NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Class Notes: Introduction To Narrative

Chapter Four: The Rhetoric of Narrative

"[I]nterpreting texts is a complex transaction that invariably has to do with more than what the author consciously intended. . . . [T]he impact of a narrative, including its meaning, is not something that is securely under the author's control." The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, p. 40.

That kind of make me feel better about the concept of "getting it" when I read classics or more difficult literature. Or any literature for that matter. Just because the author didn't necessarily mean something the way I took it, doesn't completely invalidate what I learned from the reading. :-)

This chapter in my text dealt mostly with three things: That we look for cause and effect in narrative, we look for details (or invent them in our minds) that convey a sense of reality or truth in a narrative, and the concept of "masterplots", "masterplots" being stories that are told over and over in myriad forms and that connect vitally with our deepest values, wishes and fears.

I liked the way the author wove these ideas together by discussing jury trials in general, and the O.J. Simpson trial in particular. Overly simplified, the fate of Simpson depended on which narrative version of the facts was the most believable. One side adopted the masterplot of "abused spouse" with Nicole in the pivotal role, one side adopted the story of the black man who is unjustly punished for "stepping out of his place". That there were such strong public reactions in favor of and against both sides showed clearly the potential power of narrative, even amid a real-life situation.

One feature of this text that I look forward to at the end of each chapter is the list of additional primary texts that further exemplify the concepts discussed. Various books and stories are talked about during the "lesson", but if it is a topic you find yourself particularly interested in, he lists more readings with which you can further your study, and talks a little bit about why they're useful examples. This list includes Wright's Native Son (which I read a few weeks ago), Kafka's "Metamorphosis" (which is on my current Teaching Company course list), The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Ellison's Invisible Man (which are on my shelf), and short story by Eudora Welty called "Why I Live at the P.O."

Is it just me, or is there just plain not enough time in the day?? :-)

Monday, March 30, 2009


by Steven Pressfield

"In the fall of 1942, Hitler's legions hold Europe in an iron grip while England stands alone - defiant. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Seventh Panzer Division has routed Britain's Eighth Army in North Africa and is poised to capture Egypt, the Suez Canal, and the Middle Eastern oil fields. To halt Rommel's Afrika Korps, the British devise a desperate plan to deploy a highly mobile, heavily armed band of commandos behind German lines. Operating under extreme desert conditions, the "scorpions" of the Long Range Desert Group repeatedly deliver raids and reconnaissance that stun the enemy." (from the CD container)

Looking for a good war novel? Steven Pressfield is your man. I loved the two ancient warfare novels of his that I read, Last of the Amazons and Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae. I figured I couldn't go wrong with a novel of WWII by him. I was absolutely correct.

No one I've read writes battle scenes the way Pressfield can. I completely lost track of what the story actually was in Killing Rommel, but I was completely immersed in the action. He makes you feel you're in the tank, trudging through the desert. He makes you feel you are the one deciding to open fire on enemy soldiers and he makes you feel the remorse when it's over. You are face to face with Field Marshall Rommel and you are remembering the men you fought beside and the men who died on both sides.

Aside from Pressfield's amazing abilities, what I found most fascinating about this book was Rommel himself. I didn't know much about him before this. I assumed that since he fought for the Nazis, he was a monster. Not so. According to Wikipedia, "An enduring legacy of Rommel's character is that he is also considered to be a chivalrous and humane military officer in contrast with many other figures of Nazi Germany. His famous Afrikakorps was not accused of any war crimes. Indeed, captured Commonwealth soldiers during his Africa campaign were reported to have been largely treated humanely. Furthermore, orders to kill captured Jewish soldiers and civilians out of hand in all theatres of his command were defiantly ignored. Following the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa, and while commanding the defence of Occupied France, his fortunes changed when he was suspected of involvement in the failed July 20 Plot of 1944 to kill Hitler and was forced to commit suicide."

For me, this is three for three when it comes to Steven Pressfield. I've not only enjoyed the book I was reading, but he made me anxious to search out more of the historical facts concerning his subject. I believe I can officially call myself a fan. :-)

Saturday, March 28, 2009


by Primo Levi

"[B]ecause the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last - the power to refuse our consent." (p. 41)

Primo Levi was at the German death camp of Auschwitz for ten months, and that was the advice given to him from another prisoner when he was teetering on the brink of giving up hope. Survival In Auschwitz is the story of the survival of both his body and his humanity. It does not dwell on the deaths, the gas chambers and ovens. It shows the reader how he and a number of others endured sickness and deprivation, cheated "selections", and sometimes just through sheer "dumb luck" lived to tell their own stories.

I will let the quote stand alone as a testament to the heart, soul and courage you will find in the pages of this remarkable memoir.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On The Mend

Peter sends his sincere thanks to everyone who posted such nice comments over the last couple of days. He's feeling much, much better this morning. He says his face pretty much feels like he got hit with a baseball bat, but everything else appears to be in good working order. And Skye is much relieved that I didn't actually leave Daddy at the pound. :-) Max, however, is not sure about having to relinquish his new awesome spot on the bed.

Tonight my alter-ego is off to play Rockstar Diva again, so there won't be much reading going on until tomorrow. (The dress in our poster is slated for tonight's fashion.) So, until then, here are me and Tony to entertain you:

Have a great weekend, Everyone!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MIA for a Day. Or Two.

Well. That wasn't what we planned!

I got home from work on Tuesday only to be informed that my poor Peter needed to have emergency sinus surgery the next morning at 11 am. I just got home from the hospital. Long story short, it turned into a whole day of doctors, nurses and needles, because he went into a mild atrial fibrillation just before the surgery from being stressed out. They decided to move him to a hospital (rather than doing the procedure at the ENT clinic), so they could monitor his heart better and have the proper meds and a cardiologist handy. It was a long day, but all is well. Peter is fine and recovering. He's sore as all get out, but he can breath easily through his nose for the first time in weeks and his heart is ticking along famously. Yippee!

I'll be going back to the hospital tomorrow to pick him up, but I think Skye thinks I lost him somewhere. He keeps going outside to find him, then coming in and looking at me suspiciously. Max is already curled up and sleeping on Peter's side of the bed. :-)

Have a good couple of days, everyone! I'll be back with books and other random learning thoughts just as soon as my poor guy is feeling better.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Class Notes: Introduction To Narrative

Chapter Three: The Borders of Narrative

This chapter contained some definitions that I thought would be fun to share with all of you. These aren't anything wildly new, but things I encounter often when I read and, as usual, had never considered whether or not they actually had a name. I've been taking my reading for granted again! :-) Most of this chapter dealt with narratives which contain a story, but there are other stories within them. Sometimes these are obvious, and sometimes they are just small, unobtrusive fragments.

Framing Narrative: An embracing narrative acting as a framework within which a multitude of tales are told. The Canterbury Tales and A Thousand and One Nights are examples.

Embedded Narrative: The narrative within a narrative. It is also not uncommon to find embedded narratives within embedded narratives. Thinking about recent books I've read, it occurred to me that The Historian had a lot of this. There was the larger story arc, then all the letters written by the researchers telling their stories, and the stories in the letters of the people the researchers were talking to.

Paratexts: Tangential material that may inflect our experience of the narrative, sometimes subtly, sometimes deeply. These would include book jacket blurbs, book reviews, interviews with the author, essays, etc. All of these have the potential to affect our view of what we are reading, and our reading experience may have been different had we not had exposure to a particular paratext.

Hypertext Narrative: That subset of electronic narrative that makes use of the hypertext linking function to allow readers to shift instantaneously to other virtual spaces in which almost anything can be found.

That last one was particularly interesting. I had never considered hypertext linking as a fictional narrative device potentially allowing the reader to experience a story in multiple variations. Did you ever read any of those "Choose Your Own Ending" books? This is like the ultimate version of that! A talented author could have a field day! I've never looked for a book purposely written in that form, but they're out there somewhere. Have any of you ever seen or read one?

Sunday, March 22, 2009


by Barbara Kingsolver

"The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil." (From the CD container)

I really liked this book. The telling of the story from multiple perspectives is almost always a technique I enjoy, and it is done wonderfully here. Each took away very different lessons from her experiences in Africa, and I loved being able to see close-up how each was changed as those experiences were interpreted and reinterpreted as time passed.

I found one of the most memorable scenes to be when Nathan is arguing Biblical translation and interpretation with the former missionary of the village, Brother Fowles. Not only was it interesting in light of my recent reading of Misquoting Jesus, but the way Brother Fowles was able to relate Bible passages to native spiritual beliefs of the Congolese was breathtaking. It gave me a unique and beautiful perspective to consider next time I am reading it.

