Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

I could not put this book down - no exaggeration.  I even brought it with me to a birthday party and obsessively read it there, while in my own little world.  Yes, it was a really quick and easy read, but the plot was definitely engaging.

If you haven't read this story, you should.  Before you exclaim how weird it is, consider what the author is telling us - especially for young people!  (The author dedicated this book to future generations.)  This story forces us to think about things that we may consider odd or outrageous, yes; but these possibilities are very real. There are people who do not believe humans are capable of making right decisions for themselves or their families.  They do not value human life or individuality. They want everyone to be equal and exist in the same capacity.  There should be no differences, all in the name of fairness.

The setting of The Giver is a perfect little utopian community: nothing is earned, according to one's abilities or efforts, but distributed equally, such as food, transportation, and jobs.  Young people are assigned a fitting, necessary job within the community, adults are assigned a perfect mate, and up to two perfect children are entrusted to a family unit.  There is no pain, sadness, suffering, or death. When the old get too old, they are eliminated from the burden of the community.

The most difficult practice is exposed with the babies who are born to women given the job of birthmother.  Every baby has to be deemed flawless, and those who are not are killed, just like the Old.  That was the most horrific part of the story.  

Another glaring aspect of the story is the absence of relationships based on love and respect.  Since people are grouped to serve in a family unit, as spouses, parents, or children, no one knows love, sexual attraction (for which they take a pill to eliminate), respect, comfort, or togetherness.  No one stays together, and no one is attached.  There are no memories and no forever.

Look!  Utopians do not work, and Lowry demonstrates this truth.  The loss of individuality and uniqueness of each human being, and the loss of liberty and freedom to choose how you want to conduct your life, hinders imagination, opinions, and true and honest feelings, while limiting our opportunities and personal capabilities.  We lose the chance to experience all that makes us human.  

Even pain, disappointment, suffering, and death make up who we are.  We cannot truly experience the world the way it was made and designed when others control every aspect of it. When there is an overreaching central authority commanding our lives every moment, we cannot help ourselves, nor can we help our neighbors.

As farfetched as some of the ideas in The Giver seem, like government power over the climate, loss of colors, and the ability to transmit memories from one to another through touch, other ideas are real and in practice today, such as: infanticide, gender selection, and designer babies, euthanasia, self-assisted suicide, communes and free love movements, redistribution of wealth, overmedication or drugs for behavior modification, dumbing down of society (illiterate masses), and good ol' socialism and communism.

So this is only a small fraction of what I gained from reading The Giver.  I truly loved the message. But I am unsettled about the ending, and I wish I knew what happened to Jonas, the hero.  I want to know that he lived and that he was able to make a difference.  No, forget that.  (This is the problem with dystopian stories!)  I want to know that he survived and returned to lead a revolution to overcome and eliminate the oppressive stupidity that controlled and suppressed the communities, and that the people lived in freedom and liberty to choose their own outcomes forever!  And most of all, I want to believe that the fire of freedom burned continuously, and no one ever allowed that horrid way of thinking to surface again.

So, have you read The Giver?  What do you think happened to Jonas?

digital art by mercyerky

Monday, August 18, 2014

History Reading Challenge 2014, 2nd Check-In

Checking in on my history reading progress, so far I have read five books:

1. The Four Voyages, by Christopher Columbus
2. Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford
3. Mourt's Relation, by various
4. Visible Saints, by Edmund Morgan
5. The Puritan Dilemma, by Edmund Morgan

Are you on schedule or left behind?
Being that I am reading my very last book right now, I feel like I am ahead of schedule, actually.

What is your most favorite so far?
At this time, I have enjoyed all five of them equally, and I cannot choose a favorite.

Which history are you looking forward to read?
I was looking forward to the one that I am reading right now, The Journals of Lewis and Clark, and I still am enjoying it very much.

This has been a wonderful journey through history.  First, I only planned three books, but I was inspired to read more about the Pilgrims and added three more titles to my list.  Meanwhile, I designed it so that each story built upon the last: from the "discovery" of the Americas, to the first pilgrims arriving in America, to the further exploration and discovery of the West.  It has been a great learning experience.

Thanks, Fanda!

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

I really like this plot, Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy.  But, oh, how I wish it was written by George Orwell or Franz Kafka or Émile Zola!  (I was actually thinking about this while I was reading it.)

Imagine the depth of the language and vocabulary and the force of the narrative if it was delivered by one of the aforementioned. Catching Fire is written for a juvenile or young adult audience, and the action and emotion are either simplified or limited.  It almost feels mechanical, and I am left wanting so much more from the story.

Here is just one part that I feel a little snarky about:

Katniss, our heroine, often struggles with her thoughts about Peetr, and at one point she thinks about her feelings for him, over his kisses.

