Dear Charlotte:

21st April 2016

I’m a writer, of sorts, yet in all of my years writing about books and reading, I’ve written only briefly (here and here) about my love for Jane Eyre.

How does one talk about a book that has resided in heart and mind for so long? Suffice it to say, Jane was my friend at a young age, when I had no idea how to pronounce the words rendezvous or hors d’ouevres. I likely caught very little of the very adult love affair between Jane and Rochester the first few times I read about them, but I felt deeply the death of Helen and the harsh, unfair punishments Jane received while in school. And years later when I read it yet again and Jane wrenches herself away from the man she’s grown to love, I couldn’t imagine being that strong and brave. An autobiography, eh?

Of course, what kind of admirer would I be without having read your other works? I enjoyed them (and honestly need to reread them), but my heart belongs to Jane Eyre. I have mentioned briefly before that Jane Eyre is a hard book to love, but that’s a lie. What I meant by that is simply that so many people want to criticize it, both when you published it and all these many years later, and I, for one, have a hard time contextualizing criticism for a book I fell in love with at age 8.

So I’ll continue to love it, especially as, at its opening, Jane Eyre so perfectly described my reading experience as a little girl:

A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window- seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

Stormy days are still my favorite reading weather. How much pleasure – and pain and joy and hope – you’ve brought me over the years. Thank you, Charlotte, and happy birthday.

jenn aka the picky girl

Reading: Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

1st September 2015

girlwaitswithgun*I requested this book for review via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A collision between the Kopp sisters’ wagon and a dangerous silk factory owner’s automobile sets in motion much more than these secluded, secretive sisters bargained for. Shocked and appalled by Mr. Kaufman’s failure to assist, apologize to, or compensate she and her sisters, Constance Kopp confronts the man in his place of business. His response is months upon months of threats, sinister letters, and damaged property.

Unwilling to move her troupe to her brother’s family’s house in town, Constance takes it upon herself to defend her family and their property, by any means necessary, accepting and learning to use a gun at the urging of the local sheriff and even involving the press, earning a headline in the papers: Girl Waits With Gun. Along the way, the sheriff comes to respect Constance for her determination and can-do spirit.

Based on a true story, Girl Waits With Gun is great fun, though the ever-present danger the Kopp sisters face gives the book an edge I hadn’t quite expected. I either hadn’t remembered or didn’t know the book was based on a true story, and learning that, along with the real v. embellished factoids at the end, was enjoyable.

My only real complaint is that the way Constance’s story ends (I won’t spoil it, even though if you read anything about this book you’ll likely find out), I was even more interested in her future endeavors, as well as those of Fleurette, a naive, effervescent young woman, and their sister Norma, whose tough demeanor and handling of carrier pigeons made me curious as to her own story.

Add this to your Goodreads list here.

Reading: Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

9th August 2015

nagasaki*I requested this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 In her preface to Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard talks about living in Yokohama in high school as an international student. On a school trip, her class visited Nagasaki, and only there did she realize the lack of knowledge she had about this city’s role in World War II.

As I mentioned in my Pacific War reading post, I felt (and feel) the same way. Southard – and others who write on this topic – discuss that many people do not even realize that there was a second bombing. Hiroshima was the first, and for many, it dominated the news, leaving Nagasaki to suffer quietly.

Strangely, though, Nagasaki was subjected to the more powerful of the two bombs, a plutonium bomb. Just three days after the devastation of Hiroshima, when news of the extent of the destruction had not yet reached Tokyo, the U.S. flew by its original destination because of low visibility and headed to its next target, Nagasaki.

Though some survivors of Hiroshima arrived in Nagasaki and were able to warn family and friends to wear white and lay low, the majority of the city was immune to the air raid sirens, and no siren sounded prior to the bombing. The result was utter decimation of a city, its people, and its culture.

The hibakusha, “bomb-affected people,” survived against all odds. Those not initially killed suffered from flash burns, inhaled glass and other matter, and, what would soon come to be called, Disease X, or radiation disease.

As Pellegrino does, Southard illustrates the mayhem directly following the bombing, but she specifically tracks five hibakusha and their struggle to recover, both physically and mentally.

Japan was already hurting, and citizens of Nagasaki were hungry and malnourished. With little medicine and virtually no support, survivors depended on the doctors and others who worked, some ill themselves, to provide them with whatever care they could. Once Japan surrendered and MacArthur and his troops stepped in, the general’s censorship left the country with little to no knowledge of the effects of the atomic bombings. The spread of misinformation to the rest of the world and America’s unwillingness to treat hibakusha lest such an act look like an apology, further restricted the help available.

The unknown and terrifying effects of radiation disease made hibakusha pariahs, and many refused to leave home because the physical marks of the bombs made them easily identifiable. Later, some hibakusha were unable to obtain jobs and marriages because of their statuses, forcing many to live in silence.

Southard talks about the challenges in telling the stories of Taniguchi, Do-oh Mineko, Nagano Etsuko, Wada Koichi, and Yoshida Katsuji, acknowledging, as she says, “the inherent limitation and unreliability of memory, especially traumatic memory” and counters this through extensive research and fact checking. Photographic evidence and vivid scarring reinforce their stories, and these five travel often, speaking of their experiences and calling for an end to nuclear warfare.

