Monthly Archives: October 2018

“The Fly Trap” by Fredrik Sjoberg, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal

Published in 2004. Translated from Swedish in 2014 by Thomas Teal. Paperback by Vintage Books, 2014. 278 pages.

The Fly Trap by [Sjöberg, Fredrik]

This cheerful book delves into two of my amateur interests, entomology (the biology of insects) and art history (with emphasis on art theft and forgery). I hang out with entomologists, and visit art museums casually.

The Fly Trap is both memoir and biography. As Sjoberg’s personal memoir, it is the first volume of a trilogy. The next two books are The Art of Flight (2016) and The Raisin King. One reviewer suggests that these three books might also be categorized as travel, natural history, popular science or even poetry.

The “fly trap” of the title is a collecting device used by entomologists and called the Malaise trap. It is named after it’s inventor, Rene Malaise (1892 – 1978). According to Wikipedia, Malaise was an eccentric Renaissance man, and little was written about him before Sjoberg produced somewhat biographical this book.

Sjoberg is described (by Wikipedia) as

  • entomologist
  • literary and cultural critic
  • translator (If you are Swedish, do you have any choice?)
  • author

Malaise was

  • entomologist
  • explorer (Siberia)
  • art collector
  • inventor
  • geologist (one time defender of the Lost Continent of Atlantis)

With a mix like this, the book was bound to be interesting. It is enhanced by Sjoberg’s whimsical, non linear style. While studying Malaise, Sjoberg “caught” the art collecting passion, described in the book’s final chapter.

I pay attention to authors mentioning other authors. In one chapter (entitled “Slowness”), Sjoberg mentions (at least) three authors:

  • Lars Noren – Czech born French writer, still living
  • Milan Kundera – Swedish playwright, still living, best known for The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • D H Lawrence – English, 1885-1930, best known for Lady Chatterly’s Lover

I recommend this book if you like the out of doors, natural history and/or bugs. Also books, art and travel.

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“Faith and Practice” by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

Publication history:

  • Adopted 1955
  • Fifth Revision 2017
  • Ninth Printing 2018

310 pages, including:

  • Foreword and Preface
  • detailed information on sources
  • biographical information on authors, of which there are >125

Genre: Book of Discipline/DIY (religious life)

Faith and Practice starts with a disclaimer. The reader is admonished that the book is “a guide, and not a rule…”

There’s so much included in Faith and Practice. I refer to it frequently, but the closest I ever came to a complete and careful read-through was when I was planning to be married in 1979. I’m sure I skipped a good deal. Investments? Someone else can decide. Committees? Are they mandatory? There have been many changes since 1979, but the book is only a little thicker. Certain newer concerns have emerged, like environmental stewardship.

Why did I put “DIY” above, marking this as a do-it-yourself book? Because Quakerism is do-it-yourself religion! We do not ordain or employ ministers, pastors, priests, etc. There’s no centralized authority, like a bishop. We share responsibilities. Occasionally we hire people to perform services, like a secretary or custodian or landscaper. But our religious life is what WE make of it.

My favorite part of Faith and Practice (judged by how often I read it) is the Queries. A query is a question addressed either to the individual or to a group of Quakers, a meeting. (A meeting is a Quaker congregation.)

Sample Queries:

  • For the individual (from the 10th Query, Ministry of Outreach): How do I share my spiritual life and experience with others?
  • For the Meeting (from the 11th Query, Education): What does our meeting do to support and improve public education?

Obviously, there are no “right” answers!

The Queries are written to be pondered. They are grouped into 12 sets, so a person or meeting may consider them over the course of a year. But in practice, there’s plenty of skipping around! A concern for social justice may lead to review of the 9th Query, Equality and Justice.

I just looked up Faith and Practice on Amazon. The book I have here in my hand is not listed. Too new! It can be ordered from Quakerbooks.org. The versions on Amazon are obsolete or come from Quaker organizations outside the Philadelphia area, like Baltimore Yearly Meeting or Britain Yearly Meeting. Each is a Book of Discipline assembled by Quakers.

But, oh no! WHAT’S THIS??? “Amish Romance Onmibus (Amish Sweet Faith Boxsets Book 7)”. Amazon, how could you do this to us? To the Amish? Quakers and Amish are NOT THE SAME!! Don’t get me wrong. We admire the Amish. We hope they like us. We share a commitment to peace, a concern for simplicity. BUT we came from different places, at different times. Quakerism emerged in the 1640s in England, the Amish in the 1690s in Switzerland. Quaker historical documents are in English. The early Amish spoke German and they still use it sometimes. Both groups are derived from “mainstream” Christianity. Each was in some sense schismatic or dissident. (I wonder what the Amish think of these romance novels!)

But Amazon should know better! Wikipedia is quite clear. I must find a way to educate Amazon.

And I must spend some time with the new Faith and Practice, reading and thinking…

“Having Our Say: Women of Color in the 2018 Election”, a lecture by NJ Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver

Personal note! Living near a college (in my case, Stockton University) is an advantage. Something is always happening. In the past few weeks, I’ve attended three lectures. Unrelated to the University, I stepped out for one speaking engagement. I will blog about all of this. Stay tuned!

Institutional note! FIFTEEN years ago Stockton University initiated the Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium. What a great program! Every Fall, a distinguished guest speaks about RIGHTS. Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) was an amazing example of a person who acted to expand human rights in our country.

Now to discuss the event and the featured speaker. Sheila Oliver was preceded by about 45 minutes of music, dance, welcome and introduction. It was interesting to note which earlier civil rights leaders were mentioned in either the introductions or Ms. Oliver’s presentation:

  • Shirley Chisholm
  • Coretta Scott King
  • Angela Davis
  • Mary McLeod Bethune
  • Eleanor Roosevelt

The auditorium was dark, so my note taking was limited. Ms. Oliver pointed out that in this election cycle, many women are choosing to run outside of the two major parties. The importance of state legislatures (when the US House and Senate are polarized and paralyzed) was emphasized.

I’m always curious how a leader is shaped by her education. Ms. Oliver mentioned A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) and The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck) as foundational for her, and also recommended Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, by S and E Delany.

Ms. Oliver was not long winded, but many students left before the Q/A period. Maybe shorter preliminaries would reduce this attrition?

The panel assembled for feedback and discussion was distinguished. I won’t try to cover everything said. The standout was Christabel Cruz of the Rutgers Center for American Woman and Politics. Emerging leader! She was the youngest panelist and the first (only?) speaker to address discrimination against the LGBTQ community. She is energetic and articulate and exactly the right person to reach out to millenials. After all, this event was intended to engage STUDENTS. I hope Ms. Cruz stays in New Jersey.

SOJOURN – A journal devoted to the history, culture, and geography of South Jersey

South Jersey Culture & History Center Logo

In my last entry (which was rather a rant), I commented that my part of New Jersey has been slow to develop an identity, slow to achieve recognition, possibly lacking in self/civic awareness. I’m pleased to announce that this is changing! We are now blessed with a fine academic journal, produced by the South Jersey Heritage and Culture Center at Stockton University.

Sojourn describes itself as a collaborative effort. The presiding genius is Dr. Thomas Kinsella, Professor of British Literature at Stockton University, who supervises an editing internship program for Literature and History majors. Papers are solicited from local historians and other authors. (Academic credentials are not required.) Students edit and format the work. The result is impressively professional. A wealth of maps, portrait reproductions and photographs (both historic and contemporary) make for a high level of visual appeal.

The most recent issue is themed around the American Revolution. Fourteen articles cover aspects of that conflict. I was particularly interested in “When Mad Anthony Came to South Jersey: Civilian Experience during the American Revolution” by retired Stockton University Professor Claude Epstein. He discusses how the military actions in South Jersey stressed and distressed a population that was relatively poor and dispersed. He describes the Revolution in New Jersey as “more of a local civil war with multiple sides.” Not the simple narrative of valiant patriots battling evil Tories that some of us were taught in school!

I checked Sojourn’s “Call for Articles” to consider if I might want to contribute. I’ve lived here 40+ years, which makes me an old timer. Unfortunately, there’s no humor category! I plan to offer my article “Sex clubs, convenience stores and ‘The Wawa Way’” (see blog post dated July 9, 2014). Think I can talk them into it?? I could probably manage to add a few footnotes, if necessary.

Copies of Sojourn are available in the bookstore at Stockton University’s Campus Center, on Amazon.com and at a few local outlets. It would make a nice gift for anyone interested in local history, or having some connection to Stockton University.

Cover image of SoJourn 3.1

The Use and Abuse of Fiction – personal opinion

Why write fiction about real events? Why make up stories about World War II, or Ireland or the Great Depression? Why not stick to imagined worlds, like JK Rowling’s delightful, magic permeated version of England?

Consider the wild popularity of the “Humans of New York” Facebook site. There are SO MANY tales to be told. Why not tell them, as is done with Holocaust survivors and military veterans (to name a few) in oral history projects? I offer The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline as an example of a book written about events that, I believe, have been extensively documented. More about it below.

Sometimes the truth is just too painfully awful to bear.

  • Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals, who participated in the battle for school desegregation as a high schooler, is a non-fiction account so harrowing I couldn’t read it.
  • The truth behind Beloved by Toni Morrison is even worse than that portrayed in the book/movie, in which an enslaved woman kills her child to keep him from slavery.

Fiction represents a selection of what is (or isn’t) “meaningful” or important about an era or event. I’m convinced that “meaning” is assigned, not inherent. The meaning that an author assigns to an event may be very different from what participants experienced. If the people are available (or left records), I would rather listen to real voices than read a fictionalized account.

I think fiction represents a consensus (of sorts) on what we are going to remember, emphasize and/or construe about events.

Fiction has its conventions. Usually major characters stay alive for most of the book. I was truly shocked when Vikram Seth killed off a major character in the middle of The Golden Gate. That’s what happens in life, not in novels!

Stephen Dunn (poet and professor) says that southern New Jersey (where I live) “hasn’t been imagined yet”. Very little fiction or poetry about this region has been written. To me, that means there’s no consensus about what we will or won’t discuss about South Jersey. Fiction sets boundaries. No one has decided what South Jersey means.

Means to whom? Our local poet? We the residents? Scholars somewhere else? (Will South Jersey Studies be invented one day?) We will surely choose to keep the sun and sand. What about the past? How long will it take to digest Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson? Will we study slaveholders or the underground railroad?

So how did Peter H Davies, author of The Welsh Girl, (a novel about WWII) decide what (and who) to keep and who to discard? Why did he include ONE historical figure (Rudolf Hess) in this work of fiction?

Maybe studying history is just TOO MUCH WORK, too intellectually challenging. The Orphan Train was selected as a Common Reading (for a college, with the emphasis on the Freshmen) because it was “accessible”. Translate that to mean not too long, not too complicated… (I found it didactic.) Serious study of the events and historical period was apparently not considered. (I get it, but are we underestimating student intelligence?)

I was surprised, when I checked, to find out that I split my reading almost 50/50 between fiction and non-fiction. I thought I was leaning more towards fiction.

I very much enjoy “fantasy” fiction, but I would guess it’s a small fraction of what I read, maybe 10%. I LOVE a good alternative world.

My point? Does anyone else have a problem with fictionalized accounts of real events? Do you worry that you might be misled? That an author might be biased? How should fiction be incorporated into education? If a book pops into your mind when you consider this, I’d particularly like to hear about it.

“One Small Plot of Heaven – Reflections on Family Life by a Quaker Sociologist” by Elise Boulding

One Small Plot of Heaven: Reflections on Family Life by a Quaker Sociologist

Pendle Hill Publications, 1989, 216 pages plus bibliography and index. Why did I pull this old book off my shelf? Just looking for comfort, in these difficult times, and remembering Elise Boulding’s husband Kenneth from a lecture many years ago.

This book is a collection of twelve separate speeches and pamphlets. It’s far from coherent, but I’m glad these essays were assembled in one place, for our benefit. I read Born Remembering (third chapter) many years ago with a discussion group.

This time my attention was drawn to two chapters written THIRTY-FOUR YEARS apart, in 1952 and 1989. The essay from 1952 was entitled Friends Testimonies in the Home. My reaction to it was that Elise Boulding set an impossibly high standard for home making and child rearing! I mean, totally out of sight. On a scale of one to ten, my parenting (~1984 to 2010) would have rated about 0.3. When she wrote this essay, three of her five children had been born. Wikipedia describes her as “home maker and activist”. She lived in proximity to other Quaker families and attended a large meeting that provided substantial attention and support to families. A major focus was on how to raise children who would become peacemakers. Motivation, I think, sprang from post WWII international considerations and Cold War fears.

Thirty-four years later, Elise Boulding was looking at a very different world, and her focus was not on international considerations like war but on her beloved Religious Society of Friends. Quakers had recognized some of their failings, including the occurrence of  violence in Quaker families. How could she have missed this, she asks? She admits to “willful blindness” and describes the “strong effort of the will” it took for her to confront the ugly truth. Then she proceeds to offer analysis based on both Quakerism and sociology.

Boulding identifies and describes what she calls a “residue of emotional turbulence” and “the unacknowledged residue of anger” among Quakers. Yes.

The perfect Quaker family is a “fictive reality” (Boulding’s term).

This is an oversimplification. But I know from personal experience that trying to create the “perfect Quaker family” (or marriage, or persona) can lead to trouble.

The essay and the book end with hopefulness. More hopefulness than I can sometimes muster. Guess I better keep the book around, to help me through dark moments.