Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Book Whisperer & The Great Alone

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The Book Whisperer resisted reading The Great Alone just as she resisted reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah—primarily because of the hype. Then I went to a book club meeting at my local library. Marilyn, a member of the club (and also a friend from yet another book club!) was holding The Great Alone which she had found on the Quick Pick shelf. She had already read it, so she was trying to see if anyone else in the group wanted to check it out. Since The Great Alone was unexpectedly readily available, I checked it out. I’m reading only four other books at the same time, so why not five?

The Great Alone has received a great deal of attention and reviews of it abound. Here’s my take on the book. Hannah has created a memorable story peopled with a variety of characters, oddball, ordinary, and extraordinary. Alaska itself becomes a character in the story because of its beauty, its danger, and its unpredictability.

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People move to Alaska for all sorts of reasons, good and bad. The Allbrights unexpectedly inherit a piece of property complete with a ramshackle cabin in Kaneq, Alaska, a remote village.  Ernt Allbright, a returned Vietnam vet and former POW, suffers from nightmares, depression, and anger. Cora, his wife, and Leni, his thirteen-year-old daughter, know to stay out of his way as much as they can when the bad moods strike. The family moves often because Ernt, though an excellent mechanic, cannot hold a job very long at a time.

In his dark moods, Ernt is violent and abusive to Cora. The pair continue that domestic violence circle of beatings, forgiveness, beatings, and forgiveness. Cora insists that she cannot leave Ernt because she loves him. She also knows he will come after her if she does leave. Cora never presses charges against Ernst. For a long time, Leni is immune from her father’s beatings even though he may lash out verbally at her.

The sudden move to Alaska is supposed to solve all the family’s problems. They can “live off the grid.” The family is ill-prepared to live in the remote village in Alaska. And what will the long, long, dark days and nights do for Ernt’s depression and rage? He thinks he can live with his family in isolation and all will be well.

The Allbrights must overcome their own ignorance of how to live in such a dangerous climate. They need to learn how to protect themselves, to kill wild game and prepare it for storage and later for the table, and they need chickens and goats as domestic animals for food and milk. As a reader, I have some problem with the learning curve that must occur. Even though the Allbrights arrive in May and have the summer to prepare, that is not really enough time to be ready for the dark, freezing winter ahead.

Ernt meets like-minded people, Mad Earl, whose son willed Ernt the property, and Mad Earl’s extended family. They are certain a pandemic, a nuclear bomb, or natural catastrophe will befall the US, so they are survivalists, prepared for any eventuality. They have weapons, stockpiles of food and a compound they can protect and defend against marauders in case of disaster. Ernt buys into their paranoia because he is already on that track with his PTSD. In fact, as time goes on, Ernt becomes more obsessive than Mad Earl and his clan.

Tom Walker represents another prominent family. Tom’s grandparents homesteaded years earlier, so his family has been in Alaska for many years, making him Alaskan royalty. Walker is also wealthy from inherited money and his own hard work. He and his wife are separated and she lives with another man nearby. Their son Matthew, Leni’s age, moves between the two parents’ homes.

Large Marge must be included in the cast of characters. She runs the general store, such as it is, in Kaneq. She is a former prosecutor from DC. As her name suggests, she is a large woman with many skills and becomes a great friend to Cora and Leni. She tells the Allbrights that the community works together and they not only help one another, but they also look out for one another. Large Marge cautions the Allbrights that “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.”

Of course, along with his paranoia and PTSD, Ernt is jealous; Cora is a beautiful woman and she enjoys attention. Even though she never does anything wrong, Ernt is immediately jealous of Tom Walker because he pays a little attention to Cora. Even if Tom simply acts neighborly, Ernt is suspicious and jealous.

Ernt tries to stir up trouble, pitting himself and the Mad Earl clan against Tom Walker, especially when Walker says he is bringing improvements like electricity and a new saloon to Kaneq. Ernt keeps comparing Walker’s changes to Disneyland or Los Angeles, far from the truth. Unfortunately for Ernt, he picks the wrong battle because Mad Earl and his clan decline to join in the fight against Walker. They take jobs with Walker in the building of the lodge and saloon. They tell Ernt he is off base. He is the newcomer and trying to divide the long-time members of the village.

