Review of Your Sacred Yes by Susie Larson

For the past year or two I have been working at de-busying my life and my concerns, in order to focus my energies and quiet my mind. This includes weeding out the unnecessary activities and commitments. I have a tendency to want to say “yes” when I am aware of a need that I can help with, or when I am directly or indirectly asked to help, but now I’m saying “maybe”, to give myself time to consider the impact it will have on my goals.

This book by Susie Larson, Your Sacred Yes, parallels the kind of thoughts and decisions I’ve been considering.

Busy schedule by Flik at flickr 2533996623_66a013fa41_b

Now, maybe it would be simpler to just say “no” to certain requests for our time (even when the request comes from ourselves!).  However, Susie Larson looks at it a bit differently.  Considering our “yes’s” to be sacred, means to take time beforehand to prioritize what is most important in our lives, which is a valuable activity. “What do our yeses lead to?” she asks.

She cautions us against overcommitment and exhaustion, which can have surprising consequences. The solution, she says, is in trusting our loving God for wisdom and guidance, and understanding that more rests on his broad shoulders than ours. No, it is not our responsibility (or in our power) to fix the world and everyone in it. And our decisions are never going to have the approval of everyone else. The result of adjusting our schedules and attitudes this way is that our lives become more fruitful, calm, confident, joyful and content, and less competitive.

When I requested this book, I thought it would be something of a practical list of types of activities, volunteer work and even mindsets that we should gravitate toward or cultivate. I was partially right. Some chapters strayed off the main message and confused me, but I took a lot of notes nevertheless. There is a lot of excellent material written about the innate value of every single person as a creation of God.

I kept getting the feeling that the author was repeating herself, and perhaps this was because some messages need repeating. I prefer a simpler more logical, linear and focused style of reading, with less emotion and jargon, but many will no doubt appreciate the personable chatty style of this intelligent, accomplished radio talk show host, author and national speaker.

Your Sacred Yes 9780764213311 resizedEach chapter ends with a prayer, several questions as personal reflections for the reader to contemplate and write about, a wise word (a quote), several questions for group discussion starters, and a “faith declaration” to help us remember what is true.

This is an energetic book filled with examples of people who have made good and bad choices, and includes the voices of many other wise leaders in the Christian faith. It contains an abundance of references to Biblical truths. I recommend it as one that can help explain our motivation to make commitments we don’t really want to make, and how to bring order and peace to our entire lives by trusting in the power of God, which comes to us through our faith in him.

[I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]

 

 

Discovering Out of Town Book Stores

While on holiday visiting relatives in the Denver area, I decided to check the yellow pages for used bookstores, just in case I had some time to visit them. And I lucked out and got to go to three of them!

The Bookworm in Boulder, Colorado

This bookstore came highly recommended by a friend of our family who lives up in the mountains west of Boulder, an earthy town northwest of Denver. This was originally just to be a place for me to meet another dear friend, and what a great choice that turned out to be, since I got way more browsing time than expected. Clean, well-lit, organized, stocked with a huge supply of books, nicely labelled categories, and staffed by pleasant people, this was a dream of a used bookstore. After browsing my favorite sections (writing, children, fiction, religion) for over an hour, I wandered close to the cash register area and hit the mother lode of old books. Many of their antique books had been shelved along with the newer books, so I was surprised to see one large section (surrounding a desk) completely filled with books published fifty or more years ago. I found this at just the time that my friend was planning to pick me up, and as I awaited her text, I hoped she’d be delayed just a bit longer.

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After being assured by staff that I was allowed to snoop through these shelves and the boxes on the floor, I kneeled down on the floor and pulled some books out that were hidden behind a stack of boxes. One of them, I discovered, was a Bible published in 1865. After researching its value, the lovely manager of the store said, “I’m sorry, but this is quite expensive.” It was worth $75 U.S.–more than I wanted to pay. But in her hands were three other old children’s books that she thought I might like, which was a very sweet gesture. I ended up buying two old school readers for $3 each, and the Mere Christianity Journal for $6 in perfect condition. (The idea of using this journal to “dialogue with” C.S. Lewis about his thoughts is thrilling!)

