Words We Carry and White Privilege

I happened upon a book of essays by D.G. Kaye. I wasn’t familiar with her body of work, but I found her honesty and writing style to be appealing.

Words We Carry
Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem, by D.G. Kaye

The full title of the book is Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem. The subtitle alone wouldn’t have prompted me to give the book a chance, but the main title intrigued me.

I was reminded of the Tim O’Brien book, The Things They Carried about the things the US soldiers carried with them in the Vietnam War. Although vastly different in setting, Mr. O’Brien’s collection of short stories and Ms. Kaye’s collection of essays lead you into an examination of the experiences you carry throughout your life.

Reading this book triggered some long-buried memories and brought me to some unexpected realizations.

In the “Vanity:  Where Does it Begin?” section of Words We Carry, Ms. Kaye’s following words resonated with me and made me stop and contemplate how some events and physical conditions in my formative years affected my very personality.

“Name calling, teasing, feelings of inadequacy compared to others, or growing up in an environment filled with discord can all mark the beginnings of our insecurities. Whatever our reasons, they tend to follow us through life, sometimes unknowingly, and these feelings grow into negative character traits.” ~ D.G. Kaye in Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem

Let that sink in for a minute.

I did not grow up in “an environment of discord,” and for that I am grateful. I grew up in a happy, loving home. I was completely secure within my family.

Another quote

“Our minds are delicate gateways to our egos. Just as a certain song or a waft of a familiar scent may trigger a happy memory, our minds also retain painful memories of ridicule or embarrassment. Those unhappy remembered memories are sometimes difficult to let go.” ~ D.G. Kaye in Words We Carry: Essays of Obsession and Self-Esteem

A speech impediment & crooked teeth

When I was a toddler, my temporary teeth emerged in all the wrong places in my mouth. Hence, I could not speak to be understood by anyone other than my parents and siblings.

I recall the frustration of not being understood. I knew what I was saying and to my ears my pronunciation and enunciation sounded perfect. Being asked to repeat myself over and over again was confusing and maddening when I was too young to know that I had a speech impediment, and it was embarrassing after I started to school and came to know that I was different from the other children.

I was rescued, though, by two advantages that the time, place, social class, loving parents, and white privilege afforded me.

Something that surprises me now is that even in 1959 the local school system employed a speech therapist. Mrs. Mitchell was wonderful! She visited the various schools in the system on what I suppose was a weekly basis.

There were several of us who were allowed to leave our regular classrooms for 30 minutes or so to work with Mrs. Mitchell. She sent instructions home with us so our parents could help us practice changing the way we used our tongues to form certain sounds.

Speech therapy & white privilege

As I wrote the previous paragraphs, I was struck by the realization that I probably had access to free in-school speech therapy because of my race. Today it’s called white privilege. Until I was in the seventh grade, white students and black students in our county had to attend different schools.

This fell under the US Supreme Court ruling in 1896 in the case, Plessy v. Ferguson. It mandated “equal but separate” schools for the two races, although the “equal” part was never enforced. The landmark US Supreme Court case in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declared separate schools for the races to be unconstitutional; however, it was 1965 before the schools in our county started the desegregation process.

The ways in which I was rescued from my speech impediment and the frustration, embarrassment, and teasing it produced were both a by-product of white privilege.

Orthodontia

The other tangible thing that rescued me from what would otherwise have been a life doomed to not being able to speak to be understood was orthodontia.

Considering that orthodontics was established as a dental specialty in 1899, the fact that I was fitted with braces on my teeth in 1957 amazes me.

Dr. P.C. Hull, Jr. was my orthodontist, and I adored him. His waiting room in The Doctors Building on Kings Drive in Charlotte was a bit small but nevertheless included an aquarium — or a fish tank — in the vernacular of the times. I’d never seen tropical fish before, and I was fascinated. But I digress.

Dr. Hull proposed to experiment on me. He theorized that if he could straighten my temporary teeth, my permanent teeth would maybe absorb the roots of my temporary teeth and follow them into proper alignment. It was worth a try, so I wore braces from the age of four until it was time for me to start losing my baby teeth.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t losing my baby teeth. They weren’t even getting loose. Although nicely aligned by the age of six or seven, most of my temporary teeth had to be pulled by the dentist because they retained their long roots, and my permanent teeth came in all over the place.

Cutting to the chase

To make a ten-year-story of orthodontics short, I wore braces off and on until my teenage years, my only breaks coming when my temporary teeth had to be pulled.

I’m sure my parents sacrificed financially in order for me to wear braces, but that sacrifice made all the difference in my life. Being able to have straight teeth along with speech therapy ultimately made it possible for me to attend college and graduate school and pursue a career.

In conclusion

White privilege — which I was blissfully unaware of until middle age — made it possible for me to have free in-school speech therapy and, doubtless, made it possible for me to have access to orthodontic care in North Carolina in the 1950s-1960s.

