Looking Backward 2000-1887, Edward Bellamy (1888)

My Edition:lookingbackward
Title: Looking Backward
Author: Edward Bellamy
Publisher: A Signet Classic
Device: Paperback
Year: 1888
Pages: 222
For a plot summary

 

In your day, riches debauched one class with idleness of mind and body, while poverty sapped the vitality of the masses by overwork, bad food, and pestilent homes…Instead of these maleficent circumstances, all now enjoy the most favorable conditions of physical life; the young are carefully nurtured and studiously cared for; the labor which is required of all is limited to the period of greatest bodily vigor, and is never excessive; care for one’s self and one’s family, anxiety as to livelihood, the strain of a ceaseless battle for life—all these influences, which once did so much to wreck the minds and bodies of men and women, are known no more.[i]

Julian West is a young well-to-do Bostonian with a good life and marriage on the horizon. Living in luxury on the accumulated wealth of his great grandfather, his only pursuit as he tells it is on “the pleasures and refinements of life.” Typically, for a man of his social status, “he is supported by the labor of others and does no service in return,”[ii] which is the way his parents and grandparents before him lived.

There is only one chink in his otherwise comfortable and rich life: his insomnia is so bad he has to enlist the help of the mesmerist Dr. Pillsbury, who comes to his home some nights and hypnotizes him to fall asleep. While the procedure is complicated, the waking up process is not, so Dr. Pillsbury has taught West’s man-servant that procedure and is instructed to wake him up the next morning. On that fateful night of May 30, 1887, something goes awry and the servant does not or cannot wake him up. As West slowly comes to, he finds it is not the next morning, but 113 years later and is found fully intact and functioning in his bedroom by the present occupants of the house after a rainstorm flooded their basement crumbling away the walls of a previous building housing James West’s bedroom.

Looking Backward, is basically a long conversation between James West and Dr. and Mrs. Leete and their daughter Edith as they orient West into the America of the year 2000. Only a few generations away from West’s time, their education has given them knowledge enough to understand the Boston of the 19th century and compare the great changes in governance, education, employment and vision that West will find in 20th century Boston. The book is a primer, from Edward Bellamy’s point of view on how to create a just, economically equal, safe and well-mannered society. While there are a few excursions to eating establishments and to product distribution centers, most of the book takes place in the Leete home between the Dr. and Mr. West.

West learns of the bloodless economic revolution that occurred shortly after he went to sleep where the nation took over all means and manner of the production of goods and services, doing away with small businesses and large corporations, which only engendered competition, waste, and the great divide between rich and poor. Now, society is run by the people, with total financial equality as the hallmark of the new system. There IS no rich or poor, since each citizen is paid exactly the same amount, no matter their occupation. The class divide, the bane of all societies that causes the greatest imbalance of power has now been done away with. Therefore, there is no crime, since no one has less than his or her neighbor; no poverty, because regardless of occupation each is given a living wage; no feeling of alienation because all people and occupations are valued. Some features of this new society:

Education-teachers and parents observe a child’s talents from an early age so they can guide him or her into their chosen occupation.

Employment-everyone enters the work force at age 24 and retires at 45 and is on call for emergencies until 55, when their work life is over and leisure life begins.

Money-There is no physical money. Instead, everyone is issued a credit card that is filled each year. At every purchase the cost of the item is debited from the card.

Goods-clothing or furniture is stocked at distribution centers in each ward (neighborhood). There is enough stock for everyone, because no one over buys in this society where the desire for wealth or ostentation by material possessions no longer exists.

Dinner-each ward has a restaurant building, where every family has their own dining room. Minor meals are taken at home.

Domestic servants have been done away with, as has most household work. Clothes are washed at public laundries and mended at public shops, and electricity takes the place of lighting fires and lamps. Houses are no larger than needed and furnished with simplicity, which make them easy to keep up.

Technological advances-during rain storms a waterproof sheet is let down covering sidewalks so people can walk to dinner or shopping without an umbrella; music is piped into bedrooms and living rooms with the press of a screw.

Political parties during West’s time tried to right the unequal wrongs, but were not strong enough to change the whole of society, since their focus on class discrepancies was too narrow. Once a higher ethical basis for the rearrangement of industry and society was recognized the national party rose up. Taking that name to nationalize the functions of production and distribution, moved Americans into a union, a family with a common life; the most patriotic of parties, raising patriotism from instinct to devotion “by making the native land truly a father-land, a father who kept the people alive and was not merely an idol for which they were expected to die.”[iii]

The book has much to offer as a construction of the ideal state for that time. I say, “for that time,” because it fails on the role of women. Granted, Bellamy was writing in the late 1880s and gender binary ruled the day. Still, this is a book about the future. He couldn’t use his imagination and take the present day women’s reformers and suffrage movement to their obvious next level? Instead, he kept women in their proverbial place using the same attitudes about their physical and emotional sphere as they did in the 1880s. Only men rise to a higher consciousness in his future while women are only thrown a bone: they are ‘permitted’ to work, but only amongst themselves and as an allied force not integral to the actual importance of society. Continues Dr. Leete:

Under no circumstances is a woman permitted to follow any employment not perfectly adapted, both as to kind and degree of labor, to her sex. Moreover, the hours of women’s work are considerably shorter than those of men, more frequent vacations are granted, and the most careful provision is made for rest when needed. The men of this day so well appreciate that they owe to the beauty and grace of women the chief zest of their lives and their main incentive to effort, that they permit them to work at all only because it is fully understood that a certain regular requirement of labor, of a sort adapted to their powers, is well for body and mind, during the period of maximum physical vigor. [iv]

And just when I thought Bellamy was advanced for his day by at least acknowledging the innate desire of women to contribute to society through work, my hopes were soon dashed when through Dr. Leete he says:

In your day there was no career for women except in an unnatural rivalry with men. We have given them a world of their own, with its emulations, ambitions and careers, and I assure you they are very happy. Women are a very happy race nowadays, as compared with what they ever were before in the world’s history, and their power of giving happiness to men has been of course increased in proportion.[v] * (See below)

Ah, the old ‘separate but equal’ was alive and well in the year 2000.

This is a short book, but is packed with political and social theory. The flimsy tale of James West’s arrival in the future is a device for Edward Bellamy’s dissertation on the perfect and just society. Due to this main objective, however, the book is short on a wider picture of his future world, for example there is no discussion on modes of transportation, what entertainment looks like, what is the style of dress for men and women, and so forth. I realize Bellamy is not a science fiction writer, but a little more creativity would have enhanced the story.

As it was, Looking Backward made a huge impact on many people and at its publication the book sold some 200,000 copies. By the end of the 19th century, it had sold more copies than any other book published in America besides Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The utopian society created by Edward Bellamy struck a chord and a movement was started to spread the ideas of his book. When Bellamy was asked for his blessing on these clubs and the ‘Bellamyites’ he wrote: “Go ahead by all means and do it if you can find anyone to associate with. No doubt eventually the formation of such Nationalist Clubs or associations among our sympathizers all over the country will be a proper measure and it is fitting that Boston should lead off in this movement.”

Although the movement all but vanished by 1900, at its height at least 165 Nationalist Clubs existed  all over the United States.

__________

*Similarly, Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Blythedale Romance, published in 1852, decided his utopia would keep its gender boundaries in the area of work when Zenobia declares, “we women will take the domestic and indoor part of the business, as a matter of course. To bake, to boil, to roast, to fry, to stew,–to wash, and iron, and scrub, and sweep,–these, I suppose must be feminine occupations, for the present. By and by perhaps when our individual adaptations begin to develop themselves, it may be that some of us who wear the petticoat will go a-field, and leave the weaker brethren to take our places in the kitchen” (pp. 43-44). Written 45 years later, Edward Bellamy’s women sure didn’t move very far.

