Books Read in January 2022

I had the pleasure of reading a variety of books in January. Each one was interesting in its own way.

In my December 6, 2021 blog post, Books Read in November 2021, I made less-than-glowing remarks about Wiley Cash’s When Ghosts Come Home. I’m rectifying the situation today.

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

I owed it to myself and Wiley Cash to give this novel a second chance. I checked out the large print edition of the book from the public library in January and started reading it again. I’m so glad I did!

I think part of my problem in November was that I read the first chapter or two and didn’t get back to it for a week or so. Since the third chapter was about a new set of characters with no obvious connection to the characters in the first couple of chapters, the book sort of fell apart for me. I figured out the connection a little later, but by then I’d lost interest in the story.

Getting back to this novel in January was a real treat. I was able to give it enough attention in longer blocks of time to get into the storyline, make the connections, and care what happened to the characters.

I had to find out why Rodney Bellamy was at the airstrip that night. I had to find out what happened to Janelle’s kid brother, Jay. I had to know if Winston’s daughter, Colleen, was going to get her life back together after losing her baby. I had to find out how Winston, the county sheriff on the coast of North Carolina, got all the crimes and problems sorted out. I had to find out what part FBI Agent Tom Gross played in all this.

Determined to tie all the loose ends together, the end of the book kept me reading until 3:00 a.m. I’m back on track now with Wiley Cash and look forward to his next novel.

There is an element of racial tension woven throughout When Ghosts Come Home. The following is a very telling quote from the book. Ed Bellamy is referring to the white Marines he served alongside in Vietnam.

“But I knew something else my white buddies didn’t know: I knew what it meant to be hunted…. I still know what it means to be hunted. All these years later, we’re still being hunted.”

I’ve read all his earlier novels: A Land More Kind Than Home, The Dark Road to Mercy, and The Last Ballad.

I read A Land More Kind Than Home in 2015 before I started commenting other than mentioning the titles on my blog about the books I was reading.

In February 2016, I read The Dark Road to Mercy. Here’s the link to the blog post in which I commented on it: Some books I read in February

I commented on The Last Ballad in my blog post on November 6, 2017: Some Good New Books.


These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett

I was surprised when I looked back through my blog posts to find that this is the fifth Ann Patchett book I’ve read. I’ll give you the links to those earlier four blog posts in case you’d like to read what I had to say about her other books.

To refresh my memory and yours about the Ann Patchett books I’ve read, here are my nutshell descriptions and the links to the blog posts in which I wrote about them:

(1) The Getaway Car is a book in which Ms. Patchett humorously tells what she has learned about the craft and art of writing. What I read in February 2017

(2) State of Wonder is a novel set in Brazil. It involves a pharmaceutical firm in Minnesota and the jungle along the Amazon River. Some Great September Reads

(3) The Dutch House is about a dysfunctional family in which the mother leaves and never returns. There are many layers to this story and the house itself is as important as any character. I highly recommend you listen to the CD of this book which is read by Tom Hanks. I stretched my reading horizons in November

(4) Bel Canto is a novel based on the 1996 hostage situation at the home of an ambassador in Peru. Eight Books I Read in March 2020

(5) Commonwealth was a novel that didn’t grab my interest and I didn’t listen to all of it. It involved drunks at a christening party. I couldn’t identify with that. Books Read in May 2020

Ann Patchett is an essayist in addition to being a novelist. These formats take two different writing skills. She’s a master of both. I enjoyed listening to These Precious Days, which is a collection of essays. She reveals some of her past in an entertaining way and with humor. If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’ll love this book.

I connected with her on several levels in this book. We’re both writers, although she’s light years ahead of me. We both knit – or do so rarely and not as well as those knitting experts in Scotland. Neither of us have children to dote on or depend upon to help care for us in our dotage.

It is a book about friends and family and those ties that bind us and help us along through life’s ups and downs. It was one of those books that left me wanting more when it ended.


