Friday Fave: A Brief Political Detour

I don’t have a lot to say about the politics of the day. My latest book review probably reveals plenty, but I ran across a video from the insightful Jason Whitlock of Outkick, and I decided to share a snippet of it here. I will add a link to the entire video for those who may be interested.

However, in the interest of expediency, I am offering a small 2 minute portion that beautifully encapsulates my political stance in this contentious election year. It’s a great rebuttal to those people who insist that people of particular ethnicity (or sex or age or whatever) must belong to a particular school of thought.

 
I couldn’t have said it any better, honestly. You can find Mr. Whitlock’s full rebuttal to the WaPo hit piece on him and his colleague here.
 
Edited to add: Not sure why my embedded video didn’t show up in the post, and my IT guy is at work. So, you’ll just have to click the link. But I promise it’s worth the 1 minute, 20 seconds. It really is. He even mentions Booker T. Washington not once, but twice! Twice! In 80 seconds.

Friday Faves: Food and Photography

Happy Friday all!

As we prepare to settle in for the long weekend, I thought I’d take a minute to share two things that are a big part of the leisure in our household. The first is food. The second is photography. A third is a combination of the two.

Our family is what I like to refer to as “the keeper of the memories”. We were snapping photographs of any and everything before smartphones with good cameras were as ubiquitous as automobiles. When an extended family member is looking for “a picture of Sally when she was about 6”, it’s a pretty decent bet that we have one in one of our many photo boxes.

Nevertheless, I am not the best photographer. I occasionally manage to get a decent shot, but my husband, and two of our daughters, have a much better eye and hands that are much more steady. What I occasionally achieve through luck, they regularly accomplish with skill.

One of the aforementioned happens to be my favorite food blogger, up and coming though she may be. Her latest recipe invention is the combination of everything I love in a dessert. It’s chocolate, it’s flourless, and it is very low in sugar. As a matter of fact, it’s easily modified by switching the coconut sugar for a substitute without losing much of its appeal. It tastes as good as it looks:

You should make this. Really!

It seems that lately our backyard has been transformed into Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I’m totally aging myself with that reference, but I really don’t care. I’m not sure why my first thought wasn’t Animal Planet, but who knows what makes a person’s mind draw on the reference of an obscure television show from her childhood that she never watched and barely remembers?

Anyway, our backyard has been a hotbed of animal adventure of late, and my husband has gotten some great shots. I wondered briefly if the animals in our backyard are more active, or if it is simply that all the time at home provided more opportunities for us to witness it. I suspect the latter.

First up, the snake that we caught having an amphibious lunch in a backyard palm tree:

Circle of life?

Next is a couple of shots of a magnificent hawk. He hung out on the edge of the house for a bit:

A little later, we noticed that he’d found a mole in the yard, and was preparing to have a tasty supper before he decided that our fence didn’t make for a good table, and took off:

Do you see the mole in his talons?

There has been quite a lot of excitement on the animal front of late. I even stumbled on a rattle snake several weeks ago when I was taking out some trash. We [meaning my husband] disposed of him promptly. No time for a photo worthy camera shot.

Lastly, although this isn’t a new photo, it is one of my favorites because my daughter made my cornmeal biscuits look delicious and food magazine worthy:

Like I said: food, photography, and food photography.

Have a great weekend!

A Time to Laugh…

There will be a book review tomorrow. I promise. In the meantime, here is a very funny song by Matthew West as he and his family make the best of this “Quarantine Life.” I hope you all like it as much as we did:

Real Homeschool Life

I’m almost always astounded by people’s perceptions of family life when weighed against reality.

I don’t recall who said it because I don’t have a Twitter account, but somehow I came across a tweet by a man who declared that every man should assess the value of his wife during the current quarantine. He asserted that this could be done by observing the state of his home during this period.

Since wives are sequestered, he said, their homes should be spotless. For a brief moment, I offered mild mental assent to the idea that since there are more women at home, a lot of housework that has been getting postponed by the rat race would suddenly move to the top of the queue. And then I remembered something vitally important, and it came to me quickly because I have had the experience as a mother of children in school full time and as a homeschooling mom.

The reality is that a house that is being lived in all day is much harder to keep neat than one where the children are absent for 7 hours of the day. This is doubly true when you’re homeschooling, which literally every family in America has been doing for six weeks straight. It’s just another one of those things where the perception held by the uninformed sound good because they’re usually preaching to people who are equally uninformed.

Lest I’m misunderstood, we keep to a pretty strict and thorough cleaning regimen in our house. Floors are mopped every day, bathrooms cleaned every day, etc. We don’t do dirt around here. But we also have many days when our very large dining room table has art supplies on one corner and a stack of math or science books on another. Prince Caspian might be left on the sofa, along with a guitar and music stand set up by the chair. An easel with whiteboard and markers for math instruction is in the family room, and the collection of items needed to perform a science experiment are waiting to be put away. That’s not including the normal bit of clutter that comes with making dinner for seven people from scratch every night.

In other words, there are almost no circumstances under which this house will ever appear as tidy and neat as it did when our older kids were in public school all day and I was able to clean the house, breathe in the freshly dusted air, then sit back with a book for a few minutes before it was time to pick them up from school.

To be sure, there has been time to tackle a few big projects. We did such things as cleaning the garage and purging the file cabinet. I helped my husband build a couple of really nice wood storage pieces. I redid the pantry with labels and hopefully a better organization system. I’m fairly certain every family we know has been doing things like that while being at home.

However, I learned very early on my homeschooling journey that I could either give all my energy to keeping the house clean, or I could give the necessary attention to my children’s education. The latter necessarily meant there would be pockets of clutter and temporary postponement of chores not directly related to ensuring a hygienic domicile.

I can only imagine how much of a challenge it is right now for families who are suddenly juggling working from home and home educating on top of regular homemaking duties, all at once, for the very first time.

The mark of a good wife and mother is not whether she keeps a spotless house simply by virtue of the fact that she’s home all day. Being at home all day with our children opens up opportunities to do many things. If the only opportunity we take advantage of is the opportunity to keep things clean, we’re not doing it right.

Off the beaten bibliophilic path…

In case anyone was wondering, the answer is yes. Bibliophilic is a valid word rather than one of my creative conglomerations. According to Merriam-Webster, bibliophilic is the adjective form of bibliophile.

My regular reading schedule has been pretty derailed over the past several weeks. This has been the case for both noble and less than noble reasons. I suppose the marked decreased pace of book reviews reveals that I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do. I am reading, but the breaks between sessions are much longer than normal.

One of the reasons I’ve read less over the past month is because the quarantine has induced within me a burning conviction to be productive in quantifiable ways. Stuff that wasn’t getting done while we were running the rat race now has no excusable reason for going undone. To that end,  more time is dedicated to larger household chores and projects. Among them:

  • We cleaned the garage at the end of the first week of quarantine, although it’s quickly regressing.
  • The tedious, eye-crossing, painstaking work of cleaning and clearing out our file cabinets and other areas of paper jungles. We just finished that over the weekend.
  • Sewing a few masks, although I admit I haven’t worn any. I do make our youngest kids wear them on the few occasions they accompany me to the grocery store and two of our older children are required to wear them at work.
  • I’ve begun blanching and freezing fresh fruits and vegetables as a preparation measure for whatever economic situation may be coming around the corner.
  • I’ve helped my husband build out a couple of pieces of furniture to create storage in both the bedroom and family room.
  • We’ve all been cooking quite a bit more than usual, exercising creativity in the kitchen because we have the time to do it.

I am still working on a few things as well as re-visiting jobs that were done but need to be updated:

  • Rearrange and re-stock the pantry (again)
  • Continue prepping fruits and veggies
  • Gather unused items for Goodwill/Salvation Army pickup

In the midst of all of this, there is the additional work of staying on top of the kids’ studies and making sure that their assignments are scanned or emailed in on time. Because their school only met twice a week and the teachers work in conjunction with homeschoolers and their objectives, we haven’t had the kind of taxing experiences that have been reported from parents of children in school full time. However, there has still been some added work. Fortunately, for us, the formal school year ends at the end of this month so we will soon be on a much more relaxed schedule.

Our annual May vacation has, of course, been canceled this year, and a lot of other activities we would do in summer won’t necessarily be available either. Because of that, another challenge for me is filling the need for engaging activities through the months of May and June. I’m gearing up for that and am open to suggestions. The kids are 11 and 13, if that helps.

My time hasn’t only been filled to the brim with busy, productive activities. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous. I have also recently gotten totally hooked on The Chosen, as much because of the back story of its creation and execution as because of the show itself. You should take a minute to read about it.

Despite all the distraction and upheaval brought on by this strange phenomenon called COVID-19, I am still reading, albeit at a snail’s pace. Hopefully, I’ll have a new book review up by the end of the week.

 

A DNF Post

DNF is an acronym meaning “Did Not Finish”. The Orangutan Librarian’s very entertaining post outlining the angst of getting through books that are difficult to finish is the inspiration for this post. Her post is very funny, and it will be to any bibliophile who has struggled to read a book that is supposed to be the bee’s knees. You should go read it. Really, the use of gifs alone is worth the click.  Her description of trying to get through a book, sometimes just for the sake of writing a review, made me chuckle:

Step 1: Crack open a book, hyped or otherwise, naively *brimming with excitement*

Step 2: Realise “huh, this wasn’t as good as I thought it would be”

Step 3: *Shrug shoulders* and keep reading- but this time with a growing sense of foreboding…

Step 4: Feel the boredom growing.

Step 5: So. Much. Boredom.

Step 6: *Start speed reading*, thinking that maybe it’ll get better, but begin to consider that this book may not be for you and perhaps you should just quit…

There are 14 more steps, which just get funnier as she goes along. And the gifs, 😄 😄😄.

Anyhow, it occurred to me that I have never done a DNF post before. Since there have been several books that I’ve started and couldn’t finish for various reasons, and I am running behind schedule cranking out book reviews, now is as good a time as any to recall a few books I just couldn’t finish. A couple of these are classics, beloved by teachers and literature buffs alike and one or two are nonfiction books that strained credulity such that I couldn’t finish. First, the classics:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: I figured out quite a long time ago that fantasy isn’t really my cup of tea. Fantasy combined with nautical is even less my cup of tea, but Jules Verne is a classic author! I fancy myself a fan of classic books! Why couldn’t I get beyond being bored with this book? After all, I have read and loved nautical themed books. There was The Old Man and the Sea, Captain’s Courageous, and The Lion’s Paw. I think the problem is that I just don’t care for Verne’s writing, and I’ve decided that I’m okay with that.

The Scarlet Letter is, I have decided once and for all, a terrible book by almost any standard. I remember reading it in high school and feeling neutral about it. I picked it up for a quarter several years ago at a used bookstore to jog my memory, and I wished I hadn’t. I couldn’t read it when I wasn’t under duress at the barrel of a bad grade.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Why this book is so beloved, I simply do not know. I’ve read other books by Morrison, such as The Bluest Eye, which were coherent and which flowed somewhere, and I liked them well enough. Even if I didn’t agree 100% with the premises she put forth, at least there was a premise to disagree with.  Beloved is a jumbled bunch of nonsense stretched out over 300 pages.

In the nonfiction category, I’ve run across a few books that were particularly hard to finish as well, for various reasons.

Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi. This is one that someone told me that I needed to read. I needed to be enlightened and educated, they said. So, despite my general abhorrence of grievance peddling and oppression literature, I checked this book out from the library. I wondered if there may be some glaring gaps in my black history that would be filled in here. I got about a quarter of the way through it before I took it back to the library. The logical fallacies alone were more than my brain could handle, and after learning that by the standards of the author, I’m hovering somewhere between self-hatred and a race traitor, I knew I had to put it down.

After the Ball: I decided very quickly that reading something that I watched happen in real-time is a waste of time. back to the library with this one.

And then there were the books that I began, loved, and found that the pace of my life when I picked them up wouldn’t allow me to give them the level of concentration they merited.

The Brothers Karamazov: I began this book and loved it almost immediately, but the timing was bad. I was too busy to soak it in. I’m really looking forward to reading this one next month once the school year is done.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: The title speaks for itself, and I’m looking forward to reading this memoir.

Those are a few of the books I began but didn’t finish for various reasons.

What about you?

 

 

 

 

 

In Other’s Words: Truth and Tone are often strange bedfellows.

When people are overly concerned with tone or are sensitive to the tone police, fewer people will be willing to speak hard truth. Joshua Gibbs examines the surge in accusations of “tone deafness”. You should really read the entire piece, Tone Deaf: Our Favorite New Pretentious Complaint. An  excerpt:

Modern men care very deeply about tone. Such concern goes hand-in-hand with our endless thirst for flattery.

In a prior age, “tone” was a minor concern of rhetoric teachers, but that’s it. No one grumbles about “tone” in the works of Homer or Virgil. No one carps about “tone” in the Divine Comedy. The writers of the Old Testament are curiously silent about tone— imagine Moses writing, “said God sullenly.”  Or, imagine Luther hearing out Eck’s arguments at Worms and opening his rebuttal with, “Well, I’m sure Mr. Eck made some fine points, but honestly, I couldn’t discern them due to the unfortunate shrillness of his tone,” at which point the Keystone Cops would show up in court, led by the fearless but foppish Capt. Winsome. Really, tone became an obsession when dilletantes took over, which is exactly why internet arguments cannot take two steps forward without someone clutching his pearls and making a scene about his opponent’s tone. If you would speak to the master while he sits on his social media throne, you must bow thrice before opening your mouth.

I am not suggesting that everyone who has ever been accused of tone deafness is innocent altogether, but I would say that tone deafness is a peevish, self-important thing with which to charge anyone. What we call “tone deaf” might be arrogance, hubris, or vanity— but if that’s what the tone deaf man is really guilty of, then we ought to have the guts to define his vice in more precise terms. Really, “tone deaf” just means “not zeitgeisty enough.” It means “not on the right side of history”— if we take “history” to mean nothing more than “how we have felt for the last 48 hours.” As sojourners on this earth and citizens of another World, Christianity is always going to be tone deaf.

What he said.

 

 

Lots of Extra Time to Read These Days…

The latest call to self-isolate means a lot of people are currently finding themselves with a lot of extra time their hands. Yesterday, our daughter reported that her coworker complained that, given the need to avoid the usual away from home distractions, it’s unfortunate that he can’t find anything worth watching on Netflix. He was promptly reprimanded that he could always read a book, and I totally agree! Of course, the wonderfully insightful Joshua Gibbs offers some movie suggestions for those so inclined:

Fourth, a few recommendations… If you’re going to allow your children to watch just one movie a day over the coronavirus break, I would suggest imposing a rule on your selections— as in, resolve to not watch anything less than fifty years old. Whatever you do, don’t have a Lord of the Rings marathon, a Star Wars marathon, or what have you. It isn’t not gluttony just because you’ve attached the word “marathon” or “contest” to whatever you’re doing.

While the word “classic” means something much less when referring to a film than to a book, older films demand more patience, more intellection, and repay third and fourth viewings. Here are several older films which any student attending a classical school ought to see.

1. Vertigo: In the last ten years, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has replaced Citizen Kane as the film which most regularly tops critic’s lists of the greatest films ever made. Like Psycho and The Birds, Vertigo is a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult myth, though it easily the most sophisticated of the three.

2. The Night of the Hunter: A good film to show anyone who thinks old films are boring. The Night of the Hunter is a humid, terrifying film about two children on the run from an ersatz preacher who murdered their mother. It is one of just two films written by legendary film critic James Agee (his other screenplay is The African Queen). Made in 1955, but not recommended for anyone younger than high school.

3. Paths of Glory: One of Stanley Kubrick’s early films, Paths of Glory is a vexing, aggravating movie set in World War I about a French general (played by Kirk Douglas) whose men are unfairly condemned for refusing to take part in a suicidal charge. Part war film, part courtroom drama, fans of René Girard will adore this scapegoat story.

4. Casablanca: The Bogart-Bergman classic needs no introduction, but have your sons and daughters watch this one, then have them read Umberto Eco’s “Casablanca, or, the Clichés Are Having a Ball,” which is one of the most delightful film essays ever written.

5. Black Narcissus: Powell and Pressburger’s gorgeously shot psycho drama about a bunch of nuns high on the Himalayan mountains who are trying to 1) run a school and 2) not fall in love with a shirtless David Farrar who play the lusty but cynical handyman who knows their school won’t last.

Three of these five recommendations are movies I am wholly unfamiliar with, so I appreciated the list.

The fortuitous thing about living where we live is that self-isolating in early March need not mean being stuck indoors. Fresh and sunshine are superb health tonics and we are experiencing that in spades right now, along with moderate temperatures and lower humidity than we’ll enjoy a few weeks hence. I’m encouraging my kids and other people I know that taking long walks during this season can only serve your health, not endanger it.

Of course, I recognize that many Americans are not living where it’s sunny, breezy, and 80 degrees in Mid-March, and so won’t be sitting on their patio reading books, as I am about to do after I throw in the next load of laundry. My kids are currently meeting online with one of their teachers since classical co-op class meetings are on temporary hiatus. Here are a few books I am adding to my current queue over the next couple of weeks:

I was considering adding Bowling Alone, but there will be a new updated version of that book available this summer, so I’m going to wait. The new addition will consider the role the Internet has played in the increased disintegration of community and social capital in the 20 years since the original book was published.

My question for readers is two-fold:

First: how are you handling the requests for increased isolation and social distancing? Are you changing your lifestyle and habits during this time?

Secondly: If you are changing your routine a bit, are you increasing the time you devote to reading? And if so, what will you be reading? I’m endlessly curious about what other people are reading!

The Slow Destruction of Fantasy Fiction.

I’m not a huge fan of fantasy fiction, as I’ve explained here before, but the state of things in all corners of the publishing world interests me. They interest me not only as an aspiring writer but also as a lover of classic literature. I previously expressed my concern about the recent trend of denigrating older books. Most of the increasing animosity directed toward those books is due to their alleged racial and cultural insensitivity, a problem you’d think might be all but eliminated with those publishing in our postmodern, politically correct zeitgeist.

Lately, however,  it seems that even progressive authors are falling prey to the increasingly broad swath of culturally inappropriate or racially triggering offenses. It’s gotten so bad that even fantasy fiction, which by definition isn’t concerned with realistic portrayals of events and people, is being routed by the political correctness brigade. The result is that many authors are having to postpone the releases of their books to make edits of appeasement lest they offend the masses of people who were never going to read their books anyway. From The Spectator’s Even Fantasy Fiction is Now Offensive:

It was Lionel Shriver who saw the writing on the wall. Giving a keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival three years ago in which she decried the scourge of modern identity politics, Shriver observed that the dogma of ‘cultural appropriation’ —which demands no less than complete racial segregation in the arts — had not yet wrapped its osseous fingers around the publishing industry. But, she warned: ‘This same sensibility is coming to a bookstore near you.’ Reader, it has come.

Indeed it has, and the outrage isn’t being directed solely at authors of European descent, as many people might automatically assume and sadly, be perfectly okay with. Oh, no. This is an equally opportunity scourging:

Next month a young, Asian-American author called Amélie Wen Zhao was due to celebrate the publication of her debut novel Blood Heir, the first in a three-part fantasy series for which Zhao was reportedly paid a six-figure sum by Delacorte Press, a children’s imprint of Penguin Random House. Set in the Russian-inspired ‘Cyrillian Empire’, Blood Heir tells the story of a magic-wielding princess who is forced to flee her kingdom following her father’s murder. ‘In a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin colour, and good and evil exist in shades of grey… comes a dark Anastasia retelling,’ blurbed the publishers.

Can you spot the problem here? It’ll all be clear in just a minute:

Before the manuscript had even reached the presses, however, a furore erupted when Zhao, a 26-year-old banker born in Paris and raised in Beijing, was accused of racism. Armed with merely the blurb and a handful of excerpts from the book, her critics — many of them fellow authors, editors and bloggers in the Young Adult genre (known as YA) — repeatedly tore into Zhao on sites such as Twitter and Goodreads, outraged by, among other things, the novel’s depiction of indentured labour. For despite Blood Heir’s Slavic setting, her detractors assumed the plot was inspired by American slavery and thus something Zhao had no business writing about because she is not black. In a tirade that might surprise students of Russian antiquity, one critic reportedly raged: ‘[R]acist ass writers, like Amélie Wen Zhao, […] literally take Black narratives and force it into Russia when that shit NEVER happened in history.’

I was tempted to leave aside the minor detail that slavery was actually a thing in Russia right up until the mid-late 19th Century, but it occurs to me that it would be a grave mistake to do so.More:

One prominent writer even claimed the very premise of a fictional world in which ‘oppression is blind to skin colour’ was racist and joined others in pillorying Zhao for creating — and then killing — a ‘black’ character in the novel. No matter that the only discernible evidence for the character’s ethnicity was a vague description of dark curls and ‘bronze’ skin. Another YA author, Ellen Oh, who joined in the fray by piously tweeting ‘colourblindness is extremely tone deaf. Learn from this and do better’, was herself forced to issue an apology after being castigated for using the phrase ‘tone deaf’, a turn of events that would be comical were it not so preposterous.

Stabbed by her own pitchfork. It is both comical and preposterous in my opinion. The utter ignorance of the woke brigade is the issue here. The fact that people so ignorant are wielding the  the power to influence and impact an industry which should be -at its heart- driven by educated people with literary and historical knowledge does not bode well for the future of publishing, literature, and literacy.

One wonders when peak absurdity will intersect with a plurality of people willing to display the courage to declare that enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

In Other’s Words: In Memory of Sir Roger Scruton

Capture4

I learned on Sunday morning that Sir Roger Scruton, the intelligent and insightful conservative British philosopher, passed away at the age of 75. After reading the headline, it occurred to me to post a few thoughts outlining some of the ways his writing and commentary made me think.  As it happens, a writer more articulate than I ever hope to be, beat me to the punch (a luxury of writing for a living I suppose), so I decided to simply share a bit of what he wrote with which I heartily agree.

Before I offer the thoughts of another, I’ll note that Scruton’s observations on the intersection of the decline of architectural beauty and death of community are what first spring to mind when I see his name, whatever else a particular article he wrote happens to be about.

His discourse of beauty on a macro scale was also worth examining, but he was most convincing, at least to me, on the subject of the ugly architecture which has become the template for our postmodern work and living spaces. That, however, is only a small part of how Scruton critiqued postmodern culture and thought. Joshua Gibbs offers his take on the legacy of his “hero”, Sir Roger Scruton:

I only discovered Roger Scruton five years ago, which means I’ve barely scratched the surface of his work; however, in these five years, no living intellectual explained beauty and tradition with greater lucidity than Scruton. My thesis that all human artifacts can be divided between common, uncommon, and mediocre is borrowed from a passage on the importance of neatly setting the dinner table in Scruton’s Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (2011). Anything reasonable I’ve ever said about tradition (and especially about the Canon) is downstream from Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism (1980). Scruton was by no means an original thinker, though I mean this as the highest praise. He was a hand pointing at the sky. Without him, the sky would nonetheless exist, but I would not know where to look. Roger Scruton explained important things simply. Why do people graffiti ugly buildings but not beautiful ones? Why have old churches lasted? Why do exciting things not last? Why is it impossible to create a new tradition from scratch, try as we may? Scruton not only anticipated the questions of a restless mind, he answered them. My students quote Scruton every day when performing their catechism: “The world of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull.” Every time I say these words, they offer a fresh justification for what I do.

I completely agree. This is an image of Scruton’s home library, the room of my dreams:

That tells you almost everything you need to know, doesn’t it? At the very least, it should dispel any confusion about why I’ve taken the time to remember Sir Roger Scruton in this space.

Rest in Peace, Professor Scruton.