Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

 and need to read more.

Often I have enjoyed reading the answers to these fun questions put out by The Broke and the Bookish and have coveted the time to answer them myself.  Since it will be awhile before I am able to write about a book I finish, I am anxious to write about some bookish things right now.  This is my first time participating.

These are the authors I have read only one book from and definitely want to read more:

1. Émile Zola 

My first read was Germinal earlier this year, and instantly I was captivated.  I plan to start from the very beginning of the series, but I don't know why I am taking so long to just buy the first book. Definitely in 2015!

2.  Willa Cather

I read O Pioneers! and loved the beauty of Cather's writing and the simplicity of the story.  I bought My Ántonia and keep leaving it at the top of my TBR list.  

3.  Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment intimidated me for its Russian-ness, but I really, really enjoyed Constance Garnett's translation.  So I have since picked up two more titles from Dostoevsky with the intent to read them.  

4.  Virginia Woolf

Oh, how Mrs. Dalloway perplexed me, but I think Woolf intrigues me more than anything.  I have to read something else from her.

5.  Franz Kafka

The Trial was so strange, and I really liked it.  I want more weirdness!  The next one I read from Kafka will be Metamorphosis.  

6.  Ayn Rand

A lot of people pass on Rand because she is severely intense!!!  No, I mean, SEVERELY INTENSE!!!  One must keep a dictionary open, which may handicap the entire reading experience. That is how I felt about The Fountainhead.  However, I share Rand's philosophies, and if I wrote fiction, I would have written The Fountainhead myself.  One day I will read Atlas Shrugged. 

7.  Ernest Hemingway

I cannot believe I have only read one Hemingway in my life: The Old Man and the Sea.   A few bloggers have given me lists of what to read next by Hemingway, and they are on my TBR list.

8.  J.R.R. Tolkien

I know...I have only read The Hobbit, and not The Lord of the Ring, yet.  I will.  But before that, I really want to read Tolkien's version of Beowulf first.  

While I did not make it to ten, I did include eight of the most pressing authors I am inspired to read more of as soon as I find the time.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Journals of Lewis and Clark Analysis

Go to my review of The Journals of Lewis and Clark.

Following are several questions that Fanda offers for further analysis:

What challenges did the expedition face?

The men of the Lewis and Clark expedition faced every conceivable obstacle and challenge one can think of pertaining to a journey into the unknown: terrain, weather, illness, lack of food, lack of supplies, Indians, wild animals, and other mishaps. 

Sacagawea Saving Supplies, by Rob Wood
Terrain: Some examples of obstacles include carrying their supplies and canoes uphill to go around the falls; crossing the Rocky Mountains in snow; and walking on sharp rocks that made walking painful.   Meanwhile, the roaring rapids were not any easier. 

Weather: A hard downpour flooded their sleeping area and ruined many samples of plants and animals they had collected.  Sometimes the winter was unbearable, as they lacked sufficient clothing or blankets.  And the summers were intolerable, especially when the mosquitos increased. 

Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroots @  Jim Carson Studios
Illness: While they brought medicines with them and used them frequently, including for the Indians, most of the time they just had to suffer through a sickness or painful condition with rest and food.  Many times they had to slow down the progress of the expedition until whoever was ill recovered.

Lack of food: Given the great expanse of undeveloped area, they had an abundance of food because the land was full of wildlife.  They hunted animals for supplies, too, to make boats and clothing.  But sometimes when they were unsuccessful in catching anything to eat, or there just wasn't anything to hunt, they had to buy meat (dog) from the Indians, which they came to appreciate and enjoy.  And other times they only had roots to eat.  Yuck.

Lack of supplies: Imagine the condition of your clothing after a two year adventure.  I don’t know how much clothing they took with them, but by the end, Lewis or Clark described the men’s clothing as threadbare, including their blankets and moccasins. 

The Encounter@ James Ayers Studio
Indians: Lewis and Clark always used caution when meeting new tribes, though it helped to have interpreters and Sacagawea.  Most of the tribes were friendly and open to helping the adventurers, but Lewis and Clark were constantly on guard due to numerous incidents with theft.  Nonetheless, after two years of meeting with Indian tribes, they only had one violent altercation (with the Tetons) over stolen weapons.  Stolen horses were one thing, but don’t take a man’s gun. 

Wild animals: This was probably the biggest threat because they had several dangerous confrontations with bears.  Even a bullet wouldn’t stop a bear.  Poor Charbonneau came very close to being eaten. 

Other mishaps:  Did you know that Lewis was shot by one of his own men?  Toward the end of the journey, during a time of hunting, another member shot Lewis unintentionally (thinking he was an elk) but ran away when Lewis called to him.  Thankfully, the wound was not lethal, and Lewis was able to recover; but Lewis understood that this other man was mortified for having accidentally shot him.

Going Over the Falls, by Charles Fritz
What does it mean to be human?

I think this is a survival story.  While every person on this journey understood the risks – at least that there were risks involved - they still may not have known what to expect, but they were willing to go and to be adventurous and survive every obstacle and burden. 

Survival called them to “make do” at times with what they had; to persevere faster, harder, and further; for courage and bravery to outwit or outrun a grizzly bear; for geniality and restraint when meeting others whose language was unknown and may mistake them for a war party of an enemy; to endure pain, discomfort and sickness; and to stand up for righteousness in the face of injustice because one's authority and character were being tested.  During the lone Indian battle, Lewis said, 
I now got back to the pirogue as well as I could, and prepared myself with a pistol, my rifle, and air gun, being determined – as a retreat was impracticable – to sell my life as dearly as possible.
Lewis and Clark Expedition

What is the end of the history?

The end of the expedition is exciting.  It happens suddenly, and at first without much fanfare.  The prospect of home gave them a boost of energy to row faster and harder.  When they recognize cows on the banks, they realize that they are very close to the end of their journey, and when they finally land, Americans are so excited to see them because, as Lewis and Clark found out, everyone gave them up for dead or had long forgotten them.  It was a joyful occasion to announce their arrival with much pomp and circumstance because they were alive and had amazing news to share with the people of the United States.

An Evening Reading, by Thomas Lorimer (1941)
To that end, the purpose of this history was to describe and reveal the rich and beautiful lands of the North West teeming with abundant wildlife and unique vegetation, to note the numerous Native American tribes that lived on these lands and their willingness to make peace with, take council from, and trade with the people of the United States, and to confirm and establish a safe passage through these lands to the Pacific, specifically for trade.

Furthermore, it gave us a sample of man’s humanness: of courage, prowess, strength, leadership, compassion, perseverance, ingenuity, and endurance; of good men working together, looking out for one another, being concerned for the welfare of each other; of man’s desire to seek friendly relationships with strangers and be respectful of their customs, so long as they were not against God’s commandments; of man’s ability to use wisdom and knowledge for good intention; of man’s capacity to stand for justice and not be lenient toward sinfulness; and finally, of man’s will to live and survive.

Lewis and Clark and Seaman @ St. Charles, Missouri
The Lewis and Clark expedition set the standards on exploration – how to lead, manage, work together, and be successful.  Of course, they never thought they would be accomplishing that, but only saw it as a call to do something important for their country.  Yet they left a great legacy, and all explorers can learn much from their experience.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review of The Journals of Lewis and Clark

The Journals of Lewis and Clark
Written between 1804 – 1806

My History Reading Challenge is complete, and I end it on a great note.  The Journals of Lewis and Clark was last on my list; however, it was one that I anxiously looked forward to reading most.

Clark and Lewis
I guess it is not such a spectacular idea today to know about a few men who embarked on a wild journey through unknown territory for two years – facing language barriers with apprehensive Indians, angry bears, harsh weather, rough terrain, massive mosquitos, near-starvation, and, of course, sickness – and to come out alive, losing only one man to appendicitis attack, which they could do nothing about anyway.  However, if you consider what it must have been like in 1804 - and what a grand scheme it must have been  - I think it is rather exciting.

Departure from the Wood River Encampment, by Gary Lucy 
It all began with Thomas Jefferson,  who devised this plan, long before he became President of the United States, for scientific, geographical, and political reasons.  Jefferson made numerous attempts to get teams together to begin the excursion, but it wasn’t until he became President that he was able to set his proposal in motion. 

Army Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark were chosen to lead the expedition, and at least 33 other military personnel were part of the group, as well as Clark’s servant, York, and Lewis’s dog, Seaman.  In addition, other non-military members joined them later, such as Frenchman Charbonneau, his young Indian wife, Sacagawea, and their newborn son, “Pomp.”

Sacagawea with Lewis and Clark at Three Forks (detail)
Lewis and Clark were complete opposites, yet they worked very well together.  Lewis was the emotional, solitary one, while Clark was personable and easygoing.  You can see their personality differences through their writing: Lewis gave beautifully emotional descriptions of scenery, while Clark was direct and usually unaffected.  I really enjoyed Lewis's entries overall.  

