At least once during the English teacher’s career, we inflict the heinous crime of beating a perfectly good novel to death. I must confess that some time ago, during my maiden voyage as a new teacher, I perpetrated such an offense against The Pearl.
It all began one day in September as a perfectly legitimate assignment. I was to instruct the students on all the literary nuances that could be squeezed out of the novel. My class of eighth graders and I commenced with an author biography, a lively testament to John Steinbeck’s literary genius. It was from here that we embarked on our thoughtful migration into the book.
As we began to decipher each chapter, characters were delicately probed and analyzed. It was imperative that we assess traits and dispositions. We wanted to understand who and what each character stood for, their symbolic relationship to themselves as individuals and to mankind.
Discussions of the “settings” were tabled. Cooperative group activities were exercised. Students were given opportunity to examine both the historical significance of the novel’s setting, as well as the geographic clues that were relayed to us by the author. And, as if this wasn’t enough, we explored “themes”; the struggle for existence, free will vs. determination, social class, and oppression to a minority group.
September was creeping into October, and by this time of the dissection, these kids were screaming for mercy. But no, relentlessly we pushed on. After all, we had only touched the surface; we needed to consider, “STYLE”! Even though there are a mere six chapters, we sought after metaphors, similes, phrases, and descriptions!
With the patience of an archaeologist, we left no page untouched. Our mission was now to decipher the “point of view,” the third person narrative, our omnipotent action teller who guides us through the universal parable. Determined to seek out more, we struggled with “form and structure.” Was this important novel merely a simple legend or was it an allegory designed to teach us a moral lesson? This probing question lasted a good two classes. With pens in hands, we highlighted, scribbled notes in the margins, and to be sure, probably exhausted any pleasure that was intended by our notable American author, Steinbeck.
So, I confess, I killed The Pearl in a purely selfish attempt to teach the great American novel, to impose my love of literature and all its wonders.
There are many things that we do in our lives that may provoke one’s heart to beat a little faster. And though this activity may be as simple as turning the knob or pulling back on a handle, it is actually not the act, but rather the anticipation of what lies behind that stirs the thumping. Opening a door, a behavior that we do every day, is such an event that may cause your adrenaline to tingle and a lump in your throat to form.
From the very earliest time of your life to the present the door has made us grow limp at the knees. Take for example the first day of kindergarten, standing before the door that would suddenly escort you through a threshold that would forever leave you on one side and your mother on the other.
It was a door that stood between you and your first date, your prom, your visit to the doctor, the dentist, a driving test, and a job interview. A door, no matter what it may be made of…glass, paneled, steel, or wood, the door has the ability to cause us so much pain and so much happiness.
So the next time you come upon a door, I would venture to say, treat it kindly, for you may not know not what lies behind its portals.
Today’s blog returns the esteemed thinker: Christopher D. Morley, (1890-1957) American author, journalist, poet, and essayist. Born in Haverford, PA, Morley wrote for the New York Evening Post (1920-1923) and the Saturday Review of Literature (1924-1941), which he helped found.
From his book, Mince Pie, I bring to you a snippet from “On Doors, ” a most profound look at a rather unassuming subject.
“…There are many kinds of doors. Revolving doors for hotels, shops and public buildings. These are typical of the brisk, bustling ways of modern life. Can you imagine John Milton or William Penn skipping through a revolving door? Then there are the curious little slatted doors that still swing outside denatured bar-rooms and extend only from shoulder to knee. There are trapdoors, sliding doors, double doors, stage doors, prison doors, glass doors. But the symbol and mystery of a door resides in its quality of concealment. A glass door is not a door at all, but a window. The meaning of a door is to hide what lies inside; to keep the heart in suspense.
Also, there are many ways of opening doors. There is the cheery push of elbow with which the waiter shoves open the kitchen door when he bears in your tray of supper. There is the suspicious and tentative withdrawal of a door before the unhappy book agent or peddler…
The opening and closing of doors is a part of the stern fluency of life. Life will not stay still and let us alone. We are continually opening doors with hope, closing them with despair. Life lasts not much longer than a pipe of tobacco, and destiny knocks us out like the ashes…”
First Image: 12th Century, French, limestone and oolitic
When it comes to hearty, size is not always the defining feature. Most of us have the perception that “big” equates to strong, however that particular idea is frequently a misconception. It is often in nature where we witness “small” being just as robust as its counterpart. A mighty oak is surely a visual spectacle of greatness however; it is the tiny crocus that often seems to defy all weather challenges put forth upon it.
The crocus is one of the first blooms appearing even as early as January; a time when most dwellers of North America are still donning winter coats. So don’t be surprised to see these flowers’ colorful little “heads” pop up out of the ground before all the others… and they will remain faithfully in bloom, with buds held high defying its covering of snow, gently unfolding towards the sun as if they were sunbathing on the beach!
Today’s blog brings you the acclaimed American author, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she is best known for her novel Little Woman. Alcott’s parents were progressives for the time, taking part in the mid-19th century social reform movement, supporting the abolition of slavery and even acting as station-masters on the Underground Railroad. They were also active in the temperance and women’s rights movements.
Louisa May Alcott was educated mainly by her father, although Thoreau, Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller were family friends, also providing her lessons. She began writing when she was young, and she and her sisters enjoyed acting out some of her stories.
During the American Civil War, she volunteered to sew clothes and provide other supplies to soldiers. Including volunteering to be a nurse in Washington, D.C.
Her career as an author was wide spread, including stories and poems. A lesser-known part of her work are the passionate, fiery novels and stories under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. In her later life, Alcott became an advocate of women’s suffrage, and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts.
From her novel, Little Men (1871) I now bring you a quote; few in words but mighty in spirit…like the crocus.
“Love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive.”
Thank you book lovers for the wonderful response!
“Reviewers’ Choice 2015”: a selected Indie release favorite. “… the most beloved books among the best we’ve read.” – Foreword Reviews
An epic novel of substance and style, Orphan in America is a compelling fiction that follows three generations across vast distances and the impact of a dark and unfamiliar episode of America’s past; the Orphan Train.
Book Clubs across the United States, would you like 1 free print copy ? At this time I have 7 novels to give-away to historical fiction book lovers. Perhaps your club would enjoy this “2014 Best Indie Book!” as your next reading club selection.
Here’s how: Send the name of your book group, along with a contact person and mailing address to: mrsavery@ hotmail.com. On the subject line write Book Club Entry.
The first 7 clubs to respond will be be notified by email and receive their complimentary copy shipped directly to them.
I apologize to my friends off the continental U.S. At this time the offer is via snail mail traveling just across from east to west coast and north and south on the mainland.
However!!! For those book clubs anywhere on the globe, if you choose to read on a Kindle, it is available as an ebook. Kindle edition
Here is a preview of the print copy your club can read of Orphan in America! Orphan in America
GOOD LUCK! I am honored that you care enough to respond. Thank you!
For many the public library is synonymous with tranquility; it is a place where one can find things they may have lost and find things they may not know they wanted. It is one of the few places left where you can receive something without giving back anything except your time.
What a wonderful establishment, rows and rows and shelves and shelves of books; all maintained by others, cataloged in a way where they are easily found, and allowed to be taken home with little more than a promise that you will return them within a reasonable about of time. So much so that if one wished they could renew the book for many weeks thereafter.
Yet, with all its positive attributes, it has been threatened like an endangered species; for as much as many praise its existence, patronage and funding has been reduced in many communities where its very existence may soon become merely a memory of the past. And oh what a shame that would be, for though we may enjoy our digital ebooks and a coffee shop attached to the bookstore… wouldn’t it be a disgrace to lose such a dear and faithful friend, the one place where tranquility resides, the good old library.
Today’s blog returns the the esteemed thinker: A.A. Milne (1882-1956); an author whose books you may have first encountered at your earliest trip to the library. Poet, journalist, playwright, and writer, Alan Alexander Milne was born in London, England. After serving in the British army in WWI, he devoted his career to writing. His best known works include the children’s poetry collections in the 1920s, When we were Very Young and Now we are Six.
From his book, Not that it Matters, I have selected the essay “My Library”. Having carefully snipped and strung together some of his fanciful words, I hope you will find them to your liking. Take time from your hectic day to read and enjoy A. A. Milne; I believe you will find him still quite entertaining…
“When I moved into a new house a few weeks ago, my books, as was natural, moved with me. Strong, perspiring men shovelled them into packing-cases, and staggered with them to the van, cursing Caxton as they went. On arrival at this end, they staggered with them into the room selected for my library, heaved off the lids of the cases, and awaited orders. The immediate need was for an emptier room. Together we hurried the books into the new white shelves which awaited them, the order in which they stood being of no matter so long as they were off the floor. Armful after armful was hastily stacked, the only pause being when (in the curious way in which these things happen) my own name suddenly caught the eye of the foreman. “Did you write this one, sir?” he asked. I admitted it. “H’m,” he said noncommittally. He glanced along the names of every armful after that, and appeared a little surprised at the number of books which I hadn’t written. An easy-going profession, evidently.
So we got the books up at last, and there they are still. I told myself that when a wet afternoon came along I would arrange them properly…
If I gave you the impression that my books were precisely arranged in their old shelves, I misled you. They were arranged in the order known as “all anyhow.” Possibly they were a little less “anyhow” than they are now, in that the volumes of any particular work were at least together, but that is all that can be claimed for them. For years I put off the business of tidying them up, just as I am putting it off now. It is not laziness; it is simply that I don’t know how to begin….
Let us suppose that we decide to have all the poetry together. It sounds reasonable. But then Byron is eleven inches high (my tallest poet), and Beattie (my shortest) is just over four inches. How foolish they will look standing side by side. Perhaps you don’t know Beattie, but I assure you that he was a poet….
You see the difficulty. If you arrange your books according to their contents you are sure to get an untidy shelf. If you arrange your books according to their size and colour you get an effective wall, but the poetically inclined visitor may lose sight of Beattie altogether. Before, then, we decide what to do about it, we must ask ourselves that very awkward question, “Why do we have books on our shelves at all?” It is a most embarrassing question to answer…”
First image: At the children’s library, John Collier, Date Created/Published: 1943 Aug.
As we become more and more adept at using our fingers to transpose our thoughts, such as via emails and texts, so has the art of conversation become relegated to being much more succinct. However, there are times when longer conversations are a necessary tool , especially during an occasion such as at a party…which leads us to the reality that we all know those persons or person who engage us in conversation, only to drop us like a hot-potato when someone else, more to their liking arrives … leaving us standing idly by the cheese dip and hoping to strike up another conversation with an alternative guest.
Then there is the conversationalist that likes to jump into the exchange even before you may have completed your thought. For them the “me show “never has ended and is only at a pause while you are speaking. Makes you wonder if they are really listening to you; I would have to say not.
Having a conversation with yourself can also cause much confusion, as well as instigating particularly strange looks from others. This chat to yourself needs to be relegated to personal space, such as the car or shower.
Conversations on the telephone, this may be a safe bet, for not being able to see the party on the other end can keep you from seeing their eyes rolling. However, these conversations are too often cut short when it is interrupted by that all too popular noise…the click… meaning that someone will trump you…(Alas this reminds us of the party goers.)
And lest we not forget that there was a time when meals were accompanied by good food and good conversation; sadly only to be have been replaced by inanimate objects, the cell phone.
So… take heed for if you find yourself engaged in a conversation, do not get to used to this tête-à-tête because it most likely will be over before you even know it.
Today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) 18th century satirist and author of the great work Gulliver’s Travels. Born in Dublin, Ireland, his father died when he was only seven months old, his family relied upon relatives for financial assistance. In 1704 he published his humorous take on religion, A Tale of the Tub; becoming an active figure of the Dublin society and politics becoming a blunt critic in efforts of improving Ireland.
For your pleasure today I have snipped from his book The Battle of the Books, and bring you a portion of a most humorous essay titled, “Hints Towards an Essay on Conversation”. Although the mid 1700s was a time when people prided themselves as being conversationalists, we will soon learn from Mr. Swift that this art was not without its trials and tribulations during his time.
And now, without anymore interruptions, let us take a few moments for the illustrious writer, Jonathan Swift.
“…There are some faults in conversation which none are so subject to as the men of wit, nor ever so much as when they are with each other. If they have opened their mouths without endeavouring to say a witty thing, they think it is so many words lost. It is a torment to the hearers, as much as to themselves, to see them upon the rack for invention, and in perpetual constraint, with so little success. They must do something extraordinary, in order to acquit themselves, and answer their character, else the standers by may be disappointed and be apt to think them only like the rest of mortals. I have known two men of wit industriously brought together, in order to entertain the company, where they have made a very ridiculous figure, and provided all the mirth at their own expense…
There are some people whose good manners will not suffer them to interrupt you; but, what is almost as bad, will discover abundance of impatience, and lie upon the watch until you have done, because they have started something in their own thoughts which they long to be delivered of. Meantime, they are so far from regarding what passes, that their imaginations are wholly turned upon what they have in reserve, for fear it should slip out of their memory; and thus they confine their invention, which might otherwise range over a hundred things full as good, and that might be much more naturally introduced…”
First image: 1909 by Marcel Duchamp, pen and ink
Second image: Portrait by Charles Jervas
For those who live in a hemisphere that awards the four seasons, it is winter that challenges us to be creative in ways that the other seasons do not. And though we often find ourselves cursing the cold temperatures, there are some who are most fortunate enough to be able to turn discomfort into pleasure… There are some lucky folks that can defrost frosty sentiments by a warm fireplace. In these homes cold hands are reminders to make a mug of hot chocolate, while icy feet walk themselves into a pair of woolly slippers.
And though many would prefer to remain indoors so as not to be bitten by its harsh winds; if you take a look from your window, winter has invited into its world some very enchanting visitors, birds. Look closely among the leafless branches, under the holly bushes, or flitting to and fro, and you may find quite a variety of winged guests, which makes you wonder how it is that they are not cold.
Against the whiteness of snow one notices the scarlet head crest of the cardinal, the black caps and bibs of the chickadees, the iridescent green and purple flossed head of the starlings, and hidden in the house eves are the rust colored sparrows. The birds of winter are like pieces of a rainbow that have broken off and flutter from snow crest to crest; they delight our world from our safe warm place in the winter.
Today’s post introduces the literary naturalist of the ninetieth century,
the esteemed thinker: John Burroughs (1837-1921). Born in Roxbury, N.Y., he is credited as an essayist, environmentalist, and the man who revolutionized the “conservation movement” in the United States. Burroughs quest to become a writer turned favorable when he befriended the poet Walt Whitman, who encouraged him to continue the path he loved. His writings and studies regarding nature later granted him the title of, “The Grand Old Man of Nature.” Best known for his observations of birds, flowers, and rural America, it is his quote that exemplifies his true feelings; “I seldom go into a natural history museum without feeling as if I were attending a funeral.”
From his book titled, Birds, and Bees Sharp Eyes and Other Papers, I have prepared a brief reading. Find a quiet moment to take in the sights revealed by our essayist and champion of nature, Mr. Burroughs….
“…These sparrows are becoming about the most noticeable of my winter neighbors, and a troop of them every morning watch me put out the hens’ feed, and soon claim their share. I rather encouraged them in their neighborliness, till one day I discovered the snow under a favorite plum-tree where they most frequently perched covered with the scales of the fruit-buds. On investigating I found that the tree had been nearly stripped of its buds—a very unneighborly act on the part of the sparrows, considering, too, all the cracked corn I had scattered for them …
… The bird that seems to consider he has the best right to the bone both upon the tree and upon the sill is the downy woodpecker, my favorite neighbor among the winter birds His retreat is but a few paces from my own, in the decayed limb of an apple-tree which he excavated several autumns ago. I say “he” because the red plume on the top of his head proclaims the sex. It seems not to be generally known to our writers upon ornithology that certain of our woodpeckers—probably all the winter residents—each fall excavate a limb or the trunk of a tree in which to pass the winter, and that the cavity is abandoned in the spring, probably for a new one in which nidification takes place. So far as I have observed, these cavities are drilled out only by the males. Where the females take up their quarters I am not so well informed, though I suspect that they use the abandoned holes of the males of the previous year…”
There are many things that fill the mind as we contemplate growing older. And upon doing so we have the capacity to reduce history by simply skipping back through the years; not only in a nostalgic way, but also in a manner that we find ourselves making comparisons from the present to the past; as if skimming through the pages of “Life Magazine”. What was once easy to find, ordinary things that were part of our lives, are now just ‘not’. Take for example: eating out at a diner is now fast food, composing work on a typewriter is now on a computer, making a call on a rotary dialed telephone is on a cell phone. Even the ordinary light bulb will be phased out marking another notch in the belt of technological advancements.
Exemplified by the growth of progress that many have witnessed are the revolutionary changes in travel, well deserving to receive its own column in the list of accolades. For some may remember John Glenn’s ride into space that mesmerized us on our black and white TV’s, and decades later this space capsule was replaced by the space shuttle, a fantastic and almost unbelievable way of travel that if one did not see it with their own eyes could only deem it came out of the imagination of Jules Verne. Yet with all the advancements made, becoming an astronaut is no longer the dreams of most children and the International Space Station news has been relegated to page two of the newspaper…
If we sneak back into time, flying in a plane was once as extraordinary as space travel for it was not common place, and if you were so lucky, the seat next to the window was second best to being in the cockpit. The shear thrill of rising off the ground and watching earth slowly fade away was as fictional as a storybook adventure, yet today it is not more exciting than a bus ride.
Brimming with memories we move forward, charging ahead with our technology and curiosity, but knowing that whenever we wish we can always take an unstructured look back to what once was.
Today’s blog brings to you the great novelist, short story writer and esteemed thinker: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) born in Berdyczow, located in a Ukranian province of Poland. His given name was Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. From a very early beginning his life was difficult and harsh, at three his father was imprisoned in Warsaw for alleged revolutionary political affiliations and at eight his mother died of tuberculosis. The orphaned boy was taken in by his uncle. Conrad’s early adult life was spent at as a merchant seaman and traveling abroad where his experiences would later influence his writing. His short stories and novels like Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and The Secret Agent, gained him easy fame and recognition as an influential writer. Although Conrad wrote in English and in 1886 was granted English nationality, he always considered himself Polish.
From his book Notes on Life and Letters we will now take a quick journey into his piece titled “Flight -1917”. I invite you to sneak a few moments out from your busy day to get a “bird’s eye view” from Mr. Conrad’s vantage point…where we will join him aboard an airplane. In his own words…..
“…The machine on its carriage seemed as big as a cottage, and much more imposing. My young pilot went up like a bird. There was an idle, able-bodied ladder loafing against a shed within fifteen feet of me, but as nobody seemed to notice it, I recommended myself mentally to Heaven and started climbing after the pilot. The close view of the real fragility of that rigid structure startled me considerably, while Commander O. discomposed me still more by shouting repeatedly: “Don’t put your foot there!” I didn’t know where to put my foot. There was a slight crack; I heard some swear-words below me, and then with a supreme effort I rolled in and dropped into a basket-chair, absolutely winded. A small crowd of mechanics and officers were looking up at me from the ground, and while I gasped visibly I thought to myself that they would be sure to put it down to sheer nervousness…
As to my feelings in the air, those who will read these lines will know their own, which are so much nearer the mind and the heart than any writings of an unprofessional can be. At first all my faculties were absorbed and as if neutralised by the sheer novelty of the situation. The first to emerge was the sense of security so much more perfect than in any small boat I’ve ever been in; the, as it were, material, stillness, and immobility (though it was a bumpy day). I very soon ceased to hear the roar of the wind and engines—unless, indeed, some cylinders missed, when I became acutely aware of that. Within the rigid spread of the powerful planes, so strangely motionless I had sometimes the illusion of sitting as if by enchantment in a block of suspended marble. Even while looking over at the aeroplane’s shadow running prettily over land and sea, I had the impression of extreme slowness. I imagine that had she suddenly nose-dived out of control, I would have gone to the final smash without a single additional heartbeat. I am sure I would not have known. It is doubtless otherwise with the man in control…”
First Image : N.Y. : Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, Puck Building, 1911 August 23