Saturday, April 3, 2021

First Lines: March 2021 edition

Below are the first lines of the 6 books I finished reading in March.  


Book 1

November 1910

Asbury Park, New Jersey

For Thomas Williams, it was better to be no one than someone in Asbury Park.  

Williams lived in a city that was not meant for him.  It was designed as a haven for godly and wealthy white people.  



Book 2

1.  The River Bank

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.  First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms.  Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.



Book 3

The promise of liberty is not written in blood or engraved in stone; it’s embroidered into the fabric of our nation. And so is Alexander Hamilton. My husband. My hero. My betrayer.


Book 4

Part 1: Germination

When it comes to the streets, there’s rules.

         They ain’t written down, and you won’t find them in a book.  It’s natural stuff you know the moment your momma let you out the house.  Kinda like how you know how to breathe without somebody telling you.

Book 5

On her fortieth birthday Alison Penny woke, after a night of torrential wind and rain, to a world of stillness washed in pale sunshine.


Book 6

Chapter 1: Up the Mountain to Alm-Uncle

From the old and pleasantly situated village of Mayenfeld, a footpath winds through green and shady meadows to the foot of the mountains, which on this side look down from their stern and lofty heights upon the valley below.



The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

The Rope: A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP , by Alex Tresniowski.  © 2021.   335 pages.

This book is written as a thriller, interweaving the story of the murder of a young girl and the story of Ida B. Wells.  A Black man becomes the prime suspect in the murder, putting him at risk of being lynched.  The book’s focus is partly on how the detective on the case “roped in" the true murderer with a complex scheme.  

The book also tells the story of Ida B. Wells in her actions against lynching of Blacks, extra-judicial murders often accomplished by hanging the victim – the rope.  And there are numerous accountings of lynchings, including ones that occurred in Northern states.  We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that racism only occurs in the southern United States.  

The book includes a conversation which I find it hard to forgive Susan B. Anthony for.  Perhaps it is good to be reminded that our national heroes are/were not perfect.   I read it for a book discussion in an anti-racist group. Well worth the read, with plenty to discuss.


Book 2

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame © 1908. Audio version (unabridged, 6 hours 35 minutes) narrated by Shelly Frasier. Children’s lit.

256 pages (that’s for the hardcover version with illustrations).   

Two words to describe this book:  wistful calm. Which is not to say there is not peril.  The language is poetic.  This is children’s lit, with complex vocabulary and sentence structure, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Book 3

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton

by Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie.  © 2018.  621 pages. 

The writing style of the first half of this book irked me, but it improved as the book went on, and I enjoyed reading the latter half.  The story is written from the point of view of Eliza Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s wife.  She was an amazing woman in her own right, with many lasting accomplishments, as well as in the part she played at the side of her husband in politics. 

I have not seen nor heard the musical Hamilton, so I was not very familiar with the story of The Family Hamilton.  Their lives held both tragedy and triumph. As portrayed in this novel, among the American Revolutionary men, the only man who is not a total jerk is a foreigner, a non-American.  

The way politics is described, not much has changed in 200+ years. Eliza Hamilton sides with the Federalists, and fears if the party of Jefferson wins office, the nascent union will collapse, with guillotines everywhere. I was left with the unanswered question -- how did we go from the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton to the Federalist Society of today? 

I read this book for book club.  We had a great in-person discussion, outside, with face masks, on a chilly afternoon. We gathered around a fire, a scene related only faintly to General Washington’s Continental Army at Valley Forge.

Book 4

Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas.  © 2021.  368 pages

This is the prequel to the book The Hate U Give by the same author, a Y.A. book about a black youth shot by cops and the aftermath of that violence.  As far as I can tell, this book does an excellent job of portraying the challenges, dangers, and horrors that young Black men faced in the 1990s (and to a great extent, still face today).  I read it for book club, and there was plenty to discuss.  

Book 5

Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith.  © 1959.   214 pages.  Recommended by Aileen of the blog The Small House in Charlottesville.

A most enjoyable tale about an unexpected houseguest, along with a plentiful amount of tea drinking.  This book was available on Kindle for less than $5.00.  I was delighted to discover at the end of this edition a long list of books under the title “Furrowed Middlebrow,” a collection of publisher Dean Street Press. 


Book 6

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, published 1881.

Audio book published 2006(?), read by Johanna Ward.  Translator not named -- and that bothers me.  The translator is important.

I loved this book as a child.  I see now that I had a propensity to love books with overly sunny characters. I also loved the story of Pollyanna, although that love derived partially from my fascination-horror of the notion of taking calf’s foot jelly to an ill person as a gift.  This audio book version of Heidi was well narrated, and as a whole was useful to me as a sleep aid.  There is an element of classism in the story, as well as a facile theology that might be okay for little kids but doesn’t cut it in today’s world.

