Monday, April 21, 2014

For the Love of Reading

This is a post I wrote on my homeschool blog about reading.  I had just finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my kids, and they were so excited about it, while I felt differently.  But it wasn't my opinion that mattered, as much as it was their excitement for reading it.  And now I look back on what I have done to turn five children into readers:

For the Love of Reading

When my first child was 6-months old, I read the same board book to him every night.  It was a book about noises.  He became so familiar with it that when he saw the pictures, he would make the sounds and use hand gestures, even though he could not say the words.  He was reading!

I made a habit of reading to him each night, and he looked forward to it.  As he got older, we went to the library once a week and took home a bag full of books.

Start them young
At three, my son was reading independently; and by first-grade, he tested sixth-grade reading level.  I encouraged independent reading every night at bedtime; we called it Quiet Time.  He would choose several library books to read quietly to himself before lights out.

Reading should be fun and enjoyable!

I followed the same formula with my second child, reading to her as a baby every night.  She did not read independently until after five years.  Once I caught her reading a Dick and Jane book aloud to her stuffies; then I encouraged her to read to herself during her own Quiet Time.  She is fourteen now, and sometimes I catch her reading books or on her Nook when she should be doing algebra.  The habit has almost worked against her because all she wants to do is read.

Caught reading again

Now I have three more young ones to train up to be voracious readers.  They are under the age of ten, and all three read independently.  I was so excited when my five- and six-year olds made the final transition, just this year. They are reading on their own.  When they come to words they do not know, we sound them out.  And if they struggle, I tell them what it is.

It is not difficult to teach children to read, and they will when they are ready.  But the most important thing is to surround them with books.  Read to them, read with them, and encourage them to read to you when they are ready. Go to the library often, and bring home tons of books.  Read books over and over again, too.  Make it so that they do not know anything else, that having books around and reading is not a foreign concept. Make it commonplace.  Make it home. Once they know how to read, they can learn just about anything.  And I have not even touched on what reading does for writing, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension, and the imagination.

So, when I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my three youngest, I wholeheartedly agreed with this section where Mike Teavee, one of the children with the Golden Ticket, was sucked up by the TV and taken away.  The Oompa Loompas had this advice for parents (a portion of their song about replacing the TV with books):

'All right!' you'll cry.  'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children?  Please explain!'

We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'

Have you forgotten?  Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY...USED...TO...READ!  They'd READ and Read,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
TO READ some more.  Great Scott!  Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!

The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!

Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,

And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smalls so good, what can it be!
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)

The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and -
Just How The Camel Got His Hump
And How The Monkey Lost His Rump,

And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole -
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!

Check out lots of books from the library
If you'd ask me, I'd say that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not exactly complex writing, but the storyline is perfect for children.  What's not to love about a kid in a candy factory?  When I read the last word of the last chapter, my six-year old shouted (he's very excitable), "THAT'S THE BEST STORY EVER!"  To me, it wasn't riveting; but to him, it was awesome!  And that's what really matters because it is establishing a foundation for the love of reading.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes

Author: Chrétien de Troyes, 12th century French poet,
Translation: William W. Kibler and Charleton W. Carroll
Literary period: Medieval literature

Jean @ Howling Frog Books suggested that I read something from Chrétien de Troyes for my Arthurian Lit Challenge; so I ordered the complete Arthurian Romances, which includes five separate stories: Erec and Enide (1170), Cligès (1176), Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (both 1177-1181), Perceval, the Story of the Grail (1181-1190).

It took about two months to read, and that was probably because the subject matter charmed me to read only in the evenings after everyone went to bed and it was quiet and peaceful in my house. 

My goodness!  Sometimes I imagined I was reading one of those Harlequin Romance novels.  No, I have never read one, by the way, and have only glimpsed the front covers in my local used bookstore.  The Harlequins are probably not even comparable, but I thought I would share my naive imagination.

The stories in Arthurian Romances feature a dutiful, brave, chivalrous knight who falls madly in love with the most beautiful lady he has ever set eyes on.  The knight then pursues the fair maiden and promises to love and serve her loyally in exchange for her heart.

But, what really matters is how Chrétien describes these romances.  Here is a sample (from "Erec and Enide"):
The hunted stag who pants from thirst does not so yearn for the fountain, nor does the hungry sparrow-hawk return so willingly when called, that they did not come into each other’s arms more eagerly.  That night they fully made up for what they had so long deferred. 
If I write anymore, I shall blush. 

One of my favorite lines comes from the story of Lancelot, when Chrétien, the narrator, must discontinue his description of Lancelot’s forbidden love with Guinevere: 
Her love-play seemed so gentle and good to him, both her kisses and caresses, that in truth the two of them felt a joy and wonder the equal of which has never been heard or known. But I shall let it remain a secret for ever, since it should not be written of: the most delightful and choicest pleasure is that which is hinted at, but never told.
Chrétien also includes words of wisdom:
It is the truth that a good heart is humble, but the fool and the braggart will never be rid of their folly.
 When a man devotes himself to true goodness, his full worth can never be told, for no tongue can rehearse all the goodness a noble man can do.
And I like this next one (for a good laugh):
A woman does not know how to bear a shield nor strike with a lance; she can help and improve herself greatly by taking a good husband.
Finally, as with most medieval tales, the Romances feature numerous battles between formidable knights, fearless of dying - especially in combat and for an honorable cause.   There are also Catholic and Christian overtones throughout the stories, which clearly demonstrate the influences of medieval life and literature. 

It was a pleasure to read Arthurian Romances; however, there is one thing I noticed: Chrétien's wording is beautiful, but it is almost as if the English translation waters it down or does not do it justice. It is too bad that I do not know French because, while the English translation I read was fine and good, how much lovelier might it have been in its original form?  

Monday, April 7, 2014

What to think about White Noise, by Don DeLillo

In my previous post about White Noise, I said I would return to answer the question, "Do you agree" (with the author's argument)?  

Author's argument recap

(This is only my opinion.)  Man is losing his humanness - his ability to be well-grounded, in touch with reality - because he is inundated with FALSE advertisements, products, ideas, premonitions, opinions, technologies, etc. to make himself a better human being, when instead he has become more uninformed, dull, fearful, and robotic.  

When the main character, Jack, and his wife, Babette, admit they have a fear of death, they believe a little pill has the power to erase that fear because its distributor says it will.  But it does not.  Instead, the couple is left to naturally cope with their own insecurities.  (We're not Brave New World, yet).

So, do I agree?  

I think DeLillo makes a great argument.  I can see evidence that society is becoming brain dead with overstimulation of information, technology, and consumerism, and we are not any smarter or wiser, happier or more peaceful, or capable of healthy communication. We put faith in technology, medicine, and marketing to educate us, inform us, make us live longer, healthy, happy lives; yet, we are unsophisticated, more dependent on outward sources, unable to cope, still miserable, and still immortal.  Let me rephrase: NOT everyone suffers these ills, but these issues still exist and are not going away. They are still with us and spreading.

The most important point

Jack's colleague made an important point when she told Jack that knowledge and fear of death are essential to feeling the fullness of life.  (She doesn't say that, per se, but I am presenting it differently.) People need to have finality of life in order to appreciate life; otherwise, if they never recognize the end, what is there to be grateful for?  

Jack copes - at least, that is what I understand, because there is no real determinant.  He seems to find peace in watching his children sleep or being with his three-year old, who is free from the burden of the knowledge of death. His son lives on the edge because he is not afraid of danger or death.  He LIVES, and Jack lives through him.

What I do not agree with

Now, I do not agree that it is healthy to live through others, but Jack is not exactly well grounded to begin with.  He is not a strong character, within the novel.  He is married numerous times and has zero authority with his children and stepchildren; in fact, they make him appear foolish.  He is a feeble man who teaches Hitler studies at the local college.  Even that is a cover-up.   

I wrote in my notes that Jack “is an idiot” because he has no outward reaction to Babette’s infidelity.  Instead, Babette scolds him for wanting to know the individual whom she exchanged sexual favors with for the pill that is supposed to erase her fears.  She says, 
Ask yourself what it is you want more, to ease your ancient fear or to revenge your childish dopey injured male pride.  
That was totally unwarranted; and, yet, he did not defend himself.

