This is not an eclipse post.

Last night I was sitting at home reading as the sun faded away, and the droning of crickets outside the house gradually drowned out the sound of the words on the page in front of me.

This is the sound of a summer night – crickets raising heck outside, intermittent frog croaks from the pond, steady whirring of ceiling fans, the tumble of cat feet zipping from one end of the house to the other (oh wait, that’s every night). In Alabama, where I grew up, the crickets sing louder and for months longer than they do where I presently live in the steely shadow of the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment’s sharp edge. These friendly neighborhood sirens are my favorite part of summer – perhaps because they catapult me back into happy childhood memories, perhaps because I’ve grown grumpy toward heat and they signal cool nighttime hours ahead.

I wonder – will the crickets start their racket when the moon eclipses the sun on Monday?

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Does this really qualify as night?

Lately I’ve been hesitant to seek out answers to questions like that. Not knowing what to pay attention to sometimes forces me to pay attention to everything, which usually ends in wonder and joy. So I think – for me anyway, tucked away in a pocket of woods somewhere – the eclipse should be a joyful experience. I can’t help but have certain expectations of astonishment, but I tend to expect that out of any ordinary day, so nothing new there.

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Every day is Earth (and space) Day at Hudson Library!

After reading Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse,” I also expect to be at least a little weirded out. (Find it and other essays in anthologies here and here.)

There are going to be a whole lot of people here in Western North Carolina on Monday. I’ve heard predictions of mayhem – nothing new there either. Some of us locals aren’t too excited about the impending influx of bodies and vehicles, but I really hope we can recognize how lucky we are to live here, and be kind to each other. Aren’t we also lucky to live in a time when a total solar eclipse doesn’t portend doom and destruction any more than the relentless daily news cycle does? How cool is it that so many people in this state, this country, this world, are going to be staring up at the sky together in wonder and awe, and maybe a touch of primordial fear? The world needs more of that.

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Your friendly local library wants to help keep you informed.

We’re being told to prepare supply-wise as we would for an impending winter storm, so I have an apocalypse-worthy cache of toilet paper at the house, and my snowshoes are primed and ready to go. (Wait – what?) I can only focus on doing one thing right at a time, so today I’ll get food and, if I remember, toothpaste.

Don’t forget to stock up on library books!

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Words of inspiration from a favorite cheerful scribe, as quoted in Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir.

Board Games — a great antidote to boredom!

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August is National Anti-boredom Month. What better time to ponder the definitely un-boring world of board games, right?

First of all, I have to confess, I am a board-gamer. An avid one. My husband and I have a collection of over 400 board games (more broadly referred to as tabletop games), ranging from 10 Days in Asia to Euphoria to Starfarers of Catan to Le Havre. I have a stash of games at my desk at the library, just in case there’s time for a quick game during lunch. At home we play dice games such as Phase 10 Dice and Can’t Stop at meals (food doesn’t wreak havoc on dice the way it would on cards). I’ve attended the annual GenCon gaming convention in Indianapolis several times (the largest game con in the U.S., celebrating its 50th anniversary this month), which attracts over 60,000 gamers from all over the U.S. and beyond.

So when I encounter books and films that feature, or even mention, tabletop games of one sort or another, I definitely perk up. And there are a lot of them out there! Here are just a few.

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Chess is perhaps the most famous tabletop game of all time. It has been featured in many books and films, including that memorable scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when Harry, Hermione, and Ron battle for their lives in a game of Wizard Chess; Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Chessmen of Mars in which the chessmen are live people, each piece taken being a duel to the death; Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in which the whole book takes place on a county-sized chessboard, and Alice is a pawn who must make her way across the board to become Queen; and many more. If you’d like to find more such books to read, I suggest browsing through this generous annotated listing of some of the best chess-related fiction. Then there are the chess movies, including Searching for Bobby FischerQueen to PlayThe Luzhin Defence, and Queen of Katwe, among many others. Here’s one of many lists of ten of the best chess-related films.

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Go is another enduring classic (it’s around 4,000 years old!), often considered to be the world’s most difficult game to master, and one that frequently appears in literature. Hikaru No Go is a popular 23-volume manga (graphic novel) series centered on the game. The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata is an exquisite novelization of an actual Go match which took place over the course of six months in the 1930s. The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa revolves around the game. And let’s not forget A Beautiful Mind, in which Go is also featured.

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More modern board games have been featured in books and films as well. Scrabble is one example. The children’s novel The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman is heavily focused on a school Scrabble competition (and also involves some students who would really like to cheat!). In the 1992 film SneakersScrabble tiles are used to help crack a code. The children’s book Games: A Tale of Two Bullies, in which a pair of middle-school bullies are forced to play games together every day in order to learn how to get along with each other, features a plethora of games including Scrabble as well as BattleshipConnect 4, and more.

There are films that bring a game to life. A memorable entry in this group is the 1985 film Cluewhich not only features all the characters from the popular board game, but offers three different endings (if you saw it in a movie theater, you had no idea which ending you would get — I remember that well!). A more recent game-to-film effort is Battleship, not the most successful film of 2012, but an opportunity for lovers of the 2-player tabletop game to see it come to life.

