History

Of Plimoth Plantation

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I don’t know if you have ever been to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but it seems like much of the East Coast at first glance.  There is a gray quality to the light that makes the beaches blander, the seas bluer, the greens more vibrant.  Unless you are in a formal town and there are slim granite curbs, the roads are all rimmed by gravel and scrubby grass that collects spindly wildflowers and clover.  The trees beyond the green strip all mound together into a heap of foliage that follows next to you as you drive.  Tucked between the trees are clapboard houses with shutters.  They’re boxy and white, or maybe there’s a wide porch with a blue roof, or a tin star tacked to the siding.  All of them have shutters, new and old.  The beachfront in Plymouth is busy and modern.  There’s an ice cream store with a teal marquee and gold gilded letters.  Pilgrim Gifts hugs the triangle-shaped corner.  A granite pavilion houses a small, disappointing rock that says 1620, and out in the bay stands the medium sized Mayflower II.  The shore stretches, flat, brown and blue, to the horizon.

It’s beautiful.  And it makes me think of winter snows and a shallop speeding through the waters, everything unknown.  But it’s not any different than any other seaside town boasting a historic item or two, really.  Not unless you know the history of the place. Not until you step into the museum that is a recreation of the village as it was in 1627; Plimoth Plantation.

There are places you go to that steal your soul and you never belong to yourself again.  Places you’ve dreamed, somehow, or maybe it’s just that the air is in your blood in a certain way.  But all you need is one whiff and you’re home, the angst in your soul is quiet, all is right with the world.  Maybe they have nothing to do with you before this moment, but it doesn’t matter.

Plimoth Plantation is that place for me.  The gray houses, their roofs thatched, seem to grow out of the scrubby kitchen gardens that are rimmed by uneven gray fencing.  A dirt path stretches down to the ocean, which is ever more blue than you remember it.  At the top of a hill is a boxy fort housing cannons and also the church, the inside dim, broken up only by a few slim windows.  The village smells of wood smoke even on the hottest day.  Inside the houses, people in bright period garb will speak with you in a foreign accent about everything from religion, to thatching a roof, to their opinions of their neighbor.

There is always something that doesn’t quite dawn on you that comes out in these encounters.  Most people know that the pilgrims landed far north of where they were supposed to.  What struck me this time was the woman who lamented that most of the Mayflower crew had died, and if the ship couldn’t get back to England then their supply ships would never come to the right place.  At best they would be declared lost at sea.  At worst they would all starve in a wilderness that had already claimed half of them and looked to claim more when their wheat wouldn’t grow properly like it did at home.  This was before Squanto and Samoset.

Or the gentleman who had relied on the advice of a few summer fishermen who touted the mild and warm climate in New England, always home before the fall frosts set in.  He had not brought a winter coat over, and his neighbor charged him a fortune for an extra one.  Because no one knew what the winter was like.

Chickens roam in the streets and attempt to forage in the houses if someone doesn’t kick them out.  There are reddish bulls in the far pasture.  Unless the task is a dangerous or fiddly one, you will likely be asked to help hoe the garden or tie knots in the fishing rope.  The words in the bible all have an “s” that sometimes looks like an “f.”  Their earthenware cups have too many handles.

I hadn’t been for, oh, probably 15 years.  But I got to go again this summer.  It’s just as much mine as it ever was.  It’s a better experience than I remembered.  I wished again, for the millionth time, that I could move in and stay in that blue and gray world forever.  I ate authentic food, reveled in the green streets, asked questions on horn books, thatch, wood storage, and religion just to hear the answers.  Brian helped Patience Brewster hoe a row in her garden. I wished all over again that I could don those clothes and pretend to be a pilgrim for a year, even if I did have to go home at night.

But it was back on a plane for me, and I’m now residing in the golden dryness that is California again.  I hope I can get back there sooner than 15 years next time.

And in the meantime, I’ve pulled out some of my pilgrim books again.  First on the docket?  A collection of primary source writings called “The American Puritans, their Prose and Poetry.”

I’m also enjoying all the pictures I took:

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Book Review: Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest

I’ve tried to review the Emily books so many times that it’s just silly.  But the books are so much a part of my existence at this point that it’s hard to be coherent about them.  Emily is the quintessential writer.  Not only are her thoughts, feelings, and work ethic extremely similar to mine, but Montgomery (along with Garrison Keillor) is one of the people I hold up as a paragon of a point I like to make.  Every subject matter is valid, even everyday mundane life.  You don’t have to have experience in darkest Africa or on the fringes of society to write an interesting book.  The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is rural Prince Edward Island in the early 1900s with plenty of aunts and family traditions to make a girl crazy.

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I have marked Emily Climbs as the book where she is most like me on the 2016 reading challenge.  This is the book in which she’s a struggling, working writer while still trying to balance school duties and family expectation.  Emily is more sensitive than I am.  I’m able to not care about what people think of me in a way she can’t.  But otherwise we are alike.  Right down to the writing habits – spilling out all the chaff of life into a diary before writing into the wee hours of the night.  Sending manuscripts back and getting nothing but rejections for them.  Scribbling sketches of events and trying to capture character in a few paragraphs.  Watching the rejections pile up and pretending you don’t care.  Being so proud of the free subscription or set of contributors copies that come with your first publication instead of pay.  Always hoping for more.

The only thing I don’t find terribly realistic is that Montgomery doesn’t treat Emily’s writing as exactly right.  We never see her editing, only writing more and more things.  It’s such a faithful portrait of a young writer otherwise that I’m sad it’s left out, not because I feel it detracted from the story but because I think it would have helped me earlier to realize that 75% of the writing process isn’t actually writing. It’s editing the stuff you wrote.

I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not.  I cannot see it clearly anymore because I am far too close to it.  But owls in the Land of Uprightness, Egyptian trinkets at the snowshoe dance, Perry’s terrible poetry and Ilse’s bad temper, midnight donuts with Cousin Jimmy, and Aunt Ruth’s terrible snooping all make for something pretty magical.

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I also read Emily’s Quest this time.  I don’t often, because this book is full of heartache.  Emily makes one bad mistake after another, spends all of her time lonely and wanting, and I generally feel morose and horrible at the end of it.  She gets a happy-ish ending, but it is so quick and so slim that it hardly seems worth the pain to get there.  It qualifies quite well as a book that makes me a complete mess for the reading challenge.

This is another one I don’t know if I should recommend.  I love knowing what happens to Emily, but watching her be so proud and so mistaken, to attempt to give things you know she can’t, to watch her succeed professionally and fail so hard personally, is not an easy thing to do.  I love New Moon, but this Emily is not the carefree, hopeful girl of the other books.  This girl has taken it on the chin hard and is struggling to make a life knowing that.  It feels true, but it doesn’t make it better to digest.  The moonlit snows and gray cats in the orchards seem lonely now, and not a comfort.  One by one, all her friends go away.  That, too, I think is a bit like the rest of us.  The promise of college never is quite the same from the other side.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to read Emily as a comfort book.  I realized that I’ve memorized large swaths of Emily Climbs this time around, and it didn’t grip me as hard as it usually does because of it.  This read around might be the end of an era.  For quite a while, at least.  We’ll see how I feel in a year or so.

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Book Reviews: Colonial Non-Fiction Favorites

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I usually try to keep the History Nerd glee under wraps, but I’ve been listening to this podcast on the way to work titled “Revolutions.” Of course I skipped right to my favorite one, the American Revolution.  I’ve been nerding out on Brian about it ever since, because I think the guy gets everything right but sometimes forgets to mention small nuances that matter much.  Like with the Townshend Act… colonists weren’t just pissed because Britain was taxing them.  They were pissed because Britain was taxing them on goods it was illegal to make themselves.

You see?  You get me going…

I’ll admit that I haven’t read as much about the revolution as I probably should.  I’ve never read 1776, for instance.  But I do voraciously read all sorts of stuff from the colonial period. In another world, in another place, I would really have loved to be a career Colonial Historian.  I’ve even delved into some of the primary source stuff.  It’s totally different than you would imagine it to be from all the myths you were fed as children.  Even a college American History course doesn’t always get at the meat of it all.  I recommend a lot of fiction on this blog, but below I’m listing four non-fiction books that changed the way I thought about Colonial America.  Because once I’m on a history kick, I want to STAY on a history kick.   (I’m just gonna pretend you’re also into this stuff…)


Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick

This is a great overview of the pilgrim experience that is easier to read than most non-fiction books and just fascinating.  I say overview, but that might be deceiving.  It delves deeper than generalities by giving you a sense of who these people were, mistakes and all.  It also takes you farther than most pilgrim histories, right into the pivotal conflict of King Phillips War.  Philbrick explores the attitudes of the pilgrims, but also of their children and the children of Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief whose help was probably the only reason the early colony survived.

I’ve seen a bunch of different histories that attempt to do this same thing, but I don’t think that any of them have quite the complexity of this one, while still maintaining clarity.  If you’re new to pilgrim history, Mayflower is the definitive volume.

A few things surprised me in this book.  First was the way Massasoit used the pilgrim alliance to secure power for himself in the region.  We think of the Wampanoags as being these benevolent people who could not watch the pilgrims starve, (Samoset and Squanto teaching them to hunt eel and plant corn, anyone?  “Welcome Englishmen?”).  The reality was much more complicated, and to a lot of extents more equal.  The Wampanoags were giving something, yes.  But they were getting something as well.  They went from small and bullied tribe to the most powerful tribe in the region over this alliance.

The other thing I found surprising was how nuts the pilgrims were.  Again, we think of these grandfatherly men going into God’s wilderness to create the City on A Hill.  And they did go to America with the hopes that they could have religious freedom from the Church of England.  The thing you don’t realize is that they were just as fanatical about it as the people they left behind – no room for anything other than Puritanism in Plymouth colony.  They also often overreacted in bloody, bloody ways when relations with the locals weren’t going as they preferred.

A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, by Laura Thatcher Ulrich

Ulrich unearthed the diary of Martha Ballard in a local library, and created this great book exploring what her life was like as a rural Midwife in colonial Maine.  Ulrich’s New England is a bit more built-up than Philbrick’s.  It’s has information about medicine at the time, colonial understandings of communicable disease, and the colonial legal system (Martha’s husband wasn’t the best sort of guy).  It can be a bit of a slog, since Martha’s English is far from the modern standard and chapters start with snippets from her diary.  But it’s worth it to get through, and if you need to you can skip the diary excerpts.  Ulrich does a great job of quoting from them and expounding on why they’re important later in the chapters.

What surprised me most about this book was the deep connection of neighbors to each other.  I think of colonial Maine as being this bleak and unpopulated place, but there was a lot of help and a lot of camaraderie among the people who were there.  It was not the uninhabited wilderness I pictured.  What I found especially interesting was the birthing practices.  I guess having children while sitting was the norm back then – usually on a neighbor’s lap if the midwife didn’t own a birthing chair.  That kind of closeness is something I couldn’t even fathom experiencing today.  What also got me was the massive amount of work running a colonial farm could be.  Martha is only able to run around and midwife because she has older children to do most of the housework for her, and that housework is INVOLVED.

Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger Among the Pilgrims, by David LIndsay

Lindsay looks into the life of his ancestor, Mayflower passenger Richard Moore, and finds a strange story.  Most pilgrim stories focus on the Puritan passengers, but there were non-puritans who made the trip too.  Moore is one of these.  Not only is it interesting to see the story from that perspective, but Moore’s father tore him from his life with his adulterer mother, sending him the only place she could never reach him (spoiler: it’s the New World).  It’s not only a crazy-awesome soap opera story, it’s an interesting look into the England they all left behind to make the journey.  Not only that, but Moore became a well-known ship captain in the area, leaving room for a wealth of merchanting information.

The most impressive thing for me in this is the England Moore leaves behind.  It’s after the Renaissance, you would think the world must be progressive somehow, but in many ways it all feels like the middle ages rehashed.  There are definite nods to landed gentry being the most important, and to them living a life so separate from the farm communities around them.  It makes you see the contrast between American and England so much more clearly – and how in many ways American was really brutal even if it was freeing.

I have seen fisherman perspectives, and trapper perspectives, but Moore also lived in parts of the country that weren’t as affected by native attacks, and he was a merchant with a large cargo ship who also traveled to the West Indies.  That was a new perspective for me as well.  Interesting all around.

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England,  by Carol F. Karlsen

This book focuses on how witch trials were more about wealth and forcing women to conform to societal norms than they were about actual Puritan hysteria.  There’s a wealth of information about relationships and marriage practices in the books.  In order to get Karlesn’s argument, you do have to understand the social hierarchy of women in Colonial America, and she devotes a bunch of time to this.  Women’s studies and colonials?  My favorite thing ever!  Karlsen makes a compelling argument, too, showing that it was usually women with wealth and power who weren’t quite conforming the way everyone liked that were accused of witchcraft.

This book occupies that sort of middle period where things were built up in the colonies and fairly urban in places, but it was still a frontier with a lot of freedom from laws and dependency on neighbors and community.  It’s an interesting time that isn’t covered as often, part of the same time that the Moore book covers.  That’s in its favor, too.  What I think struck me most is how relations between people haven’t changed much.  The rules that govern those relationships certainly have, but the feelings behind them, and the way they play out within the economic structure of society, are still the same.

All links are Amazon Affiliate links.  Happy Reading!!

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3Point8

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So, this thing has been going on for a couple of weeks now.  I have been perpetually disorganized this last month, and am definitely remiss in posting this so late. But better late than never, right? I had to wait until payday to buy the book (because I didn’t realize they don’t charge you until it prints) and didn’t feel comfortable plugging something I hadn’t bought, even if I was going to buy it. Um, I mean, I was trying to stagger my release of this blog to help Mike keep his momentum going.  Of course.  Yes, that was my plan all along (shifty eyes).

So here it is:

I’m going to tell you about this good friend of mine.  His name is Mike Melilli, and he’s got a grasp of story that is, well, masterful I guess.  Except that description seems so pale.  I can’t say that I hate him for it, because he’s the sort of guy that is gregarious and unhateable.  I’m sure you know the feeling, though.  That jealousy that someone else has easy command of something you’re trying so hard to learn, while at the same time being floored by it.

I am telling you this because he’s writing a book, and we all know how hard that is.  MUCH harder than anyone who hasn’t done it thinks it possibly could be.  I already know he’s a good storyteller, because we’ve played Dungeons and Dragons/Savage Worlds in the same group together for, oh, certainly over five years.  Maybe closer to seven?  But I haven’t seen any of his writing.  Until now.

Mike is crowd-funding a book through preorders at Inkshare, and if his excerpt is any indication, the book going to be an AMAZING fantasy/thriller mashup. The whys and wherefores that have led him to this novel are his story to tell, not mine, so I will let him tell it.  You can read about him and his novel here: https://www.inkshares.com/projects/3point8?recommended=true.  I’m 100% excited to read the final product.

Several reasons you should buy his book: 1) It’s going to be a really good book.  2) 50% of the profits are going to Forever Footprints, a charity that supports families who have suffered a pregnancy or infant loss.  3) The book is a steal at only $4.99 if you’re willing to sign up for an Inkshare account.  4) If you buy now (before the end of September), it will help Mike win a contest that guarantees he’ll get it published.

Thanks so much for letting me spout off about this.  More books in the world = more readers = a better world.  You can help bring one more into existence, you know.

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Some Thoughts on Romance Novels

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I usually keep a reading list of whatever I’m finishing, but I am here to confess that my reading list has been less than honest lately.  I’ve been binge-reading romance novels for the last 2 months now, with not a whole lot else stuffed in between.  I’ve been loath to admit it, so I’ve been leaving it off the list.  Why, you ask?  Oh good, I was hoping you would.  I’ll tell you.

Well, I mean… Regency romance novels with all the sex in them are definitely considered some of the worst kind of beach smut by a lot of people.  I get that, but I don’t think that’s the entire reason I hate to admit that I read them (although as a self-professed book snob, perhaps that’s some of it).  I DO advocate for reading everything and for judging a book by it’s intended merits.  Romance novels are fun.  The real reason I’ve not wanted to say anything , though, is because I am a girl who has always prided myself on being a little weird.  But if I’m a 33 year-old married lady who isn’t particularly happy with life in its current state (Why have I not received a six figure book deal yet?  Oh, it’s because I haven’t finished writing the book, you say?  And even then, that sort of money is a total pipe-dream?), I may also be a giant cliché.  Okay, I’ll just embrace it; I’m almost certainly a giant cliché.

But I’ll live with it.  That’s how much I like romance novels.  I am willing to be labeled ordinary for reading them.

There has been a TON of scholarship on why women like the romance genre, but I’m going to add my non-scientific thoughts on it.   I like them because they’re the best kind of escapism.  It’s really that simple.  For example:

There are no money problems.  Or if there are money problems, it’s because one or the other of the protagonists is hiding their vast fortune.  Or is about to be left a vast fortune.  Or is about to have an amazing idea for an invention that will earn them a fortune.  In a romance novel, no one ever spends the evening going over the finances and crying.  There is no dismay at how bad the electric bill has become in the wake of the 100-degree heat.  No cars or carriages ever need repairs that are unaffordable.  No one shops at the thrift store, the dollar tree.  They don’t have to worry about deciding where to eat, or where to spend date night, or if there will even be a date night.  Just have the cook make whatever you want! Attend the ball, or the theater! Characters buy libraries and entire wardrobes in one fell swoop in these things.  Characters buy and furnish entire manor houses in one fell swoop.  It’s relaxing.

And then… There are no job problems, because no one works.  Everyone has a title or a vast fortune, so there is no day job to make ends meet.  If you are female, your job is to dress yourself in awesome clothes, read books, and drink tea all day while waiting to be seduced or chatted-up by a VERY handsome (and often smart) man.  You can attend balls and theater performances if you’d like.  If you are a man, your job is to gamble, talk horses, tie a mean cravat, and go to the club while chatting up a lovely lady of your choice.  Bonus points for tight pants and sheer manliness.  People have professions if they want them or are good at them, but they work for themselves.  There are no crappy bosses.  There is no sacrificing time with your loved ones because the boss needs you to work overtime.  There are no assignments that make you want to tear your hair out with boredom.  No one ever has to decide what they want to “be when they grow up,” because what they’re going to be is independently wealthy.  It’s lovely.

Put that together with settings of fantastical manor houses, pretty dresses, and bleak yet beautiful countryside and you have something that is just the perfect place to escape to.  It’s so unlike my current American life of offices and cars that it’s almost like reading fantasy.  Now if only we could do something about the sappy, cringe-worthy titles.  That is the only thing left to reconcile… I can’t tell inquirers that I’m reading “Three Weeks With Lady X” with a straight face.  I just can’t.

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Book Review: Pioneer Girl

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Pioneer Girl, by Laura Ingalls Wilder & Pamela Smith Hill:

I am a Laura Ingalls Wilder nut, of course.  I mean, anything pioneer and it’s probably my favorite thing.  Oregon Trail game?  Check.  Sewing a quilt?  Check.  Conestoga wagons and horses or oxen? Count me in.  Heck, I’ll even churn butter.  For a limited amount of time (let’s not get nuts).

So when I found out that the South Dakota Historical Society was putting out the original, adult version of Wilder’s novel?  I went a little crazy.  I’ve been following their blog for years while they researched the annotations, and it’s been fascinating.  I tried to pre-order a couple of times but it was a complicated system.  Then, the book came out and sold out of its small print run almost immediately.  Because it was being distributed by the South Dakota Historical Society Press, it wasn’t something I could run down to Barnes and Noble and grab, even if it wasn’t a scarce commodity.  While The Frugal Frigate (my local indie bookstore) has a GREAT selection, they don’t stock many adult books.  There is no e-book version.

And then I walked into the bookshop in Damariscotta, ME, and there it was in all its painted glory.  After picking my jaw up off the floor and then drooling on it, I had to buy it.

It’s been an interesting read.  It’s not what I expected it to be, but in many ways it’s so much more than what I expected.  First of all, it’s the VERY first draft of her manuscript, before her daughter started to help her edit it.  There are at least three other versions, but they elected to print the first version with the idea that it was the most pure.  Wilder’s natural prose is vibrant, but the manuscript is definitely a first draft.  I tells, it doesn’t go into enough detail, and it finds vagueness more than it finds concrete facts.  This last thing is somewhat remedied by the annotations, but there’s only so much the annotations can do for the rest.  Still, it’s a fascinating narrative.  If you’ve read “The First Four Years,” it sort of reminds me of that in style. Only it’s so much more racy.  They didn’t lie when they talked about how much more this one holds in atmosphere and tone, something you don’t get from the Little House books themselves.

The footnotes are so vast and varied that it seems daunting to get through them all.  It was also a bit of a trick to figure out how to read them along with the text.  In places there are two to three pages of notes for every page of the manuscript.  I finally found that reading a page of the manuscript and then going back and reading only the footnotes for that page was best.  It takes a while.  Much longer than I’m used to, and non-fiction typically takes me longer anyway.

So, did I like it?  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book.   I know this is blasphemy, but I didn’t start liking Wilder’s Little House books until about “By The Shores of Silver Lake,” when the girls grow up a bit and are able to express wants and needs, not just play and work.  I felt the same about this book.  I didn’t start enjoying it until they moved from Walnut Grove the first time.  Then it got CRAZY.  I mean, the wives being led around the house by their hair, shootings in the saloon, robbers tying people up kind of crazy.   I’m all on board now, and dying to find out what happens next.

I’m about 2/3 of the way through.  If you can find it, it’s 100% worth the search.  It’s such a luxurious thing too – big and hefty on pretty paper with a velvety cover.  You won’t be disappointed. Especially if you are a Wilder and/or a pioneer lover.

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The Hidden (well, not super-evident at first glance) History of Damariscotta

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Every once in a while I discover a topic that gets me going on the ol’ History Research bus again.  This has gotten a bazillion times worse now that I actually have a history degree (read: access to a library, some sleuthing skills, and knowledge that most archives have at least a bit of a digitized collection these days).  This time it’s about the Pemaquid area – so interesting I didn’t even know what I was missing.  I’m about to go all history nerd on you, so you should be forewarned.

I’m going to Maine for vacation in a bit here.  My Mum has a house on Rutherford Island in South Bristol.  I’ve only been there during the off-season, so I’m used to there being nothing closer to us than the grocery store in Damariscotta 45 minutes away.  Unless you count the Pemaquid lighthouse, and nearby fort.  They’re a quick 20 minute drive down the road.  This is my husband’s first trip to the area, and we will definitely go to the lighthouse.  But I wondered about the fort… I thought maybe if I did a quick Google search I may find out something cool about a battle that was fought there, or something.

What I found was a CRAZY wealth of information that sent me on a research spiral involving most of that area.

Pemaquid was colonized before Plimoth was colonized.  It wasn’t supposed to be, but they think that a few people may have stayed on when Francis Popham’s failed colony went back to England in 1607.  The colony failed due to infighting, not so much due to starvation and disease, so a few families moved farther inland to the rich waters near Pemaquid and stayed.  How do we know this?  Well, mostly because Helen Camp found skeletons in the 1960s.

Yup, three of them.  They were wrapped in animal skins, laid with their knees up and their palms on their shoulders like most natives at the time, and each had a brass plate on their chests.  Brass wasn’t available in the New World, only in the old, so probably a melted-down kettle? Warriors, you would think.  Right?  One might have been – a male under 40.  But the others?  A woman of European descent with a baby on her shoulder.

At first people wanted to scream Vikings, but radiocarbon dating says early 1600s (not 1000s).  There are a bunch of these skeletons that have been found on the coast, too.  There’s even a Longfellow poem about one found in Fall River Massachusetts. He definitely thinks it was Vikings: (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173914)

The best thing I found was the newspaper articles.  You gotta love online archives.

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1928&dat=19650821&id=20IpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wWYFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3615,1050454&hl=en

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1928&dat=19660609&id=YGogAAAAIBAJ&sjid=3GYFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6082,4761052&hl=en

As if that wasn’t cool enough, there was a successful settlement there of almost 200 people between 1620 and 1680; situated perfectly to take advantage of the awesome fur trade in the area.  It was going so well that they decided to build a wooden fort in the 1670s to help protect them from pirates.

Yup, they needed protection from pirates.

Dixie Bull famously sacked the town in 1623, sailing into the harbor with three ships and burning the town.  Dixie disappears from all records in 1633, and there’s a local legend that one of the Damariscotta fishermen killed him in a duel in retaliation.  There’s also an AWESOME rumor that there’s buried treasure on Damariscove island.

The town was sacked and burned further during King Phillips War.  They tried to re-settle again, but it just never really worked out.  The French thought their Canadian holdings stretched all the way down to the Kennebec river.  Massachusetts was certain their border stopped at the St. Croix river.  The French put a whole bunch of catholic missions into the region to try and hold it, but it didn’t work out for them so well.  Damariscotta built a crazy-expensive stone fort to see if that would help. It didn’t.  In conjunction with the local Wabanaki tribe, the French sent the military in and contrived to make the area unlivable.

It was resettled again in the early 1700s.  They built another wooden fort and fortified it with a bunch of earthworks.  This one they were able to defend, but the town voted to pull it down themselves in 1775 so the British couldn’t occupy it during the war.  In the 1910s, the locals decided to rebuild the old stone fort as a curiosity.  That’s the one you can go visit now.

The lighthouse itself is another trip.  One of the first lighthouse keepers was Nathaniel Gamage.  Yup, forefather of the famous Gamage brothers with the internationally known boat building business (which you can see out the window from my mum’s).  Nathaniel Gamage was ousted so that President Harrison could install his own guy.  But Gamage had paid the former keeper quite a lot for the farm around the lighthouse, and the interloper wasn’t interested in doing the same.  Huge legal battle over funds ensued.

The most interesting thing is the skeletons, of course.  And some of Helen Camp’s discoveries throughout the 1980s.  Evidently, everyone had forgotten about the first settlement here in the early 1600s.  Camp (amateur archeologist) noticed that a local farmer’s fields had weird, square-shaped depressions in them.  He thought it would be cool to let her investigate, and she unearthed a village.

That’s where I’ll be in a few days, watching the lobster boats chug up the Gut, and thinking about all those amazing things that happened in the beautiful sleepy backwater.  Obviously all of this needs MUCH more research.  I am gleefully searching Worldcat and pulling up the interlibrary loan forms, starting with everything Helen Camp ever published.  The history bus is chugging along.

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Books I’ve Drooled Over

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The last time I did a summer reading challenge, it didn’t really work out that well.  It was the summer before I entered Chapman, the last summer I knew I might have some time before I was bogged down in scholarship 24/7, 365 (summer classes, man.  And winter interterm).  The challenge was to read ALL new books – nothing that I had ever read before.  For a gal who nurses comfort books like they’re going out of style, that was quite a challenge.  I managed it, but I read 37 books that summer and only 4 of them were books I loved enough for them to matter (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Watership Down, The Graveyard Book, and Of Plymouth Plantation, if you’re interested).

I have had much better luck with this challenge.  So far, of the eighteen books I’ve read, only 3 of them are books I didn’t love.  Several have been can’t-put-it-down all night reads.  These are the one’s I’m about to tell you about.  And recommend that you try them too.  Here they are:

The Wrath and The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh: I love fairy tale re-mixes, and I have been wanting an Arabian Nights tale for SO LONG.  I can’t even tell you.  I even thought about writing it myself, if I could get a concept figured out.  That’s how badly I wanted this thing.  And it’s here, in it’s perfect gilt package, and it is glorious.

First of all, Shazi is awesome.  She’s there to kill the king before he can kill her.  Who doesn’t love a super-spunky protagonist?  And then there’s also Khalid and his really horrible secret, and his hotness, and his hostile kingdom.  The world feels dangerous as well as beautiful, and it has a magical component that is so epically huge that it’s impossible to understand how much it influences the foundations of everything, because in the beginning it feels like it’s only for background atmosphere.

Shazi basically doesn’t get a good opportunity to kill the king for a while and then finds herself falling in love with him.  He also starts to fall in love with her, and then he has to make this horrible choice between her life or the entire kingdom.  They’re married, too, so there’s a lot of hot sexual tension (and sex, although not in any detail – it’s more that you know it’s happening in the cut-away), which is unusual for a YA novel.  But in the wings there is Khalid’s abusive father, a pregnant lady-in-waiting, Shazi’s failed magician father, her childhood crush who wants to rescue her, and a whole host of natural disaster.

My only real beef with the novel is that it’s a cliff-hanger.  Usually that’s a deal-breaker for me, but with this one it isn’t.  Instead of my usual ‘my God, guys – how much money do you want from me?’ attitude about cliff-hangers, I’m just ready to throw a party that there will be MORE (!!!).  This is the best thing I’ve read this summer.  It’s so good I might even read everything Renée Ahdieh writes for the rest of her/my life.  All I can say is that the next one better come out soon or I may die of waiting.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han: In this book, Belly goes with her mother every summer to live in Aunt Susannah’s beach house (not her real aunt, but her mother’s college roommate).  It’s just the moms and the kids in the house most of the time – Belly, her brother, and Susannah’s two boys.  The husbands are present only in small days, in glimpses and weekends.  Only this summer everything is different.  The boys that Belly has had a crush on for as long as she can remember seem to have a crush on her back.  There’s a bittersweet feeling that they’re growing up and this summer might be the last one; and then they get positive evidence that yes, this is the last.  This is it.  It all will end.

I do not know how Jenny Han captured my childhood so completely, but she did.  We used to spend huge chunks of the summer on the Southern Maine coast – first at my grandfather’s house in Biddeford Pool and then at my Aunt’s house on Gooserocks Beach.  When my grandfather had a house, Aunt Nancy used to rent hers.  She and Uncle Dennis would move out for the month we were there, leaving Alysson and Leah behind – five girls in a tiny two-bedroom cottage sharing three beds and a pull-out couch.  If two people were in the bathroom, one of them was standing in the shower.  Those are some of my fondest memories, all of us stacked together, running free in the ocean and playing house on the granite rocks.  This book captures that, and all the losses in between when we knew how bad the property taxes were, and we too knew it was all ending, too.

One of my favorite things about Jenny Han’s books is that I always end up rooting for the guy the main character doesn’t get together with at the end.  I think it’s a testament to how real her characters are, and how flawed.  People always look more perfect when you don’t know them as well, don’t they?  I love that I can’t count on anything with her.  Everything is a surprise, even while it feels like something I’ve already lived.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: This is basically a book about a friendship that blossoms into a deep love over the span of about two years.  Dante and Ari meet at the swimming pool one summer, and they become inseparable after that.  They’re as different as they can be on the outside, but on the inside they’re the same.  Neither of them has come from a wealthy background.  Ari has a brother who was sent to prison, a father who fought in Vietnam, and a propensity to talk about nothing at all.  Dante feels the deep burden of being an only child, wants to talk about everything, and is friendly but friendless.

It’s a good story.  A coming of age thing where both boys are trying desperately to figure out who they are and if they can live with who they are.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it because of the plot.  But what I really fell in love with was the writing.  Sáenz starts off using very simple language, easy thoughts and plenty of juvenile tags to the letters and journals he samples from both boys.  But as their lives deepen, so does the writing style.  And his use of imagery and foreshadowing made me thing of Fante’s masterpiece “Ask The Dust.”  With the added benefit that I didn’t want to murder any of the protagonists for being whiny like I did when I read Fante. It’s a beautiful thing.

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson: I picked up Johnson’s novel because I liked “The Great Greene Heist” so much.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.  Joshua is the preacher’s son, and is reunited with his childhood crush Maddie (a preacher’s daughter with a bad-girl image) when she comes back to town to stay with her aunt.  I think I was expecting it to be this thing where she’s bad and he succumbs to it while renouncing his faith or something.  I was expecting drama and drugs and high school hijinks.

Instead I got this lovely story about dichotomies and assumptions.  Maddie struggles with who she is vs who she’s told she should be, and what attempting to live up to her label has cost her.  Joshua learns to have opinions, to rely on more than his parents, to find a deeper faith through reason and questioning.  Both of them learn that parents aren’t perfect, even the good ones, and that love doesn’t really trump all.  Not when there are so many other things in play.  The whole book is a fight about good and bad, and if we can really assign those titles to anyone without knowing the full story.  With some bonus making out to keep things steamy, of course.

I think what I like most about this novel, though, is that it gave me a different perspective on the world.  It felt like my own in a lot of ways, but Joshua’s life centered around things that are foreign to me.  My horizons were broadened. And that was the point of this whole exercise in the first place, wasn’t it?

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Summer Vacation Reads

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It’s summer, and I have been thinking about vacation.  I just got back from a lovely weekend in Oceanside, and it looks like I’ll have another trip on the horizon to Maine.  The all-important decision, of course, is what to bring to read.  I have found that by practicing careful vacation reading curation, I am left with books I’m unable to separate from the landscape.  It’s a lovely thing to have happen.

So in that spirit, I thought I’d make some recommendations.

It’s a bit of a mish-mosh, these lists.  They’re to my taste and to my whims as they stand today.  I tend to agonize over what I’m reading and pick a theme, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with where I’m traveling.  My first trip to Yosemite was steeped in Tolkien.  The Ross Lake adventure was mostly dystopia amid stark mountains and placid, cold waters.  I spent a bit of the summer in Maine at my Aunt’s house by the river, in a sunny room full of antiques, reading Jane Austen.  But if I had to pick on place alone, these are what I would recommend in this moment, depending on where you’re traveling.  It’s a little bit of heartbreak, some silly, a heap of amazing prose, and a pinch of magic to round it all out.

I also want to say that in reviewing this lists, there is not nearly enough Rainbow Rowell, nor Diana Wynne Jones here.  They didn’t seem to fit into categories very well, but you can’t go wrong in reading ANYTHING by these two.  I especially recommend starting with Dogsbody, Fire and Hemlock, or Howl’s Moving Castle with Jones though.  She has so many, it’s hard to weed-through.  Rowell’s backlist is still fairly manageable.

Happy adventuring, and happy reading!

