Three books to help you understand right now

I promised this year some book recommendations as part of my little blogging experiment, but I’m going to apologize in advance: a lot of what I read (and, in some cases, listen to) aren’t exactly cheerful, but they definitely end up being incredibly informative on a lot of levels. I’ve decided to start with the three books below because in many, many ways they help to frame the situation that we are currently living in today–in the case of one of them, have been living in since at least 2016 and in the case of the other two, since roughly March of 2020. If you prefer listening to these books rather than reading them, all are available via Audible and the voice performance on each is excellent.

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

How Democracies Die is one of those books that I have not stopped recommending to people since I read it. Coincidentally, I read it as part of a political science class focusing on democracy and authoritarianism and the discussions my class had regarding this book were probably as good as the book itself was (which speaks highly of the quality of conversation that we had in the class). Levitsky and Ziblatt are political scientists who have written academically on competitive authoritarian regimes and the trajectory of governments in Latin America and the post-Soviet bloc, so they definitely know what they’re talking about as they approach the question of democracy–in this case, the threats faced by purportedly strong democracies like the United States, which is their primary focus for this work. They take time to explain the norms and practices of democracy in the United States, describing the “guardrails” of governance and the changes over time within American government. While some of the suggestions they’ve made at the end of the book do not seem to be as possible as they might have been when the book was released three years ago (January 2018), the book is chock full of explanations of how we got to where we’re at and insights onto how to fix at least some of the problems we’re facing.

Pale Rider by Laura Spinney

This is one of two books on the 1918 flu that I’ve listened to recently–coincidentally, the second book I started listening to on the subject and the first one that I finished. Because the 1918 flu is a research interest of mine, I had actually consumed this book well before the pandemic began, then returned to it this summer for a second time through. Pale Rider is extremely accessible for those who are maybe not as fascinated by the historical minutia of how the state of medicine changed in the early twentieth century, offering up the various theories on where the flu started, how it spread, why it came to be called “the Spanish Flu,” and how it affected ordinary people. It gives an incredible overview on the subject and represents an excellent entry-level book to the subject.

The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

In contrast to Pale Rider, The Great Influenza offers a much deeper dive into the history of medicine in the early twentieth century, the science behind combatting the 1918 flu, and how the flu not only reshaped society, but reshaped medicine, especially in the United States. Barry has been in the news on and off throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (I remember reading a few articles he wrote for the Washington Post on the subject throughout 2020) because of his expertise. The Great Influenza is definitely a much thicker, more academic tome than Pale Rider, but it is just as fascinating, if not moreso. The information it provides, too, offers insights into the current behavior of a lot of people in the United States currently suffering major pandemic fatigue–and explains why so many have wanted to deny the severity of the illness in the first place.

All three of the above books offer insights into where we’ve been in the past year. I didn’t find them too depressing–the latter two were much more fascinating than depressing, but I also read both before the pandemic actually started. None of them are necessarily for the faint of heart, but I would suggest that all three are essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the functioning of American democracy vis-a-vis competitive authoritarian regimes or about the 1918 flu.

Doc’s life – Update for December 2, 2015

So I move into my apartment in Grand Rapids in three days.  Mercifully, I’ve known I had a place to move into since October (which was awesome).  Right now I’m looking for a part to full time gig to pay the bills while I’m going back to school (fingers crossed very, very hard for a work from home gig that pays well)–resumes are out there in the void and I’m waiting on bites for the moment.  After talking to my aunt (my dad’s oldest sister, Lois), I’m 99.9% sure that I’m going to end up adding the group social studies major so I can be more marketable once I get my full-blown teaching certification.  I don’t mind the idea of extra stuff to do if it’s going to make it easier on me in the long run.

I’ve been trying to be a responsible adult in the course of outfitting myself for this move.  My father’s actually going to make me some new furniture (I love my dad–and he does beautiful work, so I’m super excited), which will save me some cash and will make sure that I actually have matched pieces in a lot of cases.  By the time he’s done, I should have an armchair (the cushions for which are my job to finish), a headboard and footboard for my bed, a TV stand/cabinet, a new dresser, new bookshelves, and a new coffee table, all of which matching my beautiful cherry desk that I adore.

Daybed – though those aren’t the linens I got. Linens on the daybed will be gray with pillows in blues and saturated colors.

We hit Ikea the Sunday after my birthday and I scored an iron daybed (which will be my couch), mattresses for said daybed, a kitchen/dining area/craft table and a pair of chairs to go with it.

My table!  It extends out on either side and the top drops down into the gap left when the sides are extended.  It’s the Bjursta style.  Only complaint was that they didn’t have non-fabric seat chairs to go with the color I really wanted.

My mother was a bit worried that it all wouldn’t fit in the car, but we made it work (thank you Dodge for making that vehicle just big enough to fit three people and the stuff we bought at Ikea into it!) and got everything home safely.  Mom also picked up some odds and ends for the house while I picked up some random stuff for the apartment in addition to the furniture (cutting boards, dishtowels, garbage can–that sort of stuff).

