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

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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:

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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. I’m only planning to read the first volume of three; all three volumes total 2100 pages.

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.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2018

I’m totally up for another year in Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge… Because books. I can’t promise that I’ll be reading exactly these titles, but hey, they’re all good ideas. Some of these were on my list last year, actually, since they were scheduled discussion books on the AO forum–maybe we’ll actually get to them this year! Heh. And I have a busy year ahead, so I’m going to slot those in as much as possible.

1. A 19th century classic — There are a couple forum discussion books I could use, including Silas Marner by George Eliot or Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

2. A 20th century classic —  I’m looking forward to a forum discussion of The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.

3. A classic by a woman author — I’ve been reading through all of Jane Austen’s novels, and Mansfield Park is next!

4. A classic in translation — We’re reading A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn on the forum next year. I am reading the translation by H.T. Willetts, but that’s hard to find a copy of. I hear Ralph Parker’s translation is also acceptable.

5. A children’s classic — I haven’t read Pinocchio or Peter Pan yet, so those are definite possibilities.

6. A classic crime story — I’ve been slowly reading through Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction, and The Caves of Steel (one of the robot novels) is up next. The husband tells me it’s a murder mystery and the main character is a detective, so it counts!

7. A classic travel or journey narrative — I haven’t read much Homer since high school. I read excerpts from The Odyssey back then, but I’d like to read the whole thing. Heck, maybe I’ll read The Iliad, too.

8. A classic with a single-word title — This is another forum discussion selection: Manalive by G. K. Chesterton.

9. A classic with a color in the title —  I have no idea, but here are some musings… Island of the Blue Dolphins, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Silver Chair, The Scarlet Pimpernel

10. A classic by an author that’s new to you — I have not yet read any Sir Walter Scott. Rob Roy is a forum discussion book, so I’ll slot this one here.

11. A classic that scares you — Yet another forum book fits here… Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Although that’s not quite as scary as my first thought for this one: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon… That one comes in six big volumes, and I’m moving this year. Unfortunately… I simply don’t think I could get through it in a single, busy year.

12. Re-read a favorite classic — Okay, so I don’t tend to have strong feelings about books. I’m drawing a big ol’ blank trying to think of any “favorites” I might have. But hey, I remember really liking The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White, so I’ll pick that one. Wait, oh no! That was published in 1970, so it’s not quite old enough. Doom. Okay… I liked The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. That could work.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Veriliy, a New Hope by Ian Doescher

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Oh my goodness, this was delightful. It wasn’t exactly high literature, but I loved it anyway. My favorite thing about William Shakespeare’s Star Wars was the fun of the treasure hunt. This thing has lots of Easter eggs. Can you find Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech? Or even the “we band of brothers” speech? And Hamlet talking to the skull? Favorite! There was even a Star Trek reference I found. This was just exquisite nerdly fun, and I love nerdly fun.

I will mention that it wouldn’t have been half as fun if I hadn’t read a ton of Shakespeare beforehand. I mean, sure, it’s in iambic pentameter, but Ian Doescher isn’t as good at it as Shakespeare himself—but hey, most people aren’t. It’s true. And of course, it’s not like I was unfamiliar with the story, so I wasn’t reading it for the stunning verse or the compelling plot. No… this wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if I wasn’t nerdy enough to pick up on the stolen Shakespeare monologues.

Also—can I just mention how HAPPY it makes me to see how perfectly this little book fits on the shelf next to my 37 volumes of Shakespeare? It’s just too perfect… it brings a happy tear to this nerdy eye.

Jenna

P.S. This will be a classic in our house.

The Wonder Clock by Howard S. Pyle (1887)

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I decided to read Jadzia some fairy tales early this year. So… we read The Wonder Clock together way back in February. Yes, it’s now November, and I hardly remember the individual stories. Whoops.

But here’s what I do remember.

Our copy smelled musty. That was a minus.

But I remember enjoying the book anyway. There are twenty four fairy tales in the book, one for each hour of the day. Before each tale, there was a short little poem written by the author’s sister; the verses corresponded to the hour of the day the story was for.

I’ve been reading lots of the less common fairy tales, particularly Slavic ones, and I was surprised to find that Howard Pyle had probably been reading the same ones. I found several elements from Slavic fairy tales recombined into fresh tales of Pyle’s own making here.

Jadzia loved the stories. She’d bring me the book every night, and listen intently… She didn’t usually fall asleep until the story was over, and sometimes asked me to read a second one. I remember one in particular that really enchanted her—it had an ogre in it and she kept interrupting me asking why the hero was doing this, and why the ogre had done that… I worried that she wasn’t getting the story after so many interruptions, but hey, the next day she was still thinking about the story and asking questions. I’d say she liked it, too.

Jenna

A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte M. Mason (1925)

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So… it’s no secret that I love Charlotte Mason, but if you haven’t the foggiest clue about who she is, let me just say that for a Victorian educator, she was remarkably sharp. She loved reading all the latest neuroscience research and applying it to educational theory. Plus, she was a devout Christian and incorporated that into her philosophy of education.

Basically, when I realized I wanted to homeschool my children and then started feeling overwhelmed at the impossibility of formulating my own educational ideals that fully took into account the science of the brain and body as well as the nature of the child as children of God… well, I was… overwhelmed. I didn’t think anyone had done that before.

Well, I was wrong. Charlotte may not have had the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in her life, but she got a remarkable amount of theology correct when it comes to the the nature of man, and the nature of child, and what their relationship with their Father in Heaven needs to be like. Nor was she science-phobic, but embraced it as a sort of modern revelation. So basically, I heart Charlotte Mason.

This is her sixth and last volume. I’d only read bits and pieces of it, maybe about half of it… so this year I sat and read it cover to cover. It’s a good one. I highly recommend it. Here’s a dusting of my favorite bits from the last chapter only.

  • How injurious then is our habit of depreciating children; we water their books down and drain them of literary flavour, because we wrongly suppose that children cannot understand what we understand ourselves: what is worse, we explain and we question (pg. 304).
  • The point I insist upon, however, is that from his sixth year the child should be an “educated child” for his age (pg. 305).
  • Children brought up largely on books compare favourably with those education on a few books and many lectures; they have generous enthusiasms, keen sympathies, a wide outlook and sound judgment, because they are treated from the first as beings of “large discourse looking before and after.” They are persons of leisure too, with time for hobbies, because their work is easily done in the hours of morning school (pg. 305).
  • I say nothing now about the teaching of science, for which most schools provide, except that for our generation, science seems to me to be the way of intellectual advance. All the same, the necessity incumbent upon at the moment is to inculcate a knowledge of Letters. Men and their motives, the historical sequence of events, principles for the conduct of life, in fact, practical philosophy, is what the emergencies of the times require us to possess, and to be able to communicate. These things are not to be arrived at by any short cut of economics, eugenics, and the like, but are the gathered harvests of many seasons’ sowing of poetry, literature, history. The nation is in sore need of wise men, and these must be made out of educated boys (pg. 313).
  • […I]t is a fatal error to think that reason can take the place of knowledge, that reason is infallible, that reasonable conclusions are of necessity right conclusions. Reason is a man’s servant, not his master [… H]e who reasons without knowledge is like a child playing with edged tools (pg. 314-315).
  • […G]reat thoughts anticipate great works; and these come only to a people conversant with the great thoughts that have been written and said (pg. 316).
  • But there is a region of apparent sterility in our intellectual life. Science says of literature, “I’ll none of it,” and science is the preoccupation of our age. Whatever we study must be divested to the bone, and the principle of life goes with the flesh we strip away: history expires in the process, poetry cannot come to birth, religion faints; we sit down to the dry bones of science and say, Here is knowledge, all the knowledge there is to know. [… F]or the most part science as she is taught leaves us cold; the utility of scientific discoveries does not appeal to the best that is in us […] But the fault is not in science […] but in our presentation of it by means of facts and figures and demonstrations that mean no more to the general audience than the point demonstrated, never showing the wonder and magnificent reason of the law unfolded. [… S]cience as it is too commonly taught tends to leave us crude in thought and hard and narrow in judgment (pg. 317-318).
  • [… A]ll knowledge (undebased) comes from above and is conveyed to minds which are, as Coleridge says, previously prepared to receive it; and, further, that it comes to a mind so prepared, without question as to whether it be the mind of pagan or Christian […] Knowledge is dealt out to us according to our preparedness and according to our needs; that God whispers in the ear of the man who is ready in order that he may be the vehicle to carry the new knowledge to the rest of us. […] All knowledge, dealt out to us in such portions as we are ready for, is sacred; knowledge is, perhaps, a beautiful whole, a great unity, embracing God and man and the universe (pg. 322, 324).
  • We are tired of the man who claims to live his life at the general expense, of the girl who will live hers to her family’s annoyance or distress [… S]o wonderful is the economy of the world that when a man really lives his life he benefits his neighbor as well as himself; we all thrive in the well-being of each. [… W]e perceive that a person is to be brought up in the first place for his own uses, and after that for the uses of society; but, as a matter of fact, the person who “lives his life” most completely is also of most service to others because he contains within him provision for many serviceable activities which are employed in living his life (pg. 327-329).
  • But a man is not made up only of eyes to see, a heart to enjoy, limbs delightful in the using, hands satisfied with perfect execution: life in all these kinds is open more or less to all but the idly depraved. But what of man’s eager, hungry, restless, insatiable mind? True, we teach him the mechanical art of reading while he is at school, but we do not teach him to read; he has little power of attention, a poor vocabulary, little habit of conceiving any life but his own; to add to the gate-money at a football match is his notion of adventure and diversion (pg. 330).
  • But our fault, our exceeding great fault, is that we keep our own minds and the minds of our children shamefully underfed. The mind is a spiritual octopus, reaching out limbs in every direction to draw in enormous rations of that which under the action of the mind itself becomes knowledge. Nothing can stale its infinite variety; the heavens and the earth, the past, the present, and the future, things great and things minute, nations and men, the universe, all are within the scope of the human intelligence (pg. 330)
  • I have so far urged that knowledge is necessary to men, and that, in the initial stages, it must be conveyed through a literary medium, whether it be knowledge of physics or of Letters, because there would seem to be some inherent quality in mind which prepares it to respond to this form of appeal and no other. I say in the initial stages, because possibly, when the mind becomes conversant with knowledge of a given type, it unconsciously translates the driest formulae into living speech (pg. 333-334).
  • We are waiting for a Christianity such as the world has not yet known (pg. 336).
  • Let us give at least as profound attention to the teaching of Christ as the disciples of Plato, say, gave to his words of wisdom (pg. 337).
  • Great confidence is placed in diagrammatic and pictorial representation, and it is true that children enjoy diagrams and understand them as they enjoy and understand puzzles; but there is apt to be in their minds a great gulf between the diagram and the fact it illustrates. We trust much to pictures, lantern slides, cinematograph displays; but without labor there is no profit, and probably the pictures which remain with us are those which we have first conceived through the medium of words (pg. 340).

Faust, Part 1 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808)

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Okay, Faust is pretty good. I read the translation by Peter Salm.

My favorite bit is that Mephistopheles, the devil, first appears in the flesh as… get this, a demonic poodle. Yes. Poodle. Demonic poodle. Major points to Goethe.

My biggest annoyance is how unsatisfying the end of the first part is, because I was totally not planning to track down a copy of a good translation of part 2. And after reading a synopsis of that (I know, I’m a sinner) I’m not sure I want to read it.

I’m not sure I can even talk about this without being all spoilery, so if that’s a problem, stop reading. Okay. Okay?

We start with a scene like the one in Job. The devil is talking to God, and says, “Oh, I see you’ve got this servant, God, but I bet I can corrupt him.” “Oh yeah? Go ahead and try then.”

That’s Faust. He’s a scholar. He’s decided that knowledge isn’t worth seeking because it’s all useless. And then Mephistopheles comes along and says, “Hi, Faust. I see you’re unhappy. I’m the devil. I can make you happy.”

And Faust says, “Yeah, right. But… you’re welcome to try.”

So among other things, the devil gives Faust a potion that restores his youth, including his, um, libido. And then a pretty girl walks by. BOOM. I MUST HAVE HER.

The devil says, “Oh no, not that one. She’ll take time because she’s so virtuous.” And yes, Margarete is good. Like, really good. Only Faust is so obsessed with finding pleasure above all other things, that he and the devil seduce her by degrees. And by the end of the book, the angelic Margarete has committed some pretty nasty sins—she poisons mom so she isn’t caught with a man in her bedroom, she gets pregnant and Faust kinda disappears, and ends up killing her newborn… and…

Anyway, I had a hard time with it. The end of part 1 moved really quickly and time passed off screen. It was hard to swallow. I didn’t see how Margarete went from angel to scum, but she did. It all happened off stage.

And, at the very end, we see a penitent Margarete in prison. Faust is trying to rescue her from execution, but she has no desire to escape what she views as the rightful punishment for her sins. So the devil pulls Faust away, claiming to leave Margarete to her damnation—only, some divine voice whispers, that no, she is saved—presumably because she is truly repentant. But anyway, the good girl falls from virtue, manages to repent but still be executed, and the STUPID, STUPID man behind the whole thing just runs off with the devil some more.

So yeah. Faust. Apparently, this is my sister’s favorite work of literature, so I need to have a talk with her. Maybe she sees something in it that I don’t…

But hey, there is the demonic poodle. That helped a little.

Jenna