Thursday, February 13, 2020

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler & Charles VanDoren

How to Read a Book
The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren
American non-fiction
Published 1940

This book is so cool and amazing and extremely readable. Mr. Adler and Mr. Van Doren knew how to write constructively and intelligently. The main topic is "the art of reading good books when understanding is the aim."
...a book is like nature or the world. When you question it, it answers you only to the extent that you do the work of thinking and analysis yourself. 
In How to Read a Book, Adler and Van Doren take their readers through a very clear instructional journey of how to read and what to do about it. The majority of their book is to give instruction to those readers who want to learn something, especially for information and knowledge, particularly of non-fiction books. However, about a third of the book is dedicated to how to read novels and stories, poetry and the like. Nonetheless, the instructions are still helpful to reading in general. Here are some of my notes:

Part One: Levels of Reading

There are four levels of reading:
I. Elementary Reading: grade school learning, focused on language and what the sentences say and what words mean.
II. Inspectional Reading: skimming, pre-reading, and investigating what the books is about.
III. Analytical Reading: best kind of reading, chewing and digesting, and focusing on understanding the author.
IV. Syntopical Reading: for comparison reading and building a bibliography.
Reading is the cornerstone of the democratic way of life. 
Inspectional reading is when true reading begins. The first thing you should do before you read a book is to examine it to better understand what it is about. Inspect the title page, the preface, table of contents, index, the chapters, and flip through the pages, even reading a paragraph or two. The authors suggest that during this phase of initial reading, you should read quickly through the book in one sitting. Do not stop to look up words or get stuck on confusing passages. Just keep reading. When you get to analytical reading, then you can invest more time on difficult passages.

How to be a demanding reader

While you read, ask yourself these questions:
1. What is the book about as a whole? What is the leading theme?
2. What is being said in detail and how? What are the main ideas or arguments?
3. Is the book true, in whole or part? After you answer the first two questions, you understand the author; therefore, you are obligated to make up your own mind. 
4. What of it? Why does the author think it is important to know these ideas?

How to make a book your own (I love this part)

Read with a pencil in your hand. Writing in your book indicates "alertness while you read."
Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of by writing in it.  
Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Marking (in) a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreement with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him. 
Part Two: Analytical Reading

Part Two is an extensive section on the third level of reading -- analytical reading

Stage one: classify the book, determine what it is about; outline the book's parts; and define the problem(s).

Stage two: interpret the author's key terms; grasp the author's propositions; know the author's arguments; determine which problems the author solved or failed to solve.

Stage three: suspend judgment until you fully understand the author; do not  disagree contentiously;  demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and personal opinion by providing evidence for your criticism. In addition, show where the author is uninformed, misinformed, illogical or incomplete.
Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature.
To be well read refers to the quality of the reader NOT the quantity of books read!
The great authors were great readers, and one way to understand them is to read the books they read. As readers, they carried on a conversation with other authors, just as each of us carries on a conversation with the books we read...
This is the section where I needed most instruction because I began to wonder about my own personal understanding of books I have read and how critical I have been. I was very critical, but did that mean that I fully understood the author, OR did I permit my personal feelings to influence my response? I think more often I am guilty of the later accusation. This is something I need to work on.

Part Three: Reading Different Material

Part Three focuses on how different materials, such as practical books, imaginative literature, stories, plays, poems, history, science, mathematics, philosophy, including theology, and finally, social science, demand different ways of reading. 

Part Four: Syntopical Reading

The final section deals with a fourth level of reading: Syntopical Reading, reading numerous books on the same topic. This is useful if you are writing a bibliography for an idea, or if you ever wanted to put together a catalogue of books based on a time period or historical event. Most people would never get to this point, unless they were a researcher or writing a book or thesis. I have always wanted to do this to organize my books according to time periods, but I won't hold my breath that I actually make time to do it.

Finally, the authors close with a word on "what good books can do for us," and they have added a recommended reading list (of mainly non-fictional books) and exercises and tests for the four levels of reading, which I have yet to utilize.

Should You Read This Book?

