Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge: Reading the Histories


Since January 2012, I have been reading through The Well-Educated Mind reading lists - first the novels, then the biographies.  Next, I will begin the histories, which is my most favorite genre.  

In the beginning, I knew of several bloggers reading through the novels; in fact, I was able to catch up to them.  But they have since taken a break in their reading, or I passed them up. When I began the biographies, Cleo at Classical Carousel joined me, and she encouraged a group of readers via Goodreads to join us.

I am hoping to begin the histories in January 2017.  If you would like to read along, I have included Susan Wise Bauers' suggested questions to think about and the book titles (listed in chronological order).  We still have the Goodreads group available, if you would like to follow along or join there.

Maybe you are a history fanatic and need an excuse to read more of it, or you loathe it terribly and need encouragement to exercise that part of your brain.  Either way, we would love to have you join us.  We read about one book a month, but depending on the size, it could take longer.  Consider it a three-year reading challenge, at least, if you choose to read every book.


How to Read History:

According to Susan Wise Bauer, these are questions to consider when reading a historical work.

Level I:
Who is the author, and does he/she state the purpose for writing?
Who is the story about, and what are the major events?
What challenge did this hero/heroine face, and what causes this challenge?  What is the result of the hero/heroine?
Do the characters progress/regress, and why?
Where/when does the story take place?

Level II:
What are the historians' assertions, and what questions is he/she asking?
What sources does the historian use to answer them?
Does the evidence support the connection between questions and answers?
Does the historian list his or her qualifications?

Level III:
What is the purpose of history?
Does this story have a forward motion?
What does it mean to be human?
Why do things go wrong?
What place does free will have?
What relationship does this history have to social problems?
What is the end of history?
How is this history the same as - or different than - the stories of other historians who have come before?

The List:

These are the titles to read in this order:

Herodotus: 
The Histories (441 B.C.)

Thucydides: 
The Peloponnesian War (c. 400 B.C.)

Plato: 
The Republic (c. 375 B.C.)

Plutarch: 
Lives (A.D. 100 - 125)

Augustine: 
The City of God (completed 426)

Bede: 
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731)

Machiavelli, Niccolo: 
The Prince (1513)

More, Sir Thomas: 
Utopia (1516)

Locke, John: 
The True End of Civil Government (1690)

Hume, David: 
The History of England, Vol. V (1754)

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: 
The Social Contract (1762)

Paine, Thomas: 
Common Sense (1776)

Gibbon, Edward: 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776 - 1788)

Wollstonecraft, Mary: 
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

De Tocqueville, Alexis: 
Democracy in America (1835 - 40)

Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich: 
The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Burckhardt, Jacob: 
The Civilization of the Renaissance in  Italy (1860)

Du Bois, W.E.B.: 
The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

Weber, Max: 
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904)

Strachey, Lytton: 
Queen Victoria (1921)

Orwell, George: 
The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)

Miller, Perry: 
The New England Mind (1939)

Galbraith, John Kenneth: 
The Great Crash 1929 (1955)

Ryan, Cornelius: 
The Longest Day (1959)

Friedan, Betty: 
The Feminine Mystique (1963)

Genovese, Eugene D.: 
Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974)

Tuchman, Barbara: 
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous  Fourteenth Century (1978)

Woodward, Bob & Bernstein, Carl: 
All the President's Men (1987)

McPherson, James M.: 
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War  Era (1988)

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher: 
A Midwife's Tale: 
The Life of  Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary (1990)

Fukuyama, Francis: 
The End of History and the Last Man (1992)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fifteen Books of Summer (Maybe)


May 31st - It is officially summer for me, and that means I will be busier than ever, of course.  I am months behind on my reading challenges; so why not commit myself to another deadline?  Because at the end of the day, instead of reading, I want to pass out.  So I pass out.  Maybe this will force me to stay up and read.  

Since my summer is 2 1/2 months as opposed to 3 months, I will be pleased just to read these, 

in June:

to finish Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas, for my local Book Club reading;

and finish The Gulag Archipelago by Alexksandr Solzheitsyn, for The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge;

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for The Little House Read-Along;

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, for The Classics Club II and Back to the Classics.

In July I plan to read:

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for The Little House Read-Along;

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, for The Classics Club II;

David Cooperfield by Charles Dickens (yeah, right!), for The Classics Club II and Back to the Classics;

Born Again by Charles W. Colson, for The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge.

And in August I have:

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for The Little House Read-Along;

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, for Reading England, Back to the Classics, and The Classics Club II;

The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola, for Back to the Classics and The Classics Club II.

Plus I am reading The Pickwick Papers every month.

That's twelve.  

If stay up past my bedtime and read more and more (I mean, it's SUMMER!), I may be able to squeeze in three more books to make it 15:

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, just because;

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Bugess, for Back to the Classics and The Classics Club II;

and maybe, just maybe, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards for The Classics Club II.

That's that.  Now I must go and get reading.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

Night and Day
Virginia Woolf
Published 1919
Woolfalong Reading Challenge, Reading EnglandThe Classics Club II

This novel was unnecessarily long for whatever point Woolf was trying to make.  It was not as enjoyable, and that is why it took six long weeks for me to finish it.  The only happy remark I can add is that Woolf displayed a sarcastic, humorous side that I am not accustomed, and there were some remnants of Jane Austen's style of writing, which in both cases I liked.

Some other pleasant aspects about the novel include the mood of the setting (which is London) and the numerous references to the sea and voyages, which in many regards feels like the uncertainty of love and relationships.

SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE

There are four main characters, plus one later character, whom I focused on. Katharine Hilbery is a young woman living at home, under her parent's care, as she struggles for her own identity and liberty.  And there is Mary Datchett who works, doing what she considers important work for the suffragette movement; but is she really self-sufficient when she, too, struggles for independence from her own parents? What choices do these women have to obtain their autonomy?

Enter William Rodney and Ralph Denham.  Mary likes Ralph, but Ralph thinks Katharine is the perfect example of a woman, who is not all that she seems to be.  I think Ralph is attracted to her unconventional mind and heart.  However, William proposes to Katharine instead, and she accepts because for a brief moment she thought that was what she was supposed to do.  Her parents are certainly content about the match.  That leaves Ralph out, and he does what he thinks he is supposed to do: propose to Mary.  But Mary knows Ralph's heart is not genuine, and she rejects his proposal. Smart girl.  

Katharine knows her engagement to William is not right either, just in time for the fifth important character to enter - Cassandra Otway, Katharine's cousin.  William and Cassandra make a great pair because she is very traditional, and so is he.  Perfect.  Katharine and William re-evaluate their feelings and end their engagement so that William may pursue Cassandra; and Ralph is free to pursue Katherine.  

DONE LEAKING SPOILERS

Katharine is now able to freely decide if she is using marriage as a way out or if it is really something she is choosing for a good reason, like for love or happiness.  She has many questions about marriage and love and happiness, and it is through these philosophical discussions with the other young people and her mother that she hopes to work them out.

Speaking of Mother Hilbery - she was a little overwhelming.  She is a romantic and totally into Shakespeare (not that that has anything to do with it; or maybe it does).  When Katharine is searching for advice on how to handle her feelings for Ralph and is concerned about her doubts of inventing love where there is none, Mother Hilbery makes the argument that "love is our faith," and that "we have to have faith in our vision."  What?  I did not understand.  Was she suggesting that our faith in love is enough for a union?    

That made me recall a part in "Moonstruck" when Loretta's mother gave Loretta a different opinion about her whirlwind proposal by Ronney:

"Do you love him, Loretta?"  
"Ma, I love him awful."
"Oh, God, that's too bad."

Again, as my grandmother told me: "Make sure he loves you more than you love him."

Is love necessary for marriage?  Are there different types of love?  If so, which is best for marriage?   Do we marry for happiness?  Can marriage even make us happy?  These were important questions Katharine had.  And these are important questions we should still consider today when thinking about marriage. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

By the Shores of Silver Lake
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1939

By the Shores of Silver Lake opens with somber emotions: a long illness has affected the family, and Mary has been left blind; Pa has not been able to catch up after the devastating destruction of the grasshoppers; Laura has had to take on more responsibilities, and they are behind in the housework; and to make matters worse, someone is coming, and Ma and Laura are embarrassed for their disheveled state.  

But this turns out to be good news.  The unannounced visitor is Aunt Docia, and she offers Pa a job as the accountant on the railroad grade in Dakota Territory.  Pa takes it, and heads out immediately, leaving Ma and the girls to recover for a few more months.  

Sadly, Jack dies of old age before they leave for Dakota.  
Laura knew she was not a little girl anymore.  Now she was alone and must take care of herself.
Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and new baby Grace, leave for Dakota on a train.  It is a new experience for them, and Laura is frightened.  She reminds the reader several times that people died on trains because trains traveled at high speeds and crashed frequently.  You can sense the fear and anxiety in all of them as they nervously cling to each other.  But once they were on the train, it was a wonderful experience.  Laura remembered Pa called these "the wonderful times they were living in."

Laura and Mary continued their competition with each other, and this was a humorous exchange: as they were sitting on a bench waiting for the train, Mary sensed Carrie fidgeting, and said,
Don't fidget, Carrie, you'll muss your dress.
Laura craned to look at Carrie, sitting beyond Mary.  Carrie was small and thin in pink calico, with her pink ribbons on her brown braids and her hat.  She flushed miserably because Mary found fault with her, and Laura was going to say, 'You come over by, Carrie, and fidget all you want to!'
Just then Mary's face lighted up with joy and she said, 'Ma, Laura's fidgeting, too!  I can tell she is, without seeing!' 
Being in the presence of men was uncomfortable then.  When Ma and the girls arrived at their destination, they heard the railroad workers singing Ma's favorite hymn; but when they saw Ma they immediately stopped singing.  Rarely any of the men looked up at them, and I believe it was out of respect.  They quickly changed their behaviors and conversations, for good reason.

Because of Mary's blindness, Pa told Laura that she must see for Mary.  And this is probably why we enjoy beautiful writings by Laura.  When Mary (being the realist) argued with Laura that she must be sensible in her descriptions, Laura discovered "there were so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them."

For example, after Pa met Ma and the girls at the depot, he took them via wagon to their temporary home at the railroad grade.  Laura described the prairie for Mary.  But for the reader she said,
The sun sank.  A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in the clouds of crimson and silver. Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, then rose in heights on heights of darkness from which the stars swung low and bright.
That would have been silly to Mary.  Stars don't swing.

