Intriguing Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

zora neale hurstonThe Reading Room rotation consists mainly of Christian books (both doctrinal and historical), books relevant to my personal history, historical fiction, classic fiction, and children’s books. All else is tier 2 stuff that I may or not get around to depending  on reviews and research.

Of late, I have spent a fair amount of time going back over what I thought I knew about my place of origin, and black American culture worth embracing (circa 1900). This brings me to my extensive study of Zora Neale Hurston.

Because I heard a lot about her as I grew up, I thought I knew a lot about her. My gathering of her writings was prompted mainly by the fact that reading her books offers me insight into my hometown. I then stumbled into learning about her rather than simply remembering odd facts from elementary school.

Hurston, widely embraced after her death while largely ignored most of her life, was in many ways a larger than life persona. Even the black feminist writers of the 80’s and 90’s, who revived her from obscurity, have a love/confused relationship with her. Her politics, views on relationships, and unwillingness to engage in racial victim-hood put her at odds with much of what they embrace.

In fact it was this very thing that caused her to be largely dismissed by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. A cursory, unthinking post modern person would assume they criticized her because she was a female in a male dominated movement. That was however, not the case. They disliked Hurston’s work because she refused to write about black life in relation to white America. She didn’t think it did justice to the life and culture of blacks to pretend that their lives held no joy or worth except as compared to the white American mainstream. From her Dust Tracks on a Road:

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

This permeated her writing and her refusal to get in on the racial protest writing that typified the acclaimed writers of the Harlem Renaissance stood in the way of her ability to be widely accepted. Much was and has been made of Richard Wright’s criticism of Hurston, but they simply approached what it meant to be black in America from different angles. To Wright, being black was serious business, while Hurston viewed it as a simple fact of her life which carried some good, and some bad along with it. Same as everyone else. It wasn’t that she was unaware of discrimination:

Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.

It was simply that she didn’t let it define her. The thing most bewildering to today’s cadre of black writers and activists, however, were Hurston’s politics. She wasn’t a liberal. That much is obvious. And although the neocons of today try to co-opt her views as evidence that she would be Republican were she alive today, it is probably closer to characterize Hurston as a libertarian, more akin to Ayn Rand than Ann Coulter. She recoiled against being treated as an inferior creature, and it didn’t matter if it was to her supposed benefit:

“It seems to me that if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”

On the idea of one black person’s actions being a credit to or an indictment of us all:

“Now, suppose a Negro does something really magnificent, and I glory, not in the benefit to mankind, but in the fact that the doer was a Negro. Must I not also go hang my head in shame when a member of my race does something execrable? . . . The white race did not go into a laboratory and invent incandescent light. That was Edison. . . . If you are under the impression that every white man is an Edison, just look around a bit.”

It has been enlightening and fun to read and learn about this woman whose re-emergence put my hometown on the map.

If not for a few profound differences,  I’d say Hurston was my kind of woman.

Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648

christendom destroyedChristendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648, by Mark Greengrass. published November 2014.

First a confession: I didn’t read the entire book. I was slogging through the first 5 chapters while switching back and forth to Chesterton’s Orthodoxy to re-engage my mind. I am a history buff, and as such I thought I would find this nearly 700 page book more interesting than I did.

Or, that was the case until I decided to skip over Greengrass’ exploration of human migration, human replenishment, and the effects of climate change on the way these things took shape. There were some interesting portions as he delved into the lifestyle and political landscape that laid the framework for the 1517 religious upheaval which gripped and forever changed Christendom.

One of the marks of true reading is pushing through those parts of a tome that may be a little less exciting for the purpose of understanding the whole. I couldn’t go the distance with this author however,  so after the first 5 chapters, I decided to just skip to the good part, at the halfway point, the tenth Chapter.

Chapter 10, titled Schism, describes and dissects the fallout of the Reformation.  From this point I was completely engaged and found this book a wealth of historical information, well presented.

Most interesting to note was the fact that much of what is attribute to Luther’s intent seems far radical than his original intent, although there did come a point in his lifetime when he was resigned to the reality that there could be no reunification of the Church he originally set out to reform.

The portions that covered John Calvin and his influence on the church were also informative as Calvinism has been a long fascination of mine, one that has caused me no small bit of angst in years past. Once again, this author’s description of Calvin’s position is much more benign than that of the rigid determinists who have carried his mantle after his death:

For Calvin, predestination was not an invitation to anxiety about God’s justice but a full stop to speculation on the matter. To the question: ‘Am I saved?’ he replied that belonging to the Church and knowing Christ in one’s heart were signs of election. That was liberation from angst. There was no need to build an ark. The rest was about living with Christ in the world, a midst a conflictual maze of human passions. Chapter 11, p. 364

In later chapters he gets into the ensuing conflicts between Protestants and the Catholic church (some of which were violent), and living with the newly formed religious divisions. He also explores the encroaching influence of Islam as it grew in Ottoman lands to the east. Also contributing to Christendom’s demise was the separation of the close ties between the RCC and the heads of state. Charles V was the last Roman emperor to be crowned by a pope in 1530.

This book is, for all intents and purposes, a European history work. Even the use of the word Christendom is clearly referencing a distinct geographical region at a precise period of time in history rather than the universal church as we often use the term.

There is no doubt however, and the author makes it clear, the cultural stage and atmosphere had been set for Luther’s protest and attempts at reform. Luther was, if you will, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It was a heavy read for me at points, despite my being an enthusiastic student of history. All that said, I liked it well enough. I think it would have been a better book if didn’t read like a textbook at several points.

Grade: B-/C+

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh

winnie the poohThe Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne. Originally published in 1926.

There’s really no need to drag this one out. We’re big Winnie-the-Pooh fans here in the reading room, so when one of our girls pulled this entire volume off the library shelf, it served as our nightly read for the next 3 weeks.

There were tales here that we had not read before, such as when Tigger was introduced to the Hundred Acre Wood. Tales we hadn’t read in a few years were fresh and new.

The language of the Hundred Acre Wood and Pooh Corner is endlessly amusing, such as when Christopher Robin organizes a hilarious “expotition” to the North Pole, or when a search is “organdized” for one of Rabbit’s countless friends and relations. Oh yes, I almost forgot the attempt to search for and trap the ever elusive Heffalump, which lands Pooh and Piglet in trouble- yet again. And what would the stories be without Pooh’s inspired rhymes, songs, and hums?

This book offered a fun bed time reading experience and at 7 and 9 years old respectively, our youngest haven’t outgrown it. I even find myself laughing at the stories. When you outgrow the fun and humor of Winnie-the-Pooh, you’re too grown up.

Grade: A

Welsh Prince Trilogy, Book 1: Here Be Dragons

here be dragonsIt’s still taking a while for me to get through my current read (Christendom Destroyed). Since I’ve been pondering the right time to review and discuss Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Prince trilogy series, I figured I’d use my writing time this week to begin that. We’ll start with the first book in the series, Here Be Dragons.

Historical fiction, done well, is great reading ad I enjoy it no matter what era it covers. Having only a rudimentary and peripheral knowledge of the 13th Century conflicts between the English and Welsh, this book also gave me the opportunity to do some educational digging. It is a practice of mine to check the authenticity of any historical fiction  I read, and Penman does an admirable job of keeping with the spirit of life in 13th century England and Wales. Alas, it is historical fiction, so a plot summary is in order.

Wales was a country where royal title did not automatically pass from the ruling prince to his eldest legitimate son. Illegitimate sons were given equal rights to claim inheritance as their legitimate brothers and as such, it was a kingdom in constant turmoil and conflict.

Wales is a small country of proud people and a culture often at odds with those of England, to whom their princes must often swear allegiance in order to keep peace in their country.

More accurately, these truces are for the purposes of keeping peace with England, which is constantly encroaching with the express intent of making Wales a permanent English territory. There was hardly ever real peace in Wales because its princes were instigating civil wars rather than unifying to keep their beautiful and exotic country sovereign and out of English hands. Penman describes it thus:

Theirs was a land of awesome grandeur, a land of mountains and moorlands and cherished myths. They called it Cymru and believed themselves to be the descendants of Brutus and the citizens of ancient Troy. They were passionate, generous, and turbulent people, with but one fatal flaw. They proclaimed themselves to be Cymry—’fellow countrymen’—but they fought one another as fiercely as they did their English neighbors, and had carved three separate kingdoms out of their native soil.” Prologue, pg. xi

In 1283 England finally seized full control of  all Welsh territory and went to great lengths to wipe out what was left of the culture of the people there, whom they considered barbaric and primitive, and making it fully English. The title Prince of Wales was not always held by an Englishman.

However there was a brief period in Welsh history when the country was unified under the leadership of one powerful and charismatic prince, Llewellyn the Great, and it is this era which Penman uses as a starting point for her novel, Here Be Dragons.

Llewellyn earned his place as ruler of Wales in battle and by brokering a peace with his brothers. He then marries Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of England’s King John to form an alliance, however fragile, with the English crown. After a rocky start to the union, Penman weaves together a great love affair, which becomes inevitably stressed when tensions rise between Llewellyn and the English king, who insists on treating the Welsh Prince as his vassal.

While the story of Joanna and Llewellyn is central to the story, what drew me into this book was the family dramas, political intrigue, fierce battles, and descriptions of daily life in 13th century England and Wales. I was frequently engrossed with the well offered descriptions of natural beauty, perhaps because I live in the midst of suburban sprawl.

The stark differences in the ways of government, family, and marriage rights in the two countries was fascinating as well, as I bothered to fact check Penman’s work. This isn’t to say that I agreed with Welsh law, but was fascinated that such laws existed.

I like this book because it was fast paced without being a facile, and it was historically authentic.

It has romance in it, and some racy stuff at that. However, I would not categorize it as a romance novel as it can just as easily be categorized as an adventure story, or a war story.
Continue reading

Real Music Interlude: Fall is Here Edition.

My latest read is a big book, one that also requires thinking as you read it. I’m resisting the urge to hurry through it simply because I have a stack a half mile high waiting for me. There are so many books I am looking forward to reading for various reasons, but I need to finish this one first. Since it will be a bit longer before the next review, I figured some real music is in order.

Fall is finally arriving here, or at least peeking out at us for a day or two. The combination of sun, breeze, and creatures I saw on my walk Thursday morning brought this hymn to mind. Enjoy How Great Thou Art, an instrumental arrangement as performed by The Piano Guys:

Have a great weekend!

Literature Based Unit Studies for Young Students

We are finding that a good way to have home school lessons with a cohesive thread running throughout is by using literature. Using books that young children will enjoy, which also contain overlapping subject and educational topics, helps keep things interesting and learning fun. We’ve used books in this way over the first quarter and it has changed my perspective on the idea of unit studies.

It started out as an exercise primarily for our 7-year-old’s class, but as it turns out, the 9-year-old has gotten a lot out of it as well. Here is one example of a children’s picture book we used as a unit study.

make way for ducklingsMake Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. This children’s book is a Caldecott Medal winner, as I tend to gravitate toward books where the art is as integral to the story as the words on the page.

Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard duck as they search for a place to hatch and raise their ducklings. It is very entertaining to kids and well written (which is why it’s a classic). We covered several subject areas while reading it:

  • Time period: The artwork as well as the occupations of the secondary characters offered discussion of the time period covered in the book, the 1940’s. The children noticed many things that are different from life today, beginning with how well dressed the people were when they went to the park.
  • Science: Study of mallard ducks, their habitats, diets, family formations, and life cycle.
  • Vocabulary: Older books almost always offer opportunity for expanding young children’s vocabulary. Molt, dither, beckoned, and responsibility were among the vocabulary words we explored as we read Make Way for Ducklings.
  • Geography and beginning map skills: Set in the historic city of Boston, the book offered several well known landmarks and city building as we follow the ducklings flight through the city to find their new home.

As a rule, I believe only classic, timeless children’s books are worth the effort of putting together a unit study. At the elementary level, they are very useful so long as you choose good books.

Character Building

booker-t-washington-reputationIn keeping with the theme of  books by men who were committed to true education rather than simply  filling the head with facts, I give you Character Building,  by Booker T. Washington.

This is actually a series of 37  lectures Washington gave to students at The Tuskegee Institute, which he founded in 1881. Most of those students were dispatched around the South to start new schools to educate Negro* children.

Fun fact: The elementary school I attended was founded in 1888 by a couple who had attended Tuskegee Institute. By the time I got there in the 1970’s, it had been long sucked in to the public school system, but it still bears its original name.

You can read Character Building for free here , as is true of almost all of Booker T. Washington’s writings.

Almost nothing that Washington says here would be readily accepted or embraced by today’s university students. There would be cursory nods given to portions, but Washington was far too invested in personal responsibility, discipline, and moral uprightness as a precursor to a good life for today’s generation at large, and today’s black culture in particular.

I stress today’s black culture because there was a true and excellent, a golden age if you will, of black American culture. One that is mostly absent today. Indeed, Washington’s understanding of what a good life entailed was much simpler, far less glamorous, and required more hard work than today’s culture would tolerate.

Rather than blather on, I’ll give you man’s words for himself, with the hope that you will be inclined to read further. On the uselessness of dwelling on negatives:

It is often very easy to influence others in the wrong direction, and to grow into such a moody fault-finding disposition that one not only is miserable and unhappy himself, but makes everyone with whom he comes in contact miserable and unhappy. The persons who live constantly in a fault-finding atmosphere, who see only the dark side of life, become negative characters. They are the people who never go forward. They never suggest a line of activity. They live simply on the negative side of life.

On the importance of thinking:

Now no individual can help another individual unless he himself is strong. You notice that the curriculum here goes along in three directions along the line of labor, of academic training, and of moral and religious training. We expect those who are here to keep strong, and to make themselves efficient in these three directions, in each of which you are to learn to be leaders.

Some people are able to do a thing when they are directed to do it, but people of that kind are not worth very much. There are people in the world who never think, who never map out anything for themselves, who have to wait to be told what to do. People of that kind are not worth anything. They really ought to pay rent for the air they breathe, for they only vitiate it. Now we do not want such people as those here. We want people who are going to think, people who are going to prepare themselves.

On the importance of respecting authority (uh-oh!):

Some of you are going to find it difficult to obey orders. Sometimes orders will be given you which you think are wrong and unjust. Perhaps orders will be given you sometimes that really are unjust. In that respect no institution is perfect. But I want to learn this lesson in respect to orders – that it is always best to learn to obey orders and respect authority – that it is better ten time over for you to obey an order that you know is wrong, and which per- haps was given you in a wrong spirit or with a mistaken motive. It is better for you to obey even such an order as that, thank it is for any individual to get into the habit of disobeying and not respecting those in authority.’

Make up your mind that if you want to add to your happiness and strength of character, you are, before all things else, going to learn to obey. If it should happen that for a minute, or five minutes, one of your fellow students is placed in authority over you, that student’s commands should be sacred. You should obey his commands just as quickly as you would obey those of the highest officer in this institution. Learn that it is no disgrace to obey those in authority. One of the highest and surest signs of civilization is that a people have learned to obey the commands of those who are placed over them. I want to add here that it is to the credit of this institution that, with very few exceptions, the students have always been ready and willing to respect authority.

On staying busy, out of trouble, and the virtues of country life. I am resisting the urge to paste this entire chapter. If you read nothing else, read this:

A large proportion of you are to go from here into great cities. Some of you will go into such cities as Montgomery, and some, perhaps, will go into the cities of the North-although I hope that the most of you will see your way clear to remain in the South. I believe that you will do better to remain in the country districts than to go into the cities. I believe that you will find it to your advantage in every way to try to live in a small town, or in a country district, rather than in a city. I believe that we are at our best in country life-in agricultural life-and too often at our worst in city life. Now when you go out into the world for your-selves, you must remember in the first place that you cannot hold your-selves up unless you keep engaged and out of idleness. No idle person is ever safe, whether he be rich or poor. Make up your minds, whether you are to live in the city, or in the country that you are going to be constantly employed.

In a rich and prosperous country like America there is absolutely no excuse for persons living in idleness. I have little patience with persons who go around whining that they cannot find anything to do. Especially is this true in the South. Where the soil is cheap there is little or no excuse for any man or woman going about complaining that he or she cannot find work. You cannot set proper examples unless you, yourself, are constantly employed. See to it, then, whether you live in a city, a town, or in a country district, that you are constantly employed when you are not engaged in the proper kind of recreation, or in rest. Unless you do this you will find that you will go down as thousands of our young men have gone down-as thousands of our young men are constantly going down who yield to the temptations which beset them.

Refrain from staking your earnings upon games of chance. See to it that you pass by those things which tend to your degradation. Teach this to others. Teach those with whom you come in contact that they cannot lead strong, moral lives unless they keep away from the gambling table. See to it that you regulate your life properly; that you regulate your hours of sleep.

Have the proper kinds of recreation. Quite a number of our young men in the cities stay up until twelve, one and two o’clock each night. Sometimes they are at a dance, and sometimes at the gambling table, or in some brothel, or drinking in some saloon. As a result they go late to their work, and in a short time you hear them complaining about having lost their positions. They will tell you that they have last their jobs on account of race prejudice, or because their former employers are not going to hire colored help any longer. But you will find, if you learn the real circumstances, that it is much more likely they have lost their jobs because they were not punctual, or on account of carelessness.

On keeping good company and being content at home:

You cannot hope to succeed if you keep bad company. As far as possible, try to form the habit of spending your nights at home. There is nothing worse for a young man or young woman than to get into the habit of thinking that he or she must spend every night on the street or in some public place.

On what it means to be truly educated:

I want you to get it firmly fixed in your minds that books, indus-tries, or tools of any character, no matter how thoroughly you master them, do not within themselves constitute education. Committing to memory pages of written matter, or becoming deft in the handling of tools, is not the supreme thing at which education aims. Books, tools, and industries are but the means to fit you for something that is higher and better. All these are not ends within themselves; they are simply means. The end of all education, whether of head or hand or heart, is to make an individual good, to make him useful, to make him power-ful; is to give him goodness, usefulness and power in order that he may exert a helpful influence upon his fellows.

The great Booker T. Washington offers practical, simple wisdom in these lectures to  young people so blessed to be under his tutelage barely one generation removed from slavery. Some of it seemed so rudimentary as I read that were I not privy to what has become of us in this era I would marvel that he bothered to lecture on the subject. It’s timeless.

Grade: A

* I use the word Negro when reviewing works written by black authors of the Harlem Renaissance and earlier generations because that is the word they used. I will most often use the terminology and language of the author. Except for African-American. I will never use that. Black is as far as I am willing to go.

Dumbing Us Down

dumbing us downDumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto. Originally Published in 1991.

I first read this 3 years ago, as a new homeschooling parent. It was highly instrumental in helping me over the hump at the beginning. Homeschooling was such a slog (still is on occasion) and it was helpful to be reminded of why even contemplation of returning to the school system was a bad idea.

We aren’t the slightest bit tempted to return to the public system, but I recently re-read it. This is one of those books I’ll probably return to every few years on this homeschooling journey.

What better person to expose the hidden dangers, problems, and agendas of institutional schooling than someone who spent nearly three decades teaching in it while winning multiple state teaching awards for the effort?

John Taylor Gatto’s book systematically dissects and distinguishes what we think our schools are there to teach from what it is they actually teach. One of the most jarring chapters is at the very beginning where he outlines the seven lessons that every school teacher teaches:

A lady named Kathy wrote this to me from Dubois, Indiana the other day:

“What big ideas are important to little kids? Well, the biggest idea I think they need is that what they are learning isn’t idiosyncratic — that this is some system to it all and it’s not just raining down on them as they helplessly absorb. That’s the task, to understand, to make coherent.”

Kathy has it wrong. The first lesson I teach is confusion.

Everything I teach is out of context… I teach the unrelating of everything. I teach disconnections. I teach too much: the orbiting of planets, the law of large numbers, slavery, adjectives, architectural drawing, dance, gymnasium, choral singing, assemblies, surprise guests, fire drills, computer languages, parent’s nights, staff-development days, pull-out programs, guidance with strangers you may never see again, standardized tests, age-segregation unlike anything seen in the outside world… what do any of these things have to do with each other?

He goes on further into the seven lessons:

The fifth lesson I teach is intellectual dependency.

Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. It is the most important lesson, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices; only I can determine what you must study, or rather, only the people who pay me can make those decisions which I enforce. If I’m told that evolution is fact instead of a theory I transmit that as ordered, punishing deviants who resist what I have been paid to tell them to think.

This power to control what children will think lets me separate successful students from failures very easily. Successful children do the thinking I appoint them with a minimum of resistance and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to study, I decide what few we have time for, or it is decided by my faceless employer. The choices are his, why should I argue? Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.

You can find the total exposition of the seven lessons here, and if those of you who like me graduated the public school system, read them and find that you vehemently disagree, please let me know. I’m interested because I think Mr. Gatto does a masterful job of transmitting in layman’s terms what it is about traditional public schooling that children (and many parents) find so disconcerting but which we can’t quite put our finger on.

Rather than simply diagnose the problem, Gatto offers solutions, with the caveat that is obvious to even the passive observer by now. The school system is first and foremost a jobs program more interested in securing the jobs of the grownups over the interests and education of the children. As such, it cannot truly be reformed and the only way to salvage even a bit of real education for your children, you must rescue them from it. He offers the solutions nonetheless:

Independent study, community service, adventures and experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, a thousand different apprenticeships — the one-day variety or longer — these are all powerful, cheap, and effective ways to start a real reform of schooling. But no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force open the idea of “school” to include family as the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents — and make no mistake, that has been the central function of schools since John Cotton announced it as the purpose of the Bay Colony schools in 1650 and Horace Mann announced it as the purpose of Massachusetts schools in 1850 — we’re going to continue to have the horror show we have right now.

There’s a lot that I could say in support of this book with the hope that those of you who are parents will read it. Trust me when I say it is an excellent book, because it is.  I’ll close this one out with a quote from the book which sums up well the nature of a true education:

Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.

Grade: A

Lifestyle Books: Or Why I Mostly Stopped Reading Them

Lifestyle books are huge sellers in America. Expert and credential obsession is as American as apple pie.  Barnes and Noble is filled on any given Saturday with patrons looking for the latest trendy formula for how to be happy, how to find love, how to simplify, or even something as mundane as how to keep a clean house. I read my share as a young wife and mother.

The only ones I have found of any use at all are books full of recipes, preferably with nerdy food details included. We are a cooking clan in a world where few women -particularly young ones- can cook. So cookbooks are a handy thing to have on hand. Oh yes, and sewing books, although I’m not certain if those qualify as lifestyle books.

However, I did have a couple of lifestyle/how to books in my current reading rotation and two of the three served to remind me why I largely dismiss lifestyle books. Let’s review them.

take back your lifeTake back your life: My No Nonsense Approach to Health, Fitness, and Looking Good Naked! By Wendy Ida, published in 2011.

I actually paid for this rather than borrow it from the library, something I almost never do. I did that because I have a soft spot for sisters who take the time and put in the effort to help other black women get healthy and into shape. Black women are known to age extremely well, wrinkling a full decade, usually more, behind other women. Sadly American black women are notoriously poor stewards of that gift with 80% of us being over weight or obese. It’s one of those things where you put your money where your mouth is and so I did just that. I figured supporting Mrs. Ida in her quest to help rein in the problem was worth $11.94.

I was wrong. The book is full of psychobabble, scattered with useless little helps she labels “sexercises”, and generally void of anything you can’t find anywhere else for free, not to mention presented far better. “You go girl” was the cord running all the way through it rather than a wisdom and stewardship based focus for being healthy and vital. Practical, useful information was scant, or unoriginal when it was presented.  I couldn’t even finish it.

Grade: D

crows feet laugh linesLet the Crow’s Feet and the Laugh Lines Come, by Dena Dyer, published 2011. I bought this one too, albeit for only .50 at a used book sale courtesy of my local library.

This book is a Christian attempt to encourage believing women to reject the world’s reduction of their worth to nothing more than their youth and beauty or the fading thereof. Not a bad message, and at 44, one that I can embrace wholeheartedly.

There really is some good stuff in this book, and I tried to focus on those things rather than get caught up in my tendency toward literary snobbery. Both the writing and structure leave a lot to be desired. It might just be that this is the nature of the lifestyle book, and something that can’t really be helped. This isn’t prose after all. But still.

The author takes pains to provide balance, reminding women that there are things we can do to be responsible stewards of our health as we age. There was no free pass given based simply on the fact that we’re aging.

The biggest problem I had with this book was the ripping of Scripture out of its context to fit it into a narrative unique to the struggles of individuals or women in particular. I tend to instinctively recoil at that for a host of reasons but the overall message of the book was sound.

Grade: C

Content advisory: Nothing offensive in either book. Wendy Ida offers the occasional tips for improving libido and sexual experience for women but nothing to clutch your pearls over.