Keeping House, Minimalism, Non-fiction

Organizing by Martha Stewart

Have you ever asked your spouse or partner what things you do that annoy them?⁣⁣

⁣⁣I had this conversation with my husband when I was reading Love Her or Lose Her and my husband told me that he admires that I am really good about planning and getting things done, but he doesn’t think our closets and cabinets are well organized.  I actually disagree, although I will admit that sometimes when I (or someone else in our family…ahem) are putting things away, we may not put them back as neatly as we should.⁣⁣

⁣⁣When I saw this book from Martha Stewart, I thought maybe it could help me organize our closets and cabinets better.  ⁣⁣

⁣⁣It’s a gorgeous book.  It’s laid out in a very simple, easy to understand style and has definitely inspired me to want to organize our home better.  In addition to organizing drawers and closets and cabinets and different rooms, there are ideas for organizing technology and being organized for holidays and events.  ⁣⁣

⁣⁣I have already re-organized our pantry, refrigerator and the drawers in our kitchen and am planning to go through the china cabinet next.⁣⁣

⁣⁣Are your closets and cabinets well organized or does that drive your husband crazy too?⁣⁣

⁣⁣Thank you, Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt, for my gifted copy.⁣⁣

5 star reviews, activism, Book reviews, Non-fiction, Women's Fiction

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Rating: 5 stars

Were you outraged when Brock Turner got 6 months for raping a girl on the Stanford campus?  Did you want to throw your phone across the room when you read that the judge said Brock “had a promising future and he didn’t want to derail it” with a longer sentence?  

The message: a boy, especially one who is white, an athlete and wealthy means more than a girl.  

The press had called her Emily Doe, a name given to her by the prosecution to secure her identity, something she embraced for a while because it helped her compartmentalize her pain.  But now she is taking back her power and her name is Chanel Miller and she is making a difference.

This book is gorgeously written.  Chanel is a likable, relatable, flawed character.  I want to be her friend.  

I was upset by the humiliating procedures she had to endure after the rape and although I understand it is necessary, there has to be a better way.  Although Chanel was the victim, she was the one that was humiliated in court and the one who had to answer for everything she had ever done, while Brock was lauded as a star athlete and good student at a school with a 4% acceptance rate.

I was so upset and annoyed by the way Chanel was treated by the court system and the comments people made on articles.  I am glad she wrote this book. I applaud her for the final chapters where she talks about the different issues in our society, a President who says vulgar things on camera to Billy Bush and how these things need to change in our society.  Girls lives and bodies are worth just as much as boys. The idea that boys can’t control their sexual urges degrades boys, they are not animals, they can control themselves and should be expected to and held accountable. I was raised to believe that boys only wanted one thing from girls and that I had to be wary of being alone with boys.  I did not raise my girls that way. I told them to be careful, to be aware, but I told them that boys are human too, with feelings and emotions and complicated layers, just like girls.

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, History, Non-fiction

Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth

4.5/5 stars

There is A LOT to discuss in this book. It makes an excellent book club book.

Like the previous two books in the series, A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times and Farewell to the East End, this book is about Jennifer Worth’s experience as a nurse-midwife in London’s East End after the Bltiz, when the area was deeply impoverished but the tough Cockney residents who had been there for generations were committed to sticking it out.

This book shows the reader the pain of tuberculosis and losing one’s children and siblings to TB, being a carrier of TB and the devastating effects of the disease. This book explores the controversial topic of abortion and shows just how complicated of an issue it is. There are many other stories of residents of the East End, stories about a way of life that no longer exists in an area that no longer exists. I am so glad that Worth took the time to write them down and preserve them.

These books are about women. Hardships women face. How strongly women love. How women are taken advantage of or abused by men. How strong women can be. How empowered women can be. How women can lift each other up or destroy each other. Although some of the subject matter in these books is difficult to read, there is a feeling of being part of a sisterhood that is so pervasive and strong and uplifting. These are very powerful books and I recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about what women’s lives were like in the 1900s in London.

4 star reviews, History, Non-fiction

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

4/5 stars

I absolutely adore the PBS series Call the Midwife. I love the simple, wholesome way of life and the way they live their faith. I love seeing how people lived in a poor London ghetto in the 1950s and 1960s. I also love it because I feel like I get a glimpse into what life was like for my parents, who were in their late teens/early twenties in the 1950s and 1960s.

I LOVED the first book in the series Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth. After reading the first book, two of my real life friends said they would be interested in reading and discussing the second two books with me.

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second book in the series. It was difficult to read and very depressing. In the nineteenth century poverty was a huge concern in England. The Act of 1834 proposed workhouses to house all of the poor – the old, the sick, the chronically ill, the mentally impaired, children, as well as able-bodied men and women who could not find work and were therefore destitute. In order to ensure that this was a “place of last resort” the Act had conditions where the workhouses should not be pleasant, husbands and wives were separated, children were separated from their parents – in many cases never to see one another again. It was inflexible and harsh. People lived in fear of the workhouse and when someone found themselves unable to feed their children and had a child starve to death, they would have no choice but to knock on the workhouse door, knowing they may never again see their children. Everyone was given a cot, a rough Army blanket, rough unflattering clothing and three meals per day, though the meals were sparse and not very good. Discipline and punishment were harsh, often abusive.

This book tells the story of several people who lived in the workhouse. Jane was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man and a servant girl. She never knew either of her parents. She had a fun spirit as a child that the workhouse master broke. It was horrifying and devastating to read. I only stayed with the book because one of my friends pointed out that if we want to make the world a better place, we need to be aware of all the facets of humanity, we can’t turn a blind eye to bad situations. Reading this with two friends definitely helped.

This book also tells the story of Peggy and Frank, an orphaned brother and sister who lived in a workhouse. A fish coster – someone who sells fish in an open-air market – comes to the workhouse to get a boy to work with him and help him and the Master of the Workhouse picks Frank. I found it fascinating to read about the life of a coster and how they go about their business. I found Frank’s story to be motivating and inspiring. The relationship between Peggy and Frank challenged by boundaries in a way similar to “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” by Brynn Greenwood and made me think, once again, that you can’t judge someone unless you walk in their shoes.

Another story was about how one of the nuns was accused of shoplifting and how that affected the convent and the community.

The final story was about a man whose father had died when he was young, in the 1800s. It told the story of what growing up poor in London in the 1800s was like and went on to show how the British military recruited poor young boys. As I read this story, I thought about how wonderful it is that Jennifer Worth wrote these books about people’s lives in a time gone by, stories that we would never know about otherwise, a way of life that is so different from how we live a century later and yet we can learn so much from how people lived in the past.

Although this book was difficult to read and depressing, I am glad that I read it. I really appreciate the two friends who read it with me. It really helped to have someone to sound off with about how upsetting things were in the story and to bring positive perspectives to light.

Book reviews, Non-fiction

Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy

Edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt

From the Publisher:

OUR PRINCE OF SCRIBES: Writers Remember Pat Conroy, publisher  University of Georgia Press.

The book came out September 18, 2018, and features more than 65 essays and remembrances of the beloved southern author who passed away in 2016 from pancreatic cancer. The editors are Nicole Seitz, an author from Conroy’s Story River imprint, and Jonathan Haupt, executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. Other contributors include: Rick Bragg, Patti Callahan Henry, Mary Alice Monroe, and many others.

New York Times best-selling writer Pat Conroy (1945-2016) inspired a worldwide legion of devoted fans numbering in the millions, but none are more loyal to him and more committed to sustaining his literary legacy than the many writers he nurtured over the course of his fifty-year writing life. In sharing their stories of Conroy, his fellow writers honor his memory and advance our shared understanding of his lasting impact on twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary life in and well beyond the American South.

Conroy’s was a messy fellowship of people from all walks of life. His relationships were complicated, and people and places he thought he’d left behind often circled back to him at crucial moments. The pantheon of contributors includes Pulitzer Prize winners Rick Bragg and Kathleen Parker; Grammy winners Barbra Streisand and Janis Ian; Lillian Smith Award winners Anthony Grooms and Mary Hood; National Book Award winner Nikky Finney; James Beard Foundation Award winners Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart; a corps of New York Times best-selling authors, including Ron Rash, Sandra Brown, and Mary Alice Monroe; Conroy biographers Katherine Clark and Catherine Seltzer; longtime Conroy friends Bernie Schein, Cliff Graubart, John Warley, and Walter Edgar; Pat’s students Sallie Ann Robinson and Valerie Sayers; members of the Conroy family; and many more.

Each author in this collection shares a slightly different view of Conroy. Through their voices, a vibrant, multifaceted portrait of him comes to life and sheds new light on the writer and the man. Loosely following Conroy’s own chronology, the essays in Our Prince of Scribes wind through his river of a story, stopping at important ports of call. Cities he called home and longed to visit, along with each book he birthed, become characters that are as equally important as the people he touched and loved along the way.

My Thoughts on the Book:

I remember going to see “Prince of Tides” in the local movie theater with my mother when I was in high school. She had read the book and was so excited for the movie. We both loved it. I did not actually read any of Pat Conroy’s books until many years later, but that had been such a beautiful introduction to his work.

I find it difficult to “review” a collection of essays, each essay is so different. This is a lovely tribute to a man whose work influenced many people – writers and non writers alike.

I learned a lot about Pat Conroy from this book and it was organized in a way that I did not expect. It started with people who were able to tell stories about him when he was young and took you through his career. I was touched at how many people knew him and wrote essays for this book. Each person seemed to actually have known Mr. Conroy and were not just writing about his influence on them as a writer, but also his influence on them as a person. He was a beautiful man, which I guess should not come as a surprise, because how could someone write such beautiful, touching novels if they were not a kind, inspiring, good person?

I also learned a lot about Southern culture and how tight the community of Southern writers can be. Pat Conroy was a good friend to many, always there to lend an ear or a hand. He was the kind of friend that you could just pick up where you left off, even if you had not spoken for a while; but he did make a point to stay in touch with his many friends.

I came away from this book thinking that he lived his fiction. His fictional characters and the way I felt reading his books were what he exuded in life. What a beautiful legacy to leave.

Book reviews, History, Non-fiction

Longitude by Dava Sobel

5/5 stars

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My husband read this book when we were on vacation on the recommendation of someone he works with and just kept talking about it, so I asked him some questions so that I could write it up and maybe get the word out that it was a great book!

Non-fiction, Informative, excellent, thought provoking

This is the true story of a carpenter that floored the world.

This book is about how longitude came to be.  In the 1700s, John Harrison, a carpenter who was the son of a carpenter was challenged himself to figure out longitude.  When the Royal Navy heard he was doing this, they commissioned his work, thus paying him for his time so that he could devote all of his energy to this endeavor.  His clocks were extremely accurate – maybe a couple of seconds off over the period of a couple of months.

He started out by making clocks.  John Harrison spent decades making clocks.  His clocks, which have wooden gears, are still around today and people spend years and a lot of money to repair them and keep them in good use.

Figuring out distance from North to South (latitude) was easy because of the setting sun.  But longitude was more difficult.  So, with the help of John Harrison’s meticulously made, extremely accurate clocks, time could be measured at one point and then how much time it took to get to the next point .

The meridian had been in Paris, France and Parisians really wanted to keep it there, but it was discovered, because of longitude, that Greenwich, England was the most accurate place for the meridian.

Captain Cook was able to map out islands and land masses because he had timepieces on his ship (he also prevented illness among his crew by feeding them fermented foods, my husband learned in this book, which just made him appreciate even more that I encourage him to eat fermented foods. haha).

One of the things that struck my husband about this book was that this guy spent days and days on very simple tasks, so different from today where we are so driven to make the next buck, crunch numbers, get ahead, meet a bottom line.  We want things fast and we don’t want to spend that much time on anything.

And that, my friends, is your history lesson for today.

I recently discovered that there is a movie for this book and I put it on hold through inter-library loan and plan to surprise my husband with it!