Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lord of the Flies by William Golding


Title:  The Lord of the Flies
Author:  William Golding
Published:  1954
Challenges:  Back to the Classics (Satire); The Classics Club; Manly Reading List

This is one book that I did not look forward to ever reading; I do not recall what possessed me to add it to my reading challenges.  I had an idea what the plot was and declared that I had no interest in it.  Then it was time for me to read it, and I am so grateful I did.

A group of British school boys survive a plane crash on a desolate island, as they are being transported somewhere safer than war-torn England.  They are between the ages of 6 and 12.  As you would imagine, these boys must come together and exist within this wild environment, without adult supervision or instruction.

There are four major characters:  The one who is elected to become the main leader is attractive and exhibits moral law and order, ideas humans are drawn to.  Another boy agrees to be leader of the hunters, as he exhibits action and power, physical traits which also attract humans. There is another boy who is intelligent and wise, and has all the answers, but he is physically unpleasant and socially an outcast.  And finally, there is one other boy who is naturally gentle, peaceful, and compassionate, and connected to the natural environment of the island.  No one truly understands him, and he is somewhat of a loner.  

Moral Law and Order vs. Evil Power

Other characters include a set of twins who are inseparable and easily exploited.  They are not unique individuals.  Another boy, part of the group of hunters, is vicious and violent.  And there is a group of younger boys, age six, who are dependent and need to be looked after and taken care of.  They are completely helpless on their own.

There is major conflict between the leaders.   Moral Law and Order has one objective - to keep a fire smoldering in order to be rescued; but Power has its objective - to kill and eat and subdue the island (and everyone on it).  It is obvious to the reader that without law and order there is chaos, destruction, and eventually unnecessary death.  And this is what we are faced with: evil Power overrides Law and Order. Now I understand why Oliver DeMille called Lord of the Flies a broken story - when evil is portrayed as bad, but evil still wins.  

Soon an imaginary Fear is introduced into the story that begins with the younger boys. Internally, they suppose there is a beast living on the island.  The older boys believe it, too, especially after they discover a dead paratrooper hanging from some trees high in the mountains.  Only the Peaceful character encounters the truth and wants to tell the rest that the beast is not real; but he never gets to tell them.  However, that Fear continues to be used throughout the story to encourage the other boys to join evil Power, to hunt and kill.

Source: Peaceful face-to-face with the Lord of the Flies

Later, after a hunt, the leader of the hunters raises the severed head of the sow on a stick, and it becomes the Lord of the Flies.  It is a shrine to the imagined beast on the island. Since a beast did not really exist on the island, the Lord of the Flies represents the natural beast within, which is evil and wicked.

Each major character represents a true picture of human nature.  Man desires moral law and order, particularly because he knows man's heart is broken and bent on wickedness. Naturally, man is corrupt and corruptible.  Law and order protects man from his wickedness or the wickedness of others; for if man were naturally good and right, he would not need law or order.  

Man is also attracted to power, and some would say violence.  It does not mean we all are.  The character connected to peace in The Lord of the Flies was naturally good and harmless.  He was not attracted to the violence and rage.  He was not connected to an aggressive nature.  But the power exhibited by the leader of the hunters was magnetic to the others and brought about their own wickedness.  

SPOILER ALERT

By the end of the story, Power destroyed Peacefulness, Wisdom, and was seeking out Law and Order, to end it once and for all.  Just then, a military officer appeared on the island to rescue the boys (the military saw the smoke from the fire, which was only set in wickedness to "smoke out" the main leader from hiding).  The irony is that the adult rescues the boys from their violent games; while the adults are at war, too, with each other.  Who will rescue the adults from their violent war games? 

END SPOILER

The reason why I liked this story so much is because it is loaded with many truths.  It is also very frightening when I consider how true to life it is.  And sadly, often times evil Powers do win over goodness, mercy, truth, righteousness, and law and order.  Civilization is being destroyed right before our eyes, as man is obeying his own beast.  

You see, the truth of The Lord of the Flies teaches us that there is never really any end to the struggle between moral law and order and violence and evil power, even within ourselves. The question however is: who will we permit to win?  



Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cannot Finish Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain


Title:  Life on the Mississippi
Author:  Mark Twain
Published:  1883
Challenges:  Back to the Classics (non-fiction); Literary Movement (realism); The Classics Club

Everything was in my favor: Mark Twain, non-fiction, realism, a little bit of history, a memorable journey down or up the famous Mississippi.  All of these factors whet my appetite, and I was going dive into this book and love, love, love it.  

Unfortunately, before the first chapter was over, I wanted to jump overboard and get caught up in one of those steamboat paddle wheels and drown myself.  Ugh!  Life on the Mississippi was so boring; I could not appreciate it for one more sentence.  

I forced myself to read more than half the book, which is a pathetic way to waste precious reading time.  I forced myself - not because it was difficult material that must be ingested because of its significance to learning and life - but because I wanted to finish the challenge, which is also the wrong reason to read.  It was supposed to be for pure enjoyment and pleasure, but it was more like torture.  

So what is it all about?  It is an assortment of Twain's life stories connected to his time on the Mississippi as a steamboat pilot.  Apparently, he traveled all over the United States and Europe, but he always came back to the Mississippi River; all of those River stories are recollected in Life on the Mississippi.  If you have read Huckleberry Finn, which he mentions in this account, then you will understand where he gets his knowledge of the great river.  I almost imagine that he wrote this more for himself than anyone else's potential interest.

Unfortunately, with the exception of his occasional sarcasm and humor, I could not get into his long personal tales of people and places and events that he experienced during his life on the river.  It was just terribly boring to me.  When I told a friend what I was reading, she said, "Oh no!  You picked the worst one to read.  You have got to try Roughing It or Innocents Abroad."  However, I declare that it is too late for me, and I am going to have to regretfully forfeit my challenges this month.   I cannot make it.  At some point I have to be ok with this. So, I am.  Life goes on.  I can sleep tonight with a good conscience. And no matter what, I harbor no disagreeable feelings towards Mark Twain.  This was just not for me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington


Title: Up From Slavery
Author:  Booker T. Washington
Published:  1901
Challenges:  The Well-Educated Mind (biographies)

This is my third slave narrative and my fourth book about American slavery, this year. Slavery is never an easy topic to read about; however, Up From Slavery is actually extremely encouraging and inspirational.  

The short version of Booker T. Washington's life is that he was born into slavery and was under age ten when slavery ended.  After the Civil War, he moved with his mother and brother to the North. As a young boy, Booker worked to earn money for the family, but what he desired most was an education.  Even in utter poverty and unimaginable hardships, he found a way to go to school and gain knowledge. 


At school, Washington proved himself a hard worker and dedicated student that he was recommended to open a new school in Alabama, which would become the Tuskegee Institute.  He remained the leader and representative of Tuskegee until his death in 1915.  

Tuskegee would become his life work.  He literally built and expanded the school with his bare hands, along with students. He made it his responsibility to secure donations or loans from wealthy individuals and politicians to purchase the land, buy supplies, and furnish the school. The students provided all of the labor because he wanted to teach that there is dignity in merit, industry, and labor.

At the time, ex-slaves believed education (book learning) was the way to avoid hard labor, but Washington wanted them to learn the value of building, creating, and making something worthy and necessary with their own hands, something they could use personally or to sell because there was a demand.  In turn, students learned a skill, which they were good at and could earn an income.  He taught them how community works.

Some controversial ideas from Washington involved his attitude about the white race.  He forgave slaveholders and never harbored negative feelings towards them or whites.  Of course, he was only eight when he gained his freedom, and he hardly had a memory of slavery. While he sought to lift up the black race, he also wanted to see the same done for the white race because he knew that whites suffered, too, because of slavery.  For example, after the War, southern whites scarcely knew what to do with themselves because they were accustomed to servants doing everything for them.  Surely they needed assistance in learning and living, just as the black race.  He did not want to see whites being left out of any programs or projects that were meant to help only the blacks.  Washington said,
if Congress wanted to do something which would assist in ridding the South of the race question and making friends between the two races, it should, in every proper way, encourage the material and intellectual growth of both races.  
Washington was also worried that the Republicans were pushing too quickly on the black community to get involved in politics when he knew they were not prepared to be in office. He believed the Republicans were using the blacks to gain power in the South, which is very probable, and Washington was more concerned with the moral and intellectual stability of the black race, first.  

He also said that the generation he was teaching now would need to understand that they were laying the foundation for their future children and grandchildren, that they "could grow to higher and more important things in life."  In other words, they were going to have to start at the bottom and work their way up.  They could not expect to begin at the top.

No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.  It is at the bottom of life we must begin and not at the top.  Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.
I understand now why Booker T. Washington was and still is called an "Uncle Tom" by other blacks: because his ideas and policies were and are passive and conservative.  He was eager to see the races equal and did not argue for the "rights" of the black race.  He rather show through hard work, dedication, industry, and education that the black race is worthy of respect and has a place in society.  He wanted to demonstrate that, if given the opportunity, blacks would contribute to their community and prove to be worthy.

He had a positive vision for his people and for the nation and its future.  If this had been the only book I ever read about slavery, I would have thought that the issue of racism was done and over with in America, since Booker T. Washington's time.  He highlighted how eager wealthy, white people were to work with or support him in his endeavors, which is why he believed that people would reward merit and that rich people would always support good work someone else was doing. 

But what happened to Washington's ideals?  What happened to his vision?  What happened to his America?  

This reminds me of a story:  Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.  The city of New Orleans, which is already below sea level, was in danger.  The Mayor had issued a mandatory evacuation order, but for whatever reason, many stayed behind.  When the hurricane was over, the levies (which protected the city from the sea) broke, flooding the city.  (No, President Bush did not blow up the levies). 

Many people fled their flooded neighborhoods to get to the Superdome, which had been open to the public, but had remained surprisingly empty during the storm.  And for another unknown reason, the Superdome WAS NOT STOCKED with supplies or resources. THE CITY WAS NOT PREPARED!  People thought they would spend a few hours through the storm and then it would be over.  But that did not happen.  When crowds of helpless, tired, sick, elderly, hungry, frightened, angry people showed up at the Superdome at the same time, it was pure chaos.  This lasted for three days!  

This was frustrating to watch on TV.  When buses arrived at the Superdome, they took 150,000 people and transported them to Houston, Texas, where many of them would start new lives.  Instead, I thought, why not find a way to keep the people in the area? Louisiana could not accommodate her own people?  Why not have them rebuild their city?  After all, the media was talking about how they were all out of work (especially now).  Work?  There would be so much work to be done; someone was going to have to do it.  




And what about all of the people who remained, only to live in FEMA trailers for YEARS and YEARS, waiting for someone else sent by the government to rebuild their home?  Really?  If we learned anything, it is that government fails us on these levels.  How much faster could we get it done ourselves if we could be proactive and involved, instead of waiting for [government] to do it for us?

If Booker T. Washington were alive today, he would have advocated that all of the capable people rebuild their homes, their churches, their neighborhoods, and their community.  He would have rolled up his sleeves to work, too, instead of waiting for government.  Imagine the lessons that would have been learned.  Imagine the skills gained. Imagine the sense of accomplishment.  Imagine the new lives built up after such suffering.  


President Theodore Roosevelt with Washington, 1901
Booker T. Washington was an insightful, optimistic, brilliant leader.  America could sure use more leaders like him.  

UPDATE: Because Booker T. Washington's message is still alive, thanks to people like this man who gets it:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Life and Times of Frederick Douglass


Title:  Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
Author:  Frederick Douglass
Published:  1881
Challenges:  The Well-Educated Mind (biographies)

Life and Times of Frederick Douglass is the third autobiography written by Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave.  His first is Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and his second is My Bondage and My Freedom.  I read his first book many years ago and was grateful that I had the opportunity to read his story.  When I learned that his autobiography was on The Well-Educated Mind reading list, I was excited.  However, on further review, it was not the Narrative I was to read; it was the longer, more detailed version of his life and the events surrounding it.  I took a picture so you could see the difference between the two books.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (top)
and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (bottom)

The Life and Times is 300 pages, and the font is like size 5.  I thought I would never get through it.  But, I did, in fact, finish it in the back of my van (where I slept) on a camping trip, using a little flashlight to guide me.  (Yeah, I don't like tent camping.)


Frederick Douglass was born and raised in slavery (where he learned to read and write), escaped slavery as a young man, became an abolitionist writer and speaker - fighting for the end of slavery and oppression wherever - and was a world traveler, a fixture in American politics long after the Civil War, and a voice for Blacks to gain U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, under protection of the U.S. Constitution.  Though Blacks did not always heed his advice, it was always his desire to "urge upon them self-reliance, self-respect, industry, perseverance, and economy - to make the best of both worlds - but to make the best of this world first because it comes first, and that he who does not improve himself by the motives and opportunities afforded by this world gives the best evidence that he would not improve in any other world."


Frederick Douglass, a courageous American

Douglass says he wrote this third autobiography 
as part of the history of a profoundly interesting period in American life and progress.  I have meant it to be a small individual contribution to the sum of knowledge of this special period, to be handed down to after-coming generations which may want to know what things were allowed and what prohibited: what moral, social, and political relations subsisted between the different varieties of the American people down to the last quarter of the nineteenth century; and by what means they were modified and changed.  My part has been to tell the story of the slave.
What I appreciate about his story is his argument for liberty, as if one must make a case for freedom.  Like Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), Douglass also references Patrick Henry's speech for freedom: "Give me liberty or give me death!" The colonists fought for their freedom, too; why is it any different for the black slave?  Douglass compared his preparations for escaping to: "the meetings of the revolutionary conspirators in their primary condition."  Slaves were not looking to overthrow the government or harm their enemies, only to escape them.  Liberty was the end goal.


Found at BuzzFeed Books

The lowest point for Douglass came when his master sent him to be "broken-in" for one year, by a man named Covey.  Douglass was over-worked, under-fed, sleep-deprived, and beat and whipped every week for six-months.  When his master refused to protect him "as his property," Douglass resolved to stand up for himself; he physically fought back.  For the remaining six months, Covey never beat Douglass in anger again. He says,
this battle with Mr. Covey, undignified as it was, and as I fear my narration of it is, was the turning-point in my "life as a slave."  It rekindled in my breast the smoldering embers of liberty; it brought up my Baltimore dreams, and revived a sense of my own manhood.  I was a changed being after that fight.  I was nothing before; I was a man now.
This was his turning point, to escape slavery forever.  




After his escape, he worked tirelessly to influence politics, to sway the North to rise up against slavery, and to encourage slaves to escape to the North.  And after the conclusion of the Civil War, he was just as dedicated to help his people and lift them up; because
Though slavery was abolished, the wrongs of my people were not ended. Though they were not slaves they were not yet quite free.  No man can be truly free whose liberty is dependent upon the thought, feeling, and action of others; and who has himself no means in his own hands for guarding, protecting, defending, and maintaining that liberty.  
He went on to work for the support of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments under the Constitution that made the newly freed slaves citizens of the United States, and the right to vote.  It was right for the American government to assure all men this protection.  (Later, Douglass would go on to work for the women's suffrage movement, as well.)

I could continue in greater detail about the essential ideas and historical particulars that come from this book, but I will say this: if you are interested in the history of the American Civil War, pre and post, this is a great resource.  Frederick Douglass has a first hand account from numerous angles beginning with his life as a slave, the wickedness of the slaveholder, the racism in the North, ignorance and selfishness of the South, the mistakes of the Republican politicians and Union generals, and the hatred of the Democrats.  He discusses great detail about John Brown and Harper's Ferry, the Emancipation Proclamation, and working with President James Garfield.  This man, Frederick Douglass, played a major role in American history.  

Did you know that Douglass maintained a deep relationship with John Brown, the man who hated slavery so, he challenged the government and encouraged an insurrection of escaped slaves?  Douglass decided (out of lack of courage) not to join Brown on his raid at Harper's Ferry, while Brown was captured and hung for his act of treason. Douglass talked about this moment, when Brown, on the day of his hanging, supposedly leaned over and kissed a black baby in the arms of its mother.  I got to see this painting at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.  Now I know the story. 
   
Last Moments of John Brown by Thomas Hovenden, 1884, de Young, San Francisco

Today I have an even greater respect and regard for Mr. Douglass.  He is an example of a man full of courage, perseverance, and determination.  He was a lover of freedom, a respectable statesman, and a bold leader.  Imagine!  He stood where no black man had gone before in American government, politics, and society.  And he did it for awhile as "runaway chattel."

Now, here is where I get political.  If you are politically sensitive or apathetic, you may want to skip.

If you are like me and have some interest in politics, you would appreciate the history of the political parties.  Many people do not know the history, nor do they care, but I find it is fascinating.  Here is a video on the history of the Democrat party in America. 



Years ago, I read Back to the Basics for the Republican Party, by Michael Zak, about the Radical Republicans and why Republicans need to get back to their pro-liberty roots; hence, I was familiar with many of the events and facts Douglass presented, as well as what Whittle mentioned in the above video.  


Back to Basics for the Republican Party
by Michael Zak

It does make me mad that Black America (though that has spread to other groups) would look to government to provide for their every need, although today it is called entitlement: housing, food, utilities, jobs, education, healthcare.  Slavery still exists in America; only the Masters have changed.  And now both political parties cater to certain classes of people, mostly blacks, but they'll take poor whites, immigrants, any large voting block, and anyone else willing to be dependent on government, in exchange for a vote, or to avoid being branded a racist. Too many Republicans have traded their long, lost principles of self-reliance, independence, and liberty for the power and popularity of an over-reaching government.  

THIS IS NOT THE HARD WORK AND SACRIFICE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS!  He would be livid to know his Republican party gave up the fight for liberty for his people and that his people have willing returned to their old chains, in exchange for a little (false) security, Many live in poverty and ignorance, kept down, unwilling to be their own master, just like when they were in slavery. 

However, many have escaped the chains, too, and have done the hard work to improve their lot, like Justice Clarence Thomas (read his amazing story!) and pro-life advocate Star Parker; but then those are ironically branded an "Uncle Tom."   And why?  When it was Uncle Tom who chose to remain in chains, loyal to his master.  

Thomas' autobiography

Star Parker (also referred to as an Uncle Tom by Jesse Jackson)
 explains the welfare state, which she herself escaped.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame


Title: The Wind in the Willows
Author: Kenneth Grahame
Published: 1908
Challenges: Back-to-the Classics (a children's classic), book club


I know this is a children's book, but by no means should adults overlook it.  Of course, you may find it unconventional to read seriously about four small animal friends, with human characteristics, and their joyful life experiences and thrilling adventures; but their tale is told with great human themes that everyone can relate to or learn from.  


Illustration by Michael Foreman

Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger take you on many excursions through their little animal world, set in England, and teach you about the natural longings for home and long-lasting, good friendships.  There are lessons in consequences for bad choices and how loyal friends will stand by you though thick and thin.  Adventure is a major theme, and each animal has a calling, although it is not always the end result because it may not be the best idea.  This is where friends come in handy and help to make good decisions.  At times the plot seems to be missing, but it is not; and if you focus on the themes, you may appreciate the story even deeper.  


Illustration by Inga Moore

At the center of the story, the mythological Greek god of Nature, Pan, makes an appearance. Some have made his connection to Christ, but I am quick to think, "No! Why would Grahame use a pagan god to represent Christ?"  However, Pan is seen here as a remake, rather an intentionally gentle, caring character, a helper and protector of nature, animals, and peace.  Could it be easier to imagine Pan in this fictional animal children's story, as opposed to a human figure, like Christ?  Possibly.  This is a really fantastical chapter of the story, and I want to reread it a few more times, to experience it again.


"The Piper at the Gates of Dawn"

I would also add that this might be difficult at times to read aloud to children because Grahame is another master weaver of the English language.  For me, it was such a pleasure to read aloud, as literature should be, but my children interrupted often to ask for definitions of words. However, they did enjoy the overall experience of the animals and their simple and complicated antics.  And since it took over a month to read through just 12 chapters, my younger ones were anxious to read the adapted versions of Wind in the Willows that we own.  They wanted to read ahead to see what happened next.

Caught my kids reading ahead in their adapted versions of Wind in the Willows

Someday I hope to reread this to myself again, without having to stop and explain British English words to my kids.  Now that I focused more on the themes, I know why I was fond of this story when I first read it many years ago. 

P.S. I found this short YouTube video of Wind in the Willows' illustrations, by Inga Moore, which I find delightfully sweet, just like the story itself.  


Monday, July 6, 2015

Birthday Stack Has Arrived (Yay!)


June was my birthday, and I had accumulated a few Barnes and Noble gift cards.  These are the books I bought:

The History of the Church - Eusebius  

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery - Eric Metaxas

The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason  - Laurie Bestvater

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - Eric Metaxas

A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature,           Art, and Science A Voyage From 1 to 10 - Michael S. Schneider

Keeping a Nature Journal - Clare Walker Leslie/Charles E. Roth

Most of these are for homeschooling ideas and encouragement or for my church history school year.  One of them is for my teenager, but I think I will be reading it along with her.   

Usually I prefer used books at Amazon.com because they are obviously cheaper, and I do not feel badly about marking in them and writing notes in the margin; however, books are nice to have brand new, especially when they are a gift.  : )

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Summer Hardly-Reading Update

A moth, doing his thing

In the desert-part of California, we rarely get rain.  It could be raining everywhere in California; but the most we get are the clouds. 

But this June, our little desert had two days of downpour.  It was such a blessing and joy. My plants and flowers were so happy, especially following weeks of over 100 degree, brutal heat.  After those two separate days of showers, we had unusual sunsets, and I had to take pictures, which do them no justice.  The sky glowed florescent orange, which reminded me of Gone With the Wind.

After the shower


Gone with the Wind, I am ashamed to admit that I have stopped reading.  Given that June was extremely busy for my family, there were many days I didn't read anything.

I do not like to give up reading a book, especially one that I have great regard for; I had reacted emotionally when I committed myself to reading it this summer, and I was not able to enjoy it as I had wanted to.  I did not want to force myself to read it and then produce a bad experience, especially since I had an amazing experience the first time I read it.  So I sadly admitted defeat and put it back on the shelf.

In addition, I am only half way through 300 pages of The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, and a little more than half way with The Wind in the Willows.  I had wanted to be done with both by the end of June, but that is not happening.

Another amazing sunset after rain


What spare time I was able to find, I used it to continue reading the Little House on the Prairie series. While everyone was still asleep, I would steal away to the back porch in the early morning and read as long as I could.  It is the one story or series of stories that I love to escape to: a simpler life, a simpler time.  And for some reason, it makes me want to be a better mother. A friend of mine once remarked that when motherhood became difficult for her, she found herself asking, "What would Caroline do?" 

Of course, though there was no time to read thoroughly and deeply this June, it did not stop me from collecting more books.
  
More books that I do not have time to read

I found these in the library used books section: 

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
Surprised by Joy - C.S. Lewis
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Julie and Julia - Julie Powell
Out of Africa - Karen Blixen (Dinesen)
Mill on the Floss - George Eliot

This was given away at church:

Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier

And this was given to me for my birthday:

Evelina - Frances Burney

Speaking of my birthday, I ended up with several Barnes and Noble gift cards, too. I went through my wish list on Amazon.com and shopped seriously.  When those arrive, I will share.

Now that summer is officially here and my calendar is clear, I hope to start reading thoroughly and purposefully again.

Happy sunflower

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I've read so far in 2015


Top ten books I've read so far in 2015


These are books that I have completed this year, and I actually put them into some kind of order, beginning with my most favorite.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl - Harriet Jacobs

 Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, 
and On the Shores of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder
How could I decide?



Walden - Henry David Thoreau

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners - John Bunyan


The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Confessions - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Voyage Out - Virginia Woolf

Beowulf - translated by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fortune of the Rougons - Émile Zola

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson


Title: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Published: 1886
Challenges: The Classics Club, A Victorian Celebration, Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Victorian) , Reading England

Well, I totally chickened out.  I was supposed to read CHARLES DICKENS' 874-PAGED BLEAK HOUSE for several of my reading challenges this month, but I opted for this itty-bitty 54-paged story.  Why?  Because I stressed out!  June is never a pleasant month for me: end of school year celebrations, graduation parties, birthdays, family members visiting, all night dance rehearsal, three-day dance recital (because one isn't enough), week-long Vacation Bible school, and miscellaneous activities with kids!!!  I just could not add Bleak House to my chaos.  Another time, perhaps.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was certainly enough and just the right size for my circumstance. The format is referred to as a "shilling shocker" because it was sold as an inexpensive (one shilling) shocking novel (of crime or violence), written during the Victorian age.  

My first thought was that these were great themes and similar to other Victorian age classics, Frankenstein and Picture of Dorian Gray, but my second thought was that I didn't care for the story much.  That makes two Robert Louis Stevenson books that didn't light my fire. The other was Treasure Island, though it was years ago when I read it.  In the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I think what I disliked most was the short format, disconnection from characters, and mystical plot.  It isn't that I do not care for the mystery aspect altogether, it is because many of the specifics are unexplained, and the reader is left to piece it together and assume details. We are not informed of all the secret sins practiced by Mr. Hyde, but whatever they were, they must have been horrid because they had to be kept hidden.  And there is hardly time to know the characters in depth.  

Simply put, the plot involves the character Mr. Jekyll, who is considered upstanding and righteous in the community.  Then there is this mysterious wicked, evil man, Mr. Hyde, running loose about London.  The character, Mr. Utterson, is determined to find out what the dangerous Mr. Hyde's connection is to his good friend and client, Mr. Jekyll. He doesn't learn until the very end, which I cannot share without revealing spoilers.

I won't talk about the details of what truth is revealed, but I have to share the themes.  So beware of any spoilers here:

One theme presents man's two natures at odds with each other.  Man wants to be good and righteous, but he is often at war with his rebellious side.  This is true for the man who is conscious of his rebelliousness, and it becomes a constant battle to fight against his wickedness.  It appears that Jekyll tried to physically separate himself from his wickedness. It was as if he split his personalities and appeared in society as two different men.  But his wicked man got away from him, overpowered him, and destroyed him.  

Another theme is how humans usually put on their best man in society.  We want to be accepted and revered and respected; hence, we try to follow the rules of civility and remember to act proper and use manners when we are in public.  This is difficult, especially when we fight or hide our natural desires to be selfish, greedy, crude, perverse, and whatever else our rebellious heart feels like.  But that is too bad because we should always strive to do what is good and right, even if it is difficult and even if we falter sometimes.  If Stevenson is arguing that man should not repress those natural desires because they will drive us mad, then I disagree with him. But I am not sure I totally understand his arguments.

There are numerous other themes running through the short plot, but I did not get them during my reading.  I only read about them afterward, so I will not include them here.  

I wish I would have had time to read Dickens or even North and South by Gaskell for my Victorian Challenges, but I would have never made it to the end of the month.  It has even taken me two weeks just to write this, and my June is still not over, yet.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books on My TBR for Summer 2015



Ten Books on My TBR for summer 2015


1. Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

2. Little House series - Laura Ingalls Wilder

3.  Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain

4. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass - Frederick Douglass

5. Lord of the Flies - William Golding

6. The Kill - Émile Zola

7. Up From Slavery - Booker T. Washington

8. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

9. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell 

10. A surprise????  
American Sniper - Chris Kyle (I read American Wife, by Taya Kyle, but I am even more apprehensive about Chris' story.  This is not an easy topic to cover.)
Roots - Alex Haley (Why not continue with the slave narratives?  A good friend of mine said this one was excellent.)
Institutes of the Christian Religion - John Calvin (Maybe something more for my school year research.)