Sunday, June 29, 2014

Abbreviations and Acronyms and a Bit of Trivia

I've been thinking about abbreviations and acronyms lately and how they can mean different things from place to place.

When I first moved from Illinois to Connecticut late last year the abbreviation "NE" often caught my eye in ads and the newspaper.

For me NE has always meant Nebraska. I used to live in Nebraska, which the Post Office officially abbreviates as NE. If you're of a certain age, you may recall that the official abbreviation for Nebraska used to be Nebr before all states were reduced to a two letter abbreviation in 1963. This change worked out well for Illinois which used to be Ill.

Now that I reside in a New England state, you can probably guess that the NE I've been seeing refers to New England and not Nebraska. It took me seeing it a few times for it to sink in and no longer do a double-take.

A bit of trivia: 
All of the states were given a two letter abbreviation by the US Post Office in 1963. What is the only state that had that two letter abbreviation changed by the request of a foreign government?*

I had a funny thing happen with another interstate move that I made some twenty years ago when I ventured from Nebraska to Nevada. As a kid growing up in Illinois, my middle school put all the kids who weren't at grade level in a class that was labeled Learning Disabled Students. Students in this class were commonly referred to as LDS for short.

Some of you may already suspect where this is going.

Mean teachers threatened students (or me, anyway) with being sent to LDS if they (I) didn't behave/pay attention/do their (my) homework. It struck fear in me, that's for sure, because only the "rejects" were in LDS. Calling a kid LDS at my school was the equivalent of calling her a "retard." Middle school can be brutal.

Fast forward a bunch of years.

I moved to Nevada to enter a PhD program. If I didn't exactly consider myself smart by then, I at least felt confident in my ability to pay attention in class and do my homework. And I hadn't launched a spit ball in years.

During the first week of the new semester I was surprised when someone asked me if I was LDS. I'm sure I gave that first person who asked me a funny look before mumbling, "no." That first time I was too surprised to ask what LDS meant. The second time someone asked me I was too embarrassed to ask what it meant, because . . . I should know, right? Surely if two fellow students in the program asked me something so casually I should know. Did I nod off during orientation? Was LDS something I was supposed to have done? Was LDS some precursor to ABD? God forbid I ask a question.

During the second week of the semester while walking to a seminar with my new friend Marie, she nodded toward another woman who walked passed us and said, "She's hardcore LDS."

I stopped in my tracks. "What is LDS?" I asked.

"Latter Day Saint," Marie answered.

I just looked at her.

"You know, Mormon."

"Oh!" I emphatically replied as the light bulb went on. I laughed and explained to Marie what LDS had meant to me as a kid growing up in Illinois. Marie got a kick out of that especially because she was LDS (hence knowing the gossip early on in the semester that someone else was "hardcore").

Have you had a similar experience with an abbreviation or acronym that changed meaning from one place to another, or perhaps generationally? I'd love to hear about it! Please share your experience in the comments section below.

*The trivia answer is Nebraska. The 1963 Post Office change made Nebraska's abbreviation NB. However, in 1969 Canada asked the US Postal Service if they'd change it to avoid mix-ups with New Brunswick, so Nebraska became NE. [source]

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

From Here to Paris by Cris Hammond

This was such an enjoyable memoir, a wonderful escape into the life of someone who took a risk to start living the life he wanted. Cris Hammond followed a lead that his wife left taped to the bathroom mirror and radically changed their lives forever.
From the publisher:

This is the story of becoming suddenly unemployed, nearing 60 and being forced to face up to the fact that life is about to change drastically. It’s about discovering that your life can fall apart just enough to allow you to put it back together again in a whole new way.

This is the story of tossing the briefcase, cutting up the credit cards, selling the house and buying an 80 year old Dutch barge in France, then setting sail for Paris.

It’s a joyful and funny tale of stepping off the beaten path to live a dream that you’d thought you’d forgotten: Living on a barge in the middle of Paris.
I love memoirs about people with boats--books about people who make their livelihood on the ocean or those who buy a boat to cruise the coast. This is the first book I've read about a barge or boating in France. Who knew there's this whole sub-culture of people in France (lots of Brits, some Americans, and fewer Aussies) who live on barges? I thought that was something people did in England or the Netherlands.

Cris Hammond gets the axe at work. He used to live a more artistic lifestyle, but got sucked into the steady-paycheck world of business suits and briefcases for a bunch of years and lived on automatic pilot. This book is the story of what he did to maintain his life financially after that illusory safety-net unraveled and he buys an old barge to create a life where he and his wife spend part of the year exploring the rivers and canals of France and beyond.

Cris Hammond
Hammond is a good storyteller. He describes people and situations with ease and humor, and also pokes fun at himself without the cloying self-effacement that quickly gets old in tales of Americans stumbling around in a foreign country trying to figure out new things like buying an old barge, getting it refitted, learning how to drive it through locks, and dealing with the lackadaisical French work ethic that he experienced.

I enjoyed the way Hammond shows what it's like to move back and forth between France and San Francisco, how he and his wife slowly create this new life of theirs. Twice he mentions how the lack of media stimulation (no newspapers, radio, TV or ready access to the internet) on the boat helps their anxiety level sink and their sense of calm become palpable, and then the readjustment of life back in San Francisco where the 24 hour fear mongering news cycle ups the tension of everyday life.

His father's sickness as well as the loss of his job start Hammond thinking "dangerous questions" like:
  • What makes me happy?
  • How many hours a day do I spend on autopilot?
  • What more important, things or time?
  • What is happiness?
Hammond's friend Phil, a cartoonist, goes along for an early trip and fills the roll of the wise sage, the one who says things like, stressing out over X isn't going to increase your odds of not dying and, "Take your time. Enjoy the trip, just in case, you know, you don't make it all the way to the end."

If you like books about France or French culture, you'll want to add this one to your list. There's just enough barge info to keep boating geeks interested, but mainly this is a story of adventure and learning how to let go and live the life you want with the reminder (or warning) that even when you're living the change you want, that doesn't mean there won't be headaches, heartaches, and frustrations along the way. Hammond does a fine job of showing the beautiful with the challenging realities of life and dealing with other people.

Want to win an e-book copy of this memoir? Enter below. If you want to start reading now it's only $4.99 on Smashwords.

From Here to Paris
Cris Hammond
Smashwords, 2013
Source: review e-copy for France Book Tours
4/5 stars
Recommend to those who enjoy memoirs, Paris, France, and books about the boating life.

Click the image below to visit more stops on this book tour:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop

I am so excited to participate in my first Literary Blog Hop!
The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop is hosted by Leeswammes. Between now and Wednesday June 25th, you can hop to more than 30 different book blogs, all offering one or more giveaways of books or bookish items. All books will be literary (non)fiction or something close to that. Follow the links at the bottom of this post to find the other participating blogs.

I'll be giving away two novels.

Book #1
One of Ours by Willa CatherI thought long and hard over what book to give away. Of course my first venture into blog hop giveaway-land HAS to be a Willa Cather novel. And since we're approaching the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War I, I thought it only fitting to giveaway One of Ours, Cather's WWI novel which is loosely based on her cousin who died in the war. (Cather's The Professor's House is also considered a WWI novel.)

Cather interviewed many veterans of the war while writing One of Ours and knew some personally. She received a huge amount of fan mail praising the book, from civilians and veterans, and although its critical reputation has been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride, to this day people who read it usually love it (unless they're expecting a repeat of My Antonia or O Pioneers!). This novel is not all about the war, though. The main thrust is about the struggle of a young man who never feels like he belongs, never really has a sense of connection until...well, you'll have to read the book to find out. I've written about One of Ours here and here.

Book #2
But I decided I also wanted to giveaway The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara because I'm hosting a read-along of this novel in July. Now, if you should win this book please do not feel obligated in the least to participate in the read-along. I just thought it would be fun for someone to win the book and then have a read-along to participate in if they chose to.

The Killer Angels is considered by some to be the best novel written about the American Civil War. You can see my post about the read-along here.

Not only are both of these novels about wars, they both also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, One of Ours in 1923 and The Killer Angels in 1975.

To Enter:
To enter-to-win one of these books, simply state which one you'd like to win in the comment section below. Feel free to say you want to win both! I'll use to pick the winner(s).

  • Anyone can enter, you do not need to have a blog to enter.
  • You have until midnight on June 25th to enter. 
  • Open internationally as long as the Book Depository ships to your country (see here).
  • I'll email the winner(s) and they'll have 48 hours to reply. If they don't, I'll move on to a new winner. (When you leave a comment be sure to have a linked account where I can reach you or provide your email in the comment section.)
  • Multiple entries will be deleted.
Be sure to check out the other blogs on this hop, and good luck to you!

Linky List:
  1. Leeswammes
  2. The Misfortune of Knowing
  3. Bibliosue
  4. Too Fond
  5. Under a Gray Sky
  6. Read Her Like an Open Book (US)
  7. My Devotional Thoughts
  8. WildmooBooks
  9. Guiltless Reading
  10. Fourth Street Review
  11. Nishita's Rants and Raves
  12. Word by Word
  13. Words And Peace (US)
  14. Ciska's Book Chest
  15. Falling Letters
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. The Relentless Reader (US)
  18. Mom's Small Victories (US)
  19. Daily Mayo (US)
  1. The Emerald City Book Review (US)
  2. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
  3. Lost Generation Reader
  4. Booklover Book Reviews
  5. Bay State Reader's Advisory
  6. River City Reading (US)
  7. Books Speak Volumes
  8. Words for Worms
  9. Wensend
  10. Bibliophile's Retreat
  11. Readers' Oasis
  12. The Book Musings
  13. My Book Retreat (N. Am.)
  14. Books on the Table (US)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pizza and a Story? Yes, please! (WW)

PagLibs Pagliacci Pizza

I've never been into MadLibs, but this version caught my attention and the pizza was good, too!

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Library Visit: Private Community Library, Seattle

It's been a while since I've done a library visit post. Living in a new state with new libraries to explore you'd think I'd be all over them! Imagine I'll get into a routine soon enough.

Last week we went to visit a family member who lives in a progressive care retirement community in Seattle. Among other great amenities, the place has its own library.

When you walk into the library this circular table full of periodicals is the first thing you see, along with beautiful flowers and a 'no food in the library' sign.
Looking to the right when you walk in.

The view to the left when you walk in.
Cozy chairs next to the fireplace.

There's always a puzzle in the works at this table.
The shelving behind the solid brown chair is the biography section. For the most part the library is organized by the Dewey Decimal System, but there are some collections set off here and there, such as the classics collection pictured below and Charles Dickens.

Another view from the fireplace and puzzle table.
Tools of the library rat.

Apparently people don't obey this sign because I overheard two residents lamenting that they were too late to get the paper (it was 6:30 am) and they hoped it/they would be returned.

Advertisement for a book by resident Jared Curtis. Walking from the Center: Seattle Neighborhood Walks.
I like this step ladder.

Notice the shelf talker? Popular author's books are shelved outside of the library, on various residential floors near the elevators where there's a small common area. Great idea. I'm not sure why, but I imagine it helps conserve space and in the library and gets people to explore the building a bit. Example picture below.
An example of a popular author area on a residential floor. The elevators are just behind me. These shelves contain Tom Clancy, Patrick O'Brien, and Bernhard Cornwell novels.

The first part of the DVD section.

Detail of a large collection of flashy classics that are shelved next to the fireplace, where they look mighty handsome.

Charles Dickens, anyone?

Of course I tracked down Willa Cather.
The library works on the honor system, so there's no check-out/check-in procedure. The salmon binder is a catalog of holdings (a spreadsheet print out by author, title, section).
Overall, this is a pretty great communal library. Comfortable, well-organized, good selection, with a nice balance between fiction and non-fiction. It is also directly across the hall from the cafe where Seattle's Best Coffee is available throughout the day. Coffee and books. Life is good.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Summer Reading Bingo

If you listen to the Books on the Night Stand podcast you know about their Beach Blanket Book Bingo summer reading game. If you haven't listened to the episode where they introduce it, here's the link. Or you can go straight to the BOTNS Bingo page and get your card.

What I like about this summer reading bingo concept is that it'll help shake-up my summer reading a bit, yet still allow me to choose books from my own TBR pile. Or, if I get the itch to browse at the library or bookstore, I can pick a square and go discover a book that will satisfy the category.

Like real bingo, everyone has a different card. Here's mine:

I was unable to print it using the print button on the BOTNS Bingo page, so I cut and pasted it into a Word document and printed it from there. I taped it in my reading journal so I'd know where to find it when the time came to pick my next read.

My first summer reading book is A Long, Long Time Ago an Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka, recommended to me by BiblioSue. This book will cover the square "six words or more in the title."

What are your summer reading plans?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Killer Angels July Read-A-Long

The Killer Angels cover collage
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is a novel about the Battle of Gettsyburg which took place July 1-3, 1863. The battle was a big turning point in the Civil War and the novel was awarded the Pulitzer in 1975.

“My favorite historical novel . . . a superb re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg, but its real importance is its insight into what the war was about, and what it meant.”—James M. McPherson

While I've never been "into" the Civil War, my interest in this novel was piqued over 15 years ago when I was living in North Carolina and a friend whipped out her annotated copy of the book. Her history professor dad had made notes in it for her, circling or writing in the names and deeds of ancestors who'd been in the battle. I was fascinated by that knowledge of her heritage (even if she suspected some of it may have been family lore rather than historical fact).

I recently decided to start reading about the Civil War and knew this novel would probably be the book I'd start with. When my friend Janis Herbert included it on her list of recommended books on the Civil War it was a done deal. I'm told this book is a very readable, more about the feelings of the men who fought than military battle tactics and maneuvers.
From the publisher: In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty were also the casualties of war. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—the dramatic story of the battleground for America’s destiny.

Read-a-Long Details:
Week 1: Read through the section "June 29" (about 46 pages). Discussion post on July 7th.
Week 2: Read through the section "July 1" (about 69 pages). Discussion post on July 14.
Week 3: Read through the section "July 2" (about 102 pages). Discussion post on July 21.
Week 4: Read through the section "July 3" & afterword (about 70 pages). Discussion post on July 28.

If you'd like to preview the book Random House has a LOOK INSIDE feature and a Reader's Guide.

I'd love some company while reading this book.
Who wants to join me?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Blossoms and Bayonets by Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong Chai

This is a fantastic book and I hope it finds a wide readership. I think it would spark some great discussion in high school or college history or literature courses (or for home schoolers). It is certainly an important addition to the genre of war literature.

Blossoms and Bayonets is historical fiction based on the life of coauthor Hi-Dong Chai who was a boy in Seoul, Korea during World War II.

