Well. Here were are at the end of the year. Fifty books by December 31, 2012 doesn’t look viable at this point. Here is my updated list since I last posted in August:
#14-15 “T.R.: The Last Romantic” by H.W. Brands.
#16: “Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars” by Camille Pagilla
#17: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams
#19: “A History of the World in 8 Glasses” by Tom Standage
So there we have it. A full 31 books short of the goal. I’ll have to do some adjusting to my goal for next year.
(And I won’t even try to pretend like I watched 50 movies.)
Filed under: FiftyFiftyMe Books | Tags: book review, Charles Murray, class, fiftyfifty.me books, race, sociology
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 is the latest by author Charles Murray. Rather than write my own synopsis of the books main points, I’ll quote Amazon’s:
Murray meticulously chronicles and measures the emergence of two wholly distinct classes: a new upper class, first identified in The Bell Curve as “the cognitive elite,” and a new “lower class,” which he is too polite to give a name. And he vividly localizes his argument by imagining two emblematic communities: Belmont, where everyone has at least one college degree, and Fishtown, where no one has any. (
The key point is that the four great social trends of the past half-century–the decline of marriage, of the work ethic, of respect for the law and of religious observance–have affected Fishtown much more than Belmont. As a consequence, the traditional bonds of civil society have atrophied in Fishtown. And that, Murray concludes, is why people there are so very unhappy–and dysfunctional.
Murray spends 16 of his 17 chapters laying out the emerging differences, describing the schism between the two classes, and even helping his reader try to locate themselves somewhere within the emerging dichotomy (see this for a significant part of Chapter 4, including the “How Thick is Your Bubble” test). Murray’s main point in all of this is that, “It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale professors. It is a problem if Yale professors, or producers of network news programs, or CEOs of great corporations, or presidential advisers cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers.”
Murray argues his point from an interesting perspective. He proclaims himself to be a libertarian, which I think is accurate, but he also articulates a vision that many conservative Republicans would sympathize with. He outlines what he sees as the core of the Founding Fathers’ view(s?) for America: Marriage, Industriousness, Honesty, and Religiousity. I appreciated that in his treatment of these topics, he did not try to make the Founders out to be perfect embodiments of these values. He noted, for example, that Washington held religious views that we out of line with the times. He pointed out that Hamilton was not the personification of the happily married man. But, to his point, each of the Founders articulated a need to strive for these four core values in order for the US to survive.
Murray’s treatment of the two simplified towns, Belmont and Fishtown, demonstrate clearly that the lower orders have nearly abandoned completely these four core values, while the New Upper class plods along upholding, but not articulating a defense of, these values (at least to some extent). Mired in the new “we can’t be critical of anyone different from us” mindset that plagues America right now, the New Upper Class is content to let the lower orders drown in “their” way of life.
By the end of Chapter 16, I began to feel that there was no hope. And maybe there isn’t. Murray sees a “Civic Great Awakening” as the only real method for changing course. This Great Awakening, he says, may be brought on in one or more ways. Watching the implosion of the European Welfare State model is one of them. The collapse of the Intellectual Foundations of the Welfare State here at home is another. He also cites the “Increasing obviousness of an alternative” as a possible trigger. Particularly interesting is this question: “How, in a country where most people don’t need a penny of income transfers to begin with, can we spend 1.5 trillion on income transfers and still have material want?” How indeed?
The final path to this new Civic Great Awakening is, though, one that I am most hopeful will come to fruition, but is probably also the least likely, and that is the “Resilience of American Ideals.” Will American remain “the last best hope?” Is there someone who can articulate this message and turn the tide? Murray does not attempt to prophesize.
Overall the book was interesting, even if it sometimes smacked of elitism (Belmont needs to get its act together so it can be a beacon of light for the residents of Fishtown. Hmm…). Writing from the view of someone with a history background, the sociological approach has never been one that has been attractive to me. Still, Murray presents a great deal of evidence, including lengthy appendices in which he breaks down his data even further.
Filed under: FiftyFiftyMe Books
I really have been reading this summer. Honest! Not enough to get caught up and meet the fiftyfifty challenge, but enough to feel that I’ve been using my time wisely. To get caught up, here is a quick overview of what I’ve read so far this summer:
#10 - The Last Jihad by Joel Rosenberg. The Last Jihad is the first in a series of books by Rosenberg. Written in a style that is very similar to Tom Clancy, That Last Jihad is probably best described as a crime thriller. The central plot is built around a terror network that is plotting to do unspeakable things, and always nearly accomplishes these things, but for the work of the main character, Wall Street big-shot turned State Department operative, Jon Bennett. The book was good, interesting, a relatively easy read, and fairly ‘thrilling’ (I mean, for a thriller). The most interesting part was, as fans like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity point out, how predictive the book really was about what happened in the Middle East after 9/11 considering it was written some nine months prior to the 9/11 attacks.
#11 Power in the Blood by Linda Tate: Here is Amazon’s synopsis of the book:
Power in the Blood: A Family Narrative traces Linda Tate’s journey to rediscover the Cherokee-Appalachian branch of her family and provides an unflinching examination of the poverty, discrimination, and family violence that marked their lives. In her search for the truth of her own past, Tate scoured archives, libraries, and courthouses throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois, and Missouri, visited numerous cemeteries, and combed through census records, marriage records, court cases, local histories, old maps, and photographs. As she began to locate distant relatives — fifth, sixth, seventh cousins, all descended from her great-great grandmother Louisiana — they gathered in kitchens and living rooms, held family reunions, and swapped stories. A past that had long been buried slowly came to light as family members shared the pieces of the family’s tale that had been passed along to them.
I chose this book because A) I took two classes with Dr. Tate when she was a professor of English at Shepherd University and found her to be one of the–maybe even the– best teachers/professors I ever had. I always thoroughly enjoyed her class and learned a lot from her. But B) I have wanted to do my own family history. Anytime I bring it up my grandmother tells me that I can do it if I want to, but I should be prepared to not like what I find. This scares me a bit. After reading Dr. Tate’s book I’m more determined than ever to make my own project a reality, but I think I may have a greater appreciation for my grandmother’s words of caution.
Power in the Blood is beautifully written. As Tate notes, it isn’t 100% true family narrative, as parts of it are some what fictionalized to help fill in the missing gaps. What I loved most about the book, though, was the combination of history and story telling that helped bring the book to life. For anyone with roots or an interest in the Appalachian region (though mine are squarely in West Virginia, not Kentucky), it is worth reading.
#12: The Last Days by Joel Rosenberg: The Last Days is number two in the series and picks up right where The Last Jihad leaves off. Again I’ll borrow the Amazon synopsis:
Osama bin Laden is dead. Saddam’s regime is buried. Baghdad lies in ruins. Now the eyes of the world are on Jon Bennett and Erin McCoy, two senior White House advisors, as they arrive in the Middle East to offer a historic Arab-Israeli peace plan and the American president’s new vision of freedom and democracy. But in the shadows lie men whose hearts are filled with evil—men for whom the prospect of peace goes against everything they believe. And soon one terrifying scheme after another begins to unfold. As Jon and Erin face a battle for control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and an Iraqi plan to rebuild ancient Babylon, they can’t help but wonder: Are such signs evidence that they are living in the last days before the return of Christ?
Again, fairly ‘thrilling,’ but also a bit predictable, the plot line will keep anyone who enjoys these types of books interested. Sometimes I think Rosenberg gets bogged down in trying to describe every angle of every event in the book, even those not central to progressing the story line. I found myself saying “I got it, let’s move on” several times while reading this one. It didn’t seem as polished as the first book, so I’ll be interested to see if he can bounce back in the third book of the series.
Not that it counts towards the goal (as the folks at fiftyfifty.me were specific about this), but my summer has also been filled with other reading, too. The History Teacher and The American Historical Review have occupied me as well. Although they are lengthy, probably 120 or more pages in THT and 180ish in AHR, scholarly periodicals filled with 30+ page articles, they are nonetheless periodicals and so I won’t cheat and try to count them.
I am nearly finished with #13: Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 by Charles Murray which was recommended to me by a colleague at work. I have the last section of the book to read and am hoping to wrap it up this week.
Summer time is supposed to be a time of rest for teachers. We all still work, that’s true. Whether its going to classes, studying a topic we aren’t strong on in our curriculum, brushing up on a new technique we want to try, or writing/rewriting lessons for the next semester. I certainly have filled quite a few different topical notebooks in Evernote in anticipation of the new school year.
But one can only handle so much of this…or at least I can only handle so much before I start to get bored and restless. Courtney will tell you that my boredom is not like other people’s boredom. Where other people are bored so they watch TV or read a book, my boredom often leads to various projects around the house, some more destructive and expensive than she would prefer. With more than four weeks before I return to work, these projects are now starting to stack up, and I’m racing the back-to-school date to try to get them finished.
Two weekends ago, I decided it was time to tackle the bedroom. We had painted it a chocolate brown last Christmas thinking the dark color would be good for when Court moved in and had to work nights. That was true. But it also made you feel like you were living in a giant candy bar or something. We agreed it was time to go. Paint color selection…and decorating in general for that matter…is something Courtney and I have a hard time agreeing on. I am more of a neutral colors kind of person, she is more of a bright colors kind of person. We settled, finally, on gray wall colors, but you can see below that she has managed to work some color in, though more–she says–is needed:
Having the bed in front of a window is not, perhaps, ideal. We weren’t fond of it, but in our small bedroom, it’s either in front of the window or shoved into a corner, meaning one of us (Courtney) will have to get into bed by climbing in from the foot. So window it was. This also meant our old upholstered headboard was too tall, blocking the majority of the window. It looked goofy. So the bedroom project became a one with several mini projects, the first of which was creating a new headboard. Our headboard is actually an old door from the house. I knew I was going to be drywalling over an old area of the house later this month, so I snatched the door out of that area and put it to use. Courtney sanded and I primed and painted. Two 2x4s are attached to the back to give it some legs and some sturdiness. It was then bolted to the bed using 1/4×4″ bolts from Home Depot. If you’d like one, you could purchase a headboard specifically made to look like a hand carved door from Restoration Hardware. Only $2,200! Or, for about an hour of time and 3 bucks in parts (assuming you already had the door and some semi-gloss paint…add $25 if you will be repurposing a door from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore or something). There are lots of more elegant variations out there, so do a Google search if you like the idea, but not our final product. Thank you, old doors, for a headboard and for my desk
There are two other mini projects included in the picture above. The first is the old-window-sash turned picture frame. We thought the wall needed more balance since the window doesn’t stretch the whole width of the bed. This, we thought, was a simple solution. There were two window sashes in our attic, but they were too broken to use. We scored these for a fair price at Architectural Old House Parts in Front Royal, VA. A scrub brush plus some scrap booking picture tab things that Courtney had equals two cool (I think) picture frames, and more importantly balance.
The other mini-project in this picture is the side tables. These were handmade (or so I’m told) by my great-grandmother’s father. They were stained a terrible red, and were definitely showing their age. I stripped them down, sanded them down, and stained them using Minwax’s Polyshades 2-1 stain and poly. The color is espresso, to compliment the third and final mini project, the dresser in this picture:
This dresser was a second-hand score from the Hospice store in Winchester. We got it for a tiny price of $60. It didn’t even require anything but some new hardware, which we picked up from Target, and some serious scrubbing. We share it, since the room is too small for two independent dressers without looking silly.
Courtney has, as you can see in the two pictures, managed to work some color in. The peach colored lamps and the Apple Blossoms (hey, we live in Winchester for crying out loud) we target sale finds. And how about those sheets! I get a little dizzy just looking at them. We still want to find some more color for the walls, something to brighten it up even more, but we’re still happy with it.
Not all projects are quite so involved. Some are just rearranging and repurposing furniture. Sunday morning I rearranged my office, making a wall of bookshelves on one side, as seen here:
The book shelves are obviously mismatched, and I hope to rectify that soon, but for now they work. The TV stand is actually and old record cabinet that was my great-grandfather’s. It doesn’t look as classy as built-ins, but it works.
That allowed me to do two things. One was to put my desk in an “L,” which I prefer, using my door-desk and and old book shelf (please pardon the mess and lack of cord control):
The second, and more important, was to create room for a reading chair:
No! Not that chair. Courtney’s friend has a chair she has graciously offered us. Hopefully this week or next I’ll pick it up. I’m pretty pumped about having a reading chair in my office. And again, excuse the clutter.
More on the other projects (and on the Fifty-Fifty me, I promise I have been slowly adding to my list of books and movies) which include a laundry/mudroom area renovation and a new kitchen island made from an old farm table I scored at a flea market.
Filed under: Book Reviews, FiftyFiftyMe Books | Tags: book reviews, fiftyfifty.me books, fiftyfifty.me challenge, history
It is becoming sadly obvious that I will not meet the 50 book goal without a big surge in the second half. I’m only about 1/5 of the way through the 50 books, but I’m over half way through the time frame. Hmm. The math isn’t in my favor, is it?
That said, my ninth book for the challenge was The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement & Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley by Warren Hofstra. Hofstra is a professor at Shenandoah University here in Winchester. He teaches history. I have been finished with this book for some time, so forgive the tardiness. The end of the academic year is hectic, expecially when you are the faculty advisor for the graduating class.
I was spurred to read this book by 3 factors. First – I was interested in reading somewhat localish history and this definitely qualifies. It’s probably really the only recent scholarly work on the Valley. Second – I attended the Virginia Forum in March at James Madison University. It was an excellent experience (thanks to my mentor, Dr. John E. Stealey for the invite). I had dinner with Dr. Hofstra, Dr. Stealey, and a few others. In talking with them in became evident that I did not have a solid enough knowledge base in Valley history. This was one step towards rectifying it. Three – I am strongly considering applying for a PhD program in history (or education, but probably history), and Virginia/West Virginia/Shenandoah Valley are all potential areas that I might be interested in pursuing, so this is a jump on the research if I go into one of those areas.
The book was interesting overall. Hofstra’s book is billed as a “geographical history” that examines “the early landscape history of the Shenandoah Valley in its regional and global context.” Hofstra does a very nice job of discussing Indian presence in the area before and during the initial colonization of the Valley. He places much of the initial agency for settlement with the British Royal powers who were seeking to create a buffer zone between Tidewater/Piedmont settlers and French Imperial power and the French Indian allies. He does an admirable job, as well, in showing the ways in which that agency transition from the Royal administration to the settlers themselves, as they forged ahead in ways that sometimes advanced, but often contradicted, British imperial ambitions. In doing this, Hofstra brings to life many of those characters who were settling the Valley and who, through their settlement, impacted Valley history for centuries.
I did, however, have some issues with the book. First, I admit that I was a bit confused by the idea of “landscape history.” Whether this was a deficit in my understanding/knowledge, or whether this was a problem with Hofstra’s book remains a mystery to me. Is landscape history a widely known term or approach towards studying a region? Or was this a new framework that Hofstra was trying to create? I’m not sure, and I don’t think he clearly defined his terms to offer any level of clarity. Second, I am not sure if Hofstra made a conscious decision to do this or not, but I felt like the framework used in studying frontier history in the West (the ‘new west,’ you might say) could have been useful in establishing some connections between the first pioneers of the Valley, and those frontiersmen who settled the west later on. Terms like hinterland, borderlands, etc. used by the likes of Stephen Aaron, Richard White, and others could, I think, have been applied to the Valley as well, and I was disappointed to see these things not included, or at least a footnote to explain why the decision was made to ignore them.
Still, Hofstra’s book represents a thorough discussion of the Valley’s early history and, undoubtedly, opens the doors for further research to be done.
Up Next: Depending on which I finish first, either William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, or Joel Rosenberg’s The Last Jihad.
Filed under: Book Reviews, FiftyFiftyMe Books | Tags: fiftyfifty.me, fiftyfiftybooks, g.k. chesterton, religion, the ball and the cross
For my eighth book I read G.K. Gesterton’s The Ball and the Cross. It’s a slim volume at only 178 pages. The basic story centers around two would-be dualists, one ardent Catholic and one stern Atheist, and according to the preface is based on Chesterton’s real life debate with an atheist. The story begins when the Catholic busts the glass out of the atheists shop after being offended by an article the Atheist has posted in the window. The two are arrested, but are shortly released. Not yet sufficiently satisfied that he has made his point, the Catholic challenges the Atheist to a duel. The rest of the book is basically the two searching for a peaceful place to duel uninterrupted by those who find their quarrel uncivilized. What is most objectionable isn’t that they want to fight it out, but rather that they are openly engaged in debate about topics of God, faith, the meaning of life, and the sort. There just isn’t a place for such nonsense in the civilized world. Indeed, one might have to be mentally unfit to do such a thing (an idea that plays a big part in the last few chapters of the book).
It’s really interesting the Chesterton was writing about the public’s fear of discussing religion in public in early 1900s Britain as it could easily have been a story about 2012 America, in my opinion. Read from a 21st Century American perspective, some interesting themes emerge. First, the face that so many people for so long had just ignored the Atheists writings, never giving him the satisfaction of an argument. This parallels what appears to be a general apathy towards religion that is developing in the United States. People now, as in the book, don’t seem to grasp the importance of debating words and thoughts. As Chesterton puts it:
What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn’t there be a quarrel about a word? If you’re not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only thing worth fighting about.
Second, once the Atheist finds some one to engage in debate, the public is outraged, particularly governmental officials. It is, after all, impolite to discuss politics and religion, right?
Third, is Gesterton’s general mistrust and disapproval of the media, for all the same reasons the media is criticized today. Probably my favorite scene in the book is Chesterton’s discriptoin of the problem with major news outlets:
It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.” They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority. [emphasis added]
But the biggest parallel comes at the end, as the state, acting under the direction of a figure who appears to be either Lucifer himself or, perhaps, the Anti-Christ (in skimming a few sites about this book there appears to be some debate in the literary world as to which of these figures Chesterton was aiming to depict) stepping in to control every aspect of life. The government’s role in the end of the book is to decide whether you are mentally fit to live out in the world. Everyone is presumed crazy. The burden of proof is on the citizen to demonstrate sanity, not on the state to demonstrate mental unfitness. Naturally, engaging in such behavior as the Catholic and the Atheist is tantamount to being crazy as a loon.
The book is interesting, and it’s a quick read. Certainly I can’t pretend that I understand everything Chesterton said, or did not say, and I have not scratched the surface of the analysis a book like this is due, but there are lots of websites out there that do offer more analysis, so if this post has peaked your interested, I suggest you head to Google and do a little more reading.
But first, buy a copy of the book and read it. It’s worth the 3 or 4 hours it will take you. Good luck!
Up next, we’re back to history with Warren Hofstra’s The Planting of New Virginia.
Filed under: FiftyFifty.Me Movies, Funnies | Tags: fiftyfifty.me, fiftyfiftyme movies
My movie watching is really lacking. With the NHL playoffs in full swing, who cares about movies?
That said, I did watch one with Courtney this week. I’m not proud of it, but my third movie was Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family.
No review, but here’s the trailer:
Like I said, I’m not proud, but I did laugh pretty hard.