Surprise visit by Rev. Alden

The story moves quickly.  When winter comes, the Ingalls family moves into the surveyor's home, which is perfect.  It has everything they need.  They shared Christmas with their only neighbors, Mr. Boast and his new wife.  And Rev. Alden makes a surprise visit with a new young pastor, preparing to start a church in the new territory.  Before they leave, Rev. Alden suggests they pray together:
They all knelt down by their chairs, and Reverend Alden asked God, Who knew their hearts and their secret thoughts, to look down on them there, and to forgive their sins and help them to do right.  A quietness was in the room while he spoke.  Laura felt she were a hot, dry, dusty grass parching in a drought, and the quietness was a cool and gentle rain falling on her.  It truly was a refreshment.
 Feeding the boarders

Pa still needs to stake out a homestead and claim it, which is a complicated process.  Meanwhile, men who already have their homesteads in the Dakota Territory need a place to stay overnight and food to eat. The surveyor's home is the only civilization for miles, and Ma cannot turn them away.  So she charges them for food and boarding.  This would have driven me insane; serving all of those men was backbreaking.

And Pa's experience getting the homestead was treacherous and difficult, too, though everything worked out, obviously.  When spring came, a little town of De Smet was being born, and Pa put up a storefront on one of the main roads, which became the new temporary home for the Ingalls family.  I like Pa's philosophy:
'That's what it takes to build up a country,' said Pa.  'Building over your head and under your feet, but building.  We'd never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.'

Pa trying to get a homestead

Before we know it, Pa builds a small shanty on their homestead, too, and the Ingalls family squeezes in.  Shortly after, they planted trees, as required by the government.  Pa imagined the government was trying to change the climate.  (Interestingly, even then the government was telling people what to do with their property.)

One of Laura's responsibilities was to take Ellen, their cow, to drink at the well.  The prairie was a great distraction for Laura.
Big girl as she was, Laura spread her arms wide to the wind and ran against it.  She flung herself on the flowery grass and rolled like a colt.  She lay in the soft sweet grasses and looked at the great blueness above her and the high, pearly clouds sailing in it.  She was so happy that tears came into her eyes.  
Peacefully, By the Shores of Silver Lake closes sweeter than it opened, of which I am so grateful. However, next month we move to The Long Winter, a story that promises many essential lessons for life.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Confession About Reading The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

The Faerie Queene, Book One
Edmund Spenser
Published 1596

Well, it is official: I have quit reading The Faerie Queene.  I finished Book One within the first week; but I still found it stressful to keep up.  I started Book Two, but fell behind because life happened. Now week three is up, and I still have not returned to Book Two.  Let's be honest, Self: it's not happening.  The reading comprehension is deeply challenging, and I need additional reading sources to help with the understanding.

The Faerie Queene had rested on my nightstand, glaring up at me for two weeks.  I finally admitted that I do not want to force myself through it, and end up hating it; therefore, I put it back on my bookshelf because I know I cannot keep up.  I do not want to struggle through it.   You readers know, forcing yourself through a book may also take the joy out of reading.  My life is too complicated enough right now, and I am craving a different kind of reading experience.  Maybe I'll try it another time.

Una
As for Book One, I was excited to read it again.  I was familiar with the allegories, and I treasure medieval literature, which Book One encapsulates.  As with medieval lit, it was both romantic and exciting.  The characters represent virtues and vices, and the theme follows the typical ideal of good conquering evil.  The Faerie Queene is Queen Elizabeth I, for whom The Faerie Queene was written. The Red Crosse Knight, who represents holiness, is England's very own St. George; he has to fight the dragon to save Una's village.  And there is even a cameo appearance by King Arthur, who helps save Red Crosse.  

But like I said, the reading comprehension is challenging, and you need to have a clear head or it is not going to keep your interest.  Sadly, I am not even in the mood to put any effort into a decent post about this.  You can find superb reviews by some of the others who have already written about it, like Jean @ Howling Frog Books, Cleo @ Classical Carousel, and o @ Behold the Stars.

Sorry, but I must abandon my mission.  Maybe another time when I have less weighing me.  I'll be here to cheer the rest of you on!

Red Crosse fighting the dragon

Monday, May 9, 2016

Who is May Sarton? and Why Do I Love Journal of a Solitude?

Journal of a Solitude
May Sarton
Published 1973

I envy your solitude with all my heart, 
and your courage to live as you must.


I am partial to reading journals by real people, especially when solitude is a central theme.  May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude reminded me of a female version of Henry David Thoreau's Walden, one of my favorites.   

Being an introvert who loves nature and prefers solitude, this journal resonated with me wholeheartedly.  I still do not know very much about May Sarton, except that she was an American/Belgium author and poet (none of her works I had heard of); but I am extremely grateful that I had an opportunity to read this.


"Reading her mail"

The journal covered one year, while Ms. Sarton lived alone in Nelson, New Hampshire, 1972-73.  It was like an experiment, though I do not believe she referred to it as so.  She wrote for the purpose of finding out what she thinks and where she stands.  She wrote very candidly about:

her depression and anxiety; 
her love of nature, her garden, birds and other animals; 
struggles for artists, poets, and authors; 
opinions on culture and love; 
defense of maturity; 
and challenges for women in marriage and motherhood.  

Here are just a few ideas from her journal:

On Solitude

Sarton said she lived alone because she is an impossible person to get along with and called herself "an ornery character."

She also believed that the way one handled "absolute aloneness is the way in which one grows up."  It is "the great psychic journey of everyman."  She chose solitude, but it was not without a great emotional price.

One idea that encouraged her self-made solitary confinement were these questions she asked of herself:
'What if I were not alone?  What if I had ten children to get off to school every morning and a massive wash to do before they got home?  What if two of them were in bed with flu, cross and at a loose end?'  That is enough to send me back to solitude as if it were - as it truly is - a fabulous gift from the gods.
Sarton acknowledged problems with solitude, but stopped short of denouncing it.
There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge . . . But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse.  I lose my center.  I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces.  I must have time alone in which to mull over any encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.
On Art and Poetry

 She declared that art comes from tension.
The fierce tension in me, when it is properly channeled, creates the good tension for work.  But when it becomes unbalanced I am destructive.
She described poetry as a dialogue with self and novels as a dialogue with others.
. . . poetry is for me the soul-making tool. 
I love this quote about women and poetry.  Sarton explained why she believed women were more interested [than men] in "self-actualization": that is, we are fulfilled in realizing our full potential.
Women internalize their lives to a greater extent [than men], and the poetry of internalization can be valid.  What bothers me is nakedness as bravado.  Then it becomes embarrassing: 'Look at me . . . Aren't I shocking?' But transparency does not shock: 'Look through me and find everyman, yourself.'  Somewhere between the minute particular and the essence lies the land of poetry.
Another time she said, " . . . women should quietly realize that theirs is creatively the primary role; man and his mind are an offshoot like sparks thrown out; women is at the centre of 'be still and know.'

May Sarton, school girl

On Women in Marriage and Motherhood

She made the case that "women's lives are fragmented" and stretched in many directions.  While men's lives remain whole because their work is hardly disrupted by marriage or children, women's desires are certainly interrupted or put on hold.
. . . how rarely a woman is able to continue to create after she marries and has children.
Sarton realized, via letters by young married women who "envied her solitude," that women struggled between their desire to create, think and solve problems and their longing for marriage and family.   For a woman who was college educated, marriage meant switching her mind from an intellectual process to a labor of housework and child rearing.    Meanwhile, the man was not affected the same way.

A woman asked Sarton, "Can one be within the framework of a marriage?"  Sarton contemplated,
It is not irresponsible women who ask that question, but often women with children, caring women, who feel deeply frustrated and lost, who feel they are missing their "real lives" all the time.
She believed that men still undervalued a woman's contribution to society; but further still, women "equally devalued their own powers."  She added,
There is something wrong when solitude such as mine can be "envied" by a happily married woman with children.  Mine is not, I feel sure, the best human solution.  What I have is space around me and time around me.  How they can be achieved in a marriage is the real question.  It is not an easy one to answer.
Then she reminds us that we try to control of too much; ". . . we are not asked to be perfect, only human."

Portrait of May Sarton by Polly Thayer, 1936

A Personal Perspective

This book is not for everyone, but it may be appreciated by anyone who loves nature, art, poetry, women's perspectives, or solitude.  Sarton's journaling on solitude resonated with me because I desperately covet peace, order, calm, and quiet; I could have been one of the women who wrote to Sarton, asking how to find balance between marriage and family and tending to one's private soul.  

There are six other people in my house, and four of them I homeschool five days a week.  Three or four of them talk continuously; I rarely, if ever, hear my own thoughts.  I finally had to institute the "sanctuary rule." After watching the 1939 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with my children, I told them that when Mommy is in the bathroom, and the door is closed, that is my sanctuary - just as Esmeralda found sanctuary in Notre Dame Cathedral.  Unless someone is hurt or the house is on fire, you cannot carry on conversations with me through the door.  I'll be out soon, and then you can tell me all about your discovery, realization, or conflict with your sibling.  

I know Sarton did not talk about introverts, but of course I relate to her story.  Introverts thrive on solitude.  Like Sarton explained, she needed time alone to process her interactions with others. Extroverts may not understand this.  In fact, growing up, I was branded "anti-social" and marked as someone who "hates people."  This is so far from the truth; in fact, introverts have big hearts, and we love people deeply; we just love people in smaller, more intimate numbers.  

Before you think I loathe being a wife or mother - well, it is truly a formidable challenge for me, this life I have - but my husband and children are my life.  Sadly, things are a little inconsistent between Dad and Mom, and when Dad comes home from work, he may "check out" for a few hours, in his room, watching Netflix, by himself, and no one bothers him; yet, Mom doesn't "check out" until after the house is in order, every child brushes his or her teeth, washes up or showers, and is in bed. That may come after 9 PM, and by then I am often too exhausted to read, something I long to do all day long, but cannot.  So it is with women and men: women sacrifice so much more of their private beings than men, and this can be a real detriment for us introverts. 

For Mother's Day, my husband asked me what I wanted to do on that day, and I suggested he take the kids to the movies.  He thought this was very strange that a mother would not want to be with her family on Mother's Day.  What I wanted most, since he was granting me a wish, was the one thing I rarely experience all year long: peace, quiet, serenity, order, my thoughts, my time, to read without interruption, my private space, to do what I wanted.  Though I would have also loved to be at the Getty or Huntington Gardens; nonetheless, it was the nicest three hours of solitude in a long, long time.  


P.S. Here is a 10 minute video by TED Talk on introverts, creativity and solitude:

 

The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room, not try to be or do anything whatever.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Far From the Madding Crowd
Thomas Hardy
Published 1874


Far From the Madding Crowd is one of those stories I was inspired to read after I saw the film edition (2015).  And the book was even better than the film because I was able to indulge in Hardy's eloquent usage of the English language.  It is so wonderful; I am shamefully gushing.  

Miss Everdene

The setting is Victorian England, in the fictional town of Wessex.  The main character is extraordinarily independent, self-sufficient, and intelligent, Bathsheba Everdene.  Of course, she is also attractive (and vain).  She inherited her uncle's farm and is extremely well off and formidable. But if that were not enough, she also has three totally different suitors.  

The suitors: Farmer Oak, Sargent Troy, Mr. Boldwood

Suitor #1:  Farmer Oak is a good man.  He is self-controlled, well grounded, realistic, and strong as...oak.  He was only a poor farmer, until he lost his farm; now he is a poor shepherd working on Miss Everdene's farm.  She could never marry him, even if there were a chance.  But he kept his heart to himself, knowing that he would never force the issue with Miss Everdene, especially if she did not love him.

Suitor #2:  Mr. Boldwood is wealthy and dignified, but annoyingly persistent.  Miss Everdene does not love him, and he does not care.  He is obsessed with having her as his wife.  He pushed her so often that she was pressured into considering his proposal.  He is so...bold!

And finally, suitor #3:  Sargent Troy is an arrogant young casanova.  He is a liar, but people make exceptions for his bad behavior; even Miss Everdene overlooked his insincerity.   She completely lost all of her good sense and succumbed to her emotions.  

Miss Everdene, losing her mind

[BEGIN SPOILERS]

At first, it did not appear that Miss Everdene was slightly interested in marriage, at all.  She certainly did not need anyone, and she loved herself enough to sustain her need for love forever.  It was not unusual when she rejected both Farmer Oak and Mr. Boldwood; but when Sargent Troy entered her town and pursued her, she surprisingly married him.  Ugh!  He was a horrible husband; while poor Farmer Oak and Mr. Boldwood stood by and witnessed this jerk misuse the women they loved.

Shortly after we learned that Sargent Troy was supposed to marry a young woman who was pregnant with his child.  He abandoned his obligation, before marrying Miss Everdene, and the woman and her child died.  Distraught, he fled for a year, faking his death. When a year passed, he returned to take Miss Everdene back and what he thought was rightly his.  

But in Troy's absence, Mr. Boldwood convinced Miss Everdene into marrying him again.  The night he decided to announce their engagement, Troy showed up and ruined Boldwood's chances.  Being a man who hated rejection, he murdered Troy and turned himself in to authorities.  This was too much for Miss Everdene; she would never be the same again.  


Miss Everdene finally realized that Mr. Oak was the only true friend she had.  He managed her farm and saved her from devastation, on numerous occasions.  And now he had inherited Mr. Boldwood's farm, since Boldwood would be incarcerated for the remainder of his life.  However, Mr. Oak decided to move to America - I imagine, because he could no longer stand to have his love so tormented.  

Miss Everdene and Mr. Oak

When Miss Everdene received the news, she urgently went to Mr. Oak and begged him not to desert her, like everyone else had.  Mr. Oak then knew it was safe to reveal his true heart to Miss Everdene once more:  
If I only knew one thing - whether you would allow me to love you and win you and marry you after all - if I only knew that!
She consented, and they were quietly married.  (She should have married Farmer Oak from the beginning.  She may not have loved him as he loved her, but he was a good man.  As my grandmother told me once: "Make sure he loves you more than you love him.")

[END SPOILERS]

Miss Everdene and Farmer Oak

I loved this story.  It has a bittersweet ending, as did The Return of the Native.  If I read another Thomas Hardy novel, what should I consider?  Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley

The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley
Published 1965

I am not going to water this down: this book made me furious.  For sixteen out of nineteen chapters I was raging MAD.  Up through that sixteenth chapter, this was the most hate-filled, racist book I had ever read - even more than Mein Kampf.   This book is burning with hatred for whites, Christians, America, successful blacks, and even women.

Malcolm X was born in Nebraska, 1925, and life for him and his family was clearly unjust from the very start.  However, he was intelligent, sharp, quick-witted, and at the top of his classes; but when a teacher discouraged him from a career in law, he discarded his dream.  After moving to Boston to live with his older half-sister, he quit school (15-years old) and worked numerous jobs, some of which he lost due to his hot temper.  Instead, he invested in his social life, personal appearance, music, drugs, and eventually hustling.  He even had a white girlfriend as a status symbol.

Soon, his hustling and house burglary caught up with him, and he was sentenced to ten years (but served seven), although he said his harsh punishment was really because he had a white girlfriend.  It was in prison that Malcolm X transformed himself.  He copied the dictionary, teaching himself to read and write, and spent the remainder of his prison term self-educating by reading books from the prison library.

During his time in prison, Malcolm became a follower of Elijah Mohammad, "a Messenger of Allah," from the Nation of Islam, a man-made religion and forgery of the Arabic Islamic religion.  I am just going to say this plainly: the Nation of Islam is definitely of Satan.  This hate-filled, racist, rebellious movement against white Christian America was very attractive to broken men like Malcolm X.

The Nation of Islam relieved blacks of any responsible for their lives of poverty, crime, drugs, drunkenness, or prison.  The devil race (white America) designed the system so that black Americans had to depend on them. The devil race made it difficult for black Americans to get out of poverty or the ghetto or into business or worthy careers.  Yet, if a black man or woman was educated and out of the ghetto, they were called Uncle Toms, seeking approval from the devil race.

While in prison, Malcolm maintained correspondence with Elijah Mohammad, and when he was released, they worked together, opening temples all over the nation, reaching black Americans with the message: embrace your black identity, know your black history, stand up for yourself, and stop appeasing the devil race, your enemy.  Because of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam spread rapidly and grew strong, but Malcolm always gave credit to Mohammad.  He worshipped the Messenger.

Imagine his shock and dismay when he learned that the "innocent, harmless, gentle little infallible lamb," "the Messenger of god," had several adulterous affairs and fathered four children.  Yet, the man who punished other NOI members for their adultery would not be rebuked himself. Furthermore, Malcolm X began receiving rumors that Mohammad was speaking disrespectfully about him, and even threatening his life.

About the same time, three chapters to the end of the story, Malcolm pondered the simplicity of pure Arabic Islam, and he decided to take a pilgrimage to Mecca.  His life changed drastically. Being a black Muslim from America, Malcolm X was treated like royalty.  He met heads of state and world leaders.  Everyone wanted to meet him and talk to him.  He was a novelty.  Meanwhile, he was shocked to find Muslims of every color worshipping together, as race was not a concern or issue.

In Mecca, he began to understand that race was not the problem, but American society made race an issue.  In other words, (and this is what REALLY upset me) Malcolm had wrongly believed that white people were automatically racist, and he could not accept or understand whites who wanted to join the movement to end racism.  He rejected them assuming they were inherently racist. Now he came to see "it isn't the American white man who is a racist, but it's the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes racist psychology in the white man (and I would add today, in everyone)."  He agreed,
American society makes it next to impossible for humans to meet in America and not be conscious of their color differences.  And [he] agreed that if racism could be removed, America could offer a society where rich and poor could truly live like human beings.
It was because of what he experienced in Mecca that softened his heart and opened it to all people of different colors and different religions and no religion at all.  He found his new mission was "to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete" (which sounds like a hippie utopia to me, but it was a lot better than what he was spewing).

When Malcolm X returned from his very long pilgrimage, he officially left the Nation of Islam and started his own Black Nationalist organization, keeping his Muslim religion.  (Of course, the NOI website claims that Malcolm X separated from NOI over "confusion" of Elijah Mohammad's "private life;" and that the U.S. government played a role in the assassination of Malcolm X.  - They are so full of it! -  The killers were from NOI, sent by the wicked corrupt man who called himself a Messenger of god.)

Malcolm continued to build up and encourage the black community, although he still expected government to deal with some race issues.  He also believed in violence, if other options did not work, even if others were harmed in the process.

At the end of his biography, he talked of his readiness to die, and I suppose that was heavy on his mind because, like I said, he heard the rumors and knew his life was in danger.  So it is eerie that  in 1965 he was assassinated during one of his temple meetings.  He was shot 21 times by three men, and died probably before he arrived at the hospital.

Keeping Racism Alive in America

Racism is big business in America.  Maintaining an emotionally charged, agitated, and divided electorate over race is what garners votes and keeps one major political party in power.

Malcolm X touched on this briefly toward the end of his autobiography.  One political party panders exclusively to black Americans, keeping them dependent on government; yet, they never make their lives better.  This party tells black America that their socio and economic problems are not their fault or responsibility, nor can they help themselves.

If you didn't know better, you would think slavery ended yesterday and America was still segregated. Selfish, greedy self-interest groups, and the aforementioned political party, use hatred and division for political purpose and power.  Racism is conveniently applied to all areas of American culture and society.  It is as if racism has gotten worse; but if you examine it, you will see that it is devised, exaggerated, and unfounded.

Life for black Americans has drastically changed for the better since Malcolm X's time. Unfortunately, racism is still used for political gain, and, by design, has generated resentment and restlessness, further perpetuating hatred and violence, preventing Americans from moving forward and realizing the ideal that Malcolm X imagined for America:
a society where rich and poor could truly live like human beings.
"The Ballot or the Bullet"

On April 3, 1964, Malcolm X gave his famous "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech, on the upcoming election.  Here is a portion of that speech:
The government itself has failed us, and the White Liberals who have been posing as our friends have failed us.  Once we see that all these other sources to which we have turned have failed, we stop turning to them and start turning to ourselves.
Your are the one who sent Kennedy to Washington.  You're the one who put the present Democratic administration in Washington, D.C.  The Whites were evenly divided.  It was the fact that you threw 80% of your votes behind the Democrats that put the Democrats in the White House.  When you see this, you can see that the Negro vote is the key factor.  And despite the fact that you are in a position to be the determining factor, what do you get out of it? 
Democrats have been in Washington, D.C. only because of the Negro vote.  they've been down there four years and all the legislation they wanted to bring up they brought up and got it out of the way, and now they bring up you.  You put them first and they put you last, cause you are a chump.  A political chump. 
The party that you backed, controls two-thirds of the House of Representatives and the Senate and still they can't keep their promise to you, 'cause you're a chump. 
OUCH!
After Malcolm X left NOI, he recommitted to the task of teaching black Americans to work for themselves and help each other in their communities. He believed the race problem in America was not a Civil Rights issue, which the government could fix, but was a human problem that needed black people everywhere to organize and be involved.   Only they could solve their own problems.

Racism is not going to totally disappear anywhere on earth unless it is dealt with at the heart of the problem - in the heart of individuals and families and communities.  And it will never go away so long as political parties continue to use race for gain, and - in America's case - black Americans continue looking to a political party to provide for and lift them up.  Instead, they must believe in and do for themselves.

On a Long Personal, Political Rant Note

The reason I bring this up is because I see the destruction that greedy perpetuation of racism causes. It angers me that the Democrat party in America has gained from its deception about race and the Republican party.

Racism is illegal in America; all discrimination to prevent anyone from education, employment, housing, and other benefits has been removed.  All Americans have access to free public education. Lower economic classes may apply for financial aid to attend community colleges, universities, or trade schools.  One may even work hard in high school and earn a scholarship for higher education.

Every American has a right and obligation to do something.  Don't just sit there and be a victim. Go out and find work or start a business.  Work hard.  Be a leader.  Stop complaining. Stop making excuses.  Maybe it's not someone else's fault; maybe you need an attitude adjustment.  Stay away from drugs and alcohol, don't have sex out of wedlock, finish high school, and contribute to society. For a long time, this was the message of the Republican party - a message that was deemed racist by Democrats and other groups that benefited from crippling black America into another form of slavery.

