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Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: Now It’s a Movie?

I am reposting this review from a couple of years ago because it’s become newly relevant with the movie, based on this book, that’s just come out. Some of my friends on Facebook said they were happy to have this information because the movie sounds so sweet and romantic. Is there a legal penalty for deceptive packing of of movies? This book, and very probably the movie version too, is poisonous.

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I was deeply disappointed by this long, engaging, insidious apologia for assisted suicide, or “mercy killing” as the euphemism goes. I saw this title on so very many end-of-the-year favorites lists, and I thought it sounded engaging. It was. The characters were appealing, and Louisa Clark’s project to make her quadriplegic “patient”, Will Traynor, take an interest in life, kept me turning the pages to see what would happen.

I didn’t want easy answers. I know people who live in chronic pain, and I know people who deal with severe disability every day of their lives. It’s not easy, and their problems should not be trivialized by an unearned and unexamined happily-ever-after ending to a novel. However, (SPOILER: I’m not at all reluctant to write spoilers for a novel that engages in blatant propaganda), the ending to this novel trivializes life itself, and its ending makes the lives of disabled people and people who are in pain seem cheap and worthless.

Serendipitously, I saw a tweet today that connected me to this blog post quoting Marilyn Golden, Senior Policy Analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, at a disability rights group blog called Not Dead Yet. These are some reasons she gives to be concerned about laws being proposed in in such far-flung places as Scotland, New Hampshire, and New Mexico—and about the legalization of assisted suicide that is already in effect in Washington state and in Oregon:

Deadly mix: Assisted suicide is a deadly mix with our profit-driven healthcare system. At $300, assisted suicide will be the cheapest treatment. Assisted suicide saves insurance companies money—even with full implementation of the greatly-needed Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
Abuse: Abuse of people with disabilities, and elder abuse, are rising. Not every family is a supportive family! Where assisted suicide is legal, such as in Oregon, an heir or abusive caregiver may steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and even give the drug—no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know?
Mistakes: Diagnoses of terminal illness are too often wrong, leading people to give up on treatment and lose good years of their lives, where assisted suicide is legal.
Careless: Where assisted suicide is legal, no psychological evaluation is required or even recommended. People with a history of depression and suicide attempts have received the lethal drugs.
Burden: Financial and emotional pressures can also make people choose death.
Unnecessary: Everyone already has the legal right to refuse treatment and get full palliative care, including, if dying in pain, pain-relieving palliative sedation.
No true safeguards: Where assisted suicide is legal, the safeguards are hollow, with no enforcement or investigation authority.
Our quality of life underrated: Society often underrates people with disabilities’ quality of life. Will doctors & nurses fully explore our concerns and fight for our full lives? Will we get suicide prevention or suicide assistance?

Of course, in Me Before You, all of the family are motivated by pure concern for the quadriplegic Will. Will himself makes a completely autonomous and carefully considered decision to kill himself, and no one is allowed to really argue that he is in no condition to make such a decision. One character, Will’s caregiver’s mother, is outspoken and unshaken in her opposition to “mercy killing”, but she is a peripheral character and the only one who is not finally recruited and convinced by Will’s suffering and his determination to support him in his decision to end his life.

A book that showed both (or many) sides of this issue, even if it ended in the same way, would have been worth reading. As it is, Ms. Moyes has used her admittedly fine writing talent to propagandize for death, and I think it’s a pity.

Not recommended.

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Very piratical. And romantical.

Not really bloody. Or violent. Well, not very. I mean, there are pirates. But Captain Peter Blood (that’s his real name) is a gentleman pirate. He only kills bad guys. And a lot of the really bad, violent stuff occurs off-stage, so to speak. Captain Blood reminds me of Captain Jack Sparrow, sort of quirky and not always trustworthy. He lives by his own code of honor and morality, and it’s not exactly the traditional one of his time and culture. Still, Captain Blood sees himself, and others mostly see him, as a gentleman, forced into piracy by circumstances beyond his control and trying to make the best of it.

