Book: A Confession by Leo Tolstoy

A Confession (Brighton Christian Classic Series Book 3)A Confession by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For years and at the height of his wealth and fame, Tolstoy deliberately struggled against taking his own life as he grappled with what he perceived as the meaningless of life itself. This book is his meditation on that experience. It starts in the first paragraph with acknowledging that by the age of 18 he had lost faith in his church and God. This book is a quick read, very profound. It’s as applicable today as it was when it was written almost 150 years ago.

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Book: A Place on Earth

A Place on EarthA Place on Earth by Wendell Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wendell Berry has the rare gift of being able to describe a scene with the exact economy of words necessary to evoke it in the reader’s mind. This book is the second I’ve read of his. The first was Nathan Coulter, which is the first book he wrote in the Port William series. I often see online posts asking which is the best book to start the Port William series. The books don’t have to be read in any particular order, but I decided to read them in the order that Berry wrote them.

It’s easy to grow deeply attached to the people (and place) of Port William. It evokes a simpler time that was still rife with its share of problems. My favorite quote from the book comes in the early pages..

“It used to be asked, by strangers who would happen through, why a town named Port William should have been built so far from the river. And the townsmen would answer that when Port William was built they did not know where the river was going to run.”

Trying to place Berry’s fictional books in a genre is a challenge, but I suppose I would call it historical fiction. A Place on Earth is set during the last year of WWII. As such, it gives a slice of life of what living in small town USA during that era would have been like.

I’m going to continue to read this series. The characters have taken on a life of there own, and I want to read more about where they came from, who they are and where they are going.

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Book: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am absolutely blown away by this book!

I hate to say that for the same reason that I hate to praise a great movie that others have not seen yet; I don’t want to set expectations such that when others watch/read it, they wonder what the fuss was about. So please set your expectations accordingly.

Okay, with that said, this is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the 12 rules for life. The twist is this: the rules seems self-evident and even so commonsensical that one could assume that they could guess the content of the chapter. I did not guess the content of even one of the chapters. Peterson goes deep into a subject that is seemingly unrelated until POW, he ties it into the theme in a way I didn’t expect. He supports his insights and claims with numerous footnotes too. It isn’t just the psychobabble of an average self-help book. These concepts, if taken seriously, can dramatically change your life.

I hurried through the book as fast as I could so that I could start again and savor it. I’m starting it again as soon as I post this review.

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Book: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna KareninaAnna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s a masterpiece. If only I had the ability to read it in it’s original Russian, not because the translation is bad. On the contrary, it’s wonderful. And that is what makes me want to read it all the more in it’s original, to know if it could be even better.

It’s not an easy read either. It’s long! While reading it, I often imagined how it would have been to consume it in its original serial installments in the periodical, The Russian Messenger from 1873 to 1877. It took me two months to get through it, but savoring it over a 4 year period seems appealing.

Admittedly, I stalled out about halfway through, just wishing I was done. I wasn’t tired of the story. But I always have so many books on my list, that it’s hard to spend so many hours on one. I persevered and I’m glad I did.

It’s not a fast-paced novel. It’s more of a slice of life view of the Russian aristocracy. Before you dismiss this slice as irrelevant to us in the here and now, rest assured that we share far more in common with them then you might expect.

Finally, the book could have just as easily been called Konstantin Levin since the plot centers around two characters, Anna Karenina and Konstantin Levin, whose lives are weaved into the story but who are only tangentially associated.

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Book: Lost in the Shadows

Lost in the ShadowsLost in the Shadows by J.S. Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lost in the Shadows is a very fun read! The twists and turns the story took were as interesting and enjoyable as they were unforeseen. I was continually wondering what was going to happen next and was pleasantly surprised when the predictable didn’t happen. Lost in the Shadows defies categorization, with the exception that it is appropriate for all ages. J.S. Green has done a first-rate job with his first novel. I can’t wait to read more. I give it five stars due to the story, the writing and the inspiration that it gives me to get busy and write my own stories.

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Book: The Missing Persons League

The Missing Persons LeagueThe Missing Persons League by Frank Bonham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book when I was in middle school and remember enjoying it. I’m happy to find that it has aged well and is just as interesting as I remembered it. It’s hard to say if my love for the book is due to it’s connection to my youth. But I’m certain that even if I hadn’t read it as a youth, it would still be an enjoyable read today, especially as a period piece. It speaks volumes about the worries of the 1970s.

Unfortunately the book is out of print, so it’s not available on Kindle. However, it’s still readily available from used book outlets online. Now all that we need is it’s squeal.

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Book: Moby Dick

Moby Dick: or, the White WhaleMoby Dick: or, the White Whale by Herman Melville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moby Dick took me by surprise! I didn’t make the opportunity to read it in high school, since it was never assigned, and I wasn’t as much of a book worm then as I am now. I’m so glad I finally made time for this book.

