Saturday, December 27, 2014

New Year's Resolution--The End

It's not quite the end of the year but I've managed to accomplish my goal for the year!  I have completed 20 books this year!  In my youth that would have been no problem, a feat easily accomplished during the summer months.  But now as an adult, time is a scarce commidity so I feel very proud of myself.  If you want to check out the other books I've read, you can go here and here.

Four Boots is a book by Jeff Alt chronicling his journey with his wife along the John Muir Trail (JMT).  I fell in love with the idea of thru hiking the JMT this summer during the all too brief six weeks that I had off when Destree and I got a chance to take a few camping trips and a good hike.

Jeff started planning the trip for just himself witth no real purpose in mind--he just wanted to hike.  All of that changed when his brother-in-law committed suicide.  The simple hike turned into an opportunity to raise awareness for depression and to try and take away the stigma associated with it.

The book follows the pair day by day, as an experienced backpacker and his novice wife grieve for their loss as they take in the wonder around them.  Jeff shares their highs and lows, the triumphs and challenges as they make their way along the 221 mile trail.  In the end, they honor the life of a man taken too soon, have their own personal triumphs, and grow closer as a couple.

Reading Four Boots really cemented my desire to hike the JMT, and to do it while I'm still young.  My 26th birthday just passed.  (Backpacking gear would be awesome, in case you were wondering.  Or if you don't want to do that, the ads on my blog are there for a reason)  I've decided that I want to do the trail by the time I'm 30.  That gives me just a few short years to get my butt in shape and get on the trail.  Destree and I will be hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim in 2015 (more to come on that soon) which will help, but we certainly have more work to do to hike the JMT in one go.

Beowulf is considered the first true piece of English Literature.  There may have been others before it, but none have survived.  Heck, even Beowulf barely survived.  It's a work that's groaned about as high school English teachers tell their pupils to read it, but I think it's a blast to read.  One day I'm going to take the time to learn enough Old English (Anglo Saxon) to read Beowulf in its original language.

I love medieval literature because of the larger than life characters that populate it.  You have figures like Beowulf, Sigmund and Eigil whose exploits continue to influence and inspire modern authors.  Beowulf is so grandiose that I can't help but love it.

Beowulf is the ultimate hero's saga.  He travels far from home with a small band of warriors to do battle with an ancient monster, Grendel.  He rips Grendel's arm off and the creature dies.  All seems well until it's mother comes seeking vengeance.  She falls at the hands of Beowulf as well.  Beowulf leaves the kingdom a rich and honored man, his fame only growing.  Fast forward many years and Beowulf has become king in his own right and a dragon is terrorizing his people.  He takes a group of warriors with him to fight the beast, but he is the only one with the courage to fight.  Eventually one man comes to help the king, but Beowulf is mortally wounded while slaying the dragon.  It may sound like so many modern fantasy stories, but that's because it's the original work.

The other thing I find about Beowulf and other medieval epics is the blending of Christian and pagan elements.  The story of Beowulf is obviously one with pagan origins, probably dating to a time before the Angles, Saxons and Jutes journeyed from their Teutonic homelands to the British Isles, but they were an oral people.  It wasn't until their lands were "Christianized" that they were really introduced to writing by the Catholic educated priests.  So what we have with Beowulf is a Christian spin on a pagan work.  It shows the elements of paganism that still prevailed in England at the time.  It's a different way to look at the spread of Christianity, and I find it fascinating.

Just like Beowulf, Willa Cather's Death Comes to the Archbishop is another book that I've read before (though the similarities end there).  It was required reading in high school, and I think I was the only one who enjoyed it.

Recently, I was trying to figure out which book to pick up next, and oddly enough I was in a mood for a western.  I don't really own many westerns.  I have a book on Custer's Last Stand, but I was looking for a quicker, easier read.  So I settled on rereading Cather's novel--the first real novel I've read in quite some time.

The story centers on a French priest who has been serving in Ohio but is transferred to the Southwest.  America had just made great territorial gains and Manifest Destiny was in full swing.  The church saw it as an opportunity to reach the native peoples of these areas so they created a new Diocese for this French priest.  The book chronicles his interactions and efforts to bring the church to Native Americans and Mexicans while getting rid of any abusive, corrupt local priests.  Overall it's a fun look back into America's westward expansion from a more religious standpoint.

A War of Gifts is a novella penned by Orson Scott Card set during the events of Ender's Game.  The story focuses on a boy named Zeck.  His father is an abusive, tyrannical preacher who Zeck follows wholeheartedly.  Zeck's father preached pacifism, so Zeck refuses to fight at Battle School.

He feels that he is being singled out because of his extreme religious views, though all forms of religious expression are banned.  So when he sees two Dutch boys participating in a Sinterklaas tradition, he complains.  When that gets him nowhere he incites students of other religions to express their beliefs.  He turns a war of gifts into a divisive struggle between the students.  In typical Ender fashion, Ender comes in and saves the day by helping Zeck to realize his father's faults.  Zeck is still an outsider but he's a healthier child.

It's not the best work in the series but it was enjoyable.  I don't think I've read anything by Orson Scott Card that I haven't enjoyed.  Read the other books in the series first, but if you want another glimpse into the Ender's Battle School days, then pick up A War of Gifts.

Nearly every year since I was born, my Uncle Jeff gets me at least one book for Christmas.  In that entire time, I don't think I've received one bad one from him.  He was the one who got me into Ender's Game years before there were talks of a movie.  It was because of him that I fell in love with Asimov.  He initiated my fascination of Lovecraftian horror.  Without fail, whatever he gets me is gold.  So I have no idea why I wait so long sometimes to read what he gets me.

A year or two ago he gave me Kurt Vonnegut's Armageddon in Retrospect.  I had heard of Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5) and knew that he had a dark, satirical wit.  Again, no idea why I didn't read Armageadon in Retrospect sooner.

It is a collection of short stories about war, humanity, and how we as humans react to overwhelming atrocities.  Drawing from his experience as a soldier and prisoner of war in World War II, Vonnegut relays the horrific realities that man committed against man.  If everyone were to read his gripping accounts of what people saw and experienced during WWII, I think there would be less intolerance and more peace in the world.  I think the final lines of Wailing Shall Be In All Streets best sums up his poignant view on war--and is a great outlook on life, too.  "We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty, but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the World's gnerations to come.  That is how everyone should feel about every city on Earth."

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