I tried to read this book years ago and gave it up. Didn't interest me. Now I'm 70 and it seems much more relevant, though a bit dated. (People beingI tried to read this book years ago and gave it up. Didn't interest me. Now I'm 70 and it seems much more relevant, though a bit dated. (People being "square" or "groovy" went out of style before the book was published in 1970!) Sarton's book, like some by Madeleine L'Engle, is ruminative, i.e. that characters' dialogue is used most often to mull over ideas from various points of view. In the context of exploring the various characters that make up a small, New England town during the Vietnam War era, Sarton explores the benefits and drawbacks of aging, the tendency of strangers to romanticize rural life and poverty (though she does more than a bit of that herself),that painful transition from childhood to adulthood when you begin to realize how complicated life is and that adults don't have all the answers - among other themes. If you want to slow your life down as I do sometimes and can tolerate Sarton's occasional descent into New England class prejudice and preciousness, the book is a restful escape from the 21st century . There is wisdom and insight here, no doubt; I was startled at times by recognizing myself in various characters, as if seeing myself as others see me. But if you're looking for action, diversity, a driving plot line,or clear-eyed realism or cynicism even, steer clear....more
If you know a child between 4 and 7 who has questions about/worries about the Syrian refugees, this picture book might help. Of course, it's not a comIf you know a child between 4 and 7 who has questions about/worries about the Syrian refugees, this picture book might help. Of course, it's not a completely realistic picture of the pain, danger and sorrow of displacement from home or daily life in a refugee camp. But the book provides the basics in a way little children can understand. And it's ending is one of hope and some healing. The unusually and very skillful clay illustrations almost give the pages texture and might engage little artist's eyes in the possibilities of medium different than paint or cut paper. ...more
The most powerful passage in this book for me: "…when I tried to assess my capabilities, I realized that I had almost none. In order to achieve the liThe most powerful passage in this book for me: "…when I tried to assess my capabilities, I realized that I had almost none. In order to achieve the life I wanted, I had been dealt, it seemed to me, the worst possible hand. I could not become a prize-fighter – many of us tried but very few succeeded. I could not sing. I could not dance. I had been well conditioned by the world in which I grew up, so I did not yet dare take the idea of becoming a writer seriously. The only other possibility seemed to involve my becoming one of the sordid people on the Avenue, who were not really as sordid as I then imagined but who frightened me terribly, both because I did not want live that life and because of what they made me feel…Negroes in this country – and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other – are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means that they are superior to blacks (intrinsically, that is: God decreed it so), and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared. Long before the Negro child perceives this difference, and even longer before he understands it, he has begun to react to it, he has begun to be controlled by it. Every effort made by the child’s elders to prepare him for a fate from which they cannot protect him causes him secretly, in terror, to begin to await, without knowing that he is doing so, his mysterious and inexorable punishment. He must be “good” not only in order please his parents and not only to avoid being punished by them; behind their authority stands another, nameless and impersonal, infinitely harder to please, and bottomlessly cruel. And this filters into the child’s conscioiusness through his parents’ tone of voice as he is being exhorted, punished or loved; in the sudden, uncontrollable note of fear heard in his mother’s or his father’s voice when he has strayed beyond some particular boundary. He does not know what the boundary is, and he can get no explanation of it, which is frightening enough, but the fear he hears in the voices of his elders is more frightening still. The fear that I heard in my father’s voice, for example, when he realized the I really believed I could do anything a white boy could do, and had every intention of proving it, was not at all like the fear I heard when one of us was ill or had fallen down the stairs or strayed too far from the house. It was another fear, a fear that the child, in challenging the white world’s assumptions, was putting himself in the path of destruction. A child cannot, thank Heaven, know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power, with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other. He reacts to the fear in his parents’ voices because his parents hold up the world for him and he has no protection without them."...more
If you were thinking the historian Bruce Catton would write a nostalgic book about his childhood in the northern part of Michigan's lower peninsula, tIf you were thinking the historian Bruce Catton would write a nostalgic book about his childhood in the northern part of Michigan's lower peninsula, think again. Yes, the book offer rides on the steam trains of the early 20th century with their curtained Pullman compartments. And we spend time in the risky, tough world of loggers dancing on felled trees as they floated to the saw mills that fed the growth of cities elsewhere. Steamboats chug across Lake Michigan to Wisconsin. Bezonia, a quaint little town included an old-fashioned prep school in the middle of nowhere, town bands, "coasting" down snowy hills, and skating on the river.
Catton, though, did not write an elegy for a bygone era - but a bitter endictment also of the ways that technology drives culture rather than serves it. Catton grew up in a world that believed in "progress" defined in material terms - an era in which nature was thoughtlessly exhausted because people insisted on believing that it was "inexhaustible" even as forests disappeared around them. It was an era in which innovation brought new-found ease to the lives of ordinary people, while also creating a tech-driven decimation of both nature and human communities which became servants of their tools rather than users of them. (Sound familiar?)
Catton's honest enough to own the ways in which technology has improved average lives but denounces the way it consistently is taken to extremes with little heed to the consequences for the natural world and for what his minister/school principal father would have called human "souls." The logic of the train or the power saw drove humans to use these new technologies in ever more powerful and extreme ways - cutting deep into forests, for instance, that once were inaccessible to logging and thereby making it possible to completely denude Michigan of its ancient forests, leaving only ragged shrubs and second growth. Towns, ways of life, died to make way for an inevitable future of humans designing ever better tools, but not having the vision and the ethics to use them wisely.
In a short section near the center of the book, Catton's vision descends into a bitter diatribe about the affect of humans on the planet: "For there is a strange malady that afflicts unlucky planets. They become infected by microbes know as men - the human race...For a long time the progress of the malady is imperceptible, and it is hard to see that anything serious is wrong. There is some burrowing and gouging, the outer skin is marred here and there, pockmarks appear in places, and minor excrescences are created; but it all amounts to no more than a surface irritation and there seems to be no cause for alarm. This semiactive stage...endures for a long time...They spread all across the surface of the planets...and all the while they consume more and more of the planet's substance...at this stage of the malady the microbes undergo some fundamental change in their nature...The universal instinct for self-preservation begins to be overshadowed by an impulse for destruction." In short, the microbes have the potential to kill their host.
Yet Catton is clear-eyed about the past. He assiduously avoids romanticizing it. " The world we have lost might be a nice place to visit but we would not want to live there. The present may be disturbing and the future may be in the highest degree ominous, but nobody gains anything by seeing in the irrecoverable past a charm and comfort which it did not have."
The book, then, is an unusual combination of a vivid description of a bygone era. It sketches in fascinating detail a small town in the Michigan wilderness during the first two decades of the 20th century. At the same time, however, it serves as a dire warning for our own time. We too are still living under the harsh dominion of the machines we create and endlessly serve. Now, as then, technology relentlessly changes our future without us being conscious of those changes, much less choosing or directing them. ...more
I don't consider myself a Christian, because though I'm fascinated by Jesus and have spent a lot of time thinking and reading about him, I don't belieI don't consider myself a Christian, because though I'm fascinated by Jesus and have spent a lot of time thinking and reading about him, I don't believe in resurrection or salvation - tenets at the heart of all Christian liturgy. I consider myself a theist only in the broadest sense, that there is some loving mystery at the heart of the universe that I've experienced and to which I feel a connection. One of the odd benefits for a person like me in reading this book was that it didn't require belief, even though clearly James Martin's is an orthodox Catholic priest. Here, he is simply exploring various forms of prayer within the Ignatian tradition and he leaves plenty of room for non-believers,or believers of other faiths, to take what they find useful from that tradition and leave belief aside. The Ignatian exercises as explained by Martin are very much like Jewish midrash in that they encourage a reader of scripture to enter stories from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) or New Testament by entering imaginatively into a Biblical scene to see if anything in that story speaks to them. There's little if any talk of Jesus here; the effort is to reach out toward the mystery that many people call God. It's a deeply inclusive, humane book that is respectful of difference. If you're not hostile to tradition theism but can live with that vocabulary as you seek and doubt, you may find the book creative and useful....more