Nov 16, 2014

Book Reviews and a New Blog by an Old Friend

If you know me, you know I regard Agatha Christie as the perfect vacation read. I am partial to Poirot. I adore the David Suchet series too. We consider Christie to be light reading, and it cannot be compared to heavier non fiction, but I can tell you that, when you read other more challenging literature, even lighter books get enhanced, such as reading this title after Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, after Frankenstein, The Odyssey... all good and mind stretching literature and books leave multiple grains of salt in the layers of our intellect, and they provide an enhanced background where to add some book candy.

What can I say about the iconic Murder on the Orient Express? Great exercise in logic, fine character execution, interesting, entertaining, and informing.


Next title I finished was The Imitation of Christ. I got the one translated by Knox. I know nothing about other translations, but I can say I have enjoyed this one much.

How can I review this title? I admit that I did not read it for ages because I did not think a catholic book would be of my interest. And the last section, primarily and distinctively catholic, it's the only one I found of no gain. But the rest of the book was of much profit. At certain times, and in some passages, I could find some more marked doctrinal disagreement with Kempis, not because of  Catholicism, more a highly marked opposition between spiritual life and the flesh or senses; sort of a dualism (I have not looked at commentaries or anything, I am frankly not interested in  going too deep into this, or writing a paper about it, :)) I can only say I have benefited enormously from his thoughts, and I have been inspired and exhorted to imitate Christ.

I could quote 90 percent of the book, it is that type of book, but I will only quote one of the most remarkable ideas in it,

pg 145. The Imitation of Christ

Never read anything to enable you to appear better-educated or wiser than your fellows. What you ought to study is the way to kill off your worst faults; that will do you far more good than knowing all about a number of vexatious problems.
You may have done a lot of reading, and found out a great deal about a variety of subjects, but the basic fact you must always come back to is this; that I am He who teaches men whatever they know;


I read Till We Have Faces. Yes. This is my C.S. Lewis' year! I guess we all have a favorite or three from him, right? Mine are his non fiction books (sorry). Abolition of Man, Screwtape Letters, and Pilgrims Regress are my favorites, so I will continue reading other non fiction titles from him (The Great Divorce and his essays will hopefully be part of my 2015 titles). But, my review of Till We Have Faces; I am not sure what Lewis expects from me as a reader, but while he entertains, and he teaches too, and has sublime quotes, etc., my mind (and it can just be a fault in me) cannot decide if I am reading a "story", or if I am reading philosophy enveloped in a story. If it is the second, I rather read something directer, but that is my preference. It may also be one of those books that I appreciate more in time, or if I have the chance to share opinions with others.

Lastly, I read, recommended by Jeanne, An Unnecessary Woman, in Spanish is, and they translate it La mujer de papel, loosing the meaning of the adjective unnecessary, which plays an important part in the book (and that makes me mad). What to say? This one is difficult. It is a postmodern book, I guess... I know I liked the end. I know I liked the digressions about translation, literature, art. I liked the main character, and other characters. So, what is the problem? I do not like the pessimistic tone, I don't love love some passages or use of language, but at the same time, the woman in the book is worth meeting... or is she? lol. I cannot decide very well. I never get used to listening and seeing the loneliness or solitude of those who have not a strong faith anchor in their life. I can relate to this type of characters, and their lives enrich me to some extent, but in the end, I miss that true comfort (not conformism) that the pen of a believer brings.

So, I am left with The Odyssey, Sand, The Deadliest Monster, The Everlasting Man, and my new language book, Through the Language Glass, all great reads. I should probably finish Pilgrims Regress too.

My dear friend, Karen Ann McArthur, the author of The Accessible Historian blog and  first two sections of her book, has a new blog. Very inspiring. If art, homeschooling and life interest you, stop by.

Nov 14, 2014

Nature, Walks and Journals

This year we have truly walked and drawn, specially myself. I am finding it such a complete experience, that of observing, loving, painting, recording, reading about, and all that nature calls us to do and live.

Fritillary butterflies were abundant in the woods we visited twice, once with our friends, and the next time just my family, after the short visit to a small lavender farm.

I did not even know that the top and inside of butterflies could be so different. Those two pictures are of the same fritillary butterfly, but they'd have looked different to me if I had not been photographing it for quite some time.
I yet have to identify this profuse yellow butterfly we see around all the time.
These were the first two huge grapefruits we got from our neighbor's tree, that feeds her, us, and a third neighbor! We love grapefruit.

The lavender we collected was not too vibrant, and there was not much either, but the little bunch smells great, and it is still very pretty, if you ask me.

This is the first entry in my new nature journal.
Our lemons, and more of the huge grapefruits.
Both Heather and I drew my apple blossoms.

Oct 31, 2014

The Hobbit, III Book Club

The table was ready for the book club girls, and special boy! It was my oldest girl's choice today, The Hobbit.

All the children talk for a good 40 minutes or longer about the book, they were very excited, and going through the book and finding the poems and songs, and reciting them.

Heather and I had time for our tea, chatter, and drawing in our nature journals. She will soon surprise you with her drawing, I hope it works. You will see!

 Ring cookies. Sorta, lol.
 A doll dressed up as Smaug, and our copy of the book.
 Just because, my purchase for the family, as inheritance, a deluxe Pilgrim's Progress.
Our older one is to its right, the Arundel Series.

At the bottom you see The English Patient. I started it a few weeks ago, and put it away just because I was not trusting it. But since we finished The Hobbit and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I felt for something else two days ago, and now I am reading it. It is coming across as very poetic. I am fascinated by two pages describing different types of wind. I have not found anyone who has read this book in my immediate circle of reader friends.

On a different note. We are done. We got to almost 20 weeks of school. This past Tuesday was very chaotic, I was trying to get a full and good day of lessons from the girls, but we were not finding our rhythm. Tuesday night, talking with my wonderful AO friends in our monthly get together, we could share impressions, vent, and laugh. Wednesday was better, but still we have started cleaning up, getting mentally ready for our upcoming visit and vacation, and it was difficult to remain concentrated and put forth some good effort. Thursday we went to our last day of piano, and I decided to simply work on singing and practicing their piano for a nice family musicale next Friday, and finish the last pages of The Hobbit. 

Right now, we are waiting on my lovely husband to enjoy the weekend and start decompressing. These last months have been great, so full, I need time to ponder, they need time to ponder, we need time to meditate, observe, take in all the beauty, and channel our energy into a more inward mood.

Oct 28, 2014

Last weeks

This is the year of notebooks, journals, common place books. Thanks to Laurie Bestvater.

On top, my beloved notebook for notes at church, it has only 3 more pages. I am going to miss my Quixote. I added that print from an old text book, decoupaging it (which is, like Fancy Nancy -arghhh- would say, a fancy word for covering it with some mod podge or clear glue that glues it and makes it a bit shinny and integrated to the page when dry).

My common place on top, my 'common' spiral for keeping track of books I read and some thoughts, at the bottom.
And my first attempt at sewing a nature journal with 20 watercolor pages (taped on the edge to prevent the holes and sewing from ripping the paper, and sewn one at a time, with double loops on each and previous page, and six different threads, colors, and needles... -breathing-).

Looking at the pictures, I can tell that the art of photography creates illusions, :) The pictures surely look wonderful. It was not über (that word makes you instantly trendy, don't you think?) difficult, a bit time consuming, but a perfect project for a rainy (or a humid) Saturday.

Nature journal at the bottom, so that you can have an idea of its size. It is an 8x11 aprox.

And now, I leave you with some pages from my girl, who is ten, comics. I do enjoy her drawings much, but I am her mom. And it is good I love this, because she is a challenge in other areas and no day of lessons go without some "moments", sigh. Still worth, this homeschooling thing, but grateful for our upcoming vacation next month, to gain some perspective.

She writes numbers on top of the bubbles, to indicate the order.
If you click on the picture, you can see it large and read it better.

Her character, Twist, is a black girl with fun hair.
My daughters have noticed there is a lack of black characters, toys, etc. around them. Even though at church we are quite a varied group of christians, and they have friends from different cultures, and with different backgrounds, our world is very "white". They are adding their two cents to correct this, :), and it is telling me it's time to consider which could be a good next read aloud.

You see?, with all the wonderful read aloud possibilities we have in front of us, I sometimes believe those books, no matter the ethnicity, background, or nationality of the characters in them, belong to all of US. But a bit of looking and a great read aloud by a more unusual -to us- main character won't be a bad idea.

I have loved this year reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, even though I chose them because I was recommended them by friends who told me they are great reads, and I see them as such.

Top picture: doesn't she reflect our hectic times, and the world that goes on under our noses? This was us yesterday at the park, I mean, the scene. While we were loving and enjoying our walk, my second daughter was lashing out at a friend, and being disrespectful. Correcting her gave me 30 or longer minutes of misery. I am being humorous here because I am dead serious. My only words of advice to myself... better now than later, it is my time to be a mother, and correct, and do whatever necessary to make her stop and think before lashing out at people, and insulting and being disrespectful. It has taken me 43 years to, if not master, at least have more restrain towards people or situations that try me and push my buttons.

