Visiting my ancestors’ hometown: Williamsburg, MA

Ever since I started copying over my ancestor Emma Richards’ journal, I have wanted to visit the town where she lived: Williamsburg, Massachusetts. As it happens, my parents currently live in Vermont, a couple of hours away from Williamsburg. The day after Christmas, my parents and my two sisters traveled through the snow to this village to see the sights.

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Our first stop was the Williamsburg General Store, founded in 1876, and still open for business. Neighboring buildings included the Grange Community Hall and the Town Hall (now used by the Historical Society), neither of which were open. That’s my mom in both pictures. We also found a memorial to the 1874 Mill River Flood victims, one of which was my great-great-great-great grandmother, Sarah (Strong) Snow and another was Emma (Tilton) Richards’ little brother, William Tilton.

Next, we drove to see the Nash Hill schoolhouse, which has been restored by the Williamsburg Historical Society. Due to references in the journal, I believe this is the schoolhouse where Emma and Frank’s children attended. We couldn’t go inside, but we could peek through the windows. My sisters and dad are the people in the photos.

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We returned to the village center to stop at the library and ask for directions to the Village Hill Cemetery. We did not have the time to avail ourselves of the library’s historical collection, but the librarians were very nice there and recognized a couple of the family names we mentioned. It seems that Emma’s step-father-in-law – Prescott Williams – was kind of a big deal in this village. (Which if I had stopped and thought about it, being a Williams from Williamsburg in the 19th century probably means you were related somehow to the namesake of the town.)

I had prepared for our visit to the cemetery by identifying and copying down the names of buried ancestors from the website Find a Grave. When the five of us parked at the cemetery, I said to my parents and sisters, “Okay, we’re mainly looking for Richards, Tiltons, and Snows. Bonus points for their minister, Henry Snyder and also bonus points for the grave of Juvenalia Winch, not because she’s related, but because her name is awesome.” Then we scattered over the cemetery on our scavenger hunt.

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Due to the snow that had fallen all day, many graves had to be cleaned off to even be read. It was an odd and touching sensation to walk through this cemetery: I recognized many names on the gravestones as Emma’s neighbors and friends, as people they visited or conducted business with, and thus mentioned in the journal.

My older sister found our great-grandmother’s grave – our mom had forgotten to mention that she was buried there and Find a Grave had not included her name. So that was a nice surprise to start out the search. She had lived to be 100, so I had known her as a child.

Next we started finding some of Emma and Frank’s children and their families. I found the Rev. Snyder and my older sister exulted over finding Juvenalia. My younger sister, however, had the distinct honor of finding the graves of Frank, Emma, infant Ruby, and oldest daughter Mattie, who had died when she was 17. Their graves were quite worn.We were fast losing our light and everyone was feeling the cold. We had not found the graves of Emma’s parents or her younger brother William, so we fanned out on our way back to the car, just in case someone found them. I had almost reached the car when my younger sister called us back because she had found all three. Emma’s parents had died eleven days apart.

IMG_0239IMG_0240Her little brother’s grave inscription reads: “William Henry/Son of/H H & J E Tilton/Drowned in/Mill River flood/May 16 1874/
Æ 3 y’rs 7 m’os/”Up in that beautiful city/Which hath no need of the sun/Safe on the shepherds bosom/Resteth the little one”

Our last stop in Williamsburg was the farmhouse. It’s been fixed up since Emma’s day with modern siding and windows, so it didn’t really evoke the 19th century past-times described in Emma’s journal. But we spotted a few old apple trees on the land, which at the very least symbolically connected the place to the Richards family, as Frank earned a living by packing local apples onto trains. Frank’s step-father, Prescott Williams, was himself a kind of apple guru of the region. We snapped a couple of photos of the house and hoped the current inhabitants weren’t disturbed by the camera flashes. Then we left to go back to Vermont.

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My final two photos are of Emma and Frank – my mom had found them while going through old photo albums, and then scanned them, so now I get to share what they looked like. The photos are undated, so I don’t know how old they are, but I love being able to put faces to the names.

Emma Lovina (Tilton) Richards Frank Charles Richards

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Giants of the Frost by Kim Wilkins

Giants of the Frost

2006. Warner Books. Mass Market Paperback. 531 pages.

Backstory:

I read Giants of the Frost as part of Long Awaited Reads Month, which is a blogger event hosted by Ana of Things Mean A Lot and Iris of Iris on Books. Back in 2010, I read Kim Wilkins’ perhaps best-known book, a dark fantasy tale called The Veil of Gold, and loved it. In 2011, I read and enjoyed another Kim Wilkins’ fantasy, The Autumn Castle. From reading online reviews, I found out that both of these books were part of a loose trilogy called the Europa cycle; the books are thematically linked, but do not share any characters. The Veil of Gold was steeped in Russian folklore; The Autumn Castle had German fairy tale underpinnings; the middle book, Giants of the Frost, was inspired by Norse mythology. Unlike the other two, this one was not available from my public library. So finally last year, I bought it, in anticipation for this Long Awaited Reads Month.

As with the other two novels in the trilogy, Giants of the Frost‘s narrative alternates between present-day Earth and a parallel mythological world. Victoria Scott is a young, insomniac British scientist who has just arrived at a research station on Othinsey, an island off the the coast of Norway. She is soon informed that the island is haunted, to which she reacts with steadfast skepticism. But Victoria is wrong in her disbelief: Othinsey – otherwise known as Odin’s island – is the other side of a bridge to Asgard, land of the Norse gods, who still carry on with their lives. Several creatures of that world inhabit Othinsey. On particular Norse god, Vidar, is very interested in Victoria’s arrival at Othinsey, knowing her to be the reincarnation of his lost mortal love, Halla, who was murdered by Vidar’s father, Odin.

Review:

In Giants of the Frost, the creepiest things arrive just when someone is on the brink of sleep. Several scientists have taken to setting a 30-minute alarm clock in the watch station, so they won’t have to endure the vision of a hag who comes to steal their breath. They try to pass off the vision as an incident “isolated sleep paralysis” but after one such incident leaves Victoria with bruises, her default position of skepticism begins to falter. Wilkins is very good at evoking the more unsavory folkloric creatures and in creating an atmosphere of dread. There is a part in the book where Victoria and another scientist read a 10th century description of a strange weather event on the island, and it’s more chilling than one would expect.

Meanwhile in Asgard, Vidar seeks to travel to Victoria’s world (called Midgard by the Norse gods) without alerting Odin to her reincarnated return. According to myth, Vidar will be the one to avenge Odin when Odin is killed by the wolf Fenrir at Ragnarok. Odin doesn’t want Vidar to be lured away from his familial duty. With few allies among his family, Vidar reluctantly enlists the help of Loki, the trickster god.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki from the Thor movies

Let’s all acknowledge that this is what we’re picturing.

In the other Europa Cycle books, there was always at least one character who I adored; in Veil of Gold it was Em Hayward and in The Autumn Castle it was Christine Starlight and Eisengrimm. Here, my favorite characters were Loki and Vidar’s bondservant Aud. Aud is a Vanir princess who made a bargain with fate at the cost of her freedom. She also suffers from unrequited love for her master, Vidar. In this state of vulnerability, she enters into partial servitude to Loki, whose capricious nature is both a comfort and a danger to her. The interactions between Loki and Aud were my favorite parts of the book, perhaps because I found their storyline fresher than that of Vidar and Victoria’s story.

Indeed, I was not strongly invested in Vidar and Victoria/Halla’s romantic fate. I liked Victoria, but I found Vidar to be mostly one-note and boring. There’s a draggy section in the book where Vidar recounts his relationship with Halla, her death, and his quest to bring her back to life. The instalove elements to this romantic plotline didn’t help either.

The ending surprised me, in that it was “happier” than I thought the novel was going to deliver. To my indignation, I found out that this ending was provided only in the American edition of Giants of the Frost. (Kim Wilkins is an Australian author.) The original ending was quite different, and from reading online discussions of that ending, it appears to be the ending that I wanted, because it was the one that fit the book. So ironically for this Long-Awaited Read, it turns out that I have another wait ahead of me: the wait to read the UK/Australian version of this book.

Though my least favorite of the Europa Cycle, I’m still glad I read Giants of the Frost (thanks Loki and Aud!), and who knows, maybe my opinion of the book will improve once I read the original ending. I know I’ll still be reading from Wilkins’ backlist. Her early fantasy/horror books seem the surest bet, since I like her handling of the creepy elements in her stories.

lar-button-finalExcerpts from others’ reviews:

Infinity Plus – “A novel where about half of the characters are preternatural beings (gods, in fact) is a tricky one to write for anyone, particularly in characterisation: too much humanisation of them is an open invitation to bathos. It’s a delicate balance and one that Wilkins doesn’t quite manage: the lengthy Asgard sections tend to mark time between Victoria’s account here on Midgard, which I found more compelling.”

Scholar’s Blog – “This is a very gripping book – akin to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods in the way that Victoria and Shadow respectively deal with the old gods and the supernatural when they encounter in their every day lives.”

Strange Horizons – “Although her characters and plot are not strikingly original, neither are they saturated with banal clichés. Indeed, her characterization of the minor human characters who work alongside Victoria is much more detailed and interesting than one generally finds in a linear fantasy novel.”

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Foray into Golden Age mysteries: Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh

A May Lay Dead Enter a MurdererMurder at the VicarageMoving FingerMystery MileLook to the Lady

In December, I raided my public library for Golden Age mysteries. Previously, my experience of them had been confined to the first Poirot mystery, Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I had enjoyed it, but never followed up until the end of last year, when I brought home the following: the first two books of Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn mysteries (A May Lay Dead and Enter a Murderer); the first and third books of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series (The Murder at the Vicarage, The Moving Finger); and the second and third books of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion series (Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady).

I started with Ngaio Marsh‘s mysteries. A Man Lay Dead (published 1934) was in some ways very similar to my memory of Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). It’s a murder at a country manor and Marsh’s character Nigel Bathgate serves a similar role to Chief Inspector Alleyn as Arthur Hastings did to Poirot. Both Bathgate and Hastings are young earnest men that are nevertheless rather foolish, especially in comparison to their respective great sleuth friends. A Man Lay Dead was a competent mystery, I thought, and the dialogue was often entertaining. I found Enter a Murderer (1935), whose plot revolves around a murder that happens on the stage, to be the stronger entry. This is undoubtedly due to Marsh’s background in the theatre and her description of life in the backstage benefited from her personal experience. That said, this mystery also left me a little cold, especially in retrospect, after my much more delightful experiences with Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham’s books. I’ve heard that later books in the series are much better, but I think it will be a while before I return to the Roderick Alleyn series.

I delved into Agatha Christie‘s Miss Marple series next and was surprised by how much I enjoyed them. Sometimes classic genre fiction is ruined because all of their tricks and hallmarks have been reused and reshaped by later authors and later filmmakers. But I was cheerfully led astray by red herrings in both The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) and The Moving Finger (1942). And I found the incorporation of the series’ heroine to be still rather unconventional. Miss Marple is not the main character, as I had somehow supposed. At least in the two books I read, she remained mostly in the background and even her unerring judgments on the cases were worked in rather unobtrusively. The narrator in the first book is the vicar, in whose house the murder takes place. In The Moving Finger, the main character is a newcomer to a rural village, recuperating from an injury. Both are likable gentlemen, surrounded by likable – or at least entertaining – people. I loved the vicar’s relationship with his wife Griselda, and was also delighted with the sibling relationship in The Moving Finger. Miss Marple usually plays a crucial role, but in both books, the solution to the mystery is a group effort; it takes a village, indeed.

The final bit of my explorations led me to Margery Allingham‘s Albert Campion series. My library didn’t have the first of this series on this shelf, but this didn’t detract from my experience of the second book, Mystery Mile (1930). Albert Campion is a mysterious young fellow with both financial means and the high and low connections that enable him to help people after their other alternatives have dried up. In the case of Mystery Mile, Campion helps protect a retired American judge who has attracted the deadly attentions of a powerful mobster. In Look to the Lady (1931), he comes to the aid of an English family who have been the stewards of an ancient artifact for generations.

Campion is an odd duck: Allingham rather overuses the terms “ineffectual” and “vacuous” to describe his physical appearance, but his deceptively inane patter rarely fails to entertain. Take the following excerpt, which is from a scene in Look to the Lady where Campion is driving with a young stalwart woman named Penny (both books featured a number of young stalwart women, both American and English varieties). Penny and Albert both suspect they will soon be waylaid by a criminal element.

[Campion] drove with the apparent omnipotence of the born motorist, and all the time he chattered happily in an inconsequential fashion that gave her no time to consider anyone or anything but himself.

“I love cars,” he said ecstatically. “I knew a man once – he was a relation of mine as a matter of fact – who had one of the earliest of the breed. I believe it was a roller-skate to start with, but he kept on improving it and it got on wonderfully. About 1904 it was going really strong. It had gadgets all over it then: finally I believe he overdid the thing, but when I knew it you could light a cigarette from almost any pipe under the bonnet, and my relation made tea in the radiator as well as installing a sort of mechanical picnic-basket between the two back wheels. Then one day it died in Trafalgar Square and so – ” he finished oracularly – “the first coffee-stall was born. Phoenix-fashion, you know. But perhaps you’re not liking this?” he ventured, regarding her anxiously. “After all, I have been a bit trying this morning, haven’t I?”

Penny smiled faintly at him. “I don’t really dislike you,” she said. “No, go on. Some people drive better when they’re talking, I think, don’t you?”

“That’s not how a young lady should talk,” said Mr Campion reprovingly. “It’s the manners of the modern girl I deplore most. When I was a young man – years before I went to India, don’t you know, to see about the Mutiny – women were women. Egad, yes. How they blushed when I passed.”

Penny shot a sidelong glance in his direction. He was pale and foolish-looking as ever, and seemed to be in deadly earnest.

“Are you trying to amuse me or are you just getting it out of your system?” she said.

p. 104-105

It’s true that Campion’s patter sometimes loses me. The books were published in the 1930′s and Campion will make a number of cultural allusions that may have been clear to the readership at the time, but are not so clear to me. All the same, I usually get the gist, and enjoy the glimpse into that time period.

I’m really glad I impulsively decided to have this personal reading project. I found both the Miss Marple series and the Albert Campion series to be delightful and I know I will continue with them in the future. (I may need convincing for the Roderick Alleyn series). For those who have also read some of these Golden Age mysteries, which series or standalones are your favorites?

 

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Things I didn’t know about the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Parting the Waters

Taylor Branch’s tome Parting the Waters: American in the King Years 1954 – 63 has been on my bedside table for months, but this past weekend, I settled in for hours reading the chapters about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I’m still on only page 220 of the 1064 page book, but wanted to share some of the fascinating details about this historic event. Almost all the information included below was taken from Branch’s book.

First, I didn’t realize that before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith. On March 2, 1955, 15-year old high school student Claudette Colvin was riding a Montgomery bus. The white section was full, the black section was full and the “no man’s land” that was in the middle was occupied by black riders. When a group of white passengers boarded the bus, the driver ordered four black women from the “no man’s land” to give up their seats. Colvin “defended her right to the seat in language that brought words of disapproval from passengers of both races . . . [she] was crying and madder than ever by the time the policemen told her she was under arrest. She struggled when they dragged her off the bus and screamed when they put on the handcuffs” (p. 120). Local activists considered using Colvin’s legal case to attack segregation but a variety of factors – including Colvin’s unwed pregnancy – made them decide against it.

In October of that year, Mary Louise Smith was arrested in a similar case to Colvin’s, but her alcoholic father and impoverished home made one of the lead activist’s worry that her case wouldn’t survive media attention. Two months later it was Parks, seamstress and secretary of the local NAACP chapter, whose arrest sparked the bus boycott. Interesting note (that I learned about here): due to her appeal being tied up in Alabama’s state courts, Rosa Parks’ conviction was actually not used as part of the federal civil lawsuit that eventually resulted in the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system – but Colvin and Smith’s arrests were, along with the experiences of two other women: Aurelia Browder and Susie McDonald. The case was called Browder v. Gayle.

Second, I hadn’t remembered just how long the boycott lasted. Rosa Parks was arrested on Thursday, December 1, 1955; the boycott began the following Monday, December 5th; it didn’t end until over a year later on December 20th, 1956. The logistics and morale required for such a feat are staggering. Some people walked to their jobs, but then there were those who needed vehicular transportation. At first the black cab drivers let passengers ride their taxicabs at the same rate as the bus fare. But then the police commissioner threatened the arrest of any drivers charging cut-rate prices. So Martin Luther King, Jr. used a strategy previously used by a 1953 bus boycott in Baton Rouge: the community created a car pool.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 Negro fares were being denied to the buses every day. Subtracting generously for walkers and for people who were simply staying at home, the car pool would have to supply 20,000 rides, which worked out to more than 130 rides a day for each of the volunteered cars. By herculean efforts, King knew, Jemison had kept his boycott going in Baton Rouge for two weeks before it fell apart.

p. 146

Eventually as the boycott case made national news, the Montgomery activists received more funds for more carpool vehicles. But carpool drivers were repeatedly pulled over by policemen for trumped-up reasons. King himself was arrested for supposedly speeding five miles over the limit.

One of my favorite stories about the boycott: when the news came that a number of activists would be arrested under a law “prohibiting boycotts ‘ without just cause or legal excuse’”, the initial reaction of fear was gradually overcome; one of the leaders, E.D. Nixon, turned himself in at the courthouse and was released on bond, and was soon followed in this action by many others, cheered on by a growing crowd.

Eventually the federal courts passed down the injunction for desegregation of the buses and the boycott ended. It was a celebrated moment in history, though it was followed shortly thereafter by the bombing of several of the black churches and homes, and several integrated buses were shot at, including one incident where a pregnant woman was wounded in her legs.

Branch does a great job of conveying the atmosphere of the times, and includes excellent details and anecdotes. I do forget at times who is who, but that’s what the index is for. I’ll end this post with a final anecdote that didn’t quite fit into the narrative above, about the Montgomery city librarian, Juliette Morgan. One of the few white liberals in the city, she wrote a letter to the newspaper shortly after the boycott where she compared the boycott to the actions of Gandhi and also said that “one feels that history is being made in Montgomery these days, the most important in her career” (p. 144). For her anti-segregationist views, Morgan – described as “reclusive” by Branch – was repeatedly harassed. She died in 1957 from an overdose of sleeping pills, presumed to be suicide. In 2005, Montgomery voted to name the central branch of its library after her.

For more about the life of Juliette Morgan: http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1581

For more about Claudette Colvin (who is still living): http://www.montgomeryboycott.com/claudette-colvin/

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Thoughts on two bestsellers: Gone Girl and Hyperbole and a Half

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

2012. Crown. Hardcover. 419 pages.

I wasn’t originally planning on reading Gone Girl, thanks to a review that had compared it to Tana French’s In the Woods, a book that I disliked and abandoned more than halfway through. But my co-worker and I, pressured by the near-ubiquitous presence of Gone Girl, decided to read it in December, to find out what everyone was talking about. Unlike with French’s book, I finished Gone Girl. I brought it with me when I went to get new tires for my car, so that helped.

For those who don’t know, Gone Girl is the story of married couple Nick and Amy, and this story is told in alternating first-person narratives by each spouse. Nick’s narrative starts the day that Amy mysteriously disappears from their home in Missouri. Amy’s narrative takes the form of diary entries which start the day Amy first met Nick in New York City. Both Nick and Amy are unlikable people who are trying, for various reasons, to convince the reader that they are at least a better person than their spouse.

Flynn’s writing is similar to French’s in a way. Both have a writing style that is almost aggressively descriptive. In Flynn’s case, since I haven’t read her other books, this style may be attributed to the fact that both of her narrating characters consider themselves writers. An excerpt:

Mainly, I will admit, I smile because he’s gorgeous. Distractingly gorgeous, the kind of looks that make your eyes pinwheel, that make you just want to address the elephant – “You know you’re gorgeous, right?” – and move on with the conversation. I bet dudes hate him: He looks like the rich-boy villain in an ’80′s teen movie – the one who bullies the sensitive misfit, the one who will end up with a pie in the puss, the whipped cream wilting his upturned collar as everyone in the cafeteria cheers. [p. 13]

The writing is sharp and often great at capturing the less savory aspects of the human character; at the same time, the unrelenting pile-on of thick description sometimes made me say internally “Enough, already.”

The story itself is twisty and both narrators are not reliable – not a spoiler, as it is clear early on that Nick is omitting key facts from his side of the story and Amy’s optimistic writing persona cannot mask an underlying disdain for other people. When news of Amy’s disappearance makes national headlines, Gone Girl turns its lens on that roller-coaster ride that is the media circus. Characters quickly realize that the media cares less about the real truth than about what looks like the truth – that is, the easy story.

While reading Gone Girl, I puzzled over its huge success. I found it a solid thriller, but wasn’t sure what made it rise to the top of the heap. But it’s all in the love-it-or-hate-it ending. What follows is a spoiler only if you don’t want to know whether it’s a happy or unhappy ending: basically, Flynn imagined the worst thing that could happen to one of her characters and then delivered it at the end. I appreciated what she did there, but was neither bowled over by it, or angry about it.

I’m glad I read it because it’s a bestseller and lots of people have been talking about it and now I have an opinion on it, ready to trot out in hypothetical future discussions. And it was an interesting book, and it certainly passed my time at the car dealership. I can see why people really enjoyed it. I will probably go see the movie – I think Rosamunde Pike will make a great Amy but I’m afraid the filmmakers will try to make Nick a better person because Ben Affleck is playing him. Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings should be fantastic.

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened by Allie Brosh

2013. Simon & Schuster. Paperback. 369 pages.

Like many people, I’m a fan of Allie Brosh’s blog Hyperbole and a Half. I think “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult” was the first post I read of hers, and I promptly read all of her archive and then subscribed for more. My roommate and I printed out the following illustration and hung it on our refrigerator, and every time we had to make a grocery store run, we would exclaim “Grocery Shopping!”

Grocery Shopping

Other sayings from Hyperbole & a Half have made it into my repertoire: “Cats have sharp parts“,  “No . . . I wanted the opposite of this” and for a brief time, “The sun. It is making much warmness today.” Some of my favorite posts are most people’s favorites like Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts like Moving but I’m also really fond of the lesser praised Wolves.

When I found out Brosh had a book deal, I eagerly awaited its release and bought it at Barnes and Noble last fall. The graphic novel is divided into eighteen autobiographical essays: six essays were originally posts on the blog, while the remaining twelve essays are new material. The six older essays are: Brosh’s two poignant essays on depression, “The God of Cake”, “Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving”, “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult”, and “The Party.” I would have loved to have even more essays from her blog, including some of my favorites linked to above. Hopefully, with the success of this book, Brosh will publish more of her blog essays in book form.

The new essays include three about her dogs (I love her illustrations of Simple Dog), three new stories from her childhood (I love her illustrations of her little sister) and a story about a scary goose that invaded her apartment. I enjoyed all of these.

It’s the remaining five essays that were the weak entries, for me. This was surprising since essays like “Motivation” and “Identity: Part One” are not a departure from her usual subjects. Brosh often writes and illustrates passages of intense and deprecating self-analysis. Sample quote: “The fact that I think about doing nice things feels almost like actually doing them. I get to feel all the good feelings without any of the inconvenience. It’s disgusting how proud of myself I am for things I’ve never done.”

Despite having encountered similar essays before, it may be possible that this relentless self-analysis was responsible for making these five essays drag. More than that though, I thought the writing was lackluster and the illustrations couldn’t offset that impression. I love Brosh’s illustrations and she is capable of being quite quotable, but I found the text of these five essays to be rather dull and repetitive. Unfortunately two of these essays were the last two essays, which left me feeling somewhat disappointed after I finished the book. That said, I would still recommend the book to fans of the blog so that they can enjoy the original content, and I hope Brosh continues telling stories in her distinctive style.

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2013 by the books

best-books-2013-1024x862Jamie of The Perpetual Page Turner has created a 2013 End of Year Book Survey, which I find terribly convenient. I drove from Vermont to Virginia yesterday, all by myself in my little Toyota Corolla, and the trip was very long and snowy. I’m still on vacation today from work – a perfect opportunity to write a end-of-year review post – but am quite happy to borrow someone else’s format rather than try to be original.

1. Best Book You Read In 2013?

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. This is epic storytelling, a long book where the pages just flew by.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. I was definitely engrossed by the first book, but found the last two books to be strangely tiresome.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. I was preparing for this 1974 sci-fi classic to be a tough but good-for-you type of read. Instead, I found it to be very accessible and fascinating read. There are a few “hard science fiction” passages involving space physics that went over my head, but they didn’t dent my enjoyment.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

There wasn’t a book I read in 2013 that I was heavily campaigning for this year, but I think The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley was the one I probably recommended the most, being somewhat of a “sure thing” due to its likability factor.

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

I don’t read a lot of series and the word “discovered” is kind of laughable in light of which series I’m going to name, but here goes: The Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie. It’s true: I had never read them before this year!

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Elizabeth Bowen. I read To the North this year and her dense but rewarding prose is something I’d like to experience again.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. It’s a 1973 book about economics – but many of Schumacher’s points are as relevant today as they were then.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

I’m cheating but it’s a tough call between these three: Lonesome Dove, Patrick Ness‘ The Knife of Letting Go or Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong. I was reading it for a book club and ended up speed-reading through it, which is really the wrong approach for the book. It deserves a more thoughtful re-read.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

I really liked the cover of The Forever War. I think the typography is what clinches it. Very simple. And the cover is probably a visual allusion to the Vietnam War, at least it seems to me.

forever-war

11. Most memorable character in 2013? 

Not sure, maybe Janie of Lonesome Dove, though she’s a minor character. I don’t know why she jumped to mind first, when that epic offers up the like of Gus McCrae.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

For beauty, I’d have to hand it to Elizabeth Bowen’s To the North.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? 

I would usually be trying to think of the book with the greatest emotional impact, but I’m going to take a different tack and list two books that actually affected my actions. Mark Bittman’s VB6: Vegan Before 6 introduced me to several great vegan recipes that I’ve incorporated into my regular repertoire of meals, in my quest to eat more vegetables in my diet.

And although I already knew about the bystander effect, the refresher course offered within the pages of Situations Matter by Sam Sommers made me more alert to it than before. Early last month, when I saw a power line on fire after an ice storm while driving, I almost succumbed to the effect as I saw other drivers passing by, but then I pulled over and called it in to emergency services. After I finished the call (and the transformer exploded), another woman pulled up next to my car and told me that she had initially passed by it, but then saw me pull over and thought she should maybe go back and double-check on it. Bystander effect: it can happen to you.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 

The Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

McMurtry prefaced Lonesome Dove with this lovely epigraph by T.K. Whipple: “All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.”

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Shortest at 112 pages: Fifty Fashion Looks that Changed the 1960′s by Paula Reed, Design Museum

Longest at 945 pages: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?

There’s a scene where several likable characters are horribly killed in Lonesome Dove and that just rocked me.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

The general camaraderie in The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Saving Grace by Lee Smith. She’s an author I can count on for a good read.

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Most of my reading list is composed of recommendations that I’ve picked up around the blogosphere, but I’ll throw out The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway since I haven’t mentioned that book yet in the survey.

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

Couldn’t say – I think I was all over the place as far as genre this year.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

Nobody really fits the bill, but I thought Trevor from Kristan Higgans’ Just One of the Guys was pretty nice.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

Only three of the books I read this year qualify for this category, but Bee Ridgway’s The River of No Return wins, followed closely by Jeff Chu’s Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, leaving Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half in third, or last place, I guess.

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

Loved the world-building in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The post-battlefield scene that depicts the meeting of Madrigal and Akiva was almost cinematic, for instance.

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming. Fleming’s account of his 1930′s trip to the Brazilian interior is intelligent and humorous. I was reading sections out loud to my family over Christmas.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

The Knife of Letting Go and Lonesome Dove.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out? 

All the books I read that were published this year are pretty well-known, and I don’t know what the reception was like for the rest.

Book Blogging / Reading Life 2013 optional questions

Favorite review that you wrote in 2013?

Perhaps not my best-written review, but I guess I’m proud of the one I wrote for Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs. It’s the seventh book in a series, so not a likely candidate for a good review, but I took notes while reading it and after, and that helped make the review pretty decent. It’s a reminder that maybe I should take reading notes more often.

Best discussion you had on your blog?

I appreciated the advice given by other bloggers in my first post of the year.

Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

National Book Festival in Washington D.C.

Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

According to WordPress stats, my most popular post written this year was the review of VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00, which make sense as far as which books I reviewed would likely have broad interest to internet searchers. (An old review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame had the most views – no doubt thanks to all the students out there trying to write papers on it.)

Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

As Jamie of Perpetual Page Turner said in response to this question, review posts tend to get the least amount of love, a trend across the book blogosphere. This makes sense because people may be reluctant to comment if they haven’t read the book and thus when I review books that are from authors’ backlist or are more obscure, I have learned not to expect too much. For instance, my reviews of Saving Grace by Lee Smith, Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs, and To the North by Elizabeth Bowen were all comment-less. But the review that surprised me for having little response was my less-than-positive review of the Chaos Walking trilogy. Considering how well-loved this series is, I was surprised that only two people commented. I was thinking it was the type of post that would draw readers out of the woodwork, but maybe there is not as much overlap between my blog’s readers and lovers of that trilogy as I thought.

Looking ahead:

One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?

In September 2013, I started Taylor Branch’s award-winning Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954 – 63. I like the book but I’m only at page 112 of the 1062 page book. Eep. I’m borrowing the book from a friend so I do want to finish it or at least make an honorable attempt to do so.

Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014?

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen.

One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2014?

I hope to read a bunch of books from my own collection as part of the TBR Triple Dog Dare.

Reading Stats and Final Notes

Number of Books Read: 39 (14,494 pages according to my Goodreads stats)

Nonfiction / Fiction: 15 / 24 (non-ficton reads were over 30% of books read)

Interesting note: I’ve often felt that my knowledge of world events and ideas is a bit fuzzy between World War II and the 1980′s – a timespan recent enough to get short shrift in high school history, but too old to be part of my own memory (I’m in my early thirties). Somewhat accidentally, a number of books I read this year were either written in that time period or were about that time period: Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden (about the 1979 – 1980 Iran hostage crisis); Fifty Fashion Looks that Changed the 1960′s; The Forever War; Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright; and Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher; and what little I have read of Parting the Waters. Perhaps I’ll be more deliberate about my reading in this regard, and seek out more books from and about the time between 1945 and 1990.

Whew! So there it is, 2013′s reading in review. I still have a some books left to review from 2013, like Gone Girl, Hyperbole and a Half, Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming, Torn by Justin Lee, Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu, and a slew of Golden Age mysteries. I have their reviews planned out, if not written yet.

What was your reading life like in 2013?

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Christmastime 1888: Excerpt from Emma Richards’ journal

I am happily ensconced with family this Christmas Eve and thought I would again share some excerpts from my great-great grandmother’s journal, specifically her Christmastime entries in 1888.

To refresh on the cast of characters: Emma and her husband Frank lived in Williamsburg, MA with their five children: Prescott, Mattie, Emma, Henry, and Susie. Susie, the youngest, was almost two years old at the time of this entry. They also lived with Frank’s mother and stepfather. Emma’s younger brother, twelve-year-old Arthur, is also mentioned below.

[Sat. December 22nd, 1888]

Pleasant and cold 2⁰ above 0 this morn.

Mother baked bread and pies. Things are all ready for company – they all stayed down to Mr. Wheelers to supper then came up here in the evening. Frank came on the last train bringing Christmas presents from Aunt. S. and some that he bought himself.

We had a treat on crackers, cheese and oranges. Ed. Geckler wife and children have the west chamber his father and mother had the front east chamber.

[Sun. December 23rd, 1888]

Very pleasant not quite as cold.

The friends brought a Christmas dinner for Mr. Wheeler and have gone down there to help him eat it. They all came back here before dark. We have not been to church – papa was too tired. Spent the eve looking at an old diary over 130 yrs. old it belonged to a Mr. Lemuel Snow.

[Mon. December 24th, 1888]

Very pleasant and growing warmer.

We had our Christmas dinner today had chicken pie, scalloped oysters, pickled pears, sweet pickle cucumber and sour cu. bread, butter, apple, mince and cream pies. Father, mother and Arthur came while we were eating dinner.

Christmas tree in the evening. Frank and Ed. cut one down to Mrs. O’Brien’s, they brought a little tree for Susie. Every one seemed to have a nice time. The children all had pieces to speak.

Sadness mingled with our joy. Rec’d telegram that Aunt Ruby died last Sat. Funeral is to be Wednesday noon.

[Tues. December 25th, 1888]

Very pleasant and warmer – windows and doors open to be comfortable.

The friends all left on the 10-15 train. Mother went to Montgomery. Father and Arthur went home after dinner. Frank Williams stopped here to dinner. Frank left for Huntington on the 5 o’c train.

Mother and I have been putting things to rights after the party.

Ed. gave us a picture of himself and family. We all had a great supply of presents and good time all around.

Prescott had “The Boys of ‘61” from Mrs. E. Geckler. I had a footstool, farmer’s satin apron, two white aprons, two boxes of writing paper, etc. etc.

Bookish trivia: The Boys of ’61 is a book written by journalist Charles Carlton Coffin, published in 1881. It’s full title is: The Boys of ’61 or, Four Years of Fighting; Personal Observation with the Army and Navy, from the First Battle of Bull Run to the fall of Richmond. Coffin covered the war for the Boston Journal and would stay with Union Army camps and was on familiar terms with Union Army officers.

It’s possible that Emma was related to the Lemuel Snow whose diary they read. Her mother’s maiden name was Snow. I was amused that I was reading a nearly 130 year old diary which had an entry about reading a 130 year old diary.

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