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

Reading and Writing in February 2018

In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I expressed a need to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. I gave you an embarrassing writing progress report in my February 5, 2018 blog post (Reading and Writing in January 2018). February was productive, but not in word count.

My goal was to write 6,000 words in the rewrite of my novel in February. That just didn’t happen, but I nearly finished the character profiles and settled on the location and the theme. That might not sound like much, but it wasn’t easy. More on that later.

Writing Goal for March:  Finish writing the scenic plot outline

My reading in February

Although I read six books in February, my “want to read” list had a net gain of ­­16. Like I wrote on February 5, this trend is unsustainable. With so many good books being written, though, I don’t know how to reduce my list. In my younger adult days I didn’t make time to read fiction, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy

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The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy

This was Ms. Duffy’s debut novel. It was published in 2017 and was recommended by my friend, Karen. Set in Maine, The Salt House follows each member of a grieving family the summer after the toddler in the family died unexpectedly. Each chapter is written from the point-of-view of a different family member. The father, the mother, and the two surviving daughters each handle their grief in their own way in this well-written novel. Grief can pull a family apart or pull them closer together. It can even erupt in violence.

The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn

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The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn

This debut novel by A.J. Finn hit the bestseller lists and hasn’t slowed down in popularity. This psychological thriller will keep you guessing. It will even make you doubt what you think you see, think you hear, and think you know. In the process, it is a study in agoraphobia.

The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman

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The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman

This is a novel about a woman with ALS and the items in her hope chest – items collected as far back as early childhood. Ill now with a terminal illness, she looks at each item and remembers what each one means and why she kept it. This was the book read by the Rocky River Readers Club in February.

Incidentally, The Hope Chest was written by Wade Rouse who adopted the pen name “Viola Shipman” to honor the memory of his grandmother.

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

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

This book was instrumental in getting me back to work on my novel. I wrote an entire blog post about it on February 19, 2018 (Using Samurai Techniques in Writing), so I won’t repeat my thoughts on the book here. Please read that earlier blog post, though, and see if it sounds like this book could help you.

In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende

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In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende

I gave In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende, five stars in my review on Goodreads.com. In the Midst of Winter weaves together the lives of strangers. Each of the protagonists have unfortunate backgrounds. They discover common ground and form a bond while getting deeper and deeper in covering up a murder.

Ms. Allende did a brilliant job gradually bringing in backstory that included revolution in Chile, human trafficking in the USA, the horrors many Latinos face as they desperately try to cross into the USA, and life in the shadows for people who have come to the USA illegally.

Many others on Goodreads.com have given this novel three stars, saying they were disappointed with it. Maybe it’s the history buff in me that prompted me to give it five stars.

In his November 21, 2017 review in The Washington Post, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/its-a-snowy-day-in-brooklyn-and-theres-love-in-the-air–and-a-body-in-the-trunk/2017/11/21/bb8643d0-cda2-11e7-81bc-c55a220c8cbe_story.html?utm_term=.3b398baedf24) Ron Charles wrote the following:

“The emotional range of Isabel Allende’s new novel is stretched so wide that it’s a miracle the book’s spine doesn’t break. We’re used to dark comedies, the ironic mingling of humor and despair, but In the Midst of Winter is a light tragedy, an off-kilter mix of sweetness and bleakness held together only by Allende’s dulcet voice.”

In the Midst of Winter was translated from Spanish to English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

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The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

I read V.S. Alexander’s debut novel, The Magdalen Girls last March and got my name on the wait list at the public library for his second book, The Taster, as soon as it appeared “on order” on the electronic card catalog. (See my April 1, 2017 blog post, The Authors I Read in March, if you want to read my thoughts on The Magdalen Girls.)

As with his first novel, I had to keep reminding myself that V.S.Alexander’s The Taster was a work of fiction. He writes so convincingly that I felt as if I were reading an eyewitness account.

The Taster is the story of a young woman in need of a job and living in Hitler’s Germany. The job she got was not a job she wanted. She was selected to be a food and drink taster for Adolph Hitler. Hitler was mortified of being poisoned, so all his food and drink had to be tasted in advance by a replaceable woman. If a taster died, she could be replaced. Hitler, of course, did not see himself as replaceable.

Since my last blog post

I have received helpful feedback from friends in Australia, Scotland, and Belgium after they read my February 26, 2018 post, Hook in Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods. Thank you, Chris, Iain, and Beth!

Chris Andrews immediately recognized my blunder in summing up the theme of my work-in-progress, The Spanish Coin, in one word. Thank you Chris, for pulling me out of the ditch and putting me back on track!

Thank you, Ann, for signing up for my planned future newsletters.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah and Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting, by Chris Andrews. This is a collection of four sci-fi short stories by my Australian writer friend. For those of us in the USA, Chris’s e-book is available on Amazon.com.

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Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting — by Chris Andrews

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The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

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

If you have not yet signed up for my planned future author newsletters, please take a minute to fill out the form below. I promise my newsletters will be few and far between and your email address will not be used by anyone but me. Thanks!

Janet

Using Samurai Techniques in Writing

Based on the title alone, I doubt that I would have considered reading Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers. After all, what could I possibly learn from Samurai Techniques that I could apply to my life at my age?

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

I follow David J. Rogers’s blog and he follows mine. Visiting his website,  https://davidjrogersftw.com, I discovered his books and decided to give this one a try.

It turned out that the timing was perfect. My writing had floundered for nearly a year since I came to the conclusion last April that I needed to make such massive changes in the manuscript of my historical novel work-in-progress, The Spanish Coin, that it amounted to a complete rewrite. This was devastating. I had written 120,000 words and edited it down to 96,000. I knew my characters better than I knew some of my close relatives. I was overwhelmed by the prospect of starting over, and I wrote almost nothing but my blog for the next 10 months.

I’ve always been a world-class procrastinator, so I put my novel on the back burner along with a number of other projects including some areas of housekeeping. Then, I read Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Life and Work. I started putting into practice some of those techniques long before I finished reading the book. For one thing, I had to get my spirit in the right place. I had to move from, “I probably can’t do this” to “I can do this!”

Examples (and I’m simplifying and paraphrasing) of Samurai principles and techniques that I’ve come away with after reading David’s book include the following: keep one’s body, mind, emotions, and spirit under control; never let your fears get the best of you; don’t personalize problems or opponents (i.e., it’s a problem, not your problem); don’t whine; when you have a task to do, concentrate on it; do the most difficult or most feared task first and get it over with; always strive for self-improvement; and never hesitate or procrastinate.

The book prompted me to evaluate what is holding me back externally (such as having a chronic illness) and internally (such as fear of failure). A fiction writer does or doesn’t make her living, as the case may be, by asking, “What if?” in order to make her protagonist’s life as difficult as possible; however, she can be paralyzed in her personal life if she dwells too much on the “what-ifs” of life. (I need to make a sign that reminds me of that every day.)

After identifying my “inner dragons,” I was prompted to list the things in my life that I’ve been avoiding instead of doing. It turned out to be a longer list than I anticipated, but I’ve begun to put some Samurai techniques and principles into practice. By attacking the items on my list in an orderly fashion I’ve already made some incremental progress toward getting some things off the list. Ironically, this is pretty much the way my mother approached life and her tasks. She never knew she was using Samurai techniques! Her philosophy of life was, “You do what you have to do and you don’t complain about it.”

The most rewarding aspect of reading David’s book is that I got my focus back on my novel! Writing is hard work, but I have regained the joy of writing this month thanks in great part to reading this book. By focusing on my book idea again and determining a logical order in which to “attack” the work of writing a novel, I have made a good start and I no longer feel overwhelmed by the entirety of the task.

David’s book gives the history of the Samurai in bits and pieces, and I found that aspect very interesting. About all I knew about the Samurai was what I picked up in 1980 by watching the TV miniseries “Shōgun” starring Richard Chamberlain. Since I’m a history buff, I enjoyed the historical aspect of the book, too. It includes many intriguing examples.

If I can overcome my fear of failure, as well as my fear of success (yes, you heard me right!) and my fear of having to pitch my book to literary agents, I just might get my novel written and published, get some quilts finished, lose some weight, and get the clutter in my house under control.

David J. Rogers is going to be surprised when he reads this blog post. I hope I have described portions of his book accurately. In fewer than 1,000 words, I have merely touched on a few of the highlights and lessons in his book.

Since my last blog post

I have joyfully worked on my novel, done some reading, and attended five basketball games in a weekend tournament in Charlotte that one of my great-nieces played in, after which I crashed twice for hours due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It’s been a great week! The crocuses and daffodils are blooming, promising that spring is on the way.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m into several books to varying degrees. The one I’m most enjoying is In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende.

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

If you’d like to be on my mailing list for future news about my writing, please fill out the form below. I thank those of you who have already done so.

Janet

Can an Individual Make a Concerted Effort?

Can an individual make a concerted effort? I can hear what many of you are thinking:  Who cares?

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Who cares? Right?

I’m attempting to be a writer, so it’s my business to ponder such things. After reading three different times recently about someone making a concerted effort, it hit me that it just didn’t sound right.

“Concerted” comes from “in concert.” Can an individual be in concert with himself?

What did Google say?

I went to my friend, Google, to see what I could find on the subject. Grammarians say an individual cannot make a concerted effort because it takes more than one person to work in concert. Less picky people who took the time to comment online said a person can make a concerted effort if they put all they have into the effort. In other words, all their concentration, physical strength, mental capabilities, etc. can work in concert.

I’m not convinced. “He made a concerted effort” just doesn’t sound quite right to me.

I can hear what you’re thinking again:  Janet has too much time on her hands. No wonder she can’t finish writing her novel!

You’re right, but writers do have to consider such minute issues as they strive to choose exactly the right words.

Since my last blog post

Thank you, Ann G., Ann A., Cheryl, and David for signing up for my mailing list!

I couldn’t help but laugh. Several new people “liked” my January 29, 2018 blog post – the one about my wrinkled 65-year-old face – “Left in the dryer too long” including someone who sells wrinkle cream. I should have seen that coming.

I finished reading A.J. Finn’s debut psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window. If you like that genre, I highly recommend it.

I also finished reading The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy. I liked it, too. It’s about a family dealing with grief after the unexpected death of their toddler.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m still reading Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by fellow blogger David J. Rogers. I’m taking lots of notes, David, and the book has already helped me get some things accomplished that had been hanging over my head for a long time. I’m getting a lot out of this book!

I haven’t given up on finishing Beartown, by Fredrik Backman. I’m just having trouble getting to it and into it. I’ve started reading The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman, for Rocky River Readers Book Club.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. (I hope I do, too!)

If you’d still like to sign up for my newsletter, please fill out the form below. I promise not to burden your inbox with a bunch of e-mails. I’m told I need to have a following before I get my novel published and that I need to send occasional newsletters to interested parties. Right now, I don’t have anything to put in a newsletter.

Thanks!

Janet