Personal posts by public historian, Rose O'Keefe


The Beginning of the End

Mar 11, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

This is the third post about the Iroquois Peace League. My intention is to acknowledge and thank many for their efforts to understand pre-contact history across upstate New York State.

Educational author Lydia Bjornlund wrote in The Iroquois that they called themselves, We Human Beings, and the Europeans, Axemakers. These Human Beings began to ally with English traders in New England and the Dutch along the Hudson River in trade wars that were the beginning of the end of the Great Law of Peace.

More on the Peace League

Mar 07, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

This is the second post about the Iroquois Peace League. My intention is to acknowledge and thank many for their efforts to understand pre-contact history across upstate New York State.


Let’s continue with the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois being well established by 1,000 A.D. and their democracy being one of the oldest continuing democracies in the world, from Alvin Josephy in 500 Nations.  And, a historic marker in Clay, Onondaga County states: “The Onondagas had settlements in central New York that existed for several centuries before Columbus' arrival in 1492.”

The Great Law of Peace

Mar 04, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

This is the first post about the Iroquois Peace League. My intention is to acknowledge and thank many for their efforts to understand pre-contact history in New York State.

Let’s start with Mohawk historian Darren Bonaparte. In Creation and Confederation: The Living History of the Iroquois, he wrote of oral histories about the Five Nations uniting in the generations before the arrival of Europeans. Clues to the founding date exist in league traditions which evolved with retelling over time.

The American Dream

Feb 28, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

In a PBS news interview last week with Tiffanie Drayton, author of Black American Refugee (2022), she spoke of feeling betrayed by the myth of the American Dream that brought her family to the U.S. from Trinidad. After a rough time here, Drayton moved back home.

A few days after seeing that interview, I’ve was reminded in a Non Fiction Fest post on research, to take long-winded writing, underline and use only the best parts. I searched through my files for an essay to revise. How ironic. First up was “The American Dream” from 2013.

A Moment of Silence

Feb 25, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Maybe it was the drums of war pounding in the ethernet that knocked me over. Maybe it was the intense cold front that came through, but when I thought about starting a blog post – which I enjoy – I binge watched short TrueFoodTV videos instead. FYI, pecan comes from a native word pakan. Pecahn, generally used in the southern U.S, is the French pronunciation. Peecan, as spoken in the northeast U.S, is the English version of this nut which has become very popular in China. I watched videos on permaculture projects in India – fascinating and uplifting, and a long one on an intentional living community, Eco Village at Ithaca, New York, that is soon to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Character Quirk?

Feb 21, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Why I get excited about lists could be a character quirk  or defect. A list of 100 Newbery Award winners was too hard to resist and I decided to read through it. I started with the Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle (1922).

Talk about not judging a book by its cover, the paperback cover had a scene from the Disney movie with Rex Harrison in front of a giant snail, facing a native with feathers spiking out of his head, in an orange robe. The prologue was marvelous and by the time the good doctor appeared chapters into it, he was nothing like the book cover. Annoying. The story set in 1820s coastal England was fantastical and in parts, sweet. Yes, it was condescending at times but the adventures were so far out it was a ton of fun. That the doctor was a naturalist who was pro animal rights was a big surprise.

On Invizibilization

Feb 18, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Working women, women of color, and enslaved workers’ worth has been downplayed for centuries. Scholar Celeste Marie Bernier coined the term “invisibilization” to describe how many people’s contributions have been erased from history.

Both Frederick Bailey and Anna Murray were born in rural Maryland in the early 1800s. They grew up with strict roles for men and women. Fred Bailey grew up enslaved in backwoods near Tuckahoe Creek on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He went to Baltimore around age 8 as a babysitter for a young boy.

By the age of 17, Anna was a live-in servant in Baltimore. The two white families that she worked for thought well of her, and she became a respected cook, a status symbol.

By the time Frederick and Anna met in the 1830s, he had the indignity of turning over his wages as a skilled caulker to his master/owner, for a pittance of an allowance. Anna, despite being a free woman whose white employers valued her skills, was not well paid. I venture that her sister Charlotte, a dressmaker, helped her make the sailor suit Frederick wore as a disguise on his daring escape to New York City.

Getting in Sync

Feb 11, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Getting in sync with February’s Nonfiction Fest was slow, but I thoroughly enjoyed the daily entries once I did. All the encouragement one could use was in Doreen Rappaport’s piece on Finding Your Voice. Her suggestion to tackle an unfinished manuscript was on my to-do list last year – and still is. Melissa Stewart’s original video on Revision Decisions made me think about learning to do presentations like hers.

Lights, Camera, Action (verbs) by Beth Anderson gave a refreshing take on spotlight, focus and punch. Although I enjoyed all of them, my favorite was Lionel Bender’s Which Category of Children’s NF is Best for Me? He gave an excellent overview of the differences among the trade, school and library, and magazine markets. His view of what the SCBWI focused on and did not; what certain publishers wanted from authors and didn’t, was eye-opening.

Carol Kim’s piece, Writing for the Educational Market: A Research Junkie’s Dream held up a sobering mirror to what it takes, and what it doesn’t. Hmm. Yes, I am a research junkie.

Catching up on emails, I read in Association of Independent Author’s newsletter (ALLi) about 2021 trends, that readers in India, Thailand, and China spent the most hours reading per week; romances were most popular with U.S. readers; Millennials read the most books; Finland, Poland, and Estonia were Europe’s biggest bookworms, and audiobooks were popular in China.

ALLi had colorful charts on statistics about readers in the U.S. and around the world. No surprise, romance and erotica had U.S sales over $1 B. ALLi has more podcasts than I could ever keep up with.

A recent editorial in The Writer mentioned not toughing it through a book if the first 50 pages didn’t work. I made it to p. 97 in The 1619 Project created by Nikole Hanna-Jones (2021) and got stalled on the chapter, Fear by Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander. After waiting two weeks, I skimmed through it, and then moved on to the painfully ironic fact from November 1775; the tragic essay, Freedom Is Not For Myself Alone, by Robert Jones Jr.; another ironic tidbit from August 1791, and the painful Other Persons by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Wow.

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#amreading; #RochesterNY; #RACWI; #SCBWI; #DoreenRappaport; #MelissaStewart; #BethAnderson; #LionelBender; # Carol Kim; #ALLi; #Writermag; #1619project; #NikoleHannaJones; #RobertJonesJr; #ReginaldDwayneBetts; #LeslieAlexander; #MichelleAlexander;

An Early Role Model

Feb 10, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

I’d read about the life of Frederick Douglass who was born in a backwoods cabin in 1818, on a farm in Maryland. That plantation’s owner, Edward Lloyd V, kept over 550 enslaved workers. Lloyds’ career as a politician came second to running an estate of about 10,000 acres, but – the  clothing allowance for each slave child under 10, was a sack cloth shirt a year and a monthly portion of meal and salt pork. It was in Lloyd’s home, where Frederick was a playmate for Lloyd’s son, that he saw what wealth looked like.

Frederick became a skilled caulker in Baltimore, where he earned a dollar a day, ($30 now). It had galled him to hand over his earnings every week to his master. After escaping from Baltimore in 1838, when Frederick and his wife Anna moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts he was not able to work in his trade. Racism in the North limited him to hard, dirty work. Once he started lecturing for the Anti-slavery Society, he was paid less than white speakers. His freedom was fragile since he was still a wanted man. Supporters paid for his freedom, but he supported his family and newspaper from lecture fees and book sales. Despite financial highs, like his second autobiography selling 5,000 copies in two days in 1855 at a cost of $1.25 ($40 now), life on the road as a speaker was hard.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that he found a steady income of about $5,600 a year ($160,000 now) from fees collected as Recorder of Deeds in Washington D.C. But he still traveled. By the time he spoke at the Tuskegee normal school in Alabama in 1892, his fee was $100 to $150 a speech ($3,000 to $4,600 now) plus the cost of a travel aide. Over the years, with his sons, he invested in real estate and property development that placed the Douglass family in a circle of wealthy Blacks.

Douglass is known for his formidable passion and commitment to social equality. He is less known for the business savvy that made him rich. Later in life, he remembered Edward Lloyd as “a gentleman of the olden time, elegant in his apparel, dignified in his deportment, a man of few words and of weighty presence. … No governor of the State of Maryland ever commanded a larger measure of respect.” What a role model!

The Book in Hand

Feb 07, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

We made it through an intensely cold week in WNY when even 10 minutes of light snow shoveling was overwhelming. Afterward, reading some of my regular magazines was an invitation to a nap. One article that kept my attention was on the last page of  PW’s issue of 1.31. In the Soapbox opinion by Christian Peukert, Digging into the Data, he explained well how digitization made the book publishing more efficient.

