Category Archives: Something to Think About

Book Review: Where Hope Prevails (Return to the Canadian West)

 

Image from Amazon.com

Note: I received this book for free, specifically to review it.

I’ve read a lot of romantic historical fiction novels–and by a lot, I mean a lot. Some have certainly been better than others, and there’s one theme that has always been a reliable source of good books in my experience: the frontier. In frontier stories, women are often overcoming obstacles, coming into contact with people of different backgrounds, developing more appreciation for the environment, adjusting their Eastern ways, and–of course–falling in love. When I speak of frontier books, I’ve usually always meant the American Old West, which is why I was really excited to finally read a book about the Canadian West!

I know that you’re not supposed to ‘read a book by its cover’, but I totally did. The cover of Where Hope Prevails, by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan, is beautiful. It was also immediately apparent from looking at the heroine’s bundle of textbooks that she was in the academic world within the frontier–another dichotomy that I find fascinating. I was a little nervous when I learned that it was a sequel to a previous book, but that didn’t end up being a problem at all (especially with a lovely letter at the beginning of the story to cleverly ‘summarize’ the past book’s events for the reader)!

The book’s plot has a nice progression, although it was a much longer story than I expected, and there is plenty of interesting information to be learned about Canada for those of us who are fairly ignorant regarding its geography. For me, this book was particularly intriguing in that it focused on a time period when electricity, telephones, and automobiles were already in existence–I had only ever read frontier romances that involved the 1800’s, so reading about Oreos in this book was quite a surprise!

The ‘authentic’ dialogue of the book is the only historically accurate change that I really found disconcerting; it took me quite a while to adjust to reading the Coal Valley citizens’ dialogue, and even more time to adjust to reading Frank’s Italian version. However, the styles of speech were not illegible; instead, they were just a little inconvenient–and they help highlight the differences between Beth and the Coal Valley people, so I don’t regret their presence in the text.

The heroine of this novel is an admirable one in many ways–and, occasionally, a comical one too (Exhibit A: her struggles to fall asleep in her new home without company). Perhaps the most endearing quality about her is her flawed nature; Beth makes many mistakes in this novel, most of them involving her own self-centered tendencies and her irrational resentment of the other schoolteacher. These behaviors may not be admirable in and of themselves, but they do make her relatable. After all, even though we readers might not like to admit it, we’ve been a little self-centered on occasion–and many of us have indeed experienced that strangely immediate dislike of someone who has actually done nothing unkind to us. That kind of illogical and intrinsic dislike is very, very hard to get rid of, and I really appreciated how much that struggle was demonstrated in this story. Beth tries to overcome her anger, and fails–multiple times. Those failures, to me, made her one of the most normal and human heroines that I have ever come across.

Beth’s failures often cause her to turn to her Christian faith, which means that this book does discuss religion fairly often. However, although you should probably be aware of that focus before reading the novel, it is not necessary to be a religious–or, for that matter, Christian–reader to enjoy this book. The book’s general plot was not one that I had expected, which made for some enjoyable surprises, and it’s definitely a good book for a relaxing evening–maybe even an evening in the Canadian West!

The best part? Some of the beautiful descriptions that can be found in the novel. The way that the authors describe the wintry climate, the Canadian environment, and Beth’s emotions are all very unique and, at the same time, stunningly accurate; so, to Janette and Laurel, I say well done. 🙂

 

 

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VEEP Takes A Dark Turn

The satirical political comedy VEEP has gone DEEP–into darkness, that is. Fear not; this isn’t some metaphor for lousy ratings or poor writing. VEEP has always been awesome, and continues to be awesome. But be warned: if you’re heading straight into this show via Season 5, then you’re probably going to be a little unsettled.

Selina and her crew are just as witty and funny as ever–if not a little jaded–so finding the show’s trademark humor and style is still easy. However, in the third- and second-to-last episodes (C***Gate and Congressional Ball), Selina suddenly becomes a lot darker. And I’m not referring to a tan.

