I read a lot of history books in my preferred era, but there’s always something missing. When I read about the Jacksonian Era without reading about the Revolutionary Era, it would be like a future historian reading about today without understanding the Vietnam War or who Reagan was. This month, I’m reading a variety of “prequel” books to my preferred era.
1776 – David McCullough
David McCullough is what one would call a “super famous” pop historian. 1776 is one of his more famous works, and I know it’s alright because I read it before (long ago, albeit). The focus of the book is on, of course, the year 1776 (which, for you non-Americans, is well known as the year history began).
From this book, I hope to glean information about the Revolution, including what average people thought and how infighting between tory and rebel contributed to the coming political age. If I remember correctly, though, it may just be a military history, which is interesting in and of itself.
Union 1812 – AJ Languth
The War of 1812 is a war easily forgotten in American classrooms. Even I, who really cared about my American history class, noticed that this important event was only briefly spoken about. Perhaps it’s because the capitol was burned, or perhaps it’s because the treaty of Ghent pretty much gained Americans nothing, but people just don’t know that much about the war unless they go looking.
Me? Oh, you know me. I’ve read up on this baby, but I admit my knowledge is quite stacked. I’m familiar with the Southern Theater and the associated Creek War, but I know little to nothing about the Northern Theater. I want to read this book with the intention to draw more information regarding that less-successful-theater, as well as look into the roles of the Madisons, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams.
You Never Forget Your First – Alexis Coe
The quirky title and a CNN article praising Coe’s You Never Forget Your First got me interested enough to rent this one from the library for a little perusal. This is actually a biography of George Washington, which I thought would go along well with 1776 up there.
Washington is one of the more interesting founding fathers (if only because he’s not Jefferson who, regardless of your opinion on him, I find incredibly dull to read about), so I’m excited to see what Coe has dug up. The articles I’ve read praising the book indicate she brings a new vision and interpretation of the historical documents, so perhaps I should have boned up on the more typical works first! 😉
Hint, however: I have already read this book as of posting, and I did read another George Washington biography in the meantime. I have a brief aside comparing the two, but you’ll have to read the review when it comes out to discover my thoughts!
Cherokee Mythology – James Mooney
I believe, wholeheartedly, that the history of Indians has been so woefully overlooked that it’s a sin. As a North Carolinian who grew up in the western part of the state, I’ve always been at least a little interested in the Cherokee. I even wrote about Sequoyah, an important Cherokee inventor, on the Carrot Ranch. Though it’s not terribly difficult to find information on the Cherokee post-colonization, I was looking for something more foundational and old. I wanted to see what pre-columbian history and thoughts are available to us.
This book contains a pretty in-depth history of the Cherokee people as well as a pretty large collection of myths. It was sanctioned by the government, and most of the information comes from primary source documents. There’s a companion, The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee, that may be of interest to me later. Both are free on Project Gutenberg as they are now in the public domain.
It’s the summer indie book month, and boy do we have some hot reads this July! You’ll want to stick around for these.
1NG4 – Berthold Gambrel
I recently met Berthold Gambrel through his website, and I then also followed his twitter. Peter Martenuac (of His Name Was Zach fame) retweeted that 1NG4 was on a free weekend, so I had to check it out!
Not only that, this is a pretty short book. That’s why, on THIS WEDNESDAY, I’m going to be posting one more review than usual on my blog!
I have reviewed three D. Wallace Peach books in the past (See reviews for The Melding of Aeris, Soul Swallowers, and Legacy of Souls). Peach is a reliably good author, and I’m excited to see what this new series entails. One of Peach’s sneak previews that she posted on her blog indicated that at least one of the main characters was going to be a goblin, and any sort of non-human character excites me. I don’t believe I’ve read anything published with a goblin main character, so it’s time to see how Peach pulls that off!
Last year, Peter Martuneac submitted his book Her Name Was Abby through my review request form. Though it was the second book in the series (Zach, here, was the first), I was blown away. I assume Martuneac experienced some artist growth between the two books, but I was very into Abby and looked forward to reading this installation. The third book is out, too, so I have to catch up!
Elizabeth Merry and I follow each others’ blogs, and I know she’s got great style. Her characters are vivid, and her prose beautiful. This collection of shorts (“scenes”) look to be connected by setting, and I think the book as a whole may benefit from this connection. Definitely looking forward to what each tale may hold for me.
Charles Dickinson is pretty famous, and I can dig him. I enjoyed Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol is of course a good annual read (also, I played Scrooge once while in school!). I have no idea what A Tale of Two Cities is supposed to be about, but that’s why we’re here: to read old books and realize what kinds of mistakes life is made of.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I’ve never been a fan of Sherlock Holmes in any shape, form, or media. Even the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock didn’t do it for me. I didn’t like the Robert Downey Jr. version, and I didn’t even like it when Data played Sherlock Holmes in Star Trek. I also know I don’t like another of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, The Lost World. So why am I doing this?
Two reasons: for that stupid “100 Books to Read Before You Die” (I’m not even sure what year my list is – is it 2018? 2019?) and because I like to give authors two chances. I’m almost certain I’ll hate this one, but it’s shorter than the others on this list and by god that’s going to be necessary as I prep for this month. I’ll go ahead and reveal that I had to start WAY early on reading this stuff.
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Last year, I read The Count of Monte Cristo and thought it was really good – unexpectedly good. This book, for whatever reason, gets associated with The Count of Monte Cristo in my mind a lot, even if that’s stupid. As a result, I decided to give this one a shot with great hopes.
Also, my mom hates this story. She refuses to tell me why, so I do fear that it’ll get a bit too erotic for my typical tastes. That’s just the way my mom operates, though – one penis, and it’s curtains. Tears for days with her. We’ll see.
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
One of my favorite books from 2020 was Gone With the Wind. The printing of Gone With the Wind I borrowed from my library included a forward from someone (Pat Conroy, maybe? I don’t know for sure). In this foreword, Anna Karenina was mentioned as an earlier work with an unlikeable, female protagonist that works.
After finishing Gone With the Wind, I was like, “By God, Scarlett was one of the best-conceived characters I have ever read.” And, if Anna Karenina has some similar traits, I want to know. I want to see if Margaret Mitchell has a stranglehold on cold-hearted bitch.
Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!
Ritu Bhatal’s Marriage Unarranged has been on my radar for quite some time. This debut novel is in a genre I don’t normally read, but its international flavors and promises to visit cultural norms I’m not used to interests me.
Besides, I’ve followed Bhatal’s blog for some time, and I trust her craft enough to give this a whirl!
Marriage Unarranged Author: Ritu Bhatal
2020 Amazon Link
Marriage Unarranged is billed as “chickpea lit,” which in and of itself attracted me. I can dig a good pun.
An arranged marriage falls apart, causing Aashi to go on a semi-spiritual journey to discover what comes next for her. The book is a contemporary about a woman who must deal with the difficulties of being a woman of Indian descent who has been “shamed” by a broken engagement.
I always feel happy when my expectations are met in a good way – and Marriage Unarranged did that! Many times when I read books about non-English speaking cultures (or cultures that didn’t used to speak English, which is what I think India is now), authors assume too much of the reader’s prior knowledge. Either Bhatal got the right amount of beta readers or she’s a natural at leading someone to understand situations, because rarely did I feel like I needed more information about how the characters were processing their issues. I think I learned a lot of Hindi words, and I definitely learned more about modern India than I knew before!
In addition, the story itself gets off to a fast start. You don’t have to build up a relationship between Aashi and Ravi very long before you get to the inciting event. That drew me in quickly despite romance and contemporary not being my preferred genres.
I also enjoyed some of the secondary characters like spunky Kiran and Bali (who reminds me of my own brother). The various relationships explored in this book really did show many facets of Indian culture and what sorts of things might not be acceptable in the society: things like dating on your own, or how women are mistreated for a man’s mistakes. Kiran and Bali (as well as another couple that I won’t spoil because it’s theoretically not obvious) served as a great foil for the other romantic relationships because of how they are perceived compared to others.
Something that I could complain about a little was the story with Ravi. I thought some of the characters in that storyline were moustache-twirling levels of evil, and that just doesn’t do it for me. They weren’t very nuanced, and I wasn’t entirely convinced I needed all the information given to decide if Ravi was a good match for Aashi or not.
And, last, the book was very hopeful. Babaji (their God) was always there for them, and it was uplifting even during the harder parts. There were more places than I would have liked where a grammar error or weird wording could have been fixed, but it doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed reading this travel/romance/contemporary more than I usually do with those genres.
5/5 Discoball Snowcones
This book is so easy to spoil because it’s romance, essentially, and you don’t want to know beforehand who gets together with who. I strongly suggest you don’t continue reading if you don’t want that sort of thing spoiled.
I thought this book had a great theme of restoration and new beginnings. At one point, the group of young people (eventually all lovers, haha!) go to the Golden Temple to do sewa, a sort of ritual baptism. After that cleansing is done, the characters all seem to have a new lease on life and start a new journey – even though they’re on a journey as it is. I liked that symbolic shift.
Honestly, this book is pretty literary. There’s a lot of comments on English and Indian culture without bashing either (though there is some bashing of dirtiness). It looked at someone caught in between things culturally, romantically, and financially. If there’s anything that makes this book, it’s the themes, symbols, and metaphors.
Once upon a time, several years ago, I got a comment on my blog from someone I didn’t recognize. Because I was so new to blogging, I immediately clicked follow – and that just-so-happened-to-click moment led to me following one of the most brilliant poets I think I’ve read. She’s more active on Twitter now, if you want to follow Marnie Heenan @MarnieWriting. You can also find her website https://www.marnieheenan.com/.
She’s published several poems in many outlets, but I’d like to present to my little corner of the blogosphere a book of poetry that will send you on an emotional ride.
What to Do With Baby Ashes Author: Marnie Heenan
2020 Amazon Link
The subtitle for this book (which isn’t on the cover) is Poems From My Life Before, During, & After Pregnancy Loss.
Before I get much further, yes – this book does get pretty intense. As someone who will probably never become pregnant, I didn’t think it would be hard. I was there for the nature poetry (and whoo boy, can Heenan pull out some beautiful naturalism), and I still got hardcore heart thumpies. If miscarriage/pregnancy loss is going to be too intense for you, you might want to consider how or when you read this.
There are two ways to read this book, and I will admit I did both of them because I just felt like the book deserved it.
Also because the story linking the poems was intense enough that I didn’t stop.
Usually when I read a book of poetry, I read one poem a night just before going to bed and then put it down. I happened to read this one in a single sitting (easy to do – it’s short), and HOLY CRAP WHAT INTENSITY. If you read this in one go, it’s like “Oh, this is pretty neat”, then it goes bam-bam-bam with shooting your heart right out of your chest followed by trying to sew it back together with a rusty needle and floss.
I finished it and was like, “Wow, that sent me somewhere.”
After that, I read a poem at a time (or maybe two, something like that).
5/5 Discoball Snowcones
Like I do with compilation books, I’m going to talk about my favorite, a standout, and least favorite poem.
Favorite: Family Photo This last poem in the book wraps everything you just read together. It draws the three sections – Before, During, and After – into a nice, tight bundle, and I love it. It was placed perfectly, and I think it did so much to the overall feel of the chapbook in addition to being intense, raw, and well-written on its own.
Standout: Drive Home I thought about this one being my favorite, but it’s too perfect a fit for standout. It’s unforgettable. It’s such good stream of consciousness, and it has almost a Faulkner sort of feel. It’s short enough that the stream doesn’t become burdensome, and the emotional intensity of it might have been the climax for me.
Least Favorite: Subtropics Honestly, this is kind of a bullshit section for me because all the poems were good. I chose this one because it was, once I flipped through it to write this review, the one I remembered the least of. It’s necessary to the story because it marks a shift in the author’s situation, but it’s a poem of nature that leads very quietly into the next scene. That’s all.
I’m reading the first craft book I’ve ever read – Colleen Chesebro’s syllabic poetry book! Get hype!
Music’s important to a lot of people. I know I have excellent taste in music:
Because music is so important to people, I’ve seen it discussed in literature quite a bit. Sometimes, it’s done well – and other times, it’s not.
Here’s what I’ve gleaned over my brief years in life.
5. Keep Poetry in Prose Short
Songs written out in a book appear as poetry, unless you’ve figured out a way to use magic and include actual noise in your pages. Though songs are usually longer than a few lines, you probably don’t want to include the whole thing in your book.
I would say that about 95% of the time, I skip poetry of any sort – including songs – when I’m reading a prose novel. The last 5% is either the REALLY impressive stuff (like the songs in The Lord of the Rings) or something on the order of 3-10 lines long. And I’m someone who reads poetry on my own!
People who don’t study poetry often don’t even like poetry. Poetry in English is strange because the forms are all sorts of weird. In East Asian poetry, the number of syllables and shape of the poem is important and gives it life. In the Romance languages, the words flow and rhyme easily. In English? Our bastard tongue makes either of those types of poetry difficult difficult lemon difficult.*
That means the quicker you get your poem out, the less likely you are to throw off a prose-liking audience. If you want my suggestion for how to include poetry (and thus song fragments) in a book, I would suggest reading Where the Crawdads Sing.
4. Keep the Lyrics Relevant
Poems and songs carry a lot of weight in real life, and it should be even moreso in a novel. When you take the time to include a piece of a song in your mostly prose story, that break in the narrative needs to pack as much punch as possible.
Luckily, poetry can shove a lot into a small space (which I still don’t understand how). While poetry rarely forwards the plot, you have an array of important things you can include to enmesh it more fully with your story. Here’s a brief, brief list of things you can include in your poetry to help glue it into your story more fully.
Foreshadowing (SO common with poetry and songs in books – just read the Tolkien songs in LotR)
Background information (but be careful! it can bog down easily)
Once you get that done, it’s still important to carry through what you wrote. Make the foreshadowing come true, perhaps call back to the song without being explicit. People will carry the words of a poem on their hearts – let the words fall in when you crack their shells rather than shoving the poem in. Soft, yet forceful.
Like I’ve said before, do at least two things at once when you write. Don’t just put in a bit of poetry as a puzzle and expect it to be important. Make it be a part of your story and carry it.
3. Music Doesn’t Define a Character (and yet it does)
Does your character only listen to the darkest things like “Homicidal Retribution” by Dying Fetus**?
Sure, that defines the character… but it could easily define them in the wrong way. Hear me out.
When a character is very into a certain type of music, it doesn’t just define them: it puts them in part of a group. Music is rarely enjoyed by a single person, and the group of people then becomes important. Characters who are loners? Music still puts them in a group. It’ll give them a label.
For good or ill, yes, music and the groups that listen to them are usually defined in middle and high school (or whatever you foreigners call school for people between 12 and 18). The group you associated with in high school will forever have a certain place in your heart, and you’ll see the music you listened to differently from someone who hung out with a different group. Same thing for age – you’ll have different feelings about music from your time period in high school than other people will.
So when your character listens to “Second Death” by Abysmal Torment**, you may see them as a hero of edge, sass, and darkness. Other people will see them as losers. Other people will see them as scary. Clowns like me will be like “lol”.
Your character’s music may define them, but it doesn’t define them in the same way for every reader. It’s such a double edge sword that it must be considered very, very carefully.
2. Music Doesn’t Define Your Setting (and yet it does)
This is going to have a lot of similarities to the above, but it really has more to do with talk about technical things.
A relatively common trope I’ve seen is the use of songs to give a sense of place and, more importantly, time. Just name-drop the Beatles and put in a “Yellow Submarine,” and you’ve set your book in the 1960’s (or you’re trying to say your character listens to old music, but you can see #3 for that). The time period in which certain musical styles, songs, and artists were popular can easily be defined.
At the same time, it’s all just references. References are good for people who get them, but no one else.
Ready Player One is the grand poo-bah of all reference books. Including elements of music as well as everything else, the book makes extensive use of anything 80’s pop culture in attempt to build its world. From what I can gather, it works.
But only for people who already knew the information.
People who weren’t around during the 80’s (such as yours truly) and who haven’t studied up on it will get only a smattering of references. While dropping names of people and songs can help your intended audience feel in the moment, it can cause readers unfamiliar with it some stress. Any time something needs to be researched, it dampens the narrative.
My suggestion is to not reference music unless the information is almost universally known. The Beatles, for instance, are a household name and common knowledge. Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley also maintain a similarly important cultural niche (for now at least). Lyrics are almost impossible for people to catch, as well, so I wouldn’t rely on them as references at all.
In the end, know your audience and make your passage easy to read.
1. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T RELY ON A SONG’S WORDS
I said earlier to avoid lyrics for the purpose of setting. Now I’m going to tell you why you should just avoid putting in lyrics at all:
Yes, that’s right. You can usually get away with referencing things or including small bits of a song, but here’s the thing: every time I’ve seen this done, whether in an indie book or a traditionally published book, it’s usually not… good.
Like with the danger for characters and for settings, music evokes different feelings for different people. Your feel-good music could scream “PSYCHO KILLER” to someone else. Trying to find depth in lyrics is hard (with the exception of American Pie, I guess).
Most people reach their peak “into music” phase as a teen. Many teens define themselves by what music they listen to, and defining a book by a song reminds me of that. It makes me, at least, feel like a book is a teenager. Regardless of the defining song, it seems…
By a long shot, this article has been the one relying least on research and most on my opinion so far. Do you agree with what I’ve said? Have a bone with me to pick? Let me know in the comments!
*difficult difficult lemon difficult is supposed to be making fun of easy peasy lemon squeezy.
**I enjoy listening to the local college station at 5-7pm on Friday night. The DJ is this Aubrey Plaza sounding woman who explains why the maggots on such and such album cover thrills her, and it makes me laugh endlessly. I just have to put up with vomit sounds, oinking, and people singing about putting pig blood on their penises in order to listen to this fantastic, anonymous person.
We’re on to 2021’s second indie book month – and it’s going to be exciting as we delve through some books with female leads!
What to do with Baby Ashes – Marnie Heenan
I’ve followed Heenan online for quite a while. She used to be active in the WordPress scene, but now I keep up with her on Twitter and gaze every so often at her website. You all know I’m not a mom and don’t plan to be, but I’ve kept up with Heenan enough to know that she’s really, really good at poetry, and this book is her first chapbook. I think my heart’s ready to get ripped out. Stick around for the emotion bath.
This summer, I read an anthology called From Ashes to Magic, and that contained one poem about the gods Life and Death that just blew me away. I chose to read Essence because it is told from the perspective of gods reminiscent of those in Greek myth, and I thought it could be as beautiful or interesting as the short I’d read this summer. However, I did note that it’s YA, so I’m not sure how that’s going to play out for me (just ok with YA).
Everyone loves Bhatal online. It’s honestly hard to find a sweeter person. And, what’s more, I completely decided to buy this book when she self-described it as “Chickpea Lit”. How cute is that? I’m a sucker for puns, and I’m always looking for books about non-English, non-American cultural norms, and this book seems to be it. What’s more, I trust Bhatal’s experience, interpretation, and craft enough that I’m sure it’ll fulfill my international needs.
Desire is merely emptiness lasting
long enough for a dire span of fasting
to fade the sweetness of last time's tasting,
leaving one breathless and for air gasping.
Sinister my void grows, hunger gnawing,
thirst enlarging despite ever drawing
from the well that promises restoring
water, but instead strengthens its calling.
I desire rich words like honey dripping.
To simple phrases my ears stay gripping
in hopes of cheers and compliment sipping,
but instead I fear connections slipping.
Desire is merely emptiness lasting
long enough for a dreadful breakfasting
to prove there's no use in truly tasting
meals best kept sealed in condition pristine.
This was written for no good reason. Just felt like it.
A mouse snuffles through A bag of bread crumbs. It seeks grain to chew And sate its hunger. What does my stomach Crave to digest and Break down? I covet Some form of rapture, Like dogs with a bone Or birds with a worm. With this ache grown To its final form, I turn deep inside. Will I starve before I forsake my pride? Of course not. I cling, tenacious, To my misery.
What goes better with poetry than a touch of depression and faking it ’til you make it?
Maybe some cake. Or things that will happen in about 4.5 hours following this post.
Either way, this was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #192, Tenacious. You should all just be thankful I resisted the urge to write about Tenacious D. Also I didn’t know what picture to choose, so I just slapped some nonsense I liked on there.