Other Books Read in October and an Election

I blogged last week about two books I read in October. Today’s blog post is about other books I read last month. Overall, it was a strange collection of books. I enjoy a wide range of books, but I’m especially drawn to historical fiction.

I started reading but didn’t finish And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane and Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi. I didn’t finish reading Vicki Lane’s book in October because it arrived at the end of the month. I didn’t finish the Ursula Hegi book because I had too many books to read, other distractions, and it had to go back to the library. You’ll have to wait for future blogs to learn what I thought of those and the other books I read in November, but I’ll go ahead and recommend And the Crows Took Their Eyes to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or American Civil War stories.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue, by Fiona Davis

After hearing Fiona Davis interviewed, I was eager to get on the public library’s waitlist for The Lions of Fifth Avenue. It took me a little while to “get into” this book but, once I did, I wanted to read on to see what happened next.

#libraries #NYCPublicLibrary
The Lions of Fifth Avenue, by Fiona Davis

As seems to be the trend in historical fiction today, the plot alternates between one era and another. I don’t like that format. I prefer to read a story in chronological order. I’m not sure what that says about me. The Lions of Fifth Avenue falls into that category. It switches back and forth between 1913-1914 and 1993.

The 1913-1914 story line interested me more than the other one so, after reading the first four chapters, I skipped all the 1993 chapters and read the remaining 1913-1914 chapters until I got to the end of the book; then, I went back to the fifth chapter and read bits and pieces of the 1993 parts of the book. I’m sure this isn’t the way in which the author expected me to read her book, but it worked for me.

In the “Author Note” at the end of the book, I learned that it was completely a fictional story with fictional characters. Ms. Davis explained that the New York City Public Library actually did have a seven-room apartment where the library superintendent’s family lived for several decades. Besides that, the book is fiction. It is a compelling story and I really wanted to get to the end to see who was stealing rare books from the library. Fortunately, that was revealed in the 1913-1914 thread of the book.

Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney

I read about this book in an e-mail from Goodreads.com. The e-mail said, “If you loved A Gentleman in Moscow, you’ll loved Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Equal parts moving and charming, heartbreaking and funny, it will make you feel closer to humanity. Simply put, it’s a book that stays with you.” With that comparison and endorsement, I couldn’t wait to read the book.

#pigeons #CherAmi #WWI
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney

The story it was based on was new to me. It sounded interesting, so I checked out the e-book from the public library.

The story itself is impressive. Cher Ami was a homing pigeon that was much-celebrated in the 1920s and 1930s for its heroics during World War I. In fact, the bird was taxidermized after death and put on display in the Smithsonian Institution. Cher Ami was shot in the eye and lost a leg on her last mission. Even so, she completed that mission and lived for a couple of weeks afterward.

By finishing her last mission, Cher Ami saved the lives of almost 200 Americans.

Charles Whittlesey was from New York. Not attracted to guns, he nevertheless found himself shipping off for Europe when the United States entered World War I. Being the era that it was, he had to keep his homosexuality a secret. Whittlesey came home a war hero, but he struggled to adjust to life back in New York City. He purchased a one-way ticket on a ship and planned his own “burial at sea.”

The story itself is interesting, and I learned more about homing pigeons from the early chapters of this historical novel than I had before.

The book itself was quite disappointing. Some chapters are written from the pigeon’s point-of-view, while the other chapters are written from Charles Whittlesey’s viewpoint. I read one-third of the book before I started skipping over Cher Ami’s chapters.

Perhaps my mind isn’t creative enough to suspend belief and accept talking pigeons. To me, Cher Ami’s chapters read like a children’s book. I even stopped reading midway through the first chapter to see if I had checked out a Juvenile book by mistake. I hadn’t, so I tried to plow on. I soon concluded that I’d be better served by doing a little research about the story instead of continuing to read the conversations of talking pigeons.

One fact that the author conveyed via Cher Ami was probably more poignantly expressed by the taxidermized pigeon than could have been told by an objective narrator was the way in which the taxidermist chose to display the detail of the pigeon’s missing eye. Oddly enough, the taxidermist selected a glass eye of the wrong color for the bird’s missing eye. The taxidermized Cher Ami cleverly voices her disgust over the sloppy disrespect for detail and points out that it would have made a more accurate and impressive museum display to have presented the pigeon with its empty eye socket. After all, it was preserved with only the one leg that survived the war.

Cher Ami was one of more than 600 homing pigeons used by the US Army Signal Corps in France during World War I. An American battalion was surrounded in the Battle of Argonne Forest. They were under Allied fire and had no way but pigeons to get word out about their situation. On October 4, 1918, after other pigeons had been shot down in the effort, Cher Ami successfully delivered a message that saved almost 200 American lives. As noted above, she was shot twice in the process, but she kept flying to deliver her urgent message.

In that respect, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey did what I expect historical novels to do: educate me. I appreciate that. I just didn’t enjoy the manner in which that education was delivered. The story enticed me to look for more information, which is something else I expect historical fiction to do.

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

I can’t honestly say I read this novel. I tried listening to it. The beginning held promise of an interesting tale about a bank robbery and a hostage situation. Perhaps it would have been more palatable in printed form. The irritatingly shrill voice of the female hostage real estate salesperson got on my last nerve early on. I tried to persevere but had to raise the white flag on this one. Sorry, Mr. Backman. I loved A Man Called Ove, but I just haven’t been able to stick with any of your other novels I’ve tried.

Since my last blog post

Photo credit: Element5 Digital on Unsplash.com

We’ve had a much-anticipated national, state, and local election since my last blog post. As I write this late on Saturday morning, it has just been announced that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been elected US President-elect and US Vice President-elect. What a relief! We have elected a person of empathy as President, and we have finally elected our first woman and first person of color to be Vice President. The proverbial glass ceiling has been broken.

My country is divided. The division demonstrated by the 2016 election continues, but I pray the pendulum has begun to swing toward decency and respect. For more than 200 years, gracious concession speeches have been expected from the candidates not elected in the United States. True to his form and lack of character, our current President vows not to take the results of this election quietly or gracefully. He will, no doubt, continue to sow seeds of discord in our country and world. He has vowed to fight the outcome of this election in the courts. He continues to claim it was a rigged election. He threatened to proclaim that falsehood well in advance of Election Day.

I look forward to having a new US President on January 20, 2021 – a President and a Vice President who will try to heal our nation and lead us back into a position of respect and reliability on the world stage. We can once again be a beacon of hope. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. It will take a while for the world to trust us again.

