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Category Archives: Old Books

Attila the Hun . . . For Kids!

Well, actually, the book is called “The White Stag,” but it’s about the history, albeit legendary, of Attila’s origins. The White StagWritten by Kate Seredy and published in 1937 (the copyright was renewed in 1965), it has since been released as a Puffin Newbery Library edition which I was fortunate enough to find at my local library’s book sale.

Recommended for ages 8 – 12, this book contains all the elements this 59-year-old kid finds irresistible. This fine blending of history, heroic legend and mythology purports to tell the tale of the early history of the Hungarian, or Magyar, race. As Seredy describes it in her foreword, “Those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow the thread on the pages of this book. It is a fragile thread; it cannot bear the weight of facts and dates.”

Most of the tale proceeds before the coming of Attila. After Old Nimrod, Mighty Hunter before the Lord passes on, his sons Hunor and Magyar, the Twin Eagles of Hadur, migrate westward from wild Altain-Ula. Led by the miraculous White Stag, they journey in search of their new homeland, “a land, rich in game and green pastures, between two great rivers rich in fish, surrounded by mountains . . . “

This story has all the wonderful elements that can capture a young person’s imagination. Historic legend, fantasy, adventure, action, exploration and heroic characters. As Hunor and Magyar lead their people west, they must deal with magical creatures, including a pair of moonmaidens, the stern tribal prophet Damos, their pagan god Hadur and even a tribe of people called the Cimmerians (is that you, Conan?).

Attila is born in the final chapter, the grandson of Hunor. His coming was foretold in tribal prophecies and heralded by the old prophet Damos: “Attila is born! Attila, with the mighty voice and wings red as blood. Attila who will lead you into the promised land, the Red Eagle, greatest of all warriors, Attila.” Indeed, the Red Eagle leads his people into the promised land, but not before facing a crisis that threatens his tribe and his beliefs.

Despite the pagan motif, this is a story that displays the virtues of persistence and faith in the best of lights. There is an air of the biblical epic here and Seredy even includes some references to scriptural tales from the Old Testament as part of the tribe’s ancient memories. Using strong, lean prose, Seredy conveys a sense of great time passing in a mere 94 pages, including her own illustrations, which are wonderful.

Get this book for your young reader. When they’re finished with it, you read it. You won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2013 in Book Review, Children's Books, Old Books

 

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The History of the American Character

I have always loved American folklore. Thank goodness for Disney’s animated renderings of Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill IllustrationPecos Bill, the Uncle Remus stories and others. These tales, and my father’s guidance, led me further into my love of books and words. But there’s something else these wonderful “tall tales” did for me; they helped me to better understand, and to love, this country and its people.

These thoughts surfaced again in my mind last week after I came across a copy of “Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time,” by James Cloyd Bowman (The New York Review Children’s Collection). Originally published in 1937, this book is a compilation of tales about the mythical, larger-than-life cowboy arranged to form an episodic novel. The bold, eye-catching illustrations by Laura Bannon, many in bright, primary colors, add much to the overall feel of the stories.

As Bowman writes in his introduction:

These adventures of Pecos Bill constitute a part of the Saga of the Cowboy. They are collected from the annals of the campfire and the roundup. They preserve the glory of the days when men were men, and when imagination and wonder rode hand in hand to conquest and to undying fame.

These tales are vital examples of the broad humor of America that has been long in the making. The bigness of the virgin frontier expanded the imagination of the first settlers, and the hardness of the life developed their self-reliance.

It makes me think that in these times when so few of America’s youth understand what being an American is about, maybe the best thing to do is re-introduce our “tall tales” to a new generation.

It should couldn’t hurt!

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2013 in Book Hunting, Ideas, Old Books

 

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I Think I’ve Found “Soma” the Problem

Huxley autograph of 1942 book "The Art of Seeing."

Huxley autograph of 1942 book “The Art of Seeing.”

OK. That was bad. Really bad. I apologize sincerely for that. Now back to my post.

The other day I was surfing around and I saw a picture of a young lady staring dreamily into her IPhone/ Android/ whatever. It was an ad for a social media site touting its portability. You, too, can flat-line your mind anywhere you go. And then it occurred to me: this is our society’s version of “Soma.” Huxley wasn’t too far off!

I’m sure some of you have read “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. Without recounting the whole novel, Soma is an hallucinogenic drug that the future World State gives to its citizens so they can take hangover-free “vacations” to relieve stress and distract them from the oppressive, totalitarian world they live in. After reading BNW, I wondered when, if ever, our society would start to do something like that. When I saw the photo of the girl and her tech device, I said to myself, “It’s already here!”

Think about it. Our culture is very chemical/drug averse, for any number of reasons going back hundreds of years. But video and internet content, delivered via electronic IVs which we take with us anywhere, is the perfect solution. Using this technology people can watch television programs, movies or music videos. They can communicate with friends, play games, read books, magazines or newspapers, anywhere they go and at anytime they want. And it can be highly addictive. What better way to distract people from what’s going on in their world?

George Orwell wasn’t the only one who knew what he was writing about.

__________

By the way, that Aldous Huxley autograph you see above is from one of my books. I found it in a thrift store in Anaheim, CA maybe 20 years ago or so. I paid 50 cents for it. Unfortunately, the book isn’t “Brave New World,” but it is a first edition, in perfect condition, of Huxley’s “The Art of Seeing” signed and dated by the author.

I like it.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Ideas, Old Books, Uncategorized

 

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The Word in the Wilderness

The Garden and the WildernessI’ve had a very successful week or so as far as finding some great books at thrift stores and library sales. Fortunately I’ve had the means to purchase the ones I really wanted. Not that any of these were particularly expensive, but times are a bit tight, after all. I’ll be doing another post soon to share these finds, but I wanted to do this post on one book that really started me thinking.

Now, this book isn’t anything rare or expensive. Nothing like that at all. But it is somewhat unique in that I doubt you would find anything like it being published today. Or used, for that matter. The book is titled “The Garden and the Wilderness,” and it was published in 1973 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. It was a high school textbook in a series from HBJ called “Literature: Uses of the Imagination.”

What this textbook does is take excerpts from the biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (from The New English Bible, one of my favorite translations) and arranges them with writings from such authors as Carl Sandburg, Edwin Muir, Dylan Thomas, Loren Eiseley and William Blake, among others. The selections include essays, poetry, plays, short stories and folk songs. As the book’s introduction explains:

The Bible has enormous importance historically and as a sacred book. but it is also literature, with a central place in any serious study of the works of the human imagination. We hope that in years to come you will be stimulated to move from this volume and its companions to the Bible itself, and that some of you will even study the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek as paths to the rich absorbing writings found there.

Amazing.

Nearly 40 years ago, this textbook was used in some school, I can’t say for sure if it was a public or parochial school, though my hunch is that it was a public school. Here’s my question: Do you think such a book would find a place in any public school today? Would studying the rich themes of the “book of books” be considered too religious for our children? Despite the role these words played in the founding of our civilization?

In our increasingly secular American society, faith themes and ideas are increasingly marginalized, pushed aside, forgotten and ignored. The “war” isn’t on Christmas, but on religion in general.

The Word is, indeed, in the wilderness.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2012 in Education, Ideas, Old Books

 

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Score at the Thrift Store

Score at the Thrift Store

So by now, most of you know that I LOVE to shop for books at thrift and second-hand stores. One of the main reasons is because I just never know what I’m going to find. The element of surprise makes each trip an adventure and when I come across that special book or books, well . . .

Yesterday my wife and I went to the D.A.V. (Disabled American Veterans) Thrift in Prescott. This is one fabulous shop, with all sorts of nifty nic-nacs, old clothes, furniture and, of course, books. And I scored! I found some of the old “Companion Library” series of children’s classics published by Grosset & Dunlap back in the ’60s. What was wonderful about these volumes wasn’t just that they made available some of the all-time best stories for young people, but also the way they did it.

There were two tales per volume, but also two front covers. If you were looking at one cover and you wanted to see the second, instead of just turning it over, you would flip it upside down and THEN turn it over. Hard to explain with words, but if you saw one you’d understand. And these were the full versions of each story, not some abridged one.

So here’s what I snagged: The first volume has Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (it says “Revised and Slightly Abridged”. Oooops!) which was first published in 1727. along with Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The second volume has The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame sharing the covers with Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Finally, the third volume has The Adventures of Pinocchio by C. Collodi (in reality, Carlo Lorenzini, NOT Walt Disney) followed on the reverse side by the Howard Pyle version of The Story of King Arthur and His Knights.

There were several more of these wonderful books on the shelf when I left, but I didn’t want to be greedy. But if they’re still there next time, consider them gone. I’m going to build a nice library for my grandson and these books are a great way to do it!

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Book Hunting, Children's Books, Old Books

 

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Were You Educated By A Loose Canon?

The Great Books of the Western World is an att...

The Great Books of the Western World is an attempt to present the western canon in a single package of 60 volumes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while back I asked “What kind of reader are you?” Now I want to know, “What books did you read when you were in school?” I’m not talking about elementary school here. More like middle or high school. What books did your teachers expose you to?

I’m curious about this because I’ve been perusing Harold Bloom’s wonderfully eye-opening book, “The Western Canon,” (Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994). Most of us these days think of the Bible when we hear the word canon, but it does have a broader application. A canon is basically an authoritative list. Thus Bloom:

Originally the Canon meant the choice of books in our teaching institutions, and despite the recent politics of multiculturalism, the Canon’s true question remains: What shall the individual who still desires to read attempt to read, this late in history?

What Bloom is getting at here is that there are far too many books for people to read, even in several lifetimes. Choices need to be made. There are certain books that are definitive of our Western culture, the core if you will. We’re talking about such authors as Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dickens, Goethe, Milton and, Lord, I’m barely scratching the surface here. Are we, or our teachers, choosing the books we really need to truly understand our culture?

How many of these seminal writers were you exposed to during your high school years? Or even college? The odds of today’s students having the opportunity to read these great minds grows ever slimmer due to what Bloom describes as “the academic-journalistic network I have dubbed the School of Resentment, who wish to overthrow the Canon in order to advance their supposed (and nonexistent) programs for social change.”

I’ll attempt to grapple with more of the details later, but for now please ruminate on this: Can a person understand Western civilization, or even be a part of it, without some minimum knowledge of its greatest writers and thinkers? How would one choose the Canon?

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Authors, Education, History, Ideas, Old Books, Worries

 

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What Kind of Reader Are You?

What Kind of Reader Are You?

We book lovers and readers tend to take reading for granted. It is an activity we engage in everyday, for greater or lesser periods of time. Some of us read fiction, some of us prefer nonfiction and some of us enjoy mixing the two together. Some readers like to be challenged with complex plots, ideas or subjects. Others enjoy the escape of the paperback equivalent of a comic book. Reading is wonderfully diverse in its offerings to devotees.

No matter what type of reader you may be, you would benefit from exposure to “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Adler was one of America’s leading public intellectuals during the middle of the last century and this book, originally published in 1940, is still considered by many to be a classic. To Adler and Van Doren reading was, and is, a complex activity involving much more than recognizing and mentally linking words on a page.

They have identified four levels of reading here. First is Elementary Level, basically what a person is capable of after graduating from elementary school. Next is Inspectional Reading, or the art of systematic skimming of a book to get the necessary information needed within a limited amount of time. Third there is Analytical Reading, which is a deep and thorough reading when one has as no time limits to worry about. Finally they identify Syntopical Reading, describing it as a kind of comparative reading. In their words, “It is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all.”

While the book explores and explains these levels of reading, it also goes into other areas, including how to read different types of books and how to use a dictionary properly. The key is that Adler and Van Doren take reading seriously. Adler was one of the driving forces behind the Great Books of the Western World, a 54- volume set published by Encyclopaedia Britannica. He helped set up a great books program at the University of Chicago. For Adler, effective reading was truly the key to learning, so important that advanced reading skills should be one of the teaching goals of high schools and colleges:

A good liberal arts high school, if it does nothing else, ought to produce graduates who are competent analytical readers. A good college, if it does nothing else, ought to produce competent syntopical readers.

So, what kind of reader are you? Are you a casual reader, or someone who really digs-in to a book to get at what the author offers there? Or does it depend on what type of book you’re reading? Do you feel your high school or college trained you to read effectively? And do you think e-readers will influence how people read in the future?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Authors, Education, Old Books, Reading

 

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