel I have to make a conscious effort to make sure everything happens for a reason and everything that happens has consequences.

I know, you’re probably saying, “Well, duh!” Perhaps it was Ms. Nash’s explanation, but I finally got it! In the past, I concentrated on the actions in my outlines and didn’t always give equal consideration to planning every reaction.

One of the points Ms. Nash makes in the book is that if you’ll use her way of outlining – which she calls “the inside-outline,” your novel won’t fall apart in the middle. If you follow her advice, there will be tension throughout your novel and your reader won’t lose interest.

Power Penmanship: An Illustrated Guide to Enhancing Your Image Through the Art of Handwriting Style, by Janet Ernst

I mentioned this book in passing in an earlier blog post. I checked it out of the public library out of curiosity. I soon found myself doing the writing exercises and enjoying it. My handwriting isn’t terrible, although taking shorthand in high school nearly ruined it. I thought I could probably improve on my penmanship, so it was worth reading the book. It has made me aware of several letters I’ve become sloppy with, so I’m trying to do better.

Since my last blog post

In last Monday’s blog post, I promised to write a little more today about my trip to a bookstore in Concord, North Carolina. Since the big-box bookstore at the shopping mall closed years ago, Concord had been in need of a bookstore. A husband-and-wife team opened Goldberry Books at 12 Union Street, South in downtown Concord in November 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit the store until recently.

It is a beautiful, store that offers both new and top-quality used books. My sister and I browsed for probably an hour. It was very quiet when we arrived, but by mid-afternoon customers were flooding in. The best I could tell, although I couldn’t see all of the children’s section in the back, there were at least 25 people there when we left. The best part was the excitement exhibited by the numerous children. It made my heart sing.

If you’re traveling on Interstate-85 through North Carolina, take a break and drive into Concord. It has a quaint downtown with various restaurants and shops and many Victorian homes on both ends of Union Street have been lovingly restored.

Disclaimer: I wrote this about Goldberry Books and the city of Concord on my own free will just because I thought they both needed an endorsement. Here’s the link to Goldberry Books: https://www.goldberrybooks.com/.

I love public libraries, but I also love independent bookstores! Goldberry Books is an excellent one.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. As usual, I’m reading several at the same time.

Make time for a hobby, friends, and family.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Where do you stand on cursive writing?

As promised last week, today my blog is about the third book I read in March. It’s about the history of handwriting and the debate over whether children today should be taught cursive writing. I say, “Yes!” and I’ll explain why later.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden on unsplash.com

The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek

“Put your John Hancock here.” How many times have we of a certain age heard that? We, of course, immediately know that is a euphemism for our signature. But does a child of the 21st century know that? I understand that children today don’t have a clue what “clockwise” or “counterclockwise” mean. Yikes!

I discovered The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek while looking for a different book. I found this 154-page book fascinating and thought-provoking.

Trubek meticulously takes the reader on a journey through history. She shares facts about cuneiform and hieroglyphics. (Did you know that most cuneiform clay tablets can fit in your hand? In photographs, they look huge.) She explains how tedious and time-consuming it was for Sumerians to learn how to write and the hours people in ancient oral-based civilizations spent on memorization.

Egyptians invented writing on papyrus. When the Greeks adopted that practice, though, their papyrus was inferior and their scrolls were smaller. (Did you know that the size of ancient Greek scrolls has a bearing on literature today? For instance, the size of a scroll dictated the length of a play. Who knew?)

Socrates was anti-writing. He maintained that if people learned how to write, they’d lose their skill for remembering the spoken word. There’s probably some truth to that.

People in oral civilizations couldn’t look things up like we can today, so they developed elaborate mnemonics and also used additive structure (and… and… and) to help them remember important things. An example of this can be found in the Book of Genesis in The Bible: “In the beginning God created… and… and….”

It was the Romans who stopped using papyrus and started using parchment. Parchment made it easier to make books. Trubek says that bookstores had been established in Rome by the first century B.C.E. Take a moment to visualize that. It makes me smile.

Trubek talks about the development of the various scripts and the high-esteem held for scribes back in the day. She points out that the invention of the printing press put scribes out of business; however, the ones with good penmanship reinvented themselves and traveled around offering handwriting schools.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading handwritten documents from the 1700s and 1800s. I admire the elaborate and visually beautiful handwriting of the 1800s; however, it is sometimes difficult to decipher. One of the most interesting parts of Trubek’s book was about the evolution of handwriting in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although I’ve admired the lovely handwriting of the 1800s, I’d never researched why and how it was replaced with our contemporary handwriting.

