Friday, March 31, 2023

Monthly Recap: March 2023

I decided to bail on The Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine after a few chapters because I found it overwhelming, and I was not fully invested. It is almost 400 pages and I was reading it for book club, but I knew I was not going to finish it in time next month. I started to speed read through it, which I thought was silly and wasteful. So I stopped before I wasted anymore time. I am already struggling to find time to read. 

Unread Books Beginning in March: 81

What I finished reading: 3 books and selected poems

Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (TWEM re-read, book club) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hanff: 84, Charing Cross Road (book club) (unread -1) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Melchiore: The Self-Sufficient Backyard (unread -1) ⭐⭐⭐

Keats: selected poetry (TWEM) ⭐⭐⭐

What I am still reading:

Begg: Truth for Life

Hardy: Return of the Native (TWEM re-read)

MacArthur: Because the Time is Near (re-read)

What I just started reading:

MacArthur: Freedom from Sin (unread)

Rand: The Virtue of Selfishness (unread)

Achebe: Things Fall Apart (unread)

Schweikart: A Patriot's History (unread/continued from 2021)

Malone: Lies My Gov't Told Me: and the Better Future Coming (Kindle)

Bails: 1

Applebalm: The Red Famine [book club] (library book)

Unshelved: 1

Married to a Difficult Man

Added: + 1

Freedom from Sin

Unreads Remaining: 80

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January Recap

February Recap

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Well-Educated Mind Poetry: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

English, Romantic Poet
Selected Poetry:
"Kubla Khan"
"Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
"Dejection: An Ode"
"The Eolian Harp"
"The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison"


From an early age, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was fascinated by the stories he read in books, including Shakespeare, Arabian Nights, and Robinson Crusoe. He was taught that poetry was as "severe as science" -- even more so because it was "more difficult, more subtle, and more complex." I personally agree!

While at college to become a clergyman, as his father had desired, his own views about religion were challenged. He left school and met a friend whom he planned to start a utopian commune in Pennsylvania, where government would be equally run by all, which was kind of redundant since early America was already a place for government "of..., for..., and by the people." 

Coleridge also married a woman he did not love as part of the commune plan; but he was miserable because he actually loved a different woman, who was engaged to another man. Meanwhile, Coleridge's utopia-planning partner switched gears and left Coleridge high and dry. Therefore, he had nothing more to do but start writing poetry. That is usually how these things happen.

But it was just as well because he met William Wordsworth, who greatly influenced him, and from there his poetry flowed into a very natural style. The two poets worked so closely together that it is said they are the beginning of the Romantic period in poetry. 

Coleridge also had interests in philosophy, politics, and religion, some of which had found its way into his writings and poetry. Unfortunately, he was of poor health and sadly became addicted to opium. He also  struggled with debt. He died at the age of 62 in London. 


As part of The Well-Educated Mind Poetry section, Susan Wise Bauer suggested selections to read, which I completed. I took notes while I read, and I have since lost those notes. I tend to write on scrap paper and then leave it on my desk. But this was over six weeks ago or more, and I no longer know where that scrap paper is. My guess is it is in a recycle bin somewhere in Hillsborough County. 

So...I will try to remember something. 

The ones I liked to read were "Kubla Khan," and "Dejection." I mostly had no idea what he was saying, but the language was very beautiful. I only read them once through, and some of them I looked at analysis because I was really lost -- like with "Christabel" and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

With poetry, it is necessary to read through poems numerous times and do get analysis, if one is stuck. But I have two issues: one, is time, and I am just reading them once to expose myself; and two, I am eager to get to more current poets, like Longfellow, Tennyson, and Whitman. I may encounter the same problem with them, but I do not know. Poetry is my least favorite of TWEM genre, besides science. It is like reading a foreign language, and it can be very frustrating. 

The next poet to review: John Keats.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road
Helene Hanff
Published 1970
Epistolary Memoir
Book Club

 In one word: CHARMING! 

It is only a shame that this was not longer, which is odd to say because it covered twenty years of correspondence. 

84, Charing Cross Road is a short, but sweet, epistolary work that captures the evolution of a long distance friendship between a freelance writer living in New York City and a used bookstore owner in London. The author, Helene Hanff, was desperately searching for antiquated or out-of-print books of the British persuasion and was frustrated by the lack of options available to her in NYC. She discovered an ad for a used book seller in London - Marks & Co. - and decided to write an inquiry. She included a list of her "most pressing problems." That very first letter was dated October 5, 1949. 

The main person Ms. Hanff directed her letters was Frank Doel, as he initially answered her requests. Because of Ms. Hanff's personable, easy-going, and sarcastic disposition, the letters quickly became good-natured and friendly, so much so that she addressed him as "Frankie." And Mr. Doel did all he could to find excellent second-hand copies of the books she requested. 

Soon after learning that England experienced rationing of food and supplies during and after WWII, Ms. Hanff purchased food packages and items from Denmark and had them delivered to Marks & Co. for the employees and their families. This touched so many lives beyond the bookstore that soon she began receiving letters from them, including Mr. Doel's wife, Nora. And so began Ms. Hanff's many long distance friendships.

I expected Ms. Hanff to make a trip to London, to meet her fans. Many of her correspondents encouraged and begged her to do so; however, within the timeframe of the letters, it was not to happen. That's all I am going to say, or I shall include spoilers.


I will add this: until this story, I had never heard the word antiquarian or antiquated. I assumed it was in the antique family and figured out what it meant. Then, this past weekend, I happened upon the Antiquarian Book Fair in Tampa. I gleefully dragged my entire family into St. Petersburg and brought a huge bag with me to do my shopping. silly was I? The first book of interest -- The Boyhood of John Muir -- I put it under my arm and continued browsing the booth. After several minutes I walked up to the cashier to ask how much, but she and a gentleman were speaking to an official looking gentleman, and they were spelling for him an author's name: M. U. I. R. 

Me, thinking I was clever, held up the book to show them they spelled that name correctly. And just then both the woman and gentleman let out such a sign of relief, I thought they would hug me. Apparently, they were reporting the book missing from their collection, and here I was perusing with it in the crook of my arm. 

After apologizing a dozen times, I asked the price of the book and almost choked. And it went downhill from there. Needless to say, I never did fill my book bag. I couldn't justify buying books for $100s and $1000s. Yes, they were beautiful. Absolutely beautiful antique books. But they were books for collecting, not reading. 

So, Helene was reading antique books before they were just collectors items. 

Before I realized how much being an antiquarian would cost me. (That's my big empty bookbag.)


My favorite moments are when Ms. Hanff speaks genuinely off the top of her bookish head; 

For example, Helene tells Frank that she gets to keep her books until the day she dies -- 
and die happy in the knowledge that I'm leaving it behind for someone else to love. I shall sprinkle pale pencil marks through it pointing out the best passages to some booklover yet unborn. 

And her justification for throwing out (or donating) bad books is this:

I personally can't think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even mediocre book.  

Helene had this to say about fiction:

I never can get interested in things that didn't happen to people who never lived. 

I'm a great lover of I-was-there-books. 

Then she read Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and wouldn't return it to the library until Mr. Doel sent her her own copy. 

And Helene's opinion about writing in books: 

I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comrade-ly sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention too.  ๐Ÿ’›

Helene Hanff (GoodReads)


Yes, you should. 

Especially if you like short and sweet true epistolary memoirs, with a bit of 20th century American/English history and culture, humor, friendship, books, reading, and inspiration. 

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P.S. There is a film version starring Anne Bancroft as Hanff, Anthony Hopkins as Frankie, and Judi Dench as Nora. It follows the book very nicely.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Marriage to a Difficult Man by Elisabeth Dodds

Marriage to a Difficult Man
The Uncommon Union of Jonathan & Sarah Edwards
Elisabeth Dodds
Published 1971

Married to a Difficult Man is a comprehensive history/biography about the Colonial American Puritan pastor, Jonathan Edwards, his wife, Sarah, their children, and the times and places they lived. 


The story began with the union of Jonathan and Sarah. Edwards was bookish and studious, and while women were not expected to be educated in the 1700's Puritan world, "Sarah had the best training a girl was allowed to have then." She was a "young lady of quality," and was trained well in many skills. She even practiced good posture for many hours - a lost art. Jonathan may have met his match in Sarah's mind, but he was terribly awkward in the area of social graces. 

Nonetheless they discovered their shared love for nature and books, which could be enough to keep any union vigorous; but of course there was more to their union. Sarah would be marrying a minister, and with that came unique obligations and responsibilities. It takes an exceptional woman to wed and stay married to a man of the pulpit, particularly a man who disappeared for long periods of time reading, researching, writing, and traveling. 