While I had read years ago that romance and erotica were top-selling categories, he pointed out the impact that Kindle had on them. Data tracking showed clearly what was going on in the industry. Then, research about advances paid to eBooks and self-published romance and erotica authors and their book’s success, led to offers from traditional publishers. This kind of article could have told me that as a niche history author, I was in the wrong money-making category. What I got out of it was that self-publishing was the way to go for writers like me.  

Speaking of the last page, I usually head first for Gigi Will Know at the back of The Writer. Yi Shun Lai’s column, Broadening the Bookshelves in the January issue was a shocking reminder of how little I knew about Mexican culture and writing. Yes, I recently slogged through Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005) but that was not the same. The Nightstand’s feature article on six picks by attorney and writer Daniel Olivas woke me up. I was most interested in Zapote Tree by Alejandro Morales (2021) about Sephardic Jewish Mexicans. Yi Shun Lai’s February column, Broadening the Bookshelves on Native American works gave me a lot to think about too.  

It may seem like there’s never enough time to get to all the books on my reading wish list, but the only thing that truly matters, is the one in hand.

My latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #RACWI; #SCBWI; #ChristianPeukert; #PW; #Writermag; #1491; #CharlesCMann; #YiShunLai; #DanielOlivas;

Megastar Will Smith

Feb 04, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Megastar Will Smith’s WILL (2021) was an astounding read. Smith was amazingly honesty about having lived his adult life driven by goals set during his tough childhood. His decision to redefine himself as an adult man with mature and healthy goals was profound. No doubt co-author Mark Manson made it more readable, but Smith’s story was powerful. Very powerful.

As someone author and agent Regina Brooks described as an RU – relatively unknown – author, I appreciated Smith’s sharing how the public perceived musicians, TV stars, movie stars and mega-movie stars and what  it was like to be on the receiving end of overwhelming, boundary-breaking attention. His list of accomplishments and firsts made me think of Alexander the Great who, once he had conquered all the known worlds of his day, wondered what was left? The ending was outrageous fun!

I could pretend that I’m  not going to go nuts reading the Nonfiction Fest posts this month and order 10 gazillion books from the library. So far I made it through three days without placing anything on hold and then I lost it after our monthly RACWI meeting last night. I ordered a bunch of Little Critter and Jolly Postman books that I’ve never read. Then I added the highly-recommended The Leaf Detective. As it goes, we got socked in with snow, so the county library system was shut down today. Good enough. I get some breathing room before they arrive.

Had to wait to see if my neighborhood bookstore opened. It did. I planned to call Hipocampo books for that copy of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb that I’ve been meaning to get and for the ooshy-gooshy Valenslime, by Joy Keller, with over-the-top illustrations by Ashley Belote. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be the same. Hmm. I called and will go over next week.

At lunchtime it was 17, with a wind-chill of 1, and light snow. I’m not even going to the mail box. TG I have enough magazines and episodes of Celtic Culture. I made tasty waffles this morning. Maybe oatmeal-raisin cookies later? As for that other cabin-fever cure besides snacking, I walked up the stairs in our O-B-G 3-story home, 44 stairs, twice today.

My latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #RACWI; #SCBWI; #WillSmith; #MarkManson; #ReginaBrooks; #AmandaGorman; #JoyKeller; #AshelyBelote; #hipocampochildrensbooks; #CelticCulture;

Winter in WNY

Jan 31, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

This is the time of year in Western New York when the landscape can be absolutely beautiful but it’s too cold to get out and enjoy it. The wind chill was below zero Saturday and I put some letters in the mailbox. That was it. I paced myself revising a play for submission on a deadline, tidied the kitchen, revised some more, prepared vegetables for roasting and watched two episodes of Celtic Culture.

After finishing You Should Really Write a Book, How to Write, Sell, and Market Your MEMOIR, by Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson (2012) I felt so excited I could have jogged around the block. Brooks and Lane Richardson’s history of memoirs was specific and well done; the categories of coming-of-age, addiction and compulsion, transformation, travel and food, religion and spirituality were also specific and well done.

Much to my surprise, the chapter on outlier subgenres hit the spot! It was one of those chapters in which I wanted to read every book they mentioned. I’d never heard of the category biblio for book lovers and that was my favorite. Canine, comedic, family saga, gardening, grief, incarceration, information-based, parenting, romance and venture were good too. This chapter 100% softened the blow of another rejection for my NF history manuscript.

From reading their book, I got it. If my writing is good, but the hook isn’t strong enough and my author platform is emerging, then I’m not a candidate for a big publisher. It’s taken me a dozen years to get comfortable with self-publishing. I’m okay with it now.

As for the excitement from deciding to self-publish several projects, not being a jogger, I decided it was another perfect night for reading in bed and started Will Smith’s WILL (2021). I thought it would be a mellow read. Ha! It was riveting. I was going to read one chapter and call it quits, and had to stop myself at chapter four.

Congratulations to me for uploading my book and eBook Animal ABCs to the SCBWI site; submitting my play and finishing the first part of my tax returns.
blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #WNY; #ReginaBrooks; #BrendaLaneRichardrson; #WillSmith; #RACWI; #SCBWI.

So Be It

Jan 28, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Going to see Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. at RIT yessterday was a reality check in more than one way. The wind was harsh and the parking lots huge. Maybe I misread the time of the event, but it was underway when I got there, with a riveting performance by Mombo drumming and dance from Ghana. It was impressive that they did a drummed greeting for him that is reserved for highest dignitaries.

It was his first appearance since March 2020 and he was worried about being out in public. What an honor for him to do that at RIT! His talk about the history of Reconstruction after the Civil War was a painful topic. His message yesterday was to have the courage to tell the truth. So be it. Not sure about the size of the large audience, but from where I sat it looked like a PBS group of elders, three quarters white. Since that would include me, I congratulate all the avid life-long learners who braved the cold to hear Dr. Gates speak.

It was a case of my eyes being too big for my stomach – I kept making a vow to finish the books by my reading chair before getting any more. True confession: Abe Books printed the book covers for all of the Newbery Award winners since 1923 and of course, I had to look. The first award winner was The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting; next in 1924 was Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes; and in 1925, Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger.

Like a cheater on a diet, I hoped they wouldn’t get here before I finished Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson’ excellent, You Should Really Write a Book: How to Write, Sell, and Market Your MEMOIR, (2012). Reading that was harder than the list of all the Newbery winners. There were lists, descriptions and critiques of memoirs of so many different kinds, and while I didn’t want to read every single one, I wanted to read many of them. Their book helped me understand my place as a lesser-known author and gave me confidence to self-publish.

Thank you to AARP magazine for the upbeat article in the BetweenUs section, A Little Peace, Love and Understanding by Robert Love, in Dec21/Jan22 issue. It was about a man who played Santa to two faraway girls who’d sent a letter to Santa in a balloon. The article on Michael Fox was thought-provoking as well. So many hopeful possibilities.

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#amreading; #RochesterNY; #Abebooks; #RIT; #DrGatesJr; #civilwar; #HughLofting; #CharlesBHawes; #CharlesFinger; #ReginaBrooks; #BrendaLaneRichardrson; #AARP;

Over the moon

Jan 14, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Books 4 (1.14.2022)

I was over-the-moon after registering to see Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. at RIT on Jan. 27 -- can’t  wait! Also, another can’t wait – I registered for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) online winter conference in February.

Like a cautious cat, I started tiptoeing through The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones (2021). The writing was so intense that I had to take it in small doses. My brain kept popping up with questions about the strongest statements and I felt myself take a breath of relief on p.49 when she mentioned how early workers brought to the colonies were vagrants, criminals and prisoners of debtors prisons of many different cultures. Yes, this country’s beginnings were messy and complicated.   

Walking to the library is usually a good way to get fresh air, but in the last week, icy sidewalks kept me home. My latest returns included: Tracey Hecht’s The Weeping Wombat (2020) a surprising way to learn about dealing with sadness. It was aimed at 2nd and 3rd graders and used a group of animal friends who helped the forlorn critter.

Our librarian had recommended The  Color Monster Goes to School (2020) and The Color Monster, a story about emotions (2018) both by Anna Lennas. It took me a while to accept the odd green monster as an every-child, the universal child within. Good stuff.

I have to take out more in the Grumpy Monkey series. Jim Panzee is a hoot. As for Joanne Levy’s Crushing It (2017) she’s got the formula down and her theme of honesty always is best, worked.

One of our cats, who is mostly an indoor girl, was going nuts with boredom, attacking rugs and who knows what overnight. Those thumps in the dark were Miss Cat keeping herself entertained.  With winter walking limits in full swing, I’ve felt squirrely too, and  ordered a few classes from Great Courses: one on the Celtic World and the other on daily life in ancient times. They were on sale – those magic words.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #16119project; #nikolehannahjones; #TraceyHecht; #AnnaLennas; #SuzanneLang;#JoanneLevy; #greatcourses; #celticculture; #HenryLGates; #RITdiversity; #SCBWI;

When I Grow Up

Jan 11, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

On my way to something else, I found this from a year ago.

Family Facts: One boy, one girl; one grandson, one granddaughter; three sisters and three brothers. My husband and I have had four dogs and about 10 cats. I have had a compost pile for 45 years.

My heroes growing up were Joan of Arc patron saint of France, Martin de Porres, a Peruvian lay brother, and a fictional Pacific Islander girl and her dog.

I used to read comic books like Archie and Veronica, Superman and others, but between 1957 and 1961, I read French Catholic comic books of the lives of the saints. That’s how Jeanne D’Arc, a shepherd girl, became my shero. For my 10th birthday I received a copy of The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and wept every time I read about Karana and her dog Rontu.

I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott several summers in a row, never knowing what Alcott's life was like. And what about Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery? Neither Alcott’s Jo nor Montgomery’s Anne were well-behaved white girls.

In 7th grade when our school librarian encouraged us to keep a list of the books we read, I stopped at 50. Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and Hardy Boys were fast reads. I never realized how much a biography of Martin de Porres touched me. He lived in 16th-century Lima, is the patron saint of interracial justice and a life-long hero.

Growing up, we had a few of the Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit books, and I gave a few every year to my daughter for Easter. When our kids were little, I liked Amelia Bedelia and Encyclopedia Brown more than they did.

Books I’ve swapped with my sisters included the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, and the All Creatures Great and Small books by James Herriot. I’ve devoured Gary Paulsen, and Richard Peck’s truthful fiction. The pla

Happy Day!

Jan 04, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

O happy day! Just because I finally could, I ordered 10 copies of Animal ABCs through B&N on New Year’s Day. What a great way to start the year.

Does it matter where I found a list of suggested Christmas reading and or gift books? Not really. I enjoyed most of Pearl Buck’s, Once upon a Christmas, A Collection (1972). There were 14 very different stories but a few reminded me too much of myself – long-winded and serious. The best were heart-warming remembrances of simple Christmases from her life in the United States and early years in China.

Most likely Pete Seeger’s Storysong Abiyoyo (2021, came from a KidLit411 list. I was sure I’d heard him sing it years ago – the cover said, Reading Rainbow Book, but the illustrations were so vivid it brought it even more to life. Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors: Inspired by Nature by Kristen Nordstrom (2021) This was the kind of book that made me shout with joy about new information uncovered recently. What a great read, as was Family Reunion by Chad and Dad Richardson (2021) which tackled not wanting to go see relatives. Well done!

How I ended up with a trio of rom-coms is a puzzle being as it was not my usual choice forty years ago – I’m guessing Lisa Plumley’s target audience. What I did learn in skimming through Mistletoe and Holly in Once Upon a Christmas (2005) was she had it together about pacing, plotting and a satisfying answer to the main conflict. Some of her characters were predictable and others not at all. I didn’t read Christmas Honeymoon or A Baby for Christmas.

To be honest, I had to renew Bill Bryson’s cd set Shakespeare: The World as Stage (2007) because both listeners in our house fell asleep, one of us more soundly than the other on cds 1, 2 and 3. We gave up on cd 4, out of 5. I mentioned this at a New Year’s Eve dinner with good friends and one of them had read it and loved it. I’m guessing, it would be a good one to read, since the author’s voice and the amount of information contained were too hard to keep up with.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #Ingramspark; #AnimalABCs; #johnbender; #PearlBuck; #PeteSeeger; #KristenNordstrom; #ChadandDadRichardson; #LisaPlumley; #BillBryson; #KidLit411;

On Uniting

Dec 23, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Dare I admit to being distractable? Yes, at times shamefully so. In particular, I kept the Weekend Interview about Robert L. Woodson Sr., 84, (WSJ, Oct. 16-17-2021) on my save pile for weeks. Why? Because I wanted to send a letter to the editor about what a wonderful reflection it shared on race and poverty. Writer Jason Willick touched on their mutual loss of a father, teen suicides, and Willick’s access to social services as compared to Woodson’s.