A personal opinion

To conclude, I sympathized with Jack and Babette because I understood their fear of death.  In my late teens, I endured a fear of death, too, when several of my peers died, and I did not understand it.  It upset me to know that someone my age could die.  I was so afraid and had no answers; death was the end of life, and that horrified me.  

Today, as a Christian, I know what happens to us when we die.  Death is no longer an unknown.  But Jack and Babette were lost - so lost, they foolishly put their faith into anything that promised to eradicate their fear, as if that would be sufficient.  They guessed what death would be like and then sought to deaden or mask the fear.  I thought: if only they knew the Truth, they would not have to fear at all. They would not need magic pills or to seek peace through their wild three-year old, living on the edge.  

By the end of the novel, I thought Jack was going to actually learn the Truth. He entered a Catholic hospital, for goodness sake! He even probed a nun about life and death.  But, she was an unbelieving nun!  Who ever heard of an unbelieving nun?  She was a dead end - a lost opportunity for the main character to finally receive the Good News so that he would never have to be afraid of dying again. The irony of it all!  I guess that is why White Noise is a comical satire.   

Add it to my "reread someday" pile

However, while I think the novel has some flaws, and the writing is not complex, I found it humorously entertaining.  It was totally 80's.  
I just may add it to my "reread someday" pile.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Final Thoughts on Candide, Chapters XXV - XXX

Chapters I - VIII
Chapters IX - XVI
Chapters XVII - XXIV

In these final chapters, Candide and Martin meet the Pococurate, the "man who has never known what worry is."  In other words, he must be the happiest man on earth, right?

Wrong!  The Pococurate has everything one's heart could desire, and yet he is never pleased or content. He has access to the pleasures and leisures of this life, but he is so bored and miserable with it all.  He can no longer recognize or appreciate beauty in art or music, and he orally shreds the great masters of literature and philosophy.

Martin agrees with plenty the Pococurate opines, but Candide is confused because he at least has the sense to know great artists, musicians, authors, and philosophers.  Then Candide says to Martin,
You must admit that there is the happiest man alive, because he is superior to all he possesses.
But Martin replies,
Don't you see...he is disgusted with everything he possesses?  Plato long ago said that the best stomachs are not those that reject all food. 
Candide believes,
...isn't there a pleasure in criticizing everything and discovering faults where other men detect beauties?
And Martin ends with,
That is to say...that there is a pleasure in not being pleased.  
Later, Candide and Martin meet six miserable, dethroned kings, all of whom still have servants.  One of them is Cacambo.  (It's a long story, and Candide buys his freedom.)

Now the three men continue their search for Cunégonde, and, lo' and behold! Pangloss, the Baron, and the Reverend, whom Candide thought all dead, are alive and slaves on a ship.  Again, he buys their freedom.

Candide then asks Pangloss, after a recap of all his calamities, if he still believes in his optimistic philosophy.  Pangloss stands firm because, after all, he is a philosopher, and it would not look good for him to reject his own ideas or those of Leibnitz.

Candide illustration by Quentin Blake
In the end, Candide reunites with Cunégonde, who, after all of her misfortunes, is no longer the beautiful, sweet young woman Candide desires to marry; nonetheless, he marries her, and she becomes more hideous and insufferable.  Together, along with the old woman, Martin, Pangloss, and Cacambo, they buy a little farm with what little money they have left and toil in hard labor.  Martin is exasperated with his circumstances, while Pangloss tolerates his burdens.

Candide Illustration by Quentin Blake
One day, Candide, Pangloss, and Martin meet an old Turkish man who invites them to his house, where they are treated hospitably by his children.  The three men presume the old Turk is well-off because they live like kings, but it is the opposite; he reveals that his children help him to manage his small farm.  He says,
...we find that the work banishes those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty.
On their way home to their own small farm, the three men review what they understand about work and life: that the six dishonored kings prove that "high estate" always ends miserably.  Candide remarks, "...we must go and work in the garden."

