Confession

I don’t like poetry. And, to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of fiction either. Strange, isn’t it? The fiction I do like is a plain good story, like a great movie that makes you laugh, cry, or run screaming from the room. But I don’t like to have to figure out what the author meant by certain scenes or having to read about who the author was and what his contribution to society was, or what she was trying to portray through the story. I just like to read stories and know people and places through them. Simple.

Poetry? Forget it. Unless it’s just obviously pretty or makes me sigh, I really couldn’t care less about it. Sometimes I read a line of a popular poem (or hear a lyric from a song) and it hits me. I think, “Wow. That’s awesome.” But to read poetry and try to figure out what it means? It’s boring.

What do I like? History, biography, philosophy. I like books that tell you something, straight out. “I think X is like Y on crack.” Or “In that same year, so-and-so was bundling up and heading out to chop firewood.” I like books of information. I put all those pieces of information together like a big puzzle and try to make sense of this world. It’s fascinating.

Why in the world am I writing about this today? Because I’ve been reading more fiction lately and I just realized it. The stranger the book, the higher it is rated in “literary circles,” the more I don’t like it. And I just realized something else…I don’t like “art” either! I mean, I like pictures and I like pretty buildings and stained-glass windows. I kind of like statues if they are in a garden. But just art for the sake of trying to say something? Nah.

Gone With the Wind

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833 pages.
40.17 hours.
32 days.

I finished “Gone With the Wind”. I found this book at the thrift store for $1 and it went straight to the top of my reading pile.

I’d rate this one right up there with War & Peace! Wow! What a great story! The movie really did it justice too. I swear she must have written the book with those actors in mind. The characters. The history. The perspective of the American Civil War and Reconstruction. I have to find a couple good books on the Reconstruction Era, one from a couple different angles. The more I learn about the Civil War, the less I can find any ‘good guys’ on either side as far as politics and war goes. In civilians, I can find many heroes and angels.

This was one of those books I just couldn’t put down, especially toward the end. I cried and sobbed even though I’ve seen the movie several times and know what happens. I just kept hoping the book would end differently. Now I have to watch the movie again. Good thing I have it on DVD!

Onward to the next book on my list. Unfortunately, I’ll have to do a bit of research before I add Reconstruction books to my pile. I’m sure one will come up sooner or later. Today I started “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” by T.E. Lawrence. It’s also one of my all-time favorite movies!

Notes on “Giant” by Edna Ferber (1952)

I haven’t seen the movie in a long time but my memory tells me it was about oil in Texas and people and James Dean was kind of a bad guy but not really. That’s all I can remember about the plot but I also remember scenes which were fun to find in the book.

The book didn’t seem to be about oil at all. It seemed to focus more on the Mexican migrant workers and the Mexican-Americans in Texas, Texas stereotypes, and on one big ranching family. Marrying a man you just met must be pretty strange but then being whisked off to Texas from Virginia in the 20’s would be a pretty big culture shock. That’s what the book was about to me. And then I read a bit about the author. It turns out she had never been married, never had any kids, and never lived in Texas. That made me a bit sad. I’d much rather read books written by people in the time and place they are writing about than someone years later that researched it. This was closer since the author did live through that time and had been there but it felt like she was trying to get a point across about how badly the Mexican’s were treated, comparing them to slaves in the South.

Towards the end, the oil came into play, society was changing and many of the Texas ranchers were not happy about that as much as the people before the ranchers were not happy about them coming in and changing things. The Mexican-Americans and temporary Mexican farm labor had small towns around the farms they worked. They were dirty and unkempt and the main character wanted to help them better their towns. She worked to get them more pay and better living conditions. Later, when oil came, workers came as well and they built towns around where they were working on the oil wells and then banded together to use the force of government to get money for hospitals and schools. My question is this. Why would they stay there working for the oil company’s if they weren’t getting what they needed to survive? Why wouldn’t they go somewhere else for work? Why not ask for more pay or leave? If I were an oil company then, I’d look around and see that the other companies weren’t offering a nice place to live, healthcare, and schools for their children and I’d build that to attract better workers. Do people not realize that when some guy or group come in and say, “You know, I can force that company/person to give you what you want.”, there is a price for it? They aren’t doing it out of the kindness of their hearts.

The end felt hopeful but I didn’t get that feeling through the whole book. We do see our children as the change in the world. Each generation does things a little differently and (hopefully) better. And some families don’t see it that way. They see their children as an extension of themselves. They want those kids to take what they’ve done and continue that work off into the future. We harm our children when we put our lives on them instead of encouraging them to do what makes them better people.

Now I’m off to read more about Edna Ferber and maybe some of her earlier novels. I very much enjoyed this one!

Notes on “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein

I loved this book! I’m not a big fan of the science fiction genre. I’ve said this before and I’m starting to wonder if that is really true because I haven’t failed to love one yet. The ones I don’t really enjoy are the ones that get technical. I like the books that focus on the people, the lives and relationships of the characters instead of the scientific aspects of the travel. This one was full of all the stuff I love most. What makes us human? What would be different about a person raised on another planet by another species without contact with his own? I started to describe the story and my sons instantly blurted out, “It’s some kind of space Tarzan!” I didn’t even see that until they said it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really thinking when I’m reading.

I don’t think I’ll write out all my notes on this book. Instead, I’ll do my best to wrap the story up in my mind and talk about the individual characters and how they touched me. Let’s see. There was Mike, the “Martian”. The men who brought him back from Mars. Ben, the newspaper reporter that wants the story but is changed by it. Jill, at first she is Ben’s girl but she really falls for Mike and well, the relationship gets complicated at the end, or is it less complicated in reality, only complicated by our human social contructs? Jubal, he’s my favorite character. He’s older than the rest. At first you feel like he’s just this cynical, rich guy that really just wants to be left alone by the world. He brings only people he can trust and put up with into his circle and I feel like Jill and Mike are a huge burden to him at first. But really they, and what Mike is trying to bring to the world but doesn’t know it, are really what Jubal wants.

There are things that Mike says that I just loved and now use in my life. The idea of “waiting for fullness” is an ancient one that we all try to achieve. In all our meditations and prayers we are asking for patience to wait on what will come in the future. If something bothers us or weighs heavily on our minds, aren’t we told to wait and see what happens? Mike puts this idea into perfect words. Every time he doesn’t understand something, he says he must “wait for fullness”. Only time will tell if something is wrong. When you’ve waited long enough, you can act on something once you know that it is a “wrongness” that needs to be eliminated. The Martians themselves live a very long time, forever really, and they are strong. They don’t need to act prematurely to protect themselves from a potential threat. They wait and react when they know. We could be waiting out whole lives to understand something and die not knowing, but then, did we need to know? It probably wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things and we should let it go.

The whole story feels like one of those old “His Girl Friday” movies but you can feel a deeper story moving underneath. When I finished the book I thought, “I don’t get it?” What just happened? Who are the Martians? Why do they keep going back to this Digby and Foster characters that I thought were dead? Is Mike just a front man coming to scope out Earth for conquest by the Martians? I put the book down and wondered as I went to pick up my son at the gym. It swirled around in my head for a couple days and then it hit me. I think I get it!

Spoiler alert, in case you haven’t read it, don’t read this last part!

The Martians put their eggs out in the cold and only 1 in 10 survives. Then they bring them in and raise them up until they “discorporate” and become “the old ones” which are still around, not in just spirit. They are actually there guiding and teaching the younger corporate ones. I was lost until it hit me. They are angels! Someone (God?) creates the eggs. They are not born. The eggs are humans on earth. One in ten survives that ordeal and becomes an angel (Martian). They live their lives on Mars learning about the universe. Much like “A Miracle on 34th Street”, the angels must earn their wings and when they do they discorporate and become “old ones”. That’s some pretty cool stuff. Mike was one that survived and so were other religious leaders before him. His origin was different but his path was the same. He spent his time on earth trying to understand humanity and show them a better way of living that would bring them closer to the spiritual world he had already begun to learn about on Mars. Other religious leaders do the same, although they only glimpsed that spiritual world. Did God send the angels to talk to them? Did the angels come to Earth? It didn’t seem like it in the book. It seemed like they never got involved with the “eggs in the cold”. They just waited to see if any of them survived.

Are we born on this earth cold and alone? Do we all have that spark within us that makes us want to search out who ultimately created us? And do most of us set it aside for earthly things and never make it to the spiritual world? Is that what Heinlein was trying to tell us?

Notes on “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

I really liked it. The writing isn’t very deep, but the story is captivating mostly because it puts a spin on our current relationship with technology and social media. At first, I wasn’t impressed and kept reading because I wondered where he was going. Then, about a third of the way in, I was sucked in. It was a bit like an action film with a slow start. I was disappointed that he stayed close within the confines of our current technology. It was just a bit beyond what we can do now, not as imaginative as I would have liked. But maybe that was the point. The story is set within my lifetime, so maybe things grew exponentially now but in 20 years they would stagnate. It felt like a movie and I wonder if it will become one in the future.

Page 17 “Our global civilization came at a huge cost. We needed a whole bunch of energy to build it, and we got that energy by burning fossil fuels, which came from dead plants and animals buried deep in the ground. We used up most of this fuel before you got here, and now it’s pretty much all gone.”

This statement sets up the background of the world they live in. It’s decaying and that’s why things have gone stagnant. But would it really? If the world were actually running out of fuel and companies relied on energy to keep making money, don’t you think they’d find a way to make more? This just smacks of “green” energy propaganda to me.

Page 21 “But after the oil crash and the onset of the energy crisis, lager cities had been flooded with refugees from surrounding suburban and rural areas, resulting in a massive urban housing shortage” That might happen at first. People looking for work. But he thinks people were so addicted to access to the internet that they stayed there. I just don’t believe that. It may be true if everyone was getting enough food, water, and shelter, but when those things are gone people would naturally stop “logging in”.

Page 24 “Most of them worked as day laborers in the giant factory farms that surrounded the city.” More jobs, less energy consumption. The energy has to come from somewhere. If you can’t build or fuel machines to do the labor, humans must do it or starve. This is what some people would call progress.

Page 28 Why have a real identity at all if you never leave the virtual world and it functions as “reality”? Also, adults are allowed to be anonymous, but children are not? Why? And why the virtual classroom? It seems to be that this author cannot wrap his mind around people learning outside a coercion. That bugs me. I guess he doesn’t know any homeschoolers. I wonder if he did, would he have written this differently? This is the kind of stuff I didn’t like. It’s like now but with some extra technology thrown in.

Page 45 Kids are still segregated from adults and return to a Lord of the Flies attitude among each other. No one has yet figured out that when you separate children into large groups of similar age with and occasional adult authority around, they will always revert to this kind of thug behavior. They have no one to model civilized behavior.

Page 47 “The OASIS software took care of that, ensuring that students remained quiet and in their seats. All the teachers had to do was teach.” What the hell? This just freaks me out. Your virtual self is not allowed (by force) to express itself at all. The teachers are much happier because they don’t have to discipline kids, they only need to teach. Why not just give your lecture to an empty room? You’re doing the same good.

Page 48 They go on virtual tours and expeditions of things no one knows what they really looked like, origins of planets and King Tut’s “Empire in all its glory.” We only can talk about what we think may have happened. Now these kids walk around a virtual world, made up by someone’s imagination of these things as if they are real. It smacks of public education textbook indoctrination.

The way worlds and sectors are set up and managed reminds me of Minecraft. My only problem with it is that he describes them as if they physically exist. Each one exists next to another. I see it more like dimensions, overlaying each other.

Page 50 “Ludus had been designed as a place of learning, so the planet had been created without a single quest portal or gaming zone anywhere on its surface.” Right. Because games aren’t learning. This is so amazingly short sighted.

Page 53 “By all accounts, James was a bright boy, but socially inept. He had an extremely difficult time communicating with people around him. Despite his obvious intelligence, he did poorly in school, because most of his attention as focused on computers, comic books, sci-fi and fantasy novels, movies, and above all else, video games.” This is about the guy that invented the OASIS. So, he created the world the whole world escapes to, moves in, and survives through. But instead of encouraging others to do the same, this world (in the book) creates more schools in the same vein that failed him. I just don’t get it.

Page 55 “his obsessive adherence to routine and preoccupation with a few obscure areas of interest led many to psychologists to conclude that Halliday had suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, or from some other form of high-functioning autism.” Suffered? The only suffering he’s experiencing is that which you put on him for not being exactly like everyone else. Oh damn, I’m totally suffering from my genius and creating all kinds of new, innovative ways of doing something amazing while the rest of the world tells me there is something wrong with me that needs to be fixed!

Page 69 “James Halliday had donated billions to fund the creation of the OASIS public school system here, as a way to demonstrate the huge potential of the OASIS as an educational tool.” Why? Why would he set up and fund for eternity a school system “virtually” that had so perfectly failed him in the real world? It just doesn’t make sense, unless you believe that he was a freak and that he failed the system but then somehow overcame that eventually and made something out of himself despite his “disability”.

Something I had a hard time keeping straight was that this is not 100 years in the future but only about 40, so I assumed we would be farther along technology wise than it was.

Page 98 “If I win that dough, I’m going to make sure everyone on this planet has enough to eat. Once we tackle world hunger, then we can figure out how to fix the environment and solve the energy crisis.” That’s the foresight and logic you get from 17-year-old public school students.

Page 120 The co-creator of the OASIS left the company because he felt it had become something horrible, “a self-imposed prison for humanity” “A pleasant place for the world to hide from its problems while human civilization slowly collapses, primarily due to neglect.” I can understand this sentiment. I see it starting this way now, which is probably why he wrote this book this way. But the book assumes so much will remain on the same trajectory for the next 40 years. There is no suggestion for change. But maybe that’s the point, a “this is where we will end up” story. My experience has shown me that people are gravitating toward escape from reality. They really think it’s more effective to donate a dollar to a huge charity, do the 5K for life, or share a post on Facebook than to pull weeds at their local community center or help cook at the local shelter.

Page 145 SPOILER This is one of those rare books that main character does the right thing and bad things happen. You know, you always think, don’t give in! They’re going to kill you anyway!

The notes get farther and farther apart as I got sucked into the story. It does feel like a high school student wrote it and I wish it were a bit deeper, but the story is good.

Page 182 “Magic zones had their advantages.” This kind of stuff bugs me. It’s cheating in the story line to make something happen in “magic” zone that wouldn’t have worked anywhere else. And then a few pages later they are surprised that everyone knew they were at the club. Things like that pull me out of the story, like a commercial came on or something. How could that possibly be a surprise?

Page 201 “It didn’t matter who was in charge. Those people were rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and everyone knew it. Besides, now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people that could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical evangelists.” Why would it matter where you vote? Who people vote for has a lot more to do with the education and independence of the voters, not with where you write down who you want. This bit is part of why I feel like a high school student wrote it. It feels limited to what pop culture believes is true at the moment.

Page 207 “This avatar appeared inside a huge virtual call center, inside a virtual cubicle, sitting at a virtual desk, in front of a virtual computer, wearing a virtual headset.” Why?! Why wouldn’t you be answering calls from any virtual space? There’s no reason to do this.

Page 277 “I saw (homeless) people clustered on every street corner and in every vacant lot, huddled around burning barrels and portable fuel-cell heaters. Others waited in line a the free solar charging stations, wearing bulky, outdated visors and haptic gloves. Their hands made small, ghostly gestures as they interacted with the far more pleasant reality of the OASIS via one of the GSS’s free wireless access points.” There’s the “bread and circus” aspect of this world.

Don’t read past here if you don’t want to know the ending!

It was a great ending, but again not deep enough. It feels like something I’d write. It doesn’t go far enough, but it does make you think about how there should be a balance between the real world and the virtual/online world. As humans, we can’t live completely virtual. We need to have the interaction between physical humans, or at least our physical world. The online world connects so many people that never would have known each other. It lets people work, play, and collaborate with people from all over the world, instead of just your own backyard. I always see it an awesome new tool that we need to learn to use in bigger and better ways. We’re not losing our humanity, we’re adding to it. We just need to learn new ways of doing things and humans are amazing at doing just that!

Notes from “Flint” by Louis L’Amour

I picked up this book from the shelf because I was thinking I could use some upbeat light reading. We have the whole set of his writing from my husband’s Dad so I it was hard to pick one. The first one I opened had a map of New Mexico in it with the Ice Caves and Malpais. We were there recently so I took it as a sign!

“From the earliest childhood she had been taught to accept responsibility, and to make her own decisions and abide by them. ‘Every youngster wants to be a grown up,’ her father had said, ‘but the difference between a child and an adult is not years, rather it’s a willingness to accept responsibility, to be responsible for one’s own actions.” I picked this quote out because it reminded me of the way I think we should raise our kids. We need to allow our kids to make their own choices early. They get more experience that way. And experience is the only way we mature. It’s better for them to get that experience while making minor choices with a parent nearby to help, than to learn it on their own when they are 18.

“Like a fat, enormous snake it lay stretched across the country, a black and ugly mass of twisted, rope like rock, clinkers and piles of lava, that looked like hell with the fires out, filling its sterile sink and winding south and north for many miles.” Can’t you just see it? I’ve been there. It looks just like that!

“There were books in some shelves across the room, and he went to look at them. Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Shakespeare, Hume’s History of England. He was not surprised by the quality of the authors, for he had read the journals of the trappers who came West, and he had known many Western men, and knew of the books they read.” Funny to think those trappers would read those books but then most people read that stuff back then, until our school system created a bunch of illiterate sheep to be led by government. Sorry. I’m in a mood.

It was interesting to read about how western rancher accumulated land, how the railroad people did, and those that came out to steal it. I’d like to read more about that.

Nancy “My father was a great believer in children being given responsibility, Jim. He game me things to do as early as I can remember. And he used to talk to me about the ranch, and explain everything he did, and why he did it.” That’s my kind of parent.

Lottie “loved her father but for the first time she realized that his grandiose schemes would never come to anything. Lately he had begun to whine and blame his failures on others.” That’s the definition of a lack of responsibility, immaturity. Lottie and her father are the opposite of Nancy and Jim.

“I no longer know whose fight it is. Maybe injustice is everyone’s fight, now and forever.” Yes. Yes it is. And no matter how big and powerful the “bad guy” is, we have to fight. Even if we know we will lose.

It’s just a nice book with a few great simple characters. It makes my heart warm.