My faith in the American people has been somewhat renewed by the outcome of this election; however, it wasn’t won by a landslide. Nearly half the population voted to continue down the road we were on. It won’t be easy to convince them that those of us who voted for Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are not the evil people our current President proclaims us to be. They have believed many lies about us and we are exhausted from the rhetoric of hate that has been directed at us from the White House for the last four years.

We are exhausted from four years of vitriol, but we are energized today by the hope of a new era in which we once again have a President who truly believes in God and doesn’t just give faith lip service; who believes in freedom of the press and doesn’t see journalists as enemies of the people; who believes in science and medicine; who is antiracist; who will not put immigrant children who cross the border from Central America in cages and deport their parents; who will strive to enact policies that will preserve our physical environment for ourselves and future generations; who will work for social justice in our country and the world; and who will work to repair our relationships with our long-term friends and allies around the world.

For the hurt and disappointment being felt today by some of my friends and relatives who disagree with me on everything I’ve written in this blog post, now you know how I felt after the 2016 election. You’re still my friends, and you’re still my relatives. I still love you. Please give President-elect Biden a chance to prove he’s not an agent of evil. He’s not going to defund the police. He’s not going to take away your guns. He’s not a socialist. He will be the President of all Americans. He does not see you as his enemy or an enemy of the people. He will not call you ugly names. He will not get on Twitter and go on hate-filled rants. He will not make fun of physically-disabled people. He will not freely make misogynistic statements about women.

It feels good to be able to breathe again.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Vicki Lane’s new historical novel, And the Crows Took Their Eyes. I’m listening to John Grisham’s latest novel, A Time for Mercy.

I hope you have productive creative time.

Please continue to wear a mask out of respect for others until this Covid-19 pandemic is over.

Janet

Books about The 1665-66 Plague and The 1918 Flu Pandemic

It was coincidental that I read a book about the Bubonic Plague of 1665-66 and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic during the same month. Since the two books are about similar topics, I decided to blog just about them today.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry

The title of this book is a misnomer. I tried listening to the MP3 version, which was almost 20 hours long. There was a brief introduction about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, but the book soon started giving the history of medicine. I kept thinking we’d get back to the flu pandemic, but I gave up four and one-half hours into the book.

If you’re interested in the history of medicine, it’s an interesting book. I learned a lot about the state of the medical profession in the United States in the 1800s. It made me glad I was born midway through the 20th century.

Perhaps if I could have stuck with it, I would have learned more about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. I stumbled upon an interview Jake Tapper of CNN did with the author, John M. Barry, a few months ago. Mr. Tapper raved over the book. The interview is quite interesting and makes me want to check out the book again and read on from where I left off. Here a link to the interview: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/27/politics/interview-john-barry-great-influenza/index.html.

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks

#BubonicPlague #1665Plague #1666Plague
Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders is a novel set during the Plague of 1666. Geraldine Brooks was inspired to write it after a visit to England in 1991. She saw a sign about Eyam (pronounced “eem”) in Derbyshire, northwest of London. The sign indicated that Eyam was “the Plague Village.” Intrigued, this historical novelist delved deeper and began her research into the Plague.

I listened to the downloadable audio book, which was read by the author. The main character is a maiden named Anna who does her best to survive the pandemic and help others in the community. In reality, two-thirds of the people in Eyam died of the Plague. That’s a percentage that’s impossible for me to get my head around. The Covid-19 pandemic has been frightening enough.

The book gets into some of the superstitions of the era. Some people thought the Plague was punishment from God. They resorted to self-flagellation and burning all their clothes and possessions as a sacrifice.

Death via the Bubonic Plague is an excruciating way to die: Fever as high as 106 degrees F.; lymph nodes turned into dying, hemorrhaging tissue; and thrombosis. The World Health Organization reports 1,000 to 3,000 cases per year. Although rare, it still occurs even in the United States. It can be treated today with antibiotics, but there is no cure for Bubonic Plague.

After listening to the book, I borrowed the e-book from the public library so I could more easily reread portions of the book. In particular, I wanted to read the Afterword. I was happy to also find a Readers Guide after the Afterword in the Kindle edition. In fact, I’m temped to read such features as “Author Notes, “Afterwords,” and “Readers Guides” before reading historical novels in the future.

In Year of Wonders, the Penquin Readers Guide at the back of the book on Kindle is titled, “An Introduction to Year of Wonders.” It might have been more useful at the beginning of the book.

The “Introduction” tells how the Age of Enlightenment in Europe started in the 1600s. The human circulatory system was charted, bacteria were identified, and the compound microscope was invented. It was the dawn of modern medicine in many ways.

In the novel, a minister in Eyam in 1665, Michael Mompellion, decided that God had sent the Bubonic Plague to punish the village. He called for the residents to voluntarily quarantine themselves in their valley and suffer the consequences of their sins.

The most puritanical among them took to self-flagellation. As the situation worsened, the people turned on each other.

The heroine of the novel, Anna Frith, raises the existential questions circling around the origins of the plague. Anna surmised that if the villagers spent less time wondering why God was punishing them and more time trying to figure out how the Plague was spread, there might be a better outcome.

Anna said, “We could simply work upon it as a farmer might toil to rid this field of unwanted tare, knowing that when we found the tools and the method, and the resolve, we would free ourselves, no matter if we were a village of sinners or a host of saints.”

The word “resolve” jumped out at me. If we just resolve to do what we need to do to minimize the spread of Covid-19 until a vaccine or cure can be found, maybe we’d have a better outcome. Maybe we would stop turning on each other and stop making mask wearing a political statement.

In the “Introduction,” author Geraldine Brooks is asked about her research for the book. She answered, “The written record of what happened in Eyam during the plague year is scant. Apart from three letters by the rector, no narrative account from the year itself actually exists. The “histories” that purport to record the facts were actually written many years later, and historians have found inconsistencies that cast doubt on their accuracy. Therefore, there was no way to write a satisfying nonfiction narrative.”

The minister/rector in the novel, Michael Mompellion is based on William Mompresson, the minister in Eyam at the time of the plague. Ms. Brooks said, “There is nothing in the factual record to suggest that he behaved other than honorably throughout the village’s terrible ordeal.”

William Mompresson had a maid who survived the Plague, so Ms. Brooks chose her to be the narrator of Year of Wonders. Her inspiration for Anna Frith’s transformation from a probably quiet maid to becoming a leading force against the Plague were the Kurdish and Eritrean women she had reported on while a journalist.

In answering another question about her research for the novel, Ms. Brooks responded, “The unique thing about Eyam’s quarantine was that it was voluntary. I was able to find no other examples of such communal self-sacrifice. In London… the houses of plague victims were sealed and guarded, locking in the well with the ill, with no one to bring food, water, or comfort of any kind.”

The ending of the novel wasn’t believable to me. I decided to read some reviews of the book to see if others agreed with me. I discovered that the book has received many five-star reviews, but more than a handful of two-star reviews due to its implausible ending. Some reviews even suggest that you stop reading while you still think its an excellent book. Just skip the ending which transports Anna Frith from England into another country. The ending seemed contrived.

Since my last blog post

The transition from summer to fall temperatures, along with a day of tropical warmth and humidity thrown in thanks to the remains of Hurricane Zeta, has wreaked havoc with my fibromyalgia. (And people wonder why I have Seasonal Affective Disorder in the fall and winter!)

The limb that fell out of the oak tree in the front yard was so large and loud that a neighbor called to check on us. She said it sounded like a gun shot. We thought maybe it was another earthquake until the light from my flashlight revealed the source of the noise. That was the night before what was left of Hurricane Zeta ripped the top off one of our maple trees. It landed on top of the oak limb. That happened while we had gone to our basement out of an abundance of caution and waited out part of the five-hour power outage. Covid-19 pandemic or not, there’s never a dull moment.

As health, electricity, and motivation allows, my sister and I continue to proofread my Harrisburg, Did You Know? book manuscript. Recent computer corruption has caused us to proofread some 80 pages a second time. I haven’t figured out yet how five days of backing up to the external hard drive saved everything except the corrections made on those 80 pages. Two steps forward, and three steps back seems to be the way of things in 2020.

Until my next blog post

I will anxiously await the outcome of the elections here in the United States. Uncertain days lie ahead as baseless threats of voter fraud have been hurled from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue long before tomorrow’s election day. It remains to be seen how ugly things will get post-election. I’ve never had uneasiness like this on the day before a presidential election in America. We’ve never had a sitting president stir up unfounded doubts about our electoral process leading up to an election before in our nation’s history.  

I hope you have one or more good books to read and peace and quiet that’s conducive to reading.

I hope your creativity will find a voice or other outlet this week. Find your passion.

Wear a mask! It’s a small thing we’re being asked to do for the overall public good.

Have you read either of the books I wrote about today? If so, what were your impressions of them? I’d like to know.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Erie Canal Opened, 1817

This may be the most unlikely topic addressed yet on my blog. Reading that the Erie Canal opened on this date in 1817 triggered a childhood memory of mine, and perhaps it will do the same for you.

One of the memories I have from elementary school is our class singing a song called “Erie Canal.” If you aren’t familiar with this folk song, you can go to YouTube and listen to Bruce Springsteen singing it. Yes! The Boss! It’s just a fun song about a man and his “mule named Sal” and their “fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.” It has a catchy chorus that we children liked to animate when we sang it.

As a child in North Carolina, I didn’t understand the importance of the Erie Canal. The canal was hundreds of miles away in New York. I’d never been to New York, and I didn’t have much of a concept of it at the time.

If you’re like me, you don’t know the history of the Erie Canal. Never fear. Today’s blog post isn’t going to give a detailed history of the canal, but it will hit the high points. I learned some interesting things about its current use and wanted to share that with you. Some of my readers live in New York or used to, so you probably already know all this. Let me know if you find any glaring errors.

When the concept of the Erie Canal formed

As early 1768 there was talk in New York of connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie via a canal. The American Revolution delayed any such project.

In 1792, the New York legislature chartered a company to start the canal, but financial problems stymied most of the 363-mile project.

Fast forward to 1817. A study revealed that the Erie Canal would cost nearly $5 million. It would include 77 locks to accommodate the 661-foot rise and fall of the land over that 363 miles.

Ground was broken on July 4, 1817, for the section between Rome and Utica. It wasn’t until that central New York section of the canal was completed in 1819 that the state legislature approved funding for the rest of the canal.

The state was expecting funds from the federal government to make the whole canal possible. President James Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill, which would have given New York funds for internal improvements, on March 3, 1817. With that source of money gone, investors were sought to make up the gap.

The completed Erie Canal opened on October 26, 1825 – 195 years ago today. It opened up commerce from Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to the Hudson River and, therefore, to the Atlantic Ocean. It did wonders for the New York economy until the advent of the railroad. The St. Lawrence Seaway’s creation in 1959 further decreased the commercial need for the canal.

Is the Erie Canal obsolete?

My next question was, “Is the Erie Canal obsolete?” That led me to dig a little deeper.

That’s when I learned that the Erie Canal is still in operation, but only in the warm months. For instance, https://www.cruisingodyssey.com reported the following in an article on May 19, 2020: “The New York State Canal Corporation just announced the schedule for reopening the locks on the historic – and much-travelled – Erie Canal and the system’s other canals in the state. The corporation said it planned to have most of the locks open by July 4, but some may not open until much later.”

That online article continues, “The locks had been scheduled to open on May 15, but maintenance and repair work was stopped a month earlier due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown. That work included seven locks on the Erie Canal and one of the Champlain Canal.”

How can you enjoy the Erie Canal?

I gather from the information gleaned from the Internet that it is primarily used in the summer months today (the months when the water isn’t frozen) by people who enjoy cruising in their boats.

The website https://www.nps.gov/erie/index.htm is a good source of information about the Erie Canal’s history as well as the opportunities for enjoyment offered today by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

According to the May 19, 2020 report on https://www.niagara-gazette.com/, the Erie Canal bike tour was cancelled in 2020 but the annual ride is expected to return next July.

That led me to search for information about the Erie Canalway Bike Trail. A bike trail more than 350 miles long sounds wonderful! It goes from Buffalo to Albany, New York.

Photo source: Ryan Thorpe on Unsplash.com.

The website https://bikeeriecanal.com/ appears to be a good source of information for those of you who wish to add it to your “bucket list.”

Since my last blog post

My sister, Marie, is graciously helping me proofread my nonfiction book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? All 350 pages. I don’t even have to pay her!

I’m reading several books and taking notes for my November blog posts about them.

I’m counting the days until the 2020 political campaign ads disappear from our mail boxes, TV screens, phones, and all social media. Anyone with me on that?

Until my next blog post

I hope you have more good books to read than you can possibly read.

I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.

Continue to wear a mask and stay safe and well during this pandemic. For the sake of all of us, follow the science.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Yorktown, 1781

The American Revolution is akin to the story of David and Goliath. Who would have thought the 13 colonies on the edge of the American wilderness could defeat the most powerful country in the world?

Photo credit: James Giddins on Unsplash.com.

After a hard-fought war of more than five years, Great Britain had to admit defeat. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow 239 years ago today.

Although the British, under the command of Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis, won the Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina in March 1781, they suffered 25% casualties. Leaving Guilford County, Cornwallis led his beleaguered troops to Wilmington, NC to recover and regroup. While there, he decided to head for the coast of southeastern Virginia. Upon arriving there, Cornwallis established a base on the York River at Yorktown.

American General George Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in Virginia, to take his Continental Army troops and contain Cornwallis’ troops on the Yorktown Peninsula until Washington could get there from New York with additional troops.

Various American and French troops began to converge on the Yorktown Peninsula, some defeating British troops in engagements along the Chesapeake coast on their way from points north. By October 6, 1781, American and French forces were in place and ready to attack the British troops encamped at Yorktown and on ships there.

The siege of Yorktown began under the cover of darkness on the night of October 15, 1781. Cornwallis requested terms of surrender on October 17.

Photo credit: Jackson Simmer on Unsplash.com

On Friday afternoon, October 19, 1781, Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis led 7,000 British and Hessian troops down Hampton Road to Yorktown, Virginia to surrender to General George Washington, commander of the American and French troops.

Photo credit: Michael Barlow on Unsplash.com.

The peace treaty officially ending the war and recognizing American independence would be nearly two more years in coming, but the war was over and the difficult work of establishing the United States of America as a free and independent nation could begin.

Since my last blog post

My writing was derailed by a computer issue that lasted five days. Proofreading Harrisburg, Did You Know? was not quite 25% complete when all my documents and email disappeared. I’m trying to learn not to panic when such things happen. I know everything is backed up somewhere. Proofreading the manuscript for the e-book will pick by up today. I have one more photograph to track down for the book, and I haven’t done the cover yet. I’ll keep you posted.

On a happy note, I voted last week. What a privilege! 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read for pleasure.

No matter what your vocation or hobby, I hope you have a productive week.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to worsen in many parts of the world and the flu season has started here in North Carolina. Please wear a mask out of respect for other people, and please take all possible precautions to avoid catching the virus and passing it on to others. We’re all in this together!

Janet

Other Books I Read in September 2020

My blog last Monday was about Code Talker, by Chester Nez. Here’s the link to it: Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez. Today’s post is about the other books I read in September. I hope you’ll find at least one that is of interest to you.


Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is known for tackling hard issues. Leaving Time is about a young woman’s search for her mother who has been missing for 10 years. Jenna was three years old when her mother disappeared, so she is surprised to learn that her father never filed a missing person’s report. Her father is now in a facility for patients with dementia, so he’s not able to give Jenna any reliable answers.

Jenna’s mother was a well-known elephant expert, so Ms. Picoult deftly weaves into the story facts about elephants’ memories and grieving rituals. After piecing together the death of an unidentified woman coinciding with the time her mother disappeared, Jenna tracks down the former police detective who worked on the case. The case was never solved. The former detective reluctantly agrees to help Jenna.

Jenna eventually seeks the help of a psychic. The psychic is also reluctant to help the 13-year-old Jenna because her gift of “second sight” has waned. It turns out the psychic has her own backstory.

Leaving Time was published in 2014. It is not one of my favorite Jodi Picoult novels. I listened to it on Playaway from the public library while I walked each day. That’s probably not the optimal way to listen to any book, so my mode of listening possibly influenced my less-than-stunning impression of the book.


Last Mission to Tokyo: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for Justice, by Michel Paradis

Last Mission to Tokyo, by Michel Paradis

This book was recommended by John Grisham, and that influenced my decision to read it. I listened to about 25% of it and put it aside. I found it difficult to follow on CD, so then I checked out the e-book. It was much easier to keep up with the various characters, especially the ones with Japanese names.

The early part of the book is quite interesting. It is the story of the Doolittle Raiders in World War II and how Doolittle and his “raiders” worked tirelessly to get the B-25 bombers down to a low enough weight and high enough speed that they could launch off an aircraft carrier with just enough fuel to complete their bombing missions in Japan and get to China where Chiang Kai-shek had promised them a landing strip.

That part of the book really grabbed my interest, but I soon discovered that the bulk of the book was about the trials of the Japanese who tortured the captured Doolittle Raiders. That didn’t interest me as much, although I can see how it would keep an attorney like John Grisham spellbound.

I don’t mean to leave a negative response to this book. It’s merely a matter of interest. It is an extremely well-researched book. There are more than 100 pages of footnotes.

If you’re not familiar with the heroics of the Doolittle Raiders, the early part of the book gives an excellent overview of their training and what they accomplished against all odds.


The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

A coded list of names of Jewish children smuggled out of France.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

Kristin Harmel’s new novel, The Book of Lost Names, was “right down my alley.” It is a beautifully-written historical novel inspired by the unsung heroes in France and Switzerland during World War II who risked their lives to try to smuggle Jewish children and adults out of France and to freedom in Switzerland as Germany was relentless in rounding up Jews for forced labor and the gas chambers.

Ms. Harmel has done extensive research about the World War II era, and this is evident in her writing. In The Book of Lost Names, she weaves a story of intrigue and personal loss through the protagonist, Eva Traube Abrams. I liked Eva from the beginning and pulled for her throughout the book. (As a writer, I strive to create such a protagonist!)

The personal losses Eva endures are huge and every time you think she’s going to find happiness, there is another twist in the story. She inadvertently of falls into the role of forging government documents for herself and other Jews while she and her mother are in hiding.

Eva works tirelessly to perfect her skills. In the process, though, she is driven by the need to leave a record of the children’s real names. Many of them are too young to remember their true identities or the names of their parents.

Eva and her fellow-forger, Remy, develop a code through which to record the children’s names in an old nondescript book on the shelf in the secret church library in which they do their work in a tiny French village hidden in the mountains. Eva and Remy use the Fibonacci sequence to code the names in the pages of the book.

Eva and The Book of Lost Names will stay with me for a long time. I love historical fiction for the way it entertains and educates me.

It was coincidental that I read Code Talker, by Chester Nez and The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel during the same month.

