Thursday, October 18, 2018

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed
Khaled Hosseini
Published 2013

After enjoying Khaled Hosseini's previous two novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I had great expectations for And the Mountains Echoed; but I was somewhat disappointed.

Hosseini is a wonderful storyteller, and that is not lacking here. His characters are true, transparent, and humanly flawed. His stories are also historically set in a variety of countries. This novel covers six decades of numerous generations, and the characters are all interconnected, in some way, though not always so obvious.

Like his other stories, one of his strongest theme is family connection, and how they are sometimes destroyed by circumstances, like war and poverty. There is also a focus on cultural norms and how that affects natural emotions like love and desire.

One of my problems with this story, however, was that it was experimental, and it had numerous sub-stories with different characters; when one new story began, with new characters set in a new time period, the other story ended. I wanted the first story to continue because I had already invested my interest in the characters. However, throughout the stories, you see the little connections to previous stories and characters, which is acceptable; but now you have to become newly invested in these latest characters. It can feel abrupt, at times.

The end of the book linked all of the stories together, like lose ends. Unfortunately, some stories were not as interesting as the very first story; I lost interest and started skimming. If I start skimming, that means I might put the book down. However, I did finish, but, regretfully, the ending was a little anti-climatic.

So, sadly, I do not have a great review for And the Mountains Echoed. But I will take this time to reiterate: Hosseini's other two novels were outstanding.

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

If you are a fan of contemporary lit with a multi-cultural and multi-generational story, in an international setting that covers themes of family, love, disappointment, consequence, and sacrifice, and you do not mind a unique story-telling style that crosses decades and multiple characters, then you may like to give this a try. A plus is that Hosseini is a good storyteller. However, I would recommend, if you have not read this author, to start with his first novel, The Kite Runner. 


Someone made this short emotional preview of the book on YouTube:


P.S. I understand he has a new book, Sea Prayer, and I would like to check that out someday.

Have you read And the Mountains Echoed? What did you think?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder/Rose Wilder Lane

On the Way Home
Laura Ingalls Wilder/Rose Wilder Lane
Published 1962

This is my second read of On the Way Home. (Here is a LINK to my first review.) Again, this is a super short journal entry record of the trip Almanzo, daughter Rose, and Laura took on their way to settle in Missouri, after leaving South Dakota. Mansfield, Missouri, would become their final home.

In her journal, Laura observed the condition of the land, the kinds of crops that grew in the area, the weather, the trees, plants, and wildlife. I was impressed with how she named trees and plants or flowers that she saw, which puts me to shame because I can rarely remember the trees and shrubs that my husband and I specifically planted on our own property.

Along the way, the Wilders met many other families doing the same thing. Laura called them emigrants, and many of them were Russian. Some were going north, some south, and some west. No one was satisfied where he was; therefore, they were headed to someplace they believed better. 

Before they left South Dakota, they camped near the James River. Laura was fond of the area. Upon leaving, she looked back to admire the scene, wishing she could describe its beauty. She wrote:
We all stopped and looked back at the scene and I wished for an artist's hand or a poet's brain or even to be able to tell in good plain prose how beautiful is was. If I had been the Indians I would have scalped more white folks before I ever would have left it. 
Yikes! That wasn't culturally sensitive. Or is it acceptable to talk about scalping white people? I can't keep up sometimes.

Our visit to Mansfield, Missouri
For sure, Laura hated Nebraska. She described it as desolate and bare, without houses, fields, trees, or grass. She said it reminded her of Lydia Locket's pocket: "nothing in it, nothing on it, only the binding round it."

Laura is referring to a little English nursery rhyme that goes like this:

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Nothing in it, nothing in it,
But the binding round it.

Obviously, it had changed somewhat, but the meaning is understood.

The next entry I noted was her description of the morning glories. One morning, as they started on their way, she wrote:
The wild morning glories are rioting everywhere, all colors like the tame ones. 
Around Prescott, Kansas, before entering Missouri, they met a family who had spent two months in Missouri and declared,
Right there is the place to go if man wants to bury himself from the world and live on hoecake and clabber.
They don't call it Misery for nothing.

Once Laura and Almanzo found a place to settle, Laura ended her diary; but Rose filled in the rest, many years later. I did not include this in my first review, but here it goes. The money they had saved in South Dakota, to purchase the property in Missouri, was lost. Laura was enraged; especially when, as Rose recalls, Laura interrogated her to be sure Rose had nothing to do with its disappearance. (You know how a kid is often a parents' first suspect?) But she did not. When Almanzo calmly suggested that it might turn up,
Laura flared out that he knew as well as she did, 'nothing turns up that we don't turn up ourselves.'
Imagine driving a covered wagon with the whole of your belongings, over 600 miles, just to lose the all the money you had to buy property. I would be enraged, too.

What the house looks like today
Well, good news: they found the money and bought the property; and Almanzo began building their home, using natural resources and raw materials from the land. Rose recalled how Laura planned
 a bookcase, no, two bookcases, big bookcases full of books, and a hanging lamp to read them by, on winter evenings by the fireplace.

Today, that home is a museum, and you can visit it; and yes, though visitors are not allowed to walk into the parlor and take a peek, there are several bookcases full of books.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

A Grief Observed
C. S. Lewis
Published 1961

Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.

A Grief Observed is a collection of short journals written by C.S. Lewis, soon after the death of his wife. She died of cancer in 1960.

I think it is a blessing that Lewis shared his experience. So many of people have or will have to deal with the heavy sadness of losing a loved one. I imagine recording one's emotions and thoughts is a constructive way to work out one's grief and all the questions that come with loss. This book may be a comfort to others.

Or maybe not. It was deeply honest and personal and often melancholy. Lewis was very plain about his doubts and grievances that he had with God.

The four short chapters evolved throughout Lewis' time of grief, while he recorded his experiences and observations. He described how his mind worked through the emotions.

At the start of his experience, Lewis described grief like being afraid. He compared the emotional grief to physical pain. He also expressed grief as a feeling of laziness. Near the end, he explained how grief felt like suspense because "it comes from the frustration of so many impulses that had become habitual."

He wondered if his marriage was too perfect, and that was why God intervened and took his wife. Or maybe their marriage "had reached its proper perfection," and God was now preparing him for his next mission. Either seemed plausible to him.

Lewis pondered much about marriage. Here is a part on marriage and the sexes that I found intriguing:
There is hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them. It is arrogance in us to call frankness, fairness, and chivalry 'masculine' when we see them in a an woman; it is arrogance in them to describe a man's sensitiveness or tact or tenderness as 'feminine.' But also what poor, warped fragments of humanity most mere men and mere women must be to make the implications of that arrogance plausible. Marriage heals this. Jointly the two become fully human. 'In the image of God created He them.' Thus, by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes.
He did love and miss his wife dearly. In the end he said,
How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back! She said not to me but to the chaplain, 'I am at peace with God.' She smiled, but not at me. Poi si tornĂ² all' eterna fontana. 
It appeared that Lewis may have come to tolerably peaceful terms with his grief.

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

This is one book you do not want to miss from C.S. Lewis. It is exceptionally human and deeply touching. It is not only about grief and sadness and pain but also about love and marriage and life. If you are a new C.S. Lewis fan, or you are interested in reading other works by him, this is an essential one to read.

Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis

Sunday, October 7, 2018

October's (sparse) Reading Stack



I am going on a strict diet this month.

Unfortunately, I am only adding one new book to my reading stack. I feel so deprived. My new book is On the Way Home, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is a reread after all.

For the rest of the month, I will focus on finishing Jude the Obscure, by Mr. Thomas Hardy. I have a confession: Hardy and I have a rocky relationship, but I cannot get enough of his style. Maybe someone can tell me who else to read since I am fond of his writing. Kind of like..."If you like Hardy...you'll love [fill-in-the-blank].

I plan to make bigger dents into David Hume's History of England and A Philosophy of Education, by Charlotte Mason. My kids and I are still reading Macbeth, by Shakespeare, and I started a new book, Jedediah Smith: No Ordinary Mountain Man, by Barton Barbour, with my son. It is a lot longer than I expected. Ugh. But I must finish it.

So if I want to introduce new reading to my diet next month, I must stay the course and finish most of these.

What new books have you started this October???

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The First Four Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1971

FIRST, A PERSONAL LIFE REVIEW

This is my second attempt to catch up on all of my book reviews. There are four more left.

Life keeps giving me distractions.

Recitals...finally...over.

First it was the start of a new school year...the next week I was not well for a time, and in between I dealt badly with relationship issues (I thought I'd have a breakdown!)...the following week my girls had four consecutive nights of exhausting dance rehearsals, followed by four long dance recitals on that weekend...

My Sophia
wants to be Clara sooooo badly.

...then Nutcracker auditions and waiting anxiously for three days to see who got the part of Clara...(Sophia didn't)...last week I had an emotional meeting with a friend who I had not seen in 20 years...next, my computer broke and had to go to the shop for a week...$500!..and last Saturday a very dear friend passed away. She was 92 and like a grandma to me.

But today, my husband came home early from work to tell me...he was let go from his job. He has been the GM for a manufacturing company for six years, in which he had been an employee since 2000. The company was acquired by a larger company this year, and we had suspected this could happen; except he was assured by the new owner that he would still have a job and report to him on Day One. Well, Day One was Tuesday, and technically, my husband still had a job and did report to his new boss.

However, Wednesday was Day Two...

I am not panicking, yet. I know God knows everything before hand and is in control of all these events and particulars.

Interestingly, my husband and I have been discussing relocating to Texas because we are discontented with the direction of California. Basically, my husband and I agree we no longer feel safe to raise our children here. (Ironically, my parents moved my siblings and me to California, in 1982, because they no longer felt safe about raising us in Brooklyn! And now my husband and I want to leave California for the same reason.)

Well, it is only day one of this dilemma, and my husband and I will be doing a lot of praying and trusting God and figuring things out. Maybe this an opportunity for us to move our family to Texas. (Big Question Mark.) Just saying.

NOW, MY BOOK REVIEW

Here I attempt to write a book review of a simple book...

Laura hated farming "because a farm is such a hard place for a woman." Almanzo suggested that they give it a try for three years, and if it failed, he would "quit and do anything [she wanted him] to do."
I promise that at the end of three years we will quit farming if I have not made such a success that you are willing to keep on.
It was true, there were things Laura appreciated about farming: horses, freedom, and spacious prairies. There were other reasons, too, and hence, agreed to give it three years.

In the first year, a hailstorm destroyed their crops.

In the second year, they had Rose. A blessing.

In the third year, Almanzo and Laura got into the sheepherding business, which helped bring in income. But they also both became sick with diphtheria. Laura recovered, but Almanzo did not rest long enough to recuperate, and it caused a stroke. From then on he would need Laura's help hitching up the horses and doing other chores.

In the fourth year, the year of grace, they lost almost all of their ten acres of trees. They had to give up on the tree claim, which cost them more money if they wanted to keep the land. Laura also had a baby boy, but he only lived a few weeks. Finally, a fire destroyed their home, forcing them to move in with a neighbor, until Almanzo built them a new house.

Was farming a success?

That depended on how you looked at it. Year after year, they had suffered bad luck and faced numerous set backs, but anyone could have experienced a few years of unfortunate circumstances. At least they did well with livestock.
She was still a pioneer girl and she could understand Manly's love of the land through its appeal to herself. 
Oh well, Laura sighed, summing up her idea of the situation in a saying of her Ma's: We'll always be farmers, for what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

City of God by Augustine, Part II

City of God
Augustine
Published 426 AD

It has been a few months since I completed Part II of City of God, but I will do my best to review. By  the way, here is my review of Part I, if you are curious.

