Episodes, Literacy

21. Getting a Feel for Braille

 

Happy Braille Literacy Month, everyone! We almost missed out on the celebrations, but The Book Owl discovered this important holiday just in time. In this episode discover what workshop accidents and Napoleon have to do with the history of one of the most intriguing forms of reading and writing.

Links Mentioned in This Episode

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Transcript (or Roughly So)

Intro, Part One

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So this time around we’re looking at a special type of reading. Or rather, we’re not going to look at it, we’re going to get a feel for it. Because this type of reading isn’t done with the eyes. It’s not done with the ears. It’s done with the fingertips. And in some ways, we have Napoleon to thank for it.

Cheesy Sales Pitch

But before we jump into that I just have one quick reminder. If you’re listening to this episode on the day of its release, that would be 28 January 2021, or soon after, you have just a couple days left to grab the first box set of my historical fantasy series The Osteria Chronicles for a mere 99c.

This set includes The Trials of Hercules, The Voyage of Heroes, and The Maze of Minos and the sale ends on the 31st, so don’t dilly dally if you want to nab this deal. And of course, the links you need will be in the show notes.

Alright, onto the episode.

Intro, Part Two

So Happy Braille Literacy Month, everyone! That’s right, January is all about bringing awareness to this fascinating form of reading and writing. Why January? Well, because the creator of braille, Louis Braille (which I’m just going to say braille from now on so you don’t have to endure my horrible French) was born on 4 January 1809. 

Oh, and if you really want to get your braille celebrations going, you should have also celebrated World Braille Day which took place earlier in the month on Louis’s birthday. What? You missed it? Well, just be sure to mark it on your calendar for next year because I think once you hear how braille came to be, and the struggle it took to get it adopted, you might have a little more appreciation for it.

Warning

Now before we get too far into this episode, I’m going to say I’m not really great on my politically correct terms for things, so I will be using the word “blind” when referring to people who can’t see well or can’t see at all. So forewarning if that sort of thing offends you.

Okay, let’s get into this dotty madness.

A Quick Bit About Braille

I’m sure most listeners have come across braille writing some time in their lives. Of course I’m a big old word nerd, so I’ve always been fascinated by it and can’t resist running my fingers over it when ever I find a plaque, or a directory, or some museum signage that has a braille option. I simply can’t fathom how a person’s fingers interpret those dots into words, and when I can’t figure something out, it intrigues me even more.

But just in case you don’t have clue what braille is, it’s a block of raised dots that represent letters or groups of letters or sometimes entire words that are commonly used such as the, and, but, and that sort of thing.

The reader reads left to right, typically by running both index fingers over the dots. And each of these blocks consists of six dots that are arranged in two columns with three dots in each column, so imagine how the number six looks on dice. The letter or letter grouping then depends on which dots in that block are raised and which aren’t.

And braille isn’t its own language, its more of a translation. Which means it basically takes the letters and words of say English or French or German and transcribes them into these blocks of dots that can be read with your English, French, or German fingertips

And just because I was curious, I looked up the reading speed of braille reading versus eyeball reading and the average eyeball reader reads about 200 words a minute. Braille readers average about 125 words a minute, but some can reach speeds of 200 words a minute. Which again, blows my mind that your fingers can read that quickly.

But while all that’s interesting, the story of how braille came about is far more interesting. And it’s also where we come back to Napoleon.

Getting Dotty with Napoleon

So back in the early 1800s this little Corsican guy named Napoleon had made himself ruler of France. France is a pretty darn big country, but he wanted to expand his empire so he was going around starting fights with his neighbors. You know the type, right?

Well, Napoleon wanted to maintain the element of surprise, so he wanted his soldiers to be able to communicate at night so they could plan their maneuvers and be kept alert of any trouble from the enemy.

Trouble was, the enemies were no idiots. They were keeping an eye on Napoleon’s men. When a French soldier received a note, he’d light a lamp to see what it said and then, blam! The enemy sharpshooters would see the light, shoot in that direction, and well let’s just say it’s hard to follow orders or plan an attack when you die trying to read those orders or attack plans.

