Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (2017)

nmYou know, I’ve really, really liked everything else I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. I found they had a lot of… oh, I don’t know, pizzazz? I also really like mythology. By all accounts, I was supposed to adore this book.

I didn’t.

I really can’t place why. I know mythology is kind of simple, but this seemed even a little too simple for Gaiman’s work. He spiced it up some, yes. But it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I wanted it to be.

Oh yes, there were bits that were hilarious. The characterization of Loki and Thor were crystal clear.

It might be that it felt too… modern. The characters spoke like 2017 college kids. I think I ached for a bit more… richness. I liked it, but I wanted to be blown away.

Oh well.

I read this for general fiction for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge 2017. The verdict: I wasn’t blown away by this one. I was expecting to be, since I like Neil Gaiman and I like mythology… but I just felt there wasn’t a lot of depth in this. It was such a simple read. Maybe it was the subject matter. Despite its high popularity this year, I don’t think it’ll continue its popular streak all the way to 2117. Not a classic. Maybe with a bit more oomph, it could’ve been one, but no. I don’t think it’ll enjoy classic status.

Jenna

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Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

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Rocketman read this aloud to me. He’s a big science fiction fan and he loves sharing that genre with me. Honestly, it’s the biggest reason I read science fiction nowadays. I do really like it, but I like it more because I have a man who loves it so much.

Anyway, Dune is possibly the most successful science fiction novel ever, so I figured I should probably finally get around to reading it.

I’m still not sure what I think about it. I liked it, but how much did I like it?

I don’t think I loved it; there were some really dark elements in it. The main villain is a seroiusly nasty dude. There are some novels where the bad people are bad and it doesn’t gross you out. But THIS guy is a pedophile, and he delights in grooming people to be vicious. He delights in treachery.

I’m apparently too sickened to read about that sort of thing, and I hear the sequels get darker and weirder and… well, sure there are some interesting moral dilemmas to be fleshed out, but I don’t really want to deal with the filth. It’s kind of painful for me.

Dune isn’t my favorite, I think.

I read this as a general fiction selection for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics 2017 Challenge. The verdict: Okay, so this is simply one of the most successful science fiction novels of all time. It is a good book and is undeniably a classic already. And really, though it sounds I may not want the sequels on my shelf due to… well, excessive dark (and quite frankly, weird) material, the first Dune novel itself gets an honored place on the shelf. It’s a classic.

Jenna

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo (2009)

me We listened to this audiobook on a roadtrip. It’s a fun story. It definitely has a very similar flavor to The Tale of Despereaux, also by Kate DiCamillo, so if you like that one, you’ll like this one.

The storytelling was especially effective because the lady reading it was a Shakespearean actress and obviously incredibly skilled. It really took my enjoyment of it to the next level; I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly so much if I had simply read it myself.

I’m counting it as children’s fiction for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics challenge. Is it a classic? This was delightful, and I don’t own it. I’m thinking I would swipe it up in a heartbeat if I saw a copy at a thrift shop, though. It’s a lovely book and a well-done one. However… unless it somehow manages to be made into a movie, I don’t think this one will be noticed by many in 2109. Not a classic.

Jenna

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

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I remember really liking all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books as a child, so during a roadtrip, we borrowed this in audiobook format from the library and we listened to it. (Bonus: Madeleine L’Engle herself was reading it.) It had been long enough since I last read it, that I had forgotten all the details.

I’m glad I reread it (or, rather, gave it a listen).  I was probably too young to note all the anti-Communist propaganda in it the first time, so that was fun to note this time around.

I was also too young to realize that some of the ideas in it are falling out of fashion. This is science fiction, yes, but there are angels, and by implication God. There is good and evil. And–get this–love is the powerful force that wins the day. That’s a nice, Biblical idea I keep seeing less and less of.

So perhaps more modern readers might find this book quaint. Well, I think people need ideas like that, especially in their younger years.

