Reader’s Bill of Rights

rathish-gandhi-211551

Sometimes a novel’s story summary sounds interesting but fails to deliver. Sometimes it’s a matter of it just not being the right time for you to read that particular book. Sometimes the opening “hook” does its job and pulls you into the story, but the following pages fall short and your interest wanes.

Life is short. There are too many good books out there to spend time reading one that does not measure up or appeal to you.

I used to think if I started reading a book, I owed it to the author to finish reading it. I no longer abide by that. When I joined a book club a few years ago at the Kannapolis branch of the Cabarrus County Library system, I was introduced to a “Reader’s Bill of Rights.” Perhaps you are familiar with it. It is attributed to Daniel Pennac in Better Than Life, published by Coach Press in 1996:

“Reader’s Bill of Rights

  1. The right to not read
  2. The right to skip pages
  3. The right to not finish
  4. The right to reread
  5. The right to read anything
  6. The right to escapism
  7. The right to read anywhere
  8. The right to browse
  9. The right to read out loud
  10. The right to not defend your tastes” – Daniel Pennac

If you do not live in the United States, “Bill of Rights” might be an unfamiliar term for you. That is what the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are collectively called. It is not coincidental that Mr. Pennac listed 10 items in his “Reader’s Bill of Rights.”

In the United States, we take for granted our access to books and other reading material. Millions of people in the world are not that fortunate. Americans tend to take free public libraries for granted until elected local government officials threaten to close libraries or radically curtail their hours of operation due to financial constraints. Many of them see libraries as an easy target. They see libraries as “fluff.” We suffered through this in the county in which I live during the downturn of the economy that started in 2008. What was taken from us in a proverbial “blink of an eye” took several years to reinstate.

We have wonderful public library systems in Cabarrus and Mecklenburg Counties in North Carolina. I utilize both systems most weeks. The Harrisburg branch of the Cabarrus County system is a very inviting hub of activity. When Harrisburg’s public library branch opened in 2001, our community started to feel like a real town.

I do not take my right to read lightly. I hope you have the right to read anything you want to read. As you can see from the table of flags on this blog page, people from at least 73 different countries have read my blog. When I write my blog posts, I try to be mindful of that.

Some of my readers live in countries where there is no free press and there are heavy prices to pay (such as prison life at hard labor or even execution) if you read something that is banned. Knowing that a few individuals in such countries are putting themselves at risk by reading one of my blog posts has put unexpected pressure on me.

Please don’t take your right to read for granted! This Thanksgiving season in America, I’m thankful for my right to read and for free public libraries.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving Day with family and friends.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius.

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

I hope you live in a country where you have the freedom to write and read anything you want.

Janet

V is for Vocabulary and Voice

On this 22nd day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, the featured letter is “V.” Two options came to mind as I considered “V” words that have something to do with writing. Not able to decide which one to go with, I am writing about both:  Vocabulary and Voice.

V is for Vocabulary

As I do on a fairly regular basis, I’m going to show my ignorance. One of the things I like about reading books on my Kindle Fire is that I can simply rest my finger on a word I’m not familiar with and its definition pops up on the screen. I even find myself doing that while reading a traditional book! I laugh at myself and reach for a dictionary.

When contemplating today’s post early in April, my first thought was to blog about “V is for Vocabulary.” I started jotting down new words that I was learning.

Bildungsroman

Since Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, North Carolina agreed to sell my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in 2014, I’ve been on the independent bookstore’s mailing list. I receive e-mail invitations to author events hosted by the shop. On April 6, the e-mail announced that Jackson County author David Joy would discuss his new novel, The Weight of This World, on April 22 at 3:00 p.m.

I’ve read about David Joy and his debut novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. It picks up on the widespread drug problem that plagues the mountains in western North Carolina just as it does the rest of the United States. (Bear with me. I promise to get to Bildungsroman soon.)

