Little House on the Prairie

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Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Published in 1935. 352 pages.

After my review of Little House in the Big Woods, I decided to skip Farmer Boy, the second book published in the series, and proceed with reading Little House on the Prairie as our nightly read aloud. The girls were very interested in what happens next with the Ingalls family and Farmer Boy is a bit of a digression from the series.

Little House on the Prairie chronicles what happen as the Ingalls family leaves their home in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and set out to build a new home on the prairie in Kansas.

Along the way they experience challenges small and great, but there is always love, solidarity, and Pa’s protection (not to mention his gun) to get them through. In this installment, Jack the family dog plays a prominent role, which the kids enjoyed.

The Native Americans (Indians) in that part of the country were an ever-present fear,  which Wilder handles with a fair amount of tact and finesse.

As this is a very well known series of books, I will keep this brief. The kids love it and are eagerly anticipating the next books which tell the saga of the Ingalls family.

It has taken a while to get through this one, as some nights -particularly during basketball season- leave us too tired to keep our eyes open. In addition, on a recent trip to the library, the girls talked their father into checking out Phillip Reeve’s Cakes in Space to read to them. We ended up alternating the two stories at night.

My kids knew I would never be interested in reading that particular story to them, but it worked out well. He not only read it but included appropriate sound effects, both human and technological.

As for Little House, if you haven’t read them do. Whether you’re 8 or 80, they are good books.

Grade: A

 

 

The Lost Art of Dress

lost-art-of-dress The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, by Linda Przybyszewski. Published in 2014. 400 pages.

This is a book I wasn’t quite sure how to review because there were so many angles to explore it from that I didn’t know quite where to begin. So I decided to simply give you all the rundown, add a few quotes, and offer my recommendation or lack thereof.

In the early 20th century, right up until the “youth quake” of the 50’s and 60’s there were a group of women in various areas of the fashion, education, and home economy sectors known as “The Dress Doctors”. With the full support and backing of the federal government and education system, they taught women and girls how to dress themselves properly.

When I say they taught women to dress themselves properly, I don’t mean an out of touch, overly sophisticated, or expensive approach to fashion. Oh no! These ladies were all about looking the best you could for the task at hand, within the budget you had available. No matter how small that budget might have been, these women could show you how to work what you had to your advantage without breaking the bank. In fact one of the largest chapters in the book is the one on thrift. In other words, The Lost Art of Dress could easily be considered the every woman’s alternative to another vintage fashion book I reviewed here, Wife Dressing.

It covers the perils of high heels:

“If you cannot walk more than a block in your shoes, they are not shoes; they are pretty sculptures that you happen to have attached to your feet. You could hang them from your wrists for all the good they are doing you in terms of locomotion. Better to put them on a shelf and admire them from afar.”

No, I’m not giving mine up. A spare of flats mitigates any issues for me.

They covered issues of proper fit, noting that just because a garment isn’t bursting at the seams doesn’t mean it fits properly. She reviewed the Dress Doctors notes on the combination of thrift, art and femininity. The range of clothing subjects they covered left no stone unturned.

Unfortunately, in the 1960’s, as the youth quake combined with the feminist revolution kicked into high gear, the Dress Doctors were suddenly obsolete. In chapter 5, titled, The Fall of the Dress Doctors, she expounds:

What were the leaders of the American Home Economics Association expecting when they invited “militant women’s lib advocate” Robin Morgan to speak at their annual meeting in 1972? They must have read about how she and a hundred other women had thrown their bras, girdles,curlers, false eyelashes, and wigs into a Freedom Trash Can at the Anti-Miss America demonstration in Atlantic City in 1968. Morgan was scheduled to talk about women’s liberation, and they got an earful: “I am here addressing the enemy,” she announced.

Morgan accused home economists of turning young women into a “limp, jibbering mass of jelly waiting for marriage.”

This, along with the worship of all things youth which quenched girls’ natural desire to grow up and wear grown-up clothes like their mothers, signaled the end of the Dress Doctors and their impact of women’s fashion.

Thankfully, the advice within the book is timeless and I highly recommend giving it a read. It’s a wonderful combination of history, style, beauty, culture, and practicality. We are lone overdue for a resurrection of something resembling the Dress Doctors.

Grade: B+

The Vision of the Anointed

vision-of-the-anointedThe Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy, by Thomas Sowell.  Originally published in 1996. 320 pages.

Upon learning of Thomas Sowell’s announced retirement I was motivated to read one of his books that I had not yet read. I chose this one because despite being over 2 decades old, it dovetails nicely with state of affairs in which we find ourselves in 2017. In fact,  his words are more relevant now than ever before.

The thrust of the book is exactly as its title implies, that our academic, media, legal and political institutions are increasingly staffed by those who view themselves as anointed to do what is best for we in the huddles masses by virtue of the fact that they know best. That with just the right amount of tinkering, social experimentation, and deference to their view of a perfect world, we would all be living in a utopia.

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

That is, we could, if it weren’t for the benighted plebeians. That would be those of us who make up the general public, religious zealots, and anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to the notion that degrees, microphones, and political pedigree make one the rightful arbiter of all that is good and right for everyone else.

In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume (1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted and (2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total: direct knowledge brought to bear though social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.— p. 114

This book is heavy reading, full of facts, and doesn’t flow with the ease of a book driven by a plot or even primarily by the political opinions and analysis of its author. In fact, were it not for the fact that I am something of an intellectual groupie of Dr. Sowell’s, I might have put it aside once I got the gist rather than reading through until the very end. If you have the time and temperament to sift through it all, it’s worth the read. He does what so few political commentators do: provides concrete evidence for the  conclusions reached and positions asserted.

It is easy to be wrong-and persist in being wrong-when the costs of being wrong are paid by others. p.136

And the cost, Sowell notes, is rarely paid by the anointed as they are far enough removed from their benefactors to never have to deal with the fallout of their outrageous social science experiments.

The presumed irrationality of the public is a pattern running through many, if not most or all, of the great crusades of the anointed in the twentieth century–regardless of the subject matter of the crusade or the field in which it arises. Whether the issue has been ‘overpopulation,’ Keynesian economics, criminal justice, or natural resource exhaustion, a key assumption has been that the public is so irrational that the superior wisdom of the anointed must be imposed, in order to avert disaster. The anointed do not simply: happen: to have a disdain for the public. Such disdain is an integral part of their vision, for the central feature of that vision is preemption of the decisions of others.— p 123-124

The way these gambits work is through verbal sleights of language. For example:

Another way of verbally masking elite preemption of other people’s decisions is to use the word ‘ask’–as in ‘We are just asking everyone to pay their fair share.’ But of course governments do not ask, they: tell. The Internal Revenue Service does not ‘ask’ for contributions. It takes. — p 197

Widespread personification of ‘society’ is another verbal tactic that evades issues of personal responsibility. Such use of the term ‘society’ is a more sophisticated version of the notion that ‘the devil made me do it.’ Like much of the rest of the special vocabulary of the anointed, it is used as a magic word to make choice, behavior, and performance vanish into thin air. — p 199

I could drop quotes all day, but time is short. So for the policy wonks, evidence seekers, and general nerdy folks who read here, pick up the book. Especially if you don’t possess a particularly conservative perspective. Sowell isn’t asking you to agree with him based on the depth of his feelings on issues. He is inviting his readers to take a look at the facts.

Little House in the Big Woods

I expect this to be the last post of 2016 so if I don’t get back here, have a wonderfully blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year! And keep reading!

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Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Originally published in 1932. 256 pages.

This book was our most recent bedtime read loud and our children enjoyed it immensely. They excitedly looked forward each night to what would happen next in the lives of Laura, Mary, Pa, and the rest of the Ingalls family.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around the reading Laura Ingalls Wilder but I’m very glad that I finally did, and that I get to share it with my children. Children who, incidentally view the life and times of Laura and her family through an extremely idyllic lens. While they find the idea of life in the big woods highly desirable, I could not get past the though of woods and mountain lions right outside our door.

The detail with which Laura Ingalls wilder described all that was involved in making maple syrup, butchering and curing animal meats, harvesting wheat, and other chores that were a common part of 19th century life were also a source of curiosity and research for the kids.

I highly recommend these books for your upper elementary aged child. The illustrations in this particular edition are very well done and the kids liked the artwork as well. Some of the sketches were black and white, others in color, but all were beautiful.

Because of the fascination and interest our kids had with this book, the first in the series which we will be continuing, we have started watching season one of the Little House television series that began in 1974. Because I was far too young to have watched or even remember those first few seasons, it has been an event for me as well. The kids were a little bummed that the episodes they have watched so far didn’t quite match up with the book. It provided a brief lesson on the ways that television shows and movies are adapted from books.

If you haven’t read these books I recommend them. They are great books to read whether you are 12 years old, or 42.

Grade: B+

America’s Real First Thanksgiving

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America’s Real First Thanksgiving, by Robyn Gioia. Originally published in 2007. 48 pages.

I’m teaching a Florida history class to 4th and 5th graders this year and as Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the kids to what some historians consider the real first Thanksgiving, which took place on September 8, 1565. It was a feast celebrated between Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez and the Timucuan tribe in St. Augustine.

The significance of the nationally recognized Thanksgiving feast of 1621, led by William Bradford and Massasoit cannot and should not be downplayed, given that the British colonization of the New World laid the foundation for our country. However, no American history curriculum is complete without an exploration of Florida history, and for that reason, I found this book a valuable resource. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

It’s our family’s first holiday season without my father. As a result,  I’m reading very lightweight stuff right now, to temper the innate heaviness we all feel. We’re increasing extended family time, prayer, cultivating thanksgiving, and keeping the atmosphere devoid of heaviness. A few funny, fluffy, and even romantic books are in the review queue for the next couple of weeks. Consider yourselves warned.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

If I bother to ever review a movie here, you can be pretty sure that I either fully despised or thoroughly enjoyed the film. We rarely go to the theaters anymore unless it’s something all the kids their dad wants to see, such as a big screen release of a comic book adaptation.

From the moment I first heard of Desmond Doss, and that his story was going to be made into a feature film, I knew I wanted to see it. For those who who haven’t heard of Doss or the film, here is the trailer:

There is a fair amount of violence and gore in the movie*, but war in the 1940’s wasn’t drone driven the battles of 2016. The story of this man, who was both a man of bedrock conviction, courage in the face of incredible odds, and steadfast faith moved me.

I know he was Seventh Day Adventist, but that theological divergence does absolutely nothing to take away from the miracle he achieved nor the extraordinary character he possessed.

Mel Gibson may or may not be nuts, but he did a fantastic job here. It’s one of the few times in recent memory when I felt like my movie dollars were not wasted.

*R-rating for gore and violence.

 

 

My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir

thomas-memoirMy Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir, by Justice Clarence Thomas. Originally published in 2007. 304 pages.

The memoir of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather’s Son is an engaging book. While most Americans associate Justice Thomas with Anita Hill and the scandalous nature of his Senate confirmation hearings, there is much more to his story than that unfortunate saga. In fact, the story of his growing up years was so compelling that I almost forgot that it was the Anita Hill fiasco that made him a household name to begin with.

The book’s title references Thomas’ maternal grandfather, who took him and his brother in when their divorced single mother couldn’t give them the life she thought they needed to be successful. Justice Thomas makes it clear that in all the ways that matter, he is indeed his grandfather’s son. His grandfather taught the boys about life, work, manhood, and how to rise above their circumstances growing up in the Jim Crow south.

I always found it a bit odd that Clarence Thomas was painted by the media and the left as a man disconnected and unconcerned with the plight of the people he “left behind” in the black community. I found this odd despite the fact that I was a faithful, idealistic, 20-year-old card-carrying Democrat at the time of his contentious and tawdry confirmation fight. I was interested in politics even then because my parents were interested in politics. I was aware of what was happening and I wondered: How could a  man born and raised in 1950’s Georgia be indifferent to the plight of the people who shaped him into the man he was?

Of course, I learned later and his memoir confirmed that he was far from indifferent. The problem was that as a thinking person rather than a blind  follower he concluded that the politically correct, liberal, state-centered solutions being offered were not in the best interest of anyone, least of all black people. That isn’t a popular position to take, and it’s even less tolerable coming from a black person as Thomas found out the hard way.

He was still quite a young man when he began to notice the propensity of the liberals in academia and government to use the policy of appease and acquiesce in response to every demand made by black “leaders” even if the demands were illogical and damaging to black people over the long-term. What’s more, he realized that the soft, paternalistic racism of the left was just as bad if not worse, than the overt, virulent racism he’d witnessed growing up. At one point he reiterates this by noting that the first time he was ever called “nigger” he was not in Georgia, but Massachusetts.

The parts of Thomas’ book where he describes his gradual awakening to the reality that liberal policies that purport to help the black community actually choke the life out of the community, destroyed the family, and discourage self-sufficiency resonated with me.

If there was one part of Thomas’ story that left me a bit saddened, it was his account of the ending of his failed first marriage. His leaving because he was simply disillusioned and unhappy signaled that he hadn’t been fully immune to the liberal line of thought that gained its foothold during his coming of age years. The fact that he and his ex-wife to her credit, understood that the task of raising their son and ushering him to manhood would be best handled by Thomas himself rather than his ex-wife was the one redeeming element of that period of his life as retold in the book.

He and his current wife took on the mantle of his grandfather, who raised Thomas and his brother, by taking in his young nephew from a troubled home and raising him as their own. Thomas clearly understands the challenge facing young black men and has put his time and money where his mouth is, unlike may of his liberal detractors.

By the time the book gets to the Anita Hill scandal, it is an afterthought. The most interesting parts of Thomas’ life story occurred long before his nomination to the Supreme Court. Of course, his version of those events are what many readers are looking for, so he told his side of the story. His retelling is fairly dispassionate, except when he describes his return to the Christian faith, guided by Senator and ordained minister John Danforth, as the entire ordeal began to wear on him and his wife.

As Thomas once again declared his innocence, I recalled the media coverage of the confirmation hearings. As I watched them I was staunchly opposed to Thomas political views.  Or so I thought, as this was before I started thinking through these issues. Even then I remember having a difficult time believing Ms. Hill’s accounting of events. I told myself that truth is often stranger than fiction so it was probably true, but I never really believed it. Though his confirmation was successful,  Thomas claims he didn’t  care if he was confirmed. That he stuck it out to clear his name and nothing else.

One of the standout passages in the book was Thomas’ recounting of a private interview he had with a senator particularly hostile to him. The only thing that mattered to anyone on the left and most people on the right was, “How’s he likely to vote on abortion cases?” There was no judicial paper trail so the senators tried to gauge his position through the way they posed their questions. Thomas’ retelling of one of these interviews was priceless:

Howard Metzenbaum was the other kind of senator, and I already knew how he felt about me. It would have been charitable to call him unlikable, though he went through the motions of civility during my visit. At one point he actually tried to lure me into a discussion of natural law, but I knew he was no philosopher, just another cynical politician looking for a chink in my armor, so all I did was ask him if he would consider having a human-being sandwich for lunch instead of say, a turkey sandwich. That’s Natural Law 101: all law is based on some sense of moral principles inherent in the nature of human beings, which explains why cannibalism, even without a written law to proscribe it, strikes every civilized person as naturally wrong. Any well-read college student would have gotten my point, but Senator Metzenbaum just stared at me awkwardly and changed the subject as fast as he could.

That was a superb response and one of the things I enjoyed most about this book. It was written by a person who has taken the time to observe and think about the world around him rather than allowing someone else to do it for him.

It’s a quick and engaging read, and offers a lot of insight into the life and mind of one of the most controversial Supreme Court Justices in recent memory.

Grade: B

*This review is a re-post, which sprang to remembrance as election coverage heats up.