I saved two books I read in December for today’s blog post, not wanting to make last week’s post too long. One is a new novel and the other was from my to-be-read (TBR) list. I continue to add more books to my TBR than I check off. That’s just the way it is. My TBR hovers around 300, give or take 10-20 books. I need to ignore the number. Stressing over it isn’t beneficial.
The following two books transported me to England and Mississippi in December without leaving the Covid-19-free safety of my home.
Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell
The first book I read by British author Lisa Jewell was The Family Upstairs in November 2019. I didn’t particularly enjoy listening to that book because one of the characters had a limited vocabulary. By that, I’m referring to the fact that the character used “the f-word” to such excess that I found it distracting. (Here’s the link to my blog post about the books I read in November 2019: Four Other Books I Read in November 2019.) Nevertheless, I decided to give Lisa Jewell another chance, so I listened to her new novel, And Then She Was Gone. I’m glad I did.
Then She Was Gone is a cleverly-developed psychological thriller. A little girl disappears shortly after her tutor is let go. The little girl’s mother never gives up hope of finding her daughter. Many years later she is introduced to a young girl. She is the spitting image of her missing daughter. I was hooked by this story early on, and I wanted to see it through to the end. The longer I listened to this book, the more I was eager to see what would happen next.
Having a female predator made this novel different from the norm. We just don’t expect a woman to fill that role in real life or in fiction. Did the tutor have something to do with the little girl’s disappearance? If so, why did she do it? There are some surprises in the end that made me wish I had time to reread the book from the beginning to look for bits of foreshadowing I possibly missed the first time.
The Appeal, by John Grisham
This novel by John Grisham has been on my TBR for years. I finally got around to reading it. Actually, I listened to it. Michael Beck does such a good job recording John Grisham’s books, I’ve come to prefer to listen to his novels instead of reading the printed word.
The Appeal deals with a number of trials and appeals. The main one is an appeal filed after a jury in Mississippi finds a chemical company guilty of causing a cluster of cancer cases. The owner of the company decides to “purchase” a seat on the Mississippi State Supreme Court.
This book shines a bright light on the problems that can be created by making judgeships elected positions. When a judge is put in the position of needing to raise money for his or her campaign, it opens the door for all kinds of corruption. Mr. Grisham usually has a point he wants to get across, and I believe that was the one that stood out in The Appeal.
There is also a moral dilemma revealed near the end of the book.
Since my last blog post
Since my last blog post, insurrectionists and domestic terrorists stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. I’m so angry and stunned that I’m still searching for words to attempt to describe how I feel. I’ve tried very hard the last four years not to make comments about politics in my blog posts; however, what happened last Wednesday, January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC was done at the direction and encouragement of Donald J. Trump, Sr., the sitting president of the United States of America.
It was a failed coup. There is no punishment for Trump and his enablers that is equal to their crimes.
I can almost forgive the people who voted for Trump in 2016. With time, maybe I’ll be able to completely forgive them. For the people who voted for him again in November 2020, you knew exactly what you were voting for and you got it on January 6. Unfortunately, we all got it on January 6—and we didn’t deserve it. As a Christian, I’m supposed to forgive you. Let’s just say I’m a work in progress. May God have mercy on my soul. May God have mercy on you.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read or a good one to write – or both.
Make time to do something you’re really passionate about. For me, that’s writing.
Wear a mask, and get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as you’re eligible. That’s still a few weeks or months away for me.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post today.
I’m glad we don’t know what the future holds. If we did, most of us would have approached the year 2020 with uncommon dread. I entered the year with what I thought was reasonable positivity. My last blog post in 2019 was one in which I stated a goal of finding contentment and peace in 2020. Here’s the link to that post: Contentment and Peace in 2020.
After writing that post for December 30, 2019, I typed the title for today’s post in my editorial calendar to remind myself to evaluate the progress I made in 2020 in finding contentment and peace.
Could it be I picked the wrong year to seek contentment and peace?
Did I Find Contentment in 2020?