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Card games certainly come in for their share of attention. Who could forget the cards featured in Alice in Wonderland? Many a scene is played out over a card table in 19th century literature, such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), in which characters flirt and court over whistloovingt-un (an early version of blackjack), and commerce (a forerunner of poker); and Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811), which includes cassino and piquet. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford (1851-53), the ladies of the village spend many hours at card tables playing cribbagepreferenceombre, or quadrille. As genteel women, card playing is one acceptable way for them to fill their days.

One of the most popular twentieth-century card games is bridge, which pops up in many novels. Two books that feature bridge particularly prominently are Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, in which a bridge game is the key plot element as Poirot analyzes the characters of the players through their bridge-playing styles; and Louis Sachar’s young adult novel The Cardturner, a delightful tale of a teen who is catapulted wholeheartedly into the game of bridge by his ancient (also rich and dying) uncle.

Not all games are real. There are, in fact, a plethora of imaginary games that appear in fiction. A good example is Vaccination, a complicated card game played by the Leary family in Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist (you can catch it in the film version as well). In the Star Wars series, the imaginary holographic board game Dejarik is played; particularly memorable to me is the scene from the ‘first’ Star Wars movie, now called Star Wars IV: A New Hope, in which Chewbacca and R2d2 play the game. M. T. Anderson’s The Game of Sunken Places is a children’s fantasy book in which the protagonists discover a game board (The Game of Sunken Places, of course) which triggers the game to begin in real life. They encounter all sorts of hazards and strange characters as they attempt to survive and thereby win the game.

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As if that wasn’t enough, some of those imaginary games in film and literature have inspired the creation of real-world games. For example, the film Jumanji (based on the picture book by Chris van Allsburg) revolves around a mysterious board game some children find in a park. The film spurred the creation of a children’s board game recreating (as much as possible) the fictional game. And William Sleator’s book Interstellar Pig, about a group of teens who become addicted to the imaginary game of that name, spawned the creation of a real Interstellar Pig game.

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There are many games that are based on books or movies. Lord of the Rings is a challenging cooperative board game based on the Tolkien books, in which each player is one of the hobbits, and everyone works together to try to destroy the ring before Sauron overcomes the ring-bearer (there are other games with Tolkien themes, but this one is the most true to the original story). Game of Thrones is an epic strategy/war game based on George R. R. Martin’s epic novel, where each player is vying for rule over the kingdom of Westeros. Eldritch Horror (formerly Arkham Horror) is a cooperative fantasy game based on the Cthulhu novels and stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Pillars of the Earth, involving the building of a great cathedral, and World Without End, tackling survival during the 100 Years War and the Black Plague, are board games based on Ken Follett historical fiction works (Pillars of the Earth and World Without End). Two of the Mystery Rummy card game series are based on famous fiction: Jekyll & Hyde, based on Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and Murders in the Rue Morgue, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. The card game Bottle Imp is based on the Robert Lewis Stevenson short story. And the list goes on. The gaming website boardgamegeek (the place to go for information of any sort about board games) lists over 1800 games based on novels.

With so many interesting game-related books and movies, and so many great games, the biggest question is which to read, watch, or play first! Queen of Katwe is on my viewing list for this week. How about you?

 

YA Books Eclipsed by Bestsellers

Young Adult (YA) books have been in an incredible renaissance for the last few years, which only seems to be growing. Powerful topics like police brutality, Black Lives Matter, representation of disability, and more are now featured on the shelves, something that would have been a rare sight even 5-10 years ago. However, with so many excellent novels being published, it’s no surprise that some books are overlooked. The marketing budget, movie adaptations, etc. all contribute to highly varying levels of publicity. While there’s nothing wrong with high-budget books that make the bestseller list immediately (in fact, there’s often something very right with them!), there are a plethora of fantastic books that have been overshadowed. Here are some of them:

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American Street by Ibi Zobai (contemporary)

Fabiola and her mother are leaving Haiti to live with her mom’s sister and daughters in Detroit. When Fabiola’s mom is detained along the way, Fabiola is forced to meet (for the first time in person) her relatives alone. While in Detroit, she realizes the famous American freedom isn’t all it promises, and she must adjust to her new surroundings that are confusing at best and dangerous at worst.

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Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes (contemporary)

Those still looking for book recs from our mental health themed month should take a look at Stokes’ Girl Against the Universe, which tells the story of Maquire, a young woman with anxiety and PTSD who believes she is bad luck. This novel has one of the best depictions of therapy I’ve ever seen, and the hopeful message stays with you long after the last page.

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The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati (contemporary)

Same as above, this is a great choice for mental health representation, specifically for bipolar disorder. Cath barely survived when Zero, the dark, depression side of her bipolar disorder, came, and she knows that no matter what she does, Zero is coming back for her. While she prepares for that day, she finds a new psychiatrist who makes her think of her mental illness in a way she never has before. She also discovers new relationships and connections that start to make her wonder if her way of preparing for Zero is really the best option.

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Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (contemporary)

There are a frightening number of nonprofits/organizations that aim to help others yet only focus on symptomatic issues or believe they know what certain groups need. While the majority mean well and sometimes do real good, this often puts marginalized voices to the side, being told what they need rather than being listened to. Watson focuses on a young African American woman, Jade, who has had “good opportunities” thrust upon her all her life. While some of these chances are helpful, some feel very demeaning, particularly like Women to Women, a program Jade gets invited to for ‘at-risk’ girls. Piecing me Together explores a side of a story we rarely here with a powerful voice.

