Category Archives: Reading Projects

The Living Reed

It is our fate, lying as we do between many powers, to be influenced to an extent by all and many. It is our task to accept and reject, to weld and mingle and out of our many factions to create ourselves, the One, an independent nation.

Pearl S. Buck is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is elegant, and she’s a consummate storyteller. With my new fascination with all things Korea, I was particularly interested in reading her novel, The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea. It has taken me awhile to read it because I’m much slower reading actual books these days (eye fatigue) and it was not available on audiobook. But I’m glad I stuck with it, reading a little bit each day, and therefore enjoying it even more than if I had rushed through it.

from the publisher:

“The year was 4214 after Tangun of Korea, and 1881 after Jesus of Judea.” So begins Pearl S. Buck’s The Living Reed, an epic historical novel seen through the eyes of four generations of Korean aristocracy.

As the chronicle begins, the Kims are living comfortably as advisors to the Korean royal family. But that world is torn apart with the Japanese invasion, when the queen is killed and the Kims are thrust into hiding. Through their story, Buck traces the country’s journey from the late nineteenth century through the end of the Second World War.

The story begins with Il-han, scholar and advisor to the queen. In order to be a better advisor, he leaves his family and travels around Korea. Throughout his travels, he finds a deep love for his country and his people.

With what words shall a man tell of love for his country? Before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, Il-han was conceived in the earth of his native land. His ancestors had created him through their life. The air they breathed, the waters they drank, the fruits they ate, belonged to the earth and from their dust he was born.

…He went his way swiftly then, content to do so as he perceived each day now fully the quality of his people. They were brave, they were strong, enduring hardship not only with courage but with a noble gaiety. Expecting nothing either of gods or rulers, they were grateful for small good fortune. Their strength was in themselves and in one another. They could be cruel and they were kind. They fought nature in storm and cold and under bleak skies, but they fought side by side and together. He loved them.

His sons become the next focus of the story, and their story is of the transition from the brutal ending of the Joseon period through invasion by the Japanese. Despite rebellion and revolution, the new order in the 1900s became a long occupation and suppression of the Korean culture. My husband and I had recently watched the Korean drama, Mr. Sunshine, which takes place during this transition time in Korea. It is a series (on Netflix) well worth watching — beautifully written and filmed! It provided a wonderful visual understanding of that tumultuous period of time, and went beautifully with Ms. Buck’s epic story.

The surviving son of Il-han became a revolutionary, and his story, and the story of his son, takes us through the Second World War, with all the complexities of the struggle for Korean independence. A conversation between the old scholar and his son best described the strength of the Korean people over time, and why they survived continual invasion and oppression by the surrounding countries.

“I remember the day my brother was born, and I broke the bamboo shoots, and you told me they would never come up again. You were right, of course, those broken shoots did not grow again. Hollow reeds, you called them. I felt my heart ready to break at what I had done. But then you told me that other reeds would come up to take their place. And every spring I went to the bamboo grove to see if what you said was true. It was always true.”

…“What do you tell me?” Il-han demanded. “This,” Yul-chun said, “that if you never see me again, or never hear my name again, remember—I am only a hollow reed. Yet if I am broken, hundreds take my place—living reeds!”

This book was truly an epic story, and knowing very little about Korean history, I enjoyed learning about it through Pearl Buck’s research and insightful understanding of the culture and character of the Korean people.

This book was one of my choices on my list of 50 books in 5 years for The Classics Club. It is also part of my personal challenge to read the works of Pearl Buck. And it add to my education about Korea!

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Reni Eddo-Lodge

Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge, is an important book to read. It came out a few years ago, but is perhaps even more relevant today. I decided to reread it as part of my anti-racist education. I’m glad I did because I got even more out of it the second time. Reni is very articulate and her ideas powerful. There is also a podcast called “About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge”  which is available on Emma Watson’s, Our Shared Podcast, on Spotify. I highly recommend you read the book and then listen to the podcast. Both aare filled with important ideas.

from the publisher:

Award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge was frustrated with the way that discussions of race and racism are so often led by those blind to it, by those willfully ignorant of its legacy. Her response, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, has transformed the conversation both in Britain and around the world. Examining everything from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, from whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge, and counter racism. Including a new afterword by the author, this is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of color in Britain today, and an essential handbook for anyone looking to understand how structural racism works.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

*We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist. We seem to think that true racism only exists in the hearts of evil people. We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power.

*We don’t live in a meritocracy, and to pretend that simple hard work will elevate all to success is an exercise in wilful ignorance.

*Structural racism is never a case of innocent and pure, persecuted people of colour versus white people intent on evil and malice. Rather, it is about how Britain’s relationship with race infects and distorts equal opportunity.

*Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.

Reading this book and listening to the podcast are part of my ongoing personal project: My Anti-Racist Education.

A Self-Education

Civilization

The Story of Civilization on my bookshelf.

When I was 16 years old my father gave me the complete set, which at that time was 9 volumes, of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization. I was both thrilled with and overwhelmed by the gift. I love history, as did my Dad, but 9 volumes (soon to be 10, and then eventually 11) with fine print just overwhelmed me. Although I’ve used them like an encyclopedia, looking up information needed, in all this time I’ve never read them cover to cover, although they have traveled with me through every move and have survived every purge of books in my lifetime, thus far.

You will understand, then, when I tell you why I am extremely proud of my son. In the last few years, our son, Dan, has had a long commute to work. He has made that time spent in the car both productive and bearable by listening to audiobooks. He has just completed a huge project listening to the complete unabridged set of the 11 volumes of The Story of Civilization!  If I added correctly, that’s over 424 hours of listening time! But it’s more than that because along the way on his historical journey, he took many “side roads” and listened to much of the classic literature of the time period he was immersed in.

We have had the most wonderful and fascinating long talks with him about the different historical time periods, about the amazing people involved, about human nature and culture, and about the writing of this epic life’s work by Will Durant and his wife, Ariel. What an amazing education Dan is giving himself over the miles! I know my college professor Dad would have been incredibly proud of him, too, and they would have had amazing discussions about all that Dan has learned. The pleasure of learning is certainly a powerful gene in our family, and I’m so very proud of the self-education Dan is giving himself through his reading.

“Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts – between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.”

— Will Durant

Our son, Dan, reading to his son…

The Classics Club

Reading the classics has always been a joy for me. So I am very happy to finally become a member of The Classics Club!

My list is a mix of novels, short stories, and poetry, a combination of adult and children’s literature. Many of these books are already on my bookshelves or on my Kindle. I will also add to or change this list occasionally as I find other classics I’d really like to read for this challenge. My goal for completing my reading of 50 books is March 2022!  That sounds so far away, but I know that five years goes by in a flash. What pleasurable reading years they will be!

Progress = 45/50

Red = Link to my review
Blue = Read but not reviewed yet

  1. Death Comes For the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  2. The Railway Children, Edith Nesbitt
  3. Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
  4. A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean
  5. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie
  6. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  7. The Rainbow and the Rose, Nevil Shute
  8. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
  9. The Solitary Summer, Elizabeth von Arnim
  10.  A Very Easy Death, Simone de Beauvoir
  11. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
  12. The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett
  13. Death in the Castle, Pearl S. Buck
  14. Pollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter
  15. This Star Shall Abide, Sylvia Engdahl
  16. The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley
  17. A Tiger For Malgudi, R. K. Narayan
  18. The Moorland Cottage, Elizabeth Gaskell
  19. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
  20. Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
  21. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Douglas Wiggin
  22. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  23. The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner
  24. Kindred, Octavia Butler
  25. The Unicorn and Other Poems, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  26. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  27. Crooked House, Agatha Christie
  28. Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
  29. Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the CIty, Italo Calvino
  30. Cider With Rosie, Laurie Lee
  31. The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman
  32. The Outermost House, Henry Beston
  33. The Door in the Wall, Marguerite de Angeli
  34. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
  35. The Red Pony, John Steinbeck
  36. Kew Gardens, Virginia Woolf
  37. One Day At Teton Marsh, Sally Carraghar
  38. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  39. The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim
  40. Most Secret, Nevil Shute
  41. The Reluctant Dragon, Kenneth Grahame
  42. Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes, Robert Louis Stevenson
  43. The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell
  44. The Living Reed, Pearl S. Buck
  45. Lost in the Yellowstone, by Truman Everts
  46. Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston
  47. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
  48. Night, Elie Wiesel
  49. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
  50. Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope
  51. The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
  52. The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen
  53. The Lost Prince, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  54. Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell
  55. The Ramayana, Bulbul Sharma
  56. The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
  57. Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
  58. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
  59. The Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson
  60. The Book of Tea, Kazuko Okakura
  61. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  62. Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott
  63. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
  64. Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, Ronald Blythe
  65. The Sussex Downs Murder, John Bude

Making Progress

Treebeard

Illustration by Alan Lee — from The Two Towers.

I am slowly making progress on my rereading of The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R.Tolkien. It’s a very enjoyable reading project that I started in November as a retreat from the election stresses and strains. Perhaps I’m reading it slowly because those stresses and strains have gotten worse rather than better! But really I’m reading it slowly so that I can enjoy and savor the wonderful writing as well as the terrific adventure of it all. It’s been my evening read, just before I go to bed at night, and it’s a great way to end the day. I’m about 3/4 of the way through The Two Towers so at this time I am traveling with Frodo and Sam, and Gollum, getting closer to Mordor. I am very glad to spend time in their company.

the-two-towers