In addition, they saw themselves as equals, even with their men.  And while everyone suffered at some point and to some degree, Lewis and Clark were sympathetic toward them in their ailments.  In turn, the men were loyal to Lewis and Clark and kept high-spirited morale throughout the journey.   (That's because, it pays to be nice to people.)

Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroots 
Interestingly, I immediately saw the failures of Columbus' voyage to the New World, while I witnessed the results of courageous, fair, and compassionate leadership, strong accountability, and excellent communication of Lewis and Clark.  Also, the men were bold, serious, and diligent who accompanied this expedition as opposed to the newly released convicts - ignorant of sailing, afraid of adventure, and extremely selfish - who sailed with Columbus.  (Duh!  That was not going to work out well.)

Basically, Lewis and Clark and the majority of their party took this opportunity seriously.  At the very onset of the journey, there were a few episodes of unruly, unprofessional conduct from a member or two, and Lewis and Clark applied justice swiftly with a court martial and physical punishment.  Either they never wrote about similar situations again or every man present learned instantly that Lewis and Clark made no excuses for bad behavior.  Columbus never did seem to establish himself as a significant authority over his men when they were out of control.

Captain Lewis and the Grizzly, by Ken Laager
There were numerous purposes for this expedition, including to collect plant and animal samples, map out rivers, lakes, mountain ranges, and Indian tribes, and to find a trade route to the Pacific Ocean, but it also was meant to encourage friendly relations with Native American tribes, to learn their languages, and to open trade routes with them specifically.   Most Indians they met were apprehensive about the group, but when they saw Sacagawea with them, they understood no war party would have a woman with them.  And with the help of interpreters, including Sacagawea, the tribes were pleased to obey the council of “their White Father in Washington,” which was to be at peace with neighboring tribes, because they were often at war with each other, and to trade with men from the United States. 

However, a few tribes were a disappointment, such as those Indians who committed theft against Lewis and Clark and their party, even after making peace with them.  The thieves stole their horses or weapons, and once an Indian was stabbed to death and another shot.  Lewis and Clark told the Teton tribe that they were not afraid of them and that they would make sure no one from the U.S. ever traded with their tribe because of their thievery. 

Lewis and Clark at the Mandan Village
Some strange tribal customs permitted Indian men to give their wives to other men, for favors, but the party of Lewis and Clark rejected them, stating the importance of married relationships and that the men made a vow of celibacy to Lewis and Clark.  So there was to be no fooling around on this long journey, even though the Indian men were practically throwing their wives at them.  Even the Indian women were “highly disgusted at [their] refusing to accept…their favors.”   (But that is what I liked about these guys: they stood firm upon their principles.  Not like Columbus' men!)

I shouldn't say anymore because I am going to do further analysis using Fanda's history questions, and I probably will speak more about their hardships and burdens.  But for now, I am grateful to have read this piece of history because today I have total respect for the men (and woman) who made this journey.  (If I were on this journey, I would have probably checked out on week one.)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Summer Reading is Over (Sad Face)!

Well, summer is over, and I got through only nine of my sixteen hopefuls from my  Summer Reading Pile.  

I am about 18% through War & Peace, which was rather ambitious of me to think I would be done in three months.  It will probably take another four or five or ten months before I am even close to done since I am taking my time.

In addition, there are three more books to read aloud to my kids from The Chronicles of Narnia, but we should be done before the end of the year.   No prob.

Books from my summer pile that I did not start, but hope to soon, were My Ántonia and Little Women.  Also, I must read The History of the Kings of Britain and one other similar book before the year is up for my Arthurian Lit Challenge.

One that was not on my summer list, but that I started reading, is Essays by Montaigne.  I need another month to complete this one.  It is not exciting or gripping.  It is philosophy and requires active thought.  Ugh! I would rather go on an adventure.

Speaking of adventures, the one that I will complete before anything else is The Journals of Lewis and Clark, which only a history nerd could love.  Thus, being a history nerd,  it is quite enjoyable, and I cannot wait to write about it.

This summer was the busiest I have had in a very long time.  Usually during the summer, after we set up our pool, my days are spent sitting in a floating chair with a good book, while the kids swim.  But this year we spent our time traveling, camping, hiking, and hanging out with friends. While I always had a book with me, it was not always feasible to pull it out and read. And now with school starting in a week or two, I am too busy with planning.

Hopefully, after school starts, I will be able to get back into a schedule of reading more often.  Or else, I will just have to return to one book at a time.  Noooooo!!!!

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.