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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (magical realism)

Imagine making a wish on your Deathday to get rid of your magic…and accidentally sending your entire family to Los Lagos instead. Alex must travel to the dark, in-between land to rescue her family and learn to accept her own gifts.

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Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley (alternate history/mystery)

I love reading regional authors (something shared with so many patrons). Hartley lives in Charlotte and has created a unique historical murder mystery series set in South Africa. The plot is layered, rich, and will keep you turning the pages.

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I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (romance)

As a fan of Korean dramas, I adore this premise of a young Korean girl, great at school but terrible at romance, making a 12-step plan to love based on the K-dramas her father watches. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll finish with a smile on your face.

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On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (near future/possible pre-apocalypse)

I need so many more people to read this mind-blowing story of Denise, a young woman with autism, a drug-addicted mother, a missing sister, and little time to convince a generation ship leaving Earth to take her family with them and avoid possible death from the incoming comet.

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Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson (mystery/suspense)

Tiffany Jackson delivers a powerful debut in a story about a girl accused of murdering a baby. Mary Addison lives in a group home after surviving years of jail, never daring to speak the truth about what happened. But when Mary becomes pregnant, suddenly Mary has something, someone, she wants to fight for. Navigating issues of racism, classism, sexism, and more, Allegedly is utterly haunting.

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The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson (romance; Shakespeare retelling)

Much Ado About Nothing is my most beloved Shakespeare play (I even have a tattoo from it), so I approached this modern retelling with serious caution. In the end, the cautious was unnecessary, as Anderson took all the things I loved about the original (banter, female friendship, fun) and added nerd hilarity, a prestigious school battle for top rank, and more.

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A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (time-travel/historical)

You know what I want more of? Angry girls in fiction. Smith’s Reiko is one of the best I’ve ever read. Angry doesn’t equal unsympathetic or even unlikable, as Rei demonstrates in her journey in modern day and 19th century Japan. I couldn’t put this one down, and this ferocious read deserves so much more attention than it has received.

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As I Descended by Robin Talley (mystery/horror/Shakespeare retelling)

This is Talley’s first foray into horror and WOW does she nail it! As I Descended is a contemporary Macbeth retelling featuring two young women, Maria and Lily, the power couple at their boarding school that sits on the grounds of an old plantation. When the school’s rising star, Delilah, threatens to destroy the future they worked so hard to build, Maria and Lily unleash a power much darker than they expected. What ensues is an atmospheric thriller that will give you chills.

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Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (historical fantasy)

Readers who understand the concept of platonic soulmates will devour this historical fantasy set in 1919 about two best friends, Ada and Corinne. Both have the power to create illusions through art, a power they use at night to perform at a club and during the day to con wealthy people out of riches to keep the club running. When a job goes wrong, it unleashes a series of disastrous and dangerous events where betrayal, heartache, and doom seem to find the two girls around every corner.

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Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett (horror)

Does anyone not get creeped out when they see a massive field of cornstalks taller than most humans? I sure do. Even so, I picked up Liggett’s unique horror story about Ash who follows her disappeared mother to a spiritual commune in Kansas. Ash is haunted by memories of an ancestor from there, Katia, and worries she may share a worrisome fate in a town that seems too charming to be real.

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Ashfall by Mike Mullin (survivalist/natural disaster)

I never knew I liked survivalist fiction until I read this trilogy by Mike Mullin. It begins by asking what would happen if the Yellowstone volcano fully erupted. Mullin somehow manages to make Alex’s journey to find his family (who had been visiting other family when the volcano erupted), stay alive, and meet a host of unique characters along the way fascinating (through all 3 books!).

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Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh (prehistoric/Austen retelling)

There’s something comforting about slipping into a story retelling Pride and Prejudice…until that retelling ventures to prehistoric times and involves mammoth hunting. Julie Eshbaugh somehow manages to beautifully combine the primitive lives of prehistoric nomads with Austenian charms and a touch of dark mystery.

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The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (historical fantasy)

Mix Russian history, light touches of Cinderella, and a magic competition to the death, and you have the beginning of Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game series. This is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, and Sarah J. Mass.

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Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller (scifi)

Out of all the books on this list, Shadow Run is the only one I haven’t read, but it’s eagerly awaiting me in my TBR pile. I’ve heard only phenomenal reviews for it, and I’m so excited for the new YA scifi we’ve been getting (see Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Illuminae by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, and the fabulous line of Star Wars books that have come out).

HST AND THE “POLICE ACTION” IN KOREA

On May 15, 2017, the Asheville Citizen-Times published an article about a Blue Ridge Honor Flight taking 90 veterans of World War II and the Korean War to Washington to see the memorials dedicated to those who had died in those wars.  The Korean War veterans were greeted at that memorial by members of the Republic of Korea armed forces, who presented them with medals for their service there.  It has been 64 years since the Korean War ended in a stalemate, with nothing resolved.  Rumors of war are once again being heard from both South and North Korea.

The Koreans live either in the Republic of South Korea on one hand or the  Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea on the other, whose common boundary is the demarcation line from the Korean War that was agreed on in 1953.    For most of the first half of the twentieth  century Korea was a dependency of Japan. At the end World War II, the USSR  liberated the north from the Japanese and the United States freed the south.  Both agreed to divide the country at the 38th parallel, with the Russians occupying the north and the Americans the south.  The Americans and Russian pulled their troops out  of the country in 1948. That worked until June 1950.