One by One, by Ruth Ware

One by One, by Ruth Ware

This is the fifth novel I’ve read by Ruth Ware, a British author. She is a modern-day master of suspense. In fact, David Baldacci has called her “The Agatha Christie of our generation.”

In One by One, Ms. Ware gives us a 21st century story of office colleagues going on a weeklong retreat at a French ski resort. There’s a snowstorm. There’s an avalanche. Communications are down, which is ironic because these people work for a tech startup in London.

The relaxing retreat is immediately thrown into chaos when a shareholder proposes a buyout. Tensions grow as rescue grows more and more unlikely. It’s cold. Food is running out. And the retreat participants are knocked off, one by one. Can you figure out who the killer is? #OfficeRetreatGoneBad

I was a little disappointed in this book, but I’ll read Ruth Ware’s next novel anyway. Since I wasn’t enthralled by three of the five books I read in September, perhaps it was my frame of mind and not the quality of the books that is to blame for my less-than-stellar impressions of the books.

Since my last blog post

I’m rounding up the photographs to include in my book of local history newspaper articles, Harrisburg, Did You Know? A couple of pictures and the cover are all that are still to be done to complete this book of historical tidbits from Township One and Harrisburg, North Carolina.

Instead of becoming more accustomed to my new daily schedule due to my dog’s diabetes diagnosis, it felt like all my fatigue caught up with me this past week. To quote a Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “My get up and go got up and went.”

There are many projects vying for my attention, but I am tired and I lack motivation. I think I’ll blame the pandemic. I think most of us have pandemic fatigue. Those of us living in the United States also have political campaign fatigue.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.

Now that flu season is coming to the northern hemisphere in addition to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, please wear a mask. Not wearing a mask shouldn’t be a political statement; it merely tells me that you really don’t care about anyone but yourself. I’m probably “preaching to the choir” because the people who refuse to wear a mask because of their political or religious convictions probably don’t read my blog.

Thank you for your time.

Janet

Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez

I read five books in September, but Code Talker, by Chester Nez made such an impression me that I decided to just write about it today. I’ll blog about the other books I read last month in next week’s blog post.

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila is a wonderful book! It is a memoir written by one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. The irony is that a language the US Government tried to eradicate ended up saving the US in World War II.

Navajo “Right Way Balance”

Early on in the book we’re told that Mr. Nez was a staunch believer in the traditional ways and beliefs of the Navajos. In the core of those beliefs is the “Right Way Balance” which calls for a balance between individuals and between the individual and the world.

Even though the United States government tried to take the Navajo culture and language out of him from an early age, his family ingrained in him the language and all aspects of their culture and heritage. Although the United States government and policies inflicted on the Navajos and other native peoples should have made him bitter, after December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he was eager to join the Marines and fight for his country.

Mr. Nez tells about his childhood. He tells that his mother was one of the Navajo forced to march 350 miles from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. That was after they’d been burned out and forced to surrender to Kit Carson and taken to Fort Defiance.

Mr. Nez writes about the Great Livestock Massacre, which he witnessed. That incident alone, should have made him hate the United States government. It was the gruesome slaughter of millions of sheep and cattle belonging to the Navajo.

When he was forced to go off to boarding school, a missionary told the school administrators that his name was Chester Nez. He was no longer allowed to use his clan’s name. He tells about being made to learn English and to speak only that language at school. This was seen as an insult and a punishment at the time; however, without a fluency in both languages, he couldn’t have become a Code Talker. All the Navajo Code Talkers had to be fluent in both languages in order for the project to work.

The Unbreakable Code

There were skeptics, but time after time the Code Talkers proved their inestimable value in the United States’ war effort against Japan. The outcome of the war in the Pacific theatre was very much in question the Navajo Code Talkers arrived on the scene. They went through intensive training in complete secrecy from their fellow Marines and the public. Developing the code was totally up to those 29 men.

The Japanese had been able to break every code the US military had tried. The situation was becoming desperate. The Battle of Savo Island was the worst defeat in the history of the US Navy. The Marines on Guadalcanal figured they were next. They felt like sitting ducks. But the Navajo Code Talkers arrived with the 1st Marine Division and the prospects for the US began to change for the good.

Mr. Nez tells about the old “Shackle” code, which “was written in English, encoded via a coding machine, and sent. Then the receiving end decoded the message, again via machine, and wrote it out in English. It took an hour to transmit and receive the test messages. When the same messages were transmitted and received in Navajo – with the men themselves acting as coding machines – it took only forty seconds for the information to be transmitted accurately.”

The above quote minimizes the complexity of the Navajo Code, but I hope you will read this book and find out the intricacies of how the code was developed. The training for the code talkers was intense. It was astounding how complicated, accurate, and fast the Navajo Code worked. It, no doubt, saved the lives of thousands of American military personnel.

All Over the Pacific

Mr. Nez’s book follows his service on New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, back to Guadalcanal for additional training for the planned assault on Guam, then on to Guam, Peleliu (a battle that General Roy Geiger called the worst battle of the South Pacific), Angaur (where some Navajo Code Talkers were loaned to the Army), then “back to the bloodbath on Peleliu,” and then back to Guadalcanal to train for Iwo Jima.

The description of the maze of underground tunnels filled with Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima filled Mr. Nez with dread, but the surprise of his life came when his name was called. He was informed that he had “made his points.” Marines were “awarded points for each island invaded and wrested back from the Japanese.” He had earned more than enough points to be sent home.

After the War

Returning to the US was another bit of a culture shock for Mr. Nez. He was a proud Marine and war veteran when he returned to the US in 1945 but, because he was a Native American, he wasn’t granted the right to vote in New Mexico until 1948.

He was sworn to secrecy about what he had done in the war. He was sworn to secrecy about the Navajo Code Talkers. His family would have been so proud of what he had done in the war, but he could not tell them. By the end of World War II, 400 Navajos had served as Code Talkers. Thirteen of them were killed in action.

The last third of the book is about Mr. Nez’s life after World War II, including the nightmares he had about Japanese soldiers and what finally made them stop. The Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary is printed in the book’s appendix.

Information about the Navajo Code was declassified in 1968. The military decided they wouldn’t need to use it again. At last, the Code Talkers were free to talk about what they did in World War II.

Since my last blog post

Formatting my Harrisburg, Did You Know? collection of local history newspaper columns was intimidating, but I’ve been surprised at how smoothly it’s going. I’m adding photographs today. I can’t wait to have the e-book ready to publish! Then, I’ll work on the paperback edition!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I suggest you try to find a copy of Code Talker, by Chester Nez.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog. We all have busy schedules, so I appreciate the time you took today to read this blog post.

Please wear a mask out of respect for others during this Covid-19 pandemic. You could be contagious and not know it.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Missed Opportunity on August 24

Earlier this month I saw a photograph of a beautifully restored octagonal house located at Cedar Point, North Carolina. It reminded me of the hexagonal house designed by my distant cousin, Harriet Abigail Morrison Irwin.

I was a little fuzzy on the details, so I reached for a copy of They Married Confederate Officers: The Intimate Story of Anna Morrison, Wife of Stonewall Jackson and Her Five Sisters, by Kathy Neill Herran.

It was then I discovered I’d missed an opportunity for an #OnThisDay blog post on August 24, for it was on that date in 1869 that Harriet Morrison Irwin was granted U.S. Patent #94,116 for the architectural design of a hexagonal house. It was the first architectural design patent issued to a woman in the United States.

Harriet’s Background

Harriet Morrison was not quite three years older than her more famous sister, Anna Jackson. She was born September 18, 1828 at her parents’ home on Derita Road in Charlotte, NC during her father’s pastorate of Sugar Creek Presbyterian Church.

Though not educated in the realm of architecture, Harriet graduated from Salem College in present-day Winston-Salem, NC. She married James Patton Irwin in 1849, and the couple settled in Charlotte.

In addition to being the mother of nine children (four of whom died before the age of four years), Harriet was a gifted writer. Her husband teamed up with her brother-in-law, Harvey Hill, to publish a magazine called The Land We Love. Harriet contributed many articles to the publication, which was sold to the New Eclectic Magazine of Baltimore, Maryland after three years of publication, according to Mrs. Herran’s book referenced above.

It is said that Harriet suffered from some physical problems that necessitated her being somewhat of a homebody and not as active in civic activities as some of her sisters. She was an avid reader and enjoyed a wide variety of reading materials.

Harriet’s Interest in Architecture

Perhaps it was her delicate physical condition that prompted her interest in architecture. She sought to find a more practical and healthful home design than the standard two-story rectangular houses that dominated the cityscape. In particular, she came to believe that better air circulation in a home would result in a healthier family.

A typical house design in the mid-1800s. Photo by MORAN on Unsplash.

Descriptions of Harriet’s Home Design

Harriet’s patent in 1869 was for a hexagonal two-story house. The house was still standing on West Fifth Street in Charlotte in 1962 when Marie Adams wrote an article about it for the Charlotte News. In her December 7, 1962 article, Ms. Adams described the house as including a “central tower, mansard roof, and an arched porch,” according to Mrs. Herran’s book. (Due to the public libraries being closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I wasn’t able to read the newspaper article myself.)

To see a photograph of Harriet and James Irwin’s hexagonal house in Charlotte, go to https://www.cmstory.org/exhibits/robinson-spangler-north-carolina-room-image-collection-hornets-nest/harriet-morrison-irwin

Mrs. Herran’s book quotes the following from Architecture of the Old South: North Carolina, by Mills Lane:

“The six-sided home featured a central chimney, no hallways, and “lozenge-shaped chambers enclosing more useful area with the expenditure of less materials, labor, and money than conventional rooms.” Mrs. Herran added this about the house: “The rooms were joined by doors providing a circular traffic pattern around the house. Doors and specific windows were also placed with easy access to the outside. They provided comfortable airflow in the warmer months, but could be efficiently closed during the cold temperatures.”

Harriet’s grandson, Hall Morrison Irwin, Jr. reminisced about the house in 1962, remembering his visits there and the marble mantle and beautiful staircase. He also connected two other hexagonal homes in Charlotte to his grandmother. One was at the corner of Cedar and Trade Streets and the other one was on West Fifth Street at Clarkson. (Such an intersection no longer exists due to changes made in the streets in the neighborhood.)

Publicity for Harriet’s Home Design

Harvey Hill became editor and publisher of The Southern Home, a weekly Charlotte newspaper. One of his earliest article was an interview with Harriet Irwin. The article predicted Harriet’s house design would “create a new era in architecture,” according to Beverly Heisner’s April 1981 article, “Harriet Morrison Irwin’s Hexagonal House: An Invention to Improve Domestic Dwellings,” in North Carolina Historical Review.

It is said that Harriet no only extolled the practicality and healthful benefits of her design, but also urged the public to see its potential for being more beautiful than the run-of-the-mill two-story houses of the time. She also made a point to tell people not to confuse her hexagonal design with the octagonal design that had gained some interest.

James Irwin and Harvey Hill teamed up again after selling their magazine. They formed a real estate company and often advertised Harriet’s floor plan in Mr. Hill’s newspaper.

In Conclusion

It’s unfortunate that none of Harriet’s hexagonal houses in Charlotte survived into the 1990s. Someone didn’t recognize the value of what they had when those three houses were demolished, at least, one of them being torn down in the 1960s.

In 2020, when the world of architecture is still male-dominated, it’s remarkable to consider that Harriet Morrison Irwin was born in 1828 and died in 1897. In 1870 she was recognized as a female architect in Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony’s newsletter titled, “The Revolution.” I hazard to say that 150 years later news of an architectural patent held by a woman would probably be equally newsworthy.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been busy formatting my 174 local history newspaper columns for self-publication. I hope to publish my work in electronic form and as a paperback book. I’ll keep you posted. This is something I’ve wanted to do since 2012, so I’m excited to finally have the opportunity.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel. I highly recommend it!

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read my blog post today. Don’t forget to wear a mask out of respect for others during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Chief Joseph’s Death, 1904

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I thought anything that happened in the 1800s was ancient history. It’s amazing how age has a way of putting things in perspective. As I was reading about Chief Joseph in preparation for writing today’s blog post, I was struck by the fact that the conflicts between the United States government and the Nez Perce Native Americans took place a mere 68-76 years before my birth.

Since I’m 67 years old, the number of years weren’t lost on me. It was only 49 years before my birth that Chief Joseph died on September 21, 1904. As I read various sources about Chief Joseph while researching today’s blog topic, in addition to putting the time frame in perspective, I was struck all over again with the fact that the United States government has always treated Native Americans horribly. Period.

Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt was popularly known as Chief Joseph. His tribal name translates into “Thunder Rolling in the Mountain” in English. He succeeded his father as a leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain band of Nez Perce Native Americans. The Wal-lam-wat-kain lived in the Wallowa Valley in present-day Oregon.

Chief Joseph sought peace and wanted all people to live in harmony. The United States government didn’t share his philosophy of life. He tried repeatedly to come to a peace agreement with the federal government.


Background history – Chief Joseph’s Father

White settlers began settling in the Wallowa Valley around 1850. Chief Joseph’s father was the tribal chief at the time. He was welcoming to the intruders at first, but as their numbers grew they encroached onto more and more of the valley. When Chief Joseph (the elder) told the settlers they could take no land, the settlers took it by force.

As tensions grew, Governor Isaac Stevens of the Washington Territory created a council to try to establish peace. Through that council, the Treaty of Walla Walla was signed in 1855 by Chief Joseph (the elder) and the chiefs of nearby tribes. The treaty created a 7-million acre reservation that included the Wallowa Valley.

The treaty worked fairly well until a gold rush drew more settlers into the reservation land in 1863. A second treaty was signed, but it heavily favored the white settlers. The original 7-million acre reservation was whittled down to only 700,000 acres. The icing on the cake was the removal of the Wallowa Valley from the new reservation boundaries and all the affected tribes were forced to move to Idaho.

Some of the Nez Perce tribes accepted the terms and moved; however, Chief Joseph (the elder) and some others refused to go. The second treaty was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Chief Joseph (the elder) denounced the United States, even throwing away his Bible and burning the American flag. (He had adopted the Christian faith after visits by missionaries and was baptized and given the Christian name “Joseph” in 1838.)

What the US government never understood was the value the Native Americans put on the graves of their ancestors.

“Inside this boundary, all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man.” ~ Chief Joseph (the elder)

Before Chief Joseph (the elder) died in 1871, he said the following words to his son in preparation for his succeeding him as tribal chief: “Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.”


The younger Joseph becomes Chief

More settlers arrived and tensions grew. Chief Joseph (the younger) was threatened with physical violence, but he always responded verbally. He held onto the hope that his people could stand their ground and outlast the white settlers. He knew if he retaliated with violence, the US government would wipe out his people. He couldn’t risk getting violent.

A third treaty was drawn up in 1873. It gave the Wallowa Valley back to Chief Joseph’s people. The treaty was broken four years later and US Army General Oliver Otis Howard set out to forcibly remove the Nez Perce from their lands. Chief Joseph (the younger) offered Gen. Howard a compromise. The Nez Perce would give up part of their land and some of them would leave.

When the two men were unable to come to an agreement, Howard gave the Nez Perce thirty days to vacate their lands. To not comply would be considered an act of war against the United States.


The Nez Perce War

Chief Joseph quietly moved his followers across nearly 1,200 miles, while other Nez Perce tribes chose to stay behind and fight. Chief Joseph’s people were able to avoid armed conflict with the US Army for the most part, but violence ran against the chief’s core values to the point that he couldn’t bear to see his people suffer any more. Even though Chief Joseph tried to avoid fighting the army, the conflict became known as the Nez Perce War because other tribes within the Nez Perce chose to fight.

On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph surrendered to Gen. Howard. The speech Chief Joseph made that day is remembered to this day and often quoted:

          “I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, “Yes” or “No.” He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” ~ Chief Joseph, October 5, 1877


The rest of the story

Chief Joseph and his followers were put on rail cars and taken to Oklahoma. Many died there from exposure to the elements and diseases they’d never been exposed to before. Getting nowhere talking to army generals, Chief Joseph went to Washington, DC and met with President Rutherford B. Hayes.

He pleaded his people’s case with the president, but there was not immediate resolution of the conflict. It was six years later that Chief Joseph and his followers were split up. Some were sent to a reservation near Kooskia, Idaho. Some were sent to northern Washington Territory. But Idaho and the reservation in northern Washington weren’t their homeland. Their homeland was the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon.

In 1897, Chief Joseph returned to Washington, DC to try again to get permission for his people to move to the Wallowa Valley. He never quit trying peacefully to get permission for his people to return to their homeland.

Chief Joseph died 116 years ago today on September 21, 1904. His physician said Chief Joseph died of a broken heart.

No one can argue with that.

If the United States government authorities had just adopted Chief Joseph’s philosophy of life, our country’s history would be quite different. A lot of conflict, bloodshed, and misunderstandings could have been avoided.


Since my last blog post

I was saddened by the death on Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She will go down in history as one of the most-gifted legal minds to ever sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

I’m formatting for self-publishing the 174 local history columns I wrote from 2006 through 2012 for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper. I hope to get the book published this year in electronic form and paperback.


Until my next blog post

Thank you for reading my blog. Everyone is busy, so I appreciate the time you took to read my post today.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, please wear a mask to protect the people around you. Even if you’re not displaying any symptoms of the virus, you could be carrying it and infecting others.

Janet

#OnThisDay: War in Mexico, 1847

Today’s blog post is a brief memory refresher about the Mexican-American War. The deciding battle of the war took place 173 years ago today in Mexico City.


Manifest Destiny

United States President James K. Polk’s belief in the “manifest destiny” of the US to reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific was at the root of the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War. Specifically, there was a dispute between the two countries over where Texas ended and where Mexico began along the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers.

President Polk pushed the issue by sending troops into the disputed zones, which resulted in a skirmish between Mexican and American troops on April 25, 1846. The US Congress declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846.

Village scene in Mexico
Photo credit: Freestocks via Unsplash.com

Santa Anna

Mexico’s General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was in exile in Cuba. (You, no doubt, remember him from the Battle of The Alamo in the 1836 Texas Revolution.) He convinced President Polk that he would end the war on terms the US would like if he could get back into Mexico. It was a trick. Upon returning to Mexico, Santa Anna took control of the Mexican army and led an attack. In March of 1847, he assumed the presidency of Mexico.


End of the Mexican-American War

General Winfield Scott led the American forces in a march from Veracruz to Mexico City. In September, 1847, US troops laid siege to Mexico City and captured the Chapultepec Castle.

Chapultepec Castle
Castillo de Chapultepec
Photo credit: Arpa Sarian on Unsplash.com

The war was essentially over once the US had taken control of Mexico City on September 14, but the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo wasn’t signed until February 2, 1848.

The treaty established the Rio Grande River as the boundary between the US and Mexico. Included in the treaty was Mexico selling California and the rest of its territory north of the Rio Grande (which was most of present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada) to the US for $15 million!


“Halls of Montezuma”

Incidentally, the opening words of the hymn of the US Marine Corps, “From the halls of Montezuma” are believed to refer to the Chapultepec Castle, although the castle was actually built by the Spanish 200 years after the overthrow of Aztec Emperor Montezuma.

For purposes of my blog post today, I was unable to verify that the beautiful stained-glass windows pictured above were part of the castle in 1847. At the time of the battle, the castle housed the Military College for cadets.


Since my last blog post

I’ll try to get today’s blog post out on schedule, since it’s an #OnThisDay edition. Last Saturday when I clicked on the publish button to schedule my post for Monday morning, it “went live” immediately. That’s the second time that’s happened, and I’m sure it’s due to operator error.

I’m once again focusing on getting the 174 local history newspaper columns I wrote from May 2006 through 2012 published. I formatted 292 pages for self-publishing on CreateSpace. When Amazon absorbed CreateSpace in 2018, I put the project on the back burner. My interest in getting this work published was rekindled the other day. I’m reformatting it as a Word document and adding my research notes for the many newspaper columns I didn’t get to write because the newspaper suddenly ceased publication. I’ll keep you posted.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have fulfilling creative time this week.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, please be safe. Wear a mask out of respect for others.

Thank you for taking a few minutes to read my blog post today!

Janet

Books Read in August 2020

Reading in August was a bit of a challenge. Lots of things were going on within the family and I was distracted. Nevertheless, I did finish reading or listening to several books.

I think I shouldn’t push myself so much in the future. It’s gotten to the point that I feel guilty if I’m not reading! I want reading to be the pleasure it’s intended to be, so I’m adjusting my expectations. I reminded myself this isn’t a contest. The person who reads the most books doesn’t necessarily win.

With that introduction, let’s jump into the books I read or tried to read in August.

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Frazier Page

#WeWearTheMask
We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, by Brando Skyhorse & Lisa Page

This is an enlightening book. It has nothing to do with the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s about a completely different kind of mask.

It’s 15 first-hand stories of the experience of “passing” in America as something one is not. To give you the overall flavor of the book, I’ll briefly give you the topic of each of the 15 stories:

A Mexican-American is forced by his mother to pass as an American Indian;

A Cuban Jewish lesbian tells how many of her fellow Cubans were surprised to be considered black (or “colored” in the vernacular of the early 1960s) when they arrived in the US;

A man’s half-Chinese great-grandfather changed his name twice in order to pass as white. It was more than 100 years before his descendants found out they had Chinese ancestors;

A black man was mistaken as a server at the National Book Awards banquet and realizes that one’s attire cannot counteract people’s prejudices and assumptions;

A brown woman started passing as a Puerto Rican at the age of seven when her family moved to Italian-dominant Staten Island, NY because the Italians were confused over her skin tone. She was called derogatory Asian names while her teachers made the assumption that she was Puerto Rican;

A man passed as white until he retired. Then, he moved back to his home community of darker relatives. He wasn’t totally accepted;

A white woman marries a black man and they have children; she moves to a nice retirement community in Mexico and keeps her bi-racial children a secret from her new friends… until those adult children come to her funeral; and

A transgender man passing as a woman and learning what it’s like to be an attractive woman and being hit on by creepy men and being subjected to everything from violence to unwanted catcalls to always having to be aware of one’s surroundings.

There are also stories of homosexuals passing as straight, poor people passing as wealthy, and even wealthy people passing as poor.

This is the kind of book you can pick up and read a small section of when you have a few minutes. I enjoyed reading just one story a day.


The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott

The CIA and Dr. Zhavago
The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott

This is a fascinating novel! It’s the story of how the United States set out in the 1950s to smuggle art, music, and literature into the Soviet Union and, specifically, how women typists in the CIA were instrumental in carrying out the mission.

President Eisenhower knew the US lagged behind the Soviet Union in the space and nuclear races. Here’s a quote from the novel that puts it in a nutshell: “They had their satellites, but we had their books. Back then we believed books could be weapons, that literature could change the course of history.”

The US wanted to emphasize to the everyday Soviet citizens how their government censored and persecuted the Eastern-bloc’s finest artists. They started by sending up weather balloons that would burst behind the Iron Curtain, raining down pamphlets.

Then, they started mailing books into the Soviet Union. Then, at the suggestion of one of the female typists, they started gluing the covers of non-controversial books like Charlotte’s Web and Pride and Prejudice to the covers of banded books. The ultimate objective was to smuggle in copies of Dr. Zhivago, by Russian author Boris Pasternak.

Reading Dr. Zhavigo would open the everyday Soviet citizens’ eyes to what had happened between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and World War II. The book had been banned in all Eastern-bloc countries because it was considered subversive.

This is a story of espionage that will have you cheering, especially for the women who are the unsung heroes of the CIA.


The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante

Book 2, follows My Brilliant Friend
The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante

After reading My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante in July, I looked forward to this second book in a series of four novels by Ms. Ferrante. Maybe it was just my mindset or my being distracted by wanting to work on my own novel, but The Story of a New Name did not hold my attention. I listened to almost half of the book (which is more of a chance than I normally give a book I’m not really enjoying) before I sent it back to the library. I found the two friends, Lila and Elena, more interesting as children than as adults.

This book has received good reviews, so I think it just wasn’t the right time for me to try to read it.


The Butterfly’s Daughter, by Mary Alice Monroe

#MonarchButterfly
The Butterfly’s Daughter, by Mary Alice Monroe

I’ve been intending to read a book by Mary Alice Monroe for years and finally got around to it. I listened to The Butterfly’s Daughter on Playaway while I walked every day. As I understand is true of Ms. Monroe’s novels, the reader could tell she did extensive research about the monarch butterfly before writing this book. Each chapter is prefaced with a sentence or two of monarch butterfly facts, and other information about the species is woven throughout the book.

I immediately liked the main character and I was really pulling for her on her cross-country trek through the US and into Mexico to her homeland of her grandmother where the monarchs overwinter. It was an engaging story. A bonus was that, at least on the Playaway edition I listened to, the author was the narrator.


Since my last blog post

Lightening fried our computer modem, which put a crimp in my style for several days. We’re getting into a routine for caring for our newly-diagnosed diabetic dog. 


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on in the US, please wear a mask out of respect for other people, even if you feel fine. Several of my cousins have been battling the virus for weeks already.

Covid-19 is real, in spite of what the current resident of the White House says.

Janet