Like Dances with Wolves, this was one of those book that made me want to scrub the white from my skin so I didn't have to associate myself with the people and politics of Western culture that participate in the exploitation that so devastates other countries and cultures. I love the way of life I am blessed to be able to live in America, but does that mean it's the way everyone should live? Just because I like it doesn't make it a good idea.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


by Susan Vreeland

Remember when I was discussing "narrative" and how we tend to look for the story in nearly everything we see? This book is a perfect example of that! It is the story behind Renoir's famous painting entitled, of course, "Luncheon of the Boating Party", pictured here:

The models are real people, and Susan Vreeland has taken known facts about their lives and the life of Renoir, mixed in some literary license for depth, and has created her own masterpiece. Experiencing the summer of 1880 France with this group of such diverse characters reminded me a lot of Fitzgerald's depictions of the Roaring 20's in the U.S., young, vivacious people living their days with gusto, certain they will someday take the world by storm.

Luncheon of the Boating Party is not a book I would have even picked up if it hadn't been for the Art History Reading Challenge. That's the beauty of the Reading Challenges. We stretch our boundaries and sometimes come up with gems like this one.

To see more information about the book and the history of the painting, see Susan Vreeland's Official Site.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


by Elie Wiesel

"Love is worth as much as prayer. Sometimes more." From Day (p. 13)

Recovering in the hospital after nearly being killed by a cab, a Holocaust survivor struggles with his will to live while burdened with his memories of the past.

Day is much more subtle than the previous two books in this trilogy, Night and Dawn. In fact, it would be very easy to breeze through these 120 or so pages and end up wondering what the big deal is. The heinous things the narrator saw in his life are never discussed, only hinted at. The reader must use his or her own knowledge to fully absorb the questions posed. How does a person go on living after experiencing something like the Holocaust? How does one view normal, daily life as anything but completely frivolous?

This story did not leave me drained and sad the way the others did, but that doesn't mean it made no mark. What would I do if I had seen my whole family wiped out? My whole city? How can I relate to someone who has seen those kinds of horrors? We don't know the past experiences that have made most people we meet who they are and they don't know ours, but with the things that go on in the world today there are many people we encounter who bear emotional scars like these -- scars we never see with our eyes, but we can feel them in our hearts if we try.

See a Reading Group Guide for Day here.

Related Post:

My thoughts on Dawn.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cool Quotes Now Available Here!

It is taking me three days to read a 100 page book, but that's because I spent all my time getting my project organized. That was a project all in itself! Thank you to all of you who have been leaving such encouraging comments! You're making it even more exciting!

I don't have anything terribly enlightening to say at the moment, but I wanted to let subscribers know that I have added a "Daily Quotes for Lifelong Learners" widget to my sidebar that's pretty fun. Stop in and take a peek! Also, as I go along in my plans, I will be adding "Resources" links to various online tools and sites that I find useful in case anyone else is interested in investigating them.

Back to work for me! Happy reading, Everyone!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LLP: March/April 2009 Monthly Plan

OK. Down to the nitty gritty. Here is what I plan to accomplish by April 30, 2009:

(Struck out entries are finished as of April 28, 2009. If I've posted about the reading, the link is provided.)

Books To Read:

Day by Elie Wiesel (My Thoughts)
Survival In Auschwitz by Primo Levi (My Thoughts)
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Stone
Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
Blindness by Jose Saragamo
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (My Thoughts)
Managing Your Own Learning by James R. and Adelaide B. Davis
How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch (My Thoughts)
Book III of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer
Book IV of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer

Listen to Teaching Company Lectures on:

Tristam Shandy
Dangerous Liaisons
Pere Goriot
Wuthering Heights
Moby Dick

Text Chapters To Read:

The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
Chapter 3 (My Thoughts)
Chapter 4 (My Thoughts)
Chapter 5 (My Thoughts)
Chapter 6 (My Thoughts)
Chapter 7 (My Thoughts)

Writing About Literature: Step by Step
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Finish What's In A Name Challenge

Good thing the NBA season is just about over for me, isn't it?

Back to 2009 Second Quarter Goals
Back to 2009 General Concepts
Back to Lifetime Learning Project Personal Mission Statement

Monday, March 16, 2009

LLP: 2009 Second Quarter Goals

By June 30, 2009:

1) Complete 1/2 of Teaching Company "Classic Novels" Course
2) Complete Reading of Text: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
3) Complete First 5 Chapters of Writing About Literature: Step by Step
4) Finish at least four of my Reading Challenges
5) Finish up to Book 6 of The Faerie Queene

Monthly Plans To Reach My Second Quarter Goals:

End of March through April

(Note: Links will be added as plans are finished and posted.)

Back to 2009 General Concepts
Back to Lifetime Learning Project Personal Mission Statement

Lifetime Learning Project: 2009 General Concepts

The yearly "goals" I will set for my Lifetime Learning Project are general concepts I would like to explore along with one or two specific Projects to support them.

2009 General Concepts

1) To explore various methods of self-education on various topics in order to identify subjects and techniques I would like to use going forward with my Lifetime Learning Project (LLP).

2) To expand my knowledge regarding how to study and write about literature in general.

3) To utilize Books 'N Border Collies to hone my writing and communication skills in an effort to provide entertaining and educational content for my readers.

Mini-Project 1: Read all the books and listen to all the lectures for The Teaching Company Course "Classic Novels: Meeting The Challenge of Great Literature".

Mini-Project 2: Compose an essay on the use of Reading Challenges for personal growth and self-education.

At the end of the year, I will revisit all of these goals in writing. I will explain what I did to achieve each one or why achievement was not attained.

To assist in achievement of the General Concepts, I am setting both flexible quarterly goals and more concrete monthly goals. I started this too late to include First Quarter of 2009, so I will begin this year's plan with Second Quarter:

2009 Second Quarter Goals
2009 Third Quarter Goals
2009 Fourth Quarter Goals
2009 Summary

(Note: I will be writing the "Goals" posts in the future and will link them here as they are finished. The whole Project will be linked in my sidebar for easy access. I'm off to write Second Quarter Goals now!)


by Ernest J. Gaines

"After living in San Francisco for ten years, Jackson returns home to his benefactor, Aunt Charlotte. Surrounded by family and old friends, he discovers that his bonds to them have been irreparably rent by his absence. In the midst of his alienation from those around him, he falls in love with Catherine Carmier, setting the stage for conflicts and confrontations which are complex, tortuous, and universal in their implications." From the back cover of Catherine Carmier

"I know what you're looking for. Dignity, truth -- you want to make something out of a senseless world." Madame Bayonne to Jackson Bradley in Catherine Carmier

I read this book, Ernest J. Gaines' first novel, because I was so moved by A Lesson Before Dying that I wanted to read another of his just to see if it hit me the same way. There are some deep issues to ponder in Catherine Carmier, the strongest of them being the ties to our families, good and bad. It explores what we may or may not owe our families for the sacrifices they make on our behalf and what can happen when those sacrifices are made at the cost of one's true potential. The themes are strong, but I didn't feel them the way I did when I read Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. Being as this was his first novel, I'm not too surprised or disappointed. It was still a good book and left me looking forward more of his work.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lifelong Learning Project: My Personal Mission Statement

Questions from my readers and some other friends had me sitting at the dining room table this evening, pen in hand, asking myself, "What is my real goal with this 'self-education' thing?" "I want to learn" is great, but I knew I needed a better answer even just for myself. This education means more to me than that. I needed something I could look at and live by, something that would begin a path I could follow from now until my time runs out. And here it is:


To provide myself a broad, liberal, literature-focused education using books, both fiction and nonfiction, online and audio educational tools, and utilizing my blog as a virtual classroom to encourage interaction with other readers.

Because this is a
Lifelong Learning Project, there is no final Ultimate Goal, but I will create a set of general, fluid goals each year and support them with alterable quarterly plans and more concrete monthly plans as I identify individual educational themes I would like to actively pursue.

I will read literature and texts pertaining to the chosen themes and seek out additional tools to expand and build upon my reading.

I will regularly post my discoveries, thoughts and conclusions on Books 'N Border Collies, encourage interaction with my readers and respond to all comments left by you, my virtual classmates.

Welcome to my Lifelong Learning Project! My next immediate goal will be to post those "general, fluid goals" for 2009, my second quarter "alterable" plan and my "more concrete" plan for the rest of March and April. I'll have that up by the end of the week. I have to think about that for a bit! :-)

Happy learning, everyone!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Awesome Vegetarian Recipe

A little off topic, but I know there are lots of us out there who look for really great vegetarian recipes. This is one of them!

Peter's mom loves for us to sit and watch cooking shows with her when we visit. Last weekend we watched "Ask Aida", and she made this amazing looking vegetarian pot pie. For the first time in my life, I went to the Food Network website, downloaded a recipe and actually used it. :-) I cooked this pot pie this afternoon, and I could not have been happier with the results. Peter and I ate almost the entire 8x8 pan full! (Yeah. I'm sure that was a healthy choice. LOL!) Here is the link to the recipe:

Aida's Vegetarian Pot Pie

Now, where is that Culver's Butter Brickle Ice Cream I brought home yesterday. . . :-)

Have a great day, everyone! Book talk coming tomorrow, I promise!