Sunday, January 10, 2010

Read in 10

Books Read to Finish in Calendar 2010

Updated 22 February 2010

This listing follows the one began in Read in 08 and continued in Read in 09. It lists books in the chronological order I read them during the year. As before, I recount only those titles I read in full.

Ratings given follow the system established for the Red Wing Area Branch (AAUW) Book Club: 5-best; 4-top 20%, 3-middling, 2-less than average, 1-bottom. Other designations appear as BC – Branch Book Club selections. SF – Stratford Festival plays. YA-Title written for teenage or younger readers.

John Hassler, The New Woman (2005). BC Hassler was a Minnesotan through and through, one of the states most popular authors. By popular, I mean he attracted large audiences to his readings. I was fortunate to hear him three times over a 15 year period and to have a conversation with him at the last. He was in charge of those presentations, assured and practice in his delivery, but also modest about his accomplishments. Hassler wrote from a common background as though somewhere in the midst of the state; one series of his novels revolve around the city of Staggerford and its residents. Agatha McGee is one civic leader who appeared as a side figure in Staggerford (1977) where in Hassler's words, "she took over" and went on to star in novels of her own - A Green Journey (1985) and Dear James (1993). Miss McGee returns in this one, eighty-eight in 1998.

A couple of bad turns in Agatha's life move her to leave her big house on the river. She tries and then settles into Sunset Senior Apartments alongside some old friends and many strangers. The novel seems like three short stories knit together - a missing diamond brooch Agatha thinks stolen, a kidnapped child she shelters despite the law and her conscience, the formation of a support group for the depressed - but Hassler claims to have given up short stories. The overall plot unrolls Agatha's internal life, and this is where Hassler excels; he is a master of characterization and stories that follow from character. Agatha, used to being in charge as a teacher and Catholic school principal, exercising her deep respect for tradition and morality even over the resident priest becomes for readers someone more than her apparent past.

Now, I want to read the other novels. 4

*Ursula K. Le Guin, Powers (2007). After Gifts (2004) and Voices (2006), this novel is the third in Le Guin's series Annals of the Western Shore. Though I am a devoted fan of Le Guin, who has long inspired me, these books were unknown to me. I read Powers at once, savoring every word. Le Guin has said that "in art, the best is the standard," and she endeavors to fulfill that aesthetic.

In her novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974), Le Guin contrasts different cultures with one another. In Powers, young Gavir experiences one culture after another. Gav and his older sister Sullo had been taken by slavers from their distant home and raised in the household of Arcamand, a patrician family of Etra, a city state, one among many. Their teacher was a slave who passed on his conservative learning and traditional understanding to Gavir so that the Arcas could provide continuing schooling for the children, both of the family and slave. As a house slave, Gavir had opportunity to devote to his learning and relationships within the household.

Suddenly the dark underside of slavery descends upon Gavir. His sister drowns, apparently due to sexual games of the young lords of the town. Overwrought with grief, Gavir wanders away witlessly and would have perished were it not for a barbaric hermit who shelters him. Afterwards Gavir spends time with a band of slaves, then as the seeming favored of Barna's Heart of the Forest. Barna advocates freedom for all, but acts otherwise as the man in control. Gavir moves on once again in quest of his origins, finds his own people, but realizes he is not one of them and seeks once more for a home that satisfies.

Ostensibly a fantasy because of the power of visioning the future, Le Guin uses each vivid setting and complex relationship of characters to illuminate the powers of self-discovery and identification. All this in the most excellent prose. 5, or close to it.

Willa Cather, A Lost Lady (1923). Cather set many of her books and stories in a western town, actually her childhood home of Red Cloud, NB, the same town with several different names. This time it is Sweet Water, once a booming pioneer terminal, that flourished with immigration and the coming of the railroad connecting Chicago to Denver and points west. The town is in decline, and the principals decline with it.

Neil Herbert, a young man growing up, tells the story. Because he is the Judge's nephew, he has an in with Captain Daniel Forrester and his younger, second wife Marian when they host parties. The Forrester's are the hub of rural society, and Marian is the most gracious of hostesses and women of the town. Neil attends to Mrs. Forrester with innocent awe, marvelling how she endearingly presents herself and takes care of husband, house and hospitality with light touches.

Midway in the story, the bank that Forrester had as a primary investment went bankrupt and the honorable Captain sold his other interests in total to protect all the small depositors from loss. When the Captain has a stroke, Neil does everything he can to care for him and ease the burden on Mrs. Forester. He finds, however, that her attraction to men younger than her husband risks her status in his eyes and her reputation in the community.

Cather weaves the story of individual personality against the backdrop of western expansion that took the hard work and sincerity of the pioneers to make it a civilization. "Lost" gains a double meaning in that Marian Forrester was always lost, a woman of subtle beauty and attractive manners who little achievement of her own. Without education, profession, or wealth of her own, she was necessarily dependent on men of prominence who became devoted to her because she graced their lives.

A short book, but a tragic one. 4, thanks to its writing and the power of suggestion.

Willa Cather, Old Mrs. Harris (1932). Willa Cather intrigues me. After reading A Lost Lady, I needed something more from her and took up a collection of her selected shorter fiction. At an estimated 21,000 words - 75 pages in this showcase - Old Mrs. Harris may be more of a long short story than a novella that one source defines for me as 30,000 words. Characters are few and interrelated neighbors; the action encompasses the events of one summer.

Cather attained the artistry of subtle, but powerful suggestion; and her treatment is what captivates and leaves me pondering how she so lightly tells a story that has more depth than appears on the surface. Her aesthetic, presented in the brief essay "The Novel Démeublé" (unfurnished). She calls her approach "the art of simplification," a creation that does the most with the apt economy of her critically effective language.

Grandma Harris, an elderly woman, bears the household of her daughter Victoria's family. She appears as self-controlled, unassuming and satisfied with next to nothing. When not attending to the family, she retires to her closet of a room, its single rocker and hard cot. She has a dress to wear, two hanging behind a piece of drappery, and one in the wash. That is enough along side the comfort of a clean apron any time she wants it.

The neighboring Rosen's, immigrant European Jews who treasure languages and books and without children of their own, attend to Mrs. Harris and her family, especially the teenage Vickie, who wants to go to college purely for the sake of learning.

Victoria Templeton seems as lost as Marian Forrester; however bothered and disappoint she may be, she lives a life without drudgery, just as Mrs. Harris wants and is able to achieve for her.
The concerns of these people for one another form the story thanks to the solicitous Mrs. Rosen, the yearning Vickie, and the accommodating Mrs. Harris, who knows her own fate and quietly moves on in complete, realistic acceptance of it.

I remain impressed: I give a 4, held from the top because of the obvious moral stated at the end where Cather betrays her own intention.

Charles Baxter, The Art of Subtext (2007).
Baxter, a novelist, short story writer and teacher at the University of Minnesota, was unknown to me until the 2008 Minnesota Book Awards. I located his book in Garrison Keilor's bookstore, but it took a vaction to finish reading it. The idea of subtext - what is not said, but implied in one way or another - intrigued me as it had so fully in the Cather selections preious. This collection of essays, a couple published in earlier forms, gives the subject an analytical and impressive sweep.

Not all books on writing fiction work for me, some more than others while some not at all. Still, they attract me. This one really piqued my interest because it covered unknown territory, matters with my ignorance or with which I had disagreement or discomfort. Chiefly, my problem hinges on the handling of conflict. Most dramatic conflict I witness in various contempoary media stems from stupidity or misunderstanding that ought not to stand for real or significant problems. Such facile conflicts fail to interest me; in fact, they repel me. I expect more rationality and intelligence from people than forms the basis of the bulk of story-telling.

Baxter challenges my line of thinking and assumptions beginning with his second essay, "Digging the Subterranean." We all have areas in our thinking and conversation where we do not tread too deeply or for long. I know I dismiss certain things that I could think about more critically. I do so on the grounds that they are too complex for the moment, or too irreconcilable as dilemmas, or too far beyond available or possible evidence. If this situation harbors in me, who has a long history of self-examination, how much more are such refusals the case among people in general and therefore among my characters. This one idea lead me to analyze the whole issue of the relationships of life and fiction, their various domains and possibilities, and to begin to think through my current novel, At Last, I Depart, and its principal character Lady Frivovla of Allonor, afterwards known as the Consort. What are her assumptions, her suppressions?

Baxter references a lot of litterature in behalf of his observations and arguments, some of it high in my estimation - especially Borges, Cather, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Penelope Fitzgerald, Hardy, James, J.F. Powers, and Welty. Others, I have not been able to care for at all, but am willing to give another reading - chiefly Bellow and F.S. Fitzgerald. Many others I do not know at all but hear touted - Auster, Coetzee, DeLillo, Henry Green, Percy, and K.A. Porter. I know my education lacks the fullness it ought to have.

Baxter talks a lot about the importance of conflict as a means of capturing reader interest. The need in fiction, he says, is for the author not only to welcome conflict, but to walk straight into it. I recognize that Baxter states in hyperbole what is standard advice for fiction writers. The issue for me becomes a matter of what constitutes valid and significant conflict and what is conflict alongside other means of captivating reader interest. Much more is involved in reader interest than conflict. Basically we are entranced by language and a desire to know what happens next in the situations and to the characters that attract us. Even when novels are over and seeming resolved at some level, we want to know what happens next.

Medea's conflict consists of utter rage at being jilted so that she justifies Jason's abandonment as grounds for murdering his new woman and then her own children. For me the intrigue is the progressive argument of her justification as the grounds for action, something that has caused me, absorbed in cathartic sympathy with her, to weep. Othello's conflict consists of connived jealousy whereby he murders his faithful wife: I think he should have sought more conconclusive evidence and here feel intense anger for Iago's deception of Othello. Both shall have their due. Tokien's thousand pages hinge on one gigantic conflict of good against outrageous evil, but regardless of this intense fully fanticized plot, I pick up The Lord of the Rings at any point for the sheer pleasure of savoring the excellence of high quality writing.

What literature equals for me is my own aesthetic, not what I others say it is, but what I find it to be. I have more notes from Baxter's relatively short book than I do from many others of greater length and weight. He has informed me in ways that broaden my artistic horizons, yet do not totally convince me. Perhaps I misread him, but Baxter seems to defer to the trends of contemporary culture as current literature reflects them. Although he is excellent at permeating these connections, he gives way to them. He remarks that Hardy spends three pages on the description of Eustacia Vye's face in The Return of the Native, something he reluctantly admires. But we don't do that anymore: it is out of fashion. Did Hardy do it for fashion or effect?

By the by, I also relished what Baxter had to say about the current state of conversation and the lost attention to reading faces. He has been valuable to me, more useful than most books on the rhetoric of fiction. This contribution makes it a 4. Unfortunately, no index.

Olav H. Hauge, The Dream We Carry: selected and last poems (2008).
Hauge, 1908-1994, is a much-loved poet of Norway. Minnesota poets Robert Bly and Robert Hedin have been translating his poems into English over the years and collect those translations here. Bly makes some "improvements" in the alignment of Hauge's lines, but both are remarkably faithful to the originals. Such achievements are due to Hauge's style which is direct and as simple as the modest Norwegian language allows. Most notable, of course, is the wonderful, deeply tonal sound the poems make when read aloud in Norwegian.

Though the anthology is a small collection drawn from seven books and other uncollected poems over Hauge's lifespan, they reflect attention to nature and uncommon reflections stemming from everyday life. In very few words they lines pass from the mundane, pristinely expressed, to greater significance.

"Truth:"Truth is a shy bird/ like the Roc-bird who/ arrives when you don't
expect it,/ sometimes before,/ sometimes after. - page 31

"One Word:" One word/ - one stone/ in a cold river./ One more stone - / I'll need many stones/ if I'm going to get over. - page 49

However, beside the Norwegianness of the poems is Hauge's attention to the wider world, especially classic China.

"To Li Po:" ... didn't you have the whole world, the wind and clouds/ and happinesswhen you were srunk?/ Greater still, Li Po, is/ to master your own heart. - page 17

Mountains are hard to move around./ The roots of oaks pull back,/ who dares to tackle/ the great problems of the world?/ Oxen and elephans hold them on their backs ... - page 117

Many of the poems have become favorites for me. I want more Hauge. I want to regain my ancestral language. If not a 5, it's near to it.

Lewis Carroll, pseud., Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
Surely, I read this one in the past. I've had the Modern Library edition since high school and clearly remember reading "Jabberwocky" (1871) and The Hunting of the Snark (1876) about that time. We saw our grandson, Benjamin, as the White Rabbit in a production of Alice in Wonderland where the director developed the dialogue direct from the novel and the stage directions clued from the narrative. That entertainment inspired me to review Carroll all over again.

