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Good Reading: A Review (February 2008)

This month I read a book by Zora Neale Hurston called Their Eyes Were Watching God. I highly recommend it. I had decided that I wanted to branch out from my normal themes or genres and try something that I hadn’t been exposed to during my education.

I found this to be a wonderful book.  As a woman, I really identified with the main character, Janie.  My life experiences and hers are widely different and  yet I understand her and I understand her emotions and her thinking.  The book covers her growth and changes as she goes from a young girl to a widow; it covers three marriages and life afterward.

I’ve seen criticism of the language Ms. Hurston uses in the book – it is too black, it is spelled phonetically, it made the characters sound stupid, and the like.  While it took some getting used to for me, I found that it added to the story.  I don’t personally know if people in the areas of the country actually talk that way, but I assume that they do.  For me, it added to the texture of the book, the way it felt to me; it drew me into the environment.  As for making the characters sound stupid, I find that an odd argument.  I have talked to various intelligent people from different parts of the world; some accents can have an impact on how someone sounds but listening to WHAT a person is saying makes it apparent that they are indeed intelligent.  To focus on how the characters talk in this book is to focus on one tiny insignificant detail and ignore the beauty all around it.   The language is too black?  For what, I want to know.  I am indeed white but I had no problem understanding it.  Some things I gathered from context, but most of it was clear to me without effort.  I don’t know; perhaps I am not analyzing this enough but the criticisms I have seen in other places just don’t make sense to me.

All in all, I recommend this book.  I believe that any woman would find something in this story with with they could identify.  I found the language interesting and in some places absolutely beautiful.  I fully intend to read more by Zola Hurston.

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Good Reading: A Review (January 2008)

A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith

This is an excellent book. I found it informative about Quaker ways of life, as well as beliefs. It has also inspired me to seek out a meeting and attend one (or more). I believe that this is a community that I would fit into very well and I want to learn more.

There are 10 chapters, covering different areas of Quaker life. They include such things as Silence, Worship, Truth, Simplicity, Business, and Family. In each, Mr. Smith explores ways in which we can focus the expression of God that is found in each of us and use it to guide us in our decisions and the challenges that we face.

I found so much in this book to comfort me, strengthen me, encourage me, and give me hope. It is a warm, friendly book – one that should be read over and over again. It contains a little bit of history of the Quakers, the roots of the movement, and its core beliefs, but mostly it contains tools for leading a more meaningful life. You definitely don’t need to be Quaker to read this book, nor do you need to be seeking a different path than the one you are on. I believe anyone would find things in this book that are useful for day to day living.

Some bits from the book:

  • I have always felt that the reason Quakerism took root and flourished in the colonies was because there was, and still is, something quintessentially American and profoundly democratic about this optimistic faith that declares that all people are created equal; that exalts classlessness and the perfectibility of people and institutions; that insists on the freedom to worship in whatever form one chooses – and that recognizes a direct one-to-one relationship with God. (page 10)
  • Quakerism is a very pragmatic religion, based on experience, not ideology. Silence is valued by Quakers because it is useful. The practice of silence – and it does take practice – is rewarding because it enriches and clarifies our lives while offering a bit of a time-out for our souls. (page 12)
  • The well-known Quaker virtue of frugality has also served to bring heightened efficiency to their businesses and industries. Waste is anathema to Friends, and many have shown remarkable ingenuity in finding new ways to eliminate it. (page 130)
  • Quakers have always recognized that the most valuable and nonrenewable resource of any healthy business is the people who work in it, and their labor practices have reflected that belief…Despite the growth of their operations, they set a high standard for employer-employee relations, always based on the concept of equality of all people.

The stories from the personal experience of the author are what make this book so special. I felt that I could see and feel the family environment and the closeness he expressed. He also did point out evidence that the Quaker family and environment isn’t perfect; they have their problems like everyone else. Still, those stories produce a wonderful, warm feeling – at least they did in me. They also inspire me to reach for more, to try harder to better myself and to be a better family member/friend/coworker to those around me.

Robert Lawrence Smith is the former headmaster of Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C..

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