She contemplates:
This time, there is nothing but us to interrupt us.  And after a few attempts, Peeta gives up on talking.  The sensation inside me grows warmer and spreads out from my chest, down through my body, out along my arms and legs, to the tips of my being.  Instead of satisfying me, the kisses have the opposite effect, of making my need greater.  I thought I was something of an expert on hunger, but this is an entirely new kind.
In the margin I added my personal notation: "Blah! Such awful writing!  True love is not what you feel in a kiss."  (That is to assume the author wants the reader to believe this is the beginning of true love.  I don't know, yet.)

But I still like it, and I am going to finish the trilogy with Mockingjay.  Before I read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I was familiar with the plots because I saw both of the movies.  Of course, the film version is a lot different from the book, but I knew what to expect, to some degree.  However, there is no film version for Mockingjay, yet, so finally I will read this book in ignorance, which I prefer.

Have you read The Hunger Games trilogy?  If so, what did you think about the writing style?  Am I being too hard on Collins considering this is young adult fiction?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Love Library Used Book Sales!

Several weeks ago, I found these used books for sale at my library:

The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Howards End, by E.M. Forster
Jo's Boys, by Louisa M. Alcott
Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott
Notes From the Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (not pictured)

Some of them I know from book lists I have collected, and others I know from blog posts I have read. I am looking forward to reading all of them at some point - though a few more than others, such as: Sound and the Fury, Howards End, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Sons and Lovers, and The Jungle (which I forgot I also bought).  I still need to read Little Women before I read Little Men, although I bought the Alcott books for my 14-year old who is in the process of reading all of Alcott's books.  And I think In Cold Blood sounds really interesting, but I have yet to read any review of it.  Of course, I look forward to anything by Dostoevsky.  However, I have not decided what to think about Dracula.  I suppose I shall know after I eventually read it.

So I am curious: have you read any of these?  If so, what did you think?  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

This was a curious, little book that I brought with me to read on vacation.  I had no idea what it was about.  The cover (see image) is as plain as can be, with nothing written on the back cover or in the beginning to indicate what I was getting myself into; and there was only a dedication page: To My Mother.  I figured: It can't be that bad.  He dedicated it to his mother!

Well, the language was a little jarring for my taste - speaking of the 245 times the author used God's name in vain.  By page two I disagreed that it would be the kind of story a son would have dedicated to his own mother.  I am truly shocked that this is literature for high school students because I think there are better works that can be used to enlighten young people.  But that is in regards to the wording, not the message.

That aside, I think The Catcher in the Rye is an effective, entertaining read.  Honestly, I laughed my way through it (while crossing out the swear words).  The author cleverly captured the sarcastic exaggerations of adolescence and the private, personal contemplations of young people.  However, I found it paradoxical that Holden, the main character, was mindful and irritated by all the phoniness in the world, and yet he contributed to it.  He was a lying, sarcastic smarty-pants.  But I suppose that was the intended irony.

The heaviest question on my mind was who the "catcher in the rye" was or what it was.  At some point, Holden overheard a little boy singing a song with those words, and it made him happy, for once. (Holden was always sad or depressed about the state of things in his world.) That is the first connection to the title.  But later he learned that the song is really a poem, and he did not have the words quite right. His younger sister, Phoebe, whom he adored, corrected him.

The poem was written in 1782 by Robert Burns and has strong sexual overtones.  But Holden does not know this because he received the wrong words and interpreted it incorrectly using his worldview and personal emotions.  You see, while Holden was a conniving liar, he also had a vulnerable side to him. He was perceptive of the dangers in the world, including the loss of innocence and youth, and he felt an urgent persistence to protect young children and keep them from this inevitable end.  It was so surprising to me, that I found myself questioning his behavior because it seemed abnormal.  However, since the setting is in the late 1940s, post WWII, and Holden, aged 17, still retained some of his own innocence regarding sexuality, I want to believe his behavior would not have been unusual during that time period.  A part of him still wanted the world to do what was right and good, including protecting innocence and treating girls with honor and respect.  (That meant no casual sex.)

Once Phoebe corrected Holden on the wording of the poem, he explained how he would like to grow up to be the catcher in the rye, the one who catches all of the children playfully running through the rye and coming to the edge of a cliff that they cannot see.  He wants to protect them from that dangerous, wicked, evil world that they will inevitably come to, while not expecting it, because they are only enjoying life and having fun.  That will end once they grow up and have to endure the pressures and phoniness in the mean, unfair, adult world.

And that was the meaning of The Catcher in the Rye - according to my perspective, of course - and I am very glad that I took the chance to read it.

For the fun of it, I found a song version from "Mogambo" starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly.  In this clip, Ava sings "Comin' Thro the Rye."  And following are the words to the poem by Robert Burns.

Comin thro' the Rye

Comin thro' the rye, poor body,
     Comin thro' the rye,
She draigl't a' her petticoatie
     Comin thro' the rye.

          Oh Jenny 's a' weet poor body
               Jenny 's seldom dry,
          She draigl't a' her petticoatie
               Comin thro' the rye.

Gin a body meet a body
     Comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body —
     Need a body cry.
          Oh Jenny 's a' weet, &c.

Gin a body meet a body
     Comin thro' the glen;
Gin a body kiss a body —
     Need the warld ken!
          Oh Jenny 's a' weet, &c.

Gin a body meet a body, comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body cry;
Ilka body has a body, ne'er a ane hae I;
But a' the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.

Gin a body meet a body, comin frae the well,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body tell;
Ilka body has a body, ne'er a ane hae I,
But a the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.

Gin a body meet a body, comin frae the town,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body gloom;
Ilka Jenny has her Jockey, ne'er a ane hae I,
But a' the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Book of Margery Kempe

Translated by B. A. Windeatt
Medieval lit, written 1436-38
Considered to be the first English autobiography  

The second autobiography from The Well-Educated Mind is about an English mystic, Margery Kempe.  She married young and, after her first child, had a breakdown.  She asserted that demons taunted her and Jesus visited her, but it wasn't until after thirteen more children that she decided to spice up her spiritual life.  She took a vow of celibacy and went on a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem. 

Margery claimed to be present (in her thoughts) at Christ's birth and death and said she heard Jesus, Mary (His mother), the Apostles and Saints speaking to her.  During communion or upon hearing the Passion of the Christ she had hysterical crying fits.  She was often removed from church for her obvious disruptions, and many doubted her allegations and thought she was possessed by demons. However, there were some who believed her and were kind toward her. She also did good works for others and prayed incessantly for the sins of everyone, especially those who were against her.

This is the story about her sacrifice and suffering for the love of Jesus Christ.

Questions from TWEM:

First stage:  Who is the most important person in the writer's life? 

Jesus was genuinely the most important person in Margery Kempe's life.  Everything she did was for Him and to gain His love, pleasure, and acceptance.

Second stage:  What is the theme that ties the narrative together?

One theme was Margery's continuous effort to be closer to God, and the other was her constant suffering for Christ.   Any persecution was part of her penance, she believed.  

Third stage:  What have you brought away from this story?  Do you agree with what the writer has done?

Ironically, the medieval (Catholic) church did not want Margery teaching about God. They noted that Scripture prohibits women from preaching.  However, she was not preaching from a pulpit in a church; she was talking about God, using Scripture, and doing good works in Jesus' name. Also, Church authorities had a problem with people knowing Scripture, as she quotes the clerics, 

'Ah, sir,' said the clerics, 'here we know that she has a devil in her, for she speaks of the Gospel.'
She was met with detractors, telling her,
'Woman, give up this life that you lead, and go and spin, and card wool, as other women do, and do not suffer so much shame and so much unhappiness.'
The Church was suspicious of anyone doing anything outside of the Church, without its permission or authority.  Margery was rebuked for confessing her sins directly to God and doing penance on her own.

Angels and Demons
Other than that, I do not agree with the writer because her theology is off.  For example, 

1. Margery's prayer for celibacy in marriage is a contradiction.  Scripture says: 
1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:  It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Cor. 7:1-5).
According to Margery, God made her husband suffer in his natural yearning for her.  (Now, in her defense, after fourteen kids, I'd want my own room, too; but I don't think that was her purpose for celibacy.  I think she longed to be singularly intimate with Christ alone.)  

Later, when she must care for her ailing husband, she complains that she almost hates the work because it takes time away from her contemplations of Jesus.  

2. I have a difficult time with visions of, prayer to, conversations with, and worship of Mary.  According to Scripture, Mary says,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden (Luke 1:47-48).
Mary refers to God as her Savior because even she knew she needed a Savior.  She was never equal with God.  

3. We cannot talk to the dead.  Mary, the Saints, the Apostles - though believers in Christ - are all dead and cannot hear or talk to the living.  To believe that Margery received revelation from the dead is unbelievable and suspicious.   Scripture says, 
Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. (Lev. 19:31) When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  (Is. 8:19)
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus.  (1 Tim 2:5)
But I am not surprised! Even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder his servants can also do it by pretending to be godly ministers. In the end they will get every bit of punishment their wicked deeds deserve.  (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
In the Bible, when anyone sought to contact the dead, they were always met with disaster, like Saul.  

4. There is no purgatory!  Margery claimed that God or Jesus spoke to her about purgatory; but the debt for sin was paid by Christ, once and for all. There is nowhere in Scripture to support another place for paying your debt.  If purgatory is real, then Christ's sacrifice was not enough.

