Women Heroes of World War II

Irena Sendler and her best friend, Ewa, were social workers in Poland when the Nazis took over. The Germans erected a nine-foot wall around the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. The women were then separated, because Ewa was Jewish.

But Irena used her position as a social worker to visit homes in the ghetto and then secretly make arrangements with parents to take their children to safety.

She was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated, and beaten to the point of breaking her legs and feet in several places. They decided to execute her, but she was suddenly released due to a bribe someone offered an official.

Kathryn J. Atwood has collected several stories of brave women such as Irena in Women Heroes of WWII: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

The women cover all ages, from teens on up. They ran the gamut from nurses to actresses, students to countesses, a pastor’s wife, a watchmaker.

Some were famous, like Corrie ten Boom, Josephine Baker, and Marlene Dietrich. Most were unknown.

Some hid Jews. Some were couriers. Some were saboteurs; some helped downed airmen get out of the country. One was an assassin. Some worked with organized resistance groups: some worked on their own.

What they all had in common was human decency, bravery, and a desire to help that overshadowed any reluctance or fear.

Kathryn gives an overview of the war in the introduction. Then she grouped the women by country, with a brief introduction of that country’s involvement in the war. I’ve read a lot of books about WWII, fiction and nonfiction (Irena’s story, mentioned above, sounds similar to the plot in The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke, making me wonder if that book is based on Irena’s story). But Kathryn’s summaries helped me see the bigger picture and taught me a few things I hadn’t known.

Each chapter is just a few pages, with a list at the end of other books, movies, or web sites featuring each person.

This is a YA book, but it’s not juvenile. It’s easily readable.

It could spark a lot of questions. What would you do in similar situations? Where is the line between helping and going too far? This is a secular book, so it doesn’t go into right and wrong. For instance, one dancer was required to wear skimpy costumes, but the author says this wasn’t “considered immoral but, rather, artistic and representative of the new Jazz Age” (p. 77). Nothing is said about whether the assassin was right or not. But if I shared this with a daughter, I’d want to discuss some of those issues.

There’s an updated version of the book: Women Heroes of World War II: 32 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue. If I had known that before I started, I would have looked for this book at the library rather than the one with 26 stories.

But I am very glad to have read it the stories of these brave women. Thanks to Bev for the recommendation.

I’m going to count this book for the Wartime Experiences category of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Gift from the Sea

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was not only married to famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and a pilot herself; she was also a popular author—and not just because of her famous name. Gift of the Sea is probably her most well-known book, still read widely even today.

Anne was a busy mother of five when she had a rare opportunity to go to the beach alone for a couple of weeks. She took the time to reflect on her struggles as a woman, wife, and mother. Over eight chapters, she uses the metaphor of the sea, island life, and different kinds of shells to illustrate different stages or aspects of life..

For instance, the chapter on the channeled whelk, a shell once inhabited by a creature, speaks to her of “the art of shedding.” What she says in this chapter would fit right in with the minimalist movement of the last few years: the need to simplify and pare down not only our stuff, but our responsibilities and relationships.

The chapter on the moon shell speaks of needed time alone.

I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before (p. 42).

Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It need not be an enormous project or great work. But it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day–like writing a poem or saying a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive (p. 56).

What Anne calls the double-sunrise is a bivalve that reminds her of early marriage, “two people listening to each other, two shells meeting each other, making one world between them” (p. 65).

What she calls an oyster bed has “small shells clinging to its humped back. Sprawling and uneven, it has the irregularity of something growing. It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life” (p. 80). This speaks to her of the middle years of marriage.

I am very fond of the oyster shell. It is humble and awkward and ugly. It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical. Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears. And it is comfortable in its familiarity, its homeliness, like old garden gloves when have molded themselves perfectly to the shape of the hand. I do not like to put it down. I will not want to leave it (p. 83).

I particularly liked this about middle age: “For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth” (p. 86) rather than the “false assumption that it is a period of decline” (p. 87).

One other quote that stood out: “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after” (p. 102).

I thought it interesting that even in Anne’s day (this book was published in 1955), she felt the weight of what she calls “planetal awareness.” How much more would she feel it now?

The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations.

But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world, to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print, and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The interrelatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather—for I believe the heart is infinite—modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched, but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds. I cannot marry all of them, or bear them all as children, or care for them all as I would my parents in illness or old age. Our grandmothers, and even—with some scrambling—our mothers, lived in a circle small enough to let them implement in action most of the impulses of their hearts and minds. We were brought up in a tradition that has now become impossible, for we have extended our circle throughout space and time.

Faced with this dilemma what can we do? How can we adjust our planetal awareness to our Puritan conscience? We are forced to make some compromise. Because we cannot deal with the many as individuals, we sometimes try to simplify the many into an abstraction called the mass. Because we cannot deal with the complexity of the present, we often over-ride it and live in a simplified dream of the future. Because we cannot solve our own problems right here at home, we talk about problems out there in the world. An escape process goes on from the intolerable burden we have placed upon ourselves. But can one really feel deeply for an abstraction called the mass? Can one make the future a substitute for the present? And what guarantee have we that the future will be any better if we neglect the present? Can one solve world problems when one is unable to solve one’s own? (pp. 124-125).

Her answer was to concentrate on “the here, the now, the individual,” “the drops that make up the stream,” “not as a retreat from greater responsibility, but as a first real step toward a deeper understanding and solution of them” (pp 127-128).

I mentioned when I read Anne’s biography that she seemed a very conflicted person. Probably most women struggle with how to best use their time, how to meet the needs of others and not feel depleted, etc. She had more pressures than many, dealing with the fame and lifestyle her husband brought to the family. But she seemed to struggle a lot inwardly.

I want first of all… to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God (pp 23-24).

I approached this book with some wariness, since Anne’s biographer said this book “is a journey infused with classic literature and Christian doctrine, yet rooted in teachings of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. . . . Camouflaging her Hindu and Buddhist sources beneath the words of Christian saints and modern poets and writers” (Susan Hertog, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life, p. 429). I don’t know enough about Hindu and Buddhist doctrines to be able to discern those threads in the book, but I picked up on a bit here and there.

And there’s a lot of feminist thought, though Anne doesn’t take it as far as some. She does believe that marriage and family and even housework are worthy: she just struggles with how to meet the needs of all.

I identified with some of Anne’s struggle, though not all of her angst. I wouldn’t agree with all Anne’s philosophy, and I’d caution the need for discernment in reading the book. But I think one can take the Christian references and common sense passages at one’s own interpretation.

I’m going to see if Shelly Rae at Book’d Out will allow this book to count for the Oceanography category of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. This is probably the closest I’ll get to that one. 🙂 If not, it would work for the Essays category.

Have you read Gift From the Sea? What did you think?

The Man Who Was Q

Charles Fraser-Smith supplied British intelligence and soldiers with a number of innovative gadgets during WWII. When Ian Fleming began writing his James Bond novels, he based the detective’s gadget master, “Q,” on Fraser-Smith. A few months ago, I reviewed Fraser-Smith’s memoir of his war-time activities, The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith, the “Q” Gadget Wizard of World War II.

David Porter wrote a full biography of Fraser-Smith in The Man Who Was Q: The True Story of Charles Fraser-Smith, the “Q” Wizard of WWII.

Fraser-Smith’s parents died when he was a child. He was brought up by a missionary family and became a Brethren missionary to Morocco. His ministry was what we’d call a “tent-maker” type today, a phrase coined from when the apostle Paul made tents to support himself for a while. Fraser-Smith directed a large farm for which he hired local workers. He was able to have conversations with them about the Lord while working side by side.

Charles and his wife had to leave Morocco and go back to England when WWII started ramping up. As was told in the previous book, Charles was sharing some of his experiences with a local church one day, especially how he had to come up with innovative ways to do things in Morocco. A British Ministry of Supply official in the audience was impressed by Charles’ innovation and flexibility. A few days later, Charles was invited to work for the Ministry of Supply, but without much information about the work involved. Charles accepted, and his book tells about his experiences obtaining supplies or creating devices to help the British during the war.

Only one chapter here is devoted to Charles’ “Q” activities, since the previous book had already been published.

After the war, Charles was heavily involved in relocating supplies that were no longer needed. He and his wife wanted to go back to Morocco, but a serious illness disrupted their plans.They then began dairy farming, with Charles creating innovative and sometimes controversial improvements in the process. He and he wife continued ministry work in various capacities.

After his wife died of cancer, Charles was involved in a number of ministry enterprises. One was funding a Bible translated into Arabic.

His son talked him into writing about his war experiences, since the period of secrecy he had agreed to was over. Charles did not consider himself very educated or articulate, so two ghost writers worked with him. “Charles was somewhat disappointed that the finished book contained relatively few of his outspoken Christian statements. But enough of his highly individual views, and his remarkable life, characterises the book for the reader to understand that this is no conventional story of espionage and undercover work” (p. 151). The book made him a celebrity, with interviews and showings of some of his gadgets. He wrote a couple of other books, with proceeds going to Arab World Ministries.

An appendix contains a treatise of Charles’ views of how missionary work could be expanded among Arabs by ministering to those who had traveled to Europe so they could go back and be a witness to their own people. He also advocated for unconventional ways (at the time) to minister to them, like hospitality, literature, and other methods. He stresses the importance of establishing indigenous, not westernized churches.

This book was originally written in 1989 and is no longer in print, but I had no trouble finding a used copy. I enjoyed learning more about Charles’ remarkable life.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Story

Before reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Story by Susan Hetrtog, I didn’t know anything about Anne except that she was the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and an aviator herself as well as an author.

Anne grew up as the daughter of the US ambassador to Mexico and a very ambitious mother. Anne was quiet, sensitive, and introverted. She felt her sister, Elizabeth, was everything she should be and wasn’t.

Charles Lindbergh became famous for making the first solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris. According to Wikipedia, this flight was “widely considered a turning point in world history for the development and advancement of aviation, ushering in a new era of transportation between parts of the globe.” Lindbergh’s feat turned him into an instant American hero and Time Magazine’s first “Man of the Year.”

Anne’s father became the financial advisor to Charles Lindbergh and invited him to their compound in Mexico for Christmas one year. Anne was enamored immediately, but expected Charles would fall for her sister. Charles didn’t seem to fall for anyone, but when he started thinking about marriage, Anne came to mind.

Anne thought long and hard about marriage to Charles before accepting. They’d have to deal with a lot of public attention: Hertog quotes one source as saying public interest in Lindbergh was about like that of the Prince of Wales. Another source said only the Kennedy family was more in the public eye.

Anne thought Charles was “beautiful,” but she was well-read, and he didn’t have much interest in reading (at least the kind of books she liked). She wasn’t sure she could live with someone without sharing this aspect of herself. She was sure that she would have to sacrifice for the relationship. But in the end, she decided she couldn’t live without Charles.

He taught her to fly and to navigate, and she accompanied him on many of his flights.

My biggest impression of Anne, at least from this book, is that she was a conflicted woman most of her life. She loved flying, but she missed her children when she flew. She loved domesticity, but resented how all-consuming it was and longed to have solitude and time to write. She both loved Charles and chafed under his leadership. She didn’t embrace her early Christian upbringing, but wrestled with sin and salvation and what it all meant (yet she said, “I wasn’t searching for God” but to understand herself, p. 427). She mixed in Buddhist and theosophist tenets with Christian ones. She espoused “Christian virtues,” yet seemed to miss its grace and salvation. “She went beyond the stern precepts of her ancestors’ Calvinism; she was searching for the ‘changeless light,’ looking inside herself, trying to make peace with God” (p. 411).

Charles was very domineering and could be incredibly insensitive, wanting Anne to spend days and weeks co-piloting with him and leaving their son with others on the son’s birthday and even one Christmas.

Anne believed in submitting to and supporting her husband, but didn’t seem to realize that submission and support didn’t mean never voicing a differing opinion. Anne had always been one to acquiesce, first to her mother and then to Charles. In fact, Charles and Anne’s mother argued over what should be included in their wedding while Anne sat back and let them decide.

The couple’s firstborn son was kidnapped from their home at the age of twenty months. According to Hertog, the investigation was totally inept, with differing agencies vying to be the one to solve the case. Ransom notes were delivered and Charles even paid a ransom, but the child was never recovered. Later the baby’s body was found buried not far from their home.

The kidnapping was a wound that never healed for Anne. The media frenzy drove the Lindbergh’s to England for several years.

As events were ramping up leading to WWII, Charles took an isolationist stance. He felt the cost of human life in a war against Germany would be too great. He was more concerned about Russian communism than German fascism and felt the former would take over Europe if the latter was defeated. But, to the shock of many, Charles said in radio addresses to the American people that he agreed that white people were a superior race and Americans didn’t need to fight other white nations over an issue that was not their problem.

Anne took her submission to Charles so far that she wrote a book expounding on his views, though it was “against her instincts” and she later regretted it.

Understandably, they fell out of favor. When war did come, Charles felt he should help his country even thought he disagreed with their fighting, but had a hard time finding anyone who would accept his help.

He condemned American cruelty during war, but somehow seemed to overlook Japanese and German cruelty. After the war, “Only a trip to a concentration camp, and a tour through the rubble led by a ‘skeleton’ boy, moved him to condemn the brutality of the Germans” (p. 418). “This kind of human destruction, he wrote in his diary, was not worth the fulfillment of political ends” (p. 419).

Somehow, the Lindberghs seemed to be forgiven after the war. Anne published several books, the most famous and enduring being Gift of the Sea.

Anne’s concern about the press proved true. Their attitude seemed to be “We made you, we have a right to you.” They made up stories when information wasn’t forthcoming. They endangered the Lindberghs—once “reporters stalked Jon (their second son) on his way to school. Sideswiping the Morrows’ car, they pushed it off the road and pulled open the doors to take the boy’s picture” (p. 278). Later, Charles’ ship arrived during a photographers’ ball. “On hearing of Lindbergh’s return, the conductor stopped the music, and the men, cameras in hand, rushed to meet the Aquitania. Stampeding on board, they hammered on Lindbergh’s door. When he refused to open it, one photographer broke into the adjoining cabin, took photos, and fled” (p. 348).

The author has access to the public (edited) letters and diaries and five years of interviews with Anne. She mentions one affair Charles had that was unknown to Anne until after his death. Wikipedia reveals that he had seven children by three different German women–perhaps these were unknown as well at the time of the book’s publication. The Lindbergh’s youngest daughter, Reeve, met with her German half-siblings.

One problem with this book was that it was hard to distinguish the author’s voice from Anne’s. The author spent a lot of time explaining what Anne wrote, but it’s hard to know if this interpretation was Anne’s or the author’s. It did seem the author inserted herself in the book more than was necessary and covered some of the same themes repeatedly.

Plus, I listened to the audiobook, and it wasn’t always clear when the narrative went from the author’s words into a quotation from Anne’s writing. I do have a hardcover copy of the book as well, which includes several photos. In some ways, I probably would have gained more and understood some of the connections better if I had read the book rather than listened to it. But, as it is quite long, I felt I’d get to it sooner via audio.

So, in the end, I know a lot more about the Lindberghs but respect them a lot less. There were traits to admire in each of them. But, like all of us, they were flawed people.

The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith

I have not seen the James Bond films, but evidently the supplier of his cool spy gadgets is someone known as “Q.”

“Q” is based on a real person: Charles Fraser-Smith.

Charles started out as a British missionary in Morocco. One day he spoke at a church about his “pioneer missionary work in Morocco and the often unorthodox methods I had used to keep my various projects alive” (p. 22).

Sitting in the audience was the director of the Ministry of Supply, who chatted with Fraser-Smith afterward. The next day the director asked Fraser-Smith to meet him at the ministry headquarters and offered Fraser-Smith a job.

Outwardly, Fraser-Smith was a civil servant of the Ministry of Supply’s Clothing and Textile Department.

In reality, he procured or developed an astonishing numbers of gadgets and supplies for the Special Operations Executive during WWII.

Fraser-Smith and most of the people he dealt with had to sign an Official Secrets Act, requiring thirty years of silence about their wartime activities.

Some time after that thirty years, Fraser-Smith wrote The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith, the “Q” Gadget Wizard of World War II along with Gerald McKnight and Sandy Lesberg.

The “Q” designation came from “warships disguised as freighters and unarmed trawlers” during WWI which were known as “Q ships” (p. 10).

Some of what Fraser-Smith supplied were kits to go with soldiers in case they were captured: miniature maps and compasses hidden in hairbrushes, pipes, pens, even dominoes. Sometimes these included a flexible surgical saw with which to try to cut through bars to escape. Fraser-Smith also supplied spies and other soldiers.

He had to take great care that nothing would alert a casual observer—or a sharp-eyed prison guard—to anything that was hidden or unusual. One trick Fraser-Smith often used was to thread a screw-on lid or top in the opposite direction, so if anyone tried to unscrew it in the usual way, he’d actually be tightening it.

Hairbrushes had to be made with bristles native to the country his clients were going to. Sometimes he had to supply uniforms from other countries for men to go undercover. Fraser-Smith had to make sure the fabric was the same type and quality. In one of his first attempts, the manufacturer he used made the uniforms too well and had to redo them.

Sometimes Fraser-Smith came up with ideas himself. Other times, he had to consult with experts and convey what he needed without giving away too much information. And in either case, he had to employ manufacturers to produce what he needed in sufficient quantity. He had to swear many of these folks to the Official Secrets Act. Most of them rose to the challenge admirably. A few dragged their feet, not wanting to vary what they did for their own profit.

One of the most interesting parts to me were miniature cameras which were used to take pictures of the terrain of certain areas. These pictures would be smuggled back to photographic interpreters who would project the height of hills, depth of crevices, etc., so invading soldiers would know the lay of the land exactly.

Another fascinating section told of the S. O. E. employing an illusionist to disguise things, like making a military base look like a working farm.

Fraser-Smith had to come up with various ways to get his supplies to people, particularly POWs. He never used food packages like the Red Cross sent, because he didn’t want to risk those packages being refused if someone found one of his gadgets in them.

Fraser-Smith wrote that he “slightly” knew Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. But he said Fleming misused one of his ideas of hiding things in golf balls. Fleming’s golf balls would not have performed as golf balls and “wouldn’t have fooled an Irish farmhand let alone the lynx-eyed prison officers and S.S. of the O Flags” (p. 128).

Fraser-Smith also wrote of the “everyday people,” from resistance fighters to sympathetic citizens, who would pass on vital information or supplies at great risk to themselves. “Day after day these men and women continued against the greatest odds with no one present to encourage them. Seldom was it possible to let them know if their arduous and perilous work was successful. Much of it went unrecognized. Those who fought in the services were spurred on by team spirit, e’sprit de corps. The S. O. E. agent and the resistance fighter were alone. This was the highest order of heroism” (pp. 152-153).

I was surprised that some of these tricks would be revealed even after thirty years. Maybe most of them had been discovered by then. I’m sure the types of things that are hidden and disguised now are much different from what they were then.

I first heard of Fraser-Smith in this post, and I was so intrigued, I had to look up his book. It’s long out of print now, but I found used copies on Amazon. He reminded me of other pioneer missionaries, like Nate Saint, who devised ways to carry sheet metal strapped under his small plane or to drop a bucket to people below while flying in a circle. John Paton once had a major spiritual opening with a tribe after building a well. God doesn’t just use preachers and scholars, speakers and writers: He uses people He has gifted in various ways.

This was quite a fascinating book. I read it for pure interest, but I am also counting it towards the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. It would fit equally well for the Inventions or Wartime Experiences category, but I think I’ll count it for the former.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

How to Read a Book

Why would an avid reader for decades pick up How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren?

I had three reasons:

  1. I’d like to retain more from my reading. Though I flag pages, underline or note important points, sometimes even outline chapters, I forget much of what I’ve read in a short while.
  2. Reading better in general should enhance one’s ability to read the Bible.
  3. I see so many people online talking past each other. I’ve wondered if that has anything to do with a lack of reading comprehension.

This book was originally written by Adler in 1940. Adler revised and updated it with Charles Van Doren in 1972. Even though 1972 doesn’t seem all that long ago to me, as far as literature is concerned, I found this book very tedious. I read a lot of old classics, so I don’t think older language is the problem here. I think it’s just Adler’s style.

It would take up too much time and space to go into Adler’s method here. But this Goodreads review goes into more detail.

Adler’s first step would be what we call pre-reading, and most of us do this to some degree, depending on the book, the author, and our familiarity with both. Many of us would look at the front cover, the back cover, look over the table of contents, read the first paragraph or two, maybe leaf through the whole thing briefly. But Adler’s method goes into much more detail and study. One of his first steps is to read the whole book once and then come back and apply these other steps.

Adler’s stages of reading are: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and syntopical. He discusses the first three in great detail and then applies his principles to various types of books. Then he has a chapter on syntopical reading, which goes beyond the reading of one book to reading several books on a given topic. He ends with a list of recommended reading and an appendix of exercises and tests for the various levels (I just glanced through the last appendix without trying any of the tests).

Honestly, I can’t see someone going through all Adler’s steps unless they’re incredibly academically minded or unless they need to know the book extremely well for a class.

Does that mean my time in the book was a waste?

No. Even though I have no desire to follow Adler’s advice for all my reading, I agreed with many points. I especially appreciated the urge to read actively, not passively. I gleaned numerous nuggets I liked. I can’t share them all here, but here are a few:

I think his evaluation of the average high school student is probably true even of many adults today:

He can follow a simple piece of fiction and enjoy it. But put him up against a closely written exposition, a carefully and economically stated argument, or a passage requiring critical consideration, and he is at a loss. It has been shown for instance, that the average high-school student is amazingly inept at indicating the central thought of a passage, or the levels of emphasis and subordination in an argument or exposition. To all intents and purposes he remains a sixth-grade reader till well along in college (p. xi.).

This was written before personal computers, much less iPhones and ebooks, but this is even more true now:

There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding. One of the reasons for this situation is that the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements—all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics—to make it easy for him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think (p. 4).

Even though I don’t know many people who would read a whole book at an elementary level before coming back to read it analytically, I can see Adler’s point here:

We were told to consult footnotes, scholarly commentaries, or other secondary sources to get help. But when these things are done prematurely, they only impede our reading, instead of helping it.

The tremendous pleasure that can come from reading Shakespeare, for instance, was spoiled for generations of high school students who were forced to go through Julius Caesar, As You Like It, or Hamlet, scene by scene, looking up all the strange words in a glossary and studying all the scholarly footnotes. As a result, they never really read a Shakespearean play. By the time they reached the end, they had forgotten the beginning and lost sight of the whole. Instead of being forced to take this pedantic approach, they should have been encouraged to read the play at one sitting and discuss what they got out of that first quick reading. Only then would they have been ready to study the play carefully and closely, because then they would have understood enough of it to learn more (p. 37).

I thought this about propaganda was especially good:

The best protection against propaganda of any sort is the recognition of it for what it is. Only hidden and undetected oratory is really insidious. What reaches the heart without going through the mind is likely to bounce back and put the mind out of business. Propaganda taken in that way is like a drug you do not know you are swallowing. The effect is mysterious; you do not know afterwards why you feel or think the way you do (p. 198).

What about my three purposes for reading the book?

First, I did not get any information specifically about retaining more from reading, but that was not this book’s purpose. Probably one would retain more, at least for a time. Even if I did use Adler’s methods, I would still probably forget much without reviewing either the book or my notes from time to time. But I did get some ideas for improved note-taking.

Secondly, I did think that Adler’s methods would be good for Bible study. I’m an advocate of reading a book of the Bible at a time rather than cherry-picking random verses here and there.

As to my third purpose, I thought he brought up some very good points. One of his steps is ascertaining whether or not you agree with the author, and if not, why not. But you have to support your views from what the book actually said. So one can’t take things out of context, infer one’s own views, etc. Of course, our era of sound bytes and no context at all on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t really support good, meaningful communication.

Have you read Adler’s and Van Doren’s book? What do you think about any of his points mentioned here?

I counting this book for the Hobby category of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge since reading is my main hobby.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion

For several years, I hosted a Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge during the month of February. I often referred to Annette Whipple’s site, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion. Now Annette has written a book: The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide.

A chapter is devoted to each book in the Little House series. Annette summarizes the plot, then, as the title suggests, she goes chapter by chapter sharing interesting background information, discussing life in Laura’s time, explaining concepts or situations that might be confusing, etc. Sidebars share even more information.

Laura had not written the Little House books as strict autobiographies. So some information is made up to smooth out the story. For instance, her nemesis, Nellie Olsen, was actually based on three different girls Laura knew. Annette’s “Fact or Fiction?” inserts discuss some of those made-up parts.

Next, each chapter shares instructions and illustrations for several Little-House-related activities. For instance, the first chapter, based on Little House in the Big Woods, tells how to make homemade butter, paper dolls, vinegar pie, snow pictures, pancake people, snow maple candy, and more–all activities that Laura’s family did in the books.

Each chapter ends with a “House Talk” section, several questions for thought and discussion. A few from the first chapter: what would you like and dislike about living in the Big Woods, what kind of work did Laura and Mary do to help their parents, how do you help your family, how did Charlie lie, why didn’t Pa shoot the deer at the end of the book?

Scattered throughout the book are photos of the Ingalls family, their various homes, news photos from the times (like a snowed-in train in The Long Winter chapter).

A final chapter tells “What Happened Next”—what ultimately happened with each of the Ingalls family members.

Annette didn’t shy away from or gloss over the difficulties in Laura’s book, like how African-Americans were depicted or the treatment and feelings towards the Indians.She points out what was wrong and how attitudes have changed today.

[Laura] didn’t tell readers how or what to believe. Instead, she let readers like you decide what to think.

We change and grow as a country and a people. When we do, we realize the ways people lived and thought in the past weren’t always right. We can learn from the past and make changes in ourselves (p. 42).

An extensive glossary defines unfamiliar terms, and a final section lists resources to explore.

This book is a great companion for exploring the Little House books personally, as a family, or as a class or home school. Highly recommended.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent, Senior Salon)

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was a freed slave who became a well-known speaker for abolition and women’s rights.

She was born Isabella Bomefree (or Baumfree—I’ve seen it both ways) in a Dutch community in New York. She spoke only Dutch until around age 9, when she was sold for $100 at an auction along with a flock of sheep. She was sold a total of four times over her lifetime. She endured hard work and excessive physical punishments until her last master promised her freedom a year before the state of New York promised emancipation in 1827. However, he reneged on his promise when a hand injury kept Isabella from her usual work output. Isabella took her youngest daughter and fled to an abolitionist family, the Van Wagenens, who paid her master for her services for the rest of the year so she could go free. Her master then illegally sold hr son, whom she’d had to leave behind. The Van Wagenens helped her sue her former master, and Isobella became one of the first Black women to successfully win a case against a white man.

Isobella had a major religious experience soon afterward and felt God wanted her to “preach the truth,” and she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. Her religious views were somewhat muddled. She had never learned to read or write, so her only knowledge came through what she heard. She asked people to read the Bible to her without commentary, but they invariably started explaining as they went along. Finally she found some children to read to her. She had some visions and for a time got in with some folks who believed Jesus would come back in 1843-44. She was a little confused as to just who Jesus was:

She conceived, one day, as she listened to reading, that she heard an intimation that Jesus was married, and hastily inquired if Jesus had a wife. ‘What!’ said the reader, ‘God have a wife?’ ‘Is Jesus God? ‘ inquired Isabella. ‘Yes, to be sure he is,’ was the answer returned. From this time, her conceptions of Jesus became more elevated and spiritual; and she sometimes spoke of him as God, in accordance with the teaching she had received.

But when she was simply told, that the Christian world was much divided on the subject of Christ’s nature-some believing him to be coequal with the Father-to be God in and of himself, ‘very God, of very God;’-some, that he is the ‘well-beloved,’ ‘only begotten Son of God;’-and others, that he is, or was, rather, but a mere man-she said, ‘Of that I only know as I saw. I did not see him to be God; else, how could he stand between me and God? I saw him as a friend, standing between me and God, through whom, love flowed as from a fountain.’ Now, so far from expressing her views of Christ’s character and office in accordance with any system of theology extant, she says she believes Jesus is the same spirit that was in our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the beginning, when they came from the hand of their Creator. When they sinned through disobedience, this pure spirit forsook them, and fled to heaven; that there it remained, until it returned again in the person of Jesus; and that, previous to a personal union with him, man is but a brute, possessing only the spirit of an animal.

She became well-known as a speaker, worked for various causes, eventually met Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and others.

One of Sojourner’s most famous speeches was called “Ain’t I a Woman.” But there are different versions of it around, and no one knows which is closest to her original words. A Frances Dana Barker Gage transcribed the speech to sound as if it were written by a Southern ex-slave, and that became the most famous version. Yet Sojourner was born in NY and spoke Dutch in her early life, so it’s unlikely she had a Southern accent and phraseology. The speech also speaks of thirteen children, when Sojourner had five.

When looking back on what slaves endured, it’s hard to fathom how and why people thought the way they did and treated their fellow humans so cruelly. In describing the poor and unhealthy living conditions one master placed her family in:

Still, she does not attribute this cruelty-for cruelty it certainly is, to be so unmindful of the health and comfort of any being, leaving entirely out of sight his more important part, his everlasting interests,-so much to any innate or constitutional cruelty of the master, as to that gigantic inconsistency, that inherited habit among slaveholders, of expecting a willing and intelligent obedience from the slave, because he is a MAN-at the same time every thing belonging to the soul-harrowing system does its best to crush the last vestige of a man within him; and when it is crushed, and often before, he is denied the comforts of life, on the plea that he knows neither the want nor the use of them, and because he is considered to be little more or little less than a beast.

Of the practice of selling slaves’ children, Isobel said:

She wishes that all who would fain believe that slave parents have not natural affection for their offspring could have listened as she did, while Bomefree and Mau-mau Bett,-their dark cellar lighted by a blazing pine-knot,-would sit for hours, recalling and recounting every endearing, as well as harrowing circumstance that taxed memory could supply, from the histories of those dear departed ones, of whom they had been robbed, and for whom their hearts still bled.

Isabella’s parents, as well as several older slaves, were granted their freedom in their last years when they could no longer work. But then they had no place to live and no way to care for themselves. So the slaveholder was not being generous, but rather relieving himself of the obligation to provide for people who could no longer produce.

In 1850, Sojourner began dictating her memoir to a friend named Olive Gilbert, who added her own commentary and observations. Olive’s opinion of Sojourner was:

Through all the scenes of her eventful life may be traced the energy of a naturally powerful mind-the fearlessness and child-like simplicity of one untrammelled by education or conventional customs-purity of character-an unflinching adherence to principle-and a native enthusiasm, which, under different circumstances, might easily have produced another Joan of Arc.

I listened to this book through Librivox. Librivox is free because all the narrators are volunteers. I am thankful for their service, but they vary in skill, not just in narrating, but in basic reading. So this was not the most enjoyable audiobook experience. But I am glad to be more acquainted with a name I knew very little about. I looked up certain passages in the online version here.

I’m counting this book as a classic by a person of color for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Be Confident: Live by Faith, Not by Sight

Our church’s Bible reading program alternates between Old and New Testament books. After we finished Leviticus, our next book was Hebrews.

That was fitting, because Hebrews explains how the OT sacrificial system pictured Christ.

My companions through this reading were my ESV Study Bible notes as well as Warren Wiersbe’s Be Confident (Hebrews): Living by Faith, Not by Sight.

Hebrews was written to Jewish believers in Christ in the first century. Mention is made of the temple as if it were still in operation, and it was destroyed in 70 AD. So we know Hebrews was written before that time.

Jewish believers were facing persecution for varying from what their community practiced. Some were tempted to go back. But the author of Hebrews urges them to keep persevering and reminds them that what they have in Christ is far superior to what they had before.

In fact, the word “better” occurs repeatedly in the book. Jesus is show to be better than angels, Moses, and the priesthood. His once-for-all sacrifice was better than the repeated ones the priests offered. His new covenant was better than the old.

It’s not that the old covenant and practices were wrong: God gave them to Israel. But they were always meant to be temporary, picturing and leading up to Christ’s revelation and ministry.

There are also five major warnings in Hebrews, a couple of which have created confusion. Wiersbe demonstrates that these warnings don’t indicate one can lose salvation, but they do emphasize the need to be sure we’re in the faith and growing in the Lord. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Hebrews 11 is the “Hall of Faith,” sharing examples of those who walked with God through the centuries. Just as they “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16), so readers are reminded that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). And in the meantime, the God of peace will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 11:21).

As modern Gentiles, we might not be tempted to go back to Judaism. But we need this book as well to appreciate what we have in Christ and to heed its warnings and benefit from its encouragements.

Here are just a few of the quotes that stood out to me from this book:

More spiritual problems are caused by neglect than perhaps by any other failure on our part. We neglect God’s Word, prayer, worship with God’s people (see Heb. 10: 25), and other opportunities for spiritual growth, and as a result, we start to drift. The anchor does not move; we do (p. 35).

What does Canaan represent to us as Christians today? It represents our spiritual inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1: 3, 11, 15–23). It is unfortunate that some of our hymns and gospel songs use Canaan as a picture of heaven, and “crossing the Jordan” as a picture of death. Since Canaan was a place of battles, and even of defeats, it is not a good illustration of heaven! Israel had to cross the river by faith (a picture of the believer as he dies to self and the world, Rom. 6) and claim the inheritance by faith. They had to “step out by faith” (see Josh. 1:3) and claim the land for themselves, just as believers today must do (pp. 49-50).

The Canaan rest for Israel is a picture of the spiritual rest we find in Christ when we surrender to Him. When we come to Christ by faith, we find salvation rest (Matt. 11: 28). When we yield and learn of Him and obey Him by faith, we enjoy submission rest (Matt. 11: 29–30). The first is “peace with God” (Rom. 5: 1); the second is the “peace of God” (Phil. 4: 6–8). It is by believing that we enter into rest (Heb. 4: 3); it is by obeying God by faith and surrendering to His will that the rest enters into us (p. 54).

The second conclusion is this: There is no need to go back because we can come boldly into the presence of God and get the help we need (Heb. 4: 16). No trial is too great, no temptation is too strong, but that Jesus Christ can give us the mercy and grace that we need, when we need it (p. 61).

The believer who begins to drift from the Word (Heb. 2: 1–4) will soon start to doubt the Word (Heb. 3: 7—4: 13). Soon, he will become dull toward the Word (Heb. 5: 11—6: 20) and become “lazy” in his spiritual life. This will result in despising the Word, which is the theme of this exhortation (p. 136).

God wants our hearts to be “established with grace” (Heb. 13: 9). That word established is used, in one form or another, eight times in Hebrews. It means “to be solidly grounded, to stand firm on your feet.” It carries the idea of strength, reliability, confirmation, permanence. This, I think, is the key message of Hebrews: “You can be secure while everything around you is falling apart!” We have a “kingdom which cannot be moved” (Heb. 12: 28). God’s Word is steadfast (Heb. 2: 2) and so is the hope we have in Him (Heb. 6: 19) (p. 23).

Faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith is God. Faith is not some “feeling” that we manufacture. It is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word (p. 144).

I enjoyed delving into Hebrews again, especially with the faithful, helpful companions I found in these aids.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragements, Grace and Truth, Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Preparing for Easter with C. S. Lewis

Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Reading from C. S. Lewis. is a compilation of selections from his writings.

C. S Lewis is one of the most quotable Christians to have lived, maybe second to C. H. Spurgeon. In fact, I have a book titled The Quotable Lewis. So any book of quotes by him will have value.

By the title of this book, you’d expect an arc of quotations on the subject and application of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, leading up to Easter Day. If there was such an arc, I didn’t detect it. The book just seemed more like a random collection.

Of course, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ touch everything in the Christian life, so, in one sense, any subject within Christendom could be related. Yet many selections in this volume didn’t seem to fit the theme. For instance, one had to do with the value of myths. Did the compiler feel that any part of the true Easter story was a myth? Or was he applying this quote to the bunnies and eggs part of Easter? I don’t know.

The book is set up to begin about six and a half weeks before Easter, with the last reading for Easter Day. The readings aren’t numbered in the book, but I numbered them in my notes. I was confused when I ended up with forty-seven. Then I remembered some day’s readings contained two short selections. So, as the title says, there are fifty readings, but not over fifty days. I started a week late, so I ended the Sunday after Easter.

Some readings are familiar quotes, such as those from the Narnia series or Mere Christianity. Others are from more obscure sources, like private letters. I’m always amazed at how literary Lewis sounds even in a letter. I wonder if he was a perfectionist who made several copies of a letter until it sounded just right? Or did such prose just flow from him? I remember reading somewhere that his books did not need much editing, so perhaps the latter is true.

Though some of the selections were easy to grasp, some suffered from the loss of their context.

I was also reminded that, though I love much of what Lewis wrote, I don’t agree with him on every little point of doctrine. I have several of those places marked, but I don’t think I’ll list them all here for the sake of time and space.

So, all told, I was more than a little disappointed in this volume. Nevertheless, as I said, there are always rich nuggets in his writing. Here are a few I found:

Our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions (p. 7, originally from The Four Loves).

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say, ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble. But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? (p. 14, originally from Mere Christianity).

We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience (p. 15, originally from Mere Christianity).

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same (pp. 60-61, (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing (p. 80, originally from Mere Christianity).

Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in (p. 212, originally from Mere Christianity).

One of the most poignant passages to me was a letter from Lewis to a Warfield Firor about facing the ramifications of aging (including compulsory retirement and rheumatism) and letting those “begin . . .to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus-world has fastened on one” and remind that “what calls one away is better” (pp. 138-139). (A portion of the letter is here.)

Though I doubt I’ll reread this book in coming Lenten seasons, I was blessed by some of its pages. I was also encouraged to reread Mere Christianity some time and to look up The Letters of C. S. Lewis.