Authors We Love: Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau - Wikipedia

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 — May 6, 1862) was an American writer, philosopher, and representative of transcendentalism.

A graduate of Harvard University, he helped edit Emerson’s quarterly review of the Sundial. He was a lifelong supporter of the abolitionist movement. He preached abolitionism everywhere and attacked fugitive slave laws. Deeply influenced by Emerson, he advocated returning to the heart and getting close to nature. In 1845, he lived by Walden Pond, two miles away from Concord, as a recluse for two years, farming and eating by himself, experiencing a life of simplicity. Walden, a long essay on this subject, became a classic work of transcendentalism.

Thoreau was brilliant and wrote more than twenty first-class essays in his lifetime. Known as the founder of nature essays, Thoreau’s prose was concise and powerful, simple and natural, and full of thoughts, which was unique among the American prose in the 19th century. Walden is considered the most popular nonfiction in American literature. His other works include political treatise on Civil Disobedience, Life without Principle, Cape Cod, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack river, The Maine Woods, etc. Walden records his reclusive life in Walden, while Civil Disobedience discusses the injustices of government and power and justifies citizens’ voluntary refusal to obey certain laws.

Thoreau was not tall but very firm with pale skin and strong, serious blue eyes, and a solemn manner.Thoreau later in his life, had a beard that suited him. His features were sharp, his build strong, and his hands were strong and swift in the use of tools. He said that he used his feet better than his eyes to find his way through the woods at night, and that he could estimate the height of two trees with his eyes very accurately; he could estimate the weight of an ox or a pig as well as a cattle dealer. He was good at swimming, racing, skating and rowing, and could probably beat any countryman in the long walk from morning to night. The relationship between his body and his mind is even more subtle than we think. He said that every step of his leg was his. As usual, the longer he traveled, the longer he wrote. If you shut him in at home, he won’t write at all.

-Coreen C.

The works of Henry David Thoreau are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

How Fiction Can Give Us a View Into Reality

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” Tom Clancy’s analysis on the divergence between the realm of fantasy and the confines of the real world shows us that reality and fantasy are really not as different as they may seem. One example of this is Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, which centers around the trials and triumphs of a former U.S Marine lieutenant turned history teacher as he becomes entangled in the world of international espionage and warfare.

The series’ first book, Patriot Games, depicts Ryan’s chance encounter with Ulster Liberation Army terrorists in England and sets the tone for how this will alter the course of his career and family life in the books to follow. Although this book was written for entertainment purposes, it does give us a window into the international political climate at the time of the book’s release(July 1987). The Provisional Irish Republican Army was fighting to end British influence in Northern Ireland and reunite Ireland at the time of publication. This book was not based on a true story, but it does allude to the real-life political climate in the UK at the time, which helps readers gain a greater understanding of a time period that they may not have experienced.

Another author who drew inspiration from the world around him is John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s famous Of Mice and Men is a book many read during high school English courses. It tells the story of two close friends, George and Lennie, as they attempt to seek work in California during the Great Depression. This story is categorized as fiction, though some of the characters and events Steinbeck described were people and things he met and experienced during his time working on a ranch in central California. Of Mice and Men’s setting helps readers understand the desperation that unemployed Americans faced in trying to find jobs during the Great Depression. Lennie’s character also shows the rejection, stigmatization, and ignorance of mental illness during this time period, which was a very real and prevalent issue in the real world. Many believe that books categorized as fiction are simply nothing more than stories created to entertain literary enthusiasts on a rainy day.

History, politics, and social structure are all topics that are traditionally reserved for textbooks or newspapers. However, Clancy’s series and Steinbeck’s works are some of the many examples of how fiction can give us a glimpse into the past or present reality. It is interesting to see just how much we can learn about a past time through our favorite novels and fantasy stories and may encourage those who stick to the world of non-fiction to branch out into other genres.

-Katie A.

Night by Elie Wiesel

The book Night by Elie Wiesel is an inside look at the holocaust through the eyes of a young Jewish boy. It is the real story of the author, which is why it is so astounding. I believe that his purpose for writing it was to shed light on how devastating the holocaust was, the concentration camps, and what it means to be broken as an individual. It is filled with so much pain and suffering, and yet that was what made it undeniably real. His life during this period of time was so horrible that he longed for death as opposed to the darkness of the world around him.

Without the basic human needs for food, water, shelter, and warmth, the spirit begins to weaken. This caused him to be angry at God and his initial strong beliefs to falter, which was heartbreaking, as now, without his family or religion, he was utterly and completely alone.

Though the book could be dark and upsetting due to its raw storyline, it was also very eye-opening for me, as I learned many new things about the holocaust and also perceived it through the eyes of a young boy. Although he endured the worst struggle of his life during that time and lost the ones he loved most, him telling his story can be an inspiration for people to never give up.

