Thursday, May 21, 2015

Don't Let Him Know by Sandip Roy (2015)

While I didn't hate this book, I didn't particularly love it either.

It's essentially short stories about one Indian family.  (oh duh, the cover says that; but I just saw it now).  They aren't in chronological order, but Roy doesn't suffer from continuity issues; there weren't daughters suddenly introduced as adults in the third story when in the first story Amit was an only child (what I call The Golden Girls  problem; in that show, the four roommates have a dizzying array of relatives that appear and then subsequently disappear and exist only to move the plot of that particular episode; Rose's blind sister, Blanche's juvenile delinquent grandson; etc.).

The gay father was interesting, although the story about him going to the gay club was depressing.

I hate to say this, but the writing sometimes felt like the tail end of a creative writing class, published.

Don't Let Him KnowDon't Let Him Know by Sandip Roy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two stars seems so bad, but really - this was just okay.  I didn't hate it but I also didn't love it (or even particularly like it).  Good enough to finish I guess, but I'm not going to rave.  I hate to say it, but the writing sort of felt like the tail end of a creative writing course.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)

I'm listening to Cherry Jones again, reading Little House on the Prairie, on YouTube no less. I'm not exactly sure who this is legal, but I'm not questioning it.


The little house  on the prairie is so isolated and alone, even more than the house in the Big Woods.   I think the actual little Ingalls houses had more neighbors in reality than their fictional counterparts (to fit within the theme of self reliance), but even then, the Ingalls were alone. While Pa was out hunting, Ma and the girls were truly alone, more alone than we'll ever be in our modern society.  Ma had to spend most of her day with little girls, without any female companions her age; Pa and Ma were alone together, without couples to be friends with.  Laura had it the worst, I think; she has to be alone with Mary, who (at least fictionally) is always diametrically opposed to Laura.  The scene were the two girls go wading while Pa digs up stones for the chimney is the example that made me feel sorry for Laura, to be always stuck with Mary to play with and no one else.

 "Mary waded only a little while. She said the gravel hurt her feet, and she sat on a log and patiently slapped at mosquitoes." 

 Mary is such an insufferable priss.   That's the epitome of being alone, right there.


Ma always talks in platitudes, and usually it's about something little girls should be doing (that Laura isn't doing correctly).  But I was thinking more about this, and I guess it was Ma's job to bring up her girls in a world where women weren't valued very highly, and weren't powerful, and was dangerous in some respects.  Ma was doing what she thought best, and also how she was taught.


"When neighbors began to come into a country, it was best to lock up your horses at night, because, where there are deer there will be wolves, and where there are horses, there will be horsethieves."  


"The rising sun was shortening all the shadows. Hundreds of meadow larks were rising from the prairie, singing higher and higher in the air. Their songs came down from the great, clear sky like a rain of music. And all over the land, where the grasses waved and murmured under the wind, thousands of little dickie-birds clung with their tiny claws to the blossoming weeds and sang their thousands of little songs. " 

 This passage was so evocative of Kansas, and made me nostalgic and homesick, particularly to hear the meadowlarks.


Finished Little House on the Prairie.  I did not listen to the entire audio; I ended up reading the very last few chapters and another chapter that for some reason wasn't included in the audio ("Pa Goes to Town").

I choked up when Jack appeared after being lost.  Who wouldn't?

I actually wept real tears, blubbered like a baby, when Mr. Edwards found Santa Claus and delivered their presents.  It's certainly one of the best Christmas scenes in children's literature, perhaps one of the greatest scenes in children's literature period.

Oh, the poor Indians though. Among the major and minor sins of the Victorians, their treatment of and writing about Native Americans is mildly offensive at best, and appalling at worst.  It's definitely where the books take a turn for the worst.   That said, the scene with the Indians riding off in a single file is really poignant and beautiful. And it's dramatic, you have to say that.

I always thought Ma said "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" but I guess that was the Scott's.  Although you know Ma agreed.    Maybe she says it in another book.  Pa sticks up the for the Indians though.  He could have blamed the Indians when they get kicked off their land, but like good Libertarians, he blames the government.

I should have counted how many times someone said "All's well that ends well."  Because they say it a lot.

