Art in Hard Times

We all know where we were on the morning of 9-11. That was an appalling day, one that shook the world. When the planes stopped flying, everyone was affected. In the upper left-hand corner of the country, what happened on the East Coast was close at hand because of what we saw on our television sets, but it was a more distant reality for us than it was for those who were able to see the still smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers or the Pentagon. The fact that the planes weren’t flying overhead meant that the skies were empty, but it didn’t directly affect our lives, until it did.

That happened several several weeks later when it was time for us to go to Tennessee for a book festival. When it was time to make our flight reservations, planes still weren’t flying. So Bill and I looked at each other and said, “Okay, we’ll drive.” And we did.

It’s a long way from Seattle to Nashville, and it’s not a straight line. There may have been satellite radio stations back then, but we didn’t have access to them. We’d find a good station that lasted for a couple of hours, but then we’d be out of range, and it would be gone. Finally in Texas somewhere, we hit the wall. For years I had been hearing about Harry Potter. I remember being on a book tour once in Boston. I was eating alone in a hotel restaurant when a family came in. Well … not exactly a family at the time. It was a man and a woman accompanied by two girls who were ten or so. The couple was dating and in love. The two daughters—one apiece? Not so much. But they both came armed with dueling copies of J.K. Rowling’s latest book. The two girls sat at the table, both of them engrossed with the stories of Harry Potter and his pals, while their respective parents plotted out the details of their new lives together. Thinking about them now, I have to hope everything worked out well for all concerned.

So in Dallas, we stopped by a Barnes and Noble and bought a cassette unabridged audio version of the the first Harry Potter book and soon we were lost in that world. We would go into restaurants where TV sets were still focused on the devastation in New York City. That’s what the people there were talking about. We were discussing what we’d learned about the intricacies of Quidditch. I believe there were four Harry Potter books in print at that time. We listened for the remainder of the trip. We finished listening to the last chapter of the last one available in the parking lot of our hotel in Boise, Idaho, on the night before we made it home, but from then on, we were die-hard fans and we listened to the others, too.

When our grandson was old enough to listen to stories, I read the Harry Potter books aloud to him each night before he fell asleep, even when he was in Washington and I was in Arizona. Cell phones made that possible. Before long he was old enough to read them on his own, and he’s a passionate reader to this day.

Harry Potter is yesterday’s news right now, but the magic in those books is endlessly fascinating. So for parents at home with kids locked out of school, and for grandparents stranded far away from beloved grand-kids, please consider reading to them aloud! Learning about Harry Potter will be good for them, and it’ll be good for YOU!

My daughter is still working at Costco headquarters in Issaquah. When I started getting my steps, she started getting hers. At lunchtime, she goes out to walk in the now mostly-empty parking garage in order to get her steps. She calls me, and we’re able to walk together. Right now, we can’t see her in person, but walking together and talking on the phone is good for staying in touch —for both of us.

I wrote a blog/newsletter posting last week in which I recommended three books—The Madonnas of Leningrad, Mr. Pip, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The books are all incredibly different, but they all have three important components in common. They all take place in wartime. Another is the need to persevere in the face of tough times. The third is the importance of art in sustaining that perseverance. After thinking it over, I reconsidered sending out that blog because, in the face of all the gloom and doom infecting the media right now, I decided what I had written was too dark, because those books are dark. I still have that original blog entry, and if someone wants to see it, I’ll be happy to send it out upon request. All people have to do is write to me at

As I’ve said many times in the past, the ancient sacred charge of the storyteller is to beguile the time. My lunchtime walk/talks with my daughter are good for 3000 to 3500 steps. That leaves lots of steps still to be done. So I’ve taken to listening to audio books the rest of the time. I’ve become a huge fan of a guy named David Rosenfelt. His books are perfect for me—light-hearted murder mysteries with dogs. What could be better? I especially like his Andy Carpenter books set in New Jersey with a dog-loving defense attorney as the main character. By the way, for you IORs (In Order Readers) out there, the first book in the Andy Carpenter series is Open and Shut.

