Friday, December 14, 2012

The Purpose of Christmas

Author: Rick Warren
Edition: 1st Edition, Hardback
Read: November 2012
131 pages
Rated: 2½ out of 5

Rick Warren gives a simple message about what is Christmas and what is the proper response of those who understand the message of Christmas. The book is broken down into four parts:
• The Purpose of Christmas
• A Time of Celebration
• A Time of Salvation
• A Time of Reconciliation
The message of Christmas is that God came to earth as a baby who became a man, bringing salvation through the cross which brought reconciliation between God and us. Christmas is the celebration of this baby's coming. That is the book in a nutshell.

I found this book to be more of a book-length tract by a famous author. As such, it is more of a simple message for those who have not understood the message of Christmas before. The writing was ok, but not particularly inspiring—or maybe I have gotten too acclimatized to the message and need to have my eyes revitalized.

Notes from my book group:
Various Comments:
• Why is Christmas such a big deal. This book addresses this question in a simple way.
• The little stories bring life to the book.
• We are so used to Christmas, we lost track of what it means.

My book group questions:
• What is the purpose of this book? Does Warren fulfill the purpose?
• Was this book meaningful to you?
• What traditions do you and your family have to celebrate Christmas? Will you be starting any because of this book?
• How would you use this book?
• Who would you give this book to?

Good Quotes:

  • First Line: It's the largest celebration around the world each year.
  • Last Line: You are needed and you can make a difference with your life as a P.E.A.C.E. Partner or P.E.A.C.E. Professional.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS

Book: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS
Author: Jennet Conant
Edition: Nook
Read: Nov 2012
377 pages
Rated: 2½  out of 5


During the war years, 1941-45, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was created under William Donovan's leadership. Donovan was a friend of Roosevelt's and highly influential. Some of the people whom he attracted was Paul Child, Julia McWilliams (Julia Child) and Jane Foster. This book is a history of these people and the departments they worked in. It continues out through the McCarthy years.

The story takes us through Europe post WW II where the Child's were on assignment with the Foreign Service through the USIS and Foster had taken up life in Paris. The book talks about the time in the OSS where they created “black” propaganda to be used against the Japanese, alone with a group of mostly women who were part of the OSS intelligence network. In the 50's Jane Foster, who has become Jane Foster Zlatovski, is enmeshed in being accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union. The Child's stand behind her.


Paul Child really was more interested in Jane Foster, but realized she would not be someone he could live with. As it turned out, she was already secretly married, but at first it seemed more of a marriage of convince than of love. As Child got to know McWilliams, he felt more of a brotherly love, than a desire for her. It was she who desired him. Child took her on more as a project than as a companion. From my view, Paul Child used Julia McWilliams like a girl uses a doll. She was there to be dressed up, not as a person to be explored. His initial relationship seemed so much callous. But McWilliams was devoted to him and her love eventually was returned. How did this relationship evolve like this? Obviously, in the long run,  the relationship was real.

The nature of war is no holds barred. One of the tools developed is the art of misinformation. Both Foster and McWilliams (Child) were involved in this. The question which formed is do we value truth when we purposely spread lies? Could a Christian be considered for this job? If not, how does a Christians support this? Even now, we have misinformation. When you read between the lines in this war on terror, we do not know what is correct and what are lies.

While the book's title suggests that the OSS is the main emphasis of this book, it is the prelude to the effects of McCarthyism. The people Conant follows went through South East Asia OSS' misinformation regime. As McCarthy grew in power, the accusations was this group worked with the communists to bring them into power in China, Vietnam and other places. From this group, the suspicions centered on Jane Foster. Others who were her friends fell under suspicion because of their association. This included Paul Child. You realize from Conant's writing, and she does this well, how being associated with suspicion, even though not associated with the wrong, affects the person. The self-doubt, the anger. How some people will rise to occasion and some fall short of their standards. Or as Charles Chaput commenting on Leon Bloy,We have that freedom. This is why suffering breaks some people, while it breaks open others into something more than their old selves, stretching the soul to greatness.

While everyone, well most everyone, thinks that McCarthy went well over the top in his chasing down communists and suspected communists, there is the aspect that a person who may have or probably did commit espionage has friends and accomplices. How do you root out the problem without damaging the unsuspecting or those aiding? Is mere association reason to potentially destroy a life? In this case, there was a high degree of suspicion about Jane Foster actively passing on secrets. But where does the suspicions stop? In this case Paul Child was able to show that even though he was a friend of Jane Foster, he did not know of her other connections. But in our world of terrorism and those within the US possibly planning terrorist activities, how do you identify those who have that connection? No easy answers from my point of view. Is it better to hurt a few to save a lot?

I suspect that Jennet Conant had material left over from her previous books about the Irregulars and William Donovan. She found an interesting character, Jane Foster, but few people would pick up a book on Foster. But you put Julia Child's name on the cover and people are interested, particularly if it involves spies. So the book was written with some Julia Child material, but telling the Jane Foster story.

As a history, the book relates the story line of the OSS and people Jane Foster embroiled in the turmoil surrounding McCarthyism. But if you are looking for more background on Julia Child, you will be disappointed. The story revolves around Jane Foster with Julia Child being the big draw for readers. And that is the crux of the problem. The title of the book is not true, making you concerned with the rest of the book. The book is about Jane Foster, the Child's are supporting characters to the main story. The Jane Foster story is compelling, but you keep on thinking there will be more of Julia Child—there is not, just enough to keep you going.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: It started with the arrival of a telegram.
  • Last Line: Unfortunately, her [Jane Foster] flawed and incomplete account raises more question than it answers


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Donal Grant

Author: George MacDonald
Edition: Bethany House Publishers, published as The Shepherd's Castle
Read: November 2012
Rated: 4 out of 5

This  is the sequel to MacDonald's book, Sir Gibbie. It takes Gibbie's friend Donald Grant and follows him as he learns to find a place in the world. He becomes a tutor to the son of an Earl. The earl's niece takes notice of this special person as they solve the mystery of the castle's lost room.

But if you read this book as a mystery or love story, you will be disappointed. It is much more MacDonald's lessons to his readers about living a godly life when you are surrounded by evil. Making choices and following God with a sense of holiness.

The version I read has some modernizations to it, including toning town some of the Scottish.

MacDonald talks about what life with God is like. This starts off within the first few pages where he hits pretty close to home with books. Donal Grant has set off to find himself a position as a tutor. He hopes to find one which has a good library because he knew his own inclination to accumulate and hoard (12). Towards the end of the book, Grant inherits the castle where he stays, but he gives it away so that he would not be encumbered. But he is wise in his giving it away as he chooses a man who will see to it that it gets put up right.

Even more than about possessions is the example of right conduct which Grant sets. From the start as a tutor to the Earl's younger son, Grant shows that you do return good for evil. Such as when the older son punches Grant, Grant does not fight but forgives. When asked to explain, he says that his master says do not return evil for evil. (47)

MacDonald puts words into Lady Arcuta's mouth when she is talking with the older son. The son is trying to court Lady Arcuta by becoming her tutor. She responds that he has no love for mathematics or Greek and only those who have that love can teach (222). If there is no drive to learn in yourself, how can you instill that desire in someone else? That can extend out to other things, if you do not have the desire to do good, then the task you do will fall short.

  What makes this book good is not MacDonald's flair for writing, but his underlying understanding what what it takes to live a Christian life. He is able to bring this life alive through his characters. Modern readers might take issue that Grant and Lady Arcuta are too good to be true, but that could also be said of those rare people like Mother Teresa and a host of currently unknown people who serve God wholeheartedly.

New Words:

•    physiology (95)-the branch of science concerned with the functioning of organisms; the processes and functions of all or part of an organism
•    arcuta-

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: It was a lovely morning in the first of summer.
  • Last Line: It seems to say to those who can redit it, “I know in whom I believe... and all is well.”
  • ….I do not think she had ever in her life been in love with anybody but herself. She was a good theologian—so good that when she was near, you could not get within sight of God... (58)
  • Obedience is the road to all things. It is the only way to grow able to trust him. (62)
  • The gospel is given to convince, not our understandings, but our hearts; that done, and never till then, our understandings will be free (97)
  • when one is miserable, misery seems the law of being; and in the midst of it dwells some thought which nothing can ever set right! (127)
  • The right and the power to use it [a possession] to its true purpose, and the using it so, are the conditions that make a thing ours. (129)
  • For to honour, love, and be just to our neighbour, is religion; and he who does these things will soon find that he cannot live without the higher part of religion, the love of God. (169)
  • Everyone is born nearer to God than to any ancestor, and it rests with him to cultivate either the godness or the selfness in him, his original or his mere ancestral nature. (180)
  • It is only righteousness that has a right to secrecy, and does not want it; evil has no right to secrecy. (206)
  • Self is is the most cursed friend a man can have. (230)
  • God cannot help men with wisdom when their minds are in too great a tumult to hear what he says! (242)
  • The sepulchre is the only resurrection-house! (260)


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Town Like Alice

Book:A Town Like Alice
Author: Nevile Shute
Edition:  Nook
Read: July 2012
799 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

This is a story told in two parts about a young woman, Jean Paget, from the vantage point of a solicitor, Noel Stratchan. After World War II, Paget finds out that she has received an inheritance from a rich uncle she hardly knew. But there are provisions stating that she could not receive her inheritance until reaching 35 years old-she would need to have the solicitor manage the inheritance assets.

The first part of the story tells of Paget's time under Japanese occupation during World War II. She was captured, put in with a group of other white women and marched around the Malaysian peninsula. The second part tells of what she does with her money, most of it in Australia, around the town of Alice Springs. There she meets up with her World War Two  benefactor, Joe Harman, from World War II and falls in love.

This is a novel based upon some historical facts. The author met a Dutch woman who had been held by the Japanese. Neville Shute was enthralled with her story and turned it into A Town Like Alice. In reality, Shute misunderstood part of the  story, but that misunderstanding lends itself to a better story.

Also Shute after World War II took up residency in Australia. The environment he lived in formed the background to the second part of the story.

thought I improved a little in the years that followed I had definitely joined the ranks of the old men. (15) The solicitor had taken up a routine of doing his work, taking his dinner at the club and going home. There was nothing varied about his routine, until Paget appears in his life. There are hazards to being to set in your ways. Occasionally there is a need for a little jolt in our routines.

I like to think a bit before taking any precipitate action. (26)  I've learned one thing from them, that it's never very wise to do anything in a great hurry. (36) These quotes represents the thought patterns of Stratchan. Very deliberate, methodical. Wanting to make sure he know not only the next step but two steps after that. A bit of this is good.

The woman stared at her. “You mean, his own God? Not the real God? “He didn't differentiate,” Jean said, “Just God.” (144) The context is that Paget had just concluded a long talk with a village chief. One of the women asked Paget what they talked about? There is two fold thoughts I have one this. The first is how provincial the woman was to try to differentiate between gods. She does not seem to try to understand what is being talked about. But on the other hand, Paget does not seem to discriminate between the one True God and the many false gods of this world. In the sense, Paget is very modern.

People who spent the war in prison camps have written a lot of books about what a bad time they had. They don't know what it was like, not being in a camp. (147) Even in prison, there is a sense of "home" in a place which you are stable in. But if you are always moving, where are your roots? Where do you call home? When I have been backpacking, there is a sense of relief and desire to be back at a place where I sleep each night, even if the beauty is greater on the trail.

Death had ruthlessly eliminated the weakest members and reduced them to about half the original numbers, which made all problems of billeting and feeding in the villages far easier. (236) Natural selection at its worse.

God had sent down His Son to earth in Palestine. What if He had done it again in Malaya? (240) There was many crucifixions in Palestine during the Roman era. Only one of them was the Son of God. Shute does not realize why Jesus' death was essential and why it was a unique event. His death was to pay the cost, once and finally. There was not a need for many deaths after that.

A few more quotes which struck me:
  • Most of the women had been churchgoers when they got the chance, … deep in their hearts they had been longing for the help of God. (240)
  • … she had grown prettier, she knew, when he had come to talk to her, and more attractive. (241)
  • It's something I could do for them, for the women—something that would make life easier for them, as they made life easier for us. (270)
  • she was going back to her own place and her own people, but she was leaving three years of her life behind her, and that is never a very easy thing to do. (317)

 Most of the time, I do not like historical fiction. Not because it is un-entertaining, but because there is too much shading of reality with fiction so you never know the facts of history vs the account being presented. Also I find history fascinating enough in its own right. Neville Shute does take an actual event in the history of World War II and weaves a good story out of it. A story which I would not have heard if it was not for this book.

He does supply a note at the end of the book, saying where he got the story and his own personal fascination with it and the person relying the story. But from what I read, even this acknowledgement of where he changed the facts to make a better story, was not quite correct.

Probably the place I which I think could have been strengthened was how he put religious words into his characters mouths. Many times, they were not words which religious people would say. Nor do I think they were particularly non-religious sayings. But just flat out silly-such as could God have sent His Son again in the person of Joe Harmon to be crucified? 

Still this is a story which will not disappoint you.  This was one of the better reads which my book group has had.
Notes from my book group:
My comment to the group afterwards: Also I think we can safely say that A Town Like Alice was one of our more enjoyable reads.

 Questions for the group

What other Shute's stories do you like?

With the lawyer telling the story, how does his point of view affect the story? How would it been told differently from either Jean or Joe's point of view? (Paternal)

How did you react to the terms of the will, making it 35 years old before Jean could control the money? Was this prudent? Archaic? Would that have been reasonable before the war? After the war? How did Jean react to this restriction? What measure of freedom did it give Jean? How did it affect the story line? Also life for the Malai women. Having to ask male permission to dig the well.

MacFadden's and Jean's relationship?

With the women, how does leadership get encumbered? Why? If there had been a man in the group, would Jean still have taken leadership? Language skills—other women only know Malai words for servants. Jean knows Malai.

This book was written in 1950. Why was this story written? How was Jean's strong role be perceived then? Why did Shute make Jean a strong woman? (Shute had just settled in Australia)
What kinds of econmics does Shute propose in this book? Where would this kind of econmic work? Community building. Female entrepreneurship.

Does religion fit in to this story? Any church people? One women who was part of the women in the group. Joe being crucified.

What significance are Jean Paget's ice skates and boots in the novel?

What are the significance of sarongs in the novel?

How is the Macfadden fortune tied to Australia?

Is Strachan justified in his handling of the trust? Why or why not?

What role does the unnamed Japanese sergeant play in the novel?

What role does little Robin Holland play in the novel?

How dos Jean Paget's wild rides in the outback change her situation?

New Words:
  • plus-fours (2): long, baggy knickers for men, introduced before World War I and worn until the 1930s for sports activities, especially golf.
  • Budgerugars (4): also known as common pet parakeet or shell parakeet and informally nicknamed the budgie, is a small, long-tailed, seed-eating parrot.
  • treacle (42): molasses, especially that which is drained from the vats used in sugar refining. Or Also called golden syrup. a mild mixture of molasses, corn syrup, etc., used in cooking or as a table syrup.
  • Chancery-place (43): a records office
  • almoner (66): a hospital official who determines the amount due for a patient's treatment. Or a social worker in a hospital.
  • Chummery (82): The building in which unmarried British army officers were quartered during the British Raj.
  • amah (87): a baby's nurse, especially a wet nurse. Or a female servant; maid.
  • corpa (151): a municipality of the autonomous community of Madrid in central Spain.
  • stone, as in weight (169): a unit of weight, used esp to express human body weight, equal to 14 pounds or 6.350 kilograms
  • scunner (272): an irrational dislike
  • Dulce ridentem Lalagen amabo, Dulce logquentem (334): I will love Lalage (the name of the girl) [who is] charmingly (or:, delightfully, or: agreeably) laughing, [who is] charmingly speaking---Horace, Odes, book 1, ode 22, lines 19-20
  • pellagra (368): a disease caused by a deficiency of niacin in the diet, characterized by skin changes, severe nerve dysfunction, mental symptoms, and diarrhea.
  • Veranda (619): a large, open porch, usually roofed and partly enclosed, as by a railing, often extending across the front and sides of a house; gallery.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: James Macfadden died in March 1905 when he was forty-seven years old; he was riding in the Driffield Point-to-Point.
  • Last Line: Of a girl that I met forty years too late, and of her life in that small town that I shall never see again, that holds so much of my affection.
  • It's no good going on living in the ashes of a dead happiness. (13)
    I like to think a bit before taking any precipitate action. (26)
  • Most jobs are interesting when you're learning them. (62)
  • I remember being completely taken aback, and seeking refuge in my habit of saying nothing when you don't know what to say. (74)
  • You won't know if it [some action] was wasted until you come to an end of your life. (268)


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hunger Games Trilogy

Author: Suzanne Collins
Edition: Nook
Read: June 2012
821 pages
Rated: 3 ½ out of 5

Hunger Games pictures a  dystopian world where the United States, if not the entire world—it is not clear which—has been decimated through a civil war. The Capital has won the civil war and the Districts supply resources to make the Capital run. Each year two tributes-a male and a female--are selected from each of the 12 Districts to participate in the Hunger Games. The catch is that the Games are manipulated through the Gamemakers, who can unleash a variety of challenges and torments. The games are to the death with only one victor each game. All of the books are written in the first person, through the voice of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old female.

The first story tells how Katniss from District 12 competes in the games. The second book continues her story and her turning rebellion with the Capital. The last book then talks about the rebellion.

This is not a deep book. But there are a few things which Collins touches on. I do not know if Collins puts these points in or they are there because as you cannot help saying something if you do write, even if you do not mean so.

  • What caused civilization to a point of near annihilation? Collins does not go into this. But she gives some hints, such as the need to be powerful, the lack of resources, and the need to be on top.
  • When faced with death, survival takes precedent over  goodness or being moral. Except for one character in the book. His love superseded everything, except for being “hijacked”.
  • What is right in war? When is killing ok?
  •  The people of the Capital have time for only leisure activities—they are the high-life people, while the people in the districts work. The people in the Capital go to more and more extremes to make a statement and to stand out.  Is this what happens when a life becomes meaningless, too full of leisure and not the pursuit of survival of meaning?

 The first book is the best. It rated a four out of five. The storyline was pretty crisp and compelling. The writing was not remarkable, but as a whole it was engaging. The second and third books were more along the lines until either I or the author ran out of steam and decided to end the book. Collins tried to intersperse the action parts with descriptions of things like the President of the Capital's rose garden. But in reality, Hunger Games is a book of bloodshed, violence and something which Collins tries to make as romance.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.
  • Last Line: But there is much worse games to play.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The World According To Garp

Book: The World According to Garp
Author: John Irving
Edition: 20th Anniversary Edition, Hardback
Read:  March 2012
688 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

Garp is born to Jenny Fields, a woman who just wanted to be left alone. His conception was in a most unusual manner. This is from the first chapter and it goes down from there. Garp grows up, but not out of his mother. They go to Vienna so he can become a writer, but it is she who gets the first book out. After various encounters, both with sex and death, he comes home and gets married after he writes his first good story. Garp goes through his marriage and infidelities, the death of those whom he is close to, and his turning into a stay at home dad.  You throw in a Toad, sex changes and women cutting out their own tongues and you get the world of Garp. The story explores Garp and his world's complications.

A book by a writer—where else do books come from?--about a writer will inevitably wind up talking about books. Irving makes a being point about his heroine, Jenny Fields, that she was the kind of women  who has a graceless seriousness which  makes more frivolous people uncomfortable. (42) She read books, not to discuss them, but to read them for herself. She would even attend classes at the school she was nursing at. Of course, if you have read a book you are puzzled about or enjoyed, you want to share it with others. On the other hand, if you are with a group of people in competition, you want to show your superiority by showing you have read the book, understood it better than anybody else, or at least have the book on your shelf.

To go on with the books, Garp, Fields son, does become a writer. When Garp submits to his publisher his third novel, which is at least as gross as Irving's novel, his publisher is really thinking that he does not want to publish the book. They are not that type of publisher. But he lets his cleaning lady read the novel. She likes it, to his surprise. Why? Because the book is true. Why is it rue? It is how people behave in reality. Is that why we read books? I read a book because it shows something about me, my world, and/or about my God.

Irving publishes two short stories in this book, which he attributes to Garp. I was wondering if he had these stories just laying around and wanted to publish them or if he wrote them specially for this book. The first story,  The Pension Grillparzer, has been published separately. The second was The World According to Bensenhaver. More of my pondering than a need to know. From a Wikipedia article, this is one of Irving's tricks.

The title of the book comes from something Garp's wife, Helen, says about his first good short story, The Pension Grillparzer. She said that we can glimpse what the world according to Garp would be like (194). In the story, the fantastic occurs. A bear riding a unicycle in a hotel room; fortunetelling gypsies; circus man who walks on his hands; a women who seemed to be married to everybody in the story. This is the world which Garp made up, and in many ways, the world Garp lived in. By this, I mean a different world than the world we see.

Garp realizes, too late, that his mother's real talent was that she had right instincts—she always did what was right. (575) After Jenny Fields book got published, she became a celebrity, outshining anything Garp did. The book was autobiographical and attracted the attention of the fledgling modern feminist movement. In her own way, she attracted the same type of people people who Garp imagined—women who cut off their own tongues, a Philadelphia Eagle tight end who had a sex change,  and other female outcasts. Garp, as sons will be, was embarrassed by all of this. She saw the needs of these women and tried to provide a place of shelter.

Garp needed something to do. (588). At this point, Garp had not written in awhile. He had faced one assassination attempt and was just in a rut. Irving correctly points out that unless we are doing something meaningful, we will decay or invent our own crisis'. This is what happens in retirement. Unless we find something which is meaningful to us, we have early heart attacks or become a nusiance.

Irving talks about Garp's writing, and it is a sad commentary on Garp. The best work he had done was his first.(589) Starts with a flash and ends with violence. As I read this I was wondering about Irving and was he fearing the same thing with his work? But he did write Cider House Rules after this novel.

I could relate to a statement—we skipped middle age altogether and moved directly into the world of the elderly.  (591)  This was said in reference to the amount of worry he, Garp, felt. Irving associates worry with old age while the freedom to be uninhibited by fear is more of the younger set. But I do not think so.  You see children  who are daredevils, but also some who will back away from ledges. But fear does cause Garp to reach out and try to protect his children.

Black and White. (623) Movements as they progress, and in this case, feminists, make it so you are either one of them or the enemy. There is no moderation of tone. This is true today as it was back when Irving write Garp.  Because of the radicalness of a movement, there is a strong tendency towards extremeness. We see this today with the liberals and conservatives, radical ecologists and Tea Party, prolife and prochoice. You cannot find any place of civility let along common ground.  Groups lose their original vision of a better world to live in when they dehumanize others.

In this book there are two examples extremism I will bring up—the Ellen Jamesians and the First Female Funeral. The Ellen Jamesians are a fictional group who cut out their tongues to symbolize their lack of voice. A girl of 12  was raped and then had her tongue cut out by her attacker. This group took this as a symbol. While the real Ellen James wanted nothing to do with the group. Garp had a hatred of this group which feed the young girl to write a letter disavowing the group. While Garp's Mom saw the neediness of these women.

When Jenny Fields died, a large group of females gathered at a university to have a funeral service for her. Garp was barred form attending. The reason? He is a man. So he went in disguise. Eventually he was found out and was forced to run for his life. What kind of group will not allow a man to attend his own mother's funeral? Remember this is fiction.

You know that a book is great when a person copies some sort of antics talked about in the book. Garp had a habit of cutting the engine, and lights, and then coasting up the driveway into his garage. His reason was not to wake the kids. On Click and Clack about a year ago, I heard the same thing. I just sort of snickered when I read the story. Unfortunately, I cannot find when this episode aired.

There is not much religion or room for religion in this book. But towards the end, while Garp is dying, Irving says so what, if there is no life after death? There is life after Garp... Even if there is only death after death (after death), be grateful for small favors. (649)  Sort of a human race in perpetuity. He goes further by saying that an ending occurs when those who are meant to peter out have petered out. All that's left is memory. (657)  Sort of a nihilist thought. Where a person lives and dies and there is no consequence to their being.  Even with memory, what is it except us? Because I remember my Grandmother, she influences my actions today. At some point, you need to say either Garp's life influenced how things will turn out or that it all does not matter.

No review of this book would be complete with sex. The reader needs to be warned that there is sex acts from the first chapter on. Some are done without passion, such as the one described about how Garp was conceived. Others are more noted. To Irving's credit, I do not think his descriptions are written to incite to lust, but to portray lust. Consequently they are more mechanical in description than something a teenager would read to lust. But the acts are very graphic, so the reader must be warned.

But if these scenes are not for some gratuitous reasons, why did Irving put them in?  Seemed like after each time Garp goes astray, something bad happens. When Garp is in Vienna, he teams up with a hooker. She dies. Garp becomes suspicious of his wife after many of his own philandering’s. In a sense, if you think about Irving's book enough, it becomes a morality play. You go astray, you will pay. 

Irving himself thinks the book is about lust. In the forward to the 20th edition, he talks about his 12 year old son going upstairs to read the book. Irving wonders what he would think about all the lust, and sex, in the book. His son has a different take, that the book is chiefly about death—the fear of death, or more particularly, the fear of death in an off-spring. In fac Irving talks about people coming up to him and offering him condolences on the death of his child—he has to say this is his imagination not reality.. One interesting note on lust—Wikipedia says that lust really means sexuality.

But does it make the book worth reading?

 How do I evaluate this book? Is it the graphic sexual content? I do not think so, because when you get to the end of the story, you realize that there is a reason why Irving has it. Is it the skill in writing which Irving shows in the book? I do think there is skill in his story telling. Is it the messages he sends out to us? I do not know.

What I do know is that this is not a must read again book. I am debating if it is a must read once book. So there is conflict in what I read. Irving's skill in writing is top notch. But the graphic nature made me not want to read the book or even hear Garp's name. In the end, it is a book to think about and ponder.

Notes from my book group:
Could you talk a little about what you saw in this book? Why did you think our group would benefit from this book?   Irving is a fine writer, writes how people talk. He writes how intellectuals act.

Rest of the group: What was your reaction to reading this book?   There was the thoughts that Irving's writing is uneven. Sometimes it is a good read and then other times you wonder why he is being published. It was felt A Prayer for Meany was one of the good reads.

There was a question, about who was Irving's editor? The answer is that for five of his books, Harvey Ginsburg was the editor, starting with Cider House Rules , A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus, and A Widow for A Year.  Also, he ad an editor names Joe Fox-whom it sounds like was the editor for Garp.  You wondered if Irving disliked Fox that much that he made Garp's editor, John Wolf? Irving had dedicated his third book to Fox.

How old was Irving when he wrote this book? 34. Is his other books as violent and filled with sex? From the Wikipedia chart on him, yes. This one seems to be a bit more graphic.

In general, most of the book group was put off by the sex and violence in this book. Also by the degree and the quantity. Some felt this book was pornography.

What themes do you find in this book?
Which are the strongest? How does Irving present them? Which is the most compelling for you?

How is feminism portrayed in this book? By whom and what tyoe? Are they compelling? Jenny Fields, Ellen Jamisins, Roberta Murdoch, Helen Holms, Mrs Ralph, Jillsy Sloper? Women, even as victims, may not be good people.

How does Irving anticipate today's political discussions? Feminism, Tea Party, Radical Ecologists,  Prolife/ProChoice, … Is Irving an observer or a corrector?

Death is lurking throughout the book. How does Garp live with it? Can we learn from Garp on dealing with death or the fear of death? Walt, Jenny, Garp,

How does Irving use the Under Toad? Is that how you would portray the world you life in? Looking for the Under Toad?

How does Irving distinguish between sex and sexuality? Roberta Murdoch, the house by the sea, ...

Is the sex in Garp gratuatis? How so? How not? Are there reprocusions to the characters having sex throughout the first half of the book? What warning did you take away from it? Do you think Irving was trying to do a morality play?

New Words:

  • triptych (85): a set of three panels or compartments side by side, bearing pictures, carvings, or the like.
  • Slatternly (274): untidy and dirty through habitual neglect;  or of, relating to, or characteristic of a slut or prostitute
  • quadroon (515): A person having one-quarter Black ancestry.

Good Quotes:

  • It was a class war, … all wars were. (73)
  • Any place can be artistic, if there's an artist working there. (123)
  • Many couples never discover it[never in love]. Others marry, and the news comes to them at awkward moments in their lives. (207)
  • You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else. (253)
  • wherever the TV glows, there sits someone who isn't reading. (315)


The Plot Against the Giant
First Girl
When this yokel comes maundering,
Whetting his hacker,
I shall run before him,
Diffusing the civilest odors
Out of geraniums and unsmelled flowers.
It will check him.

Second Girl
I shall run before him,
Arching cloths besprinkled with colors
As small as fish-eggs.
The threads
Will abash him.

Third Girl
Oh, la...le pauvre!
I shall run before him,
With a curious puffing.
He will bend his ear then.
I shall whisper
Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals.
It will undo him.

Wallace Stevens

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Financial Peace Revisited

Book: Financial Peace Revisited
Author: Dave Ramsey
Edition: Hardcopy, 2003
Read: March 2012
319 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

Financial Peace Revisited is a companion book to his Financial Peace University 13 week seminar. Much of the seminar is oriented towards people who are in big debt and need a way out. As such, its focus is narrow—how to be wise with your money.

Ramsey describes a different life-style. His slogan describes it: You are to live like no one else, so that you can live like no one else.

The biggest point Ramsey makes is that debt is a drain on you, both financially, emotionally and goal wise. How can you be achieving great things when you worry about how to pay your bills. So he spends a considerable amount of words on why you need to be debt -free, why you need to be debt-free and how to get out of debt.

As an offshoot of this, there is a section on how to deal with creditors. He takes the stand that if you owe the money, you should pay off the debt, and as quickly as you can. But he recognizes and encourages the the debtor be protected from unreasonable harassment. He gives tools to work with the creditor to make this time livable. He encourages people in debt to figure out what they need to live on—food, transportation, utilities, housing—and then start paying off the debt. Come up with a realistic plan, paying off creditors.

One of the first things he points out, money is active (19). by this he means that just because you put away a dollar, that dollar's value does not stay equal to that value a year later. Inflation eats away at the value, while a dollar invested should grow.

He then talks about “Baby Steps” on getting out of debt and on to financial security and peace. These steps include:
  • Getting a $1,000 in savings
  • Start paying off your debt, from the smallest to the largest.
  • Save your emergency fund. This should be three to six months of your income.
  • Put 15% income into your savings
  • Save for college
  • Pay off your house
  • Invest

He notes that personal finance is who you are. It is a measure of your character. For example, by restraining your spending and only paying for items with funds you already posses speaks to a certain amount of discipline you posses. But by going into debt, you become beholden to someone else.

Communications between spouses makes it so you each know what is going on. The budget is a communication tool rather than an area where there is power struggle. It is important that each of the spouses comes to the table. The one more nerd-like (budget minded) may prepare the budget, but the other spouse will have revision authority. The important thing is each has equal say in the budget and spending plans of the family.

Some rules of thumb Ramsey talks about, includes:
  • Savings should be 10% of your take home pay
  • Giving should be 10-15% of your take home pay.
  • With a good emergency fund, you can raise the deductible on your insurances-home and auto—to $500 or $1,000.

The section he had on investing was the most needed for me. More of the motivation to invest rather than how to invest. That is one of the main short comings of this book in my mind. He is very much into motivations, but sometimes short on either fact or explanation. On the fact part, one of his favorite is about the effects of power of compounding. Cites that a person can put money away for 10 years at 12% and have more money at the end of 30 years than the person who waits 10 years and puts the money away for the next 20 years at 12%. Of course wht he does not play with is the effect of interest rates. Which gets into the second problem—he talks about being able to get 12% on your money. He cites that this is true for the last 69 years that in any decade, yo would have averaged 12% in 97% of the mutual funds.

But he has made me realize I need to be more focused on wisely getting a good return on the money we are charged with. His rule of thumb is to put 25% of your investment funds in four different types of mutual funds: balance fund, growth and income fund, growth fund, and international fund. Also as you have more to invest with you can look at an aggressive fun such as a small company fund or an aggressive growth fund. His rule is that a fund must have at least five years of track record with the current manager. He prefers 10-15 years. He expects 12% returns.

Buying is a significant area where you can save money. He has several techniques. He notes that people are non-confrontational. Consequently, if you work this, there is a good possibility you can pick up substantial savings by being strong-not obnoxious-in your areas. The idea is for both you and the seller to win. The seller because he can sell his item; you can win either with cost or terms. He has seven items to buy:
  1.  Always tell the truth
  2.  Use the power of cash
  3.  Walk away power
  4.  Shut up
  5.  That is not good enough
  6.  Good guy-bad guy If I give you this, what will you give me

Last things is another important area. Have a will—current, with power of attorney. Also make sure there is written instructions for a spouse for what they should do with the assets.

 This is a book which is meant to be used, rather than thought about.  He is dogmatic in his approach, such as you should not have credit cards. On the other hand, he is dealing with people who have ruined their lives by over-extending themselves.  His methods I think will help most people who are in debt, if they have the discipline to carry out his strategy. For a person who is financially stable, much of what he has to say is rudimentary.

New Words:
  • Beta: Measure of volatility of a fund. A beta of 1 tracks perfectly with the S&P 500. A value greater than 1 indicate more swings than the SP500.

Good Quotes:
  • Measure wealth not by the things you have, but by the things you have for which you would not take money. (21) Unattributed
  • The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King, Jr, Strength to Love, Chpt 3, On Being A Good Neighbor
  • Just as riches are an impediment to virtue in the wicked, so in the good they are an aid of virtue. St. Ambrose, as quoted by Dave Ramsey, pg 26
  • First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then give all you can. John Wesley, Sermon 50, The Use of Money
  • Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose. Viktor E. Frankl, as quoted by Dave Ramsey, pg 45
  • Almost any man knows how to earn money, but not one in a million knows how to spend it.  If he had known as much as this, he would not have earned it. Henry David Thoreau, Journal 1837-47
  • Attitude is the only difference between saving and hoarding. Larry Burkett, How to Manage Your Money.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Polar Dream

Book: Polar Dream, The First Solo Expedition by a Woman and Her Dog to the Magnetic North Pole
Author: Helen Thayer
Edition: NewSage Press, 2002
Read: Feb 2012
183 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

This is Helen Thayer's journal of her trip to the magnetic north pole and back. She acquires a dog at the last moment before leaving Resolute Bay in northern Canada. It tells of her preparation and why she wants to do this trip. As a mountain climber, she uses her compass to figure out where she is during a white out condition, which  probably saves her life(2). She becomes very interested becoming the first women to reach the Magnetic North Pole, solo.  Not only that, she is fifty years old and will be pulling 160 pounds of sled, with only a dog to accompany her

She talks about her pre-trip and the local's thoughts on what they felt was her ill fated effort to accomplish her solo task. How one local Inuit musher provided her a dog after she thought over how was she going to protect herself from polar bears.  Which he does and becomes her friend and companion on the trip. The book tells of her adventures with polar bears, storms, ice, and helpful strangers.


Thayer was a world class athlete before this adventure, as well as an experienced mountaineer. She had been an international athlete for New Zealand—her birth country, the United States—her current country, and Guatemala. There is no mention why she competed for Guatemala. But she competed in the luge and the discus. (3) She climbed major peaks on all continents, including those above the 24,000' mark.

One of the reoccurring themes of the book is the need to set goals and plan for all contingencies. She does this over the two years prior to her adventure, with details on what to bring. She takes a two weeks tune up on location,  where she gets to know the people of the area and the environment she will be living in for a month.  But planning can does gets tough when you get conflicting advice. Such as what gun to bring along to stop a polar bear (12). It sounds like in reality, you probably will not be stopping a polar bear with a gun before it is able to hurt you bad. But it does seem like a needed weapon, if for no other reason that you do not feel defenseless.

The eating supplies were pretty basic—wondering what we should or could incorporate into our backpacking experience. Dehydrated rice, whole-milk powder, chocolate powder, oatmeal, granola, graham crackers, peanut butter cups, walnuts, and cashew nuts. Also some sort of high carb drink—maybe Cytomax? (13)  But as she admits, camp cooking is not her forte, nor her need. In her training, she would bring along a loaf of bread per day for her meals. (110)

The main character in the book, besides Thayer, is Charlie. Thayer acquired Charlie from a sympathetic Inuit who was much relieved to find that Thayer would bring a dog. She named him Charlie. This is where you wonder where she came up with the name. While vastly different from Steinbeck's book Travel's with Charlie, part way through the book, I had the feeling of the book should be called Thayer's Travel with Her Charlie. (15)  A good deal of the book is how she developed a trust for Charlie's instincts and the response which Charlie had. An example of this is found on page 96 where she says, It was a precious gift to be trusted and loved by a dog who had never learned trust and had never known human kindness. You can argue about what the Charlie was intending, but this is what Thayer felt. But I do think she goes over the top when she says that Charlie's good opinion was valuable. (127) Or again the thought of betrayal if she used some of his food in the hour of her need. (162) Both of these seem more to do with her than with Charlie's impressions.

Thayer does do a great deal of anthropomorphizing of her relationship with Charlie. Such as when Charlie takes a misstep and gets tangled up with Thayer. Thayer falls and gets made at Charlie. Charlie looks hurt. She resolves not to get upset with Charlie. (66) That in itself is a not possible reaction—if it was, wouldn't we be more patient with our spouses?

She describes her husband with the phrase he had a curiosity to see over the other side of the hill. (3) I think this is great. I like the guy.

She says that one of the reasons for her expedition was to learn to exist alone. (84) This was in context of a snowmobile expedition which was also going to the Magnetic North Pole. They turned back in a storm. She expressed relief that she would not meet up with them with the above sentiment. There is a couple of things which I find curious about her reason. First, did she exist alone? She did have radio contact and I assume the ability to call in a rescue flight, if possible. Also there was her companion, Charlie who was at her constant side. If she meant without human companionship, yes she did and you could tell the effects throughout the book. There was the part of knowing herself better and her capabilities. But there are also places where a second opinion would have served her well.

But even more so, the term, learn to exist brings in even more of a question. Do we do things which stretches our limits to exist or to learn about ourselves? To do more than just survive?

One of the interesting thing brought out by this book is her talking about what is the Magnetic North Pole. Evidently it moves around an area, sometimes a hundred miles in a day. So when scientists talk about the magnetic North Pole's location, they talk about the mean. (4)

One of the favorite items which I enjoyed is her bringing in the history of an area. Such as when the Franklin expedition got stuck in the area and perished. (25) Since this past summer I have found more and more abut Franklin and his wife. This was an interesting tie-in.

Bears, polar bears specifically, are Thayer's chief nemesis. She talks about what polar bears mean to the Inuit people (5). But also the dangers associated with them. She already knew how to use a gun from her upbringing. What she did not know was how to read the intentions of a polar bear. She got that training from the Inuits. (14). But as it turned out her best warning device was Charlie. She also realizes that the best plan for survival against the bears is to make it to the Pole and back, quick. No lagging around. (71)

Other problems she faced were:
  • Depth perception. Not only during white out conditions, but when the sun was blocked. She could not see the little shadows we all take for granted when we walk around things. At those times, she had to slow down so she would not stumble. (73)
  • Storms. To most of us, a rise in temperature brings relief from the Winter cold. To Thayer, a rise in temperature means a storm is approaching. So she prefers the cold of -45F to the warmth of -5F because of the winds and the storms which will come. This comes to a head when she nears the Magnetic North Pole. A storm slams into her when she is unprotected, tearing much of her supplies away. It also leaves her injured enough where she has blurry vision. (149)
  • Hunger. After the last storm, she needed to complete a week's worth of her journey with a water of the amount of water desired and about a day's worth of food.
  • Foastbite. This was from the first day when she had to search for her heavy gloves.
  • Thin or cracking ice. In most cases,  could use her ski's to balance out the stress over a crack in the ice (98). But in one case, where Charlie tried to warn her, the crack in the ice was more like a see-saw, where her weight sank an end of the floe. (142)

For a person who is a mountain climber, she makes a puzzling statement—she wanted to get away to a place where she was no longer dwarfed by her surroundings. This was around Sargent Point, where the cliffs loomed high over her, and to her were intimidating. Maybe because she was alone, or the particular characteristics of the cliffs, they were frightening, but it does seem like a strange reaction from a mountain climber. Or it may be because of being alone, every sense took on a stronger perspective. (98)

Part of Thayer's desire was to bring the Arctic experience to school age children. From the book, this was her first endeavor in this area. The book does not explain why she felt a strong need to do this. But since her return, she has started up a web site dedicated to bringing the Arctic to schools-see below.

She talks about lessons learned. The first was because during the plane trip, her sled got jumbled up and things were thrown around. She let some well-meaning people reload her sled. This lead to the first major crisis when she stopped on the first day and could not find her heavy gloves. Her first lesson was to learn to say No when she needed to. (20).  The payment for the lesson was frostbitten hands, which she had to deal with the entire trip. Another lesson is that fear is part of life, but you do not need to be overcome by fear. (23). This became an issue as she faced several polar bears over the course of the first several days. She learned that fear can beat you down and weaken you. But when confronted, you can stand against the fears and negate the wear and tear on you. Her mantra became Only emotional discipline is going to get me to the Pole. I have to push my fears behind me and think ahead to my final goal. (51) This, in part, is aided by routine, such as her skiing and navigational work. (79) Also another lesson for my own experience is that doing things in the cold or wind, and I will add rain, takes longer to do and your are more prone to mistakes. (66)

She also learns to face the physically tough challenges of a major expedition is one thing when you are part of a group. There is both the rigor of trying to uphold your end of the task and not let people down. But there is the comfort of having others around when you face doubts and obstacles you have a hard time overcoming when alone. But when you are alone, you have no one else to share your fears and concerns, to help with the chores, to let you take a little time off. This can be wearing on a long trip. (41) She notes that there is no way to prepare for the mindset required to be totally alone in the polar desert. (79)

One of the things she does to combat the mental exhaustion is to look back on her successes as well as the current moment of failure. She calls this her debits and credits. When she is down, she pulls from the credit stack. (70) But she also notes that a critical factor in an effort like her's is the to push on through discomfort and deprivation. It is the goal which pushes you. (134)

One of the debits is an incident of a fox which turned into a polar bear cub which turned into a full sized  polar bear. This was under a low light situation where Thayer was seeing outlines rather  images. The perspective was lost. So the size of the animal was lost until she started to approach the bear. After methodically backing away and firing her flare gun to scare away the bear, she decides that all animals are full sized polar bears until proven different. (80-81)

Religion does not seem to consume too much of Thayer. Except for a few “calling on the Lord” times of trouble, and a reference to the only reading material was a new Testament, (110) the book does not have any religious bent to it.

She concludes the book with the realization that even as she left her pickup point on the plane, looking back, her tracks were being swept away by the wind. There was little physically remaining of her trip. The only thing left was her memories, and Charlie.


This is not one of those great exploration books. The prose is written pretty singular, along the lines of this is what happened. Which in some ways is a relief to some of the self-examination books on an adventure or the why in the world did this person take off like that. This is a women of experience talking about her adventure in her own words. So in that respect it is refreshing.

Notes from my book group:

The book group thought that Thayer was a bit crazy for doing this. Also we had a discussion about was she or any other activity like this putting other people's lives in danger? There was talk about other explorers who did die—where they not just as crazy?

New Words:
  • nanuk(5): polar bear
  • kamotik(13): wooden sled
  • lenticular (108) stationary lens-shaped  clouds, that form at high altitudes, normally aligned perpendicular to the wind direction.

Good Quotes:
  • It was the learning experience and the struggle to overcome the challenges that made the journey rewarding and the prize previous. (154)


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Desert Drama: The Tragedy of the Korosko

Book:Desert Drama: The Tragedy of the Korosko
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Edition: ePub, from
Read:  March 2012
181 pages
Rated: 3 1/2 out of 5

An assortment of nationalities are on a cruise boat going up the Nile River in Egypt while England still retains control of that country in the 1890's. There are a couple Americans women, a couple of Irish descent, some Englishmen, including a retired colonel who served in India, and a Frenchmen. There had been unrest from the Dervish population from Somalian who are a sect of Muslims. But the unrest has been put down and things appear peaceful.

This party goes out on a trip to some ruins when a band of the Dervish soldiers capture them. The story tells of trip across the desert on camel back and the agonies of having to choose between converting to Islam and subsequently being sold into slavery, or being put to death. Of course, there is a rescue attempt.

In the second chapter, Doyle has a discussion between an American and a Frenchman about why is Britain in Egypt. It is the Frenchman's opinion it is just to extract wealth from Egypt and to exert power. A few minutes later, a Brit wonders why England is still in Egypt since it is only a drain on Britain. Let the other countries defend Egypt. But then a third makes Doyle's case for keeping in Egypt:  it is because it is right to do so, even if it is unpopular or drain on a country's resources. (27). Three thoughts cross my mind:
  • First, what makes a nation great? It is not merely the accumalation of property, like a real-life Risk game. But it is what a nation does that makes it great. A great nation will stand up and defend those nations who are weak, to allow themselves to grow. It will stand up for rightness.
  • That leads to the second thought. A nation must have the moral direction to understand what is right and to want to proper gate it.
  • Lastly, do we as Americans have the moral compass to be a great nation? Do we know what is right? Or are we only millions of jabbering voices without understanding. I think at one time we knew what was right. There was a time in our nations history when we discovered the people in control had a shroud of morals, but not the flesh to go with it. Rather than repudiate them, we decided that we would not be lead astray again, so we will not be lead when a leader does come along with morals. Consequently, we wander without leading and morals.
Those are the ruins, solitary, unseen, unchanging through the centuries, which appeal to one's imagination. But when I present a check at the door, and go in as if it were Barnum's show, all the subtle feeling of romance goes right out of it. There seems to be a theme in many of my readings, which Doyle is picking up on. As we make places more accessible, we lose how to look on something. By making it easy to go to the ocean, it loses its power to heal; by making a road to the mountains, serenity disappears; by being shown art or remains, we no longer are in awe of them. I am not going Edward Abbey, but there should be a place in each of our lives where we can have a struggle to get to, making it special to us.

The Colonel is a typical very starchy Brit with much pride and even more honor. When it comes to ask an Egyptian for advice, it takes a lot to break him down to ask. I do not think Doyle meant this as a critique on the British, but it does show how our strengths can be our biggest weakness at times.

his Indian service had left him with a curried-prawn temper, which had had an extra touch of cayenne added to it by his recent experiences.”(115) nothing particular thought provoking, I just like this description of the Colonel's temper.

Doyle can create a bit of understated humor as well. The Colonel, during ordeal, aged considerably. His usual robust appearance, lagged. Overnight his hair turned from black to gray. But at the end, Doyle talks about how anymore the Colonel would now always tuck a little black bottle in his coat when they were traveling.

   Even though this is Arthur Conan Doyle, this is not Sherlock Holmes and Scotland Yard. It is an entertaining book about tourists in 1890 or so Egypt who get captured by insurgents. It is written right in the middle of the Sherlock Holmes-Doyle did write several novels and short stories other than the master crime solver ones. It is fairly short, without mystery. Probably at the time, it was of interest to those in England because of circumstances in Egypt.

Is it worth a read today? Yes, but not a must read, but an interesting one from a good writer. One warning: a lot of language acceptable in 1890's, particularly concerning races and religions may be offensive to those reading it today. On the other hand, Doyle's descriptions will be reticent of some of the events in this day and age.


New Words:
  • dragoman(14): a professional interpreter.
  • emeute(20): A seditious tumult; an outbreak.
  • Dervishes: someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path or "Tariqah", known for their extreme poverty and austerity. The Dervish State was an early 20th-century Somali Sunni Islamic state that was established by Muhammad Abdullah Hassan ("Mad Mullah"), a religious leader who gathered Somali soldiers from across the Horn of Africa and united them into a loyal army known as the Dervishes.
  • reductio ad absurdum(25): "reduction to absurdity; a common form of argument which seeks to demonstrate that a statement is true by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its denial, or in turn to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance.
  • piastres(31): a fractional monetary unit of Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria worth one hundredth of a pound; formerly also used in the Sudan
  • hoopoes(42): a colourful bird found across Afro-Eurasia, notable for its distinctive "crown" of feathers.
  • doora(67): In Irish the word Dúr means "water", and Dúire means "of water", so the name means the parish of the water or bog.
  • jibbehs(68): 
  • cummerbund(72): a broad waist sash, usually pleated, which is often worn with single-breasted dinner jackets (or tuxedos). The cummerbund was first adopted by British military officers in colonial India as an alternative to a waistcoat, and later spread to civilian use
  • reis(74): head, chief, leader
  • tibbin(79): 
  • Baedeker(114): German publisher, notably of guidebooks for travelers; any of the series of guidebooks for travelers issued by the him or his successors; anyguidebook, pamphlet, or the like, containing information useful to travelers:
  • anodyne(165): not likely to provoke dissent or offense; inoffensive, often deliberately so. (Or a painkilling drug)
  • khor(167): watercourse, ravine
  • carmine(180): A purplish-red pigment, made from dye obtained from the cochineal beetle; carminic acid or any of its derivatives

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: The public may possibly wonder why it is that they have never heard in the papers of the fate of the passengers of the Korosko.
  • Last Line: “You have," said he, and their hands met under the shadow of the table”.
  •  There is no iconoclast in the world like an extreme Mohammedan. Pg 26
  • A man or a nation is not here upon this earth merely to do what is pleasant and profitable. It is often called upon to carry out what is unpleasant and unprofitable; but if it is obviously right, it is mere shirking not to undertake it. Pg 27
  • I prefer the ruins that I have not seen to those which I have. Pg 42
  • anything is better than stagnation. Pg 99
  • one-ideaed man is only one remove from a dead man. Pg 99
  • Misfortune brings the human spirit to a rare height, but the pendulum still swings. Pg 129


Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Walk Along Land's End

Author: John McKinney
Edition: First Edition, Hardback, HarperCollinsWest
Read: March 2012
238 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

The book started as a walk for the California Coastal Trails Foundation—a group trying to map a plausible coastal trail for California. He gives this up to explore himself rather than write another guide book. He still has the thought in mind throughout the book.

What changed his emphasis from trail building and reporting was the destruction of the coast line. From the border with Baja California northward he founds significant places of development, and not just in the cities. This is a theme throughout the book from San Diego to Los Angeles, to Santa Barbara and northward to Santa Cruz and even on the Lost Coast. He dislikes the thought of even planned wilderness. He figures why plan the wilderness when it has been quite nicely for thousands of years?

So you get word pictures of what is so glorious about California and its coast and how we are spoiling paradise. He loosely follows the trail of his guide, the 1913 author Joseph Smeaton Chase and his book California Coastal Trails. You hear interesting stories of the area—both present and past.

McKinney says this is not a guidebook, not even a guide to trails he was on, but more a guide to the path taken by my feet and by my heart. (xiii)

On the California coast, dry equals warm. (xvi)

McKinney meets up with two German tourists in Torrey Pines State Park. They ask the question, Why do you go? He is at a lost to answer the question. He then thinks and tells them that he came to get lost, lost in the palm and pine, lost for a time from metropolitan life, lost in the challenge of a long trail, lost in what remain of the will California coast. (28) Evidently this was not satisfactory to the tourists because they scurry off. But to me, this is similar to a quote from Randy Moregenson in the Last Season by Eric Blehm(314)--Here’s your one chance to get lost, fall in the creek, find a beautiful place.  Later on McKinney says that he goes to places like Torrey Pines because they celebrate life,... because they have been made by humands to set aside a place where we can see, feel and touch the living remnants of a once wild coastline. (30)

He talks about the inner conflict he feels, between wanting to put on the miles and the traveler who wants to experience. (33)

As he goes, he ponders Dana's and Chase's works and the land they describe in 1835 and 1912. He then realizes that even his more recent 1960's memories of an area are no more relevant 30 years later. I wonder what he would think now, 15 years after that? Particularly since McKinney is only 1 year older than me and I remember some of the same things he does. (42) Or even how I remember the mountains I visited as a youth.

He mets up with the family of Carl Ghormley, who not only walked all of the California beaches in 18 years, but started a significant charity to help Mexican children (died in 2005). As they were walking, the discussion turned to how his family related to the beach. He said that it was easy to walk and not see anything. You have to keep your senses open, seek it out, try to understand. (57) They then talk about how California seems to vanquish its history by ignoring it. Also they expressed their emotions about finishing their walk—a kind of sorrow at finishing the project. (59).

There is a chapter where he passes by his childhood area of Santa Barbara. He describes his feelings of seeing the tar and oil. He helped clean up birds from the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and talks about how it turned him into a conservationist and distrustful of the influence money can bring to a situation. (88) In the book he talks about how he has been assured that a Santa Barbara oil spill cannot happen again since all sorts of precautions are taken. Of course, there is a tinge of doubt considering powerful men downplayed the damage inflected upon the wildlife of the area. Also this was written 14 years before the Gulf oil spill. You just wonder what McKinney thinks.

The ethics of how you live is woven in McKinney's story. Such as the Los Padres ranger who rather than give his tool to someone else to maintain, he sharpens it. The idea that specialization is not necessarily better. This ranger is a generalist in the age of specialists.

How to manage or a better phrase, let be the wild areas of our State is one of the central questions in the book. McKinney is afraid that wild areas will be managed and tamed by well meaning plans rather than setting apart wide areas and just letting it be.

Part of the trip is going through the Diablo Canyon area, where he was once arrested for trespassing and protesting. It is interesting reading his history of leading a group of fellow protesters through the wild to get arrested at a different place than the rest of the protesters. And then his take on seeing the area 15 years later. He is part of the ceremony opening the Pecho Coast Trail, paid for by PG&E.

In a way, McKinney asks a pertinent quest, Is the end of the big cone spruce the end of southern California?  (158) He had just commented on the the Big Cone Spruce is only found as far north as Santa Barbara County. But through out the book he broods on how we are doing away with what made California a paradise while putting up condo's, shopping centers and the like in our bid to develop everything.. He is very much of an advocate of creating a vision of the coastal use—not as a place to play, but as a living thing in which we are trusted with. (180)

I do love his description of the Russian Orthodox patriarch coming to Fort Ross. He gives a service there, commemorating 200 years of presence. Then at the close, he lights a cannon, with a boyish grin and is excited by the roar and flame.

Later on he talks about his relationship with religion. When he visits the redwoods of Northern California, he seeks out a place called the Redwood Monastery. They have tried to find a place in their lives by setting right relationships with God, man and the natural world around them. In the process, they have been able to purchase a sizable area of old growth redwoods for a place called Sanctuary Grove. He talks about how the Catholic church has been a sanctuary for refugees. This monastery looks at this mission as being a sanctuary for wildlife and nature. (224)

He also talks about a picture he saw there, Christ by Jamini Roy. It shows a transparent cross. McKinney's comment is that it is Christ which transforms us, not the cross. But it is his guide, Sister Diane who talks about neither the lumber company nor them, nor conservations who own the forest. Their goal is to ask, with Christ's blessing, mercy on for the earth. (226)

On McKinney's personal belief, he states that he is both a Christian and a conservationist, but one who does not believe in an Old Testament God.  He specifically signals out where God has intervened in the natural order of things—parting of the Red Sea and stopping of the sun for Joshua. He is a man who believes that God is out there and does not participate in this world. And yet we do see McKinney seeing Christ transforming us, not through the cross but through Christ. He does sound like someone whose belief system is not very well formed. (233)

But the part which attracts me is the tension he feels between his Christianity and his conservationism. He says that he can believe in a God which has ordered and given meaning to natural history. He also goes on and states that we cannot avoid our stewardship of the earth by either ignoring it or leaving it to God to handle. McKinney calls us to be part of the human drama of conservation and before calling on God. Where I part with McKinney is in a couple of places, not with the goals, but with what he sees as the relationship with God. I view this as a partnership with God, where we are stewards for him. So I do not see a tension here. I see the tension more with a fallen world of humanity and the mess we are in is because we do not have our purposes aligned with God's.

His conclusion is the that he has gone from exaltation—gladness of experiencing the beauty, and grandeur of what he has experienced. Then to the despair of where man has replaced nature with its shopping centers and parking lots—he uses the word desecration. Then to where he leaves us. The coast is a place in itself, not as a relationship with him.

 McKinney succeeded in not making this a guide book as it is more of his thoughts as he travels the coast. So in that way, he is like John Muir and other people who tell of their travels and advocate the need for wilderness. Did it change my views? No since I am in the same camp. Will it move me to advocacy? Maybe. He is more heavy handed and his thoughts are too impressionistic for my tastes. But it has not been a waste of time of time to read. It gives me a better understanding of coastal issues, but maybe not how to advocate for them.

New Words:
  • paseo (34):  1. A leisurely stroll. 2. A place or path designed for walking. 3. A street or boulevard.
  • Pulaski (124): a single-bit ax with an adze-shaped hoe extending from the back
  • aeolian (135):  wind

Good Quotes:
  • Going to the mountains is going home. John Muir, San Francisco Bulletin, August 3, 1875
  • It seems to me we already spend too much time quantifying California and not enough time knowing it. (xv)
  • Old maps are best; they have more of the places I like to visit. Newer maps tell of bigger places, crowds and asphalt, geography I prefer to avoid. (xvii)
  • Why should sixteen be the only society-sanctioned age for rebellion? Like wine, rebellion tastes better with age. (37)
  • Improvise a trail at the right time in history and you're honored as a hero and get a plaque. Improvise a trail at the wrong time in history and you are threatened with arrest. (97)
  • Beauty itself is not heartbreaking. Beauty that's unobtainable, beauty that's defaces, will break your heart every time. (147)
  • I've always been more than a little uncomfortable with contemplating inner nature when there's so much outer nature around me. My ways have never been as interesting a study to me as nature's. (162)
  • We sly hikes know that just because a trail vanishes from the map doesn't mean it vanishes from the face of the earth. (163)
  • One meets out-of-the-way characters, naturally, in out-of-the-way places. (168)
  • roads now make the coast easier to reach, but harder to know. (169)
  • Prayer may be a far better defense against evil than cannon, but it's not nearly as much fun. (198)
  • We all need one place on the map, one place in our hearts that is lost. In a wild place, lost from the mean streets, we can find ourselves, our best selves. (219)
  • The growth of redwoods can be measured by counting their rings. By what measure can we determine the growth of human consciousness? (232)

  • McKinney's website, The TrailMaster
  • Chase, Joseph Smeaton, California Coast Trails, Written in 1913
  • Dana, Richard Henry, Two Years Before the Mast, written 1835
  • Backbone Trail
  • California Coastal Trail
  1. Web Site
  2. Wikipedia
  3. California Coastal Commission