Friday, November 29, 2013

Book List: October and November

Don Quixote
I've been trying to read this one for years and years.  I always got stuck in the first chapters.  Finally, I finished it this October.   If you've tried to read this one again and again, I will give you my opinion that it gets better if you can get through the first bit.  


I got interested in Franklin because of his 13 Virtue plan.    I remembered my husband reading this book a few years ago and quoting bits of it to me, so I decided to tackle it myself.   Interesting self-portrait of a thoroughgoing rationalist : ).   I wasn't too captivated by his persona at first, but as the book went on I started being more honestly impressed by his real involvement in the betterment of society.

This is one of the more sensible "diet" books I've read.    The plan could actually be used for maintenance or just for ordinary healthy living as well as to lose weight.   My father, a physician, used to recommend a version of this to those who wanted to lose some weight, so I don't think it's new, but I thought there was lots of practical wisdom in the way the author explains the method.

The Core by Leigh Bortin

I liked this book but don't remember much about it.   I plan to read it again.  One thing I got out of it (referring back to the notes I took at the time) was that the foundations are important.  For true excellence, accelerating is not useful; mastery of the fundamentals is.  This is a philosophy with which I thoroughly agree, though I don't practice it well --    I always want to jump ahead to the "fun part" of a given study, but I've realized this is hard on children, and not even advisable for my own studies.   So, yes:  work on mastery of the fundamentals, and the rest will take care of itself.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
My husband gave this to me when I was just starting to recover from my illness and looking for something easy to read.   He is reading the Foundations series by the author and from what he says, the Robot stories fit into the Foundation world somehow.... I am not quite sure how.  Anyway, this is a series of short stories, loosely connected by involving the character of Susan Calvin, a woman before her time in having an eminent career as a scientist (a robotics psychologist).   She isn't a main character in the majority of the stories, but her persona provides a loose link.     These stories are also noteworthy as being the first depiction of Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics.

by Father Francis Finn
I already wrote about Claude Lightfoot.  Tom Playfair is the best known work of Father Finn, and for good reason.  Tom is a great character.    Paddy recommended this one to me though with the caveat that it was darker than Claude Lightfoot.   "Five people die," he told me, "and three of them are MAIN CHARACTERS."    I think he found it a little bit difficult for that reason, though he said he liked the book and added that all the main characters that died, died in a state of grace.   One of them was a bully who had started acting better and had just gone to Confession and First Friday Mass; the other two were devout boys.   So you may want to be careful with your particularly sensitive children; Paddy is moderately sensitive, so I think he was affected by the sad parts, but not crushed.

I've read one other book by Muriel Sparks so I was prepared for her mordancy, if that is the right word.  Wow, I don't even know what to say about this one.   It struck me as a psychological horror story, the horror not diminished by the funniness.   But I am sort of weird  about this sort of thing -- Don Quixote strikes me as horrifying in parts, too, though not a horror story generally speaking.

Recognize her, Downton fans?  She starred in the movie version of the book. 

The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy.
I've read one other book by this author, too.   The Last Gentleman didn't seem as cohesive as the Movie-Goer.  At first I thought this was an early effort by the younger version of the author, but in fact it turns out to be written at close to the same time as the Movie-Goer.   I wonder if the main character is supposed to be a paradigm of the plight of the South in general?   I find these more modern novels interesting, but sort of difficult to comprehend.  That's probably the point.

Beauty in the Word by Stratgford Caldecott
The subtitle is Rethinking the Foundations of Education.   I started reading it during the summer and just finished a couple of weeks ago.   Well worth the read, but not one of those I can read in a day.  I shall have to read it again to get more out of it.

Book of Ages:  The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
The thesis of this book seemed to parallel that of Grey's Elegy in the Churchyard.... that women of these times, because their educational opportunities were so limited, became "mute, inglorious" versions of their more notable male relatives.   The first part of the book irritated me because this case would be hammered home constantly with sharp conclusive sentences even when it didn't seem to quite apply.  But this diminished, or I got used to it, later in the book and the book was WELL worth reading just to find out more about the life of Ben Franklin's youngest sister (he was the second youngest, of seventeen children total).   Jane Franklin had sort of a paradigmatic life -- she married at 15, bore 12 children, 11 died before her along with her deadbeat husband (apparently, mostly of tuberculosis).    In those days, women were taught to read but not to write, so she loved to read but her letters to Franklin (much of the book is based on these letters) are full of misspellings, which embarrassed her greatly.    Franklin often sent her the best books of the day, which she studied avidly in between diapers and cooking and so on.   She cared for her aging parents, took in grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, nieces and nephews, escaped from Boston during the outbreak of the Revolution, and so on.  What a life, filled with sorrow and yet strong in faith, filled with service to others yet never lagging in interest in scholarly things, in spite of her educational disadvantages.

Grace, Under Pressure.   This is written by the Mom of a 9 year old girl with Asperger's.  It is split between the Mom's life as a marathon runner and the trials of the girl at school and in life.    Interesting read.   It sprang from a blog, and you can tell sometimes when a chapter is a revised blog post,  but this is not a criticism, since it is quite common for books to spring from blogs nowadays, and there is usually a good reason for the blogger to become a book author.     Sophie Walker is an excellent writer.

For my last set of books, I will explain that I decided I wanted to read more Chesterton, so I read a few I hadn't already read:
The Victorian Age in Literature
Perceptive, witty, more of a personal essay than a careful analysis, which the author admits freely.
Eugenics and Other Evils
You rarely see Chesterton on a rant as much as he is in this book.   He does NOT like Eugenics.   Very interesting since some of the political ramifications he describes are still in play across the Atlantic today.    Prophetic in parts.
Robert Browning.  Apparently one of Chesterton's first books.    Perceptive and personal, like his other literary appreciations.    I started this during the summer, but didn't finish reading it until just now.

By the way, there is a whole lecture series by Dale Ahlquist, free online, called Chesterton 101.    What I should really do is start at the beginning and work through all the books I haven't read already.   Chesterton is a huge influence on our family.   He was partly responsible for my conversion, but that story probably doesn't fit in this post.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!  Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!  


  1. Thank you for the link to the Chesterton lectures!

  2. Wow! What a list! I've got to make more time for reading! And to echo Sarah, thanks for the Chesterton link.

    1. You're welcome, Sarah and Amanda!
      I don't usually read that much. I was sick in bed for 3 weeks and so I got a chance to catch up on my bedside pile.

  3. That Jane Franklin story.....I want that.

    1. You would like it, I am pretty sure. Check your library system... my library had it available for Kindle.


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