Category Archives: Book Review

{Book Review} Alas, Babylon

{Classics} Alas, Babylon

Originally posted on April 28, 2012

There is nothing like the book Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank to evoke the feeling that if any large catastrophe happened, we would all be immensely unprepared.  We all assume that a catastrophe might cause a hiccup for a day or two, or maybe even a week, but we can’t fathom a hiccup for…a year?  two years?  A decade?

In the book, America is attacked by Russia with nuclear and atomic weapons.  A small town in Florida, Fort Repose, is spared while much of Florida is destroyed and contaminated.  Within 24 hours of the attacks, the dollar is worth nothing;  there is no gas left, no groceries, no essentials.  The run on the grocery markets and stations in the first day results in the individual small business rich in paper money, but poor in resources.  There are no shipments in and out.  There are two doctors, and one is killed within months.  Drug addicts steal the drugs in the clinic.  No running water.  No electricity.  Money means nothing, resources and products mean an ability to barter. And no hope for any of this to change any time soon.

  At the close of the book, a year has passed, and the first contact with someone outside of the town occurs.  A year.  And little is resolved or will be changed within the next year.

Just a big book of fear?  Something not possible to happen in our current day of technology and resources?

I spent much of my adult life believing such ideas were of the past.  We are America, with unlimited resources and so evolved that there’s no chance we’d end up back in primitive times.

And yet, this book really opened up the idea to me that though it’s unlikely, it is certainly not impossible.   We are seeing a massive uprising in the middle east that, if we are honest with ourselves, may not be as democratic as we believe.  Those who are not democratic, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Al Qaeda believe they must destroy America to bring on their second coming of their prophet, M0hammd.  We have people in our own country that believe capitalism is dead and the idea of revolution in America is a good one {watch a recent video of Bernadine Dohrn, wife to terrorist Bill Ayers and a part of the terrorist group Weather Underground, here}.  Is it unrealistic to believe we are an island protected by a magic force field and we will never see, in our lifetime, a change in our lifestyle?

If you study cycles of history, we are actually headed for another very big change, something equal to the first and second wars in America.  We believe we have escaped something similar to the Great Depression and World War II in recent years, but I believe we are headed into a Fourth Turning.  It is our own pride and narcissism as a country that leads us to believe things will not change.  And our individual lack of planning can decide whether we make it through adversity, or not.

She had small fear of death, and of man not at all, but the formlessness of what was to come overwhelmed her.  [Alice Cooksey, Alas, Babylon]

This is my favorite quote.   The “formlessness of what was to come” is one of my own biggest fears.  Out of adversity, we find strength and resourcefulness, but without the tools we need, we can easily fail.  Without the skills and education required to take care of not only ourselves, but our neighbors and community, we will fail to thrive. Driving through the mountains a few weeks ago, I saw a rock perched at the top of a cliff above the road, just a small amount of its own body in contact with the rock beneath.  It appeared as though it could tip and drop to the road at any moment, yet it could be there for years before the water and wind finally weather enough of the base to cause the rock to tumble.  As a driver on said road, do you press the pedal down just a little faster to plan for such a tumble, or do you drive the same speed with the assumption that it’s always been and will still be there in our lifetime?

The most intense lesson I learned from this novel was the speed of which our entire lives can change.  When you boil down our existence, subtracting electricity, oil and gas, and running water, what is left?  Basic survival.  Food, shelter, Water, protection, Family, education and for our family, God and Love.  It reinforced that I have to be sure those basic needs are met always.

~Dawn, Home educating mom of 5

{Classics} A Case Against Abridged Books

{Classics} A Case Against Abridged Books

Originally posted on April 28, 2012, post-script added 2013; updated again 12/1/2018

Several years back, I purchased a set of abridged children’s classics from Costco.  It was a set of 20 with titles such as Little Women, Treasure Island, Anne of Green Gables and Peter Pan.  They are rewritten and abridged, but keep the main story, with some deletions.  I started reading them with my oldest when she was 5 to spark her interest in the classics.

After my first Face to Face with Greatness seminar with Dr. Shanon Brooks, I remember calling a friend to ask if she thought the abridged classics for children were quality enough.  She said she didn’t see any problem with getting kids interested in the classics, and I didn’t see any problem myself.  After all, the main story remained the same.

My oldest is now nine and a voracious reader.  At last count, she’s read more than 80 books in 8 months (that we’ve remembered to log) and most of them rather meaty.  Some of her favorites are the Harry Potter Series, the CS Lewis Narnia Series, The Little House on the Prairie Series, the American Girl Books, The Happy Hollister Series….and the list goes on.  I’m so proud of how much she loves to read!

But I shot myself in the foot with the abridged classics.  She’s read most of them and feels as if “I’ve already read it” with those books, even though they are much more hollow than the full versions.   Inspiring her to read the unabridged versions has been tricky and not very successful.  I did manage to buy a “spin off” of Little Women called Birthday Wishes that has now inspired my daughter to read the unabridged version of Little Women.  I thought it would be a book she could relate to as she has four sisters and might understand the dynamics of the characters.

My advice:  skip the abridged versions.    If you don’t find the family will sit long enough for the full versions, just wait a little longer and try again. Eventually together, or on their own, they will read it!  Especially if it’s a new story, not the same story with more detail.

And I must add, be careful of the classics you purchase.  There is a new push to abridge the classics (removing certain language or violence), and it’s not obvious!  Orion books and Penguin Classics are an example.

From the Penguin website: “The series is to be composed of original translations from Greek, Latin and later European classics, and it is the editor’s intention to commission translators who can emulate his own example and present the general reader with readable and attractive versions of the great writers’ books in modern English, shorn of the unnecessary difficulties and erudition, the archaic flavour and the foreign idiom that renders so many existing translations repellent to modern taste”

 In the bookstore a week ago, I noticed the only notation of the change in a Robinson Crusoe book was a small blurb on one of the first few pages saying it was abridged, so please be aware!

 P.S.  The best way to inspire a child to read a classic is to read it yourself, tell little bits of the story that are exciting, and watch the curiosity in their eyes!

Update:  I wrote this article about a year ago for a different blog, and I wanted to include an update. Since this article, my now-ten-year-old is still a voracious reader and has, much to my delight, read many of the unabridged books she was introduced to as abridged stories.  It took effort convincing her she was missing a great deal of the story, and I still stick by my conclusion that abridged books can, in the long run, sabotage a child’s desire to read the unabridged version.

Update 2 (12/2018): My oldest child is now 16 and still a voracious reader.  She is working her way through a classics list, as are my 14 and 13 year old.  I have never introduced the abridged books to my younger children; I still don't believe they are necessarily counterproductive, but unnecessary to engage children in the classics.  Instead, we listen to them as a family, or I listen/read with my smaller children.  I have witnessed smaller children understand the story, learning a more complex language structure and vocabulary (versus the books that are geared more toward the age group currently).

~Dawn, Leadership Educating Mom of 5, ages 8-16