The story begins in England, 1685. (You can read an article with detailed historical background to the novel here.) Peter Blood is a “bachelor of medicine and several other things besides.” He becomes inadvertently involved in the Monmouth Rebellion against King James II of England. Although he is innocent, guilty only of sheltering and assisting medically one of the fleeing rebels, Blood is convicted of treason, and in lieu of a sentence of execution, he is sent to Barbados as a slave. Eventually after years of captivity, Peter Blood escapes from his master in Barbados, but since he is an outlaw and an escaped slave with a price on his head, he has little choice but to become a buccaneer, or privateer, or in common parlance, a pirate.

Some of the events in Peter Blood’s career as a pirate sound very similar to the exploits of the actual pirate Henry Morgan, fictionalized in John and Patricia Beatty’s book, Pirate Royal. Sabatini explains this similarity in his book by saying that Captain Morgan’s biographer, Esquemeling, must have read the ship’s log of Captain BLood’s ship. “Esquemeling must have obtained access to these records, and he plucked from them the brilliant feathers of several exploits to stick them into the tale of his own hero, Captain Morgan. I mention it chiefly as a warning, for when presently I come to relate the affair of Maracaybo, those of you who have read Esquemeling may be in danger of supposing that Henry Morgan really performed those things which are veraciously attributed to Peter Blood.”

So, Captain Blood, the epitome of the pirate adventure story, published in 1922, is a good bet to recommend to teens and adults looking for pirate books. The Sea Hawk is another pirate story from the pen of the prolific Sabatini. Both of these novels were adapted into movies by the Hollywood film machine of the 1920’s and 1930’s, twice each, first as silent films and again as “talkies”, the latter starring the swashbuckling film hero, Errol Flynn.

How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman.

What a fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction history! I learned so many things that I didn’t know before:

The Treaty of Union between England and Scotland (1706-1707), according to Mr. Herman, was actually a huge boost to Scottish commerce, progress, and culture. As he writes the story, the Scots may have given up their independence, but they received innumerable benefits from the deal, including a paradoxical and practical independence from English interference in their affairs that enabled the Scots to “invade” London and indeed England and become leaders in government, education, and business for over a century.

Philosophers Adam Smith and David Hume, historians and biographers James Boswell and Thomas Babbington Macaulay, poets Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, inventors John Macadam (macadam roads), Thomas Telford (canals and bridges galore), James Watt (steam engine), and many other men, both famous and under-appreciated, were all Scots or of Scottish extraction.

Scotswomen, other than the Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald, seem to have been quite unheard of and unremarkable in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, at least. The dearth of women in the pages of this book reminded me of the scarcity/non-mention of dwarf women in The Lord of the Rings. You know there must be women, and every once in a while a “mother” is mentioned, but the women were not part of literary, educational, or polite society. (Scotsmen remind me of dwarves, or vice-versa, anyway.)

The whole Bonnie Prince Charlie thing and Highland kilts and bagpipes made the Highlands of Scotland a tourist attraction in the early 1800’s, mostly because of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Scotland’s literacy rate (boys and girls) was higher than any other country in the world by the end of the eighteenth century, and printing and book-selling were major industries in Edinburgh during that same century.

And lots more. I found this book fascinating, even if it was a somewhat one-sided view of the power, influence and sheer overwhelming greatness of Scotland and its culture. If everything good, especially in the eighteenth century, came out of Scotland, what happened in England, Ireland, France, America, even China? Another fault in the book, the author begins his story with the true tale of Edinburgh theology student Thomas Aikenhead who was hanged in 1697 for the crime of “obstinate blasphemy”. Herman calls Scotland “a nation governed by a harshly repressive Kirk; a nation of an unforgiving and sometimes cruel Calvinist religious faith.” However, the rest of the book makes little of the influence of the “Kirk” or of Calvinism or indeed of Christianity in general, even though most of the Enlightenment figures in Scotland who dominate the culture for the next two centuries were professing Christians, many of them ordained ministers. With the notable exception of atheist philosopher David Hume, it’s as if their religious beliefs were baggage to be hidden away or overcome and not an influence on their thinking at all.

