Three Other Books I Read in March 2019

I had so much I wanted to say about the books I read last month, I had to divide my thoughts between two blog posts. Last Monday I wrote about three of the books I read in March [https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/01/this-is-not-an-april-fools-day-joke/], so today I write about the other three books.

Jacksonland:  President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and A Great American Land Grab, by Steve Inskeep

Jacksonland, by Steve Inskeep

I can’t remember how I became aware of this book, and I don’t remember what I expected it to be. What it turned out to be was a real eye opener! I consider myself a bit of a student of history, but I had never read the details of how Andrew Jackson speculated on land and grabbed it up by the tens of thousands of acres as a result of the inside track he enjoyed.

The main things I knew about Andrew Jackson were:

  • He was born near the North Carolina – South Carolina border, so both states claim him as theirs;
  • His father died just days before he was born;
  • He was delivered by his Aunt Sarah Hutchinson Lessley, who just happened to be my 5th-great-grandmother;
  • He became famous for his service in the Battle of New Orleans;
  • He was the 7th President of the United States of America;
  • His image appears on the United States $20 bill; and
  • He is blamed for the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” as he forced them off their ancestral lands in western North Carolina and northern Georgia and into a grim and often fatal march to the Oklahoma Territory.

The more I learn about Andrew Jackson, the more I wonder why North and South Carolina fight over him. Let’s just let Tennessee have him, since that’s where he chose to build his estate called The Hermitage. The more I learn about him, the more I wish my ggggg-grandmother had delivered a president of better character. I don’t blame her, though. Her sister, Jean Jackson was in need of a midwife.

What I learned by reading Jacksonland:  President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and A Great American Land Grab, by Steve Inskeep was that President Jackson not only forced the Native Americans off their lands throughout the Southeast, but afterwards he personally gained financially from purchasing thousands of acres of those lands. So did his friends and his wife’s nephew. That’s just the half of it.

Ignorance is bliss. I almost wish I hadn’t read the book.

No, I’m glad I did. I wish I’d known about all this thievery and fraud earlier. It’s amazing the details that are not included or are just mentioned in passing in history textbooks!

The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

I listened to this historical novel on CD. It is based on the women who live(d) on the island of Jeju off the coast of Korea. The book covers nearly 100 years of life and changes on the island, from the 1930s, through Japanese colonialism, through World War II and the Korean War, to the 21st century.

On Jeju, women learn from a young age how to dive deep into the ocean to harvest certain fish and other sea life. They can hold their breath longer than any other people in the world. They are known as haenyeo. The women do this dangerous work, and their husbands raise their children.

This is a story of friendship and betrayal against a back drop of war and military occupation. I was mesmerized by The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See.

Due to spending so much time deep in the water, the haenyeo have hearing loss. For this reason, the older women speak loudly. It took me a while to get accustomed to the varying volume of this book on CD, as the narrator went above and beyond the call of duty in demonstrating how much louder the women spoke compared to the other characters. For that reason, it’s not the best choice if you like to listen to a book at bedtime or with ear buds. You, too, could suffer hearing loss!

Jackie Tales:  The Magic of Creating Stories and the Art of Telling Them, by Jackie Torrence

Jackie Tales, by Jackie Torrence

You might recall that I referenced this book in my March 12, 2019 blog post, “Two For Tuesday:  Two Books Written by Women of Color” (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/03/12/twofortuesday-two-books-written-by-women-of-color/.)

I also referenced The Importance of Pot Liquor, by Jackie Torrence in my blog post on February 19, 2019: “ Two for Tuesday:  Two Books that Remind Me of Someone.” Here’s the link to that post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/02/19/two-for-tuesday-two-books-that-remind-me-of-someone/ .

Jackie Torrence was a master storyteller and a reference librarian in High Point, North Carolina. This book includes 16 folk tales along with Ms. Torrence’s stage directions and sidebar comments for each story. I’d never in my life considered being a storyteller until I read this book. I don’t know that this is something I’ll pursue, but the book is so inspiring that it made me entertain the idea!

Even if you just want to be able to read stories to your children or grandchildren with more enthusiasm, facial expression, and use of your hands in a demonstrable way, you can benefit from this book. An alternative title for the book could have been, “The Many Faces of Jackie Torrence” because there are numerous up-close photographs of her extraordinarily expressive face as she told the stories.

In Jackie Tales:  The Magic of Creating Stories and the Art of Telling Them, Ms. Torrence explains what makes a good Jack Tale and what makes a good story. She writes about adjusting stories depending upon the age of her audience and how to (and how not to) hold children’s attention.

If you have an appreciation for the art of storytelling, you will enjoy this book. Look for a copy in used bookstore and online at used bookstores or consortiums such as Advanced Book Exchange.

I read one story each night before going to bed, and I hated to see the book end. It’s one I’ll definitely reread and enjoy just as much the second and third times.

Since my last blog post

I had the pleasure of attending Anna Jean Mayhew’s reading and book signing at Park Road Books in Charlotte on Thursday night. What an enjoyable evening it was as she read from and talked about her latest historical novel, Tomorrow’s Bread. More on that in my blog post on Monday, April 15.

I’ve had a net gain of 8,325 words to my The Doubloon manuscript, bringing my current word count to 30,325. I get to start on Chapter 8 today. I can’t wait!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I started reading The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander yesterday afternoon. After reading Mr. Alexander’s earlier novels, The Magdalen Girls in 2017 and The Taster last year, I was eager to read his recently-released novel, The Irishman’s Daughter. He writes extraordinary historical fiction.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“Two Books with Flowery Language.”  Thank you for providing the writing prompt, Rae, in “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog. Here’s a link to her April 1, 2019 blog post in which she listed all the #TwoForTuesday prompts for the month of April: https://educatednegra.blog/2019/04/01/april-two-for-tuesday-prompts/.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of the three books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?

What are you reading, and would you recommend it?

Janet

Cultural Appropriation in Writing

Cultural Appropriation was a term I first encountered one day last week while participating in a writers’ group page on Facebook. Although I was not familiar with the term, I’ve had first-hand experience in wrestling with it in my own writing.

aaron-burden-123584
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A definition

The Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as

“the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”

A raft of articles and video clips

As I started looking for a definition of cultural appropriation, I found a wealth of online references, which proves that I just haven’t been paying attention.

What I discovered is that non-Hispanic individuals were criticized for operating a burrito food cart in Portland, Stella McCartney was criticized for including Ankara prints in her spring fashion collection, a white man was criticized by Koreans for making a Kimchi-making tutorial, in March of this year Bruno Mars was accused of cultural appropriation in his music, and just last week Jamie Oliver was accused of cultural appropriation for calling a dish “punchy jerk rice.”

Author Morgan Jones’ opinion

Author and administrator of the “Writers on the Path to a Page-Turner” Facebook group, Barbara Kyle, started a conversation about cultural appropriation on Facebook on August 20. She shared a link to an October 1, 2016 article in The Guardian ( https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/01/novelists-cultural-appropriation-literature-lionel-shriver ) and in a follow-up comment she quoted author Morgan Jones. Here’s Ms. Kyle’s comment:

“The move to self-censorship for fear of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a sad state of affairs. Author Morgan Jones eloquently champions the opposite position:  ‘Fiction remains the best means we have of finding connection where there seems to be none; and the novel, of all forms, encourages a search that’s deep and sustained. By reading (or writing) one, you’ve travelled somewhere else. You’ve moved, it only slightly, towards others. In a world that finds and increasingly exploits division and difference, this is an invaluable, precious exercise.”

After you’ve finished reading my blog post today, I invite you to read The Guardian article referenced above. That article includes the following novelists’ views on cultural appropriation: Hari Kunzru, Kamila Shamsie, Aminatta Forna, Chris Cleave, AL Kennedy, Stella Duffy, Linda Grant, Naomi Alderman, Philip Hensher, Maggie Gee, and Nikesh Shukla. These are writers of various ethnic backgrounds, which makes their comments especially poignant.

The article’s introduction reads as follows:

“Jonathan Franzen claimed he won’t write about race because of limited ‘firsthand experience’, while Lionel Shriver hopes objection to ‘cultural appropriation is a passing fad’. So should there be boundaries on what a novelist can write about?”

Another writer in the Facebook group

Another person in the writers’ group on Facebook shared that he had given up on publishing his historical novel based on the life of Etienne Annaotaha, a Canadian First Nations hero after seeing how much flack Joseph Boyden caught for his writing, even though Mr. Boyden is 26% Native American. Imagine how a 100% European ancestry writer would be treated for writing about Native Americans if someone like Mr. Boyden is not accepted?

A quote from Walter Mosley

The following quote from Walter Mosley appeared in an email I received from Writer’s Digest last week:

“Write without restraint. It’s important to not censor yourself. People will censor the sh*t out of you… and there’s more truth in fiction than there is in nonfiction. You have to be committed to that truth.” – Walter Mosley

My challenge

In the historical novel I’m writing, set in the Carolinas in the 1760s, I’m attempting to write from several points-of-view, including that of a male slave and that of a free woman of color. My challenge is to be true to history while writing about fictional characters. I might not get it right.

I found a truck-load of encouragement from the Morgan Jones quote highlighted above! I have typed it and taped it to the bottom of my computer screen so I can read it every time I sit down to work on my novel.

So should there be boundaries on what a novelist can write about?

I say, “No, as long as the writer does her best research and uses her best writing skills to convey a story in a work of fiction.”

Cultural appropriation smacks of censorship, and I’m not for censorship in fiction. I don’t want someone else deciding what I should or should not read. Likewise, I don’t want someone else deciding what I should or should not write.

As a Southerner, I have not appreciated the disingenuous portrayal of Southerners in movies and television programs all my life; however, I uphold the creators’ right to produce that work under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Censorship is a slippery slope I don’t want to see us go down.

All that said, I will be mindful of my use of dialect in my novel. There are better ways to get across time, place, and social standing than hitting the reader over the head with dialect.

Since my last blog post

I’ve taken some courage from researching cultural appropriation. Although I was ignorant of the term itself, I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject for the years I’ve been working on my own novel.

I was also inspired by a dream I had last Monday night. As far as I can remember, it was the first time I dreamed that I was writing. I was writing my novel, and the words were flowing faster than I could write them down. The odd part was that I was writing in cursive, although in real life I do all my writing on the computer.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m trying to finish reading A Gentleman in Moscow and I’ve started reading The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. I plan to get back to work on my historical novel (working title, The Spanish Coin) with a renewed since of dedication since recharging my batteries in the Blue Ridge Mountains a couple of weeks ago and since reading about cultural appropriation last week.

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! I welcome your comments

I invite your comments below. What are your feelings about cultural appropriation? Have you read any good books lately? What have you been up to? What’s on your mind?

Let’s continue the conversation.

Janet