Sunday, July 13, 2014

Confessions, by Saint Augustine of Hippo

Aside from the Bible, Confessions is now the oldest work I have ever read, written between AD 397 and AD 398. Of course, I did not read it in its original Latin, but you know what I mean. Actually, I read Josephus many years ago, but it does not count because that was before I read deliberately.

Since this is the first book from The Well-Educated Mind biography list, I usually answer questions provided by Susan Wise Bauer; however, I made the mistake of finishing the book before fully examining the questions, in order to keep them in mind while reading.

Meanwhile, I thoroughly marked up my copy with highlighter, underlines, and comments because Confessions is full of valuable assessments, contemplations, and biblical truths; I really want to share my favorite parts.  But I cannot do both because it would be too long.  So I will only share my favorite sections.

My initial opinion of Confessions is that I am delighted to have read this.  Several years ago, before my deliberate reading ever began, I checked Confessions out of the library and attempted to read it; but I gave up because I did not think I was qualified to read it.  That was my state of mind before TWEM: I was not qualified to read ancient books or classics. So, I am grateful to be past that.

About Confessions: Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote about his life before, during, and after his conversion to Christianity.  He was candid about his sinfulness; desperate for knowledge and understanding of Truth; and humble toward his mother, who prayed earnestly for his conversion, and toward God, who opened his eyes, was patient with him, and saved his life.

During my reading, I remember thinking that Augustine's life was no different from anyone else today who is aware of his own sinful nature and yearning for God's forgiveness and salvation.  Sin was the same then as it is today, and man is still lost and deceived; nothing has changed.  In other words, if I did not know when this work was written, I would have mistaken it for a contemporary life.

Augustine's purpose for writing Confessions was in hope that others would see the truth of his admission and be moved to recognize the wickedness in their own lives, turn away from their sin, and turn to God.  However, he argues with God,
The human race is inquisitive about other people's lives but negligent to correct their own. Why do they demand to hear from me what I am when they refuse to hear from you what they are?
The Consecration of St. Augustine
by Jaume Huguet
Throughout Confessions, Augustine described his journeys and discoveries, and I have relished in many of them.

For example, he wonders: if he was in sin in his mother's womb, then when was he ever without sin?  Good point! Nonetheless, he took complete responsibility for his depraved behavior as a youth and young adult, as he became aware of his sin.

This next was a difficult truth, though sincere, considering that God does not need us; we need Him:
You had no need of me.  I do not possess such goodness as to give you help, my Lord and my God. It is not as if I could so serve you as to prevent you becoming weary in your work, or that your power is diminished if it lacks my homage.
About man being easily deceived into believing lies:
See how the human soul lies weak and prostrate when it is not yet attached to the solid rock of truth.  The winds of gossip blow from the chest of people ventilating their opinions; so the soul is carried about and turned, twisted and twisted back again.
St. Augustine of Hippo 
by Philippe de Champaigne
About those who make their own gods to worship:
They become lost in their own ideas and claim to be wise, attributing to themselves things which belong to you.  In an utterly perverse blindness they want to attribute to you qualities which are their own, ascribing mendacity to you who are the truth, and changing the glory of the incorrupt God into the likeness of the image of corruptible man and birds and animals and serpents.  They change your truth into a lie and serve the creation rather than the Creator.
About self-praise, which grows into vain-glory, he says,
Within us lies another evil in the same category of temptation.  This makes people who are pleased with themselves grow in vanity, though they either fail to please other people or actually annoy others whom they take no pains to please.  But in pleasing themselves they greatly displease you, not only because they think well of actions which are not good, but also because they claim good qualities as their own when you have bestowed them, or because they do not recognize them to be your gifts and think they have earned them by their merits.
About Jesus, Augustine says,
But a mediator between God and the human race ought to have something in common with God and something in common with humanity.
He is 'the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus'.  He appeared among mortal sinners as the immortal righteous one, mortal like humanity, righteous like God. Because the wages of righteousness are life and peace, being united with God by his righteousness he made void the death of justified sinner,...It is a man that he is mediator. He is not midway as Word; for the Word is equal to God and 'God with God' (John 1:1), and at the same time there is but one God.
Simply put, Augustine says,
The happy life is joy based on the truth. This is joy grounded in you, O God, who are the truth, 'my illumination, the salvation of my face, my God'.
But my favorite argument Augustine has is over books.  Augustine loved poems and fables, but he later saw it as wasteful when he was not yet right with God.  He says,
What is more pitiable than a wretch without pity for himself who weeps over the death of Dido dying for love of Aeneas, but not weeping over himself dying for his lack of love for you, my God, light of my heart, bread of the inner mouth of my soul, the power which begets life in my mind and in the innermost recesses of my thinking.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reading While on Vacation

Before I left for vacation, I threw up my hands and put away War and Peace, indefinitely.  I barely finished Confessions the day before we had planned to leave for Texas; truly, there was no time for serious reading, writing, or even exploring other blogs.  I felt so lost.  (Ok, I am exaggerating.  It actually felt good to admit that I had no time, and that I needed to put those longings aside.  There were no expectations.)

But I took two books with me, in the event of an opportunity.  And off to El Paso, Texas; we left at 2 AM.

Starting out at 2 AM

Crossing into Arizona

Oh, look! An opportunity! We are only fixed in the car for thirteen hours.  Hence, I pulled out Alone Yet Not Alone by Tracy Leininger Craven, a true story about a German immigrant family living in Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War in 1755.  Indians, who are assisting the French and fighting the British, abduct two sisters.  The girls must rely on courage and their faith to persevere to the end.  The author is a descendant of one of the sisters in the story.

It was an encouraging, pleasing read, written for an adolescent audience.  I was going to read it to my children, but...

So much fun
Anyway, I easily finished reading that before we got to Texas.

This is what a thirteen-hour drive looks like from Southern California to El Paso, Texas. Barren desert.

Crossing into New Mexico

Nothing to look at

Occasionally, something different

Entering Texas
FYI: You can see Juárez, Mexico, across the Rio Grande, from El Paso, Texas, USA.  A totally different world.

Juarez, Mexico
Meanwhile, the majority of my vacation was poolside, where I was usually a life guard.  (I'm not really a lifeguard.)  Reading while life guarding is not efficient reading, but that is why The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was the second book I brought with me.

My son read this series when it first came out in 2008, and I wish I had remembered everything he told me about it as he was reading through it.  He told me I would enjoy it because he knew I liked dystopian-style stories. But as years went by, he decided that: he did not like Suzanne Collins or her reasons for writing the series; that her writing ability is horrible; and that she does not know how to end a story.

Now that I have finally read the first book in the series for myself, I can agree that her writing is dumbed down - she's not George Orwell!  BUT I justified it by saying that she is writing as a sixteen-year old protagonist.  To which my son added, "Yeah, Suzanne Collins thinks she is a sixteen-year old."  (By the way, I cannot use the excuse that she was writing to a YA audience because that is no reason to dumb down one's writing ability.)

So I did a little research on her purpose for writing the series, and I learned that she remembered what it was like watching the Vietnam War on TV as a young girl (her father was a soldier in Vietnam) and later watching the Iraq War on TV.  She thought about how life went on while war took place, and wondered if it was just entertainment to the world watching it on TV.  She also took ideas from reality TV, probably MTV's Real World or Road Rules, in which young people competed for prizes by doing these outrageous tasks, while the rest of us watched it on TV for entertainment.

Furthermore, Collins took into consideration how often governments use food to control the masses. Keep them hungry or starving, and people will do anything you want them to in hope of getting a little food. Also, she borrows ideas from the Ancients, such as the story of the Minotaur and Theseus and the gladiators of Rome.

Having read the book, I liked The Hunger Games, and I will eventually read Catching Fire.  I agree that dystopian-themed books are not easy to get into because they are perceived to be warped and wicked and horrible; however, with such heavy, difficult ideas, come strong, urgent messages.  

In The Hunger Games, it is the government, the Capitol, that keeps its people enslaved in districts and controls them with food, entertainment, and privileges - the Games being one of the privileges.  The rest of the people in the Capitol are entertained at the expense of the enslaved districts.  I do not know if Suzanne Collins intended this to be another point, but I see a lot of similarities to socialism growing in America: an over-reaching, powerful government suppressing its people, who willingly go into slavery, so long as they believe all of their needs are being met by the government.  Hey! Rome did it, and history often does repeat itself.

Well, that was my reading experience.  So here we are returning home to California, where they have border patrol for illegal fruit and vegetation, which is very important!  

Entering California 
And this is how hot it was:

It's hot!
We have one more trip left - twice as long, to Missouri.  Until then, I have several weeks of more serious reading.  Time to dust off War and Peace again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Old Man and the Sea Read-Along

When I was in fourth grade, The Old Man and the Sea was required reading.  It became one of my favorite, memorable books.  I loved the story of the old man's perseverance.

Years later (about five years ago), I required my high schooler to read it.  I reread it, too, to get reacquainted with it and discuss it with my son; but I did not like it (anymore).  I hated Hemingway's long-windedness.

Earlier this year, I began to have Hemingway-withdrawals, and I thought about rereading The Old Man and the Sea, to test if my experience would be different this time around.

It just so happens that Hamlette @ The Edge of the Precipice is hosting The Old Man and the Sea read-along, beginning July 21st (Hemingway's b-day). The novella is super short and should only take a few days to read.  It is time to revisit TOMatS again and see what the issue is, or is not.

Join the discussion!  If it is your first time or third time, see The Edge of the Precipice for more info and to sign up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Happy Birthday, George Orwell.