5. Works! Sacrifices! Suffering!  Poor Margery worked and sacrificed to please God - giving up her marriage, going on a dangerous journey, suffering for the sins of others, making a spectacle of herself instead of exercising restraint and self-control.   She believed her good works, suffering persecution, and sacrificing everything gained her Savior's love and added to her merit.  And yet, after all of that crying and affliction, I get the impression that she was still without peace.  

Christ's death is a free gift for all who repent and trust in Him.  We cannot do anything ourselves to gain favor or merit with God or to earn Jesus' love.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Kempe and her demons

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

When I was in fourth grade, The Old Man and the Sea was required reading.  I did not know it then, but I was reading great literature.  It was powerful and it made an impression upon my soul that would last a long time.  But as a fourth-grader, all I understood was that I felt compassion for the old man and that I admired him for his perseverance.  It would remain with me for many, many years.

Then, as an adult, I reread The Old Man and the Sea, but it did not mean the same to me; in fact, I really hated Hemingway's writing style.  That was about five years ago.  I'll come back to that in a moment.

This week I reread it for a third time for The Old Man and the Sea Read-Along at Edge of the Precipice, and I had a great experience.  I am happy to report that Hemingway and I are back on good terms again - well, at least concerning The Old Man.  Thinking back to my first reread, I wonder: Did I even read the same book?  

This time I considered Hemingway's style and found it unsophisticated, in a good way.  The plot and characters are simple and plain, and since most of the story is told through the old man's solitude and contemplation, the unsophisticated language works perfectly.  

Regarding the Read-Along, Hamlette has a few questions for us, some of which I have already answered; but here are others:

+  Have you read any of Hemingway's other works?  

No, and I must read more while we are on good terms.  Which one should I read next?  

+  Some people say this story is full of symbolism, maybe even an allegory.  What do you think things like the old man, the fish, and the sharks could symbolize?

Frankly, if the author says there is no symbolism, I believe him; however, one cannot help looking for things or seeing objects repeat themselves.  For example, I noted that "eyes" came up frequently (I thought I was reading The Great Gatsby again): 
Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated. 
The old man looked at him with his sun-burned confident loving eyes.
...with his eyes closed there was no life in his face.
This is not necessarily symbolism, but I thought there were many purposeful, though minor, contradictions in the story, such as the old man and his companion, the young boy; fiction and reality; talking to someone and talking to yourself.  The old man thought, No one should be alone in their old age, and yet the old man went far out to sea where there was no one else.  And another example, the old man said that "Fishing kills me exactly as it keeps me alive."

Those are stretches, I think.

+  What do you think the main point of the story is?  What is Hemingway trying to say here?

Maybe Hemingway did not have a message, but rather wanted to evoke compassion and empathy for the old man and even the marlin.  We can feel for the old man through his companion, the boy, and we can feel for the marlin through the words and thoughts of the old man (who has great love for the fish). In fact, it is as if the old man and the fish are one because they often feel and struggle the same. And one more thing: The old man compares man to the beasts and thinks, Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts. They are more noble and more able; man is maybe a little more cunning, but not any stronger. 


I believe I know what happened when I reread The Old Man and the Sea the first time. When I read it as a young girl, I was expecting anything as I read with an unfilled heart and untrained eyes.  As an adult, I was expecting it to have a deeper, complicated meaning.  I made it into more than it was, and I did not enjoy it.  I blamed it on Hemingway's writing. But it wasn't his writing; instead, it was my adultish-tendency to expect too much and look too deep and make everything convoluted.    

Thanks, Hamlette!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Confessions, by Saint Augustine of Hippo

Aside from the Bible, Confessions is now the oldest work I have ever read, written between AD 397 and AD 398. Of course, I did not read it in its original Latin, but you know what I mean. Actually, I read Josephus many years ago, but it does not count because that was before I read deliberately.

Since this is the first book from The Well-Educated Mind biography list, I usually answer questions provided by Susan Wise Bauer; however, I made the mistake of finishing the book before fully examining the questions, in order to keep them in mind while reading.

Meanwhile, I thoroughly marked up my copy with highlighter, underlines, and comments because Confessions is full of valuable assessments, contemplations, and biblical truths; I really want to share my favorite parts.  But I cannot do both because it would be too long.  So I will only share my favorite sections.

My initial opinion of Confessions is that I am delighted to have read this.  Several years ago, before my deliberate reading ever began, I checked Confessions out of the library and attempted to read it; but I gave up because I did not think I was qualified to read it.  That was my state of mind before TWEM: I was not qualified to read ancient books or classics. So, I am grateful to be past that.

About Confessions: Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote about his life before, during, and after his conversion to Christianity.  He was candid about his sinfulness; desperate for knowledge and understanding of Truth; and humble toward his mother, who prayed earnestly for his conversion, and toward God, who opened his eyes, was patient with him, and saved his life.

During my reading, I remember thinking that Augustine's life was no different from anyone else today who is aware of his own sinful nature and yearning for God's forgiveness and salvation.  Sin was the same then as it is today, and man is still lost and deceived; nothing has changed.  In other words, if I did not know when this work was written, I would have mistaken it for a contemporary life.

Augustine's purpose for writing Confessions was in hope that others would see the truth of his admission and be moved to recognize the wickedness in their own lives, turn away from their sin, and turn to God.  However, he argues with God,
The human race is inquisitive about other people's lives but negligent to correct their own. Why do they demand to hear from me what I am when they refuse to hear from you what they are?
The Consecration of St. Augustine
by Jaume Huguet
Throughout Confessions, Augustine described his journeys and discoveries, and I have relished in many of them.

For example, he wonders: if he was in sin in his mother's womb, then when was he ever without sin?  Good point! Nonetheless, he took complete responsibility for his depraved behavior as a youth and young adult, as he became aware of his sin.

This next was a difficult truth, though sincere, considering that God does not need us; we need Him:
You had no need of me.  I do not possess such goodness as to give you help, my Lord and my God. It is not as if I could so serve you as to prevent you becoming weary in your work, or that your power is diminished if it lacks my homage.
About man being easily deceived into believing lies:
See how the human soul lies weak and prostrate when it is not yet attached to the solid rock of truth.  The winds of gossip blow from the chest of people ventilating their opinions; so the soul is carried about and turned, twisted and twisted back again.
St. Augustine of Hippo 
by Philippe de Champaigne
About those who make their own gods to worship:
They become lost in their own ideas and claim to be wise, attributing to themselves things which belong to you.  In an utterly perverse blindness they want to attribute to you qualities which are their own, ascribing mendacity to you who are the truth, and changing the glory of the incorrupt God into the likeness of the image of corruptible man and birds and animals and serpents.  They change your truth into a lie and serve the creation rather than the Creator.
About self-praise, which grows into vain-glory, he says,
Within us lies another evil in the same category of temptation.  This makes people who are pleased with themselves grow in vanity, though they either fail to please other people or actually annoy others whom they take no pains to please.  But in pleasing themselves they greatly displease you, not only because they think well of actions which are not good, but also because they claim good qualities as their own when you have bestowed them, or because they do not recognize them to be your gifts and think they have earned them by their merits.
About Jesus, Augustine says,
But a mediator between God and the human race ought to have something in common with God and something in common with humanity.
He is 'the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus'.  He appeared among mortal sinners as the immortal righteous one, mortal like humanity, righteous like God. Because the wages of righteousness are life and peace, being united with God by his righteousness he made void the death of justified sinner,...It is a man that he is mediator. He is not midway as Word; for the Word is equal to God and 'God with God' (John 1:1), and at the same time there is but one God.
Simply put, Augustine says,
The happy life is joy based on the truth. This is joy grounded in you, O God, who are the truth, 'my illumination, the salvation of my face, my God'.
But my favorite argument Augustine has is over books.  Augustine loved poems and fables, but he later saw it as wasteful when he was not yet right with God.  He says,
What is more pitiable than a wretch without pity for himself who weeps over the death of Dido dying for love of Aeneas, but not weeping over himself dying for his lack of love for you, my God, light of my heart, bread of the inner mouth of my soul, the power which begets life in my mind and in the innermost recesses of my thinking.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reading While on Vacation

Before I left for vacation, I threw up my hands and put away War and Peace, indefinitely.  I barely finished Confessions the day before we had planned to leave for Texas; truly, there was no time for serious reading, writing, or even exploring other blogs.  I felt so lost.  (Ok, I am exaggerating.  It actually felt good to admit that I had no time, and that I needed to put those longings aside.  There were no expectations.)

But I took two books with me, in the event of an opportunity.  And off to El Paso, Texas; we left at 2 AM.

Starting out at 2 AM

Crossing into Arizona

Oh, look! An opportunity! We are only fixed in the car for thirteen hours.  Hence, I pulled out Alone Yet Not Alone by Tracy Leininger Craven, a true story about a German immigrant family living in Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War in 1755.  Indians, who are assisting the French and fighting the British, abduct two sisters.  The girls must rely on courage and their faith to persevere to the end.  The author is a descendant of one of the sisters in the story.

It was an encouraging, pleasing read, written for an adolescent audience.  I was going to read it to my children, but...

So much fun
Anyway, I easily finished reading that before we got to Texas.