Melville’s exquisite pontification of all things whale is simply astonishing. The story itself could have been told with very little detail lost in one quarter of the words. Indeed the story itself could have simply have been wrapped up neatly as a short story. But the masterpiece that is Moby Dick is much more than the sum of it’s parts. Melville’s command of the English language is second to none as also is his knowledge of all matters leviathan and literature. And while he uses tall words, most chapters are thankfully short and pithy.

When we learn about the theme of Moby Dick in our youth, we simply can’t imagine what all the fuss is about, especially in these days when whales are seen a simple, serene sea mammals who were nearly driven to extinction not many decades past. But in the age this book was set, whales and whaling was a much different subject. Whales were both better known and less understood. By saying that they were less understood in no way diminishes what was understood of the whale in that time. There was a surprising great deal understood about them. But it seems so far fetched in our modern imagination that this would be a significant topic for a book. All you have to do it read the book and that view will be forever shattered.

I’m writing as though the subject of the whale is all Moby Dick is about. But of course it is not. The rich veins of deposited meaning could be mined for a lifetime and never fail.

I’m going to re-read Moby Dick. This is a book that deserves to be read and re-read slowly.

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Book: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom's CabinUncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not I
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Some like drink
in a pint pot,
Some like to think,
Some not.

Strong Dutch cheese,
Old Kentucky Rye,
Some like these;
Not I.

Some like Poe,
And other like Scott,
Some like Mrs. Stowe;
Some not.

Some like to laugh,
Some like to cry,
Some like chaff;
Not I.

I was just reading reviews on about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I just finished reading. The range of opinions about this book is astonishing to me. One comment to a review wrote only the above poem. I think it frames the opinions perfectly. It’s hard to tell if RLS was being serious or sarcastic. I tend toward the latter.

I gave this book 5 stars for many reasons. Firstly for it’s importance in changing the course of history. It was the best selling novel of the 19th century and is often credited with starting the Civil War. It was written in a flowery, sentimental style evidently common to the era. And while some deride it for this, I found this to be one of it’s charms. If one give oneself over to it, the book does evoke strong emotions.

I’m concurrently reading An Experiment In Criticism by C.S. Lewis, who draws a distinction between two type of readers. Those who “use” art (in what ever form) and those who receive it.

The distinction can hardly be better expressed than by saying that the many use art and the few receive it. The many behave in this like a man who talks when he should listen or gives when he should take. I do not mean by this that the right spectator is passive. His also is an imaginative activity; but an obedient one. He seems passive at first because he is making sure of his orders. If, when they have been fully grasped, he decides that they are not worth obeying—in other words, that this is a bad picture—he turns away altogether.

Lewis, C. S. (2014-08-26). An Experiment in Criticism (pp. 19-20). Cambridge University Press 1961. Kindle Edition.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all “good art” is “good” to all. There is still plenty of room for differing tastes even among good art. What I think this means is that there is an element in the good that is there regardless of the medium, and we can only find it out if we give ourselves over to it and allow ourselves to be used by it. If it is not good, it will produce no fruit. (I don’t mean to bring religion into this, but compare this thought to Alma 32.)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin needed to be written. The story speaks for itself, regardless of the language. People can quibble about whether the language is this or that. But the fact remains, Harriet Beecher Stowe said what needed to be said, and we must never forget the evil that was slavery.

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Book: The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an short read and it’s worth every second! If you have ever wanted to be a writer, or do anything creative, you should do yourself a favor and read this. You won’t be disappointed. I’m going to start it again right after I finish writing this review.

I have never read Pressfield, but you can be sure that I will now. He draws heavily upon ancient Greek influences, when talking about the subjects he presents. His language is concise and clear and I certainly feel like he is talking directly to me, (a great talent to have as a writer).

I sometimes discount books that are too short. (This one is just under three hours on Audible.) But this one is exactly as long as it needs to be. Don’t let the length of it make you think that it lack the content necessary to be effective.

I don’t write reviews for every book I ready. This one compelled me.

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The Twists That Bind

Home Grown Mutants

Look what I dug up! It’s a twisted mutant of a Kaleidoscope Mix Carrot from Burpee.

This year has been a gardening year, as I hope all future years of my life will be. I’ve tried my hand at square food gardening. I’m not sure If this will continue year after year. I prepared the soil by the book and it seems to be too nutrient poor. The book claimed that the compost added to the soil would be sufficient for the session. Wrong!  Also, the soil has a little too much drainage, so I have to water it more than I think should be necessary. Next year I’ll probably either double the depth of the square foot planters, or possibly switch to a system that requires less daily watering.

random thoughts, whims and musings