Monday, June 14, 2021

Giving Books to My Local Public Library

When our local public library closed because of the pandemic, that didn't stop my wife and me from reading. It did affect how we acquired our books, though. I learned how to browse the public library's book list from the online catalog and, thankfully, was able to check out books via their curbside delivery program. 

I discussed my online browsing and curbside pick-up in an earlier post: "My Local Public Library Has Only Curbside Service--How I Learned to Browse Online." Learning how to browse for library books online has been a fun adventure, especially when browsing for books my wife might like to read. I've discovered some new sub-genres (such as the "cozy" mystery) and some new authors, in addition to forming what really amounts to my wife and my very own husband/wife book club.

Often, though, an author we discover online has only one or two books from a series that our library has on the shelves. We've had to purchase books, used or new, to fill in a series we are reading. As an example, the author Mary Alice Monroe has written a trilogy set in the Carolinas called the "Lowcountry Summer" series. Our library had the first two books in the series but not the third, which we bought. It also had one book from Monroe's "Beach House" series, so we bought the other books in the series, plus some of Monroe's standalone novels. 

Another author whom we've bought quite a few books from is Anna Lee Huber. Huber has written nine books in one series and four in another, and our library had the last book from each series. After researching Huber, my wife and I decided to buy the first book in each series to see how much we liked the writing. We ended up buying all the books in each series--except the last, of course, since our LPL had those two on its shelves. 

The question arises, though, of what to do with all those books we've bought, especially since they are "just one time" reads. And the answer, of course, is to donate them to the library!

When I mentioned to the librarian that I had some books my wife and I had bought that filled in missing books from some series that the library owned, the librarian's response was somewhat unexpected, even though on second thought it made perfect sense. She said that not all donated books make the shelves. I knew this, since the library holds regular book sales and even has a section of the library that holds used books for sale.

The librarian also said that even if a book donated completes a trilogy, as my "Lowcountry Summer" example mentioned earlier, the book still might not make it to the shelves. It seems that it would; after all, why not complete the trilogy? What the librarian explained was that if the two books in the trilogy had only been checked out once--say in the last five years--and that once was by me, then rather than completing the trilogy, the two books on the shelves might be discarded and included, along with my donation, to a regular library book sale.

It doesn't really matter to me, though. Either way I am supporting the library, either by improving the quality of the books to loan or by adding to the library's coffers when they sell a book I donated. That makes me happy. As far as I'm concerned, free public libraries are among the most nurturing, positive institutions that were ever imagined. Read on and prosper!

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Thursday, June 3, 2021

My Canceled WordPress.com Blog Misadventure

It all started when Blogger's Feedburner "Follow by Email" was scheduled to be shut down. I needed a new email subscriber service, so I decided to move to WordPress.com, with their Premium $96 a year plan. Boy, was that a mistake!

I had been at Blogger with my Green Goddess Glamping camping blog for three years. I've had this Tom Kepler Writing blog at Blogger for over ten years. The composing process is pretty easy, what used to be called a WYSIWYG site, a "wizzy-wig" or What You See Is What You Get set-up. Pretty easy to use. The WordPress Premium level platform did have some more options, along with a learning curve--but I felt all was within my capacity.

Then I imported my three years of blog posts from Blogger and discovered that everywhere that I had used an single quote or double quote, the text came out including a backslash, such as can/'t instead of can't, or /"Follow by Email/" instead of "Follow by Email." I like the WordPress online chat service for problems, but didn't like the news I received. When I reported that I had written over 250 articles in three years and all the articles included this problem--and also page titles--I was told the Premium plan could not help me--I could go to the $300 a year plan, though! The "Happiness Engineer" chat comments are below.

By manually removing them, WordPress will display the titles, content, etc without the backslash character. I don't think there is an automatic way of doing this on the Premium plan but let me double-check for a moment.
Another idea that will work is creating a local version of your site, using search/replace plugin on the local site to clean up the unnecessary characters, then import or do a search and replace on that setup, export that site and import it here.

I have to admit that after researching online and finding out that this issue has been around for over ten years and that WordPress.com hasn't found a fix for this for the $96 per year plan (or the free, entry-level plan, for that matter), that pretty much tripped my trigger. 

I researched my original problem of finding a new "follow by email" service and found that Mailchimp has a great platform for free (with under 500 subscribers). I activated that service for this blog and then decided to move back to Blogger with my Green Goddess Glamping blog. 

In all fairness, I imagine the $300 a year option for WordPress.com is wonderful. For my little one-person blogs, though, I don't want to pay that amount for each, not when there is another way to go. WordPress.com is probably a good way to go if you're starting a blog out from scratch. Importing, though? Beware!

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Anna Lee Huber Historical Mysteries: Her Wily Characterizations

I enjoy writing about what I'm currently reading, and my current binge will probably rate several blog posts over time. I've been reading what one blogger at Book Riot has described as "feminist historical mysteries." I've taken each of those three words and analyzed them in the context of what I've been reading, and have gained some new insights.

Over the winter I began gathering books from our local public library for my wife's reading. Why didn't she do so herself? Well, I'm retired and she's still working, the library was closed for browsing (only curbside pick-up) which meant browsing was relegated to online catalog search, and I enjoy browsing (whether online or eyeballing the shelves). I also like to do nice things for my wife. What I discovered in my browsing is that there is an entire sub-genre out there of women mysteries. This is nothing new for me to discover, of course. After all, Agatha Christie is one of the best-selling novelists of all time, and she wrote stories that included not only male detective Hercule Poirot but also strong female sleuths. One BBC writer affirmed that Christie "fought Victorian literary conventions, which saw women painted as frivolous and focused on men, to bring the public gutsy females with great minds," listing four heroines that made Christie "an unlikely feminist icon." 

What my wife and I have been noticing and appreciating in our current reading is that "feminist historical mysteries" include some very good reads. Anna Lee Huber is one writer who is currently publishing intelligent, adept mysteries that include strong female protagonists. 

Why attach the word "feminist" to her books? Huber is publishing two mystery series, the Lady Darby mysteries, set in the early 1800s, and the Verity Kent series of mysteries, set in the World War I era. Both women protagonists are intelligent "inquiry agents," yet also have to work within a melieu that severely defines and restricts the "appropriate" behavior of women. These women protagonists also are paired with love and work partners who are more open to having equal relationships with women. The result of Huber's characterizations is that not only are the gender limitations of past eras seen but the challenges that face our current times are also illustrated. I like, though, how Huber characterizes the success of the couples as being based in mutual respect and honesty. The main characters are developed in a balanced manner so that gender depictions don't skew into stereotypes. 

These are historical novels, and Huber does capture the essence of the time and place. Her descriptions of castles on the moor or descriptions of the streets of London feel authentic, as do her details of the fashion of each era, whether in clothes or architecture. I especially appreciate, though, how Huber is not heavy-handed in her inclusion of historical detail and relevant background information. Such detail is assiduously woven into the narrative so that its inclusion doesn't interrupt the flow of the action. In the Verity Kent series, I found myself stepping into the WWI era in a manner that I hadn't before, feeling the overpowering stress of the trenches on the war front and also the stress of wives and families back in England, hoping against hope that the boy on the red bicycle doesn't arrive at their door with a telegram from the war office. 

Huber applies the "mystery" of these feminist historical mysteries with a deft hand. The clues arrive with due diligence, and the suspects are sufficient to keep us guessing. I honestly didn't know who the real culprit was in many of the novels until the very last few pages. As each series progresses, the protagonists become more skilled in their inquiry skills; in addition, the working relationship between the protagonists and their partners deepens. This provides not only the satisfaction of following the trail of bread crumbs the sleuths have to follow but also the engaging in the increasing richness of the relationships as they evolve. The Verity Kent series also adds the mystery "pearl" of a Moriarty-like character to the series. Just as Sherlock Holmes and Watson had their arch-villain rival in Moriarty, so Verity and Sidney Kent have their evil plotter--who shall remain unnamed to avoid spoiling the fun of discovery.

One standard I use to determine an author's skill is whether or not that author is able to credibly develop characters, no matter what gender. Do those characters seem real? Do they come alive on the page? The ability to create believable and relatable characters is one of Anna Lee Huber's strengths as a writer. I've come to realize she's just one of many women writers who have tapped into the interest in "feminist historical fiction."  Huber and other writers tap into that fascination by readers that Mark Twain tapped into with his novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Author's Court. Beyond Twain's satire is just the simple allure of a character displaced in time with special knowledge and abilities. Huber has created her women protagonists to have skills, abilities, and predilections that are more modern than the times in which her stories are set. The struggles of these characters--and their partners--to find fulfillment in their lives are not so different than our own (except possibly multiplied by an "x" factor), and that is one secret of Huber's success as a mystery novelist. Because we want to prevail, we want her wily main characters to prevail. If they can do it, then maybe so can we.

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Joy of Spring Gardening

Chives, arugula, radishes, kale, cilantro, and asparagus. The spring garden is beginning to produce, but that "produce" isn't just the vegetables my wife and I eat, even though our fresh food is a substantial part of what we gain.

The first positive gain each year from our garden is just getting outside into the fresh air and open sky. After a long year inside, being outside is uplifting, and physical tasks in that fresh air are invigorating to the system even when there is some fatigue. Even when "getting outside" means being in our mini-greenhouse, there is still the smell of fresh soil, the warmer temperatures, and the promise of what is to come at a later date outside.

Every spring brings for me a sense of renewal--and it's not symbolic but actual. The earth thaws and can be worked. The soil is ready for planting and watering. The physical activity and the participation in the spring cycle of the seasons is like jumping on a streetcar. We are moved along with the plants; we are uplifted, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. By engaging in the process of planting and nurturing the seedlings, we enliven within ourselves that same dynamism that drives the plants from the seed--stem and leaves to the sky, roots deep into the soil. As poet Dylan Thomas wrote: "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees / Is my destroyer." Beyond and deeper than mind and intellect, we are one with nature.

We cannot minimize the simple act of working the earth, though. And it is work, getting our hands dirty in order to get the soil ready for a new season. There is an inertia to the cold, dark, sleeping months of winter that working in the garden can dissipate. For every sore muscle and blister, there is the inspiration of the seeds and of sap uprising that calls us to get the job done, to not miss the planting time, and once the seed is in the ground and the garden plot watered, I find it impossible to not lean on the rake and admire the beauty of sun warming the soil, the joy of handing the job over to nature, to sun and rain and soil.

The garden can be a mandala, circles within circles, cycles within cycles. To attune ourselves to the grammar of our garden is to learn the language of nature, to discover within the simple syntax of the garden the cosmic song of life. We have to be receptive, though, and to pay attention. If we give ourselves to our garden, our garden will give us back ourselves. We are the sun and rain and earth and wind--and the underlying unity from which all the elements arise. I am never alone in the garden but share a common bond, breathe the common air, knowing in my bones that there is nothing common about the miracle of spring and the sweet fragrance of peach blossoms blowing across the awakened earth. We are bees in flight. Let us do our work, according to our true nature; let us find the nectar in the flower and celebrate our time on this beautiful earth.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

A Covid Parable, a Parallel Tale

I'm calling this a parable or a tale, but this is actually a true story. It's the correspondences, the connections which make this story resonate beyond its simple premise.

My neighbor for many years was an elder lady who lived by herself. Her husband had passed away long ago, and her daughter was old enough to be a great-grandmother. Margaret was almost ninety years old when she told me this story. Still living independently and driving her car herself, my son and I enjoyed her quiet, steady, unflappable approach to life. Come winter, we would always shovel her sidewalk and driveway for her. Come spring, Margaret always gave me some fresh rhubarb from her backyard for rhubarb coffee cake.

Margaret had driven a car for so long that her driving experience pre-dated the use of seatbelts. Those vintage autos just didn't have seatbelts--and don't even think about airbags.

"For a long time," Margaret told me one day, "I didn't wear seatbelts, even after cars started coming out with them. It wasn't that I didn't believe in them. I'd known people who had been thrown through windshields in a wreck."

The question I asked, of course, was if she knew that seatbelts were effective, then why hadn't she used them . . . and why did she use them now?

"It wasn't that I didn't believe in seatbelts," Margaret said. "It was just this one thing that kept me from buckling up. You see, I was afraid that if I was in a crash, my seatbelt would get stuck, and I would be trapped and die in a fire. I was afraid of burning up in a car fire. That would be such a terrible way to die, and it has happened to people, you know."

"So what changed your mind?" I asked.

"It was just time, really," Margaret said. "More and more people used seatbelts. More and more information and facts came out about seatbelts and how they made you safer. Eventually, I realized that there was no doubt that seatbelts saved many people from dying from automobile accidents. I couldn't argue that."

She said, "I thought about my fear of dying by fire, trapped in a car, and I realized that was a possibility. It did happen. I also came to realize, though, that many, many people died in car crashes. You could almost call it a common occurrence. Being in a car crash, the seatbelt sticking, and then having the car catch on fire and you dying in the fire--now, that was a very rare happening, a very small part of the deaths from car wrecks. I just came to realize that it was much more likely that I'd die in a regular crash than from a fiery crash that I couldn't escape because of my seatbelt. I just had to face my fear and choose the safest course."

Margaret chose the safest course of action, the safer of two possibilities--seatbelt or no seatbelt. She chose to wear a seatbelt while driving. "It took a while for me to be comfortable wearing that seatbelt," she said. "I knew I was safer, though, and that got me past my fear."

Additional Information

--from the Northeast Georgia Health System blog

--8CBS News Show, Las Vegas