This is what a thirteen-hour drive looks like from Southern California to El Paso, Texas. Barren desert.

Crossing into New Mexico

Nothing to look at

Occasionally, something different

Entering Texas
FYI: You can see Juárez, Mexico, across the Rio Grande, from El Paso, Texas, USA.  A totally different world.

Juarez, Mexico
Meanwhile, the majority of my vacation was poolside, where I was usually a life guard.  (I'm not really a lifeguard.)  Reading while life guarding is not efficient reading, but that is why The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was the second book I brought with me.

My son read this series when it first came out in 2008, and I wish I had remembered everything he told me about it as he was reading through it.  He told me I would enjoy it because he knew I liked dystopian-style stories. But as years went by, he decided that: he did not like Suzanne Collins or her reasons for writing the series; that her writing ability is horrible; and that she does not know how to end a story.

Now that I have finally read the first book in the series for myself, I can agree that her writing is dumbed down - she's not George Orwell!  BUT I justified it by saying that she is writing as a sixteen-year old protagonist.  To which my son added, "Yeah, Suzanne Collins thinks she is a sixteen-year old."  (By the way, I cannot use the excuse that she was writing to a YA audience because that is no reason to dumb down one's writing ability.)

So I did a little research on her purpose for writing the series, and I learned that she remembered what it was like watching the Vietnam War on TV as a young girl (her father was a soldier in Vietnam) and later watching the Iraq War on TV.  She thought about how life went on while war took place, and wondered if it was just entertainment to the world watching it on TV.  She also took ideas from reality TV, probably MTV's Real World or Road Rules, in which young people competed for prizes by doing these outrageous tasks, while the rest of us watched it on TV for entertainment.

Furthermore, Collins took into consideration how often governments use food to control the masses. Keep them hungry or starving, and people will do anything you want them to in hope of getting a little food. Also, she borrows ideas from the Ancients, such as the story of the Minotaur and Theseus and the gladiators of Rome.

Having read the book, I liked The Hunger Games, and I will eventually read Catching Fire.  I agree that dystopian-themed books are not easy to get into because they are perceived to be warped and wicked and horrible; however, with such heavy, difficult ideas, come strong, urgent messages.  

In The Hunger Games, it is the government, the Capitol, that keeps its people enslaved in districts and controls them with food, entertainment, and privileges - the Games being one of the privileges.  The rest of the people in the Capitol are entertained at the expense of the enslaved districts.  I do not know if Suzanne Collins intended this to be another point, but I see a lot of similarities to socialism growing in America: an over-reaching, powerful government suppressing its people, who willingly go into slavery, so long as they believe all of their needs are being met by the government.  Hey! Rome did it, and history often does repeat itself.

Well, that was my reading experience.  So here we are returning home to California, where they have border patrol for illegal fruit and vegetation, which is very important!  

Entering California 
And this is how hot it was:

It's hot!
We have one more trip left - twice as long, to Missouri.  Until then, I have several weeks of more serious reading.  Time to dust off War and Peace again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Old Man and the Sea Read-Along

When I was in fourth grade, The Old Man and the Sea was required reading.  It became one of my favorite, memorable books.  I loved the story of the old man's perseverance.

Years later (about five years ago), I required my high schooler to read it.  I reread it, too, to get reacquainted with it and discuss it with my son; but I did not like it (anymore).  I hated Hemingway's long-windedness.

Earlier this year, I began to have Hemingway-withdrawals, and I thought about rereading The Old Man and the Sea, to test if my experience would be different this time around.

It just so happens that Hamlette @ The Edge of the Precipice is hosting The Old Man and the Sea read-along, beginning July 21st (Hemingway's b-day). The novella is super short and should only take a few days to read.  It is time to revisit TOMatS again and see what the issue is, or is not.

Join the discussion!  If it is your first time or third time, see The Edge of the Precipice for more info and to sign up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Happy Birthday, George Orwell.

One of my all-time favorite authors, George Orwell, has a birthday two days before mine.  Happy Birthday to George Orwell.

Illustration by Michael Olson

Monday, June 23, 2014

Taking a Break

I am feeling eager to read, but it is not feasible.  At some point I had to admit that I may not be able to read or write for awhile, and that it is best to put the longing aside. So, that is what I am doing right now.

It was ambitious of me to think, after all, that I would tackle a pile of books this summer when my summer was already a tower of plans in itself.  I do not have the energy to read; if I force myself to read under these circumstances, it is hasty and careless reading.

Therefore, it's official: I am going to take several weeks off from reading and writing, put aside my feelings, and catch up later.  Everything will have to wait for several weeks: War and Peace, Little Women, My Antonia, The Hunger Games...even reading to the kids, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Hoping to be back sooner than later.  Enjoy your summer.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How My Library Grows

Gold Mine

My mother gave me money for Mother's Day (which is funny, but she is very generous), and  I told her I would buy books with it.  Normally, I purchase used books through; but this called for a Barnes & Noble visit.

It is not safe to turn me lose in Barnes & Noble without a plan; therefore, I thought about the books that had received rave reviews by other bloggers, and I went hunting.  If only I remembered who you are, then I would have been able to give credit.

For example, someone mentioned that a posthumously published version of Beowulf, by J.R.R. Tolkien, was available.  I found a copy!

Over the last few months alone, I have read numerous worthy reviews about Middlemarch, by George Eliot.  A chunkster.

A friend of mine suggested that I read The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, while I also read a post somewhere about it, too.  Another chunkster.

And I had to get a better copy of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, which I hope to read this year.  I think I am really going to connect with this book.  Of course, Jillian has been telling me to read this for a few years (since I joined The Classics Club).

Also, I just read someone's enthusiastic review about East of Eden, by Steinbeck.  I have always been curious about this one.

In addition, at my local library's used bookstore, I found lovely copies of numerous classics that I would have bought, if I did not already own them.  (I hate when that happens.)  But I did find this: Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.   Again, I know I saw this somewhere in a blog post, and I made a mental note to get a copy somehow, somewhere!

That's how it happens - how my library grows; even if I do not comment on a post, I am taking mental notes and am influenced by others' reviews.  If I end up reading whatever it is and I do not like it, then nothing has changed; but if I like it, then you have helped to create a new fan.  So, thanks!

And thanks, Mom (I think), for contributing to my habit.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Puritans in America, Book Three

Book One: Mourt's Relation
Book Two: The Puritan Dilemma

This is my final review on this topic about the Puritans:

The Third Book

Edmund Morgan, author of Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea, examines the evolution of the concept of church membership in New England.  Sounds enthralling, I know, but it is a fragment of early American history.

Recall the problem the Puritans faced: building a church that was pure and good and right in a world that was not pure or good or right.  If we are all sinners, who is worthy to attend church?

According to St. Augustine, there are in fact two churches: 
"One was pure but invisible; it included every person living, dead, or yet to be born, who God had predestined for salvation.  The other was visible but not entirely pure; it included only living persons who professed to believe in Christianity.  Not every member of the visible church was destined for salvation, for not every man who professed belief would actually possess the true belief, the saving faith necessary for redemption.  The visible church, operating in the world of time and of human corruption, must inevitably contain sinful men.  It was holy, but not completely..."
The Puritans in New England set out to determine the right way to apply church membership.  In old England, anyone could attend and be members of the Church, and only bishops could discipline members; therefore, churches could not remove unworthy members, even though the Bible provides instruction and examples how to expel officers or members who are immoral.  The Puritans believed that church discipline was essential to the survival of the Church.

The Separatists vs. non-Separatists

The Separatists removed themselves from the Church of England for the lack of discipline and because it had been improperly founded; they refused to recognize it as a church. Meanwhile, the non-Separatists did not encourage separation from or rejection of the English Church because separation caused schisms, which were always troublesome.

Both factions of Puritans agreed on church discipline, but the Separatists yearned for membership similar to the invisible church.  Some qualifications were: the rejection of the Church of England, the knowledge and understanding of Christian doctrine, and outward behavior as a sign of saving grace.  I think that last one is where the charge of self-righteousness grew.

The Puritans, who came to New England after the first wave of Pilgrims, resembled the Separatists but recognized the English Church and refused to separate from them.  These non-Separatists also concerned themselves with how to reach those who were lost if the Church refused to admit them because they failed a strict membership test (such as the Separatists applied).

More on Anne Hutchinson

John Cotton warned the Salem church about the dangers of Separatism because it focused on good behavior.  Even church covenants were aimed at good behavior, and worship was only a covenant of works.

Anne Hutchinson was a follower of John Cotton but, in addition, claimed to be in direct contact with God and that she and her followers were able to discern whether a man was saved or not.  Puritans, even strict Separatists, understood that no one could tell a man's heart, but God alone.

The non-Separatists worked to shrink the gap between God and man, but rejected the heretical efforts of Anne Hutchinson and others who claimed one could bridge the gap and become pure.  They learned that they "must live in the world, face its temptations, and share its guilt, while avoiding a greater perfection in this world than God required or allowed."

The visible church, like man, "must remain in the world, bring its members closer to God, spread the gospel, and offer the means of salvation to everyone."  Most importantly, they "embraced the world of sinners in order to clasp the saints contained within it."

Much has changed since then: there was a turning point, which eventually led to a revival (The Great Awakening), and a new Separatist movement, prompting the debate began all over again.  I never concerned myself with how important the little details were to the Church, but of course they are.  They have been since the early Church, and they always will be, as long as Christians endeavor to do right by God.
"As long as men strive to approach God through the church, the world will never seem pure enough for the saints, and the Puritan experience will never be wholly unfamiliar."

This book count towards:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Possession, by A.S. Byatt

The final novel from The Well-Educated Mind list is Possession, by A.S. Byatt.   I started reading it in May, but then I stopped because, eight chapters in, I was still disinterested in the plot.  

My book cover
Then Tonia @ The Sunny Patch told me that she was going to begin Possession within a week, and therefore, I committed to finishing it. 

In the end, the overall idea is unique, and the writing is to be commended.  But I think it is the mechanics - which makes the work distinct - that bothered me. 

For example, I am not fluent in poetry, so when I had to read verses in the middle of the story, and make sense of it, I was lost. And while I usually like reading journals or diaries, I did not care to read so much correspondence between characters.

Ironically, one of my favorite passages is this:
In his day, he said, students were grounded in spelling and had learned poetry and the Bible by heart.  An odd phrase, "by heart," he would add, as though poems were stored in the bloodstream."
Chapter fifteen is actually my favorite chapter - which probably says more about me than it does the book.  I would call it the heart of the story, literally and figuratively.  

If you are fond of poetry, Possession is laden with verses throughout; and there are references to Greek mythology, classic literature, authors, and poets everywhere.  If you like mysteries wrapped in love stories; enjoy following multiple stories simultaneously; and do not mind epistolary novels, you just may appreciate this novel.  In fact, I know you will.  I think most people can get into it, but I regret that I could not.  Maybe I will consider rereading it in the very distant future (after I learn how to read poetry), while probably I will check out the film version even sooner.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Puritans in America, Book Two

This is a continuation of my study of the Puritans in America, and the next two books cover the problems the Puritans accepted when building churches in New England.  My previous review is Book One: Mourt's Relation, which covers the Pilgrim's experience in the 1620s.

By the way, the Pilgrims, men and women who came over from England in the Mayflower, were Separatists, though Puritan; but the Puritans who came later, were considered non-Separatists.

The Second Book

The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop follows the life of John Winthrop, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay colony during the 1640s. The author, Edmund Morgan, explains that one of the greatest issues facing the Puritans was how to live pure, godly, and righteous in a world that was not pure, godly, or righteous.  They struggled with how to abandon England, the Church, and other fellow Christians without looking like Separatists.

The Puritans believed that "a man's duty to God was to work at his calling and improve his talents like a good and faithful servant.  If he could do it better in New England than in old, that was a good reason for moving."  They could not save England, at least not while they were in England, but they would establish a new "government in exile" where Protestantism would thrive and spread; then maybe they would return and rescue England.

The Puritans Rejected Utopia

The Puritans believed every nation had a duty to obey and please God, which England was not, and that was why it was failing. Because they believed in self-government, it was essential to have godly citizens.  In America, they would punish every sin because every sin unpunished would invite the wrath of God upon them. But the pressure to uphold a pure society was burdensome, given man's disposition to sin.

Separatism, the desire for factions to break away from the world and set up their own little utopias, was one of the biggest threats in Massachusetts; and it was John Winthrop's aim to prevent that from happening.   Separatists were self-righteous.

Remember Anne Hutchinson? 

Stories teach us that Anne was thought to be a witch, or just a woman holding Bible study at her home, when the leaders ignorantly expelled her.  Being governor of Massachusetts Bay, however, Winthrop and other community leaders decided to remove Anne because she practiced a very dangerous form of separatism: nihilism.  She and others were dividing the church and spreading lies.

First they brought her before the court to explain her "entertainment of seditious persons, holding Bible studies at her home, and insulting ministers," and she intelligently justified every charge; hence, the court was ready to only censure her.  But when she arrogantly responded with false prophecy and more heresy, Winthrop believed that if they did not punish Hutchinson, the Lord would punish Massachusetts.  And so, she was sent to Rhode Island, just as others (who threatened the stability of the experiment ) went before her, or followed her.

The New England Mission 

There were other trials, of course, but this was the principle objective of the Puritans: found a society where the perfection of God would find proper recognition among imperfect men; that men might worship as God commanded, where they might obey His laws in peace and be punished when they disobeyed, where they could live in the world as God required but not lose sight of the eternity that lay beyond it.  
The purpose of New England was to show the world a community where the laws of God were followed by church and state - as nearly as fallible human beings could follow them. 
It proved a difficult challenge, and it was not without personal burdens, but John Winthrop never ceased working toward this goal.  In the end, he had been able to avoid the seeds of separatism and held the church and community together.

Coming next:
Book Three: Visible Saints

This book count towards: