Near the end of 2021, I started seeing several people posting lists of books read during the year, with recommendations from those lists.
I was blessed to have a great year reading myself and finished more than I have since I was a single man with spare time on my hands (back then I thought I was busy).
I am thankful for encouragement I receive from all the great writers through the years, who inspire and challenge me in every facet of my life.
Among the excellent books I read was a repeat – Animal Farm, by George Orwell.
A few years ago, I started a semi-regular space of time where my boys and me gather round the dining room table for what I call “book hour.” We all read or write or draw, but only must be still, and engaged wholeheartedly in whatever task we choose.
Only Seth is allowed to sometimes wander.
Two summers ago, in conjunction with “book hour,” we started reading Watership Down.
Sadly, when school began, we got busy and did not finish. We all enjoyed the sometimes-dark title, and I hope to tackle it again with the boys in the future.
So, I partly chose Animal Farm for its brevity, hoping this time to complete the work begun, and I can happily say that just before the New Year, we finished - hoorah!
<Spoiler Alert> (About Animal Farm, which of course many of you have read, but if not, now you know)
The other reason that I wanted to read this story with my boys is because I wanted them to be reminded more succinctly how deceptive politicians, “patriots”, “revolutionaries” and “comrades” can sometimes be.
I want them to always think critically about how what they see with their own eyes is being portrayed, and to assess whether a source is reliable, or not.
As we read together, the frequent visitations of Squealer (press secretary for Napoleon, a pig who is the arch-villain of the tale) to the faithful citizen-worker animals of the farm made an impression on me and my boys.
Throughout the tale Squealer revisits events and rules that all the animals (at least early on) lived through together. Each time he addresses these issues, he changes the version of the story a little more, emphasizing the heroism of Napoleon, explaining away his deficits, and increasingly debasing any who opposed his rule.
The animals sense they remember a truer version, but, because of their devotion to the cause and their leader, and because of fear (also stoked by Squealer) of their enemies, they allow themselves to believe the progressively overt lies.
Only on the last page, when it is far too late, do they see how terribly they’ve been deceived.
(As an aside, I’ve already found myself racing to finish even more books this year, and somewhat rushed the first finished book – Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank - which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is also a book about how a society destroyed itself, nearly. I may have robbed myself of some joy in my hurry. I guess having a long list of completions gives me, and perhaps some of the rest of us, a feeling of control and accomplishment we might need in these crazy times.)
So, anyhow, one of the books I’d hoped to add to my 2021 list was a peculiarly delightful and unique book called Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters. It can’t be read hurriedly, and so it remains in-progress for my 2022 list now 😊
Captivating, Spoon River Anthology is a collection of poems written by the many deceased lying beneath the headstones near and around the fictional Midwestern town of Spoon River.
One such postmortem poem is by a local newspaperman, “Editor Whelan.” Here is an excerpt-
“To be on every side of every question;
To be on every side, to be everything, to be nothing long:
To use great feelings and passions of the human family
For base designs, for cunning ends
To wear a mask like the Greek actors-
Your eight-page paper – behind which you huddle,
Bawling through the megaphone of big type:
“This is I, the giant,”
Thereby also living the life of a sneak-thief,
Poisoned with the anonymous words
Of your clandestine soul.
To scratch dirt over scandal for money,
And to exhume it to the winds for revenge,
Or to sell papers,
Crushing reputations, or bodies, if need be,
To win at any cost, save your own life.
To glory in demoniac power, to ditch civilization,
As a paranoiac boy puts a log on the track
And derails the express train. (emphasis mine)
To be an editor, as I was…”
Media today is well beyond the "eight-page" local country newspaper described by the fictional editor in Spoon River and is mostly controlled by entertainment industry in the form of television, and ever more, social media.
A number of politicians red and blue have ceased to govern, and merely tweet and share their social media performances as well as those of allied political “influencers.”
A few years back I decided to watch a bit of C-Span, thinking this would cut through to the real actions of politicians, without the editorializing of the big media corporations.
To my dismay, it was immediately apparent that many of our elected leaders, on both sides of the aisle (can we add another aisle and put some moderate independents in the middle, please?) were giving speeches which were not aimed at progress. Their talk was a collection of sometimes incoherent sound bites meant to garner attention, and “shares.”
Thursday was a notable anniversary, and a fearful one.
I’ve made a zealous attempt to remain apolitical on this blog, and I hope to remain so nearly always.
Democrats and Republicans and Independents all need to be saved, but spiritual answers and hope do not lie in the realm of politics. I want to wrestle out those issues which might bring us salvation and peace, not fuel angst and division.
(My apologies for this diversion from my normal fare)
I am, however, a member of this particularly historical society (I’m an American), and something happened in front of our faces, for a variety of reasons that are complex and rooted in blame that extends wide.
I am troubled by the “Squealers” of our story, who have been doing a bit of revising in the intervening months.
On January 6th, 2021, at our capitol, the actions taken by those rioters were plain, and before our very eyes. There was not a drop of ambiguity in that moment.
It remains whether we will believe our eyes, or like Animal Farm's tragic, ever faithful Boxer - whose two mottos were “I will work harder,” and “Napoleon is always right” - will we allow ourselves to be used and discarded for the ignoble, and ultimately destructive cause of deceit.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle