Why a blog for books I’ve read?

Welcome to Reading Now. It seems that as I read I keep finding recurring themes. Maybe a blog is the best place to track and share the great themes or waves of literature. I have often kept records of my reading, but limited myself mostly to tracking the quantity of pages read. Here I can categorize and summarize books by themes, make recommendation, make a few comments, and even share some memorable quotations. After all, it isn’t how much you read, but what you learn from your reading that is important.

I tend to read books that are similar in genre. I have tagged entries by genres, maybe not using standard categories, but making my own as I go along. I have extensive collections of eBooks and print books. I have created two lists of books indexed by author. First a list of conventional print books and then a list of eBooks. All entries are tagged by author’s name so you can find all entries about an author’s books by clicking the author’s name.

The Relation of Literature to Life – Charles Dudley Warner

This contains a very interesting essay on literature’s relation to life. It makes an analogy to a long term succession of people and communities appearing upon the banks of a river over time. Each generation builds on the banks and is in its on turn overcome by the changes of the climate, the changes of the river and all the destruction of time and storm. Culture arises over culture, skeletons of ships litter the banks of the river. Some boats are quickly overcome and sunk as builders seek new designs and materials. Weak materials and poor designs lead to early failure, but in every case nothing lasts.

Literature is like that. Some books or writings last a year or even centuries. Always something new comes along to replace it. Dudley quotes a bit from Plato about what is good and removed from good. He gives a long discussion about how the rich in society cannot be good. This section seems to echo Jesus’ teaching about “no man can serve two masters.”

The final pages compare the literature of England and Spain of the sixteenth century. The Elizabethan era gave us a world of lasting world. During this same era Spain was dominant in Europe and on the seas, but only left us one author. Which culture would inspire brave men to found new colonies and build lasting democracies and social systems? I think that the balance of literature swung the pendulum of power from the Spanish Empire and pap-ism to political and religious freedom.

Viva the importance of literature to life!

Their Pilgrimage — Charles Dudley Warner

A young lady, having finished her education and her travels abroad, is on tour with her mother and father though all the popular summer watering places along the coast. Their travels take them down into Virginia and back up to New York. Oh, the family is from Ohio, and they don’t seem to fit right in with some social groups.

A young man who has finished his law degree and done his travels is also making his grand tour. He meets this young lady from Ohio and finds her more interesting than any of the other beauties at any of the watering holes.When the family moves on from a place, the young man does as well, hoping to find his belle at the next place.

Somewhere along the travels the young miss is taken in tow by an older, balding, and extremely eligible bachelor. This elder gent hogs most of the opportunities of chaperoning our heroine, much to the dismay of the young hero. Eventually the lass sends the fellow packing, leaving the coast clear for our hero.

Along the way the pilgrims meet the hero’s first cousin who is quite comfortable in the best social gatherings. She undertakes to be a friend to the young miss, explaining the family’s bias against families that don’t have their foundations in America from the earliest colonial days. Though eventually the two subjects of the story plight their love and announce their engagement. Still there is the hidden fear in the girl that she will not fit into his social world.

How does this work out for them? What confirmation does our hero receive from his uncle?

Compare the lovers in Their Pilgrimage with the lovers in Little Journey in the World.

Pilgrim and American — Charles Dudley Warner

There is another, longer, title inside the cover. The Pilgrim, and the American of Today–1892. This essay, written the year before the one hundredth anniversary of the U.S. Constitution is a good comment on the direction, growth, and progress of America on the centennial of the nation.

Warner visualizes the small group of Pilgrims huddled in the darkness of a December night. On one side of them is the wintry sea with three thousand miles of tossing waves and tempest, beyond which lie the home, the hedgerows and associations of an old civilization, the dearest ties that can entwine around a human heart, abandoned now forever by these wanderers. On the other side a wintry forest of unknown extent, habited by wild beasts, and impenetrable except by trails known only by savages.

The Dutch on the Hudson and the London company on the James faced similar obstacles to their success and expansion. It is not to be supposed that the Pilgrims had an adequate conception of the continent or the task before them. They did the duty that lay nearest to them; and the duty done today, perhaps without prescience of its consequences, becomes a permanent stone in the edifice of the future.

They did the duty that lay nearest to them; and the duty done today, perhaps without prescience of its consequences, becomes a permanent stone in the edifice of the future.

Warner goes on to give a picture of the nation as it had become by 1898. He looks now at America from the west. The way has been opened from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The continent has been spanned. What were the costs and mistakes made along the way?

Our Italy — Charles Dudley Warner

Charles Dudley Warner visited California in 1887 and 1890. He compares the progress of the southern counties over the two periods. Also, he makes the case that California is probably the perfect place to go for the “cure.” As Europeans and Eastern Americans used to travel to Italy, the place to go according to Warner is California.

Warner describes some of the places he visited. What I found interesting was his history of the founding of many of California cities. One of Warner’s points is that if the climate isn’t perfect where you are in California, you have but to go up or down in elevation or visit some protected valley to find what you need.

The book concludes with some chamber of commerce records of various agriculture crops. It is interesting to note that these were often the second crop of the season. Of course it is hard to imagine the difference as it must be to adjust for 130 years of inflation!

The Novel of the Black Seal — Arthur Machen

The Novel of the Black Seal is a short novel. The problem is where to categorize it. The main character is a scientist, so the story may be categorized as science fiction. But the doctor’s specialty is not modern science. He rather studies the ancient literature looking for our origins. Among the oddities he has collected are a few stories of people who have disappeared under unusual circumstances in rural settings far from the beaten track.

As the story begins the professor has been reported drowned at an early stage in his career. The story is told partly by the young woman he hired to be a nanny and tutor for his children.

Did the professor drown? or did he meet a strange fate as he sought the answers to his life-long quest?

The Novel and the Common School — The Novel and the Common School

Warner introduces his essay on literature in the schools with an analogy to newspapers. Newspapers are edited or directed (at least they were in Warner’s time) by one person. The literary level and diversity of the paper largely depended on the choices and abilities of that one person.

But the modern newspaper is no doubt a natural evolution in our social life. As everything has a cause, it would be worth while to inquire whether the encyclopaedic newspaper is in response to a demand, to a taste created by our common schools. Or, to put the question in another form, does the system of education in our common schools give the pupils a taste for good literature or much power of discrimination? Do they come out of school with the habit of continuous reading, of reading books, or only picking up of scraps in the newspapers, as they might snatch a hasty meal at a lunch-counter? What, in short, do the schools contribute to the creation of a taste for good literature.

Warner, Charles Dudley, The Novel and the Common School, Kindle Edition (2011).

The notion that literature can be taken up as a branch of education, and learned at the proper time and when studies permit, is one of the most farcical in our scheme of education. It is only matched in absurdity by the other current idea, that literature is something separate and apart from general knowledge. Here is the whole body of accumulated thought and experience of all the ages, which indeed forms our present life and explains it, existing partly in tradition and training, but more largely in books; and most teachers think, and most pupils are led to believe, that this most important former of the mind, maker of character, and guide to action can be acquired in a certain number of lessons out of a textbook! Because this is so, young men and young women come up to college almost absolutely ignorant of the history of their race and of the ideas that have made our civilization. We have a saying concerning people whose minds appear to be made up of dry, isolated facts, that they have no atmosphere. Well, literature is the atmosphere. In it we live, and move, and have our being, intellectually. The first lesson read to, or read by, the child should begin to put him in relation with the world and the thought of the world. This cannot be done except by the living teacher. No text-book, no one reading-book or series of reading-books, will do it. If the teacher is only the text-book orally delivered, the teacher is an uninspired machine. We must revise our notions of the function of the teacher for beginners. The teacher is to present evidence of truth, beauty, art. Where will he or she find it? Why, in experimental science, if you please, in history, but, in short, in good literature, using the word in its broadest sense. The object in selecting reading for children is to make it impossible for them to see any evidence except the best. That is the teacher’s business, and how few understand their business!

Ibid.

Well that is a lot of wisdom from a short essay, but there is a lot more there for you to gather.

Soul of a Bishop — H. G. Wells

Soul of a Bishop is about the evolution of the thinking of a bishop as he moves from creeds to the Christ. His thinking causes him to make a remarkable speech and prayer at a confirmation service. His new un-orthodoxy leads him to resign his seat in the church.

The bishop’s resignation makes for some large changes in the life of his family. They must move from the bishop’s palatial lodgings into a tenement in London. The new situation is so bad that they cannot get servants to come into the new place, not that they had income to pay servants without his income from the church.

Is the bishop able to work out his personal conflicts? between following his God, and providing as he wishes for his family?

Is he able to avoid entanglements in new religions?

Is he able to share with his family the importance of his new attitude toward religion?

Little Journey in the World — Charles Dudley Warner

Little Journey in the World is the story of a girl who grows up in a very conservative New England village. She is a girl with hopes and dreams and a very active mind. She hopes to go to college and get an education.

During the visit of an Englishman to her village, the future earl quite falls in love with this girl. But when he asks permission to speak to her she quite forbids him to broach the subject of marriage.

Soon Margaret, for that is our young subject’s name, visited for a time in New York and also Washington. Very quickly she become the leader of social life wherever she went. She drew the attention of a very successful business man whom the whole country feared. He courted Margaret and they were soon married. Little Journey in the World traces the progress of the change of values in Margaret’s life. Things she would not have tolerated once become her daily standard.

What will become of Margaret? Read Little Journey in the World to find out for yourself.

Literary Copyright — Charles Dudley Warner

This is the first public meeting of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. The original members were selected by an invitation from the American Social Science Association, which acted under the power of its charter from the Congress of the United States. The members thus selected, who joined the Social Science Association, were given the alternative of organizing as an independent institute or as a branch of the Social Science Association.

At the annual meeting of the Social Science Association on September 4, 1899, at Saratoga Springs, the members of the Institute voted to organize independently. They formally adopted the revised constitution, which had been agreed upon at the first meeting, in New York in the preceding January, and elected officers as prescribed by the constitution.

Warner, Charles Dudley. Literary Copyright (Kindle Locations 1-7). Kindle Edition.

Warner gives his opinions at the charter meeting of the national Institute of Arts and Letters. There is a different set of laws for domestic authors and foreign authors. Also the protection of copyright is given for a term, renewable for one term. The product of an author’s mind is not his to pass on as the goods from any other endeavor. Interesting thoughts.

The Sleeper Awakes — H. G. Wells

The Sleeper Awakes is a Rip Van Winkle tale on steroids. Rip slept for a mere twenty years. The Sleeper snoozed a whopping two hundred years. Two hundred and three, to be precise.

The man who first found the sleeper and another man who was the guardian and next of kin to the sleeper kept a watchful vigil over the sleeper’s modest estate. A trust was set up to both care for the care of the man and his resources. Both the trustee and the man who found the sleeper left their estates to the trust. One invented a new material that became the material of choice for paving roads. This paving eventually replaced all the railroads. The other man was an artist and had something to do with the invention of a special camera that could record movies. The trustees guarded the patents carefully, and by judicious reinvestment after 200 years the sleeper was the owner of the world.

One day the sleeper awoke. The trustees who had charge of him were not very happy to see him awake. There was a revolution. Another faction ousted the trustees. But wait, the new boss wasn’t really going to do anything different. The labor class kept their weapons and started another rebellion. Would the Sleeper join the rebellion? or would he trust his new bosses?