Friday, May 26, 2006

Movie Review: Where Angels Go, Troubles Follow

I don't usually review movies. With a brother studying film, I don't usually need to. However, in this case I felt compelled. I've been a fan of the first film, "The Trouble with Angels" staring Rosalind Russell as Mother Superior and Haley Mills as the unruly Mary Clancy, ever since I first saw it several year ago. So I was curious to see the sequel "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows," and when it was available for free on Comcast, I put it on. I was gravely disappointed. The first film balances quite nicely the difficulties changes in America put on young girls and the challenges those confused young girls place on the religious sisters who strive to educate them academically as well as in matters of conduct, behavior and life. The second film begins with a bishop telling Mother Superior, again played by Rosalind Russell, that times are changing and they have to change to and so tells her she should lead a bus of girls from her all-girls Catholic school across the country to a peace rally in California. A desire for the trip is lead by a young sister named Sister George. Overall I must say Sister George must be one of the worst sisters I've ever seen. To her fellow sisters she is condescending, rude, bossy and quite obnoxious. To Mother Superior she is disobedient and defiant. She enjoys being friends with the girls so much she seems to be one of them but merely in a habit. She arranges to have the sisters and girls stay overnight at an all boys school. But it is easy to tell this movie was made before the whole sex scandal (fortunately, otherwise the director would have been far more out of line) as a poster in the boys' school says, "Spend time in the chapel sometime, Father Chase gets lonely." Sister George seems to be intended to represent so much "modern" thinking about the Catholic Church. When the bus breaks down in the desert, she advises removing their "medieval" habits to cool off and oh so wittingly remarks that it is no secret that they have legs. Mother Superior tries a few times to instruct Sr. George on being considerate of the other sisters and of the need to worry more about what is best for the girls than on being their best friend but Sr. George is very determined in her liberal mindframe. In the end Mother learns that "the cloister isn't always a place, but it can also be a state of mind." (awe, let's all hug!) the girls to me seem ridiculously unrealistic. When they reach the boys' school they all shout in unison, "Boys!" as though they had never seen one before and had practiced to scream altogether the same.

You never actually see them reach the rally. In the end the sisters try to remove their minds from "the cloister" as they shorten their veils, show their hair and wear habits resembling business suits with skirts. As heartfelt as the first film is, that is how political this one was.

I will say one thing. At least I never paid to watch it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What is a good baby?

I've had several people ask me if Cecilia is a "good" baby. I know what they mean. They mean, "Does Cecilia sleep several hours at a time at night?" and "Does she eat a lot?" and "Does she not cry much?" Now the honest answers to these questions are sometimes, a reasonable amount, and depends. What they are getting at is a simple inquiry as to if Cecilia is doing well or thriving. The answer to this would be yes. But I find myself hesitating if someone asks me if she is a "good" baby. Perhaps it is the theologion and philosopher in me, but when I think of a person as good or bad I think of their choices, their intentions and the moral state of their life. My daughter is almost 4 months old and a bit young to know enough to make any choice. All she has right now are desires and the instinct to want those desires met whether they be hunger satisfied or the ability to move about on her own accomplished. So I don't think of Cecilia any more as a good baby than I think of her as a bad baby. She is a baby. She nurses and smiles and coos and burps and spits up and drools. These are what a baby does. Yes, she is a very good baby in the sense she is good at acting like a baby, but I know of no baby that isn't. She nurses and smiles and coos and burps and spits up and drools very well.

So, as I think about the question more each time I am asked it, I find it, in reality, to be a bit of an odd question, but I know what people mean when they ask it.

So my definitive answer to, "Is Cecilia a good baby?" is:

She is a wonderful, amazing, intelligent, inquisitive, gentle, happy, precious angel of a baby and good doesn't begin to describe her.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Support Po-Life!!!

Make your homepage It is powered by Google and donated 100% of its ad sales to the Pro-Life Movement.

Congratulations to Melanie and Isabella!!!

James and I both follow the blogs of Melanie and her husband Dom and are happy to celebrate the birth of their first child Isabella Marie. You can read more about her here. Isabella Marie was born yesterday, May 18, 2006 (also the birthday of John Paul II) by necessary C-Section but am happy to report both mom and baby are doing very well!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Next Reading Project

Well, I have been trying to decide what book off my list I should read next. Here is my dilema. I will be going on a long trip including driving through more than a dozen states. So I need to find something that I won't read through in 4 hours and won't be the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica. After pondering my list, I think I've got it. I've certainly read many parts of it, but never the whole thing all the way through. SO....