Here it is two years later, and Mr. Joy’s second novel has been published. I was not able to go to Waynesville on April 22 to hear Mr. Joy speak but I plan to read one of his books the first chance I get.

Getting back to “V is for Vocabulary,” it was when I visited the website for the Cabarrus County Public Library system that I discovered that the genre in which Where All the Light Tends to Go is categorized as Bildungsroman. I didn’t have a clue what that meant.

Since I was at my computer, I took advantage of Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. I learned that Bildungsroman is the combination of two German words: Bildung, meaning “education,” and Roman, meaning “novel.”

Hence, according to www.merriam-webster.com, a Bildungsroman “is a novel that deals with the formative years of the main character – in particular, his or her psychological development and moral education. The bildungsroman usually ends on a positive note with the hero’s foolish mistakes and painful disappointments over and a life of usefulness ahead.”

Anaphora

Ironically, later that same day, I read a post on JstinsonINK.com about the word anaphora. Quoting from Jonathan’s post, “Anaphora – This is a form of repetition where you repeat the beginning of a phrase multiple times in succession. Think the quote from The Help:  ‘You is smart. You is kind. You is important.’”

I talk to my dog, sometimes to the point that he gets up and walks away. He is a rescue dog, so he has self-confidence issues. I often say to him, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.” Until three weeks ago, I had no idea that what I was doing was an anaphora.

I don’t regret majoring in political science in college but, if I’d known I would someday be a writer, I would have taken more English classes. It seems a shame to be my age and just now learn the meanings of Bildungsroman and Anaphora.

V is for Voice

A writer’s voice is his personality. It’s the way she expresses herself. Every writer has a unique voice.

Liebster Award

Since being nominated by Philip Craddock (philipcraddockwriter.wordpress.com) for the Liebster Award last April, I have found my voice on my blog. A criteria after being nominated for the Liebster Award is that you have to open up about yourself. It was then, in my April 6, 2016 blog post, that I “admitted” I have an illness that has my circadian clock off by about six hours, but I didn’t reveal the name of the illness. (I’ve always been a “night person,” but now I’m a “middle of the night person.”)

In my blog post on April 11, 2016, I listed 10 random facts about myself – which was required as a nominee for the Liebster Award. I explained that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) as it’s known in the United States. In the rest of the world it is called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), so some of my readers in other countries might be familiar with it at ME.

My reticence

I was reticent to reveal this about myself because I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted people to read my blog because they liked what I had to say. I thought being open about my illness would hurt my chances of being represented by a literary agent and getting my work published.

Found:  My Voice!

What I discovered, though, was that sharing those very personal details about myself gave me the freedom to write more from my heart. I had found my voice!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment

On the 20th day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, the featured letter is “T.” Most people don’t enjoy reading about taxes, but today I am blogging about the 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment. I can safely say that there is only one Cabarrus County in the United States, and it is located in the southern piedmont of North Carolina.

What’s so special about it?

Cabarrus County is one of the few North Carolina counties for which the 1863 Tax Assessment records exist.

It is sobering to read the pages of the 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment. It is a list of every slave owner in Cabarrus County, North Carolina at that time, along with the name, age, physical condition, and monetary value of each of their slaves. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to read this tax document through African American eyes.

I was pleased to find these records in 2003 when I was compiling a list of the 1,000+ slaves and free persons of color who were members of or were baptized at Rocky River Presbyterian Church between Concord and Harrisburg in Cabarrus County prior to 1870. I was able to supplement the church’s records with these tax records for my privately printed-on-demand booklet, “Slaves and Free Blacks Known to be Associated with Rocky River Presbyterian Church Prior to 1870.”

The following is a slightly edited version of one of my local history newspaper columns published in 2006 in Harrisburg Horizons weekly newspaper. The name of my column was, “Did You Know?” The original version of the article can be found on my website at http://janetmorrisonbooks.com/1863%20tax.html.

Did You Know?

Did you know that Cabarrus County is one of the few counties in North Carolina for which the 1863 Tax Assessment records exist? It wasn’t until I inquired in Charlotte and at the State Archives in Raleigh that I learned that no such records survived for Mecklenburg County.

“What’s the big deal?” you may ask.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America passed Statute 177 on August 19, 1861, which authorized the levying of a tax to help finance the Southern states’ government and military during the American Civil War. A tax rate of fifty cents per $100 valuation was established.

Taxable property included “real estate, slaves, merchandise, stocks, securities, money, and other property.” Subsequent legislation expanded the list in April, 1863, to include agricultural products, many occupations and trades, some businesses, and income.

The Cabarrus County Board of Assessors met at the courthouse in Concord on April 9, 1863. The Board increased the values of thirteen pieces of property in District (now Township) One and then recorded the names of all taxpayers by district.

The 1863 Cabarrus Tax Assessment records list each property owner in alphabetical order by district. The districts of 1863 essentially coincide with today’s townships. There are columns for number of acres of land owned, value per acre, and total value. The river or creek on which the land lay is also indicated.

In 1863, real estate in what is now Township One (the township in which Rocky River Presbyterian Church is located) ranged in value from $6 to $400 per acre. Most land was valued in the $6 to $20 per acre range. One of the exceptions was the half acre of land owned by Howie and Johnston, mercantile business partners in Harrisburg. Although their store closed in 1858, the property was valued at $200 in 1863.

It is interesting to read about the old land values and to think how things have changed, but the most intriguing part of the 1863 Tax Assessment records for me is the list of slaves. Under each slave holder is a list of their slaves by name. The age of each slave is given, along with their value. In cases of physical or mental disability, the type of disability is listed.

Pattern in slaves’ monetary value

There is a definite pattern in how the slaves were valued. Male children were generally valued at the rate of $100 for each year of their age, while female children were valued at $50 less. Slaves less than one year old were valued at $100. Young adult female slaves were typically valued at around $1,400, while young adult male slaves were valued around $1,600. The value of a slave in his or her late 30s began to decrease.

Two slaves listed as being blacksmiths were valued at $1,800 each, which was the highest value of any slaves in Township One.

It is sobering to read the names of the slaves and to see a monetary value placed on them. As an amateur genealogist and historian, I see tremendous value in the records.

Sources I used

1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment List on microfilm at the Lore Local History Room, Cabarrus County Public Library, Concord, North Carolina

The Confederacy:  A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America, by Henry Putney Beers, 1968.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (After reading one-third of Bittersweet, by Colleen McCullough, I decided I wasn’t interested enough in the story to finish the book. I’m reading The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth.)

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

Janet

McDowell County Historical Society

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at the May meeting of the McDowell County Historical Society in Marion, North Carolina. It was my first opportunity to talk about my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to a county historical society. The audience seemed very interested in my presentation, asked great questions, and their comments added much to the presentation. After the program, I invited everyone to look at my book and enjoy some of the actual postcards from the book.

People looking at my display of postcards
People looking at my display of postcards

Several people in attendance were postcard collectors. I enjoyed “comparing notes” with them. The Mayor of Marion, Steve Little, was there. He brought some of his postcards to show me. He had many that I had not seen before, so I enjoyed looking at his cards.

Last week I created my first PowerPoint presentation and used it for the first time last night. I think it was an improvement over my earlier programs. I took a free class about PowerPoint at the Harrisburg Branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library. With what I learned in that class of just an hour or so, I was able to put together a 40-minute program for last night.

Last page of Janet's PowerPoint presentation
Last page of Janet’s PowerPoint presentation

I don’t have any more speaking engagements scheduled. I will continue to contact public libraries and civic organizations to get some programs on my calendar for late summer and next fall.

