Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Personal Canon of Books

This idea was brought to me by Jillian, who encouraged me to make a list.  It has just taken me awhile.

Every avid reader has a particular and unique way of composing a personal canon.  The list is characteristic of who you are.  It says, "These are my books."

Some of these books have affected my worldview, some shook me to my core, some left an imprint on my heart, and others changed my life forever.  These books matter to me.  If I constructed my self-portrait using books, this is what it would look like; if I was marooned on an island, these are the books I would desire for my companion.  Over all, I measured my books based on how I responded to them, which makes them obviously personal.

Since every reader is distinct and every reading experience is personal, I can not stand by each one and promise that another reader would have the same encounter.  You may have a completely different result.  We may agree that a work is good because it meets certain qualifications or standards, but beyond that, it may end.  And that is ok, too.

This is my personal canon - an ever growing and evolving list that may forever be part of me.  I broke it up between fiction and non-fiction (the latter including biographies, histories, and miscellaneous).


Alcott, Louisa May:
Little Women

Austen, Jane:
Pride and Prejudice

Bronte, Charlotte:
Jane Eyre

Burnett, Frances Hodgson:
The Secret Garden

Bunyan, John:
Pilgrim's Progress

Cather, Willa:
O Pioneers!
My Antonia

Don Quixote

Crane, Stephen:
The Red Badge of Courage

Defoe, Daniel:
Robinson Crusoe

Dickens, Charles:
A Christmas Carol
A Tale of Two Cities
Oliver Twist

Dostoevsky, Fyodor:
Crime and Punishment

Ellison, Ralph:
Invisible Man

Fitzgerald, F. Scott:
The Great Gatsby

Flaubert, Gustave:
Madame Bovary

Forster, E.M:
Howards End

Golding, William:
Lord of the Flies

Grahame, Kenneth:
Wind in the Willows

Hardy, Thomas:
Far From the Madding Crowd
Return of the Native

Hawthorne, Nathaniel:
The Scarlet Letter

Hosseini, Khalid:
A Thousand Splendid Suns

Hurston, Zora Neale:
Their Eyes Were Watching God

Lee, Harper
To Kill a Mockingbird

Melville, Herman:

Miller, Arthur:
The Crucible

Mitchell, Margaret:
Gone with the Wind

Orwell, George:

Pasternak, Boris:
Doctor Zhivago

Remarque, Erich Maria:
All Quiet on the Western Front

Stowe, Harriet Beecher:
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Twain, Mark:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Tolstoy, Leo:
War and Peace
Anna Karenina

Wharton, Edith:
The Age of Innocence
The House of Mirth

Wilder, Laura Ingalls
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

Woolf, Virginia:
The Voyage Out

Zola, Émile:


The Bible


Bauer, Susan Wise:
The Well-Trained Mind 
The Well-Educated Mind 

Beamer, Lisa:
Let's Roll

Boom, Corrie Ten:
The Hiding Place

Bradford, William:
Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647

Capote, Truman:
In Cold Blood

Columbus, Christopher:
The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus

Conway, Jill Ker:
The Road from Coorain

Douglass, Frederick:
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Frank, Anne:
The Diary of a Young Girl

Gatto, John Taylor:
The Underground History of American Education

Hillenbrand, Laura:

Jacobs, Harriet:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Johnson, Paul:
A History of the American People

Lewis, C.S.:
Mere Christianity

Lewis, Meriwether & Clark, William:
The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Malcolm X:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley

Metaxas, Eric:
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Nafisi, Azar:
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

Sarton, May:
Journal of a Solitude

Schaeffer, Francis:
How Shall We Then Live?

Thomas, Clarence:
My Grandfather's Son

Thoreau, Henry David:

Washington, Booker T.:
Up From Slavery

Wiesel, Elie:

Woolf, Virginia:
A Room of One's Own

So . . . what is your personal canon?

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer Reads

Top Summer Reads

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

The Kite Runner - Hosseini

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Solzhenitsyn

The Republic - Plato

The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis (already reading)

This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Maybe as many of the Little House books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder,
as I can manage, but I am not really sure it will happen. 
What do you hope to read this summer?

Friday, May 19, 2017

If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty

If You Can Keep It:
The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty
Eric Metaxas
published 2016

I have begun reading books to get me into the revolutionary spirit for my next school year.  The first is If You Can Keep It, by Eric Metaxas.  It is a quick read, which surprised me given the heavy topic at hand, and since Bonhoeffer and Amazing Grace, both by Metaxas, are much longer reads. Nonetheless, I am not complaining.  One may consider it a primer on the issue.