I'm going to read the Bible.

My only remaining question is which edition to bring. Since James and I are students of Theology, we have The Catholic Study Bible (NAB with lots of commentary), The New Jerusalem Bible, The St. Joseph NAB, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (NRSV) and a pocket NAB Bible ("pocket" being mildly amusing since it is as long as my hand and the only people I know with pockets that big are farmers in baggy overalls and nuns). We may have more but I'm not going to go digging for them. The pocket NAB would certainly be the easiest to pack being smaller and lighter than all the others, but hence it also has the smallest print. While the NRSV can be a better translation it also tends to drift into inclusive language, so I think I will take a NAB version. Since my only hesitation in taking the pocket version is the size of the font, I am going to start reading it before we leave and see if it bothers my eyes or head to read so much in such a small font. If so, I'll bring the St. Joseph Medium Size NAB, if not, pocket we go.

I have no idea how I will review The Bible. It is too long to give a plot summary, I dare not criticize its author, and people have written for milleniums on its significance. Oh well, I'll figure that out when I'm done. In the mean time, wish me luck!

UPDATE: James bought me a revised RSV by Ignatius Press, so it should be a good translation and I'm going to aim to read that version.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

My First Mother's Day

Well, I had a lovely Mother's Day.

We began by sleeping in an hour (granted it was fragmented with Cecilia stirring, but it was still an extra hour) and going to 7:30am mass. Cecilia was very good until the homily and then I walked her around the back of the Church while she sucked and gummed my thumb. After mass a number of people wished me a Happy Mother's Day and came by to see Cecilia and try to get her to make her razzberry sounds.

Cecilia took a wonderful 3 hour and 15 minute nap giving me time to clean the dining room and James time to start cooking. James single-handedly made us a homemade from scratch French Onion soup, Chicken with a white wine cream sauce (also made from scratch) and corn on the cob and fresh garlic mashed potatoes (yep, made from scratch), and to top it all off a chocolate soufflee for dessert (also from scratch). Yummy. I'm stuffed!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Lewis Carroll's Classic tales - Reviews

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (AAIW) and Through the Looking Glass (TTLG) are each children’s stories focusing on a little girl named Alice and the wonderful things she dreams. Each contains wonderful and fanciful characters, plenty of riddles and puns and play on words, and several fun and fascinating bits of poetry.

AAIW follows Alice down the ever-famous rabbit hole in pursuit of a white rabbit. She wanders through Wonderland at various heights by eating and drinking things and meets such colorful characters as the Mad Hatter, March Hare and Door Mouse at a crazy perpetual tea party. The Mad Hatter explains that it is always tea time because he upset Time and now Time will not do what the Mad Hatter asks. She encounters a smoking caterpillar, a pepper-happy chef, a duchess with a pig for a baby, a Mock Turtle who used to be a real turtle, and the infamous Queen of Hearts. After the Queen of Heart’s challenging croquet game using flamingos and hedgehogs, Alice is a witness to a trial of the theft of the Queen’s hearts. My favorite encounter has to be the Cheshire Cat who is witty and insightful and found new respect from me as he sends confusion among the Queen and King of Hearts as they argue whether a head without a body can be beheaded.

TTLG follows Alice as she dreams herself through the looking-glass hanging over the fireplace in her home where everything appears backwards. This dream bears a bit more structure than the first as, after she chats with the flowers in the garden, Alice enters a living chessboard. She desires to be a queen and so enters the game as a white pawn with the goal of reaching the 8th square to be crowned a queen. As she makes her moves across the board, she encounters Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the red and white kings, queens, and knights, Humpty Dumpty, and a lion and a unicorn that fight over the white king’s crown.

Both stories are well-written with cleverness and wit that entertains adults as well as children. The characters so unique they have become known for generations. The poetry, even if occasionally requiring a dictionary, is fantastically fun, especially the mouse’s tale. Anyone and everyone should read these classics. They are wonderful fun for adults and children alike and look forward to being able to read them to Cecilia.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Celebrating Divorce?

I caught a couple of episodes of the latest reincarnation of Family Feud. The second episode was really more of the Anti-Family Feud.

