15 Books that Entertained, Educated, or Changed Me in 2018

Books can entertain, educate, or even change one’s thinking.

When I looked back over the list of the 56 books I read in 2018, I was amazed at the variety and the things I learned. I learned some history while I was entertained, and I hope I learned something about writing. Several of the books changed my thinking. You can’t ask a book to give you more than that.

The books that entertained, educated, or changed me or my thinking in 2018 are listed here in alphabetical order by author.

Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Korbel Albright

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

Climbing Over Grit, by Laleh Chini and Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi

Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

Sea Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers

The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James

Undaunted:  Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and Fighting Back, by Jackie Speier

The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

Since my December 17, 2018 blog post

My December 17, 2018 blog post was more than a bit pessimistic. The title described my current dilemma:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/.

I have heard from a number of you since then. You have offered encouragement and helped prop me up. Knowing I have blog readers in quite a few countries from around the world in addition to those in the US who cared enough to take time to leave comments has boosted my morale and helped me to determine that I must continue to work on that historical novel I’ve worked on off and on for a decade.

Even if there are days I can only write for 15 minutes, then that’s what I’ll do in 2019. Slowly but surely, I will finish writing that book!

For those of you who read my blog from last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/24/do-you-believe-in-miracles/, I hope you were moved by this real life story from 40 years ago.

Until my next blog post

At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:  A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. You can check out her website at https://janetgivens.com/.

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

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 and I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

What are some of the books that educated you or changed your life or your thinking?

Happy New Year!

Janet

Some Good Summer Reading

The first Monday of August has suddenly arrived, so it’s time for me to tell you about the books I read in July. I read a variety of books, including fiction and nonfiction.

Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

Under The Skin
Under the Skin, by Vicki Lane

I purchased this book a couple of years ago after reading Vicki Lane’s first four books in her Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries. If you follow my blog, you know I get my books almost exclusively from the public library. Library books keep piling up and causing me to postpone reading the books I own. I bought the paperback edition of Under the Skin at a wonderful independent bookstore in Asheville, NC. I dare you to go into Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe and leave without buying at least one book. It’s a great bookstore, but I digress.

When July came, I decided I was going to read Under the Skin, even if it meant returning a library book unread. In this book, Elizabeth Goodweather is visited by her sister who convinces her to attend séances at a nearby spa. The sister is hoping to make contact with her deceased husband. All sorts of problems pop up as it becomes clear that the sister is being stalked.

Chapters more or less alternate between this present-day tale and a story about two sisters at the same historic spa in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1880s. The present-day story held my interest more than the 19th century tale, but that’s just my personal observation.

You can read all about Vicki Lane’s books on her website, http://www.vickilanemysteries.com/ and you can follow her on https://www.goodreads.com/.

 My Beautiful Broken Shell, by Carol Hamblet Adams

My Beautiful Broken Shell
My Beautiful Broken Shell: Words of Hope to Refresh the Soul, by Carol Hamblet Adams

My Beautiful Broken Shell was recommended to me by my librarian sister. It is a small book about how most seashells get tossed about and broken, but so do we humans. The author encourages us to embrace our brokenness.

I’m broken in many ways and sometimes I’m more than a little rough around the edges.

Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover

Educated
Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover

This is an entertaining memoir of a woman who was raised by strict Mormon parents in the middle of nowhere in Idaho. Her father is bipolar, and Ms. Westover does an excellent job of getting across to the reader just how unnerving being the child of a person with that malady can be. Tara’s mother reluctantly becomes a midwife at her husband’s insistence. The occupation gradually “grows on her” and she seems to like it.

I don’t want to give away too much of this true story. Suffice it to say that Tara goes from being “no-schooled” at home to attain amazing things in education.

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

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

I referred to this little book in my July 16, 2018 blog post, Words We Carry and White Privilege. That post probably left you with an overall good impression of the book. Although I liked the premise of the book, the latter part of the book came across to me as bordering on being Pollyanna while also being conflicting. The author writes about the importance of being your authentic self while recommending that you just put on some make up and act like everything is just fine.

Her parting message struck me as being akin put a smile on your face and a have positive outlook. That takes an enormous amount of energy for people with a chronic physical illness or depression.

Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina, by Sherman Carmichael

Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina
Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina, by Sherman Carmichael

This is a newly-published book from The History Press. I found it in the New Books Section at the public library.

The 170-page book is a collection of ghost stories from the 200-mile coast of the state along with a number of true accounts of ships being torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats during World War II.

I was familiar with a few of the ghost stories but most were new to me. The author did a good job of including just enough historical background about most of the places and stories. Each of the stories is one to three pages, making this a book that’s easy to pick up when you only have a few minutes to read.

I think I’ll purchase a copy to take along with me on my next trip to the coast.

A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

A Bigger Table
A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

Whether or not you agree with John Pavlovitz’s politics or his ideas for how to make church more responsive and Christ-like, I think you’ll find that his writing makes you think outside the box.

That said, Mr. Pavlovitz says a lot of things in his book, A Bigger Table:  Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, that I needed to hear and ponder. Much of what Mr. Pavlovitz said in this book brought to mind the recent capital campaign at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. That campaign was called “Growing God’s Table.”

We already had a sanctuary. We already had a building housing Sunday School rooms, offices, and an inadequate fellowship hall. What we needed was an expansion of our building that would incorporate more classrooms, an elevator to serve the old building as well as the expansion, and most of all — a much larger fellowship hall.

The new fellowship hall has made it possible for us to have monthly community free meals and other activities to which the public is invited. We’re growing God’s table at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, but we still have a long way to go. We are a work in progress. Mr. Pavlovitz’s book opened my eyes to even more possibilities.

Mr. Pavlovitz calls out Christians who are so busy “doing church” activities that they sometimes forget that forming relationships with people is the most important thing we should be doing. Sometimes we treat one another badly and sometimes we fail to treat strangers with the love and compassion demonstrated by Jesus Christ. We all need to make the table bigger. God’s table is big enough for everyone.

I purchased this ebook several months ago after following the author’s blog for quite some time. His blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said (https://johnpavlovitz.com/,) is always thought-provoking.

Since my last blog post

I spent some time with long-time friends who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Raleigh, NC. It was good to get away for several days, make some new friends, and reconnect with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m trying to finish reading several books I started in July. You’ll find out in my September 3 blog post how that went.

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

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 welcome your comments

Have you read any good books lately?

Janet

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