History of These United States, the month of April

 History of These United States, the month of April

Selections from the Equal Justice Initiative History of Racial Injustice calendar.  I’ve chosen historical items from after 1900.   

The last item (April 22; McCleskey v. Kemp) is for a court case that some have deemed the death penalty's Dred Scott ruling, that is, one of the greatest failures of the Supreme Court. I had never heard of this court case.

From the month of April

April 4, 1968

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

April 5, 1921

Murder trial begins against white Georgia planter accused of killing 11 Black sharecroppers; he is convicted.  (A more detailed account is here.)

April 11, 1913

President Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet begins government-wide segregation of workplaces, restrooms, and lunchrooms.

April 13, 1947

Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin is arrested for sitting with a white man on a public bus in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and spends 22 days on a prison chain gang.

April 19, 1989

Five Black and Latino teens are arrested for raping a jogger in New York City’s Central Park and spend more than a decade in prison before being exonerated.

April 22. 1987

U.S. Supreme Court upholds death penalty in McCleskey v. Kemp despite proof it is racially biased, reasoning that racial discrimination in the criminal justice system is “inevitable.”

Sunday, March 7, 2021

History of These United States, the month of March since 1950

Selections from the Equal Justice Initiative History of Racial Injustice calendar.  I’ve chosen historical items from after 1950.   The last item (March 28, 1951) is well worth reading the story at the link.

From the month of March

March 3, 1991

Los Angeles police beating of Black motorist Rodney King is caught on tape.

March 7, 1965

Police use tear gas, whips, and clubs to attack supporters of Black voting rights marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama; dozens are hospitalized on “Bloody Sunday.”

March 11, 1965

Reverend James Reeb, a white supporter of Black voting rights, dies two days after he is beaten by angry white people in Selma, Alabama.

March 13, 2020

Louisville, Kentucky, police fatally shoot Breonna Taylor, an emergency room technician, in her home while executing a no-knock warrant.

March 16, 1995

Mississippi legislature votes to ratify Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, after having rejected it in 1865.

March 28, 1951

Four white men abduct a 27-year-old Black man, Melvin Womack, from his home in Oakland, Florida, beat him, shoot him, and leave him to die days later from his injuries.

First Lines: February 2021 edition


Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in February.   February was a long month, filled with handwriting cards to voters, dealing with winter, amassing tax documents, studying covid data, getting candidate petitions signed, note taking at church meetings, and attending political meetings.  I finished three books, of which one was an audio Y.A. book. 



Book 1


Sean Geoghehan; Kimberly Gummer; Kimberly Brewer, Kimberly Brewer’s mother and uncle; Britt-Anne Conover; Jeremy Haskill; two of the younger DiPaolantonio boys;


Book 2

The butler, recognizing her ladyship’s only surviving brother at a glance, as he afterwards informed his less percipient subordinates, favoured Sir Horace with a low bow, and took it upon himself to say that my lady, although not at home to less nearly-connected persons, would be happy to see him.


Book 3

The first Wednesday in every month was a perfectly awful day, a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage, and forgotten with haste.  Every floor must be spotless, every chair dustless, and every bed without a wrinkle.   Ninety-seven squirming little orphans must be scrubbed and combed and buttoned into freshly starched ginghams, and all 97 reminded of their manners and told to say “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” whenever a trustee spoke.


The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

Long Bright River by Liz Moore.  © 2020.  492 pages

This book is excellent on plot and (as far as I can tell) an authentic portrayal of the subject matter.  This book was hard for me to read at first because of the description of a person in addiction and withdrawal. I found the characters and story compelling. The author has that rare quality of creating sympathy in the reader for characters who make agonizingly bad decisions.  There are lots of twists and turns in the plot.  A very good read.  Barack Obama liked it, too.  I read it for book club.



Book 2

The Grand Sophy (Regency Romances Book 10) by Georgette Heyer.  © 1950.  346 pages.

An amusing tale, set in 1816 England.  This was on a list of “light novels to lift your spirits,” a list we still need today.   Before Cousin Sophy comes to visit, all the wrong people are betrothed to each other.  Sophy arrives, with gifts including a live monkey for the children. Nineteenth-century silliness ensues, and in the end all the couples are paired up according to true love.  Horses, with and without carriages, are featured.  A lady must not gallop in Hyde Park.


Book 3

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster © 1912. Audio book, narrated by Julia Whelan (audio produced 2011).  Young Adult lit.

An epistolary coming-of-age story about a teenaged orphan whose college education is sponsored by a mysterious benefactor.  In 1912, age was come upon a few years later in life, at around age 20, than it is today.  This was a predictable yet enjoyable story, although the epistolary format is not my favorite.  

