Category Archives: Classics

April Activities

Is it only April 7th today? It seems like April has already been a month long! How much Life can be packed into seven days, anyway? Well, I have to answer my own question with: A LOT!

April Activities thus far:

I have finished two books already in April. I read Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute, for my Classics Club Spin book. I will be reviewing it soon. Then, I listened to the audiobook version of When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It’s a beautifully written memoir of a young neurosurgeon’s battle with lung cancer. It made the waiting room time go much faster.

 

Our daughter came to spend time with us, which is always a delightful time for us. Once again, she helped out with our yard work and gardening, something she loves to do and which we appreciate so deeply.

Our daughter starting the spring clean-up the butterfly garden…

Byron underwent his second chemotherapy infusion, and in these first few days of April, has completely lost his hair. He is tolerating these chemo treatments every three weeks pretty well, with fatigue (and hair loss!) being the main side effects so far. During the times that he is feeling deep fatigue, we have been watching (and really enjoying) a YouTube channel called 4kSeoul. A very talented young man films his walks through the beautiful city of Seoul, South Korea. There is no narration, just sounds of the city surrounding you (especially if you put on your headphones to listen). Byron loves to see the architecture of the city as we walk through different neighborhoods. I am fascinated by the people we see, the energy of that city, and the historical structures we come across on these walks. It’s a fun way to experience a different place and a different culture.

On a walk in Namsan Park, in Seoul, South Korea…

So, hello to April! Life is full and busy for us right now, albeit in some ways we didn’t anticipate, and we are enjoying and appreciating the beauty of early Spring.  I hope you are enjoying your April, too!

Classics Club Spin # 29

It’s time again for a Classics Club Spin! (Click here to see how a “SPIN” works.)  I missed the announcement of this new Spin, so I didn’t make a list of 20 books from my current Classics Club list. However, I want to participate, and so when I realized that a number (#11) had already been chosen (too late to put together a list), I looked at my list for my TBR Pile Challenge, and found that #11 on that list is also on my Classics Club list. Perfect!  So for Classics Club Spin #29, I will be reading Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute! And I’m looking forward to it!

Two Books on Courage

For the last few years I have chosen one word to be my guiding theme for the year. My word for 2022 is Courage. (You can read about my reasons for choosing this particular word by clicking here.) I am planning to read many different books on courage this year and started this project by reading the following two beautiful stories.

I was delighted when my friend, Marlo, sent me a wonderful little picture book called Courage, by Bernard Waber. It was the perfect gift — heartwarming and deeply appreciated support for me.

It’s a poignant little picture book for the very young and the much older, reminding us that courage comes in all sizes and shapes!

From the publisher:

What is courage? Certainly it takes courage for a firefighter to rescue someone trapped in a burning building, but there are many other kinds of courage too. Everyday kinds that normal, ordinary people exhibit all the time, like “being the first to make up after an argument,” or “going to bed without a nightlight.” Bernard Waber explores the many varied kinds of courage and celebrates the moments, big and small, that bring out the hero in each of us.

 

In January, I also read the Newbery Award winning book of 1941, Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry. It is a classic tale of a young boy overcoming his fear of the sea.

From the publisher:

Maftu was afraid of the sea. It had taken his mother when he was a baby, and it seemed to him that the sea gods sought vengeance at having been cheated of Mafatu. So, though he was the son of the Great Chief of Hikueru, a race of Polynesians who worshipped courage, and he was named Stout Heart, he feared and avoided the sea, till everyone branded him a coward. When he could no longer bear their taunts and jibes, he determined to conquer that fear or be conquered– so he went off in his canoe, alone except for his little dog and pet albatross.

I have read it and reread many times over the years, and my copy of this book from my teaching years showed that it was read often by my sixth graders. It is a moving story and one that teaches us to face what we are most afraid of.

The Three Musketeers

November and December brought a fun reading experience for me. I participated in a “chapter a day” readalong with some Twitter friends. We read and posted quotes from The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas. The readalong was carefully planned by Deacon Nick Senger (@nsenger on Twitter), and was timed so that after reading one chapter a day, we would finish the last chapter on the last day in December. It has been a great adventure and a wonderful way to read a chunkster classic!

This is a book that I’ve always thought about reading but never got serious about moving it up higher on my TBR list. I think I was a bit intimidated by it, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable read. The characters are terrific, the action nonstop swashbuckling, and the story compels you through all 700+ pages. A total “entertainment”!

From the publisher (Oxford World’s Classics):

The Three Musketeers (1844) is one of the most famous historical novels ever written. It is also one of the world’s greatest historical adventure stories, and its heroes have become symbols for the spirit of youth, daring, and comradeship. The action takes place in the 1620s at the court of Louis XIII, where the musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, with their companion, the headstrong d’Artagnan, are engaged in a battle against Richelieu, the King’s minister, and the beautiful, unscrupulous spy, Milady. Behind the flashing blades and bravura, in this first adventure of the Musketeers, Dumas explores the eternal conflict between good and evil.

Some quotes that give you the flavor of the story:

‘You are not one of us,’ said Porthos. ‘True,’ replied d’Artagnan, ‘I have not the dress, but I have the heart and soul of a musketeer; I feel it, sir, and it impels me along, as it were, by force.’

D’Artagnan marvelled at the fragile unseen threads on which the destinies of nations and the lives of men may sometimes be suspended.

A rascal does not laugh in the same manner as an honest man; a hypocrite does not weep with the same kind of tears as a sincere man. All imposture is a mask; and, however well the mask may be made, it may always, with a little attention, be distinguished from the true face.

‘Perhaps so,’ replied Athos; ‘but, at all events, mark this well: assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, or cause him to be assassinated—it is of no consequence to me: I know him not; and he is, besides, the enemy of France. But, touch not one single hair of the head of d’Artagnan, who is my faithful friend, whom I love and will protect; or I swear to you, by my father’s head, that the crime which you have then committed, or attempted to commit, shall be indeed your last.’

I so enjoyed getting to know these four musketeers and tagging along with them on one adventure after another. I fell in love with d’Artangnon, who was so much more than he appeared in the beginning, and I appreciated the friendship of the four men. I also have a respect now for this author, Alexandre Dumas, who gave us such an interesting historical look at that time period, and wove a story of the political/religious intrigues of the time with the basic human fight between good and evil.

As I finish the last few chapters this week, I have one bit of advice for those of you who have thought about reading this book but never got around to it: just read it! It’s so much fun!

 

The Long Winter

The winter of 1880/1881 was one of the worst winters on record in South Dakota. The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is the story of her family’s experience in surviving that dreadful winter. One of the books in her Little House on the Prairie series, this book chronicles the seven months of blizzard after blizzard, the deep cold, and the terrible hunger that the citizens of DeSmet, and Laura’s family, suffered.  Even the supply train became stuck in the snow and could not bring in the desperately needed supplies.

The story of how this family and the townspeople survived is riveting and amazing. Laura’s parents were amazing with their survival skills, as the homesteaders of those days had to be. But I was inspired by their inner strength and how they encouraged that strength in their daughters. Laura was a tremendous help to them throughout that winter struggle.

However, that long long winter took a tremendous emotional toll on the family along with the physical struggle to survive. It became increasingly difficult to keep up their spirits, as the struggle to stay warm went on and endlessly on.

I couldn’t help but draw some parallels to our year+ of quarantine and isolation due to the Covid 19 pandemic. So many people have really suffered from the isolation and feeling of endless restrictions on “normal” life. Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for the resilience we find deep inside at times of intense hardship and difficulty.

For the storm was white. In the night, long after the sun had gone and the last daylight could not possibly be there, the blizzard was whirling white. A lamp could shine out through the blackest darkness and a shout could be heard a long way, but no light and no cry could reach through a storm that had wild voices and an unnatural light of its own.

“Now, girls!” Ma said. “A storm outdoors is no reason for gloom in the house.” “What good is it to be in town?” Laura said. “We’re just as much by ourselves as if there wasn’t any town.” “I hope you don’t expect to depend on anybody else, Laura.” Ma was shocked. “A body can’t do that.”

After Ma had seen them all tucked in bed and had gone downstairs, they heard and felt the blizzard strike the house. Huddled close together and shivering under the covers they listened to it. Laura thought of the lost and lonely houses, each one alone and blind and cowering in the fury of the storm. There were houses in town, but not even a light from one of them could reach another. And the town was all alone on the frozen, endless prairie, where snow drifted and winds howled and the whirling blizzard put out the stars and the sun.

 

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

 

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I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” my effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in South Dakota.

The Land of the Blue Flower

More wise words from Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden.  A lovely thought from her short book called The Land of the Blue Flower:

“The earth is full of magic…Most men know nothing of it and so comes misery. The first law of the earth’s magic is this one. If you fill your mind with a beautiful thought there will be no room in it for an ugly one.”

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


I will admit that I did not care much for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain. It was on my list of 50 classics to read in 5 years, and was the book that came up for my Classics Club Spin #28, however I labored to get through it. Mark Twain had a wicked sense of humor, and that was the part of the book I enjoyed the most. If it had just been a comedy, with the fantastical adventure of going back in time to the world of King Arthur, I would have gotten a big kick out of it. But it was overall a much more serious book, touted as a critique of the political and social Institutions of the time. I’m afraid I’m suffering from burnout from the political and social institutions of our own time, and it was clear from this book that not much has changed since Twain’s America.
I found it tedious with the tedium lifted by episodes of brilliant humor.

from the publisher:

Hank Morgan is the archetype of modern man in 19th-century New England: adept at his trade as a mechanic, innovative, forward thinking. So when a blow to the head inexplicably sends him back in time 1300 years and places him in Camelot, instead of despair, he feels emboldened by the prospect placed before him and sets out to modernize and improve the lives of his fellow citizens. But, in order to do so, he’ll need to contend with brash nobles, superstitious nincompoops, and a conniving, blowhard wizard.

While time travel has become a common trope in storytelling today, in Twain’s time it was truly a novel idea; all the more imaginative when you consider how it’s used for satirical effect. A thinly veiled critique of the political and social institutions that impede progress and a scathing condemnation of the naiveté that allows them to thrive, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court saw Twain’s biting wit and sharp tongue honed to a fine point.

I had both a Kindle version of the book and the audiobook which was narrated by Nick Offerman. He did a great job with his narration, and that was a plus in my experience with the story. And as I have discovered over time with my negative responses to certain books, it was simply not a good time for me to read it. I might like it much better at a different point in my life. But to quote my wise son (at age 3 or 4), “maybe so and maybe not.”

My Robin

I am quite captivated by the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett since reading Unearthing The Secret Garden, by Marta McDowell. Included in that book is a short memoir — the story of the little English robin that inspired the robin in The Secret Garden. My Robin is a lovely book to read on a gray and rainy afternoon.

I did not own the robin—he owned me—or perhaps we owned each other. He was an English robin and he was a PERSON—not a mere bird. An English robin differs greatly from the American one. He is much smaller and quite differently shaped. His body is daintily round and plump, his legs are delicately slender. He is a graceful little patrician with an astonishing allurement of bearing. His eye is large and dark and dewy; he wears a tight little red satin waistcoat on his full round breast and every tilt of his head, every flirt of his wing is instinct with dramatic significance. He is fascinatingly conceited—he burns with curiosity—he is determined to engage in social relations at almost any cost and his raging jealousy of attention paid to less worthy objects than himself drives him at times to efforts to charm and distract which are irresistible. An intimacy with a robin—an English robin—is a liberal education.

This story is also available in book form, as an e-book, and as a short audiobook through Audible. It’s a sweet little read, especially for those of us who loved The Secret Gatden.

Illustration by Inga Moore, from The Secret Garden

November Reading, 2021

November has been a busy reading month for me. Here are the books I finished this month:

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And here are the books I’ve been reading in November that are taking longer to finish:

The Hobbit

The Hobbit, read by Andi Serkis

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, is a book I’ve read so many times I’ve lost track of the number. But every time I reread it, I find something new to enjoy about it. This time, I listened to the new audiobook version narrated by Andi Serkis. What an incredible talent he has for voices, dialects, and everything it takes to bring such a story to life!  Just in case you don’t know, Andi Serkis was the voice actor and motion capture actor for the animated character of Gollum in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And he did an awesome job of narrating The Hobbit!

from the publisher:

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.   Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit has sold many millions of copies worldwide and established itself as a modern classic.

If you are looking for a delightful audiobook for the whole family to listen to during the holidays, look no further! This is just a delightful entertainment for all.

Smaug, illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien

Reading Long Books

A Place of Her Own, by James C. Christensen

It’s been a long time since I read a long-ish book, and now I’m immersed in two of them at the same time. Both books are on my Classics Club list, but I didn’t plan to read them right now, let alone at the same time. However, one was chosen as my Classics Club Spin book, and the other one was for a fun read-along challenge that I simply couldn’t resist. So here I am, reading one chapter a day for The Three Musketeers read-along, and listening to the audiobook of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court while doing chores or driving in the car. And I’m enjoying them both!