When the show began in the 1970s, it was based off the concept of having two families compete to try and guess the most popular answers average Americans gave to specific questions. The show passed from Richard Dawson as host in the '70s to Ray Combs in the '80s. It was then reborn in 1999 with Louis Anderson hosting quite poorly and being replaced by Richard Karn in 2002. I have always enjoyed the show. I remember watching it in the '80s. It was always fun to try to guess the top survey answers. It was also a wonderful show in cerebrating family. Not many shows made possible the fun of game show competition for the whole family!

The episode I saw this morning was not of two competing families. Rather it was, excitingly announced, ex-wives verses ex-husbands. A game invented for the fun of competing families became a game for the demolished debris of families. Each ex-couple was announced with witty quips such as, "he's a writer and she's written him off," or "they went from first date to soul mates to court date." These couples made seemingly worthless vows and now celebrate the hollowness of their own words. I don't know if any of them have children, but I wondered if their children were so amused by the quips about the shattering of their families.

Certainly, and unfortunately, divorce is all too common in modern America. But I found it quite sad that a simple fun-loving game show designed around families should now appear to be celebrating divorce.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why I haven't Read The DaVinci Code

I was recently asked if I was going to see the upcoming film The DaVinci Code. It might also be asked if I have read the book by the same title. The simple answer to both is no. Here is why.

If I have foreknowledge that something is gravely anti-Catholic, anti-Christian or morally deprived, I avoid letting Hollywood or publishers think I approve or desire such material. And since the first language of such industries is the almight $$$, the simpliest and clearest way to relay this message to them is to not support them financially. Hence I will not be spending $8 to see the film or the $14.97 at for the book.

So, what if I could see the movie or read the book without sending any money out? I must say I have never done so with a book nor do I think I would be so inclined. A book is generally a longer commitment than any film with much more time and energy put into it. A movie you can squirm through for 2 hours and put it behind you if you have to. A book takes much more and I do not have much of a stomach for spending such time invested in something that I know is going to spew garbage at me, especially when I know there are so many better ways I could have spent all those hours I spent reading. I've been told the mystery element to the book is quite good, but I never would be able to get past all the lies it would be woven around. As far as a movie, generally I will watch it IF I can catch it on cable. The reason being that, having no control over what the stations choose to air and not being able to get only those channels I would watch, I have no say over whether or not my cable/satellite provider will be airing it and my not watching it will have absolutely no impact on their doing so again. (If we cut back our channels any further we will lose EWTN, so no lower will we go.) Also, it is a fair criticism that one cannot make a full review, and hence condemnation, of any film or book without having seen or read it themselves. So, watching such a film on cable, I can make a full personal opinion of it without contributing any $$$ that would not have been taken via my provider even if I hadn't watched it.

I have seen the films Priest, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Order, and others. My most hated had to be Dogma. I've seen each of them once and that is all I care to see of them. And as an informed parent, I can state that none of my children will be seeing any of them.

Now, there are people for whom it makes sense for them to pay to see such films or read such books. Such people might be movie or book reviewers, priests and professors. Why? Others look to them for their opinions in these media. Students need informed commentary from professors. Laity need truth from their priests on these issues. The community needs to know what is being put forth in such movies and books. The simple and real fact is that if those we trust to give us honest guidelines and recommendations regarding films and books did not do so, every individual would become an innocent pawn at the money-hungry paws of Hollywood and the media. Is there a book a parent should not read before allowing his or her child to read it? Never. How about a movie a professor should recommend without having seen it? How ridiculous!

So while I may yet see The DaVinci Code (if I can stomach it) when it comes on my tv, I will not be patroning it before then.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Great Homily!

Melanie at The Wine Dark Sea posted an excert from a homily by Fr. Martin Fox of St. Boniface Parish in Piqua, Ohio. It was so good I had to post the whole thing.

Today we mark the end of our religious education program until the fall. It’s an opportunity to thank our catechists, who give a lot time, and heart, to help our young people deepen their faith. In the first reading, St. Peter says to the crowd, you didn’t realize who Jesus is—so Peter makes Jesus known to them. That’s the purpose of our religious education program. But I must tell you that what we attempt to do, about an hour a week, for 30-35 weeks a year, is just not enough!

I trust you understand that, parents. But if any parent expects this to carry the weight of your child’s religious education, I must tell you—it doesn’t! It won’t! During the week, our children learn arithmetic, science, history, and they get several hours’ instruction in these subjects, every week! We don’t come anywhere close to that on Sunday morning! Our Sunday morning program presupposes parents are providing the "meat" of that religious instruction at home.

Now, maybe we wonder if our kids need as much religious instruction, as with vocabulary or mathematics, or reading. Look at the world around us. Does it look like an easy place to navigate, in terms of moral choices? I went to a bookstore Monday; you’ve seen, or heard about, what’s out there: books that claim Jesus and Mary Magdalene hooked up, that Jesus didn’t really die on the Cross, or if he did, he wasn’t resurrected; Judas wasn’t a villain, the whole thing was made up.

And you know what? A lot of our Catholics don’t know how to respond!

When folks from other religions come knocking, do you feel confident in responding? And if we can’t explain why we believe, how can we ever do as Christ commanded, in today’s Gospel, to lead others to salvation? So, yes, religious instruction is important; and what the parish provides is not nearly enough. Down the road, we’ll talk further about this: I welcome any thoughts you may have.

In the Gospel, the disciples recognized Jesus "in the breaking of the bread"—This was on that first, Easter Sunday: Luke, who wrote this Gospel, is teaching us about the importance of gathering, every Sunday, at Mass; where we have the same encounter with the Risen Lord. And, we’re doing that right now! I want to encourage and thank you for bringing your children to Mass. I know when they’re infants, they don’t always do well at Mass—as one parent put it, they have "meltdowns"! Sometimes, other sets of eyes turn like laser beams! But let me say this to anyone who is distracted: If you’re distracted at Mass, it’s not the baby’s fault—it’s not the parent’s fault. It’s your fault!

We do our best; yes, it’s considerate to turn our phones to silent; but we can’t turn off babies! But, if you want Mass without these things? Don’t come! Only when this church is empty of people will that happen! So, instead, here’s some practical advice. You’re at Mass, and there’s a noise; Don’t look: don’t think about it; just go right back to praying. I guarantee you’ll forget about it. You know what the true distraction is? Not what happens over there, but here, in our heads! It’s what we start thinking right afterward.

So, parents, don’t hold back from bringing the little ones. If you feel you can’t do both—Mass, and CCD? Then skip CCD and bring them here! They don’t have to get it here—with their heads; they will get it in their hearts. When your children were newborns, did you talk to them? Or, did you wait until they would understand the words? I’m sure you didn’t wait! They "get" it before they "get" it. Your children are never "too young" to be with you; how can they be "too young" to be with Jesus at Mass?

An infant in her father’s arms feels the heartbeat, hears a familiar voice, singing or speaking: that child connects, apart from intellect. And all of us are no more than infants in God’s arms, in our understanding of the reality that happens at Mass! See, our identity as Christians: it’s more than as individuals who believe something about Christ: we are a family. And Sunday Mass is when the family comes together—the whole family. And Jesus is made known to us in the breaking of the Bread.

Since Cecilia was Baptized there has not been a day she has missed mass. At our Church everyone has been wonderful about having a baby everyday at mass. She isn't always perfect through mass. Two days we had to go to a different Church since at our regular parish one priest was on retreat and the other having surgery. Visiting at another nearby Church Cecilia was very fussy and nothing I did would calm her very much. After mass a woman came up to me and proceeded to tell me that she could still hear Cecilia throughout mass. It isn't very easy as a new parent to try to bring your child to mass daily and strive so hard for their little one not to distract anyone from the mass. I must say I didn't feel very comfortable at the Church we visited but it certainly made me appreciate our Church more!

Saturday, May 06, 2006


I decided to reflect a bit on modesty. To begin, here is the dictionary definition as it pertains to this reflection:

1. Having or proceeding from a disinclination to call attention to oneself; retiring or diffident. See Synonyms at shy.
2. Observing conventional proprieties in speech, behavior, or dress.
3. Free from showiness or ostentation; unpretentious. See Synonyms at plain.

Now, while I suppose it would apply I am not speaking of neon pants or red polka dots on a yellow shirt. So I am going to focus on definition 2 and with regards to dress - observing conventional proprieties, what is considered appropriate or proper, in dress.

I have gone to the theater and I've seen women from 20 to 70 years of age wearing plunging necklines. In a restaurant I've seen men with their shirts half unbuttoned. I've seen young men and boys seemingly quite confused about the purpose of pants to cover their underwear. And then there is my favorite young woman or girl wearing shorts that reveal the bottom of her buns or bearing a top that is sleevless so as to sometimes reveal her bra-covered chest.

What has become more scary is that, as young girls so admire the elders of their sex and seek to copy them, I am seeing girls younger and younger dressing like those who are 10, 15 or 20 years older than them. Yesterday I went to the Cheesecake Factory to pick up a To Go order (it is easier in case I have to hold or walk Cecilia while I am eating) and while I was waiting there were two separate families waiting to be seated. Each had a little girl about 7 years old. Each little girl was dressed in white shoes, a white wreath or tiara and veil, and a white ornate First Holy Communion gown. One little girl was wearing red lipstick and the other's dress was sleeveless. A seven year old wearing lipstick! Now some might argue that allowing girls so young to dress as such humors them in their anticipation to grow up. But do we really want them growing up so fast? God has us grow up slowly for a reason. If we jumped from 5 to 15 years old we would not be able to handle it. And so neither can these young girls. And because they jump 10 years in clothing and makeup and nail polish and piercings, they think they should act 15 or 20 and so they try to act as they see 15 or 20 year olds act on tv or in music videos. And in the end you wind up with a young woman who missed her entire childhood spending it trying to be an adult. We should not be encouraging little girls to grow up so fast. They deserve to have every opportunity to be little girls. I am already amazed at how fast my little girl has grown since she was born and she is 3 months old! Young girls are being robbed of their childhood by modern clothing stores and parents who think it will make their daughters happy to dress 10 years older than they are.

Some might also say that sleeveless is not immodest. I disagree. I can't tell you how many boys in high school loved when the cheerleaders wore their uniforms all day on pep rally days. Their uniforms were sleeveless and sitting only a few feet away in class, it was quite easy for them to steal glances through the sleeve holes. For those who would say a girl of 7 has nothing to see, I say first of all that she is young and impressionable and should be taught correctly from the beginning and second there are enough perverts and pedophiles out there that she should not be exposed in such a manner.

These two girls were dressed to receive communion. Whether Catholic or not, as a solemn religious event, it was hardly an occassion to be dressed inappropriately. But what about casual events? Shouldn't a girl or woman be dressed modestly then as well? Shouldn't she preserve her integrity? Why sell it for the cheap price of a boy or man's peeking eyes? Is a woman so worthless as to be selling her body for attention? For that is what she is doing when she wears skirts so short her underwear is revealed or shorts that reveal her bottom. Is that the price women and girls today place on themselves? All I can say is that it is time we taught our daughters better.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Well, having completed Gone with the Wind, I decided my next book should be fun but not so long. So I began and finished Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and will shortly begin its sequel Through the Looking Glass. I will write one review for them combined when I am done.

Cecilia is doing well. She made her third trip to a mall yesterday. Hecht's was unbelievably slow in all their customer service. Hopefully they will improve once Macy's converts them. We purchased a few Onesies for her and ate in the food court. She was very anxious to look around and see so many people but quickly also became very sleepy.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Book Review - In Cold Blood

Since I am doing full reviews for my own records, I thought I'd share my full review of In Cold Blood with you as well.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I must say I found the book most fascinating. Anyone who cringes at murder mysteries or true crime might consider reading something else instead. But as the book that helped begin a new genre, namely that of the nonfiction novel, it is an American work worth reading.

The book is divided into four parts – the events leading up to the murder, the many questions surrounding the murder, answers to those questions, and finally the execution of the criminals.

The first part is rather heart wrenching. The reader learns about the members of the Clutter family – Herb, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyan – beginning on Friday, November 13, 1959. Herb is a hard working farmer who has earned all he has and is very considerate of his workers and protective of his family. His wife, Bonnie has struggled with depression and not been well in a number of years. Nancy, his daughter is among the most popular girl in the town, the best cherry pie maker for miles and very accomplished playing musical instruments and excelling in school. Kenyan, his son excels at carpentry and invention. The family has a normal Saturday until around midnight that night when Perry Smith and Dick Hickock arrive at the home. You don’t know exactly what happens, but you know the family you have come to know and understand is now gone with the shells of four gunshots.

The second part follows the path of Perry and Dick while pursuing the investigation with Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Alvin Dewey. Perry and Dick collect several hundred dollars cashing bad checks in Kansas City and head for Mexico where they spend lavishly and wind up even having to sell their car for bus fare back to the states. The Clutter’s home town, Holcomb, Kansas, struggles coping with the senseless crime. Every neighbor becomes suspicious of every other neighbor. The only clues left at the house are two boot prints, one in blood and one in dust, and the tape and rope used by the killers. The KBI does catch a break when an inmate at Lansing and Floyd Wells informs them that his former cellmate Dick had inquired extensively about the Clutter family and their home before boasting he would rob and kill them but Wells denies having taken him seriously. Perry and Dick arrive in California, hitchhike east, steal a car, cash bad checks once again in Kansas City and slip through authorities’ fingers heading for Florida for Christmas. Out of cash yet again, Perry and Dick drive back west in their stolen car to Nevada where Perry had mailed to himself from Mexico a box of some personal belongings including two pairs of boots. In Las Vegas, the authorities pick up Perry and Dick minutes after Perry picks up his package.

The third part focuses on the confession of Dick and Perry as they recall the events of that terrible November night. They entered the house easily through the always unlocked door, cut the phone line and woke Herb Clutter. At gunpoint they demanded he go to and open his safe which they insisted had at least $10,000. Herb, who always did everything by check and never carried much cash tried repeatedly to inform them of this. Upon hearing a noise upstairs, they move Mr. Clutter upstairs and search his wife’s room for any money. Next they collect Kenyan and Nancy. They tie up Bonnie and Nancy in their own beds and tie Kenyan up in the basement den. After searching the house extensively and realizing they had been very misinformed, they take Mr. Clutter to the boiler room in the basement. Herb offers to write them a check but they refuse. They bind Herb on a piece of cardboard on the floor and consider just leaving. Perry realizes that for all his talk, Dick is a coward and his anger towards Dick, his own mother and father and brother and sisters and anyone else in his life erupts. Perry takes a knife and cuts Herb’s throat and then takes Dick’s shotgun and shoots Mr. Clutter. Perry, who had only earlier put a pillow under Kenyan’s head to make him more comfortable, shoots him in the side of the head. He then runs upstairs and against Nancy’s pleadings for her life, shoots her in the back of the head and finally shoots a stunned and terrified Mrs. Clutter who has listened to her husband and children be shot.

The fourth and final part relays a brief trial and sentencing. Both men had confessed and lead authorities to the remaining tape and rope they had buried. The options for the jury are life in prison with possibility of parole in 7 years or death. Both defendants receive the death penalty. Capote follows the next 5 years of appeals and goes over some background of the two men. Dick’s family was relatively normal although he had struggled with the law for some years. Perry’s background was difficult. His father and mother had split when he was young and his mother went drunk from man to man all the while keeping her children from Perry’s father until she died choking on her own vomit. His sister had either fallen or leapt drunk from a hotel window. His brother had committed suicide and his only remaining sister refused to see him and didn’t want her whereabouts known to him for fear of him. He had spent some years of his youth in an orphanage where he says the nuns beat him for wetting the bed. He had self-educated himself beyond the third grade but struggled working due to permanent injury of his legs from a motorcycle accident. On Wednesday, April 14, 1965, between 12 and 2 am, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were hanged.

The Clutter family is the most unfortunate victim. They were a Church-going family who upheld principles of family values and contributed to their community. Perry and Dick are the most unscrupulous criminals. They show no remorse for their crime, only getting caught. Perry said, “I didn't have anything against them, and they never did anything wrong to me--the way other people have all my life. Maybe they're just the ones who had to pay for it.” It is a book about the most senseless of crimes. Four innocent upstanding citizens were brutally murdered for forty to fifty dollars, a radio, a pair of binoculars and the tempers of two men consumed with their own egos and hate for a world they felt owed them something. Perry seems the more unfortunate of the two villains, but no amount of background can excuse him or humanize him to the point of understanding.

The book is written in a novel form but using documents, recorded interviews or personal observation to record everything as fact. It is like reading a dramatized documentary and as a book form is quite unique. It also makes the reader reflect on the simple, happy small town America in all its innocence that was so casually swept away in a modern America where crime can hunt anywhere and little can secure anyone’s safety. It depicts a time long past when small towns and friendly folk were a community and proud of it and the innocence lost in America as crimes of this sort became more common and less discernable by the rational mind. It also shows well how one act can affect so many people from the sleepless nights of the investigators to the lost innocence and perpetual suspicion of a whole town.

I find it a fascinating addition to any repertoire as a first in a unique genre and recommend anyone capable of reading it sitting down and giving it a run through.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Book Review - Gone with the Wind

I decided to make a doc file and collect my reviews of books on my list that I have read. Here I will include my review of Gone with the Wind, which I finished, much to my surprise, today, a few weeks early. Be forewarned, spoilers ahead.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. In some ways it is very much like the movie. The basic plot is the same. However, the characters are richer. This is understandable considering the movie has only a few hours to tell the story Mitchell took over 1000 pages to tell. The book begins in 1861 with Scarlett as a young, fresh, and flirty girl of 16. Ashley Wilkes is her first real crush and she marries his cousin Charles in an attempt to make Ashley jealous. Her first marriage ends after only few weeks when Charles dies from pneumonia while training in the confederate army. However, unlike in the film, Scarlett bares him a son named Wade for whom she cares very little. She spends from 1861 until 1864 mostly in Atlanta trying to enjoy a little of the business the town has to offer much to the dismay of the other ladies of the town who believe Scarlett should be mourning her husband quietly. As General Sherman's army marches towards Atlanta, Scarlett remains to keep her promise to Ashley to watch after Melanie as she gives birth. It is only through the cunning and bravery of Rhett Butler, a spectator and hated scoundrel of the town, that Scarlett, Melanie, Wade, and Melanie's baby escape Atlanta at its fall. Rhett joins the Confederate army while Scarlett returns home to find her mother deceased from Typhoid, her two sisters recovering from the same illness, her father having lost his mind, all but 4 of their slaves gone and the plantation almost completely desolate and destroyed. But with the house still standing, she scavengers abandoned neighbor's properties for food and begins trying to rebuild their lives and keep food on the table. After the war ends in April of 1865, the scalawags, carpetbaggers and officers of the Freedman's Bureau descend on Georgia and take over all political and legal power and often abuse their power. They raise the taxes on Scarlett's plantation Tara by 3000%! To save her beloved home, Scarlett once again ventures to Atlanta and, when Rhett refuses her the money, she marries Frank Kennedy for his money. She borrows money from Rhett (unbeknown to Frank) to buy a lumber mill and becomes a shame to all the women in the town as a full-fledged business woman. As the newcomers to the south take hard revenge on the native southerners in taxes and legal abuses and finally in failing to criminalize freed slaves who commit crimes such as rape, the Ku Klux Klan is born as the white native southerners feel they must take the law into their own hands. Atlanta becomes a boiling tense city as Scarlett gives birth to her second child and gives Frank a daughter named Ella. She returns to work shamefully driving herself to and from her mills. When she is attacked and molested in a semi-robbery in the woods, Frank, Ashley and the rest of the Klan bring their own justice to the white man and the black man who attacked her. It is only the cleverness of Rhett that the Klan members escape Yankee justice but not before Frank has been killed. On the day of Frank's funeral, Rhett proposes to Scarlett wittingly pointing out that he "can't go all his life waiting to catch her between husbands." Scarlett, driven by his vast wealth and a passionate kiss agrees. After a honeymoon in New Orleans and the building of their own mansion in Atlanta, Scarlett gives Rhett a daughter named Bonnie and then proceeds to refuse him relations both to save her figure as well as to keep her love for Ashley. Having been rejected despite all he has lavished on her, Rhett turns all his attention and devotion to Bonnie, spoiling her beyond comprehension and finding physical comfort in the city house of ill repute. Scarlett and Rhett have a poor marriage for several years in which they fight often and communicate very little. Rhett rebuilds his tarnished reputation in Atlanta for the sake of his daughter and Scarlett finds herself friendless, isolated and shamed from her old friends by her conduct and flaunting of her wealth and abandoned by her new scalawag and Yankee friends by a turn of political power. (In 1871, the Yankee Republican governor resigned and fled north and by 1872, a Democrat native Georgian had been elected.) Scarlett's only real remaining friend is Melanie, who has stood strong by her for years admiring her strength and passion and appreciating all she did for her when they were at Tara. While riding her pony, and with the consent of Rhett to try to jump a higher beam, Bonnie is killed. Scarlett takes her grief out on Rhett calling him a murderer and Rhett sinks into an abyss of drunkenness and grief at the loss of his beloved daughter. It is only shortly thereafter that Melanie miscarriages and dies. Scarlett, now free to have her beloved Ashley, realizes that Ashley wanted no more than her body and she had been pursuing a fantasy for about 12 years. She runs home to Rhett realizing how much she truly loves him only to find that a sad and very tired Rhett's love for her has worn out and he is leaving her. The book ends with her determination to somehow get Rhett back.

Most people are quite familiar with the general plot as they have seen the movie. But here are some observations from the book. The characters are much richer. Scarlett is not simply a spoiled brat who becomes a money-obsessed wench. She was young, impressionable and made choices that pushed her into circumstances she was not ready for. She became a wife and widow at 16 and a mother at age 17. From 18-19 she works in a hospital filled with the stench of gangrene, bacteria and death watching men die. She, almost single-handedly, delivers a baby from a very difficult birth and in the same day flees a burning Atlanta with an unconscious Melanie, a child, a newborn, and a fairly useless slave. By 20 years old she has lost her mother to death, her father to insanity and her whole world as she knew it and she must scrounge and scrape just to eat and feed a house of people all of whom depend solely on her. All this hardens the once young and carefree girl into a determined and hard woman. She lets the evils and trials of the world change her and becomes driven solely by the fear of ever being hungry or cold again. It is difficult to sit in judgment on Scarlett for it is hard to know how we might be after such ordeals. Melanie remains much the same throughout the novel - sweet, kind and completely Christian to anyone not Yankee. Ashley changes as his world falls apart and he is unable to cope with it. He becomes depressed and forlorn unable to adapt as Scarlett does. Rhett changes his spots as he desires others to see him and it is only in the final chapter of the book that Mitchell removes any facade from him for the reader to see his true self.

The book is very accurate as far as I can tell with regards to its geographical and historical references. It would be a wonderful supplement to any study on the Civil War. I was taught the Civil War primarily from a northern perspective. While certainly slavery is evil, I found it interesting to understand that the South was not simply fighting for its property but for its way of life as it knew it. While I cannot sympathize with its slavery, I can sympathize with humanity struggling for sanity in the world it knew and being crushed by the insanity of its world turned upside down. The sheer fortitude of Melanie through such turbulence forces the reader to never deny her respect for this. Mitchell calls her "a legend--the gentle, self-effacing but steel-spined women on whom the South had builded its house in war and to whose proud and loving arms it had returned in defeat." I cannot help but wonder if the North caused its own troubles by taking such revenge on the South. Would the KKK ever have begun had "reconstruction" been different?

Scarlett certainly is a strong woman but it is not until Melanie's death that Scarlett herself realizes how much she has depended on Melanie's strength. It seems as if Mitchell is saying that, for as strong as a woman as Scarlett is and as weak as Melanie has always seemed, Melanie had even more strength. It took more strength to be kind and charitable with what little she had than it did for Scarlett to hoard her money and spend it on her own luxuries. It takes more strength to be as forgiving as Melanie and see so much good in others. Furthermore, it is Melanie who lives happily as Scarlett finds only unhappiness as she pursues another woman's husband and money. As Rhett puts it, Scarlett is "throwing away happiness with both hands and reaching out for something that would never make her happy." Money does not make her happy, nor does Ashley nor political friends nor all the luxuries she piles upon herself. Like her beloved Tara and the south, what she finally finds to make her happy is the security and warmth found in embracing arms. For the south it is the embracing arms of running its own state and enjoying its own traditions and etiquette. For Scarlett it is the strong, secure and loving arms of Rhett. Arms she neglected, abused and discarded only to discover them gone when she really wanted them. May we all always remember what truly matters and where true happiness is found and not let fears drive and control our life. If we do, it is no longer our life and bears only the shell of life itself and we will find ourselves in the same changed and ruined misery Scarlett did.

Overall I have to recommend the book to everyone. It is a fantastic read with laughs and tears. Its historic accuracy is refreshing as history comes to life around characters you come to know and love (and I'm not even a huge history fan).