Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Review: Jeeves

Title: Jeeves


(Interestingly, Amazon reports that although several people claim to have some version of this edition, some date-stamped 1943, what some of them are actually selling is a reprint of the text scanned into a computer. What I physically have is a pocket-size paperback book printed in 1939. A computer printout might offer larger, clearer type; I'd have no problem with it but I do understand how it might disappoint someone looking for the original vintage book.)

Author: P.G. Wodehouse

Date: 1923 (U.K.), 1939 (U.S.)

Publisher: Doran (U.K.), Pocket Books (U.S.)

ISBN: none

Length: 244 pages

Quote: “Jeeves...always floats in with the cup exactly two minutes after I come to life.”

Up to 1950, before telephones took over, living alone was almost unthinkable. Bachelors normally lived with parents or siblings; anyone with a steady income hired a “companion,” and anyone without an income could make “companionship” a job.

These relationships often went wrong. Ancestor-snobbery, the idea of a servant class who couldn’t possibly be fit to inherit property, had its base in the need to keep hired companions from murdering their employers. Though the whole hierarchy of hired companions, valets, tutors, nurses, butlers, housekeeper, ladies’ maids, and others, were at the top of the servant class, often well educated and (as servants went) well paid, they could still be “ruined” by a single false accusation.

But sometimes the relationships went right. Bertie Wooster, the rich, charming, witty, immature twenty-something “gentleman,” and Jeeves, the quiet, discreet, unctuously polite, older and wiser “gentleman’s gentleman,” are a comedic parody of the best-case scenario where the employer and employee become each other’s best friends. 

Jeeves and Bertie use very formal manners to balance the excessive intimacy built into Jeeves’ job. Jeeves calls Bertie “sir” and Bertie, who naively narrates all the social blunders from which Jeeves tactfully rescues him, doesn’t seem to know whether Jeeves has a first name. They know each other’s secrets and always act in each other’s best interests. In real life they would probably have disagreed about Jeeves’ wages and social life too, but in the stories they always disagree only about fashion; Jeeves always cooperates with hardly more than a reproachful look, and always gets his way—meaning he gets Bertie to discard a tacky-looking fad item—in the end.

If Jeeves had been real, everyone would have wanted to know him, even after his natural life expectancy was over. Eighty years after his “birth” as a mature man in this novel, one of the first reliable search engines was called “Ask Jeeves.”

And this is where it starts. Jeeves begins with an episode that was also published as an independent “short” story (although it’s not very short), in which Jeeves not only spots the jewel thieves at the hotel but recovers the stolen jewels, and continues through several similar adventures until Bingo gets married. I read most of the other Jeeves, Blandings, and Psmith stories before I found this one. Knowing with whom Bingo was going to live happily ever after did not spoil the comedy of Bertie’s reluctant participation in Bingo’s love life for me.

That would be enough to say about this novel if I hadn’t found reason to disagree with the introduction to the reprint I have, on two points. Few people have read all of Wodehouse’s books—there were 97. I’ve read more than half of them, and I believe they contain evidence that Wodehouse became a target for political persecution because his first great comic character (based on a real person) made himself memorable by a political joke. I’m positive they contain evidence that Wodehouse was able to write clever, funny, lovable female characters who might have been played by Lucille Ball.

Wodehouse wrote several stories that grew into series of books. The one that launched his career was Mike and Psmith, in which Wodehouse expanded “Mike,” a sports story, into a comedy series by giving Mike a dorm mate who sought distinction by adding a silent P at the beginning of his name. Psmith introduced himself in an unforgettable scene that included the classic line, “I’ve become a socialist. It’s a great scheme. You work for the abolition of private property, and start by collaring all you can, and sitting on it,” as he staked his and Mike’s claim to the best “study” in the house. Young readers would probably have bought one of those endless series, like the Bobbsey Twins, that would have kept Mike and Psmith at school forever; Wodehouse let them grow up, and spun off their series into the Blandings Castle and Jeeves stories. The characters in these stories are part of the same fictional world and know each other slightly, but each appear as major characters in their own series. Wodehouse thought of most adventures for the large family at Blandings Castle. It’s possible that, having based Psmith on a real teenager he knew slightly, Wodehouse simply couldn’t imagine a long adult career for him—but, considering how long Wodehouse kept other characters young and how many other characters shared Psmith’s kind of cleverness if not his effrontery, it seems unlikely. I suspect Wodehouse was advised to abandon Psmith, then punished later for having written him, anyway, because Psmith summed up socialism so unpardonably well.

From time to time Wodehouse tried working a different comedic vein. There was a series of short stories told in a club restaurant where tellers and listeners are identified by their orders as “Eggs,” “Beans,” “Crumpets,” etc. There was a working-class character, Mr. Mulliner. Wodehouse wrote several stories about golf. He was also attracted to the American crime fiction genre; he wrote several comic crime parodies. The crimes mostly involved stealing paintings and jewelry, the criminals were sympathetic goofs, and although in theory Wodehouse’s criminals spoke U.S. criminal jargon with a few fashionable British slang words they’d learned from movies, while his British aristocrats spoke upper-crust British English with a few fashionable bits of criminal jargon they’d learned from movies, in practice they all sounded more like Wodehouse than like other members of either group. In any case the golf, crime, restaurant, and Mulliner stories sold, but never so well as the adventures of the British elite group that included Psmith, Bertie, and Blandings. Wodehouse kept going back, by popular demand, to that improbably extended, improbably sunny, summery prewar England where the biggest problems on people’s minds were whether Bertie ought to wear purple socks and which of the Earl’s nieces and nephews had misplaced which Blandings family treasure on purpose to manipulate which of his siblings into agreeing to what.

By and large Wodehouse’s characters paid less attention to politics as their fictional world faded further into the nostalgic past, every year. Jeeves and Blandings stories don’t mention years, but the slang and fashions and other details suggest that, just as it’s always summer for these characters, the year is probably in the 1920s, surely no later than 1940. Hostility about Psmith’s summary of socialism, however, died hard. Wodehouse was no fan of Mussolini—he made fun of an unsympathetic character who did admire Mussolini in one of his novels—but he got stuck in Italy while Mussolini remained in power, and was forced to state on radio broadcasts that, though held prisoner, he was being treated well. There was a war on. Wodehouse was banished from Britain as a traitor, falsely accused of being the person who'd broadcast really anti-British propaganda as "Lord Haw-Haw," and forced to immigrate to the United States, which his fans tried not to make too much of a hardship for him. He stayed in the U.S. after clearing his name and died old, rich, and famous, but always scorned by some people because he hadn’t jumped on the socialist bandwagon.

