Sunday, October 5, 2014

September 2014 Book Reports

1. Glimpses Into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley edited by Virginia H. Pearce

In August I was teaching a Relief Society lesson on marriage and wanted to read more about someone I admired and how she conducted herself as a wife and mother.  I chose Marjorie Pay Hinckley, wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley. The Hinckley's daughter, Virginia H. Pearce, put together this little book full of stories from loved ones and quotes from Sister Hinckley that illustrate what kind of woman she was. Maybe I read this book at the exact right time in my life, but it has kind of changed everything for me. I already had inklings about the kind of mother and grandmother I want to be, but now I know how to do it. Sister Hinckley has inspired me (as she has done for so many others) to be better, more humble, more interested, more energetic... The list goes on. I'm just going to put in some of my favorite lines from the book now. :)

"If there is one fundamental doctrine in Mormonism, it is that man is an individual created in the likeness of God, with divinely bestowed free agency, and that the development of the human individual soul is so important a thing that God himself has called it His greatest work and glory."

From one of her daughters: "The mother who came through the door just before mine was wearing spiked heels and a darling dress and had all of this foofy hair. Yes, she was young and, I thought, beautiful. In fact, she looked like a teenager. As she made her way over to her tap-dancer daughter (of course, I thought), I looked up to see my mother come through the same door. With that instant juxtaposition, I will never forget the flood of security and happiness I felt when I saw her - no foofy hair or spiked heels, not very young or very beautiful, dressed in her typically tidy house-dress. There was a warm, comfortable feeling and the thought clear as neon: 'Oh, I'm so glad that my mother looks like a real mother!'"

"Maybe it is because Marjorie Hinckley so clearly understands who she really is that she wastes very little energy in pretending, protecting, or defending herself."

"The family unit is fundamental. I wonder if this was so there would be some area where we would function with our guard down so that the Lord could see what we really are."

"We have a great responsibility to our husbands. I know it is hard to believe, but almost before you can turn around the children will be gone and you will be alone with him. You had better be sure that you are developing the kind of love and friendship that will be delightful and enduring. Let the children learn from your attitude that he is important. Encourage him. Be kind. It is a rough world and he, like everyone else, is fighting to survive. Be cheerful. Don't be a whiner."

In a letter to a college student grandchild: "Think about your particular assignment at this time in your life. It is to get an education. This is a wonderful assignment. Don't take it lightly. Give it your full heart and energy. Do whatever you have to do this week; do it with your heart and soul; and do it cheerfully. To do less than this will leave you with an empty feeling." I include this quote because it can apply to any time of life. What a great thing to think about - what is my assignment right now? What do I need to do this week in order to fulfill that assignment with all my heart and soul? See? Life changing.

Okay, last one before I quote the whole book. "She does not try to direct the outcome or interfere. She sincerely believes each one of us has the wherewithal to do the right thing, and she communicates that belief. Her confidence empowers others to make the right choices."

Sister Hinckley's Christmas celebrations for her grandkids are now my blueprint. It's going to be awesome. What a gift this little book is. 

2. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth, narrated by Nicola Barber
My sister, Allyn, recommended the PBS TV series by the same name, so when I saw this in the Audible catalog, I ordered it. (Have I mentioned lately how much I love Audible?) I listened to this book while I painted our guest room. I probably should have started with the TV series because I didn't enjoy the book. It's a great subject - postwar London midwives and nuns working in the slums. So interesting! Too often (for me) the focus was all the technical stuff about childbirth. I've never been pregnant, so I'm completely unfamiliar with the whole process. Weird, I know. One chapter was on a breach delivery in a home birth where a nun was describing in the minutest detail what was happening every second of the birth. Bo. Ring. 

I suddenly feel blasphemous or something. Am I supposed to like this stuff? I know it's compelling and miraculous... My two biggest problems with the book were the too-vivid descriptions of bad smells and the trip to the strip club that I wasn't expecting. That chapter was way too graphic for me. It wasn't just a strip club - it was a whore house basically. I was painting and being accosted by a scene at the same time. No need. And never put me somewhere with a bad smell - I get it with much less detail. Know what I'm sayin'? That left the home births, which were kind of boring to me. One story about a really old, almost homeless woman was really heart-wrenching. I need to know more about the workhouses, I think.

It could have been the reading, but the main character came off as a smug know-it-all. She always knows best. I watched about half of the first episode of the TV show and I could tell right away that the actress playing Jennifer Lee was not playing her the way the narrator for the book did. Good choice. So, I don't know. If you are thrilled with every story about childbirth you've ever heard, this may be the book for you.

3. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
This is the story my Dad and I read together this time. It's third because my other two reviews were finished a while ago and I don't feel like editing. :) Also, Bridget and I didn't end up finishing a book this month, so no Mother/Daughter book to report on. 

Bob: This short story, a story easily read in an hour and a half, appears in a collection of tales and essays written by Irving, who claims that these stories are in fact “A History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker” (1809). Irving is a mere 26 years old when the tales are published. Yet, he seems to have been already a student of life and culture and nature able to enthrall readers with his gifts of description. 

Nicole: Twenty-six was practically middle age in 1809, right? :) I'm glad you got the background for this, because I listened to it while I was painting and didn't have anything but the story.
Bob: What is a 26 year old doing writing such a piece? What is he trying to accomplish? The professor of literature will undoubtedly seek out some deeper meaning in this story. Perhaps it is a story of early Americans and how easily swayed they are by differing types of “preachers.” The lanky Ichabod Crane is an “odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity.” His Hessian opponent, Brom Bones, is muscle and brawn and intimidation. 

In the text, both men have great powers of persuasion – Ichabod more with the women and Brom more with the men. Though this story appears to be “intellectual boy meets ravishing girl, ravishing girl spurns intellectual boy in favor of the captain of the football team,” there is perhaps more than meets the eye. 

Nicole: Maybe everyone already knows this, but the Hessians (Germans) were hired mercenaries during the American Revolution. Hired by the British, of course. Many of them ended up staying in America for good, having no real allegiance to the British throne. Brom Bones would have been descended from powerfully built people - and by descended I mean probably his parents since the revolution was not even 30 years before this was written. This village was made up of people who hadn't been in America for very long, really. They were creating a culture.

Bob: In addition to publishing the “works” of Diedrich Nickerbocker in 1809, Washington Irving had a personal experience which may have affected his writing. In that same year, Irving’s 17 year old fiancĂ©, Matilda Hoffman, died. When in later years he was asked why he never married, Irving wrote to a  Mrs. Forster, saying: "For years I could not talk on the subject of this hopeless regret; I could not even mention [Matilda’s] name; but her image was continually before me, and I dreamt of her incessantly." Perhaps the almost incidental inclusion of the fair Katarina Van Tassel in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was an effort to pay homage to Matilda and also to once again express the breaking of his heart when she died. 

With these ideas as a backdrop, it may be said that America hasn’t changed much over time. We are swayed more by words than by deeds, by intellectual or physical prowess than by the power to get things done. It seems to be in our nature to gullibly trust before we jadedly question. 

Nicole: What a sad thing for Irving to say! Unrequited love makes for great writing, though.
Bob: We cannot help but marvel at the ability of Irving to paint pictures with words, to see the people and vegetation of the Hudson River Valley, to smell the food and see the clothing. It is a uniquely American story, perhaps the beginning of uniquely American stories, told in the Gothic tradition of a culture breaking with its past. After reading it, I hope we don’t forget this part of our literary pedigree.

Nicole: So... you liked it? I really liked it. The small schoolhouse in New England, the time of year, the telling spooky stories around the campfire - I was there! How wonderful to be exposed to the social scene in a small American village so long ago. Ichabod Crane (is there a better name in all of literature?) is the homeliest man ever described and yet he has a footing in Sleepy Hollow because of his ability to tell a good story. Without newspapers or the ability to travel long distances, townsfolk could make up all kinds of stuff that would never be called into question. It was an age for great liars, eh? Fun stuff. (I got my audible copy for free, by the way. So well narrated by Tom Mison.)

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