The title is from a question posed by a Mrs. Powell to Benjamin Franklin, after the close of the Constitutional Convention, in 1787: "Well, doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?" Franklin replied, "A republic, madam--if you can keep it."

Metaxas reminds his readers that America was an experiment, founded on an idea -- an idea that had never been tried before, and one that must be maintained by the citizens in order to last.  America is a promise to all future Americans that "the people themselves would have to do a lot to make it work.  A government in which the people would govern themselves would be fragile and would require the people's attention in a way that no other government would."  The experiment was in liberty, or more specifically: SELF-GOVERNMENT.  

You have heard of American exceptionalism.  This really boils the blood of some, but that is because they do not understand it.  American exceptionalism, according to Metaxas, demands that America be an example to the rest of the world.  It is a not just for our sake, but for others.  If we are to keep the republic (alive and well), we must live up to its standards.  It has nothing to do with privilege, but rather it is a principle we work toward, and in turn has enabled us to help others.

Government is necessary, but self-government is required to ward off tyrannous government.  This next bit of info was interesting: our Founders had an extensive understanding of biblical history.  They knew man was fallen and they knew he could be redeemed.  Therefore, because man was fallen, the structure of government must be limited so that "fallen and selfish human desire for power worked against itself."

Back to self-government: the Founders understood that free religion was essential to good government.  Truly religious people were less likely to break the law.  The first settlement in America was composed of a deeply religious people seeking religious freedom, and it is this freedom to believe -- and not coercion -- that makes people free and desire to excel.  The Founders understood that freedom and religion were synonymous in purpose and principle.  See, and right here I thought: that is what makes Islam incompatible with our Constitution because people must generally be coerced to follow Islam; there is no liberty in Islam.  But Metaxas did not discuss this; it just made sense to me.

The more one practiced self-government (obeying the law and practicing good will), the less need there would be for a burdensome, strong-armed central government.  But freedom in self-government does not give one license to do whatever he or she likes; and therefore, there must be limits on freedom.  At the same time, we cannot simply export American exceptionalism to other nations expecting them to convert into a mini-America.  Metaxas states,
so much needs to be in place to make what we call freedom and self-government to work than to simply tell someone he is free and bid him govern himself . . . There are tremendous responsibilities that come with self-government.
In addition, government cannot make people behave; but the less the citizens do for themselves, the more often government will pick up the slack.  Oh, boy!  How that has happened to America!  This is why Americans must guard their freedoms.  If a people do not exercise their opportunities and responsibilities, they will lose it, forget how, and finally fail to pass it on to the next generation.  It is why we simply cannot free people in other nations who have not the desires for or notions of the responsibilities of liberty and self-government.  Alexis de Tocqueville calls these desires and notions "habits of the heart," and it is why morality and true religion are so important for self-governing people.
If you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart.
If a people are not prepared for the great responsibilities of their freedom, it will not work.  For the American people of 1776 and 1787, the Founders believed "the citizens were prepared for what they had been given," and that "the great freedoms of the republic they had made possible required keeping.  The Founders were right in trusting that we would keep the republic and would cultivate the habits of the heart.  But it was impossible for the Founders to see where after two centuries the things that were secure in their day would change."  Metaxas then asks: "What, then, is now to be done?  What then, are we to do?"

The author then describes the Golden Triangle of virtue, faith, and freedom.  Virtue is a high moral standard, and was once extremely popular in America.  It was demanded of every citizen, young and old, male and female, and it was part of the American culture.  Faith was necessary to motivate people beyond the law.  Tocqueville recognized that there was "no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America."  That was because the authority in men's hearts was to God, not a forced obedience to man or government of men.  And finally there is freedom, which had everything to do with religious liberty -- that is, to recognize God as Creator and His moral law, but to worship in his own way.

Next, there is a whole chapter on George Whitefield and his influence on America, which was fascinating.  There is another chapter on Heroes and how America has gone from venerating great men (and women) to now doubting them and focusing on their faults -- men like Nathan Hale and Paul Revere.  Oh, and there is a chapter on the Importance of Moral Leaders.  Wow, we have fallen short in that tradition.  Our republic was founded on the principle of moral men and women, people of character, with good "habits of the heart."  How can we expect to last if we continue in immorality and perversion and corruption, both leaders and citizens alike?  (I just threw that in there.)  If we are not following that higher standard demanded of us by our Constitution, who will be left to uphold it, protect it, defend it, and pass it on to other generations or even be an example to other nations and people?

