Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: All the Books on My Fall TBR List

All the Books on My Fall TBR List
(Yes, ALL)

Is it fall already? My summer TBR list was a dud, having barely touched what I said I would. I think I hit a dry spell.

Plus, I have been really bad. This last week was rehearsal week and recital weekend, in which life is a whirlwind and the house is a mess because [you] live at the dance studio and theater with your kids, and no housework gets done - let alone reading - and [you] go to bed each night feeling like your left your brain somewhere else. That has been me. My point is, I have not read for a whole week! Probably longer.

Therefore, come fall, and I will definitely still be reading:

Lives of the Romans - Plutarch (TWEM Histories)

Crime and Punishment - Dostoyevsky (re-reading, with Cleo)

Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years 
- Laura Ingalls Wilder 
(Have not even started these)

School Education - Charlotte Mason

And I hope I can start this in fall:
City of God - Augustine (TWEM Histories)

I do want to read this, too: 
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

But, that's ALL I have.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Things I've Been Silent About: Memories by Azar Nafisi

Things I've Been Silent About: Memories
Azar Nafisi
Published 2008

Earlier this year I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, and it became one of my more memorable reads of the year; I hope to reread it someday. Having been introduced to Nafisi, I became interested in her speaking engagements about literature, which I watched via Youtube, and other written works. 

This book, Things I've Been Silent About, was not on the top of my list - I would rather get a copy of The Republic of Imagination, but my library system does not carry it. Instead I read Things. It is a very long personal narrative that fills in all of the gaps about Nafisi's private life before, during, and a short time after the period covered in Reading Lolita, which mainly focuses on Nafisi as a literary professor in Iran (while intertwining the ever changing political atmosphere into the story). 

Azar Nafisi

It is an autobiography, a family story, and a political history of Iran from the author's perspective. Azar was born in 1955. While she retold her personal history, she shared the political changes in Iran, including the Islamic Revolution and the Iraq-Iran War. I only remember the conflict with Iran in 1979 because, as a weird nine-year old I enjoyed current events. I read the newspaper and followed the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Nafisi reserved only one sentence for that event, and did not even mention the hostages. (It is recorded in the back of the book in the timeline.) But it was not important to her history because, at the time, Iran was drastically changing before her eyes. Yet, I remember it because 52 Americans were taken hostage, in Iran, and held for 444 days. I wore my yellow ribbon every day because I was emotionally invested. But I did not know or understand that Iran was turning inside out. For Nafisi, it was her whole world. 

The Iranian Hostage Crisis, 1979

But the major conflict of the autobiography is the turbulent relationship Nafisi had with her oppressive, explosive, controlling mother and how she rectified it at the end of her mother's life. She also has an unfaithful father, though adultery (mostly with men) seemed expected and acceptable in Nafisi's culture. Aside from his adulterous affairs - emotional or physical - Nafisi had a wonderful relationship with her father; it is through him that she developed her love of literature and poetry. Both of her parents were involved in Iranian politics: her father was the Mayor of Tehran, until he was arrested and sent to prison for several years; her mother was elected to Parliament for a time.

Azar Nafisi and her mother, Nezhat

She had the opportunity to study abroad in France, England, and later the United States. But if these appeared to be wonderful opportunities, they were overshadowed by her chaotic, unstable home life. There was no firm foundation growing up. 

Nafisi had a senseless first marriage that did not last; and her second marriage was tested during the time of the Islamic Revolution, but it held firm. She and her husband had two children. They later decided to move to the United States to work and raise their children, away from Iran as it remained oppressive.

At the very end of her story, Nafisi said she learned from both her parents that (and I paraphrase) : all that we think we have - our home, our identity, sense of self and belonging, our very lives, (and I would add family), can be taken from us very swiftly.  We cannot count on geography for our homes; we must learn to make our own portable home, through stories and memories and experiences that guard and resist "the tyranny of man and time."

Well, it was a sorrowful story, and I do not doubt that the author suffers still from her past pain. There was an emptiness that I felt while reading it, too, and I know it is because there was a lot of uncertainty in her life, both as a child and even when she wrote this book as an adult. But I do not want to get into it because it involves religion, and I know some people are content believing in nothing or a man-made religion for the sake of tradition. I am not sure if Nafisi practices a religion today or has faith in the Christian God, but she has been accused of spreading "Islamophobia" because she wrote about the darkness of Islam (specifically how it treats women). I feel empathy for her because I know she had to find answers and solutions in her life that are not concrete or permanent. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have read her story.

Azar Nafisi 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Throwback Freebie

Novels From the Well-Educated Mind List That Turned Into Relationships



Over five years ago I read The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, and I decided to read through the book lists. I completed reading the novels in a few years, and I came away with several life-long relationships with these books I did not know I loved. These are the gems:

Don Quixote - Cervantes 
If you like quotes about life, truth, and common sense, 
you'll find them abundant in this one.

Pride and Prejudice  - Jane Austen
Completely wonderful, with a touch of hysterical.

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
An engrossingly strange, epic story.

Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Not to be taken seriously, but oh, so shocking.

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Brillant.

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
If you love a good, long, deep story, you'll love Tolstoy for this one.

Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy
If you love language and words, this is Hardy's treat.

Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
So many lessons here to be taken very seriously, even by Twain.  

House of Mirth - Edith Wharton
Try to read this one without becoming emotionally invested.

