Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (2007)

I am in the middle of reading Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (Simon & Schuster, 1995, 2007), on which at first I wasn't all that keen. It's revisionist history, which can be snarky, reverse-racist, and guilt-inducing. But while Lies is all of those things, so far it's been full of quite a few things I didn't already know.

While I already knew that Native Americans were killed in greatest numbers by disease, and I had a general sense that the great Native American societies were completely wiped out by a "plague" before the Pilgrims even landed, I didn't know that Indians were carted off to the West Indies, South American, and even Europe as slaves. We're taught that blacks were slaves; the fact that Indians were slaves as well has been totally written out of the history books.

Whenever I underline something (or fold down the corner of a page -- SHHHH, don't tell), that usually means there is a fact or quote that I've found particularly interesting that I want to save for later (cocktail chatter at some future event).

Fact: "American Indian warfare absorbed 80% of the entire federal budget during George Washington's administration and dogged his successors for a century as a major issue and expense." So much for Shay's Rebellion and the "Era of Good Feelings."

Fact: After the War of 1812 ended, the key outcome was: "in return for our leaving Canada alone, Great Britain gave up its alliances with the American Indian nations in what would have become the United States. Without war materiel and other aid from European allies, future Indian wars were transformed from major international conflicts to domestic mopping-up operations." I've never, ever really understood what exactly the War of 1812 was about -- some vague, political war that had something to do with France and England and Napoleon. What is really was about was western whites wanting to invade the sovereign lands of the Native Americans allied with Great Britain. We were really the aggressors, not Great Britain, which had her hands full dealing with Napoleon and essentially abandoned her Native allies. Thinking of the Natives as nations rather than nomadic tribes puts a new spin on the whole War of 1812 and the relationship thereafter of the United States and Native Americans.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Prayers and Words of Comfort

We attended a beautiful, moving, high church Episcopal funeral on Sunday, and the most moving prayer was read aloud. I want this read at my funeral. I'm not sure where it comes from.

God of grace and glory,
We thank you for Rebecca,
who was so near and dear to us,
and how has now been taken from us.

We thank you for the friendship she gave,
for the strength and courage she brought,
and for the vigor and color with which she lived.

We thank you for the love and friendship
which she offered and received while she was with us on earth.

We pray that nothing good in her life will be lost,
but will be of benefit to the world;
that all that was important to her
will be respected by those who follow;
and that everything in which she was great
will continue to mean much to us,
now that she is dead.

We ask you that she may go on living
in her family, friends, and neighbors;
in their hearts and minds,
in their courage and their commitments.

We ask you that we who were close to her
may now, because of her death,
be even closer to each other,
and that we may, in peace and friendship here on earth,
always be deeply conscious
of your promise to be faithful to us in death.

We pray for ourselves,
who are tested by this death,
that we do not try to minimize our loss,
or seek refuge from it in words alone;
but that we may learn from it to value
the richness of the life that you give to us all.

God, grant us courage
and confidence of the new life which you give us to share
in Jesus Christ, our risen lord;
Who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

And then, when this prayer was finished, another beautiful prayer:

O Lord, support us all the day long
Until the shadows lengthen
And the evening comes
And the busy world is hushed
And the fever of life is over
And our work is done.
Then in your mercy
Grant us safe lodging
And a holy rest
And peace at the last;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Prayer #2: Attributed to Cardinal John Henry Newman, Prayer in All Things


Great words of sympathy from the (then) Duchess of York to King George V on the death of his mother :

"Words, I know, are useless in a tragic time, but I hope you will allow me to send you my deepest & truest sympathy from the very bottom of my heart."

I will definitely steal these lovely words to use on some future sad occasion!


When James Garfield died, Julia Tyler (wife of President John Tyler) sent a letter, which in part said:  "Express my deep sympathy for you in this dreadful occurrence which has befallen your family... how heartfelt is the instinct I feel in your heavy affliction... may your strength and fortitude be equal to the demand."   


Florence Harding wrote to Grace Coolidge on the death of her son:  "No matter how many loving hands may be stretched out to help us, some paths we tread alone."


Helen Lowrie Marshall
I'd like the memory of me
To be a happy one.
I'd like to leave an afterglow
Of smiles when day is done.

I'd like to leave an echo
Whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times
And bright and sunny days.

I'd like the tears of those who grieve,
To dry before the sun
Of happy memories I leave
Behind - when day is done.


They Softly Walk
Hugh Robert Orr

They are not gone who pass
Beyond the clasp of hand,
Out from the strong embrace.
They are but come so close
We need not grope with hands,
Nor look to see, nor try
To catch the sound of feet.
They have put off their shoes
Softly to walk by day
Within our thoughts, to tread
At night our dream-led paths
Of sleep.

They are not lost who find
The sunset gate, the goal
Of all their faithful years.
Not lost are they who reach
The summit of their climb,
The peak above the clouds
And storms. They are not lost
Who find the light of sun
And stars and God.

They are not dead who live
In hearts they leave behind.
In those whom they have blessed
They live a life again,
And shall live through the years
Eternal life, and grow
Each day more beautiful
As time declares their good,
Forgets the rest, and proves
Their immortality.


A Litany of Remembrance
Roland B. Gittelsohn

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
we remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
we remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us,
as we remember them.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer (2009)

Did they or didn't they die? A very Last Battle Narnian ending to The Sea of Trolls series with The Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer (Atheneum, 2009). Is Nancy Farmer consciously giving homage to Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander? Or are all four authors honoring Northern mythologies and folklore and can't help sounding a bit alike? In the end, I don't really care -- I still love the writing of Nancy Farmer. Sea of Trolls is still a better book; but Islands... is definitely a better book than The Land of the Silver Apples. Or maybe not... maybe, if I think back long and hard enough, they are about the same. (Sea of Trolls is my mind is one of those rare perfect books, seamless plot, incredibly well developed characters, riveting action, mysterious, fantastic). Islands might have had too much going on, which is a detriment; I certainly got a little confused in some spots, and had a hard time remember what the quest actually entailed (they were going to the fin folk to appease the draugr but I couldn't ever remember exactly why or what they had to do once they got there). I think maybe Nancy Farmer had a many, many good ideas and crammed them all into this very last book in the series.

Is it the last? Because friends, I think Jack and Thorgil were DEAD at the end. Like I said above, it was all very last battle Narnian, only not as creepy Christian. The Bard was dead, wasn't he? And Thorgil was sick at the end, right? Suddenly, her hand is better, she's 100% better, and they are all in the Islands of the Blessed -- HEAVEN -- which made me think they were dead. Except the Bard said they were alive... all very confusing... I just re-read it, and maybe they aren't dead. Only I think they are.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Demon and the City by Liz Williams (2006)

It's always the edge of night in Liz William's Singapore Three (The Demon and the City). The sun is always just about to set or just about to rise. That's because this second Inspector Chen novel is all about edges -- the edge of night and day, the edge of heaven and hell, the edge of sanity, tottering at the edge as the world ends. William's writing is so rich and layered; like a red and black lacquered box of magic and mystery. I missed Inari - but the badger tea kettle was there in full force (my favorite character, I think). The cover is fantastic!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Woodrow Wilson by John MIlton Cooper

Reading slowly this week.

The Demon in the City by Liz Williams is wonderful, but dense.

Woodrow Wilson by John Milton Cooper is slow and rich with details. It's like a fancy dessert. A little bit goes a long way. I'm not sure I want to be reading Woodrow Wilson still three weeks from now. I only get three more weeks anyway - it's due back at the library then, and I don't want to pay (yet another) fine!

The Graveyard Book revisited with shame on my cheeks

While reading a rather interesting article about Neil Gaiman in an old New Yorker (January 25, 2010), the author of the article pointed out that The Graveyard Book was based on The Jungle Book. Ugh. I'm so embarrassed. I thought I was being so clever, picking out this (albeit brilliantly executed) plot point. When in fact, I'm dumber than a roomful of bandar-log. Everyone knew it was based on The Jungle Book already!

Neil Gaiman is cooler than cool, which the article in The New Yorker made seem sort of, I don't know, uncool. Since when is being cool uncool? But perhaps that's what The New Yorker has always done best - poked holes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shaka: King of the Zulus by Diane Stanley (1994)

One of the historical characters who makes an appearance in The Covenant was Shaka, the king of the Zulu. I knew next to nothing about Shaka before this. Of course, having already read this book at least once before, I knew that at least one chapter was about the king, and I remember him being brutal, but only in a vague way - I couldn't remember any details. Zulus I also vaguely remember from commercials from long ago advertising a movie about Zulus from the 60's - maybe it was called Shaka Zulu; I remember British soldiers in red coats trapped like the Alamo (or 55 Days in Peking!) by Zulu savages. So Michener devotes a whole chapter to the Mfecane, the crushing, the destruction of vast swathes of Zula land through the wars started and continued by Shaka. Michener's Shaka is one crazy cult of personality - perhaps Michener was trying to make his modern audiences think Idi Amin or Mugabe? Any, Michener's Shaka was damn crazy.

I wanted to know if Shaka was indeed crazy... was he also the great military leader that Michener describes? When you need quick information, the place to go is the goddess of Wisdom, Wikipedia - only in this case, I thought the Wikipedia article was pretty sparse. It's clear that Michener filled in some dots with his fiction - what writer of historical fiction doesn't?

I then read Shaka: King of the Zulus by Diane Stanley (who I have seen speak in person and adore). Stanley's book is for kids, and that's pretty clear, because all of the gruesome stuff is taken out. And that kind of bugged me. On one hand, Shaka - or the legend of Shaka - is filled with some pretty gruesome things (if Michener is to be believed, but he's suspect, remember...). But Stanley's Shaka is really sanitized. Who was the real Shaka?

Again, I think Michener made up some stuff to tell a good story. And I think Stanley left some stuff out -- the "little pitchers have big ears" type of omissions that all authors writing biographies for children tend to do. Somewhere in between lies the true Shaka - and because his society wasn't literate in the same way ours is, we'll probably never know the true story.

The Covenant by James A. Michener

I read almost all of The Covenant by James A. Michener - for the second time. Maybe third? Certainly the last time I read it was many, many years ago. I have to be completely honest - I didn't finish it. Skimmed to the end. The despicable characters in the last three chapters and the origins of their racism - the stripping open of South African's racist past -- were blunt and horrible. What ugly people. I needed some heroes, and these people weren't it. Small and ugly. Luckily, I have the advantage of knowing their future -- they don't win. Although I kept thinking that the blacks in South Africa taking back their country from the whites was kin to American Indians taking back the United States. The US and South Africa were settled at approximately the same time. Origin of species and constant contact with outsiders made blacks in Africa less susceptible to European disease than their New World counterparts, I imagine. Michener also did a whizzbang job fictionally painting why the New World developed one way and South Africa went another way. Certainly not my favorite Michener.

All historical epics again have to end, and in my mind Poland and The Covenant end the bleakest but the actual futures are the brightest.

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