Author: juliaharmonbookwoman

Five Reasons to Read During Severe Weather


Reading During Storms


In my world, this is the season for watching the sky and our favorite weather broadcasters.  A couple of weeks ago, we used our tornado shelter for the first time since last year.   The severe weather was of short duration, about 30 minutes in the shelter and several hours of tracking the storms as they passed through. It was relatively painless – the most difficult part was exiting up the narrow metal steps of the shelter and keeping my dignity as I pulled myself out, rear-end first, in view of our neighbors across the street. Tonight, another round of storms is in the making. Such is life in Central Oklahoma.

I am not complaining.  Friends, neighbors, acquaintances, co-workers, those who alert and protect us and those who pray for us – we are all in this together as we cope with the reality of the weather here. Most of us have family and friends in other states who frequently deal with tornadoes – I track the severe weather from Texas to Arkansas and Missouri, to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia all the way to the coast, willing the tornadoes that threaten my loved ones to lift and disappear. (I confess that I sometimes hope for a change in direction if a twister is bearing down on one of the communities where my family or friends reside, conveniently forgetting that it will put others in the storm’s path.)

The “weather” days follow certain patterns.  We are usually alerted several days ahead that storms are on the way and that the system could last for one to three days. We look at our calendars and see how it will affect our plans. Tom checks the shelter for any unwanted insect visitors and checks to see that our water and toilet paper supplies are adequate. (I won’t describe our toilet accommodations.) We go over our mental checklist of things we’ll take to the shelter with us, if the occasion should arise.  We tell Malone (our Shih Tzu) that everything will be all right. He doesn’t argue with us.

On the day before our severe weather forecast, we check the conditions in the Ft. Worth area, where Tom’s parents and my brother live. Whatever is coming our way often hammers them first, and we are watchful on their behalf.

The first day of our forecast, we keep the television on and check our phones frequently to observe the fronts, how far away from us they are and how quickly they are moving. We watch the Oklahoma City area closely because we have family there. I am mentally calculating where family members are (at work, home, or traveling) throughout the day. We might see that they are in the path of circulation and try notifying them (knowing that they are most likely watching the same thing we are). We know that they will do the same for us.

We also finish our prep for going down to the cellar.  I put all of my portable technology (iPad, Kindle, external hard drive, chargers, etc.) in a bag next to the back door. Tom gets the flashlights, stuff for Malone, and other supplies.  We tell Malone that everything will be all right.  He still doesn’t argue but his trembling tells us he’s not certain we know what we’re doing.

If and when we hear a siren, see an alert on television, or get a text from a family member, we go down into the cellar. And sit. And wait.

When we get the all-clear, we exit (refer to the exercise in embarrassment from the first paragraph). We say a prayer of thanks and “spread out”, literally and figuratively. Round two can arrive here at home (another front or tornadoes popping up to the west) or we might spend a day or two tracking the storms east, where other friends and family live.

These are probably the most anxious times of the year for me. I am an anxious person by nature and have found it a necessity to fall into a calming routine, as much as possible, during the one, two, or three days of severe weather outbreaks.  I put a hold on other activities and allow myself plenty of reading time while tracking, preparing for, and hunkering down during the storms. It works for me (as much as anything can) and releases me from some of the dread and fear the season brings. Here’s why:

  •          Reading is a natural sedative for me at any time. I look forward to “book breaks” during non-weather days and I find that those sweet times with books calm me and give me the fortitude to continue with any task I meet, distasteful or not. I have always taken a book with me to the doctor’s office and can also use them to “take me away” when the storms are coming.
  •          I can match my selection to my level of anxiety. I don’t actually have a shelf filled with “books to read while waiting for the tornado”, but since I’m usually reading several books at a time, I can give myself permission to choose the one that I’m finding most absorbing.
  •          A book is forgiving of interruption. In our town, we may quickly go from  “just something to be aware of” to dangerous storm. Or we may be all clear and notice that other family members are in danger. I can easily put my book down and go back to it when everything is calm. It’s not so easy to stop watching television – especially when we’re at a cliff-hanging moment in the program.  It’s too easy to keep watching, thinking we have plenty of time. (We’ve learned here that the concept of “plenty of time” is relative and dangerous.)
  •          We don’t actually expect to watch normal network television at all during severe weather.  Our local weather takes precedence over other regular programming, for hours on end.  I can keep our favorite channel on, muted or with the volume down and still read while tracking the weather.
  •          I can continue reading even while in the storm shelter. We might be there for 30 minutes to an hour and it’s nice to distract myself by reading my Kindle or by flashlight.  I can also listen during cellar time to audiobooks that I’ve downloaded.

Okay, it’s true that tornado season isn’t a vacation and we can’t underestimate the importance of planning, preparing and taking the necessary steps when we are under a warning. But these times become a little less a nightmare when I have books and reading to occupy my mind when anxiety peaks.

Here are a few recommendations for reading during tornado weather:

  The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman – I will confess that I haven’t finished reading this one, but it is an enchanting story of three women – a mother, daughter, and granddaughter – who reconnect and come to greater understanding and appreciation of each other through the charms that are symbolic to their lives. I am happy to know that the author has written several other novels, which I look forward to reading.

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird – If you are a fan of the PBS series about Queen Victoria, you will probably enjoy this biography. The narrative follows the series closely and the author writes about Victoria’s life with the authority that reflects extensive research. (This is one that might take you completely through the storm season.)

No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin – The beloved and acclaimed author of many award-winning books passed away recently and I was happy that she left us one last book, a collection of essays on aging and living life completely and honestly. I especially enjoy passages about her cat’s behavior and an essay comparing the merits of The Immortal Life of Henryetta Lacks and The Help and then making the point that she appreciated them both as a reader, as I did.

   Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Engels Wilder by Caroline Fraser – An opportunity to learn more about the life of the author of the beloved Little House on the Prairie books.  The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography reveals the backstory of Wilder and her life beginning 150 years ago in the middle of a country still experiencing growing pains.  It is unvarnished and includes descriptions of the troubled relationship between the author and her daughter, journalist Rose Wilder Lane. The narrative of Wilder’s childhood is familiar territory for most of us, but we realize as we read this comprehensive biography, that there is much more to her story.

 Barbara Bush: A Memoir – I am listening to this audiobook and have found it delightful and reassuring that there are still people in the world like Barbara Bush. It is read by the author and is a further comfort to hear her voice – so unassuming, tender and humorous – as she tells the story of her life and family (including their pets) and an honest assessment of the events and relationships of powerful people she encountered. I would recommend this one especially for taking into a storm shelter – it wouldn’t mean adding anything to your bug-out bag, since you could listen on your smart phone, and it’s somewhat like hearing the voice of a beloved friend or family member.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my “Marginalia” newsletter (click here). You’ll receive it by email and see what I’ve been reading, other bookish news and information, and progress reports on my own writing.

Evolution of Story on American Idol

FromAmateur HourToAmerican IdolAn Evolution of Story

As a reader and a writer, I have become a student of the importance of story in our lives and the impact it has on what we believe, how we learn, what we understand and what we accept as valid. This has made me more attuned to my own responses to the messages around me and how those messages are now being created or transformed by story. It is useful information for me as a writer and as a consumer of information.

A Case in Point

In the summer of 1964, a group from my hometown appeared on television’s “Ted Mack Amateur Hour”. For those of you who don’t know, Ted Mack’s program introduced performers to a national audience through radio and then television from 1934 until 1970, with 3 ½ million auditioning and 25,000 acts performing. Such notables as Ann-Margret, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Maria Callas, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, The Gentrys, Penny Marshall, Beverly Sills, Jim Stafford, and Gladys Knight appeared on “The Original Amateur Hour” and countless others competed for the public’s votes, with the winner each week invited back to compete with new contestants.

I was particularly interested in the program in 1964, when my brother performed with a group of folk singers from Kennett, Missouri.  The Minstrels had won an audition through the Delta Fair talent show, one of many they entered while in high school. The format for Ted Mack’s show was similar to those talent shows: each act was introduced very briefly before they performed and all were brought back individually for a couple of seconds at the end, with a phone number for viewers to cast their votes.

That The Minstrels were invited back for a second time was a confirmation of their talent; Kennett and the surrounding small towns could not have supplied enough votes for them to win. When it was over, they all returned to Kennett and proceeded with their lives. I imagine they recall those days as times when they enjoyed their music and each other and gave little thought to being propelled into stardom.

Fast Forward to Today

I have recently been drawn to the television on Sunday and Monday nights, after promising myself that I would not become an “American Idol” watcher during their come-back season. I had watched the series during some of the earlier seasons, but had decided that I didn’t really have time to get involved.

But one night, I sat down to watch “for just a few minutes” and I was drawn in.  By the end of the show, I was hooked – I knew that I would be watching the entire season. But it wasn’t the talent, although I quickly chose some possible winners and winced at some who obviously wouldn’t be “going to Hollywood.”

It was the stories the contestants told about themselves that caught my attention and, in many cases, my sympathy or empathy. I found myself giving extra points to those who had gone through heartbreaking struggles or self-doubt.  (I couldn’t help noticing that I was giving those extra points to almost everybody.)

Last weekend, I found myself almost weeping when a couple of the contestants were eliminated.  I liked them so much and had become so engaged with their lives that they were almost a personal loss to me.  That’s when I realized that the creators of “American Idol” were using our connection to story to bring us back week after week. Yes, we appreciate the talent and assume that it will somehow get its due when the votes are counted. But those personal stories are influencing us just the same – just as the fact that my votes went to The Minstrels because they came from my hometown back in 1964.

I realized that the creators of “American Idol” were using our connection to story to bring us back week after week.

The difference lies in something very subtle – the voters’ ability and consent to be affected by story. We are learning that it is a human trait that we all possess in varying degrees and it applies to virtually every aspect of our lives today. A program like “American Idol” can be fairly benign in its intentions and I can continue to enjoy it as entertainment and hope for the best for my favorite performers, just as I can read novels for the same reasons.

What we must remember is that the power of story can also be used in negative ways also, but that’s a subject for another post.

In the meantime, I tuned in to “American Idol” last night and was fairly subdued until it appeared that my favorite contestant might be eliminated.  Then, at the last minute, she made it through and I almost fell off my chair with relief. It was almost like reading Cinderella for the first time – she would “go to the ball” and (maybe) get a chance at the glass slipper.

Such is the power of story, and the reason I’ll tune in for “the next chapter” next week.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my “Marginalia” newsletter (click here). You’ll receive it by email and see what I’ve been reading, other bookish news and information, and progress reports on my own writing.



Bookish Blessings

Counting My Bookish Blessings (1)

Blessings are all around me, every day. I have stopped at 25 that are related to reading and books.  Even as I typed the last one on this list, I thought of two or three more.  But to start:

Endless choices to fill my “to read” list.

Several comfortable locations to read in my home.

My hometown library, the staff and the services it provides.

The “book box” at the mall near to my home, as an alternative place to pick up and drop off books.

Our library system and its staff, who are always looking for new ways to serve their customers.

A “bookish career” in the library that has led me to a perfect retirement, with plenty of time to read, write, and connect with books and authors.

Independent and local bookstores who lend a personal touch and pleasure to the reading and shopping experience and who promote and nurture local and regional authors.

Enough money to purchase an occasional book for myself.

The option to use Amazon and other online sellers for specific needs.

The freedom and convenience of my electronic reader.

The pleasure and comfort of traditionally published books.

My grandchildren and other youngsters for whom I can buy and recommend books.

“Bookish” friends who understand me.

Book discussion groups for talking about and sharing our favorites.

Audiobooks, especially those provided free by the library.

Magazines and other periodicals, also made available online by the library.

Booklists, reviews and recommendations to help guide me.

Goodreads and other online services that bring readers together.

Book bloggers who write about their own reading preferences and the bookish life.

Opportunities, through libraries and bookstores, to meet and hear authors speak about their work.

The National and Oklahoma Centers for the Book and other state centers whose mission is to promote books and reading.

The Friends of the Library, who sponsor programs and special events for all ages, all-year long.

The many poets and authors and illustrators who have brought me so much reading pleasure.

Legislators who understand how important reading and books are to our nation.

All of those who nurtured my love of books and reading when I was growing up.


How about you?  What bookish blessings would you add? I look forward to sharing more with you in the future.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my “Marginalia” newsletter (click here). You’ll receive it by email and see what I’ve been reading, other bookish news and information, and progress reports on my own writing.