Parliament of Fools

Welcome! We fools are a mish-mash of lovers of the English language. Pull up a computer chair, and imagine with us that you're sitting by the fire in a local cafe. Sip your cyber-cappucino and discuss with us your thoughts on our latest reading assignment. Hopefully we'll experience all the joy of reading together, without the cost of Starbucks.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Reading Proposal: The Secret of Father Brown

Devona has favored me with the chance to nominate the next book. I must admit, I feel a bit inadequate to choose as I have read very little fiction in the last several years. (That's why I joined, to inspire me!) But, I remembered that Tim suggested at some point doing a work by Chesterton, perhaps The Everlasting Man, or Orthodoxy.

Now, there's no one I'd rather read than Chesterton at any given time. It seemed a bit much, though, to have our second selection be a full-length non-fiction book. So instead, I'm going to nominate some short selections of Chesterton fiction that will give a sampling of his style and philosophy and be an enjoyable read.

The Secret of Father Brown is a collection of short-story mysteries within a frame story. I suggest reading the first chapter, "The Secret of Father Brown," three selected stories in the middle, "The Mirror of the Magistrate," "The Red Moon of Meru," and "The Chief Mourner of Marne," and finally the concluding chapter, "The Secret of Flambeau." One can sometimes find The Secret of Father Brown as a separate book, but you'll probably have better luck looking for a complete Father Brown collection.

As for a date, how about two weeks from now to find a copy and get started? Since there's multiple stories we can start discussing the early ones before people have finished reading the later ones.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

We Happy Few

I'm surprised that no one's mention the name that O'Brien picked for his lieutenant. With a story that mentions carrying burdens, it seems like a clear allusion to the bearing of one's cross or perhaps to the Great Crossbearer Himself.

Let me indulge in a little Reader Response. (Sorry!)

Upon my reading of the story, I certainly thought of Christ and his cross, but most of the time, I thought of the things that I and my family must bear, as I compared myself to Cross and his men: "They share the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often they carried the wounded or weak" (18-19).

They carried the weight of men. We all do. We are frail. As Christians, we hump through the 'Vietnam' of daily life with our Old Adam, the flesh, our sinful nature. Simul justus et pecccator. We, too, carry the weight of men.

Even though I didn't initially like him, I'll have to confess that I saw myself in Lt. Cross, just as I see myself as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings. (Aren't we all Boromir?) We carry burdens. We are frail, but we have the choice to live honorably under the weight of what we carry, and there is redemption.

By vocation, as head of my family, I am the
lieutenant of our little 'platoon'. I related to the frailty of Lt. Cross and appreciated his final resolve at the end of the story/chapter. Life is hard and full of temptation and trials. As Jimmy Cross finally realized, our obligation is "not to be loved, but to lead" (25). And we are called to our Captain who takes upon Himself our various burdens and then calls us bear the burdens of others.

What joy to serve under such a Captain, who like Henry V, calls us His brothers (and sisters) and bids us to join Him in battle!

Non nobis domine, domine,
Non nobis domine,
Sed nomini, sed nomini,
tuo da gloriam!

So that's my incoherent Reader Response rambling this morning, but hey, that's what blogs are for, eh?


Monday, August 22, 2005

QOC is my hero.

With every new thing there is a trial period. With this new blog we're all still working out the bugs, and figuring out how to make this work. QOC is my hero because I need someone else posting as often as I in order to keep going.

Since you're trying so hard to keep conversation going, and topics lively, I nominate you QOC to pick the next book.

Let us know, and we can keep discussing TTTC until you set the date to open conversation on your selection.

Friday, August 19, 2005


This may be a bit of a nit-pick, but I found it jarring to the flow of the story when we suddenly broke from focusing on Jimmy Cross' obsessions and heard Kiowa's thoughts about life and death. I actually liked that part better--if I had to deal with death of friend and foe on a daily basis, I probably would be dulled to that and acutely aware of the small pleasures of existence--but it seemed out of place.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Is the Narrator a character?

When I read The Things They Carried for the first time I was reminded of my Uncle Jerry who fought in Vietnam, and was then a truck driver when he came home. He never talked about being over seas. I don't know anything about his life during the war. That's my experience with everyone I've known that served in Vietnam. From what I've heard, and from the description in TTTC, it was an unnerving war that left deep scars on those who fought in it.

Then on top of that, the soldiers who fought for us in that war were treated so poorly upon returning to America. So many of them were ridiculed, and there was no support for the suffering, I imagine many of the veterans felt like they weren't allowed to suffer. They weren't heros like the men who fought in WW2, so get over it.

