Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen, came highly recommended, so I started reading my library copy with much enthusiasm. My husband stole the book after I'd read the first few chapters, and devoured the whole thing in a day, saying at the end that it was fantastic and we needed to own a copy. For the first few chapters, I agreed with both recommendations and was ready to recommend it to others. The author echoed many of my own opinions, and I felt he was on the right track in warning parents about overstimulating modern technology that can destroy imagination and intelligence. He also advocates classical education, referring to many wonderful works of literature, poetry, history, science, and philosophy.

The book is written in a similar tone as C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, as if the author were in fact telling parents how to destroy their children's imaginations. He suggests television, video games, dumbed-down education, helicopter parenting, and other methods as ways to keep children from developing dangerous ideas and thinking for themselves. It's a clever conceit, but began to pall somewhat as the book went on, especially since the author seemed to have trouble keeping it up and it was sometimes difficult to gauge his sincerity.

Then I started to notice that he rarely mentioned girls or domestic activities. All of his examples of a good imaginative life were about boys doing things that might have come straight from The American Boy's Handy Book. At one point he mentions that he feels unqualified to discuss girls, having never been one. That's fine, but in that case perhaps the book should have been titled Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Son.

And then he started in on the feminists. Now, I can understand being less than enthusiastic about Virginia Woolf or Kate Chopin, especially if one is a man, but to imply that they contributed little or nothing to English literature is not only wrong, it's uneducated. And it shows a seriously flawed view of history to dismiss suffragists and other women's rights advocates as unpleasant females with nothing better to do than make themselves obnoxious. He even goes so far as to claim that no feminist ever risked her life for her cause. Mrs. Pankhurst, anyone? Emily Davison? The hundreds of women who were force-fed in English prisons simply because they showed up at a rally? There may be many people who think of feminists as "no-bra-wearin', hairy-legged women's libbers", but someone with the prefix of "Dr" should know better than that.

By the end of the book Esolen's argument had fallen into nothing more than a personal manifesto. He seems to believe that men should be men and women should be women, just like back in the good old days. While I'm one of the first to agree that men and women are and should be different than each other, I don't believe that that means traditional roles necessarily apply anymore. And at no point in history was there a magical time where everyone was imaginative and intelligent and happy. Modern technology does make it easier for people to dull their brains, and that's a great topic for a book. It's just too bad Esolen didn't stick with that idea.

I really wanted to like this book, and I think it might have been really good--if he'd had a decent editor. My husband and I both felt that the author simply didn't have anyone along the way to curb his rantings and bring him back to the original point. He got carried away and lost my approbation.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Well, I persevered through The Crowded Street, and in the end I suppose it was worthwhile. Perhaps I was in the wrong mood, or the comparison withMiss Buncle's Book was too stark, but I felt somewhat wearied by another story about a young woman whose family, situation, and disposition were all against her. Fortunately it ended well.

Then I picked up The New House, by Lettice Cooper--this novel was also published by Persephone, although the edition I read was a Virago from the library. At first it was depressingly similar to The Crowded Street, but overall I liked it much better. It was shorter, for one thing (The Crowded Street dragged on a bit too long), and followed more characters; and it covered the events of just one day, in which various members of a family deal with moving out of their house after the death of the husband and father. Some of them are glad to leave, and some are devastated, but all of them are changed for the better in the end.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I took this photo because I misread the rules for a photo competition as part of the Persephone Reading Weekend. The competition was for something else, but I liked the picture and decided to post it here. The book (illustrated in the photo by my son's toys!) is The Crowded Street, by Winifred Holtby, my second Persephone of the weekend, and I must say it's rather hard going after the innocent charm of Miss Buncle's Book. I shall persevere, however, and post my review upon completion.

In the meantime, here are links to several other Persephone Books, which I have read and reviewed in the past.

The Home-Maker, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, by Winifred Watson
Brook Evans, by Susan Glaspell
Every Eye, by Isobel English
Marjory Fleming, by Oriel Malet
Farewell Leicester Square, by Betty Miller
The Victorian Chaise-longue, by Marghanita Laski
Fidelity, by Susan Glaspell
William: An Englishman, by Cicely Hamilton

The Persephone Books are works of early 20th century literature, mostly by women authors, that were popular upon first publication, but that slipped through the cracks of time and languished unknown and unread for many years before being rescued and reprinted. You can find the full list of these wonderful publications here; so far I have read 25 out of 90, with several others currently in my TBR pile. Sadly I do not own any of the elegant dove-grey volumes yet, since they are somewhat beyond my budget, but I have been fortunate enough to find a number of them through our public library system. Though I have liked some much more than others, in general I highly recommend these excellent books.
I'm sliding this post in under the wire for Persephone Reading Weekend, I hope. We spent most of the weekend in town with my parents-in-law, which allowed me to read but not to blog. I had hoped to get through three Persephones, but sadly only managed one and a half; fortunately the one was very much worthwhile. Miss Buncle's Book, by D.E. Stevenson, reminded me a great deal of my first Persephone read, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. Both are the sort of novel that I wish was still written nowadays--perfect, sweet, charming, and delightful. They are not at all "realistic", but are lovely daydream-like stories where everything turns out for the best and everyone (well, nearly) is happy at the end.

Miss Buncle is a spinster living in an English village, who turns to writing when her inheritance begins to run out. Knowing nothing but the people around her, she spins a tale that is not exactly fiction; every character in her novel is easily recognizable as one or other of her neighbors. To her surprise, the novel is snapped up by the first publisher to whom she sends it, and even more to her surprise, it is consequently read by the very people who feature (not so favorably) within it. No one suspects Miss Buncle as the pseudonymous author, but certain members of the village are very determined to uncover the secret.