Saturday, February 6, 2021

First Lines: January 2021 edition

Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in January.  I was able to complete 6 books only because I had a huge break from work at the end of December.



Book 1

The first week of July 2016 was tumultuous. The nation was rocked by two killings of black men at the hands of law enforcement officials.



Book 2

The Speech for the Defence

This is the story of a five-year sojourn that I and my family made on the Greek island of Corfu.  It was originally intended to be a mildly nostalgic account of the natural history of the island, but I made a grave mistake by introducing my family into the book in the first few pages.


Book 3

In February 1884, just as Anna Hall Roosevelt learned that she was pregnant, a blinding fog closed over Manhattan. Thicker and heavier than any in recent memory, it shut the city down for days.


Book 4

Prologue: Straightening Cobwebs

It is almost impossible, by today’s standards of celebrity, to comprehend the level of fame that Boris Pasternak engendered in Russia from the 1920s onwards.

Book 5

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.  For some they come in with the tide.  For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sign, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.  That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget.  The dream is the truth.  Then they act and do things accordingly.


Book 6

Over the past few years, conversations about politics have started feeling toxic and hopeless.  People we sit in the pew with every Sunday have begun to feel like strangers, and loved ones sitting across our dinner tables feel like enemies.


The titles and authors revealed:


Book 1

There’s A Storm Comin’: How the American Church Can Lead Through Times of Racial Crisis   by Dr. Harold Dorrell Briscoe, Jr.  © 2020.  194 pages.  

An interesting approach – using what the author learned about mitigation of climate change consequences, and applying that to how church leaders can engage in mitigation of racial crises.


Book 2

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. 271 pages.  © 1956.

This book would have been quite amusing, but the older brother is a narcissist, and that made it difficult reading for me.  If you like flowing, adjective-full descriptions of animals and nature scenes, interspersed with strange family dynamics, this is the book for you.  The writing did improve as the book proceeded.  Some really funny scenes.  For book club.


Book 3

Eleanor by David Michaelis,  © 2020.  536 pages of text; including footnotes, index: 698 pages.

A biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, given to me by my brother and sister-in-law, in recognition of Pennsylvania voting for Biden-Harris in the 2020 election, and my part in making that happen. Eleanor Roosevelt was an amazing person.  While she grew up in a rich family, it was by no means a happy childhood.  She ended up being a spokesperson and activist for peace, human rights, civil rights, and dignity.  She was often unsure of herself, which I can relate to. This book tells her story in an engaging way.



Book 4

Lara: The untold love story and the inspiration for Doctor Zhivago, by Anna Pasternak. 310 pages.  © 2017

The true story behind Pasternak’s novel – his affair with Olga Ivinskaya, as researched by a journalist who is the great-niece of Boris Pasternak.  Despite Pasternak’s passionate declarations of love for Olga, he was never able to leave his second wife Zinaida and family. Olga was sent to the gulag (Soviet concentration camp) twice.  Olga’s daughter Irina was sent to a concentration camp – most probably for revenge against Pasternak.  For book club.


Book 5

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. © 1937.  219 pages

This is a singular book.  To me, this book is about agency, or the lack of it - being able to make choices to control your own destiny.  I hope to say more about this book later, but the way things are going… well, we’ll see.  I read it for book club.


Book 6

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A guide to grace-filled political conversations  by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers.  © 2019.   224 pages.

I did a speed read of the book.  The points made and the exercises seem excellent, but I didn’t engage in doing them.  In a sense, given the insurrection a month ago today at the U.S. Capitol, this book seems a little out of date.  The authors have a podcast, which is more current than this book, but I haven’t had time to listen. 

What’s on your reading list?

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Groundhog Day 2021

Selections from my Equal Justice Initiative History of Racial Injustice calendar.  I’ve chosen historical items from after 1900, all from the month of January.  

Jan 2, 1944

William James Howard, a Black 15-year-old, is lynched by three white men in Suwannee County, Florida, after one of the men accuses Howard of writing a love note to his daughter.

Jan 4, 2008

Ohio SWAT team fatally shoots Black mother, injures baby in her arms.

Jan 7, 1966

After student activist Samuel Younge Jr. is killed by a white gas station attendant because Younge insisted on using the white bathroom, Tuskegee University students march in protest.

Jan 11, 1960

Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver Jr. threatens to withhold state funding from any public school that attempts to integrate Black and white students.

Jan 15, 1991

In Board of Education of Oklahoma City Schools v. Dowell, U.S. Supreme Court ends federal desegregation order even though it will cause racial re-segregation of school system.

January 19, 1930

For five days, white mobs harass, beat, shoot, and destroy property of Filipino farmworkers in Watsonville, California, following interracial dancing and economic competition.