Briefly, Platt Rogers Spencer developed that flowing, fancy script we associate with the 1800s. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, think about the Coca-Cola logo. That’s an example of Spencerian script.) Spencer proclaimed that having good penmanship was a sign that you were a Christian, educated, and a proper person. His students were advised to practice their penmanship six to twelve hours a day. (I’m sorry, Mr. Spencer, but life’s too short!)

Part of a page from my great-grandfather’s 1912 daybook

I’m reminded that in my great-grandfather’s daybooks from the 1890s and first decade of the 1900s, he occasionally mentioned that his children or grandchildren had gone to writing school that evening. That writing school was conducted at night in the Pine Hill one-room schoolhouse in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Notice the curly-ques Great-Grandpa made in his capital F and capital W. Also, he randomly capitalized words. I learned from Trubek’s book that such practice was part of the Spencerian script.

A.N. Palmer came along and made modifications to Spencerian script after he went to work for the Iowa Railroad and saw how time-consuming it was for the employees to record all the details required by industrialization. He removed all the curly-ques required by Spencerian script and made handwriting much easier after 1920.

Trubek’s book also covers such things as the collecting of autographs, which started in the mid-1800s, and graphology, which was started by a French priest in the 1800s.

The science of analyzing handwriting for evidentiary purposes in a court of law has had to evolve over the years. One used to be able to use the force one’s fingers used to press typewriter keys to prove who typed a document. The wear and tear on the parts of a typewriter could prove on which typewriter a document was created.

Photo credit: Csabi Elter

Consider that for a moment. I’m showing my age, but I learned to type on a manual typewriter. Now, the justice system is faced with determining the true identity of a person who electronically “signs” his or her name. How things have changed in the last 50 years!

When I think about handwriting and how people rarely hand write letters today, it makes me sad. Last year, my sister and I assisted a 97-year-old friend who wanted to preserve the letters he and his wife wrote to one another during the Korean War. What a treasure those letters are! We organized the letters in chronological order and placed them in archival binders. Hopefully, some of his descendants will see the value in those letters. When people go off to war now, they can telephone and text their loved ones. Few of those communications are saved for posterity.

In her book, Trubek points out that if a child isn’t taught cursive writing by the fourth grade, an important window of opportunity will close. She says that it is by that age that a typical child needs to master cursive in order for him or her to achieve cognitive automaticity.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Trubeck says if cursive isn’t mastered by then, the child will continue to struggle with handwriting. It will forever be a skill the person has trouble with because they didn’t learn it early enough for it to become something they can do without thinking about it. She says the “up” side of this is that this child might be able to type faster than someone who is better at handwriting.

To that, I would say it’s a big price to pay. This person might be able to get a higher-paying job later on, but what if he or she grows up and wants to do historical research for pay or for fun?

Photo credit: Alessio Fiorentino

Not being able to read handwritten primary sources will definitely be a drawback. There’s no substitute for primary sources in historical or genealogical research. In my own genealogical research I’ve found many instances where names in census and other records have been misread when they’ve been converted to typed records. When the typed copies are taken for fact, misinformation is perpetuated.

In the arena of the debate over teaching cursive or not, I still come down on the side of teaching it for the very reason I just gave.

Do you think children should be taught cursive?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and why you come down on one side or the other. Or, perhaps you don’t have an opinion.

For my readers in other English-speaking countries

Is there a debate about continuing to teach children cursive writing in other English-speaking countries aside from the United States?

Since my last blog post

I borrowed another book about handwriting from the public library. Power Penmanship: An Illustrated Guide to Enhancing Your Image Through the Art of Handwriting Style, by Janet Ernst, helped me address several (well, actually, six letters I’d gotten a bit sloppy in writing.)

I blame taking shorthand in high school for ruining my handwriting. Since that was 50 years ago, I decided it was time to stop making excuses and start making corrections. After spending just 10 minutes a day for six consecutive days, I was able to see some improvement. I think we never get too old to try to improve something about ourselves.