In this time of social distancing, ordering books on-line and buying books in grocery and drug stores are the only avenues available for obtaining new books. Libraries may not be open, but readers may be able to order downloadable books from their local libraries. I know that many of my readers are dedicated DTRs (Dead Tree Readers), but maybe now’s the time for us seniors shut up at home to venture into the world of e-books for new books.

This is also a time when it might be a good idea to revisit some old books. In the face of uncertainty, the comfort of hanging out with familiar characters is like chatting with old friends.

We need to be at home. If what’s on TV isn’t helping us right now, perhaps we should look for guidance and solace in books and stories, including most definitely the Good Book, if you’re so inclined.

On the reservation I learned that the legends of the Tohono O’odham are winter-telling tales—only to be shared around campfires in the cold and scary nights of winter. These are cold and scary nights.

From reader, Elaine.

When it comes to revisiting old books, I’m including a photo one of my Canadian fans sent to me this past week. Thank you, Elaine. You really brightened my day and made me glad that I’m … well … a storyteller whose stories are helping people through hard times.

Stay safe and share a story.

30 thoughts on “Art in Hard Times

  1. Good morning Judy, I am glad that you and J T J are sharing your day while you get in your steps. That comforts me. I get my children/love fix with morning texts. We all find a way to stay connected. I honestly didn’t remember that Harry Potter was popular at the time of 9-11. We as a country came together after that day. I hope that is a good omen for us now. You painted a vivid picture with today’s words. I would love to read your original post. Take care of Bill and I’m sure he is taking care of you.

  2. I love The Andy Carpenter books and the narrator is so good. I can hear his voice in my head right now. Stay safe!

  3. I picked up 7-8 new books at the Mesa Swap Meet this winter. Being a dedicated DTR, I have to keep my “memory book” updated. Hope to catch up with you again.

  4. Nice Blog. Most of my grandchildren and now their children are readers. The one who is not a mother still reads a lot. She turned her nieces and nephews on to Harry Potter. Great that your daughter gets her steps in. My granddaughter and her fiancé work at Costco locally. Convinced the shoppers are nuts at this time.

    Everyone is finding time to read and enjoying it. My daughter hosted a Zoom bingo party for her kids and grandkids. My granddaughters did a chalk on the sidewalk with friends and cousins. Games are being played again. Oh and this 80+ great grandmother gets leftovers of pot roasts, chilis, lasagna, left on her porch! The cooks take pkeasure in doing that. Face time, messenger really help. Good luck to all. Oh, and this self isolation has convinced me I need a kindle! I have been a die hard DTR.

  5. I loved the “Potato Peel Pie” book when I read it a few years ago–as a former librarian, when I read something outstanding, as I thought that one was, I recommend it to everyone, and I did that with that one.

    I’m glad we at least live in an age of easy communication, so that we can all keep in touch with friends and family by phone or other tech, while we are stuck at home. In my case, a pleasant home, plenty of food and warmth and lots of projects to do, as well as plenty of books to read (I stocked up for 3 days at my library before they closed on March 17).

    My husband and I have both read the lawyer/dog books you mention, and have enjoyed them.

    Stay safe and warm,

  6. Dear JA Janice,
    Thank you for this blog! I am visiting in Denver and trying to get home to Tucson! Hopefully I will fly out Sunday night.

    My family all read! I remember sitting around the living room and my Dad reading from To Kill a Mockingbird. He would read a chapter and then each of us would read one. One of my favorite memories!

    The fact that storytellers were so important in maintaining our oral history thru time make your job even better! I love all your books and I learn something from each.

    If I could recommend a series to you, check out The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, if you still like audible his are read by James Marsters and are great!

    Thank for the hours of reading enjoyment,
    Linda De Foe

  7. Enjoyed your story, thanks for sharing. Enjoy all of your books as well,
    take care and stay well, sooner or later we will get through this.

