Saturday, January 7, 2017

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
Published 1937

Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyseles.  They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves.
This story is either beautifully tragic or tragically beautiful.  Maybe it is not meant to be tragic at all, but I felt the tragic.

Jules Andre Smith (1880-1959)

Some details and some spoilers

The setting is Florida, early 1900s.  Slavery had been abolished for fifty years, and black men and women were building their communities.  The protagonist, Janie, a young woman, was raised by her grandmother, whose view of the world was still set in the time of slavery.  She married Janie off to save her from developing a bad image.

That union did not last long because it was a cheap relationship, lacking in love and a million other important things.  Before long, Janie ran off with another man - younger than her first husband, at least - and married him.  He promised her the world, and converted her into a fine lady; together they built up the first black incorporated town of Eatonville.

For twenty years, Janie obeyed her husband and supported his egotistical image, when all she wanted to do was to simply love him.  He did not treat her as an equal, with dignity; he treated her like his many possessions.

One day he got sick and died, and Janie was so free and happy, you could taste it.   She was also set for life and did not need to rely on anyone to take care of her.   That is, until a much younger man came to town - literally sweeping Janie off her feet - and took her away from Eatonville.

I know you may be thinking, "NOOOOOO!  Don't do it!"  That was what I was screaming, too. But this was different than her last two relationships.  This man, Tea Cake, made Janie (pushing forty) feel like a little girl.  She felt like she could finally be herself.  She experienced her love and life for the first time.

Now personally, I did not trust Tea Cake.  (It is my own experience.)  But I was leery of him, and why not?  He took Janie away from her livelihood, her friends, and what I perceived to be her freedom.  And he did some questionable things; but for Janie, it worked for her.

Then something tragic happened and changed life all over again.  In that time of uncertainty, Janie learned that she must look to God for His provisions.  All of life was out of their control, and the white people whom they thought knew everything were actually not in control of their circumstances either.  They were in the dark, too.  And so, her eyes were on God, waiting for what He would do next.

In the end, Janie returned to Eatonville, to the speculation of the town as to what really happened to her; and no one knew anything.  But she did share her whole story with a close friend, and she explained that
love ain't something lak uh grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch.  Love is lak de sea.  It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore.
End spoilers

Jules Andre Smith

This is an amazing story, full of beautiful language and themes and truths.  It is a proclamation of Hurston's viewpoint regarding issues of marriage and society in the 1900s, effecting black women. But even more so, it is an account of human nature, and how we think of love and life and other people.

I loved this book; I am so happy to have read it, and I would definitely read it again in the future.

P.S.  Immediately afterward, I watched the 2005 film on YouTube, which was equally enjoyable, even though the movie had to leave out or change little details.

Watch the entire movie via YouTube:

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop
Willa Cather
Published 1927

My first post of the New Year is of a book I began last year, in December.  Most normal people would have been done with it in a week, but I took so long because of the craziness of December and my sickness.  Come the peacefulness after the storm, and I was able to finish this tranquil, little book.

Willa Cather is an artist who paints with words and descriptions.  Her writing process is quiet, sedate, and mounting.  The last book I read by her, The Song of the Lark, reminded me of a slow cooker. Now this one, Death Comes for the Archbishop, could also be a crock-pot.  

Slowly, patiently, and pleasantly Cather tells the story of a life (or lives) in progress; and the end result - the end of that life - provides a complete story.  I have read that this story demonstrates that people leave legacies, memorials of their lives; everyone can leave a legacy depending on how he lives.  

So . . . 

How are you living your life?

If you decide to read Death Comes for the Archbishop, do not expect a nail-biting plot; conflicts and climax are minimal.  Overall, the story is an even-flowing little spring or brook, bubbling its way through the years of two friends, French Catholic missionaries (a bishop and priest), sent to build up a diocese for the Indian and Mexican populations of the New Mexico Territory, around the time of pre/post Civil War.

The bishop and priest work together to navigate and survive the harsh New Mexico terrain and environment, language and cultural obstacles, racism and violence, Native American spiritualism, and the immorality of stubborn Mexican priests.

However, what truly is exposed is the dedication of both men to their lifework, their life dream.  They have risked and sacrificed their lives to accomplish their goals, and they did it patiently.  Furthermore, they were committed to live this way from a young age.

