The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

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This is the first book I’ve read as part of Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2018. This book has been on my radar for a while now and I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

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Have you ever had a watch that glowed in the dark? My husband tells me that he once had a compass that did. He no longer has it, but it was his father’s old Army compass. I don’t know when that compass was made, but it was probably painted in the 1920’s or 1930’s by dial-painters. These were young girls in their late teens and early twenties who painted watch dials with a luminescent paint; this paint would even cause the girls themselves to glow in the dark!

The scary thing is that the girls wanted to work as dial-painters because they wanted to glow in the dark. The job was lucrative as well as glamorous. It allowed these girls to buy not just clothes–but furs too!–and, the girls enjoyed glowing green in the dark.

However, years later, there would be a terrible cost to being exposed to this paint.

The whole problem stemmed from how they painted the watch dials. Painting the numbers on a dial required detailed work and so the girls used a method called lip-pointing. They would dip their brush in the paint, shape the brush with their mouth into a point and then paint… “lip… dip… paint.” As a result, they were slowly ingesting radium into their bodies, which would have a cumulative effect with devastating consequences.

At that time radium was considered beneficial to our health. It was a cure all for almost any ailment and there were all sorts of radium remedies available depending on the need. The average person was unaware of the hidden dangers of radium, and those who knew about it were not telling others, especially those who worked at the factory, otherwise.

This would be part of their battle years for to come: getting those who knew about the dangers of radium to speak up.

This book is powerful. It tells the story of dial–painters who suffered radium poisoning through the paint they used to paint watch dials and their battle for justice.

Kate Moore does a wonderful job of bringing these girls and their stories to life. Told from interviews with family members and various archived material, she tells their story as if it were happening now. We are introduced to the girls when they start work as dial-painters, young and full of life, and follow them from their initial stages of poor health– which started with tooth pain– through mounting medical bills, misdiagnosis, and worsening health; we also read about their attempts to fight the well-funded companies responsible and, sadly, for too many, we read about their horrible, senseless deaths.

Throughout the book I could not believe how heartless the people at the United States Radium Company and Radium Dial were. Worse yet were the doctors involved. How could these doctors see the pain and suffering of these young women and not speak up? Money. There were certain doctors involved in this fight who worked for the company– and didn’t have the girls best interests at heart. At one point they were testing the girls’ blood, however, they never shared the test results with the girls. They were more interested in keeping the girls calm and productive than accepting any responsibility and possibly saving lives. The company doctor even went so far as to tell one woman that she didn’t have a “…single trace of radium in her body. She later died from radium poisoning.” (P. 183). It was just so wrong–they were lied to at almost every turn! And, these companies exhibited a pattern of deceitfullness from the very beginning in order to protect its profits with little regard for the sick women involved. Not only was it heartbreaking, but it should have been criminal!

The book is filled with stories showing both the dishonesty and underhandedness of the company and the strength and fortitude of these women who put up a brave fight even when the odds were against them. Margueritte Carlough, who suffered terribly before she died, used all the strength she had in her body to bring a suit against the company; others would soon follow. And, Catherine Donohue fought the company with every fiber of her being, even testifying from her couch in her home because she was so weak. These women were incredibly brave; they fought through pain and, often, terminal illness, but they were fighting for a purpose: their families and to benefit others.

These women really did not receive the justice they rightfully deserved, but because they did fight, they were instrumental in bringing attention to the dangers of radium and laws were enacted that protected future workers. In the end, their efforts did benefit others.

This book was so sad. These women fought so hard with very little support, but because of them, safety standards now exist and we have a better understanding of the effects of radium on human health. This a story that needs to be told and Kate Moore does a wonderful job of telling this story from the girl’s side. We see their pain and struggle, their fear and frustration, their perseverance and will to live both for themselves and for their families.

This is not a happy read, but in my opinion, this book is a must-read.

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Les Miserables chapter-a-day Read-along: Initial thoughts

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Hello, All!