The novel opens on February 23, 1942 and ends on November 1, 1945. The story is told through three main characters:
  • He-Seung, a sixteen year old high school boy who is full of anger primarily towards the Japanese who are attempting to eradicate Korean culture and superimpose their own culture. He is also angry at his father, a Christian pastor who seems to He-Seung like he is doing nothing to oppose the Japanese yet he doesn't come close to sparing the rod on his own children.
  • Baby He-Dong, He-Seung's younger brother who is in 2nd grade at the start of the novel and a bit of a mamma's boy in his older brother's eyes. He-Dong tries to honor is father, mother, and older brother. He lives in fear of almost everyone and is tormented by the fear of not doing the right thing and God punishing his family as a result. My heart went out to him for this--whatever brand of Christianity his father followed, it wasn't one that gave a young boy comfort.
  • Mother (Uhmony), an obedient wife and loving mother. At the beginning of the book she's a bit of a doormat, doing her best to serve her husband and sons (there are three sons total, the eldest is off studying) and not thinking much beyond the congregation that her husband oversees. Like many women of her time and station, she's illiterate. The changes happening around her are confusing, but after her husband is arrested she's forced to start taking some initiative on her own.
Hi-Dong Chai
This is a story what one family and their friends endure during foreign occupation and war. However, it's not simply a series of horrible vignettes, but rather shows how each family member coped with what they were dealt and how they were changed by what they experienced as individuals and collectively. He-Seung, He-Dong, and Mother are characters I'll not forget anytime soon.

There is so much packed into this book, yet it reads smoothly: how the Japanese attempt to control the Koreans--from making them take out their Rose of Sharon and planting Cherry Blossoms, to forbidding the speaking of Korean in school, to mandating only the Emperor of Japan be worshiped-- the atrocity of Japanese comfort woman, the place of women in Korean society and in the family, sibling relations & hierarchy, the building of the railroad along the Burma border (think of the movie Bridge on the River Kwai), the fierce fighting on Okinawa, the coverup of Japanese bombing in Oregon, the US reneging on freeing Korea and giving half to Russia, and the attraction of communism are just some of the historical realities woven into the story.
Jana McBurney-Lin

The Korean folk tale of the Story Bag plays a big role, both directly and symbolically.

The chapters are short and alternate between the three characters making the book compulsively readable. Quotes from historians and the big players of the day begin each chapter which gives context to the chapter and the book over-all. You get a feel for the attitude and prejudices of the period.

But mainly it's caring about these characters that made the book one I couldn't wait to get back to reading. It also whetted my appetite to learn more about Korean history and for some kimchee!

If you'd like to be entered to win a print or ecopy of this book, please just say you'd like to be entered to win in the comment section below. I'll use to chose a winner on June 9th. US/Canada only.

  • Blossoms and Bayonets: A story of love, faith, and courage under Japanese Occupation
  • Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong Chai
  • Redwood Publishing, 2012
  • Source: review copy via TLC Book Tours
  • 5/5 stars: recommend to readers of historical fiction, war fiction, WWII, and those interested in Korea.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Civil War Came to Town on Saturday

I attended my first Civil War living history event this past weekend. This event is part of Guilford's 375th Anniversary Celebration.

For a history buff who reads military history, I know woefully little about the Civil War, so I turned to my friend, author Janis Herbert who is a fount of knowledge when it comes to the Civil War and other historical periods. She's written seven books, six for kids, including one on the Civil War and one on Abraham Lincoln.

All y'all with kids should check out her books because they not only provide great history, they contain fun activities, too, perfect for summer vacation. We used to sell a ton of her books at Borders.

I asked Janis if she'd recommend five historical works and five novels about the Civil War because I want to start reading about it. I'm sharing them here because I thought some of you might enjoy suggestions on where to begin as this is a HUGE field of study with an insane number of books out there. Yes, I realize limiting Janis to choosing a total of only ten books was cruel, but she cheated, so it's all good.

Links go to Goodreads.

  • The Black Flower, by Howard Bahr. My top favorite. It's an incredible novel that takes place during and after the Battle of Franklin (Tennessee). His other novels are also amazing.
  • Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.  I've read it multiple times.  Of course you have to overlook the slaves who seemed to prefer slavery, but everything else is spot-on.
  • The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. A great recreation of Gettysburg with a real feel for those who fought.
  • Andersonville, by MacKinlay Kantor. About the infamous Confederate prison camp. Very tense and interesting.
  • The March, by E.L. Doctorow. About Sherman's March to the Sea. I also love March by Geraldine Brooks, a novel about the father from Little Women.

History (I will cheat here - Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote works below are each 3-volume sets):

  • The Civil War: A Narrative, by Shelby Foote. Love these! Fort Sumter to Perryville,
    Fredericksburg to Meridian, and Red River to Appomattox.
And oh!  I can't just pick 5!
Thanks for all these great recommendations, Janis! The only book I've read from the above is Gone with the Wind (and part of Team of Rivals). I think I'm going to start with The Killer Angels because I already own it and have wanted to read it for a long time.

And now for some pictures from the Civil War event:
We weren't able to spend the whole day at the event as originally planned, but one of the perks of arriving later in the day was scoring a good parking spot. One thing I do know about the Civil War is that civilians often went to watch the battles (at least early on in the war). This sign made me wonder if there were horse and carriage parking signs back then, or perhaps someone directing people where to park their teams?
Horse and carriage rides were part of the day's events.

Love this field desk and, of course, I checked out the books on top.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin is certainly an appropriate choice, but The Road To Serfdom? It wasn't published until 1944. Somebody was making a statement. Stowe actually lived in Guilford with her aunt & uncle after her mother died.

Around the campfire.

Catching some shut-eye.

The drummer's tent.

The company mustering on the green.

Showing the two types of rifles that were used by most soldiers in the Civil War. Only one guy pictured above has an original Civil War era rifle, all the rest are reproductions.

There were 9 steps to loading these rifles. The company demonstrated how units staggered their firepower so that while some men were shooting, others were at various points in that 9 step process of reloading so there would always be bullets flying.
That's my wife, Laura, on the left. She's from Virginia with family roots in South Carolina, but loves me so much that she accompanied me to this Union stronghold. And who doesn't like Abe Lincoln?

I get easily overheated and wouldn't have done well wearing this much clothing in the summer time. Or anytime, for that matter.
I also took two short videos of the reenactors:

Do you have a favorite Civil War history or novel that I should add to Janis's list? 

Also, I'm thinking of hosting a read-a-long for The Killer Angels in July...would you be interested in reading along with me?

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel

I'm always on the look-out for German crime novels translated into English and was thrilled to find The Murder Farm on Edelweiss.
"With only a limited number of ways in which violent death can be investigated, crime writers have to use considerable ingenuity to bring anything fresh to the genre. Andrea Maria Schenkel has done it in her first novel.”
--The Times Literary Supplement
This is Schenkel's first novel. It was a best-seller in Germany, selling over 300,000 copies, and was also made into a movie directed by Bettina Oberli.

Murder Farm is based on a real-life 1922 murder of a family on their farm in Bavaria, Germany. Schenkel moves the crime to the post-WWII time period, which creates more tension for contemporary readers.

This is one of those novels that is a choppy mosaic of scenes rather than a smooth, consistent narrative, so it's not your typical mystery novel and may not appeal to those who want to lose themselves in a story. But don't get me wrong--it's very engaging.

You get bits and pieces of the various characters' personalities--from their own thoughts to what other characters think of them coupled with bits of local history and rumor. Prejudices, egos, delusions, and social taboos mess with the reader's ability to get a clear sense of not only who the characters are, but who the murderer might be.

I tend to prefer a straightforward narrative story when it comes to crime novels, but I enjoyed the way Schenkel and her translator (Anthea Bell) create vivid atmospheres and a strong sense of personality with so few words. I'll keep my eye out for more of Schenkel's books coming out in English.

Of course you can't help but think of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood when reading this novel.

The Murder Farm
Andrea Maria Schenkel
Translated from German by Anthea Bell
Quercus, US release date: June 3, 2014
Source: review copy via Edelweiss
3.5/5 stars (4 on Goodreads because I round up)
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