Diaries from Hundreds—even Thousands—of Years Ago

I love diaries, and have written in various forms of journals since I was about 10 years old.  I enjoy reading them almost as much as writing them, and find reliving first hand experiences (yes, even my own) fascinating, educational and often humorous and inspiring.

 

Journals and Diaries

At Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) I found many diaries available to read, listen to and download, and added a few to my Kindle.  The first ones I read were Mark Twain’s books, which are supposedly diaries written by Adam and Eve.

The author imagines this first couple as being rather tentative about each other! I tried to select a few extra-special parts, but there are too many, so here are a few paragraphs from the beginning of the book entitled Extracts from Adam’s Diary, starting with Twain’s note:

* * * * * * * * * * *

Extracts from Adam's Diary[NOTE.– I translated a portion of this diary some years ago… Since then I have deciphered some more of Adam’s hieroglyphics, and think he has now become sufficiently important as a public character to justify this publication. – – M. T.]

Monday
This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals….

Tuesday
Been examining the great waterfall. It is the finest thing on the estate, I think. The new creature calls it Niagara Falls–why, I am sure I do not know. Says it looks like Niagara Falls…. I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered–it looks like the thing. There is the dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it “looks like a dodo”. It will have to keep that name no doubt. It worries me to fret about it, and it does no good anyway.  Dodo! It looks no more like a Dodo than I do.

1280px-Thomas_Cole_The_Garden_of_Eden_detail_Amon_Carter_Museum

Wednesday
Built me a shelter against the rain, but could not have it to myself in peace. The new creature intruded. When I try to put it out, it shed water out of the holes it looks with, and wiped it away with the back of its paws, and made a noise such as some of the other animals make when they are in distress. I wish it would not talk, it is always talking… And this new sound is so close to me; it is right at my shoulder, right at my ear, first on one side and then on the other, and I am used only to sounds that are more or less distant from me…

Sunday
This morning found the new creature trying to clod apples out of that forbidden tree.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Adam and Eve’s first child is named Cain. When Eve “finds” Cain, Adam can not figure out what kind of animal it is or where she found it.  At first Adam thinks Cain is a fish, a kangaroo, or a bear. Eventually he figures out it is a human, like himself.

I love how they talk about God as a beloved family member.  Eventually, despite his initial deep annoyance with Eve, Adam finds himself in love with her.

Mark Twain
Mark Twain

This 104-page book is well worth checking out, and I hope you will get as many laughs as I did!  It’s available as an ebook and audio book at Project Gutenberg, and in print form at Amazon and other online bookstores.

If you do read it, I’d love to hear your reactions.  You can leave a comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box.  I’ll look at Eve’s Diary in my next post!

 

ebook:  Extracts from Adam’s Diary by Mark Twain   http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1892

audio book http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=adam+s+diary

Garden of Eden  Thomas Cole [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Cole_The_Garden_of_Eden_Amon_Carter_Museum.jpg

Quality Romance worth Reading

I love Valentine’s Day because I love LOVE. And I love reading about love. I have been browsing through my binder of book notes that goes back to about 1995, and I’ve picked out my 20 favorite books about romantic love.Valentine fr Bruce

How did these make the cut?

What I look for in a story of love between a man and a woman, in addition to excellent writing, is the qualities of the main characters.  I like to get involved with authentic, realistic characters that I would actually want to spend time with, people with qualities such as integrity, forgiveness, kindness, humility and goodness. By the end I want to see them overcome significant struggles, go through a positive transformation, or experience a revelation that results in a better life for them and those around them.

I look for the author to go beyond the action to expertly convey feelings, motivation, and attitude throughout the story, teach me something new, provide a good pace, and include humor or at least a generally positive outlook. I will stop reading stories with a huge amount of introspection, lengthy descriptions of scenery or houses, a depressing tone, or overdone violence or immorality.  I like a gentle writing style as long as it doesn’t get boring, and as long as the story keeps pointing towards significance.

Here is my list!

Here is a mixture of classic and contemporary books, published from 1605 to the present, which include history, humor, mystery, chick-lit, inspiration, and various locales such as Scotland, California, Mexico, England, Colorado, and more.  I include the year of their publication.

My top 20, in alphabetical order by author:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 1813 – exquisite

What a Girl Wants by Kristin Billerbeck 2004 – hilarious!

