Category Archives: Personal

post a day feature

Personal Challenge: A Blog Post a Day in 2015

I woke up a couple of days ago with this thought: I should challenge myself to write a blog post every day during 2015.

I dismissed this thought right away because such a huge commitment seems like setting myself up for failure. Why not just commit to writing a post a day for the month of January? I asked myself. And if that works out, then do it for another month.

But the more I thought about the year-long challenge, the more it excited me. First of all, I know that some of my best ideas arrive just when I wake up. Sleeping allows my conscious mind to pull what it needs out of the chaos of the unconscious. I’ve learned to trust these awakening thoughts, just as I’ve learned to trust my intuition. Second, setting this goal certainly aligns with my recent decision to focus on my own writing. Finally, this challenge would allow me to distribute content across my three blogs:

On the day when I woke up with this thought, I looked throughout the day for ideas to write about. I was surprised and encouraged at how many opportunities I found.

I should emphasize that I don’t intend to write a post a day on each blog, just a post a day for any one of them.

Therefore, I’ve decided to go for it and challenge myself to write a blog post a day in 2015. I could just make a secret pact with myself to try to accomplish this, but I’m formalizing the challenge here to create accountability. I’ll be much less likely to let myself slide if I’ve made a public announcement.

Meeting this challenge will offer a lot of benefits for me right now:

  1. A writer is someone who writes, and this challenge will force me to actually write instead of just thinking about writing.
  2. Looking for something to write about each day will make me more aware of what I’m doing and of what’s happening in the world around me.
  3. Looking all around me for topics will help me distribute content among all three blogs; I’ve been neglecting my personal blog, and it therefore now badly needs some refreshing.
  4. I know from experience that the more I write, the easier writing becomes.
  5. Completing this challenge will demonstrate that I can write every day, not just when I’m in the mood or have nothing else to do instead.
  6. Keeping up with this challenge will help me to practice, practice, practice my writing.

I will allow myself this condition up front: I know there will be times when I can’t publish a post every day, either because I won’t have internet access or I won’t want to announce publicly that I’m not at home. My commitment is to write a post every day, even if I have to publish it, backdated, later.

So, who’s in with me?

Who will accept the challenge of a blog post a day in 2015?

Grab the logo here:

post a day logo

(Right click on the image, save to your computer, then upload to your web site.)

Monday Miscellany: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Ireland!

For only my second trip abroad EVER, I am in Ireland for 10 days. This is definitely the trip of a lifetime for someone with O’Dea relatives on one side of the family and Conklin folks on the other.

More literary content next week. For now, I’m off in search of some green beer.

15 Novels That Stretched My Knowledge

I keep finding book lists on the internet with titles like “Books That Will Change Your Life” and “Books That Will Influence Your Thinking.”

So here’s my list (in no special order): 15 Novels That Stretched My Knowledge and Stayed With Me Long After I’d Read Them.

What novels would make your list? Let us know in the comments. Or, better yet, put your list on your own blog and give us a link in the comments here.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

Cover: To Kill a Mockingbird

Whenever I get to feeling down on humanity, I reread this little gem of a novel and have my faith in the human race restored.

2. Still Alice (2008) by Lisa Genova

Cover: Stilll AliceMuch is written about Alzheimer’s disease, and almost all of it is from the point of view of either caregivers or family and friends who must watch the heartbreaking decline of someone they love. But what is this disease like from the patient’s point of view? Since the nature of the condition makes patients, at least those beyond the initial symptoms, unable to articulate their experiences, fiction becomes the appropriate vehicle. In this novel neuroscientist Lisa Genova tells the story of Alice Howland, a neuroscience researcher and lecturer at Harvard, as she experiences early-onset Alzheimer’s. Genova demonstrates a range of possible reactions to the diagnosis through Alice’s husband and three adult children, but it’s the focus on Alice’s own experience that makes this novel so stunning.