For starters...I read this book right out of its cover.



Second, at some point I jotted this little note on the title page, in case I forgot what I thought about it:
This is such good stuff. I can read Augustine without too much question of doubt, if any. This is super interesting. 
Next, Part II deals mostly with theology. I especially appreciated how Augustine retold the Ancient stories, as they occurred along side the stories of the Bible -- kind of like chronological crosscut of Egyptian/Assyrian/Greek/Roman and Bible history. I always tried to formulate these events in my mind, and here Augustine made it simple. 

For example, some chapters include: "The arrival of Aeneas in Italy at the time when Labdon was judge over the Hebrews" and "Rome's foundation coincides with the end of the Assyrian kingdom, and with the reign of Hezekiah in Judah."

Some of the topics in Part II cover Creation and how sin entered the world, the Trinity, the nature of angels (good and bad), the creation of man, his soul, the fall of man, death, and God's spirit. 

Around Book XV, Augustine introduces the "two lines of descent of the human race, advancing from the start towards different ends": Cain, who founded a city on earth, belonged to the city of man, and Abel, who was a pilgrim, belonged to the City of God, which is in heaven and produces its citizens here on earth, "brought forth by grace." Christ's Church is the City of God.

One fascinating note: there is a chapter on how Noah's ark is a symbol of Christ and the Church. In my notes I added: "Where does Augustine get this from?" (It's not like he had access to Google or Siri.) 

For many books and chapters, Augustine takes his readers through the genealogy of the biblical people, from Adam and all the way to Jesus, while marking their paths to the city of man or the City of God. Then toward the end of Part II, Augustine covers Revelation and the Last Days. 

And because it is Augustine, he has no reservation refuting those ideas which he disagrees, such as those who claim the sacraments save you from eternal punishment, that the guilty will be spared through the intercession of the saints, that only Catholics are saved, that punishment will last forever, or that good works will save us. And there are many more.

Of course, I struggled with the chapters on examples of miracles. I still do not know what to say about people being healed with "saint's oil." 

Finally, the last thing I will mention is in chapter six in Book XXII: "The Romans made Romulus a god because they loved him; the Church loved Christ because it believed him to be God." Augustine explains
Christ is the founder of the eternal Heavenly City, that City's belief in Christ as God does not arise from her foundation by him; the truth is that her foundation arises from her belief in Christ as God. Rome worshipped her founder as  a god after she had been built and dedicated; but this Heavenly Jerusalem put Christ as the foundation of her faith, so that she might be built and dedicated. 
As massive as this read is, its ending was anti-climatic; then again, it was not meant to be a novel, but a series of short essays or writings on related ideas and topics. The short chapters were perfect for reading a little bit every day.

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

Since City of God is over 1000 pages long, it is not easily committed to; however, as I said, the short chapters make it manageable. It is for readers who LOVE ancient history, theology, philosophy, and Greek and Roman mythology. Augustine is a great writer, and his arguments are enjoyable. He is plain and literal and even a little snarky at times.

While I will probably never read it again, I am definitely grateful to have read it this once. It was worth it.

City of God, Part I

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

September Reading Stack


It is a mid-September (night's) reading stack because I did not finish some of my August reads by the beginning of September, such as City of God and Pride and Prejudice, and I wanted to make sure I had room to add more books first. (I also almost always read at night.) So here are some new titles I am beginning and some I am still bearing with in the middle of the month of September.

STILL BEARING WITH

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle - Washington Irving
Reading both of these with the kids for literature. 
A Philosophy of Eduction - Charlotte Mason
Mason's final book in her education series of six books. Once I finish this, it's back to book number one to begin the series all over again. 
Macbeth - Shakespeare
Reading straight Shakespeare (no watering down) with the kids. We take turns being characters, while they read from their smaller copies and I read from this monster: 



Cloaked - Rachel Kovaciny @ Edge of the Precipice
This past summer, I had hoped to return to the art of reading for fun with my kids before bedtime, but the summer got away from us; now, no more excuses: we started with this adventurous Western fairytale by Rachel at Edge of the Precipice. I'm reading my copy on Kindle iCloud. 


History of England, Vol. 5, 1603-1649 - David Hume
Reading for TWEM Histories Reading Challenge. It is not all that enjoyable, though some sections of history are interesting because I may be familiar; however, after a month of reading, I have not made much progress.
NEW READS

Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
Hardy and I are going to go toe-to-toe again. I am ready.
A Grief Observed - C. S. Lewis
Hoping to start another Lewis, just because. 
The First Four Years - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The final book in the Little House series, though there are three more books to read after I finish this one for Little House-athon.
And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini did not disappoint with his previous two novels; therefore, I am absolutely looking forward to reading this next book. 
~

* Have you read any of these? What did you think? Are there any you are looking forward to reading someday?  

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The True End of Civil Government by John Locke

The True End of Civil Government
John Locke
Published 1689

This is like an assignment I loathe to complete, for this book has been sitting on my bookcase too long, waiting for me to be done with it; and I am not done with a book until I have written a narration about it.  

It is not a bad essay, nor is it a boring waste of time. The problem is, it did not excite me, impress upon me, or stir my heart.

So, first let me tell what is is: The True End of Civil Government is an essay written by John Locke, an English philosopher of the Enlightenment, on the workings of civil and political society based on natural rights, decided by the people, ie. democracy. 

To make this painless and quick, I will share some my sensible marginal notes and favorite quotes by Locke to give you an idea what this was like: 

On the State of Nature

God did not make us to be beasts.
The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: And Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possession. 
On the Death Penalty 
...every Man in the State of Nature, has a Power to kill a Murderer, both to deter others from doing the like Injury, which no Reparation can compensate, by the Example of the punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure Men from the attempts of a Criminal.  
On the State of War
He who attempts to get another Man into his Absolute Power does thereby put himself in a State of War with him. To be free from this force is the only security of my Preservation. 
On Slavery

This is a State of War between conqueror and captive, where there is no compact (agreement).

What we work with our hands is rightly ours. (This is how man came to obtain property.) But there is a limit to property.
God gave the World to Men in Common; but since he gave it them for their benefit, and the greatest Conveniencies of Life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. he gave it to the use of the Industrious and Rational (and Labour was to be his Title to it); not to the Fancy or Covetousness of the Quarrelsom and Contentious.
On Labor

Land not used is a waste. Labor puts the greatest value on land. Labor gives right of property (ownership). But it is foolish to take more than one needs (hoarding).

The invention of money enlarged a man's possessions.

On Freedom
...the end of Law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge Freedom: For in all the states of created beings capable of Laws, where there is no Law, there is no Freedom. For Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others which cannot be, where there is no Law.
On Self Government and Civil Society

Self-government occurs when a young person demonstrates REASON.

While the father is the first authority to children, the mother has parental power, too. Children are under her care and provision, and owe her obedience. The first duty as parents is education.

The man and his wife make up the first society or conjugal society, made under a "voluntary Compact between Man and Woman. It is for Communion and right in one anothers Bodies, as is necessary to its chief End, Procreation; yet it draws with it mutual Support, and Assistance, and a Communion of Interest...to unite Care and Affections...of offspring."

The second society, or master and servant, make up political society.

An absolute monarchy is inconsistent with civil society.
For he that thinks absolute Power purifies Mens Bloods, and corrects the baseness of Human Nature, need read but the History of this, or any other Age to be convinced of the contrary (AMEN).
On Democracy
When any number of Men have so consented to make one Community or Government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one Body Politick, wherein the Majority have a Right to act and conclude the rest. 
All men are born subject to Father or Prince, "and is therefore under the perpetual tye of Subjection and Allegiance."

Why Would Man Part with His Freedom? (Good question)
...the Enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the Invasion of others. For all being Kings as much as he, every Man his Equal,...the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe. This makes him willing to quit this Condition, which is full of fears and continual dangers...he...is willing to joyn in Society with others who are already united...for the mutual Preservation of their Lives, Liberties, and Estates (Property). 
Short answer: safety and security or protection.

On Government and Executive Powers
The end of Government being the preservation of all, as much as may be, even the guilty are to be spared, where it can prove no prejudice to the innocent. 
...therefore there is a latitude left to the Executive power, to do many things of choice, which the Laws do not prescribe. (You can say that again.)
On Powers

Paternal Power is first, where parents govern children for their own good, until they come to reason, which is the ability to self-govern. Political power is second, where man relinquishes his state of nature to society and to government, in which society trusts, to be done for their good and preservation of their property.

Dissolution of Governments

Governments may be overturned from without and within. Sometimes an executive power neglects and abandons his charge, reducing all to Anarchy. But beware of foreign powers and oppression because they are slavery in disguise. The people "not only have a Right to get out of it but to prevent it."

On Judges
God in Heaven is Judge: He alone, 'tis true, is Judge of the Right. But every Man is Judge for himself, as in all other Cases, so in this, whether another hath put himself into a State of War with him, and whether he should appeal to the Supreme Judge...
IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU

Surely, if you are interested in political science, history, government, and philosophy, especially regarding Western Civilization, this will be right up your alley. Locke recaps and reiterates quiet often, building his argument upon basic ideas of man and human nature and expanding into complex ideas of society and government. It was educational, but not necessarily riveting stuff.

John Locke 1632-1704 

Monday, August 20, 2018

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1943

In this episode of Laura's life, she was fifteen-years old, and Almanzo (almost ten years her senior) was courting her, though she did not know it. She took the job as schoolteacher on a claim twelve miles away, during winter, and had to board with a family she did not know. It may not have been so bad, living with this family, if it was not such a dreary, uninhabitable home; but because Laura wanted to earn the money to keep Mary in school, she bit her tongue and stuck it out. She must stay for six long weeks.

When the first weekend approached, she expected to survive her time with the Brewsters somehow; but at the close of Friday, jingle bells and beautiful horses rescued her. And Almanzo, too! For the remaining five weekends, Almanzo took Laura back to the Brewster's, and picked her up Friday afternoons to drive her home again.

I love how Laura laid down the law, after feeling guilty for Almanzo's efforts to drive his horses 24 miles in freezing weather, and "for nothing." One day she garnered the courage to tell him:
I'm going with you only because I want to get home. When I am home to stay, I will not go with you any more. So now you know, and if you want to save yourself these long, cold drives, you can. 
But he still came the next weekend to get her. Laura thanked him, and he replied,
What do you take me for? Do you think I'm the kind of fellow that'd leave you out there at Brewster's when you're so homesick, just because there's nothing in it for me?
Then he admitted he "almost decided against it" because the temperature was below forty below zero (and no, that's not a typo). However, Cap Garland pricked his conscience and told him, "God hates a coward." Laura asked if he came because he wouldn't take a dare, and Almanzo answered: "No, it wasn't a dare. I just figured he was right."

Laura survived her first school, and did an excellent job. Being away and in such horrid conditions helped her to appreciate her joyful, pleasant home and loving family even more. She was back at school with friends, and taking sleigh rides in town, with Almanzo. So that part about her not going with him anymore went out the window.



