Saturday, August 17, 2019

It's So Classic Book Tag

It's So Classic Book Tag by Rebellious Writing

Link post to the host: Rebellious Writing. 
Answer Questions.
Tag five bloggers.

What is one classic that hasn't made it into a movie, yet, but really needs to?

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
An amazing, heart-wrenching story about what one mother had the courage to do instead of be separated from her babies. Ever! 
or Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
I do wish someone could make an updated film version of this story.
HOWEVER...What I'd really love to see is an excellent film sequence made from the entire nine-book set of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Don't change the characters or the fictional chronological order, or water it down for today's overly Twitter-sensitive audiences. I want to hear every bird song and see every flower, sky, rolling hill, lake, and waving prairie grasses, and taste every delectable dish that Laura described. I want to experience the wild woods and prairies, the horrid grasshoppers, the wolves, the devastating winter, the poverty, hunger, and every unknown and fear that Laura experienced.
I want to see all the excellent lessons Almanzo learned. I want to enjoy the patriotic Fourth of Julys. I want to hear all of Pa's songs and Ma's exemplary corrections. I want the pain and the disappointments and the trials and perseverance. There is nothing to leave out, even if her story was is still a story, and that is what needs to be made into film.
But I won't hold my breath.
What draws you into classics?

The writing style of the classics stands out the most for me, and I find classic authors have higher standards or are technically better writers. They are beautiful writers and know how to use words to paint pictures. They don't waste words. They are careful about how they place words, as each word is used purposefully and precisely. One could even say they use words to make music, because you could read aloud and it would almost be like a tune. Or at least your tongue doesn't trip on itself. 

What is an underrated classic?

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

What is one classic that you didn't expect to love, but ended up loving it anyway?

My second reading of Persuasion by Jane Austen.

What is your most favorite and least favorite classic?

MOST: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
     or Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
          or Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
               or Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

LEAST: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

What is your favorite character from a classic?

Melanie Hamilton from Gone With the Wind

What's a popular classic that you felt wasn't that great?

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Who is your favorite classic author?

Right now, it's Thomas Hardy.

What makes a classic a classic?

Well, I've already mentioned writing style. Another characteristic of a classic is the soul of the story. It has to be a good story that makes timeless arguments about life, human nature, and our hearts. It has to tell us about ourselves. If we cannot relate to it, it won't speak to us, and we will forget it. Classics go on forever, and that is why they last for generations. 

Relating to newer books, what attributes does a book need to have in order to be worthy of the title "classic"?

So besides a strong and healthy writing style, a story that speaks directly into our souls, and longevity, a book must have the truth. An author cannot lie to his/her readers or they will not take the author seriously. A classic has truth. TRUTH. The characters must be human and the plot must make sense or have a purpose. If the truth is missing, the book will only be cheap and quick entertainment,  whereas a classic will have you going back for seconds. 

Tag Time:

Sharon @ Gently Mad
Silvia @ Silvia Cachia
Paula @ The Vince Review (No pressure, Paula. I know you said you were slowing down for awhile.)

Now check out Rebellious Writing for other fun happenings!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

I Cannot Write Right Now and Other Things

Writing drains me. It takes me days and sometimes weeks to sit down and produce a blog post. Then it takes a few more hours, over the course of a few days, to edit. It takes everything from me, and emotionally drains me. I rarely leave any thought untouched. It takes time away from reading and time away from my family. 

I look at all of these books I have waiting for me to read, and I think about what I really want to do most...

I want to read!

Yes, I want to write and discuss, too, but not as much as I want to read. It's difficult enough to find time to read on a daily basis, and book reviews and discussions, in addition, are not a guarantee via a blog. There are already thousands of book bloggers who offer so much more time and book reviews than I do. And since I am not an active blogger, I would rather focus on reading. 

I have definitively cut myself off from all of the reading commitments I made earlier in the year  (except for long term challenges like WEM, The Classics Club), which felt liberating.

Next, I purchased the Bookly app, for encouragement....

And then I started reading...a lot.

The first book I finished was Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. 5/5 stars. Excellent read, well written, and intensely intricate. The complexities of alternating circumstances and emotions kept me involved and expecting. Again, it is typical Hardy, so the ending is crushing; but this one ranks up there with his very best works.