I would have liked to read more about how the faith of men such as educator, theologian, and philosopher Francis Hutcheson shaped their theology —or perhaps how Mr. Hutcheson was able to reconcile his Presbyterianism with his belief in the innate goodness of man. In fact, the author, Mr. Herman, does highlight the Christian faith of Hutcheson, although with less of a explanation of how that faith was worked out in his life than I would have liked. But the faith of other men who are featured in the book would have been valuable to explore and in treating to read about.

Nevertheless, even if the book is biased in favor of Scotland’s influence and standing in the world, and even if Scots Calvinism is given short shrift in the building of that Scottish moral philosophy, How the Scots Invented the Modern World certainly was a good read. It made me want to look up and find the names and histories of some of my own Scottish ancestors so that I could claim a part in the Scottish heritage that Mr, Herman so ably extols.

The Hornet’s Nest by Sally Watson

In 1773, Ronald Cameron and his sister Lauchlin are busily waging their own private war against the oppressive Sassenach (English soldiers) as the two young Highlanders work and play around their Scottish home. Their parents fought the English invaders and supported the Stuart King Jamie and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Now Ronald and Laughlin believe it is their turn to carry on the struggle, especially when their elderly cousin Matthew from Virginia comes to visit and encourages their rebellion and love for liberty. However, when the sister and brother team get into real trouble with the occupation forces, their parents have no choice but to send them to Virginia to stay with their loyalist aunt, Lavinia Lennox.

The characters in Sally Watson’s Family Tree Series are all a part of the same family, the Lennoxes, and Cousin Matthew in this book is even studying his family genealogy. So there’s a running thread of family heritage and pugnacious, spunky traits that are handed down through the family, especially among the girls. The other books in the series are Linnet (London, 1582), Mistress Malapert (Shakespearean England, 1599), The Outrageous Oriel (English civil war, 1641), Loyal and the Dragon (English civil war, 1642), Witch of the Glens (Scotland, 1644), Lark (Puritan England, 1651), Highland Rebel (Jacobite revolution, 1745), and Jade (pirates in Colonial Virginia and the Caribbean). Read more here about how Ms. Watson’s books and characters are all related to each other.

I read at least some of these books when I was a kid of a girl, and I loved them then, especially Jade, the story of Melanie Lennox who frees a cargo of slaves headed for Virginia and becomes a pirate queen. The only ones of Ms. Watson’s books that I own are The Hornet’s Nest and Lark. But if any of you have any of her books lying around gathering dust, I would be happy to take them off your hands.

Characteristics of Ms. Watson’s heroines: outspokenness, a passion for justice, courage, over-confidence to the point of foolhardiness. These rather willful girls, mostly girls, make for interesting, exciting, adventurous stories, and of course, that’s the best kind. If you run across any of Ms. Watson’s novels for young people, I recommend them—even the ones I haven’t read yet.

Playground by Mies Van Hout

Originally published in the Netherlands under the title Speeltuin, this visually rich and colorful picture book is fun to look through, if a little confusing. The pictures are stunning, busy, and lively. The plot is almost non-existent: two children travel through the pages of this colorful world on their way to The Playground. The reader is invited to “take an exciting trip through this book! Find the way with your finger. These red arrows on each page show you where to start and where to go next.”

Maybe I just don’t get it, but the arrows seem unnecessary. If a child reader wants to run his finger over the double page spreads of rather abstract landscapes, I can’t see how the arrow on the edge of each page helps. But the adventure in art is enticing, and as the two children collect animal friends on each page to accompany them on their journey, the illustrations become more and more imaginative. I can see how this book would inspire children to create their own artistic journey-scape.

The ending is . . . disappointing. Perhaps the author/illustrator is trying to show that the journey is more interesting than the destination, or maybe I’m reading too much into it. At any rate, I would let children explore this book on their own and see what they come up with. Maybe start them on the adventure with the invitation, “Let’s go to the playground! Are you coming?”, but the text, translated from the Dutch, is fairly basic and dull. In fact, I can see this one as a wordless book, and it might work better that way.

Enjoy the color. (Did I mention that the book is very colorful?)

Scottish Chiefs and the Morning After

Last night, after grieving over the news and the state of our country, I took up my book and began to read. After all, it’s what I do. When times are bad or times are good, I read. I had already decided on a journey to Scotland for the month of May, and Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter was the first book on my mental list.

I began reading:

“Bright was the summer of 1296. The war which had desolated Scotland was then at an end. Ambition seemed satiated; and the vanquished, after having passed under the yoke of their enemy, concluded they might wear their chains in peace. Such were the hopes of those Scottish nobleman who, early in the preceding spring, had signed the bond of submission to a ruthless conqueror, purchasing life at the price of all that makes life estimable,—liberty and honor.

Prior to this act of vassalage, Edward I., king of England, had entered Scotland at the head of an immense army. He seized Berwick by stratagem; laid the country in ashes; and on the field of Dunbar, forced the Scottish king and his nobles to acknowledge him their liege lord.

But while the courts of Edward, or of his representatives, were crowded by the humbled Scots, the spirit of one brave man remained unsubdued. Disgusted alike at the facility with which the sovereign of a warlike nation could resign his people and his crown into the hands of a treacherous invader, and at the pusillanimity of the nobles who had ratified the sacrifice, William Wallace retired to the glen of Ellerslie. Withdrawn from the world, he hoped to avoid the sight of oppressions he could not redress, and the endurance of injuries beyond his power to avenge.

Thus checked at the opening of life in the career of glory that was his passion, he repressed the eager aspirations of his mind, and strove to acquire that resignation to inevitable evils which alone could reconcile him to forego the promises of his youth, and enable him to view with patience the humiliation of Scotland, which blighted her honor, and consigned her sons to degradation or obscurity. The latter was the choice of Wallace. Too noble to bend his spirit to the usurper, too honest to affect submission, he resigned himself to the only way left of maintaining the independence of a true Scot; and giving up the world at once, all the ambitions of youth became extinguished in his breast. Scotland seemed proud of her chains. Not to share in such debasement seemed all that was now in his power.

The analogy is not perfect. We’ve submitted, not to a foreign invader, but to our very own pet demagogue. But the “degradation”, “pusillanimity”, “resignation”, and “inevitable evils” are all dismayingly familiar. I pray that I can view with patience the humiliation, blighted honor, and debasement that are imminent, indeed already at hand.

Wallace was not allowed his self-imposed exile for long. I doubt that those of us eschew the choice between the Demagogue and the other dishonest Democrat will be left alone for long either. We can enjoy our liberty while the summer lasts and hope to come back to fight again.

Hungry For Math by Kari-Lynn Winters, Lori Sherritt-Fleming, and Peggy Collins

Hungry for Math: Poems to Munch On by Kari-Lynn Winters, Lori Sherritt-Fleming, and Peggy Collins.

Poems galore fill this Canadian import, such as:

Hungry for Math: “He was hungry for math/ always ready to munch/ Math for his breakfast,/ math for his lunch.”

The Balanced Bee: (It’s symmetry!)

Rot-TEN Dragons: “Count fifty hiding dragons/ in five groups of ten.”

Move Around the Clock: A take-off on Hickory, Dickory Dock.

And my favorite, The Spendosaur: “Spendosaur, Spendosaur,/ hear him ROAR,/ thundering down to the candy store.”
The Spendosaur proceeds to spend all of his money on chocolate-dipped pickles, gumdrops smothered in swampy slime, gloppy-plops, and something big and expensive that eats up his very last penny. I want a gloppy-plop.

Although the meter felt just a little off in some of the poems, these would still be good for the beginning of math class, just to get children warmed up. Or you could read a poem a day during “circle time” or “morning time” until you’ve spent your last poem. Then, have a gloppy-plop.

More mathematical poetry books:
Marvelous Math, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. “An anthology of poetry with a mathematical theme.”
Arithme-Tickle: An Even Number of Odd Riddle-Rhymes by J. Patrick Lewis.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis.
The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang.
Math For All Seasons: Mind-Stretching Math Riddles by Greg Tang.

Any other suggestions?

Sam and the Construction Site by Tjibbe Veldkamp

This over-sized picture book is a translation from the Dutch, illustrated by the Dutch illustrator Alice Hoogstad and translated by Ineke Lenting. It translates well. Sam is a little boy who loves watching the big machines at the construction site and imagining himself driving the steamroller or manipulating the crane. One day he’s left to keep an eye on the construction site while the workers go off to lunch.

“If anyone does enter the construction site, call the police!” says the boss. But will someone else call the police if Sam is the one who breaks the rules and enters the construction site?

Sam and the Construction Site is an exciting story for preschoolers, especially those who have a love for big machines and big adventures. The pictures themselves are big, and yet detailed, with hidden clues to the ending of the story that make the book a read-again-and-again book rather than a one time read. Sam has a bad reason for going into the construction site, a dare from some bigger boys, but then he has a good reason for his next rule-breaking actions.

What a great story and such an opening for discussion! Preschoolers might want to talk about rules and rule-breaking, dares, when to call the police, consequences, observational abilities, and of course, steam rollers, cement trucks, and cranes. Pair this one with Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, Trucks and New Road! by Gail Gibbons, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherry Rinker, and Building a House by Byron Barton.

Other favorite building construction picture books?

Seven Things That Made Me Smile in April

April was a difficult month, but I’m not going to tell you about all the things that made me do the opposite of smile in April. (Hint: for one, initials are DT, and police were involved in another frown-maker.) Instead, I’m going to play Pollyanna and tell you about the stuff that made me smile, sometimes through the tears, this month in the grand old year of 2016.

1. Speaking of Pollyanna and the the “glad game”, this post at Living Books Library, called “Are You Glad?” made my day a little gladder (gladder or more glad?) when I read it.

2. Randy Acorn’s book, Happiness, was a compendium on the subject of happiness from a Biblical perspective. He quotes practically everyone from the Bible itself to St. Augustine to Matthew Henry to John Piper, and most every Christian writer or thinker in between, all on the subject of happiness. I didn’t finish the book because I had to return it to the library, but I think I need a copy of my own anyway so that I can dip into it whenever the frowns and grumps seem to be gaining the upper hand.

“Being happy in God and living righteously tastes far better for far longer than sin does. When my hunger and thirst for joy is satisfied by Christ, sin becomes unattractive. I say no to immorality not because I hate pleasure but because I want the enduring pleasure found in Christ.”
~Randy Alcorn, Happiness

3. Podcasts. I am truly glad to have discovered podcasts a few months ago. They have made my driving times and other times much more enjoyable. I found a couple of new-to-me podcasts to add to my growing list of favorites. Here’s the list of favorites, which I notice that I have never before posted here on Semicolon:

Read Aloud Revival. The lovely Sarah MacKenzie talks all things reading aloud with your children. She’s interviewed such guests as Sarah Clarkson, Andrew Pudewa, N.D. Wilson, Anne Bogel, Melissa Wiley, and many more. Excellent podcast.
Homeschooling IRL with Andy and Kendra Fletcher. “Discussing the topics that you might not find covered at your local homeschooling convention, veteran homeschooling parents and bloggers, Andy and Kendra Fletcher, use humor, honesty, and grace to pull the veil back on Christian homeschooling.” Good, encouraging, real stuff here.
The World and Everything In It, a daily, Monday through Friday, news update from the people at WORLD magazine.
What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy. I wrote about this new-to-me podcast here.
Two from NPR: This American Life and The Moth Podcast.
Two from the CIRCE Institute Podcast Network: The Mason Jar, about Charlotte Mason’s ideas on education, and Close Reads, a book discussion podcast.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.
Tea or Books? with Simon of Stuck in a Book and Rachel who blogs at Book Snob. This one is velly, velly British, and I’ve just listened to one episode so far. But I like it–if I can understand what the two podcasters are saying, what with my hearing loss and their accents.

What podcasts do you recommend to make me smile?

4. My youngest daughter will be acting in a musical called Malcolm at the end of May, based on the book by George MacDonald of the same name. The book was edited by Michael Phillips and republished as The Fisherman’s Lady, and it has a sequel, The Marquis’ Secret. These updated versions of Macdonald’s romantic novels are, I’ve been told, quite well done and useful for modern day readers who might have trouble with MacDonald’s use of Scottish dialect and Victorian language. I’m already smiling to think of watching Z-baby and her friends in the musical version of Malcolm, and I hope to read The Fisherman’s Lady and perhaps another one or two of MacDonald’s books in May.

5. I would take a picture if I could of the lovely books that I was able to purchase at Half-Price Books this week, a few additions to my library. But a list will have to suffice:
God King by Joanne Williamson.
Abigail Adams (Childhood of Famous Americans) by Jean Wagoner.
Rosa Parks (Childhood of Famous Americans) by Kathleen Kudlinski.
Elizabeth Blackwell (Childhood of Famous Americans) by Joanne Landers Henry.
*How Do I Love Thee? A Novel of Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Nancy Moser.
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool.
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema.
*The Sword and the Flame by Stephen Lawhead.
*The Dolphins of Laurentum by Caroline Lawrence.
*Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede.

I’m smiling about the ones I’ve already read and can now give to my family and library patrons and about the ones that I’m looking forward to reading (*).

6. WORLD magazine’s latest issue features children’s books, including an article about the WORLD Children’s Book of the Year, Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley, an interview with John Erikson, author of the Hank the Cowdog series, a discussion of Victorian author GA Henty and reading historical books in cultural context, and lots and lots of book suggestions. I was on the committee that picked the middle grade fiction Book of the Year and the runners-up, so I definitely had a smile on my face as I read the many articles about children’s books in this weeks issue of WORLD magazine.

7. I had three library open house dates for my private subscription lending library that I run out of my house here in southeast Houston. Several families came to visit, and it looks as if several will join the library. I really, really enjoy having a library for children and adults (mostly homeschoolers) and sharing my books with them.

Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo

Serendipity. I read two books this week about children who are traumatized and lose their ability to speak. I wondered how common this “selective mutism” or traumatized mutism is, so I looked it up. It turns out that selective mutism is rare, and mutism caused by trauma is quite rare, almost nonexistent. But it makes for a good story.

While fishing in the Scilly Isles off the coast of Britain, Alfie and his father find a young girl on a small, uninhabited island, and they bring her home with them. The girl is injured, near death, and she speaks only one word: “Lucy”. So they call her Lucy Lost, not knowing where she came from or how she came to be abandoned on the island. World War I is bringing changes to the island where Alfie lives, and Lucy becomes a victim of the islanders’ ignorance and fear as many of them come to believe that she is actually a German girl, perhaps even a spy.

One of the best World War I middle grade novels I’ve read, Listen to the Moon would be a good companion novel to Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, a nonfiction book about the sinking of the Lusitania. Read Dead Wake (for adults) first, and then read Morpurgo’s story of Lucy Lost, Listen to the Moon. In fact, I would have titled the book Lucy Lost instead of Listen to the Moon. Lucy Lost is more memorable, whereas Listen to the Moon sounds just like a dozen other book titles that wouldn’t stick in the mind for very long. (Yeah, I just typed in “moon” and “listen” in the search bar at Goodreads and came up with Goodnight Moon, Walk Two Moons, The Moon and More, Moon Over Manifest, The Moon Is Down, Just Listen, I Should Have Listened to the Moon, and too many more. I definitely have a future career as a book namer.)