One day a lady friend told Laura that
An old bachelor doesn't pay so much attention to a girl unless he's serious. You will marry him yet.
Shocked, Laura replied,
Oh, no! No, indeed I won't! I wouldn't leave home to marry anybody.
Nonetheless, by summertime, Laura was going for buggy rides, with Almanzo. On one of those drives, Almanzo picked up Nellie Olsen, but that was a big mistake, and Laura put her foot down. It was either Nellie or her, and Almanzo had to choose. Poor Nellie.

Almanzo was breaking in some wild colts, and Laura was brave enough to drive them. When Cap saw her drive them down Main St., Almanzo told her that others said Laura wouldn't get into the buggy behind those colts, but Cap said she would. And Laura asked if he made a bet, to which Almanzo (clarifying that he himself didn't make a bet),
I wouldn't bet about a lady.
Laura taught some more school, and finally ended her career as a student because it was official: she was going to be married. Almanzo, always the proper gentleman, gave her a ring and a date, and I suppose even asked permission of Laura's father first, long before Laura knew anything about an engagement.

Long story short, the wedding plans needed to be moved up because Eliza Jane, Almanzo's sister, was heading west to take over to turn the wedding into more than Almanzo and Laura could afford; hence, Almanzo suggested a quick wedding at Rev. Brown's house, at the end of the week. Laura did not have time to make her wedding dress and had to be married in her brand new black cashmere, which I say is a pretty fine shade to be married in, if you ask me.

Laura, always the forward thinking woman, made sure there were no vows about obeying one's husband, and Almanzo "soberly answered,"
Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.
Laura assured him she would not say she would obey him, and Almanzo asked if she was "for women's rights, like Eliza?" Oddly, Laura answered no, but added that she "could not make a promise that [she] would not keep," and that she "could not obey anyone against [her] better judgment." Almanzo agreed.



And like that, they were married by the end of the week. It was bitter sweet, and I felt tears of joy and sadness choking me. Sorry to be dramatic, but I hate to see Laura leave her happy home, yet, it is a breath of fresh air to see her off with Almanzo. I know she loved him very much, and he was a picture of a true gentleman.

The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way was when he told Laura something like, "This time next month, you'll be making my pancakes." That just did not sound right, but I guess Laura knew that was exactly what she would be doing because he would be out in the elements doing back-breaking, stinky farm chores; yeah, I would rather be making his pancakes, too.

One more item: and this is what tears me up: after they made it official, Laura and Almanzo had dinner at Laura's home, and then it was time to say goodbye to the family. Almanzo was, as usual, standing by to help Laura up into the buggy, but Pa interjected, and said,
You'll help her from now on, young man. But this time, I will. 

Laura and Almanzo, late 1940s

Golden years are passing by,
These happy, golden years. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank
Published 1947
I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.
This was my third read of The Diary of a Young Girl. My first time was in high school, and instantly Anne Frank became my heroine because of her courage. I read it a second time as an adult to remind myself of specifics before I had one of my teenagers read it. But this third time was because I was eagerly craving to read it. Today it remains one of the most essential books I have ever read. I love this story, which is why it is part of my Personal Canon

(This review contains some spoilers, but no major details)

Imagine how it came to be: Anne received a writing journal on her 13th birthday; but a few months later, she and her family were forced into hiding where Anne recorded life in the Secret Annex for the next two years, until discovery. Her diary was preserved and returned to her father, Otto Frank, who was the only surviving member of her family and the four other Jews living in the annex. Later Otto made the decision to share her writings, first privately, and later publicly with the world. 


Anne Frank was a spirited young girl, a German Jew living in Nazi-occupied Holland, during WWII. Her family was forced into hiding when it was apparent that time had run out and they had no other escape. They secretly moved into a hidden area of Otto's business, with the help of several Christian employees who worked there. Another couple, the Van Daans, their teenage son, Peter, and an elderly dentist, all shared the hiding place, which Anne called, "The Secret Annex."

For two years, Anne wrote honestly of her life in hiding. She shared her hopes and joys, conflicts and burdens, fears and disappointments. It was, for Anne, an accelerated journey to maturity, as she wrote about her anticipated changes as a young woman and exposed her heart's desire for affection, love, justice, and truth. 

She was a young woman before her time, and dreamed of doing so much more with her life than to just follow in the footsteps of her mother and other women. She considered becoming a writer -- maybe a journalist or an author -- and said,
I want to get on; I can't imagine that I would have to lead the same sort of life as Mummy and Mrs. Van Daan and all the women who do their work and are then forgotten. I must have something besides a husband and children, something that I can devote myself to! 
She was extremely intelligent and thirsty for knowledge. Her favorite hobbies were writing and reading, collecting information to construct family trees of royal families (which is not an easy task), all kinds of history, Greek and Roman mythology, and film stars, art, poetry, and later, a deep appreciation for nature. Considering the situation the members of the Annex lived, there was never a shortage of books to read, while Otto regularly worked with Anne, her sister, Margot, and Peter, on their studies.

She would have made a great teacher.



Anne was quick-witted and maybe a little too liberated, though extremely courageous, to take up a logical contest with the stubborn elder of the group, over sharing his writing desk. She knew her argument was fair and good, and she persisted for the right outcome, knowing she was up against his elder status. She appealed to him numerous times, and to her parents, until justice prevailed.

She would have made a great lawyer or judge.

Sadly, Anne struggled in a strained relationship with her distant and critical mother. During their time in the hiding place, she openly wrote about their separation, declaring:
I am becoming still more independent of my parents, young as I am. I face life with more courage than Mummy, my feeling for justice is immovable, and truer than hers. I know what I want, I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself and then I am satisfied. I know I'm a woman, a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage. 
 With all the burdens of hiding in a compromised small space, in silence, with little clothing, medicine, exercise, or healthy food, Anne asked which would be better: "...to be dead now and not going through all this misery, especially as we shouldn't be running our protectors into danger anymore"[?]
But we all recoil from these thoughts too, for we still love life; we haven't yet forgotten the voice of nature, we still hope, hope about everything. 
Later, Anne and Peter became emotionally dependent upon each other, and in many ways, Anne wanted to desperately "help" improve Peter, who suffered from the ineptitude of his own parents. She knew Peter was of weak character, and due to his admission, she said:
Quite honestly, I can't imagine how anyone can say: "I'm weak," and then remain so. After all, if you know it, why not fight against it, why not try to train your character?
She was full of compassionate and empathy; the kind of person who wanted to fix people.