Author Event in Kannapolis

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of holding an author event in Kannapolis, North Carolina’s branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library system to talk about my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Part of the audience in Kannapolis on May 7, 2015
Part of the audience in Kannapolis on May 7, 2015

Those in attendance were very supportive and interested. They seemed to enjoy the “audience participation” portion of my presentation. There was lots of discussion and give and take between me and audience members, which I enjoyed. Everyone was engaged in the presentation, which made for an enjoyable evening for all.

Blue Ridge Mountains word find puzzles and a few of the postcards displayed at the event
Blue Ridge Mountains word find puzzles and a few of the postcards displayed at the event

The library staff had an attractive display of other library books about or which were set in the Blue Ridge Mountains along with a pamphlet listing all those books. Someone put a lot of work into researching the collection and putting the display and brochure together.

Display of other Blue Ridge Mountains books in library meeting room
Display of other Blue Ridge Mountains books in library meeting room

After my presentation and the Q&A portion of the program, I sold and autographed copies of my book. It’s always rewarding when someone is moved to pay $20 for a copy of my book.

Janet, autographing a copy of The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina
Janet, autographing a copy of The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

I appreciate the Friends of the Kannapolis Library’s willingness to host this event. It is only through the generosity of people who voluntarily give of their time and resources to support public libraries on the local level that authors can hold events like this. In today’s climate of budget cuts, decreased library operating hours, and skeletal staff in public libraries, it is not easy to schedule programs like the one I offer. I am indebted to the Friends of the Kannapolis Library and the entire staff there for making this event possible.

Local Author Fair in Kannapolis

Last Saturday I had the privilege of participating in a Local Author Fair in Kannapolis, North Carolina, along with 15 to 20 other Cabarrus County authors. This was the first of what we hope will be an annual event, rotating among the branches of the Cabarrus County Public Library system. I was there to sell copies of my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Janet at her table at the Local Author Fair in Kannapolis on April 25, 2015.
Janet at her table at the Local Author Fair in Kannapolis on April 25, 2015.

Joyce and Jim Lavene, a husband and wife author team from Midland, North Carolina, also participated in the fair. It was good to see them again. They have spoken two or three times at Rocky River Readers Book Club and they have been supportive of me as a beginning writer. Joyce and Jim have written several series of mysteries.

Joyce and Jim Lavene, authors from Midland, NC, at the Local Author Fair in Kannapolis.
Joyce and Jim Lavene, authors from Midland, NC, at the Local Author Fair in Kannapolis.

I enjoyed chatting with the Lavenes, Michael and Rose Eury of Concord, and Linda Leigh Hargrove of Kannapolis. Michael Eury has written several books for Arcadia Publishing and is currently writing a book of “legendary locals” of Cabarrus County. Linda Leigh Hargrove has written several novels, including The Making of Isaac Hunt: A Novel and Loving Cee Cee Johnson.

Perhaps at a future Local Author Fair I will have a novel to sell in addition to my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina!

The Book Thief

I had an extraordinary experience on Saturday afternoon at a showing of the movie, “The Book Thief.” The Concord (NC) Friends of the Library sponsored the first of what promises to be a long line of monthly movie/book discussions. Books that have been made into movies will be shown and then discussed by attendees.

Saturday’s discussion was led by Dr. Barbara Thiede, Judiac Studies professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. There were 35 to 40 people in attendance and everyone participated in the discussion of the book, the movie, and the power of words for good and for evil.

The fact that for many years the public libraries in Cabarrus County were closed on Saturday afternoons due to budget cuts made Saturday’s 2:00 to 5:30 p.m. program all the sweeter. This was just the fourth Saturday we’ve enjoyed Saturday hours past 1:00 p.m., thanks to the current County Commissioners restoring budget for additional staff members. Since the idea for the book, The Book Thief, came from the Nazis burning books in Germany and wanting to control the reading material citizens had access to, it was an appropriate choice for the inaugural “Movie and Discussion.” We took Saturday afternoon library hours for granted until we lost them. Perhaps someday we’ll get Friday hours back, too!

It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.