In the south, an organization headed by Syngman Rhee gained control of the government.  The United States refused to give his military  heavy weapons because it was afraid Rhee was going to attack the North.  Also, the United States was cutting its defense spending, concentrating its armed forces in Europe, where the Russians dominated the eastern part of the continent and the Cold War was heating up. Meanwhile, with the backing of the Soviets and the Chinese, Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, built up a strong army.  His military forces included Koreans who had fought in the Chinese Civil War on the side of the Communists.

Late in the spring of 1950, rumors were spreading in the south of an attack from the north.  The North Korean military, using a fake attack as an excuse to start a war, poured across the 38th parallel on the early morning of Saturday, June 25 , backed by Soviet made tanks and MIG fighter aircraft.   The closest American forces  were the 8th Army on occupation duty in Japan, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.

As soon as word reached the United States of  the North Korean invasion,  President Truman’s administration went to the United Nation’s Security Council at the behest of Secretary of State, Dean Acheson . (1)  The Security Council met on the afternoon of June 25 and voted 9-0 to brand the North Korean action “a breach of the peace.”   That evening President Truman met with his security and military advisors to decide what steps to take next.  Gen. MacArthur was instructed to send transportation to Korea to evacuate Americans and get ammunition and other supplies to the ROK army as fast as possible. Thirdly, the 7th Fleet was to deploy at the Formosa Strait.  Two days later, on June 27, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling on member nations to support the ROK’s efforts to push back the North Koreans to the 38th parallel. (2)

The North Korean army drove the ROK army south and by the time American forces re-enforced  them, the Communists had the South Koreans and their allies hemmed in around Pusan in southeast Korea. Even as United States troops were fighting in Korea, President Truman refused to admit the country was at war.   He did, however, agree with a reporter who asked if the UN was fighting a “police action” against the North Koreans. (3)  To relieve the Pusan Perimeter, General MacArthur planned an amphibious  landing at Incheon on the west coast, near Seoul, behind the People’s Army lines.  American soldiers landed there on 4 September, 1950, totally  surprising the Communists.

After the Americans captured Incheon, the other UN forces broke out of the Pusan perimeter, driving the North Koreans north.  As the Communists got closer to the 38th parallel the question was, should the ROK troops and their  UN allies follow them?  The ROK army did not hesitate to go into  North Korea and UN forces followed them.  By the end of October as UN forces approached the Yalu River, the border between Manchuria  and North Korea, the Chinese Communists attacked in force.  Despite warnings from the Chinese they would enter the war if the ROK and UN forces crossed the 38th parallel, both MacArthur  and Truman were surprised at the the Chinese actions and the allied fighters suffered heavy casualties while retreating.

At first the Chinese troops made a difference driving the UN forces south across the 38 the parallel.  That is, until Matthew Ridgway  was given command of the 8th Army early in 1951.  ( His predecessor General Walton (‘Johnny’) Walker was killed in an accident on his way to the front in December 1950.)  By the time Ridgway reached Korea to take command, UN forces were back in South Korea and Seoul was back in Communist hands.   Ridgway re-organized the 8th army at the same time the Communists were having trouble supplying their troops, forcing them to fight with not enough food or clothes.   The North Korean/Chinese morale sunk and more and more soldiers surrendered to the UN forces.   Ridgway’s responsibilities were widened in April, when Douglas  MacArthur was relieved of his command by President Truman.*    He was promoted to a  full general (four stars),  took MacArthur’s place in Japan, and governed until the occupation ended in 1952.

After Ridgway took command of the 8th Army, UN forces forced the Communists back towards the 38th parallel and liberated Seoul again.  In the summer of 1951 both sides agreed to begin cease fire talks.  Unfortunately, the bickering lasted two years, as did the stalemate on the ground, before an agreement was signed in August 1953.  By that time Dwight David Eisenhower was President of the United States.

* – More about that aspect of the Korean War in my next blog.

(1) Cabell Phillips, The  Truman Presidency, p. 288.

(2) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Korea, Volume VII , Document 130 (https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1950v07/d130)

(3) H. W. Brands, The General and the President, p. 97

For further reading:

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War : America in Korea, 1950-1953.

David Halberstam.  The Coldest Winter:  America and the Korean War.

Max Hastings.  The Korean War.

Marguerite Higgins.  War in Korea.   online at:  https://ia800303.us.archive.org/35/items/warinkoreatherep011941mbp/warinkoreatherep011941mbp.pdf

William Manchester.  American Caesar

David McCullough.  Truman.

Cabell Phillips.  The  Truman Presidency

John Toland.  In Mortal Combat : Korea, 1950-1953.

 

 

National Independent Retailer Month

by Eric Haggart

Eric Haggart

Eric Haggart is our guest contributor to this Shelf Life in the Mountains. Eric writes for the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber recently moved into a new location at 98 Hyatt Road, Franklin.

The month of July is National Independent Retailer Month, and a majority of our member businesses are just that, independent retailers. Being a member of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce is more than just putting your business’ name in a guide book and on a website. Being a member of the Chamber puts you in a group of local businesses that are all striving towards the same goal: success! By becoming a member of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, you join a vast pool of resources from which all of our members draw ideas, energy, and networking. The popular quote from Aristotle,  “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, resonates in the membership of the Chamber. What goods or services one of our members may not offer, another might, and vice versa, allowing customers to keep their dollars local, energizing the local economy and putting more people to work.