3. Broken for You (2004) by Stephanie Kallos

Cover: Broken for YouTwo characters form the nucleus of this big, soapy novel. The wealthy Margaret, age 75, has just learned that she has a brain tumor. She’s lonely in her huge mansion filled with expensive antiques and decides to take in a boarder. Wanda, a woman in her 30s who has just come to town in search of a lost lover, answers Margaret’s ad. Gradually the list of the mansion’s residents grows as other people arrive to fulfill various needs, both their own and each others’. These characters grapple with life’s important questions—the meaning of family, friendship, responsibility, and love—in a sentimental yet charming way. Who wouldn’t want a group of companions like these imperfect yet lovable characters?

4. Blue Diary (2001) by Alice Hoffman

Cover: Blue DiaryMost of Alice Hoffman’s novels that I’ve read are haunting, but this one has haunted me the longest. What do you do when you find out your whole world is based on a lie? Jorie Ford faces this question when the police arrive to tell her that her husband killed a young girl 13 years before. Ethan Ford isn’t even the real name of the man she married more than 10 years ago, the volunteer fire fighter and pillar of the community, the father of her son. Can she believe his insistence that he has changed? Can love endure?

5. Mystic River (2001) by Dennis Lehane

Cover: Mystic RiverAs kids, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. Then one day a strange car pulled up on the street, and the driver convinced one of them to get in. When that boy returned after several days, his mother told him never to talk about what had happened. Now the three are grown. Sean is a homicide detective, Jimmy is a small-time thug, and Dave struggles to hold himself and his marriage together. When Jimmy’s daughter is murdered, Sean investigates and discovers that on the night of the murder Dave returned home covered in blood. The investigation reveals how events, especially secrets, of the past influence the people we become.

6. All the King’s Men (1946) by Robert Penn Warren

Cover: All the King's MenI was in ninth grade when I discovered this masterpiece. I don’t remember much else that I read during that time of my life, but I distinctly remember this as the first book in which I was able to see how all the pieces of a finely crafted work of fiction fit together. I’ve reread it a few times over the many intervening years, and each time it shines anew.



7. The Blind Assassin (2000) by Margaret Atwood

Cover: The Blind AssassinAn aging Iris Chase Griffen can’t stop thinking about the suicide of her sister, Laura Chase, who drove herself off a bridge more than 50 years earlier. Iris is also haunted by the deaths of her industrialist husband and of both her parents. Interwoven among her memories is Laura Chase’s posthumously published novel, a science fiction story interlaced with parables. Atwood skillfully manages to weave together all these disparate strands into a novel that embodies the complexities of human relationships.


8. The Knitting Circle (2007) by Ann Hood

Cover: The Knitting CircleDevastated by the death of her daughter, Mary Baxter joins a knitting circle to occupy her hands and her mind. As the knitters get to know each other, they learn the healing power of sharing their life stories.

9. The Short History of a Prince (1998) by Jane Hamilton

Cover: Short History of a PrinceAs a boy, Walter McCloud aspired to be a classical dancer. As he grew up, he had to come to accept that he was not quite talented enough to become a top performer. In this novel Jane Hamilton creates a character whom we come to care for before she reveals a key element of the characterization. This novel might not have the same impact today as it did back when it first came out, but at that time I found it an effective antidote to stereotyping and prejudice.

10. Plainsong (1999) by Kent Haruf

Cover: PlainsongThe title says everything about this book: It’s the story of the town of Holt, located on the plains of Colorado, home to seemingly ordinary folks. The novel follows the lives of a group of Holt residents during one year when their lives intersect in unexpected ways. This quiet novel demonstrates that ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things to help each other.



11. We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) by Joyce Carol Oates

Cover: We Were the MulvaneysThe Mulvaneys were one of those families who had it all: beauty, brains, charisma, and all-around good fortune. But the Wheel of Life inevitably turns. This novels covers a 20-year downward spiral initiated by a few seemingly random events. But that Wheel of Life keeps on turning, until finally this family reaches a point of redemption and reconciliation. Psychologically probing and completely credible, this one has stayed with me for a long time.


12. A Simple Plan (1993) by Scott Smith

Cover: A Simple PlanThree friends discover, hidden in the snow, the wreckage of a small plane containing the pilot’s corpse and a bag stuffed with $4 million in cash. It would be so easy, they reason, to keep the money, and they come up with a simple plan to ensure they won’t be found out. Except that on their way home with the bag an old man on a snow mobile sees them, and so. . . . Every step they take seems so logical, yet there is no clearer demonstration than this novel that once you take that first step onto the slippery slope, there’s nowhere to go but down.

13. Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides

Cover: MiddlesexAs Amazon describes it, this is “ the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.” Astonishing and absolutely charming, this novel took my breath away over and over again.

14. The Most Dangerous Thing (2011) by Laura Lippman

Cover: The Most Dangerous ThingAlmost all of Laura Lippman’s non-series novels deal with life’s big issues. I think this one made the list because it’s the one I read most recently. Since Lippman is categorized primarily as a mystery writer, most of the blurbs describing her books emphasize the mystery angle. But this book is more a study of character than a straight mystery. Yes, there’s a mysterious occurrence that happened years ago, when the main group were children, and I kept reading to discover what that event was. But just as important as the event itself is the way that event has shadowed the lives of the characters, both those former children, now middle-aged adults, and their parents. Like A Simple Plan, this novel demonstrates that our actions and choices have consequences that can affect us for the rest of our lives.

15. Cloud Atlas (2004) by David Mitchell

Cover: Cloud AtlasI didn’t discover this book until all the hype building up to the release of the movie version. I took the time to read the book—and a hefty book it is, weighing in at 528 pages—before seeing the movie, and I’m glad I did. In a tour de force interweaving multiple writing styles and literary genres, Mitchell creates a mythical universe demonstrating the intersections between people and the consequences of their actions across time and space.


© 2013 by Mary Daniels Brown

Monday Miscellany: Women’s History Month Edition

Women's History Month
via New York Civil Liberties Union

March is Women’s History Month.

And The Scout Report has kindly collected a list of pertinent resources. If you haven’t yet checked out The Scout Report, I highly encourage you to do it. It’s a source you can trust for information about valuable internet resources on lots of topics.

And now, here’s the good stuff.

Discovering American Women’s History Online

Based at Middle Tennessee State University, this valuable database gives interested parties access to digital collections of primary sources (photos, letters, diaries, and so on) that document the history of women in the United States. Visitors can browse the database by subject, place, time period, or primary source type. There are many fascinating resources and links here, including letters from Abigail Franks to her son from the 1730s and 1740s and Katrina Thomas’ wonderfully evocative photographs of various ethnic weddings. Even a close appraisal of items listed by primary source is delightful, as the headings here include everything from broadsides to buttons to trade cards. One particularly noteworthy collection contains the papers of the late Irene Kuhn, who was a global traveler, journalist, and social commentator.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

The mission of the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America is to document “the lives of women of the past and present for the future.” The library is part of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and interested parties can peruse the Library’s announcements, scholarship opportunities, and digital collections here. The Picks & Finds area is a great place to start, as it contains a range of interesting posts and essays like “Dining with Dissent: Politics and Protest in Vegetarian Cookbooks.” Visitors shouldn’t miss the selections from the Kip Tiernan papers. Mary Jane “Kip” Tiernan was known for her work with organizations that aided the poor, homeless, and socially oppressed. One of her most notable accomplishments was the creation of Rosie’s Place, which was the first emergency drop-in shelter for women in the United States. Additionally, the library has the collected papers of the late Julia Child. In the overview of area, visitors can listen to Child talk about their culinary collections and also view selected papers.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

National Women’s History Project

Founded in 1980, the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) was created by a group of women committed to recognizing women’s historical achievements. The organization was responsible for lobbying Congress to designate March as National Women’s History Month, and today, they provide information and training in multicultural women’s history for educators, community organizers, and parents. On the site, visitors can learn about the NWHP’s many outreach efforts, or explore by clicking on the Women’s History Month tab. Here, interested parties will find materials on the annual Women’s History Month celebration, along with some fun quizzes and press releases. The Resource Center contains essays about prominent women, along with an archive of Great Speeches by women and resources for teachers. Finally, the site is rounded out by a News and Events area that contains updates about other events the NWHP supports, such as National Nurses Week and Women’s Equality Day.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