Woodson’s take on youth suicides and youth murders was that they were flip sides of the same coin of self-hatred. He had experienced different versions of racism in Philadelphia where he grew up, and in the South when he went in the military. In college he was drawn to help juveniles in jail. He learned to envision partnerships between say a restaurant owner who needed 100 customers, and 100 neighbors who needed work. In 1981 he founded the Woodson Center which collaborated to send 600 public-housing students to college over a dozen years.

Another big success was promoting a truce between rival gangs after the murder of a 12-year-old, leading to a drop in gang violence. The Center’s 1776 Unites, was Woodson’s response to the New York Times’s 1619 Project. He compared those who viewed black history as either a crucifixion of suffering or a resurrection of resilience as being limited in their POV. His goal was for America to get race off the table so that the moral and spiritual issues that all people face are addressed – to stop letting race distract us from doing what needs to be done.

Out of all the news in print that day, Willick’s article was outstanding. I wish such articles were front page every day. That issue had no letters signed by women on the editorial page; the daily cartoon was so-so and Peggy Noonan’s column addressed Dave Chappelle and wokeness.

Our household has subscribed to the Journal for several years, and once I started counting, I’ve  been dismayed that women are signers maybe 1 out of 10 times for letters to the editor. In keeping with the spirit of the season, I extend forgiveness to the editorial page for their oversight. Again, I offer peace and joy to all.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #WSJ; #RobertLWoodsonSr; #JasonWillick; #1619project; #1776Unites; #PeggyNoonan; #DaveChappelle; #wokeness;

Favorite Books

Dec 17, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Today marks not only the anniversary of my oldest sister’s death, but the birthday of my late father in law. After her death I made a decision to use or lose the stories and essays I’ve saved in paper and online files. So, here’s a list I wrote in 1999 of favorite books:

Russell Baker’s memoir, Growing Up (1982) for its honesty; Robert Crichton’s novels The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1966) which had one of the best first lines I’d ever read, and The Camerons (1972); Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphin (1960) which I got for my 10th birthday and reread over the years; Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982) which made me want to be a better more honest writer; The Story of Marie Antoinette (1968) by Victoria Holt which went into her life in details I had known little about.

Conversations with God, (1995) by Neale Donald Walsch and his others showed it was okay and even good to talk with God; Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) introduced me to the five fears that plague people: illness, death, poverty, old age and criticism; James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy (1993) and The Tenth Insight (1996) – one of them had a list that I studied and led me to research history.

My mother had sent me a copy of Embraced by the Light (1992) by Betty Eadie, and I called her to tell her about reading it, the day before she died! Talk about memorable. And Ladies of the Club (1982) by Helen Hooven Santmyer showed me women learning to deal with finances; and the herbal guide, Back to Eden (1939) by Jethro Kloss always fascinated me with details about a thousand and one healing plants.

Three summers ago I decided to read a chapter a day of Pearl S. Buck’s All Men Are Brothers (1930). It had 70+ chapters that got more and more gruesome and fantastical as it went along. In it, 105 men and 3 women in Imperial China had become outcasts for not complying with local corruption. It was not the kind of story I usually read, but some of her descriptions of people and places took my breath away. While their lives were different from mine, I could still relate to its humiliated and betrayed heroes, who with bowed heads exclaimed, “Ah, bitterness.”

Technically, I didn’t read Ntozake Shange's play For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1975). I saw it while visiting in San Francisco in 1978. It was life-changing!

As for choosing only 10 favorite books from this year – I’ll have to think about it. Books filled such a big place for me and I’ve read many more than usual. As we near the end of 2021, I offer peace and joy to all.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #RobertCrichton; #RussellBaker; #ScottOdell; #AliceWalker; #VictoriaHolt; #NealeDonaldWalsch; #NapoleanHill; #JamesRedfield; #BettyEadie; #HelenHooverSantmyer; #JethroKloss; #NtozakeShange; #PearlSBuck;

Ideas from Obits and Book Reviews

Dec 13, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Sometimes I wish I could read more slowly, but I started Goodby Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson, (1999) and pushed my way through his graphic retelling of a painful homelife and drive to escape it. Then, I couldn’t believe that I was halfway through his compelling Blankets (2003) and plowed through it in three easy sittings, but not easy processing. His honesty and artistry were refreshing and haunting.