After much brainstorming about the opening scenes in the historical novel I’m writing, The Heirloom (working title), I have started working on a new plot angle. I’d hoped to switch gears from brainstorming to rewriting those opening scenes last week, but my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in the UK) relapse continued to drastically limit my work. When my energy level is this low, it’s tempting to stop trying to write; however, I was feeling a little better by the time the weekend rolled around. I’m back to work on The Heirloom as of Saturday. My journey as a writer surely is bumpy!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have the energy to do all the things you need or want to do.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Two Books Read in March 2022

I finished reading three books last month. Each of them gave me a lot to think about, and I hope my comments will prompt you to read one of them.

I had so much I wanted to write about two of the books, that I thought everyone would get tired reading about them; therefore, I’ll save one of them for next week’s blog post.


And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by Fredrik Backman

Most people will think of A Man Called Ove, when they hear the name Fredrik Backman. The novella by him that I read in March is quite different from that full-length novel.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer takes you on a journey with a boy and his grandfather. The grandfather has dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, and he knows he’s losing his memories. The older man and the boy have an appreciation of math in common. They go out in a boat for fun and the boy knows his grandfather is depending on him to figure out how to get them home.

The book shows how memories get passed down from generation to generation and a boy becomes a man with children of his own. When the book ends, you’re not sure whose mind you’re in because the memories of one generation become the stories of the next generation, and so on.

Something I took away from this novella is the importance of sharing one’s memories with the people close to them and the importance of those people close to them taking the time to listen and remember. The day will come when you’ll wish you had paid attention and asked questions.

Most of us have been touched by Alzheimer’s Disease within our families and circle of friends. It’s a sad disease with no known cure. It’s a disease that ravages the caregivers as much as it does the person who actually has the disease.


The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History, by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

Volcanoes have always fascinated me, so this book was “right down my alley.” I first heard about 1816 being called “the year without a summer” about 20 years ago. The premise of it stuck with me all these years, so I was pleased to discover William and Nicholas Klingaman’s book at the public library a few weeks ago.

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano the Darkened the World and Changed History, by William K Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

On April 5, 1815, Mount Tambora – thought to be an extinct volcano — on the island of Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago erupted. The blast was heard more than 800 miles away on Java. It’s subsequent eruption on April 10 was even more violent.

That second eruption was heard on Sumatra, which is more than 1,000 miles from Mount Tambora. The top 3,000 feet of the volcano was blown off, leaving a three-mile-wide crater one-half mile deep. It is thought that ash rose 25 miles high where the wind spread it in all directions. A tsunami reached eastern Java around midnight and earth tremors were felt there 18 hours after the eruption.

It is thought that Mount Tambora was the largest volcanic eruption in the last 2,000 years. Volcanoes are measured by the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), which works much like the Richter Scale we’re all familiar with for measuring earthquakes. Each step on the VEI equals 10 times the magnitude of the preceding step. Tambora gets a 7 on the VEI, making it 100 times stronger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

As one might suspect from the name of the book, the eruption of Mount Tambora affected weather worldwide, although contemporary documentation is more readily available from North America and Europe than other continents.

Not only were record snowfalls reported in Europe, but the snow was red and yellow. Imagine how unsettling that was! Brilliant red, purple, and orange sunsets were much written about in London.

Quoting from the book: “In fact, scientists have taken advantage of this effect by using the amount of red in contemporary paintings of sunsets to estimate the intensity of volcanic eruptions. Several Greek scientists, led by C.S. Zerefos, digitally measured the amount of red – relative to the other primary colors – in more than 550 samples of landscape art by 181 artists from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries to produce estimates of the amount of volcanic ash in the air at various times. Paintings from the years following the Tambora eruption used the most red paint; those after Krakatoa came in a close second.” (Krakatoa in Indonesia erupted in 1883.)

I’ll share a few specific examples from the book to illustrate how the weather was affected by Tambora.

May 1816: 6 inches of snow in parts of New York; frost in Tennessee and Richmond, VA. Snow in Vermont in late May.

June 6-9, 1816: Snow in Quebec, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts; Arctic air plunged into the Carolinas. Snow in Lancashire in England. Erratic temperatures in New England, with snow one week, 100 degrees F. the next, and frost the following week.

July 6, 1816: Snow in Montreal. Frost from Maine to Virginia on July 8.