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tragedy ~ you cannot turn your eyes away.

Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Ellison has something to say. Listen up.

Honorable Mentions: 
I have to include these titles because I had already read them before The Well-Educated Mind, but they were on the list, and I gladly reread them; now I keep them even closer with a deeper understanding and appreciation.

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
You need to read this one, my fellow Americans.

Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
Compelling.

1984 - George Orwell
Please learn this: Communism sucks the life out of people.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Painful Reads

Books I Struggled Painfully Through and Some I Did Not Finish 

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
(Made it through page 179.)
This story lost me. 
I really desired it to take me away because: Fitzgerald; but, no.

The Republic by Plato
(Made it to page 100.)
It's just unenjoyable.


The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
(Begrudgingly read it to the end.)
After The Histories by Herodotus, I did not want anymore ancient war.


The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
(Read at least half of this until I had to look away.)
Such a disappointment.  The movie is SO MUCH BETTER.


Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
(Almost finished it, but no cigar.)
This sounded so cool to me, but after enduring most of it, 
I felt like I was swimming against the current for too long.  
It became tiresome.  


The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola
(Again, halfway through, but I couldn't stomach it.)
One could say it was quite effective, 
but at some point I had to stop because I felt nauseous.
It's not gross; it's just too much.



Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
(Reluctantly finished the first chapter.)
This one irritated me for so many reasons.  
True, I did not give it much of a chance, 
but I think the F-word was the last straw on top of everything else.


Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
(I don't remember how much of this I did read, but I recall waiting for it to get funny, and it didn't.)
I heard this was satire, but I think it went over my head.


Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
(Had to finish it, but it was painful to the end.)
Everyone in this story made me angry for the entire read.  There was no rest.



A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
(Regretfully read this aloud to my kids.)
What did I just read?  
I told my kids they would have to read the remaining books in the series 
on their own because I was done.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Published 1962

Experience a typical day in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet Gulag. Ivan Denisovich has been a prisoner for eight years, and he knows how to survive in the work camp. He is a fictional character, -- as is his story -- but it is a topic the author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is all too familiar since he himself knows personally what life is like inside the Gulag. 

Under a Communist regime, disagreement with government was strictly prohibited and would earn you ten years in a prison work camp. Or you could be accused of something, like spying; even if it was not true, that's ten years, too. No one was safe. If you were suspected of dangerous thoughts, you would be arrested. That's because the citizen was not to be trusted; he was an enemy of the State. And when your ten years were up, you could get another consecutive ten-year term, without explanation. That was Communist life in Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, in the mid 1900s. (By the way, not much has changed. No one can be trusted under a Communist regime.)

I'm digressing again.

Solzhenitsyn provides us with a glimpse of how to survive bare minimum life on the inside of the gulag by running along side Ivan Denisovich as he stretches out his day. He has hours of backbreaking, exhausting work to do, using very few tools, wearing unsatisfactory clothing and boots in freezing temperature, while subsisting on barely any food. Plus the men must endure the long roll calls and the possible violence from the guards if things do not go smoothly.

There are many different ways to survive in the work camp, but there are also different kinds of survivalists. Ivan is successful because he is resourceful and has a good work ethic and an encouraging outlook on life. He is also perceptive and quick-witted.

But there are others who are mentally weak, who will suffer physically, more than the rest, and those who will struggle because of their pride. It is advisable to submit to your authorities and support one another in times of conflict. It is also helpful to retain your dignity, if you can.

Ivan is perplexed by the comparison of two specific types of survivalists: a Christian who survives on the bare minimum, but is always content and joyful. He prays continually and even reads aloud from his Bible (which he keeps hidden in his bunk), while his squad leader works hard for Ivan's group, cheating and lying to get the best deals for his men. Why does one feel the need to work exceptionally hard for the best, while the other is satisfied to just exist with very little?

Whatever the answer, Ivan ponders the end of his exhausting, sickening, freezing day. He managed to ethically acquire extra food today, he found and saved a piece of wasted metal to make into a tool, and he escaped a few incidents that could have turned violent. It was not such a bad day, after all, and he felt pretty good about that. That is how you survive in the Gulag.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Back to School Freebie

Back to School Freebie:
Books I am reading with my kids to teach Early and Revolutionary America

My idea of curriculum is pulling together great stories, preferably primary accounts when they can be found, to read to or with my kids to help them have a closer connection and visual of a particular time period.  We have no time for boring textbooks assembled by a committee of unknown adults who think they know better.  I like to mix literature and non-fiction.  So this is what I have narrowed my list down to:

Homes in the Wilderness A Pilgrim's Journal of Plymouth Plantation in 1620 
by William Bradford

The Story of Hiawatha by Allen Chafee

Or Give Me Death by Ann Rinaldi


A Namesake for Nathan by F.N. Monjo

Braving the New World by Don Nardo

Poems by Phyllis Wheatley

Amos Fortune Feeman by Elizabeth Yates


The Founding of a Nation The Story of the 13 Colonies by Elizabeth Richards

The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds

Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit

Johnny Tremain by Ester Forbes

Some other books we are using for resources include:

The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty
Squanto Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Bulla
The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson
George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster
Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes by Carl Waldman
Will You Sign Here, John Hancock by Jean Fritz
We the People The Story of Our Constitution by Lynne Cheney


Have you read any of these?  Tell me, what did you think?
Or do you know of something I missed?