Their remarkable stories and desire to speak globally for peace makes for a sobering, necessary book, yes, especially 70 years after the fact. Southard quotes Yoshida: “At first I hated Americans for what they did to me…I didn’t understand how any nation could use such a cruel weapon on human beings. But in my old age, I have learned that holding a grudge does nobody any good. I no longer hate Americans. I only hate war.”

Regardless of your own (hopefully) conflicted notions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War will certainly further develop a story many of us may have only seen as a mushroom cloud, illuminating those beneath it.

Add this to your Goodreads list.

Fridays at Home: The Eclectic Bedroom

7th August 2015

When people visit my home, they usually comment that they love my rooms but aren’t sure how I put different pieces together. I can’t claim credit for that because I guess I’ve never really known any other way to decorate. My mom and dad always had a nice home, but they were – as I am – on a budget, so big box, matching pieces never filled their home. Chairish – a site where design lovers can buy and sell furniture, both locally and nationally (you can sort your search by location) – asked me to join other bloggers for a Mix and Chic Style Challenge. You know I was so in. 🙂

When I bought my house, any extra money went to add central air conditioning and heat – a must in southeast Texas. I pieced together my rooms from different vintage shops, but over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable in trusting my gut when it comes to decorating and have been slowly revising different rooms in the last several years.

After ten years with the same bedding and bedroom decor, I decided it was time for a refresh. For months, I pinned ideas to Pinterest. Personally, even though Pinterest is now chock full of ads, I still use it to curate ideas. That way, I can look at a board and see what I gravitate toward. I realized I wanted to keep dark bedroom walls (and even go darker) but modernize most everything else. I chose a bed and nightstands first. My nightstands match for the first time ever, but to keep the room from being too matchy-matchy, I went with different lamp styles. I painted. I chose bedding. My grandmother’s sofa keeps the space from being all modern, all the time, but I also didn’t want the two sections of the room to look like two different styles.

My antique vanity has seen better days, and it was a little too big, so I’m looking at options. I like the idea of an ultra modern vanity with a vintage mirror. Who says the two can’t live together well? I have a vintage lamp for the top along with candlesticks for my many, many bracelets, so I think something like I’ve added below would work well.

It’s still a work in progress, but each night I climb in bed and sigh. I love the changes. Putting together an eclectic space certainly takes longer than buying a pre-designed set, but it’s also extremely satisfying. Once I get the final pieces in place, you know I’ll share.

Bedroom 1

 

As for how to put together a room, I recommend several things, though the order can change:

  • Think about how you want the room to feel
  • Curate your style – look back at magazine photos you’ve loved or Pinterest boards
  • Envision specific pieces or check out sites like Pinterest, Chairish, or local sale sights for inspiration
  • Pick one major thing – for me it can be paint color, a piece of furniture, or a rug and then build a room around it
  • Get started!

Reading: To Hell and Back by Charles Pellegrino

6th August 2015

tohellandback*I requested this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Today marks the type of anniversary some will celebrate and others will denigrate. Exactly 70 years ago today, the United States, in what some say was an effort to end the war and others claim was a way to justify the expense of scientific research, dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan.

My Pacific War reading inevitably led me here, but I knew I should not read anything regarding the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki without gaining a much broader understanding of what led humanity to this moment. Flyboys by James Bradley gave me a look at Japan’s history and rise as a military power as well as the cruelty of the Japanese military to American pilots. The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan gave me an insider’s view of the making of the bombs as well as the American ignorance of such raw power.

By the time I made it to Charles Pellegrino’s To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima, I thought I was ready. He opens his book with this line: “Had Mary Shelley or Edgar Allan Poe been born into the mid-twentieth century, they would never have had to invent horror.”

And then it begins. Pellegrino starts at the epicenter in Hiroshima, mixing science with humanity, breaking down what the bomb did to the humans below it as well as who those humans were and what they were likely doing, based on routine and the flash prints left behind where once men, women, and children stood.

He weaves survivor memory and testimony, illustrating the immediate chaos of the bomb’s aftermath, describing the teacher whose face would be marked from the flash of the bomb, as a student held up her calligraphy on rice paper, creating the only barrier between her and the pika-don, or “flash-boom” as the Japanese termed it.

The first 50 pages of this book resulted in me gasping aloud again and again, shocked at the apocalyptic world it described and bookmarking information I’d never come across before and wanted to come back to.

First published in 2010, Pellegrino’s book was recalled by the publisher when the New York Times uncovered false information – the book set forth, in part, that an American was killed and others irradiated, based on the testimony of a man who apparently lied about his involvement in the entire affair.

This publication, by Rowman & Littlefield, has no such testimony, and names and situations Pellegrino discusses have popped up in multiple books I’ve read on the topic.

All this to say, the book is not only compelling but a reliable and fascinating account of the survivors not just of Hiroshima, but of the men and women deemed “double survivors,” those who left Hiroshima in time for the bombing in Nagasaki.

Pellegrino gives voice to their suffering, their sorrow, and their spirit of survival in what is, for me, required reading on the subject.

Add it to your Goodreads list.