  8. I’ve been a fan of audio books for a very long time. Would borrow CDs at the library before the e-books and audio books started. Some advice Comedies do not mix with gym equipment even treadmills unless you want to experience first hand “falling down laughing ? “.
    I have 4 book apps on my phone and my history shows every one of your books and David Rosenfelt. I’m glad you are enjoying his Andy Carpenter character. I read his autobiography and was surprised to find out he was living for a time “up the road from me”. I’m always surprised when I find out one of my favorite superhero’s lives a normal life – like you. Yes, authors are my superheroes, they have and continue to rescue me from the edge of darkness. Have kept me company when loneliness threatens and have showed me that my struggles are not unique and have taught me valuable coping skills and when I can’t cope with reality for one more minute I can escape into a good book.
    Thanks for keeping it real.

  9. Besides loving the contents of your books, I loved being able to listen to the stories about Joanne, Aly, and JP via my library’s Overdrive program. Before that, I used audiotapes while walking for exercise. IMO, they are totally underappreciated. I love David Rosenfelt and his dog stories. I just got his latest along with Kathy Reichs latest mystery. I have worked at 7 different libraries for over 30 years. I think I will remember this time and date because our township senior bus grocery trips were abruptly cut off. While I normally get InstaCart deliveries because I don’t have a car, the stores in my area are overwhelmed and cannot deliver.

  10. Thanks for the new author recommendation! I didn’t read many books that were series until 2009. I started reading Michael Connelly in 2015 with Book 18. It was so good that he became a must for me and I started reading from Book 1, which turned me into a hard-core IOR!!! So I’ve read yours only in order!

    Keep up the good work, JA!

  11. David Rosenfelt’s best book is non fiction in my opinion. Titled “Dogtripping”, it is how he took 25 rescue dogs from California to the East Coast in 3 RV’s. The logistics, the volunteers, the stops each day—reads like one of his stories. Great story.

  12. I must be the only one who’s wondering what you were doing in Dallas when you were headed to Nashville coming from Washington. Bill miss a turn somewhere?

  13. I’ve read many of the Rosenfelt books too. Donna Ball also writes a cozy dog series. Steven Havill writes a series I really like Posades County NM with Bill Gastner. I have 8 new books sitting on the hold shelf at my library waiting patiently for me, insert sad face here! My son asked to borrow my library card so they could get electronic books for the kids. They’re pretty sure they won’t be back in school until fall. I worked a week at my new job before we had to close up. We’re scrubbing and cleaning and while I appreciate the hours, I’m exhausted! At least one more week for sure then we should be done as the kitchen is next. Making face masks over the weekend to send off. Wash your hands and stay safe!

  14. To keep busy I have taken up crocheting. I actually own every single book JAJance as put out. When I get bored of crocheting I actually went back and started rereading everything in order to see if there was anything I missed.A friend of mine is going to the country for his social distancing by camping down on the Joe and ask if he could borrow some reading material. I let him borrow my whole set of JoAnna Brady books and marked them for him to read in order. I met a guy who has a sister that writes paranormal books her name is Darynda Jones. She has IOB’s that start with First Grave on the Right. These too are a great read and it makes you want more . Happy reading all and stay safe and stay home.

  15. I love David Rosenfelt books and of course all of yours. I get most of my books from my libraries so the fact that they are closed is very depressing. I do have a Kindle which I don’t use but I see that changing in the near future. I do love audible books and play them constantly in my car.

  16. Due to other problems I have been stuck in my house for a month before all of this started. But reading has saved my sanity. I don’t have TV so books and the internet are my outlets. Luckily, I have ALL of your books. Have read them twice and if this keeps up, it will be three times. Waiting on the last two to hit paperback so I can have new ones. Keep em coming. You are keeping me going.

  17. I’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and all of Harry Potter. And, I LOVE the Andy Carpenter series.

    I’m 73, and in the midst of working to downsize. Much as I’ve loved reading, and rereading, real books, these days I mostly read via audio book. Occasionally I read a book version. I get all thru my local library via the Overdrive app. Libby will also work. But, the books are always with me – be it in the car or sewing room as I piece a quilt.

    I’ve listened to all your books – every one in every series. My favorite reader is Gene Engene. He brings JP to life, and, I could listen to him read the phone book.

    I’ve met many new to me authors thru audio books. I click on the audio books, all available, option and begin scanning. When an interesting cover, title, or familiar author appears, I click to read the synopsis and then, almost always, borrow and download. It’s how I met Andy Carpenter. I’ve been listening to classics I’ve somehow missed over the years, books on history I’d never have read otherwise, my beloved mysteries, and…

    The world would be so very empty without books. Thank you for enhancing my world with your work.

  18. It is nice to see we all read the same books. When the Harry Potter books came one they had no appeal to me. Finally, I agreed to read the first one just to make a lady at work stop bugging me. I was immediately hooked. After that I found myself picking my books up at midnight.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have reread your books and I enjoy them just as much as the first time. I also read Michael Connely. Another author I love is Catherine Coulter’s FBI series. Her books are on the shelf next to my J. A. Jance books.

    I will have to check out David Rosenfelt. I love lawyer books and police procedurals.

    I hope every one stays safe and well.

  19. Here in Maricopa County AZ beauty shops are considered essential and are not closed if they’ve been inspected, declared sanitized, and have no more than 10 people at a time inside. I had a haircut earlier this week and my stylist reminded me she met you at the P.E.O. Books’N’Lunch fundraiser five years ago. She is still feeling the thrill of meeting and visiting with you and has read all of your books. The most treasured is her signed copy of Cold Betrayal. You treated her as a friend you’d just met.
    Six years ago, as my Daddy was slowly slipping away and unable to read, he kept a Dick Francis and a JP Beaumont on his bedside table so he could “keep his friends close.”
    Keep safe and know that your works and the insights into your life are a big part of helping all of us go through this frightening time. THANK YOU.

  20. In 1945 I was five years old. We lived in the small town of Abingdon, Illinois, pop. about 3,500. One afternoon I was playing outside, by myself, as in those fondly remembered days it was safe to do.

    Suddenly I heard sirens wailing just a half-block away. Not just one fire truck, not just one police car, but what seemed to be every emergency vehicle Abingdon had.

    My mom came running out of the rented house we lived in. She had a strange, wild look on her face and I asked her in alarm, “Mommy, what is going on?”

    Choking back tears of joy she replied, “The war is over, the war is over!” That was 75 years ago, but it is still imprinted on my memory.

    This war too will be over. There won’t be fire trucks racing through town in raucous celebration, but I certainly will remember this fight against a new, unseen enemy.

    In the meantime the arts, as has ever been the case, will help keep us grounded, entertained, connected.

    Keep writing, playing, singing, creating; what ever your heart calls you to do.

  21. David Rosenfelt is also a favorite author of mine. I’ve read all of his Andy Carpenter books and just downloaded his newest book THE “K” TEAM.

  22. Marshall, thank you for providing that much needed perspective. We see the number of cases ticking up. We see the death toll ticking up. When are we going to start seeing the recovery numbers ticking up? I’m sure those folks are out there, but it’s easier to spread doom and gloom. I want to hear about winning!

  23. I love books on tape , when my eyes went south for a few months I read my books on tape. A bit expensive but I started buying them a book at a time years age so I gave a few .. I had more that I got at goodwill but they were in tape form not on my kindle the only problem was they put me to sleep at first I would start chapter 1 then wake up later in chapter 5 so I started putting the timer to turn off and it worked. I have been face timing with our kids it’s great to see them healthy . Take care stay inside be healthy .. Jan

  24. Thank you for this post. When Honolulu announced shelter-in-place, my husband and I hurried to our local library to stock up. We both checked out an entire series to read. My choice was to re-read the Walker Family series. I’m currently on Day of the Dead.

    Thanks for the stories.

  25. I just finished reading Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt. I am so happy you recommended reading this book. I very much enjoyed the story and his humor. I plan to read more of the Andy Carpenter series.

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