And here I picture Napoleon having a bit of a temper tantrum, kind of like the Napoleon character in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure when he’s bowling and he’s like Merde! Merde! Merde!. Luckily, unlike the Bill & Ted Napoleon, the real life Napoleon had Charles Babier working for him.

Babier came up with a system of what he called night writing. This consisted of a 12-dot block with raised dots to correspond to each letter or phonetic sound. And I think the 12 dots were in two columns, I can’t recall. 

It kind of worked, but it was slow going because people’s fingertips just couldn’t feel all the dots at once. Imagine as you’re reading, scanning a word, then having to go back over each letter one by one to understand what that word is and you’ll start to understand why Babier’s system worked, but was a painfully slow way to read more than just a quick missive.

But let’s pop over to another area of France.

You’ll Put Your Eye Out, Kid

Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, France, on 4 January 1809. And a little warning for anyone who is squeamish, you might want to fast forward about 30 seconds.

Louis’s dad was a leatherworker and little Louis liked to hang out with papa in his workshop, and he even likes to try his own hand at working the leather.

One day when Louis is about three or four, papa isn’t paying attention as Louis is trying to use an awl to poke a hole in a scrap of leather. And Louis is getting into it, he’s down close and really scrutinizing his efforts. Well, the awl slips and pierces Louis in the eye. Yeah, I know. Cringe!!

A doctor is called, the wound is bound, but infection sets in and ends up spreading to his good eye, so he ends up blind in both eyes. And I bet Louis’s mom had a thing or two to say to Louis’s dad about child minding.

So back then it would have been easy to write Louis off as being an invalid who won’t amount to anything, But hoorah for mom because she treats Louis as if he’s no different than her other kids. And Louis thrives in the environment she creates for him. He becomes known for being a good pupil and for being exceptionally bright, so he ends up winning a scholarship to the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. And I think this is when he was about 9 or 10 years old.

An Understanding Teacher

At the Royal Institute was an instructor named Valentin Hauy, who also founded the school. Hauy wasn’t blind, but he did understand the need to get his students reading. He came up with a system where he basically kept your same 26 Latin letters and raised them on the page using heavy paper that was embossed with the letters. The kids could read the books, but it was a slow way to read.

Also, to create just one of these books was really time-consuming and expensive and the books themselves were fragile and pretty damn huge just to fit all the test in. As such, the school only had three of them, but Louis read these books over and over. And another problem with hay’s system was, to make the books required these specialized copper dohickies to emboss the letters onto the paper, so it wasn’t convenient to get the students writing.

The Hauy system was flawed, but is did prove that touch could be used to read long passages of text, not just quick notes. He referred to it as “talking to the fingers with the language of the eye.”

Hauy, although his system wasn’t the greatest, was really a superstar for his students, especially gifted ones like Louis. Hauy even cut out leather templates of the letters of the alphabet. Louis would then take these and trace around them to write letters home every week. Which, wow, that’s some dedication to writing to your mom and I bet she really appreciated it.

A Fortuitous Visit

And it’s at the Royal Institute where Louis and Charles Babier’s stories come together. See, in 1821 or possibly 1820 — my sources were a bit unclear on exactly which because one said Louis was 11, which would be 1820, others say Babier showed up in 1821. Either way, Babier shows up at the Royal Institute to show off his night writing thingamajig, thinking it might be handy for the students, even though it was a clumsy system to use.

Louis, who had already been tinkering with his own system of writing for the blind, immediately recognizes the possibilities of Babier’s system and pinpointed the problems such as it being too complex for the human finger and that each block should represent a letter or group of letters, not a phonetic sound.

Louis sets about to working on how to perfect the dotty writing and in only a few years has cobbled out a functional way of writing and reading for the blind. And it really did work, as is evidenced by its still being used today. And just to show off, Louis also worked out a musical notation system for the blind. You know, in his spare time.

And I have to include this quote form Louis because it really does show off The Book Owl’s own belief in the important of reading and writing.

