Books I Read in September & October 2016

In September I read:

rubens-pieter-paul-1577-1640-simon-the-zealot-copyDoctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope, read by Nicholas Clifford for LibriVox.orgDoctor Thorne is the third of Anthony Trollope’s “Barsetshire” novels. Subsequent to these novels, Anthony Trollope wrote his six political “Palliser” novels. There is some overlap, however, and Doctor Thorne introduces the Duke of Omnium, Gatherum Castle, and Silverbridge, all of which go on to play greater roles in the “Palliser” novels.

Unlike Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope didn’t find it necessary to make his heroines meek plasterboard saints. He created them to be feminine, spirited, and active, and although his writing isn’t perfect, I much prefer his characters to those of Dickens. I’m thinking now of the episode in Mary Thorne’s childhood in which she insists (rightly) that the Greshams’ French governess, and not their servant-girl, was guilty of a theft. Again, although Mary Thorne thought too much of rank, she still stuck to her promise to Frank, despite having been almost convinced by his mother’s arguments against their engagement.

I do think that Frank, having decided to marry a poor girl, and therefore necessitating his earning a living, should have started preparing for a profession, instead of going abroad as his parents desired. Also, I disapprove of Sir Roger Scatcherd and Doctor Thorne’s desire to have Louis married. It might have been the making of him, the saving of him, but they didn’t have the right to sacrifice any woman to that chance. The Doctor’s hypocrisy in this matter is shown by his unwillingness to even consider his own niece’s being married to Louis.

My favorite characters were Miss Dunstable and Doctor Thorne. I also like Frank and Mary. Miss Dunstable had good sense, honesty, and a sense of humor, making her likable and entertaining. I was amused by the way she handles one of her suitors, as she tells Frank: “Mr Moffat has turned up again. We all thought you had finally extinguished him. He left a card the other day, and I have told the servant always to say that I am at home, and that you are with me.” (Frank was supposed to also be a suitor of Miss Dunstable’s and had beaten Mr. Moffet for jilting his sister, which I disapprove, but which Miss Dunstable turned it to good account.)

I enjoyed Doctor Thorne. Nicholas Clifford’s reading of it was excellent, as well. It was clear and pleasant. Not all LibriVox recordings are equal, but I can recommend this one.

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake  — This is an odd book. It has much more description than it should, but it definitely succeeds in creating its own atmosphere. The characters are interesting, and, overall, I enjoyed the book, though I wouldn’t want to read it over again. I liked the poems Mervyn Peake included.

A freckled and frivolous cake there was
     That sailed on a pointless sea,
Or any lugubrious lake there was
     In a manner emphatic and free.
How jointlessly, and how jointlessly
     The frivolous cake sailed by
On the waves of the ocean that pointlessly
     Threw fish to the lilac sky.

Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope, read by various readers for — The fourth of Anthony Trollope’s “Barsetshire” novels. I liked Mark and Fanny Robarts, especially the latter. She was my favorite character. Those two make the story worthwhile. At first I also liked Mark’s sister Lucy a great deal, but, despite starting out well, her romance fell a bit flat by the end, greatly through her own fault. Also, although I was gratified by my two favorite characters from Doctor Thorne being united in matrimony, I felt a bit cheated by the manner in which this was accomplished. It was too prosaic. Given the characters, I felt like there should have been more humor and open, decided affection in their courtship.

— — —

In October I read:

Although I started two or three other books in October, I have only finished one so far.

rubens-pieter-paul-1577-1640-saint-thomas-copyThe Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope, read by various readers for  — The fifth of Anthony Trollope’s “Barsetshire” novels and my least favorite so far. Belle Dale and Doctor Crofts were about the only characters I liked. (Earl De Guest and his sister weren’t bad, but they were minor characters.) Johnny bugged me by his flirtations with Amelia, the Squire was mean (his hidden inner feelings don’t excuse the way he treated people), Lucy’s attitude toward Crosbie after he left her rather disgusted me, and Crosbie didn’t make enough effort to make his wife happy.

I agree with Fanny Price: “I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman’s feelings” (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen). Johnny Eames didn’t have the right to kiss Amelia and tell her that he loved her when he knew full well that he didn’t and that he, in fact, loved another woman. Anthony Trollope makes the best excuse he can for him:

“O ye mothers who from year to year see your sons launched forth upon the perils of the world, and who are so careful with your good advice, with under flannel shirting, with books of devotion and tooth-powder, does it never occur to you that provision should be made for amusement, for dancing, for parties, for the excitement and comfort of women’s society? That excitement your sons will have, and if it be not provided by you of one kind, will certainly be provided by themselves of another kind.” (ch. 51)

Although I agree with Trollope’s statement here, I do not find in it sufficient excuse for Johnny’s behaviour. I also don’t think Johnny should have beaten Mr. Crosbie. Yes, Mr. Crosbie had treated Lily very badly, but I believe in a man’s right to walk down a street (or train platform) unmolested by assault.

And on that subject, I think Crosbie was right to break off his engagement with Lily, painful to her as it was. A man should not marry a woman unless he thinks he will be happy with her and that he couldn’t do better. Lily was made very unhappy by losing him, but I think she would have been even more unhappy when she found out, as she would have, that Crosbie hankered after his lost comforts and felt he had done himself an injury and come down in the world by marrying her.

Lily Dale reminded me a bit of Marianne Dashwood, especially in the way she gave herself so wholly to the man she loved. In one respect she was stronger than Marianne. She determined to not let her grief get the better of her. On the other hand, Marianne admitted the truth, that Willoughby had jilted her because of his own selfishness, and didn’t continue to fill her heart with him. Lily, in contrast, continued to think Mr. Crosbie worthy of her affection. Although I don’t think she should have engaged herself to John Eames (he was right, it was too soon), I was repulsed by the reasons she gave him and her mother, declaring that she could never marry another man:

“I still love [Mr. Crosbie] better than all the world. … I should be disgraced in my own eyes if I admitted the love of another man …. It is to me almost as though I had married him.” (ch. 53) “If [his wife] died, and he came to me in five years time, I would still take him. I should think myself constrained to take him. … In my heart I am married to that other man. I gave myself to him, and loved him, and rejoiced in his love. … There are things that will not have themselves buried and put out of sight, as though they had never been. I am as you are, mamma,—widowed.” (ch. 57)

Considering that Mr. Crosbie is, at this point, a married man, Lily’s attitude towards him is not right. Of course, she could not just suddenly change her feelings towards him, but she didn’t even determine to overcome them, but, rather, considered herself bound to him. Though she called herself a widow, a widow can remarry, and Lily felt that it would be a sin for her to marry another man.

Aside from the story, I have one complaint about Anthony Trollope’s style in general. I don’t like how he addresses his readers as if they were, by and large, delicate young ladies. It tends to come across as condescending. This is a minor complaint, however, and doesn’t affect his books much overall.


Paintings: Simon the Zealot and Saint Thomas, by Pieter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640).

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Books I Read in August 2016

The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson, pictures by Garth Williams — I picked this up at the library because I recognized the illustrator. I read it to a few of my younger siblings and we enjoyed it, though the ending, as they observed, was a bit abrupt. Set in Paris, it is about an independent old hobo who claims he can’t abide children, or “starlings”, as he calls them — “witless, twittering, little pests”. Really, he is afraid of losing his heart and his independence — and, of course, he loses both. It is a cute story, quaintly told, though not one I’ll be rushing to add to my own collection. My favorite quotation from the book:

“When will he return?” persisted the man. “Tomorrow?”

“Who knows?” said Mireli vaguely. “Today is today and tomorrow may come late this year.” (ch. 8)

Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope, read by Timothy West — An entertaining book. Apparently the argument over “sabbath” keeping and what it means is nothing new. Although I disagree with the slimy Mr. Slope on this subject, I must side against his adversary, Mr. Arabin, on a subject of much dispute between them — the latter holding the opinion that a clergyman “was not consecrated at all, had, indeed, no single attribute of a clergyman, unless he became so through the imposition of some bishop’s hands, who had become a bishop through the imposition of other hands, and so on in a direct line to one of the apostles” (ch. 14). The book is by no means all (or even largely) theology, however, and, as I said, I found it quite entertaining.

santerre-jean-baptiste-1651-1717-jeune-fille-lisant-une-lettre-a-la-bougieFrom Shakespeare — With Love: The Best of the Sonnets, by William Shakespeare, read by David Tennant, Juliet Stevenson, Anton Lesser, Maxine Peake, Stella Gonet, et al., devised and directed by David Timson — This collection includes 75 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It was fun recognizing the voices of various of the actors reading them.

