Thursday Book Feature: Hidden Figures

Hidden figures: the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race Lee
Shatterly, Margot.Copyright 2016

This book follows the lives of four African American female mathematicians who worked in a Virginia aerospace lab during World War II. It provides background information about technical aspects of the war and how blacks were treated. In the prologue, the author talks about her life growing up with her father working at that same laboratory and how she was inspired to tell these women’s stories.

This was one of two titles my book club chose for discussion this month. Although the historical information was interesting, there was way too much of it. I would just get into the story of one of these women when the author would switch from storyteller mode to historian mode. I also think the subtitle should have been shortened. I got through about five chapters before realizing that these women’s stories, though interesting, are not worth slogging through all the unnecessary background information.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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Thursday Book Feature: Reblog–Deliverance from Jericho

I read and reviewed this book several years ago. Recently, the author told me it’s now on Bookshare, an online service that makes books available in accessible formats for those like me with disabilities that prevent or make reading difficult. Since I haven’t had time to read anything new lately, I decided to post a link to this old review. Bruce is one of many children who had negative experiences at government-run schools for the blind in the U.S. and Canada before 1970. I hope you’ll find his story inspirational and thought-provoking.

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Deliverance from Jericho
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We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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Thursday Book Feature: News of the World

News of the World

By Paulette Jiles

Copyright 2016.

In Texas in 1870 after the Civil War, Captain Kidd travels around the state, presenting world news to paying audiences in rural communities with little or no access to newspapers. In Wichita Falls, he meets Johanna, a ten-year-old girl who was captured by Indians when she was six, then rescued by the Army. He reluctantly agrees to take her 500 miles across the state to her relatives near San Antonio. Along the way, he tries to domesticate her, and as they encounter outlaws and other interesting characters on their journey, they develop a bond, not unlike grandfather and grandchild. After delivering her to her uncle and aunt in a small farming community near San Antonio, he feels compelled to make a decision that affects her life and his.

One thing I didn’t like about this book is Captain Kidd’s back story, inserted smack dab in the middle of the action. By that time, I was more interested in his journey across Texas with Johanna and couldn’t care less about his battle experiences in the 1812 War and the conflict between Texas and Mexico and his marriage and family and printing business. Although this is, in a way, relevant to the story, a few paragraphs would have sufficed. An entire chapter devoted to this was not necessary.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading about Captain Kid’s and Johanna’s adventures and loved the ending. Sadly, according to an author’s note, many children captured by Indians and later rescued and returned to their families during this time don’t adapt to their original white lifestyles, and no one seems to understand why.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Saturday Song: Both Sides Now by Judy Collins

Last week, I heard on National Public Radio that Judy Collins and Steve Stills from Crosby, Stills, and Nash have just released a new album together. At one time years ago, they were even romantically involved, according to the report. This song was mentioned, although I doubt it’s on the album. I enjoyed listening to it in 1967 when it came out. It was on one of my first eight-track tapes when I was growing up in Arizona and played many times on a Tucson radio station. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War

by Helen Simonson

Copyright 2016

In 1914, Beatrice, a spinster, arrives in an English country village to teach Latin at a grammar school. Although some citizens are skeptical about a female Latin teacher, she is able to make a few friends. Then World War I breaks out, and everyone, including Beatrice, is caught up in the effort to support the troops.

This book has several sub-plots that bring out the injustices of English society during that time. Soon after war breaks out, a group of refugees from Belgium arrives in the village. When one girl is found pregnant, the residents arrange to send her away. When Beatrice tries to help her, she is shunned. In the grammar school where she teaches, a gypsy boy who is bright with a serious interest in learning is not allowed to take a scholarship exam because of his family’s heritage. As a result of the war, lives and limbs are lost, and the book’s ending is happy and sad.

Despite the seriousness of the war and closed-mindedness of certain characters, parts of this book made me laugh. The sadness caused by loss of life as a result of the war moved me nearly to tears. The Summer Before the War made me thankful to be living in today’s world with modern medicine and more liberal views, even though some people still look down on minorities and those less fortunate than ourselves.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Saturday Song: I Feel the Earth Move by Carole King

In the summer of 1971 when I was ten years old, my father and I traveled from our home in Tucson, Arizona, to Sheridan, Wyoming. Grandpa Johnson passed away the winter before, and Grandma needed Dad to help her with the family business, at least for the summer. Johnson Novelty sold coin-operated machines such as jukeboxes, pool tables, vending machines, and video games to businesses in Sheridan and the surrounding area. We ended up moving to Sheridan a couple of years later.
That summer though, memorable events included a rodeo parade and a picnic in the mountains where an adult family friend and I discovered a cave. There were also numerous trips to bars and other establishments where Dad repaired and serviced machines. Of course I was too young to go into the bars.
I also spent many happy hours in the shop with a couple of girls down the street who were my age. We listened to music on a jukebox and played games. Pinball and bowling were two games where I had marginal success despite my limited vision.
The song below was one of many we played on the jukebox. Although I couldn’t understand what it was saying, I loved the beat. This version has a cool drum rift at the end that my younger brother Andy would have loved playing along with on his drum set when he was a kid. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Memoir Offers Insights on Death

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory

By Caitlin Doughty

Copyright 2014.

 

This author, with a degree in medieval history, a star of the online video series, Ask a Mortician, shares the first few years of her experiences working in the death industry. She starts with her first job as a crematory operator in San Francisco, explaining in detail the cremation process and how she was the one to do the actual cremating. She also describes going with another employee to collect bodies and observing the embalming process.

She then talks about how she eventually moved to Los Angeles where she attended a mortician school and became certified. After another job collecting bodies, she gained employment as a funeral director. She also shares her disillusionment with embalming and other techniques used to make a corpse look natural before a viewing. She suggests taking responsibility for what happens to you when you die.

She also talks about her life growing up in Hawaii and how she took an interest in death after seeing a child fall from a second-story balcony of a shopping mall. She touches on the history of death and how other cultures deal with it. In the end, she relates the details of her grandmother’s passing. Her story begins in the morning at the San Francisco crematory and ends at night in a nearby cemetery.

Because of my experiences with death over the years, I was fascinated by some of her stories and horrified by others. Despite the grimness of the subject, I found myself laughing at some of her anecdotes.

When she described shaving a corpse for the first time, I was reminded of the time I saw my late husband Bill’s body at the nursing home before he was taken away. Shaving him was far from my mind, as I stroked his hair and talked to him for the last time.

When Doughty described picking up bodies at hospitals, nursing homes, and people’s homes, I thought of the two people from the funeral home who came to pick up Bill. Soft-spoken, the woman assured me they would take good care of him. When I asked about arrangements, the man said someone would contact me. You can learn more about my experiences with Bill’s death in My Ideal Partner.

When I started reading this book, I was afraid of death, and I still am. I didn’t think Caitlin Doughty could explain what it’s like to die. Nobody really can. Once you find out, there’s no way to tell others.

My brother, a physicist, once said that when you die, you simply don’t exist anymore, but what is that like? When pets die, they are said to have crossed a “rainbow bridge.” Christians believe that when you die, you see Jesus and are reunited with loved ones passed.

I would like to think that when my time comes, I will cross a rainbow bridge and be reunited with Bill, but what if that’s not the case? What if you’re aware of what is happening to you after you die?

What if Bill heard the last loving words I said to him including my promise to see him on the other side someday. What if he knew he was being wrapped in a shroud, strapped to a gurney, transported to the funeral home, and placed in a refrigerator?

Both my parents were cremated. What if they felt the pain of the flames, as their bodies were being burned until there was nothing left but bones?

If you or your family chooses to have a viewing, necessitating an embalming, what if you feel the instruments cutting into the artery on your neck and into your abdomen to drain blood and other internal fluids and infuse chemicals that make you look more natural? Of course lying in a grave for eternity could be boring but certainly better than burning or being stabbed.

I hope I don’t die for a long time, and maybe when I do, someone will know something. In the meantime, this book is a great start to understanding what can happen to your body after you die.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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