Later a complaint arose that he didn’t like women characters. This complaint was based on selective reading of his best-selling novels only. There’s no question that Wodehouse, having gone to all-male schools and all-male clubs, made fun of those male-bonding sites more effectively than he made fun of happy families. Bertie’s pal Bingo Little, the commitment-phobic social butterfly in Jeeves, reappears as a comically clueless but happily married minor character in both Jeeves and Blandings novels. Part of Bertie’s comic ineptitude is his fear of women. Bertie is, for all practical purposes, married to Jeeves. Wodehouse used several versions of a story in which some other young man, less afraid of women generally but still shy about approaching the one he wants to marry, heeds a bit of bad advice found in pop culture of the period: “You must take her in your arms and say, ‘My mate!’” Despite this handicap all the more competent Wodehouse heroes married.

There are even a few Wodehouse heroines. Wodehouse seems to have liked the name Sally; he gave it to at least three characters who combined Jeeves’ presence of mind, Psmith’s cheekiness, and whatever style of prettiness was in fashion that year. The Sally stories made me laugh too. One Sally became the main character in a book. But other authors wrote about girls like Sally and men like Mr. Mulliner. However much he liked writing about those characters, Wodehouse did like money. He kept going back to his male-bonded upper-crust Englishmen. He was working on a novel that didn’t seem planned to end the series, published posthumously (incomplete) as Sunset at Blandings, when he died.

Wodehouse was more justly criticized for writing, or rewriting, frivolous unoriginal stories that aimed for hilarity at the expense of Literary Merit. There's no real suspense about a Wodehouse story; you know nothing very bad is going to happen to anybody, some characters are always going to be incompetent, others are always going to have all the answers, people who are especially tiresome are going to be embarrassed, everyone will laugh and make up at the end, and three-quarters of the plot in one story may be the same as three-quarters of the plot in another story. You don't read to find out what happened, but strictly to laugh. Writing this way can be defended as a separate art form but Wodehouse didn't write, and can't be read, in the way Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or even Dave Barry wrote and can be read.

Wodehouse’s “genius” contemporary, Charles Williams, whose weirdly mystical novels show a repressed sense of humor, had a character explain uncontrollable giggling with “It’s Jeeves...it comes in a book.” Possibly Williams envied Wodehouse’s gift of literary clowning; or perhaps he wanted to avoid a pun that seems obvious to anyone who majored in English Literature. Medieval English writers did not make a clear distinction between wood, meaning wood, and wode, meaning demented. The character’s giggling when strange and alarming things are going on raises suspicions...No fear, Gentle Readers. Laughing out loud physically relieves pain and the long-term effects of stress, and if you Choose Laughter to prevent becoming wode in times of stress or pain, this long-gone author can help.

To buy Jeeves online, send $10 per bound paperback book (with "25 cents" on the cover, yes) or $5 per samizdat printout, plus $5 per package and $1 per online payment, to the appropriate address as explained on the Payment Information Page. At least seven and probably eleven books of this size will fit into one $5 package, so feel free to browse for additional books to fill the box...if you choose books by living authors, we send them money to encourage them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Book Review: A Story of River

Not a Fair Trade Book


Title: A Story of River

Author: Lana Axe

Date: 2013

Publisher: AxeLord

ISBN: 978-0615821535

Length: 312 pages

Quote: “The Prophet Orz has given me hope. He knows how I am to defeat these vicious creatures who have been attacking my people. Unfortunately, I know not exactly what is to be done.”

Guilt guilt guilt guilt...In 2013, just before this blog went into a dormant phase, the writer known as Lana Axe sent me a promotional copy of this book. She'd self-published it as an e-book only and wasn't marketing printed books, but she'd mailed me a printout so I could blog about it. I didn't blog about it. I mentioned it at Bubblews, during that fiasco, but not here. And it's a good book within its genre; it deserved to become a real physical book you can buy at a bookstore...

The good news is that it did. The e-book created markets for this novel and others by the author, and now Axe has a full Amazon page of real books.

If you’ve read all of Lord of the Rings and its associated literature, and you want more...there was only one J.R.R. Tolkien, and he wrote only as much as he wrote. Nobody else does Tolkien-style fantasy epics the way Tolkien did. A Story of River, being a recent American story in the same vein, can only suffer by comparison. This is a pity, because it’s a good story in its own right.

In this fantasy world “elemental” spirits, like rivers, have mortal but very long-lived humanlike forms with some of the superhuman powers of the natural objects of which they’re the spirits. River’s humanlike form is centuries old but seems young enough to belong in a family with an elfin wife and a mix of children, five elves and two elementals.

Per genre requirements, there’s a conflict between nice and nasty sides, each army composed of a mix of human-like and alien species. Intertribal and interspecies alliances often reflect authors' feelings about intertribal and international peace. The nice army always wins the final battle (unless it’s Lewis’s Last Battle, and arguably even if it is), but it’s always a close match. One thing or person shifts the balance in favor of good, and in this story you know, long before the end, that that person will be River. You always knew that a river is a delightful thing, helpful, friendly, except when it’s in flood and deadly dangerous. If a river could be a man and join an army, that army would be unstoppable. So in this story he does, and it is.

Predictable? Yes, but Lord of the Rings is predictable; Beowulf is predictable; the Iliad is predictable. The pleasure of reading epic battle stories is not waiting to find out which side wins, but watching to see how, and what happens along the way.

If you order A Story of River in support of this web site, you'll not get that galley-like printout that I received in the mail years ago. You'll get the book shown above. Three more books of similar size will fit into the package; all of them can be books by Lana Axe, if you like fantasy epics. Since they're self-published they'll be offered as new books, $15 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Review: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Title: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler



(Once again, lots of different editions are out there; if you buy this book in support of your favorite web site, and don't specify that you must have a particular edition, you'll get whichever is available at the best price.)

Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Date: 1967

Publisher: Atheneum / Dell

ISBN: 0-440-43180-8

Length: 162 pages

Illustrations: drawings by the author

Quote: “Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away...Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that’s why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

Claudia, age eleven, and Jamie, age nine, are bored in their comfortable suburban home. They hoard their pocket money and plan a clever “lesson in Claudia (and Jamie) appreciation” for their parents and brothers. They budget for food, laundry, and return train fare, and plan their own intensive course in art history to keep their minds active during their adventure.

Nevertheless, once they settle in at the museum, they’re still bored, and now they don’t even have school. Maybe that’s why they get involved in the question of who really made their favorite statue, and make friends with the donor, Mrs. Frankweiler.

More than that would probably spoil the suspense—this is a short, simple novel, accessible to middle school audiences. Let’s just say that it’s a very arty, upscale, urban, and funny story that readers from age ten up have been enjoying for fifty years. If you didn’t read it as a child, your inner child wants you to read it now.

(This web site thanks Dan Lewis for reminding us what a cool children's book this one was!)

You can probably find this book at a public library, in the Newbery winner collection, but you can also buy it to support this web site: $5 per book, $5 per package (three to five books of similar size can fit into the package), plus $1 per online payment, as discussed on the Payment Information Page. You can also order a Storybook Doll dressed like Claudia, Jamie, or both, for $10 per doll.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Book Review: Twelve Wild Swans

A Fair Trade Book You Never Expected to See Here



Title: Twelve Wild Swans

Author: Starhawk and Hilary Valentine

Author's web site: http://starhawk.org/

Date: 2000

Publisher: Harper  Collins

ISBN: 0-06-251684-1

Length: 320 pages plus index

Quote: “The community we speak of is called Reclaiming. We are part of the larger movement, called feminist spirituality, that critiques the patterns of domination embedded in patriarchal religions...we are willing to identify with the victims of the Witch persecutions.”

Say whaaat? How can a Christian web site touch this book? With a long explanation, of course, in three parts:

1. Sermon for Christian Readers

First the acknowledgment: For many women whose levels of feminist and spiritual consciousness are high, the whole idea of Neo-Pagan groups actively rebelling against their Jewish, Christian, or Humanist heritages seems (a) silly, (b) heretical, (c) satanic or at least vulnerable to satanic influences, (d) embarrassing, and/or (e) inherently subject to abuse and exploitation. Most women prefer to stay in our own faith tradition while critiquing whatever misogynist heresies may have crept into it.

This is a Christian blog. I am a Christian blogger. The last thing anyone at this web site wants would be to suggest that Christians, Buddhists, or Muslims need to try to revive the long-gone religious practices of departed ancestors who weren’t even our own. Nor did their cults, while active, succeed in liberating women from anything. If you are a woman who loves your brothers in faith and your Father in Heaven, you are blessed. You probably have only an academic interest, if that, in Neo-Pagan books.

If that’s the case, you’d do well to begin your study of Neo-Paganism with Starhawk, because she’s more than just the typical feminist heretic. Addressing an audience of misfits and iconoclasts allows her to say more about social psychology, more truthfully, than an academic psychologist could say, and her insights into group psychology are right on.

And if, on the other hand, you’re a woman (or a gender-confused person) who can’t imagine any way to identify goodness or even real power with a Father, whose experience of your religious tradition has been abusive...even if the abuse was limited to a confused admirer or a jealous woman saying “You look like a witch with that black hair,” you might be interested in the Humanist splinter group who’ve tried, during my lifetime, to revive the old custom of praying to “goddess” images. Some of them are True Greens. Some are fun to know. Some are already in your social network. Without necessarily wanting to join their group, you might be interested in reading about what one of the leading groups in this movement actually do.

Most of them have not studied their ancestral religions very thoroughly. They have no idea that the “Heavenly Father” to whom Jesus prayed was clearly described as a Spirit, never limited by the gender or number of a body. Of two names (as distinct from titles) used for God in the Bible, although both are used as “he” words, one has the form of a “she” word and the other has the form of a “they” word. The ancient Israelite religion constantly affirmed in every way that mortal minds can’t encompass an adequate image of the Infinite. God is not to be thought of as limited to any form we might be able to visualize. In the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not make any graven image” (of God) actually comes before “Thou shalt not murder.” To profane the faith by perverting faith in a Supreme Being into worship of some three-dimensional mortal creature murders true religion; it causes nice Jewish girls like Miriam Simos to grow up trying to reclaim the Goddess of her ancestors’ Babylonian enemies. Unable to believe what she’d heard about the God of Abraham, Miriam Simos, a.k.a. Starhawk, chose to call herself a Witch rather than a Jew.

Before any correspondents start pointing to Starhawk’s use of Babylonian motifs, or to the medieval Pagan influences on the Kabbalah, as evidence that Judaism is particularly Satanic, let’s note: Although the Reclaiming group grew out of the environmentalist movement in Northern California, in most of the United States a person who wanted to work through the group exercises in this book would go to a Unitarian church. I seriously considered posting this as a Sunday Book Review. 

The Bible writer who noted “women weeping for Tammuz” (the Jewish precursor to Lent, an end-of-winter fast associated with a Babylonian myth and cult) in the temple of Jerusalem was not recommending the practice. Nevertheless, Unitarians host Neo-Pagan spiritual exercises in church. My collection of Starhawk’s books started at Unitarian-sponsored Berea College. I’m not sure that Christians ought to bring Neo-Pagan activities into the sanctuary, but if any religious group ought to be trying to encourage dissatisfied Humanists to try “exploring their spirituality” and perhaps work their way back around to a traditional belief, surely Christians should be it; real Christians don’t persecute heretics, but try to correct them—and correct ourselves by them—in a spirit of brotherly love.

If you believe the spirituality in this book to be a bad thing or (as I do) a thing less good than it ought to be, I’d suggest directing the blame toward the sexist perversions of the traditional religions.

Female baby-boomers started saying, “I’m not going to worship a (male body part).” The Bible never suggests that God has any specifically male body parts. The Hebrew language is particularly rich in metaphors, some of which compare abstract qualities to human and nonhuman body parts. If taken literally, the Bible credits God (and people) with wings, credits God (and a few people, but not Satan) with horns, pictures God’s Wisdom copying the marketing technique of the village harlot, and even describes God’s parental love for the Creation using the mixed metaphor of a “nursing father.” It credits God with rachamim, sometimes translated as “bowels of compassion,” literally meaning “female reproductive parts” and the motherly feelings associated with them. It describes God as Shaddai, the Almighty, which literally means “top-heavy” and can describe either a muscular man or a busty woman. (The ancient Israelites’ ideal woman was a farm girl who could work as hard as any man of her size.) But the Bible never uses the precise words for either male or female procreative parts, and although it uses words for “beard” with reference to men, including a prophecy of Jesus, it never describes God having one.

In the twentieth century, when some churches employed female ministers but tried to maintain policies that authorized payment only to male ministers, an absurd argument about a pastor having a “physical resemblance” to God was seriously made by sexist churchmen. Rrreally? According to the plain literal reading of the Bible, God seems to have more “physical resemblance” to Marilyn Monroe than to Billy Graham. “Well, obviously, that can’t be right!” Yes; that’s the point. During my lifetime Billy Graham had little physical resemblance even to Jesus—he was far too old! A behavioral resemblance to Jesus is what Christians are told to cultivate. I sometimes wonder whether Jesus needed to be a young man, with beard, muscles, and presumably all the other evidence of a full supply of testosterone, just to show that it’s possible for a young man to make choices that, apart from the hiking, sailing, and construction work, seem more like a woman’s or an old man’s choices.

2. So What’s in the Book?

The Reclaiming Collective had started operating “Witch camp” gathering for eco-activists who wanted to participate in the sort of politics-as-spiritual-practice Starhawk had described in Dreaming the Dark. Twelve Wild Swans describes some of the things they did at these camps: communing with nature, processing their emotions, strategizing, networking, and building their “organizer” skills. Activities were organized around the theme of a myth or folktale. In Twelve Wild Swans a German-Scandinavian tale was chosen, though the authors and contributors mention having used other tales other years. The stories chosen involve quests in wildernesses near oceans.

Everybody can benefit from Starhawk’s insights into how to keep group processes egalitarian. If anyone has spent her life actively resisting the temptation to become the sort of cult leader some followers actually want, she’s the one. She knows firsthand, and is willing and able to explain, more about how groups cohere or fail to cohere, how groups stay democratic and satisfactory or become cliques or cults, than any other living writer I have found.

Nevertheless, though written for as general an audience as possible, these observations are based on observation of the kind of people who attend “Witch camps.”

Much interest in Neo-Paganism has had to do with traditional drug-tripping rituals. Reclaiming officially disclaims any use of those. What we all learned in the 1960s is that anything LSD can do for the human mind, meditation (self-hypnosis) can do better. Twelve Wild Swans offers many guided meditations.

Another (overlapping)category of Neo-Pagans is the people who’ve built up a vast complex of residual emotions about their family’s religious tradition. As regular readers know, the position of this web site is: Fix Facts First: Feelings Follow. In mainstream North American culture, men often deny any emotions other than anger because people who express emotions other than anger are often emotionally abused by people who ignore the real problem (or spoil the real pleasure!) by wasting everyone’s time with attention to someone’s emotional feelings about it. (John Gray wrote a series of horrible books that actually coached husbands in doing this to their wives.) As a result it may be impossible to write about releasing residual emotions, on your own schedule and for your own benefit, in a way that completely rules out exploitation of your words by abusers. Any concession that residual emotions can become a separate fact that a few people need to fix can be used to feed abuse. The coauthors try to discourage that; I doubt that they’ve fully succeeded.

They do try to draw at least a thin, fine line between healthy present-time anger and residual anger.I think they could have drawn the line more clearly. At the very least, the story of the woman who “was able to find her rage, tracing it all the way back to her childhood” (blaming her mother, yet) might have been balanced with a story of the woman who “was able to find her fear, tracing it all the way back to her sexist miseducation, and hear the real, present-moment, adult emotions people are actually expressing, without rushing in to infantilize those people and blame their mothers.”

I think the authors pass too hastily by the present-time abuses people become activists in order to protest, in the discussion of residual anger. Arguably because that’s what the whole book is about. They give airspace to the wounded-inner-child line of talk that was helpful to some and abusive to others in the 1980s, then rush to a discussion of political correctness and “If we can be nice enough to members of ethnic minority groups, maybe a few of them will eventually join us.” They don’t actually say “When you feel more than usually annoyed by one of several undesirable things you see every day, instead of asking whether guilt, indigestion, drug reactions, a hormone imbalance, chemical pollution, increasing social or emotional stress, or simple overcrowding may be involved, just displace that emotion into an hysterical overreaction the next time someone says ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘straight talk’”—but they come close to it.And the p.c. police certainly seem to be reading whatever advice they do read in just that way.

Baby-boomers grew up hearing a lot about “buried feelings from the past” but my own observation, admittedly of people who are more comfortable with their family culture than the average Neo-Pagan, has yet to identify a baby-boomer who’s actually had that problem. Few of us ever buried anything. Some of us thought we’d broken through to buried memories in the 1990s, then found that it was only Prozac Dementia. Some of the older generation may have buried emotions, and had other psychologically incorrect experiences that either Sigmund or Anna Freud lived to observe; if baby-boomers had psychologically incorrect emotions, we had different ones. We knew it was supposed to be okay to hate your same-sex parent and idolize your opposite-sex parent, so the only problem most of us had with that whole emotional complex was that it didn’t resonate with whatever emotional complexes we had, at all. People generally come down with the diseases for which they’ve not had the vaccine.

The co-authors go on to discuss ego inflation and ego deflation, the value of silence, the value of pageantry, emotionally grounding oneself against hostility or adulation, the problems of jealousy and envy, all in the context of fairy tales, pageantry, and game playing that engage the id...

“I thought witches cast spells.”

They do. The spells Reclaiming Witches consider “most effective” are the ones that aim to change the Witches themselves.

“I thought they worshipped the Devil.”

Reclaiming Witches are Humanists who weren’t content with classical scientific Humanism. They spiritualize their feelings about nature and the environment by worshipping a concept of “immanent divinity,” embodied as a female or couple, human or otherwise, sometimes identified with an old Pagan deity, sometimes with one of the four directions—usually with four or more different images within a prayer or ceremony. Images placed on their altars may include mirrors. They don’t actually believe it matters which images they use, except as it reflects the right kind of mental attitude toward other ethnic groups, because as Humanists they still believe that what they are worshipping is really the “spiritual” part of themselves. Most deny any belief in the Devil. Their belief system has features in common with Satanism, but it’s not the same.

“Y’mean they’re really worshipping themselves?”