When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut; translated from Spanish into English by Adrian Nathan West

When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut

My cousin, Jerome Williams, recommended this book. I failed to have it on my to-be-read list, although it was shortlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The author, Benjamin Labatut, is Chilean.

This novel reads like a nonfiction book. In it, Señor Labatut writes about various scientists and mathematicians who have had to wrestle with the moral ramifications of their discoveries. In some cases, their discoveries were meant for good but have been used as weapons of mass destruction and untold suffering. Some of these men lost their minds or were mentally tormented by the ways in which their discoveries were used.

There are unexpected twists and turns as years and decades pass, and we’re left to wonder what great wonders and what horrific demented uses of those great wonders lie in the future.

Thanks for the recommendation, Jerome. You have good taste in literature.


The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

As I’ve mentioned before, this book isn’t a fast read. It’s a history book and it packs a tremendous amount of information and insight into its more than 600 pages. Trying to read the regular print edition was taxing on my eyes, so I got on the waitlist for the Kindle edition. I rose to the top of the list early in January and was eager to pick up where I’d left off in November.

Other books also reached the top of the library waitlists, though, and I was distracted. The Silk Road isn’t the kind of book you can read in snippets. I’ll keep reading it, probably throughout 2022.



Since my last blog post

I’ve been researching the Great Wagon Road and some of old trails associated with it. In case you’re interested in learning more about the Great Wagon Road, I recommend that you look at the PiedmontTrails.com website (https://piedmonttrails.com/) and look for Piedmont Trails on YouTube. Carol, who spearheads the Great Wagon Road Project, has lots of information that she freely shares. The Great Wagon Road Project is documenting the 800-mile wagon road that went from Pennsylvania to Augusta, Georgia in the 1700s and early 1800s.

I’m doing this research in conjunction with the historical novels I’m attempting to write. I had planned to start writing the rough draft of Book One with the working title The Heirloom, but there’s a technical issue with my computer regarding margins. I hesitate to start the rough draft until I can get my margins set at a reasonable setting. I’ve never had this problem before.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.

Stay safe and well.

Janet

What do you know about the 17th Amendment?

There’s probably a limited audience to be reeled in by the title of today’s blog post, but I couldn’t think of a more creative way that might trick some unsuspecting readers to dive in.

If US Constitutional History is not your cup of tea, please visit my blog again next week. I’m not sure what the topic will be, but I’ll try to avoid the US Constitution.

You might recall that I mentioned the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in my May 31, 2021 blog post because I’d read that it was ratified on May 31, 1913. After discovering that it was actually ratified on April 8, 1913, I had to come up with another topic for May 31. I’ll explain the confusion somewhere below.

Here we go…

Thank goodness for the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America!

Even though I majored in political science in college, if asked out of the blue what the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was about, I’d be hard-pressed to give you the correct answer.

Photo credit: Anthony Garand on unsplash.com

The 17th Amendment, in a nutshell

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States mandates that the two Senators from each state “shall be” elected by the people of each respective state. It also states that U.S. Senators shall serve six-year terms and each Senator shall have one vote.

What about before the 17th Amendment?

The 17th Amendment was passed by Congress on May 13, 1912. Prior to the amendment’s ratification on April 8, 1913, each state’s U.S. Senators were chosen by the state legislatures. Whoa! Let that sink in for a minute! I shudder to think about the possibilities.

Living in the state of North Carolina, I tremble to think about who the NC General Assembly would have chosen for the US Senate, especially over the last decade or more. Granted, the general populous has rarely elected the people I would have preferred for these offices since Senator Sam Ervin died, but at least a fair and open election gives the citizens some measure of confidence in the people we send to Washington, DC. What they do after they get there is a whole other story. But I digress.

The reasoning behind the way it was before 1913

The framers of the United States Constitution weren’t sure the average citizen was smart enough to vote. They formed our government as a democracy, yet the white men who were in charge in our country’s infancy didn’t completely trust the general populous to elect the right people.

Come to think of it, the white men in charge in Washington, DC and in many state legislatures today don’t trust us to “vote right” either. It seems like we would’ve made more progress than this in more than 200 years, but I digress again.

The framers of the Constitution wanted the United States Senate to be a check on the masses. James Madison assured the attendees of the Constitutional Convention that cooler heads would prevail in the Senate than in the House of Representatives where representatives were elected by popular vote of the people. (Well, not really “the people,” for you could only vote then if you were a white male who owned some real estate. The Electoral College was also instituted as a buffer between the people and the US President. But that’s a topic for another day.)

The reasoning behind having the state legislatures elect US Senators was that the senators would be insulated from public opinion. To borrow a question from Dr. Phil McGraw, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

An examination of Senatorial elections, 1871-1913

The political scientist in me found a study online of how the system worked from 1871 until 1913. Written by Wendy J. Schiller, Charles Stewart III, and Benjamin Xiong for The University of Chicago Press Journals, their article, “U.S. Senate Elections before the 17th Amendment: Political Party Cohesion and Conflict, 1871-1913,” can be found at U.S. Senate Elections before the 17th Amendment: Political Party Cohesion and Conflict 1871–1913 | The Journal of Politics: Vol 75, No 3 (uchicago.edu). (If this link doesn’t work, please do a search for the article.)

I was eager to see what their study found. My hunch was that the election of US Senators was viciously fought over in the state legislatures and the said elections, no doubt, took up weeks and weeks of the legislatures’ time.

Unfortunately, it would have cost me $15 to gain access to the study, so I’ll just give you this quote from the article’s abstract: “We find significant evidence that under the indirect electoral mechanism, Senate elections were contentious, and winning majority control of the state legislature did not always ensure an easy electoral process. Specifically, the breakdown of caucus nominating processes, the size of majority coalitions, and whether the incumbent senator was running for reelection each exerted an effect on the probability of conflict in the indirect election process.”

Point of confusion

In my opening remarks, I promised to explain the confusion over the date of the 17th Amendment’s ratification. It was ratified on April 8, 1913, when the Connecticut legislature approved it. With Connecticut’s vote, three-fourths of the state legislatures had approved it. That met the requirement for an amendment’s ratification. It was not until May 31, 1913, that Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan officially announced the ratification in writing. Some sources have picked up that date as the date of ratification.

More than a century later, that’s probably all we need to know. This blog post probably already falls into the category of “too much information” for many of you, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been busy working on my novel. The working title is still either The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon. Unless I self-publish it, I won’t get to choose the title. The manuscript stands at just over 91,000 words. That number fluctuates from day-to-day as I make changes.

I’m re-reading World of Toil and Strife: Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore. As more of it “soaks in,” I’m making some changes in my novel manuscript – changes that should result in a richer story and an additional layer of setting authenticity.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash. I’m trying to finish reading it by tomorrow night, so I can write about it in my blog post next Monday.

I’m also still making my way through The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s not a book one can rush through. At least, I can’t.

Note: Get Ready! December is Read a New Book Month!

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Janet           

What Would Make You Happy?

On the heels of reading seven books in June, I took a step back in July and “only” read five books. I’d let the pressure of reading books so I could blog about them get too much of a hold on my life. That’s why I planned to not read as much in July. That didn’t work out very well, but I did start taking a closer look at the types of books I was reading and wanted or needed to read.

If you read my August blog posts, you know there wasn’t a fluffy beach read in the bunch. In fact, there wasn’t a novel in the five, and they were all about serious and sobering topics.

Photo credit: John Mark Smith on unsplash.com

September and October came along and most of my reading was dictated by the writing course I was taking. For two months, I read what I had to read or needed to read. It didn’t leave any time to read what I wanted to read, although I did start reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s not a book that can be read quickly.

Reading is important for a writer; however, writing needs to be more of a focus for me now. I’ve procrastinated and let reading take too much of my time the last couple of years. I don’t regret reading any of the books I read, but I’ll never finish writing my novel at this rate!

What would make me happy?

About six weeks ago, I took time to discern what will make me happy. The things I came up with were (1) to work on my book; (2) to work on my genealogy; and (3) to get back to sewing and quilting. I haven’t sewn in going on two years now. I hope I can remember how to turn on the sewing machine. I have tubs of fabric that need to be turned into gifts or quilts and other household items.

The fourth item on my list is to get back to playing the mountain dulcimer. I should play it every day. I haven’t touched it in months. I hope my muscle memory kicks in when I take it out of its case today. I’m not very good at it. The reasons for that are (1) I’m not musically-talented and (2) I don’t put much time into it.

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Dr. Brene Brown

I recently reread The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown. It reminded me not to be so hard on myself and not to worry about what other people think of me. I listened to her book, Rising Strong, and it inspired me to be brave. That’s what finally prompted me to hire a professional editor to critique the first 50 pages of my novel. (See my July 12, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in June 2021 and my July 26, 2021 blog post, How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique.)

Rising Strong, by Dr. Brene Brown

I’d been working on today’s blog post early in July, when I read Barbara Strickland’s July 11 blog post: Limit the Limits – Barbara Strickland – Author & Blogger (brstrickland.com. After reading an article in LinkedIn, Barbara blogged about a methodical way to figure out what your dreams are.

Her post sort of dovetailed with what I was writing four months ago that ended up being postponed until today. She looked at her list of dreams from a view of practicality. I didn’t have to consciously do that when I made my list because it’s not my nature to dream about doing or having things I can’t afford or don’t have the health to do.

Taking stock on this milestone year

I graduated from high school 50 years ago. There. I’ve said it. Do the math. Yes, I’m 68 years old.

Photo credit: Zoltan Tasi on unsplash.com

There’s something jolting about admitting I graduated from high school 50 years ago. I don’t know what it is about those anniversary years that end in a zero. I was not prompted to take stock of my life last year, 49 years after my graduation.

Our 50-year high school reunion was planned for last month but had to be postponed until sometime next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

I was in a class of 191. At least 33 of my classmates have died. Talk about a sobering thought! More than one of those were special, lifelong friends of mine.

Assessing my blog topics

Once in a while, I need to take a step back and evaluate my life – how I’m spending my time, what I’m accomplishing, what I’m doing to benefit others, and what I’m doing to improve myself. This is one of those times, so please bear with me.

This is supposed to be my writing blog. My reading is important and integral to my writing; however, since the Covid-19 pandemic started, I haven’t written much about my journey as a writer until this summer when I decided to get the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript critiqued by an editor.

A blog is supposed to serve a purpose. It’s supposed to benefit the reader. I hope my continued journey as a writer will serve as fodder for my future blog posts and those posts will enlighten or entertain you in some way. Otherwise, you don’t have any reason to keep reading my blog.

No pressure there!

Photo credit: Daniel Thomas on unsplash.com

There are many things I enjoy about blogging. Over the years, I’ve developed friendly relationships with a few readers. They live all around the world. Many of them have opened my eyes to things I didn’t know. They’ve helped me understand different perspectives. They have enriched my life. I will never meet them except via the internet.

People in 20 countries visited my blog the last week in October. Since I started my blog, people in 144 countries and territories have looked at it. That is surprising, gratifying, and a bit scary.

I never know what’s going to strike a chord with readers. When I have a reader from China or some countries in Africa, it especially catches my attention and I feel a heightened sense of responsibility.

I appreciate your taking time to read my blog. I’ll try not to let you down.


Since my last blog post

Here in North Carolina, we raced right through autumn last week and jumped into winter. There was snow in the higher mountains in the state and our county had a freeze warning. It just doesn’t seem quite right to have a freeze warning before having a frost warning, but that’s life in North Carolina.

Photo credit: Janet Morrison

I’m still decluttering my home in hopes of making space for more creativity and less stress.


Until my next blog post

Have you assessed your life lately? What would make you happy? What’s missing in your life? What are you waiting for?

I hope you have at least one good book to read.

I hope you’re happy and have everything you need.

Janet

Some Odd Books Read in October 2021

The titles of the books I read in September are way off the beaten path. Since I’m writing a novel that includes a murder, I need to make sure I have certain details as accurate as possible.

Actually, I want to get all the details right, but my research and study in October concentrated on (1) the details about the dead body in the first chapter; (2) the ways in which the murderer tries to present himself as innocent; and (3) writing in deep point-of-view.

Hence, I read the books listed below. They aren’t exactly the kind of books one wants to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but they were helpful (or, not-so-helpful) for what I needed them for.

Acting: The First Six Lessons, by Richard Boleslavsky

I checked this book out from the library in hopes that it would give pointers on how an actor “gets into character.” It did not.

In order to write a novel in deep point-of-view, I must get into character. I must write everything through the ears, eyes, and emotions of each of my point-of-view characters.

Badass Acting, by Tice Allison

I had the same hopes for this book. It failed to deliver.

Seven Pillars of Acting, by Sonya Cooke

I thought surely this acting book would include what I was looking for, but it didn’t.

I think I know what I’m doing in writing deep point-of-view. I just thought reading pointers on how an actor gets into character might be helpful. The best way to grasp this element of writing is to read the work of authors who do it well.

All these acting books might be helpful to someone learning the art of acting. They just didn’t cover what I was looking for.

Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

This book contained a bit of technical information I needed to know about the timeline for the body in my novel.

Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers, by D.P.

Lyle, M.D.

Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

Like Forensics for Dummies, this book had bits and pieces of helpful information.

Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers, by D.P. Lyle,

M.D.

Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

You’ve maybe noticed a pattern here. Dr. D.P. Lyle is the leading expert in the field of forensics in writing books for writers and other laypersons.

What Every BODY is Saying, by Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins, Ph.D.

I wanted to read this book to get pointers on how to tell if a person is lying. I wanted to incorporate “dead giveaways” in the words, body language, and behavior of the murderer in my novel. It was an interesting book. It gave some suggestions, but the bottom line was that you need to read more than one book to become an expert in spotting a lie.

What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, by Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins, Ph.D.

Spy the Lie, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant

This book is very much like What Every BODY is Saying, by Joe Navarro. It’s a little more indepth but gives the same admonitions that you need to do more than read a couple of books in order to become an expert at telling when someone is lying. I don’t need to be an expert, so I think I’ll end my research there.

Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant.

I won’t give any examples from the book because you can’t take just one or two hints and make a definitive decision about whether a person is lying to you. I hope most of us rarely are lied to, so it’s not a huge problem for us. On second thought, if we watch certain TV networks, are on Facebook, or hear any political campaign ads, we’re lied to every day.

The Little Red Writing Book, by Brandon Royal

The Little Red Writing Book, by Brandon Royal

The most helpful part of this tiny book is the pages of often-made-mistakes in grammar. For instance, you’d think by now I’d know when to use “who” and when to use “whom,” but I always have to look it up when I’m writing. When I’m talking, I probably get it wrong every time. Now I have a cheat sheet.

Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

You probably recognize the name of this book, since I’ve referred to it a number of times in my blog this summer and fall. I started reading and working my way through it early this summer.

Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

The online writing course I took for eight weeks pulled me away from it, but I did finish it in October. I highly recommend it to anyone writing their first novel.


Since my last blog post

I got my Moderna Covid-19 booster shot on Tuesday. I’m happy to still be fully-vaccinated. I just wish all the people I’d like to be around at church, etc. were vaccinated. That’s not going to happen, since the Covid-19 vaccine has been politicized in the United States. Although I still wore a mask, it was nice to get back to in-person worship yesterday after a long absence.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. At the recommendation of one of my Australian blogger friends, Chris Andrews, I’m finally reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s excellent and a nice change of pace after the books I read in October.

Note: November is National Novel Writing Month, National Family Literacy Month, National Memoir Writing Month.

Note: Today is National Family Literacy Day and Author’s Day.

Wherever you are, thank you for reading my blog. Have you read any odd books or good books lately?

Janet