3.25 of the 6.25 Books I Read in January 2019

My reading in January brought an interesting mix of fiction and nonfiction. In fact, when I wrote the first draft of this blog post about the 6.25 books I read last month, it was too long for one post. You’re all busy people and you only have so much time to give to reading my blog. Therefore, I’ll write about 3.25 of the 6.25 books today and the other three books next Monday.

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

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

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish! Janet Givens gives an informative and entertaining glimpse into the experiences she and her husband had while serving in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan for two years. I learned a lot about Kazakhstan and the mores of its citizens. Ms. Givens had to learn most of the idiosyncrasies of the Kazahk people the hard way – by trial and error, but she took all her faux pas in stride.

Ms. Givens approached her stint with the Peace Corps with a sense of wonder and adventure. There were many trying days and awkward relationships but by the end of her second year in Kazahkstan, Ms. Givens hated to leave.

I highly recommend this memoir to anyone curious about the work of the Peace Corps or the countries in the former Soviet Bloc.

The Reckoning, by John Grisham

The Reckoning, by John Grisham

The Reckoning is not your typical John Grisham legal thriller. It includes the law and a man who choose to break it and it’s a thriller, but it is very different from Mr. Grisham’s usual offerings. The story opens with  Pete, a World War II hero back home in Mississippi in 1946.

Pete wakes up one morning and decides that is the day. Just that: today is the day. Mr. Grisham pulled me into Pete’s life. Fairly early in the book, we see what Pete does that day that will change his and many other lives forever, but we don’t know why. We have a hunch, though.

The second part of the novel goes back to when Pete met his future life. We learn about the life they made together, but we primarily learn what Pete endured in the Pacific Theatre during the War. It’s not pretty, but it’s authentic. That part of the book at times reads almost like a history book, but Mr. Grisham writes in a way that makes it personal and real.

The third and final section of the book goes back to 1946 for Pete’s college-age son and daughter to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to make sense of what their father did. And that hunch we had in Part One proves not to be correct when the truth comes out in Part Three!

The Reckoning is different from Mr. Grisham’s usual legal thrillers, but I liked it.

The Boat People, by Sharon Bala

The Boat People, by Sharon Bala

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m put off by novels that don’t use quotation marks. It’s irritating, and I shudder to think that might be the wave of the future of publishing. Let’s save some ink and omit the quotation marks! I’d read good things about The Boat People, though, so I persevered.

The book held much promise in the opening chapters as we were introduced to several of the 503 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in a boat as it nears Canada. A father, Mr. Mahindan, and his six-year-old son are the focus of the book. Upon landing in Canada in 2009 they are separated from each other because all women and children are detained in a separate facility from the men. It was immaterial that Mr. Mahindan and his little boy only had each other.

The separation was gut-wrenching and traumatic for both of them. It hit me right in the gut and immediately brought to mind the even more severe and inhumane separation of women from men and children from adults on the US-Mexico border this winter. Just as Canadians couldn’t believe what was happening in their country in 2009, we Americans can’t believe what is happening now along our southern border. Don’t get me started!

I usually don’t mention on my blog the books that I don’t finish reading, but this one held such promise and I just couldn’t stay with it. If you read it, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

I read the first one-fourth of the book (hence, the title of today’s blog post) and just lost interest in the 2002 backstory for this 2009 event. The back-and-forth between the two years didn’t appeal to me. That, combined with the lack of quotation marks delineating dialogue, made me close the book and move on to ….

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

I read in advance reviews of The Library Book that the event that prompted Susan Orlean to write the book was the April 29, 1986 fire at the Central Los Angeles Public Library that destroyed 400,000 books. An additional 700,000 books were badly damaged. It was (and still is) the largest library fire in the history of the United States. I’m an avid reader and big supporter of public libraries, so I wondered how I could have missed hearing about this tragedy at the time it happened.

It turns out that most people never heard about it because it coincided with the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia. For days and days after the April 25-26 disaster, the nuclear scare predominated the news.

The Library Book not only tells about the fire and the employees and volunteers cleaning up the mess left behind; it also delves into the cause of the fire, and the history of the Los Angeles County Public Library System. Many interesting tidbits about libraries in general are included in the book, and one can tell by the tone of the book and the words used that Ms. Orleans loves and reveres libraries.

The fire, the search for an arsonist, and some of the little known facts and quotes about libraries was interesting and worth the read; however, I got bogged down in the history of the library system in Los Angeles County and found myself skipping paragraphs and, eventually, skipping pages.

I picked back up somewhere along the way and enjoyed the rest of the book. The book reinforced the warm and fuzzy feelings I have about libraries.

Since my last blog post

I’ve done a lot of reading and worked on a short story and my novel’s outline.

I’ve also worked on an extra blog post for tomorrow after reading about Rae’s idea of starting a “Two for Tuesday” tag in her January 8, 2019 blog post, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646. Please check in tomorrow to learn about two books that taught me something. #TwoForTuesday

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Creating Character Arc:  The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M Weiland; and Red Notice:  A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and lots of time to read.

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.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’ve read any of the books I mentioned today, let me know what you thought about them. Did I “miss the boat” by not finishing The Boat People, by Sharon Bala?

See you tomorrow for a bonus #TwoForTuesday blog post!

Janet

I took Mliae’s January challenge

I have discarded, recycled, or set aside to donate more items this month than I can count. All as a result of Mliae’s blog post on December 31, 2018:  https://lifexperimentblog.com/2018/12/31/happy-new-year-2019/.

Mliae challenged her blog readers to get rid of one item every day in January. I missed many days, but made up for it on others. It feels good to get rid of some clutter. Thank you, Mliae!

I finally got around to shredding my income tax records and bank statements from the year 1999 through 2010. That’s not a typo. 1999.

Think back to 1999, if you can. In those days, the bank sent you a statement every month along with all your cancelled checks. The bank and I have come a long way since 1999:  from cancelled checks to online bill pay.

In some ways, I’m organized. I keep each year’s income tax instructions and paperwork together with a rubber band. In theory, this would make it easy to discard (shred) the oldest year’s paperwork when adding the newest year’s records; however, I never put my plan into practice.

Hence, I hadn’t gotten rid of any of those records in 20 years even though we’re required to only keep our income tax records for seven years. It was time to tackle that box of income tax records! I started that project on Friday afternoon and finished it Saturday night. I thought our poor wee paper shredder was going to blow up!

I am reminded of a line I like from At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:  A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens:

“… if nothing else, a useful reminder early on that the more I can let go of the old, the more room there is for the new.”

In writing that, Ms. Givens was not referring to getting rid of physical items in order to make room for new things. She was writing about a revelation she had in the early days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan.

Ms. Givens realized that she needed to let go of preconceived ideas and the way she had done things back home in the United States so she could learn the culture of the Kazakh people.

The above quote from Ms. Givens’ memoir struck a chord with me. As I let go of some physical items this month, I made a conscious effort to let go of preconceived ideas.

I want to learn something each day. I want to be open to new ways and new ideas. As my 66th birthday approaches, I don’t want to be “a stick in the mud” or “stuck in a rut.”

Since my last blog post

My vertigo is improving. The things the physical therapist has me doing are definitely making a difference.

Until my next blog post

I look forward to seeing if Mliae will issue a February challenge. Nevertheless, I plan to continue to tackle the clutter that has accumulated.

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Now You See Me, by Sharon Bolton.

If you’re a writer, I hope writing brings you joy. I hope you have quality writing time this week.

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.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Are you a keeper of things? I think I got it honestly from both parents. They were in college when The Great Depression hit in 1929. Their young adult years were lean and full of struggle. “Waste not, want not,” must have been what they lived by. I never heard either of them say those words, but they raised their children not to waste anything.

By my parents’ example, I learned at an early age not to throw away anything that I could possibly need or find a use for later. Hence, the stack of printer paper that has only been used on one side. The other side can be used for all kinds of things – like writing the plot outline for a novel.

Hence, the used letter envelopes on which grocery lists can be written on the back while the inside conveniently holds discount coupons. And those twist-ties that come on the bag in which sliced bread is purchased? Yes, I’m guilty. There is a place set aside for them in one of the kitchen drawers.

What about you? Are you a keeper or a minimalist?

Janet

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