Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith

The Great Crash 1929
John Kenneth Galbraith
Published 1955
American Non-fiction 

Men have been swindled by other men on occasion, but autumn 1929 was the first time men succeeded on a large scale of swindling themselves.
The 1920s were a good time. Americans longed to get rich quick with minimal effort. The New York Stock Exchange was an agreeable way to make easy money. Up to 30 million families were invested in the Stock Market; but, by 1927, the seeds of eventual disaster were sown: internationalism, speculation, and escapism. 

The purpose of speculation was to accommodate the speculator. People were getting brokers' loans to invest and buy stocks on margin, which increased the price of stock without cost of ownership. Also companies formed trusts, which made it easier for lower incomes and single women to participate in the (get rich quick) gamble. 

The summer before the Great Crash there was heavy volume trading, and brokers' loans increased to $7 billion by the end of the summer. Some were alarmed that the NYSE seemed to be "devouring all the money of the entire world."  The Federal Reserve rebuked those who brought light to the coming storm because it was an attack on confidence. It appeared no one wanted to stop this runaway train. 

However, by the fall of 1929, there was already a slight depression in industry production. Speculators decided to get out and others had no choice but to sell. 

On October 24, disorder, fright, and confusion reigned and 12 million shares changed hands; there were no buyers. The ticker fell behind and prices fell faster. 

October 29 was the worst in history. Remember those trusts? They dropped to almost zero. I assume that means they were worth nothing. Banks suffered hardest, and people lost their whole savings! Many thought the Exchange should be closed to give it a rest, but it remained open. 

Interestingly, there was no suicide wave. Suicide was already on the rise, and the media focused on suicides more because "that was the expected response to a loss of fortune of that scale." The Crash exposed the activity of embezzlement, which was more essential than suicide. It was more common for defaults to occur. Large-scale embezzlements were organized by groups. 

By mid November 1929, the Market stopped falling, reassured by President Hoover. Prices of commodities fell. Consumer buying was obviously down. Hoover, following the Keynes economic approach, cut taxes on individuals and corporations, and while it helped business expansion and confidence, it was still too meager.

Hoover ordered meetings with industry leaders where they conveyed a labor shortage since confidence had risen and morale had improved. But for all their meetings, they were really about nothing. It gave the appearance of urgency, but no solutions were conducted. 

The laissez-faire attitude had waned; yet, Hoover was opposed to large-scale government action.
He was too optimistic about the recovery, as the economy began to rebound in 1930. Unfortunately, every time he said something encouraging, the Market dropped again.

The overall picture -- that hundreds of thousands of Americans had lost their fortunes and savings, that reputations were ruined, and that those who had said that the economy was sound before the Crash were not held accountable -- was bleak. President Hoover was targeted most because "he converted the business proper of reassurance and positive words into public policy." The people were suffering in hopelessness and looked to government leadership for solutions. Hoover lost his bid for reelection in 1932 against New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During his Inaugural Address, FDR promised to "drive the money changers from the temple." 

The Federal Reserve Board was assigned the job of fixing the margin requirements, regulating and restricting pool opportunities, wash sales, tips, false information, rigging, and manipulating the market for profit. A Securities and Exchange Commission was established to enforce regulations, and they were aggressive in their work. 

Galbraith said the causes of the Great Depression are far from certain. He disagreed that it was because credit was easy and that people borrowed money. He said it is common for the economy to take a natural rest after seven good, healthy years. Prosperity destroys itself and then depression corrects it. In 1929, the economy could have continued, but something was amiss.

So what could have caused the Great Depression following the Great Crash? 

For one, production outran consumer investment demand. Businesses misjudged prospective demand, causing them to curtail buying and cutback production. There was an inventory recession, and investments failed to keep up with profits. 

Two, there was a deep discrepancy between incomes where 5% of the population earned 1/3 of all income. The economy was particularly dependent on the high level of investment and luxury spending by the wealthy. 

Three, core structure of holding company dividends was weak. An interruption of dividends meant defaults on bonds, bankruptcy, and collapse.

Four, the independent bank structure caused a domino effect, and many people lost all their savings. 

Five, an unreliable state of foreign imbalance permitted other countries to purchase U.S. goods on credit. [Today, it's the other way around.] This was also a burden on farmers.

And six, poor economic intelligence policy made things worse. The budget should have been balanced first, which both political parties agreed. [Imagine both political parties agreeing on anything!] Borrowing, they determined, led to "slovenly recklessness of the public purse." AMEN!

Galbraith could not say if something like what happened in 1929 could happen again. (He published his findings in the 50s.) He did list all of the protections in place now meant to protect individual and corporate investments and savings today - provisions that came about as a result of the Great Crash. But he did also include one lesson we could draw from that historical event: 
A very specific and personal misfortune awaits those who presume to believe the future is revealed to them.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Late Wrap-up of Ten Books of Summer by 746 Books

This bookish challenge ended September 1, and I totally forgot to do a wrap up. Of the proposed list of ten books, I completed five, started three others and backed out, and completed two other books not on this list. 

Following is the original proposed summer book list and the end results:

  • Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Was not motivated to finish this book and I adopted it out to a new home.
  • McCullers: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: read half way and had to stop because I failed to make a connection to the story or characters. Gave this copy to a friend.
  • Brown: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: grateful to have finally read this, and I am keeping it.
  • Wells: Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells: I love Ida and I'm keeping her story, too.
  • Dinesen: Out of Africa: was not excited about finishing this and didn't even return to it. We are finally parting ways.
  • Equiano: The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings: reading this RIGHT NOW AND LOVING IT! This is my kind of book.
  • Haley: Roots: a great story. Keeping it.
  • Turner: These is My Words: LOVED IT! (Hamlet, this is your kind of story.)
  • Robinson: Gilead: Only read a third of the way and stopped. Also found a new home for it. Again, I failed to find a connection with the story. 
  • Bergreen: Over the Edge of the World: absolutely well done and excellent work. Keeping it. 
  • Tan: The Joy Luck Club: This one I wanted to love so much; it took off at first; but I lost interest a third of the way. So I'm giving it away. 
I am done forcing myself to read and just want to enjoy what I am reading. If I don't like it, I won't feel guilty about stopping, and I'll find a new home for my book and move on. So that's that! I'm really excited about several books I am reading right now, and that's how it should be.

Hope you are all enjoying what you are reading right now, too. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Wrap Up Big Book Summer Challenge 2020

This summer I did my best to distract myself with big books. At the start of summer I jumped into reading a variety of non-fiction. From Native Americans to African Americans to Spaniards and Portuguese, from battles on the American plains, surviving slavery in the American South, fighting the injustices of lynching and racism, and circumnavigating the planet by sea: it has been an enlightening and at times adventurous summer of reading. 

These were the books I challenged myself to read and the final result:

Dinesen: Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass [462]
Bontë: Tenant of Wildfell Hall [489]
Collins: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes [517]

I never made it to the last three books, although I still intend to read at least The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I decided that Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not for me, and I gave it to a friend. I'm not sure that I will read Out of Africa soon, after all, because there are some other books I am eager to get to.

That's my wrap up. I completed four big books totaling 2,166 pages!  

Thanks to BookbyBook for another encouraging big book summer reading challenge! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen

Over the Edge of the World:
Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
Laurence Bergreen
Published 2004
Non-Fiction Exploration

Well written, thoroughly researched, historically informative, and absolutely shocking! My goodness! What in the world?

When I finished reading this book, I told my husband that I felt like this was basically an extreme and belabored grocery trip around the world just to pick up a few pounds of coveted cloves. CLOVES! Move valuable than gold.

CLOVES! These little suckers were more coveted than gold!
And they are so expensive!

Of course, it was more than just about cloves. It was an anxious search for the strait that would direct Spanish explorers from the Atlantic Ocean through South America to the Pacific Ocean. And the voyage had a political end: to disrupt the Portuguese monopoly on the Spice Islands and capture it for Spain. 

Another navigator, like Columbus, with an outlandish idea to reach the Spice Islands in the Indian Ocean by taking a westerly direction, hoped to win over the Portuguese monarchy. The explorer was a Portuguese nobleman named Fernāo Magalhāes.  Three times he sought permission and aid from the Portuguese king, Manuel I, and three times he was denied. The rejection sent him to Spain, where the Spanish king, Charles I, eventually granted Ferdinand Magellan (his new Spanish name) five vessels and 260 sailors.

The voyage began August 1519, while the insufferable King Manuel threw a hissy fit!

The natural challenges, burdens, and difficulties of such a voyage were endless (they lost one ship in a storm before they reached the strait); imagine, however, the added strains of human sin. WOW! That compounded everything. 

The conflict between Portugal and Spain continued aboard and throughout the long voyage, as this was a mixed venture between a few Portuguese loyalists to Magellan and many Spanish sailors who  resented the ex-patriot captain general.

There was mutiny, murder, and sodomy, which was met with Magellan's swift, harsh, inhumane justice of torture, death, and even marooning. Before they sailed the entire strait, the crew of one vessel, San Antonio, which carried most of the provisions, decided to ditch Magellan and return to Spain.

Author Bergreen stated that Magellan's navigational skills through hundreds of miles of unmapped archipelagos of the strait are the "single greatest feat in maritime history." It took almost a month to pass through.

Unfortunately, after reaching the Pacific Ocean at the other end of the strait, it was more than three months before they spotted the first Pacific island: Guam. By now they had lost thirty sailors to scurvy and starvation.

In the Polynesian Islands, the Europeans had a little conflict with the Natives. It was not until they landed in the Philippines that they met with a friendly king who gave them gold and ginger. Magellan demonstrated great showmanship that dazzled the king. The Europeans celebrated Easter on the island, which also impressed the king. Magellan committed to strengthening the island's loyalty to Spain by fighting the king's enemies, which was not a directive of Spain. 

Next, they visited the neighboring island of Cebu. Magellan attempted to convert the natives to Christ and had them baptized. In turn, they treated the Captain General as a god, and it went to his head. He truly thought he was divinely inspired. The christening ceremonies got out of hand when Magellan  insisted on baptizing those who did not want to be, and he had to threaten them to do so. In the end, over 2000 men and women were baptized, and Magellan claimed the Philippines for Spain.

By the time they came to another neighboring island, Magellan was on his own personal crusade, and he continued to threaten those who defied him. But the natives challenged Magellan, and the Europeans were out smarted; here, Magellan lost his life.

Bergreen said that "the only battle Magellan could not survive was the greatest of all: himself."

Replica of the Victoria

Relieved to be rid of Magellan, the remaining sailors elected a new captain general, or two. And yet they abused Magellan's slave, Enrique, and threatened to whip him if he did not obey. That proved to be a bad decision because the next stop was a bloody disaster. Enrique conspired with the natives and they surprise-attacked the Europeans after inviting them to dinner. Twenty-seven sailors died, and Enrique stayed behind rather than return to Spain.

Meanwhile, remember the San Antonio? They just reached Spain, and they did not exactly tell the truth about what had happened. But it worked in their favor, and they were free. Unfortunately, Magellan was in major trouble, when and if he returned. Yet, in truth, everyone thought they were lost forever and did not expect anyone to return, let alone Magellan.

But they were wrong.

At this point, one ship was so infested that they burned it after moving everything they could to the last two remaining vessels.

And one man remained who was most loyal to Magellan: Antonio Pigafeta, a young adventurer who only wanted to go on this voyage because he was so admiring of the Captain General. It is through his words that we even have this story at all.

Continuing on, they went from island to island, finding food and material goods, meeting all kinds of wealthy and civilized natives, some influenced by the Chinese culture and many who were just like the Europeans in their lifestyle.

At one point they were in the middle of a battle between two tribes, but because they did not understand what was going on, the Europeans went on the defensive and took hostages, including women. Pigafeta knew that Magellan would have never done this because it was divisive and what pirates did. He longed for Magellan's sense of duty.

After that debacle, the sailors changed captains again. One of the ships ran aground and needed repairs. Many mistakes were made that would have been avoided had Magellan been alive. Out of desperation, the Europeans captured smaller native vessels and threatened them for food and directions to the Spice Islands. They even killed some of their captives in the interim. Pigafeta was so desensitized by death, he hardly wrote much about it. The morale of the men was beat, and they had lost sense of their mission.
How we use cloves now....decorating fruit for fun. 

Twenty-seven months into the voyage and they finally stumble into the Spice Islands. The emissary was a Muslim named Almanzor already familiar with the Portuguese, whom he did not like. It did not take long to convince Al that King Charles I was a better master, and he easily pledged allegiance to Spain. Great! Now could they please have all the spices so they could get the heck home?

But it's such a small world because a friend of a friend (a European) who lived on the island said they knew all about Magellan's quest to sail around the world in search of the Spice Islands. The Portuguese had been by to say they were looking for the fleet to stop them. Remember the tantrum King Manuel threw when he heard Magellan set out on his mission? He was determined to stop Magellan. So hurry up with those spices because the Spaniards are in Portuguese territory and this could end up in a war.

So Al said he'd get the cloves, which ran the world's economy -- they were used for medicinal purposes and flavoring -- and Al came through and produced over 1400 lbs. of cloves. He also asked the Europeans to promise to return. He really preferred the Spaniards to the Portuguese, and as a gift, he gave them a slave to give to the King of Spain.

On the day they meant to leave, one vessel had a leak, which would not have happened had Magellan been alive because he was so meticulous about these details. Al said he'd help fix the leak and take care of the sailors left behind. Meanwhile the other vessel, the Victoria, would begin its trek back to Spain, while the flagship, Trinidad, would follow after its repairs were complete.

Sixty survivors aboard the Victoria headed home without their fierce leader. "They had their spices but they lost their soul." All that mattered was survival.

And after three months, the Trinidad was ready to roll with fifty tons of cloves, more than enough to justify this desperate voyage. Apparently all we know is that many men died of scurvy, some were left behind, and it spent seven more months at sea going in the wrong direction until it returned to the Islands. By then, the Portuguese had arrived again looking for Magellan, imprisoned the sailors left behind, and showed no mercy to the emaciated crew aboard the Trinidad. Even Al turned on Spain and blamed them for his loyalty.

The Portuguese destroyed the Trinidad after stripping her of its precious cargo, including Magellan's logbook, which showed all he had done -- as well as providing proof that he was in territory belonging to Portugal. It is safe to say that no one survived from the flagship.

Back to the Victoria rounding the Cape of Good Hope, Pigafeta wrote that the survivors were not bold but humbled and grateful to God to be alive. But more scurvy took more men, and they still had to avoid the Portuguese.

On September 1522, 18 survivors sailed into Seville, Spain. They had enough cloves to turn a profit, which went directly to the crown and the financier of the expedition.

The end result: the world was larger, not smaller than thought: seven thousand miles were added; no more reason for superstitious ideas; and a new understanding: that man existed in a variety of ways -- all at a cost of over 200 lives.

