It's time for my annual compilation of books read during the past year.

  • Total books: 85
  • Fiction: 66
  • Non-fiction: 19
  • Months with most books: a tie between July and September (12)
  • Month with fewest books: April (2)
  • Most frequent authors: Randall Garrett (19), Lois Lenski (16), Tony Hillerman (10), Brandon Sanderson (7). Hillerman is the only author to make the top four both last year and this, as his excellent Leaphorn & Chee books spanned the two years. Garrett and Lenski made such a strong showing because they were each the subject of a particular focus, and their books are generally short. Sanderson, on the other hand, though he's only represented by seven books, is the runaway leader in number of pages.

Here's the list, grouped by author; links are to reviews. The different colors only reflect whether or not you've followed a hyperlink. The ratings (★) and warnings (☢) are on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest/mildest. Warnings, like the ratings,  are highly subjective and reflect context, perceived intended audience, and my own biases. Nor are they completely consistent. They may be for sexual content, language, violence, worldview, or anything else that I find objectionable. Your mileage may vary.

Title Author Rating/Warning
Matthew Wolfe 2: The Adventures Begin Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone) ★★★ ☢
Matthew Wolfe 3: Revelations Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone) ★★★
The Art of Evil Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone) ★★★★ ☢
Mistborn 1: The Final Empire Brandon Sanderson ★★★
Mistborn 2: The Well of Ascension Brandon Sanderson ★★★
Mistborn 3: The Hero of Ages Brandon Sanderson ★★★
Stormlight 1: The Way of Kings Brandon Sanderson ★★★
Stormlight 2: Words of Radiance Brandon Sanderson ★★★★
Stormlight 2.5: Edgedancer Brandon Sanderson ★★★★★
Warbreaker Brandon Sanderson ★★★★
Deep Work Cal Newport ★★★★★
So Good They Can't Ignore You Cal Newport ★★★★★
Rosefire Carolyn Clare Givens ★★★
A Child's History of England Charles Dickens ★★★ ☢
The Light in the Forest Conrad Richter ★★
Just David (aka North to Freedom) Eleanor Porter ★★★★
Just David (read a second time to check for differences between the original and the modern editions) Eleanor Porter ★★★★
Brian's Saga 1: Hatchet Gary Paulsen ★★★ ☢
Brian's Saga 2: The River Gary Paulsen ★★★ ☢
Brian's Saga 3: Brian's Winter Gary Paulsen ★★★ ☢
Brian's Saga 4: Brian's Hunt Gary Paulsen ★★ ☢☢
Brian's Saga 4: Brian's Return Gary Paulsen ★★ ☢
Why Good Arguments Often Fail James W. Sire ★★★★
Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual Jocko Willink
Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook Joetta Handrich Schlabach ★★
Greenglass House Kate Milford ★★★
Kisses from Katie Katie Davis with Beth Clark ★★★
Bayou Suzette Lois Lenski ★★★★
Blue Ridge Billy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Boom Town Boy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Coal Camp Girl Lois Lenski ★★★★
Corn Farm Boy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Deer Valley Girl Lois Lenski ★★★
Flood Friday Lois Lenski ★★★★
Houseboat Girl Lois Lenski ★★★★
Indian Captive Lois Lenski ★★★★
Judy's Journey Lois Lenski ★★★★
Mama Hattie's Girl Lois Lenski ★★★★
Prairie School Lois Lenski ★★★★
San Francisco Boy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Shoo-Fly Girl Lois Lenski ★★★
Strawberry Girl Lois Lenski ★★★★
Texas Tomboy Lois Lenski ★★★★
Out of This World Lowell Thomas, Jr. ★★★★
Talking to Strangers Malcolm Gladwell ★★★★
Humble Pi Matt Parker ★★★★
In the Heart of the Sea Nathaniel Philbrick ★★★ ☢
The Wild Robot Peter Brown ★★★★
The Wild Robot Escapes Peter Brown ★★★★
A Spaceship Named McGuire Randall Garrett ★★★
Anything You Can Do Randall Garrett ★★★
But, I Don't Think Randall Garrett
By Proxy Randall Garrett ★★★
Cum Grano Salis Randall Garrett ★★★★
Damned If You Don't Randall Garrett ★★★
Despoilers of the Golden Empire Randall Garrett ★★★
His Master's Voice Randall Garrett ★★★
Nor Iron Bars a Cage Randall Garrett ★★★
Or Your Money Back Randall Garrett ★★★
Pagan Passions Randall Garrett ★★ ☢☢
Psi-Power 1: Brain Twister Randall Garrett ★★★
Psi-Power 2: The Impossibles Randall Garrett ★★★
Psi-Power 3: Supermind Randall Garrett ★★
Quest of the Golden Ape Randall Garrett ★★
The Eyes Have It Randall Garrett ★★★★
The Foreign Hand-Tie Randall Garrett ★★★
The Highest Treason Randall Garrett ★★★
The Penal Cluster Randall Garrett ★★
Loserthink Scott Adams ★★★
Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics Stanley F. Schmidt ★★★★
Life of Fred: Australia Stanley F. Schmidt ★★★★
Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics Stanley F. Schmidt ★★★★
Life of Fred: Trigonometry Expanded Edition Stanley F. Schmidt ★★★★
Coyote Waits Tony Hillerman ★★★
Hunting Badger Tony Hillerman ★★★
Sacred Clowns Tony Hillerman ★★★
Skeleton Man Tony Hillerman ★★★
Skinwalkers Tony Hillerman ★★★
The Dark Wind Tony Hillerman ★★★
The Ghostway Tony Hillerman ★★★
The  People  of  Darkness Tony Hillerman ★★★
The Shape Shifter Tony Hillerman ★★★
The Wailing Wind Tony Hillerman ★★★
The  Bible  (English  Standard  Version,  canonical)   ★★★★★
The  New  Testament  (King  James  Version,  canonical)   ★★★★★

