The Romance of Tristan & Iseult retold by Joseph Bédier

The Romance of Tristan & Iseult

Retold by Joseph Bédier

Published 1994 (first published 1170)

Chivalric/Celtic romance


Supposedly, this is the love story that started the Westernized version of "star-crossed lovers," and later influenced stories of Lancelot & Guinevere and Romeo & Juliet. It it believed to have been written in the 12th century. 

**Be forewarned: spoilers ahead**

Such stories begin this way: a courageous knight (in this case, Tristan) conquered foes and dragons, saved whole kingdoms, and hoped to win the princess. Except, in this story, princess Iseult was elusive because first Tristan killed one of her evil relatives and then because she had already been promised to King Mark, Tristan's uncle. What luck!

On her voyage to meet her soon-to-be husband, King Mark, and to make things easier, the princess had a special magical potion to drink on her wedding night to aid her love toward her new husband; however, she and Tristan mistakenly drank it while they were together, before they reached land, and so sealed their fate. Nonetheless, the marriage ceremony took place, and Iseult played the switch-a-roo trick with her servant on her wedding night so she could be with Tristan. 

Tristan & Isolde ~ Egusquiza

Tristan's and Isuelt's love was so magnetic that they could not be parted for very long. Once their relationship was exposed, King Mark's ignoble barons sought revenge on Tristan (as they had been extremely jealous of King Mark's love for Tristan and for Tristan's past courageous feats of honor). Eventually, King Mark recognized their forbidden love happening right under his nose, and he condemned the lovers to death. 

But they escaped and lived a wild life hidden in the forest until several things happened: they met a hermit who tried unsuccessfully to convince them to give up their adultery, and second, King Mark found them asleep together and, yet, left them in peace. They then considered making things right, repenting of their sin, returning Isuelt to her legal husband, and Tristan leaving the country for good. They even invoked King Arthur for his protection, which he obliged. 

Tristan & Isolde ~ Balbusso

All looked to be going as planned until Tristan could not leave well enough alone, which put him into more danger, and instead he had to escape with his life. 

The magical potion supposedly lost its power after this time, as Tristin took up existence in another country and joylessly married another. Even still, he concocted a foolhardy plan to see Isuelt once more by disguising himself, just to see if she still loved him. (I think she did.)

Back to his new life in another country, he was injured in a fight. He knew Isuelt was the only one to heal him and sent a messenger to Isuelt who agreed to return to him. But in jealousy, Tristan's wife lied to him about Isuelt, causing him to give up his life. Isuelt was too late. And neither could she live without him. 

King Mark had his nephew Tristan and his wife Isuelt buried in separate coffins some space apart from the other, and yet a tree grew up from Tristan's grave and took root in Isuelt's. Neither could anyone ever cut it down. 
For men see this and that outward thing, but God alone the heart, and in the heart alone is Crime and the sole final judge is God. Therefore did He lay down he law that a man accused might uphold his cause by battle, and God himself fights for the innocent in such a combat. 
I had no idea what to expect of this story, since I did not know the plot; it was all a surprise to me. I found it thoroughly entertaining and enchanting, adventurous - never a dull moment - and tragically memorable. While adultery was a heavy topic, Bédier wrote tastefully where intimacy was often implied; either that, or it went completely over my head - that's how subtle it was. 

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult leaves readers with many questions: Was it truly love if Tristan and Isuelt needed a magical potion? Is love an emotion that causes people to lose their sense of right and wrong? Does love cause people to give up everything good and noble in their lives for that forbidden relationship? Is it worth it? When the potion wore off, was their love true, the same, different? Was the tree that grew at their grave the final answer that their love was true? Everyone may answer differently.

Reunion in Death ~ Spiess

The good singers of old time...told this tale for lovers and none other, and by my pen, they beg you for your prayers. They greet those who are cast down and those in heart, those troubled and those filled with desire, those who are overjoyed and those disconsolate, all lovers. May all herein find strength against inconstancy, against unfairness and despite and loss and pain and all the bitterness of loving. 


January Review 2021

I decided to do a monthly wrap-up, in addition to my monthly stack. I keep a messy reading journal to keep track of my reading and my unread books, so I thought I'd incorporate those stats here. 

Start of January: 

148 unread books

completed 7 books

un-shelved (donating)* 5 books

added 3 new books

End of January: 

144 unread books 


Books completed in January:

Stanley: Living in His Sufficiency [no review] ⭐⭐⭐ This is a super short theological study. 

*Yousafzai: I am Malala ⭐⭐⭐ I read the young person's edition for my Zoom book club, and apparently there is a lot missing from this edition compared to the adult edition. However, that was ok because the point was that Malala was a very brave girl, and today is still working toward bringing justice and education to others. 

Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ⭐⭐⭐⭐ This is a memoir about the author's young life in the American South. Beautifully and honestly written about a difficult set of circumstances. 

*Anonymous: The Song of Roland ⭐⭐1/2  Oh, if only I had a better translator. (I will try a Dorothy Sayers translation.)

Grant: The Patriot's Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generations of Americans ⭐⭐⭐⭐  Collection of important American works through history.

*Bailey: The American Spirit: United States History as Seen by Contemporaries Vol. 1 ⭐⭐⭐⭐     A more serious collection of documentation with the intent to provoke political and historical discussion.

*Genovese: Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made ⭐⭐⭐⭐  And then there's this tome about slavery. Extensive and comprehensive. And glad to be done.


January's  Best  Reads

Favorite non-fiction: The Patriot's Handbook

Favorite fiction: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Roll, Jordan, Roll by Eugene Genovese

 Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made

Eugene Genovese

Published 1974

American non-fiction

Challenge: The Well-Educated Mind [histories]


This was a massive read, in both content, context, and page length (850+). Unless you have to write a thesis or are motivated to read a tome on American slavery, then this probably won't be on your TBR any time soon. 

The only reason I read it was because it is on TWEM history list, and I stayed with it because it was intriguing, interesting, and informative. Genovese is true to providing a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph, and then introducing abundant examples of supporting evidence from numerous sources. 

I'm going to be honest about my experience with Roll, Jordan, Roll. I read through it with lightning speed. I did not take notes or stop to ponder anything. I underlined and stared points and topics, but I had no intention of going back. I did what Susan Wise Bauer describes as "grammar stage reading." One time, quickly through. Done. 

If I have to tell you what Genovese's main point is, it is about the world that black slaves made for themselves in America: "a separate black national culture" under "racist oppression" and "within the narrowest living space and harshest adversity," and what they did to survive it, including their creative achievements, religion, work ethic, and the relationships they forged considering how they were forced to live. Genovese also described how their world affected the white families that they lived with. The slaves were one community that depended upon the slaveowner and his family and vise versa

Genovese also incorporated evidence for the evolution of the black Christian religion, hymns, preaching, and community; folksong and folklore; the important duties, work, and skills of the slaves; the family structures under slavery; their spiritual hope; and so much more than I am including here. 

The theme of paternalism repeated throughout these 800 pages, and I mention it here because I learned in my study of Land of Hope, by Wilfred M. McClay, that after the the War of 1812, world Christianity was changing and adopting the Social Gospel, which is also a paternalistic idea that Christian nations or Christians in general are called to care for poorer societies. As the institution of slavery evolved, slaveowners saw themselves as the father of both their own families and the slave families that lived with them. I'm wondering if the Social Gospel seeped into the American South at some point. I do not remember if Genovese mentioned it, but I wonder. 

I gave this four stars because I recognize the enormity of the work involved. So, if you are looking for a comprehensive work on American slavery, include this on your list of books to read, but expect to be at it for a long time. 

I am including a clip from 12 Years a Slave, an excellent film (not connected to the book), where they sing the hymn, "Roll, Jordan, Roll." 


February Reading Stack 2021

Before I get to my February stack, I just wanted to share that I have read -- finished, completed -- seven books in January! SEVEN! THAT is an all-time record. And it isn't that I read seven books because I'm on a mission to read more...it is that I have cut myself off from ALL social media and online news that has permitted me MORE TIME to read; and for that, I was able to finish more books. (What a shocker.) 

Now I look to February, and while most of these books I have already begun, there are a few new ones I will start today.

No Fear Shakespeare: Taming of the Shrew: My kids and I will read this, and it will take us a few months to finish it. 

Taylor: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: Also will begin this with my kids, which will take a month or less.

Benge: Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold: Another book my kids and I will finish this month. Then we'll watch Chariots of Fire. I can't believe I've never seen this film.

Bédier: The Romance of Tristan & Iseult: Already started in January and very much enjoying this 12th century chivalric romance. 

Dickens: Nicholas Nickleby: This is for the Dickens read-along [February through March] with Fanda over @ FandaClassicLit . Join us!

Austen: Sanditon, The Watsons, and Lady Susan: Three short stories in one book. Shouldn't take too long.

Taunton: Around the World in More Than 80 Days: I've been reading through this very slowly with my kids for several months now. It's got some interesting historical trivia in it. Basically, the author and his son took a trip around the world in a quest to find the best country on the planet. 

McClay: Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story: 💛 This book is like a treat. When I can sit down and read this, I am in heaven. It's my favorite history -- American history...the story of man's hope on this earth. At least...it began that way. 

And not pictured...

Gaskell: Ruth (ebook): I am reading this for my book club. We meet via Zoom because a few of us are not in the same area. I am really enjoying the story, which is a relief because I did not care for North and South. This time I am finding Gaskell's writing style refreshing and her focus on nature and emotion so pleasurable. But I also understand there are some heavy themes ahead; we'll see how it progresses.

Tuchman: A Distant Mirror: I'm going to get a head start on this for The Well-Educated Mind histories. Over 600 pages, I'm going to need it. When I took this picture, I was still reading Roll, Jordan, Roll, but I am done and can get started on the next book on the WEM list. 


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Or are they on your TBR or wishlist? 


The American Spirit edited by Thomas Bailey

The American Spirit: United States History as Seen by Contemporaries, Vol. One

Selected & edited by Thomas A. Bailey

Published 1963

American non-fiction

Challenge: Unread Books Project


Of the three more decent covers above, I ended up with this edition. It is an old, used copy from the library. 

Whereas The Patriot's Handbook, by George Grant, provided inspirational supporting evidence for American independence, liberty, and self-government through song, poetry, documentation, story, and biographies of great Americans, The American Spirit, compiled by Thomas Bailey, offered an expansive scope of opposing and controversial opinions on a substantial range of chronological matters, ideas, and events that made up American history, from early 1600s through 1901. 

I believe it was and may still be used as a college text; but while history textbooks usually teach someone's interpretation, this one is strictly a collection of primary sources, including lectures, public debates, speeches, interviews, letters, articles, book excerpts, legal documents, editorials, journal entries, and more. Bailey does offer "pre-questions" and "thought provokers" to prompt discussion.

The object of The American Spirit  is to "recapture the spirit and reveal the meaning of American history by focusing the spotlight on personalities" of the "great" and "obscure" voices of history. Most of the entries are the "documents behind the (historical) documents." In many cases, you may catch the thought processes, the debates, and the communications before the final decisions were made that effected the courses of history.

Bailey sought to "implant meaningful ideas, attitudes, and viewpoints; to cultivate an open mind, a balanced judgment, and an appreciation of the problems and prejudices of others." He admitted that he "devote[d] much attention to the unpopular or unsuccessful side of controversial issues, to the grievances of minorities, and to the criticisms of foreigners." 

Some of the entries are only excerpts, but others are in full, like the Declaration of Independence. Also, my edition includes a copy of the Constitution of the United States of America, with Amendments, short enough to tuck into the back end of a book. 

Here are excerpts of my favorites: 

Crèvecoeur Discovers a New Man (c. 1770)

The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. This is an American. 

Crèvecoeur Finds a Perfect Society (c. 1770)

We have no princes, for whom we toil, starve, and bleed: we are the most perfect society now existing in the world. Here man is free as he ought to be; nor is this pleasing equality so transitory as many others are. 

Connecticut Decries the Boston Port Act (1774)

5th. That we scorn the chains of slavery; we despise every attempt to rivet them upon us; we are the sons of freedom, and resolved that, till time shall be no more, that godlike virtue shall blazon our hemisphere.

Patrick Henry Demands Boldness (1775)

There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. 

Paine Talks Common Sense (1776)

O! You that love mankind! You that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hah given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

Why an Old Soldier Fought

...what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to . They didn't mean we should. 

Cooper Castigates Parties (1838)

Party is known to encourage prejudice, and to lead men astray in the judgment of character. 

