Jamie Davis Writes


Literary Characters Who Kept Journals

Notes From a Reading Journal: Uncommon Type, Some Stories, by Tom Hanks

Notes from a Reading Journal:Uncommon Type, Some Stories,” by Tom Hanks. Yes, THAT Tom Hanks! This was a November Book of the Month Club selection.

The man is obsessed with typewriters, and great fun can be had by identifying how the typewriter is mentioned in each short story. For this reader, “These are the Meditations of My Heart” was worth the price of admission. My other two top picks are: “The Past is Important to Us,” and “Stay with Us.” In “Past” the reader is introduced to a man who has everything, but still tries to cheat time. He had everything, but he still wasn’t satisfied. In “Stay” the reader is led on a nostalgic road trip that is reminiscent of Route 66. 

Set out to find America…

I dare you to read these stories, and in particular, “Meditations” and resist the urge to go buy a typewriter! I found myself pricing options last night after I finished reading this book! After reading “A Junket in the City of Light,” you just have to wonder if this is based on a true Hollywood story.  

Quotes I Collected in my Reading Journal:

  • Page 6: “I am one of those lazy-butt loners who can poke my way through a day and never feel a second has been wasted. In fact, as soon as I sold my mom’s house and parked the money in investments, I walked away from my fake businesses and settled into the Best Life Imaginable. Give me a few loads of laundry to do and a hockey game on the NHL channel and I’m good for an entire afternoon.”
  • Page 79: “The hotel had been recently renovated in Hipster-Millenial.”
  • Page 99: “And the Martians, as they called themselves, had all gotten older, mellower. Except for a couple of asshole lawyers.”
  • Page 180: “Think about what? Sue studied her new professional call sheet. She liked herself more because of what Bobby had typed.” — Ah yes, the magic of words! 
  • Page 234: “I’m not one who types between sips from a tumbler of booze and drags from a pack of smokes. I just want to set down what few truths I’ve come to know.”

Happy reading! Really, is there anything that Tom Hanks doesn’t do well? — Jamie Whitmer

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Rules of Magic,” by Alice Hoffman.

What a heartbreakingly enchanting novel! I am so glad that Book of the Month Club made this my November selection. Now I have marked “Practical Magic” on my to be read list!

I loved the 1960s Manhattan and Massachusetts setting, and the relationships between siblings Vincent; Jet; and Franny and their respective loves. The fact that there is witchery afoot was sort of a “fun” element for me. In my opinion, the real star of the show is the heartbreak and joy of the stories of the lives of the characters.

This is a story of how each life ends for a time, but begins again. Will the Owens siblings beat their family’s curse?  

Two big questions that I noted while reading that I was happy were resolved were:  What was Vincent’s premonition? How was it right / how was it wrong? What did Isabella whisper to Franny?

I had to note the roles that journaling played in the story as well! Maria Owens, the  ancestor, had a journal that was kept in the rare book room in the library. Later, Franny would leave journals out for the teenage girls to pick up and take home (“Clearly convinced that words could save them – p. 314.”) I loved that!

Quotes I Collected in my Reading Journal:

·      Page 161: “What’s done cannot be undone.”

·      Page 254: “Nature could be shifted, but not controlled.”

·      Page 257: “Things ended, and then they began again.”

·      Page 57: “Writing itself was a magical act in which imagination altered reality and gave form to power. To this end, the book was the most powerful element of all.”

·      Page 346: “The truth was, they had managed to get what they wanted. It just wasn’t lasting long enough, not that it ever could.”

·      Page 331: “In truth it is easier to let your old life disappear in order to start anew.”

Love more. Not less. — Jamie Whitmer

Notes From a Reading Journal: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng 

Notes from Smartmarks by BestSelf Co, while traveling without my reading journal. These bookmarks with notes were the perfect travel solution for me! At home, I keep a reading journal for my notes, but I was able to tear my notes out when I got home and filed them within my reading journal. The Smartmarks were very convenient! 

This selection was an extra purchase I made through Book of the Month Club after hearing so much buzz about the book. I found “Little Fires Everywhere” to be an absorbing book, guaranteed to make you think and spark debate among book club members everywhere. 

At first, I thought the book was going to be focused more on Izzy and her alleged “craziness,” as her siblings refer to her issues, but it was more of a character study of Izzy’s entire family (the Richardsons) and their new tenants, artist mother Mia and her daughter, Pearl. By the way, Izzy is not “crazy,” she just doesn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mold her family wishes to mold her into.

