The Attraction of the “Warmth of the Other Sun” in Washington, DC

My planned topic for today’s blog post was #OnThisDay: World War I Treaty of Versailles; however, a book I started reading earlier this month and hope to finish in July pulled at my heartstrings and begged to be written about. The name of the book is The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.

One of my blogger friends, Janet Givens (author of LEAPFROG: How to Hold a Civil C Conversation in an Uncivil Era) moderates a group on Zoom the second Wednesday night of each month for 10 months this year. I’m privileged to be in the group. We’re from varied backgrounds and regions of the country; however, I am the lone Southerner. This puts added pressure on me to make interesting and intelligent contributions to the discussions. Being the introvert that I am, this isn’t easy.

Each month, we discuss a different chapter in Janet’s book. The group is all-female and there are no people of color. Since race relations is such an important and difficult issue in our society today, our discussions often evolve into that subject matter. I’m making some strides to help the others in the group see that all white people from the South aren’t bigots.

During our group discussion in May, one of the members said she was reading and highly recommended The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. I immediately got on the waitlist for it at the public library. I’m so glad I did.


The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson

I read the first 50 pages of this nonfiction book and the notes about the author’s methodology on my Kindle before it had to be returned to the library. I was captivated by the subject matter: The Great Migration of black Americans from the South to points north and west from 1910 into the 1970s.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

The author interviewed more than 1,200 people and did extensive research. It had to be a labor of love and devotion because the miles and decades involved in The Great Migration would have deterred most researchers. The book is beautifully and artfully written and puts names and personalities on the stories of the hardships these migrants faced in the South and the courage and desperation it took for them to leave the only homes and people they knew and to strike out in search of a better life in other regions of the United States.

The Jim Crow laws and unwritten laws and policies in the South were the driving force in The Great Migration.


The Govan brothers of Harrisburg, North Carolina

Reading this book brought to mind a story a black man in his 90s told me around 2010 when I was a freelance local history columnist for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper in Harrisburg, North Carolina. Mr. George Govan graciously allowed me to visit him on numerous occasions and ask him anything I wanted to about his life. We talked about race, and he helped me realize what a privileged life I’d lived due to the color of my skin.

One of the stories Mr. Govan shared with me was about one of his older brothers. I won’t give his brother’s name in this blog post out of respect for the man’s privacy, although I’m quite certain he’s no longer living.

When I interviewed Mr. Govan, I’d never heard the term “The Great Migration,” so I didn’t make a connection at the time. A few pages into The Warmth of Other Suns, I couldn’t help but recall what Mr. Govan had told me about his brother.

Without giving any advance indication that he planned to leave Harrisburg, North Carolina, George Govan’s older brother stopped plowing with a mule in the middle of a field in 1929 or 1930, shrugged out of the straps of the plowing apparatus, walked several miles into town, and hopped a northbound train.

Photo credit: AG ZN on unsplash.com

When George got home from school that afternoon, his father told him that his brother had left and now, in the ninth grade, George would have to quit school and do the farm work his brother had been doing.

It would be two years before the family would learn that George’s brother had made it to Washington, DC. There, he struggled for years before making a good life for himself and his family.

What struck me about that story is that George Govan felt no ill will toward his brother. I’m not sure I would have been that gracious and forgiving if my older brother or sister had left me in a situation that made it necessary for me to have to quit school in the ninth grade.

In my many conversations with Mr. Govan, I never picked up on any bitterness in his heart although, as a black man born in 1917, he certainly had numerous excuses for being bitter if he had chosen that life path.

Since my last blog post

Our computer printer suddenly stopped working one day. Going a week without a printer can drive a writer to distraction. At least, that’s what it did to me.

I’ve been reading, reading, reading.

When I’m not reading, I’m eating tomatoes, squash, okra, and corn from the local farmers market. Nothing can beat that first tomato sandwich of the summer or that first bite of bi-color corn-on-the cob.

Until my next blog post

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that tomorrow would have been my father’s 110th birthday. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 66 in 1977. He and Mama both instilled in me a love of history and reading. My mother was an author in her own right, and I’m very proud today of the church history she wrote in 1976.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve had many good ones to read in May, and I can’t wait to tell you about them in my blog posts on July 5 and 12.

Were you or were members of your family part of The Great Migration? Did you know people of color who left the South and moved west or north between 1910 and into the 1970s?  I’d love to hear your stories.

If you don’t wish to share your stories with me online, please take time to tell the younger people in your family about your experiences. Also, write them down. You can do it! Your written memories will be a wonderful gift to leave your family.

Janet

#Idiom: As all get out

My first blog post about an idiom was on January 25, 2021. It was #Idioms: Reading the Riot Act. Today’s blog post is about the idiom “as all get out.” It’s an expression I don’t hear as much as I used to.

When was it first used?

Other people have researched this, and I’ll rely on their findings. It appears that the expression

“as get out” was first used by American writer Joseph C. Neal in his Character Sketches in 1838.

In that piece, he wrote, “We look as elegant and as beautiful as get out.”

“As get out” sounds odd today because we know the expression as “as all get out.” Without the “all,” it just sounds strange. Or, perhaps you’ve never heard the expression before, so it sounds strange to you either way.

What does it mean?

The idiom “as all get out” is used to describe something taken to it’s extreme.

When it became “as all get out”

Credit goes to American author Mark Twain for adding the word “all” to the expression. In the 38th chapter of Huckleberry Finn, Huck, Tom Sawyer, and Jim are working on a coat-of-arms. Tom says to Huck, “We got to dig in like all git-out.” Of course, Twain wrote in dialect in that novel.

It would be interesting to know if Twain coined the new phrase. Perhaps people were already saying, “All get out” and Twain just incorporated it into his writing in 1884.

