Friday, November 25, 2011

Simplify by Joshua Becker


If you’ve heard Joshua Becker’s story or have read his blog, you’ll be familiar with minimalism: the philosophy that people need a lot less than they have.  His mantra is, We were never meant to live life accumulating stuff.  We were meant to live life simply enjoying the experiences of life, the people of life, and the journey of life – not the things of life.

Simplify is not your average book about de-cluttering (although that plays a part).  It’s about changing your attitude toward your possessions.  It’s about purposeful living that isn’t influenced by TV commercials, peer pressure or “keeping up with the Joneses.”  Minimalism is the intentional promotion of things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.

Obviously, this e-booklet has struck a chord with American consumers.  It has been a number one best seller since it debuted at Amazon in mid November.  In it Becker offers seven principles for enriching your life.  The first part entails letting go of stuff that consumes your time.  Whether we are cleaning them, organizing them, buying them, or selling them, the more things we own, the more time they rob from our lives.   The book’s second half describes the potential joys of being free from the burdens brought on my rampant consumerism: less piles of stuff around the house, less debt, less stress, etc. 

Becker calls himself a “rational minimalist” because he’s not as extreme as some others who espouse minimalist philosophy.  “Realistic” would be a better term.  He and his wife are realistic because they have not given up all their toys; they have two young children.  They are realistic because they have not given up all their extra dishes; they love to entertain.  They are realistic because they still buy clothes; but they buy much less and pay more so they’ll last longer.  They are realistic about television; they still have it, but only have a limited number of channels so they don’t spend too much time watching.

I don’t like clutter, but if I’m not vigilant, the house gives into it.  Once a year I need to read a book like Becker’s to remind me that I love clean closets, clear counters, and the peace that comes with being content with what I already have.  In Becker’s words, There is a life of simplicity that is calling out to you… It is inviting you to remove the distractions in your life that are keeping your from truly living

As we head into the Christmas season, a time when joy and peace are easily snuffed out with the pressures of consumerism, I was grateful for the reminder.

Friday, November 18, 2011

WWII Books from PaperBackSwap

I'm halfway through four different books so I don't have a post this week.  Still, I thought I'd mention how delighted I am with some recent acquisitions from PaperBackSwap.  I enjoy WWII history and was happy to receive these titles:

Escape from Warsaw - teen fiction
The Brass Ring by Mauldin - Mauldin was WWII's greatest cartoonist
The World War II Bookshelf- highlights 50 essential books about the war
Corregidor - written by Sergeant Ben Waldron about his experiences as a P.O.W.
The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust - about Gentiles who risked their lives to help Jews
When Hollywood Ruled the Skies - Aviation film classics of WWII

Nice variety, don't you think? Now, if I could only finish my other books so I can get to these!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Ordinarily I only review books that I like, but this author is so unusual that I can’t resist making a few comments.  Rebecca West is new to me and quite a change from the two other books I’ve been reading (Trollope and Tolkien). The Return of the Soldier (published  1918) begins with a husband gone to war, a deceased child, and a mysterious telegram; and the drama doesn’t let up till the very end.  Fortunately, it’s a short book and can sustain that kind of suspense.

Chris Baldry is a captain in the British army during World War One.  His wife Kitty and cousin Jenny are awaiting his return when they receive news that he’s been wounded and has no memory of the last 15 years of his life.  The book recounts his family’s efforts to bring him back to reality.

I disliked the conclusion of Return of the Soldier so much that I decided to give West another chance by reading her second novel, The Judge.  But it was so awful I could not finish it.  There are moments of brilliance in West’s writing yet often she flounders through her prose. (Where were her editors?) Frankly, I was surprised to read of her fame as an author because these two novels were both so uneven in quality.  In addition to the writing issues, I struggled to like her books for their underlying themes of feminism, socialism and the inefficacy of God.

So why am I even bothering to write this post?  Because some of her writing is very, very good.

From Return of the Soldier:

At his father’s death he had been obliged to take over a business that was weighted by the needs of a mob of female relatives who were all useless either in the old way, with antimacassars, or in the new way, with golf clubs.

Cumulus clouds floated very high, like lumps of white light.

Why did her tears reveal to me what I had learned long ago, but had forgotten in my frenzied love, that there is a draft that we must drink or not be fully human?  I knew that one must know the truth.  I knew quite well that when one is an adult one must raise to one’s lips the wine of truth, heedless that it is not sweet like milk, but draws the mouth with its strength, and celebrate communion with reality, or else walk forever queer and small like a dwarf. 

He felt furtive and red-eared while he searched in the purse of his experience to find the coin that would admit him into her world (from The Judge)

In spite of my ambivalence toward the talented Miss West, I’m glad I gave her a try.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ayala's Angel by Anthony Trollope

Long-time readers of my blog know that I’m an Anthony Trollope fan.  It takes patience to plow through his (purposely unadventurous) novels, but it’s worth the effort.   Ayala's Angel begins with the plight of two orphaned sisters who are shuffled off to different relatives.  Ayala goes to the rich uncle and Lucy to the poor one.   Both experience culture shock because neither girl has known the stinginess of poverty or the arrogance of wealth.

Lucy tries hard to make the best of her new life, but Ayala does little to earn the affection of her new family.  At first the reader assumes that Lucy is Ayala’s angel because of her sacrificial love for her.  But it isn’t long before we learn that Ayala has a dream of an “Angel of Light” who will come and take her away from the tediousness of her life. 

This angel is so huge in her mind that no mortal man can come close.  She refuses the marriage proposal of her wealthy cousin because he is too plebeian for her taste.  Although he is an honorable man, he is unromantic and his pretentious way of dressing is repugnant to her. Later she meets a man who she likes very much, but refuses his proposal because he isn’t as handsome as her imagined angel.  When a third suitor comes on the scene (who is also refused), I shared Mrs. Dosset’s confusion as to “the multiplicity of Ayala’s suitors”.   There is no real explanation in the book as to why this penniless women has such amazing powers of attraction.

Ayala’s Angel is a study of romantic love.   Ayala’s idea of it is so overblown that she almost misses her chance at happiness. “Her dreams had been to her a barrier against love, rather than an encouragement.” (from Chapter 55)  The more practical men in the book are convinced that “Love never put a leg of mutton in the pot,” meaning that financial security is better than romance.  Yet, Frank Houston gives up his gold-digging ways to marry the woman he really loves.

I liked this book, but thought it was about ten chapters too long.  It took twenty hours to listen to all 66 chapters and I tired of hearing about Tom Tringle’s persistence in pursuing Ayala and Ayala’s blindness as to which of the suitors was the real Angel of Light.  (He proposes in Chapter 25 and she finally accepts in 52!)

I would recommend reading this book rather than listening to it.  The audio version drags at times, but when I downloaded the book to re-read some of my favorite chapters, the tedium disappeared.  I chuckled happily through the brilliant dialogue and skimmed over the boring bits.