Search This Blog

Friday, January 27, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

P. D. James on Jane Austen and Death Comes to Pemberley

Of Education, by John Milton

This is but a short tractate, the length of an essay. It was interesting, if, perhaps, a little outdated (as, for instance, his suggestion that all students should learn English, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Italian, Chaldean, and Syrian; a too-full linguistic plate for many people). Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection."

"And seeing every nation affords not experience and tradition enough for all kind of learning, therefore we are chiefly taught the languages of those people who have at any time been most industrious after wisdom; so that language is but the instrument conveying to us things useful to be known. And though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues that Babel cleft the world into, yet if he have not studied the solid things in them as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man, as any yoeman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only."

"I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war."

"...first we do amiss to spend seven or eight years merely in scraping together so much miserable Latin and Greek, as might be learned other wise easily and delightfully in one year. And that which casts our proficiency therein so much in a preposterous exaction, forcing the empty wits of children to compose themes, verses and orations, which are the acts of ripest judgment and the final work of a head filled by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims, and copious inventions. These are not matters to be wrung from poor striplings, like blood out of the nose, or the plucking of untimely fruit: besides the ill habit which they get of wretched barbarizing against the Latin and Greek idiom, with their untutored Anglicisms, odious to be read, yet not to be avoided without a well continued and judicious conversing among pure authors digested, which they scarce taste..."

"Only I believe that this is not a bow for every man to shoot in that counts himself a teacher; but will require sinews almost equal to those which Homer gave Ulysses, yet I am withal persuaded that it may prove much more easy in the assay, than it now seems at distance, and much more illustrious..."

Areopagitica, by John Milton

Milton's great plea for a free press in England. I found his argument quite persuasive, but I started his work already persuaded of the importance and value of a free press. Milton argues that governmental licensing of the press seldom achieves its goal, and in fact often incites revolt; that licensing of the press would result in the loss of valuable books and hence of learning, which could only lead to the diminution of the influence of England; that the men best suited to determining what should be printed would be wasting their efforts in that position and could serve the country better elsewhere; that licensing the press is tyrannous; that the truth is strong enough not to require the support of suppressing falsehood.

This is my favorite of the works I've yet read in the Harvard Classics. I'd say everyone should read Areopagitica.

Pantagruel, by Rabelais

Rabelais's humor is more than a bit ribald, and this book certainly is not for every reader, though he is quite funny in places.

Here is his apology for writing:
"If you say to me, master, it would seem, that you were not very wise in writing to us these flimflam stories, and pleasant fooleries; I answer you , that you are not much wiser to spend your time in reading them. Nevertheless, if you read them to make yourselves merry, as in manner of pastime I wrote them, you and I both are far more worthy of pardon, than a great rabble of...dissembling and counterfeit saints, demure lookers, hypocrites, pretended zealots, tough friars, buskin monks, and other such sects of men, who disguise themselves like maskers to deceive the world...Wherein they are like unto the poor rogues of a village, that are busy in stirring up and scraping in the ordure and filth of little children, in the season of cherries and guinds, and that only to find the kernels, that they may sell them to the druggists, to make thereof pomander oil. Fly from these men, abhor and hate them as much as I do, and upon my faith you will find yourselves the better for it."

The Armitage Family Stories, by Joan Aiken

I was excited to read these stories because my children and I very much enjoyed Aiken's first three books in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series. I was disappointed in these, however. So disappointed, in fact, that I have decided not to finish reading them to the girls. Instead we have embarked on The Hobbit. Why read anything less than the best, when there are already too many 'best' books to read? I will allow my children to read the stories of the Armitage family, but when it comes to what I read out loud to them, I'd rather pick something more enchanting.

Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James

Six years after the close of Pride and Prejudice, the Bingleys have three children and a happy marriage, while the Darcys have two children and a happy marriage. On the eve of a ball to be held at Pemberley, Lydia Wickham bursts into Pemberley hysterical, screaming that someone has murdered her husband. What follows is a classic whodunit, hewing to the guideline that James herself set forth in her other recent book, Talking About Detective Fiction: the reader is privy to all the clues which can solve the problem.

I read this book with delight. I thought James did an excellent job of keeping each Pride and Prejudice character in character, but I thought the narrator's voice sounded a bit different, rather likes James in the other books I've read by her (but not exactly like that), in fact.

I would recommend this book to those who like Pride and Prejudice, and who can stand the thought of reading a book by another author using the P&P characters, and who enjoy murder mysteries.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes

A truly excellent volume for bruised reeds to read. Christ will not break you, nor quench the smoking flax. If you are a believer and in need of gospel comfort, look no farther. This book stands equal with Glorious Freedom, in my estimation.

Nightbirds in Nantucket, by Joan Aiken

Ms. Aiken sure is an inventive writer. In this book we follow Dido Twite in even more wildly improbable adventures than in the previous book. There are hints of Moby-Dick in this book, but with a pink tint. Definite winner for those who enjoy reading adventurous tales for children.

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, Jasper Fforde

This Thursday Next book was a bit slow to begin with. I had the horrid feeling that I was going to be sorely disappointed in it. About halfway through, when the written Thursday crosses into the real world, the pace picked up considerably. The first half felt like an extended effort to set the scene for jokes. The second half felt like a normal Thursday Next book.

I shake my head in awe at Mr. Fforde's cleverness.

I'd recommend this to those who are already fans of the Next series, but not to those new to his work.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Black Hearts in Battersea, by Joan Aiken

The sequel to Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and even better than Wolves. We galloped through this book, because we all loved it. A few of my girls (I think each literate one) read ahead, in spite of strict warnings not to.

I know now why I knew the name Dido Twite even though I hadn't read the book. She's quite the character.

The adventures in Black Hearts are more wildly improbable than the adventures in Wolves. I think we liked the book better because there's an element of mystery added to the adventures.

I must be sure to speak to my husband about adding a large tapestry to our survival kit. ;-)

I highly recommend this book to YA or juvenile fiction readers. I think it would appeal to boys as well as girls, though I only tested it on girls.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Miseducation of Women, by James Tooley

Mr. Tooley is a professor in England. He takes issue with the way in which feminists have steered education policies in the Western world for the past 30+ years. He distinguishes between those feminists, whom he calls 'equality' feminists, who believe there are no differences between men and women and therefore seek to make everything equal between men and women, and 'liberation' feminists who believe there are differences between men and women and that these differences ought to be celebrated. It is the 'equality' feminists who have had their way with education.

Mr. Tooley believes this educational direction is fundamentally wrong and helps lead to the Bridget Jones Syndrome: women reaching their thirties and realizing that they're not happy with the path they followed, that of career first and family second, and longing to get married and have children. Mr. Tooley argues that women aren't being prepared when they are young students for the fact that when they become women they might not want to have a high-flying career, or at any rate not at the expense of having a family.

Mr. Tooley analyzes the writings of prominent early feminists, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Freidan, and Germaine Greer. He suggests that Mrs. Freidan and Ms. Greer have altered their original positions significantly, and that de Beauvoir wrote as she did in order to please Sartre.

He examines scientific evidence through the lens of evolutionary psychology, and concludes that there are biological differences between men and women, and that these differences ought to be celebrated.

I largely agree with the position he argues for, but find the idea of evolutionary psychology to be highly amusing. Mr. Tooley actually suggests that women have evolved an adaptation which suppresses their children's resemblance to mom and maximizes their children's resemblance to dad in order to 'enmesh' the fathers of their children, so the father will hang around and support mom and child.

I was most interested in this book in light of my interest in demography, in particular the reasons why birth rates are dropping around the world, and as it relates to such books as Manning Up.

My friend, who loaned this book to me months ago, will be pleased to receive it back shortly.

Talking About Detective Fiction, P.D. James

The queen of crime here writes a book about crime writing.

She discusses the history of detective fiction. Was The Moonstone the first mystery? She discusses the practitioners of detective fiction, from Dorothy L. Sayers to Sara Paretsky, from Arthur Conan Doyle to Dashiell Hammet. She discusses the processes of writing detective fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed surveying the field of mystery novels with James.

But I really must stop reading books about books, or I'll never shorten my TBR list.

The New Atlantis, by Francis Bacon

Bacon's attempt at Utopia. A ship loses its way and winds up sighting land who knows where. The citizens of this land treat the sailors kindly and generously, and relate an account of their land. In the land is a House of Salomon, where experiments are carried out. In his list of experiments Bacon was apparently prescient (thus says the introduction; I know not enough science or history of science to make such a determination).

I distrust totalitarianism in its different manifestations, even when it promotes what I like, such as the honoring of those who bear and beget children. In Bacon's land every man who has at least 35 living descendants over the age of three gets publicly feted at state expense.

This work was never finished.

Crossing the Panther's Path, by Elizabeth Alder

I decided to read this because its cover picture caught my attention several times on different visits to the library. I also wanted to read it before letting my young readers loose on it, to make sure it would be worth their time, and because I was worried it might present a too-biased view of a particular period of history.

It is a juvenile, fictionalized account of historical people and events. Young Billy Calder is part Indian, part Irish, and a talented linguist. He sides with Tecumseh against the Americans, acting as interpreter, but his young man's heart wants to aid the Indians with his arms, not his tongue. He does become a warrior eventually, and a trusted ally of Tecumseh. The story follows him up until, and shortly after, Tecumseh's death.

I liked Billy as a character. I disliked the author equating, through Billy, the Roman catholic God (Billy is taught by some Jesuit missionaries) with the Great Spirit of the Indians. Tecumseh seemed both larger than life and unaccountably foolish at the same time (why did he tolerate the continued presence and influence of his treacherous brother?).

I thought the book did not live up to the promise of its cover. I will neither steer my girls toward reading it, nor deny them permission to read it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How Civilizations Die (And How Islam Is Dying, Too), by David P. Goldman

Wow. What a book. This is the must read of 2012. This is the book I'll be shouting about from the rooftops, "Read Goldman!"

Mr. Goldman covers so much territory in this book. The conclusions he draws are pointed. His analysis is persuasive. His evidence exhaustive. People need to read him, either to heed his warnings, or to refute his thinking.

He explains the fundamental difference between Islam on the one hand and Judaism and Christianity on the other, and why that fundamental difference has led to the rights of individuals being enshrined in and protected by the law in the West, but not in Muslim lands. He also explains how that fundamental difference has allowed Christianity and Judaism to interact with modernity without falling apart, but doesn't allow Islam to do so.

He explains that, contra to the predictions of some, most Islamic countries are in a demographic death spiral, that these Islamic countries recognize that, and that this death spiral renders them more dangerous. They have nothing to lose.

He ponders the importance of culture, and why some people give up the will to live and display that by not producing the next generation.

He discusses the Three Great Extinctions, and how we're currently witnessing the Fourth.

He outlines the history of the Thirty Years' War, and talks about the often-ignored aspect of widespread cannibalism during that time in Europe.

He suggests that America adopt a foreign policy which he calls 'Augustinian Realism.'

I cannot highly enough recommend this book. If I can influence your choice of just one book this year, it would be this book.

Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray

I really enjoyed reading Adam of the Road to my children. They enjoyed it as well. I was impressed with the scope of the work.

It follows Adam for about a year. It opens with Adam in school, his faithful dog Nick being cared for by a local widow woman, waiting for his father, Roger, to pick him and Nick up. His father comes and they set off on the road together. Along the way, however, Nick gets stolen and Adam and Roger get separated when searching for Nick.

Many enduring themes of literature come into play, such as the odyssey, and the centrality of home, which in this book is represented by Adam's father (being minstrels their home is the road).

The author conveyed a lot of information about life in England in the late-13th century, and she did so naturally. There were only a couple places where it seemed that the story strained a bit in order to cover that information. Several historical personages and events are woven into the tale.

Adam was a likable and believable 11-year-old boy, hopeful, boastful, kind-hearted, so pleased with his dog Nick that he can't understand that some other people prefer other animals to dogs, naive but not entirely inexperienced. This book is not full of the sort of character which I gather is a common sort in YA fiction these days: dark and full of angst.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who reads in this genre. It well-deserved the Newberry medal it was awarded.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Essays, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

I like the essay form, and when I read a collection of essays I always think to myself that I need to read more.

Bacon wrote some essays which (in my opinion) have little value, such as the one in which he sets out a rather detailed plan for the garden of a prince.

He also wrote essays which have an enduring value, such as his famous one about education, number L 'Of Studies.' "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.'

I think my favorite essay was number LVI, 'Of Judicature,' which begins: "Judges ought to remember that their office is jus dicere, and not jus dare; to interpret law, and not to make law, or give law."

Many of his essays are thought-provoking and worthy of consideration.

My Favorite Reads of 2011

I'm having too much fun making lists!

In no particular order, but helpfully divided between fiction and non-fiction:

1. Penelope Wilcock's The Hawk and the Dove trilogy. This one definitely makes it onto my TBReR (To Be ReRead).

2. Sibella Giorello's mysteries. I can't wait for her next release.

3. The Winged Watchman, by Hilda van Stockum. This and the next title compete for best children's book read of the year. This book is set in Holland during WWII and follows one family for a year. I cried at the end. This is one of those books which has every listener, and the reader, begging for more.

4. The Wonder Clock, by Howard Pyle. Luxurious language for fanciful tales.

5. True Grit, by Charles Portis. A lot more fun than I anticipated, with nice antiquated language.

6. Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell, by Susannah Clarke. A marvelous, magical story; truly remarkable for a debut novel.

7. The Three-Arched Bridge, Ismail Kadare. Also on my TBReR. Creepy, and sticks with you, but also thought-provoking. I'll be keeping my eyes open for other Kadare books.

8. The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl. Thrilling mystery.

1. Manning Up, by Kay Hymowitz. An important look at how feminism has harmed boys, has kept them from becoming men, and how that has affected such institutions as marriage.

2. In the Land of Invisible Women, by Qanta Ahmed, M.D. I like the insider/outsider perspective and the view into an exotic society.

3. Super Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Explanations of human behavior, which are sometimes unexpected, sometimes humorous, and always interesting. Freakonomics is now on my TBR.

4. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen. A good read for parents and teachers, and anyone who regularly influences children.

5. The Mind's Eye, by Oliver Sacks. Have you ever wondered what it's like to be blind? Or not to recognize faces?

6. Factory Girls, by Leslie T. Chang. Eye-opening account of life in modern China.

7. Glorious Freedom, by Richard Sibbes (I think I've said enough about this one.)

8. The Horse That Leaps through Clouds, by Eric Enno Tamm. Another eye-opening account of life in the China of today, but also in the China of a century ago.

9. The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz. I don't know what to make of the conflicting accounts of the veracity of this story, but it does seem safe to say that even if this particular book is not actually true, that it resembles true stories of the time.

10. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin. This is hands down the best book on childbirth I've ever read.

11. Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo. This one changed my thinking about what ails Africa.

Monday, January 2, 2012

On How I Decide What to Read

This is in response to a question a friend asked me on facebook.

I do not research bestseller lists. I eschew bestseller lists.

Many of the books I read I read because of friends. I have one friend who frequently passes on books to me which she enjoyed but doesn't have room to keep. I Dreamed of Africa, by Kuki Gallmann was one such book. This friend loaned me The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. Now I search out Sacks's works.

I have a couple friends who loan books to me, and make recommendations to me. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen was loaned to me.

One friend (the same, actually) introduced me to the whole idea of book blogs, and I now follow a few thanks to her. This is one of them:  And this is another:  And I write one, thanks to her. :-}

Some books I read because I have set myself a course of studies. Plato's Dialogs, for instance.

Some I read because I'm familiar with the author's other work. After America comes to mind. I first read Mark Steyn on National Review Online, then I read America Alone, then I put After America on hold at the library.

Some I read because I'm in the library and something about the book calls to me. Read My Hips, both for the title and the cover picture. I judge books by their covers.

A New Road to Serfdom by Daniel Hannan came home from the library with me because I was familiar with Hannan from the clip of his speech which went viral on youtube a couple years back.

I can't visit a library without coming home laden with books I can't wait to read.

Some authors and titles come up again and again. Thus Wendell Berry is on my To Be Read list.

And for all my reading, my TBR list grows and grows and grows. In fact, reading a book seems to add other books to my list. I read Factory Girls because Manning Up mentioned it, and it sounded interesting.

How could I forget? I buy and read some books because of the Kindle Daily Deal. eye of the god by Ariel Allison was one.