Am I content? That’s a loaded question. Am I content with my life? If so, does that mean I’ve settled for whatever my life looks like? That’s not how I choose to look at it. Writing to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote (Phil. 4:12-13), he encouraged the Christians there to rejoice in the Lord no matter their circumstances.
It has been a stressful year in many respects – the broken leg in January, the pulmonary embolism in February, the death of a high school classmate and friend in Belgium that same day, 13 weeks of not being able to put any weight on my right leg followed by months of rehabilitation and recovery, the death of a dear lifelong friend in July, my dog’s diabetes diagnosis in August, a planned beach trip in September had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, the tendon problem in my wrist (ongoing), my fibromyalgia flared big time in October when summer transitioned into fall, a dear cousin’s cancer diagnosis in November, a US presidential election in November that seems to never end, and tooth sensitivity that led to a root canal in November.
Oh, and there was a pandemic. There was and is the Covid-19 pandemic. When history books are written, 2020 will stand out as a troubling year in the entire world.
I have a good life, though. In 2020, I never wondered where my next meal was coming from. I had a roof over my head every day. I had access to the medical attention I needed. I have friends. I have the world’s best sister and wonderful family a couple of hundred miles away. How could I be anything but content?
Looking back over my December 30, 2019, blog post, did I get my To-Be-Read List under control? No. In fact, that list on my Goodreads.com account has grown from 302 to 318.
Did I cut back on my weekly blog? No. I considered decreasing the number of blog posts, but I couldn’t get excited about doing that. For now, it’s still every Monday.
Did I “get my novel on the road to publication” in 2020? No. I’m afraid it has been neglected in 2020 as I pursued other writing opportunities. Neglected, but not forgotten.
Did I make time for all my hobbies? No. I made a little time to work on genealogy but my other hobbies fell by the wayside. I thought on December 30, 2019, that making time for my hobbies would lead to peace and contentment in 2020.
Motivation was harder to come by in 2020 than I anticipated.
Did I Find Peace in 2020?
For purposes of this goal and its evaluation I’m referring to inner peace.
I broke my leg, but it has almost completely healed. Thanks to modern medicine and an on-the-ball hospital emergency room doctor, my pulmonary embolism dissolved. Even though I could only get around with the use of a walker for 13 weeks, I did have access to a walker and my left leg was good and strong. I’m retired, so I could stay at home. I share a home with my sister, and she and our dog took great care of me.
I will forever miss the two friends I lost, but I know they’re both in a better place and I’ll see them again.
Our dog has access to some of the best animal veterinary care on the planet. He is doing splendidly again!
I took advantage of my fibromyalgia flare in October to get back into one of my favorite hobbies – genealogy.
On Christmas Eve, my cousin received the best report possible following her cancer surgery. She is a very strong and determined person. She will beat cancer.
Another cousin’s first baby was due last week in California but, apparently, it’s heard about this year and doesn’t want to have anything to do with 2020. I can’t blame it. I am excited beyond words over this much-anticipated event!
The last four years have been a contentious time in our country. November 3 finally came and it was Election Day! There were several nail-biter days. Really. I chewed off three fingernails. We are more polarized politically than any other time in my life. It has been an ugly time that I hope never to experience again. The election continues to be a source of ugliness from the man who lost the presidential election. How embarrassing for the US! Better days and years lie ahead of us, though, starting on January 20, 2021 – Inauguration Day in Washington, DC.
December came with the Covid-19 pandemic still growing daily in the US and other countries around the world, so I continued to stay at home as much as possible. However, scientists worked around-the-clock in 2020 and developed more than one Covid-19 vaccine in record time! In the coming year, it is hoped that these vaccines will get the pandemic under control. I will patiently await my turn.
My fractured leg in January caused me to miss a haircut appointment. Ditto for the blood clot in my lung in February. In March, the pandemic closed the beauty shops. I decided to take this opportunity to let my hair grow longer to see how I liked it. My experiment lasted until the day before yesterday, when I finally raised the white flag and got my hair cut. It’s very short again – and I love it! I won’t have to do that experiment again.
