I’m not as famous as Steinbeck

Last week I had the following conversation with one of my 10 year old boys.

Him: Hey, Mom. I think I’m going to write about an author who wrote a Dust Bowl novel for my Oklahoma state report.

Me: Oh, buddy! You’re going to write about A Cup of Dust?

Him: Well, no. I’m going to write about Steinbeck.

Me: But…I’m your mother!

Him: Steinbeck’s more famous.

Me: Yowch! Betrayed! By my own child!

Him: Sorry. He’s just a bigger name for my report.

And scene.

Now, for my kids, having a mom who writes books is normal. It’s no more exciting than having a mom who teaches or manages an office or is a nurse. In fact, they (rightfully) think moms who have those jobs are amazing!

Having a mom who writes?

It’s just regular for them.

You know what? I’m cool with that. It doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’m glad that they see my job as — well — just a job.

Besides, my boy is right. Steinbeck is more famous. He’s a bigger name. He won all kinds of awards and pretty much owned the bestseller lists in his day. He made bank from royalties and translations and movie deals.


I’m not as famous as Steinbeck.

And that’s all right by me.

Because I’m who I was created to be doing the work I’ve been given to do. I’m not John Steinbeck. I’m Susie Finkbeiner.

I’m a wife. A mom. A novelist. In that order.

But more than that, I’m a child of God.

And that?

It’s enough.

#FBF: 5 Love Songs of the 1960s

Isn’t everyday a good day for some gushy, smooshy love songs?

Sure it is!

And the 1960s had a whole super ton of them. So, let’s have ourselves a little listening party here with a few of my favorites. I’m limiting myself to 5 because I could make this the longest post EVER.

Which songs am I missing? What would you add to our listening party?

How Sweet It Is (to be loved by you) by the golden voiced Marvin Gaye, recorded in 1964.
Later this one would be recorded by the likes of James Taylor and Michael Bublè…but Marvin sang it best, if you ask me.
Love Me Do by The Beatles was released in 1963, a year before they came to America.
Fun fact, Alvin and the Chipmunks covered this song in 1964. The jury is still out about who played it better.
Perhaps best known to Generation X from Dirty Dancing, Do You Love Me by The Contours released in 1962. Let’s just say The Contours had better moves than Baby.
ARETHA!!!!!!!!! How could I possibly have a list of songs that didn’t include my fellow Michigander?
Aretha Franklin recorded I Say a Little Prayer For You in 1968. This particular performance is from 1970…but it’s just SO GOOD!
Ah. Kathy’s Song by Simon & Garfunkel was recorded in 1966 and is still so beautifully poetic and musical. Swoon.

I could add so many more. In fact, I should probably make this a series. There are just SO many great love songs from the sixties. What would you add?

Book Recommendations for Black History Month

It can sometimes be a temptation to gravitate toward books authored by writers who look like us or who we perceive to have had a similar life experience. It’s easy, comfortable, safe.

But when we do that we stunt ourselves emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. This is why over the past few years I’ve been striving to reach for books by authors of different ethnicities, origins, and backgrounds from mine.

I’d love to encourage you to do the same!

To help celebrate Black History Month, I’m going to feature some books by black authors that I recommend and which are on my to-read list.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan is one of the most important books I’ve read. It’s also one of the most emotionally and spiritually difficult. Eye opening and heartbreaking, this collection of short stories accurately portrays the state of many living in modern day Africa. Each story is compelling and written with dignity. It’s a book that I plan to read again and again.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is one of the most inventive, creative, out of the box books I’ve read. In it, Whitehead imagines the famed Underground Railroad as more than just a code for the path to freedom, but an actual railroad. It’s a read well deserving of the awards it won.

Zora & Nicky is one of the first Christian novels I read. Claudia took a lot of risks in writing this story. Written with vulnerability, grace, and beautiful prose, it’s a great option for lovers of Christian fiction.

One of the many great American novels, Their Eyes Were Watching God is among the first novels published with a strong black female protagonist. In fact, it’s for this reason that it fell out of print for decades before being rereleased in the late 1970s.

All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo is a collection of essays about community, marriage, society, mercy, and faith. It’s beautifully written and conceived with the greatest of love for the reader. Gopo has a profound way of seeing the world and I’m grateful for it.

