Friday, July 14, 2017

Mark Twain, Hannibal, and the Mississippi River

For the last fourteen days, I have been traveling with my family.  (And we're still driving back to Cali right now.)  We spent five days in El Paso, Texas, and the remainder of the time in Missouri.  While we were in Missouri, we drove up to the little town of Hannibal, which sits on the edge of the Mississippi River.  Mark Twain's boyhood home is there, as well as the setting for many of his written works.  When Twain grew up there, his environment influenced and inspired him; today it is Twain who influences the little town of Hannibal.  

Here are some of the pictures from our trip.

View of Mississippi from my hotel

I was super excited to see the Mississippi River for the first time.  We spent our school year learning about European explorers who first came to the River.  Spanish explorer De Soto couldn't care less about being the first European to come to it; he later died of illness, and his crew dumped his body into the River.

La Salle claimed the area west of Mississippi River for France; but later when he returned to the Gulf of Mexico to find the opening of the River, he ended up in Texas.  He and his crew had to walk back toward the Mississippi River with their supplies, but they grew weary of La Salle's oversight and murdered him.  Talk about tolerance.

The amazing explorations of Marquette and Joliet remind me a lot of Lewis and Clark.  They were only interested in making maps of the Mississippi River, collecting specimens, and sharing the gospel, not of conquering or claiming land for a king.

The little, quaint town of Hannibal

Mark Twain's boyhood home

Inside the kitchen

Dining area
An office
While in Hannibal, we took a turn on the Mark Twain on the Mississippi River.


The captain told us how Twain incorporated the River and these islands in his stories, like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

This is Lover's Leap
(View of the Mississippi River from Lover's Leap)
 Since we sat on the very top deck (directly in front of the the pilot house), the captain asked my children if they would like to steer the boat for a bit.

The captain also pointed out a bald eagle perched in a tree on one of the islands, which was a first for me because I have never seen one in the wild.  

Another attraction in Hannibal is the Norman Rockwell Museum.  All of the works that Rockwell did for Twain are here in this museum.  Here are just two:

While visiting Hannibal, I got to see a cardinal.  Living in New York, I would see them often, but it has been awhile now that I live in Cali.  So I was overly excited to catch a glimpse of one of these.  (I love birds.)

Our final stop was at the Mark Twain Caves, of which you must know he used in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  This tour was a lot of fun, and our guide was excellent.  He shared much Mark Twain trivia throughout the tour.  So cool.

People left their signatures on the cave wall

Once, Jesse James hid out in these caves.  His signature is also on the wall, but we were unable to go to it.  Later we saw a picture of it.

This was such a great experience.  I feel like I will never read another Twain story without thinking about his childhood and the town of Hannibal.  It will forever be etched in my mind.  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I've Read So Far in 2017

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
AMAZING fictional work.  Could not put this down, and wished it never ended.

Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi
Equally AMAZING non-fiction work.  A new favorite author.  : )

Mere Christianity - C. S. Lewis
Could not have been more grateful to have read this.
Lewis took the complicated and made it clear.

The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis
Again, Lewis' ingeniously exposes human nature.
What better subject than human nature?

55 Men The Story of the Constitution
based on the day-by-day notes of James Madison - Fred Rodell
Dear United States Schools:
throw away your tedious, lifeless textbooks about the U.S. Constitution,
and just have your students READ THIS.  Thank you.

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
I don't know why, but this one just feels like home to me.
Even better this second time around.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters
C. S. Lewis
Published 1942

Here is another book I finished a long time ago, and if I do not write something about it, I shall forget everything.  Yesterday I took a twenty-five-question quiz on what I remember, and I received an F (40% correct).  So let's get going.

This little book is Christian satire, written in an epistolary style from Screwtape, Administrative Demon, to his nephew Wormwood, devil-in-training.  Wormwood has been given charge over a new Christian, and all of Screwtape's letters are aimed to teach Wormwood the typical temptations and weaknesses of faith and human nature.  Screwtape seeks to help Wormwood recognize these prime opportunities to trip up and cause the new believer to fall, in hopes of pulling him away from his faith forever and before it is too late.

Here are only a few suggestions from Screwtape to Wormwood about Mankind and human nature:

  • Truth no longer matters to man.
  • Keep men busy thinking about what will happen to him, not what he [must] do.
  • A moderated (watered down) religion is as good for [demons] as no religion at all.
  • Send [the new Christian] church shopping until he finds one that 'suits' him.
  • [Demons] can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern.
  • Cause [man] to believe that humans cannot practice abstinence or monogamy, and therefore may be easily sexually tempted.
  • Make them think love is the ONLY respectable grounds for marriage.  (See Mere Christianity.)
  • The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and . . . My good is my good and your good is yours.
  • [Demons] are directing the desires of men to something which does not exist -- making the role of the eye in sexuality more important and at the same time making its demands more impossible.
  • The sense of ownership -- own time, own money, own body, etc. -- is always to be encouraged (because it is the completely untrue).
  • If you cannot remove spirituality from the new Christian's life, corrupt it: distract his mind, and do not allow his Christianity to influence his politics.  What devil wants a just society?
  • Cause the new Christian to become horrified of the Same Old Thing in religion.  Fill their heads with new philosophies and psychologies.

I cannot tell you what happens to the new Christian in the end.

"Screwtape Proposes a Toast"

This is a final section where Screwtape lectured the graduating tempters on the quality of souls they are receiving in Hell, and why.

Screwtape explained that so long as man desires to conform to his social environment, to be like everyone else, and forgets history, he is easily fooled.  He recapped world history: the Revolutionary period ushered in an end to slavery, and tended toward religious tolerance, liberty and equality.

But "hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom." Enter Rousseau . . .
That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it.  In his perfect democracy (UTOPIA), you remember, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed whatever the Government tells him to do.  From that starting point, via Hegel, we wearily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. 
This is [Satan]'s counter-attack, and the little graduate tempters are instructed to use DEMOCRACY to lead mankind into their hands. How? By twisting language and changing the meaning of words. Never mind what it really means; indoctrinate men to think it means EQUALITY.
No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food.
[No man] has business to be different.  It's undemocratic.
People are easily tempted to reject free Grace because it would make them separate from the World.
To accept might make them Different, might offend again, the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group.  They might become individuals.
The World no longer needs Dictatorships to do Hell's job because man is (under the guise of Democracy) volunteering himself to "discredit and eliminate every kind of human excellence - moral, cultural, social, or intellectual."

Then Lewis digs at the education system.  Basically worthless people (idlers and ignoramuses) must not be made to look inferior to those who work hard.  Again, that is undemocratic. To do this, exams are altered for high marks, and it is made easier for most citizens to enter the universities, whether they care to be there or not. In fact, make the work simple and useless and call it something worthwhile.  "Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have 'parity of esteem.'


(Yes, I am shouting.)

The goal is to eliminate incentives to learn and penalties for not learning. And the best way to do this is through state education, in which the government taxes its Middle Class citizens to death in the name of Equality.  After all, (as quoted by an English politician), 'A democracy does not want great men.'
For 'democracy' leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, morally flaccid from lack of discipline in youth, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and soft from lifelong pampering.  And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.
As Lewis reminds his readers: "the overthrow of free peoples and the multiplication of slave-states are for [devils] a means; but the real end is the destruction of individuals.  For only individuals can be saved or damned."

Side bar: I am reading Revelation these days, and according to my study, the seven churches that are listed in chapters 1-3 embody the different churches of the last 2000 years.  The final church, the Lukewarm Church of Laodicea, represents the modern, liberal church of today.  It is the Big Box Church that is rich in members and buildings, success and wealth, but they are poor in God's presence and His blessings. This church focuses entirely on the democratic process, not God. Incidentally, Laodicea means "rights of the people."  When this church arrives on earth, it will be the end of the Church Age.

In his toast, Screwtape does not leave out "Christians" because it is the lukewarm bodies, the watered down so-called Christians, the HYPOCRITES that take up space within the Church that Satan counts on. They will turn people away from the Truth; and the more who do not have Christ, the more there will be for Satan.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

The Peloponnesian War
by Thucydides, translated by Steven Lattimore
written 431 BC
The Well-Educated Mind (Histories), Back to the Classics (Translation), 

The only reason I read The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides was for my Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, and therefore I am recording the minor fact that I read it.  I feel like I cannot add much more than that - I read it; it is done - but if I ponder a bit, maybe I can come up with some opinions.


Oh, I know.  I can confidently say I preferred Peloponnesian War far less than Herodotus' Histories. Thucydides was dull, dry, and dull.  (Said that already.)

Some of the speeches given by generals or other leaders were engrossing, but not frequent enough.

I am reminded again: loyalties are a joke, men can be bought for a price, you cannot trust government, innocent citizens are always the pawns of selfish, greedy, arrogant leaders, and these wars were wasteful and motivated by pride (because while I would be the first to say that sometimes war is very necessary, this "one" was not).  

If I did not know any better, I would say that Lattimore, my translator, had a personal vendetta against Thucydides because in his footnotes he often times ripped Thucydides to shreds when he thought he was being unfair or untruthful or not thorough enough.  Maybe that is what you call an honest translator.

Toward the end there were philosophical discussions about democracy and oligarchies, and that was interesting - though a little too late.  Other than that, I cannot say I remember anything more that stands out; and in fact, the longer I wait to write this post, the more I forget I even read it.

So there it is.  Glad to be done.  I have great respect for minds that love this stuff, but I am ready to move on to Plato.  

It is done.

Monday, June 5, 2017

55 Men The Story of the Constitution: based on the day-by-day notes of James Madison by Fred Rodell

55 Men: The Story of the Constitution
Based on the day-by-day notes of James Madison
Fred Rodell
published 1936

This book was for sale at my library, and given that I am preparing for our Age of Revolution school year, I could not pass it up, especially because it is about the Constitution "based on the day-by-day notes of James Madison."  Notice it was first published in 1936; I think my copy is actually from 1936 because it is brittle and every page has separated completely from its binding.

James Madison - 
Father of the Constitution

I thought this would read like a diary, but it is actually written in a chronological story narrative.  It begins in May 1787, when delegates met in Philadelphia to "repair" the Articles of Confederation, then replaced it with something totally brand new.  It is certainly an interesting and intense retelling of what fifty-five "hard-headed" men fought for.

This is a perfect book for junior high and high school students, though not juvenile in the least, because it is easily readable, understandable, and there is a chance young people may form a small appreciation for what these men did. This book exposes the battles lost and won between small states and larger states, South and East, state and federal, federal and national, agriculture and business , as well as government and the People. Yet, they banded together to consider what to do when new wily states in the West would want to join the Union. There were details that needed to be worked out, such as term limits, proportional representation, and how to count slaves.  Some of these contentious battles looked like there would never be a conclusion.

Benjamin Franklin - 
I suggested prayer, but they suggested otherwise.

At one point, Benjamin Franklin suggested daily prayers and to request a local clergy of the city to officiate the service, but Alexander Hamilton objected because he pointed out that it might indicate there was trouble in the Convention.  According to Madison's notes, others "agreed that secrecy was more important than divine assistance," and they "continued without the benefit of prayer."  This is interesting because this is not the story others have told.

One of the longer arguments was over  how the president was to be elected. Numerous schemes were successfully demonstrated, showing how dangerous a direct election of the president by the people or by the Senate would be.  Hence, it was finally decided that neither would have the vote; rather the people would vote for electors in their state who would in turn vote for the president.

Alexander Hamilton -
 a strong proponent of federal government

It was amazing how they came to the agreement on the separation of power, each branch of government and its specific responsibility, and the checks and balances that each branch had on the other.  The purpose of the separation of power was to protect all the people from tyranny of a president turned dictator; and it was "to protect a part of the people * from a type of government the delegates themselves feared even more:" DEMOCRACY.  I am not kidding.  The author said Democracy is "soaked . . . with schemes tending toward a more equal distribution of wealth."   Distribution of wealth is legalized greed and theft, and both are wrong.  But I digress.

* So, that separation of powers deal "softened the strength of real majority rule in order to guard the property interests of less than half the people."

Toward the end of the Convention, the slavery issue and slave trade were drudged up again, and it was a bitter fight.  But it was agreed that Congress not pass any legislation against the slave trade for twenty years. The Convention needed those slave states to agree to the new Plan, and the South felt that in twenty years they would no longer need the slave trade.  Essentially, most envisioned slavery fizzling out on its own in the future.

George Mason
I suggested a Bill of Right, but they wouldn't listen.

After four hot months at the Convention, the delegates were eager to get home.  That may be why they declined a Bill of Rights smartly suggested by George Mason; yet, a few months later, a Bill of Rights was added.  Hard as it may be to believe, there was great hysteria after the result of the Convention was revealed; people were extremely skeptical about the newly formed government.  It took an entire year before the ninth of the thirteen states ratified the Constitution and it could go into effect.

In the end, the author asked what the Founders would think today of their new experimental government.  Rodell declares that our government looks a lot more like a democracy.  He said,
[The Founders] would find the powers they once put in the hands of national government, to protect the property rights of men of affairs, being used in exactly the opposite way--being used to limit those property rights in the interest of a majority of the people.
They would find very little remaining of their separation of powers, with its many checks to guard against popular laws.  They would find just one of their three main branches of government removed from the people, instead of two and a half as once they planned.
Included in the back of the book are copies of the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the remaining Amendments - a few which were added after 1936.

This is an excellent, thorough, and insightful look at the secret Convention and the contentious debates leading up to the final construction of the foundation of the United States government.  The author lists plenty of evidence as to why the Founders decided for or against an idea, as well as the personal tempers of certain members regarding specific topics.

It has been said that the Constitutional Convention brought together some of the greatest minds that have ever lived; I believe it.  55 Men: The Story of the Constitution is the inside story of that miracle.

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States
- Howard Chandler Christy

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Personal Canon of Books

This idea was brought to me by Jillian, who encouraged me to make a list.  It has just taken me awhile.

Every avid reader has a particular and unique way of composing a personal canon.  The list is characteristic of who you are.  It says, "These are my books."

Some of these books have affected my worldview, some shook me to my core, some left an imprint on my heart, and others changed my life forever.  These books matter to me.  If I constructed my self-portrait using books, this is what it would look like; if I was marooned on an island, these are the books I would desire for my companion.  Over all, I measured my books based on how I responded to them, which makes them obviously personal.

Since every reader is distinct and every reading experience is personal, I can not stand by each one and promise that another reader would have the same encounter.  You may have a completely different result.  We may agree that a work is good because it meets certain qualifications or standards, but beyond that, it may end.  And that is ok, too.

This is my personal canon - an ever growing and evolving list that may forever be part of me.  I broke it up between fiction and non-fiction (the latter including biographies, histories, and miscellaneous).


Alcott, Louisa May:
Little Women

Austen, Jane:
Pride and Prejudice

Bronte, Charlotte:
Jane Eyre

Burnett, Frances Hodgson:
The Secret Garden

Bunyan, John:
Pilgrim's Progress

Cather, Willa:
O Pioneers!
My Antonia

Don Quixote

Crane, Stephen:
The Red Badge of Courage

Defoe, Daniel:
Robinson Crusoe

Dickens, Charles:
A Christmas Carol
A Tale of Two Cities
Oliver Twist

Dostoevsky, Fyodor:
Crime and Punishment

Ellison, Ralph:
Invisible Man

Fitzgerald, F. Scott:
The Great Gatsby

Flaubert, Gustave:
Madame Bovary

Forster, E.M:
Howards End

Golding, William:
Lord of the Flies

Grahame, Kenneth:
Wind in the Willows

Hardy, Thomas:
Far From the Madding Crowd
Return of the Native

Hawthorne, Nathaniel:
The Scarlet Letter

Hosseini, Khalid:
A Thousand Splendid Suns

Hurston, Zora Neale:
Their Eyes Were Watching God

Lee, Harper
To Kill a Mockingbird

Melville, Herman:

Miller, Arthur:
The Crucible

Mitchell, Margaret:
Gone with the Wind

Orwell, George:

Pasternak, Boris:
Doctor Zhivago

Remarque, Erich Maria:
All Quiet on the Western Front

Stowe, Harriet Beecher:
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Twain, Mark:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Tolstoy, Leo:
War and Peace
Anna Karenina

Wharton, Edith:
The Age of Innocence
The House of Mirth

Wilder, Laura Ingalls
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

Woolf, Virginia:
The Voyage Out

Zola, Émile:


The Bible


Bauer, Susan Wise:
The Well-Trained Mind 
The Well-Educated Mind 

Beamer, Lisa:
Let's Roll

Boom, Corrie Ten:
The Hiding Place

Bradford, William:
Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647

Capote, Truman:
In Cold Blood

Columbus, Christopher:
The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus

Conway, Jill Ker:
The Road from Coorain

Douglass, Frederick:
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Frank, Anne:
The Diary of a Young Girl

Gatto, John Taylor:
The Underground History of American Education

Hillenbrand, Laura:

Jacobs, Harriet:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Johnson, Paul:
A History of the American People

Lewis, C.S.:
Mere Christianity

Lewis, Meriwether & Clark, William:
The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Malcolm X:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley

Metaxas, Eric:
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Nafisi, Azar:
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

Sarton, May:
Journal of a Solitude

Schaeffer, Francis:
How Shall We Then Live?

Thomas, Clarence:
My Grandfather's Son

Thoreau, Henry David:

Washington, Booker T.:
Up From Slavery

Wiesel, Elie:

Woolf, Virginia:
A Room of One's Own

So . . . what is your personal canon?

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer Reads

Top Summer Reads

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

The Kite Runner - Hosseini

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Solzhenitsyn

The Republic - Plato

The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis (already reading)

This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Maybe as many of the Little House books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder,
as I can manage, but I am not really sure it will happen. 
What do you hope to read this summer?