Eight Out Of Nine Ain’t Bad

This is the year of the book in my world. At least, reading was a priority in January and I’m hoping to keep the momentum going.

January allowed me time to read a few books, some of them short and all in different topics. I found them all enjoyable save for one so that seems like a good record.

First, let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way. The one I hated:

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

The story is told around one day in the life of a Maryland couple. We travel with them, meet friends and family, and learn their back history as they reminisce.

It’s tedious and feels too long. The characters all are annoying and not at all sympathetic. The main character views the world through her own special lens and her expectations are both unrealistic and cringe inducing.

The chapters are too long as well. I kept reading, thinking conditions would improve, only to find myself in so far I hated to cut bait at the three quarter mark. Learn from me. Save your time.

The Winter People by Jenifer McMahon

This work of fiction is intriguing. There’s history, relationships, a present day story, mystery and even a supernatural presence.

I like the way the story jumps around from long ago to the present day. There’s nothing predictable about this story and I enjoyed every minute of it. It takes place in January so winter is a great time to read it!

The Race For Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

You can’t go wrong with a book by this author. To be clear, this isn’t my favorite of hers but it was a great read and inspiring to boot. Strong female characters are a trademark of hers and this title was no exception.

A major theme here is how women journalists were slighted during World War II and how much harder they had to work than the men, only to still not earn respect from anyone in charge.

Sad but thought provoking and it makes you feel some gratitude for how far we’ve progressed.

Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator by Doris L. Rich

There have been just a handful of books written about Bessie Coleman, most with dubious reviews. However, this one sounded good and it’s published by Smithsonian Books, a trustworthy source.

I already wrote about Bessie so I don’t want to dwell here but would highly recommend the book. It’s hard to piece together a true biography about someone like Bessie Coleman. She lived in a spotlight but there are some inconsistencies in what was published about her during her lifetime. She left behind few letters, journals, etc. that might help to build a clear picture of this woman’s life. So this book is slender and much of it is about context – what was happening around her in terms of society and race.

I loved this book, am intrigued by the woman and would recommend it to anyone.

The Blood Of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

This is another one that gives a lot of societal context. This is a huge help for those of us who didn’t live in this time period. This book is graphic, poignant and carefully crafted to tell a story that’s been told many times. This is done in a way that is fresh and relevant.

It’s tough to read and hard to put down – a sure sign that the author has done a good job telling a story that no one wants to think about but that desperately needs to be known. We aren’t that far removed from what happened to Emmett Till and there are lessons here for us all.

Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani

This is the second book in her Big Stone Gap series. The series takes place in a very rural Virginia coal mining community called Big Stone Gap. The heroine was the self proclaimed town spinster until an exciting series of events occurred in the first book.

Bottom line- I adore these books but you have to start with Big Stone Gap. And really, you can’t go wrong with any book by this author. I have yet to find one I didn’t like.

Cat Stories by James Herriot

James Herriot had a successful veterinary career before putting pen to paper to write some classics about the animals and their owners he encountered in his small town practice in England. James Herriot died 25 years ago this month but his wisdom, humor and charm love in his short stories and books. Being partial to cats and beautifully illustrated books, this was a nice break from the racist south after reading about Emmett Till.

The Blue Day Book by Bradley Trevor Greive

This is a glorified picture book for adults to lift your spirits when you are down. All of the pictures are of animals! I pull it off the shelf occasionally and am pretty sure that many of us need something like it to brighten our day occasionally.

A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy

Another slender volume, it gives a short history of immigration to this country beginning with Colonial times through the early twentieth century.

It provides a good snapshot of where we all come from and a timely reminder that most of us aren’t really from here. Our people all came from someplace else and many of them were treated badly when they arrived. In other words, it’s still timely today even though it was published in 1964.

I don’t normally share about the books I read but there were so many good ones last month I thought you might enjoy a rundown.

Which leads to my next question. What are YOU reading? I’m always looking for recommendations!

Happy Birthday Bessie Coleman!

Do you know the name Bessie Coleman? She was born on this day 128 years ago and is an important figure in our history but most Americans don’t even know her name, much less recognize her importance.

This makes me incredibly sad because she’s the kind of woman that little girls everywhere should admire and respect.

Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman and first Native American woman to earn an international pilot’s license. That alone should be enough to give her a place in our history books but the road she traveled to get there is pretty incredible.

Bessie was born to Texas sharecroppers in 1892. After her father left the family, she was raised by a single mother in a house with a dirt floor. She picked cotton as a child and often missed school to care for younger siblings. But she finished the eighth grade and had a burning desire to do something more with her life.

All grown up, she took the train to Chicago where she joined older siblings who were somewhat established in the city. Here she became a manicurist and set to work using both her beauty and talent to network and build a client base.

This was important when she decided to fly.

You see, American flight schools at the time didn’t admit women or black people. But she persevered- she found a better job, saved all the money she could and used her connections to find financial backers.

She also spent this time learning French.

Then she sailed across the ocean to France where racism would not prevent her from pursuing her passion. She enrolled in a flight school where she learned the craft and went on to earn an international aviation license.

The year was 1921 and Bessie was a sensation in the African American press when she came home.

She worked as a barnstormer in this country, traveling all over as an ambassador for black women in aviation. It was her fondest dream to open a flight school for black women someday. She flew and frequently gave talks where she showed footage of her fearless flying.

I struggle to absorb the enormity of this.

The 19th amendment giving women the hard earned right to vote had only been ratified in 1920 so times were much different than we know today.

She was Cherokee, she was African American and she was a woman. Three strikes against her. Three.

And when she was denied the right to pursue her goals, she refused to take no for an answer.

Bessie raised the cash. She learned a second language. She traveled across the sea to a foreign land. She refused to be held back and she fought for her dreams.

What an incredible role model for us all!

Sadly, Bessie’s story does not have a happy ending. She died April 30, 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida during a test flight piloted by her mechanic. You see, she was planning a big show that included a parachute jump the following day. As she leaned out the open air cock pot, scoping the terrain for this jump, she was unable to wear a seat belt.

So when the pilot lost control of the plane and it flipped over mid air, Bessie plummeted to her death. A wrench used to service the plane had jammed the controls. She was just 34.

It makes me sad that her story isn’t celebrated and that hers isn’t a household name where I come from. She is known in the African American community and among aviation enthusiasts but I think her name should be as well known as Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh.

The US Postal Service issued a stamp in Bessie’s honor in 1995 as part of their Black Heritage series. Some roads and schools have been named in her honor but she wasn’t even induct into the National Aviation Hall of Fame until 2006.

Not enough, friends. Not enough. I say we help keep her story alive by telling it to others. Share this story, tell your friends about her. Do what you can to make sure this brave woman, this trailblazer for African Americans and women everywhere is not forgotten.

Meanwhile, Happy Birthday to this brave woman who was taken from us too soon!