Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monumental Propaganda by Vladimir Voinovich

The author of Monumental Propaganda, Vladimir Voinovich, is from Tadjikistan. The book was extremely interesting to me because he covers life in the Soviet Union from the days of Stalin forward through modern times and the "collapse" of communism, then going back historically to bring in the philosophies of Lenin, Marx, and Engels as well as insights into the time of the czars. Many times the book deals with the troubles of the USSR in a light-hearted way, still the subject matter was interesting and held my interest. Interesting philosophical statements made, throughout, by the author.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

The topic of the book was fascinating and intriguing: slave holding by black people prior to the Civil War. A criticism I would have for the book was that there were so many characters developed in the book and because the author shifts back and forth in time and place, I often found myself confused as I tried to tie the story together.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

I have come to appreciate why Goethe is considered, probably, the greatest German writer. The Sorrows of Young Werther is considered the first great tragic novel of European literature. I will read more of Goethe! An interesting look at the decent of the title character into deepest depression.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Pulitzer Prize winner for the year. There was some big surprise because the book beat out others by authors such as Philip Roth and John Updike. Here is what the Pulitzer Prize judges said about the book:
The Pulitzer judges said the book "packs a cumulative emotional wallop, bound together by polished prose and by Olive, the title character, blunt, flawed and fascinating."

I found their assessment right on. I loved how humanely the characters were portrayed and developed. Do you like or not like Olive? I think that as people really think about all of the characters in the book, they will see the struggles they have as they take the personality and character traits that came to them naturally and add in life's experiences and how they affect the way we deal with our lives and the people around us. I saw so much of myself in Olive and understand what it is like to be judged by people for outward things that they see, neglecting the true heart that is underneath that has trouble expressing itself.

I highly recommend this novel to others. Be warned, however, that there is some very bad language in the book, at times.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Interesting story portraying life in Jamaica during from its beginning through the 1970's. I was not aware of all of the turmoil and violence there and the mixture of cultures.

A neat quote from the story: 'I want to say I never stopped loving Monica. But age bring me wisdom. I stopped loving her when I lost the courage to stand up to my father. You understand? The love you have in you [sic] heart for somebody--that is not enough. I remember them teachin' me in school the difference between a noun and a verb: a noun is, and a verb does. Well, love don't count one rass [sic] unless it's a verb. I stopped loving Monica.' (pg. 271)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir

Stolen Lives is the amazing story of Malika Oufkir, her brothers and sisters, and mother as they are punished by King Hassan II of Morocco for the failed coup be her father, General Oufkir. Malika recounts her life story as she and her younger siblings (the youngest 3 years old) are imprisoned because of their father's actions. An incredible story of the violation of basic human rights...the victims, in this case, innocent children!

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois

The Twenty-One Balloons was such a fun, fantasy-filled book! The story captured my imagination like the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory did. I think it was one of the better Newberry Award winners that I have read. It is sad that I took so many years to discover this story of Professor William Waterman Sherman and the magical island of Krakatoa!

I need to spend more time in my life "traveling by balloon"--leaving where I am taken "to nature" in an unrushed, free, spirit of awaiting what new worlds there are to discover around me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Maniac Magee! At first, I struggled with having to suspend belief regarding how so much was not really believable. However, I came to understand that I needed to look at this story more as a parable with a lot of symbolism. I think a person has to ask a lot of questions about who does this character represent? How are names significant to the story? I think that the story is a lot deeper than just a children's story that would appeal to 12 year old boys.

The obvious criticism in the story is about prejudice, racism, and stereotypical or uninformed traditional thinking which can box people into totally unrational, illogical thinking. Maniac dealt constantly with people's fears of things they really knew nothing about, just had been made afraid of all of their lives. They were living in a state of fear...paranoia...about so many things...the Finsterwalds, the East side vs. West side, attitudes about elderly people, attitudes about people living in poverty, etc.

One of the best, most telling moments about what the story was really all about was when Maniac describes the things he did as dares to keep the McNab boys going to school. When he talks about the dare to put his hand into the hole and proceeds to not only put his hand in, but his whole arm and comes out without any kind of harm to himself. There is a real difference between those things that really can do us harm (like the incident that made Maniac flee...the incident on the trolley trestle) and what he stood up to...traditional fears that had no true foundation. Maniac refuses to deal with fear based around tradition and not fact.

A wonderful story!!! But, the story does require a very thoughtful reader to get beyond the surface extremes to a deeper, much deeper message. I realize that I will need to go back, again, to do another reading to see what other symbols I missed on my first time through.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

I thoroughly enjoyed Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer!!! The book was a lot of fun, the characters memorable, the plot is engaging, and the information about different types of fairies interesting. I wish they would make a movie of this one!!! I would so enjoy it. Throughout my read, I could picture who would play each of the character, what they would look like, and how the scenes would look. Colfer did such a fine job in creating these images. I highly recommend the book as just fun, light-hearted read and look forward to reading others in the series.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bombay Anna: The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of the King and I Governess by Susan Morgan

Since I was a young girl, I have loved the romantic tale of the musical, The King and I. I am a bit saddened to learn that the story was based almost fully on a fabrication of Anna Leonowens! Susan Morgan has done a wonderful job as she researched the true story of the Governess/Teacher to the children of King Mongkut, King of Siam. The true story is actually more interesting, probably, than one that the world is more acquainted with.

To overcome a world of classes where one lowly born could have little hope of rising up in the world, Anna created a new persona for herself upon the death of her husband, Tom. She abandoned her former identity and became another.

Fascinating historical piece. I think it is a must read for any who have come to love The King and I. The story will always have a different face for me, now.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse was a difficult read, for me. The book is written in stream of consciousness and is not very easy to follow, however beautifully written. Virginia Woolf deals with themes of mens' and womens' roles, relationships, and permanence. Recurring is the idea of the fact that so much is fleeting in this life, but all want to leave a mark and have a permanent impact on the world.

In the end, Lily Briscoe realizes how permanence is to be had. One cannot simply live in their ideas, they must actually put these ideas into works. "Lily reflects that “nothing stays, all changes; but not words, not paint.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Republic by Plato

I found this an amazingly tedious book to read. I was shocked, to a large measure, by what Plato puts forth here as he tries to define justice and the perfect State. His comments about democracy being just one step from tyranny were especially intriguing.

The most exciting part of this book, for me, were how very much his beliefs about the nature of God and the eternal nature of the soul are to my own faith.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze is a fascinating book. Elizabeth Foreman Lewis describes life in China in the 1920's. The culture described was fascinating. I loved how she brought the foreshadowing of communism into the work and helped me to understand what led China towards that choice in government.

Young Fu is an endearing character who battles the "dragons" of his life and his culture...a life lesson for all youth about facing the trials that they face (and all of us face) with courage and tenacity. The great life message in the book is found in the chapter entitled "A River on the Rampage." Young Fu ponders the outcomes of the flood:

"...For one household, at least, the Dragon had been forced to admit defeat. Dragons! He sniffed to himself. After all it simply a matter of keeping one's head and outwitting them."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Irene Nemirovsky's character development in this unfinished five movement symphony (she finished 2 of the five sections before she was taken to Auschwitz where she died) is amazing. The story was very engaging as she interweaves the lives of the characters. Set in Paris, France just after the German invasion at the start of WWII, Ms. Nemirovsky describes what was life for the French during the occupation. I think that the rather peaceful coexistence that existed between the French and the Germans will surprise many. The stories of love and family are lovely and endearing. Most interesting to me was her portrayal of class struggles and their role in the war and the lingering effect of aristocracy on a democracy.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The character studies in this Pulitzer Prize winning book were amazing. I found the weaving of the past and the present effective. I was grateful for my 13 hours of college Spanish, though, because Diaz intersperses Spanish sentences in with English sentences (and they are never footnoted so that non-Spanish speakers fully understand what has been said). Much of the Spanish are extremely vulgar language...and this book is not one for those who do not want to read vulgarity and adult content.

Especially interesting for me is the historical story of the dictator, Trujillo, and the effect of his 30+ year reign in the Dominican Republic. While we were concentrating on Hitler's genocide in Europe, in a country not far from us great atrocities were being committed upon the people there. Enlightening.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams

The book is not light reading, but is not a difficult read, either. I found the material extremely informative and enlightening, especially since I have spent more than 20 years as a State PTA leader. The events of this book overlap and deal with many of the same issues as why the National PTA was founded...child labor issues, poor public education, the importance of the arts, an understanding of other cultures, etc. Jane Addams has long been one of my socio-political heroines. She put into action her concerns with society...making her a true hero in my estimation!

One intersting thing about the book is to see how much things stay the same the more that we change. Does this situation sound at all vaguely familiar?...The situation is that President McKinley has been assassinated by a foreigner with anarchical leanings. A newspaper man of foreign origins in Chicago had been writing a lot of pieces that were antagonistic to the way government was running and had some anarchist leanings. He, along with many other foreigners were arrested immediately following the assassination. Here is Jane Addams description of the situation:'Perhaps it was but my hysterical symptom of the universal excitement, but it certainly seemed to me more than I could bear when a group of individualistic friends, who had come to ask for help, said: "You see what comes of your boasted law; the authorities won't even allow an attorney, nor will they accept bail for these men, against whom nothing can be proved, although the veriest criminals are not denied such a right." Challenged by an anarchist, one is always sensitive for the honor of legally constituted society, and I replied that of course then men could have an attorney, that the assassin himself would eventually be furnished with one, that the fact that a man was an anarchist had nothing to do with his rights before the law! I was met with the retort that that might do for a theory, but that the fact still remained that these men had been absolutely isolated, seeing no one but policemen, who constantly frightened them with tales of public clamor and threatened lynching.'(Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. 1910. New York: Penguin Books Ltd. 279-280.)

It is a sad statement about a government who upholds the Constitution of the United States with its Bill of Rights as the greatest, most imspired document for governing a people (and I firmly believe that it is), and yet fundamental civil liberties can be so disregarded by those in power in out nation. What a shame!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's command of the language is amazing. This was a difficult read because of the dark nature of the post-apocalyptic situation at the center of the story. Nevertheless, the prose is wonderfully rich, lyrical, poetic.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys is written to be the prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It tells the story of Rochester's "insane wife" that he keeps locked away. I believe that it is a great read for those who have enjoyed Jane Eyre.
In Wide Sargasso Sea, Ms. Rhys deals with feminist themes of the controlling patriarchal world, particularly of the 19th century. She explores the descent into "madness" by the main character, Bertha Antoinette Mason as she is forced, little by little, to lose her own identity for one forced upon her by men. Also an interesting look at the issues around race and prejudice. Beautiful descriptions of the Caribbean nations the book is set in.

Onion John

I had almost been discouraged from reading this book, right now, because I read a review from someone that the book hardly deserved to be a Newberry Award winner. Because I have made a commitment to read all the Newberry Award winners, I plowed ahead...and boy, am I glad that I did. I thought that the book was one of the best that I have read. I was frustrated by some poor editing of serious punctuation problems. That was the only problem that I saw in the book.
Onion John carries the important message of how we, as adults, trying to force our ideals of what a better life is upon other people. We, as Americans, do this so often to other countries, as we try to "improve" their standard of living. In reality, the people are very happy with the life that they are living. Andy Rusch's father is so busy trying to live his dream through his son and in trying to look good in the eyes of others by "improving" the living situation of Onion John. He does major harm to both as he endeavors to do this.
At a town meeting, Ernie, the reporter says:
"'Hasn't it become pretty obvious?...What we think is proper and what John thinks is proper, they're two different things. What are we trying to prove to him, that he's wrong?'"
I highly recommend Onion John to all interested in good literature with a great message...a message that we, as adults, should take very seriously!

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah is a powerful book that I consider a must read for anyone interested in what is going on outside of their small, safe world. Ishmael Beah describes how he, as a boy of 13 years of age, could participate as a boy soldier, committing hideous acts upon civilians as he was forced into labor in the army of Sierra Leone. He talks of how starvation, drugs, violent videos, and planting a desire to avenge the deaths of their families were used to induce children to act in unnatural ways.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Courageous Journey:Walking the Lost Boys' Path from the Sudan to America by Ayuel Leek Deng, Beny Ngor Chol, and Barbara Youree

Reading books like Courageous Journey: Walking the Lost Boys Path from the Sudan to America just seem to make me more and more aggravated with which countries the U.S. seems to feel it needs to intercede with and which we leave alone! It is hard to argue that it is not about oil...even though there is oil in southern Sudan, where the troubles of this book take place. It is even shown that Osama bin Laden was the person who started the conflict in Sudan between the Muslims of the north and the Christian in the south of Sudan.

I include, here, a long excerpt from this story of the Lost Boys of Sudan that talks of the hope these children had from their fellow Christian nations:

"Beny picked up the story: "Tiop said, 'You are small children, and most of you who made it here to Itang are boys. It is good for you to know why you left your homes where you were eyewitnesses to so much death. The Arabs want you to have Islamic names, like Mohammed.'...'They want to force you to be Muslims--they demand the boys and men dress like them and the girls and women dress like their women. They want you to say that you are Arabs, take on a whole new identity and not be Dinkas or Nuers, Christian or Animist. They want to rule over you, despite your qualification, if you are not Arab Muslim. But we have no right to rule over them.

"'In addition, now that they have found oil under your land, they are forcing you out, not only from Panrieng, Gokrial, and Bor, but all over southern Sudan. hat is why we took up arms and fought against them. That is why you see people here who have no hands, no legs--like me. We were wounded in the war fighting to free you from radical Arab Muslims who are yirabian--evil terrorists. They bomb us and use machine guns and tanks against us. All we have are AK-47s...'

"I interrupted him and asked where they got all that heavy military equipment. He said, 'From their Muslim brothers in other countries.'"

"Samuel broke in and said, "I asked Tiop where our Christian brothers were. I thought maybe the other Christians in the world didn't have guns or didn't know how to make them. But Tiop said, 'Oh, that is not the case. They have guns, tanks, bombs and all of that. Christian brothers in other parts of the world know how to build guns that are more powerful than what the Arab Muslims have.'

"I said, 'What are they waiting for? Why don't they help us? If they see what's happening to their Christian brothers, why don't they give us guns?'

"'Ah, that's where your part comes in,' said Tiop, setting down his cup of mou. 'They don't understand us because we speak a different language. They only understand English. You must go to school and learn English so you can tell your Christian brothers that the Arabs are trying to change the whole world to their beliefs whether we want to change or not. Then you can tell them we need guns to fight against this oppression.'

"...He [Tiop] did his part by fighting and losing his leg. Now, we've got to do our part and get an education."

Deng, Ayuel Deng, Beny Ngor Chol and Barbara Youree. Courageous Journey: Walking the Lost Boys' Path from the Sudan to America. (2008). New Jersey: New Horizon Press. 218-220.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


An ancient Hindu proverb says, "There is nothing noble in being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self."

Ethical Behavior

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean deliberated over the priority of moral principle versus personal security; his duty to others, the uniqueness of his situation, the examples of others who were ethically excellent, and the need to sonsult and rely on his conscience:

"Monsieur Madeleine [Jean Valjean] did not hesitate to sacrifice the first consideration to the second--his personal security to his moral principles. He had, it seems, concluded, after the manner of saints and sages, that his first duty was not to himself. But no situation like the present had ever before arisen. Never had the two principles governing the life of this unfortunate man ["to conceal his true identity and sanctify his life, and to escape from men and find his way back to God"] been brought so sharply into conflict..."

"It was his most melancholy destiny that he could achieve sanctity in the eyes of God only by returning to degradation in the eyes of men..."

"Whether he turned right or left the end was a sepulchre, the death of one thing or the other, happiness or virtue."

Hugo, Victor (Norman Denny, trans.), Les Miserables. (1976). New York: Penguin Books. 209, 214, 221.

Monday, May 18, 2009


"He does not believe that does not live according to his belief."
Thomas Fuller

Ethical Resolutions

"I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death."
Thomas Paine

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

One of the more enjoyable of the Newberry Award winning books. Criss Cross is a "coming of age" story of a group of young people in a small town. The title refers to how peoples' lives seem to criss cross and how people and new experiences are brought into our paths.

One of my favorite passages describes the choice of having new experiences in our lives:

"I think," he [Peter] said, "that it's a good thing to get out of your usual, you know, surroundings. Because you find things out about yourself that you didn't know, or you forgot. And then you go back to your regular life and you're changed, you're a little bit different because you take those new things with you. Like a Hindu, except all in one life: you sort of get reincarnated depending on what happened and what you figure out. And any one place can make you go forward, or backward, or neither, but gradually you find all your pieces, your important pieces, and they stay with you, so that you're your whole self no matter where you go. Your Buddha self. That's my theory, anyway."
Perkins, Lynne Rae. Criss Cross. (2005). New York:HarperCollins. pg.267.


"And if thou seest clear, go by this way content, without turning back: but if thou dost not see clear, stop and take the best advisers. But if any other things oppose thee, go on according to thy powers with due consideration, keeping to that which appears to be just."
Marcus Aurelius

Saturday, May 16, 2009


"Failures are divided into two classes--those who thought and never did and those who did, and never thought."
John Charles Salak

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Infidel by Ayaan HIrsi Ali

What a shocking book this one was for me. Her descriptions of life as an Islam woman go beyond anything I have ever read before. I tried to remember, as I read the book, that she was someone who left a faith and I have never run into anyone who has done that where their descriptions are not bitter nor totally fair. Reading Infidel has increased my commitment to read the Koran, myself, to see if she is accurate in what is found there, or whether her bad (extremely bad!) life's experiences so dramatically colored her objectivity. I think that this book is a must read to understand women's experience in a Muslim world. But, I am choosing to remain a bit skeptical on some of her analysis of what the Koran actually does and does not teach so far as war and peace.

Choosing to Serve

"It is not enough to be ready to go where duty calls. A man should stand around where he can hear the call"
Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, May 8, 2009

Being Other-Centered

"In vain do they talk of happiness who never subdued an impulse in obedience to a principle. He who never sacrificed a present to a future good, or a personal to a general one, can speak of happiness only as the blind speak of color."
Horace Mann

Thursday, May 7, 2009


"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
Ray Kroc


"Men do less than they ought, unless they do all that they can."
Thomas Carlyle

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble."
Helen Keller

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


"When a person fulfills his duties he is keeping a promise."
(Funk, Alan V. Choosing Ethical Excellence. Salt Lake City:Promontory Publishing Co. (2006). pg. 104)

Monday, May 4, 2009


"The prudent man always studies seriously and earnestly to understand whatever he professes to understand, and not merely to persuade other people that he understands it; and though his talents may not always be very brilliant, they are always perfectly genuine."
Adam Smith
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Indianapolis:Liberty Fund, 1984), 213

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"The Parable of the Eagle" by James Aggrey

I found a wonderful parable as I am working on my 2012 Olympics Reading Challenge by the Ghanan writer, James Aggrey. I include it in its entirity:

"A certain man went through a forest seeking any bird of interest he may find. He caught a young eagle, brought it home and put it among his fowls and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chickens' food to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of birds."

"Five years later a naturalist came to see him and, after passing through his garden, said: 'That bird is an eagle, not a chicken.'"

"'Yes,' said its owner, 'but I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle, it is a chicken, even though it measures fifteen feet from tip to tip of its wings.'"

"'No,' said the naturalist, 'it is an eagle still: it has the heart of an eagle, and I will make it soar high up to the heavens.'"

"'No,' said the owner, 'it is a chicken, and it will never fly.'"

"They agreed to test it. The naturalist picked up the eagle, held it up, and said with great intensity, 'Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.'"

"The eagle turned this way and that, and then, looking down, saw the chickens eating their food, and down he jumped."

"The owner said: 'I told you it was a chicken.'"

"'No,' said the naturalist, 'it is an eagle. Give it another chance tomorrow.'"

"So the next day he took it to the top and the house and said: 'Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.' But again the eagle, seeing the chickens feeding, jumped down and fed with them."

"Then the owner said: 'I told you it was a chicken.'"

"'No,' asserted the naturalist, 'it is an eagle, and it still has the heart of an eagle; only give it one more chance, and I will make it fly tomorrow.'"

"The next morning he rose early and took the eagle outside the city, away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain. The sun was just rising, gilding the top of the mountain with gold, and every crag was glistening in the joy of that beautiful morning."

"He picked up the eagle and said to it: "Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly!'"

"The eagle looked around and trembled as if new life were coming to it; but it did not fly. The naturalist then made it look straight at the sun. Suddenly it stretched out its wings and, with the screech of an eagle, it mounted higher and higher and never returned. It was an eagle, though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken!"

"My people of Africa, we were created in the image of God, but men have made us think that we are chickens, and we still think we are; but we are eagles. Stretch forth your wings and fly! Don't be content with the food of chickens!"

His message is so wise for the people of African birth. I take it to heart, personally, as well. We all, especially as women, have allowed ourselves to be convinced that we need to settle for the life we have been given. We forget who we are and what our true potential really is. We are created in the image of God and we need to soar!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric'

It was interesting to have the central "character" of the book be a bridge! Andric' weaves his story through the history of several centuries in Bosnia...from the Ottoman Empire, to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and ends with the start of World War I. As societies change, the bridge remains constant. Interesting history, for me, of the interplay/interaction between the Turks (Muslim), Serb (Christian), Jewish, and gypsy cultures through this time. My understanding of what led up to WWI has been dramatically increased through this reading.

Monday, April 6, 2009

In the Shadow of the Moons by Nansook Hong

In the Shadow of the Moons: My Life in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Family is a fascinating read told by Nansook Hong, the 15 year old South Korean girl that Reverend Moon chose to marry his oldest son, Hyo Jin. Interesting insider look at the "Moonies" (Unification Church) and its leaders. Nansook describes the excesses, the abuse, and the outright hypocricy of life in the Moon family.
Nansook Hong's parents were some of the original members of Moon's church, so she was born into this world, knowing no other way to live her life. She is committed to full obedience to this second "Messiah." She struggles with inner conflicts that come as one fights with what they have believed all of their life and the damage that that belief is causing to herself and her children.
A great passage in the book is found in the end when Nansook realizes her own responsibility for her own life and gains te courage to flee the life of a battered wife:
"There is an old Korean proverb: Blame yourself, not the river, if you fall into the water. For the first time in my life, that dictum makes sense to me. I, alone, am in charge of my life. I, alone, am responsible for my actions and for the decisions I make. It is terrifying. I spent half of my lifetime ceding all decisions to a 'higher authority.' Learning to make decisions for myself means being willing to accept the consequences--the bad ones as well as the good ones." (Hong, N. In the Shadow of the Moons. (1998). Boston: Little, Brown and Company.) [pg. 234].

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is an interesting look into the culture of Nigeria. I gained some great insights into the conflicts that occur between cultures as the modern, Christian world collide with a more primitive, tribal culture of Africa. Achebe describes the clashes that arise as Christianity is brought to a tribe in Nigeria and the struggles that ensue as people are told that their religion is based upon false gods. The story was very insightful to me as traditional values of a people are challenged in a modern world.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blindness by Jose' Saramago

WOW!!! Saramago is undoubtedly a Nobel Prize winning novelist. Blindness is rich in allegory. He portrays the best and worst in man's character. Some very disturbing reading, at times. Nonetheless one of the most amazing books I have read in a long time! The difficulty in reading this book (and I understand much of what Saramago writes) is the fact that he writes in paragraphs that are pages long; sentences go on for lines upon lines without a period; and, conversations are not put into quotation marks. Characters have no names, I believe making them everyman. In the end, Saramago raises the question about whether we are not all truly blind...we see, but really do not see the things that are most important. In our efforts to survive and get ahead of everyone else, we miss the important things, the personal touch of what humanity is all about.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

The poetry of Kahlil Gribran is beautiful, rich, wise, and insightful. Some passages that I particularly liked:

On Work:
"Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste,it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For is you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger."

On Joy and Sorrow:
"Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy."

Finally, on Teaching:
"No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom, but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.
The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it...
For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.
And even as each one of you stands alone in God's knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth."

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Thousand Splendid Suns

I recently completed the book A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. My review follows:
Hosseini is an amazing storyteller. The characterizations are fabulous...so realistic. The historical value of the book is what I treasured the most as I have come to understand more of the history of Afghanistan and the political situation that led up to the events of 9/11 here in America. Valuable insight into the Islamic culture before and after the rise of the Taliban.
The title comes from a Persian poem of the 17th Century by Said-e-Tabrizi called "Kabul." I was fascinated by how Hosseini uses parallelism to weave Miriam and Kabul as one in their descriptions...their true beauty. The poem, translated into English by Josephine Davis follows:

Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I Bastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls

Her laughter of mornings has the gaiety of flowers
Her nights of darkness, the reflections of lustrous hair
Her melodious nightingales, with passion sing their songs
Ardent tunes, as leaves enflamed, cascading from their throats

And I, I sing in the gardens of Jahanara, of Sharbara
And even the trumpets of heaven envy their green pastures.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Pilgrim's Progress byJohn Bunyan

I consider this a classic "must read" for all interested in truly classic literature that has affected so deeply American and English literature. The historical value of the book as an explanation of the environment around the Pilgrims coming to America is fabulous. Great insights into the early reformation religions. Also, Bunyan deals with political philosophies, particularly about concerns with capitalism. Written the year before Milton's Paradise Lost, many of the themes are similar.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Meaningful Life

"A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning."
Chaim Potok
1929-2002. Rabbi and American Jewish novelist

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Joy of Writing

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of poetry, with the exception of some American and British poets of the Romantic period; I just finished reading a book of Polish poetry which tested my stamina to the limits! The pieces made no sense to me or were extremely dark and pessimistic. Many demonstrate the effects of Communism on Poland as they laud atheism, yet condemn many of the other beliefs of communism and Leninism. I hope that the poetry in Polish comes across better...and maybe that was my problem.
I did enjoy one of the poems. It talks of the power that comes to a writer in the art of writing. Here it is:

"The Joy of Writing" by Wislawa Szymborska
Where is this word "doe" running?
Does she want to drink from the written water,
that like carbon paper reflects her mouth?
Why is she lifting her head? Does she hear anything?
Poised on four delicate legs borrowed from the truth
she pricks up her ears under my fingers.
Silence--this word also rustles on paper
and parts the branches
evoked by the word "forest."

Above the blank paper letters coil to jump
they may arrange themselves wrong,
attacking sentences
from which there is no escape.

In a drop of ink there are many hunters
squinting their eyes,
ready to rush down the steep pen,
and surround the doe, in position to fire.

They forget that this is not life.
Separate, black on white, rules govern here.
The wink of an eye lasts as long as I wish,
it may be divided into small eternities.
Full of buckshot caught in flight.
If I insist, nothing will happen here forever.
Against my will no leaf will fall nor blade of grass
bend under the dot of a hoof.

So is there such a world
I rule with impunity?
Or time I bind with chains of letters?
Or an existence, if I command it, never ending?

The joy of writing.
The ability to converse.
The revenge of a mortal hand.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Maid Silja

I am surprised that I have never heard of this book by the Nobel Prize winner in Literature of 1939. It was a difficult book to read at the start because it is obviously a translation from Finnish. It took me a while to get accustomed to the rythm and style of the writing translated into English, and then I found myself really enjoying the story. The Maid Silja is a rather depressing story of the downfall of the Salmelus family who suffer one tragedy after another until, in the end, Silja dies alone in poverty. The story is beautifully written.

Sillanpaa offers this at the end as a message of the tragic story: "So ends the tale of the last flourishing of an old family tree that happened to end at that time; they are always ending. But these 'trees' are not like the trees of the forest. There is no real death for a family; if we could look unhindered through time, we should see 'branches' of every of every family still alive...In the widest sense of all we are al members of the same family and can therefore respect each other's struggles in all time. You too, the farthest reader in point of time of this narrative, may respect our battles. This natural stress of battle is only a sign, the meaning and significance of which we are permitted, indeed constantly compelled, to study."

Thursday, February 26, 2009


If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. ~John Quincy Adams~

Saturday, February 21, 2009

katrina's reads: The Olympic Challenge: London 2012

katrina's reads: The Olympic Challenge: London 2012

I have been working on this challenge for a few months now. Here is a list of the books I have read, so far:

BUL Bulgaria=The Voices of Marrakesh by Elias Canetti (2/09)
DEN Denmark=Fear and Trembling by Sorn Kierkegaard (2/09)
PHI Philippines =Filipino Children’s Favorite Stories by Liana Elena Romulo (1/09)
POL Poland= The Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojcechowska (01/09)
PAK Pakistan = Reconciliation by Benazir Bhutto (12/08)
USA United States of America = Grace by Richard Paul Evans (12/08)
CAN Canada = The Shack by William P. Young (12/08)
COL Colombia = Love in a Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (2008)
NED Netherlands= The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (2008)
RWA Rwanda = Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza (2008)
GBR Great Britain = A Town Like Alice by Nevil Chute (2008)
BRA Brazil= The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (2008)

Here is a link to my blog where I am posting my list and reviews of some of the books that I have read recently. I am currently reading:

FIN Finland= The Maid Silja by F.E. Sillanpaa

I have been really enjoying the challenge. I am having a difficult time finding an author from Seychelles. Any suggestions?

Wisdom in Speech

John Adams is a hero of mine and gave counsel concerning dealing with the bad people we have to, in our lives. This is timely wisdom for me, lately, as I deal with one very bad person at the Utah Legislature!

"There are persons whom in my heart I despise, others I abhor. Yet I am not obliged to inform the one of my contempt, nor the other of my detestation. This kind of dissimulation...is a necessary branch of wisdom, and so far from being immoral...that it is a duty and a virtue."

[McCullough, J. John Adams, pg. 208]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Time to Act!

Machiavelli wrote many words that inspire me. The following quote is significant to me at this time:

"I believe, believed, and shall always believe...that it is better to act and regret than to not act and regret."
[DeGrazia, Sebastian. Machiavelli in Hell. (1989). pg. 195.]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Voices of Marrakesh

A fascinating "travel book" by Nobel Prize winner, Elias Canetti, from Bulgaria. Canetti describes the traditions, sights, and especially the sounds of Marrakesh, Morocco. The descriptions are amazing and I was intrigued as I learned more about the people of Morocco.
Here is an example of Canetti's writing as he compares and contrasts himself as a writer to the storytellers on the main plaza of Marrakesh:
"There were times when I would have given a great deal to be able to, and I hope the day will come whe I can appreciate these itinerant storytellers as they deserve to be appreciated. Bt I was also glad that I could not understand them. For me, they remained an enclave of ancient, untouched existence. Their language was as important to them as mine to me. Words were their nourishment, and they let no one seduce them into exchanging it for a better form of nourishment. I was proud of the power of storytelling that I witnessed them wielding over their linguistic fellows. I saw them as elders and better brothers to myself. In happy moments I told myself: I too can gather people round me to whom I tell stories; and they too listen to me. But instead of roaming from place to place never knowing whom I will find, whose ears will receive my story, instead of living in utter dependence on my story itself I have dedicated myself to paper. I live now behind the protection of desk and door, a craven dreamer, and they in the bustle of the marketplace, among a hundred strange faces that are different every day, unburdened by cold, superflous knowledge, without books, ambtion, or empty respectability. Having seldom felt at ease among the people of our zones whose life is literature--despising them because I despise something about myself, and I think that something is paper--I suddenly found myself here amon authors I could look up to since there was not of theirs to read."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

This was an interesting read for me. I was not aware of the German Occupation of Guernsey and some of the history there. I loved the characterizations (I especially loved weird Isola!). I was also impreseed that she brought in a true piece of history as she showed a majority of the German soldiers occupying Guernsey as sympathetic and not evil to those around them. It gave back a human look to the German occupiers and not the one that is most often portrayed. I think it is often forgotten that the soldiers on both sides were just there for the job at hand and were good, law-abiding citizens prior to the war who looked forward to getting back to their families. Guernsey is placed up in stark contrast to the evil things done in camps such as Ravenbrook.
One of my favorite passages in the book that I thought said so much follows:"There didn't sem to be anything else to say after that--though I was thinking, if only Elizabeth could have held on for a few more weeks, she could have come home to Kit. Why, why. so close to the end, did she attack the overseer?""Remy watched the sea breathe in and out. Then she said, "It would have been better for her not to have such a heart.""Yes, but worse for us.""The tide came in then: cheers, screams, and no more sand castles."
Lovely symbolism!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

2012 Olympics Reading Challenge

I am currently participating in a rather rigorous reading challenge, right now, called the 2012 Olympic Reading Challenge. The challenge is to read a book by an author from each of the 202 countries who will be participating in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London prior to those Olympic Games beginning. A link to the challenge can be found here:

katrina's reads: The Olympic Challenge: London 2012

I have just finished reading the book Fear and Trembling by the Danish writer/philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Here are my thoughts on the book:

Difficult read, for the most part. However, Kierkegaard's discussion of faith, as an existentialist of the 1850's is fascinating! In Fear and Trembling, Kiekegaard discusses the Biblical account of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac as a demonstration of perfect faith and what all is entailed in that.
I think that the reading would have been easier for me to more fully understand if I had been more familiar with the philosophies of Hegel, who Kierkegaard refers to (and refutes) so often.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Kierkegaard on Faith

I am currently participating in a reading challenge to read a book written by an author from each of the countries involved in the Summer Olympics prior to the 2012 Olympics in London. I am currently reading my Danish author, Soren Kierkegaard. I chose to read Fear and Trembling. I am finding the reading most stimulating as he talks about his conception of faith using the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac in his work. I love studying the writings of the existentialist authors; Thoreau and Emerson have long been two of my favorite thinkers to study. Following is an thought-provoking quote from the book:

"No one shall be forgotten who was great in this world; but everyone was great in his own way, and everyone in proportion to the greatness of what he loved. For he who loved himself became great in himself, and he who loved others became great through his devotion, but he who loved God became greater than all. They shall be remembered, but everyone became great in proportion to his expectancy. One became great through expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became greater than all. They shall all be remembered, but everyone was great in proportion to the magnitude of what he strove with. For he who strove with the world became great by conquering the world, and he who strove with himself became greater by conquering himself; but he who strove with God became greater than all. Thus their was strife upon earth: there was he who conquered everything by his own strength, and he who conquered God by his powerlessness. There was one who relied upon himself and gained everything, and one who, secure in his own strength sacrificed everything; but greater than all was the one who believed God...[When Abraham left his home to sacrifice his son, Isaac], he left behind his worldly understanding and took with his his faith.
(Kierkegaard, S. [translated by Alastair Hannay]. Fear and Trembling. (1985). London: Penguin Books Ltd.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Boldly and Publicly

"...there are times when the cause of religion, of government, of liberty, the interests of the present age of posterity, render it a necessary duty to make known his sentiments and intentions boldly and publicly."
John Adams