First Line Friday – 03.15.19

first-line-friday-3Hey Everyone! It’s First Line Friday. So grab a book near you and share the first line in the comments below!

Today I’m sharing the first line from The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris. It is a nonfiction book on Joseph Lister’s Quest to transform the grisly world of Victorian medicine. I picked it up with plans to skim it for research questions pertaining to a work in progress and wound up devouring it like a novel. Seriously, I read this thing cover to cover which is not my norm for a nonfiction book. It is very well written and I found the medical history combined with Lister’s personal life to be simply fascinating. That said, it’s probably not something you want to read over lunch.

The Butchering Art


Here are the first lines:

On the afternoon of December 21, 1846, hundreds of men crowded into the operating theater at London’s University College Hospital, where the city’s most renowned surgeon was preparing to enthrall them with a mid-thigh amputation. 


Winner, 2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing
Short-listed for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize
A Top 10 Science Book of Fall 2017, Publishers Weekly
A Best History Book of 2017, The Guardian

In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters—no place for the squeamish—and surgeons, who, working before anesthesia, were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than patients’ afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the riddle and change the course of history.

Fitzharris dramatically reconstructs Lister’s career path to his audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection and could be countered by a sterilizing agent applied to wounds. She introduces us to Lister’s contemporaries—some of them brilliant, some outright criminal—and leads us through the grimy schools and squalid hospitals where they learned their art, the dead houses where they studied, and the cemeteries they ransacked for cadavers.

Eerie and illuminating, The Butchering Art celebrates the triumph of a visionary surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world.


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Now it’s your turn to grab the book nearest you and leave a comment with the first (or your favorite) line!

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SDGQ – McGurck Block Building

McGauck Block Building

Built in 1880, this Italianate Revival building is located on the northeast corner of Fifth and Market Street. Occupied first by a dry-goods store, the building is best remembered for the Ferris and Ferris Drug Store, an all-night pharmacy, which operated on the ground floor there until 1984. According to the San Diego Historical Society’s Images of America San Diego Gaslamp Quarter:

“Many [sailors] who had been in altercations purchased leeches from the store to reduce swelling and avoid getting in trouble with superior officers.”

Another odd bit of interesting random trivia is that Gregory Peck‘s father apparently worked as the pharmacist at Ferris and Ferris for many years.

The ground floor is currently home to the restaurant, Searsucker.

The upper floors were once known as the “Monroe Hotel” with an entrance from 5th street, although I have been unable to pinpoint why it held this name.

The building is named after Edward McGurck the original owner of the building. For further details about the building’s structural details, click here.

10 Fun Ways To Enjoy Thanksgiving History


I don’t think it’s any secret that I love history and sharing history with others, and Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity for doing exactly that. Even better are the hundreds of resources out there for making it fun. Here are just a few of my favorites:

1. A Thanksgiving History Lesson: Fun Facts for Turkey Day!  by Amanda Boyarshinov  

Contains a timeline overview of the Thanksgiving celebration and how it has changed through the years. At the end you’ll find a varied list of fun suggestions for fun ways to continue the learning.

2. Bet You Didn’t Know: Thanksgiving

This fun video is a great quick way to learn what was really on the menu at the first Thanksgiving Celebration, along with a few other lesser known facts.

3. Thanksgiving History Quiz

This quick quiz has some questions I haven’t seen elsewhere and provides little snippets of info after each answer, which is why I’m sharing it over some of the others I’ve seen.

4. Thanksgiving Interactive: Your are the Historian

In this fun, award-winning activity, you take on the role of a “history detective” to investigate what really happened at the famous 1621 celebration. (Hint: It was a lot more than just a feast!) Along the way, you will read a letter written by an eyewitness to the event, learn about Wampanoag traditions of giving thanks, and visit Pilgrim Mary Allerton’s home. As a final activity, you can design and print your own Thanksgiving exhibit panel.

5. The First Thanksgiving

Scholastic has a great interactive website chock full of information, games, and activities for people of all ages. They even have historical fiction letters.

And because Thanksgiving history isn’t all about learning, here are some other fun links I think you’ll enjoy:

6. Top 32 Easy DIY Thanksgiving Crafts Kids Can Make

What Holiday would be complete without a few crafts? As a mother of 3, I am all about the easy craft. I especially love yarn ball turkey center piece that guests can add to with feathers of thanksgiving.

7. Thanksgiving Jokes

Okay, so some of these are cringe worthy, but it’s all clean fun and you don’t have worry about offending Aunt Ida.

8. Thanksgiving Family Games

This page has a generous list of games suitable for the whole family, which are conveniently sorted by noise level and whether they can be played inside or must be played outdoors.

9. Top 30 Bible Verse for Thanksgiving

Whether you’re working on a craft, a sermon, or just wanting to do a topical study. This list of verses about giving thanks will help you get you started.

10. 4 Thanksgiving Food Pranks

For my readers with a mildly twisted sense of humor, I share this how-to video of Thanksgiving Food Pranks. Now I personally wouldn’t recommend the mashed potato prank because someone might crack a crown and there goes your celebration, BUT the rest are too hilarious not to share.

Well, that’s all folks. I hope these links add to both your understanding and enjoyment of this wonderful holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving Image with frame

Method to My Madness – Historical Research Note Tracking

Method to My Madness Graphic

One of the most time consuming, rewarding, and frustrating parts of writing historical fiction is doing the historical research.

It’s time consuming because, well, as an avid history fan I can easily find myself playing the role of Alice following the white rabbit down the proverbial hole and somehow find myself hours later reading about some random part of history which, while absolutely fascinating, has nothing to do with my work in progress or the purpose for which I first consulted the text.

It’s rewarding because I get to learn fascinating new parts of history that they don’t have time to teach about in school. Like how one of our local gold rush towns got its name and that the man it was named after moved away about 2 years later and never moved back. In fact, he didn’t even return for a visit for 18 years and he wound up running a hotel on the California coast 26 years later, and did you know there was a horse named after him and….. Yes, you caught me. None of that has anything to do with my current works in progress. This is a tidbit I picked up in one of those rabbit holes.


Where was I? Oh, right….

Historical research can also be very frustrating. Not only because of those pesky rabbit holes, but because it can be rather difficult keeping track of everything you read and where you read it. Picture me scratching my head trying to remember which library, which section of that library, which book title, which chapter, and on which page I found that particular fact about Julian’s jail once housing the only public toilet months after I actually read about it. (In this case it wasn’t even a book, it was a website.)

In response, I’ve begun collecting pages and pages of copies of books and articles and websites in addition to an increasing number of books for my personal reference shelf. Now, I do have a particular system for keeping track of all of those items…. no really, I do…. okay so it’s not exactly perfected but…. that’s not what I want to talk about right now. Right now what I want to share with you is how I track the relevant information within those items.


When I reference a note, I’m usually looking for something in particular, so if all I did was highlight everything interesting in yellow, I’d never be able to find anything. I have many different categories of notes including things like notes about food resources, people born/married/died, places built/destroyed/expanded, important events, etc.  So if I were instead to give every category of notes a different color, you can imagine that I would run out of highlighter colors rather quickly. Ask me how I know.

Then it hit me. This was a familiar problem.

If you are familiar with the method of inductive bible study, then you may be familiar with the concept of creating a unique symbol for each important word or recurring theme. These symbols are used to mark up the text with the idea being to slow your reading down and help you engage with the text as you extrapolate its meaning. I have been using this off and on for years in my personal study of the Bible.  However, I can’t stand the idea of actually marking up my Bible, so instead I print out sections at a time and work with that. It also allows me to create really wide margins which provide room for a little creative journaling while I’m at it.


So what does this have to do with my historical research? Well, I’ve developed similar symbols for each of the categories I want to easily find in my notes. Now as I am reading, I just highlight in yellow all the stuff I think I might want to refer back to later and add the category symbol in the outer margins.  This way I’m not constantly searching for and switching out different colored highlighters, and when I want to find notes in a particular category, I just flip through and scan the edges of the pages. Oh, and I keep a key to my symbols at the front of any texts. If it’s a copy of a library book page, I’ll staple a blank page to the front and make my key there. That way if I forget what symbol I used for a particular category, I have a quick cheat sheet. I also keep a photograph on my cell phone showing all my most frequently used symbols so that I can be as consistent as possible from text to text.

2015-10-01 21

I still cringe when marking in a book and it’s not perfect, but it works for me.

Your Turn!

A lot of people do research for their work or school. What do you think of my technique? I’d love to hear if you have any other tips or techniques you use to do research!