Friday, June 19, 2020

 Reading Ourselves To a Better Day

"Spring," she said, "had been a little late that year. It was late because everything was the wrong way round. The world woke up one morning and found that left had become right, up had become down, black was white, and mornings were evenings." from Olga Meets Her Match(The Olga da Polga series by Michael Bond)

It is a strange time to recommend books.

Heartbreak, anger, and frustration surround us each day. Watching the daily news has turned into a challenge to not sit and wail or feel complete exasperation. Some days are harder than others, but they are all difficult.

At first, staying home was both peculiar and, yet, already somewhat familiar. I was taking an online class (Jane Austen) and was sequestered most of each morning with reading and writing. As soon as my class finished, and I finally looked up from my computer and Northanger Abbey, all of our lives had changed quickly and dramatically.We're using terms like social distancing, and debating the type of soap to use while washing our hands for 20 seconds. We're concentrating on keeping our hands away from our faces, especially eyes and mouths. We're wondering when things will get back to normal or anything even resembling normal. Any petty grievance that crosses my mind makes me uncomfortable, followed by feelings of guilt when reading updates of numbers of people dying, healthcare workers working long shifts often without proper protection, children out of school, jobs changing or disappearing, businesses struggling to reopen.

An escape plan, I've thought. We all need an escape plan. I am grateful that some bookstores are still shipping books while beginning to reopen, and grateful that I can lose myself in a novel's pages.      

Throughout my life, reading has been my joy, my education, and yes, my escape. As spring gives way to summer, a fresh season invites us to a park bench, onto a picnic blanket, to sit in a wicker chair on a porch. We may not be with our families and friends but we can slip into books and again laugh, travel, be thrilled, or given some guidance.  

A recent joy was meeting a little fictional guinea pig named *Olga da Polga who is a bit of a storyteller and fabulist. Her tales both entertain and baffle her friends, Noel the cat, Graham the tortoise, and Fangio the hedgehog. Their adventures along with the aptly named Sawdust family make me long for an English garden with furry friends. My next children's series will be a trip to Narnia. How I made it this far without reading C. S. Lewis' masterpiece is a mystery. Other children's authors that shouldn't be overlooked are Kate DiCamillo (Raymie Nightingale), Gary Paulsen (Hatchet), Roald Dahl (Fantastic Mr. Fox), Judy Blume (Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret), Louise Fitzhugh (Harriet the Spy), Natalie Babbitt (Tuck Everlasting), Cornelia Funke (Inkheart).

   Across the aisle in the adult reading section

When I started to read Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano, I told myself to slow down. My sister tried to slowly savor every word. Yes, it's that good. Instead, I read it in only a few evenings because I couldn't put it down. Young Edward is the sole survivor of a horrific plane crash. He is sent to live with his aunt and uncle who are good people but dealing with their own grief and marital issues. He meets a neighbor named Shay and the story takes off. Napolitano's writing is phenomenal and she is a gifted storyteller. I still think often of the characters, especially Edward. This was one of the best novels I've read in years.

I enjoy historical fiction and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson didn't disappoint. I was unaware of the actual program that delivered books (via horse or mule) to the poorest, least accessible areas of Kentucky and other states in the 1930s. The lead character, Cussy Mary, deals with a genetic disorder (methemoglobinemia) which turns the skin blue. Her neighbors are, at times, either sympathetic or cruel. She delivers library books and along the way, the reader is introduced to her life in rural Kentucky. I am happy to have met Cussy Mary.

Why did I wait so long to read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens? I kept checking Owens' bio to make sure this was her debut novel. It felt more like a novel written by an experienced writer at her peak. Kya Clark is abandoned by her family at a very young age and raises herself in the marshes of North Carolina. She is surrounded by both the beauty and harshness of nature and humans. Owens packs a lot of themes into this novel: family, racism, abuse, bullying, education, and coming of age are all skillfully woven together. I never considered not finishing the book. No matter how heartbreaking the story, I couldn't leave Kya.

Another book that sat on the shelf for too many months was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. A series has been developed from the novel and I wanted to read the book before too much was given away by the show's hype. The Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights may be well-planned but in reality, our actual lives only offer us an illusion of control. Two families, very different in appearance and outlook, meet and collide. Indeed, there are little fires everywhere.