He said,

“Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we [the blind] are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.”

Attitude Problem

By 1833, Louis has moved on from being a student at the Royal Institute to being a teacher there, instructing students in geometry, algebra, and history, while also playing the cello and the organ in churches across France. And you would think his system of writing and reading would have been snatched up and adopted by the Royal Institute without question.

Nope.

See, Hauy died in 1822 and his successor seemed to have the stereotypically French stubbornness against any type of change. He refused to alter any aspect of how the school operated, its course material, and most definitely not how its students would read and write. In fact, this guy was so stubborn, he actually fired another teacher, not Louis, for having a history book translated into braille. Sheesh!

But even though the school refused to adopt it, braille was spreading across France and by the 1880s would be embraced by much of the world. 

Short-Lived Genius

Unfortunately, although brilliant and talented, Louis wasn’t terribly healthy. When he was 40, he’d already been suffering an illness, possibly tuberculosis, for over a decade, and he had to retire. And in 1852, when he was only 43, he died. 

And still by this point, his system wasn’t being used at the Royal Institute. Finally, the students revolted and demanded Louis’s system be incorporated into the curriculum and voila!

And before we jump into some stats about braille today, Louis’s childhood home in Coupvray is now an official historic building that houses the Braille Museum. I’ll have a link in the show notes that has some information about it, if you want to check it out.

There’s also a large monument in his home town honoring him, and in 1953 on the 100th anniversary of his death Louis’s body was given the honor of being moved to the Pantheon in Paris. But, and I don’t know if this is touching or creepy, as a symbolic gesture, they left his hands buried in Coupvray. Yeah, make of that what you will.

So What About Braille Today

Well, I won’t go into all the details, but there has been a long progression of braille typewriters, with the first one being invented in 1892. But the style that really stuck around was developed in 1951 by David Abraham who was a woodworking teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind. It became known as the Perkins Brailler and it was so well-designed that the only real changes to this style of braille writing machine was to make it quieter and more portable.

Because of these writers, braille is more accessible than ever and you’d think it would be widely taught and used and all that. Well, unfortunately, funding for schools means braille is being taught less and less and braille literacy is plummeting, which is really sad because it is such a cool form of writing, and who knows, with as bad as my eyes are, I may need it one day.

So here’s the stats about all this. In 1960 about half of legally blind kids could read braille. And these numbers are for the US. In 2015, that number fell to only 9 percent. And some of this, as I mentioned has to do with schools no longer teaching braille, or teaching it far less. But there’s also the advent of screen readers and text-to-speech technology. 

But some of it also has to do with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which pretty much shut down schools for the blind and said the blind students should be educated in public schools, again, without providing extra resources or funding for that move or giving the students the specialized reading skills they might find handy.

The problem with braille illiteracy is, just like any illiteracy, we see a direct correlation between braille literacy and employment rates among blind people. Even though blind people can read paper or screen text with text-to-speech software, people who only read this way have a high rate of unemployment compared to those who read braille as well. Basically, if you’re blind and you’re braille illiterate, you’re statistically far more likely to be unemployed than a blind person who can read braille.

And of course, as with people who aren’t blind, this unemployment then trickles down to overall health and well-being, and is just no good for anyone. And for those of you who get the book owl podcast newsletter, I’ll toss the actual numbers in your bonus content this time around.

So with that go celebrate these last few days of Braille Literacy Month full of the knowledge that reading is super important but so is teaching people to read in the way that’s going to give them the best jump on life.

Updates

And speaking of reading, it’s time for updates. I know, weird transition. The Undead Mr Tenpenny is now in the hands of a fair number of early reviewers. And let me just say I am nervous! I’m literally having nightmares about this. Which is really crazy because if you asked me six months ago about this book I would have gone on and on about how much I loved it, how fun I thought it was, how much I thought it was going to be one of my best sellers. 

Now, after the last couple of my own read throughs, doubts finally nabbed hold. And they are not letting go! I feel like the writing is just rambling and makes no sense. I feel like all the effort I put in to setting a few things up in this first book, which don’t get explained until the second book, are going to leave readers confused and annoyed, and I’m just a basket case over the whole story, my writing style, and arghhh! And now I have to sit back and wait for the book to get torn apart by these early reviewers…I need wine. Lots of wine.

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that’s it for this dotty episode. If you enjoyed the show, I’d love it if you shared it with just one other person. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.

Credits

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Episodes, Having Fun

19. The Tiptop Books of 2020

One of the taglines for The Book Owl Podcast is, “Everything Books, Minus the Reviews,” but as this wacky year is winding down, I thought I’d make an exception and share with you my absolute top book picks I found during the extra reading time 2020 has provided.

Links Mentioned in This Episode

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Transcript (or Roughly So)

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

Introduction

As I mentioned last time when we were chatting about the history of cookbooks, this episode is going to be a little different. When coming up with the concept of this podcast I wanted to steer clear of turning it into a review show because there’s already a gob of those types of podcasts being created by people far cleverer than me.

But since it’s nearing time to wrap up the year, I figured why not share with you my favorite books I read this year. Plus, I’d already written this as a post for my main blog over at Tammie Painter.com, so recycling that content is saving me a little work during this crazy busy time of year.

Saying Thanks

Before we jump into things, I just want to shout out a ginormous, triple dose of thanks first to Jonny Pongratz of the Jaunts and Haunts blog for not only leaving some terrific comments on The Book Owl blog, but also for sharing Episode 17 on his blog AND for helping support the show by purchasing several of my stories from my Payhip Bookstore after listening to the Bram Stoker episode, which I think was episode 16.

Jonny is also a writer and he’s proving himself quite talented so I encourage you to check out his story Conscience if you like sci-fi, or his book Reaper if you’re a horror fan.

The second round of thanks goes to Anne Lawson for sharing the podcast in her newsletter. Anne’s an Australian artist who has been doing some amazing stuff lately with watercolor collages that are just stunningly eye-catching, so be sure to check her stuff out using the link in the show notes.

And as ever, thank you to Tierney of TierneyCreates for her profusion of kind comments about the show. Tierney, sometimes I swear your words are what keeps me producing this show on the days I dread doing so.

Let’s Get On With It

Alright enough gushy good feelings, let’s get on with the show.

So, I think we can agree 2020 has been a pretty crap year. But as far as reading goes, it hasn’t been all that awful. And for me at least, the extra book time has meant the discovery of some amazing tomes. 

When the pandemic first seemed utterly overwhelming and super duper scary (now it’s just normal scary), I needed something to lighten the mood. So I rushed to my library’s ebook lending app, went immediately to the humor fiction category, and added tons of titles to my to-read list. I even managed to read several of them, and some of those happily became some of my favorite books of 2020.

As the year progressed, I moved back into more of my favorite genres of mystery, paranormal fantasy, and historical fiction. Really, I’ll read just about anything and can’t fathom how people only read a single genre. Anyway, all that is to say, I spent a lot of time reading this year.

And yes, that extra reading (and listening since I love my audiobooks) has introduced me to some horrible pieces of “literature” but since there’s already been enough negativity this year I won’t torment you with those. I did however make a promise to myself this year to review every book I read, so if you scroll through my Goodreads or Bookbub reviews, you’ll find those lumps of literary coal. 

But let’s end 2020 on a bright note as I share with you the absolute best books I read during this wacky year. And just to be clear, while some of these books were published in 2020, many of them aren’t necessarily new, they were just new to me. 

And of course, I want to know if you’ve read any of these or if you have any top picks for 2020, so be sure to use the link in the show notes to either contact me or to leave a note on the blog post that goes along with this episode.

Okay Onto the Best Books of 2020

So, yeah picking this this was a challenge because, looking over my review tally, it looks like I read over 100 books this year.

Now before you think I lounge around with a book in my hands all day, at least half of that 100 were audiobooks which I gobble up while poking around in the garden, running, and doing exciting things like cleaning the cat box.

Still, I thought it would help things and help organize my if I break the list down a bit into novels, series, etc. And then I’ll wrap up with my absolute top pick of 2020. Ooh, suspense!!!

Alrighty then, so under each category, I’m listing the books in order of favorite-ness. And yes, that’s a word now.

Favorite Novels….

Note: Because of the rules regarding the use of affiliate links, if you’d like to discover my list of favorite books for 2020, please continue reading at https://thebookowlpodcast.com/the-tiptop-books-of-2020/

Update Time

So just some quick updates

The podcast will be back in 2021. As ever, I have gobs of ideas, but if there’s a book- library- or author-related topic that you want me to explore, please drop me a line and let me know. 

As for writing, this has been a tough month. I’ve hit a wall of absolute doubt about my writing, about my sales, about my ability to get the word out about my books, and I’ve been kind of wondering what’s the point.

I’m still working on the Cassie Black books because that’s the kind of see-a-project-through person I am, but I’m feeling really uncertain about publishing the books because after sending a pretty big sample to my newsletter folks, it just doesn’t seem anyone is interested in it. And that’s worrying because my newsletter readers should be the people most interested in reading my work.

So basically I’m left feeling like I’ve written something that no one will give a rat’s behind about. I just honestly don’t know what to do to regain confidence in my writing because that’s one thing I’ve always had, but as I read over my work lately, it just sounds like utter non-sensical crap. 

Anyway, sorry for the Debbie Downer after such a fun episode, but hey it wouldn’t be 2020 without a little sense of doom, right?

Okay my book loving friends, that is it for this episode. If you enjoyed the show, I’d love it if you shared it with just one other person. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Book History, Episodes

17. Cooking Up Something Good

 

Happy Thanksgiving to my American listeners!

Because Thanksgiving is THE holiday where food takes center stage, I bet there’s more than a few of you out there reaching for a cookbook this week. Which is why The Book Owl went into research mode to discover the history of cookbooks.

From rotting meat to imaginary friends, it’s a recipe for concocting a great episode. And, there’s even a special guest who tried to take over the show.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

Cooking Up Something Good (Rough Transcript)

Introduction:

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

And let me offer up a very Happy Thanksgiving to my listeners in the U.S. I hope everyone is keeping their distance and that you’ve got a plan in place for all that leftover turkey.

Because Thanksgiving is a holiday all about food and especially food we don’t normally cook — seriously, at what other point in the year do you suddenly think, “OMG, I just HAVE to make cranberry sauce?” — I thought this would be an excellent time to explore a type of book many Americans will be cracking open this Thursday.

The Part Where I Ask You to Go Shopping

But before we start, just a quick reminder that you help keep this show running. I need to offer up a very belated thank you to LaVelle for being a continued sponsor of the show with her monthly gift. 

Unless you’re feeling especially flush with money, there’s no need for you to be quite so generous, but I want to remind you that you can help the show out by doing nothing more than the normal shopping you plan to do on Amazon this holiday season. 

Any time you feel the itch to purchase a pack of dog food, a new pair of yoga pants, or a book that you intend to give as a gift but end up keeping for yourself, before you start shopping please head to the book owl podcast dot com slash support and use the Amazon link on that page to do your shopping.

That’s an affiliate link and it does not cost you anything extra, but does earn me an itty bitty commission that really does add up.

What? Another Introduction? Fine…

Okay, enough of that. So, if you’re going to be in the kitchen this week, I bet at some point you’re going to be reaching for a cookbook of some sort. Which had me curious about the history of these most valuable kitchen tools.

Well, okay, the electric kettle that keeps me fueled with tea is the most valuable in my opinion, but you know, cookbooks, second most valuable.

The Oldest Cookbook…and Recipe Success

It turns out the oldest cookbook, or at least the oldest one that’s been discovered, dates from 1700 BCE and has no pages. Wait, let me clarify. It’s actually a collection of a handful of recipes on a series of four clay tablets that are part of what’s known as the Yale Tablets.

And no, they weren’t unearthed in Yale, they’re called that because they’re housed in the Yale Peabody Museum as part of the Yale Babylonian Collection. Lot of Yales going on there.