Our searchable database of Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce members is here: FACC Member Businesses

Members are highlighted in our information area

The Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce is a non profit organization working to build a healthy economy, improve the area’s quality of life, promote the business interests of our members, and provide tools for your business’ success. One huge advantage to the Franklin Chamber of Commerce is that we’re also home to Franklin’s Welcome Center. Visitors and locals come in looking for information about things to do, places to shop, eat, and stay. Being a member of the Chamber gives you exposure that you won’t get trying to navigate a target audience with a much more involved advertising budget. The Chamber of Commerce also seeks out advertising in regional publications, giving readers a pathway to getting more information about Franklin, exposing them to our website, and driving more customers right to your door.

Tying all of these benefits together, our new facility has provided a more immersive experience for people coming to the area who are looking for restaurants, local shops, and activities. In addition to our “brick and mortar” location, the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce reaches out to interact with our members in many of the most popular social media platforms. A growing presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more, we interact with not only potential visitors, but also with our members who participate in these platforms as well. Sharing upcoming events, specials, dining, lodging, as well as giving our members spotlights and features, puts them in front of even larger audiences than ever before.

By joining other area independent retailers in the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, you become part of a business community that thrives and succeeds as a whole. Our role in that process is to help facilitate interaction between local residents and visitors, by guiding them to our members to meet their needs. In so doing, the money that is spent locally helps to foster economic growth and prosperity for our members and their employees, which in turn, provides a successful environment for small businesses to thrive.

To request information about becoming a member of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, follow the link here – Membership Information & Benefits

Finally, the Fontana Regional Library has resources to support independent retailers, such as these 3 titles (and 495 more):

Managing your business to minimize disruption [electronic resource] : a guide for small businesses in North Carolina.

The great equalizer : how Main Street capitalism can create an economy for everyone / David M. Smick.

How to start your very first business / from the producers of Warren Buffett’s Secret Millionaire’s Club, with Julie Merberg and Sarah Parvis.

With access to the resources of NC Cardinal,  there are over 1200 more titles about this subject available in eBook and print.

Audiobooks I Have Managed To Love

I have a difficult time listening to audiobooks. Usually when I’m driving I listen to music, and when I’m doddering about the house pretending to clean I listen to podcasts. For some reason, audiobooks fail to hold my attention long enough for me to finish them. However, since I do spend a lot of time in the car, and I will never ever ever ever actually be able to sit down and read all of the books on my to-read list, I keep trying with the audiobooks. I have started many. Here are a few that I have actually finished.

One of the audiobooks I listened to on a recent road trip is Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, a non-profit organization that works to protect and defend of the rights of those who have been unfairly punished and abused by this country’s criminal justice system. Just Mercy weaves his own life story in with the story of EJI’s founding, successes, and a few failures. This book is not a light “read” by any means – in fact, it’s quite disturbing, even with hopeful moments and joys interspersed throughout. Stevenson does not gloss over any of the negative experiences he has had working in the courts, but he does end with some thoughtful observations about what like-minded people can do about the problems he presents in the book. Listening to the audiobook is especially riveting since it is read by the author himself, making all the stories that much more personal. I listened to it on a trip to Alabama (of all places) and it was like he was sitting in the passenger seat the whole time. The only possible downside to listening to this one on a road trip is that I found myself sobbing a few times while zipping down the interstate, which could be hazardous.

Another fascinating non-fiction listen is The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, an encouraging exploration of our capacity to survive disaster. Ripley tells the stories of people who have lived through such disasters as the collapsing of the twin towers on September 11, stampedes in Mecca, and massive fires. Most interesting to me are her explanations of our physiological and neurological responses as we’re in the midst of chaos that could kill us. I came away from this listening experience with a little more confidence that, should I find myself in the midst of disaster, my body and animal brain may have the ability to get me out of it alive. (On a side note, if you’re interested in the body’s response to trauma, check out Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. I’m in the middle of reading the book-with-pages version and it’s also fascinating, particularly Van der Kolk’s insights into the brain’s capacity to heal. I have a feeling I’ll be writing a blog about it in the near future.)

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Not really the Mr. Fox in question, but cute. Quite cute.

Veering from the non-fiction, one of the most delightful audiobooks I’ve listened to is Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox (Overdrive audiobook link here.) By delightful, I don’t mean lighthearted and fun – it’s Oyeyemi’s take on the Bluebeard folktale about a man who tends to murder his wives. The novel is written like a series of short stories about the same characters that jump back and forth in time, and one day I intend to sit down with the book and figure out how she was able to write such a complicated story in a seamless way that just really makes sense. In fact, I did have to finish this one with the book version since my e-audiobook automatically returned itself before I could finish listening – it reads just as well as it listens. (If you’re into the whole modern fairy tale thing, I also recommend Boy, Snow, Bird, Oyeyemi’s take on Snow White.)

Book Based on a Fairy Tale | 30 Books to Read For the 2016 Reading ...
I’m not gonna lie – I was initially drawn to this book by its cover.

I’ve been leaning heavily on podcasts and haven’t tried any audiobooks in recent weeks, but I have a couple more non-fiction titles on their way to me thanks to inter-library resource sharing. (Aren’t public libraries amazing and wonderful?) If you have any recommendations, please share them!