Pangloss shares,
When man was placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there "to dress it and to keep it", to work, in fact; which proves that man was not born to an easy life.  
We must work without arguing, said Martin; that is the only way to make life bearable.
And everyone agreed.

And they lived happily ever after, together.

Candide illustration by Quentin Blake
Final Thoughts

Candide was entertaining, just enough, though I enjoyed it more toward the middle and end.  I am especially relieved that it closed on a more positive and lighter note, although it is regrettable that so much disaster had to be experienced before the characters figured a useful plan to do what is good and right.  I appreciate the conclusion to work hard and essentially be grateful for what they had.  Of course, Pangloss still believed that Candide had to go through such pains before he could enjoy this life he has now, but I do not think that Candide was buying it.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Liebster Award

Thank you, Sophia @ Ravens and Writing Desks, for nominating me for this Liebster Award!  The Liebster Award is a way of spreading the word about blogs in the vast community of book bloggers.  It’s somewhat like a chain letter or a slam book, but a lot more fun.

The Rules:

*Thank the blogger that nominated you and link back to their blog.
*Display the award somewhere on your blog.
*List 11 facts about yourself.
*Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger who nominated you.
*Come up with 11 new questions to ask your nominees.
*Nominate 5-11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have less than 1,000 followers. You may nominate blogs that have already received the award, but you cannot re-nominate the blog that nominated you.   Go to their blog and inform them that they've been nominated. 

Eleven Facts About Me:

1. Mom of five kids (18 – 5 years), and I homeschool them all.  (Well, my 18-year old is in college now).

2. Grew up in Brooklyn, NY, but now I live in a desert in California.  (Major culture shock!)

3. My husband is truly my best friend in the whole, wide world.

4. My husband and I eloped to Las Vegas.  We never had a wedding. : (

5. I absolutely love talking about politics and religion. (The third rail of conversation topics.)

6. Earthquakes scare me to death.  (Hello, you live in California!)

7. I changed my major in college from phycology to architecture to fine arts/graphic design to illustration to business accounting.  I dropped out when I was a senior at Cal State and never finished.  (No, I have no desire to return.  I’m getting the best education at home.)

8.  Art museums, libraries, and bookstores are my favorite places, besides home. 

9.  Becoming a Christian has transformed my life and marriage for good.

10. I used to work at Hot Dog-on-a-Stick and wore that ugly hat and stomped on lemons like a mad woman.

11. Being a homeschool mom is the hardest job I have ever had, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sophia's Eleven Questions for Me:

If you could meet any author - dead or alive - for dinner, who would it be, and why?

If I consider, “Who is most approachable,” then I think Mark Twain would be a great dinner guest.  I scanned my Authors Read page, and feelings of pity poured out for Virginia Woolf and concern for Albert Camus, and I thought I should like to talk with them, too, on a very personal level.  But then I became bolder, and I thought, “I really need to have a little talk with Herman Melville or go head-to-head with Arthur Miller.”  But when I finally narrowed it down, I would like to meet Jane Austen.  I would just love to sit with the woman who gave us Elizabeth Bennett. 
What is your most prized possession?

Materially speaking, I esteem my personal library, which has taken years to grow – years and years of collecting used classics and other books for our homeschool.  I only keep the ones that are important to me, and the ones that I hope my children will read when they are old enough.  They are an extension of who we are or what we believe.

How many books do you read at once (on average)? If you read more than one - do you have a special way of managing it? 

When I began The Well-Educated Mind, I only read one book at a time; but within the last six months, I started juggling three or four books.  I found that books create a certain mood, and I had to be in that mood to read them.  At night, when everyone goes to bed, I read something serious; and in the day, I read something lighter. 

What is your least favorite book and why? 

After dragging myself through the first chapter of Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, I was totally turned off and exasperated by her writing.  It vexed me and sucked the joy out of my experience.  I had to stop reading it.  But it not fair to name Song of Solomon as my least favorite because I only read one chapter. 

So I suppose Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, of which I have read the entire thing, still holds that title; it left me perplexed and stupefied, and I really did not like it one bit.  

What book(s) are you reading right now? How do you like it (them) so far? 

Actually, I just finished my last group of books, and will only just begin:

Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford for my History Challenge;
Germinal by Émile Zola for Zoladdiction;
and Possession by A.S. Byatt for TWEM final novels.

In addition, I am reading Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, to my children.  

What is your least favorite literary cliché?

I do not think I have any.  I searched and searched.  I have nothing.

If your house were about to burn down in a fire, which five books would you grab immediately (assuming you had time to do so)?

My John MacArthur Study Bible,
When You Rise Up by R.C. Sproul, Jr.,
Let’s Roll by Lisa Beamer,
A Mom Just Like You by Vicki Farris,
and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer. 

All of these books can be replaced, but these five have significantly changed my way of thinking and deeply persuaded my heart in some way, that I would not want to ever see them destroyed.

If you could take a vacation in any fictional world, where would you go?

I live in the desert, and I long for green and shade and colorful, fragrant flowers.  It is not so much that I want a vacation, but rather I want my own secret garden like in The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett.  Nothing ever grows here in the desert, or else by summer, the heat kills it.

If you could have one fictional character as your best friend, who would it be?

On a serious level, I think I’d like to be best friends with Melanie Wilkes from Gone With the Wind; and maybe for rebelliousness sake, Elizabeth Bennett; but for a fun friend, I think Bilbo Baggins would be great.  He does like adventure!

What book completely changed your life?

The Bible, of course!  And it still is transforming.  In fact, God’s Word influences what I read and how I understand literature and respond to the characters and the author. 

Do you prefer writing with a pen or a pencil? Why?

Either, but it depends on the writing surface more importantly. 

Questions for my nominees:

1.  Share a favorite quote from a book or author.
2.  Is there a book you have disliked immensely?  Which one, and why?
3.  Why did you start blogging? Has your purpose changed?  How did you come up with the name for your blog?
4.  Have you ever counted how many books you own?  If not, estimate.
5.  Which author have you read the most?
6.  Which book have you reread the most?
7.  Do you have a memorable childhood book? 
8.  Have you ever imagined an actor/actress to play a character in a book you were reading?  (For example, I always thought Sharon Stone would make a great Dominique Francon in the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.)
9.  Is there a book you would like to see in film version, permitting they kept it true to the book. 
10.  Name a character from classic lit that you would love to be neighbors with.
11.  What book are you avoiding, and why?
I nominated these great bloggers for the Liebster Award: 

Adrianna @ Classical Quest
Fanda @ Classiclit

Friday, March 28, 2014

White Noise by Don DeLillo

Published: 1985
Literary period: post modern

White Noise is the thirtieth book on The Well-Educated Mind novel list.
Part of the TWEM reading challenge involves answering questions.  I have chosen one question from each stage of reading to answer.

Grammar Stage: What is the most important event in which the main character changes? 

Jack, a middle-aged man afraid of dying, thinks he can eliminate his fear by controlling and overpowering death – that is, by killing someone.  (It sounds heavy, but the novel is a humorous satire).  Leading up to the plan to kill, the most important event happens: his plot backfires, literally.

Logic Stage: What does the main character want, and what does he do to get it? 

Jack wants to eliminate his fear of death because it is stifling his desire to live. He learns that Babette, his wife, also has a fear of death and is secretly taking a tablet (medicine) – not on the market - to remove the fear from her mind, as it claims to do. 

Jack wants to see if the tablet will work for him, but Babette refuses to tell him how to get it.  He plots to seek out the distributor and kill him (for a personal reason), but only after obtaining the tablets; this is where it backfires. Instead of carrying out his plan on a higher conscious level, he succumbs to reality. Because of this complication, Jack hypothetically accepts that at some point he is going to die; he just does not want to know when (or how).  

Instead, Jack finds ways to cope: he avoids his doctor whose only purpose is to probe and inform him on "how his death is progressing."  

Another comfort is his youngest son, Wilder, who gives him joy because he is completely ignorant of danger. Wilder can truly live because he has no concept of death, and Jack can experience peace through him.

Rhetoric Stage: What is the author trying to tell us?  Do you agree?

DeLillo is telling us we are losing our humanness because we are inundated with intrusive product advertisement, obsessive consumerism, useless technology, unnecessary health and environmental practices, false predictions, even man-made religions that purport to change us, save us, protect us, make us better, healthier, and definitely happier. 

Instead, we feel, think, and behave like robots, emotionless, disconnected, unenlightened, and unable to communicate within the natural human systems of family and community.  I like what Jack’s son, Heinrich, says to him: 
We think we’re so great and modern…Here it is practically the twenty-first century and you’ve read hundreds of books and magazines and seen a hundred TV shows about science and medicine.  Could you tell [a Stone Ager] one little crucial thing that might save a million and a half lives?...But nobody actually knows anything.
Throughout the novel, DeLillo slips words inside of dialogue or moments of contemplation that appear out of place, almost like a humming background noise, in order to simulate what the characters feel like: distracted and over stimulated.

What does that have to do with a fear of death? Well, there is this part when Jack reveals his fear to a colleague.  She says, 
I think it’s a mistake to lose one’s sense of death, even one’s fear of death.  Isn’t death the boundary we need?  Doesn’t it give a precious texture to life, a sense of definition?  You have to ask yourself whether anything you do in this life would have beauty and meaning without the knowledge you carry of a final line, a border or limit.  
Jack reluctantly understands.

But people cannot know their sense of death or fear of it if they have a distorted view of life, which is because they are constantly bombarded with distractions, fear, insecurity, confusion, and lies about life, preventing a healthy connection to reality and truth. 

In the story, everyone has his own way of dealing with death.  Some face it head on, taunt it, or try to beat it; others embrace it.  Jack is in the process of determining how to deal with his: coping, for now. 
Forget the medicine in that tablet.  There is no medicine, obviously.
...says his wise colleague.

I will deal with the question: Do you agree? later. To be continued...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Candide, by Voltaire, Chapters XVII - XXIV

Chapters I - VIII
Chapters IX - XVI
This past week, Candide has been an even better experience for me; I felt like I was reading a different book.  Maybe it is because I am simultaneously reading White Noise by Don DeLillo, which also addresses philosophical questions about life and death, reinforcing the ideas in Candide; or maybe it is because I have spent three weeks with Candide, the character, and am finally getting to know him better.  It often takes me longer than usual to understand others.


After an escape with their lives, Candide and Cacambo make their way to Europe.  During their travels, they find themselves in a land of utopia, where no one values gold or gems, everyone is content and innocent, and guests are highly treated.   It must be “the country where all goes well.”  The people worship only one God and have no need for priests or leaders to tell them how to worship; nor do they need courts of law, judges, or prisons. 

Given that the land is rich with gold and gems, and that the people do not need it, the king permits Candide and Cacambo to take what they like.  By the next chapter, however, they lose most of it to misfortune.  Candide says, “You see, my friend, how perishable are the riches of this world.”

Meeting the unfortunate slave
Next, Cacambo and Candide meet a slave who tells his dire tale of woe, and Candide cries, “Oh, Pangloss!  A scandal like this never occurred to you!  But it’s the truth, and I shall have to renounce that optimism of yours in the end. 

Cacambo asks, “What is optimism?”

Candide responds, “It’s the passion for maintaining that all is right when all goes wrong with us.”

With all they had lost and suffered or witnessed of another’s poor situation, Candide became depressed:
The wickedness of man appeared to him in all its ugliness, and his mind became a prey to gloomy thoughts.
Another twist in the philosophical test of ideas is the new character that joins Candide on his travels.  Martin, a scholar, who has his own personal, horrid story, has nothing to hope for.  Candide, still clinging to Pangloss’s philosophy, asks Martin his opinion about evil. Martin believes that the forces of evil created man and is certain that God has abandoned the world to evil. 

However, Candide knows there is some good in the world, but Martin believes that Satan is always one step ahead of God.  Candide wants to believe that man has changed from good to bad, somehow, but Martin argues that man’s evil nature has been the same from the beginning.

Candide inquires if Martin thinks “all is for the best in the physical and moral world,” but Martin refutes that it is the opposite: “…no one knows his place in is perpetual civil war.” 