Some examples of how the idiom is used

It was cold as all get out.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema on unsplash.com

The track stars ran fast as all get out.

Photo credit: Jonathan Chng on unsplash.com

The red velvet cake was good as all get out.

Photo credit: Estefania Escalante Fernandez on unsplash.com

As language loses its color

As I commented at the beginning of this blog post, I don’t hear “all get out” as much as I used to. I’m afraid English becomes a less colorful language as we lose such expressions. That’s why I chose “all get out” for my topic today.

Is “all get out” an expression you’re familiar with? Is it an idiom that’s used all across the United States? Have those of you who live in other English-speaking countries heard this expression?

Since my last blog post

It looks and feels more like spring by the day, but there’s a possible hard freeze in the weather prediction for later in the week. That will be a shame, since my peonies have sprouted and the blueberry bushes are in bloom. It’s my favorite time of the year.

I stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest on Facebook by posting a meme I borrowed from someone else. It is about the gun problem we have here in the United States. Just by saying “gun problem,” I’ve probably offended some people. I don’t know what else to call it. One of my high school classmates and a fellow church member have responded by educating me about the intricacies of firearms and gun registration.

At first, I was taken aback and wished I hadn’t posted the meme, but as days passed and I reflected on the issue and got deeper into the discussion I was glad I’d done it. Without being my intention, it has turned into “that difficult conversation” Janet Givens’ Zoom discussion group is addressing this year in monthly meetings. The basis for our meetings is Ms. Givens’ book, LEAPFROG:  How to Hold a Civil Conversation in an Uncivil Era.

How do you have “that difficult conversation” with someone with whom your opinion or world view differs greatly? How do you have “that difficult conversation” with someone when you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a discussion that you and the other party or parties maybe weren’t in the best mood to have?

People rarely react to anything I put on Facebook, so it was shocking when this particular meme created as much discussion as it has continued to have since I posted it on Thursday. Lessons I’ve learned: Fact check memes before you post them, and don’t post anything controversial unless you’re ready to defend your viewpoint and calmly listen to the viewpoints of others.

I returned to church yesterday for the first time in 14 months. It felt great going back into the sanctuary in which I’ve worshipped my entire life and in which my ancestors have worshipped since 1861, and it brought tears to my eyes.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read this week. As usual, I’m reading several at the same time. My mood and library due dates determine which one I pick up.

I hope you have time to follow your passion this week and spend some relaxing time on a hobby.

It’s now been more than two weeks since I got my second Covid-19 vaccination. I look forward to getting out in public more than I have in the last 14 months.

Note: Get ready for April. It’s D.E.A.R. Month (Drop Everything and Read Month), so let’s all give it our best shot starting on Thursday!

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in February 2021

Last week I blogged about four of the books I read last month. Today, I write about the other four books I read in February.


The Unwilling, by John Hart

The Unwilling, by John Hart

John Hart being a southern piedmont North Carolina writer, I looked forward to his new novel, The Unwilling. It did not disappoint. I listened to it on CD. It is a slice of American history when we were divided over the Vietnam War.

It is a riveting story about three brothers. Two were in the military and served in Vietnam. One didn’t survive the war, and the other one came home with problems for the rest of his life. Their youngest brother, Gibby, is the main character. At 18 years old, he is struggling to find his way in life. His mother is over-protective, and his father is a police detective in Charlotte. His parents want him to stay away from the middle brother, Jason, but Gibby can’t help but idolize him and is drawn to hang out with him. This leads to untold trouble.

The seedy, corruptive underbelly of the prison systems comes into play in a gruesome way. This novel is not for the squeamish, but the story really drew me in, and I couldn’t stop listening to it because I wanted to know what was going to happen next to Gibby and Jason. If you like a coming-of-age story wrapped in a police thriller, set in the winding down years of the Vietnam War, with some troubled family dynamics and prison time thrown in, this should be your next read.

Mr. Hart’s inspiration for this novel was Hugh Thompson, the US Army helicopter pilot credited with stopped the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968. It is not a war story per se but is the story of what a soldier sees and does that follows him or her home — the things those who have not been there cannot imagine; but more than that, it is a story of a small city in which the evil one fears isn’t always faraway but sometimes just up the street.


Southern Writers on Writing, edited by Susan Cushman

Southern Writers on Writing, edited by Susan Cushman

This delightful book is a collection of 26 essays by Southern writers, each giving their unique take on writing and how The South influences their writing.

One of my favorite essays in the book is “Southern Fiction: A Tool to Stretch the Soul and Soften the Heart,” by author Julie Cantrell.

Ms. Cantrell hails from Louisiana and writes vividly in her essay about the extremes of life in her home state. I love what she writes about Southern fiction about halfway down page 53 in the book:

“In literature, the South works as a lure by tapping all the senses. When we set a story here, we not only deliver a cast of colorful characters, we share their sinful secrets while serving a mouth-watering meal. We draw readers in with soul-stirring music and landscapes that would make anyone want to disappear beneath the mossy oaks. The South offers a fantasy, a place where time slows and anxieties melt like the ice in a glass of sugar cane rum.”

On page 54, Ms. Cantrell writes: “Many in life say the earth is our mother. If that’s the case, then the South is the lap into which we all crawl to hear her story…. The South is nothing less than a sanctuary for story. It is the porch swing, the rocking chair, the barstool, the back pew. It is everything that made me and shaped me and saved me. As a southern writer, I aim only to invite my readers to enter this sacred space.”

And then I read “The Burden of Southern Literature,” by Katherine Clark. She concisely explained how Southern literature came to be – how the South was looked down on after the Civil War and why would anyone want to read about such a place? Southern writers were weighed down by the region’s history. Writers like William Faulkner struggled to “strike a chord with a national audience.” Then, Faulkner and other southern writers learned to embrace the South and their southern-ness.

Ms. Clark writes on page 56, “Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the writer in the South is not plagued by the burden of southern history, but by the burden of southern literature. Our literary tradition is revered all over the world and has produced many of the best writers to come out of our country. Southern literature is the strongest tradition in American literature, and one of the greatest gifts that American culture has given the world.”

What the southern writer is left with today is the burden not so much of the history of the South, but the wealth of literature that has come out of the South. To paraphrase Ms. Clark, it is inspiring and intimidating. I can vouch for that!

I also liked what Ms. Clark writes about not wallowing in what she calls, “southern-ness.” Here’s a little of what she writes on the topic:

“Whereas 100 years ago, writers had to learn to embrace the differences of the South, nowadays the tendency can be to positively wallow in the eccentricities and grotesqueries of the southern experience, usually of an earlier era. We shouldn’t be wallowing in southern-ness, and we don’t need to embrace it either, because that’s been done. That’s a given now, thanks to our great literary ancestors. Our job today is not to stick to the foundation they laid for us, but to use it as a springboard launching us in the new and different directions demanded by a changing culture.”

River Jordan, another author contributing to Southern Writers on Writing, writes the following about how she can tell when she’s reading the work of a southern writer and when she’s reading the work of New York writer: “…when I read a writer from say New York I think, oh, they are so smart. I could swear I actually hear their brain ticking. But when I read a southern writer I can feel their heart beating. That’s how I know it’s southern. By the heartbeat.”

Ms. Jordan also writes the following about the danger of southern writing disappearing as our lifestyles change: “When the porches all finally disappear, when the backyard steps are replaced with the kind of yards manicured to perfection, then the days of real southern writers will shift and slip away. Assimilation will be complete and southern will be no more.”

I hope she’s wrong, but I worry about the assimilation. I worry as I hear aspects of southern accents disappearing. I worry when I notice that my great-nieces in metro Atlanta sound much less southern than I do.

Speaking of southern accents, the next contributor in Southern Writers on Writing is Lee Smith. I love to hear her talk. Her contribution to the book is from her book, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading five or six years ago. Ms. Smith is southern through-and-through, and her writing oozes “southern.”

About writing, Ms. Smith writes, “Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction, journaling or writing for publication, writing itself is an inherently therapeutic activity. Simply to line up words one after another upon a page is to create some order where it did not exist, to give a recognizable shape to the chaos of our lives.”


30 Short Stories, by Laleh Chini

30 Short Stories, by Laleh Chini

My blogger friend, Laleh Chini, just keeps writing books. You may recall in last week’s blog post (4 Books I Read in February 2021) I told you about her new novel, Soroosh. Also, I’ve blogged about her book Climbing Over Grit in my November 5, 2018 blog post, Many Good Books Read in October!

Laleh is a fantastic storyteller. 30 Short Stories is her new picture book. I don’t often read picture books now, but I just had to purchase and read Laleh’s. Although written for children, this book can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Each of the 30 stories teaches a life lesson. My favorite was the last story in the book, “Racism.” In it, Laleh relates a story of how as a Muslim from Iran she experienced racism in a store in Canada, where she has lived for decades. It’s heartbreaking.

In the spirit of cultural acceptance and respecting and valuing people, no matter their ethnicity or religion, I recommend this book to everyone who is open to seeing that people are just people. We need to take a step back and stop making snap judgments about people just because they are of a different culture than ours.


Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey

Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey

From TV interviews, I know that actor Matthew McConaughey is a good storyteller. Wanting to hear his book in his own voice, I got on the waitlist for the CD edition of Greenlights at the public library as soon as it showed up on the online catalog.

I must admit that listening to Greenlights on CD was probably not the best way to read the book. Mr. McConaughey is an enthusiastic storyteller, and he relates many very entertaining stories in Greenlights; however, as a good storyteller is prone to do, Mr. McConaughey varies the volume of his voice greatly as he spins a yarn. This can create discomfort while listening to the book on CD.

I read a review on Goodreads.com that gave the book a very high rating and recommended listening to it instead of reading it but with the caveat that it should be listened to in a quiet environment. That’s good advice. I would also say you shouldn’t attempt to listen to it with headphones or earbuds. Also, trying to listen to it in one room while someone is trying to sleep in the next room is not a good idea. Just sayin’.

I also admit that I have moderate hearing loss, but I don’t think that was the root of the problem I had in listening to Greenlights. If I set the volume to a comfortable level for the shouting, I could not hear much of the rest of the book. This meant I couldn’t hear the near-whisper parts at all. I had to constantly adjust the volume, so the CD edition of the book was a great disappointment.

Early on, the book talks about Mr. McConaughey’s home life as a child and teen. His parents had a volatile relationship, which couldn’t help but have a profound effect on him. He relates some very funny experiences he had as an exchange student in Australia. In fact, that was my favorite part of the book. He tells interesting and humorous stories about his world travels and how he more or less fell into the occupation of actor.

The overriding theme of the book is that we should learn from all life’s experiences. Don’t let the obstacles in life keep you down. Learn from them and keep going.

If you’re a Matthew McConaughey fan, you’ll enjoy reading the book. Listening to it? Maybe not so much.


Since my last blog post

I’m still reading good books and working on my historical novel manuscript for a partial critique by a professional editor.

I got my second Moderna Covid 19 shot on Saturday. I’m grateful that I live in a country where such things are available, and I’m grateful to all the people who worked to develop and distribute the vaccine. I had some unpleasantness for about 48 hours after the shot, but it surely beats contracting a bad case of Covid-19.

On Wednesday night, I enjoyed participating in the third virtual gathering of a group discussing Janet Givens’ book, LEAPFROG: How to have a civil conversation during an uncivil era. We had an interesting conversation about racial prejudice and our common humanity. I mentioned Ms. Givens’ book in my blog posts on January 18, 2021 ( Fictional Characters Can Take on Lives of Their Own), on December 14, 2020 (Favorite Books Read in 2020), and on April 13, 2020 (LEAPFROG and The Immoral Majority.)


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson, and I’m reading Cicely Tyson’s memoir, Just As I Am. Other library books are piling up and calling my name. What a wonderful “problem” to have!

I hope you have some time for creativity and hobbies this week.

Wear a mask and get vaccinated as soon as that’s possible for your age and location so we can rediscover “normal.”

Janet

Fictional Characters Can Take on Lives of Their Own

In the aftermath of January 6, 2021, today’s topic seems frivolous; however, life goes on and I’m trying to stay true to the purpose of my blog. I want to write about the reading and the writing of books. I don’t want to dwell on politics in my blog postings even though it dominates my thinking.

Happy Birthday, A.A. Milne!

Today is Alan Alexander Milne’s birthday, or to put it more accurately, this is the 139th anniversary of the birth of British author A.A. Milne. He was, of course, the creator of Winnie the Pooh. A stuffed bear Milne named Winnie the Pooh has entertained children and adults since the book by that name was published October 14, 1926.

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash.com

Did you know that Milne originally called Christopher Robin’s stuffed bear Edward? There’s an interesting World War I story there, if you want to look it up. There’s a connection with a black bear from Canada named “Winnie” for Winnipeg.

In addition to Winnie the Pooh, there are numerous other fictional characters that have taken on lives of their own. Here’s a short list: Superman, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Mother Goose, Little Orphan Annie, Friar Tuck, Robin Hood, Atticus Finch, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, Darth Vader, Hawkeye Pierce, Mary Poppins, Gandalf, The Joker, Forrest Gump, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Spider-Man, Bugs Bunny, James Bond, Cinderella, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Snow White, The Hulk, The Grinch, Indiana Jones, Paul Bunyan, Spock, Archie Bunker, King Kong, Popeye, Charlie Brown, Big Bird, Yoda, Kermit the Frog, Shrek, Porky Pig, Lassie, and even the GEICO Geiko.

The list could go on and on. I’m sure I’ve overlooked some of the characters from the last decade or two that someone from a younger generation would readily name.

My point is that it takes great care and imagination to create a fictional character that will strike such a chord with the general audience that their name and/or image becomes an icon. As a writer, I can’t imagine creating such a character.

Did Harper Lee know in her gut that Atticus Finch would go down in history as the iconic wise father and lawyer that he was? I doubt it.

I’ve read that Mickey Mouse went through several revisions before Walt Disney settled on the iconic figure we think of today. Charles Schulz adjusted Charlie Brown’s features before developing the Charlie Brown we all know and love. No doubt, the same is true for many of the other characters listed above.

And which came first? The image or the character in words? I imagine there’s a combination of both in the above list.

Since my last blog post

On January 13, I started participating via Zoom in a discussion of Janet Given’s book, LEAPFROG: How to have a civil conversation during an uncivil era. Janet is a blogger friend of mine, and she invited me to join this group sponsored by the Lorain Historical Society in Ohio. The timing couldn’t be better. Too bad the entire American citizenry aren’t participating. In conjunction with this discussion on Zoom, I’m re-reading Ms. Givens’ book, one chapter per month. I invite you to read it, too. Until the group’s next Zoom meeting, I’m practicing listening.

Now that anyone 65 years old or older in the US is eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, I’ve been checking my county’s online scheduling tool numerous times every day. I haven’t been able to grab an appointment yet, but I’ll persevere. In the meantime, yesterday I was able to schedule my two doses in March through one of our local hospital systems.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or write. I’m listening to The Fix, by David Baldacci.

Make time to care for yourself during these stressful times.

Wear a mask out of respect for others.

Let’s all practice listening to each other. Really listening.

Janet

Favorite Books Read in 2020

A friend recently called and asked me to recommend a good book to her. This is akin to asking someone to name their favorite child. There’s never one definitive answer. My first inclination was to tell her about the last book I read, And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane; however, I didn’t know her tastes in reading well enough to recommend a book with such a vivid and harsh title.

I looked back over the 50+ books I’ve read this year, and soon came up with quite a list of books to recommend to Kathy. I hoped by adding brief descriptions, she’d be able to choose one or more books she’d enjoy. I half-jokingly told her my list might make it into my blog in a couple of weeks. Here it is, in no particular order, in case you need a recommendation for a good book to read or give a friend.


And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane – Historical fiction at its best! Based on true Civil War story of neighbor against neighbor in Madison County, NC. Some gory parts, but the story is gripping and the writing is excellent. For a little more about this book, please read my December 7, 2020 blog. Here’s the link: Books Read in November 2020­­­­­.

And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham – Grisham’s new legal suspense novel. A teen kills his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Will the teen get the death penalty?

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel – First book I’ve read by her, and I was very impressed. Story of children being smuggled into Switzerland to escape the Nazis. A woman develops a way to code their names so they won’t be lost to history.

A coded list of names of Jewish children smuggled out of France.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

Code Talker, by Chester Nez – Memoir by one of the World War II Navajo Code Talkers. Fascinating story!

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

The Butterfly Daughter, by Alice Monroe – This novel weaves the annual journey of the monarch butterflies from Mexico to the US with a young woman who wants to make the trip to the place in Mexico where her grandmother (or was it her mother?) grew up near the place where the butterflies overwinter. Many twists and turns in this story.

The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott – Story of how the CIA tried to fight the Cold War with Russia by using the novel Dr. Zhivago. Trying to win the cold war with literature. Who knew? Dr. Zhivago couldn’t be published in Russia, so the US was determined to smuggle it out.

The CIA and Dr. Zhavago
The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page – These stories opened my eyes to the many ways people put up a false front they present to the public in order to pass as something they aren’t. Some of these I’d never thought about before.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini – As the title indicates, it’s about Mary Todd Lincoln’s sisters and their relationships with each other and with her. It goes into more detail than I’d read before about Mary Todd Lincoln’s mental illness and drug abuse.

Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns – Except for the fact that I’m terrified of snakes and the main character’s father is a snake-handling self-proclaimed preacher, I really enjoyed this book. It’s Amy Jo Burns’ first novel, and I can’t wait to see what she gives us next! Very well written and suspenseful.

Debut novel by Amy Jo Burns
Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns

The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson – This is a nonfiction book about Winston Churchill that reads like a novel. I found it interesting to learn about the personal connections he had with some of the wealthy people in America. Last week, Bill Gates named it as one of the five books he recommends from 2020.

#TheSplendidandtheVile #ErikLarson
The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson

The Man from Spirit Creek, by Barbara Kyle – This is a contemporary Canadian western suspense. Takes place in Alberta. Has to do with oil rigs and sabotage. More light-hearted reading, though, than some of the other books I’ve listed.

The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate – This is a fascinating novel based on something I knew nothing about from the history of the South after the Civil War. It’s about black families trying to reconnect with relatives and friends they were separated from due to slavery. Notices of “Lost Friends” were put in some newspapers. This book sheds light on a post-slavery topic I’m embarrassed to say I’d never really given much thought to. Shame on me!

#LisaWingate #TheBookOfLostFriends
The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain – Diane Chamberlain is becoming one of my favorite authors. She lives in NC. This novel takes place in Edenton, NC in 1940 and 2018 and is about race relations and outsiders and jealousy. An intriguing story.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle, by Mary J. MacLeod – Delightful true stories of a nurse whose family moves to a remote island in Scotland and, due to her experience as a nurse, she pretty much becomes the doctor on the island.

The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton – This novel takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, Ms. Clayton weaves a suspenseful story of the Kindertransport effort through which 10,000 Jewish children were saved from certain death in Nazi Germany. Those 10,000 children were taken by train from Germany to The Netherlands and from there to England. It’s based on the real Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933.

The rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

LEAPFROG: How to Hold a Civil Conversation in an Uncivil Era, by Janet Givens – The letters stand for Listen, Empathize, Assess, Paraphrase, Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude. It would be good if every American read this book during these polarized times. Or perhaps that difficult conversation you need to have with a relative or friend isn’t about politics. Maybe it’s about race. No matter what that important conversation is about, this book will give you stable, non-threatening ground to stand on as you approach the other person. Or maybe you tend to come across too forceful in your daily dealings with co-workers and need a little help navigating your workday. Good advice in this book. Easier said than done, though.

LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

Since my last blog post

Thank you, Kathy, for prompting me to make the above list!

I’ve dabbled in genealogy research a little. It’s always vying for my attention. I’ve worked on a couple of historical short stories. It’s fun when I can combine my family history research with my fiction writing!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading……

I hope you have rewarding creative time.

I hope you wear a mask in public or otherwise when around people with whom you don’t live. Just think how much better our lives will be this time next year, if we all just do the commonsense things to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Look back over the books you read in 2020. What were your favorites? I’d like to hear from you.

Janet

Books Read in May 2020

To have had 31 days, the month of May passed leaving me feeling like I didn’t read very much. Actually, I read a lot. There were several books I started but didn’t finish. That’s what left me feeling as if I didn’t read much. There are always more books to be read than I have time to read. What a fortunate situation!

The books I chose to read in May were all over the place. Three of them turned out not to be what I expected, which is always disappointing.

A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs

This is Kathy Reichs’ latest novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set in Mecklenburg and Lincoln counties in North Carolina and Lake Wylie, South Carolina, the book features Reichs’ well-known protagonist, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs

Temperance is at odds with the new Mecklenburg County medical examiner. Against the medical examiner’s wishes and orders, Temperance pursues the case of a body found in Lincoln County. There are gory details about the state of the body, but the story line concentrates on who killed the man and why.

In the process of solving the crime, Temperance faces bodily harm and attempts on her life. She has a knack for going where she shouldn’t go and getting into all sorts of situations. Fairly early on, Temperance suspects the larger case involves child pornography. Is she correct, or is this a red herring Ms. Reichs included just to throw us off track?

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

After listening to this book for three hours and having 21 more hours remaining – and reading a synopsis of it – I decided I couldn’t concentrate long enough to listen to the rest of it. The synopsis revealed a plot that sounded better suited for a series of books. I just couldn’t finish it.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

The prose was vivid, explicit, beautiful, and at times humorous. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was just another book I couldn’t concentrate enough to see it through.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

After Cutting for Stone, this book was a delight. It is the eighth book I’ve read by Diane Chamberlain. I’m tempted to say it’s my favorite of the eight, but that might just be because I just finished it.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

Set in Edenton, North Carolina in 1940 and 2018, it is a story of racial discrimination, rape, child neglect, trust, jealousy, revenge, and love.

Ms. Chamberlain weaves an intriguing tale of a woman coming from “up North” to paint a large mural on the wall of the post office in Edenton. There is backlash because a local male artist had applied for the job. When a local black high school student is invited by the artist to assist her in the project, tongues in the small town wagged.

Decades later, an artist who is serving a prison term for a crime her boyfriend committed is chosen to get early parole if she will restore the mural. This leads to the discovery of several bizarre aspects of the mural. The restoring artist sets out to find out what became of the original artist and why she included the strange items and images in the mural. Add to this the suspense of an almost impossible deadline for the restoration and opening of an art museum, and you have the ingredients for a beautifully written mystery.

Writing Vivid Plots:  Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors (Writer’s Craft Book 20), by Rayne Hall

This book probably won’t interest you unless you are learning the craft of fiction writing. If you are a student of fiction writing, though, I recommend the book.

Writing Vivid Plots helped me in two specific ways. It explained the important differences in plotting a serial and a series. It also had a short chapter about the difference in plotting a novel and plotting a short story.

By the way, a serial is a story broken into different installments that should be read in order. A series is a group of books having the same characters but which usually stand on their own and can be read in any order.

Long Bright River, by Liz Moore

As often happens lately, I can’t remember what prompted me to get on the waitlist for this book at the public library. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. How it had been described to me must have left something out. A true representation of the book wouldn’t have led me to want to read it.

Long Bright River, by Liz Moore

This is Liz Moore’s fourth novel and the first of hers I’ve read. The book is well-written. In fact, listening to it held my attention. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the way the book left me feeling hopeless against the drug abuse problem in our world.

Michaela “Mickey” Fitzpatrick is a Philadelphia police officer. She tires of all the murders in her district. It seems that most of prostitutes. Every time another murder call comes in, she holds her breath for fear that this time it was her sister, Kacey. Their childhoods weren’t happy. There was little love in the family. The two sisters, once so very close, went their separate ways.

The overriding story is that of family drama, but it’s all wrapped up in the opioid crisis. I never lost interest in the book, as I wanted to know what happened to Kacey. Also, there was Mickey’s son, Thomas. Or was he her son? In the end there was some hope that Kacey would stay clean and never start using drugs again, but it left me with scant hope.

This novel left me rather depressed about the outlook for Kacey, Mickey, and the two children they had between them in the end. In that respect, the book is probably a true reflection of family life when a member is addicted to drugs. It’s also a true reflection of how every member of a family is affected when one member is abusing drugs – and what an empty feeling is left when that person dies as a result of their addiction.

I’m glad I listened to the book. After I finished listening to it, I read a review in which the writer talked about how confusing it was to try to read a book with no quotation marks. Ditto that for me. I wouldn’t have stuck with a physical copy of the book.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

Having read State of Wonder, The Dutch House, and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, I looked forward to reading Commonwealth, her novel published in 2016. Commonwealth never drew me in. I was listening to it, which I think probably made it more difficult for me to keep all the characters straight.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

I couldn’t identify with any of the characters, so I never felt invested in the story. It started in California at a christening party where every one got drunk. This is not my life experience, so right off the bat I couldn’t identify with these people. Then, it jumped 50 years later with all the same family members, including a raft of cousins.

The book just didn’t appeal to me. I listened to it for three and a half hours but wasn’t motivated to listen to another seven hours.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

It amazes me how time passes. If someone had asked me when I started reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See, but had to return it to the public library before I got even halfway through it, I would have guessed, “Sometime last year.” The joke is on me, though, for when I looked back through my blog posts to see if I referenced reading part of this book, I was stunned to find that it was exactly three years ago! In my blog post on June 2, 2017, I commented that the book had fascinated me “in how it shed light on some of the superstitions held by the Chinese.” Here’s the link to that post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/06/02/you-need-to-read-these-books/.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

I also wrote in that blog post: “The novel follows a young Chinese girl who is painfully aware from birth that she is not valued because she is female. Her family has to walk for hours to pick tea leaves for a meager amount of income. It is a difficult life. Her mother is the local midwife and she tells her daughter that she must follow in her footsteps in that occupation. There is a ray of hope, though, because her school teacher tells her that she can leave the harsh mountain environment and make something of herself. I look forward to checking the book out again in order to see how her life turns out!”

Three years later, I checked out the MP3 edition of the book and listened to it on my tablet. There is so much more to the book than my first impressions. I can’t believe it took me three years to return to it. Although the early part of the book was familiar to me, I listened to it from start to finish.

This is a rich story that follows Li-Yan throughout her life. She is intellectually gifted, but life places many stumbling blocks in her path. She falls in love and has a child – a girl. Having a child out of wedlock in China in 1995 was taboo, and out of shame Li-Yan puts her baby in a cardboard box along with a tea cake and leaves the box near an orphanage.

Li-Yan’s life continues to be full of strife, but she never stops loving her baby and wondering where she is and what her life is like. Learning that she was adopted by an American couple and raised in the United States, she could only hope she had a good life.

The novel also follows the life of Li-Yan’s baby, now named Haley. Through an interesting turn of events, Haley becomes interested in tea, which leads her back to her homeland.

My description of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is woefully inadequate. The novel is described on Lisa See’s website, http://www.lisasee.com/books-new/the-tea-girl-of-hummingbird-lane/, as “A powerful story about two women separated by circumstance, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and a celebration of the bonds of family.”

Since my last blog post

Civil unrest has erupted in cities all over the United States in response to last Monday’s death of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who used excessive force against Mr. Floyd which resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death. I am sad, and I am angry. I believe that most law enforcement officers are good people, but there is a growing problem in America of white police officers using excessive force against people of dark skin. It is indicative of a deep-seated racial prejudice.

The events of this past week and conversations I’ve had with other bloggers and friends on Facebook have been eye-opening. I know that some of my Facebook friends – many of whom I have known since first grade – are prejudiced. They have shown their true colors since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, and it has surprised and saddened me to learn these things about the people I thought I knew. I have come to realize that the America that I was taught as a young student to see as “a melting pot” is not a melting pot at all. It never was. It is a myth that has been perpetuated for more than 200 years.

America is at a crossroads. We each have a choice to make. Are we going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend we are fine and everyone around us is fine? Or are we going to stand up for the abused? When we see injustice, are we going to turn our heads and keep silent? If so, nothing will ever change. Until those of us with lighter skin recognize that we have benefited and profited from our white privilege, nothing will change. Until we speak up against injustice, nothing will change.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you are a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post today.

Stay safe. Stay well. Wear a face mask as a show of respect for others.

Let’s continue the conversation OR Our call to action

Examine your life, as I will continue to examine mine. Ask yourself if you truly see others as your equal. Examine your beliefs and look for the myths among them. After taking an honest inventory of your “philosophy of life,” take action. Register to vote. Write letters to your elected officials – local, state, and national – and tell them where you stand. Tell them the changes you want to see. Tell them what bothers you about the status quo. Perhaps more importantly, even during this Covid-19 pandemic, reach out to people who don’t look like you. Find common ground from which you can begin an honest conversation.

If you want some tips about how to have that difficult conversation, I recommend LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. I wrote about this book in my blog post on April 13, 2020, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/13/leapfrog-and-the-immoral-majority/.

LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

Janet

LEAPFROG and The Immoral Majority

Two books I read in March worked hand-in-hand. I hadn’t anticipated that, so it was a pleasant surprise. I mentioned them in passing in last week’s blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/06/eight-books-i-read-in-march-2020/.

The two books are The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe and LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

I read Ben Howe’s book first. It addressed something that has dumbfounded me:  How can Christians come down on opposite ends of the spectrum about Donald Trump? How do many evangelicals continue to support him when his speech, Tweets, and actions are in total contrast to the teachings of Jesus Christ?

I took copious notes while reading The Immoral Majority and thought I’d write a blog post about it. Then, I read LEAPFROG, by Janet Givens. I was immediately struck by how the two books could work together. This is probably the longest blog post I’ve written. If the topic interests you, I hope you’ll have time to read it.


The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe

How can Christians see Donald Trump so differently?
The Immoral Moral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe

In the introduction to this nonfiction book author Ben Howe relates a story from 2012 when the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain came under attack for its charitable foundation’s support of several organizations the Huffington Post labeled as anti-gay. Mr. Howe and a gay friend set out to make a video to show that Chick-Fil-A was a good company that did not discriminate against anyone due to their sexual orientation.

About the same time, a man in another state went to a Chick-Fil-A restaurant with video camera in hand to prove that Chick-Fil-A was a horrible company. A video he made of an exchange with the employee at the drive-through window went viral. Ben Howe more or less led a campaign to give that man “what he deserved.” The result of the campaign resulted in the man losing his job and having trouble finding employment for years to come.

In telling that story, Mr. Howe concludes: “It’s not really whether the punishment fits the crime; it’s more about the decisions of those who react to the crime and whether they are carrying out justice or simply joining the wrongdoer in being wrong.”

He asks the reader to imagine what happens when you put millions of self-righteous people together. An echo chamber develops.

“This is a book about what happens when the people who believe they have the moral high ground find themselves on the low road.” ~ Ben Howe

Feeling under attack, evangelical Christians in the United States had to decide whether to cling unflinchingly to Biblical principles or to act “according to Christ’s example.” As a group, they clung to principles and turned their backs on Christ’s example. The result was the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Mr. Howe theorizes that the shift started with Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s January 2016 endorsement of Trump for US president. Although a few evangelical leaders spoke out against Trump, Falwell held sway over the majority. Just as Jerry Falwell, Sr. had helped launch the “Moral Majority” movement in 1980, his son was instrumental in urging evangelical Christians to support Trump in 2016.

The difference was, in 1980 Christians were encouraged to influence politics, but in 2016 Christians were, in Mr. Howe’s words, “being forcefully changed by politics.” In his campaign, Trump played on people’s fears. He told Christians they were being persecuted by the government and the Internal Revenue Service, and he promised to put an end to it.

People like Dr. Ben Carson maintained that Trump was a chess pawn in God’s hands and we needed faith that God knew what He was doing. Franklin Graham also took the pragmatic approach, saying God had always used imperfect people to work out His plans.

Trump campaigned as the one and only person who could save America. He mocked (and continues to mock) people who follow Christ’s admonition that we should pray for our enemies. By offering such counter-Christian ideas, Trump was able to win the U.S. presidency via the Electoral College, even though he did not win the popular vote.

In his book, Mr. Howe presents a chronology of how the old “Moral Majority” lost their way and set their sights on the political power Trump promised them instead of the power, grace, and eternal life Jesus Christ promised them. They somehow – which still puzzles me – fell for Trump’s showmanship and voted for him by the millions. He was that new shiny object that sounded so appealing to so many.

Mr. Howe says the real shift happened on June 20, 2016 when Trump “held a meeting with a thousand value-centric conservative leaders.” Endorsed at the meeting by such respected Christian leaders as Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, and Dr. James Dobson, Trump was able to silence his evangelical naysayers and capture the hearts and minds of enough Christians to put himself in the White House.

The irony is that Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential race, was and is a practicing Methodist. Trump supporters somehow believed that Trump was elected because God is in power; however, the same people believed the world would end if Clinton were elected. I can’t get my head around their belief that the all-powerful God would delight in Trump’s election but that same God would be held powerless if Hillary Clinton were elected.

All this and I’ve only touched on the introduction and first chapter of Mr. Howe’s book. I admit that I just skimmed through the rest of the book.

In subsequent chapters Mr. Howe writes about such topics as how Trump has been compared to King Cyrus of Persia in the 6th century B.C; people who criticized President Trump’s character; the influence of social media in the vitriol in today’s politics; the belief of many Trump supporters that you’re either pro-choice or you’re pro-Trump – there’s no middle ground; political correctness; desire for revenge; racism and the perception of racism; us against them; abortion; gun policy; defense of the indefensible; excusing the inexcusable; separation of church and state; and choosing between immoralities/the lesser of two evils.

On page 161, Mr. Howe states:  “By directly defying their stated desire, ignoring the character of Donald Trump, and creating a ‘Christian’ culture that has become divisively self-interested and bitterly self-righteous, these leaders have taught their flocks to value the things of the world, rather than the things of Christ.”

And on page 205:  “There simply is no pulling of a lever in a voting booth that will deny God His purpose when He pursues it, nor is there any pulling of the lever that will earn His allegiance to your ‘side.’”

Mr. Howe concludes that God will accomplish His plan regardless of who the U.S. president is. I agree.

“If you wish to be all that Donald Trump and his ilk are not, then the greatest service you could do for the world is to love them despite themselves. Love doesn’t require agreement. It doesn’t require compromise. It doesn’t require surrender or shedding of values. It only and ever required the simple truth that we are stuck together. And if things are going to get better, you cannot wait for others to do it first.” ~ Ben Howe

In the current political climate in the United States, the loudest voices to the “far right” seem to think, “If you don’t agree with me politically, you have no right to live.” This must stop!


LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

How we can learn to agreeably disagree.
LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

 “If it is our desire to live in a civil society, we must be willing to engage in a dialogue with those with whom we disagree.” ~ Janet Givens, M.A.

Ms. Givens titled her book LEAPFROG — an acronym of four verbs, Listen, Empathize, Assess, and Paraphrase that help us listen, while the nouns Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude “guide us as we present our ideas in a way that will increase the likelihood that we will also be heard.”

Ms. Givens dedicated a chapter to each of the four verbs and four nouns. In a nutshell, here are snippets from the chapters about Assess, Facts, and Respect:

Assess – Ms. Given wrote, “Assess, as I’m using it here, simply means ‘pause and think’ while you ask yourself, “Is this a conversation I am able to have at this time?’ This is more important than you realize.” Are you and the other party coming to the conversation with curiosity and compassion?

Facts – Ms. Givens wrote, “… since understanding is our goal, we must ignore facts. For now. They have their place in any conversation, of course, but first, receptivity, a willingness to hear them, must exist. On both sides.” She gives “a question to ponder before moving on” at the end of each chapter. At the end of the chapter about facts she wrote: “Think back to your last political conversation. Or, your last Town Hall meeting. Or, your last family feast that ended badly. What went wrong?”

Respect – I love Ms. Givens’ chapter about respect. She wrote, “When we forget our common humanity, we create a chasm between us that is hard to bridge. Respect serves as a bridge to cross that chasm,” while “blame lets us abdicate responsibility for our discomfort by putting it on the other.” We’re all biased, whether we realize it or not.

In conclusion, Ms. Givens wrote about human beings’ need for social interaction. She calls difference “the source of all creativity. Indeed, think of difference as the beginning of all learning, Then, consider a disagreement as a difference of opinion that creates an enlightening and stimulating mystery, one which can be solved, together.”

She then lists her concerns about where our society is heading if we continue to be at such odds politically like we have not been since the American Civil War.

Ms. Givens asks many questions for our consideration throughout the book and at the end of her book. I think most people would benefit from reading LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era. I’ve just hit a few high points in my blog post. For more information about Ms. Givens’ work or to contact her, go to https://janetgivens.com/.


How the two books helped me

I approached The Immoral Moral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe with the following mindset: I’m a Christian, a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I have been guilty of being critical of Christians who continue to support Donald Trump. I wanted the book to explain their rationale to me. I’m still trying to understand it.

While I was still contemplating the theories, Mr. Howe gave in his book, I read LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A., and it really opened my eyes and made me evaluate my opinions.

It helped me see that I tend to listen to the cable news channels I agree with. When I read or listen to “the other side” I approach them with a biased ear and eye. Ms. Givens’ book helped me acknowledge my biases. Overcoming those biases is a work in progress.

If you disagree with my politics, that is your right. I respect your right to disagree; I just don’t understand it. As an American and a Presbyterian I will defend your right to believe what you believe and vote as you feel led to vote. That doesn’t mean I understand how you got there. When the Trump presidency is over, I hope we, as Americans, will once again be able to agreeably disagree.

In the current political climate in the United States, the loudest voices to the “far right” seem to think, “If you don’t agree with me politically, you have no right to live.” This must stop!

I still haven’t had that difficult conversation with anyone whose political views are far from mine, but I will read and re-read Ms. Givens’ book so I’ll be better-equipped to Listen, Empathize, Assess, and Paraphrase when that opportunity presents itself. I’ll have that conversation someday, when the other person and I are ready to approach it with Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude.


Since my last blog post

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my next appointment with my orthopedic doctor has been rescheduled for a week later, which means I’ll have 13 weeks without putting any weight on my right leg instead of 12. I’m disappointed but that’s a small price for me to pay.

Until my next blog post

Please rest your eyes. If you read this lengthy blog post of mine today, you need to rest your eyes.

I hope you have a good book to read.

I hope you have some creative time.

I hope you stay safe and well. It has been a year like most of us have never seen before and it will, no doubt, continue to be so. I hope you will find something positive to do as we all journey through this pandemic.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read either of these two books? How did they affect you? Have you acknowledged your biases? Have you had that difficult conversation with someone? How did it go? Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about politics and your fellow citizens whose views are very different from yours?

Janet