Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Gateless Barrier

In Victorian England, women of good breeding were not encouraged to stand out for much more than their pretty looks or fashionable parties. they definitely were not encouraged to become authors, much less popular authors.

Therefore Mary St. Leger Kingsley became Lucas Malet, author of some fourteen books from the late 1880's to 1930. Her father was author Charles Kingsley (Water Babies) and several years after her first book was published she married William Harrison, Minor Canon of Westminster, and Priest-in-Ordinary to the Queen.

To protect her identity, she remained Lucas Malet in print.

Lately we have come across The Gateless Barrier, Lucas Malet's seventh book. It is a paranormal historical romance, with an Preface to the reader discussing a belief of the Zen Dyhana sect, specifically Mu-Mon-Kwan, which means "The Gateless Barrier".

Malet's subject, Laurence, has had a blessed life - everything has gone his way, family, fortune, education, even recently he has acquired the perfect wife. As the book opens we meet him leaning on a ship-railing, traveling to the bedside of a dying uncle in England. His thoughts dwell on how easily everything has gone for him, without much exertion or interest on his part. And how empty it seems, when he should be delighted.

In his uncle's brooding old mansion, Laurence encounters a beautiful ghost, one who seems more intriguing than familiar. After several glimpses, he finally manages to approach her:

"Listen to me," he said. "We are strangers to one another - so strangely strangers that I half distrust the evidence of my senses, as only too conceivably, you distrust the evidence of yours. I don't pretend to understand what distance of time, or space, or conditions, separate us. I only know that I see you, and that you are unhappy, and that you search for something you are unable to find. Look here, look here - listen to me and try to lay hold of this idea - that I am a friend, not an enemy; that I come to help, not to hinder you. Try to enter into some sort of relation with me. Try to cross the gulf which seems to lie between us. Try to believe that you have found someone who will keep faith with you, and do his best to serve you; and believing that, put sorrow out of your face."

And then, hidden away in a dusty pigeonhole of an old desk, he finds the letters, dated some eighty years earlier, some still bearing rusty red stains. On his deathbed, Laurence's dying uncle asks if he has seen the spectre...

Written along the lines of Peter Ibbettson, and during the time of Spiritualism's great popularity, this book remains surprisingly readable, with a twist at the end.

The Gateless Barrier, by Lucas Malet, offered for sale, as of September 29,2009 by Chewybooks at: http://www.amazon.com/shops/chewybooks

Monday, September 28, 2009

When the Cossacks first surrounded the house...

How many times do you run across a line like that?

Several, if you are reading The Paderewski Memoirs.

This 1938 collection of the great composer's memoirs was told directly to the author Mary Lawton. Born in 1860 in Poland, to a mother named Polixena and a estate administrator named Jan, Paderewski lived through the tumultuous Polish revolutions and constant war with Mother Russia.

So when he says the Cossacks surrounded the house, they did:

"My country was always torn with revolution. My first childish knowledge of it was revolution, and it was in the revolution of 1863 that my father was taken to prison. It was very sad and terrifying to us, and we cried bitterly together...we could not understand it when our father was taken away from us and we were left alone.

"It was this revolution of '63 and '64 which ruined many thousands of people in Poland. Many were executed or sent to Siberia; their properties were confiscated and given away to Russian functionaries...they had been guilty of some intrigue or some participation in the propaganda against the Russian government. My father supported all that, and whatever he could do, he did.

"Suddenly the house was surrounded by Cossacks, and nobody was permitted to leave before a thorough search was accomplished. There was a large company of the Cossacks, perhaps 150 on horseback. They seemed very big and terrifying to a small boy. They completely encircled our house, and proceeded with the search. I was frightened of course, and could not realize then what was going on, and I wanted to know, to understand; so I approached the tallest of the Cossacks very timidly and asked him about my father.

"But he never answered or even looked at me."

from The Paderewski Memoirs, 1938 edition, as of 9-28-09 on Amazon by Chewybooks

Friday, September 25, 2009

When Are Men Dangerous?

In today's uber-patriotic atmosphere, sometimes it is forgotten that in every war, there have been those who believe violence is wrong, for any reason. This was true even during the Great War (World War I) and The Good War (World War II).

William Stafford, a World War I conscientious objector, published Down in My Heart in 1947, through the Brethren Publishing House.

An excerpt, set on a Sunday afternoon in spring, 1942, at an Arkansas Civilian Public Service Camp:

"When are men dangerous? We sat in the sun near the depot one afternoon in McNeil, Arkansas...Bob was painting a watercolor picture; George was scribbling a poem in his tablet; I was reading off and on in Leaves of Grass and enjoying the scene.

"When are men dangerous? It was March 22, 1942. The fruit trees at the camp farm were in bloom...we spoke of the war and of camp and of Sunday as we hiked through the pine woods and past the sagging houses. We knew our way around...our project superintendent had warned us against saying "Mr." and "Mrs." to Negores, and we had continued to use the terms...one stormy night when no doctors would come out, some of the men in camp had given first aid to a Negro woman, who husband led them through the pine woods to the cabin where the woman lay screaming. Thus we had become friends with some of our neighbors...but it was harder with others.

"When we had hiked into McNeil we had found a few men loafing around in the shade. The stores were closed...we too relaxed for our Sunday afternoon. Bob set up his drawing board; George got out his tablet and pen; and I sat leaning against a telephone pole and began to read - among dangerous men.

"It takes such an intricate succession of misfortunes and blunders to get mobbed by your own countrymen - and such a close balancing of good fortune to survive - that I consider myself a rarity in being able to tell the story...but just how we began to be mobbed and just where the blunders and misfortunes began, it is hard to say. We might have lived through a quiet Sabbath if it had not been for Bob's being an artist; or especially if it had not been for George's poem; and on the other hand, we might have become digits in Arkansas's lynching record if Walt Whitmen had used more rhyme in his poetry...

"I went back to my book, and I'll never be able to remember whether I was reading, when it happened, "Come, I will make the continent indissoluble..."

"A young man spoke, not directly to us, but to other townsmen...about us being CO's. There was more muttering, in which we began to hear the quickening words - "yellow" and "damn". At first these words the men said, about us, to each other; then the faces were turned more our way when the words were said.

"We ought to break that board over their heads," someone suggested. Several others repeated the idea; others revised the words, expanded the concept, and passing the saying along. Some spoke of "stringing them up."

"Finally to our great relief, the police car from Magnolia rolled up. A policeman was driving; a man in plain clothes was beside him. These two representatives of the law took over, got our names, and gravely considered the indictments of the crowd.

"The mob scene was over; our possessions were returned to us. At camp we doubled the night watch, for fear of trouble, but nothing happened.

"The next morning before work, we three stood before the assembled campers and gave our version of what had happened, in order to quiet rumors and to help everyone learn from the experience.

"Our camp director, a slow-talking preacher, gave us the final word: "...don't think our neighbors here in Arkansas are hicks just because they see you as spies and dangerous men.

"Just remember that our government is spending millions of dollars and hiring the smartest men in the country to devote themselves full-time just to make everyone act that way."*

*Sold yesterday from Chewybooks on Amazon, the memoir of a World War I conscientious objector: Down in My Heart, by William E. Stafford, published 1947.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book; books are well written or badly written.

My favorite Oscar Wilde quote, just in time for Banned Books Week.

I'm proud to say many of my favorite books have been regular contestants on the Banned Book list, apparently offending everyone but me.

I would have counted my childhood lacking if I had been spared To Kill A Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn or I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. At one point in our nation's questionable history, even The Wizard of Oz was removed from school library shelves.

While the common perception is that the South is most likely to produce challenges to various titles (being known as the Bible Belt with all that implies), the kneejerk reactions against books are fairly common across America.

In light of this spreading insanity, your author would like to offer a healthy alternative.

Each day, one click at The Literacy Site will help provide children with books they can keep. You, my gentle reader, can join 80,000 other world citizens each day to give books to those kids who need them the most.

Across income lines, gender, and geographic location, the one variable that affects reading scores directly is the number of books that surround a child in their home.

The Literacy Site has provided more than 1.6 million books to children - books they can keep and take home with them, for their very own.

One may presume that some of those titles were on the banned book list.

I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The World of Language

"My father taught me to read. Long before I could decipher the black squiggles on a page, he had me reading the meadow and mountain woods.

"Dad taught me strategies, to look for movements, patterns, or breaks in patterns. An exclamation mark in the march became a great blue heron; the V on the river, a swimming muskrat...The shiny spot under a log became the salamander's tail; the whirling speck in the sky, a red-tail hawk. I read with fascination and glee.

"But my whole family also read in the written world. Every day Mom and Dad read the newspaper. My older sister scowled at my interruptions of Nancy Drew. Magazines and novels spilled from the coffee table, and most winter evenings, I knew I could find someone in the den, face hidden, at that moment consumed by language.

"In this house of readers, I read ravenously. I still do."

excerpt from:

Finding A Clear Path by Jim Minick

The jacket review:

"Another shining writer has emerged from the Southern landscape. Jim Minick has written an exquisitely beautiful book about his Appalachian farm, and his engagement in a life that makes sense."

Hmm....consumed by language, in a life that makes sense.

Finding a Clear Path, offered for sale as of September 15, 2009, at:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In Need of A Modest Proposal

My daughter's current assignment to write a summary of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal has brought to mind a most perfect modern-day counterpart.

All of the shouting, blathering and general indignation being expressed at the so-called Town Hall Meetings on health care reform and the dilemma of providing health care for every citizen, should take a note from the 1729 pennings of Jonathan Swift, who was also concerned about the tremendous burden placed on Irish society by the number of indigent children, the diseased, the aged and infirm.

Perhaps they can appreciate his satirical solution, and insist up on its inclusion in any health bill that is passed by our esteemed Congress.

General Premise: There are too many poor children, who do not contribute and are a burden both upon their parents and society as a whole.

Solution: Let's eat them.

"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust."

Advantages to this Solution: It gives the poor a constant source of income, and young people a reason to marry.

Possible Complications: What to do about those who are old, sick or disabled? Or what of those young people who cannot find gainful employment to provide themselves with food?

Solution: Leave them alone and they'll die.

"I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known, that they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young labourers, they are now in almost as hopeful a condition. They cannot get work, and consequently pine away from want of nourishment, to a degree,that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labour,they have not strength to perform it, and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come."

The author was so fond of his proposal that he begged the reader not to discuss any other solutions such as:

"... introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ ... : Of quitting our animosities and factions: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. "

Unless, of course, there was even a "at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice."

"After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual (as simply eating the children). But before something of that kind shall be advanced... I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points.

"First, As things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs.

"And secondly, There being a round million of creatures in humane figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock,would leave them in debt two million of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession, to the bulk of farmers,cottagers and labourers, with their wives and children, who are beggars in effect;(unemployed, with mounting debt and foreclosures)

"I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor cloaths to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever."

So there's a solution - for all those without health care and employment, both legal and illegal (because they are in fact an equal drag upon the country), forget the idea of providing humanitarian care and opportunity with compassion.

Let's just invite them for dinner and cut short their sufferings.

Read the complete phamplet at: http://www.fullbooks.com/A-Modest-Proposal.html