Friday, December 26, 2014

Meditations, by René Descartes

Meditations, by René Descartes, was published in 1641.  It is not an autobiography in the usual sense, but it is an examination of one's life based on the ability to contemplate about one's own existence.  Hence: I think, therefore I exist.  You know that.

I was so excited to dig into this work simply because of my meager knowledge of Descartes from a philosophy class I had taken in college.  Philosophy is interesting to me, but given that this was not a typical autobiography, and that Descartes wrote about thinking about thinking (no, that was not a typo), this book quickly became mind boggling, and I lost interest. 

If I had to take a test on this book, I would fail.   Oh, I underlined and circled frequently and starred my favorite quotes, but if I had to recall points or give a thorough synopsis, I have not much.  So this is not a review or opinion of the actual work, but simply my lame leftover response of having gone through this book several weeks ago.  

If I learned anything, Descartes was obsessed with truth and the human mind but insecure about his inability to determine what was absolute.  In order to prove truth, he presented six meditations, which were situations and ideas to consider.  Then he delved into serious doubts and discussion to prove each situation, like he was playing devil's advocate with himself.  He also answered objections about these ideas.

In the end, he concluded that he is a thinking thing, and because he can think, he must exist.  He proved that the mind and body are separate entities.  Feelings and emotions are not as reliable; only judgments made using the intellect are certain.  And if I understand correctly, God is perfect, but man is imperfect; therefore, God exists because imperfect man could not conceive a perfect entity in his mind, and a perfect God would not deceive man of His existence.  Did you get that?  

Let me finally add that when I came to a stopping place in my reading and then picked the book up again a few days later to continue, I found that I had finished Meditations and did not have to continue anymore.  I had not realized that I had come to the end.  Happy dance.  I was very grateful to not have to read anymore about thinking.  My brain hurt.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: "Santa, bring me..."

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing This Year

It's not Tuesday for me, yet, but it's Tuesday somewhere, right?  So here is my list of books I wouldn't mind unwrapping:

1.  Any book by Émile Zola
(With an exception of Germinal, 
you wouldn't believe how difficult these books are to find in my area.)


2.  Little Dorrit - Charles Dickens
(Because I just have to own every Dickens.)

3.  A better copy of The Iliad
(Like this one:)

4.  The COMPLETE Sherlock Holmes - Doyle
(In paperback with a nice cover, of course.)

5.  A Vindication of the Rights of Women - Wollstonecraft

6.  Leviathan - Hobbs

7.  The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on 
What it Means to be an Educated Human Being - Richard Gamble

8.  The Great Books: A Journey Through 2,500 Years of the West's Classic Literature  -
Anthony O'Hear

9.  A Modern Utopia - H.G. Wells
(Love anything about utopias.)

10.  Any of these by Willa Cather!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My Ántonia, by Willa Cather

Title: My Ántonia
Author: Willa Cather
Published: 1918

It was a great joy to read My Ántonia for Willa Cather Reading Week.  What a wonderful pleasure!

Given that I have only read this and O Pioneers!, I would not claim to be a Cather expert; nonetheless, for this post I will gladly boast what an exceptional author she is.

For example, if you admire human stories, beautiful or tragic, and if you appreciate intricately woven settings that appeal to your senses, then this story - and O Pioneers! - are perfect suggestions.  You can get lost in her words.  (Well, I did. Sometimes I forgot I was reading a book.)

By the way, the prairie, the setting for both novels, is real.  It still exists.  This summer, my family drove through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri, and of course I took a few pictures.  It is miles and miles and miles of immense sky, wide open spaces, waving grasses, and rolling hills, with an occasional tree.  I added the photos to this post, and I suppose that is why I like this particular book cover.  It reminds me of the scenes I saw.


Anyway, back to the human stories: so far I have found that Cather develops memorable characters, often with extremely formidable and outstanding personality traits. Throughout this story, I clung to particular characters and hoped for the story to turn a specific way; but like O Pioneers!, it was not what Cather had in mind.  Well, at least there was not as much heartbreak.  (I won't tell you what happened in O Pioneers! because you'll have to read it yourself to find out.)

In My Ántonia, there was some disappointment.  However, as in real human stories, not everything concludes the way you expect or want it to.  Life can be super messy, and often times there is disappointment and even tragedy.  I suppose I could say that Cather writes closely to real life. Maybe that is why I really enjoyed these two stories because I tend to seek out reality.

Kansas, or somewhere in the Mid-West

Also, a theme that I found repeating itself in My Ántonia involved memories of people and places from our past and how important they are to us.  Cather used the Latin phrase "Optima dies...prima fugit," which means, "in the lives of mortals, the best days are the first to flee," as the main character recalled the carefree days of his youth.  He dreamed about his past and the people who touched his life.  He even had to move away because it was a distraction to him.  When he returned to where he grew up and to see his childhood friend, Ántonia, he hoped she did not change.  I get the feeling he wished things could remain the same for always.  Of course, that was not possible.  He said, as he returned to visit Ántonia after twenty years,
I did not want to find her aged and broken; I really dreaded it.  In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions.  I did not wish to lose the early ones.  Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.
There are a lot of other important ideas one could take away from this story, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.  So, as I was extremely pleased with My Ántonia, I do look forward to reading the third book in this prairie trilogy by Cather: The Song of the Lark.  (And, hey! I even have a picture of a meadowlark on the site where we stopped to see the replica of The Little House on the Prairie log cabin, in Kansas. )
Meadowlark singing his little heart out

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Back to the Classics Challenge 2015

via Books and Chocolate

Thinking I have room for another year-long reading challenge, I am joining this one.  Many of my choices are surpluses from other challenges: if I had multiple books listed in a category, they were inserted here so that every book has a better chance of being read. I don't want any book to feel excluded, in case books have feelings. 

The rules: HERE!

The categories and my choices (as I hope to cover all twelve):

1.  A 19th Century Classic - Dracula (1897), by Bram Stoker

2.  A 20th Century Classic - The Grapes of Wrath (1939), by John Steinbeck

3.  A Classic by a Woman Author - Persuasion (1927), by Jane Austen

4.  A Classic in Translation - The Fortune (1871), by Émile Zola (though I may change to a different Zola if I read this one for another challenge.)

5.  A Very Long Classic Novel East of Eden (1952), by John Steinbeck or Bleak House (1853), by Charles Dickens

6.  A Classic Novella -- Notes From the Underground (1864), by Fyodor Dostoevsky 

7.  A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title - Robinson Crusoe (1719), by Daniel Defoe

8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic - Catch-22 (1961), by Joseph Heller

9.  A Forgotten Classic - The Enormous Room (1922), by E.E. Cummings 

10.  A Nonfiction Classic - Life on the Mississippi (1883), by Mark Twain

11.  A Classic Children's Book - The Secret Garden (1911), by Frances Hodgson Burnett or The Wind in the Willows (1908), by Kenneth Grahame

12.  A Classic Play - Something from Shakespeare???

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself

The facts

Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) was a Spanish nun who was instrumental in opening St. Joseph's convent, as well as other convents throughout her lifetime.  She recorded the extraordinary events of her disconcerted life in her book, The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself.

My experience

What I took away from this story is that Teresa of Ávila was literally tormented by her inability to reach perfection.  She mentally and emotionally battered herself over her weaknesses, faults, and fallibilities, including her insatiable appetite for reading and knowledge, which she considered woefully sinful.  (Yikes! I'm in trouble.) 

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Bernini
She worked anxiously - without satisfaction - to "repay the Lord" for His sacrifice. And she immersed herself in deep ritualistic prayer, sometimes for hours or days, in which one state of prayer often brought her to a condition of rapture or ecstasy and caused her to lose control of herself. (That explains the sculpture by Bernini.)