Women’s Legal History

The Women’s Legal History website is the home of a searchable database of articles and papers on pioneering women lawyers in the United States. The site contains sections that include the WLH Biography Project and the index and bibliographic notes from “Woman Lawyer: The Trial of Clara Foltz” by Barbara Babcock. In the WLH Biography Project, visitors can look over the life stories of women in the legal profession, such as Agnes Sagebiel, Marge Wagner, and Julia Jennings. There are over 1,000 profiles that visitors can browse alphabetically or search by name, year, ethnicity, or law school. Additionally, the site contains detailed information about Babcock’s recent work, along with media clips related to the subject of women lawyers.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

The Frances Perkins Center

The Frances Perkins Center is named after Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve on a presidential cabinet. During her time as the U.S. secretary of labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Perkins worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of workers across the country. The mission of the Center is to “fulfill the legacy of Frances Perkins…by continuing her work for social and economic justice and preserving for future generations her nationally significant family homestead.” The materials on the site are divided into sections that include Frances Perkins, The Center, Projects, and Virtual Tour. The first section contains a photo gallery of Perkins, along with information about her life and times. In the Center area, visitors can read about the Center’s mission and staff or scan the blog. Finally, the Projects area contains a wonderful area called the Social Security Stories Project. Here, visitors can read stories about how Social Security has impacted generations of individuals and also contribute their own memories and experiences.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

African-American Women: Online Archival Collections

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has a wealth of digitized materials related to African American women. This particular collection brings together three noteworthy collections: Elizabeth Johnson Harris: Life Story; Hannah Valentine and Lethe Jackson: Slave Letters; and Vilet Lester Letter. This last item is particularly noteworthy as it is a very rare item indeed: a letter written by a female slave. The Elizabeth Johnson Harris: A Life Story area brings together the full text of her memories, along with several poems and vignettes published in various newspape rs in her lifetime. She was born in 1867 to parents who had been slaves, and the memoir includes information about her own childhood and the importance of religion and education in her life. Finally, the last section brings together letters written by Hannah Valentine and Lethe Jackson to their mistresses and other slave family members in Abingdon, Virginia.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

By Popular Demand: “Votes for Women” Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920

This remarkable collection brings together a plethora of printed materials related to the struggle for woman suffrage in the United States. Created as part of the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress, the materials here include photographs of suffrage parades, picketing suffragists, an anti-suffrage display, as well as a number of cartoons. The site includes a special timeline which profiles the long struggle for woman suffrage, through Abigail Adams’ admonition to her husband to “Remember the Ladies” all the way up to the first proposal of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. Visitors can browse the subject index for items ranging from Allegories to Women-Political Activity-Washington (D.C.). The site is rounded out by a selected bibliography and information on how to order photographic reproductions.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

My List: Best Books Read in 2012

I read 42 books during 2012, for a total of 5,852 pages of print and just slightly more than 137 hours of unabridged audiobooks.

Most best books of 2012 lists include only books issued this year. But my list includes anything I read during the year, regardless of when it was published. The oldest book was John C. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-by from 1964. My list also includes both fiction and nonfiction.

Listed alphabetically by author:

Top Ten

Didion, Joan. Blue Nights

Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl

French, Tana. The Likeness

Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

Koppel, Lily. The Red Leather Diary

Lippman, Laura. I’d Know You Anywhere

McDermid, Val. The Mermaids Singing

Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas

Sankovitch, Nina. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

Towles, Amor. Rules of Civility

Honorable Mention

Armstrong, Karen. The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness

Genova, Lisa. Left Neglected

Gornick, Vivian. Fierce Attachments: A Memoir

Rose, Phyllis. Parallel Lives:  Five Victorian Marriages

Levinson, Leila. Gated Grief: The Daughter of a GI Concentration Camp Liberator Discovers a Legacy of Trauma

New Year Reading Resolution

As this list demonstrates, I don’t review many of the books I read, even my favorite ones. So my one resolution for this year I to write about more of the books I read so that a year from now I’ll be able to provide links for most of the entries on my best books list.

And here are a couple of other lists of book-related resolutions: