I had an interesting experience with THE WORD OF GOD when I was a boy that relates to Miss Maudie’s conversation with Scout about some men being so worried about the next world that they never learn to live in this one. I was, on a Sunday afternoon, in a non-specified religious building, busy beating another boy over the head with a bible. Literally, not figuratively. And we were friends, so it wasn’t bullying. As I was about to bring the bible down on this head again, an older boy walked by and calmly, gently, put his hand on the bible before I could swing it. All he said was “Use it as a tool, not a weapon.” I know I’m looking a little deeply into this experience, but I think it relates to what Miss Maudie is saying to Scout. The “foot washing baptists” condemning Miss Maudie and her flowers to hell, and men like Mr. Radley who have not learned to live in this world, have lost sight of the fact that religion is supposed to be a tool to help people lead better, happier lives, and are instead using it as a weapon to condemn and belittle others.
My inner voice is a mess. I hold conversations with my inner voice more than I would like to admit. My inner voice is also pretty critical, but that’s another conversation. When I’m reading, my inner voice is a lot more helpful than it used to be, although it can still be pretty distracting sometimes. I often get distracted thinking about anything that’s stressing me out or about all the people who have wronged me (students). When my inner voice is on point, however, I like looking for passages that I think are really interesting or paying attention to find words I don’t know. I almost always read with a pen nearby so that I can underline things I like or would like to be able to find later, or to underline words I don’t understand so that I can come back and look them up. For a while I thought it was a good idea to read with my phone in my hand so I could look things up, but I got very little reading done that way.
The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors by Dan Jones
448 pages / Medieval History / 4 out of 5 unholy holy wars
Medieval history is one of my special interests that I’ve been neglecting for the last few years, so it was refreshing to dive back into with this book. The Templar Knights were founded as a religious order of knights who could protect pilgrims traveling to and from the Holy Land (Jerusalem). They answered only to the pope and during the crusades, amassed so much land and wealth that many countries began to view them with suspicion. Many people today still like to imagine them as some sort of secret society. This book was a good comprehensive look at their history and fate.
The Story of Egypt: The Civilization that Shaped the World by Joann Fletcher
496 pages / History / 3 out 5 missing sphinx noses
I’m a big history fan, and I find the histories of ancient civilizations particularly fascinating, but this one didn’t really do it for me. I understand that there was a lot of ground to cover, but this book kind of ended up being a comprehensive list of all known Egyptian rulers with one or two anecdotes for each. It didn’t really do much to deepen or expand my understanding of Egyptian history. I just know that there was some.
Bury Me by K. R. Alexander
211 pages / Possessed doll children’s fiction / 3 stars
I read this book to my 10-year-old daughter over the weekend while she was sick. She’s really into horror genre reading, particularly children’s horror featuring possessed dolls, which I’ve been learning lately is a whole sub-genre of its own. This one was okay, but personally, I’ve read better possessed doll books. The story begins with a girl named Kimberly finding a doll that she’d never seen before sitting on her bed with the words “bury me” written in dripping black ink on its chest. How could this not be a great book?
The 50 Year Secret by Julie MacNeil
232 pages / memoir / 3 out of 5 stars
The author of this book was given up for adoption as a baby and only just recently, at the age of 50, has found and gotten into contact with her biological mother and sisters. Her father, who is now dead, was my mom’s cousin, which means that she is my new 2nd cousin. It has been interesting to hear bits and pieces of her story, from my uncle asking my Mom, “Did you hear about our new cousin?” to finally getting to meet her at a couple of family get-togethers, and it’s been fascinating to finally get to read her story in its entirety.
What I like most about Julie’s story is the reminder about how complicated family life can be, that even in “traditional” families that look like they’ve got it together, there’s so much going on under the surface that we rarely see. It was refreshing to read about Julie’s persistent positivity and the acceptance she found on both sides of her family.
I’m not sure how I feel about the way dads are often portrayed in books and movies. On one hand, I think the most important thing about stories is that they tell a good story. I hate the impulse we have developed as a society to tear stories apart because of how they did or did not portray some sort of issue or group. I believe the most important thing for a story to do is tell a story that people can connect with and hopefully learn from. What the readers learn is between the reader and the author, not the reader, the author, and everyone on Twitter.
On the other hand, as a dad, I have a hard time with the barrage of negative portrayals of dads in media. I understand that a bad dad is a powerful plot device for many stories. I just hope that it doesn’t color my daughters’ or anyone else’s perception of what dads are like.
Of course, the most disappointing possibility is that authors are just writing what they know about dads, and that dads may have earned the representation they’ve been given.
Atticus telling Scout to climb into another person’s skin and walk around in it is one of my favorite moments in To Kill a Mockingbird. I think learning to see things from another person’s perspective is one of the most important lessons a person can learn. I don’t know if I actually do a great job of this, but this is one of the things I’ve always tried to remember to do as a teacher. It’s one of the reasons I don’t deduct points for late work. I try to remember what it’s like being a kid and how being dependable, reliable, and responsible are skills and that punishing kids over and over for not doing something right the first time doesn’t do much to teach that skill or to change behavior. I think it is important for teachers to remember what it was like to be a hormonally imbalanced teenager with underdeveloped skills and so many different demands. I’m not saying students should get off easy, I’m saying that greater empathy and cooperation between students and teachers would lead to better results.
I have a hard time with the idea that the usefulness or the value of stories is that they should teach readers some sort of well-defined, right-answer lesson. I think the value of storytelling goes so far beyond and so much deeper than the idea of teaching lessons. As a teacher, I sometimes encounter the idea that we teach certain books in school because we want students to learn a specific lesson from a specific book, and I think there is probably some truth to that, but that’s not why I teach the books I do. I want my students to encounter ideas that trouble and challenge them, that they will have to wrestle with before they are can tell people what they were reading and what they learned. Reading, to me, is one of the many instances where the process of getting to the destination may be more important than getting to the destination itself. For that reason, I agree with the monster. There is not always a good guy. There is not always a lesson. I good author presents problems to his or her readers, but does not tell them what to think.
This name is no joke. My great grandpa’s name was Peter Peterson. He was born in Deseret, an almost-town outside of Delta, which is kind of a real town. His parents were from Denmark. They came to Utah, stopping in Pleasant Grove for a year before settlting in Deseret. Peter Peterson grew into a gangly man and set up his own farm just outside of Delta in another almost-town called Hinckley, where he and his wife Louise had 6 kids. In 1929, which was the year the markets crashed and the Great Depression began, their farm became water-logged and they were unable to grow any crops. Not knowing if their land would ever be productive again, and having no other source of income, they walked off their farm and moved to Orem, settling on a small, disappointing fruit farm. Their land was just about where the Vasa gym on 8th North in Orem is now. They had two more kids there, including my grandpa, the youngest. Their Orem house was a big step up from their house in Hinckley; the Orem house had electricity. The Orem house did not have indoor plumbing, however. They didn’t get that until Peter Peterson died of tuberculosis in 1940 and Louise moved to a smaller house as a widow. My grandpa grew up pumping water into a basin when he wanted to bathe. That’s a part of where I’m from.
This is my grandpa’s family in the late ’30s. My grandpa is the little guy being hugged around the neck.