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore 1869 – incredibly intense, especially the ending

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 1847 – a roller coaster with the perfect ending

what a girl wants_Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes 1605 and 1615 – idealistic knight, surpisingly funny

La Dame aux Camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils 1852 – true love’s sweet sacrifice

Sassy Cinderella and the Valiant Vigilante by Sharon Dunn 2004 – laugh out loud mystery

Reason to Believe by Kathleen Eagle 1995 – gentle story of two cultures

Nick’s Kind of Woman by Margot Early 1997 – fascinating relationship and action set in my home state of Colorado

The Well Beloved by Thomas Hardy 1892 – “a sketch of a temperament”

Arabella by Georgette Heyer 1949 – who knew the proper Victorian era could be this funny?

sassy cinderellaThorn in my Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs 2003 – the story of Leah and Rachel moved to 18th century Scotland

The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill – sweet, creative, upbeat surprise

Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson 1884 – love amid racial discrimination after the Mexican-American War

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale 1992 – rakish mathematician Duke meets intelligent Quaker

My Favorite Goodbye by Sheila O’Flanagan 2001 – light and funArabella by G Heyer

The Promise of Jenny Jones by Maggie Osborne 1999 – never laughed so hard

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers 2001 – pointing to the source of love

Happy Ever After (also called Family Happiness) by Leo Tolstoy 1859 – light, easy, insightful

The Sunset Coast by Susan Devore Williams 1995 – gradual awakening of love and faith

I hope you will be inspired to read something off your normal reading track!  If you do–or if you have some to recommend to me–please leave me a comment!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

San Diego 527

Review of The Little Hunchback Zia by Frances Hodgson Burnett

“And it came to pass nigh upon nineteen hundred and sixteen years ago”

Front page, The Little Hunchback Zia

This begins Frances Hodgson Burnett’s little book published in 1916 about a rejected, deformed orphan boy who is sent to beg for the cruel woman who keeps him.

The Little Hunchback Zia

The Little Hunchback Zia

One day, hiding in the brush near the road to Bethlehem, he watches a surprising number of families and animals pass by on the road, playful and happy. But Zia falls asleep sobbing in unbearable loneliness.

The Little Hunchback Zia

Yet in the night Zia awakens smiling, feeling an unexplainable calm, without and within. Soon he sees one part of the sky growing lighter, and the sheep nearby suddenly attentive. In the darkness, a weary man walks slowly up the road, leading a donkey which carries a woman. A radiance surrounds her.

 

The Little Hunchback ZiaAlthough he thinks he is dreaming, Zia nevertheless feels compelled to follow them. And as the crippled and diseased boy climbs the steep hill toward Bethlehem, he does not waver or stumble.

Whatever had led Zia to Bethlehem now leads him to find the radiant woman and her husband in the mangers of the cave. The woman invites him to come near to the new born baby.

But he refuses, warning her that he is an unclean leper. Yet she insists. “Draw nigh,” the woman says, “and let his hand rest upon thee!”

Front cover, The Little Hunchback Zia

Zia obeys. He bows his head to the Holy child and feels the feather light touch of his tiny fingers. Soon Zia is healthy and standing upright for the first time in his life.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, the well-known author of The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and many other books, writes in a way that immediately engages and grips her reader. Every page of this little book seemed to draw me deeper into Zia’s experiences and emotions. Even though the story is based on the well-known events in the Bible, and the ending is predictable, every compassionate word of this beautiful story is precious.

The intricately drawn illustrations were done by Spencer Baird Nichols and W.T. Benda. I always love it when a book has a beautifully hand-written presentation in the front pages, and this brand-new book was a gift to a Sunday School student for faithful attendance during 1916.

Inscription, The Little Hunchback Zia

You can buy a printed copy of this sweet book on Amazon, read the Kindle version for free on Amazon, and various versions for free on www.gutenberg.org, www.childrenslibrary.org, and http://www.online-literature.com/burnett/3042/ .

A Summer Full of Kids’ Books

I’m back working at school and this summer is officially over tomorrow morning, so this is a good time for a round-up of what I’ve been reading during the long, lazy days of the holiday.

bks I read 20150729_190711 fixed

Lately, I have been reading and writing about old books, serious books. But browsing through the library feeling the full freedom of being on vacation inspired me to indulge myself in piles and piles of kids’ books! I found award winners, picked up some surprises in Grab Bags, found some brand new titles and authors, and revisited old ones.  Here are the best:

Clouds bks 009 Clouds bks 001Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren

No wonder the Pippi books stayed in my mind all these forty-some years! Pippi lives my own childhood fantasies of having exotic animals, traveling the world, living in dangerous jungles, spending most of the time outdoors, and enjoying complete independence. Her thoughts have no logical order but are creative and free, and Pippi—thanks to a supply of gold coins—can give gifts to everyone she meets. She talks to her hat, loves stepping in full gutters, and makes up “facts” out of her wild imagination. This story sails along with nothing but spontaneity, surprises, and laughter, until Pippi’s pirate-dad returns from the sea to take her back with him. But will her love of the tossing waves make up for the loss of her friends?

Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, illustrated by Steve James

I’m so glad there is a children’s version of the adult book that is so precious. It’s uncanny how much Dewey the cat’s habits and personality are so much like my cat Ginger’s. The illustrator provided perfect drawings to endear kids to the story of the famous library pet.

Clouds bks 017

Caldecott award winner The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes

There is something gentle, rhythmical, predictable and comforting about poems with cumulative patterns. This book takes us through a dark but friendly and peaceful journey out the window, all around and back again. I was in awe when I read that all the intricate drawings were done on scratchboard. According to the author’s fascinating note at the end, the inspiration for this book came from a 1955 nursery rhyme book.

Clouds bks 006 fixed

Caldecott award winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

The whimsical drawings in this book set the tone, and they pleasantly remind me of many of the books I read as a child in the 1960’s. With one look at his ever-present grin, we are drawn into Amos’s simple daily life as he cares for animals of all personalities who have needs we wouldn’t have noticed unless we were as observant and considerate as he is.

Clouds bks 007 Clouds bks 012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer and Josephine written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I barely missed Bill Peet growing up, but my own sons were lucky enough to enjoy him and requested his first book, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure, over and over. In this one, the two main characters are an old, abandoned car and a scrawny homeless cat, whose many emotions are perfectly depicted in the author’s illustrations. Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney as a sketch artist, helping to produce early films such as Fantasia, 101 Dalmations and Peter Pan.

Clouds bks 013

Robert Munsch

Clouds bks 021 Clouds bks 024During the extra-busy weeks at the end of my school year, one of my co-workers sent out a link where we could wish Robert Munsch a Happy 50th Birthday. That inspired me to catch up on all of his books I’ve missed since my kids stopped reading them. The illustrations by Michael Martchenko made me laugh almost as much as the words!

 

I love how the Robert Munsch picks up ideas as he travels to schools all around North America, talking to his young readers and finding out what makes them happy, mad, or frustrated, and then dedicates the book to them!

Clouds bks 003 Clouds bks 010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clouds bks 025 Clouds bks 026

It was so much fun spending several weeks with kids’ books!   If you’re looking for some smiles and heart-warmers to brighten your child’s—or your—reading times, you could start with these!

 

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.]

 

 

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.

Until the Harvest smaller file 9780764212260

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.]

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.]

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?

Review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887, Part 2

In a recent post I began describing this 1887 book written by Edward Bellamy. Here is more about the author.

Ns house & LBbk 031The first page leaves no doubt as to why he wrote this book .

“We ask to put forth just our strength, our human strength,

All starting fairly, all equipped alike.

But when full roused, each giant limb awake,

Each sinew strung, the great heart pulsing fast,

He shall start up and stand on his own earth,

Then shall his long, triumphant march begin,

Thence shall his being date.”

Browning

“This great poet’s lines express Edward Bellamy’s aim in writing his famous book. That aim would realize in our country’s daily being the Great Declaration that gave us national existence; would, in equality of opportunity, give man his own earth to stand on, and thereby—the race for the first time enabled to enter unhampered upon the use of its God-given possibilities—achieve a progress unexampled and marvelous.”

The above quote is from Sylvester Baxter’s introduction, “The Author of ‘Looking Backward’”.  According to Baxter, Bellamy had a steadfast faith in the intrinsic goodness of human nature, a sense of the meaning of love in its true and universal sense. Bellamy was born in 1850 in Massachusetts, the son of a beloved clergyman and grandson of an early pastor of Springfield. Among his ancestors was Dr. Joseph Bellamy, a distinguished theologian, friend of Jonathan Edwards, and although the author outgrew the religious practices of his family, they still marked his views with a strongly anti-materialistic and spiritual cast.

As I read, I found similarities between Bellamy’s ideals and these early years of the 21st century. An ethical purpose dominated his ideas, and he held that a merely material prosperity would not be worth the working for, as a social ideal. I look at society in the recent decades—1990s and 2000s especially—as ones with a focus on material prosperity, and the current society—the 2010s—as beginning to focus more on working for the betterment of mankind, rather than the largest net-worth.

As I have noticed in what I’ve read about creative types such as artists and writers, the author’s start in life was somewhat divergent. He attended college but did not graduate; he studied law in Germany but didn’t practice. His travels to Hawaii by way of Panama preceded his decision to pursue a literary career, beginning as a journalist. He began his literary career by writing imaginative short stories for magazines, one review calling the author “the lineal intellectual descendant” of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

When Looking Backward was the sensation of the year, newspapers claimed that Bellamy was “posing for notoriety” (the meaning of the word “notoriety” in 1890 apparently meaning fame, rather than a bad reputation). But Sylvester Baxter believes that the author was indifferent to all the offers of advertising, lecturing, publishing opportunities that would have earned him large sums of money.

While writing his last book, Equality, an elaboration and sequel to Looking Backward, his health gave way. In 1897 he and his family went to Denver, seeking a cure for consumption. During that year, letters came from mining camps, farms, and villages wanting to do something for him to show their love. He was 2000 miles from home, yet found himself among friends because in ten years his book had sold a million copies in U.S. and England, and had been translated into many languages and dialects.

He returned to his home in New England and died in 1898. At the simple service held, some passages from his books were read as a fitting expression in his own words of that hope for the bettering and uplifting of humanity, which was the real passion of his noble life.

“If we love one another, God dwells in us and his love is perfected in us…He that loves his brother dwells in the light…If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar…he that does not love, does not know God.   Here is the very distillation of Christ’s teaching as to the conditions of entering on the divine life.”

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You can find printed copies of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 on Amazon, and free ebooks of this book at Gutenberg.org.

[More of this 19th century author’s vision of the “new order of the year 2000” coming in Part 3 of my review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887]

Review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887

At a recent used book sale I bought an intriguing book written by Edward Bellamy. It was published in 1887, with the premise of having been written in the year 2000. The author imagines how the country would look in another century if certain idealistic industrial, political and economic changes were made to enable the best possible society for all citizens. Bellamy felt that instead of writing a non-fiction analysis and critique of the country’s economy, it would be more interesting to tell the story of a fictional character who falls asleep and wakes up over one hundred years later to find a changed society. Ns house & LBbk 028 One of my reasons for searching out books over a hundred years old is similar to this author’s reasons for writing it. I want to know how the world has changed, and I want to understand how people thought, what their priorities were, what their values were and how they compare to ours today.

This book has the added benefit for me of being written as fiction, which I find a much easier form for conveying ideas, perspectives and attitudes. I don’t find the topics of industry and economics interesting, so I wasn’t enthusiastic about that part of it. But I do find it fascinating to read the author’s and main characters’ discussions on those topics, and their comparisons between the two time periods. I’ve probably learned more from Looking Backward about the industrial history of the country than in any social studies class I ever endured.

The book was published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, and The Riverside Press, Cambridge. On the copyright page is the phrase “Four hundred and forty-seventh thousand”. Could this be the number of copies? Sylvester Baxter, Boston journalist and urban planner at the time, wrote the introduction. The front cover and first blank page were signed “W.J. Wilde, Red Deer”, which I assume refers to Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, a town about 150 kilometers north of Calgary. It is called the Memorial Edition because this particular edition was copyrighted by Emma S. Bellamy in 1915 after the author’s death. Ns house & LBbk 043 The book begins with an “Author’s Preface” (which is not the author Edward Bellamy, but the author of the “book within a book”, Julian West), supposedly written on December 26, 2000, in Boston. “Living as we do in the closing year of the twentieth century, enjoying the blessings of a social order at once so simple and logical that it seems but the triumph of common sense, it is no doubt difficult…to realize that the present organization of society is…less than one century old.”

The ancient industrial system “with all its shocking social consequences” had been expected to last to the end of time. “How strange and wellnigh incredible does it seem that so prodigious a moral and material transformation as has taken place since then could have been accomplished in so brief an interval!” The language is so eloquent, music to my cerebral ears.

To summarize the beginning, when a 19th century man named Julian West awakes to find himself in the 21st century under the care of a family in Boston, he begins to explore, question and discuss the changes he sees with the family members. The first and most obvious change he notices from an upper balcony of a three-story home is that the city is obviously now prosperous, full of fine houses, open squares filled with trees, statues and fountains, and public buildings of colossal size and architectural grandeur.

As he questions his host, he learns that the government now operates many locations of the exact same stores for people to obtain food and other consumables. They do not use money; instead, they use a “credit card”. The funds backing the credit card are provided by the government and are distributed equally to every citizen. Employment, then, is not the source of one’s income and buying power; it is each person’s contribution to the cogs of the wheel running an orderly society.

Some refer to this book as utopian, some call the principles in the book socialist or Marxist, many note that it was one of the most popular, important books of its day. According to SparticusEducational.com, Ns house & LBbk 031the novel was highly successful and sold over 1,000,000 copies. It was the third largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur.

As Bellamy’s biographer, Franklin Rosemont, has pointed out: “The social transformation described in Looking Backward has in turn transformed, or rather liberated, the human personality. In Bellamy’s vision of the year 2000, selfishness, greed, malice, insanity, hypocrisy, lying, apathy, the lust for power, the struggle for existence, and anxiety as to basic human needs are all things of the past.”

I knew the name Bellamy sounded familiar. The author was apparently the cousin of Francis Bellamy, famous for creation of the Pledge of Allegiance. You can find printed copies of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 on Amazon, and free ebooks of Edward Ballamy’s book at Gutenberg.org.

[More to come in Part 2 of my review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 by Edward Bellamy!] Ns house & LBbk 033