They’re not dogmatically denying that there is anything Out There beyond themselves, but they don’t believe they know anything about it, or have any power to change anything beyond themselves. As the co-authors quote Doreen Valiente saying: if Neo-Pagan Witches don’t find what they seek within themselves, they’ll never find it beyond themselves. What they’re actually doing is plain old Jungian psychotherapy, with a left-wing, baby-boomer, American feminist flavor.

3. “And you think that’s something that can be useful to Christians?”

How useful it may be depends on which individual Christians we’re talking about and what they want to use it for.

If our primary motive is to understand and relate to friends who are drawn to Neo-Paganism, then anything written by the best writers in that movement, which would include Elizabeth Barrette, Luisah Teish, Barbara Walker, the late Mary Daly, and Jane Caputi as well as Starhawk, can be useful. Each of these writers has her own niche, or niches, and offers her own literary voice in addition to her insights into Neo-Paganism.

If our primary motive is to improve our Christian practice so that sincere, sensitive, True Green people will be more likely to reclaim Christianity than try to revive anything from ancient Babylon, then books like this one deserve serious study. The good that Starhawk is doing is the good we should be doing. Why aren’t we?

Christians don’t direct worship to the natural world. We give thanks for nature rather than to it. Sometimes we forget to show gratitude for nature.

We as a species are dumb enough to build nuclear reactors in earthquake zones, which is what put the “fear of the Earth Goddess” into a lot of people in California in the 1970s, which was where Reclaiming really started. We’re dumb enough to flatten beautiful, scenic, historic mountains to grub out a few more carloads of coal, and we don’t even need to burn that coal. We’re dumb enough to spray so much poison on so much land that our children get sick every time they play outdoors, and then we blame whatever pitiful little amusements they find for themselves, the books and comic books, TV and rock music, video games and cell phone messaging, for making them the pathetic lot of 4F’s they become. Rebellion against these forms of stupidity began with the older generation, grew in the baby-boomer generation, and is still growing for the young. Nature worship, which very few people are able to take seriously as a religion, is one way of rebelling against this abuse of nature. The bid for global totalitarian dictatorship, which really died with the old Soviet Union despite George Soros’s heroic efforts at life support, is studying and using this “Green” rebellion.

The only cure for this Poison Green cultural influence is a True Green movement. It would be convenient (for everyone except umbrella sellers) if every time a Socialist said it was raining outside, the rain would stop! Since the world is set up in favor of the umbrella sellers, we might as well acknowledge the rain. Some Poison Greens really are all about trying to set up a totalitarian government that will self-destruct and end American Democracy, but real Greens are seriously interested in preserving life—human and other forms of life—and respect Christians, like Ozarque or Wendell Berry, who care about that too.

Christians may not need to spend as much time on the Jungian self-help meditations as those in rebellion do; political demonstrations certainly aren’t part of our worship services. However, organizing and demonstrating are useful skills for Christians, and I know of no church group that really has no need for group reflections on how people handle ego inflation, ego deflation, and that tendency to form social hierarchies. In fact, in all churches where I’ve spent much time, I’d describe the need for Starhawk’s insights into group psychology as howling. I’d like to be able to recommend a Christian writer to these church groups; unfortunately the late lamented writer known as Ozarque, who came closer than any other Christian I know, had specialized in a different field and didn’t come very close to offering the same kind of insight Starhawk does.

Christians could usefully study the Reclaiming group’s pageantry of nature worship. We don’t need to do that but we need to ask ourselves, individually or in groups, what truth is in the reproof, how we’ve allowed ourselves to do such a poor job of stewardship that anyone could feel a need to look all the way back to ancient Babylon for correction. Where did we let the joy go out of our own concept of stewardship? How did we forget that the original “southern agrarian” writers, serving God through right use of the land they believed God gave their families in perpetuity, were the Bible writers?

The Twelve Wild Swans has been Out There long enough that this web site can offer it as a Fair Trade Book on the usual terms, $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, as discussed on the Payment Information Page. From this base price of $10 we'll send $1 to Starhawk or the charity of her choice, presumably Reclaiming. Another book of comparable size and shape that would fit into the package beside this one is Truth or Dare, also a Fair Trade Book; if you order both, you pay $15 (or $16) and we send Starhawk or her charity $2. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book Review: Two Sides of Love

A Fair Trade Book


Title: Two Sides of Love

Author: Gary Smalley and John Trent

Date: 1990

Publisher: Tyndale

ISBN: 1-56179-071-0

Length: 190 pages

Quote: “It’s essential that we learn to balance love’s hard and soft sides.”

This “Focus on the Family” book was written by, for, and about fathers. That’s what I don’t like. If you’re not a father, some things in this book may still be useful to you, but you’re auditing someone else’s class. If you are a father, what can a woman say about this book? It’s well recommended by men.

But I can describe the contents of the book. It’s about “the hard side of love,” which includes fatherly behavior like teaching sons to work, and “the soft side of love,” which includes fatherly behavior like playing with children and telling them you love them.

Building on this base, the authors move on to discuss their version of the four-temperaments personality model. As if either the traditional/classical or the current/scientific names for the four best documented personality traits were subject to copyright, they choose to characterize people as otters, beavers, lions, or golden retrievers. That grating, grinding noise I hear in my mind’s ear is not just cognitive dissonance from knowing that more precise names for these traits exist, but also cognitive dissonance from knowing that the behavior of otters and golden retrievers does not clearly illustrate the difference between HSP and ADD humans.

While psychologists used to postulate one “normal, balanced” kind of personality, they now recognize that there are actually more than four hereditary physical traits that will always shape our individual personalities in distinct ways. These physical traits can be “seen” in medical tests, although they may or may not be even loosely linked with more obvious traits like height or color. They are permanent characteristics of physically healthy people, as distinct from the influences various unhealthy conditions can also have on personality.

Ancient philosophers identified four (or three) personality types with the “elements” or conditions of physical existence: liquid/water, solid/earth, gas/air, or energy/fire. They did not agree on the imagined connections, and some of their imaginings of how the connections might work have been disproved, but the four personality types Hippocrates recognized are easy to find among people we know today. Their traditional/classical names are Melancholy, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Sanguine (capital letters to distinguish the types from the moods thought to be specific to each type). More recent, scientific studies identify the personality traits as High Sensory Perceptivity, Long Brain Stem, "strong will," and attention deficiency.

Humans are not rigidly bound into the behavior patterns that go with these traits. We can choose to act differently than we feel.

Fastidious HSP fathers who don’t like mess and noise can change diapers.