That makes me curious as to how autobiographical TTTC is. O'Brien did serve in Vietnam, so at least his understanding of the setting is personal.

I don't think that the exact events belong to O'Brien, but since this is his voice dealing with the war, how much of O'Brien's personality is in the narrator?

Separately, I wonder if the narrator-- be it O'Brien or completely fictional-- is a soldier in the battalion in the short story. If I had to make my speculation he is, even though the story is told in a 3rd person omniscient voice, I think that the narrator is speaking for his comrades since he cannot speak for himself.

When the Narrator uses terms like "SOP" and "grunts, or humps" I hear the words flow out off his tongue like they have a million times before. The Narrator owns this language.

The starting and stopping rhythm of the narrative reminds me of a man who wakes up at night from a repeating dream and has to go over the event of Ted Lavander's death one more time, just to get it out of his head. Only "one more time" happens nightly. The narrator climbs inside his comrades' roles to try from every perspective to save Ted, but he dies everytime regardless.

If anyone liked the story enough to read more of the selections in the book you might end up wondering-- like many have-- if this is a novel or a collection of short stories? I don't know what my answer would be. But there is a graphic intimacy to the stories that makes them better together than on their own. This obsessive-revisiting quality is repeated over and over again.

"Tim the Enchanter" said in his comments that he wouldn't want Jimmy Cross as his Lieutenant. I don't think the Narrator did either, and now, so many years later is stuck somewhere between hating Cross and identifying with him. He's somewhere between blaming him and forgiving him.

Those are my thoughts. Feel free to rip them up, or agree with them in the comments. Or if you think, "Well that was a pointless post, I think we should be discussing the setting." Go ahead, start a new thread, the discussion is now open.

Let the interpretation begin!!!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Reading Wrap-up

Ok Friends.

Hopefully everyone has obtained a copy, and has gotten some time to spend reading. I was recently on vacation with Rob's family in Virginia, so I couldn't get to a computer until now (Yes we had a blast) to wrap things up.

Just to give fair warning, I'm going to post my response to the story tomorrow, and then discussion can begin.

For future reference, I think that the next person to pick a story should also set the official date for open discussion, and then be the first person to begin a topic for discussion. That way everyone isn't checking back over and over again to no avail like I have so rudely allowed to happen.

See you again tommorrow!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Let them be your friends.

If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them -- peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are.

Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances.

-Winston Churchill

Tim's Input

So to get started we should all answer the questions asked above in your own post, and then also answer the "5 books" question.

Thanks for the thoughtful beginning to this promising blog. I'm healthy again, and my wife returns from Austria tomorrow. I've been Mr. Mom for two weeks now.

I am very flexible regarding the books we choose and how we discuss them, and all of the books already mentioned are fine with me.

I always freeze up when asked for my favorite books, so instead I'll post some of my desires or ideas:
  • Let's study a Shakespearean play, perhaps one of the six discussed in Peter Leithart's Brightest Heaven of Invention. I love Shakespeare (and most definitely do not love Midde English/Chaucer). I've been wanting to read Will in the World for some time now and almost bought it yesterday. But I know this isn't for everyone.
  • I've never read a book by Chesterton, and friends have been saying that I'm a silly goose for this reason. Orthodoxy? The Everlasting Man? I am keen on the idea of Chesterton.
  • I've never read the autobiographical Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis. I'd like to.
  • I would think that reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley together with Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman would be interesting and thought-provoking, especially for a group of Christians. Doing so ten years ago made me the provincial Luddite that I am today! ;-)
All of the titles already mentioned by the others sound good. I look forward to reading with adults!


Ps. If we can decide on our first text before Friday, I'll be able to take it with me for our annual week without electricity in northern Ontario! (See below.)

Uncle Pete, Aunt Esther, good books, coffee, and a lake

Friday, August 05, 2005

Quick note.

Things are going well so far, it seems. Everyone's posted except our friend Tim. Bad Tim!

Since we have two opposite opinions regarding how we should post our future dialogue on book topics, perhaps we should find a compromise. When stating an opinion or idea that has not yet been mentioned do so in a separate post. When agreeing, disagreeing or expanding on a post already posted, do so in the comments box. When in doubt, post a new topic.

Does that work for everyone?

Happy reading!

p.s. This is the first time that I've ever written a post that passed spell check with flying colors! I'm so proud!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Few Brief Thoughts

On the issues of what to read, etc., I have no difference of opinion from the Queen except for in the matter of comments: I like the idea of one post per book, and a litany of comments stringing therefrom. An exception could be made, though, if the book had two main themes or thoughts that didn't fit well together in discussion.

I've been asked before to name my top-5 movies, but never books. (A movie list would give an interesting perspective on what each enjoys.) I have to agree with Kristen that I'm never really satisfied with my answers, and I'd have to add that it's partly due to the fact that I think there's still more books I haven't read that might be even bigger winners.

I think I'd have to list the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I include The Hobbit in this) as numero uno, primarily because of its epic nature, but also because of Tolkien's writing style. Ben Hur might make this list if Lew Wallace had trimmed off all the commentary.

Next, I'd have to put Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island. The former is my complete childhood biography, even if half of it I daydreamed instead of actually living. The latter is just a fascinating tale.

Another fiction work I've greatly enjoyed is Dicken's Oliver Twist, although I haven't read it in years. I used to use the screen name "ThArtfulDodger".

Rounding out my top five will have to be a non-fiction work, Two Roads to Sumter, by William and Bruce Caton. As an avid history aficionado, the 40 years leading up to the Civil War is a more fascinating study than most fiction.

And that's my 2ยข. Thanks for having me.

My Five Books

I hate doing things like this, because I'm never satified with my answers!

(1) the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis - a long-time favorite. Teaching it to my third graders last year was a true pleasure.

(2) My Name is Asher Lev/The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok - one of the best pictures of the intersection of faith and life in literature.

(3) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - my favorite book that was introduced to me because it was required reading

(4) The Brother's Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky - I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.

(5) The Great Brain series - by John D. Fitzgerald - childhood favorites.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ok, since Twylah insisted...

I will chose the first book. I think we should read "The Things They Carried" in the collection by the same title. It pretty short, so we can get through it quickly, and it'll build our confidence.

I do warn that there is language and violence, but it's a war story so it's not gratuitous. I'd rate it pg-13.

If you all object I'll suggest something else, I have other things in mind that I'd like to read as a group.

So let me know what you think down there in the comments box. I think that we can give it about a week to find the book, and less than a week to read it. It's really short.

Have fun!
Thanks very much for the invitation, Devona. Stop me if you've heard this one:

Before I became a mom 12 years ago I used to read all the time. When my two boys were born (Andy, now 12 and Peter, now 10), I brought hundreds of pounds of children's books into the house and we read them all. I didn't really notice that my own reading list dwindled away to nothing, because it was so wonderful to explore the world through my children's eyes.

Eventually Harry Potter came onto the scene, and while I don't object to him per se, he's just not very interesting to me. So I've rediscovered my own passions at last! My favorite books this year have been:

1. Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. If you're interested in Afghanistan and the nature of brotherly love, this is the book for you.

2. The Pavilion of Women, by Pearl S. Buck. As I told Devona, this book is about an upper-class woman in 1930's China who celebrates her 40th birthday by securing a concubine for her husband. If you liked The Good Earth, you'll love this.

3. Circle of Friends, by Maeve Binchy. All of Binchy's characters are so strong and deep, you feel like you've moved into her town and everyone's your friend.

4. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. We got this book on tape and have been listening to it while we drive all over town this summer. The boys are disappointed when it's time to get out of the car :) I'm a BIG fan of (unabridged) books on tape.

5. The Spirituality of the Cross, by Gene Veith. Wait, that's not fiction ...

About the rules: Tolstoy has a ton of really good short stories. But a longer novel is good too, let's just chop it up into segments. In "real life" book clubs they usually shoot for one book a month, but maybe the online experience while allow for more (since we can blog in our bathrobes :) I hate gratuitous sex and violence (= that does nothing for the story). Let's take turns choosing books, with input from others. Devona, you start, because you're gracious to get this thing rolling. And how about the contributors post their conversation, and others use the comment box.

Personality note: I'm very shy in real life, and I sometimes compensate for that by holding forth on-line. You can tell me to knock it off, it's okay. Also, I have an ironic streak that some people don't appreciate. It's a relic from my bizarre childhood :)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My answers, and my books

Thanks Karen (Queen) for posting your answers. I think you've got good suggestions, especially on how to handle graphic content.

Also, in an email Karen pointed out that this blog is really just "Tim" and the ladies. At least until Rob decided to accept my invitation. So I was thinking that I'd open the invite up to our spouses, if they're interested.

Now! My five books. I am always answering this question on the fly, and I almost do it on purpose because I always remember different books then I did the last time. Books are so good that it's hard to pick a favorite, and keep it. It's kind of like music, there is always a new favorite song to be had. This, then, is my list of my five favorite books of all time, as I see it today.

1. The Things They Carried Tim O'Brien. This is a collection of short stories by O'Brien that are semi-autobiographical about his time serving in Vietnam. It's vivid poetic prose, and reading it is almost as heavy as the humidity in Vietnam would be. I am going to suggest the short story from this collection that bears the same title for our first reading assignment. But that's open to your determination.

2. Troilus and Chriseyde Geoffrey Chaucer. Maybe it's because I loved the class that this was assigned in so much, but this was one of the best stories I ever read. Chaucer is the master of character development and setting.

3. The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien. Not only is it so good. But is means so much more to me now after studying medieval English. Plus I read it while I was pregnant, so I was much more emotionally connected to the characters.

4. Now it's starting to get more difficult to make choices.
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald. This book taught me what symbolism means. That, and I love the 20s.

5. Son of the Revolution Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro. This autobiography chronicles the life of a young man growing up in Communist China during the rule of Mao Zedong. The story is tragic. Reading it before I taught English in China for a month really helped me understand the culture that I was in. When we were there it was only one generation away from the Revolution, and though no one knew facts about it, or talked about it, you could see that it has devastated their culture.

Five Questions and Five Books

Five Questions
(Note: These are all merely suggestions and I'm quite open to other options, but I get tired of writing in a tentative fashion.)

Length of Materials and Time: Let's start small and see how it works. Once we have a better feel for how long it takes for everyone to find the selection, read it, and come up with profound comments, maybe we'll all feel up to selecting a bigger work--in which case, we should probably set target times for sub-sections. I'd suggest maybe two weeks for a short story would be a good place to start. Time needs to include time to locate a copy.

Selection of Materials: Perhaps we could rotate the power of suggestion, with each person taking a turn nominating the next selection. Or perhaps they could post multiple options and then everyone else could vote within a short period of time. Just make sure it's reasonably simple and does not require full consensus, or we'd likely spend all our time discussing what to read next and never get to read.

Graphicness of Material: The person nominating materials should post a warning if one is significantly graphic, and explain why they think it is nonetheless a worthy choice, as well perhaps as other information such as how easy it is to skip parts that might be objectionable without losing the story line. Then people can make informed votes; and anyone who decides to bow out of a specific reading can, of course, do so.

Posting of Comments: One comment thread for everybody would probably get way too cumbersome. I'd say everyone who has something distinct to say on the reading should put up their own post.

Other Questions Omitted: I can't think of any.

Five Books, more or less favorites
The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G. K. Chesterton. Because Chesterton is my favorite, and because this book answered a question I had been asking all my life.

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Because I have lived in Middle Earth for the last fifteen years.

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. Because I love Austen, and I love spoofs, and Henry Tilney is my favorite Austen hero (who deserves a much smarter wife than Catherine).

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. Because it's fun.

The Everlasting Man, by G. K. Chesterton. OK, so it's not fiction and it puts Chesterton on the list twice. But this short history of mankind before and after Christ still tastes as sweet as the homemade chocolates I ate when I first read it.

Monday, August 01, 2005

What is a Parliament of Fools?

That's what this first post intends to define. When asked to join this blog (he couldn't) a friend suggested that to break the ice we post what our 5 favorite books of all time are, or post our 5 favorite books of this year. That's a good way to get the ball rolling, and tomorrow I intend to do so.

But right now I think it's important that we discover the vision for this blog. I thought of it on a whim after running into my old Chaucerian professor in town, and so there wasn't any more thought put into this than, "I miss reading in a group setting. I want to read with adults again." And so I emailed people that I thought would be particularly interested in the English language, and the art of using it.

Now we just need to make the rules. Since the Blog-World is particularly democratic, I thought it would be best that we all include our input, and then make the rules. Beside we all have different levels of time availability, and interest, and taste in literature. Oh yeah, we also all have different amounts of money with which to invest in books to read (I am at the bottom level in that regard).

Some questions that need to be answered are as follows:

  • How much time can we devote to reading? Should we limit our subjects to short stories and novels, or should we be more daring and read through longer works?
  • How many books should we aim for in a month?
  • How graphic can our selections be? Tolkien is rated pg to pg-13, for example, and Salinger would be rated R. How much language, violence, and raciness is acceptable?
  • How do we determine what we will read next?
  • Do we leave all conversation to the comments box? Or would it be better if we each started a new blog post with our thoughts, and left to comments box to answers less than 2 paragraphs and for the comments of visitors?
  • Is there anything I forgot to ask?
So to get started we should all answer the questions asked above in your own post, and then also answer the "5 books" question. You can do it all at once, or in two separate posts, I'll leave that up to your discretion.

Lastly, I'm really excited for this. It should be a lot of fun, and very stimulating to my stay-at-home-mom mind. Happy reading!