How to Achieve True Boredom

July 6, 2014 at 9:21 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , )

CastiglioneTitle: How to Achieve True Greatness

Author: Baldesar Castiglione

Publisher: Penguin (Great Ideas)

The Penguin Great Ideas Books are usually my go to source of reading something in one sitting.  If not that, I toss them in my bag or back pocket for a walk in the woods or for waiting room entertainment.

How to Achieve True Greatness did not live up to my expectations.

This was 93 pages of pure boredom.

I picked it up – read some pages – put it down.  I took it to the bathtub with me only to find myself wanting to get out of the tub faster to pick a different book.

There were some bits about twenty pages in that interested me long enough for the book to start redeeming itself, but then I later lost interest again.

Not your best, world history masters, not  your best.

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A Shropshire Morning

February 2, 2014 at 8:03 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000979Title: A Shropshire Lad

Author: A.E. Housman

Publisher: Penguin (Classics)

Genre: Poetry (English Journeys)

I know I just posted on this very same title yesterday, but I’ve been reading through it over my morning coffee on this cold, rainy day, and I couldn’t keep myself from sharing the best parts.

A. E. Housman (1859–1936).  A Shropshire Lad.  1896.
XLVIII. Be still, my soul, be still
BE still, my soul, be still; the arms you bear are brittle,
  Earth and high heaven are fixt of old and founded strong.
Think rather,—call to thought, if now you grieve a little,
  The days when we had rest, O soul, for they were long.
Men loved unkindness then, but lightless in the quarry         5
  I slept and saw not; tears fell down, I did not mourn;
Sweat ran and blood sprang out and I was never sorry:
  Then it was well with me, in days ere I was born.
Now, and I muse for why and never find the reason,
  I pace the earth, and drink the air, and feel the sun.         10
Be still, be still, my soul; it is but for a season:
  Let us endure an hour and see injustice done.
Ay, look: high heaven and earth ail from the prime foundation;
  All thoughts to rive the heart are here, and all are vain:
Horror and scorn and hate and fear and indignation—         15
  Oh why did I awake? when shall I sleep again?

This melted me to my core.  Melted me into a state of beautiful stillness, and I couldn’t keep that to myself.  It’s so calming, so true, and so utterly gorgeous.

Not just for his poetry itself, Housman is inspiring because his work is so good and back in 1896 he was essentially self-published.  Publishers turned this beautiful work down over and over again until finally he decided to publish the title at his own expense.  Originally he wanted to call it The Poems of Terrence Hearsay, but was encouraged to change it.  Sales lagged until about 1899 when the Second Boer War broke out and profits have surged for Housman’s work during every time of war since – especially World War I.  Though this surprised the poet, it is not surprising to me… the entire work is about loss.  There is much solace in reading about loss when you have lost or anticipate it soon.

Don’t be surprised if Housman is revisited often on this blog.

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Shropshire Lasses (and dog)

February 1, 2014 at 8:12 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000955Title:A Shropshire Lad

Author: A.E. Housman

Publisher: Penguin (Classics)

Genre: Poetry (English Journeys)

A few years ago I became completely hooked on the Penguin Great Ideas series. I think they’re wonderful pocket sized source documents to keep around the house. I also love the Great Journeys… and now, I have a small collection of English Journeys as well.

The kiddo and I love scampering through the woods.  We also love reading outside.  These little paperbacks are the perfect books to tag along for our wooded adventures and frolics in the park.

Not to mention that, today, I think Housman became my favorite male poet – a title previously held by William Carlos Williams.  The two are nothing alike.  But I am nothing like who I was when William Carlos Williams was awarded his place on my mental pedestal.

Where William Carlos Williams amused me with “This is Just to Say”:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I was in middle school when I discovered this.  For some reason I found this bluntness endearing.  I thought, “What a wonderful jerk to address poetry with such sarcasm.”

I don’t want poetry to be sarcastic anymore.  I don’t appreciate the uncaring witticism the same way.

I do, however, love this:

Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by,
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they’ll say that I
Am quite myself again

– “A Shropshire Lad: XVIII”

Ok, well, it seems it’s always the jerk lines that appeal to me.  But at least it’s not about stealing plums anymore.  Housman has real heart and soul as he describes landscapes and lovers, crickets and dead soldiers, the woods and the very real feelings of longing for something that has gone.   All so beautiful and natural; and the pattern in which he writes lends itself to easily reading it aloud outdoors while the kiddo plays.


The dog seemed to enjoy it too.  He stopped to look at me every time a poem ended as though I was denying him the chance to be included in the written word of humans.


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Great Journeys – Marco Polo

October 7, 2012 at 8:02 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The Customs of the Kingdoms of India

Author: Marco Polo

Publisher: Penguin Books

Length: 86 pages

Inspired by the Great Ideas series, Penguin Books printed a Great Journeys companion series as well.  From Herodotus to George Orwell, the series chronicles twenty of the most famous and intriguing adventurers in history.  Third in this series is Marco Polo’s journey to South Asia, where he discusses the culture, the economy, the industry, religious practices and more.

I picked this book up for two simples facts: 1. I am collecting all of Penguin Books Great Ideas publications and 2. There are elephants on the front cover.  I adore elephants.  They are powerful, dignified, trustworthy, humorous, and endearing.  Marco Polo’s The Customs of the Kingdoms of India has little do with elephants.  Actually, I’m pretty sure it has absolutely nothing to do with elephants.  Of course, that’s not the point, elephants are broadly recognized as a symbol of India/ South Asia, so naturally they would be an image of choice for the front cover of an Indian travel book.

Marco Polo does not go into great detail about how the elephants are used as means of transportation, status symbols, work beasts, and more.  He mentions them in passing, but says in the places he visits, they are not indigenous to the area but imported from other islands.  He does, however, discuss the art of physiognomy, which immediately made me think of the science fiction piece by Jeffrey Ford called The Physiognomy, a weird but interesting read.  Marco Polo talks about the tarantulas, infestations of lizards, mentions the giraffes and lions, and talks very highly of their hens which he considers “the prettiest hens to be seen anywhere.”

Did Marco Polo’s “prettiest hens” look like these?

Apparently, in South Asia, hens represent prosperity, and today you can buy ‘prosperity hens,’ little talismans similar to a rabbit’s foot. Of course, Marco Polo again does not go into detail regarding this, he merely mentions their beauty and moves on. Marco Polo’s writing is that of traveling merchant. He chronicles quick and simple descriptions that would be useful for a businessman, but avoids the great detail of a philosopher or anthropologist. The things that strike his fancy for elaboration are the rituals that would intrigue a vendor, rather than those that would fascinate a theology student. Where he does talk about religion, it seems to be in a political and historically informative way to help you understand a province as a whole, moving quickly to the supplies they live on because of their past. Like a professional trader, he wishes to dwell on the rice, the wheat, and the growth of cotton.  Respect for various people groups and villages he encounters is highly dependant on how much they function on industry and marketplaces.

I don’t believe Marco Polo to be much of a writer, and I think his accounts would have benefited from being written while on his voyage.  But according to historians, he dictated these adventures of sailing the Indian Ocean later to a fellow inmate in prison.  This practice of dictation could have played a role in his style of often informing his reader “I will tell you how” and “I will describe to you,” as well as “let me tell you why” and so on; repetitive and unnecessary phrases that, quite frankly, annoyed me.

Still, this concise 86 page piece is interesting, and a great addition to any young scholar’s library.  It would be a wonderful supplement to a world geography study on South Asia for a middle grade student and could open up a lot of dialogue between teachers and students regarding history, religious practices, other cultures, world economies, and more.

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Penguin Books bring Human Happiness

January 26, 2012 at 10:21 pm (Reviews) (, , , , )

Please click to visit the great blog where I got this picture.

Title: Human Happiness

Author: Blaise Pascal

Publisher: Penguin Books

Genre: Non-fiction, Theology, Philosophy

Length: 106 pages

“Men are so inevitably mad that not to be mad would be to give a mad twist to madness.” – Blaise Pascal

There’s something magical about reading the thoughts and opinions of someone who died three hundred and twenty some odd years before you were born.  To experience theology, reason, or even the lack thereof, through the eyes of someone so ancient is exciting.  That’s why I love Penguin’s Great Ideas series.

I’ve mentioned this love before in my Conspicuous Consumption review, but every time I pick up one of these pocket sized source documents, I’m reminded of what a treasure knowledge and books can be.

Throughout history, some books have changed the world.  They have transformed the way we see ourselves – and each other.  They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution.  They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted.  They have enriched live – and destroyed them.  Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization and helped make us who we are. – Penguin Books

I love that Blaise Pacal was included in this group of writers and definitely find his material that of the “enriching” nature.  It was extra special, to read this particular author knowing that my oldest nephew was named after him.  And as usual, upon completion, I can’t wait to read my next Great Ideas book.

Buy Human Happiness Today

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Conspicuous Consumption by Thorstein Veblen – Lost in “Education”

June 27, 2010 at 5:52 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Veblen was a famous sociologist and economist in his day (roughly turn of the century, writing his most well-known essay in 1899).  He even had his own movement! (Institutional Economics Movement).  Whether someone agrees or disagrees with his theories and how the world should be, there is no doubt about the fact that his observations on how the world is, carries a stunning amount of accuracy.

Why did we never read this for school?  The relevancy is uncanny.  The way the times haven’t changed is disturbing.  I am definitely adding this to my required reading list for when I home school my child.

This book in reality is a 100 page essay or so, not long in the slightest and should take the reader a mere hour or two to digest and properly process (depending on the reader).  What I plan to have my child address when I require this to be read are the following questions (and I’d like to know what you guys think too, if you’ve read this):

How do Veblen’s ideas tie into Darwin’s evolutionary theories?

How do they interact with Marxism and Capitalism?

How are his ideas relevant today?

How are the leisure class and ownership related, according to Veblen?  What are the roots of conventional ownership and of marriage?  Consider contemporary phrases like “trophy wife.”  (How does this affect gender roles?)

Veblen sees “emulation” as a key feature of social life in “predatory societies.”  How do the patterns of emulation change as predatory societies change?

What fundamental criticism does Veblen make of standard economics?

I actually have quite a few more that I have borrowed from other sites, essay questions and discussions to be had are all noted in a journal I am keeping of projects and assignments to remember.  My point in posting the blog today, however, is this:

How did something so famous, so moving and so relevant – something Penguin even published in their Great Ideas series – get neglected in my own education?  Not just high school with basic history, social studies, and economics, but also in college when half my life was filled with economic theory and consumer behavior as I earned a Marketing degree?  I am realizing more and more the importance of not just reading about movements and theories, not just getting summaries from textbooks, but reading the original documents!  How can your education be complete without going back to what started the ideas in the first place?  How can you presume to know anything about anything if all your information comes from a summary in a textbook and you’ve never even heard of the essay that initiated the need for that summary?

Buy Here:

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The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

November 30, 2009 at 6:01 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

communist_manifesto-large1The Communist Manifesto changed the face of the twentieth century beyond recognition, inspiring millions to revolution, forming the basis of political systems that still dominate countless lives and continuing to ignite violent debate about class and capitalism today.” – Penguin

For that reason, I think everyone should read this book and grasp a greater understanding of the world around them. At the risk of ‘igniting violent debate’ I’ll let it be known that I disagree with the concept. I am especially opposed to the idea of the abolition of a right to inheritance, as I would love to pass my library down to the future generations of my family. Perhaps some things should be a little more equal, but I like the individuality we have in being able to select what we purchase and accumulate. I enjoy the right to educate our own children, having the privilege to opt out of public education in order to give our children more – more knowledge, more quality time, more love.

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