Friday, January 22, 2010

A lovely bookish day

One of my favorite quotes in life is from my mom: "The Saunderses would do without food before they'd do without their reads." I pretty much lived up to that last week. January's been a tight month, bringing a cut in my income. I had planned to treat myself to a night out last Saturday, a film festival and the book store in Greensboro. I weighed that against the need for groceries. I had meat in the freezer, a can of milk in the pantry — I decided I could go a few more days without a trip to the store!

I had my mind set on stopping by Jason's Deli, a wonderful "healthy" place near the theatre. But I discovered that the film cost at least $10, and I had $20 in my pocket. Hmm. I decided I really would rather have dinner and a book. I hadn't interested any of my friends in a cultural film outing, so I had no commitment to go.

Earlier in the day I had become frazzled by my mental to-do list and had rested with a book — Roots, by Alex Haley. A pounding at my door interrupted me; it was the mailman with a large box. I happily opened it to find a shipment of Elizabeth Peters' books that I had ordered.

That night I had a lovely salad with chicken pot pie soup and Jason's decadent croutons. Then I went to Borders on the excuse of looking for Bird by Bird — a writer friend told me I must buy it and read it immediately. Their only copy had a bent corner, and I was distracted by several other titles as I wandered around the store. I sat in an armchair and looked over the choices, devouring part of Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility, by Mireille Guiliano. I really wanted to buy it, but could only afford one book this time (the ones I wanted were still in hardback, but I had a discount coupon). I finally decided on The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch.

It was so lovely just sitting there, looking through books, surrounded by books, a trio of customers visiting nearby, an employee passing through with an armload. A very satisfying evening.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The coldest winter

As I try to fictionalize the story of my real ancestors, just to fill in the gaps, I keep finding that real life is more dramatic than I could ever imagine.

A great frost and famine plagued Ireland in 1740-1741. As if that weren't enough drama, I thought maybe my MC (main character) Joshua might fall through some ice and survive a bout of pneumonia, which would bring him and his wife closer. The first problem with that idea is that there are no loughs (lakes) in Moate, where the English family lived. I could, however, have them go to one of the fairs in Athlone or Mullingar, which have rivers and lakes. But a fair, during the worst of winter? Hmm.

I went back to Jonathan Bardon's A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes (highly recommend it) to read about the great frost. The stories are sobering; about one in five people in Ireland died during the "Year of the Slaughter." (The 19th-century famines were nothing to this, percentage wise.) Even the great ports, like Dublin, were frozen over so that boats couldn't come in. Then I saw, staring back at me on page 249, that the drought brought horrible fires with it, including 20 houses burned "in the village of Moate, Co. Westmeath." What?!!! Moate is not even in the index of this 531-page tome.

Twenty houses gone, in this small village, during two arctic years. How many houses were there? Could Joshua's house have been one of them? I thought that the Quaker records from Moate must mention something, so I checked. Drat! The second book of minutes, which I am indexing, starts in 1743! I looked over my notes from the first minute book, but I was just skimming for the English name during my trip.

I'm not sure where to go with this, yet. I'll have to figure out how many people lived in Moate that year. I do know that in my own 21st-century town of almost 10,000, losing 20 homes would be devastating.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Books of 2009

I feel pretty good about myself when I look at the list of "books I'm reading" on this blog. But let's see how I really did. Here are the books I read in their entirety in 2009:

1. Deep River Friends: A Valiant People, by Cecil Haworth - I actually proofread this as an almost-final manuscript. It was exciting to hold a final copy in my hands last summer!
2. I edited another manuscript, a book of Quaker biographies. I don't want to give out the title until it's closer to publication.
3. The Last Camel Died at Noon, by Elizabeth Peters - I read her Amelia Peabody books for sheer enjoyment.
4. Books, by Larry McMurtry - I enjoyed reading about the life of another bibliophile, especially while camping. In answer to a friend: yes, I sometimes do finish reading nonfiction books!
5. Philippians - in the Bible, but it's called a "book."
6. The Scotswoman, by Inglis Fletcher - my first Inglis Fletcher book, inspiration for my own fact-based historical novel.
7. Stone Cold, by David Baldacci, audiobook - A lot of action, good characters and plot, but I started in the middle of the trilogy, which was probably a mistake. I read The Collectors last year and this was the sequel that wrapped up the storylines.

Now, here are the books that I partly read in 2009:
-- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - Excellent. I read the whole thing, but started it in 2008.
-- Financial Survival, by Kristen Eckstein - Practical advice for a tight budget. I read most of it, but I'm one of those people who will stop and work on the "how to" of one chapter before I read further.
-- Moate: A History, by Liam Cox - I would have read this whole book if it were still in print! A lot of history about the small town where my ancestors lived in Ireland. I devoured the pages that I had copied at the library during my trip.
-- A New History of Ireland - read a few chapters during my research trip to Ireland. Good, but overwhelming.
-- A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes - great anecdotes, so you can eat up history in bite-sized, tasty pieces. I've been skipping around.
-- The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate, by Kevin P. Duffus - impressive research, going back to primary sources the way genealogists do. His style is a little annoying, like a Discovery channel special. I started this after Thanksgiving and I'm still working on it.
-- Swahili - I finally found a decent phrasebook with pronunciation tips. I actually am reading the non-dictionary parts.
-- The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog, by Elizabeth Peters - I just finished this, so it's officially in 2010. Loved it! I felt an extra connection with the plot because of events going on in my own life.

So there you have it, not quite a book a month. I did not have particular goals for 2009 and I'm proud of the editing work this year (in addition to proofreading the news at my office job).
My only reading goals right now are research for my novel. Next up: Roots and The Peaceable Kingdom.