[i] P. 146.
[ii] P. 6.
iii] P. 166.
[iv] P. 167-168.
[v] P. 170.

 

This book qualifies for my Classics Club Reading List, Back to the Classics and Reading New England.

Rock People

I am back in San Diego, house sitting,  through next week. It is a regular menagerie around here with two dogs, three cats, a turtle, a spider and fish. Paging Dr. Doolittle!

One of my favorite hiking spots here is in Mission Trails Regional Park. Inside the visitor center is a sculpture called, Heritage. The first time I saw it I had come from walking the long road that divides the park. I’d noticed how the rocks and boulders faced each other across the peaks, with South Fortuna, the most prominent on this side of the park with its wide promontory of tall boulders, greeting visitors as they entered.

southfortuna

South Fortuna

In the sculpture, the faces and bodies of aged Native Americans are carved out of boulders. They are at once, FROM the boulders and ARE the boulders. And that is why the boulder outcropping of South Fortuna draws me: they aren’t just rocks, they are Rock People, the Ancestors of the Kumeyaay, the indigenous people of this land.

rockpeople

 

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It is easy to imagine in the tall, flat rocks and boulders the Old Ones of this region, looking out across their land to what was, looking for their people, missing the acknowledgement and reverence they were once given, their presence remembered and acknowledge as the inhabitants moved through their day.

What do they watch for now, these sentries, guarding their ancestral home? I hope, from their tall perch, they see other people enjoying and benefiting from this beautiful open space, and happy their sacred land is appreciated.

 

sfortuna.jpeg

Climbing the Ancestors

Hawks and crows use their ‘heads’ as perches, smaller birds and animals use their nooks and crannies as living spaces. Some humans climb them or walk on them. Do the ancestors mind? Is it desecration to use a boulder like that? If one only stands and looks is that better than one who walks on it? Or is just the fact that whatever we do on this land without destroying it, enough?

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Grinding rock

Even if there is no conscious appreciation by most of the people who daily walk and bike the trails or the weekend climbers or the campers or noon-time picnickers, they are choosing to do their activities in the shadow of Fortuna, of Fortune and Luck. I would think the climbers, especially, would be appreciative!

This morning I stood for a long while watching this mountain from the road. Besides the birds, I could hear ruffling in the bushes close to me, see streaks of reptile zip across sfortuna2.jpegthe small rocks and I saw how plants grow out of tiny cracks on a boulder’s surface. But I also found myself breathing deeply the scents of the outdoors, of bushes and flowers and leaves reminding me where I was at that moment.

A woman asked me what I was looking at. She had come up the road with her dog dragging her from side to side as he picked up scents. I pointed to the hawks and crows flying above and perching on top of the boulders. She seemed surprised at that, but not enough to stop and gaze for herself. No matter. She was enjoying her trail workout and happy to share it with her dog. A legitimate way to use and appreciate the place.

Aware or not, the Rock People watch. May we honor the memory of their people and their land.

 

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Rock People have families

The Blithedale Romance, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1852)

My Edition:Blithedale
Title: The Blithedale Romance
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company
Device: paper book
Year: 1852
Pages: 251
For a plot summary

 

It was our purpose…to give up whatever we had heretofore attained, for the sake of showing mankind the example of a life governed by other than the false and cruel principles on which human society has all along been based.[i]

 

The Blithedale Romance is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s not so thinly based autobiographical account of his 8 months at Brook Farm, a socialist utopian community outside of Boston. The narrator is Miles Coverdale, a writer, who approaches this experiment with the expectation that the natural country air and physical labor of farm work will aid the writing projects he expects to do at night. And while we certainly get an idea of the workings of a utopian community, Hawthorne chooses to tell this story with that on the periphery.

Instead, The Blithedale Romance turns out to be more of a mystery novel centering on three characters Coverdale meets at the farm. The philanthropy-obsessed Hollingsworth who envisions building an institution for the reform of criminals on the Blithedale property; strong maternal Zenobia, whose early groundedness belies a future of intrigue and tragedy; and the wraith-like Priscilla who might not be of this world. Her entrance one night, unannounced, with the only goal that she is to serve Zenobia stymies everyone. Zenobia, is startled, but accepts this action as another sign underscoring the mystery of the romance of Blithedale.

Three quarters of the novel is about these three and their cryptic connections to each other that manifest as they busily pursue their utopian dreams. Their secret pasts and surprising familial connections are uncovered, one sinks further into insanity and sadly another commits suicide; strangers slink around the woods to ask questions first about Zenobia, then about Priscilla only to disappear; Zenobia tells the spell-binding story of the mysterious Veiled Lady, Coverdale almost dies of the flu and the city-slicker-turned-farmers almost ruin the community’s first seed-planting. So much for the peaceful pastoral life of a utopian society.

In fact, I was disappointed that Hawthorne told of his adventures in this way. I was hoping for more daily life, success and failures, the philosophical dream versus the reality of life, in utopia. I am with Henry James who although praised the novel also commented, “[I would] have liked to see the story concern itself more with the little community.”[ii]

While the stories of Zenobia, Hollingsworth and Priscilla are gripping at times and filled with pathos at others, they could have existed in myriad other settings removed from Blithedale farm. If Coverdale is a thinly disguised Hawthorne, am I to believe these characters and their trials and tribulations were HIS main focus? Ah well, I don’t like reviews that bemoan a book for not being about something else, so I will look for other sources about Brook Farm and its community.

On the positive side, Hawthorne IS a master at drawing fully formed characters, so in that regard, this novel does not disappoint. With all the shady folks moving in and out, the tale of the Veiled Lady, suspicious motivations and coincidental happenings, The Blithedale Romance would be a perfect read during the scary month of October!

_________

[i] p. 46
[ii] p. 14.

 

This book qualifies for Reading New England Challenge and my Classics Club book list.

 

Confessions of a Political Junkie

Dear Readers,

I am deep in American political convention politics at the moment and my earbuds are stuck in every digital device I own.

I am neglecting my blog and your comments and I apologize.

But I cannot get enough of these crazy times, the highs and lows, the embarrassments, the joys and the amazement of our complicated political process. And the fact that history is being made in yet another election cycle!

Yet, if it wasn’t for the group reading of George Eliot’s Middlemarch and the oddly fascinating Blithedale Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne for needed breaks from the insanity, I would be…well insane by now.

pollaurie2
I hope to have two blog posts next week to make up for my absence, so we’ll see how that goes. On the other hand, I may need to check into a sanatorium, instead.

November cannot get here fast enough!

A Sunday Simplicity

Up with life. Stamp out all small and large indignities. Leave everyone alone to make it without pressure. Down with hurting. Lower the standard of living. Do without plastics. Smash the servo-mechanisms. Stop grabbing. Snuff the breezes and hug the kids. Love all love. Hate all hate.
~John D. MacDonald

Happy Sunday, All!

withjess

I don’t have a kid, so I’m hugging what’s closest🙂

Louisa May Alcott Challenge

LMAchallenge

 

I am participating in In the Bookcase’s Louisa May Alcott Challenge. Basically, just read some LMA during the month of June! I thought I would do this to help me with my Alcott Year through the Women’s Classic Literature Event at the Classics Club, where I have decided to get to know LMA through her works…especially because I never read Little Women. Yeah. I know….

During this month I plan to read:

Finish Little Women
Read:~the Madeleine Stern bio of LMA
~Transcendental Wild Oats
~Psyche’s Art
~Behind a Mask; or A Woman‘s Power
~selections from her Journals, including Fruitlands, Emerson’s Death

 ***************

July 1, 2016

Wrap-up of the Louisa May Alcott Challenge, June 2016

I am very happy with what I accomplished this month even though, as usual for these kinds of challenges, I bit off more than I could chew…er read. Still, I feel this was a great success because it helped push me forward in my Classics Club Women’s Literature Event with my choice to do an ‘Alcott Year.’ So thank you Tarissa for organizing this and to all the other participants!

I read:

  1. I finished Little Women and reviewed it here.
    As a first read I enjoyed it immensely and believe it will be one of those books to reread from time to time.
  2. “Transcendental Wild Oats” This is a short story based on the Alcott family’s experience in communal living. While it is very humorously written, according to her journal entries of the time, it was an extremely difficult period in her family’s life. Still, parts made me laugh out loud and it is a good illustration of the perils of life in ‘utopia.’
  3. From her journal I read “Fruitlands,” which is the real life account of her father’s experiment in living and working the land as a reflection of his spiritual, philosophical and educational beliefs. What a challenging time for his wife and daughters!
  4. “Emerson’s Death” Another journal entry. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a long and close friend of the Alcotts. As a young girl, Louisa spent time in his library guided by his reading choices and they remained close throughout his life. At his death she said, “Our best and greatest American gone.” She named the essays Self-Reliance, Compensation and Friendship as writings that “helped me to understand myself and life, and God and Nature.”
  5. American Masters-Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (2009) While perusing Amazon Prime this past week I came across a fine dramatized life of Louisa May Alcott. Elizabeth Marvel plays LMA and all her words are taken from Louisa’s journals and letters. Jane Alexander plays Ednah Cheney, who published a collection of letters, journal entries and a biographical commentary a year after Louisa’s death. Playing themselves are John Matteson, a well-known contemporary LMA biographer and interviews with Madeleine Stern, whose 1950 biography of Louisa May Alcott is still a standard work (which I haven’t quite finished) with fellow researcher and friend Leona Rostenberg.
  6. Louisa May Alcott, a biography by Madeleine B. Stern. Only half way through, but will keep reading. Stern spent her long life (she died in 2007 at 95) as a rare book dealer, researcher, writer and Alcott expert.

While I didn’t get to everything I listed, I am very happy with what I did accomplish. The only problem with this whole Louisa May Alcott project is the more I read, the more I find there IS to read! What an incredibly prolific writer.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1868)

My Edition:littlewomen2
Title: Little Women
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Publisher: Signet Classic
Device: Paper book
Year: 1983. From the original, 1868
Pages: 449
For a plot summary

Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone; it keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion.[i]

I like good strong words that mean something, replied Jo.[ii]

 

Apparently, Louisa May Alcott was not happy when her publisher asked her to write a “girl’s book.” She wanted to publish a collection of short stories and didn’t think she could write a successful book for girls. Nor did she enjoy writing it. “I plod away,” she wrote in her diary, “although I don’t enjoy this sort of thing.” After showing the completed manuscript to several girls, who found it “splendid,” Little Women was published to great success and to a surprised Alcott.

This was a first-time read for me and it was a slow process. I found myself totally immersed in the lives of the characters, each page rich in both the large and minute details of the daily life of the March women: pretty Meg is 16, plump and fair, with white hands, of which she was rather vain; Jo at 15 was slim and tall, with gray eyes that saw everything, a flyway look to her clothes and the “uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn’t like it;”[iii] 13 year-old Beth was shy, but with a peaceful demeanor and was called ‘Little Tranquility’ by her father; the youngest is 12 year-old Amy, blue eyes, yellow hair and a very high opinion of herself. And of course, Marmee, Mrs. March, helping her girls to live and grow as best they can while feeling the absence of their chaplain father away on the front lines (of the Civil War).

If had to sum up in one sentence the theme of the book, I would say it is a morality tale for young women; how to know yourself, what makes you tick so that you can be a better person. So, it was fascinating to watch each daughter’s life journey, each one so different from the other bring their trials, questions, flaws in their character to their mother and with Pilgrim’s Progress as their guide (why is it that one book always leads to another?!) overcome these deficits or ‘burdens’ in their personalities and become independent grown women.

Marmee never scolded or condemned their behavior, but saw each challenge as something that kept them from living up to their best self. And through the normal jealousies, hurt feelings, missteps, growing pains, revelations of truth brought each daughter to her highest self.

So much interested me in this book that I imagine this will be the first of many posts. These are some of the things that struck me.

  • Jo is continually described in masculine terms. She acts “gentlemanly,” she is described as “the man of the family.” Jo is like a boy because she is blunt in her words. Laurie calls her “my dear fellow.” However, these epithets are never used as a mockery or said in spite. They are merely descriptions of her behavior or personality. And it makes me wonder if this meant something different at that time than it does now where calling a woman ‘a gentleman’ has all kinds of negative associations and is often said in mockery toward certain types of women?
  • Though most of the book centers on domestic life, Laurie’s and Amy’s travels in Europe helped both develop a direction for their lives in keeping with the knowing-yourself theme. As Amy says, “Foreign life polishes one in spite of one’s self….”[iv]
  • The sympathetic defense of spinsters and old maids: “Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight….and looking at them with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember that they too may miss the blossom time; the rose cheeks don’t last forever, that sliver threads will come in the bonnie brown hair, and that, by-and-by kindness and respect will be as sweet as love and admiration now.

    Gentleman, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids, no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry worth having is that which is the readiest to pay deference to the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind, regardless of rank, age, or color. Just recollect the good aunts who have not only lectured and fussed, but nursed and petted, too often without thanks; the scrapes they have helped you out of, the tips they have given you from their small store, the stitches the patient old fingers have set for you, the steps the willing old feet have taken, and gratefully pay the dear old ladies the little attentions that women love to receive as long as they live.”[v]

  • Limes! Who would ever think elementary school popularity was contingent upon the ability to provide limes to your friends? As Amy explains to Meg: “The girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it, too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in the schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else, at recess. If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime; if she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck. They treat by turns, and I’ve had ever so many but haven’t returned them, and I ought, for they are debts of honor, you know.”[vi
  • Titles of books. A nice piece of cultural and literary history to see what books were read at this time or which authors were important to a character. I caught The Vicar of Wakefield, Ivanhoe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Fanny Burney and her Evelina, and of course the importance of Pilgrim’s Progress throughout the book.
  • Beth’s (Louisa’s?) thoughts on death. “Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety, it shows itself in acts rather than in words, and has more influence than homilies or protestations. Beth could not reason upon or explain the faith that gave her courage and patience to give up life, and cheerfully wait for death. Like a confiding child, she asked no questions, but left everything to God and nature, Father and mother of us all, feeling sure that they, and they only, could teach and strengthen her heart and spirit for this life and the life to come.[vii]
  • Amy Gets Snubbed at Mrs. Chester’s Fair Or Mean Girls Fail to Kill Amy’s Spirit.
    Amy was to have the front table at the charity fair to sell her art, but due to circumstances beyond her control (Jo’s imitation of May Chester which put Mrs. Chester off), her table was moved to a less than prominent location and May was given the front table for her work. It would have been Amy’s right to be mad or to even retaliate, but Amy was resolved to participate and keep up the best possible attitude. In the end, May didn’t have enough pieces to fill the table and Amy offered to put back her work, although she was not asked to sit at the table. The pieces sold well and the fair itself was a great success. Her sisters knew what she had been through and praised her for it. “You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but I mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do it as far as I know how. I can’t explain exactly, but I want to be above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoil so many women. I’m far from it now, but I do my best, and hope in time to be what Mother is.”[viii]

I have to laugh as I was taught once again that familiarity with a film adaptation (the Hepburn version hepburnis my favorite) does not do a book justice. I thought I knew this story, but it was just a tiny portion.

 

 

As it is summer, let me end on this wise gem from Jo, whose big outdoor hat Meg put the kibosh on by saying, “Oh Jo, you shall not make a guy of yourself.”

“I just will, though, for it’s capital—so shady, light and big. It will make fun, and I don’t mind being a guy if I’m comfortable.”[ix]
_______

[i] 110-111.
[ii] 34.
[iii] 115.
[iv] 354.
[v] 402-403.
[vi] 62.
[vii] 342.
[viii] 284.
[ix] 115.

Lost in the Wilds of San Diego

I am on vacation in the wonderful Southern California city of San Diego. I am house-sitting for my sister, and with my dog the menagerie includes two dogs, four cats, some fish and a renegade turtle.

Since I visit so often I have come to really enjoy my time here. Plenty of places to hike and trail walk, visit California historical sites, experience the incredible variety of restaurants and ethnic and vegan/vegetarian food choices, not to mention the several used bookstores that I go to over and over again.

Concerning the latter, I have been here two days and have already bought three books. Considering I will be here until at least next Friday, I am not doing very well pacing my book-buying Self. Yikes, I’d better slow that one down!

I plan on reading a lot, but I am not sure how much I will be posting while I am here. I am always so active, trying to take in as much as possible.

If you ever contemplate a trip to this fine state and you want an alternative or an addition to LA, go south. You won’t regret it.

Some of my favorites:

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This peak is South Fortuna and I am madly in love with her. I am not a climber, so I can only worship her from afar. Mission Trails Regional Park

 

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Adams Avenue Book Store. Located in a 1920s building, it used to be someone’s two-story home. The cooking department is upstairs in the kitchen. Over-stuffed chairs and cats are spread out in equal measure.  It is known for its literary classics and religion departments. It scares me to go in here. I know I will find everything I can’t afford to buy.

 

 

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Historic Old Town. There are some haunted spots. Just sayin’🙂

 

 

 

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Rosecrans National Cemetery and the Cabrillo National Monument

 

 

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Balboa Park and downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter

Happy Trails….

 

 

Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by the Message, Susan Bailey (2016)

My Edition:lmaliiuminated
Title: Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by the Message
Author: Compiled and Introduced by Susan Bailey
Publisher: Acta Publications
Device: Paper book
Year: 2016
Pages: 121

“That’s the right spirit, my dear; a kiss for a blow is always best, though it’s not very easy to give it sometimes,” said her mother with the air one who had learned the difference between preaching and practicing.

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere?

 

Literary Portals to Prayer is a series of books by Acta Publications that takes passages from the works of a classic author and pairs them with excerpts from the Message translation of the Bible.

Louisa May Alcott, Illuminated by the Message is one of the latest offerings. It is compiled by Susan Bailey, whose research on the Alcott family is well-known. The book is laid out with a selection from one of  Alcott’s works on the left side and a passage from the Message Bible on the right. Like a devotional or book of prayer, it can be used as a means for contemplation or meditation. The modern English translation of the Message is a perfect complement to Alcott’s down to earth writing style.

My particular spirituality is an eclectic mix and my heart is always open to sources that give me a glimpse of God. Many of the passages in this small, yet powerful book touched me. Of the many, I chose two:

CONCORD, Thursday,—I had an early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass. The moss was like velvet, and as I ran under the arches of yellow and red leaves I sang for joy, my heart was so bright and the world so beautiful. I stopped at the end of the walk and saw the sunshine out over the wide “Virginia meadows.”

It seemed like going through a dark life or grave into heaven beyond. A very strange and solemn feeling came over me as I stood there, with no sound but the rustle of of the pines, no one near me, and the sun so glorious, as for me alone. It seemed as if I felt God as I never did before, and I prayed in my heart that I might keep that happy sense of nearness all my life. Louisa May Alcott, chapter 3, Fruitlands

But even there, if you seek GOD, your God, you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul. When troubles come and all these awful things happen to you, in future days you will come back to GOD, your God, and listen obediently to what he says. GOD, your God, is above all a compassionate God. In the end he will not abandon you, he won’t bring you to ruin, he won’t forget the covenant with your ancestors which he swore to them. Deuteronomy 4:29-31

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It was well for all that this peaceful time was given them as preparation for the sad hours to come; for by-and-by, Beth said the needle was “so heavy,” and put it down forever; talking wearied her, faces troubled her, pain claimed her for its own, and her tranquil spirit was sorrowfully perturbed by the ills that vexed her feeble flesh….With the wreck of her frail body, Beth’s soul grew strong; and though she said little, those about her felt that she was ready, saw that the first pilgrim called was likewise the fittest, and waited with her on the shore, trying to see the Shining ones coming to receive her when she crossed the river. Little Women, chapter 40, The Valley of the Shadow

Bless our God, O peoples!
Give him a thunderous welcome!
Didn’t he set us on the road to life?
Didn’t he keep us out of the ditch?
He trained us first,
passed us like silver through refining fires,
Brought us into hardscabble country,
pushed us to our very limit,
Road-tested us inside and out,
took us to hell and back;
Finally he brought us
to this well-watered place.

Psalm 66:8-12

 

I was given this copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Our Town, Thornton Wilder (1938)

 My Edition:ourtown
Title: Our Town
Author: Thornton Wilder
Publisher: Harper and Row, Publishers
Device: Hard cover
Year: 1938
Pages: 74
For a plot summary 

 

Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God

 

I have always found Thornton Wilder’s, Our Town fascinating. From the bare stage void of props and the only furniture benches, chairs and ladders, to actors miming a lot of the action, to the Stage Manager speaking directly to the audience and calling all the shots and especially to the “strawberry phosphate” that, to my 16 year-old self, sounded more like a science experiment than a soda fountain drink.

This 1938 play has a seemingly simple premise: a group of actors portray small town (population 2,642 “at the moment”) Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire during the early years of the 19th century through births, daily life, marriage and death. “The way we were.” The characters names are well-known in pop culture: Emily and George, the Webb and the Gibbs families, the Stage Manager.

Small town though this may be, there is an awareness that it is part of the vast greatness of the Universe. The characters are always looking up at the moon or the stars. They know their little lives in this little town is part of the collective of the larger world.

However, this awareness is unconscious until they die. When Emily, who married George and then died a few years later, tells the other inhabitants of the cemetery she wants to go back to the living for just a day, she has a rude awakening. She realizes in  life, no one looked at each other; they just went about their lives, going through the motions. “Mama I’m here. I’m grownup. I love you all, everything—I can’t look at everything hard enough.” “Let’s look at one another.” Finally, she pleads with the Stage Manager to take her back, “I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.”

In this rereading I noticed something I hadn’t before. In one scene, the Stage Manager calls for Mr. Webb to give the audience “the political and social report” of the town (he’s the editor of the paper). Mrs. Webb calls to the Stage Manager to say her husband cut his hand on an apple, he’ll be right out. There are other times the Stage Manager starts and stops the action when something occurs to him that he wants the audience to know; or he feels the actors aren’t going fast enough so he stops them. That’s what you do at lectures or presentations when you have actors dramatizing certain points you want to make.

I suddenly had this thought: the play is actually a show, maybe a road show for people to come and learn about the town (representing Anytown, USA?) as evidenced when the Stage Manager invites the audience to ask questions.

What an odd idea. Our Town as a touring stage show to present to the moderns of 1938 an America on the brink of a really terrible war and what they would be fighting for? What America really stood for? What they have forgotten and need to rediscover?

The depth of the play obviously belies its simple plot and universal appeal. In fact, as I was finishing it yesterday morning, I got word that a friend of mine had died. I immediately thought about a passage of the Stage Manager’s and wrote it out to send to our mutual friends. It touched a chord in all of us.

Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars. . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.

Our Town won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938. It just closed in Reston, Virginia, is on this season’s calendar at the prestigious Shaw Festival in Canada and if you hurry you can still get tickets for tomorrow’s production at the Eagle Theater in Hammonton, New Jersey. In modern parlance, it is safe to say, “this thing never gets old!”

 

This book is for the Reading New England Challenge and my Classics Club book list.