Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Title: Walden
Author: Henry David Thoreau
Published:  1854
Challenges: The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge (Biographies), Literary Movement Challenge (Transcendentalism), The Classics Club, and The Manly Reading List 

This book was one of my most anticipated books on the entire Well-Educated Mind reading list.  It was like preparing for a visit from a good, old friend.  I was a little apprehensive though that I may not love Walden as I originally did over twenty years ago, since so much of my worldview has changed; however, I can confirm that Walden and I are indeed still friends.

When I studied architecture in college, my professor had us read Walden and "Civil Disobedience." He was a libertarian-type, and I can understand why he encouraged us to study Thoreau's life and principles.  Thoreau was self-sufficient, self-reliant, independent, and a lover of liberty.  He was also a naturalist, surveyor, explorer, philosopher, poet, and author.  He practiced a life of simplicity.  

Replica of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, in winter
(This is the life!  A fire, hot tea, some books; what more do you need?)

Walden is a short collection of experiences written by the author about his two-year experiment living in the woods near Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts.  He divided his principles, opinions, and findings into sections: economy, reading, sounds, solitude, visitors, higher laws, brute neighbors, winter animals, the pond in winter, and spring, to name a few of my favorites.  His purpose for going to Walden Pond was this:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Map of Walden Pond

Here are a few common sense truths about Thoreau, in my own words:
  • He foresaw the booming industrial revolution as a threat to nature - which he understood to be an enhancement to one's life.
  • He built his own home and grew his own food, and expressed rationally a need for every man to build his own home and grow his own food, instead of paying someone else to do it.  
  • He was simple and plain, and had few material goods, and preferred to live that way. 
  • He believed ornaments, decorations, and fashion for houses and people were foolishness.
  • He thought man worked too hard, too long, and had nothing to show for it.
  • He knew man lived well beyond his means.
  • He felt charity, doing-good, and philanthropy were overrated and done out of selfishness.
  • He loved reading great books.
  • He was a realist.
Thoreau's Cove in spring

Some of my favorite quotes:

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?  We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.
The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself.
This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.
Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.
 (Thoreau regarded the morning as the best time of day.  It is!)

The adventurous student will always study the classics.  For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? 
To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem.
A written word is the choicest of relics.  It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. 
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.  To be in company, even with the best, is wearisome and dissipating.  I love to be alone.  I never found the companion that was so companionable than solitude.
When I was a college girl, except for the vegan diet (Thoreau’s preference), I wanted to live like Thoreau.  I wanted a simple life (and I still do!).  At one time, I was so inspired by Thoreau's ideas, I wanted to move to Alaska and live in an igloo; that is how much I took the simple life to heart.  (By the way, I would have returned home to sunny California quicker than you could say "iceberg" because I am not that adventurous.  I don't even like camping in a tent in the local mountains.) 

Walden Pond in Summer (Don't you want to just live like this forever?)

Honestly, I had two opposing voices.  The first was my adult-ish, motherly, Christian-worldview voice, with husband, five kids, and the burdens of this life that scolded Thoreau and wanted him to mature and be adult-ish, too.  "This is sheer idleness, Thoreau!  Real men work.  Come in from the woods and contribute to society.  How can you 'love thy neighbor' and ‘serve others’ while being separated from the world?  Stop wandering off, writing poetry, pondering nature, and doing the bare minimum to get by." That was my first voice.

My second voice was the younger woman of a simpler time, screaming, “TAKE ME WITH YOU!!!!”  That was the voice that was starring and underlining and writing all over again these important words of Thoreau's thoughts that are still alive in me.  (Yeah, things changed once I got married and had kids; peace and serenity are a long way off in this crowded little house of seven, Plus, I live in a DESERT!)  Nonetheless, I am still free to imagine and create my own Walden Pond right here in my own little world. Like Thoreau said, "Live the life you imagined."  (I try.)

Walden Pond in autumn (Imagine waking up to this every morning.)

In the words of Thoreau, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday Freebie: Ten Most Inspirational Books of My Life

Via The Broke and The Bookish

Ten most inspirational books of my life

These are books that have impacted some area of my life.  
Most I have read more than once and still desire to read them again and again.

1.  The Bible
For daily inspiration of Truth!  I especially appreciate John MacArthur's commentary, which I think is longer than the entire Bible itself.

2. A Mom Just Like You: The Home Schooling Mother - Vickie and Jayme Farris
Vickie Farris is a homeschooling mother of ten children who inspired me to trust God. I read this four times, including during a time I miscarried.

3. When You Rise Up: A Covenantal Approach to Homeschooling - R.C. Sproul, Jr.
This book took a huge weight off my shoulders regarding the education of my children.  It answers the questions: who should teach our children, what they should be taught, and what the goal of education truly is.  Education is really simple, but man has complicated it.

4. The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
I love this book.  It is way too ambitious for me - or if I had one child, it may have been possible to implement; however, it changed the way I plan our studies.  I learned how to base our learning on history and literature, so that every topic is connected and follows chronologically.  I do wish I was classically educated; I would have loved school!

5. Walden and "Civil Disobedience" - Henry David Thoreau
I read this in college and connected instantly.   I identified so thoroughly with Thoreau's principles that they inspired some of my college work, and I even named our homeschool after the title (though It has since changed.)  This month I finished reading Walden for the second time; I wondered what I would think because my worldview has changed drastically, though part of me is still the same.  I'll write about my conclusion later this week.

6. A Thomas Jefferson Education: 
Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century - Oliver DeMille
In my early homeschooling days, this book inspired me to look at education differently from how I was taught.  It teaches the importance of self-education through reading, writing about, and discussing the classics or great books.  

7. The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had -
Susan Wise Bauer
This book encouraged me to just start reading, writing, and developing that classical education I never had.

8. Let's Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage - Lisa Beamer
Lisa Beamer wrote this after her husband Todd was killed on September 11th, 2001, on Flt. 93.  I cannot do this story justice in a short note; however, I was and am inspired by Lisa's strong and steady faith.  She clung to God as she learned the details involving her husband's last minutes, and while facing a future without him, including giving birth to their third child. 

9. The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
I read this at least two times, but it is due for another read.  In high school, I wrote about Anne as a hero (simply for her courage that I only wish I had an ounce).  

10. A History of the American People - Paul Johnson
This is the only other book on the list that I have read one time.  It is huge!  (I'm talking War and Peace huge.)  However, it inspired my love for history, especially American history, and I hope to dig into it again very soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Gone With the Wind Group Read, Week One Question: the Author


     The Pursuit of Happiness is hosting the Gone With the Wind group read, and here are a series of prompts to explore the featured novel: 

      Week One (through May 16): The Author (Host's response

Who is Margaret Mitchell?  I have no idea, except that she is the author of GWTW.  The only thing I knew already was how she tragically died.  She was crossing a street with her husband to attend the theater when she was suddenly struck by a drunk driver.  She died five days later.

When was she born? November 8, 1900

Where did she live? Atlanta, Georgia

What is an interesting and random fact about her life?  Pertaining to GWTW, I read that she wrote the final chapter first, and then everything else followed, which took ten years to complete.  I will ponder this when I read the final chapter.  I also read that Mitchell grew up surrounded by family members who told her stories about the Civil War; and it wasn't until age ten that she learned the South had lost the War.

What do you think of her writing style?  It agrees with my senses and comprehension abilities - so pleasant, thorough, smooth, and enjoyable.  It feels very natural, especially if reading aloud.

Is there a particular quote in Gone with the Wind that stands out for you right now? 
Ellen's life was not easy, nor was it happy, but she did not expect life to be easy, and, if it was not happy, that was a women's lot.  It was a man's world, and she accepted it as such.  The man owned the property, and the women managed it.  The man took the credit for the management, and the women praised his cleverness.  The man roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger, and the woman muffled the moans of childbirth, lest she disturb him.  Men were rough of speech and often drunk.  Women ignored the lapses of speech and put the drunkards to bed without bitter words.  Men were rude and outspoken, women were always kind, gracious, and forgiving.

During this reread, I have found Ellen, Scarlett's mother, to be an admirable character.   I will speak more on her later.

Why do you think she may have written this book?  When some people have a story to tell, they must write; if they don't, they will die (figuratively, of course).  Maybe Mitchell did not necessarily care if GWTW was made public; nonetheless, she had this story growing inside for years, and it had to be told.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe

Title: A Journal of the Plague Year
Author: Daniel Defoe
Published:  1722
Challenges: Back to the Classics Challenge (a forgotten classic)

A Journal of the Plague Year is the narrator's first-hand account of the Bubonic Plague, when it devastated London in 1665.  Although it is considered fictional, it is possible that the narration was taken from the journal of Defoe's uncle, Henry Foe.  In recent times, it has been regarded as historical fiction.

I am having a difficult time thinking of what to communicate about this book, so I will record what comes to mind: first, I chose it for my Back to the Classics Challenge, a forgotten classic, because I had just finished reading Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and had a favorable opinion.  When searching for a "forgotten classic," this title came up and had positive reviews.  

Well, it is not a riveting novel, but it was interesting.  The narrator told how his city, London, persevered through a most destructive and calamitous event in its history.  He explained how officials meant to protect the people by keeping the news quiet in the beginning; but as it was obvious of the inevitable, the wealthy were able to get away while the poor were left behind to battle the disease. Even the narrator struggled with what to do, and in the end he decided to stay in the city and trust God with his "safety and health."

He also gave reasons why he made a record of his observations:
I have set this particular down so fully, because I know not but it may be of moment to those who come after me, if they come to be brought to the same distress, and to the same manner of making their choice; and therefore I desire this account may pass with them rather for a direction to themselves to act by than a history of my acting, seeing it may not be of one farthing value to them to note what became of me.
The results of the Plague are disheartening.  The city had to deal with the increase in crime, as people's hearts were hardened and they no longer cared about the law or their neighbors.  The poor were ignorant and easily taken advantage of by false prophecies, predictions apparitions, ministers, and doctors.  And the stories about desperation, loss of loved ones, and people dying in the street are naturally sorrowful.

Meanwhile, interestingly enough, the government "encouraged" the people "their devotion, and appointed public prayers and days of fasting and humiliation, to make public confession of sin and implore the mercy of God to avert the dreadful judgment which hung over their heads."  The government even prohibited entertainment, such as gaming and dancing-rooms, as a way to cover sins.

Over all, the journal is somewhat disorganized, and the narrator repeats himself often, or is contradictory.  For example, it is obvious that he disagreed with the official decision to keep whole families and servants "shut up" in their homes when only one person was confirmed with the distemper; but later he admitted how essential it was that people obeyed the order to stay put, instead of escaping and risking the spread of the disease since it was not always easy to know who was infected and who was healthy.  But then I cannot complain about his journal because I know my journal writing, and disorganization and repetition are the least of it. 

At the very end, when the Plague subsided, the narrator commended city officials for their courage to remain in London, to be examples and to lead the people, and to act quickly in making rules to protect the people, even enforcing the "shut up" rule.  But overall, he praised God for the restoration of his city and the preservation of those who had survived.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe

Title: "The Tell-Tale Heart"
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Published:  1843
Challenges: Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Romanticism) 

Originally I was reading The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper, for my Romanticism choice; however, after dragging myself through 50% of the book, I couldn't anymore!  

The biggest problem was that I had an expectation about the story from the movie, which is one of my favorites of all-time.  Unfortunately, in this case, the story in the book is not at all like the story from the movie - at least not the first half of the book.  I also found the dialogue long, tedious, and not believable, while the overall plot did not keep my interest.  I could not appreciate it as I had hoped to; therefore, I put it back on my shelf for another day, or year.

In the meantime, I still wanted to read something for Romanticism, but most of my choices would have been too long - except for Edgar Allan Poe's short stories.  So I choose my very favorite: "The Tell-Tale Heart."  

When I read this story, I have to read it aloud, with expression!  I just cannot read it quietly to myself.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is about the narrator, the main character, who tries to convince the reader that he is not mad or insane; he recounts how he committed a wretched deed, as we will find out, with such caution and premeditation, which should be evidence enough for his rationality.  However, as he reveals his wicked plan to murder an old man, whom he says he loved, the reader is more assured that the narrator is obsessed, irrational, and heartless.  


The narrator planned for an entire week to murder the old man because, he says, he hated his "evil eye."  There was nothing else about the old man that disturbed him other than the presence of his eye. Every night, for one week, the narrator opened the door of the bedroom where the old man slept, and "thrust in his head" into the darkness; but on the eighth night, the narrator opened the door to the old man's room and shone the light of his lantern on the old man, as a beam of light fell directly upon the "vulture eye."  The old man, who may have been blind, though the story does not reveal, knew someone was in his bedroom.  The narrator imagined that he could hear the old man's heartbeat growing louder and louder, and that even the neighbors may hear it.  In anxiety, he murdered the old man.

Still intent on convincing the reader of his sanity, he told how he carefully dismembered the body and stuffed the parts under the floorboards.  When police arrived a few hours later, the narrator was calm and collected that even they were convinced of the story he told them about the missing old man and the scream the neighbor's must have heard.  However, he imagined he could hear the heartbeat of the old man beneath the floor, and he believed the police could hear it, too.  They were mocking him, he was certain.  In his irrationality, he called them "Villains!" for pretending not to hear the heart, and desperately disclosed the crime and made his confession.


I used to think that the beating heart was his own guilty conscience, but I wonder if the narrator even had a conscience.  If he had a conscience, or a "heart," he would have had compassion to guide him. Instead he was heartless and committed a wicked, evil crime.  

In addition, all of the main character's feelings and thoughts are senseless.  For example, he believed the old man's eye was evil.  There was no other reason given about the old man that proved he was wicked, only the condition of his eye made him evil, which did not make sense.  Secondly, the attempt to prove his sanity did not work because with every step he demonstrated to the reader that he was crazy.  And finally, when he believed the police officers were mocking him, he thought he was more clever by revealing his very own evil deed to them; but instead he lead to his own demise and conviction.

One last note: another great way to read through The Tell-Tale Heart is to listen to it performed by Vincent Price:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Fortune of the Rougons, by Émile Zola

Title: The Fortune of the Rougons
Author: Émile Zola
Published:  1871
Challenges: Zoladdiction 2015, Back to the Classics Challenge 2015, and The Classics Club

The Fortune of the Rougons is the first book in Les Rougon-Macquart series, by Émile Zola.  It introduces the reader to the roots and branches of this fictitious family tree, living during what is called the Second French Empire, of which I know little about.  (Note to self: I need to study French history.)

The initial opening is brief and involves an uprising, or coup d'état, ushering in Napoleon's second coming, or whatever you like to call it.  (See, I need French history.)  After the opening is set, the author pauses to return to the past to introduce the imaginary family beginnings and the founding of their town.  Then he returns to the present where the reader learns there are several characters that are either deeply involved or somewhat involved in the insurrection, while some family members directly oppose each other. 

In this story, there is a shortage of characters to favor, as Zola is not subtle in exposing wicked hearts. Readers can see viciousness and greed being passed down from parent to child as hereditary traits, in addition to hair color and nose shapes.  It is already disturbing to read about cruel characters mistreating others, but it is more disheartening when they are supposedly related in some way.  Also, Zola is setting up the families' future destinies, as one will struggle in poverty while the other will work its way into the upper social class.  

Aside from the conflict, there is a sweet love story - oh, so sweet and innocent (albeit, fairly young) - between two characters, who are quite possibly the most agreeable in this entire story. Ah, those forbidden, natural, yet hopeless, love affairs!  I cannot tell you what happens, but it may break your heart.  (I have said too much already.)

Liberty Leading the People, by Delacroix

So I got lost in the details of the historical setting, and I will need to research French history under Napoleon.  All I know concerning The Fortune is that there is a conflict between family members, and the Rougons used cunning deception to gain power and control, while Macquart threw temper tantrums because he did not achieve what he thought he deserved.

If I ever read The Fortune again, which I should, and if you ever read it for the first time, I suggest, and I hope to remember myself, to make up a family tree and take notes as to who is on what side and what each side represents.  Nonetheless, I look forward to reading book #2, Le Curée, or The Kill, in English, for Fanda's Literary Movement Reading Challenge: Naturalism, in August.