Category Archives: Classics

This Star Shall Abide

Long before many of the dystopian books that are so popular these days were written, Sylvia Engdahl wrote a very compelling young adult science fiction trilogy. The first volume was called This Star Shall Abide, and I read it last week. It’s a book that has been on my TBR shelf for a long time and I’m so glad I finally got to it! It was a read I couldn’t put down, and I was very impressed with the ideas that were the basis of the story. The idea of “truth”, for example, and how important it is to be true to oneself. Such a timely concept!  It’s what I used to call a “thinker book” when I was teaching. Books that were full of very human dilemmas and problems to be solved, and books that make for very thoughtful discussions. Those are the kind of science fiction books I really like.

Synopsis of the story from the author’s web site:

Noren knew that his world was not as it should be–it was wrong that only the Scholars, and their representatives the Technicians, could use metal tools and Machines. It was wrong that only they had access to the mysterious City, which he had always longed to enter. Above all, it was wrong for the Scholars to have sole power over the distribution of knowledge. The High Law imposed these restrictions and many others, though the Prophecy promised that someday knowledge and Machines would be available to everyone. Noren was a heretic. He defied the High Law and had no faith in the Prophecy’s fulfillment. But the more he learned of the grim truth about his people’s deprivations, the less possible it seemed that their world could ever be changed. It would take more drastic steps than anyone imagined to restore their rightful heritage.

From The School Library Journal in 1972:

“Superior future fiction concerning the fate of an idealistic misfit, Noren, who rebels against his highly repressive society….  Although there is little overt action, the attention of mature sci-fi readers will be held by the skillful writing and excellent plot and character development.”  It received the Christopher Award in 1973,  for its “affirmation of the highest values of the human spirit.”

Some interesting quotes from the book:

…“Wherever he went he would be a stranger, for there was no home in the world for such as he.”

…“But as long as he kept on caring, nothing could touch the freedom of his inner thoughts.”

…”Knowledge was what he’d longed for, and he could not believe that the process of absorbing it would be anything but a joy.”

About the Author:

Sylvia Engdahl is an Oregon author, which is another reason I like reading her books. A few years ago, I read her book, Enchantress from the Stars, and loved it. That book received a Newbery Honor Award in 1971. You can read more about her and her books at her web site. http://sylviaengdahl.com

 

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Book of Dragons

The Book of Dragons, by Edith Nesbit, is a series of nine dragon stories. Each dragon is a different color or made of different stuff, and each one causes different problems. These stories for children are fun. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as some of her others — I loved The Psammead Trilogy and The Railway Children. But if you enjoy dragon stories, or know a young one who does, I definitely recommend books by Edith Nesbit. She’s terrific.

From the Back Cover:

Dragons — of all sorts — make for marvelous fun, and this collection of madcap tales is filled with them. Some of the legendary monsters are funny and mischievous, others are downright frightening, and a number of them are wild and unpredictable. There’s a dragon made of ice, another that takes refuge in the General Post Office, a scaly creature that carries off the largest elephant in a zoo, and even a dragon whose gentle purring comforts a tiny tot. And who challenges these amazing creatures? Why, daring heroes, of course, as well as a wicked prince, and even an entire soccer team — which, unfortunately, meets its fate with a fire-breathing brute that flies out of the pages of an enchanted book.

H.R. Millar, E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons, North-South Books, 1900

Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, was published in 1949, so I grew up listening to this book and his other Bartholomew book, The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Both books were, and still are, so much fun!  When I was researching books written in my birth year, I was happy to find the Oobleck book on the list!  As a kid, as a Mom, and now as a Grandma, I have always adored Dr. Seuss!  And even though this book is seventy years old, it still provides timeless fun and humor.

Bartholomew is just a regular kid in the Kingdom of Didd, where King Derwin is not the smartest king on record. It was wintertime, and King Derwin was very tired and bored with the weather.

And that winter when the snow came down, he started shouting! “This snow! This fog! This sunshine! This rain! Bahh! These four things that come down from my sky!”

“But King Derwin,” Bartholomew tried to calm him. “You’ve always had these same four things come down.”

“That’s just the trouble!” bellowed the King. “Every year the same four things! I’m mighty tired of those old things! I want something NEW to come down!”

Call the royal magicians!

If you’ve already heard the story of The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, you know that the royal magicians are a bit bumbling. They can start magic, but can’t seem to finish it very well. They don’t have a lot of control over what happens with their spells! So, when they put together a spell to add something new to the weather, OOBLECK is what they got. And we all know that oobleck is very green and sticky stuff.

Thank goodness for level-headed, clear-thinking Bartholomew!

If you or your children or grandchildren want to make some Oobleck, here’s a link to the recipe for the green goop! Enjoy!

 

I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.

 

 

The Country of the Pointed Firs

During my junior year in high school, we were required to read Sarah Orne Jewett‘s, The Country of the Pointed Firs. I remember that it was a “quiet” book, but I don’t remember much else about that reading of it. It must have struck a chord within me, though, because when I was putting together my list of 50 classics to read in 5 years for The Classics Club, I put it on my list. I’m so glad I did!

I bought both the book version and the audiobook so I could both read and listen at the same time. At first, the audiobook almost put me to sleep and I thought I wouldn’t be able to listen to that particular narrator. I was wrong. I’m so glad I listened to it because it was such an authentic reading of the book, Maine accent and all!

The Country of the Pointed Firs, written in 1896, is a series of stories, vignettes, of a small town on the coast of Maine. There isn’t much of a plot, but the vignettes are all interconnected stories of the inhabitants of the village. Through those interconnected lives, you get a real feeling for the tough gentleness of the villagers, the strength they share, and the struggles they faced with that climate and way of making a living from a rugged ocean.  With her beautiful and honest language, Jewett captured a time gone past and created a deep sense of place.

I found the book very nostalgic, quite profound in its simplicity and direct storytelling. I was most moved by the story of the brokenhearted Joanna, abandoned by the man she loved, who withdrew from the life around her and lived alone for the rest of her life on a small island off the coast. The island became her hermitage, and the townspeople watched over her from afar, respecting her decision to withdraw but helping her out in whatever little ways she would accept.

My high school self appreciated the beauty of Jewett’s writing, but my seventy-year-old self deeply appreciates so much more. It is a book that you must read slowly, you cannot be in the hurry of modern life. You must read each word, because the dialect is just as important as the story itself. And you must take the time to let the sense of place and the timeless LIFE within this book soak in.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

The Red Pony

The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck, is a novella in four stories about a young boy growing up on a ranch near Salinas, California. The boy, ten-year-old Jody Tiflin, lives with his father, a strict and harsh disciplinarian, and his mother, who is strong and understanding, and one ranch hand, Billy Buck.  All of them work hard to make a living from the ranch.  It is good, honest work, and they are good people, but life is harsh.

Although just a young adolescent, Jody has to grow up quickly. He has to carry his own weight in terms of chores and help on the ranch, and he is constantly learning. In the first story, he is given a beautiful red pony and it is his responsibility to care for her and keep her well and safe. He relies on Billy Buck to guide him and teach him everything he needs to know about his pony. One day, when Jody has to be in school all day, Billy Buck tells him that he can let the horse stay out in the field for the day. Jody questions him about the weather because the pony shouldn’t be outside in the rain. Billy reassures him that it won’t rain. Unfortunately, it does rain and after spending most of the day outside in the elements, the horse gets sick.

Jody must face life’s challenges head on, but he is resilient, imaginative, and still very much a young boy (collecting frogs on his way home from school and putting them in his lunchbox, to the dismay of his mother). When his grandfather comes to visit, his imagination is captured by the stories he tells Jody of leading a wagon train westward.

Jody lay in his bed and thought of the impossible world of Indians and buffaloes, a world that had ceased to be forever. He wished he could have been living in the heroic time, but he knew he was not of heroic timber. No one living now, save possibly Billy Buck, was worthy to do the things that had been done. A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of a staunchness unknown in this day. Jody thought of the wide plains and of the wagons moving across like centipedes. He thought of Grandfather on a huge white horse, marshaling the people. Across his mind marched the great phantoms, and they marched off the earth and they were gone.

Although I read this book a long time ago, this re-read was like reading it for the first time. I remembered that it was sad, and that it wasn’t a children’s story. But I hadn’t remembered how beautifully written it was, and that John Steinbeck was an extraordinary storyteller. I must revisit more of his books!

 

I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. The movie version of this book was released in 1949, my birth year.

 

 

I also read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Outermost House

In my reading notebook from long ago, on a page with notes I took while reading a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, there’s a sentence I wrote down that says, “Who is Henry Beston?” I love discovering new-to-me authors by finding references to them from other authors. In those days there was no Google to instantly look him up. I took a trip to the library to find out who he was and what he wrote. Then I had to track down his book, read it, and finally understand more fully why A.M.L. admired him and his beautiful little book, The Outermost House. After forty-five years, I just reread it and found it even more beautifully written than I remembered.

Henry Beston served as an ambulance driver during World War I. After the war, he began a  writing career. He spent a great deal of time on Cape Cod, and in 1925, he drew up the design for a small getaway cottage for writing. He called it “the fo’castle.”  It was built near Eastham, on the outermost spit of land against the Atlantic Ocean. When it was finished, he went out to stay for a few weeks. Those few weeks turned into a year of solitude and writing. The Outermost House is a memoir of that year of solitude and his observations and descriptions of that “elemental” area that bring it to life for the reader. As I read it I could hear the waves, I could  picture the shore birds, I could feel the wind and the storms. I slowed myself down from the busy-ness of the holidays so that I could read it word by word and enjoy the beauty of those words chosen so eloquently to bring to life a sense of place.

His book was instrumental in, or inspired, the establishment of Cape Cod as a National Seashore in 1961. Unfortunately, although his little house withstood many storms and an everchanging coastline (it was moved inland twice to preserve it), the severe winter storms of 1978 washed it out to sea.

I loved rereading this book. I loved learning more about the life of Henry Beston. And now I would very much love to spend some time on Cape Cod.

Some favorites from the book:

…The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of the three elemental voices, that of ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied.

…The sea has many voices. Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear in it a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea.

…We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

“Biographical Snippets” by Jessica Ellen Monk :  Click here to read her full summary of Henry Beston’s life.

  • Born June 1, 1888, Quincy MA
  • Served as an ambulance driver in WW1 – 1915
  • Began a writing career after WWI
  • Had “the Fo’castle” built in 1925
  • Spent much of the next few years there in solitude
  • The Outermost House published in 1928
  • Married Elizabeth Coatsworth in 1929
  • Donated Fo’castle to the Audubon Society in 1959
  • Died April 15, 1968
  • Fo’castle washed away by a storm in 1978

 

 

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

Death Comes for the Archbishop

“During those last weeks of the Bishop’s life he thought very little about death; it was the Past he was leaving. The future would take care of itself.”

Death Comes for the Archbishop is my favorite book written by Willa Cather so rereading it for my Classics Club challenge was a pleasure. It’s such a beautifully written book. It is an historical fiction, based on the life of Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who served as the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and of his friend, Joseph Projectus Machebeuf.

From the publisher:

There is something epic–and almost mythic–about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows–gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Out of these events Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.

The character of Father Latour was of a gentle, caring, intelligent and introverted man. This man’s personality was in stark contrast with the rugged western landscapes and the “wildness” of the west at that time, but he showed courage, perseverance, and kindness toward all through the experiences of his life.

But Jean, who was at ease in any society and always the flower of courtesy, could not form new ties. It had always been so. He was like a very few. To man’s wisdom it would have seemed that a priest with Father Latour’s exceptional qualities would have been better placed in some part of the world where scholarship, a handsome person, and delicate perceptions all have their effect; and that a man of much rougher type would have served God well enough as the first Bishop of New Mexico. Doubtless Bishop Latour’s successors would be men of a different fibre. But God had his reasons, Father Joseph devoutly believed. Perhaps it pleased Him to grace the beginning of a new era and a vast new diocese by a fine personality. And perhaps, after all, something would remain through the years to come: some ideal, or memory, or legend.

The stories of the Archbishop’s interactions with the Mexican and Indian peoples and their cultures were poignantly and honestly told. The political problems of both cultures with the American government were complex, but reflecting towards the end of his life, the Bishop said, “My son, I have lived to see two great wrongs righted; I have seen the end of black slavery, and I have seen the Navajos restored to their own country.”

Cather’s  descriptions of New Mexico are exquisite. She uses her words as if a painter and the visions she creates in our minds are full of color and emotion.

“The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, — and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!”

I do love this work of art and the artistry of Willa Cather. Reading this book fills me with sunshine and deep emotion. I am in awe of her mastery of language.

“Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!”

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also a book on my list for my personal reading journey, “May Sunshine Light Your Day.”

 

 

The Haunted Bookshop

 

The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley, has been described as “a love letter to booksellers”, and I agree with that. It’s also just a fun “entertainment,” to quote Graham Greene. As well as many interesting thoughts about the importance of books to individuals and to the nation, and many fun references to books and more books, the story also contains suspense and romance, and a lot of humor. It is not, however, a ghost story. The bookshop is haunted not by ghosts, but by the “ghosts of great literature.”

It is the sequel to Parnassus on Wheels, a book I loved. This one didn’t capture me in the same way, but I did enjoy it, as will anyone who loves books and bookshops. I highly recommend it!  Start with Parnassus on Wheels, though, and then move on to enjoy this one.

from the publisher:

“When you sell a man a book,” says Roger Mifflin, protagonist of these classic bookselling novels, “you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life.”

Some favorite quotes from the book:

Never argue with customers. Just give them the book they ought to have even if they don’t know they want it.”

You see, books contain the thoughts and dreams of men, their hopes and strivings and all their immortal parts. It’s in books that most of us learn how splendidly worth-while life is.

Books are the immortality of the race, the father and mother of most that is worth while cherishing in our hearts. To spread good books about, to sow them on fertile minds, to propagate understanding and a carefulness of life and beauty, isn’t that high enough mission for a man? The bookseller is the real Mr. Valiant-For-Truth.

“Of course one can’t help loving one’s country,” he added. “I love mine so much that I want to see her take the lead in making a new era possible. She has sacrificed least for war, she should be ready to sacrifice most for peace. As for me,” he said, smiling, “I’d be willing to sacrifice the whole Republican party!”

 

Click here to see a Wikipedia list of the book references included in this book that made it so much fun.

 

This book was one of my choices for The Classics Club.

 

Classics Club Spin #19

Hooray! It’s time for another Classics Club Spin!  This Spin will be a little different from previous spins. To add more fun to the challenge, this list should include some of the “chunksters” we have on our lists. We will have until January 31, 2019 to finish our spin book! The spin number will be announced on November 27, and at that time I will return to this post and highlight in red the book I will be reading for this fun November-through-January spin. Here is my list of 20 books selected from my master list of 50 books to read in 5 years.

Happy reading to all the spinners!

  1. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

  2. Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  3. The Sea Runners, Ivan Doig
  4. Travels With my Aunt, Graham Greene
  5. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  6. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  7. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  8. The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner
  9. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  10. Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset
  11. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
  12. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  13. Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston
  14. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  15. The Solitary Summer, Elizabeth von Arnim
  16. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther
  17. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  18. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
  19. The Outermost House, Henry Beston
  20. This Star Shall Abide, Sylvia Engdahl

…painting by Peter Ilsted (1861-1933)

October Reflections 2018

 

As Anne says in L. M. Montgomery’s timeless classic, Anne of Green Gables,  “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  This October was a particularly beautiful one here in Oregon! It was also a wonderful reading month for me. I thoroughly enjoyed my reading for the Readers Imbibing Peril-XIII challenge, and Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-thon.  Here are the covers of books read during this very successful reading month for me:

My husband and I also did a little bit of traveling this month. We spent a couple of days in the Seattle area where I met with my former teaching teammates and had a wonderful reunion lunch while Byron went on a bike ride. Also while in the area, he and I visited our favorite garden center, and the Yakima Fruit Market, and went out to eat at three of our old favorite restaurants. It was a great get-away!

We also spent a couple of days hiking in Silver Falls State Park. We enjoyed our first hike there so much we returned a week later and brought our daughter with us. We all loved hiking amongst  gorgeous the autumn colors.

So all in all, it was a just a great October!