Jesmyn Ward’s style brings to mind the best of Southern writing. Sing, Unburied, Sing a difficult story, a heartbreaking one. But it was written with accuracy, lyric narrative, and hope.

To Read List!

I’ve heard many good things about An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

Recommended highly by my daughter, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is high up on the to-read list.

The Hate U Give is soon to be released as a movie. I hope to read it before then!

Have I missed any of your favorites? Please post titles in the comments. I’m always happy to receive a good recommendation!

#FBF: Spaghetti Westerns

We Americans love our Westerns. There’s just something about the battle between good and evil fought by two gunslingers on the dusty road outside the saloon with Miss Kitty (because there’s always a Miss Kitty) rooting for the good guy (for whom she secretly holds a flame).

The good guy wins. The bad guy dies in the dirt like a dog. And everybody gets their own horse.

Yeah. Here in the old U.S. of A. we sure enjoy our Westerns. In fact, the 1960s saw a huge flux of Western movies and TV shows. The demand for this genre was so huge that film makers in other countries took up the mantel and made their own! One of the most popular such film maker was Sergio Leone of Italy.

Yup. That’s right. Italy. And Italian made Westerns were given an interesting name: Spaghetti Westerns.

At first, these Italian made movies were received by American critics with much criticism. They were made with lower budgets than their American counterparts with dubbed over English (most of the movies were filmed in Italian). They “borrowed” story lines from other, already released movies (oopsy) and some just felt like their genre was being infringed upon.

But a few of them have stood the test of time and are now considered classics. Films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Django are still well loved by film lovers.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Italian movie poster

In fact, the style of Spaghetti Westerns can be seen to have influenced Quentin Tarantino in films such as Kill Bill, Django Unchained, and Inglorious Basterds

(Note: All of these Tarantino flicks are rated R and contain all kinds of rated R language, violence, etc. Now you know)

But what I love most about Spaghetti Westerns was how much my Grandma Pearl enjoyed them. She’d get all wrapped up in the drama, the drastic camera angles, the intense close-ups of a young Clint Eastwood’s face.

They’re just one more pop culture treasure that we can thank the 1960s for.

If you enjoy reading about all things 1960s, consider following my blog. Each Friday I feature something fun and unique from the era. Also, check out All Manner of Things releasing this June. Preorder available now!

Good Reads for Kids and Families for Black History Month

February is Black History Month and while I encourage readers to add diversity to their reading list all year long, this is a good month to start!

This week I’d like to high light books by black authors that my kids and I have greatly enjoyed and a few that I’m planning to read aloud to them in the coming months.

Please note: These books may be classified as children’s literature, but every single one is great for adult readers too.

Jesus Power by Tonja Lynae-Gofoe Moyer and illustrated by Piper Adonya is a beautifully realized picture book about about the abilities we have through the Holy Spirit. Uplifting, hopeful, and artistic, this book makes for a great gift.

I have three words for lovers of middle grade fiction. Christopher. Paul. Curtis. Easily one of my favorite living authors, Curtis gives us some of the most vividly written characters in kids’ lit. Readers don’t even know that they’re getting a history lesson as they read the stories. CPC writes true, tender, and tenacious. My favorite? All of them. You cannot go wrong with Curtis.

You may have read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when you were in school. Let me encourage you to give it another read as an adult. You’ll catch so much that you missed the first time. You’ll remember images that you’d forgotten when you were younger. I plan to introduce this classic to my kids this year. And I know that it will break my heart all over again.

Two summers ago the kids and I read One Crazy Summer. This sister story made us laugh, tear up, and really look into the history of the Civil Rights era. We hope to read the rest of the series this year some time.

I have two boys who are major sports fans so I know that Kwame Alexander’s Crossover Series is a good bet for them. And get this. They’re novels written in poetry. So…I can get my boys into POETRY! I feel like this is a major win. This series is on our list for Spring and Summer.

Recommended by a friend, Piecing Me Together is the kind of book I’m chomping at the bit to read with my kids. It’s about a girl who overcomes, which is a value I like in just about anything I read.

I love a story about how creativity can change the world for the better, and that’s the kind of true story William Kamkwamba shares in his memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Great for kids who prefer nonfiction, stories about other cultures, and for families to share. This book will make hope spring in your heart.

Have you read any of these books? Would you add any to my list? I’m always happy to take a good recommendation!

Keep your eyes open for a list of adult books to add to your list next week.