I have no more words other than I am very thankful for friends and their grace.

And this top one reflects my 10 year old girl so very well. She is peculiar. She cannot be in your presence if you peel-eat-hold a banana. She, like "our" preacher, assures you that when you leave Subway fast food restaurants, your clothes smell like the place, LOL.

Top picture. I asked her why is Twist apparently on the floor? She told me that she likes laying down on it to look at her mom cook. I said, "SHURE", how did I not think about it before? And, by the way, I told her how sure is spelled.
Last pic evokes in me the hymn "I Stand Amazed in the Presence of Jesus the Nazarene", the word maiz (corn in Spanish), and Amelia Bedelia.

And that's it today. I am going to our delightful AO moms monthly get together.

Oct 23, 2014

and the days go by... + some thoughts about translations

Not much inspiration these days.

Lots of things buzzing in my head, but not a clear topic I want to delve into.

I thought it was time for me to pick up the Odyssey and read. I thought it had mysteries waiting to unfold, and I am glad I was not wrong about it.

At a book sale, my ten year old picked a copy of a book we already have, of her own initiative. I saw it and a thought crossed my mind about recommending it to her, -since I am too reading The Odyssey-, but she just chose it herself, which is so cool, ha! I love this Willy Pogany's rendition of Homer for children, it follows the same chapters and plot than the original. I am on book 9, and she is on book 4, so I am able to tell her some of what is coming, and get her more settled into the story. She was swiveling and reading, and drying her hair all at once.

We are also having our third book club next Friday, at our home. The book, The Hobbit. We are in the last pages, and lovin' it.

We left Anne of Green Gables on hold, in part because we want to savor it more. My girls talk about Anne all the time. Now they, like the girls in the story, want to have a writing club too!

I also said I will write about translations, but I have been chatting with you in the comments and forum, and now I am dry. However, I am going to try a few words.

Translations make it possible for us to read and enjoy classics that are locked to us in their original language.

I do not share the academic view of one superior translations. Whenever there are many choices, it usually corresponds to a huge classic that has been in print for long, and that has many translations. All of them are valid, all of them have their place and function.

I assent that it is elitist to consider one translation superior to another one, though there are obvious differences.

No person who reads an original, and then one or several translations, should declare them all inferior and reductionist (as when they have lost some or much of the original message and meaning, content and form), no matter that person is called George Steiner. 

To say that translating is a process that will never render the original in its richness, purity, etc., it is to presuppose there is only one absolute original book, and that those reading in the original language are in touch with that immutable entity, the book itself, unalterable, only one, non transferable without loosing its richness, integrity, etc. But to me, to read is to render a meaning. I am not saying that reading something in the original language does not have a special quality to it, it does, but it is our subjective perception, it's that additional flavor we savor when we know we are reading in the chosen language in which something was first written. Apart from that satisfaction and level of coolness, ha ha ha, we are still getting a personal rendition of a text, every time we read, no matter original or translated.

Every generation, every person in that generation, reads a book in a different context, even the original. Those Greeks who could listen to Homer, experienced Homer; and the oral Homer was not someone reading from a text, but someone reciting from memory. If you read aloud, you may agree that we, as readers in viva voce, give an imprint to the book we read, and those listening experience the book in a different way as if they were reading it to themselves. 

I don't read Russian, but nobody can steal from me my experiencing several dear Russian authors. They are with me, in my mind and soul. If I ever learn Russian, I know I will delight in reading new or older titles, and I will experience yet another level of connection, but I have read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, and not an anorexic version of their works. If I have missed some references, some connections, allusions... so do readers in Russian!

Those Greeks who read Homer, experienced Homer, -if even in a different way-. After that, it is just a matter of new public, different times, same book, different ways of reading it, -original or not-. There is something that remains in the original as in the translations, and something that varies, the readers, the culture of the readers. I envision the first original, as a rubric cube when it is all in order, each side a full color. Translations are movements of the rubric cube, they render the cube differently, but they inform you of its measurement, sides, colors, etc. Translators also vary, some are no longer alive, and some translated many centuries ago, so their translations have a different language, more classy, if you wish. Some of us prefer such a translation because we get the original, and in addition, we enjoy the style of the translator because it evokes something else in us, as 21st century readers. Some prefer a more contemporary translator because the language will be closer to the reader, and that will facilitate a connection with content.

We all understand that a translation is more than just the book, it has the language and style of the translator, but that is not a limitation, it's a plus. Our job is then to know a bit about what type of translations we have available, and try to see which one is our best fit. 

I consider some translations better, but because I value some elements in them more than others. There are subjective factors when it comes to prefer one translation over another one, but yet there are some objective qualities to measure translations against. More than place them in a vertical scale, we could simply present them in a horizontal display, talking about what makes them different, special, valued, and let the public try them, test them, and decide.

The only case when I'd say a translation is horrible, it'd be when the translator fails to stay true to the original, fails to submit his skill and attempts to shine as an author himself. Instead of simply giving the translation his style and coherence, he will be altering the original text to an extreme degree, and will present a book of his own. 

Not all translations that are more contemporary are bad, but those who change from literary language to spoken language, will be, if not poor translations, more a blend between translating and fan fiction. 

I understand professors preferring one, and rooting for that, or even mandating that to their students. If one is studying a book, there are rules in our colleges, and professors have their syllabus, etc., so we have to comply with what they offer. But, if you are choosing a classic in a translated version, and have choices, you are capable of finding which is the one that fits you and allows us to love that classic, and experience as much of the richness time tells us it possesses.

Translations make or break our reading of classics.

After all, I was not that out of ideas!

Oct 19, 2014

Abridgements, Originals, Editions, and Translations

Abridgements, Originals, Editions, and Translations,

Or where I try not to bore you to death with something I could talk on, and on, and on, for a very long time.

Charlotte Mason, and the friends at Ambleside Online, have taught me to read originals, to stay away from abridged versions for the children and try the original book instead.

The guiding reason is that many authors, many books, are more than stories lines, but it is the language, the way they are written, what carries on their value, and that language and book in its original conception it's what makes our children grow, love, understand, and make the classic their own.

Some authors require familiarity with all they mean, all they have become, and some preparing for their original books. It is in this case quality abridgments are useful. We have read Lamb's and Chute's Shakespeare stories before reading the originals. Some have read Little Pilgrims Progress before Pilgrims Progress, and that is fine, but know there is always the risk of your children loosing interest in the original, or being reluctant to jump or bridge into the original since they "already know the story" in more familiar and easier terms.

Then we have authors that write in a language different to our mother tongue (or tongues). If we are, say, in the States, and our children are learning and studying with English as their language, Homer and Cervantes, to mention some titans, are books our children will not be able to read in the originals, and it is not that important they read even in a translation. Other authors take priority when it comes to grow through the means of language. But those two authors well deserve some attention, if in the form of abridgments and/or translations.

If we lived in Spain, for example, my goal for my girls will be to read Don Quixote in the original, but, like with Shakespeare, I will start with quality abridgments, even cartoons, some comics too, why not? I will want us all to immerse ourselves into this book in varied forms (as opposed to boring them to death, or killing them with over exposure in the manner many of us had to suffer in schools), and work our way up to the original.

I think that, because Homer and Cervantes, being the classics they are, did not write in English, Miss Mason thought it was important to nonetheless know and experience The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Don Quixote, and that is why she had her students read a quality abridged version, and that was enough (if you wanted to stop there, that is, :)).

Don Quixote is a very long book (about 1,000 pages), for us, Ambleside Online users, it is a proposed free read four our seventh graders. An abridgment is all we need, unless we develop a special devotion for this book, and our children or ourselves, desire to read it in its entirety. Then we should look at what the different translations have to offer us.

For Homer, there are multiple options for abridgments, and translations, of course, LOL.

These are some of the abridgments:

Rosemary Sutcliff, Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of 'The Iliad, and The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of The Odyssey. -I don't own her titles, but they have wonderful reviews.-

The Children's Homer, published by Padraic Colum and written by Willy Pogany, (orange book in the top picture)

The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, retold for children by Picard, (not Captain Picard, I know you!, Barbara Picard) -this is the one used by Charlotte Mason-, (yellow thick book to the left of The Children's Homer)

*note: the links in this post are to Ambleside Online Amazon, and Ambleside Online's site. 

Any of these are wonderful first approaches and reference books to Homer's work.

And then we have translations.

Do you see the size of that book by Picard? I got thinking that maybe a translation is as fine an attempt as some abridgments, lol, which makes me think if it will not be best just to read a translation. And knowing that a translation will never be the original, (or so they say some, that it is never quite The.Experience), there is much to be said about what is that we then get when we read a classic translated? -since some claim it is NOT the book, or not the book in its fullness, richness, beauty... Is there any value on reading translations? Are all translations created equal? If not? how to choose which one?

Any classic is meant to have so many translations, editions, -sometimes even the author wrote a book and edited a substantially changed second version-, that it can be paralyzing, or crazy, or FUN!

I will write about all this in another post soon.