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Red Letter Books in Boulder, Colorado

After a fantastic lunch of fish tacos, my friend wanted to browse around another book store–happy dance!–so we went to Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall to one recommended by the sweet manager at Bookworm for its many old and rare books. Red Letter Books was a different type of store, smaller, crowded, not as organized and tidy, but with a bigger selection of interesting books. Outside on the sidewalk were its $1 sale books, and I snatched up a hardcover of Gilead, the Pulitzer Prize’ winner by Marilynne Robinson, for my friend. She in turn bought me Watership Down, which has twice been recommended to me by my pastor. (Now is apparently the time for me to read it, so in spite of the two other books I have on the go, I started reading it immediately!)

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I came away with 5 additional books from Red Letter Books, most between $5 and $10: the two books I was missing from my set of 1950’s Winnie the Pooh books, a 1904 romance novel called God’s Good Man, and two other children’s books, Child Rhymes, and Stepping Stones to Literature, both published in the early twentieth century.

Capital Hill Books in Denver

While wandering around and taking pictures in Denver of the gold-domed state capital, the spires of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and the Molly Brown House, I stopped in Capital Hill books. A small but bright and orderly used book store, it has various notes and communications around the store that give it a cheerful personality.

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It is arranged and labelled well, and although it has few old children’s books, I couldn’t resist a 1905 edition of my all-time favorite children’s book, A Childs’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I also have a 1950’s version of this beautiful book, which I bought with my allowance money in 1965, as well as a more recent large edition that I bought because of the gorgeous illustrations

In a way, I’m surprised at how these stores are apparently thriving while many other new book stores are failing. I am so grateful to the owners, and all the other used book lovers that help keep them going!

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Book Review of Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

I am excited to have found this excellent writer! Until the Harvest is a masterful illustration of how hearts and lives are transformed through continued offers of friendship, food and forgiveness. It is a story of family, community, relationships and love; the hardships that they cause; and the beauty that only people can bring to our lives.

In the early chapters, I admit that I became impatient with the pace of the action and the simplicity of some characters. But I always looked forward to evenings spent in this community, often reading too far into the night. I appreciated how Sarah Loudin Thomas gradually revealed the nature of each character, and transformation. The subtle ways that the story changed me were a pleasant surprise.

What I loved the most was how the author, through the characters, showed affection even for the antagonists, the ones hardest to tolerate in the story, the ones who seemed to be evil to the core. The faith of a few characters is revealed naturally and subtly in only a few places in the story.   I liked that. It is refreshing to see genuine glimpses of their hearts, without characters being overly verbose, emotional or heavy-handed about their beliefs.

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I found the farm setting an especially welcome mental retreat from living a fast-paced urban life filled with so many inconsequential time-wasting activities. Although it created an uncomfortable longing in me for a rural lifestyle I knew I was unlikely to ever live, it allowed me to have a taste of that kind of world. I found the tone of the book to be realistic, yet comforting and safe.

It is a true book. It could happen anywhere. People can be cruel for no apparent reason, selfishly deceitful, and manipulating to the point of ruining people’s lives and relationships. But, as we see in Until the Harvest, the power of friendship toward just those people is miraculous.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]

CBC/Calgary READS used book sale EXTRAVAGANZA May 22-23, 2015

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Calgary READS is an organization close to my heart, because their mission is to make reading a priority for young children.  They have grown from offering one tutoring program to now having many programs and initiatives that work in schools and communities to support children and their families.

With so many new and used book stores scaling down, or going out of business, especially the precious little mom-and-pop stores, it is a joy to see that charitable organizations still put in a lot of hard work into book sales, and can raise money because people still buy print books!

Sometimes I feel sad when I see how great of a struggle publishers seem to be having with print books, and when I realize how much electronic devices and videos are replacing reading.  But whenever I go to these sales, it makes me smile to see children of all ages looking intensely for their favorite authors, carrying around piles of books to buy and begging mom or dad for “just one more”.  There’s just no substitute for a print book that you can hold in your hands with paper pages to flip.

Here is more information (including a map) from the Calgary READS website about this event with live music, Date Night, pajamas, wine and special readings:

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Annual CBC/Calgary Reads Big Book Sale

Join us in May for a bibliophilic extravaganza!

One of Calgary’s most anticipated and attended events, this two-day celebration of reading gathers and offers up for sale more than a million pre-loved books. This is a signature fundraising event for Calgary Reads. Money raised supports our programs and initiatives within schools and the community — and makes free resources available to parents and caregivers.
The event includes family time with story read-alouds and refreshments — and the popular Saturday Date Night, featuring live music, wine and book browsing.
Donate books, attend as a shopper — and if you’re interested in volunteering to help sort, set-up, sell or tear down, please register using our Volunteer Form. We’ll be in touch!

Our 2015 CBC / Calgary Reads Big Book Sale takes place on May 22 and 23 at the Calgary Curling Club 720 3rd St NW and more than a million gently-used quality books are ready to find new homes!

The annual fund raising event for Calgary Reads kicks off on Friday May 22 from 9am till 9pm.

Then, on Saturday May 23, Midnight Madness (9am to midnight) is back by popular demand. From 6-8pm, youngsters are invited to wear their jammies and enjoy milk and Girl Guide cookies while listening to readings by special guests. Grownups take over from 9-11pm, as Date Night switches up the vibe, with a cash wine bar and some seductive book-shopping music by Midnight Blue.

CBC Calgary Reads 2015 sale sshot-3If you’ve been meaning to cull your bookshelves (to make room for all those great books you will find at the book sale), consider dropping off your quality used adult and children’s books to

  • the Calgary Curling Club at 720 3rd St NW between May 9 and 17 (weekdays 10:00am to 7:00pm, and weekends 9:00am to 3:00pm) or at
  • the Calgary Food Bank at 5000 – 11 Street SE between May 11 and 15 from 8:30am to 3:30pm.

No encyclopaedias, text books, dictionaries, Harlequin Romances, Readers’ Digests, book tapes, VHS, cassettes, 8-tracks or magazines, please.

Feel like getting more involved? Big Book Sale volunteers enjoy plenty of opportunities to collect, sort and sell books, along with special volunteer-only perks, and that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you are helping young readers.

Parking:

Limited free parking is available in the Curling Club lot and on the street. Paid parking is available in the large city lot on the east side of the Curling Club–see the map at the end of the post, or here ).

The Curling Club is at the spot marked “A” in the map below:

Curling clubmap for book sale

 

The Crossroads SAS Used Book Sale starts May 7 2015!

SAS Crossroads 2015 Book Sale - sshot fr website

Mark your calendar!  The book drive started two weeks ago for the Servants Anonymous 13th Annual Calgary Book Sale and you can still donate gently used books until May 4th at the tent in front of the OutPost Tent at Crossroads Market, just off of Blackfoot Trail at 1235 26th Ave SE, Calgary.

I just called their office and they assured me that anyone can come by to do some advanced buying at the Book Sale KICK-OFF on Thursday, May 7th, from 3 PM to 8 PM.

The sale goes from Friday through Sunday for 2 weekends:

May 8 – 10, 2015, 10 AM to 5 PM, and

My 15 – 17, 2015, 10 AM to 5 PM

SAS Crossroads 2015 Book Sale logo - sshot fr websiteThis is one of the highlights of spring!  I have supported this sale for many years, and always enjoy the friendly volunteers, and seeing what’s new.  This is an opportunity to browse thousands of books, categorized by general subjects and by fiction genre, and to get a great deal (that supports a good cause).  There is plenty of parking there (at the Crossroads Market, 1235 26th Ave SE, Calgary) and it’s worth coming early so you’ll have time to visit the booths of fresh veggies, meats, etc., at the Farmer’s Market!

I recommend shopping with a wheeled traveling or shopping bag-–it’s great for avoiding sore arms from carrying around a pile of heavy treasures and “possibilities”. I will be heading straight for the special gated area with the antiquarian, rare, and just-plain OLD books in the back right corner!

SAS larger photo sshot

Here are the details of the sale from their website:

SAS Crossroads 2015 Book Sale details - sshot fr website

Book Review of The Pleasure of His Company by Dutch Sheets

“Pleasure is not only determined by the things we do, but by the company we keep.”

Some say that Almighty God wants us to have a close relationship with him, and enjoys spending time with us. One part of this idea naturally appeals to me, but another part resists it. It seems a little too good to be true, and besides, he has a universe to run, and billions of suffering people to attend to, so how would he have time to chat? And how do we spend time with someone we cannot see or audibly hear? So, with these divergent feelings, I was excited at the opportunity to read this book by Dutch Sheets, hoping to find some clarity through the perspective of a well-known author who has a good knowledge of scripture.

The Pleasure of His Company is a cheerful book! It consists of thirty chapters of about eight pages each, which can be read as an inspirational book or as a devotional. I used it as both. At the end of the chapters are prayers based on scriptures. Each chapter focuses on a different angle of drawing near to God, and leads us to consider an easy shift in our routine that can help us leave the noise and busyness behind, and find peace in God’s presence.

The first chapter, “The Person”, set the tone. The author muses about the definition of pleasure, relating some humorous personal thoughts and family personalities. Then, rather than theologically listing God’s attributes, he describes him as one would describe a loved one; a loved one whose way of life on this earth attracted the most extraordinary people, whose divinity brought about one-of-a-kind events, and who set in motion global spiritual transformation. Someone, in other words, far surpassing anyone you’ll ever meet in character and fame, yet, as the author asks, “What if I told you this man requests the pleasure of your company…He created us, mere humans, because he wanted a family, not distant servants.” My reaction to the question was, “I don’t know if I believe that, but keep talking! Keep trying to convince me!”

The Pleasure of His Company 9781441261113I oppose overly-chummy—almost disrespectful—approaches toward our holy God, but I cannot deny that Jesus taught us to call God “Abba”, which means “Dad”. I appreciate that Dutch Sheets gives the scripture context that I require to ensure that, far from being a recent spiritual fad, this is what was intended all along since the creation of the human race. He has read between the lines of scripture, and noticed what is said, what is not said, from many different angles.

The author’s voice is welcoming and friendly, speaking from the heart about his own desire to draw near to God. He is trying to lead us (as Jesus was when he met the woman at the well) “out of the blinding fog of non-relational religion”. The pages are packed with exactly the kind of encouragement we need to seriously consider making more time and space in our lives to better know our Creator, with thoughts and emotions that are so basic to humanity that anyone can relate. They show a life of following Christ as something joyful, spent with Someone who delights in us; not our religious activities, not how much money we give to charities, not how morally good we are, but—as parents understand—us, his treasured children.

More than any other inspirational book, this one encourages me to believe that our Father in heaven takes immense pleasure in our company—not only as groups, communities or nations—but as individuals.

[I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review; the opinions I have expressed are my own.]

Packing Lightly for a Writing Retreat

To avoid having to pay for and wait for checked baggage, I decided to only bring carry-on luggage on my trip, so that meant that there was no space for unnecessary items.  And since I’d planned a do-it-yourself writing retreat and hadn’t decided yet which projects and exercises I’d be working on, I had several books I wanted to take.

Since books are heavy and take up space, I decided to limit myself to just two.  So on the morning I was leaving, I lined up all the books I wanted to bring, and started thumbing through them one at a time, hoping it would somehow become obvious which ones should go along, and which ones should stay home.

The winners were a 33-page paperback of creative writing activities, and a novel I am currently engrossed in.

IMG_20150331_180448Here’s what happened.  I thumbed through each book, and as I saw an interesting page of inspiration, information or writing exercises, I took a picture of it with my tablet’s camera.  Just like that, I’d “packed” my books.

Then I found some particularly quiet music that helped me concentrate and uploaded that to my tablet as well.

I made an attempt to find a certain writing and journalling book on my library’s website, but it was already checked out.  I’ll plan ahead for that sort of thing next time.

Because I actually prefer to write longhand–mainly because I can’t see the screen on my tablet when I’m outside–I had 3 spiral notebooks I wanted to bring.  One was my journal, another was my writing exercises and the third was my Bible notes.  But I happened upon a spiral binder at the dollar store which had moveable dividers, so I ended up saving space by having only one notebook.

Next came another choice: which of my projects to bring along to work on.  Sigh, more heavy paper.  But the tablet was serving me well, so maybe I could load these on the tablet too.  It was almost time to leave for the airport, so in the time crunch, it was convenient and quick to put them all on–2 complete novels and many other short pieces–and I could decide on the plane which ones to work on.

While I was at it, I added my boarding pass (because what if I lost my printout?), a sheet of password hints (just in case I needed to do some banking?), and some hotel and tourist information–all of the printed copies of which I could now leave at home.

Would I have time to do some sketching?  I slipped a few sheets of sketching paper in the handy pocket of my new spiral binder, and added a small pack of colored pencils to my suitcase.

In my ongoing love-hate relationship with technology, I must say this was certainly a positive bonding experience with my tablet!

 

 

 

 

 

The Junior Instructor, my First Encyclopedia

The other day I got out two of my favorite books from my childhood, The Junior Instructor, Books 1 and 2. These were originally published in 1916, and the ones my mom gave us as small children were published in 1956.

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I was looking for some of the children’s prayers I’d learned, and while I looked for them, I ended up stopping on almost every page, mesmerized by the bright, colorful, happy images.

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I was absolutely convinced that the boy in the picture was my big brother and couldn’t figure out how they had snuck a photo of him!

I remember as a little girl of about four years old, sitting with these tall, heavy books on my lap, enthralled with the images. I was fascinated by the full-sized color photos and paintings, and just assumed that a line drawing was waiting for someone with crayons to color it in. Oops!

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As I grew up and learned to read, I wanted to know all about the endless variety of subjects, from circuses, folk tales, history, weather and birds…

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I remember working very hard to memorize this sign language!

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…to songs, and what the farmer (or fireman, teacher, milkman, cowboy, policeman, secretary) does…

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…to finger plays, Smokey the Bear, aboriginal symbols, parties, math, games, escalators, and even a “futuristic” space ship.

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At the end are 20 pages of questions and answers that cover nearly everything a child could ask.

Now as I look through them, I notice some things I didn’t notice ever before. I see that many subjects have been enhanced with a story or poem, or both, possibly for the reader that is not interested in the dry factual text.

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Notice: “All small children should play outdoors at least three hours every day…” !

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I also noticed they show how to make a “spool knitter”, made out of a spool of thread and nails, which produces a long knitted rope. I made one of these when I was about 10 years old—and painstakingly looped the yarn over and under and around to make a colorful rope—and I bet this is where I got the idea.

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I found Junior Instructors available to buy on eBay, Etsy and Amazon, but none that were free to download.

Here are some more of my favorite pages from the Junior Instructors, Volumes 1 and 2, for your enjoyment!

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Detail of the embossed hard cover of Book 2

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Jr Instructor books 033  Jr Instructor books 022

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Valentine’s Day Review of Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day—in a literary way—than to read an excellent romance? (Well, chocolate might go head-to-head with a romance novel. But it is February and, as usual, the momentum from holiday chocolate intake has resulted in somewhat of a chocolate addiction, so I’m doing a cleanse. Guess I should have waited a week to start it!)

Valentine fr Katie K

 

One day about 15 years ago, I walked into Indigo bookstore and browsed the romance section. I’d become frustrated with constant disappointments in what were considered top quality romance, and before I quit reading that genre altogether, I decided to give it one last try. I asked the saleswoman if she could give me some suggestions, and she asked me who some of my favorite authors were. I listed several popular authors and classic authors, and she brought me to the “H” section where she introduced me to Georgette Heyer.

Georgette Heyer photo fr LIbraryThing

 

That first book was Cotillion, and it is still one of my favorites with its delightful characters, engaging plot and humor.

“Well aware that to bring the voice of sober reason to bear upon the exaggerations of agitated females was both fruitless and perilous, Freddy wisely let this pass…”

—Georgette Heyer, Cotillion

 

Miss Charing is animated, sweet, and driven to help others however she can. And Kitty, as she is called, will receive her guardian’s fortune if she marries one of his nephews.

 

Unfortunately, Kitty has her eyes set on the rake nephew, “rake” being short for “rakehell”, analogous in today’s language to a hell-raiser, who is in no mood to settle down. So Kitty persuades another nephew, Freddy Standen, to pretend to be engaged to her. Freddy is kind-hearted, says as little as possible, is hilariously understated with a dry, dry sense of humor, and never plans to marry.

 

Her plan is to make the rake jealous, and when he comes to his senses and proposes to her, she and her friend Freddy will break off their engagement.  But of course things never go as planned. The action moves quickly and the dialogue keeps a smile on the reader’s face.

Georgette Heyer Cotillion cvr fr LIbraryThing

“You think I’ve got brains?’ he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’
‘Charlie?’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have—you have address, Freddy!’
‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.”

—Georgette Heyer, Cotillion

Georgette Heyer Cotillion cvr fr LIbraryThing 2

 

After I’d read a few of Georgette Heyer’s books, and was looking for more, I found out that she’d written around 57 books! Many of them are in the genre called Regency romances whose settings are during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, approximately the time of British Regency. Having written over twenty-four of these between 1921 and 1972, Georgette Heyer is actually credited with establishing the genre, known as the “novel of manners.”

 

I browsed around the web and compiled my own list of her most beloved books, which I am still working through. Here is my list of books that I haven’t read yet, and am still looking for in the used book stores. They are ranked as some of her best, compiled from the various fan websites :

 

The Grand Sophy

Friday’s Child

Venetia

Frederica

The Nonesuch

 

(Okay, I’ll admit it, I carry this in my wallet!)

 

Cotillion was originally published in 1953, and was republished, as are many of Heyer’s books, thank goodness. I find most of her Regency romances equally humorous, full of intelligent, warm, witty heroes, and naïve yet determined and spirited heroines. What a breath of fresh air!

Georgette Heyer 170px-Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_On_the_Threshold

I give this an A+ and highly recommend it and her other Regency romances, which can be found just about anywhere, including many brick-and-mortar book stores and libraries, and the Internet Archive.

Intrigued? You can also have a look at my reviews of two other Heyer books, Arabella and The Convenient Marriage.

 

Painting “On the Threshold” by Edmund Leighton (1853–1922), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_On_the_Threshold.jpg

Cover and author images from www.librarything.com

(And the two valentines are straight from my elementary school scrapbook!)

Valentine fr Bruce

 

Review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887, Part 3

Romance, 1887-style!  Or…was it 2000-style?

In the introduction to the 1915 printing of this book published in 1887, Sylvester Baxter describes the novel as “the ingenious device by which a man of the 19th century is transferred to the end of the 20th”, and notes that in the decade that followed its publication, the world was filled with the agitation it helped kindle. According to the website Quebecois Libre, by the early 1890s, about 13 years after the book was published, there were already 165 “Bellamy Clubs”!

Not only was Edward Bellamy knowledgeable about industrial, social, and political issues and customs, he was also a creative storyteller. This novel ends with a fascinating look at Julian West’s romantic relationships. As the middle of the novel weighed down with social contrasts and details of Bellamy’s 1887-imagined lifestyle of Boston in the year 2000, I started to wonder if I could actually finish it. But the whirlwind ending kept me reading every word.

My first two posts in this review focused on the general premise and the author. In this post, I summarize sections from Looking Backward to give more glimpses into Edward Bellamy’s 1887 vision, and a taste of his writing and the plot. But before I do, I want to share what a previous owner of my copy of this book wrote. Probably inspired by what he or she read, the following penciled notes appear on the copyright page, and I thought they were worthy of passing along:

“He who falls and gains his feet shows more strength than he who never falls.” “God’s greatest gift is time. Use it right.” “Look ahead to realize, not back to regret.”

Previous owner's notes

Previous owner’s notes

The novel begins with a Preface, supposedly written by a twentieth century author speaking to a twentieth century reader about the novel he or she is about to read. In Chapter 1 the narrator, a fictional character Julian West, introduces himself by emphasizing that he was born in 1857, not 1957, and he describes his former way of life:

In late 19th century, society was in 4 classes or nations: rich, poor, educated, ignorant—not like today, 2000. As were my parents and grandparents before me, I was wealthy, not working, living off the labours of others, not giving any service to the world, idle, living off my grandparents’ sum of money, shifting the burden of support to others’ shoulders, an art now [in the 2000’s] happily lost, but perfected by ancestors. All sought this accomplishment, to live on the income of his investments. This arrangement seems preposterous now.

Society in those former days can be compared to a coach where many pull it with a rope, and few ride. …the hallucination the riders shared was that they were unlike the rope-pullers, they were superior. This changes any feeling for the suffering of men into a distant, philosophical compassion. This is the only explanation the narrator can give for his own indifference at the late 1800’s toward the misery of others.

Child workers in Millville,NJ

Wikipedia – Child workers in Millville,NJ Photographed by Lewis Hine

Julian West is visiting his fiancé and her family on Decoration Day, May 30, 1887. They want their house to be completely built before they get married, but strikes by carpenters, plumbers and other tradesmen have been delaying it for years. All agree that working classes all over the world seem to be going crazy at once. He leaves them and goes to his home, where he has a subterranean sleeping chamber for his insomnia. He calls for his hypnotist to help him sleep.

He wakes on September 10, 2000, having slept 113 years, to unfamiliar voices discussing him, a woman repeatedly whispering “Promise me you will not tell him.” He is in the home of Dr. Leete who lives in a house built on Julian West’s property. Dr. Leete explains to him that Julian’s house was burned down, and since no one knew of his subterranean sleeping chamber, they assumed he died. The area was recently being excavated and they found the chamber, and Mr. West inside it, asleep.

From an upper story window, Julian notices an absence of chimneys, and an obvious increase in material prosperity applied toward adornment of the city. He will soon find that the sidewalks have “public umbrellas” during the rain. Julian meets Leete’s beautiful daughter who has the same name as his late fiancé, Edith. He comments that the women of the twentieth century dress gracefully compared to the 19th century. (I was surprised that the author did not imagine any motorized vehicles whatsoever, and only referred to horses as transportation, but have learned that mass production of automobiles did not start until about 1901, about 14 years after the book was published.)

Wikipedia - State Street Boston 1801

Wikipedia – State Street Boston 1801

After a walk around the neighbourhood, Mr. West and Dr. Leete have a conversation:

“I saw very little that was not new. But I think what surprised me as much as anything was not to find any stores on Washington Street, or any banks on State. What have you done with the merchants and bankers? Hung them all, perhaps, as the anarchists wanted to do in my day?”

“Not so bad as that,” replied Dr. Leete. “We have simply dispensed with them. Their functions are obsolete in the modern world…There is neither selling nor buying nowadays;…As soon as the nation became the sole producer of all sorts of commodities…a system of direct distribution from national storehouses took the place of trade, and for this money was unnecessary…A credit corresponding to his share of the annual product of the nation is given to every citizen, and a credit card issued him with which he procures…whatever he desires.”

“How is the amount of credit…determined?” Julian asks. “With what title does the individual claim his particular share? What is the basis of allotment?”

“His title,” replied Dr. Leete, “is his humanity. The basis of his claim is that fact that he is a man.”

“Do you possibly mean that all have the same share?…Some men do twice the work of others!”

“We require of each that he shall make the same effort…we demand of him the best service it is in his power to give…A man’s endowments…merely fix the measure of his duty…The Creator sets men’s tasks for them by the faculties he gives them…I suppose in the nineteenth century, when a horse pulled a heavier load than a goat, I supposed you rewarded him.”

Citizens choose tasks based upon their natural strengths and interests, and the nation now values and even supports artists, writers, and those with other creative talents. Education is free and compulsory to the age of twenty-one.

Inside the Mall Cribbs Causeway Bristol by Brian Robert Marshall

Inside the Mall Cribbs Causeway Bristol by Brian Robert Marshall

Later, Dr. Leete and his daughter Edith take Julian to the store: a vast hall of light from windows and a dome a hundred feet above, a magnificent fountain, mellow tinted walls, chairs and sofas where people conversed, signs on the walls indicating where each category of goods was.   The orders for merchandise are taken are sent by pneumatic transmitters to the warehouse and are filled immediately and delivered by larger tubes and distributed to homes by store clerks.

This could describe many a modern mall in the year 2014. It sounds like the rudiments of online shopping, doesn’t it?

Edith enthusiastically explains to Mr. West that now everyone is able to hear a choice of music, by carrying the idea of labor-saving-by-cooperation into their musical service as into everything else. Instead of music—and only one type of music—being available only to the most wealthy of society, a number of music halls (full of musicians playing) are connected by telephone with all the houses. Four different pieces of music are being performed at one time, which the listener can choose by pushing one of four buttons, with music available twenty-four hours a day for even the sleepless and the sick.

This to me is amazing foresight to the readily available music we are accustomed to, through records since about 1900, then cassettes, and now through modern means such as CD’s and music downloads from the internet.

Wikipedia - 1850s chamber music

Wikipedia – 1850s chamber music

To Mr. West’s question, “Who are willing to be domestic servants in a community where all are social equals?” the answer is that there is no housework to do. Washing is all done at public laundries at low cost, cooking at public kitchens, making and repairing of all clothing is done in public shops. They choose houses no larger than they need, and furnish them so as to involve the minimum of trouble to keep them in order. “What a paradise for womankind the world must be now!” he exclaims.

This could be likened to our abundance of restaurants with infinite choices available, but I do so like the idea of families and their neighbors gathering for low cost meals at a place within walking distance. (In 1887 there were dining rooms connected with hotels, but apparently not yet restaurants.)

Soon they are discussing how formerly the preference was given to more efficient workers, yet the new twenty-first century system encourages the weaker as well as the stronger with the hope of rising to be leaders. “For those too deficient in mental or bodily strength…we have a sort of invalid corps, providing members with a light class of tasks fitted to their strength…all eager to do what they can. Who is capable of self support? There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support.”

This should give a good idea of the utopian world the author hoped would be found in the year 2000, and his philosophies on individualism versus cooperation.

Wikipedia - Florence Bascom 1890, "the new woman"

Wikipedia – Florence Bascom 1890, “the new woman”

I debated about whether or not to include a description of the whirlwind romantic ending of the story—a SPOILER—but decided that since the book is so accessible, I suggest that you read it yourself. Just click on this link right now, to find an electronic copy of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 at Gutenberg.org. Then,

  • under the Download options, click on the top one, “Read this book online”
  • scroll down to the Table of Contents links
  • click on Chapter XXV, and that will take you to page 255 (page numbers are on the left).

(If you would like a printed copy of Looking Backward, you can find several on Amazon, and Spark notes are also available.)

Starting at this point will give you all the romantic background. Here you will finally find out why in Chapter 1, as Mr. West was first awakening in the year 2000, the woman was begging her father, “Promise you won’t tell him.” It’s brilliant—I couldn’t put it down!

I wonder what Edward Bellamy would think of North America in the real 2000, or 2014. How would he explain the fact that we are still a society of individualism, of have’s and have-not’s? What drives us to over-spend and often ignore the basic needs of our brothers and sisters in third-world countries? Those are pretty big questions to which I have no clear, simple answers.  I suspect, though, that we might shed some light on the matter by using the author’s words:  “…he that does not love, does not know God”.  When our hearts and lives lack peace with our Maker, we have little or no pipeline to the source of love, and as a result have only a meager supply of grace to offer to others.

What do you think of Looking Backward 1887 to 2000?  Of Bellamy’s utopia?  Of our 21st century society?

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