 

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 9, 2022 at 5:08 am | Edit
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It's been a month since I linked to a Viva Frei "Sidebar" video, more because there's been too much to choose from than than too little! This one is a two-hour long interview with Blake Masters. As with most of their Sidebar guests, I'd never heard of him, but if he wins in his attempt to become a U. S. senator from Arizona, I may learn more about him. Or if one of our grandchildren wins a Thiel Fellowship....

Blake Masters is president of the Thiel Foundation and the Fellowhip is their flagship program. He talks about it briefly during the interview, from about 32:32 to 41:56. The following video should start close to that point; you'll have to stop it yourself as a quick search did not show me an easy way to accomplish that automatically. The rest of the interview is also interesting, but who has two hours to listen to it?

Basically, the foundation believes that too many people are going to college, and funds efforts to do something productive without it. As Masters puts it, "We pay young people to drop out of college." About 10% of the fellowship recipients eventually go back to school, mostly for engineering degrees or other practical majors.  MIT has even been known to hold students' places open for them.

Masters has some other good suggestions for taming the massive quagmire that higher education has become.  One of them has long been a favorite of my husband's: find a way to make colleges have "skin in the game" of student loans. Right now they have every incentive to push students toward massive, unmanageable debt, and no incentive not to. (Professor friends, please don't stop the video in disgust when Viva suggests that college professors are the ones benefitting from the out-of-control costs—Masters immediately corrects him on that point.)

Masters has several other interesting things to say—the interview covers a lot—but nothing as easy to pull out separately as the above. If you have two hours you can spare to listen—there's no need to watch—go for it.  Warning: the language is sometimes not what I would consider acceptable, though if I remember right the section about college is okay.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 at 8:20 am | Edit
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What was happening at the beginning of the 1960's?

I've long been a fan of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy books, so when I found the Kindle version of Randall Garrett: The Ultimate Collection for 99 cents, I leapt at the chance to read some of his other stories. Nothing so far has come close to the Lord Darcy books in quality, but they've mostly been fun to read.

Recently I read The Highest Treason. It's short, under 23,000 words, and was originally published in the January 1961 issue of the magazine Analog Science Fact and Fiction. You can find a public domain version at Project Gutenberg.

The Highest Treason deals with a subject familiar to me, one I first encountered in Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, first published in October 1961, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That one is much shorter, only 2200 words, and can be found here in pdf form.

C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Proposes a Toast was next—and my favorite. You can read it here, in the December 19, 1959 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I don't have a word count, but it is also quite short.

December 1959, January 1961, October 1961. Three stories written as the 1950's passed into the 1960's.

All three have as their premise the consequences of a culture of mediocrity, in which excellence in anything—beauty, art, sport, thinking, work, character—is abolished for the sake of making everyone "equal." There must have been something going on at that time period to make it a concern for at least three such varied authors.

What would they think today? From the demise of ability grouping in elementary schools, to "participation trophies," to branding as racist and unacceptable the idea that employment and leadership positions should be awarded on the basis of merit and accomplishment, we have come a long way down this path since 1960.

Here's hoping it doesn't take near-annihilation by space aliens—or the flames of hell—to wake us up.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 24, 2021 at 7:30 am | Edit
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I read a lot.

Now, "a lot" is pretty much a meaningless term. Since I started keeping track in 2010, I have averaged 72.2 books per year (5.85 per month). For a scholar, that would not be much, but a pitifully smallnumber. However, compared with that mythical being, the average American, it's impressive, since for him it would be 12/year (mean) or 4/year (median). (I'm using the gender-neutral sense of "him," as I almost always do, but it is worth noting that women, as a group, read significantly more books than men: 14 vs. 9, 5 vs. 3 annually.)

Whatever. The point is that I like to read, and since 2010 I have kept a few statistics. The advantage of data is that it can surprise you. For example, 60% of my reading since that year has been fiction, although it feels as if that percentage is much lower. Partly that is because I like to read books recommended by or for our grandchildren, and often those books are shorter and quickly read. That's changing some now due to their growing taste for books like the one I just finished: Brandon Sanderson's 1000-page The Way of Kings.

Most likely the reason it feels as if I've read more non-fiction than I actually have is that I find it difficult to read a non-fiction book without writing a review of it, which can easily take longer than reading the book in the first place.

Take my current non-fiction book, for example: Loserthink, by Scott Adams. I have just finished reading Chapter 1, and already there are seven sticky notes festooning the pages, marking quotations I would want to include in a review. This is not a sustainable pace. Too many quotes and it becomes burdensome to copy them, even from an e-book. Moreover, I've learned that the more I include, the fewer people actually read, making it a waste of time for all of us. Often I include many of them anyway, for my own reference. But sometimes it reduces my review to little more than "read/don't read this book."

Still looking for the via media.

In the meantime, I'll get back to enjoying Loserthink. I don't like the negativity of the title, but Adams carefully explains its purpose. In short: it's not a label for people, but for unproductive ways of thinking, and short, negative labels make it easier to avoid bad things. I know from the interview with Scott Adams that I included in my Hallowe'en post that his personality can be abrasive, and I occasionally have doubts about listening to someone with well-developed skills in the art of persuasion. None of that means, however, that what he has to say won't be of much value.

 


*I'm aware that "scholar" is also a somewhat fuzzy term. And that in many fields, those who read in great quantity may still not read many books, since most of their reading would be in a narrow field and consist primarily of articles. By the time cutting-edge research is published in a scholarly article, it can be more than a year out of date; for books this is much worse.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 9, 2021 at 6:00 am | Edit
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altSo Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport (Business Plus, 2012)

I can't resist a Cal Newport book. My first was How to Be a High School Superstar (published 2010), then Digital Minimalism (2019) then Deep Work (2016). If the advice in any of them is out of date, I haven't noticed anything major.

So Good They Can't Ignore You is—like the others—both strong and weak but filled with interesting ideas that are contrary to much conventional wisdom. This time Newport tackles the "follow your passion" philosophy of choosing a career that was popular when the book was written. I don't think the appeal of that idea has lessened, despite the great number of college graduates who thought they were doing just that but ended up with unmanageable debt and a job at Starbuck's.

