Thursday, February 27, 2020

March Mystery Madness

Thanks Ruthiella at Booked for Life for alerting us to the March Mystery Madness Challenge hosted by Lizzie Faye Loves Books and Troi Towel.  It's the 5th year they have hosted this challenge and their theme is the number five.  Example: books with five in the title, books that are the fifth in the series etc.  But I've decided to ignore the category prompts and just choose five mystery novels I really want to read:

Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block published 1982 - Actually this particular novel conforms to one of the categories in the Mystery Challenge.  It's the fifth novel in Lawrence Block's acclaimed Matthew Scudder series.  I just love Matthew Scudder.  I have not tired of him yet and I have many more books in this series to look forward to.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie published 1934 - Have wanted to read this for some time and it will be nice to check in with Hercule Poiot again to see if he is all I remembered him to be.

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green published 1878 - She wrote detective novels in the 19th century and I found out about her through Ellery Queen Magazine.  The Leavenworth Case is set in NYC and its the novel she is best known for.

The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton published 2009 - The first book in Barbara Hamilton's historical mystery series featuring Abigail Adams as the amateur detective who solves the crime.  This book received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly and they don't give those out easily.

The Adventures of Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer by Alice and Claude Askew 
published 1914 - They were a husband and wife writing team who wrote a series of short stories featuring best friends Aylmer Vance and Dexter who are modeled after Holmes and Watson except in the case of Vance and Dexter they investigate the supernatural.

It's a tall order to read five books in one month but I am excited by this challenge and most of these novels were already in my kindle to begin with and so it's a perfect opportunity to finally read them and post my thoughts.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass is one of the great Americans in our history and right now we certainly need role models.  He was born into slavery around 1818 and escaped to freedom in 1838.  Douglass would go on to become a leader in the 19th century abolitionist movement, a powerful orator, editor writer and statesman. He was a lifelong supporter of women's suffrage and spoke out wherever he saw injustice, particularly when it came to ending slavery and working for civil rights.

Douglass wrote three memoirs.  His most famous is Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass published 1845. It is the first book I have read for the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge - choose a classic by a person of color.  It's a suprisingly short book, 45 pages, but it is very powerful dealing as it does with Douglass' early years growing up on a Maryland plantation and what he experienced and saw around him.  Here is Douglass writing about his mother Harriet Bailey who died when he was very young:

I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night.  She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home.  She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work.  She was a field hand, and a whipping was the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise ... She would lie down with me and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.  Very little communication ever took place between us.  Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardship and suffering:

There are passages in this memoir that make for difficult reading.  Douglass knew first hand what slavery was like.  He tells us the stories of what he witnessed and  experienced at the hands of barbaric slaveholders.  When he was ten he left the plantation to work for Mr. and Mrs. Auld who lived in the city of Baltimore.  Mrs Auld began teaching Douglass to read but she stopped when Mr Auld told her it was dangerous and then things began to change:

"Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities.  Under its influence the tender heart became stone, and the lamb-like disposition gave way to tiger-like fierceness ... If I was in a separate room any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book, and was at once called to give an account of myself.  All this, however, was too late The first step had been taken". 

Frederick Douglass would continue to learn to read and write on his own and today many of his articles and speeches are online.   His relevance continues, strikingly so.  Currently there is a debate over the 1619 Project sponsored by the New York Times about slavery and the founding of America and whether the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery.

It's interesting to note that William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass had a similar disagreement over the American Constitution in the mid 19th century.  Garrison, also an abolitionist felt that the constitution was pro-slavery and an "agreement with  hell".  He refused to participate in American electoral politics until slavery was abolished.  Douglass maintained that the constitution, though flawed, was an anti-slavery document and he worked throughout his life to make its founding priciples a reality.