Note: I was given this book by the author to review with the understanding that I would review it honestly.
My Brother’s Keeper: A Novel about the FamiNote: I was given this book by the author to review with the understanding that I would review it honestly.
My Brother’s Keeper: A Novel about the Family of Jesus is what author Bill Kassel calls a work of speculative fiction. In this book Kassel offers both a fascinating story and many plausible solutions to the problems raised by the biblical accounts of the life of Christ on earth. Among those include the young Mary’s marriage to an older Joseph, the mention of brothers in the Bible even though it is believed by many that Mary was ever virgin, the early background of Saul (who was to become St. Paul), and the mindset of Pontius Pilate.
It is important to keep in mind that this book is not about Jesus but rather, focuses on James, the older brother of the Lord and the promise he made to his father Joseph to be his brother’s keeper. Such is necessary for Kassel to expand upon those people and events surrounding our Lord. As a result, My Brother’s Keeper tackles many difficult questions which inevitably cause the reader to examine his or her own faith.
The first part of the book which covers Mary, Joseph and the family was particularly interesting. Kassel’s vivid portrayal of the various characters helps the reader to step into their questions, doubts and general conundrum surrounding the birth and extraordinary nature of Jesus. It becomes evident that James is gifted in learning and is destined to become a renowned leader in the Jewish faith. Studying with the local rabbi since the age of five, he is sent to Jerusalem and the great Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, when he becomes of age. By the beginning of Jesus’ ministry James is known as The Just, one to whom many, including Pontius Pilate, would turn to for counsel. James’ dealings with the chief priests and Pilate would eventually intersect with Jesus’ arrest, causing great difficulty for James as he wrestles with his promise to his father to watch over his brother. During the three year ministry of Jesus, James ponders the meaning of the Lord’s words, actions, and the many miracles attributed to him. It is easy to relate to James as he struggles with just who his brother really is even though the family knew since his birth that there was something extraordinary about Jesus.
The end of the book proved to be a challenge, but a good one. Kassel’s premise was difficult for me to accept at first until I realized just how much it tested my faith. Kassel’s excellent skill as a writer guided me through a deeper examination and made me wonder how I would have responded had I’d been in James’ situation. Throughout the book, Kassel conveys the necessity of an open mind for acceptance of Jesus as Messiah. He does this in part by illustrating just how entrenched the religious leaders were in the Law and their position with the people. The reader can sense James’ struggle to understand what Jesus means by his words and actions even as he fights to save his brother from death. His encounter with the Lord at the end of the book is provocative and meaningful.
The enormity of Kassel’s research for this book is impressive. His depth of knowledge of life in Nazareth and Jerusalem during the time of Jesus creates a rich, nuanced, and multi-layered story. I did however feel bogged down in the middle of the book, scanning pages and growing impatient, wishing for more to be said about Jesus and his ministry. While the background that Kassel lays down is important to a greater understanding of the whole, I did feel some of the detail was excessive.
That being said, My Brother’s Keeper is a wonderful read that will engulf, entertain and educate, producing many fruitful moments of reflection. I highly recommend the reading of this book between Christmas and Easter as a way of preparing for the remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.
I knew nothing about Emily Dickinson before reading this book. Now I feel like I have a good running start. As the title suggests, Roger Lundin sets tI knew nothing about Emily Dickinson before reading this book. Now I feel like I have a good running start. As the title suggests, Roger Lundin sets the book against the backdrop of the religious, political and social events of the times and the extraordinary changes that took place in all those areas throughout the 19th century. Despite the fact that Dickinson was an avowed recluse, she was profoundly affected. Despite seeing people on very rare occasions, she read voraciously, kept up with current events and most importantly, carried on many intimate correspondences by letters with dear friends over years, both men and women. Considered an enigma by many, she left behind an incredible legacy of words through her poetry and letters.
Admittedly I am completely dense when it comes to poetry. Despite the fact that I have written song lyrics, I just don't understand poetry. And here I choose the most difficult of them all to read! But Emily Dickinson is also considered one of the greatest.
Lundin's book was a page turner for me. I knew I was hooked the moment I whipped out my pencil and started my customary conversation with this book. Many underscores and notes later, I am sad that my read is over.
As I had hoped, he devoted a chapter to examining some of the poetry she wrote during her most prolific period which aided greatly in my understanding. Against the backdrop of the Civil War for which she had little first-hand contact save the death of friends and neighbors who fought, she fought her own war within herself, a great turmoil that produced her most brilliant work.
I was most fascinated by her seclusion and how many in her own family accepted it as normal to her character. Her sister-in-law Susan wrote in her obituary the following which I think sums it up perfectly:
"Like a magician she caught the shadowy apparitions of her brain and tossed them in startling picturesqueness to her friends ... who fretted that she had so easily made palpable the tantalizing fancies forever eluding their bungling, fettered grasp." (pg. 265)
From Lundin's description of Dickinson I got the impression that she fashioned her life exactly as she wanted it. She saw her limited options as a mid-19th century woman and made her choices. She was indeed fortunately to have family members, especially Lavinia ("Vinnie") protecting that choice and allowing her to live it even if they did not begin to comprehend Emily's genius.
I can't say that I can now go and read Dickinson's poetry and "get it." But I can certainly try. I can also visit her home in Amherst which is only an hour or so away from me.
In 1868, a writer desperate to pull her family out of a lifetime of poverty sits down at the tiny half-moon desk in her bedroom to begin work on the bIn 1868, a writer desperate to pull her family out of a lifetime of poverty sits down at the tiny half-moon desk in her bedroom to begin work on the book she has dreaded writing. Assigned by her publisher to write a "girl's" book, Louisa May Alcott draws upon the lives of the only girls she ever knew: herself and her sisters. Declaring their childhood experiences "queer," she writes a semi-autobiographical account of portions of her life through the characters of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and the brother she always longed for, Laurie. Little Women is an instant bestseller, catapulting this relatively unknown author into fame and fortune.
The Afterlife of "Little Women" by Beverly Lyon Clark documents the stunning and continuing impact of this children's book around the world and throughout history. This book is a sumptuous feast for every devoted Little Women/Louisa May Alcott fan. Clark, professor of English and Women's Studies at Wheaton College and one of the leading authorities on children's literature has put together the go-to book about the impact of Little Women on the world since its publication in 1868. Clark takes the 147 years of the novel's life and divides it into four historical periods:
Becoming Everyone's Aunt, 1868-1900
Waxing Nostalgic, 1900-1930
Outwitting Poverty an War, 1930-1960
Celebrating Sisterhood and Passion since 1960
What Little Women shows us By peering through the lens of Little Women's aftermath, we get a fascinating glimpse into the thinking of the day and how American society in particular saw itself. Though this lens we witness the evolution of children’s literature and its impact on Alcott’s standing as a serious writer. One point becomes clear: in the end it doesn’t matter whether Little Women is considered "great literature"; it is here to stay.
The "softening" of Little Women Clark’s descriptions of the numerous offshoots of Little Women (including books, plays, musicals, movies and television programs) reveal a reoccurring theme: that of softening the enigmatic Jo March in favor of a focus on traditional home and family. This “softening” began with the author, allowing herself to be marketed as “Aunt Jo” by her publisher, and Roberts Brothers trifling with the text for a revised edition of the book in 1880. Edited were many of the colloquialisms in favor of a more polished dialogue. Character descriptions were modified to reflect gender ideals (as in calling Marmee "tall" rather than "stout" and “noble-looking” rather than “not particularly handsome.") (pg. 24). As a smart businesswoman intent on making a profit, proper marketing was always in the forefront of Alcott’s mind, and her publisher’s as well. Jo March had to be maintained as a “safe” inspiration for girls.
Fun! The Afterlife of Little Women is a must-read on so many levels. Let's begin with the "fun" factor:
Detailed analyses of just about every derived book (including spinoffs and online fan fiction), play, musical (including an opera), movie and television program ever made about Little Women
Statistics regarding sales of the book throughout the years from countries around the world
Discussion of famous people influenced by Little Women A listing and discussion of adult and juvenile biographies of Alcott
Translations and interpretations of the book
Analyses of the various illustrations
And of course, reviews of the work
i>The Afterlife of Little Women is a wonk's paradise: every detail you ever wanted (and then some) is included in this thoroughly researched book. It documents not only the public's response to Little Women but also those of scholars, critics and librarians. There are times when the statistical information becomes excessive but overall this does not distract from the enjoyment of this work.
What role did feminism really play? I had two small quibbles with this book. First there seems to be an insinuation of twenty-first century feminism into the discussion, particularly with regards to plays and movies produced about Little Women in the early and mid twentieth century. Perhaps this was unconscious on Clark's part but it appears that fault is assigned to these productions for their focus on the more mainstream themes of domesticity and romance rather than Jo's artistic goals and independent spirit. It's likely the mainstream audience of that era was simply not ready for the more feminist message of the story. It does however demonstrate just progressive Alcott was.
I was also disappointed that the many adult Alcott biographies that have emerged since the 1960’s received small mention (since this is a pet interest of mine). Eden’s Outcasts was singled out along with Madeleine B. Sterns’ definitive biography. I was however quite surprised that Eve LaPlante’s Marmee and Louisa did not warrant a mention; nor did Martha Saxton’s controversial work or Harriet Reisen and Nancy Porter’s PBS documentary, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women.
These are hardly fatal flaws; this book was a most entertaining and informative read (engaging this reader in a wonderful "conversation" with each page book as evidenced by the numerous comments, questions and underscores).
Little Women lives! Little Women is a work that quite likely was an accident of genius. Clark’s book plumbs that genius through the incredible depth of interpretation explored by illustrators, reviewers, teachers, librarians, scholars and devoted fans alike. It is this level of interest that continues to ensure Little Women’s viability. The Afterlife of Little Women shows clearly why this fascinating and endearing book continues to be read and cherished as a classic.
An open mindset is needed when reading Pedlar's Progress by Odell Shepherd -- do not expect a typical biography. In fact, this book on Amos Bronson AlAn open mindset is needed when reading Pedlar's Progress by Odell Shepherd -- do not expect a typical biography. In fact, this book on Amos Bronson Alcott is sometimes quite short of actual facts. It is also seriously lacking in objectivity; the biographer is so smitten with his subject that he excuses all of Alcott's fatal flaws, and there were many. Don’t expect to see a lot of mention of family members (in fact, I think Elizabeth was mentioned more than Louisa). And finally, Shepherd appears to be antagonistic towards women. He is markedly unsympathetic towards the beleaguered yet also very capable and loyal Mrs. Alcott. He is the same towards Elizabeth Peabody, Alcott's faithful (unpaid) teaching assistant at the Temple School in Boston.
And yet, I savored this book from beginning to end. Why? Because I realized this was in fact, a history of a remarkable mind, the process of its evolution. Beautifully written (albeit old-fashioned), this book has real heart; I was not only taught, I was moved. For the first time I came to understand and appreciate this conundrum that is Amos Bronson Alcott.
Shepherd was positively heroic (and perhaps obsessed) to read the voluminous papers of this man – fifty volumes of journals along with other manuscripts, written in long hand. Having read some of these pages myself, I can attest to the difficulty. Reading someone’s handwriting is hard until you figure out the pattern (and Alcott had several different styles of script!). He also was not a good writer and at times it is hard to understand his meaning. Shepherd did grasp it, all of it, and demonstrates his deep understanding in this book.
There is a companion volume of Alcott’s journal entries that Shepherd transcribed. While useful, it is frustrating that there is so much about what Alcott read and thought and yet so little about his family life. The former is of course very interesting but it is frustrating not having more of his thoughts on daily life with his family considering how prominently family figured into his philosophy of life.
There are sadly no footnotes in this book, a real impediment for scholars. Shepherd does provide a bibliography and I have found that reading Alcott’s journal entries along with the various chapters helps to nail down the specific passages from which Shepherd’s insights originate. But in the end it comes down to trust – is Shepherd authentic in his channeling of Alcott’s voice? Most scholars would say “yes,” and I would agree.
Pedlar's Progress, published in 1937, won the Pulitzer Prize and I can see why. Shepherd leads the reader through the evolution, the process of Alcott's unique way of thinking. Alcott was at times of man of extremes with his exceptionalism nearly cancelled out by his flaws; he is difficult to understand. If you are willing to read the 500+ pages of Pedlar's Progress and go through the process, you will come away with a deep understanding of Alcott's thinking and gain an appreciation with regards to his contributions to society.
He is, of course, the father of Louisa May Alcott whose Little Women is a classic -- this is his most obvious contribution. He was the best friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson; he thought of Henry David Thoreau as a son – both men show the imprint of Alcott in their writings. And there are many other notables upon which Alcott left his mark.
Many of his educational reforms, deemed radical for their time, have been put into place as well. He was a pioneer in educating the young and one of the first to take children out of the silent shadows and place them front and center where they belong. The remarkable achievements of his literary and artistic daughters along with the domestic success of his eldest show the results of the progressive child rearing of Alcott and his wife Abba.
I not only came away with a better understanding and appreciation of Bronson Alcott, but also of the time in which he lived. It is necessary to appreciate the religious atmosphere of Boston in the 1830s when Alcott came on the scene – only then can you perceive the radical nature of his ideas. Today many of his religious views are widely accepted but in 1830s New England, they were unheard of.
Many people do not like Bronson Alcott. They dismiss him as a crank, think of him as an irresponsible deadbeat, and see his conversations as full of hot air. I challenge any of you to immerse yourself in Pedlar's Progress with an open mind and see how you feel when you finish. It could transform your whole view. This book is a journey into an exceptional mind, warts and all.
I also recommend reading Frederick Dahlstrand’s Amos Bronson Alcott An Intellectual Biography for the more balanced and factual biography of Mr. Alcott.
My husband is a big fan of Whitney Strieber and really likes the way he thinks. While I am not interested in the things Strieber writes about, I do thMy husband is a big fan of Whitney Strieber and really likes the way he thinks. While I am not interested in the things Strieber writes about, I do think he is a deep thinker. His wife Anne was too and I really enjoyed her columns on their website. She recently passed away and I know the Striebers had a wonderful marriage -- that was the message of Miraculous Journey.
This is a hard book to read, especially if you have fresh memories of someone you love in intensive care. Reading this book caused me to relive those times in the hospital with my dad and then my mom. I'm okay with that but it does still get quite intense.
The Striebers really push the edge of the envelope with regards to spiritual matters, other dimensions, life beyond human life, etc. While I don't agree with many of their conclusions, I very much appreciate their thinking process. Nothing was off the table for these folks and in turn, that makes you think!
Getting back to the message -- descriptions of their marriage and their devotion to each other was very touching, especially now that she has died (long after the book was written). My husband and I are devoted in the same way and I kept thinking of my husband as I read. It was wonderful to read such a life-affirming portrait of marriage.
While not an easy read, I would definitely recommend this book....more
I used this book for research and also because of anorexia in my family. While I did not agree with several points in this book, it definitely stirredI used this book for research and also because of anorexia in my family. While I did not agree with several points in this book, it definitely stirred the pot and opened my mind to new questions to pose; in that sense the book did its job well.
My complaint is that at times it seemed the authors were trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. And while I am certain it was not their intention, there was a dismissal of those who have suffered from anxious somatic depression (of which anorexia is a part) who did not fit into their tight profile. I realize men did not figure into the equation but men do suffer from the disease. I was also surprised at the lack of mention of substance abuse (especially alcoholism) for those who suffer from the disease. I have family experiences in all these examples.
I learned things about myself and my own family that I had not previously considered. I recognized things in myself and particularly in my mother's side of the family which really made sense.
I was first attracted to this book because of the way the type was set up - double spaced! Really easy on the eyes plus lots of room for notes. FatherI was first attracted to this book because of the way the type was set up - double spaced! Really easy on the eyes plus lots of room for notes. Father Papavassiliou writes in such a clear fashion. I read this during Lent and was inspired to spend more time in prayer in a disciplined fashion. He makes the Ladder of St. John understandable....more