Quiet LBS fathers who seldom think much needs to be said can advocate for their children’s educational needs.

Aggressive strong-willed fathers can remind themselves to be patient with the slow growth rate of human children.

Scatterbrained ADD fathers can force themselves to go to work every day and find “excitement” in their job, rather than wandering off in search of “excitement.”

However, the harder people try to will themselves to “be” like someone other than themselves, the more often they run up against the fact that they’re not that person and they never will be.

HSP’s, who do care about other people (at least in the way we care about trees) and have active consciences, have been bullied away from attending churches where anyone is ever allowed to utter poisonous lies like “You should be more outgoing.” We can listen to that kind of garbage, become depressed, blow our minds on booze and pills, and make everyone miserable, without ever “being outgoing” enough to satisfy extroverts who’ve been allowed to imagine that their condition is or should be normal. Or we can use “be more outgoing” as a reminder to go out and never come back, and live happily ever after in our own not-so-much-of-a-minority, longer-healthier-life-associated way. 

HSP’s do want and benefit from social activity, and social activity works best for us when we keep our expectations reasonable: “I will go to church, pray silently, sing hymns, listen to a sermon, and reply politely to any polite, unintrusive conversation people may make from a good healthy distance on the way out of the building. I will walk away from anything that seems as if it might be or become a gossip fest, extrovert social bullying session, or encroachment on my family and/or quiet time. I will loudly thank God for giving me the strength to refrain from violence as I walk away from any uninvited touching and, for the good of the offender as well as other people, I will not presume to pardon the offender until he or she repents.” 

When we keep this kind of resolutions, we may be viciously cast out of some churches and social groups. We need to persist and persevere. We are not actually as much of a minority as the extrovert social bullies would like to think. We can form churches and social groups that uphold norms of etiquette that work for us, and consciously enforce a rule that extroverts, when they try to get in to our groups, will have to make their own resolutions: “I will go to church, pray silently, sing hymns, listen to a sermon, and make only polite, unintrusive conversation, only from a good healthy distance, only on the way out of the building. I will keep my conversation impersonal, watching that my personality doesn’t become overbearing and boring just as a 300-pound man has to watch that he doesn’t step on other people. I will keep my hands in my own pockets at all times unless, and until, someone else reaches out to shake my hand first, and under no circumstances will I stand closer to anyone than is necessary to allow me to reach out when that person reaches out to shake hands.” 

Such behavioral contracts allow introverts and extroverts to mingle for a few hours at a time without harm, and possibly with some benefit, to one another...as long as everyone is mindful that they are  choosing to do things for a few hours, not changing the way they “be.”

Writing in 1990, Smalley and Trent don’t go quite so far as reaching that level of insight. They do, however, offer encouraging words for each type of Christian father. Apart from the animal metaphors their insights reflected the freshest psychological studies of their time, which can still be useful for many people:

“Danny always got high marks...until he reached the fourth grade. A few months into the new academic year, Danny...would it for hours in his room with the door closed, ostensibly studying. But still his grades were suffering.” Danny, a bright, conscientious HSP, had been assigned to a teacher whose idea of “challenging students to do their best” felt to Danny like persecution. Inventing “challenges,” “testing” people with anything less than your most pleasant, respectful, congenial behavior, is something extroverts typically do to convince introverts (who don’t have that craving to fight or compete with other people) that the extroverts are enemies, which is likely to “challenge” us to do our worst! Luckily for young Danny, his father was able to persuade his teacher to stop bullying his top student.

“Lions and otters” (extroverts) “can’t wait to change something even if it’s for no other reason than just to put their mark on something.” Smalley and Trent having annoyed a co-worker “when we walked in...an hour before the program started and began to switch the location and arrangement...For us, it was just the fun of having something else to change.” But they “finally realized” that this behavior was obnoxious, and “backed off and asked his forgiveness.”

“We once counseled a couple in which the man, a strong lion, was used to roaring at those at work and at home and always getting his way...I (John) made the comment that the primary way he communicated was by intimidating people. Instantly he stood up, grabbed the edge of the table, and leaned over toward me. ‘My goal isn’t to intimidate anybody!’ he shouted, staring...” The ministerial team was able to work with him only after Trent roared back at him, braced for a brawl. The man’s next reaction was to yell at his wife, “Why don’t you ever stand up to me like he has?” In societies where marriages are not arranged, where people who marry people like this man probably like his style, it was plausible for Smalley and Trent to believe that his marriage could be saved—and, they report, it was.

Even if it’s auditing someone else’s class, anything that helps extroverts recognize how much they have to repent of is recommended.

Dr. Trent is still alive, so this is a Fair Trade Book. When you send $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment to this web site, as explained on the Payment Information Page, out of that base price of $10 we'll send 10%, or $1, to Trent or a charity of his choice. If you buy other books by him, we'll add 10% of the base price of each book to that payment.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Book Review: The Granny Project

A Fair Trade Book


Title: The Granny Project

Author: Anne Fine

Date: 1983

Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux

ISBN: none

Illustrations: 167 pages

Quote: “However, in spite of the very real difficulties of keeping an old person in the home...as many as __% are still living safely in the bosom of their own families...We chose to study one family in particular, the Harris family, because they so neatly illustrate...so many of the problems involved.”

Thus Sophie and Ivan Harris, revulsed by the thought of their beloved Granny Harris being sent to a nursing home, volunteer not only to take over Granny’s nursing care but to write about it for their school social science project. Younger siblings Tanya and Nicholas, and of course their English father and Russian mother, are part of the project too.

U.S. readers may think of Robin Williams rather than Anne Fine when they think of Mrs. Doubtfire, but Alias Madame Doubtfire was another of Anne Fine’s tersely hilarious, edgy, iconoclastic novels for teens-and-up. She also wrote Goggle-Eyes and The Chicken Gave It to Me. That’s the kind of writer she is. Nothing is sacred.

(U.S. readers may not have realized that these stories are British, more specifically Scottish. A British blogger’s protest about the portrayal of British characters in American fiction—as rich snobs or sinister spies—brought this to mind: Anne Fine’s characters are such down-to-earth, likable Brits that when a U.S. studio made a movie of Mrs. Doubtfire they recast the whole family as Americans.)

Mothers can be so busy being yuppies that, although they always knew their ex-husbands were talented actors, they don’t recognize their ex-husbands playing grandmothers and applying for the job of baby-sitter for their own children. Parents can be so bored with being “the sandwich generation” that they let the kids take full responsibility for their own parents. The Harris children are responsible, intelligent, likable, but not exactly honest; some of their plots to deceive and manipulate their parents succeed, and others fail. In 1983 the U.S. fad for “liberated” use of bad language coincided with a U.K. fad for “talking rude”; the “British Invasion” of U.S. pop culture was reaching its natural end, and one criticism I remember hearing of new British books, in 1982, was that British publishers were allowing more offensive words in books aimed at teenagers.

And all geriatric problems come to one final solution, eventually—and in this novel that end is mercifully near when Granny Harris starts to need a lot of nursing care. If you don’t like the idea of a grandmother’s death being part of a happy ending, you won’t like this book. However, Granny Harris is old enough to be her grandchildren’s great-grandmother before she starts forgetting their names.

In families where late marriage is traditional, anyone old enough to read this book has probably already lived through at least one loss-of-grandparent that prepared them to agree that the Harris family get off easily.

In families where early marriage is traditional, and grandparents may be nowhere near even retirement age, adults may want to use discretion about which children they allow to read this book. The absence of active, healthy grandparents might give young children false ideas.

Anyone old enough to know the difference between an 87-year-old senile grandparent and a 45-year-old yuppie-type grandparent might like The Granny Project. Whether the children’s schemes and lies self-punish more than they pay off is still open to debate, but parents might enjoy discussing it with their own teenagers.

What you’ll like, if you like this book, is the realistic, sympathetic, yet comic study of what home nursing is really like. Grandmother and grandchildren really do care about each other, so the Granny Project has many moments of joy. Home care for a character like Granny Harris has its funny moments, too. The Harris children are horrible brats in some ways, but for this type of story they may be ideal; before flu brings the whole project down, they at least begin to develop real characters, while being so uncivilized (half Russian—this was the Cold War) as to suggest to child readers that they could do what the Harris brats do, and better.

Meh. I was younger than little Tanya Harris when the one of my grandparents who was disabled before she died was living with us. I loved my disabled grandmother. Once in a while I was able to do something that showed it. I wasn’t nearly as good as Tanya is in this book.

To buy it here, send $10 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, as discussed at the Payment Information Page.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Book Review: The Adventures of Slim and Howdy

A Fair Trade Book



Title: The Adventures of Slim and Howdy

Authors: Kix Brooks, Ronnie Dunn, and Bill Fitzhugh

Authors' web site: https://brooksanddunn.wordpress.com/

Date: 2008

Publisher: Hachette

ISBN: 978-1-931722-82-7

Length: 275 pages

Quote: “You bet the truck?” “Yeah.” “Which half?”

Two young musicians, admittedly “like” Brooks and Dunn but not yet the authors of a hit song like “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” drive through Texas to sing in local bars. Strangers when they agree to share a truck, they soon discover mutual friends and interests, though the story ends before they try singing together.

For now they’re bonding by drinking, gambling, getting themselves into trouble, and getting each other out. Slim spots the trick by which Howdy lost the truck in a card game; Howdy wins the right to beat up Slim before another young idjit does, then postpones the beatings indefinitely. Then things get livelier when one of their employers is kidnapped for ransom, making this novel a trifecta: comedy, western, and mystery. (Readers are led to suspect two possible kidnappers; Slim and Howdy suspect two others; who really dunnit...)

Meeting the requirements for a western novel, lots of people get shot in this story, but mostly in the feet. Gross-outs involve the sale of venomous reptiles as pets, the making of a kinky porn movie that wins an art film contest, and a lot of offstage but unmistakable drunken promiscuity. While in Texas the characters speak English and their bad language is tersely summarized as bad language. When the action crosses the Mexican border they speak Spanish, and use a lot of words that probably aren’t in your dictionary, that just might get you expelled from Spanish class for asking the teacher to explain.

At a certain stage I think teenage girls should read this book. The plot is romance-free but not sex-free. This is what happens when women think it’s “liberated” to throw themselves at men, trying to do what makes babies while spending their own money on pills and gadgets that they hope will keep the babies away. Slim, Howdy, and the guys they meet are emotionally immature, man-sized little boys, who have left a lot of emotionally immature, woman-sized little girls behind, and meet a few more in this book. Some of the gals are the sort any reasonable person wants to avoid; the worst pair demand that Slim and Howdy help them rob someone’s house even before they flop into bed. Others are the type who end up embittered and miserable because, surprise, flopping into bed with a young idjit does not magically turn him into a husband-and-father. As a result there seem to be only two women characters in this book: The Barfly, cloned at several stages on the way down into being the stoned, demented hooker the guys observe in a police station, and one full-grown woman (she was married to a real man, apparently, but he died) whom the guys like and respect as a sort of aunt-substitute. A woman who respects herself, at any age, will probably be treated by this kind of idjits as a sort of aunt-substitute, so a teenager feeling her hormones can use a good close look at the alternative. There is only the one alternative, and she just goes on and on and gets worse and worse, in however many bodies Slim and Howdy meet her.

There is an alternative to being a secular nun or ending up mindlessly, hopelessly offering your no-longer-wanted body at fellow drunk-and-disorderlies until somebody arrives with the money to “put this thing,” meaning you, “back to work.” It sounds like this: “Safe sex only until my husband is in a position to support the baby and me.” Repeat as necessary, and never imagine that pills or gadgets make sex safe. If the Marilyns and Briannas and Slims and Howdys of this world are all in agreement that nothing they do is ever going to “lead to” baby-making, they can all have fun, even while sober. But it only takes one moment of confusion for one of them to spoil all the fun for everyone.

I suspect Brooks, Dunn, and Fitzhugh wrote this book with the intention that it be something their aunts would not have liked. Hah. I got my copy of this book from someone’s grandmother. I laughed out loud, several times. So, very likely, will you. Fitzhugh has a reputation for comedy, and Brooks & Dunn knew their local-bars-with-live-music. But you probably won’t want to have it around the house when the grandchildren come to visit. Read it fast (that’s unlikely to be a problem), laugh over it, and then quickly pass it on to a single friend.

This web site would never deprive anyone of the fun of surfing the’Net and compiling their own soundtrack of classic country songs mentioned in the book, but since The Adventures of Slim and Howdy is old enough to be a Fair Trade Book, this web site will suggest a few songs that fit the mood, here.

To buy it here, send $5 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment as explained at the Payment Information Page. Four books of this size will fit into one package.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Book Review: The Secret to Southern Charm

Not Yet a Fair Trade Book



Title: The Secret to Southern Charm

Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey

Date: 2018

Publisher: Gallery / Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 9781501158100

Length: 365 pages

Quote: “It had been thirty-four days since those uniformed men came to tell me my Adam was Missing in Action...and still, every time my bedroom door opened, I felt a jolting panic that someone was going to tell me he was gone.”

Sloane “fell in love” and married Adam too fast, too young. When he’s reported missing, she shuts herself in her room with her guilt (she wasn’t a perfect wife), neglecting the house, the baby, herself. This story is about how her charming Southern friends and family intervene to help Sloane through the days of suspense, in Southern Living style, with lots of family gossip, food and drink, and shopping.

(Fair disclosure: I received this novel through a raffle hosted at Beth Ann Chiles’ blog. Please read her review too. In fact, her blog is sponsored by people who donate money to charity based on the number of comments the blog generates each month. The first post of the month describes the cause your comments are being used to support. You are hereby encouraged to check out the charity of the current month and, if you approve of it, click through each post this month and comment with fundraising in mind.) 

The Secret to Southern Charm is a tribute to military families.

So what is the secret to Southern charm? In the book, one character says (jokingly) that it’s the accent. Another says that, no, it’s being kind. By the end of the book you may feel that the book is a statement that it’s enduring hard times. There’s a discussion guide at the back of the book; it invites book clubs to discuss this question.

Well, the book itself is charming in what I’d agree is a Southern way, for better and for worse. I know some Southerners—I’d call them the town variety, as distinct from the country kind—who behave like Sloane’s family, the fictional Murphys. I perceive them as culturally alien to my at-least-equally-Southern family. For one thing, except for Adam, they seem awfully sedentary. They don’t get up and go and do very much, and when they do travel, they sit down and ride.

They don’t tell each other important things and work through them together, either, until their secrets burst open and the mere fact of their having kept the secrets becomes offensive. They forgive each other for this, but it does create a lot of unnecessary melodrama. Sloane and Adam were married for a few years before they told each other the truth about children. He wanted them earlier, for the valid reason that right now, when he might feel better about having left Sloane with a son who was old enough to be useful around the house, he’s left her with a helpless toddler. Sloane’s mother, grandmother, sisters, and even their children, all have big bad secrets too.

Real families do this kind of thing, and yes, some of them survive. When they survive as families, I suspect it’s because their mental energy is so thoroughly engaged with “family” that, although they have jobs and friends, they don’t actually think about their jobs and friends very much. They go to lunch with an emotionally healthier friend now and then. They may even confide in that friend things like the secrets these women keep: “Don’t ever let my husband know, but...” And then they put that exposure to a calmer way of being behind them, and dive back into their shames and secrets and melodrama.

Well, it’s their way. It works for them. People like the fictional Murphy family aren’t interested in what I’d consider a saner understanding of what’s private, what’s confidential, what’s open though not necessarily interesting to the public, and what everyone needs to know. This novel is a study of how people can be emotionally intimate while concealing big bad secrets from each other.

And they live in places of great natural beauty. Occasionally they notice the beauty. Mostly they take it for granted. Rural Southerners are, if anything, more prone to do this than the city kind.

And they shop. They decorate. The places where they live may superficially resemble the functional homes of rural Southerners, where everything you see serves some practical purpose and has some reason for being where it is. (This is basically the same approach to decorating as the Early Salvation Army Store Look found in the homes of young students; as rural Southerners mature they usually find a valid reason for discarding the uglier pieces—how fortuitous that the baby was sick on the yellow couch!—and replacing them with better-looking ones.) They may also resemble the Front Room As Museum style favored in Washington and wherever world travellers maintain homes or retire, where the rule is to keep the background simple in order to display as many souvenirs and “conversation pieces” as possible; sometimes this type of collection ends up in an actual museum. People like the Murphys, however, even if they have jobs, spend a lot of their free time shopping for things that suggest either of these looks, or other decorating looks they may fancy. Often they pay more for battered old things that fit into the look of their choice than they’d pay for shiny new things. They don’t devote all this time and attention to composing arrangements of furniture and arts’n’crafts just to have something to natter about while keeping big bad secrets; they honestly like looking at objects other people hardly notice—but the hours of conversation about housewares help keep the big bad secrets covered up.

Personally I tend to rush through other people’s chitchat in real life. (“Worries about aging grandmother, check, now what is her point?”) My immediate family don’t speak in elaborate systems of nuance and I’ve never felt close enough to any other family to learn theirs, if they have one. At the same time I was aware that the nuances of what each member of the fictional Murphy family does and doesn’t tell each other member are what some readers will most enjoy about The Secret to Southern Charm. In Austen or Thackeray it’s worth slowing down to catch the nuances—they’re funny; in Trollope it’s not; in this novel the nuances aren’t particularly funny, but they can be instructive. They can help Southerners either explain their families to others, or explain some of our friends’ families to ourselves. They may help the rest of the world examine their families-as-subcultures, too.

One of the secret-keepers in this novel is the sort of person who sincerely thinks, “It really wasn’t shameful or adulterous, if only people could understand the way it was.” Readers may agree with her. I don’t believe morality is determined by emotional feelings. When we admit that things are sins, then we can hope to be forgiven. I believe it may well have been in a case like this that Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” and since the character has practiced self-control ever since I’m inclined to imagine that Purity Itself has forgiven her; but this is not a religious story. Forgiveness is not the point. For better or for worse, many years ago this woman deviated from her own ideal of Pure Chastity, and kept it a secret. The story is about how doing that has complicated her life.

Though Sloane is an adult, her immediate reaction to her husband’s going M.I.A. is the immature kind, so The Secret to Southern Charm might also be classified as a coming-of-age story. Sloane matures by living through her worries about her missing husband and aging grandmother, going to the funeral of one, and living in love with the other. At the end of the book she’s older and wiser, ready to live through her worries about another close relative. Stay tuned for the next book.

The Secret to Southern Charm is part of a series; it began with Slightly South of Simple and will continue through more family dramas.

Both volumes can be purchased as new books directly from Amazon or, if you want to support this web site, as new books here, for $20 per book, $5 per package (four books of this size should fit into one package), and $1 per online payment, as explained at the Payment Information Page. 

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