Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Parts III & IV

The best lives are full of contemplation, full of solitude, full of self-examination, full of private, personal attempts to engage the metaphysical mystery of existence, to create an inner life.

For previous sections, see:
Part I
Part II

Part III is a chapter about the author's youth and experience growing up and teaching.  Here are some of my favorite quotes:
Poverty can't make you miserable; only a bad character and a weak spirit can do that.
Nobody should be allowed to teach until they get to be forty years old.  No one should be allowed anywhere near kids without having known grief, challenge, success, failure, and sadness.
Millions of retired people would make fine teachers.  College degrees aren't a good way to hire anybody to do anything.
The idea that individuals have free will which supersedes any social programming is anathema to the very concept of forced schooling.
Part IV explores corporate domination on American education.  Wealthy, influential foundations, like Rockefeller's and Carnegie's, poured money into funding government schooling, (just like Bill Gates' Foundation).  Has anyone ever asked what Bill Gates knows about education? (See this current article about why Gates is wrong about Common Core - the current universal curriculum push.)  The more money wealthy foundations put into education, the more obligated the system is to their demands.

Gatto says,
" - corporate wealth...has advanced importantly the dumbing down of America's schools, the creation of a scientific class system, and the important attacks on family integrity, national identification, religious rights, and national sovereignty."
The author probes the psychology associated with forced schooling.  Behaviorists believed humans were machines; stage theorists treated humans like vegetables - hence Kindergarten, but neither treated children like people.  Gatto asks, "Are children empty vessels?...Is human nature empty?  If it is, who claims a right to fill it?"
This is the basic hypothesis of utopia-building, that the structure of personhood can be broken and reformed again and again for the better.
Gatto addresses the elimination of failure, morality, and God.
...a plan to eliminate failure structurally from formal schooling was considered and endorsed - failure could be eliminated if schools were converted into laboratories of life adjustment and intellectual standards were muted.
...the only psychological force capable of producing these perversions is morality, the concept of right and wrong. 
Spiritually-minded people cannot be controlled.  The Western Christian ideals must be replaced by the New Religion of Science that teaches:

1. Criticism of parents, community, and traditional values
2. Objectivity and suppression of human feelings
3. Neutrality
4. Only that which is visible can be known

The religion of science says there is no sin; no good or evil; no free will; no redemption; work is for fools; hard work is for slaves; and work as little as you can get away with.  It also says YOU CANNOT TRUST YOURSELF; but you can trust the State to make the best decision for you.

All this is coming true today!

A mother photographs her child doing math and blames Common Core.
The author states that the way to fix the problem with schools is to "return to discipleship in education."  This involves a return to "apprenticeships and mentorships which mostly involve self-education."
They are self-taught through the burdens of having to work, having to sort out right from wrong, having to check your appetites, and having to age and die.
Western spirituality granted every single individual a purpose for being alive.
...everyone counts...What constitutes a meaningful life is clearly spelled out: self-knowledge, duty, responsibility, acceptance of aging and loss, preparation for death...You do it for yourself.  It's time to teach these things to our children once again. 
Finally, the last chapter of Part IV covers more psychology of schooling and what its end result has been.  Gatto says, "School wreaks havoc on human foundations in...eight substantive ways so deeply buried few notice them, and fewer still can imagine any other way for children to grow up."

Schools teach:

1. Forgetfulness
2. Bewilderment and confusion
3. Children are assigned to social classes
4. Indifference
5. Emotional dependency
6. Intellectual dependency
7. Provisional self-esteem
8. The glass house effect: there is no privacy or privacy is a crime

Hence, schools produce children...

1. indifferent to the adult world of values and accomplishment
2. with almost no curiosity
3. with a poor sense of the future
4. who lack compassion for misfortune
5. who can't stand intimacy or frankness
6. who are materialistic
7. who are dependent and grow up to be whining, treacherous, terrified, dependent adults passive and timid in the face of new challenges.

Go to Part V.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Part II

Part I

The Foundations of Schooling

Part II is five chapters long, and Gatto delves deeply into the historical setting for forced schooling.

Here are some highlights:  

Modern schooling..."set out to build a new social order at the beginning of the twentieth century (and by 1970 had succeeded beyond all expectations), but in the process it crippled the democratic experiment of America, disenfranchising ordinary people, dividing families, creating wholesale dependencies, grotesquely extending childhoods.  It emptied people of full humanity in order to convert them to human resources."
"...correctly managed mass schooling would result in a population so dependent on leaders that schism and revolution would be things of the past.  The trick was to alienate children from themselves so they couldn't turn inside for strength, to alienate them from their families, religions, cultures, etc., so that no countervailing force could intervene."
Keep in mind that these ideas were concocted in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but you can plainly see how they have since come to fruition.

The author makes the case that great thinkers of the past influenced those who were now working to create the utopia I spoke of in Part I.  The family must be destroyed, individuals must learn to depend on others (the State), and they must have burden-free lives.  Meanwhile, the idea of artificial wants was being created to make way for overproduction and commercial mass entertainment.

Chapter 8 is dedicated to the history of the coal industry in America and its role in changing our culture and funding mass schooling.  For what purpose does the coal industry have in schools?  Gatto goes into great depth to explain why and how it happened.  He says,
"...American government and big business (coal) had been fully creating and maintaining mass society."
The author calls it "a coal-fired mass mind."

Here are some of the changes made slowly into national schooling:

1. Removal of literacies of writing and speaking which enable individuals to link up and persuade others.
2. Destruction of the narrative of American history...defining what makes Americans different from others.
3. Substitution of historical "social studies" catalogue of facts in place of historical narrative.
4. Radical dilution of academic content of formal curriculum which familiarized students with serious literature, philosophy, theology, etc.
5. Replacement of academics with a balanced-diet concept of humanities as substance of the school day.
6. Enlargement of school day and year to blot up outside opportunities to acquire useful knowledge leading to independent livelihoods; ie. shop classes.
7. Shifting oversight from those who have greatest interest in student development - parents, community, students - to strangers.
8. Relentless low-level hostility toward religious interpretations of meaning.

And this quote I found interesting from Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book Between Two Ages, published in 1970:
"It will soon be possible to assert almost continuous control over every citizen and to maintain up-to-date files containing even the most personal details about health and personal behavior of every citizen, in addition to the more customary data.  These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.  Power will gravitate into the hands of those who control information."
(Obamacare comes to mind.  Obamacare was never about healthcare anyway, just like schooling was never about education).

One last quote from the John Taylor Gatto is this
"Here is the crux of the difference between education and schooling - the former turns on independence, knowledge, ability, comprehension, and integrity; the latter upon obedience."
I will return later with Part III, or you can read the entire text for yourself at  The Underground History of American Education online for free.

Go to Parts III and Part IV.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe

Title: Robinson Crusoe

Author:  Daniel Defoe
Date Published:  1719
Challenge:  Back to the Classics 2015, classic with a name in the title

Occasionally, the vision of me on a desolate tropical island, with a hammock and Kindle (I don't own a Kindle) that never needs recharging and has access to all the books in the world, comes to mind.  Yeah, that's where I am.  Then reality reminds that I am not there; I am here, and there are four or five people talking at me all at once. Those are my kids.  So when I chose to read Robinson Crusoe, it was personal.  But I did not realize how personal it would get.

In truth, I approached Robinson Crusoe as an outdated classic adventure about a guy who finds himself alone on an island for a few years and lives to tell about it.  I have seen "Cast Away": it was not that eventful.  How interesting can this story be?

Tom Hanks yelling at Wilson, his volleyball companion, in "Cast Away"

The first third of the book was arduous: a "silent life," hunting seals, goats, and turtle eggs for food, making ink, clothing, and clay pots, and cutting down and constructing a small canoe - the latter event taking six pages to describe - to explore the beaches of the island. 

But let me get to the meat of this story because it is what influenced me entirely.  Two major themes of Robinson Crusoe are redemption and deliverance, given the strong emphasis on his spiritual journey.  Crusoe, the character, is the prodigal son who defied his father and went to sea.  He was prideful, rebellious, and disobedient, and for that, Providence set him apart from humanity, to live alone in silence for over twenty years.  

Early on, his sinful heart was convicted, and he repented.  With the help of a Bible that he had salvaged from the wreckage, he grew in spiritual knowledge of his Redeemer. During a time when he looked upon his situation as a prison, he began to read his Bible, and he came across these words,
'I will never, never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'
And he reasoned:
...if God does not forsake me, of what ill consequence can it be, or what matters it, though the world should all forsake me, seeing on the other hand if I had all the world, and should lose the favor and blessing of God, there would be no comparison in the loss?
He was thankful to God for bringing him to this place and "for opening his see the former condition of [his] life, and to mourn for [his] wickedness, and repent."

Then later, he came to a severe understanding that if God wanted him to live the remainder of his life in solitude, it would be God's will because He is Supreme.  
His sovereignty, who, as I was His creature, had an undoubted right, by creation, to govern and dispose of me absolutely as He thought fit, and who, as I was a creature who had offended Him, had likewise a judicial right to condemn me to what punishment He thought fit; and that it was my part to submit to bear His indignation, because I had sinned against Him.
Yikes!  Dispose of me!  That is extremely difficult to admit: God can do whatever He wants with me because He is my Maker.   God had certainly humbled Crusoe.

In the immediate paragraph, Crusoe continued:
I then reflected that God, who was not only righteous, but omnipotent, as He had thought fit thus to punish and afflict me, so He was able to deliver me; that if He did not think fit to do it, 'twas my unquestioned duty to resign myself absolutely and entirely to His will; and, on the other hand, it was my duty also to hope in Him, pray to Him, and quietly to attend the dictates and directions of His daily providence.
To hope in Him.  What mercy!  A righteous, omnipotent Creator, who Crusoe knew could dispose of him as He like, expected him to also HOPE in Him.  

Crusoe pondered these thoughts because he had found a footprint in the sand; he was so paranoid about it (after years of no human contact) that he imagined it could be a flesh-eating "savage" from a nearby island, until he found Scripture that soothed his soul:
'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver, and thou shalt glorify Me.
'Wait on the Lord, and be of good cheer, and He shall strengthen thy heart, wait, I say, on the Lord.
Crusoe was encouraged by these words that they relieved his heart instantly.  He realized that the footprint he saw in the sand, which burdened and worried him for so long, could have actually been his own.  

If an author can go on for six pages about the cutting down and building of a small canoe, I assure you, the bulk of the story is on Crusoe's spiritual redemption, repentance, and deliverance.  I have only provided two sections.  

It was, I believe, biblically sound, and I soaked it up and studied the text as if it were an assignment.  If this picture is any indication of what the majority of my book looks like, then you know what I mean.  I seriously need to think about a new copy.

Yeah, I do this.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Part I

You can read my notes on the Prologue HERE.

In Part I of The Underground History of American Education, the author, John Taylor Gatto, considers what education "used to be."  Education focused on duty, hard work, responsibility, and self-reliance.
"Young people in America were expected to make something of themselves, not to prepare themselves to fit into a pre-established hierarchy.  Every foreign commentator notes the early training in independence, the remarkable precocity of American youth, and their assumption of adult responsibility."
"Anyone worthy of citizenship was expected to be able to think clearly and to welcome great responsibility."
But there was, from the onset of the birth of our nation, an attack on Western ideals.  These ideas began to creep into our culture very slowly until the post-Civil War period and just in time for the Industrial Revolution.  One goal was to create a school environment that destroyed creativity, independence, and hope, frankly.  If a large portion of the masses could be forced into this new way of thinking, this would help build upon the new utopia that man has always strived to reach.

School was the easiest way to implement these ideas.  But this is dangerous because
"Utopian schooling is never about learning in the traditional sense; it's about the transformation of human nature."
"To mandate outcomes centrally would be a major step in the destruction of Western identity."
But it has happened already.  According to the author, by the 1960's this long push for forced schooling had done its job.  Human nature has been changed.  

One concept was to extend childhood and alleviate early responsibility.  Keep young people in school longer and create an atmosphere where they believe they (and their peers) are not capable of self-governance or independence.

Another idea was to eliminate real books and how we read them.  (Hello, textbooks?)  Real books force us to think.
"Real books transport us to an inner realm of solitude and unmonitored mental reflection in a way schoolbooks and computer programs can't.  Real books conform to the private curriculum of each author, not to the invisible curriculum of a corporate bureaucracy."
"Reading, and rigorous discussion of that reading in a way that obliges you to formulate a position and support it against objections, is an operational definition of education in its more fundamental civilized sense."
"Reading teaches nothing more important than the state of mind in which you find yourself absolutely alone with the thoughts of another mind, a matchless form of intimate raport available only to those with the ability to block out distraction and concentrate.  Hence the urgency of reading well if you read for power."
One more great quote from the author about reading:  (I love this!)
"Once you trust yourself to go mind-to-mind with great intellects, artists, scientists, warriors, and philosophers, you are finally free." 
That's just two points, but there are so many more packed into Part I; you will have to read it for yourself.  The bottom line is this: the author makes the case that
"...government schooling made people dumber, not brighter; made families weakernot stronger; ruined formal religion with its hard-self exclusion of Godset the class structure in stone by dividing children into classes and setting them against one another; and has been midwife to an alarming concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a fraction of the national community."
I cannot say anymore, but I will return with Part II later.  For now, consider this:
"Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct.  Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy..." 
Now, ask yourself if schools today provide that to young people

Go to Part II.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Prologue

Last year I read this book and did a review of it on my homeschool blog.  Cleo @ Cleoclassical said I should post it here, too, but at the time I wanted to keep it with education. However, reviewing it again, this book has a lot to say about reading and books; plus my book blog is about self-education.  It is a deep look at public education in America, and that has connection to most people in some way.  My review is broken up into five parts, which I will post over five weeks, or you can go to the links for the next part if you want to know more before then.

The Review

Everyone should read this book This is an inside look at one teacher's long experience within the American public education system. The teacher, John Taylor Gatto, candidly retells his story, some of which will seem unbelievable, and some that will make you remember your own experience in public school.  Gatto worked as a public school teacher for about thirty years in the New York City area, and was named Teacher of the Year for three consecutive years.

Here is my summary of the Prologue: America was a nation that prided itself on independence, individualism, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and resourcefulness.  Americans, no matter how poor, understood they could become their own master; they would have to in order to feed themselves and their families.

Some time after the Civil War and the start of the Industrial Revolution, some of those wealthy, elite, powerful men who had become their own masters, understood the need for mass production and workers willing to give up their own freedoms for the good of all; and hence, forced mass schooling was born.  One hundred years later, Americans do not think of their individualism like our fore fathers had.  We think about going to school in order to get a job and work for someone else.  Our independent spirit has been snuffed out.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the Prologue:

"...modern schooling...the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting.  You have no say at all in choosing your [child's] teacher."  (At least you may know how difficult it is to do so. - my opinion.)

"Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history.  It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents."

"How much more evidence is necessary?  Good schools don't need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and run risks.  We don't need a national curriculum or national testing either.  Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it."

"Exactly what John Dewey heralded...has indeed happened.  Our one highly individualized nation has evolved into a centrally managed village, an agora made up of huge special interests which regard individual voices as irrelevant.  The masquerade is managed by having collective agencies speak through particular human beings.  Dewey said this would mark a great advance in human affairs, but the net effect is to reduce men and women to the status of functions in whatever subsystem they are placed.  Public opinion is turned on and off in laboratory fashion.  All this in the name of social efficiency, one of the two main goals of forced schooling."

John Taylor Gatto
"School is a religion...Dewey's Pedagogic you a clue to the zeitgeist:"
Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth.  In this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God.
"Universal institutionalized formal forced schooling was the prescription, extending the dependency of the young well into what had traditionally been early adult life.  Individuals would be prevented from taking up important work until a relatively advanced age.  Maturity was to be retarded."

"Ordinary people send their children to school to get smart, but what modern schooling teachers is dumbness."

"What kids dumbed down by schooling can't do is to think for themselves..."

You can read The Underground History of American Education online for free.

For more, see Part I.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Beowulf, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien

Title: Beowulf 

Author/Translator: unknown/J.R.R. Tolkien
Written: between 8th-11th centuries
Challenge: Literary Movement 2015 Medieval 

This book is gorgeous; though I may be partial because most of my books are gravely used.  I have always appreciated the story of Beowulf, possibly because of its romantic medieval roots about valiant knights defeating wicked foes.  My kids and I have read numerous versions together, including Ian Serrailer's translation, which is also great; but how exciting to read a translation by Tolkien!  I knew I had to get it, and I am so glad I did.

This version is in a poetic-prose translation, which means (I had to look it up) it maintains its poetic quality; but it is not in verse, which means it would have had rhyme and rhythm.  I was incorrect by suggesting in a comment that it was in verse.  Nonetheless, it flows so smoothly and beautifully, and Tolkien's interpretation is vibrant and alive.  If books have a physical dimension, this is 3D.  Does that make sense?  I wonder if this particular book could be used as a study of Beowulf in classrooms.  It seems extremely comprehensive.

In addition to the great story of Beowulf, there is a huge section of commentary about the translation from the original language, which was helpful.  Plus, there is also a story version of Beowulf called Sellic Spell, which means "wondrous tale."  And it was.  It does not include the story of the dragon, which, as I learned through the commentary, may have been added much later to the first part of the story about the monster, Grendel, and his hideous mother.  But it was really good, and I suggest reading the Sellic Spell, in addition to Beowulf.

If you are truly adventurous, you may like to read the Old English text of Sellic Spell.  I was not that adventurous.

And finally, toward the very end of the book are two poems titled, "The Lay of Beowulf," which Tolkien sang to his son, Christopher, who is the reason this translation is available to us today.  It must have been fun to have Tolkien as a father.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen

Title: A Doll's House

Author: Henrik Isben

Published: 1879

Challenge: Back-to-the-Classics 2015, a classic play

I have read a couple of plays in my lifetime, but normally skip them without understanding why. A few years ago I had read The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, and I thought it was great.  This time, while reading A Doll's House, I wondered, Why do I instinctively skip plays? when I am thoroughly enjoying this one, just as I had enjoyed The Crucible.  I really do like plays, after all.

I think my favorite part of plays is the continuous dialogue.  It keeps the action rolling and forces the reader to think about what is going on, using his own interpretation, without the author explaining it to the reader. 

In regards to this play, without exposing major details, the main character, Nora, comes to an understanding that her husband has been treating her like a doll, a caged bird, an idol, that he would dress up and expect to perform a certain way to fit his - or society's - mold of a good woman or wife.  She plays the part until a major test confirms her suspicion, that her husband has been egotistically exploiting her for his own pleasure.  One of his greatest offenses is that he does not treat her respectfully, as his equal.

Believe me, both characters in this play are rather odd, though could have been exaggerated for the story's sake.  It is as if Nora were two different people: the woman her husband wanted her to be, and the person she truly is.  Once his true essence was revealed, she threw off her false identity and took up her true nature and confronted her husband.  


What I found disturbing about her final decision, however, was how she left her children; unfortunately, when I thought about the times she lived in, Nora would have never been able to raise her children after leaving her husband because no court would have granted her custody, even shared; and I suppose she couldn't stomach her husband enough to co-exist with him (as he suggested) for the sake of the children.   I don't know that I could leave my kids; I would have just taken the separate room.

And that is my experience with A Doll's House, which has opened the door to other plays in my future. Thanks to Marianne and Hamlette for encouraging me to read it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

Reading War and Peace for the first time could be considered a milestone in one's life.  It is an epic story (well over 1,100 pages) set in Russia during her interactions with the French, under Napoleon, in the early 1800's, and features nearly 600 characters - many with ever-changing Russian names.

It took me exactly seven months to read (June - December 2014).  Sure, I could have cut that time in half had it been the only book I focused on; however, I do not believe I would want to read it any faster given the amount of information to consume.

There are many characters to know and remember; and with that, there are numerous interactions, confrontations, events, and relationships to follow - many of which intertwine.  Tolstoy provides countless themes and ideas to explore, analyze, and interpret - and you know how Tolstoy loves to venture into philosophical tangents.   Also it is somewhat helpful, though not necessary, to understand the historical context of the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, and the reigns of Napoleon and Alexander I.  Tolstoy does provide an historical overview of these events, but it is beneficial if you know a little about them before you read.

By the way, there is a great TV-mini series called "Napoleon Bonaparte" (2002), starring Christian Clavier and Isabella Rossellini.  I had watched it several years ago and remember some of the history of Napoleon in Russia.

For me, my favorite parts overall involve Natasha, Andrey, and Pierre. Whenever Tolstoy cut away to war or other characters and their stories, I longed to continue on with Natasha and her story.  While I did not mind the long dissertations on war, I did prefer the human-interest stories more often.

One of my favorite themes of War and Peace was about Russia's patriotism. Patriotism comes very naturally to people; they don't have to be taught to love their country. (Unfortunately, today, at least in the United States, a lot of young people are being taught to hate their country and feel disconnected from it.)  Imagine if the Russians were not patriotic: they would have easily handed over their nation to Napoleon.  There is nothing wrong with patriotism, as it is a very healthy and honorable feeling to have toward your country.  (Shoot! Before War and Peace was over, I loved Russia, too. When Tolstoy was saying "we" - meaning the Russians - I imagined he was including me, the reader.)

The final parts of War and Peace seemed to pick up speed; everything happened so quickly.  The abandonment of Moscow (by the Russians), and the capturing and immediate loss of Moscow by the French were fascinating.  Tolstoy did an entertaining job theorizing his opinion as to why the French lost Moscow.   He continued philosophizing well into the epilogue, which was altogether one of my most memorable parts from the entire book.  (He really does take issue with Rousseau and even drags him into the story.)

Pierre, Natasha, Andrey...that's all you care about.
In the end, this is an inadequate review of War and Peace from me - well, it's not even a review.  I am just saying that I was really grateful to have read this chunkster of a book.  It encourages my admiration of Tolstoy immensely.

So back to my milestone comment: I may have read War and Peace once, but this is a book I will have to reread because it is absolutely necessary.   Reading War and Peace once is like viewing the tip of an iceberg sticking up out of the ocean; there is so much more underneath that has yet to be seen.  The milestone won't feel fully accomplished until I can experience this again another time.  But I am definitely grateful that I committed and experienced it even this much.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Bookish Personalities

Since the start of this blog, I have made it a habit to assign personalities to the books I have read throughout the year.  It coincides with the approximate beginning of this blog, January 1st, marking another year of my reading and writing journey, which has only been three short years.  So, Happy Birthday, Blog, and Happy New Year to everyone else!

Following is a list of most of the books I have read in 2014.  Each has been assigned a personality. These opinions may change over time, and probably will as I reread them.  For now, though, it is just a fun way to remember my initial perspective after reading each classic.

And the bookish personalities of 2014 are...

Most Amazing Epic Story to Leave Me Speechless (for a hours, at least)
Gone With the Wind - Mitchell

Most Likely to be a Frida Khalo Painting
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Marquez

Longest Time It Took to (Sort of) Win Over This the Final Chapter 
If on a winter's night a traveler - Calvino

Best Eighties Throwback Theme
White Noise - DeLillo

Best All-Around Literature, Literally
Possession - Byatt

Most Beautiful Spiritual Journey to the Discovery of Truth
The Confessions - Augustine 

Most Likely the Reason Churches Have Cry-Rooms
The Book of Margery Kempe

Most Likely Author to Have Insomnia
Essays - Montaigne

Most Complex Plot With No Loose Ends
Great Expectations - Dickens

Most Bizarre, Satirical Story (But Nonetheless Entertaining)
Candide - Voltaire

Most Likely to Get Mental Whiplash While Reading
Germinal - Zola

Best Medieval Harlequin Romance Novel, Only Better
(I have never read Harlequin novels.  Ever.)
Arthurian Romances - Chretien

Best Weaver of Words
The Age of Innocence - Wharton

Most Redeeming Reread
The Old Man and the Sea - Hemingway

Most Likely Author to Have Enjoyed Himself Thoroughly 
While Writing and Illustrating These Texts
The Story of Sir Launcelot and His Companions - Pyle
The Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur - Pyle

Most Blasphemously Ridden Text
(or...)  Best Sarcastic, Ironic, Hysterical Story With an Innocent Moral
The Catcher in the Rye - Salinger

Most Likely Author to Be Misunderstood
Slaughterhouse-Five - Vonnegut

Best (or Worst) Attempt to Rewrite History
The History of the Kings of Britain - Geoffrey of Monmouth

Most Likely the Standard for Good Literature
Little Women - Alcott

Best Example of Poorly Planned, Disastrous Expeditions
(But I don't entirely blame Columbus)
The Four Voyages - Columbus

Best Transparent View of the Birth and Foundation of America
(The United States, that is.)
Of Plymouth Plantation - Bradford

Best Example of a Well-Planned, Successful Expedition
The Journals of Lewis and Clark 

Most Spiritually Challenging
The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself 