One of my all-time favorite authors, George Orwell, has a birthday two days before mine.  Happy Birthday to George Orwell.

Illustration by Michael Olson

Monday, June 23, 2014

Taking a Break

I am feeling eager to read, but it is not feasible.  At some point I had to admit that I may not be able to read or write for awhile, and that it is best to put the longing aside. So, that is what I am doing right now.

It was ambitious of me to think, after all, that I would tackle a pile of books this summer when my summer was already a tower of plans in itself.  I do not have the energy to read; if I force myself to read under these circumstances, it is hasty and careless reading.

Therefore, it's official: I am going to take several weeks off from reading and writing, put aside my feelings, and catch up later.  Everything will have to wait for several weeks: War and Peace, Little Women, My Antonia, The Hunger Games...even reading to the kids, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Hoping to be back sooner than later.  Enjoy your summer.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How My Library Grows

Gold Mine

My mother gave me money for Mother's Day (which is funny, but she is very generous), and  I told her I would buy books with it.  Normally, I purchase used books through; but this called for a Barnes & Noble visit.

It is not safe to turn me lose in Barnes & Noble without a plan; therefore, I thought about the books that had received rave reviews by other bloggers, and I went hunting.  If only I remembered who you are, then I would have been able to give credit.

For example, someone mentioned that a posthumously published version of Beowulf, by J.R.R. Tolkien, was available.  I found a copy!

Over the last few months alone, I have read numerous worthy reviews about Middlemarch, by George Eliot.  A chunkster.

A friend of mine suggested that I read The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, while I also read a post somewhere about it, too.  Another chunkster.

And I had to get a better copy of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, which I hope to read this year.  I think I am really going to connect with this book.  Of course, Jillian has been telling me to read this for a few years (since I joined The Classics Club).

Also, I just read someone's enthusiastic review about East of Eden, by Steinbeck.  I have always been curious about this one.

In addition, at my local library's used bookstore, I found lovely copies of numerous classics that I would have bought, if I did not already own them.  (I hate when that happens.)  But I did find this: Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.   Again, I know I saw this somewhere in a blog post, and I made a mental note to get a copy somehow, somewhere!

That's how it happens - how my library grows; even if I do not comment on a post, I am taking mental notes and am influenced by others' reviews.  If I end up reading whatever it is and I do not like it, then nothing has changed; but if I like it, then you have helped to create a new fan.  So, thanks!

And thanks, Mom (I think), for contributing to my habit.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Puritans in America, Book Three

Book One: Mourt's Relation
Book Two: The Puritan Dilemma

This is my final review on this topic about the Puritans:

The Third Book

Edmund Morgan, author of Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea, examines the evolution of the concept of church membership in New England.  Sounds enthralling, I know, but it is a fragment of early American history.

Recall the problem the Puritans faced: building a church that was pure and good and right in a world that was not pure or good or right.  If we are all sinners, who is worthy to attend church?

According to St. Augustine, there are in fact two churches: 
"One was pure but invisible; it included every person living, dead, or yet to be born, who God had predestined for salvation.  The other was visible but not entirely pure; it included only living persons who professed to believe in Christianity.  Not every member of the visible church was destined for salvation, for not every man who professed belief would actually possess the true belief, the saving faith necessary for redemption.  The visible church, operating in the world of time and of human corruption, must inevitably contain sinful men.  It was holy, but not completely..."
The Puritans in New England set out to determine the right way to apply church membership.  In old England, anyone could attend and be members of the Church, and only bishops could discipline members; therefore, churches could not remove unworthy members, even though the Bible provides instruction and examples how to expel officers or members who are immoral.  The Puritans believed that church discipline was essential to the survival of the Church.

The Separatists vs. non-Separatists

The Separatists removed themselves from the Church of England for the lack of discipline and because it had been improperly founded; they refused to recognize it as a church. Meanwhile, the non-Separatists did not encourage separation from or rejection of the English Church because separation caused schisms, which were always troublesome.

Both factions of Puritans agreed on church discipline, but the Separatists yearned for membership similar to the invisible church.  Some qualifications were: the rejection of the Church of England, the knowledge and understanding of Christian doctrine, and outward behavior as a sign of saving grace.  I think that last one is where the charge of self-righteousness grew.

The Puritans, who came to New England after the first wave of Pilgrims, resembled the Separatists but recognized the English Church and refused to separate from them.  These non-Separatists also concerned themselves with how to reach those who were lost if the Church refused to admit them because they failed a strict membership test (such as the Separatists applied).

More on Anne Hutchinson

John Cotton warned the Salem church about the dangers of Separatism because it focused on good behavior.  Even church covenants were aimed at good behavior, and worship was only a covenant of works.

Anne Hutchinson was a follower of John Cotton but, in addition, claimed to be in direct contact with God and that she and her followers were able to discern whether a man was saved or not.  Puritans, even strict Separatists, understood that no one could tell a man's heart, but God alone.

The non-Separatists worked to shrink the gap between God and man, but rejected the heretical efforts of Anne Hutchinson and others who claimed one could bridge the gap and become pure.  They learned that they "must live in the world, face its temptations, and share its guilt, while avoiding a greater perfection in this world than God required or allowed."

The visible church, like man, "must remain in the world, bring its members closer to God, spread the gospel, and offer the means of salvation to everyone."  Most importantly, they "embraced the world of sinners in order to clasp the saints contained within it."

Much has changed since then: there was a turning point, which eventually led to a revival (The Great Awakening), and a new Separatist movement, prompting the debate began all over again.  I never concerned myself with how important the little details were to the Church, but of course they are.  They have been since the early Church, and they always will be, as long as Christians endeavor to do right by God.
"As long as men strive to approach God through the church, the world will never seem pure enough for the saints, and the Puritan experience will never be wholly unfamiliar."

This book count towards:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Possession, by A.S. Byatt

The final novel from The Well-Educated Mind list is Possession, by A.S. Byatt.   I started reading it in May, but then I stopped because, eight chapters in, I was still disinterested in the plot.  

My book cover
Then Tonia @ The Sunny Patch told me that she was going to begin Possession within a week, and therefore, I committed to finishing it. 

In the end, the overall idea is unique, and the writing is to be commended.  But I think it is the mechanics - which makes the work distinct - that bothered me. 

For example, I am not fluent in poetry, so when I had to read verses in the middle of the story, and make sense of it, I was lost. And while I usually like reading journals or diaries, I did not care to read so much correspondence between characters.

Ironically, one of my favorite passages is this:
In his day, he said, students were grounded in spelling and had learned poetry and the Bible by heart.  An odd phrase, "by heart," he would add, as though poems were stored in the bloodstream."
Chapter fifteen is actually my favorite chapter - which probably says more about me than it does the book.  I would call it the heart of the story, literally and figuratively.  

If you are fond of poetry, Possession is laden with verses throughout; and there are references to Greek mythology, classic literature, authors, and poets everywhere.  If you like mysteries wrapped in love stories; enjoy following multiple stories simultaneously; and do not mind epistolary novels, you just may appreciate this novel.  In fact, I know you will.  I think most people can get into it, but I regret that I could not.  Maybe I will consider rereading it in the very distant future (after I learn how to read poetry), while probably I will check out the film version even sooner.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Puritans in America, Book Two

This is a continuation of my study of the Puritans in America, and the next two books cover the problems the Puritans accepted when building churches in New England.  My previous review is Book One: Mourt's Relation, which covers the Pilgrim's experience in the 1620s.

By the way, the Pilgrims, men and women who came over from England in the Mayflower, were Separatists, though Puritan; but the Puritans who came later, were considered non-Separatists.

The Second Book

The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop follows the life of John Winthrop, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay colony during the 1640s. The author, Edmund Morgan, explains that one of the greatest issues facing the Puritans was how to live pure, godly, and righteous in a world that was not pure, godly, or righteous.  They struggled with how to abandon England, the Church, and other fellow Christians without looking like Separatists.

The Puritans believed that "a man's duty to God was to work at his calling and improve his talents like a good and faithful servant.  If he could do it better in New England than in old, that was a good reason for moving."  They could not save England, at least not while they were in England, but they would establish a new "government in exile" where Protestantism would thrive and spread; then maybe they would return and rescue England.

The Puritans Rejected Utopia

The Puritans believed every nation had a duty to obey and please God, which England was not, and that was why it was failing. Because they believed in self-government, it was essential to have godly citizens.  In America, they would punish every sin because every sin unpunished would invite the wrath of God upon them. But the pressure to uphold a pure society was burdensome, given man's disposition to sin.

Separatism, the desire for factions to break away from the world and set up their own little utopias, was one of the biggest threats in Massachusetts; and it was John Winthrop's aim to prevent that from happening.   Separatists were self-righteous.

Remember Anne Hutchinson? 

Stories teach us that Anne was thought to be a witch, or just a woman holding Bible study at her home, when the leaders ignorantly expelled her.  Being governor of Massachusetts Bay, however, Winthrop and other community leaders decided to remove Anne because she practiced a very dangerous form of separatism: nihilism.  She and others were dividing the church and spreading lies.

First they brought her before the court to explain her "entertainment of seditious persons, holding Bible studies at her home, and insulting ministers," and she intelligently justified every charge; hence, the court was ready to only censure her.  But when she arrogantly responded with false prophecy and more heresy, Winthrop believed that if they did not punish Hutchinson, the Lord would punish Massachusetts.  And so, she was sent to Rhode Island, just as others (who threatened the stability of the experiment ) went before her, or followed her.

The New England Mission 

There were other trials, of course, but this was the principle objective of the Puritans: found a society where the perfection of God would find proper recognition among imperfect men; that men might worship as God commanded, where they might obey His laws in peace and be punished when they disobeyed, where they could live in the world as God required but not lose sight of the eternity that lay beyond it.  
The purpose of New England was to show the world a community where the laws of God were followed by church and state - as nearly as fallible human beings could follow them. 
It proved a difficult challenge, and it was not without personal burdens, but John Winthrop never ceased working toward this goal.  In the end, he had been able to avoid the seeds of separatism and held the church and community together.

Coming next:
Book Three: Visible Saints

This book count towards:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Puritans in America, Book One

I wonder if anyone cares about the Puritans anymore?  Their story is the foundation of the American experiment.  They were responsible for laying the roots of self-government and religious liberty in America.

Unfortunately, I am afraid those ideas are no longer relevant since more Americans today prefer an intrusive government, to oversee their every need, and think religious liberty provides too much freedom for mean people to harbor moral principles, which make other people feel badly about their sin. This is how far we have been removed from our founding.

Well, I find the Puritan story fascinating, and I definitely see God's Hand in it.  Following, will be a three-part series on the Puritans.  After reading Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford, for my history challenge, I was curious to read more about the Puritans; and I already had these three little books in my possession.

The First Book

Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, which is the earliest published account of Puritans in America, is a compilation of journal entries about the "American experience" written by several Puritans in Massachusetts.

Their greatest purpose for settlement is reiterated again: they desired to "carry the Gospel of Christ into those foreign parts, amongst those people that as yet had no knowledge nor taste of God..." and that it may be for "the furtherace of the kingdom of Christ, the enlargement of the bounds of our sovereign lord King James, and for the good and profit of those who, either by purse or person of both, are agents in the same...."

Self-Government During Divine Right of Kings

When the Pilgrims recognized that they were outside of the law because they did not have a patent for New England, and since man is given to sin, an agreement was made to "combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose..;" and for this reason they wrote The Mayflower Compact, which was a stark contrast of self-government in a time of divine right of kings.

The Indians Like to Socialize, While the Pilgrims Need to Work

There were many meetings with Indians; and the Indians enjoyed entertaining and socializing for days with their new neighbors, while the Pilgrims were frustrated by this because they needed to work. They were under severe contract with the "merchant adventurers" for seven years, to produce goods (food, fish, lumber, furs, etc.) to pay for their voyage.   But their goal was always to be at peace with the natives.

The entry of the first Thanksgiving includes: "We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us, very loving and ready to pleasure us.  We often go to them, and they come to us..." and "Yea, it hath pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto us..."

Good Reasons to Come to America, Guilt Free

The final entry lists reasons why it was lawful to leave England and come into America, without all of the guilt:  "Man must not respect only to live, and do good to himself, but he should see where he can live to do most good to others"; that is: the Puritans understood the native people did not know God, and they believed it their duty to bring the Gospel to them.

"But what right did the Puritans have to live in the "heathens' country?"

Well (the writer explains), because it is the King's country.  In fact, Massasoit willingly and lovingly acknowledged the King's Majesty of England to be his master and commander, along with divers other native tribes.

And furthermore, the writer states that the Indians cannot go to England; hence, they (Pilgrims) must go to the Indians; and that England is full, but America is empty.  The writer continues, "They (Indians) are not industrious, neither have art, science, skill or faculty to use either the land or the commodities of it, but all spoils, rots, and is marred for want of manuring, gathering, ordering, etc." The anonymous writer explains, " it is lawful now to take a land which none useth, and make use of it."

No one can argue: these Puritans were God-fearing and God-honoring, and everything they did was for the glory and obedience of Him, and to King James (so long as he left them alone to manage their own affairs).

Book Two: The Puritan Dilemma
Book Three: Visible Saints

This book count towards:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Howard Pyle: Illustrator, Author, and Teacher

Just today I found a tidbit on Pyle, and I thought it was interesting that he illustrated his works while dictating his stories.  As I said, he took his illustrations very seriously.

Based on a March 2014 lecture given by Dr. David Murphy

Howard Pyle with his daughter Phoebe  between 1890(?) and 1900, photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston
Library of Congress:
American illustrator and author Howard Pyle was born on March 5, 1853, to a Quaker family in Delaware. As a teenager, he studied art in Philadelphia with F.A. 
Van der Weilen, then began writing and illustrating his own stories.

Pyle’s big break came in 1876 when Scribner’s Magazine accepted one of his pieces. He moved to New York City for further art study and continued to do more magazine work. After coming home to Delaware in 1879, Pyle set about writing and illustrating various books, including the Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which was published in 1883. By this time, he had published stories and drawings in many different magazines; pirates, patriots, and princesses were common subjects.

He was well-known among artists and intellectuals of his day, a prominent member of the art establishment as well as the illustrator community (which other artists often belittled for being commercial). Vincent Van Gogh’s letters mention Pyle repeatedly–it’s clear that Van Gogh admired his work. While Woodrow Wilson was still a history professor (before his presidency), Pyle illustrated Wilson’s book about George Washington–much to Wilson’s delight.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pyle’s illustrator and author talents were a great combination. He wrote and illustrated The Wonder Clock (featuring a tale for every hour in the day), Twilight Land (new fables), Otto of the Silver HandMen of Iron, four volumes on King Arthur, and many other tales as well. He liked to dictate the stories while working on his illustrations. You can see the influence of Albrecht Dürer in his drawing style and perspective.

“Captain Keitt” (plate facing p. 212) from story “The Ruby of Kishmoor” in Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates. New York: Harper, 1921. 

His stories are amusing, but often have morals too–not always to everyone’s taste, as Robert Louis Stevenson made clear: “I thought ALADDIN capital fun; but why, in fortune, did he pretend it was moral at the end?” (Letter to Mrs. Fairchild, March 1892) Whatever Stevenson thought of Pyle’s moralizing, he did appreciate Pyle’s illustrations! 

In the 1880s, Pyle and Stevenson defined the popular idea of pirates.
Starting in 1894, Pyle taught art lessons at the Drexel Institute of Technology. In 1900, he founded his own art school in Wilmington, DE. 

He taught a wide variety of subjects ranging from classical art to historical clothing and practical illustration skills, with a focus on developing imagination; incredibly, he refused to charge for his teaching. His many students included Maxfield Parrish, Frank Schoonover, Harvey Dunn, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and N.C. Wyeth. (If you look closely, you’ll notice that in many cases, Wyeth’s painting is very similar to Pyle’s drawing of the same scene.) Although he died in 1911, Pyle’s legacy lived on through his students.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Story of Sir Launcelot and His Companions by Howard Pyle

American author/illustrator Howard Pyle had a talent for telling stories about chivalrous knights on grand adventures.  He used a writing style similar to the "King James version," which immerses the reader in to the medieval period.  His stories were written with young people in mind, and he included all of his own intricately drawn illustrations, which he took very seriously.

In The Story of Sir Launcelot, Pyle introduces this valiant knight as the Chevalier of the Cart, which was a rather humorous situation, and then explains how Launcelot rescues Queen Guinevere - minus the intimate details that Chretien de Troyes includes in his Arthurian Romances.

Later, Launcelot saves the town of Corbin from the Giant Worm and wins the heart of Lady Elaine, though he must return to the court of King Arthur and honor Queen Guinevere.   It is my opinion that the queen literally drove him to madness; he jumps from a window and flees King Arthur's court. After many trials, he returns to Lady Elaine.  

However, Lady Elaine convinces Launcelot to return, and together they make their way back to the court of King Arthur.  But rotten Queen Guinevere plots to harm Lady Elaine, ensnaring Launcelot and causing Lady Elaine to flee in despair. 

Howard Pyle takes his illustrations very seriously.

The story concludes with "The Nativity of Galahad" and Merlin's prophecy of the Holy Grail.  Lady Elaine makes one final appearance with an important, dramatic message about her brand new baby son (uh-hum!), and Sir Launcelot is broken hearted over the ramifications of his sin.

However, at the very end, there is repentance and the promise of new life, and Pyle pledges to complete his Arthurian tales with the story of the Quest for the Holy Grail in his final book of the series,  The Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur, which I will read later this year.

I am a fan of Howard Pyle ever since I read The Story of King Arthur and His Knights; and I have also read The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, my favorite, and Otto of the Silver Hand.  I also have his Book of Pirates, but I have yet to read that.

The Story of Sir Launcelot counts toward:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

This month I joined Brona @ Brona's Books for The Wharton Review and made myself read The Age of Innocence.  I promise, I did not need to force myself read Wharton; but, often I need prompting to make a decision about what to read next. 

Exactly a year ago, I finished The House of Mirth and knew that Wharton was a significant author. However, being a juvenile student of the classics, I focused mainly on the plot, characters, and themes: What is this story about? What do the characters want?  What is the author saying to me?  In the process, I neglected to digest her beautiful writing style, which is singularly a joy and pleasure to behold.  But at the time, I was overwhelmed by having to circle so many words during the reading process. Nonetheless, shortly after completing The House of Mirth, I bought a copy of The Age of Innocence because I knew I wanted to read more.  

Now I can definitely say, after reading The Age of Innocence, that this time I fully experienced Edith Wharton's best quality: her delightful use of the English language.  She does not use words recklessly. She does not carelessly wrap thoughts or ideas with important words just to make her point bigger than it needs to be. She knows how to articulate her feelings and thoughts beautifully.  And because she explains her ideas thoroughly, she does not leave her readers clueless.

What about the plot, characters, and themes?

