Friday, April 20, 2018

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

On the Banks of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1937

Laura was a big girl, seven years old. She was too big to cry. But she could not help asking, "Pa did you have to give him Pet and Patty? Did you, Pa?"
Pet and Patty were the ponies from Indian Territory that Pa traded for two strong oxen, necessary to break up the earth for a crop of wheat. Pa envisioned a "great big field" of wheat, but all Laura could think of was Pet and Patty.

(Notice how God is preparing Laura for a horse-loving husband?)

Well, since Indian Territory was off limits, Pa took his family to the banks of Plum Creek, in Minnesota. For awhile they lived in a dug out, which was a hole dug under the ground. Gratefully, I cannot miss the lovely descriptions of the morning glories, which surround the dug out entrance and  brighted any dwelling:
All around the door green vines were growing out of the grassy bank, and they were full of flowers. Red and blue and purple and rosy pink and white and stripped flowers all had their throats wide open as if they were singing to the morning. They were morning glory flowers.
Moving into the dug out

After settling into the dug out, Ma observed how "peaceful and tame" it all was and said she "felt so safe and at rest." Pa answered,
We're safe enough, all right. Nothing can happen here."
You know, I appreciate Pa's optimism and cheery outlook, but I guess he did not know about Murphy's Law.

Pa went to town, literally and figuratively, building a wood frame house with glass windows and a stove. He paid for it all with that wheat field that was yet to be harvested.
When that crop was harvested, Pa [continued saying], they'd be out of debt and have more money than they knew what to do with. He'd have a buggy, Ma would have a silk dress, they'd all have new shoes and eat beef every Sunday.
That was before the grasshoppers came.

Millions of grasshoppers. They settled on the land and ate up that wheat crop and everything else green in sight. In addition, there was no rain, and Plum Creek ran dry.

Pa, who did not know that after donating his last $3 for the bell in the new church belfry instead of replacing his hole-y boots, would end up needing to walk several hundred miles in those hole-y boots to find work, back east, to pay for that new house after the grasshoppers took his wheat field.

It was a miserable, hot summer, but Ma, being a tenacious woman, an excellent example of leadership in forbearance and fortitude, managed the several weeks without Pa.

When Pa was ready to sow another crop, he realized that the grasshoppers had laid millions of eggs, which he knew, once hatched, would begin eating everything green in sight; therefore, it would foolish for him to bother. He would lose another year of harvest.

Hence, it was off to the East again.

The grasshoppers finally left, in grand array, and Pa brought back enough income to pay most of their debt and still buy shoes for Mary, material to make dresses, and even some food supplies.

While the grasshoppers were the most horrific and creepy event in the story, Pa was also lost in a blizzard for three days. He survived on oyster crackers and Christmas candy.

Meanwhile, the more entertaining events of the story involved Nellie Olsen. Laura met Nellie at school in town, and Nellie was the quintessential spoiled snob. Once inviting Laura, Mary, and several other school girls to her house for a town party, she badly mistreated and shamed Laura.

Nellie Olsen, in true fashion, at her party

Ma suggested they return the favor and invite Nellie and the town girls for a party at their home in the country, and Laura sought an opportunity of retribution. She tricked Nellie into the muddy creek waters, where the blood suckers lurked. You can guess what happened.

Come on. You know you would be cheering Laura, and holding your side from laughter, too.

I admit it: I was.

Laura recalled many other personal childhood memories in this story, which remains one of my favorites of the series, but there are many more to come. I anxiously look forward to my next read: By the Shores of Silver Lake. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen
Published 1817
The Classics Club II

Yay! This was my last Austen novel. From now on, whenever I read Jane Austen, I will only be rereading her works, which means they will only get better. 

Northanger Abbey had a very interesting and intriguing beginning. Young Catherine had wild ideas about the world because of her book reading -- you understand how that is -- and when an older couple of friends invited her to Bath, her adventures began.

She soon met wealthy prince charming, Henry Tilney, and social butterfly, Isabella Thorpe. She spent much of her time with Isabella discussing gothic novels, gossiping about Henry Tilney, and dancing at balls. Later, Catherine became acquainted with Henry's sweet sister, Eleanor, and they developed a special friendship.

Catherine & Isabella

Meanwhile, Isabella liked Catherine's brother, James, who was also friends with Isabella's annoying brother, John. John and Isabella manipulated naive Catherine into double dates for the four of them, while interfering in her friendships with Henry and Eleanor.

Catherine later met Henry and Eleanor's older brother, Captain Tilney, and their father, General Tilney, who liked Catherine very much and invited her to stay with them at Northanger Abbey when they left Bath. Because of her infatuation with Gothic novels, Catherine was ecstatic about staying at the Abbey, and she soon began exploring or being nosey. She also had some preconceived notions concerning personal family business, which caught her in an embarrassing situation with Henry.



Then something absolutely terrible and unexpected happened, or at least I did not see it coming. It seemed like poor Catherine was too foolish and ignorant of the world, and she would continue to be tossed around, taken advantage of, or always in the dark. When would she wise up? 

Yet, even after her unfortunate treatment, she maintained an optimistic attitude. 

And good thing this was a Jane Austen novel because Catherine was not left to society's unfair edicts. Things would turn out well in her favor after all. 


Personally Speaking

Some of the characters in this novel were outrageous, and I had a difficult time liking them; but that was to be expected because in time they were exposed to be ill-mannered and self-centered. 

Nonetheless, even Henry was a challenge to like because he was mysterious. But overall, Catherine was a sweet, gentle creature who thought everyone had a transparent heart like her own. Fortunately for Catherine, her naïveté would not ruin her opportunity for happiness.

Northanger Abbey has a heavy gothic feel, which was intended. Towards the end of the story it felt like it could have used more substance, but it was not a major issue for me.

Is this book for you?

If you are in the business of reading Jane Austen's novels, don't pass on this one. You would miss her happy, humorous, charming ideas and delightful language.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye

Jane Austen The World of Her Novels
Deirdre Le Faye
Published 2002

This beautiful little book is the setting for the story of Jane Austen, her world, and her novels. 

Part I covers the biography of her upbringing, influences, misfortunes, individual family members, and a short history of England and her connection to the rest of the world during Austen's lifetime. 

Part II gives a short summary of her six main novels, as well as The Watsons and Sandition, including descriptions of architecture, towns, current events, customs, and people. It is entertainingly interesting and historically, biographically, and culturally informative.  

Look at these beautiful images: my favorites are these portraits of King George III, his wife, Charlotte, and all of their children (minus one child), painted by British artist, Thomas Gainsborough. 

Portraits of the Royal Family, 1782, by Gainsborough

There are numerous maps throughout the book, taken from The English Atlas, including Derbyshire, Kent, Hampshire, Somersetshire, Hertfordshire, Devonshire, and more.

Map of England and Wales

There are so many beautiful images of drawings and paintings of both men and women, including soldiers in uniform of the day, to illustrate what characters may have worn or what they may have even looked like. When it came to Jane's characters, as well as her settings, it was important for people and places to be extremely realistic.

Bridal dress, 1816
Miniature of unknown young lady by Andrew Robertson.
"Her haughty expression suggests a likeness to
Emma Woodhouse."

The author included many photos, paintings and drawings of cottages, manors, abbeys, inns, halls, and other houses to give the reader an idea of the architecture of time and place of Austen's upbringing or those mentioned in her novels.

Houses in St. Thomas St. Portsmouth,
similar to the one the Price family would have lived in.

There are also images of objects, such as personal belongings of Jane's family or items that were written about in the novels, such as the table cabinet from Northangar Abbey. Until this picture, I was unable to visualize it while I read the novel.

Black and gold japanned table cabinet, 1700,
like the one Catherine Morland
found in the bedroom of Northangar Abbey

Finally, there were plenty of photos of places where Jane grew up or settings from her novels.

The Cobb, Lyme Regis, as it is today - used in Persuasion.