To retaliate, Ernt decides to build a WALL (sound like a familiar refrain?) around his family’s compound. Of course, this wall, not only keeps others out, it keeps Cora and Lena as prisoners because once the wall is complete, Ernt puts a huge chain over the entrance and wears the key to the lock around his nect.

Even when Leni and Cora very privately discuss running away, the odds are against them. How can they manage to leave with only the clothes on their backs when Ernt has walled them in? Of course, Hannah adds romance to the story between Matthew Walker and Leni Allbright – Romeo and Juliet. The two are thirteen when they meet and they feel an instant connection partly because they are the only two that age in the village.

With Ernt becoming more and more paranoid and with the building of the wall to surround the property, Cora and Leni face greater dangers from the man they love than they do from the cold, dark, and wilderness. To discover what happens, read The Great Alone.

Kristin Hannah’s Web site: https://kristinhannah.com/.

A nearby town where the people of Kaneq can find supplies, Homer, Alaska’s Web site: https://www.homeralaska.org/

 

The Book Whisperer Scored Books!

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At the August Tulsa Community College Retirees’ meeting, the Book Whisperer scored books! Don Mathieson presented a quiz on Oklahoma trivia, and I won! The first prize was How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space? by William R. Pogue. As a bonus, Don also gave me a copy of Oklahomeland (Okla Home Land) by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, 2017-2018 Oklahoma Poet Laureate. Of course, the prizes came with strings: write reviews.

 

William R. Pogue was born in Okemah, OK. He earned his BS from Oklahoma Baptist University and an MS in mathematics from Oklahoma State University. He also received an honorary doctorate from Oklahoma Baptist University. He served in the Air Force and became an astronaut as well as a teacher, public speaker, and author.

As an astronaut, he was commander of the last crew of Skylab where the members set a record of 84 days which remained unbroken for twenty years. During their time in orbit, the crew completed a number of research experiments.

How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?  has an introduction by John Glenn. In that introduction, Glenn ends with “I urge all readers to develop an inquisitive approach to the world around you. That is the first step toward solving the challenging puzzles and intriguing mysteries of life.” That’s good advice for all.

Pogue begins the book with answers to questions about himself, airplanes, astronauts, the military, and sundry other topics related to serving in the Air Force and as an astronaut. The whole book is written in question and answer format. That format allows Pogue to cover a wide range of subjects related to his life. That format also allows readers to dip into and out of the book rather than reading it in one sitting.

The appendix covers psychological effects, information on space camps, and recommended readings and other references. For anyone interested in space exploration, the book provides useful first-hand information as well as resources for further study.

And now for something completely different (for you Monte Python fans), let’s turn to Oklahomeland (Okla Home Land) by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. Mish is 2017 – 2018 Oklahoma Poet Laureate. She is an accomplished poet, writer, and scholar with an impressive resume. Find more about her including a schedule of events at this Web site: http://jeanettacalhounmish.com/.

 

Mish, obviously, is a poet; she is also an essayist, editor, speaker, and poetry workshop leader. In Oklahomeland, Mish introduces readers unfamiliar with Oklahoma to “compelling narratives and imagery [that] entice you into caring as much as she does.”

Mish has won a number of awards for her work as a poet and editor. She won the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry, the 2010 Western Heritage Award for Poetry from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the 2010 WILLA Award for Poetry from Women Writing the West.

Oklahome includes essays on “Who/What? Oklahomans/Writing,” “A Review of Woody Guthrie’s House of Earth,” and “Looking for (Ralph) Ellison” among others.

Perhaps the most poignant is “The Oklahoma We Call Home.” In that essay, Mish writes about leaving Oklahoma at eighteen “to travel, to live in five other states and visit many others, to stay for extended periods in continental Europe, but I never felt at home in the landscape anywhere other than Oklahoma.”

