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Slavomir Rawicz’s “The Long Walk”

BLOG #5, SERIES #8
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #61
SLAVOMIR RAWICZ’S THE LONG WALK
February 1, 2017

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For our 61st book, I decided I’d search for a book unlike any of those featured in the first 60. Preferably, it would be a true narrative that was close to unputdownable. A book that—once read—would be impossible to forget. I found it!

Here are some reviews:

An escape story that combines the best elements of a suspense novel and a travelogue through purgatory. —Newsweek

More than one hundred adventure books are published every year, yet I doubt if any is as gripping and filled with suspense as The Long Walk. A journey of 4,000 miles, with neither map nor compass, equipped with only an axehead, a homemade knife and insuperable determination to live—that is the essence of this book.

Slavomir Rawicz [a Polish officer] and six companions broke out of a Soviet slave labor camp and walked south into the endless crushing spaces of Siberia headed for Tibet. That Rawicz survived to tell his story is a miracle of human endurance. Through nights so cold that sleep meant certain death, through scorching days when heat drove men to the brink of insanity, Rawicz moved on.

The suspense of the book builds to a climax when the threads of life all but unravel a few miles short of the goal. Once you have begun The Long Walk, you cannot willingly lay it down.  —San Francisco Examiner

It is one of the most amazing, heroic stories of this or any other time. —Chicago Tribune

An adventure classic worthy to rank alongside Captain Bligh’s Long Journey and Thor Heyerdahl’s trans-Pacific raft trip. —Minneapolis Tribune

* * *

Constable and Company Ltd
Constable and Company Ltd

The story begins on the eve of World War I, in 1939, and concludes in late winter of 1942. Even before the 4,000-mile ordeal took place, Slavomir Rewicz was tortured for months by fiendish Soviets in Moscow, then sentenced to 25 years in a Siberian prison camp; the hellish ride across Siberia staggers the mind, as does the thousand mile trek on foot (in chains), in the dead of a Siberian winter, to a prison labor camp—all this before the long walk even begins!

Constable and Company Ltd
Constable and Company Ltd

The book was first published in London in 1956 by Constable and Company, then it was picked up by Harpers and other publishing houses around the world. I first read it early in the 1960’s—and have never been able to forget it.

Be sure and purchase an unabridged copy for your library

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Gene Stratton-Porter’s “Keeper of the Bees”

BLOG #31, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #55
GENE STRATTON-PORTER’S KEEPER OF THE BEES
August 3, 2016

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On July 17, 2013, I featured Gene Stratton-Porter’s Freckles as our 21st Book of the Month Club selection. Now, three years later, it’s time to feature a second book penned by one of the three most popular American novelists during the first half of the twentieth century.

I spent much of a year (back in 1999) writing a biography of Porter and re-reading all of her books. For that reason, if you become fascinated by her, as millions have before you, you may wish to pick up a copy of Focus on the Family/Tyndale House edition of Freckles. It also contains as complete a biography of her writings as I could create.

Gene Stratton-Porter was born on August 17, 1863, near Geneva, Indiana, the last of twelve children. She was very much a surprise, and anything but a welcome one, for her father was 50 and her mother was 47, and neither had any desire to launch another child into the world when they were that old—very old considering the short life-span Americans had back then. Because of the near-by town of Geneva, the parents named their baby “Geneva”—“Gene” for short.

She would grow up, marry, and become a naturalist, photographer, short story writer, and novelist. Her clean nature-based romances swept the nation, propelling her to a superstardom she never lost. Hitting the best-seller list were novels such as Freckles (1904), The Girl of the Limberlost (1909), The Harvester (1911), Laddie (1913), Michael O’Halloran (1915), and Keeper of the Bees (1925). Amazingly, she has never lost her following. Generation after generation has taken her to their hearts and kept her book prices high in used book stores. Besides these, there are cherished books such as Song of the Cardinal (1903), At the Foot of the Rainbow (1907), A Daughter of the Land (1918), perhaps her most powerful work of realism; Her Father’s Daughter (1921), The White Flag (1923), and The Magic Garden (1927).img20160728_11385800

Since August represents the last vacation opportunity before school resumes in the fall—in Europe, it sometimes seems like half the continent is lazing on beaches during August—, I always try to find a vacation or beach type of book for our August offering. Thus I chose Porter’s greatest beach novel, Keeper of the Bees as our August selection. It became the #3 bestseller in the nation.