Black Americans were Republicans since the 1860's because Republicans ended slavery and encouraged black Americans to fit into society.  But blacks switched parties during the Great Depression, even though FDR's policies coaxed peopled into dependency on government. (Once you get on government, it's hard to get off.)  The Democrat party has benefitted from continuing these policies, and much of black America is still dependent on that party to make something happen.  My argument is, black America must stop looking to government, period, and make changes themselves. I believe this is part of the message Malcolm X had, as well.

Honestly, I can't speak for today's Republican party anymore because it has morphed into the Democrat party. By the way, that guy Donald Trump is NOT a Republican, either.  The Republican party is not very conservative now.  All I know is this: if I lived during the Civil War, I would have been a Radical Republican, a proud Abolitionist!!

All men are equal in God's sight, and skin color has nothing to do with race.  We are all one human race.  The most important human traits are your character, how you treat your neighbor, and what is in your heart.

P.S.  And my message to anyone (Hispanics, too) who thinks he is not considered American because he is not white: that is a lie, too.  Dump it, and don't let it define you.  If you are a legal American citizen, that is enough. Your skin color does not determine if you are American.  If you even love this country, you are American, in my book.

P.S.S.  If you are curious how it came to be that we are different skin tones, here is a video (Answers in Genesis) that provides a biblical explanation on how this may have occurred.  It's short and interesting. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

On the Banks of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1937

I decided to listen to this book while cooking dinner or driving in the car.   Cherry Jones performed my edition.  Who is Cherry Jones?  Apparently, she is an American actress, but I had never heard of her; however, she can perform my books for me any time. I don't care what it is because she knows how to read a book aloud.  

The dugout

On the Banks of Plum Creek rejoined Laura and her family in Minnesota.  Kansas did not work out, so they traveled northeast, landed in Plum Creek, and sold the wagon and horses for a dugout, a small wheat field, and oxen.  I think Laura was seven or eight.  

Pa is truly an optimist.   He was so confident of his decision to move to Minnesota - that the land and weather were optimal for crops - he foresaw an excellent future for them.  He told Caroline and his girls three or four times that they were going to be rich off of the crops that he had not planted, yet. Laura imagined that they would be so rich; they would have candy every day.  Pa told Caroline they would have beef every day - "anything they wanted."   Talk about speculation.  They forgot that God is in control of all things.  

It is almost impossible to believe what happened next.  The week Pa planned to reap the little wheat field that the original owner had left, millions of grasshoppers arrived and ate every living green thing as far as they could see.  It was like Armageddon.  Everything was gone, except the grasshoppers; they remained for awhile, and even laid their eggs for the following year.  Laura does such a good job describing this nightmare, you will want to look around for any that may have escaped the pages of your book and showed up in this present age.   

This reality forced Pa to walk 200 miles east to look for work.  When he realized they would have to postpone those plans to be rich, he pulled on his old, hole-y boots and decided to go where the work was.  This demonstrated true perseverance, resilience, and resolve.  By the way, Pa would need those traits later, when a little walk into town turned into a blizzard, and he disappeared for several days.  That was an anxious time for Ma and the girls.  

Besides the apocalyptic grasshoppers, Ma and Carrie in a runaway wagon, Laura almost drowning in the angry Creek, the mean brat Anna that commandeered Laura's rag doll, and Pa being swallowed alive by the blizzard, this is one of my favorite books from the Little House series.  This story is how the season spring feels.  I can feel the warm sunshine and breezes and hear the rustling of the tall grasses and the the roaring of the creek.  Plum Creek is a place of curiosity and exploration for Laura, though it almost gets her killed.  We get to know Carrie a lot better, who is developing a little personality.  Mary and Laura go to school for the first time, and we finally meet the infamous Nellie Olson.  In this book, we discover how much Laura loves horses.  After meeting her future husband in Farmer Boy, is it any wonder that God brought them together?

Christmas at church

My favorite line from Laura: 

On a hot Sunday with nothing to do but sit in the stifling house: 
Carrie wanted a drink, but she pushed the cup away and made a face and said, "Nasty!"
"You better drink it," Mary told her.  "I want a cold drink, too, but there isn't any."
I wish I had a drink of well water," said Laura.
I wish I had an icicle," said Mary.
Then Laura said, "I wish I was an Indian and didn't have to wear clothes."
"Laura!" said Ma.  "And on Sunday!"
Plum Creek, Minnesota

Now that the Ingalls family is so close to town, they can go to church.  But Laura's thoughts reflect her free spirit.  While everyone inside church was listening to the preacher, she was staring out the open windows "at butterflies going where they pleased."   

Do you get the feeling that Laura wished she were a butterfly free to go where she pleased, too?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Eric Metaxas
Published 2011

Powerful, shocking, inspiring I am still reeling from this book.  A story is best if it leaves me stunned for a while.  This one did.

When a friend posted an anti-abortion quote on Facebook by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man I had never heard of, I figured he was a Christian who stood up for righteousness in the face of difficult opposition.  I was in search of stories about Christians who lived through persecution because in America we hardly know real persecution - at least for now.  This book title was listed after the quote, and I added the book to my TBR list.

Wow!  I had no idea what I was getting into.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew about or assisted in planning the assassination of Hitler.  How does a Christian reconcile a scheme to murder when Christians are not to take God's law into their own hands?  This question remained with me, and it would not be answered until 3/4 of the way through the 500-page biography.