Anyway, the main recipe on these tablets is a meat stew that contains meat, obviously, vinegar, and herbs, and is said to resemble a stew that was so adored by kings, it ended up being written about in stories for over 300 years.

And just like finding an interesting recipe in a magazine, some researcher said, “Hey, let’s give this a try.” So in 2018, a few brave folks from New York University recreated the stew as best they could with modern equivalents of the ingredients.

The result? Turns out it was pretty darn tasty. And I’ll include a link to their experiment in the show notes.

Cooking Up Food Poisoning In Ancient Rome

So moving up about 1800 years, we get to the first century CE and we find the earliest European cookbook, the De re coquinaria. And I’m no Latin scholar, but I think that translates to from the king’s kitchen. An if there is a Latin scholar to there, please let me know if that’s right or wrong. 

Anyway, this book was supposedly compiled by the Roman Marcus Gavius Apicius, and he was the celebrity gourmand of the day. And he and his book were so influential, any collection of recipes came to be known as an Apicius for decades to come. 

Now, in Ancient Rome the goal of cooking, what chefs gained fame for was being able to take your main food item and flavoring it and covering it up so much you could not tell what you were eating.

This wasn’t because Romans loved eating the Surprise du Jour. It was because, well, how do I put this? They didn’t exactly have refrigerators and they weren’t exactly bringing in fresh meat every day.

And I really hope this isn’t familiar to you, especially today, but the cooks had to do everything they could to hide the taste of the rotting meat they were serving up. Yum.

Chinese Cookery Classic

Stepping away from Europe for just a bit and jumping forward again in time (I know, you haven’t travelled this much in months, have you?). We’re popping over to China where there are reports of cookbooks dating all the way back to the Tang Dynasty, which was extended from the years 600 to 900, but some pesky person lost it. Or maybe spilled soy sauce all over it. 

Either way, the earliest surviving Chinese cookbook dates from about 1330, and I’m not going to attempt the Chinese name for the book, but in English it translates to the name Important Principles of Food and Drink. And I really hope the recipes inside weren’t as bland as that title.

Germans Love Their Cookbooks

Okay, zipping back over to Europe, we find medieval Germans really liked to cook. Or at least they really liked cookbooks, because it’s here we find the most cookery manuscripts. These include Das buch von guten spise, or the Book of Good Food from 1350.

And probably no surprise, but the Germans were also the first to employ our friend the printing press to publish a cookbook in 1485, with the name Kuchenmeysterey, or Kitchen Mastery. Which has a rather modern marketing ring to it.

A Cookbook for the Average Householder

Again, no surprise, but the French also had a few cookbooks on their shelves. And like most of the other cookbooks I’m talking about from this time period, these were all intended for chefs who were cooking for the highest levels of society, including the king. For example, the earliest French cookbook we have was written in the 14th century by Guillaume Tirel, the master chef for not one, but two French kings. 

But we have a little rebel in France, and as far as I could tell, this might be the earliest cookbook written for common people, or rather for women making food for their families. This was La Menagier de Paris, or the Householder of Paris, and was written by a middle class Parisian for other middle class Parisians.

Curry? Did Someone Say Curry? The First English Cookbook

Of course, there were also cookbooks from Italy, Spain, the Middle East, India, but since I’m a self-centered English speaker, let’s head back up to England where we’ll find the first cookbook written in English. It dates from 1390 and was penned by the chef of King Richard II, and had the intriguing title Forme of Cury.

And now I really want some curry, but I think a cure referred to any type of stew, so there’s probably not a spicy vindaloo amongst the pages.

Printing Press By-product: The Celebrity Chef Begins

So as I mentioned earlier, the Germans were the first to crank out a cookbook from the printing press. And this kicked off a wave of cookbook publishing in the 1600s when we see a huge profusion of books coming out for household management and food preparation. 

And you’re going to need that advice because right around this time, especially in Holland and England, it becomes quite the thing to see who amongst your ritzy friends can throw the most lavish banquets. This is when we really start seeing food preparation being turned into an art form — and let’s be honest, that artwork is probably still being used to cover up the taste and smell of meat that’s gone off. 