No, if you only read for mindless entertainment, but yes, if you are a serious, deep reader. Even if you are investing your time in creative fiction, you should be getting something out of it...I hope. This book offers ideas to help you understand how to figure out the author and his message -- how to have a conversation with him. Especially if you read for knowledge and information, this book is like a bible on how to read properly, effectively, and essentially. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Treasure Island Books via

Pete Halewood of ClassicReader is inviting readers to play...
Treasure Island Books
You are stuck on a ‘Treasure Island’ for 1 year, which you landed on due to a complication during a parasailing event. You walk through the island and find a treasure trove. Contained in the treasure are the books you will spend the next year with. They can be books to gain knowledge, information, understanding, spirituality or just to entertain, it’s completely up to you.
Which books would they be? Here are the rules:
8 books you have read of your choice. Any 8 books you wish to spend the next year with. Pick wisely, you’ll be spending a lot of time with them. In principle, the books you love the most or want to spend more time with.
1 book which you have never read before. You know, all those books on your book shelf, that have been there for years? You get to take one. Which one do you want to read the most?
1 ‘the complete works of’. Now, this can add some volume to your treasure trove. Yes, pick 1 author who you get to take the complete works of with you. You don’t have to have read everything at this moment by the author, but enough to make you want to read everything they have over the next year.
Well, here are my choices...
8 Read Books:
1. The Bible: This I read every day anyway, and I cannot think of life without it. 
2. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom: An amazing true story about endurance, resilience, forgiveness, and trusting in God.
3. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: Another true story about coming of age and seeing the world through the eyes of innocence and hope. Even though it does not end well for the author, her message still lives on in her reader's hearts.
4. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: I love this story because the author was bold and courageous to tell the truth at a time when it was dangerous and unpopular to talk about slavery. 
5. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: This story is epic, and since I would have a year, this is the one I want to ruminate through.
6. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy: I had to bring a Hardy. This is my favorite. 
7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: This is one of the most beautiful-feeling stories ever written. Each time I read it, it lifts my spirit. 
8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Again, another epic. Tolstoy is the philosopher king, so I could spend a year studying this story. 
1 Unread Book: 1776 by David McCullough: I haven't read a McCullough book, and this is on my unread shelf TBR. It's one of my most anticipated. 
1 Complete Works of: Laura Ingalls Wilder: Just give me all of Laura's books, and I'll be content forever.
* * *
This was difficult because I was only given 10 choices, but it was good because it helped me to narrow down the books that are really important to me. I decided I would only want to take those books that were encouraging and edifying, in some way. 
Some books that almost made it to the list were Wind in the Willows, Letters of a Woman Homesteader, and Unbroken.
All of the books listed, except 1776, are from my PERSONAL CANONI've been compiling a list of books I love because one day I hope to move, and I only plan to take those books that make it to the list. That way I am downsizing and taking only those books that are essential to my life. it's your turn. Visit and make your list. Which "ten" books would you live with for a year on Treasure Island?

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Indian Boyhood by Charles Eastman

Indian Boyhood
Charles A. Eastman
Native American
Published 1902

My children and I read this book for history. We read it many years ago for our Little House year, but they were much younger at the time and remember nothing. My goal was to expose them (again) to life other than their own, and because this is a "child's" memoir, I hoped it to be interesting. It also supports our study of Native Americans. One thing I got out of it was the great appreciation for and knowledge of nature.

Indian Boyhood is the autobiography/memoir of a Native American boy born in Minnesota, 1858. Charles Eastman was born Hakadah, and later known as Ohiyesa. His mother died at his birth and his father [Jacob] and brothers were betrayed by another Native tribe to the United States Government, and thought to have been killed.

For fifteen years of his life, Ohiyesa was raised by his grandmother and trained to be a warrior by an uncle. He told his story in this memoir about growing up and living as a Dakota Sioux. He wrote about his earliest recollections, survival training, recreations, family and tribal traditions and legends, adventures, and finally his opinion of the white man's civilization.

He also grew up with animosity and bitterness in his heart, with a desire to someday avenge his father's death. It was easy to understand why he harbored these feelings, and why he had negative opinions of the white man. He believed they always desired to acquire more possessions and to be rich. They wanted [the Indians] to sell their land, and eventually would drive them away and destroy their beautiful country, Eastman said.

But Eastman admitted that he admired the white race because of the power they had to build and invent, such as the "fire boat walks on mountains," which was a locomotive. And he noticed an obvious difference between those whites who practiced Christianity and those who did not.

The best chapter is the very last one. After Ohiyesa turned 15, he was surprised by a visit from his father, Jacob, who explained how, after his betrayal, he had been imprisoned for "involvement" in the Minnesota Massacre, and while in prison he was educated and introduced to Christianity. When the U.S. government found no evidence to support the charge against Jacob, he was pardoned by President Lincoln and went to live on a reservation. There he found government reservation life insulting and decided to try "the white man's ways."

He bought land under the Homestead Act and began to assimilate into the civilized world. But it was Jacob's faith that compelled him to search for Ohiyesa, even knowing how dangerous it would be. When Jacob found his son, he brought white man's clothing for Ohiyesa to change into. Initially, he was reluctant to wear the clothing because it represented the very people he hated. However, he reasoned, they also did not kill his father or brothers, and that is what finally convinced him to put them on. Then Ohiyesa went to live with his father.

Each morning his father sang hymns and read from the Bible, and this left a great impression on Eastman, who also made the decision to follow Christ. He said, "Here is where my wild life ends, and my school days begin."

The memoir ends there, but I will add that Eastman went on to become a thoroughly educated man and a great leader, especially for the Native American people. A bit of trivia: he was the founder of the Boy Scouts of America. And he wrote numerous other books, of which someday I hope to have time to read.

Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman - Ohiyesa

Monday, February 3, 2020

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis
American novel
Published 1922

I am excited to share this book! It was very "1920's America" and extremely captivating and entertaining - the only book I wanted to read when I had time to read. So much was unfolding at once; there never was a dull moment. 

George Babbitt, the protagonist, was the typical American family man, living the "American Dream," with a wife and kids, running a successful real estate business, with state-of-the-art house and fancy vehicle, attending church, voting in elections, rubbing shoulders with big wigs, and considered a fairly important man of the community. He was pleased with himself to be morally righteous, always critical of what was wrong with others and the world. He was everything he thought he was supposed to be, anxious to please everyone and to fit in or get along. Image was everything!

However, as readers got to know George, the layers began to peel and the hypocrisy was exposed. George Babbitt was a liar, a fake, a cheat, and a phony. He was not as wise or intelligent or even as informed as he hoped everyone believed he was. Nonetheless, George was somewhat satisfied with his fraudulent exterior.

But that was all it was -- an exterior -- and at some point, even George realized he was miserable. He began to experiment with outer shells. He tried on different masks, thinking the other political party would gratify him, or a different woman, a different group of friends, a different scene, or a different activity. Unfortunately, nothing pleased him. He was still the same old discontented, unsatisfied, inconsistent, miserable George Babbitt, and he was utterly out of control.

Benton, 1930

While Babbitt is considered a satire of living the "American Dream" during Prohibition, and much of Babbitt's secret thoughts and private behaviors are comical, the story isn't entirely humorous. That is because this timeless story is very relatable and a mirror of real life. 

Some reviewers focus entirely on exposing the American Dream as a mockery -- because obviously, the American Dream is not what brings people peace -- but I think Lewis is shining light on a bigger issue: the universal discontentment of man; restlessness is part of mankind's problem, and always has been. 

Lewis revealed genuine questions man has been asking himself probably forever: 

What is the use of life?
What purpose was man made?
Was man made for self-fulfillment?
What is the solution to boredom?
What is the cure for living?

These are great questions, and all of us should be able to answer them or similar ones at some point in our life. 

Matulka, 1925

Now, I am going to share the very ending of the story, but believe me, I have given no spoilers. The meat of this story is the entire book because there truly is no conclusion. It is a story that continues forever.

The ending was somewhat redemptive, when George finally relinquished control of his son's life and accepted that the young man did not want to go to college, as George had wanted him to do (because image is everything). Babbitt admitted,
 I've never done a single thing I've wanted to in my whole life! I don't know's I've accomplished anything except just get along. 
His final advice to his son:
Take the factory job, if you want. Don't be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself, the way I've been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!
Lewis never did directly answer those questions I listed above because they are not necessary to this particular story. The truth is: we need to answer these pertinent questions for ourselves!!! They are questions we can and need to figure out on our own, as we live out our daily lives in our own modern little world.

Should You Read This?

Yes...just yes!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

ANNOUNCING: One Hundred Years of Solitude ReadAlong

The first time I read this book was in 2014, while reading through the novels of Well-Educated Mind. A few months later, Gabriel García Márquez died. 

I struggled terribly to comprehend it...not the author's death...the book! 

Before this, I had never read magical realism or fantasy, and I wasn't sure I cared for it. I prefer my fiction well grounded and realistic. I certainly did not want to have to interpret symbols while reading.

Then last year, while reading a post about One Hundred Years by Silvia, I told her I would be willing to give it another try and would read along with her if she wanted to read it again. And that is how this read-along came about. A second reading is promising, even if it was not totally convincing during my first read.

However, as I revisited my copy for the upcoming read-along, I was reminded of the uninhibited descriptions of human anatomy and natural bodily functions and some profanity, which I had scribbled over while reading. So it will be interesting to see how I fare this second time, knowing I will want to skip the profanity, at least.

Co-read-along with Silvia @ Silvia Cachia

Would You Like to Read Along with Us?

Maybe you want to read fiction from Latin America, or more particularly Columbia. Maybe you are curious about "magical realism" or you like mystical symbolism (or dreaming while reading). Possibly you have heard more about the author since his death in 2014. Or perhaps you are a sucker for read-alongs. Whatever your calling, here is a 5 1/2 minute clip that may help you decide:

Why should you read One Hundred Years of Solitude?

Sound intriguing? Want to join us? Following is a reading schedule, beginning on the day of the author's birth and concluding on the day of his death. My copy is Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

One Hundred Years of Solitude Reading Schedule

Begin March 6th * Marquez's birthday

March 6 - March 12
Read pages 1 -  78 (Chapters 1-4)

March 13 - March 19
Read pages 79 - 140 (Chapters 5-7)

March 20 - March 26
Read pages 141 - 222 (Chapters 8-11)

March 27 - April 2
Read pages 223 - 291 (Chapter 12-14)

April 3 - April 9
Read pages 293 - 354 (Chapter 15-17)

April 10 - April 16
Read 355 - 417 (Chapters 18-20)

Final wrap up April 17th * Márquez's death

P.S. Almost forgot to add, One Hundred Years of Solitude won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. And it is also on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club.

For an invaluable overview on reading the book itself, check out Silva's Intro: HERE

Let us know if you are interested. 
The more the merrier!

Gabriel García Márquez 1927-2014

Thursday, January 30, 2020

American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins, RANT

American Dirt
Jeanine Cummins
Published 2020

In truth, I have not read this book. I knew nothing of it or its author until this morning. But now I am really irritated and disturbed by the irate controversy surrounding it. 

Oprah Winfrey raved about it and added it to her book club, and Stephen King hailed it as an "extraordinary piece of work." It is being compared to The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. 

However, since the negative up roar, Oprah is being pressured to erase its existence from her list, and she has decided to have a roundtable discussion about the controversy, providing critics an opportunity to air their anxiety over it. 

Here's a quick overview, if you have not been following: 

A white author -- Jeanine Cummins -- wrote a story from the perspective of a Mexican immigrant mother who seeks freedom and a better life for her son and herself, in America.

Critical reviews labeled American Dirt as "brown face," "appropriating," inaccurate," "repackaged for mass racially colorblind consumption," "stereotypical," and on and on. 

Cummins' publisher Flatiron Books decided (and probably were bullied, given the circumstances) to cancel the book tour. I have read that they were concerned about safety. To those who criticized Cummins portrayal of Mexico as "dangerous" (because "so is America") -- you are making the point. I can see how enraged the public has become over this emotional issue, and I completely understand why Flatiron would have to make such an unfortunate decision. 

So, here is my personal testiness about the circumstances:

Who said and since when are authors expected only to write about the shoes they have walked in? Therefore, if American Dirt is being hailed as the new Grapes of Wrath, I can argue Steinbeck had no business writing about the migrant American farmer, and in my opinion, in such a pathetic and disparaging light. 

From what I have read, American Dirt exposes the journey of a women seeking freedom, a better life; tired of running, tired of fear, scared for her life and her son's future. When readers read books...what is most important? That they can associate and understand? Yes, they read so that they CAN walk in someone else's shoes. If a book is poorly written, the reader will have learned nothing. But if it is written completely and thoroughly, the story will stay with its reader forever. 

Readers share the human condition. They know pain, disappointment, and struggle; they recognize hatred and injustice; they experience sorrow and angst. If Cummins wanted to expose the struggle of a Mexican what?! Again, I have not read the book, but what I have read, I am certain she did not mean to be offensive, elitist, or arrogant. I think she thought she was doing her duty to expose a popular modern day human issue - the story of the "ill-treated immigrant trying to come to America."

If her story was not believable, did not garner compassion for the migrant, did not open the eyes of the reader, did not influence his or her thinking, then that is the fault of the author's writing You are not required to agree with the author. Judge her in that manner. But if the author brings attention to the immigrant issue, to a reader who otherwise would have never considered it, is that not worthy? 

Some critics said she gave an incorrect, stereotypical view of a violent Mexico...uh...I'm speechless. Research it. I kinda have to agree with the author on this one.

Other critics are annoyed that Cummins labeled herself white, but now Latinx, because she has a Puerto Rican grandmother (and was born in Spain). Someone determined that is not Hispanic enough to write about Hispanics or to use typical Spanish terms throughout the story. It's too...typically white, I guess.

And a few critics argued that publishers have far too long ignored Hispanic women authors and do not pay equivalently as they do white female writers. Unfortunately, that sounds like an entirely different issue that is not Cummins' fault. 

I'm sorry for Jeanine Cummins. She is writing in a very hostile, censorious, intolerant time in America. Hysterical forms of racism are big business here, which keep people in line and controls the masses, and we continuously need fuel to keep it burning. Bullies thrive on it. By the way, racism is also a form of pride, a self-centered victimhood mentality. It is so over used!

The Slippery Slope Effect:

This is social training: authors of specific races are learning what they can and cannot write about, and it is only a matter of time before most [white] authors will no longer write about anyone other than their own race because they will be terrified to do otherwise. Surely publishers will find them too risky. So, I wonder how long before a public book review is disqualified simply because the reader/reviewer is of a different race than the author? This will affect you, Book Blogger.

But how much more confusing will this become as more and more Americans mix races, as we ARE! No one will be just Hispanic or white or black or Asian. What is to become of RACISM in America? Those whose job it is to maintain racism will have to find another reason to throw a tantrum. 

Poor Jeanine Cummins,
now the target of her own Beliefs

So I have more questions:

Have you read this book? What did you think?
Are you interested in reading it?
Are you uncomfortable reading a fictional story written by an author who never personally experienced her book's subject or topic, or is of a different race, gender, nationality, class, or other label than her protagonist? 

Personally, I'm really not interested in the subject, and I probably won't read the book...or maybe I will years from now, after I read my unread books. But I'm not uptight about the discrepancies between an author and his protagonist. I don't think authors need to show their race card to justify their qualifications for writing a story.  Just write a good story. Then I'll read it and tell you after what I really think about it. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois

The Souls of Black Folk
W. E. B. Du Bois
African-American literature
Published 1903

I finished this book in 2019 as part of TWEM histories.

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was an American author, born after the Civil War. After writing The Souls of Black Folk, he helped organize the NAACP (1904). He was involved in multiple occupations, including civil rights, peace activist, historian, and sociologist. He was a productive writer whose works affected history.

Personally, The Souls of Black Folk was one of the most cohesive and engaging books I have read in a long time. I can tell by how much I wrote in the book. Half of my pages ended up like this:

I did not always agree with the author, but I understood why he thought the way he did. He made his case clear. He was truly impassioned and zealous about his arguments.

Some of the major ideas or arguments addressed by Du Bois included:

  • How it felt to be a problem
  • How the black man saw himself in this world
  • The real causes of the Civil War
  • What the nation should do with the newly freed slaves
  • How government complicated everything
  • Why the right to vote was most essential to the black man
  • Why Du Bois disagreed with Booker T. Washington
  • How wealth (or desire for wealth) destroys the black man
  • How should the Negro college respond
  • Why Du Bois disagreed with capitalism
  • The causes of poverty
  • How blacks and whites interacted
  • Segregation (the color line)
  • The characteristic of black religious life
  • The social history of blacks
  • Why blacks live a double life (black and American)
  • Why Freedom became Du Bois' religion
  • The "shadow of the veil"
  • What black folksong tells us
  • Why Du Bois went back to Africa

More difficult arguments were against Booker T. Washington, whom I respect very much. Du Bois claimed that Washington placed the black man's problems squarely on his shoulders alone; whereas Du Bois argued, and quite intelligently, that the responsibility belonged to the North, or the United States government.

Frankly, I accept both arguments equally. The government was responsible for the evils of slavery and the post-Civil War mistakes, which caused the difficulties that followed; but it was also wise to teach personal responsibility, as it made one more diligent, independent, and resourceful in the end.

Du Bois saw the desire for wealth as a stranglehold on black Americans, keeping them in slavery. He did not support capitalism, obviously, and believed it was one of the causes of racism. Instead he believed socialism was a better way to racial equality. (This I strongly disagreed with the author also.)

The book is bursting with arguments and evidence. It is well written and quite arresting. I only touched on two ideas.

Should You Read This Book?

Americans should read it for an engrossing perspective on American history, especially African-American history. If you are interested in topics on slavery, sociology, politics, economics, post-Civil War history, and African-American poetry and folksong, you should read this. Again, it is very well written and a prime example of how to write persuasive ideas in captivating and pleasing ways. In that case, if you want to be a great writer, read something by W. E. B. Du Bois.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, a reread

Herman Melville 
American novel
Published 1851
reread (first read July 2012)

"I have written a wicked book, and feel as spotless as a lamb," Herman Melville admitted to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne after writing his most popular novel Moby-Dick.

Herman Melville hated God, and he loathed Christianity and its followers; but mostly he was angry with God. 

Melville was raised in a strict form of Calvinism and the Reformed Church. At age 12, he witnessed his father die a terrible death and had to work to help support his family. Eventually he went to sea, where, on many voyages, he witnessed every intolerable misfortune and immoral deed imaginable: lust, theft, disease, pestilence, hunger, hatred, murder, racism, poverty, and death. Many crimes and tribulations he connected with Christianity because these crimes were perpetrated by so-called Christians or in the name of "Christian" nations, with no relief even from the sympathetic God of his youth. Hence, Melville's heart hardened against Christianity, believers, and the Christian God.

In interpreting this novel, it is commonly held that Moby-Dick, the white whale, represents nature, a god, or the God of the Bible. I am 100% certain now, after this second read, that Melville intended to portray Moby-Dick as the Christian God, exactly as the author experienced His character.

To Melville, God was a colossal bully who exploited His power, harassing and tormenting small, powerless man on the earth, especially in his time of misery and affliction. To Melville, God was not a God of mercy, grace, or love. God was heartless. 
Here's food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels; that's tingling enough for mortal man! to think's audacity. God only has that right and privilege. Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that. 
According to Melville, at least we humans can feel. God cannot. We are nobler than God, even though we can never overpower Him; at least we have a conscience,* Melville argued.

*(Notice that Melville claimed it was man who had a heart and felt compassion, unlike God, yet it was his fellow man who was responsible for causing many of these misfortunes against other human beings. But, I digress.)

On and on and on...the entire book is contempt, suspicion, animosity, and vexation directed at Christianity and God. Melville is not the first to experience rebellion toward his religion or to blame God for all the world's calamity, hardship, and injustice. But why did he fiercely reject and challenge Him? I cannot fully understand this answer until I dig deeper into Melville's personal life. 

Moby-Dick is not genuinely about whaling or struggles at sea or even a lunatic sea captain bent on revenge. It is a written record of one man's personal and private struggle with his pride. Melville knew his Bible very well, and He knew the truth; but he chose not to believe. He bitterly turned away from God, and he put himself in God's place, as man is want to do generation after generation. In the end, I think Melville knew it was dangerous to take this position; but he refused to yield. 

According to Hawthorne, he said of Melville, "He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. He has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us." 

Moby-Dick, the novel, is a raging case against the God of the Bible, but it is also Melville's justification for his own self-righteousness. He said he felt "as spotless as a lamb" for writing a "wicked book," but I wonder if his conscience burned within him. With his obvious religious symbolism and parody of theology, he must have known he was accountable to Christians (and God). 

Furthermore, his rebellion against God is so blatant and arrogant that I believe he was unbearably cognizant of his circumstance. In other words, he needed to prove unequivocally to himself that he was not afraid of the wrath of God; and therefore should no one else.

Well, having said all that, what do I really think of Moby-Dick

I will never get rid of this book, and I will read it again, God willing. It is rightly considered important literature, cleverly written, and at times poetry. Melville wrote about what many people only struggle with privately: we have and will continue to throw temper tantrums at God; we rage about the world's misery and injustice; we question our own beliefs; and the hypocrisy of the religious confines us. Naturally, we all are at enmity with God; we all wrestle with our faith.

Moby-Dick is the written record of that universally personal, private human conflict with God. 

Unfortunately, Melville's rebellious pride was more valuable to him, even though he knew man never wins in his conflict with God; nonetheless, he would not yield to God's will. To me, that is the most notable and inescapable part of the story - the personal story behind the story

And so, if I can end on this note...while I think Moby-Dick is a literary treasure and that it should be read for its brilliance, just know that there is something far deeper about the story and its author than what you may initially read upon its surface -- something very melancholy and heartbreaking. That is how I feel about Moby-Dick and what I see when I look at the eyes of the man in this portrait.

Herman Melville ~ Joseph Oriel Eaton, 1870

I read this with a group - many of whom are still reading - for the Moby-Dick Readalong. If you want to know more about Moby-Dick, like if you should read it (which I would say, "You should."), you could visit Brona's blog at Brona's Books for the most comprehensive coverage of Moby-Dick on the entire planet.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020

Books and Chocolate is back for another Back to the Classics Challenge 2020. Yay!

Here is a condensed list of the categories (and my proposed reads):

1. 19th Century: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall ~ Anne Brontë (1848)

2. 20th Century: Babbit ~ Sinclair Lewis (1922)

3. Woman Author: Testament of Friendship ~ Vera Brittain (1940)

4. Translation: The Magic Mountain ~ Thomas Mann (1924) (German)

5. Person of Color: The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings ~ Olaudah Equiano (1789) (African American)

6. Genre: The Innocent's Abroad ~ Mark Twain (1869) (Travel)

7. Name in Title: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ~ Mark Twain (1884)

8. Place in Title: Under the Greenwood Tree ~ Thomas Hardy (1872)

9. Nature in Title: The Sun Also Rise ~ Ernest Hemingway (1926)

10. About Family: One Hundred Years of Solitude ~ Gabriel García Márquez (1967)

11. Abandoned: Out of Africa ~ Isak Dinesen (1937)

12. Adaptation: A Farewell to Arms ~ Ernest Hemingway (1929)

For more information, go HERE.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Reading Plans for 2020

My 2020 focus and beyond is the never ending BOOKS-OWNED-BUT-NEVER-READ pile, otherwise known as the TBR pile or unread books pile

To add to the pile, my husband, who does not usually buy books as gifts (because he says they aren't a surprise), relented and bought several from the top of my Amazon wishlist.

There are already numerous unread intimidating classic tomes established upon my shelves. It is time to conquer them!

Thankfully, I learned of The Unread Shelf Project 2020 at The Unread Shelf. Yay! (Thank you to Hamlette @ Edge of the Precipice for the idea.)

Following the rules, I first found the courage to divide my books between "read" and "unread," regardless of genre. It seemed criminal, but it must be done, whatever it took.

Next, I arranged books in alphabetical order by title, not author. This isn't part of the rules, but it was along the lines of shelving unread books in one location.

In the photo below, the top two rows are my READ books. The third row down with the red stars contains the most important UNREAD books (spilling into one cubby below it), which I want to immediately read in the next two years (or more). The remaining cubbies on either side of the fireplace are also UNREAD books, but they didn't make the immediate urgent cut .

There are bookshelves in two other rooms with mostly non-fiction books or books we use for homeschool, some of which are unread; but again, those are not most urgent.

The next rule was to count my unread books: there are 91 "urgent" TBR and 81 "not-so urgent," for a total of 172 unread books. I thought I had 300, which is why physically going through your books makes a big difference.

Also, during the process, there is opportunity to eliminate books you no longer want. Hence, sixteen books were removed that I would NEVER reread or attempt to read, two of which immediately found new homes.

My next job was to make a list of the top 10-12 unread books I want to read this coming year. I did this several months ago, but since my new additions this Christmas, the list has changed.

I am totally excited to get started on my unread TBR list and to follow The Unread Shelf Project for ideas to make me accountable.

In addition, I am still participating in The Classics Club, with my third list, which contains many of these unread classics. I am still working through The Well-Educated Mind Histories. And Brona's Moby Dick Readalong wraps up in March.

Remember: Silvia and I will host a read-along through One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Márquez, beginning March 6. This fantastical, symbolic, and complex novel is considered significant Columbian literature. Details coming soon.

Finally - just a sidebar - January, 2020, is this blog's 8th year in existence. I've been blogging since 2012. The idea was born January 1st when I posted my Intro, which has been updated numerous times. But my first post on Don Quixote was made on January 9th. And the rest is history. 

Happy New Reading to You!

Friday, December 27, 2019

2019 Year End Book Wrap Up and Recap

I expected 2019 would be the year of rereads, and I did reread 14 this year. Of the total read, I have discovered new books I definitely would like to reread in the future.

Here are books I read in 2019:


Miller: Caroline
Wharton: The Age of Innocence (reread)
Forster: A Room With a View
Cervantes: Don Quixote (reread)
Crane: Red Badge of Courage (reread)
Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale (reread)
Wharton: Ethan Frome
Wharton: The House of Mirth (reread)
Kovaciny: Blizzard at Three Bears Lake

*Still reading, but almost done...
Melville: Moby-Dick (a reread)

Almost every single book on this list was exceptional and memorable and, if possible, I would reread (again, in some cases), except maybe Caroline. I am still mulling over it.


Ten Boom: The Hiding Place (reread)
Stewart: Letters of a Woman Homesteader
Wurmbrand: Tortured for Christ (reread)
Hillman: I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree
Bainton: Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (reread)
Stewart: Letters on an Elk Hunt
Newzad: My Journey to America
Moore: Inside Out

Excellent stand-out reads here are The Hiding Place, Letters of a Woman Homesteader, and Lilac Tree (for short). Inside Out, Demi Moore's autobiography, was a tragic modern day Lily Bart story. So sad. But at least Moore is still alive.


Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People
Thomas: Change Me
Ross: Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners


Paine: Common Sense (reread)
Gibbon: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Tocqueville: Democracy in America  (reread)
Marx/Engles: The Communist Manifesto (reread)
Eusebius: The History of the Church
DuBois: The Souls of Black Folk
Guerber: The Story of the Great Republic

Of my history reads, Gibbon's blew me away. But I am pretty sure I will never commit myself to it again.


Schaeffer: A Christian Manifesto
Fraser: Prairie Fires
McDowell: The World of Laure Ingalls Wilder
Wiker: The Mystery of the Periodic Table
DeMille: A Thomas Jefferson Education (reread)
Bonhoeffer: God is in the Manger
Bonnett: The True Saint Nicholas

The YA science book, Mystery of the Periodic Table, was fascinating. Fraser's Prairie Fires is like a history/biography, but more like a personal hit piece; it was really intense, though I won't read it again.


Shakespeare: Twelfth Night
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Of course, Midsummer is amusing, but Othello was my favorite of these three; albeit, quite bloody.


Uncle Tom's Cabin Young Folks Edition
Cousins: The Boy in the Alamo
Hinton: The Outsiders
Gatty: Parables of Nature
Beesly: Stories From the History of Rome
Curtis: Bud, Not Buddy
Yehoshua: The Story of Crime and Punishment
Carroll: Alice in Wonderland (reread)
Robinett: Forty Acres and a Mule
Smith: The Story of Antigone
Freedman: Children of the Wild West
McCauge: When Cowboys Rode the Chisholm Trail
Medearis: The Princess of the Press: The Story of Ida B. Wells
Coe: The Story of Gulliver
Estes: The Hundred Dresses

If you have children, check out the young edition classics (Crime and Punishment, Antigone, Gulliver) because they are well done, and you have to introduce the classics to your kids. I also enjoyed The Story of Ida B. Wells and look forward to reading more about her in adult formats.


Rushdie: The Satanic Verses
Burckhardt: Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (TWEM History)
Wallace: Ben Hur
Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo

Satanic Verses was too cryptic for enjoyable reading and Civilization of the Renaissance was dull and repetitive. I get it...the Italian Renaissance was politically corrupt! And also bloody. I read halfway through Ben Hur and about a third of the way through The Count of Monte Cristo, and neither kept my interest. I had to give them up.


Forty was my goal, but from now on fifty will be a safe number for me. I read a lot of books with my kids, and those count.

Unfortunately, I lost inspiration to write later in the year, and several of my books have not been reviewed. The history portion of TWEM has been a disappointment maybe. Oh, well. Carry on.

Overall, I discovered several great new reads, and reread old favorites. It was still a good reading year.

How about you: 
Did you discover new favorites? 
Did you surpass your goal? 
Do you see any on my list that you want to read next year? 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Classics Club III

Previous lists:

The Classics Club List I March 2012 to December 2015 Total: 75 classics

The Classics Club List II January 2016 to December 2019 Total: 50 classics

Now it is time for a third challenge. I increased my total because I've reached my previous goals with more than enough time to spare. Since I prefer the classics, I need to commit to reading more. 

The following is only the start of the list, and I expect to add more as the years carry on, until I have reached seventy-five.


The Classics Club List III
Begin January 2020
End December 2024
Total 75 (58 currently)


Under the Greenwood Tree (1872)
A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873)
The Trumpet Major (1880)

Babbit (1922) 

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)

Roots (1976)

A Farewell to Arms (1929)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
The Sun Also Rises (1926)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831)
Les Misérables (1862)

Ivanhoe (1819)

The Bluest Eye (1970)

Idylls of the King (1859-1885)

Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) (reread)

The Once and Future King (1958)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) (reread)
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)
The Prince and the Pauper (1881) (reread, I think)

Sanditon, The Watsons, and Lady Susan (1870s)

Sons and Lovers (1913)

One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) (reread)

Le Morte d'Arthur, Vol. 1 (1485)

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult (12th c.)

The Mill on the Floss (1860)
Middlemarch (1871)

Old Christmas (1876)

Of Human Bondage (1915)

The Turn of the Screw (1898) (reread, maybe?)

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

The Woman in White (1859)

Mary Barton (1848)

Things Fall Apart (1958)

To a God Unknown (1933)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)

Love is Eternal (1954)

The Jungle (1905)

Watership Down (1972)

Bleak House 
David Copperfield

The Jungle (1906)

Atlas Shrugged (1957)

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, vol. II (1880s)
The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries (1880s)



Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970)

The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings (1789)

The Innocents Abroad (1869)
Roughing It (1872)

Indian Boyhood (1902) (reread)

The Feminine Mystique (1963)

The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)

The Travels of Marco Polo (13th c.)

My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)

Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (1970)

Testament of Friendship (1940)

The History of England (1791)

Moby-Dick (1851) (reread)



Hamlet (1603)