The read-along for Les Mis is going very well. I have caught up to speed and am staying on schedule. (Once I caught up, I only fell behind once). Nick @ One Catholic Life is hosting this event and his weekly posts are worth taking the time to read. I read one chapter everyday of Les Miserables and I am really enjoying the slow read. Were moving on to Book III, but I wanted to take a moment just to get some initial thoughts out about the first two books.

Just a head’s up: This post turned into an unusual one for me with lots of quotes. But, Victor Hugo’s beautiful and descriptive words compelled me to do so.

First, I enjoyed getting to know the good Bishop. It surprised me to read that he wasn’t always a priest, in fact, he married when he was young. We are told that he fled to Italy– where his wife died– at the beginning of the Revolution and that his family lost everything. We are given little insight into what happened in Italy, we are simply told that “… when he returned from Italy he was a priest.” So, something happened to him during that time.

What took place next in the fate of M. Myriel? The ruin of the French society of the olden days, the fall of his own family, the tragic spectacles of ’93, which were, perhaps, even more alarming to the emigrants who viewed them from a distance, with the magnifying powers of terror–did these cause the ideas of renunciation and solitude to germinate in him? Was he, in the midst of these distractions, these affections which absorbed his life, suddenly smitten with one of those mysterious and terrible blows which sometimes overwhelm, by striking to his heart, a man whom public catastrophes would not shake, by striking at his existence and his fortune?

Its hard to say, but he is now a man completely dedicated to helping the poor.

It seems to me that Hugo wants not only to look at society, but he also wants to look at the history and conflict of the French Revolution. This is powerfully communicated in a dialogue between the Bishop and a former member of the convention.

The conventionary says:

Louis XVII! let us see. For whom do you mourn? is it for the innocent child? very good; in that case I mourn with you. Is it for the royal child? I demand time for reflection. To me, the brother of Cartouche, an innocent child who was hung up by the armpits in the Place de Greve, until death ensued, for the sole crime of having been the brother of Cartouche, is no less pitiful than the grandson of Louis XV, an innocent child, martyred in the tower of the temple, for the sole crime of having been the grandson of Louis XV.

The conventionary later says:

You have mentioned Louis XVII to me. Let us come to an understanding. Shall we weep for all the innocent, all martyrs, all children, the lowly as well as the exalted? I agree to that. But in that case, as I have told you, we must go back further than ’93, and our tears must begin before Louis XVII. I will weep with you over the children of kings, provided that you will weep with me over the children of the people.

And still later:

Sir, sir, I am sorry for Marie Antoinette, archduchess and queen; but I am also sorry for that poor Huguenot woman, who, in 1685, under Louis the Great, sir, while with a nursing infant, was bound, naked to the wrist, to a stake, and the child kept at a distance; her breast swelled with milk and her heart with anguish; the little one, hungry and pale, beheld that breast and cried and agonized; the executioner said to the woman, a mother and a nurse, ‘Abjure!’ giving her her choice between the death of her infant and the death of her conscience.

This is a powerful chapter whose focus seems to be on providing justification for the French Revolution. Were these Hugo’s thoughts as well? He changed his political views several times, but I’m thinking, that Hugo’s views are expressed by this conventionary. Interestingly, the Bishop left the conventionary seeing things differently than when he first arrived because of this conversation. I think this chapter serves to give us a glimpse of the harsh and oppressive world that existed prior to the French Revolution and, in doing so, to justify the Revolution. However, it doesn’t appear that society was any less severe post-revolution and it is into this world that the bishop returns. What caused Monsier Muriel to become an advocate for the poor? There had to become something that he saw or experienced or, perhaps, both. Whatever it was, his society was broken and he gave himself to support the people, specifically the poor, and to be a positive instrument for change in his own way.

And, the good Bishop continues his support for the poor and the outcast. When we meet Jean Valjean he has spent 19 years in prison. He was sent to prison for stealing bread to feed his starving family. Many years were added to his sentence for repeated attempts to escape and we read how prison changes a man and for the worse.

The peculiarity of pains of this nature, in which that which is pitiless–that is to say, that which is brutalizing–predominates, is to transform a man, little by little, by a sort of stupid transfiguration, into a wild beast; sometimes into a ferocious beast.

He goes on to say:

Jean Valjean’s successive and obstinate attempts at escape would alone suffice to prove this strange working of the law upon the human soul. Jean Valjean would have renewed these attempts, utterly useless and foolish as they were, as often as the opportunity had presented itself, without reflecting for an instant on the result, nor on the experiences which he had already gone through. He escaped impetuously, like the wolf who finds his cage open. Instinct said to him, “Flee!” Reason would have said, “Remain!” But in the presence of so violent a temptation, reason vanished; nothing remained but instinct. The beast acted alone. When he was recaptured, the fresh severities inflicted on him only served to render him still more wild.

And, had it not been for the Bishop’s intervention, he would have returned to prison. In an act of mercy and love, he frees him and sends him off with these words:

Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.

Powerful words. Words of support. Words of hope.

What the Bishop gives Jean Valjean extends beyond the value of silver. He saw past the wild beast driven by instinct, to the man inside, and gave him freedom and hope for a better life.

Does the Bishop represent the love and mercy of Christ? Expressed through an uncorrupt priest, serving the people with a right heart? Probably. But, does he not also represent the difference one person can make in someone’s life? Sometimes all it takes is one person, one kind word, one word of encouragement that helps us to see that we are more than our present situation dictates.

I don’t know if we will see this Bishop again as the story continues, but, I’m sure his influence will remain, beautiful and radiant, in Jean Valjean. Is the message of love, mercy and hope a key point in this book? Time will tell…and I’m reading slowly, taking in as much as I can.

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My edition is

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Barnes and Noble 2017 collectible edition by Sterling Publishing Co.

Les Miserables Chapter-a-Day Read-along Sign Up Post

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Hello, Book Lovers!

I only recently found out about a wonderful read-along that is taking place when I read Ottavia’s sign up post for this event. Nick @ One Catholic Life is hosting a year long read-along of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The goal is to read one chapter a day for a whole year; read it slowly and absorb as much as possible from this book. I’m late in finding out about it and late in signing up for this event, so I’m a bit behind schedule, but since they are reading one chapter a day, I should be able to catch up quickly.

If your interested in participating, hop on over to Nick’s blog to sign up. He has a link to the schedule in his post as well that you can check out. He also has some interesting weekly posts which you may enjoy reading even if your not participating.

The reason I want to participate so late in this read-along is because I got this book for Christmas as a gift from my Dad. He told me before Christmas that he got me something that was on his father’s bookshelves while he was growing up. It was this book.

At first, I wasn’t sure when I would start reading this book. It’s so huge! This book would definitely require a commitment. Then, I found out about this read-along. Serendipity!

My grandfather loved to read and was very intelligent. My dad tells me that he loved big, thick books (this certainly fits the bill) and he loved reading about history. Sadly, while I was growing up, my grandfather was often sick. I never had a chance to discuss books with him. This book now has a sweet connection for me to my grandfather–and my Dad, too– and will be a special addition to my library. When I told my Dad that I was going to read this book slowly, over the course of the year, he smiled and was pleased. I am going to embrace this slow reading and remember my grandfather and appreciate my Dad as I do.

I have never read this book before. I have only seen the musical version a few years ago with Hugh Jackman–which I loved! I am looking forward to reading this slowly, to absorb all the humanity, philosophy and poetry which I understand run strongly throughout the novel.

I will be reading the Barnes & Noble 2017 Hardback edition by Sterling Publishing Co.

This read-along, with the discussions and Nick’s weekly posts seem like they would only add to my reading experience of Les Miserables. So, I’m looking forward to participating…now I just have to catch up!

An American Family by Khizr Khan

An inspiring story and a definite must read.

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There is more to this man and this family than what unfolded after the 2016 DNC speech. In this book, we learn more about Mr. Khan, his upbringing, and how and why he came to America. This is his story.