The Beach:

  • Colony, by Anne Rivers Siddons: four generations of family secrets and betrayal on the shores of a summer colony in Maine; and the strength of the women who keep the colony intact.
  • The Moonspinners, by Mary Stewart: While on vacation in a remote part of Crete, Nicola runs into two travelers who have witnessed a murder and are being hunted by a man from the local village.
  • Lake Woebegone, Summer 1956: A coming of age novel about Gary, self-described tree toad, who writes stories about talking dogs and is somewhat obsessed with his bad-girl cousin Kate.
  • Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray: If you mashed up Lord of the Flies with the Miss America pageant, and then added a smidge of reality TV, you might get this novel.
  • The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han: Belly is used to tagging after the boys all summer long at the beach house her mother’s best friend owns.  But now they’re all older, everything has changed, and the boys are running after Belly.  And the adults are hiding something life-changing.

Camping:

  • The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien: Bilbo is very surprised when twelve dwarves show up on his doorstep and sweep him off on an adventure containing elves, wizards, a dragon, talking ravens, and a very strange ring.
  • Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin: An ethnography of a matriarchal culture in California that exists after the nuclear apocalypse. Weird and interesting, and just beautiful.
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams:  Because of Fiver’s presentments of doom and destruction, a group of rabbits go on an epic journey to find a new home.
  • Chalice, by Robin McKinley: With the Demesne ravaged by misuse, and a new Master who is part fire-demon, Marisol must attempt to hold the land together with her hives of bees and her chalice, or lose everything to the men who seek to usurp them.
  • Plain Tales from the Hills, by Rudyard Kipling: A collection of short stories featuring soldiers and others in India.  Usually of the heartbreaking sort.

The City:

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith: Francie grows in Victorian New York, struggling against gender roles and poverty to become the woman she needs to become.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot: The strange and sometimes terrifying story of a woman whose cancer cells are used in almost all stem cell research, yet her poverty-stricken family cannot afford health insurance.
  • Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott: A tale of Miss Tribulation Periwinkle and her time as a nurse in Washington during the Civil War.
  • Isla and the Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins: Isla has a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh.  When they both end up friendless at the American School in Paris, it looks like something might blossom – during senior year.  Just in time for them to have to part.
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris: A hilarious collection of essays, including his life as an artist in New York, and the time he spent in France.

Road Trip:

  • Paper Towns, by John Green: Pretty, perfect Margo Roth Spiegelman climbs through Qs window one night and they go on a spree of pranking.  But then she disappears, and it looks like she’s left him clues to find her.
  • Candy Freak, by Steve Almond: About one man’s search through the candy factories of America and abroad in an effort to sate his sweet tooth, or perhaps just to ferret out the other Candy Freaks.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: Richard runs into a woman bleeding on the pavement one night, and finds he must help her.  He wakes up to discover that he no longer belongs to London.  He belongs to a strange world called London Below; and he must go on a perilous journey to restore the status-quo.
  • Forever Liesl by Charmian Carr: a lovely memoir not only of the making of a Hollywood starlet, but of the movie The Sound of Music and of the lives it touched across the globe.
  • Travels with Charlie In Search of America, by John Steinbeck:  Steinbeck travels America in the 1960s, with nothing but his trailer and his poodle, Charlie.  This is his beautifully written memoir of the people and attitudes he encountered along the way.
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I Need Diverse Books

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I have decided that I’m reading only books by non-white authors this summer; and only books I haven’t read before.  I realized that, although I don’t try to be exclusive, most of the authors I frequent – my favorites – are white women.  Nothing wrong with being a white woman who writes books (after all, I am one).  But summer is for stepping out of the usual, am I right? (I’m right)

I’ve been following the We Need Diverse Books movement online.  I know the reality is that diverse books only get made if diverse books get bought.  Therefore I will buy some (hence the “haven’t read before” rule). I’m also hoping that by reading only non-white authors I’ll learn something new.  Yay for learning new things.

I usually get through somewhere between 20-35 books over a season.  I have a lovely little list going on at Goodreads, but I’m posting my thirteen Must Reads below (I started with ten, and then had to keep going).  It’s been sort of a challenge to find things because I’m not thrilled with literary fiction; I like genre much better and YA or Fantasy in particular.  Recommended reading lists for those genres are few and far between.  But I digress.

Below is my list.  If you have any others you think I should definitely put on there, please, PLEASE let me know.  I have read the Great Greene Heist, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, How The Garcia Girls Got Their Accent, The God of Small Things, some Virginia Hamilton, some Laura Esquivel, and much Sherman Alexie, but anything else is (probably) fair game.

  1. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
  2. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson
  3. Kindred by Octavia Butler
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  5. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renaee Ahdieh
  6. A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison by Paul Jennings
  7. My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
  8. Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston
  9. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  10. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  11. Written In The Stars by Aisha Saeed
  12. For The Record by Charlotte Huang
  13. An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay

See, I read all of these titles and I get REALLY excited for those students to graduate and for the summer to officially start.  Commencement is this weekend, so SOON. (!!!)

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