Classics, fiction, short stories

More big ideas in short stories

leaf_by_niggle_tolkien

Short stories, done well, are a literary treasures delivering a wealth of food for thought.

First inspired by Lindsay Brigham Knott’s piece at Circe Institute’s superb classical education blog, then further by Maeve at Wanna Be Martha, I spent a little time during a road trip this weekend reading short stories. The stories, which ran the gamut in terms of content and message, are all well done, literary treasures which delivered a wealth of food for thought. Each of these three linked stories are enjoyable, although in wholly different ways:

  • Thank You, Ma’am, by Langston Hughes: When a young purse snatcher picks the wrong mark on her way home from work one night, he gets far more than he bargained for, in the most unexpected ways.
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor: There’s not a whole lot to love here besides O’Connor’s deft turn of phrase and the uncomfortable irony which rounds out this strange tale. This is classic Flannery O’Connor. You kind of either love her work or hate it.
  • Leaf by Niggle, by J.R.R. Tolkien: This one is last on the list, but certainly not least, as it’s the story I gleaned the most insight from of the three. Niggle fights the battle I have not yet conquered. It’s one which Lindsay Brigham Knott beautifully dissects in her Circe piece; the battle of mastering our time in such a way that we fulfill the duties of our vocations, fulfill our soul’s longings through our avocations, and get proper rest, all without being overwhelmed. Niggle learns this lesson “too late”. I interpret that Tolkien’s way of demonstrating how tough the battle is, even when, like Niggle, our hearts are “in the right place”.

If you happen to take the time to read any of these (or have read any of them), take a minute to include your opinions of them. I’m dying to know!

Related:

Classics, fiction, novels

A Girl of the Limberlost

girl of the limberlost

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter, Kindle edition. Originally published in 1909. 306 print pages.

I was not very familiar with the work of Gene Stratton-Porter before reading this classic novel. She was just one name among many authors bibliophiles encounter along our trail of books. Some authors we read, others we tuck into our mental Rolodex for a later date. Stratton-Porter was one I’d tucked away for a later date.  I am grateful to say that I was induced to pull her from the recesses of my mind, out from among the heaps of jumbled authors and genres I hoped to some day read.

The Practical Conservative’s  posted review of her work was the impetus, and after some reconnaissance I learned that Stratton-Porter is one of my favorite kinds of writers: the regional sort, highlighting the beauty and culture of a particular time and place. In this case, the place and time are the swamps and forests of northeastern Indiana around the turn of the century. It is in this context that we are introduced to Elnora Comstock, the young heroine of A Girl of the Limberlost.

The Limberlost swamp  borders the land Elnora lives on with her widowed mother, Kate. As the story begins, she is a young teen who never knew the father who died while her mother was giving birth to her. Somehow, Elnora’s mother transferred all of her grief and bitterness over the death of her young husband onto the young girl. She was convinced that had she not been in labor with Elnora, she might have saved her husband from the tragic end which befell him when he sank into the quicksand of the Limberlost.

As we follow Elnora through her tumultuous terrain of life, her determination, kindness and virtue keeps readers at the edge of hope that the girl’s extraordinary character and work ethic will one day be fully rewarded:

It was a compound of self-reliance, hard knocks, heart hunger, unceasing work, and generosity. There was no form of suffering with which the girl could not sympathize, no work she was afraid to attempt, no subject she had investigated she did not understand. These things combined to produce a breadth and depth of character altogether unusual.

In the end, Elnora does reap the harvest she has so diligently worked for, yet without the fantastical sort of whirlwind that one often finds in these sorts of novels. One of the wonderful things about old stories is that they don’t often find the need to inject its hero or heroine with a fatal flaw. The postmodern tendency to denouce the notion of a character worth aspiring to gets tiring, which is I rarely read any modern fiction.

Stratton-Porter’s vivid portrayals of natural elements in the swamps along with the detailed descriptive categorizations of the moths and other creatures which Elnora was able to use to earn the money she needed to go to school were very beautifully executed. It was easy to imagine oneself standing at the edge of the Limberlost, taking in all the beauty, mystery, and danger one might find in a swamp.

I’ll end this review with one of my favorite lines from within it. Such wisdom could only have come from Elnora herself:

“I do not know why it is the fate of the world always to want something different from what life gives them.”

Heart wrenching and beautiful with a satisfying ending is my description of this classic book by Gene Stratton Porter. It would make an excellent summer read.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

Classics, European history, philosophy, quotable literary quotes

Quotable Literary Quotes: Marcus Aurelius

Marcus

Marcus Aurelius was Rome’s emperor from 161 to 180 AD, but my interest in him is largely confined to the superb number of quotable literary -and life- quotes found in his famous collection of meditations.  In an age where things often seem upside down, many of his thoughts are worthy of dissemination and contemplation.

On the choice to ignore the noise:

You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.

On the silliness of being obsessed with the impressions we make on others at the expense of personal integrity and character:

I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.

But if you want to leave a good impression, here’s how:

If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.

A good rule of thumb in a world gone mad:

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

I hope you enjoyed these gems from the meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

autobiographies, books for women, Christian, marriage and relationships, parenting

Girl, Wash Your Face

girl wash your face

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be, by Rachel Hollis. Published in February, 2018. 240 pages.

This book is burning up the best seller’s list, and a dear friend of mine really liked it, so I decided to give it a read. I figured going in that anything being read in the numbers that this book is would be a fairly quick read, and I was right. I think I read it in about three days.

I did something with this book that I rarely do when I read, but I almost always do when I read something that is current, popular, and marked Christian. I read reviews from other sources, starting with Amazon, and ending with a couple of reviews from Christian websites. Before I delve anymore into the whys and wherefores of that, I’ll preface it and my review with a short description of the book and its author.

Rachel Hollis is a lifestyle blogger turned motivational speaker and guru who savvily used social media to propel her brand into the mainstream. She’s the wife of a Hollywood distributor who recently left that job to run her company, which exploded in 2015. She’s the mother of four children, and is well loved in Christian cricles for her real talk and vocal profession of faith.

Girl, Wash Your Face is equal parts memoir, motivational pep talks, and self help advice. It was published by Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson. This last bit of information sent me looking for reviews from other sources even while I was reading this book, because despite the occasional nod to faith and one or two Scriptures here and there, I wasn’t getting what I was expecting to find from a book categorized by Amazon as “Christian Living”.

None of this is to say that I ddn’t enjoy the book. There were parts I enjoyed quite a lot. Hollis has a funny way of telling her stories and an enchanting tone. There are also a few pieces of advice that I strongly disagree with, but overall, it isn’t a bad book. The problem is that it isn’t, to my mind, a “Christian” book.

I believed Hollis’ Christian testimony, so that wasn’t the problem. Mostly, the problem was that fully 90% of the advice in this book was advice any secular self-help person would dole out, because it put so much of the onus for your success, as it were, in your ability to be the hero in your own story. That was unfortunate, because the lies that Hollis induced women to overcome in each corresponding chapter are actually pretty good lies to be rid of:

  • The lie: Something else will make me happy
  • The lie: I’ll start tomorrow
  • The lie: I’m not good enough
  • The lie: I’m better than you
  • The lie: Loving him is enough for me
  • The lie: No is the final answer
  • The lie: I’m bad at sex
  • The lie: I don’t know how to be a mom
  • The lie: I’m not a good mom
  • The lie: I should be further along by now
  • The lie: Other people’s kids are so much cleaner/better organized/more polite
  • The lie: I need to make myself smaller
  • The lie: I’m going to marry Matt Damon
  • The lie: I’m a terrible writer
  • The lie: I will never get past this
  • The lie: I can’t tell the truth
  • The lie: I am defined by my weight
  • The lie: I need a drink
  • The lie: There’s only one right way to be
  • The lie: I need a hero.

Because this is a memoir, each corresponding lie (chapter) begins with a story from the author’s life, relates it to the things many women similarly struggle with, and follows that with admonitions and advice. The advice is usually along the lines of:

“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
Or:
“When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse.”
And ultimately:

Your life is up to you.

If we can identify the core of our struggles while simultaneously understanding that we are truly in control of conquering them, then we can utterly change our trajectory.

God, your partner, your mama, and your best friends—none of them can make you into something (good or bad) without your help.

You need to prove to yourself that you can do it. You need to prove to yourself you are capable of anything you set your mind to. You have the power.

Being a gal who leans more towards duty and a perpetual battle to learn selflessness, it might just be that I was reading the whole thing from a wrong perspective, and I acknowldge that. However you cut it, this falls woefully short of Christian counsel. That isn’t to say there are no gems tucked away in this book, because there are. For instance, this was one of my favorites:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” Let me say that again for the people in the cheap seats.”

And this made me laugh:

“Our society makes plenty of room for complacency or laziness; we’re rarely surrounded by accountability. We’re also rarely surrounded by sugar-free vanilla lattes, but when I really want one, I somehow find a way to get one.”

As far as light reading goes, this was a nice diversion and in some cases, served as a humorous reminder of things I already know. But nothing about it deepened my faith or propelled me to go deeper into the Scriptures. That was the crux of the very few negative reviews this book received; that whatever it is, it’s not a Christian book. Most of the review, however, were overwhelmingly positive which is why this baby is selling like hot cakes.

For entertainment value and cute story telling, I’ll give it:

3 out of 5 stars

Uncategorized

Jane Austen: Queen of the Romance Tropes

jane austen

Recently, an earnest 18-year-old young woman asked me a question in the wake of a spirited discussion in her literature class. They read and were discussing Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It was a question I dislike and tend to circumvent for myriad reasons, one of which is that I am conflicted on the subject. There is a “right” answer, an answer based on my own experience and marriage, and the truth, which is somewhere in between the two. By now, you may be wondering what the question was, so here it is:

“Mrs. T, do you think people should marry for more pragmatic reasons or only when they find ‘true love’?”

It was the end of the day, so I asked her to let me think about it in the hopes that she would forget to come back to me and follow up. Thankfully, it seems she forgot, but I didn’t forget and her question made me consider the various romance tropes to be found in classical literature.

More specifically, I noted that Jane Austen’s novels touch on almost every conceivable route to the altar to be found in life and literature. When you get past the familiar underlying theme of women on the cusp on spinsterhood, the story arcs offer a fair amount of variety. As I said, Jane Austen hits all the romance tropes (and some not so romantic tropes). Here are just a few, in no particular order:

Friends to Lovers:

  • Emma (1815). The titular character and heroine Emma meddles in everyone else’s affairs, offering bungling them while remaining clueless to the chaos she’s left in her wake. Mr. Knightley, the only sane man in the room and Emma’s eventual husband, is always there to set her straight and bring her back down to earth. I have a particular fondness for Mr. Knightley.
  • Sense and Sensibility (1811). This is one isn’t readily included in this trope because Elinor and Edward clearly forge an emotional bond early in the novel. However, it is clear that they are also good friends, and Edward was engaged to another woman initially before eventually being freed to marry Elinor.
  • Mansfield Park (1814): In the midst of a story replete with broken hearts, infidelities, and all around awfulness, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, her cousin by marriage, eventually recognize how important they are to each other and get married.

Enemies to Lovers:

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813): Lizzy initially finds Mr. Darcy pompous, then evil, and eventually realizes that the tallest, handsomest, and richest man around is the perfect man for her.

Soul Mates:

  • Persuasion (1817): Having -under family duress- broken her engagement to Frederick Wentworth seven years earlier, the novel opens 7 year later with Anne Elliot still unmarried at 27, and the much wealthier and more established Captain Wentworth is also still unmarried. His love for Anne is as fervent as it was when they were young. After the customary dramatic twists and turns, they end up together.

If you can’t be with one you love, love the one you’re with:

  • Pride and Prejudice: I suspect the marriage of Charlotte Lucas to the obnoxious and offensive Mr. Collins was the impetus of the question posed to me by the young student.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Marianne Dashwood landed quite a catch in Colonel Brandon, but should the story have continued, it would have been a few years before she fully appreciated it.

May-December Romance:

  • Sense and Sensibility: Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood are ages 37 and 19 respectively when they eventually marry. Mr. Knightley and Emma are ages 37 and 21 when they are wed.

Fools Rush In:

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813): The foolish and rebellious Lydia Bennett runs off with the caddish and opportunistic Mr. Wickham, leaving Mr. Darcy to try and save her honor by paying Wickham a large dowry to marry Lydia.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Before coming to her senses and marrying Colonel Brandon, Marianne Dashwood foolishly gives her heart to Mr. Willoughby, and spend the lion’s share of the novel pining a man who is never going to marry her.

Those are just a few of the major tropes that spring to mind as I consider all that is encompassed in Jane Austen’s magnificent body of work. There are of course, many more; unrequited love, redemption, and whatever it is called when a man thinks a woman can save him as Henry Crawford seems to think that Fanny Price will do for him in Mansfield Park.

Can you think of any other Austen tropes which I might have missed?

 

coming from where I'm from, creative miscellany, Digital reading, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading

Sharing Books with Friends (and random updates)

Digital respites are almost always excellent opportunities for more reading. Of course, that’s not the only thing a digital respite frees up time for. The list is endless. There’s increased cleaning time, increased exercise time, and increased home improvement time. The latter also includes increased spending, but more about that later.

One of the most notable changes that come with reduced mental noise is the ability to think unfettered. When reading great ideas and grand classic fiction, the abiity to step away in quietness and analyze what was read helped me to better flesh out the nuances in the books I was reading. I wanted to chat with others about what I was reading, and having deliberately closed the door to being able to do that here, those conversations took on a larger role during times with friends.

At the end of March, after weeks of sharing different ideas from Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, I handed my copy to a friend who was interested in reading it. When she gave it back to me last week, I immediately took it from her and handed it to another friend of ours who’d been wanting to read it as well. It was such a satisfying moment, the ability to bond and share ideas which emerged from the things we read.

This is, without question, the best part about increased reading time: the opportunity to talk about books with friends. Even better than that is when we have the opportunity to share not only what we have read with friends, but share the books themselves.

As I have handed friends -and taken from the hands of friends- books of every era and genre, my commitment has steadily increased to physical books over digital. I thoroughly appreciate the ease and convenience of both digital and audio books. I have a loaded Kindle and am currently listening -albeit very slowly- to The Brothers Karamazov. The wealth of digital book option is a boon to the bibliophile.

However, they can’t compare with the joy of passing tomes between friends and dissecting the ideas over cups of coffee. I’m considering the idea of a summer book club because spending time chatting with girlfriends and fellow mothers about books is infinitely more edifying than complaining or gossip. I am blessed to be in community with women who don’t engage in the latter anyway.

In addition to more time with books over the past several weeks has been more time celebrating with family and friends, entertaining, spring cleaning, and probably my most favorite thing, helping my husband re-do our master bedroom closet. Remember that increased spending? Here is the before (well actually after he took out the boring original white wire hanging apparatus):

 

before

After spending a small fortune on good wood (birch I believe it is), lots of measuring, cutting, and sanding, the wood was handed to me and the kids for staining and ironing veneer on the edges. This was the midway point:

midway

Several drawers need to be finished, as we had to return some of the drawer hardware that arrived damaged to the manufacturer for replacements, which we are still waiting for, and currently my husband is working on some molding near the floor. He’s still not quite done, but we’re about 75% of the way there:

 

We went ahead and started hanging some of the garments because nearly 3 months of clothes stacked across the desk in our bedroom was more than long enough. Public service announcement: Never start a major home project at nearly the exact same time as you’re beginnng a new, relatively demanding job.

Respite, feasts, worship, family, (and extra closet space!) are the stuff of life. But what is any of it without great books?

 

 

 

Christian, Uncategorized

Bread and Wine

bread and wine

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. Various authors. Published in 2003. Hardcover, 430 pages.

In addition to some Scriptural passages, I decided this year to add this devotional to my Lenten readings. In many ways, it was a great blessing to me. Many of the writings challenged and stretched my faith in unexpected ways.

Conversely, there were other readings that felt needlessly preachy and even social justice-y, for want of better phrasing at present. One reading which was staunchly anti-gun rendered me particularly confused. Thankfully, the readings of this sort were a minority, but when they came up, it was a distraction which I had to pray to overcome.

If the book was dominated with such writings, I would have abandoned it. However, the reminders of the importance of self-denial, as expressed by the poetic and convicting pens of such writers as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine kept me returning to this book to be challenged further.

Because it is so theologically inclusive, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t well versed in the Scripture with a strong grasp of their Christian faith. There are also times when the new Christian might read and find a bar so high she fears she will never reach it. I welcome the opportunity for honest examination of the motives of my heart, but I am also mature enough to understand that the expressions of faithfulness as described in many of the readings can leave the impression that our efforts must always manifest a perfection of spirit and self-denial (as in denial of our humanity not denial of our will) that is nigh impossible to achieve this side of heaven.

I am grateful for what I read, and look forward to reading many of these writings again, while knowing that many of them are less than stellar.

3 out 5 stars.