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 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.)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Title: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Author: Harriet Jacobs
Published: 1861
Challenge: The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge (Biographies)

This was the most remarkable story I have ever read regarding slavery in America. With the exception of Uncle Tom's Cabin, I have only read accounts of slavery from a man's perspective; but Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is about a young woman's experience - a mother's experience - so it was personal.

Harriet Jacobs, although biracial (which was extremely common in slavery), was born into slavery because her mother was a slave, and the law considered the children to be in the same condition as the mother.  She had such a pleasant upbringing living with her parents and brother that she had no idea she was enslaved.  When her mother died, she lived with her mother's mistress, who taught her to read, write, and sew.  And when her mistress died, she became the property of her mistress' five-year old niece.  But it was her young mistress' father, Dr. James Norcom, who emotionally tormented and sexually harassed Jacobs.  This was the reason Jacobs came to desire freedom for the first time, and this became the pressing issue to make her story public - to bring light to the sins and crimes of slavery that burden young female slaves.  

Thinking she could fend off Norcom's exploits, Jacob became sexually involved with a white lawyer, Samuel Sawyer, who was kind to her.  Jacobs took responsibility for her poor choices, but felt pressured into immorality because of her circumstances; it was a very painful decision for her to make. She had two children with Sawyer, and because of the law, those children became the property of Dr. Norcom, who consistently threatened Jacobs with the sale of her children if she did not succumb to his requests.  

Harriet Jacobs (1813 - 1897)
I had my secret hopes; but I must fight my battle alone.  I had a woman's pride, and a mother's love for my children; and I resolved that out of the darkness of this hour a brighter dawn should rise for them.  My master had power and the law on his side; I had a determined will.  There is might in each.
Now that Jacobs was a mother, her life and purpose changed completely.  This determined and sagacious young women rose to the occasion and challenged injustice and inhumanity for the sake of her children and her right to liberty. Surrounded by family and friends who absolutely loved her, and complete strangers who risked their own lives to help her, Jacobs made the decision to escape slavery and save her children.  (By the way, I love how God provided all of these people to help Jacobs.  Even in the North, where a different form of racism existed, there were still people desirous to assist her.) Her long journey was so exhausting, you will be shocked to learn what she suffered to gain freedom for herself and her children.  As she wholeheartedly believed: "...liberty is more valuable than life."

Harriet Jacobs is my new hero.  She conducted herself with godly character and used prudence and good judgment to make difficult decisions, even when she knew the law was wrong.  She was a fierce protector of her children, and was motivated by pure love to save them.  And as she was a lover of righteousness and liberty, her pride enabled her to be courageous and bold.  

On slavery, Jacobs said,
I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks.  It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched. 
I would encourage anyone interested in the personal narrations of American slavery not to pass up this story.  Yes, the subject matter is shocking, heart wrenching, unsettling, and difficult, but it is also unreservedly encouraging and triumphant.  It inspires perseverance, prudence, justice, righteousness, loyalty, hope, and love; and it has a perfectly joyful ending. This is one story I will cherish forever.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Gone With the Wind Group Read, Week Two Question: a Character

Via Pursuit of Happiness

Write about a character you find interesting so far in Gone with the Wind. This character doesn’t have to be your favorite character. Perhaps your least favorite or a minor one.

For over a week now I have known the character on my mind: Ellen O'Hara, Scarlett's mother.  In these first twenty chapters I have read, Ellen doesn't make much of a physical presence; but rather she weighs heavy on Scarlett's conscience often enough.  

Ellen O'Hara, a great lady

Ellen transformed Tara, her home with Gerald.  "She quickly brought order, dignity and grace into Gerald's household, and she gave to Tara a beauty it had never had before.  She was the "best-loved neighbor in the County."  (It doesn't get any better than that.)  And she was a "good mother and devoted wife."  

Ellen O'Hara and her three daughters

We first meet Ellen in chapter II as a single young woman, the bride of Gerald O'Hara.  But we officially become acquainted with her remarkable character in chapter III, a mother of nine children - three of whom she had buried in infancy.  Ellen is quiet, gentle, stern, steady, calm, effective, and selfless. She is a woman of efficient service to those in need, especially the sick. And according to Scarlett, her mother had always been "a pillar of strength, a fount of wisdom, the person who knew the answers to everything."

The quote I used last week gives a good picture of Ellen: 
Ellen's life was not easy, nor was it happy, but she did not expect life to be easy, and, if it was not happy, that was a woman's lot.  It was a man's world, and she accepted it as such. The man owned the property, and the woman managed it.  The man took the credit for the management, and the woman praised his cleverness.  The man roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger, and the woman muffled the moans of childbirth, lest she disturb him.  Men were rough of speech and often drunk.  Women ignored the lapses of speech and put the drunkards to bed without bitter words.  Men were rude and outspoken, women were always kind, gracious and forgiving.  
She (Ellen) had been reared in the tradition of great ladies, which had taught her how to carry her burden and still retain her charm, and she intended that her three daughters should be great ladies also.   (But Scarlett, child of Gerald, found the road to ladyhood hard).  
The face of Ellen burned on Scarlett's conscience.  She "regarded her mother as something holy and apart from all the rest of humankind.  She knew that her mother was the embodiment of justice, truth, loving tenderness and profound wisdom - a great lady."  Scarlett did want to be like her mother, someday.

But events are not turning out the way Scarlett had expected, and she considers every decision against her mother's ideal.  All this time that she is away from Tara, out from her mother's watchful eye and leading guidance, she is thinking, "What would Mother say?" or "How would she ever explain to her mother?"  

However, being away so long from Ellen may cost Scarlett all of the rearing she has received, as she is caught in the charms of Rhett.  After receiving his gift, the author tells us that "Rhett pried open the prison of her widowhood and set her free to queen it over unmarried girls when her days as a belle should have been long past.  Nor did she see that under his influence she had come a long way from Ellen's teachings.  She did not realize that with his encouragement, she had disregarded many of the sternest injunctions of her mother concerning the proprieties, forgotten the difficult lessons in being a lady."  

There was another incident with Rhett in which she had an after thought: "How could she, Ellen's daughter, with her upbringing, have sat there and listened to such debasing words and then made such a shameless reply?"  

Nonetheless, Scarlett loves and respects her mother dearly and, in the mist of war, wants desperately to return to her as soon as possible; Ellen is very ill.  

If you have seen the movie version of Gone with the Wind, does the character in the film match the character in the book in your view? If they were going to remake the film today, whom would you choose to play this character?
Meryl Streep
I do not remember the character of Ellen from the film; but whoever plays Ellen must be a perfectly, exceptional lady.  Maybe if Meryl Streep dyed her hair black, she could play Ellen in a remake of the film.  She is capable of coming up with one of her famous accents, something that Scarlett remembers fondly of her mother.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Title: Walden
Author: Henry David Thoreau
Published:  1854
Challenges: The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge (Biographies), Literary Movement Challenge (Transcendentalism), The Classics Club, and The Manly Reading List 

This book was one of my most anticipated books on the entire Well-Educated Mind reading list.  It was like preparing for a visit from a good, old friend.  I was a little apprehensive though that I may not love Walden as I originally did over twenty years ago, since so much of my worldview has changed; however, I can confirm that Walden and I are indeed still friends.

When I studied architecture in college, my professor had us read Walden and "Civil Disobedience." He was a libertarian-type, and I can understand why he encouraged us to study Thoreau's life and principles.  Thoreau was self-sufficient, self-reliant, independent, and a lover of liberty.  He was also a naturalist, surveyor, explorer, philosopher, poet, and author.  He practiced a life of simplicity.  

Replica of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, in winter
(This is the life!  A fire, hot tea, some books; what more do you need?)

Walden is a short collection of experiences written by the author about his two-year experiment living in the woods near Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts.  He divided his principles, opinions, and findings into sections: economy, reading, sounds, solitude, visitors, higher laws, brute neighbors, winter animals, the pond in winter, and spring, to name a few of my favorites.  His purpose for going to Walden Pond was this:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Map of Walden Pond

Here are a few common sense truths about Thoreau, in my own words:
  • He foresaw the booming industrial revolution as a threat to nature - which he understood to be an enhancement to one's life.
  • He built his own home and grew his own food, and expressed rationally a need for every man to build his own home and grow his own food, instead of paying someone else to do it.  
  • He was simple and plain, and had few material goods, and preferred to live that way. 
  • He believed ornaments, decorations, and fashion for houses and people were foolishness.
  • He thought man worked too hard, too long, and had nothing to show for it.
  • He knew man lived well beyond his means.
  • He felt charity, doing-good, and philanthropy were overrated and done out of selfishness.
  • He loved reading great books.
  • He was a realist.
Thoreau's Cove in spring

Some of my favorite quotes:

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?  We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.
The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself.
This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.
Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.
 (Thoreau regarded the morning as the best time of day.  It is!)

The adventurous student will always study the classics.  For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? 
To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem.
A written word is the choicest of relics.  It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. 
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.  To be in company, even with the best, is wearisome and dissipating.  I love to be alone.  I never found the companion that was so companionable than solitude.
When I was a college girl, except for the vegan diet (Thoreau’s preference), I wanted to live like Thoreau.  I wanted a simple life (and I still do!).  At one time, I was so inspired by Thoreau's ideas, I wanted to move to Alaska and live in an igloo; that is how much I took the simple life to heart.  (By the way, I would have returned home to sunny California quicker than you could say "iceberg" because I am not that adventurous.  I don't even like camping in a tent in the local mountains.) 

Walden Pond in Summer (Don't you want to just live like this forever?)

Honestly, I had two opposing voices.  The first was my adult-ish, motherly, Christian-worldview voice, with husband, five kids, and the burdens of this life that scolded Thoreau and wanted him to mature and be adult-ish, too.  "This is sheer idleness, Thoreau!  Real men work.  Come in from the woods and contribute to society.  How can you 'love thy neighbor' and ‘serve others’ while being separated from the world?  Stop wandering off, writing poetry, pondering nature, and doing the bare minimum to get by." That was my first voice.

My second voice was the younger woman of a simpler time, screaming, “TAKE ME WITH YOU!!!!”  That was the voice that was starring and underlining and writing all over again these important words of Thoreau's thoughts that are still alive in me.  (Yeah, things changed once I got married and had kids; peace and serenity are a long way off in this crowded little house of seven, Plus, I live in a DESERT!)  Nonetheless, I am still free to imagine and create my own Walden Pond right here in my own little world. Like Thoreau said, "Live the life you imagined."  (I try.)

Walden Pond in autumn (Imagine waking up to this every morning.)

In the words of Thoreau, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday Freebie: Ten Most Inspirational Books of My Life

Via The Broke and The Bookish

Ten most inspirational books of my life

These are books that have impacted some area of my life.  
Most I have read more than once and still desire to read them again and again.

1.  The Bible
For daily inspiration of Truth!  I especially appreciate John MacArthur's commentary, which I think is longer than the entire Bible itself.

2. A Mom Just Like You: The Home Schooling Mother - Vickie and Jayme Farris
Vickie Farris is a homeschooling mother of ten children who inspired me to trust God. I read this four times, including during a time I miscarried.

3. When You Rise Up: A Covenantal Approach to Homeschooling - R.C. Sproul, Jr.
This book took a huge weight off my shoulders regarding the education of my children.  It answers the questions: who should teach our children, what they should be taught, and what the goal of education truly is.  Education is really simple, but man has complicated it.

4. The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
I love this book.  It is way too ambitious for me - or if I had one child, it may have been possible to implement; however, it changed the way I plan our studies.  I learned how to base our learning on history and literature, so that every topic is connected and follows chronologically.  I do wish I was classically educated; I would have loved school!

5. Walden and "Civil Disobedience" - Henry David Thoreau
I read this in college and connected instantly.   I identified so thoroughly with Thoreau's principles that they inspired some of my college work, and I even named our homeschool after the title (though It has since changed.)  This month I finished reading Walden for the second time; I wondered what I would think because my worldview has changed drastically, though part of me is still the same.  I'll write about my conclusion later this week.

6. A Thomas Jefferson Education: 
Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century - Oliver DeMille
In my early homeschooling days, this book inspired me to look at education differently from how I was taught.  It teaches the importance of self-education through reading, writing about, and discussing the classics or great books.  

7. The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had -
Susan Wise Bauer
This book encouraged me to just start reading, writing, and developing that classical education I never had.

8. Let's Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage - Lisa Beamer
Lisa Beamer wrote this after her husband Todd was killed on September 11th, 2001, on Flt. 93.  I cannot do this story justice in a short note; however, I was and am inspired by Lisa's strong and steady faith.  She clung to God as she learned the details involving her husband's last minutes, and while facing a future without him, including giving birth to their third child. 

9. The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
I read this at least two times, but it is due for another read.  In high school, I wrote about Anne as a hero (simply for her courage that I only wish I had an ounce).  

10. A History of the American People - Paul Johnson
This is the only other book on the list that I have read one time.  It is huge!  (I'm talking War and Peace huge.)  However, it inspired my love for history, especially American history, and I hope to dig into it again very soon.