Sometimes people ask,  where do you get ideas from? There are so many, I can’t keep up with them, but one place is obits. I have wished I could write about dozens of people like pioneer Helen Murray Free, 98, (WSJ May 2021). She studied chemistry in college and went on to invent color-coded strips to measure glucose levels. Powerful! The obit of bookseller T. Sarvotham Shanbhag, 84, (Economist May 2021) owner of Premier Book Shop in Bangalore, covered a wonderful man and the end of a classic book store.

Esther Bejarano, 96, (Economist July 2021) survived the Auschwitz Girls’ Orchestra, revived her father’s collection of Yiddish songs, and later  formed a band to revive songs from the Jewish resistance. An impressive woman. The quiet-living Yang “Baiwan” (Millions) Huading, 70, (Economist July 20210) was a front-runner in China’s government bonds. He remained humble -- surprising. Didier Camilleri, 64, (Economist August 2021) known as “Frenchy Cannoli” was a character and a half, who believed hashish was a gift.

Englishman Sir Graham Vick, 67 (Economist August 2021) set a standard for bringing opera to average audiences, even though he didn’t fully succeed. The amazing Jean “Binta” Breeze, 65, (Economist September 2021) became the first woman to put poetry to a reggae beat, called dub poetry. This Jamaican woman used her words to give voice to working women, who spoke to her in her head. As for A.Q. Khan, 85, (Economist October 2021) he was a metallurgist who persuaded Pakistan’s president to build its own nuclear devices. He sounded like a conniver and quite the contrast to Colin Powell, 84, (Economist October 2021). It was fascinating to start Powell’s obit, wondering if it would do justice to his integrity. It did.

Bernard Haitink, 92, (Economist November 2021) was one of the most humble orchestra conductors ever. Although he had become famous as a young man, he attributed his success to the fact that in Holland most of his Jewish classmates and musicians had perished. One of the best obits I’ve read was for Aaron Beck, 100, (Economist November 2021) who later became a psychiatrist after an illness as a boy triggered anxiety attacks that he taught himself to control.

A book review for “Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a  Witch” by Rivka Galchen, (WSJ June 2021), is set in Germany in 1619, at the start of the Thirty Years War. The fictional version of actual events described the story of astronomer Johannes Kepler’s mother, Katharina, who was denounced as a witch by a neighbor.  I don't know why I kept the review because I don’t think I’m ready to tackle that book.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #CraigThompson; #GoodbyChunkyRice; #Blankets; #WSJ; #Economist; #obits; #bookreviews; #RivkaGalchen; #KatherinaKepler;

Big Day, Big Deal

Dec 02, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

It’s definitely a big day and a big deal tomorrow at 11 a.m. with the unveiling of a large mural in honor of the renaming of Rochester’s airport for famed orator, Frederick Douglass. A thousand thanks go to Michelle Daniels for all that went into this event. That the Douglass family lived in Rochester for 20 years in the mid-1800s is not widely known, and I have the honor of being one of the locals who will commemorate the occasion.

Back to books. Listening to audio books is not usually on my list, but on a recent car trip I listened to a 5 CD set of My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill  Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. (2006). Who’d have guessed that her detailed descriptions of the morning that she had a stroke at age 37, would be so interesting? Her collapse, surgery and recovery are all recounted. With time-out between cds this was a compelling story.

I didn’t complain about being stuck for an hour in 20 mph traffic over the holiday, because I was listening to the ever-so mellow soundtrack to The Straight Story. It’s been years since I saw the movie, but that music soothes me every time.

Next on the listening list was Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants cd set. The first two cds were mostly funny, but I have yet to laugh at the sexualization of girls and teens which she tackled head on. The third cd had more oomph than the second. On to the fourth.

Home again, with my favorite reading chair and reading lamp, I was surprised by Hanna Astrup Larsen’s biography, Selma Lagerlof (1936/reprint 1975). Talk about dropping into another era! I’d read about Lagerlof as the first woman and Swede to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909. The Story of Gosta Berling was famous around the world. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, (1907) was also a worldwide success. Nosey me, I would like to know why.

In the meantime, I finished The Sun Will Come Out, a MG story by Joanne Levy (2021). After waiting almost half the book for the other shoe to drop, it finally did. The summer-camp woes of a highly-nervous teenager Bea, shifted as she befriended another teen, Harry, who had a fatal disease. The book offered a wonderful take on friendship. Well done.