What makes a family? In Frances Liardet's We Must Be Brave, Ellen Parr discovers a small child left behind on a bus that was transporting residents to safety during a WWII bombing raid over Southampton, England. Ellen, her husband and the mysterious child settle into living as a family until fate steps in and forces tough decisions.

England in the 1940s is also the setting of Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce. The young Emmeline Lake has "big dreams of becoming a fearless Lady War Correspondent." After moving to London, she does find work for a magazine but instead of writing from the war's front lines, she edits letters addressed to  Mrs. Bird, an "agony aunt" who dishes out harsh and often unkind advice to her readers. Emmeline struggles with her London life - the frequent bombing raids, falling in love, friendships, and whether she should secretly step into Mrs. Bird's shoes.

I can thank the HGTV show, Home Town, for Richard Grant's Dispatches From Pluto (memoir). The hosts of Home Town are big cheerleaders for their community of Laurel, Mississippi. In their store, they sell Grant's book which is the musing of a travel writer who moves to Pluto, MS, along with his girlfriend and together they create an entirely new life for themselves. Culture shock doesn't even begin to describe this memoir: Heat, political differences, insects, a house with incessant leaking issues and "swamp-to-table-dining." And that's just a start.        

                  My summer reading

Redhead By the Side of the Road - Anne Tyler
The Jane Austen Society - Natalie Jenner
The Book of Awesome Women Writers - Becca Anderson
Passing - Nella Larsen
Grace Will Lead Us Home - Jennifer Berry Hawes (nf)
Untamed - Glennon Doyle (nf)

Thanks to Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, IA and Rainy Day Books in Fairway, KS for their speedy delivery of books for spring and summer reading. Please support your local (and even faraway) bookstores.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

          Tea and a quarantine with Jane

"Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience - or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope."            Sense and Sensibility (1811) Jane Austen

In the 21st century, we have so many distractions during a time of self-quarantine: disheveled closets, overgrown cold-weary gardens, Netflix, social media in abundance, 24-hour news cycles, planning three meals a day and subsequent safe-distancing grocery shopping. But there is still the question of how to escape for a bit from 2020. And, thanks to Twitter, we know that Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale, recommends a quarantine spent reading Jane Austen. Consider getting acquainted or reacquainted with the Dashwood sisters and young Catherine Morland. Has your opinion of Mr. Darcy changed? Is Emma truly the best novel of the six, as argued by some critics? How did Anne Elliot survive in that viperous family? Consider the social and economic issues of Austen's era: women having no right to property or divorce; women like Austen herself often surviving on the goodwill of other family members; marriages arranged not because of love or respect but size of estates. Or, as Anna Quindlen invites us, read Austen for "pure joy." Dust off a copy of any Austen novel, brew a cup of tea, and escape into brilliantly written 1800s England. 

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Time and distance separate us from Jane Austen and her tales of Georgian England.

However, is it possible for a modern reader to not imagine herself as Elizabeth Bennet? Or to not remember feeling giddy like the young Catherine Morland?

Jane Austen's long enduring literary fan base may be a bit of a surprise to the 21st century reader. Editor Susannah Carson's 33 writers, including W. Somerset Maugham, Amy Bloom, Lionel Trilling and C.S. Lewis share their own views of Austen, her writing and legacy in A Truth Universally Acknowledged - 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen (Random House, New York)

The writers examine different novels and aspects of Austen's writing. Both the reader new to Austen and the decades-long enthusiast will find plenty of views to support or further debate, perhaps over a cup of tea.

In her own eloquent voice, Eudora Welty writes of Austen's novels as a critic may write of a ballet using descriptors such as sheer velocity, exuberance, vitality, happiness, and commotion. Welty insists that "surely this cannot fade away, letting the future wonder, two hundred years from now, what our devotion to Jane Austen was all about."

Pride and Prejudice gets a closer look by Anna Quindlen who sums her devotion to the book, writing that "serious literary discussion of P & P threatens to obscure the most important thing about it: it is a pure joy to read."

Rebecca Mead lists six reasons to read Jane Austen including that "the great recognized her greatness" citing examples of Sir Walter Scott and George Elliot as avid Austen fans.

Austen's appeal did not end when Margot Livesay grew from a teenager to a married woman. " each of these incarnations I have understood Austen is speaking to me, and about me, and about that deep need to have the world we live in...make sense."

If Austen had lived two additional decades, what novels would she have written? Would Austen ever imagined herself as an industry? And would she have approved?

In the essay that may arguably be the most provocative, Virginia Woolf predicts the literary world would've known a very different Jane Austen at 60-years-old: "She would not have been rushed by the importunity of publishers or the flattery of friends into slovenliness or insincerity. But she would've known more. Her comedy would have suffered. She would have trusted less to dialogue and more to reflection to give us a knowledge of her characters." 

Why would a reader in 2020 choose an Austen novel over a more contemporary author? Editor Susannah Carson maintains that "for two centuries Austen has enthralled her readers. (Readers) all turn to Austen time and again to find some nourishment for their literary souls they can find nowhere else."

This compilation of perspectives offers a deeper understanding of Austen's novels. Not only will readers continue to turn to Austen for "some nourishment for their literary souls," they will also return to this collection of essays for a visit to the gifted literary mind of Jane Austen.

                                           (Essay assignment #1 - University of Oxford online class - Jane Austen, 2020)

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Friday, July 12, 2019

             Marriage By The Numbers

"I've lived in all the houses he's built. The one in the air. The one underground. The one in the water. The one on the sand." Carly Simon from We're So Close

I've been married most of my life. That fact occurred to me as our wedding anniversary approached. It also made me wonder just how many times I've asked my husband what he'd like for dinner. Or watch on Netflix. Or make weekend plans. How often has miscommunication been the unwelcome cause for an argument? We can't even count the times we've howled with laughter in a car or sat in angry silence as the miles dragged by. 

Marriage, including mine, continues to change and evolve. Americans are still getting married but at an older age. The median age of first marriages has hit its highest point on record according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Median age for men is 30 years; median age for women - 28 years. And whom we're marrying is changing. Since 1967, there's been a steady increase of Americans marrying someone of a different ethnicity, reported Pew Research Center. Also, 39% of Americans (married since 2010) are married to someone of a different religion. What's a bit more certain about marriage is that you're most likely to choose a mate who agrees with you politically. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 77% of both Democrats and Republicans have spouses of the same party.

What hasn't changed is marrying for love. And 88% of us apparently believe love is the reason to marry according to Pew Research Center. And how do we remain in venerable wedlock? In a 2015 survey, the Center found that 64% of Americans believe that shared interests help us to stay married. 

Maybe it's also all those times our eyes meet across a crowded room and we know exactly what each other is thinking.

We have a long history together. We are each other's history. 

This is our marriage:

Apartments - 5
Houses - 3
Cars - 11
States Lived In - 4
Sets of Dishes - 4
Vacations Alone - 1
Living Room Couches - 5
Number of Years Promised to Try This Marriage Thing Until Amicable Separation - 50
Ferry Rides - 5
Trips to ER - 3
Forgotten Anniversary - 0
Exchanged Same Anniversary Card - 1
Car Accidents - 2
Longest Road Trip - 4725 miles, Florida to Alaska
Shared Food Poisoning - 1
Trips to Graceland - 1
Countries Visited Together - 3
IRS audits - 2
Pets - 2
Renewed Vows - Almost once in Las Vegas but changed mind and went to Cirque du Soleil "O" instead
Months of Dating Before Proposal - 3 

                                      * * * * * 

"...there's a full moon rising. Let's go dancing in the light. We know where the music's playing. Let's go out and feel the night. I want to see you dance again on this harvest moon." Neil Young "Harvest Moon" 1992 

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Marriage between the covers...the classics

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
Rebecca - Daphne DuMaurier
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Edward Albee
MacBeth - William Shakespeare
Angle of Repose - Wallace Stegner
Joy in the Morning - Betty Smith
The Awakening - Kate Chopin

Marriage between the covers...thrillers

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
The Silent Wife - A.S.A. Harrison
Lisey's Story - Stephen King
The Breakdown - B.A. Paris
Every Last Lie - Mary Kubica
The Guest Room - Chris Bohjalian
Don't Go - Lisa Scottoline
The Last Mrs. Parrish - Liv Constantine
The Couple Next Door - Shari Lapena

Marriage between the covers...general

Becoming Mrs. Lewis - Patti Callahan
The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty
The Amateur Marriage - Anne Tyler
The Salt House - Lisa Duffy
All We Ever Wanted - Emily Giffin
The Wife - Meg Wolitzer
Waiting - Ha Jin
The Paris Wife - Paula McLain
Sea Change - Karen White
Silver Wedding - Maeve Binchy
Bird in Hand - Christina Baker Kline
Small Blessings - Martha Woodroof
A Change in Altitude - Anita Shreve
Loving Frank - Nancy Horan
Mrs. Kimble - Jennifer Haigh
The Bride's House; The Patchwork Bride - Sandra Dallas
Mrs. Bridge - Evan Connell 

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

                    Is it summer yet?

"To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment." Jane Austen, from Mansfield Park

Dreams of summer were, perhaps, never more vivid or more desired than during this past winter. In the Upper Midwest, we expect snow, cold temperatures, cars struggling to start, and afternoons spent staring out at the gray heavy skies and wishing to be almost anywhere else.

However, this winter was tougher (and longer) than most. I usually love winter - at least the accessories: hot chocolate, lovely scarves, crossword puzzles, pine-scented candles, and fuzzy mittens - the whole Hygga life.

No amount of simmering soup or hot tea helped speed up the winter that would not quit. On January 31, my community hit an all-time low of -30. That's not wind chill, it's the actual temperature that frigid day.

And the snow? No matter how often the sidewalks and drives were shoveled, more snow appeared as if by magic. Walking to a friend's house for tea one morning, I was joined by my trusty snow shovel which served both as a makeshift crutch guarding me from buried ice, as well as doing some  shoveling along the way. 

Summer living room 
Now the fourth snowiest winter on record has been laid to rest. The best things about summer have arrived: sweet chunks of watermelon, dazzling flowers, brilliant colors on everything from Capri pants to tote bags, and temperatures that are not measured in negative numbers.

Jane Austen would've most likely approved of a porch, wicker chair, and a good book on a summer afternoon.

                            Summer Reading List

Vacationers - Emma Straub
Beach Music - Pat Conroy
Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Summer Sisters - Judy Blume
In a Dark Dark Wood - Ruth Ware
Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver
A Room With a View - E.M. Forster
A Month of Summer - Lisa Wingate
The House at Riverton - Kate Morton
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe - Fannie Flagg
Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood - Rebecca Wells
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Summer of '42 - Herman Raucher
A Midsummer's Night Dream - William Shakespeare

Looking for lighter summer beach reads? Check out Luanne Rice, Elin Hilderbrand, Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Kay Andrews, Mary Alice Monroe and Debbie Macomber.
Racine, WI

No matter your age, young adult books can transport you to a long ago summer...Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares or I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. 

I'm reading Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

        Would you have dinner with me?

"Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence." >> O. Henry

It's a reliable cocktail party question, a breaking the ice question, an English Lit 101 class question - what three writers, dead or alive, would you invite to dinner?

And this past spring, when Alison Weir, author of Jane Seymour, the Haunted Queen, was asked that age-old question by the New York Times' Book Review, she answered...Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Clive James. Interesting choices to be sure, but one thing jumped out - the writers were all male. No female authors? Not Jane Austen? Not Iris Murdoch? Dorothy Parker? Phyllis Wheatley?

Which authors would you choose to spend an evening with dining, toasting, debating and reveling?

