Tuesday, September 29, 2020

George Washington: Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Leader by Robert F. Jones


George Washington: Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Leader by Robert F. Jones

Our case is not desperate, if virtue exists in the people and there is wisdom among our rulers. ~ General George Washington


As presidential biographies go, this is short and quite accessible. It contains very little about George Washington’s childhood – because according to the author: there is little evidence to go on.


Washington’s father died when George was barely one and there is little written about his education. There were however two formative influences in his early life: the study of deportment, as expounded in Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, and Stoic philosophy, primarily introduced to him by family friend, Colonel William Fairfax. If you understand even a little about these two influences, the rest of Washington’s life makes perfect sense.


Although one thing surprised me based on previous perceptions I had of George Washington; he was not a deeply religious man; he is best described as a Deist. He seldom spoke of God in personal terms, preferring impersonal terms such as "Divine Providence".


The rest of this glimpse at the “Father of the Nation” was largely what I expected.


George Washington was a quiet and dignified man, slow to decide but resolute once decided. He was concerned with his reputation and legacy, but ready to risk all for what he believed was right. As the author put it…

He had the qualities needed to secure victory: patience, self-discipline, organizing ability, willingness to work hard, and faith in the eventual success of the struggle for independence.


He was a professional surveyor, planter, and land speculator. But of course, he is best known as soldier and statesman. As a soldier, he was competent, but not brilliant as either strategist or tactician. Similarly, as statesman, he was not a great orator, writer, or politician – but in both roles, he was as the title expresses an extraordinary leader. 


Of Washington’s political career, the author opined…

…he was helping the new nation through a difficult adolescence.


His presidency is marked by many things, but the most significant for me, was his effort to keep the executive non-partisan. A near impossible task considering his two closest advisors, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (Republican) and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (Federalist). His effort to keep the presidency non-partisan was mostly successful, though it quickly ended when his presidency ended.


Abigail Adams, wife of then Vice President John Adams had this to say of President Washington…

He is polite with dignity, affable without familiarity, distant without haughtiness, grave without austerity, modest, wise, and good.


Upon Washington’s retirement, Henrietta Liston, wife of Robert Liston, British Minister to the United States observed…

There is a Magic in his name more powerful than the abilities of any other man can ever acquire.


George Washington was also a slave owner. It seems disingenuous to extol his virtues and ignore his greatest sin, as indeed it was – an awful, abhorrent sin. However, it has taken humanity over 6,000 years to collectively repudiate the evils of slavery. I don’t expect a man who was born to an age when it was a sanctioned institution to perfectly sort it out, on his own, in less than 50 years of adult life. I am not an apologist for the slave owner, but I don’t believe George Washington’s singular failure negates the value of a life that is otherwise characterized by virtue and integrity.


So, for something less depressing, two slightly amusing anecdotes. 


During his presidency, Washington was addressed as “Excellency”. It was not until Jefferson’s presidency that “Mr. President” became the accepted term of address.


When the British surrendered at Yorktown, custom called for the commanding general to surrender his sword, but General Cornwallis pleaded illness and sent Brigadier O’Hara. In response to this slight, General Washington deputed Major General Benjamin Lincoln to accept the surrender – which must have been satisfying to Lincoln, who previously had surrendered to Cornwallis at the Battle of Charlestown.


This book satisfies square B4, memoir or biography, in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (novel #161)

So there is still the sound of whispering that I have heard all my life, but these are different voices. ~ Antoinette


Wide Sargasso Sea is the prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I would call it an early form of fan fiction, though scholars refer to it as a feminist and anti-colonial response. 


Spoiler Alert: My comments contain spoilers, for both Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre.


In Jane Eyre, Thornfield Hall has a mysterious secret that is eventually revealed to be a madwoman locked in an upper room, the wife of Edward Rochester, master of Thornfield Hall. Wide Sargasso Sea – is her story.


And a very interesting story. I loved Jane Eyre, but I admit I didn’t give much thought to the madwoman, other than as an obstacle to Jane’s happiness. That’s rather unfair, and I guess Jean Rhys felt the same way. She gave a name: Antoinette Cosway, and a face: a beautiful creole face, and a story to the poor woman.


In the opening portion of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette narrates her childhood in Jamaica. Her family home, once a prosperous plantation, is languishing since the abolition of slavery, and death of her father. Her mother Annette struggles to keep the household intact, but eventually she marries a wealthy Englishman in hopes of restoring the former glory. Things don’t go as planned, and several tragedies drive Anette to madness. 


Besides this maternal tendency, Antoinette herself seems at times – just a bit aloof to reality. It will get worse.


Antoinette’s step brother pays a healthy dowry to an Englishman of good breeding and little fortune to marry Antoinette. The gentleman is never named, but it is evident to anyone who has read Jane Eyre to be Edward Rochester.


Antoinette is beautiful and wealthy, so Rochester tries to make a go of it, but quickly begins to have reservations. He speaks to her often of England and notes her flippant response:

‘Oh England, England’ she called back mockingly, and the sound went on and on like a warning I did not choose to hear.


And things deteriorate quickly. Both are unhappy; Antoinette begins a quick descent into madness, and her husband to despair.

Pity. Is there none for me? Tied to a lunatic for life – a drunken lying lunatic – gone her mother’s way.


If I was bound for Hell, let it be Hell. No more false heavens. No more damned magic. You hate me and I hate you. We’ll see who hates best.


And in his despair, he takes her back to England, to lock her away.

I was tired of these people. I disliked their laughter and their tears, their flattery and envy, conceit and deceit. And I hated the place.


Where miserable Antoinette, now called Bertha by her husband, wastes away in an upper room.

So there is still the sound of whispering that I have heard all my life, but these are different voices. ~ Antoinette


It was a compelling read. I felt sympathy and blame for both Rochester and Antoinette. I thought it was going to make Rochester a villain, which would not have been in keeping with his character Jane Eyre. I thought Rhys did a convincing job of explaining how this intelligent man becomes so bitter and despairing. But of course, the greater character development was Antoinette. I’ll have to read Jane Eyre again, with a more sympathetic feeling for the madwoman in the attic.


I give it 3 ½ of 5 stars

I don’t think it would be of much interest on its own – without Jane Eyre. I am intrigued by this technique of one author filling in gaps left by another. It happens with some frequency, but seldom with as much success. In this instance, both novels are considered classics. Have you read Wide Sargasso Sea? Did you like how Rhys filled in the gaps?



This novel satisfies square N5, New School Classic in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge and Classic with nature in the title for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020



Sunday, September 20, 2020

Recap of Novels 151 – 160

Recap of Novels 151 – 160 


Average rating of novels 151 – 160:  3.7 stars (out of 5)



151.  ★★                    The Tale of Genji

152.  ★★★★ ½         The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

153.  ★★★★             Cry, the Beloved Country

154.  ★★★★             Nicholas Nickleby

155   ★★★                 The Stranger
★★★★             Ragtime
★★★★             Where the Red Fern Grows

158.  ★★★★             Something Wicked This Way Comes

159.  ★★½                 The House on the Borderlands

160.  ★★★★             The Hound of the Baskervilles

Favorite: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall


Least Favorite: The Tale of Genji


Best Hero: Will’s Dad in Something Wicked This Way Comes

Best Heroine: Helen Graham, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall


Most Villainous: Ralph Nickleby from Nicholas Nickleby

Runner up: Mr. Dark, from Something Wicked This Way Comes


Most interesting/Complex character: Coalhouse Walker Jr. from Ragtime


Best Quotation: ‘No man can deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him,’ I replied: ‘it cost more to redeem their souls – it cost the blood of an incarnate God, perfect and sinless in Himself, to redeem us from the bondage of the evil one: – let Him plead for you.’ ~ Helen Graham, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall


Runner Up: The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again. ~ Msimangu in Cry, the Beloved Country


Honorable Mention: Three A.M. That’s our reward. Three in the morn. The Soul’s midnight. The tide goes out, the soul ebbs. And a train arrives at an hour of despair…Why? ~ Charles Halloway in Something Wicked This Way Comes



Friday, September 18, 2020

The Hound of the Baskervilles – a Sherlock Holmes Novel (novel #160)

…in a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task. ~ Sherlock Holmes


The Hound of the Baskervilles, is one of four Holmes adventures long enough to qualify as a novel. Arranged chronologically it is his 20thcase. It is also perhaps, Holmes’ best known adventure.


I’ve mentioned before that the greatest pleasure in Holmes' adventures, is not the mystery, but rather the relationship and repartee between Holmes and Watson. That’s a bit lacking in this novel, as the two spend most of the story apart. However, there is still some fun dialogue, such as when Dr. Mortimer, a perspective client, comments on Holmes’ skull:

A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available, would be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull.


The case is unusual as it seems to portend a supernatural, or even demonic malign. Holmes, the man of science, is dubious, but unwilling to rule out the fantastic:

Holmes shrugged his shoulders. ‘I have hitherto confined my investigations to this world,’ said he. “in a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task.’


The Hound, is no ordinary hound. It is reputed to be of gigantic, impossible proportions, with eyes and breath of fire, and the legendary scourge of the family Baskerville. Legend, until recent developments cast suspicion on the Hell Hound for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville.


It is a marvelous mystery, that keeps the reader guessing. At a moment of revelation, Sherlock laughs, causing Watson to observe:

I have not heard him laugh often, and it has always boded ill to somebody.


By some standards, this is the best of Sherlock’s adventures. I wouldn’t rate it quite that high, but it was still great fun. 


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this for the R.I.P. XV challenge – scary reads for September and October. The challenge also allowed for mysteries, but I thought this Sherlock Holmes story doubly qualified – mystery and spooky.



Monday, September 14, 2020

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (novel #159)

The House on the Borderland is a supernatural horror novel, set in Ireland. It begins in very early 20th Century when a pair of fishermen, discover a few scant remains of “The House” and a journal. The bulk of the novel then is the journals content, set in probably the very early 19th Century, told by a recluse who inhabited the house.


The unnamed narrator buys the house for a song, owing to its mysterious and sinister legend. He lives with his spinster sister and dog Pepper. Shortly after inhabiting the house he begins to experience bizarre visions – perhaps hallucinations – but eventually, the fantastic manifestations leave unmistakable physical evidence. He is at times, transported through time and space, to the extremes of the cosmos. He encounters the spiritual presence of a long-lost love, and does battle with a herd of intelligent, but clearly malevolent swine-creatures.


I was looking forward to this read, as it was quite unknown to me and somewhat obscure to modern readers. I was quite disappointed. It was at times, riveting when I was scared for the narrator’s life, but overall I felt it was just a series of amazing events, leading to an amazing culmination, without a cohesive point. 


I give it 2 ½ of 5 stars


But don’t take my word for it. Smarter readers I love it, including H. P. Lovecraft and Terry Pratchett. Have you read The House on the Borderland? What did you think?



I read this for the R.I.P. XV challenge – scary reads for September and October. It also satisfied square I5: Classic Gothic or Horror 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge



Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Fault in Me

The fault in me


In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Cassius laments the rise of Caesar and declares:


The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…


If you will pardon a minor paraphrase, I confess:


The fault, dear friends, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…

and more to the point, in ME.


Like Cassius, I lament what is happening in my land. I am distressed by events and sentiments that pervade our country. I recognize a tendency to find fault in the stars, but by “stars” I mean not “fate” but rather, our leaders, celebrities, the rich, famous, powerful…OUR STARS!


It is SO easy to blame THEM.


But the Holy Spirit convicted me that blaming others is neither right nor effectual. What is MY responsibility; what have I done, or failed to do, that resulted in this state we are in? 


1 Timothy 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior


God forgive me; I have not done this. The fault is in me. Oh, I pray now and then for “our leaders” or for President Trump, but if I am honest, I don’t even know the names of my Senators, my Representative, my Governor, my State Legislators. Well, I do now, and I renew a commitment to pray for them regularly by name. I will entreat the LORD to grant them wisdom; I will pray he will give them a hunger for righteousness, and though this will be difficult with some, I will give thanks for them. 


2 Chronicles 7:14-15and if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 


This verse was given to King Solomon upon completion of The Temple. It is not explicitly given to Christians or the New Testament Church, but I believe the application is valid. It clearly implies there will be days when the land needs healing, and I believe we live in such a day. I profess to be one of God’s people, hence if I want him to heal my land, the first step is to humble myself. 


God forgive me for my lack of humility.


I have confessed my lack of prayer already, but this is more than just prayer for my leaders, so again God forgive me; the fault is in me.


I must seek his face, but I am busy making money, and enjoying family, and my books – all honorable endeavors, but how often do I seek his face? God forgive me.


But there’s more. This verse does not say, if I humble myself and pray and seek his face that he will turn my rulers from their wicked ways. It says GOD’S PEOPLE must turn from THEIR wicked ways. 


God forgive me for my wicked ways, for my apathy, my critical spirit, my pride, my hypocrisy, my humanism, my materialism, my hedonism.


Dear God, hear from Heaven and forgive MY sin for the fault is in ME, and heal my land.


Nowhere does God say: if My people will hurl insults at their rulers, and will mock their celebrities, and will forward social media memes, and will constantly complain…  Nowhere!


He does say…

Romans 12:18 – If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.


God forgive me, and help me to exhibit faith, hope, and love rather than dismay, disgust, and despair.


Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;

He turns it wherever He wishes.


I find great comfort in this. None of what befalls us is outside the providence of God. The healing of our land does not depend upon the ungodly changing their ways – it depends entirely upon God, and he placed the responsibility on HIS PEOPLE to be humble, to pray, to seek him, and to repent.


I read not long ago the one commandment Jesus repeated more than any other was…Fear not. Hallelujah and Amen! He said it in a few different ways of course: fear not, do not be afraid, be at peace, let not your heart be troubled, and I’d like to focus on that last one…let not your heart be troubled. It is NOT God’s will that Christians be constantly agitated…it simply is not. If that is the testimony I have to offer the world…it isn’t much to offer.


God forgive me, and teach me to be light and salt to a dark and dying world.


2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.



Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (novel #158)

“Three A.M. That’s our reward. Three in the morn. The Soul’s midnight. The tide goes out, the soul ebbs. And a train arrives at an hour of despair…Why?”

You might guess from the title, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a horror story. Some have called it dark fantasy, but nah…I think it’s horror. I read this once before, when I was 13, the age of the two protagonists, growing up in mid-America as they were, in the 60s, and 70s as they did. Very likely, all this empathy caused me to share their terror. I didn’t remember much of this story, but I remembered that it terrified me.

In a wonderful way.


The story opens on a lazy autumn afternoon, a week before Halloween, a week before inseparable friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade turn 14.

And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young anymore.


Will was born a minute before midnight, October 31, Jim a minute after.


But it is at 3 A.M – the soul’s midnight – on October 23rd, nearly 14 years later when Jim and Will are beckoned by a train whistle. We’ve all heard that romantic, far off train in the night…


Yet this train’s whistle! The wails of a lifetime where gathered in it from the other nights in other slumbering years; the howl of moon-dreamed dogs, the seep of river-cold winds through January porch screens which stopped the blood, a thousand fire sirens weeping, or worse! the outgone shreds of breath, the protests of a billion people dead or dying, not wanting to be dead, their groans, their sighs, burst over the earth!


Unable to resist the call, Will and Jim climb out their windows to investigate the arrival of Coogar and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.


It is subtly terrifying. I’m not frightened by grotesque monsters. It is those things supposed to be harmless: a clown – but just a little off, an old woman, appearing kindly and gentle – but perhaps a witch, or in this case, a carnival that should be wondrous – but which comes at an odd time, in the wrong season, that terrify me in a quiet unspeakable way, with their secret malevolence.


Even the title is subtle. It is taken from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a line uttered by the Weird Sisters (never expressly called witches in the play)

By the pricking of my thumbs, 

Something wicked this way comes. 


Besides his wonderful, subtle, terrifying words, I love Bradbury’s writing. It is romantic, poetically descriptive, mysteriously vague, brief and poignant. Such as Will’s dad, Charles Halloway, observing the boys chasing the wind in the innocence of youth…

He knew what the wind was doing to them, where it was taking them, to all the secret places that were never so secret again in life.


I particularly love the allusion in this next line when Charles, who works in the library, marks his son, perusing its wonders…

So, looking back down the corridor, was Dad shocked to see he owned a son who visited this separate 20,000-fathoms-deep world?


Or this…Chapter 31 quoted in its entirety: 

Nothing much else happened, all the rest of that night.


Or one last excerpt, that I cannot put in context without a spoiler, but the context is not necessary to enjoy the beauty of the words describing father and son in a moment of playfulness:

He got half over Dad when they fell, rolled in the grass, all hoot-owl and donkey, all brass and cymbal as it must have been the first year of Creation, and Joy not yet thrown from the Garden.


And besides all this, I think there are powerful truths tucked away in the pages of this fantasy. “Be careful what you wish for” is one, but more importantly, the sometimes-fine line between evil and good. Every evil that has been invented is a perversion of some good gift of the creator; every desire in the heart of man has a righteous venue, and an indulgent aberration. I think Bradbury was warning us that evil ones will tempt us with subtle lies, just as when Joy was thrown from the garden.


I give it 4 of 5 stars



I read this for the R.I.P. XV challenge – scary reads for September and October.



Saturday, September 5, 2020

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (novel #157)

This was what I had prayed for, worked for, sweated for, my own little hounds bawling on the trail of a river coon.

Where the Red Fern Grows is the tale of Billy Colman and his obsession to first acquire a pair of hunting dogs, and then his love for his dogs and their passion for the hunt.


It begins when adult Billy rescues a stray redbone coonhound, which causes him to reminisce about Little Ann and Old Dan. Growing up in the Ozarks of Oklahoma, Billy longs for a pair of hunting dogs, but this is nearly impossible due to the poverty of his family. At night, he agonizes as he listens to coon dogs bawling on the hunt…

I’m sure if that coon hunter had known that he was slowly killing a ten-year-old boy, he would have put a muzzle on his hound.


But with the sincere and innocent prayers of a child, determination, hard work, and a little help from his grandpa, Billy raises the money he needs to mail order a pair of young hounds. After months of training, on the night of his first hunt, the dogs, Little Ann and Old Dan, scent a coon and the hunt is on…

This was what I had prayed for, worked for, sweated for, my own little hounds bawling on the trail of a river coon. I don’t know why I cried, but I did. While the tears rolled, I whooped again and again.


That first hunt nearly ends in failure as the dogs do their job by treeing the coon in a huge sycamore that will take days for Billy to cut down, in order for the dogs to finish the hunt. When Billy is nearly spent, ready to admit defeat, he says another prayer and a mighty wind finishes the job.

Before I left for home, I walked back to the sycamore tree. Once again, I said a prayer, but this time the words were different. I didn’t ask for a miracle. In every way a young boy could, I said “thanks.” My second prayer wasn’t just said with just words. All of my heart and soul was in it.


There are many more coon hunts. Billy and his dogs become a local legend, and eventually enter a national coon hunting contest.

No finer coon hounds could be found anywhere. They came from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the bayou country of Louisiana, the Red River bottoms of Texas, and the flinty hills of the Ozarks.


I’ll spare the rest. You may hear this described as a coming of age tale, or a tale of the bond between a boy and his dogs. It is certainly both, but I believe it is something more. It is a tale of faith, of the shaking of a young boy’s faith, and how he comes through the other side.


If you are opposed to hunting, or squeamish, this book may not be for you. It was reminiscent of my own youth, when I would hunt, often just me and my beagle Duchess. It was rabbits for us, but I could still feel Billy’s joy when he was on the hunt with his dogs.


I give it 4 of 5 stars


This novel satisfies square O3, Book published the year I was born, 1961 in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge and 20th Century Classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020