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.
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
Taster, by V.S. Alexander
Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard
by Mary Lynn Bracht
Over Grit, by Laleh Chini and Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi
Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin
Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini
Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris
Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic,
and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz
to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work
and Life, by David J. Rogers
Broken Girls, by Simone St. James
Undaunted: Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and
Fighting Back, by Jackie Speier
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!
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
you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing
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.
continue the conversation.
What are some of the books that educated you or
changed your life or your thinking?
March brought a return of cooler weather than we had in February in North Carolina. It also brought a stack of good books. I blogged about some of them last Monday (Some March Reading), and today I’m blogging about the rest of those that I read last month.
Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting, by Chris Andrews
Science fiction and fantasy are not my reading genres of choice, but Chris Andrews and I connected with each other in the blogosphere as two struggling writers. (Actually, I’m struggling. I’m not so sure about Chris.) We live in different hemispheres but I have learned a great deal from him about writing. He recently published an e-book of four short stories and I was eager to read them.
“In Need of Assistance” leads off the short story collection. Well written and suspenseful, this person (me) who never reads sci-fi got pulled into the story and thought it ended too soon. In other words, I wanted to know what happened next.
The second story in this e-book is “Saving the Unicorn.” It is about a magician who travels 4,000 years back in time to free the last unicorn…. or is it?
“Faerie Blues” is the third story in Chris’ book. The identity of the faerie is a surprise.
The fourth and last story in the book is “Trophy Hunting.” This story is survival of the fittest with a twist.
Following the four short stories are the first seven chapters of Chris’ novel, Divine Prey, which is due for release in May 2018.
The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard
This historical novel was inspired by the creation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II and the top-secret work carried on there in the development of the atomic bomb.
Ms. Beard invented characters from all walks of like and guides the reader to like most of them and identify with them as much as is possible for we who live in a different time. I liked that she included the black people as well as the white people who lived and worked at Oak Ridge because, as much as they had in common, their housing and treatment by the US Army was quite different. It was in the racially segregated South and the book stands as witness to the prejudice and unequal treatment that existed legally at that time.
The author included not only Christians but an atheist and a Jewish physicist. This book’s cast of characters runs the gamut from redneck bigot to the Jewish scientist whose family had surely died in Germany during the War. True to the history of the facility at Oak Ridge, some characters are poorly educated while others are highly educated, but the emphasis is on the everyday people who worked there and did not know what they were working on.
Ms. Beard follows each character and through them she allows the reader to experience World War II on the home front in the USA and through the stress and struggles of the people who worked in complete secrecy at Oak Ridge. She brings to life the inevitable inner conflicts experienced by some of the scientists who worked there and at Los Alamos, New Mexico as they were simultaneously excited by the physics of the atomic bomb and yet horrified by the realities of what the unleashing of such a weapon would mean and the suffering it would cause for thousands of innocent people.
I never had really thought about how conflicted some of those scientists must have felt. I’d also never given much thought to how many thousands of people worked at Oak Ridge and the majority not knowing they were working on developing an atomic bomb until the day the first one was dropped on Hiroshima.
Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland
This is a debut novel by Karen Cleveland. It has received rave reviews from highly-respected authors, so I was eager to read this espionage thriller. After having read it, all I can say is, “Wow!”
Written by a former CIA analyst, this novel has a female CIA analyst working in a division studying Russia and looking for Russian sleeper cells in the USA. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I’ll just say her marriage and work ethic are tested to the limit.
This novel will make you wonder who you can trust. It is the story of betrayal on many levels, and it will keep you turning pages and wishing you didn’t have to stop to eat, sleep, or work. If you like to read espionage thrillers, you will love this book.
A Piece of the World, by Kristina Baker Kline
We’re all familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s most famous painting, “Kristina’s World.” This historical novel is based on the imaginary life of the woman lying in a semi-prone position in the grass on the hillside below the house in that painting.
The author, who also wrote The Orphan Train, did a beautiful job developing the characters in A Piece of the World. They were so believable, the reader will forget the book is fiction. The woman in the painting, Kristina, becomes increasingly disabled due to an unknown condition affecting her legs. She lives in the grey clapboard house on the hill as depicted in the painting. Unable and unwilling to empathize with their daughter, Kristina’s parents do little to try to get her help.
Drawn to the feel and essence of the old house, Andrew, the son of artist N.C. Wyeth comes and asks if he can paint. He sketches and paints Kristina’s brother, but the brother has little patience for posing so Kristina becomes his most consistent model. He continues his work for years.
Kristina falls in love, but is it with Andrew? I’ll leave that for you to discover if you choose to read the book.
In Another Ocean to Cross, Ann Griffin weaves a compelling story about 18-year-old Renata Lowenthal, a Jewish woman desperate to escape Germany in 1938 as Hitler makes life ever-more tenuous for the Jewish population. Renata is an artist and her gentile boyfriend is in the military. He has to leave Munich, but he is smuggling Renata’s renderings of the Third Reich’s mistreatment of Jews to journalists in Switzerland.
No matter what the world throws at Renata, she meets the challenge.
The descriptions in this book are vivid and draw on all the senses. Being about the Jews who escaped to Egypt, this book enlightened me about an aspect of World War II that I hadn’t known much about.
Renata struggles to convince her parents that it is imperative that they get out of Germany and try to get to Palestine before it’s too late to escape. The tale Ms. Griffin spins will keep you turning the pages of this book and staying up at night to read just one more chapter. I will not give more details because you will want to read this novel and I don’t want to take away any suspense for you. It will take you and Renata to some surprising locations.
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose
In case your eyes have glazed over, I’ll save my comments about this book until next Monday’s blog post.
Since my last blog post
I have continued to read about writing and study areas I need help with. I have worked on my outline for The Spanish Coin, the working title for what I hope will be my first novel.
One of my readers reported difficulty in getting my comments section below to work. If you have trouble with it, too, please send me a message through the contact form/newsletter sign-up sheet below. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.
My blog steadily attracts more readers and followers, which is gratifying. One new reader and follower, Neil, also signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. Thank you, Neil.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Last Child, by John Hart, so I’ll be ready to read The Hush in a few weeks.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time
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Today’s blog post is a little longer than usual. If you have no interest in artificial intelligence, please scroll down to the sub-heading “Since my last blog post” to find out what I’ve been doing and to find several links to websites and video clips you might enjoy.
Social Media and me
If you don’t count blogging as social media, I haven’t blogged about social media since June 9, 2017 (6 Things Learned about Google+) and I must say that I haven’t missed it at all. I just don’t “get” some of it.
I received an email from LinkedIn on Friday. It explained major changes in their newsfeed algorithm. Granted, they lost me at the word “algorithm” because I pretty much glaze over at any reference to math, but I kept reading. It didn’t take me long to learn that if I don’t mix up my posts on LinkedIn with video, images, and text, I’ll just be whistling in the wind. Sounds like I need to just close my account since I don’t do videos.
Even though I’m no authority on the topic of social media, occasionally I try to point you toward people who can help you better understand and utilize it. There is a blog about blogging by Janice Wald that I follow. I read her blog several times every week and have found it to be informative. Always. Her February 25, 2018 blog post, “RankBrain: This is Why You’re Doing SEO Absolutely Wrong” (https://www.mostlyblogging.com/how-does-rankbrain-work/) is a prime example of how helpful Ms. Wald’s blog posts are.
I had never heard of Google’s evolving algorithm called RankBrain. The name reminded me of humorist and inspirational speaker Jeanne Robertson’s nickname for her husband, Jerry. She affectionately calls him “Left Brain” in many of her routines. (More on that later.)
Ms. Wald’s blog post explains Google’s RankBrain as follows:
“It’s an artificial intelligence that tries to understand exactly what the Google user wants to find by analyzing important factors.” – Janice Wald
The changes RankBrain brings include a lessening of the importance of using long-tail keywords. I must admit that my brain glazed over when I read in Ms. Wald’s blog post, “Use only one (medium tail) keyword and then add LSI Keywords (Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords),” but I kept reading and so should you if you’re trying to be found on Google.
Since Janice Wald is much more computer savvy than I am, I refer you to her blog post if this is something you want to understand as things constantly change. Of course, now I’m more nervous than ever about choosing titles for my blog posts and making my posts interesting enough that people will not only find them on Google but will also click on them and read them before bouncing around to other search results.
The other side of the Artificial Intelligence coin
I’ve gotten some great tips from Janice Wald’s blog over the years, but the post by guest blogger, Nidhriti Bhowmik, on her August 12, 2017 blog (http://www.mostlyblogging.com/chatbot/) keeps ringing in my ears. Her February 25, 2018 blog referenced above brought guest blogger Nidhriti Bhowmik’s post to mind.
Mr. Bhowmik’s post prompted me to draft a blog post about my reaction last August, but I hesitated to post it because of its negative tone. I reread it a few days ago. Since it still struck a nerve in me, I decided to edit the post I’d drafted and include some it in today’s post.
I don’t doubt that Mr. Bhowmik is gifted when it comes to computers. It goes without saying that he knows much more about computers than I do. I just don’t think what he proposed in his August 12, 2017 blog post is the way I want to communicate with people. Maybe this works in other businesses, but I’m trying to establish myself as a writer.
A can of worms
Using artificial intelligence to discern what search engine users are looking for makes sense to me, but using it to communicate instead of speaking for myself is a whole different can of worms. I suppose it’s similar to the old-fashioned form letter, yet it’s different. A person actually wrote those form letters, but computer-generated tweets and other forms of communication just aren’t my style.
Mr. Bhowmik’s guest blog post was about a new “hack” designed to make my life simpler. As a middle-aged woman just trying to learn the art and craft of writing so I can write a novel, I could use some things that would simplify my life, but I guess I’m too old-fashioned to latch onto the one explained in Mr. Bhowmik’s post.
Mr. Bhowmik’s topic was something called chatbots. He is an “AI Evangelist.” Artificial Intelligence Evangelist.
I’d never heard of chatbots, but that’s not surprising to me or anyone who knows me. I read the post and it just made me sad. In a nutshell, it seems that a blogger can sign up to have a computer generate all their tweets, Instagram whatevers, etc. 24/7.
The clincher for me was the following sentence:
“To put it simply, a chatbot is an amazing piece of computer software designed to simulate conversations with a human user, usually via text.” ~ Nidhriti Bhowmik
Keywords there are “simulate conversations with a human user.”
I’ve already gotten caught in the web of something like that. I tried a free trial of a product I won’t name. Since it was free, I couldn’t seem to get rid of it for months. It sent messages to people who followed me on Twitter to thank them for following me AND encouraged them to sign up for the product I won’t name. I prefer to personally thank the people who follow me on Twitter. Let’s face it, there aren’t that many of them.
And this sentence from Mr. Bhowmik’s blog post:
“They bring everything about you in one place, package our content in an appealing format and interact with the world as you, 24/7 on all channels.” ~ Nidhriti Bhowmik
I don’t want a computer program interacting with the world as me around the clock.
Last, but not least:
“And the best part? Chatbots can start smooth flowing conversations, ask your readers what they are looking for and respond with high-value content relevant to their pain points.” ~ Nidhriti Bhowmik
It is possible that a computer program can generate higher-value content than I, but that’s just not the way I want to communicate. I don’t want you to feel valued because a computer program simulates conversation with you. I want you to feel valued because you are valued. And if you have “pain points,” I’m probably not the person you need to be dealing with anyway.
Have we completely lost our ability to talk to each other?
I enjoyed watching “The Jetsons” on TV when I was a child in the 1960s. The technology they used was science fiction then and it was fun to imagine living in such a universe. But you know what? Even the Jetsons talked to each other.
Since my last blog post
Sonni signed up to receive my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. Sonni has been generous with what she’s learned from experience since my early days as a blogger. Thank you, Sonni, for your continued support of my writing journey. In addition to daily advocating for reforms to the prison system in the USA, Sonni is a gifted writer, pianist, and composer. You can find her blog at http://mynameisjamie.net. Her improvisational music on the piano is amazing to someone (me) who took piano lessons and still can’t play well. You can find Sonni Quick’s music on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv6dycDAXCytFYvf–Njxrw.
I’ve finished reading several novels since last Monday’s blog post. I enjoy reading fiction and seeing how published authors write. When I’m reading, it’s not just for fun. I’m looking at writing style, voice, point-of-view, plot, sub-plots, and always watching for a clever turn of a phrase.
That said, I admit I’ve spent more time reading than writing since my blog post last Monday. I continue to work on my character profiles. With the theme of my historical novel manuscript, The Spanish Coin, established, I’ve changed the first scene in the book. That shifts everything I’d already written in the outline. This is all part of the process, and I love it. I wrote 1,200 words one evening as I brainstormed my new hook. After using the same hook for The Spanish Coin for more years than I want to admit, it’s refreshing to start the story with a different incident.
I hit a milestone last week on my blog. I now have 1,401 followers, which I can’t quite get my mind around.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read that wasn’t written by a computer. I’m reading The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time using your own intelligence instead of the artificial kind.
Please take a minute to fill out the form below if you haven’t already, if you would like to be on my mailing list for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. By the way, that is completely separate from signing up to follow my blog. Please do both, if you haven’t already. Thank you!
Getting back to Jeanne Robertson, if you don’t know who she is, please scroll up to the second paragraph under the “Googles’s RankBrain” subheading. If you haven’t been exposed to her North Carolina humor, you need to do yourself a favor and watch some of her video clips on YouTube, such as this one, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YFRUSTiFUs. You’re in for a treat!
Thank you for spending a few minutes with me today.