-Aisha E.

Night by Elie Wiesel is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air is a best selling book written by author Paul Kalanithi, who majored in English literature in Stanford and would get his Masters degree in English literature. He would enter medical school in Yale and at 36 years old, he would become a resident neuroscientist and neurosurgeon. His life had full of hope and would seem to blossom with his wife Lucy. However, he was diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer. His future seemed to be gone, and it looked as though his potential wouldn’t come to fruition.

Paul had learned about life and death throughout his studies in literature and philosophy. He would learn about death through the experience of studying medicine, but it was a whole new experience when death seemed to come to him. His short term and long term plan for his life would have to be revised. In the hospital, the doctor was somewhat like the “captain” of the ship, and Paul had always been the doctor, the captain, the leader. Suddenly, he became the patient, the ship, the follower. He was confused about his identity. However, he would choose to be a leader and captain of his own life. He spent time with his family, he would write his book When Breath Becomes Air, returned to the hospital, took care of patients, and would even have a daughter. He would leave this unfinished memoir behind and leave a lesson to us that we are all going to die someday, but we have to continue living our lives and making the most of it.

-Kobe L.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father by Jonathan Hennessey and Justin Greenwood

I tried and tried and tried, I just couldn’t enjoy this book, I really wanted to, but I just couldn’t.

It started off kind of weird, and If I am being honest, I skipped the prologue, It was very hard to follow. You have to know, I love history, so I assumed I would love this (I mean, how could I not?) but it was really just an odd book.

I thought the whole novel was hard to follow and had moments where I had no clue what was going on.

The book itself looks very nice, it’s a goregous graphic novel and the layout on the back matched it perfectly. I guess what I am trying to say is, that it would be much better as a shelf book then a reading book. I am so bummed I did not enjoy this book.

I thank ‘Blogging For Books’ for graciously sending me an ARC of this novel.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

We’ve all heard various accounts of how life was like in the Nazi concentration camps; how millions perished in the gas chambers and how fear pulsed through all of the prisoners’ veins day and night. However, rarely do we hear about how everyday life was like for a prisoner in a concentration camp. Sometimes, it’s the smaller things, the things that seem to be less significant, that are really the most horrible. I’m not at all implying that the gas chambers weren’t horrible, they were unequivocally inhumane, but some of the things that Viktor Frankl describes in this book seem just as bad, and, in some cases, even worse. 

Viktor Frankl, a Viennese man, was taken captive initially to a concentration camp in Auschwitz. As a liberated victim, and through his knowledge and understanding of human psychiatry, he has been able to give a very accurate and detailed account of his time and experiences as a prisoner. 

He describes three stages of a prisoners’ mental state: shock, apathy, and coping with depersonalization after liberation (if they were lucky). As he explains each stage in detail, he gives anecdotes, which really helped me to gain a clear understanding of the psychiatry behind it all. 

What really struck me by surprise as I was reading this book was how utterly unjust it was for those who were held captive in the concentration camps. Of course, I knew prior to reading this that the prisoners were treated unfairly, but I suppose I never fully comprehended the extent to which it went. 

At the beginning of the book, Frankl recounts the first time he’d entered the camp. He recalls an SS guard standing by the gate who examined each prisoner carefully, deciding whether they’d be capable of the strenuous labor they’d be subject to if they were admitted to the camp. Anyone who appeared weak in any way was immediately sent to the gas chambers. This need to be “fit” plagued the prisoners throughout their time at camp as, at any time, if someone were to sustain an injury or grow ill, they’d be deemed “incapable” and were promptly sent to the chambers. This was but the first of many horrors that Frankl would encounter at the camp. 

Additionally, Frankl discusses logatherapy, a form of psychiatry, which can loosely be defined as “finding a will to meaning”. He describes it in the context of a concentration camp: along with a lot of luck, the one thing that kept Frankl alive at Auschwitz was his life’s work pertaining to psychiatry. 

I thought that this book was a very fascinating read. I definitely learned a lot more about how life was like in concentration camps, and the section on logatherapy also intrigued me–some of the concepts he discussed really made me think hard. This is a very powerful and inspiring book–Viktor Frankl is an extremely strong and willful individual. 

-Elina T. 

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

When I think of poverty, I think of homelessness, starvation, sadness and hopelessness. I would never have thought that it could be adventurous and fun. But Jeannette Walls does not hold back and tells everything about poverty you never would have known.

In The Glass Castle, Walls tells the true story of her childhood. She grows up in the roughest parts of poverty with her two sisters, brother and parents. They constantly move all over the country. Which the kids think are adventures, but really, the parents are running from bills and responsibilities.

At first I was very skeptical of this book. My mom recommended it to me and sometimes when parents say you should read a book it can be super slow and super educational. I was worried the writing would make this interesting plot turn boring. But luckily, Walls is an amazing writer. She makes you feel like you are right there with them every time they leave in the middle of the night.