As usual, we headed to Illinois for Thanksgiving with the family out there (20-some odd people in my grandparents’ condo in East Dundee – always a big adventure!) and we got to see a lot of the family as a result.  Friday and Saturday we were in downtown Chicago and saw zero sign of the protests that had been going on since earlier that week (though we didn’t head down to Michigan Avenue on Friday at all) other than it being a little less crowded downtown than it had been in some past years.  Note to anyone who’s visiting the city at any point in the future: go to Room and Board.  It’s such a cool store.  I don’t love all the furniture there, but my mother and I were both completely blown away by a bedroom set we saw there (it’s the Bennett set – in fact, my dad’s taking the footboard and headboard on the bed as the design for the ones he’s going to do for me — and possibly the dresser design, too).  It’s definitely got a point of view when it comes to design, but it’s absolutely worth checking out.

In my wanderings in the city, I ended up finding the dishware and glasses I wanted for my new place (mother and younger brother approved, no less).  Awakenings fans will appreciate the name of the collection.  Ordered them online; now I just need to go pick them up at the Crate and Barrel at Somerset (except for the mugs, which are unfortunately on backorder – I’ll probably end up snagging them when I’m home for Christmas).

My back is trying to quit on me since I’ve been packing since I got back in sprints.  Getting an e-reader was the best decision I ever made, considering the number of books I have digital copies of–and the number of physical books I still have (which is a lot, let me tell you – between books, binders, notebooks, and magazines, I’ve already filled ten 12x12x16 boxes and then a few others of varying sizes–and I’m still not done packing that stuff–but nothing’s too heavy for me to lift, so that’s a good thing at least).  I’ve been trying to move stuff into the garage for easier loading come Friday night (since we’ll load Friday night, finish off Saturday morning, then head across the state on Saturday).  I’ve still got a list of stuff to finish packing that’s probably twenty categories (and locations) long, but I know I’ll get through it–I really don’t have a choice.

So in the midst of all of the super responsible adult stuff I’ve been doing when it comes to setting up everything for this apartment, I did do something…maybe less responsible than all of the rest of it.

I went to Target yesterday with my mom (I needed to get ultra responsible stuff like GARBAGE BAGS and TOILET PAPER and PAPER TOWELS and stuff like that for when I move in so I don’t have to run all over creation for those kinds of things immediately).  The whole world knows that walking into Target is dangerous–it just is.  I’m not saying it’s good, I’m not saying it’s bad (I love Target, let’s be honest), but it is dangerous.  Let’s be honest.

So my mother needed ornaments to make another garland to decorate for Christmas (tutorial found on Pinterest! It’s great) and I met her back in the Christmas decorating area.  I found myself eyeing a tree back there that I really, really liked.  Long story about this tree very, very short: the sign on it was wrong and the tree we thought Target had run out of was actually there in abundance.  The guy who helped me missed that and so did I–at first–and we both thought that they didn’t have any more of the tree that I liked. Then, when we were getting ready to leave and I said to my mom “I’m going to go look at that tree one more time and see if there’s something similar that I like that’s not too expensive.”  I have a tiny little two-foot tree that I’ve used at craft shows but I wanted something a little more substantial for my apartment–it’s my first Christmas in my new place, after all (even if I’m going to be spending the actual day and some time around it at my parents’ house with the family) and I wanted something of my own.  I love Christmas–it’s a favorite holiday of mine (note to self: I owe the world some good UNSETIC Christmas fiction).  After a little bit of poking around, I realized that the tree I wanted actually was there and the display was mismarked.  I let the associate who’d been helping me know and he was going to follow up with his manager (who was responsible for the oops in the first place).  I picked up a couple extra strings of lights and some ornaments and I’ll have Christmas in my apartment (probably set up to the sounds of White Christmas unless I miss my guess).

T-minus three days and counting.  Time to get back to packing.

The coming April insanity…

The thesis is done, turned in, and will be out for binding next week.  This means I suddenly have quite a bit more free time, and it’s high time I dedicated some of it to fiction once again.  Not just reading fiction, but writing it as well.  Since I’ve never been one for writing scripts, and April is Script Frenzy month from the OLL (the wonderful, crazy people who bring us Nanowrimo every year), I’ve decided it’s high time that I start redrafting my first even Nanowrimo project, When All’s Said and Done.  The characters have been on my mind of late, and it feels like it’s time.

There’s going to be major changes from the original draft to the second, in part due to the ramble I started scribbling last summer, one that’s brought a character that knows what’s going on inside the Institute into direct contact with Ky again, rather unexpectedly.  Because Ridley knows a lot of what’s going on inside, more than Hadrian ever could find out due to the rapid decline of his health, some of the twists in the original draft will need to be reworked.  It’s all Julia’s fault, really.  She brought him to Damon (her cousin who happens to be Matthew’s longtime friend), which means Damon called Matthew and everyone got involved with each other quite a bit faster than in the original draft, though I think that having Damon knee-deep from the start will work better.  He can still be a little annoyed with Matthew, but not nearly as annoyed as he was in the original draft.

