Cultural Nonfiction Books

I recently read Educated by Tara Westover and I must say, I have quite a bit to say about the story. I was debating on how to break down my thoughts but after I talked it over with a friend, she encouraged me to focus what topic in the story that was important to me and what would, basically make an impact. Not her words but that was the gest of the conversation. The memoir did strike a chord with me to focus more of my attention to social and cultural issues of our time and throughout recent history.

In my last post, I shared-on a small scale-about what I’m currently reading, and about my experience with Thomas Sowell’s’ work thus far. This particular journey has me wanting to study further in-depth cultural societies, economics and government entities around the world. Perhaps, you may have titles to recommend me to read.

Stephanie Hopkins

Confucius Never Said by Helen Raleigh

This book is a four-generation family journey from repression and poverty in China to freedom and prosperity in the United States. Their lives overlap with many significant historical events taking place in China, such as the founding of Communist China in 1949, the Great Chinese Famine from 1958-1960, the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976 and the Economic Reform starting from 1980.The author recounts the enormous suffering her family had to endure under Communist China’s radical social experiment. Her great-grandfather was denounced by the Chinese Communist Party and his neighbors simply because he owned land. He died in poverty, and his dying wish was never granted. Her grandfather loaned his fishing boat to the Communist Party, and ended up losing his independence and becoming a janitor. Her father escaped his village to get educated and thus survived the Great Famine. He became highly educated, but never joined the Communist Party . . . and was sent to a re-education labor camp because of it. The author herself grew up in China and immigrated to the United States as a young adult. She sought freedom and the American Dream, and found both. This book is about freedom-and about what happens when we let people take our freedom away. 

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies by M. Stanton Evans

Accused of creating a bogus Red Scare and smearing countless innocent victims in a five-year reign of terror, Senator Joseph McCarthy is universally remembered as a demagogue, a bully, and a liar. History has judged him such a loathsome figure that even today, a half century after his death, his name remains synonymous with witch hunts.
But that conventional image is all wrong, as veteran journalist and author M. Stanton Evans reveals in this groundbreaking book. The long-awaited “Blacklisted by History,” based on six years of intensive research, dismantles the myths surrounding Joe McCarthy and his campaign to unmask Communists, Soviet agents, and flagrant loyalty risks working within the U.S. government. Evans’s revelations completely overturn our understanding of McCarthy, McCarthyism, and the Cold War.

Drawing on primary sources–including never-before-published government records and FBI files, as well as recent research gleaned from Soviet archives and intercepted transmissions between Moscow spymasters and their agents in the United States–Evans presents irrefutable evidence of a relentless Communist drive to penetrate our government, influence its policies, and steal its secrets. Most shocking of all, he shows that U.S. officials supposedly guarding against this danger not only let it happen but actively covered up the penetration. All of this was precisely as Joe McCarthy contended.

“Blacklisted by History” shows, for instance, that the FBI knew as early as 1942 that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the atomic bomb project, had been identified by Communist leaders as a party member; that high-level U.S. officials were warned that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy almost a decade before the Hiss case became a public scandal; that a cabal of White House, Justice Department, and State Department officials lied about and covered up the Amerasia spy case; and that the State Department had been heavily penetrated by Communists and Soviet agents before McCarthy came on the scene.
Evans also shows that practically everything we’ve been told about McCarthy is false, including conventional treatment of the famous 1950 speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, that launched the McCarthy era (“I have here in my hand . . .”), the Senate hearings that casually dismissed his charges, the matter of leading McCarthy suspect Owen Lattimore, the Annie Lee Moss case, the Army-McCarthy hearings, and much more.

In the end, Senator McCarthy was censured by his colleagues and condemned by the press and historians. But as Evans writes, “The real Joe McCarthy has vanished into the mists of fable and recycled error, so that it takes the equivalent of a dragnet search to find him.” “Blacklisted by History” provides the first accurate account of what McCarthy did and, more broadly, what happened to America during the Cold War. It is a revealing expose of the forces that distorted our national policy in that conflict and our understanding of its history since. 