Perhaps there were speech therapists in the racially-segregated “equal but separate” public schools for people of color at that time, but I doubt it. Perhaps there were black orthodontists or white orthodontists in Charlotte who would take black children as patients, but I doubt it.

I realize now just how fortunate I was to grow up in America’s middle class which meant although it was a financial struggle for my parents to pay for my braces, not being poor made it possible for them to even consider making that sacrifice.

The braces and speech therapy made it possible for me to escape the teasing, frustration, and embarrassment of those childhood years of not being able to speak clearly, but Ms. Kaye’s book, Words We Carry made me realize how the name calling and teasing, etc. probably resulted in some negative character traits in me.

Perhaps I would have been shy even if I’d had perfect teeth and impeccable pronunciation, but Words We Carry prompted me to reflect on the ramifications of some early childhood experiences. I still carry feelings of inadequacy even as a 65-year-old. I suppose we all do.

Let’s all be mindful of the things we say and do that are hurtful to others — especially to children. Even if they rise above and appear to cope well with the teasing and name calling, they will carry those words with them for the rest of their lives.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. I didn’t work on my novel last week, but I enjoyed writing today’s blog post.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it!

I look forward to your comments about today’s post and some of the words you carry.

Janet

 

Books I Read in June 2018

A couple of weeks ago, it looked as if I would have no books to write about from my reading in June. As I blogged last week in Reading is not a contest!, reading is not a contest, but it was a competition of sorts I’d inflicted upon myself.

Every year I wanted to read more books than the one before. I was signing up for more annual reading challenges than I could easily complete. The good thing about reading challenges is that they prompt me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise read; however, the flip side is I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read.

The second half of June I got my reading juices going again, so today I will blog about the five books I read. (Don’t be too impressed; one of them was a small book of very easy reading.)

The Hellfire Club, by Jake Tapper

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The Hellfire Club, by Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is a well-known journalist and anchor for CNN. The Hellfire Club is his debut novel. Although I thought the first half of the book got too bogged down in the details of Washington, DC politics in 1954, the second half of the novel exploded and kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next.

Mr. Tapper did a marvelous job of giving 11 pages of his sources at the end of the book. A sign of a good historical novel is proof of research. In this list of sources Mr. Tapper is quick to remind the reader that the book is a work of fiction.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels in my mind between the ugly underbelly of politics in Washington, DC in 1954 and the mess we find ourselves in today. I don’t know if there is currently a hellfire club in the nation’s capital, but there is an alarming reticence on the part of members of Congress to speak up against the current barrage of lies coming from a house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

All-in-all, the subject matter of The Hellfire Club was a good read for me considering my background in political science and history.

Note to Self:  Inspiring Words from Inspiring People, collected and introduced by Gayle King

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Note to Self: Inspiring Words from Inspiring People, collected & introduced by Gayle King

This is a delightful collection of letters from the “CBS This Morning” TV show’s “Note to Self” project. Twenty-six of those letters are included in the book. Most of the contributors are famous people, but some were unknown to me.

It’s a great book choice for those times when you just have a few minutes to read, or when you don’t have the energy to remember the threads of an ongoing story. You can read each of the 26 letters in just several minutes.

The idea behind the project and this book is to have the adult you write a letter to your younger self. Anyone can do this. Why don’t you give it a try?

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, by Sue Halpern

SummerAtTheRobbersLibrary
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, by Sue Halpern

Sue Halpern is a journalist and novelist. This was the first of her books that I’ve read.

The title piqued my interest, since I’m an avid supporter of libraries. It is a story about a collection of unrelated people in a small town in New Hampshire who form bonds tighter than some people do with their parents and siblings.

The friends they all have in common are Kit (the librarian) and Sunny, who has been ordered to do community service at the library over the summer. Sunny is the “no-schooled” daughter of two free spirits, and this plays heavily in the book. Others in the book are primarily a group of retired men who pass their time at the library before going the cafeteria at the hospital for lunch. As the story develops, most of the characters are surprised by how close they’ve become.

This is not a gripping story, but if you’re looking for something light to read, you might consider checking it out at your local public library. Curious about the reviews it has received, I found that it averages three stars because readers have either given it five stars or one or two stars. Few people actually give it a solid three-star rating.

That made me realize that sometimes I’ll pick a book that has a three-star rating without looking more closely to see how that rating was determined.

Flat Broke with Two Goats:  A Memoir of Appalachia, by Jennifer McGaha

FlatBrokeWithTwoGoats
Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia, by Jennifer McGaha

At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to check out this book, but curiosity got the better of me. Once I started reading it, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. I like reading about strong, independent women – real or fictional. The author did not strike me as strong or independent early in this memoir, but I kept reading to see if she would become either.

I read the first five chapters. Jennifer and David lose their house to foreclosure and thousands of dollars in back taxes. Jennifer has no clue because David “handled” their finances. That’s when I started not liking the book.