My dinners with writers:

Eudora Welty/Flannery O'Connor/John Steinbeck

Ann Patchett/Curtis Sittenfeld/David Foster Wallace

Daphne DuMaurier/Shirley Jackson/Stephen King

Charlotte Bronte/Emily Dickinson/Henry James

Mary Wollstonecraft/Nellie Bly/Ralph Ellison

Sandra Cisneros/Edna O'Brien/Henrik Ibsen

Margaret Atwood/Ursula Le Guin/JRR Tolkien

Jane Austen/Alice Munro/Chris Bohjalian

Alice Walker/Gloria Steinem/TC Boyle

Phyllis Wheatley/Gwendolyn Brooks/Mary Oliver

Isabel Allende/Zora Neale Hurston/Carson McCullers

Anne Tyler/Elizabeth Berg/Stewart O'Nan

Beverly Cleary/Lois Ehlert/Louise Fitzhugh

The books:

Welty - The Optimist's Daughter
O'Connor - A Good Man is Hard to Find
Steinbeck - The Winter of Our Discontent
Patchett - This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Sittenfeld - American Wife
Wallace - Consider the Lobster (essays)
DuMaurier - Rebecca
Jackson - The Lottery
King - The Green Mile
Bronte - Jane Eyre
Dickinson - Because I Could Not Stop for Death (poetry)
James - The Portrait of a Lady
Wollstonecraft - A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Bly - Ten Days in a Mad House
Ellison - Invisible Man
Cisneros - The House on Mango Street
O'Brien - The Country Girls trilogy
Ibsen - A Doll's House
Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale
LeGuin - The Lathe of Heaven
Tolkien - Lord of the Rings
Austen - Northanger Abbey
Munro - Dear Life
Bohjalian - The Sandcastle Girls
Walker - The Color Purple
Steinem - My Life on the Road
Boyle - Tortilla Curtain
Wheatley - Poems of Phyllis Wheatley
Brooks - A Street in Bronzeville (poetry)
Oliver - Devotions (poetry)
Allende - The House of the Spirits
Hurston - Their Eyes Were Watching God
McCullers - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Tyler - Earthly Possessions
Elizabeth Berg - We Are All Welcome Here
O'Nan - Emily, Alone
Cleary - Dear Mr. Henshaw (juvenile)   
Ehlert - Growing Vegetable Soup (juvenile)
Fitzhugh - Harriet the Spy (juvenile)

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

           It's True. Hell Freezes Over*

"It's cold and it's getting colder. It's gray and white and winter all around. And oh, I must be getting older and all this snow is trying to get me down..." Denver/Taylor/Kniss >1972

The four walls are closing in right about now. Call it what you want - a marshmallow world, a snow globe, or just winter in the upper Midwest. The wind chills are
View through a frosty front door
ridiculously perilous. 40 below - really? Schools, including universities, are closed. Mail and newspaper deliveries postponed. With weary gravitas, newscasters tell us to stay indoors and if we must venture outside to keep it brief, don't talk too much, don't take deep breaths, cover our eyes, and watch for signs of frostbite in less than 15 minutes.

Indoors, there are lists of things to do such as cleaning closets, organizing the basement, catching up on laundry, dusting and vacuuming. But the lists are forgotten as the landscape outside beckons a long look.
My own snow globe

Yes, it's snowing again. Sidewalks disappear under inches of fresh snow. Steam rises from the river. Cars slide. Cabin fever sets in. 

It's almost a relief to hear of one side effect of this snow globe life: we can become lethargic, or to put it bluntly, lazy. This is where hot tea (or cocoa) and books come in. And there's a name for needing warmth and comfort: hygge (HOO-gah). What is hygge? It's a Danish concept all about enjoying life regardless of (cold) weather. (See blog post April 2, 2017) A simple meal, a good book, the cheeriness of a candle are all hallmarks of hygge. And comfy pants, added Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of "The Book of Hygge." Are we really going to argue with Denmark? It's one of the happiest nations on Earth according to the World Happiness Report.

Put the kettle on to boil, choose a favorite blanket and chair, and curl up with a good book (or a map of the Caribbean Sea islands). 


Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany - Jane Mount

We Are Displaced - Malala Yousfzai

Radium Girls - Kate Moore

Becoming - Michelle Obama

Hunger - Roxane Gay

Mary Queen of Scots - Antonia Fraser

Declutter at the Speed of Life - Dana White

H is for Hawk - Helen Macdonald


The Gilded Years - Karin Tanabe

Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey

Becoming Mrs. Lewis - Patti Callahan

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Clock Dance - Anne Tyler

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - Jennifer Ryan

When the Lights Go Out - Mary Kubica

Truly Madly Guilty - Liane Moriarty

Fates and Traitors - Jennifer Chiaverini

House on Tradd Street - Karen White

The River at Night - Erica Ferencik

*Hell, Michigan (15 miles northwest of Ann Arbor) has indeed frozen over, according to WILX news. On Thursday, the frigid weather was "warming up" with temperatures approaching 0 degrees and a wind chill of -14 degrees.  

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

     We Are Stars and Other History Stuff

"The Earth and every living thing are made of star stuff." from Star Stuff by Stephanie Roth Sisson

Humans divide themselves into usually tidy labels and categories: Southerner or Midwesterner, rap or jazz,  Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon, Colonial or mid-century ranch. It's our very own checklist of who we are or imagine ourselves to be.  We group ourselves by zip codes, religion, voting habits, ancestry, and income levels. Book groups may be made up of like-minded people who only read 18th century English literature or science fiction. And how many Thanksgiving dinners have been made tense when that otherwise quiet uncle or sister-in-law suddenly explodes into a political rant...which happens to be the exact opposite view of every other member of the family? 

"We are all connected; to each other biologically; to the Earth, chemically; to the rest of the universe, atomically. Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us." Neil deGrasse Tyson

We are the same, made from the same stars, and while we may try to understand each other's assorted ideas or beliefs, it can be frustrating and not illuminating when those concepts are just too unfamiliar. Taking to the street, we wave signs and shake fists. People sitting at home watching the news react by either reminding themselves to write a check because, finally, someone is making sense, or becoming nervous about those people. How many times do you cross the street to avoid a homeless person who is sitting on a curb? Or sigh in exasperation when an elderly person holds up a check out line while shakily counting out his bills and coins? At lunch, do you avoid sitting next to the needy co-worker who always seems to have family drama? 

How often do we remind ourselves that we are all made of stars?  

"Red stars are either very faint or very luminous, while the bluer a star, the more luminous it is." Robin Kerrod - Eyewitness Books Universe 

It's gotten harder to understand our neighborhoods, states, country or even ourselves. Breaking news comes at us faster, louder with bickering pundits 24 hours a day. Podcasts. Twitter. Facebook. We try to sort it out and decide where we fit in. Is this normal, we ask. And how will it all end? We worry. We get angry. We pledge to read more, to vote.

How often do we remind ourselves that we are all made of stars?  

"It takes light from distant stars billions of years to reach Earth. By the time it gets here, the stars are billions of years older than they were when the light left them. So we really see the stars as they used to be. Looking at the stars is like looking into the past." Mary Pope OsbourneMagic Tree House Fact Tracker Space

Maybe some of our questions will be answered by looking backwards. History has a way of helping to sort out the present and, perhaps, shaping the future. Our human nature being what it is, we certainly aren't the first people to feel as though we've tumbled awake, groggily asking what happened or what's wrong (expletives optional).

And how often do we remind ourselves that we are all made of stars? 

"A star is basically a clump of fusing gases giving off light." C. Saucier - Explore the Cosmos 

                           Suggested Reading

Letter from Birmingham Jail - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

1968 - Mark Kurlansky

Hue 1968 - Mark Bowden

Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin

Theodore Rex - Edmund Morris

Undaunted Courage - Stephen Ambrose

Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond

The Guns of August - Barbara Tuchman

What If? - Robert Cowley (editor)

The Suffragette - Sylvia Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst

Twenty Years at Hull House - Jane Addams

The Complete Works of Nellie Bly - Nellie Bly

A Vindication of the Rights of Women - Mary Wollstonecraft

A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn 
Playing With Fire - Lawrence O'Donnell

Grant - Ron Chernow

The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal,and Hysteria in 1692 Salem - Stacy Schiff

The American Spirit - David McCullough

Destiny of the Republic - Candice Millard

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Dee Brown

And the Band Played On - Randy Shilts

The Civil War - Shelby Foote

The Story of Civilization - Will & Ariel Durant (11 volumes)

How the Scots Invented the Modern World - Arthur Herman

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Havari

The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization - Martin Puchner

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