The next book I finished was Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome. 4/5 stars. Another well written story by Wharton. When I had the evening to read, I could not wait to open to where I left off to find out what would happen next. This is a very sad and quick novella. By the time I was acquainted with the main characters and their personal stories, tragedy was upon the relationship. The ending is just as quick and devastating. It has stayed with me for weeks.

My next three books are current reads, and they are between 300 and 600+ pages. In other words, they are taking me a long time to finish. 

The first is Here I Stand by Roland Bainton. It is a straightforward biography about Martin Luther. I marvel at how God used Luther to change history and the world. This is my second reading of this book, and I am at the halfway mark.

I am still trekking through Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, for my Well-Educated Mind Reading History Challenge. It is both a burden and enlightening. It is unconscionably long, but also interesting, at times. A great example of Fair and Balanced reporting, for certain. Again, it is a second read for me, and I just started reading part II.

I am a little over halfway through Caroline Fraser's Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This one is difficult to read because Fraser shares some unfavorable truths about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the stories I have come to love so very much. This work does expose her life (as per her stories) as absolute fiction; Fraser also reveals the many complications of Rose Wilder, Laura's only daughter. And I have hardly delved into the political stuff. But it's coming!

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, I am reading to my kids for no reason other than it has been on our bookshelf for a long time. I should finish it tonight. It is set in the time of the Great Depression, the same time period I am in Prairie Fires. In my opinion, it is not great reading, but it is narrated by the young protagonist; I cannot help but correct his grammar while I read it aloud.

Finally, I am starting this tomorrow, reading with Brona's Books for the Moby-Dick Readalong. I read Moby-Dick in 2012, and I loved the experience. Now I hope to get something more out of it. We only need to read 3-4 chapters a week, and Brona expects us to be done in February 2020. 

You see my copy...I bought this book for 10 cents from my library. It was brand new; no one had touched it. So I took it home and read it for my Well-Educated Mind Novels Reading Challenge. I read it while floating in my pool hour after hour, day after day, all summer. A few times I had to fling it out of the pool because I thought one of my kids was drowning. It was always a false alarm, and I overreacted. Each time my book took a beating, and often it became water logged; but it was the perfect place for reading such a book, after which it found a place in my heart forever. Honestly, I think it is the time period and history of such livelihood that gets me the most.

Now, what does this all mean? It means I will take a break from writing long-winded, soul-emptying blog posts. I have forfeit my smaller challenges, but I will keep reading and maybe have something to say on Goodreads, Instagram, or Facebook. Maybe. As it is, I have written too much, and I must go make dinner and wash breakfast dishes. Yeah, they are still sitting in the sink!

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood
Published 1986

Humanity is so adaptable…truly amazing, 
what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations. 

I just finished re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. When I read it in 1990, and saw the film, I was engrossed; but I did not have the opinions or worldview that I do now, and therefore, I did not have a personal response. Today I have so much to say. Where do I begin? I will write and let it flow naturally.

First of all, I could not put the book down. I thought it would make me completely angry, but instead it drew me in and would not let me go. I do favor dystopian stories, and this one was really fascinating.

The narrator, the main character, told her story in a kind of daze. She jumped between her distant and recent past, in addition to the present, recounting broken stories of her life; it worked really well, and I was able to naturally follow her thoughts, make the connections, and complete the story. Some information was missing from the puzzle, and in the end, I was left to speculate what may have happened to her. 

The main character was the Handmaid, Offred, who left behind this written account of her personal story, to preserve her history or to be used as evidence. Handmaids were young women of childbearing age, deemed immoral due to their past history of rape, adultery, fornication, or other sexual sins, and were now loaned out as property to older elite couples who were part of the new regime and unable to have children. Elite women carried the blame for barrenness, though in truth they knew that men were also liable. Infertility was blamed on environmental toxins, the overuse of birth control, STDs, and the laziness of women (and men) who no longer desired to have children. 


Stoney Ground by Edwin Abbey, 

Atwood set the story in present day America and carefully included only injustices and oppressions that had already been committed throughout history. She wanted her story to be believable and did not want to leave anything to the imagination. She also knew, and I agree, “that established orders could vanish overnight.” They could also happen very slowly over time, while citizens were apathetic and took their liberties for granted. 

In The Handmaid’s Tale, a group called The Son’s of Jacob overthrew the American government, removed the President and Congress, and suspended the U.S. Constitution. Women were forbidden to work, access money, own property, read, and write. The group also instituted man-made laws that perverted the Old Testament.  

Atwood was of the opinion that if any group sought to overthrow the American government – and I suppose win support without much rebellion – they would do so using religious "Christian"  fundamentalism; hence, she chose elements from 17th century Puritanism. 

Puritans contributed to early American history and self-government, but the strict religious sect came from England, 1620, and brought with them English law. However, while religious freedom was still on the hearts of the people, in 1775, the American Revolution was strongly about personal liberty. 

First, I personally do not believe Christian fundamentalism is true Christianity. A true believer has a personal, individual relationship with Christ. Anyone who follows Christ is accountable to Him alone, not to an organized religion or church. You do not become a Christian until you make a decision to follow Christ. Let us be sure it is true Christianity. 

Second, according to Pew, the number of Christian Americans decreases yearly; more people are not identifying with any religion, while there is a small and steady increase of those who claim to be Muslim. Our landscape is changing and is expected to look very different in 20-40 years. Look at Europe! That is the way of America.

Third, it is Christians who are consistently being ostracized from society because they cannot align themselves with this current culture. It is America’s Christian ideals that are being targeted and eradicated from society. It is Christians whose religious liberty is being challenged frequently, and in many cases, losing the battle. 

Finally, I will not say, “This cannot happen here,” because I agree with Atwood that we can lose our liberties, depending on which ones you mean; but I am more concerned about the changing landscape of America, especially with the influx of strict Islamic sects, whose ideology contradicts America’s basic liberties for all, especially women. 

By the way, it is becoming increasingly popular to hate America and offensive if you feel patriotic and grateful for this country. Americans seek its demise, encouraging division and its inevitable fall. In my opinion, America is certainly in a position to be overtaken, but it probably won’t be by a Christian fundamentalist group, hoping to reinstate America’s old Puritanical roots. Know what I mean?

Sabbath Eve by Alexander Johnston


Oh, this story is not anti-religion. Atwood said: “…it is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny.” Yes! Even Offred prayed to God and told Him that she knew this [regime] was not “mandated by a just and merciful God,” meaning the imposters who took over, imposing their man-made laws on the people, were not true Christians. Absolutely! That’s what I said.

Atwood understood, at least for Christianity’s sake, that people were capable of hijacking a religion. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, they twisted Scripture to legislate oppression. The Sons of Jacob could not be further from the Truth. They were liars. If anyone uses Scripture to advance himself or his ideology and never points to Christ, he is not a Christian and his agenda is not from God.

There are so many other contradictions used by the regime, and unfortunately, anyone who does not know the truth will be misinformed about real Christianity, although I am sure that was not Atwood’s concern. 

For one, Christianity does not condone sex slaves or handmaids for reproduction. Women’s bodies are the temple of the Living God, not to be used for another's selfish pleasure or agenda. That idea is not biblical, not even with the Old Testament. When Abraham’s wives used their maids for procreation, God was not pleased. See the conflict created between the two sisters and all of the brothers, not to mention the broken hearts of the maids? While God may use our sin for His good, He clearly instituted marriage to be between one man and one woman, for a reason. (Genesis 2:24) And Jesus reiterated that in the New Testament. (Matthew 19:4-6)

The hypocrisy of the regime of Gilead is deafening. The Commander took Offred to an underground community where only the elite of the officials escape to enjoy all of the forbidden sins outlawed for everyone else. When Offred asked why these places still existed, the Commander replied because “…everyone’s human.” Christians are commanded to turn away from temptation and hate what God hates and exhibit self-control. They cannot make excuses for weakness and call it “being human.” Ironically he said “everyone” is human…but, in that case, not everyone was treated human, right? Lots of hypocrisy!

Robert Duvall and Natasha Richardson meet privately

Another glaring contradiction was the lack of love. The commander asked Offred, “What did [the regime] overlook?” Offred replied, “Falling in love.” The commander argued against love because he said it did not work out, for men, who were turning against marriage and sex because they couldn’t feel anything anymore. The regime replaced “love” with arranged marriages, and the commander said it was a “return to nature.” 

But a true Christian knows that love is essential to relationships. Husbands are commanded to love their wives, and wives their husbands; parents their children, children their parents; Christians love their neighbors, and even love their enemies! But in Gilead, there is absolutely no love.

The Salvagings were not Christian. I do not know how else to say it. Something like public stoning was Old Testament Law; but Christ fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), so we no longer need to live that way. Even the American Founding was based on Judeo-Christian ideals and established more protection for criminals than for law-abiding citizens. Check out the American Bill of Rights! Clearly, Gilead rejected Christian justice. 

And the violently tearing apart of citizens with one's bare hands...that's just NOT Christian or Puritan. That's barbaric. 

Furthermore, the leaders of the regime obviously never understood Colossians 2:21-23: 
“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. 
Instead they placed burdens on the people with their useless man-made laws of morality.


In her introduction, Atwood described the Aunts as the older women who retrained and indoctrinated the younger Handmaids into believing all of the lies of the regime. The author recounted the scene in the Hulu series, in which the Handmaids were encouraged to “slut-shame” a particular Handmaid who told her story about being gang raped at age fourteen. Atwood said it disturbed her because it was very real since women will “gang up on other women. Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook. Yes, they will take positions of power over other women.” The author then added in the “Historical Notes” that Gilead is not only patriarchal in form but also matriarchal in content. Yes, and women can be equally harsh and tyrannical as men.

See, this is not only a female issue. This is human nature. Men do it, too, (like gang mentality). However, it also made me think of abortion. Have women not fiercely justified their ability and opportunity - a protected right - to kill their own offspring, half of which are future women? Are they not ganging up on other (unborn) women, accusing others (their offspring of inconveniencing them) to avoid responsibility, taking a position of power over their own defenseless unborn baby? Even Offred’s feminist-activist mother claimed, “A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women.” Maybe it is a stretch, but abortion instantly came to mind. 

Today when I read or hear The Handmaid’s Tale used as an example of what would happen if abortion were outlawed, that it is the equivalent of rape and forced childbirth, it makes my head spin. There is no connection because we are still free to choose to have sex with a man or not. No one is holding us down like they did Offred. And before you remind me of rape, let me remind you that most abortions are overwhelmingly for convenience and selfish interest. Less than 0.5% of abortions a year are because of rape, while 3-5% are for fetal abnormalities and health of the mother. The rest are for personal reasons. Also note, over 85% of women who use abortion are not married. 

Access to abortion does not equal freedom. It either breaks your heart or makes you bitter. And demanding free birth control also does not equal freedom. You still have to depend on government to provide your birth control so you can have sex with a guy without requiring him to be accountable. Look, if you are not in a position to have a baby, YOU DON'T HAVE TO HAVE SEX WITH THAT GUY! Even Offred said, 
No one dies from a lack of sex; it’s a lack of love, we die from.


During Offred’s private visit with the Commander, which he initiated specifically for friendly intimacy, he discussed the benefits the regime now provided to women, such as protection from violent men or abandonment and an equal opportunity to have a husband through arranged marriages (for those permitted to marry). Women no longer needed cosmetic surgery to improve appearance to attract men. And women need not measure their worth by income or worry about leaving their children in the care of an unkind woman. Besides, mothers never received respect, and women turned away from “the whole business” anyway.
This way they’re protected, they can fulfill their biological destinies in peace. With full support and encouragement.

By the time I came to the rape scene in the story, I asked myself why the author had so much animosity that she could imagine something this horrific, even violent, using the F-word a few times to describe the act. It was truly gut wrenching to read her description. I could sense her anger. Then again, I remember, this has already happened, and it is happening still today, as I think of ISIS abducting young girls to sell and purchase as sex slaves. Different purpose, similar act.


Fans of dystopian books will embrace it. Readers who enjoy infuriating stories about victims and injustice will enjoy it, too. The writing style is quite interesting for this story; it does the job. And yes, the tale is almost completely believable, thanks to Atwood's pulling together all the corruptible and atrocious acts man has selfishly imposed on his fellow man and woman. It serves as a warning that this is possible...this can happen...anywhere...because it already has and is. Man is totally wicked and all nations are temporary. Even America.

P.S. I have NOT watched the HULU series of this story. I like the book, and I want to keep it that way.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Books On My Summer 2019 TBR

Still reading...

Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville

The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas
**LATE UPDATE!!!! I have pulled this one from my reading stack, as it has become a burden. I have tried encouraging myself by watching YouTube book reviews, to no avail. Therefore, I am taking a break from it.

New to me...

The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy

Ethan Frome
Edith Wharton

Prairie Fires
Caroline Fraser

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
Nabeel Qureshi


Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther
Roland H. Bainton

Herman Melvville

The Communist Manifesto
Marx and Engels

The Pilgrim's Progress
John Bunyan

It's birthday week...just received this on Sunday, and I am adding it to my summer stack! I read The Handmaids Tale, by Margaret Atwood, in 1990, and it is time to give it another read.

I am finally excited about all of these books! Hoping the drama in my life has passed for awhile so I may thoroughly pour myself into my reading.

What in your summer stack are you excited about reading?

Monday, June 17, 2019

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree by Laura Hillman

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree
Laura Hillman
Published 2005

Hannelore Wolff was a Jewish teenager attending school in Germany, during WWII, when she learned that her father was deported and murdered by Nazis. A short time later, her mother and two brothers, ages 10 and 11, were scheduled for deportation; Hannelore courageously requested to be deported with them so she could protect her younger brothers and they could stay together as a family. 

Hannelore Wolff (Laura Hillman) 1923-  

Immediately, Hannelore began telling in terrifying detail the conditions and treatment by the Nazis, beginning with the deportation process at an animal farm and stock pens. Unfortunately, it was difficult to keep her family together, especially because she was transferred to seven different camps over three years; nonetheless, she did all she could to remain alive under the most horrific circumstances. 

Hannelore's younger brothers

Many of her opportunities for survival came through friendship, courage, and coincidence. But one of her best opportunities came by love. She met a Polish POW, Dick Hillman, who was also Jewish. It seemed to be love at first sight! Because he worked in the kitchen, he was able to sneak extra food, hot coffee, or soup to Hannelore, especially while she was sick. They tried to stay connected, but it was often impossible. Yet while they were together, it was obvious Dick felt the same for Hannelore, and one day he promised her a lilac tree, just like the one she often thought of from her mama's garden back home.
One day when this is over, I'll plant you a lilac bush. Perhaps it will grow old and become a tree, like the one you remember. 
And we will run barefoot through the meadows [Hannelore added]. Just think of all the buttercups and other wildflowers we can gather along the way. 

As it seemed, she and Dick would never make it out of these labor camps alive, until they heard the hopeful news of Oskar Schindler. She and Dick were added to Schindler's list of Jewish workers and were to be transferred to Czechoslovakia. If you know the story of Schindler, he was instrumental is saving 1200 Jews from Nazi labor camps. And if you also know, a miscommunication or mix up caused the women on Schindler's list to be sent to Auschwitz for several months, until Schindler could bribe the Nazi officers to transfer the women to the camp in Czechoslovakia where they would work for him alone.  

Oskar Schindler 1908-1974

The ending is almost unbelievable, as Hannelore, sick with scarlet fever and emaciated from lack of nutrition, almost did not make it out alive. Even before that mix up at Auschwitz was worked out, Hannelore was selected for the gas chamber. It would take sly determination and quick thinking on her part to save her own life before it was too late.

Hannelore's story is appallingly treacherous and shockingly unthinkable. I read it in less than two days because I could not put it down. I know these stories are difficult to read, and it was especially for me because I kept thinking of my 11-year old son like Hannelore thought of her little brother. It is absolutely heart breaking. But I also believe that these stories are necessary to be told and to be read. 

Hannelore eventually survived to the end of the War, and she and Dick were married immediately. A few years later they moved to the United States. She has since changed her first name to Laura, and today she is 95-years old. If I ever got the chance to meet her, I would give her a big hug. Thank you, Mrs. Hillman, for sharing your story.  

Laura Hillman, after writing her story in 2005


If you like true stories, biographies, coming-of-age stories, stories about the Holocaust and WWII, and stories of survival, courage, and hope, then this is the perfect book for you. Also, if you liked The Diary of Anne Frank or The Hiding Place, you will love this story. This is considered YA, like Anne Frank, but this memoir also contains mature content and heavy themes. Under 270 pages, I read my copy in two days, which is a record for me. Others could probably read it in one sitting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Big Book Summer Challenge 2019

I need encouragement!
So, I'm doing this.
I must conquer this book. It exceeds 1200 pages.


I started The Count of Monte Cristo in May with an intention to read along with Books by the Cup. But then there were four days and nights of dance shows and piano recitals, a funeral out of state, end-of-school events, one of the cars broke down - and its still out of commission - my 19-year old ran away...again, and yada, yada, yada...

Needless to say, reading The Counte of Monte Cristo took a backseat. Everything took a backseat.

But I'm back! And I need help reading this book. So I'm joining Book by Book's Big Book Summer Challenge.

Need an excuse to read a big book, 
or need some encouragement to get through a doozy?
See link above for more info.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage (reread)
Stephen Crane
Published 1895

I read this when I was in grade school for required reading, then again for The Well-Educated Mind novels. This third time was with my children, and I included it in my Back to the Classics Challenge, for novella, under 200 pages. Each time I like it more and more. While there is not much of a plot, there is something more important being told. Also, the language is rather tricky, and it must be read carefully because it is not a common writing style. I almost want to call it poetic.

The Red Badge of Courage is a coming-of-age story of a youth eager to go to war and become a real man. The setting is the American Civil War over the course of three days, though several intense battle scenes. The main character, often referred to as the youth, undergoes consecutive contradicting emotions. And it is through these exposures and revelations that he discovers the true meaning of manhood. It is not an outward appearance that characterizes maturity, but something far deeper and internal, something eternal.

Here is an example of one of his changes:
It was revealed to him that he had been a barbarian, a beast. He had fought like a pagan who defends his religion. Regarding it, he saw that it was fine, wild, and, in some ways, easy. He had been a tremendous figure, no doubt. By this struggle he had overcome obstacles which he had admitted to be mountains. They had fallen like paper peaks, and he was now what he called a hero. And he had not been aware of the process. He had slept and, awakening, found himself a knight. 

The Battle of Dry Wood Creek

Another example, not only of his metamorphosis, but also of the beautiful language used by the author:
Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was born a love despairing fondness for this flag which was near him. It was a creation of beauty  and invulnerability. It was a goddess, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him. It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes. Because no harm could come to it he endowed it with power. He kept near, as if it could be a saver of lives and an imploring cry went from his mind.  
And I love this, too:
It had been necessary for him to swallow swords that he might have a better throat for grapes. Fate had in truth been kind to him; she had stabbed him with benign purpose and diligently cudgeled him for his own sake. 
Henry, or the youth, struggled with fear and inexperience. He made mistakes. But he found courage enough to be accountable for those mistakes, and it made him better -- a better version of himself. He had time to "study his deeds, his failures, and his achievements." According to his memory, he "felt gleeful and un-regretting, for in it his public deeds were paraded in great and shinning prominence," and "he saw that he was good."
With this conviction came a store of assurance. He felt a quiet manhood, non-assertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death and was for others. He was a man. 
 Should You Read This?

If you have an interest in American Civil War stories, or stories about coming-of-age, this is perfectly short book to read. It doesn't require a great commitment. Also, if you appreciate unique and beautiful complex writing styles, give this one a try. You won't be disappointed.

Stephen Crane, 1895

Thursday, June 6, 2019

My Year with Shakespeare

This is not my first experience with Shakespeare, but I have only ever read children's versions. However, this is my first experience with Shakespeare in its original language and format. To complicate matters...I read it with my children, ages 14, 11, and 10. These are the plays we read for the school year. By the way, we assigned ourselves characters and read our lines accordingly, sometimes willingly, sometimes under duress. 

Published 1623

So Macbeth was absolutely too violent for young ears; said child did not even watch a film edition with us when we were done reading the play. She is exceptionally sensitive to these issues, and that is understandable. The other two enjoyed the story of Macbeth, once it started to make sense. For my own sanity, I often used a resource to help us comprehend what we read. 

Obviously violence is a theme of Macbeth, and so is fate. Sadly, the main character Macbeth started off as a good general, but he became zealous when he heard a prophecy about his future that he would be rewarded a title and power; thereafter, he schemed with his wife to take control of his own fate and force the result, getting so caught up in their selfish desire, creating such terror and permitting the prophecy to come true after all, though not as they had expected. 

I have to be frank: it really was frightening to see the evil scheme unravel and cause so many others dread and fear. But in the end Macbeth and his wife received their rightful payment for their plot and restitution was given to the one Macbeth owed. 

Twelfth Night
Published 1623

Twelfth Night was not murderous or violent, but extremely confusing and meant to be silly. And the silliest character of them all, the clown, is also the wisest. Pay attention to him whenever he joins the set. Characters in this play are not who you think they are, unless you follow easily; there is a lot of cross dressing and name changing. It was like doing brain hurt. 

Although Shakespeare broke a lot of protocol for playwrights in his day, he cleverly cleaned up the confusion in the end. But over all, he is no different than artists today who pressure the status quo, provoke thoughts, and influence the culture.

We watched a film edition of this play, and it was really weird. Not surprised at all.

Published 1622

Finally, we read Othello, and I knew this was one of the more controversial plays to read with young children. We skimmed over the disputable sections, though much of the context went over their heads. Whew. 

A major theme of this play is envy and jealousy. One man, Iago, ruins so many lives because of his greedy desire to be more important than everyone else. Though Othello is the object of his hate, Iago spreads lies and defames anyone involved with Othello. The frustrating thing is that we are not sure why he hates Othello, who is a righteous man. Is he motivated by racism, envy, jealousy, or even lust? We never find out. But like Macbeth, the evil scheme spreads like cancer and causes such horrible results. Unfortunately, there is no retribution here. It was literally a mess.

Aside from the mess, I found this play easy to read and understand. Reading aloud was smoother than the previous two plays. And no, we did not watch a film version of this play. Of course.


So...why read Shakespeare in the original format and language? Because it is like learning a new language, such as Latin. It is like physical exercise for your cranium. It is challenging, and young people should be challenged. It is too bad Shakespeare is not required reading in grade school. 

For fun, here is a skit from Kiss Me Kate, called "Brush up Your Shakespeare." 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Time to talk about Don Quixote

Don Quixote (reread)
Published Part I 1605, Part II 1615
Back to the Classics (comic novel)

Three weeks ago, my family and I flew to Missouri for a funeral. On our way home we were held up at airport security, in Springfield, because of something in my backpack. Two officers took it aside and one proceeded to question if I had anything in my backpack that would poke him; I said no. After inspecting the contents of my backpack via his X-ray monitor, he discovered the location of the suspicious item. 

Cautiously, he reached in and removed my copy of Don Quixote. Slowly, he flipped through its pages - all 1050 of them. Then satisfied, he pronounced it "good" and returned it to my backpack. And I replied, as he handed my bag to me, "It is's Don Quixote."

He did not think I was funny.

Maybe he is like a lot of other people who attempt to read Don Quixote and find nothing funny about it. Well, I cannot say that I blame airport security or anyone else who finds this comedic tome a real downer. 

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
Entertained by Basil and Quiteria
Gustave Doré, 1863

For one reason: IT'S REALLY LONG...maybe even unnecessarily long; two: it's repetitive; and three: it's mean!

Let me explain more. Cervantes released Don Quixote in two parts: part one, in 1605, and part two, ten years later. You could read only one part of your choice and still experience all you need from the book. Some say part two is a lot better, but you should read both parts anyway to form your own opinion. I think there is something important about both.

Part one was such a success that readers wanted Cervantes to release a second; but he took too long, and someone using a pseudonym wrote a part two. In doing so, Cervantes was forced to speed up -- if ten years is considered speeding up the process -- and release the real part two of his work. So you could say the popularity of the story encouraged its length.

About its length: Cervantes had too much fun writing Don Quixote. He went on and on, adventure after adventure, heroic achievement after heroic achievement, drubbing after drubbing, monologue after monologue. Some monologues went on for pages! 

About its repetition: most of the adventures are similar. After a few, you successfully predict what is going to happen next. Only the very last adventure of part two ends differently, and it happens to be the decisive moment for Quixote to voluntarily return home for good. But most of all, it is so repetitive, you could put it down for weeks and then pick up to read at a new chapter, having never missed a beat. 

About its meanness: it is! Your good sense tells you that Don Quixote especially is verbally cruel and insensitive toward his friend and partner, Sancho. You also recognize that other characters that interact with Quixote and Sancho are unkind and heartless toward them. You question if their pranks are worth laughing about. You feel guilty for having witnessed it. You know it is not right, and you wish to do something about it; but you cannot. Maybe that is where you start wondering if you should altogether stop reading it.

The Return of Don Quixote
Hippolyte Lecomte

Well, let me share why you should read Don Quixote...why it is good, worthy literature. 

It is excellent literature. The very best writing! Maybe my translator, Walter Starkie, should receive that credit, but I do believe it is not far from the truth. However, I read that John Ormsby's translation from the original Spanish is one of the best, and most other modern English translations, including Starkie's, originate from Ormsby. So if you get a good translation, you shall enjoy a really great example of excellent literature. 

Another reason to enjoy Don Quixote is because it is hysterical. It is full of sarcasm through and through. Cervantes is mocking knight-errantry, chivalry, and all of their formalities. He is mocking it to the core. Also, the interactions and conversations between Quixote and Sancho are comedic, though it certainly helped that I visualized the two characters and stuck with it. Quixote is tall and lean, brass and arrogant and smug, while Sancho is short and plump, nonchalant and undisturbed.

Scenes from the Life of Don Quixote
John Vanderbank 1730

The humor extends into the true part two about the false part two. Cervantes, through Quixote, makes references to the fake author who messed up his own true version of the story. And to further the humor, the characters in part two declare to know the famed knight and his squire because they proclaim to have read part one. So made-up characters in a story know about the made-up knight and his squire because they read the real first part of Don Quixote. Go figure!

But wait! Not only is this flooded with humor; it is flowing with wisdom. There is so much wisdom coming from both Quixote and Sancho, you should always read with a pen; you will want to underline all of the proverbs and wisdom of Sancho, as well as Quixote. They are brilliant! Cervantes was brilliant!

One final fun reason to enjoy Don Quixote is this: you will be just as confused with reality as our knight. The first time I read this, I did not catch the mockery of knight-errantry. The author is perfectly duplicitous in his elevation of chivalry. In addition, Cervantes writes so much history and reality into his novel, with just enough untruths, causing you to question if what you are reading is true. Finally, you will wonder if you should take Quixote seriously or not. He is always on the verge of reality, and so is the entire saga of Don Quixote. 

In fact, even Sancho is a dual character. He is not as pathetic and dumb as you are supposed to believe. There is always wisdom and statesmanship pouring from his character, especially when he is finally awarded a governorship. You think he is written as a completely different character. But you know what is said: if you let a man lead, he will rise to the occasion.

Don Quixote Consults the Enchanted Head
Charles-Antoine Coypel

So there you go. This is my case for Don Quixote. I absolutely love it and find joy in reading it. It is so lighthearted and full of humor and wisdom, all the same. Let me share a little Quixotic the most enjoyable quotes I have ever read about matrimony:
When anyone wishes to make a long journey, if he be prudent, he looks for a safe and agreeable travel companion before he takes to the road. Then why should he not do the same when he has to travel all the days of his life to the resting place of death, and especially if the companion has to consort with him in bed and at the table and everywhere, as the wife has to do with the husband? The companionship of one's own wife is not mere merchandise that, once bought, can be returned, bartered, or exchanged, for marriage is an inseparable union that lasts as long as life. It is a noose that becomes a Gordian knot once we put it around our neck. And if Death's scythe does not cut it, there is no untying it.
By the way, you could also read into this sarcastically, considering Cervantes is describing marriage as a noose around one's neck; speaking from experience, it sometimes feels this way. So, once again, it is ironically true.

And finally, I leave you with a typical proverb from Sancho:
Clothe me as you will, I'll still be Sancho Panza.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Books From My Favorite Genre

My favorite, favorite, favorite genre is BIOGRAPHIES, AUTOBIOGRAPHIES or MEMOIRS. Everyone has a story, and many are powerful and interesting. We truly can walk in someone else's shoes if we can know their stories.

I pulled up some of my favorite reads, and I listed them in somewhat order beginning with the ones I most enjoyed, though I enjoyed them all almost equally.

Testament of Youth 
Vera Brittain

Letters of a Woman Homesteader
Elinore Pruitt Stewart

The Hiding Place
Corrie ten Boom

Laura Hillenbrand

Eric Metaxas

The Road From Coorain
Jill Ker Conway

Amazing Grace
Eric Metaxas

Up From Slavery
Booker T. Washington

And runners up to the ten are...

Confessions by Augustine

Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Malcolm X

What biographies have you read and enjoyed?