From that day until this, it has remained one of her most beloved books. The book might be considered a hymn to old Southern California before people, freeways, and smog overran it; and houses, condos, and businesses drove out the gardens, orchards, and flower-bedecked desert wilderness that gave it its charm and beauty.

The setting is California after the “Great War” (World War I) and the equally deadly Spanish Flu. There was no G I Bill for returning veterans back then, thus thousands of wounded or disabled veterans struggled to stay alive. The story has to do with a Scottish immigrant, James McFarlane, a dying veteran of the Great War. Shut up in a sanitarium, and about to be sent to one filled with those dying of tuberculosis, he runs away, enfeebled as he is. Eventually, he arrives on the coast and stumbles into the house of a bee-man, a towering magnificent old man who has just experienced a crippling stroke. Three of the greatest female figures Porter ever created: “Molly (“The Storm Girl”), “The Little Scout” (who all but runs away with the book), and Margaret Cameron, ensure that readers, once again, cannot put the book down until they complete it. Dr. Rosanne Vrugtman (who has always loved the book) maintains that “The Little Scout” upstages every other character in the book.

img20160728_11415664If possible, try to pick up a Doubleday/Page First Edition or a dust-jacketed Grosset & Dunlap reprint.

* * *

Prepare to enter a world where marriage was still sacred and God was still central and millions aspired to purity when they married.

I’ll be interested in your reactions to the book.

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Marriage and Family — Then and Now

BLOG #19, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY—THEN AND NOW
May 11, 2016

During the last few weeks as I have been leafing through thousands of old magazines, gradually, just as is true with photographic negatives developing in a tray, an image has been evolving of the American family during the first half of the twentieth century. A number of things contribute to it: magazine cover art, story illustrations, advertising illustrations, story plots, cartoons, quotations, articles, essays, etc.

The century began with an almost stereotypical template of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Initially, there was a very clear line of demarcation between male roles and female roles. Boys were expected to be strong, somewhat reluctant to exhibit emotion, masculine, competitive, work-driven, and dominant. Girls were expected to be soft, loving, emotional, dependant, homemakers-in-training, spiritual, care-givers, and appreciators of fine arts.

As I read or scanned through stories, again and again I was jolted by teenage and young adult women who were motivated to flower and achieve . . . up until a certain point: when the male has made good in the job world, has enough money to invest in a home, and proposes, the female is expected to surrender the rest of her life to him. “Love, honor, and obey” were wedding vows. In most cases, the male would assume almost total control over the purse. The jolt, for me, came in reading love stories in which the male would often threaten to spank, or actually spank, the female. Once married, women were regularly ridiculed, demeaned, and (in jokes and cartoons) depicted as being inferior to the male in judgment and decision-making.

Then came 1914-1918; during World War I, women filled many of the roles heretofore filled by males (now serving in the Armed Forces). After the war, women were more than a little reluctant to be pushed back into their boxes. World War II (1939-1945) accelerated the change in roles. I could see it changing in the fiction carried in popular magazines.

The major shifts came later, no small thanks to birth-control. Thanks to it, women had a say in whether or not they were to remain in thrall by almost perpetual pregnancies. All this was followed by Women’s Lib, the gay movement, deconstructionism, secularization, cohabitation out of wedlock, substance abuse, and a resulting major shift in male self-worth.

Which brings me to Frank Bruni’s April 10, 2016 New York Times column: “Building a Better Father.” Here are some of his observations:

“As a child I was schooled constantly in how different mothers and fathers were. TV shows spelled it out. . . . A mother’s love was supposedly automatic, unconditional. A father’s love was earned. Mothers nurtured, tending to tears. Fathers judged, prompting them.

“And while mothers felt pressured to lavish time and affection on their children, fathers could come and go. As long as they did their part as providers, the rest was negotiable.”

Then Bruni references a new book, Ron Fournier’s Love That Boy. In it, Fournier admits that it took his wife’s command (tougher than a request) that he spend more time with his twelve-year-old son who was battling autism and Aspergers. . . . Fournier’s narrative, however, ends up addressing fatherhood, then and now.

“He examines his paternal feelings and failings with a nakedness that was rare in fathers of a previous generation. He wrestles soulfully with what kind of father he is and means to be. He weeps. He trembles.

“And he mirrors many of today’s dads, who are so changed from yesterday’s. In Fournier I saw my two brothers, who don’t adore their children any more than our father adored us but who do it with a gentler, tenderer touch, unafraid to broach discussions and display emotions that most men once shrank from. . . .”

“According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, men spend almost three times the number of hours a week with their children than they did half a century ago. And they feel conflicted about not devoting more. While 23 percent of mothers said they shortchanged their kids on time, 46 percent of fathers did.”

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I know that one of my own biggest regrets, in terms of my involvement with our two children during their growing-up years, was that I let my wife carry a disproportional percentage of the load—especially time-wise. In a homily I recently gave to parents of third-grade students in six area elementary schools in our Colorado mountain community, here are some thoughts I shared with them.

Friends, up to now, everything we’ve said and done today has had to do with your kids; but now, I’d like to share some thoughts and concerns with you:

As I look back through the years to the time our children were young like yours, I can’t help but realize I failed to take full advantage of those crucial years. I had other priorities that seemed more important at the time. In the process, I let my wife bear a disproportionate share of the load at home.

But there came the day when I was shocked by the discovery that our children were already bridging to mentors other than us. If the speed of child growth could be accelerated and shown on a screen, we’d realize that our children were changing all the time—there are no plateaus in a child’s life. So I can tell you, from personal experience, that the sobering day will come all too soon to you too, and you will look at your spouse and say,’We’re all but through; whatever they are now, our children are likely to be as adults. Our window of opportunity to make a significant difference in the trajectory of their lives is closing.

So I urge each of you, in the time you have left, to make your children your #1 priority. Institute a daily story hour and spend that precious time moulding their characters while you still have time to do so. May God bless each of you and the children entrusted to you.

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Gilbreth’s “Cheaper By the Dozen”

BLOG #9 SERIES #7
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #50
FRANK AND ERNESTINE GILBRETH’S
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
March 2, 2016

A timeless classic! There is a tumbler in my mind that is constantly churning books, each vying for a chance to be one of my book of the month selections. Night and day the non-stop churning of books continues. But over the month that separates one book choice from another, certain books tend to surface more often than others. Just so, Cheaper by the Dozen has been struggling for its place in the sun—not just for a month but for close to half a year now. Its time has come.

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I first read it during my own growing-up years, and loved it. Also loved the movie. But then, it gradually receded from my conscious thoughts. What changed all this is my need to consider all my known and cherished books so that I don’t short-change any of them.

To a historian of ideas, the Roaring Twenties was an ideological gold mine. First of all, it was a period of profound disillusion and loss of faith in God, the result of a war so horrific that many felt that spirit of God was withdrawing from the earth. Where was God in the millions of dead, wounded, and incapacitated for life? Where was God when some 40,000,000 additional deaths from Spanish Flu were added to battle-related casualties?

Second, when a generation of men went to war during World War I (the so-called “Great War”), millions of women were forced to take their places on the factory home-front—in the process, getting their first taste of freedom. But when all those men eventually returned home, that act resulted in women being forced back into their stereotypical boxes—and many were deeply resentful of this collective clipping of their wings.

Third, the automobile changed everything. Concerned parents called them “bordellos on wheels,” and feared for their daughters’ virginity. And for good reason.

Fourth, the movie industry reinforced this perception that all the traditional moral safeguards against rampant godless hedonism were rapidly being swept away. In the process, more and more, youthful peer-pressure was replacing the “still small voice” of God.

It was unique in another respect: large families were still the norm, birth-control was essentially a non-factor, men openly bragged about controlling women by keeping them “barefoot and pregnant.” In my own immediate family, my mother was one of seven children and my father was one of eleven (two of whom died young). People did die young then. Few people outlived their sixties—and many died in their fifties. Modern medicine was still in its infancy. Smoking was openly encouraged. Obesity was merely a fact of life. Exercise? Why? Diabetes? What was that? But, as for children, they lived out of doors and felt perfectly safe anywhere they went.

World War II had accomplished something peacetime had not. It finally brought an end to the Depression that had been raging ever since 1929. Now, with boundless optimism in the air, get-rich-quick speculation reached epidemic proportions. Fortunes were made by bold entrepreneurs who were convicted that only fools worried about tomorrow.

* * * * *

The father in this book, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, was in real life the developer of the Science of Motion Study, and, not coincidentally, is today considered the father of Efficiency Studies. He and his wife (and business successor after his untimely death) used their children as convenient (and cheap) subjects on which they could test their theories of motion management. He took moving pictures of the children washing dishes to see how he could reduce motions and speed them up. Irregular household jobs were awarded to the kids on a lowest-bid basis (each one submitted sealed bids).

So this, in short, is the world of the Roaring Twenties depicted in this wondrous true story of a man and woman and their twelve children. A story that may seem like a fairy tale to us today—so different from what we daily experience.

And it has to be, for good measure, one of the funniest books ever written.

In summation, I urge each of you to read it on several levels: read it to compare our world to that one. Read it as an armchair historian of ideas. Read it for humor. And read it for one of the most enjoyable (and funniest) reads of your life.

* * *

And, for good measure, you may want to acquire or rent the rollicking 1950 movie. The cast features Clifton Web, Myrna Loy, Jeanne Crain, Edgar Buchanan, Mildred Natwick, Sara Allgood, Betty Lynn, Barbara Bates Ollestad. The film was directed by Walter Lang.

Try to pick up an unabridged dust-jacketed hardback (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948).

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Dr. Joe's Book of the Month – James Hilton's "Lost Horizon"

BLOG #40, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JO
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #45
JAMES HILTON’S LOST HORIZON
October 7, 2015

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Since the advent of this novel in 1933, Shangri-La, the setting for this utopian novel, has come to mean a place of peace and contentment to people all around the world.

James Hilton (1900 – 1954) was, like most of his contemporaries, deeply impacted by what contemporaries called “The Great War” (World War I). A war so horrific, many wondered if it would doom civilization. Hilton, born in England, wrote several books exploring aspects of the war. This one, however, set in 1931, conceptualized a mythical utopia set high in one of the remotest parts of the Himalayas. Here, if the world self-destructed, civilized life could be given a chance for a rebirth in Shangri-La, where the High Lama has discovered the secret of extending life beyond even 200 years.

The vehicle bringing five passengers (four British, one American) is a high altitude plane that somehow made it to the mountains of the Blue Moon.

It is a riveting romance that has fascinated readers and movie-goers ever since it was printed. Its original publisher: William Morrow & Co., Inc. It was widely reprinted in hardback by Grosset & Dunlap and in trade paper by Pocket Books.

Questions readers will ask themselves are these: How much of this book could be true? What lessons about life can be learned by reading it? Is it a true happier-ever-after utopia—or might it have elements of a dystopia in it?

When you purchase your own copy, be sure it is unabridged. It’s not a very long book anyway.

M O V I E S

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(1983Twyman Catalogue)

Two movies have been made from this book:

1937 – B&W – 138 minutes –
Frank Capra (Producer and Director)
Robert Riskin (Writer)
Dimitri Tiompkin (Musical Score)
Actors: Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, Sam Jaffe, H. B. Warner, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Everett Horton, Isabelle Jewell, Margo – Academy Awards (2).
Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor.

It is a rare movie masterpiece that touches the heart of all who experience its dream—that some little plot of earth exists to which one can retreat, safe from the ravages of time and the world—one’s own little Shangri-La.

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(1980 Clem Williams Film Catalogue)

1973 – Color – 150 min. – Columbia

Charles Jarrott (Director)
Ross Hunter (Producer)
Larry Kramer (Screenwriter)
Burt Bacharach (Music)
Hal David (Lyrics)
Actors: Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Sally Kellerman, Charles Boyer, George Kennedy, Michael York, Olivia Hussey, Sir John Gielgud

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What Was the World Like 100 Years Ago?

BLOG #36, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHAT WAS THE WORLD LIKE
100 YEARS AGO?

September 3, 2014

In a nutshell, it was a different world from the one we live in today. In many ways, changed very little from what it had been for more than a millennium. As 1914 approached, so many things seemed to be going right for the nobility, princes and princesses, kings and queens and emperors.

Ever since Darwin, there had been the perception that the world was rapidly becoming a better place. According to evolutionary theory, it was assumed we could expect global peace in the future. As Emile Coeu famously put it, “Every day, in every way, I’m becoming better and better.” It was then easy to believe in the goodness of God: God would no longer permit mankind to do terrible things to each other.

Back then, England ruled the world, thus, ruling over one quarter of the globe, it was said, “The sun never sets over the British Empire.” At the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, her sway extended over half of North America, slices of Central and South America, a vast part of Africa, a whole continent in Australia, some of the richest lands in Asia (including India), plus other island possessions spread clear across the globe. It was the British sea-power that enabled it to rule over the ocean, and Britain’s merchant fleet that made Britain the greatest of all trading nations.

On the European continent, the Hohenzollern Kaisers had gradually forged such a powerful military power that the German army was perceived as being almost invincible. And now, vain, impulsive Kaiser Wilhelm II worshiped the art of war. A huge naval shipbuilding program had begun in order to challenge Britain’s supremacy over the seas.

France had mostly recovered from its 1870 defeat at the hands of Germany. France now had a world-wide empire, second in size only to the British.

East was the vast land called Russia, composed of one-eighth of the land mass of the world. A proud and imperialistic nation ruled by the Romanoff czars, now Nicholas II. Nicholas, a narrow-minded aristocrat who wholeheartedly believed in the divine right of kings and was totally oblivious to the plight of his people, was incapable of handling the forces sweeping across the steppes of the empire. Politically inept, he was dependent on his strong-willed czarina, Alexandra, who was herself manipulated by the Svengalian mystic, Rasputin.

Dominating Central Europe was the far-flung Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by its beloved emperor, Franz Joseph, last of the great Hapsburg monarchs. The empire shouldn’t even have existed, yet somehow did, composed as it was of 12,000,000 Germans, 10,000,000 Magyars [Hungarians], 6,000,000 Czechs, 5,000,000 Poles, 4,000,000 Ukrainians, 3,700,000 Serbs and Croats, 3,300,000 Rumanians, 2,500,000 Slovaks, 1,300,000 Slovenes, and 800,000 Italians. But all those diverse peoples remained a unit mainly because of the respect they had for the emperor. In reality, it was just one big powder keg waiting to explode. And Franz Joseph was old.

Then there was the increasingly formidable Japanese Empire. To the north, Japan annexed the Kuriles; to the south and east, the Ryukyus, the Bonins, the Volcanoes, and Marcus Island. After its victorious war against China in 1894-95, the Japanese annexed Taiwan and the Pescadores; and Korea became a vassal. In 1904, Japan had an epic showdown with Russia, and won. Nicholas II never recovered from that ignominious disaster. So now, Japan was spoiling for a fight in order to acquire even more territory.

Thus the western world was ruled from five great cities: London, Berlin, Moscow, Vienna, and Paris. Most all the European royal houses had intermarried to the extent that they were all cousins.

It is fascinating to read eighteenth and nineteenth century fiction. The protagonists, the heroes and heroines of that age were invariably royal, among the nobility, or aristocratic. In America, it seemed every girl yearned to marry a prince, duke, earl, count, or lord. And many did just that. Reason being that the European aristocracy and nobility, due to their frivolous and lavish lifestyles, were almost always in debt: desperately needing money. Since there were plenty of rich Americans who had lots of money, and would gladly pawn off their daughters to the highest bidder, Americans bought their way into European high society. That most of those marriages had nothing to do with love, yoking title to money, more often than not, they proved disastrous.

It would not be until the end of World War I, and the resulting doom of royal supremacy, that fictional heroes and heroines shifted away in the direction of media, entertainers, and sports protagonists, such as we see today.

The tragedy of 1914 was that, in reality, no one deep down really wanted war. Times were good. Sidewalk cafes were full. Monarchies were becoming ever more democratic, the middle class was increasingly prosperous, education was becoming more and more accessible to all, European tours were something more and more people wanted to take. In most cases the populace would rather have the ruler they had (the devil they knew) than the ruler they didn’t know (the devil they didn’t know).

Then came June 28, 1914, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, in Sarajevo, Serbia, on a state visit, was assassinated.

And the world exploded into war . . . and has never been the same since.

References: The Five Worlds of Our Lives (New York: Newsweek, Inc., 1961).