King Charles did not care about the lost lives, or Magellan, or the Spice Islands. He only cared about the cloves. Later the survivors were given rewards and coat of arms. Magellan's name was still defiled because he defected from Portugal and sailed for the King of Spain, who did not care about him anyway.

Yet Pigafeta, who initially was ignored, pleaded for Magellan's valor and loyalty to Spain and the Church. He gave King Charles his journals. Bergreen states that it is "the most authoritative and eloquent chronicle of the voyage."

But Spain did not care, and Portugal was still embittered. Do you know who cared the most? England. They wanted men to copy Magellan's feat. And guess what? Fifty-eight years later, Sir Francis Drake completed the circumnavigation of the world for England.

Portrait of Ferdinand Magellan

In my opinion, Magellan, who called himself a Christian, had a warped understanding of the religion and faith. He baptized for the Catholic Church, not Jesus. Baptism is a public profession of faith after one comes to understand their need of a Savior, who is Jesus Christ. That individual desires forgiveness, seeks repentance and reconciliation with God, and believes that Jesus Christ died for his/her sins. Only then can they understand what baptism means and why they should do it. Magellan forced people to be baptized, and that didn't make one Christian, but rather a servant of the Catholic Church.

Too bad they did not have FACT-CHECKERS in Sixteenth Century Europe. But do you remember what was happening in Germany while Magellan was circumnavigating the globe? Martin Luther was setting things right against the Catholic Church! Earlier, in 1517, he nailed his 95 Thesis to the church door of Wittenberg, and in January 1521 he was excommunicated from the Church in Rome, three months before Magellan lost his life at the end of a spear. The truth was about to set the Church and nations on fire, and the world was about to change. No more of these useless baptisms. 


I cannot explain why I am fascinated by explorers and their adventures, and thankfully this book was well written; so many things I did not share here, some of it R-rated. So be forewarned.

So, if you like non-fiction, history, exploration, biographies, and well written chronicles, do not miss this one. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

These is My Words: 
The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901
Nancy E. Turner
Published 1998
American Historical Fiction

Back in the day when I was able to freely peruse my library, I found this little gem in the used book sale corner. It was a pleasant surprise. 

I initially thought this was a completely true story, but it is more like historical fiction; however, the author did use a family memoir (written by her great-grandfather, I think), for the setting and plot, and her great-grandmother as the model for the main character, Sarah Prine, filling in missing information with a charmingly creative imagination. 

These is My Words took place in the 1880-90s, the pioneer days of the American Southwest, and followed one young woman's life in the Arizona Territories with her family, and into her young adulthood with a family of her own. 

At the introduction, Sarah Prine is a somewhat inexperienced 17-year old. She had just learned to write and this was the reason she decided to keep a diary of her family's journey. Challenges and loses forced them to remain in the Arizona Territories where they lived in constant danger of nature, wild animals, banditos, and Native American attacks. Nonetheless, Sarah proved to be a tough young woman who knew how to ride a horse and handle a rifle. 

Sarah Prine was an extremely vivid, determined, and unyielding character that I often thought about  when I was not reading the book. I was eager to return to the story to find out what happened next. She is genuine and animated and like a familiar acquaintance. Her memory will stay with me forever, I suppose.

There was much hardship, disappointment, danger, and suffering throughout the story. At times, it was so heartbreaking; I could not avoid crying, which is not something I do easily when reading a book. But such adversities were frequent and commonplace then and there, and women and mothers must endure these trials with steel courage and enduring hardiness, or loose their minds, which did happen. 

There is also a romance in the story that made me blush. Ok, I blush easily. Captain Jack's love for Sarah is sweet and tender and hers is fiery and protective, just like her character. Their relationship was full of conflict at first, and Sarah did not see it coming; meanwhile, Turner kept it comical for the reader: 
I looked down under [my blanket] and I was only wearing some long drawers and my old camisole, the one that is bursting full of me on the top and had come untied in the bargain, and what a fine sight I was, freezing cold and my hair all around my shoulders, and I started to cry again. I am ruined.
Sh-sh, [Capt. Jack] says. There's no wrong done in a good cry, and I was beginning to wonder if you ever did. I would never hurt you, he says. And as long as no one knows, no one is ruined. Besides, it would be much more of a shame to be ruined by a rumor than by truth, and then he slipped out of my wagon and away in the foggy morning. 
And that was only the beginning of their relationship!

Anyway, it was a such a great read, and there are two more books in a series that follow this one. Also, Hamlet, I thought of you while reading this, and if you have not read it, yet, this is definitely your style.

Nancy E. Turner 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: 
An Indian History of the American West
Dee Brown
Published 1970
American Non-Fiction

This was an emotional read. I could not read it without empathy, compassion, heartache, or vexation.

Dee Brown wrote Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, which covers American history, 1860-1890, from a collective perspective of the American Indian. Brown utilized interpreted documents from treaties, interviews, and eyewitness accounts to tell this comprehensive story that had never been told before this publication.

Brown suspected that what he had learned about American Indians was false, and in his investigation he sadly found that his initial supposition was correct. He collaborated his sources from government documents, no less, and produced a very shameful account of the U.S. government's confiscation of the West from the American Natives.

Crow Chief - George Catlin

I was not very surprised by the conclusion of the book because in my years of reading history with my children, I, too, learned that the United States government took everything from the Natives and what they didn't "take," they pushed whatever Indians were remaining onto reservations to live out their lives as they could, which was nothing like what they did before the Europeans came. The U.S. government disarmed them, seized their hunting grounds, travel routes, and access to natural resources.

Many of the Natives did not want to adopt the European or American way of life, living stationary lives, building a home, or learning agriculture. They were nomads and travelled to hunt. Yet, some of those who did eventually assimilate were removed and forced onto reservations anyway. Furthermore, reservations were traps, and over the years, the boundaries were redrawn tighter and tighter, giving the survivors less land to live on.

What did astound me was how consistently trusting the Indians were to be fooled into signing treaty after treaty. It wasn't that they did not know about the tricks; it was that they continued to believe the U.S. soldiers and generals. Most of the time they did not understand the details of the treaty, but they signed anyway. And within months or a few years of signing, they would lose the extent of the area they were permitted to live and hunt, eventually culminating in a battle with the soldiers; and if not completely eradicated, then survivors were rounded up and moved to an area reserved for them for the remainder of their lives.

Sitting Bull, Lakota
I thought this was really sad: a senator lectured Sitting Bull after the Chief described the poor condition of the Indians on the reservation:
You are on an Indian reservation merely at the sufferance of the government. You are fed by the government, clothed by the government, your children are educated by the government and all you have and are today is because of the government. If it were not for the government you would be freezing and starving today in the mountains. 
How insulting!

The Indians loved liberty. But maybe what they appreciated more than that was the land. White Thunder said:
Our land here is the dearest thing on earth to us. Men take up land and get rich on it, and it is very important for us Indians to keep it.
And maybe this was another conflict, as to why they could not assimilate into the white man's culture. One government employee who sought to "correct this barbaric condition" explained:
Their needs are so few that they do not wish to adopt civilized habits. What we call conveniences and comforts are not sufficiently valued by them to cause them to undertake to obtain them by their own effort...the great majority look upon the white man's ways with indifference and contempt. 
Of course, there were soldiers, commanders, generals, and government officials who were sympathetic to the Indians, and they did what they could to see to the protection and preservation of the people and their land; however, it was usually short lived or the sympathizer was outnumbered.

There is no way around this story. It is a very regretful truth about American history. The eradication was not only perpetrated by the U.S. government through soldiers, but also by settlers moving west or miners in search of gold.

To be fair, the Indians also committed ruthless acts of murder on settlers and soldiers. They fought as much as they could to prevent the confiscation of their land by what they saw as an invasion and theft. But sadly, they, too, will have to answer for their sins. There is no justification for murder of other humans, whether they were settlers encroaching on land or soldiers following through with orders from the government.

Buffalo Hunt, Chase - George Catlin

A major theme I found throughout this particular history was REVENGE. Indians and soldiers alike sought revenge and believed each was justified in the savage killing of another human being. It was just astounding how neither could see this wicked truth. While there were attempts on both sides to live peaceable with the other group, both were in conflict because they refused to value the other as human beings and worthy of living.

Another thing I learned from this history is that I don't think we read history to learn from it, in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the same mistakes; but instead we think we are justified in our revenge because of past sins; this is why we continue to perpetrate injustices; conflict will never end.  It doesn't matter our race. Regretfully, in our hearts, we selfishly want to prove we are correct or justified in our hatred, theft, and murder.

I think these were good words by Chief Joseph, which he spoke to the leaders in Washington DC:
Let me be a free man - free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself - and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.
Chief Joseph died on September 21, 1904, of, what an attending physician reported as "a broken heart."

Chief Joseph, Nez Pearce

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

How I Read Book Tag

Copied this from The Once Lost Wanderer.

Do you have a certain place at home for reading? 

My favorite place to read is outside on the patio either early in the morning, which rarely happens, or early in the evening, when the sun is going down and it is still light outside. I do read in my living room, if I have to be in the house, in my husband's comfy recliner.

Can you stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter or certain number of pages?

I have to stop at chapter breaks or natural paragraph breaks, if they are too long. 

Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Bookmarks. I have way too many from years of visiting the library.

Multitasking: music or TV while reading?

Nothing. It needs to be quiet, although nature sounds are permitted. But I have found that epic soundtracks make the best background music. It really enhances the emotion of a good story.

Do you eat or drink while reading?

I love to eat while I read, but it is not often that I do. It is usually popcorn w/ coconut oil, Himalayan salt, and nutritional yeast. Yum. And I finish it long before I finish my chapters.

I had to bring a book with me to the Huntington Gardens!

Reading at home or everywhere?

Everywhere. I never leave home without a book, even if I never get to read. I read while driving (as a passenger) in the car, waiting in the car at the dance studio, dentist or doctor's office, etc. I've even brought a book to a kid's birthday party. (Probably was borderline rude, but it was family.)

One book at a time or several at once?

Several at once because I have different moods, and moods call for different stories.

Reading out loud or silently in your head?

Silently in my head; however, I've also read out loud in order to act out the drama or pronounce Russian names. It is just more fun that way. But it is not often. 

Do you read ahead or skip pages?

No reading ahead, but I have skipped ahead when things get redundant and boring. Then I'm just speed reading.

Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

I don't mean to break the spine.

The messes I make in my books!

Do you write in your books?

OK, yes! Every book I have ever read has been defaced; but I have decided that I don't want to do that anymore, and I am now going to try the sticky note method. I love having that immediate conversation with the author or character directly in my books, but I equally hate marking them. So I am only just beginning this new method. Wish me luck trying to break this controversial habit. 

Whom do you tag?

Well, I'll leave that up to anyone else who wants to participate. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Roots by Alex Haley

Roots: The Saga of an American Family 
Alex Haley
Published 1974
American Novel

I was so excited to find this book at a used bookstore last year and could not wait to read it. Imagine how jealous my other unread books that have been on my shelves for years were when I moved Roots up to the front of the line! 

I had no idea what to expect because I did not do any peeking or prior reading, and I have never watched the miniseries, either of them. The only insight I had was that it was about American slavery. 

So I began reading the beginning of June. 

This book is close to 900 pages, and I anticipated that it would take me three months. However, it was quite engaging, and I managed to finish in six weeks. To be fair, I am reading several books at once, and I do not dedicate all of my time to one book. However, most of the time it was Roots that I wanted to return. (No wonder it is a Pulitzer Prize winner.)

The story began in Africa with the main character at his birth - a boy named Kunta Kinte. I followed him and his family through their tribal traditions from the time Kunta was a baby until he became a man. He was seventeen-years old. 

Soon after, he was captured and taken to America on a slave ship, where readers endure the seemingly endless, dreadful, and horrendous voyage. Haley did not sterilize the unimaginable event. 

When the ship finally arrived in Colonial America, Kunta was purchased and taken away to his new [home]. He attempted to escape four times, and on the fourth attempt, he lost part of his foot after he was recaptured. He was rendered useless but was purchased by the brother of his first master, and it was at this second estate where he began his family saga in America. 

As decades passed, Kunta learned English, became his master's designated driver, married, and had a child - a girl named Kizzy. He loved his daughter and began telling her the names of things in his native African language. He told her the story about his grandfather, grandmother, his parents, and their traditions. He desired for her to know her family origins; he did not want to forget his roots. 

Kizzy grew up, and when she was a teenager, she fell in love. Unfortunately, she became tangled in a plot to help her lover escape, and they were exposed. For that she was sold, never to see her parents again. 

Her new master raped her, and she became pregnant. He named their son George. George's father never treated him special, just because he was his son, but George learned the profitable trade of cock fighting and became valuable to his father. They traveled extensively trying to make money on the sport, while practicing other immoral activities. 

Kizzy wanted to keep the story of her father alive, and she told George about his African grandfather, all the names that he taught her in his African tongue, and about the place in Africa where he came from. 

Eventually, George grew up and wanted to settle down. He married a good woman, Matilda, and they had so many children, I lost count. After the birth of each child, they, too, were told the story about their African great-grandfather, Kunta Kinte. 

It was George's desire to save up enough money to purchase his family's freedom, and his father told him if they won big enough through cock fighting then he would free them all. But of course, they lost, and they lost everything. George had to go to England to work off the debt, and then he could get his freedom when he returned.

Meanwhile, woven throughout the family story was American history, from Colonial times to the Civil War and beyond. The author dropped names like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Toussaint, President Jackson, and Nat Turner, and events like the Boston Massacre, the Bill of Rights, the Alamo, and even the history of Haiti, as well as technological advances. It was interesting and put the timeline of the story into perspective. The house slaves heard everything the whites talked about in front of them, and since the whites thought the slaves were ignorant, they never considered that they were picking up on current events. 

While George was in England, his son Tom became the family leader in his father's absence. It was pre-Civil War, and the slaves often heard about rebellions, uprisings, and freedom up North. Tom decided he wanted the family to plan an escape, but they worried that they would be split up if they were caught. 

Unexpectedly, due to poor financial management, they were going to be sold, but thanks to their master's wife, most of the slaves were able to stay together, especially Matilda and her children. Thankfully, they were sold to a kind couple. Soon Tom found a wife, Irene, a half-Indian, half-black slave, and they had a son, Uriah. 

After several years, George returned from England to learn that his family had been sold to a new master. By then, his mother, Kizzy, had died. But before he sought out his wife and children, he had to get his papers from his old master, which he had promised to give to George once he returned. Those papers meant freedom. 

George got his freedom, and he found his family, but it was awkward being free and on the plantation. His new grandson, Uriah, asked him what being free was, and he replied, 
Free mean ain't nobody own you no mo'.
That conversation led to the story of the African great-great grandfather, Kunta Kinte.

After the Civil War, the slaves were free to leave or stay; and since George had staked out land in Tennessee beforehand, they decided to leave and put down roots in a new state where they would build their homes, businesses, and even a church.

Time passed, and Tom and Irene's daughter, Cynthia, married a man named William. They had a daughter named Bertha, and the tradition of telling the story about the African continued, just as it had been done with Cynthia, and Tom, and his father and grandmother before him.

Haley in Juffure

Possible spoiler ahead...

Following WWI, Bertha married a man named Simon, and they travelled east to attend college together. He would study for his master's degree in agriculture, and Bertha would study music. Nine months later, without a word to her parents, Simon and Bertha made a surprise visit to their home in Tennessee, with a bundle. And in it was a baby boy, six-week old Alex Haley.

That was the big surprise for me, and I loved it. In the proceeding final chapters, Haley narrated his life growing up and hearing the story about the African. He heard it all, over and over again, and it left a great impression on him. The seed was planted.

End spoiler

In his adult years, Haley decided to investigate and research, read and discover the truth. It took him ten years to write his story, and how he did it was a story in itself. I won't tell you here, in case you want to read it for yourself. I, for sure, am quite impressed.

Haley said that the Western culture is "so conditioned to the 'crutch of print' that few among us comprehend what a trained memory is capable of." I love books and reading, but he is right. Word of mouth is the way we used to give and receive information and knowledge and stories; but not anymore. We rely heavily on recording it or writing it down, though it is not such a bad activity; however, we have lost the art of memorization and reciting from memory.

This is a great story, a true story about a family, a story about a journey to find the origins of a family because these stories help us to know who we are, in part. It is also a necessary heartbreaking story about history. And though this history be painful to read and demonstrates injustice, it is essential to preserving the truth.

Haley's last words of his story are this:
I also feel that they join me in the hope that this story of our people can help to alleviate the legacies of the fact that preponderantly the histories have been written by the winners. 
A final note, if you choose to read Roots, be forewarned that you will be reading the n-word a lot! And there are cultural and religious differences regarding how women are treated, especially since Kunta was Muslim, and that's just the way it was in his time and place and tradition.

P.S. It was easy reading, but definitely epic.

Alex Haley (1921 - 1992)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

Crusade for Justice: 
The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells
Edited by Alfreda M. Duster
Published 1970
American biography

The more I read about Ida B. Wells, the more she impresses me.

Ida was born into slavery after the beginning of the Civil War, 1862. Following emancipation, she lived with her parents and seven younger siblings in a home built by her father, in Mississippi. Her parents placed high values in education, civic duty, and Christian principles.

Regretfully, in 1878, her parents and youngest brother died from yellow fever. Neighbors and friends offered to take some of the children to care for them, but Ida was determined to keep the family together. With the help of her father's savings and a teaching job, she was able to care for them. She was only sixteen.

In the early 1880s, while teaching in Memphis, Tennessee, her first fight for equality presented itself when she insisted on riding first class on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. To the cheers of other passengers, she was physically removed and thrown out of the car. She sued the railroad and lost her initial dispute in court; but later it was reversed and she was awarded damages. Unfortunately, the railroad appealed and judgment was reversed in the Tennessee Supreme Court. She wrote in her journal:
I felt so disappointed because I had hoped such great things from my suit for my people generally. I have firmly believed all along that the law was on our side and would, when we appealed to it, give us justice. I feel shorn of that belief and utterly discouraged, and just now, if it were possible, would gather my race in my arms and fly away with them. O God, is there no redress, no peace, no justice in this land for us? Thou hast always fought the battles of the weak and oppressed. Come to my aid at this moment and teach me what to do, for I am sorely, bitterly disappointed. 

Soon Wells began writing for a church paper, where she discovered her journalistic capabilities. And so did others. She was offered an editor's position for a small newspaper, to which she became part owner. After criticizing the Memphis school board for segregation, she was dismissed as a teacher. It was just as well because she was in the right place to bring light to what was becoming a disturbing darkness in the South: lynching.

In 1892, three black businessmen were lynched. She wrote a contemptuous commentary on those responsible for the lynching and the white community that encouraged and condoned these actions. Her own business was targeted and her life threatened. At the time she was out of town, but she vowed to keep speaking out and bringing light to the truth.

Ida was asked to travel abroad, which she did. She went to England to talk about lynching in America. She was inspired by how the English women formed civic groups to address political and social issues. When she returned to America, Wells urged her followers to do the same. The first black civic club was named the Women's Era Club.

Ida also focused on why blacks were not able to participate in Chicago's World's Fair. She produced a booklet called: The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition -- the Afro-American's Contribution to Columbian Literature. You should read her scathing preface in the book. It is too long to include, but you can read it HERE.

Wells returned to England in 1894, and an Anti-Lynching Committee was organized with citizens of Great Britain, who supported her work wholeheartedly. Upon returning to America, she continued lecturing throughout the North and organizing anti-lynching committees. She decided to settle down in Chicago where she continued writing, publishing A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, which was a history of lynching since the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a warning to the world over mob violence, which is exactly why lynching  culminated. Her hope was "to eradicate this form of barbarism."

In Chicago, she met and married a lawyer named Ferdinand Barnett. Together they had four children. This is where Ida really impressed me, even more than she had already. After her second child was born, she decided to take a break from her busy work to focus on the equally hard work of homemaker and mother. She believed in the essential presence of mothers in the home during their children's impressionable years. Here is what she had to say about that:
I had become a mother before I realized what a wonderful place in the scheme of things the Creator has given women. She it is upon whom rests the joint share of the work of creation, and I wonder if women who shirk their duties in that respect truly realize that they have not only deprived humanity of their contribution to perpetuity, but that they have robbed themselves of one of the most glorious advantages in the development of their own womanhood. I cannot begin to express how I reveled in having made this wonderful discovery for myself or how glad I was that I had not been swayed by advice given me on the night of my marriage which had for its object to teach me how to keep from having a baby. 
Ida and her children, Charles, Herman, Ida, Alfreda, 1909

By the way, on several occasions, Ida had to bring her children to work. She once had to hold her young baby while giving a speech, and she also travelled with her five-month old to meet President McKinley, in D.C.

In 1910, Ida established the Negro Fellowship League, with intent to aid uneducated blacks and teach them leadership. She sought financial support from upper class blacks, but found them indifferent or unwilling to venture into the lower class areas of the city to dedicate time to work with the less fortunate. Ida expected affluent individuals to be well mannered, of good morals, and good sense, not using their status to pay their way into upper society. She believed ministers should also be held to high standards and did not shy away from withdrawing support if she found they were living contrary to what they were teaching.

She worked hard to motivate men to register to vote. She organized the first suffrage club of black women. She was friends with Susan B. Anthony. She and her husband were also friends of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W. E. B. Du Bois.

Discouragingly, she believed her work was in vain. She wrote her memoir to preserve black history, but felt like she accomplished nothing with her time or or effort trying to change her nation. But it is not true because she lead the way for others who came after her. She would be pleased if she saw the progress today, which to us seems commonplace because our generations do not know otherwise.

The only issue I think would be disappointing to Ida is that we have lost our values and standards as a nation. If Ida were alive today, it would devastate her to have to witness such accepted mob violence and immoral behavior; and I know she would shamelessly call [us] on it.

Ida B. Wells
Eternal Vigilance is the price of liberty. ~ Ida B. Wells 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Classics Club Meme(s) 2020

I'm playing catch up with The Classics Club Meme(s).  I need book related material to help me focus on books exclusively, otherwise I am sidetracked by the Rona and race riots. I still need to talk about those things, but it is nice to talk about books, too. 
So I am excited to see TCC bring back the monthly meme. This was the first one: 
The very first question in August 2012 was What is your favourite Classic? And why?’
Back then, I answered this first meme: Don Quixote by Cervantes. 
This is the 2020 reboot.
For those of you who answered this question before, you might like to refer to your old posts and talk about any changes that have happened since that time. You could talk about your favourite Ancient Greek classic, Russian classic, #BlackLivesMatter classic or classic written by a woman. Your could discuss your favourite classic to read during a pandemic, on holiday, in summer or winter. Perhaps non-fiction classics are more your thing, so tell us about your favourite bio, history, travel or science classic.
Since I began my classical reading journey in 2012, I have been exposed to a few hundred classics, and I CANNOT choose one favorite anymore.  If I updated this meme, I would leave Don Quixote on my list.
To answer in 2020, I asked myself to choose up to 20 favorites, which come from my personal canon:
So in no order...these are my top 20 favorite classics with a few words that come to mind: 
1. Don Quixote...comedic pleasure
2. The entire Little House series (all 9, plus 2 others) <-- [these all count as one]...I live through these stories.
3. The Handmaid's Tale...wildly outrageous, but effective.
4. The Great Gatsby...engrained in my mind forever.
5. Anna Karenina...a philosophical lecture by Tolstoy in epic story format.
6. House of Mirth...melancholy and maddening
7. A Christmas Carol...redemptive and hopeful
8. Far From the Madding Crowd...POETRY with a happy Hardy ending.
9. literary maturity
10. Little Women...beautifully written and touching about relationships
11. Their Eyes Were Watching God...a poetically American story about love
12. Gone With the Wind....just EPIC storytelling
13. The Diary of a Young Girl...coming of age and mature beyond her years
14. Letters of a Woman Homesteader...I want to be this woman.
15. Jane Eyre...hauntingly epic story
16. Testament of Youth...a courageous testimony
17. 1984...fearfully shocking, but cannot look away
18. Uncle Tom's Cabin...a difficult truth that needed to be exposed
19. All Quiet on the Western Front...harsh realities of war

20. A Room of One's Own...I know this story...
The second Classics Club Meme is: 
Which classic author have you read more than one, but not all, of their books and which of their other books would you want to read in the future?
Easy enough. 
Thomas Hardy: I've read six novels, and I have dozens more works to go, including short stories and poetry. Soon to be read include A Pair of Blue Eyes and The Trumpet Major. But I am not certain I want to read all of his short stories or poems. Some of them were flops, according to the critics. However, I do think I am interested in giving his poetry a try. 
To answer your own or join the conversation, head over to The Classics Club.