Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
Since Reflections… is creative non-fiction–not a swashbuckling historical novel, I seek the attention of librarians and teachers. Even as I wrote it , I hoped the book would become useful supplementary reading for students of US history after 1865 and history of American technology, because it focuses on the middle-class quotidian–against a backdrop of the Civil War and its aftermath, excitement about the Transcontinental Railroad, economic turbulence and the development of labor unions following the Panics of 1873 and 1893, and controversy over America’s expanding role in the Pacific.
A librarian friend assured me that one of her favorite sources for new books was Kirkus Reviews; so I took the plunge. The reviewer begins, “Based largely on correspondences among her relatives in the 1800s, debut author Harris gives a firsthand account of the life a steam locomotive engineer.” Nice, except the last phrase should read “the life of a steam locomotive engineer.” Summarizing, the reviewer writes “After the war Bailey’s life takes on a more mundane existence as he marries, has children and eventually finds work as a train engineer in the Midwest.” It took him 18 months to find full-time employment after the war, but Bailey was an employed train engineer before he married and had children.
The reviewer concludes: ” A unique perspective on a major historical event that spends too much time on the quotidian.” Wait–I thought this was “a firsthand account of the life of a steam locomotive engineer,” not “a locomotive engineer’s adventures during the Civil War.” Sigh.
Fortunately, Kirkus allows for “feedback.” Unfortunately, I gave the same feedback twice. Groan.
A succinct recommendation from Midwest Book Review: “A new technology, a huge demand can lead to some interesting times. Reflections of a Civil War Locomotive Engineer is a sort of biography as Diana Bailey Harris tries to piece together the story of a railroad engineer from the nineteenth century who struggled through the Civil War and rode the waves of the decades after as war began to strike once more. His story presents a personal view of life in the nineteenth century, and Harris captures it well. Reflections of a Civil War Locomotive Engineer is an assortment of history, very much recommended reading.”
Jim Cox, General Editor of MBR, today assured me: “The review has been sent to be included in ‘Book Review Index‘ which is distributed to tens of thousands of library systems throughout the US and Canada.” Yes!
I purchased ads in the January and March issues of the New York Review of Books. The first has yet to stimulate new sales. Sigh.
Oh, yes! The man who sat next to me at Floyd Skloot’s reading from Cream of Kohlrabi at Annie Bloom’s Books in early November, spotted this in their January email Newsletter: “Books from Local Authors…Portland writer Diana Bailey Harris culled through the many correspondences between her sibling relatives to compile Reflections of a Civil War Locomotive Engineer. Separated as adolescents in Canada, reunited by the US Civil War, brothers John and Francis Bailey forge bonds which ensure their survival in the turbulent years that follow. This historical biography presents America’s pursuit of her Manifest Destiny through the eyes of a Michigan railroad engineer and an Albany NY policeman, based on the trove of documents Diana’s great-grandfather, John Bailey, collected over nearly half a century.” Three copies are still available at the store. Sigh.