Books I Read in November 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee — I thought this book was very well-written. Given the subject matter, it could easily have become sentimental, but didn’t. It was simply and effectively told.

“Gentlemen,” he [Atticus Finch] was saying, “I shall be brief, but I would like to use my remaining time with you to remind you that this case is not a difficult one, it requires no minute sifting of complicated facts, but it does require you to be sure beyond all reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant. To begin with, this case should never have come to trial. This case is as simple as black and white.” (Chapter 20)

• The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien, read by Rob Inglis — This is the second book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. My opinion of Sam plummeted in the course of this book because of his treatment of Sméagol/Gollum. He hadn’t a kind work to say to him, but was constantly calling him names, berating and demeaning him. Sam suspected Gollum of treachery and his suspicions turned out to be correct. However, his treatment of Gollum did not prevent the treachery. Although perhaps not likely, it is possible that, had he been treated better, Gollum would not have betrayed Frodo and Sam. In other words, it would have done Sam no harm for him to treat Gollum with at least common courtesy. Gollum was my favorite character. His idiosyncratic speech was diverting — with his “nice hobbitses”,  “tricksy hobbitses”, “nasty men”, and so on. I particularly enjoyed the scene where he rebukes Sam for calling him a sneak.


• Teach Your Own, by John Holt — A book about homeschooling, or “unschooling”. It covers why children should not be in public schools, defenses and advantages of homeschooling, the way children learn, logistics of taking children out of school, legal strategies, and so on. Some of the information in the book is outdated (it was published in 1981) and I differ from the author on several points. For the most part, however, I thought it an excellent book. I think I would take a slightly more structured approach to homeschooling than the author suggests, but I heartily agree that “children learn most readily and with retention when they have a need to know something and an opportunity to assimilate in experience what they have learned through their own initiative” (Chapter 4). And what is the point in forcing a child to spend much time learning something that doesn’t mean anything to them and that they will have forgotten in a year? Like myself, the author is against most testing, which can only give credit for knowing the limited information covered in the test (and doesn’t always do a good job of that), but not for any other knowledge a person might have. I think I will post some quotations from this book by and by.

• The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure and Buttercup’s Baby, by William Goldman — Apparently last year was the 30th anniversary of this book’s publication, so the copy I read had a new introduction by the author and was illustrated (by Michael Manomivibul). Knowing that the author wrote the movie’s screenplay, it was interesting noticing the differences between book and movie. It is a funny book, though containing a few scattered vulgarities. I copied out one of my favorite scenes:

“Highness,” he said, in one last attempt, “I have not yet, from a single spy, heard a single word about a single plot against the Princess.”

“I have it on unimpeachable authority that there will be an attempt made to strangle the Princess this very night.”

“In that case,” Yellin said, and he dropped to one knee and held out the envelope, “I must resign.” It was a difficult decision—the Yellins had headed enforcement in Florin for generations, and they took their work more than seriously. “I am not doing a capable job, sire; please forgive me and believe me when I say that my failures were those of the body and mind and not of the heart.”

Prince Humperdinck found himself, quite suddenly, in a genuine pickle, for once the war was finished, he needed someone to stay in Guilder and run it, since he couldn’t be in two places at once, and the only men he trusted were Yellin and the Count, and the Count would never take the job, being obsessed, as he was these days, with finishing his stupid Pain Primer. “I do not accept your resignation, you are doing a capable job, there is no plot, I shall slaughter the Queen myself this very evening, you shall run Guilder for me after the war, now get back on your feet.”

Yellin didn’t know what to say. “Thank you” seemed so inadequate, but it was all he could come up with. (Chapter 7)


Painting is “A Good Book” (1905) by Paul Gustav Fischer.

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