Much of his thesis is just what used to be called common sense: The work you choose doesn't matter nearly as much as how you approach it; focus on what you can offer the world rather than what the world can offer you; work hard; cultivate excellence. If that sounds boring and Puritanical, read the book to find out how it turns out to be the secret to having a career that's enjoyable and personally fulfilling. Newport fleshes out the ideas nicely, if sometimes a bit too repetitively, with explanation, analysis, and real-world examples.

As with Newport's other books, this one is business-oriented, making it hard to apply directly to non-business careers like homemaking and rearing a family. In fact, part of me wonders if it's possible to do what's necessary to achieve the skills he expects without neglecting other important parts of life. However, it must be noted that the really intense effort he recommends works best when one is young, and leads to far more autonomy and flexibility than standard career paths. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.

At present, the Kindle version of So Good They Can't Ignore You is currently on sale for $3.99. It's well worth the investment of your time and money, or a visit to your local library.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 10, 2021 at 4:53 pm | Edit
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It was our eight-year-old grandson's first solo sail. He had passed all his dad's tests the day before, and was eager to go solo, despite the strong wind and tide, which were at least pushing him into the cove, rather than out into Long Island Sound. So off he went.

It was, indeed, a strong wind, which made the small boat difficult to control. He capsized twice, gamely righting the boat and climbing back in each time. After a while, however, his lack of ability to make progress toward home began to frustrate and frighten him. I would not have handled that situation at all well.

Instead of giving in to panic, however, he assessed the situation, and discovered a patch of reeds he could head for with full assistance of the wind and tide. That's where he went, planning to pull the boat up on land and walk back to the cottage for help. He grounded in the reeds, lowered the sail, removed the daggerboard and rudder, and began pulling the boat up onto the land.

He didn't quite get the chance to finish. Watching from the shore, determined not to interfere with his very own adventure, but ready to render assistance as needed, we finally decided that a "rescue party" might be of some use. When they arrived (by land) he had already done all that was necessary except for securing the boat. Mission (nearly) accomplished, both boy and boat safe and sound—then, and only then, did he give in to tears.

Kudos to the security guard who had stopped by to see what was going on: he could have said so many wrong things, but merely commended the boy for his courage and clear head, telling him he had done exactly the right things.

It was a much more satisfactory reaction than that of my own sailing adventure six years earlier: the panicked onlooker who called 911, the fire boat officials who told me they were under orders to "take me in," and the ambulance crew persistently ready to pounce on me as soon as I set foot on shore (but I outwaited them).

Don't panic; keep your head; make a plan and execute it. Save your emotional reaction for when the job is done. If an eight-year-old can do it, so can we.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 7:09 pm | Edit
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I'm giving my computer files a much-needed spring summer cleaning, and came upon this, which I post here for my own future reference as much as anything. Unfortunately, I don't remember where it came from. The odds are it was from someone on Facebook, but that's the best I can do for now.

It's a clear, concise, visual guide to the seasons of the Church Year, as celebrated in the Episcopal Church and many other churches. The latter may differ in small details; I'm not familiar enough with them to say. But when I refer to the Church Year, this is what I'm talking about.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 14, 2021 at 9:26 pm | Edit
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Our grandchildren's community/elementary school playground was recently updated. There was nothing obviously wrong with the old playground, which was not very old. The only obvious improvement was the addition of some equipment that could be more easily used by children with certain disabilities, which is a good thing but surely could have been accomplished without re-doing the whole thing at horrendous taxpayer expense.

Still, a playground is a playground, and this one being within walking distance for our grandchildren is a favorite destination when school is out. Everyone enjoys it, albeit on his own terms.

The first thing every one of them determined was that it was important to break every rule whenever possible. (Click to enlarge.) Beginning, of course, with the one that is not shown here: Adult supervision recommended. After all, it's only a recommendation, and we know what happened when the COVID-19 "rules" changed to "recommendations."

That gotten out of the way, it was time to notice some other interesting things about the equipment. It appears that the students at this school may grow up at a disadvantage in mathematics, at least when it comes to measurement.

I am not under five feet tall, and this is no trick of perspective. For all the money spent on this playground, couldn't they have placed the sign correctly?

On the other hand, I expect the students to have an advantage when it comes to music. How many playgrounds feature chimes in the Locrian scale?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 20, 2021 at 8:12 am | Edit
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altA Child's History of England by Charles Dickens (public domain, 1851-1853)

Dickens' book is, unsurprisingly, in the public domain. I read the free Kindle version and it was fine, though it might be worth springing for another $2 and getting the original illustrations as well.

A Child's History of England is a maddening book, yet a valuable one. According to its Wikipedia article, it "was included in the curricula of British schoolchildren well into the 20th century." It never could be now—which may be an indication that it should be. It is one man's very biased view of English history, hence valuable to balance other biases.

What's good about it? Well, I appreciated the organized layout of English history from ancient times up to the reign of William and Mary, with a very quick summary thence to Queen Victoria. Bit by bit, through several sources, I am gaining knowledge of the history of the lands that were home to many of my ancestors and played a significant part in the development of Western Civilization. The book, being designed for intelligent children, is both readable enough and interesting enough to read much more like a story than a textbook.

What didn't I like? To begin with, it is obviously and admittedly a propaganda piece. Dickens himself said of his book,

I am writing a little history of England for my boy ... For I don't know what I should do, if he were to get hold of any conservative or High Church notions; and the best way of guarding against any such horrible result is, I take it, to wring the parrots' neck in his very cradle.

Dickens does not appear to have liked England very much. He praises the Saxons, and holds Alfred the Great in very high esteem. Henry V wasn't too bad, and Oliver Cromwell gets too much credit for not being as horrible as the kings that preceded and followed him. Other than that, Dickens doesn't seem to have much respect for any of the British monarchs and their hangers-on. He also passionately hates the Catholic Church, and much of the undivided Church itself before the Reformation. The Puritans are heaped with scorn as well. He clearly claims to be a Christian, just as he claims to be an Englishman, but doesn't seem to care much for either Christianity or England. Sometimes the book feels less like a history and more like a series of ad hominem attacks. He even manages to draw a caricature of Joan of Arc as a mentally deficient peasant girl abused for others' gain.

Part and parcel of his prejudice, I believe, his his annoying habit of inconsistently referring to people sometimes by name, sometimes by title, often by nickname, and even by insult.  I found this to make keeping the characters straight difficult, and I tired of flipping back several pages to try to figure out which particular duke was currently meant.  It certainly doesn't help me to remember that he's talking about King James I when most of the time Dickens refers to him as "His Sowship."

For all that, I do recommend reading A Child's History of England, though only in the context of competing viewpoints. It does a good job of helping to put together the pieces of the complex puzzle that is the story of England.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 10:39 am | Edit
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Maybe you never wanted to be a rock star.  Maybe you don't care much for that music and the genres it spawned.  Maybe you aren't interested in a career in the music world at all.

No matter:  In the first 22 minutes of this video, Rick Beato has a story to tell you, and some good advice for us all.  More of his interesting personal story is told in other videos on his Everything Music channel, but this summarizes his journey and how he faced the obstacles he encountered, including being rejected twice when he applied to music school.  He rambles a bit, but it's a good story. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 1, 2021 at 10:22 am | Edit
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Porter alerted me to this interesting, though highly biased, view of what's necessary for successful learning at home. It's from a Geopolitical Futures report by Antonia Colibasanu.

According to an April 2020 report by the European Commission, more than a fifth of children lack at least two of the basic resources for studying at home: their own room, reading opportunities, internet access and parental involvement (for children under 10 years old).

We can ignore the absurdity of needing internet access to learn from home, because the context of the quote is traditional classroom schooling provided from outside to children at home, rather than education per se.

What struck both of us, however, is the first "basic resource": that the child should have his own room. Granted, a quiet place to work is a great thing, but I see no reason why that implies the need for single bedrooms. And, as my friend and sometime guest poster points out, school classrooms are hardly solitary spaces. Mind you, I'm not in favor of open-plan offices, but I find it amusing that one's own room is considered necessary for learning but currently out of favor in our trendier workplaces.

Public education from home is relatively new, but of course homeschoolers have been doing it for centuries (well pre-internet, I might add), and often in the context of large families in which shared bedrooms are common. What is required is not separate bedrooms, but discipline and respect for others. I'll admit it also helps to have the ability to concentrate in the presence of distractions, especially if you live (as our grandchildren do) in a family where someone is nearly always singing or playing a musical instrument. Our own children discovered that climbing a tree was a good way to get some undistracted reading time.

Further, this insistence on single bedrooms—with its implication of small family size—ignores the tremendous educational advantage of having multiple siblings. My nephew learned math far beyond his grade level because he wanted to keep up with his brother. Our younger grandchildren see no reason why they shouldn't be learning and doing what their older siblings are, and the older ones are usually happy to help them along.

Public education is a very confining box to learn to think outside of, even when the devil drives.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 29, 2021 at 6:14 am | Edit
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Next up in this series of interesting YouTube channel subscriptions: Everything Music, by Rick Beato. I was going to say that I can't remember what introduced me to to Rick Beato's channel, but a look back at one of my own posts gave me the answer: Google apparently decided I would be interested in it, popping up a suggested video on my phone. For once they were right.

My gateway to Beato's channel was the musical abilities of his young son, Dylan. There are several Dylan videos, but this one is a good 13-minute compilation:

 

It turns out that the Dylan videos are but a small part of Everything Music. Beato covers so much; I'll let him give the intro (13 minutes).

Music theory, film music, modal scales, tales from his own interesting musical history, and a whole lot of modern music about which I know little and like less.

Remember what I said about Excellence and Enthusiasm?

I'm a child of the 60's, chronologically, but unlike most of my generation, I've never liked rock music, nor any of its relatives and derivatives. Granted, growing up when I did there was no getting away from it, and there were a few specific songs I did enjoy. At one point, I was even a minor fan of Jefferson Airplane, and attended one of their wild, live concerts. That point in my life, while embarrassing, reminds me of this line from C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters: "I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Who knows what trouble I might have gotten into in my college years had I not had a stronger taste for what is loosely called classical music?

What, specifically, don't I like about the rock genre(s)?

  • The music is almost invariably played at ear-splitting volume, literally ear-damaging.
  • Most of the music comes with lyrics, and with a few exceptions, I find that they range from boring to abominable.
  • The heavy emphasis on pounding rhythms drives me crazy; I never have liked playing with a metronome.
  • The timbre of the electric guitar, nearly ubiquitous in rock music, is one of a very few that I generally find unpleasant (saxophone is another).

Enter Rick Beato. If his son's abilities are astounding, Rick's aren't all that far behind, and his experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm keep me interested in his analysis even though most of his examples are from music I can't stand. It helps a lot that he uses short excerpts, in which neither lyrics nor pounding beats have a chance to do much harm. Plus, I control the volume.

I especially enjoy Rick's videos on modal music, as that has always interested my ear. It does seem really odd to hear him talk about modes without any reference to church music, in which modal music was once really big. But I had no idea how important modes are in rock music and film scoring, and learning through Rick's videos has been a delight. Hiding underneath all that raucous sound and those objectionable lyrics is a lot of complex and very interesting music. It's not going to make me a rock music fan, but it gives me more appreciation for the skill of the musicians behind it—if not for their sometimes questionable moral compasses. (I know, classical composers were not necessarily saints, either. There's a reason I generally prefer instrumental music.) It has also heightened my awareness of the music that undergirds our movies and television shows, and why it is often so powerful.

Here's an interesting Gustav Holtz/John Williams comparison from one of his movie music videos (16 minutes):

That's enough for an introduction; I'm sure I'll be posting more Everything Music videos in the future.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 6:15 am | Edit
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They say it's the winners who write the history books, implying that what has been written is untrue.

Nonsense. What it does mean is that it is not the whole truth.

But the solution to not enough truth is more truth. Labelling what has previously been written and taught as false—or erasing it altogether, and substituting another version with its own biases—only compounds the problem.

(I can hear the teachers now, pointing out that it's difficult enough to get students to learn any history at all, much less to absorb and ponder more than one point of view. But no one ever said good teaching was easy.)

I've mentioned before that one of the gravest consequences of simplifying the very complex Chinese written language is to cut off the common people of China from their literature and history. That is a very powerful tool in the hands of a totalitarian régime.

Nor are people living in a democracy safe. In the end, is there much difference between a people who cannot read their historical documents and those who do not? If free people don't care to keep their minds free, can tyranny be far behind? As President Ronald Reagan said, Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It has to be fought for and defended by each generation.

Having just re-read, and reviewed, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, I was especially struck when I came upon Larry P. Arnn's essay from last December, "Orwell’s 1984 and Today." As usual, I recommend reading the original; it's not long.

The totalitarian novel is a relatively new genre. In fact, the word “totalitarian” did not exist before the 20th century. The older word for the worst possible form of government is “tyranny”—a word Aristotle defined as the rule of one person, or of a small group of people, in their own interests and according to their will. Totalitarianism was unknown to Aristotle, because it is a form of government that only became possible after the emergence of modern science and technology.

In Orwell’s 1984, there are telescreens everywhere, as well as hidden cameras and microphones. Nearly everything you do is watched and heard. It even emerges that the watchers have become expert at reading people’s faces. The organization that oversees all this is called the Thought Police.

If it sounds far-fetched, look at China today: there are cameras everywhere watching the people, and everything they do on the Internet is monitored. Algorithms are run and experiments are underway to assign each individual a social score. If you don’t act or think in the politically correct way, things happen to you—you lose the ability to travel, for instance, or you lose your job. It’s a very comprehensive system. And by the way, you can also look at how big tech companies here in the U.S. are tracking people’s movements and activities to the extent that they are often able to know in advance what people will be doing. Even more alarming, these companies are increasingly able and willing to use the information they compile to manipulate people’s thoughts and decisions.

What we can know of the truth all resides in the past, because the present is fleeting and confusing and tomorrow has yet to come. The past, on the other hand, is complete. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas go so far as to say that changing the past—making what has been not to have been—is denied even to God.

The protagonist of 1984 is a man named Winston Smith. He works for the state, and his job is to rewrite history. ... Winston’s job is to fix every book, periodical, newspaper, etc. that reveals or refers to what used to be the truth, in order that it conform to the new truth. 

Totalitarianism will never win in the end—but it can win long enough to destroy a civilization. That is what is ultimately at stake in the fight we are in. We can see today the totalitarian impulse among powerful forces in our politics and culture. We can see it in the rise and imposition of doublethink, and we can see it in the increasing attempt to rewrite our history.

To present young people with a full and honest account of our nation’s history is to invest them with the spirit of freedom. ... It is to teach them that the people in the past, even the great ones, were human and had to struggle. And by teaching them that, we prepare them to struggle with the problems and evils in and around them. Teaching them instead that the past was simply wicked and that now they are able to see so perfectly the right, we do them a disservice and fit them to be slavish, incapable of developing sympathy for others or undergoing trials on their own.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 12:12 pm | Edit
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It's time for my annual compilation of books read during the past year.

  • Total books: 86
  • Fiction: 58
  • Non-fiction: 28
  • Month with most books: February (15)
  • Month with fewest books: December (2; not surprising, with the Stücklins visiting for a very active month)
  • Most frequent authors: Arthur Ransome (14), C. S. Lewis (11), S. D. Smith (11), Tony Hillerman (10). Ransome scored so high because of my habit of periodically re-reading good books—it was his turn. This year concluded my C. S. Lewis retrospective. Smith came out with two new books this year and I like to re-read the series before indulging in the latest. Hillerman is a prolific author whose prominence was the result of my introduction to his work via a Christmas gift from last year.

Here's the alphabetical list; links are to reviews. The different colors only reflect whether or not you've followed a hyperlink. This chronological list has ratings and warnings as well.

  1. The Alto Wore Tweed by Mark Schweizer
  2. The Archer's Cup by S. D. Smith
  3. The Art of Construction by Mario Salvadori
  4. The Bible (Revised Standard Version)
  5. The Big Six by Arthur Ransome
  6. The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly
  7. The Black Star of Kingston by S. D. Smith
  8. The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
  9. The Books of the Apocrypha (Revised Standard Version)
  10. Brother Cadfael's Penance (Brother Cadfael #20) by Ellis Peters
  11. C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide by Walter Hooper
  12. The Child's Book of the Seasons by Arthur Ransome
  13. Christian Reflections by C. S. Lewis
  14. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
  15. Coots in the North and Other Stories by Arthur Ransome
  16. Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman
  17. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  18. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper
  19. Ember Falls by S. D. Smith
  20. Ember Rising by S. D. Smith (March)
  21. Ember Rising by S. D. Smith (November)
  22. Ember's End by S. D. Smith (March)
  23. Ember's End by S. D. Smith (November)
  24. An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis
  25. The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman
  26. The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman
  27. The First Fowler by S. D. Smith
  28. The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
  29. The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
  30. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy by edited by Michael H. Macdonald and Andrew A. Tadie
  31. Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley
  32. God in the Dock by C. S. Lewis
  33. Great Northern? by Arthur Ransome
  34. The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
  35. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
  36. The Heretic's Apprentice (Brother Cadfael #16) by Ellis Peters
  37. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  38. The Holy Thief (Brother Cadfael #19) by Ellis Peters
  39. Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  40. Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  41. Killing Reagan by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  42. The Last Archer by S. D. Smith
  43. Lead Yourself First by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin
  44. Legion by Brandon Sanderson
  45. Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson
  46. Letters to an American Lady by C. S. Lewis, edited by Clyde S. Kilby
  47. Letters to Children by C. S. Lewis
  48. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis
  49. Lies of the Beholder by Brandon Sanderson
  50. Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman
  51. Lord Darcy Investigates by Randall Garrett
  52. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  53. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
  54. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
  55. The Lost Family by Libby Copeland
  56. Matthew Wolfe: The Making of Matthew Wolfe by Blair Bancroft
  57. Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome
  58. Murder and Magic by Randall Garrett
  59. The New Testament (English Standard Version)
  60. Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel by George Orwell
  61. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C. S. Lewis
  62. The Omega Document by J. Alexander McKenzie
  63. Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome
  64. The Picts and the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome
  65. Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome
  66. The Potter's Field (Brother Cadfael #17) by Ellis Peters
  67. The Psalter by Coverdale translation
  68. The Quotable Lewis edited by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root
  69. Secret Water by Arthur Ransome
  70. The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman
  71. The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman
  72. Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman
  73. Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein
  74. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
  75. The Summer of the Danes (Brother Cadfael #18) by Ellis Peters
  76. Surprised Laughter: The Comic World of C. S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall
  77. Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
  78. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  79. Talking God by Tony Hillerman
  80. A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
  81. Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett
  82. We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
  83. Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
  84. The World's Last Night and other Essays by C. S. Lewis
  85. The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith
  86. Your Blue Flame: Drop the Guilt and Do What Makes You Come Alive by Jennifer Fulwiler
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 3, 2021 at 8:42 am | Edit
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This is not my own, but the person I learned it from can't remember where she first found it.  And it's not a direct quotation, because I've modified it to sound better in my own ears.  But the sentiment is exactly the same.

 "A writer is a writer not because he has amazing talent. A writer is a writer because, even when nothing he does shows any sign of promise, he keeps on writing anyway."

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 21, 2020 at 10:19 am | Edit
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