No spoilers here - not even a hint!  But I will opine that The Age of Innocence does not have a complex plot, nor did I find any character entirely heroic or exceptional.  Also, Wharton's typical themes included contradictions in high society, conflict with traditional values, duty verses the heart, impressions verses truth, and double standards between men and women.  But again, the outstanding aspect of this work is Wharton's exquisite use of language.  The Age of Innocence was a breath of fresh air.

What's next?

I am definitely going to see the film version (starring my favorite actor, Daniel Day Lewis).  And then I need a copy of Ethan Frome for the future - or something else by Edith Wharton.  Any suggestions?

Wynona Ryder, as May, in The Age of Innocence
(She is the picture of innocence.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Well-Educated Mind: Autobiographies and Memoirs

I am done (for now) with the list of novels from The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, although I did not finish two books.  Unfortunately, Possession had been a stumbling block for me; so I put it aside for a later date.  Now I am ready to move on to the next group of books from TWEM: Autobiographies and Memoirs. 

According to Bauer, these are some ideas to think about when reading through a biography:

During the first stage of reading, find out what happened.  

What are the central events in the writer's life?
What historical events coincide-or merge-with these personal events?
Who is the most important person (or people) in the writer's life?
What events form the outline of the story?

In the second stage of reading:

What is the theme that ties the narrative together?
What is the life's turning point?  Is there a conversation?
For what does the writer apologize?  In apologizing, how does the writer justify?
What is the model-the ideal-for this person's life?
What is the end of the life: the place where the writer has arrived, found closure, discovered rest?
Now revisit your first question: What is the theme of this writer's life?

In the final stage of reading:

Is the writer writing for himself, or for a group?
What are the three moments, or time frames, of the autobiography?
Where does the writer's judgment lie?
Do you reach a different conclusion from the writer about the pattern of his life?
Do you agree with what the writer has done?
What have you brought away from this story?

Of course, Bauer does not expect all of us to be able to read through a book three times each, so she suggests that you read it once and mark and note sections that are of importance or difficult to understand. Then in your second and third stage reviews, you return to those marked or noted sections to help you clarify the questions you had.  In addition, if you read TWEM, Bauer goes into detail how to better understand and answer the questions.

These are the books in chronological order:


Margery Kempe
The Book of Margery Kempe

Michel De Montaigne

Teresa of Àvila
The Life of Saint Teresa of Àvila by Herself

René Descartes

John Bunyan
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Mary Rowlandson
The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Benjamin Franklin
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Henry David Thoreau

Harriet Jacobs
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written By Herself

Frederick Douglass
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Booker T. Washington
Up from Slavery

Friedrich Nietzsche
Ecce Homo

Adolf Hitler
Mein Kampf

Mohandas Gandhi
An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth

Gertrude Stein
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Thomas Merton
The Seven Storey Mountain

C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

May Sarton
Journal of a Solitude

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago

Charles W. Colson
Born Again

Richard Rodriquez
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriquez

Jill Ker Conway
The Road from Coorain

Elie Wiesel
All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs

There are several books I am looking forward to rereading, such as Walden, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, and Up From Slavery.  I am not looking forward to Mein Kampf.  Most of all, I do hope to find new favorite authors or books from this list.  

This is a long term reading plan, and I'll be starting June 1st.  If you are interested in reading through all or some of these biographies with Cleo and me, and several others, join us on Goodreads.  We would love to connect with you.

So what do you think?  Want to join us?  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Summer Reading Pile

June is two weeks away, and we are almost done with school.  That means: MORE READING TIME! Maybe I am being overly ambitious, but recently I have been able to juggle three books a month, plus books that I read aloud to my children.  It has helped to estimate how long I think I need to read a book and then schedule it, which is what I am doing here by putting a list together of books I should read or want to read through summer.  I may not be able to do it, but I will try.


The Chronicles of Narnia - Cleo @ Classical Carousel has inspired me to read the entire series (with my kids); and since we have already read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we will skip that one.

War and Peace - I expect this one to take all summer (three months, at least).  And I think I have a reading partner who said she would read it, too.  And maybe I can get her mom to read along with us. Reading partners are encouraging.

My Ántonia - I really want to read this second book by Willa Cather.

The Hunger Games - With all certainty, I love dystopian-type themes, like 1984 and Brave New World.  I liked the movie, so I think I'll like the book.

Confessions - This one is a for-sure read because it is my first biography on TWEM list.

The Book of Margery Kempe - This is the second biography, and I am hoping to get to it this summer.

Mourt's Relation - This book, and the next two are all super short books on the Puritans in America.  I have had them forever, and after reading William Bradford's journal, I am inspired to read more about the Pilgrim's.  If I complete one or more of these, I will add them to my History Reading Challenge.

Visible Saints 

The Puritan Dilemma

The History of the Kings of Britain - I want to take a break from Howard Pyle next month (as I finish up Sir Launcelot by Pyle this month), but I would like to read another book for my Arthurian challenge.

Little Women - A very long time ago, Jillian suggested that I add this title to my Classics Club list, so I may even consider reading it to my girls.  Once I took my 6-year old (who is now 14) to see a play version of Little Women, and at intermission I asked her if she understood what was going on.  She said, "Yes.  And, for some reason, Christopher Columbus must be her (Jo's) dad."  Anyway, she has since read the book a few times, and it is one of her favorites.

Possession - I am determined to revisit this one and finish it!

There are others that I want to read, too, like Catch-22, and The Catcher in the Rye; and while some people continue to talk about Hemingway, I have a desire to reread The Old Man and the Sea.  Then that makes me start thinking about Steinbeck, and I want to reread The Pearl.  But I need to stop while I am ahead because now my appetite overwhelms my ability.  So enough.

So, what are your summer reading plans?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Books: chicken soup for the soul (and pregnancy)

My kids and I just finished reading The First Four Years, the last book of nine in The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This one is not my favorite; it doesn't have the same connection as the other eight.  It is as if Laura was too exhausted to revisit those first four years of her new life.  If you know the story, then you understand why. But there is a passage that I did appreciate and thought it was a valuable statement on the power of reading a good book, as if I have to make a case for reading at all.

In the fourth chapter, Laura was pregnant, overheated, and emotionally blah - as pregnant women may experience from time to time - until her neighbor saved the day by dropping off some books for Laura to read.  She begins:
On a day when [Laura] was particularly blue and unhappy, the neighbor to the west, a bachelor living alone, stopped as he was driving by and brought a partly filled grain sack to the house.  When Laura opened the door, Mr. Sheldon stepped inside, and taking the sack by the bottom, poured the contents out on the floor.  It was a paper-backed set of Waverly novels.
"Thought they might amuse you," he said.  "Don't be in a hurry!  Take your time reading them!"  And as Laura exclaimed in delight, Mr. Sheldon opened the door, closed it behind him quickly, and was gone.  And now the four walls of the close, overheated house opened wide, and Laura wandered with brave knights and ladies fair beside the lakes and streams of Scotland or in castles and towers, in noble halls and lady's bower, all through the enchanting pages of Sir Walter Scott's novels.  
She forgot to feel ill at the sight or smell of food, in her hurry to be done with the cooking and follow her thoughts back into the book.  When the books were all read and Laura came back to reality, she found herself feeling much better.
It was a long way from the scenes of Scott's glamorous old tales to the little house on the bleak, wintry prairie, but Laura brought back from them some of their magic and music and the rest of the winter passed quite comfortably.  
The First Four Years (chapter four), Laura Ingalls Wilder

For more about our journey through The Little House series, visit our homeschool blog.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Classics Club Meme Question #22

Which classic work has caused you to become a master in avoidance? It’s not necessarily because you’re intimidated but maybe there are works out there that just cause you to have the Dracula reaction: cape-covered arm up in front of face with a step back reaction?

Just a couple of months ago, I was ready to read Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.  It was so exciting because this book is the 29th title on The Well-Educated Mind list of thirty-one novels; I could see the finish line.  Plus, it is always fascinating to begin a new book, even if I know nothing about it. And I knew nothing at all about Song of Solomon.

So I enthusiastically began.

But let's just get to the point: after one week of struggling relentlessly, hopelessly, desperately through chapter one, I threw the book across my driveway.  I wanted it out of my possession.  I hated the book. I undeniably hated it.

Why?  How? When so many people LOVE Song of Solomon! Part of me hated that I was not able to experience what others positively experienced.  What did I have to know in order to survive this piece of literature?  I wondered.  Did it require special knowledge?  A particular mindset? I could not figure it out.

But then, the other reason for my hatred was caused by my disdain for its rawness.  It angered me, in a non-productive way, and offended my sensibilities.  It disgusted me, and I was not willingly open to it. Therefore, no matter how I tried to push through it, it was like swallowing something that made me gag.  I was literally forcing myself through the book, and I regretted every moment of it.

After a week of being burdened with a bad attitude about having to read Song of Solomon, I physically tossed it, emotionally divorced it, and finally gave it up.  In my only post about Song of Solomon, I described my experience as "sucking the joy out of my love for reading."  Come on! That is not reading.

Sure, I lost some followers who were offended by my reaction, but I had to be honest.  I thought I may be willing to try a different Toni Morrison, keeping an open mind, but I received feedback that most of her novels are similarly raw and, uh, unique.

Because of Song of Solomon, my consecutive reading streak through The Well-Educated Mind is ruined.  It's personal!  So now, when I see a copy of Song of Solomon or other Toni Morrison novel - like in the used book sale section of my library - I do have a Dracula-reaction, and I cannot look at it. Quite frankly, I even think the fangs come out!

So what about you?  Do you have a work of literature that brings out the Dracula-effect in you?