Three childhood books that changed my life

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I’ve always been a voracious reader (I started reading when I was 3), and what I read helped to shape my world. While I was in library school I took several courses dealing with children’s literature, and that spurred me to think about some of the books that most influenced me in my formative years. I’m sure the list is different for everyone, and it was difficult to narrow it down, but here is my top-three list: The Enchanted Castle (1907) by E. Nesbit, Freckles (1904) by Gene Stratton-Porter, and Daddy-Long-Legs (1912) by Jean Webster. I realize, writing this, that although I grew up in the 1960’s, my formative literature was definitely from an earlier era! That says more about my parents’ influence than anything else.

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I first read The Enchanted Castle when I was about seven years old. I had read lots of fairy tales, animal stories (especially Thornton Burgess’s books), Halloween stories about witches and such, as well as realistic fiction, but The Enchanted Castle was the first book I read that really blurred the lines between fantasy and reality to the point that I couldn’t tell where the lines were. I was fascinated by this, by the notion of alternate realities, the possibility that a fantasy could perhaps be real. To this day I can’t think of another book that, at least for me, did such an artful job of riding that edge.  E. Nesbit wrote many wonderful books, and I have enjoyed them all, but The Enchanted Castle still holds special magic for me.  Of course it made me want to read more fantasy, so I read other Nesbit books, Edward Eager’s Half Magic and Knight’s Castle , C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia chronicles, later Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series (still one of my all-time favorites, though those weren’t published until I was a teenager), Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and lots more. Hmm, all but Eager are British authors — they seem to have a special gift for fantasy.

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I was introduced to Freckles when I was ten or eleven, and have reread it many times, as well as all Gene Stratton-Porter’s other fiction. I was brought up to appreciate nature and the environment, but this book really drove home ideas about the need to revere Mother Nature’s majesty and bounty.  The story is painful in ways, because at the same time that it exalts the glories of nature, the main storyline is about logging old-growth swampland and destroying the very Mother Nature the book celebrates.  Porter was trying to get people to see what was happening before it was too late.

Freckles is a story about a young man (an orphan, by the way) who leaves the city for a job as guard of a large timber lease in dense Indiana swampland, the Limberlost. His conversion from fearful city boy to ardent lover of nature is assisted by a great cast of characters, including the memorable Bird Woman who goes all over the countryside photographing wildlife. Another of Stratton-Porters novels, A Girl of the Limberlost, is set in the same area, with some overlapping characters including the Bird Woman.

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Gene Stratton-Porter in her outdoor gear

Gene Stratton-Porter was a remarkable woman, a pioneer in conservation thought, who pursued her early career in writing, nature photography, and conservation largely in secret. She was the real-life “Bird Woman” of her novels, photographing birds, moths, and other wildlife at all hours, in incredibly difficult conditions, in order to preserve it and share it with the world. She only agreed to write novels so that her publisher would print her non-fiction nature books.  I was strongly influenced by both her and her writings to be a more ardent environmentalist and a woman who stands by her values (whether they are popular or not).

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The first time I read Daddy-Long-Legs I was about nine years old.  There were many orphan novels written in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries; I read and re-read lots of them, including Understood Betsy, Anne of Green Gables and its sequels, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Jane Eyre, Eight Cousins, and Rose in Bloom, among others. Daddy-Long-Legs stands out in my memory for several reasons. We meet Judy Abbott as a young adult of eighteen rather than a child. Unlike most orphan novels of the period, she has grown up entirely in an orphanage, never experiencing a traditional home setting. She leaves the orphanage for the first time in order to attend college.

The novel is told in the form of Judy’s letters to her benefactor (she calls him “Daddy-Long-Legs,” thus the book’s title), who is paying for her college education (at a time when women going to college was still out of the ordinary).  This was the first novel I read that was in letter form, and I was very taken by that writing style, and impressed by how well I was able to come to know the characters despite what seemed (to me) to be a difficult form of delivery.  It helped me to see how I too could write letters that went beyond delivering facts, to set a scene and bring my reader into my world in a more complete way. 

Judy was experiencing the world outside the orphanage for the first time, and I was enthralled by her fascination with everything around her and her joie-de-vivre, though at the same time appalled at all the things she had missed growing up. She had never seen paper money, never been on a train or in a car, never set foot inside a house, never known anything of what it meant to have a family. It made me realize more fully just how fortunate I was, and how much I had experienced that I took for granted. I think this novel, more than any other, made me realize how different each of our experiences is, how varied our opportunities are. It made me more actively appreciative of my own childhood, and helped me to value each person’s perspective on life.

So there you have my three book picks. What about you? What three childhood books most influenced your life?

 

Summer Music Memories

If you have ever been a listener to popular music, you’ve probably had the experience of “summer” music – when a song or an album becomes identified with the summer season.

It might be even be a particular summer – the summer just after high school graduation, or the summer you got your first full-time job, or the summer just after you met that significant other.

For whatever reason, music has always been a trigger for memory, probably exceeded only by the memory of particular fragrances.  But “summer music” has certainly played a part in many folks’ lives.

One of the biggest groups to perhaps epitomize the whole concept is The Beach Boys. Formed in 1961 in California, and composed of three brothers, their cousin, and a friend, their tight harmonies and infectious melodies alone would have earned them a spot in pop music history.  But it was their subject matter and lyrics that put them in possibly the top spot for summertime music.  Scoring thirty-six Top 40 hits, more than any other American band, their music has lived on for over 50 years.  Especially “summer” memories are found in “Surfer Girl;” “Fun, fun, fun;” “I get around;” ”Help me Rhonda;” “Sloop John B.;” “Good Vibrations;” and “Kokomo.”  All of these songs and more can be found on the music CD “Greatest Hits – 20 Good Vibrations” at the Fontana Regional Library.

Another song that resonates with many is the song “Cruel Summer” by the British female pop group Bananarama.  This song was originally released in the UK in 1983, but hit it big internationally in 1984 when it was included in the movie The Karate Kid. Other songs by the group have a definite summer feel: “Venus” and “Na Na Hey Hey,” for example, although the latter two were not original to the group; all 3 songs can be found on their Greatest Hits collection.

Jumping back to the late 50’s, “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran captures the downside of being a teenager during the summer. Covered by many artists, from The Who to Alan Jackson to Jimi Hendrix, this song has been a perennial favorite; Eddie’s original version can be found on the album Absolutely the best of the 50s.

One with some personal memories for me is “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts. Found on the album of the same name, the song paints a word picture of an idyllic summertime domestic world. Also on this album is the song “Hummingbird,” which has another summer memory link.

A much less idyllic but still compelling song is “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful from the mid-60s.  Contrasting daytime and nighttime (“at night it’s a different world”), the song incorporates the sound of car horns (a VW beetle, no less) and jackhammers. The library has the album Entertainment Weekly 1966 which includes this hit.

The group Chicago tells a story of a typical but ideal summer day in the song “Saturday in the Park.” Including lyrics about a man selling ice cream and the Fourth of July, many people have experienced the laid-back memories related in the song, which can be found on the album Chicago: Greatest Hits v. 1.

While some of the summer time hits referenced so far come from groups with many big hits, like Chicago and the Beach Boys, one of the less well-known songs comes from the group Mungo Jerry.  The group came from the UK, and this was their only US hit.  But it became one of the best-selling singles of all time, and while it was a “one hit wonder” you can still hear it played during the summer: “In the Summertime.” (And you can find it on this CD: Best of the 70s)

Another song that calls back some personal memories of summer for me is the DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince hit “Summertime.” Before Will Smith became a well-known actor, he and his friend Jeff Townes were a hip-hop duo.  This song was their biggest hit. It relates summer memories of the pair’s high school summers growing up in Philadelphia, and can be found on the New Millennium hip-hop party album.

Well, I think I probably just scratched the surface of summer music memories with these songs. I hope at least a few triggered some good thoughts for you – please let me know in the comments if you have your own favorites!

[P.S. The links will take you to a music video of the song or the library music CD so you can check them out!]

HST and the Cold War in the Far East

If Harry Truman had had his way he would have continued being a senator from Missouri instead of presiding over the Senate as Vice President of the United States.  One rainy afternoon on April 12 1945, while Truman was gathered with Democratic bigwigs in the Speaker of the House’s office for a drink and some gossip,  he received a message to call the White House as soon he could.  He made the call and was told told to get to the Executive Mansion as fast as possible.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died in Hot Springs, Georgia.  Harry Truman was now the President of the United States.  In a few minutes he had gone from the presiding officer of the United States Senate to Commander in Chief of American armed forces worldwide.

Truman would be president for the last four months of World War II.  He would be the one who made the decision to drop two atom bombs on Japan to bring the war to a sudden close.  To the west of Japan, the Korean peninsula, which had been under control of Japan, was liberated in the north by the Soviet Union and in south by the United States.  The Americans and the Russians agreed on the 38th parallel as the border between South Korea and North Korea.  Both countries withdrew their troops in 1948, the same year Harry Truman pulled a political upset and beat New York governor  Thomas Dewey in a close presidential election. The president wanted to get the United States off the war footing where it had been for the last nine years.  He thought it was time for federal government to spend money on the domestic front:  housing, schools, etc.  After his election, Truman submitted a budget that cut the military expenses by a lot.  Most of the defense dollars went to support the American military in Europe, where the Russians had gained control of Eastern Europe and closed the border between East and West Germany  (with British, French, and American sectors of occupancy).  By this time the Russians had successfully tested their own atom bomb, causing the men who advised the president on national security to pause and reflect the course the nation was taking with its foreign policy.

So soon after the close of World War II, the President of the United States did not have the security advisers the occupant of the White House does today.  The National Security Council was only three years old in 1950, and this period was before  the likes of Henry Kissinger,  Zbigniew Brzezinski, and other global security experts. The  United States and its western allies had won World War II along with the Soviet Union, who had taken  over Eastern Europe and as Winston Churchill had said famously in the speech had gave at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘Iron Curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia;...”(1)

Two years later, the Chinese Communists sent the Nationalists high tailing to Formosa, thereby winning the Chinese Civil War.

Even though the United States had been involved in the liberation of  South Korea from the Japanese, that part of Korea was not included in the nation’s defense plans.  At this point, the United States had it’s hands full governing Japan as part of its occupation duties, so President Truman and his Secretary of State Dean Acheson decided to leave South Korea to the United Nations, who wanted to hold elections across the entire country, both north or south.  The Communists in the north opposed this as they had in eastern Europe.   The chief executive of the Republic of Korea, Syngman Rhee, agreed with the UN, and threatened to invade the People’s Republic of Korea, so when the United States withdrew their troops from the south, they left the South Korean leader with limited arms for his army.   One volume of the  Foreign Relations of the United States for 1950(2) describes the status of the Republic of Korea (ROK) from the point of the United States Department of State in the six months prior to the start of the Korean War.