She continues in “The Oklahoma We Call Home” to tell stories of time spent with her grandfather and of using the words he taught her. For example, she writes, “I call cicadas ‘locusts,’ because that’s what Grandpa called them.” Mish describes her grandfather’s voice as “musical…a soft baritone that felt more like velvet than cotton.”

When Mish goes on to say her grandfather and other men in the family did not talk much because “the women in our family didn’t leave much conversation for the men,” readers will feel as if they are sitting on the front porch at a family gathering. Perhaps a given reader’s own family is much the same.

Near the end of “The Oklahoma We Call Home,” Mish muses, “I’ve been gone from Oklahoma for a long time – most of 15 years. I needed to come home. The land calls me. I missed the trees, the abundant wildlife, the wind – and the smell.” Mish’s writing is evocative of the place of which she writes. She covers the warts in Oklahoma as well as the beauty and the talent.

Mish is contributing editor to Sugar Mule, “”a long-standing, world-converging website for general readers”: http://sugarmule.x10.mx/index.htm.  Sugar Mule offers “fiction, essays, book reviews, all types of prose and poetry.” See Sugar Mule’s Facebook page: http://www.FACEBOOK.com/sugarmule for the monthly flash fiction selection.

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The Book Whisperer Reviews a Beautiful Cookbook

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Sarah Rich and Wendy MacNaughton found a hand-painted manuscript at “an antiquarian book fair that drew them in like magnets.” The book, completely handmade was full of lively, colorful drawings of food along with hand-lettered recipes to go with the food items. Top of Form

Cipe (pronounced C.P.) Pineles had created the cookbook complete with drawings in 1945. The recipes linked her to her ancestry of Eastern Europeans. She titled the book Leave Me Alone With the Recipes.

Pineles was the first female art director at Conde Nast. Her influence extends far into the lives of others such as Maira Kalman and Julia Rothman.

Sarah Rich and Wendy MacNaughton then persuaded Maria Popova and Debbie Millman to partner with them in presenting Pineles work as it should be: in full color.

Saveir voted Leave Me Alone With the Recipes as one of “the best new cookbooks of the year (2017).”

The editors, rich, MacNaughton, Popova, and Millman have recreated Cipe Pineles’ original book with love and color. The recipes easy to make and full of good ingredients. The book is a delight just to look through.

Baked Potato Pan Cake

¾ cup flour

1 yeast cake

4 large potatoes

2 t farina

1 T butter

Salt

Pepper

Sift flour into large bowl and make a well in the center. Crumple and dissolve yeast in a quarter cup lukewarm water and pour into well. Mix it with some of the flour into a tick paste and put blow in warm place. Grate well-scrubbed potatoes, skin and all. Drain off liquid. Combine grated potatoes with flour and yeast mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in farina and allow to rise in warm place for about 1 ½ hours. Pour well stirred mixture into a generously buttered10”X15” shallow pan. Bake in a very hot oven for ¾ hour. Turn and brown on other side for 15 minutes. Cut in pan and serve hot with meats.

The Book Whisperer Has Been Busy Reading!

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Set in Salem, The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane opens with “of all the comforting objects in this world, few things are as reassuring and accepting as books.” What a lovely way to begin a story. To further readers’ interest, Sarah Allister owns and operates a bookstore. As she walks through the store, she thinks, “Living alone wasn’t lonely when you were surrounded by that much history.”

Quickly, readers learn of Agatha Blinney’s curse on the area and the power of that curse. Sarah receives a letter from her brother Richard who says he is sending his son Ricky to spend the summer with Sarah. Both Sarah and her friend Franci who runs the herb shop across the street from Sarah’s bookstore know that Ricky cannot stay that long. They also recognize that Richard should know that as well.

Agatha Blinney’s curse centers on one family member of each of the shopkeepers on Blinney Lane. One family member will be imprisoned on the lane forever, running the family shop. Therefore, Richard escaped, leaving Sarah with the curse. Now a single father who must travel in Europe for three months, Richard is sending his son Ricky to live with Sarah. Sarah worries the curse will extend to Ricky, but she and Franci plot to do all they can to save Ricky.

Ricky has also gotten into trouble, stealing cars for joyrides, so the court has mandated supervision and community service. Most likely, Ricky is acting out because his mother has left the family.  Ricky will arrive at Sarah’s with a huge chip on his shoulder; he looks upon staying with her in Salem as if he is going to a nursing home.

How will Sarah keep Ricky safe over the whole summer? Is it possible that Ricky can awaken the curse and thus bring down chaos on all of Blinney Lane?

The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane is called “a modern-day fairy tale.” I would agree. I rarely read fantasy or science fiction, but The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane captured my attention from the first line. I like books about books, booksellers, bookstores, and libraries, so the book had a head start with my attention. I can recommend The Weeping books of Blinney Lane as an engaging read.

Drea Damara grew up in Illinois, one of five siblings. Damara enjoyed reading from an early age and would often wander on the fifty-acre wooded farm reading. At first, she wrote and published poetry. She joined the Army and spent time in the Middle East both in the Army and later as a civilian.  In addition to The Blinney Lane series, she has also written the Trinity Missions series which features a female intelligence operative. Discover more at this Web site: http://www.dreadamara.com/.

 

 

The Book Whisperer Discovers an Australian Author

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Greg Hassall interviewed Brooke Davis for ABC, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-23/lost-&-found-author-brooke-davis-creating-literary-buzz/5539138, 22 June 2014. In the interview, Davis explains that her mother’s sudden death seven years earlier sparked Davis’s interest in answering the question how one lives knowing that a loved one could die at any moment. Davis attempts to answer that question in Lost & Found.

The three main characters in Lost & Found are Millie, seven-years old, Agatha, eighty-two-years old, and Karl, eighty-seven-years old. All three characters have experienced loss and deal with that loss in different ways.

The story opens with Millie’s mother taking Millie to a large department store and admonishing Millie to stay “near the Ginormous Women’s Underwear and across from the mannequin wearing the Hawaiian shirt.” Her mum says she will be “right back.”

Millie hides under the underwear rack unseen by the other customers and the store’s staff. She has her backpack and her death journal where she records dead things she finds. The dead things include her dog, spiders, and flies.  Sadly, number 28 is MY DAD, written in letters so large they take up two pages across the journal.

At first, Millie is certain her mum will return as promised. Millie has a sandwich and juice in her backpack, but that food will not last. On the second day when her mother has not returned, Millie ventures out to the store’s café, but she has left a sign for her mum: “To Mum, I’ll Be Right Back.” The signs become important to Millie and she will continue to leave them in the store and later in the story in other places in hopes her mother will retrace her steps to Millie through the signs.

Millie meets Karl in the store’s café; she watches him kill a fly and brush the fly to the floor where Millie collects in a jar from her backpack. Karl drums on the table or his leg or anywhere; he calls himself Karl, the touch typist. In truth, he is not drumming, but typing messages.

Now, readers discover Karl’s story; Evie, the love of his life, has died of cancer. He is uncertain how to proceed without her; they did everything together. At first, Karl goes to live with his son and daughter-in-law, but the daughter-in-law is a shrewish woman who wants no part of her father-in-law in her house. Karl, always agreeable, moves into a care home.

Then we learn Agatha’s story. She, too, has suffered loss. In fact, her loss begins even before her husband’s death. They lived in the same house and occupied the same bed, ate at the same table, and watched the same TV shows, but they merely existed side-by-side, not truly interacting. However, when Ray dies, Agatha shuts herself in her house and does not leave it for seven years until Millie knocks repeatedly on her door.

Now, Millie and Agatha have come together, so how does Davis bring Karl into their lives? Wh has Millie’s mum left her at the department store? The store’s staff finds Millie and calls the police. Millie overhears that the police will bring “a new mum and dad” to take Millie. That fact alarms Millie because then she wonders how her mum will find her. Millie escapes and runs to her home. There, she finds an itinerary showing that her mum has bought a ticket to Melbourne and then to the United States. Alarmed, Millie takes the itinerary with her to knock on Agatha’s door. After several attempts to make Millie go away, Agatha comes out of her house for the first time in seven years.

That break-through for Agatha starts a new chapter in her life with Millie and soon with Karl who is trying to find Millie. Karl discovers that Agatha and Millie have boarded a bus and tries to get on it, but he is too late. Karl then meets a young couple who will be driving to Melbourne, but they need a licensed driver to ride in the car with them, so they invite Karl to join them.

The story involves much more than described here. Karl and Millie steal Manny, a mannequin, from the store. Manny joins the group in the travels. Karl escapes from the police; the trio steals a small bus. The antics continue as they search for Millie’s mum.

Lost and Found funny, sad, and preposterous, but always engaging. There’s an element of madness in the journey. The story is engaging and hopeful too.

Brooke Davis wrote Lost and Found, her debut novel, for her graduate work at Curtin University. It has been published in over twenty-five countries

 

The Book Whisperer Takes a Look at 420 Characters

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Lou Beach’s 420 Characters is a book of short, short stories. The word characters refers not to people or animals, but to the letters, punctuation, and spaces found in the stories: 420. Facebook originally restricted updates through mobile apps to 420 characters. Beach used that restriction to write his 420 Characters.

The stories are untitled. If haikus were short stories, the stories would read like the ones Beach has written. By restricting himself to 420 characters, Beach must make every letter, punctuation, and space count.

The stories are much like prose poems. Readers can dip into and out of the stories, reading one or two or more in a short sitting. Spend some time with Lou Beach’s short, short stories.

Below, read two samples from 420 Characters:

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To read excerpts from 420 Characters and to hear them being read by Jeff Bridges, Ian McShane and Dave Alvin, visit http://www.420characters.net.

At this link, watch an interview with Lou Beach about how he developed his short stories: https://www.pbs.org/video/pbs-newshour-conversation-lou-beach-author-of-420-characters/.

The Book Whisperer Reviews The Museum of Extraordinary Things

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Alice Hoffman incorporates real and tragic events into The Museum of Extraordinary Things, published in 2014. Early in the novel, Hoffman includes the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire which occurred 25 March 1911. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire “was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City.” The fire caused 146 deaths because the doors to the factory were locked allowing no exit from the raging fire. The fire brought legislation that required safety regulations.

Katharine Weber reviews The Museum of Extraordinary Things with some disdain, calling the writing “hackneyed and thinly sketched.” Weber does praise previous novels by Hoffman: At Risk, Seventh Heaven, Turtle Moon, Second Nature, and Practical Magic.

Coralee Sardie lives a sheltered and limited life in the home that also houses her father’s museum of extraordinary things in New York. Her father has told Coralee that he is from France and that her mother has died. Professor Sardie, her father, is secretive and undemonstrative. Coralee learns early in life to keep her questions to herself.

Coralee’s only companion other than her distant father is Maureen Higgins, the housekeeper. Maureen was once very beautiful, but she says a former lover dashed acid on her face and body, leaving her scarred and disfigured. Maureen is kind to Coralee, but she, too, has secrets and keeps Coralee from getting too close even though they work together on household duties daily.

Professor Sardie opens The Museum of Extraordinary Things each May for the season. The Museum is near Coney Island where other such museums and entertainments are also found. Sardie fumes and fusses about Dreamland, a large amusement park taking away his business. As a result, he keeps a locked workshop in the basement where he tries to develop the latest oddity that he can display in his museum.

From an early age, Sardie trains Coralee to swim in the Hudson regardless of weather and how cold the river may be; the only exception is the dead of winter. She becomes a strong swimmer and can hold her breath for a long time. No doubt, Sardie hits upon making Coralee into a swimmer because her fingers are webbed, a birth defect. He requires Coralee to wear gloves summer and winter to hide her hands.

For the early years of her life, Coralee is forbidden to enter the museum; she catches glimpses of oddities in jars, but the museum itself and her father’s basement workshop are off limits. When she is ten, Sardie builds a tank for Coralee and bills her as a mermaid. He arranges a tube for her to use for breathing; it is hidden in the back of the tank, and Coralee’s movements as she sways back and forth hide the breathing tube.

Sardie dreams of finding the next great oddity that will make his fortune. He is much like any other huckster looking for the ONE thing that will make him great and wealthy. His lust for that greatness and wealth leads him to do unspeakable things. He tries to whip up stories about a monster in the Hudson. He even instructs Coralee to carry a knife with her on her dark, nightly swims so she can knick a fisherman’s hand unseen, thus reinforcing the idea of the monster in the river. Then Sardie will “capture” the monster and display it in his Museum of Extraordinary Things.

Sardie hires a variety of people to exhibit themselves in the Museum of Extraordinary Things. Coralee and Maureen get to know the people and spend time with them. Some work for only one season and never return; others return year after year. Raymond Morris, known as wolfman, becomes a particular favorite with both Maureen and Coralee. He is a gentle man who loves reading. When Sardie dismisses Morris, Morris finds work at Dreamland, further infuriating Sardie who resents Dreamland.

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Coralee’s story alternates with a story featuring Ezekial Cohen, Eddie. Eddie and his father flee from the Ukraine after “the wild men on horseback came to burn our village to ashes,” killing Ezekial’s mother when the house and entire village burned. Joseph (Yoysef) and Ezekial were out of the village when the men came “to murder our people merely because of our faith.” They managed to get to New York where they lived with “twenty men and boys in a tenement building on Ludlow Street. The toilet was in an alleyway. There was no heat, only a stove that burned whatever coal and wood we could gather from the streets.”

Eddie becomes street smart very early; he learns to be a tailor, but then he hears of the Wizard, a Mr. Hochman, who hires boys to do odd jobs. Eddie becomes adept at finding lost people and things for Hochman.

Then Eddie meets Moses Levy, a photographer, and becomes his apprentice, leaving Hochman. Eddie is fascinated by photography and learns how to take pictures and develop them with Levy. After the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Samuel Weiss, a tailor who knows Eddie’s father, seeks out Eddie and asks him to find his daughter Hannah who is still missing following the fire.

The quest for Hannah brings Eddie into contact with Coralee, not directly at first. On one of her training swims, Coralee drifts further than her father has expected, so she comes ashore where Eddie and his dog Mitts are standing on the marshy land near the river. It is quite dark, so Eddie does not see her, but Coralee spots him and is instantly drawn to him. She resists speaking to him or even going near him, but his face and figure are etched into her memory.

Coralee’s and Eddie’s stories will finally intersect. Readers must be patient in letting each story evolve until the logical meeting of the two.

Below are images of Dreamland burning on Coney Island and a picture of Dreamland before the fire. Professor Sardie resents Dreamland because it makes inroads into his business.

One more note about The Museum of Extraordinary Things comes to mind. Hoffman uses italics for both Eddie’s and Coralee’s inner dialogues. I find reading long passages in italics hard on my eyes and therefore irritating. Had I not been reading the book for a book club, I might have quit reading!

 

The Book Whisperer Learns About Gender-Neutral Pronouns

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My friend Monte, a fellow retired English professor, gave me a copy of A Quick & Easy Guide to THEY/THEM PRONOUNS by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson. She suggested I read the book and pass it along to someone else to read and pass along and so it goes as Kurt Vonnegut would say. In fact, Bongiovanni and Jimerson provide much the same suggestion on page 6: “We want to keep this book short and affordable, so you can give it to friends, family, co-workers, or random people on the street.” Above, the top picture is Archie Bongiovanni and the lower picture is Tristan Jimerson.

The book itself is funny and engaging while making the point that pronouns matter. By reading A Quick & Easy Guide to THEY/THEM PRONOUNS, you will have knowledge about gender neutral pronouns yet not “have to do all the heavy lifting yourself.”

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Archie identifies “as non-binary. This means I don’t really identify as male or female.” He uses they/them pronouns. Tristan identifies “as cisgender, which means I identify with the gender assigned to me at birth. In my case, male.”

A Quick & Easy Guide to THEY/THEM PRONOUNS written in graphic novel style continues with Archie and Tristan explaining gender-neutral pronouns and their uses. The two friends work well together in explaining why we should care about gender-neutral pronouns and which ones to use.

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In fact, at the end of A Quick & Easy Guide to THEY/THEM PRONOUNS, Archie and Tristan provide “quick and easy scripts for when you don’t know what to say.” From the book:

How to ask about someone’s pronouns: “Hi, I’m ___________ and I use __________pronouns. What about you?”

“What pronouns do you all use?”

“Let’s all go around and say our names and pronouns.”

As one who grew up in Arkansas saying y’all, I am quite comfortable with the language of the second question above.

Tristan and Archie go on to give advice on times when a person “messes up someone’s pronouns”:

“Oops, I’m sorry. (Then carry on with whatever you were saying but with the correct pronouns.”

“Oh, shoot, Sorry, I’m still wrapping my head around all of this, but I’m boing to get better. Please correct me if I mess up again.” (Then carry on with whatever you were saying, but with the correct pronouns.)

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At the end of the book, Tristan and Archie list extra resources found on the Web.

Archie Bongiovanni is a cartoonist. They also teach comic courses. One fact people should know about Archie is “they will always eat the entire bag of Doritos in one sitting.”

Tristan Jimerson is a freelance copywriter, having been published in Creativity magazine and The Egoist. He also has comedy spots on The Moth. He writes copy for “everything from exercise equipment to electronics.” A fact about Tristan is that he “grew up on the rolling plains of rural Iowa, and after deciding that wasn’t cold enough, moved to Minnesota.”

 

The Book Whisperer Discovers the Old But Not Dead Club

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Usually, the Book Whisperer posts a picture of the author and a picture of the book’s cover. Since Hendrik Groen is a pseudonym and I am unable to read Dutch, I could not  find a verifiable picture of Peter de Smet, the author of The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old.

The Book Whisperer kept seeing “the #1 international bestseller” The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old popping up in lists of books to read. After a wait of several weeks, the book made its way to me at the library even though the book has been out since 2014. In fact a sequel has been published: On the Bright Side. During the reading and after the reading of The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old, I have had mixed emotions from sad to happy.

Groen lives in a care home for the elderly in Amsterdam. He writes in his diary daily, recording the events of the elderly inmates as he sees them, unfiltered. These unfiltered accounts cause my mixed emotions. Groen reports on the infirmities, the laughs, the sorrows, the friendships, the petty disagreements, and the injustices.

Hendrik Groen calls himself mild-mannered, but he does have a saucy streak that sneaks out occasionally if secretly. He is a good friend and helps those around him, especially his close friend Evert Duiker who lives in a care apartment nearby that allows pets because he has a dog. Evert and Hendrik spend a great deal of time together.

On the third Monday of the month, members of the care home have “some cultural activity in the recreation room.” After a musical performance in February, Hendrik and some friends are sitting at a table and “the talk turned to chronic dearth of distractions.” Graeme throws out the idea that the group needs outside entertainment more often.

At that moment, Hendrik, Evert, Eefje, Edward, Grietje, and Graeme brought the Old But Not Dead Club into being. After much discussion, the group agrees to the following rules:

  1. The goal of the club is to increase the enjoyment of advanced age by arranging outings.
  2. The outings will set off at 11:00 a.m. on a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.
  3. No whining allowed.
  4. The organizer must take into account the limits of the state pension.
  5. The organizer will not divulge more information about the trip beforehand than is strictly necessary.
  6. Outside of points 2 to 6, anything goes.
  7. This club is closed. No new members until further notice.

The members of the Old But Not Dead Club decide that each will in turn plan the outing for the group.

Hendrik often has coffee with Anja, the office secretary. She helps Hendrik when he wants to know the rules governing the care home. Mrs. Stelwagen, the matron, continually tells Hendrik and other residents they may not do whatever it is they wish to do because “it’s against the rules.” When Hendrik asks to see the rules, Mrs. Stelwagen stalls or tells him that is also against the rules. Anja becomes Hendrik’s ally and secretly copies the rules for him. Unfortunately, that may be what gets her fired from her job.

The Old But Not Dead Club does garner some criticism from other residents who grumble, most likely wishing they could belong. The members of the group plan the outings with utmost care, arranging for a minibus and whatever other arrangements must be made for the good time. Ria and Antoine Travemundi are very much interested in the Old But Not Dead Club. They suggest a cooking club and that the members would get the ingredients and cook a meal together. Of course, readers can expect that Mrs. Stelwagen will put a stop to that notion right away: against regulations.

The outings are a great success. Hendrik plans a cooking adventure at a cooking school, so the members do have an opportunity to cook a gourmet meal and eat before returning to the care home.

Throughout the story, Henrik mentions the pensioners worry about how much money they have, who if anyone will visit on Sunday, and the changing regulations at the care home itself. More and more restrictions, cost-cutting measures, keep appearing and rumors of the home being closed abound.

Hendrik writes about accidents, mostly falls, and deaths of the residents. He even talks about getting a suicide pill in order to take his own life, but the readers sense he is not serious about that idea because Hendrik has much life yet to live. Hendrik has experienced sorrow in his life. His young daughter drowned. His wife suffers from mental illness and she has had to live in an institution for years. She lives two hours away from Hendrik, and he does visit her occasionally and walks on the grounds of the institution with her. He tells himself she knows who he is, but he is not certain of that fact.

Hendrik writes about the “little things that get you. Or rather, that you don’t get.” He goes on to describe a fight with can tabs he cannot fit his fingers under in order to open the can. Other annoyances include “vacuum-sealed LIFT UP HERE corners too small to pull, childproof cleaning products, applesauce lids, impossible to twist open prosecco corks, blister packs; they’re all specially designed to make it as difficult as possible for feeble, trembling, old hands to manage.” That rant reminds me of an episode on Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry David tries to open a blister pack.

Hendrik writes about one of his visits to the doctor. In the examining room, “I found the sight of my own gaunt nakedness in the doctor’s mirror quite alarming.” He goes on to describe humans as “rather misshapen and ugly animals.” He contends that “people are much nicer looking with clothes on than without.”

The Old But Not Dead Club succeeds most of the time in the outings planned. Occasionally, the members experience a hitch in the plans or the plans don’t turn out quite as expected. On the whole, though, the group has fun and the members enjoy getting out. Part of the enjoyment for each member in charge is the fun of planning something for the others.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old reminds me a bit of The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, a story set in a care home in Sweden.

Peter de Smet, a Dutch writer, uses the pseudonym Hendrik Groen; his name was secret for several years before readers discovered who was writing the Groen diaries. Unfortunately, all the articles I found on Peter de Smet are in Dutch. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old won the Audience Award for the Dutch Book in 2016. In 2017, both The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old and The Bright Side were filmed and shown as a TV series called Hendrik Groen’s Secret Diary.

Read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old. It is funny, sad, and heartwarming at the same time. Hendrik does not sugarcoat growing old, but he also shows readers that old is not the same as dead!

The Book Whisperer Admires Wimmelbilderbuchs

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In the Town All Year ‘Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner is a prime example of Wimmelbilderbuch. The literal translation from German is “teeming picture book.” We might also call it hidden picture book. Berner’s work has been published in fifteen countries with close to 500.000 copies printed.

Writer/illustrators of Wimmebilderbuchs draw full-page spreads of the pictures. The scenes are detailed with people, animals, and objects. Children and adults delight in discovering the items. Because the books have few or no words, children can make up their own stories to go with the pictures. That also means the books can be read over and over and be new each time.

The British Where’s Wally? series helped spread the success of Wimmelbilderbuchs in other countries. Richard Scarry has used the concept of Wimmelbilderbuchs. The art form is very old, dating back to Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, 1450 – 1516.

Rotraut Berner’s books are charming and delightful. In the Town All Year ‘Round depicts scenes from the four seasons. Each section begins with a picture like the one below.

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The words appearing above represent the few found in the book. Some businesses will also have a name in other pictures, but children can make up the story to fit the pictures. In making up the stories, children can also rewrite the stories each time they look at the book.

The next picture then shows the name of the season with appropriate pictures on the page.

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The picture below depicts one of the scenes. Note the layers of the picture. One can tell a story about the sky and the road above the farm and then continue with the roadside vegetable stand, the customer, and the animals. The stories will be endless!

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