(I can't think...pun intended)
Meditations - Descartes

Most Pleasant Story About the Human Experience
My Ántonia - Cather

Second Most Amazing Epic Story to Leave Me Speechless
(I just finished it days ago.)
War & Peace - Tolstoy
For previous personality awards:
2013 Awards
2012 Awards, part II
2012 Awards, part I

Everyone's reading journey is different.  Which personalities would you assign your favorite reads from 2014?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Adopting Used Books

Well, I did not get any books for Christmas, but today I visited my awesome library's used bookstore and found several books to take home with me.  All of this was only $8.00, and they are in excellent reading condition.  If books had feelings, I bet they were excited to have a new home. 

Here is what I adopted:

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen (One Austen I did not have.)

The Pioneers - James Fenimore Cooper (I would like to get The Deerslayer because The Pioneers is the fourth of five in the Leatherstocking Tales, and I am planning to read Last of the Mohicans, number two in the series, in 2015.  Well, whatever.  I am already reading them out of order.)

The Plague - Albert Camus (I totally disagreed with Camus in The Stranger, so I don't know why I bought this one.)

Four Great Plays - Henrik Ibsen (This will come in handy for a play I was researching for my "Back to the Classics" Challenge.)

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather (How did they know that I highly coveted this one????)

A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway

Notes on the State of Virginia - Thomas Jefferson  (This one was written by Jefferson in his first term as governor of Virginia in response to a French inquiry about the experiment of the newly formed thirteen states of America.)

This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald  

The Help - Kathryn Stockett  (Loved this movie!)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Meditations, by René Descartes

Meditations, by René Descartes, was published in 1641.  It is not an autobiography in the usual sense, but it is an examination of one's life based on the ability to contemplate about one's own existence.  Hence: I think, therefore I exist.  You know that.

I was so excited to dig into this work simply because of my meager knowledge of Descartes from a philosophy class I had taken in college.  Philosophy is interesting to me, but given that this was not a typical autobiography, and that Descartes wrote about thinking about thinking (no, that was not a typo), this book quickly became mind boggling, and I lost interest. 

If I had to take a test on this book, I would fail.   Oh, I underlined and circled frequently and starred my favorite quotes, but if I had to recall points or give a thorough synopsis, I have not much.  So this is not a review or opinion of the actual work, but simply my lame leftover response of having gone through this book several weeks ago.  

If I learned anything, Descartes was obsessed with truth and the human mind but insecure about his inability to determine what was absolute.  In order to prove truth, he presented six meditations, which were situations and ideas to consider.  Then he delved into serious doubts and discussion to prove each situation, like he was playing devil's advocate with himself.  He also answered objections about these ideas.

In the end, he concluded that he is a thinking thing, and because he can think, he must exist.  He proved that the mind and body are separate entities.  Feelings and emotions are not as reliable; only judgments made using the intellect are certain.  And if I understand correctly, God is perfect, but man is imperfect; therefore, God exists because imperfect man could not conceive a perfect entity in his mind, and a perfect God would not deceive man of His existence.  Did you get that?  

Let me finally add that when I came to a stopping place in my reading and then picked the book up again a few days later to continue, I found that I had finished Meditations and did not have to continue anymore.  I had not realized that I had come to the end.  Happy dance.  I was very grateful to not have to read anymore about thinking.  My brain hurt.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: "Santa, bring me..."

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing This Year

It's not Tuesday for me, yet, but it's Tuesday somewhere, right?  So here is my list of books I wouldn't mind unwrapping:

1.  Any book by Émile Zola
(With an exception of Germinal, 
you wouldn't believe how difficult these books are to find in my area.)


2.  Little Dorrit - Charles Dickens
(Because I just have to own every Dickens.)

3.  A better copy of The Iliad
(Like this one:)

4.  The COMPLETE Sherlock Holmes - Doyle
(In paperback with a nice cover, of course.)

5.  A Vindication of the Rights of Women - Wollstonecraft

6.  Leviathan - Hobbs

7.  The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on 
What it Means to be an Educated Human Being - Richard Gamble

8.  The Great Books: A Journey Through 2,500 Years of the West's Classic Literature  -
Anthony O'Hear

9.  A Modern Utopia - H.G. Wells
(Love anything about utopias.)

10.  Any of these by Willa Cather!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My Ántonia, by Willa Cather

Title: My Ántonia
Author: Willa Cather
Published: 1918

It was a great joy to read My Ántonia for Willa Cather Reading Week.  What a wonderful pleasure!

Given that I have only read this and O Pioneers!, I would not claim to be a Cather expert; nonetheless, for this post I will gladly boast what an exceptional author she is.

For example, if you admire human stories, beautiful or tragic, and if you appreciate intricately woven settings that appeal to your senses, then this story - and O Pioneers! - are perfect suggestions.  You can get lost in her words.  (Well, I did. Sometimes I forgot I was reading a book.)

By the way, the prairie, the setting for both novels, is real.  It still exists.  This summer, my family drove through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri, and of course I took a few pictures.  It is miles and miles and miles of immense sky, wide open spaces, waving grasses, and rolling hills, with an occasional tree.  I added the photos to this post, and I suppose that is why I like this particular book cover.  It reminds me of the scenes I saw.


Anyway, back to the human stories: so far I have found that Cather develops memorable characters, often with extremely formidable and outstanding personality traits. Throughout this story, I clung to particular characters and hoped for the story to turn a specific way; but like O Pioneers!, it was not what Cather had in mind.  Well, at least there was not as much heartbreak.  (I won't tell you what happened in O Pioneers! because you'll have to read it yourself to find out.)

In My Ántonia, there was some disappointment.  However, as in real human stories, not everything concludes the way you expect or want it to.  Life can be super messy, and often times there is disappointment and even tragedy.  I suppose I could say that Cather writes closely to real life. Maybe that is why I really enjoyed these two stories because I tend to seek out reality.

Kansas, or somewhere in the Mid-West

Also, a theme that I found repeating itself in My Ántonia involved memories of people and places from our past and how important they are to us.  Cather used the Latin phrase "Optima dies...prima fugit," which means, "in the lives of mortals, the best days are the first to flee," as the main character recalled the carefree days of his youth.  He dreamed about his past and the people who touched his life.  He even had to move away because it was a distraction to him.  When he returned to where he grew up and to see his childhood friend, Ántonia, he hoped she did not change.  I get the feeling he wished things could remain the same for always.  Of course, that was not possible.  He said, as he returned to visit Ántonia after twenty years,
I did not want to find her aged and broken; I really dreaded it.  In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions.  I did not wish to lose the early ones.  Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.
There are a lot of other important ideas one could take away from this story, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.  So, as I was extremely pleased with My Ántonia, I do look forward to reading the third book in this prairie trilogy by Cather: The Song of the Lark.  (And, hey! I even have a picture of a meadowlark on the site where we stopped to see the replica of The Little House on the Prairie log cabin, in Kansas. )
Meadowlark singing his little heart out

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Back to the Classics Challenge 2015

via Books and Chocolate

Thinking I have room for another year-long reading challenge, I am joining this one.  Many of my choices are surpluses from other challenges: if I had multiple books listed in a category, they were inserted here so that every book has a better chance of being read. I don't want any book to feel excluded, in case books have feelings. 

The rules: HERE!

The categories and my choices (as I hope to cover all twelve):

1.  A 19th Century Classic - Dracula (1897), by Bram Stoker

2.  A 20th Century Classic - The Grapes of Wrath (1939), by John Steinbeck

3.  A Classic by a Woman Author - Persuasion (1927), by Jane Austen

4.  A Classic in Translation - The Fortune (1871), by Émile Zola (though I may change to a different Zola if I read this one for another challenge.)

5.  A Very Long Classic Novel East of Eden (1952), by John Steinbeck or Bleak House (1853), by Charles Dickens

6.  A Classic Novella -- Notes From the Underground (1864), by Fyodor Dostoevsky 

7.  A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title - Robinson Crusoe (1719), by Daniel Defoe

8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic - Catch-22 (1961), by Joseph Heller

9.  A Forgotten Classic - A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), by Daniel Defoe

10.  A Nonfiction Classic - Life on the Mississippi (1883), by Mark Twain

11.  A Classic Children's Book - The Secret Garden (1911), by Frances Hodgson Burnett or The Wind in the Willows (1908), by Kenneth Grahame

12.  A Classic Play - "A Doll's House," by Henrik Ibsen