Normally when I love a book I read it as quickly as possible, but for this one I didn’t. I felt the need to soak in every situation. Sometimes, I had to put the book down and walk away before I began to read again because it got so intense. I highly recommend this book for anyone who understands funky families (which we all do) and it is definitely one of my favorites. And I hope the movie is just as good!

-Sophie W.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

It’s said that a mother is one of the most important people in a person’s life. To Maya Angelou, her mother, Vivian Baxter, was no exception. As Maya Angelou said about her mother, “You were a terrible mother of small children, but there has never been anyone greater than you as a mother of a young adult” (197).

Mom and Me and Mom follows Maya Angelou through her journey learning to trust and love herself and the people in her life. After being abandoned and sent to live with her grandmother until her early teenage years, Maya was astounded that she would have to live with her “movie-star” mother. Maya just could not get used to Vivian Baxter; she was so different than her grandmother. It would take years before Maya would call her mother Mom, frequently referring to her as Lady or Mother. Also, though Maya asked for advice from her mother, she took no charity and moved out to live on her own as soon as she was able.

But thanks to her mother’s guidance, Maya led an extraordinary life, raising her son and working so many unique and varying jobs that took her all over the world.

This novel was incredible! Maya Angelou is such an inspiration, with what she made of her life, despite some of the situations she was dealt. My favorite part of the book was how easy to read it was, even when dealing with tough topics. Maya Angelou told it as it was, with a level of grace that was amazing.

I heard about this autobiography through Our Shared Shelf on Goodreads. Emma Watson, in tandem with her work for UN Women, created Our Shared Shelf to promote feminism and equality. Their current recommended novel is The Handmaid’s Tale, which I can’t wait to read next!

– Leila S., 11th grade

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Farewell to Manzanar is Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s personal, non-fiction account of life inside the Japanese internment camps that the US government put in place during World War ΙΙ. Although many Americans acknowledge the injustice that was done to Japanese Americans during the period that they were relocated to camps along the western interior of the US, less Americans understand the full truth of what life was like inside these war relocation camps. In Farewell to Manzanar, Wakatsuki tells the story of her family’s time in Manzanar, their assigned camp, as well as detailing the repercussions that this experience had on her family.

One of the most interesting parts about Wakatsuki’s story is that she puts a great deal of focus on her life pre and post war. She does not talk only about her family’s incarceration, but also of their home before the turmoil of the war. She laces the chapters with memories from before her time in Manzanar. Wakatsuki also taps into the memories of her family in chapters where she is not the narrator. This story is not simply one about war; it also talks about a young girl growing up and discovering her interests in a place far from her home.

-Mirabella S.

 

Farewell to Manzanar is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

 

The Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

Winner of the 2015 National Book Award Longlist, for Young People’s Literature, M.T. Anderson has created a story worth telling.  It is the unfortunate, yet true, biography of Dmitri Shostakovich.  

Growing up in a harsh life as a result of Communist Russian leaders, Shostakovich soon discovered his interest for music.  While his life in the world of the arts was beginning, however, so was the air of terror from Adolf Hitler.  Anderson takes the reader through the cold winters of Leningrad, the warm home of Shostakovich, and of course, the sweet melodies of Dmitri Shostakovich.

I really enjoyed Anderson’s writing style throughout the course of this book.  He told the story of Shostakovich truthfully and full-heartedly.  Anderson must also be a musician himself, as his insight and musical knowledge is vast. I picked up this book, as it was marked new in the Young Adult section, and I was intrigued.  The most interesting topics in nonfiction to me are WWII and music.  I had heard of Shostakovich before reading the biography, but never realized the story behind his masterpiece, Symphony No. 7.  

Anderson brought the reader back in time, into the early 1900s.  Shostakovich, born in 1906, grew up among a family of three children in St. Petersburg, Russia.  As he transitioned from a young scholar enrolled in a music school into a renowned composer, Shostakovich started a family of his own.  However, around him, the people of Leningrad were starving, caused by an unfortunate siege by the Germans.  Their food supply had been bombed.  Their leader had fled.  Citizens were trying to escape the city as fast as possible.  But not Shostakovich.  His pride and honor for the beloved city kept him there, even through the starvation.  Many high-ranking officials tried their hardest to relieve the Shostakovich’s, by bringing them to Moscow.  But, Dmitri insisted on staying in Leningrad to finish his symphony.

 
Later revealed at its debut in Leningrad, Shostakovich had written his masterpiece for the city of his home, the city of the dead.  For young musicians who may want to learn more about some of the greatest composers of the last few centuries, please check this out.  While the book is lengthy, I would recommend it, as it is a 10/10.

Maya S.

The Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.