Plans for 2021: 52 book reviews . . . and a brand new project!

You probably don’t need a reminder from me, but 2020 has been a tough year. As both a historian who values hindsight and as a human being who simply wants things to get better, I will hold off on judging this past year too harshly until I know what the coming year has in store. But I don’t think that most people are going to miss it.

Of course, this has not been a bad year for me professionally. Last month I became a published author when my book, Never Caught Twice: Horse Stealing in Western Nebraska, 1850 – 1890 was released by the University of Nebraska Press. Moreover, I finished telling my grandfather’s World War II service story, in blog form, only a few days earlier. Yet the latter news begs the question: what am I going to do now with this blog if I am not posting regular Grandpa’s Letters updates? After thinking through the possibilities over the past two months, I have made a couple of decisions with respect to my writing and research. I am excited about them, and both will mean more material for this website.

First, the pandemic and the constant disruptions to our lives that have resulted from it have reordered our daily priorities, and striking the right balance in this shifting landscape of daily routines can be tough. For instance, in my situation, not having the option to travel, go to restaurants or coffeeshops, or teach in a classroom has forced me to rethink how I spend my time and get my work done. It has also left me with a lot of energy that I usually expend in the classroom. As a result, over the past few months I’ve embraced cycling as an outlet for that energy, and as I gradually build better eating habits as well I’m definitely in better shape now than I was at the start of the pandemic. However, because of the demands of constantly having to create new online courses, I am not reading nearly as much as I would like.

Since I would like to hold myself accountable for my reading goals, remain engaged in my discipline, and continue working my way through the stack of books I have yet to open for my World War II research, I am going to start blogging history book reviews again. This time, however, I aim to review one book a week for the next year. I will select books that I plan on reading anyway for my book research, as well as other monographs that will help keep me current in the discipline. I am also including books on a wide variety of historical places, peoples, and periods throughout the world, given the frequency with which I teach world history at Sierra College. Out of those 52 books, I am breaking it up as follows: approximately 12 World War II books, plus ten on the American West, ten on other United States history topics, ten on world history subjects before 1500 CE, and ten on world history subjects after 1500 CE. If you have any suggestions for good books in any of these categories, particularly in world history (hardly my specialty), please leave me a comment!

Second, as you might have noticed, I have taken a little break from the Grandpa’s Letters project. I am still working on it and have no intention of not completing it—I took several little breaks with Never Caught Twice, and that was a much more ambitious project with respect to the research required—but between the election, the conclusion of the fall semester, course prep for the spring, and several house projects that need to get done, it has not been on my radar these past few weeks.

However, one reason why I needed a break was because I had hit a bit of a snag in my narrative. I wanted to better incorporate my grandmother’s letters into my Grandpa’s Letters manuscript, and I even planned on dedicating a whole chapter to her story. But her letters deserve more than that: they are funny, incisive, observant, and overall excellent pieces of writing. I feel like I would be doing her a disservice by spending so much time on my grandpa’s letters, as opposed to hers. Yet her letters are also a fundamentally different kind of source: there are fewer of them, they can be read in sequence and in their entirety, and they can provide a stand-alone narrative (unlike grandpa’s letters, which are exhaustive – and occasionally exhausting). Moreover, my grandmother’s story as a young Midwestern woman who moved to Washington, D.C. during the war to take a job as a civilian bureaucrat is less often represented in World War II literature. As unique as my grandfather’s story is, we have not yet spent nearly enough time listening to the women who helped win the war, both at home and overseas. Giving my grandma just one chapter would simply perpetuate the idea that my grandpa’s service, and thus his memory, was inherently more valuable.

Thankfully, over the past month I have realized what I need to do: publish two books!

The Grandpa’s Letters book will be largely unchanged, though it will no longer include the planned chapter about my grandmother. As you’ve seen throughout my blog, this manuscript uses the 500+ letters my grandpa wrote to tell his story, but apart from a generous selection of quotations the book is mostly my own work. I base my story on his letters, but the book is not so much a published reader of his writing as it is a standalone historical narrative composed in my own voice and with the aid of hindsight and supplemental research. In other words, I treat his letters the same way in the book as I do in the blog.

I will not be doing something similar for my grandmother’s letters. Instead, I will publish them as a standalone letter collection. Tentatively, the project is entitled Miss Schmid Goes to Washington. Although I will compose a prologue, some chapter introductions, topical transitions, and an afterword, the bulk of the writing will be my grandmother’s. I believe that this is a fitting and logical way to divide their individual efforts and celebrate their separate wartime careers, while still playing to each letter collection’s strengths.

Starting this spring, I will start working on this project by posting a letter every week or two, along with some analysis by yours truly. In this way I hope to use the blog to get people excited about it while also writing much of the first draft in the process. My goal for 2021 is to finish both manuscript drafts by the end of the year.

Anyway, stay tuned in 2021 for book reviews, letters from my grandmother, and probably some additional essays if and when I feel like writing them. In the meantime, thank you so much for reading, and I hope that you and your loved ones have a safe, happy, and successful New Year!

Leave a Reply