Little House on the Prairie (Little House, #2)Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Less episodic than Little House in the Big Woods, but filled to the brim and overflowing with nostalgia.  What struck me re-reading the book this time (one of many re-reads) is the sense of loneliness the Ingalls must feel out on the prairie.  They have neighbors - but they live far away.  They really just have themselves to talk to and entertain each other.  Simpler times indeed.  I felt Laura's pain particularly, only having Mary to play with, and we all know Mary is such a priss with too much talk of being lady-like.  I wept real tears over Mr. Edwards finding Santa Claus - it's certainly one of the best Christmas scenes in all of children's literature, and perhaps on of the most memorable scenes period.  The poor Native Americans though.  Wilder writes this romantic/racist mix that I think sends the book into a spiral.  It's dramatic, and her portrayal of the Osages is poignant and sad.  But it's also, I hate to say, ignorant writing too.  It doesn't spoil the book for me - I still love it despite its flaws.   But like a fly in the room, it's annoying.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

To Molly From Shawn: A Summer Booklist

Advent by James Treadwell
I don’t think you’re a fantasy fan, but modern fantasy is so much more than swords and sorcery Game of Thrones bullshit.  The Magicians by Lev Grossman is an example of that (he takes Harry Potter and feeds him crack, essentially), but I’m going to start with Advent.  I read this book and loved it – the writing is dark and mysterious, the British setting is terrific, the postmodern nods to Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising) and Ursula Le Guin (both these authors and their works hover over this book like guardian angels guiding his writing).  I also mention this one first because I'm taking the second book in the series along on an upcoming trip!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
If you haven’t read any Neil Gaiman, his latest book is a good place to start.  Neil Gaiman’s works are a mélange of everything cool written in the last hundred years.  Ocean isn’t my absolute favorite (that belongs to The Graveyard Book) but it’s wonderful – a horror book that’s about the end of childhood and the loss of innocence, and what happens when nightmares come true.  It starts with a quote from Where the Wild Things Are.  Need I say anymore.

Among Others by Jo Walton
Jo Walton is one of our most underappreciated and underrated writers today (although I didn’t care for her last book).  She’s a genre-bender; Tooth and Claw is amazing – it’s a Jane Austen book with dragons instead of people – but I would say Among Others is her most literary.  And beautiful.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
This book has been stuck in my head for two years. It’s really hard to explain what the book is about – but in a nutshell, a diary from a Japanese girl floats ashore on the west coast of the United States – from the tsunami possibly – and the girl says she’s going to kill herself.  The author who finds the diary is going through her own struggles… and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened.  It’s brilliant.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This won awards and notoriety all over the place last year, and deservedly so.  A plague kills almost everyone in the world, and a troupe of actors and musicians travel around performing Shakespeare.  Except it’s so incredibly well written, and the narrative moves all over the place, and you just can’t stop reading it because you want to know what happens.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Whether you know anything about Henry VIII or not, Wolf Hall is a literary masterpiece.  The point of view is amazingly difficult; the history even more so – do some Wikipedia research on Ann Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell first.  It’s historical fiction at it’s very, very, very best.

A Room With A View by E.M. Forster
If you haven’t read any Forster, A Room With A View is a good place to start.  Then move on to Howard’s End, and if you are truly brave, A Passage to India.  Forster is supposed to be the greatest novelist of the 20th century – and I think so too.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
He says this is his last book ever.  We’ll see.  A man goes to another planet as a missionary to aliens.  It’s science fiction – sort of.  But also philosophy, a love story, a dystopian novel.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year (in a year when I’ve had some trouble finding good things to read!)

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
A strange but terrific book, and a book about what sets readers apart from nonreaders.  Very short, quick, and wonderful.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Connie Willis is brilliant, quirky, and probably my favorite author.  If I could be an author, I would want to be her.  Doomsday Book is a good place to start.  In the future, history is studied by going back in time and actually being there when it happened.  A graduate student goes back in time to the Middle Ages… and that’s all I’m going to tell you about that.  Connie Willis writes incredible novels (Passage, about death, is haunting and still lives with me) and her short stories are SUPERB.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout
I know this was a movie on HBO, but I didn’t want to watch it because I didn’t want to ruin it the beautiful feeling the book left me when I was finished with it.  I love it when books that look like something I would never, ever enjoy in a million years turn out to be something special.  That’s Olive Kitteridge.  Stout does this amazing job of turning a very, very unlikable protagonist into someone you love (and occasionally love to hate).  See how many Olive Kitteridge’s you can name after you finish the book.  She’s in our choir for sure.

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollingsworth
I have something for British novelists, I guess.  It’s very, very dense.  I was lost most of the time reading it.  But I loved every minute of it.  I have another Hollingsworth at home, waiting for me, and I’m almost afraid to pick it up!  If you can’t find the The Line of Beauty, try The Stranger’s Child by him.  It’s just as dense and good.

The Razor’s Edge by Maugham.  I don’t think enough people read Maugham anymore.  I know I missed out on him until relatively recently, but now my goal is to read everything he’s ever written.  I started with his novella, Theatre, which the EXCELLENT movie Being Julia was based on  (watch this immediately if you haven’t yet done so), you can probably start anywhere with him and have a great time, but The Razor’s Edge is a good place to begin.

The Pursuit of Love / Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

If you haven’t discovered the Mitfords, they are this daffy famous aristocratic family from the 1930s – One daughter became a communist, another a duchess, two others Fascists (one became very close to Hitler).  Nancy was the older sister, an author (and it turns out a spy for the government on her fascist sisters).  Her books are SO FUNNY.  If you can find a volume with both of them in it, then do so.  They are a riot. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen (2014)Smal

Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett teamed up in 2012 with Extra Yarn, which is still one of my favorite picture books.  It was a Caldecott Honor book, much deserved.  Here's their next collaboration, another much deserved Caldecott.  I love Jon Klassen's illustrations (his color palette, value and tones are particularly lovely to me).  But Mac Barnett's stories, I've falling in love with.  As much as my favorite of favorites Mo Willems... perhaps not that much.  But getting close.

So two boys,  Sam and Dave decide to dig a hole.  That's the plot.

If you were ever a boy, you probably did the same thing.  If you were a girl, you may have done that too.  When I was a boy, we had a girl - actually several - who hung with us boys.  Nothing was ever a boy or girl activity.

Here's the line I read, and realized I adored this book:

"Dave drank chocolate milk
out of a canteen.
Sam at animal cookies he had wrapped
in their grandfather's kerchief."

It took me a while to figure out what that reminded me of, what it harkened back to, what made it sweet and nostalgic and so good.  Then I realized.

Bread and Jam for Frances.
Small Pig.
Beverly Cleary.

Simple sentences that say so much.

The book is surreal - the end is a doozy - but it's a lovely, lovey book.

Sam and Dave Dig a HoleSam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are no holes in this deceptively simple story.  The illustrations are works of bemusement and loveliness; of course, you would expect nothing less from Jon Klassen, who has this artistic knack of making everything old seem new again; these boys could have been digging this hole in 1968 (or perhaps gone sledding with the boy from The Snowy Day.  Barnett's prose at times puts us squarely at the table with Frances (of bread and jam fame) or Beverly Cleary (Ramona would have been right in there with them).  Then,there is the delightfully silly and surreal end that will leave adults scratching their heads (the cat and dog on the last page, their eyes say it all).  Kids will love it, I think.

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Presidential Campaigns by Paul F. Boller, Jr. (1984)

I had a cherished copy of Presidential Wives that I lent to someone about 15 years ago, and I'm still lending it to him.

Presidential Campaigns proved that our modern presidential campaigns have nothing on the campaigns of yore.  Each successive presidential campaign becomes more stage managed, more scripted, and consequently more boring.  They used to really duke it out.  When Theodore Roosevelt said his hat was the ring, he knew that campaigns could be as bloody and brutal as a boxing match.  Campaigns today are grueling - especially compared to those earliest campaigns a few years after the revolution.  Back then, the citizenry (at least those who could vote) really cared.  I mean, a big chunk of them had just fought for that.

Consequentially, as this book progressed, it became slightly duller.

Interestingly, John Dickerson's new podcast on Slate called Whistlestop covers this same territory, and it's more interesting.  I think that's because it has a storyteller element that this book - at least the last half or so of this book - does not have.

Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. BushPresidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush by Paul F. Boller Jr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Presidential Campaigns proved that our modern presidential campaigns have nothing on the campaigns of yore.  Each successive presidential campaign becomes more stage managed, more scripted, and consequently more boring.  They used to really duke it out.  When Theodore Roosevelt said his hat was the ring, he knew that campaigns could be as bloody and brutal as a boxing match.  Campaigns today are grueling - especially compared to those earliest campaigns a few years after the revolution.  Back then, the citizenry (at least those who could vote) really cared.  I mean, a big chunk of them had just fought for that.

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The Just City by Jo Walton (2015)

I hate to admit this, but I'm not a rabid fanboy of anything.  I won't camp out in the rain waiting in line to get tickets for anything.  I'm not at any conventions, dressed as a character.  The closest I've ever come to being a fanboy - I tried to learn Elvish in high school (28 years ago or so).  I attended two Harry Potter midnight sales events, dressed up (I won one of them).  I waited in line and saw all three Lord of the Rings movies on opening night (I was not dressed up).  I once peed next to Neil Gaiman; I didn't take a peek, although I was giddy.  I consider this a highlight of my life, by the way.  None of this, in my opinion, constitutes Fanboy-dom.

That doesn't mean I'm not madly in love with the works of various authors, the Top 10 if you will.  

The Top 10 is purely a figurative term, by the way.  It's probably somewhere between 5 and 30.  And always in flux.

Jo Walton is definitely in that top 10.  I love her writing.  I love her plots and characters.  I love the way her mind works. I love how each and every one of her books is different but interesting and often wonderful.  If I were a writer of some sort, a novelist, I think if I were half as good as she, I would be a damn good writer.  I am always trying to booktalk her books to readers.  Sometimes, I succeed.  When I do, I'm in heaven.

So to her most recent book, The Just City.  It's not one of my favorites.  

It's good.  It's interesting. I read on.  I wanted to finish it.  But it took a while.  A long while.  Over half way through, I finally fell into it.  At least half way. 

I think perhaps it would have helped me if I'd taken a Philosophy class or studied the works of Plato, as the plot basically hinges on that.

It's very old school science fiction; I was reminded of other things I'd read in the past (the historical characters brought together, for example, was a shade of Riverworld).  I know Jo Walton's affinity for science fiction from all ages, Golden Age and otherwise, so I think perhaps that was on purpose.

At some point, I also thought the star ship Enterprise is going to appear; Beverly Crusher and company are going to beam down, and some Star Trek-iness will ensue.  That would have completely ruined the book.

This book may be more clever than I am capable of being.  That happens a lot.  That said, I still thought it was a good book.  Didactic a bit, but that's the taste of old science fiction.  Strong and interesting.   It's still a new Jo Walton, and that made me happy.

The Just CityThe Just City by Jo Walton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't imagine being disappointed by a Jo Walton book ever, and while this isn't my favorite book she's ever written, I did still like it, found it to be both strong and interesting. Having some foreknowledge about Plato would have helped; I had to infer quite a bit.  I was reminded of old science fiction, from the Golden Age, science fiction that used character and plot to have a dialogue with the reader, slow, languorous science fiction in which nothing happened because everything was happening behind the scenes and between the words and in your head.  It's not the kind of science fiction that's published much anymore - and it's something Jo Walton is quite good at.  I also half expected the star ship Enterprise to come swooping out the sky and an away team to beam down and make merry Star Trek-iness with Athene and company; that would have completely ruined the book.

Oh yeah the ending - talk about deus ex machina being turned on its head.  That was clever - Waltonian?

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FDR by Jean Edward Smith (2007)

Jean Edward Smith's FDR  is one of the best pieces of nonfiction I've read in quite a while.  I'm trying to think back to the last biography or history I read and enjoyed as much as this (I went back and looked at my Goodreads account, and setting aside Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which isn't really the type of nonfiction I'm referring to here, it would have to be Peter Ackroyd's Foundation, which I read last November!).  His writing style is superb.  This isn't hagiography or hatchet-jobbery either. I mean , you can't take a historical figure of reverence like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and not be occasionally laudatory; but Smith pointed out warts too.  Smith's preface really sets out what he's attempting to do here, a road map if you will, which I think sets the book apart from other books I've read about Franklin Roosevelt.  One of those things that sets this book apart is his use of four women in FDR's life as the cornerstones to his foundation:  his mother Sara, his wife Eleanor, his one time mistress Lucy Mercer, and his secretary Missy Le Hand.

If you are a keeper (practitioner?) of Rooseveltiana - I'm not a Roosevelt historian, but I enjoy reading about this family immensely - then you already know how important these women were to FDR.  But Smith makes the argument throughout the book that these four women combined in FDR to make him great.  That's not all the book is about obviously - FDR the master politician, FDR the sphinx, FDR as Dr. New Deal and Dr. Win the War, all make an appearance.  But Smith's take on each of these women is rather new and unique to Roosevelt history, I think.  Sara Roosevelt gets better lighting here; she's not the wicked witch of a mother-in-law that she's been portrayed as in other things I've read.  There is a delightful story about her I'd never heard, about her seating Mary McLeod Bethune, president of the National Council of Negro Women, next to Eleanor Roosevelt at a function with a twinkle in her eye, disregarding other racist women in the room.  Eleanor herself is downplayed throughout most of the book - I love his line in the preface about "rummaging through the life of Eleanor Roosevelt has become a cottage industry."  If you know the Roosevelts, you know they led separate lives, that's no surprise.  But Smith points out how much of a detriment Eleanor was to her husband's career, particularly in the late 1930s, and also how much his shadow she was; she only came into her own after her husband's death. (also, Eleanor Roosevelt might have been a great woman and humanitarian - Smith says as much in his preface - but she sure was a stick in the mud). The story of Missy LeHand is well known as well, but Smith downplays FDR's abandonment of her after her stroke.  Finally, Smith - and this for the first time that I've ever read - really illustrates the importance Lucy Mercer had in FDR's life and how she changed him, molded him, and made him a stronger, better person.  She was truly the love of his life, and he was the love of hers, and quite frankly their story is very sad.  This story is usually told from Eleanor's point of view, bitter and powerful; but from FDR's point of view, it's bittersweet; Lucy Mercer was FDR's midlife crisis, and in the modern world of today, he probably would have married her (and bought themselves a sleek red convertible).  As a middle-aged man myself, I understand FDR better now, at least in this respect.
Smith doesn't stray too far off the beaten path though.  All the main players are here, in all their 1930s glory - Louis Howe and Al Smith, the very unlikable and sort of sleazy Roosevelt sons, James Farley and Josephus Daniels, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.  Smith quotes Frances Perkins much, and uses her perspective to cast light on both political stories and FDR's character.  The more I read about Woodrow Wilson; the less I like him:  arrogant, megalomaniacal, racist.  Revisionism hasn't been kind to him.

This isn't a perfect book; the last quarter or so of the book is more of a history of World War II than a biography of Roosevelt, and lacks the pathos and poignancy of Doris Kearns Goodwin.  But that's a quibble - this was a magnificent book by a magnificent writer.

FDRFDR by Jean Edward Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the best pieces of nonfiction I've read in many months.  Smith's writing style is superb; this isn't hagiography or hatchet-jobbery either.  You can't write about a revered historical figure like Franklin Roosevelt without some sense of laud, but Smith maintains a mostly even keel.  FDR has warts on show here.  What I thought was particularly interesting was the Smith's premise that four women - Franklin's mother Sara, his wife Eleanor, his secretary Missy LeHand, and his one time mistress (and love of his life) Lucy Mercer, were the cornerstones of the foundation that made FDR into who he was.  That's not all the book is about obviously - FDR the master politician, FDR the sphinx, FDR as Dr. New Deal and Dr. Win the War, all make an appearance.  But Smith's take on each of these women is rather new and unique to Roosevelt history, I think, particularly with reference to Sara Delano Roosevelt (who gets better lighting here) and Lucy Mercer; Eleanor is more of a shadow figure as well, which Smith justifies by illustrating how peripheral she became to his political life once he became president (she comes into her own fully after his death).  Smith doesn't stray too far off the beaten path though.  All the main players are here, in all their 1930s glory - Louis Howe and Al Smith, the very unlikable and sort of sleazy Roosevelt sons, James Farley and Josephus Daniels, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.  Smith quotes Frances Perkins much, and uses her perspective to cast light on both political stories and FDR's character. This isn't a perfect book; the last quarter or so of the book is more of a history of World War II than a biography of Roosevelt, and lacks the pathos and poignancy of Doris Kearns Goodwin.  But that's a quibble - this was a magnificent book by a magnificent writer.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932)

I couldn't help myself; after reading Pioneer Girl , I decided to read the entire series again.  I last read them when I worked at Monrovia Public Library, so that's over three years ago.  I've never blogged about them either.  So it's time.

I thought I would listen to the series on audio, and I did listen to Little House in the Big Woods , narrated by Cherry Jones.  It took me quite a while to get into it.  Not because of the book; I didn't really care for Jones's narration, at least at the beginning.  About a fourth of the way through, I got used to it, although I couldn't say I liked it.   That won't stop me from listening to Little House on the Prairie , which I found on YouTube of all places.  Cherry Jones has this slight southern accent (I read she's from Tennesee), and her characterization of Pa in particular came off as southern rather than the upper Midwesterners that the Ingalls clan were.

I decided I wanted to read them too, so I could go back and lovingly leaf through passages I liked, and see the Garth Williams illustrations I remember as a child.  I'd also now like to see the Helen Sewell original illustrations, which from what I gather look very Oklahoma! poster-ish.  I'm sure the internet has a stockpile of them.

I don't even remember the first time I read Little House in the Big Woods, or any of the books for that matter.  They have just always been part of my soul.  As I have written elsewhere, the Ingalls story mirrors that of my own near ancestors; I am a descendant of their pioneer pluck.

Scenes from Little House in the Big Woods are stuck in my memory; if you mention the book to me a year from now, I probably will remember only these details:  butchering the pig and Mary and Laura playing kickball with the pig's bladder; the strawberries imprinted on the butter that Ma molded; maple syrup snow candy.  Those three things along are Little House in the Big Woods to me.


As a librarian (and certainly as a former children's librarian), if children and families are the bread and butter of the public library, then homeschool families are the cream.  I don't necessarily agree with their homeschool decision - and as a gay man I'm a little afraid of them -- but I can respect them and enjoy their library use (usually - there have been some obnoxious exceptions).  Knowing homeschool families so well, I also know their love of the Little House series.  Re-reading Little House in the Big Woods has made me think about why homeschoolers - and fundamentalist Christians in general - love the Little House series so much.  I think it partly boils down to something Obama said best when he was running for president the first time:  : "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." 

The Ingalls family at some point or the other displays most of these traits.  Guns are lovingly described; Mary and Laura help Pa make the shot; Pa says he will never leave home again without his gun (although why Ma doesn't have a gun to protect her and the Ingalls children while Pa is out tromping in the woods in a real question; afterall, in the two bears scene, it's Ma who encounters the real bear, not Pa; and also, what happens if some vagrant attacks the little house in the big woods?  But I digress). 

Religion is everywhere too; the Sunday rituals, the evening prayers.  But it's not organized religion at the beginning of the series - there are no churches. It's not mainline - probably another appealing point to homeschoolers (although the real Ingalls most certainly belonged to mainline Protestant churches).

I don't recall the Ingalls being anti-immigrant or anti-trade.  Ma certainly lets Laura and Mary go play with the Swedish lady down the road.  They aren't necessarily completely   racist either; I know later in Little House on the Prairie a black doctor tends them; although I doubt they would have gone over to his house to play.  (But of course, there is the disturbing fact that Ma hates Indians, which I think I will wait to deal with until I read that book).  None of my homeschool families over the last 15 or so years have been overtly racist; they all have been white (all of them).  I didn't go to church with them either, so who knows what happens there.

There are three other factors that make the Little House series attractive to homeschoolers.  Gender roles seem to defined in a traditional, conservative way (although that's a misnomer; Laura is most definitely an outlier when it comes to gender roles throughout the entire series; if  Ma and Mary are at one end, the traditionalist role, Laura is always at the other end of the spectrum, always bucking the system and chafing against having to be a girl in a male dominated patriarchal society.

Homeschoolers love the fuzzy , good old says, rose colored past, and if anything is true about Little House, I think it's that; they long for that other, perfect time, when women all wore dresses and made sugar snow candy and rye n injun crackers, and everything was perfect. 

Finally, and maybe this is more subtle:  the libertarian, anti-government, self sufficiency of the Ingalls family (at least in the novels; the real Ingalls family were never as libertarian) is probably quite appealing to homeschool families who distrust the system in which they declined to take part


Laura Ingalls Wilder had some resentment of her Ma.  She certainly gets the cold shoulder compared to Pa Ingalls.  Ma's eyes never twinkle, and she's always trying to make Laura do stuff that's against her nature, that she doesn't want to do, usually with some steely platitude:  "Laura, aren't you going to let the other girls hold your doll?"  She meant, "Little girls must not be selfish."  It's Christmas, Laura just go the doll a few minutes ago, her first toy ever - she should get a few moments to be selfish.  Or:  "It was harder" - in the days of the grandparents - "for little girls.  Because they had to behave like little ladies all the time, not only on Sundays."  It seemed pretty hard anyway.  Although Laura writes from a rebellious point of view against all this, which is refreshing.

Mary Ingalls gets similar treatment.  "Mary was a good little girl who always kept her dress clean and neat and minded her manners.  Mary had lovely golden curls, and her candy heart had a poem on it."   God smiles upon the Aryan children, and even their candy is superior.

Although Mary was ultimately cursed with blindness, so clearly God answers prayers.


Aunt Ruby and Aunt Docia Ingalls
"Pull, Ruby, pull!" Aunt Docia said, breathless.  "Pull harder." So Aunt Ruby braced her feet and pulled harder.  Aunt Docia kept measuring her waist with her hands, and at last she gasped. "I guess that's the best you can do."  She said, "Caroline says Charles could span her waist with his hands, when they were married."

That smacks of shade from Caroline Ingalls.


Little House in the Big Woods (Little House, #1)Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think the entire series should be taken as a whole work; it's hard to review individual books in the series because they are all so utterly connected.  Laura Ingalls Wilder is from the same generation as my great-great grandparents; I have ancestors who made a similar trek as the Ingalls, and lived in the upper midwest, maybe even in the big woods. Who knows, maybe there were McGees at the dance at Grandpa's?

Like everyone who read these books as a child, the scenes that were burned in my memory were all about food.  Particularly the snow candy.  I always wanted to try that, but never have - and at this point, living in a place with no snow, probably never will get the chance.

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Mariana by Monica Dickens (1940)

Some of my initial reactions to this book were that it was Something like Diana Wynne Jones, flippant and funny.  But that didn't last.  There are only hints of that Jones-ness here and there.

Predominantly, I just can't with this book.  I've officially had it.  

It's Episodic.  It Doesn't seem to have any kind of center.  

Except being in love with her cousin, which is icky.  Really icky.

I Love the cover; the painting was done in 1933 at about the same time the book was set.  But when your love of the cover is the best thing about the book...  uh oh...

MarianaMariana by Monica Dickens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When the thing you like most about a book is it's cover, then uh-oh major.

There are few redeemable qualities, but being in love with her cousin isn't one of them.

I so wanted this to be Nancy Mitford crossed with Dickens, but instead it was a dickens of a book to try make myself finish.  (I must admit, some serious skimming went on towards the end just so I could finish the bloody thing).

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Now Is the Time by Scott Farthing (2015)

Now is the Time.

Hurry up. Multitask.
Rush. Complete. Accomplish. Email. Text. Instant. Instagram. Instant
Message. Alarms, Finish, Create, Start, Run, Faster, Express, Espresso, Coffee, Snap, Start
over. Collapse. Stress. Wake up and do it again. Obsess. Obsessive. Compulsive. Impulsive.

The 21st Century lifestyle.

"Owe no one anything except to love each other"

We find ourselves caught in the never ending cycle of a constant barrage of both information
and entertainment. A bouncy house of anxiety, excitement, speed, and rush. We have been
taught that our sense of worth is based on the amount that we can accomplish with as little
fuss as possible.

"You Shall not commit adultery. You Shall not murder" Rather you should love your
neighbor as yourself."

Who has time to love your neighbor? Who has time to love your self? I have to get to Irvine by
7:00, Long Beach at 8:00, Thousand Oaks by 10:30 PM, and then pick up the dogs at
midnight, before I start it all over again. Who has time for adultery or even murder?

Or Perhaps...

Who has time to love your neighbor? Who has time to love your self? I am too busy worrying
about my child/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/parent/job OR FINDING

Or Perhaps...

I am too busy worry about that thing I should have saidor not said, or made the other decision,
I need to make up my mind, I need to move ahead, I need to have a plan, I made the wrong
plan, what am I doing??

Sanford Meisner was one of the premier acting teachers of the 20th century developing what
is called "The Meisner Technique" of acting. Before we can understand Mr. Meisner, we need
to know that his theories were reactions to a particular style of acting that was termed
"METHOD" acting....the Deniro/James Dean/Brando school of thought where you become the
other character, you thinking like they do, you have their ticks, their thoughts, their movement.
Method acting involves moving INWARD and leaves little time or space for another actor or
external situations. Whereas the Meisner technique is driven by The motivating force of
awareness, listening, to what the situation or the actor is REALLY saying, then (this is the
hard part) receiving and listening in a multisensory away, and then reacting. Sounds simple?
The ability to focus only on what one situation or person is telling you is one of the hardest
skills to develop as an actor. The art of listening.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Vocal Pedagogy, or rather the study of the art of teaching voice, started to evolve in the mid
20th century with a man named Cornelius Reed and then furthered by William Venard and
Esther Andreas (oddly enough one of Mary Maude's voice teachers) when they started to
introduce the idea that th true art of singing involves the acknowledgement that one has an
inability to hear your own voice and that every singer needs to develope a new way of

What you think your voice sounds like is completely different then what we on the outside of
your body hears. This explains why when you hear yourself on a recording EVERYONE
reacts Therefore every singer develops a relationship of trust with their voice teacher or voice coach
to to be honest and to tell them what they hear. The teacher/coach has to listen to every
nuance and color in a voice and then be able to figure out what is happening and tell the
singer how to fix it. This goes beyone the mechanics of the voice and starts into the
mechanics of the human being. The teacher has to be aware that moods, outside situations,
sickness, medications, fatigue all come into play and effects, drastically how each person can

A new way of listening.

Hurry up Multitask.Rush, Complete. Accomplish. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.

Wake up (the scripture says)

How often do we have a conversation with someone where we don't actually hear what they
are saying, but rather focus on what our reaction is going to be?

How often do we ask how someone is doing? But don't bother to really listen to the answer or
as they say in acting "listen deeply" to the answer.

How often do we not hear ourselves as we talk? We communicate to each other with words
that we don't mean or with meanings we don't say. We pretend to talk or listen but really are
thinking about something else. How can we not do this? There are so many things to do! We
work on a 24 hour clock that has to be filled with accomplishment throughout all of those 24
hours! Time is short and our lists are tall.

Now is the Time. Wake Up

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We have been called as Christians to love. Not just our neighbor but ourselves. As one of my
favorite performers RuPaul says, "if you can't love your self, how are you gonna love
someone else?

In order to love, we have to wake up and listen We have to be able to understand and
empathise and sympathise. We learn to be active listeners and listening speakers. Hearing
ourselves in a new way. Listening to each other with new ears. Ears that are awake!

Now is the time.

Listening and loving are "now only" actions. Every chance and every interaction are important
because they never happen again. I am reminded by a poem by one of my favorite authors
Sara Teasdale from her work entitled "Child, Child"

Child, child, love while you canThe voice and the eyes and the soul of a man,Never fear though it break your heart Out of the wound new joy will start;Only love proudly and gladly and wellThough love be heaven or love be hell.Child, child, love while you may,For life is short as a happy day;Never fear the thing you feel Only by love is life made real;Love, for the deadly sins are seven,Only through love will you enter heaven.

Be present with those you love. Listen. Listen completely. Listen to them and listen to
yourself. Loving and listening are completely dependent on each other. If you love someone,
if you seek to live in the image of God, a God that listens deeply to each of us, then we are
called to listen, deeply, to others.

Which means slowing down. Letting our minds focus and be present and fully loving. 


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