Saturday, August 26, 2006

Be Who You Want to Be

"Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way... you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions. " - Aristotle

It may not be perfect but it works!! Maybe there is a little something extra - what we christians call grace. However, if you try out this "advice" from Aristotle you find that it works well.

This also works in becoming a LEADER. People are suprisingly willing to follow. More often than not the leader is the one who DECIDES to lead - nothing more than that. However, be prepared to buck up on the other virtues if you do - people also seem to like to topple leaders at signs of weakness.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Books to think about

I have read a number of books lately (last year) that I am too muddled about to write reviews for. Apologies to love2learnmom!

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Goodbye Mr. Chips - James Hilton

A Ring of Endless Light - Madeleine L'Engle
A Wrinkle in Time - ibid
A Wind in the Door - ibid
(The kids enjoyed Wrinkle so much they had me do Wind by popular demand)

Brave New World Revisited - Aldous Huxley

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Now here's some of the muddle.

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Brave New World Revisited is Mr. Huxley's chance to explain the context and thoughts that surrounded and shaped BNW in his mind. It is interesting to get a glimpse of this. I reviewed BNW on but I have learned more about it from this book. Actually, I have only read about 2/3 of this book. It's harder and harder to read. It is depressing and dated. Maybe I could have guessed that. I don't think that this invalidates my review. But I think that it shows some of the "more and more and more" that I felt was present. Huxley makes a summary statement comparing BNW to 1984. He thinks that 1984 is what society would look like if the world's dictator favors control through fear, punishment and torture. But that BNW is an exploration should the world's dictator choose pleasure as his primary means of maniuplation. That alone is a staggering premise. It is even more impressive to witness this in BNW itself. For carnal pleasure is so often thought to be the fulfillment of man's desires that we even ply our children with images of the physical pleasures that await us in heaven. In BNW everyone's material needs are taken care of, and even carnal pleasures are addressed. Everyone is subjected to the government by being given food, shelter, etc - even an occupation suited to thier conditioning. And yet it is clear that there is a gap between that and fulfillment.

Here's part of the difficulty. He spends a lot of time talking about "modern psychology" and Hitler and USSR. It is neither impassioned nor completely clinical. But it is too agnostic to sit well in my stomache. I have to both finish it and come to peace with it before I can write a real review.

One other snippet that is particularily interesting (in light of the fact that he bases it on NO religious premise) is that he notes that nature has gone to great lengths to make sure that every person is different. Nature has worked not to make mankind homogenous but just the opposite. How interesting to see that come from this angle. It is something I had begun take for granted because I have been raised Christian. Christianity is where religion took an astonishing turn towards the notion that God values each of us as unique individuals.

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Goodbye Mr. Chips is a pleasant book. It's feel is mainly reminiscent. Mr. Chipping is a teacher at an english boarding school. He is old now but has become as much a part of the school as a great Linden by the cricket field. He is even old in the fact that he is the Latin teacher. He grows into the school by force of time and I-know-not-how-to-call-it. He grows older, he marries, he becomes respected then formidable then an institution. It is kind of a simple story of a simple fellow's life. I understand that it was a story written without much expectation of notice or even return on the investment. And yet it became unexpectedly popular. In a way it was much like "Chips" himself.

What to "make" of this book? Hmm. Umm. It is a story of a simple but good life. One we can learn from. It is a "little way" book - though not nearly so little nor profound as St. Therese. It is a life to learn from that life goes on and on and that simple good has simple but good rewards.

... besides - it is a pleasant book!

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A Ring of Endless Light is a much tougher nut! It is mostly about death. Vicky is an interesting girl of about 15 or 16 from a very aware family. They are at once bohemian in openness and stolid in their grounding in christian culture. She is learning about death this summer. They are staying with her grandfather whose cancer is killing him. Her reckless rich would-be boyfreind from the previous summer who during a suicide attempt has caused the death of a good sailor who happens to be the father of another would-be boyfriend - of the solid homely type. And because that isn't enough she meets a college guy who is doing research on dolphin telepathy (it's not quite as wierd as it sounds - more like dolphin emotional communication). Oh yes, he is a would-be boyfriend too. And he is dealing with the death of a friend that happened a year or so hence. The dolphins are dealing with death, Vicky's reckless friend keeps brushing up against death and sometimes taking Vicky along for the ride yet swears that she means life to him. Oh and just to put a dagger through your heart a cute little kid is introduced to us so that she can die in Vicky's arms late in the book. I don't really like this book. Ironically I kept reading it all the way to the end. I kept waiting for a few events that I read about in a review on the internet - of the Disney movie version. Ha ha ha - no suprise that it was far afield of the actual story!

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A Wrinkle in Time is a much better M. L'E book. Still on the just about out there side if you ask me. It's got a sort-of science fiction thing going on. But without the lasers and blasters and droids that make Star Wars such a fun movie.

What it has is a really interesting little boy named Charles Wallace. - that's his first name not his first and last name! Charles Wallace Murray. Meg Murray is his older sister and the focal point of the book. She has to learn about love and hate to overcome the evil-borg sort of antagonist. She has to do some heroic things to save the universe - or at least some pretty important members of her immediate family. Anyway she does self-sacrifice almost to the point of death. And I think it probably won't spoil too much to say that she is victorious.

It's an engaging story and a good read-aloud. However, it descends into some odd corners of speculation sometimes - which is to say I think M L'E goes a little too far for my philosophy. I have to think more carefully about all the things that get said about love, hate, order and freedom before I could write a proper review.
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A Wind in the Door is the successor book to A Wrinkle in Time. It feels like it too. There are some interesting new ideas to think about. M. L'E stretches our concept of our world by introducing us to a cherubim who still has a bit to learn and demons who impersonate her old principal (hmm. anyone else ever think these thoughts?). And in a rather brilliant leap she takes Meg and company into a "farandola" world which exists inside a mitochondria inside a cell inside Charles Wallace. Some interesting concepts about "size doesn't matter here" really are worth thinking about. In the order of creation, she is told, a mitochondria may have personhood and a star may have personhood and a cherubim who is not material has personhood. In their personhood there is no difference in size or fullness. Good concept. But I am a little on edge about whether stars and mito's have personhood so it is an excercise rather than a wholly believable story. I don't know why it irks me - I am perfectly comfortable with Tolkien's elves and hobbits and dragons having personhood. Maybe it is that I don't like to have this world twisted in this way.

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The Great Gatsby is a good book. But it is not easy to review. You can find the storyline on many other sites so I won't get into that here.

This book is full of interesting characters as they weave their way through the world of the rich. The rich are by no means glorified here!! They aren't dismissed either. They are explored. They have different personalities and backgrounds and different degrees of character. That's what makes this more interesting than your average read.

Gatsby is enigmatic and yet seems good through most of the book. But the people that populate his lawn and mansion during his opulent parties fancy thinking of him as sinister. The "old money" across the bay seem to think him gauche and look down their noses at him as nouveaux riche. Yet many come to his parties anyway.

Tom and Daisy are those "old money" folks. And they seem just plain bored. Tom talks about the new ideas and yet is pretty thick. Daisy is a fading flower. They drink - a lot. And in this stupor and life of languor they somehow manage to leave destruction in their wake. Daisy by a trick of fate has twisted Gastby's very life around her little finger. Tom gets away with murder.

I don't know what to make of Jordan. She reminds me of people I knew. She is fetching but selfish. She too is afflicted with boredom where she actually has the means to achive real successes.

Nick Carraway is the narrator. We see the others through his eyes. It's OK though because he is fairly likeable and pretty inert. I have remembered since I first read it that he made a pretty good bit of money by learning to launder rich men's socks just the way they liked it. There is a vocational lesson to be learned here!! And as I have lived I have seen that it is pretty accuate.

There are some pretty dark messages in this story. The lifestyle of the idle rich has its draw. Much in the way of luxury and beauty surround them. It seems that I could live with that! And then along comes this book. And F. has not made it any prettier than it is. He insisted on a gross but critical and I think significant (or should I say symbolic) detail be left in the book - Myrtle is not just killed in a car crash but maimed - and it is important to F. that we see it without glossing over. In the end no amount of money buys character. Having means can reveal the character you have (or lack!) more readily than you would like to believe. - - - which reminds me of another good story along those lines that is much shorter and better for little kids: The Old Woman who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle.