As my cotton-gloved hands examined the woven fabric, I felt the thrill of encountering a link to the age of discovery. Over a hundred years old and probably unseen and untouched for decades, this artifact of the Cook Islands was being carefully prepared by us technicians to be moved to the Smithsonian Institution’s storage facility. Some twenty years later, Professor Nicholas Thomas’ Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James A. Cook has given me much better perspective on these pieces of the past.
When Phyllis Reynolds was in first grade, she had a hard time making sense of the stories her teacher wrote on the blackboard. Those little, squiggly characters danced crazily across the open space and didn't mean a thing to her. One day, her teacher asked her to read a story out loud. Phyllis didn't hesitate for a second. She plunged into an exciting story-- her own story-- about a cat and a tree and an autumn day. The teacher shook her head sadly at Phyllis. No, she hadn't gotten it. But she had gotten it-- the desire to tell stories. In time, she did learn to read, and soon she was writing her own books on notebook paper. Phyllis had found a love for writing that she has never lost through the tough times and the good.
Wouldn't it be cool if even a few of the old stories were true? Legends say that giants walked the Earth, Atlantis vanished under the sea, and Greece and Troy fought a devastating war over a beautiful woman. Amazing, but true: all these stories are based on facts.
Archaeologists digging in China discovered the fossils of Gigantopithecus, a giant ape standing 9 or 10 feet tall. These huge but probably gentle apes died off 500,000 years ago. Traditionally, villagers collected their bones and made them into medicines. They called their finds dragon bones. Some have wondered whether pockets of the animals may have survived into later centuries, giving rise to the legend of Big Foot.
Lake Anna State Park is a favorite local destination for campers, boaters, and families who just want to spend a summer day at the lakeside beach. For most of us, the way to the lake runs down Lawyers Road. These days, there’s not much to take in with the view from this one-lane road, which passes through as quiet a stretch of Spotsylvania countryside as remains in the 21st century. But in centuries past, the western part of the county was the scene for tribal wars, slave labor, religious awakenings, whiskey barrel politics, gold mining, and Civil War armies on the march.
Gaius Petrius Ruso has just arrived for duty in the Britain, a far backwater of the Roman Empire. He’s been assigned to the Valeria Victrix Legion as Medicus, serving the legion and the natives living in the town surrounding the barracks. When the only other doctor on staff is poisoned by a plate of oysters at the local bar/bordello, Ruso works on alone. Tramping the town in an exhausted stupor, he encounters an odious merchant beating an unconscious slave girl—who clearly has a badly broken arm.
Once there was a little girl named Hana Brady. She lived in Czechoslovakia with her beloved family. She liked to ski cross-country with her brother and play with her wolfhound and her fluffy, white kittens. She helped her father at the family’s general store. More than 50 years later, a suitcase with her name on it was sent to an education center in Japan. School children learned all about Hana and what happened to her during the Holocaust, a story told with words and photos in Hana’s Suitcase.
This book started to take form when an 18th-century silver spoon washed up on the beach near author Rosalind Laker’s home. It bore the proud mark of a London silversmith—a woman silversmith by the name of Hester Bateman. Fired with curiosity, Ms. Laker researched the fascinating Bateman family. During the Georgian period, the Batemans rose from potential ruin to being leading craftsmen who were known to have that elusive Silver Touch that marks a master workman.
Wracked with sickness on a frozen day in 1473, Roger the Chapman collapses on the road in the city of Bristol. Strong as he usually was, he had overestimated his ability to lug his pack of goods the many miles in such gruesome weather. Most of the townspeople want to leave him to die—just such a one might be a plague-bearer—but a weaver’s widow and her young daughter decide to shelter him anyway in Kate Sedley’s The Weaver’s Tale.
Enter a brilliant surgeon who says exactly what he thinks, no matter whom it offends. He’s almost always right on his controversial diagnoses and drives his fellow doctors mad with his insistence that things be done the right way. He drinks too much sometimes, has few friends, and never, ever suffers fools. But this is not Dr. Gregory House. This is Dr. Jonathan Ferrier, a beleaguered genius who, though acquitted of his pretty wife’s grisly death, is still held accountable for it by many of Hambledon’s citizens in Taylor Caldwell’s A Testimony of Two Men.
Richard Paul Evans’ The Walk is a remarkable journey of the spirit. At 28, Alan Christoffersen had it all. He had married the love of his life, owned a wildly successful advertising company, and was settling into a beautiful and comfortable existence in the Seattle suburbs. A good man, a happy man, Alan could not know how soon his world would shatter. When a terrible accident cripples his family life, the faithful husband stands by his beloved McKale, trusting blindly that his business partner and purported best friend will manage his workaday affairs.
At the moment that he finds himself bereaved, betrayed, homeless, and flat-out broke, he does consider a dark and quick way out of the pain. He manages to pull away from that moment and decides instead to take a far walk from Seattle to Key West, Florida. Now that he has no one and nothing save a tent, a backpack, and very few provisions, it seems as good a thing to do as any other. Some prefer to grieve and ponder alone, and Alan is one of those people.