**spoiler alert** This is one of the most bizarre books I’ve read, but I enjoyed the story and admired the writing. The story is full of sex and viole...more**spoiler alert** This is one of the most bizarre books I’ve read, but I enjoyed the story and admired the writing. The story is full of sex and violence, yet it did not offend me. Some passages read like poetry. Some read like realistic fiction; then suddenly the story turns mystical and fantastical. The unrealistic events are told in the same straightforward style as the rest of the story, so they seem natural and jolting at the same time. The effect is to make the whole world seem full of wonders. Everything under the sun— from ants to love to ice to a train to death—are at once farfetched and believable, transcendent and mundane.
The novel traces several generations of the Buendia family and their life in a village somewhere in South America. The founder of the village and his wife Ursula are the initial characters. They and their descendents are all destined to a “solitary calling” in one form or another—some through madness, some through war, some through their own rigidity or excesses. The solitude in the title seems to mean isolation, singularity, lack of love and connection and mutual understanding, and especially pride. Each lives in a “paradise of misery.” locked in his own pride and self-deception.
1. “A dominant obsession can prevail against death.” Examples of dominant obsessions in the story include prayer, little gold fishes, partying, fighting off ants and termites, going to war, discovering new inventions, and weaving. The passion put to use in these strange preoccupations is what makes up life, what keeps people from succumbing.
2. Prophecy can give us clues about the future, but only by actually living out the events can we understand their meaning and the see way they will be fulfilled. Some members of the Buendia family are clairvoyant, and some are students of ancient manuscripts that they devote endless hours to trying to decipher, but not until the final paragraph, actually the final sentence of the book, does the meaning of the prophesies become clear.
3. Time is cyclical and linear at the same time. The author calls attention to repeating evens as the generations pass and points out recurring characteristics in each succeeding generation. Yet characters die and are replaced by new family members and time marches on. And although the spirits of the dead are present in the family home, their turn on this life is over because life is “unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did no have a second opportunity on earth.”
4. There is an endless struggle between civilization and nature, and nature definitely has the upper hand. The Buendia family tries to keep nature—in the form of rye weeds and insects—at bay, but the house is under constant siege and one of the final images is of the ants dragging away the last descendant of the Buendia family. The village is again and again attacked by natural phenomena—a plague of insomnia, four years straight of rain, and finally a wind that destroys the town altogether.
What a strange and fascinating book!
A scientific and philosophical look at these two basic building blocks of all life on earth.
This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for several years and finally picked up this summer. I knew I would like it because I loved this author’s bio...moreThis is a book I’ve been meaning to read for several years and finally picked up this summer. I knew I would like it because I loved this author’s biography of John Adams so much. As it turned out, I could not put 1776 down for the last 100 pages, except when I had to stop to cry for a while and blow my nose. My son came into my room when I had only a few pages left to go. He took one look at the tears streaming down my face and beat a hasty retreat, shaking his head as he went.
I always tell myself that George Washington is too common a hero for me to love. After all, everyone admires him. He’s on the dollar bill, for goodness sake. And part of me wants to be more unique than that, choose a hero fewer would claim. But I can never resist the attraction of Washington’s magnetic personality, his powerful ethos, which he manages to exert even all these years after his death. Jefferson is flawed and problematic as a hero, though a great man. But Washington—I can admire him without reservation. Since I was a little girl writing a fifth grade report about Martha Washington, I have been drawn to George Washington. I feel a sort of kinship with him, as I know many do. I understand the impulse of the patriots who named their children after George Washington and of the newly freed slaves who adopted his last name as their own. It is as if he is every patriot’s own ancestor, each American’s personal founding father.
This book was not just about George Washington, but he is at the heart of it. It's easy to think of men like Washington as icons, but they were flesh and blood, flawed, real. And in getting this up-close view of him, I loved him more because I could see that he was heroic in spite of his being so very human. It was also fascinating to read about the great men Washington surrounded himself with-—Nathaniel Greene, John Reed, and Henry Knox—-and of their loyalty and devotion to their commander. The common soldier in the Continental Army comes off as a hero here too, not idealized, certainly, but in all his faults, able to inspire my deepest gratitude.
This account covers a little more than a year in these men's lives, but how telling a year. It makes me wonder if someone were to write the story of one year from my life, what year would be the most telling? The years we least want to live are those that others would most want to read about—how strange! I suppose that is because, as Abigail Adams wrote, “Affliction is the good man’s shining time.”
God Almighty was definitely a player in this story, as even the determinedly objective historian David McCullough could not refrain from admitting on occasion, such as when he pointed out the miracles of weather and timing that worked together in the American’s favor. Before reading this book I had no idea how much the turning of the weather had helped the American cause at so many junctures.
I appreciate McCullough’s insights and reportage of each side’s perspective, going back and forth between General Howe and General Washington, back and forth across the line between enemies to show what each side was thinking and facing. This strategy made the contrast between the character of Howe and Washington clear, without the author ever directly comparing them. For example, while Washington was longing for his beloved home at Mt. Vernon, General Howe was paying a man to let him keep his wife as a mistress here in America. Howe was a man who “liked his glass, his lass, his game of cards.” Washington was obviously the better man, if not militarily, then morally.
A friend of mine who loves this book says every American child should know the stories of Dorchester Heights and the battle at Trenton. I agree with him and plan to tell my children these stories now that I know them better.
Here are my favorite quotes by and about Washington. Don't read them if you haven't read the book yet! I don't want to spoil their power by pulling them out of context, but if you've already read 1776 you can compare my favorite lines to yours.
“If there are spots on his character, they are like the spots on the sun, only discernible by the magnifying powers of a telescope.” (The Pennsylvania Journal).
“The glorious cause was to a large degree a young man’s cause. The commander in chief of the army, George Washington, was himself only forty-three." (I like this because Washington is young at 43; I am 42! Maybe I still have time to do something interesting with my life.)
“A people unused to restraint must be led, they will not be drove.” (George Washington)
Washington did not like New Englanders. He thought they were dirty, obstreperous, and uncouth. Yet he was a man who could change his opinion and overcome his prejudices as he saw the courage and character of some of his best New England officers. “After the miracle of Dorchester Heights, Washington was never again to speak ill of New Englanders because they were New Englanders.” (David McCullough)
“He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.” (David McCullough)
“My brave fellows,” Washington implored the troops after the victory at Trenton, “you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any other circumstances.”
Again the drums sounded and this time the men began stepping forward. “God Almighty,” wrote Nathaniel Greene, “inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.” (less)
**spoiler alert** The back of this book sums it up well: “Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions,...more**spoiler alert** The back of this book sums it up well: “Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions, and rewards.” The narrative begins on Wang Lung’s wedding day, the moment he opens his eyes in anticipation. It ends as he approaches death, with a hint about what his sons will do with the legacy he leaves them. The scope of the book feels like the cycles of the earth itself, with its seasons, predictable recurrences, and startling surprises.
Wang Lung’s wife O-lan is practically silent and certainly undervalued by everyone in the story. Yet she is actually pivotal. It is when Wang Lung marries O-lan that he really starts to prosper. She economizes, repairs, helps in the fields, in addition to preparing the meals and making the clothes. With O-lan in his life, Wang Lung is much more comfortable and his life has more respectability. With the extra money he is able to save through O-lan’s economy, thrift and help, Wang Lung is able to buy a parcel of land. O-lan bears several sons and daughters to Wang Lung. She cares for his father. She acquires jewels that allow Wang Lung to buy even more land. For a time Wang-Lung loses sight of O-lan's value. He compares her to a beast. He takes from her the little pearls she treasures. He doesn't see that O-lan herself is a pearl of great price in his life, until she nears death and he suddenly comes to his senses. As I think of it, O-lan is much like the land itself—plain, humble, fertile, silent, offering riches!
The life-sustaining power of the earth is the over-arching theme of the book. The land is equated with life itself. As Wang Lung works side-by-side with his new wife in their fields, he feels a union with her and with the earth: “He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over in the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods.” When the couple announces to Wang Lung’s father that O-lan is expecting their first child, he says, “So the harvest is in sight!” The fertility of the land and the body are synonymous. Even the gods Wang Lung worships are fashioned from clay. The earth equals diety, food, prosperity, posterity.
The land also has healing power. Whenever Wang Lung is troubled by family life, when he is love sick for the prostitute Lotus, when he is lonely and afraid in a distant city, it is the land, or the thought of the land, that heals his soul and fills him with hope. Because he owns land, he is someone substantial; he has self-respect. The land he owns makes him valuable, only in his own at first, but eventually to his whole community. When the land is fruitless for a time and Wang Lung and his family have to leave to live in the city, the land pulls on Wang Lung, calling to him, and ultimately bringing him back to his home.
Wang Lung makes many mistakes in this story, but the most portentous is not grounding his own sons to the land. They become a scholar, a merchant, a soldier—but not a farmer among them. None of them care for the land the way Wang Lung does. None of them are emotionally tied to it the way he is. And we know by the end of the book that they will sell Wang Lung’s precious land and that his prophecy will come true: “It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land . . . Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land.” When people forget their humble attachment to and dependence on the land, they forget who they really are. Their lives become unstable and vulnerable. The land—the good earth—is what holds a man up and gives sustenance to his life.
Since the age of 14 I’ve been obsessed with how to make the most of each day, how to use my time to the greatest effect. So I’ve read a fair number of...moreSince the age of 14 I’ve been obsessed with how to make the most of each day, how to use my time to the greatest effect. So I’ve read a fair number of books on this topic and gleaned principles along the way. This is the best book of its kind I have read so far. Maybe I feel this way because David Allen takes a similar approach to my own in getting things done. He confirm that some of my intuitive time-management practices are sound and effective. Allen also taught me how to refine those processes and make them more conscious. And he added new strategies to my repertoire that I am excited to incorporate.
Besides all the practical strategies I got from this book, I relearned an important life principle, this time through the lens of productivity. Tasks you tell yourself to do or projects that you make an agreement with yourself to take care of and then don't do not only clutter your mind and make it hard to concentrate on anything, they actually feel like broken promises to yourself and weigh on your spirit. To have what the author describes as a “mind like water,” meaning a mind that is fluid, creative, relaxed, and capable of sustained attention, requires that you know what you have to do right away and what you have agreed with yourself you can put off. You have to be able to feel good about what you are not doing right now in order to feel good about what you are doing right now.
If you keep agreements with yourself, you will feel peaceful. If you break them you will feel bogged down and guilty. The mind and spirit do not differentiate between small, relatively insignificant tasks, like getting your carpets cleaned, which you told yourself you would do this month or important life resolutions, like spending more time with your children, which you to told yourself you would do this month as well. They are both just broken agreements that weigh on you if you don’t follow through.
So here is the biggest gem from this book: Renegotiate with yourself often. This is how you keep a mind like water. You renegotiate your list. You go through your in-box every day and assign everything a spot. You look at each project on your project list at least once a week, deciding what the next action is and adding it to the appropriate list, determining when you will do it. Allen says that the day most people feel best about their work is the day before they go on vacation because that is when most people take the time to renegotiate their to-do list and reassign every task a spot. You can feel like that all the time if you regularly process your in-box, assign everything a spot, and then frequently renegotiate what will be done and when.
Allen acknowledges that there is never enough time in this life to do everything. But when you have a good system, you can feel peaceful about what you are choosing to do at each moment and enter fully into the experience with attention and presence of mind.
I finished this book a few weeks ago, but I’m still thinking about it and digesting it. This is a novel of ideas, but it is not dry because the charac...moreI finished this book a few weeks ago, but I’m still thinking about it and digesting it. This is a novel of ideas, but it is not dry because the characters are truthfully drawn and the action compelling.
The main character, Howard Roark, is a young, brilliant architect whose life and work embody the ideals of integrity, liberty, individuality, independence of mind, hard work, and originality. “Be true to yourself” could be his motto. As noble as these ideals are, without God as a compass, they can be used to justify violence and crime. I am fascinated by Roark. I admire him. I think I understand him.
The heroine of The Fountainhead is more complex than the straightforward hero, more layered. I admire her and feel repulsed by her at the same time. I'm still trying to understand her motives and make sense of what she learns in the course of the story—something about not caring what others think or worrying about what they see, but living only by your own lights and making choices based on pure, authentic motives. Only her strange version of purity encompasses sexual immorality and marrying for selfish reasons.
Besides the fascinating character studies, what I find most interesting about this book is the depiction of socialists and the way they insert their ideas into a society. The novel’s depiction of socialist methods and motives, especially the use of the arts to promote an agenda, is especially relevant for today.
Rand’s philosophy contains much that is true and valuable. I recommend this book as definitely worth reading and considering. However, I cannot buy into the philosophy entirely because it is godless. Rand swings to the furthest pole away from socialism--toward individualism. Her philosophies are the philosophies of men--rational, intelligent, appealing, but atheistic. Rand unintentionally shows the dangers of placing Self at the center of the universe, in place of God. When we worship human beings as the fountainhead of all progress and truth we are blind to the Truth that transcends poles entirely by marrying opposites in a grand eternal scheme.
What could be more heavenly than reading Jane Austen on a beach in Hawaii? The novel has romance, social commentary, and love letters. I relish the id...moreWhat could be more heavenly than reading Jane Austen on a beach in Hawaii? The novel has romance, social commentary, and love letters. I relish the idea of love letters that reveal all the character cannot say aloud.
Anne is so virtous in character, she is nearly too good to be true, except for one flaw--she is too easily persuaded. While a young person needs a mentor to advise her, part of growing up is learning to evaluate the advice of mentors and even reject it. Part of Anne’s internal struggle is trying to decide if she was right or wrong to follow her mentor’s advice so many years ago to turn down the man she loved. While Anne may have been right to listen at that young and vulnerable age to one who loved her and had her best interests at heart, even if that mentor’s advice was faulty, she now has the maturity and wisdom to make her own decisions and to reject the counsel of a mentor when necessary. In this story youthful willfulness is set up against caution and judgment; the story shows the limitations and benefits of both.
Through the father and older sister, Austen satirizes the vanity of living for appearances only. Through the false suitor, she denounces materialism without principles. Beauty, position, title, money—all of these matter much in Austen’s world, but all are empty and shallow without character to undergird them. (less)
This story is almost an allegory, the nameless Old Man almost a Christ figure. His adversary is ostensibly a large fish, but metaphorically, it is def...moreThis story is almost an allegory, the nameless Old Man almost a Christ figure. His adversary is ostensibly a large fish, but metaphorically, it is defeat. That is what the old man fights against—giving in to bad luck, fatigue, old age, a worthy opponent whose strength matches his own, self-doubt, and finally unexpected sharks who steal his catch.
The lions the Old Man dreams of are a symbol of a transcendent kind of success, virility, and courage. The Old Man does not bring home the catch. He hasn’t brought home a catch in a long time. Many think he is a failure. But what he lacks in outer success, wealth, and status, he makes up for in dignity and strength of character. He has no family, no money. He barely has a home, just a hovel. But we do not pity him. No, we admire him. The reader ends up feeling much like the young apprentice, his disciple—devoted and anxious to learn what the Old Man can teach—how to stand strong in the face of opposition, how to face defeat with grace and dignity, how to be authentically and contentedly ourselves.
Just as Christ seemed by all outward appearances to have been defeated when He was put to death by his enemies, while in actuality He was the Victor, so the Old Man is victorious in the only way really matters—in the crucible of the heart. (less)
This was the third or fourth time I've read this book. This time I listened to a recording in the car. Fascinating to read during this election period...moreThis was the third or fourth time I've read this book. This time I listened to a recording in the car. Fascinating to read during this election period. Times have changed, but principles stay the same. (less)
Fascinating analysis and excellent writing. I'll never look at food the same way again. Read this book if you are interested in food--where it comes f...moreFascinating analysis and excellent writing. I'll never look at food the same way again. Read this book if you are interested in food--where it comes from, the processes it goes through, how it gets to us, and why any of that matters. (less)
We read this book aloud to our children and then met to discuss it with other families. It was interesting to sit in a room with four families, sharin...moreWe read this book aloud to our children and then met to discuss it with other families. It was interesting to sit in a room with four families, sharing the dreams we have pursued or would like to pursue, the dreams we have witnessed others pursue, the dreams that have failed, and those that have succeeded. That is the kind of thinking this book leads to. You start thinking about your dreams.
The first half of the book is an allegory. It’s pretty didactic and obvious, in the tradition of Pilgrim’s Progress. So at first it comes across as corny to modern ears, especially teenage-boy ears. But pretty soon we all settled into the writer's style and appreciated the fact that he was trying to teach us something through story instead of lecture. Once we let go of our expectations for edge-of-your seat entertainment, we began to let the message penetrate our hearts. We began to ask ourselves if we had ever been a “border bully.” We began to think about times we have been called to surrender our dreams to God. We began to wonder if we had ever had the courage to leave the town of Familiar or if we would have the courage to leave it again. We thought about how much we can help each other with our dreams, even though each dreamer must fight his own Giants. We found little nuggets like this one: “To do what he most loved, he would have to do what he most feared.” And we began to see that Ordinary’s journey has a lot to do with our own journeys.
Even though this is not great literature, it is simply told, which is harder to do than it looks. It generated good discussions in my home. And it does what it sets out to do--it teaches principles in a memorable, engaging way. (less)