Return to American Exceptionalism: Did you know it was that darn Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who coined the term in the first place?  Blame him!  He said our position in the world is what made us exceptional, "and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one."  But why?  

1.  Because America was founded on a universal creed that all men are created equal and that America exists only by consent of the governed.  We are a merit-based society where people are not treated based on family or race or beliefs, but rather one has mobility in society, as he pleases (and I would add, as God pleases);  2.  because America has thrived in freedom and extraordinary wealth; and 3. because America values the individual over the state, including leaders who are beholden to the same law as the citizen.*  (*Cough, choke.)

Then Metaxas talks about the Shining City on a Hill remark and how we are a beacon of light to those seeking liberty, freedom, and opportunity, in which so many immigrants have benefited.  Here I would like to add my own observations.  I am grateful to be an American and that my grandparents and all four sets of great-grandparents came to America from Italy.  But immigrants of the late 1800s and early 1900s were different: they wanted to assimilate to America, and they raised their children to be American.  Many of today's immigrants have no interest in incorporating into the distinct American culture, but instead are changing it.  Add that to the destructive sediment of American citizens that America is evil and her history is sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic, and essentially must die.  Don't worry; America is dissolving.  We cannot keep our republic under the current climate.  Those immigrating to America and the ones drastically seeking to wipe her clean will eventually find a very hostile place to live in time because there will be nothing to unite people any longer.  Like President Lincoln said, "
If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.
But I digress.  

There is a final chapter on loving America.  Lincoln made a reference to "mystic chords of memory" when addressing the nation during his Inauguration, 1860.  Lincoln was talking about the things that unify people as a nation.  It is a love of country.  Here is a great question: if God calls us to love our enemies, can we not also apply that to our country?  I am reminded of Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn and his love of Russia, even when his Communist government sent him to Siberia for treason.  I think of Azar Nafisi and her love for Iran, the country she had to leave because those in leadership took away her freedom and individualism.

We can love our country, even with all her faults.  We are to love others the same way.  The key is to also admit there is good, too.  Be grateful God has given the gift of liberty and that you still have a country with freedoms left.  In the words of the author,
the love of what is good and true and beautiful in anything will become the portal through which we love all that is good and true and beautiful beyond it.
The bottom line is this: the Founders designed a government that was only as good as the  citizens who participated.  If the voters send inept, ignorant, unethical, self-serving, corrupted men and women to government, and in turn forget their own moral obligation to be virtuous citizens who understand the responsibility of liberty, then the experiment of self-government will surely fail.  Only if we maintain a citizenry always willing and able to rise to the occasion to protect and cherish our history, our country, and our neighbors, is there a better chance of us keeping the republic.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Mother's Day Freebie

Mother's Day Freebie: Books for a Mother's Soul

Of the books I own and have read, these first five books encouraged me - the (home schooling) mom - and have inspired my heart in some good way.  

The other seven (I know, I could not stop at five) also touched my heart (and not always in a joyful or peaceful way either): some were narrated by a child, some demonstrated the vulnerability of a child, and others featured the relationship between a mother (or foster mother) and a child.  These are books that may affect a mother quite differently than a reader who is not.  

1. Honey for a Child's Heart - Gladys Hunt

2. When You Rise Up - RC Sproul, Jr. 

3. The Mother at Home - John S.C. Abbott

4. "Don't Make Me Count to Three!
A Mom's Look at Heart-Oriented Discipline - Ginger Plowman

5. A Mom Just Like You: The Home Schooling Mother - 
Vickie Farris and Jayme Farris Metzgar

6. Anne Frank's Diary - Anne Frank

7. Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe

8. Little Woman - Louisa May Alcott

9. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

11. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

12. The Little House series - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Great Gatsby: A Read-Along via The Edge of the Precipice

Coming June 1, 2017

I don't know what you are doing this summer, but it is time for me to reread The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Gratefully, Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice is hosting this read-along, June 1-30, and I am super excited already.  Summer cannot come soon enough.  : )  No sign up necessary, but you can stop by Hamlette's blog for more info.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: "Judge a Book by Its Cover"

Cover Theme Freebie: "Judge a Book by its Cover"

I have to complain a little.  There are not many books I own in the specific editions I would have chosen had I purchased them brand new.  Most of my books are ex-library or used book sales.  I did find at least more than ten that stand out the most.  Obviously, I am drawn to painted artwork.  I prefer simple designs and rich color, but I do not have a great collection of books worthy to be judged based on their covers.  These are ones that I visually appreciate the most:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis

Mere Christianity is a collection of wartime radio talks given by C. S. Lewis between 1942 and 1944. Lewis makes the case for Christianity by describing its universal and foundational principles.  He presents his case as an objective observer and uses logic to find truth.  It is divided into four books.

Book One:  Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

People know basic right from wrong (the Law of Nature) because it is natural to them; and man was born with the Law written on his heart (italicized comment mine).  Different civilizations have understood the Law of Nature because people expect to be treated decently by others and "we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so -- that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility (blame others for our bad behavior)."

Lewis makes two important points:
First, that human beings . . . have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.  Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. 
The reality and dilemma are that man knows he must behave as a moral being, but he does not do so.

Lewis examines the Law.  He presents two basic beliefs: a materialistic (evolutionary) view that says everything just was and nobody understands why, and the other is religious, which says the universe was made by something like "a mind" - something with consciousness, purpose, and preferences.

Again, man knows he is under a moral law.  We know this because we are human beings who feel this influence within our selves.  We have a moral conscience that urges us to do right and makes us guilty when we do wrong.

Here is our dilemma:
If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless.  But if it is, then we are making our selves enemies to that goodness every day . . . and so our case is hopeless again.
Man's situation is desperate, and the remedy is Christianity, explains Lewis.
[Christianity] "offer[s] an explanation of how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it.  [It] offer[s] an explanation of how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the Moral Law and yet also a Person.  [It] tell[s] you how the demands of this law, which you and I cannot meet, have been met on our behalf, [and] how God Himself becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God.  
 Book Two: What Christians Believe

Christians believe in [a] God who created the universe and everything in it, though He is also separate from the universe.  God is good, and those things that are bad are "contrary to His will."

Next, Lewis introduces "Christianity-and-water," (what I call "watered-down Christianity"). Watered-down Christianity focuses on the easy and good truths, and "leaves out difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and . . . redemption."

God gave man free will - though free will is what makes evil possible - but it is also the only thing that makes any love, goodness, or joy worth having.  Meanwhile, man cannot be happy apart from God.  "He . . . is the food our spirits were designed to feed on."

Lewis demonstrates that Jesus claimed to be God; that He always existed; that He forgives sins: and that He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.
You must make your choice.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about [Jesus] being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.
Next, Lewis deals with the question: What was the purpose for Jesus' coming?

The short answer: The central Christian belief is that Christ's death (and resurrection) allows man to be at peace with God.  I remind my children that the Christmas story about the birth of Jesus was not so there would be peace between men on earth - like so many misinterpret - rather, the angel proclaimed that Jesus brought peace between God and man, to all who obey Him.

Lewis explains that if God became man (Jesus), "He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God."

The conclusion of His work (on the cross) means a new life for man.  There are two different people in the world: the one who does not believe, but is trying to be good in hopes of appeasing God, if He exists (in one's mind), or at least to receive approval from man (if they do not believe in God); and the other, a Christian, who knows any good he does comes from the Christ-life (God's spirit) that lives inside of him.

Book Three: Christian Behavior

Next, Lewis describes morality as something that interferes and prevents us from enjoying [our natural inclinations].  Morality is important for justice and peace between individuals; balancing out our inner thoughts and ideas; and working out our general purposes in life.

There are seven virtues.  The first four, most civilized people agree on: prudence (common sense), temperance (self-control), justice (honesty), and fortitude (courage).  He talks about the last three later.

Lewis explains that God focuses on the heart-attitude of a virtue rather than the behavior of a virtue. He said, "the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a virtue, and it is this quality or character that really matters."  In other words, it is not enough to just obey; obedience is not only for this world.  The heart must change completely, for good and forever.

Lewis reiterates that The Golden Rule is what every man/philosophy/civilization/religion has always known to be true - again, because the Law (says God) has been written (preprogrammed) on their hearts.

About that inward change, Lewis states:
I may repeat 'Do as you would be done by' till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbor as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbor as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him.
"Human beings judge one another by their external actions; God judges them by their moral choices."  When a Christian grows, he understand more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.

Under the virtue of temperance, Lewis expounds on charity, which includes loving our neighbor.  The key to loving our neighbor is having a desire to believe all the good you can of others and to put their needs before your own.

Regarding the excellent chapter on marriage, Lewis demonstrates that "being in love" is temporary, and should be taught as such.  Being in love (which is only a feeling) does not last forever, and when it is gone, then what?  Being in love is good, but it is not the most important; but "ceasing to be in love does not mean ceasing to love."
[Love] is a deep unity, reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.  They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.  
Being in love first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.
Lewis said his self-love makes him think himself nice, and that is why he loves himself.  But when he does things he hates, he does not cease loving himself. When he applies this to loving his neighbor, he remembers he does not have to like everything his neighbor does, but he may still wish him well and good.  That is what the Bible means about loving and forgiving our neighbor.

Of pride, the author says this vice leads to every other vice.  "It is the complete anti-God state of mind."  Pride is what makes us feel more important than all others.  Pride means you are at war with man and God.  It is "spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."  Lewis warns: if you cannot admit you are conceited, that means you are "very conceited indeed."  It would be best if you would forget yourself, though that is not an easy to do. More on that later.

The final three virtues are faith, hope, and charity.  Returning to charity, Lewis describes it as Christian love.  He ties in the love we have for ourselves and reminds us that it means we always wish for our own good, even when we do not like ourselves.

Again, the secret to loving others is to forget trying to figure out if you love your neighbor: act as if you did.  The difference between a worldly man and a Christian is this: worldly man demonstrates affections for others depending on how they like them, whereas a Christian has only charity, treating all people with kindness.

Feelings are not what concern God, as much as obedience (which is directly connected with a heart attitude).  Treating someone as if you loved them will ultimately lead to a heart change.  If we aim to do God's will, obeying His Laws, God will change our hearts, if He pleases.  It is not our power to control our feelings, nor should we demand them as our right.

Lewis describes hope as a continual looking forward to the eternal world - God's promise to us.

And Lewis calls faith belief, which is "holding on to thoughts your reason has once accepted, despite your changing moods."  That is why Christians must daily pray and read Scripture, and go to Church to be reminded of what they believe.  A Christian recognizes that he cannot meet God's standards, no matter how much he tries.  There is a change from being assured of his own efforts to leaving it to God.  It means, trusting Him without worry.  It means not being obedient in order to be saved, but "because he has begun to save you already."

Book Four: Beyond Personality

In this last book, Lewis talks about theology.  He calls theology a map, and we must use it to make it work.

Lewis talks about the word "beget," which means "comes from."  Christ is the Son of God 'begotten, not created, . . . begotten by his Father.'  "What God begets is God; what man begets is man."  Christ is God, but man is created by God.

Then Lewis explains that man's purpose is to be "taken into the life of God."  Lewis compared the three persons of God to a cube.  Just as there are six squares that make up one cube, there are three persons that make one Being.
God is the thing to which [man] is praying - he is trying to reach (God the Father). God is also the things inside him which is pushing him on - the motive power (the Holy Spirit).  God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal (God the Son).  So the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on . . . in an ordinary man . . . saying his prayers.
The Son exists because the Father exists.  The third Person of God is the Holy Spirit, which is the corporate behavior of God, which is what resides inside a person once he believes.

Lewis makes this case for the purpose of becoming a Christian:
We are not begotten by God, we are only made by Him: in our natural state we are not sons of God . . . that we can . . . come to share in the life of Christ.  If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which is begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist.  If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God.  We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us.  [Jesus] came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has.  
Lewis says the Son of God is working at your side, "injecting" His kind of life and thought into you. That is what the Bible means when it talks about 'having the mind of Christ,' being 'born again' or 'putting on Christ.'

Like I said before, I think, Lewis said, giving your whole self - your desires, your loves, even the things you hate about yourself - to God is difficult, almost impossible.  We love our personal happiness, and we want to let our own mind have its own way.  Nonetheless, we cannot be perfect, and the only help God offers us is to help us become perfect, His way.  Those who let Him change them will be made perfect, though not entirely in this life.  The more man tries to live on his own, without Him, the more he is controlled by his natural desires, which will ultimately result in his ruin.

The End

This is totally long, I know, and I do not blame anyone for skipping it, unless you are unreservedly interested in my interpretation of this work.  I absolutely enjoyed it so much that I could not cut down my notes.  I wanted to share as much of it as I could.  It is just amazing how someone can take a difficult, complex, unpopular topic and make it easy and pleasant to read and comprehend.  He explained the Trinity simply enough, which I have struggled to understand and explain since I have become a Christian.  And I am so grateful.  I loved everything about Mere Christianity.  Thank you, C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Classics Book Tag

Jillian tagged me for this bookish questionnaire, "The Classics Book Tag."  I will answer, to the best of my ability, these ten bookish questions regarding the classic books in my life.

1.   An over-hyped classic you never really liked :

(That's putting it mildly.)  I loathe Wuthering Heights.  And now I can say that because I have read it.

2.  Favorite time period to read about :

I am assuming this refers to a literary/historical period.  I probably can find something about every period that would make it a favorite - which changes with the seasons - but I hardly can say which one I like more.

While I do appreciate the Ancients, they may be my least favorite.  And then modern or contemporary, though that may be because I have spent the least time with the moderns; however, that is changing, too.

Maybe I can narrow it down to Medieval, Colonial and Pioneer America, Victorian England, and Early 1900s America.

3.  Favorite fairytale :

Not too much of a fairytale person, and I do not know if this is a fairy tale : I remember my dad narrating the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk over and over and over again when I was a kid.  I was fascinated by Jack escaping the giant just in time.

4.  What is the most embarrassing classic you have not read?

For the longest time it was Wuthering Heights.  Now I embarrassed to admit that I have not read any Sherlock Holmes, or Homer, Dante, or Virgil, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or any of the actual plays of Shakespeare.

5.  Top five classics you want to read :

  1.  The Little House series - Laura Ingalls Wilder (I am craving this and I want to stop everything and read it all over again.) 
  2.  This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3.  The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (I'm re-reading this for Hamlette's read-along, beginning in June.)
  4.  To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (I've decided to re-read this, too, for summer.)
  5.  The Diary of Anne Frank  (I should just re-read it this summer also.)  

6.  Favorite modern book or series based on a classic :

This I have nothing.

7.  Favorite movie version or TV series based on a classic :

I love them all the same:  Far From the Madding Crowd, Doctor Zhivago, Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, Gone With the Wind, The Last of the Mohicans, To Kill a Mockingbird, North and South, Out of Africa, A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and The Crucible.

8.  Worst classic to movie adaptation :

Madam Bovary 2015.  Absolutely horrid!  : P

9.  Favorite editions you would like to collect more of :

The Puffin in Bloom collection.  I only have a smorgasbord of used books, none of the Puffin in Bloom.  I do have many of the Barnes and Noble Classics because they are affordable.

10. An under-hyped classic :

This one I am stuck on.  I'll think . . .


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
Published 1847

As I neared the end of the final chapter of Wuthering Heights, I knew instantly that there would be nothing good I felt compelled to say about it.  I raced to the finish line because it could not be over fast enough.  

What was Emily Brontë thinking? 

This torn copy has been part of my bookshelf for ten years, and due to the overwhelming negativity concerning the story, I avoided it for that long.  I did read a few chapters six years ago, but never went beyond that.  This time, however, I was truly excited to finally find out what the hype was about, and now I know.  I know for sure that I will never read this book again.  

Immediately it began in an interesting direction, and I was delighted already.  But just as suddenly, it took a dark, wicked downward turn and spiraled from there.  It became more and more ugly, and dark and dirty (not in a sexual way -- although the cousin thing is a little weird).  

Every character is horrid, HORRID, horrid.  Even the most normal character, Nelly, is ridiculous and unbelievable.  How could she have loved any of those people and used that as an excuse to stay? Heathcliff is absolutely detestable; he is the vilest of men.  His behavior is so outrageous that he is more like an evil force than a human being.  Some of the younger characters appeared immature for their age, which bothered me, too.  And Joseph was so incoherent that I had to skip over his arrogant rambles.  

The ugliness of the characters spoiled my reading experience so much that I could not appreciate the gothic elements of the setting or the writing style.  It is apparent that Emily Brontë can write well, but what she wrote about is perplexing.  The story sucked the life out of me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Azar Nafisi
Published 2003

I LOVE THIS STORY!!!  Where do I begin?  

This true story is a unique and intimate memoir by a woman, Azar Nafisi, who lived in Iran during the Islamic Revolution (1978-81), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), and thereafter.  It is her own personal journey of life in Iran as a university professor of literature (between 1979-87), and later as a friend to seven young female students who met weekly to read and discuss Western literature in the privacy of her home (1995-97), and finally to her difficult decision to leave Iran and emigrate to the United States (1997).  

Nafisi (center) and "her girls" in Iran

Reading Lolita in Tehran is broken up into four sections that represent different ideas, themes, and periods of the author's life.  It is not in chronological order. 


Nafisi begins a private book club with "her girls," seven young serious women whom she deliberately chose to discuss great works of literature at her home.  The setting is sometimes somber as the women use literature to make sense of life in the Islamic Republic.  Nafisi told her students that "these great works of imagination could help [them] in [their] present trapped situation as women."  At the end of this section, Nafisi uses Invitation to a Beheading by Nabokov to express their existence with the Islamic Republic:
The only way to leave the circle, to stop dancing with the jailer, is to find a way to preserve one's individuality, the unique quality which evades descriptions but differentiates one human being from the other.  [The State] invaded all private spaces and tried to shape every gesture, to force us to become one of them, and that in itself was another form of execution.


Backtrack to the Revolutionary period.  Teaching literature at the University of Tehran, Nafisi explained to her students that "great works of the imagination were meant to make you feel like a stranger in your own home.  The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed to be immutable." 

During this time, she rejected Islam as a political entity.  She said the veil "had now become an instrument of power, turning the women who wore them into political signs and symbols."  She said, "The Islamic Revolution . . . did more damage to Islam by using it as an instrument of oppression than any alien ever could have done."
It is only through literature that one can put oneself in someone else's shoes and understand the other's different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless.  Outside the sphere of literature only one aspect of individuals is revealed.  But if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them . . .
The students of Nafisi's university class put the novel, The Great Gatsby, on trial.  Some students claimed they had to read Gatsby to understand that adultery was immoral, but Nafisi contradicted: 
A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.
She also discovered that Iran's fate was that of Gatsby's.  "[Gatsby] wanted to fulfill his dream by repeating the past and . . . he discovered the past was dead, the present a sham, and there was no future.  Was this not similar to our revolution, which had come in the name of our collective past and had wrecked our lives in the name of a dream?"

Nafisi called The Great Gatsby the quintessential American novel.  "We in ancient countries have our past - we obsess over the past.  They, the Americans, have a dream: they feel nostalgia about the promise of the future."  The ability to dream had been extinguished from the Iranian people.

During the Revolution, women became the punching bag or pawn of the new Iranian theocratic leadership, even though men felt the iron fist of government, too. No longer were women able to choose to wear the veil or not (as some did choose to wear it for religious symbolism), but now they must also wear a black robe to cover themselves entirely.  It was like a cloak of invisibility; all individual creativity was stolen from the people, though women mainly felt the brunt of that MAN-MADE statute.

Iran was being purged of everything Westernized - because the West invented immorality [insert SarcMark] - so you can imagine how challenging it was for Nafisi to continue teaching Western literature to her students.  She saw no other way to think about and teach fiction than through Western literature, and she never compromised her ideas.  Eventually, Iran began closing the universities.


Iran was now involved in a war with Iraq, which lasted eight years; their enemies: fellow Muslims.  

This is when Nafisi is expelled for refusing to obey the mandatory veil law.  To Nafisi, the Ayatollah "decided to impose his dream on a country and a people to re-create [women] in his own myopic vision.  So he had formulated an ideal of me as a Muslim woman, as a Muslim woman teacher, and wanted me to look, act, and in short, live according to that ideal."  It was not the veil that she rejected, "it was the transformation being imposed upon [her] that made [her] look in the mirror and hate the stranger [she] had become."  

The Ayatollah was more concerned with perception than truth.  (This reminds me of Matthew 23, when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who only cared about what their morality looked like in public, but inside they were hypocrites.  They only cared about the "outside of the cup.")  

During her time away from teaching, she wrote and focused on her family; but there seemed a great disappointment and void in her life.  When universities were permitted to reopen their doors and search for professors, she returned to teach literature at a different university, which was quite a fascinating experience; but she later resigned and eventually started her private book club.


Finally, return to the period during "Lolita."  This  last section is all for the women of Iran.  Nafisi compiled the themes of discussions "her girls" had had about marriage, being in love, and desiring freedom.  Unfortunately, after the Revolution, Sharia law had replaced existing law.  A man was permitted to have up to four wives and temporary wives on the side (because . . . convenience).  He could beat his wife, and it would be her fault.  Mothers had no rights to their children.  This is what Nafisi's "girls" had to consider.  No wonder they all wanted to leave Iran.  But through the works of Jane Austen, they could pretend. That is what life in Iran had been reduced to.

It is during this regretful time that Nafisi decided to leave "her girls," her home, Iran, and go to America.  

Azar Nafisi

This is only a small portion of the story.  Nafisi's journey is profound and individualized.  When I read some negative reviews on Goodreads, I realized that some readers will never connect or understand how deeply personal this story is.  I am grateful I was able to appreciate it; I know what it means to use literature to define seasons of your life, be they full of joy or disappointment.  I will read this book over and over again.  


This story caused me to think about the recent political protests in America.  Feminist/Leftists and political Muslims are marching in union and using one another to push their contradictory agendas; though one day this union will come crashing down because both actually oppose each other.  In the meantime, non-Muslim women treat religious headscarves like trendy beanies, chant "Allahu Akbar" for political slogans, or bow down during the Muslim call to prayer (like Eloi in the Time Machine being summoned underground).  If nothing else, this should offend Muslims, but for now it is deliberately expedient. 

Nonetheless, uninformed American women should read Reading Lolita in Tehran

They need someone who lived under political Islam to expose them to what it feels like when individuality, livelihood, sanity, hope, future, imagination, creativity, liberty, spirit, and life are snuffed out (by men, no less).  Not suggesting that Nafisi was preaching against Islam - she was not (Her focus was on books; she LOVES literature.) - I am the one saying that there is enough evidence to prove political Islam is disguised as a religion and does not have a favorable history toward women.  Some Americans are dangerously oblivious to this, and they need to have their eyes opened. Stories like Azar Nafisi's may help.


For a fascinating interview with the author about her book :

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Histories by Herodotus

The Histories
Herodotus (translator: David Grene)
Written 440 BC
The Well-Educated Mind (Histories); 
Back to the Classics Challenge (Published before 1800)
The Classics Club II
The Manly Reading List

I have no interest in writing this post.  I did not chew on The Histories, nor did I digest it; rather I deficiently tasted it, I admit.  It was a long, laborious read, with occasional moments of fascination about ancient culture, which I preferred.  The bulk of it was about the Greco-Persian conflicts.

I am more anxious to get this over with; therefore, here are some of the questions provided by Susan Wise Bauer from TWEM that I attempted very poorly to consider.

Level I:

* Who is the author, and does he/she state the purpose for writing?  

Herodotus is a writer of Greek history who lived during the 5th century BC, and his given purpose for writing The Histories was to preserve the history of the Greeks and non-Greek populations, including the discoveries, achievements, and accomplishments of man, as well as the causes of the Greek and Persian conflicts.

* Who is the story about, and what are the major events?

The Histories covers Ancient and Greek history through the Greco-Persian Wars, using a mode of investigation, subjective oral histories and folk tales, and other hearsay.  Herodotus incorporates the cultural ways of the people and nations in and around the Mediterranean and Asia Minor and the numerous ongoing conflicts and wars between the Persians and the Greeks. 

Skipping Level II questions because I just want to get this over with.

Level III:

* What does it mean to be human?

This question focuses on what the author considers is a specific characteristic of human beings.  In this case it is having success, control, and power over others.  The most powerful conquer, and those who conquer are the most important.  In addition, to be a warrior and to die in battle is honorable.

* Why do things go wrong?

Things go wrong when man becomes arrogant and greedy for power; power is fleeting.

* What place does free will have?

What free will?  As is all too common in history - and no different for the civilizations featured in The Histories - people were dominated by a government (or kingdom) that controlled them.  People did not have a say in what their kings or leaders did.  Human sacrifice was also part of ancient cultural traditions. (Some traditions are really ignorant.)   

* What is the end of history?

Is there any hope for humanity after reading The Histories?  Yes and no.  All of these civilizations are gone.  Like power, governments and civilizations do not last long.  Most change hands and morph into something else, either equally bad or little better.  In this case, Herodotus ends off with this:
"From soft countries come soft men.  It is not possible that from the same land stems a growth of wondrous fruit and men who are good soldiers."  So the Persians took this to heart and went away; their judgement had been overcome by that of Cyrus, and they chose to rule, living in a wretched land, rather than to sow the level plains and be slaves to others.  
So, in other words - I think - the Persian leader(s) did not learn their lesson, nor did they care about anything but power.  And man still has not learned.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books On My Spring TBR

Ten (well, eight) Books On My Spring TBR

I'm reading some chunksters right now (or quite soon), so I didn't make it to ten; it would be a miracle to get through all of these during spring.  

The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky
Still reading this.  Hope to be done by end of spring.

The Book of Pirates - Pyle
Reading this very slowly with my nine-year old.

Wuthering Heights - Bronte
Can not wait to get to this to see what all the kerfuffle is about.

Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis
Looking forward to this, finally.

The Old Man and the Sea - Hemingway
Rereading this again - this time to my kids.  
Excited to see what they think.

The Peloponnesian War - Thucydides
NOT looking forward to this.

The Kite Runner - Hosseini

The Republic - Plato
Don't know what to say about this,
except I probably won't get to it until summer.