Alice is one of those classic works, so popular in origin, and continuous of note for a century and a half that it influences our everyday expressions, and can inform our outlook on matters. Alice is also vague enough as a genre to allow diverse and contradictory interpretations such as the 1960s departure in its allusions to hallucinatory drug experiences relayed by a Oxford lecturer in robust mathematics and logic. Dodgson (Carroll) himself is the subject of much speculation as to his true personality, tantalized by vanished or suppressed volumes and pages of his diary.

I have since my own youth regarded that Alice trades on being a story of and for children, but either the children of Oxford were more adroit than they are at large or the novel is a cipher for adult satire and authorial gibes. I prefer the latter view. Since I finished the last chapters after reading The Art of Subtext (see above), I grew more aware of what is not being said in Alice and I looked for instances of conflict. Does Alice have conflicts? Yes, but they come in the guise of adventures.

Alice has mishaps that give her little anguish or pause as she goes on through a series of them that ultimately constitute a journey, but hardly a quest. None of these mishaps thwart Alice's essential childness; she falls from experience to experience with pluck but without anguish. We might view, as Dodgson did, that this is what children naturally do and constitutes their attraction for adults. He once wrote to Alice Liddell, "For I think a child's first attidude to the world is a simple love for all living things." Unfortunately, I have yet to read Mardin Gardner's The Annotated Alice (the definitive edition, 2000), or would have a wider context for my views.

I enjoyed the book immensely for its playful tone, interplay of miscommunications that rival Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, and exposures of fatuous talk. Alice brims with so much apt writing that I found myself identifying numerous potential epigrams in its text. Here his achievement reminded me of the manner of Baum in his best Oz books, wonderful and wise amusements without a hint of obvious artistry.

At the story's end, Alice's older sister stays outdoors thinking of Alice and dreaming herself as Alice had told her about Wonderland as though it were real. She wishes for her that in after-time, though Alice be grown with children of her own, she would retain "the simple and loving heart of her childhood." So might we all.

How can I do other than to give a 5 for something so exceptional, rich and lasting, to which I know I will return.

*Given to me by Cy Chauvin, who shares my taste in novels and well-knows what I like.
For retrieval of my posts with greater relevance, logic and precision than Google has yet to provide, see CeptsFormIndex for specific index links.

I welcome all comments to blog articles. For personal comments to me, send to

© Copyright 2010 by Roger Sween.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Read in 09

This listing follows the one began in Read in 08 and lists books in the chronological order I read them during the year. As before, I recount only those titles I read in full.

Ratings given follow the system established for the Red Wing Area Branch (AAUW) Book Club: 5-best; 4-top 20%, 3-middling, 2-less than average, 1-bottom. Other designations appear as BC – Branch Book Club selections. SF – Stratford Festival plays. YA-Title written for teenage or younger readers.

Will Weaver, Memory Boy (2006). YA After a massive volcanic eruption in which civilization begins to crack, Miles, a teenage boy, and his family leave the Twin Cities in the hope of more security in northern Minnesota. Miles’ past experiences, as recalled, help them on to a safer place. 3

Sandra Dallas, The Persian Pickle Club (1993). BC The Pickles are not your typical quilting club; or, are they? They’ve been meeting so long in Harveyville, Kansas that by the dirty thirties days of the Great Depression, they have some second generation members. Queenie, who tells the story is one, and Rita, her opposite – a sophisticate from Denver – is a newcomer. Rita tries to settle in, but discovered bones of a murdered man divert her attention to solving the crime. Characters of the quilters, however, take prominence and Rita learns far more than she expected. A very delightful book. 4

Cormac MCarthy, The Road (2006). Few books are as gripping and excellently written as this one. The story of a unnamed man and his young son heading south in hopes of escaping an apocalytptic winter takes the breath away by sheer power of suggestive language and the horror of incident after incident. Though the premise is the same as Memory Boy above, McCarthy puts that naive book to shame. One of the best, an absolute 5.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). BC Two Afghani women, differing in age by a generation, background and early experience, find their fortunes come together in the brutal days of the Taliban. I grew amazed how Hosseini, with only The Kite Runner to his credit, could master this a compelling story with such command and meaning. The richness of Afghanistan’s history, peoples and poetic culutre comes through alongside the poverty and brutality. 4

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813; edited by Vivien Jones, 1996). BC For years I put off reading Austen, whom I judged wrote for women. It took broadcasting her novels to get me going and realize how accomplished, insightful, and satiric she was. I think of Persuasion as her most accomplished novel until I read Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice that also jostle for first place. Her books always seem to be about money or the lack of it and the necessity of marriage for women who are not willing to settle for just anything. But they are all about character of which no two are ever alike. 5, of course.

Avi, Crispin: the cross of lead (2002). YA In the time of Edward III, the high middle ages of 14th century England, Asta’s son, known later as Crispin, finds himself not only orphaned but a public enemy and on the run. Puzzled and afraid, Crispin barely survives on his own until taken under the wing of Bear. This independent and enterprising older man helps him onward to further adventures and confident acceptance of himself. Too much razzle-dazzle for me. 3

Avi, Crispin: at the edge of the world (2006). YA As Crispin and Bear continue their precipitous flight from the feudal powers after them, I thought all would be resolved and Crispin would gain not only ability with his knowledge and self-acceptance, but some restoration of his rightful place in society would follow. Instead, much time is spent in the rescue of the mysterious girl, Troth. Disappointing. 3

Beryl Markham, West with the Night (1983; first published 1942). BC Markham was the first person to fly across the Atlantic, east to west, before Lindberg flew first west to east. We hardly ever hear of her, yet she was famous in her own day. Growing up motherless in Africa where hee father raised horses, she pursued her own education and interests and in mature years wrote of them. That writing is fantastic, vivid, arresting and beautiful. We learn of lion attacks, native wisdom, majestic racehorses, and the awesome grandeur of piloting through the bush. A stunning book, worthy of much greater attention. 5

Karen Cushman, Catherine, called Birdie (1994). Catherine is the spoiled teenage daughter of a feudal lord who does everything she can to avoid being married off to an old baron against her will. She tells her own story by running comments on the calendar’s day by day designation of which saint it remembers. The book is jaunty but often silly. I wished Catherine would get more of a grip on life instead of being saved by a deus ex machina at the end. Though a Newberry Honor Book, I give it a 2.

Karen Cushman, The Midwife’s Apprentice (1995). YA Brat, latter called Beetle, is as feisty as Catherine but slowly becomes more estimable. She begrudges her poor situation but finally by observation and clever initiative takes on more worth. It’s a slow process, but a quick read. This Newberry Medal Book gets a 3 from me.

Karen Cushman, Matilda Bone (2000). YA Matilda is as oblivious of her station as Catherine and as slow to wake up as Beetle, but goes through the same slow progress. The medieval setting, which is why I read these books, comes through here, primarily regarding the primitive and nonsensical practice of medicine. 3, begrudgingly.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Children of Hurin (2007). Tolkien’s son, Christopher, has a lot to do with the restoration of his father’s work in sequencing more fully the legends and tales antecedent to The Lord of the Rings. This story, though appearing sketchily in The Simalrilian and Tales appears here as a novel. It has the ring of Tolkien’s awesome prose and proceeds as continuous high tragedy. I liked the pace and style of it as the unfortunate Turin works through Morgoth’s curse upon him and all his family. 4

Doris Lessing, The Grass is Singing (1950). BC This was Lessing’s first novel and the only one I have read. I was surprised how good it is. We know the outcome from the beginning, but we don’t know why. By filling in the great blank of motivation and misunderstanding, Lessing captures our attention and interest into the complex of character, station, aspiration and regret between the Rhodesian farmer, his sorry wife, and the black servant who tends to her. 4

William Shakespeare, Macbeth (ca. 1606; Mowat & Werstine, 1992). SF I had not read Macbeth since senior year in high school nor ever seen it acted. However, we were going to see it at Stratford, and coincidentally the St. Olaf College President, a former English Professor, invited class reunion planners to his seminar on the play. The discussion of the Macbeths and their motivations increased our interest. In this read, Macbeth appeared to quickly fall to temptation while his Lady obsessed over it until her own doom foreshadows his due end. 5

Edmond Rostand, Cyrano [de Bergerac] (1897 ; Burgess, 1998). SF One of my long-time favorites, seen only previously on film and television versions. This more complete script makes greater sense, especially of Roxanne showing up at the battlefront and of Cyrano’s death scene. 5

Jean Racine, Phèdre (1677; Rawlings, 1961). SF Contrary to Euripides’ Hippolytus and Renault’s The Bull from the Sea, where Phaedra otherwise schemes, here Christian conscience wracks the stepmother. We can only understand Racine's drama by knowing the influence of Jansenism on his views. Consequently, because of all the rampant handwringing over Phedre's illicit attraction, I did not care for it as much. 4

Anton Chekhov, Three Sisters (1901; Dunnigan, 1964). SF I must have seen this some years ago because I vaguely remember it. It reminded me of Cherry Orchard in setting and interpersonal dynamics but with a different story line. Chekhov’s technique in these dramas was to unravel an unrelenting drama of stressful changes over time propelled by action that happens off stage. The power of a Chekhov play, though it was never fun to read or watch, grows on you with reflection. 5

Robert Lawson, Mr. Revere and I (1981; 1st published 1953). YA On his famous ride, Paul Revere rode a horse named Scheherazade. At first, she is the very proper British horse of a foppish regimental officer. Through rough circumstances, Scheherazade becomes a member of the Revere family. She tells all; though her prim voice continues, her attitudes change over time as she begins to see the merits of the colonists and their revolution. One of the best YA novels and historical send-ups I have ever read, and very delightful. 5

Edward F. Droge, Your Intelligence Makeover (2005). Droge, who eventually earned a doctorate, began as a poor student. Now he lauds learning and in this book proposes easy steps to demonstrate it. I found the book seriously flawed in concept and execution, starting with the diagnostic tests to gauge areas of strength and weakness. I read it because books of this kind appeal to me, but I cannot recommend it. 2

Burn this Book; edited by Toni Morrison (2009). Intellectual freedom is one of my primary interests, and when I saw this brand new book already remaindered for $4.00, I bought it at once. According to the subtitle eleven “PEN writers speak out on the power of the word.” They may be our shining lights – John Updike, Orhan Pamuk, Nadine Gordimer, etc. – but their contributions – mostly new with some older – are uneven, some with factual errors, some flat, some without much relevance. Considering all he went through with a fatwa on him, Salman Rushdie’s seemed weak. The exception was Russell Banks, “Notes on Literature and Engagement,” who contrasts novels of social influence with novels of insight thanks to authorial identity, a quality not to be sacrificed to public expectation. 3

Michael St. John Parker, The World of Charles Dickens (1999). This is really just a pamphlet, but amazingly informative in a few thousand words and apt illustrations. I think you would have to go to London to buy a copy; I was lucky that a friend made the trip and gave it to us. 4

Daniel G. Amen, Magnificent Mind at Any Age (2008). I read this in preparation for a session on brain research, but Amen has a lot to him. Magnetic resonance imaging has advanced recent brain science by allowing us to see activity inside the skull that we could approach before largely by introspection or behavioral observation. He tells the basis of his research, most of which gets at dysfunctions, but the bulk is solid advice for healthy living, brain development, and continued learning – all with “skills, not pills.” I put a chapter of this book to work in my article “Success.” 4

Sandra Dallas, The Diary of Mattie Spenser (1997). The discovery of a pioneer woman’s diary in Territorial Colorado leads to following her life over her first two years there. Then her aged granddaughter’s perspective gives satisfying context to what happened after. Mattie emerges as a spirited woman with high hopes from marriage and a new life. Hardship follows, but Mattie persists where many of the women and some of the men of her acquaintance do not. Children die; men go wayward, but Mattie survives. Dallas is excellent at character with engaging stories and convincing background. 4

Edmund Cooper, The Overman Culture (1972). Michael Faraday and his classmates live in a contrived world, populated with figures from the past. Not only are the children named after historic figures with Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill their contemporaries, but war with the Germans goes on somewhere outside their shell. Gradually, Michael and his chums determine they are flesh and blood while their parents, teachers and others are “drybones,” entities that cannot bleed. Their discovery of an abandoned library takes them farther on the path to learning the wider context to human existence, but not until their persistence leads to a confrontation is all explained. 3

Edmund Cooper, The Cloud Walker (1973). Humanity has been to the brink of self-inflicted extinction twice before. In the third age of humankind, Kieron struggles against the luddite ethos that endeavors to avoid the same past progression that leads to annihilation. Apprenticed as an artist, Kieron dreams of flying and experiments with kites and balloons. Only protection from his feudal lord keeps him from an inquisition’s imprisonment and worse. And only after Kieron’s tactical advantage of balloon-borne bombs ruin a fleet of pirate invaders does the course of history alter once again. 3

Edmund Cooper, Five to Twelve (1968). Dion Quern, born in 2025, rebels against the order of his world. A quirk of late 20th century feminism and attendant birth control has led not only to twelve female births for every five males, but a shift in power. Women are in charge and that power gives them control of longevity drugs. Dion is caught while burgling a woman’s apartment, but Juno likes his spirit and keeps him on as a sport for sex and then as a contracted partner because she loves him. Dion is never happy about his situation; he falls into plots against the female establishment, and bickers with Juno throughout the novel. Only when he has been brainwashed for all his crimes and without memory of his past does he experience a glimmer of future change. 3

For a further analysis of these three Cooper novels, click on Edmund Cooper.
For retrieval of my posts with greater relevance, logic and precision than Google has yet to provide, see CeptsFormIndex for specific index links.