The correspondence between the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Department of State personnel  revealed two problems causing dissension   between the two countries:  inflation in ROK and that nation’s movement  away from democratic processes. (3)   In April 1950, the focus changed markedly when Secretary Acheson received a communication from Korea describing the Korean Army ‘s victory over an estimated 600 North Korean trained guerrillas near the border. (4)

In a May issue of U. S. News and World Report, Senator Tom Connelly (D. Tex), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated that the United States would eventually abandon South Korea to the Communists.  The Secretary, Mr. Acheson, and others in the State Department fought back, denying that Connelly’s opinion was the policy of the United States government.   President Rhee told Ambassador John Muccio he resented the United States’ reluctance to supply his armed forces with surplus F-51 planes, particularly when the North Koreans were building their armed forces. (5)   Within weeks the American Embassy in Seoul sent recommendations for furnishing F-51s to the South Koreans. (6)

Throughout May 1950, Ambassador Muccio tried to get the Secretary and other top officials of the State Department to mention Korea in speeches and other communications with the press and invite people from other government departments to visit Korea when they were in the Far East. (7)

On June 23,  the State Department received a recommendation from the embassy to reduce personnel in KMAG (U.S. Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea) because the ROK Army was doing so well on its own. (8)  Early the next morning the North Korean  Army attacked across the 38th parallel.

My next blog:  “HST and Korean War”

(1) William Manchester and Paul Reid,  The Last Lion:  Defender of the Realm, p. 960.

(2) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950: Korea, Documents 1-58 https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1950v07/comp1

(3)Documents 1-24.

(4)Document  25

(5) Documents 31- 33, 35-38.

(6) Document 41

(7) Documents 45, 54

(8) Document 58

For further reading

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War:  America in Korea, 1950-1953.   Part I,  pages 3-59

Robert J. Dovonan.  Conflict and Crisis:  The Presidency of Harry Truman

Eric F. Goldman.  The Crucial Decade and After:  America, 1945-1960.

Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.  The Wise Men:  Six Friends and the World They Made.

David McCullough.  Truman.

Cabell Phillips.  The Truman Presidency.

The Other Self-Help Section

The older I get, the less I know for sure. I’ve always prided myself on being a bookworm and looking to literature for all the answers, and the stacks of books at my house get pretty overwhelming sometimes. Being overwhelmed by my ever-growing reading list is a little counter-productive to my search for answers, so in recent years I’ve turned more and more to children’s books for their simple wisdom. Board books in particular are a favorite lately – you can gnaw on them as you read without doing too much damage to the book. How great is that?

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Grapes fill my heart with happiness, for real.

Monique Gray Smith’s My Heart Fills With Happiness is written from the perspective of a little girl going down the list of things that make her happy. Such as singing, dancing, and walking barefoot in the grass. Those things make me happy too, although my singing and dancing might not make those around me happy. The book invites the reader to dwell on the little joys in life, and the little joys amount to a lot of joy in the heart if you let them.

Keeping on the happiness theme, Ball by Mary Sullivan is a story about a day in the life of a dog whose greatest joy in life is chasing her ball. The book begins in a flurry of excited activity when her little human wakes up and plays ball with her while getting ready for school. When the little human leaves for school, our little dog is bereft. She spends a lot of time trying to play ball with the laundry basket, the cat, and the baby human. When she naps, she even dreams about playing ball. Now, you may wonder why this dog doesn’t get another hobby, perhaps one like writing, which is best done in the dark abyss of solitude. I wonder why too. That’s not the point – I can’t solve her problems for her. Anyway, eventually the little human gets home and, oh my gosh, so much joy and excitement. The moral of the story is, joy is best when shared, or something like that.

 

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Ball‘s dedication. *sobs*

Moving on to my current mood, I’m Grumpy by Jennifer and Matthew Holm is a book I should really read every morning with my second cup of coffee. Grumpy Cloud is woken up early by chirping birds; he loses his hat in a gust of wind; he drops his ice cream; he gets rained on. (Wait, what?) And yet, after all of those small tragedies happen, he says, “I’m just grumpy because,” leading me to be believe that the real problem is not his circumstances but how he relates to him. When his happy friend Sunny tries to cheer him up, he finally explodes in a torrent of rain and thunder, after which outburst no one wants to be around him. Is there anyone reading this who cannot identify with Grumpy Cloud? (Or Sunny Sun, for that matter?) The good news is, Grumpy Cloud’s moral conscience starts to nagging him, and he makes amends to the beings that he hurt, gaining a little humility and an attitude of gratitude in the process. Grumpy Cloud occupies a special place in a shadowy corner of my heart.

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Of course, some board books are more terrifying than inspiring.

And because I tend to find the best wisdom and advice in the poetry section, here’s a nugget of humility from Judith Viorst’s collection What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? :

“Trying”

I only cheated a tiny bit.

I never thought you’d notice it.

And besides, I wanted so badly to be the winner.

And it’s true that I told a little white lie

When I said that I hadn’t eaten the pie.

But I was starving, and it was forever till dinner.

This toy that I shouldn’t have taken but did

Belonged, I admit, to a whole other kid.

But I’m hoping you won’t think I’m a terrible sinner.

I know what I shouldn’t. I know what I should.

And I’m trying my very best to be good.

I’m trying my very best – but I’m still a beginner.