L.M. Montgomery's intent was to write a modern fairy tale. It's fun to look for the ways she played with the traditional fairy tale elements in this fL.M. Montgomery's intent was to write a modern fairy tale. It's fun to look for the ways she played with the traditional fairy tale elements in this funny, touching story. ...more
Mark Twain is a master story-teller and Joan is an inspiring heroine. I read that Twain considered this to be his greatest work. Knowing his gift forMark Twain is a master story-teller and Joan is an inspiring heroine. I read that Twain considered this to be his greatest work. Knowing his gift for irony, I was impressed by how respectfully, even reverently, Twain treated his subject. He finds other characters to direct his ironic perspective toward, but never Joan. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, young or old, male or female.
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 periodThis 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. ...more
I reread this book every ten years or so. It speaks to me in new ways each time, but never fails to soothe and inspire. This time I read it on an airpI reread this book every ten years or so. It speaks to me in new ways each time, but never fails to soothe and inspire. This time I read it on an airplane, and it seemed like I was looking down on my life through the window of this book from a higher perspective. ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this diverse anthology of short stories by American authors from the past. I love short stories because I can begin and end themI thoroughly enjoyed this diverse anthology of short stories by American authors from the past. I love short stories because I can begin and end them in one sitting. The collection includes classic stories I have read before but enjoyed revisiting, like "Young Goodman Brown," "To Build a Fire," "A Telltale Heart," and "The Yellow Wallpaper." Many others I had not read and enjoyed discovering here, like "A New England Nun," "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," "The White Heron," and "The Luck of Roaring Camp."
“New England Nun” and “White Heron” had similar themes. In “New England Nun” a woman is engaged to a man who set off fifteen years earlier to make his fortune in a faraway place. Now he has (finally) returned to marry her, but she comes to realize that the simple order and beauty of the life she has created for herself are more appealing than the changes, rigors, and expectations of married life. She breaks off the engagement, choosing personal values and solitude over marriage and community.
In “White Heron” a young country girl revels in nature and loves the birds and animals of her forest home. She chooses loyalty to them over newfound friendship and budding romance with a visiting young man who wants to hunt one of the white herons she could lead him to if she chose. Again, this character chooses personal values and solitude over romance. Both stories made me sigh. The women gave up something wonderful but I do not blame them. A tiny part of me envies them.
I thoroughly enjoyed this Victorian novel. Gaskell's style reminds me of a cross between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens--social commentary, romance rI thoroughly enjoyed this Victorian novel. Gaskell's style reminds me of a cross between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens--social commentary, romance restrained by the manners of the day, whole chapters that take place in drawing rooms.
I love the heroine, Margaret Hale, for her goodness. People are always talking about the strength, the fiestiness of a female heroine. Margaret has strength. She has opinions. But what I admire most about her is the purity of her motivations, her kindness, and her quiet perceptiveness. She lacks the sarcasm and wittiness of Elizabeth Bennnett, but I think I like her better for it.
The overarching theme is one of the individual’s relationship to social authority. Mr. Hale leaves the church’s authority. Frederick Hale opposes abuses of naval authority. Margaret confronts society’s norms for what a young woman can and cannot do independently.
Another theme—overcoming initial impressions and growing to understand, respect, and eventually love a man—echoes the Pride and Prejudice theme, as does the exploration of the constraints society places on women. But Margaret manages to move against the constraints with more force than Elizabeth ever tried to do. She visits the poor districts of Milton, for example, and sets her own schedule in opposition to her Aunt’s expectations.
Mr. Thornton is a masculine ideal—independent, decisive, unwavering in what he thinks is best. He has good judgment. He is honest and fair. And in the end he shows himself compassionate, the one quality he lacked to round out his character and make himself appealing to Margaret. I loved the build of sexual tension. Margaret’s denial of her own attraction to this man, so different from the southern gentleman she is accustomed to, created a long period of Mr. Thornton’s longing for her to return his love.
For all Thornton’s traditional masculinity, it is Margaret who does the rescuing in this novel. She rescues him from the strikers. She rescues him from financial ruin at the end of the book. She rescues him from the loneliness and isolation his success and independence have imprisoned him in, inspiring him to a greater sense of community with his workers as she teaches him compassion.
I just finished this book early this morning and couldn't wait to write about it. This novel has everything I love in a good story--romance, humor, waI just finished this book early this morning and couldn't wait to write about it. This novel has everything I love in a good story--romance, humor, warmth, sentiment, and charming characters. And on top of all that, it has wonderful literary discussion and historical detail! This book made me think, laugh, and cry. Simply lovely. ...more
This short, romantic novel is based on a Persian legend, steeped in the traditions of the Middle East. The story both romanticizes and criticizes theThis short, romantic novel is based on a Persian legend, steeped in the traditions of the Middle East. The story both romanticizes and criticizes the cultural definition of femininity.
One theme of the novel is expressed on the last page, where Buran tells her children the story of how she and the Prince came together, because she says, “children should not think that the blessings of Allah are theirs by right or come to them simply for the asking.” No, this story teaches that a person must go out and seize her destiny. It’s a quest story, but whereas the hero of a quest story is traditionally male, here the hero is a woman disguised as a man. So in a sense the story questions the male quest story, but in another sense it reinforces it, since Buran has to pretend to be a male in order to undertake her quest at all. In the process of reinventing herself, Buran is irreversibly changed, empowered, and emancipated. When she resumes her feminine identity, she cannot cast away the sense of independence she gained as easily as she cast aside the male clothing.
The “blessings of Allah” Buran brings to her family and herself come to her because she has the courage to risk, pursue, and persevere. She is naturally gifted with intelligence, quick wit, and beauty. But all of her gifts would have been led to frustration if Buran had settled for the lot life seemed to be handing her.
This story also explores the duality of a woman’s nature. Do women care only for the duties of their household and their children? Are they only preoccupied with adorning their bodies, as the Prince’s friend asserts? This story shows otherwise. While women do care deeply about home and family and while they want to be beautiful and attractive to men, these needs do not exclude other goals—to achieve, learn, to travel, to earn, to discover, to create. Buran’s conscious motivation for undertaking her journey is to help her family, to provide dowries for her sisters and financial security for her parents. But another, deeper motivation propels her as well, one she does not acknowledge to herself, but which we can easily detect. She wants to see if she can do it. She wants to find out if she has what it takes. She wants to try her skills and test her own courage and find a wider arena than her little home in Bagdad where her intelligence can have fair play. She proves to the world that a woman can achieve. And she proves it to herself as well.
What is most gratifying to me is that Buran’s character is shown to have both the traditional feminine longings for romance and marriage and at the same time a desire to undertake a quest of her own. Rather than subverting each other, these polar purposes actually complement each other in Buran’s life. Her experiences out in the world of men make her even more attractive to the Prince, so much so that he finds himself strangely drawn to her, even in her masculine disguise. She becomes to him more than a beautiful face and body, but a friend and counselor. The dramatic irony makes their relationship bittersweet as we wait for the truth to be revealed. And when Buran returns home she finds that her intelligence and daring, along with her beauty and fortune, are attracting men from all over the world to seek her hand. But Buran’s standards are high and she will settle for no one but the man she loves.
So in this book the traditional male quest plot combines with the traditional female matrimony plot, woven together in a very satisfying, highly romantic, and even inspiring story.
No matter how modestly this man tries to tell his story, the facts of his life shine with the luster of greatness. Booker T. Washington spent his earlNo matter how modestly this man tries to tell his story, the facts of his life shine with the luster of greatness. Booker T. Washington spent his early childhood as a slave on a plantation in the south. After the Emancipation Proclamation was read from the porch steps of the “Big House,” Booker’s ambitions to gain an education and make something of himself propelled him through every obstacle to his goal. Booker T. Washington was a tireless promoter of education for his race and of Tuskegee, the school for blacks which he founded in Alabama. He spent his entire adult life in these two causes and made great strides in elevating the sights and prospects of his people.
I had never really considered what it must have taken to raise the mindset of an enslaved people once they had freedom. While the human soul craves liberty, it does not automatically know how to use that liberty to the highest ends. Booker T. Washington’s approach to education of ex-slaves was comprehensive. He wanted to teach them everything about how to live civilized, useful lives of service and industry. Along with book learning, he taught them use a toothbrush, to sleep between the sheets of a bed, to bathe daily, to keep their clothing clean and mended, to love labor and avoid indolence, to learn marketable life-skills such as carpentry and brick-making, to acquire property, to vote sensibly, to worship and pray to God, and to live moral lives.
I found my admiration for Booker T. Washington growing with the turn of every page. He was practical, thrifty, energetic, articulate, earnest, hard-working, selfless, diplomatic, always hopeful and optimistic. He was also a sought-after public speaker with an ability to sway many to his cause and bring an audience into complete accord with him. I wish I could have heard him speak in person, but I’m grateful that I had a chance to hear his voice through this well-told story of his own inspiring life. ...more
Chiam Potok has an incredible ability to hold two polarities in suspension, without endorsing or denouncing either side. This makes his novels rich wiChiam Potok has an incredible ability to hold two polarities in suspension, without endorsing or denouncing either side. This makes his novels rich with thematic tension. In this novel the tension is between art and religion. The calling to be an artist requires sacrifice and discipline. All other concerns and allegiances must be subsumed in the greater goal of producing honest, powerful art. At the same time, the life of a religious man requires sacrifice of self and strict obedience to a set of values. A Jew is expected to honor parents, assume a sense of responsibility towards his religious community, and dedicate his life to God.
Asher Lev is a protégé, a young Jewish artist whose gift, manifest since early childhood, cannot be denied, although his father, his community, and he himself fear it and at times try to squelch it. Neither can Asher turn his back on his religious faith, the faith of his childhood, the faith of his parents. Potok depicts that faith with respect, even reverence. It is held up as immensely compassionate and beautifully evocative. The leader of the Jewish community is wise and far-seeing. Asher’s parents are sincere believers whose lives are dedicated to the service of God and their fellowmen. Asher loves his parents and honors his leader, yet he has to follow his own path, develop his own artistic gifts, seek a mentor and an audience outside his religious community. In doing so he hurts those he loves most. This is a powerful, moving, thought-provoking book for anyone who loves art and loves God and has ever felt torn between the demands of both. ...more
This is a book that one frazzled parent recommends to another. A friend recommended it to me and I recommended it to my sister and another friend, wheThis is a book that one frazzled parent recommends to another. A friend recommended it to me and I recommended it to my sister and another friend, when they called to chat about kids. I’ve read a lot of parenting books over the years, but this is the most practical, confidence-inspiring one I’ve encountered so far. The title, however, is misleading and probably steers too many parents away who would actually benefit from reading it. The very practical, specific advice in this book would be helpful for any parent raising any child. I don’t consider any of my children “difficult” but what I learned in this book is useful to me on a daily basis. It really comes down to the energy we give to our children. Children seek out our energy. If they don’t get enough of it, they will demand it with bad behavior. We can give them our energy in a positive form or a negative form—light or dark. When we affirm and appreciate them, we strengthen them internally. When we strategically place the rope like the trainers for Shamoo do when teaching a killer whale to jump, then we help them to experience success built upon success.
I’m thinking about this book in connection to a General Conference talk I heard about focussing on the qualities we want to develop in our children rather than the behavior. I’ve been hesitant to use praise and rewards with my children because I do not want them to be focussed on those things, but this book shows me how to use them in appropriate ways that are more about appreciation and earning privileges. I need to read this book again. And I need to read the General Conference talk again too. ...more
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 bioThis 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.” ...more