Sunday, April 19, 2015

Poetry Matters

So this is a long neglected blog.  We should play catch-up.  In the meantime, it's National Poetry Month.  And when we meet for our regular meeting this month, given the fact that is IS National Poetry Month and that we haven't selected a book for the month I think sharing some poetry favorites would be highly appropriate.
Image result for garrison keillor writer's almanac

Image result for Prairie Home companion logoDon't have anything you love?  May I suggest that for the remainder of April at least you take a listen to the Writer's Almanac aired daily on NPR read by Garrison Keillor.  You can just click the link, but if you know you won't remember you can subscribe.  I grew up listening to him on Prairie Home Companion and his very voice is a comfort to me so I know my opinion is not an unbiased one, but there's a good chance that you will love him too.  On Prairie Home Companion he would always do the News from Lake Wobegon and my mother always said he sounded like he was sitting right there next to you, telling the story.  It's a very midwestern show (which of course makes me a bit biased) but with a lot more Scandinavian heritage in it, as it is set in Minnesota.  Anyway, neither here nor there since I'm not really talking about Prairie Home Companion, but the Writer's Almanac which is a lovely little 5 minute show about significant literary and cultural bits of history and he ends by reading a poem.  There is a Carl Sandburg poem I was hoping he'd featured, but he didn't, but when I did the search I found this episode which references a poet influenced by Sandburg and she, oddly enough, lived in the town where I went to high school (let's hear it for those hospitable Hoosiers!--well ok, she was originally from Germany).  And the poem he reads in the episode is not from the girl he inspired or from Carl Sandburg who is known for his Chicago Poems, it IS set in Chicago.  For those who don't know, Carl Sandburg was Poet Laureate of Illinois and also a Lincoln Historian.  (Gwendolyn Brooks, another author/poet I have enjoyed who too, was Poet Laureate of Illinois can be heard in a 24 minute interview here and you can read one of my favorite poems of hers--a timely spring-ish themed one--here). Sandburg retired to North Carolina and there's a National Park there where you can visit and tour his home.  Daddy and I went on our way to Parris Island for a friend's graduation from Marine Boot Camp, and we felt like we'd wandered into some quaint and quiet version of our own home.  So many things were so familiar, right down to the kitchen stool and the piles and piles of papers.
Carl Sandburg
Here also is the Poetry Foundation where you can find a myriad of poems,

 Lest ye feel disappointed that you don't get to hear a real poet read a real poem here is one of my favorites from Billy Collins who was the US Poet Laureate 2001-2003 and his dry humor, underlying seriousness and everyday accessibility (most more than this one) is a favorite in our house.
 The Country
The Lanyard

If you find you love these here is an hour and a half long video:  An Evening with Billy Collins -- Point Loma Writer's Symposium By the Sea 2013.  Billy Collins also has a website in conjunction with the Library of Congress where you can find more poems:  Poetry 180:  A Poem a Day for American High Schools, Which includes a poem by the girl mentioned above, Lisel Meuller who was inspired by Carl Sandburg and lived in Evansville, Indiana, and wrote a poem, Immortality, about the moment in the kitchen, when the whole Castle awakens with Sleeping Beauty.
Sandburg's Lincoln's History
And then on a more serious note, both in love and poetry here is some Carl Sandburg.  Standing in a Fairfax Library last week, perusing a poetry display that looked like it had been selected personally by or for my father, complete with a book of Dog Poems, one of Garrison Keillor's Good Poems collections, some Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg and Ogden Nash, as well as Sylvia Plath and the classic:  One Hundred and One Famous Poems,  I read a poem of Carl Sandburg's about Lincoln and his gloves.  Him being a Lincoln Historian I am inclined to believe it's true, but who knows.  It was quite something though.  While that poem was quite something it is not the one I originally went searching the Writer's Almanac for, and although it is not read by Garrison Keillor, it is a favorite of mine from many years past . . .
At a Window
Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.
One he's most famous for.  And in his own handwriting.  I am so sad that handwriting is becoming a thing of the past:
And just because it suits me . . .
And as they fade from glory to memory here is a returning nod to the daffodils of the season as well the strength and foundation of a single memory. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice was written by Jane Austen and printed in 1813.  Despite being over 200 years old, its characters still resonate with readers.  What is it about this novel that captures the imagination?  Personally I love the flawed characters, the witty dialogue, the social commentary and the lessons learned across the different relationships.  

The first line of the book states: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."  This sets the reader up for the introduction of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, who have such good fortunes that their need for wives must be great.  Jane Bennett is such a beauty, as well as so good natured, that she is immediately seen as an excellent candidate.  One of the discussion points for our group was, why isn't Jane already married?  She had to be at least 21 at the beginning of the book, which was almost an old maid back in 1813.  Her good lucks and amiability should have secured her a husband well before the arrival of Mr. Bingley.  

As one of the central characters, Elizabeth Bennett is a strong female.  She speaks her mind, even when it is not appropriate.  She turns down a proposal of marriage from Mr. Collins even though it is a respectable offer that would benefit her family.  She turns down a proposal from Mr. Darcy and does not spare his feelings on her reasons why.  She goes for long walks on her own in a time where governesses and chaperones often shepherded young women wherever they went.  This independent mind and spirit set her apart from the other women in the book.  When Elizabeth learns more about Mr. Darcy and her feelings change, it is clear that she loves deeply.

Mary is the awkward middle child.  In our book group discussion we all felt sorry for Mary.  You wonder what would happen if she had been given the chance to be courted by Mr. Collins.  She seemed good hearted, although serious.  She clearly worked hard and had a desire to be valued.  We need people like Mary in this world and it seems like she gets the least consideration of any of the characters in the book.

Lydia and Kitty are young girls in need of direction.  However, it is clear that there are no examples of effective parenting throughout the book.  The Bennett's allow, and even encourage, their girls to throw themselves at men without any review of the appropriateness of the men.  They allow them so much independence that they often are at odds with social norms.

Charlotte Lucas is an interesting character because she was an older, plain woman, who found happiness in her situation.  She saw the opportunity to be happy, and she grabbed it.  There are many times in our lives when we too need to make the best of our situations, and reading Charlottes story can help us to see that there can be happy endings in unlikely places.

Interestingly, Mr. Darcy has become a reference point for the perfect romantic man.  In the novel he is bad at small talk, and horrible at proposals, but he does have passionate feelings and acts upon them.  The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice popularize the image of Mr. Darcy.  According to Colin Firth, when he was first offered the rold of Darcy, his brother incredulously remarked, "Darcy?  But isn't he supposed to be sexy?" And my husband was surprised when I told him that the book does not include a scene where Mr. Darcy swims across a pond.  

Some other questions we discussed were:
- How would the book change if it ended with Lydia and Wickham's disappearance?  
- Who would benefit from a parent's interference?
- Was Charlotte Lucas right to marry Mr. Collins?
- Elizabeth is furious with Darcy for breaking up the match between Jane and Mr. Bingley.  Although he initially defends himself, she changes his mind.  Later, when Lady Catherine attempts to interfere in his own courtship, he describes this as unjustifiable.  Should you tell a friend if you think they're about to make a big mistake romantically?  If you have, how did that work out for you?

Other spin off books that you might enjoy:

Death Comes to Pemberley 


If you enjoyed, Pride and Prejudice, other Jane Austen books you should read are:


Sense and Sensibility:

Mansfield Park:

And here are some excellent film/tv versions of Pride and Prejudice or spin-offs that are work taking a look at: 

And if that isn't enough for you, in 2015 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is scheduled to be released.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Wednesday Wars

The description of this book by  Gary Schmidt starts out like this:

"In this Newberry Honor-winning novel, Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero. The Wednesday Wars is a wonderfully witty and compelling story about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year in Long Island, New York."

I agree about the book being witty and compelling.  I laughed out loud, and read it in about a day and a half.  But I disagree about it having an antihero.  The protagonist of the book, Holling Hoodhood, might not be made of the stuff we picture heroes being made of, but that doesn't make him "anti".  

The book begins by explaining that Holling's teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him.  Every Wednesday afternoon, the catholic children are released from school early to attend Catechism, and the jewish children are released for Hebrew School.  That leaves protestant Holling with no where to go, which ruins Mrs. Baker's afternoon off.  Thus his Wednesday afternoons of torture begin.

I loved this book.  It touches on so many things we deal with (or fail to deal with) in our world.  There's prejudice, religion, war, coming-of-age, mistakes, cruelty, neglect, redemption, discovering oneself, and determining one's own destiny.  And under that all, it's a moral book.  

Here is a line that sums up why I like this book and find it worth reading.  It's from Mrs Baker to Holling:  

"Learn everything you can - everything. And then use all that you have learned to be a wise and good man."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

July: Bring Your Own Philosophy

For July we are trying something new. 
HERE'S THE PLAN:  Everyone is to read some philosophy, whatever you want and however much you want/have time for. Then you'll share some quotes and such at the next book group. 
This is an idea that works well digitally.  We often have a small crowd in July with so many out of town, so even if you're gone, you don't need to miss out!  You can send an email to the group and share or by all means POST a comment here!  
Now for those of you who will take that and run with it, go ahead. For anyone who wants a bit more information to go on, here are some possibilities.  

If you click on their name it takes you to the wikipedia entry, unless there was an obvious "official" website.  

Wilhelm Nietzsche (/ˈnə/[42] or /ˈnii/;[43] German: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈniːt͡sʃə]; 15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philologist, philosopher,cultural critic, poet and composer. He wrote several critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor,irony and aphorism.
C.S. Lewis Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.
Lewis wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. C. S. Lewis's most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics in The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.
The Articles of Faith I can't recall where but somewhere recently I was reading some church something and they were talking about what a great philosophy The Articles of Faith is.  The 13th has enough to keep you mentally occupied for quite a while.  And when we talk Philosophy who says it needs to be the Philosophies of MEN.  
Confucius (551–479 BC)[1] was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history.
The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. His followers competed successfully with many other schools during the Hundred Schools of Thought era only to be suppressed in favor of the Legalists during the Qin Dynasty. Following the victory of Han over Chu after the collapse of Qin, Confucius's thoughts received official sanction and were further developed into a system known as Confucianism.
Need some more ideas:
List someone made of the top 10 Philosphers of all time:  Including Paul of Taursus as well as John Locke, Aristotle and Plato etc.  
Ok I made that "Philosophies of Men" comment comparing man and God, but it got me thinking about the obvious lack of women on the list.  
So here is an article, Ten great female philosophers: The thinking woman's women that addresses that very concern with some women philosophers listed including Mary Wollstonecraft and Ayn Rand.  
Some others I'd add to the list, some more down to Earth than others are:
Anne Morrow Lindbergh (A Gift from the Sea) Have a copy I can loan.  Not my favorite but it may have been the time in life I read it.  I think it could be a good beach read though.  pretty short.  
Katrina Kenison (Mitten String's for God:  Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry)  Also have that I can loan.
Marla Cilley (Sink Reflections) (Yup this is the Fly Lady and I know that may be scoffed at by some but she has many a philosophy that will help you save your sanity, by helping you make your everyday life more manageable.)  Also have that I can loan.

And since this is supposed to be what YOU need it to be, some may need some lighter fare and I'd offer these ideas to consider:

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson an Article on some things they said best Such as:
Calvin: Isn’t it strange that evolution would give us a sense of humour? When you think about it, it’s weird that we have a physiological response to absurdity. We laugh at nonsense. We like it. We think it’s funny. Don’t you think it’s odd that we appreciate absurdity? Why would we develop that way? How does it benefit us?

Hobbes: I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.

Calvin: (after a long pause) I can’t tell if that’s funny or really scary.

More Children's Philosophy  Books?  Here's an Amazon Search.
I have Zen Shorts if anyone wants to borrow it.  I also have several Calvin and Hobbes books.  

Hopefully you can see the possibilities are VAST, find whatever suites you at this time in your life and come share it with us (or post or email it, if you can't come).