It started with our Declaration of Independence which inspired him as a young college student. Then, he had the good fortune to work with warm and generous American co-workers who represented the best of American values to him. American values that he felt were shaped by a country who valued equality; a country whose people created and held to the ideals of a document such as our Declaration of Independence.  It was because of these people that he decided to pursue his higher education in America–at Harvard! Impressive.

His story details the journey from Pakistani immigrant to American citizen.  It is a story of hard work, to provide for his family, and sacrifice to earn his Harvard degree. Not only his sacrifice, but, Mrs. Khan’s as well. I found myself wishing I could hear from Ghazala. I would love to read her story. She has a rich family history and I would like to know more about her upbringing and what drew her to Khizr Khan. She is an intelligent and educated woman, what sacrifices did she make for her family and for her husband, so he could further his education? She may choose to guard her privacy, which I understand, but, I believe her voice would be heard and if she ever chose to share her story, I’m sure many, myself included, would love to read about it.

This is not a political book, this is a memoir, as the subtitle states “…Of Hope And Sacrifice” and their sacrifices extend beyond an education. We all remember that their son, Captain Humayun Khan, sacrificed his life to save others. They are a Gold Star family…  “An American Family”.

I didn’t share too many details of his story because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read this book yet, but it’s a story worth taking the time to read. For Khizr Khan, America is not just a land of opportunity, it is a land of freedom and equality because of our laws–laws based on our Constitution, which he holds in high esteem.

I found this book to be an emotional and inspirational read and it has moved me to set a personal challenge for myself to read more Immigrant Experience Literature in 2018.

2017 Year in Review

2017 was a pretty good reading year for me. I read a mix of science, history, historical fiction and regular fiction. Here is a list of the books I read and blogged about this year.

The Whole Story of Climate by E. Kirsten Peters

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown

Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown

The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick 

I participated in a few events this year, too. The first was Doing Dewey’s Women In Science event– which I loved! I had a great time reading and learning about the various women of science– most of whom I had never heard of– by reading Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsy and The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown. I won’t stop here though; I plan to continue reading about women of science in the New year!

The second event was Witch Week–and I had a blast!– where I read about Merlin and became intrigued by this legendary character through my reading of The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. I would like to read her Merlin trilogy and will start by reading The Hollow Hills, which is the second book in this series, sometime early next year.

Speaking of next year, I will be participating in Doing Dewey’s 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge, so I plan on reading some good nonfiction and learning new things along the way.

My top reads this past year were The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown (historical fiction), and Modern Girls by Jennifer S Brown (regular fiction). The Stargazer’s Sister is beautifully written and demonstrates what can be accomplished if given the opportunity. Modern Girls, a mother/daughter story, reminds me of what we can accomplish with a mother’s love and support. Looking back, these favorites seem appropriate; together they illustrate that with family support and the opportunity to learn and try new things, we can accomplish more than we ever dreamed!

2018 is right around the corner and I look forward to more travels and adventures between the pages!

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge 

2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Hello, Book Lovers!

Doing Dewey is hosting a nonfiction reading challenge throughout 2018. The aim is to read more nonfiction and it’s pretty flexible so you can set any sort of nonfiction reading goals you want to reach for this event. She will have a giveaway, some twitter chats and quarterly group reads. Check out her post to read more about it. You can link up if you want to participate, or, you can just take a peek to see who is participating and find out what they are reading.

I know I would like to add more nonfiction to my reading list so I plan on participating. Here is my list for this challenge.

  •  Newcomers by Helen Thorpe
  • Radium Girls by Kate Moore
  • Victoria, The Queen by Julia Baird
  • Code Girls by Liza Mundy
  • Judge Sewall’s Apology by Richard Francis
  • Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith
  • Labgirl by Hope Jahren
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

It’s a pretty good assortment and I hope to learn a few new things about science and history along the way.

Happy Reading in 2018!

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

I have been meaning to read this book for about a year now! I started reading it last year, but never finished it, then I picked it up again recently and started it from the beginning. My intent was to have it finished and reviewed by Thanksgiving, but, obviously, that didn’t happen. My reading tends to slow down at this time of the year, but I’m glad I finally found the time to finish this book.

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Summary from Goodreads:

HOW DID AMERICA BEGIN?

 This simple question launches acclaimed author Nathaniel Philbrick on an extraordinary journey to understand the truth behind our most sacred national myth: the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth Colony. As Philbrick reveals in this electrifying new book, the story of the Pilgrims does not end with the First Thanksgiving; instead, it is a fifty-five-year epic that is at once tragic and heroic, and still carries meaning for us today. 

Is this a good book to read before Thanksgiving? I’m not so sure as it was pretty depressing. Then again, maybe it is so that we can sort through all of the mythology of what we believe about Thanksgiving and learn the facts. The book deals with much more than just Thanksgiving though, it covers a good 55 years of history and much of it was new to me.  As I finished this book I realized that there was so much history I was completely unaware of and that the Pilgrims behaved in ways that I felt compromised their spiritual beliefs.

The first half of the book focused on the Pilgrims and their voyage to the new world, establishing relationships with the Indians and surviving long enough to start a community in New England. This section has a lot of  history that was interesting to read.  The second half of the book focused primarily on King Phillip’s War, which, to me, was not as interesting but illustrated how far the second generation of Pilgrims and Indians had come from the cooperative spirit their parents had.

As the summary states, the author wants to understand “…our most sacred national myth: the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth colony.” He does this by delving into the history behind the myth and it’s a much more complicated story than I had realized.  There were numerous historical facts that I only learned about from reading this book. Somehow it never came up in any American Literature or American History class I took when studying the Pilgrims that their voyage to the New World was an investment and they were expected to generate profits once they landed to pay their debt. I also never knew that only half of the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower were Pilgrims, the other half were “Strangers” or non-separatists.  So, this was not simply a group of religious non-conformists who made a long and dangerous journey to the New World in order to worship God as they chose. Knowing this also made the Mayflower Compact more significant. After all, it was a civil document and all who signed it agreed to abide by the rules and authority of the elected officials.

Prior to reading this book, I knew that the Indians had helped the Pilgrims to survive that first year- I just didn’t know a lot of the details or even how they established their colony.  After reading this book, I can safely say that there may not have been a Plymouth colony if it were not for Massasoit’s friendship. The English didn’t know how to fish, they were lacking in food and near starvation and many had died. The Indians provided the English with interpreters who helped them to trade and Squanto taught the English about Indian agriculture. Relationships and alliances were vital to their survival, however, they were often complicated and Philbrick explores the complexity of these relationships throughout the book.

Another thing that came across to me was the determination and perseverance of the Pilgrims. Despite the fact that they were weak with hunger and many of their people were dying, they persevered– their survival depended on it. They persevered, from the very beginning, despite numerous setbacks, in actually sailing aboard the Mayflower. Once they arrived in New England, they persevered through hunger, illness and death; then, against all odds, they established a colony. However, they also behaved poorly. I saw little evidence of the love and mercy of Christ in their life and even less in the second generation of Pilgrim settlers. The first generation of Pilgrim settlers attacked a tribe of Indians in response to hearing that they would attack the English. Yes, it was complicated, and Massasoit encouraged them to do so, but at that point, it was an unprovoked attack. Later, the second generation of Pilgrims would change a law allowing them to sell “powder and shot” to the Indians in order to make a profit.  During the war, they killed Indians who refused to fight against them and sold into slavery others who surrendered– after they were promised amnesty!  These are only a few examples of how I felt their actions were at odds with their Christian faith. I felt that they should have taken a more active role in being peacemakers and that they should have remembered and respected the Indians for the role they played in helping them to survive in the New World. Would this have prevented the war? I don’t know, but their actions would have been more in line with Christ’s teachings and who knows what kind of far reaching results that would have had.  

Overall, I enjoyed this book, despite having to almost push myself to get through the second half.  For me, there was a lot of new information and history to learn and I feel like I have a better understanding of this period and the people involved.  I learned a lot through this book and for that reason I think it’s a worthwhile read.