Having Ridley there and able to tell Ky and Matthew things, however, does throw into question some plot twists, including the one that involves Tim Thatcher.  I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  Before I do anything else, I need to decide what’s going to happen with the installation at Andover Commonwealth…whether they abandon it, or believe it’s secure in the wake of Ridley’s escape from the village with Julia’s help.

I imagine Reverend Stonard might pop up in When All’s Said and Done, too.  He seems as if he’d make a good villain.  And Laren, of course, trying to lay low.  The Tina character may disappear completely, since the new version will begin in August rather than November.

A lot to think about, and only a few days before I begin to redraft!  What fun will this be…

Latin phrase of the day #15

Back to medieval Latin today, and back to Adam of Murimuth’s Continuatio Chronicarum.

His temporibus rex Franciae multos conflictus habuit cum Flandrensibus, sed semper sine victoria remeavit.

His (hic, haec, hoc) – pronoun, dative or ablative form, plural; this, these

temporibus (tempus, temporis) – noun, dative or ablative; time, condition, right time, season, occassion, necessity

rex – noun, nominative; king, ruler

Franciae – noun, gen. possessive; France

rex Franciae – of France

multos – adj, accusative; many, much

conflictus – noun, accusative; clash, collision, impact, fight, contest, impluse, impression, necessity

habuit (habeo, habere, habui, habitus) – verb; have, hold, consider, think, reason, manage, keep, spend/pass (time)

cum – with, together with

Flandrensibus – noun; Flemish, from Flanders

sed – but, but also, yet, however, but in fact/truth, not to mention, yes but

semper – adv; always

sine – without

victoria – noun, ablative; victory

sed semper sine victoria – but always without victory

remeavit (remeo, remeare, remeavi, remeatus) – verb; go or come back, return

This season the King of France had many conflicts with the Flemish but always returned without victory.

Habuit and remeavit are the perfect active forms of the verbs, which are difficult to turn into English and have phrases make sense.

Latin phrase of the day #14

Today’s entry is a line from a poem by Catullus, the Roman poet.  The poem laments the “Death of a Pet Sparrow.”

Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesque
et quantum est hominum venustiorum.

Lugete (lugeo, lugere, luxi, luctum) – verb; mourn, grieve

O – Oh!

Veneres Cupidinesque – Venuses and Cupids

et – and, even, however

quantum – adverb; how much, the most, the greater

est (sum, esse, fui, futurus) – verb; be, is

hominum –  noun; fellow, fellow creature, man, person, mortal

venustiorum – more charming

I grieve, oh Vensuses and Cupids
even of all the people it is one more charming than ordinary men!

Now, this translation is probably wrong because translations of Catullus hate me.  That is all.

Latin phrase of the day #13

I found today’s phrase in Lesley Coote’s Prophecy and Public Affairs in Later Medieval England.  It is a fragment of “Sicut rubeum draconem,” a prophecy inspired by and reworked from the Prophecia Merlini.

In ultimis diebus albi drachonis semen ejus trifarium spergetur.[1]

In – prep.; in, on, into, at, among

ultimis – adj.; far, farther, farthest, latest, last, highest, greatest

diebus – noun; day, daylight

In ultimis diebus – In the last days

albi – white

drachonis – noun; dragon

albi drachonis – of the white dragon

semen – noun; seed

ejus – pronoun; his

trifarium – adj.; three-fold

spergetur -> dispergetur (dispergo, dispergere, dispersi, dispersus) – verb; to scatter

In the last days of the white dragon, his seed will be scattered about threefold.

Now…this translation was dicey because of “spergetur,” which doesn’t appear in any of my dictionaries and such.  Dispergetur, however, is a known word meaning “to scatter.”  I actually had to go back into my dictionary in English looking for a word that meant something that would fit into the phrase (in this case, I was looking for “to seed” or “to scatter (seeds).”  And that’s what I found.


1. “Sicut rubeum draconem” in Lesley Coote, Prophecy and Public Affairs in Later Medieval England, (Woodbridge, Suffolk: York Medieval Press, 2000), 61.

Latin phrase of the day #12

Today, we have a selection from something very near and dear to my heart, the Historia of Geoffrey of Monmouth.  The History of the Kings of Britain contains the Prophecia Merlini, which is where this selection is drawn from.

Sextus hybernie menia subuertet

Menia is actually moenia.  I really don’t think that they’re talking about overthrowing a small fish of Ireland.

 Sextus – proper noun in this case, translated simply as Sextus

hybernie – proper noun; Ireland

moenia – noun; walls, ramparts, defenses (all of a town or other area)

subuertet – verb; overturn, cause to topple, overthrow, destroy, subvert

Sextus will overthrow the defenses of Ireland

And now, back to our regularly scheduled thesis.