No freeman who really loves liberty and who has a just perception of its dignity, character, action, and objects will ever become a mere party man. He may have his preferences as to measures and men, may act in concert with those who think with himself, on occasions that require concert. But it will be his earnest endeavor to hold himself a free agent, and most of all to keep his mind untrammeled by the prejudices, frauds, and tyranny of factions.  

Emersonisms and Thoreauisms

Lincoln Denies Negro Equality (1858)

...there is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...I agree with Judge Douglas [the Negro] is not my equal in many respects -- certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the righ tto eat the bread....which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. 

Horace Greeley Hails a Martyr (1859)

Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.

Stevens Demands Negro Suffrage (1867)

Have not loyal blacks quite as good a right to choose rulers and make laws as rebel whites?

DuBois Justifies Negro Legislators (1910)

There is no doubt but that the thirst of the black man for knowledge - a thirst which has been too persistent and durable to be mere curiosity or whim - gave birth to the public free-school system of the south.

Frederick Douglass Complains (1882)

The MOST shocking entry I did read in The American Spirit was by a German pastor who crossed the Atlantic, in 1750, to observe the conditions of indentured servitude that the German people were being lured into, particularly to the colony of Pennsylvania. He wrote about the miseries of the stench, sea sickness, dysentery, heat, constipation, scurvy, mouth-rot, foul water, thirst, frost, heat, hunger, lice, and more. 

When people died -- and hundreds did -- during the voyage, they were thrown into the sea. Imagine the horror and despair of loved ones who remained and continued on without them. Mothers who perished were thrown into the sea with their children. Children usually did not make it. Once a woman giving birth (who I assume died) was pushed through a porthole because she could not be brought up to the front of the ship. 

The pastor described how those who did make it to America endured more suffering, sometimes selling their own children for their debt. If relatives died via the voyage, the living were held responsible for those debts, and remained in servitude even longer than the usual seven years. 

And all of this suffering was endured for passage to America for a start on a better future. 


The Patriot's Handbook by George Grant

The Patriot's Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generation of Americans

George Grant

Published 1996

American non-fiction

Challenge: Unread Books Project


I remember when I bought this book many years ago with the purpose of becoming more enlightened about America. I began reading, but stopped and put it away for many years. Now that I am intent on reading all the books on my shelves, it was time to get it done. So here it is.

The Patriot's Handbook is one of two American-themed books that I read side-by-side. This one is broken up into four chronological themes, supported by documents, poems, letters, Supreme Court decisions, presidential addresses, songs, short stories, and more. Most of these can be found online somewhere, but it is convenient to have them in one book. 

My favorites were Liberty or Death by Patrick Henry, Paul Revere's Ride by Longfellow, Washington's Inaugural and Farewell Addresses, and, my absolute best choice, The Right to Rebel by Samuel West, which was a sermon given to the Council and House of Representatives in 1776. Between Common Sense and this sermon, I think West gave a similarly persuasive rationalization for independence from Britain.  

Other favs were League of Nations Speech by Henry Cabot Lodge and Letter from the Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.  Personally, I think Grant should have included King's I Have a Dream Speech in addition to this letter.

Also included: The U.S. Constitution, The Bill of Rights, a couple of The Federalists essays, biographies on Founding Fathers and forgotten Presidents, Amendments to the Constitution, The National Anthem, Fathers of the future, and more. 

As per the four chapters, the following are only SOME of the other documents, songs, poems, letters, and speeches found in The Patriot's Handbook.

Part I: City on a Hill

Apologia by Christopher Columbus

The Mayflower Compact

Essays to Do Good by Cotton Mather

Sir Humphrey Gilbert by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Part II: An Experiment in Liberty

The Method of Grace by George Whitefield

The Divine Source of Liberty by Samuel Adams

Liberty Tree by Thomas Paine

Nathan Hale by Francis Miles Finch

The Bunker Hill Oration by Daniel Webster

Part III: Manifest Destiny

The Defense of the Alamo by Joaquin Miller

The Slavery Question by John C. Calhoun

A House Divided by Abraham Lincoln

The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln

The Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln

O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

Part IV: The American Dream

Seneca Falls Declaration by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Atlanta Exposition Address by Booker T. Washington

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Pear Harbor Address by FDR

Nobel Prize Acceptance by William Faulkner

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka by Earl Warren

Roe v. Wade by Harry Blackmun

Inaugural Address by Ronald Reagan

The Message fo Freedom by Alan Keyes

* * *

Once I started digging into my nation's history (long before this book), I began to develop a clearer appreciation for the courage, ingenuity, and sacrifice of those Americans (including many immigrants) from the past, and I learned to be grateful for my country. It is imperative to see all of it, even the unpleasant and unjust; but examine your nation's past and draw from it what is good and right, and continue building upon it. 

Learn your nation's history via its historical documents, essays, speeches, letters, folksong and lore, poems, and biographies of influential voices. It helps to read with an open heart and mind, willing to learn, to ask questions, and challenge your perspective. 

If you live disconnected from and ignorant of the past, you live vulnerably in the present. In America, an arrogant, presumptuous, and irresponsible trend seeks to discard the past and start over using other disastrous ideas because some are dissatisfied with an imperfect past. In part, this is because they lack an understanding of human nature and sin, but I digress.

The times in which people lived before us are not our own time. Instead, we must ask if we are doing any better with what is before us now rather than lay blame for every human condition on the dead who can do nothing more for the future. 


Sunshine Blogger Award Tag

Following are ten GREAT questions from Marian @ClassicsConsidered for the Sunshine Blogger Award/Tag:

1. If you go back and read one book for the first time again, which would it be?

Don Quixote. It was the first book on the WEM novel list, and I could not believe I was about to read this intimidating classic. And yet, I drank it in and it opened the door to my new way of reading deeply and appreciating literature, like the way a newborn baby experiences everything for the first time. I will never have that unique initial reading experience ever again.  It really changed my life.

2. Do you eat ice cream, and if so, what is your favorite flavor?

Butter pecan

3. What was the most memorable event or concert you ever attended? 

EVENT: Lalapalooza at the Santa Fe Dam in Los Angeles, 1993. I actually enjoyed Tool, Fishbone, Luscious Jackson, and Rage Against the Machine. I am still shocked at myself! 

CONCERT: Billy Joel at the Pond (Honda Center) in Anaheim, 1993. A girlfriend and I had the crappiest seats in the house. Before the show, we despondently walked around the arena to check things out when we were approached by two employees of Billy Joel. They asked us if we had great seats; we laughed and told them no. Then they offered to swap our tickets for two second row stage seats. "Billy Joel likes to reserve the first two rows for women," they told us. My friend was wisely reluctant, in case it was a scam, but after they showed us their credentials, we took the tickets. We had the best seats in the house. Halfway through the show, all of us were up against the stage where I literally reached out and grabbed the leg of one of my most favorite musicians ever. 

4. What do you like best about yourself?

My conviction. It is most difficult to live with, but I can no longer live without it. I'd rather live with conviction than be a conformist in order to be accepted by the world. 

5. Is there a book you would never, ever read?

Anything by the Obamas. 

I also would not delve into any of these trendy anti-racist books fashionably read in 2020, to promote the convenient racist ideology against white people; however, maybe one day, when the world runs out of excellent literature, I may want to critique one; but right now I would not waste my time. 

6. Second-best way to spend a rainy day? (Reading is the best, right?)

Organizing my books. 

7. Cats or dogs?

Either. We had adopted a beautiful rag doll cat in 2001, though she is no longer with us. We called her Kitty and sometimes Freedom because it was soon after September 11 when she joined our family.

And now we have a blue Frenchie. My family often begged for a dog, and I always told them no. In 2016, I finally relented and said, "OK, if Trump wins the election, we can get a dog." (It was like, "When pigs fly...") Well, I had to keep my word, but Frenchies are expensive. It wasn't until 2018 that he was given to us as a gift, and now we have the best little addition to our family. His name is Dodger. As in, L.A.

8. Best pizza topping combo?

Cheese and more cheese. 

9. If you could recommend one fictional book, what would it be?

Right now? 1984. (Though 1984 could very well be non-fiction.)

10. Earliest reading memory?

When I was five, I read Dick and Jane books. I was so proud of myself the day I was able to read them to myself. 

11. What’s something you’re looking forward to this year?

Honestly...whatever opportunities God provides for me to be of service to others.


Now I am supposed to tag others and offer a new set of questions, but Marian's questions are great, and I think, if you want to participate, you should answer hers. Consider yourself tagged.


The Song of Roland

The Song of Roland

Anonymous, translated by Robert Harrison

Published 11th-century

Epic French poem

Challenges: The Classics Club, Unread Books Project


The Song of Roland is a folktale-like poem about the real battle at Roncevaux (or Roncesvalles) mountain pass, joining Spain and France, in 778. The battle was betwixt the Basques of Southern Europe and Emperor Charlemagne of the Franks. On return to their kingdom, the Franks' rear guard was vanquished by the Basques in revenge for an attack on their city in Spain, killing the Frankish commander Roland. It was an embarrassing loss for Charlemagne.  

By the time of the Crusades, Roland had become a legend and the story about his courage was resurrected in this epic poem. He had become the medieval superhero of the age. 

In the Song of Roland, some facts had changed. For example, instead of the Basques, the Saracens were the enemy of the Franks, and many of their names were contrived. Charlemagne and his Franks had been quite successful in their conquests in Muslim-controlled Spain. And when the Saracens sent a peace offering, Charlemagne rejected it, while Roland and Ganelon clashed over what Charlemagne should have done instead. 

Roland, the Emperor's nephew, suggested that Ganelon go to the Saracen king and accept his peace offering, and Charlemagne agreed. Ganelon was exasperated and sought to avenge this insult by informing the Saracen king where the rear guard would be and how he could defeat Charlemagne by killing Roland. The Saracen king agreed to this with pleasure.

The Franks headed back to the Frankish Kingdom with Charlemagne at the head, where Ganelon safely rode also. As expected, the rear guard was attacked, and the battle was relentless. Roland was fearless and persistent; he knew he could not escape the attack, and he was prepared to die. At some point he realized he had been betrayed by Ganelon. 

Even when he was told to blow his horn to alert Charlemagne, he knew it demonstrated weakness. However, he was convinced to blow anyway, though it was too late. By the time Charlemagne heard the call, he returned to find the his rear guard demolished and his nephew Roland dead. 

Charlemagne then took revenge on the Saracens, and won, of course. As for Ganelon, he was arrested and later tried, convicted, and gruesomely penalized. 

Anna & Elena Balbusso

Some Facts

Epic poetry is usually dramatic and emotional; therefore, it was not unusual for men to kiss each other, weep over one another, and even faint, a lot. The details about killing and death were graphic and grisly. In addition, The Song of Roland gave birth to chivalry, a moral standard or code for Christian knights during the Medieval period. 

My Opinion

My initial thoughts were that this was just ok, which was disappointing considering its historical weight. It was repetitive and humdrum, even with the graphic death scenes.  I felt guilty for giving it 2.5 stars. What did I miss? What was everyone else getting out of The Song of Roland that I was not?

Then I heard a different translation, and I regret to say that I realize NOW I probably would have enjoyed Dorothy L. Sayer's translation MUCH better than the one I had. It sounds inspirational, poetic, and beautiful. So...I would reread this, BUT only if I have Sayer's translation. 

"History became legend, legend became myth."

Also, I am sharing this informative video on the epic poem, in which the narrator used Sawyer's translation. He shared the above quote from The Lord of the Rings about how history becomes legend, and legends become myths, which is exactly what happened with The Song of Roland. 


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

Published 1969

American autobiography/memoir

Challenges: The Classics Club, Back to the ClassicsUnread Books Project 


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a coming of age story for Marguerite Johnson, a black girl growing up during the 1930s and 40s.  She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but when her parents divorced, she and her older brother Bailey were sent to live with their grandmother, an independent and self-sufficient woman living in a little segregated town, in Arkansas. 

Maya (a nickname) and Bailey were intellectual, and their grandmother fed them a healthy diet of literature. They loved to read and often escaped through books. Maya said she "fell in love with Shakespeare." 

In Arkansas, a wiser, older woman, Mrs. Flowers, befriended Maya. Maya liked her because she showed her it was ok to be yourself. She told Maya that 

words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning. 

She encouraged Maya to read books aloud and "in as many different ways as possible," to embolden her to find her voice. Maya had stopped talking after a horrific crime was committed against her when she was only eight-years old. Mrs. Flowers also gave her a book of poems to memorize and recite. I love how Maya described the joy of reading. She said:

To be allowed, no, invited, into the private lives of a stranger, and to share their joys and fears, was a chance to exchange the Southern bitter wormwood for a cup of mead with Beowulf or a hot cup of tea and milk with Oliver Twist. When I said aloud, 'It is a far, far better thing to do, than I have ever done...' tears of love filled my eyes at my selflessness.

Maya said Mrs. Flowers "had given [her] her secret word which called forth a djinn who was to serve [her] all [her] life: books." 💜 

But aside from the joy of reading, there were severe issues to confront in the story. Racism was one of many. Growing up in a segregated town, Maya said she knew "whites were to be dreaded." She said they were not referred to as people because they were "see-through, had small feet, and walked on their heels." They were "folks, not people," "pale creatures," "aliens," the "un-life."

In fact, whites were referred to as "powhitetrash." It was easy to understand why Maya could write so sharply about the white race. When she was ten, she had a painful experience with white kids mocking her grandmother. She also had to learn "female training" while serving a white woman for a short time, though this woman humiliated and disrespected Maya terribly that Maya "found a masterful way to be released from her service." 

I think a most heartbreaking moment for Maya was when a white dentist refused to care for her while she suffered a painful toothache; he adamantly refused to see black patients. She described how this dentist treated them and how he spoke to Maya's grandmother. It was disheartening!

At twelve-years old, Maya graduated co-valedictorian of her eighth grade class. The guest speaker was a white politician who talked only about how the boys would go on to be great athletes. Aside from only talking about the boys, Maya felt like her graduation was for nothing. If one wasn't athletic enough to be an athlete, he could be a farmer or a handyman; and girls...they could be a maid or washer woman. 

Nothing else mattered anymore. Not "Invictus," "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." Not the valedictory address, "To be or not to be."

Hadn't he heard the whitefolks? We couldn't be, so the question was a waste of time.

And later, another prejudiced incident occurred, this time to Bailey, which prompted him to ask questions like what colored people did to white people in the first place, and "...why do they hate us so much?" 

This caused Maya's grandmother to take Maya and Bailey to their mother, who was now living in San Francisco. Their mother, Viviane, was a self-reliant, self-determined worldly woman, and San Francisco was a culture shock. Maya said that San Franciscans did not think racism existed in their city, but evidently, it did. 

For a short time she went to stay with her father and his girlfriend, in Los Angeles. That did not turn out well, and Maya ended up on the street for a month, though she learned a few valuable life lessons, including tolerance. 

Then it was back to San Francisco to live with her mother. At sixteen, Maya was determined to do something that no other black woman had done before. Her mother's advice was this:
That's what you want to do? Then nothing beats a trial but a failure. Give it everything you've got. I've told you many times, "Can't do is like Don't Care." Neither of them have a home. 

Maya said "it was the most positive encouragement [she] could have hoped for." What Maya went through next was a most disturbing series of events, which I had to continue reminding myself that this was the 1940s. I was very proud of her for her persistence because it paid off. 

Before her memoir ended, at age seventeen, she experienced another major life change, albeit, after a very unexpected decision!

Now I don't want to share anymore because I have already shared too much. If you do decide to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, just be forewarned of heavy topics on race, child rape, and sexual curiosity.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is such a popular book and already an American classic. At times it is provoking, yet also absorbing and inspiring. While there are trials, they are not without victory. Graceful and seamless, it is a story that will stay with every reader long after he or she is done reading it. 

Maya Angelou 1928 - 2014


I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

 I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

Malala Yousafzai

[Young Readers Edition]

Published 2014

Pakistani memoir 

Challenge: Book Club


This was a version for young people, but there is one written for adults. I borrowed this copy from my daughter.

Malala Yousafzai lived in a northern area of Pakistan called Swat, and she remembered growing up feeling "as free as a bird." She had an especially close relationship with her father, a school master. Both of her parents were generous and empathetic. 

Malala recalled how women wore veils to cover their faces, but when they were able to remove them, she described their faces as "radiant with freedom." She declared that she would never cover her face, and she was glad to know her father paid no mind to customs. 

At a young age, Malala noticed that women were illiterate and that most girls did not go to or stay in school very long. When she asked why, she was told about the Taliban, violent Islamic fundamentalists who prohibited education for women, among other restrictions.

But some girls did attend school, including Malala who attended her father's school for girls. Malala's father promised to protect her freedom to be educated. She said that at school she and her fellow classmates,
flew on wings of knowledge. In a country where women aren't allowed out in public without a man, we girls travel far and wide inside a book. 
In 2005, a powerful earthquake shook Pakistan, and the Islamic militants used it to instill more fear in the people by telling them, via radio, that it was punishment from God because the people were living sinful lives: listening to music, not wearing proper clothing, and educating girls. Gratefully, Malala's father disregarded what the radio mullah was spewing over the airways. 

But Malala sensed the coming danger. The Pakistani government did not protect its citizens by permitting the radical radio mullah to spread threats, lies, and fear. 

Malala's father kept his school open, while so many others closed their doors due to school bombings; but Malala and many of her schoolmates continued attending. Even after the school was targeted, even after she became concerned, she continued to attend school. She couldn't understand why school was such a threat to the Taliban. 
Why was the education of women such a threat?
For the next 1 1/2 years, the Pakistani army fought the Taliban. During this time, Malala's father and teacher had the girls write essays about their schools. They considered it a peace rally. I loved Malala's speech. She said:
This is not the Stone Age. But it feels like we are going backward. Girls are getting more deprived of our rights. We are afraid of no one, and we will continue our education. This is our dream. 

She said much more than this, and later she added that the Taliban wanted to turn the girls of Pakistan into "identical lifeless dolls."  This made me chuckle because it reminded me of "A Doll House" and The Feminine Mystique, which similarly argue how women were treated in Western society. 

This speech helped propel Malala into an opportunity to use her voice to describe to a larger audience outside Pakistan about what it was like to live under the Taliban. She began to write and submit diary entries to a British news magazine, using a pseudo name. Her parents believed it was their duty to stand up for their country, and they supported Malala. 

But she also did a TV interview, and her mother's friends were shocked that Malala was permitted to show her face. When given an example of Fazlullah's men who wore masks, Malala replied that it was because 

they are criminals. I have nothing to hide, and I have done nothing wrong.I'm proud to be a voice speaking out for girl's education. And proud to show my identity.

Eventually, the Taliban drove out Malala's family along with 2 million other Pakistani people. For three months, they were displaced. When they returned, their area was in ruins, but their home and even the school survived the bombings. It was then that she realized she no longer wanted to be a doctor; she rather help her country by becoming a political leader.

At 13-years old, Malala spoke out frequently for education. She was spoke publicly about child labor, for a way to send disabled children to school, and to rebuild schools destroyed by the Taliban. 

In 2010, fundamentalists blamed the monsoon floods on un-Islamic behaviors as punishment; in 2011, the violence increased; and then, a threatening letter arrived for her father, but he refused to close his school. 

Then Malala won the Pakistan National Peace Prize for children's rights. While accepting her award, she gave a list of demands including repairing the schools destroyed by the Taliban and building a girls' university in Swat. She meant to take advantage of these opportunities, although now her life was in grave danger. 

The Taliban specifically targeted Malala. They wanted her dead. Her father was in tears. He had once told Malala, regarding his own life, " Let them kill me. I will die for what I believe in." But now she needed to give him "a dose of his own courage." She said: 

Everybody knows they will die someday. No one can stop death. It doesn't matter if it comes from the Taliban or cancer. 

On October 9, 2012, while she was riding home from school on a bus with some of her schoolmates, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban. She was just 15-years old. 

Malala was transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, for surgery and recovery. Unfortunately, it was too dangerous to return to Swat. Her father had to close his school, and the rest of the family relocated to England. 

In 2013, on her 16th birthday, Malala addressed the United Nations in New York with every person in mind...that free education be available for all children everywhere. 

Growing up, Malala had always felt invisible. She was self conscious of her height and often prayed that God would give her more height. What she learned through all of this was that stature does not always come in inches. She believes that God answered her prayer through her voice. 

Malala Yousafzai

Malala's story is still on going today. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, and continues to dedicate her life serving others, especially deprived children in poor countries.