Yet, even more special is the story behind the story.  Apparently, Cather wrote this based on the real lives of the first Bishop of New Mexico and a missionary priest from France.  She wanted to narrate their stories, so often untold or forgotten, like the abandoned missionary churches of the old frontier. Additionally, she applied her own personal knowledge and experience within the story.
As a human being, I had the pleasure of paying an old debt of gratitude to the valiant men whose life and work had given me hours of pleasant reflection in far-away places where certain unavoidable accidents and physical discomforts gave me a feeling of close kinship with them.  
You could say this was a very personal work for Cather.  And if nothing else, you may admire the beautiful story of a landscape and its people, like you would an old photograph or painting of a time that once existed long ago.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Blog Year Five: A Personal End-of-the-Year Story

(Written between December 20-30th)

The final days of 2016 are here, and I am sick . . . still.

This is not what I had planned for my last weeks of the year, but God's timing is beyond my understanding.  And it is OK.


Officially, I have entered the crazy-mom season of motherhood.  For twenty years I avoided the role, believing that women who spent more time in their cars, driving their children to lessons, activities, and sports, were out of their minds.  But I have since joined that percentage of women who live on the run, eat standing up, and can nap in the backseat of their minivan, in the parking lot of the dance studio.   

Attending a professional performance of The Nutcracker

My goal has always been for my children and me to be here when Dad arrived home from work, and believed we should limit our time away from home when he was here.   However, four years ago, his obligations changed, and now his time with us is limited.  His hours are unreliable, and he travels all over the U.S., Europe, and Asia.  Even when he is home, he is distracted.  Hence, I have purposefully given the crazy-mom lifestyle a try.

I had nothing to lose, except . . .

Watching Dad leave for the airport, again, 
before heading to Nutcracker practice

The Result: I no longer eat right, I feel run down, and it is probably the reason I am the only human being in this house of seven who has been terribly sick for over a week.

Meanwhile, back in October, my girls auditioned for The Nutcracker at their dance studio, and they received a few parts.  I committed to three-hour practices every Saturday for two months, including some Sundays and one Friday night rehearsal. That was in addition to driving to the studio four nights a week for regular dance classes, my son's weekly piano lessons, and occasional fall ball baseball practices and games.  When Dad was not out of town, he would take care of our son's baseball obligations; but sometimes games and practices fell on days when Dad was away.

Anyway, the big day was coming, and I anticipated the culmination of the consecutive crazy weekends of Nutcracker practice.  My eight-year old was a "little boy" party guest in Act One, and she and her older sister were candy canes in Act Two.  They danced with the sweet little bon bons that appeared from under Mother Ginger's hoop skirt.  I had only seen practices, but anxiously looked forward to the final result.

Holding the banner in the City Christmas parade

The day of the performance, we went to church in the morning, but by 12:10 PM, Pastor was still delivering his sermon; my husband signaled to me that we should leave, nonetheless.  The kids and I reluctantly followed.  I had to do the girls' make up, change clothes, and drop them off at the theater by 1 PM; and my husband had to take our son to his Christmas party at his piano teacher's house, which of course fell on the same day as the ballet.  Go figure.
In church, I had started not to feel well, but thought it would pass; I was not concerned that I lacked an appetite.  By 4 PM, it was much worse, and I thought I had to drive back to the theater to get my girls for the break between shows; however, they were to remain at the theater after all, and I had driven there for nothing!

The next show - the one that my family and I had tickets to, the one I had eagerly anticipated for two months - was at 6 PM, and by now I was horribly sick; I realized that I was not going to make it to 6:00 and decided to drive home, crying my eyes out.

One of many practices
Candy Cane and Bon Bon

What I am leaving out are all the details of this ordeal.  So many things were out of my control.  At the time, I did not understand why plans had to change, leading up to that day, but as I sat at home alone (still crying my eyes out), it became clear.  

God was working these particulars out in His perfect timing:

~why my son's piano teacher scheduled her piano Christmas party on the same day as the ballet;
~why we had to exchange our tickets to the 6 PM show;
~and why I had to switch my mandatory parent job, collecting tickets at the door on performance day, to decorating the set on Friday night before the show;
~why my husband and I ended up in separate cars the day of performance;
~why I did not get the memo that my girls did not need to be picked up between shows.

God had orchestrated all of these events to get me home by myself, on the day of the show, because I was very, very sick.

Had everything worked out the way it began originally, I would have been in a miserably compromising situation. So during my sickness at home, I felt great peace, even though my heart felt very heavy with disappointment.  

Yeah, I did this to myself.  I ran myself ragged, got sick, and missed my girls' performance in The Nutcracker.  But I clung to God, saw His Hand in this, and felt His perfect timing.  He reminds me that He is always in control of all things.  And it is good.



Now, this is the end of my year.  In between being a crazy mom, I managed to read 50 books.   (I would have read more if I had spent less time napping in the back of my minivan at the dance studio, but I digress.)  I planned to read more books, but they never happened; and a few books I started but did not finish.

While I dropped two reading challenges and fell short in two others, I completed the biography portion of The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, and three books for the Woolf-Along; but my favorite challenge of all was The Little House RAL.


Finally, on January 1, 2017, this blog turns FIVE, which also marks five years that I have been reading through The Well-Educated Mind list.  This year I will begin the histories portion, which I am very excited because I keep saying, "I love history."   I have added non-fiction Christian literature and some Russian literature to my reading diet.  And I joined Back-to-the-Classics again, although I failed this past year; nonetheless, I will try once more.

Again, everything is in God's perfect timing, and all of these are just my human plans: I plan to blog another year, I plan to read these books, and I plan to continue being a crazy mom.  But if it is not His will, my year will look differently in the end.  And that is OK, too.


By the time The Nutcracker was over, I received a text from my husband.  He surprised me with a little video of the candy cane dance.  Even in my affliction, I could still experience joy.  : )

(My girls are the last two candy canes on stage, the tallest and the smallest.)


Friday, December 30, 2016

Back-to-the-Classics Challenge 2017

Yep, trying this again.  And not just six categories - because I barely read five in 2016 - but, no!  I'm going for all twelve.

A 19th Century classic: The Diary of a Madman by Nikolai Gogol (1835)

Classic by a woman: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Classic in translation: The City of God by Augustine (Latin)

Classic published before 1800: The Histories by Herodotus (425 BC)

Romance classic: Emma by Jane Austen (a misconstrued romance)

Gothic classic: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Classic with a number in the title: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Classic which includes the name of an animal in the title: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (reread)

Classic set in a place you'd like to visit: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (New York)

An award winning classic: Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Pulitzer Prize for fiction) (reread)

Russian classic: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini
Published 2007

It has been too long since I last picked up a book that I could not put down.  This is one of those books.  I finished it in three days and even read it in the middle of the night.  

 A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, is contemporary historical fiction set in Afghanistan, from the 1970s through the early 2000s.  It connects the lives of two completely different women, born a generation apart, and spotlights the vacillating conditions of the Afghan women who bear the brunt of the ever-changing political and military powers of the region.  

Afghan women during the 1970s

The title, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is taken from a 17-century Persian poet who described the beauty of Afghanistan; but the author uses it here as a general reference to the Afghan women, and more specifically, of the close relationship between the two main characters.  This book is a love story about Afghanistan - a love for its landscape, its culture, its history, and most importantly, the Afghan women who do what they must to survive under the country's cruel and unjust laws. The people may love their country, but continuous warfare and abuses of power have made life immensely difficult.  

"I'm sorry," Laila says, marveling at how every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief.  And yet, she sees, people find a way to survive, to go on.  Laila thinks of her own life and all that has happened to her, and she is astonished that she too has survived, that she is alive and sitting in this taxi listening to this man's story.
The language and writing style are light and flowing, but the context is heavy and taxing on the heart. The end of each chapter begs you to continue to the next.  Even the end of the story demanded more - I mean I did not want it to end.  The characters are familiar and real, though some be disdainful and despicable while others are true heroines.  

Try to imagine living within a society that does not permit women to work, get an education, or be in public without a male escort!!  This affects all the benefits that come with being free: deciding who and when to marry, being treated as an equal partner in marriage, and having a fair trial in a court of law

"A society has no chance at success
if its women are uneducated, Laila."

After reading The Dressmaker of Khair Khan by Gayle Lemmon, I found many historical similarities in this book, as both stories are set in the same time period.  They both describe life during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban, and the bombing by the U.S. after September 11th.  Both books also mention the Afghan people's infatuation with the film Titanic, which was outlawed for many years while the Taliban were in power.

It slays Laila.  It slays her that the warlords have been allowed back to Kabul.  That her parents' murderers live in posh homes with walled gardens, that they have been appointed minister of this and deputy minister of that, that they ride with impunity in shiny, bulletproof SUVs through neighborhoods that they demolished.  It slays her.
This is such a good story - I sense Hosseini's urgency and longing to tell it, and it is my impression that this is the kind of writer he is.  I am eager to read his other two books ASAP.  (However, a bookseller told me to wait between books; let me digest awhile.  I will try.)

So, obviously, there are no spoilers in this post, and I am just going to leave this here because it is the end of the year, and time is short.  I just wanted to say: I read this, and it did not disappoint.  If you read it in 2017, be prepared to be shocked and stunned, affected, enraged, and maybe even cry.    

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards

The Greatest Sermons
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
Jonathan Edwards
Sermons between 1725-1750

When I began my reading journey five years ago, I thought I had no interest in Christian literature, and certainly not in Christian fiction or self-help gobbledygook.  But in the last few years, I have developed a need and warmed up to reading biographies of early Church Fathers, histories of the Church, and testimonials of Christian faith and truth.

Here is a list of non-fiction Christian books I have enjoyed:

Josephus - Flavius Josephus
The Imitation of Christ - Thomas à Kempis
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther - Roland Bainton
No Other Foundation: The Church Through Twenty Centuries - Jeremy Jackson
Church History in Plain Language - Bruce Shelley
Foxe's Book of Martyrs - John Foxe
The Institutes of Christian Religion - John Calvin
Confessions - Augustine
Tortured for Christ - Richard Wurmbrand
The Book of Margery Kemp - Margery Kemp
The Life of Saint Theresa - Theresa of Availa
The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom
Joni: An Unforgettable Story - Joni Earekson Tada
Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand
Bonhoeffer - Eric Metaxas
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce - Eric Metaxas
Born Again - Charles Colson
Surprised by Joy - C.S. Lewis
Seven Storey Mountain - Thomas Merton
Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners - John Bunyan
I'm No Angel: From Victoria Secret Model to Role Model - Kylie Bisutti
EPIC: The Story God is Telling - John Eldredge
Let's Roll: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Courage - Lisa Beamer
Of Plymouth Plantation - William Bradford

Many of these books are pure encouragement, and I want to continue reading more like these in years to come.

This book, The Greatest Sermons by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), a Puritan New England theologian, is a collection of his most urgent messages between 1725 through 1750.  He was extremely popular during the Great Awakening (1730-40s), which he probably caused because of his preaching, or maybe it was just a time when New Englanders thirsted for the grave truth; either way, Edwards was instrumental in turning the hearts of the colonists back to God with the Bible's alarming warnings.

His expository sermons were extracted directly from Scripture, aimed at the sinful hearts of men.  He did not soften his delivery or sweeten his words; he defined it exactly as it was and is, according to the Bible: sin, hell, eternal punishment, damnation, election, repentance - whatever he was preaching.

The topics included in these sermons cover:

God's final judgment
Election (who Christians are)
Jesus Christ (always the same/never changing)
The excellency of Christ
The preciousness of time (and how to redeem it)
Justification (by faith alone)

The main sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," is quite a dreadful warning.  Here is an outline of his message:

The Israelites (our example) were always in danger of falling into God's vengeance, but He preserved them for His appointed time.

Edwards interprets Psalm 32:35 to say: There is nothing that keeps wicked men . . . out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.

Edwards demonstrates that God has the power to cast men into hell, they deserve to go to hell, and they are already under a sentence of condemnation.  Man is the object of the same wrath of God that others are experiencing in hell right now; Satan will take them as his own the moment God will permit it; evil forces are reigning in the souls of wicked men; while death may seem far away, the unsaved are not safe; and the unsaved cannot escape hell.

He continues:
So all of you that have never had a change of heart by the mighty power of the Spirit;
all of you that were never born again;
all of you that have not been made new creatures;
all of you that have not experienced new light and life;
are in the hands of an angry God.
He goes on the warn his hearers:
There is no other reason that you were allowed to wake up this morning and did not go to hell last night after you closed your eyes to sleep.

He asks his congregations to consider:
Whose wrath is it?  It is the wrath of the infinite God.  (Fear him, after he has killed you, has power to cast into hell. . .)
It is the fierceness of His wrath to which you are exposed.  (God will execute the fierceness of His anger on you . . .)
God is standing right now ready to pity you.  Today is a day of mercy.  (God has it on His heart to show to the angels and men both how wonderful His love is and how terrible His wrath.)
It is everlasting anger.  (It matters not how moral, strict, sober, and religious you are.) 
Edwards pleads with his listeners to "take this opportunity to be born again."
I cry to everyone who is outside of Christ, awake and flee from the wrath to come.  The anger of Almighty God is undoubtedly hanging over many in this congregation.  Let everyone fly out of Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed."

Jonathan Edwards' words are still relevant today.  Nothing has changed because God never changes. Unfortunately, too many "Christians" do not know their Bible, and this kind of preaching sounds "mean, harsh, and intolerant."  Why are soft, prosperity preachers, like Joel Osteen, so popular?  Is it any wonder his congregation is the largest in the United States? I mean, really; how many people want to be reminded every week that they deserve to go to hell because they are not right with God?


Someone actually spent the time and energy to create this really cheesy clip of Joel Osteen talking to Jonathan Edwards (who shares his theology straight from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God").

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Ten Best Books Of 2016

Top Ten Best Books Read in 2016

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
Biography of German pastor who plotted to kill Hitler.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
The movie made me want to read the book; and the book did not disappoint.

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton
Ah, Solitude.

Doctor Zhivago by Pasternak
Why I continue to love Russian literature.

The Gulag Archipelago by Alexksandr Solzhenitsyn
Sarcastic and raw autobiography of a Russian
who survived ten years in Communist prison camp under Stalin.

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My absolute favorite (for now, after my third read)
from the Little House series.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
One of the most important books I have ever read, full of life lessons.

Little Town on the Prairie or By the Shores of Silver Lake 
  by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I cannot decide.

The Road From Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
Amazing autobiography of an Australian woman, born before her time.

A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf
My favorite non-fiction Woolf, so far.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The original adult version of Laura's autobiography
that gave birth to the endearing Little House series.

An Odd Bonus Choice:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
This may seem strange, 
but it was an effective read and well worth the emotion.

A Late Add:
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini
(WOW.  I'm not even done, but it is destined to be a favorite.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge 2017

January 2017 through December 2017

The short version of this challenge requires that you read non-fiction by a dead Christian author.  The long version is taken from Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV):
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
My plan is to read at least four books for this challenge:

1. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

2. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

3. The Screwtape  Letters by C. S. Lewis 

4. The City of God by Augustine

Possible additions:

The History of the Church by Euseubius 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park
Jane Austen
Published 1814

I could not wait to be done with this book.  It annoyed me!  The snobby individuals, the elite society, the social formalities, and all this talk about marriage - blah In all fairness to Jane Austen, it was a terrible time for me to immerse myself in this story.  Please forgive me, Jane, but my mood was intolerable.

Some details implying spoilers . . . 

Mansfield Park, which takes place in England (Northamptonshire), 1800s, reminded me of a kind of Cinderella story - a poor, less privileged young girl, Fanny Price, was sent to live with her wealthy uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram.  She lived with four cousins, too: Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia, while a stupid, high maintenance aunt, Mrs. Norris, meddled close by. Edmund proved to be a compassionate soul who took Fanny under his wing, and you kind of know where this relationship is going from the very start, even though it twisted and turned for the entire story before finally seeing the light of day.  But I digress.


Sir Thomas and his son Tom were removed from the story for a while, as they attended business in the Caribbean, while Fanny blossomed into a beautiful, sharp young lady and life changed drastically at Mansfield Park (the Bertram estate).  The enlightened Crawfords rolled into the neighborhood and introduced chaos to the inhabitants of Mansfield.  Henry and Mary, brother and sister, brought their progressive ideas to the group and the Bertram siblings were done for.  (Of course, it didn't take much to convince Maria or Julia to conform, and cousin Tom - who returned early from the Caribbean - was also caught up, though Edmund was very reluctant; even Mrs. Norris was completely oblivious to the wickedness.)  However, only Fanny wisely protested the perversity of their behaviors.  

Edmund tempted to join the frivolities (source)

When Sir Thomas returned, he put a stop to the frivolities, thank goodness, and he also noticed how much Fanny had changed.  When he learned that Henry Crawford was interested in marriage to Fanny, he greatly encouraged it; but Fanny rejected his proposal, for good reason.  Sir Thomas was incensed that Fanny - little poor, underprivileged Fanny - was so ungrateful after he, Sir Thomas, generously took her in and raised her up under his roof.  She should have known a good thing (Henry Crawford) when she saw it.  

Fanny stood firm, and soon a shameful and dreadful scandal rocked the Bertrams and Crawfords; true characters were brazenly exposed.  Ouch!  (Of course, today, this would hardly cause anyone to blink, but for England, 1800s, it was horrifying.)  This scandal changed everything for Fanny and Edmund, which was good, because they finally realized what the reader probably had known all along, which caused the story to close like the perfect happily-ever kind.  The End.


It is not a bad story, and there are all kinds of other characters and conflicts to complicate events and relationships; it is also typical Jane Austen composition and style; but I was bored with the plot and failed to read it deeply, which caused me to miss the little themes and ideas.  

Nonetheless, I am glad I read another Austen and will continue to read other Austens.  I still have to read Emma, Northanger Abbey, and The History of England By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian, and I would like to reread Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility someday.  So I have not been discouraged; I just have to be in the right mindset - a Jane Austen mindset.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Russian Literature Challenge 2017

January 2017 through December 2017

The short list of qualifications:

Level One (Tolstoy): 1-3 books
Level Two (Chekov): 4-6 books
Level Three (Dostoevsky): 7-11 books
Level Four (Turgenev): 12+ books

You can count short stories, poetry, novels, novellas and plays in your book count.  I don't really mind.

Keely has a long list of Russian texts on her blog, if you need ideas.

I am both excited and nervous about this challenge because, while I thoroughly appreciate Russian lit, I find it complex and weighty in ideas, which presumes a deep commitment.  I do not have a problem with committing to deep reading and thinking; but it is my other life that demands so much from me.

Therefore, I will start off small - level one, obviously - and see what I can accomplish.

My first three commitments are:

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

2. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

3. The Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol

And if I want to add more, they will be:

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Notes From the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

OK, here I go . . .

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
Laura Ingalls Wilder / edited by Pamela Smith Hill
Published 2014

This was the final book to read for the Little House RAL, hosted by Bex @ An Armchair By The Sea and Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors.   It was my first time reading Pioneer Girl, and I had to borrow a copy from the library, which meant I could not write in it.  If you are a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan or a Little House fan, it makes sense to own a copy; one of these days I will get one, too.  
The book includes the story of how Laura intended her autobiography for an adult audience; how her daughter, Rose, played a major role in editing Pioneer Girl; and eventually how mother and daughter developed The Little House juvenile book series, using Laura's life stories from Pioneer Girl.  

Next is a section explaining the several edited versions of the manuscript that were never published. And, of course, the entire original Pioneer Girl is incorporated, complete with images and annotations cross-referencing people, places, events, and ideas.  Often times, the editor explained where other versions of Pioneer Girl were altered from the original.  The autobiography is separated by different places and time periods, similar to the juvenile series.  

If you had heard or read that the original stories in Pioneer Girl were not squeaky clean, WOW! that is not an exaggeration.  One gets a completely different sense of Laura's world in the adult version, and it is not totally peaceful, safe, or innocent.  I also sensed the Wilder family's deep financial burdens and dreadful poverty.  No wonder Laura was anxious about money.

While Pioneer Girl was not published after it was written in 1930, many of the stories were used for the Little House series.  Rose helped decide which stories to remove, keep, or alter.  Some people were morphed into one character, like "Nellie Olsen."  Apparently, Laura knew a few Nellie Olsens in her lifetime.  

Many of the earlier stories were very different from the series, but as Laura wrote about her later years, it was refreshing to see more stories remain the same, such as Manny driving out every weekend in winter to pick up Laura at the school she taught.  There were some discrepancies in dates, places, ages, or people, and the editor noted if she could not find proof or Laura did not recollect her memories exactly. 

While writing Pioneer Girl, and knowing that Rose was editing her work, Laura included personal notes in parentheses to her daughter.  It almost began to feel like a long, intimate letter from mother to daughter, as if Laura were only writing to Rose, and for Rose.  
In June the wild roses bloomed.  they were a low-growing bush and, when in bloom, the blossoms made masses of wonderful color, all shades of pink, all over the prairie.  And the sweetest roses that ever bloomed.
(You are their namesake, my dear.) 
As I have already said, Pioneer Girl is something every Little House fan will want to keep in her library. It is more like a resource guide that you would keep for specific reference.  I cannot wait to get my own copy.  Unfortunately, it has only been a week since I finished this, and I am already going through Little House withdrawals.  

A great big thank you to Bex and Lynn for giving me another excuse to reread the Little House series, and several other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder that I had not read, yet.  This was my favorite reading "challenge" this year.  : )

Laura Ingalls Wilder & Rose Wilder Lane

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Well-Educated Mind Histories Reading Project 2017

beginning January 2017

Are you are a history fanatic and want an excuse to read more of it, or do you loathe it terribly and need encouragement to exercise that part of your brain?  Here is an excuse or opportunity, which ever describes you best:  

Starting January, 2017, I am beginning The Well-Educated Mind "Histories," by Susan Wise Bauer.  You may read along or join in when you see a book you want to read; check out the list of books (listed in chronological order). There is a Goodreads group available, too, if you would like to follow along or add to the conversation.  Or you can post reviews on your blog as you finish a book. Whatever you decide, this is a personal learning project.  I am all for the spreading of more knowledge of history.

There are thirty-one books on the list.  I know I am crazy because this project could take over three years to complete (for me). I should also mention that I am terrified of commitment.  

Nonetheless, let us have fun reading history together!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

West From Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder

West From Home: 
Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder San Francisco, 1915
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1974

In 1915, Laura Ingalls Wilder took a journey by train, from Mansfield, Missouri, to San Francisco, California, to visit her daughter Rose.  She spent two months with Rose.  Laura wrote letters to her husband, Almanzo, who stayed back in Missouri to take care of the farm.  This is a collection of those letters.

Laura wrote almost daily to Almanzo, even before she left the state of Missouri.  She promised to be eyes for Manny as she traveled west to San Francisco, as well as while she explored the city with Rose and Rose's husband.  Rose was writing for a newspaper, but between assignments she spent the day with her mother, walking or taking the trolley around the city (though some days Laura went on her own because of Rose's commitments).

The World's Fair was a big event at the time, and Laura spent numerous days exploring the exhibits from around the world.  She later wrote about her experiences at the Fair in a local Missouri publication.  Laura had so many adventures during her visit, on land and at sea, that I was exhausted for her.  She told Manny that sometimes she needed an entire day to rest.

Laura did mention the Great War (WWI) in her letters, ongoing in Europe since the year before.  She described ships leaving the Bay, perhaps only to be sunk by a German submarine.

Rose was extremely fond of her mother and attempted to convince her to consider relocating to San Francisco where she and Manny could still farm.  Laura believed the city spectacular; but the more she pondered the thought, the more she knew Missouri was the right place to be.
Believe me, there is no place like the country to live and I have not heard of anything so far that would lead me to give up Rocky Ridge for any other place.
I truly believe that when I come home and talk it over with you (Manny) we will decide to be satisfied where we are and figure out some way to cut down our work and retire right there (in Mansfield).
Of all the correspondence Laura did, she did not tell Manny that she fell off of a trolley car and hit her head.  She spent a few days in the hospital.  Rose had to tell her father in a letter.  Thankfully, Laura did recover.

Probably the most laugh-out-loud moment of this collection came from Rose in a note she wrote to her father and included in her mother's correspondence to him.  Rose wanted him to know that Laura was getting fat; and she blamed the scones and fish at the exhibition.
. . . I am in mortal terror every minute that she will not be able to restrain herself any longer, but will break the glass and eat some of them (fish) right there.  Even with two scones and a package of Pan-pak and fifteen cents worth of salted nuts and rosecake and a bag of Saratoga chips in her hand, she still looks at the fish with the same longing expression.
I fear by the time you get this she will be still fatter.  Anyway, I've done my duty and told you. 
Well, this is almost the end of my Little House RAL journey.   I am eager to start the last book on the list, Pioneer Girl, by Pamela Smith Hill.  See you next month.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Films From Books

(All of) My Favorite Films From Books

Warning: I am not a movie person, and my exposure to film is very limited; but I assure you that what I listed here, I love - sometimes even more than the book.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Doctor Zhivago


Last of the Mohicans

Howards End

North and South

Pride and Prejudice

Gone With the Wind

The Great Gatsby

Out of Africa

Far From the Madding Crowd

A Tale of Two Cities

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Crucible

I'm adding this late . . . 
War & Peace