Most of the book focused on the different levels of intense prayer and soul separation (is that possible?), but it also included numerous occasions in which she had visions of and communications with Jesus and Mary, saw heaven, communicated with dead people - including her deceased parents and sister - and experienced what she believed to be a union with God.  (I didn't really get this.)  She also recounted visions of and experiences in hell and being tormented by devil(s). 

Saint Teresa

My opinion

Frankly, I am not a friend of mysticism.  It is not that I believe she is lying, but rather I think she and those who believed her were deceived, although some called her possessed.  In other words, God did not direct these events.

If they were - and if she were saved - she would have had the Light of God in her; and Scripture tells us that Darkness cannot reside with Light. While Satan may try to discourage a Christian, he cannot terrorize Christians with demons.  Evil spirits tormented Teresa and caused her fear and suffering, such as only an unsaved person would experience.

I also have a problem with people who claim they see and talk to the dead.  Scripture tells us that the dead cannot see or hear or talk.  If you are seeing dead people, it may be demons (who are capable of taking the form of loved ones in order to deceive and lead astray those who are not covered by God).

She claimed that God "took her soul to heaven," which she believed to be necessary in order for her to know where her true home was and what it was like.  But God does not take people to heaven to see what it is like so that they may understand what they must long for.  She had a similar opinion for why she went to hell: to see what God had saved her from.  (But all she had to do was read her Bible.)

St. Teresa's Transverberation - Josef de Obidos
Once she said that Jesus purposefully reminded her of her sin and caused her great shame, and I know this to be false because while we may always remember our sins, Jesus does not want us to be burdened by our past sinfulness; if we still live with shame for our sins which have been forgiven, then His sacrifice on the cross was worthless.

Often she spoke of doing penance for all of her evil deeds in order to "win this great blessing," but she did not need to continue doing penance for her sins.  Again, Christ already did it for her.

My question

Early on I began asking, "If these experiences are from God, as she believed them to be, then why did she go through this?  What was the purpose?"  She referred to herself as "favored" to suffer in this way.  A chapter near the end proposed to explain why, but my questions were not answered to my satisfaction.  She was in a miserable state constantly, and I do not see how her misery helps anyone, except that it underscores how much more we must suffer in hope of our salvation, which is not biblical.

In the end, only God knew her heart, but I imagine by this account that she needlessly suffered over herself, and it made me sad for her and to some degree angry that she was (I think) deceived in this way.

Although I have nothing but skepticism and opposition for my review, my final opinion overall is that it was not a waste of time, and I really did look forward to reading it.  I just did not agree with her.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Liebster Award, part II

Earlier this year I participated in the Liebster Award.  This week I was nominated by a couple of other bloggers.  So instead of posting the entire award again, I thought it would be fun to just answer their eleven questions that they asked of their nominees.  Thank you, Sara and Marian!

From Sara @ Majoring in Literature

1.  What is the first book you remember reading?  

I read this as a kid and loved it.  Now I own a copy, and my kids have memorized it.

2.  Where do you like to read?   In my bed.  But I take a book with me everywhere I go and will read anywhere.  
3.  Starting at the very top of your bookcase, what are the first five books you have on your shelves?  It's my history shelf:        
1776 - McCullough
Sounding Forth the Trumpet - Marshall
The Five-Thousand Year Leap - Skousen
The Roots of American Order - Kirk
A Patriot's History of the United States - Schweikart
4.  If you could meet one author, living or dead, for coffee, whom would you meet?  Mark Twain.
5.  How do you feel about seeing a movie adaptation before you’ve read the book?  I don't like to, but I have. 
6.  What is your favourite adaptation of a book?  I don't think I have one.
7.  Which character from fiction would you most like to be?  Well, sometimes I think it would be fun to be Elizabeth Bennet.  
8.  Which book do you recommend to others the most?  I actually do not practice this.
9.  Which book have you re-read the most?  A Christmas Carol - Dickens (4X)  
10.  How do you feel about eBooks?  I will not touch electronic books.  My husband tells me I would love it, but why?  I love holding a book in my hands and writing on the pages.  Electronics would frustrate me.
11.  Where do you get most of your books from? Library, bookstore, online?  I buy a lot of used books @ Amazon or library sales, and sometimes I buy new books from Barnes & Noble, when I get gift certificates.

From Marian @ Tanglewood Classic Lit

1)  What was the most challenging book you ever read?  Challenging because of its size?  War and Peace - Tolstoy; challenging because of its content? Unbroken - Hillenbrand; challenging because of the writing?  Great Expectations - Dickens, or Persuasion - Austen
2)  Who is your favorite romantic couple from literature?  Out of all of the broken romantic relationships I have read about, the one that remains well-grounded is Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth of Persuasion.

Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot

3)  What is your favorite friendship from literature?  Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
4)  Is there a book you used to like but don't like anymore?  The Scarlet Letter - Hawthorne
5)  What was a nonfiction book you were glad you read?  The Journals of Lewis and Clark, The Four Voyages - Columbus, and Of Plymouth Plantation - William Bradford  (I could not decide on one.)
6)  Name a book someone recommended to you (which you may or may not have read yet).  Gone With the Wind - Mitchell
7)  How do you order your books on the shelf?  Right now: by topic or genre and then alphabetical order by author.
8)  Is there a character that you wish appeared in more books?  Have not thought about it.
9)  Which author's writings intimidate you?  Austen and Dickens, in some cases.
10)  Describe a memorable setting or scene (spoiler-free) from a book, and how it made you feel.  I love the setting of The Return of the Native - Hardy.  You just have to read it.  Basically, the setting is a character, too.
11)  The age-old question: paperback or hardcover?  I love paperbacks more than hardcover.  They are easier to read.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Reading England 2015

Reading England 2015 via Behold the Stars

My reading journey is turning out to be a great experience for self-education.  Often I read a book without seriously taking into consideration the setting, but thanks to o at Behold the Stars, this year I will focus on England.  What a great reading challenge!  Check out the suggestions and rules HERE.

As for my possible choices, I am using my current reading challenges.  Some counties may have more than one book listed, though only one will count; I am not sure which ones I will read, yet.  And maybe along the way I will add others, but for now I am working towards level two (4-6 counties):

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners - John Bunyan

Persuasion - Jane Austen

Howards End - E.M. Forster

Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (maybe)

Bleak House - Charles Dickens

Dracula - Bram Stoker

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday via The Broke and the Bookish:

Top ten books on my winter TBR:

I only know of eight, but that number may grow.  
Let's say winter is from December through March, 
then this is what I know for sure I plan to read.

Working my way through this epic novel, 
I will still be reading War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy.

My Antonia, by Willa Cather, 
will count toward my Willa Cather Reading Week project.

Meditations, by Rene Descartes, 
counts towards TWEM biographies.  
Wow! I haven't read Descartes since college.

Beowulf, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien, 
counts towards the Literary Movement Reading Challenge.

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, by John Bunyan, 
counts towards both the Literary Movement Reading Challenge and TWEM biographies.

The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration, by Mary Rowlandson, 
counts towards TWEM biographies.

Confessions, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 
counts towards the Literary Movement Reading Challenge and TWEM biographies.

Finally, I always read this to my kids a week before Christmas:
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens;
and we own this copy illustrated by P.J. Lynch.
It's beautiful!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Willa Cather Reading Week, 2014

Heavenali is hosting a week of reading Willa Cather, beginning December 7th.

From her blog:
Willa Cather was born on December 7th 1873 and grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She became known particularly for her novels of frontier life, featuring the Bohemian immigrants she had known growing up in Red Cloud, Nebraska, although the themes of her novels are not restricted to pioneer life. In 1922 she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel set during the First World War – One of Ours.

Willa Cather is now certainly regarded as one of the great American writers, a writer I re-connected with a couple of years ago, and I am now trying to read everything she wrote. I have read several of her novels already, have another five sitting here waiting to be read, but as yet have not read any of her short stories. A reading week therefore is just what I need to focus on reading some Cather, and share my enthusiasm for her work. I would love to get lots of people reading her novels and stories, talking about her and sharing thoughts about her books on blogs.
• Alexander’s Bridge (1912)
• O Pioneers! (1913)
• The Song of the Lark (1915)
• My Ántonia (1918)
• One of Ours (1922)
• A Lost Lady (1923)
• The Professor’s House (1925)
• My Mortal Enemy (1926)
• Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)
• Shadows on the Rock (1931)
• Lucy Gayheart (1935)
• Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940)


• April Twilights (1903, poetry)
• The Troll Garden (1905, short stories)
• Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920, short stories)
• Obscure Destinies (1932, three stories)
• Not Under Forty (1936, essays)
• The Old Beauty and Others (1948, three stories)
• Willa Cather: On Writing (1949, essays)
• Five Stories (1956, published by the Estate of Willa Cather)
• The Selected Letters of Willa Cather (published 2013)

Please feel free to tweet/talk about and share the event on your blogs and I’d love to know if you’re thinking of joining in. Several of her books are available from Project Gutenberg, so expenditure isn’t even necessary :)

As for me, I will be reading My Ántonia.  I sure hope I can get through it in a week.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book List for Literary Movement Reading Challenge 2015

Here is my PROPOSED book list for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge 2015.  I tried to choose books from my bookshelves and other on-going challenges.  I think I should be grateful to get through one title per period; however, I listed several in case I can read through more than one.  You never know.

January: Medieval(500 - 1500)
Beowulf, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien 

February: Renaissance (1500 - 1670)
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), John Bunyan

March: Enlightenment (1700 - 1800)
Confessions (1769), by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

April: Romanticism (1798 - 1870)
The Last of the Mohicans (1826), by James Fenimore Cooper

May: Transcendentalism (1830 - 1860)
Walden (pub. 1854), by Henry David Thoreau

June: Victorian (1837 - 1901)
Bleak House (1853), by Charles Dickens

July: Realism (1820 - 1920)
Life on the Mississippi (1883), by Mark Twain

August: Naturalism (1870 - 1920)
The Fortune - Émile Zola (1871)

September: Existentialism (1850 - )
The Metamorphosis (1912), by Franz Kafka

October: Modernism (1910 - 1965)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), by Erich Maria Remarque

November: The Beat Generation or The Bloomsbury Group
Howard's End (1910), E.M. Forster

December: Post-Modernism (1965 - )
In Cold Blood (pub. 1965), by Truman Capote

If you would like more info on this reading challenge, visit Fanda @ Fanda Classiclit.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fifty Classics Club Questions 2014

