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Monthly Archives: September 2012

“We Are Storied Creatures”

We are storied creatures; we naturally love stories because our lives are filled with tension and resolution, and at any given moment there is likely to be more tension than resolution. So we identify with this character or that, with this moment or that, with this or that twist of the plot . . . and we are hooked. We want to know what happens, how it works out.

So we live within the world of the narrative as creatures in search of an ending, in search of happiness, on the quest for to teleion, “the complete.”

N.T. Wright from “After You Believe”

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Quotations

 

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Chapter two in The Hobbit read-along. Sample some roast mutton and some Troll humor! Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Originally posted on The Warden's Walk:

Chapter 1

An Unexpected Party

(In which I tell you things I thought while reading the first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit.)

You can nearly hear it: the squirming under the blankets, the excited whispers from little voices, the occasional giggle or outright laughter, and, perhaps, the interrupting questions which are bound to pepper any evening spent telling a good story to children. And you, the teller, the reader-out-loud, love these sounds, because they feed the energy of your growing tale and remind you that, whatever else you have planned, your story absolutely must entertain.

If you are lucky enough to be actually reading The Hobbit aloud to children, all the better. If you find yourself alone, no matter; for me, at least, Tolkien’s prose—more carefree and warm than the tone he would later adopt for The Lord of the Rings—had the effect of making me feel as…

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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Monday Musings

I’ve been having pretty good luck with the book hunting lately, but I was exceptionally fortunate this past Saturday at my local library’s ongoing book sale. I found a beautiful copy, in excellent condition, of “Ivanhoe,” by  Sir Walter Scott. This hardbound edition put out by the The Heritage Club (The Heritage Press, 1950) includes the original slipcase and a copy of the Heritage Club newsletter, “Sandglass,” which goes over some of the more interesting historical notes about the novel.

“Ivanhoe” was published in 1819 and became Scott’s crowning success. I haven’t read it before, but according to the “Sandglass” insert, it’s a true swashbuckler and includes two of my all-time favorite characters: Locksley (AKA Robin Hood) and Friar Tuck. How they got in there I have no idea, but I’ll let you know when I find out. I don’t remember any Ivanhoe being in “The Adventures of Robin Hood!”

Also interesting is the fact that Scott raised some eyebrows by including Jews as prominent characters in his novel, which at that time was considered “startling, exotic.” The character of Rebecca was based on a real Jewish American Tory named Rebecca Franks who lived in Philadelphia during the Revolution. Being a Tory, after the rebels won America’s independence, Rebecca and her family were evacuated to England where she eventually met Scott. The rest, as they say.

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The Wall Street Journal had an excellent Books section this past weekend. I was particularly interested in two reviews.

First off, the Library of America has just published a two-volume set, “The Little House Books” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The set puts together all nine of the Little House books plus special supplemental texts for a total of 1,490 pages. The timing on this review was perfect, considering I had just done a brief spotlight post on Wilder’s “Writings to Young Women” about a week back. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a wonderful writer and a real American icon, who wrote these books for children so that they would understand “what it is that made America as they know it.”

Something that all too many people today seem to have forgotten.

The other review of interest was about Jonathan Sacks’ new book, “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning,” (Schocken, 370 pages, $28.95). Sacks, the chief rabbi of the Untied Kingdom, has a go at the currently flaring battle between science and religion. I find this topic fascinating, though I expect neither side will win a final victory. I know where I stand, and I’m sure that Richard Dawkins knows where he stands, but I don’t see either of us changing our minds any time soon. But it is fun to watch the volleys each side lofts at the other. Ah, the bombs bursting in air!

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Finally, I received the advance copy of “The Core of Johnny Appleseed” a few days back. This is the book I wrote the Foreword to. It’s beautiful, if I say so myself.

It’s scheduled to be released on November 1st. Here’s the link to the Amazon listing for those who are interested.

Thanks and have a great week all!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Book Hunting, History, Old Books, Uncategorized

 

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The Dangers of Not Reading

Thus, the failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency – the belief that the here and now is all there is.

- Allan Bloom, from The Closing of the American Mind (1987)

 

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Quotations

 

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Laura Ingalls Wilder, Advice Columnist?

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder used her experienc...

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder used her experiences growing up near De Smet as the basis for four of her novels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the pleasures of book hunting at yard sales, thrift stores and library sales is finding that unknown book or author. Or even, as in this case, an unknown book by a well-known author.

I came across “Writings to Young Women From Laura Ingalls Wilder, Volume One: On Wisdom and Virtues,” at a Salvation Army Thrift Store a few weeks back. Everyone who’s been near a television in the past several decades has heard of the series, “Little House on the Prairie,” based on her books of the same name.She and her family were true pioneers and her accounts of her years on the American frontier are not just great stories for young people but are also considered valuable historical records of that time. So I admit to be being more than a little surprised by this title from her.

It turns out that Laura Ingalls Wilder was also a newspaper columnist for The Missouri Ruralist, a small publication reportedly still in business. She didn’t start her career in journalism until she was in her forties, according to the book’s introduction. She wrote for the Ruralist for about fifteen years before beginning her Little House stories. So take heart, late bloomers: Laura began her career as a book author in her sixties!

Edited by Stephen W. Hines, this book is a compilation of some of her columns from the Ruralist about the use of wisdom in this life. Her writing here is clear, direct and somehow touching. As editor Hines puts it in his introduction, ” . . . nothing of real importance ever changes. Her concerns are not so different from the ones we have today, though they take different form.” Here are a few samples,

The habit of saying disagreeable things or of being careless about how what we say affects others grows on us so easily and so surely if we indulge it.

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I am sure we will all agree that these laws of ours should be as wise and as few as possible.

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Our hearts are mostly in the right place, but we seem weak in the head.

The book is a delight to read, filled with stories and anecdotes and lessons learned from years of living. It is, indeed, a book of wisdom of which there are way too few in these days. Our children and grandchildren should be exposed to these types of books at every opportunity. We should read them and talk about them together.

One last observation. Laura Ingalls Wilder died in 1957. Born in 1867, she lived nearly a century. It gives me a chill and a deep sense of our connected history to think that I was three years old when she passed.

Thank you and God bless you, Laura.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Authors, Book Hunting, History

 

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The LOTR Mouthwash

I remember a letter that Lewis wrote to someone who read the newspapers and he said “if you must read newspapers and magazines at least give yourself a mouthwash with The Lord of the Rings.” I think we all read newspapers and magazines and see this horrid modern language, and we’re used to shoddy writing and shoddy imagining, and I think we all need one great book to have a mouthwash with, once a year. It’s absolutely required.

- Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis’s personal secretary, from “Tolkien: A Celebration”

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Quotations

 

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The Immense Journey

The Immense Journey

That is the title of one of my all-time favorite books. Written by the eminent anthropologist, Loren Eiseley, and published in 1957, it is the story of life, from its unknown origins in the dim past to its present state. Being an anthropologist, Eiseley focuses most of his attention on the evolution of Man.

I first read this book almost 20 years ago, and was riveted by Eiseley’s writing. I’m not normally a science geek, although I do find it interesting. But reading “The Immense Journey” was a revelation. He was that rarity, a poet-scientist, who could explain the path of life and evolution without making it tedious and mechanical. Indeed, he mainly rejected the easy, mechanistic explanations of how Man evolved to become what he is today.

Too many of today’s scientists, particularly evolutionary biologists, see everything concerning life as mechanism. Completely absent from their worldview are any purpose or meaning. Many times, the soulless prose of these scientists reflects their vision. Not so Loren Eiseley. He saw mystery not just in Man, but in all of life, and that sense of “owl-eyed wonder” (his words) illuminated his writing.

I quoted one of my favorite passages from this book a couple of Sundays back, but I want to share another of this author’s marvelous descriptions of wonder:

. . . but more delicate, elusive, quicker than the fins in water, is that mysterious principle known as “organization,” which leaves all other mysteries concerned with life stale and insignificant by comparison. For that without organization life does not persist is obvious. Yet this organization itself is not strictly the product of life, nor of selection. Like some dark and passing shadow within matter, it cups out the eyes’ small windows or spaces the notes of a meadow lark’s song in the interior of a  mottled egg. That principle – I am beginning to suspect – was there before the living in the deeps of water.

By all accounts Eiseley was a not a religious man in any traditional sense of the word. Yet he was no enemy of religion either. He was comfortable using religious imagery when it was called for, as in this quote from the editors’ preface to this edition of the book:

 . . . whether we speak of a God come down to earth or a man inspired toward God and betrayed upon a cross, the dream was great, and shook the world like a storm. I believe in Christ in every man who dies to contribute to a life beyond his life. I believe in Christ in all who defend the individual from the iron boot of the extending collective state . . .

Do yourself a favor. Read this book.

 

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Authors, Favorite Books, Ideas

 

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Philosophy Vs Science

English: Mortimer Adler, Miami Book Fair Inter...

English: Mortimer Adler, Miami Book Fair International, 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me make this last point quite clear. The conduct of human life and the organization of human society depend on our answers to such questions as what happiness consists in, what our duties are, what form of government is most just, what constitutes the common good of society, what freedom men should have, and so on. Not one of these questions, nor any question like them which involves right and wrong or good and bad, can be answered by science, now or ever. . .

In my judgement it is philosophy, not science, which should be uppermost in any culture or civilization, simply because the questions it can answer are more important for human life. Certainly it should be clear that the more science we possess, the more we need philosophy, because the more power we have, the more we need direction.

- Dr. Mortimer J. Adler from the book “Great Ideas From The Great Books”

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Quotations

 

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