And as is still happening today, chefs start becoming celebrities. Households fight over hiring the most renowned cooks and the chefs themselves start competing pretty viciously with each other to see who can write the most popular cook book. Which sounds like the set up for an amazing historical novel full of bitchy backstabbing.

Coming to America

But enough of Europe, let’s hop the pond over to America where we find Amelia Simmons in 1796 writing the book American Cookery, which she declared was “adapted to this country and all grades of life.”

And as the article from Book Riot I used as apart of my research snarkily notes, there weren’t a lot of grades of life who could afford to purchase cookbooks so this was probably intended mainly for the upper class. But the book did manage to stay in publication for 30 years.

What’s a White Lady to Do?

Also in that article which I’ll link to in the show notes I found an interesting correlation between the American Civil War and the rise of cookbooks in the American South. See, most middle and upper class households had um, shall we say, free labor running their kitchens. 

When slavery was abolished and the freed people said, “I’m outta here,” the white ladies were kind of left in the lurch. And some of them could probably still hire cooks, whether those cooks were black or white — and that hired help was probably mostly black, if we’re being realistic. 

But many other former slave owners had lost their free labor which also meant they lost a cheap way to make gobs of money which also meant they were left to do their own cooking. Well, after years of being tended to by unpaid servants, these white ladies had little idea what to do in the kitchen. 

Luckily, one of the books that appeared was written by Malinda Russell, a freed slave who, in her book used the euphemism that she was an experienced cook. And her recipes start to show a pattern in presentation that would continue to evolve, including putting a list of the ingredients at the start of the recipe. Unfortunately, the amount of those ingredients still required a fair bit of guesswork.

Brussels Sprouts and Measuring Spoons!

It’s not until 1845, when with the release of Modern Cooking for Private Families by Eliza Acton that we get not only a book written entirely for the home cook, but we also get the format we know today with the list of ingredients, the full instructions of what to do with those ingredients, and precise cooking times.

It also, as a little side fun fact, was the first book in the U.S. to have a recipes for Brussels sprouts.

But while Eliza’s book had plenty of information, it could still be a bit vague. Because there were no standardized tools, cookbooks at the time didn’t exactly pinpoint exact amounts or temperatures. For example, one book told people to heat water until it was a little warmer than the temperature of milk coming straight from the cow. Which has me picturing some poor woman running back and forth from her stove to the barn to keep checking on things.

It’s not until the early 20th century before we start seeing more precise recipes. And that’s because we finally got standardized measuring cups and spoons. And, thankfully, we moved away from wood-burning stoves and ovens whose temperature couldn’t be regulated, to electric and gas stoves that could be set to a specified temperature. And cookbooks quickly started incorporating these marvels into their recipes.

The Best-Selling Cookbook of All Time

Finally, we can’t get away from cookbooks without mentioning the best-selling cookbook of all time…The Betty Crocker Cookbook. Betty, as you might know, doesn’t exist. She was completely made up by the company that would later be known as General Mills. And she came about because people kept writing in asking questions about the company’s products.

So, kind of like a cooking Dear Abby, they created Betty to answer the questions. And they chose the name Betty because it sounded friendly and cheery, and Crocker was the last name of the company’s recently retired director.

The imaginary Betty Crocker was born in 1921, and became hugely popular. And like many celebrities, she eventually came out with her own cookbook. The first Betty Crocker Cookbook was published in 1950.

It not only contained recipes, but also practical household tips, and plenty of sympathy and understanding for the trials and tribulations of the mid-century housewife. It was so popular it outsold the Bible in its first year of publication, and had since sold over 65 million copies. And yes, I have my own tattered copy in the kitchen.

But Wait, There’s More

So that’s it for a quick history cookbooks. But I couldn’t resist researching one more thing, and that is the weirdest cookbooks. As you might guess, it generated seem hilarious hits that I’ll be sharing with those of you who are on The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter. And if you want to get that newsletter, yep, there’s a link in the show notes.