My sister and I went to the church one day and the pastor videoed our lighting the third Advent candle. The video was incorporated into the Facebook Live broadcast of the December 13 worship service. It was a joy to be in the sanctuary again and to see it decorated with greenery and poinsettias for the Advent Season. Due to my broken leg, I hadn’t been in the sanctuary since January 26. It was wonderful to be included in the worship service, even if on video.
I’ve enjoyed listening to the music of the Christmas Season, and the lights and ornaments on our Christmas tree have lifted my spirits. We might just leave it up until next Christmas. And I will continue to listen to Christmas music for a while.
This year of hibernation allowed me to plunge into the world of self-publishing. I learned how to format an e-book and I anticipate publishing the 174 local history columns from 2006 through 2012 in the coming months. I started writing historical short stories with another self-published book in mind.
I have a renewed purpose in life through my writing, and that has truly brought me joy during an otherwise dark and daunting year. I found that I’m happiest when I’m writing.
Okay. What’s the verdict? Did I find peace and contentment in 2020?
In many ways, I did. I’m fairly content with my life, but I’m not settling for the way it is. I’m not giving up on my dreams. I want to publish my Harrisburg, Did You Know? book of history columns. I want to publish a collection of my historical short stories. I want to see my historical novel in print. I want to quilt. I want to get all our genealogy notes together in a form that my niece’s and nephew’s descendants can make sense of their family history. I want to play the dulcimer. I want to read more books. If only I had the energy to pursue all my interests!
I think I learned some patience in 2020. I have a new appreciation for peace and quiet. I’m fortunate to have a slower pace of life now. Except for feeding the dog and administering his shots every 12 hours, I’m not on much of a schedule. Most days I get to do what I want to do, and most people in the world don’t have that luxury. Of course, it helps that I prefer to spend time at home, and retirement makes that possible.
In spite of all the mishaps in my life and the sadness that accompanies the pandemic, 2020 wasn’t such a bad year after all. My sister and I have not had Covid-19 or any other life-threatening medical diagnoses, except for my blood clot. We still have the love of family and friends. I have truly been blessed this year and throughout my life.
I know, more than ever before in my life that, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What do I want in 2021?
I want to be a better person in 2021. I want to remember the words of Romans 8:38-39 every day. I want to take Micah 6:8 to heart and “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [my] God.”
I want the same things I wanted in 2020: peace and contentment. And that’s my wish for you in the coming year, too.
Once in a while, someone proclaims that the world is going to come to an end on a certain date. It turns out that today is one of those days.
School attendance and the Miranda Rights
I was on a jury in the early 1970s for a public school truancy case. The case ended up being thrown out of court because it came to light that the county school system’s truant officer (probably called something like “attendance facilitator” today) failed to read the children’s mother her Miranda rights. (Bear with me. This story directly relates to today’s blog topic.)
For those of you in countries other than the United States, in 1966 the US Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v Arizona that a police officer must tell a suspect they’re about to question that they have the right to remain silent, anything they say can and will be held against them in a court of law, they have the right to a lawyer and for that lawyer to be present while they’re being questioned, and the government will provide a lawyer for them if they can’t afford one.
The mother had kept her children out of school for several months, but now the county had to start over in its effort to get those children back into the classroom. The reason the mother was not letting her children go to school was because she belonged to a religious group that believed the world was going to come to an end on a specific date in the near future and, therefore, her children didn’t need an education.
And then, there was 12:00:01 a.m. on January 1, 2000
Those of us of a certain age remember all the hoopla over January 1, 2000. Computers were predicted to crash. Life as we knew it would end because the computers invented in the 1900s weren’t capable of anticipating the year 2000. There would be no electricity. Our phones wouldn’t work. Our clocks would stop. Well, January 1, 2000 arrived with the usual New Year’s fireworks, etc. and life continued.