January 24, 1956

Men who murdered Emmett Till confess in Look magazine.

January 30, 1956

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house in Montgomery, Alabama is bombed while he speaks at a mass meeting; King later addresses angry crowd and pleads for nonviolence.

* * * * * * * * *

Black history made in the past ~ 2 years in January, as hastily compiled by me

January 5, 2021

Senator Raphael Warnock wins election to become the first Black U.S. Senator from Georgia.

(Black people have been living in Georgia for ~260 years.)

January 6, 2021

Insurrectionists storm the U.S. Capitol Building.  The Confederate Flag is carried through the halls of U.S. Government.  Most of those involved are white.  Most walk away that day without being arrested, a stark contrast to those involved in protests against the killing of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a White police officer.

January 14, 2019

US Representative Steve King of Iowa is stripped of his committee assignments, following his white supremacist remarks.  (He lost his seat in the primary election of 2020. He had been introducing racist legislation and public comments for ~ 17 years.)

January 20, 2021

Madam Vice President Kamala Harris becomes the first Black woman VPOTUS.

January 29, 2019

New York City Reaches $3.3 Million Settlement With Kalief Browder's Family.

Kalief Browder, arrested at age 16,  was imprisoned for three years without trial, on accusation of stealing a backpack. His imprisonment included two years in solitary confinement, and also beatings by guards and other inmates.  The charges were dismissed and he was released from prison.  He later committed suicide.  

Little Progress on Civil Rights Issues

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Inspiration, Deficiency, and Nuts

In November, my friend from college baked cranberry bread, and inspired me to do the same.  Except I did not bake it until this week.  That’s delayed inspiration.  

It was a bit time consuming, but there is merit in completing the task of slicing each cranberry in half, in zesting the orange -- you must not skip this, O Best Beloved! --  and in chopping the nuts.  Cranberry nut bread requires much prepping of ingredients and following the recipe.  No creativity required.

A few days ago, another friend posted this:


Always search for truth.

Show your work and cite your source.

Evidence is key.


And then this:


Facts facts facts facts facts.

Facts facts facts facts facts facts facts,

Facts facts facts facts facts.


My haiku proficiency is inconsistent.


I thought my friend was, in fact, highly proficient, and she inspired me to write my own haiku in appreciation of hers. I labored with the words, and wrote this:


Factual haikus

from my friend hold truth

And banish fake news.


Then another friend gently corrected my haiku’s second line, by writing, “I think you mean ‘from my friend hold the real truth,’ right?”


That’s two instances of inspiration in one week!  But not only does my creativity remain diminished, but I have lost my ability to count to seven.  That’s haiku deficiency. 


(After extensive research, I discovered that the plural of haiku is haiku.  One haiku, two haiku, red haiku, blue haiku.)


From these experiences I conclude that my brain is beyond fried.  Creativity jumped out the window a while ago, and is lying on the pavement. It’s not clear if it is ever going to come crawling back.   


I have much to rejoice about, but angst still tinges everything.  Here in Pennsylvania, democracy seems more threatened than ever, and most citizens have turned their attention elsewhere.  Who can blame them?  We are all exhausted, which is, for some political operatives, the desired outcome.  There are complete nuts who have been elected to Congress, and their party supports them wholeheartedly.   I see little progress on racial justice.  I recently found out that the Senate Russell Building is named after a white supremacist.  My grief over my mother’s death is not overwhelming, but always there.


But I did get the car washed.  I changed the sheets.  I called the legislators.  And I made the orange-cranberry-nut bread, finding solace in chopping the cranberries and the nuts.

Let’s all chop the nuts.  Therein lies healing.

There is also some solace to be found in Peach Schnapps.

The recipe:

Cranberry Orange Nut Bread A.k.a. Holiday Cranberry Bread From the Pillsbury Cookbook we received as a wedding present. 1 cup sugar 1 Tablespoon grated orange peel ¾ cup water ⅓ cup orange juice 2 Tablespoons oil 1 egg 2 cups all purpose flour 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon baking soda 1 cup halved fresh or frozen whole cranberries 1 cup chopped nuts Heat oven to 350 F. Prepare the cranberries, orange zest, and nuts. Grease 9x5-inch loaf pan (or 3 smaller loaf pans, muffin pan for 16 muffins). In large bowl, blend sugar, orange peel, water, orange juice, oil, and egg; mix well. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda, stirring just until moistened. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Pour into prepared pan(s). Bake at 350 F for 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Bake for less time for smaller loaf pans or muffins.) Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan. Cool completely. Wrap tightly and store in refrigerator. Makes 1 (16-slice) loaf OR 3 mini loaves OR 16 muffins.