August 29, 1816: Heavy frost in South Carolina. A man in Danville, North Carolina wrote that his fields were white with frost and he had recently visited Mecklenburg County, NC and the cold and drought had left fields from there to the Savannah River bare.

Feb. 14, 1817: It was 30 degrees F. below zero at Dartmouth College and ice was 25 inches thick on the Potomac River at Alexandria, Virginia.

As one would expect, crops failed in Canada, the United States, and throughout Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people starved to death in Europe. Prices for food and grain for human and livestock consumption skyrocketed.

Various theories arose as people tried to figure out the cause of the cold weather. Self-appointed prophets predicted that the world would end on July 18, 1816.

Many families moved from New England to Ohio and Indiana in hopes of better farming conditions. Joseph Smith, father of Joseph Smith, Jr. who founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, moved his family from Vermont to Palmyra, New York. It was there that Joseph Smith, Jr. had his visions. An interesting aside to the story is that after referencing the Messrs. Klingaman’s book in passing in my blog post two or three weeks ago, I was contacted by a descendant of Mr. Smith who inquired if the Smiths were mentioned in the book. Indeed, they are, on pages 119 and again in some detail on page 280.

In addition to the way global weather was affected by the eruption of Mount Tambora, the thing that really caught my attention was how the eruption was heard hundreds of miles away. In the Epilogue, Messrs. Klingaman say that when Krakatoa erupted in 1883, the explosion was heard in Perth in southwest Australia, which is more than 2,200 miles away!

By the way, Tambora is still active. It has erupted several times since 1815 – and as recently as 1967.

I wish I’d been told about Mount Tambora in history class.


Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading and also watching a lot of basketball. The North Carolina State University women’s basketball team gave the University of Connecticut a run for their money on Monday night in a game that went into double overtime. UCONN came out of top in the end and advanced to the “Final Four.”

And only in a North Carolinian’s dreams could the men’s “Final Four” pit the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill against Duke University. That much-anticipated game was played on Saturday night. It was a typical UNC-Duke game, and it was a shame that one of the teams had to lose.

If you aren’t a college basketball fan, please overlook my going on and on about this, but I’m a North Carolinian and we take our college basketball very seriously.

I continue to work my way through Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out, by Jennie Nash as I tweak the plot for The Heirloom.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. At the recommendation of author A.J. Mayhew, I’m reading Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman, and at the recommendation of Mr. Zuckerman, I’m reading The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett.

Make time to enjoy a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Three Books Read in February 2022

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know February was not an easy month for me. Various events cut into my reading time, but today I’m writing about the books I read during that short month of 28 days. They represent three different genres. That’s appropriate because my reading interests are all over the place.


Violeta, by Isabel Allende

Violeta, by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is becoming one of my favorite novelists. I listened to her latest novels, Violeta, on CD and thoroughly enjoyed it. I listened to the English translation of the Spanish original.

Violeta is written in the form of a letter to Violeta’s adult grandson and follows Violeta from her birth in 1920 during the Influenza Pandemic to the end of her life during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Born into a wealthy family, her father loses everything in the Great Depression which hits South America a little later than in the United States and Europe. The family loses their house and must move out into the hinterlands where they must adapt to life without luxuries such as electricity.

Woven into this story is a character who comes into Violeta’s life at an early age to serve as her English governess; however, it turns out the woman isn’t from England and isn’t at all what Violeta’s parents are expecting.

This is a delightful novel. Violeta would be a good Isabel Allende book for you to start with, if you’ve never read one of her novels. If you’ve read her other books, you know what a treat this one will be.


Our North Carolina Heritage, compiled by Charlotte Ivey Hastings, 1960

This book is well off the beaten path and one you probably can’t find. Just by happenstance, I purchased a copy dirt cheap at a public library used book sale several years ago. I added it to my to-be-read shelves and forgot about it.

I saw it on my bookshelf in February and decided to read it. It isn’t a history book that one can totally rely on for accuracy because it is a compilation of oral history stories. Many of them were written by junior high students.

However… (and that’s a huge HOWEVER), I found lots of little gems of North Carolina history in it that I’ve never seen or heard elsewhere. They are the bits of history that never made it into the history books but offer someone like me a jumping off point to do additional research.

One thing I was particularly glad to find was that the book gave information about a number of women and their bravery and contributions to the patriot cause in the American Revolution. Women have generally been omitted from the history books.

Here’s an example of something I don’t recall hearing or reading elsewhere: By the end of the 18th century, Jewish peddlers in North Carolina traded for eggs since they couldn’t easily come by Kosher meat.

The book reminds me of the series of local history books compiled in the 1960s by Mrs. Mabel Rumple Blume’s North Carolina history students at Harrisburg School in Harrisburg, NC. Every year for five or so years, Mrs. Blume’s students were sent out into the then rural Cabarrus County to interview the oldest residents to capture local history. The students won statewide first-place honors year after year for their books which covered general history, mail delivery and post offices, and grist mills. Much of that history would have been lost forever if not for Mrs. Blume and her students.

With that work in mind, I very much appreciated the contents of Our North Carolina Heritage. It made me sad that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library system had made the decision several years ago to weed the book from its collection and sell it for pennies. Sometimes people are put in positions of decision-making who don’t appreciate the true value of what they have.


The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

This nonfiction book was recommended by Jane Friedman in her January 11, 2022 article, “To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do.” Here’s the link: (To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do | Jane Friedman Ms. Friedman has never steered me wrong, so I checked it out of the public library.

The book is divided into the following three parts: “Resistance ~ Defining the Enemy;” “Combating Resistance ~ Turning Pro;” and “Beyond Resistance ~ The Higher Realm.”

Part One explains that, “Resistance is the enemy within” when we attempt to do something worthwhile. Mr. Pressfield wrote that the rule of thumb for resistance is, “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” We fear that inner resistance, but once we “Master that fear… we conquer resistance.”

Mr. Pressfield wrote that resistance is often manifested in the form of procrastination, which can become a habit.

In Part Two, Mr. Pressfield wrote that an artist must stop thinking of himself as an amateur and start seeing himself as a professional. He wrote, “A professional does not take failure (or success) personally.”

He also wrote, “A professional recognizes her limitations. She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing.”

In Part Three, Mr. Pressfield wrote that we just do it. We do it every day. It’s work, and we do it. He also cautions artists from thinking of themselves in a hierarchy. In other words, art of all types is not a competition.


Since my last blog post

Every day has brought horrifying images of the suffering and destruction in Ukraine.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t receive an acknowledgement for some research advice I sought for the writing of my novel, but I won’t let that slow me down any longer. That’s life.

I got back to work on a project that relates to my church. I started it 20 years ago and it’s been on the back burner now for 15 years. I’ve been inventorying my unfinished projects lately. It’s overwhelming. I need to complete some, even if doing so cuts into my writing and reading time.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading an interesting book about 1816 – known as “The Year Without a Summer.”

May the world continue to condemn Vladimir Putin for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Janet

Books Read in January 2022

I had the pleasure of reading a variety of books in January. Each one was interesting in its own way.

In my December 6, 2021 blog post, Books Read in November 2021, I made less-than-glowing remarks about Wiley Cash’s When Ghosts Come Home. I’m rectifying the situation today.

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

I owed it to myself and Wiley Cash to give this novel a second chance. I checked out the large print edition of the book from the public library in January and started reading it again. I’m so glad I did!

I think part of my problem in November was that I read the first chapter or two and didn’t get back to it for a week or so. Since the third chapter was about a new set of characters with no obvious connection to the characters in the first couple of chapters, the book sort of fell apart for me. I figured out the connection a little later, but by then I’d lost interest in the story.

Getting back to this novel in January was a real treat. I was able to give it enough attention in longer blocks of time to get into the storyline, make the connections, and care what happened to the characters.

I had to find out why Rodney Bellamy was at the airstrip that night. I had to find out what happened to Janelle’s kid brother, Jay. I had to know if Winston’s daughter, Colleen, was going to get her life back together after losing her baby. I had to find out how Winston, the county sheriff on the coast of North Carolina, got all the crimes and problems sorted out. I had to find out what part FBI Agent Tom Gross played in all this.

Determined to tie all the loose ends together, the end of the book kept me reading until 3:00 a.m. I’m back on track now with Wiley Cash and look forward to his next novel.

There is an element of racial tension woven throughout When Ghosts Come Home. The following is a very telling quote from the book. Ed Bellamy is referring to the white Marines he served alongside in Vietnam.

“But I knew something else my white buddies didn’t know: I knew what it meant to be hunted…. I still know what it means to be hunted. All these years later, we’re still being hunted.”

I’ve read all his earlier novels: A Land More Kind Than Home, The Dark Road to Mercy, and The Last Ballad.

I read A Land More Kind Than Home in 2015 before I started commenting other than mentioning the titles on my blog about the books I was reading.

In February 2016, I read The Dark Road to Mercy. Here’s the link to the blog post in which I commented on it: Some books I read in February

I commented on The Last Ballad in my blog post on November 6, 2017: Some Good New Books.


These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett

I was surprised when I looked back through my blog posts to find that this is the fifth Ann Patchett book I’ve read. I’ll give you the links to those earlier four blog posts in case you’d like to read what I had to say about her other books.

To refresh my memory and yours about the Ann Patchett books I’ve read, here are my nutshell descriptions and the links to the blog posts in which I wrote about them:

(1) The Getaway Car is a book in which Ms. Patchett humorously tells what she has learned about the craft and art of writing. What I read in February 2017

(2) State of Wonder is a novel set in Brazil. It involves a pharmaceutical firm in Minnesota and the jungle along the Amazon River. Some Great September Reads

(3) The Dutch House is about a dysfunctional family in which the mother leaves and never returns. There are many layers to this story and the house itself is as important as any character. I highly recommend you listen to the CD of this book which is read by Tom Hanks. I stretched my reading horizons in November

(4) Bel Canto is a novel based on the 1996 hostage situation at the home of an ambassador in Peru. Eight Books I Read in March 2020

(5) Commonwealth was a novel that didn’t grab my interest and I didn’t listen to all of it. It involved drunks at a christening party. I couldn’t identify with that. Books Read in May 2020

Ann Patchett is an essayist in addition to being a novelist. These formats take two different writing skills. She’s a master of both. I enjoyed listening to These Precious Days, which is a collection of essays. She reveals some of her past in an entertaining way and with humor. If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’ll love this book.

I connected with her on several levels in this book. We’re both writers, although she’s light years ahead of me. We both knit – or do so rarely and not as well as those knitting experts in Scotland. Neither of us have children to dote on or depend upon to help care for us in our dotage.

It is a book about friends and family and those ties that bind us and help us along through life’s ups and downs. It was one of those books that left me wanting more when it ended.


When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut; translated from Spanish into English by Adrian Nathan West

When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut

My cousin, Jerome Williams, recommended this book. I failed to have it on my to-be-read list, although it was shortlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The author, Benjamin Labatut, is Chilean.

This novel reads like a nonfiction book. In it, Señor Labatut writes about various scientists and mathematicians who have had to wrestle with the moral ramifications of their discoveries. In some cases, their discoveries were meant for good but have been used as weapons of mass destruction and untold suffering. Some of these men lost their minds or were mentally tormented by the ways in which their discoveries were used.

There are unexpected twists and turns as years and decades pass, and we’re left to wonder what great wonders and what horrific demented uses of those great wonders lie in the future.

Thanks for the recommendation, Jerome. You have good taste in literature.


The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

As I’ve mentioned before, this book isn’t a fast read. It’s a history book and it packs a tremendous amount of information and insight into its more than 600 pages. Trying to read the regular print edition was taxing on my eyes, so I got on the waitlist for the Kindle edition. I rose to the top of the list early in January and was eager to pick up where I’d left off in November.

Other books also reached the top of the library waitlists, though, and I was distracted. The Silk Road isn’t the kind of book you can read in snippets. I’ll keep reading it, probably throughout 2022.



Since my last blog post

I’ve been researching the Great Wagon Road and some of old trails associated with it. In case you’re interested in learning more about the Great Wagon Road, I recommend that you look at the PiedmontTrails.com website (https://piedmonttrails.com/) and look for Piedmont Trails on YouTube. Carol, who spearheads the Great Wagon Road Project, has lots of information that she freely shares. The Great Wagon Road Project is documenting the 800-mile wagon road that went from Pennsylvania to Augusta, Georgia in the 1700s and early 1800s.

I’m doing this research in conjunction with the historical novels I’m attempting to write. I had planned to start writing the rough draft of Book One with the working title The Heirloom, but there’s a technical issue with my computer regarding margins. I hesitate to start the rough draft until I can get my margins set at a reasonable setting. I’ve never had this problem before.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.

Stay safe and well.

Janet