Predictions based on Natural Disasters and Wars
The current Covid-19 pandemic has prompted some people to predict the imminent end of the world. They might be right and the joke might be on me, but I’m reminded that there have been pandemics, earthquakes, floods, wars, and hurricanes all throughout world history. Why would anyone think the Covid-19 pandemic is the event that will knock Earth off its axis?
In the spirit of full transparency, I’ll start by saying I don’t believe a human being can know the date that the world will come to an end. I believe that only God knows. It’s not something I have to worry about. I don’t want to know the day or the hour. It would make me live my life differently and, probably, not for the good. But I digress.
That brings us to December 21, 2020
It came to my attention early this month that on December 21, 2020, Saturn and Jupiter would be the closest to each other that they’ve been in some 800 years. Cool! I wish I had a telescope to view this with. I’ve been watching those two planets with the naked eye for a couple of weeks, and it’s been interesting to see two such bright objects near each other in the sky.
It wasn’t until December 10 that I became aware that some people were predicting that this interesting and rare astronomical event was a sure sign that the world would end today. I chuckled about it. If you’re reading this, I was apparently right to chuckle. If I was wrong, …. Poof! It’s been nice knowing you. Thank you for reading my blog all these years. It’s been fun. I wasted my time planning future blog post topics. On the bright side, I’m glad I made that dental appointment for December 23 instead of early December. I saved myself a bunch of money.
If you and I are still here
If you and I are still here, whew! We’re safe until the lunatic fringe chooses the next date for the world’s demise.
I hope you have a good book to read or write.
I hope you have rewarding creative time this week.
Keep wearing your mask.
Merry Christmas to my fellow Christians on December 25th.
As has become my routine, my first blog of the month is about the books I read the previous month. I read a couple of good books in November, so I’m eager to tell you what I thought about them. As sometimes happens, more than one book with difficult topics presented themselves at the same time. This was a month of unpleasant topics, but the writing was excellent.
And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane
You must read this book! It is historical fiction at its best.
The name of this historical novel might be a turn-off for some people but, if you are a true fan of historical fiction, you must read this book. If you desire to learn more about the American Civil War, you must read this book. Vicki Lane has done a masterful job of weaving the story of the war in the mountains of North Carolina through the voices of five point-of-view characters.
This is a story that the history books rarely mention. If it’s mentioned, it is glossed over and allotted one sentence. I remember reading references in history textbooks such as, “Brother turned against brother” and “Neighbor turned against neighbor.”
Those descriptions of what actually happened in places like Madison County, North Carolina, don’t hold a candle to the depth of hate and evil that took place there. And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane, puts flesh and bones, horror, heartache, and names on such mundane statements that you’ll find in history books.
Ms. Lane’s novel is based on a true story, and four of her five main characters were real people. It is not pleasant reading, but it is artfully written. The suspense slowly builds until unspeakable evil takes place. And the Crows Took Their Eyes is the perfect title for this tale of hate and revenge.
Oh, how I wish I could write historical fiction like Vicki Lane does!
A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham
I listened to this latest legal thriller by John Grisham. Michael Beck always does an outstanding job reading Mr. Grisham’s novels for the audio editions. He outdid himself on this one with the numerous accents. And Mr. Grisham outdid himself with some gut-wrenching courtroom testimony.
A Time for Mercy gets into some tough subjects. A boy kills his mother’s abusive boyfriend. To give more details here would be revealing too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book for you. It is a gripping story with many layers. I highly recommend it.
Since my last blog post
I finished writing a couple of historical short stories. I now have five stories completed and six others in various stages of planning and researching. Maybe I’ll get a collection of short stories published in 2021.
It has been refreshing to spend more time writing lately. I realized that I am happiest when I’m writing.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie.
I hope you have quality, imaginative, and satisfying creative time, no matter where your creative interests lie.
Wear your mask and try to stay well until we all get through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Today marks the 185th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Longhorn Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain.
Mark Twain has been a favorite author of mine since my first introduction to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in elementary school. I loved the humor. I loved the honesty. I loved the way he wrote like people talked. Decades later, those are still the things I love about his writing. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is another favorite novel of his.
Years ago, I enjoyed how actor Hal Holbrook brought Mark Twain alive on the stage and TV. When vacationing in New York a few years ago, I enjoyed visiting Elmira, where Twain lived. There was a live portrayal of him there, which was excellent. I still have those memories and the plastic souvenir cup from my visit.
Perhaps even more than his novels, I like many of Mark Twain’s quotes. It was through his little snippets or sayings that his humor really came through. Here are a few of my favorites:
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
“A person who won’t read has no advantage over the person who can’t read.”
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
“When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it’s a sure sign you’re getting old.”
Since my last blog post
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened here in the United States. I’m thankful for all the people who work in healthcare facilities and other essential workers who risk exposure to the virus every day so the rest of us can have the services we need. I’m fortunate that I can stay home most of the time.
I finished reading a splendid new historical novel by Vicki Lane. Get your hands on a copy of And the Crows Took Their Eyes. Don’t let the title scare you off, but be aware that the book is not about a pleasant subject. It is, however, masterfully written. It sheds light on a part of North Carolina history that has received too little attention in the history books. It brings to life the horrors of neighbors taking opposite sides in the American Civil War. I read it slowly and savored the writing. Look for more about this book in my blog post on December 7, 2020.
My sister and I had some productive time one day as we continued to proofread my manuscript for Harrisburg, Did You Know? Stay tuned for progress reports.
My root canal went well last Monday, and I was able to enjoy turkey, dressing, and gravy on Thanksgiving Day.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read and a challenging one to write, if you’re a writer.
Be creative. Find what you’re passionate about and make time to do it. Find a way to make a living doing it. I wish I had.
Thursday will be a different kind of Thanksgiving Day for most of us in the United States. It is traditionally a holiday filled with tradition, overeating, and relatives. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year we’ve been advised not to get together with people who don’t live in our household.
The passage of time has changed my Thanksgivings. I have no particular memories of Thanksgiving celebrations when I was young. When I was in elementary school, I learned about the pilgrims and how the American Indians shared their food with the European settlers. They gave thanks for surviving through the year.
I didn’t have living grandparents, so I have no memories of going “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go,” but I sang the song with my classmates anyway. That song comes to mind every Thanksgiving.
My mother didn’t like cooking a turkey, so we usually had chicken. The school I attended had an annual turkey dinner as the major fundraiser of the year on the day before Thanksgiving, so that was when we got to eat turkey and dressing.
When I was a teenager, my older brother and his wife lived out-of-state. They came home for Thanksgiving, and my sister and I gradually persuaded our mother to cook a turkey. My brother dictated that Thanksgiving Day was the perfect day for us to rake leaves. It didn’t matter how cold it was, it was on his list and he was here, so that’s what we did. It sort of turned Thanksgiving into a day to be dreaded instead of one to be looked forward to with great anticipation.
Then, there was the Thanksgiving my father was in the hospital for tests and that Saturday received his multiple myeloma diagnosis. The next day I had to head back to college. I didn’t know if he’d still be alive when I came home for Christmas. It was a bleak winter.
After my parents’ deaths, Thanksgiving took on a whole new look. Instead of our brother and his family coming here from out-of-state, my sister and I traveled to Georgia for the weekend. After one trip in grid-locked traffic on Interstate 85 that doubled our normal driving time, we decided to just stay in North Carolina for future Thanksgivings. It took us several years to find our new Thanksgiving tradition.
Several friends and relatives invited us to join them for their traditional 40-50 person Thanksgiving get togethers. I’m afraid we insulted some of them when we declined their invitations. We appreciated their efforts to include us, but we prefer a quiet day.
We discovered the all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving meal at a buffet restaurant. This was much easier and less stressful than cooking a turkey and all the go-with-its for two people. We’d found our new Thanksgiving tradition! It lasted two years.
This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are no all-you-can-it buffets. We are left to our own devices. Do we remember how to cook a turkey? Do we remember how to make cornbread dressing? And what about the giblet gravy? That was tricky even during the best of times.
Thursday my sister and I will sit down to a meal together and give thanks to God for all the many blessings He has bestowed on us all our lives. Like the early settlers in Massachusetts, we are thankful we’ve survived the year. We are more fortunate in material things such as food and shelter than most people in the world. We are blessed to live where we live and have all that we have. We are fortunate to have family living near and far away. We have friends. We live in peace and quiet. What else could anyone want?
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read, or a good book to write.
I hope you have enjoyable creative time.
I hope you have a nice day on Thursday, even if you live in another country and don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day.
We can all be thankful that a Covid-19 vaccine will eventually be available and this pandemic will come to an end someday.
My blog last Monday started out in the fairly safe area of my take on three books I read (or attempted to read) in October, but then it migrated into the dangerous territory of the 2020 Presidential election in the United States. I probably lost a few readers over my comments, but maybe I gained some new ones. I said what was on my heart.
Today’s topic takes a lighter and less divisive turn. I had trouble settling on a subject for today’s blog post, so I turned to my friend Google for ideas. Among them were politics, religion, recipes, book reviews, inspiration, bacon, pets, self-help, and marital advice.
Since I wrote about politics and touched on religion last week, I immediately marked those items off the list. Even though I like to cook and love to eat, I’m trying to steer away from turning this into a recipe blog. I’m not a book reviewer; I just write my thoughts about the books I read. (Yes, there’s a difference. Book reviews should follow some rules; my comments never follow any rules.) I’m holding “inspiration” in reserve for a few more minutes. Next on the list is bacon. Now there’s a topic I could sink my teeth into. <groan!> Pets are near and dear to my heart, but I’m not sure you want to know that much about my dog. I’m not qualified to write a self-help article, and I’m certainly not qualified to offer marital advice.
That leaves inspiration.
Oh, I know! It’s autumn here in North Carolina. I hope you enjoy some photographs I took last week before several days of rain and flash flooding (thanks to Tropical Storm and formerly Hurricane Eta.)
The maple, hickory, sweet gum, and dogwood trees, and the sassafras sprouts in my yard have been gorgeous this fall! Maple trees are my favorite, but I also love the unique color that sassafras leaves turn this time of year.
This has been a year of way more than average rainfall here, and most of us have lost count of the tropical storms. So far, it’s been one of the warmest Novembers on record but, if the abundance of acorns on and under the oak trees are any indication, we’re in for a cold winter. Among the surprises this November have been four blooms on one of our Buttered Popcorn Daylilies and one of our camellias is blooming. The daylilies usually stop blooming by August and the camellias usually bloom in February or March. Here are photos I took on November 13!
Since my last blog post
The pain in my left wrist has been diagnosed. It will be in a brace for six weeks in an effort to avoid surgery. It’s 2020, so I couldn’t have expected anything less. On the bright side, it’s not my dominant hand.
I’ve worked for hours on a genealogy project. It mainly consisted of writing creatively about some relatives I knew and some I didn’t know. All writing is good practice for me, even if it’s not fiction. The brace slows down my writing and greatly increases my typing errors.
With the drama of the US Presidential election sort of behind us (well, not really, but enough is enough!), my sister and I got back to proofreading my Harrisburg, Did You Know? book manuscript. Proofreading 350 pages is tedious work. (Spell-check will catch only a fraction of your mistakes and can actually lead you astray.)
I spent several happy hours reading some old newspapers online and looking for tidbits about local history.
I enjoyed reading when I could catch time here and there, and I spent more time than I should have doing jigsaw puzzles on my tablet. I tell myself it’s good for my brain and hand-eye coordination. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I listened to some uplifting music by Pentatonix, Peter Holmes, the Avett Brothers (from here in Cabarrus County!), Natalie Grant, and Whitney Houston.
Until my next blog post
Keep calm and carry on.
I hope you have a good book to read.
I hope you have creative time that brings you and others joy.
Thank you for wearing a mask to protect others during this Covid-19 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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!