I welcome all comments to blog articles. For personal comments to me, send to

© Copyright 2010 by Roger Sween.

Friday, January 1, 2010


What I Want from My Life

A Matter of Definition
For most of my conscious life, I have wanted to know, to pursue ideas, to achieve something significant and lasting, and to write. All these desires interrelate, weaving together. Whether actual accomplishment followed plagues me. Life satisfies me in its modicum of compromises at far greater measure than imagined in my romantic youth. I have become bourgeois in habit, a likely good citizen, but not with the original creativity once craved to the point of idiosyncrasy.

Neither do I feel I accomplished much in my 40-year profession in library and information services. I know I developed my skills and understanding and used them to give pertinent and reliable public service as a reference librarian and library director as well as learning direction and coaching in librarianship when an undergraduate and graduate instructor and professor. Yet, I always felt myself to be the principal beneficiary of what I experienced and learned.

As a library consultant and grant administrator, I was never in alignment with the prevailing assumptions and practices of my colleagues. Although I thought I played a pivotal role in the development of library services, I now view that nothing from those days lasts in the way I then envisioned it.

As a result, any hope for success has become a matter of personal satisfaction as though I now return to the romantic idea of egoism that had so captivated me when I was a teenager and college student. Ideals still command my attention, and if I am to achieve any measure of success, I must to be faithful to them: the best in art, equality in life, learning as our vocation, the work in life of making the ideal into the real. Thus far in my ideational world, I am not satisfied that I have done my part to further any of these matters.

What remains for me to do in my latter years? I do not care for wealth, fame, notice or recognition. I crave conversation that transcends the phatic but find it rare if not impossible. I seek thinking that is rational, reflective, self-critical and discerning but find it not only rare, self-justifying at best, a slave to emotion at worst, but seemingly smothering amidst the distractions of contemporary life. I find enjoyment and the reassurance of human competence in the endeavors of my creative forbearers and cumulative heritage of the past in the arts, in philosophy and science, in the expansion of knowledge and the ceaseless quest for it, and in the potentials of the human brain and mind.

Success for me is to make the most of my situation and opportunities according to my highest values.

What in Life Is Most Important?
I want to gain understanding and share it.
I want to do something good, worthwhile, and basic.
I want to leave something lasting at the end of my life.

Ten instances when I felt the most competent, confident, connected, and joyous:
Dates are approximate. In areas marked *, I served multiple roles as researcher, consultant, facilitator, author, editor, and publisher.
1. 1968 – Development of a methodology for teaching reference services based upon real questions, a core of 100 most frequently useful resources, and the practice of question negotiation to the accurate and efficient satisfaction of the questioner.
2. 1969 – “Lyman Beecher and the Lane Seminary Controversy,” a research paper submitted in the course on Puritanism in the graduate program on American intellectual history at the University of Iowa.
3. 1980 - Completion of the novel Phaeton Flight, the story of Frederic Hanreid, an information professional, and Prince Henry Cadly (afterwards Henry II) set in early 39th century Loria.
4. 1984 – Completion of the novel The Rodi. Vodar (afterwards Vodarodi I) discovers his unique place in the history of the Seidonese people; he becomes in his early twenties the founder of Loria, 3000.
5.* 1988 – Completion of background and issues papers for the Minnesota Governor’s Pre-White House Conference on Library and Information Services.
6.* 1997 – Development of the criteria and application process for awarding Minnesota technology grants to library systems.
7.* 1998 – Development of the Long Range Plan and application process for federal Library Services and Technology Act funds.
8.* 1999 – Development of the document on the recommended approach to and procedures for the establishment of co-located public and school library services.
9. 2002-2006 – Service as Administrative Assistant to the State Board of the American Association of University Women – Minnesota under two state presidents.
10. 2007 – Completion of the story “Inheritance.” Louisa Enders at 13 years travels with her two very different grandmothers and learns her actual ancestry as an American, the same summer WWI begins. Intended as Chapter 1 of Progress about the life of small town public librarian through the 20th century.

Five people I most admire, and whose traits I aspire to have:
1. William Shakespeare, 1564-1616. No one is superior to Shakespeare in the revealing poetry of language; even his “minor” plays are major to me. He never disappoints but grows with every renewed experience of his work.
2. Gordon Sween, 1911-1980. My father, who led a seemingly ordinary life, has become an exemplar for me due to his self-directed learning, rationality, sense of discipline, family loyalty, and exercise of responsibility.
3. Frederic Bolton, dates unknown. Dr. Bolton was one of my religion professors at St. Olaf College. A student of Reinhold Niebuhr at Princeton, Bolton influenced me with his thoughtful and rigorous approach to Christianity and Christian theology while being honestly critical, but kind and encouraging to a youngster struggling to come to grips with the intellectus quarens fidem (understanding seeking faith) issue.
4. Ursula K. Le Guin, born 1929. No contemporary author has written so elegantly and meaningfully for me and my interests in as consistent and beautifully articulate a fashion as has Le Guin. I rejoice that I once heard her in person when she said in reference to The Dispossessed, “I want everyone arguing and discussing over the meaning of what I wrote,” or words to that effect.
5. Patricia Anne Worringer Sween, born 1939. Patty continually impresses me with her understanding of other people, her generosity, and her evenness of temper in dealing with all whom she encounters.

Ranking of ten value areas:
At my stage of development, 70 years old this year in a life of reflection considering what lasts and what transpires, value areas do not mean what they meant to me at earlier stages. I cannot rank them first to last (1 – 10) appropriate to my current stage and for other various reasons; instead, I group them.
A. Faith in a higher power. This area is by theological definition of ultimate concern, yet faith, being the work of God in us, exists without my wanting, willing, or working for it. Ranking here perpetuates a falsity.
B. The areas harder to attain are all of equal high importance to me: Fulfilling relationships, individual accomplishments, making a difference in the lives of others, and legacy (understood as leaving something significant and lasting).
C. The lesser areas cluster to the bottom.
7. Health I seem to have by virtue of inheritance and caution; that is, I am lucky and careful. I do not obsess over my health and know that I will die, probably after a long time, probably soon.
8. Wealth, since I am comfortable with enough already.
9. Fame I regard as shallow and transitory.
10. Fun I regard as even more shallow and insubstantial in the ultimate scheme of things.

My plans for success in 2010:
I will attend more intentionally to how I spend my time on my primary ambitions. I will track my time and quantify it in regards to a schedule I currently regard as ideal in order to hold myself more accountable in aiming for greater success than I have had and thereby attain my chosen ends.

My ideal schedule of a 16-hour waking day has the following areas in priority order. I will try to sleep eight hours out of every 24 even though that is not often the case.
1. Major writing – 4 hours. This year I will finish the first draft of At Last, I Depart. In this novel, Lady Frivovla of Allonor grows from an innocent devotion to her sense of duty into a self-directing and successful champion of her own life. She becomes in time the consort of Vodarodi II King Loria and the progenitor of all the following monarchs for its ensuing thousand-year history.
2. Study/Pre-writing – 3 hours. This year I will do the work necessary to establish the bases necessary for two controversial equity issues: one is the ministry of same-gender couples in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the other concerns mission-based membership in the American Association of University Women.
3. Reading – 3 hours. I will read to completion more novels and other books than I finished in 2009.
4. Organization – 2 hours. I will gain a “house cleaning” and orderly control of my book collection and other files and prepare for the likeliness of moving to a different dwelling and possibly different city.
5. Miscellaneous – 4 hours. These four hours are the elastic cushion for all the routine and irregular instances of life that one must do or are more difficult to anticipate and control.

Note: I assume that most weekends and holidays fall outside the ideal schedule since these days are more interruptible because they invite both travel and interaction with others, chiefly family.

I am indebted to Dr. Daniel G. Amen, Magnificent Mind at Any Age (2008), especially chapter 10, “Make Your Own Miracles,” for guidance in thinking through this issue.

For retrieval of my posts with greater relevance, logic and precision than Google has yet to provide, see CeptsFormIndex for specific index links.

I welcome all comments to blog articles. For personal comments to me, send to

© Copyright 2010 by Roger Sween.