Also, I think this book is especially valuable for gifted children to read. It expresses some of the loneliness that gifted children experience; the confusion of being gifted and yet not being academically successful; and the pure joy in finding a like-minded soul. Looking back, this might be one of the biggest reasons I loved this book so as a child. I, too, was a lonely gifted child.

I’m counting this as a selection for children’s fiction for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge 2017. Is it a classic? The verdict: This one definitely has an honored place on my shelf. It’s a wonderful book, and a pioneer of children’s science fiction. It’s around for good. It’s a classic.

Jenna

Yearning for the Living God: Reflections from the Life of F. Enzio Busche edited and compiled by Tracie A. Lamb (2004)

yftlgThis is a really wonderful book; it’s another LDS work. I didn’t know who F. Enzio Busche was, but it turns out he’s an Emeritus General Authority.

So if you didn’t know who Elder Busche was, please don’t let that stop you. This book is lovely. It’s like having an emeritus GA take you aside personally, put his arm around you and share all his deepest insights with you.

Elder Busche grew up in Nazi Germany. I learned how completely Hitler’s propaganda hoodwinked the German people. The propaganda was all about serving families, God, Germany, and the world. Hitler took the desires the German people had for good and twisted them. Elder Busche thinks that this meant once the Germans realized what they’d fallen for, they were so disillusioned with anything preaching the greater good, and the necessity of being good people, that they didn’t have the heart to believe in sincere messages of that sort anymore. Very sad.

Elder Busche tells us about his conversion to the LDS faith, and truly, I feel like he’s an excellent mentor in how to really, truly communicate with the heavens. This is a memoir. It reads like one. And yet, in a lot of ways, it’s a how-to manual for developing true faith, in the way having a faithful mentor sharing their most sacred faith-growing experiences would. I learned a lot.

I read this on the recommendation of a friend, and I’m glad I did. I think I will share it with my husband, too.

I also read it for the history/biography category for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge 2017. Is it a classic? The verdict: Oh my, yes. This book. I am keeping this book forever. It’s exceptionally well done. But here’s the thing: it’s already an obscure book. Elder Busche is an emeritus General Authority, so by now most LDS church members don’t know who he his. In 2104, I doubt this book will be known by many. So, no, sadly, not a classic, even if I think it’s worthy of fame.

Jenna

On Wings of Faith: My Daily Walk with a Prophet by Frederick Babbel (1972)

wofIf you’re a Latter-day Saint, you might enjoy this book. You’ve probably never heard of Frederick Babbel, but when President Ezra Taft Benson went on a special mission to administer relief and essentially reorganize Church activity in war-torn Europe immediately after WWII, Babbel was President Benson’s secretary. His job was to write down everything that happened that year.

If you’re not a Latter-day Saint, you wouldn’t know President Benson. During the events related in this book, he was one of the Twelve Apostles, and later in life he became President of the Church; in other words, he was a prophet. So he’s a beloved figure for Latter-day Saints.

I did enjoy this read; it’s full of interesting details about the miracles that happened as President Benson somehow managed to visit all ten missions in Europe despite military restrictions and complete lack of transportation in many cases. They accomplished impossible tasks pretty much every day, it seems.

It’s also full of shocking details about conditions for the common people all throughout Europe in the days immediately following WWII. To be truthful, I hate reading about that sort of thing most of the time. I can’t stand reading about a recently widowed German woman forced to walk back to Germany out of Poland, and along the way had to dig graves for her babies in the frozen earth with a teaspoon, and later her bare hands after they died and/or froze to death during the long journey by foot… Anyway, normally that would be too much for me to handle reading about. But right when this woman was in the peak of despair, she dropped to her knees and prayed. She was given such a measure of comfort from the Lord that could not refrain from sharing the joy of the gospel, despite being on the verge of starvation.

This is the reason I like this book. It’s not the writing style. I’m sure Brother Babbel is a captivating speaker when he talks about his time in Europe with President Benson. But his writing is rather lackluster. He used his journals from the time to write it, so it reads like a journal. It was full of typos, too, despite being a later edition. And… sadly, my paperback was not very high quality. It was in very good condition when I started to read, but the glue in the binding was so brittle that the pages were falling out by the end.