Podcast Updates

I guess that means it’s time for updates. As for the podcast, there’s not much to report. Just keep listening and keep recommending the show to others, and I’ll keep trying to crank out episodes. Of course, if you have an idea for a book, an author, or a bit of literary lore you’d like me to explore, feel free to contact me with your topic ideas by using the link in the show notes. 

Writing Updates…Prepping for Cassie Black

As for writing updates, I’ve been putting together all the parts to get my Cassie Black Trilogy ready for release early next year. That means getting titles, covers, and descriptions together for all three books. I’ve also formatted the paperbacks for the first two books — book three isn’t to that point yet, but getting closer.

And I’ve gone on a mad spree of writing a stockpile of blog posts to share Cassie’s creation, inspiration, and quirks with the world over the next few months. I know, big surprise, but there’s a few links in the show notes if you’d like to see the process of coming up with titles and the evolution of the books’ cover design.

Signing Off

Okay my home cooks, that is it for this episode. Stay safe, keep your distance, don’t eat too much, and I will hoot at you next time.

 

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved. Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License Audio processing by Auphonic.com

Book Bargains, libraries

Book Clean Up on Aisle Four

Hey Book Nerds!

This is just a quick between-episodes post because I couldn’t resist sharing a book-related tidbit with you.

It’s a library. In a grocery store.

Wait, no, that’s not quite right. It’s a grocery store that is now a library.

I haven’t succumbed to any panic buying during the pandemic, but I could see myself raiding the shelves at this grocery store!

So this particular library is the Carmel Clay Public Library in Carmel, Indiana, and they’ve turned a former grocery store into a library. Instead of canned food, they have Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, instead of dried beans they have Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Tree. Looking for the candy aisle, you’ll find Laura Esquival’s Like Water for Chocolate.

And while I think stocking the shelves of a store with books instead of junk food, is a brilliant idea, unfortunately, this is only temporary while the Carmel Clay Library waits for a the construction of brand new building.

Seriously, though, you can’t beat finding books like Winter’s Bone, The Winter’s Tale, The Snowman, and The Ice House in the freezer department.

Image from the ALA

If you want to see the full article about the library from the American Library Association, you can find it at Books Fill the Aisles at This Supermarket.

But before you go…I also want to share a couple new book promotions you might be interested in. The first features books with a historical setting where the ladies take the lead. And the other is full of free tomes ranging from horror to sci-fi to fantasy. Just scroll down tad bit to see the deals.

Have fun browsing, and as a bit of fun, let me know a title of a book and where you’d shelve it in your grocery library!

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The Latest Book Deals – Historical Ladies & Free Fantasy

(Be sure to also check out more November book bargains and freebies in the sidebar of this blog) 

Book Bargains

News Leaving You Bird-Brained? Free Fiction is Sure to Help.

Hey Book Nerds!

What a week, right? I know it’s tempting to keep checking the news, keep checking in on those painfully close numbers, keep checking in on whether it’s time again to panic buy toilet paper, but for the sake of your mental health, Dr. Book Owl is here to prescribe that you escape for a while into the pages of a good book with November’s Book Bundles.

And don’t worry, unlike most health care in the U.S., this proven therapy won’t cost you more than $1 and in most cases it’s completely free.

As usual, I have a few books and short stories in each promo below.

Note: These promos are a great way for me to get the word out about my books in an affordable manner, but I can only participate in them if people (that’s YOU) browse the bundles. It costs you nothing to scroll through what’s on offer, and would be a BIG help in keeping my book marketing costs down. THANKS!!!

Happy browsing and be sure to let me know what goodies you end up finding. 

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Promo #1….This promo features a wide range of genres, including mystery, romance, fantasy, thrillers, and more. And yes, all the books should be completely free.

Promo # 2…As you can guess, this one has fantasy and sci-fi tomes for free or for a mere 99 pennies.

Promo #3….All fantasy. All free. What more is there to say? Oh, except that for some reason, this one loads slooooowly, so, as with the election results, please be patient:))