Saturday Review of Books: February 17, 2018

“YOU aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re in? And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?” ~Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Understood Betsy

Dorothy Canfield, author of Understood Betsy, Paul Revere and the Minute Men (Landmark), Our Independence and the Constitution (Landmark) and many more books both for children and for adults, was born February 17, 1879 in Lawrence, Kansas.

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Valentine Ash Wednesday Meditations

I just finished my Bible reading for today. (I’m using a Bible reading plan this year that has me reading ten chapters a day from ten different parts of of the Bible. I really like it because it keeps me on my toes, paying attention, but also provides variety and encourages comparison of different parts of the Scriptures.) Then I read this Baptist Standard article about Olympic gold medal snowboarder, Kelly Clark. The article quotes Clark:

“I started to understand that I didn’t get my worth from people or from the things that I did. . . . It was from Christ. If I hadn’t had that shift in my life, I think my world would have come crumbling down.”

Meaning and worth come from our identity in Christ. A lot of what I read in the Bible today indicates the same truth. In Judges, chapter 18, the nation of Israel has been a nation where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” for a long time, maybe 400-500 years. The sin cycle of apostasy/punishment/repentance/deliverance repeats itself in the book of Judges over and over. And the final chapters of Judges are the culmination of all of those years of corruption and confusion, just full of idolatry, murder, civil war, and chaos. (Don’t even read chapter 19 of Judges unless you are ready to read about some horrible and triggering nastiness and evil.) There’s not much meaning or worth to be found in the final chapters of Judges—also, not much God to be found.

Next, I came to Solomon’s musings in Ecclesiastes, chapter 2. Solomon says he pursued pleasure and wisdom and everything his eyes desired. He worked hard to get and experience it all. And he concluded:

“For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. . . . So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometime a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity, and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?” ~Ecclesiastes 2:16-17, 20-22

What does it all mean? What is it all worth? Nothing, says Solomon, because it all ends—all the stuff disintegrates, and all the wisdom is forgotten, and all of the great artistic and scientific achievements are eventually dead or forgotten or superseded by something that will also be lost and forgotten eventually. And Ash Wednesday was set up to remind us of this truth. Memento mori; remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

So, what is it that keeps us from despair? Nothing. The only hope is from the hand of God says Solomon in verses 24-25. “For apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ~Galatians 2:20

When a person turns away and rejects God through Christ his Son, that person falls first into idolatry, looking desperately for a God-substitute that will alleviate his or her restless need for deliverance and meaning. Then, perhaps comes simple blindness which says, “I don’t need a god. I don’t want God. I don’t need meaning or hope or anything else. I am self-sufficient.” But, finally, we all die; we all return to the dust from whence we came. And all of our works die with us. My only hope is to live by faith in the eternal Son of God, Jesus, who loved me and gave himself for me.

And that’s the one and only eternal Love worth remembering on this Valentine’s Day, the only Love that makes all of the other smaller loves in our lives worthwhile, meaningful, and worth celebrating.

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne

I’m joining in with a Facebook group to read through all of the Landmark series of history books in chronological order. The event at a group called Following Book Trails, called Read All the Landmarks, started in January with a couple of books that deal with “pre-history”, books that I’m not too sad to have missed since I don’t think I share the presuppositions of the authors about so-called prehistoric times.

So, my first book with the group is this one about ancient Egypt. It’s as much a book about archaeology and Egyptology as it is about ancient Egypt. The book begins with the discovery and translation of the Rosetta Stone by French scholars in Napoleonic times (early 19th century), and then in chapter two there’s some speculation about Egypt and Egyptians before civilization (10,000 BC – 3200 BC) Then, we come to the beginning of actual history, c.3200 BC with Pharaoh Narmer/Menes and the kingdoms of Upper Egypt, Middle Egypt, and Lower Egypt.

And in chapter two, I start having my usual upper/lower/middle Egypt problem. Does anyone else have trouble visualizing (or keeping the image fixed) of a river that flows NORTH? My mind wants all rivers to flow southward—or east or west maybe, but not north. I think it has something to do with the Mississippi River and with flat maps on which south is down, the direction a river should flow, of course. Anyway, it makes me mix up Upper and Lower Egypt all the time, even though I know the difference.

The book continues in a well-written and accessible vein as the most famous and infamous of the Egyptian pharaohs strut and fret their hour upon the stage. From Cheops/Khufu of the Great Pyramid to the Hykksos dynasty, the Shepherd Kings, to Hatshepsut and Thutmose to Akhetaton to Rameses, Egypts’s god-kings are a fascinating study. I will admit to spend a great deal of thought time and a bit of research time to trying to figure out once again where the Biblical narratives of Joseph and Moses fit into the Egyptian timeline of the pharaohs, but Ms. Payne’s book never mentions that aspect of Egyptian history, probably because it’s both controversial and complicated.

Ms. Payne’s book hits the highlights of Egypt’s 3000 year history (BC) and gives some details about the archeological re-discovery of ancient Egypt and its culture and lore during the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course, since The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt was first published in 1964, more recent advances in the study of Egyptology are not included. For example, the following discovery was made just last year in 2017:

Scientists detect mystery void in Great Pyramid of Giza:
Particles from space point to unknown chamber in the 4,500-year-old Egyptian monument.

Of course my questions are: What is inside the previously undiscovered chamber or “void”? When and how will the archeologists find out? Or is it empty? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anyway, The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt is a good introduction to the study of ancient Egyptian history, certainly not exhaustive, but adequate for elementary and even middle school aged students. Some good follow-up books are:

Pyramid by David Macaulay. I love David Macaulay’s books about architecture from pyramids to castles to bridges. The illustrations are so detailed and helpful, and the accompanying story makes it come alive.

Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green. Stories of the ancient Egyptian gods such as Amen-Ra and Osiris, and some of the Egyptian rulers.

The First Book of Ancient Egypt by Charles Robinson. History of ancient Egyptian daily life, farming and trade, religion, architecture, literature, and science.

Mummies Made in Egypt by Aliki. All you ever wanted to know about mummies and mummification, and some things you probably could have lived without knowing.

His Majesty, Queen Hatshepsut by Dorothy Sharp Carter. Fictional account based on the real life of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the only woman pharaoh of ancient Egypt.

Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton. Fiction set c.1590 BC, near the end of the Hyksos occupation of Lower Egypt.

Escape From Egypt by Sonia Levitin. YA fiction about Moses and the people of the Exodus.

Saturday Review of Books: February 10, 2018

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” ~William Faulkner

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

The Edge of Time by Louella Grace Erdman

Bethany and Wade Cameron begin their journey by wagon from Missouri to the Texas Panhandle on their wedding day. They take with them, or acquire along the way, a few necessary items: a milk cow, a horse, seeds, curtains, a rag rug, and a rosebush cutting from the rosebush in Bethany’s parents’ front yard. When they reach their homestead in Texas, they will have no near neighbors, no railroad nearby to bring in supplies or take crops to market, and no extra resources other than their own faith, courage, and stick-to-it-tiveness. Bethany is not even sure of Wade’s love for her; he was originally pledged to marry another girl who jilted him, and he only turned to Bethany when she rashly promised to go with him anywhere.

One reviewer on Amazon said of this book: “I started reading this book and thought it was going to start off slow. It wasn’t slow just in the beginning… I think it was a horrible pointless book.” I disagree, but if you’re looking for a modern thriller or romance, you will be as disappointed as the Amazon reviewer was. Bethany’s and Wade’s story unfolds slowly; their love and commitment grow over time. And the story is as much about their love affair with homesteading and with the land as it is about their marriage and their love for each other.

Two things impressed me. I was reminded of the old song from the musical Oklahoma:

One of the major themes of the book is the inevitability of change, and the conflict between the ranchers and the new farming homesteaders. Wade and Bethany are determined to make a go of farming in the new lands that the state of Texas is selling to homesteaders. Their neighbors and friends are mostly cowboys and ranchers who are kind and helpful to the new couple but not at all sympathetic to the fences and the plows that are breaking up the open range lands.

The other thing I noticed was the pattern of Bethany’s and Wade’s marriage. The story takes place in the late 1880’s; the book was published in 1950. The Camerons’ relationship displays the customs and expectations of both time periods. Wade is the strong, silent type. He makes the decisions and expects Bethany to agree with him. Bethany also expects things to be this way, although there is a scene in which she wants him to consult her about a major financial decision, but realizes that he can’t show that kind of “weakness” in front of other people. He later admits that he should have asked her about the decision, “that it was cowardly not to have asked her . . . But I just—well, I just couldn’t tell him—” And Bethany ends up glad that Wade didn’t embarrass himself and “come trailing in to ask [her]”.

It’s a different kind of marriage relationship than very many people would try nowadays. But perhaps our lack of trust in one another, and our need to always have everything “equal” and “fair” with all decisions being joint decisions, 50/50, creates its own set of problems and incongruities.

Louella Grace Erdman was a Texas writer who penned a number of books for adults and for children, mostly set in the Texas Panhandle where she lived the majority of her life. Ms. Erdman was a teacher of creative writing at West Texas State College, and she wrote about fifteen or more novels about pioneer and frontier life in Texas and elsewhere and a couple of volumes of memoir. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for more of Ms. Erdman’s books.

Her books include:

Tales of the Texas Panhandle series. The Pierce family–father, mother and five children—are homesteaders in the Texas Panhandle during the late 1800’s. For middle graders and young adults.
The Wind Blows Free
The Wide Horizon
The Good Land

Other books for adults and teens:
Separate Star. A young schoolteacher’s first year of teaching.
Fair Is the Morning Connie a young school teacher moves the to rural town of Hickory Ridge to write a thesis on rural schools. The job soon proves to be a greater challenge than she had first imagined.
Lonely Passage. Coming of age story about a young girl growing up in a family of strong women.
Many a Voyage. Fiction about Kansas senator, later territorial governor of New Mexico, Edmund G. Ross through the eyes of his wife.
My Sky Is Blue.
The Far Journey. A young woman is reluctant to join her husband, Edward, on the Texas frontier, but eventually she does as they make a life together.
Room to Grow. French immigrants move to the Texas Panhandle from New Orleans.
Another Spring. Civil War era romance about families displaced by Order Number Eleven at the end of the Civil War.
A Bluebird Will Do. “Orphaned in San Francisco during gold rush days, a sixteen-year-old girl travels east by way of the Isthmus of Panama to seek out relatives in New Orleans.”
Save Weeping for the Night.. A fictional account of the life of Bettie Shelby, wife of the Confederate hero, General Jo Shelby.
Three at the Wedding. The wedding of Meredith Dunlap and Rodney Carlyle in the town of Linston, Texas shortly after World War II changes the lives of three other women in various ways.
The Years of the Locust.. The life and influence of an eighty year old farmer, Dade Kenzie, after his death in rural Missouri.
Life was Simpler Then. “Memories of the author’s Missouri farm childhood, within the framework of the four seasons.
A Time to Write.. Writing memoir.

Blog post on Louella Grace Erdman and her books at From Sinking Sand.
Handbook of Texas entry on Louella Grace Erdman.

Winter Olympics: Picture Books for Korea

Links are to my reviews of the books, *** means I have this book in my library, available for checkout to library members.

Bae, Hyun-joo. New Clothes for New Year’s Day. Kane-Miller, 2007. A little girl puts on her new traditional Korean clothes for New Year’s Day.
Cheung, Hyechong. K is for Korea. Illustrated by Prodeepta Das. Frances Lincoln, 2008.
Choi, Yangsook. Peach Heaven. Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005.
Choung, Eun-hee. Minji’s Salon. Kane/Miller, 2008.
Climo, Shirley. The Korean Cinderella. HarperCollins, 1993.
*Don, Lari. Never Trust a Tiger: A Story from Korea. Illustrated by Melanie Williams. Barefoot Books, 2012.
*Haskins, James. Count Your Way Through Korea. Illustrated by Dennis Hockerman.
Heo, Yumi. One Afternoon. Orchard, 1994.
Kwon, Yoon D. My Cat Copies Me. Kane/Miller, 2007.
McDonald, Christine. Goyangi Means Cat. Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Viking, 2011.
*O’Brien, Anne Sibley. The Princess and the Beggar. Scholastic, 1993.
Pak, Soyung. Dear Juno. Illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung. Puffin, 2001. Juno’s grandmother writes in Korean and Juno writes in drawings, but that doesn’t mean they can’t exchange letters.
Park, Frances and Ginger Park. My Freedom Trip: A Child’s Escape from North Korea. Illus. by Debra Jenkins. Boyds, 1998.
Park, Frances and Ginger Park. The Royal Bee. Illustrated by Christopher Zhuang. Boyds Mills, 2000. A poor Korean boy shows courage and determination to study and win a prize for his mother.
*Park, Janie Jaehyun. The tiger and the dried persimmon : a Korean folk tale. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2002.
*Park, Linda Sue. Bee-bim Bop. Illustrated by Ho Baek Lee. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008.
Park, Linda Sue. The Firekeeper’s Son. Ilustrated by Julie Downing. Clarion, 2004.
*Park, Linda Sue. Tap-Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems). Illustrated by Istvan Banyai. Clarion, 2007.
Recorvits, Helen. My Name is Yoon. Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska. Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 2003.
Rhee, Nami. Magic spring: a Korean folktale. Putnam, 1993.
Wong, Janet. The Trip Back Home. Illustrated by Bo Jia. Harcourt, 2000.

Activities:
Have a peach as you read Peach Heaven or make some Bee-Bim Bop as you read that title. Or for the more adventurous, try a persimmon fruit (The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon). Wikipedia says:

“Persimmons are eaten fresh, dried, raw, or cooked. When eaten fresh they are usually eaten whole like an apple or cut into quarters, though with some varieties it is best to peel the skin first. One way to consume very ripe persimmons, which can have the texture of pudding, is to remove the top leaf with a paring knife and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Riper persimmons can also be eaten by removing the top leaf, breaking the fruit in half and eating from the inside out. The flesh ranges from firm to mushy, and the texture is unique. The flesh is very sweet and when firm due to being unripe, possesses an apple-like crunch.”

Heaven Without Her by Kitty Foth-Regner

Heaven Without Her: A Desperate Daughter’s Search for the Heart of Her Mother’s Faith by Kitty Foth-Regner.

I’ve had this memoir on my TBR list for quite a while, recommended to me by someone or another, but I couldn’t find it at the library. I put off buying a copy because I had some vague idea that the “her” of the title had been kidnapped or lost, and the daughter was searching for her. I just didn’t know if I was in the mood for that sort of a story.

It turns out that Heaven Without Her is a spiritual memoir, a conversion story, and I love a well-written conversion story.

“Kitty Foth-Regner was living the feminist dream—a successful copywriting business, the perfect live-in boyfriend, beautiful garden, and a nice house. But when her beloved developed a fatal illness, she found herself on the brink of despair with nothing but questions: Could there possibly be a God? If so, which God? And might heaven really exist?”

The book is as much a Christian apologetic as it is a memoir, but Ms. Foth-Regner’s personal story of her search for God gives shape and meaning to the academic and scientific investigation that she undertook to find out who God might be and whether He could be found in any of the major (and some minor) religions of the world. Her motivation for the search was her desire to be with her beloved Christian mother in heaven, if such a place really exists. But through that motivation, the Hound of Heaven was certainly pursuing Kitty Both-Regner “down the labyrinthine ways/Of [her] own mind; and in the mist of tears.”

The memoirist writes about the Bible and the historical and scientific reliability thereof. She includes quite a bit of information about the evolution/creation debate and presents solid evidence for both intelligent design by a Creator God and a young earth view of history. She compares the truth claims of Christianity and of other world religions, show ing that Christianity is the only belief system that has verifiable evidence supporting its dogma. Then, she goes on to tell about how she came to believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a historical fact, and that the gospel, faith in God through Christ and the receiving of His grace to cover our sins, was the only way to heaven and to Truth. (That’s in chapter 20, by the way, if you want to skip to the climax. But I’d suggest you read the book straight through.)

Heaven Without Her would be a great gift for an unbelieving friend, provided that friend was somewhat open to the gospel. Kitty Foth-Regner herself says that her efforts to share the wonderful news of her new-found faith with friends and associates met mostly with polite, but definite, disinterest, sometimes outright hostility. “Amazingly, many if not most, declined. And not always politely.” “My friendships with several hyper-feminists were among the casualties of my conversion. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut. But I figured a friend doesn’t let a friend live without hope; a friend shares the gospel with the people she cares about.”

So, use your own judgment and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to whether or not to give the book away to friends and neighbors, but I would say that having a copy to read yourself and another to give away if so led would be an excellent investment. It’s a book in the same category and genre with Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter, and Letters from a Skeptic by Dr. Gregory Boyd. Ms. Foth-Regner has a list of books that helped her to understand and accept the Christian worldview and that she recommends to others for the same purpose. Her list is worth the price of the book itself.

Thank to the author for sending me a copy of her memoir for possible review. I plan to keep one copy for my library and purchase another for giving away.

Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green

Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy, and Escape from Tibet by Jonathan Green.

What I most took away from this book was the sheer, monumental tragedy of the goals and aspirations of almost all of the people in the book: the Tibetan refugees whose lives were/are dedicated to the Dalai Lama, a mere man who is worshipped as a god; the Chinese police who follow orders to torture and kill for the sake of a good salary; the Western mountain climbers whose goals seem to be a mixture of fame and a personal transcendent experience at the top of one of the highest mountains in the world; the guides for both the refugees and for the climbers who also pursue fame and fortune at the risk of their own lives and to the detriment of their moral compass. I did not find one truly admirable person among the lot of them, unless it was the girl Kelsang Namtso who died or her friend Dolma who lived to tell the story. Even they, although highly courageous and idealistic, seem to my eyes to be so dreadfully deluded and blinded to the truth; their hope rests in reincarnation, “a good rebirth.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, b. February 4, 1906

Born in Wroclaw (Breslau), Poland, Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, spy, and martyr to the faith he professed and to the patriotism that led him to be involved in the attempted overthrow of the Nazi regime in Germany near the end of World War II.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy by Eric Metaxis.

Semicolon thoughts on Bonhoeffer and the Cost of Discipleship here.

Quotes:

“The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come. They lose the moment when the answers are revealed in dazzling clarity.”

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”

“If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don’t believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it.”

“It is remarkable how I am never quite clear about the motives for any of my decisions. Is that a sign of confusion or inner dishonesty or is it a sign that we are guided without our knowing or is it both …The reasons one gives for an action to others and to one’s self are certainly inadequate. One can give a reason for everything. In the last resort one acts from a level which remains hidden from us. So one can only ask God to judge us and to forgive us…. At the end of the day I can only ask God to give a merciful judgement on today and all its decisions. It is now in his hand.”

Saturday Review of Books: February 3, 2018

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” ~Jane Austen

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.