Stocking Up

It’s a rainy Free-Reading Friday here in southern Idaho. What a perfect time to sit by the fire with a cup of tea and a good book.

Earlier today my husband and I had errands in Boise, so we hit the holiday book sale at the public library. We spent an enjoyable while browsing the shelves in search of bargains. As we left with our purchases, my husband remarked, “I guess we don’t need to hit Barnes and Noble this trip.”

My guess is we’re set for reading material through December. It would be a long, cold winter without something to read.

That doesn’t mean we won’t buy more books. It’s what we do. It’s nearly time to cull the shelves and donate a few books to make room for the new ones. I might even clear off the top of the piano.

I just finished reading Origin by Dan Brown. Set in Spain, it is typical Brown–a murder early in the plot, Robert Langdon teaming up with a beautiful woman to solve the mystery, symbols for Langdon to decipher, religious controversy, crazy twists throughout. Artificial intelligence plays a part as well. In all, it was a quick, enjoyable read, and provided me with some food for thought.

Next on my reading list is Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday!

books

 

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Musings on Banned Books Week

In honor of Banned Books Week, I am rereading 1984 by George Orwell. My choice of books was inspired by an incident earlier this month in an eastern Idaho school district.

In Rigby, Idaho, in response to a parent complaint about the book, school officials considered removing 1984 from the curriculum of high school senior government classes. In the end they allowed the book to remain in the hands of students.

About three years ago, a similar incident occurred in Meridian, Idaho. The school board removed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from school reading lists, but with a different result. Someone who disagreed with the board’s decision obtained a number of copies of the book and stood in a nearby park after school (off school grounds) and distributed free copies to students as they left school for the day. The teens gladly accepted the gifts. Sherman Alexie heard of the situation and donated more copies of the book to be given away.

What happens when you tell teenagers (or anyone else) they may not read a certain title? Many will find a way to read it.

During my years as a high school English teacher, I took advantage of this bit of reverse psychology and gave students a reading assignment. Around the time of Banned Books Week, students were asked to chose and read a book that had been banned or challenged somewhere in the world. They were also to research the reasons for the challenge. Students then shared what they had learned. They never ceased to be surprised about the books which have been banned throughout history and the reasons why.

Charlotte’s Web.

1984.

The Grapes of Wrath.

The Bible.

The Color Purple.

Brave New World.

Captain Underpants.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Wait, what??? Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? It had to do with mistaken identity. The author had the same name as another author whose ideology did not mesh with that of the school board which banned the book.

There seems to be no shortage of people who wish to control what others can and cannot read.* It’s called mind control.

I prefer to think for myself. I chose my own books to read. I celebrate Banned Books Week by reading banned books throughout the year.

My banned books assignment was widely popular among my junior and senior English students. Surprisingly, in five or six years of my assigning banned books to students, not one single parent complained.

On a side note, my husband and I toured the Library of Congress this past week. During Banned Books Week–how cool is that! We learned that Thomas Jefferson owned 6,000 books. I wonder how many of those have been banned over the years.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday and read a banned book!

banned books

*I’m not talking here about parents’ monitoring and guidance of what their own children read. Parents absolutely have a responsibility to see that their children read age-appropriate material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humanitarian Hospitality

I’ve been listening to news about Hurricane Harvey and reports of the rescues by first responders and good Samaritans. Disasters like this seem to bring out the best in folks who are willing to help wherever they can.

I’d like to think that everyone would step in to help in the face of a great emergency. Having just read The German Girl, by Armando Lucas Correa, I’m not so sure.

In 1939, a German ship, the MS St. Louis, set sail for Cuba with over 900 Jewish refugees aboard. Shortly before the ship arrived in Cuba, the Cuban government had a change of heart and denied entry to all but a few of the passengers. The United States and Canada also refused to allow the refugees into their countries. The St. Louis returned to Europe where the refugees were accepted into several European countries. Eventually, as World War II waged on, many of these people fell victim to the death camps.

The German Girl, a novel, is the story of Hannah, who was twelve years old when she and her family set sail on the St. Louis. The story is told alternately by Hannah and her descendant, Anna, who is learning to deal with a tragedy of her own. It was one of those “can’t put down” books; despite the heart-wrenching story, it was enjoyable and easy to read.

While The German Girl is not specifically labeled for young people, I would encourage older high school students to read it. The plight of Jewish refugees during World War II is one of those stories that needs to be told and retold.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday!

The German Girl

It’s Friday Somewhere

Yikes! I’m a day late for Free-Reading Friday. I got wrapped up in a project and spaced out what day it was. These hot August days melt into one another. I can hardly remember what day it is unless I mark the calendar.

Can I make a case for it being Friday somewhere in the world? Maybe not. I know it’s tomorrow somewhere, and my today is someone else’s yesterday; but I may be too close to the International Date Line for my today to be tomorrow anywhere.

At any rate, any day can be a free-reading Friday as long as you spell it with “day” at the end.

I’ve just finished reading The House Girl by Tara Conklin. It is a quick, enjoyable read that switches back forth between Josephine, a young woman who lives as a slave in Virginia in the 1850s, and Carolina, a present-day lawyer who works on a lawsuit seeking reparations to descendants of slaves. As Carolina digs into history, she learns of Josephine’s difficult life. Meanwhile, Carolina has issues of her own to solve. I won’t spoil it further. If you like historical fiction, you might enjoy The House Girl.

I’m settling into my next book, Sisters in Law, by Linda Hirshman, about Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sandra Day O’Connor. My book group friends tell me it’s an interesting read.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday on this Saturday. It will be Friday again soon enough.

House Girl

 

What if…?

I have fond memories of going to the movies with my cousins and brother when we were kids. One of our moms would drive the five of us to the theater and drop us off. As the oldest, my cousin David and I each had a dime tucked away in a pocket for the phone call home. We were also in charge of the three younger ones, although for David that meant putting up my brother, the youngest, to some interesting mischief. I don’t remember many of the movies we saw but we had plenty of fun. We often sat through a couple of showings before calling for a ride home.

A few things have changed about the movies since those days back in the 1960s. Newsreels and cartoons have given way to previews and product advertisements. One can no longer gain admission for 35 cents. Nevertheless, going to the movies is a great way to spend a hot July afternoon.

My husband and I did just that a couple of weeks ago when we decided to see Dunkirk, which tells the little-known story of an incident that happened during World War II in 1940, before the U.S. entered the war.

British and French troops, fighting against the Germans, had been cornered in Dunkirk, France. They were stranded on the beach. Across the channel was England. The military launched Operation Dynamo to evacuate the soldiers from the beach and return them to England. The military were aided by hundreds of civilian craft, dubbed The Little Ships of Dunkirk. These civilians braved enemy fire to make trip after trip ferrying soldiers from the beach to the larger ships which could not reach the shore.

The planners of Operation Dynamo expected to rescue 35,000 troops, a number which turned out to be a gross underestimate. In the end, some 340,000 British and French soldiers were evacuated. (Various sources differ on the actual number, but most of those rescued were British.) Not everyone made it out of Dunkirk. Some 80,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans.

While the evacuation itself makes for a good story, here’s the important thing about Dunkirk. If those soldiers had not been successfully evacuated, Germany would have won the war. Imagine how different our world might be in that alternate version of history.

A small digression is in order. In 1879, eleven year old Annie Nielsen sailed from Denmark to America. She and her brother were traveling with family friends to join their mother who had come to Utah the previous year. One day, Annie went too close to the ship’s railing and nearly fell overboard. She was rescued by a sailor.

In San Diego in the early 1930s, another little girl about the same age was playing on a pier by the ocean. She saw and boarded a raft, thinking it was tied to the pier. It wasn’t. She began to drift out to sea. She was rescued by a stranger who happened along in his boat.

Annie Nielsen was my great-grandmother. The second little girl grew up to become my m other. If either had been lost at sea, I would not be writing this.

As I think back to Dunkirk, I am struck by the sheer magnitude of the rescue, and the possible consequences if it had failed. If those 340,000 men had been lost, who among us would not be here? How would our world have been different? Would the U.S. have entered the war? If not, would my parents have met? (Many Baby Boomers might ask the same question.) Would Germany have come across the Atlantic and caught America unawares? Would we live under a very different government?

While I am glad things turned out as they did, I think it’s interesting to imagine alternate endings to the stories I encounter.

Note: For readers who seek more information, I suggest Dunkirk by Joshua Levine. I found it a bit tricky to keep track of characters and events, but it has a lot of good information about the events leading up and including Operation Dynamo.

dunkirk

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading

booksHot summer days mean extra reading time as I stay indoors to escape the 100+ degree heat. I’ve just started reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I loved the movie, but I’m told the book goes into greater depth over a longer period of time. It’s what books do.

It’s been a while since I’ve offered up some suggestions for your reading pleasure. The titles I’m suggesting today are not thematically related, or even the same genre. They’re simply good books.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom tells the story of Lavinia, a little girl from Ireland who is orphaned while on the ship bringing her family to America. The ship’s captain, who also owns a plantation, indentures her and places her in the care of his slaves who raise her. Because she is white, Lavinia never quite belongs in either the slaves’ world or the plantation owner’s world. Her situation makes for an interesting, thought-provoking, sometimes harrowing read.

Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie is a page turner about a serial killer in Seattle, Washington. Alexie addresses a number of themes, including cultural identity, Native Americans, racism and mental illness. This is not a story for the faint of heart; if you live in Seattle, I do not recommend you read alone at night.

If you’re looking for a lighter read, Still Life by Louise Penny might fit the bill. Inspector Armand Gamache is called to the quaint village of Three Pines, south of Montreal, to solve the murder of a longtime resident The first in a series of mystery novels featuring Inspector Gamache, Still Life is reminiscent of Murder She Wrote.

I hope at least one of these books suits your taste as you escape the summer heat. Stay cool and enjoy a happy Free-Reading Friday!

 

 

My Reading Journal

Greetings! This Free-Reading Friday, I have just finished reading My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. It is a memoir inspired by the reading journal the author has kept since she was in high school. If you like books about reading, you may find this one interesting.

I, too, keep a reading journal.  I am a life-long reader, but I did not begin to keep track of my reading until I was well into my 40s. My journal began as a simple list of titles and authors in the back of my personal journal, and has evolved since then.

Around 1997, I added the number of pages each book held. I had an ulterior motive. The staff at the elementary school where I taught at the time wanted to teach the students what one million looked like. The school began a massive reading campaign. In exchange for so many pages read, students and teachers alike received “Washington Bucks” which were then posted onto the walls of the school. We never reached $1,000,000. The fire department deemed the paper-plastered walls a fire hazard in the 19th century school building. Nevertheless, we all kept reading.

In 2013, I decided I wanted to keep my reading list all in one place, so I began a separate notebook. The format allows me space in which to write responses to my reading as I desire.

Four years later, my notebook is nearly full. From the front of the notebook, I’ve listed books I’ve read. From the back, I’ve listed interesting titles I’d like to read. The two lists are about to meet. It seems there are always more books on the “want to read” list than on the “have read” list.

It’s always exciting to begin a fresh notebook for any reason. As I begin my new reading journal, I am eager to see what worlds I will visit via the written word.

Happy Free-Reading Friday!

reading journal