Paula Bonhoeffer and her eight children (She is looking at Dietrich.)

Naturally, the author began at the beginning of Bonhoeffer's life, in Germany.  He was not raised in a strictly religious household, but he was exposed to Christian teachings.  Eventually he decided he wanted to study theology and become a pastor; yet, even before he was ordained, he was fervently teaching and writing about Christian principles.  He was asked to teach throughout Europe and in America.

After the rise of the Nazi party and Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, Bonhoeffer was immediately vocal about his opposition.  Since Bonhoeffer had friends (and family) in high places, he received low-key details about Nazi plans and crimes against the Jews (and other classes of people deemed inferior) long before the German people and world could believe was happening. He was infuriated, and expected the Christian church to speak out publicly.

Unfortunately, Hitler already had his claws on the German Church.  You see, the German people, including those in authority, like Army generals and church leaders, did not believe what was happening right before their eyes; they could not foresee how badly it was going to become.  They did not believe this hothead Hitler was serious or that he would be successful; they figured he would calm down eventually.  But Bonhoeffer did see, and he knew from the very beginning: This madman must be stopped!

Either the clergy agreed with Hitler or they lacked courage.

Bonhoeffer was instrumental in dividing the Church - that is: he caused the Protestant church to decide where it stood on the issues at hand: either they were with Hitler, or they were against him. And because Hitler was reforming the nationalist German Church - because, you know, he was so righteous - Bonhoeffer helped start the Confessing Church in opposition.  Because of this, Bonhoeffer was deemed an enemy of the State, or pacifist, and was prohibited from public speaking, teaching, publishing, or preaching; he was on the run from the Nazi government, teaching or preaching underground in his own country.

Meanwhile, Bonhoeffer became actively involved in a German military intelligence organization named Abwehr, a resistance group.  The group shared information with the Allies.  With his numerous contacts abroad, Bonhoeffer acted as a messenger, in addition to helping Jews safely escape Germany.  The group was also involved in or had knowledge of numerous missed opportunities to assassinate Hitler and several of his top aids, including the July 20, 1944, plot.

Eventually, when Bonhoeffer was arrested, it was assumed it was due to a misuse of currency exchange.  He remained a year and a half in prison and was never clearly charged or given a trial.  As the war dragged on, Bonhoeffer thought for certain Hitler would eventually be successfully assassinated, the war would end, and he would be released.  After all, the Allies were closing in, and Hitler was faltering.

Unfortunately, in the last year of the war, the Nazis uncovered documents that connected Bonhoeffer to Abwehr and his involvement in and knowledge of assassination attempts and many other anti-Nazi plans.  In a fit of furious revenge, Hitler demanded that all those involved, waiting in prison, be executed immediately.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged with nine other members in April 1945. Three weeks later, Hitler killed himself, and the war with Germany was over.

Not very convincing salutes; they probably were terrified not to.

That question I had about Christians taking God's law into their own hands was also on Bonhoeffer's mind.  Basically, he believed he was a sacrifice.  He believed "one must be more zealous to please God than to avoid sin.  One must sacrifice oneself utterly to God's purposes, even to the point of possibly making moral mistakes."  He said,
Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behaviour.  The Christian is called to sympathy and action...
He thought Hitler so evil that human rules could not stop him:
The evilness of the Nazis could not be defeated via old-fashioned ethics, rules, and principles.  God alone could combat it.
Bonhoeffer likened the human condition to the character of Don Quixote: "in our efforts to do good,"
...we think we are doing good and fighting evil, but in fact, we are living in an illusion.  'Only the mean-spirited can read the fate of Don Quixote without sharing in and being moved by it.'
The author Metaxas explained:
The solution is to do the will of God, to do it radically and courageously and joyfully.  To try to explain right and wrong - to talk about ethics - outside of God and obedience to His will is impossible.  'Principles are only tools in the hands of God; they will soon be thrown away when they are no longer useful.'  We must look only at God, and in Him we are reconciled to our situation in the world.  
Bonhoeffer knew "that apart from Jesus Christ, we cannot know what is right or do right."  Hence, he believed he was being used by God to do His will (to work against Hitler and the Nazis) by sacrificing his own life in order to save others.  God was not interested in success; God wanted total and complete obedience, even if it meant death.

While none of the assassination attempts were successful, Bonhoeffer and the Resistance did much good, especially because they worked against evil.  In addition, the times shaped Bonhoeffer's theology, and he left us with important written Christian works, such as Ethics, Life Together, and The Cost of Discipleship.  Gratefully, I did learn about courage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew first hand what it meant to stand for righteousness and his love for Christ, in the face of fierce opposition. He gave his life for it.



On a Personal Note

My most treasured line from Bonhoeffer is about marriage.  Let me explain why: a friend of mine and I were talking about our teenagers and sex.  My friend argued that unmarried sex is ok if you love that person, while I insisted that we should teach our children that sex outside of marriage is wrong. It wasn't until later that I realized why I now personally believe that.

Given that I have been struggling with my own marriage, I have learned this important lesson: love is not enough to keep people together, but marriage is necessary to make love mature; it is marriage that supports love - not the other way around.  There will be times when you won't feel like loving your spouse, but it is the covenant of marriage that will preserve your love nonetheless.  (Yes, I know people divorce all the time, but that is a completely different post for another day.)

What I want to share is this:  Bonhoeffer wrote a sermon from his prison cell for his niece and her fiancĂ© for their wedding day.  He esteemed marriage as "more than your love for each other," and "a higher dignity and power for it is God's holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time."  And he added (my exact sentiments),
It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.
Yes!  I concur.