Then Jennifer and David buy a 100-year-old mountain cabin. While Jennifer is back at the house packing some last minute things, a sheriff’s deputy arrives with a subpoena for David to appear in court. It turns out that David, unbeknownst to Jennifer (again), has borrowed thousands of dollars and failed to report the loan. That’s when I lost interest in the book. I also don’t particularly like books that portray Appalachia as a place on the back side of beyond.

I just got around to reading its reviews on https://www.goodreads.com and discovered that the book has received many one- and two-star ratings, so I’m in good company.

Look for Me, by Lisa Gardner

LookForMe
Look For Me, by Lisa Gardner

I started reading this book a couple of months ago but had to return it to the library before I had time to get very far into it. It is the second book I’ve read by Lisa Gardner. Look for Me is the latest book in her Detective D.D. Warren Series.

Look for Me is about a family that’s killed except for the 15-year-old daughter. She is missing. Did she escape? Was she kidnapped by the killer? Or is she the murderer?

The book delves into the foster child system in Massachusetts, as the Det. Warren works to try to find the missing teen and determine who murdered the girl’s family. When alcohol temporarily got the best of the mother a few years ago, Roxy and her younger siblings were placed in foster homes. The treatment they received in those homes and the gang activity they were exposed to at school enter into the investigation.

There are many twists and turns in this story, and you might be surprised when the murderer is revealed near the end of the book.

Look for Me did not hold my attention as much as the other novel I read by Lisa Gardner, Right Behind You from her FBI Profiler Series.

 

Since my last blog post

I’ve tried to lighten up on the demands I was making on myself. I returned a book to the library after only reading the first five chapters. That’s a big deal for someone who until recently thought she had to finish any book she started reading.

I’ve barely spent any time on Pinterest, and I’ve enjoyed the break.

I continue to declutter my life, letting go of lots of knitting, crocheting, and sundry handcraft instructions for projects that I no longer desire to make. Let’s face it. If the fashions from the 1960s-1980s come back in style, I really have no desire to learn how to make macrame plant hangers and belts or broomstick lace shawls.

Just for fun, I just searched for “macrame” on Google and the first image that came up was an $895 macrame dress that can be purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue. Perhaps I was too hasty in putting those instructions in the recycle bin! The odds of my making a macrame dress are less than slim to none, so I can only hope those instructions will get new lives as recycled paper.

I’ve done some additional research on several of the slaves who were members of Rocky River Presbyterian Church in Cabarrus County, North Carolina prior to and during the Civil War. More on that in a future blog post.

I also, in a roundabout way, got into the records of some local people who had to request a pardon from US President Andrew Johnson after the Civil War ended in 1865 and had to pledge their allegiance to the United States Government. More on that later, too. Interesting stuff with some surprising details.

The other day I revisited the 10-cents-per-item used book sale at the Harrisburg Branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library. I purchased several books I probably won’t ever read as well as a music CD that was apparently produced by First Union National Bank, which was my beloved bank until it was bought by Wachovia which was subsequently purchased by Wells Fargo. (Don’t get me started!) Anyway… This 10-cent CD is a fantastic collection of familiar works by Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Dubussy, Haydn, and Mozart.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and some interesting research to do. Stay tuned. I can’t wait to see what I get to read and learn in July!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Visit your local public library this week. You never know what you can walk out of there with just by showing your free library card or what music CD you might get to buy for just 10 cents!

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it!

Janet

Reading in May 2018

This is the first Monday in June, so it’s time for me to tell you about the books I read in May. Perhaps one or more of them will catch your attention. If you’ve read any of them, I’d love to hear your comments. In fact, I’d love to hear your comments even if you haven’t read any of them.

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

The first novel I read in May was An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. Each chapter is written in the point-of-view of one character. The main characters are Roy, Celestial, and Andre. Roy ends up in prison in Louisiana after being convicted of a crime he did not commit. During his absence, his wife Celestial relies heavily on her lifelong friend, Andre. You can probably see where that leads, but I don’t want to give the plot away. This book is a study in commitment, love, friendship, betrayal, and how the things that happen to us in childhood leave profound marks on our feelings of self-worth. I kept turning the pages because I felt invested in each character and I wanted to know what the outcome of the various twists in the plot would be.

A Higher Loyalty:  Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by B. James Comey, Jr.

A Higher Loyalty
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by James Comey

After all the hype about A Higher Loyalty:  Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by former FBI Director B. James Comey, Jr., I thought perhaps I’d already heard all about the book. Of course, the part of the book that has gotten all the publicity is the last three chapters in which Mr. Comey tells about his encounters with Donald Trump after his election and after his inauguration as US President. There were few surprises in those chapters, thanks to the numerous quotes and discussions of that information in the media.

As a political science major with a history minor, I really enjoyed the whole book. Mr. Comey gives background of the FBI and explains how the Director of the FBI and the US President aren’t supposed to have much contact. That’s the way it has to be in order for the FBI to maintain its reputation as a non-partisan institution. He writes about the honor it is to serve in the agency, and he writes about some of the difficult decisions he had to make while in the directorship and during his earlier days as a prosecutor.

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

Less by Greer
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

The day after I read the literary winners of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize, I got on the waitlist at the public library for this year’s Fiction winner, Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. This novel is a tale about a gay American man as he approaches and then passes his 50th birthday. Arthur Less is a novelist. He travels around the world, bumbling his way through country after country. The book is entertaining, as it combines humor with the serious topic of love and how human beings seek it, find it, lose it, and perhaps find it again.

I made note of more than a few lines I liked in the book. I’ll share them in future blog posts.

She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

She Rides Shotgun
She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper

I wanted to read this book because it won the 2018 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. After reading the opening description of a white supremacist gang in a prison in Chapter 0 (yes, Chapter 0), I wasn’t sure I could hang in there to keep reading. I continued to read, and I was soon invested in 11-year-old Polly.

Polly’s is kidnapped at school by the father she barely knows and is suddenly thrown into a life of crime. The book takes the reader along for a rollercoaster ride as Polly quickly becomes streetwise in order to survive.

Still I Rise:  The Persistence of Phenomenal Women, by Marlene Wagman-Geller

Still I Rise
Still I Rise: The Persistence of Phenomenal Women, by Marlene Wagman-Geller

I happened upon this book while perusing the shelves of new books at the public library. It’s a delightful and inspiring book about 25 phenomenal women who overcame all manner of adversity and made their mark on the world.

Among the 25 were such notables as Hattie McDonald who won an Academy Award in 1940 for her role in Gone With the Wind. She was the first person of color to win an Academy Award. If you don’t know her backstory, it’s well worth getting this book just to learn about her struggles.

Others included in the book include Irena Sendler, Susan B. Anthony, Fannie Hamer, Maya Angelou, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Claudette Colvin, Patty Duke, Sonia Sotomayor, Jeannette Walls, Joanne Rowling, Laura Hillenbrand, Tammy Duckworth, and Lizzie Velazquez.

Divine Prey, by Chris Andrews

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Divine Prey, by Chris Andrews

I stepped way out of my comfort zone to read this debut novel by Chris Andrews. Fantasy novels just aren’t my go-to reading preference; however, I found myself getting interested in this epic tale about a princess who is being hunted down by the faspane. The story takes a definite turn for the worse when Princes Caroline is attacked by a werewolf. Healing stones come into play, but can she be saved?

Although not my favorite genre, Divine Prey is well-written and well-paced. The descriptions are vivid and Mr. Andrews shows how adept he is in weaving body language into the plot. Even if you aren’t a fan of the fantasy genre, you might want to give this book a chance. If you are a connoisseur of fantasy books, I think you’ll definitely want to read this one. It is Book One in Mr. Andrews’ Noramgaell Saga, so you’ll want to get in on the beginning of this intriguing story.

The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls
The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

The chapters in this novel alternate between 1950 and 2014 in Barrons, Vermont. In 1950 one of the girls at the Idlewild Hall boarding school for troubled teenage girls disappeared. Her disappearance remains unsolved decades after the school was closed and the property abandoned.

In 2014, journalist Fiona Sheridan can’t forget that in 1994 the body of her murdered sister was found near the school. When it’s announced that Idlewild Hall is going to be restored, a body is discovered in the bottom of a well on the property. Could it be the remains of the 15-year-old missing girl from 1950?

This book will keep you turning the pages as there are multiple mysteries being unraveled, including the murder of Fiona’s sister. It is the June book selection for the online Apostrophe S Book Club, which prompted me to read it. I’m glad I did.

Here’s a little aside about Simone St. James, the author of The Broken Girls. Kudos to Ms. St. James!  I have more than 200 books on my “want to read” list on Goodreads.com. As soon as I added The Broken Girls to my list, I received a thank you note from her! Of all those “want to read” books, Ms. St. James was the first author to acknowledge that I had added one of her books to my list. As busy as authors are, it really impressed me that she took the time to write me.

Since my last blog post

Drumroll! As of May 30, I had 1,500 blog followers! Thank you, each and every one of you!

Since my last blog post two weeks ago, I have enjoyed reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, getting out to walk when it wasn’t raining here in North Carolina, and brushing up on my new skill of making infographics (I’m so new at this, I’m not even sure that’s the correct term!) to post on Pinterest and a few to post on Twitter and Facebook. I’m concentrating on sharing quotes from my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, as it will mark the fourth anniversary of its publication in August and I wanted to give sales a boost as the spring/summer/fall tourist season commenced.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m finally reading Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane. It’s the fifth of her Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries.

Under The Skin
Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

What are you reading?

Janet

Reading in April 2018

My first blog post of the month is usually about the books I read the previous month and sometimes a little about my writing. In recent months I’ve read so many books on occasion I’ve had to split the post in half. This is not the case today.

The Last Child, by John Hart

Knowing that John Hart’s sequel to The Last Child was being released, I got on the waitlist for the sequel at the public library and then hurriedly read The Last Child. It was awarded the Edgar Award in 2010 for Best Novel.

The Last Child was a good read. Mr. Hart made me really like the troubled 13-year-old boy, Johnny Merrimon, and the police detective, Clyde Hunt, who took a personal interest in Johnny and tried to guide him and keep him on the straight and narrow.

Johnny’s twin sister disappears and he takes it upon himself to find her. Everyone else thinks she’s dead, but Johnny is on a mission to find her when a second local girl disappears. Mr. Hart’s gift for descriptive writing puts the reader smack dab in the rural North Carolina setting of this book.

The Hush, by John Hart

I liked The Last Child. I liked the characters and I appreciated and enjoyed Mr. Hart’s writing style and talent. I couldn’t wait to get The Hush to see what happened to Johnny, Jack (Johnny’s friend), Detective Hunt, and Johnny’s mother ten years after The Last Child. I actually read 1bout 60 pages the first night I had it, but I struggled through the rest of the book.

It is my policy not to comment on books I read that I don’t like. I’m not a book reviewer. I just like to share books that I have enjoyed reading. The Hush, by John Hart just didn’t appeal to me. Since I’d enjoyed The Last Child and subsequently read its sequel, The Hush, I felt compelled to comment on it as well.

The writing was great, but mystical, paranormal stories just aren’t my cup of tea. I kept thinking the plot would move beyond the swamp which had bizarre effects on everyone who ventured into it, but it just got deeper into the weirdness. I read until the very end, but it was more work than pleasure. Again, I’m just not a fan of that type of book. Don’t judge it by me. You might like it.

The Family Next Door, by Sally Hepworth

The Family Next Door is the third of Sally Hepworth’s novels I’ve read. In case you missed them, here are the links to the blog posts in which I commented on The Mother’s Promise and The Things We KeepWhat I Read in April (posted May 2, 2017) and You Must Read (Some of) These Books! (posted July 3, 2017).

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth
The Family Next Door, by Sally Hepworth

Ms. Hepworth is from Australia and all her novels are set there. The Family Next Door is set in a neighborhood in Melbourne in which it is assumed every house will be bought and lived in by a young couple with children. When Isabelle, a single woman, moves in next door to Essie, she and all her neighbors speculate that Isabelle is a lesbian.

Since I am a single woman, this struck a nerve with me. Married people often assume that all single people are homosexuals. Another false assumption that many married women make – and which was demonstrated in this novel – is that all single women who are not lesbians are a threat to them because we want their husbands. This is also a myth.

Perhaps you can see why I was drawn into this book and had to keep reading to see how Isabelle’s life unfolded and what was going to happen to Essie and each of her neighbors. It turned out that each couple in the neighborhood harbored secrets. There wasn’t a perfect marriage in the bunch. I won’t spoil the book for you by telling you Isabelle’s story. I’ll just say there are some unexpected twists in the story.

Sally Hepworth’s 2019 novel is titled The Mother-in-Law. I’ve never had one of those, but you can be sure I’ll be on the waitlist for it at the public library as soon as it’s on order.

 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Divine Prey Noramgaell Saga Book 1), by Chris Andrews. Chris writes fantasy, which is another genre out of my comfort zone; however, Chris has been so generous with his writing advice that I really want to read his book. It’s his debut novel. If you’re a fan of fantasy, please look for it. Like Sally Hepworth, Chris lives in Australia. His book and several collections of his short stories are available from Amazon.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Feel free to share my blog posts on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or with your friends via email.

Thank you for reading my blog! What book are you reading? Do you ever read something out of your comfort zone? If so, how did it make you feel? Perhaps you discovered a new favorite genre you didn’t expect. Or perhaps it turned you off to all reading for a while. Share you experience below in the comments section.

Janet

“Reading Like a Writer”

In my last two blog posts I’ve written about the books I read in March. Last Monday’s post was nearing 2,000 words, so I decided to save my comments about Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose, for today. I’ll just hit some of the highlights.

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Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

Chapter One:  Close Reading

I read and took copious notes from the first four chapters of this book and perused the rest of it. As an aspiring author, I loved how the first chapter confirmed that I read like a writer. It’s called “close reading,” and it means reading every word for the pleasure of getting every phrase – being conscious of such things as style, sentence formation, and how the author creates characters.

Based on what Francine Prose wrote, I no longer need to apologize for reading slowly. I’m trying to hone my craft by reading published writers.

Chapter Two:  Words

In the second chapter of Reading Like a Writer, the author recommends that you read slowly enough to read every word. She compares the language a writer uses to the way a composer uses notes and a painter uses paint.

To paraphrase Ms. Prose, reading to appreciate the writing is akin to not only admiring a beautiful painting from afar but also close up so you can see the brushstrokes.

I also appreciated Ms. Prose’s thoughts on the advice often given to writers, which is “Show, don’t tell.” Ms. Prose says this much-repeated advice confuses novice writers. I can vouch for that.

In editing my earlier manuscript for The Spanish Coin (before I started the complete rewrite), I took the “show, don’t tell” advice to the extreme. I was ruthless in cutting narrative, thinking I could best “show” through dialogue. It was all part of the learning process. Ms. Prose’s take on this is that showing is best done through “the energetic and specific use of language.”

Chapter Three:  Sentences

If I had known I would someday want to be a writer, I would have paid more attention in the 8th grade when we had to diagram sentences. I wasn’t very good at it, and I really didn’t see the point.

I hadn’t thought about sentence diagramming in years until I got to the third chapter of Ms. Prose’s book. She wrote about the value of diagramming sentences, and what she said makes sense to me now.

She lamented the fact that students are no longer taught to diagram sentences. Her explanation that sentence diagramming provides for the accounting of every word and provides a way “to keep track of which phrase is modifying which noun” gave me a way of understanding the value of the exercise that I could not have appreciated as an eighth grader.

I probably couldn’t diagram a complex sentence today if my life depended on it, but Ms. Prose might just be onto something when she insinuates that having that skill would help a writer.

This weekend I happened upon an article from the Huffington Post about diagramming sentences. Here’s the link, if you wish to take a look:  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/01/diagram-sentence-grammar_n_5908462.html.

A word of warning, though, for those of you of “a certain age.” Reading the Huffington Post article, I soon felt like I’d entered a time warp. I don’t think our sentences had “complements” when I was in the 8th grade.

Chapter Four:  Paragraphs

In the fourth chapter of the book, Ms. Prose quotes master short story writer, Isaac Babel:

“’The breaking up into paragraphs and the punctuation have to be done properly but only for the effect on the reader. A set of dead rules is no good. A new paragraph is a wonderful thing. It lets you quietly change the rhythm, and it can be like a flash of lightning that shows the same landscape from a different aspect.’” – Isaac Babel

In all the various English courses I have taken, I don’t recall any teacher or professor ever saying to break for a new paragraph “only for the effect on the reader.” I’m still letting that sink in. It’s refreshing and freeing to think about it. It is for the writer to determine which rules are dead as far as her editor is concerned.

Chapter Seven:  Dialogue

Characters in a novel should “say what they mean, get to the point, avoid circumlocution and digression.”

Chapter Eight:  Details

Another interesting observation Ms. Prose makes is about details and the truth. She observes that details persuade that the truth is being told.

She points out that a piece of clothing can speak volumes about a character’s circumstances.

Chapter Eleven:  Reading for Courage

Continuing to fly in the face of common advice given to writers of fiction, Ms. Prose suggests that the trend in modern fiction that characters in a novel must be nice in order for the reader to identify with them is possibly not true.

She also says it’s not necessarily true that every loose end in a work of fiction needs to be tied up neatly by the end.

What a relief to read those last two theories! My characters don’t have to be nice in order for the reader to identify with them, and all the loose ends don’t have to be tied up at the end of the novel? This is in opposition to what I learned in fiction writing class back in 2001.

“Words,” by Dr. R. Brown McAlister

Chapter Two in Ms. Prose’s book brought to mind the title of the remarks made by one of the two guest speakers at my high school graduation. Dr. R. Brown McAllister, a beloved icon in Cabarrus County Schools at the time, had retired after many decades of teaching and working as a school administrator, and he had a dry but keen sense of humor. The printed program for the graduation ceremony listed “Words,” by Dr. R. Brown McAllister.

In his deadpan way, Dr. McAllister went to the podium and said something like, “I was asked to talk about words, so here I am.” That was in 1971 and I still don’t know to this day if he was asked to talk about words or to say a few words.

The more I attempt to be a writer and the more I read, the more I appreciate words.

Since my last blog post

I have made a social media plan and made an effort to do more on Twitter (@janetmorrisonbk), my writing-related boards on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/janet5049), and my Janet Morrison, Writer page on Facebook. Implementing the plan will be a challenge but I’m told I must get my name out there if I hope to sell any copies of The Spanish Coin if and when it gets written and published.

I did not get much reading done last week, but I’m trying to learn that I can’t do everything I want to do. I can’t even do everything I need to do.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just started reading Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova.

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Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time

If you haven’t signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters, please do so by completing the form below.

Janet

More March 2018 Reading

March brought a return of cooler weather than we had in February in North Carolina. It also brought a stack of good books. I blogged about some of them last Monday (Some March Reading), and today I’m blogging about the rest of those that I read last month.

Four Short Stories:  In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting, by Chris Andrews

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Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting — by Chris Andrews

Science fiction and fantasy are not my reading genres of choice, but Chris Andrews and I connected with each other in the blogosphere as two struggling writers. (Actually, I’m struggling. I’m not so sure about Chris.) We live in different hemispheres but I have learned a great deal from him about writing. He recently published an e-book of four short stories and I was eager to read them.

“In Need of Assistance” leads off the short story collection. Well written and suspenseful, this person (me) who never reads sci-fi got pulled into the story and thought it ended too soon. In other words, I wanted to know what happened next.

The second story in this e-book is “Saving the Unicorn.” It is about a magician who travels 4,000 years back in time to free the last unicorn…. or is it?

“Faerie Blues” is the third story in Chris’ book. The identity of the faerie is a surprise.

The fourth and last story in the book is “Trophy Hunting.” This story is survival of the fittest with a twist.

Following the four short stories are the first seven chapters of Chris’ novel, Divine Prey, which is due for release in May 2018.

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

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The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

This historical novel was inspired by the creation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II and the top-secret work carried on there in the development of the atomic bomb.

Ms. Beard invented characters from all walks of like and guides the reader to like most of them and identify with them as much as is possible for we who live in a different time. I liked that she included the black people as well as the white people who lived and worked at Oak Ridge because, as much as they had in common, their housing and treatment by the US Army was quite different. It was in the racially segregated South and the book stands as witness to the prejudice and unequal treatment that existed legally at that time.

The author included not only Christians but an atheist and a Jewish physicist. This book’s cast of characters runs the gamut from redneck bigot to the Jewish scientist whose family had surely died in Germany during the War. True to the history of the facility at Oak Ridge, some characters are poorly educated while others are highly educated, but the emphasis is on the everyday people who worked there and did not know what they were working on.

Ms. Beard follows each character and through them she allows the reader to experience World War II on the home front in the USA and through the stress and struggles of the people who worked in complete secrecy at Oak Ridge. She brings to life the inevitable inner conflicts experienced by some of the scientists who worked there and at Los Alamos, New Mexico as they were simultaneously excited by the physics of the atomic bomb and yet horrified by the realities of what the unleashing of such a weapon would mean and the suffering it would cause for thousands of innocent people.

I never had really thought about how conflicted some of those scientists must have felt. I’d also never given much thought to how many thousands of people worked at Oak Ridge and the majority not knowing they were working on developing an atomic bomb until the day the first one was dropped on Hiroshima.

Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

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Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

This is a debut novel by Karen Cleveland. It has received rave reviews from highly-respected authors, so I was eager to read this espionage thriller. After having read it, all I can say is, “Wow!”

Written by a former CIA analyst, this novel has a female CIA analyst working in a division studying Russia and looking for Russian sleeper cells in the USA. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I’ll just say her marriage and work ethic are tested to the limit.

This novel will make you wonder who you can trust. It is the story of betrayal on many levels, and it will keep you turning pages and wishing you didn’t have to stop to eat, sleep, or work. If you like to read espionage thrillers, you will love this book.

A Piece of the World, by Kristina Baker Kline

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A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

We’re all familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s most famous painting, “Kristina’s World.” This historical novel is based on the imaginary life of the woman lying in a semi-prone position in the grass on the hillside below the house in that painting.

The author, who also wrote The Orphan Train, did a beautiful job developing the characters in A Piece of the World. They were so believable, the reader will forget the book is fiction. The woman in the painting, Kristina, becomes increasingly disabled due to an unknown condition affecting her legs. She lives in the grey clapboard house on the hill as depicted in the painting. Unable and unwilling to empathize with their daughter, Kristina’s parents do little to try to get her help.

Drawn to the feel and essence of the old house, Andrew, the son of artist N.C. Wyeth comes and asks if he can paint. He sketches and paints Kristina’s brother, but the brother has little patience for posing so Kristina becomes his most consistent model. He continues his work for years.

Kristina falls in love, but is it with Andrew? I’ll leave that for you to discover if you choose to read the book.

Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

Another Ocean to Cross by Ann Griffin
Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

After reading Ann Griffin’s guest blog post on Writers in the Storm about how to or how not to use family history in your fiction (http://writersinthestormblog.com/2017/12/writing-fiction-using-family-history/), I pre-ordered her debut historical novel, Another Ocean to Cross. I followed her blog and she, subsequently, followed mine.

In Another Ocean to Cross, Ann Griffin weaves a compelling story about 18-year-old Renata Lowenthal, a Jewish woman desperate to escape Germany in 1938 as Hitler makes life ever-more tenuous for the Jewish population. Renata is an artist and her gentile boyfriend is in the military. He has to leave Munich, but he is smuggling Renata’s renderings of the Third Reich’s mistreatment of Jews to journalists in Switzerland.

No matter what the world throws at Renata, she meets the challenge.

The descriptions in this book are vivid and draw on all the senses. Being about the Jews who escaped to Egypt, this book enlightened me about an aspect of World War II that I hadn’t known much about.