Candide and Martin
After more adversity is perpetrated on Candide, he still wants to know what Martin thinks of this world, to which he calls it, “…a senseless and detestable piece of work.”

Remember, Candide is just trying to make his way back to Cunégonde, while Martin continues to prove to him that there is little virtue and happiness in the world (except in that impossible land of utopia).

To test this theory, Candide meets a happy couple – a woman (he once knew as a girl) and a monk – and inquires the reason for their happiness; but neither one is truly happy, and in fact they are only faking an appearance of being content together. 

That was enough for Candide.  Martin is correct.  In fact, Martin is sure that even Cunégonde cannot make Candide happy.  Candide asks Martin why he is so pessimistic, and Martin replies that he “knows what life is.” 

By the end of the chapter, the two are off to meet a senator who has never known misery, and Martin is eager to meet this "rare specimen.”

Will they find the answers they need in this search for happiness in this world?

Next week, the final Chapters XXV - XXX

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Candide by Voltaire, Chapters IX - XVI

Banned books are kind of silly, I think, because who can stop you from reading a copy?  Apparently, Candide was (or still is) on a banned book list (2007) because of its criticisms of the Catholic Church and its questions about why a loving God would allow suffering.  I think it is a fair question and not a reason to ban a book.

For questions about chapter I - VIII, go HERE.

Continuing on...

Candide complicates his complicated life by killing two men, Issachar and a cardinal, within an hour of each other.  Of course, one could argue that it was in self-defense since Issachar drew the dagger first.  Then Candide had to act quickly because the cardinal walked in and would have had Candide - sword in hand, dead man at his feet - arrested and burnt.  What would you do?

With Pangloss out of the picture, Candide often considers what Pangloss had taught him, and he tries to use good judgment.  It's kind of like WWJD? but instead: "What did Pangloss say?"

A new character joins Candide.  She is an old woman who was caring for Cunégonde.  She has quite an unbelievably miserable story to tell, too. But while she wanted to kill herself a hundred times, she says she is still in love with life.  She calls it a weakness, and asks,
is there anything more stupid fondle the snake that devours us until it has eaten our hearts away?
Meanwhile, in these chapters, Voltaire illustrates the wickedness of men in high positions of power and honor, including men of the Church.  These are men who abuse their authority and do what is dishonorable, immoral, and unChristian.  This is part of why Candide was banned, I suppose.

Finally, Candide's life is further tangled when he accidentally meets Cunégonde's brother, a baron.  He mentions that he plans to marry Cunégonde, but the baron is offended because Candide is not of noble birth.  Candide is dumbfounded because Pangloss said that "men are equal"; hence it should not matter, right?   Nevertheless, the baron strikes Candide in the face with his swordand Candide regretfully retaliates by "plunging" his sword into the baron.

Candide and Cacambo, Candide's new valet, escape to an unknown country where they are captured by the natives and are about to be eaten.  However, once the natives learn who they are, they actually treat them fairly well.  This little change of events encourages Candide to think maybe all is well with the world.  And so he remarks,
When all is said and done, there is a sterling goodness in unsophisticated Nature; for instead of eating me, these people behaved most politely as soon as they learnt that I was not a Jesuit.  
Imagine how quickly you would change your heart about someone who was about to eat you, but then spared your life.  Would you sing their praises, too?  (No, probably not; but Candide is a gullible fellow, it seems.)

Next week, chapters XVII - XXIV

Monday, March 17, 2014

Analysis of The Four Voyages by Christopher Columbus

For a review of The Four Voyages, go HERE.

This title counts toward my History Reading Challenge hosted by Fanda @ Fanda Classiclit, and she has posted some great questions for consideration. 

Who is the story about?  

This story is about Cristoforo Columbo and his quest, zeal, and perseverance to explore and prove his ideas about a better route to the Indies, for spices, gold, and riches (to be presented to the Monarchy of Spain) and to spread the Christian (Catholic) faith.

Columbus Day Parade in NYC
What challenges did he face, and who or what caused them?  

Violent storms of nature; lack of supplies because of distance from Spain; sinful men with prideful, lustful, violent hearts; rotting ships; inability to communicate with natives due to language barrier; and the usual hunger, sickness, and death, were the challenges Columbus faced. 

Columbus Day parade
What does it mean to be human?  

I think this story demonstrates man’s persistence and determination to explore, discover, and prove himself right.  Maybe it was pride that motivated Columbus because he was overly confident that he had found a new way to the coveted Indies.

Why do things go wrong?  

Like I said in my review, if I did not know any better, I would argue that God was against any more exploration of the islands by Spain because of sinfulness.  By the fourth voyage, long and violent storms made the passage to the islands so difficult, that the only thing Columbus could do was try to survive. 

The immorality of the men was rampant: some men disobeyed Columbus and committed crimes against the natives, causing a loss of trust, especially after Columbus used caution to establish trust; some men rebelled against Columbus because they were tired, sick, and hungry and wanted to return to Spain immediately; or other men were desirous of riches or power and stirred up wickedness against Columbus to take control of the expedition.  All of these events worked against the Admiral.

Typical ignorant propaganda
What is the end of the history? 

In the beginning, before finding favor with Queen Isabella, Columbus was regarded as a madman with outlandish claims; but after his first voyage, other nations were regretful of rejecting him and were more willing now to grant supplies to anyone asking to explore new lands.

In the end, Columbus was deserted and rejected as a madman; he never found a quicker, less dangerous route to the Indies, although it may have been believed that he did reach Asia.  And he did not return with shiploads of gold and spices, as promised.  But while he died sickly, exhausted, and dejected, he is still regarded as an important man in history.

Because of Columbus

Columbus initiated and inspired vigorous exploration of the West.  He complained about governments being overly zealous to give anyone, without experience or knowledge, permission to explore unchartered territories by sea.  

Because of Columbus, Spain dominated exploration and conquered most of South America, with Portugal focusing on Brazil.  Hence, much of that continent is connected to Spain – its history, language, and culture.  Meanwhile, Britain, France, and the Dutch focused on North America, and the United States and Canada can draw its roots to those nations.  

Today, countries in the Americas celebrate Columbus, and Italians think of Columbus Day as an Italian holiday because of his Italian heritage.  

Italians celebrate Columbus Day in America
Unfortunately, the world has an agenda

Unfortunately, his memory is being defiled by lies and hate because some people are eager to make a point; but they have no idea what they are arguing.  Those who control the media, textbooks, and what is taught in schools are more concerned with pushing a social agenda instead of learning to thoroughly examine the truth.  

Removing the Columbus statue in Venezuela 
My soapbox

God permitted Europe to discover, influence, and populate the Americas.  This is the way of the world under God's Hand, and He commanded man to spread out and populate the earth. By the way, He set the boundaries of the nations, long before any of us were here.  

But man is sinful; even the aggressive native tribes abused, raped, stole, enslaved, and wiped out whole weaker populations before Columbus even sailed. The problem is not a European problem brought to the Americas by Columbus; the problem is man and his sinful heart.  It always is, and it will always be.

Those who preach the end of hate,
are always doing what they can to propagate it.
Post Script

Have you seen Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto," about the declining Mayan civilization in Guatemala? The Mayans were the cause of their own annihilation.  Upper-class, wealthy, powerful Mayans enslaved and sacrificed the poor, lower masses; they waged war, destroyed villages, and ravaged the environment.  

In the final three minutes of the film, the main character, a poor Mayan, has escaped typical human sacrifice, and he is running for his life.  The two aggressive, pursuing men are trying to capture and kill him.  As they come to the beach, they witness the arrival of the first Spanish conquistadors.  Because the Mayans were destroying themselves from the inside, their civilization was vulnerable to and ripe for conquest from the outside.   

War, murder, rape, theft, greed, oppression, conquest, slavery, etc. have always existed in every civilization; but some have a romantic view of native people and are determined to perpetuate this untruth, even if they have to spread lies and hate about one single man. But even after they destroy Columbus, they will never be satisfied because Columbus is not really the issue; and the real problem - man's sinful heart - will still remain.