Books I Read in January & February 2016

Auguste Toulmouche - Dans la BibliothèqueAs you can see, I’m posting this barely in time to not have to add “March” to the title.

In January I read:

The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain — I read this aloud to some of my younger siblings. They enjoyed it, as did I. The whole book was an interesting combination of humor, pungent observations, and pathos. It contained, perhaps, too many descriptive passages, and was surprisingly gruesome on occasion. It is historical fiction about the young King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII.

Learning from the Atheists, by Michael Pearl — This is actually a 30-page pamphlet, not an entire book. According to the blurb about it on the author’s website, “Mike tackles the arguments for the faith by taking the atheists’ own logic to prove Jesus Christ is God.” I thought it was interesting and well-reasoned.

Sam the Sudden, by P.G. Wodehouse — I bought this and Hot Water by the same author over the internet and, so, when they arrived, I had to read one of them. It is one of my favorite Wodehouse books. It is also one of Wodehouse’s favorites of his books:

… But I am thinking more of the male codfish after his union has been blessed and he has become the father of three million little codfish, for when this happens he conscientiously resolves to love them all alike and have no favourites. And this ought to be the spirit in which an author regards his books.

It is, however, a counsel of perfection. There are few purveyors of wholesome fiction who have written as much as I have who can claim to have no special pet among their progeny. Much as I have tried not to, I find myself beaming on Sam the Sudden with a sunny approval lacking when I re-read some of the others. It was published first in 1925, and when nearly fifty years have elapsed since the publication of a book I maintain that it is not unallowable for its author to evaluate it … without false modesty or any of that rot. And evaluating it in this manner I give it as my considered opinion that Sam the Sudden is darned good.

— from the author’s Preface to Sam the Sudden

Piccadilly Jim, by P.G. Wodehouse — Apparently purchasing Wodehouse books is catching. This is one that my brother bought soon after I bought mine. The adults of the family read it aloud together in the evenings. The main character impersonates himself. What more needs to be said

— — —

In February I read:

Summer Lightning, by P.G. Wodehouse — My sister was up for a week, so we read this one aloud with her, as well. It is one of Wodehouse’s Blandings novels. As the author explained:

A certain critic — for such men, I regret to say, do exist — made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained ‘all the old Wodehouse characters under different names’. He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.

— from the author’s Preface to Summer Lightning

You have to admire an author who can write such a great preface.

How Children Fail, by John Holt — The first book written by this influential homeschooling (specifically, unschooling) advocate. If you plan on reading this book, make sure to find the revised edition. It was first published in 1964, but John Holt revised and expanded it in 1982, making corrections and additions from further experience. He writes of the effects of fear, stress, and boredom in school on children. His observations were gathered from his time spent in classrooms, but are, unfortunately, applicable to many homeschools, as well.

Another subject addressed is the purpose of school. Of what use is it to force children to “learn” something, if they aren’t really learning it. They must be able to use, or at least remember, the knowledge they gain, or it is of no value to them. What is the point of “cramming for an exam” when most of that information will be forgotten soon afterwards? Supposedly schools try to teach what they consider basic and necessary knowledge. The problem with that is what is useful knowledge to one person is completely superfluous to another. Besides which, there is wide disagreement on just what that basic and necessary body of knowledge consists of. John Holt concludes, “Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.” (page 291; New York: A Merloyd Lawrence Book, 1982). He reminds us to ask, What is the goal? and are the tactics being used really accomplishing it? Or, in his own words, “Where are we trying to get, and is this thing we are doing helping us to get there?” (p. 230).

You Vote in Your Own Election, by Ronald W. Fisher — Another pamphlet, which I read because it was lying around and had an intriguing title. It is not about politics, but the faults in Calvinistic doctrine. It puts some points against Calvinism clearly and quite bluntly. For example, when discussing “Total Depravity” (one of the five main doctrines of Calvinism, which states that man is so depraved that he cannot even choose to turn to God), the author observes, “Listeners of the gospel message are told to repent obediently (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Non-Jewish listeners are informed that during the gospel age God expects all men to repent (Acts 17:30). Redemption becomes a remarkable charade, indeed, with God sending out messengers to tell sinners to repent when all the while He knows they cannot. This would be a cruel hoax.” (Chapter 2, page 11).

Mr. Fisher is, however, mistaken about the gospel message (how to be born again), considering repenting from one’s sins as a condition to salvation (and, thus, continuing in willful sin as a way to lose one’s salvation). Because of this, the author’s arguments against “Perseverance of the Saints” (another of the five main doctrines of Calvinism) are faulty. Besides this more serious issue, the entire pamphlet is riddled with typos. It does get points, though, for a great title. In closing, here is an interesting reflection from the pamphlet:

“It is significant to note here that the basis of Augustinian predestinationism [sic] did not begin with apostolic Christianity as recorded in Acts or in any of the New Testament epistles. Nor did it spring forth as a delinquent doctrine in the latter part of the first century. It began historically more than three and one-half centuries after the birth of the Lord’s church and the inception of the proclamation of the pure gospel.” (Chapter 2, pages 8-9).

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Painting: Dans la Bibliothèque by Auguste Toulmouche (1829-1890).

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