While there were plenty of witty and even positive exchanges in the story, make no mistake about it, this is no fairy tale happy ending of a story. Ideas to spark discussion come from such themes as: teenage pregnancy; adoption; what lies beneath the “perfect” neighborhood; what makes someone a mother; and what is heartbreak. What are the things that we carry with us? 

What are the sacrifices we make in the pursuit of a better life? Were they worth it?

The story takes place in Shaker Heights, a planned community that has lots of rules, and is the embodiment of a neighborhood that is really only concerned with the surface being perfect, and damn what lies beneath! 

In my opinion, the most evil character is do-gooder suburban mother Mrs. Richardson. She ruins lives by her interference. She never does a good deed without calculating it for a return favor later, and if she does something she deems “good” for another person, she expects the recipient to kowtow to her. And oh, how judgmental she is. Mrs. Richardson actually may take the nomination for most-hated literary character this year. 

Mia, the artistic mother, is highly gifted, but will not “sell out” when it comes to her art. Thus, she provides a poverty-stricken, nomadic lifestyle for her daughter, Pearl. Yet, she somehow always manages to supplement her artist’s income with menial jobs, and while they are not rich in material goods, they don’t seem to go without the necessities. This is a huge debate for readers to discuss. What is the parental obligation to provide for a child? If you have the ability to generate a lot of income, what is your obligation to make money if you are able? To what extent does security and stability come in to play over adventure and art when raising a child on your own? We know that Mia had the talent and the connections in Manhattan to make a great deal of money as an artist, but she did not want to sell out. (Arguably, she may have been worried about becoming too high-profile because then she may have caught the attention of the Ryans, which if you have read the book, you know she had to stay hidden).   

Another big issue for debate is what readers think of Bebe giving up May Ling and then the custody battle between her and the adoptive parents, Linda and Mark McCullough. Do you think the judge’s ruling was fair? What do you think about Bebe’s actions in the end of the book? Are there circumstances so severe that people no longer deserve a second chance?

The way Ng interweaves the story of Mia and Bebe is masterful. I was engaged, and wanted to keep reading to find out Mia’s secrets. 

Other relationships and questions to discuss: the relationship between Mia and her parents; what you think of the relationship between Mia and the Ryans; does Lexie regret her big decision; and who does Pearl’s heart break for – the loss of the relationship with Trip or with Moody? What do you think happens to Izzy in the end? 

Quotes I Collected for my Reading Journal:

·      Page 245: “You’ll always be sad about this, Mia said softly. But it doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice. It’s just something that you have to carry.” 

·      Page 250: “The question is whether things are still the same. Whether she should get another chance… Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.” 

·      Page 295: “Sometimes, just when you think everything’s gone, you find a way… Like a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black, and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow… People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.”

Notes From a Reading Journal: Before the Devil Breaks You, by Libba Bray 

Notes from a Reading Journal

Before the Devil Breaks You” is Book 3 in the 4-part Diviners series by Libba Bray.

There is a lot going on in Book 3! I adore this 1920s paranormal series! Libba Bray acknowledges that at the time she was writing this book, there was a lot going on in America politically, and I think she strikes the perfect balance of writing for entertainment without preaching politically. That’s a hard thing to do, by the way. Having just finished Stephen and Owen King’s “Sleeping Beauties,” even recognized masters get this wrong. There is entertainment, and then there are political pieces masked as entertainment. Ahem. But I digress…  

First, the “fun” elements in the plot of “Before the Devil Breaks You.” The Diviners visit an asylum to hunt ghosts, and there is ghostly activity around Manhattan that might remind the reader of the movie “Ghost-Busters”. I also enjoyed learning the lingo from that time period. The characters say such phrases as: 

         “You jake?”

         “Strictly top-drawer”

         “Baby Vamp”

         “And how!”

         “On the level”

         “Let’s ankle”  

Now on the darker fare. The King of Crows is back with an army of the dead. I’m still trying to figure out what the “Eye” is, but it sounds to be some sort of portal between Earth and another dimension (seemingly the land of the dead or wherever The King of Crows comes from. Hell? Because without question, The King of Crows is a demon). I think the “Eye” is going to be the focus of the last book as far as the Diviners are supposed to find it and destroy it, thus finally closing the entry door of Earth to The King of Crows. I got the impression that it has to do with Marlowe and his quest to discover and conquer another dimension. Marlowe is just about evil personified on Earth!

In the book, we delve deeper into Project Buffalo’s roots inside the Department of Paranormal, a former government agency. This agency’s purpose was to engineer Diviners in the womb, in an attempt to breed a race of super-powered Americans. Just as in the real 1920s Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, which Bray writes in her author’s note, “supported by Harrimans, Carnegies, and Rockefellers.” This story line is absolutely terrifying and evil, and even more so because it is based on reality!