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Book Titles That Stand Out

Not only does the design of a book help catch a reader’s eye but the title does as well. I’m drawn to clever book titles and how the writer decides what to caption the story. Often times, when I’m reading a book, I look for the phrase in the story or a situation that the writer might have decided on to use.

Titles matter in the scheme of things when it comes to not only selling a book, but by giving a reader’s imagination of what is inside. What and how the story is weaved and so begins the world building.

In this post, I’m sharing three book titles I came across recently that has captured my interest.. -Stephanie Hopkins

The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick

Have you ever wished you were someone else?

Mother of two Liv Green barely scrapes by as a maid to make ends meet, often finding escape in a good book while daydreaming of becoming a writer herself. So, she can’t believe her luck when she lands a job housekeeping for her personal hero, mega bestselling author Essie Starling, a mysterious and intimidating recluse. The last thing Liv expected was to be the only person Essie talks to, which leads to a tenuous friendship.

But when Essie dies suddenly, a devastated Liv is astonished to learn of her last wish: for Liv to complete Essie’s final novel. But to do so Liv will have to step into Essie’s shoes, and as Liv begins to write, she uncovers secrets from the past that reveal a surprising connection between the two women–one that will change Liv’s own story forever…

The Myth of Perpetual Summer

Tallulah James’s parents’ volatile relationship, erratic behavior, and hands-off approach to child rearing set tongues to wagging in their staid Mississippi town, complicating her already uncertain life. She takes the responsibility of shielding her family’s reputation and raising her younger twin siblings onto her youthful shoulders.

If not for the emotional constants of her older brother, Griff, and her old guard Southern grandmother, she would be lost. When betrayal and death arrive hand in hand, she takes to the road, headed to what turns out to be the not-so-promised land of Southern California. The dysfunction of her childhood still echoes throughout her scattered family, sending her brother on a disastrous path and drawing her home again. There she uncovers the secrets and lies that set her family on the road to destruction.

Catching Broken Fish by Matthew Stewart Simon

It starts with understanding the paradigm of others and the words we choose.

More than ever we live in a world in constant conflict, and Christians are not exempt from the battleground. In fact, we are as broken as the next person, our own tragedies, mistakes, and poor choices shaping us, leading us to rely on Christ even more. As believers walking out our faith daily, facing our own challenges, we travel a road with weary and even lost souls-but that route is a target-rich environment for those who would use Christ’s message to revive God’s mission of grace on earth.

Blogger Matt Simon believes there’s a track to healing, and it begins with believers choosing to encourage, uplift, and offer words and acts of kindness to those who cross their paths. In his devotional Catching Broken Fish, based on Matthew 4:18, the author inspires each of us to step out of our comfort zones and to embrace being examples of God’s love. Using illustrations drawn from his own life as a farmer and school bus driver, Matt takes the reader on a humble trek of discernment and serving-products, he discovered, of his own failure and growth. He invites you to practice discipleship with him, no matter where you are in your life journey, in the belief that by uniting together in a goal to catch broken fish, we can change the destiny of the world.

What I’m Reading and Pondering

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

My thoughts so far:

I am deeply fascinated with Southern Gothic stories and I decided to give Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson a go. This is more of a young adult book, which I don’t normally read, but still find it compelling. I do have a few complaints but will reserve sharing those thoughts at a later time since I’m not quite at the half way mark.

About the book:

Dovey learns that demons lurk in places other than the dark corners of her mind in this southern gothic fantasy from the author of the Blud series.

A year ago, Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction—and taking the life of Dovey’s best friend, Carly. Since that night, Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything around her.

But recently she’s started to believe she’s seeing things that can’t be real…including Carly at their favorite café. Determined to learn the truth, Dovey stops taking her pills. And the world that opens up to her is unlike anything she could have imagined.

As Dovey slips deeper into the shadowy corners of Savannah—where the dark and horrifying secrets lurk—she learns that the storm that destroyed her city and stole her friend was much more than a force of nature. And now the sinister beings truly responsible are out to finish what they started.

Educated by Tara Westover

My thoughts so far:  

I find this story fascinating and find Tara’s father to be sorely misguided in the fact that you can have your beliefs about Government, know the tools of survival, live off the land (which is important) or almost completely off grid in this case and still be educated, well-read and knowledgeable in the ways of the world through literature and self-learning without compromising your beliefs. After-all, education in many different areas gives one an advantage. Not allowing his children to learn how to read is heart breaking in my opinion. Now, I don’t believe everything I read, see or hear and that is where my critical thinking comes into play but I still need to know what is out there. I firmly believe that is a major part in our survival and it does sharpen the mind.

A few of Mark Twain’s quotes about education comes to mind.

“The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man that cannot read them.”

“It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others – and less trouble.”

“I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

While I believe our school system is failing and lacking in many ways, I discovered that if I wanted to be “educated” by my own terms and definitions of the word, that I needed to read as many books as I can, try new things, listen to as many people’s outlook as I can and their experiences on life. I also, look at things with a critical mind, while keeping an open mind. That is important. I consider school a jump start into one’s education. Learn the tools that are given to you and branch out from there. You should never stop learning. Tara’s parents could have home schooled their children if they did not believe in the public education system, while holding to their beliefs!

I am still in the early stages of this story and Tara is still living with her family. With the thoughts I’ve already formed about the story, I look forward to discovering more. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter, she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Sunday Reflections

Floral Painting by Stephanie Hopkins

“A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.”– Terri Guillemets

Sunday Reflections

“History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity.” – Dexter Perkins

Yesterday morning, I posted a page on Instagram I made in my fall journal. The morning air was cool and crisp and the season brings reflections of times past and the people who lived long ago. To ponder their story as what it may have been like. How did they live? What did they witness? We may not always know who they were but the love and opportunity of using their pictures in our journals keeps their existence intact.

Many family’s belongings are lost or discarded and that is sad to say the least. I consider crafters who save these treasures and use them in their journals and their other creations, that give them a new life, memory keepers. By using their images, we are keeping an essence of them alive through their images.

I do not know the lady’s name in the photo I’m using. I can only imagine what her life must have been like. There is a story there.

Today, as I work in another page, I will use another photo and think of the people in the past and wonder what they would think of us today.

Journaling fills one’s soul with gratitude and healing calmness. It’s an appreciation for the old and the newness of life’s journey.

May your Sunday be filled with contentment and peace.

My wish is for you to be encouraged and inspired. God bless.

Stephanie Hopkins

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

I’m in the throes of cleaning out two closets in my bedroom and I discovered stacks of books I’ve forgotten about or rediscovered-if you will. How is that even possible with a book worm? Believe me, it happens. As I started to undergo the stacks of books, I came upon Garth Stein’s novel, A Sudden Light. I had purchased the hardback when it was first published and I cannot recall how it ended up in my closet. For shame! That said, the novel was sitting on a wired shelf, protected by leaves of clothes surrounding the stacks. The closet cleaning quickly became a distant memory, for about ten minutes, as I opened the book to read the description and peeked through the pages. Intrigued with the premise, I chose to start reading this extraordinary story the night of rediscovery and I’m delighted with my decision to do so. I have much to say about this story thus far. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But as Trevor explores the house’s secret stairways and hidden rooms, he discovers a spirit lingering in Riddell House whose agenda is at odds with the family plan. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.

Slough House Series by Mick Herron

It has been a while since I’ve read a book series and I’m on the hunt for one that I want to read next year. I came up with an idea to blog about a few series I’ve chosen, to select one to read. My fist on the list is series I came across on twitter called the Slough House. The author, Mick Herron writers’ thrillers and mystery and has an English from Balliol College, Oxford. He now lives in Oxford and works in London. His second series, The Oxford Investigations, features Sarah Tucker and/or P.I. Zoë Boehm according to his bio on goodreads. I’m still working out if I will add the latter to my list.

The Slough House series has seven books to its list, so far and two of them are novellas. I’ve chosen to feature three of the books and you can find the full list on goodreads. I hear there is a television show being made based on these novels starring Gary Oldman and Kristen Scott Thomas. Have you read this series? Will you watch the television series based on the stories? -Stephanie Hopkins

Slow Horses (Slough House #1)

The first book in CWA Gold Dagger Award-winning British espionage series starring a team of MI5 agents united by one common bond: They’ve screwed up royally and will do anything to redeem themselves.

London, England: Slough House is where the washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. The “slow horses,” as they’re called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated here. Maybe they messed up an op badly and can’t be trusted anymore. Maybe they got in the way of an ambitious colleague and had the rug yanked out from under them. Maybe they just got too dependent on the bottle—not unusual in this line of work. One thing they all have in common, though, is they all want to be back in the action. And most of them would do anything to get there even if it means having to collaborate with one another.

River Cartwright, one such “slow horse,” is bitter about his failure and about his tedious assignment transcribing cell phone conversations. When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. But is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone has his own agenda. 

Dead Lions (Slough House #2)

Hardcover, 348 pages

Published May 7th 2013 by Soho Crime

London’s Slough House is where the washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. The “slow horses,” as they’re called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated here. Maybe they messed up an op badly and can’t be trusted anymore. Maybe they got in the way of an ambitious colleague and had the rug yanked out from under them. Maybe they just got too dependent on the bottle—not unusual in this line of work. One thing they all have in common, though, is they all want to be back in the action. And most of them would do anything to get there even if it means having to collaborate with one another.

Now the slow horses have a chance at redemption. An old Cold War-era spy is found dead on a bus outside Oxford, far from his usual haunts. The despicable, irascible Jackson Lamb is convinced Dickie Bow was murdered. As the agents dig into their fallen comrade’s circumstances, they uncover a shadowy tangle of ancient Cold War secrets that seem to lead back to a man named Alexander Popov, who is either a Soviet bogeyman or the most dangerous man in the world. How many more people will have to die to keep those secrets buried?

The List (Slough House #2.5)

Dieter Hess, an aged spy, is dead, and John Bachelor, his MI5 handler, is in deep, deep trouble. Death has revealed that deceased had been keeping a secret second bank account—and there’s only ever one reason a spy has a secret second bank account. The question of whether he was a double agent must be resolved, and its answer may undo an entire career’s worth of spy secrets. 

Art in Motion: Flower Vase Paintings

Original Panting by Stephanie Hopkins

Impressionism flowers are up there with my favorite art subjects to paint. Its emphasis on movement with small brush strokes fascinate me on several levels.  Claude Monet’s art work comes to mind when I think of Impressionism. In short, his use of color, movement and perception of nature is extraordinary.

Since abstraction painting is my main study, I like to infuse abstract with impressionism when creating flowers. I’m always amazed where the journey takes me and the discoveries I make along the way. Each piece I create gives me inspiration beyond anything I thought possible for me. Not only that, but the results give one confidence and assurance that creating art does matter for one’s growth and well-being in life.

These cards represent abstraction, impressionism and realism. – Stephanie Hopkins

Original Panting by Stephanie Hopkins

Be sure to check out my art journey on Instagram and at my Mixed Media Art gallery here at Layered Pages! My wish is for you to be inspired and encouraged.

Original Artwork by Stephanie Hopkins

(Images are subjected to copyright. All book reviews, interviews, guest posts, art work and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie Hopkins.)

Cheers to the Week Ahead

This weekend was strange and I didn’t have anything planned to blog about today. Do you ever have days like that? When even your favorite pastimes need a rest. If that makes any sense. I kind-of like that, “Pastimes need a rest.” That said, the weather has been really off that last few days and I haven’t been able to go for my strolls. I woke up this morning and looked out the window to discover the weather isn’t any better.

Yesterday was more productive and I created a page in my bullet journal and started another art project. Oh, and of course, got some reading time in. I definitely think my mind and soul need a rest and refuel.

“Weekends are days to refuel your soul and to be grateful for the blessings that you have.” — Unknown

Do you read multiple books at once? I know some people can’t and some people can’t only just read one at a time. Normally, I have several books going and spread them out during my day. Currently, I’m reading two books and listening to one through audible. Though, I must mention, that it took me quite a few years to program my brain to read more than just one book at a time.

Two of the books I’m currently reading are two that I’ve already read before. One I’m actually listening too and want to re-write my review. The third one is an ARC and it is quite a long read! I do have lots to say about that one already. Looking forward to the reading forecast ahead!

I want to wish you all a beautiful and adventurous week!

Stephanie Hopkins