A Room of Her Own

The story of Jane's life initially made me feel slightly melancholy for her because she was not well and died so young. I considered it unfortunate that she wrote stories of match-making, finding love, and ultimately getting married, as if that were all that mattered in the world. Part of me wondered if that was her own heart; and yet, it was not to be because she never found a suitable mate, and before long, she could only focus on her bad health. She died never having someone special to call her own.

Oh, poor Jane, I thought. 

Then it occurred to me: Jane may not have been so bad off after all -- for her time, that is; she had a room of her own. Yes, she did. She wrote! She wrote stories that have endured time. She preserved a culture and a history through her stories. How many woman could have boasted such achievements in the early 1800s? It certainly made me feel better.

Now that I read this, I want to reread all of the Austen novels. ASAP.

Is this book for you?

If you are a fan of Jane Austen, her novels, British culture and history, then yes, you will definitely enjoy this well-written, thorough examination of Jane Austen's life and her important contribution to the literary world. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Farmer Boy
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1933

"When a man undertakes a job, he has to stick to it till he finishes it." ~ Father
Farmer Boy tends to be a popular favorite of the Little House series. It is a charming story, written by Laura as a compilation of childhood tales about her husband; I wonder what Almanzo thought of it.

I love to read Farmer Boy for the great quotes about work, life, and America. I won't write a synopsis this time because you can read that HERE.

Instead, here are some of my favorite sections, with the help of Laura Ingalls Wilder's whimsical writing skill. For example, Almanzo, age 9, and his sister Alice (close to his age) were working in the field when Almanzo, observing how his sister had to wear a dress while she worked, asked if she didn't want to be a boy. She first answered yes, but changed her mind. She added,
"Boys aren't pretty like girls, and they can't wear ribbons."
"I don't care how pretty I be," Almanzo said. "And I wouldn't wear ribbons anyhow."
"Well, I like to  make butter and I like to patch quilts, and cook, and sew, and spin. Boy's can't do that. But even if I be a girl, I can drop potatoes and sow carrots and drive horses as well as you can." 
So there.

Almanzo was so eager to grow up and be responsible. He did love to care for the farm animals:
He helped to feed the patient cows, and the horses eagerly whinnying over the bars of their stalls, and the hungrily bleating sheep, and the grunting pigs. And he felt like saying to them all: "You can depend on me. I'm big enough to take care of you all."
When Almanzo asked his father why he did not hire out the work of threshing, using a machine, his father explained how that was work for the lazy man who rather have more time on his hands than prevent waste and do a good job.
"All it saves is time, son. And what good is time, with nothing to do? You want to sit and twiddle your thumbs, all these stormy winter days?"
"No," said Almanzo. He had enough of that on Sundays. 
My favorite, favorite section I copied into my journal was the whole lecture on Independence Day. It is too long to record here, but to shorten it . . . on July Fourth, the town had a celebration and lit the cannons.
"That's the noise that made the Redcoats run!" Mr. Paddock said to Father." 
Father replied that muskets may have won the Revolution, but it was axes and plows that made America. Almanzo wanted to know what he meant. Father explained that the War was fought for a little strip of land, but "it was farmers who went over the mountains and cleared the land and settled it and farmed it, and hung on to their farms." Yes, it was Indian Territory, and the Spanish, French, and English owned parts of it, but they weren't interested in developing the land like the farmers were.

There's something to say about a farmer. That was what Almanzo aspired to be when he grew up.

And he did.

Almanzo and Laura at Rocky Ridge Farm, 1940s

Sunday, March 25, 2018

City of God Part I, by Augustine,

City of God, or
Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, 
Part One
Saint Augustine, translated by Henry Bettenson
Written AD 5th Century

Ten years ago I thought it would be really cool to read City of God, by Augustine. I saw the title on a list of great books to read before you die, and I panicked and immediately picked up a copy from my library.

It was not a smart move because I was in no way mentally prepared to read it, let alone commit to City of God. Hence, it sat unread on my nightstand for three weeks until I dejectedly returned it to the library before late fees kicked in.

Fast forward these ten years, when I come face-to-face with City of God again. It is not the first time I have met with Augustine. Just a genre ago, the biographies of the WEM Reading Challenge, I read Confessions -- much shorter, but nonetheless, still deep and rich in content and ideas.

Not only did Confessions pave the way for City of God, but so has my entire reading journey since January 2012. Basically, six years of learning to study books (via TWEM) have finally prepared me to get through this major work. Well, part way.

And now I do feel really cool -- but not in an arrogant way, I promise.

Augustine of Hippo

Susan Wise Bauer suggests reading an abridged version, but I apparently missed that before I had bought a used copy. This tome is divided into two parts. Part One is only 426 pages, broken up into ten books, with smaller chapters inside each book, labeled by informative headings, which are extremely helpful.

While this is an historical read, it is also definitely philosophical.

My initial expectations were that this was about Rome, though I know not how I figured that out. Anyway, it is about Rome, in a lot of ways, but it is also about God's community of Christians on earth.

Summary of what is in Part One

The Pagans blamed the Christians for the fall of Rome, but Augustine described how Christians also suffered; and furthermore, he argued that it was Christianity that ultimately saved Rome.

He lashed out personally against the indecent pagan gods of Rome who offered nothing but immorality and lies to their believers. He reminded his readers how the gods did not protect Troy (Ilium) or Rome from destruction, and he provided examples of the absurdity and uselessness of these numerous gods that were created by man and were really demons.

Augustine also discussed the problems with astrology, as well as the benefits of virtues. He gave a summary of Roman history, where it went wrong, and how God supported the Christian emperors.

The Course of Empire Desolation (1836) - Cole Thomas

There is a book reserved for an explanation of the gods, what they represented, and how they came to be. Augustine writes about Varro, Socrates, and Plato and the Platonist's philosophy, and how Platonists were closest to Christian truth, although they had refused to acknowledge Christ as the only way to salvation. There is another long section on Apuleius an Neoplatonists, of which I knew nothing at all.

A major theme was felicity (intense happiness). Augustine said that God was the giver of true happiness; and since man is so desperate for happiness, he should just worship God. Plain and simple. Instead man invented a goddess of felicity (whom I had never heard of), who should have been successful enough to take the place of all other gods and ideas, but obviously she failed, too.

I left a lot of other topics out. In most cases, Augustine had much to say about what he had to say, and his arguments were very illuminating and interesting. I could sense his emotions; he was rather irritated that he had to write about these arguments at all. Sometimes he was raw and even sarcastic, such as when he suggested that
men should seek to gain virtue from him who alone can grant it and the whole mob of false gods should be sent packing.
Often Augustine broke off topic and went on a tangent about Christian philosophy and truth. For example, he said,
The sacrifice offered to God is a broken spirit; God will not despise a heart that is broken and humbled.
These were my favorite tangents.

About the City of God, he said,
Indeed this house, the City of God, which is the holy Church, is now being built in the whole world after the captivity in which the demons held captive those men who, on believing in God have become like 'living stones' of which the house is being built.
To get an idea of my opinion about City of God, Part One, the majority of pages in my copy looked like this:

Is this book for you?

If you like ancient history, Christian philosophy, and philosophy in general, you can do this.

Truly, it has been enjoyable, but it is looooooooong. I still have another twelve books to read before I am done, which should be about Christmas this year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring TBR

City of God
I still plan to continue reading this until I finish it.

On the Banks of Plum Creek AND 
By the Shores of Silver Lake AND
The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ecclesiastical History of the English People
I already started this.

The Prince

Formation of Character
Charlotte Mason
Already started this, too.

Reflections on the Revolution in France
Edmund Burke
Thinking of reading this.

Jude the Obscure  OR
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy
Still not convicted about which one to read first. ?????

A Woman's Education 
Jill Ker Conway

Monday, March 19, 2018

Little House on the Prairie - again - by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1935

When I last wrote on this blog about Little House, I expressed a feeling of great anxiety. Besides the perils of traveling, crossing frozen ice and raging rivers, and almost losing the family guard dog - once the Ingalls family found a place to settle - it was one difficulty after another: Ma's sprained ankle, surprise Indian visits, Indian theft, packs of wolves, screaming panthers, chimney fires, mysterious prairie fires that nearly struck their home, an incapacitating family illness, and an Indian war council that almost ended in a massacre.

Finally, after an entire year of these misadventures, the U.S. government threatened to remove settlers from the land if they did not leave on their own, as they were a few miles over the border into Indian Territory (even though the Indians had already moved West).

So this time I soaked in Laura's beautiful descriptions of the prairie and the flowers and the wildlife.

One of my favorite passages that I copied into my commonplace journal was this:
The prairie looked as if no human eye had ever seen it before. Only the tall wild grass covered the endless empty land and a great empty sky arched over it. Far away the sun's edge touched the rim of the earth. The sun was enormous and it was throbbing and pulsing with light. All around the sky's edge ran a pale pink glow, and above the pink was yellow, and above that blue. Above the blue the sky was no color at all. Purple shadows were gathering over the land, and the wind was mourning. 
And this:
All along the road the wild larkspur was blossoming pink and blue and white, birds balanced on yellow plumes of goldenrod, and butterflies were fluttering.  Starry daisies lighted the shadows under trees, squirrels chattered on branches overhead, white-tailed rabbits hopped along the road, and snakes wriggled quickly across it when they heard the wagon coming.
Laura was a master of aesthetic descriptions of the natural environment, as well as expressions of deep human emotions and thought, particularly her own. She was not ashamed to share her deepest thoughts, no matter how raw or naughty. 

I look forward to reading the next books in The Little House series (again) because Laura's stories only mature and her descriptions of nature flourish, especially as she becomes the eyes for her sister Mary, who later loses her eyesight.

The prairie near the Little House replica in Independence, Kansas.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Could Re-read Forever

What would you do if you could only own a few books, in this case, ten? What if you had to downsize? Which books could you live with and read over and over? It is NOT easy to choose just a few, but if I had to choose right now, this is what I could read over and over again. These books come right from my Personal Canon. (BTW, you should do a personal cannon, too.)

The Bible
I cannot live without.
Not my actual Bible.

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
These count as one; I love them as one.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Still hung up on this one.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Powerful, still.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Epic. So much story to love.

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
To imagine such a short life could leave this impression forever.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Still makes me cry. 

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Causes covetousness in me. (Probably not a good thing.)

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Would you be able to do this if called to stand for others?

Let's Roll by Lisa Beamer
An important memoir in courage and faith.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Taking a Break

There has been a little disruption in my life (nothing terrible), and I have been derailed. My attentions have been elsewhere. I am still reading - though at a much slower pace - and while I have finished a few books, I have not made the effort or time to write.

Regretfully, I have lost interest in and put aside reading the remainder of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (I'm so sorry, Hamlette.) I do not know if it is the genre or what, but I could not feel excited about it. I think I wanted to feel that way, like everyone else in my life - like my kids and my close friend - but it never happened. So I put it aside, and maybe I will try another time.

I am still not even halfway through with City of God, but I will keep chugging along; however, come April, I may have to begin the next book on the WEM list, even if I am not done with Augustine, which may or may not be a good idea. I did finish Little House on the Prairie, and a few books I am reading with my kids, as well as a couple of thin books about Charlotte Mason education. Currently, I am reading Mason's fourth book, Ourselves, and I picked up Jane Austen The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye, and have been casually reading. (I believe I learned of this one from Hamlette.)

It seems this year I am more interested in rereading books that I know and love. And since I have been obsessed with Charlotte Mason, I am reading and studying everything on her philosophy, and reorganizing my whole next school year, which is months and months away. But that is where all of my heart is, and so I have not been a very dutiful book blogger. Plus, I am always busy with homeschooling, driving kids to (fill in the blank), and taking care of my family. 

And then . . . 
          I saw Fanda's Zoladdiction and thought, 

                      Hmmm . . . I'd really love to reread Germinal again . . .

See how I get into conundrums? 

Well, for now, I am still here, but not very active. Hope to get out of my slump soon.  Until then, happy reading.