Timon of Athens, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — A play about a man who thinks it is generous to give away other people’s (i.e. borrowed) money. He comes to a bitter end. It is thought to have been written in collaboration with another author. One character, Apemantus (who, by the bye, is not Timon’s biggest fan), does not have a very high opinion of Athenians:

Timon: Whither art going?
Apemantus: To knock out an honest Athenian’s brains.
Timon: That’s a deed thou’lt die for.
Apemantus: Right, if doing nothing be death by the law. — Act 1, Scene 1


Painting: Jeune Fille lisant une lettre à la bougie (Girl reading a letter by candlelight), by Jean-Baptiste Santerre (1658-1717).

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Books I Read in July 2016

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 4 — The Revolutionary War, 1775-1784, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley. — The last book of the series. It was very interesting to see how English politics affected the process and outcome of the war. Mr. Rothbard presents a perspective on George Washington which I don’t think is often heard. This series left me wanting more. I wish there was a volume on the writing and ratification of the Constitution and George Washington’s presidency. Indeed, I would have liked to continue through the presidents and had his perspective on the Civil War, an issue which was briefly addressed in this volume, but that must have comprised many more volumes.

John Arthur Lomax - A Favourite Author - smallSimplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, with Lisa M. Ross — The introduction and first two chapters of this book were very slow going. The language was flowery (rather at odds with the subject matter of the book!) and extremely repetitive. It eventually picked up about chapter 3, though, where the author started actually saying something — fortunately, as I think he had much of value to say.

The Warden, by Anthony Trollope, read by David Shaw-Parker — A short novel, the first of Anthony Trollope’s six Barsetshire novels. It is an amusing little book, full of church politics of the period.

Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, by Whit Stillman — From the clips I’ve seen of Whit Stillman’s new movie Love & Friendship (based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan), I’d say this book is basically the screenplay, with elaborations by a character not in the movie. This new character, Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, is amusing, however. After his piece is said in attempting to defend his aunt (he is supposedly the nephew of Sir James Martin), the original text of Lady Susan is included in the back, accompanied by further observations (or protests) from the said Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca.

The Complete Shakespeare Sonnets, by William Shakespeare, read by Kathleen Turner and others (Airplay, 1999) — I listened to these to fill up the gap between finishing The Warden and getting ahold of an audiobook of Barchester Towers. Having the 154 sonnets read by a variety of narrators kept them from running into each other. Shakespeare’s sonnets are beautiful, romantic, and often humorous. Many of the themes are familiar from his plays: love, acting, and so on.

“To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
++For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
++Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.” — Sonnet 104


Painting: A Favourite Author, by John Arthur Lomax (1857-1923).

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Books I Read in April and May 2016

Girl with a book, by Pietro Rotari (1701-1762)In April I read:

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen, read by Harriet Walter, Kim Hicks, Carole Boyd, Jonathan Keeble, Nigel Anthony, Patience Tomlinson, and Ruth Sillers (Naxos AudioBooks, 2001) — A novella, one of Jane Austen’s early works. Lady Susan is an unscrupulous widow out to arrange things to her advantage. All of Jane Austen’s works have a comic vein, but, as part of her juvenilia, Lady Susan is more of a burlesque than her adult writings. The Naxos audiobook is very enjoyable. The story is written in epistolary form, making it simple to have a dramatic cast without resorting to a dramatic retelling (or abridgment). All of the voice actors are excellent, with Harriet Walter being especially enjoyable as Lady Susan.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin — My foray into detective fiction beyond Sherlock Holmes (just about the only books I’ve read in the genre). The characterization was interesting.

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 2 — “Salutary Neglect”: The American Colonies in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley. — I highly recommend this series. It is a fascinating look at early American history as a narrative, instead of a series of disjointed facts. You can download the audiobook for free on the Mises website.

How Children Learn, Revised Edition, by John Holt (De Capo Press, 1983) — I agree with much that the author has to say, although I don’t think it harmful for children to have some structured (by which I mean not entirely child-led) education — definitely not, however, to the extent that schools (and even many homeschools) enforce. As he did with his earlier book, How Children Fail, the author revised and expanded How Children Learn based on further experience, so if you want to read it, make sure you get an edition from 1983 or later.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — After finishing volume 2, I took a break from listening to Conceived in Liberty to listen to a couple of Shakespeare’s plays.

“Study is like the heaven’s glorious sun, / That will not be deep-search’d with saucy looks” (Berowne, Act 1, Scene 1).

“Adieu, valour; rust, rapier; be still, drum; for your manager is in love; yea, he loveth. Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn sonnet. Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio.” (Armado, Act 1, Scene 2).

“And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods / Make heaven drowsy with the harmony.” (Berowne, Act 4, Scene 3).

“They have been at a great feast of languages and stol’n the scraps.” (Moth, Act 5, Scene 1).

Measure for Measure, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — Unlike the bulk of Shakespeare’s plays, Measure for Measure is not comedy, tragedy, or history. The play focuses on Angelo and Isabella, their characters and struggles. In case you weren’t convinced by Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, this play drives home the fact that Shakespeare’s friars (even the ones who are only pretending to be friars) have a habit of coming up with unconventional ideas.

“He who the sword of heaven will bear / Should be as holy as severe” (Duke, Act 3, Scene 2).

Fans of Northanger Abbey will recognize: “Dar’st thou die? / The sense of death is most in apprehension; / And the poor beetle that we tread upon / In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great / As when a giant dies.” (Isabella, Act 3, Scene 1).

— — —

In May I read:

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro — This book amazed me. Given the story, or the lack of it, it should have been rather boring than otherwise, but it wasn’t. It helped that the author knew exactly when to stop. As a long novel, it would not have worked, but as it stands, I enjoyed it very much. The story consists of a butler, Mr. Stevens, reflecting on his past life while taking a motoring trip.

“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

One subject Mr. Stevens gives some care to is defining a “great butler” — dignity being a core quality. He deplores, among other things, butlers who spend too much time acquiring “general knowledge on wide-ranging topics such as falconing or newt-mating” and employers who encourage this by displaying their butlers “as a kind of performing monkey”. I don’t think Mr. Stevens would have approved of Jeeves.

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 3 — Advance to Revolution, 1760-1775, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley — From the Preface:

“What! Another American history book? The reader may be pardoned for wondering about the point of another addition to the seemingly inexhaustible flow of books and texts on American history. One problem … is that the survey studies of American history have squeezed out the actual stuff of history, the narrative facts of the important events of the past. … without the narrative facts, the reader is deprived of the data from which he can himself judge the historian’s interpretations and evolve interpretations of his own. A major point of this and the other volumes is to put back the historical narrative into American history.

“Facts, of course, must be selected and ordered in accordance with judgments of importance, and such judgments are necessarily tied into the historian’s basic world outlook. My own basic perspective on the history of man, and a fortiori on the history of the United States, is to place central importance on the great conflict which is eternally waged between Liberty and Power, a conflict, by the way, which was seen with crystal clarity by the American revolutionaries of the eighteenth century. …

“I see history as centrally a race and conflict between “social power”—the productive consequence of voluntary interactions among men—and state power. In those eras of history when liberty—social power—has managed to race ahead of state power and control, the country and even mankind have flourished. In those eras when state power has managed to catch up with or surpass social power, mankind suffers and declines.”

The Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — I recently watched a couple of adaptations of The Winter’s Tale, so, after finishing the third volume of Conceived in Liberty, I took a break before beginning volume four to listen to the play again.

— — —

There won’t be a “Books I Read” post for June. Although I have three books I am in the process of reading, there aren’t enough days left in June for me to finish any of them — at least, not if I want to get anything else done!


Painting: Girl with a book, by Pietro Rotari (1701-1762).

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Books I Read in March 2016

The Trumpet Major, by Thomas Hardy — The author’s only historical novel. Like his earlier and better-known Far from the Madding Crowd, the story revolves around three men pursuing one woman. I did not find the characters in The Trumpet Major as interesting, however. Hardy wrote a preface giving the inspiration and sources for the details of his story. This made it a bit more interesting. The ending was not completely tragic, as is the case with many of Hardy’s novels. Surprisingly, the heroine actually married the man I wanted her to marry. I wasn’t at all sure she would, so the story managed to keep me in some suspense. It is set during the Napoleonic Wars and includes a dramatization of the horrible practice of “pressing” (kidnapping men in order to conscript them into the army or navy).

Julius Cæsar, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — A play full of splendid speeches. I am “teaching” it to a couple of students, and we are quite enjoying it. Trust Shakespeare to take a bunch of men making speeches and turn it into something so riveting.

Many familiar quotations come from Julius Cæsar: “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus”; “Men at some time are masters of their fates: / The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings”; “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; / He thinks too much: such men are dangerous”; “but for mine own part, it was Greek to me”; “Et tu, Brute? — Then fall, Caesar!”; “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war”; “Who is here so base that would be a bondman?”; “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”; “Now let it work. — Mischief, thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt!”; “There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”; and, of course, appropriately given the month, “Beware the Ides of March.”

The Reader:Young Woman Reading a Book - RenoirAlice Adams, by Booth Tarkington — This is an interesting story where, despite feeling sorry for the heroine, I was definitely rooting for her to not succeed. It certainly shows the detriment of not growing up with the assumption that one will have to make one’s own way in the world, and of trying to live beyond one’s means, pushing into a more luxurious, or grand, social sphere. Despite not being able to root for the heroine, or perhaps even because of it, Alice Adams was a fascinating read.

The Ordinary Princess, written and illustrated by M. M. Kaye — An entertaining children’s story. It is the tale of a princess who is given the “gift” of being ordinary. The king was the favorite character of my youngest siblings, to whom I read the story. He was certainly the most comic.

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 1 — A New Land, A New People: The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley — Listening to this on audiobook, I was not able to keep track of the numerous persons mentioned. It was, nonetheless, an extremely interesting book about the early settlement of the American colonies. Murray Rothbard focuses on both the suppression and the growth of liberty in the colonies, and its effects. A major subject is religious persecution, especially that of Quakers.


Painting: The Reader (also known as Young Woman Reading a Book), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).

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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).


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

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Where Are You Trying to Get?

In his book How Children Fail (New York: A Merloyd Lawrence Book, 1982), John Holt recounted an incident from his time as a teacher. He was making a child recopy a page until it had three mistakes or fewer, but the mistakes were getting more numerous and the handwriting worse each time the child had to recopy it. They were both becoming increasingly frustrated. He wrote:

At that point Bill Hull asked me a question, one I should have asked myself, one we ought all to keep asking ourselves: “Where are you trying to get, and are you getting there?”

The question sticks like a burr. In schools—but where isn’t it so?—we so easily fall into the same trap: the means to an end becomes an end in itself. I had on my hands this three-mistake rule meant to serve the ends of careful work and neat compositions. By applying it rigidly was I getting more careful work and neater compositions? No; I was getting a child who was so worried about having to recopy her paper that she could not concentrate on doing it, and hence did it worse and worse, and would probably do the next papers badly as well.

We need to ask more often of everything we do in school, “Where are we trying to get, and is this thing we are doing helping us to get there?” Do we do something because we want to help the children and can see that what we are doing is helping them? Or do we do it because it is inexpensive or convenient for school, teachers, administrators? Or because everyone else does it? We must beware of making a virtue of necessity, and cooking up high-sounding educational reasons for doing what is done really for reasons of administrative economy or convenience. The still greater danger is that, having started to do something for good enough reasons, we may go on doing it stubbornly and blindly, as I did that day, unable or unwilling to see that we are doing more harm than good.

— pages 229-230

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