Thursday, April 30, 2009

The True Believer. Eric Hoffer.

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Eric Hoffer. New York: Time Incorporated. 1951 (1963).

Why read it? Nonfiction. Why do people become addicted to certain causes? What are the effects of this addiction on the participant’s personality?

Hoffer’s style of composition is somewhat unusual. He appears to be jotting random thoughts. But they are not really random. The reader has to supply the connections. The basic idea is an attempt to understand why people join the Communist party. Why people become Nazis. Why people become fanatical about Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential election. Why the news media worshipped Barack Obama to the point that many members of the press lost their objectivity. Why people become fanatical about their NFL or major league baseball teams. Hoffer offers somewhat disturbing insights into the phenomenon of the “joiner.”

Ultimately, people are transferring their lost faith in themselves to their faith in a cause.

Sample quotes.

From the editors of Time: “Hoffer’s hero is ‘the autonomous man,’ the confident man at peace with himself, engaged in the present.” xii. ……… “… ‘the true believer,’ who begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future goal.’ ” p. xii. ………. “…key terms, ‘frustrated’ and ‘mass movement,’ seem to depend on each other.” p. xiv.

“[The true believer] is the state of mind of the man who is willing to sacrifice himself, if need be to die, for a cause—no matter what the cause.” Sidney Hook. p. xx. ………. “In our world, frustration is the inescapable and unendurable fate of the many; they can break away from this fate only by losing themselves in causes, ends, and movements greater than themselves.” Sidney Hook. p. xxi. ………. “There is nothing that a fanatic will not do to achieve his goal: the end justifies the use of any means.” Sidney Hook. p. xxv.

Thoreau: “If anything ail a man, so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even…he forthwith sets about reforming the world” p. 6. ………. “We counteract a deep feeling of insecurity by making of our existence a fixed routine.” p. 7. ………. “The men who rush into undertakings of vast change usually feel they are in possession of some irresistible power.” p. 8. ………. “What seems to count more than possession of instruments of power is faith in the future.” p. 9.

“If the Communists win Europe and a large part of the world, it will not be because they know how to stir up discontent or how to infect people with hatred, but because they know how to preach hope. p. 9. ………. “Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved n their vast undertaking.” p. 11. ………. “A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the passion for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.” p. 12.

“…a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause.” p. 13. ……… “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” p. 14. ………. “The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race, or his holy cause.” p. 14.

Comment: On every page of this book, you will find ideas that will make you think deeply about human nature. RayS.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tender Is the Night (Novel)

F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1933 (1961).

Why read it? Is this the standard American love story? Dick Diver, a psychiatrist, is self-confident, the envy of everyone. His patient Nicole is completely dependent on him. She marries him. She begins to develop independence. Dick begins to fall apart. In the end she is completely free of his influence. And Dick is a wreck.

A variation on “A Star Is Born.” The rising actress marries the established star and soon the established star begins to fade as she succeeds in becoming an established star. A similar theme in Dreiser’s Sister Carrie.

Sample quotes:

“I haven’t seen a paper lately but I suppose there’s a war—there always is.” p. 39. ………. “This land here [battlefield] cost twenty lives that summer.” p. 67. ………. “...there she was—embodying all the immaturity of the race.” p. 80.

“Tell a secret over the radio, publish it in a tabloid, but never tell it to a man who drinks more than three or four a day.” p. 87. ………. “I am a woman and my business is to hold things together.” p. 94. ………. “Trouble is when you’re sober you don’t want to see anybody, and when you’re tight nobody wants to see you.” p. 95. ………. “…the fine quiet of the scholar which is nearest of all things to heavenly peace.": p. 132.

“She’s a pretty girl—any body responds to that to a certain extent.” p. 159. ………. “…an American girl of fifteen who had been brought up on the basis that childhood was intended to be all fun….” p. 209. ………. “Good-by, my father—good-by, all my fathers.” p. 229.

“I like France, where everybody thinks he’s Napoleon—down here [Italy] everybody thinks he’s Christ.” p. 247. ………. “It had been a hard night but she had the satisfaction of feeling that whatever Dick’s previous record was, they now possessed a moral superiority over him for as long as he proved of any use.” p. 263. ……… “…a crab-like retreat toward the nearest door.” p. 275.

“We get a lot of understanding at the end of life.” p. 277. ………. “I never understood what common sense meant applied to complicated problems—unless it means that a general practitioner can perform a better operation than a specialist.” p. 285. ………. “…you used to want to create things—now you seem to want to smash them up.” p. 297.

“Dick’s bitterness had surprised Rosemary, who had thought of him as all-forgiving, all comprehending.” p. 318. ……… “Why, I’m almost complete…. I’m practically standing alone, without him.” p. 321. ………. “ ‘I’ll have to’—she stopped herself from saying ‘to wait until I can ask Dick,’ and instead finished with ‘I’ll write and I’ll phone you tomorrow.’ ”

“That he no longer controlled her—did he know that?” ………. [After the formal breakup]: “…and the old little wish that she could tell Dick all about it faded quickly.”

Comment: I wonder if this love story is everyone’s love story. RayS.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Democracy: An American Novel. Henry Adams.

1880. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. 1983

Why read it? Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, her husband dead for five years, decides to go to Washington, D.C. to get to the root of the magnificent machinery of democracy. What does she find at the heart of democracy? What moves democracy? Politics. Corruption. the same thing she is convinced she would find if she investigated any other form of government. She leaves Washington, D.C. to travel to Egypt where she can contemplate the eternity of the pyramids.

Sample quotes:

“Since her [Mrs. Lightfoot Lee’s] husband’s death, five years before, she had lost her taste for New York society; she had no interest in the price of stocks and very little in the men who dealt in them.” p. 3. ………. “What was it all worth, this wilderness of men and women as monotonous as the brown stone houses they lived in?” p. 3 ………. “She wanted to see with her own eyes the action of primary forces; to touch with her own hand the massive machinery of society; to measure with her own mind the capacity of the motive power. She was bent upon getting to the heart of the great American mystery of democracy and government.” p. 7.

“For democracy, rightly understood, is the government of the people, by the people, for the benefit of Senators.” p. 17. ………. “Not one of them [Washington, Calhoun, Clay, Webster], who had aimed at high purpose, but had been thwarted, beaten and habitually insulted.” Adams, Democracy p. 43. ........... “How they had managed to befog the subject.” p. 43……….. “When ever a man reaches the top of the political ladder, his enemies unite to pull him down. His friends become critical and exacting.” p. 107. ………. “She felt that he would tell her what to do when the earthquake came, and would be at hand to consult, which is in a woman’s eyes the great object in men’s existence, when trouble comes.” p. 136.

“She had got to the bottom of the business of democratic government, and found out that it was nothing more than government of any other kind. She might have known it by her own common sense, but now that experience had proved it.” p. 168.

“I have no doubt that you can overcome me in argument. Perhaps on my side this is a matter of feeling rather than of reason, but the truth is only too evident to me that I am not fitted for politics [by becoming Ratcliffe’s wife].” p. 177. ………. Ratcliffe to Mrs. Lee: “Do you fear being dragged down to the level of ordinary politicians? So far as concerns myself, my great wish is to have your help in purifying politics.” p. 178. ………. “…or to be put in a position where I am perpetually obliged to maintain that immorality is a virtue.” p. 178.

Mrs. Lee to Mr. Ratcliffe: “For one long hour, I have degraded myself by discussing with you the question whether I should marry a man who by his own confession has betrayed the highest trusts that could be placed in him, who has taken money for his votes as a Senator, and who is now in public office by means of a successful fraud of his own, when in justice he should be in state prison. I will have no more of this. Understand, once for all, that there is an impassable gulf between your life and mine. I do not doubt that you will make yourself president, but whatever or wherever you are, never speak to me or recognize me again.” Adams, Democracy. p. 181. ………. “You must know that a fortnight ago, Lord Skye gave a great ball to the Grand-Duchess of something-or-other quite unspellable.” p. 183.

Comment: Take your pick. Henry Adams was a cynic or a realist or both. The engine that moves the democratic American republic is politics and politics is almost, by definition, moved by corruption, the temptations of power. RayS.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Room of One's Own. Virginia Woolf (2)

New York: Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, Inc. 1929 (1957) (1992).

10-second review: A woman needs access to life, some money to live on and a room of her own in which to write and she will write great fiction.

Sample quotes:

“…reminds her how unnatural it is to think of the sexes as separate, how natural to think of them as cooperating with one another. And it leads her to speculate that, just as there are two sexes in the natural world, there must be two sexes in the mind, and that it is their union that is responsible for creation.” Mary Gordon. Foreword. p. xi. ………. xii “Thus, unless men and women can be androgynous in mind, literature itself will be permanently flawed.” Mary Gordon. Foreword. p. xii. ………. “In fact, one goes back to Shakespeare’s mind as the type of the androgynous, of the man-womanly mind….” p. 96. ………. “Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.” p. 104.

“What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art?” p. 25. ………. Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre: Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel: they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do….” p. 69. ………. “…when a subject is highly controversial—and any question about sex is that—one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.” p. 4.

“…to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty. Everything is against the likelihood that it will come from the writer’s mind whole and entire. Generally, material circumstances are against it. Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down. Further, accentuating all these difficulties and making them harder to bear is the world’s notorious indifference. It does not ask people to write poems and novels and histories; it does not need them…. It does not pay for what it does not want.” p. 51.

Samuel Butler: “Wise men never say what they think of women.” p. 29. ………. “If one shuts one’s eyed and thinks of the novel as a whole, it would seem to be a creation owning a certain looking-glass likeness to life, though of course with simplifications and distortions innumerable.” p. 71. ………. “The reason perhaps why we know so little of Shakespeare—compared with Donne or Ben Jonson or Milton—is that his grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from us. We are not held up by some ‘revelation’ which reminds of the writer. All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded.” p. 56. ………. If Shakespeare had had a sister: “Meanwhile his [Shakespeare’s imagined…] extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers.” p. 47.

Mr. Greg: “…the essentials of a woman’s being…are that they are supported by and they minister to men.” p. 54. ………. “…women have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time—Clytemnestra, Antigone, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Phedre, Cressida, Rosalind, Desdemona, the Duchess of Malfi, among the dramatists; then among the prose writers: Millamant, Clarissa, Becky Sharp, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Madame deGuermantes…. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten and flung abut the room.” p. 54. ………. “Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.” p. 44.

“…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” p. 4.

Comment: It all makes so much sense to me—women’s access to life is now a part of 20th- and 21st-century life. And we have Jane Austen to illustrate the cloistered 18th-century life of women to contrast with the present. But she, like Shakespeare, to whom Woolf compares her, was not angry, bitter or resentful and did not express those feelings, as did the Bront√ęs, in her works. I’m still not very clear, though, about what is meant by the “androgynous mind.” RayS.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Room of One's Own. Virginia Woolf. (1)

New York: Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, Inc. 1929 (1957) (1992).

Why read it? In the Victorian era and probably in every era in which women were the “protected” sex (from the age of chivalry on), men ruled the world and women stayed home, had babies and were kept away from life. On the other hand, men had every opportunity to experience life and were thus able to write interesting books. Women did not have access to life. Therefore, they could not write. That’s Virginia Woolf’s thesis.

Given a room of her own and enough wealth to live on, women may write, but they cannot write as women; they can’t write out of spite, anger, or sense of injustice. They must write as Shakespeare wrote with no bias as he looked at human comedy and tragedy. The mind of a great writer must be androgynous; the marriage of the male and female mind must be consummated. Then, women will write great fiction.

Next blog: Sample quotes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Not So Wild a Dream. Eric Sevareid.

New York: Atheneum. 1946 (1976).

Why read it? Autobiography. For those who heard and watched Eric Sevareid on TV or read him in his newspaper column, he expressed himself concisely and memorably. His words always left me thinking. He never wasted a word. One of his prominent traits was irony, a trait one finds in any description of war. This book helps people who are not familiar with Eric Sevareid to learn from him again. “His observations provide one more perspective on World War II in particular, and on the brutal reality of war, in general.”

Sample quotes:

Title is from the following quote by Norman Corwin: “Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend.” ………. “Thought leads to actions but actions lead to thoughts.” p. x. ………. “…and in the ‘Negro revolution’ of America, a flight, not so much from poverty as from anonymity.” p. xvii.

“Ten thousand committees could never produce the Sistine ceiling.” p. xviii. ………. “Communism remains less impressive as a way of life than as a device for seizing power.” p. xviii. ……….

“Maturity cannot really pass on the lessons of its experience to youth; that is nature’s secret way of preserving the idealism of youth, as a source spring of human creativity through trial and error.” p. xviii.

“The one so labeled [‘honky,’ ‘hippie,’ ‘pig,’ etc.] may be reviled, tortured, killed or exiled because he is no longer a human being, but a symbol.” p. xviii. ………. “…but no other great power [America] has the confidence and stability to expose and face its own blunders.” xix. ………. “We have solved the composition of a lunar crater but we do not really grasp the…heart of the delinquent child.” p. xix.

“Man’s mind is the final, unlocked riddle.” xx. ………. “…the courage of …doubts in a world of dangerously passionate certainties.” xx. ………. “Careful always to seek for truth and not for our own emotional satisfaction….”

Comment: With those quotes from the introduction, I think you will know the kind of man that Eric Sevareid was. He experienced and he thought. And he expressed his thoughts in precise, sometimes unforgettable language. You will enjoy his autobiography. It contains some memorable ideas. RayS.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History

The Greatest benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity. Roy Porter. New York and London: WW Norton and Company. 1997.

Why read it? A history of medicine “from the clearly defined conviction of the Hippocratic Oath to the muddy ethical dilemmas of modern day medicine.” Wrote the book because when people asked if there were a single-volume history of medicine, he did not know what to suggest. Writing the book made him realize how much he did not know.

“See your doctor,” the advertisements and TV commercials advise. After you read this history of medicine, you may have some second thoughts about the knowledge and wisdom of your doctor.

Sample quotes:

“These are strange times, when we are healthier than ever but more anxious about our health.” p. 3. ………. “…scotching any innocent notion that the story of health and medicine is a pageant of progress.” p. 15 ........... “Trade, war and empire have always sped disease transmission between populations….” p. 26. ………. “It was typhus which joined “General Winter” to turn Napoleon’s Russian invasion into a rout.” p. 27.

“The Mesopotamian peoples saw the hand of the gods in everything…. Sickness was both judgment and punishment.” p. 46. ………. “Egyptian medicine credited many vegetables and fruits with healing properties.” p. 48. ………. “According to Egyptian medical theory, humans were born healthy…” p. 50.

“Hippocratic surgical texts were thus conservative in outlook, encouraging a tradition in which doctors sought to treat complaints first through management, occasionally through drugs and finally, if need be, by surgical intervention.” p. 59. ………. “The Hippocratic Oath foreshadowed the Western paradigm of a profession (one who professes an oath) as a morally self-regulating discipline among those sharing craft knowledge and committed to serving others.” p. 62. ……….

The Hippocratic Oath: “I will use my power to help the sick…. I will abstain from harming or wrongdoing any man by it. I will not give a fatal draught to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing. Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion. I will be chaste and religious in my life and in my practice. Whenever I go into a house, I will go to help the sick and never with the intention of doing harm or injury. I will not abuse my position to indulge in sexual contacts with the bodies of women or of men. Whatever I see or hear, professionally or privately which ought not to be divulged, I will keep secret and tell no one.” p. 63.

Comment: With the Hippocratic Oath, and some of its eye-opening statements, I will end my selection of quotes. Read this book. With the overwhelming use of medications in the world today, you need to be aware of the different theories of medicine. Not everyone believes in “a pill for every ill.” There are those physicians who believe that nature is the surest cure. On the other hand, medicine has accomplished a great deal. And you need to be aware that doctors are human beings consisting of emotions and mistakes and not the gods that your mother and the pharmaceutical companies have suggested they are.

The Romans held that one was better off without doctor.s Personally, I hope to live to be 105 years old. Why? Because when people ask me to what I attribute my longevity, I can say, “I stayed away from doctors. RayS.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Random Walk in Science

An Anthology Compiled by R.L. Weber. Edited by E. Mendoza. New York: Crane, Russak & Co., Inc. 1973.

Why read it? Although the anthology contains many humorous items, there is a fairly serious intent to the book. The 133 selections record anecdotes about noted scientists, items of historical interest, and articles showing the often bizarre ways in which scientists work.

Sample quotes:

“Physicists recognize that the crucial step on the way to scientific discovery is not rational, but intuitive.” p. vii. ………. “Much of the misunderstanding of scientists and how they work is due to the standard format of articles in scientific journals.” p. xv. ………. “By research in pure science, I mean research made without any idea of application to industrial matters but solely with the view of extending our knowledge of the laws of nature. JJ Thompson. p. 3.

“One of the characteristics of humor is that it eludes definition.” Feleki. p. 4. ………. “The greatest blessing of humor is that it relaxes tension.” Feleki. p. 4. ………. “It is estimated that if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes, and there would be no need for an intermission.” Anonymous. p. 7. ………. “…the relation between an analogy and a pun: in the former one truth lies under two expressions, and in the latter two truths lie under one expression.” RV Jones. p. 8.

“The crux of the simplest form of joke seems to be the production of an incongruity in the normal order of events.” RV Jones. p. 9. ………. “…the more advanced jokes usually involve a period of preparation…sometimes elaborate, before the incongruity becomes apparent.” RV Jones. p. 9. ………. “There has long been felt in American physics the need for an efficient governing body to organize the vast quantity of useless research that is being pursued day by day and hour by hour in the many institutions of higher learning in these great United States…The American Institute of Useless Research.” AIUR. p. 23.

“Report writing, like motor-car driving and love-making, is one of those activities which almost every Englishman thinks he can do well without instructions with usually abominable results.” Margerison. p. 49. ………. “There are no bad research students, only bad professors.” PMS Blackett. p. 59. ……….”Once again…the high energy physicists have presented us with a paper with more authors (27) than paragraphs (12). RA Myers. p. 84. ………. Admiral William Leahy to President Truman in 1945: “The atomic bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.”

“The exact temperature of Hell cannot be computed but it must be less than 444.6 degrees centigrade, the temperature at which brimstone or sulfur changes from a liquid to a gas.” Anonymous. p. 106. ………. “Effective as the strapless evening gown is in attracting attention, it presents tremendous engineering problems to the structural engineer.” Anon. p. 115. ………. “ ‘It has long been known that’…actually means ‘I haven’t bothered to look up the original reference.’ ” CD Graham Jr. p. 120. .......... “ ....of great theoretical and practical importance’ actually means ‘…interesting to me.’ ” CD Graham Jr. p. 120.

Oral exam: “…the basic purposes of the oral examination are to make the examiner appear smarter and trickier than either the examinees, or the other examiners…and to crush the examinees.” SD Mason. p. 160. ……….Oral exam: “Be reserved and stern in addressing the examinee; for contrast, be very jolly with the other examiners.” SD Mason. p. 160. ………. Oral exam: “Impose many limitations and qualifications in each question…to complicate an otherwise simple problem.” SD Mason. p. 160.

Comment: You have to have gone through an oral exam for a doctorate to appreciate the truth of the preceding analysis of an oral exam. In addition, from reading these quotes, I decided that scientists sometimes take all the fun out of fun. Note the analysis of humor. The whole anthology is worth reading. RayS.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sketches by Boz. Charles Dickens.

Oxford University Press. 1836.

Why read it? Sketches by Boz [Rhymes with “nose’]. A collection of brief scenes of English life that are wonderfully entertaining and moving. Dickens paints pictures with words. However, although I provided few quotes about the misery of the poor in the excerpts below, you will find plenty of scenes of that in the book—and debtors’ prison. This was Dickens’s first book and the beginning of his crusade to reform the laws that kept the poor locked in their places. Essentially, he did it without preaching. He simply showed the scenes and they spoke eloquently.

Sample Quotes:

“…the eyes which observed the tragedy and comedy of life in such vivid detail; which saw and recorded brutality and pathos, courage and despair, and all the innumerable absurdities of human behavior.” Intro. by Thea Holme. p. x. ………. “…no more than four members being allowed to speak at one time….” p. 37. ………. “What could be done? Another meeting.” p. 38. ………. “Whenever we visit a man for the first time, we contemplate the features of his [door] knocker with the greatest curiosity, for we well know, that between the man and his knocker, there will inevitably be a greater or less degree of resemblance and sympathy.” ‘. 40.

London streets in the early morning: “There is an air of cold, solitary desolation about the noiseless streets which we are accustomed to see thronged at other times by a busy, eager crowd, and over the quiet, closely-shut buildings, which throughout the day are swarming with life and bustle, that is very impressive.” p. 47. ………. London streets in the evenings: “…the heavy lazy mist, which hangs over every object, makes the gas lamps look brighter, and the brilliantly-lighted shops more splendid, from the contrast they present to the darkness around.” p. 53.

“…whereat the tailor would take his pipe solemnly from his mouth, and say, how that he hoped it might end well, but he very much doubted whether it would or not and couldn’t rightly tell what to make of it—a mysterious expression of opinion, delivered with a semi-prophetic air, which never failed to elicit the fullest concurrence of the assembled company; and sot they would go on drinking and wondering till ten o[clock, and with it the tailor’s wife to fetch him home, when the little party broke up, to meet again in the same room, and say and do precisely the same things, on the following evening at the same hour.” p. 65.

“Fathers are invariably great nuisances on the stage, and always have to give the hero or heroine a long explanation of what was done before the curtain rose, usually commencing with ‘It is now nineteen years, my dear child, since your blessed mother…confided you to my charge.’ ” p. 109. ………. “Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater, and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his misery…gin-shops will increase in number and splendor.” p. 187.

“It is strange with how little notice, good, bad, or indifferent, a man may live and die in London.”

“It [Christmas dinner] is an annual gathering of all the accessible members of the family, young or old, rich or poor, and all the children look forward to it, for two months beforehand, in a fever of anticipation; formerly it was held at grandpapa’s , but grandpapa getting old, and grandmama getting old too, and rather infirm, they have given up house-keeping, and domesticated themselves with Uncle George, so the party always takes place at Uncle George’s house, but grandmama sends in most of the good things, and grandpapa always will toddle down, all the way to Newgate Market to buy the turkey, which he engages a porter to bring home behind him in triumph, always insisting on the man’s being rewarded with a glass of spirits, over and above his hire, to drink ‘a merry Christmas and a happy new year to Aunt George.’ ” p. 221.

Comment: Dickens’s sentences are rather long. However, the vivid scenes of life in early 19th-century London are unforgettable. His sentences flow. Once you’re caught, you keep reading. Try it. You’ll like it, I can assure you. RayS.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Adirondack Country. William Chapman White.

New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1954/1980.

Why read it? Delightful book. The history of the Adirondacks, the names, the lakes, the peaks, the guides and impressions of the seasons.

Sample Quotes:

“As a man tramps the woods to the lake…he knows he will find pines and lilies, blue heron and golden shiners, shadows on the rocks and the glint of light on the wavelets, just as they were in the summer of 1854, as they will be in 2054 and beyond; he can stand on a rock by the shore and be in a past he could not have known, in a future he will never see; he can be a part of time that was and time yet to come.” p. xi.

“Almost all the Adirondack peaks have those rounded tops, worn by storm and time.” p. 11. ………. “The belief that between two mountains there must be a valley is not always true in the Adirondacks; likely as not, a lake is there instead.” p. 11. ………. “Men have tried to describe mountain scenery and mountain views; it is futile.” p. 13.

“The Adirondack country has more than 1345 lakes, named, and more nameless.” p. 14. ………. “The word ‘pond’ is used as often as ‘lake’; no one knows at what point of decreasing size a lake becomes a pond.” p. 16. ………. “The chief nuisance of the Adirondacks is not a reptile or beast but the notorious black fly…. …appear about the middle of May and stay around for six weeks…at their worst on a hot windless afternoon.” p. 31.

“One of the common phrases is ‘over to’ rather than ‘over at’—‘He lives over to Lake Clear.’ ” p. 38. ………. “The word ‘Adirondacks’ is authentic Iroquois and is supposed to have been a term of derision spat at the Algonquins, who were forced to live on tree buds and bark during severe winters.” p. 52. ……… "Mt. Marcy, the highest peak, named…after the New York governor; Charles Fenno Hoffman suggested, ‘…the poetic Indian epithet of ‘Tahawus’ (‘he splits the sky’)….” ………. “It was important to keep the fire going; matches were not invented until 1827.” p. 68.

Adirondack guide: “A ‘camp’ means more things up here than a porcupine’s got quills.’ ” p. 140. ………. “The Adirondack guide was portrayed variously as a limitless fount of stories and yarns, a tracker with the skill of a bloodhound, a better shot than Annie Oakley, a chef who could take baking powder, flour, and salt and out-cook Delmonico’s, and an all-knowing philosopher.” p. 153. ………. “Each Adirondack guide worked in only one part of the country and took pride in being known as ‘Lower Saranac,’ a ‘Loon Lake,’ a ‘Blue Mountain,’ or a ‘Lake Pleasant’ guide; he never guided a party outside his own district.” p. 157.

Comment: Of course you have to have lived in the Adirondacks to really appreciate their size, beauty and black flies. This is a delightful book. You’ll treasure it. RayS.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tales and Sketches. Nathaniel Hawthorne.

1830’s 1840’s. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1982.

Why read it? Reading Hawthorne’s tales and sketches is a study in creativity. His topics are varied and often unexpected. His language and ideas invite reflection. Each story is a world in itself. And each story is in Technicolor, at least in my imagination. His stories are a perfect combination of narrative, images and ideas.

Sample some of his quotes:

“There is hardly a more difficult exercise of fancy, than, while gazing at a figure of melancholy age, to re-create its youth.” p. 501. ………. “…wrinkles and furrows, the hand-writing of time….” p. 501. ………. “Now the old toll gatherer looks seaward, and discerns the lighthouse kindling on a far island, and the stars, too, kindling in the sky.” p. 513. ………. “…content yourself with building castles in the air….” p. 522.

“…as needy a gentleman as ever wore a patch upon his elbow.” p. 523. ………. “Gray-headed, hollow-eyed, pale cheeked, and lean bodied, he was the perfect picture of a man who had fed on windy schemes and empty hopes….” p. 524. ………. “It was the first day of the January thaw. Snow lay deep upon the house-tops, but was rapidly dissolving into millions of water-drops.” p. 534.

“The woman wore a cleft stick on her tongue, in appropriate retribution for having wagged that unruly member against the elders of the church….” p. 543. ………. “Pleasant is a rainy winter’s day, within doors!” p. 549. ………. “One blast struggles for her umbrella, and turns it wrong side outward; another whisks the cape of her cloak across her eyes, while a third takes most unwarrantable liberties with the lower part of her attire.” p. 551. ………. “Through yonder casement I discern a family circle, the grandmother, the parents, and the children, all flickering, shadow-like in the glow of a wood fire.” p. 553.

“…find utterance in the sea’s unchanging voice, and warn the listener to withdraw his interest from mortal vicissitudes, and let the infinite idea of eternity pervade his soul.” p. 568. ………. “…alliteratively entitled: Pills, Poetical, Political, and Philosophical; Prescribed for the Purpose of Purging the Public of Piddling Philosophers, of Penny Poetasters, of Paltry Politicians, and Petty Partisans…by Peter Pepperbox.” p. 577. ………. “His sole task…the duty for which Providence had sent the old man into the world, as it were with a chisel in his hand…was to label the dead bodies, lest their names should be forgotten at the Resurrection.” p. 617. ………. “As is frequently the case among the whalers of Martha’s Vineyard, so much of this storm-beaten widower’s life had been tossed away on distant seas, that out of twenty years of matrimony he had spent scarce three, and those at scattered intervals, beneath his own roof.” p. 620.

I conclude this sampling of quotes from Hawthorne’s Tales and Sketches with this one from “The Shaker Bridal.” The Shakers were not permitted to marry in order to prevent children from being born and therefore produce the final eradication of sin—and people—from the world. “…when the mission of Mother Ann shall have wrought its full effect… when children shall no more be born and die, and the last survivor of mortal race, some old and weary man like me, shall see the sun go down, never more to rise on a world of sin and sorrow.” p. 560.

Comment: The riches of Hawthorne’s language and ideas are there for you to read. You’ll need to adjust your pace to “slow.” There’s plot, but it takes a while for Hawthorne to get around to it. You will enter the wonderful world of stories. And don’t forget the Wonder Books and Tanglewood Tales, the re-telling of the ancient myths. RayS.

Sources: Twice-Told Tales, including “The Gray Champion,” “The Gentle Boy,” “A Rill from the Town Pump,” “The Great Carbuncle,” “Sights from a Steeple,” and “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” and “The Celestial Railroad” (1842). Mosses from an old Manse (1846). The Snow Image and Other Tales (1851). A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys (1851). Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys (1853).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Blithedale Romance (2)

Nathaniel Hawthorne. 1852. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. 1983. (2)

10-second review: An intellectual woman cannot compete with the stereotypical pretty, clingy and dependent girl.

From Hawthorne’s Preface: “His [the author’s] present concern…is merely to establish a theater, a little removed from the highway of ordinary travel, where the creatures of his brain may play their phantasmagorical antics, without exposing them to too close a comparison with the actual events of real lives.” p. 633. ………. “The greatest obstacle to being heroic, is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one’s self a fool; the truest heroism is, to resist the doubt—and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed.” p. 640. ………. “…we can never call ourselves regenerated men, till a February northeaster shall be as grateful to us as the softest breeze of June.” p. 641.

“He [Silas Foster, a farmer] greeted us in pretty much the same tone as if he were speaking to his oxen.” p. 647. ………. “Burns was no poet while a farmer, and no farmer while a poet.” p. 689. ………. “We had left…the weary tread-mill of the established system.” p. 648. ………. “The fantasy occurred to me, that Priscilla was some desolate kind of creature, doomed to wander about in snow storms….” p. 655. ………. “The poor fellow [Hollingsworth] had contracted this ungracious habit [of taciturnity] from the intensity with which he contemplated his own ideas and the infrequent sympathy which they met with from his auditors.” p. 662.

Hollingsworth: “I should…say that the most marked trait in my character is an inflexible severity of purpose.” p. 668. ………. Of Hollingsworth: “Such prolonged fiddling upon one string, such multiform presentation of one idea!” p. 680. ………. Zenobia to Coverdale, the narrator: “I have been exposed to a great deal of eye-shot in the few years of my mixing in the world, but never, I think, to precisely such glances as you are in the habit of favoring me with…and yet—or else a woman’s instinct is for once deceived—I cannot reckon you as an admirer.” p. 672.

“How can she [a woman] be happy, after discovering that fate has assigned her but one single event, which she must continue to make the substance of her whole life while a man has his choice of innumerable events.” p. 683. ………. “Persons of marked individuality—crooked sticks, as some of us might be called—are not exactly the easiest to bind up into a faggot.” p. 686. ………. Of Hollingsworth: “…those men who have surrendered themselves to an over-ruling purpose…have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience.” p. 693.

Comment: Well, you have had a sampling of the characters and some of their interactions. Actually, this is my favorite romance/novel by Hawthorne because, although it has some features of a romance, it is quite realistic and, because it is feminist in spirit, and, therefore, contemporary. I remember when I read it for the first time. I took my time reading. You can’t hurry Hawthorne. I savored it. I savored the language, the ideas. And, yes, the humor. If these quotes appealed to you, I think you might enjoy this romance or novel. I don’t care what the critics call it. I enjoyed it. RayS.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Blithedale Romance. Nathaniel Hawthorne. (1)

1852. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. 1983. (1)

Why read it? Although he doesn’t use the word, Hawthorne’s topic is feminism. The plot of this fiction is the defeat of an intellectual, brilliant and beautiful woman, who cannot compete with a pretty, clingy, dependent, young Priscilla. Another theme is the heartlessness of reformers.

Probably the most realistic of Hawthorne’s “romances.” Life in a “Utopian” community. Based on Brook Farm, the Transcendentalist experiment at West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Hawthorne was a feminist before his time. The story of Zenobia, a brilliant young woman, who contends with a pretty, clingy young, dependent thing for the affections of a social reformer, Hollingsworth, who cares nothing for anything other than his reforms. He wants to convert Blithedale into an experiment in prison reform.

Priscilla, the pretty, clingy, dependent young thing attracts Hollingsworth. Zenobia, the intellectual, commits suicide and even the narrator, Miles Coverdale, admits that he was in love with Priscilla. In the end, Hollingsworth, the strong, confident reformer, becomes dependent on that pretty, clingy, and now not dependent young thing, Priscilla.

Next blog: Sample quotes.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Twelve Moons of the Year. Hal Borland.

Ed. by Barbara Dodge Borland. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1979.

Why read it? Each Sunday, Hal Borland published an essay in the New York Times on the seasons in Connecticut, where he lived. These essays are beautifully written, short gems, with not a word wasted. He describes the spirit of the seasons in New England, using all of the senses. They are “sheer celebrations of life.”

Sample quotes:

January can be cold, raw, bitter, icy, edged with a wind that chills the marrow and congeals the blood.” p. 4. ………. February. “But in upper New England there is a wry twist to the legend of the groundhog…hope for sunshine so the groundhog can see its shadow…means there will be only six more weeks of winter.” p. 35. ………. “March has a dubious reputation at best…the hint of madness in the very mention of the March hare…the threat of dark deeds on the ides of March…lamb-and-lion belief…March mud…March floods…the winds of March…the March blizzard of ’88.” p. 62.

April: “…uncounted millions of taut and waiting buds.” p. 94. ………. “May is apple blossoms and lilacs, and if any other month can surpass that combination we have yet to learn its name.” p. 120. ………. June: “The world is new and young in the June dawn, a fresh and sweet and almost innocent.” p. 150.

July. “By the first week in July the day lilies at the roadside and the brown-eyed Susans in the old pastures splash the countryside with Van Gogh orange.” p. 183. ………. “August comes with hot days, warm nights, a brassy sun, and something in the air, perhaps the season itself, that begins to rust the high-hung leaves of the elms.” p. 210. ………. “September comes, and with it a sense of autumn. Summer thins away.” p. 240.

October is the glory and the magnificence of the year’s late afternoon.” p. 271. ………. November: “The owls are the voices of November nights…a chilly sound, a dark and frosty sound that hints of ice and snow…a fireside sound, one that goes with wood smoke and sheltered evenings.” p. 301. ………. “December sunrise: the night’s cold seems to intensify as daylight comes.” p. 340.

Comment: For every day, an essay. For every day, a sense of the season. This book is out of print. If ever it is republished, buy it. It will remind you of the beauty of the world around you and your own feelings about the changing seasons. RayS.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Middlemarch. George Eliot.(2)

1871-1872. New York: Book-of the Month Club, 1992. (2)

10-second review: A novel of provincial life in England and the blasted hopes of two idealists as a result of marriage, Dorothea Brooke and Dr. Lydgate.

Sample quotes:

“Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.” p. 11. ………. “The really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father and could teach you even Hebrew, if you wished it.” p. 12. [Dorothea before she married Casubon.] ………. Casaubon: “My mind is something like the ghost of an ancient wandering about the world and trying mentally to construct it as it used to be, in spite of ruin and confusing changes.” p. 19. [Casubon’s research.]

Mrs. Cadwallader: “For this marriage to Casaubon is as good as going to a nunnery.” p. 58. ………. Mrs. Cadwallader: “I wish her joy of her hair shirt.” p. 61. ………. “Mark my words: in a year from this time that girl will hate him; she looks up to him as an oracle now, and by-and-by she will be at the other extreme.” p. 89.

“We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time….” p. 62. ………. “…certainly, the mistakes that we male and female animals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it.” p. 72. ………. “Mr. Lydgate had the medical accomplishment of looking perfectly grave whatever nonsense was talked to him….” p. 90.

“…correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays and the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.” p. 98. ………. “I am not magnanimous enough to like people who speak to me without seeming to see me.” p. 112. ………. “Mr. Bulstrode had also a deferential bending attitude in listening, and an apparently fixed attentiveness in his eyes which made these persons who thought themselves worth hearing infer that he was seeking the utmost improvement from their discourse.” p. 119.

“For in the multitude of middle-aged men who go about their vocations in a daily course determined for them much in the same way as the tie of their cravats, there is always a good number who once meant to shape their own deeds and alter the world a little and the story of their coming to be shapen after the average and fit to be picked by the gross, is hardly ever told even in their consciousness; for perhaps their ardor in generous unpaid toil cooled as imperceptibly as the ardor of other youthful loves.” p. 140.

Comment: Well, from these quotes you have had a taste of the flavor of Eliot’s language, her biting humor and the setting of one disastrous marriage-to-be. Read the novel. It’s good. RayS.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Middlemarch. George Eliot. (1)

1871-1872. New York: Book-of the Month Club, 1992. (1)

Why read it? Marriage thwarts the happiness and ideals of two people. A study of 19th-century provincial society in rural England.

A novel by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), with a double plot. The heroine, Dorothea Brooke, longs to devote herself to some great cause and, for a time, expects to find it in her marriage to the Rev. Mr. Casaubon, an aging and desiccated scholar. After their marriage, within a year and a half, Mr. Casaubon dies. But Dorothea has lived with him long enough to be disillusioned by his scholarly studies on a topic of interest to absolutely no one. Mr. Casaubon leaves her his estate, with the vengeful proviso that she will forfeit it if she marries his young cousin Will Ladislaw of whom he is jealous.

Dorothea tries to live without young Ladislaw of whom she has grown very fond and throws herself into the struggle for medical reforms advocated by the young Dr. Lydgate. Finally, however, she decides to give up her property and marry Ladislaw.

The second plot deals with the efforts and failure of Dr. Lydgate to live up to his early ideals. Handicapped by financial difficulties, brought about by his marriage to the selfish and ambitious Rosamond Vincy, and by the opposition of his medical associates, he finally cultivates a wealthy practice at the expense of his medical standards.

Marriage challenges the efforts of young idealists. Seems to suggest that marriage destroys achievement--or the marriage.

Next blog: Sample quotes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Country Doctor. Sarah Orne Jewett. (2)

New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. 1884 (1994). (2)

10-second review: Novel about a young girl who challenges the accepted 19th-century practice that every girl should be married and be a housewife. She wants to be a doctor. Takes place in rural Maine.

Sample Quotes:

“In old times when the houses were draftier they was troublesome about flickering, candles was, but land! think how comfortable we live now to what we used to…. Stoves is such a convenience; the fire’s so much handier…. Housekeepin’ don’t begin to be the trial it was once.” p. 153. “ ………. Mrs. Jake Dyer: “It always kind of scares me these black nights. I expect something to clutch at me every minute, and I feel as if some sort of creatur’ was travelin’ right behind me when I out doors in the dark.” p. 155. ………. “The horse knew as well as his master that nothing of particular importance was in hand, and however well he always caught the spirit of the occasion when there was need for hurry, he now jogged along the road, going slowly where the trees cast a pleasant shade, and paying more attention to the flies than to anything else.” p. 184.

“There was a new unsheltered grave on the slope above the river, the farm house door was shut and locked, and the light was out in the kitchen window.” p. 198. ………. “It is nature that does it [cures] after all….” p. 217. ……… “But the young practitioners must follow the text-books a while until they have had enough experience to open their eyes to observe and have learned to think for themselves.” p. 217.

“I said to myself yesterday that a figure of me in wax would do just as well…. I get up and dress myself, and make the journey downstairs, and sit here at the window had have my dinner and go through the same round day after day.” p. 231. ………. “The poor old captain waiting to be released [by death], stranded on the inhospitable shore of this world, and eager Nan, who was sorrowfully longing for the world’s war to begin.” p. 257. ………. “…it is a long hill to try to study medicine or to study something else; and if you are going to fear obstacles you have a poor chance of success.” p. 261.

“The doctor told Nan many curious things as they drove about together: certain traits of certain families, had how the Dyers were of strong constitution, and lived to a great age in spite of severe illnesses and accidents and all manner of unfavorable conditions, while the Dunnells, who looked a great deal stronger, were sensitive and deficient in vitality, in that an apparently slight attack of disease quickly proved fatal.” p. 266.

“I was amazed to find that there is a story going about town that your niece here is studying to be a doctor.” p. 325. ………. Nan: “I know I haven’t had the experience that you have, Mrs. Fraley, but I can’t help believing that nothing is better than to find one’s work early and hold fast to it, and put all one’s heart into it.” p. 326. ………. Nan: “It certainly can’t be the proper vocation of all women to bring up children, so many of them are dead failures at it; and I don’t see why all girls should be thought failures who do not marry.” ………. Nan: “Of course I know being married isn’t a trade: It is a natural condition of life, which permits a man to follow certain public careers and forbids them to a woman.” p. 329.

Nan to George Gerry: “I will always be your friend, but if I married you I might seem by and by to be your enemy.” p. 354. ………. Nan: “But something tells me all the time that I could not marry the whole of myself as most women can; there is a great share of my life which could not have its way, and could only hide itself and be sorry.” p. 355. ………. “…and suddenly she reached her hands upward in an ecstasy of life and strength and gladness: ‘O God, I thank thee for my future.’ ”

Comment: One of my favorite novels and one of my favorite novelists. Sarah Orne Jewett is a national treasure. RayS.