Renata struggles to convince her parents that it is imperative that they get out of Germany and try to get to Palestine before it’s too late to escape. The tale Ms. Griffin spins will keep you turning the pages of this book and staying up at night to read just one more chapter. I will not give more details because you will want to read this novel and I don’t want to take away any suspense for you. It will take you and Renata to some surprising locations.

Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose

In case your eyes have glazed over, I’ll save my comments about this book until next Monday’s blog post.

Since my last blog post

I have continued to read about writing and study areas I need help with. I have worked on my outline for The Spanish Coin, the working title for what I hope will be my first novel.

One of my readers reported difficulty in getting my comments section below to work. If you have trouble with it, too, please send me a message through the contact form/newsletter sign-up sheet below. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.

My blog steadily attracts more readers and followers, which is gratifying. One new reader and follower, Neil, also signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. Thank you, Neil.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Last Child, by John Hart, so I’ll be ready to read The Hush in a few weeks.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time

If you haven’t signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters, please do so by completing the form below.

Janet

Some March Reading

I usually wait until the first Monday of the next month to blog about books I read this month, but I’ve read so many good books in March I decided to split them up between today’s blog and my April 2, 2018 blog post.

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

After reading Kristin Hannah’s best-selling novel, The Nightingale, last year, I eagerly awaited the release of The Great Alone. What a masterpiece! I don’t want to spoil the story for you if you haven’t read it.

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The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

I’ll just state the basic description – that it is the story of a troubled Vietnam War veteran and POW survivor who took his wife and daughter to Alaska to escape the craziness he saw in life in the lower 48 states.

Ill-prepared for life in the wilds of Alaska, things went from bad to worse for the family. Domestic abuse is a thread that weaves throughout the novel. Can love outlast the horrors this family lives with?

The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen

This historical novel alternated between World War II and 1973. After the death of her father, 25-year-old Joanna travels from London to a remote village in Tuscany where her father’s fighter plane was shot down in 1944.

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The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen

Since her father’s death, Joanna has found an undeliverable and returned-to-send letter he wrote to an Italian woman named Sofia. In the letter, he references “our beautiful baby boy” who is hidden away where no one but he and Sofia can find him.

Joanna had no knowledge of this woman named Sofia until discovering the letter in her father’s belongings after his death. Who was Sofia, and is “our beautiful baby boy” a half-brother Joanna knows nothing about?

White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

This historical novel was a difficult read for me because the subject matter was so bleak, violent, and sad; however, I’m glad I read it. I learned a great deal of history.

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White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

White Chrysanthemum is about man’s inhumanity to man – or more specifically, man’s inhumanity to woman. The novel was inspired by the plight of Korean girls and young women who were abducted by the occupying Japanese soldiers during World War II. The girls and young women were physically- and sexually-abused and were forced to be “comfort women” for the Japanese soldiers.

This is also a story of the human spirit and what it is able to endure due to the innate will to live. It is also about the love two sisters share for each other and how they long to be reunited.

It is not for the faint of heart, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the early- to mid-20th century history of Korean-Japanese relations. As recently as 2015, the treatment of Korean girls and women by Japanese soldiers from the late 1930s through the Second World War was being swept under the rug.

In 2015, the governments of Japan and South Korea agreed “to remove the Statue of Peace [in Seoul] and never speak of the ‘comfort women’ again” according to the timeline in the back of Mary Lynn Bracht’s book. Thanks to her novel, a whole new generation will learn about his piece of history.

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, by Anu Partanen

I checked this book out because the title intrigued me. The author grew up in Finland but moved to the USA as a young adult. This book is her perspective on the social and governmental differences between the two countries.

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The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, by Anu Partanen

The prologue was interesting in that Ms. Partanen expressed her surprise in finding that Americans are less free and independent than the people of her home country. Her opinion is that

  1. the fact that most Americans’ health care is dependent upon their employer, we in the USA are tied to our jobs;
  2. Americans are sometimes forced to stay in unhappy marriages because the income tax laws are written to reward couples filing jointly;
  3. the tax laws in America encourage young adults to depend upon their parents for paying for college and supporting them financially in other ways past the age of 18; and
  4. the policies of the US government saddle parents with too much expense in the raising of children and saddle too many middle-age adults with the financial burden of caring for their elderly parents.

 

Ms. Partanen boiled all this down to what she calls The Nordic Theory of Love.

My brief summary doesn’t do justice to this 450-page book, but maybe I have piqued your interest. I enjoyed a couple of days’ break from reading depressing World War II novels, but about halfway through Ms. Partanen’s book I decided I’d rather read fiction. Some short stories and novels were vying for my attention.

Since my last blog post

I’ve worked on letters to send to 40 bookstores to encourage them to place spring orders for my 2014 vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I’ve done a lot of reading, and I’ve studied book marketing and writing in deep point-of-view.

Until my next blog post

If you haven’t already signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters, please fill out the form below.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline. Perhaps you’ll want to read one of the books I wrote about today.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet