The Other Four Books Read in August 2022

There are lots of good books out there. Today’s blog post is about four of the eight books I read last month. In case you missed it, last Monday I blogged about the other four in Four of Eight Books Read in August 2022.


The Librarian Spy, by Madeline Martin

The Librarian Spy, by Madeline Martin

This novel follows two women during World War II. One is involved in the French Resistance. The other one is a librarian from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC who has been sent to Lisbon, Portugal to help secure and copy newspapers from the cities under Germany’s control. The copies are sent to the US to help the Allies’ cause in the war.

The chapters alternate between Ava’s story and Elaine’s story. My only complaint is that as soon as I was invested in one’s story, the next chapter would begin and I had to switch mental gears to the other one. I don’t like that in a novel, but it seems to be the trend now in historical fiction. Otherwise, Ava and Elaine each have compelling stories and you’ll want to cheer them on.

I was immediately invested in each of the two main characters as soon as I read their opening chapters. The deeper into their stories you get, the more you are anxious (not eager, but anxious) to see what happens to them next.

This novel made me stop and think about the danger both women were in all the time. They had to guard their words at all times because they never knew when a stranger – or even an acquaintance – nearby might overhear something that could aid the enemy.

I can’t imagine living under that level of stress not just for days or weeks on end but for years on end. Not only that, but they were living the war on a daily basis and had no way of knowing when it would end. That’s a luxury we have when reading historical fiction. We know the exact day and sometimes the very hour at which a war will be declared over.


Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories, by Susan Gabriel

Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories, by Susan Gabriel

I purchased this ebook some months ago and finally got around to reading it. I’m so glad I did. It is a collection of short stories, some of which grew out of Susan Gabriel’s novels.

Hoping to publish short stories myself, I was curious to see the book’s layout. Also, I hadn’t read any of Ms. Gabriel’s novels, so I was eager to find out about her writing style and to discover her writer’s “voice.”

And what a writer’s “voice” she has! If you enjoy southern fiction, you’ll love how Ms. Gabriel writes. Her voice, especially in “The Secret Sense of Wildflower,” comes through so strongly that I can still hear it in my head days after finishing the book. It’s told through the eyes of a young girl who has witnessed too much in her life, but tells the story with a wit, bluntness, and insight that I loved.

She even used the idiom, “as all get out” in that last story in the book, which couldn’t help but make me laugh out loud. You might recall my blog post about that idiom from March 29, 2021: #Idiom: As All Get Out.

The book includes an introduction in which Ms. Gabriel writes about how she was determined to never write southern fiction. I had to smile at that. There are nine stories of varying lengths, so it is an easy book to read if you can only find a few minutes at a time for a book; however, you’ll find yourself turning the page to see what the next story is and, before you know it, you’ve read three more stories.

The short stories in this book were varied in topic. “Reunion at the River” was about seven women who had been abused by the same man several decades ago and how they gather at the secluded mountain home of one of their number every year for a reunion and attempt to heal.

As a southern short story writer wannabe, I gained valuable ideas from this book about how to create an ebook of short stories. I don’t have published novels to draw on like Ms. Gabriel had, but I love the way she pulled the stories together and ended the book with information about her other books, her desire to get feedback from her readers, and her all-important contact links.


Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, by Leidy Klotz

Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, by Leidy Klotz

Jan Edmiston, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Charlotte, recommended this book in her July 8, 2022 blog, https://achurchforstarvingartists.blog/2022/07/08/books-im-loving-this-summer/. Edmiston’s takeaway from reading the books was, “Why this book can change the culture: We in the Church (and world) have been taught that being better means adding things. Sometimes we are better when we subtract things.”

In the book, Mr. Klotz pleads with us to stop thinking of subtraction as a negative thing. Sometimes less is better. When you’re attempting to declutter your life, your home, your email in-box, the landscape, or even the atmosphere – the air we breathe, couch it in words that don’t have negative implications.

He gives examples throughout the book. One of the simple ones that stuck with me was when he and his young son were building a bridge with Legos. One of the bridges pillars was taller than the other. Human nature usually prompts us to add to the shorter pillar to make them even; however, his toddler son removed one of the blocks in the taller pillar.

Mr. Klotz encourages us to adopt that approach in all aspects of our lives. Another example he mentioned several times is the editing that writers must do. Fiction writers are told to make every word count. Make every sentence earn its keep. Edit out words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs – even scenes – that don’t move the story forward. That’s a painful thing to do!

He also encourages us to focus on people. Focus on the things that will improve lives. The winner isn’t the person with the most stuff at the end of life.


L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition, by Janet Givens, M.A.

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

Janet Givens has come out with a third edition of her book, L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their skills of having a difficult conversation.

Be it a difficult conversation with a friend or a stranger, a relative or an employer or employee this book will help you have a more productive dialog.

The goal of this book is not to tell you how to convert the other person to your way of thinking, but rather to help you go into a conversation with an open mind and genuine curiosity about why the other person sees a particular issue or situation differently than you.

For more details about this new third edition of the book, please read my August 22, 2022 blog post, L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G. by Janet Givens


Since my last blog post

In addition to reading books and writing, I’ve worked on genealogy. I’ve also blown the dust off the local history newspaper columns I wrote from 2006 through 2012. It’s amazing how much I’ve forgotten since 2006. I hope people will enjoy reading my articles as much as I’ve enjoyed rereading some of them this week.

Since 2012 I’ve wanted to put all the articles into a book. I’m typing them in Word and formatting them ready to download the document into Atticus. Atticus is the writing software I’m using that will enable me to export the document ready for electronic publication on Amazon.

The cover is still holding up publication of the cookbook my sister and I are compiled for electronic publication.

I’ll keep you posted on both projects.


Until my next blog post

Don’t forget to read my September 5, 2022, blog post, Four of Eight Books Read in August 2022, in case you missed it.

I hope you have a good book to read.

Spend time with family and friends.

Remember the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, Highland Park….

Janet

L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition, by Janet Givens

As the American society becomes increasingly polarized on politics, racial justice, abortion, gun rights, public education, and free speech on social media, this is a book we can all benefit from reading. You can benefit even more by discussing the book with a group.

The book I’m referring to is the Third Edition of L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. Ms. Givens is a sociologist and Gestalt psychotherapist.

L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

Although my opening paragraph referred to the polarization of America, this book is intended to help people have any difficult conversation, whether it’s a disagreement you’ve had with your spouse or co-worker, a difference of opinion over a belief with a fellow church member, a conversation you need to have with a family member in the grips of substance abuse, or an honest discussion you want to have about a larger issue with a group, this book will help you get there.

How I learned about the book

Janet Givens and I had connected through our blogs. I was pleased last year when she invited me to participate in a Zoom group to read and discuss an earlier edition of the book. It was a small group – Ms. Givens, six others from across the United States, and me.

Ms. Givens told us up front that she wanted to make some changes in the book and publish a new edition. She wanted our input. It was a wonderful experience to be in such a group. We bonded through our monthly virtual meetings and I miss them now that the purpose that brought us together is completed.

In appreciation for our involvement, Ms. Givens sent each of us a copy of this year’s new edition. I’ve neglected to follow up with a review of the book for several months, for which I’m embarrassed. The best excuse I can concoct is that life and numerous library book due dates I was up against constantly took my attention away from L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G. It’s a poor excuse. I apologize, Janet. (By the way, I was known as “the other Janet” in the small group of eight.)

New introduction

This Third Edition of L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era has a completely new introduction. Sometimes I’m tempted to skip a book’s introduction, but please be sure to read this one. You’ll learn why Ms. Givens wrote the book, how she envisioned it being used, and she asks several questions for you to consider before launching into the meat of the book.

It used to be Americans could agree to disagree with each other over various issues, but that has become the exception rather than the rule. In this “uncivil era” it can seem impossible to civilly discuss issues with someone with whom you hold differing views.

That’s the backdrop for the book. The title is an acronym for Listening, Empathy, Assessment, Perspective, Facts: Forget them for now; Respect, Observation, and Gratitude. Each of those gets its own chapter. The chapters should be read in order for it is in that order in which one should approach any “difficult conversation.”

Ms. Givens is quick to point out in the introduction that one shouldn’t go into such a conversation with the purpose of converting the other person to their way of thinking. Something our Zoom group discussed on several occasions was the need for both/all parties discussing a difficult or divisive topic to be genuinely curious about why the other person has an opinion not like their own.

In her acknowledgements at the back of the book, Ms. Givens indicated that the Zoom group was instrumental in the birth of her “Perspective” chapter and in the reworking of the “Respect” chapter. Let’s look at those chapters.

Perspective

The fourth chapter in the earlier editions of the book was titled “Paraphrase.” Readers were encouraged to listen to the other person with empathy, assess their own state of mind to make sure they were mentally in the right place to have the conversation, and then paraphrase what they thought they heard the other person say.

In this new edition, Ms. Givens replaced “Paraphrase” with “Perspective.” (You’ll also notice in earlier editions most of the chapter titles were action words like Listen, Empathize, Assess, Paraphrase, and Observe. The new chapter titles are mostly nouns, such as Listening, Empathy, Assessment, Perspective, Facts: Forget them for now, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude.) They’re presented more as concepts instead of calls to action.

In the “Perspective” chapter, Ms. Givens invites us to think about perspective – ours and the other person’s. In doing that we will probably listen more carefully to the other person and maybe see the other person’s perspective. I might not change my mind by listening to your perspective, but I might gain a level of understanding of why you think what you think and even a clearer understanding of my own thinking.

The ”Perspective” chapter also addresses unconscious bias. For instance, an experience we had in childhood can affect how we see an issue today. You don’t need to use that as an excuse though. Once we recognize a bias, we can change.

Respect

In the reworked “Respect” chapter, Ms. Givens enlightens the reader to think of respect as something each individual deserves because that’s the foundation of society. Respect isn’t something to be meted out after we’ve judged the other person.

She addresses “othering” – the “us versus them” mindset. One way to move toward genuinely respecting the other person is to tell them you hear them and you think you understand. Then, look for what you have in common. Find something positive to say.

A call to action

I hope my blog post today will prompt you to look for L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition wherever you purchase books. You can also order it from the author at https://janetgivens.com/. I also recommend that you request that your local public library system purchases the book. Ask for it at your local independent bookstore if you don’t see it on the shelf.

Rare is the person who can’t benefit from reading it. Putting into practice the ideas Ms. Givens presents in her book will surely result in a more civil exchange of ideas within the United States or wherever you live – even if it’s just one person at a time.

Since my last blog post

I was struggling with a short story I was writing. It just wasn’t coming together. I did some brainstorming and the pieces finally felt into place. I hope to self-publish a collection of my historical short stories. I’ll keep you posted on my progress on that project.

I’ve completed my work to-date on two branches in my family tree. My sister helped me figure out these two lines. Both lines had some squirrelly dates and connections. We’re more than ready to move on to another family line and hope for less confusion!

Work has slowed on our The Aunts in the Kitchen family cookbook. I keep procrastinating getting the photograph made for the cover of the e-book. I can’t make it myself.

Our computer guy came and got our margins corrected in Word. It’s frustrating for a writer to not be able to set one-inch margins, especially since that’s the default setting. I’m back in business now typing my short stories and formatting them in Word ready to download into Atticus. I’m a happy camper once again!

I’m trying to participate on Twitter again, with limited success. If you’d like to follow me, I’m @janetmorrisonbk.  (Think Janet Morrison book.) Just don’t expect me to Tweet every day or comment on what you post in a timely manner. I’m terrible at social media.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or listen to. I’m reading The Librarian Spy: A Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin and Booth, by Karen Joy Fowler. I have other books checked out and two more ready to be picked up at the library. I can’t read fast enough!

Life is short. Spend time with family and friends, and make time for a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc. and the people in Kentucky whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding.

Janet

My Brush with Fame

After blogging about a heavy and complicated topic last week – the Wilmot Proviso – I decided to give my readers and myself a break this week. Let’s have some fun today with my brush with fame.

Do you remember a suspenseful television series from a decade ago that was filled with political intrigue? The name of the show was “Homeland.”

Before it was named. I had my brush of fame in it as an “extra.”

Most of the show’s early seasons were filmed in Charlotte. A segment was to be filmed at Avondale Presbyterian Church on Park Road because it resembled a New England church sanctuary.

Photo from Avondale Presbyterian Church website.

The production people wanted a full sanctuary for the filming of a funeral scene. An email went out to the churches in the Presbytery of Charlotte, part of the Presbyterian Church USA. The secretary at Rocky River Presbyterian Church sent out a notice to inform members of the congregation that extras were needed for the filming on August 12, 2011.

My sister and I had never considered doing anything like that, but it sounded interesting and exciting. We were advised to wear appropriate clothes for a funeral. We weren’t going to be paid, but lunch would be available.

We had nothing better to do that day, so off we went. It turned out to be a learning experience and one of those incidents that people who know me would probably be surprised to know.

Upon arrival, we were herded into the church’s fellowship hall. We sat with strangers around round tables. It was immediately time to “hurry up and wait.”

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

After several hours, we were led into the sanctuary. Sound and lighting were tested. I can’t remember now if the stars of that episode of the show, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, were involved in our first visit to the sanctuary.

We were told in no uncertain terms to memorize where we were sitting because later in the day we’d have to arrange ourselves exactly in the same place and in the same order. That was a bit stressful when you’re sitting on a church pew in a sanctuary you’ve never been in before and all the walls are covered in plastic to control the lighting.

It must have been at that point that we were served lunch. I can’t remember what it was, but I never turn down a free meal.

After that, we were left to just hang out in the fellowship hall. I’ve never had good timing. I took a minute to take a bathroom break. When I came back to the fellowship hall, my sister and a man we’d only met that morning were gone. The remaining extras at our table told me that someone came and asked them to go outside for the shooting of another scene.

This man had irritated us all morning, and now Marie was stuck being with him for filming outside. He was a loud know-it-all and we’d wished we could move to another table. Even so, I was a little envious because Marie was at least getting to do something, but I mostly pitied her for having to spend more time with this obnoxious man.

Marie and her new “husband” eventually returned to the fellowship hall. They’d had to walk together up the sidewalk leading to the church entrance over and over and over and over as if arriving for the funeral. Marie looked shell shocked and feared people would think they were an actual couple.

A little while later, we were instructed to return to the sanctuary. (All this time I’d been playing over in my head the clues I’d tried to detect that would help me sit exactly where I had earlier.)

As soon as everyone seated themselves where they’d sat that morning, members of the production crew started pointing and saying, “You. You, go sit over there. And you. You go sit over there.” This drill went on for a while until I’d completely lost sight of Marie and I was nowhere near where I’d started. I hoped she wasn’t being paired off with “obnoxious man.”

I liked where I ended up. I was near the aisle, and Claire Danes stood just feet away from me while she waited for her cue to walk forward. We even made eye contact while we waited. It was probably because I looked like a deer caught in headlights.

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Filming finally started. Damian Lewis eulogized his deceased best friend from the Army. Over and over and over and over again. Claire Danes eventually got to walk up the aisle (over and over again) to her appointed seat.

In the middle of Damian Lewis’ eulogy, an actor portraying another of their Army buddies as noisily as possible dropped his crutches. The sound was quite startling to those of us in the audience who didn’t have a clue what was happening. That quite loud segment was filmed over and over again.

At one point, they were filming as if we were all sad and talking among ourselves about how sad it was that this Army veteran had died. It was hard to keep from laughing as we turned to the complete strangers sitting next to us and were instructed to quietly make specific comments about how tragic the whole thing was. By then it was late in the day and most of us were a bit sorry we’d volunteered for this unknown television show that probably would never even air.

“Homeland” did air. It was a successful series that lasted eight seasons. Marie and I watched almost every episode. It was fun to pick out local sights in the various episodes during the first several years when it was filmed in the Charlotte area. There was the staged explosion at Marshall Park in downtown Charlotte and even a scene at a small mom and pop motel in Mt. Pleasant here in Cabarrus County. And, of course, there was the episode that included the funeral at Avondale Presbyterian Church.

When the episode aired, we learned that Damian Lewis’ character had in fact murdered the man we heard him eulogizing.

It turned out that Marie and I were both seated so near the back of the sanctuary that we couldn’t even pick out ourselves in the crowd when the episode aired. Much to Marie’s relief, the entire segment of her and “obnoxious man” walking arm-in-arm to the church ended up on the cutting room floor.

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Nevertheless, we know we were in Season 1 Episode 6 (“Good Soldier”) of “Homeland” and in the process we learned that it can take eight hours to film a two-minute segment of a television show. I don’t know how actors stand it.

We came to like the part Mandy Patinkin played in the series and regretted that we didn’t get to see him during our day of hurry up and wait.

It was more than a bit out of character for Marie and me, but we were glad we did it. It wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but parts of it were fun and it gave us a whole new appreciation for the tedium actors must endure.

Since my last blog post

I continue to work on the family cookbook, The Aunts in the Kitchen. It’s time to figure out the cover and write the bios for each of the aunts.

I also continue to work on my genealogy.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Librarian Spy: A Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin.

Until my next blog post

Find time for family, friends, and a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc. and the people in Kentucky whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding.

Janet