#FBF: Junk Food

Hey, junk food junkies! Did you know that a lot of the snacks you love were first enjoyed in the 1960s? So, next time you’re at the grocery store and wonder how we ended up with aisles upon aisles of nutritionally nonessential food items, you can thank the Baby Boomers!

Chicken in a Biskit made its debut on grocery store shelves in 1964. These flaky, crispy crackers actually contain real (dehydrated) chicken! And MSG. But you know…

Goldfish Crackers swam onto the scene in 1962 in their original (non-cheesy) flavor. Since then they’ve added flavors and varieties including Xplosive Pizza, Blasted Atomic BBQ, and Cheeseburger and their crumbly remains can be found in the bottom of school lunch boxes all over America.

Pop-Tarts! That’s right. Boomers were the first to enjoy these pocket pastries. And, hey! An 8¢ coupon? Neato!

(Note: 1960s Pop-Tarts don’t look nearly as radioactive as the modern variety)

Oh-Oh! SpaghettiOs! 1965 brought us canned pasta that was sweeter and easier to eat (so as to appeal to kids). Thanks, Franco-American!

In 1963 Chips Ahoy! promised 16 chocolate chips in each cookie. They made for a quick and easy after school snack. Plus their mascot was Cookie Man. I mean, how cool is that?

Opal Fruits got stuck in the teeth of children starting in 1960 in the UK. When they joined the British Invasion of America, they were given the name Starburst.

Finishing off the list of 1960s junk food are the great, the amazing, the extremely “with it” Doritos! And at 7¢ for a 1/2 oz bag? What a bargain.

(Also, can we talk about how nobody makes a 1/2 oz bag of anything anymore?)

So, which is your favorite snack from this list? Did I miss any that you loved?

Listening to Abraham, Martin, and John

When I was a kid in the 80s we had a giant station wagon, the kind with the seat in the way back that faced rearward. Despite my propensity for car sickness, that rear facing seat was my very favorite. I’d sit back there with our lab-mix pup Ursa and listen to the radio through my very own speaker.

Most days — when my mom had her way — we’d tune into the “Golden Oldies” station. While I think she resented her era’s music bearing the name “old”, she loved singing along to Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, and Credence Clearwater Revival.

I remember a specific Sunday afternoon, sitting in the way back and coming home from a day at my grandma’s house. We didn’t have a long drive home. Just long enough to hear one or two songs.

That day we heard “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Dion.

I’m certain it wasn’t the first time I’d ever heard it. Friends, we listened to the “oldies” station a lot. But it was the first time it made me cry.

It was the first time I understood what it was about.

Not long before, I’d read a book about the Civil Rights Movement. I’d read the stories of sit-ins at lunch counters and marches in Washington D.C., about the violence of fire hoses turned on people and dogs let loose to attack.

I’d learned about the church bombing in Birmingham, Rosa Park‘s arrest, about the burning of the Freedom Riders’s bus. It was after I understood — even if in part — the price some paid for the cause of equality.

I sat in the way back, Ursa’s head resting on my leg, the harps and violins and Dion’s gentle voice playing through the speaker, letting the meaning sink in.

Now I’m the mom, driving her giant family vehicle. There’s no back-facing seat in our car, though, and we listen to the 60s station through an app on my phone.

We listened to the song again recently, just a few days before Martin Luther King day. The kids and I talked about what it meant and how things were before the Civil Rights Movement. And we talked about how it wasn’t really very long ago.

Then we talked about the work that we still need to do and how to make sure we don’t go backwards. We discussed how sometimes doing the right thing is scary, how it costs us something.

My daughter said, “But it’s worth it to be a good neighbor.”

I sit here today, letting the meaning of that sink in.

#FBF: Fun Slang from the 1960s

The 1960s introduced some fun slang into the vernacular. Often, these words were already in use, but were given a new definition. While some of them endure today, others fell out of use.

Some of them need to make a comeback, my friends! Why? Because they’re fun. Let’s see how many of these words we can work into our conversations this week.