We find out that Evie; Theta; Henry; Sam; Ling; Memphis; and Isaiah were all manufactured to have super powers that were derived by administering Marlowe’s serum to their mothers. The specific power that would develop as a result of administering the serum seems to be something that the agency could not control. 

The portrayal of the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane was inspired by a fictional amalgam of real New York Kirkbride asylums and their cemeteries, such as Ward’s Island; Roosevelt Island; and Hart’s Island. I liked the mention of Nellie Bly’s 1887 “Ten Days in a Mad-House” to demonstrate how investigative journalism led to sweeping reform in the state’s asylums, and led to much better care of the mental ill by the 1920s. However, there were still terrifying things going on, and one of the scariest things was sterilization under the Supreme Court’s 1927 ruling in Buck v. Bell. 

Quotes I Collected in my Reading Journal:

·      Page 12: “When you talk about seeing ghosts, most people assume you’re either crazy or drunk or both.”

·      About writing, from Ling’s perspective. Page 51: “Ling cracked open the notebook, inhaling the scent of good leather and of the possibilities lurking in all those blank pages.”   

·      P. 185: “Before the Devil breaks you, first he will make you love him.”

·      By Memphis, P. 475: “These are our ghosts. They’re here. We’re gonna have to learn to live with them.” And from Ling, “People want to be safe. Not free.”

Other revelations? Two main characters are murdered. We finally find out who Blind Bill Johnson is, and that’s a great story line (There once was a Diviner who could pull life from things…)! Evie and Theta both quit their show-business jobs rather than be forced to be controlled by their bosses, which were very inspiring actions. Shame about Jericho and Evie, though. I’ll leave it at that. I wish that part of the story didn’t have to happen.  — Jamie Whitmer

The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time is Like Reading a Secret Diary Journal

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time is like reading Christopher John Francis Boone’s secret diary journal! Sometimes funny, although not meant to be; and sometimes heart-wrenching, this is a new generation’s Catcher in the Rye. I was already writing down quotes and indexing them in my reading journal by Page 3: “And now if I don’t know what someone is saying, I ask them what they mean or I walk away.”

Literary Characters Who Kept Journals: Paloma Josse and Renee Michel (See The Elegance of the Hedgehog)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

Meet Paloma Josse, a twelve-year old affluent French girl who has decided to commit suicide before she reaches the age of thirteen because she is convinced that life has no meaning. Spoiler alert: the book has a tear-jerker ending, but not in the most obvious way that you might expect after reading the first sentence of this paragraph.

No, Paloma’s story is one of hope and redemption. A lesson in how to find the “always within never.”

The book switches perspectives from Paloma, who writes notes in her journal, to that of Renee Michel, the building’s concierge. I love the passage on Page 123 from Renee’s perspective that reads:  “What other reason might I have for writing this – ridiculous journal of an aging concierge – if the writing did not have something of the art of scything about it? …teaching me something that I neither knew nor thought I might want to know. This painless birth, like an unsolicited proof, gives me untold pleasure, and with neither toil nor certainty but the joy of frank astonishment I follow the pen that is guiding and supporting me.”

I loved how Paloma began writing her “Journal of the Movement of the World” as a way of recording beauty observed in her daily life. She began looking for a reason to live, and she found several reasons once she focused on that instead of getting lost in the nothing. Her “Profound Thoughts” obviously started off on the dark side, but she evolved. 

All in all, a powerful story of how just one or two people can change your life. And also, in a lot of ways, a story of how journaling can change a life. That may sound melodramatic to some of you.

However, if any of you, like Paloma, have ever been lost in the darkness; stuck in the never without an always; then you know. It isn’t just paper. It’s your redemption. It’s what you have. It is the tool that helps you find a reason, and then hopefully several reasons. 

Pictured with the book is The Fantastic Magician of Us, one of our Secret Diary Journals. Each indexed book journal features 186 pages that are ruled and numbered for your ease of use. The numbered pages with an index will help keep you organized and make it easy to find your important entries. To really make your brain sing, we recommend that you use tabs and update your book journal’s index as necessary immediately after you have completed your journaling.  

Secret Diary Journals are hardcover ruled notebooks made to resemble hardcover books that can easily be shelved in your living room or sit on a table at a coffee house without screaming: “I am a personal journal and I contain private thoughts. Pick me up and snoop!” Secret Diary Journals are designed to help you maintain your privacy when keeping your personal notes. 

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