50 Classics Club Questions: 

  1. Link to Club LIST
  2. Joined?  March 2012  Read so far? 58 out of 75
  3. Currently reading? War and Peace, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila, The Chronicles of Narnia (The Last Battle)
  4. Just finished and what did you think? Little Women (Loved it!)
  5. Reading next? Why? Meditations by Descartes (It's next on TWEM list.)
  6. Best read, and why? Gone With the Wind (It's epic!)
  7. Most anticipated?  The Great Gatsby, Little Women
  8. Avoiding? Why? I would have avoided Russian classics, but thanks to TWEM and The Classics Club, I could not.
  9. First classic ever read?  The Scarlet Letter, or The Old Man and the Sea, or The Red Badge of Courage?  (I was in fourth grade.)
  10. Toughest classic ever read? Great Expectations challenged me.
  11. Classic that inspired you? or scared you? made you cry? made you angry?  Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Portrait of a Lady; The House of Mirth, Gone With the Wind, Germinal, and Little Women
  12. Longest classic read?  War and Peace
  13. Oldest classic read?  Confessions by Augustine
  14. Biography on a classic author you most want to read? Too many.
  15. Classic EVERYONE should read? Why?  To Kill a Mockingbird for its message on humanity, truth, and forgiveness.
  16. Favorite edition of a classic you own, if any? n/a
  17. Favorite movie adaption of a classic? "Gone With the Wind," and "Pride and Prejudice" (2005)
  18. Classic you wish would be adapted to film. n/a
  19. Least favorite classic? Why? Heart of Darkness by Conrad (Well, at least it wasn't as bad as the film adaptation, Apocalypse Now.)
  20. Five authors you haven’t read and cannot wait to read.  Capote, Wilkie Collins, Victor Hugo, Virgil, and Homer (apprehensively)
  21. Title from above list that most excites you and why? Les Misérables (Obviously)
  22. Disliked on [second] read and tried again and respected, appreciated, and ended up loving? The Old Man and the Sea
  23. Classic character you can’t get out of your head? Right now? Natasha from War and Peace (I'm reading W&P every night.)
  24. Which classic character most reminds you of yourself? Scarlet O'Hara or Jo March
  25. Which classic character do you most wish you could be like? Maybe Mrs. March from Little Women, but I've tried wishing to be like someone else, yet I always end up being me.
  26. Which classic character reminds you of your best friend? Melanie from Gone With the Wind
  27. Which classic would you read an additional 500 pages?  Why?  Jane Eyre: I never wanted it to end; it had only begun when Jane and Mr. Rochester reconciled.  
  28. Favorite children’s classic? Little House on the Prairie (series)
  29. Who recommended your first classic? A teacher.  It was required reading in fourth grade.
  30. Whose advice do you always take when it comes to literature.  Jillian or Fanda or Cleo or Jean
  31. Favorite memory with a classic? Starting Moby Dick, summer 2012, while hanging out in the pool after thinking I would have never read MD in my entire lifetime.
  32. Read the most of? Dickens
  33. Most works on club list?  Dickens
  34. Own the most books by?  Laura Ingalls Wilder (10+), Dickens (6), and Austen, Twain, and Steinbeck (w/ 5)
  35. Classic title(s) not on original club list that were added since?  Almost my entire "Supplemental List"
  36. If you could explore one author’s literary career from first publication to last? Émile Zola
  37. Rereads are on your club list? Eight; Most looking forward to? Walden by Thoreau   
  38. Could not finish? Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  39. Classic title expected to dislike and ended up loving? Return of the Native by Hardy
  40. Next year looking forward to? Fanda's Literary Movement Reading Challenge, reading more classics from TWEM list and TBR list, and being available to join more reading challenges as they present themselves.  
  41. DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year? Any Emile Zola
  42. NOT GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year? I have no excuse not to finish anything on my CC list b/c I only have about 17 books left.
  43. Favorite thing about being member of the Classics Club? Connections with other classic lit readers
  44. Fellow clubbers whose blogs you frequent. Why?  Some of my longtime favorites are  Behold the Stars, Classical Carousel, Fanda Classiclit, Howling Frog Books, Classical QuestRavens and Writing Desks, Exploring Classics; plus newfound clubbers are also on my blog roll in the sidebar.  (If you are on my blog roll, it is b/c you have a classic lit concentration and I love following your journey through classics.)  (P.S. If you aren't on my blog roll, and you have a classic lit focus, I just haven't found you, yet.  Let me know where I can find you!!!)
  45. Favorite post by fellow clubber? Can't decide.  So many!
  46. If you’ve ever participated in a read-along, tell about the experience?   Hamlette's (Edge of the Precipice) The Old Man and the Sea read-along; Didn't think I'd enjoy rereading TOMATS, but needed to read it again and discuss it w/ others to have a better perspective.
  47. Possible read-along you would participate in?  Why?  I am going to need encouragement getting through the Greek histories and plays on my WEM list.
  48. How long have you been reading classic literature?  As a serious lit student: since January 2012.
  49. A few posts that reveal a bit about your reading story.  "Experiencing the world through great literature," "A New Year: A New Expectation"
  50. Question you wish was on this questionnaire? After 49 questions, I'm good!