Two Other Books I Read in July 2020

Today’s blog is about two very different novels I read last month. In case you missed last week’s blog post about the other three books I read in July, here’s the link to that post: Three of the Five Books I Read in July 2020.

I like historical fiction because it lets me escape to another place and time. One of today’s books transported me to Washington, DC and the Midwest in the second half of the 19th century, while the other novel took me to Naples, Italy in the 1950s.


Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini

I knew that Mary Todd (Mrs. Abraham) Lincoln had some mental illness problems, but this novel shines a light on her illness and how it affected her only surviving son and her four sisters. It demonstrates how family members can become estranged when there is mental illness in their midst and how siblings and children (even adult children) can be shut out and left feeling helpless to get the sick relative the help they need. It was true in the 19th century. Sadly, it is still true.

The Todd sisters had always been close and relied upon one another even as adults. The American Civil War caused rifts in their relationships, as one or more of their husbands were part of the Lincoln Administration while the husband of another sister was in the Confederacy.

Mrs. Lincoln attempted suicide in 1875. Her sisters try to let bygones be bygones, even though she has slighted each of them on occasion. After spending time in an asylum, Mrs. Lincoln is determined to never return. She was a very resourceful woman. She would walk out of one facility she was in, hail a taxi, and go to pharmacies to try to get drugs.

She had a volatile relationship with her son, and her mental illness was demonstrated in the way she gave and withheld things from him.

It is the second novel I’ve read by Jennifer Chiaverini, the first being Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.


My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

I heard that The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante, was good, so I got on the waitlist for it at the library. Then, I discovered it was the second book in her Neapolitan Series, so I got on the waitlist for the first book, My Brilliant Friend. It took a bit of juggling and pausing my hold on The Story of a New Name so I could read My Brilliant Friend first.

My Brilliant Friend is beautifully translated from Italian into English by Ann Goldstein. The prose is lovely.

My Brilliant Friend has been made into a TV series on HBO, but I have not seen it. The book follows two young girlfriends (Lila and the narrator, Elena) from their meeting at the age of 10 through their adolescent years. Elena sees Lila as more intelligent than herself. This prompts Elena to try to do everything Lila does to the extent of “copying” how she does everything. It is a complex story of women’s friendships and power. Lila and Elena’s lives reflect life in Naples, Italy in the 1950s.

There are four books in Ms. Ferrante’s Neapolitan Series of novels.


Since my last blog post

Yesterday morning at 8:07 a.m. EDT, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake occurred near Sparta, North Carolina and was felt here. I live about 100 miles from Sparta. I was sound asleep at the time and the shaking of my bed woke me up.  We don’t have a lot of earthquakes of that magnitude in North Carolina. In fact, this was the strongest one in the state since a 5.2 near Asheville in 1916.

A good thing that has resulted from the changes we’ve all had to make in our lifestyles due to the pandemic is the new opportunities people like me have to watch and listen to authors on Facebook Live and Zoom. A special weekly thing I’ve become addicted to at 7pm Eastern Time on Wednesdays is a conversation among five novelists. Look online (friendsandfiction.com) for “Friends and Fiction.”

Authors Mary Alice Monroe, Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, and Patti Callahan Henry meet virtually every Wednesday evening to discuss reading and writing. Most weeks they have a guest author join them. From the website you can click on “Podcasts” and watch several of their earlier programs. It’s a great way to forget about the pandemic for an hour.

I’m still working my way through C.S. Lakin’s book and accompanying workbook that share the title, The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction as I continue to polish my historical fiction manuscript tentatively titled The Doubloon or The Spanish Coin.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’ve never tried listening to an audio book, I suggest you give that a try. I’ve surprised myself this year and found downloadable audio books to be my format of choice. You don’t have to worry about getting Covid-19 germs from another library patron.

If you are a writer or other type of artist, I hope you get to immerse yourself in your craft this week.

Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask out of respect for other people. We’re all in this together.

Janet

The Daily Prompt – Record

I’m trying something new today. Monday is the day that I get weekly digests of the blogs I follow. I tend not to be very productive on Mondays, so it is a good day for me to read what other bloggers have to say. I follow a variety of bloggers from around the world – USA, Scotland, France, Australia, Egypt, England, Canada, India, Norway, and South Africa. I follow the blogs of other writers, as well as a young man who is a music composer, photographers, historians, pastors, stay-at-home mothers, a father whose daughter died of cancer at the age of 19, and an autistic man in the United Kingdom.

This afternoon I found a blog that was new to me: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/challenge-instructions/. The site offers a writing prompt every day. I’ve never done much with writing prompts, but this might be a way for me to blog more often than my usual Tuesdays and Fridays. It has already prompted me to do a little writing on a Monday, which is an accomplishment in itself. Today’s prompt is the word record.

Right off the bat, I’m faced with the decision of whether to use record as a noun or a verb. I chose to use it both ways.

I immediately thought about the daybooks one of my great-grandfathers kept in which he wrote daily from 1891 until his death in 1914. His daybooks (or journals) are a RECORD of life on his farm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. What a gem for his descendants! I wish he had RECORDED more current events. He had fought in the American Civil War, so on the anniversary dates of the battles in Richmond, Virginia, and New Bern, North Carolina were always noted.

In April, 1896 he wrote the following note in the margin:  “We Built this house in 1886 and moved in it   Earth Quake Aug the 28 the Same year.”

On May 31, 1897, after commenting on the weather, that he didn’t feel well (“I am on the Sick list.”), and what was being done on the farm, he ended the day’s daybook entry with, “a Earth Quake this Eavning 12 m to 2 o clock.”

Lee Dulin kept a daily RECORD of the weather and that day’s activities on the farm. He was a widower raising six children, his wife having died in childbirth in 1881. Trips into Charlotte for supplies were duly noted, as was his trip by train to the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. A man of few words, though, he merely wrote down the day he left for Atlanta and the day he returned. It was probably the first time he saw electric lights, but we’ll never know. He didn’t write about anything he saw at the event, which was very much like a World’s Fair.

Photo of part of a page of ciphering in one of Lee Dulin’s daybooks.

There was one fact Lee Dulin RECORDED in one of his daybooks that proved to be valuable to my sister and me as we worked on our family’s genealogy. If not for this almost overlooked note on a page of ciphering in one of the daybooks, we would not know the name of his father. In case it’s not legible here, he wrote, “James J. Dulin my Papa name.”

In today’s computerized world in which it is said that young adults have no interest in keeping a photograph or a piece of paper, I’m glad I came along in a time when family RECORDS like great-grandpa’s daybooks were valued and saved.

Incidentally, I blogged about Lee Dulin’s daybooks a year ago tomorrow, May 14, 2016, in case you want to read more about it.

Until my next blog post (which will be posted in about 11 hours)

I hope you have a good book (or an ancestor’s daybook) to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

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