The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: A Short Story

walter mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Kindle Edition. Story Originally published in 1939.

You can read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty online here for free. It’s a quick read. If you’ve never read it, I would love for you to read it since this review is full of spoilers.

Walter Mitty is a married man -at least middle aged but probably older- who lives his daily life taking orders from his wife, but inner life is the place where he gets to be the man he wishes he was. It doesn’t take much for him to retreat into his fantasy life. A hospital, a newspaper headline, any minute reference can send him off into an adventure of mythical proportions.

Unfortunately, Walter often zones out and goes to Fantasyland at the most inopportune moments, including behind the wheel of his car, where he almost hits another car:

“Back it up, Mac! Look out for that Buick!” Walter Mitty jammed on the brakes. “Wrong lane, Mac,” said the parking-lot attendant, looking at Mitty closely. “Gee. Yeh,” muttered Mitty. He began cautiously to back out of the lane marked “Exit Only.” “Leave her sit there,” said the attendant. “I’ll put her away.” Mitty got out of the car. “Hey, better leave the key.” “Oh,” said Mitty, handing the man the ignition key. The attendant vaulted into the car, backed it up with insolent skill, and put it where it belonged.

That brings me to a question I pondered with one of my daughters who also read the story:

Which came first: The Chicken or the Egg?

The story opens with Mrs. Mitty unpleasantly pulling Walter from yet another one of his intense daydreams. He finds him driving them into town at an unacceptable 55 miles per hour, a full 15 mph faster than Mrs. Witty feels is safe. In fact, very few of Mrs. Mitty’s interactions with Walter are free of reproof, command, or request. Walter’s frequent trips to faraway exotic places, and his wife’s responses, left my daughter and me commiserating on what, if anything, James Thurber is trying to communicate here about Walter and Mrs. Mitty’s lot in life. It surely couldn’t be the idea his daughter wrote in the introduction of the Kindle edition:

I celebrate his Daydream Method of small vacations from tedium and “quiet desperation”. As a child I was reassured to know that this practice could continue into grown-up years.

The chicken or the egg question as it came up in our discussion at home was this: Was Walter Mitty given to these sudden and occasionally dangerous daydream vacations because his wife was a nag who made him miserable, or had she become a nag as a result of Walter’s inability to live in reality long enough to do anything more than just enough to get by? Thurber doesn’t tell us, leaving the readers to come to their own conclusions.

Recently, we watched the 2014 film adaptation of this story, which is quite different from the original James Thurber story, save for the frequent daydream vacations taken by the title character. Hollywood leaves us with a Walter Mitty who finds so much real-life adventure, including true love that his need for vacations to Fantasyland diminish to nearly nothing.

Thurber’s original story leaves us with Walter in the rain, leaned up against the wall of a drugstore, where his wife commanded him to wait for her, smoking a cigarette as he heads off into his imagination, where without fear, he faces a firing squad.

Tales From Shakespeare

tales from shakespeare

Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb. Originally published in 1807. Hardcover, 304 pages.

This is a children’s book, or at least it’s supposed to be, but I absolutely love this compilation by the renowned brother and sister authors. These narrative renditions of Shakespeare’s works are quite well done. This is not a book of synopses of Shakespeare’s plays. They are the stories themselves transformed into literary narratives suitable for children. Here, as an exmple, is the introductory paragraph from the Lambs’ translation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona:

There lived in the city of Verona two young gentlemen, whose names were Valentine and Proteus, between whom a firm and uninterrupted friendship had long subsisted. They pursued their studies together, and their hours of leisure were always passed in each other’s company, except when Proteus visited a lady he was in love with; and these visits to his mistress, and this passion of Proteus for the fair Julia, were the only topics on which these two friends disagreed; for Valentine, not being himself a lover, was sometimes a little weary of hearing his friend for ever talking of his Julia, and then he would laugh at Proteus, and in pleasant terms ridicule the passion of love, and declare that no such idle fancies should ever enter his head, greatly preferring (as he said) the free and happy life he led, to the anxious hopes and fears of the lover Proteus.

Clearly, this is not Sparks’ Notes nor a Cliff Note’s paraphrase. These are well presented translations from gifted authors. Charles and Mary Lamb, whose stories are told in the introduction  of this volume, were a troubled and intriguing pair. Plagued by mental illnesses so severe that Mary Lamb was institutionalized for killing their mother, the two cared for each other throughout their lives.

Despite their troubles and hardships, they were highly regarded and well respected within the literary community. This volume of Shakespearean tales, along with other volumes, were commissioned to them to compile. Charles wrote the tragedies, while Mary wrote the comedies.

I received this book as a gift, and since I have only ever read four of Shakespeare’s many works, and three of those in high school, I took the opportunity to read the stories and familiarize myself with the characters and plots. I have neither the desire nor intention to read all of Shakespeare’s plays, but I do appreciate a rudimentary knowledge of his lesser produced works. Tales from Shakespeare allows me to do acquire it.

The entire first volume is available for free online through Project Gutenberg. You can read it here, but I really like this beautifully illustrated, special edition in hard cover.

5 out of 5 stars.

 

Friday Faves Potpourri

I don’t have a bookish list of Friday Faves this week, but I’ll plan one for next week. Meanwhile, join me for another post of potpourri.

~This week, my husband shared a couple of thoughtful items with me that are certainly among my favorite “finds” of the week, and also worth sharing. One is a story (author unknown) about the importance of perspective:

A writer was in his study room. He picked up his pen and started writing:

“Last year, I had a surgery and my gallbladder was removed. I had to stay stuck to the bed due to this surgery for a long time.

The same year I reached the age of 60 years and had to give up my favorite job. I had spent 30 years of my life in this publishing company.

The same year I experienced the sorrow of the death of my father.

And in the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in bed at hospital with the cast on for several days. The destruction of car was another loss.

At the end he wrote: Oh God! It was such bad year!”

When the writer’s wife entered the room, she found her husband looking sad and lost in his thoughts. From behind his back she read what was written on the paper. She left the room silently and came back with another paper and placed it on side of her husband’s writing.

When the writer saw this paper, he found his name written on it with following lines:

“Last year I finally got rid of my gallbladder due to which I had spent years in pain…

I turned 60 with sound health and got retired from my job. Now I can utilize my time to write something better with more focus and peace..

The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone or without any critical condition met his Creator…

The same year, God blessed my son with a new life. My car was destroyed but my son stayed alive without getting any disability…

At the end she wrote: This year was an immense blessing of God and it passed well!”

The writer was indeed happy and amazed at such beautiful and encouraging interpretation of the happenings in his life in that year!

Moral: In daily lives we must see that it’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.

He is more likely than I am to remember the importance of a positive perspective in the midst of a stressful season, but I’ve grown ever more grateful the longer I’ve lived.
~The second thing he shared with me was a reintroduction to this sermon by Voddie Baucham on the true meaning and purpose of marriage. Worth a listen.

 

~We had a party recently in which board games were the center of the action. Some of the games the kids chose were among my favorites, and some weren’t. Board and card games are an excellent, screen-free way to interact and have fun. Here are a few of my  favorite board games and my least favorite board games.

First up, my favorites:

  • Scrabble: I’ve been a word game fanatic for as long as I remember. I will always choose a word game over any other kind and Scrabble is the classic, quintessential word game.
  • Uno: I am not quite sure why I enjoy this simple card game, but I do. I suspect in part because it doesn’t take forever to play around.
  • Taboo: The game where you help your people figure out what you’re describing without using any obvious words as clues. Fun stuff!
  • 5-Second Rule: You have five seconds to name three items in a particular category. Sometimes it’s easy, but others it’s harder than you might think.

My least favorites:

  • Monopoly: I have lost my patience for just about any board game that cannot be completed in an hour’s time, whatever that says about me.
  • Werewolf: My kids like this game, and I have not been able to figure out why
  • Telestrations: I cannot draw. The end.
  • Twister: Enough said.

~Continuing with my theme of fun in the kitchen on Fridays, I stumbled onto an excellent grain free chocolate chip cookie, which I served at the aforementioned party to rave reviews. One of my requirements for any keto, paleo, or whatever-other-o recipe is that has to be good all on it’s own. In other words, it can’t be “good for a paleo cookie”, or “good for a keto cookie”. If that’s the reaction I have when I taste it, it isn’t good enough. This recipe produces a good cookie. Period:

As much as I wish I had come up with this easy recipe on my own, it’s not mine. You can find it here. Perhaps I’ll share my pancake recipe next week if I remember to both write it down and take pictures.

~Lastly,  this month’s reading list is an overlapping of three very different books, each enjoyable in its own way. I hope to finish them all within the few weeks:

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, published in 1905
  • The White Horse King: The Life of King Alfred the Great, by Benjamin Merkle
  • The 5000 Year Leap, by W. Cleon Skousen

As I said, three very different books, each with varying degrees of thought required. To complete them in the midst of an increasingly busy fall schedule will require a bit of focus, but I hope to do it.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

How to Be Unlucky, part 2

how to be unlucky

How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. Originally published in 2018. 246 pages.

Part 1 of this review touched a lot on the spiritual characteristics highlighted in the book’s reflections on the pursuit of virtue. Another aspect of it is that it is also highly concerned with the role the teacher has -in this case the Christian classical educator- in helping his student to pursue virtue.

To that end, interspersed between all the deep burning questions and conundrums Boethius poses to Lady Philosophy in The Consolation, the author treats us to a sampling of the discussions he has with his students. Discussions in which he reminds them of many things, one of which is that adults are no more virtuous than they are, and with it the importance of understanding that now is the time to cultivate goodness.

In the chapter titled On Pedagogy, Gibbs keeps me pretty well riveted (and convicted) from beginning to end. In the chapter he makes the distinction between the three parts of our being which must be rightly ordered for us to be truly virtuous, drawing from C. S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. Regular readers here are not unfamiliar with the brain as the icon for what we know, the heart for what we love, and the stomach for what we want, our appetite for pleasant things. He argues that stomach holds more power than the brain, and that the heart and the brain must work together to subdue the stomach. This is the reason I so relate and appreciate Mr. Gibbs’ commentary. He isn’t afraid to get real:

Early in my marriage I came to realize that Scripture is no talisman for warding off sin…

On the other hand, when I was tempted to the degradations of lust, I typically found that imagining my wife’s face distorted by tears was such a talisman. Any man battling the temptation to lust will do far better changing his computer desktop to an image of his wife than some artist’s representation of the Ten Commandments. This is not because a man loves his wife more than God (though most men do, in my experience), but because a wife is the living embodiment of the seventh commandment; a spouse is the incarnation of an abstract moral precept. p. 148

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always stood a little in awe of my husband and have also always battled to keep my love of God and my love for my husband in the proper order, but this speaks to me. Deeply, and I cannot remember a time in the last two decades when I’ve read an author or heard a preacher get real this way about well… almost anything. The connection between the physical, living embodiment of a spiritual principle itself is almost unheard of in modern Christian thought. It’s as if admitting that we struggle to do what is right and that it isn’t oh-so-easy simply because we’re head over heels in love with God whom we cannot see makes us bad Christians.

So we pretend. Gibbs doesn’t, and I liked that.

In the chapter titled On Pleasure, Gibbs gets into the confusion and cognitive dissonance that has gripped American Christians as we have designated just about every solitary act as either sinful or not sinful. In doing so, we’ve equalized things that are not equal even though they are not sinful. We’ve also freed ourselves to be perpetually amused and superficially sated, yet without guilt.

Earthly pleasure can lead to sanctification and epiphany, and we should “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), as the Psalmist says; however seeing that “the Lord is good” is not a result of every taste, and an over-abundance of tasting distracts from our ability to see that the Lord is good. p. 193

In the chapter On Metaphysics and Freedom, Gibbs hits some topics that I am still turning over in my mind. The first is that Adam and Eve didn’t have a sin nature when they sinned, yet the first things we utter when confronted with our sin or someone else’s is that it is our sin nature. Now that alone is enough to stir debate all the livelong day, isn’t it?

His point isn’t to dismiss that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, but that Christians are so quick to *go there* that we often miss opportunities to address real issues and concerns rather than spout off pat religious answers that we think are super spiritual. Sometimes the answer is simply, we don’t know everything, nor can we.

The title of the final chapter is Why Do Anything? In it, Gibbs closes by making the point that what we do in our mundane daily lives in less important than how ( I’d also add why) we do it.

If a man is willing to become common and to live a common life with times and seasons which God makes common to all, he will submit himself to a mysterious, transcendent reality. p.230

I completely agree, and that is one of the beautiful takeaways of this book in a world and church which is yelling at each of us that we are not common, are not subject to the law of averages, and in so doing makes us perpetually discontent with normal, anonymous daily living.

If I’d offer any negative criticism of the book, it’s that on occasion the flow left a little to be desired. It felt disjointed at a few points, but the overwhelming amount of wisdom and opportunity to for this reader to examine herself and her motivations far outweighed that minutiae.

5 out of 5 stars

You can read a sample of the first chapter of How to Be Unlucky at this link.

How to Be Unlucky, part 1

how to be unlucky

How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. Originally published in 2018. 246 pages.

You can read a sample of chapter 1 of How to Be Unlucky here.

The year is young, from a reader’s perscpective, and I still have two Christian books in my queue for the fall (Sacred Pathways and Meet Generation Z), so this may be a premature pronouncement. Nevertheless, I’m going to make it: How to Be Unlucky is by far my favorite nonfiction read of 2018. More than that, and this is saying a lot, it has syrocketed to my top 10 list of Christian books worth reading.

Before I get too far into this, I should issue fair warning. As I have been breathlessly sharing my thoughts on this book with different people, and especially as I share posts penned by Gibbs at the Circe Institute’s Cedar Room Blog, I’ve come to appreciate that Mr. Gibbs is an acquired taste. His tone, idealism, and pull no punches rhetoric isn’t for everyone.

If like me, you like your Truth straight up, you’re tired of pussyfooting around hard things and weary of making excuses for your own shortcomings, then you’ll like this book. If you need caveats and heaping loads of grace poured onto your principled exceptions and extraordinary situations, then skip it. If you don’t like hearing that we do rotten things because of the rot that is in us, and because we take great comfort in indulging our pet sins, again,  I advise you to skip it.

The really cool thing about this book, if I may use such an irreverent term, is that it isn’t at all the Calvinist-sounding manifesto you might be anticipating based on my introductory description. Gibbs is big “o” Orthodox and a classical educator who teaches Great Books to high schoolers, and that, rather than Calvinist theology is what frames the philosophical arguments he makes in this book.

Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy is the source and backdrop which Gibbs uses to take his readers on a journey to prayerfully peel back the layers and examine what really makes us tick. There are several Biblical references, but like a true classisist and adherent of a very old traditional church of the Christian faith, Gibbs draws on the beauty and truth that has been passed down through ages; not as a replacement for Scripture, but as evidence that all expressions of truth are God’s Truth, and I had no trouble drawing clear lines of connection between what Gibbs offered from Boethius and the Truth as revealed in the Bible.

I’m almost done with my second reading of the book, and I’m already getting knee deep into reading The Scarlet Pimpernel along with my kids for literature class, so I figured I should stop mulling over how to review this book and just get to it.

On the first page of the book, Gibbs sets the stage for what to come when he confesses:

I was embarrassingly old by the time I first heard a robust answer to the question, “Why be good?”

Given that, if I am not mistaken, this author is not yet 40 years old, he’s certainly not embarrassingly old, but I do understand this sentiment. American Christianity (and yes, I know how that characterization sounds) is embarrassingly inconsistent is so many ways that it’s easy to see why one might be confused by things that shouldn’t be particularly confusing. At least if we believe, and I do, that our faith is not void of reason or logic.

The struggle to encapsulate what I gleaned from this book is the reason for my delay in reviewing it, so I’ll put a bow on this by offering my favorite quotes from each chapter, beginning with the chapter entitled, Death as a Practical Problem:

Every pursuit of maturity-made during any stage of life, whether made by a high school sophomore or a man in his retirement- is ultimately a preparation for death, there is no sense in preparing for anything else. p.71

This is from the same chapter but I liked it, so:

The oldest woman in the club is an embarrassment, but she is also the woman who was the second-oldest in the club last month, the third-oldest last winter, the fourth-oldest last year…and the three-hundred-twenty-ninth oldest on the eve of her 21st birthday, when she went out dancing for the first time. She had the cultural right to go out on her twenty-first birthday, but with every passing day, the ultimate unreliability of this right should be increasingly clear to her. The best way to not become the oldest woman in the club is to quit going to the club the moment you realize such a future is distasteful. p.70.

From the chapter Fortune, Luck, and Salvation:

The   modern man wants every proverb qualified, asterisked, and stated so tentatively that it has nothing to do with himself. Only a common man cares about what commonly happens, but ours is a generation of proud weirdos. For a proverb to be of value to a man, he must see himself as normal, ordinary, common. He must not see himself as special, atypical, excused from the law of averages. A proverb is not a law, but a description of the world right down the middle. Thus, the more unique a man thinks himself, the less open he is to the wisdom of the ages, for Solomon is not interested in describing the unusual cases, but the conventional ones. p.91

From the chapter Temptation and Besetting Sins:

That the wicked are “happier if they suffer punishment than if they are unrestrained” (p.97) [of The Consolation] is obvious to anyone who has tired of the anxiety which attends continually getting away with sin. Few men want to confess their sin, but they dream of how good life might be today of they had confessed their sin a year ago. A man wants to be done with his sin, but he doesn’t want to suffer the embarrassment of cutting himself off from it, for truly breaking entrenched sinful habits requires the help of others who then become aware of his struggle. Hence, a man tries to deal with his sin on his own. p.135

It wasn’t my original intent to analyze this post in parts, and it still isn’t, but I thinkit will take two posts to say everything I wish to about the book, so I’ll finish doing that in part 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Attractions: Meet Generation Z

I ran across a book title which has piqued my curiosity. It’s called Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. The Goodreads blurb alone stopped me short:

Move over Boomers, Xers, and Millennials; there’s a new generation–making up more than 25 percent of the US population–that represents a seismic cultural shift. Born approximately between 1993 and 2012, Generation Z is the first truly post-Christian generation, and they are poised to challenge every church to rethink its role in light of a rapidly changing culture.

From the award-winning author of The Rise of the Nones comes this enlightening introduction to the youngest generation. James Emery White explains who this generation is, how it came to be, and the impact it is likely to have on the nation and the faith. Then he reintroduces us to the ancient countercultural model of the early church, arguing that this is the model Christian leaders must adopt and adapt if we are to reach members of Generation Z with the gospel. He helps readers rethink evangelistic and apologetic methods, cultivate a culture of invitation, and communicate with this connected generation where they are.

Pastors, ministry leaders, youth workers, and parents will find this an essential and hopeful resource.

And all this time, I thought my kids born in the mid-90s were officially millennials! Seems I was wrong.

More than this however, is the fact that the differences and overlapping of generations has begun to fascinate me much more in recent years. We tend to assume that generations in families are distinct and easily identifiable, and that may be true now, but it wasn’t always the case.

I was 7 years old when I first became an aunt, so have nieces who are my comrades in 40-somethingness. Many of my nephews and nieces are fellow Gex Xers. That’s basically unheard of today with our delayed family formation and small family sizes, but I can remember being in elementary school with two girls who were the same age, but also niece and auntie.

Because of my unique experience which is only unique in the context of our current reality, I am always intrigued by the different generational labels, and this book by James Emery White is, I hope, an interesting peek at the differences between the current generation of young Christians and the approach to Christian outreach when I was a kid. We’ll see if there is a new, more effective way to share our faith.

When I finish it, I’ll offer my take on whether it’s as helpful a resource as the publisher asserts.

 

Friday Faves Potpourri

Consider this stream of consciousness, outlining a few things this past week that piqued my interest, made me think, or sparked joy.

Inspired by Sanne @ Adventures in Keeping House, with her blackberry jam, I’ll start by sharing the peach preserves that our daughter made and canned on Saturday. Peach season is winding down, but you can still get some good ones and they are still perfectly peachy right now. Last year, I posted a few pictures of our time picking peaches and the resulting peach cobbler. We enjoy peaches very much!

While our daughter did most of the work on the preserves, we all pitched in and offered assistance. My biggest contribution was peeling of the peaches, and the Sunday morning almond flour biscuits that were the canvas on which the preserves were able to shine during breakfast. We are big on staging our food photgraphs, in case it isn’t obvious:

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In addition to peach preserves last weekend, I had the immense pleasure of joining some fellow travelers on the homeschooling journey to read Shakespeare’s, Julius Caesar. It was a wonderful time to prepare in anticipation of our junior high and high school students reading it this fall.

caesar1

I don’t remember enjoying the play nearly as much when I was forced to read it in high school. It’s always better to read something when you’re better able to appreciate not only the language, but the nuances and tone of the work. I strongly suggest considering a re-read of the books you think you hated because you were forced to read them in high school.

Next, some thoughts about fast fashion versus clothing made with real fabrics. I was recently looking for a casual, white cotton button downshirt for my husband, and as usual, I was looking for a deal. However, I ran across a really luxurious feeling linen shirt, and although it cost a bit more than I had originally wanted to spend, I bought it anyway.

white linen

My friend Hearthie writes a lot about real versus counterfeit and in that moment I realized how often we miss opportunities to buy the thing that will hold it’s value, shape, and quality over time for the sake of a few bucks. And I was kind of proud of myself.

A note about my increasing enjoyment of sprinting, something I never imagined I could ever enjoy. At least, not since I was about 12 years old. When my husband first started challenging me  four weeks ago to forgo the long jogs in favor of HIIT training composed of brisk walks interspersed with sprints of about 100 yards, I gave him 100 excuses for why I couldn’t do it. Now? I love it, especially noting how much farther I can last and how much shorter my recovery time is after each sprint.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

how to be unlucky

Lastly, I am almost ready to review the book I have enjoyed most year to date, How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. At about 3/4 of the way through my second reading, I’ve finally decided not to break this review up into a post of analysis as I go. There’s just too much to absorb and I wouldn’t begin to know what to focus on and how to highlight the ideas that I was most arrested by. There are just too many. I am certain I’ve said this before, but despite our very different religious backgrounds, this lifelong Protestant has found an ideological and spiritual kindred spirit in the Orthodox Joshua Gibbs.

I’ll have a proper review up by the end of the month.

What are some things that you are enjoying or have enjoyed recently?