In addition to his "horrendous" working hours, she had to contend with her husband's not uncommon communications and connections with other women in the church, as "the majority of members in the New England church were women."

To be sure, the author makes a major portion of the book about their love and faithfulness to each other. A family friend recalled how Edwards 
could trust the care of Mrs. Edwards with entire safety and undoubting confidence. She was most judicious and faithful mistress, habitually industrious, a sound economist, managing her household affairs with diligence and discretion. 

She uniformly paid a becoming deerence to her husband and treated him with entire respect, conforming to his inclination and rendering everything in the family agreeable and pleasant. She accounted it her greatest glory and there wherein she could best serve God and her generation, to be the means of promoting his usefulness and happiness. 

In return, Edwards "treated her as a fully mature being (as a person whose conversations entertained him, whose spirit nourished his own religious life, whose presence gave him repose).


Sarah and Jonathan were blessed with eleven children. Jonathan believed that 
as innocent as children seem to be to us, yet...they are naturally very senseless and stupid, being born as the wild ass's colt and need much to awaken them. 

At the end of each day, Jonathan dedicated an hour to his family. He educated his children in church history, Latin, Greek, rhetoric, and penmanship. He listened to their lessons and expected them to compose their own prayers. But it was Sarah who trained them up in godly character and self-discipline. 

It is impressive to consider what the sole union of Sarah and Jonathan produced. By 1900, the Edwards family could boast (though they probably wouldn't):

13 college presidents

65 professors

100 lawyers

1 dean of a law school

30 judges

66 physicians 

1 dean of a medical school

80 holders of public office

3 U.S. senators

3 mayors 

3 governors

1 U.S. Treasury Controller

1 U. S. Vice President


There were two religious revivals under Jonathan Edwards, called The Great Awakenings. The colonial settlements of America had quieted into a lull, bored with religion and suspicious of church structure. 

The beginnings of the first Great Awakening, in 1734, had fractured and weakened many churches. There was an emotional fervor taking over the town, and Edwards sought to channel it into sensible discernment. He wrote biblical directions to test if conviction was true or empty emotion. When the effect swung in the opposite course, and people wearied in "despair... [with] a terrifying sense of God's anger," Edwards worked to keep the movement well-grounded in truth. He focused their faith into action. 

The second revival in 1740-41, occurred when George Whitefield, the English evangelist, visited America. It was also the same time that Edwards wrote his sermon: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It fell on deaf ears when he read it to his own congregation; however, some months later as a guest pastor , he read the same sermon, and there it made history. That sermon may well have changed the face of New England. 

But with religious revivals, there was a counter: churches further splintered and "religious experience [was] grotesquely distorted by emotionalism." And with it, a host of false teachers led false converts away. 


The most interesting chapter was on Sarah and her nervous breakdown, which led to either her true  "conversion" or further growth in her walk with Christ. Sarah struggled internally, particularly after childbirth. "Her disproportionate responsibilities began to overtax her." She was tempted to think the worst of her husband, her children and herself, and she fought to not reveal: 

I'm not as endlessly giving as I appear to be, and this is an impossibly difficult man. 

As her husband was frequently away, she carried the management of their large household solely on her own, without relief for her own fears or anxieties. She was crushed by the opinions of others in the congregation, of not only herself but also for her husband. The burdens became heavier. She eventually felt she was wrestling with God. 

For Sarah, it was a personal Great Awakening, and when she literally came to, she 

stopped straining to please God (and man) and began to live in the assurance of a salvation she didn't have to try to deserve. She stopped pushing herself to be worthy of Edwards' love and from then on had his unreserved admiration. 

She recalled how she awoke and:

...was led to reflect on God's mercy to me in giving me, for many years, a willingness to die, and after making me willing to live.  


Edwards took on the sinfulness of the community, becoming very liberal in his opinions about trivial matters while stepping on some consciences along the way. He commented on his congregations' owning too few books - evidence for a lack of reading. (I mean, truly reprehensible!) The people were tired of Edward's lectures on his angry God. Sarah came to the defense of her husband by writing a long letter to the church membership, but this mattered not. Edwards wore out his welcome.  It was 1750. The colonies were in a bad mood, and Edwards was voted out of his congregation and sent packing. 

He was relegated to a missionary of the Mohican Nation, where he preached the gospel and taught the people. He maintained good relations with the Indians and also defended their rights to their homeland. This was the time of the French and Indian War, where the Edwardses were very much on the frontline. 


There is much more to the story, but I will cut to the end of Jonathan and Sarah. In 1758, a smallpox epidemic was spreading, and Edwards decided to take a chance on the new inoculation. Jonathan and daughter Esther and her children were agreed to be part of the experiment. Unfortunately, they all contracted smallpox from the medical procedure, and Jonathan succumbed to the disease after all.

Sarah "tried to be prepared or any testing that life might require of her." She found ways to cling to and trust in God. While Esther suffered with the pox, Sarah wrote to her daughter about the loss of Mr. Edwards:

A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had [Jonathan] so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband and your father has left us! We are given to God; and there I am and love to be. 

Two weeks later, Esther died.

Not long after, Sarah lost the will to live without her life partner and she died of a broken heart.


While reading, I did not fully appreciate the scope of this work until I started to write a review. I left out so much information. There are several more chapters after Sarah's death covering the Edwardses' legacy, which continued for over a century and is amazing when you consider how much an individual and family can do to alter a nation. Even with their failings and blunders, they affected history, a nation and its people for good. If it wasn't for Pfizer the smallpox experiment, how much more would they have accomplished?

I only gave it three stars because I thought the writing could have been better. That was my only pet peeve.  

* * *

Sunday, March 5, 2023

The Bookworm Tag

The (very simple) Rules:
-answer the questions 
-make up new ones 
-tag people

Rachel @ Edge of the Precipice tagged me for this Bookworm Tag. Thanks, Rachel. These were fun to go through after my long weekend.

Rachel's questions:

1.  If you had to go into the witness protection program, and they gave you the option of moving inside a book, where would you like to go?

This is such a happy question, and I wish it were true. If I didn't have to go on an adventure, I'd like to stay at Bilbo's in The Hobbit; however, if I would have to live out the story, then I would rather play it safe and hideaway in The Wind in the Willows!!! I'm crashing at Mole's. 

2.  Have you ever claimed to have read a book you actually hadn't read?

I sure hope I never did that. If I did, I had mistaken book identity.

3.  What author have you read the most books by? 

No surprise here: Laura Ingalls Wilder ~ 12 books; 
second place: Thomas Hardy ~ 8 books; 
runners up: Shakespeare, C. S. Lewis, and Austen ~ 7 books; 
Howard Pyle ~ 6 books; 
Steinbeck and Jean Fritz ~ 5 books; 
and beyond that, Cather, Dickens, Hemingway, and Suzanne Collins ~ 4 books. 

4.  Do you ever buy fun bookish merch like mugs, shirts, artwork, etc?

Yes. But it is more special when my husband does it for me. He once went to Spain and brought home a hand-painted mug of Don Quixote, and he didn't even know it was my favorite novel at the time. ๐Ÿ˜ณ

5.  Do you usually read only one book at a time, or do you have several going at once?

No, I'm crazy. I have at least five books going simultaneously. 

6.  Are you a mood reader, or do you plan out your reads?

Both. I always plan out my books for the year, and then scratch out half of them and add new ones. I'm a mess.  

7.  If you could meet the author of your favorite book and ask them one question, what would you ask them?

This is really hard for me. I'm stumped. 

8.  Have you ever tried a new food or drink because you read about it in a book or story?

Yes, I made clam chowder because of Moby Dick. It was delicious! I also made a homemade pound cake because I read about it in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Also delicious. 

9.  Have you ever named a pet after a book character? 

No, but my daughter and I have discussed owning several goats named after major characters from Jane Austen. Can you imagine calling after your goats with an English accent, "Mr. Bingley! Mr. Darcy! Miss Bennet!"

10.  What book are you reading right now?

Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy; 
The Self-Sufficient Backyard by Melchoire; 
Truth for Life by Alister Begg; 
and I expect to begin poetry by Keats tomorrow. 
And I have already ordered my next book for book club: Red Famine, by Applebaum. That's five. 

* * *

I'm supposed to make up questions and invite others to answer, but I don't know enough bloggers to tag who haven't already been tagged. I'll invite you to answer Rachel's questions, instead, if you would like to join.