The Great Courses presented a contest this morning on Facebook: You're stuck on an island with the full Great Courses library and a way to enjoy them. Would you go with engineering/ homesteading to try to get off the island, or would you take advantage of the free time and enjoy your favorite subject?
I love this sort of challenge, and you all know how I try to get double duty out of my writing when I can, so I'm posting my answer here as well:
This is a fantasy, so I will dispense with all the worries about necessities, assuming that food, water, shelter, and whatever else might be needful—such as the equipment, power, and connection necessary for enjoying the Great Courses—will be readily at hand. I will assume that I am stranded, but not lost, and that I can anticipate rescue in a year. I will call this my Sabbatical Year—a time for learning and growing in preparation for living a more full and useful life upon my return.
Even with no distractions, a year is not long enough to experience all the Great Courses, nor even all that I would be interested in. But it would be sufficient for acquiring a great education, and one of the blessings of this fantasy would be not feeling the pressure I do now to make the most of limited time and money. I would not rule out any subject, but would attempt to sample broadly. Who visits a buffet and eats of only one food?
Perhaps I would start with astronomy, because this would be my best opportunity ever to gaze at a sky unburdened by light pollution. Then something from biology, geology, and oceanography, so as to understand my surroundings better. At that point, I would probably be in the mood for some health and exercise courses, to supplement my exploratory walks around the island. Those walks would also be a great opportunity for pondering the questions raised in the philosophy and religion courses. I would choose math and physics to keep my brain sharp, and music, art, and literature for my soul. Interspersed with all that I'd probably include a foreign language or two, and some lighter courses like cooking and travel.
Wait. Is this really a fantasy? In degree, yes, but not in kind. In real life, I do have to be concerned with food, shelter, power, and above all, time. Distractions abound. But the choice is still mine: the Great Courses are available, and I can take my Sabbatical Year one hour at a time. Learning and growing in preparation for living a more full and useful life can still be mine, even here, even now.
From The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien:
Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.
Shadowed Paradise by Blair Bancroft (Kone Enterprises, 2011)
Those who know me well will be surprised, not to say shocked, to find me reviewing a romance novel. It is a genre I have never, ever liked. You could say that I never outgrew my opinion that the "mushy stuff" spoils a good story. In the Romance genre, the mushy stuff is the story.
Blair Bancroft is the successful author of more than 30 Romance novels, in a variety of sub-genres. Why did I decide to take the plunge into Romance and read her Shadowed Paradise?
- I sing with her in choir. It seemed rude to claim to be her friend while ignoring the works of her heart.
- I discovered through reading her blog posts that I like the way she writes.
- I decided it was unkind to openly condemn a whole genre without reading at least one representative book.
- The novel is set in Florida.
- The protagonist's name is Claire Langdon.
- The author hooked me by making the first chapter of Shadowed Paradise available on her blog.
- The book is available for only $2.99 in Kindle format, a low-risk investment.
- I've never bought into the "beach read" idea, but hey, I was going to be at the beach. Never mind that I was at the beach with 10 grandchildren, ages 2, 2.5, 4, 4.5, 5.5, 6.5, 7, 9, 11, and 13, putting reading low on the priority list, even for me.
Despite all the destractions, I did manage to start and finish Shadowed Paradise.
- Being set in a familiar location always makes a book more fun for me. I loathed the book Catcher in the Rye and didn't think much of the movie, Taps, but the fact that they are set in one of my home towns—Wayne, Pennsylvania—gives them a special place in my heart. Shadowed Paradise was much more fun than either of those. I don't know a lot about the West Coast of Florida in particular, but in many ways, Florida is Florida. I especially liked the inclusion of the more historical parts of Florida. Until I moved here, I had no idea how important the cattle industry has been to the state.
- There's the Langdon factor, of course. I don't like Claire much (see below), but Jamie is a good kid.
- Unlike most modern stories (in all media), the sex here includes reference to pregnancy as a possible consequence, which I count a good thing.
- Most important of all is that Blair Bancroft can write. No doubt about that. I find all too many modern publications almost physically painful to read because of poor grammar and worse style. I noted only a few—very few—proofreading errors in Shadowed Paradise; it was a pleasure to be able to enjoy the story without being distracted by the writing.
- Another thing Bancroft does well is revealing her characters through their thoughts. The thought pattern of each is distinct, and the madman's way of thinking is especially chilling.
- The mystery is a good one. It bothers me not in the least that I guessed the murderer (albeit after briefly following a red herring), because there were plenty of fun twists along the way. I'm not a fan of horror stories, and have a not-so-cordial dislike for suspense, but there are some good scenes here. The snake story was especially delightful, and I have it on good authority that it's largely true....
- The profanity. Really, what is it that makes people these days unable to talk without swearing? My parents never cursed, ever. And if their friends did, it was not in my hearing. We grew up, enjoyed books, watched movies, and lived full lives with vocabularies that found no need for such language. So many writers now appear to find the inclusion of profanity necessary for "realism." However, as a reader, I long for the days of, "Aaron gently opened the tattered satchel, peered inside, and swore softly to himself," instead of "... and muttered, 'Oh, shit.'" I get the picture quite clearly with the former (I have both experience and imagination), and the latter causes me to wince. I will make occasional exceptions, but books that cause me pain are not high on my reading list.
- Sex with a near stranger, one with a reputation for frequent sexual encounters with multiple partners, and you don't even think about sexually-transmitted diseases? This makes the responsible attitude toward pregnancy (see above) less impressive.
- The book's attitude toward guns does not ring true. With a murdering manic preying on real estate agents, the agency forbids them to carry guns on the job, even in remote locations. News reporting is suppressed in order to avoid "the whole town stampeding to the gun shops." In my experience, the only thing that sends Floridians stampeding to the gun shops is the threat of further restrictions on the availability of firearms and ammunition. I'd be shocked if many of the people in such a real estate agency didn't already own guns; those who did would certainly put up a good deal of resistance to being asked not to carry them. A murderer won't be much fazed by a cell phone, and a water moccasin not at all.
- Bancroft is too hard on Florida's natural wildlife. Yes, there is the occasional report of an alligator that decides to visit someone's swimming pool, and I did once almost hit one that was crossing the road in front of my car. But our kids grew up camping in the woods and handled without a second thought armadillos wandering through camp, scorpions in their shoes (Florida scorpion bites are painful, but not dangerous), and once a pygmy rattlesnake sunning himself on top of the tent. Given how strong and resourceful a woman the story's protagonist has shown herself to be, having her flee in terror at the sight of a spider (albeit a large one) seemed odd.
- She's a bit hard on Langdons, too. I'm no more happy here with the use of the name than I was when I discovered that Dan Brown's detective was named Robert Langdon. Finding one's name in a book is a special kind of thrill (though maybe the Smiths would disagree), but it's less so when you can in no way identify with the character. Claire is nothing like any Langdon I know. But of course she is who she is because of the genre of the book.
- And that's the main problem. I really do not like Romance novels. The idea is entirely foreign to me of someone being so sex-starved that she would throw herself into bed with a man she's barely met—even if he did save her life. Even without the sex scenes, which fill my mind with images I'd rather be able to forget, the idea of a story driven by romantic love sounds nothing but boring to me. I make exceptions: George MacDonald wrote a number of romantic-in-that-sense stories (the ones C. S. Lewis liked the least), but his philosophies and his love for Scotland make up for his use of the vehicle that put bread into the mouths of his eleven children. Also, one of my favorite Dorothy Sayers stories is Gaudy Night, in which a love story is prominent—saved, again, by the mystery and by Sayers' incredible skill. It is the best compliment I can pay to Shadowed Paradise that some of the scenes reminded me of Gaudy Night.
Shadowed Paradise did not make me think any better of the Romance genre, though I'm very glad I read the book and confess that reading it was an enjoyable experience. I can't see myself seeking out any other Romance novel; it's just not my style.
However ... sometime ... in a weak moment ... maybe. It appears Shadowed Paradise is the first novel in a series....
Our first chair sousaphone player wasn't able to play with the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band in this year's Independence Day parade in Geneva, Florida, so he played the video cameral instead. Be sure to stay for the credits.
I think Geneva, Switzerland needs us, too; maybe this could be our audition tape. What fun we have! What total lack of self-respect we exhibit!
I can't help it. In the 60's we were taught to "question authority," but I think I was born to question popular opinion. Hence my probably foolish need to wonder how we who aspire to be tolerant and understanding choose to apportion those qualities of mercy.
When someone commits a hateful, despicable act, we usually respond by asking what it was in that person's life that drove him to such desperate measures. Was the school shooter the victim of bullies? Did the man attack his former workplace because he had recently been fired? Was the Islamic terrorist driven over the edge by his country's repressive policies and grinding poverty, or by American bombings, or by Hollywood's aggressive immorality? Was the abuser himself abused as a child? Why do they hate us? Without justifying ill behavior, collectively we seem to feel a need to understand, to mitigate, even to excuse the otherwise inexplicable actions of our fellow human beings.
I'll admit to have been having far too much fun with our 10 grandchildren to catch more than a few, fleeting references to recent news. What I hear disturbs me almost as much as the events themselves. Suddenly there seems to be a class of actions and ideologies—and a thousand times worse, of people—from whom we are withholding any attempt at understanding.
That the ideologies of white supremacy and Nazism are heinous I will heartily agree. But I will not, I cannot, condemn them more than a hundred other appalling ideologies that our society seems much less anxious to repudiate. It isn't honest, it isn't fair, and it isn't right.
Supposedly—I add the qualifier because I have so little trust remaining for news stories, even from multiple sources—supposedly, Arnold Schwarzenegger said this: If you choose to march with the flag that symbolizes the slaughter of millions of people, there are not two sides to that.
I suppose we can grant him a little leeway for artistic license. It's hard to be nuanced in a sound bite. But the ignorance of history represented by such a statement is frightening. If you're going to ban flags that have overseen mass slaughter, you need to take a much more thorough view. The U.S. flag cannot be excepted. According to Dante, even the flag of peaceful, neutral Switzerland, which I proudly wear this morning, bears its share of guilt.
From The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien:
Works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song.
Here's a warning for those travelling to Canada:
I was prepared for the border agent to ask if we were bringing firearms with us into Canada. I was surprised, but not unduly so, when he asked if we had any alcohol. (Oops. I neglected to tell him about the 2 ounces we had in the first aid kit.) But I was flabbergasted when he asked if we had any knives, including jackknives. It's a good thing we weren't planning a picnic. I'm also glad I had left my larger jackknife behind (prescience?). Fortunately, my Swiss Army keychain with its one-inch blade (which the TSA thinks is dangerous) was allowed to pass the border, but he did examine it thoroughly. I was shocked.
Does the Second Amendment cover knives? Not that those who wrote it would have dreamed anyone would object to a knife, which in their day even small boys carried with impunity. (Before you jump on me, I KNOW our Constitution doesn't matter in Canada. But if the Canadians are freaking out over knives, can the U.S. be far behind?)
I had expected more hassles crossing back into U.S., but it was a piece of cake. She looked at our passports, asked us where we were coming from, where we were going, and how long we had been in Canada, then wished us well.
The New York Times story begins like this:
There is a story in the Hebrew Bible that tells of God’s call for the annihilation of the Canaanites, a people who lived in what are now Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories thousands of years ago.
“You shall not leave alive anything that breathes,” God said in the passage. “But you shall utterly destroy them.”
But a genetic analysis published on Thursday has found that the ancient population survived that divine call for their extinction, and their descendants live in modern Lebanon.
It's an interesting article. What's frustrating is the implication that there should be anything suprising about the discovery the Canaanites did not die out.
Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament shows that if there is one thing the Israelites did not do, it was wipe out the Canaanites. Some they couldn't defeat, some they deliberately let live, some they were tricked into not destroying. They intermarried freely, despite prohibitions. So if there was a point in bringing up the out-of-context quotation, it's beyond me.
However, it does give me a plot idea for a behind-the-scenes fantasy story, with angels and archangels and "all the company of heaven" working in realms humans know not of, in which it is discovered that among the Canaanites there is a genetic mutation that will lead inevitably to some future, horrific disaster. The Israelites, a small and apparently unimportant tribe, are chosen as earthly agents to be groomed and trained for the job of making sure the mutation dies out, that no trace of that particular DNA is left to be passed into the future. But they fail, and disaster is hurtling towards us....