  • Peachy keen: fine, great, satisfactory. I think you’re peachy keen, jelly bean!
  • Cat: originated in the 1930s as a word for a jazz musician. In the 1960s it was more generally used for cool guys. You see that cool cat across the street?
  • Truckin’: walking toward a specific destination, with purpose. I best get truckin’ or I’ll be late for work!
  • Dig it: term of appreciation and acceptance. Did you hear about the new pizza place in town? I can dig it.
  • Marvy: short for marvelous. I love your dress! It’s marvy! 
  • Far out: term of approval. You got accepted to Harvard? Far out, man!
  • Bippy: hind end. I hope I don’t fall on my bippy while ice skating.
  • Fooey: an exclamation that something is not right. He said that about me? Fooey on him!
  • Hotdog: term of amazement. I got an A+. Hotdog!
  • Nifty: cool, neat. Your new shoes are nifty.
  • Outta sight: cooler than cool. My new washer and dryer set is outta sight!
  • Spiffy: term used when something looks good, neat, or cool. I saw that you swept the floor. Now the kitchen looks spiffy.

Do you have any 1960s terms that you’d like to have come back? Be a cool cat and leave them in the comments. That sure would be nifty.

#FBF: Paper Dresses

The 1960s was a decade of — ahem — interesting style choices. One that my mom mentioned to me years ago was the disposable paper dress.

Yeah. That’s right. Paper dresses.

By 1967, these paper dresses had become popular enough to be sold in major department stores. According to Wikipedia these dresses sold for up to $8 (or $61 in 2018).

That’s a lot of dough!

Also available were bridal gowns, vests, raincoats, and underwear. WHAT? Oh, and the paper bikinis were good for up to three wears.

Some believed that paper was the clothing material of the future and was here to stay. Like paper plates, napkins, and plastic cutlery, these dresses could be worn a few times and tossed.

(NOTE: It is inadvisable to wear plastic cutlery unless your name happens to be Lady Gaga, in which case you can wear whatever you like.)

Eventually, though, folks realized that the paper cloths didn’t fit so well and were super uncomfortable. Besides, they were hot…and by ‘hot’, I mean flammable.

By 1968 the paper dress trend had fizzled out.

You may, however have worn the second cousin of the 60s fad if ever you’ve had the privilege of donning a paper hospital gown or a disposable bib at a lobster joint.

I’m trying to imagine which characters from All Manner of Things would wear a paper outfit. And, honestly, I’m not sure that I would.

Would you wear a paper dress/vest/etc? If you’re the kind who remembers the 1960s fashion trends first hand, did YOU wear one?

Readerly Confession: Fear of the Overhyped Book

Every so often, I find myself having the following conversation with another bookish human.

Bookish human: Hey! You read. Have you read such-and-such-book?

Me: Not yet.

Bookish human: Dude. Seriously?

Me: Yeah.

Bookish human: It’s so good! You’d LOVE it!

Me: I’m sure! I’ll add it to my list.

Bookish human: You HAVE TO READ IT! Everybody in my book club loved it, it hit the New York Times bestseller list in the first hour it was out, they’re even making a movie of it. IT’S THE BEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE WORLD AND YOU MUST READ IT AND LOVE IT TOO!

Me: Okay…so…um…I’ve got to go do….stuff. Thanks!

AND scene.

Typically after a convo like that I do one of three things. I might buy the book. I probably add it to my Goodreads to-read list. But more than anything else, I usually put off reading the book.

Why would I do that?

Because I fear an overhyped book.

I know. I KNOW! It’s completely irrational. Like my fear of sharks somehow making their way into Lake Michigan just so they can finally eat me.

Still, I get nervous whenever someone oversells a book. Why? Because I’m worried that I won’t like it. I fear that I’ll be disappointed. More than that, I’m afraid that if I don’t like it, my friend will be let down.

And so I put off reading the book. Sometimes indefinitely. If I’ve purchased it, it gets lost on my shelf and collects dust. Forgotten.

That is until — perhaps years later — I rummage through my book collection for something to read. I stumble upon the book, pull it off the shelf. I feel the cover, flip through the pages, consider the weight of it.

“Why not?” I whisper to myself, deciding to give the book a try.

I begin to read, determined to give it a fair shake despite my reservations. Sometimes I realize that I was right. That the book doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Sometimes I truly am disappointed. I might give up on the book, but I’m more likely to read it all the way to the end, hoping for a satisfying close.

When a book doesn’t hold up to the rave reviews I feel let down.

But then there are times when I read an overhyped book and find myself immediately engaged with the story, right away enamored of the characters, impressed with the narrative. Sometimes I find that the excitement was earned. That what I hold in my hand is a treasure.

And that, my friends, is worth its weight in hype.

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