Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Book Review: We Were the Lucky Ones

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter is based on the true story of the extraordinary holocaust survival of an entire Jewish family from Radom, Poland. Well-off and assimilated, they seem too pampered when we first meet them to endure the hardships that will come their way – especially knowing (as we do now) that fewer than 300 Jews of the 30,000 that lived in that town in 1939 survived WWII. As the family is separated and sent to different parts of the globe, each member has to find a way to survive the particular circumstances that come their way. 

It is a compelling story, and one that deserves to be told. This telling of it, however, is lacking in several ways.

Each family member (2 parents, 5 children + spouses, and a grandchild) has several chapters dedicated to their experience. While I understand why the author chose to use multiple perspectives, it did not allow enough time with each character to develop a connection with them.

It also did not allow the full story of any of them to be told. Chapters often ended with a “cliffhanger” but by time the story got back around to that character, time had passed and there was no follow through of the action. For example, (slight spoiler) in one place Mila hides her young daughter Felicia in a sack of fabric when the SS show up at her workplace. Mila has to leave Felicia when all workers are ordered outside. In the hiding place, Felicia hears the boots of the soldiers all around her. They start kicking the bags around her. The chapter ends here, and the story doesn’t get back to them for ten chapters. By then, it’s almost a year later and we join Mila and Felicia on a train. So obviously the soldiers didn’t find Felicia, but we don’t get the rest of that scene. Most chapter are that way.

In addition, the omniscient point of view created distance between me as a reader and the story, so that I could never feel immersed in it; I was being told the story rather than experiencing it with the characters.

The lack of any faults among the characters also made them unrelatable. Every one of them was beautiful, smart, brave, patient, selfless—none of them ever fought or even complained. No one is that perfect, especially in such trying times.

The story tries to be told in present tense, but there is so much remembering and backstory that there is just as much past tense, and the switch was jarring at times. And there were several instances of anachronism.

I give it three stars.

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We went to DC for a presentation at a conference

Thought I’d share a few photos of our recent trip to DC. I was invited to give a presentation at a conference on fraternalism, so we took the opportunity to see a few things we didn’t get to the last time we were there.

Belmont House: This historic was built c. 1911 by Perry Belmont as a place to bring his wife. She had been previously married to a homebody, who made the mistake of letting her attend social events with their single friend Perry. When she divorced her husband and married Perry only five hours later, the new couple was ostracized in their hometown of New York City. So Perry moved them to DC and built this house. However, news of their history found them, and when they threw their first large ball, only one couple attended. Luckily for them, the couple was President and Mrs. Taft; after that, they were suddenly back “in” society.

Entry way

 

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This is not an umbrella stand but a cane safe. Back in the day, society men’s canes were adorned with lots of gold and other precious metals, so these lockable holders kept them safe at large gatherings.

 

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Family dining room. See the desk in the back corner?…

 

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This is a closer view. Snazzy, isn’t it? Now see the books on top? The second one is mine (Little Lodges)! No one knew I was coming for a tour, and the guide didn’t know me, so it wasn’t “planted.” Hubby asked, and the guide said those are the books always kept on the desk.

 

The grand ballroom. Notice the mirror over the fireplace on the right. When this mirror was installed, it was the largest single-piece mirror in the world.

 

The formal dining hall. I love the old candelabras in front of the far wall.

 

The microwave is modern, obviously, but the cabinetry and warming oven in the kitchen are original. You need a ladder to reach the top cabinets.

The House of the (Scottish Rite) Temple: Built in 1915, this building houses an old research library and museums in addition to meeting rooms.

One of the meeting rooms.

 

One of the research libraries.

 

I wrote about this in Little Lodges!

 

Another library, because you can never have too many books.

George Washington Masonic Memorial: The GW monument is closed for repairs (it was closed for repairs last time we were in DC, too; wonder if I’ll ever get in that one) so we went to the GW Masonic Memorial instead. Constructed between 1923 and 1932, this memorial was created to “inspire humanity through education to emulate and promote the virtues, character, and vision of George Washington, the Man, the Mason, and Father of our Country.”

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The man himself.

 

Replica of the lodge meeting room in which GW met. The altar (in center), bible on it, and Master’s chair (under portrait far wall) are all original from that lodge. Other artifacts from GW’s life are preserved in the wall cubbies, like the clock from Mt. Vernon seen to the left.

The grounds as seen from the top floor observation deck.

And finally, a pretty terrible shot of me beginning my presentation – hubby took it with a zoomed in cell, in a room with dimmed lights (for the slides), which is always a disaster.

“Just as I am, without one plea…”

I caught a cold the day before the conference began and presented this paper with a wicked sore throat. Must have done okay, though, because two academic presses asked to publish it, and a third organization asked about hosting me in a few months. But my next gig is in July, at the Story Circle conference. I’ll be leading a workshop on how to turn your passion into a book. Come join us!

Banned Books Week

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. ~Evelyn Beatrice Hall (This quote is often misattributed to either Patrick Henry or Voltaire. It was actually written by Hall in her biography of Voltaire and was not meant to be a direct quote of something he said but rather a statement that conveyed his viewpoint of someone’s critical review of his writing.)

We humans learn by exchanging ideas. From the time we were small tykes, being taught how to hold a fork or a pencil, or zip our coat, we’ve gained information from other sources. If we’re wise, we try to plumb the depths of wisdom of many sources, and compare and contrast these viewpoints, sounding them out against what we know to be true and right, to arrive at our own conclusions.

What would our life be like if this were not the case? Think about countries that do (or did) not enjoy freedom of speech. In North Korea, the populace thinks of their leader as some sort of benevolent god providing for their needs. They believe this because without free speech there is no one to tell them otherwise. Without freedom of speech, no one may compare the luxury their leader lives in to the scarcity his subjects must endure. The people are not free to look up information from other sources, because both the putting forth and the taking in of information is dictated, not free.

Why were slaves in America – and other places also – not allowed to learn to read or write? Because this would give them too much information, and thereby power. The way to keep people submissive and trod down is to deprive them of knowledge which might provide hope and lead to action.

There are a great many things I wish had never been said or written, things I believe have led to harm against the innocent. But who would I trust to decide what things should or should not be expressed? The government? How long would it be before another McCarthy found fault with my – or others’ – unwillingness to give obeisance to someone with whom I disagreed? Religious leaders? Which ones?

Who would want to allow anyone to express any thought, idea, or belief at all, including things they disagree with and embarrassing stories about them and facts that would undermine their authority? Well, our Founding Fathers for starters. They understood that that’s what is necessary for democracy and freedom and progress.

And that’s also why I oppose censorship and celebrate Banned Books Week. There are many “banned” (or challenged) books that I won’t read. But that’s my choice. There are also many I have read, including Little House on the Prairie, Huckleberry Finn, the Holy Bible, and the Quran. I’m sure I’ll read others in the future. And I’m sure I’ll learn something from them. I hope you will, too.

A Trip and some WIPs

Hello again!

 

Life has been rolling along—much the same as usual, so I’ll spare you all the details, and just mention a highlight: our trip to Missouri last month.

 

First we went to visit our good friends, Arnold and Nancy. They are a wonderful couple so of course we had a wonderful time. In addition to deciding how to fix the world (if we could only get everyone to do what we say!), we discussed books and movies and other fun topics. We also went fishing; I caught my first-ever trout.

first trout

Also a first: Ziplining!

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I took a day to go to nearby Hermann for some genealogical research, and found quite a bit of information, including this picture of my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Crider, Sr. I can’t see any resemblance.

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Book-related, we agreed upon a collaboration to publish a non-fiction related to aquaculture in the coming months. My co-author has completed most of the research (including with long-term experience), and we’ve already begun the writing process. I’ll keep you updated.

Aside: I’m still also working on my novel. When I had a draft about 75% finished, I decided it needed a couple of changes, but they are pretty major and I have to rewrite close to half of what I had. I’d say I’m about half done with the new draft. While I haven’t worked up a summary/blurb/etc. that I can share yet, since people keep asking what it’s about, I’ll tell you this much: Two strangers, James Freer and Carol Galins, experience the after-affects of a fatal accident in differing ways, which makes each of them question their worldview and life choices. As each one faces the joys and sorrows of life, these issues and they way they resolve them will affect not only themselves, but their families and others. When faced with the biggest threat of all—to the lives of their children—will their differing perspectives help them through, or add to the violence? (That’s pretty vague, I know, but like I said, haven’t worked up anything that can be shared yet. It’ll come. Stay tuned!)

In addition, if things go as planned, I’ll have another LIW-related work out by Midsummer Day. That’s my self-imposed deadline; we’ll see if I meet it. It’s been a secret, but now that it’s coming together, I’m letting the cat out of the bag. What’s it about? Watch for the announcement on this blog, or on my Facebook or twitter pages or Henscratches website.

Back to the trip. After a week, we made our way to Springfield/Mansfield, where I met up with some Laura Ingalls Wilder friends. The museum had a ribbon cutting, which was our excuse to go, and it’s always a treat to visit a LIW site, especially with friends.

I purchased William Anderson’s latest, The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Most people will find quite a bit of “new” information about Laura. Having done so much research for Little Lodges on the Prairie, I was familiar with most of it, but it was still nice to be reminded of LIW’s real life story. You can learn quite a bit about a person from their letters, can’t you? If you enjoy Little House (or ever did), you should seriously consider purchasing this book.

Afterward, we met at Lambert’s for food and laughs. Love these ladies!

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Hubby and I are back home now. I’ll spend the day tomorrow (Mother’s Day) with my girl. On the agenda: games, books, movies, cooking, yoga, coloring, and a walk in the park. I’m sure we won’t get to all of it, but we’ll have a relaxing day just doing whatever we want to.

Monday, it’ll be back to the usual routine, including working on the 3 books. I do best when I can switch between projects; prevents brain fag. Good thing I have several more in the pipeline!

The Damaging Myth of Heathcliff

There is a scene in Anne of Green Gables where Anne is talking to Marilla of Diana’s engagement to Fred, who is “extremely good.” Marilla asks if Anne would prefer a man who wasn’t, and Anne says, “I wouldn’t marry a truly wicked man, but I think I’d like it if he could be wicked, and wouldn’t.” Marilla answers, “You’ll have more sense someday, I hope.”

In a bookstore with my girl the other day, our discussion turned to literary “leading men.” The “all-time favorite literary leading men” lists I’ve seen generally have Gilbert Blythe and Mr. Darcy at the top. Almanzo Wilder is usually on the list, too. I have something to say about Gil and Manly in a future post, but this one is going to focus on another man generally on the list, one whose presence there is troubling to me: Heathcliff.

On these lists, comments about Heathcliff say things like “tall, dark, and handsome,” “passionate,” “undying love,” “loyal to the end,” and “worships the ground she (Catherine) walks on.” They also say things like, “brooding,” “original bad boy,” “it wasn’t his fault (because of the abuse he suffered as a child)” and “If only Catherine would have married him, he could have been so good.”

It is true that Heathcliff has strong feelings for Catherine; however, strong, even passionate, feelings do not necessarily equate to true love, and neither does the fact that one feels strongly for a long period of time. Heathcliff’s feelings are unnatural and disturbing. If a girl today dumped a boy and married someone else, then the dumped guy stalked her, broke into her home, grabbed her and wouldn’t let go, and threatened to kill her husband, we wouldn’t say, “Oh, he loves her so much.” We’d throw the brute in jail! Which is exactly where Heathcliff belongs. (If you need further proof that his emotions are unhealthy, remember that he had Catherine dug up twice to look at her decomposing face. If you knew someone who did that, you would probably suggest that they get some help.) If Heathcliff truly loved Catherine, he would have valued her happiness above his own, and his actions would have been toward ensuring her comfort, even if it meant staying away from her, instead of his own desires. His ultimate passion was for himself, not her.

Heathcliff does deserve pity as a child for the abuse he suffers then; the other characters who are also abused deserve as much. Somehow, though, only Heathcliff seems to provoke this sympathy. And regardless of his upbringing, it is clear that he understands and enjoys inflicting pain on others when he reaches adulthood. He feels “intense anguish” when he accidently saves Hareton’s life, and wishes he’d helped kill him instead. He defrauds his family of everything they have, and it is implied that he murdered his adoptive father. He hangs his fiance’s dog. After marrying Isabella (only to provoke her father; he can’t stand her), he degrades her, throws a knife at her, makes her sleep on the floor – even when pregnant, and deprives her of her child. He treats his own son as contemptuously, bringing him to an early death as well. If he is doing any “brooding” (which by definition involves regret), it’s more about not harming others than the pain he has caused. This is not the behavior of someone who should be regarded with romantic ideals.

Why does this matter? Is it really important that some girls consider Heathcliff a romantic figure? He’s just a fictional character, after all.

I believe it does matter, and it’s the last comment people make – that if only Catherine had married Heathcliff, he’d have become a good man – that shows why. Girls think they want a “bad boy,” one who will buck the system for them, one they can “tame.” They ignore the rest of the story: the selfishness, the abuse, the heartache. The love of a good woman does not transform a bad boy. It only hurts the woman, be it emotionally, physically, or both. In making a hero of Heathcliff, the myth of woman-taming-bad boy is perpetuated, and sets up these girls for painful, even abusive, relationships. Sadly, often they don’t know why they end up in those kinds of situations.

I’m not sure when “bad” became “good” and good a thing to be avoided as boring, but for the sake of our children and healthy relationships for them, we as a society should try to turn that around. The idea of Heathcliff as a lover is one place to start the change. We need to make heroes of men who treat others well, and girls should not be encouraged to think love and obsession are the same thing.

“They’ll have more sense someday, I hope.”