I’m hesitant to compare this show to House of Cards, because the comparison is pretty tired–but, in all honesty, Selina’s bitterly resolute (and yet, somehow, fragile) speech in her office about everyone “trying to get” her reminded me of no one more than Frank Underwood. If I was picking a scene to show at an awards ceremony, I would pick this one, because Julia Louis-Dreyfus is fantastic. She allows us to see Selina cracking, bit by bit, and even though Selina Meyer has definitely had some previous spin-outs, there’s something in Julia’s acting that makes it clear: this cracking is something deeper.

The artfully crafted scene in Selina’s office is from C***Gate, and the next episode (Congressional Ball) is subsequently like being hit over the head with a hammer. This episode features the most explicit sex scene yet in VEEP, as well as some very, very vividly detailed threats from Selina to a Congresswoman and a Congressman. Selina might have seemed disturbingly unstable in the previous episode, but she’s practically spitting with malice in this one*. That storm that was inside her? It’s coming out.

Overall, VEEP is still a fantastic show, and one that I love to watch. It retains its hilarity, and actually seems to be getting even funnier–but all viewers should prepare for Selina’s storm. Otherwise, starting at this season will probably be a bit of a shock. And, if you loved the show Numb3rs, then seeing Peter MacNicol play the increasingly foulmouthed Jeff Kane could be even more of a jolt.

As for the most recent episode, Camp David? This one was nowhere near as dark as the previous two. Perhaps we’re in the eye of the storm (yes, Hurricane Selina).

 

 

*her dress, of course, was lovely.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wasting of Humanity

Before college, my friends and I often enjoyed going shopping together. We were all high school students with fairly low budgets, and therefore we were all extremely cheap. If an item was not on sale, it was unheard of to make the purchase. Yet, in college I have discovered that there are many people who do this. People actually pay original prices for their purchases, tossing money around as if they are recycling disposable cans. One of my roommates did this in particular, and it always left me in a state of bewildered disgust. How can anyone spend something that other people need so badly with such a casual attitude? After her first serving of rice, my roommate would throw out the rest of the pot. This waste of food disturbs me far more than the waste of money, because, while there may be people who do not really value money in the world, everyone values food. Food is a necessity for survival, a miracle of nature, and a critical staple that no one should squander. Humans can be so wasteful, and yet also so gluttonous, that I find myself overwhelmed by my disillusionment. We value material goods immensely, and yet, when our desire leaves the object, we presume that its value to everyone else vanishes too, and we proceed to dispose of it as an object devoid of quality. Such extreme focus on our own desire culminates in a race that has become both distressingly self-centered and alarmingly impatient. We would rather pay extra money for instant gratification than wait for a sale price, and once we are bored, we label the offending merchandise as a castoff for everyone else, simply because the individual does not like it anymore. Such selfishness seems to be the crux of humanity’s failures.

Knowledge: Instinct vs. Sixth Sense

There are many different types of knowledge in this world, and almost all of them involve other people. The first two, interpersonal knowledge and the objective knowledge of another person, can both be considered as some sort of social knowledge. However, there are some types of knowledge that do not really seem to come hand in hand with relationships. Instinct is an excellent example of this; if a human’s socialization is the Internet, then instinct could best be described as that same human’s hard drive, consisting of formulaic automatic reactions to incoming information. If a human encounters a dangerous animal, his or her instinct is to run. The person does not think to his or herself, “Hey, I bet running would be a suitable response to this current situation!”. Instead, the human just does it. Granted, running may not be the best idea against certain predators, but nevertheless, the human body tells us we should do it.

Some people go even farther than instinct, claiming possession of what is commonly known as a “sixth sense”. This kind of knowing is similar to instinct, but it has a tad more subtlety and mystery to it. A sixth sense seems to be more complex than instinct, which consists mainly of simplistic urges. To help distinguish the two, look back at the example with the predator. Instinct is telling the human to run and get far away from the enemy, regardless of the potential consequences; meanwhile, a sixth sense might be telling the human’s dog back home that his owner is in trouble, even if he is too far away to hear or smell the owner’s distress. Dogs are well known for this mystical kind of knowledge, and while humans who claim to have it are often met with doubt, it is still apparent that individuals with the “sixth sense” seem to be aware of things that other people might not know about.

Hope on Horseback

Throughout this semester, I have become more and more disheartened in regards to humanity’s fate.  A poem entitled The Horses, by Edwin Muir, allows me to regain some semblance of hope for our race. Muir emphasizes man’s failures in a parallel to Genesis from the Bible, demonstrating the severity of our mistakes in comparison to the original “Eden” (Muir). In the poem, a war has pulled humanity out of its haze, providing us with a clarity that we lacked before; humans now recognize the negativity of their “old bad world” and yearn for another beginning (Muir). As the mechanical wreckage of this “old…world” stagnates around them, the desired beginning emerges in the form of “fabulous steeds” (Muir). These animals offer themselves to mankind, repairing our “long-lost archaic companionship” with the natural world, a world that technology and materialism took away from us (Muir). Nature gives humanity a chance to prove its value again, a chance to bring back the missing connection; Muir emphasizes this when he declares that the horses’ return is “our beginning” (Muir). At some point in history, we made the error of forsaking this relationship with the natural world, and yet, nature has still not deserted us. The horses approach with an offer of “free servitude”, representing the unique partnership in which men and animals can connect with one another; this is a bond that cannot be destroyed by time (Muir). Time may have broken the connection, but it was never completely gone. Nature’s pact with humanity is as renewable as nature itself, and mankind will have a hopeful future once it accepts the “horses” and revitalizes this relationship (Muir).

Descartes: A New Prometheus

René Descartes is credited with the development of calculus, otherwise known as a way to control nature through the combination of math and science. His revolutionary discoveries have helped cause drastic changes in humanity’s perception of nature. Suddenly nature was not a dangerous and unfathomable mystery, but a savage beast that could be studied and tamed. Descartes essentially created a harness for Mother Nature. Personally, I do not see his discovery as a particularly good thing; in fact, I view him as a parallel to Prometheus, the individual who brought fire to humanity. Both he and Prometheus discovered something that had tremendous benefits for mankind–but both discoveries have also led to many atrocities.

Descartes also seems similar to Prometheus because they both failed to see the potential harm in their discoveries. Descartes was focused mainly on the medical benefits that could be achieved by tampering with nature; he saw it as a road to immortality. However, unlike Prometheus, who simply handed fire to humans, Descartes had to work hard to develop his methods. He tried examining the sciences of his own time, as well as the sciences of the past, and although he was not viciously critical of them, he made it very clear in his Discourse on Method that he found the traditional sciences to be lacking. Descartes saw the flaws in the established systems of scientific thinking, mainly that there were too many uncertainties and too many prejudiced individuals. In his studies, Descartes was privy to many unique opinions of many different individuals, opinions that tainted scientific studies instead of strengthening them. Upon examining all the traits of customary science that he classified as imperfections, Descartes brushed aside the conventional ideas and began from the ground up. He may not have hated the traditional conceptions of the world, but he found enough fault with them to manufacture his own perceptions, perceptions that would help him change the world just as Prometheus supposedly did.

Freedom, Security, & Which One I Have

There have been a number of technological advances in the United States of America in recent years; and yet, as technology becomes an increasingly critical presence in my daily life, I feel both empowered and constrained by it. I can reconnect with old friends and make new ones using electronic forms of communication, yet criminals and bullies can find new targets in much the same way. The U.S. government has formidable forms of technology with which to protect me from enemies, but the NSA and drones seem to be perusing the personal lives of U.S. citizens in the process.  I have read books about dystopian societies, where governments use scapegoats and excuses to build a bigger power base and control the public. I’ve seen the post-apocalyptic movies, in which society is portrayed as the victim of a tyrannical government intending to homogenize the citizenry. Reading those books and watching those movies disturbed me at the time; but now, seeing the same clues from those stories emerging in my own country, I am far more concerned. I look ahead to the future of America with trepidation, unsure of what is to come, but fearful that I will be subjugated under the yoke of protection. In order to make veal, an exceptionally tender meat, young cows are kept captive in tiny crates. They are restricted from movement, in the interest of preserving the meat’s softness; yet in order to achieve this, the calves must suffer. As of right now, I am not entirely sure what I will be in the future: will I be the farmer, or will I be the meat? I would much rather be the farmer, making my own decisions and maintaining my individual rights as a human being; rights the veal never had. However, considering the government’s increasingly invasive technologies, I am developing a highly distressing inkling that the answer to that question will not be the desired one, that I will be the meat instead of the farmer, separated from freedom by the parameters of safety.