Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hitler by Albert Marrin

I’ve heard good things about Hitler by Marrin so I was a bit put off when the librarian handed me the book with a big “J” on the spine for juvenile. I needn’t have worried, though. Because Marrin directed his writing to young people, it is very clear and understandable. And it’s a far cry from the dumbed down history books that fill our public school shelves today.

Marrin does a superb job of setting the stage for Hitler’s rise to power. He clearly explains why Hitler was so popular and why most Germans were fooled by him. He describes how Hitler’s persuasive speaking skills sent young people into a frenzy of patriotism. There was nothing they would not do for their fuehrer.

In forming his totalitarian state, Hitler made Mein Kampf required reading in all the schools. Marrin called it a “nasty, mean-spirited book that was dull and repetitious and filled with thousands of errors in grammar and spelling.” (p. 51) But since it was the law for every German to own a copy, Hitler became a millionaire from the sale of the book.

Opponents ignored Mein Kampf as the ravings of crackpot. They were wrong – dangerously, foolishly, wrong, for the terrible thing is that Hitler was sincere. He meant what he said, every word, and he would carry out his threats when he came to power. No one should have been surprised, or claimed that he hadn’t been given fair warning of the savage world Hitler would create. Had Mein Kampf been taken seriously, it might not have cost so many lives - an estimated 125 lives for every word, 4,700 lives for each page, one million lives for each chapter. (p. 52)

Hitler’s desire for power led to a staggering number of deaths . We all know the 6 million figure for the Jews.  But how many know that 20 million Russians died? Or that a deluge of Allied bombs on Hamburg, Germany killed 43,000 in two days? Two hundred thousand Germans and Americans died at the Battle of the Bulge.And in 1944, when a small group of army officers hatched a failed plot to kill Hitler, 5,000 people were killed and many others sent to concentration camps in retribution.

If you are interested in World War II this is a fascinating, articulate, and sobering look at the events that were orchestrated by one of history’s most famous villains.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge

I ordered I Saw Three Ships for the holidays, but the interlibrary loan service was a bit sluggish and it didn't arrive until January.

Nevertheless I dove into the story because as a fan of both children’s lit and of Elizabeth Goudge, I had little doubt that I would like it. But I wasn’t prepared for how intensely I would like it. I am in wonder as to how Goudge created such a richly peopled tale around a traditional Christmas carol and made it work.

The story takes place in the late 1700’s in a coastal village in England. Polly’s parents have died in an accident and she has been living with her two maiden aunts for ten months. This is going to be her first Christmas with them and they are shocked with her announcement that the Wise Men will visit their cottage on Christmas Eve. Reading how the skeptical aunts soften and how Polly's dream comes true was a special treat.

A sample of Goudge’s lovely writing:
Dorcas gathered her old brown cloak firmly about her, as though the balmy southwest wind were a savage northeaster, and peered out from the recesses of her brown beaver bonnet like an owl from the shelter of a hollow tree. Nevertheless there was the hint of a smile upon her usually grim mouth. For though she did not admit it, she was enjoying this expedition in search of the erring Polly. The sharp tang of the seaweed lying in shining coils on the sand below her was delightful. The sparkle of the sea in the sunshine raised her spirits. Turning to look at the little town, she found she had forgotten how pretty it was with its steep cobbled streets climbing the hill, its old red roofs all higgledy-piggledy and the plumes of smoke from the chimneys azure in the clear air. (p. 28)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jane Eyre - The Music

The other day while running errands I switched on the radio and was amazed to hear strains from a favorite movie soundtrack. It was amazing because it was from a 1970 made-for-TV movie of Jane Eyre (George C. Scott and Susannah York version) that is only offered in horrendous form on cheap DVDs. As a teenager I wore out my record of this music. All these years later I still have fond memories of the film and its music. Frankly, I just assumed the music was no longer available. Silly me! A little research on iTunes showed that all of John Williams' music is still out there for the taking.

Another excellent source of music for Jane Eyre fans is the Broadway musical.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My New Kindle

Nobody was more shocked than I was to receive a Kindle for Christmas. I should have known what was coming when I declared loudly a week before Christmas that I didn’t see why anyone would ever own one and the room grew strangely silent. Anyway, my dear husband knows that I experience severe book panic before any trip (Do I have enough books? Do I have enough room for all of them? Do I have enough strength to drag them through airports?) and he decided to relieve me of that stress. Although it took me several days to get up the courage to plug it in and read the user’s guide, I found it to be quite simple to use; I easily downloaded ten books and a word game.

I am very pleased with the thousands of titles that are available for free. Books that are in the public domain because their copyright laws have expired are just the kind I enjoy: good stories without the gratuitous sex, violence and swearing. Some of the authors that are available are G.K. Chesterton, George McDonald, Edith Nesbit, Gene Stratton Porter, P.G. Wodehouse and Shakespeare. There are hundreds of “light” novels by authors such as Wilkie Collins, James Oliver Curwood, Harold Bell Wright, Kathleen Norris and Louisa Mae Alcott. In addition I found books by D.L. Moody, Anthony Trollope and Samuel Logan Brengle. Quite a treasure trove! The best thing about it: I never have to wonder which book to grab as I’m going out the door for an appointment. With the Kindle I’ve got plenty of options in an instant.

Now for my true confession: I’ve read one entire book and two half books on my Kindle, BUT the main thing I like to do on it is play the word game while listening to audiobooks on my iPod. Is that weird or what?!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I am constantly on the lookout for good resources for my Freshman Writing class. A fifty cent copy of The Lively Art of Writing was a great thrift store find and its simple clear advice has been incorporated into my lectures. Bird by Bird was picked up for the same purpose, but turned out to be quite different. Instead of grammar rules, it contains pep talks for would-be writers. The advice is for people who already love to write so I ended up reading it for personal benefit.

Although the book is sprinkled with distracting obscenities, it gives sound principles on how to create believable characters, plots and settings. Solid wisdom can be sifted out from the chaff and I was truly inspired to spend time each day writing down memories that may later be shaped into stories.

Although Lamott encourages her writing students to pursue publication of their work, she contends that their primary reason for writing must be self-satisfaction:

Even if only the people in your writing group read your memoirs or stories or novel, even if you only wrote your story so that one day your children would know what life was like whey you were a child and you knew the name of every dog in town – still, to have written your version is an honorable thing to have done… If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. (p. 235)

Other favorite quotes: There’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we are going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this. (p. 51)

Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of. (p.225)

I think this is how are supposed to be in the world – present and in awe. (p.100)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reading Goals for 2011

Inspired by the many lists I read over the weekend, I have set goals for the coming year. These are so vague that they will be of little use to anyone but me, but I’m putting them here so I can periodically check back and see how I’m doing.

All last year I wanted to re-read something by Austen and this year I’m determined to do it. Probably Mansfield Park.

My new Kindle already has ten free books on it and three are titles that have been on my wish list for ages: Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed, Through the Brazilian Wilderness by Teddy Roosevelt and The Judge by Rebecca West.

Dickens and Trollope are also on my radar for 2011. And I’ll intersperse my literary endeavors with some theology books and a few about World War II. Also, this may be the year I finally read Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Last of all, more than one blogger raved about Christian fiction writer, Athol Dickson. I will give him a try and hope against hope that he’s not too fluffy.