So in any case, it’s not a masterpiece of writing, and because of its journal-type nature, I found some parts a bit irrelevant and uninteresting.

BUT. There’s some amazing content in there. It IS a very interesting book, even if it is an unpolished one.

I read this book for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge 2017, for the history/biography category. Is it a classic? The verdict: I’m don’t think I’ll get rid of it, but I don’t think I would even notice if I couldn’t find it on my shelf later if it decided to walk away tonight. Frederick Babbel is probably a lot more fun to listen to than to read. I really think this will be a very interesting book that is simply lost to history. So… no, I wouldn’t call this one a classic.

Jenna

Norms & Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David V. Hicks (1981)

nnTHIS is a good book. It’s also an incredibly difficult read. Reading Hicks is the Olympic version of reading. It’s hard. He’s got a huge vocabulary and uses it.

So it’s a hard read, but a good read. I think it helped me solidify half-developed thoughts I’d already had about education.

Context is important in learning; memorization strings of facts is not helpful, because they don’t mean anything. Despite the efforts and convictions of many nowadays, separating knowledge and learning from values and morals leads to terrible education outcomes. Education should help form character. Education should enable a learner to deal with the tough questions in life. The end of education shouldn’t just be knowing vacuous stuff—it should be becoming a good person and therefore doing good things. That’s the gist of this book, but it gets into the delightful nitty-gritty, challenging assumptions you probably didn’t know you had.

I liked this book so much I have handed it to Rocketman to read. He is actually applying to jobs right now, and I think he has a decent chance of landing a job as a professor at a liberal arts college where an understanding of these principles would be essential. We even suspect that if I hadn’t been reading this book and discussing it with him, he may not have written his application materials the same way, and maybe wouldn’t have scored the interview for our current favorite among his job prospects.

I read this book for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge 2017 in the nonfiction category. Is it a classic? The verdict: Oh, heck yes, this sucker has an honored place on my shelf. It’s the best book on modern classical education I know of, even if it is densely written. And I can easily imagine it being read and discussing by classical education fanatics in 2081. So… yes. It’s a classic!

Jenna

Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner (2011)

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Early this year I read Fluent Forever, and I’m very glad I did. I’m trying to learn Serbian. Wyner’s language learning method is very sound in the principles of neuroscience… and, since I’m an education enthusiast and have a degree in neuroscience, this is always something I’m looking for in methods for learning.

The jist of Wyner’s method is that first, you really have to master pronunciation. Pronunciation matters. In order to do this, that means you have to really master the basics and pronounce every sound in a language just right. And if your target language isn’t spelled phonetically, you really need to have a native speaker pronounce every word for you. Thankfully, Wyner knows about all the great online resources which actually make this possible without kidnapping a native and forcing them to read the dictionary into a microphone. Woohoo!

Another key Wyner talks about is not using translation. Usually in a high school language class, if you make flashcards you put the target language word on one side, and the English word on the back. But that just means when you try to think in the target language, you first have to convert everything to and from English. That makes it really hard to become one with the language. So, Wyner says you’ve got to avoid using English at all costs. Use pictures. So my mačka flashcard looks like this:

Image result for mačka

That’s much more effective than having it look like c-a-t.

Wyner’s last key to effective language learning is a spaced repetition system: basically, a flashcard app that helps you review your flashcards just before you manage to forget. The act of recall strengthens the synapses for that word if you have to work a bit to think of it, but if you know it so well that the flashcard is a waste of time… well, it’s a waste of time. It’s also a waste of time if you’ve already forgotten it. So you want to review it exactly when it’s hard but still doable.

So basically, yay, computers and internet! They have made learning languages easier.

My one beef with the book is that it makes it sound like this system makes it EASY to learn the language. I think EASY should not be confused with EFFECTIVE. This method is time-consuming, but it works. Once you have your flashcards, it works. But it does mean you spend a bit of time creating a flashcard with images and audio and IPA pronunciations and all that jazz.

I read this book for Amy’s Up and Coming Challenge 2017 for the nonfiction category. The verdict? Is it a classic? It will have an honored place on my shelf. It’s the best book on effective language learning that I know of… Aaaaand, yes. I do indeed think people will still know about and talk about Wyner’s language learning techniques (and thus, this book) in 2111. So… yes. It’s a classic.

Jenna

I Promise I’ve Been Busy

Despite my lofty goals for mother culture this year, I’ve had a hard time doing much more than… well, read books, because that’s the one thing I don’t struggle to fit into my day.

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But then… I only did one week of AO1 like I had planned to. I have one entry in my nature journal. I did one drawing lesson with my daughter. I did piano lessons for all of one week. I took maybe one week’s worth of walks with the kids around the neighborhood.

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I suppose I have managed to keep on top of slowly learning Serbian, and help the kids with that too, so I guess that is one victory.

I’m trying not to be too disappointed in my perceived failures, though, because I have managed to deal with lots of stressful stuff, including extended family drama, major health challenges and accompanying major lifestyle changes, a surprise CPS visit, a death in Rocketman’s family and an accompanying unexpected roadtrip, and most recently a trip to the ER for a barely breathing toddler… surely I’ve forgotten something… that seems incomplete. Oooh, yes, 4,000-acre wildfires just 10 miles up the road. I knew I’d forgotten something.

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So, anyway, stress.

And also… responsibilities!

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Rocketman is very invested in sharing math with the world, and so he started a blog called Infinity Plus One this year to share university-level math with laypeople. Of course, though, this requires an awful lot of work for me, too, because I’m the resident artist. And this blog he started? It practically requires quirky cartoons not to scare off the the general masses. So… yes, I’ve been cartooning on the side, and the blog only gets updated when I’ve had time to draw, despite it really being Rocketman’s baby.

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And then, I’ve got another group website I’ve been asked to help out with, and praying about it really just confirmed that I should commit to it, so I did…

There really aren’t enough LDS homeschool resources on the Interwebs yet, and a group of us homeschooling mamas who are both Latter-day Saints and Charlotte Mason enthusiasts started By Study and Faith to help out others in this demographic. I love DoriAnn’s post about mother culture here, which I humbly submit is a must read even if you aren’t a Latter-day Saint!

Of course, working on that site has been… a lot more work than I anticipated. It turns out making helpful resources is a lot of work and takes oodles of time no one has. (That’s probably why good resources are so few and far between.)

We made an LDS hymn rotation for the 2017–2018 year, but even selecting one measly year’s worth of hymns was complicated. We eventually realized that in order to get a balanced selection for one year, we had to have all twelve years of school in mind… and, well, you get the idea.

One project we’re working on now is a scripture study intended for year 1 students focusing on the story of Christ, from premortal life to the eternities, roughly chronologically. We hope to have it up by the end of the year; and hope to use it with my own year 1 student next year. But again, it’s a lot of work. 🙂

Christ and the Young Child, Carl Heinrich Bloch

So, I mean, I guess I haven’t exactly been idle

I’m not optimistic about the coming year being any less stressful. I’ll have you know we are definitely moving this year, though we haven’t the foggiest idea where to.

Rocketman, my beloved math professor-to-be, is going nuts looking for a job because his current job is temporary. I made a handy list of all the universities and colleges he applied to this year, which you can look at on a map here, if you so desire.

As of today… there are six real possibilities for where Rocketman lands a job. Three upcoming interviews at Hillsdale College in Michigan, Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, and California State University–East Bay. He’s had interviews and is waiting to hear back from the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and the University of Alabama. Oh, and he also has a job offer (for a very unexciting and underwhelming lecturer position) at the University of Tennessee. Out of all those, I think Hillsdale is by far the best fit and therefore the most likely, but of course, Rocketman first has to convince his interviewers he is all that and a bag of chips.

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Anyway, it turns out that Rocketman and I shore up a lot of each other’s weaknesses, and so here I am helping him prepare for interviews… which are definitely not his strength. I’m half convinced that he couldn’t get his dream job without my help, so it’s a dang good thing he married me, right? (It’s also, you know, um, no pressure.)

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So job hunt stress… an upcoming mystery move… escape artist children… continuing family drama… health challenges and lifestyle changes… theoretically starting Jadzia in first grade this year… and continuing commitment to two big websites. Heh.

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Well, wish me luck. I think I may need it.

Jenna

Modern Classics Challenge 2018

My friend Amy is hosting a nice counterpart challenge to Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge. Instead of reading only books published over 50 years ago, this challenge is for books published within the last 50 years—it’s the Modern Classics Challenge 2018.

So anyway, this year she’s made more categories, which I wasn’t expecting. I’ll list ideas for all the categories, but since this year looks to be EXTREMELY busy, I may only get to four.

I’m going to try to fill this in with only books I already own… (What.) Okay, exceptions will be made for books that I’ve been planning to buy immediately upon release and have been looking forward to since I knew they were in the works. (Close enough to already on my bedside table in the TBR pile, I say.)

1. A book from the 1970s—On my shelf sits The Sword of Shannara  by Terry Brooks (1977). Maybe I should read it?

2. A book from the 1980s—Also on my shelf is Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card (1987). I like Orson Scott Card. So… I should read it?

3. A book from the 1990s—I finally found a book on my sci-fi/ fantasy shelf that isn’t a continuation of a series AND that I haven’t already read: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card (1999). Phew. That makes two books on this list by Mr. Card, though. I’m not sure I’m okay with that, because I’m a weirdie and add all sorts of unnecessary rules to my book challenges.

4. A book from the 21st century—I went to a signing party for a freaking gigantic book about a month ago: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (2017). And have I picked it up yet? Well… no? Whoops.

5. A nonfiction book—Well, obviously I have to read Karen Glass’ Know and Tell: The Art of Narration when it comes out in early 2018. Not only is it written by Karen Glass, but (and this blows my mind) it contains cartoons drawn by yours truly, specially for this book.

6. A biography or historical account—Theeeeoretically… the LDS church is publishing new church history novels, starting with the first volume of Saints in 2018. They say it’ll be similar to David McCullough’s style, so I am optimistic they’ll be living books I can have my kids use for school. (Materials published by the Church tend to be a little dry, possibly because top priority is given to translating them into all the languages of the world. Dry prose is a lot easier to translate than living prose.) Also, I have connections that get to read this first volume before publication, and they have given a favorable report. Here’s to hoping it really is published in 2018 and that I get to read in it time for this challenge.

7. A fiction bookThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007) is sitting on my TBR pile. I even got it signed by Brandon Sanderson. (It’s kind of a running gag between the two authors, apparently.) It needs to get read, desperately.

8. A children’s book—Hmmm. I don’t read a ton of these yet. My kids are still a little young, and although they’ll listen when I read, I can tell even chapter books are a bit over their heads. (Doom.) So… Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr (1977) is on the shelf. I’ll read that one.

9. A banned book—I was planning to read The Gulag Archipelago (published 1973) anyway with some friends on the AO forum. This was banned in the USSR for obvious reasons.

10. An award-winning bookThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards in 1970. After Dune, it’s apparently one of the best science fiction novels ever. And, bonus, it’s sitting on my shelf already.

11. A book in translationZlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipović (1994)… Zlata has been called “the Anne Frank of Sarajevo”. Obviously, since Zlata is a little Bosnian girl, she originally wrote her diary in Bosnian, and it was originally published as such. I need to read more about the recent wars in the Balkans, and this is a good book to start me out, I think.

12. A book made into a movie—Ooh, ooh! I’d never watch the movie because of all the gore (it’s rated R… yuck), but Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (2009) is also sitting on my shelf waggling its eyebrows at me.