She would have made a great counselor or advocate or mediator.

This is also a record of World War II, as told through the silenced victims of that war, and of course, Anne had an opinion about it, too. Naturally, she desired peace; but it was also war that brought hope because there was a promised victory, a finality to the war, and thus liberty of the people.

In May, 1944, Anne defended the English for helping the Dutch by asking why Holland deserved England's help in the first place; after all, the English could just as quickly point fingers at other surrounding and unoccupied nations for "being asleep during the years when Germany was rearming."
We shan't get anywhere by following an ostrich policy. England and the whole world have seen that only too well now...
She would have made a great diplomat. 

Finally, Anne said of the Jews:
Who has inflicted this upon us? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. 
Be brave! Let us remain aware of our task and not grumble. A solution will come, God has never deserted our people.  Right through the ages there have been Jews, through all the ages they have had to suffer, but it has made them strong too; the weak fall, but the strong will remain and never go under!
 And whoever is happy will make others happy too. He who has courage and faith will never perish in misery! ~ Anne Frank
OF A PERSONAL NOTE

Because I know that Anne was captured and died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp only a few months before liberation, I found myself unable to get the horror out of my mind. I could not sleep some nights. Her hopefulness for life and liberty was heavy in my heart all the time.

And also, I wanted to add that I agree with Vera Britton (author of Testament of Youth) who argued against the decision to place blame and responsibility solely on Germany, for WWI, which was explained in the afterward of my copy of Anne Frank's Diary; and I say this because history shows us that the German people were hardest hit, not the disheveled government. This gave rise to the vile creature of Hitler, who convinced the German people, and later the rest of Europe, that their troubles were really the fault of the Jews.

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

This is a book for everyone because it is universal in scope, theme, ideas, history, and nature. For some it could be overwhelmingly memorable and personal, and for others it may only be acceptably good; but whichever, it is for everyone.
If God lets me live, I shall attain more than Mummy ever has done, I shall not remain insignificant, I shall work in the world and for mankind!
I think Anne became greater than she even dreamed. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi

The Republic of Imagination
Azar Nafisi
Published 2014

After reading Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I Have Been Silent About, I became a fan of both books and the author, an Iranian immigrant to America who appreciates liberty (and loves books). 

Azar Nafisi on freedom, individualism, literature, and women's rights in the West:



Definitely, I wanted to read her next book, The Republic of Imagination: A Life in Books, which could be described as her search for what it means to become an American citizen. Here is a portion of what the back cover says:
The best novels, Azar reminds us, can transport us across time and space, picking us up and plunking us down in a radically unfamiliar world. But they are not just a means of escape. Through books, we learn to step into other people's shoes and to imagine ourselves confronting difficult choices. Azar challenges us to find in fiction the inspiration and the courage - to lead a more meaningful life.
It truly appealed to me.

Unfortunately, the book did not live up to my bookish expectations, and Nafisi and I had a lot of political disagreements. Since following her on social media, I know she holds conflicting ideas about America, freedom, and politics that I do not understand, coming from a woman who experienced a loss of freedoms, privacy, individualism, and independence. Why does she support political and social policies in America that threaten those very ideals? 

Anyway, I read on. 

The book is divided into three parts, about three novels: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain; Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis; and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I would have liked very much to emphasize the premise of each part; unfortunately, all I found was a collection of ideas that do not flow together. Instead, I did my best to present what I believe to be her arguments, without much personal opinion from me about how I disagree. It is too complicated.

HUCK

For example, in her quest to find what it means to be an American, she mocked the idea of INDIVIDUALISM, which she referred to as a "myth" and anyone who defended it as "noxious."

She tied it into Huck's idea of individualism, not based on greed, hypocritical Christianity, or society's system of right and wrong. It is his own moral compass -- "his inner authority." Nafisi declared: "This is the kind of individualism that shapes my idea of America...choices to be true to, that inner self, the rebellious heart that beats to its own rhythm." 

Her point was that to be an American, one should follow his own moral compass, reject conformity, and question society or authority's idea of morality. 

BABBITT

The next American nuisance Nafisi tackled was the love of money, materialism, and mobility, as if those were only unique to Americans. 
Babbitt does not merely condemn this consumerism; it lays open the paradox at the heart of American society: the urge (perhaps "addiction" is a better word) for novelty, for movement, for constant change that creates "Pep" and motivates "invention:" while at the same time being an impediment to imagination and reflection.
For some reason, she used this chapter to attack Common Core, our federal government's special educational formula to produce useful and successful citizens. I cannot say I disagree with her, but more so because the federal government should not be in the business of education. She also lamented the loss of liberal arts in public education, in order to spend more time "teaching to the test."

She used this section to complain about the Republican Party cuts to Obama's funding for education of minorities and the poor (which is what I thought was the purpose of public school) and the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arts. All this shows is that Nafisi misunderstands the function and purpose of a federal government under a constitutional republic. 

By the end of chapter 8 of "Babbitt," I think she was zeroing in on IMAGINATION. She stated,
What every reader has in common with Babbitt is that...we are faced with choices. Freedom of choice lies at the heart of every...society. Against the onslaught of consumerism...our only weapon is to exercise our right to choose. And to make the right choices, we need to be able to think, to reflect, to pause, to imagine...
She declared that few American novels have happy endings, and possibly that is because the "Declaration of Independence provides its citizens not with the right to happiness but the right to its pursuit." Americans are spending so much of their time continuously in pursuit of something. And they are not happy. (I added that last part.)

To sum it up, she demonstrated that Americans are becoming mind-numb in their pursuit of wealth, comfort, and personal freedom, unable to make better choices, to be educated, to think, and to serve others. They have lost their imaginations, in the process.

CARSON

This final part dealt with settings, which focused on isolation and moral loneliness. In the story The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, all of the characters suffer from a form of LONELINESS. 

Nafisi makes several arguments: people are alone even when they are together, and people are so isolated from the world that they are not aware of their surroundings. In the novel, the characters are blinded by their self-obsessions, distracted, and unable to "express themselves or communicate with others." People really want to belong and connect to others, but they forgot how.

The author uses this part to discuss how violence is a "contribution of American fiction...the isolation of individuals, leading to a sort of emotional and social autism." Then she asked, 
Is this the unforeseeable flip side of the American dream? Is this what happens if you are allowed to imagine a future so remote from your existence when...your dream cannot be realized?
In the end, Nafisi echoed McCullers that "America has been caught in a protracted adolescence, searching for an identity and wanting desperately to belong." She argued that "loneliness...is not a positive attribute." 
What if that prized individualism, the one that was worth risking life and property to secure, that found its apotheosis in a kind of universal empathy, is being transformed into a narcissistic self-indulgence or greedy selfishness? 
And that is how she ended the book. I did not read the epilogue, and I almost did not finish what I started; however, I admit I found the two novels I have not read, Babbitt and Heart is a Lonely Hunter, quite intriguing. So if I got anything out of the book, I can add two new titles to my TBR. 

AMERICA IS NOT A DEMOCRACY

In final words, Nafisi continued to refer to America as a democracy. America is NOT a democracy. Democracies permit at least 51% of all the people to demand what they want at the expense of the individual or minority. (Ironically, the author titled her book The REPUBLIC of Imagination for a reason.)

Let's say America is a democracy: then we would not have legalized gay marriage. 

In my very own liberal state of California, the voters overwhelmingly, in 2008, supported the protection of marriage between a man and a woman. The minority of gay marriage activists went to the court to appeal the election, and the court overturned it. That is because America is a constitutional republic, and we are under the law. The law permitted the minority to use the courts to get what they wanted. It is the popular way for the minority to get what it wants these days, but under a true democracy, they would have never won because the majority of the voters were against homosexual unions and wanted to protect and preserve traditional marriage only.

Visiting Sacramento

When I visited my state capitol earlier this year, I was surprised to see how much minority representation there was, which would be us little peon Republicans, or conservatives. The minority party still has opportunity to sit on committees, and the majority must meet higher percentages of support to pass bills, meaning they cannot usually pass most bills without some support of the minority. 

Even when voting for President of the United States, we vote for electors in our state, who then vote for the presidential candidate. But we really add up the electors of each state, and the winner is the one who reaches 270. Twice in my lifetime, the candidate who won the most electors did not win the majority individual vote.

California homeschoolers line up to appeal to lawmakers, 
in opposition to a proposed bill

Americans vote for representatives who in turn make our laws. We can appeal to our representatives to vote how we like, but he or she may not. This year, we appealed to a state committee to oppose a bill that would have affected homeschoolers, in California, and almost 2000 people showed up to voice their opposition. The committee, in turn, did not even vote on the proposed bill, and instead let it die. However, we understand that legislators are waiting for another opportunity to introduce the bill again, or sneak it in somewhere. I guess if it does happen to become law, we always have the courts to appeal, thanks to our Constitutional Republic. 

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

I do not know how to recommend this book. (Maybe I am conflicted because I received the typical negative view of Americans, as if we are all carbon copies of each other. Instead, she could have used different books to demonstrate the positive of America, if she sees any at all. It also could have been written more cohesively; I struggled to understand a concrete idea, but I got whiplash. Also her unnecessarily patronizing jabs at Republicans, Fox News, and Mitt Romney (which I think had nothing to do with her book) were tiresome and made me see how unenlightened she is to the duplicity all politics. The whole book had a condescending experience.)  

Aside from my opinion, I suppose if you are a fan of Huck Finn, Babbitt, or Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and you are a Democrat, but NOT a public school teacher, you may find this book acceptably appealing. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1941

"Sheep sorrel tastes like springtime," Laura said. 
"It really tastes a little like lemon flavoring, Laura," Mary gently corrected her. 

Heart Convictions

Now that the Long Winter was over, the Ingalls family returned to their claim. Little Town on the Prairie opens with Mary and Laura going for a walk, having a profound conversation about convictions of the heart.

Laura explained that she always saw Mary as very good and wanted to be like her; and Mary revealed that she was not good at all:
I do try, but if you could see how rebellious and mean I feel sometimes, if you could see what I really am, inside, you wouldn't want to be like me. 
I know why you wanted to slap me. It was because I was showing off. I was showing off to myself, what a good little girl I was, and being vain and proud, and I deserved to be slapped for it. 
Laura could not believe it, but Mary continued:
We are all desperately wicked and inclined to do evil as the sparks fly upwards. But that doesn't matter. I mean I don't believe we ought to think so much about ourselves, about whether we are bad or good. I don't know how to say what I mean very well. But -- it isn't so much thinking, as -- as just knowing. Just being sure of the goodness of God.
Laura thought about the goodness of God, and she realized that "Mary must be sure of it in some special way." Then Mary recited Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd..."

I am glad that Laura included this message in her story, whether it took place or not, or in that way. In fact, throughout her stories, she talks about her own heart convictions, and they are very honest; every child and adult, if he or she is honest with him or herself, will identify with these revelations.

Laura's Burden; Mary's Blindness

Laura was burdened about becoming a schoolteacher to help pay for Mary's college; she did not want to teach school, but she did want Mary to be able to go to college for the blind. When she pondered her burden and Mary's blindness, she resigned herself to teach school. At least, she still had her eyesight.
[Laura] saw the hoe, and the colors of the earth, and all the leafy little lights and shadows of the pea vines. She had only to glance up, and she saw miles of blowing grasses, the far blue skyline, the birds flying, Ellen and the calves on the green slope, and the different blues of the sky, the snowy piles of huge summer clouds. She had so much, and Mary saw only darkness.
Being Free and Independent

This is my absolute favorite part. (I listened to Cherry Jones' narration on audio, and she does a superb job reading this.) Pa took Laura and Carrie into town to celebrate the Fourth of July. A man led a rousing and patriotic speech to the crowd, including the reading of the Declaration of Independence -- the entire thing -- including all the offenses of the king. That is how essential it was to the folks of 1882. Being FREE AND INDEPENDENT, which is repeated again and again throughout the Little House books, is magnificently recognized, thoroughly encouraged, and carefully treasured. It is a major responsibility to keep and protect forever. It is nothing to be ashamed of.

Laura the Troublemaker

Mary finally went off to college, in Iowa, which was a sad time for them all; but they did not and would not dwell on their emotions. Laura and Carrie went to school, as well, and so began the adventures with Miss Wilder, Laura's future sister-in-law. (I always wonder how that turned out later, if they had to face each other. Awkward.)

Laura, the author, reintroduced her rival, Nellie Olsen, into the story. Nellie attended the same school as Laura, who was still holding a grudge against Nellie for calling Mary and her country girls back on Plum Creek. This came back to sting Laura when Nellie developed a superficial relationship with Miss Wilder.

Miss Wilder unfairly treated Laura and Carrie, and Laura defiantly protected Carrie, causing them to be sent home from school. Pa and Ma expected it to "blow over," and it did, although the chaos at school increased. Even Nellie encouraged the continued disrespect of Miss Wilder.

Eventually, the school board visited the school, and Miss Wilder blamed all of the disruptions on Laura. Back at home, Pa and Ma helped Laura evaluate what really happened. Apparently, when Laura, in her attempt to seek revenge on Nellie, referred to her family as "country folks," this made Nellie angry; and Laura admitted she desired to make her mad. But Ma asked Laura how she could be "so unforgiving." Pa explained that Nellie "twisted what Laura said and told it to Miss Wilder, and that's made all this trouble."

Gosh darn, Laura! You are such a troublemaker.

The whole time Laura was focused on her public appearance, not her wicked heart. She behaved and was careful to be good and obedient; however, inside she hated Miss Wilder (and Nellie), and she wanted to seek revenge.
Outside, she was shinning clean with good behavior, but she made not the least effort to be truly good inside.
It was only later that she thought of the Bible verses that speak about "the cup and platter that were clean only on the outside."

That's when Ma asked to write in Laura's new autograph book:

If wisdom's ways you wisely seek, 
Five things observe with care, 
To whom you speak, 
Of whom you speak, 
And how, and when, and where. 

The Budding Town

The budding town was growing and there was a need for social events. There were literaries, which were weekly gatherings for fun and entertainment -- kind of like watching America's Got Talent once a week. They included a spelling bee, charades, music and singing, a wax works display, and finally (what would be deemed utterly racist today), men in black face. There was also a delicious New England Supper. And of course there was always church.

Pa and Ma did not care for Rev. Brown., and neither did Laura. She did not care for his fire-and-brimstone, pulpit-pounding sermons, and she said she "amused herself...by changing his sentences in her mind, to improve their grammar." Once there was a revival meeting, and listening to Rev. Brown, 
for one horrible instant Laura imagined that [he] was the Devil.
The revival meeting description reminds me of the salvation/baptism scene in There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel Day Lewis. Imagine Rev. Brown here:




Laura Proves Herself 

Finally, the students had their own public exhibition, demonstrating their scholarly knowledge. Laura had one of the heaviest roles, reciting pages and pages of history. Because of her superb presentation, Mr. Brewster, homesteader from a neighboring area and school board member, approached her. He was looking for a teacher, and when he heard Laura at the exhibition, he knew she was the schoolteacher his school needed. 

And so, Laura's burden of becoming a schoolteacher had arrived. 

Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

August Reading Stack


It is August 2.

Just returned from a too-short summer vacation to San Diego. : (

Trying to read at the beach was difficult because I could not relax while my kids were in the waves. I did more reading on the road until I became carsick.

Now that we have returned home, I am ready to read as much as I can before the end of our summer.

Gratefully, I was able to finish my July Little House read, Little Town on the Prairie, within the month of July. Now I have moved on to These Happy Golden Years, in which Laura teaches her first school, and Almanzo Wilder begins to court her, though she has not figured that out, yet.

I also completed my Well-Educated Mind read: The True End to Civil Government, by John Locke, which was better than Utopia, but I am certainly ready to move on to something less dry. The next book on the list is The History of England, Vol V, by David Hume, and this I am looking forward to. I had not received my copy when I took the above image of my stack; so here it is by itself:


In addition, I am slowing rereading through Pride and Prejudice and still reading City of God. 

And speaking of rereading, I have decided to pick up Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I read this for the first time, as a freshman in high school, and reread it as an adult many years ago. Now I want to reread it again, without my pen, just to relive it. It is really nice to read a book without a pen - to listen to what the author is saying as opposed to seeking what is most important about what the author just said.

I am very behind in my reviews for July. Besides Little Town and End of Civil Government, I have to write a review for The Republic of Imagination, by Azar Nafisi. There is much to say about that last one.

Hope to squeeze all of August into three weeks, when school begins and summer is GONE!

Beach Reading (or Beach Reading Prospects)