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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Here’s a Bucket List Anyone Can Afford

Image Courtesy of Irish Welcome Tours' Flickr Stream

Image Courtesy of Irish Welcome Tours’ Flickr Stream

Is there anybody alive who hasn’t heard of Bucket Lists, as in the bucket that shall be kicked by every one of us? I thought not. Between out-of-the-way places to visit or rare experiences to arrange, it can be very expensive to get out of this world. You may have no money left for that genuine Viking funeral you wanted. Pity.

Have no fear. Here’s a list anyone can afford, and you needn’t wait until you’re middle-aged to start. I call it the Bucket Book List. All you need is a library, a library card and a list of classic books you wish to read before meeting your Maker. Heck, they don’t even really need to be classics. Just books you’ve always wanted to read. They can be fiction or non-fiction or poetry. Read a cookbook if you’d like. And if you MUST, you can buy them if you wish.

Actually, I prefer buying. Books make wonderful companions and look marvelous in bookcases or just stacked up on a desk or the floor. And they’re a whole lot less expensive than airfare to Borneo. Or Chicago for that matter. But it’s more than the money. It’s like time-travel. Exploring the greatest stories and ideas from human history. Ideas and stories that get deep inside your mind and into your very soul. Ideas that shaped civilizations. Stories that escorted you into dreams. And still can.

I’m working on my Bucket Book list now. I am 60 after all. The Bible says I have about ten more years to go. I’m hoping for more. Whatever the actual number is, it’s past time to get going. There’s so much to read. I like both fiction and non-fiction so I’ll need two lists to start. Well, three actually. I like so-called “children’s” books. So I’ll need adult fiction, children’s fiction and non-fiction. Should I sub-divide things any further? I probably will.

For now, in fiction, I’m looking at the Divine Comedy by Dante, Paradise Lost by John ┬áMilton, The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, of course. Oh, and don’t forget Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In non-fiction I’ve got Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization (not all 10 volumes, though), Churchill’s The History of the English Speaking Peoples and Abraham Lincoln by Carl Sandburg. I will also be putting together a list of American classics as well as children’s classics. I’ve got some work ahead of me.

So what do you think out there? Does this sound like a good idea? Let me know what you think. Tell me what books you’d put on your list. Or give me a few additions for my own. I’ll keep you posted as I develop this further.

 

 

 

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Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Uncategorized, What I'm Reading

 

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Le Morte d’ Danny

I know, I know. I haven’t been writing for quite a while. I’m really sorry. Honest. It’s just that my family has been going through some trials the past few months. Trials dealing mainly with the nanny state. I’ll leave it there for now because I have no desire to recall even the tiniest bit of having to deal with bureaucrats with no common sense.

Fortunately, I have continued reading. Indeed, reading is one of the things that has kept me somewhat sane amidst the lunacy. Reading something good is especially helpful. Reading John Steinbeck can be life renewing. It can also be just plain fun. So I picked up a collection of Steinbeck’s short novels and started reading “Tortilla Flat,” which I hadn’t read before. It’s a pretty easy read and, at a mere 207 pages, a pretty fast one too. But what got me interested in this particular novel was its background.

Now here’s something most people don’t know. To really appreciate “Tortilla Flat” you need to be familiar with the Arthurian legends, particularly Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. It seems that Steinbeck was a big fan of Malory’s book. He even claimed that his love for the English language came from reading it. In the preface to “Tortilla Flat” Steinbeck comes right out and tells the reader that “Danny’s house was not unlike the Round Table, and Danny’s friends were not unlike the knights of it,” Danny, of course, being the stand-in for Arthur here.

“Tortilla Flat” is more a series of misadventures than a sustained tale, and that works very well for illustrating the vagaries of human nature as Steinbeck does here. We begin when Danny gets out of the army and returns home to find he has inherited two small houses from his grandfather on Tortilla Flat, a small district just above Monterey, California. At first he’s happy about it. Danny moves into the larger house and his friend, Pilon, moves into the smaller one. Over the course of the book several more friends move in with Pilon and eventually with Danny. These are the “knights” of Danny’s Round Table.

Of course, these friends are not knights. They’re not even British. They’re what Steinbeck calls “paisanos” which he defines as being “a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican, and assorted Caucasian bloods.” They aren’t saints either. Quite the opposite, as Steinbeck makes clear throughout. But neither are they completely devoid of good. As the book’s episodes illustrate, good and evil in human actions and motivations are rarely well delineated. Indeed, they are usually jumbled together and can change from one moment to the next. Steinbeck puts it this way: “It is astounding to find that the belly of every black and evil thing is as white as snow. And it is saddening to discover how the concealed parts of angels are leprous.” Yes, he does have a way with words.

The other theme that parallels these tales of good dancing with evil has to do with what causes so much of both: material possessions. Danny, who had little of such, at first enjoys being a man of property and shares his good fortune with his friends. But over the course of the book the weight of ownership and the responsibility it brings are too much for Danny. Even small possessions can be like chains.

How Danny gets free from them I’ll leave for you to discover when you read this wonderful book. And you should read (or re-read) it. This is an American classic by one of our best writers.

 

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Book Review, Old Books

 

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